In My Words

HourToReapNook479x730, 170ppiAbout the main character in my novels, Harper Simone…

I should begin with a few words about my main character, Harper Simone. First, I readily admit to copping her name after the birth of my first granddaughter. As soon as my daughter revealed she’d be called Harper Simone, I just knew that was a literary name if I’d every heard one and it begged to be stolen, borrowed, used. So, there you have it. (Yes, my daughter was inspired by the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee.)

So how would I describe my character, Harper Simone? Besides being attractive, slim, and very educated, (why would I make her anything less?), how about extremely independent, hard-working, well-bred and interested in what makes people behave the way they do? She  has a Masters degree in Psychology and has trained at the Behavioral Analysis Unit-2 at Quantico, Virginia. Harper likes to get to the bottom of things and finds herself involved in helping to solve crimes. Possessing an innately curious nature and having a knack for asking the right questions, she’s a natural at investigating and research. These traits serve her well since she’s also a successful mystery writer. She’s a loyal friend, but she shies away from relationships. Harper grew up as an only child who came to America as an infant with her French-born mother. She knew nothing about her natural father, only that he was gone. Her mother and step-father raised her in northern Virginia. As you might expect, she is very close to them.

Without realizing it, I created an older version of Nancy Drew, which should make sense considering I read every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on as a child. With her character forming the basis of my idea of a childhood heroine, I must have written her personality traits into Harper’s character. I was unaware of this until my son-in-law pointed them out to me thinking I’d done it intentionally. And, because I’m still a voracious reader of mysteries and thrillers, John Sandford’s character, Lucas Davenport, became the model for the state trooper in the series. That was intentional.

I’m not one to give things away, but in the second book of the series, Harper’s life takes a sudden and unexpected turn. You’ll just have to find out what happens for yourself.

 

 

MYSTERY/CRIME FICTION POPULARITY

A recent Harris Poll from August 2015 has claimed that female fiction readers read mystery thrillers/crime books at a much higher rate than male readers (57% compared to 39% for males) and that it is the most popular genre for both genders. Which begs the question, why?

Considering that the genre encapsulates everything from cozy whodunnits, romantic suspense, law and order crime procedurals to psychological thrillers there must be some over arching appeal to women in these stories to keep them coming back for more.

Could it be that darkness resonates with women more so than with men? If so, why? Perhaps it’s the themes explored in mystery/crime fiction: life and death scenarios, the power plays in relationships, including those in the workforce; love gone down the drain, betrayal, or ambition run amuck. Whatever the underlying reason, women are attracted to writing and reading crime stories that skirt the boundaries of their own lives. Maybe it’s just that women are used to sharing their life stories more so than men. Perhaps this generation of female thriller writers seems less afraid to expose and confront issues that our culture shies away from acknowledging. Their stories are gutsy, psychologically penetrating and feature strong, intelligent, kick-ass sexy heroines who fearlessly confront their antagonists often with lethal intent.

Considering how many books there are in print and how many more get published each year, it does boggle the mind that no two stories are the same. How do writers come up with a seemingly unlimited number of original plots? The adage, write what you know, is true up to a point. You don’t have to be a serial killer to write about one. But, how can a writer attempt  to get into their head when their brains have been encoded improperly? The serial killers, that is, not the writer.getting in someone's headWhile you’re in there, you’re going to see disturbing things that can be the stuff of nightmares; human nature at its worst. Engrossing yourself in so much evil for every book you write can eventually get to you. I can think of one thriller writer gone paranoid who began to believe her evil creations were under her bed.

