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!


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, August 30, 2013

Driven to Distraction

by Janis Patterson

For my birthday last year The Husband gave me a wonderful new car. It has special lights, all kinds of gizmos and enough electronics to run a small city. I love it. I absolutely love it.

As a writer, I hate it, and all like it.

You see, my new chariot isn’t all that unusual. There were a lot more goodies we could have added but didn’t, but even the few we got are enough to make modern cars marvels for their owners – and hell for a mystery writer.

Who hasn’t read (or written) a mystery where the hero or heroine is in a car trying to get away from the bad guys, so they turn into a convenient driveway or forest or whatever, put on the parking brake, turn off the lights and lie down across the seat to make the car appear invisible or at least parked – but of course keeping the engine running for a fast getaway. Once the bad guys speed past, our hero backs out, and speeds in the opposite direction – usually without turning on the lights until they’re way off the bad guys’ radar.

Just try that in a modern car. Lights go on when you just unlock it or open the door. More lights go on when you start the engine. There is no way to just stop the car, engine running, without the thing being lit up like a Christmas tree. Even after the engine is turned off there are still lights, usually on a timer probably so the driver can reach his front door safely – all of which is great for a real life driver, but a trial for a mystery writer.

Worse, even if you can get around the light problem in one way or another, there are the various forms of electronic assistance programs, which are really little more than trackers. In real life they can be wonderful, as in the case of a young friend of mine who recently had a nasty car accident. Before her car had stopped spinning the assistance program was activated, with a voice asking if she needed the police or an ambulance. For her – and all real people – I delight in such life-preserving technology.

As a writer… not so much. How can I have my victim stuck in the bottom of a ravine so long that it can’t be ascertained whether his demise was the result of accident or murder? Or however I want to kill him? I can’t always have my characters driving old cars without all the electronic bells and whistles, and I don’t always want to write in an era before this.

I’m sure technology has always been a trial for writers. Probably some poor writer bemoaned the loss of the buggy whip and the (relatively) speedy pace of the Model T, to say nothing of the instant communication of the hand-crank telephone. Nothing changes, really – just the props. No matter how we try to adapt, how we twist our stories, there’s always a bigger, badder bit of technology just waiting to challenge us. But as writers we will win. We can always out-think a machine.

At least, I hope so.


Just don’t get me started on cell phones!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Prejudice and the vampire



I hate prejudice. Sometimes it’s mild, as in “I hate horror films.” Sometimes it’s harmful and frightening, as in the Ku Klux Klan or the way women were pigeonholed as breeders and stupid for so long. It’s often characterised by either “always” or “never,” as in "Those people never do that," or "those people always do that." It’s usually an unthinking remark that, when you think about it, means nothing, but it can become a rallying call. Various objects of hate have existed, and some of the worst consist of ethnic groups. I really hate those.
I wanted to write about it, but I didn’t want to be judgmental or preachy. That kind of work doesn’t do it for me, so why should it for anyone else?
So I thought, “What if I used a race that doesn’t exist? You know, like vampires or shape-shifters, or people with a special psychic gift?”
And so my first paranormal series, the Department 57 series, was born.
Of course it morphed into much more than that. Secret agents fighting against twin enemies—the PHR, an organisation that sees vampires, shape-shifters, or anyone they consider “different” to be genetic malformations, and band together to murder them. And an equally secret, but more loose arrangement of scientists and wealthy people who want to exploit Talents for their own ends. They want longer life, strength and beauty, but they want to steal it, by experimenting on captured Talents to “extract” what they want.
There is also another way for Talents to elude this, but that’s for another series!
That was the core. In the Department 57 series, the Talents are living secretly in society. Nobody knows they exist outside myth. Except the PHR and the experimenters. It was a heady premise and so far it’s taken me through several more series—STORM, Pure Wildfire and now a new series which will make its debut later this year.
Department 57 was the first, however, and at twelve books, I’m resting it. There are still many characters who need writing about, so the word “rest” means just that. I’m not killing the series, it hasn’t finished, I’m just working on new outlines and stories. But I can’t do everything, and I’ve always had more ideas than time to develop them. I have a vampire police procedural series in development and I’ve written the first book of a new series featuring some of my favourite things, history and paranormal romance.
As well as the new series, which is currently called “The Thorndykes.”
So how vulnerable are my Talents? Because they had to invent kryptonite for Superman, he was just too invulnerable without it. I set out to answer questions like, “if they’re so strong and long-living, why haven’t they taken over the world?” and “what makes ordinary humans special?”
Building the world was a challenge, but it has taken a lot of testing and it still works, so I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. Now I’m taking a version of the world back in time for Samhain (see what I mean about new series?) so I’m mixing up that aspect, as well, and including some of my favourite myths.
So, romantic suspense. The stories in the Department 57 and STORM series are secret agents tales. The difference is that in Department 57, they’re living secretly, and in STORM they’re “out,” facing a bunch of new problems, learning to live together. I’ve read stories that have paranormal beings living in society, set in a future or alternate world, but I wanted to know how it would happen now, how it would affect society as we see it today. And to take it at the cusp, when Talents have only just revealed themselves. All they want is to live in parallel with everyone else, but there are much fewer of them, and they have the might of politics and prejudice to face. There are so many legends about them, you could choose to believe what you wanted, or believe what someone else told you instead of the evidence in front of your own eyes.
Would you like a vampire living next door?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Living Like My Characters

