Thursday, 30 June 2011

A Wikipedia Entry for Mar Preston

It seems very presumptuous to enter myself in Wikipedia but I'm answering the challenge that was posed. Please comment on my entry.

I'm curious to see how others answer.

Good wishes all,


Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Writer as Entrepreneur by Mar Preston

If you're a very new author like me, you find promoting yourself second in dread only to a spinal tap, a baby shower, and a tax audit-all on the same day.

NO DICE, my first mystery, could sink like a stone unless I act way out of my comfort zone. That means self-promotion. I'm aleady over my allowance of shy attacks for the month.

But something has happened that changed the way I think about myself. I'm defining myself now as an entrepreneur.

I found Women's Economic Ventures-an organization here in Southern California 'dedicated to creating an equitable and just society through the economic empowerment of women.' I know they must have opportunities like this in Canada.

Twenty-seven budding entrepreneurs, and none of them authors, have met four times. the initial ripple of uneasiness and plain fear has been trasformed into a can do optimism at the end of every class. We leave on a high.

We will try to pin down our brand in the fluctuationg publishing marketplace, create a marketing plan, produce financials, and a business plan. Subjects I never could have imagined myself being interested in.

But I want to learn how to earn a modest income as an author who is in business for herself. I have other books I want to publish.

A consultant has gently guided my down the path of assembling the rudiments of self-promotion. That includes a blog (not this one) embedded in a website, and supported by business cards and bookmarks, an e-newletter, as well as a Facebook fan page. It's all there at

What has helped me most in the class so far is learning techniques of time management. Last week I found myself combing the fringe on the rug to delay writing the next chapter. Have I mentioned Spider Solitaire? It has to stop.

This entrepreneurship class takes into account the emotions that go along with assuming the huge risk of indenturing yourself to the vision of being your own boss.

After all, as authors, we are in business. Publication is only the first step.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Reality Blog Challenge #2

Writers know, for research, that Wikipedia is a critical tool. Readers know this too. Whether it’s to determine the real names behind Ellery Queen, or the pseudonym for Ruth Rendell, or the order of those Sookie Stackhouse novels, Wikipedia is the easiest way to find the answer.

Marketing savvy authors have Wikipedia pages. Twist Phelan’s is a fine example. Her content is intriguing, yet not all that personal. Read her page. Did you notice she does not provide where she lives or her age?

A Wiki entry can also be full of connections to other sites. The page for Robert Crais is rich with these.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to create your own Wikipedia entry. When you’ve got it up do a short post with the link so we can all check it out!

Be sure to use a great photo. Include links to your website, reviews, your publisher…check out your favourite authors and take your favourite features from their page, for your own!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Challenge #1 The Art of Simplicity

“He was lost.”

That’s it. That’s how Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn begins.

If that doesn’t draw you in, I don’t know what will. Sometimes the best books begin with the most straightforward statements.

Or, how about Val McDermid’s first line in Fever of the Bone: “It all comes down to blood in the end.”

‘Simple is best’ has long been the maxim for most things in life. Why argue with some of the genre’s finest??

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Just Desserts

The closest my mother would get to science fiction was Star Trek. Most science fiction, in her opinion, was nihilistic and depressing. I tried to persuade her otherwise - with no success. There were no guarantees that she wouldn’t find the book too scary. Yet she surrounded herself with murder, mayhem and deceit - in a word, mysteries.

I grew up surrounded by my mother’s collection of mystery books. Some of the books by Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, and Ngaio Marsh had come with her from England before I was born. Other authors, like Ruth Rendell and Rex Stout she discovered since emigrating. I fed her addiction by introducing her to Sue Grafton and Charlotte Macleod, but I never really understood it until I had a few more years of life experience under my belt.

Unlike science fiction, you know a solution will be found in a mystery. No other genre of fiction guarantees that. Life sure as hell doesn’t!

Perhaps that is why, as much as I enjoyed reading them, I didn’t have the urge to write mysteries until after my mother died and I was dealing with the slow demise of my sister and poor health of my father.

There had always been an element of mystery in Under A Texas Star, but with my new-found enthusiasm for mystery-writing, I went over the manuscript making sure that it fulfilled the needs of a mystery. Were there enough clues? Enough red herrings? Was the investigation plausible? When the villains got their just desserts, was it satisfying?

That’s the true delight in a mystery - seeing the justice served in what often seems like an unjust world. And who doesn’t enjoy dessert?

Alison Bruce

What is your favourite example of "just desserts"?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Time and Place

The ubiquitous “they” contend writers should stick to what they know; a place with which they are familiar, and a time period to which they can readily refer. So what about all those historical mystery writers who choose to set their work during medieval times, during wars and battles long past? Or place their work in eras where details can be tricky to find and references to politics, daily life and livelihood are crucial to the story?

