On Stepping Out of Time

In 2008, Joanne Guidoccio took advantage of early retirement and decided to launch a second career that would tap into her creative side and utilize her well-honed organizational skills. Slowly, a writing practice emerged. Her articles and book reviews were published in newspapers, magazines, and online. When she tried her hand at fiction, she made reinvention a recurring theme in her novels and short stories. A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne writes cozy mysteries, paranormal romance, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio

Website // Twitter // Facebook // LinkedIn // Pinterest // Goodreads 

A non-athlete, it took me a while to find a preferred physical activity, but once I discovered yoga, I was hooked.

That was nine years ago.

Since then, I’ve gone off the “yoga wagon” several times—interestingly enough right before prolonged writer’s blocks—but have now settled into a practice that both challenges and centers me.

In the early days, I struggled with some of the poses and wondered if I could ever duplicate (or even approximate) the pretzel-like abilities of the lithe and limber instructors. Thankfully, my instructor, who also exuded a Zen-like calm, encouraged me not to give up. I can still recall her advice: “A yoga pose is a journey, not a destination.” How reassuring to learn that I didn’t have to get it right the first time, the second time, or the fourteenth time. What matters is that I find the courage to keep trying and failing.

Relaxing into the slow movements and poses, I have experienced gradual stretching of muscles and improved range of motion. I am amazed by the difference yoga has made in everything from my flexibility to my posture to my enhanced creativity.

Yoga has taught me to be still when I’m uncomfortable and to breathe through the twinges of pains I experience in some of the poses. If the pain persists, however, I know when to stop and try alternate poses or reach for a bolster, strap, or foam block. With my writing, I’m becoming more aware of my limits, realizing when to stay at the edge and when to back off and rest.

The meditative quality of yoga has also helped with my moods. The life of a writer is filled with ups and downs—good and bad reviews, contracts and rejections, flows and blocks—that can be alleviated by a short session on the mat. Those twenty minutes or hour I spend on the mat help quiet my monkey mind and imagine possibilities beyond my present circumstances. At times, the session acts as a writing prompt, and I find myself rushing back to the computer.

I still have my personal challenges, but I am less reactive and more inclined to let things go. Instead, I gravitate toward that beautiful place where I can step out of time and leave all my concerns behind.

Namaste

While not usually a big deal, one overlooked email would haunt teacher Gilda Greco. Had she read it, former student Sarah McHenry might still be alive.

Suspecting foul play, Constable Leo Mulligan plays on Gilda’s guilt and persuades her to participate in a séance facilitated by one of Canada’s best-known psychics. Six former students also agree to participate. At first cooperative and willing, their camaraderie is short-lived as old grudges and rivalries emerge. The séance is a bust.

Determined to solve Sarah’s murder, Gilda launches her own investigation and uncovers shocking revelations that could put several lives—including her own—in danger. Can Gilda and the psychic solve this case before the killer strikes again?

Trailer

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Give a Dog a Job

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about working, service and companion dogs and the parts they play in her Mary McGill series.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest.

http://www.kathleendelaney.net

A little over a year ago my granddaughter decided she wanted to raise a service dog. My oldest daughter had raised a puppy for Guide Dogs as a 4H project and the stories about Kris and Roxie had sparked her imagination, so she got online and researched various options. Ultimately, Believe arrived, an 8 week old bundle of love and destruction.

Canine Companions, the organization who breeds and places the dogs in the hands of people who need them after they are fully trained, had a list of goals that my granddaughter and Believe had to reach, so the adventure began. The dog spent a great deal of time at my house as she wasn’t old enough to go to school and my daughter worked, so I had to follow the list of commands she needed to learn as well. For instance, when potty training, we said, ‘hurry’, not ‘go potty outside, for heavens sake”. I would never have guessed.

