Benjamin Franklin’s Contribution to My Mysteries by Susan Van Kirk
Thanks, Debra, for allowing me to check in with your readers today.
I broke the string of titles this week with the launch of a novella about my detective who has a strong role in my Endurance mysteries. Oh, I know Ben Franklin is probably disappointed that I didn’t use one of his proverbs this time, but my novella is also a break in a string of full-length novels.
The first of my mystery series is called Three May Keep a Secret, and it came out from Five Star/Cengage in December, 2014. (At this point, I’m sure you’re continuing the title in your head with the rest of the proverb: “if two of them are dead.”) My main character is a retired English teacher and likes Franklin’s sayings. He was a master of borrowing proverbs from other writers and slapping his name on them, or designing his own aphorisms about human nature.
This first novel introduced the small town of Endurance and its inhabitants. Grace Kimball, recently retired teacher, finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation when she takes over a part-time newspaper job from a murdered reporter. Unfortunately, with that job comes lots of secrets from the town’s history, and one of them throws Grace right in the gun sights of a killer.
Jeff Maitlin, who recently moved to town to run the newspaper, is Grace’s “love interest,” but, frankly, he is a suspicious character himself. After he moves to town, people begin dying unexpectedly. Is he involved? Or is his mysterious past just that—something better left behind him? TJ Sweeney, local detective and Grace’s friend, is very leery of this guy. Is he carrying out Ben Franklin’s title, or is he innocent in at least two murders?
The second novel in the series, Marry in Haste, will be out in November from Five Star/Cengage. That Franklin proverb ends with “Repent at leisure.” This book is the story of two marriages, and from that title I’m sure you can figure out how happy they were. The lovely surprise is that these marriages were a century apart. One plot is from 1893, the other from the present day, and both involve a mysterious death. Domestic violence is the topic, but the plot does not use graphic violence. I was more interested in how attitudes and laws have changed over a hundred years, and how this subject affects people psychologically.
The third novel, not yet published, is called Death Takes No Bribes. This time Ben Franklin didn’t follow it up with another phrase because his proverb is self-explanatory. The high school principal, known throughout town as a good man, is found dead at the beginning of the story, and why would Death take someone who was such a role model? Soon it becomes clear that appearances do not always reflect reality.
I’ll bet Ben Franklin could say a thing or two about that.
Franklin left so many wonderful proverbs, mostly published in his Poor Richard’s Almanac(s). I have scratched my head trying to figure out how to use some of them as mystery titles. Here are a few examples:
Fish and visitors smell in three days.
If your head is wax, don’t walk in the sun.
He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.
He that composes himself is wiser than he that composes books. (What?)
Hunger is the best pickle.
So is it any wonder that when I decided recently to write a novella, I dispensed with the Benjamin Franklin titles temporarily? The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney is the first of a possible spin-off series about my detective. It just launched as an e-book on Amazon.
After solving a double homicide in the hot Midwest summer, Endurance police detective TJ Sweeney isn’t given long to rest. A construction crew has found human bones while digging a building foundation on the outskirts of town.
Sweeney’s investigation soon concludes this was a murder victim, but from many decades earlier. Readers are treated to a wonderful walk with Sweeney through the big band era and the early years of WWII. Trying to identify the remains and put a name on the killer takes the detective through a maze of dead ends and openings, twists and turns.
And then it becomes personal …
I’m starting to think about titles for the next novel. Possibly, “Love your neighbor, yet don’t pull down your hedge”? Grace lives in a small neighborhood on Sweetbriar Court. Hmmm. Lots of possibilities for squabbles over property lines …
So, readers, what are some of your favorite Franklin proverbs?
