NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!

**Visit our 2017 Grand Prize Draw to win Eleven Exciting Ebooks in one go! closes Dec 25**


Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson . Vanessa Keir . Tonya Kappes . Julie Rowe . Joni M Fisher . Leslie Langtry

Friday, June 29, 2012

Writing Buddies

Writing is a lonely profession (and when it isn't you wish it was). Many writers have companions to keep them entertained on this long lonely road. Companions quieter (generally) than the average nine-year-old, with less desire to interrupt the word flow with, "Mom, can I...?"

This is my companion of the last year and a half. Holly. She's a rescue of indeterminate lineage. Chocolate lab certainly, the thousand-teeth grin hints strongly at pit bull, the baying at sirens indicates strongly, hound. 
It took a couple of days to settle into our routine, for Holly to figure out when to sit around and do nothing (i.e. when I was in my chair, writing), and when we could go outside (I aim for hourly stretch breaks). And she learned not to bark at squirrels through the windows, or nudge my chair every 5 minutes to make sure I'm not dead. She is, in fact, the perfect companion. 

Plus, she's stupid. Really stupid. Fall-off-the-deck, eat wasps, never-bring-a-ball-back-I-just-found-this-thing, Odie, stupid. Which also suits me perfectly :)

This is Finn--my previous companion and mother to the dog of my heart (Benn, not featured here today :)), whip smart and gorgeous. She was a great companion. 

Why am I sharing this, aside from the fact I think all writers should have some some of animal friend, be it a dog, cat, rabbit, goldfish? Strangely, the hero and heroine of my next book, DANGEROUS WATERS, are called Holly and Finn :). I didn't plan it, it was one of those freak moments where my subconscious was obviously at work (maybe trying to even out the playing field as the hero of STORM WARNING is called Ben--aforementioned dog of my heart), but I'm kind of in love with the whole concept now. Most people won't know. Fewer will care. But I know and I care :)


Do you have a companion? Is he/she smarter than my lovely Holly? Please share :)
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More information about Toni's next book can be found on her website.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Is it a bird? Is it a tomato?

No! It's a mystery.

Having debated favourite mystery books and films, an internet group I belong to started discussing favourite mystery TV shows. The first favourite that sprang to my mind was Columbo. I adore that show and am currently enjoying reruns on TV. I was late to the party, as ever, and saw that someone had already mentioned Columbo - and been told in no uncertain terms that it didn’t qualify as a mystery because viewers knew exactly whodunnit and why.

I didn’t argue, I’m far too polite, but I disagree with that. Viewers know whodunnit, they know why the deed was done and they know Columbo will soon have the culprit brought to justice. They don’t, however, know how Columbo will solve the mystery.

I read on and saw that many people’s favourite mystery shows were unknown to me. I’m a Brit, as you might guess from the funny spelling (I can spell favourite the wrong way, truly :)), and there are dozens of shows, hugely popular in the States, that simply don’t make it over here. (If anyone over the pond wants a house guest, I’d be no trouble. Just sit me down in front of the TV…) Columbo travelled well, thank goodness. In fact, hardly a day goes by when an old Columbo isn’t shown on British TV.

Here are some of my other favourites:
I just loved Robbie Coltrane as the chain-smoking, gambling, whisky drinking forensic psychologist in Cracker.


Lots of clues to be found on dead bodies in Silent Witness. Love this show - and it has nothing to do with Tom Ward. Nothing at all.

The Killing (Danish version) with the amazing Sarah Lund.

And, of course, the Swedish Wallander. I could watch this show over and over and I'm sure I'll read Henning Mankell's books again.

So what’s your favourite TV mystery show? And what about Columbo? Does it qualify as a mystery or not? I say it does.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Risky Business


What sort of shady activities do you associate with murder? Not that I suspect any of you of having murderous  intentions, you understand…well, not serious ones, anyway. I’m asking purely from a fictional standpoint.

For me, the murky world of gambling in general and fixed dog racing in particular spring to mind. I can just imagine all sorts of unsavoury characters getting caught up in that game, which is why it’s the background for my latest in the Hunter File series.

