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Posts Tagged ‘“it’s Not Always a Mystery” – Debra H. Goldstein’

Debra Does Cooking by Debra H. Goldstein

August 4, 2014 23 comments

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.

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Jaden Terrell – Jared McKean Mystery Series Author – Guest Interview

 

Author Jaden Terrell

Author Jaden Terrell

An Interview with Jaden Terrell – Jared McKean Mystery Series Author  

 

DHG: You write a very character-driven series…tell us something about it?

JT:  The seeds of the character—Jared McKean—were sown during the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. I watched those young men being cut to pieces, the surf turning red, and they just kept getting out of those boats, pushing for the shore. And I thought, “This is what we ask our men to do. And then we expect them to come home and be loving husbands, gentle fathers, and loyal friends. And they do. For the most part, they do.” I wanted to write about that man—not necessarily about a military man, because Jared served in law enforcement rather than the military—but about a man who is strong enough and brave enough to do what needs to be done but is able to hold onto his kindness and compassion. Jared lives in a dark world, but he is not a dark man.
DHG: You’ve said you developed a supporting cast to showcase various aspects of Jared’s character. What can you tell us about that?

JT: I always wanted to start with the typical tough-guy detective and then show his deeper, more complex interior landscape. He’s good friends with his former partner on the homicide squad, and their interactions show his ability to detach, his competence as an investigator, and his tougher side. His relationship with his ex-wife is complicated. They still love each other deeply, but their core needs are diametrically opposed. She needs safety and security, but his Galahad complex constantly leads him into danger. He takes risks. “You’re a hero looking for something to die for,” she says. He doesn’t have a death wish, but he does have a serious need to be—and be perceived as—heroic. Her remarriage to a steady, less exciting but good man is a challenge they all have to work through.

His housemate and best friend is Jay, Renfield, a gay man living with AIDS. They’ve been friends since kindergarten, and their relationship, along with Jay’s illness, has helped develop Jared’s compassionate side and his tendency to take up for the underdog.

His son, Paul, has Down syndrome, and I think that relationship, more than any, reveals his gentler side.

DHG: You were a special education teacher. How did your experience in the classroom influence Paul’s character?

JT: I knew from the beginning that Jared would have a son with a disability, because that experience would give him a greater sensitivity to others. Paul began as a composite of several students I taught. By the time I finished the first book, he’d developed into his own individual person, but several of his traits, such as his taste in movies and his love of Beanie Babies, came from children I worked with. There are a few exchanges that came straight from real life. One of my favorites is when Paul has his eighth birthday, and Jared asks how old he’s going to be. Paul says, “Seven.”

Jared says, “No, Sport, you’re going to be eight.”

“Eight?” Paul says. “What happen to seven?”

I loved the innocence and wisdom in that exchange, so of course, I had to use it.

DHG: How do you balance the character development with the plotting of the mystery?

JT: It’s one of the hardest things for me. My first drafts are over-full of Jared’s personal life—I’m especially guilty of putting in more and longer scenes with Paul than I should. In subsequent drafts, I pare all that way down. It’s like panning for gold. You sift out the extra words and if you do it well enough, you’re left with the clearest essence of the relationship. At the same time, I punch up the action. I’m always asking, “How could this be worse?”

DHG:  What are the names of the books in your Jared McKean mystery series?

JT:  Racing the Devil and A Cup Full of Midnight.

DHG: Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

JT: I just finished the third book in the Jared McKean mystery series. It’s called River of Glass and is about human trafficking. In the opening chapters, when the body of an Asian woman is found holding a decades-old photo of Jared’s father, Jared learns that the man he’s spent his whole life trying to live up to had a secret life—and a second family—in Vietnam. A few days after the body is found, the sister he never knew he had arrives on his doorstep asking him to help her find her daughter, who has been taken by traffickers. The book comes out in October but just became available for preorder. Meanwhile, I’m working on book four.

DHG: Where can readers learn more about you and your books?

JT: My website is the best place: http://www.jadenterrell.com. I always love to hear from readers and other writers, too. You can reach me on my Facebook author page or email me at jadenterrell@comcast.net. Thanks so much for inviting me to your blog.

                      ~ ~ ~ ~ ~Beth_by_Tam

Shamus award nominee Jaden Terrell is the author of the Jared McKean mysteries and a contributor to Now Write! Mysteries, a collection of exercises published by Tarcher/Penguin for writers of crime fiction. Terrell is the executive director of the Killer Nashville Thriller, Mystery, and Crime Literature Conference and a recipient of the 2009 Magnolia Award for service to the Southeastern Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Learn more at http://www.jadenterrell.com.

