Tag Archives: Mystery

Last lines…

Everyone talks about the importance of the first line in your story, long or short, but there is often such grace in the last line that they need to be mentioned.
The last line can give you a punch, a feeling of “whoa!”, and last lingering taste of the story, that makes it live in your head long after you are done.
The short story “How Far She Went” by Mary Hood, as featured in Janet Burroway’s “Writing Fiction” (2nd edition, pp. 207-213) is an excellent example. The story itself is filled with imagery, familial history, danger, and sadness. It concerns a rebellious teenager who has been left at her grandmother’s by her father. The entire story is worth a read, but my breath caught in my throat when I read this last line:
“The girl walked close behind her, exactly where she walked, matching her pace, matching her stride, close enough to put her hand forth (if the need arose) and touch her granny’s back where the faded voile was clinging damp, the merest gauze between their wounds.”
The whole story, the girl’s turnaround, the meat of what happened, is captured in that line.
The more I read it, the more it hits me. Not a word too many, or a word too few. And yet, everything.

Killing off your characters, from LitCh@t


Good list of resources about murdering characters, the whys and hows and whens.

For the absolute skinny on HOW, you must read D.P.Lyle’s blog or read one of his excellent books, available here.

Have fun offing your (fictional) characters!

So, how do you DO a good murder (story) these days, anyway?

I remember once having a lengthy and somewhat gruesome chat about how you would dispose of a body in these recycling focused days. Would you drop it by the medical school? Dissect it and put the hip joints and such in either the plastic or metal recycling containers? Take the head and the mercury fillings to the harmful waste dump day?

It’s a conundrum.

Likewise, how do you learn to write about murder most foul? Merely calling up your local cop shop and asking for tips  might lead to awkward questions and notes home from school asking you to please not offer to chaperone the next field trip. Calling a local psychiatrist and pretending to be a psychopath isn’t recommended, either – unfortunately, so much psychiatry is based on first impressions you might end up with way too much time to write and too many drugs to be coherent.

The obvious choice is to read read read read mysteries, following the excellent (if somewhat dry) Francine Prose’s guidelines to Reading like a writer. Well, I’ve done that, and I have a problem with that approach.

If the mystery is good, I get all wrapped up in the story and race through, barely noticing the plot techniques while I get pulled along. If it’s bad, I only notice the things that hold it up, ruin the credibility.

OHI0129-CritiqueRule1I remember once being so disenchanted with a book that I dropped everything to see if the plant the author had described actually grew in the place she’d put it. (It didn’t).

I know a book has missed the mark for me when I get that fussy.

So I take courses, rub up against “real” writers, shop my stuff to contests and unsuspecting friends, try to get critiqued. This last bit is harder than it looks. Even in writing groups, there’s the tendency to be nice.

Or horrified.

One of my stories involved a pedophile that I apparently described so well that people didn’t want to read my stuff anymore. So I had to play nicey nicey and write nicey stuff for a bit.

Inside, the seething dark looms.horrifiedwoman

So, instead, I send things to contests. The ones that give you feedback. I figure I’m paying someone my entry fee to have a close, uninvolved reader have a look.

Sometimes the feedback is useful, sometimes it’s just a line or two.  Sometimes it is harsh, sometimes it’s helpful. Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to turn it around and offer my comments on other’s writing. I can only hope I’m the helpful type.

In the meantime, I’ve had help from:

Gotham Writer’s Workshop

Crime Writers of Canada

Sisters In Crime

Bloody Words

Canadian Authors Association

and my favourite resource for ways to kill people and those awkward dinner table silences:

D.P. Lyle. Check out his books. Best way to find stuff out without getting asked questions you can’t answer…

It’s almost National Crime Writing Month!

Now, finally, a blog topic that won’t involve endless self-examination and revelation and such. Phew.

Because I haven’t done any crimes.

Okay, I remember ONE TIME where I stole something. I was in grade 5. I STILL feel guilty about it. Ashamed, bad, totally awful. I’d make amends to the harmed party but I am too embarrassed to admit I did it.

So picture what would happen if I killed someone?

As it is, even a gentle thought crossing my mind about whether I’d like to kiss someone or potentially push them under a car – well, it’s all printed on my face. I’d never be able to lie about myself.

As a nurse and a writer, though, I can lie about other people. Thank heavens. Even if the lie is, ultimately, the truth – or at least it would be if I write as well as I hope.

In the meantime, head on over to the National Crime Writing Blog by the Crime Writers of Canada, and read how some pros handle criminous thinking/writing/acting. It’ll be worth your time…

And that’s no crime….

Don’t ever get old: review

cover14292-mediumWhew. In the first pages excerpt of this book (available online from NetGalley) so much is told, so much is started. I am awash in books to read and yet I’ve put this one on my “to grab soon” list. Friedman can write, powerfully, and I’m dying to see if the rest of the book pans out.
Though I have to say I am building up a resistance to the following: Thrillers involving Nazis; anything involving autism; anything involving children being put in harm’s way; more stories about the Great Wars that focus only on the American/British side of things. Or the French Resistance. Or anything with the words “50 shades of …” in the title. Or female porn loosely written up as if it was a good, mind-nourishing tale of female submission and torture.