A strange thing happened to me last week. Actually, a lot of really bad stuff happened within the span of five days. The more that was thrown at me, the more frustrated and overwhelmed I became. And I realized that all the trouble I throw at my characters can be truly difficult to handle. Not bad enough that the heroine's granny was kidnapped. Then they learn she doesn't have her heart medicine with her. Then the hero is roughed up when he tries to chase a bad guy. Then his place is ransacked. And so on and so on. But it's obstacles that bring out the changes that point us toward our happy ever after. Er -- our characters, that is.

First, my normally super healthy husband had to be rushed to the hospital with horrible abdominal pain we later learned was kidney stones. The ER took three hours to see him. Did I mention he was writhing in agony on the floor? After spending all night and half the next day in the ER, we came home to a broken air conditioner unit. We live in Florida. So think about Florida in August with no AC. For four days before the repair people could get the cool going again. And of course, it was no easy fix. We needed a new unit. Days later we discovered a leak in the ceiling that ended up being a roof leak that necessitated a new roof. In the course of four days, we had to spend $15,000 on our house. The very next day, I backed into a very expensive convertible in a parking lot. Yup - add that to the total.

When I took a moment to stand back and think about all we'd been through, I realized someone upstairs was doing to me what I do to my heroes and heroines. I throw all the crap I can at them. They always come out the other side better human beings. So that's my challenge. But when someone you love is ill, your priorities have a way of realigning themselves. The money is just money. The car is merely a car. See that -- I've changed through my obstacle course. And my hubby is fine now. Life is good.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Just For Fun: Character Math....

Want to play a mystery game?

This game is called Character Math. Don’t worry, it’s the most fun you’ve ever had with math.

(With gratitude to Book Riot:-- a great book blog!Check out their recurring feature: Character Math)



 
+


=

 
Sherlock Holmes (as played by Benedict Cumberbatch)



Remington Steele
+


Dr. Watson (as played by the late Edward Hardwicke)
=


Richard Castle


 

+



+



=


Nancy Drew, of course!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Embracing my inner highland lass

I write romantic suspense and I love to read it, but I admit to a weakness for historicals—particularly Scottish historicals. And I do quite a bit of my "reading" in my car, listening to books on tape. There's just something about a man with a Scottish accent (particularly if it's Phil Gigante narrating Karen Marie Moning's Highlander series or Kaleo Griffith doing Pamela's Clare's MacKinnon's Ranger series).

So as I drive through the highlands for the first time, I try to imagine what it would be like to live in a place so ruggedly beautiful but so seldom truly warm. I'm from New England, so I'm partial to cool weather, but August in Scotland means bundling up in fleeces and hoodies, particularly when the wind is blowing. Still, watching the clouds swirl around green hills and rock ledges wrapped in heather, then roll down into the valleys, I suspect it would take a long time to tire of this magical place.