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Susan Van Kirk is the author of a nonfiction memoir, The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks.) Her Endurance mysteries are published by Five Star/Cengage and include Three May Keep a Secret and Marry in Haste (Nov. 2016). The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney is on Kindle from Amazon. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and its Guppy Chapter, and also Mystery Writers of America. While she is often visiting her children in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, she can also be found at home in a small town in the middle of Illinois. Visit her website at www.susanvankirk.com
It’s coming! Will I survive? The hardcover version of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie
Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery already is available for pre-order, but on April 20, 2016 the print and e-book versions will launch. I’m excited and scared. I thought the hard work was over – after all, I wrote the book, but now I need to publicize it.
b) Promoting is Gauche – and that’s why nobody bought your books after your family and friends helped the first day along (enough said)
c) Calm, Kind, and All Over the Place – Where does Hank get all that energy from? Surely eating five crackers at a sitting isn’t the source. (Can’t be duplicated except the kindness)
d) Volunteer Persona – leaves no time for writing or personal work (can well understand that one)
e) Networker – relationship builder (good if combined with c and d but problematic with style a)
f) Nurturer – helps others (good when combined with elements of c, d, and e)
g) Stumbler – what will be will be, but I’ll try (a natural fit)
“Do you miss it?” Four simple words comprise the question most asked of me in the year since I stepped down from the job I held for twenty-three years and could have stayed in for life. “Do you miss it?”
My answer always is the same “No. Well, maybe a little.”
I don’t miss the structured days or the responsibility to be on the bench no matter how I felt because I owed it to the public. I don’t miss some of the petty changes in government that occurred over the years nor do I miss some of the internal office bickering. What I miss are the people.
I miss my daily interaction with people I cared deeply about. Not knowing about their lives, their children, their worries, and their successes or seeing their smiles of satisfaction from quietly serving the public can’t be replaced.
Although I recently lost my mother, 2014 was a magical year for me. The career change I dreamed about actually occurred. Not only was my first novel, Maze in Blue, reissued as a May 2014 selection by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery, but two short stories were included in bound anthologies, six were published either in on-line magazines or print journals, and one was selected to be read aloud on “Telling Tales with Ms.G”on Alaskan Radio Station W-KTOO. Even more exciting, I’ve already inked contracts for things to be published in 2015 and possibly 2016.
The outgrowth of the publications, whether online, as a conference attendee, at book signings, or when I’m an invited guest speaker has been an opportunity to meet fantastic people. These new relationships, even more than the thrill of seeing my thoughts in print, has been the most satisfying thing to me in 2014. The world of writers and readers has embraced me during the past year – and for that I am grateful.
Do I miss what I used to do? A little, but I can honestly say that in 2014, I jumped out of bed every day ready to experience something new. That is a joy for which I can only say “Thank you.”
Is A Critique Group Right For You? by Connie Campbell Berry
You’ve spent months alone with your characters. The setting of your novel is more real to you than your hometown. You can quote whole chapters word for word. You laugh and cry at all the right places. But is your manuscript ready to be seen by agents and publishers?
What you need is feedback. An unbiased take on your dialogue, characterization, and plot flow. Someone to point out lapses in continuity or point of view. Someone to catch the typos your brain automatically corrects. But where can you find unbiased readers who don’t demand your firstborn in payment?
One option is to join a critique group. After belonging to several, here are the top ten things I’ve learned:
1. You can’t write a novel by committee.
Critique groups work best when members feel free to express honest opinions and writers feel free to ignore them. You are the final arbiter of your work.
2. Agree on the guidelines.
Will you meet in person or online? How many pages will you submit? How long will you have to complete critiques? My suggestion is to limit submissions to
fifteen or twenty pages, double-spaced. Two weeks to complete critiques is usually workable. The important thing is to agree in advance.
3. Limit the number in the group.
More than five is probably too many. Critiquing four submissions every two
weeks takes time. Most of us have day jobs and families.
4. Seek a group with relatively similar skills and projects.
Including an inexperienced writer with those more skillful can work, but it can also be frustrating. Critique partners aren’t teachers or editors. And while good writing is good writing, the norms for various genres vary wildly. Would a group of cozy mystery writers really get dystopian fantasy? Would a writer of steamy romances fit into a group writing Christian historical fiction?
5. Share approximate word count in advance.
If three manuscripts fall in the 75,000 to 80,000 range and one is an epic of 250,000 words, you’ve got a problem. Will three of you hang in there with the fourth for several additional months? If manuscripts are dissimilar in length, agree on a plan. Those with shorter manuscripts might agree to post revisions or another WIP.
6. Don’t expect to be told how magnificent you are.
Be open to both positive and negative feedback. If you don’t want an honest
critique, ask your mother to read your manuscript instead.
