Wednesday, August 31, 2011

MAD Movie

The final post for the "Missing, Assumed Dead" Book Tour is the trailer for the book. I've posted this before, but since it's a nice little synopsis with absolutely hypnotic music (Kevin MacLeod is at least a minor diety), I thought it would be nice to end with the trailer and one batch of links to where "Missing" can be purchased. For those of you who follow my blog all month long or even dropped in occasionally to take a look, I want to thank you profusely for helping me launch my book.

MuseItUp Bookstore: http://tinyurl.com/28695g3
Amazon Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005EN73FI
MuseItUp Buy Link: http://tinyurl.com/Missing-Dasef
All Romance EBooks: http://ow.ly/5VhOu
Bookstrand: http://www.bookstrand.com/missing-assumed-dead
MuseItUp Author page: http://tinyurl.com/MIU-MarvaDasef
Goodreads Link: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11143385-missing-assumed-dead
First Place Cover Win: http://yougottareadcovers.blogspot.com/2011/08/and-winners-are.html

 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Character - Kam

I'm Kam McBride and my story is "Missing, Assumed Dead," released from MuseItUp Publishing on July 29th.

I hardly have time for this type of appearance. After all, I'm not a public speaker (even in the virtual sense), although I can make a presentation on a new software product with the best of them.

Personal life? HA! I have none. It's either work or helping out my mom, who's now in a wheelchair from long-term MS. She helps me too. What would I do without her love, wisdom, and chocolate chip cookies.

Because I love my mom, I set myself up for this incredibly stupid trip to eastern Oregon. Some old guy named Salvadore Vasco disappeared seven years ago, so the court is declaring him missing, and assumed dead. Guess what? I'm his last living relative, so (lucky me), I get to be the executor of his estate.

The word 'estate' sounds like some major goodies to inherit, right? No such luck. The old man, bless him, was churchmouse poor. I should have just let the court go ahead with the probate without me. That's where my mom comes in. She's a geneology nut, er, enthusiast (that how I found out Salvadore was my long-lost whatever). Since she wanted any photos or family records left behind, she made me go to gawdforsaken eastern Oregon...in the MIDDLE OF THE SUMMER. What was she thinking?

First thing I do is get lost. I can't find this itty bitty town, Rosewood. Sounds so homey and cute, eh? So, I'm standing in the middle of this desert--so much for green Oregon--and haven't a clue. But luck is running a little bit my way when Deputy Mitch Caldwell shows up in his big SUV. Hmm. Not so bad after all.

That was my only lucky break, though. Soon enough I've got some really weird people coming after me, and I don't even know why. Not until I do some digging around. Then all hell breaks loose.

And I thought Oregon was going to be boring.

Here's an excerpt from the book when I'm in deep doodoo, which is most of the time.

Kam gasped and jumped down the embankment toward the creek, stumbling through the underbrush. She heard the pickup tires screech and glanced back. Scruffy had gotten out and headed down the slope behind her. She moved faster, gripping her hair spray. A strap broke on her sandal, and she kicked it off. Ignoring the brambles poking into her legs through her jeans, she moved as fast as she could, the terrain preventing her from flat out running.

She heard the crashing of bushes behind her and put on more steam. She knew the pickup would have reached her car by now, but she’d be coming up on the passenger door, slightly downhill from the driver’s side. She switched the hair spray to her left hand and pawed into her purse for the keys. Finding them, she dropped the bag on the ground to free her hands and kept moving.

When she reached the Chrysler, the driver had already skidded down the embankment and was standing on the driver’s side. Thin compared to the other man, but his arms were solid muscle under the tats. She rushed to the passenger side, jerked open the heavy door, dived in, slammed the door and hit the lock button on the key fob.

The driver pounded the window with his fist. The scruffy one had caught up and pulled on the passenger side door handle. Kam hit the panic button on the fob. The deep and seriously loud Chrysler horn went off with honking bursts. Both men jumped back from the car.

The driver yelled, “I’ll fetch the rifle.” He scrambled to climb up the embankment.

Kam’s heart almost stopped. Even the shatterproof windows wouldn’t stand up against a hunting rifle. She looked around the car wildly, her breath coming in sharp rasps, and then launched herself over the console and into the rear. Sweat ran from her armpits, soaking her blouse. She ran her shaking hands across the top of the seat back hunting for the latch. She hoped the Chrysler had fold down back seats. If she could just reach the tire iron, she’d have a weapon. If this stupid car even had one that is.

She felt the latch pin, grasped it and pulled it up. It clicked. She grasped the seat back in both hands and pulled it down. On her belly, she crawled halfway into the trunk searching for the spare tire well.


Monday, August 29, 2011

MAD Characters - Lizabeth

I've mentioned that some of the characters in "Missing, Assumed Dead" were modeled on real people. Ray and Bev are, in real life, happily married for many years. They are both eccentric and have many of the characteristics as described.

Both of these fun folk are the grandparents of yet one other character in "Missing." Lizabeth is a teenage waitress in the Jack and Jill diner. She's a teen soon headed for college. Poor Ray is going to miss her a lot. He see the energetic girl as a granddaughter. And why shouldn't he, since Lizabeth (my friend Liz) is the grandchild of Ray and Bev.

Of course, Liz is just teensy bit older than Lizabeth in the book, but her two beautiful and crazy daughters give me an idea of what Liz was like when she was a teen. Using them, and my own two grand-ds, I think Lizabeth turned into a fun character, a foil to the serious Kam, giving teen advice, which isn't half bad.

Oh, yeah. I used this picture just to drive Liz crazy.

Excerpt:

“I’m Lizabeth, Ray’s summertime right hand.” She tossed her head, and her ponytail waved at Ray. Kam raised her head to see him shaking his head, wearing a small smile on his lips.

“She’s a pistol, Kam,” he yelled. “You watch yerself with that one.”

Lizabeth made a face at Ray and leaned across the counter. She spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “He’s a big ol’ softie.” In a normal tone, she said, “Anyways, what else can I get for ya.”

Kam picked up the plastic-covered menu wedged between the napkin and sugar holders.

“Hm. Something light I think. I don’t want to puke on the judge’s floor.”

The teen whooped. “You sure don’t! He’d toss ya in the clink, for sure.” Lizabeth tilted her head to the side. “How about a half a club with potato salad on the side. It’s the special.”

Kam tucked the menu back into place. “Sounds good.” She glanced at her watch. It was just short of noon, so she could take her time eating. The door dinged, and an older couple came into the café. They waved and howdied to Ray, smiled at Lizabeth, and then walked to the end booth.

Lizabeth glanced their way. “Be right with ya!” She bounded away, grabbing filled glasses of ice water without slowing down.

A few minutes later, Ray came out of the kitchen with her plate. “Lizabeth didn’t getcher tea. I oughta fire that girl.” He filled a tall glass with ice, poured the tea, and stuck a lemon wedge on the rim. Ray pointed his thumb over his shoulder toward Lizabeth. “She’s a smart one. Goin’ to college in the fall. I’ll miss her.”

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Preview of September MG/YA Lineup

SEPTEMBER MIDDLE-GRADE/YOUNG ADULT AUTHOR BLOGATHON

Everybody in the tour hosts everybody else. The coordination is equivalent to the plans for D-Day. Well, not quite that complicated, but just working out when authors can host and guest is fun, um, fun.

I have the dates for both guesting and hosting from my end. Each of the other authors will let you know their own schedules.

Here's a list of all the authors and their blogs URLs. You might want to put them on your list of blogs to follow.

