My favorite books as a tween were solidly in the science fiction and adventure realms. My father introduced me to his favorite authors: Bradbury, Asimov, and Heinlein, and the public library helped me find others. I was astonished by the breadth of Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, a series of stories about a Galactic Empire that predated by several decades the evil empire created by George Lucas. (A TV series version of Foundation is due out in 2021.)
As an adult I moved down a different reading path, in part because of the various book clubs I joined. Most were interested in either literary classics or women’s fiction, neither of which almost never included science fiction.
But lately, I’ve returned to reading the genre—loving The Sparrow and its sequel, Children of God, for example. And I discovered something new about Isaac Asimov: He also wrote mysteries. At a virtual writers conference I attended this year, a presenter mentioned Tales of the Black Widowers, a collection of short stories by Asimov that Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine published in the 1970s. I found a used copy online and dug in.
The set-up seemed somewhat dated: This is a men’s-only club that meets monthly, and women are forbidden to attend. But the stories themselves are fun little mysteries, with one character (not giving anything away) who is particularly astute at solving the puzzling situations presented. I was delighted to find out that the Black Widowers has several sequels, the first of which not surprisingly is called More Tales of the Black Widowers.
This is the centennial year of Asimov’s birth, with only a few days until that ends (on Jan. 2). He was a prolific writer, author of hundreds of books and stories, as well as being a biochemist and professor.
Speaking of mysteries, it’s nearly time for the Bethlehem Writers Group’s annual short story contest, which opens Jan. 1, 2021. The contest theme is An Element of Mystery. So, sharpen your pencils and get busy crafting your version of the mystery story.
I’m a writer. A fiction writer. And right now my world, and everyone else’s, has been highly modified nonfictionally by a situation I never imagined would happen: The Covid 19 pandemic.
Because I’m a fiction writer, my mind is always spiraling with ideas for new stories. At the moment I think I’ll have three new books published next year: two Harlequin Romantic Suspense novels plus a potentially stand-alone mystery that I’m currently writing.
All that keeps my mind and my fingers busy. But that mind of mine–well, when I’m not focused on what I’m writing, I’m always considering potential new ideas. They kind of just slip into my thoughts based on things I see or do, or don’t see or do but still tiptoe in and become creative plots or people or pets.
Or unusual backgrounds…
Yes, I’ve already done a blog here not too long ago about what to include, and what not to include, in stories. I focused more there on whether or not to include references in what I’m already writing to the pandemic and other current issues it has been causing.
Now, I’m wondering whether I ought to write something new that features the pandemic and how it involves a protagonist, probably in a mystery. At least my mind keeps telling me to consider it.
If I did, would people want to read it, or would they rather stay away from awful things like that which are affecting their real lives–even fictionalized versions of it?
Don’t know yet–but I’m kind of leaving my mind loose to consider it.
What do you think–would you want to read about it?
Because it’s me, the story would also most likely involve dogs, who are now being recognized as wonderful companions as we all stay far from others outside our households a whole lot more than we used to.
But of course no dogs would be harmed.
CLAIRE NADEN enjoyed a career as a paralegal before turning her attention to writing full-time. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degrees in history and library and information science. Her first novel, Cache Under the Stacks: A Cate Wagner Mystery, was published in June 2018. She lives with her husband, David, and their two dogs in Pasadena, California. Visit her online at clairenaden.wordpress.com.
Claire: Cate has inherited a bookstore from her late great aunt. She has always loved the bookstore, so it is only fitting that her auntie has left it to her. One night she is awakened by a phone call and the caller threatens the bookstore and her. He virtually stalks her, and it takes some sleuthing for Cate to discover what he is after. There is a historical twist in the middle of the book that lends itself to the conclusion.
Claire: I have been working on another mystery for Cate to solve in which she will make some life altering decisions.
Claire: Actually, I have my galleys back from the publisher, so I am working my way through it for a last check. My story is about a middle age woman who has been recently widowed and decides she wants to start her life over after having had several failed relationships. She makes the decision to sell her condominium and move to Kauai where she will purchase a bed and breakfast. I don’t want to divulge any more – spoilers you know!
Claire: I have a lot of sources that I use for research and find myself falling down the rabbit hole every once in a while. Since my story is about a journalist, I have used The Women Who Wrote the War as my starting point.
