Acknowledging Technical Support by Karen Shughart

police motorcycle in middle of road
Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com

I write mysteries. They’re Cozies, which means they don’t include graphic violence, explicit intimate scenes or coarse language.  But they do have a sleuth who investigates the murders, and although the books are fiction and there’s a lot of sway in writing them, I want them to be at least somewhat technically correct.

There’s wiggle room, of course there is. No one is holding my feet to the fire if I miss a detail that a real detective wouldn’t. But my aim is to make the books as realistic as possible, so that’s why I decided to get technical support.

Technical support offers credibility to any work, and it’s important to me, as an author, to feel comfortable that what I’m writing has at least a semblance of investigative reality. Plus, it’s a fun way to meet competent experts in a wide variety of fields, in my case criminal justice.

Before completing Murder in the Museum, the first of the Edmund DeCleryk Mysteries, I attended an eight-week class sponsored by our county sheriff’s office. I learned all the ins-and-outs of our county’s criminal justice system, everything from investigative procedures to arrests and bookings to how a K-9 unit works. There are also a number of other services provided to the community by our sheriff’s office that have nothing to do with solving crimes; services to the elderly and children, for example, and learning about those gave me an appreciation for all the fine work our sheriffs do.  When I had additional questions, I was delighted when the sheriff and two of his undersheriffs offered to meet with me to answer those questions.

A retired commander from a sheriff’s department in another county, two retired police officers-one a professor of criminal justice at a local community college-helped me not only understand how our legal system works but also the steps in conducting a solid investigation. It was high praise, once the book was published, to get an email from one of my contacts who said the investigation in the book was “spot on”.

Now I’m working on the second book in the series, Murder in the Cemetery. I’ve kept notes and all the information from those wonderful and talented folks who helped me with the first book, but in this one I needed additional support. Our district attorney who is a former physician’s assistant, provided valuable insights and information. A possible connection to the murder with the CIA resulted in a lengthy and productive conversation with that agency’s public affairs director. A retired beat cop and friend gave stellar examples of how law enforcement agents can be compassionate.

blur close up focus gavel

Writing a book takes a lot of work. Keeping track of details, making sure the plot flows and keeping characters straight are part of the process, but  including realistic investigative procedures results in not only a better book but also one that passes the test for accuracy.

 

The Importance of Setting by Karen Shughart

aerial view, architecture, autumn

As I write this, it’s raining. Heavily and steadily. And there’s a bit of a chill in the air. After all, it’s fall, a transition month of warm days, cool nights, brilliant sunshine and cloudless skies; apples, pumpkins, red orange, rust and yellow leaves and a profusion of brightly colored mums. And, of course, there’s also the rain, wind and a sea so noisy we can hear it with our windows closed. I’ve worked all morning on Murder in the Cemetery, the second book in the Edmund DeCleryk series, which is set in the fictional village of Lighthouse Cove, NY. I imagine Ed, and his wife, Annie, sitting in front of a roaring fire at the end of the day, drinking red wine and discussing the case.

Yesterday was different. It was one of those days when you just want to be outside enjoying the crisp fall air and the smell of the decaying leaves. I imagine a reflective Ed, walking on a deserted beach, waves lapping onto shore, cup of steaming coffee in hand.

In the winter my characters take long walks in the snow and meet friends at cozy pubs with wood-beamed ceilings that have parking lots filled with snowmobiles.  They eat hearty food and settle in with a good book in front of the fire.

In the spring the roads they drive on meander through acres of fruit trees covered with fragrant, fuzzy pink and white blossoms, and in summer, you might see them sailing on the teal blue waters of Lake Ontario or watching a splendid fireworks’ display from their decks.

Each season of the year has its own beauty and inspires me to interject that beauty into the plot of the Cozy mysteries I write. I have an affinity to Cozies because of their charm, but also because the reader gets to know not only the cast of characters but also the towns and villages where they live.

Think about Louise Penny’s Three Pines series- would it be as engaging if it weren’t set in a small, quaint Canadian village? And what about the works of Martha Grimes, whose character, Richard Jury, gets help solving cases from friends living in the quirky village of Long Piddleton.  If you’ve ever watched Midsomer Murders (one of my favorite “cozy” TV series), you’ll remember the festivals, concerts and fairs as well as the enticing Midsomer County woods, fields and streams that help set the scene for those murders.

The setting of a book is crucial to drawing the reader into the plot. “It was a dark and stormy night, ….” although comically trite, really does warn the reader that something ominous is about to occur. But then there’s also an intriguing juxtaposition between a day when the birds are singing, the sunrise glorious and all’s right with the world, and a horrific murder that occurs that same morning in dark and swampy woods.