Kim Baccellia http://kbaccellia.livejournal.com/
Book: Crossed Out

Barbara Bockman http://barbarabockman.wordpress.com/
Book: Wounds

Marva Dasef (that's me) http://mgddasef.blogspot.com/
Book: Bad Spelling

Barbara Ehrentreu http://barbaraehrentreu.blogspot.com/
Book: If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor

Meradeth Houston http://meradethhouston.blogspot.com/
Book: Colors Like Memories

Lawna Mackie http://www.lawnamackie.ca/
Book: Enchantment

Shellie Neumeier http://shellieneumeier.com/
Book: Driven

Sue Perkins http://sueperkinsauthor.blogspot.com/
Book: Spirit Stealer

Rebecca Ryals Russell http://rryalsrussell.com/
Book: Prophesy

Pembroke Sinclair http://pembrokesinclair.blogspot.com/
Book: Life After the Undead

Chris Verstraete http://candidcanine.blogspot.com/
Book: Killer Valentine Ball

Charlotte Volnek http://www.ckvolnek.com/blog.html
Book: Ghost Dog of Roanoke

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Excerpt Saturday - Basques and Bad Guys

Why Basques? I could have made the victims of White Power hate African Americans, Native Americans (Paiutes are featured), Jews, or Latino migrant workers. White Power is an equal opportunity hate organization.

I'm not even sure when I decided to make my missing man a Basque shepherd. I was, of course, researching the Malheur County extensively. After all, I had to know which town is the county seat (Vale), if deputies patrol out of small towns (they do), what the environment is like, and I needed to know about the small unincorporated towns (there are several), and just how these towns might function.

There is plenty of opportunity for a "boss" type of person to run their own little kingdom. The fictional town, Rosewood, has a grand population of 12 souls. Don't laugh. French Glen, just on the west side of the Steen Mountains has about the same population and does a thriving business from tourists and hunters. If you're ever in the area, try to stay the night at the French Glen Hotel. It's quite an experience.

I have traveled through Malheur County more than once and the area impressed me with its rugged beauty. Some people like beaches and others like forests, but I get a kick out of high desert. I knew from my travels that a person can get lost, and a whole lot of bad things can be hidden.

In other words, Malheur County is a perfect place to commit murder. Not that they do that much, but it can happen.

I also was aware that the eastern side of Oregon and western Idaho is a favorite hangout for the Aryan Nations or White Power groups. They find the sparse population and wide open spaces perfect for attempting to raise up their own little Third Reichs.

As I mentioned before, the White Power groups hate just about everybody who isn't white. When I discovered that eastern Oregon was a target destination for Basques fleeing from the Spanish Civil War, and I found out a big reason for this was Generalissimo Franco's cozy friendship with Adolph Hitler, the whole thing came together to become "Missing, Assumed Dead."

Excerpt:

After the ending prayer, the judge led a group to the local watering hole to discuss the situation some more. It was only at the tavern that George realized the judge was talking about Salvadore Vasco. He noticed Cole Bristow standing next to the judge. George wondered how the judge felt about his son-in-law when he run out on Mirabel and left the judge to raise her. They acted friendly, though, so George figured they’d mended any broken fences.

Cole walked over to George and threw a heavy arm around his shoulders. “How’s it hangin’, cousin?”

George edged away but forced a grin and shook Cole’s hand. “Hangin’ fine. How ’bout you?”

“Good, good.” Cole leaned forward and tapped the lip of his beer bottle on George’s chest. “Say, George, I didn’t want to ask the judge, but how’s that little girl.”

“Mirabel?”

“Yeah, yeah. I wanted to know if she’s come out dark or light.”

George shook his head, confused by what Cole was getting at. Then a light bulb lit, and he realized Cole wanted to know if Mirabel was his daughter. “She’s fair-skinned, Cole. Looks like her mom.”

Cole chuckled deep in his throat and tapped his beer on George’s chest again. George took a step back and glanced down at the spot Cole left behind. “Miranda was a hot number, all right.”

George nodded but thought Cole talking about his dead wife like that was, well, it was disrespectful. Before Cole could tap him again, George made his way to the judge’s side. “Shouldn’t we go home soon? It’s a long drive.”

“In a minute, George. Find yourself another beer.”

George looked at the group of men standing around the judge, all practically foaming at the mouth talking about going out and ‘taking care’ of Vasco. The judge grinned and clapped them on the back, sayin’ he’d be grateful to whoever helped him out in sendin’ a message to the Basques around Jordan Valley. No good white folks wanted them around, and they’d best move along.

When they drove back to Rosewood, the judge was laughing and happy. “It’s about time something was done about Vasco. Teach the Basques to keep their dirty paws off white women.”

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cover and Trailer for Bad Spelling

I'm excited to provide the first look at "Bad Spelling," Book 1 of the Witches of Galdorheim trilogy. Releasing October 14th. I'll be posting articles, characters, and excerpts in October.
Edit: Poor form on my part not to mention this first off. The cover is by Kaytalin Platt.



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Penny Ehrenkranz Delivers "Love Delivery"

Penny is a fellow writer on MuseItUp. She's also my line editor, so I have to be nice to her. Just kidding. I love to promote Penny's work no matter what.

Penny, thank you for joining us today. Before we begin, please tell our readers where they can find you.

Marva, thank you for hosting me today. My website is: http://pennylockwoodehrenkranz.yolasite.com/

My blog is: http://pennylockwoodehrenkranz.blogspot.com/

My Facebook page is: http://www.facebook.com/penny.ehrenkranz

My Twitter is: http://twitter.com/pennyehrenkranz

My author page at MuseItUp Publishing is: http://tinyurl.com/3ty38r

Tell everyone a bit about your books including buy links.

My current release, Love Delivery, is from MuseItUp Publishing. The direct buy link is: http://tinyurl.com/3qlhyu4

Love Delivery is a story about two very normal people struggling to find happiness despite the hard-knocks life has thrown their way. Just as they feel they’ve found something special in each other, an evil ex-wife, an adorable child, and custody battles intrude on the path toward love.

Where did the concept for the book (or books) come about?

Love Delivery begins with Ann, my main character, working in a donut shop. When I was a teenager, my first “real” job was selling donuts and pouring coffee in a small family-run donut shop. When I decided to write this story, I wanted my characters to be blue-collar workers, people who hadn’t finished their college educations, and people who had been dealt a few blows along the way. The donut shop seemed to be a good place of employment for my female lead. Her romantic attraction needed to either be a customer or a delivery person. Since a delivery person would always be showing up, no matter how the relationship went, this seemed the better choice for creating obstacles. A vindictive ex-wife, a sweet child, and a few cats are thrown into the mix for a little extra spice.

How long did it take you to finish, from concept to final product?

This particular story took a while and several incarnations before it was completed. I’d never written a romance before, although most of my stories contain some type of relationship. I had to do some research, read a couple of romance books, and try to get the story to flow smoothly. My first attempts were less than satisfactory. I tried switching POV. I also tried adding multiple POVs, and at one time, I tried lowering the vocabulary level and marketing it for slow adult readers. Ultimately, I ended up almost completely rewriting the story, submitting it to MuseItUp, having it accepted, and with help from my wonderful MuseItUp editors, now have a well-crafted romance.

Which authors have most influenced your own writing?

It’s hard to say as I’ve read so many authors in a variety of genres. I guess my favorites are Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, Anne McCaffery, Terry Brooks, David Eddings, George R. R. Martin, and Stephen King. I can’t say any of them particularly influenced my writing, though. I love to read fantasy, and while Love Delivery is a contemporary romance, my book, Mirror, Mirror, which is coming from MuseItUp in November is a fantasy romance.

Do you have any favorite place where you feel your Muse is more apt to come and play while you write? Or perhaps you listen to music? If so, what do you listen to?

I actually prefer quiet when I’m writing. I have a cozy little office with family pictures on the walls, and some of my daughter’s artwork on the book shelves. I have a lovely view of my greenhouse and garden outside my window. This is where I do most of my writing, although I have been known to write while I’m waiting for an appointment or for kids to come into a writing class I’m teaching.

As a writer, what is your greatest fear?

It’s not really a fear, but I loathe marketing. I find it very difficult to put myself out there and ask people to buy my books. I’ve never been overly-confident, and even though I know my writing is good, and I craft interesting stories, it’s still hard to approach people. I’m getting better at it, but I don’t think it will ever come easy to me.

What normally occupies your desk while writing? Pencils? Coffee mugs? Breakfast crumbs?