Which brings me to another point; how can thriller/crime writers write like they know what it’s like to be a serial killer, or an extortionist, or a terrorist? How do we know what caliber gun to use or how far it will reach its target? We sure can’t depend on what we see on TV. The fact that you must reload a revolver after six shots tends to get glossed over during fast-paced shooting scenes. And, trying to hit someone from a hundred yards away with a handgun is not going to happen either. So we do our homework. Thorough research is the key to a good story. It makes it believable, but you can’t hit readers with all of it, either. Not everything we find while doing research winds up in a novel. It also helps to have friends in the right places. Writers can avail themselves of experts in the field: law enforcement, medical examiners, profilers, etc. There are also courses, conferences and text books to refer to for information. We all voraciously read the genres we write. And, we have each other to bounce questions around. Unless of course you know a real serial killer, then you can just ask him.

 

Who Invented the Mystery Novel?

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It should come as no surprise to those of us who love to read and write in the mystery/thriller genre that it is the most read fiction genre (61%) among mature fiction readers. (Harris Poll.) Nor should it surprise us that female fiction readers read mystery/thriller/crime novels at a much higher rate than men (57% compared to 39%). What is it about the genre that attracts us, women especially, as its primary readership?

            This speaks to the eternals of the genre that make it enduring. Whether a psychologically dense tale, a bone-chilling nightmare, or an international crime of espionage solved by a kick-ass female detective these stories all head for the darkest places in human consciousness. In other words, they all describe the human condition. It’s about conflict, danger and suspense, yet it’s more than about solving a mystery. It entails the means by which writers and their readers of each era can explore the everyday shocking and tragic events that make the News. The stories that resonate most are the ones that hit closest to home: power struggles, ambition, sex, fears; life and death matters.

But who wrote the first mystery? I’d wondered if perhaps someone had found hieroglyphic evidence left by an adventurous Egyptian scribe who might have written something like, “Tales of Mesopotamia: The Search for the Hidden Mummy.” I couldn’t find it on Amazon. Remember the Gutenberg printing press was invented in 1440 in Germany. Right about now you’re saying, “You dunce, everyone knows it was Edgar Allen Poe in 1841 who wrote The Murder in the Rue Morgue.”  (Buzzer: aaack.) That would be incorrect. Do not pass Go, and do not collect one hundred dollars.

Good sleuths that you are, I bet you finally found the name Wilkie Collins, who in 1868 wrote “The Moonstone,” a detective novel replete with bumbling constables, the English countryside, red-herrings and a manor house where the  mystery occurred. Wilkie was a small, friendly sort of bon vivant who loved women, travel and public praise, but who unfortunately possessed a disproportionately large head. He was friends with Charles Dickens who gave him professional support and the inspiration to combine Dickens’s own expansive novels with Poe’s ideas to write a detective novel. But alas, if you thought this was the answer…aaack again. I’m so sorry. (I just threw you a red herring and that’s what you get for calling me a dunce.)

Give up?

Wait for it…

It was Charles Felix.

WHO?

Charles Felix. He wrote the mystery novel, “The Notting Hill Mystery” in 1862. It began as a part of a magazine serial running in weekly installments in competition with Dickens’s own magazine called “Household Words.” It was so well received that it was published in its entirety in 1865 and was very successful. This genre had never been done before in book form and the publisher had to explain to readers they were expected to solve a sort of puzzle as they read it. But that wasn’t the only mystery.

It seems that Charles Felix was a fictitious name. For 149 years his real identity was unknown until Professor Paul Collins of Portland State University, driven by distraction and determination to get to the bottom of the real author, found the answer. After researching hundreds of documents and old newspaper articles he finally came upon another novel written by Felix two years before, called “Velvet Lawn.”  He was able to find the name of the publisher (Saunders & Otley) and a connection to an article in a gossip column that mentioned Felix was the sole representative of the firm that published “Velvet Lawn” and his name was Charles Warren Adams. Thus, he was both the author and the publisher.

And, that folks is the answer to another mystery. Who was the first self-published author? The answer:  Charles Warren Adams. And now you know.

