The Nose Knows By M. E. May

Ed & Zeus from Indiana k9 SAR with Michele at Barnes & Noble

Ed & Zeus from Indiana k9 SAR with Michele at Barnes & Noble

Most of us know the police use dogs to help them sniff out drugs, explosives, and people—dead or alive. But did you know that many police departments cannot afford to keep a crew of dogs that can do it all? Some police departments may have dogs that find drugs and explosives, but are limited on search and recovery of humans who are missing or thought dead.

 

In order to assist families, and police, in finding missing persons and human remains, organizations such as the Indiana K-9 Search and Recovery (SAR) came into being. I chose this particular organization to talk about today, because they were instrumental in assisting me with facts on search and recovery dogs for my Indiana based series and in particular, the novel Ensconced.

 

Organizations such as the Indiana K-9 SAR, are non-profit organizations that work with police departments, recovery organizations and individuals to search for missing persons. SAR organizations throughout the country assist in rescue and recovery during many emergency situations such as the 9-11 attacks, tornadoes, hurricanes, and most recently the mudslides in Washington State. They also look for children and older adults who may have wandered away from their families.

 

Many of these organizations, and Indiana K-9 in particular, do not collect money from families or rescue organizations in payment for their services. That is why I’m donating a portion of the net sales from my novel, Ensconced, to the Indiana K-9 SAR organization to thank them for their assistance with the search scenes in which the dogs were involved.

 

During my research, I found the most amazing facts about how these dogs work.  Of course, many of us know of the dogs trained to conduct Scent Specific Trailing. We’ve seen these pooches in the movies and on television sniffing a piece of clothing and then racing to find the missing person or escaped convict.

 

Then we’ve all heard of the dog who tries to find human remains. These dogs are able to distinguish between the decomposing remains of humans and animals. When a dog locates human remains, it will indicate the approximate location by stopping and either barking or lying down. These dogs learn not to dig for remains in order to preserve evidence. Then the handler rewards the dog and leaves the scene to the agency in charge of recovering the remains.

 

The dogs that amazed me most were the dogs who seek human remains in a water source. Water recovery dogs can detect the odor of human remainsEnsconced_Front Cover onlyin many depths and types of water, and find remains that were immersed for long or short periods of time. In Ensconced, the dogs looked in a reservoir for a person missing for ten years. I asked the director of Indiana K-9 if this was possible and she said yes. The hard part of the process is for the divers to find the remains once the dog scents them in the area, because the skeleton darkens and is covered by sludge from the lake bed.

 

Another amazing and wonderful part of this organization are the volunteers who own and handle the dogs. These are owners who have made a commitment to train their dogs for certification in search and recovery. Of course, these owners also train to become handlers. This means that they are willing to travel with their dogs to disaster sites, whether in the state of Indiana or elsewhere, to assist in the search and recovery efforts.

 

I was blessed to do two demonstrations at bookstores this past year with Zeus the German Shepherd and his handler Ed who were still in training. Ed told me he and his wife decided that becoming an SAR dog would help Zeus expend some of the overabundance of energy most Shepherds possess as well as give them the opportunity to do something for others.

 

If you want to know more about this organization or to make a donation, go to http://www.indianak9sar.org/ and look at the Donating and Volunteering page. If you don’t live in the state of Indiana, please look for your local Search and Recovery organization. You or one of your loved ones might need them one day.

 

ME MayMichele (M.E.) May attended Indiana University in Kokomo, Indiana, studying Social and Behavioral Sciences. Her interest in the psychology of humans sparked the curiosity to ask why they commit such heinous acts upon one another. Other interests in such areas as criminology and forensics have moved her to put her vast imagination to work writing crime fiction that is as accurate as Purged_Final_Front Coverpossible. In doing so, she depicts societal struggles that pit those who understand humanity with those who are lost in a strange and dangerous world of their own making.

In creating the Circle City Mystery Series, she brings to life fictional characters who work diligently to bring justice to victims of crime in the city of Indianapolis. Michele also hopes her readers will witness through her eyes, the wonderful city she calls her hometown. Learn more about Michele at www.memay-mysteries.com.

