Featured Member Interview – Patricia V. Davis

Interview by Nina Lesowitz

Patricia V. Davis featured member interviewPatricia V. Davis is a proponent of what she calls “female dynamism” – which signifies women taking positive action to support each other. It’s why she founded the Women’s PowerStrategy™ Conference, and why she is a big supporter of the Women’s National Book Association. Here she tells us about her journey to becoming a novelist.

“My background is about as provincial and backward as you can get. My parents believed girls should marry young and they did everything to prevent me from going to college. I had the grades to get into a great school, but that would have entailed leaving home and living in a dorm, and ‘good girls’ didn’t do that. They threatened to disown me if I left, and at that age, I didn’t have the courage to defy them. I loved them, wanted their approval, so I ended up going to a two-year local school as a ‘compromise’, and I married soon after graduation, a marriage that lasted less than 13 months. The decision to be an obedient daughter held me back in ways I can’t begin to describe and made my journey to becoming a published author twice as hard as it had to be. And it is indeed a monumental challenge, even if one has family support.

“I had to get a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing and Education first, something I didn’t achieve until I was in my mid-thirties. I taught English for many years, first in the United States and then in Athens, Greece, and I enjoyed that very much, although deep in my heart, I always wanted to write. I didn’t become published until I was over the age of fifty.”

Why did you choose the RMS Queen Mary as the setting for your trilogy?

“Total fluke, one that some believe is more than serendipitous. I knew nothing about the ship, not its history, nor that it is purported to be one of the ten most haunted places in the United States. I’d gotten a lucky break when Maria Shriver, who was then the First Lady of California, asked me to go down to Long Beach and work at her women’s conference as one of the reporters. The Long Beach Convention Center was already booked, so I ended up in a stateroom aboard the Queen Mary. In the midst of my preparations for Maria’s conference, I had an amazing experience with the paranormal that was unexpected for someone who knew nothing about the ship. I came home from that trip with the first story already cooking in my head. That was in 2007. Cooking for Ghosts wasn’t published until 2016. It went through more than one agency before I found the perfect fit for it and for me ─ Gordon Warnock at Fuse Literary.

“Everyone in the industry is saying that there are more opportunities than ever. That’s true, but there are also more books being published than ever. You have no shot at selling a book, either to an agent or to a reader if it’s not as polished as can be. If you try to rush the process, to ‘get your book out there’, as I’ve heard so many new writers say, you’ll be lucky if you sell a hundred copies. Traditionally or independently published, edit, edit, edit.

Spells & Oregano cover “The second book in the Queen Mary trilogy, Spells and Oregano, was released five months ago, so, I’m currently promoting Books I and II while writing Book III, Demons, Well-Seasoned. You might be able to tell from the titles that these are magical realism, and I love the genre, so I have a vague idea of what I might write once this trilogy is complete. That book, whatever it is, will be a standalone, because promoting two books while writing a third is… well, it’s indescribable. But every time I feel exhausted by it all, I remember how long I waited to do this and it gives me a burst of energy. I’m on Facebook a lot, I’m available by email, and there’s a great page The Secret Spice Book Series Page where readers can connect to hear about the books, my appearances, and some really fun contests.

The Secret Spice Book Series was selected by The Pulpwood Queens Book Club as an official selection, and they’re the largest book club in the world, with over 750 branches. Breathless Winery, a gold medal award winning winery in Healdsburg, has also chosen the series to pilot their Books and Bubbles program, along with Rebecca Rosenberg’s The Secret Life of Mrs. London, which was recently released.”

Patricia V. Davis is also the author of The Diva Doctrine: 16 Universal Principles Every Woman Needs to Know, and the bestselling Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece. For more information about Patricia’s books, visit her website www.patriciavdavis.com

Pitch-O-Rama 2018: Highlights

Written by Sharon McElhone

POR 2018 highlightsThe looming question since the Great Recession, the invention of Kindle, and the highjacking of content by corporate giants like Amazon and Google has always been, can the publishing industry survive the onslaught? For about a decade, a dark cloud has hovered over newspapers, writers, agents, editors, and publishers alike as they found it increasingly difficult to make money in an industry that was already difficult to survive in in the first place. Times have been bleak for writers and all their affiliates, but lately it feels like the purpose of the writer is being re-established.

