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Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Mystery of Mysteries, by Mollie Hunt


The mere word brings vivid images of swirling fog and shadowy undercurrent, corpses floating to the surface of a murky river, gunshots in the night. As both a mystery reader and writer, the genre flares my imagination. Where is the body? What will happen next? Whodunit?

But the mystery genre abounds with sub-genres: the thriller, the cozy, the suspense, the romance, and the noir, just to name a few. Last weekend I joined a panel of 10 mystery writers to discuss the topic of our villains. I learned more than I ever expected.


Question no. 1: Who comes to your story first, your hero or your villain? Most agreed it was the hero, especially those who write a series. Coming up with new trouble for a recurrent hero is the objective of an evolving storyline. Some books, however, are built on the actions of the villain; then he (or she) becomes inexorably entwined with the hero and you have a chicken and egg situation. Once in a while, the villain is such a strong character that the hero is almost incidental.


What about gender? Could a writer switch sexes and have the results remain the same? Yes and no. Stereotypes abound, but for a reason: statistically men shoot guns while women poison. Only crazies and historical figures wield knives and blades.


How does location influence a villain’s attributes? Or does it? To some, location is everything – this was my take, since the villain in my mystery Placid River Runs Deep has only left his tiny rural Washington hometown to do a stint in prison for murder; naturally when he is ready to kill again, he returns to his roots. Other writers, however, said their villain(s) could kill anywhere. The socio/psychopath who takes lives for reasons known only to themselves may know no boundaries.


Speaking of boundaries, what challenges or boundaries do the different mystery genres generate? The writers of cozies need to offer an engaging mystery without the use of disturbing sex or violence (and no harsh language, please!). The noir, characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity, is bound by those terms. The thriller knows no such constraint, and often grislier is better.

Are there crimes your villain couldn’t or shouldn’t commit? All 10 writers across all genres agreed on this one: Never kill the cat or dog.

Check out more blogs by Mollie Hunt at:
Happy reading!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Kids, Garbage & Dogs

Years ago when I was busy raising my six children (and tearing my hair out most days), I had a friend whose favorite saying was, "Kids, garbage and dogs." It was her belief that the greatest source of trouble between neighbors was--you guessed it--kids, garbage or dogs. 

Or, all of the above.

Especially in the days of 33 gallon garbage cans, if a neighbor left the lid loose, or over-filled it so the lid would not fit, or it got tipped over by the local dogs in search of the tasty garbage treat they could smell inside, one could find trash strewn all over the front lawn and down the block. If you think the garbage truck driver was going to pick it up, guess again. If the can was tipped over, he might not even take what was left in the can. And, if you think that the neighbor whose dog tipped over your can was going to pick up the garbage strewn across THEIR yard, think again.

Then there are dogs that bark and howl all day and especially all night. Or, the neighbors let them out early in the morning so they can poop on YOUR lawn for YOU to clean up instead of keeping the mess in their own yard.

As for kids, it would take volumes to discuss the kind of trouble they can cause between neighbors. As the mother of six children, trust me on that.

On the other hand, when it comes to writing, kids and dogs, especially, can provide important elements to your story. There is a reason they turn up in supporting roles to the main characters in so many books and movies.

Dogs are loyal.

Dogs are loving.

Dogs can warn of danger.

Dogs are protective.

Dogs are playful.

Dogs can get their masters or mistresses into all kinds of trouble as well as out of it.

Then there is the cuteness factor.

If you want to add that emotional element that can only be filled by a non-human, consider adding a dog as one of your characters.

Another cuteness factor is children. Children are small, vocal beings with minds of their own. They usually don't think in the same terms as adults, which is what makes their voices so refreshing.

And honest.

Or humorous.

Or profound.

Or entertaining. 

Don't want your adult characters to start taking themselves too seriously? Add a kid as a supporting character. The child will keep the adults on their toes and add that emotionally satisfying element that only non-adult characters can provide.

In all fairness, although cats are not part of the saying, it may not hurt to throw one or more into the mix every now and then. 

Cats have different personalities and traits than dogs. 

Cats are independent.

Cats are territorial, but they don't recognize the same boundaries that humans do. (I hate it when the neighbor's cat comes into MY yard and picks a fight with MY cat...)

