WINNIE THE POOH’S 6 RULES FOR WRITING MYSTERIES

Full disclosure, the six rules of writing mysteries were set forth by A.A. Milne, who wrote Winnie the Pooh, but Milne does speak for Winnie, so there.

Milne also wrote a delightful mystery The Red House Mystery, that he dedicated to his father who was a big fan of mysteries.

So the six rules:

  1. The story should be written in good English

I thought that would be a given. After all, if you write bad English, you write a bad novel. So writing in good English should be obvious. I think this rule came from Winnie and Milne used to make Winnie happy.

2.  Love interest is undesirable.

Raymond Chandler also said the same thing. Of course there was Nick and Nora Charles, but being married their love is implicit. They sparred with wit and charm, with Nora being Watson to Nick’s Sherlock, although she was smarter than Watson.

Chandler, by the way, thought little of Milne’s mystery. He also trashed Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and virtually all British mystery novelists in the Golden Age of British mysteries, between the two world wars. Chandler was about realism, especially the writings of Dashiell Hammett. But Chandler missed elements of Red House Mystery, those being social satire, with a stab at comedy of manners. It is very witty with sharp dialogue.

3.  Both detective and villain should be amateurs.

Since the early 1920’s, when Milne was writing these rules, police procedural mysteries  have become a sub genre of their own. There were a few back then, but the genre has grown to the point that this rule does not apply. It is a matter of taste and preference and I prefer the amateur.

4.  Scientific detection is ‘too easy’.

I am not sure what Milne meant with this rule. But obviously nearly a century has passed and science is much bigger now in detecting clues and evidence. British mysteries in the golden age were more about puzzles, and figuring out who did it. Milne may have implied that the amateur detective should rely on getting clues, piecing them together to solve the puzzle.

5.   The reader must know as much as the detective.

This rule should apply to all mysteries of any era. The reader should have access to the information, not only to see if he can solve the murder before the end, but more important, not to trick the reader. You can not add information at the end when the killer is revealed that comes as a surprise to the reader. That is not playing fair and it pisses off the reader who has invested his time in the story.

6. There should be a Watson: it is better for the detective to Watsonize’ than soliloquize.

This is elementary. One could have a detective working alone and he can share his thoughts through the first person, such as “When I saw the gun on the floor it was too far away for it to be suicide, but then why was the gun ten feet away, perhaps because . . .”  In essence the reader could be the Watson. In my mysteries I use Chet and Eveleen, a married couple, who along with their flapper friend Clancy solve mysteries. I do this because I enjoy their interplay.

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This writers struggle to let go of his book

I thought it was just me.

But in The Golden Age of Murder, a book about British mystery writers between the two world wars it was said of Dorothy Sayers that  “. . . as  many authors do, that once she finished a book, she went through a phase of self doubt.”

I don’t know what went through her mind, but consider a writer creates a story, nurtures it, works to improve it, and when finished it is time to let go. Ah, it is the letting go that is the problem.

It is like raising a child and then letting it go out into the world. Your story, your work can be attacked by critics and readers, just as your child can be hated for reasons you can’t fathom. You love your child, you love your book and you hurt a bit when they are attacked. Each book, like each child, is on their own.

Self doubt, fear of letting go is real for many writers, myself included. I finished my latest e-novel months and months ago. I went through extended editing with grammar and punctuation and let it sit, coming to it with fresh eyes for another round of proofreading. How many times should one do this before letting go? I did it 3 or 4 times. Okay, maybe even more.

Now I am faced with creating a cover, or having someone else do it and I am also in the process of coming up with a new title. The original title was Head on a Grave, because the story begins with a woman’s head found on a grave. But I have two collections of horror stories, both with graves on the cover. I though another grave cover would be too much. I wanted more variety in my covers. Of course I could retain the title, but what image do I use on the cover?

I have two images from a town where some of the story takes place and I thought I would use that, but I still wanted another title. So I thought of Murder Bleeds out, or Blood will have Blood (from Macbeth), or Murderous Matters. Or perhaps Shadows in the Dark.