Risky Business is released by Carina Press today and features my live-aboard detective, Charlie Hunter who, despite his determination to be left alone, seems to get involved into one unsolved case after another. Except this case was solved. A guy is serving life behind bars for the murder of a bookie but his daughter is convinced he didn’t do it. Well, she would think that, wouldn’t she? Okay, so her dad’s a bit of a villain, she concedes, but murder just isn’t his style, especially since the guy who was topped was a good friend of his and there had been no falling out amongst thieves.

Charlie, against his better judgement, agrees to make a few enquiries. Well, Cleo is very attractive and exceedingly persuasive. It hadn’t been Charlie’s case but he remembers having doubts about the conviction at the time. The female inspector in charge had just been moved to the division and was keen to make a name for herself, not caring about collateral damage in her rush to climb the career ladder.

Charlie gets more than he bargained for, not least of which is a ‘fond’ reconciliation with his estranged step-brother, lending fresh clues as to the reason for his mother’s murder more than twenty years previously. Unfortunately it also places his own life in danger since the guys he’s messing with don’t believe in taking prisoners…

Risky Business by W. Soliman. Available today from Carina Press http://bit.ly/MHCsYs and all good on line book stores.

Visit my website at www.wsoliman.com where you can read the entire first chapter.

Enjoy! Wendy

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Waxing Loquacious



by Janis Patterson

When will I ever learn? I really don’t mean to upset people… most of the time, at least. But sometimes…

Yesterday I had my legs waxed. (No gratuitous ewwww factor here – there is a point to this.) Getting waxed is a rare treat for me, which I’ve only had done a couple of times in my life. The Husband thought I needed a pick-me-up after we survived being in the center of the Great Dallas Hailstorm. It really didn’t have anything to do with the fact that my legs had reached a point where I could have made a choice between waxing or French braiding… I went to a local salon and was asked if I minded having the newly hired operator do me. Fine… I didn’t know anyone there anyhow.

I was in a tiny room lying on a hard narrow board that must have had at least two layers of tissue for padding, and this very nice young woman was spreading this warm, dark blue goo on my leg. Apparently this is the latest thing in wax – and brand new to me – where they don’t use strips. Instead they just let the wax dry to a certain state and peel it off. Very efficient.

As I had given them my business card for their file when I made the appointment apparently everyone there knew I was a writer, because every operator and front office person found some excuse to come in while I was lying there, uncomfortably stretched out on this oversized beam and my legs striped with dark blue goo. I felt almost as if I should have a sign beside me saying something like North American Writer, Genus Wordsmithicus, Habitat In Front of Computer Screen, Do Not Feed the Writer.

Okay, until then everything was fine. As always I was asking questions about the process and the training and the wax itself when An Idea hit. Without thinking I started mumbling to myself, bouncing ideas out into the air as I am accustomed to do with friends or family when An Idea appears. I concocted a tale of a witchy salon owner who is also shorting her girls their money and is sort of blackmailing some of her wealthy clients and whose estranged husband is having an affair with the head operator. This nasty woman is found in a treatment room after being murdered in a very appropriately nasty way with the wax – and this is my story, so hands off!

Anyway, I sort of snapped back to the moment when I realized that both my legs were cold and there hadn’t been any wax applied for a few minutes. Raising my head, I opened my eyes to see both my operator and her training person backed up against the far wall, their eyes and mouths wide. My operator even held a spreader stick loaded with heavy blue wax, which was slithering downward toward the floor like some form of avant garde sculpture. I smiled, and got two ghastly rictus-type smiles in return.

I didn’t want to leave with my legs half done, so I simply lay there and smiled some more, explaining that ideas were everywhere and I just grabbed them when they came, that all writers did in an attempt to keep them from vanishing back into the ether. Finally the operators’ smiles became more normal and they went to work on my legs again, but much faster than before. I was finished and out in just minutes. It was a good job, and I will go back if allowed, but you can believe I will keep any possible brainstorms to myself!