I have a tin can covered with fun fabric filled with highlighters, pens, and scissors. I also have a notebook where I track submissions (yes, I still do this manually not on my computer), and I have scratch paper, reference books, and a good luck bamboo plant. I only drink coffee for breakfast, so if there is a mug of anything, it would be herbal or green tea, or a water bottle. I tend not to eat at my computer, so no breakfast crumbs.

Do you have any new projects that you are working on? If so, what are they?

I’ve got a couple of works in progress, mostly middle-grade or YA pieces. Unfortunately with my other obligations, I don’t spend as much time as I would like working on these, so they are a bit scattered and still need a lot of work.

I do have quite a few contracts, however:

A Past and A Future is a collection of my short fantasy and science fiction stories

http://www.genremall.com/anthologiesr.htm#pastfuture

Lady-in-Waiting, an historical romance, coming November, 2011

Mirror, Mirror, a time-travel romance, coming December, 2011

https://museituppublishing.com/bookstore2

Funny Dog, a picture book, coming May, 2012

Ghost for Lunch, a middle grade novel, coming September, 2013

Many Colored Coats, a picture book, coming October, 2014

Boo's Bad Day, a picture book, coming June, 2015
http://4RVpublishingllc.com/Childrens_Books.html

Ghost for Lunch is actually the sequel to Ghost for Rent, which had been released as an eBook by Hard Shell Word Factory. I am now in the process of preparing to submit it to 4RV Publishing. Since they contracted the sequel, they would like to have the first book in their house as well, and I am more than happy to do so, as I would also like to keep these two together. One of the things I like about 4RV Publishing is they are a print house. I really like having a print book for middle grade readers as opposed to an eBook, although I suspect I’ll change my mind in the next few years when eBooks become so affordable every family has one!

What tip would you offer to a new writer who is just beginning their submission journey?

The one thing I stress is not to give up. When I first started out, oh so many years ago, the support system young writers have today wasn’t in place. After my first couple of rejections, I basically gave up writing, except for my own pleasure, until 1993. At that point, I had written a few grants and realized I wasn’t the failure I felt like I had been. I took a writing class, submitted some work, and quickly became a published author.

Over the years, I’ve found often it is merely a case of being in the right place, at the right time, with the right story. Many times rejection isn’t because your writing isn’t good, it’s simply someone else had the idea and submitted before you did.

Taking writing classes, attending writing conferences (many are online and free), and being involved with critique groups are all excellent ways to improve one’s writing.

Marva, I do want to thank the editors at MuseItUp Publishing, and especially our publisher and editor in chief, Lea Schizas. The support and professionalism of this team is superb and I am grateful to all of them.

How about an excerpt to tantalize the readers?

Most definitely!

“Here it is,” he said, steering her to a quiet corner. Candles lit the table. A bottle of red wine stood open. Tom held the chair for her, and then sat close so their knees touched. “Would you like a glass of wine?” he asked, reaching for the bottle.

“No thanks,” Ann said. “I don’t drink.”

Tom poured a glass for himself. “Here’s the menu.” He handed it to her.

“I know what I want.”

“What’s that?”

“Fettuccini Alfredo.” Ann shook out her napkin and placed it on her lap.

“This chicken dish is good,” Tom said, pointing to an item on the menu.

Ann grimaced. Is he a control freak? I already told him what I want. “I don’t eat meat.” Her voice sounded harsh in her own ears.

“Ah, well, okay, then. Fettuccini Alfredo it is.” Tom called the waiter and ordered the Alfredo for Ann and a spicy chicken dish for himself.

I guess we don’t agree on everything after all. He drinks and eats meat, too. I hope he doesn’t drink a lot. Maybe we weren’t made for each other. Not knowing what else to do, Ann took a sip of water and smiled.

Tom smiled back. “You’ll have to come meet my cats one of these days. Tyra, a gorgeous, long-haired black female, is my bathroom kitty. Whenever I’m sitting in there, she has to be in my lap. There’ve been times when my pants have been around my feet, and she’s curled up in my underwear.

“Then there’s BeeBee. She’s a Siamese. When I first got her, I thought she liked to cuddle, but it turned out she was just scared. It took me a long time, with lots of persuasion, to get her to come close to me. Finally, I was able to pick her up. I had her in my arms, and I put my face down to smell her fur. Suddenly, she turned and bit me on the nose.

“I think my favorite, though, is Loki. He’s the smallest of the bunch. He has allergies, and if I don’t get him to the vet for a shot in time, he loses his fur on his rear quarters, right by his tail. He loves to ride on my shoulders. Looks just like I’m wearing a fur collar.

“Then there’s the two new ones, they’re the kittens. They haven’t developed personalities yet. You should always get two kittens instead of one,” Tom said when the food arrived.

“Why?” Ann asked. Her face hurt from laughing at Tom’s cat stories. Mittens never did any of the things Tom’s cats did.

While she ate, Tom continued to share funny stories about the cats and kittens. “Kittens play with each other so you don’t need to play with them. You can just sit back and watch them. When I have kittens in the house, I don’t even turn on my T.V. set.” Tom twirled pasta on his fork. He lifted the fork halfway to his mouth and stopped. “Looks like we have company,” he groaned.

Ann turned. Maria and a curly-haired blond child entered. Ann watched Maria’s smile turn to a frown. Maria pulled the child toward their table. Ann gulped. Now what? Can’t she leave us alone? How can Tom and I ever get to know each other if she’s always showing up? She pasted a false smile on her face and clutched her napkin tightly.

“So you decided not to listen to me,” Maria spat at Ann.

“Daddy!” the little girl cried, holding up her arms.

“Hi, Kitten,” Tom said, scooping the child into his arms. He gave her a bear hug, and she giggled. “I want you to meet my friend, Ann. Ann, this is Kitten.”

“Hi, Ann. Daddy calls me Kitten, but you can call me Catherine.” The child put her arms around Tom’s neck and hugged him.

“Hello, Catherine,” Ann said, finding her voice.

“At least you could have gone somewhere else, Tom. We always ate here,” Maria accused and pushed Tom’s shoulder.

Tom moved Catherine to his other knee and glared at Maria. “Do we have to fight in front of Kitten?”

“Hey, Mr. Nice Guy, you’re the one who left us, remember?”

Removing Catherine from his lap, Tom stood up and faced Maria. “You’re creating a scene. Why don’t you leave before things get ugly?”

“Maybe you should have thought about that a long time ago.” Maria poked Tom’s chest with her finger.

Ann watched in fear. Only moments ago, she and Tom were enjoying dinner. Maria’s face now looked hard and dark. She swore at Tom and poked him again. Then she shoved him on the shoulder.

Tom grabbed her hand. Maria spat at him and reached up, clawing his face with her other hand.

“I hate you,” she screamed, grabbed her child, and ran out crying.

Tom turned to Ann. There were bloody scratches on his face. Ann dipped her napkin in her water glass and dabbed his cheek. “I’m sorry, Ann, I guess this spoiled dinner.”

This is never going to work for us, not as long as Maria is in the picture. Ann nodded her head. “Sure did. I’m not very hungry now. I think I’d better just go home.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

EBOOK WINNERS!!!!

The individual winners of a copy of "Missing, Assumed Dead" are:

Charlotte Volnek
Joylene Butler
Sara Benefit
Billi Wagner
Darla Boyle
Marlyn (last name unknown)
Lisa Lickel
J.Q. Rose

Winner of the GRAND PRIZE (all comment writers entered)

Cheryl Carpinello

Cheryl wins:

A copy of "Missing, Assumed Dead" in any ebook format she'd like.

A print copy of any one of my books that are available in paperback (US only, non-US folks will receive an ebook package of several books. US commenters can opt for the ebook package.) See my Published Books page for a list of all the books from which the winner can select.

A $10 gift certificate to buy any books she likes from my publisher MuseItUp Publishing.

 


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's a Crime Tuesday - How to Plant Clues

How to Write the Perfect Mystery
Presented by Heather Haven
Part III

How to plant clues without giving away the culprit! 


Most of the time, the writer knows who the killer is going to be, so it’s human nature to let part of the cat out of the bag, even if it’s only one paw (sorry, Tugger). None of us likes to keep a secret too long. On occasion, writers have either not known the killer’s identity at the novel’s onset or changed their minds midway. This happens more than you think. With a dark, noir mystery I’m in the final throes of writing and not one of the Alvarez series, I switched culprits as I came to the end. Sometimes these characters just get full of themselves and the poor writer has to do their bidding.

