Friday, December 27, 2013

Appearing in issue #52, December 30, 2013

Title:  The big burn
By Author: Shannon Fay

Tag line:   A case of arson or an accident? The fire was suspicious…and so were the detectives!
Police characters:  Detectives Ryan Brownell and Sonja Nager.

The gist:   A diner, the Big Burger, burned to the ground.  The next day detectives were going over crime scene photos and the financial records of the establishment.  The restaurant wasn’t making money and was heavily insured.  All three of the diner’s owners would make a profit from the insurance company.  The three owners were put in separate interview rooms and questioned.  Meryl, the manager, looked upset and said the diner was her life and the insurance money wouldn’t fill the void.  When asked where she was between 10:30 and 11:00 PM the night before (the diner closed at 9:00 and forensics figured the onset of the fire to be between 10:30 and 11:00 but the fire was not called in until midnight) Meryl said she was visiting a friend in Bedford.  
Next in was Jerry, who was wearing sunglasses even though it was just dawn.  He claimed he was at his daughter’s house babysitting.  He agreed the diner was a financial sinkhole and wasn’t all that upset that it was gone. 

Next up was Bruce, Meryl’s cousin.  The diner had been in Bruce’s family since the 1940s.  He looked devastated.  When asked if he had an alibi, he said he was at a poker game which went well past 11:00. 
At that point forensics reported that the cause of the fire was a chemical device set to a timer.

Det. Nager knew who did it.
Crime scene:   Big Burger restaurant.

Clues:   Only the arsonist knew what time the fire started.
Suspects:   The three owners.

Red herrings:  I suppose the sunglasses…but I can’t figure out why.
Solution: Bruce hadn’t been asked where he was at a certain time, just if he had an alibi, yet he made a point to say he was out well past 11:00.

My two cents:    Now I know for sure why my arson story got rejected a few months ago…they already had one in the works.  Mine was in a candy store.  ((sigh))  Sometimes it’s just poor timing.
So…let’s see…my main comment would be that the police don’t go around interviewing people for alibis until they establish a crime has been committed.  If the forensic people had come in and said it was a leaky gas stove, the police just wasted their morning for nothing. 

The ‘forensic team’ was on this, but in reality it would have been the arson squad. If it happened in a small town where the police department didn’t have an arson squad, the fire investigator from the county would come down and handle it. 
There were no fire alarms in the building which is standard code for public buildings everywhere in the country and most certainly in a restaurant that handles grease.  The alarms would have gone off well before midnight.  Perhaps they were tinkered with?  Just a thought.

At least the suspects were interviewed separately.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

 Making Sense by Jody Lebel       
            Published on 20th December 2013 in IUE Magazine   

 Raise your work above the mediocre with the use of all five senses. Drawing on the senses will breathe life into your characters, setting and may even enhance the back story.

1) Sight.  Sight is the cardinal sense. Generally before you smell, hear or taste something, you see it. When you're writing, don't just see it, really see it. Get specific.
She wore a pretty blue dress.

She wore a blue dress, the same one she had on the day we met. The one that matched her eyes, showed her curves, and made my mouth go dry.
The male character above doesn't describe the dress, the pattern or style, but what he remembers about it, what it does to him when he sees it. And we are swept along.

The full moon rose slowly over the trees.
The full moon rose slowly over the trees blanketing the farm with its pale glow. An old hound dog kept watch from the safety of the rickety porch, the sparkle of the wet grass reflected in his eyes.

·       Use comparison or contrast.
The moon rose slowly over the trees and rained down beams of light through the branches, like a mother ship searching for her workers.

·       Or add a unique detail that will deepen the POV (point of view).
The full moon rose slowly over the trees casting eerie shadows on the campsite. It gave John the creeps and he edged closer to the fire. The same moon rose on the night the three children went missing.

2) Sound. The world is not a quiet place. Even in the still of the night you can hear the hum of the refrigerator or the ticking of a clock. My cat snores. Close your eyes and listen to the rustle of a candy bar being unwrapped or the sounds of birds at a feeder. Then describe the sounds, not the action. Use this newly discovered sensory information to enrich your story.
The room was noisy.

