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?