This book looks like it might have two of my resistance items. But it also has one of my favourite things – a crusty old main character, who isn’t any better than he should be, who is a bit selfish and crabby and still holds grudges. I love characters with grudges.

I’d have a lot of them, myself, except for the memory loss I’ve suffered with MS.

But grumpy I can do. So I want to hear what this fellah Buck Schatz (even love the name) gets up to. Must go round up the whole book.

Fiction is good for you, says Andy Straka


I’m so happy! Another new author I just have to get to know. Here’s his blog – I’ll explore more deeply once this 3daynovel thing is over…

The smell of fear….

Yes! Another smashingly wonderful German word to write about, this time from an unlikely source, our local rag, The Halifax Chronicle Herald. (Others may call it the Chronically Horrid but I have an odd fondness for its clever mismanagement of staff, its lack of interest in world politics, its endless car ads from the car monopolies…). This time it is a reprinted article (natch!) from the excellent  Natalie Angier of the New York Times, writing about how some birds excrete their stomach contents to let their parents know they were in danger. The parents, upon smelling this thing, do what all parents wish they could do – they flee.

What parent or pet owner among us, upon hearing the unmistakable retching noises from the next room, hasn’t had the same thought?

Birds do it, bees do it, even wounded minnows in the seas do it…

And the Germans call it “Schreckstoff” – “fright stuff” – isn’t that perfectly delightful?

If that word doesn’t wend its way into my next 3 Day Novel, my name isn’t Dorothy Dorothy! (To explain – I was going to have a nom de plume of Parker Brown as I love Dorothy Parker, and one friend suggested the alternative – two first names…)

So this Schreckstoff. Does it ooze out of pores of men and women on dates? Does it get worse the more desperate you are?

You’ve just gotta wonder. Maybe that explains why all the boys around want you when you are otherwise occupado, but none of them do when you’re alone. Or maybe that’s why, on a first date, having a good sniff seems like such a wonderful idea.

Maybe bankers have especially sensitive probosci to sense out the bad loanee? Does it explain the funky odour in student exam rooms?

The implications are profound. Sure, it would be hard to miss a vomiting companion, for which we are all grateful – but maybe there’s a way to see if people ooze schreckstoff when they lie? Wouldn’t that be cool? What with all these series about people who can read expressions or see into the future or converse with dead people, surely we’re due for a sniffing detective, a la the Nazgul in Tolkien?

They’d be maximally creepy (think of the smoking man who sniffs hair in Charlie’s Angels), but I betcha they’d be effective. Like Columbo, they could turn at the door, and walk back.

“Just one more thing…” they’d say. And lean forward and inhale, deeply. Then step back, nod, and exit.

I’d confess.




On the HUNT!!! Mystery authors needed…

I am thrilled to have been made the chair of the 2015 Bloody Words Mystery Conference to be held here in gorgeous Halifax, NS. I think EVERYONE should come. Halifax is a glorious city, the conference is full of surprisingly nice people who have vented their anger at red lights and cell phones and traffic through fictional murdering, and the information and meetings with agents and writers and all is beyond compare.

And did I say how lovely the Halifax area is?

Check out Nova Scotia Webcams and have a look. In the next few weeks the tall ships are coming, so you can see them sailing around. You can see Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse on the cam, the shores all over, resorts and gold courses and ski hills and a lobster cam and a parrot cam.

If you come to the conference, you can even cadge a ride on one of the tall ships. But that’s in the future…

One of the big responsibilities of the chair and his/her bloody gang is lining up the guest speakers – especially the Canadian and International guests of honour. So I’m planning to read mysteries by the zillion, looking for those wonderful souls who write thrilling and day-stealing mysteries and who might be good conference speakers. I need suggestions! We all have favourites and tend to read them most, and I’m working on broadening my reading, but I can use help, guideposts to good places to hunt. Would love your help, dear reader…

Leave me a message with your favourites, or if you are already in Halifax, bring suggestions to our table at Word on the Street in September.

And keep your eyes peeled for Bloody Words 2014 in Toronto. It’ll be fantastic, too.

Dog on Fire, by Greg Fallis



Gregory Fallis is a former private detective and author of books about the science of detection. He brings these chops to his delightful collection of stories in Dog on Fire, but he doesn’t brag. Instead he focuses on two of the most original and likeable characters in the genre: Kevin Sweeney and Joop Wheeler. Joop hails from the south, Kevin from the northeast. Throughout these stories we get to learn about them, Kevin’s Irish wife, their various challenges and successes. By the end of the series of stories, you’ll find yourself longing for more about these two. Lots more.

The stories themselves are excellent – wonderfully written so they slide down smooth as butter, filled with interesting characters and mysteries, and fun. They all have what I like to call an O’Henry ending – a sudden turn that surprises and delights. Violence is scarce, and relatively harmless, and each story has such an original premise that you can’t help but smile when you realize the solution to the puzzles Fallis creates. All the clues are there, he doesn’t cheat – but the endings still charm. My favourites are Maybe the Horse, where they find an unusually cheating spouse, Kinsella’s Saloon, where Gaelic is brought to bear, and the Lord of Obstacles. And Second Mouse. And Dog on Fire. Heck, I like them all.

This is unbelievably cheap for such a collection – well worth the purchase even if you have to cope with the Kindle cloud. Just buy it.