On March 31st, writers, agents, publishers, and editors found less darkness and instead a renewed sense of optimism. The environment was cheery as people congregated inside the iconic Women’s Building on 18th Avenue in San Francisco. Pitch-O-Rama 2018, which ran from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., didn’t disappoint. The venue sold out. The intimate space filled up with both new and long time professionals, both women and men in the writing industry. It felt like a dawn of sorts, as if all the chaos and confusion caused by the past upheavals had finally settled and professionals in the industry had a sense of how to move forward again. The great feeling of community emanated all morning.

POR 2018 highlights 

The morning started off with coffee and a pre-pitch coaching session led by WNBA members, Betsy Graziani Fasbinder, Mary E. Knippel, and Amanda McTigue. The pre-pitch coaching session allowed writers to practice their pitches before meeting with agents, editors, and publishers. Small group break-outs in an intimate setting helped ease jitters before the actual pitch sessions began.

When the half-hour of coaching finished, writers spent the next three hours delivering pitches to the agents, editors and publishers of their choice in 6-minute time slots. It was like speed dating for writers. A pitch for a book was made, connections happened, and cards got exchanged. The morning ended with a panel discussion on marketing and craft led by WNBA president, Brenda Knight.

The WNBA sponsors this annual event for a morning full of expert advice, networking, with the potential of finding an agent, publisher, or editor for a particular body of work. Breakfast is also served. This year, in attendance were agents Lisa Abellara and Dorian Maffei of Kimberley Cameron and Associates, Michael Larsen of Larsen-Pomada, Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary, Kristen Moeller of Waterside Productions, Andy Ross, Jennifer March Soloway of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, among others. Publishers included She Writes Press, Smashwords, New World Library, and HeyDay, among others.

POR 2018: Brenda and Kate WNBA board members and volunteers make this event possible each year. The work that it takes to put on these events is no small thing: getting up at 4:30 a.m. the day of the event and the prep months beforehand. As some of us sat behind the breakfast table serving bagels and homemade apple coffee cake, attendees, both women and men, came up to say things like “Glad I came,” “A pleasant surprise,” “It felt very warm,” “and “I would like to become a member and help.” Those are the kinds of exchanges that mean something good happened that day. The publishing industry and the writer found their place again on the other side of what has been shrouded in uncertainty for far too long.

WNBA-SF board member Sharon McElhone is a journalist, columnist, and author of six books. Her articles have appeared in La Oferta, Orchard Valley Review, The Cupertino Courier, The Sunnyvale Sun, among other publications. Her column is called “Middle America-Our Engine,” and can be viewed online at La Oferta. Her fiction has appeared in The New Short Fiction Series 2012 in Los Angeles, Label Me Latina/o Spring 2015 and in the 2017 anthology Basta! She is half Ecuadorian and half Irish and lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and children. She is working on a memoir related to childcare, a novel, and a fourth collection of poems. 

Epic Reads: Secrets to Crafting Historical Fiction

Mechanics Institute Library 2nd-floor (epic reads)

Author Lunch, Mechanics Institute Library
Friday, August 17, 2018, 12:00 Noon
57 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94104
Floor 4 (Free to Public, refreshments available)

The Women’s National Book Association San Francisco Chapter is thrilled to present member writers who have authored highly successful historical (and prehistorical!) novels that readers and reviewers rave about. Learn what role research plays and how to make your scenes, settings, and characters realistic and compulsively readable. Epic Reads will be moderated by WNBA-SF President Brenda Knight. There will be Q&A followed by book signings; bring your notebooks and plenty of questions!

Mary Mackey, New York Times Bestselling author of The Village of Bones, will discuss how she brings the Goddess-worshiping cultures of Prehistoric Europe to life by drawing on extensive archaeological research, the surviving art of the epoch, and her own imagination. Mackey’s novels take us on an epic journey to the past that has vital importance for the present. Novelist Mary Volmer will discuss research strategies that will help you unearth, organize, and effectively utilize historical information in any creative project. Learn the difference between static and living details, how to avoid superfluous detail, and how to use objects as windows into a character’s heart and mind.