You see where I am going right.

I am still in a delay mode, while I ponder a new title, new cover, still having trouble letting go. It does not stop me from working on short stories or starting a new novel. The writing is easy, the letting go is hard.

But I have let go before, two collections of short stories and three e-novels on Amazon, so I can do it. I will get there. I just have to spank myself and get on with it.

Why Writers Lie and Why It’s Good

There is a reason why a novel or short story is called fiction. According to my American Heritage Dictionary fiction is defined as 1. an imaginative creation or pretense 2. a lie 

Putting the definitions  together we find a novel or short story is a pretentious lie created in one’s imagination. Shame on writers. And I do think you have to be a little pretentious to be a writer. And you certainly have to lie.

So why do writers create lies and why do readers believe the lies. We believe the lie you know. Readers talk  about characters as if they are real. When we read we get involved in what is going on with imagined characters who do not exist. If this happened without a book, that being getting involved with people who are imagined, said people get therapy and drugs for their hallucinations. I had an aunt who stood in front of a mirror in the hallway and talked Finnish to her reflection believing it was a friend of hers. She was ill. My aunt, not the reflection.(though that would make an intriguing story if the reflection was ill, and not my aunt). Anyway, you see the point. We have the book as an excuse for believing in non-existent people.

Writers create stories because they can not help themselves; they are warped.

Readers read for many reasons. One of which is that they like warped writers who create characters that interest them.

But here is the truth of the matter. If the characters seem real, if their actions are believable, if the readers can identify with situations, the reader sees the truth of the matter.

When you read the lies created by great writers human truths are revealed, for if they were not, we readers could not identify with the story. We sympathize, we feel empathy, we get mad, we laugh, we get scared, we sense tension. In short all our human emotions come into play, and in doing so we see the bigger picture, we understand something that can enlighten us, move us, learn more about how we feel, how we think, and it is all done through a lie.

I do not advocate lying in real life. Lots of trouble when you do. Let the writer do the lying, he will tell you the truth.

 

Amazon’s Bots Causing Writers Nightmares

I applaud Amazon for developing algorithms and bots that seek out and destroy paid book reviews. Any type of review, book or otherwise, should not come from a paid hack. Nor, on the flip side, should Amazon allow reviews from those who always give bad reviews to everything they choose to write about. It is their idea of fun. They are the human equivalent of bots. The software digital bots have an excuse, the humans one are evil.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, far from it, and these problems will be ongoing.

A few years ago I had a 4-star review for one of my e-books that disappeared. Amazon told me they did not know why. As it dropped my average review from 3.5 to 3 that did not help my cause. Luckily I had saved it through copy and paste and can use it on this site.

I follow Anne R. Allen’s blog about some recent problems regarding Amazon’s bots deleting reviews that are random, done for no reason. This hurts both Amazon and writers.

I quote from her blog: ” UPDATE, 4/24/18: Yesterday the Washington Post ran an article on Amazon’s fake review problem, which made it sound pretty severe, and shows why the Zon is cracking down so hard.

But today industry watchdog David Gaughran offered some enlightening information that refutes some of the data in the WaPo article.

It seems that Amazon is using some very dodgy data from an outfit called ReviewMeta to flag “fake” reviews. Two “proofs” of wrongdoing, according to ReviewMeta are: 1) reviewers who mention the name of the book 2) reviewers who review more than one book in a series. Their algorithm flags those as fake reviews.

So if you’ve had your reviews removed, or your account has been deleted, it may have happened because you broke these “rules” which have no relevance to book reviewing.

This may be why the robots are getting things so very, very wrong.”

Digital technology is not fool proof. As you can see from the quote Big Brother Bots can go rogue, or maybe they are not that smart. So if you are a writer and have books, e-books, or sell anything on Amazon, monitor your reviews. Know how many reviews there are, who wrote them, what the rating was. And you might want to keep track the old fashioned way, paper and pen. You never know.