Marco sat alone at the table nearest the door so he wouldn't miss her. The clank of heavy plates drifted from the kitchen and fought with the steady hum of couples in conversation. Ice clinked as it settled in his water glass. He ran his fingers over the drops of condensation and watched them make tracks down and onto the tablecloth. His watch read 9:30. She wasn't coming.
What does dripping water sound like? You wouldn't write drip, drip, drip. Make your readers hear it. You could use splat, or plonk, or plop. How about rain? Listen the next time it rains. You might be surprised to learn it sounds like bacon cooking.

3) Touch. Let your characters feel their surroundings through their skin and their bodies. Loud music is felt all over. It comes up through the floor, in through your feet and hammers in your chest. Really loud music pulses in your ears. A good writer would use all of those sensations to describe the scene.
He went for a swim in the cool pond.

The sudden plunge into the cool water took his breath away and raised goose bumps on his arms. Kamir had been swimming in this pond since he was a kid. Swirling his hand in the dark water, it still held the promise of boyhood laughter and summer bike rides. (At this point I would also add how the woods and water smell, but that's the next item in this article.)
·       Feelings can be non physical.

Her marriage felt like the beach after a storm; messy, tangled and trashy.
4) Smell. Smell is the sense that is most linked to memory. A simple smell can take you back to grandma's house at holiday time, or back to your desk in grade school. (For me, that would be the smell of coloring crayons.)

That stinks," said Seth, holding his hand over his nose.

"That stinks like rotten meat," said Seth, clamping his hand over his nose. (Clamp was a stronger word for a stronger smell.) He staggered back until he hit the wall. "I'm going to be sick."
·       Stay away from 'nose wrinkling'. It is way overdone in today's literature. Also keep away from having your character "make a face". That's telling. Show us.

 Eyes squeezed shut, his face caved as though he were going to cry.
·       You can layer smells. Let's go back to the swimming pond.

He took in a deep breath and smelled the damp earth, the kind worms loved, and rotted trees from the nearby woods. That, along with the pungent bite of algae and slime in the water, an odor that stuck on your swimsuit long after it dried.
·       You can use the sense of smell to suggest mood.

The girl's willingness to commit a crime smelled like an opportunity to Clark.
Something smelled fishy but he went along with it anyway.

5) Taste. My personal favorite and the sense that gets the least use in fiction writing. When you do get to use taste, don't rush it.
The cake tasted good. (You can't get much more boring than that sentence.)

The sweet butter cream icing melted on my tongue. The word delightful came to mind. I closed my eyes to savor the richness of the warm spice cake and knew I would have a second piece before the end of the night.
·       Your characters don't eat or drink very often, so use taste to suggest other things.

Winter has always tasted like hot chocolate to me.
Her kisses tasted like strawberries in the sun.
                                                                    # # #

Friday, December 20, 2013

Appearing in issue #51, December 23, 2013

Title:   For love or money
By Author: Gary Delafield

Tag line:  The detective arrived to find that a little old lady had died – and not of natural causes…

Police characters: Detective Kate Billings and Officer Tom Dixon
The gist:  Everyone at the senior home has to sign in and out to get onto the property, even Det. Billings when she arrived and was escorted to Margaret Hill’s room where Officer Tom Dixon stood guard.  The ME was already on scene and pronounced Margaret dead by strangulation.  A green and blue scarf was still twisted around her neck.  At this point Det. Billings asked Officer Dixon if there was a motive. (Good grief.)  Officer Dixon pointed to the victim’s desk and said, “Check out the will.  That’s her lawyer’s phone number on the Post-it.  He told me he hadn’t spoken to his client in months.”   Margaret’s niece and nephew were the sole heirs.  Margaret had two visitors that day; her niece and nephew.  (Nicely tied up with a bow, right?) The niece arrived at 10 AM and signed out shortly after.  The nephew arrived 45 minutes later and found Margaret dead.  The director of the property led Det. Billings to the reception room where another senior citizen, Alice, was sitting. According to the director, Alice might have seen something as she was a nosy thing.  Alice claimed she only saw the niece and nephew visit Margaret.  (Somehow now both the niece and nephew were also sitting in the reception area at this point.)   Alice said the niece tried to make small talk with her on the way out, claiming it was probably to establish an alibi.  (What? They sign in and out.) Alice pointed at the nephew and said, “What some people will do for money!”  Det. Billings noted that Alice knew about the will.   Alice claimed that Margaret was her best friend and that she had given her that very same scarf that had been used to kill her. The nephew claimed when he arrived and saw his aunt dead, he thought it must be a heart attack.   When Det. Billings mentioned that Aunt Margaret was about to change her will, he seemed surprised.   The niece said she knew her aunt was about to change her will and that since both of her heirs were financially comfortable Aunt Margaret was going to give some money to charity.  The niece said her aunt seemed happy and in fact had told her she had just met a man and she wanted her family to meet him.  She said Margaret made a little joke about how she’d landed him.  As the women way outnumber the men in the home, there was a lot of competition. 

