Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Shared Psychology of Dieting and of Planning a Fictional Murder

Today my guest is Janet Greger and I am so excited to have her visit.  Like me, she's a retired academic who has turned her skills and knowledge to writing mysteries.  
As a biologist and professor emerita of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she enjoys putting tidbits of science into her novels.  She also includes Bug, her Japanese Chin and a pet therapy dog, in her stories.  They live in the Southwest.
Janet and Chin

 Janet's newest book is Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight.  And no, it's not really a diet book, but read on and you'll see how it could be.

Someone in this southwestern medical school doesn’t like women. Two have been murdered already. At first, Linda Almquist suspects the deaths are related to her investigation of Dr. Richard Varegos, a “diet doctor.” He is alleged to be recklessly endangering the lives of his obese research subjects. Maybe she’s wrong. The murders might be related to something in the past – something involving her boss the Dean. While Linda fears for her job, the police fear for her life.

 And now here's Janet:

I know that Lesley is a psychologist by training so I tried to give this guest blog a psychology twist. No, that’s not some sort of new drink? I’m going to demonstrate similarities between dieting and plotting a fictional murder. (I don’t have any experience plotting a real murder.)


Why am I doing this? It’s because my new mystery/suspense novel is called Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. The protagonist Linda Almquist is struggling with change. She’s trying to lose weight and adjust to a new job – being the interim associate dean of a medical school. Then she gets dragged into the investigation of the murder of a “diet” doctor at the school. And food, diets, and murder investigations get hopelessly mixed up.


Let’s get back to diet and plotting fictional murders.


Rule 1 of Dieting: You can’t eat what your hand can’t reach to put in your mouth. Please note in the first chapter of Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight Linda has just cleared her office of all goodies. If you want to lose weight, you should do the same. Don’t buy high calorie snacks and desserts. You know the stuff that you just can’t stop eating - potato chips, cookies, etc. If you want the crunch, eat celery, radish, and carrots sticks. (I know they don’t taste as good.)


Similarly, you can’t kill someone without a weapon. It doesn’t have to be a gun, a knife, or your hands trained to do karate chops. Do you realize you could find hundred of ways to kill someone with the items in a medical school? And many of the drugs and chemicals are hard to detect, at least if the medical examiner, isn’t looking for signs of murder.


Part of the fun of Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight is all the new things you’ll learn about “poisons.” And the science behind them is real. (At one point in my career I was an associate dean in a medical school.)


Rule 2 of Dieting: Exercise more. Many forget that walking is exercise. Instead of calling people, Linda Almquist walks to their offices because she thinks they’re less apt to say no to her requests. She also likes to see problems first hand. You might find ways to sit less and walk more at work, too.


Did you know you could walk two or three miles or more without ever going outside or retracing your steps in many med schools? They’re real mazes. As you follow Linda down long, sometime darkened, corridors, you’ll see a medical school is a lot more than patient rooms and clinics. The suspects know all the passageways, too. So there’s plenty of action.


Rule 3 of Dieting: Choose your dining partners carefully. It’s easier to eat less when those with you are also eating less. Linda doesn’t do a good job of selecting lunch partner, especially Al Diaz, the cop who loves Hurricane burritos. But you’ll get a tour of actual restaurants in Albuquerque in Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. And Albuquerque has lots of great southwestern cooking.


As the plot writhes along, you’ll discover that the villain(s) (left unnamed for you to discover) also may not have selected reliable cohorts, but the cast of characters are colorful and, perhaps unfortunately, believable.


Rule 4 of Dieting: Be patient. Keep at your diet. You have to eat 500 calories less than you expend every day for a week to lose a pound. That means it could take a couple of months to lose ten pounds.


Several characters in Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight have kept secrets (or grudges) for as long as thirty years. Now that’s patience. And Linda and the police are afraid if they don’t uncover these secrets, she may be next.


Did I convince you of similarities between dieting and plotting a fictional murder? Hope so. To learn more, read Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight and its prequel Coming Flu. Both are available on Amazon.

