Saturday, June 30, 2012

Five Lazy Ways to Write Better Stories, by Dr. John Yeoman

Is there a magic secret to crafting stories that sell? Yes! But it’s no secret. Every commercial author uses it instinctively. Here are the five elements of story success that pros will rarely tell you.

Every new writer yearns for the magic secret.

Will a Power Plotting Plan hype my story into the best seller lists? How about that great 3-step trick? Or this seven-point formula? The web is full of nostrums and notions. Strangely, no great author has ever needed them to write a classic work. Instead, they used - instinctively - a plan much like this...

First, draft total rubbish.

Got a vague idea for a story or episode? Don’t be afraid to write down the first thing that comes into your head - but write 1000 words of that every day, without fail. Use clichés, long-whiskered phrases, anything that conveys your meaning, after a fashion.

Whatever you do, don’t stop! Brace yourself to ignore that drivel. If you take your editing pen to it now, you’re doomed. The Muse will abandon you. Content yourself with getting down the essence of the story. Any time spent now in ‘enhancing’ your tale is wasted. You’ll cut out all that fine language anyway, at the final stages.

Psychologically, this method works because it’s a lot easier to improve a bad draft than stare at a blank sheet of paper. You’ll also say goodbye to writer’s block. Typically, that’s just the mind tying itself in knots by trying to create a perfect work the first time. It isn’t possible.

However, if you tell yourself ‘I now plan to write absolute nonsense for one hour’, you’ll succeed. And you’ll feel very proud of yourself afterwards.

Second, fall in love with your television.

Personally, I loathe soap operas. That said, you can learn a lot by taking a notebook and suffering through them. How do the actors behave, in every circumstance? There’s a peak of emotion every ten minutes in a tv drama. That gives you plenty of opportunity to note the actors’ body language.

Has Emma discovered Joe is having an affaire with her best friend? Watch her face when she discovers it. Check her shoulders, hands, body movements. And how does Joe respond, when she confronts him? Check his body language too. You’ll soon compile a whole encyclopaedia of body expressions, suitable for any occasion, that you can drop into your own stories. 

How have the producers kept you engaged in the story, even through the commercial breaks? Look out for the ‘scene hangers’ they use. Does every scene finish on a note of mystery, alarm or question? Jot down each scene hanger as it occurs. You can adapt and use each one for your own stories.

Third, overhear people’s conversations.

This step might get you into trouble, unless you’re discreet... Hang out in public places and just listen.

You’ll soon pick up colourful phrases, turns of speech, funny asides - even whole anecdotes - that could find their way into your tales. Jot them all down. (Some writers even put them in a database.).

You’ll also realise that real conversations bear no relationship to those in novels. Folk in bars or restaurants do not orate at each other in perfect sentences. They stumble, mutter, swallow their words. If anyone pays the slightest attention to grammar or correct word use, they’re probably just showing off...

Get that flavour of real speech into your tales - the way Elmore Leonard does - and readers will believe them.

Fourth, learn the trick of little ‘epiphanies’.

I have a great exercise for my creative writing students. I tell them to wander around the campus at random, stop, and describe - in their notebooks - the first thing they see. If all they see is a blob of chewing gum or the dean’s rusty bicycle, or the dean himself, fine. Something boring is the best challenge of all.

I ask them to define that object using every one of their five senses. And to jot down those perceptions as a prose poem in one terse sentence.

No, they can’t use clichés in this exercise. Their words and phrases must resonate with power, colour and originality. Then they read back their exercises to the class. It’s amazing how even the dean’s bicycle can resolve into an epiphany, a dazzling insight.

Some students find this drill difficult. It takes practice to unhitch our minds and just observe something, without judgement or interpretation. However, get into the habit of it and you’ll never be content to write a dull description again.

Fifth, resign yourself to endless rewrites.

I once watched a veteran reporter telephone a story to the copy desk at The Times newspaper. He dictated it off the top of his head, flawlessly, without referring to a single note. (He then lurched back for a second bottle of wine.) But then, he’d been practising for 40 years.