So that’s it.  Know who did it?
Crime scene:  Village Senior Residence.

Clues:   The scarf. 
Suspects:  The niece, the nephew --- the new man?

Red herrings:   The will. 
Solution: Alice is the killer.  She wanted the man that Margaret landed.  When the niece spoke to her on the way out, she mentioned that she was coming back later to meet her aunt’s new beau.  Alice confronted Margaret and lost control when Margaret confirmed her romance.  Alice’s mistake was mentioning the scarf.  Until the coroner’s report no one knew the scarf had been the murder weapon.

My two cents:   Okay…where to start.  From the top.  The staff at the residence knew Margaret had been strangled with a scarf…that’s how she was found.  So to say that Alice couldn’t have heard the details of her friend’s death is questionable.  
The detective asked the officer what the motive is.  Let me say that again…no, okay, you get it.  It’s the detective’s job to figure out the motive.  The officer took it upon himself to bungle the investigation by calling the lawyer before the detective bureau arrived and speaking to him.  That is just not done. 

How did the niece and nephew, who had left the building hours ago, get into the reception room?  Also Det. Billings questioned Alice in front of the niece and nephew.  It’s stuff like this that gets people off in trials.  The detective just poisoned the credibility of all of the witnesses.
Next, you can tell this story was written by a man.  Ask any older woman in a senior home…no one…none of them…wants to hook up with a man.  By that time in their lives, they’ve had it with men.  So for two old ladies to argue about who was going to be his girlfriend?  Hahahahahha.  It would be more like they argued about who HAD to take him.  Okay, I’ll back down on that one.  It is possible that some older woman wanted a boyfriend.  

The solution was pretty long.  When you have to explain everything, maybe the story didn’t work so well. Also there was no indication that jealousy could be a motive.  That came out of the blue and was only revealed in the solution.  We hate that. Next thing you know they’ll be saying the butler did it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Editors vs Authors.

Editors are from Mars.  Authors are from Venus.
Do titles matter?
     Woman's Weekly fiction editor Gaynor Davies.
"Not really because we change them if we don't like them!  They certainly do matter to the readers, though, as they're what entices them in."
     The People's Friend editor Angela Gilchrist.
     "Titles don't matter at all!  We frequently change them in any case because they have to fit in with all the other material being included in the magazine that week.  Also, the illustration chosen to go with the story may require a particular approach that the original title just doesn't cover.  We're looking at the whole package – title, write up, illustration, byline – whereas the author only ever sees the original text."
     One thing is for certain, editors love exclamation points.  Of course I disagree with their blatherings.  Your title is your hook.  It makes the editor pick up the piece to read it in the first place.  I understand the need to change it though.  Especially when I read the explanation from Angela.  That makes sense. 
Another well sold author, and one of our own, John Floyd disagrees also. I'm with you, John.