Sales link for Coming Flu: http://www.amazon.com/Coming-Flu-J-L-Greger/dp/1610090985/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1365543761&sr=1-1&keywords=Coming+Flu

You could also visit my website (www.jlgreger.com) or blog (http://jlgregerblog.blogspot.com

Teaser for Coming Flu (the prequel):

A new, mysterious flu strain kills more than two hundred in less than a week in the small walled community near the Rio Grande. The rest face a bleak future under quarantine. One of the residents Sara Almquist, as a medical epidemiologist, pries into every aspect of her neighbors’ lives looking for ways to stop the spread of the flu. She finds promising clues – maybe one too many? Not all her neighbors are what they appear to be.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Short Story Genius

Today I have someone on my blog who is special.  I met Gary Hoffman in the Okeechobee Writers League and was swept away by his skill in writing short stories.  Not only did I and the other members of the group think so, but publication in numerous magazines and ezines, was well as anthologies attest to his skill.

Gary lives and writes in Okeechobee, Florida.  He has published work in THEMA, Homestead Review, Woman's World, Mystical-e, and roughly fifty other periodicals.  He has won over a hundred awards for short stories in contests, in one case winning four of the eight possible places.  He has attended workshops for Ozarks Creative Writer's and Florida Writer's Association.

His short story collection, I haven’t Lost My Marbles:  They Just All Rolled to One Side, is now available and published by Mockingbird Lane Press.
Gary at work