Those of you who have followed my sporadic blog posts realize I really do believe that ideas are everywhere and all we have to do is keep our minds open to them. What I must remember is that not everyone is a writer, and not everyone appreciates the labyrinthine and sometimes startling thought processes by which a writer creates stories.

I must keep my mouth shut.

I will keep my mouth shut.

Or maybe next time I will just opt for French braids.

PS – Don’t forget that TIMELESS INNOCENTS from Carina Press is still on sale for only 99 cents until the end of June! 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

SOMETIMES I JUST CAN'T WRITE LINEAR


(This is from a newsletter article i wrote for the DARA June 2012 issue. I've been crazy busy with the day job so I thought I'd share this with you instead of trying to rush through a quickie drive-by blog post.)

I've discovered something about the writing process with my latest work in progress I didn't know before. Sometimes I just can't write linear. Linear always worked well for me in the past—I'd outline my story, know exactly where I needed to go and how I needed to get there. Start at the beginning and move forward, chapter by chapter. There'd be a beginning, a middle, a big black moment and the end. Nice and straight-forward, right?

Not with my latest story. First, I had a dream. Not unusual, I dream all the time. But this was a bit different, it told a story. Not a big story, more like a long scene, but it was so complete and so vivid I wrote it down and sent it to one of my critique partners, thinking in the back of my mind it might work for a short magazine story or something along those lines. She loved it.

Yet something was missing. I felt I needed to tell the reader what led up to this momentous scene. Whoa, wait a minute, that meant the big scene I'd written was actually the end of the story. That's not how I write. I'm supposed to write the beginning, then the middle and then the end. How in the world do I make it work going in the opposite direction?

So, I thought about it. What brought my characters to this place in the story? They had their goal, motivation and conflict all handled nicely in the big scene I'd already written, tied up with a bow and finished—now I needed to backtrack and tell the reader the events that brought us to this place.

So I started with backstory—no not what you're thinking—I outlined a bit of backstory to flesh out the characters more fully, give them more depth, a reason they needed the big scene to happen (since I'd already written this great ending). Once I realized why the characters needed the resolution I'd given them I was able to go back and write chapters from the perspective of the various players in my drama, weaving them together from character to character, chapter by chapter, even out of order, and fit them together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

If you're like me, you do the outside pieces of the puzzle first, creating the frame to fill in. It's the same with story-telling. In this instance the outside, the framework, just happened to be the end first, and filling in and completing the picture came afterwards, piece by piece, until I had the whole.

The process of writing is a growing and evolving one with each person developing and honing the skill-sets that work for them. Plotters, pantsers, linear writers or puzzler fitters, find what works for you and the story you're telling. Like I said, sometimes I can't write linear. Sometimes I can. Find what works for you and do what you do best—WRITE.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Audio Books


          Do you have to get debris and aquatic critters out of the pool because you have hoards of guests coming to visit for the summer? Need to get the knee high grass cut and clear the poison ivy away from the yard? Convince the mosquitoes not carry off your guests? Have to give the old home a good cleaning?
AND….. all YOU want do is relax stretched out on a chase lounge to read a good Romantic Suspense book? 



Well, have I got the solution for you.  
Audio books!
Yes that’s right. You heard me-
The new craze among busy people who love to read.
Audio Books!


You can listen on your phone  
  • Apple iPhone 4 MC605lla Smartphone - Wi-Fi - 3.5G - Bar - Black


              or E-reader

               I’m here to tell ya listening to books will make the drudgery of cleaning the pool, cutting the grass, cleaning closets, using the shop vac to suck the crumbs from the oven, and scrubbing those toilets a thing of the past. You’ll be so pleased to listen you’ll wish there was more work to do. Ehh! That last statement might be pushing it.

         I started ‘listening’ because of vision problems. Even with glasses over contacts, it was difficult to read. After five eye surgeries reading is much easier now but I’m hooked on listening. Many times I've foregone seeing a movie because the audio book production was so good.