People don't own cats; cats choose their owners.

Case in point, several years ago I rescued a half-starved, half-grown kitten who had been abandoned by a neighbor who moved out in the middle of the night. It showed up on our front porch and I fed it. Within hours, it was in the house. I foolishly declared that now I have a cat; Archie was mine.

Archie had other plans. He gravitated to my husband, the cat whisperer, just like all the other kitties in the house have.
Another household that lists itself as being headed by a cat.

There is a reason why I chose this cartoon for a humorous break in my genealogy PowerPoint presentation on how census records lead to other records. Those who do not have cats may not get it. Those of us who do understand this cartoon perfectly.

As for the garbage, there is already enough of that out there in the writing world. We don't need any more of it. Like in real life, keep the writing garbage in the can--with the lid on tight.


Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press. 

Please tweet this blog post: 
Add elements to your writing with Kids, Garbage & Dogs @ZinaAbbott #FireStarPress

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

Charles Schulz's Snoopy had many personas, including, but not limited to, World War I Flying Ace, Joe Cool, Legal Beagle, and my favorite, Literary Ace/World Famous Author.  Snoopy considers himself a literary ace, even in the face of the daunting stream of rejection letters he receives for his work, which always seemed to begin with that same, cliched line … 

As the Literary Ace, Snoopy encompasses many of the experiences those of us who write face as we bang away on our typewriters (or computers), hoping for inspiration and that next, big idea.  He is a good reminder not to take ourselves too seriously, not to take rejection personally, and to keep on trying, even in the face of writer’s block, rejection, and negative feedback.

There is a Snoopy cartoon strip that reflects most of the frustrating situations many writers encounter throughout their careers.  In fact, I have recently been finalizing a short story and, every time I read it “for the last time,” I make another edit.  Maybe I'll finish it some day, or maybe continue editing it into infinity.

Since my move to Northern California, I find myself only an hour's drive away from the town Charles Schulz called home for over 30 years, Santa Rosa.  In addition to the whimsical Peanuts statues around the town square,

the town hosts a Charles Schulz Museum that I could not resist taking my dad to visit when he was in town last year, since we both grew up reading and enjoying Peanuts comic strips. 

The museum contains displays and murals of the famous comic strips, an exhibit showing Schulz’s work history in the comics, and even a display of the office where Schulz created much of his art.

This mural is made up of thousands of tiny Peanuts comic strips.

Dad even got some cheap, yet valuable, advice from the expert, herself.

We somehow missed the famous ice rink and the Warm Puppy Cafe, but that’s just an excuse to make another trip.

As I continue to write, I’ll remember the trials and tribulations of Snoopy, Literary Ace, and try to keep a sense of humor!  

Angela Crider Neary is an attorney by day and writer by night. She is an avid mystery reader and especially enjoys reading novels set in interesting locales. She was inspired to write her first mystery novella, Li'l Tom and the Pussyfoot Detective Bureau: The Case of the Parrots Desaparecidos, by one of her favorite areas in San Francisco, Telegraph Hill. To learn more, visit her on Facebook and Amazon.

Monday, March 7, 2016

#NewRelease: DARK MOON RISING by Debut Author Michael Gonzalez

 When a disastrous quake strikes the Moon, only eight survivors remain. One man rises to lead the others to safety, only to discover an alien base beneath the Moon’s surface. Can the small band of humans trust the aliens to help them back to Earth, or will they bring global genocide instead? Will Earth live to see the Dark Moon Rising?

In the beginning...

My first published book, "Dark Moon Rising" began life decades ago when as a child I watched with the eagerness of Christmas as men journeyed to the Moon during the Apollo missions. I sat mesmerized as Neil Armstrong took that "giant leap for mankind."

My fascination with space and space travel never abated. However, I had to put my wild imaginings on hold during the twenty very serious years I spent in the Army.

It was 1998 when I read Asimov's "I Robot" that the thought pierced my mind, "perhaps I could write a fiction story."

Now, don't misunderstand me, I never thought I could be an Isaac Asimov, and in truth I would not want to be. I want to establish my own niche.

Regardless, the story started off, believe it or not, as a World War Two adventure. However, when a friend of mine, also a veteran, read my first fifty chapters he made an interesting observation; “People with a military background will understand you,” he said, “others will be lost.” I reread the thing and discovered I had written for a rather small audience.