Anyway, Believe grew and learned, charmed us and made us furious when the last pair of slippers in the house disappeared. And then the day came for her to go back. We took her to Florida for the ceremony, the puppy raisers passed the leash to the trainers, and the recipients of the fully trained dogs took possession of their new companions. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and the trip home to Georgia was pretty quiet.

I tell you this because the motto of Canine Companions is ‘Give a dog a job’.

Many dogs want one. If you don’t believe me give a Border Collie a sheep and see what happens. German Shepherds love to herd. I know because I’ve had a couple, one who used to herd the grandkids into a corner when they were toddlers and hold them there. Good dog.

Dogs pull carts, pull skiers out of snow banks, find lost children, and on a sadder note, rescue people after disasters, some natural, others man made. They guide the blind, alert epilepsy sufferers before a seizure, and serve the public as police dogs. The list goes on, but I won’t. Why do they do all that? Because we’ve bred them to. The retrievers and the pointers are hunting dogs and are never happier then wading through sticky bushes or swimming in scummy ponds after their prey. We’ve bred them so their coats will protect them and their minds have a single purpose. Then there are the lap dogs. Mostly toy dogs (that’s the category they are shown in), these little guys love to cuddle and will spend any amount of time in your lap. Especially when you’re typing something.

Where am I going with all this?

To canine mysteries, of course, or any book that features or includes a dog. Maybe more than one dog. Dogs have personalities, and goals, as diverse as any two legged characters in the books we write. They need to be portrayed as fully as the human characters. They deserve to be.

I write the Mary McGill canine mysteries. Mary’s dog, Millie, is a cocker spaniel. Cockers were originally bred to be small gun dogs but over the years they have become mostly companion dogs. However, they can be fierce when they feel the need to protect the person they love. Just ask the guy whose leg Millie tried to gnaw off. But there are some things they really can’t, or probably won’t do, like jump a 6 ft board fence and take down a bad guy while being shot at.

A ‘visiting’ dog appears in each of the Mary McGill mysteries, a dog whose breed and talents fit the plot line. So far it’s been poodles, a three legged hound dog, and a German shepherd. I know something about each of those breeds, and have let the dogs I know guide me. So, in the upcoming Mary McGill and Millie mystery, Boo, You’re Dead, I have included a black lab, a certified service dog named Zoe. She isn’t Believe, she’s not a puppy, but I like to think she is the kind of dog Believe will become when her training is finished and she goes on to make someone’s life a little better. This one’s for you, Believe.

Inspiration

Joshua Viola is a Colorado Book Award finalist and the author of The Bane of Yoto and Blackstar. He edited the Denver Post bestselling anthologies, Blood Business and Nightmares Unhinged, and co-edited Cyber World—named one of the best science fiction anthologies of 2016 by Barnes & Noble.

A question that always arises when it comes to being an author is “What is the inspiration behind your work?” This question is asked in panels, interviews, random conversations and between authors. At times, this is an easy question to answer—you can pinpoint the moment the idea hits—but sometimes it isn’t.

Ideas for stories are everywhere, but you have to remember that not all ideas make good stories. Some ideas are much too closely related to something you’ve read in a book or short story, or viewed in a movie or TV show. Other ideas are more nebulous and take time to develop. Some strike hard and fast, but eventually fade away, while others take a longer approach, like a slow burn, and reveal themselves at a snail’s pace. When inspiration hits, an author has to decide whether the story is worth pursuing. For each author, the criteria are different.

Some authors work well with short story ideas.

Others work best with longer forms.

Writers can be more comfortable in a particular theme, point of view, character type, setting, and so much more.

Sometimes it’s as simple as picking a genre.

In early 2016, I began working on Cyber World: Tales of Humanity’s Tomorrow, a cyberpunk anthology that explores our potential dark futures. Through the process of constructing the book and reading submissions by some of today’s best science fiction writers, ideas for my own story began to take shape.

While it may be a common trope in the cyberpunk genre, I knew I wanted to tell a neo-noir mystery with a detective on the center stage. But then there’s the big question for anyone who wants to do something that’s been done a million times before: Why?

