Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I'm Not Stupid. I'm Canadian.

I planned to do a post about my love for the Amelia Peabody mystery series and why I think everyone should read it, but I'm really, really sick and pharmaceuticals aren't cutting it. So, I'm copping out and re-posting something from my personal blog.


Since the global HQ for the Clark Kent job is in the United States, I deal with a lot of Americans. I like the guys I work with except when (1) they call my hometown “Little Houston” and (2) tell me I can’t spell.

Yes, I can spell. I just don’t always use American spelling. And, yes, there is a difference between spelling for Canadian English (which is very similar to British English) and American English. What are the differences? Well…

  • the extra a: anaesthesia
  • c instead of k: disc
  • c instead of s: defence, licence
  • e instead of a: grey
  • the extra o: oesophagus
  • ph instead of f: sulphur
  • que instead of ck: cheque
  • re instead of er: centre, theatre
  • s instead of z: analyse, cosy, realise
  • the extra u: colour, labour, neighbour

Please, next time you see centre instead of center, don’t assume the writer is stupid or can’t use the Spell Checker. She might be Canadian.


Monday, March 28, 2011

20 Rules for Writing Detective Stories

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm mad for vintage mystery. There are certain dusty and cobwebbed tropes that I still find amusing, out of date though they are. I'm lucky that a lot of readers share my sense of humor -- or maybe it's my sense of nostalgia.

But, unlike eyeholes in oil paintings, certain things never go out of style. Those things are the elements of what makes for a satisfying mystery. I thought it would be fun to share today S.S. Van Dine's famous 1928 essay "Twenty Rules for Writing Dectective Stories," and see where those rules have changed -- and where they have not changed.

"Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories"
by S.S. Van Dine

THE DETECTIVE story is a kind of intellectual game. It is more — it is a sporting event. And for the writing of detective stories there are very definite laws — unwritten, perhaps, but none the less binding; and every respectable and self-respecting concocter of literary mysteries lives up to them. Herewith, then, is a sort Credo, based partly on the practice of all the great writers of detective stories, and partly on the promptings of the honest author's inner conscience. To wit:

   1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.

   2. No willful tricks or deceptions may be placed on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.

   3. There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.

   4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It's false pretenses.

   5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions — not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.

   6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic.

   7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader's trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded.

   8. The problem of the crime must he solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic se'ances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.

   9. There must be but one detective — that is, but one protagonist of deduction — one deus ex machina. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem, is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn't know who his codeductor is. It's like making the reader run a race with a relay team.

   10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story — that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest.

   11. A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person — one that wouldn't ordinarily come under suspicion.

   12. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders: the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.

   13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. A fascinating and truly beautiful murder is irremediably spoiled by any such wholesale culpability. To be sure, the murderer in a detective novel should be given a sporting chance; but it is going too far to grant him a secret society to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds.

   14. The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure.

   15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent — provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face-that all the clues really pointed to the culprit — and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying.

   16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no "atmospheric" preoccupations. such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude.

   17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by housebreakers and bandits are the province of the police departments — not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.

   18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to hoodwink the trusting and kind-hearted reader.

   19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction — in secret-service tales, for instance. But a murder story must be kept gemütlich, so to speak. It must reflect the reader's everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.

   20. And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective story writer will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author's ineptitude and lack of originality. (a) Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect. (b) The bogus spiritualistic se'ance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away. (c) Forged fingerprints. (d) The dummy-figure alibi. (e) The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar. (f)The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person. (g) The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops. (h) The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in. (i) The word association test for guilt. (j) The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth.

So what do you think? Have some of those come full circle now?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tell Me as Story, Please...



Please join me in telling a story. Below are two paragraphs—in the comment section add the next lines or a paragraph to continue the narrative and let’s see what our fertile minds come up with.

I opened the door to my apartment. My apartment—the one I always dreamed about. Location—overlooking the park where I could see trees display soft green buds in March and prepare for summer when they dressed in large leaves the color of jade. The dream began when I was eight and my mother and I walked along Park Avenue across from Central Park. We gazed at the buildings—buildings that touched the sky presided over by men in uniform who doffed their caps and opened highly polished wood and glass doors to the fortunate residents who lived in this magical place.