There's so much more water here than I imagined, despite having studied the map before coming. If I lived here I would find a home on a hilltop with a porch—or turrett—looking out over a loch or the sea. I would fix myself pots of tea and sip it in a wicker rocker with a wool tartan on my lap. I'd put on soft bagpipe music in the background to get in the mood, and tap away at my laptop.

It doesn't get more idyllic than that.

Where my dream breaks down is when I go the next step and try to imagine writing a contemporary romantic suspense in my highland rocking chair. Could I write a political thriller in this kind of setting, or would I need to be home in Washington, DC to be in the proper frame of mind? How much does where you write affect what you write?

I only wish I had more time here to find out!

--Ana

Ana Barrons writes sexy romantic suspense, often set in Washington, DC. Visit her on her website: www.anabarrons.com, friend her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Mid-Life Crisis

Have you ever wondered where all the mid-life crises come from? I figure it has to be a recent phenomena. I mean, how often did you hear about a turn-of-the-century farmer shaving the family mule into something rakish and ambling off into the sunset to find himself?

According to Wikipedia, the term was first used in 1965 (the 60s—why am I not surprised?) as a time “where adults come to realize their own mortality and how much time is left in their life.” Some attribute the concept to Carl Jung, while others say it all goes back to Freud.

Most often, a mid-life crisis includes making significant changes—career, work-life balance, marriage, romantic relationship, large expenditures or physical appearance. Reassessing your goals and priorities from a more mature perspective sounds like a good idea, doesn't it? So why does “a mid-life crisis” smack of selfishness and immaturity? 

Much as we enjoy laughing at the old dude in the hot red sports car chasing a long-faded youth, research shows about 10% of 40 – 60 years-olds have a true psychological crisis. 

The rest? Well, maybe it's best described as overwhelmed by one too many of life's daily stressors.

It seems the Western culture of youth may play a role in the situation and that it hits men longer and harder than women. I can't help but wonder if part of that statistic is due to the age of the study—the 80s--when fewer women were far enough along in their careers to have big regrets...but I digress.

In For Love or Money, Holly Price's dad followed the all too typical pattern—dumped his spouse, walked away from career and responsibility, and basically did whatever he wanted, without thinking about the impact on the people affected by his decisions.


Ouch. That was harsh.


How about: Holly's dad questioned the life choices he made and the validity of decisions he made years before.

Either way, Holly took a sabbatical from her career and came home to run the family business, staging it to sell. The last thing she expected was to face her own career choices and have to deal with her own emotional baggage—a six-foot hunk of testosterone, AKA her former fiance--and a friend's murder.  

So what about you? Are you ready to toss in the towel and try something else? Know someone who got trashed in the wreckage of a mate's crisis? Or is it all a pipe-dream?


For Love or Money recently released by Entangled Publishing and is available at online outlets. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

            What’s in a name?  A lot.  Maybe a rose would smell good no matter what it was called, but a badly chosen name simply . . . well . . . stinks.




Consider these problems:  Will you take your new mate’s name or not?  And what’ll you call the baby when you don’t like the names of any of your relatives.  Then there’s the puppy.  And the cat.  You want every one of them to be known by a word that either pleases the grands, sounds good, or is easy to pronounce.  Maybe all three.  That’s reasonable, even logical, but for a writer, the ante goes up.

In a novel, a whole cast of characters needs names, and each one should be pleasing to the eye—after all it’ll be read more than pronounced—plus it should start with different first letter, indicate something about the character’s personality, ethnicity, social standing and/or education, and age. 

A tall order that authors agonize over as they search telephone books, church and club rosters, and baby names lists from around the world.  All of these sources have provided me with a slew of suggestions, but I’ve found the most effective character names come from personal encounters.

In my current WIP, for example, I needed an identity for a person of interest in a murder case.  One morning while I was awaiting my doctor’s appointment, the nurse came out and in a loud, clear voice said, “Mr. Hawkins!”  Straight out of Treasure Island and with its reference to a predatory bird, perfect for my character Stew (Stewart) Hawkins, who’s constantly embroiled in trouble.