Facebook URL:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/M-E-May/522693281079718?ref=hl

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TURNING A VICTORIAN MISSIONARY INTO A SLEUTH by Peggy Hanson

Miss Matthews touring 1909            My great Aunt Mary was a real person.  After attending Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, she went off to Monastir, Macedonia as a foreign missionary in 1888 and did not return until 1920, when I believe she was sent away by Serbian authorities for being an American spy.

During her tour of duty running a school for girls, she acted heroically through one crisis after another:  the end of the Ottoman Empire; the Young Turk Revolution; Balkan Wars I and II; and, especially, the relentless German bombardment of her school and city during World War I.

In an age when women were taught to keep a low profile and be guided and protected by men, Aunt Mary became a force of her own in Monastir, dealing with Turkish, Bulgarian and Serbian governors; providing a haven and provisions for victims of war (she did not discriminate along ethnic or religious lines); becoming in every sense a strong feminist against the Victorian odds.

And she left thirty-two years’ worth of diaries, letters and pictures for her family to peruse, transcribe, and donate to her beloved Mount Holyoke—where she had received the Medal of Honor for her work in the Balkans.

After a year of immersion in the Mary Matthews collection, intending to publish it as a diary, I realized I needed to take a different tack.  With two mysteries under my belt, DEADLINE ISTANBUL and DEADLINE YEMEN, I had my aha! moment: I am a mystery writer, not an academic Istanbul coverresearcher.  Aunt Mary will be available to academics once the Collection is archived and opened by Mount Holyoke in fall of 2015.  For my tribute, I needed to turn her into a sleuth.

At first I thought it would be easy.  Having read all her first-hand material, I knew Mary Matthews’s mind and heart.  I have researched the Victorian era until I am practically wearing bustles.  Much about life in Monastir echoed my own experience in central Anatolia as an early Peace Corps volunteer.  Even the street names were in Turkish!

Miss Matthews, as she was known, wrote in detail about daily events at her school and in her town—and many of those events cried out to be tweaked just a bit to make them murderous.  She was the “go-to” person when any crisis occurred, whether it be a sick cat, a needy neighbor, disgraceful behavior by her girls or an epidemic of scarlet fever or flu.  I would have all the names and the descriptions from Mary herself…

Except that Mary Matthews edited her own papers ruthlessly before she died.  I know that “Mr. Eftim picked a rose” in 1917.  I know nothing about the 23-year-old missionary’s feelings as she embarked from her protected life across the Atlantic on a Cunard liner, spent a few days in London when Jack the Ripper held the city in fear, or ate oysters and prime rib aboard the luxurious Orient Express.  (Since this was all pre-electricity, one almost doesn’t need to invent mysterious deaths among the passengers!)

I believe Aunt Mary deleted all this interesting material later in life when she feared it might not look “missionary” enough.  We are left with a paragraph from one of her mother’s letters naming the ship, the dates in London, and the fact that Mary and her woman companion “made their way across Europe to Constantinople.”  The only way they could have visited the cities mentioned was by the newly-opened Orient Express.

Despite not having much to go on, I wanted to start my series with the journey of that young woman.  This meant inventing characters who might have been with her or at least could have been with her.  I put in a few people who are mentioned later in the actual diaries (Miss Ellen Stone, a British nurse, kidnapped in 1901 and who eventually went to Monastir) or about whom I had read (the British journalist who made his career following Miss Stone’s adventures in the Macedonian mountains.)

As I made up characters and incidents, I had fun imagining Mary’s interactions with them.  It was delightful to research what London and Paris were like at that time.  (Did you know the Eiffel Tower was being built in Fall of 1888?)

I love dining-car scenes and began to immerse myself in the gossip and putdowns and kindly remarks exchanged among the passengers.  To do that, I had to place people at tables, sketch them out – and, where necessary, go back to the S.S. Bothnia or the respectable little hotel in London to position red herrings.

I wish I were a writer who could plan out everything before she starts!  I’m not.  I’m as surprised as anyone when something untoward is found under the berth or in a lady’s purse.