The ugly taxicab-yellow tape that kept me from my home was gone now and I was free to live my life alone. Free to do what I pleased with no one to stop me—no one around to say, “No.” The months since my lover was found dead had been the grimmest months of my life. I was a suspect. My past examined, my present scrutinized, my future unknown.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Too Stupid to Live...a familiar trope?

The other night I watched an episode of Waking the Dead, a popular and often shocking crime thriller series in the UK (and no, I don’t watch *just* to ogle the yummy Trevor Eve). One of the characters came home late at night, to her flat where she lived alone, having been through a traumatic experience where her younger sister was kidnapped. She crossed the living room to find the balcony window open. The curtain fluttered in the breeze. She looked startled, as if she didn’t remember opening it herself: looked warily around the room.

Then took off her jacket and settled on the couch.

Now come on! How many of us would do that? I can tell you, I’d have been back out of that flat faster than Speedy Gonzales, locking it behind me and racing down to the police station. Doesn’t she ever watch those programmes on the TV?

But no, she sat there until (as anticipated) the spooky villain appeared in the flat, terrifying her. Even then, she didn’t dial 999, but called her sister with a tearful warning. He approached: she backed up to the balcony.

Hey! Again! I’d have done everything I could to get back towards the front door, or maybe the kitchen where I could have grabbed a knife to defend myself.

No. She backed up, toppled over the balcony and died from the fall. No clue left as to who he was, no fibres under the fingernails, no blood spatters from even an abortive knife defence, no scribbled note of his name, no thumping on a neighbour’s wall to alert them she was in trouble.

Amazing that Trevor and his team caught the villain in the end at all!

Well, of course, we know that faced with this horror in real life, most of us – I know I would – would be a blubbering wreck, not a calm-thinking, ballsy heroine. So the show was far more true to life than fiction. But with my tongue just slightly in my cheek, how often do we read about the heroine – or hero, for that matter – suffering from the TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) syndrome?

You know how it is. They follow a suspected murdered down a dark lane / into a forest / up the stairs of an abandoned house. They pursue the fleeing villain, never calling for backup, without any weapon, never telling anyone where they are. They open the door that’s been locked for 10 years / they confront the person they think did it / they fall for the suspect who has a very dubious past or unusual obsession… etc etc.

My favourite? Their witness calls and says “I’ll tell you who did it when you get here”. We all *know* that witness will be murdered by the time our hero/heroine gets there. Why on earth don’t they *insist* the witness gives the info over the phone? Or text it? Even the initials? Please? *sigh*


I’ve been accused in the past of daft plot devices, of allowing my heroes to be distracted by Sexy Romance when they should be concentrating on Devious Mystery, of allowing them to Miss The Critical Clue that any reader with half a brain can spot! (though possibly with the benefit of hindsight *heh*). It’s a tricky job to balance romance and mystery and plausibility. Do you have any helpful tips – so I don’t fall for that again?

In conclusion, Authors, heed this warning: “A damsel in distress does not equate to a stupid woman, so a writer must be careful to draw the reader into the experience without insulting her intelligence”. (Suite101.com).

Or maybe just: “Clare, no Sexy Romance when the balcony window curtain is fluttering.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Art, Alligators, Bones, Blazers, Pies, Spies & Shadows: My favorite Middle Grade Mysteries


Last week I was excited to hear that Patricia MacLachlan, the Newbery-winning author of Sarah, Plain and Tall, would be writing a prequel to The Boxcar Children. As a kid I can remember reading those books and getting caught up in the adventures of siblings Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny as they solved mysteries with little or no help from adults. It’s been a very long time since I’ve read those books. But recently I’ve rediscovered my love of children’s mysteries, especially middle grade novels featuring witty, wisecracking kids who solve puzzles in very resourceful ways. If you’re looking for some great mysteries for kids, check out these books:

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City By Kirsten Miller: When 12 year old Ananka Fishbein meets the mysterious Kiki Strike, and subsequently the group of girls (each with a particular talent) who call themselves the Irregulars, they embark on an adventure that involves exploring the Shadow City, a series of tunnels under Manhattan, which pulls them into a plot involving international politics and intrigue.