Ellis Peters did it beautifully; Michael Jecks, P.C. Doherty, Charles Todd and Peter Tremayne all do it, too. Doherty and Tremayne have academic backgrounds, perhaps making their chosen time periods a natural choice.

The rest of us? I’d have to reach into the 6th century were I to try and base a mystery on what I really know and have studied. Written documentation about life among everyday folk is pretty thin on the ground, most of it coming from monastic sources, and would probably not be truly reflective of the lives of those who had neither the means nor knowledge to record their lives. Feeling truly immersed and comfortable with the customs and way of life would surely be a daunting task for a writer.

Getting the writing done can be a challenge in itself. But worrying about niggling details, precise facts and the exact atmosphere of the place you’re writing about can make the work a real adventure.

Is historical accuracy important? I’d say so. I’ve heard academic historians say they couldn’t read certain mystery authors due to flawed details and facts. But while accuracy is key, so is atmosphere, the place where the tale is set.

Two recently read books stand out as examples that nail time and place: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ book, ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ evokes the place; “As the mail boat lurched into the harbor, I saw St. Peter Port rising up from the sea on terraces, with a church on the top like a cake decoration ….’ And the book doesn’t neglect time, either: “Hitler was fanatic about fortifying these islands – and England was never to get them back,” writes one of the book’s characters.

Anne Perry’s latest mystery offering, ‘Treason At Lisson Grove’ continues with the author’s excellent knowledge of the Victorian era and its societal restrictions and proprieties. She has also written a series of World War I novels that slides readers into the horror of the conflict and its trench warfare.

For anyone interested in the hows and whys of historical or other mysteries, Mystery Readers Journal, edited by Janet Rudolph, would be very helpful. Back issues include African Mysteries, Island Mysteries, Scandinavian Mysteries, History Mysteries, Mysteries Set in Italy – and many other locales. The current issue deals with London Mysteries I. It, along with some back issues of the journal can be downloaded as a PDF for a $6.50. See

Or, for $39, North American readers may subscribe: See

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Tyranny of the Blank Page

It is so intimidating to begin. When the page is blank it is so full of possibilities. Every word written diminishes your options. It's not only intimidating, it's disheartening. What helps you when you're facing that page? I've developed two separate files on my computer that help me. One is encouragement - quotes on creativity. The other is instruction - descriptions of their process as shared by writers I admire.

At the moment my favorite (paraphrased) quote on creativity is:

What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will
close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
Ira Glass, host of This American Life.

You can find a link to the video here:
He recommends giving yourself deadlines. He recommends COMPLETING work. I find him inspiring, I hope you do too.

In the second category of support for my writing (instruction): I want to learn from the best. I recently discovered the Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. I recommend her books to everyone. They are amazing. Operatic in scope, human in a way that will touch you. The author recently posted about reading order on her MySpace page. Essentially she grouped the books by story arc. I read them beginning with Shards of Honor and then continuing chronologically (as they are listed from # 3 onwards in, then add the most recent novel, Cryoburn.) I read them obsessively through December and January, and then read Falling Free and Dreamweaver's Dilemma at the end, when I was desperate for more. If you like science fiction then I think that order works wonderfully. If you will only read mystery then I would start with omnibus book The Borders of Infinity, which gives you a nice mystery in the novella, "The Mountains of Mourning." I would then read from Brothers in Arms forward. They could all be classed as types of mystery (from espionage to straight mystery) from there to the end, if you take them in story arcs. (For instance the mystery in A Civil Campaign is slight - the book is more about political maneuvering. However, if you treat Komarr and A Civil Campaign as one story, then it is essentially a mystery; one which also examines the natural aftermath of investigating a crime and then having most of the information on that crime classified, so that it cannot be openly discussed.)

Having read Bujold, I despaired. Her sheer talent seems so far beyond what I could reach. Then I read a bit of an interview in which she talked about her writing process. She imagines one or two scenes at a time, works through them in her mind, then captures what she imagined on paper. It explains why her books move from one powerful scene to the next, why there are so many scenes you go back to re-read (and then find yourself re-reading the rest of the book because you cannot stop). I'm going to try her process...and keep Ira Glass's advice in mind!

So my question to you would be, what helps you keep writing?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Reality Blog Challenge #1

Can you feel my words wrapping around your neck, a noose of meaning pushing against your trachea, focusing your attention on their very existence and how they have taken your breath away?