         The big thing is, I can listen to books and not feel guilty because I should be doing something else. ‘Cause I can do something else.  Except drive. I get too engrossed in the story. Shakes head here –Not a good thing. Now that I’m thinking about it, listening to the, shall I say, steamy parts, of a romance novel in the doctor's office or in the dentist chair, not good either. Well, it's not bad that you're listening to it there, it's odd to explain why your neck and face are turning red and you're hyperventilating. Whatever you do, just say no to the hygienist if she wants you to take out the earphones so she can hear also.

        So, tell me, Do you listen to your books? Do you have a favorite narrator? I would know Dick Hill anywhere. He narrates many of my favorite books. Many actors lend their voices to books. If any of you are longtime watchers of Law and Order you remember there was a female psychologist on the show. Carolyn McCormick portrayed Dr Elizabeth Olivet, and narrates The Hunger Games Trilogy. And… our very own Dee J Adams narrates her own books.

My book Under Fire is available in audio format. 
Click here Audible to listen to a sample.
Check out all the Not Your Usual Suspect authors on audible. 

WARNING- Listening to Audio Books is habit forming.





Friday, June 15, 2012

I-Spy: Writing the Gay Mystery: Theme


Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.


Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.


TODAY'S POST: I-Spy Writing the Gay Mystery…with Josh Lanyon

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One of the least understood elements of writing is theme. The very word makes some writers break out in hives as they flashback to high school compositions on Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter. Theme is too often viewed as the stuff of literary fiction. Not something genre writers need to worry about.


But that's quite wrong. Every story has a theme, even if the theme is unconscious or not clearly defined. Theme is what your story is about. Plot is what happens. Theme is the point of it all. Or, if you can think of it as the moral of our story.
  

Now you might think that the potential themes of any given mystery novel are both obvious and limited: crime does not pay, good triumphs over evil, justice can be found in an unjust world. OR (if your taste runs to hardboiled and noir crime fiction) crime DOES pay, sometimes evil triumphs over good, there is no real justice in an unjust world.
 

It’s actually, or at least ideally, a little more complicated than that. Especially when it comes to the GLBT subgenre. Because GLBT fiction has to do with sexuality, it is inevitable that the gay or m/m mystery will differ from mainstream mystery in regard to the relationships and romance of your main characters. The themes you choose to write about reveal your personal philosophy about life and love. When you write about two people in love you reveal your own feelings and beliefs about relationships and society and sex and all kinds of things you may not have consciously been thinking about.


While it remains true that in our culture, to write about men loving each other openly is, in itself, a thematic statement, in a genre as crowded and competitive as gay mystery, you’ll have to come up with something a little more meaningful.

 Potential topics for themes in gay fiction include: 

Coming out

Self-hate/self-acceptance

Isolation/alienation

Illness/disability

Family

Superficial values/material world

Facing prejudice

Addiction

Monogamy

Obsession

Death

The power dynamic

The closet


The two themes most overworked in the genre are the first and last: coming out and the closet. That’s because they’re easy and obvious. Why are they easy and obvious? Because gay writers have been writing about these topics forever and the majority of writers attempting gay mystery have been heavily influenced by the writers before them. The problem is, they’re writing their own stories like it’s 1994. Society has changed. Law enforcement agencies have changed. No, this is not to say that prejudice is no longer an issue, but let’s give a little credit where credit is due. Given that most law enforcement agencies now pride themselves on diversity, it’s time to STOP writing tiresome clich├ęs. As it stands now, there seems to be some unwritten rule that if the two main characters are in law enforcement, one will be closeted. Or if only one character is in law enforcement, he will be closeted.


There are other important and interesting themes to explore.

 But let’s say you don’t have any interest in writing anything “heavy.” Maybe you just want to say something about the healing power of love. Your theme doesn’t have to be some big lofty PRINCIPLE. In fact, it’s generally better if you don’t put your message in flashing neon lights. Even readers who agree with you philosophically and morally don’t like having an agenda rammed down their throats. You don’t want to be heavy-handed or blatant. Your first job as a mystery writer is to entertain. 

