Monthly Archives: October 2010

Oct 31

A Halloween Treat: “Wanted Undead or Alive” Authors Janice Gable Bashman and Jonathan Maberry Descend to the Child Finder Trilogy Blog

MIKE ANGLEY: No trick, just some treats this Halloween! I’m delighted to take a departure from my norm (fiction authors) and host Janice Gable Bashman and Jonathan Maberry today. They have co-authored a non-fiction book, WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE, an ideal topic for today. Let me introduce them first, then jump into the interview.

Janice Gable Bashman has written for THE BIG THRILL, NOVEL & SHORT STORY WRITER’S MARKET, THE WRITER, WILD RIVER REVIEW, and many others. She can be reached at

Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestseller, multiple Bram Stoker Award-winner and a writer for Marvel Comics. He has written a number of award-winning nonfiction books and novels on the paranormal and supernatural, including THE CRYPTOPEDIA, VAMPIRE UNIVERSE, THEY BITE, ZOMBIE CSU and PATIENT ZERO. He can be reached at

MIKE ANGLEY: Tell us about your book.

JANICE GABLE BASHMAN: WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE deals with the struggle of good vs evil in film, comics, pop culture, world myth, literature, and the real world. Everything from vampire slayers to paranormal investigators to FBI serial-killer profilers. It includes interviews with folks like Stan Lee, Mike Mignola, Jason Aaron, Fred Van Lente, Peter Straub, Charlaine Harris and many more; and the book is fully illustrated by top horror, comics & fantasy artists.

JONATHAN MABERRY: Our book starts with good vs evil as a concept and then we chase it through philosophy, religion, politics, literature, art, film, comics, pop-culture and the real world. It’s such a complex topic, one that’s fundamental to all of our human experience, from evolution to the formation of tribes and society. We take a look at it historically, mythologically, in terms of storytelling from cave paintings to literature, we track it through pop culture and into our modern real world.
The book has a real sense of humor, too. We have fun with the topic as well as bringing a lot of information to the reader.
Plus the book is illustrated with forty black and white pieces and eight killer color plates. Artists like Chad Savage, Jacob Parmentier, Don Maitz, Francis Tsai, David Leri, Scott Grimando, Jason Beam, Alan F. Beck, Billy Tackett and more.

MIKE ANGLEY: Why did you decide to tackle the battle of good versus evil?

BASHMAN: The concept of good vs evil surrounds us. There’s just no avoiding it, and it’s been around for as long as man has walked the earth. Yet the definition of what’s good and what’s evil varies depending on who you’re asking—it’s not a black and white issue, so there are a whole slew of things to cover on the topic. In WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE, we tackle the whole good and evil idea in a fun and exciting way—through its presence in movies, books, comics, pop culture, and real life.

MABERRY: I’ve done four previous books on the supernatural but they mostly focused on the predators (VAMPIRE UNIVERSE, THE CRYPTOPEDIA, ZOMBIE CSU and THEY BITE—all available from Citadel Press). I wanted to wrap that series with a book based entirely on the good guys. Now that we know what’s out there in the dark, who are we gonna call?
Also, times have become tough lately. Wars, racial tension everywhere, religious tension everywhere, the economy in the toilet…it’s nice to shift focus from those things that frighten us and take a look at what is going to save our butts. And, yeah, the book doesn’t deal entirely with real world problems (after all, most of us aren’t like to have to fend off a vampire or werewolf!) but it’s reassuring to know that at no time in our vast and complex human experience has mankind ever said: “Screw it, the Big Bad is too big and too bad.” We always fight back, we always rise. That, more than anything, is the heart of this book.

MIKE ANGLEY: You delve into fiction, movies, and comics, and interview so many great people in the book. Sounds like a ton of research, yet the book’s a fun read. How do turn all that material into something so exciting?

BASHMAN: What’s not fun about talking about good and evil? Darth Vader vs Luke Skywalker. Buffy the Vampire Slayer vs vampires. Batman vs The Joker. Dracula vs Van Helsing. FBI profilers vs serial killers. Ghosts vs ghost hunters. It’s the ultimate showdown between opposing forces. We take a look at this concept from all angles and put it together in a manner that’s easy to read with lots of interviews, sidebars, and interesting facts. There’s something for everyone in WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE.

MABERRY: I’m a research junkie. I started out as a magazine writer and did a lot of that for a lot of years. I also wrote college textbooks that I wanted my students to not only read but ENJOY reading. That’s the challenge of writing for the mass market –you have to develop a set of instincts for what people want to know. At the same time you have to be able to craft what you write so that you can impart useful information in a digestible fashion, even with the notoriously short attention-span of the modern reader.
That said, having a Big Picture sensibility in the writing helps us to present the info in a way that is neither offense nor off-putting. Sometimes that means using a bit of snarky humor, and sometimes it’s taking off the disguise and allowing the reader to glimpse our own inner geeks. Once they know that we’re part of their crowd, the book becomes more of an act of sharing cool stuff with our peers than authors writing to a demographic. Much more fun.

MIKE ANGLEY: Vampires have been the subject of fiction and fantasy for many years, but what do you make of the current interest in them with such moves as the Twilight series?