Understanding Your Characters

Part of what makes a great story is great characters. Any reader can tell you that. Writers talk about developing characters, fleshing them out, giving them back story, making them flawed and relatable. These are all vital steps in creating great a character.

But once the character is created, I find I have yet one more hurdle that I have to jump: I have to understand my characters.

A young couple in Galway contemplate the evening

But you created them, you might say with surprise. You wrote their background, you devised their likes and dislikes, fears and dreams. What’s left to understand?

Lots.

Characters run the show. They get away from you, the writer, taking their own story in directions you hadn’t anticipated. Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous. Yet it happens to all writers.

In my current work in progress, I realized after finishing the second draft that I had the wrong killer. A different character was standing in the wings looking guiltily around, trying not to make eye contact with me. Ah-hah, I thought. That’s the real killer!

Trying to pull a fast one on me, I might add.

In several of my books I have another problem of understanding with some of my characters: I write characters who are not native English speakers.

My mother and grandmother in Warsaw

As we all know, language affects not just the way we talk but even the way we think. Writing a foreign character (foreign to me, that is) means not only understanding their native tongue enough to be able to replicate their thoughts, but also understanding the way they frame their thoughts in the first place.

A Pole, an American and an Irishman walk into a bar…. They’re all thinking a little differently and it’s my job to understand those differences.

A woman examines a grave in Warsaw. What might she be thinking?

I’m not complaining. I love that job! I spend time improving my language skills. (By the way, for anyone interested in learning French, I recommend the lessons by Paul Noble. They’re very good!). Extra bonus, it helps when I travel the world and meet new people. So it’s a good problem to have. And one that I hope I have succeeded in overcoming.

But you tell me. If you’ve read any of my books, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my foreign characters and how well I’ve captured their differences.

Learn more about Jane Gorman and the Adam Kaminski mystery series at janegorman.com.

Flying High

by Janis Patterson

The Husband is an avid rocketeer and even has a Level 1 High Power rating. That’s heavy, folks, and means he can send up huge rockets. So why am I talking about rockets on a mystery writing blog?

I could say it’s a mystery to me why anyone likes sending up rockets, but that would be a cheap shot. I just know he’s not alone. There are thousands of hobbyists across the country and at least two national organizations. (I don’t pay that much attention to that part of it.) Our local chapter has at least two dozen members, and I remember being surprised that several of them were women. Of course, I am a member, but that’s only because of a family membership. Plus the fact I like some of our local members very much, and our group’s going out for dinner after a meeting is always a delight.

The rockets not so much. First of all you have no idea of how many parts go into a rocket, and considering how spread out they are during construction apparently not one can touch another while the rocket is being built. Second, every rocketeer needs multiples of different sizes of rocket bodies, which to me look just like cardboard tubes. Frankly, our sunroom (rocket central in our house) looks as if a pipe organ had exploded in there.

Thirdly, building a rocket takes an unimaginable amount of time, energy and money. Especially money. A dedicated rocketeer can spend up to a year building a rocket – deciding the size, creating the fins and attaching them, putting in the motor mount, calculating motor size, choosing a parachute, deciding whether or not to have a GPS and/or a camera, choosing the paint colors and design, then doing a base coat while the thing is still in pieces… then once the rocket is finally completed spending endless hours putting on the final finish. Sanding, painting, buffing, sanding again, painting again, buffing again… all for the dubious joy of sending the thing aloft with a whisssth, as likely as not never to be seen again! AAAAUGH!

Once in an attempt to understand I talked to The Husband about this. He didn’t see anything that wasn’t immediately obvious. “What’s to understand?” he asked. “It’s fun.”

Fun. Humph. I would really just as soon watch paint dry. Which, if I think about it, is not a very fair statement. The Husband seldom (like once every couple of years) reads fiction, yet he accompanies me to my local MWA meeting, whether or not the subject is one that interests him. Of course, directly after that I go with him to his rocketry meeting, where I know I won’t find anything that interests me beyond the cameraderie of dinner afterward.

However… I was born with an overdeveloped fairness gene, and must look at the other side. He finds fiction boring, much prefering history. He has always been absolutely astonished that I can spend an entire day at the computer wrestling with a storyline, weighing one word against another over and over again, sometimes barely conscious of what is going on around me (do NOT ask about the burned roast!) until I am so knackered I can barely stand and still enjoy it thoroughly… most of the time.

“It’s fun,” I tell him. The look he gives  me is probably equal to the one I give him. If I have learned anything it’s that we must be tolerant and supportive of our spouse’s passions, no matter how incomprehensible they might be to us!

Hope and Despair

thumb_IMG_1225_1024

Tomorrow is the birthday of the fourth book in the Adam Kaminski Mystery Series! What She Fears goes live tomorrow, August 16, and that’s both exciting and nerve-wracking.