The Maze of Bones: The 39 Clues No. 1:  By Rick Riordan: Minutes before she died Grace Cahill changed her will, leaving her descendants an impossible decision: "You have a choice - one million dollars or a clue." Now the clues race is on, and young Amy and Dan must decide what's important: hunting clues or uncovering what REALLY happened to their parents.

The Mystery of the Third Lucretia By Susan Runholt: 14 year old best friends Kari Sundgren and Lucas Stickney (a girl) stumble across an international forgery scam that implicates a top Dutch curator, involves a fake Rembrandt, and takes them on an adventure to London, Paris and Amsterdam.

The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour By Michael D. Beil: Three friends find themselves on a scavenger hunt set up for a girl they never met, in search of a legendary ring reputed to grant wishes. Are these sleuths in school uniforms modern-day equivalents of Nancy, Harriet, or Scooby? Not really, they’re just three nice girls who decide to help out a weird lady, and end up hiding under tables, tackling word puzzles and geometry equations, and searching rather moldy storage rooms for “the stuff that dreams are made of”.

Zora and Me By Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon: Whether she’s telling the truth or stretching it, Zora Neale Hurston is a riveting storyteller. Her latest creation is a shape-shifting gator man who lurks in the marshes, waiting to steal human souls. But when boastful Sonny Wrapped loses a wrestling match with an elusive alligator named Ghost — and a man is found murdered by the railroad tracks soon after — young Zora’s tales of a mythical evil creature take on an ominous and far more complicated complexion, jeopardizing the peace and security of an entire town and forcing three children to come to terms with the dual-edged power of pretending.

Stormbreaker: An Alex Rider Adventure By Anthony Horowitz: They told him his uncle died in an accident. He wasn't wearing his seatbelt, they said. But when fourteen-year-old Alex finds his uncle's windshield riddled with bullet holes, he knows it was no accident. What he doesn't know yet is that his uncle was killed while on a top-secret mission. But he is about to, and once he does there is no turning back. Finding himself in the middle of terrorists, Alex must outsmart the people who want him dead. The government has given him the technology, but only he can provide the courage. Should he fail, every child in England will be murdered in cold blood.

Chasing Vermeer By Blue Balliett: When a book of unexplainable occurrences brings Petra and Calder together, strange things start to happen: Seemingly unrelated events connect; an eccentric old woman seeks their company; an invaluable Vermeer painting disappears. Before they know it, the two find themselves at the center of an international art scandal, where no one is spared from suspicion. As Petra and Calder are drawn clue by clue into a mysterious labyrinth, they must draw on their powers of intuition, their problem solving skills, and their knowledge of Vermeer. Can they decipher a crime that has stumped even the FBI?

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie By Alan Bradley: Young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

So what are your favorite childrens and middle grade mysteries?

Angela ; )


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

LEARNING TO BE MEAN OR, NO MORE MRS. NICE GUY



I have a serious problem. I'm too nice.



You see, I was raised to "Be nice," and "Don't talk back," and "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything," and "Don't get dirty." Also, I'm Canadian and frankly, we are very polite.



This attitude sucks when it comes to my stories. Because I don't want my characters to suffer. I don't want anything bad to happen to them. I want to take the roadblocks out of their way and kiss their booboos. And the thought of actually--perish the thought--hurting them makes my stomach clench.



This is not good. I mean, characters have to suffer. They have to overcome obstacles and hardships, the harder the better. Right? After all, who wants to read a story where everything goes well and then they live happily ever after?



Writing has become a constant struggle between my "nice" nature and my story's needs.



I've tried to change. When I turned 40, I decided it was time to fight back against the Mrs.-Nice-Guy Syndrome. Time I stood up for myself. Spoke out when I had an opinion. Stared down my adversaries, if I could find any.



I've been working at it for years but I still apologize to the server when I send a dish back.



Well, this nice thing is going to stop. It's time to get a little dirty. There won't be any more Mrs. Nice Guy here. Not for my characters. And if some of that meanness spills over into my life, well, just stay out of my way and no one will get hurt.



In my next post, I'll let you know how my efforts to become evil are going. I figure I have to be at least as bad as my bad guys to do what needs doing to my characters.



Stay tuned.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Real Life Villains


As a romantic suspense author, I charge myself with creating chilling villains that become real to me and hopefully to my readers. The smarter the villain, the more difficult he or she is to outwit.