 Choosing the Right Name for Your Story

by John Floyd
So what's in a title? Is it really that important?
You bet it is. Would you rather your job resume say "salesperson" or "marketing representative"? "Clerk" or "service specialist"? "Repairman" or "technician"? One sounds commonplace; the other sounds impressive.
Let's go a step further. Imagine Boys' Life billed as Youth Experiences. Or Nightline as Ted's Late News Roundup. Loses a little something, right? And it's hard to picture 007 introducing himself as "Dinkins. Arnold Dinkins."
The same thing applies to story titles. An enjoyable short story or novel might never get read by the public (or, more to the point, by an editor or agent) if the title does't do its job. In the publishing world, a good title is like a good opening paragraph: it should be interesting. It should attract the reader's attention. At the very least, it should be appropriate to the rest of the piece.
And remember this, too: the title will be what represents your work to the rest of the world, now and forever. When people see your story in bookstores or in an anthology, take it the beach with them, and talk about it to their friends the next day, the first thing they'll read or speak will be the words in your title. Choose it wisely.
But that's pretty vague advice. The question is, how do you do it? What makes a good title?
A Few Rules of Thumb:
Titles should not be dull. When you browse a shelf full of novels, or a collection of short stories, aren't you drawn first to the more unusual titles? So are editors, when they look over a stack of submissions. Not that "The House" or "The Tree" won't be a good story; but titles with a bit more originality stand a better chance. Examples: Gone with the Wind, The High and the Mighty, "The Tin Star," The Silence of the Lambs, The Maltese Falcon, Watership Down, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Fahrenheit 451, The Color Purple, Atlas Shrugged.
Titles should be easy to remember. It's hard to tell a neighbor or a colleague about a story if the title's too long and complicated, or hard to pronounce. It's a good idea to keep things clear and simple. You might consider Murder on the Wzcyiubjekistan Express the best writing you've ever done, or The Tallahatchie Backroad Honky-Tonk Boogie your literary masterpiece, but I doubt either of them would sell. They probably wouldn't ever make it out of the editor's slush pile.
Titles should be appropriate. Don't name your science fiction story "Trouble at Dodge City" just because that's what the starfleet crew calls your space station. Editors will think you've written a Western. Similarly, Lawrence Block mentions, in one of his books on writing, a Charles McGarry espionage novel called The Secret Lovers. Block says its title (which refers to spies, who love secrets) led some readers to believe it would be a romance instead. Examples of titles that "fit" their subjects: Raise the Titanic, The Firm, "A Rose for Emily," The Caine Mutiny, Presumed Innocent, Love Story, In Cold Blood, Riders of the Purple Sage, The Amityville Horror.
That should help you narrow the field a bit as you try to decide on the right title for your story. But the question remains: How exactly do you find a good title? Where do you begin your search?
A Few Sources to Jog the Imagination:
1.     A title can be a popular expression. Gone for Good, Something's Gotta Give, The Horse's Mouth, The Usual Suspects, Good As Gold, The Whole Nine Yards.
2.     A title can be a play on words. (Sometimes a "twist" of an existing expression.) Burglars Can Be Choosers, The Cancelled Czech, You Only Live Twice, Live and Let Die, The War Between the Tates, A Hearse of a Different Color.
3.     A title can have a hidden meaning, later revealed in the story. The Green Mile, Rain Man, Dances with Wolves, Catch-22, Hearts in Atlantis, Cool Hand Luke, The Shipping News.
4.     A title can come from an existing work. (The Bible, Shakespeare, etc.) The Grapes of Wrath, The Sound and the Fury, The Sun Also Rises, Absalom, Absalom, All That Glitters, Something Wicked This Way Comes.
5.     A title can be a person's name. Hannibal, Goldfinger, Carrie, Hondo, Rebecca, Doctor Zhivago, Shane, Forrest Gump.
6.     A title can be a place name. Cold Mountain, Cimarron, Peyton Place, Jurassic Park, Lonesome Dove, Mystic River.
7.     A title can be a possessive. Portnoy's Complaint, Angela's Ashes, The Optimist's Daughter, Charlotte's Web.
8.     A title can be an association of ideas. Often these are words that have a "double meaning," and refer to more than one thing in a story. The Eye of the Needle, The Dead Zone, Misery, Silver Bullet, Lie Down with Lions.
9.     A title can be an "event" or "activity." (Use "ing" in the first word.) Pleading Guilty, Romancing the Stone, Waiting to Exhale, "Riding the Bullet," Raising Helen, Finding Nemo.