However, most of the time, I know upfront and personal. Consequently, as I’m writing scenes or dialog between characters, I often find a spot to throw in a clue. Here’s a secret -- but don’t let this get around the neighborhood -- it’s no big deal when you add the clues, because you can go back and insert them into the novel after you’ve finished. It’s like setting the table for a dinner party. Stand back, see how it looks, and start laying down plates..ah…clues.

About the clues, there are two kinds: real and red herrings (false clues). Red herrings, the clues that lead nowhere, are best kept to a minimum. One or two at most. Too many and the reader feels jerked around. I try not to use them, myself, but once in a while, something which starts out as a real clue but peters out for whatever reason, might get left in because it somehow fits. There aren’t a set number of clues to plant, sad to say, but I try not to go over 3 or 4. Nobody’s really stupid out there. Honest.

I often ask people I trust to read the book before my final edits to make sure there are a sufficient number of clues leading to the guilty party. Did everyone suspect who the killer might be? Sufficient clues. Did everybody know who the killer was? Yikes! Too many clues. On the flip side, did they have no idea at all, thought I’d left out too much information, and were frustrated at the outcome? Not enough clues. Try again, smarty pants. Remember, you want your reader to go “Ahhh! Yes, I get it! Of course!” rather than “Huh? Where did that come from?” Your reader should be satisfied.

HINT: Vague but concrete clues, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, seem to work best. For instance, if the killer used a now missing mantle clock to do our victim in, have your protagonist ask what time it is, or rest a hand on the spot where the clock used to sit. Don’t have her/him notice the empty spot on the mantle or the new vase in its place unless you are moving in for the coup de grâce.

How do I keep it interesting?

Good luck to all of us on this one. I would say pacing is one of the keys to a well-written mystery, but then, that’s true for any novel. Overall, you need your reader to care about the characters and their outcome, while still maintaining the mystery. Have as many roller coaster rides as you want but unless we care about who’s on the ride, it doesn’t matter.

Do your research and only play around with facts so much. True, you are writing a novel so you have a certain amount of latitude but once you lose the reader’s trust you are done for. The mystery reader is one sharp cookie. If you write about a mythical tavern on the west side of New York City facing the river, you’d better call that river Hudson or you will be getting letters of reprimand hurled at you. Nothing irks a reader more than having inaccurate information in a book. It totally takes us out of the story. And it’s not necessary. Do your homework and you will be rewarded 10-fold. For the latest book of the Alvarez Series, I actually did the 12K footrace the characters ran in the book to make sure it could be done (okay, I used the car but I still did it). This footrace CAN be run and I am secure in the knowledge. So you can’t go wrong with research. Also, back to truth is stranger than fiction, you never know what tidbit you are going to trip over that might lead you to something wonderful to add to your book.

Keep your story colorful, inventive, different, and moving along. Throw in the unexpected. Have a grieving widow sum up in five words her entire 30-year relationship with her recently deceased husband. Show your protagonist’s weakness or weaknesses at a surprisingly inopportune time. Stun us with simple words of the horror of taking someone’s life. Reveal a worthwhile trait about a worthless villain. How many of us can forget that Hitler loved his German Sheppard to distraction?

Set up an outline as detailed as you like, but never hesitate to deviate from it. We are artists, baby. We create. If you’re interested in going someplace else, the reader will be, too. Trust yourself.

HINT: Regardless of what type of mystery you write, someone is going to die in it. The taking of a life, no matter whose life, is a very meaningful, serious thing. While we may not care about the victim, we should know the impact of the death on others. No one leaves this planet without affecting someone with the leaving, good or bad. It will make for a richer read and help ground the story.

We’re done. Now get out there and write the perfect mystery. And when you’re finished, come back and show me how to do it.

My best always, Heather

Monday, August 22, 2011

It's a Crime Monday - How to Find a Plot

Heather has so much great information on writing mysteries, she gets a three-day post.

How to Write the Perfect Mystery
Presented by Heather Haven
Part II

How do I find a plot?

Now you’ve got the person who’s going to solve the crime(s). Good for you. But what is the plot? It’s usually involves murder, of course, but you’ve got 175 plus pages to fill out. If you have no idea what kind of plot to wrap around your victim(s), pick up the newspaper, listen to a newscast, or search the internet. Sometimes people in your own life have weird stories they love to talk about. Listen and delve. Truth is stranger than fiction every time. You’ll find things you had no idea were out there.

For me, the 2nd novel of the Alvarez Family Murder Mystery Series, A Wedding to Die For, started with a newspaper clipping on page 10 of the Chronicle. It was about an extended family of Egyptian grave robbers, who had discovered an ancient burial chamber containing precious artifacts, kept the knowledge to themselves, and pilfered from the tomb for generations. They took just enough to feed, clothe and educate themselves. After decades of careful use of the money, this family came into positions of power in Egypt, thus enabling them to steal and sell even more. Of course, they got found out, but it took 60 years to do so. I was entranced. I knew I wanted to take this situation, transfer it to Mexico, and create a family to become the nemesis of my Alvarez family. Finding the first victim was easy, a robber who robs from the robbers.

It’s a good idea to weave two or three stories together forming one or more sub-plots. Even your 30-minute sitcoms do that. For me, the sub-plot of A Wedding to Die For was a mythical search engine start-up company, Bingo-Bango, and its inhabitants. I felt the sub-plot added a lot of fun and depth to the story, even though it had little to do with the main plot. I did manage, however, to have a situation arise from the sub-plot that gave the protagonist, Lee, an answer to a big problem in the main plot. That was yummy. The catalyst was the wedding, of course. When I tied them all together, I had the skeleton of my plot. I was off and away.

Now that you’ve got some sort of plot going, start popping in characters that work within it, even if it’s only in your mind. You don’t need to write them down. Drive to the supermarket and on the way over or standing in the checkout line, have a chat with these characters. So passersby think you’re nuts; forget it. They probably would, anyway. The most important this is you’ll soon see which potential characters fit in, move the plot forward, foil or compliment your protagonist.

Play the ‘what if’ game with yourself and see where it leads you. I like to start at a preposterous level then tone it down. What if she went inside a movie theatre and never came out? What if he delivered pepperoni pizzas to someone’s address for months on end but that someone turned out to be a vegan? What if she threatened to poison a neighbor’s dog that disappeared two days later only to resurface again across the continent? What if, what if, what if.

When the plot and characters start to come together, and you’ve eliminated things that don’t work but glom on like crazy to things that do, sit down and start writing. This is usually the time when the novel will write itself. Just try to keep up.

HINT: Read mysteries by writers you like and study how they make it work. We all learn from one another. No shame in that.

Part III coming tomorrow.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

It's a Crime Sunday - How to Set Up the Murder

How do I set up the murder?
by Heather Haven

Setting up the murder is easier than you think. When your imagination is doing the victim in, the sky’s the limit. What you need to remember, though, is the type of mystery you are writing. Soft and sweet? Hard-boiled and gritty? You can have the same type of thing happen to your victim(s), unless you go to an extreme either way. Having a disabled little old lady, raped, mutilated and dismembered on page 5 of a cozy sets up a dark flavor to your story, no matter how many doilies and kittens you throw in. With the easy, breezy cozy, it’s best to have the murder victim go in a way that’s more palatable - quick, but inventive. Drowned in a vat of cabernet sauvignon comes to my mind, but I live in Wine country and we lust for that kind of ending.

If you’re writing a hard-boiled detective story where the protagonist eats rusty nails, drinks rotgut, spits on people’s shoes, and hasn’t talked to his mother since he was eight, dismemberment is not so bad. Throw in a lame dog, while you’re at it.

Try to provide access to the victim’s demise to a myriad of suspects or do just the opposite: none at all. Right away tension is created. Who, who, who? How, how, how? Ratchet it up whenever you can. Each suspect should have something to gain or lose by the death, which you get to invent out of your own fertile imagination. Have I mentioned the sky’s the limit?

