Thursday, December 15, 2005


I’d readily say that getting my second book in the Bridget O’Hern series rewritten was a major triumph. It was a case of dogged determination, and perspiration--not inspiration. Why on earth would anyone rewrite a 72,000-word story that had already been revised umpteen times?
The answer: To keep a small and loyal group of readers, and all of them owners of Norwegian Elkhounds, also affectionately known as “moosedogs.”

It began innocently enough . . ..

My first mystery novel was DEATH STALKS THE KHMER (DSTK) and featured Bridget O’Hern, a series sleuth. I gave her a pet, a dog named-Narvik, to add depth to her life. Narvik was patterned after our own family dog of the same name. The real Narvik was loyal and wonderful throughout her 16 years with us. I’ll always believe Narvik helped our son through a serious illness by sleeping with him and giving him comfort. So it was natural to have a fictional Narvik helping my protagonist who was recovering from a severe depression.

A few months after DSTK was released, I started on DEATH COMES TOO SOON (DCTS). In the meantime, readers as far away as the UK and South Africa who had read DSTK began to write me. They said that they were absolutely delighted to find a beginning mystery series that had “not just a Northern breed dog, but an actual Norwegian Elkhound.” I was even asked to do a book signing at the Puget Sound AKC Dog Show.

Finally, it dawned on me that I had a problem. I had completed DCTS, but had left Narvik at home in chapter one with Bridget’s sidekick! In the story, Bridget goes out of town to the Oregon coast to work with an art league, and it didn’t make sense to have her take the dog along.

However, leaving the dog would never do, not if I wanted to keep and appeal to this niche of readers.

So I rewrote the novel and had Narvik accompany Bridget, which threw off the narrative. I had to remember to feed the dog, bring it inside and outside, and clean up after her from one chapter to another. Sometimes, I had Narvik attend meetings with Bridget (well, not many). After about six chapters, I got into the swing of things and had Narvik cozy up to the Interim Police Chief who was giving Bridget a hard time. The plot took some unexpected twists (characters do get away from me). To my surprise at about chapter nineteen, Bridget and Narvik find a stray cat . . . in a burned-out building, yet!

By the end of the novel, Bridget has solved the whodunit and she and Narvik are headed home to St. Mary’s Corner, an actual historic spot in Washington State. Of course, the cat is with them, too.

It was easy to figure an appropriate name for the cat that “rose from the ashes.” If you think you can guess it, too, drop me a line or e-mail me at If you’re correct, I’ll send a small prize.

Yours in mystery and writing,


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Writing Short-Short Mystery Stories and the Short Mystery Fiction Society

Is it craft or desperation that makes a story short in length? It takes craft to create a story with a conflict, climax and conclusion in a hundred words or less. Often, it is desperation that drives the writer to want to be done with the dang thing, wrapping the story up prematurely . . . or chucking it into a wastebasket as the alternative.Just how short can a short, short story be?

Try 55 words. Yes, there are 55 word stories, though their longer (older) brethern and sisteren expand into the low thousands in terms of number of words. But short for most of the current short mystery markets means somewhere around 3,000 words or under. Yes, you can go longer. But if characters and plot need to have space to grow and roam, then perhaps they might function better in a novel-length treatment.

Here's a story that I published a few years back, and it runs about 110 words. It was for a flash fiction market, sometimes these short-short markets are also called micro fiction.

The New Year!A time for resolutions. I sit down with pen and paper.

lose 25 pounds
check out new BMW
call travel agent about Tuscany
buy nine mm

I open the desk drawer, take out the loaded gun and then cross out the last item.

get rid of husband
make death look like intruder
collect insurancelive happily ever after

Writers are always looking for markets, and I've included a few below. In addition, I belong to the Short Mystery Fiction Society group ( Take a look at it. Each year, the organization holds the Derringer Awards for the best short mystery stories. There are different categories for different word lengths. SMFS is a worthy group to join if you want to have writer camaraderie and helpful tips about writing and markets.

Browse the markets below, some favor traditional mysteries, some noir or hardboiled. All want good writing and an interesting story.