Mary Mackey Mary Mackey is the New York Times bestselling author of fourteen novels, including The Earthsong Series—four novels which describe how the peaceful Goddess-worshiping people of Prehistoric Europe fought off patriarchal nomad invaders (The Village of Bones, The Year The Horses Came, The Horses at the Gate, and The Fires of Spring). Mary’s novels have been praised by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Pat Conroy, Thomas Moore, Marija Gimbutas, Maxine Hong Kingston, Marge Piercy, and Theodore Roszak for their historical accuracy, inventiveness, literary grace, vividness, and storytelling magic. They have made The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller Lists, been translated into twelve foreign languages and sold over a million and a half copies. Mary has also written seven collections of poetry including Sugar Zone, winner of the 2012 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award. This September Marsh Hawk Press will publish a collection of her new and selected poems entitled The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams. At marymackey.com, you can get the latest news about Mary’s books and public appearances, sample her work, sign up for her newsletter, and get writing advice. You can also find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @MMackeyAuthor.

Mary Volmer - credit Kory Hayden Mary Volmer is the author of two novels: Crown of Dust (Soho Press, 2010) and Reliance, Illinois (Soho Press, 2016). Her essays and short stories have appeared in various publications, including Mutha Magazine, the Farallon Review, Women’s Basketball Magazine, Fiction Writers Review, Historical Novel Society Review, The New Orleans Review, Brevity, and Ploughshares. After earning a master’s degree at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, where she was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, she earned an MFA in Creative Writing at Saint Mary’s College (CA). She has been awarded residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and Hedgebrook and was the Spring 2015 Distinguished Visiting Writer in Residence at Saint Mary’s College (CA) where she now teaches. 

Northern California Book Awards 2018

Northern California Book Awards logo

37th Northern California Book Awards
Sunday, June 10, 2018, 1:00- 3:30 pm

KORET AUDITORIUM • SAN FRANCISCO MAIN LIBRARY
100 Larkin Street, Civic Center, San Francisco
FREE ADMISSION

The 37th Annual Northern California Book Awards will celebrate writers and readers in Northern California. Awards in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translation, and Children’s Literature will be presented, with brief celebratory readings and remarks by the winning authors.

A lively reception with book signing follows, all free and open to the public. The Fred Cody Lifetime Achievement Award and NCBR Recognition Award will be presented. NCBAs are presented by Northern California Book Reviewers, a volunteer association of book reviewers and book review editors, Poetry Flash, the San Francisco Public Library and the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, the Women’s National Book Association-SF Chapter, PEN West, and the Mechanics’ Institute Library

Nominees and honorees will be announced in May 2018. Visit Poetryflash.org (see front page NCBA feature) for the list of last year’s nominees and winners.

Eligible reviewers and readers are always welcome. More information on this page.

South Asian Books to Celebrate Earth Day

Written by Gauri Manglik

Gauri Manglik, South Asian booksHere’s a round-up of some unique stories that remind us it’s not just Earth Day but everyday, that we need to respect the Earth and take only what we need. Reduce, Re-use and Recycle! 

Alone In the Forest: Musa, a young boy sets off from his village to the forest to collect some firewood, but gets trapped. Beautiful illustrations bring alive the forest, and the boy’s fears, but mother nature eventually helps him find a way out.

Aani and the Tree Huggers: Based on true events in north India (referred to as the Chipko Andolan), this story shares how a group of women courageously hugged trees to prevent them from being chopped. A powerful and heartwarming story of courage and standing up for our beliefs!

Crane_Boy_coverCrane Boy: This SABA Honor book shares a story about school-aged kids in Bhutan organizing the community and creating a crane festival to help make the depleting number of black-necked cranes feel at home. A beautiful story about a unique place on this earth.

Gobble You Up: Exquisite bookmaking and gorgeous illustrations come together in this book to share a Rajasthani trickster tale about a greedy jackal who decides to eat his friends up. Great for read-alouds!

Iqbal and his Ingenious Idea: When Iqbal sees his mother and baby sister coughing due to the firewood stove, he decides he must do something. He decides to work hard on his science fair project so he can use the prize money to buy a gas stove. However, his ingenuity leads to an even more sustainable solution!

Barefoot Book of Earth Tales: An engaging collection of seven tales from around the world about respecting and caring for the earth in gentle ways. Bright illustrations and fun activity pairings add to the appeal of this book!

putulandthedolphins_coverPutul and the Dolphins: A young girl is delighted one day when two friendly dolphins leap right outside her window in the monsoons! A gentle reminder about how our worlds are so interspersed and we must empathize and be respectful of nature and animals around us.