BASHMAN: The enduring appeal of Vampires is one that seems to have no end. People are fascinated by beings that can live forever. The Twilight series moves that whole vampire idea into one that appeals to a generation of readers who want their vampires attractive and appealing. None of this bite your neck stuff and you become a nasty being. The idea of falling in love with a vampire, of being in love forever until the end of time, is one that many women (and men) find attractive. But what the interest in vampires really allows us do is to examine good vs evil in a way that is easily tolerated.

MABERRY: Vampires will always be popular, and there will always be new spins on them. Currently it’s the tween crowd with TWILIGHT and the urban fantasy crowd with Laurell K. Hamilton, L.A. Banks and that crowd. A few years ago it was Anne Rice, Stephen King and Chelsea Quinn Yarbrough. Before that it was Hammer Films, and so on. Vampires are changeable characters who represent our desires to transcend the limitations and natural crudities of human physical existence. They are, to the modern pop culture era, what the gods of Olympus were to the Greeks: admirable, larger than life characters that we can idealize, lust after, want to be, and be entertained by.
There has been a lot of unfair criticism about the TWILIGHT books and movies. I don’t play into that. Those movies and books have done immeasurable good for the vampire as a pop culture commodity. And a lot of people are getting massive career boosts as a result, even though they are some of the loudest critics.
A Big Picture way to look at it is, if the readers get tired of sparkly pretty-boy vampires, then they’ll go looking for nastier horror-based vampires. That’s already happening—hence books like THE STRAIN by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, and Justin Cronin’s THE PASSAGE. The so-called backlash is really just the process of people seeing one thing, deciding that it’s not for them, and seeking out something that’s a better fit. The contempt so many people throw at TWILIGHT is more than just snobbish, it’s ill-informed and short-sighted.

MIKE ANGLEY: How do you manage the writing process when there are two people writing one book?

BASHMAN: We each came into this project with our own strengths and that made it easy to decide who should tackle what part of the book. The most difficult aspect was finding one voice that worked for both writers so that the book read like one person wrote it. We accomplished this fairly easily, with some trial and error, since we had worked together on a number of articles in the past.

MABERRY: We also divided the book according to personal interest and existing knowledge base. I tackled stuff that played to my strengths –vampires, comics, pulp fiction, etc. Janice played to her strengths. She’s writing a book on thrillers, so she tackled serial killers, etc.
I agree that finding a single voice was a challenge. We’re different kinds of people and different kinds of writers, but now, even I have a hard time remembering who wrote what. Janice even picked up my smartass sense of humor—which means that I may have caused her some permanent damage. On the other hand, she’s an enormously disciplined writer, so I hope I picked up some good writing habits through osmosis.

MIKE ANGLEY: What’s the hardest part about writing a book with someone else? The easiest?

BASHMAN: I can honestly say that I didn’t find any aspect of writing the book with Jonathan difficult. It’s important have an open line of communication with your writing partner and a willingness to view things from your partner’s perspective. Otherwise, you run into the potential to butt heads on some matters. We both came into this project with the attitude that we’re writing a book together and we’re going to do what needs to be done to write the best possible book we can. When both partners have the same goal in mind and both share an excitement for the subject matter, it makes it pretty easy to co-author a book.

MABERRY: I agree…this was a fun, easy, fast and very rewarding process. It helps that we’re friends and have a lot of mutual respect. That goes a long damn way in making the book fun to write and (I hope) fun to read.

MIKE ANGLEY: What’s next for you guys?

BASHMAN: I’m finishing up a proposal for my next non-fiction book; it’s still under wraps so I can’t share the details at this time. I can say that dozens of key players are already on board for the project and it’s sure to be a fun one. I continue to write for various publications, and I’ll also be shopping a young adult novel shortly.

MABERRY: This has been my most productive year to date. Between novels, nonfiction books, short stories and comics (for Marvel), I’ve had something new coming out every month, and often multiple things coming out in a single week.
Next up is ROT & RUIN, my first young adult novel. It’s set fourteen years after the zombie apocalypse and kicks off a new series that will be released in hardcover by Simon & Schuster. Then I have my third Joe Ledger thriller, THE KING OF PLAGUES, hitting stores in March from St. Martins Griffin. I also have three mini-series from Marvel in the pipeline. MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER is already running, and it’s a post-apocalyptic existentialist adventure. Very strange, even for me. Next up is BLACK PANTHER: KLAWS OF THE PANTHER, kicking off in October; and then in January we launch CAPTAIN AMERICA: HAIL HYDRA, a five-issue Marvel Event that follows Cap from World War II to present day. And my graphic novel, DOOMWAR, debuts in hardcover in October.
I’m currently writing DEAD OF NIGHT, a standalone zombie novel to be release by Griffin in June.
Read More

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Oct 27

All About Copyrights…and Article by Mary Deal

About Copyrights
Mary Deal

Once you have finished your opus, do not apply for a Copyright until you know exactly what you are doing.

If you plan to self-publish or publish print-on-demand, then you will need to copyright your manuscript. (See the information below.) This may change in the future but at the moment, self-publishing and print-on-demand companies do not do this for you.