And as always,

Happy Writing and Good Reading

Mysterical-e Ezine -
Crime and Suspense Ezine -
Hardluck Stories -
posted by Patricia Harrington @ 8:39 AM

Friday, October 21, 2005


A 16 lb. Traditional Siamese blocks my monitor as I write. Good thing that I touch type and don't have to see the screen. Okay. Ash the Man (really, the cat) has moved to the desk and onto my papers where he's settling in for a nap.

Back to the subject at hand.

I realized this morning that it is harder to get inspiration from a dog than a cat in creating a mystery story. My series sleuth Bridget O'Hern has Narvik, a Nowegian Elkhound, who serves as her companion. Narvik does not play the creative muse. She actually functions more as a rescuer, pulling Bridget out of trouble. In that role, Narvik helps to move the plot along and add story texture.

So as a muse, a dog is not--though I dearly loved the real Narvik, our family dog, who lived to be 16 years old.

On the other hand, my three cats have prompted more than one mystery story. They not only inspired some story ideas, they also figured in them. Not the real kitties, but their fictional counterparts. Sadly, cats seem to play villainous roles very well.

What is it about the cat's character that makes them more servicable in the "bad guy" role? Perhaps, it is their independence that has them tolerating human kind. Even the most loving of cats seem to observe their humans with a certain detachment. Dogs, on the other hand, are compliant, eager to please--wired to be helpers.

Cats are very good at being under foot, too. That thought alone triggers a possible method and a potential opportunity for a mystery story. Now if a motive such as jealousy is added, then we have the three legs to the stool on which our mystery sits.

Which brings me to my flash fiction mystery stories. Cats, with their speed, seem to work quite well in mini-mysteries. I just sold "Secondhand Shoe" to KR Mullin's Flash Fiction zine, in which Cassie the cat played a very prominent role.

Let's see, shoes, steps, falls . . . you get the idea.

Happy Writing and Good Reading!


Saturday, October 15, 2005


Like many, I've had my share of delayed departures and long waits. Typically, the easiest way to deal with them is to curl up on a bench and catch a snooze, using my laptop for a hard pillow. The other alternative is to stick my nose in a book and ignore the airport clock with its slow-moving hands.

However, I've found a better alternative. After all, airports, bus stops and train stations are all great places to observe human nature. So I sit with my laptop open, fingers on keyboard, observe and write. I write down facial expressions, body types and snatches of interesting conversations. I file these under "Character Development." Later, when I need to find a disgruntled uncle type--and I have none in my family--I scan my file. Images flood back, and I find pieces of what I need from my own collection.

In particular, I take down notes about the clothing of travelers who obviously are of a different national origin than I am. I quickly describe the person's dress or clothing, color, apparent texture, how it fit. If a couple are talking, I try to catch a bit of their interplay, enough to write the inflection, placement of words, than might show a different orientation to spoken English. (Of course, if the conversation is intimate, personal, I don't copy.)

I feel much better about using this "delayed departure" time productively. Granted, I could work on my novel in progress, but I seem to balk at doing that in airport terminals.

Doing the note taking salves my conscience.

Good writing to you,

Pat Harrington

Thursday, October 13, 2005


For the writers among us, there's a fun quiz to take on your "Personal Brilliance." (

You're rated on four characteristics: Awareness, Curiosity, Focus and Initiatve. All seem to be necessary qualities for anyone delving into the murky waters of writing mysteries and having them published!

My one-liner score assessment came back with this:


I kid you not. Finally, I've been justified and verified. Perfect! I am, after all, a mystery writer.
The mysterious "they" who score such things, gave me high marks on awareness, curiosity and initiative. But--I fell down on that "focus" thing.

Why am I not surprised.

After all, I am curiously aware of all that's going on around me. I find browsing on the Net--following threads from kitty cat blogs to Theravada Buddhism-- to be a creative infusion. Of course, my Web wanderings do take me away from the novel-in-progress.

I guess the test results show that my focus is frazzled and easily drawn in many directions. However, I can justify this lack of focus on my heightened curiosity. I argue that this poor focus factor really reflects a right-brain activity known as "researching." In actuality, I'm scanning for tidbits that can provide an "ah hah" moment.

For me, the "ah hah" nugget is one that will push a plot to have more pizazz or gives a character a shot in the arm--a kind of personality lift.

Pshew. I feel better all ready just printing this. Surely, if my justification is in print, then it is the truth, veractiy at it's best.

Now what was I doing before writing this?