 

Care Manual for Writers

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Not everyone is born with the talent to write, but it has been said that anyone can become a writer if they are willing to put in the time and effort to skillfully learn the craft. We write because we must and because we have something to say. Writing, like any creative art, illuminates life. Our joy in writing comes through the process of writing itself, but writing is definitely hard work. In a culture where the norm is to receive a scheduled pay check as compensation and validation for their work, writing can be considered nothing more than a pastime; that writing is not a real job. I would challenge these critics to try their own hand at writing a book. Writers are not always motivated by the same things that motivate “normal” people because we see the world through a very different lens. This can often be difficult for others to understand. I don’t know of any writer who became one solely because of the money.

As writers, we need to honor whatever we need to do to keep us mentally, spiritually and physically healthy and productive. By and large, the greatest need we have is for support and encouragement. Ideally, this should begin within the nuclear family. If this is not possible then circles of friends, your writing tribe, teachers, the public, and anyone else who enjoys your writing and believes in your talent can serve this need. When a writer lacks acknowledgement and support they can often doubt that it’s okay to be a writer. Surround yourself with positive support. It will not serve you or your writing to give in to naysayers.

Writers also need a supportive physical environment in which to work. This means a writer must allow themselves freedom from the distractions of unnecessary interruptions. While writing we need our solitude. A writer’s time can be taken up with too many phone calls from time eaters. In addition, writers are often their own worst enemy by giving in to the need to check emails and Facebook frequently. We got along just fine before their appearance in our lives. We need to establish boundaries on distractions.

While absorbed in the process of writing, writers become one with their work. All life around them ceases to be heard, including conversations attempted by those who see you looking in their direction and assume you are listening. They may fail to notice that your eyes are vacant because your right brain has you engaged elsewhere. Writers can be so absorbed that they forget to eat. Needed trips to the bathroom are ignored until one becomes aware that their back molars are floating. It’s not that we need keepers to slip a sandwich under our noses, although that would be nice, but sometimes we do need a partner, friend or an alarm to remind us to get up and move.

Balance between work and play is also a necessity. All work and no play leads eventually to burnout and stale writing. At least once a week plan a fun diversion. Daily exercise is not only good for the body but good for clearing out your head. There is nothing like a walk in fresh air, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a nature trail or a beach where you can walk.

Many a great book has wasted its life waiting in a drawer for its author to overcome their fears behind getting it published. Some writers are even reluctant to put their work out there because they believe their book will only be judged by the quantity of its sales. In a one size fits all mentality, if marketing and publicity is not a writer’s forte, a wonderful book can die on the vine. Don’t let that happen. It is said that our talent is God’s gift to us. Using and sharing it is our gift back to God. According to Julia Cameron, artist and author of the Artist’s Way, “Many blocked people are actually very powerful and creative personalities who have been made to feel guilty about their own strengths and gifts.”

Readers can show their support for an author by letting them know how much they enjoyed reading their book. Make the effort to write a good review. Better yet, if the author has a website or an email address, tell them how much the book meant to you. I promise you it will make their day.

 

CREATING SYMPATHY FOR YOUR VILLAIN

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The devil is in the details, so if your antagonist is diabolical it is still possible to create a semblance of sympathy for him in spite of his actions. Readers don’t necessarily have to like a character, but since we’re all human, surely there are a few redeeming qualities even in the most unlikeable of people. We can sympathize with and have compassion for someone because of the human qualities we all share. Good writing skills can help the writer elicit that sympathy for the villain by creating an arc of believable events and conditions throughout the development of their character’s behavior.

Creating a detailed biography first for each of your characters is essential, but especially so in crafting a diabolical or other villainous character as they play out against each of the other characters in the plot. Through layers of nuanced information, the writer guides the reader into identifying with some aspect/aspects of a villain’s complicated personality. Here’s where back story becomes very important. This is not an info dump, but one that is gradually revealed throughout the character arc of the plot. Readers want to know how the villain’s soul became so twisted. Each scene that he appears in should in some way reveal more of his essential nature and personality. You can play with a reader’s emotions—first by making them sympathize with the villain’s past, then after knowing his nature and motives, writers can cause the reader to fear where his evil intentions are heading towards an intended victim. After a period where a reader shuts down his sympathy, it may be restored again once they learn another piece of the villain’s back story.