Whichever route you take, do something different with it. The method of death, the way the body is discovered, the person discovering it, etc., should have an unusual bend. If you go for the disabled little old lady, for instance, have your protagonist find out she was a scam artist on the side, who bilked a lot of widows and orphans. If you have your victim drowned in a vat of 1997 Mouton-Rothschild Bordeaux Blend, have the victim be a tea-totaler. Then send a bottle to me. They’re out of stock around here.

HINT: Be inventive, be clever, but be realistic. Don’t turn your reader off by coming up with something that would never happen, unless you’re writing a farce. Then have at it.

And do I really have to have the murder happen by the end of chapter one?

Yes, yes, yes. Unless you know something I don’t, you are going to have to off somebody by the end of chapter one. Even writer Sheldon Siegel, often on the NY Times best seller list, follows this protocol. In his latest novel, Perfect Alibi, chapter one ends with the words, “He’s dead.” You don’t get much better than that. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, but it has become de rigueur to find or mention a dead body 99% of the time at the end of chapter one. Maybe it’s because we’re now in a society that wants instant gratification. To some extent, let’s thank the internet for that. Nobody seems to have the patience to wait around for four of five chapters like the good old days. This creates a certain amount of pressure on the author to slam it all out right at the beginning of the book. Actually, it’s a lot of pressure.

HINT: That’s what you get for writing a mystery. Nobody said it would be easy.


Find out more about Heather Haven on her website.

Her latest Alvarez Family mystery is "A Wedding to Die For" from MuseItUp Publishing.
 
A groom arrested for murder can put a crimp in anybody’s wedding. So when the bride’s nuptials are threatened, best friend and maid-of-honor, Lee Alvarez -- the thirty-four-year old combination of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Janet Evanovitch’s Stephanie Plum - heads south of the border in search of the real killer. There the half Latina, half WASP, and 100% detective is thrown into the well-organized world of plundered Mesoamerican relics and finds a few more dead bodies along the way. While having the best tasting tamales ever, she stumbles across the man of her dreams. But is he too good to be true? Probably. With the help of the rest of the Alvarez Family, Never-Had-A-Bad-Hair-Day blueblood mother, Lila Hamilton Alvarez, brother and computer genius, Richard; favorite uncle, “Tío” Mateo; and Tugger, her energetic orange and white cat, Lee tries to follow her own sage advice, ‘when Cupid’s wings start flapping, take cover.’ Good luck to her. Because can love and murder be far behind?

A Wedding To Die For is the second novel in a series of humorous murder mysteries involving the Alvarez Family, owners of Silicon Valley’s successful Discretionary Inquiries.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Evolution of a Book Cover

There are many steps from acceptance to publication of any book. One of the most interesting is development of a book cover.

Now, if you have an agent who sells your book to a big publishing company, you won't get to say much about the cover art. At least, that's what I've heard.

With MuseItUp Publishing, authors work with their cover artists to get the right look for the book. The first thing is for the author to fill out a Cover Art Worksheet. The author describes the main characters, makes suggestions for what might appear on the cover, and might send along some inspiration pictures. The cover artist's job is to make sense of the author's flights of fancy. Gently tell them they can't use the photos they want to use for a variety of reasons. The biggest reasons have to do with picture quality (the resolution must be super high), copyright issues (no we can't just grab anything we want from the internet), and if the picture meets the other criteria, it just plain costs too much to buy the rights.

There are several sites that carry royalty-free images. That doesn't mean the image is free, but only that it can be purchased once and then used on the cover without continually paying a royalty fee for every copy sold.

All that aside, it becomes a meeting of minds. Suzannah Safi is the cover artist for "Missing, Assumed Dead." I think we ended up with a really neat cover. Since the book is more a mystery than a romance, it shouldn't have a romance-type cover. Those usually involve to extremely good-looking people cuddling together with some additional story highlight images in the background. Suzannah didn't read my book before doing the cover. Artists don't have time to read them all, so they depend on the CA worksheet I mentioned earlier. She knew that the book had a couple who develop a romantic relationship, so she went with that thought and came up with this (these are just initial rough cuts).

The requisite two good-looking people. Not bad, but I cleared my virtual throat and suggested that it just didn't say "murder" to me. I sent her a couple of snapshots of eastern Oregon with the suggestion that the actual countryside is a major story element. Suzannah got it, and roughed out another cover:

I was delighted with the axe, since that is also a main story element, but I didn't like the word "Police" in the picture since the story had a Deputy Sheriff, which are not the same as the urban policemen. The only "policeman" in the story was only pretending to be a cop, so he didn't really count.

But Suzannah said she wasn't too happy with the cheerful background. She tried a similar cover, but with a monochromatic background. Neither of us was thrilled with that.

Back to the drawing board. A couple more iterations had us agreeing the eye was quite cool and the axe definitely had to stay. The background just wasn't working, but I wanted something to show the heat of the desert. Ah ha! What else is hotter than the sun? Together we came up with an award-winning cover. Murder is written all over it with the bloody axe. The woman's eye suggests investigation. Voila! A great cover was developed from two people working together to come up with the right stuff. I could not be happier with this cover. Now you, the reader, has a better idea of what the story is all about.


Bloody good, I think.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Character Friday - Mitch

My name is Mitch Caldwell and I'm a deputy Sheriff in Malheur County, Oregon. There are only two us deputies stationed in the Jordan Valley office, so it's good not much happens out here. We have a lot of territory to cover. Our usual business isn't crime fighting, but hauling in drunk cowboys, ticketing speeders, and helping the occasional lost hunter.

That's how I found Kameron McBride. I doubted a Chrysler 300 parked on the side of the road belonged to any hunter, so I guessed a tourist. I pulled up behind the car and ran the plates. Turned out to be a rental. I had a hunch the lady behind the wheel was lost, so I moseyed up and asked for the usual license and rental agreement.

She acted pretty nervous, and had a smart mouth to boot, but I kept my cool until she reached for her purse and something flew out of her hand and bounced off the windshield. Following procedure, I drew my weapon, told her to put her hands up, and drop the object out the window.

I covered her while I squatted down to pick up the cannister. I nearly cracked up. The lady was threatening me with a travel sized can of hairspray!

I let her know she shouldn't be traipsing around in the desert or she'd end up a pile of bones being picked over by the buzzards. I couldn't help teasing her just a little. Something about those eyes... Yeah, I thought she looked pretty good even all sweaty with her hair plastered on her face. I liked her spirit. She was ready to defend herself, even if her only weapon was a can of hairspray. I gotta admire that.

I led her to Rosewood, the town she'd been trying to find. I figured she might like something cold to wet her whistle, so asked her to join me at Jack and Jill's cafe, the diner run by Ray Johnson. I'll admit I wasn't in any hurry to go back on patrol.

There was something else that made me want to stay by her side. My half-sister was full-blood Paiute, training as a medicine woman when she became ill.

I was in Iraq, but had just run up on an IED, so I took the leave offered to take care of Janet. Just before she died, she'd told me I'd find a woman lost in the desert. Well, when I did just that, I knew I had to stick around with Kam. Funny thing, I didn't believe any of the dream vision stuff, but when I found Kam, I knew I had to protect her. After that, I started to take Janet's last words pretty seriously.

Here's a bit from the book that I liked...a lot. We had dinner at the Old Basque Inn--our first date.

Kam spent the next half hour telling him about her mother, her job as a systems analyst, her life in Seattle. By the time they finished dessert, they were laughing and teasing as if they’d known each other for years.

They climbed back into the Expedition. “That was really nice, Mitch. I didn’t think I’d like Basque food that much. Even the txakoli started tasting good.”

Mitch gave her a sidelong glance. “I could stop at the drugstore. It stays open late.”

“I’m fine. I don’t think I need any…oh.” Kam glanced at him. “Yes, let’s stop there first.” She leaned across the center console and moved to kiss Mitch on the cheek. He turned and put his hand behind her head, drawing her in for a long kiss.

When they came up for air, Mitch asked, “My place?”