Guest Blogger: Paula Gail Benson – What Taking the Bar Exam Taught Me About Writing

April 14, 2014 13 comments
Paula Gail Benson

Paula Gail Benson

What Taking the Bar Exam Taught Me about Writing

by Paula Gail Benson

Just having a law degree doesn’t make you a lawyer. Most states require that a law school graduate pass a bar examination to work and have the title “attorney.” Bar review courses of six-to-eight weeks help law school grads prepare for bar exams, which are grueling three-day marathons of mostly essay questions to be answered in set time periods.

The professor who taught test taking strategy in my bar review course was a meticulous man, a consummate lawyer, and an excellent writer. He did not make idle promises, but he assured us that if we followed his technique, we would improve our scores on the essay portion of the test.

He was correct. I used his method and have advised many law students to do the same. I credit it with helping me pass the bar exam.

This what he recommended:

(1) Read the question and see who it asks you to be. Usually, this is one of three choices: (a) an attorney being consulted by a potential client, (b) an attorney being asked to defend a client, or (c) a judge deciding a case.

(2) Write the first sentence of your answer based on who you are asked to be and how youwould resolve the situation. For example, “I am [the attorney advising or bookdefending a client or the judge deciding the case] and I would resolve the matter by [advising my client about his rights or deciding the case this way].”

(3) Write out your reasoning for the advice or decision. List it out point by point.

(4) If, during the reasoning process, you decide your initial statement was wrong, go back and correct it.

(5) Complete your answer with the following statement: “In conclusion, I as [the attorney or judge] would [advise my client or decide the case] in this manner _____________________.”

Why is the technique so beneficial? It gives the exam taker a framework for completing the task and signals to the exam grader that the answer was thought-out and well-organized.

How can it benefit other types of writing? It shows the writer the scope of his work and provides the reader with a full story.

A full story. That’s the key, isn’t it?

People expect a story (and an argument) to have a beginning, middle, and end. If you give them that framework, they’ll stick with you until the story is done. They’ll have a sense that not only is the story well-plotted, but also that it’s complete and satisfying.

So, how would I make the bar review advice applicable to fiction writing?

(1) Start by figuring out who your main character is, when the story occurs, and where it ends. Think about the first stories you heard. Don’t they begin with “once upon a time” or a human or animal character in a particular place, like Peter Rabbit at home with his family, but looking longingly at the forbidden garden?

(2) Write a brief synopsis of your story. For example, “Once upon a time, after going to the ball, Cinderella married her prince.”

(3) Now, spell out in greater detail how Cinderella achieved her objective. Reason it out step by step.

She was a poor girl whose father died. She lived with her jealous step-mother and step-sisters. They made her do all the chores around the house and sleep in the cinders. When they received an invitation to meet the prince at the ball, they told Cinderella she would have to stay at home.

cinderellaFortunately, Cinderella had a fairy godmother who by magic helped Cinderella attend the ball. The fairy godmother encouraged Cinderella, telling her she had all the qualities to be a princess. However, Cinderella would have to follow certain rules to go to the ball because magic has its limitations.

Cinderella went, had a wonderful time, and met her prince. She forgot about the rules, so she returned home without the magic that had enabled her journey.

The prince found one of Cinderella’s enchanted shoes. Because it was a bit of the magic fitted to her, only she could wear it. The prince tried the shoe on every female foot in the kingdom.

When her step-mother and sisters tried to hide her away, Cinderella remembered what her fairy godmother had told her about her princess-like qualities. She took the prince’s horse some water. He saw her, and offered her a chance to try on the shoe.

(4) If, during the reasoning process, you decide your initial statement was wrong, go back and correct it.

Cinderella has a lot just happening to her. If she’s really the protagonist, she needs to face her own obstacles and work things out for herself.

That synopsis should be: “Once upon a time, after struggling to attend the ball and finding ways to believe in and assert herself, Cinderella created her own magic by taking charge of her life and agreeing to marry her prince.”

(5) Complete your story with a satisfying ending: “In conclusion, because Cinderella courageously took advantage of her opportunities and creatively followed her own path, she found her prince and lived happily ever after.”