The writer must create and reveal the villain’s prior history of trauma, addictions, disappointments, work history and financial stability to name just a few elements. Did the villain grow up in a dysfunctional family? Maybe the villain’s life was shaped by a series of incidents involving some really bad luck. Did something happen that forever prevented him from living an otherwise normal life? Maybe he/she suffered a disempowering experience of sexual/physical abuse as a child that later led to emotional and physical displays of fulminating rage, resentment, or revenge. Writers must include the influential roles that others have played in their villain’s life such as parents, friends and co-workers, etc. and whether the villain has re-enforced their roles or managed to rise above them.

In the case of a truly evil antagonist such as a murderer, or a serial killer, it is still possible to craft a character that a reader can sympathize with based on the conditions that made him that way, not to excuse their behavior, but just to understand it. Show his viewpoint, which to him will always be normal, but it will be hard not to understand his motives. It is essential when writing about characters with basically anti-social behavior patterns to do some serious research into abnormal psychology. Your readers will expect your evil character to have depth and a motive that drives him, and that you will fully flesh him out during the story. If not, he will come across as too simplistic and clichéd.

For instance, if your antagonist is a serial killer, their brain was probably encoded incorrectly during the development of their Amygdala, in essence creating a born-killer who is pathologically incapable of feeling any emotion at all behind their behavior. As is true for any villain, but especially with a serial killer, what happens when they are pitted against vulnerable characters? Conflict is what happens, and that is what you’re after in your plot.

There is also the possibility of giving a seemingly unforgivable person a streak of humanity by making him do something decent that would otherwise be contrary to his expected behavior. As idiosyncratic as the majority of his behavior may be, there will always be logic to it even though it may surprise you at times. It may even surprise him.

Another way for a writer to create sympathy for a villain is to reveal his thoughts, showing readers a deeper and more chilling side of him. This works especially well during times of anger, resentment, and arrogance, especially if he’s drinking or doing drugs. The villain is undergoing a personal internal trial of some sort that readers can sympathize with because they too have felt similar emotions. No matter how vile your villain is readers can sympathize with what it feels like to be vulnerable, humiliated, or in agony; the very emotions that may set your villain off. If your villain is self-deprecating, his thoughts may be so honest that he comes across as almost admirable. Make your villain believable and you can make readers sympathetic to something about him even if their behavior is heinous.

 

WHO IS THAT INNER MUSE WHISPERING IN YOUR EAR?

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I think most writers and artists of any creative field would agree on this one. Very often we all get stuck groping for a word, the right phrase, or maybe we’ve just come up bone dry on ideas. The more we rack our brains to find the perfect solution to express what we need, the more elusive it seems. Most often, the best thing to do is just leave it and move on to something else. Some of us even request it out loud with an, “Okay, I need a better word here—help!” When we do this we’re invoking our MUSE to “inspire” us. Usually, it only takes a minute for the answer. Who is this Muse? Could it be the spirit of a late author guiding us from the other side? Or…

Originally, the word muse was derived from Ancient Greek: (Mousai); and perhaps from the Proto-Indo-European root word meaning mental—as in think, and then later adopted in Roman times. In Greek Mythology, the Muses represented the nine inspirational goddesses of literature, science and the arts. A museum was the place where statues of the Muses were once displayed and worshipped. Later it came to refer to a place for the public display of knowledge and the arts. Even in modern English usage we still regard a Muse to be someone who inspires writers, artists and musicians. The words amuse and music also comes from this word.