But in real life, villains are rarely members of the intelligentsia! I get some great insights into bad guys from my husband, who knows many of them well. He's worked for our county jail (one of the largest in the US) for the past twenty plus years. He's had conversations with some of the worst.


A particularly unsettling thought is all the mentally off-balance people in our midst. Someone we know personally can be a sadistic antisocial, someone who sees himself as above everyone else and takes pleasure in hurting other people. Dependent personalities feel that they need something or someone so much that they will cross any boundaries—including committing murder—to get it.

Many murderers are mentally ill in one way or another but some of the most frightening killers are perfectly sane. They don't grab a lot of headlines. They don't have a group of misguided fans who hope to marry them before they are executed. The most chilling villains are those we don't hear a lot about. They are the thugs who don't think twice about killing a mother and her young children. They are the gang members who challenge their new recruits to knock off a passerby as part of their initiation. And most scary of all, they can be the man or woman next door.


In my upcoming Carina book, Protective Custody, the villain has a Narcissistic Personality. He thinks he's above everyone else and has a total lack of empathy. When the heroine gets in his way, he decides she is disposable. But he enjoys toying with her, so he doesn't want to just kill her quickly and be done with it. I think he's pretty darn frightening.


Who are some of your favorite villains? Do you prefer mentally off balance bad guys or perfectly, chillingly sane ones?







Friday, March 11, 2011

The cost of research

Above my desk, I have a sign that says (in dark, frightening capitals): WRITE - DON’T RESEARCH.
Many people believe that knowledge is free. Take it from me - they’re lying. 
Years ago, researching stuff for my stories was easy. It meant jumping in the car and driving to the local library. I’d set off with a long list of questions and return home with a long list of answers. Easy and inexpensive. 
These days, when anything I need to know is only a couple of mouse clicks away, it costs me a small fortune.
This isn’t to say I have anything against research. I know it’s a necessary tool for a writer. We all have to get our facts straight, right? Write about what you know, they say. Well, yes, I wish I could, but it’s not every night that a murderer drops in for dinner. 
Like it or not, every writer has to do some research. And for me, it’s frighteningly expensive.
Take yesterday, for example. I was working on an outline for a future Dylan Scott mystery. The story involves a brief (very brief) mention of a rented beach cottage in France so, of course, I needed to check it out, didn’t I? Two hours later, I’m telling my husband that I’ve found the perfect place for our next holiday.
For a book with my other publisher, I needed to find out all I could about expensive, handmade chocolates. My bank account - and waistline - is still recovering from that particular piece of research.
Another idea I have involves a wine connoisseur and that’s a truly terrifying thought…
What about you? How do you cope with research? Are you good - or does your credit card take a hammering?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

PANTSER VERSUS PLOTTER, WHICH ARE YOU?

Well, I've been finishing up the character profiles for my WIP, a paranormal suspense story and trying to get down to some serious writing. First chapter is done, and I'll be starting on chapter 2 today, after the day job and once I've gone and worked out at my local Curves.

I've done a mini-outline so that I know where I'm at least beginning the story. I don't always write up an outline/synopsis of any sort when I'm writing, but for some reason this story just seemed to need it, so that's what I've done.

I'm not a "pantser" or a "plotter" per se. I'm basically a hybrid of the 2. I'll get the idea for a story, that kernel where the spark or inspiration comes from. I'll try to get that written down quickly, because if I don't, it will sometimes go out into the ether, never to be seen again. Then I'll try to do some character development, getting to know the heroine, the hero, and the villain. Then it's a lot of seat-of-the-pants writing, hoping that the story will flow.

Whenever it doesn't, or I hit a roadblock, that's when I'll start outlining pertinent areas. The things I want to happen or the locations I know will be in the book. Sometimes this will be enough to break the logjam and get things rolling again. Other times, my procrastination gene kicks in, and I'll let things sit for weeks at a time without every sitting down to the computer (or even picking up pen and paper). That's when it's really hard to get back into the flow, at least for me.

I find that if I write on a fairly consistent basis (or try to), the story seems to appear on the page much easier. If I take long breaks in between, it's much more difficult to get the rhythm back that was there in the beginning.