The working title for my book is UNHOLY DEATH ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.  So…don’t expect all the religious people making the trip to be saints.  Don’t get too attached to a character who might, just might, become a victim.

Trust Aunt Mary.  She was a problem-solver in life. She will be a problem-solver in fiction!

 

Peggy brown scarfPeggy Hanson is an author and travel blogger who loves to share her international life with her readers. Peace Corps, Voice of America, teaching of English–all these have played major roles in her life. Growing up in a series of small towns in Colorado, the daughter of a mountain-climbing Congregational minister and teacher, probably helped mold her affinity to nomadism. In her adult life, she’s lived for extended periods in Turkey, Yemen, India and Indonesia.

Her first two books are mysteries in the Elizabeth Darcy series set in other countries: DEADLINE ISTANBUL and Deadline Yemen cover by AnneDEADLINE YEMEN. She is currently working on the third in that series, DEADLINE INDONESIA, and is also compiling and editing her great aunt Mary’s diaries and letters and pictures from 1888-1920 when she was a missionary teacher and principal in the Balkans. The working title of the diaries is UNHOLY DEATH ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. It is a story of early feminism and a woman’s bravery in the face of war.

www.peggyhansonauthor.com

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Stephen King: My Favorite Teacher   ~ by Joan Hall Hovey

Joan with Stephen King

Joan with Stephen King

The year was 1984, a lovely summer’s day and I was sitting in the packed, buzzed audience waiting for Stephen King to appear.  To say I was excited is an understatement. Uncool? Totally. I’d bought my hardcover copy of his book Different Seasons for him to sign.  I wouldn’t be denied. I had all his books in hardcover – Carrie, Cycle of the Werewolf, Danse Macabre, Salem’s Lot –  there would be  many more to come. He was my hero in a time when I was already much too old to be star-struck.  I’ve read that it is mainly teenagers who are addicted to Stephen King’s work, and I was hardly that.  Though probably immature.  I’m at a much more more advanced age now and that hasn’t changed, and I hope it never does.  Stephen King was  the Elvis Presley of the literary world.

I hadn’t had a novel published yet; that was still a dream, floating somewhere above the horizon. But I’d written and published some articles and short stories, enough to make me eligible for a travel grant through the NB Arts Council to London, England to the writers workshop at Polytechnic Institution  on Marylebone Road, aptly across the street from Madam Tussauds wax museum.  Stephen King would be a panelist, along with authors P.D. James, Robert Parker and some others.  I was eager to hear all the celebrated authors, but I’d flown all this way from New Brunswick, Canada to see and hear Mr. King.

He came into the large room through the back door and I swear I knew the instant he did.  You couldn’t miss the rising buzz of the audience, of course, the shifting of bodies as people turned to look, but I also felt the change of energy in the air. On stage, Stephen King joked about his ‘big writing engine’ and I had heard (within my third eye – yes, it can hear) its power, its purr.   Or maybe there’s more to it.

As he talked to us about writing, he spoke about seeing with that third eye.  The eye of the imagination.  He told us to imagine a chair.  Then he said it was a blue chair.  I saw it clearer now.  He added the detail of a paint blister on the leg of the chair.  Now I saw it close up, with my zoom lens.  We hung on his every word.  He was funny and brilliant and entertaining, and we learned. Everything he said was not necessarily something brand new, but were reminders to pay close attention to details.  To always tell the truth in our writing.  I even got to ask a couple of questions.   And his answers to all our questions were thoughtful and insightful.   I try to pass along a few of those lessons to my own students.

Stephen King has been teaching creative writing to aspiring and even established writers for decades, long before his wonderful book On Writing came out.  Such a gift to writers that is, regardless of the genre you write in.   I am gushing.  I don’t mind. It’s true.

I have been fortunate to have had many highlights in my life –  an anniversary trip to Niagara Falls with my wonderful husband, the births of my children and grandchildren, great-grandchildren – a trip to the Bahamas with my eldest son – my own first novel published and several more after that – and I have to say that that workshop in London, England, where Stephen King spoke to us about writing, is right up there.  Thank you, Mr. King.