For writers, the mythological Muse who was thought to sit on our shoulders whispering in our ear was called Calliope. She was not only the superior Muse among other Muses, but was said to accompany kings and princes in order to impose justice and serenity (she wears a laurel wreath on her head). Writers (at least this one) might say she is still imposing justice and serenity on us by doing justice to our prose and giving us the benefit of serenity when we get that AHA moment. Calliope was also the protector of epic poems and rhetoric art (she carries a writing tablet in one hand). In Greek mythology, Homer is said to have asked Calliope to help him write the Iliad and the Odyssey. I hope she charged him by the word.

Calliope has helped this writer more times than I can remember because I’m a real stickler for the perfect word or phrase. I am not one of those writers who just zips through the first draft without revising. I edit as I go along, and edit, and edit. Then, edit again through each draft. You may wonder why she didn’t just suggest the final word/phrase the first time to me. Well, it’s because she’s a woman, and as a woman, she can always find a way to improve anything.

She’s also very slick at overcoming writer’s constipation, otherwise known as “writer’s block.” I had gotten off to a poor start with something I was working on. It just wasn’t flowing. I kept giving it a rest, and coming back to it—nothing. Three attempts at introductions and no grand entrance. I had too much going on in my life at the same time, so I dropped it for a week. Suddenly, one morning I was rudely awakened by everything all worked out for the beginning of the plot in perfect order and making much more sense. Plus, when I started writing dialogue for one of my main characters, someone else showed up on the page. And, her personality fit the plot so much better.

Was that actually just my subconscious working on the problem as I slept? According to research inspiration only explains the neural transmission (part of a cognitive restructuring mechanism), not the origin of creativity itself. Insight is what precedes inspiration. It leads us from a state of not knowing how to solve a problem to a state where we know how to solve it. That AHA moment, which seems to appear suddenly from beyond yourself, is actually the result of a spark of high gamma (brain waves) activity that spike one third of a second to 8 seconds before you receive the insight for the answer. These gamma waves stem from the brain’s right hemisphere (right frontal cortex) in an area that involves the executive functions needed to perform shifting mental states and handling associations by reassembling the parts of a problem. This constellation of gamma neurons (billions of them with quadtrillions of synapses) forms the network leading to the pathway that creates your solution.

The brain needs to be rested enough to perform its functions properly though. This would explain why an over-taxed brain gets blocked. When we meditate, breathe deeply, take long walks, and especially when we get enough sleep the brain is able to strengthen its neural pathways. “Sleep on it” is very good advice.

So whether it’s Calliope or my own brain that keeps on working long after I think I’ve shut it off, I don’t care. Writing is a lonely enough pursuit and I welcome the help from wherever it comes—just not that early in the morning before I have coffee.

 

CRIME SCENE GOT YOU BUGGED? 

I incorporate a lot of forensic science into my novels. Lots of readers like the CSI stuff, but for anyone interested in writing crime fiction, knowing the standard techniques for establishing the time of death for your victims and the post mortem interval (PMI) are important. Note that the two are not always equal. Establishing the time of death has its own methodology (such as: rigor mortis, algo mortis, livor mortis, etc.). To establish PMI, the time interval is restricted to the amount of time the body or corpse has been exposed to an environment conducive to allowing bacteria, fungi, and female insects to arrive and invade body orifices to lay their eggs and begin their life cycle.

Forensic entomology is the branch of medicolegal science that deals with the determination of the PMI. There are two methods to determine this; either using successive waves of insects, or using maggot age and development. Maggot age is used first in cases where a death has occurred less than a month before the discovery of a body. Insect succession is used where discovery hasn’t occurred until a month or so later. Maggot age is based on the identification, size and development of immature insects and arthropods that are collected on or near corpses. The presence of many species of insects can overlap at the same time. Knowing the insect fauna of a particular region and the times of colonization can help entomologists determine the period of time since a death has occurred.