However, if you secure a copyright registration and then try to sell your book to a big house publisher, you may have doomed yourself. That copyright you took much time and effort to secure makes you the holder of 1st Rights. The big houses will want 1st Rights; they usually will not take any manuscript on 2nd rights.

In rare instances where a book has already been published, a big house will pick up the book under a new contract. However, any published book will usually have to have sold into the thousands of copies in order to be noticed by the larger publishing houses. If such a book is taken on by a larger publisher, they would accept 2nd Rights.

To protect yourself as being the creator of your manuscript, you may wish to register it at Writer’s Guild of America. They charge a fee; you send your entire manuscript, and there are various ways to submit. I use this organization myself. Filing with this group is not a form of copyright and you will later need a copyright from the U.S. Copyright Office. Filing with WGA is simply another way to register a date that your manuscript was completed and that you are the owner. Should anyone try to plagiarize your story, you have proof of when you completed the manuscript and that you are the original owner. Make sure you read their FAQS and understand the process. They have east coast and west coast branches, so you should use the branch in your vicinity.

Should you choose to file with the U.S. Copyright Office, you will find them at

The U.S. Copyright Office also has an online submissions capability that I have used in the past.

My only advice here is that you know which way you will publish your book before you decide whether or not to seek a copyright.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Oct 22

Tree/House Author, Jessica Knauss, Visits with Mike Angley

MA: My guest-blogger today is Jessica Knauss. Born and raised in Northern California, Jessica has become something of a wanderer who hopes to settle down soon. She has worked as a librarian and a Spanish teacher. She lives with her husband Stanley, with whom she plans to open a soft-serve ice cream shop in the future. Jessica has participated in many writer’s groups and workshops, including the International Writers’ Program at the University of Iowa. Her nonfiction has appeared in Medieval History Magazine, Hortulus, LL Journal, and an encyclopedia entitled The World and Its Peoples. To date, she has published fiction in Bewildering Stories, Do Not Look at the Sun, (Short) Fiction Collective, Full of Crow Quarterly Fiction, Sillymess, This Mutant Life and Short, Fast, and Deadly. Her poetry can be found at Haggard & Halloo, Apollo’s Lyre and The Shine Journal. Her novella Tree/House, about a woman’s awakening through sleeping in trees, is available at Amazon. Açedrex Publishing will release her poetry chapbook, Dusk Before Dawn, in September. Get updates on her writing at her Facebook page.

You have been very busy with all your writing projects!

JK: I came out of the womb with a pencil in my hand. In grade school, I could hardly be bothered with math, but let all other experiences influence the stories that just kept coming out of me unbidden. I grew up in Northern California, close to the Redwood forests, near the foggy grey beaches, and gained a sense of awe at nature and a strong isolation from civilization that shows up in all my work. I studied a lot of subjects, mainly Spanish, because my love of Spain sprouted spontaneously one day when I was about 11. I’ve been a librarian (love those books!) and a Spanish teacher in the beautiful cities of Boston and Providence. Somewhere along the way I lost sight of creative writing, but have now taken it up again with complete seriousness. The stories and characters were patient. They knew I had to come back to them some day.

MA: Was your decision to write novels a conscious, formulated one, or did something simply inspire you?

JK: The novels chose me instead of the other way around. For me, being a writer consists of taming the wild muse and making a craft out of a formless mass of creativity I’m re-learning to tap into.

MA: So tell us about Tree/House.

JK: My novella, Tree/House, is a timeless coming-of-age story in which a woman, Emma, has made terrible decisions throughout her life, allowing herself to be led around by anyone with more force of will. When the husband who took her on dies suddenly, she slowly turns her drifting into a direction, learning some shocking truths along the way. She could not go through this process without Geraldine, a vagrant who camps on her property, sleeping not in the barn or the stable, but in the wild old trees. Geraldine is in need of some emotional rehabilitation herself, but with her assertive personality, she helps Emma see the alternatives to the passive life she has lived. The novella has a slightly nineteenth-century feel to it, because the characters write letters, build libraries, and trek through the countryside on foot, but at just 28,000 words, it’s a fast, fun read that will leave you time to read it again! It’s perfect for book clubs and discussion groups or just sharing with friends.

I also have a poetry chapbook that recently released, called Dusk Before Dawn. This is a compilation of most of my poetry from over the years, and I’ve put them together in a trajectory that addresses the nature of language, the search for love, the nostalgia of place, the creative process, and, most importantly, personal identity. Some are like stories, and others a very lyrical. They make a nice companion to Tree/House, as they address many of the same issues.

MA: Emma sounds like an intriguing character. How did you go about developing her in the story?

JK: One of the lines from what ended up being the third chapter came to me in a bolt of sheer inspiration. It’s when one of the servants on the estate is telling Emma some unsavory truths she didn’t know about Geraldine: “Do you know she killed the cat, aimed for the stable boy and slept with her boss?” The protagonist at that point was merely a receptacle for this information. Emma’s character grew out of the way she reacted to Geraldine’s extravagant style. The antagonist, Franklin, grew out of that passivity in a natural way, creating the drama organically.

MA: Would you say Emma is a strong character? Is she flawed at all?