I want to leave you with a quote from an interview with contributing writing for the Atlantic, Jessica Lahey, published in The Atlantic,  Sept  2014.  She asked him if teaching was craft or art.

“It’s both,” he said.  “The best teachers are artists.

Stephen King is an artist on every level.   He tells the truth.  In his fiction.  And in his teachings.

~~

Joan Hall Hovey, Photo: Cindy Wilson/Telegraph-JournalIn addition to her critically acclaimed novels, Joan Hall Hovey’s articles and short stories have appeared in such diverse publications as The Toronto Star, Atlantic Advocate, Seek, Home Life Magazine, Mystery Scene, The New Brunswick Reader, Fredericton Gleaner, New Freeman and Kings County Record. Her short story Dark Reunion wasSONY DSC selected for the anthology investigating Women, Published by Simon & Pierre.

Ms. Hovey has held workshops and given talks at various schools and libraries in her area, including New Brunswick Community College, and taught a course in creative writing at the University of New Brunswick. For a number of years, she has been a tutor with Winghill School, a distance education school in Ottawa for aspiring writers. She is a member of the Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick, past regional Vice-President of Crime Writers of Canada and International Thriller Writers.

Website URL:  http://www.joanhallhovey.com

Facebook URL: https://www.facebook.com/joan.h.hovey

Twitter: https://twitter.com/joanhh

Want to Write a Novel? by Patricia Skalka

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGet Ready to Make a Zillion Small Decisions

 

On the day I sat down to start writing the third book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series, I came across an insightful comment about the process of writing a novel.  “It is like reconstructing the whole of Paris from Lego bricks. It’s about three-quarters-of-a-million small decisions. It’s not about who will live and who will die and who will go to bed with whom. Those are the easy ones. It’s about choosing adjectives and adverbs and punctuation. These are molecular decisions that you have to take and nobody will appreciate, for the same reason that nobody ever pays attention to a single note in a symphony in a concert hall, except when the note is false. So you have to work very hard in order for your readers not to note a single false note. That is the business of three-quarters-of-a-million decisions.”

The comment comes from Amos Oz, an international award-winning writer and author of nineteen novels. Oz sets a very high bar and it’s up to us as writers to decide whether to accept the challenge or not. It’s easy enough to get by, to dash off a thought or a scene or even an entire book with barely a glance back, with little regard for what he calls “the small decisions.” But should we?  Doesn’t that cheat the writer of the opportunity to excel and deprive the audience of an enjoyable read?

Writing a good, solid book is hard work. Writing well demands concentration, dedication, and perseverance.  We’re all capable of doing better, and perhaps that’s the challenge to embrace as the new year unfolds. Not to settle for the mundane. Not to allow ourselves the luxury of good enough.  But to strive to write the best we can. To focus on quality not quantity. To create complex characters and intriguing plots. To carve out descriptions rich in detail.  To write crisp, realistic dialogue. To research and learn facts essential to the story. And then when we’re finished to go back and rework again and again until the words dance off the page.

Even then, the job of writing isn’t finished. We need to publish, to promote, to slip from the comfortable anonymity of the writer’s cave and venture into public places like bookstores and libraries where readers await with questions and comments.  And we need to accept that we are fallible and to accept with humility the typo and the awkward phrase that have slipped past the censure of the author, the editor, and the publisher. Mea culpa, we say and then strive to do better the next time.

Amos Oz is correct. Writing a novel is about making decisions. Good decisions burn the brain. But, oh, the thrill of getting it right!  The joy of receiving an email from a stranger who says “I loved your book.”  Or of having someone whom you’ve never met approach you after a reading and say “When’s your next book coming out? I can’t wait.”

I love reading really good books. As a writer, I feel an obligation to readers to offer them a well turned story. Even as I can’t wait to get started on book three, my brain aches at the prospect because I know it will be a tough process. But I also know it will be worthwhile because, in the end we reap what we sow.

So it’s onward to making the tough decisions. Onward to good writing in 2015.