Most of us find we need to re-write a story a dozen times before it’s fit to show anyone.

Here’s a tip: put your ‘perfect’ story  in a closet for several weeks. Fish it out and you’ll find it has bred amazing errors, moments of dullness and grotesque stupidities, without you coming near it.

This is the right time to re-write your story. You can view it with detachment. If necessary, you can even tear it up, without losing any sleep. But don’t try to edit a story just a few hours after you’ve written it.

Do professional authors use the ‘closet’ technique? They sure do. But some will rely on their agents or copy editors to perfect their ms. Such authors know their work will never be better than 70% perfect, even at the umpteenth draft. It doesn’t matter. The publisher will tidy it up.

Of course, a newbie author can’t afford to be that sloppy. So we must brace ourselves to re-write our stories as much as a dozen times, each at an interval of weeks.

Is there a secret for story writing success? Yes, of course there is. Only, it’s no secret. The five steps above are known to every pro author. But amateurs rarely apply them. Put them into practice and your own talents as an author will grow quickly.

Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years. A wealth of further ideas for writing fiction that sells can be found in his free 14-part story course at: 


Dr John Yeoman has 42 years experience as a commercial author, newspaper editor and one-time chairman of a major PR consultancy. He has published eight books of humour, some of them intended to be humorous.

 (Thank you so much, John, what great tips! And if you haven't guessed by some of the spelling, John is from the UK.)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Next Personal Appearance, SJ SinC

In case you don't know what those cryptic abbreviations are, it stands for San Joaquin Sisters in Crime chapter. This is my home chapter, in fact I am one of several founding members.

Our chapter has moved its meeting place a few times, but right now we're meeting at the Yosemite Falls Cafe on Ashlan in Fresno.

I love this chapter. Because of speakers we've had in the law enforcement profession, I've gotten lots of ideas for plots and subplots in both my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries and the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series.

This coming Saturday, July 7th, between 11 and 12, I'll be the speaker for the chapter. We're going to do something fun--a presentation I've given many different places, :"How to Write a Mystery." (The meeting starts at 10:30 and you'll need to make reservations.)

What we're going to do is brainstorm and figure out the skeleton for a mystery. As a group we'll decide upon what kind of mystery: cozy, police procedural, traditional, puzzle, thriller, etc. From there we'll decide upon where this mystery will take place, the setting. Who will be the sleuth and who the side kick. And of course, the murder victim, and the suspects and their motives.

It's always fun to see what the majority will decide upon. Sometimes the process is hilarious, other times dead serious.

One thing I know, even if everyone there decided to write the mystery based on what we come up with, not a one would be like another.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review: A Fair

A Fair to Die For by Radine Trees Nehring

Before I began, I knew I would thoroughly love this book. I know Radine, having met her at mystery conferences, and I’ve spent many enjoyable hours with her talking about writing, reading and just stuff. Before I even read the first page, I knew A Fair to Die For would be like visiting with an old friend.

Though the heroine, Carrie McCrite is not patterned after the author, she has enough of the same personality and charm to make me feel like I’m spending time with my friend. Fortunately, I don’t think Radine has ever had to solve a mystery or found herself in harm’s way like Carrie often does. You can be sure when reading any of the books in the To Die For series, that Carrie and her husband, Henry, will be tangled up in a puzzle. In A Fair to Die For the pieces of the puzzle are an unlikely mish mash of a craft fair, the historic War Eagle Mill, handmade toys, drugs, a cousin with a secret, lots of good food, and a passel of bad guys and gals. 

As what often happens with Carrie, her curiosity and penchant for trying to figure out mysteries, puts her life in danger. 

If you like a good mystery with plenty of action, a cast of characters that includes a group of folks much like your own friends and neighbors as well as a bunch of crooks--and it may take you a while to figure out who is who--and some surprising twists, A Fair to Die For will give you several enjoyable hours.