JK: I’m afraid Emma is all weakness: confused, not confident, no direction, no definable talent, and worst of all, led easily astray. She represents any woman who finds herself at a crossroads, and I think her indecisiveness and insecurities make her very sympathetic for readers.

MA: Do you have a definable antagonist, or is Emma challenged by many characters because of her weaknesses?

JK: Franklin, who ends up as Emma’s husband (and then brutally murdered in revenge for past misdeeds) is very dangerous because he knows how to manipulate her, all while she believes she is making her own choices. His praise of Emma seems unfounded and bizarre, just like the rest of him. He seems to have sprung out of nothingness to impose an ancient order on her disorganized life. He is a jailer and a neglecter and represents every thing evil and intransigent, at the same time that he opens a new world of literature up to Emma. His gifts are awkward, beautiful only in a certain light, and I hope the reader feels as weird about him as I do.

MA: Is there any of Jessica’s real life story in Emma?

JK: Absolutely. Because of the organic development of the plot, Emma’s predicament reflects the trapped feeling and self-doubts I was going through at the time. The writing and sending of letters comes directly from my experience, and I think it increases the feeling of isolation as she’s trying to make a decision about what to do with her life. I had a terrible experience with a wrinkled wedding dress that I make Emma go through with a little more naiveté, and I had a friend in college who told me that eating French fries gave her the hiccups, so thanks for that tidbit! (I’m not sure she would want me to broadcast her name, but she knows who she is.) Franklin turned out as a Bluebeard type. He has elements from just about anything I felt stifled me in the past, including, of course, old boyfriends! I think all this leakage between life and fiction, unintentional or otherwise, helps give the story psychological realism the reader can really get into.

MA: Now that Tree/House and your book of poetry, Dusk Before Dawn, are out, what’s next on your writing horizon?

JK: I’m striking out into territory that may seem very different by writing a historical novel set in tenth-century Spain and based on an epic revenge poem. It’s full of battles, glittering armor, and exotic locales. It’s not really a departure for me because I have a PhD in Medieval Spanish, and, continuing the feminine theme of my previous work, the story has female characters who know how to manipulate the society in which they live.

I’m always working on weird short stories, and waiting for that bolt of inspiration for my next longer work.

MA: Will Emma come along in future works?

JK: Tree/House readers have said they would love to spend more time with the characters. I have considered writing the further adventures of Geraldine, or even a prequel showing how she really got to be the fascinating woman she is in Tree/House, but nothing concrete is on the writing schedule. Read More

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Oct 20

“Character Arc” by Mary Deal

Writing a great character arc happens when using descriptive writing. Your writing objectives should include interesting story people who are never stagnant but change as the story progresses. These changes are known as the character arc.
Knowing the story you wish to write, some pre-planning is advisable. You’ve written character sketches. You’ve plotted the story line. You should be able to detect how your characters evolve as the plot proceeds. You will begin to understand the evolution story people experience as you begin to flesh out the details.
A character arc is the overall view of how a character changed from the beginning of the tale till the ending. When you read other books, try to perceive, even pin point, the evolution the main character goes through and how they end up changed at the ending. This applies to all characters, but at least your main character requires a character arc. Approach the overall view of the arc with the intention to put your story people through some experiences that will change them.
An example might be the cop who has tried for years to solve a cold case and whose efforts are pooh-poohed for trying to wring something more out of dead-end clues. The story begins with him worn out from years of stale clues and no new leads. About ready to give up like others investigators have, still he persists and then discovers something overlooked by all others. He can’t reveal his clue for fear of exposing people who could thwart his efforts. He tries desperately to solve the crime on his own.
In this scenario, the character arc begins with the cop, worn down, and ready to face the fact the case may never be solved. The arc evolves when he finds an overlooked clue. This is where the writer should employ descriptive writing to enhance what happens to change this cop. He’s found new motivation. The next step in the character arc is the determination he shows to get the crime solved. He’s got a new reason to come to work every day.
After he solves the crime, he is vindicated. He’s definitely a new man. The writer can make this new man an egocentric braggart or can make him humble yet full of self-confidence with a new respect from his fellow officers. You can write a character arc that may have the character end poorly or magnanimously, but changed. It’s all in the descriptive writing and what the writer wishes to accomplish with the story.
Another example is, perhaps, the main character is a stodgy matriarch whose control of her extended family never waivers. In the story, she believes something to be true. The story action then proceeds to show her changing her viewpoints. She becomes a better person for understanding in spite of her mistaken beliefs. Her status in the family doesn’t change. Her character arc is depicted when she changes her viewpoint and determines to be more open-minded and better informed. Her emotional or psychological growth arc becomes the character arc of the story; all the while her position in the family is maintained.
The character arc does not apply only to actions taken but to thoughts and beliefs as well, even if the character does nothing physically but stand her ground in the hierarchy.
Focusing on the character arc upholds the conflict or tension of the story overall. What the character experiences on an inner level affects them on the outer level and is what contributes to the story overall.
Know your writing objectives, or story purpose, and best define them with descriptive writing. Most character arcs are shown through emotional or psychological process, but the character changes can come about through physical actions that further show the inner workings of the character’s mind set. Read More

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Oct 19

Mike Angley’s Website Garners the “One Lovely Blog” Award from Author Stacy Juba

I am honored to have been selected to receive the One Lovely Blog Award from fellow-author Stacy Juba. This is a “pay-it-forward” type award that recipients are encouraged to pass on to others. I think that’s a pretty cool idea…now let me see, to whom shall I bestow this honor?