Of course, I’m already hard at work on the next book. No rest for the weary, as they say. Book 5 (no title yet) is about hope. Maybe even about faith. It’s about music, art, and color.

IMG_4122

I struggled a lot with the opening scenes. I’m a planner, so I already had my character sketches and outline done before I started writing. I knew who I was writing about and what would happen in each scene. But something was missing.

I figured maybe I was distracted by the upcoming book launch. I’ve been doing a lot of promotion for the first book in the series (and it’s going very well — pick up your free copy of A Blind Eye here if you haven’t started the series yet!) so I decided I was just nervous about that. Distracted from writing.

NO DISTRACTIONS ALLOWED

Makes sense, right?

Distracted, I should add, is an understatement. A complete emotional mess might be more accurate. Will my readers like it? Will they love it? I think it’s my best book yet. But I admit to being a little biased.

DEFINITELY DISTRACTING

Some days I wake up full of hope, just knowing What She Fears will be a hit. Fans of Adam Kaminski will love it. Other days I wake up in despair. Everyone will hate it. No one will understand what the book is about or what it says.

Then — finally — it hit me. That had been my problem all along with book 5. Here I thought I was writing a book about hope. But I’d left out the despair.

How can you regain hope if you haven’t first experienced despair?

I love it when a story comes together. That one, elusive element that finally makes it all click. The glue that holds it all together. The book is about hope. The book is about despair. And like all good books, it’s about the journey.

The writing is coming along well now. I so enjoy the time I spend putting words to paper, watching my ideas come out into the open, seeing them take form. It’s enthralling and it’s invigorating.

I’ll share more about the next book in future posts, as time permits. For now, I remain hopeful about the launch of What She Fears. Take a look for yourself and let me know what you think! What-She-Fears-Web-Small

Learn more about me and my writing at janegorman.com. Sign up for my newsletter or follow me on Facebook or Twitter. My books are available at Amazon and a variety of other retailers.

 

What do Jessica Fletcher, Shania Twain, and Sarah Winnemucca have in common? by #Paty Jager

canstockphoto26040640I was asked this question for a blog interview I did: Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

These are the people/characters I picked and the reasoning behind choosing them.

The first is a character: Jessica Fletcher of the TV series Murder She Wrote. Jessica is always finding herself in the middle of murders and so is Shandra Higheagle my protagonist in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series. They are both amateur sleuths and they both have creative minds. Shandra is a potter who sells her sought-after vases as art pieces.

DanPost_DP3544_15The second person is real: Shania Twain, the country singer. Her artistic nature and panache reminds me of Shandra. My character buys a new pair of fancy cowgirl boots every time she sells a vase. She likes the flashy, fancy ones with embroidery and cut-outs. And while she dresses with flair and adds special touches to her vases, she loves to ride her horse, snuggle with her dog, and dig in the clay that she uses for her art.

The third person is also real and a part of history: Sarah Winnemucca, a Paiute woman who was an activist and educator from 1844-1891. Shandra has been kept from her father’s Nez Perce family while growing up. Now that is an adult, she is exploring her heritage. The more she travels to the reservation to get to know her family, she is determined to help her people and family through her art and educate the masses. I have a post here about some other fascinating Paiute women.

When this question was first put to me, I had to think about it a bit. But once I started connecting the people with my character it became clear who she was and how she related to each of these women I picked.

I’m currently working on the 6th book in the Shandra Higheagle series, Reservation Revenge. This book is all set on the Colville Indian Reservation. The home of the Chief Joseph band of Nez Perce and 11 other tribes. It has been a learning experience writing this book. Both culturally and as I try to make it twist and turn.

If you want to learn more about Shandra Higheagle you can go here.

You can get the first book of the series for free:

Double Duplicity (652x1024)Book one of the Shandra Higheagle Native American Mystery Series
Dreams…Visions…Murder
On the eve of the biggest art event at Huckleberry Mountain Resort, potter Shandra Higheagle finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. She’s ruled out as a suspect, but now it’s up to her to prove the friend she witnessed fleeing the scene was just as innocent.

With help from her recently deceased Nez Perce grandmother, Shandra becomes more confused than ever but just as determined to discover the truth. While Shandra is hesitant to trust her dreams, Detective Ryan Greer believes in them and believes in her.
Can the pair uncover enough clues for Ryan to make an arrest before one of them becomes the next victim?

BUY LINKS

Amazon / Kobo / Nook / Apple / Windtree Press

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 25+ novels and over a dozen novellas and short stories of murder mystery, western historical romance, and action adventure. She has a RomCon Reader’s Choice Award for her Action Adventure and received the EPPIE Award for Best Contemporary Romance. Her first mystery was a finalist in the Chanticleer Mayhem and Mystery Award and is a finalist in the RONE Award Mystery category. This is what Mysteries Etc says about her Shandra Higheagle mystery series: “Mystery, romance, small town, and Native American heritage combine to make a compelling read.”