The opening line of any writing is very important. With mysteries, it can also immediately create suspense or just be wicked good fun.

The first sentence can establish an instant connection with the reader. Take Pari Noskin Taichert‘s beginning in The Socorro Blast:

If hell exists, it’s filled with old boyfriends…and a cat.

Just from those 11 words, I bought the book!

Wayne Arthurson began Fall From Grace with:

“Do you want to see the body?”

The speaker of these words is not identified in this first line. So a reader wants to know who is saying this. Yes, I’m taking it for granted we mystery lovers were expecting a body, and frankly are delighted to have found one so soon! Wayne earned bonus points with me, because, having read the book, I know these words actually drive a great deal of the plot, suspense and character. Who can resist wanting to read more?

Your challenge, should you choose to rise to it….Find and post a gripping first line from a mystery.

I encourage all of our team to rally around good examples or razz any weak ones. Deadline is June 27th.

With this dare, I hereby relax the verbal rope snaked about you. As your heart pounds and your lungs fill, remember the thrill. Go forth and seek it anew!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Action First

“Write what you know dear.”

Umm, maybe.

But maybe that works better for more ‘literary’ novels than our favourite mystery genre.

Literary novels in fact are often very factual, very much based on what the writer actually does know and the kind of people he or she hangs out with. Alas, most writers live ordinary lives. They pick their kids up from daycare, win or lose at office politics and worry about their sex lives or who’s cutting the grass. They aren’t captains of industry, showgirls, women police officers, private investigators or SAS Special Forces parachute jumpers deployed behind enemy lines. Sometime it is hard to care in much contemporary literary fiction whether the boy will get the girl and a job at the plant or the lady with the green flowered curtains wins the bakeoff down on the farm or leaves her husband.

But mystery or suspense authors grapple with life and death, betrayal and honor in darkly compelling settings most of us writers, like most readers, will never inhabit. As a kid I fought giant snakes with Bomba the Jungle Boy, and escaped danger piloting a speedboat with Frank and Joe Hardy. I was also presented at Napoleon's court with Desiree and later married the king of Sweden. Action and adventure, outsize settings like jungles and palaces, hospital emergency rooms or parliament let you dream a little bigger whatever your age.

Because the more important half of “write what you know” is write characters that you know, characters with flaws, ambitions, illicit desires, feelings of loss, joy and satisfaction. Then place those characters in exciting situations and watch things start to boil.

When you give your readers a tantalizing puzzle to solve, life and death situations plus scenery or even fashion then you capture their attention so together you can delve into your characters’ hearts and the myriad decisions they, and we, make each day for good or ill. Those are the memorable stories, when you write what you know.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Hard Core Mystery Writer Defects to Soft Core Sizzle

by Melodie Campbell

Sizzling suspense, not erotica.  Rowena Through the Wall may be hot, but there’s plenty of plot in this adventure.  Which brings to mind the topic of novel classification.

We already know the difference between mystery and suspense novels.  In mysteries, the focus is (usually) on the solving of the crime.  In suspense novels, the crime (usually) hasn’t happened yet, and the focus is on the threat of danger and the need to escape from it.  But other genres cross over, and can appeal to a variety of reading markets.

So what makes the difference?  How do you define what genre a novel fits into?  I’ve heard it explained this way.  Disassemble the thing. Consider a book that contains both mystery and romance.  Many mystery and suspense novels have a jolt of romance in them.  And romance novels often benefit from suspense in their makeup.  So how do you tell which is which, when it comes to novel classification and market? 

If you take the romance out of a mystery book, do you still have a strong story?  If so, it’s a mystery novel.  On the other hand, if you took the mystery/suspense out of a romance novel, would you still have enough story for a novel?  Then it’s romance.

Rowena Through the Wall is comic paranormal suspense novel, no doubt.  Without the fantasy of falling through the wall to another world, there would be no story.  Would the novel hold together without the sex?  Difficult.  You could do the dot-dot-dot thing and gloss over it, but the theme of several men wanting Rowena feeds the action and drives the conflict in this alternate world.  So…calling this a hot paranormal suspense novel works too.

But what happened to the hard core mystery writer?  She’s still there, working on a second novel called The Goddaughter, a comic crime caper.   At least that one is easy to classify.  But I might sneak some sex in there too.

Melodie’s novel Rowena Through the Wall (Imajin books) is AVAILABLE for $3.99 in ebook on Smashwords, and on Trade paperback to follow in July.  Follow Melodie on

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Introducing...Melodie Campbell

by Wayne Arthurson

I’ve never met Melodie Campbell, but I get a lot of e-mail from her. That’s 'cause Melodie is the General Manager of Crime Writers of Canada, and as a member myself, she sends me information that I need.