 

I would add one more step to the modified bar review advice. This suggestion is from Rob Parnell’s The Easy Way to Write Short Stories that Sellbooks that sell

Practice writing short stories and finishing them with “THE END.” Doing this enough times helps you create your own magic and provides you with the confidence that you have what it takes to be a writer.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Paula Gail Benson is a legislative attorney and former law librarian. Her short stories have been published in Kings River Life, the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, Mystery Times Ten 2013 (Buddhapuss Ink), and A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder (Dark Oak Press and Media, released January 20, 2014). She regularly blogs with others about writing mysteries at Writers Who Kill. Her personal blog is Little Sources of Joy, and her website is http://paulagailbenson.com.

Guest Blogger: Carol Robbins – Enticing the Muse

March 10, 2014 6 comments
Author Carol Robbins

Author Carol Robbins

Enticing the Muse by Carol Robbins

I envy writers who say “It just came to me, the whole book. All I had to do was write it down.” From what I hear, that doesn’t happen for many of us. The muse is illusive, sometimes staying away no matter how desperately we long for a visit. So how might we attract the muse?

When I was an art student, a professor teaching a class in drawing urged me to be ready through disciplined practice, reminding me that the production of outstanding work would not happen without the basic skills. On the days when the muse didn’t show up, rather than doing nothing I was to practice, to hone my skills. Clay fascinated me. Although not my main medium, I may have learned my most important lesson from it. One day at the wheel I felt like I was truly “in the flow,” one with the clay, with everything. It was an exhilarating experience that I’ve rarely been able to duplicate. I’ve tried to analyze what happened that day. I’d prepared following what I’d learned, from arranging my tools, preparing the clay, to throwing the pot. The sequence of steps that I had done over and over, almost like a ritual, made it possible not just to create the piece, but to feel that flow.

So how does any of this apply to writing? I think the process is much the same. We have to learn the basics whether it be through classes, workshops, reading, or other methods. Then we must establish a routine for writing, preferably daily or at least several times a week, putting in the time that leads us to the outpouring of words.

Perhaps you noticed, when relating the experience with the clay, I stopped at the forming of the vessel. Simply forming a lump of clay into a vessel was not the end of the process. The pot had to be dried, trimmed, bisque fired, glazed, and fired again before it was finished. Likewise, even if the muse visits us with divine inspiration, we’re expected to edit and polish. The muse can be fickle, and rarely visits if we don’t do our part in preparation or if, once given the gift, we won’t finish the job.

So how do we entice a visit from the muse? Remember, the muses were sisters. Whether asking how to attract the muse for our expression in music, visual art, or writing, the answer is the same as the punch line to the old joke “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Practice, practice.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Carol Robbins Hull writes as Carol Robbins from her home in Montgomery, Alabama. The author of a yet-to-be-published cozy mystery, Catalpa Worm Wettin’ and Caterpillar Crawl, her current project is the completion of My Mother’s Story, a memoir begun by her mother. Previous work may be found in on-line volumes of the Alabama Writers’ Conclave yearly publication, Alalitcom. Her blog site is http://www.carolrobbins.blogspot.com.

Guest Blogger S.L. Smith: Researching Everything Under the Sun!

February 23, 2014 7 comments
Author S.L. Smith

Author S.L. Smith

Researching Everything under the Sun! by S.L. Smith

Few things turn me off faster than books with factual errors. I tend to put them down—permanently. For that reason, it’s important I get it right. If I don’t know it, I research it. I’m talking about the smallest details. Some of the research is almost as fun as the writing. Some of it is a headache.

Let’s start with the enjoyable stuff. I ventured into writing mysteries only because a friend spent thirty-five years as a cop, and agreed to perform a reality check on the law enforcement aspects. One battle won.

It didn’t take long to discover I also needed a contact in the medical examiner’s office. I had to muster the courage to make that call. Thankfully, I connected with a gem. This investigator answered all of my questions for book one, Blinded by the Sight. When the book came out, I met him and gave him a copy. That paid off in spades.

He assisted, again, with Running Scared: The Second Pete Culnane Mystery. At that time, he mentioned several items I should verify with my law enforcement expert. I explained this time my law enforcement expert needed, but lacked, an insider’s knowledge of the St. Paul Police Department.

He lined up two. One is the head of homicide. The other is a retired investigator/detective.  He obtained permission for me to call both men, and provided their direct phone numbers. Thanks to him, both St. Paul PD contacts took my calls and answered all of my questions. I was blown away! I learned so much from them.