10.                        A title can be a memorable line from the story itself. To Kill a Mockingbird, Tell No One, Sleepless in Seattle, The Eagle Has Landed, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
11.                        A title (if long) can have a "rhythm." Another kind of "play on words," this makes a longer title more pleasing to the ear--and easier to remember. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, The Sins of Rachel Cade, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.
12.                        A title (if it fits the story) can be simple. Jaws, Shogun, Cathedral, The Exorcist, Ragtime, Lolita, Deliverance, Airport, "The Swimmer," Roots, Centennial, It, The Godfather.
In fact, it has been said that most titles on bestseller lists are no more than three words long. (But they have to be the right words.)
"Trademark" Titles
A number of famous writers have come up with a way to make their titles do extra work for them. How? They create titles that follow a pattern unique to their particular "series" of stories.
  • Janet Evanovich uses numbers: One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly, Four to Score.
  • Sue Grafton uses letters of the alphabet: A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, C is for Corpse, D is for Deadbeat.
  • For James Michener, it was one-word titles: Chesapeake, Space, Hawaii, Caribbean, Alaska.
  • John D. MacDonald chose colors: The Lonely Silver Rain, The Dreadful Lemon Sky, The Long Lavender Look.
  • John Sandford's trademark is the word "prey": Silent Prey, Mind Prey, Mortal Prey, Sudden Prey.
  • Martha Grimes used names of English pubs: The Old Silent, The Dirty Duck, The Old Contemptibles, The Anodyne Necklace.
  • Robert Ludlum's thrillers had three-word titles: The Bourne Identity, The Matarese Circle, The Rhinemann Exchange.
  • James Patterson chooses nursery rhymes: Roses are Red, Jack and Jill, Three Blind Mice, Along Came a Spider.
This kind of approach is of course not required to sell or publish your books and stories. But, especially if you've considered writing a series, it never hurts to have a recognizable "signature" of some kind, a bright flag that your fans can look for in the bookstore. Titles can provide that.
And don't worry too much about giving your stories titles that have already been used. At least on that piece of literary ground, you're on firm footing.
Titles are not copyrightable. If your title is fairly common, and doesn't deal with the same subject matter as another story with the same name, you shouldn't run into any legal problems. I once wrote and submitted a short mystery called "Nothing but the Truth," and didn't realize until after it was accepted and published that that same title had been used before, by at least one other author.
But that should not be done intentionally. Why run the risk of confusing a reader into thinking your story is someone else's? Besides, you don't want the reading public (or your potential editors) to think you're unoriginal. It's just as easy to come up with a new title as to re-use an existing one--and a lot more satisfying.
Whatever the source for your inspiration and whatever title you choose, remember that it needs to be a perfect fit for your story. If it isn't (and even, sometimes, if it is), it can get changed.
Alternate Titles
Unless you're a well-known author, the title of your accepted novel is likely to be changed prior to publication, and editors sometimes change the titles of short stories as well. Most of my published stories have retained their original titles, but seven of my nineteen short stories in Woman's World were renamed by the editors before the issues containing those stories appeared on the stands. Were the new titles better? Who knows. But Woman's World's editorial staff are probably familiar with what their readers like, and want. And history will show that changed titles are sometimes a good thing. Case in point: the original title for The Great Gatsby was Trimalchio in West Egg. Yuk.
Since changes are known to occur, should you submit several alternate titles along with your novel or story? No. Select the best title you can, and leave it at that. Sending in a list of second-string choices makes you appear indecisive, and less confident.
But does the fact that the editor may change your title mean you shouldn't spend a lot of time creating a good one of your own? Absolutely not. According to Pat Kubis and Bob Howland in The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction and Nonfiction, "You need a good title to attract an editor's eye. Remember, it's the first thing he or she sees of your work--and the editor who likes your title will begin reading your manuscript in an optimistic frame of mind."
And we writers need every advantage we can get.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Appearing in issue #50, December 16, 2013