All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. Riding horses and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.

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

patyjager logo

 

 photo source: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / dizanna

Inside the modern jail

By Sally Carpenter

This post first appeared some time ago on Writers Who Kill. The information is good for any writer who sets a story inside a modern jail. The picture of jails as long rows of cells with men clanging cups against iron bars just isn’t true nowadays. This description is from the 1980s but I’m sure it’s still relevant. Jails are moving away from “cells” to “pods.” Read on

If you write crime novels, you might set a scene inside a jail. Do you know what a modern jail looks like or how it functions?

Jails are intended for short-term housing of up to one year only. Prisons are constructed for long-term housing of many years so they are larger and have more amenities. Juveniles are housed in other facilities designed for that population.

For about eight months in the mid 1990s while I was finishing my seminary studies, I was the jail chaplain intern at the DuPage County Jail in Wheaton, Ill. At the time the jail had just finished constructing new cells with better security that allowed women civilians on the floors.

The new cells were in a tower. The basement level housed the solitary confinement cells and the upper floors had the male general population (I’ll discuss the female inmates later). The top floor was for illegal immigrants.

Security cameras monitored the hallways and the elevators. A person approaching the elevator had to wait for the deputy watching on the camera to open the door by remote control.

On each floor the cells were arranged in “pods,” now the industry standard for new jails. A few years ago I visited the Ventura County (Calif.) Main Jail as part of a Citizens’ Academy program and that facility also used “pods.” This format provides deputies greater visibility and control over the inmates.

The center of the pod was the control room encased in bulletproof glass. A deputy sat inside and watched the inmates at all times. While on duty deputies were not allowed to do anything that would distract them such as reading or watching TV (nowadays I assume that prohibition includes texting and using a cellphone).

The cells, also made of glass, were in a row racing the pod center. Each cell had a bed, sink, toilet and shower for one man. The inmates used the toilet in full view and the small shower doors provided only a minimal amount of privacy. The deputy could see every action of each inmate. A speaker system allowed the deputy to listen in as well.

Inside the pod center was a panel where the deputy could open and close the cell doors. The deputy controlled access at all times. If a fight broke out, the deputy inside the control room would remain safe as he or she summoned help.

The cells opened into a recreation room that housed a TV high on the wall as well as tables and benches that were permanently bolted to the floor. During the daytime inmates, who were not confined to their cells, could go into the rec room if they choose. The deputy watched the activity inside this room as well. At night all inmates were “locked” inside their individual cells.

The only “windows” were small glassed-in slits just under the ceilings that let in a tiny amount of sunlight. The inmates couldn’t see anything outside the building.

A glass-walled meeting room, with a table and benches, was attached to the rec room. Again, the deputy controlled access to and from this room. Once a week I came to the room to lead a Bible study for the inmates. The deputy could see inside this room although I never had any trouble from the inmates. Some inmates came to the group just to break the daily monotony but most were genuinely interested in bettering themselves.

The inmates never left the floor except to go to court or as a group to the gym (the men lined up and moved through the hallway in a line with several deputies escorting them).

Meals were prepared in the kitchen, placed in individual covered trays, and then delivered to the floors on a wheeled cart. The inmates ate in the rec room or their cells. After eating the dishes were collected and returned to the kitchen for washing.

Inmates called trustees did meal preparation and cleaning. Doing trustee work gave the men points to reduce their sentences. Many of the trustees enjoyed the job as they could get out of their cells, move around, and perform a useful task.

The deputies did not carry weapons. My supervisor suggested that I not carry my purse into the jail, so I locked my handbag in the trunk of my car. I was also told to never bring anything from the outside to give to an inmate, and never take anything from them.

A deputy told me that most of the men were in jail for one of two reasons: drugs or lack of education. The jail had a small library where the inmates could not only do legal research but also work on GED classes.

The female population was far smaller and was housed on two floors in the older section of the jail that did not have “pods.” These were the traditional-type dorm cells with bunk beds. The cell doors had steel bars, not glass. The interesting thing about the women is that they complained about their living conditions far more than the men did.

One thing I learned from this experience is how much we take our freedoms and privacy for granted. At the end of the workday I could leave the jail and drive home. The inmates didn’t have that luxury.

The chaplain program was run by the nonprofit organization JUST (justice, understanding, service, teaching) of DuPage that provided free Bibles and Qur’ans for inmates as well as worship services and educational programs. For more information, visit www.justofdupage.org.