Claire: I tend to write stories where my protagonist is a woman. I like to write about women who have conflicts, face obstacles to what they want and manage to overcome and come out on top. I don’t feel comfortable in a “man’s voice.” Maybe that will change.
Claire: No, but I wish I did. Maybe I would accomplish more.
Claire: I try to get words in every day but not always successful. You know life happens. But if I don’t get words down then I do something writing related like research which I love, character outlines, editing etc. I can always find something to do related to my writing.
Claire: Nothing except “Write Everyday.”
Claire: Not to give up in other words keep swimming!
Claire: It is hard but when I look in my office and see everything I have built up over time and remind myself I am committed.
Claire: I would love to try a Victorian mystery/romance set in my town of Pasadena, CA.
I’m currently in the process of reviewing and responding to the copy edits for For a Good Paws, my fifth Barkery & Biscuits Mystery for Midnight Ink. The process they use is a bit more complicated than many publishers I’ve dealt with recently since it involves making notes about things to change and not just redlining a clean version. It takes more time, but it’s really not so bad.
I’m a bit emotional about this one anyway, since it’ll be my last mystery for Midnight Ink because the publisher is sort of closing–at least not buying any more books, although they may continue to market existing ones for a while. So far, I haven’t requested my rights back and probably won’t immediately.
Will I do more Barkery mysteries? I’d need to get at least some of my rights back to do that, and I’ve got other ideas to work on first–so I’m not sure. But if not, I’ll miss them!
These days, I’m sitting at my computer a lot working on those edits, which are due soon. Recently, we’ve had a lot of rain, so sitting at my computer is a good place to be. Since I’m in LA, I didn’t experience the Polar Vortex first hand but I’m sending hugs to those of you who did. We have family near Chicago, so I got to hear some fairly scary stories—but all came out of it okay. Hope that’s the same with you and yours as well.
And yes, the year marches on. No, it’s not March yet, but it is almost Valentine’s Day. So hug your sweeties, stay warm and dry—and read, write and/or edit some good books!
Question from a guest at one of our recent book events: “You two write crime fiction but how do you come up with some of your characters? Are they like, people you know—people like me?”
We get asked that question more often than you’d think, and the answer is that creating characters is probably one of the aspects of a story we spend the most time discussing.
Since we are co-writing the fifth book in the Skylar Drake Mysteries, our main characters are pretty much fleshed out. In each story, we reveal a little more about their personalities and histories. But these were developed before we ever wrote a word.
We made a profile of each character which included their backgrounds, their physical description, their likes and dislikes, and added any little quirks they might have. Please understand when we say quirks, we’re not mocking or making fun of a person’s physical or mental challenges, rather, some of the people we’ve known are downright weird.
This is the same process we’ve used for new characters in subsequent stories. Some of the “quirky” traits are more pronounced in some characters than in others, to the point that we always seem to find a character for our story who is plainly odd.
As to whether our characters are disguised versions of real people—We’d have to say, no. Not really. We like to “people watch” at malls, concerts, airports, the checkout line, at church and even in our writers’ groups.
When we were both working full-time, we found a never-ending supply of personalities and quirks in the people we worked with every day.
For instance, one of us worked with a person who would sit at lunch and eat in a circular pattern around his plate – usually clockwise. If you asked him a question or distracted him in any way, he would stop and return to the top or “12 o’clock” position on his plate and start over. This person had a management position but clearly qualified as quirky. We haven’t used this quirk yet, nor the one of the woman who would not eat or drink anything purple.
We’ve even drawn on classmates from childhood, high school or those we’d met on a few of our first minimum-wage jobs.
From our discreet observations, we write character sketches, talk about them and morph them into a unique personality.
These “people watching” experiences for character development also lead us to great conversational snippets that we use in some of our dialog. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “You can’t write this stuff.” And in truth, sometimes great characters or dialog falls into our lap.
In our fourth co-written mystery, Slick Deal, you’ll see how Skylar Drake and Casey Dolan react with quirky characters to work out the murder. With our fifth Skylar Drake Mystery in the works, we are still discussing and creating characters for his latest adventure—and yes…we are still married!
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