I spoke with the St. Paul Fire Marshall to determine which vehicles would be sent to the scene, who would be in the vehicles, and what they’d do on site. Needing answers about hospital procedures and descriptions of the injuries, I connected with an emergency medicine physician. Both of those men were wonderful!

High school kids play a significant role in Running Scared. I called local schools to learn the times school starts and lets out. I had to know the procedures parents follow if their kids are ill. I needed the dress code. After all, the story occurs in Minnesota—in January. I had to put clothes on those kids.

Interviews are the fun part. The rest is interesting—but often a challenge.

The kids also needed names. The Internet provided popular names for the relevant decade. I use that same system to help select names for most characters in my novels.

One kid claims he wouldn’t play a part in the crime, because he’s intent on getting into Notre Dame. The Notre Dame website indicates whether the kid has an acceptance letter by the time the story occurs.

In Running Scared, the victim is struck by a car. The driver had to escape post haste, so the car couldn’t have air bags. Online, I determined the year air bags became01_RunningScaredfront_FINAL standard equipment. I selected a car, and still had to determine if it had air bags. Once I had the make and model, I also had to learn the exterior colors available that year.

The two investigators remark on the vehicle stolen to commit the crime, and the fact that across the street sat the car most commonly stolen at the time. Yup, I had to find out what car was most commonly stolen that year.

This book includes a U.S. citizen who works in Canada. I had to learn whether jobs in Canada are available to U.S. citizens, responsibilities for the selected job, common living arrangements for this transplant, travel methods and time required for this person to return to the U.S., as well as conditions that would delay an emergency trip home.

With help from a Facebook friend, I learned the age of homes in the neighborhoods playing a part in the book. I rode through those neighborhoods, getting a feel for the landscape and houses. I even learned the types of trees.

I wanted to know what the victim and attacker saw, so I could paint a realistic picture. For that reason, I repeatedly traveled the path they followed in the book.

Wondering how all that fits into a single novel? Check out Running Scared.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

S.L. Smith, a lifelong resident of Minnesota, was born in St. Cloud and moved to the Twin Cities after graduating from St. Catherine University in St. Paul.  She is the author of Blinded By the Sight and Running Scared: The Second Pete Culnane Mystery.  When writing mysteries, S. L. draws upon her degree in psychology, a career with vast amounts of law enforcement interaction, and her thrill for the investigative hunt.  A voracious reader since childhood and a lover of mysteries, she uses her knowledge of Minnesota and human nature to create stories.

S. L. is a member of Sisters in Crime.  Feel free to contact her at:

http://www.slsmithbooks.com
slsmithbooks@gmail.com
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001627700301

 

 

 

 

Guest Blogger Grace Topping: Revenge! Exorcizing Bad Memories Through Your Writing

January 20, 2014 21 comments
Grace Topping with Debra H. Goldstein

Grace Topping with Debra H. Goldstein

REVENGE! EXORCIZING BAD MEMORIES THROUGH YOUR WRITING

by Grace Topping

All of us have them. Those pesky, uncomfortable memories that make us blanch, screech, moan, grimace, shudder, or cry. Thankfully, most of them are buried deep in our subconscious and don’t come to mind often. But when we least expect it, a scent of cologne, a bit of music on the radio, or even a billboard along the highway can cause a memory to invade our thoughts like an unwelcome intruder.

Some memories might be nothing more than the recollection of something embarrassing, while others might be truly painful. Embarrassing or painful, our experiences are the things that shape and give texture to our lives, and our memories of those experiences are fodder for our writing.

Some memoirists talk about writing to exorcize ghosts from their past. In fiction, writers boast about taking revenge on someone by loosely basing a character, preferably a murder victim, on that person—in a way killing off a memory. If we can learn to laugh at things that happened in our lives, we might be able to move past them. What better revenge than basing a ridiculous character on someone who hurt us. It just might help do the trick.

The memory of falling in high school in front of the three best-looking guys in my class who laughed and stepped around me used to make me cringe. It always seemed to come to mind around the time for high school reunions. In my yet-to-be published mystery, I took that experience, added an attractive father who deserted the family and a handsome unfaithful husband and used them as the basis for my main character’s dislike of handsome men. It was a character flaw that caused her problems when she had to work with attractive police officers and other characters. It makes me laugh to think that three now middle-aged pillars of the community are immortalized in my manuscript. Now, if that memory were to intrude, I can laugh.

