Joeseph Finder’s Tips for Writers

I recently had the pleasure of attending a lecture at The Center for Fiction given
by Joseph Finder, The New York Times Best Selling Author. He shared his story
—a fascinating one—of how he went from working for the CIA to writing thrillers.

51e-V7ZwpwL._AA160_He also shared his10 Tips for Writers from which he believes every writer can benefit. Here’s a summary:

1. Rejection can be useful. It can prompt you to do more work and get it to the right      editor.
2.   Be stubborn but be smart about it and be persistent.
3.  Learn to value criticism. It can give you good feedback.
4.  The best fiction is about character, not plot. The plot should arise from the character.
5.   Avoid backstory dump. It takes people out of the story.
6.   Every scene should do some work Ask yourself why is it there.
7.   Reveal. Surprise. Cut out the slow parts.
8.   Never underestimate your readers. Surprise them rather than fool them.
9.   Just write the book. Don’t get hung up in the prose or the words.

10. Get lucky. Hopefully get in front of the right people at the right time.

I’ve read several of Joe’s books and have enjoyed them all very much. His last thriller, THE FIXER, a stand alone, certainly proves he takes his own advice.

How about you? What, if any, rules do you apply to your writing? We’d love to know.

Memory, That Trickster

I’ve been thinking about memory lately, and how well or badly it serves us. My own memory is not as useful as it once was, that’s for sure. I always made lists and posted memos to myself. Now I have to remember to look at the lists! And my once enormous fund of completely useless factoids is slipping away.

But here, I am thinking about something more complicated, the twists our memories can take.


This began with a long-running disagreement between two people I know well. As they both talked to me, I observed that they kept going back to certain sore points. OK. But they kept forgetting any details that did not support their emotional story line. It seems our memories, like our computers, can’t hold unlimited data. We unconsciously select what we can use, or what interests us, or even just what stuck at a moment when the memory card had some available space. mem1

Some more examples:

– a relative was collecting some family history. Having my dad and one of his sisters in the same room, she interviewed them about their mother’s background. And not one thing they thought they knew was the same! Her father had died in Russia when she was young and the only detail they agreed on was which relative brought her to the US. That was because they had both known him. It was very funny.

– the time I finally owned up, as an adult, to being scared of dogs as a child. My sister said, “That’s because of the time a dog grabbed your mitten with his teeth and dragged you.” It all came back to me instantly, but I had completely forgotten it until then.

– all the times my grown children mention a childhood memory and are shocked that I don’t share it. And all the times I remember pieces of their childhood they have forgotten. We were in the same moment, but experiencing it differently


– and my favorite – the people who insist the Good Old Days of their youth were better times than now. That time is otherwise known as the Great Depression and World War II. Depression1

This isn’t merely idle musing for mystery writers. The witness who is sure he saw the dead man threaten a cop before the cop started shooting. Or was it the other way around? The classic instance in the classic Twelve Angry Men, where it finally becomes clear that a witness could not have seen what she testified to. (No spoiler but if you’ve never see the movie, go rent it ASAP.)


Then there is the witness who is sure she would recognize her attacker, until DNA proves otherwise. The suddenly retrieved memory of a long-ago crime. The child who remembers abuse and the parent who denies it ever happened. The child who saw something but did not understand it and reports what he saw with his child’s interpretation.

There is a plot twist in every sentence, isn’t there?

Writer Readings in Long Island City

Last Saturday was a beautiful day and made even nicer by a trip to Long Island City to listen to the work of writers from Queens, including two of our Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writes or America authors: Terrie Farley Moran, also a Woman of Mystery, and Laura Joh Rowland.

Reading at the LIC bar, both Terrie and Laura gave us an up close look into their writing.
IMG_1709Terrie read her short story, “The Sneaker Tree,” a Queens based tale, published in the Sisters in Crime Anthology, MURDER NEW YORK STYLE: FRESH SLICES, which she also edited. The story about the death of a young woman’s mother just before 911, pointed out how one death can be eclipsed by the death of many and how that one will forever be overshadowed by what followed it, except in the heart of her daughter.