Ideally theme is not something that can be lifted out of one story and plugged into another. It should be integral to this particular story and these particular characters. Theme is, in fact, closely linked to character. Theme often develops through the conflict of your two main characters. Each man brings his own experiences, expectations, attitudes, beliefs and dreams to a relationship. When those different personalities collide it creates conflict, and through conflict we explore our themes about love and belonging and compromise and whatever else we think important in human relationships.

 Let your characters argue out two sides of an issue that’s important to you. Allow your characters to be wrong once in a while. Allow them to learn from each other. Allow them to genuinely disagree. There are two sides to every story – and to every issue. Through the course of the story your characters will discover what is important to them, and that is the exploration and development of theme.

 But keep this in mind: when you’re writing these themes, your own lack of experience and knowledge can turn something earnest and well-intentioned into pretentious or just plain silly sermonizing. Be sensitive to that. And remember that you’re preaching to the choir.

 It’s okay if you haven’t decided on a theme before you start writing. Theme often develops organically through the creative process. Sometimes the most powerful themes gradually reveal themselves through the course of the story, through the journey the characters take. Sometimes your characters will surprise you; sometimes the theme of your story turns out to be something different than you imagined. Often the very best way is to let theme develop naturally out of the characters’ journey and the events of the story.


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 A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist. 

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FUTURE POSTS will cover:

Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.

We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Listen Up, Grasshopper





Psst. I’ve got a secret to share. It’s a big one. The key to happiness? The secret of life? Yeah, it’s balance.

I’m convinced of it. The times I haven’t been happy, there was some unevenness in my life…something that pulled me so strongly in one direction I neglected the others.

One way of thinking about it is to dissect life into four realms: physical, social, mental/emotional, and spiritual. I’m happiest when I have an equal footing in all four. (Imagine the game Twister here, with your feet and hands in each of four colors. That's about how it feels most days, too.)

How does this translate into the art of writing? Conflicts are all about imbalance. The conflicts characters face arise when their lives become so unbalanced that they must try to restore balance through their actions. (In the case of the villain, this is often through unconventional or illegal means.) The inciting incident that launches the entire story is all about upsetting the apple cart and sending your characters on a quest to reclaim their apples…or making the decision they’d rather have oranges.

As a reader (and as a human who strives for balance), I love to read about the hero and heroine being thrown off their life path…better them than me, I say. I'd rather live vicariously through them any day. Especially since suspense typically involves some rather stressful (i.e., dangerous) ways of pushing the characters off balance. And the more of those four realms involved, the stronger the conflict.

For example, in Only Fear, a stalker enters the heroine’s life, invading her (social) sanctuary, putting her in (physical) danger, and dredging up (emotional) issues she's shoved aside for much too long. In Avenging Angel, the heroine's world (social & emotional) is rocked when her intern is murdered, and she has the (social) expertise to help find the killer, which puts her in (physical) danger. Beneath it all is the more spiritual concept of hope versus despair, and the desire for justice. My entire Mindhunters series was the result of an extreme imbalance in one man’s life. Damian Manchester launched the SSAM foundation when his daughter was the victim of a serial killer. He needed to regain his sense of control and direct his grief toward something positive (and hopefully find closure by finding his daughter’s killer).

Human beings have an innate desire for balance, and stories resonate with people because everyone knows what it's like to have that balance upset...and to try so hard to regain their footing.

So, Grasshopper, now you know the key to a happy life, and a happy ending to a book: finding and maintaining balance.

What are some of the imbalances characters face in the books you’re currently reading (or writing)?

