Debra H. Goldstein has a new website (www.DebraHGoldstein.com) and a new blog location http://www.debrahgoldstein.com/blog/ . Click on the link and continue reading my posts and those of my wonderful guest bloggers on “It’s Not Always a Mystery.” Debra
How Much of Your Fiction is True? by Heather Weidner
Recently, I was asked if any of my mysteries are based on real events or contained real people. I do mix in some real life in my short stories and novels. All of my city settings are actual places. I tend to set my works in Virginia locales. If a crime occurs, I make up that location’s name. I wouldn’t put a horrific event at a real restaurant or store. But if you’ve been to the cities, you’ll recognize landmarks and street names.
Sometimes, I get ideas for crimes and capers from real cases, but I usually take liberties with the details. In my short story, “Washed up,” (Virginia is for Mysteries 2014) a beat up suitcase washes up on Chick’s Beach, and it’s filled with some mysterious contents. Back in the ‘80s, there was a real case where suitcases filled with body parts did wash up on beaches along the East Coast. In my story, I thought it would be interesting for beachgoers to find something old and sinister in an unexpected place.
For some of my characters, I blend characteristics of several real people to make a fictional person. And phrases that family and friends say frequently appear in my stories. I have two co-workers who keep asking me to make them villains. I haven’t done that yet, but I do hint from time to time that unruly team members will end up in a dumpster in a future story.
I carry a notebook with me wherever I go and always jot down names and interesting tidbits that might one day make their way to a story. I use friends and family member’s names for minor characters. In Secret Lives and Private Eyes (June 2016), my sleuth, Delanie Fitzgerald, gives herself all kinds of aliases during her investigations. These are usually names of friends and family. And every once in a while, you’ll find police, EMTs, or FBI agents named after my favorite authors, rock stars, or actors. Delanie Fitzgerald is named for F. Scott Fitzgerald, and her company, Falcon Investigations, is in honor of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.
I did have an odd author moment when a woman with the same name as one of my main characters followed me on Twitter. It was a fun surprise.
Even though mysteries are fiction, a great deal of research goes into the project to get the details right and to make it plausible. And surprisingly, there can be quite a lot of truth in fiction.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Heather Weidner’s short stories appear in Virginia is for Mysteries and Virginia is for Mysteries Volume II. Currently, she is President of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, and a member of Guppies and Lethal Ladies Write. Secret Lives and Private Eyes is her debut novel.
Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.
Follow Heather at www.heatherweidner.com and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.
Secret Lives and Private Eyes Synopsis
Business has been slow for Private Investigator, Delanie Fitzgerald, but her luck seems to change when a tell-all author hires her to find rock star, Johnny Velvet. Could the singer whose career purportedly ended in a fiery crash almost thirty years ago, still be alive?
And as though sifting through dead ends in a cold case isn’t bad enough, Chaz Wellington Smith, III, a loud-mouthed, strip club owner, also hires Delanie to uncover information about the mayor’s secret life. When the mayor is murdered, Chaz, is the key suspect. Now Delanie must clear his name and figure out why landscaper Tripp Payne, keeps popping up in her other investigation. Can the private investigator find the connection between the two cases before another murder – possibly her own – takes place?
Secret Lives and Private Eyes (June 2016) is a fast-paced mystery that will appeal to readers who like a strong, female sleuth with a knack for getting herself in and out of humorous situations.
Creating a Fictional Town by Judy Penz Sheluk
Agatha Christie was the master of creating atmosphere and place, whether she was at the English seaside, or solving a murder in Mesopotamia. I’ve never been to Minnesota, but when I sit down to read the latest John Sandford novel, I feel as if I’m returning to familiar territory. And anyone who’s read Louise Penny has visited Three Pines, even though it’s a fictional town in Quebec. So when I started writing The Hanged Man’s Noose, I wanted the book to be set in Canada, more specifically, a small town north of Toronto, Ontario. The town would be fictional, but there would a basis for the setting, places that were familiar to me.
At the time, I was living in Holland Landing, a small community in the town of East Gwillimbury, about 35 miles north of Toronto. There isn’t a lot of industry in the Landing, unless you count a couple of local diners, pizzerias, convenience stores and the like, but the neighboring town of Newmarket has a lovely revitalized Main Street filled with indie shops and restaurants, and there’s a nice park at the end of it, complete with a large pond called Fairy Lake. What both East Gwillimbury and Newmarket have in common is growth. In recent years, farmlands and forests have been razed for housing developments and big box stores, with much more planned.
Such growth does not come without contention. We tend to forget that our own homes often sit on plots of land that were once forests and farms. But reading about the latest plans, listening to the groups hotly opposed, gave me the first germ of an idea. What if a greedy developer from Toronto came to a small town with plans to build a mega-box store on the town’s historic Main Street?
That’s the premise behind The Hanged Man’s Noose, the first in the Glass Dolphin mystery series, although the plot does thicken considerably. One reviewer (Jack Batten, WHODUNIT, The Toronto Star) wrote, “In her first book, Toronto writer Judy Penz Sheluk probably scores a record for the most characters with skeletons in the closet … even the sleuth figure, an investigative reporter, guards a personal mystery in a book whose author hits large in the business of concocting secrets.”
I decided to merge Newmarket and East Gwillimbury, borrowing a bit from each, and embellishing a lot. I wanted this to be the sort of idyllic town I’d like to live in. Naming my fictional town was easy: outside the Holland Landing Library and Community Centre, there is a plaque dedicated to Samuel Lount, a 19th century politician who had lived in the Landing, but had the misfortune of being hanged for treason.