Samples of insects are collected from the body, clothing and soil, or enclosure and brought back to the lab. Live maggots are collected in glass jars with tissues, while dead maggots and pupa casings are collected in vials labeled with pencil, in a preservative of 85% alcohol along with soil samples (if found on or below ground) taken two feet around the body and up to 18 inches below the body. Their stage of growth is then compared against environmental conditions existing at the time, including weather, temperature, elevation, terrain, vegetation and soil type, degree of exposure to the elements and where the body was found to estimate when the females deposited their eggs. It matters where the body was found because different species of insects appear in urban areas than those appearing in rural locales. It also matters if the body was found exposed on the ground (or under leaves), below ground, or in an enclosed environment such as a box, a cistern, or sealed up somewhere. And, it matters if there were any drugs present in the body before death as this will not only affect decomposition, but the presence of drugs can assist in determining cause of death from their pharmacological presence within the insects that have fed on the body.

A corpse goes through different stages of decomposition helped along by the insect activity feasting on it. Bacteria and fungi will begin the initial decomposition of a body. Shortly thereafter, attracted to the moist environment of putrefaction, flies will seek the mouth, eyes, ears, nose and genitals first. Later, they will enter the body’s trunk, which can also indicate if the death was due to unnatural causes because insects will appear in wounds. Blow flies (Calliphoridae), one of the most common flies to appear during decomposition (as well as flesh flies Sarcophagidae), make their appearance within the first ten minutes of death if there is fresh blood (or within 24 hours if the season is favorable) while the body is still fresh. A blow fly’s life cycle goes through six different stages: the egg, three larval stages, the pupa and the adult.

A forensic entomologist can estimate the PMI by comparing the insect’s life cycle against the known time it would take for the insect to reach each stage of the cycle in its development. They look at the oldest stage of insect and the temperature in the region to estimate the day or range of days within which the first insects have laid their eggs. For example, using a reference point of 70 degrees Fahrenheit, within 23 hours blow fly eggs will develop into the first larval stage. Twenty seven hours later, the larva has reached its second stage of growth. The third stage takes another twenty two hours to reach development. Larvae will migrate away from the body to find a suitable place to pupate. Within another 130 hours the blow fly has reached its pupa stage. Samples from this stage are very important for the entomologist to find and are often overlooked because they also resemble rat droppings and the egg casings of roaches. An adult blow fly will hatch within another 143 hours or a little over 14 days. The cycle then begins again. The presence of adult blow flies are only used to identify the species unless they have wrinkled wings indicating they’ve just hatched.

As gases produced by bacteria in the body cause it to bloat, the temperature rises in the corpse. Blow flies are still present but are joined by the common house fly (Muscidae). Some species of flies are not interested in fresh flesh and will show up later (Cheese skippers, or Piophilidae). During a body’s decomposition facilitated by bacteria and maggots (larvae), offensive smelling body fluids leak out. By this time the corpse has lost 20% of its original mass. By the time the corpse has been reduced to hair, skin and bones the fly population has been replaced by arthropods (beetles). If the body has been left in a wet environment the maggots stick around longer and nabid insects (such as a damsel bug) and reduviid insects (Hemiptera, assassin bugs, etc.) move in. If it’s in a dry environment, hide beetles appear. By the final stage of decomposition only the bones and hair remain. Mites and moth larvae will consume the hair leaving only the bones.

This is just an elementary explanation of forensic entomology since there is so much more that the science can be used for in painting a picture of the crime scene and the final days of a victim’s life. The science can provide a ton of additional plot fodder for the asking, such as: using interesting species of insects that could only be found in unusual indigenous locales, locating the corpse in an unexpected place (such as an outhouse pit, a drainage culvert, or an abandoned mine shaft), moving the body from a different area from where the crime occurred, the seasonal implications of when a body

 

The Lure of Foreign Locations for the Mystery Genre

 