So, which type of writer are you? Do you plot every move of your story before you begin? Or do you just let the words flow and like the surprise of what comes from that?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Beats me. I just stand still for a few minutes and am inundated with them.


Hello – I’m Janis Patterson, an author new to Carina. I’ve published many things under the name Janis Susan May, but as I’m now specializing in mysteries, I’m using the name Janis Patterson. THE HOLLOW HOUSE, a cozy mystery set in 1919 Denver, should be out from Carina Publishing early this fall. It’s my very first book with Carina! I’m thinking of using the teaser line, “When a murder is committed in her employer’s house, Geraldine Brunton must solve the crime to hide the fact she herself is a killer.”


So – back to ideas. So many people ask me where I get them and I don’t know how to answer, as I have no clue. Everything is an idea. Look around you. Every item, every person can be the springboard for an idea… if you look at them right.


There’s a car with a crumpled fender. Was there an accident? Was he hit deliberately? Did he run away from an accident? Was his car stolen, damaged then dumped? How would these affect him?


There’s a woman in a very expensive dress but wearing cheap, ugly shoes. Why? What does that say about her? Did she rush to dress this morning, her mind on other things? Is she really broke and making a last desperate attempt to get a good job? Did she steal the dress she is wearing? Is she just an eccentric who doesn’t give a flip?


See? The world is full of ideas if you will just look a little bit beyond what you see.


But… repeat after me. An idea is not a plot. An idea is not a plot. An idea is not a plot.


An idea is part of a plot.


An idea is essential to a plot.


An idea by itself is not a plot.


For a plot you need lots of ideas – hundreds of them, all braided together to form a cohesive story. And everything in your life is a potential idea.


For example – about a year ago The Husband and I were stranded in San Francisco airport when an accursed airline which shall remain nameless as I am afraid of libel cancelled a flight even as they were loading our luggage on the plane. The earliest we could get out was some twelve hours later. (We were lucky – some people next to us were unable to get out for two days!) And ours wasn’t the only flight that aforementioned accursed airline cancelled. The airport was full of very unhappy people.


The Husband is a Captain in the Navy, so we went to the USO, where he promptly went to sleep. I looked at a few magazines, then started to think. An airport full of angry people, a wife stranded in a USO… Hmmm.


From that unfortunately commonplace episode grew the short story DANGER FROM WITHIN. It is about a Navy wife (no surprise, that) who is trapped in a USO by a storm that closes the airport. There is a threat by terrorists, a murder in a locked room full of motivated suspects and a victim who most definitely needed killing. Wonderful fun! And it all started with a cancelled flight. The story appears in the anthology MURDER TO MIL-SPEC.


Commercial: MURDER TO MIL-SPEC is a very special charity anthology done by the magnificent Tony Burton of Wolfmont Publications. Every year he does a crime anthology on one theme or another and all the proceeds are donated to a specific charity. For the last few years it has been Toys For Tots. MURDER TO MIL-SPEC benefits Homes For Our Troops, that wonderful organization which remodels/builds homes for catastrophically injured military people coming home from the war. The authors and the publisher donate their work, the readers get a good bunch of stories and a great deal of money goes to a good charity. It’s a win-win situation.


So where did the idea for THE HOLLOW HOUSE come from? (By the way, I’m told it should be released in October – I can’t wait.) To be quite honest, I have no idea where 1919 came from. It just seemed to fit, being a time of great grief (World War I had just ended, as had the flu epidemic that killed almost as many civilians as the War had soldiers) and a time of great excitement and hope for the future. I won’t give anything away about the story, but the flawed, courageous heroine was based in one particular part on a woman I knew a long time ago. I started to wonder ‘What if…?’ and I was lost. From those two small germs of ideas grew a book that simply begged to be written.


My second book with Carina is a novella called LURE OF THE MUMMY (under the name Janis Susan May, due out sometime this fall) and I can tell you exactly where the basic idea came from on that. In Salima Ikram’s book about sacred animal mummies there is the picture of a rather battered cat mummy. The poor thing is one of the scariest images I’ve ever seen, and as soon as I saw it I had the spark of an idea that grew into my novella. Can’t tell you any more without giving away the story!