7. Don’t argue.
Avoid the temptation to defend or explain your work. You’ve made no promises to agree with or use the feedback of others. Asking questions, however, can be very helpful. For example: “Can you tell me why that section didn’t work for you?”
8. Be timely.
Submit on time and finish critiques on time. Period.
9. Include positive feedback.
In addition to pointing out what doesn’t work, tell your critique group partners what you loved: a character finely drawn, a passage you just couldn’t put down, a lovely turn of phrase, the place where you laughed out loud. There is always something positive to say.
10. Give group members the right to opt out.
No explanations necessary.
If you are interested in forming or joining a critique group, find a local chapter of one of the national writers’ organizations like Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and American Christian Fiction Writers. I hooked up with my first critique group through the Guppies, an online chapter of Sisters in Crime, dedicated to helping writers get published.
Attending writers’ conferences and workshops is another great way to meet fellow writers. The critique group I’m in now was formed at Seascape Writers’ Retreat in Connecticut.
Or you can find a group online. Check out these possibilities:
Ladies Who Critique (www.ladieswhocritique.com)
The Critique Circle (www.critiquecircle.com)
The Writer’s Chatroom (www.writerschatroom.com)
Absolute Write (www.absolutewrite.com)
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Connie’s WIP, An Antique Murder, takes place on a fictional resort island in Lake Champlain. Leaf-peepers have come and gone on historic Lanark Island, and the locals gather for the Tartan Ball, the annual end-of-leaf-season gala. Among the invited guests is Ohio antique dealer and young widow, Kate Hamilton. Kate hoped never to return to the island where her husband died. But when his sister, proprietor of the island’s historic inn, claims to be in danger, Kate reluctantly agrees. Then a body turns up, and Kate finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. Kate has an alibi, but when the police arrest the gentle, mentally disabled man who tried to save her husband’s life, Kate launches her own investigation. What she uncovers is a secret that will rewrite Lanark’s history. And perhaps Kate’s future.
Like her main character, Connie Campbell Berry grew up in the antiques trade. She and her husband have two sons, a lovely daughter-in-law, and a sweet Shih Tzu named Millie. Connie loves travel, technology, knitting, and mysteries. Her day job is teaching a large, interdenominational Bible study.
Why Research is the Extra Element in Writing by Teresa Inge
I grew up in North Carolina reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Combining my love of reading mysteries and writing professional articles led to writing short fiction and a novel.
I also love it when I research a new story I am writing. Most of the time this means a road trip with my family to the story’s location and most of the time I discover new ideas.
When researching my current story “Wine Country Murder,” my husband and I toured the Williamsburg Winery in Virginia. We elected to do the Reserve Wine Tasting tour, which meant visiting the basement where wines are produced and stored. I took pictures of oak barrels, machinery, and anything else I found pertinent to my research. Soon, the wine was flowing and so were my thoughts. But when a bat flew above our heads, it corked a new story plot. Later, the guide mentioned that bats often fly into their basement. I just never know what I will discover during research.
My family also joined me on a weekend trip to the Cavalier on the Hill hotel in Virginia Beach to research “Guide to Murder,” in Virginia is for Mysteries. As soon as we arrived I combed the grounds where the murder would take place. I took pictures, explored areas not meant for guests, and did lots of snooping! Since this was a historic hotel, I stumbled across vintage items such as an old sauna that had a large lock strapped across the front. The enormous sauna was tucked in a dark corner on the bottom floor. I could only imagine guests of the 1920′s and 30′s going into the sauna for good health.
We next ventured to the Outerbanks in North Carolina to research a “Milepost Murder.” While driving through Nags Head during a summer storm, I noticed a wobbly street sign. I thought what if I kill a character with a milepost sign. Milepost signs are located throughout the Outerbanks to guide tourists to restaurants, hotels, and businesses. I then based the story on my favorite beach shop in Nags Head, and added a twist by placing a bar next door. My daughter made up the title to complete the story.
Since mystery readers are savvy and intelligent, authors have to conduct Internet research, interviews, and sometimes visit the story’s location to ensure facts are correct. Even though mystery authors write fiction, facts must be real.