 

DeathStalksDoorCountyPatricia Skalka’s debut novel Death Stalks Door County was short-listed for the Chicago Writers Association 2014 Book of the Year Award and named one of the year’s best mysteries by Kings River Life Magazine. Death at Gills Rock, the second in the Dave Cubiak Mystery Series, will be released in June 2015.

Writing “A Flight to Romance” by John Fishwick

NEW-Fishwick-AuthorPhoto - CopyThe title and the plot are arguably the two most important things to get right in a book as I found when writing my debut novel “A FLIGHT TO ROMANCE”.

First, the title. My novel began several years ago as a technical book about Astronomy, Geology, and Evolution Theory, subjects that, in my opinion, should be studied, at least in a cursory manner, when searching for an answer to the age-old questions: Who are we?; Why are we here?; and What’s the purpose of life?  I decided togrand canyon call my book: “Looking Up and Down in Britain”.  ‘Up’ for the stars and ‘Down’ for the rocks. Not surprisingly, Oxford University Press thought that it was a travel book.

Another example. One of my talks that I give at colleges, country clubs, and on cruise ships was entitled “The Search for Extra-Terrestrials”. Attendance was fair to poor. People didn’t know what extra-terrestrials were. Changing the title to: “The Search for Aliens” produced much better results.

Second, the plot. My technical book was about half completed when my first wife died of pancreatic cancer and my enthusiasm for writing died with her A year or so later, I met and married a wonderful lady from Chicago whose husband had passed away over a year ago. This second marriage has proven to be a huge success for both of us, suggesting that we all have the potential for a second chance at romance and happiness. My second wife, Nancy, encouraged me to continue the book and I decided to resurrect it as a novel in which Jeremy Rowlands, an Astronomy professor meets Stephanie Marks, a retired teacher of English and a lover of Art, quite by chance on a flight from Newark, NJ to London, England. They are going on this trip for different reasons, he to visit various scientific sites and she to see the homes and birthplaces of the various poets and authors whose works she had taught to her high school students.

I now decided, quite intentionally, to violate the conventional wisdom of writing a romance. Critics may suggest that if you are writing a book about prehistoric fishScience, Literature, and Art, write non-fiction. If you are writing about romance, it should be a novel. My decision was to write about what I knew, which was an intellectual novel in which my protagonists decide to join forces and tour Britain together while discussing Science, Literature, and Art and, in the process, form a strong emotional bond that neither had expected or even wanted.

I knew at the outset that the novel may not appeal to those looking for a bodice-ripper but rather to those ready to be educated in the background of a romance.

I like to think that Astronomy, Geology, Evolution, Literature, and Art are a golden braid in which elements from all seemingly individual subjects are intertwined. You would be forgiven for believing that these subjects are unrelated and each has its own sharp line of demarcation. Astronomy morphs into both religion and philosophy as we discuss what came before the “Big Bang” and what comes after the death of our universe; Geology is not only about rocks but also records the gradual evolution of life from single-celled marine organisms to the much Processed with MaxIm DLmore complex homo- sapiens; and many art masterpieces attest to the painter’s knowledge of science, such as Manet’s “The Boats”, DuChamps’ art in motion, Picassos’s vision of objects seen from more than one side (as one would see at the speed of light), Vermeer’s use of the camera lucida,  Munch’s painting of “The Scream”, possibly depicting red sunsets following a recent volcanic explosion, and Le Corbusier’s knowledge of the Golden Ratio.

In summary, you have to decide why you are writing your book in the first place. Is it to sell the most copies or to satisfy your own need to write about what you know and what you love?

Finally, to promote your book, get a professional who knows exactly what to do and how to do it.

 

John Fishwick grew up on the Isle of Man—home of the Manx cat and the first country in the world to give the vote to women. He earned a degree in chemistry and geology from England’s Liverpool University then promptly joined the British Army to study Russian with British Intelligence. Following two wonderful years in Canada as a field geologist, he immigrated to the US where, after working on a top secret project for the government, he became a citizen.