What could be more perfect for a mystery than a town named after a traitor? Lount’s Landing was born, and along with it, a historic Main Street that includes the Sunrise Café (suspiciously similar to the now-closed Sunshine’s Café in the Landing), and the Glass Dolphin antiques shop, from which the series gets its name. The title of the book comes from name of the local pub, The Hanged Man’s Noose (the owner is a bit of a history buff).
Once I had my town, it was time to populate it with characters. But that’s a story for another day. I invite you to read the first three chapters free at http://barkingrainpress.org/hanged-mans-noose/http://barkingrainpress.org/hanged-mans-noose/. If I’ve done my job, you’ll want to read more. If so, you can find it in trade paperback and eBook at all the usual suspects, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery, The Hanged Man’s Noose: A Glass Dolphin Mystery, was published July 2015 by Barking Rain Press. Her short crime fiction is included in The Whole She-Bang 2, World Enough and Crime, Flash and Bang, and Live Free or Tri: a collection of three short mystery stories. Judy has also contributed to two multi-author cookbooks, Bake, Love, Write, and We’d Rather Be Writing.
Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
In her less mysterious pursuits, Judy is the Senior Editor for New England Antiques Journal and the Editor of Home BUILDER Magazine.
Looking at Your MS by Carolyn Mulford
Writing a book is a long, hard slog. Typing the last word of the first draft brings a moment of exultation and an evening of celebration. I go to sleep confident the plot intrigues, the characters appeal, and the language delights.
The next morning reality hits. Knowing I will find countless imperfections as I rewrite 330 pages, I suffer an episode of the second-draft blues.
These blues aren’t unique to novelists. I discovered a low follows the first-draft high when writing feature articles for magazines. Working as a magazine editor, I confirmed that almost every writer shares my inability to read our own words objectively right after completing a draft and can’t judge what the rewrite will entail. I devised a visual assessment system, an objective way a writer or editor can judge what kind of work and how much a manuscript needs.
I adapted the system to novels years later while writing Show Me the Murder, the first book in my mystery series featuring a former CIA covert operative who returns to Missouri. She solves rural crimes with two childhood friends. By the time I finished the draft of the just-released fourth book, Show Me the Ashes, I’d begun to share the system with other novelists.
By following these three simple steps, a writer or editor can estimate how much work a first draft will need.
Riffle or scroll through your entire manuscript.
If pages look gray, expect long descriptions, info dumps, telling rather than showing. Lots of work to be done, including cutting and moving information.
Watch for long sections of dialogue or long sections without dialogue. An imbalance may signal a pacing or structural problem.
Turn through each chapter.
Do the same visual check as above.
Summarize the chapter’s action in one sentence. If nothing happens or half a dozen different things vie for attention, the chapter needs a rewrite, not an edit.
Read the end of the chapter to see if it propels the reader to the next chapter. If it doesn’t, you may need to end the chapter in a different place.
Read the opening to see if the reader who put down the book will be lost. Readers tend to stop at the end of a chapter and may not start the next chapter for days.
Look at each page.
If you see only two or three paragraphs, anticipate some rewriting.
Check the first word or phrase of each paragraph. If all or most paragraphs start the same way, you’ll be editing that page. Anticipate slow going.
Look for periods. If most sentences are long or the same length, prepare to edit. You’ve been using your eyes. Use your ears, too. Read aloud to check sentence structure, sound, emphasis, and rhythm.
Read the verbs.
The verbs alone should summarize what happens on that page. If they don’t, replace weak verbs. Look for forms of to be, verbs with modifiers, and passive voice. Strong verbs produce shorter, more dynamic sentences.
The visual assessment system won’t yield a comprehensive analysis of our first drafts, but it indicates how much we still have to do and guides us in the rewrite.
Using the system doesn’t prevent the second-draft blues.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~
Carolyn Mulford worked as a magazine editor and freelance writer on five continents before moving back to her home state of Missouri and focusing on fiction. She writes the award-winning Show Me series, character-driven mysteries featuring three women: Phoenix Smith, a former spy who adapts her tradecraft to solve crimes in her hometown; Annalynn Keyser Smith, a civic leader who becomes sheriff after her husband’s violent death; and Connie Diamante, a struggling singer who uses improv to extract information. Achilles, a K-9 dropout, serves on their team. The fourth book, Show Me the Ashes, came out in hardback and e-book March 16. Harlequin Worldwide Mystery will issue a paperback edition of the second book, Show Me the Deadly Deer, in June. Carolyn also writes historical novels for tweens and teens. Thunder Beneath My Feet, set during the devastating New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812, came out in February 2016. The first chapter of each book appears on Carolyn’s website: http://carolynmulford.com.
Virginia is for Mysteries blog: http://www.virginiaisformysteries.com/blog/
Virginia is for Mysteries author bios: http://www.virginiaisformysteries.com/authors/
Teresa Inge grew up in North Carolina reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today, she doesn’t carry a rod like her idol, but she hot rods. She assists two busy executives and is president of the Sisters in Crime Virginia Beach Chapter. Teresa is the author of “Shopping for Murder,” and “Guide to Murder” in Virginia is for Mysteries, “Fishing for Murder” in the FishNets anthology and has coordinated anthologies. Visit Teresa on Facebook, Twitter, and www.teresainge.com.
Heather Weidner has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather lives in Central Virginia with her husband and pair of crazy Jack Russell terriers. When she’s not reading and writing, she enjoys kayaking, photography, and visiting the beach as much as possible. She is President of the Sisters in Crime, Central Virginia Chapter. Heather’s story “Washed Up” appeared in Virginia is for Mysteries. Her debut novel, Secret Lives and Private Eyes, will be published in May 2016. She writes the blog Crazy for Words and is a guest blogger for a variety of sites. Visit Heather on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.