(Radine lives in Arkansas and I live in California--and I wish we lived closer.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Unexpected Pleasures of Marketing

by Mar Preston
I thought I knew what marketing was before I published my two mysteries featuring Detective Dave Mason of the Santa Monica Police Department. Something to do with hustling, standing on a street corner waving my book at traffic, grabbing the mic and chattering on about me, me, me.  The thought made me flinch.
Instead I discovered a more pleasant reality. In the year following the publication of the first one, No Dice, I went to conferences, among them Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime. I had worked up an elevator speech about my books but, hey, nobody asked me. There were pleasant moments, yes, but I felt as though I was at a high school reunion where everyone knew each other and I hadn’t graduated yet.
Eventually I was invited to chair a couple of panels. The purpose of the moderator is to showcase the panelists and that I was comfortable doing. And it gave me something to blog about.
I’m more comfortable behind a keyboard than making small talk and sneaking in a mention of my books.  Thus I began reading an ever-increasing list of mystery blogs with useful, interesting information—like this one. Every post that interested me I commented on. This led to an email exchange with the author.
I bought a lot of books, admittedly many of them on Kindle. I reviewed them. Another pleasant exchange with authors began. Those contacts gave me something else to blog about.
What I liked best was book fairs, talks, meetings with readers who showed interest in my work.  Some of them asked goofy questions and went on long tangents gushing about a character or event in my books.  However, when I actually met an author I admired, I went on a long stupid story of my own and—gushed.  I shudder when I think about it, but T.Jefferson Park is probably used to it.
I like people who write mysteries. They’re kinky too. They wonder what would happen if that red-headed man over there walking two Chihuahuas suddenly fell to the sidewalk, a bullet in his temple—just like I do.
 Rip Off Blurb:
High-tech burglary and murder are bad for business in the upscale, tourist-destination beach city of Santa Monica with its leftist politics, rich homeowners, and huge homeless population.
Bad for Detective Dave Mason of the Santa Monica Police Department.

A deadbeat burglar has been found in the upscale Santa Monica beach condo of a playboy studio exec. The dead body must link up with a string of high-tech burglaries, and the Chechens Mason keeps meeting must link up with each other somehow, but how?

The investigation leads him into the dark world of embezzlement, an explosion that almost kills him, a bungled FBI take down, and a resolution that leaves his relationship with the woman he loves teetering on the edge.
Mar Preston and Lily
Mar Preston's Bio:
I grew up in northern Ontario and love its lakes and forests. But I lived in Santa Monica for decades watching big money, land development, and politics clash.
Getting a good murder mystery novel out of what goes on behind the scenes in grassroots politics, glitzy businesses, and developer skullduggery makes all those dreary Santa Monica city council meetings worthwhile.
I live now in a village in the California mountains not that far from the edge of the Los Angeles sprawl. There's too much to do here: I'm writing crime fiction seriously, but I can't get away from the SPCA, local environmental politics, and the writing community.
Life is good.
Author’s website:
 From Marilyn: Thank you for visiting today, Mar. And I like interaction with readers the best too.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

R. P. Dahlke Reveals Inspiration for A Dead Red Oleander

I asked Rebecca aka R.P. Dahlke to tell me why she wrote A Dead Red Oleander and here's her answer:

 This is the 3rd in the Lalla Bains mystery series, and though I've wrestled with continuing a series based on a woman cropduster since my son and muse for this series died, readers have made one thing I didn't see, very clear: It's never been about the flying. All they talk about are my characters. 

Well, gee, I can do that. So I decided that I could continue to create mischief with yet another gang of miscreants, the kind of people that readers learn to love, or hate, but they don't forget them, either. So I added some new characters, one or two who will continue into the next book, and a few who won't. 

Now a whole year ago, when I started working on the outline, nobody had any books out on the subject of Witness Protection… well, okay, not anybody who wrote humorous mysteries featuring the tenacious, exasperating, Lalla, and her taciturn, cranky ol' cropduster dad, Noah Bains. See how important she is?
So I had this idea that Lalla would be desperate for a late in the season replacement for a pilot, and this guy comes highly recommended, and besides with a name like Dewey Treat, what could go wrong? And, yes, that name alone conjures up all sorts of images, doesn't it?  But naturally, just to be perverse, I have this character look like Howdy Doody.