Please visit Stacy Juba’s blog for more information about this fine author: Stacy Juba: Mysteries, Murder, and More. Read More

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Oct 15

Western Romance, Chick Lit, Feminist…all Descriptions of Mike Angley’s Guest Author, Lotus Landry and her Novel, “Skookum Man”

MA: I’m joined today by Lotus Landry, author of the Western Romance, Skookum Man. Lotus had a prior career as a software applications developer for aerospace projects – among these were line-of-sight helicopter sight stabilization code. She resides in the Los Angeles vicinity and has two adult sons. (One of her sons is able to combine software and storytelling as a video games developer). She is a native of Seattle and grew up not far from the setting of the book.

Lotus told me she chose to write a novel because she loves to work on very large and intricate projects – especially those which fall outside the boundaries of traditional genres. I can understand that with her background in the aerospace industry, something that warms my heart!

Please tell us about Skookum Man.

LL: In Skookum Man a chick lit feminist confronts a greenhorn ladies man in 1830s rainforest. It’s been tagged as: Western Romance; Feminist; Chick Lit; Pacific Northwest; Kindle Romance. The book is set in a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost, the Pacific Northwest, circa 1810. Men and women from divergent worlds meet in an Arden-like forest. In those strange woods the reader is introduced to: wood-wise ingénues, confused men, matronly women, clever animals, and assorted asses and fools. The introductions are lovingly conducted by a benign narrative presence.

That’s a happy beginning- but as the story progresses….the benign presence becomes somewhat sinister. The wood-wise ingénues lose their wisdom; the confused men become calculating; and the outpost seems to contract into itself. As in many fairy tales, the story’s conclusion is uncertain and … disturbing(?). It is a fairy tale with a modern edge – a romantic speculation – a speculative history. The book’s airy structure and modern references contribute to its bouncy, tale-like mood.

It features Jane, who is sometimes called ‘Matooskie’, and her accidental boyfriend, Robert. Jane, who knows how to take care of herself in the remote rain forest of the Pacific Northwest, has been brought up as a free range child. She is multicultural and disciplined enough to master Latin.

Robert is a newly arrived officer at the fort, a remote place with several peculiar luxuries but very few romantic options. He has a history of being a slick player of sophisticated women of the London social scene. He is honored as ‘skookum’ by the local Indian clan even though he demonstrates that he has no wilderness skill sets.

MA: Tell us more about Jane, or Matooskie.

LL: The main character, Matooskie, has trouble integrating her two natures. She has a Chinook Indian heritage from which she derives her expertise for surviving in the forests, but she is also eager to please her father by adopting the trappings of a proper British lady.

Matooskie is extremely tenacious and goal directed and loves keeping secrets. She is sharp enough to master Latin with the assistance of the private tutors who pass through the fortress as guests.

MA: Yours is such a unique story…how did you come up with the idea?

LL: I was influenced by contemporaries from the Pacific Northwest. When I wrote the heroine as a person with a passion for botany and a compulsion to classify plants, I gave her the habits of my best friend’s mother, a horticultural writer, who deposited her children on trailheads in remote mountain forests where the children were instructed to seek rare plant species.

When I invented another woman, the woefully displaced British matron of the story, I gave her the confusion of a 20th century transplant to Oregon from Maryland, who mistakenly thought that she could not leave the house – for months—until the rain stopped. I included native people as some of the first people I myself saw when I moved into Oregon were Indians spearing and smoking fish along the old Columbia River highway.

MA: Any person, childhood experiences that you drew from?

LL: When I consider the inspiration for writing Skookum Man, it becomes apparent that whatever happened to me in the fourth grade did not stay in the fourth grade. Of course, this is the year that kids become immersed in the history of their respective states and the folklore sticks to them like pieces of campfire marsh mellows on a stick – even when they settle elsewhere. In my case, we studied sea explorers and the forts and covered wagons and it wasn’t unusual for one chum to blurt out that she was a descendant of the famous trapper, Joe Meek. Regrettably, when one moves away and settles in another state, one ends up clueless (for decades) about the arcane of the new state because fourth grade can only happen in one place. The brain accumulates only one set of lore that is reinforced by the field trips of childhood.

MA: Okay, so what’s in your writing future?

LL: I’m currently working on my next novel, a cozy mystery set in contemporary Orange County, California. It features two career women with unusual occupations who belong to a Homeowners Association.

MA: Lotus – thanks for stopping by and telling us all about Skookum Man. If my readers want to learn more, please visit:
Read More

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Oct 13

“Forensic Evidence in Plots” (A Subject Near and Dear to my Heart!) by Mary Deal

Forensic Evidence in Plots

Forensic science could kill your story.