First, I needed to figure out who this detective was. I knew I wanted the female equivalent of Blade Runner‘s Rick Deckard, but I didn’t know much else about who she was, let alone her name.

After letting the idea simmer for a few days, I took a late-night stroll through downtown Denver, soaking in the city’s lights under a full moon. Maybe the character was blind, and that would somehow work to her advantage. After a second thought I realized that was too similar to Ernest Bramah’s character, Max Carrados.

Perhaps, though, she was colorblind, like me.

I tucked the idea away for later.

As I walked the city streets, I thought about my favorite Japanese movies, video games, and anime. I’ve always been fond of Japanese storytelling and how it differs from what we do in the west. The Japanese embrace many ideas that would seem risky or strange in America. They turn these ideas into intriguing tales unlike anything else the world has to offer. In that moment, I knew this detective was going to be of Japanese descent.

But what was her name?

I reached a crosswalk. As I waited for the signal to turn green, I looked up at Denver’s night sky and was impressed by how big and bright the moon was that evening.

Moon.

Denver Moon.

Intriguing name, but who was she? What made Denver Moon unique? And where did she live (it sure couldn’t be Denver)?

I’d watched the original Total Recall for what must’ve been the 100th time earlier that day and the answer came to me in a flash.

Mars. She’s a detective working the dark underbelly of Mars City.

For a few rare minutes, the ideas were flowing. I thought about cyberpunk favorites like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. And then, for some reason, Vampire Hunter D.

If you aren’t familiar, Vampire Hunter D tells the story of D, a dhampir—half vampire, half human. He wanders a post-apocalyptic landscape in search of vampires to slay. You might be wondering, what the hell does a vampire hunter have to do with a colorblind detective on Mars? Not much, except for the character’s sidekick, Left Hand.

Left Hand is a grotesque little face symbiotically attached to D’s left palm. Yes, you read that right. He cracks jokes and guides D on his quest through a brutal nuclear wasteland. He’s odd and peculiar and perfect.

I wanted to create my own version of Left Hand for Denver as a way to pay tribute to the odd storytelling elements I enjoyed so much in Japanese manga and anime.

Then Smith was born.

Smith is Denver’s sidekick, an artificial intelligence who’s been injected with Denver’s deceased grandfather’s memories and installed in a 21st century Smith & Wesson. It was weird enough that it might work.

As soon as I got home, I drafted a short story titled “Denver Moon”. I liked where it was going, but it was missing something. I couldn’t quite nail down what it was until I realized I simply didn’t have a plot, just a bunch of ideas and no direction. I shelved the project.

Fast-forward to the final editorial phase of Cyber World. Warren Hammond, author of the gritty KOP series, was one of the last writers to turn in his story for the anthology. “The Bees of Kiribati” was—without a doubt—my favorite in the collection. I was mesmerized by Warren’s tight, crisp prose and disturbing plot twist. It dawned on me that Warren might know what “Denver Moon” was missing. Even better, maybe he’d want to lend his talents to the story. I had to convince him to hear me out.

Warren and I met a few weeks later over a beer to discuss the mystery project I hinted at in an email. He was hesitant at first, making it clear he’d never collaborated and he wasn’t particularly interested in doing so anytime soon. My heart sank. We’d just sat down and before I had a chance to sell him on the idea, it was dead. But after a few sips and an opportunity to dive into what “Denver Moon” could be, Warren was interested. We traded ideas, taking our first collaborative steps together.

Warren offered his own version of the project, taking the initial concept into a bold, new direction, and thus, the worldbuilding began. He expanded upon Denver’s colorblindness, suggesting a Martian disorder called red fever that turns its victims into bloodthirsty killers. The only people immune to the illness would be those like Denver, monochromatics—an element that plays an integral role in the story. He conceived Denver’s nemesis, Rafe Ranchard—a former member of the red planet’s political superpower, the Church of Mars. Most importantly though, he helped give Denver a personality and determine what it was she needed to do in the book: save her long-lost grandfather who she thought had been dead for twenty years.