And then there's her gun-toting Texas relatives, who fly in for Lalla's and Caleb's wedding, much to her dad's distress. Second cousin, Pearlie, is enough to drive Lalla around the bend, but then that's what makes a book fun, isn't it? I hope you'll enjoy A Dead Red Oleander, and if you do, I'd love to hear from you. You can reach me at my website:

One more thing I asked her was to share was her favroite writing tip and here it is:

Write the best book that you can, then use a read back program like Text-Aloud to read it aloud for you. I always load up a chapter at a time on text aloud document, then do a side-by-side with the original document so I can stop the reading and do corrections right then and there. There are other read aloud programs, but I think Text Aloud is just fine at $40.00

Author RP Dahlke 

Mystery/romance/humor on Kindle Amazon

Like Sue Grafton? Janet Evanovich? Then you'll love this series.

When a late in the season emergency forces Lalla Bains to accept a greenhorn ag pilot for her dad's cropdusting business, she sighs in relief . After all, he comes highly recommended, his physical is spotless, and with a name by Dewey Treat, what could possibly go wrong?
Then her quirky relatives arrive from Texas and things go south in a hurry: Dewey Treat drops dead, his tearful widow claims he was murdered, clobbers Sherriff Caleb Stone with his own gun, and makes a run for it. Lalla, convinced the widow is innocent, sets out to prove it—against the express wishes of fiancé Caleb Stone.
Feds, local law, suspicious ag-pilots, nutso relatives, and her daddy's new sidekick, Bruce the goat, make life a living hell for Lalla. Will her nosey nature solve the crime and save the day? Or put them all in mortal danger?

"I'm so happy that Lalla Bains is back! This is was my favorite book of the three and it's all there: crime, mystery, suspense and great characters! I really liked the glimpses into Lalla's thoughts as she goes back and forth with new theories. Her dad completely lost in a house full of women as Lalla's great-aunt and her cousin (Pearlie) come from Texas for her wedding is hilarious. I Matos, Amazon review

"This author is an exceptional talent bringing her characters to life--you feel like you've met them before! My only regret--I am finished reading and have to wait who knows how long for my next "fix" from this author! Read it and enjoy!" Tech Teacher, Amazon Review

Amazon/Kindle: $2.99

About Rebecca:

I sort of fell into the job of running a crop-dusting business when my dad decided he’d rather go on a cruise than take another season of lazy pilots, missing flaggers, testy farmers and horrific hours.  After two years at the helm, I handed him back the keys and fled to a city without any of the above. And no, I was never a crop-duster.
 I write about a tall, blond and beautiful ex-model turned crop-duster who, to quote Lalla Bains, says: “I’ve been married so many times they oughta revoke my license.”  I wanted to give readers a peek at the not so-perfect -life of a beautiful blond. Lalla Bains is no Danielle Steele character, she’s not afraid of chipping her manicure. Scratch that, the girl doesn’t have time for a manicure what with herding a bunch of recalcitrant pilots and juggling work orders just to keep her father’s flagging business alive.
My blog link:
I got to thinking about my favorite quote about well-behaved women & why Lalla Bains tends to piss men off:
Library thing:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What Makes you Decide to Buy a Book?

What I want to know is if there is any particular promotion that might tickle your fancy enough to buy a book? I don't care if you buy it for your Kindle or Nook or other reading device, or a paper book.

In today's world so many people are writing books because it is no longer necessary to go through the agent/publisher process to get a book published. For no dollars you can publish on Kindle or Smashwords. If you have a good book,  you can find a small press who will publish you in paper and electronically for not outlay of cash.

So what tickles your fancy enough to make you buy a book?

Is it the cover? The blurb on the back of the cover? What you've read about it on the Internet? Reviews? What people are saying about it?

Have you ever bought a book because of what you read on a blog? Or followed an author on a blog tour promoting a book?

What about Facebook, has that ever influenced you to buy a book? Or any other social media?

Today we're told over and over if you want someone to buy your book you have to tell him/her about it. A reader won't find you unless you're promoting  yourself everywhere possible.