So I started over. That original story still exists. But it's saved on a floppy disk!

A short time later I was having a discussion with a California visitor to the museum where I'm employed, and he mentioned the Earthquakes they have there. Somehow that got my imagination creaking forward. The dust and cob webs fell away and before long I started to write.

My wife asked me: why? Did I write in the hope of publication or was I writing for my own amusement? The truth was I had no idea. I did enjoy the writing process and I was relearning a lot of what I been taught in school. Doing the research was time consuming, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately rewarding and always enlightening.

The entire story is not about a single person, or a single place. It is rather the story of a time, a time in the not so distant future.

Our science is, today, close to creating a true quantum computer. Once on line it will be capable of simulated intelligence. It could, through existing networks, take control of all aspects of human life. The worldwide power grid, food distribution, water purification and distribution, communications, everything.

It will have the power to create its next generation of computers, smarter, faster, and build it. This new computer will build its own next generation machine. This process will continue and the machines will reproduce in greater numbers, each smarter than the last. In thirty days’ humans could become ... obsolete.

The only alternative is to insure those computers are … human, with a human since of morality, with human compassion, with human comprehension. And of course, human emotion.

The self-aware thinking machine of the future must be us. As I outlined the entire story I realized that it was longer than just one book.  So I divided it into five sections.

As I wrote I was amazed how the story and the characters developed, morphed, and grew. This happened with each book as I wrote. So the overall story changed as well.

During the process I kept everything on a thumb drive; the story itself, all my notes and research, everything!

Then it happened, as we all knew it would. I left the little drive in the pocket of my shirt and it went into the wash!

My heart stopped as I pulled the dripping little instrument from the pocket of the shirt. There, utterly soaked, was the icon of countless hours of writing and research. Years of my life reduced to a soggy piece of plastic hardware.

I shook it with sufficient "G" force to drive it into the floor like a javelin - then plunged it into a bowl of rice.

I lit a candle, fell on my knees, and prayed for my small piece of technology.

My prayers were answered, and the data remained intact. I then transferred everything to a new thumb drive and learned to back up my precious data on multiple devices.

The day came when I thought I was ready to send my manuscript out to various publishers in both the US and the UK. The result is a collection or rejections from two continents.

Then synchronicity reared its head. Carl Jung defined synchronicity as the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related – but have no discernible causal connection.

The mother of the assistant of the wife of a departed friend of mine was identified to me as an editor. I asked her to read my story and she did. Her suggestion was that I have it professionally edited and suggested Julie Wilcox.

I thought editing would be an exercise in futility, after all I had already self-edited the story dozens of times over the span of several years.

Nevertheless I swallowed my pride and sent the manuscript to Julie.

Upon completion of her work, and the return of the manuscript, I was shocked and amazed at all I had missed, the many errors I had made, the embarrassing misspellings, the not uncommon appearance of poorly constructed sentences. I cannot overstate the importance of a proper editor, it is an absolutely necessity.

When Julie emailed my story back to me she also informed Cheryl Pierson, the editor-in-chief and Co-owner of Prairie Rose Publications. Cheryl is the mother of the assistant of the wife of a departed friend of mine I spoke of earlier. She read the story again and to my great shock offered me a contract!

One of the few compromises I had to make was the book's title, originally I called it, “Under Mare Insularum.” It was pointed out to me that for a large portion of the population that title means nothing. It might as well read, "Ελληνικά για μένα!" She explained that the title had to hint at the story line and entice a fan of science fiction to read the book.

Cheryl has been in the business of publishing far longer than I have been published. As my dad used to say, "Always go with the advice of a professional."

Well, here I am. I am about to be a published author. My next goal is to become a successful published author.

To that end I hope all of you will read my story, and then place a review of it on my website, on Amazon, and all the other various outlets.

I of course hope you will enjoy my story and so sing its praises, this will ensure the publication of the four remaining stories in the "Unborn Galaxy", and open the door for the release of my fantasies and other SF stories.

I can now answer my wife's question, “why?”

I hope to bring people along on the journeys that I have created. I hope, like me, they can escape the surly bonds of Earth and venture away with me to places yet unborn and to lost worlds beckoning to be discovered.