The following e-book has a 3.5 rating based on 3 reviews and is not the e-book with the missing review I mentioned. If you chose to buy this e-book please do NOT review the book. The bots may think we know each other. I can’t afford to lose reviews. Thanks for reading.

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How Fiction Emerges from Synchronicity

I have mentioned that writers find story ideas all around them. All you have to do is keep your mind open to wonder.

Here  is an example culled from real life, something you might be prone to forget the moment it happened, unless you let your mind run with it. I volunteer at a local historical museum. Recently I was scanning newspaper obituaries into a computer and then entering them in Excel. I listed name, date of birth, date of death and a hyperlink to the scanned obituary. Then a strange thing happened. I had made an entry and moved on to the next obit and when I came to date of birth I noticed the previous entry date of birth was not aligned properly. By that I mean, as Excel users know, when you type in a date then tab to next cell the entry aligns to the right, but this entry was to the left. So I deleted and retyped, same thing. It would not align right. For some reason, perhaps a ghostly whisper in my hear, I looked at the newspaper article and saw I had the month wrong. It should have been a 3 not a 2, so I typed in the correct date and it aligned correctly.

I do not draw conclusions whether it was a coincidental glitch, or a supernatural whisper from beyond to the tune of  ‘hey, you got my birthdate wrong, please correct.’

As I said, the majority of people would say, ‘well that was weird,’ think nothing more and proceed. But writers must be alert and when weird things happen, jot it down, save it, run with it, let your imagination fly.

This happened the same week that a construction company was working on improving and repairing the sewer system; they have been outside my house for a couple of weeks. I was doing some research on my home computer about a baseball pitcher from the past whose last name I had never heard before. It took about 15 minutes before my brain clicked in. I went out to the kitchen, found the notice from the construction company. It was the same last name of the baseball pitcher. Synchronicity at its best.

One more example, I was visiting a local Native-American museum for the first time. During the tour there was a large picture of a long ago tribal member and the guide discussed who he was and his importance. Two days later at the museum I volunteer at, I picked up a book on sale I had not seen before. It was historical and was about a Native-American woman from the late 19th century. I flipped it open to the picture section in the middle of the book, and there was the same picture I saw two days earlier. Of course I had to buy the book. You do not fool with synchronicity.

What does all this mean? I don’t know, but when you find these things happening in your life YOU can make something out of it. A short Twilight Zone type of story or a horror novel, or anything. As a writer be alert for things little, weird, and odd, and put them to use. Remember, if you do nothing, nothing will happen.

Starting a Novel

In the beginning . . .

is the problem. The problem being how to begin. To outline or not to outline that is the question, whether it is more noble to create a roadmap and follow it through to the final destination at the outline’s end, or freelance and go where imagination (madness) takes you. In other words, take the road less traveled.

I opt, as usual, for madness. I like freelancing, making the story up as I go along. I have mentioned this before as I feel it gives the imagination free reign. I am also lazy and an outline is more work, and the less work the better. But in either case the opening is crucial. It must set the tone, it must draw the reader in to the story. It should introduce blah, blah, blah. Every writer has read all the advice about beginning  a story. And if you have read enough advice you have discovered conflicting ‘rules.’ So lets move on.

Let let me tell you about my new project because it has a bearing on how I start my new novel.

It is a murder mystery set in the spring of 1928 and is a follow up to my soon to be published e-mystery Head on a Grave. That story took place in the Pacific Northwest during November of 1927 when my lead Chet Koski having dispatched of a killer earlier in the year in Silent Murder, is given a vacation by his boss at Paramount Pictures, so he goes to visit his cousin in Centralia, Washington.

While the killer was caught, one person, who may or may not have been involved has proved elusive. Chet who lost his screenwriting job chasing the killer and not returning to work is going to stay in Washington to work on a novel.

That is the background to set up the next novel.

Research is important and during this time there was an artists colony on Hood Canal, which, by the way, is not a canal, but a fjord. It is a long story, feel free to click the link. So Chet, who is a writer, or at least he thinks he is, decides to go the Canal and find the artists who are painters, and blend in with the art colony. So that is the setting.