What I want to know is if  you've bought a book because of any of these things? I'd like to know I'm not wasting my time with all the promotion that I do.

Answer whatever questions appeal to you. I'd sure like to know where to concentrate my efforts and what to forget about.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Review of City of the Dead

City of the Dead, by Daniel Blake

The book begins with a tsunami where Franco Patrese escapes with his life, but his girlfriend doesn't.

The story jumps to a murder in New Orleans and Marie Laveau, so-called Queen of the Underworld and voodoo authority where Patrese is now an FBI agent. He is caught up in the investigation of unusual and gory murders involving the amputation of a leg and an axe in the middle of the forehead.

Many threads are woven through this sometimes wild and adventurous thriller--threads that at times become what seem to be hopelessly tangled. Much is revealed about New Orleans politics and the mysticism of the city itself as the story moves along at a breath-taking pace.

The climax and solution to the mysteries coincides with Hurricane Katrina with conclusions that have a strong element of truth.

Highly recommended to those who like excitement on nearly every page and don't mind a bit of gore.


This books was sent to me by Simon and Schuster.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Case of Fatal Attraction by K. Dawn Byrd

Cover Blurb:
Zoe is thrilled when she lands her first paying case until she learns she'll be going undercover at a local blood bank. The fact that she faints at the sight of blood makes working there more than difficult. Who would steal blood and what would they do with it? Is her creepy vampire-like coworker using it in a cult ritual?

When Zoe learns that Nate will be working undercover with her, she's overjoyed. She soon finds that the gorgeous Rikki's attraction to Nate is too distracting and considers throwing him off the case. Zoe questions his loyalty even as Nate proclaims that she's the only girl for him.

Nothing is as it seems and Zoe has no clue who can be trusted. Who's stealing the blood? Is it the director? The vampire-like guy with the fangs who wears all black? Or, her gorgeous co-worker who has a thing for Nate?

1)      How did this story come to you?

Sometimes I get the strangest ideas! I love a good mystery and I love romance, but you don't find the two together very often. Also, there are very few books available with college-age characters. I pitched the idea of combining all of the above to Desert Breeze and the rest is history.

2)      Tell us about the journey to getting this book published.

I had already published several books with Desert Breeze when they opened a young adult line. I'm excited that they liked the idea for this new series.

3)      Tell me three things about yourself that would surprise your readers.

1)      I own two hairless Chinese Crested dogs.
2)      I love sour things....pickles, lemons, sour candy.
3)      I used to ride a Harley, but gave it up in order to have more time to write. (My husband always wanted to stay out way too long and take the scenic route home. He still has his bike, but I don't miss mine at all.)

4) What is your favorite writing tip?

Write something every day. All of my books are written in 30-day marathons. I decide how many words I want to write in 30 days and map them out on a calendar, so I can keep track of where I am and where I need to be.

5) What are you working on now and what's next for you?

I'm working on my December release, which is the third book in the "Identity Series." It's called Double Identity and is about two seventeen-year-old identical twins who never knew about each other. One, raised by her mom, is a Christian, the other, raised by her father is a wild child. When the two meet up and the wild one falls for the Christian one's boyfriend, sparks of the worst kind begin to fly.

6 )Parting comments? 

Thank you for hosting me! For those of you who love Christian fiction, please check my blog for weekly book giveaways. I interview 3-5 authors a week who give away their books.