Monday, June 11, 2012

MARRYING A POINT OF VIEW

Choosing a point of view for a novel is a lot like choosing a mate for life.  Once you commit, there’s no turning back—at least not without great difficulty.
So the choosing is a delicate matter not to be undertaken lightly.  I found that out some years ago when I was fortunate enough to have a conversation on this very subject with the late Leslie Waller.  His published works include, perhaps most famously, Dog Day Afternoon and Strange Encounters of the Third Kind.
I remember how generous he was, sharing his time and expertise with me, a fledgling writer.  During our talk, I asked him which point of view he preferred.  Not surprisingly he replied they all had their place and all functioned somewhat differently.  Okay, understood.  But his eyes twinkled when he confessed he did have a favorite.  First person POV.
First person, he said, was the most dynamic, the most intimate.  It allows the writer and, of course, the reader to become one with the hero/heroine.  No other POV creates that closeness.   So what the character thinks, says, sees and does comes onto the page (or Kindle, Nook or iPad!) unfiltered and as direct as language permits.  The narrator virtually disappears. 
So in The Monet Murders—out June 11, thank you very much!—when heroine Deva Dunne flees from a killer and fights for her life—in first person--you’re right there with her:
I squelched the rising fear and told myself to think.  The Gulf lay to the west.  The direction that led out of the woods.  But where was west?  I should have listened to my father years ago and joined the Girl Scouts.  Too late for that, but like every school kid, I knew the sun set in the west.  So . . . I’d step out from this undergrowth, look at the sky, and follow the direction of the sun.
Right.
I peered at my watch.  Three more minutes.
The rain began as quiet as a whisper.  If every pore in my body hadn’t been on sonar alert, I wouldn’t have heard a thing.  Then the whispering picked up.  Plink.  Plink.
Boom!  A streak of lightning flashed across the sky followed by a clap of thunder that practically split my ear drums.  A second later the sky pulled out all its stops, unleashing everything it had.
I crouched in a tight ball, sheltered from the worst of the deluge but still, in no time, rain soaked my hair to the scalp and my wet clothes clung like a Hooters’ outfit.
I didn’t even care.  Where the hell was west, anyway?
From this intimate glimpse into Deva’s mind the reader learns she’s lost, she’s scared, she’s resilient, and best of all, she’s retained her sense of humor.   And the reader knows all this because the action as Deva experienced it unfolded in front of his eyes.  
Leslie Waller also said the POV character shouldn’t be the smartest person in the book.  Now that did surprise me.  You’d think that he/she should be.  Nope, let the most intelligent observations and insights come from another character.  Why? I asked.  Because that keeps the POV character sympathetic.  We usually prefer people who don’t threaten us.  Girls who aren’t gorgeous, drop-dead tens.  Guys who aren’t smart enough to invent Facebook.  So. . . . why should that change when we read a book?  Although I’ll admit I did mull this point over for a while after Mr. Waller’s pronouncement.
On the other hand, when he said that above all the first person POV character must be charming, I believed him without a moment’s hesitation.  We’re all drawn to charm.  It sucks us in.  Who was the poet who claimed, “If you have charm it doesn’t matter what you don’t have.  And if you don’t have charm, it doesn’t matter what you do have.”
As you can see, I’ve never forgotten Leslie Waller’s advice and hope that Deva Dunne, as she relates the story of The Monet Murders without any middleman to interpret for her, remembers his every word as well.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Writer or Storyteller?

What’s the difference between a writer and a storyteller?
I have friends who say, “I’m not a writer. I’m a storyteller.” I know other people who say, “I’m a writer. She’s a storyteller.” Often the word “just” is thrown around also. In case, I’m deaf to the tone of voice.
For a long time, I thought the difference had to do with what types of things you wrote.
Storytellers write things that stir emotions and send a message to the world, which could be as divergent as “everything will be okay” to “fix this now!” Writers write things that stimulate the mind. Full of arguments and logic, a writer is conscious of form and precedent. A grounding in the great cannon of literature is essential. Occasionally, the writer may touch the heart, but it must be done with the ceremonial, mannered attention of an experienced Asian courtesan. And please, don’t mention it afterward. I enjoy reading all kinds of things.
Ever since high school, I’ve been a Ferris Bueller type, the kid that floated between groups. Smart or artsy. Rich kids and kids from the projects. Catholic or Jewish. Someone once said I had “invisible skin.” (I think most of us, writer-storytellers, are like this, don’t you?)
 But the coat-change between writer and storyteller may be the most perilous group-hopping, I do. Probably because I hate the division between my two closest tribes. I’ve been finding ways to subvert that difference since I first began to believe words were my calling.
One of the ways I skate around my ambivalence of this split is by writing in many forms. Short and long. Non-fiction and fiction. Mystery, historical and fantasy. It can be hard to pin me down. (Hard to make a living, when you’re all over the board, as well. That’s a topic for another post, though.) I write features for newspapers, short stories and epic-length novels. Serious or sexy. Silly and smart. I float on the current, changing forms like thoughts change, like emotions change.
Recently, I finished a new screenplay. Although, “finished” is always an odd word to apply to a screenplay. They are notoriously shifty creatures.
I’ve worked in this form before. I like it because it hones my ability to see the most essential bones of a story. To work as economically as possible. To use action and conflict, as a means of communicating every element of story: character, theme, even setting. (But oh, how I long for even one sentence of internal monologue, when I’m writing a screenplay!)
The more I write in different forms, the more I begin to believe—the division between storytelling and writing is only semantics. Two words for the same thing.
I recently had the chance to present a piece from my new work to some writer friends. I brought a few of my speech kids and we told everyone a story—the first few minutes of the screenplay.
The audience laughed, listened and went hope happy. http://www.waterlinewriters.org/
Writer. Storyteller.
Does it matter?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Geeks, Lies and Spies, Oh, My!