Tiger Boy: Set in the Sunderbans, one of the natural wonders of the world, this book is an insightful perspective on the dilemma a young boy faces when a tiger cub is discovered; should we focus on his studies or save the tiger cub from being poached?

water_coverWater: Beautiful illustrations by Gond artist, Subhash Vyam share a story about access to water in villages and cities, and how our lives are interconnected. He cleverly weaves in an old fable reminding all of us to only take what is our due.

Where’s the Sun: One morning, a mother and child go in search of the sun. Will they find it? Beautiful Warli illustrations take us on a journey where lively birds, quick-footed animals and busy humans meet and share the forest, the river and the mountain.

Use code EARTH15 to get a 15% discount on Kitaabworld.com‘sur Earth Day collection  (valid till April 30th 2018) 

Gauri Manglik has more than 12 years of experience as a lawyer, and she has practiced law in both India and the United States. During her legal career, she advised on various aspects of corporate and commercial laws. In 2015, she chose to follow her passion and left her legal career to start Kitaabworld. She is passionate about making South Asian culture fun and accessible for children, as well as sharing her love for diverse children’s books.

The original version of this post appeared on Kitaabworld.com and is republished here with the author’s permission. 

Lucky Gals: WNBA-SF Spring Break

With Shanti Sekaran

Written by Mary Volmer

Shanti Sekaran (left) at SMCOn April 4th a vibrant collection current and potential members of the WNBA-SF met for an evening of conversation and libations at beautiful Saint Mary’s College (CA). Later we joined the bustling crowd gathered in De La Salle Hall to hear Shanthi Sekaran, Saint Mary College’s Distinguished Writer in Residence, discuss her exquisite new novel Lucky Boy.

WNBA-SF mixer group The night was remarkable not only for the company, but also for the insights Sekaran offered about the challenges of writing characters outside of one’s own experience. To summarize, she said that an author must come to terms with, and be honest about, what she does not know.

An author must invest herself in the necessary research, ask questions, and trust the story to “ask its own questions.” She must be vigilant, but also humble and willing to concede that her vision, however well realized, might yet be imperfect. Her wisdom was well received by the poets, fiction and non-fiction writers alike, many of whom stayed behind to talk and digest the literary delights of the night.

WNBA-SF Board Member Mary Volmer is the author of two novels: Crown of Dust (Soho Press, 2010) and Reliance, Illinois (Soho Press, 2016). 

Featured Member Interview – Sharon McElhone

Interview by Nina Lesowitz

Sharon McElhone, featured member interviewWNBA-SF Board member Sharon McElhone became obsessed with writing at 18 years old after reading a life-altering novel and has been writing articles, poems, and essays ever since. Today, her seventh book is nearing completion.

“I found my way into journalism sixteen years ago through an internship at La Oferta, a bilingual newspaper. The editors, Mary and Tatiana Andrade, have been great friends and mentors. After my first assignment of copy-editing, they moved me to covering local politics and interviewing candidates. Then they gave me a column. The column is entitled ‘The Middle Class-Our Engine’ and is dedicated to middle-class Americans. It is also offered in English and Spanish.

“Mary Andrade published my first poem in La Oferta about a year after I started working as a journalist. It was about the death of my mother’s long-time gardener, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico. He was sort of a father figure since my mother was a single mother. To date, I’ve written four collections of poetry. Most of my work centers around what it’s like to be a woman living with an artificially imposed set of societal standards and also describes the hardship of American motherhood without access to childcare and equal rights.

Tell Us about the anthology BASTA!

BASTA! 100+ Latinas Against Gender Violence began in Chile as a movement to create awareness about violence against women. Each anthology is tied to a country and the series continues to make its way around the world. The BASTA! anthology that has been published here in the States contains the short stories of one hundred Latina writers from the U.S. One of those stories is mine. I’m happy to have had the opportunity to be part of Dr. Emma Sepulveda Pulvirenti’s work. She is the editor of the U.S. anthology. Putting this series together highlights the very real issue for women around the world. All proceeds from the book, which was published by the Latino Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, go to help organizations addressing violence against women. Dr. Pulvirenti makes no money from sales and neither do any of the writers.”

Do you have any insight or advice for fellow members about your writing process?