You will have to face the great unknown, there will be danger, new and vicious creatures, evil in many forms. There will also be people of supreme dedication and loyalty among the ranks of the good who stand against evil that it does not thrive.

There will also be love. For wherever humanity goes love always go with it, and that dear reader is the key to our success.

Find Dark Moon Rising on:

Amazon  •  Barnes & Noble  •  Kobo  •  Smashwords


I mentioned Asimov's I, Robot inspired me to begin writing science fiction. What sci-fi story has inspired you in some way? To celebrate the release of my debut novel, I'll give an ebook of Dark Moon Rising to one of the people who answers that question in the comments.


A lifetime spent in the US Army serving his country and its people saw Mike awaking to harsh realities and extreme conditions in forward deployed outposts, on two continents, every morning for twenty years. He took up writing on a whim when friends commented how well he told the stories of his adventures. While writing those stories, he realized, they might be of interest to other veterans with similar histories, but few others. Where might he go, he asked himself, to give vent to his imagination, which by virtue of his profession had be so long imprisoned? Where else might one’s imagination lead but to the doors of science fiction, fantasy, and romance? In these arenas, while leaning on his own experience, he has set his characters to strife beyond the past, and the now, to struggle into the future.

Find Michael on his website, Facebook, and Prairie Rose Publications.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Writing the Dash

The Dash is a well-known poem by Linda Ellis, which you can read HERE. The poem describes how our lives are encompassed by the dash between the dates of our birth and death on our tombstone. However, well before our tombstone comes into play, the obituary announcing our death becomes a summary of how we lived our dash.
The death of my father on February 16th brought home to me just how dry most obituaries are; they tend to be more a recitation of facts rather than a joyous celebration of the life represented. In my opinion, there are two primary reasons for this: First, for the individual(s) writing the obituary, the death of their loved one is still fresh and thinking outside the box is next to impossible when mere thinking is a struggle. Second, I think there is an impression that an obituary must be solemn. I beg to differ. A few days before my father’s death, my husband showed me this obituary. I loved it! Now, this sort of tribute wouldn’t work for straight-laced Aunt June, but shouldn’t your loved one’s obituary be a reflection of who they were?
When I sat down with my sister and my niece to write my father’s obituary, my mind went blank. What information did we need to include? Is there a standard obituary template that needs to be completed? My family teased me, wondering why they were having to help me, a published author, with what was basically a writing project. Well, as I mentioned above, it had been less than eight hours since my father’s death and I was still reeling; I could barely complete a coherent thought much less find a way to sum up the life of the man I loved so dearly. However, as we worked, the facts came together and there was even one sentence that summarized Daddy’s life:
“Jimmy loved woodworking, model trains, gardening, dining at the Cracker Barrel and performed as an extra in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes.”
This was a good start, but for me, it wasn’t quite enough. Yes, Daddy really was an extra in Fried Green Tomatoes, but that was just a one-time thing and while he enjoyed the experience, it was not one of the things that defined him. My brain is always working on my stories, refining and tweaking them long before I ever begin putting them down on paper and it did the same with the obituary. When I went to the funeral home the next day to finalize the arrangements for Daddy’s memorial service, I changed that one line to read as follows:
Jimmy loved woodworking, model trains, African Violets, the Blue Angels, dining at the Cracker Barrel and large strawberry milkshakes with whipped cream and a cherry.”
I love this sentence because it encompasses all of the great loves of my father’s life (outside of his family, of course).
When my brother-in-law died a couple of years ago, we included Pepper, his faithful canine companion among the list of survivors. Allen and Pepper were buddies, it was only right that Pepper be included.
So, I say, if/when you are tasked with writing the obituary for one of your loved ones, let us see who they were. Did your dad complete the crossword puzzle – in INK – every day? Tell us! Did your ninety-three year old grandma routinely kick your ass in Sudoku? Tell us! If you get the honor of writing their dash, let us see how they lived it.

As for me, I want to be remembered as the cool mom and wife who loved video games, fictional characters (find out which ones HERE), writing, and who always kept her family guessing as to what she would do next.

Garrus Vakarian from the Mass Effect video games. Who needs a book boyfriend when you can have a virtual one?
 How do you want to be remembered?

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