So, you see ideas are everywhere. We’re all surrounded by hordes of them every day. What makes the difference is how you see them and what you do with them.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Interview of Deborah Nemeth: Acquiring and Editing Romantic Suspense and Mystery stories for Carina Press

For my blog-spot this month I interviewed my brilliant and talented Carina Press editor, Deborah Nemeth. Any mistakes are mine :)

1.      What are you not seeing enough of in Romantic Suspense/Mystery? What are you seeking to acquire?

A:  I’d really like to see more mysteries overall, including cozies and private detective novels such as Shirley Wells’s Presumed Dead. I’m also actively seeking steampunk mystery romances similar to Bonnie Dee’s Like Clockwork and Robert Appleton’s The Mysterious Lady Law, and romantic suspense with strong mystery elements like your own Sea of Suspicion and Storm Warning.

           
I don’t get a lot of thriller submissions, and I’d welcome more of them. I’d also love to edit more lighthearted capers, along the lines of Amy Atwell’s Lying Eyes.

          
Interesting settings appeal to me, and so do other eras and characters from other cultures, so I’d love to acquire some interracial/multicultural projects as well as mysteries/romantic suspense in unusual locales/time periods. This could be anything from a remote lighthouse setting to a dystopian, space opera, futuristic or historical mystery. I enjoy all periods from ancient to twentieth century, and I’m excited about an upcoming World War II-set m/m mystery by Josh Lanyon, Snowball in Hell. I also enjoy Gothic mysteries such as Shelley Munro’s Georgian-set historical mystery romance, The Spurned Viscountess.

         
I should clarify that this is just what I’m looking for. Carina Press has 13 other editors and our tastes cover the gamut, so there’s an editor for any subgenre you can think of.

2.      What are you seeing too much of right now in RS/M?

A:  I wouldn’t say too much, but I do see a lot of romantic suspense submissions with conspiracy plots and serial killer/arsonist/stalker/rapist villains in various contemporary American urban settings. And mysteries/suspense that open with a prologue in the villain’s point of view. Of course, any of these can work, given a fresh twist and strong writing.

3.      Roughly what percentage of submissions do you receive per month that are romantic suspense or mysteries?

A:  About 12-15% of the submissions I receive are either romantic suspense or mysteries. And my projects reflect that, since 15% of them are the same genres. This might not be reflective of Carina Press overall, since the various freelance editors have different genre preferences.

4.      On average, how many pages do you read before you know (as in getting that tingle) whether or not you have found something you want to acquire?

A:  I often get a tingle on the first page, but even though I may love an author’s voice, I won’t know until I’ve read the entire manuscript to make sure the conflict, plot and character arcs hold up.

5.      Have you ever fought for an acquisition and lost?

A:  I’ve recommended a few mystery/suspense projects that weren’t acquired. A member of the Carina Press acquisition team must vet and recommend each acquisition. I once liked a British cozy mystery with an oddball middle-aged hero whose character and profession/hook just didn’t appeal to the others, and another romantic suspense project that would have required a lot of work. Sometimes the team will suggest we do a revision letter, inviting the author to resubmit with changes.

6.      Obviously RS & M can be very different beasts. Can you tell me what the most important aspect of a RS is? And a Mystery? And can the two be blended successfully?
In a mystery, the focus is typically reflective, the appeal cerebral, to discover whodunit and whydunit. We don’t always have action or danger in a mystery, although we usually get both at the climax.
In suspense, the protagonists are in danger of their lives, and we usually expect some action. The focus is on surviving, and stopping a villain. Its success depends on creating emotion in the reader. We need more pulse-pounding moments in a suspense novel than in a mystery. The odds against the protagonist’s survival need to grow as we reach the story’s climax.
In romance, the focus is on the development of the romantic relationship between the hero and heroine. The existence of a romantic suspense subgenre is evidence of how successfully these two can be blended. Mystery and romance don’t always mesh together as well, but some authors can pull it off. Josh Lanyon has brilliantly combined the two in his upcoming release, Snowball in Hell, about a police lieutenant and a crime reporter in LA during WWII.

Generally the story is either primarily a mystery with strong romantic elements, or primarily a romance. Your novel Sea of Suspicion succeeds as both, but the romance focus slightly outweighs the mystery, while in Clare London’s Blinded by His Eyes, the mystery takes center stage, with the romance playing a strong supporting role.