“The process for me developed over time. It’s like exercise: if you force yourself to do it and it’s not enjoyable then most likely you will find it hard to continue. So I try to be patient and make it something that is pleasurable. It’s very relaxing to me to write. It’s a way to release tension or answer questions when a writer can disappear into work that has meaning. Also, it shouldn’t matter if someone else appreciates the work or not. Of course, writers like to have readers, but writers should write for themselves first in my opinion. It gives the work meaning. One shouldn’t force writing, instead stick to a schedule that works for that week, month, or year since schedules change. Enjoy the process, then send your work out.

“Currently, I’m working on a book of essays about the lack of affordable childcare in America and how it impacts a typical American family, especially a mother. Poverty is closely tied to the inability to work and if women are responsible for childcare, they have to negotiate a more complicated environment and can’t always work. Throughout history, we have placed a tremendous burden on women to carry the load of childcare and then ask why so many women and children are the poorest demographic and why so much violence. There is simply a lack of introspection in America, and we need to do better.

“The years roll on, and I see how much America is failing mothers and families by overlooking issues like childcare and the significance of diversity. As a longtime journalist, I can safely say that neither policymakers nor major news outlets view childcare as a major issue to address. My questions, as a journalist, related to the issue, too often are met with blank stares, scoffing, or lip service. But addressing the issue means a change in our wellbeing as Americans. Fortunately, La Oferta gives me a lot of leeway, and they have always supported my work.

Hopefully, policymakers and major news outlets will awaken soon to the problem of affordable childcare, as they did to the issue of sexual abuse after the #metoo and #Timesup movement took hold. Sadly, it took the recognition of so many women being abused before speaking out against harassment and sexual abuse became a movement. That’s reactive, not proactive. These movements need to translate into policy and social change. Issues facing mothers and families will continue to be the focus of my work. I’m also wrapping up a collection of short stories about multi-cultural families.”

WNBA-SF Board member Sharon McElhone is a journalist, columnist, and author. She is half Ecuadorian and half Irish and lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and children. She is working on a memoir related to childcare, a novel, and a fourth collection of poems.

Writing a Nonfiction Book? 5 Ideas…

… For Attracting Agents/Editors and Keeping Readers Engaged

Written by Brooke Warner

Brooke Warner, nonfiction writer, coachThe summer of 2017 has been the summer of nonfiction. I’ve read more nonfiction books than I have in a long while and I’ve had an influx of writers coming to me wanting support for their nonfiction works—about relationships, globalization and business, the internalization of negativity, women and power, and, of course, Trump.

I will never profess to anyone that writing a book is easy, but nonfiction writers do have a leg up over their novelist and memoirist peers in that nonfiction can and should be formulaic. It’s all about your table of contents, and if you bang that out on the front end and feel good about the points you’re hitting, you have a strong template to guide you all the way through to the end. Yes, you still have to execute good writing and keep your reader interested in your topic, but there are a few tricks (ie, skills) that you can implement to attract agents and editors—and eventually readers.

1. Give your reader subheads!
Too often, writers I work with submit long excerpts or sample chapters chock-full of good ideas, theories, and expression, but with no breaks! Readers need breaks, and oftentimes line breaks don’t cut it. Subheadings are critical in nonfiction works. They helps you, the writer, break your own ideas into compartmentalized sections. They also keep you more organized and therefore on point. You might have four or five subheads in a given chapter, and the subhead title itself guides the reader toward the points you want to make in that section. It helps keep you and your reader on track, and it gives readers a natural place to break—whether for the purpose of stopping for a while (bookmark!) or digesting what they’ve just read.

2. Let yourself be a character in the broader story
It’s not a rule that the writer be a character in their own nonfiction work, but if you fail to be the trusted guide, you’re going to have a much less readable book. Even if the book is not about you, you need to establish yourself as an authority. You have to tell the reader why you’re writing the book and what qualifies you to be the author. It’s okay if the only qualification you have is curiosity, but if this is the case, you want to pepper stories about yourself throughout the text. Don’t overdo it, of course. I’m not suggesting that your nonfiction work become a memoir. I am suggesting, however, that your reader will be more likely to stay with you if they have confidence in you, and that confidence comes from sharing, being transparent, and inviting the reader into your world (as it connects to the subject matter of your book).

