Daily Practice

      About five years ago, I made a commitment to write daily. How many words? It doesn’t matter; the act itself does. Sometimes I put in hours, sometimes only thirty minutes. Now that I’ve retired early from academic work, I look forward to many days as a full-time writer. However, while I was packing, downsizing, moving across the country, unpacking, and doing all the paperwork of setting up in a new place, I only had time to write a paragraph each night before going to bed. So why did I bother?

One, it kept me in touch my work in progress. Even the briefest engagement with it feeds the underground springs, the aquifer of ideas. As long as I make that daily connection with the characters, they stay alive in my mind and show up to join me, in a way, while I’m doing things like walking or running that tend to promote creative free flow.

Skill is the other reason I keep the daily commitment. Like practicing yoga daily, writing keeps my verbal skills flexible and my imagination in shape. In one of my brief writing sessions while on the road, I came up with some lines I love so much I’m afraid they may be darlings I’ll have to kill. Nonetheless, they gave me insight into a character’s thinking about relationships and intimacy, an “aha” moment inside his head.

I take breaks from individual books. I’m working on Book Seven while Book Six is being critiqued, and then I’ll get back to revisions on Book Six while Book Seven rests. The separation from each story helps me see it with fresh eyes, but so far I don’t want a break from writing.

Do you take some days or weeks off between projects or do you write daily?

 

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The Complications of Family

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As I write this post, I have to admit I’m not entirely focused on writing. I’m thinking more about my plans later today to head out to visit my Dad. Because today is Father’s Day, at least here in the U.S. Not that I need a reason to see my Dad, but sometimes it helps to have some extra motivation. It’s far too easy to let time slip by between visits.

I’m lucky. I have a loving family who live not far from me. Of course, for some people close proximity to family can be a curse as much as a blessing. Families are complicated.

ArchieBunker
The complications of family underlie one of the running subplots in the Adam Kaminski mystery series. In the first book in the series, A Blind Eye, Adam learns something he didn’t previously know about his great-grandfather. Not a close family member, to be sure. But to Adam, the history of his family is the history of himself. As a former history teacher, Adam knows just how important the past is in framing the future.

With each book in the series, Adam learns a little bit more about his great-grandfather’s life. Tiny pieces of information that could easily be misunderstood or put into the wrong place in the puzzle.

puzzle dog

I’m enjoying figuring out this family puzzle as I write it. Of course, I do know the big picture. I knew that before I wrote the first book. But the details that come to light with each installation of the story sometimes surprise me, too!

For a mystery writer, family complications are a fertile source. Families can mean acceptance, love and joy, but they can also mean competition, jealousy, old grudges or catastrophic loss. And sometimes they mean all of those things at the same time.

In the Adam Kaminski mystery series, I get to explore not only the history of Adam’s family, but also his relationships to his mother, his father, his sister, his more distant relatives. Each relationship comes with its own story. Its own tensions.

In the fifth book, which I’m currently writing, I get to zoom in on Adam’s sister, Julia. She’s been a bit player in some of the books already, but now she’s getting a leading role. And it’s so much fun to figure her out!

If you haven’t had a chance to meet Adam Kaminski and his family yet, now’s a great time. I’m partnering up with a group of other mystery writers to do a free giveaway. Here’s the link to the page, where you can download free copies of A Blind Eye, along with 20 other mysteries and thrillers. Check it out!

Adam-Kaminski-Mystery-SeriesLearn more about Jane Gorman at her website, or follow her on Bookbub, Facebook and Instagram.

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California Crime Writers Conference

Last weekend was the California Crime Writers Conference, a bi-annual two-day conference sponsored by Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and the Los Angeles chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Since I’m on the board of Sisters in Crime/LA, I’ve been working on the conference. Specifically, I’ve been in charge of volunteers among the attendees to help out with various duties during the weekend. They are much appreciated.

The conference sold out early. It’s limited to 200 particpants, and it was filled up long before the deadline.  Our guests of honor were Hallie Ephron and William Kent Kruger, great mystery writers and very nice people.