The plot was coming to life. We were sending Denver on a mission to unravel the mystery behind red fever, discover the Church of Mars’ darkest secrets and find the grandfather her AI, Smith, was patterned after.

We discussed the different avenues to tell our story. Warren and I knew there’d be a novella, but why stop there? We planned to recruit a regular Hex Publishers collaborator, award-winning artist Aaron Lovett, to turn “Denver Moon” into a graphic novel. And, like Cyber World, we wanted a soundtrack. For that, we roped in another colleague, Klayton (Celldweller, Scandroid)—a musician known for his work on films like Blade Runner 2049 and Transformers: The Last Knight. On top of that, we planned to work with Killbot Entertainment, another friend of Hex, on a Denver Moon PlayStation 4 dynamic theme.

Through the process, Warren and I got to know each other better, and that allowed us to define our characters, their world, and the obstacles they’d have to face. As the project evolved, Denver Moon became so much more than I hoped or imagined.

In the end, a story was born and a friendship was forged.

What Lies Beneath Perfection: Murder—and a Giveaway!

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Now, Lauren has added one more hit series to her list with the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries. Set in the quaint West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, Ice introduces Chris Matheson, a retired FBI agent, who joins forces with other law enforcement retirees to heat up those cold cases that keep them up at night.

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Visit Lauren’s websites and blog at:

E-Mail: writerlaurencarr@gmail.net
Website: http://mysterylady.net/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lauren.carr.984991
Gnarly’s Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/GnarlyofMacFaradayMysteries
Lovers in Crime Facebook Page:
http://www.facebook.com/LoversInCrimeMysteries?ref=ts&fref=ts
Acorn Book Services Facebook Page:
https://www.facebook.com/AcornBookServices?ref=hl
Twitter: @TheMysteryLadie

Recently, a chilling murder case made the national news. A forty-two-year-old mother and housewife was found strangled in her front yard. She was a beautiful young woman. Perfect figure. Lived in a lovely home in a quiet suburban area in the mid-west. She had a great husband with a good job and they had two cute kids.

Why, her friends and neighbors wondered, would anyone want to harm her? She was living the American dream. She had … the perfect life.

To get to the heart of the case, the police started peeling back the layers of this young woman’s life to discover that she had been living a double life. Behind the scenes, she was a lingerie model posing on an erotica site on the Internet.

Eventually, the police arrested her husband, which further shattered the illusion of the victim having achieved perfection and living the American dream. Obviously, there was more going on behind the scenes.

This real murder case was the seed that inspired Murder by Perfection, the third installment in the Thorny Rose Mysteries. It is not the first time that I have explored the theme of things not always being what they seem in my mysteries.

This is a fascinating topic to me. Maybe it is because, as a child, my mother often told me that things are never what they seem—usually when I was crying about Susie’s life being so much more perfect than mine. I think many people buy the illusion that our friends, neighbors, or co-workers create with having perfect families, homes, and metabolism. You can’t help but hate someone who can eat a whole plate of brownies without gaining an ounce!

The setting of Great Falls, Virginia, is picture-perfect for this mystery. Great Falls is a woodsy, upper class area in northern Virginia that runs along the Potomac River. While working for the federal government in Washington, I used to drive through it every day. I would gaze longingly at the mansions and horse farms that made up the area and wonder about the flawless lives of those fortunate enough to have achieved the perfect status to make them worthy of living in such a place.

Then, I grew up and learned that such is not the case. Salvador Dali was right when he said, “Have no fear of perfection―you’ll never reach it.”

Last week, my husband came home from the grocery store with a couple of avocados. They appeared to be perfect on the outside. When it came time to prepare them to serve with our dinner, I removed the peel and cut through the pulp to discover that they were both rotten on the inside. They were the perfect color and texture on the outside. But underneath, they were rotten where it really counted.