Okay, I admit it. I’m a James Bond geek. As a teen I read most of Ian Fleming’s books and then saw the movies. I adored the danger, the thrill of a complicated plot, the international action, and even the over-the-top chase scenes. Once in college, I decided to join the CIA, majoring in Political Science and Russian Language and going all the way through four years of the interview process, including taking a tour of the site, meeting my prospective boss in the Psychological Profiling Unit, and taking a lengthy lie detector test. (By the way, did you know that the CIA cafeteria at Langley has two sides to it: one side for the ordinary agents and one side for the covert agents? I kid you not!!) At the very last moment, however, I changed my mind, opting instead for a less restrictive career in international journalism. But my love for all things spy and Bond remained.

So when I began to write a new series several years ago, I decided to do it by turning the James Bond concept on its head. I would, therefore, create an action/adventure character (Lexi Carmichael) who would be an antithesis to 007. She would be plain, lacking in social skills, and a complete fashion disaster. Instead of using her debonair charm and good looks to save the day, she’d use her brain. A super-charged geek brain. To help her out I’d pair her with a set of esoteric genius geek twins to get her through the crisis (as opposed to Q). Her best friend would be the Bond-girl-type and would help Lexi navigate the tricky waters of dating, socializing, and finding a decent bathing suit. Yet I’d still give Lexi a geeky obsession with all things Bond, leading to many humorous moments in the series.


The newest release in the Lexi Carmichael series, NO MONEY DOWN, came out on Monday. Here’s the back cover blurb:
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Me and the legendary Zimmerman twins--it's a friendship made in geek heaven. And it all started back when I worked for the NSA...

My best friend Basia dragged me to the beach for her idea of a vacation. All those annoying people, sand in embarrassing places--not exactly R & R for a girl who doesn't like the sun, the ocean or bathing suits. I couldn't wait to get back to work.

But things started looking up when I ran into Elvis and Xavier Zimmerman. We discovered we had a lot in common: gaming, anchovies, hacking. After that, the vacation was perfect--until I accidentally broke some poor guy's fingers. Then Broken-Fingered Guy disappeared, and things got really dicey. With the Secret Service and a bunch of thugs suddenly after me, all I wanted was to solve the mystery and enjoy what was left of my vacation--preferably alive.

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I’m often asked whether I have a favorite Bond actor and which of the books are my favorite. I do, but I’m going to wait and see what's the consensus here. So, who is it for you? Connery, Moore, Craig, Dalton, Lazenby, or Brosnan? Anyone have a favorite Bond book, too?



Monday, June 4, 2012

Sowing the Seeds of Murder: My favorite gardening and plant themed mysteries.