3. Break up the text with other design elements
Nonfiction writers don’t often know that there’s a wide world of extra elements they can include in their writing and in their books to break up the content and highlight certain thoughts and ideas. As a nonfiction writer, you can embrace images, graphs, and callouts, quotes that get pulled from the text and designed into the body of your book, as you’d see in a magazine. You can have sidebars that highlight interviews or recipes or case studies. I love it when nonfiction writers think outside the box. Lately I’ve been seeing listicles as chapters, experimental chapters in which a nonfiction writer might curate a bunch of relevant Tweets. Pay attention to how people consume content. Don’t feel that just because you’re writing a book, you’re bound to continuous text. You’re not, and readers love books that break up the reading experience with interesting internal elements.

4. Don’t be afraid to write a short book
This is a big one, in keeping with the whole notion that people are consuming content differently. The short book is on trend, and more attractive that it was in years past. When I say short, I mean as short as 35,000-40,000 words, not much shorter than that. I’ve seen more and more nonfiction books that are under 200 pages. The design elements I mentioned in point 3 can also lengthen a book that has fewer words. So can wider margins. Let your content pack a punch. Don’t meander or write too superfluously. You can give your reader a good dose of wow in a pretty small package—and in our content-saturated culture, you’ll probably sell more books as a result.

5. Write in your own voice
I come across so many writers who think that because they’re writing nonfiction, they must don their academic writing hat. Nonfiction needn’t be stuffy or rigid. No one sets out to write a boring book, but writers are often plagued by the voices of their long-gone professors. People get caught up in perfectionism and The Rules. Please, people, write how you talk with just a bit more polish and finesse. Have fun with your writing. Don’t be afraid to write in a colloquial style. People aren’t buying books because they want to read academic tomes. If we wanted that we’d go back to school. Be you—and be wary of working with anyone (agents, editors, writing groups or buddies) who insists that formal/grammatically uptight equals better. Not so. Write well, yes, but also be authentically you.

WNBA-SF member Brooke Warner is a writing coaching and professional publishing consultant. She has worked as an acquiring editor in the publishing industry for the past sixteen years, most recently as the Executive Editor at Seal Press. She left Seal Press in May 2012 to pursue the coaching practice and to co-found She Writes Press with Kamy Wicoff, founder of SheWrites.com. Brooke lives and works in Berkeley, California.

The original version of this post appeared on the Huffington Post and is republished here with the author’s permission. 

Writing Mysteries: Is It A Mystery?

Written by M. Glenda Rosen (aka Marcia G. Rosen)

Marcia Rosen, mystery writerWriting a mystery book or series is akin to putting together a puzzle with a thousand pieces. Where should you begin? Do you start the puzzle with the corner and edge pieces, providing details on the main characters including the heroes and criminals? Or do you start in the middle, revealing upfront the murder and complexity of the story plot?

Whether you start with corners, or center pieces, what matters is sticking with your structure and then pacing the plot. You need to keep it moving forward by creating suspense with clues and mysterious happenings.

In the television mystery series, “Columbo,” the murder always took place at the beginning of the story. The seemingly flustered but persistent detective follows various suspects and clues to eventually catch the murderer. In other television mysteries, you follow the path of an ordinary citizen—writer, baker, doctor, librarian, or florist—who is captivated by certain events and incidentally gets involved in solving crimes. These amateurs just can’t seem to help themselves, even when following the clue leads them to danger.

From these types of mysteries known as cozies, to film noir with gangsters and hard-boiled detectives, to terrifying thrillers, mysteries have long appealed to the reader and viewer. As a writer, you can choose your own style, your own way of creating characters and stories of murders and mayhem, and your own way of presenting clues and suspects leading toward solving the crime. Yet, there are certain elements essential to a good mystery, which can take the reader on a fascinating ride through a criminal’s mind and the minds of those who reach into that mind to catch them.

You want your reader to become involved and interested in your story so they follow the clues you leave, and they attempt to solve the crimes along with you. Don’t make it too easy: There should be a number of possible suspects. Enhance the plot with character conflict and red herrings that might confuse and steer the reader away from the real murderer. The bad guy can also lead the reader astray by placing suspicion and blame on someone else.

A good mystery story includes: an intriguing plot, interesting characters (often with unique characteristics), descriptive places and locations that set a mood, interesting and controversial dialogue, clues (real and false) leading to the bad guys (and gals), and a bit of humor. Be clear about your point of view. Is it from the perspective of the main character as in Sue Grafton novels or a third person as in Raymond Chandler mysteries?