Perfection is just an illusion. While most of us are mature enough to know this—others can be so hung up on creating the illusion of perfection to the outside world that we neglect the real stuff underneath. They become like the avocados—perfect on the outside, rotten on the inside.

Murder cases like the one that inspired Murder by Perfection make the national news because of the victim’s success in creating that perfect illusion. Unlike the drug addicted hooker in the alley or the gangster dodging bullets on a daily basis, the murder of a middle-class housewife make the national news because the victims have succeeded in convincing everyone around them that everything was peachy—when in reality, all was rotten at the core.

Those unaddressed issues became tasty ingredients for a fascinating murder mystery.

Jessica Faraday and Murphy Thornton learn that perfection can be fatal in Murder by Perfection. NCIS asks Lieutenant Murphy Thornton to help them solve the murder of a navy doctor, who had information about some illegal activity occurring at a private clinic. The case is going cold fast and they believe a caterer and cooking instructor named Natalie Stepford could be the key to heating up the case.

The Thorny Rose detectives sign up for Natalie’s couple’s gourmet cooking class. At first blush, the beautiful blond-haired instructor is the embodiment of feminine perfection: beautiful, smart, successful. She’s married to a doting wealthy older man who gives her everything she wants. What more could she want?

When Natalie ends up dead and Murphy goes missing, the Thorny Rose detectives must peel back the layers of Natalie Stepford’s flawless life to discover that perfection can be deadly.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for an ebook
copy of Murder by Perfection by
Lauren Carr,
just leave a comment
recommending a real life crime you
think could inspire a terrific mystery
novel.
The winning name will be

drawn on Tuesday evening, June 5th.

Working, Writing and Wonton Soup

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to share how the ezine Kings River Life had its beginnings and how Sunny became involved.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

I met Lorie Lewis Ham when we answered a call-out for local mystery writers to meet at Red Lobster in Fresno. Twenty of us replied and became founding members of the San Joaquin  Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Our friendship solidified when I was sent by the Fresno Sheriff’s Dept. to her small town of Reedley to work undercover narc detectives. Our headquarters was a double-wide trailer located in a nectarine orchard–not as glamorous as it sounds.

We started meeting for lunch at the New China Restaurant when we could get away. After my office closed, we continued to meet for lunch. Over chow mein, fried rice and cups of Oolong tea, we talked writing, plots, the publishing industry and the SinC chapter.

We had the same writing teacher, Elnora King, but were in different classes. Right off the bat Lorie was a front runner among the students. In 2000, she tried out PublishAmerica, which had only been on the scene for a year and before any of us had heard about it.

I found out Lorie had been home schooled because she was constantly on tour with a gospel singing group. No stagefright for her when it came to talking to the public. Her books dovetail with the music CD’s she sold at speaking engagements. Again, she was ahead of the rest of us.

Another thing we had in common was the fact that we were both newspaper reporters. I’d taken journalism in college and, for a short time, was a photojournalist for a local paper in Fresno. She worked at her small town paper.

Sunny Frazier, Dr. Eric Hickey and Lorie Ham

Fast forward 30-some years later. Once again the trailblazer, Lorie decided to put out an ezine, Kings River Life. It gave a voice to activities not always covered by the Fresno Bee. She included a variety of offerings including TV and theatre reviews, events happening in the local towns as well as interviews. Her love for animals showed in the photos she posted for animal rescue and adoption.

One of the things Kings River Life is known for nationally are the book reviews and book giveaways from prominent authors. Major publishing companies regularly send her books and authors are very generous. And this is where I came in on the venture.