The femme fatale in the book is Marilyn, for sheer connotation alone.   Marilyn is married, unhappily, to a dignified gentleman who is discreet and cultivated, overly so.  That’s Jeffrey (for elegance) and Stahlman (again, for connotation).

I have a Francesco Grandese in Killer Kitchens. As his name hints, he’s colorful, irreverent and grandiose.  His wife is Julietta.  Nickname, Jewels.  Imagine if Francesco were Joe Smith and Jewels were Abigail.  The chance to have their names help with characterization would have been tossed away.  Point being, names matter as much in fiction as well as in life.  

Designed for Death, the first in the Murders by Design Mystery Series, includes the names of every member of my family—Amy, Bob, Carolyn, Chris, Jack, Laura and Lee.  Now that was really fun.  Best of all, not one of them is a mugger, a hit man, a burglar, or a killer.  But one is a hurricane.

The third in Jean Harrington’s Murders by Design Series, Killer Kitchens, was recently released.  Number four, Rooms to Die For, is due out in January 2014.    

Friday, August 9, 2013

What I saw on my drive to work this morning...

On my ride to work today, I saw a camel. No, not the camel from the Geico commercial.  This camel was walking along the road with a rather intent stride, unlike the lackadaisical camels you normally witness. He was heading towards the same coffee shop that I was about to stop at. He made it there first because I was stuck at the traffic light.

While sitting at the traffic light, I saw an alligator cross the intersection. It was a troubling image that all the others at the intersection seemed unconcerned by. As the light turned green the alligator disappeared and I pulled into the coffee shop, but there was no sign of the camel.

Is this a bad setup for a joke, or has Maureen been tipping the bottle very early in the morning? No. The sad truth is that I forgot my glasses at home. When I don't have my glasses on, I see things.  The camel was most likely a deer, or perhaps a heap of mud from a construction site. The alligator was more likely the early morning sun glare against the black top.

I know. I know. Put your glasses on, woman! 
Fortunately it's a very short drive to work. 

In the recent series I wrote, the hero has a visual impairment. He sees things more outlandish than camels going to the coffee shop. His flaw has no impact on the heroine, however. She was in love with him from book one. How often do you give your characters flaws? As readers, do you want the hero and heroine to be perfect, or will you accept them with physical burdens? 

Maureen A. Miller
www.MaureenAMiller.com

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION


Most people take vacations to rest. They go to the cottage, a resort or the beach to unwind and relax.

On my vacations, I go to writers’ workshops in Lincoln City on the beautiful Oregon coast. And there’s nothing restful or relaxing about ‘em.

I’ve just returned from the latest one. It was an eight-day “Advanced Master Writing and Business Seminar” and it was—bar none—the most mind-blowing business experience I’ve had as a professional writer. Some of the topics we covered included:

  • Selling to traditional publishers in the new world
  • Copyright law and contract law for fiction writers
  • Cash streams and cash flow for writers
  • Accounting for writers
  • Advanced audio training for audio books
  • How to sell short fiction to traditional publishers
  • Advanced cover design
The main instructors were Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Scott William Carter. They were aided by Christina F. York, accountant by day and mystery novelist by night (writing as Christy Fifield and Christy Evans); Jane Kennedy, writer and audiobook producer for WMG Publishing; Allyson Longuiera, publisher of WMG Publishing and professional graphic designer; Lee Allred, writer and all-around cool guy; Matt Buchman, who writes fabulous military romances and was a Project Manager in a previous life; and a surprise guest speaker, Mark Lefebvre, who writes fiction under the name Mark Leslie and whose day job is Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations, Kobo Inc. I mean, how cool is that?


We had the wonderful Sheldon Mcarthur, owner of North by Northwest Books in Lincoln City, who not only submitted to an interview with Dean Smith about how a bookstore owner does business with an independent publisher (including writers who publish their own books), but who also hosted a group book signing at his store, which included me and my two books, The Tuxedoed Man and TheWeeping Woman.
Not only did we learn a lot from the formal presenters, we learned a lot from each other, too. We were over 30 participants from all over the U.S. and Canada, not to mention the United Kingdom and Germany. I was seated between two fabulous writers, Karen Abrahamson and Annie Reed, both of whom are well published, experienced and very generous with their knowledge.