LauraLaura, the author of 18 Sano Ichiro novels set in Feudal Japan, gave us a glimpse into her wip, THE CIRCLE OF SHADOWS. Set in Victorian England, the chapters she read focused on a female photographer who’d taken pictures of a prostitute who later turns up dead. Unwilling to get involved with the police, she keeps silent about the dead woman’s name, knowing the pictures she took are against the law.

There are many other books by these two award-winning writers. All available online or in your favorite bookstore.

Vacation Reading

In late July I wrote about the books I had saved up to read on a family vacation in Vermont vermont

and I promised reviews when I returned. I also wrote:

“But I think that lovely 2-year old might keep me more distracted than usual.”

Very much the case. ☺ I only read two of my five books, certainly a low for me on vacation. However, they were two extremely good ones. Here is my report.

The Whites by Harry Brandt. whitesThat is a pen name for highly regarded New York novelist Richard Price (Lush Life, Clockers). He is a stunningly excellent writer, whoever he says he is. The title does not refer to race but literature. Every member of a group of cops,old friends, has a case they call “the white”, the big one they can’t forget, the horrible crime they couldn’t quite pin on the person they knew was guilty. The white whale of their career. When one of those suspects turns up murdered, bleeding out at Penn Station, it looks like justice has finally caught up with him. Maybe. And maybe it is something else. crime

The story revolves around Billy, the only one still working as a cop, who has pieced together a real life. Never mind that he works nights; that his father, who lives with him, is deteriorating from dementia; that his hard-working wife suffers from bouts of depression, carrying something inside she can’t even talk about. And then an unknown someone starts to threaten his family in mysterious ways for some unknown reason.

It’s a dark story, with all the characters carrying darkness within as they deal with the darkness outside. There are only a few faint beams of light. Did I believe all of it? Or even most of it? Afterwards, perhaps not. While I was reading, it seemed as real as real life. That is the power of the writing.

A note: this is a complicated story with a lot of characters, so pay sharp attention at the beginning.

I like Ann Cleeves books a lot and have been looking forward to jumping into her most recent Shetland mystery, Thin Air. cover thin

It did not disappoint. I usually enjoy the remote, strange and beautiful setting, and must confess that though I have never been there, I have been to the Orkneys. They are almost as remote, mapshetland and I have fun picturing it all. Cleeves often weaves in old customs and old legends, without overdoing it, adding an lovely extra dimension to the story.

A group of friends have come up from London for a traditional “hamefarin”, a party to introduce a new bride to the Shetland-dwelling family and friends. And one of the women disappears. Just like that, into thin air. Of course it is not “just like that” and it becomes a job for Detective Jimmy Perez, the series protagonist and Shetland native,plus some investigators from the bigger world. It is “simmer dim”, the mysterious days of the long summer twilight. simmer Anything can happen, it seems, even the repeated appearance of the ghost of a long-ago drowned little girl. Jimmy’s job is to see through the mists and uncover the real story. shetland

It’s wonderful twisty, traditional mystery with a very rich background. I thought I’d guessed the crucial fact early on, a possible connection between characters, well-buried in the story. Nope. I could not have been more wrong. The solution was a surprise, but the kind where you say, “Ah. Now it make sense.” Who doesn’t recognize that as classic mystery writing?

Media news: PBS is running a series based on Cleeves Shetland books, and the ones I’ve seen are excellent, with actors familiar from other BBC productions and great scenery. And rumor has it that there is a movie deal for The Whites.

In case there are any doubts – ☺ – I am strongly recommending both books.

Vacation Reading

We are off on vacation next week. We have rented a house in Vermont and will be joined by both grown daughters, both sons-in-law and a 2 year old granddaughter. We have not had a family vacation since there were no sons-in-law, so this will be interesting.(Actually we are very excited) Due to being sick for the last two weeks – and having those weeks be ones full of family, social and various other plans -I am behind on every single thing. Packing, grocery shopping, writing, business matters.

