Always striving to improve my writing, I make notes when readers complain about what they don’t like in a story. I reviewed my notes recently because I’m working on a rewrite of a new novel. Here’s a long list of dislikes from readers on a mystery listserv I participate in:
- portents, particularly the “had-I-but-known”
- cliffhangers at the end of the chapter or the book
- an abundance of coincidences Read more →
Have you set aside a novel in progress because it was just too hard to write at that point in time? I just did. The futuristic thriller is on hold and I’m back to working on the fifth book in my Detective Jackson series. I feel so relieved. I still plan to write THE ARRANGER (set in 2023), but I’m not in the right space to do it now.
It’s hard for me to admit something is too challenging, but that’s the truth of this situation. Because I’m still a full-time freelance editor, Read more →
I’ve had so much great feedback on SECRETS TO DIE FOR I’ve decided to give away a few more copies. This time you have to earn it by coming up with a great name for one of the characters in my next novel, which I’ve just started outlining. Here’s what I know about the characters so far: Read more →
This question comes up dozens of times while I’m writing a novel. Almost every character is given two names (and sometimes a nickname), but what you do you call them most consistently? First name or last? Does their gender and/or role in the story dictate which treatment they get?
I’m reading a John Sandford novel now (one of my favorites!), and I noticed patterns that made me wonder how authors make these choices. Read more →
I was on my way to an interview yesterday with a homicide detective, and she called to cancel because she was at a homicide scene. Of course I responded, “Can I come down there? Please!”
So I ended up at a riverside park with the whole homicide team, asking questions and feeling giddy with excitement. I know, I know. A person was dead, and that’s a tragedy. But I couldn’t help it. It made me think about the show and character Castle, and how excited he gets when he’s called out to a homicide. How silly it seemed for him. Hah! I felt like a teenager at a party with the cool kids.
Of course, they didn’t let me anywhere near the body (dang!), but still, the afternoon was very educational. I learned about a cool gadget called “total station” that’s used to create computerized maps of the area. And I learned that a big guy in a black undertaker-like suit driving a mini van comes to pick up the body. I’m still checking it out, but I think he’s a contractor for the county who simply picks up dead bodies when called out and takes them to the autopsy room at the hospital. A mini van! It’s not how I visualized it.
Mostly what I realized is that you can strive for realism when you write these scenes, but you can’t replicate reality or you’ll bore your readers to death. Everything happens very slowly—unless the killer is still on the scene. Otherwise, there’s lots of standing around. When I showed up, the detectives were all eating pizza out of box flopped open on the hood of a cruiser. It seemed so odd, I almost laughed out loud. Nobody eats pizza at the homicide scenes I write, and no one ever will.
Other things I learned about the sergeant who invited me to the scene:
- She supervises a team of eight male detectives and gets no flack about her gender.
- She remembers the name of every homicide victim she and her team have investigated.
- She’s still going to sit down with me for a formal interview next week, so I can ask about her career and write a profile about her for the paper.