Title:  Cookie calamity
By Author:  Kendra Yoder

Tag line:  The annual cookie exchange was a fun tradition – until someone got a murderously nutty idea!

Police characters:  Sheriff Francine Perry

The gist:  All these women work in the same office.  Every year they have a Christmas cookie exchange.  Three women participated and the director of sales, Nita, brought the milk, as she always does.  One woman, Jean, was highly allergic to nuts and everyone knew about it.  Jean was found dead on the floor in her office due to anaphylactic shock, a reaction to nuts.  On her desk was a plate with cookie crumbs and an empty glass of milk.  Employee #1,  Sophia,  made snickerdoodles, no nuts.  She said she liked Jean and that Jean was a hard worker and a favorite of the company executives.  Employee  #2, Ernie, had brought in ginger snaps.  He giggled “you’d never put nuts in gingersnaps.”  He said he and Jean bickered occasionally and that Jean was ambitious and would do anything to get ahead.  Employee #3, Martha, who was playing solitaire on her office computer when the police went to question her, said she brought lemon squares.  She said they were not friends, but not enemies either.  She had heard a rumor that Jean was up for a very big promotion. 

Crime scene:  Jean’s office. 

Clues:  She was up for a big promotion.  She was allergic to nuts.

Suspects:   The three cookie makers and the one who brought the milk. 

Red herrings:  None. 

Solution:   Nita was the killer.  The nuts were in the milk.  Lab results showed that it contained pure almond extract.  If promoted Jean would have taken Nita’s job. 

My two cents: 

My Big problem with this story is the method.

According to McCormick, which is the manufacturer that makes almond extract, there are NO NUTS OF ANY KIND in Almond extract. It is a made-up flavor made from the pit of a fruit called bitter nut and also from the kernels of peach or apricot pits.   Pure almond extract has a very strong and bitter taste.  If the extract were in everyone’s milk, they would surely taste it.  If she only put it in Jean’s milk, unless Jean glugged her drink, she would smell it when she raised the glass under her nose.  If she put in such a minute amount that Jean wouldn’t be able to smell it, it wouldn’t matter anyway…there are no nut products in it.
A severe reaction to nuts is called anaphylaxis and can be life-threatening.  Symptoms often start quickly, within an hour of coming into contact with a nut, but sometimes within minutes. So it is not an immediate drop-on-the-floor death.  The person will know right away that they have come into contact with a nut or nut product.  Individuals allergic to nuts to the point that death could result, always carry an auto-injector with them at all times.  

If you’re going to kill somebody…do some research.  Make sure the method will work. Talk about a calamity.  But still…this got by TWO WW editors. 

My second problem with this story is that we were not told that Jean’s upcoming promotion was going to affect anyone else in the company.  That was just out of the blue.  Sort of thrown in in the solution.  

My last two comments.  Men don’t giggle, children giggle.   How cold is Martha that she’s playing solitaire on her computer while someone from her company, someone she knew, lies dead on the floor in the other room?  Geez.  Now if it were Sugar Crush….  :)

Also notice the Rule of 3 was used here again.   WW seems to love 3 suspects. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

                                                        by author Colin Falconer  

One of the stories Colin is fond of telling is from a pretty reliable source, a member of the Royal Hong Kong police force. Colin used it in one of his books.  It was the only real thing in his book, but he caught a bit of flak about it as being too farfetched. The story was about two Triad (Chinese secret society involved in organized crime) henchmen who were driving around one night wondering  what to do with the body they had in the boot – as you do – so they broke into a dumpling factory and tried to force the corpse through a mincer.

But the body jammed and when one of them tried to free it he got his own hand stuck in the machine as well and lost two of his fingers. His mate took him and his mangled digits to the local emergency department.

But the doctor who tried to re-attach them was quite puzzled. His patient had lost an index finger and a thumb; what they had brought with them to the ER was a pinkie and part of a toe.

His suspicions were aroused, as they say.

And that’s how the cops made the arrest. The two hit men were caught red-handed, so to speak.

 “Rule one of reading other people’s stories is that whenever you say ‘well that’s not convincing’ the author will most likely tell you that’s the bit that wasn’t made up.  Real life is under no obligation to be convincing.” – Neil Gaiman

I think Neil might be whispering directly to me.  LOL.  But what a GREAT clue for a you-solve-it, huh? How fast and furious do you suppose Johnene’s rejection letter would be?  I’d open up my SASE, all excited, heart pumping at the prospect of maybe finding a contract…and find a pile of ashes. Still warm from Johnene’s wrath.