Can you see why this was exhausting? I filled two notebooks and by the end of the week, I felt like information had to be shoehorned into my brain because it was already so full.

And to top it all off, the participants were invited to submit two short stories for consideration for two Fiction River anthologies edited by Dean Wesley Smith, and he bought my story for the Moonscapes one!

I left Oregon buzzing with ideas, information and plans. And in spite of the fact that it was very tiring and that no lying about on the beach took place, the writer in me is refreshed and recharged, ready to roar!

I don’t think I’m alone, and I don’t think this “recharging the batteries” is limited to writers. I know quilters and knitters who take workshops and come away filled with new energy, new ideas and new friends. How do you replenish your creative energies?


Monday, August 5, 2013

One Book Wonders and Life's Lessons

 
After I sold my first book, I worried about being a one-book wonder.  When I sold my second book, you would have thought the fretting would disappear, but no, I anguished over the third book.  Finally I figured out that the ‘validation’ from selling the next book would always be with me, my verson of the Sally Field syndrome, ‘you like me, you really like me’.   Every writer’s set of insecurities and demons  vary.

This year at the RWA Atlanta conference, I made the pilgrimage like many other writers to Margaret Mitchell’s house.  The irony of the situation did not escape me.  Here was a woman who wrote only one book, but what a book it was.  ‘Gone With The Wind’ was a Pulitzer Prize masterpiece whose impact to this day resonates. 

Still she must have had her own demons.  First, she almost didn’t submit her book to the publisher.  Then she requested all her papers be destroyed upon her death.  Since her husband complied with Margaret’s wishes, we don’t know what else she may have been working on at the time of her untimely death.  However, what a legacy she left with the one book she completed.

As I toured Apartment One and listened to the guide, I did smother a smile when I saw the setup where Margaret wrote over one thousand pages of manuscript.  So many discussions one hears at RWA conferences revolve around writers’ sometimes exacting requirements for a working environment [what music to play, not to play, etc.]  Another form of a writing roadblock, yet here Margaret had set up shop with a manual typewriter on a small table facing the street. 

While I attended a lot of great workshops and saw many wondrous sights on my road trip, the one thing that has motivated me the most was seeing Margaret’s house.  She had a passion to be something and to reach for it.  What she became was a writer and what a writer she was, demons and all,…even if it was only one book.   What is your passion, insecurity and/or writing demon?


Carol Stephenson


Her Dark Protector, 2013 EPIC and IDA finalist            



Thursday, August 1, 2013

Writing Rules?

Writing Rules. Yes? No? Maybe?


I’ve been watching the blogs posted by Thrillerfest attendees. More than one said panelists spoke of Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules for writing. I knew about the rules but never knew he was the dude who came up with them.  Quite handy I must say.

So I present to you, in all their glory, Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules for writing. 1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control you are allowed no more than 2 or 3 per 100,000 words.
6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose".
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

EL’s comments on the rules

1. Never open a book with weather.

If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.
Rita here: I think there are exceptions like: It was a bright and sunny day on a planet where the last bright and sunny day was eight hundred years ago.

2. Avoid Prologues

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But, said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied.

 
4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

Rita here. Recently purchased a trilogy of a thriller author ‘everyone is talking about’. I listened to the first one and had to buy the book. Why? I wanted to count how many freaking times he used suddenly and quickly. Quite honestly he was easier to count the sentences those words were NOT in. It was edited by a NY pub. OMG!
           
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Rita here again. I like this rule.
           
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Rita here. (will that chick ever go away) Three books this summer, THREE, I skipped more than read. (Mr. Quickly Suddenly was one)
 
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character-the one whose view best brings the scene to life-I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.

Rita here dancing around – Yes. Yes, and YES. I would rather read a book that has some typos, maybe a plot problem mixed with a couple of continuity errors that is a great story with a brilliant voice than some grammatically correct, with all the proper punctuation ,book that has been so stripped of voice by editing that it becomes a chuckawalla book ( a book you chuck against the wall and move on)    
 
What do you think of the rules?

Rita writes sexy stories about Extraordinary Women and the Men They Love
http://www.ritahenuber.com/

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