7.      I’ve heard tell that the success of romance stories hinges on the hero—any thoughts?

A: I agree that most female romance readers prefer a hero they can fall in love with, like I did with your Nick Archer in Sea of Suspicion. A romantic hero needs to be flawed but larger-than-life and have appealing aspects. He needs to care passionately about his goals, whatever they are. Ultimately, we need to see that he’s exactly who the heroine needs to be happy.


 8.      What draws you into a suspense story?

A: The same types of things draw me into a suspense story that draw me into any submission—a great voice, fully developed and strongly motivated characters, an intriguing premise/hook. Beyond that, a suspense author must be skilled at creating and sustaining tension. Pacing and emotion are very important elements in suspense.

9.      Favorite romantic suspense and mystery authors (not including your own authors)?

A: This is really tough but I’d probably go with Ngaio Marsh. I also love Mary Stewart, Elizabeth George, Martha Grimes, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Jacqueline Winspear, Ellis Peters, P.D. James, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham and of course Dame Agatha.

10.  Sexuality in RS and Mystery. Are you seeing any changes in reader trends do you know?

A: Romances overall contain more heat than in years past, and erotic romance remains popular—but I think it’s easier to pull off an erotic contemporary, historical, SF or paranormal than an erotic romantic suspense. In RS, the romantic relationship develops in the crucible of danger and perhaps also suspicion. In an erotic romance, the relationship develops through sex, and if you’re combining the two, it’s difficult to balance the focus. You need to take your time with lovemaking scenes for them to be truly erotic, and this can cause problems of pacing and timing in a suspense novel.

I have no expectation for the sexual content of a submission, unless it’s an erotic romance submission. The level of heat must be dictated by what the story needs and how the author wishes to tell it.

11.  And onto the negative…What elements are grounds for immediate rejection? Pet peeves?

A: One of my pet peeves is a lot of exposition in the first scene. I don’t necessarily immediately reject, but it’s a huge strike against, and unless there’s a strong reason for me to keep reading (maybe I’ve enjoyed books by this author before, or it’s a highly recommended referral, or the author has a great voice and a terrific premise), I will probably reject. Another pet peeve is an author who behaves badly online. I’m unlikely to be interested in a submission from an author who rants or is inconsiderate to readers, reviewers and other authors.

I have some personal dislikes, but I’d never reject an otherwise promising submission based on my own taste without first passing it on to another editor. For instance, I can be very squeamish about violence to children, depending on how it’s handled, so if a story involves molestation, killing or torture of a child in a way I can’t stomach, I might pass it along to a CP editor who’s more receptive to that subject matter.

In most cases, when I’m reading a submission, it simply comes down to whether the story holds my attention. If it’s hard for me to put down, and I find myself thinking about it when I’m cooking or driving, that’s a good sign.

12.  What do you like best about your job? Least?

My least favorite part of the job is rejecting a submission—especially a manuscript from one of my authors, or from a referred author, or a revised-and-resubmitted one. But the upsides of editing make up for this.

I love discovering new voices and working with authors, who constantly amaze me with their creative imaginations. If I spot a problem in a story, such as with the conflict or motivation, or the clues not quite adding up the right way, I’m always impressed by the clever solutions writers dream up. It’s so rewarding to see a ms go from its raw state to the polished product, and see my authors garner well-earned reviews and awards. It’s also a great feeling when I receive a submission in my inbox from someone who was referred by one of my authors.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I Need A Hero

People often ask me why it is that I love writing suspense novels. My every day response is that I like action and adventure. I get a thrill out of the roller coaster ride of emotions that comes from not knowing if the characters, or the world for that matter, will survive.

But lately I’ve been giving that answer some thought. I’ve been looking all around me at what’s happening in the world and it occurred to me that the reason I write suspense is quite different.

I write suspense novels because I need a hero. I need to know that amidst all the turmoil and evil someone can rise up who will stand for what is right and who will ultimately triumph.

Whether that hero is your strong silent alpha male or a kick-ass heroine, I thrive on forcing them to face not only physical peril, but emotional challenges in order to be able to achieve that triumph over evil and the happily-ever-after that we all love so much.

What about you? What is it that you like so much about suspense novels?

Caridad Pineiro's next romantic suspense release is THE FIFTH KINGDOM,
available in July from Carina Press. Here's a short excerpt for you!