In ancient times, before the personal computer was common, I wrote a column called “Coming Attractions” for our SinC newsletter. It was a paper version at that time. I would research to see what books were new on the market and promote them. When the Internet became more common I wrote the column for my publisher’s website. One day (over Chinese food, of course) I asked Lorie if she’d like something similar for Kings River Life. She let me run with it and I began doing “Coming Attractions” as a monthly feature. Finding titles of new books was much easier with Amazon online. I did snappy synopsis’ of the books, not reviews.

I quickly realized promotion was the key to bringing readers to my column, plus giveaways helped draw them in. Those who responded to my column were contacted the following month. I gave reminders to enter for free books. I concentrated on the cozy mystery readers which I found to be prolific readers and the most loyal fans of authors they love. As my profile grew nationally, so did the ezine’s readership.

What started out as friendship evolved into a working relationship of mutual interests. And yes, despite rising gas prices, we try to get together to plot strategy over chop suey.

Roll Over, Ecclesiastes

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be…there is no new thing under the sun.”

So says the Book of Ecclesiastes.  It’s depressing, especially for novelists.  Readers expect us to turn out daring and original material every time we sit down at the typewriter.  But whether we mine the ancient myths for our ideas or take inspiration from the crazy happenings reported in our morning newspaper, we are building on “that which hath been.”  There’s no getting around it, all stories are derivative.

Plot is, by definition, a narrative of events that are caused by something or someone.  It’s a story that makes the reader ask “why?”  A few years ago I attended the Iowa Writers Festival and had the good fortune to take a class from Bret Anthony Johnston, an award-winning author and current Director of the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas.  Bret insists there are only two basic plots: hero takes a journey, or stranger comes to town.  The only distinction between the two, he says, depends on point of view.

According to a book by Christopher Booker, there are seven plots.  1) Overcoming the monster; 2) Rags to riches; 3) The quest; 4) Voyage and return; 5) Rebirth; 6) Comedy; and 7) Tragedy.  Because the first five in their purest form all have happy endings, Booker suggests they can be lumped together under the category of “comedy.”  So, either seven or two, depending.

In his The Seven Basic Plots, Why We Tell Stories, Booker compares two plots separated by five thousand years.  The Epic of Gilgamesh is regarded as the oldest surviving piece of literature on the planet.  The story begins when a terrible evil befalls the kingdom.  The threat is traced to a hideous monster who lives halfway across the world in an underground cave.  King Gilgamesh goes to his armorers who equip him with a magnificent bow and a mighty ax.  He sets out on a perilous journey to the monster’s lair.  He and the creature exchange taunts and engage in a tremendous struggle.  Finally, by a superhuman feat, Gilgamesh manages to destroy his enemy and return home triumphant.

In the second plot, circa 1962, a villainous scientist threatens to destroy the Western World.  He lives in an underground cave on a remote island.  The hero goes to his kingdom’s armorer who equips him with state-of-the-art weaponry – a Walther PPK 7.65 mm pistol, cyanide cigarettes, a high-frequency transmitter, and a Geiger counter.  He sets out on a perilous journey to the villain’s lair.  The adversaries engage in some snarky dialogue and engage in a life-or-death struggle.  Against the fiend’s mechanical dragon, deadly spider, and army of machine-gun toting guards, it seems impossible that 007 will triumph.  But finally, by a superhuman feat, he manages to defeat the evil Dr. No and return home triumphant.

Gilgamesh also bears striking similarities to stories in the Book of Genesis.  It describes a beautiful garden and a deceiving serpent.  It contains a devastating flood reminiscent of Noah and the Ark.  And it provides the same moral found in Ecclesiastes, which is that the best response to death is to live with an appreciation of life.  Gilgamesh isn’t all that different from Odysseus (700 BC) or Luke Skywalker of Star Wars (1977) – all heroes on a journey, embarking on adventure and confronting their antagonists.