There are four tracks: Writing Craft, Industry/Business, Law Enforcement/Forensics, and Marketing, and each track has four panel sessions per day, so there are lots of options to choose from. I went to several panels as well as spending time in the Auction Room selling raffle tickets and helping with the silent auction for the beautiful baskets, most made by one of our members.  I also spent some time in the Book Room where attendees could choose free books.

My favorite panel is always Author Idol where actor/writer Harley Jane Kozak reads first pages submitted by attendees to a panel of agents who listen and raise their hands when they decide they would not read any further. The agents are pretty brutal, but nonetheless, a number of first pages make it past that judgment, and one is awarded the prize of being the best first page. Harley Jane is terrific, the agents are tough, and the whole process is a lot of fun.

I was on a panel in the Marketing track called Visibility: Getting Yourself Known. That’s not my best skill, but I made my contributions and had a good time.

On Friday night cozy authors read from pages of works submitted by noir authors and vice versa. It was terrific to get a feeling for how a noir author darkens up the writing of  even the coziest author.

All in all, I had a great time. I was pretty exhausted by the time the conferenc was over. Fortunately, I stayed over Friday and Saturday nights at the hotel, so I didn’t have to cope with driving the freeways back and forth.

The next California Crime Writers Conference will be in 2019, and I will no longer be on the board. Nonetheless, I plan to attend. It’s always a delight!

 

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Shiny new release! by Paty Jager

paty shadow (1)This is late! I wrote it and thought I’d scheduled the post to go live yesterday, but no, it was still in my folder. So, after a day delay, here is my post!

The 8th book of my Shandra Higheagle Mystery series is now available in ebook and print. This time around Shandra is not only trying to discover who killed the doctor’s elderly aunt, but she’s also trying to protect her friend who could be engaged to a killer.

This book was fun to write, in that, I had my usual list of suspects charted out and was leaning toward one person, then about a third of the way, I started leaning another way, and at the end, I typed a scene that came out of nowhere and “Bam!” who dunnit popped into my mind so clear, it made me wonder if I was grasping at straws. So, I private messaged my niece on Facebook. She is making a series bible for me and knows the secondary characters pretty well in my series. We discussed my pros and cons for the revealing of the killer. After I finished talking to her, it was clear I had the right person.

The fun part; after my niece read the book, she commented, “Even though I knew who you’d picked as the killer, I was having my doubts throughout the book thinking you changed your mind.”

That means I did my job, throwing in enough subtle clues and red herrings that even someone who knew the truth was wondering.

That my friend’s is why I write mysteries, I love the dance of putting out a story that keeps the reader entertained and guessing!

Fatal Fall 5x8Book eight of the Shandra Higheagle Native American Mystery Series
Avarice…Family…Murder

When the doctor is a no-show for her appointment, Shandra Higheagle becomes wrapped up in another murder. The death of the doctor’s elderly aunt has everyone questioning what happened and who’s to blame. Shandra’s dreams soon tell her she’s on the right path, but also suggests her best friend could be in grave danger.

Detective Ryan Greer knows not even an illness will keep Shandra from sneaking around, and he appreciates that. Her insight is invaluable. When she becomes embroiled deeper in the investigation, he stakes out the crime scene and waits for the murder to make a tell-all mistake.

But will he be able to act fast enough to keep Shandra or her friend from being the next victim?

Amazon / Nook / Apple / Kobo / Print

 

Here are the places you can connect with me:

blog / websiteFacebook / Paty’s Posse / Goodreads / Twitter / Pinterest

SH Mug Art (2)

 

 

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Clues, Magic and Little Cat Feet

by Janis Patterson

I’ll admit I get a little put out when people (including some writers) say “Oh, I could never write a mystery – how do you think of all those clues and where to put them?” Usually, when I’m wearing my romance-writer hat (yes, I write both, along with several other genres), these are the same people who say “Oh, I could churn out one of those stories if I ever had the time.”