Kam reached over and put her hand on his thigh. She gave it a squeeze, admiring the solid muscle under the Levis. “Absolutely.” Mitch started the SUV and backed out.

Fifteen minutes and one drugstore stop later, they pulled into the driveway of a small house on a quiet street. Mitch helped her out of the Expedition and unlocked the front door of the single-level ranch. Then he swept up Kam in his arms, carried her across the threshold, and into the bedroom. He set her gently on her feet. “I’ve a bottle of a local wine. I’ll go get it.”

Kam examined the neat room. He had made the bed. Mitch must be the first guy she’d ever met who actually did that. She thought for a second, and a small smile crossed her lips. He’d gone home and cleaned up the house for her. A big pile of brownie points right there. Most guys wouldn’t have bothered even if they thought it a sure thing.

Mitch brought an opened bottle and two glasses. He poured, and offered a toast. “To a new…friendship.”

She clicked glasses with him. “To a new friendship.” She had a momentary twinge. This might be a new friendship, but it wouldn’t last long. When she went back to Seattle, she’d never see him again. Best intentions to stay in touch rarely worked out. She shook the thought off and decided to enjoy the moment.

He took her glass from her hand and set both glasses on the side table. Wrapping his arms around her, he kissed her, deeply, tenderly. His kisses moved down her neck. Kam arched her head back and sighed. Her body begged for more. Somewhere deep, her brain still clamored for her to stop, not let this get personal. She’d be gone in a few days. Her body won the battle.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

MAD Characters - Bev

In "Missing, Assumed Dead," Bev is the mom-n-pop grocery store owner in Rosewood, Oregon. She's the go-to woman if you want to find out what's what in town. She has a running feud with Ray, the diner owner, but Kam thinks that the back and forth banter between the two senior citizens is just a coverup for friendlier feelings. I picture Bev looking a lot like the cartoon character Maxine.

Kam first meets Bev: 

An elderly woman, about Ray’s age, wearing polyester pants and a T-shirt emblazoned with “I’m With Stupid” sat on a high stool studying a dog-eared Ladies’ Home Journal. She set the magazine aside and faced Kam over the counter. “So, you decided to get some food that tastes halfway decent, eh?”

Kam jerked, startled by the woman’s blunt words. “Um, yeah, I guess so.”

The old woman gestured with her head toward Ray’s. “That sumbitch can’t cook worth a damn. Thinks he’s so smart with his cute little place. Looks like a hippie hangout to me.”

“I think Ray’s food is fine. I just wanted something easy to go.” Kam wondered what Ray had done to piss her off.

The woman patted her short hair, mostly gray with streaks of strawberry blond, and sniffed. “Well, if you ask me—”

“Um, what’s with the kitty? She looks pretty old.” Kam considered reaching out to pet the cat, but one yellow eye opened warning her off.

“Mrs. Malachai.” The shopkeeper reached over and chucked the cat softly behind one ear. “She’s my sumbitch detector.”

“What—Aw, never mind. How much do I owe you?”

The woman sniffed again. “Six ninety-nine.”

Kam handed her a ten and took the change.

“You’re Kameron McBride, right? Come to town to settle Salvadore’s business. What’s your middle name?”

Kam blinked. “Uh, Hope.” What the hell?

“I’m Bev. Want a bag, Kameron Hope?”

Kam blinked again. “Just Kam. No, I think I can handle it.” Kam turned away and then about-faced. “Did you know Salvadore Vasco?”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Excerpt Wednesday - High Desert

Malheur County abuts Idaho to the east. This is why my main character, Kam McBride, flies into the Boise Airport even though she's heading for Oregon.


Malheur is 9,930 square miles. Only 43 square miles of it is water. I think you can add 2 + 2 and get the idea that this is a very dry part of the world.

Sound bleak and uninviting? If you're not prepared for the desert, then you go touring in Malheur County, and your car breaks down, you've got a high probability of dying from heat prostration and lack of water.

But that's unlikely because you'd be smart enough to prepare for travel in the desert. However, Kam didn't think it through. She assumed the roads would be good, rest stops should be every few miles, and distances that are short as the crow flies, might be much longer by car.

The county is 94% range land with the principal owners being you and me. Much of the land is administered by the Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency. Range land can be used by the ranches for grazing. For one thing, it takes a whole lot of acres to support even a single cow.

I'm sure you have better things to do than reading a geography lesson on a very surprising part of Oregon, one of the greenest (meaning wet) areas of the US.

One can easily imagine getting lost and dying out there. Maybe you'll just go missing, and being assumed dead after seven years. Kam gets lost, but she had the good luck to be rescued by a Malheur County sheriff's deputy.


Excerpt

The sky had turned a deeper blue as the sun continued its trip behind the mountain ridge. The shadows lengthened on the east side of the scraggly shrubs. The faint hum of a car engine drew her eyes southward. “Good, I could use some directions.” But she was alone on an otherwise empty road. Maybe the approaching vehicle held a friendly soul, but it could just as well carry a serial killer.

Using her shirttail as a hot pad, she gingerly took hold of the door handle again and climbed back into the car. Goose bumps rose on her arms when the still blasting air conditioning hit them. She turned on the emergency flashers then opened the glove box, looking for something to use as a weapon. “Ah ha!” Kam pulled out a two-inch canister. “Pepper spray? Crap, just hair spray, but that shit burns eyes. Better than nothing.” She tucked it between her right thigh and the console to hide it from view, her finger ready on the button.

The vehicle grew larger and revealed itself to be a Ford Expedition SUV painted Oregon green. The lights on its roof flashed blue and red for a moment then went off. “A cop. Excellent.” On the other hand, she’d heard of guys who decked out their rides to look like cop cars.

The SUV pulled up behind her and stopped. After a long pause, the door opened. A man in khaki climbed out and walked forward. He stopped behind the car and wrote something, probably the plate number, on a pad. Aviator glasses hid his eyes, but the rest of him looked pretty good. Tall. Well, maybe not too tall. Slim and dark, just how Kam liked them. Watching him approach, she wondered idly how he managed to keep the razor-sharp creases in his uniform in this heat.

When he reached her side window, he gestured for her to roll it down. Kam cracked the window a couple of inches. She noted the badge and the Smokey Bear hat. “I don’t think I was speeding, Officer.”

The man chuckled, showing fine smile lines at the corners of his full mouth. He had great teeth. “No, you weren’t, but I wondered if you might be lost. A lot of people get themselves turned around out here.”

Kam gave him a rueful grin. “Yeah, lost isn’t the half of it. I’m looking for Cork Hill Road.” She hoped he was the real deal, but she sure as hell wasn’t opening her door. Tin badges were easy to buy on eBay.

“License and rental agreement?”

“Sure.” She opened the center console and pulled out the papers with her left hand, then shoved the rental agreement through the two-inch opening. She couldn’t figure out how to extract her license out of her purse without letting go of the spray.

“Your license?”

“Why don’t you just direct me to Cork Hill, or if that’s too hard, how about Rosewood.”

“I’d be happy to, miss, but I really do need to see your license. Paperwork, you understand.”

Kam released a deep breath breath. She stretched her arm across her body trying to reach her purse on the other seat. She grabbed the strap and pulled it toward her. It slipped out of her left hand. She automatically lifted her right to grab it. “Shit!”

Instantly, the officer’s manner changed. The smile disappeared, and he took a step back, pulling his gun from his left-handed holster. “Drop the canister out the window,” he ordered. “Do it now.”

Kam squeaked and threw her hands up. The canister flipped out of her hand and flew at the windshield. It bounced back and landed in her lap. “Now what?”

“Pick it up and push it out the window. Slowly.”

“You already said that.” She picked up the spray with two fingers and dropped it out the window. “Hey, I don’t know if you’re a real policeman. Anyone can play cops and robbers.”

“Please step out of the car. Use only your left hand to unlatch the door and keep your right hand where I can see it.” The barrel of his pistol never wavered from her torso.

“Take it easy. I’m opening the door.” He stood outside the reach of the door’s swing. Kam decided she’d rather fight outside the car, than be shot inside it. She got out with her hands still raised.