By Angela Henry
I have a confession to make, several actually. I hate gardening and yard work of any kind. I’ve never so much as cut grass in my life. And if you give me a potted plant, it’ll probably be dead in a week. But having said that, I do like plants and gardens and greatly admire people with green thumbs. I enjoy gardening and plant themed mysteries even more. Here are a few of my favorites.
Rosemary and Thyme: A British crime series featuring actresses Pam Farris and Felicity Kendal, which aired for three seasons from 2003 to 2007. Farris and Kendal portrayed Laura Thyme and Rosemary Boxer, who own a garden restoration business together and manage to unearth more than their share of murders.
Thyme of Death by Susan Wittig Albert-This is the first book in the China Bayles mystery series. Fed up with the corporate world China Bayles, a former lawyer, relocates to a small town and opens Thyme and Seasons herb shop. But even in tiny Pecan Springs, Texas evil can occur among ordinary people living everyday lives.
Mums the Word by Kate Collins-Abby Knight is the proud owner of her hometown flower shop, but a new low-cost competitor is killing her profits-and a black SUV just rammed her vintage Corvette in a hit-and-run. She's determined to track down the driver, but when the trail turns deadly, the next flower arrangement might be for her own funeral.
The Blue Rose By Anthony Eglin-Alex and Kate Sheppard have found the perfect house. But nothing stays perfect forever. Soon after moving in they make an impossibly exciting discovery. They find a blue rose bush flourishing in their walled garden. But as word of their discovery leaks out, the Sheppard's peaceful existence is shattered and they find themselves plunged into a world of coded journals, genetic experiments, cold-blooded greed, and, ultimately, murder.


So what about you guys? What are your favorite gardening mysteries?

Friday, June 1, 2012

I-SPY: FREE ASSOCIATION

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.


TODAY'S POST: I-Spy something beginning with ... FREE ASSOCIATION


Photo by Paolo De Santis Dreamstime.com
     A friend called me and asked for the correct spelling of Sergeant—he couldn’t find the word in his dictionary and his daughter needed it. I spelled it, told him to wait a moment while I double-checked the word in my American Heritage Dictionary, told him the spelling was correct and went back to reading the New York Times. After I went to bed, my mind began to roam, free association kicked in. Why did his daughter need the correct spelling? Her marriage had just dissolved and her future would be different. Did she plan on joining the police force? The Salvation Army? The Army, Air Force or Marine Corp. or would she go back to college and study psychoanalysis? Had she met someone on a dating site? Free association had me in its grip.
    Sigmund Freud developed free association as a tool used in psychoanalysis. Patients are asked to say anything that comes into their minds. Writers use it—sometimes unknowingly—as they are introduced to their characters, work out their plotlines and add motive and suspense to the story. Just as a patient will speak for himself, the character will take action, pictures will float into the mind and ideas will turn into words, sentences, chapters and finally a novel. During the first draft, anything that comes into your head can be written on the blank screen—without hesitation or editing. We can forget grammar, structure and correct spelling. Our inner critic is banished while we write the first draft. The delete button is saved for a future session when we will eliminate the clumsy, embarrassing, extraneous or inappropriate. Often—in between the boring or awkward sentences we find during a revision of the draft—a nugget is found. The perfect dialogue for our character, the right description for place, and an insight into the villain we weren’t aware of before. Perhaps, the solution to the cliff-hanger ending of a chapter we hadn’t quite been able to grasp.
     Free association shares some features with stream of consciousness and the interior monologue when a passage of writing flows and presents a character’s inner thoughts and emotions. It was used by writers such as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Marcel Proust and T.S. Eliot. Just as patient speaks for him or herself instead of parroting the analyst—the characters in a novel will often reject the author’s words and choose their own. Freud spoke of a letter from Schiller that said that, “Where there is a creative mind, reason—so it seems to me—relaxes its watch upon the gates and the ideas rush in pell-mell.” Writers explore the minds of their characters and apply the emotional, disturbing and dysfunctional as well as their positive qualities to round out their creations.
     Transference—transferring feelings about one person applied to another—is also used by writers as well as practiced in psychoanalysis. We take bits of personality, and the quirks and tics found in old friends, relatives, and strangers and apply them to our characters. As we write and rewrite the characters may change them and finally make them their own.
Bests,
Elise
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FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!

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