Another trip included driving across the Rudy Inlet Bridge in Virginia Beach. I wondered what would happen if a vehicle went over the side. Would it sink? Float? Could a barge fit in the inlet? These questions led to researching “Fishing for Murder,” in the FishNets anthology.
Since I needed answers, I made my way under the bridge and discovered a small barge in the inlet. As I began taking pictures, a homeless woman scurried up the bridge wall and out of sight. I had disturbed her hiding place. Just as I turned, a man on a bicycle with a basket of beer approached me. He asked why I was taking pictures. The situation was daunting but it brought new light to my writing when I discovered an underground of homeless people.
While researching “Shopping for Murder,” in Virginia is for Mysteries, I based the setting on the Great Bridge Shopping Center in Chesapeake. Like most shoppers, I had always pulled into a front parking space and walked into the store. Since a scene in my story required a speeding vehicle behind the center, I drove my car to the back to do my research. Dangerous. Perhaps. But I had to know if a vehicle could fit in the small space.
Since mystery writing can be isolating, I enjoy conducting research since it adds an extra element to my writing process.
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Teresa Inge grew up in North Carolina reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today she doesn’t carry a rod, like her idol, but she hotrods. She assists two busy
executives and is president of Sisters in Crime, Virginia Beach chapter.
Love of reading mysteries and writing professional articles led to writing short fiction and a novel. Teresa’s published stories include Fishing for Murder in the Fish Nets anthology and Guide to Murder and Shopping for Murder in Virginia is for Mysteries. Her website is http://www.teresainge.com.
Debra Does Cooking by Debra H. Goldstein
Remember when I decided to try my hand at pottery? (Stop laughing L.M.) Well, I’ve decided to impress Joel with my culinary talents. There is some danger in this decision because I’ve spent thirty years training him to expect a certain level from my homemaking skills.
For example, I was working on a new recipe a few weeks ago when a button popped off his pants. Disgusted at having to change his pants, he said something about needing to take the slacks to the tailor. I was focused on my dish and without thinking volunteered, “Would you like me to sew it back on?”
He stared at me and asked, “Do you know how to do that?”
“On second thought,” I replied, “take it to the tailor.” I then went back to figuring out how to rescue the recipe I had accidently put 2 tablespoons rather than ¼ teaspoon of pepper into when Joel distracted me during my crucial measuring moment. At dinner, there was no further mention of his pants and we agreed my dish looked good, but it definitely had a bit of heat.
My new interest in the kitchen has resulted in me taking stock of my kitchen equipment. Although I could boast some still in their box utensils and two unopened spices from the “Can She Recognize This” kitchen shower my friends had for me, I never received the pots, pans, and gadgets new brides receive today. The high points of that shower were when I recognized a garlic press and when I pulled out some beautiful paper plates and matching napkins and someone quipped, “Oh, look! She got her good china.” The low point of the shower was opening a mixer with dough hooks rather than the food processor I really wanted.
I’ve made up for being deprived during the last three weeks. I now own a new wok (I did have one once but I used it for something other than cooking and it was never the same), an on-the stove smoker (the salmon came out good, but the house reeked of burnt ash for two days), and my first crockpot (I made Joel come home for my first one pot dinner at four because I miscalculated the 7-8 hours the stuff was bubbling). Over the years, I’ve always enjoyed purchasing cookbooks (some of my favorites include Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Cookbook; Come For Cocktails, Stay for Supper; and especially You Should Write a Cookbook for its spinach pie recipe that features thawed frozen spinach soufflés), so it was a no brainer to buy five new ones to match my new kitchen items. I’m sure I’ll use four of them often, but the one I accidentally downloaded won’t get much use as I read somewhere it wasn’t wise to put an ipad near gas generated flames.
For years, I joked that I only cooked when we had snowstorms. Joel hasn’t said he wishes I would return to that practice, but he has started calling me every afternoon to ask “Would you like to go out for dinner, tonight?”
Maybe I should take that quilting class that was on my post-retirement bucket list.
The Writer’s Life Isn’t for Sissies by Marilyn Levinson
The electronic age has made it easy for anyone to self-publish a work of fiction. All you have to do is write a book. It needn’t be approved, edited or even good. As long as the text is formatted correctly, up it goes on Amazon and other publishing sites. And voilà! You’re an author.