With forensic evidence being able to convict a perpetrator on as little as a millimeter of hair fiber, for example, plots of stories and films could be brought to an end too abruptly. Too, explaining the forensic evidence and showing how it affects the outcome could take over any plot.

When a subplot takes over and becomes the action, this is to lose control of your story. It is important that the main plot hold the most interesting, the most critical action. Then, no matter how contorted a subplot, it will only serve to enhance the main plot. True, too, any twist or turn in a subplot must enhance the main plot action. It cannot be included only to enhance the subplot. There is a risk here of having your subplot become a story unto itself and distract from the purpose it should serve. Any action in a subplot must feed into but not be greater than the main action.

A perfect example of a subplot nearly taking over can be found in the movie, Witness, (1985). The good cop, John Book, discovers fellow officer, McFee, has committed a murder. When John Book discloses this to his boss, Schaeffer, he soon learns Schaeffer is just as corrupt. The bad cops are selling off confiscated drugs. Once found out, both Schaeffer and McFee want to kill John Book.

This is a simple subplot that adds to and is intrinsic to complicating the action of the main plot. This subplot of clandestine activities within the police department blocks the hero from accomplishing his goal of bringing the perpetrator to justice and heightens tension in the story. So, too, does the fact that John Book needs to hide out and heal while yet another person turns him in.

Considering Pamela Wallace won an Oscar for co-writing the script for Witness, how many times can such good cop/bad cop plots be done? If some cops are to be the bad guys in scripts, after the impact that Witness made in films, bad cop plots began taking more drastic turns.

In a thriller I started writing a few years ago, soon after I completed the rough draft of the manuscript, an explosion in forensic science occurred and my story immediately became outdated. A year of work had to be shelved. But my plot is so unique! I kept saying. I had to find a way to save it. I did. To this day, it is still a unique story.

The murders and arson I conjured in my original story could today be easily solved. How could I learn enough about forensic science in order to thwart its proving effects in my plot and still keep the action running?

Then I read, You Can Write a Movie, also written by Pamela Wallace. Finally, I hit upon a way to get around forensic science without myself having to become a forensic scientist.

In Witness, Wallace had crooked cops tampering with evidence. I have crooked cops in my mystery too. However, I could not be satisfied with simply adding crooked cops into the mix. It seemed all too convenient and way overdone in films. But not if you throw into the melee a radical group who just happens to get their kicks from wrongdoing.

In my story, I wanted to convolute the subplot way past the point of simplicity and yet not have it threaten to take over the main plot, as it almost does in Witness. My story has a subplot of not just crooked cops but a group of social renegades as well. But as I said, this was not enough for me. I have further complicated my plot with a hierarchy within the group of bad guys—and girls—all trying to out-do or eliminate one another in order to rise in stature. Then, so as not to distort from the main plot action, anything this group does enhances or thwarts the heroine from accomplishing her goal to help bring the proper person to justice.

While a certain amount of evidence is a must in order to redirect the finger of guilt toward the real perpetrator, my plot becomes complicated when evidence disappears. People within the wicked hierarchy fall or rise to power dependent upon who loses and finds and uses said evidence to climb another rung on the proverbial ladder. While all this is going on, an innocent inmate moves perilously closer to a date with lethal injection.

Ultimately, you cannot get away from using forensic evidence, but if there is no evidence to test, or if it is found and lost again, this heightens the excitement of your plot. If your story lacks excitement or is too easily solved, interrupt the pathway that connects the dots. Maybe kill off the only person who knows about the smoking gun. Let corroboration be found later on. There is no way to get around the fact that forensic science can solve most crimes these days, but only if there is evidentiary proof to test.

While no forensic evidence was needed to solve the murder in Witness, the complications that arose and blocked John Book from accomplishing his goal made for an exciting story. However, you must complicate your story to delay the final scene that forensic science can prematurely bring about. Make your plot as contorted as possible. Because of the splash Witness made by using the simple subplot of good cop/bad cop, chances are, another serious story of this type won’t fly because that kind of plot is simple and would have to be better than Witness. You must complicate your plot and learn something about the forensic information your story needs. The writer need not learn about all forensic science, only as much as must be used to enhance that one plot; enough to hide the true facts from being found too soon.

NOTE: The novel that Mary mentioned writing in this article is her new thriller, Down to the Needle, which was recently released. Read More

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Oct 08

Fellow Military Writers Society of America (MWSA) Author Erin Rainwater Swings by to Visit with Mike Angley

MA: It’s a real treat for me today to have as my guest a fellow member of the Military Writers Society of America (MWSA), and Rocky Mountain neighbor, Erin Rainwater. Erin is a Pennsylvania native who says she probably should have been born in the 19th century but somehow got flash-forwarded into the 20th. There was never any question that she would be a nurse when she grew up, regardless of which century she was in. And beginning in about the seventh grade, there was no question that she’d launch that nursing career in the military. The daughter of a WWII intelligence officer, she entered the Army after graduating from nursing school. That was during the Vietnam War era, and she was privileged to care for the bodies and spirits of soldiers and veterans, including repatriated POWs and MIAs. Her military experience has helped in writing parts of her novels. Her support of the military has been life long and is ongoing, and one of her favorite pastimes is volunteering at the USO in Denver. She participated in Operation Desert Swap, having “adopted” a soldier in Iraq to whom she sent a copy of her novel for reading and swapping with his fellow troops. Erin now lives in Colorado with her husband of 35 years, has four children and the four most adorable grandchildren on the planet.