Gary's newest book

Welcome, Gary.  I'm glad you could take time away from creating your memorable stories.
You mostly write short stories.  Why?  What do you think the advantages are of writing short stories over novel length tales?  I may work on a short story for a month before I send it out.  It may take a year or more to write a novel and them it gets rejected after an editor has had it for six or seven months.  A short story may be seen by six or more editors in the same length of time.  My short story can be sent out again as soon as I get it back.  And if I think I’ve got a good story, it won’t sit around long between rejection and resubmission. Many times the same day.   I may also lack the patience to write a full length novel, although I have done it.
Which do you like writing best?  Dialogue or description?  Why? Definitely dialogue.  When I’m reading anything and get to long sections of description, I usually skip over them.  Dialogue is where the story happens.  That’s where the action is.  It’s what moves your story.  I have written two thousand word stories with maybe fifty words that weren’t dialogue.
You’re a published writer of short stories.  Did you find it difficult to find publishers for your work?  No.  Many small presses today are into anthologies or collections by one author.  Many of the same magazines that have been around for some time are also still going strong—ex. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Woman’s World, Storyteller.  I’m not saying the markets just jump out at you.  You have to dig and keep on top of current trends to see who is printing what and in what genres.  Duotrope.com is a great web site for this
You’ve been in a number of writers’ groups.  What do you find useful about these groups for your writing?  Are there disadvantages to writers’ groups?  Finding a writer’s group that fits you is like finding a mate or spouse.  If you find one that works, hang on for dear life.  Probably 99.9% of the groups I’ve checked out are not really right for me.  And have a thick skin when you do find one.  It’s tough to listen to someone else cut apart your “baby” when you’ve got a lot of sweat, blood, and beer into it.  Many of the people I’ve met in writer’s groups have never submitted anything in their life.  To me, a person doesn’t earn the right to call themselves a writer unless they have some rejection slips.  They’re just pretending.  If I ever started a writer’s group of my own, the ticket for submission would be publication or at least ten rejection notices.  Some of the disadvantages are getting feedback that is worthless when people are just trying to be nice.  I’m not looking for nice.  I’m looking for help.
What’s your scheme for marketing your work?  Keep submitting.  I’ve told people for years now that I have found a guaranteed way to get short stories published.  Submit!  Over and over  and over again if necessary.  My record right now is submitting one story seventeen times before it was published and then the editor raved over it.  Just because on editor rejects it doesn’t mean the next one might fall in love with it.  Maybe the rejecting editor had a bad night or is hung-over.  They’re only human and usually have a monster slush pile to work on.  (They need to be hooked in the first sentence or two.)  I usually submit a story about six times (different markets) before I revise it.  I submit to a theory by Lawrence Block on revising.  Revising takes the “freshness” from a story.  His book Telling Lies For Fun and Profit is a great guide for the short story business.
You’ve lived in a number of places.  One was Missouri, the other rural Florida.  How have these places influenced your writing?  Has living in Florida changed your writing in anyway?  I don’t think so.  It just gives me a broader area to choose characters and places.  Sitting in front of a computer is sitting in front of a computer, regardless of what’s outside the window.
Your short stories are often both humorous and poignant with unusual endings.  Where do you get your ideas?  Can you compare your writing to any other authors’?  If I am influenced by any other author, it might be Robert Parker.  I love his simple sentence structure and short, terse answers to questions.  Where I get my ideas could be a whole other book.  Ideas can’t be taught.  They come from everywhere around you.  If you aren’t paying attention to the world around you, ideas are gonna be darn tough to come by.
Pretend I am your literary fairy godmother.  What three wishes related to writing would you like me to grant you?   Only one.  A muse that never takes a vacation.  Everything else should take care of itself.
When you write do you use incidents from your past to create your stories?  If so, do you usually write from the difficult times or from your happy moments?  Yes, of course I use incidents from my past.  That’s a whole warehouse of ideas.  If you put difficult times to happy times on a 1 to 10 scale, I have hit every number, although happy or quirky usually wins.  If I wrote a story that makes me laugh or cry, I think I’ve done well.
Would you ever like to write a novel length story?  If so, what do you imagine this story to be about?  Mainstream fiction, adventure, suspense, mystery?  I have written novel length stories.  Eight of them, I think.  All mysteries.  Nothing published.
It’s probably true that readers know more about authors who write novel length fiction, but since you write short stories, can you tell us who among the writers of short stories you most admire and why?  There is a writer who lives, writes and teaches writing in Mississippi.  His name is John Floyd.  He has four or five collections of his short stories published.  Also he publishes, repeatedly, in magazines where I aspire to be published.  .It almost seems like he has his own monthly column in some magazines.
Who and what do you read?  Oh, my.  No set person, no set genre.  If I start a story or novel and it hooks me on the first page, I read it—mystery, romance, literary.  If it’s to my liking, I read it.  I do like Harlan Cobin’s mystery novels and most of Grisham’s.
Where do your characters come from?  Do you take any from your own life?  I take many on them from my past, but many of them may just come from someone I meet or happen to observe.  One time, I overheard a truck driver in a truck stop restaurant.  He was ranting about his co-driver.  Turned into a good short story. 
When did you know you wanted to become a writer?  No specific time.  I actually did win a short story contest when I was ten years old, and that was many moons ago.  I’ve always had ideas about writing something and really only had the time to pursue them after I retired.
Writers often say they love writing, but hate promoting themselves.  How do you feel about this?  Give an idea of what you do to promote yourself.  I have to be in the bottom 1% of self-promotion.  It’s kind of like when I was in the business of buying and selling.  (Ex.  American Pickers on the History Channel.)   Selling was a necessary evil so I could go out and buy more.  Buying, negotiating, and hunting were the best part of that business.  Writing is the best part of this business, but if I don’t sell, I just end up with a giant bunch of files in my computer.  I usually self promote if someone asks me to—like right now.  Thanks for the opportunity, Lesley.
The ebook revolution seems to be upon us.  How do you see ebooks in your writing life?   I really don’t see them as having much of an impact on me.  The books I have published are out as ebooks, but they do worse than the hard copies, maybe one ebook to fifteen hardcopies.
Thanks for joining us, Gary.
So all you novel length writers out there, have you ever tried your hand at short stories?  How do you like writing short?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Visit with Jean Henry Mead

Today we talk with a writer who is not only an expert at writing mysteries, but also a well-known supporter of other mystery writers.  She's long been a favorite of mine because of her Logan and Cafferty mystery series featuring senior sleuths who are two sixty plus amateur snoops with real insight into human nature and a zest for adventure.  In additon, she compiled a book featuring interviews and advice from some of our best mystery writers about writing and promoting the genre. The Mystery Writers: Interview and Advice is a must have for all mystery and suspense writers and readers.  I've asked her a few questions about her newest mystery based upon actual events.