Some of my favorite authors of mystery/romance/suspense/thriller/crime novels write about and/or live in foreign countries. Give me a novel, especially a series, located in the English or Scottish countryside, Quebec, Australia, or Sweden and I’ll read everything the authors have ever written. Why? I just do. Maybe I find the quaintness and slower action of a mystery that takes place in a small hamlet in the countryside a nice balance to the fast-paced urban mystery set in a metropolis of concrete and steel. Maybe it’s because I love picturesque places with a history; after all, isn’t that why people travel. Maybe it’s because I personally favor living in smaller, established communities where you can still walk to shops and restaurants without having to live in the city. I have experienced living this way, and I prefer it. Walking may be the key here. We spend so much time with our eyes focused on where we’re driving that we no longer actually take in the details of our environment. Now, my favorite authors transport me with the fruits of their own imagination; sometimes fictional towns, sometimes real; all with secrets to unfold. But, that story must still appeal to my need for forensic detail.

P.D. James, the late reigning monarch of British mysteries, was my adult role model for the genre. (Of course, as a child it was reading Nancy Drew mysteries.)  Through her detective novels, James provided my first introduction to British crime-solving, and encouraged my fascination with the British Isles. Scotland Yard’s Deputy Chief Inspector, Adam Dalgliesh, was the protagonist in fourteen of her novels which chronicled his rise through the ranks of London’s Scotland Yard. Because the novels had Dalgliesh traveling all over England, I fell in love with the island’s diversity for picturesque scenery and its sea, who’s natural propensity for violent activity mirrored the murders that were arranged there.  

One of my favorite authors, Louise Penny, a Canadian, has her Chief Inspector Gamache novels nestled in the fictitious tiny Quebec village of Three Pines. I can actually feel myself enjoying daily walks and meals at Gabri’s and Olivier’s bistro with the neighbors, and reading at Myrna’s bookstore. I enjoy the French she incorporates throughout her prose and the way she alternates the criminal investigations between Three Pines and the Sûreté de Quebec’s urban headquarters. It’s always interesting to compare the politics involved in crime-solving between the U.S. and foreign criminal justice systems.

Another favorite, Author, Elizabeth George actually lives between Washington State and the English countryside. Her D.I. Thomas Lynley mystery novels create a sense of place located in fictitious towns and hamlets that feel so authentic, you want to visit there. I’ve learned a great deal about life in the English countryside, as well as about British crime-solving from her novels. Her mysteries weave fully-fleshed character studies and insights into social issues throughout her plots. Lynley’s partner, Detective Sargeant Barbara Havers, may not dress the part, but her off the grid investigative skills place her on par with the best of female crime-solvers.

Scottish born Val McDermid’s suspense/thrillers will chill you to the bone on a summer’s night. The on again-off again relationship between her characters, Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, provide the vehicles for profiling and crime-solving. Although her plots have varied international locations, including the English countryside, her chilling writing style is captivating.

Swedish author, Helene Tursten and her Inspector Irene Huss novels juggle a crime-solving female police inspector with her role as a wife and mother while giving readers an interesting taste of Swedish life and scenery. If you enjoy police procedurals you will like her novels.

Australian author, Kate Morton writes historical fiction/mystery/romance novels. Her suspense-filled novels are located in country settings full of crumbling castles and exquisite gardens where long-buried aristocratic family secrets twist the fates of lives forever. Her novels alternate back and forth between different locations and years, drawing readers into her elaborate details of scenes.

Okay, this is cheating a little, but Kathy Reichs, also known for the T.V. adaptation of her novels in the series “Bones,” created the character Temperance Brennon, a forensic anthropologist who works crime scenes between Charlotte, N. C. and the Laboratoire des Sciences Jucidiares et de Medecine Legale for the province of Quebec, Canada. This is one forensic scientist who’s really caught between the crime-solving politics of two countries. Fortunately, when she’s on call in Quebec, so are the crime scenes which give readers a taste of Quebeçois life.