“Now move to the rear of the vehicle,” he ordered. When Kam obeyed, he took a step forward, never taking his eyes off her, knelt, and picked up the canister. Straightening, he glanced down at the canister then back to her. The corner of his mouth twitched as he re-holstered his pistol. “Sorry, but…hairspray?” He took off the aviators and smiled.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's a Crime Tuesday - Location, Location, Location

Using Oregon in Mysteries
By Linda Kuhlmann

About Linda: Author of "Koenig's Wonder" and "The Red Boots." She's a fellow Oregonian who, like myself, left the work world to do what we wanted to do: Write! Linda's first book, "Koenig's Wonder" is set in both Oregon and Churchill Downs. The story comes from her own family history about horse raising and racing. "The Red Boots" is new, and I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but considering the first book, I have no doubt I'll enjoy it. For more about Linda Kuhlman, check her website.

The old adage ‘Write what you know’ is good advice, but another is just as important: ‘Write where you live.”

Descriptions used in your writing will be much richer if you are physically in the area you are writing about. Traveling to an area to write about is one way, but actually living there for some time gives you a much deeper sense of the location and native people. Using all your senses create more visual characteristics that bring your story to life.

Also, the history of the area adds a deeper dimension. Readers love to read about their hometowns and surrounding areas. They also love to learn about its past that they may not be aware of. So, your research in that area is very important. This history can lead to some hidden mystery that piques your readers’ interests. Newspaper articles in your hometown or surrounding areas can spark an idea for a possible mystery.

My first two novels take place in Oregon. I grew up in Illinois, but moved to Oregon thirty years ago. It has been my home ever since. Since I migrated here, I bring my characters to various areas in the state that I have grown to love – the Willamette Valley, Portland, Columbia Gorge, even Dufur! Generally, I don’t change the names of the locations. Sometimes, I may use actual businesses and people, altering their names for my fiction.

Now, to step away from the adages for a moment, I do tend to write about other places and activities I’ve experienced during my travels. I also live vicariously through my characters in various careers, such as flying an airplane, living on a horse ranch in the foothills of Mt. Hood, riding a Thoroughbred racehorse at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. Yet, I feel it’s important to make your writing as creditable as possible. Therefore, I research and interview experts in the various field, even if I’m writing fiction. After my interviews, I ask my experts to check my pages relating to their subject to make sure I understood correctly.

For example, if you’re writing about flying a P51 Mustang and you’re describing the take off procedures, a pilot reading your book will know if you’ve done your research. If not, he or she will stop reading.

To place your readers in the scenes you write about, become an observer. Write what you see, hear, smell in the little neighborhood café you want to include in your story. Also, write down descriptions of the people there, their clothes, mannerisms, what they order. Just make sure you use caution to change names and some features so people don’t necessarily recognize themselves in your work. Mix things up, like changing a tall blonde woman to a shorter brunette.

I’m sure your part of the world has so many wonderful venues for your writing. When I’m thinking of a murder mystery in Oregon, there is Portland’s Pearl District, Crown Point in the Columbia Gorge, Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood, the French Glen Hotel near Steens Mountain, Gold Beach, Crater Lake…the list is endless. So, ‘write where you live,’ or at least where you’ve been in your life. Your writing will come alive!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Excerpt Monday - Guernica

Guernica, the Basques, and Picasso

In "Missing, Assumed Dead," the Kam McBride's mother mentions a painting by Pablo Picasso in reference to the Spanish Civil War and the treatment of the Basque people. Franco hated the Basques for many reasons, the least of which is their firm stand to maintain their unique culture. They spoke Euskara, not Spanish. They had their own traditions, and even worshipped in their own way. Franco began a campaign against the Basques equivalent to Hitler's treatment of the Jews in World War II. The Basques had an extensive rebel underground, but they were just too few to fight back against an organized army.

Franco enlisted the support of Hitler's Luftwaffe Airforce, the same airforce that inflicted the Blitz on England. Hitler agreed to the loan. Some say he viewed it as a way to "test" his airforce's capabilities at destroying cities.

On April 26th 1937, a massive air raid by the German Luftwaffe on the Basque town of Guernica in Northern Spain shocked the world. Hundreds of civilians were killed in the raid which became a major incident of the Spanish Civil War.

The bombing prompted Pablo Picasso to begin painting what many say is his greatest masterpiece...Guernica.

The painting became a timely and prophetic vision of the Second World War and is now recognised as an international icon for peace.

Read more on Guernica and its symbolism at:
http://web.org.uk/picasso/secret_guernica.html

Excerpt from Missing, Assumed Dead
 
She (Kam) examined a grainy, slightly out of focus picture labeled “Vasco Family, Jordan Valley, OR.” A short, middle-aged man with dark hair and complexion and a pretty, light-haired woman stood by a wagon with a donkey harnessed to it. Sheep dotted the landscape behind them.
 
“A shepherd in Oregon? That’s kind of, um, rural.” Kam squinted at the picture and wondered whether she needed glasses. “The rest of Dad’s family lived in the Midwest, didn’t they?”


“Yes, but some of the Vasco line emigrated from Spain to Oregon as well.”


“They’re Spanish?”


“Not Spanish but Basque. I did a bit of research on their immigration to the U.S. when I learned your father had Basque cousins. A lot of them moved to eastern Oregon to tend sheep.”


Kam rolled her eyes. She sensed a lecture coming. “Why did they leave Spain?”


“Escaping the Fascist takeover during the Spanish Civil War, I’d imagine.” Eileen tapped the joystick on her chair to face Kam. “It was terrible for them. Franco teamed up with Hitler, who let his air force practice bombing on civilian populations. Guernica—you remember the Picasso painting—was almost destroyed, thousands of Basques slaughtered.”


“I didn’t know about the Hitler connection. What did he have against the Basques?”


Eileen frowned. “I suppose he was just pandering to Franco to gain an ally. The Basques were thorns in Franco’s side.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

It's a Crime Sunday - 10 Rules for Writing a Novel

**** About L.J. Sellers
I’m an award-winning journalist, editor, and novelist based in Eugene, Oregon. I write the highly praised Detective Jackson series: The Sex Club, Secrets to Die For, Thrilled to Death, Passions of the Dead, and Dying for Justice. I also have two standalone thrillers, The Baby Thief and The Suicide Effect,and her newst novel, a futuristic thriller called The Arranger. All my books are available in print and on Kindle and other e-readers for $.99 — $2.99.

 
When not plotting murders, I enjoy performing stand-up comedy, cycling, gardening, reading crime stories, social networking, attending writers/readers conferences, hanging out with my family, and editing fiction manuscripts.

This article is from a past post on The Blood Red Pencil blog.

****
I evaluate fiction for a publisher, using the publisher's standard set of questions, with the last question being: thumbs up or down? It's a tough list of standards, and I see a pattern of common problems that keep manuscripts from being accepted. The most significant problems involve the bond between story and character. If you want an agent or editor to get past the first chapter of your story, here are 10 things to keep in mind:

1. Make your main character want something. Desire is the engine that drives both life and narrative. Characters who don’t want anything are rarely interesting.

2. Make your main character do something. Your story can start with a character who is the victim of circumstances, but afterward the character needs to move quickly into action. Readers like characters who take charge.

3. Let your readers know the story’s premise right away. If they get to the end of the first chapter and still can’t answer the question—what is the story about?—they probably won't keep reading.

4. Get conflict into the story early on. It doesn’t have to be all-out bickering or deception between characters, but let your readers know things will sticky.

5. Skip the omniscient POV. Let the reader experience as much of the story as possible through the eyes of your main character. This is how readers bond with protagonists. If you shift POVs, put in a line break.

6. Introduce characters one at a time with a little physical detail and a little background information for each. (Ella was five-eight, bone thin, and worked for IBM.) Too many characters all at once in the first few pages can be overwhelming.

7. It’s okay to tell sometimes, instead of show. Not every character reaction has to be described in gut-churning, eyebrow-lifting physical detail. Sometimes it’s okay to simply say, “Jessie panicked.”