Prologue

The force of the blow rattled her teeth and snapped her head back.

Dr. Miranda Adams reluctantly brought her head forward once more, tonguing the inside of her cheek to gauge the damage as the metallic taste of blood filled her mouth.

She had been stupid to think she could lose her pursuers in the Sunday crowds in Chapultepec Park. Even more brainless to think that a floppy straw sombrero and big sunglasses would let her blend into the throng of locals.

Her disguise had only screamed turista even louder.

For the last two days she had been paying the price for that stupidity, she thought, her brain slightly muzzy from the last blow. Her body aching from the combination of physical beatings and confinement to the hard wooden chair.

“Where is the tomb and what is in it?” her inquisitor asked in Spanish, fists clenched at his sides, but ready to lash out at her if she should fail to answer yet again.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, just as she had been saying for the last forty-eight hours, not that he believed her.

Not that he should.

She knew full well what he was talking about–the tomb of Montezuma, one of the last emperors of the Aztecs.

She knew full well where it was and the secrets it hid, not that she would tell him. She had discovered only days earlier that he was the head of the local Primera Mexica cell and with a group that dangerous, she could not trust him. As long as she kept the secret, she would live. The moment she told them...

“You leave me little choice,” Javier Ramirez replied. He inclined his head in the direction of the far side of the basement where they were holding her captive. A plain wooden table sat close to the cinder block wall and beside it was a small cart where she could discern a car battery, jumper cables and a bucket.

Fear crawled along her nerve endings as one of the men approached, untied her from the chair and then dragged her to the table.

She fought him, digging her heels into the soft dirt of the basement floor, using her greater height to try and escape from his grasp by jerking her body to and fro, but he was short, thickly muscled and stable on his feet. He didn’t even wobble as she struggled in vain against the hold he had on her.

Apparently tired of her resistance, he enveloped her in his stocky arms, nearly stealing her breath with the pressure of his grip. He hauled her the last few feet to the table and unceremoniously tossed her onto the top of the rough wooden surface. A moment later he was tying her arms and legs to the four table legs.

Her inquisitor approached, but as he did so, Javier gestured to her with his hand and another assistant quickly removed her boots and socks and pulled out a large knife.

She bit back any show of fear, but jumped a little when the man slipped the knife beneath the front hem of her cotton blouse. The metal was cold beside her skin. With one quick swipe he sliced open the front of her shirt. She had no doubt what they planned for her, but she once again reminded herself that they needed her alive in order to find the tomb.

Her captor must have seen the determination in her eyes.

Javier picked up the ends of the jumper cables and inched closer until she could smell the cheap cologne that failed to hide the rank odor of his body.

“Do not fool yourself, Dr. Adams. Sometimes life is severely overrated as you’ll soon discover.”

When he pulled away, someone tossed the water that had been in the bucket over her body. The welcome respite that the chill wetness brought from the Mexican summer heat was short-lived. Her assailant touched both ends of the jumper cables together and sparks flew into the air.

She sucked in a breath, girding herself for the first sharp blast, but nothing could have prepared her for the jolt. Her body jerked spasmodically, every nerve ending springing to painful life.

After Javier broke the contact of the jumper cables against her body, she sagged onto the tabletop, her muscles twitching while she sought to recover.

“Where is the tomb, Dr. Adams?” Javier asked once more and brought the jumper cables near, touching them together to send another shower of sparks through the air.

Miranda thought of the tomb and of the sun stone within it. Thought of how long she had searched for the burial place of Montezuma and what she had sacrificed for its discovery.

Her career.

Her husband and daughter.

The happy life she had once had.

Because of that she was certain of one thing–it would take a lot more than this to make her reveal the secret for which she had already paid so dearly.

“Sorry, amigo. I seem to be having a little problem with my memory lately.”

The shock this time was not as unexpected, but he kept the cables against her wet skin longer.

Much longer.

Javier kept her jumping and dancing at the end of the cables like some grotesque marionette until her body and brain overloaded, shutting down her senses in self-defense.

She sagged against the table, no longer feeling any pain. No longer aware of what was being done to her. The only thought remaining in her brain...

You cannot tell them the secret of the tomb.

It was the only thing of value she had left in her life.