It would be wonderful if we had a pill or button that enabled us to zap uncomfortable or painful memories. But until such a thing is developed, why not take some of those memories and turn them into memorable characters and intriguing plots. They are free for the taking.

Do you have a ghost of a memory you’d like to exorcize?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thirty years of writing about computer systems was enough to drive Grace Topping to murder—or at least writing about it. Grace’s yet-to-be published mystery features a professional home stager. When she isn’t writing, she’s busy helping friends stage their homes. She is a member of the Chesapeake and Guppy Chapters of Sisters in Crime and of Mystery Writers of America. Grace and her husband reside in Northern Virginia.

Guest Blog: Jackie Romine Walburn – First Fiction for this Reporter: Finding the Truth Inside the Story

December 9, 2013 2 comments

post it walburn post 2First fiction for this reporter:Finding the truth inside the story

by Jackie Romine Walburn

Until starting my first and still-to-be-published novel, this lifelong professional writer- reporter-turned-corporate communications manager had never written a word of fiction. So, how did a reporter switch from journalistic rules of “just the facts” and “accuracy, accuracy, accuracy” to making things up?

It took a downsizing and layoff from that corporate communications job amid the 2008 economic crisis, multiple rereads of Stephen King’s On Writing, a kernel of a news story I covered as a reporter, and lots of days with the door shut writing one word at a time and finding the truth inside the story — just like the Post-it note says.

The yellow curled Post-it still hangs on my computer. In 2009, I gleaned the red-inked advice from King’s opus on writing and taped it to my computer screen, where it still clings. The advice urged this reporter to make up people, places and situations in my first novel, Mojo Jones and the Black Cat Bone. “Mojo” is in its sixth revision with the help of priceless early readers and my fiction writing teacher and editor Carolynne Scott and our weekly fiction writers group.

This constant revision is another leap for a writer who earned her living in the fast-paced business of reporting and corporate communications (which, believe it or not, IS all nonfiction).

As a reporter, you write a news story or feature; it is edited by an editor, printed and that’s it. You’re on to the next story. Fiction, however, means revisions and more revisions.

Writing fiction also means decisions about point of view; I started with four characters telling the story in first person and now am converting-revising to a third person narrative. Right now, I am also trying to decide if the original but revised prologue is in or out.

A successful reporter-turned-novelist warned me about this revision thing when I first started and I asked how to get an agent, how to get published. He said to worry about all that after your sixth or seventh draft. He spoke the harsh truth, but it took early readers and query rejections to bring the revision reality home to me.

Harper Lee spent several years of full-time revising of her original manuscript “Atticus” with a New York editor to create To Kill a Mockingbird, my favorite and oft-reread work of Southern fiction. I’m just saying….

So, I revise, chapter by chapter, trying to make sure I write what is seen, heard, smelled and touched, telling the truth behind the story and omitting needless words – a reporter rule not on my Post-it (and No. 17 in Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style”) that is true for all writing.

I continue to refine Mojo Jones and the Black Cat Bone, a story that starts with the sheriff being tied to a tree by an escaping suspect with rumored voodoo powers (the kernel of the real news story) and explores how a magic spell and a killing affect characters in a fictional community in the Alabama Black Belt.

Still a reporter at heart, I am learning the fiction biz, including how difficult it is to get published in today’s e-book world, and, as Mississippi author Tom Franklin told us at the last Alabama Writers Conclave meeting, “if you’re not revising, you’re not writing.”

It’s all writing, you know. It’s what I do, be it fiction or nonfiction, and I am always grateful and challenged.

King, a pro who writes every day, gives good advice in the 1999 book that helped spur this reporter to fiction, including “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

He encourages all his Constant Readers who are writers or wanna-be writers: “Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

I keep drinking, Stephen. Thanks.

Jackie Romine Walburn and Debra H. Goldstein at 2013 Alabama Writers Conclave

Jackie Romine Walburn and Debra H. Goldstein at the 2013 Alabama Writers Conclave

Jackie Romine Walburn is a career writer, former corporate communications manager, editor and award-winning reporter – having reported for The Birmingham Post-Herald, The Auburn Plainsman, The Auburn Bulletin, The Selma Times-Journal and The Birmingham News. Most recently, she’s been published in The Birmingham Arts Journal and the Alabama Writer’s Conclave’s http://www.alalit.com. She is polishing the sixth draft of her first novel, a story of good and evil set in the Alabama Black Belt. She lives in Birmingham and writes the blog http://jackierwalburnwrites.blogspot.com.