It’s really tough when you’ve read everything to date in a series and are waiting for the next book to come out. Multiply that times all my favorite authors, and I’m constantly waiting for more. The other thing is—I read too fast.

 

 

ON THE VALUE OF A GOOD EDITOR

Let’s face it, even the best writers need their work evaluated by an experienced and objective second set of eyes. The publishing industry continues to be in flux; but there is one requirement of the industry that will always remain constant: a well written, grammatically correct and structured manuscript stands a much better chance to catch the attention of an agent or an acquisitions editor than one that has not gone through the editing process. Especially if you’re going to self-publish, it is even more important that you seek a professional editor to help you polish your manuscript.

Here are just a few tips on how to avoid common mistakes that writers make:

  • The formatting of the manuscript for submission to an agent needs to be correct. Half inch margins all around, the first line indent should be put at 0.25 px (find this under paragraph: indents and spacing.) Set this in the beginning for the entire manuscript. Yes, this equals five spaces from the left margin, BUT if you use the ruler at the top of the page be careful not to use the half inch lines because that equals more than five actual spaces. The second line of that ruler equals the 0.25)
  • Double space your manuscript, but remove the extra space after the end of a paragraph. Add the extra space only when you change scenes.
  • Insert page breaks between chapters. This prevents chapters from ‘sliding’ backwards later.
  • There is only one space between sentences.
  • Whenever there is a shift in content such as in a new thought, or to another person speaking in a dialogue you must indent onto a new line.
  • Make sure the first letter of a word in a new dialogue is capitalized after the quotation marks. Ex. “When a sentence is broken by something,” he said, “the sentence then continues in the second half without the first word being capitalized.”
  • When you are creating an exclamatory sentence in a dialogue it is not always necessary to use an exclamation point at the end of the sentence. (Ex.: “Yay, we made him better,” I cheered. “We made him better, just like the vets do!” In the first sentence, I cheered indicates the force of the excitement, so no exclamation point is needed. In the second sentence you can leave the exclamation point because the sentence stands alone.
  • Do not use a hyphen where an em dash is required. Em dashes set off parenthetical material requiring emphasis. Always place the em dash right after the last letter of a word—and right before the new word. (Do not add an extra space on either side of the em dash).
  • Do not confuse the use of an em dash with the ellipsis. An ellipsis…indicates that you have removed text from an otherwise word-for-word quote. And, don’t use an ellipsis at the beginning of a sentence in a new paragraph or to begin a new dialogue. And, above all do not type three periods to indicate an ellipsis.
  • Be consistent with your verb tenses, especially within the same sentence.
  • Clear and concise words in a sentence are always preferred over clichéd or complicated ones. You would never say, “Her loquaciousness starkly juxtaposed my taciturn.”
  • When switching scenes, place an indicator such as *** centered between paragraphs.

Depending on how much experience a writer has in writing, and how many drafts a manuscript has already gone through, a manuscript may either require minimal editing such as proofreading (just before publication), or more advanced services that require a comprehensive review or even substantial rewriting. Editors do more than just check for grammar, spelling and punctuation errors. They also check for correct word usage, capitalization and sentence structure. They can review the basic story arc or plot development and help improve the overall structure of your manuscript. They may even write, delete and re-write text to improve readability (clarity and sense) as well as reorganize paragraphs, sections and chapters to improve flow and rhythm. They can help an author to find and use their voice in their writing. They can also check facts and remind writers to seek third party permission before using someone else’s material (such as books, songs, etc.) in their story.

Besides helping a writer to shape their manuscript a good editor acts as the voice for reason. They will tell you which darlings you must kill if you want your book to see the light of day. They help you to see what is not working and why, and what you need to do to make it work. They offer creative solutions for solving all sorts of problems with your plot, characters, action, voice and location. They can help you write a query letter and a synopsis. They can guide you through live pitches to agents. And, most of all, a good editor thrives on your success. They will hold your hand when you’re ready to give up, and cheer you on to the finish line.

 

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