As Mark Twain observed, we put the old ideas through a sort of mental kaleidoscope.  “We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

There is no new thing under the sun.  We recycle the same old plots again and again – comedy, tragedy, romance, irony.  Someone quipped that originality is merely undetected plagiarism.  (That last sentence is an example of what Ben Franklin called “the art of originality” – forgetting your sources). But the miraculous thing is how original the old pieces of colored glass can seem when looked at with fresh eyes.  The setting and time period may change, along with the culture, the social values, the narrative emphasis, and the point of view of the characters.  But the unique perspective and distinctive voice of the storyteller are what captivate readers.  That voice makes “that which hath been” become new.

The question of originality has been written about extensively, exhaustively, and far more entertainingly.  But rehashing these insights, and taking them to heart, has helped me to stop worrying over the imperative to be original.  What’s important is to be authentic.  Myself.  Whether you believe a novel requires “five essential elements” or “seven key conventions” or can be written in “eight easy steps,” the form is infinitely flexible.  Those two basic plots are plenty.  Every novel is a new pair of eyes contemplating the world.  Roll over, Ecclesiastes.

Patterns

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about how everyone develops patterns and that understanding those patterns help us understand people.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest.

http://www.kathleendelaney.net

I grew up before the glut of overseas cheap clothing arrived. Luckily for me, my mother knew her way around a sewing machine and I had a wardrobe of cute little dresses, a few actually made from chicken seed sacks. That sewing machine kicked out most of my high school full skirts, petticoats, and tops. She even made some of my prom dresses. The only thing she didn’t make was my wedding dress. I didn’t want her taking basting stitches out of the train as I went up the aisle.

One of the things I remember best about all that sewing was the patterns. They were fragile, with almost impossible, to me at least, instructions printed on each piece. She would lay the material out on the dining room table and carefully pin each piece onto it, moving them around to get the pattern right, making sure each piece would go together correctly with its companion piece. It was exacting and time consuming, but the pattern determined how the garment would turn out, either good or bad.

As I got older, it occurred to me that patterns are not always something we lay on material. Our very lives are governed by patterns, ones we have created or ones that have been imposed on us as children. But we all function within our own individual one.

We all know someone who has laid out his or her life when young, and never deviated from that goal. They have a good job, a house in the suburbs, 2 ½ children, a dog and roses on the fence. Their weekends are spent at little league or girl scouts, and they can be counted on to take a covered dish to the church pot luck. An exaggerated picture, but you get the idea. People whose pattern is well established and they are comfortable living within it. But what happens when life blows a hole in it?

There are those who, from the outside, seem to have no pattern at all. Their lives are in constant chaos.  Nothing ever seems to get done around their house, they can’t keep a job, or their commitment to their social group, in fact, their lives are a mess. But the chaos is their pattern. For some reason their inability to cope has taken over their lives, and has become so entrenched they cannot escape. What happens when they get pinned to a wall due to that chaos? Do they snap, and in what way?

Then there is the couple that never stops sniping at each other. Constant criticism, put downs, and veiled innuendoes have become their way of life. It’s their pattern. They seem almost content with their angry lives. But anger builds and one day, like a volcano, it can erupt.

See what I mean? These examples are extreme but they illustrate the point. We have all developed a pattern of behavior, a way we do things, from the rituals of how we celebrate the holidays to how we gather, or don’t gather, around the dinner table. And the pattern is hard to break.

Which brings us to the fiction author. No, I’m not going to tell you about the patterns of my life, except to say lots of it includes being glued to my computer. What I want to talk about is how the author uses these patterns to build the characters that populate the pages of our books.

I am starting to write the 4th in the Mary McGill canine mystery series. I know Mary and the gang, but I don’t have even a passing acquaintance with who I’ve tapped as the murderer. I know what happened, but I don’t as yet know why. I don’t know what happened prior to the crime being committed, I don’t know what brought this person to kill, I don’t know—yet—anything about this person. But I’m about to find out.

Murder doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There is always a reason. My job is to find out what propelled my person to kill. Before I put fingers to computer keys, I have to unravel that mystery. And that means understand the pattern of their life.