But we must begin the story with something exciting. Like the body of a dead woman washing ashore on the canal.  The opening paragraph is written in the omniscient point of view.

And then, as in Head on the Grave, I break the rules and change to 1st person as Chet gets out of bed and kills, or tries to, kill a black ant. This leads to a conversation with his actress wife and partner in solving murders, Eveleen.

So what have I accomplished so far. I have let you know I am working on a new novel, let you know a novel is soon to be published and given you a link to another novel, one I like a great deal and hope you read it if you have a Kindle or Kindle app, and given a link to the origin of Hood Canal.

I have done this because I am stuck on what happens next in my novel and was hoping to free up my creativity by writing a blog. That’s my story anyway and I am sticking to it.

And sense it is baseball season here is a link to the below e-novel based on a  true story you can read for 99 cents and help me feed my cat. Thanks for reading my blog.

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How to Write when You are SICK!

You know the feeling. First you clear your throat, then a cough, but you feel fine. But the cough becomes more frequent, you feel tired you lose your appetite as the cough gets worse. Forgive me for using the V word, as in vomit, but we must. So you cough, you blech, cough and blech, and you can’t write because you no longer care.

I am sure you know the feeling when your body is about to blech, up chuck, throw up, puke, vomit, toss your Oreo cookies. Anyway that is the feeling I would get, but instead of the aforementioned I had a rasping, hacking cough coming from the pit of my soul.

I stayed in bed waiting for death. It never came.

Naturally in this condition I could not write. I had little to no energy. I lost five pounds in four days. Sadly I gained it back through vanilla ice cream, Hershey’s chocolate syrup, potato chips, and other healthy foods.

Once the body shuddering cough subsided a bit, downgraded to merely coughing without gut wrenching pain I could write. But not much.

I was able one day to finish a short story. I had only to write less than 700 words to finish. And I started another a couple days later, only about 500 words. A couple days later I start a novel, but only a couple hundred words.

That was all I could do. I still wasn’t eating and I was still tired, languishing in laziness, sickness, a foggy head, and a lack of ice cream with Hershey’s chocolate syrup.

The problem as a writer with sickness that goes on for three weeks, an illness that saps your energy, your thought processes, and your creativity, is that you get out of the habit of writing and when you get out of your habit, stray from your discipline, it takes some time for you to get back into the swing.

So the best you can do when this befalls you is wait until you feel something resembling your previous humanness and then  write a blog about your sickness. Like I have just done. Now I know I am back into writing. And just as soon I down a huge bowl of vanilla ice cream with Hershey’s chocolate syrup, I will get back to my unfinished short story.

Thanks for reading and good health to you.

 

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Fun Quotes About Writing

Posterity-what you write for after being turned down by publishers-George Ade.

If I had to give young writers advice about writing, I’d say don’t listen to writers talking about writing-Lillian Hellman

What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working even when he is staring out the window-Burton Rascoe

Literature is an occupation in which you keep having to prove your talent to people who have noneJules Renard

An essayist is a lucky person who has found a way to discourse without being interrupted-Charles Poore

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft-H.G. Wells

Read over your compositions and when you meet a passage that you think is particular fine, strike it out-Samuel Johnson

No One can write decently who is distrustful of the readers intelligence, or whose attitude is patronizing-E. B. White.

Words are but pictures of our thoughtsJohn Dryden

Words are used to express meaning; when you understand the meaning, you can forget the words-Chuang-Tzu

Asking a writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs-John Osborne

Reading reviews of your book is a . . . no win game. It the review is flattering one tends to feel and vain and uneasy. If it is bad, one tends to feel exposed, found out. neither feeling does you any good-Walker Percy

During WW2 the Civil Defense authorities had posters which read “illumination must be extinguished when  premises are vacated.” When President Franklin Roosevelt saw the signs he exclaimed, “Damn, why can’t they just say ‘Put out the lights when you leave?’-President Franklin Roosevelt

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How Handwriting Kills Creativity in the Digital World

If you are a writer you know ideas, thoughts, and dialogue scenes pop into your head whenever, and at times whenever arrives like unwelcome gas when in bed with a significant other or significant same, in other words, at inopportune moments. You either have to let it go, or suck it up and multitask.