 

The founder and principal operator of a high-tech materials company that has been in business for over forty years, John also holds various patents and enjoys lecturing on various subjects such as astronomy, geology,  evolution theory, and logic, critical thinking, climate change, energy sources, and the relation of art and science to universities, colleges, and world-wide on cruise ships. He is a longtime member of Mensa and a previous President of the Everglades Astronomical Society.

 

A Flight to Romance coverPrevious publishing projects include over fifty technical articles, as well as a nonfiction book entitled The Applications of Lithium in Ceramics. He cautions prospective buyers to beware-once you put it down you can’t pick it up! His current writing focuses on fiction with the recent release of a novel A Flight to Romance. Other titles will follow. 

 

John is married to Nancy, who makes sure he has clean clothes and a spotless tie when he lectures, and is proud to have a son who is a professor of computer science at UT in Dallas and a granddaughter who just graduated from Harvard Law School. He spends his time between South West Florida and the mountains of North Carolina, where Nancy and he enjoy playing golf and bridge. 

What Brahms Teaches Us about Creativity by Joan Curtis

Joan CurtisI attended an incredible concert in which Joshua Bell played the solo violin in the Johannes Brahms Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 77. You might ask, what was so wonderful or different about this concert? Little did I know that when Brahms created this piece, this was the first time a violin was so heavily featured in an orchestra. Usually there are violins, of course, but not where the violin soloist actually takes the stage front and center and literally outplays all the other instruments.

 

One reviewer wrote right after the first performance in 1878, “The Brahms Concerto was for violin against orchestra–and the violin wins!”

 

When Brahms wrote this concerto, he didn’t have as much confidence in it as we might imagine. In fact, he wrote to his friend, Joseph Joachim:

“I really don’t know what you will make of the solo part alone.” He then asked Joachim to mark the parts that were difficult, awkward or impossible to play.

 

After that the two geniuses worked on the composition back and forth, Brahms heeded his friend’s “editorial” advice and tweaked the composition as needed.

 

As a writer I was impressed by this collaboration. So often we write alone and wonder if what we wrote works. Although we doubt ourselves, we don’t always abide criticism. Greatness comes when we recognize we don’t have all the answers when we allow others to see our work, and when we listen to their thoughts. This is exactly what Brahms did, thank goodness for all of us.

 

Now, years later we can enjoy one of the most magnificent pieces of music ever written.

 

What does this teach me about my own writing?

1) Get what you want to write on paper. Do not doubt yourself in the creative process. Brahms wrote the first draft, knowing it might need some work.

2) Send what you’ve written to someone whose advice you trust. Do not send it to someone who will simply say, “I think it’s great.” Send it to someone who can give it a critical eye and lend good advice for making it better. Develop a cadre of Beta readers.

3) Revise what you’ve written based on the input you get. Then send it again for more critical review.

4) Revise and revise until it becomes the magnificent piece you intended it to be.

When writers tell me they never have to revise or that they can write a perfect first draft one time and one time only, I have serious doubts. Even Brahms doubted himself and listened to the excellent advice of another. That suggests that we can do the same thing.

 