8. Don’t over write. Nobody agrees on what constitutes good writing, so trying to make your writing stand out will probably work against you. The best writing doesn’t draw attention to itself; it just gets out of the way of the story.

9. Avoid word repetitions when you can. Read your story out loud. You’re much more likely to hear the repetitions than see them.

10. The components of a novel that readers (and publishers) care about most are, in order: story, characters, theme, setting. If you have to sacrifice something, start at the end of list. Never sacrifice the story for anything else.

****

Watch for LJ's next book, "The Arranger," has just been released and is now available on Amazon.com

2023: Lara Evans just wants to win the Gauntlet, a national endurance contest, but a mysterious assailant wants her dead. Can she both win the contest and survive?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

MAD Links

Sounds like a game, right? It is kind of and you can play just by doing a little clicking. I'm an Amazon Associate, so I occasionally use the Amazon linking thingie to show my books available on Amazon. They're all in the page with the tab My Books you see above.

Amazon is not the only place carrying my books. Granted, Amazon sells more than any other on-lne store. I wish those other places provided the tools that Amazon does. For example, if I go to the product page of a book, I can tweet it right from the page. Barnes & Noble? Nope, no way to tweet directly. I even have direct Twitter links on all my posts here, along with Facebook, and a bunch of other social media sites.

Let's face it. Amazon does more and does it better. For that reason, if I'm filling out a promo form, I'll always list Amazon right after my publisher's site.

Here's the link/image display to help you get yourself over to Amazon to buy "Missing, Assumed Dead."

However, I encourage you to check out my publisher, MuseItUp. 1) I get more money for each sale direct from the publisher, 2) it supports my publisher so they'll keep publishing my books, 3) you'll find bargain prices that will save you money, and 4) you can discover some writers and books who've not yet crossed your radar.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Character Friday - Judge Leiper

I didn't want to let the Judge rant on about his prejudices, so I'm covering for him. This is one mean, nasty old man. But one soft spot in his heart does him in.

In "Missing, Assumed Dead," a self-proclaimed 'judge' runs a small Justice Court (really only traffic court) in a tiny town in Southeast Oregon. He has appointed his nephew, George Leiper, de facto town police chief. Of  course, there is no police department, but George loves to wear the uniform and enjoy the comforts of his own office in the City Hall.

Nobody cares to oppose the Judge as long as he keeps his connection to the White Power groups away from Roseword.
But that's not always the case. He brings the darkness of the Aryan Brotherhood right to the town's front door when he forces his daughter, Miranda, to marry one of the brotherhood, Cole Bristow. Mostly, the Judge want to get his daughter away from a Basque shepherd, Salvadore. When Salvadore disappears mysteriously, the town whispers behind closed doors, but don't dare cross the Judge with his connections to the White Power group.

Soon after bearing her daughter, Mirabel, Miranda commits suicide rather than remain married to Cole. The whole town worries, but fear keeps the secrets hidden.

The judge becomes the guardian of his granddaughter, but keeps her away from the rest of the town. Even her uncle admits that she's not right in the head. Something happened to her around the time that Salvadore disappeared. What happened to Salvadore, and why is Mirabel insane? Is the Basque shepherd her father rather than Cole, Miranda's husband?

Prejudice, murder, insanity, suicide: Every small town has its secrets. Find out what those shocking secrets reveal in "Missing, Assumed Dead."

Here's an excerpt from the book that tells you a little about Judge Leiper.

The next morning, George drove up to the Vasco place. He didn’t see anything suspicious but wrote a note for Salvadore to contact him. When he hadn’t heard two days later, he went back. The note was still on the door. He walked around the shack but didn’t see anything except Salvadore’s walking stick, the shepherd’s crook, leaning against the tool shed door. He looked inside, but nothing seemed amiss.

Vasco rarely went anywhere without that stick. George went back to town, worried something might have happened to the old man. He decided to tell his uncle about it. As a Justice of the Peace, he had close contacts with the Sheriff’s Office.

“That’s what I found, Uncle, um, Judge. I think the old man mighta wandered off and got lost.”

Judge Leiper stared at his nephew with watery eyes, then pulled a big, white handkerchief from his suit pocket. He wiped the sweat from his pasty face, nearly as pale as the cloth.

“Don’t think there’s need to worry. He’s a tough old guy and knows those hills like the back of his hand.”

George hesitated to speak up to the judge, but he had to do his duty. “I’ll contact the sheriff and see if I can get them to come out to search for him.”

Narrowing his beady eyes, the judge’s voice went from friendly to mean. “Now, you don’t want to be bothering the sheriff. I said not to worry. I’ll take care of it.”

“But—”

The judge waved his hand at George. “Now you just forget about it. I’ll take care of it.”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

MAD Characters - Ray

Ray Johnson owns the Jack and Jill Diner in the little town of Rosewood, OR. He had been a good friend of Salvadore Vasco, a Basque shepherd, until Vasco disappeared. Ray knew Salvadore couldn't just get lost; the old man knew all too well the rocky hills leading toward the Steen Mountains.

When Kam McBride is named Salvadore's executor after seven years he'd been missing, one of the first people she meets in Rosewood is Ray. After all, she was hungry after being lost in the high desert country and that cute Deputy Mitch invited her for a bite to eat.

Ray's a crusty old guy who stays in Rosewood because his wife is buried there, and he wants to stay near her. That, and he's got the only place to eat in the tiny town. Bev scoffs at Ray's cooking ability, but just about everybody else in the area eats at the Jack and Jill's regularly.

Excerpt: Kam meets Ray for the first time.

When she entered the diner, she had to smile. From the checkerboard black and white tiles on the floor to the slow-spinning fan on the ceiling, it looked like a stage set for Grease. Red vinyl chairs and booth seats were tucked close to green Formica-covered tables. Stainless napkin holders and salt-n-pepper shakers nestled between plastic catsup and mustard bottles on each table.

Mitch sat at the counter talking to an older man wearing a sea green apron and white chef’s hat. His bare arms, although skinny, seemed to be all gristle and muscle. She briefly wondered if Mitch and the cook were related. Both had dark skin and black hair, although the old man’s showed a lot of gray. The roman noses, high cheekbones, and strong jaws were similar enough for them to be father and son.

She slid onto a stool next to Mitch and smiled. She picked up the tall, water-beaded glass of iced tea waiting for her and took a long swallow. “God, that’s good. Thanks.”

“Kam, this is Ray Johnson. Ray, Kam McBride.”

Ray reached out his gnarled hand. The shake was gentle but firm enough to hint at the old man’s wiry strength.

“You can call me Ray, but you doesn’t have to call me Johnson.”

Mitch winked at her, and Kam twitched an eyebrow. “Um, okay. I’ll just call you Ray.” She tipped her head toward Mitch. “Are you two related? You sure look alike.”

Ray and Mitch both broke into laughter. Mitch answered. “No relation, but I’d be proud.”

The old man grinned, exposing a little gold behind a white partial plate. “I think that’s ‘cause Mitch here is half Paiute, and I’m half Basque. I do believe the two tribes came from the same beginnin’s.”

Kam studied Mitch’s face, a very nice face at that. Returning her attention to Ray, she asked, “Did you know Salvadore Vasco? He was Basque, too.”

“Yep. Him and me were good friends ’til he went missin’.” The old man shook his head slowly. “A damned shame, that.”

“Missing? I thought he was dead.”

“That’s the thing. Seven years gone by, so they’re declarin’ him to be dead.” Ray paused. “So, you’re his last relative?”

“I am, although I didn’t even know about him until a few weeks ago when I got the letter from the court. But my mom recognized the name. My father was related to him. Second cousin twice removed or something like that.”

Ray rubbed his chin. “So, you never met Salvadore?”

“No. Tell me about him. Were you friends for a long time?”

Oh, sure! Years ’n years. He’d come in town maybe once a week for supplies an’ always stopped here for a meal. I can almos’ see him walkin’ down the street usin’ his shepherd’s crook for a cane. The work stove him up some. You know, sheep herdin’ ain’t as easy as it sounds.”

Kam nodded. Finally, she’d met somebody who actually knew Salvadore Vasco. “What else can you tell me? What happened when he went missing?”