Perhaps, but who’s going to buy your book besides your nearest and dearest? Who is your audience? Where are your readers? And what do you plan to write about in your next book?
Because so many people are writing novels these days, it’s difficult for a writer to make his or her mark in today’s literary marketplace. There are many choices. Writers can self-publish, publish with small presses, or publish with the big companies. I know, because I’ve gone the route of all three. We’ve an over-abundance of available books because so many writers give away e-copies of their work, hoping that this will entice readers to buy their other titles. Every day I receive several emails encouraging me to download novels that are inexpensive or free. Which is why I have close to 600 novels on my Kindle, waiting to be read.
This proliferation of novels gives the impression that becoming a novelist is easy. That anyone can write a good book that will sell thousands of copies. It’s not so. Becoming a good fiction writer is a process that takes years of hard work. Sure there are a few exceptions, but I believe the more books we write, the better skilled we become at creating characters, weaving plots, and telling satisfying stories. In The Telegraph on June 29th, best-selling crime writer, Val McDermid, “has claimed that she would be a failed novelist if she were starting out today because the publishing industry no longer allows for slow-burning careers.”
“It takes a strong stomach to be a writer!” says Peg Cochran, who writes the Gourmet de Lite series under her name and the Sweet Nothings Lingerie Series as Peg London. “It’s a scary business putting yourself out there…not only am I nervous about not living up to other authors, I’m worried about living up to myself!”
Peg isn’t alone. As a mystery writer, I know I’m only as good as my last book. I hope readers will like my next book. Will they love my characters? Will the plot hold? Will they detect the murderer before I want them to?
And it’s not enough to write an enticing mystery. Unless you’re very successful, very famous, or both, most mystery writers I know spend a good deal of time promoting their work. I was delighted that my mystery, A Murderer Among Us, was listed on Book Town’s 2014 Summer Reading list, and that A Murderer Among Us & Murder a la Christie made Book Town’s 2014 Summer Mystery Reading List. Then it was up to me to tweet and announce these honors to my Facebook and Yahoo groups. I must seek reviews of my books and ask to have my books featured on various sites and blogs. It’s my job to promote my novels and tend to them as I would my children, making sure they’re in healthy, growth-producing after-school activities. The odd thing is, I never know what helps improve my sales, but I get the word out when my books receive 5 star reviews and accolades.
Reviews are something else we authors have to deal with. Good reviews are wonderful to read. We’re delighted that readers are enjoying our books, and happy that they “get” us. Eventually we all get the other kind of review. The not so great review or even a hurtful review from a reader who was less than satisfied.
We’re told not to respond to reviews that are cutting or cruel, or even inaccurate. This is frustrating, but I try to concentrate on the good reviews and the many people who have made it a point of telling me they enjoy my books. I’ve checked out the reviews of well-known novelists and was surprised to see that they had their share of not so great reviews. It gave me heart to know that these authors still sell thousands of copies of their novels. It reminded me that not everyone is going to love my work.
Having a writing career means finishing a novel and moving on to the next. It demands hours of promotion, dealing with deadlines and edits and covers you may not like. Coping with changing editors, an editor who changes your every other word, rejection. You name it. There are many frustrations, but having a writing career means you’re doing what you love best—writing.
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A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and books for kids.
Her latest mystery, Murder a la Christie, is out with Oak Tree Press. Untreed Reads has brought out new e-editions of her first Twin Lakes mystery, A Murderer Among Us–a Suspense Magazine Best Indie and its sequel, Murder in the Air. Both Murder a la Christie and A Murderer Among Us are on Book Town’s 2014 Summer Reading Mystery List. Her ghost mystery, Giving Up the Ghost, and her romantic suspense, Dangerous Relations, are out with Uncial Press. All of her mysteries take place on Long Island, where she lives.
Her books for young readers include No Boys Allowed; Rufus and Magic Run Amok, which was awarded a Children’s Choice; Getting Back to Normal, & And Don’t Bring Jeremy.
Marilyn loves traveling, reading, knitting, doing Sudoku, and visiting with her granddaughter, Olivia, on FaceTime. She is co-founder and past president of the Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime. She can be contacted through her website http://www.MarilynLevinson.com. For all of her writings, check out her Amazon page at http://amzn.to/K6Md10 .