Erin, thank you for your service. Please tell us a little more about your background, especially your military service.

ER: My “back story” consists of being born and raised in a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA, attending nursing school there, and going directly into the Army Nurse Corps upon graduation. I served for three years during the Vietnam War era, including duty stations at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, the 121st Evac Hospital in Korea, and at Walter Reed in D.C. I got married while still in the Army, and after my discharge I worked part time—mostly in ICU—while raising our four children. I only started writing when I was in my thirties.

MA: I’m familiar with the 121st from my two tours in Korea…a huge facility. Nursing and writing – how did you end up becoming an author?

ER: I’ve always loved fiction, especially historicals, so it was natural for me to migrate toward that genre when I began writing. As for novel length versus short stories, it’s not so much a choice as a lack of ability on my part to write shorter tales. I just plain lack the capacity to spin a yarn in less than 45,000 words. My new release, Refining Fires, started out as a short story, but there was just too much story to tell, and my attempts to limit it failed miserably. My critique group hounded me into telling the full story, so the three-part novel was born. I consider the term “short story” an oxymoron.

MA: Tell us more about your latest release.

ER: Refining Fires is unique in format and storytelling approach. It’s three-stories-in-one format, beginning with “Refining Fire.” Clare Canterbury is a nurse with a tarnished professional reputation seeking work. Any work. She answers an ad for a live-in nurse situation, caring for a disabled Korean War veteran. Little does she know what she’s in for. He tosses her out of his home. But his anger is no match for her pluck, and she finagles her way into his employ, his home, and eventually his heart. As she ministers to Peter’s body, his soul develops a raw yearning for a life and a love he’d long ago thought hopeless. Theirs is quite a romance, but “Refining Fire” is only the beginning of their love story. In the second story, a little girl named Susannah shows grit beyond her years as she faces her biggest fear. She must go it alone on a treacherous journey down a mountain to save her mother’s life, then faces harder times yet to come. The love that Peter and Clare share has an immense impact on this extraordinary child who is filled with “Blind Courage.” Finally, you’ll meet the “Kept Woman” bent on self-destruction until a child and a man from her past teach her about who has been keeping her all along. Refining Fires is not your prototypical romance. It’s made up of three stories of people seeking redemption in one form or another, whose paths cross, showing how God’s hand is ever on us, leading and refining as we go.

MA: I understand you take a unique approach to developing your characters. Please talk about that.

ER: This might sound strange, but for me it’s never been so much about my developing my characters as it is my catching on to the nuances of their personalities. Although I begin with a concept of who I want the main characters to be and what they will be like, I honestly discover things about them right along with the reader as we trek further into the story. Take Peter Cochran in Refining Fires, for instance. We initially see his darker, angry side, but in time, as the walls of his internal fortress begin to crumble, we gain insight into what’s been there all along—astounding courage (even in the face of death, I later discovered), humility, a sense of humor, and the longing to be loved for who he is and not for what he has.

MA: What are Peter’s strengths and weaknesses?

ER: I mentioned his courage, which is one of his great strengths. His nurse Clare points out that not only did he show heroism in the war but during his recovery from his injuries as well—fourteen times he’s been through those operating room doors, plus he learned to walk again, every step he took a victory in itself. His greatest weakness is his lack of awareness that he possesses any of these strengths, or that any of it matters. He also had chosen a lifestyle contrary to his early Christian upbringing, then became embittered when consequence time arrived.

MA: What about an antagonist…is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?

ER: Ooh, that is such a cool question. In my two previous books, I’ve had some really nasty villains (one reader told me every time the heavy in True Colors entered the scene it made her skin crawl). And there is one character in Refining Fires who definitely is the “bad girl.” But for the most part, Peter is his own worst nemesis.

MA: Given your nursing background, your service in the military, and your overseas time in Korea, I imagine a lot of your real experiences influenced your writing of Refining Fires?

ER: Yep, they sure did. Clare Canterbury is a former Army nurse, as am I. Some of our military experiences were similar. Read More

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Oct 06

“Talk the Talk” Sage Advice from Mary Deal

Talk the Talk

Is your dialogue authentic?

I write mysteries and watch some reality cop shows listening for police techniques and jargon. It’s a way of keeping stories in the now, exciting, up to date and understandable by readers. With an open mind and ear, you can learn how to make your characters act like the police or the perpetrator. You can learn search techniques or glitches in the schemes of wrong-doers. All of this knowledge enhances the reality of the stories you write, not just mysteries.

When writing dialogue for each character, it’s important that each person in the story have their own personality. When speaking, no two characters should sound alike. So it’s important to make a cop sound like a cop and a perpetrator like a perpetrator. It’s important t make these characters sound authentic in any story.

Especially, dialogue is critical in defining character personality. Here is a piece of dialogue I heard when watching Manhunter:

“Do you have an eyeball?”