Grrrr.

To me that is as stupid as someone saying they can cook a roast but could never cook hamburgers. Or vice-versa. Writing is a learned craft, and the basic tools are the same whether you write confession stories or blockbuster action-adventures or small town cozy mysteries with a bakery shop (sometimes a needlework store) and a romance.

Yes, I am the first to admit that there is an element of magic in writing, of taking twenty-six simple symbols and turning them into a story that will touch and enthrall the reader, but magic – like luck – really does seem to prefer the prepared who have worked like the devil to learn their skills.

But magic aside, writing is a craft. Sometimes when I start a mystery I have a hazy idea of who and why, and that often changes, sometimes several times, but as I write along I leave a strong story behind me. If I may steal Deborah (Debra?) Dixon’s mantra of ‘goal, motivation and conflict’ I’ve found that following that guideline for almost every scene (excluding a very few, very short ones used mainly for transition from one arena of action to another) as well as for the entire book makes it much easier. In real life we sit around, we dawdle, we have purposeless (though sometimes pleasant) conversations, we sit in traffic, we… whatever, but in a book we don’t have that luxury. Every word, every action has to count and either explain why our characters/events are the way they are and/or bring us closer to the climax/resolution.

I’ve told this story before, but in my mystery THE HOLLOW HOUSE for the first two thirds of the book I was absolutely positive I knew who the killer was. Then – boom! All of a sudden I realized that wouldn’t work. Well, it would have worked because I’m the author and what I say goes – sort-of, but dramatically it was a bust. Rather than start over again or back up and throw out great chunks of wonderful, deathless prose <grin> I kept on writing and within a few pages I knew who the murderer really was. Except – another chapter, and the whole thing started over again. He couldn’t be the murderer. Gritting my teeth I forged on.

To make a long story short, if it’s not too late, this process repeated itself five times during the last third of the book. I was getting alarmed, as I was running out of potential villains, and will never subscribe to the ancient trope of a convenient homicidal maniac wandering around who just happened by and had never been mentioned before. Grimly I went on, and in the next to the last chapter suddenly all was revealed to me. I will admit that by this time I had ceased to feel like a writer and more like a scribe, just taking down what I couldn’t control.

But the final solution was perfect. Things could not have worked out better. The only thing that made me sigh with apprehension was that now I would have to go back through the entire manuscript and put in clues. I was as astonished as anyone could be when on rereading I found that they were already there. Who knew? Magic? Anyway, I think I put in two or three more, just so I would have the illusion of being in charge…

So perhaps I should restate my premise – writing is work, writing is a skill is available to just about anybody who will study and practice. And the magic? I think it comes creeping in on little cat feet (sorry, Mr. Sandburg) under the cover of study and practice just waiting to jump out when you expect it the least. And it doesn’t make any difference whether you write mystery or romance or horror or action-adventure or any of millions of other kinds of stories – the building blocks are the same. But you do have to learn how to use them.

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Just one more plot hole

by Sally Carpenter

Even the best writers don’t always get it right.

Last year I purchased the complete “Columbo” DVD set—every episode from the 1968 pilot through the final case in 2003.

The quality of the writing was superb, with its logical plots, clever clues and the wonderful interplay between the rumpled detective and the overconfident murderer.

But in re-watching the shows in order (just finished season three), I’ve seen a few lapses and continuity goofs. That’s understandable, as TV shows are rushed into production with tight deadlines.

Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

In “Any Port in a Storm,” Columbo says his wife is home with a sick child. During “Mind Over Mayhem” he makes a reference to their children. But in another episode (I’m not certain which one) he says he and the missus never had children.

In “Dead Weight,” the killer hides the body in a secret compartment behind the bar in his house. Why does his house have such a space? Most houses don’t come ready made with hidden rooms just the right size for corpses.