What are your thoughts?

 ~~~

Joan C. Curtis is an award-winning writer who has published 5 books, both fiction and nonfiction, and numerous stories. She has a doctorate in Adult Education and has spent her professional life as a communications coach/consultant helping people to master the everyday verbal and written word. She’s provided entertaining and educational workshops on everything from Dealing with Difficult People at Home and Work, to How to Hire the Best Talent, before transitioning full time to writing. Her business books include such titles as: Managing Sticky Situations at Work and Hire Smart and Keep ‘Em, published by Praeger Press.

 

On November 25th she published her first work of fiction, The Clock Strikes Midnight, a mystery/suspense novel released by MuseItUp ClockStrikesMidnightPublishing.

If you found out you had only 3 months to live, what would you do? That’s the question Janie Knox faces in The Clock Strikes Midnight.

“Joan Curtis has written a real-page turner. It’s a fast moving suspense filled yarn. Those who like a good mystery will enjoy this book. ” Jeffrey Brook-Stewart of ReadersFavorite.com

The Clock Strikes Midnight is a race against time in a quest for revenge and atonement. This is a story about hate, love, betrayal and forgiveness.

 

If you found out you had only 3 months to live, what would you do? That’s the question Janie Knox faces in this fast-paced mystery full of uncertainty and tension that will surprise you until the very last page.

 

Hiding behind the façade of a normal life, Janie keeps her family secrets tucked inside a broken heart. Everything changes on the day she learns she’s going to die. With the clock ticking and her time running out, she rushes to finish what she couldn’t do when she was 17—destroy her mother’s killer. But she can’t do it alone.

 

Janie returns to her childhood home to elicit help from her sister. She faces more than she bargained for when she discovers her sister’s life in shambles. Meanwhile her mother’s convicted killer, her stepfather, recently released from prison, blackmails the sisters and plots to extract millions from the state in retribution. New revelations challenge Janie’s resolve, but she refuses to allow either time or her enemies to her stop her from uncovering the truth she’s held captive for over 20 years.

 

Available Now on Amazon – http://amzn.to/1oi56l2

Plot versus Character by Betty Webb

betty_authorAs most of my Lena Jones fans know, I not only write books but I teach creative writing. In my classes, I stress that in a mystery series, character is far more important than plot. That’s not to denigrate a good plot, you understand, because without good plotting that takes readers to unexpected places, we’d have a pretty boring book.

 

But when we think back on our favorite mystery series, what stays with us – the plot or the detective? Or to put it another way, when we go to the bookstore do we ask the clerk for the new “kidnap book” or the new “serial killer book” or do we ask for the new “Inspector Banks,” or the new “Dave Robicheaux”? And, yes, we might even ask for the new “Peter Robinson” or the new “James Lee Burke.”

 

Because in almost every instance, we identify the book by the lead character or the author — by human beings, not devices.

 

Creative writing teachers love to say, “Character is plot, plot is character,” and that’s because the character’s nature drives all the action. In the case of my Lena Jones mysteries Desert-Rage-cover(especially my new DESERT RAGE), the fact that Lena was raised in a series of foster homes and doesn’t know who her parents are makes her both tough and vulnerable at the same time. Dangerous situations that would cause the average person to head for the hills simply make Lena unholster her gun. But events that the average person would shrug off haunt Lena endlessly. Therefore, maddened with rage or sorrow, Lena initiates a course of action that impacts on everyone else in the book.

 

My creative writing students delight in arguing with me about this character-versus-plot concept. They bring up book after book heavy with high-octane plots and crazy-making twists. Many of them love to cite Clive Cussler’s action-heavy “Dirk Pitt” novels as examples. Then, when I ask them who the main character is, they look at me like I’m crazy and answer, “Dirk Pitt, of course.” Which proves my point.

 

No matter the book’s setting, whether the frigid Arctic, the middle of the Atlantic, the dunes of the Sahara, or high in the Andes, the super-curious, hyper-determined Dirk Pitt is always to be found fighting, shooting, and stabbing his way out of whatever horrible situation he’s thrust into. Think about that for a moment. If Dirk Pitt was a married, mild-mannered schoolteacher and Boy Scout leader, he wouldn’t be out there fighting pirates and terrorists, would he? Instead, Cussler paints Pitt as the almost fearless go-to guy when sunken ships or lost treasure or buried cities need to be found.

 

You’ll notice I said almost fearless. That’s because Cussler doesn’t write Dirk Pitt as an invulnerable superhero – he writes Pitt as a human being, encumbered by all the flaws and weaknesses humans are heir to.  And remember — human beings drive a series.

 

We may not always be able to remember the intricacies of plot in a particular series, but we never forget the main protagonist. Just think of Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Leaphorn and Chee, Kinsey Milhone, V.I. Warshawski, Lord Peter Wimsey, Anna Pigeon, Jack Reacher, Harry Bosch, Joanna Brady…

 

Because character is plot, and plot is character.

x x x

 

To read the first chapter of Betty Webb’s “Desert Rage,” go to

www.bettywebb-mystery.com