Interview with Zoe Mack.
1)      Tell us about your latest mystery.
My grandfather owns a detective agency and needed my help, but he was afraid to give me this case. It involved going undercover in a blood bank and finding out why blood is disappearing. My grandfather knows that I faint at the sight of blood. It wasn't easy and I had my moments when I became really sick, but I'm no quitter.
2)      What was the greatest obstacle to solving this case.
My boyfriend, Nate, went undercover at the blood bank too. He worked as a janitor and once, when I puked after an accident with the blood, he got to clean it up. I thought I'd die of embarrassment. Back to your question, the greatest obstacle in some ways was just having Nate hanging around. You see, I had this gorgeous coworker named Rikki and she had a crush on Nate. We couldn’t tell her that we knew each other because that would blow our cover. Do you know how hard it is watching another girl go after your boyfriend, especially a gorgeous girl?
3)      What did you learn from working on this case?
I learned that I can do things I never thought possible. I never overcame becoming queasy at the sight of blood, but I did learn to live with it. I also learned that I hate snakes and that sometimes creepy vampire-looking guys who wear black aren't all bad. I also learned to trust my instincts even when Nate says I'm wrong.
4)       So, how is your relationship with Nate after solving two mysteries together?
We had some rocky times, mainly because of Rikki, but I've learned that sometimes, things aren't as they seem and you have to learn to trust people. Nate is a great guy and I love him more than ever. I've learned to accept the fact that my mother will never be crazy about him, but that's another story.
5)      Will there be another case any time soon?
College is getting ready to start up and I’m taking a little time off to concentrate on school. Of course, if Gramps needs me, I'm always up for a good mystery!

K. Dawn Byrd is an author of inspirational romance and romantic suspense with seven books published so far. Recently, she tried her hand at young adult fiction and found that she really enjoyed writing it, which led to a contract for four young adult books for 2012.

K. Dawn Byrd is an avid blogger and gives away several books per week on her blog at, most of which are signed by the authors. She's also the moderator of the popular facebook Christian Fiction Gathering group at!/group.php?gid=128209963444.

When not reading or writing, K. Dawn Byrd enjoys spending time with her husband of 16 years while walking their dogs beside a gorgeous lake near her home and plotting the next story waiting to be told.

Twitter: kdawnbyrd

A Note from Marilyn: Wow, I can't imagine writing a book in 30 days! That's spectacular. Thank you for this information, I thought this was a fun interview.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Springville Community Club Tea to Enjoy, Book to Share

This was a fun event. The table hostesses sell tickets to those they invite to come (there's only so much room and women clamor for the tickets.) The hostess chooses the book to talk about and decorates her table with that theme.

The table I sat at was decorated for the book One for the Money. There was a gun in the cookies, a cooked chicken on the table, a hamster in a soup can. Fun, fun, fun. I did take a photo but for some reason it didn't come out.

 I'm Pissed Off was the name of this book and had been written by the hostess' husband. See the toilet? Interesting table decoration.

This one is Heaven is Real by Todd Burpo.

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.

The Summer House by Jude Deveraux

Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier

Paris Wife by Paula McLean

Other books represented were The Bee Keeper's Apprentice by Laurie King; 19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult, The No. 2 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.

The menu consisted of Chai Tea and honey provided by the hostess of The Bee Keeper's Apprentice table, Little Appetizers, Savory Tea Sandwiches (6 different kinds), and several dessert bites. It was yummy and enough to fill you up.

It was definitely a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: Blessed are the Dead

Blessed are the Dead
By Malla Nunn

Blessed are the Dead was a wonderful surprise. I had no idea what to expect when I received the book from Simon and Schuster. I figured the setting would be some exotic place because  of the cover. As it turned out the location is the  foothills of the Drakensberg  Mountains in South Africa. I know little about South Africa and certainly had no foreknowledge of anything about the setting. The author did a wonderful job of painting word pictures of the area and the culture.

When a Zulu girl, daughter of a Chief is murdered, Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper and Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala investigate. They are hindered by the  beliefs of the Zulus and the  strange customs of the people living in the farmlands, black and white. The two detectives must depend upon their own knowledge of human nature, local beliefs,  and their own capabilities as they follow the clues. The area is so rugged that most of the time they must walk miles to investigate crime scenes and questions potential witnesses.

This is an intriguing mystery with surprising twists and turns and best of all, a glimpse into the lives of people groups I knew nothing about. I didn’t read about the author until I was finished with the book and was surprised the author was female because she did such a believable job of tell this story from a male point-of-view.

Highly recommended to any mystery lover.

Marilyn Meredith, author of No Bells

(This book was given to me by Simon and Schuster with no strings attached.)