The scene was a stakeout. Lenny DePaul, on one side of the building, was asking Roxanne Lopez at the corner of the building, if she had a clear view to the doorway where the perpetrator might appear. In another show, I heard “Do you have an eye?”

A book I recommend where you can find police jargon if you’re not into scrutinizing TV shows is Cop Speak: The Lingo of Law Enforcement and Crime, by Tom Philbin.

Here are some examples from the book that can easily be incorporated into dialogue:

Flashlight roll = A police technique of rolling a flashlight across a doorway of a dark room to illuminate the interior.

Make a canoe = Do an autopsy.

Catch a stack = To rob someone who turns out to have a lot of money.

Grounder = An easy case to prosecute; also known as a ground ball.

Mutt = Police term for a person with very poor character.

Hello phones – Telephones that informants use to reach their police contacts.

Still more of the terms and definitions in this book run from hilarious to dead serious. You can find any term explained and some mean far more than you think they do.

If you want your stories, especially mysteries to sound authentic, this book or other similar ones listing terminology and definitions will greatly enhance your writing and dialogue. Make them part of your instructional library.

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Oct 01

Science Fiction Thriller Writer Graham Storrs Lands on Mike Angley’s Blog

MA: My guest today is Graham Storrs, a writer who lives in quiet seclusion on a bush property in Australia. He trained as a psychologist in the UK and, after a career in artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction research and software design, now shares his time between his family, writing, and the beautiful forested hills of his adopted home.
Graham, welcome aboard! Tell us how you became a storyteller.
GS: There never was a prequel really, just parallel lines. I’ve always told stories from as early as I can remember. When I got older, I started writing them down. Meanwhile, I went to school, then university, got jobs, did research, had a career. And all the time, I was writing. Strangely enough, I only took seriously the idea of publishing my fiction about two years ago. Before then, I hadn’t published anything (except non-fiction). Since then, I’ve published ten short stories and my first novel.
MA: Why did you choose to write novels?
GS: I didn’t really choose to at all. For most of my life I was happy writing short stories, but the stories kept getting longer and longer. In the end, I stopped trying to keep them short and started writing book-length stories. I still write shorts now and then (I bundled up a few related stories and put them out as an ebook on Smashwords recently) but I feel very cramped in anything smaller than a novel these days.
MA: Tell us about your début novel, TimeSplash.
GS: TimeSplash is a science fiction thriller – a fast-paced, near-future story about a couple of people – Jay and Sandra – who get caught up in a time travel party scene that wrecks their lives. After that, they each devote themselves to bringing down the guy responsible – a supercool villain named Sniper. Sniper quickly graduates from murderer to big-shot terrorist and is planning to use a temporal anomaly to destroy a capital city. When his two pursuers join forces to track him down, they find themselves and each other along the way.
MA: Who’s the main hero or heroine?
GS: My main protagonist is Sandra. I wanted to create a heroine with huge problems, so bad they sometimes incapacitate her, and a task so hard that anyone would regard it as impossible. And I gave her the curse of being breathtakingly beautiful – something which, perhaps more than anything else, blights her life, On the very first page of the book she is in desperate trouble – and then things get worse and worse. All that she has going for her is an unstoppable will to succeed and an ordinary goodness that is often hard to find.
MA: What about your antagonist, Sniper?
GS: Outwardly, he is handsome and suave, a confident, powerful man, but Sniper also has problems that have left serious psychological scars. Throughout the book he teeters on the brink of a self-destructive downward spiral. The world, to him, is on the verge of chaos and the only way he knows to avoid being consumed by it, is to become its master, smashing and destroying on a massive scale to lead chaos by the nose and make it do his bidding.
MA: Your background in AI and human computer interaction is intriguing, and I’m sure (tongue-in-cheek) that you’ve no real experience with time and space travel, but did any other real life experiences factor into the plot at all?
GS: Most of the places in the book are places I know – London, Brussels, Berlin, Paris. The characters are mostly composites of people I have known – even Sniper is not as uncommon a type as you might suppose – but I have exaggerated or magnified them somewhat, to amplify the drama.
MA: Will there be a sequel to TimeSplash?
GS: Since I finished TimeSplash, I have written another near-future sci-fi thriller – a space-based adventure based on how the religious right will deal with the first transhumans. I’m looking for an agent for that one at the moment. Right now I’m writing the first book of a three-book space opera set thousands of years in the future, finishing a sci-fi comedy based in the present day, and planning a spooky sci-fi noir story about a rather unconventional alien invasion.
TimeSplash was really a stand-alone story. However, I left at least one hook in there for another book, in case I ever feel the urge. I have written two short stories set in the same world. In one of them my two protagonists meet again after fifty years. I haven’t tried to publish it because it’s a sad encounter and I don’t know if I really want that to be their destiny.
MA: How can people find you online?
I use Twitter just about every day and I’m always pleased to meet new people. Anyone can reach me at (@graywave)
I also have a blog in which I write about my life as a struggling new writer
And TimeSplash itself has its own website and blog
Thanks for having me over, Mike. It’s been great. I hope you’ll do me the favour of letting me have you as a guest on my blog one day soon.
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