In “Lady in Waiting,” Columbo’s case rest on Peter Hamilton’s “photographic memory” and his statement, several days after the murder, that he heard the gunshots before the burglar alarm sounded. Yet immediately after the killing, Hamilton tells the police he heard the alarm first.

A bigger problem is with the killer, Beth Chadwick. She bumps off her brother because he runs her life and wants her to stop dating Hamlin. So why doesn’t she move in or elope with her lover, or at least get her own apartment? She isn’t a minor, so her brother can’t legally stop her from moving out of the house.

“The Most Crucial Game” is the weakest of the episodes. Very little makes sense. Paul Hanlon, general manger of a sports empire, detests the playboy business owner, Eric Wagner, but the show doesn’t give him a clear motive for killing him. Hanlon tells Wagner he needs his signature so he can purchase another team, and then murders him hours later. How does he plan to get the team without Wagner?

In the event of Wagner’s death, ownership of the company shifts to his wife. Yet nothing in the show indicates that the wife would let Hanlon take control of the operation. Why kill Wagner before gaining the wife’s support?

Columbo is puzzled by fresh water on the deck of the pool (Hanover washed away his footprints). But the fresh water could be from a gardener watering the greenery or someone cleaning the deck after the previous night’s party.

To establish an alibi, Hanlon disguises himself as an ice cream vendor, leaves his private suite at the top of the L.A. Coliseum, walks through the rows of seats full of fans, and exits the stadium while the National Anthem is played. Not one person sees him leave.

The script jumps the shark with a private investigator straight out of a 1940s B-serial who plants bugs in Wagner’s house with the help of a prostitute. Why is the PI using a hooker for his investigative work?

In the end, Columbo has no reason to suspect Hanlon, no motive, no weapon and only one clue that the manager was not in his suite during the killing—but Hanlon could have been in another part of the stadium at that time.

“Double Exposure” is a terrific script that Stephen Cannell wrote on spec during a writers’ strike. But the elephant in the script is that the murder occurs inside a secure building. All cars entering the institute must drive past a security guard. Kepple tries to frame the victim’s wife, but if she had done it, the gate guard would have seen her drive in, which she didn’t.

Security cameras are set up inside the building. Although the killer disables the camera monitor aimed at the scene of the crime, the other cameras would have picked up strangers entering or leaving the facility.

This same flub appears in “Sex and the Married Detective.” The manager of a sex clinic lures the victim into her offices after hours to shoot him. She locks the office door on her way out. So the killer could only be someone who could lock up, which limited the suspects to those who had keys to the clinic.

In “Mind Over Mayhem,” a vital clue is that the victim smokes a pipe. But when we see him with the pipe in his mouth, the pipe is not lit.

The goal of mystery writers is to tie up lose ends and make sure all plot points and clues are reasonable and believable. Keeping track of continuity is important. Something out of whack can kick a reader out of the story.

One more thing . . . in “A Friend in Deed,” a character gives the address of the crime scene as 1278 Fairfax Drive. Later when Colombo is standing in front of the house, the (real life) house number painted on the curb is 400. I guess the camera crew couldn’t shoot in the 1200 block that day.

 

 

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Reading Aloud

I had no idea how revealing this would be. A lot of authors say they read their works in progress aloud to find typos and missing words, and it does bring those up, but the real discovery for me was the emotional content. That sounds odd, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t I know? I felt it while I was writing, but after a few revisions, I started to doubt the book, to wonder if it was sufficiently compelling even though my critique partners said it was. When I read the dialogue aloud, I discovered the full intensity of the conflicts.

Another revelation was the excess detail in a number of scenes. When I’m revising silently, I tend to debate whether or not a line needs cutting. Does it give depth and flavor, or does it slow things down? When I was reading aloud, there was no question. I did this as if I were the voice actor for an audiobook, and if I couldn’t bring energy into certain material, if I couldn’t act it, it was interrupting the scene, not adding to it. I cut about 900 words that didn’t seem excessive when I did my “cut revision.” From now on, the “audio revision” goes into my writing process toolbox.

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