Ultimately, you want to be able to explain your characters’ motivation for their criminal behavior. Common sources are anger, hate, power, money and, of course, revenge. Revealing truths, secrets and lies with stories of betrayal and vengeance with surprise endings leave your reading wanting more—especially in a series!

Although you might think it strange, I suggest you ask yourself what your motivation is for writing or wanting to write mysteries. In my mystery series, The Senior Sleuths, the actions of my senior characters, Dick and Dora, often reflect my truths about life and relationships.

I grew up in an unusual, and sometimes outrageous, environment. It wouldn’t take a genius, a psychiatrist, or a palm reader to figure out the genesis of my fascination with crime and criminals. In my series, The Senior Sleuths, Zero the Bookie is a version of my dad, and several other characters are based on a few of his many associates.

Our history and experiences can define us, inspire our actions, and, as writers, impact our words and stories. Mine most definitely have. My father was a small-time gangster. Really! No doubt, thanks to my father, writing mysteries is in my DNA.

Marcia Rosen has previously published four books in her mystery series, “Dying to Be Beautiful.” Rosen is also author of “The Woman’s Business Therapist” and “My Memoir Workbook.” She was founder, and for many years, owner of a successful Marketing and Public Relations Agency, created several radio and TV talk shows, and received numerous awards for her work with business and professional women. She currently resides in Carmel, California. For more information, visit www.theseniorsleuths.com and www.levelbestbooks.com

 

Writing Dialogue in Memoir

Written By Louise Nayer 

Louise NayerUnless you sprint through life with a tape recorder strapped to your body 24/7, dialogue is created by the author through memory. How do you write believable dialogue? Differentiate your mother’s voice, “I feel ill” from your father’s, “I feel like crap”? Keep it short. It doesn’t have to be grammatically correct, but does need to capture the quirkiness of the speaker. Use action along with dialogue—tearing up a napkin on your lap to show nervousness, staring out the window to show sadness. In my book Burned: A Memoir, I wrote a scene the morning after my parents were burned in an explosion in the cellar of our Cape Cod rental house. I’m four years old, in the basement of our neighbor’s house with my sister and babysitter, Della.

“Will Daddy take us to the beach today?” I asked Della as she lifted her heavy body off the bed, her red wool sweater spilling onto the cool basement floor. “Will Daddy take us to the beach today?”
“They were hurt—in an accident.” Her face was puffed up and red. I turned away clutching my stomach, an acid taste rising in my mouth.

Along with the dialogue, you learn about what Della looks like and also what I’m physically feeling as a child at that moment—an acid taste in my mouth.

In The Glass Castle right at the beginning, author Jeannette Walls has a scene with her homeless mother. A few days before, Walls was in a taxicab and saw her mother picking through trash. She didn’t stop to say hello.

“You want to help me change my life?” Mom asked. “I’m fine. You’re the one who needs help. Your values are all confused.”
“Mom, I saw you picking through trash in the East Village a few days ago.”
“Well, people in this country are too wasteful. It’s my way of recycling.” She took a bite of her Seafood Delight. “Why didn’t you say hello?”
“I was too ashamed, Mom. I hid.”
Mom pointed her chopsticks at me. “You see?” she said. “Right there. That’s exactly what I’m saying. You’re way too easily embarrassed. Your father and I are who we are. Accept it.”

This excerpt is mostly dialogue, but there are a few places where the reader is grounded in the scene, and knows it’s a restaurant. “She took a bit of her Seafood Delight” and “Mom pointed her chopsticks at me.” The action of the mother pointing her chopsticks at her daughter allows us to see the mother’s personality and also is laced with humor.

Dialogue makes a scene come alive and reveals something more about a character. Look through old letters of people who have passed away to help “channel” their voices. Listen and take notes for people now in your life. Practice by writing down snippets of conversations while sipping your cappuccino. Dialogue moves the story along, revealing what each character wants. But often, as in life, you have to read between the lines.

Louise Nayer has been an author an educator for many years. Burned: A Memoir was an Oprah Great Read and won the Wisconsin Library Association Award. Her most recent book, Poised for Retirement: Moving From Anxiety to Zen is about “emotional planning” for retirement and was written up in Next Avenue and Forbes Magazine. She did 27 radio spots based on the book. She is a member of the SF Writer’s Grotto and has been an educator for over forty years.