Monday, December 18, 2006

Some years ago, M. K. Wren (Conan Flagg series) taught in a mystery writing class that good mystery stories perched on a three-legged stool. The three legs are character, setting and plot. Most of us think that plot is the essential piece. But ponder this. Plots depend upon interesting characters that you care about, otherwise you probably won't finish the book. The best plot twists in the world can't save a story if the the characters are literally paper thin.

Sometimes, as with Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, zany characters, the ones you become fond of like kooky relatives, can carry dull plots. You as the reader are more indulgent of them, and consequently of the plot, even it does run shallow.

Thinking of settings, plots and characters, I'd have to amend what I said above . . . perhaps. (Throwing stones while sitting in a glass house, don't you know.) I've posted a quick, short Christmas story at my website you might enjoy at my website "The Last Chance Gift" has an unlikely but plucky amateur sleuth. Please zip over and take a look at it and send me a note. In the story, was there one "leg" that stood out? Was the story more about setting, character or plot? Please let me know and while at it . . .


Tell me in a sentence or two, the following--
Who is or are your favorite mystery protagonist(s)--detectives or sleuths.
And then tell me why.
The winner, randomly drawn, will receive a $10 Amazon gift certificate. Go have fun and play a bit!

Yours in mystery,


Monday, October 09, 2006


Writing the darn novel and also doing pre-promotion or marketing is a challenge.

"Why bother? You ask.

Because the nature of fiction writing for authors in these days is not only finishing the blooming novel but also hawking it to the world at large.

For example, my work in progress, MURDER VISITS ANTIGUA will have just a teeny, tiny window before it's published and a big event happens where I might be able to make beaucoup bucks--or at least approach a captive-reading audience.

Antigua is one of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean and will be one of the major venues next summer for the ICC or Cricket World Cup Matches. Supposedly, some 50,000 visitors will squeeze into the tiny Bird International Airport in St. John's and then fan out in exhaustion to various resorts on the island.

I figure that besides the avid cricket fans, there should be slews of female companions and/or wives, who will only want to sun on the beach with a good whodunit--a Golden Age mystery, i.e., Murder Visits Antigua, featuring a new amateur sleuth by the name of Aunt Amelia.

Yes, Aunt Amelia is a cross between Agatha Christie and Miss Marple, and I am having a ball with her character. Sometimes she raps me smartly on the knuckles to catch my attention: "Young lady," she says. "I'm not that old that I can't have a roving eye cast in my direction."

Apparently, she doesn't want to be relegated to lace shawls and gray hair done in a bun!

"But then," I argue. "I'll have to make you younger than I intended."

"Well, I can be mature, a widow, but not feeble in body."

The look Amelia casts, shrivels. It's the kind given by old school marms who brooked no disobedience or backtalk. Amelia goes on to say, "I thought you were a 21st century kind of author. What are you doing, stereotyping me?"

"Well, I want to reach readers that like cozy mysteries, and puzzling out the 'whodunit' of the story along with a smart, intuitive sleuth."

At this point in our exchange, I let out a big sigh, one that scatters the papers by my computer. I have enough problem with my own flesh-and-blood relatives without my fictional aunt getting pushy.

Politely, I tell Aunt Amelia to take a break for now, I will attend to her. At the moment, though, I'd like to get back on track with this blog and tell about a PRE-PROMOTION stint that I did.

I went to a dinner dance conducted by the Antigua and Barbuda Association of British Columbia. The invitation came through an acquaintance made on an Antigua Tourist Forum on the Internet. Like penpals of old, we became comfortable writing back and forth, and Donna, a member of the association, said, "Come on up to Vancouver, B.C. and join us for the weekend celebration of Antigua and Barbuda's Independence Day." Antigua just celebrated 25 years of independence, moving from British colony to status as a nation state in the Commonwealth.

Well, I went and had a blast. The prime minister of Antigua was there with his wife, and I met them and other dignitaries associated with the island and the Caribbean. Talked about my book, made valuable connections about where I might do book signings, and generally had a good time dancing to reggae music and eating wonderful Antiguan food.

So, if there's a quick lesson to this long blog, it is this:

1)Make your characters behave--within reason. Be attentive to their idiosyncrasies that will make readers like or identify with them, but don't let them run away with your story; and

2) Use the Internet and contacts on forums, blogs and other websites to pre-promote your book and compile a list of marketing contacts. It's what a good publicist or PR person would do, and so should you and I as authors.