Jean Henry Mead

Jean Henry Mead is a national award-winning journalist who has served as a news, magazine and small press editor. The author of 19 books, half of them novels, she writes the Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series, Hamilton Kids’ mysteries, Wyoming historical novels and nonfiction history and interview books. She also compiled and edited three interview and writing advice books, The Mystery Writers, Mysterious Writers and Maverick Writers.
Meet Jean Henry Mead
You have a new book out, No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy.   I understand it’s based upon a true life double murder.  What inspired you to take this direction in your writing?
I combined two of the genres I’ve already been writing in— mysteries and historicals. While I was researching a nonfiction centennial history book, I came across microfilmed newspaper articles written in 1889 about a young couple hanged by cattlemen who wanted their homestead land. The lynchers spread lies about them, saying that Ellen and James Averell were running a rural bawdy house and accepting rustled cattle for Ellen’s “services.” A later article said that James was an honest and honorable man who had served until his death as postmaster and justice of the peace in Sweetwater Valley, Wyoming. So I decided then that I would research the murders and write a book about them one day. That was nearly 30 years ago.
Is using a real event something that makes writing the book easier or more difficult?
It’s easier because the plot is already laid out for you. But research can be difficult, as in the case of No Escape, because it took many years to uncover the truth, and I was only able to complete my research after reading a nonfiction book written by George Hufsmith, who had been commissioned to write an opera about the hangings. Hufsmith became so obsessed with the hangings that he spent the next 20 years researching and interviewing residents of Sweetwater Valley, who had accurate knowledge of the Averell murders.
Do you intend to use this approach in future books?
I may write more Wyoming historical novels, including the Johnson County War and the rough and lawless railroad town of Casper, where my husband and I lived for some time.
You have a number of mysteries featuring senior sleuths.  In fact, you are famous for promoting and publicizing other writers who feature seniors as protagonists.  Is there something to favor an older sleuth in a mystery?.  Do you also find there are limitations to what you can do with a senior sleuth?
Not really. My protagonists, Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty, are 60 years old and still active and able to do nearly everything their younger counterparts can accomplish, with the exception of skateboarding and climbing tall buildings. I write about older women because I’m one myself. A couple of reviewers have called my mystery novels old-fashioned because there’s no explicit sex or foul language other than an occasional “damn” or “hell.” But older readers say they like my Logan & Cafferty series for that reason and the fact that Dana and Sarah are out traveling in a motorhome instead sitting around in rocking chairs watching the grass grow.
What is unique in your background that you bring to creating your work?  How long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I don’t know if you would consider it unique that I started my writing career as a news reporter while I was editor-in-chief of my college newspaper. I wrote my first novel when I was nine to entertain classmates but got into journalism in high school. I worked for three newspapers in California and Wyoming, then freelanced for magazines domestically as well as abroad. After five of my nonfiction books saw print, I decided to write my first novel. The result was Escape: A Wyoming Historical Novel, which required ten years of research and writing before it was first published. It’s been published by three companies and is still my best selling book.
 Everyone talks about the ebook revolution.  How has it affected your work?
My first novel was published as an ebook in 1999, which, at that time, was on a CD. The first ebook reader was bulky and clumsy and few people were buying them. It wasn’t until about five years ago that ebooks were taken seriously and we all know that they have nearly caused the demise of print books. That’s sad, but my ebook sales have increased dramatically, outselling my print books by at least 20-1.
You’ve been published by a number of small publishers.  What do you like about a small press?
I’ve been published by ten publishers, including Poisoned Pen Press, Pruett and Caxton; small presses and regional publishers. I like the freedom afforded because they consult with authors about book covers and other aspects of publishing and marketing.
How do you think writers can support one another as they vie for attention in this competitive market?
I publicize other authors on my blog site, Mysterious Writers. I’ve interviewed debut novelists as well as bestsellers such as Sue Grafton and Elmore Leonard, who have given advice to fledgling authors. I’ve also taken part in blog tours with other writers and hosted them on my blog sites.
What research do you do for your books?
Whatever’s needed. I usually conduct research in advance and then spoon in additional research as I write. I also write about areas where I’ve lived or traveled. I never write off the top of my head because readers will catch your mistakes if you don’t research and write accurately. I’ve written about horses in two of my novels, which I knew very little about.  But because of my extensive research,  I was rewarded when a horse rancher-reader said that I must have horses of my own. That made my day!
What advice can you give to a new writer?
Never submit a manuscript until it’s the best you’re capable of writing. When you write “the end” to your work, place it in a drawer for a few weeks. Then take it out and read it as though someone else had written it. Edit and polish again before you query a publisher. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
Thanks Jean.  I hope you can come back to visit soon and good luck with your new book.