Melodie likes to describe herself as a former bank manager, marketing director, association executive, college instructor, and possibly the worst runway model ever. You can also add comedy writer to that and not just because that line is funny. Melodie has this parallel career as a humourist and has written over 100 columns for various North American newspapers. She was the opening speaker for the 1999 Canadian Humour Conference in Hamilton, Ontario, which also proves she’s funny. Check out her humour blog at, if you don’t believe me.

She’s got a comic suspense novel out this month (Rowena Through the Wall) plus she’s had over 30 short stories published, including a few in great magazines such as Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and New Mystery Reader Magazine.

So even though I haven’t met Melodie in person, I like her, and not just because of the membership thing. I know you'll like her, too.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Why Blog?

Recently I was at Left Coast Crime Writers Conference in Santa Fe. I was able to talk to some wonderful writers who shared what they thought every one should know. When Charlie Newton told me to set up a blog, I wasn't sure I could do it.

Now I believed his advise was sound, I just wasn't sure I could do it. I'm not the most technical person in the world, so where would I go to set up a blog?  How do I find other writers who were interested in a blog? And what type of a blog would it be?

Luckily for me I was sharing a room with Janet Costello and we talked about the merits of a blog and she came up with the reality blog idea. Absolute brillliance.

When we got home we asked serveral authors to join in the fun and the blog was born.

My next question was what would we all blog about?

Because we have such a diverse group, we have a diverse blog. Some of the writers are funny, some are serious, but everyone is interesting and brings their uniqueness to the group.
My problem will be to keep up with the brilliance of the others.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Character Is Key

Heather Mac Archer is bang on when she says suggests some of the finest literature in the world contains the elements of mystery fiction: from Brontë to Dickens to A. S. Byatt authors give us flawed characters and hide crucial plot elements until the appropriate moment that reveals things we need to know to understand the story and if we are lucky something of ourselves.

Closer to home, we have The Bishops Man by Lyndon McIntyre from last year. As our sisters in crime colleague Rosemary McCracken points out the question of who is the real criminal, the sex offender who has left a trail of broken hearts and suicide in his wake that is at the heart of the novel is only resolved at the very end. So literary fiction and mystery fiction partake of a common heritage and vocabulary. The important thing now is to up our game, do something different as Heather says with living breathing characters acting from a sense of justice.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Pinpointing the protagonist

It could be argued that all works of fiction are mysteries: from Bronte to Fielding, Dickens to Byatt, the finest literature in the world is a collection of words that include a gathering of elements similar to the mystery genre: characters with flaws, origins unknown; enigmatic drama; furtive plot components that wind to a denouement, not necessarily happy, and not necessarily with the sense of justice we wish to find for the characters involved.

But the mystery genre, with its black and white dichotomy of crime and punishment, its sense of right and wrong, is somewhat formulaic and quite unlike any other genre.

Altering the prescribed expectations of whodunits and yet keeping within the format of what the reader wants is where the challenge arises for fledgling crime writers. You don’t want to get mired in the generic aspects of the genus, but you do want to do something different, something that might also catch the eye of an agent so at some point down the road, readers can share your musings.

So, do you create a protagonist so winsome, so droll and intelligent, so wise and knowing that the character alone is irresistible? Maybe. But a regular old Joe or Jill might be a better solution; a central character who struggles with the everyday, just as we do.

My favorite books include diverse and quirky casts of characters with personality flaws and deep-seated troubles: Ian Rankin’s Rebus comes to mind. Martha Grime’s Richard Jury and his sidekick Melrose Plant are others; then there’s Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, and Kate Atkinson’s beset Jackson Brodie. Each struggles with something from the past, an episode or personal tragedy that drives their sense of justice and the need to right wrongs. Those flaws drive the spirit of the books.

Relatively newbie author Elly Griffiths’ protagonist, forensic archeologist Ruby Galloway, has certainly got herself into a delicate dilemma. Unwavering in her professional skills, she is floundering in her personal life as she has had a child with a married police officer with whom she has worked to solve a number of crimes; a touchy matter. She’s an admirable and independent spirit, despite her self doubts.

We’re all weak, strong, adventurous, sedate. If you’re of any age, you’ve seen it all, done most of it, suffered the slings and arrows, rejoiced in life’s good things and figured out a mystery or two of your own.

And so should our protagonists be much like us: fearful and wise, unsure and certain, helpless and strong, funny and sad, and clever enough to make all that’s bad in our mysteries see justice.

Oh yeah. And they should be durable enough to get us through the plot and help us get it ‘write’ to the end!