That's it for now,

Yours in mystery,


Thursday, September 14, 2006


The last time I posted here, my intention was to finish a novel in about two months. Not! Life, trips, a little illness and a whole lot of procrastination led me down a dark, stormy and wayward path. But I am back on track now.

Perhaps the lesson here for all writers is not to beat up yourselves for failing to meet a goal, but to get back on that horse, bike, chair and type away. I'm doing that now, though paying a bit of penance, by stopping to write this blog.

In the meantime, I have been working on pre-promotion for this mystery-in-progress, MURDER VISITS ANTIGUA. I've also done a bit of pre-promotion and a warmer-upper by writing a short speculative fiction piece about Antigua. It has been accepted by Amazon! "Antiguan Memories" is set in the 1930's and the story involves a disillusioned Anglican priest, a mute Antiguan boy and the spirit of a murdered slave girl. Amazon is publishing short stories now under the label of "Amazon Shorts." The stories can be downloaded as a PDF file or kept in a virtual library at Amazon. The cost of each story is only 49 cents! Such a deal!

To see a bit about the story go to:

That's it for now,

Yours in mystery,


Monday, April 17, 2006

Mystery Writing Tips Over Time . . . The Good Ones Still Work

Recently, I ran across a book on Mystery Fiction: Theory & Techniques by Marie F. Rodell. The "how-to" book was published 63 years ago. Some things don't change over time. In this case, it's the tips on what works when writing mysteries. The author was editor of The Bloodhound, a magazine of crime fiction, and she also was the author of three mystery novels.

Some of Rodell's advice includes "play fair with the reader." Plant clues and have a reasonable logic as to how the crime . . . make that murder . . . is solved. She stresses that the reader should close the book at the end and say, "Oh, of course, he/she did it!" All the clues were there and fair game for the reader to find. Rodell also stresses that setting and characters are more than accessories to color the story. She points out that the two are vital in driving the narrative and providing logical underpinnings to the story. In fact, Rodell likens crafting mystery novels to that of constructing a house. That was an interesting analogy for me because one of my novel writing instructors, Frank Lambirth, also described the process for building a good mystery in just the same way.

One of the closing chapters was on "The Economics of Mystery Fiction." Please keep in mind that we're talking circa 1943 here.

Rodell states, "The average mystery writer makes from the sale of his book in book form no more than five hundred dollars." She goes on to add, "The most successful mystery authors, at the very top of the heap, sell between fifteen and twenty thousand copies of each book." Rodell also points out that a good writer should be able to churn out two mystery novels a year.

How to do that? Complete a first draft in two months, the author says. Write without pausing to finesse words or parse paragraphs, and then do the cleanup, fine-tuning and checking for flow and logic. Sounds so simple, doesn't it?

But it's easier written about here than done. I know in my own case, I've been fooling around forever with my work-in-progress, Murder Visits Antigua!

Two months . . . Do you suppose? Hmmm . . . Maybe . . .

I'll give it a shot!

Yours in mystery,


Friday, January 27, 2006


There are some wonderful lists related to the mystery genre. A few include Tony Burton's Crime and Suspense, the Short Mystery Fiction Society (SMFS) list , and of cource, the Dorothy L list at
There are many others, but these are a few I enjoy. The point of mentioning these lists is that frequently, there's heated discussion about mysteries and the genre not getting the respect it deserves in the hierarchy of what is considered literature.

Debate swirls around whether it's a matter of semantics, the style and/or quality of the writing, the worthiness or seriousness of the story itself, and even, on which publisher is backing the book. Some of the mystery writers I meet, feel that they are slightly second class, standing at a distance, apart from the literati.

I'm proud of being a mystery writer and I'm doing exactly what I wanted when setting out to write fiction. While I dabble in other genres, I enjoy the mystery. Perhaps that's because I write pretty much a traditional one, where in the end, "justice is served."

I read somewhere that the first mystery story, if you will, was written by Cicero. And on a taped seminar given by P.D. James, she said that a long time ago, mysteries were a kind of morality play. Not preaching, but helping a society to see where boundaries were and what lines should not be crossed or--there was a recompense (justice done).

As my teenage granddaughter might say, with a shrug, "What-ever!"

If the story resonates with one reader. If there is one nod of appreciation or smile when the reader finishes the last page and closes the book--then I'm happy.

My work's done as an author.

Yours in mystery and respect,

Pat Harrington