Often I get random thoughts when I go to bed. To sleep. So I keep a memo pad on a small table next to my bed. The other night something came to mind and I had to write it down. This was good. What was bad was waiting three days before I looked at it.

My handwriting is so bad even doctors can’t read it. It looks like a cross between Egyptian hieroglyphics, Sanskrit, Japanese, and ancient Martian. It does not help that my glasses were elsewhere when I wrote on the pad.

I finally got around to translating my handwriting into digital words on Word.doc. I was pleasantly surprised that only one word could not be translated out of three chicken scrawled pages, remembering of course that that is three small pages in a small memo pad.

One partial sentence reads like this, “. . .  not as vital as the heart, but vital to a (not legible), and then continues “to the future.” The word in question looks like h’fel’n, but that is a guess and based in part on two archeologists who are friends that specialize in ancient scripts.

The point is for a writer to strike while the iron of creativity is stirring. Do not have a memo pad by your desk. If you have an idea, get out of bed with the urgency of one who believes the roof is caving in during an earthquake, leaving your partner to fend for themselves because they are not writers and don’t understand you to begin with, shoving the cat out of your chair, and using the device of choice, write everything in the digital format and never, ever write anything with your hand. They are for holding a spoon to get ice cream to your mouth. If the cat meows too much throw her out of the room and let the dog take care of it.

As I was writing this post I had an idea for the last line. I made the mistake of writing-in hand-and doing so hurriedly. It looks like this, “Writing is important, nt Big otes on nets.”

I think otes could be notes, and nets could be pets or pads. I have no idea about nt. My archeologists gave up and went home.

Okay, I have no archeologist friends, but the two examples of my note taking are true.  The sad thing is that the last line beginning “writing is important . . .” is something I wrote about ten minutes ago and still don’t know what I meant.

So strike while the iron is hot and make sure the iron is stored in a digital device. Either that or have great handwriting.

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What Should Writers Steal?

I was sitting at a desk doing volunteer work for an organization I belong to, and sitting not far away were a group of six or seven middle age-or older-women at a long table holding a monthly meeting. I could not hear anything specific in their discussion, but since they were in my direct line of vision and since they were preoccupied with whatever they were discussing I was an unobtrusive observer.

And I could spy. And I could steal without being noticed.

One of the women had a hairstyle best described as worn-out Brillo pad. She chewed gum with intense fierceness, unlike a cow who enjoys her cud with gourmet bliss. At one point the woman got up and left the building, coming back about six minutes later. I believe she had gone out for a cigarette; she had that ‘air’ about her. And she had, what I assumed, was fresh cud-excuse me-gum in her mouth. She went back to her seat and resumed her chew. A short while later a man and woman came in.

The man wore a bright knit cap, knitted with the colors of the rainbow, plus colors that existed only on the cap, in a horizontal pattern that encircled his head. The man bent over to look in a display case. I noticed a perfect circle a few inches in diameter cut out of the top of the cap. He was bald-at least in that spot. I imagined that if he wore the cap in summer, he might have a cute little tan spot at the top of his head. I didn’t ask him about the strange circle at the top of the cap for I didn’t want to break my observation. A spy can’t make contact with his quarry. You understand right?

The point is not why he had cutout that small circle in his knit cap, nor is the point about what the woman was doing with her gum, but what you can steal from around you. What you can use in describing characters in your story.

When you observe people, what they wear, how they walk, anything that stands out, you make a mental note, or like me, write it down in my small pocket notebook-when nobody you are observing can see you of course. You are the spy, you are the thief, and you must be discreet.

Character traits, odd little tics and quirks, make your characters more believable and identifiable to your readers. When your reader sees the character in their minds they are more involved with your story.

My observations of people I have stolen from and transformed into fictional characters can be found in my e-Books on Amazon. The descriptions of the books can be found in my header.

 

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