Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Letter from Jail

Detective Scott McGregor’s best friend, Ryan Talbrook, will be arrested in the first Lynn Carter cozy mystery. I tried to imagine what incarceration would be like and wrote this letter from jail.

Dearest Brother,

I am ashamed to admit I have been arrested twice in the past week and am writing this from an 8x10 jail cell.

The first arrest was for loitering in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store during this heat wave. My defense of being old and having trouble remembering what I was there to buy was not believed by the judge who had heard the same defense by the seven other customers picked up at the same time. (Three of them are in the cell with me. We’ve been sharing recipes.)

My second arrest was for biological terrorism using the US Postal Service. The main Portland P.O. sorting station was evacuated yesterday. They traced the return address of the stink bomb to me. I was charged with violating the Stilton Act of 1997 which states “no stinky cheese should be mailed through the U.S. Postal System without proper refrigeration.” How did I know it would take 17 days for the cheese (your birthday present) to travel from HB to Astoria? I’d included an entire tray of ice.

So, Dearest Brother, Have a Great Birthday! and if you can spare the time, please call the Feds and give me a (good) character reference. Although I can raise the bail, they won’t let me out on my own recognizance.

In other words, another year, still no present.

Your Loving Sister,

Inmate 727

 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

New Series, New Dog

Berger Soil Images: Berger Picard Mix
I grieved when I made the decision to skip my planned fourth Detective McGregor mystery. The second and third mysteries occurred out of town and McGregor wasn’t the lead detective. McGregor’s best friend is the prime suspect in the fourth mystery, so conflict of interest prevents McGregor working that case as well.

The series arc wouldn’t suffer without this story. But I liked the basic plotline (which was already developed), the setting, and the title.

It was a sticky situation, but with my first cup of tea in hand and my trusty dog beside me, a win-win solution crystalized in my mind. A spin-off cozy series featuring Lynn Carter, Scott McGregor’s girlfriend!

With a few minor modifications to several scenes, and a one-word change in the title, the intended fourth book in a detective mystery series is now the first book in a cozy series. Another out-of-town McGregor mystery was immediately reassigned as the second Lynn Carter Cozy.

And for a bit of eye candy, meet Maisie, Lynn Carter’s Berger Picard mix. Also known as a Picardy Shepherd, this is the breed in the movie ‘Because of Winn-Dixie.’


Thursday, July 1, 2021

Creativity

Developing new plot ideas gets easier with practice.

I started with one scene idea. It was an image in my mind when I woke one morning. Brainstorming converted that image into a plot. The plot came alive and converted itself into a series.

Once my imagination and creativity muscles got a little exercise, they took over. Story ideas pop up unexpectedly. Last week, for example, the weather was hot and humid. As I tossed and turned trying to sleep, my discomfort transformed into an opening scene for a new mystery story idea. Not all the ideas are keepers, and some are blended into other stories as scenes or sub-plots.

A year or so after I started writing, I bought a new bookshelf and recycled some old binders to keep my writing ideas organized. It helped, but I still jot ideas in notebooks scattered around my house and never quite seem to get them added to a binder.

The ideas pile up faster than the publications. So far, I’ve published two mysteries, one children’s book, and short contributions to several anthologies. If my entire idea collection was published, I’d need a larger bookshelf.




Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Evidence?

Sometimes I investigate an incident (crime) at home (scene of the crime) through the eyes of my police detective character (Scott McGregor).

Collecting evidence is part of a policeman’s job. Trash at the scene of a crime may have been discarded by the perpetrator. The trash is sent to the lab where fingerprints and trace evidence, such as hair and fibers, are collected and recorded.

Once the crime scene has been processed, the detective sifts through the evidence looking for leads. Sometimes the collected evidence doesn’t relate to the crime. Trash may have been discarded before or after the crime by persons other than the perpetrator. Some leads may be ‘red herrings,’ evidence that is misleading or distracting.

This discarded candy packaging was found in my locked office. Initially, it appeared to be damning evidence that I had violated my diet and ate the candy. Upon closer inspection, though, a white Border collie hair was discovered resting on the lower edge near the left corner. Is this a red herring, or evidence that the dog ate my candy?


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Inspiration Strikes

No one wants to read about flat, cardboard characters. The antagonist in my current work-in-progress suffered from two-dimensionalism with only occasion bulges of 3D. I needed to round out the character.

Inspiration for character development came from an unexpected source. One of my secret vices is browsing the lost and found dog pictures on the local animal shelter website. I already have a dog, and I’m not getting another, but I enjoy looking.

One German shepherd-type dog was so skinny, his backbone and ribs showed through his skin. I decided he could be a lost dog the antagonist befriends. I might have the antagonist see the dog from a distance and wonder at first if the animal is a coyote.

Now the antagonist has ‘someone’ to care about. The dog makes a good listener and companion as the antagonist struggles with unexpected conflict.


Saturday, May 15, 2021

Real Locations


In fiction, a good guideline is ‘don’t use a real business for something bad.’ Readers like to recognize the setting in a book, but a business isn’t likely to appreciate a notorious crime occurring in their establishment.

Should the author use fictitious settings or change the names to protect the innocent?

Whichever the author chooses, the reader wants to feel immersed in the story’s setting. If the story doesn’t occur in an area the author knows well, a research trip could help the setting come to life on the page.

I took such a trip to realistically describe the setting for my current work-in-progress. But I just realized my fictitious crime scene business is in the same location as an actual business offering the same services. I had come up with a story idea, searched for the ideal town, then used the town as inspiration for description.

Do I have a problem, and if so, how do I solve it? The easiest answer is to change the town’s name, but I intentionally set the story in this specific town. I could move the business, but the crime is linked to the specific location. Does the ‘fictitious use’ disclaimer on the publication page cover this situation?


Monday, May 3, 2021

Reader Expectation

Reader expectation is a powerful force. Effective story openings introduce main characters and the dilemmas they’ll be facing. Themes and settings are suggested. By the end of the story, the reader expects the characters and themes to be fleshed out, and the dilemmas to be resolved one way or another. The reader also expects a satisfying ending – happy or sad – with the loose ends tied up.

Expectations also apply to non-fiction genres, including craft books on writing. Several years ago, when I first began writing, I bought craft books I saw highly recommended online. One of the books I ordered sight unseen was Stephen King’s On Writing (2000, 2010 paperback). The book arrived, and I saw the subtitle: A Memoir of the Craft. On page seventeen, the first page of narrative after his three forewords, King states, “This is not an autobiography.” I stopped reading on page twenty-three. I had expected a craft book; instead, I had purchased a mildly interesting autobiography.

I signed up for a writing course that begins later this month. One of the pre-course homework assignments is to read Stephen King’s On Writing. I pulled it from the discard pile and knocked off the dust. This time I made it to page one hundred-three before tossing it on the ephemeral “Should Be Read” pile. At least I’d found a helpful editing example on pages fifty-six-to-fifty-seven. I’ll read the remaining one hundred-eighty-eight pages before the course starts. In those pages, I expect to find the jewels for which the book is so highly recommended.

* * *

On the other hand, if you want a craft book that shows examples of what not to do from an editor’s point of view, consider How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them – A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman (2008). I chuckled at the Introduction and belly-laughed through Part I. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this helpful and highly entertaining book.