Fortunately, I have a stack of unread books on my bedside table, so I am set for vacation reading. As we are traveling by car, I can just throw them in a shopping bag and throw the bag in the trunk. Here’s what’s is going:

Thin Air by Ann Cleeves. A new book by a writer I greatly admire. thinairCan’t wait to start this one
The Last Taxi Ride by A.X. Ahmad (and) Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang. Writers new to me who spoke at a recent MWA/NY meeting. Very intriguing 51xNRMb9sML._AA160_51MRYnVXb2L._AA160_

The Whites by Harry Brandt, who is really Richard Price. Great reviews, solid beginning and I keep getting sidetracked.That is what a long car trip is for.whites

Run You Down by Julia Dahl, 2nd in a new series set in (ta-da) Brooklyn in the secretive ultra-Ortodox Jewish community. The first was a terrific debut and I have met Julia a few times at NY mystery events, so I am interested to see what’s next. 51NMpktG8xL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Normally that would not be enough – I like a lot insurance on having what I want to read – so I will probably throw in a few more. But I think that lovely 2-year old might keep me more distracted than usual. :-)

Book reports next month.

I Spy With A Writer’s Eye

gallery-thumbnails.phpA recent blog post from thriller and suspense author Ed Kovacs, discussed gadgets every thriller/spy novelist should have at their disposal. Many were digital and some seemed items you would think of immediately, such as a camcorder watch for undercover videos and a smart phone, a great multi-tasker, while others, such as four-cipher locks and hide safes were things I hadn’t heard of before.

As you may know from previous posts, I’ve always wanted to be a spy. So, I decided to do a little research and add my own must have spy items, if not for myself, for the next time one of my characters goes undercover.

Here are my results:
Night vision goggles, perfect for stakeouts

Voice activated recorder pen, so you never miss a word

Air freshener hidden security camera, for those hard to spy on settings

Tripwire, the invisible alarm

A drone, for the complete overview

And a pair of oversize dark sunglasses for glamorous camouflage

Now that I’ve amassed these items (figuratively that is) I’ll have to write a story
in which to use them.

How about you? Have any equipment your sleuth could use on a case? Let us know.

Bone to be Wild by Carolyn Haines

HainesBone to be Wild is the fifteenth book in the Sarah Booth Delaney Mysteries. Sarah Booth’s old friend, Scott Hampton, is bringing his special brand of the blues back to Zinnia in the wonderful old club located at the crossroads of Sawmill and Pentecost roads. It was rumored to be “the location where the devil made more than one bargain for a musician’s soul.” Playin’ the Bones would be the happening place—unless someone kept Scott from fulfilling his dream.

See my full review at Criminal Element. Carolyn Haines is a prolific writer from Mississippi, and her heroine Sarah Booth Delaney is a charming private investigator who doesn’t let her Southern politeness keep her from digging up the truth when it’s needed.

Check out!

Well Heeled An Emily’s Place Mystery

51tKXwGTGSL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_A few weeks ago, Roz Siegel, one of our Sisters In Crime (the group from which this blog arose), gave us a preview of the first chapter of her new novel, Well Heeled. It was so funny and witty it had me  pacing the floor in anticipation of the rest. Now, that I’ve read the entire novel, available on Amazon, I can truly say the pacing was worth it.

If Emily’s Place existed in reality on Manhattan’s Upper East Side instead of in fiction on its Upper West Side, I’d certainly be a customer. Not only for the great deals on Manolo’s, Jimmy Choo’s and Louboutin’s but to chat with Emily herself. Siegel has captured the spirit of her protagonist and her neighborhood and brought it to life. I could easily visualize Emily stocking the shelves, dealing with her customers and walking along its brownstone-lined blocks.

The cast of colorful characters that inhabit the novel are just that—a variety of West Side  characters who patronize her store looking for bargains or just stop by for a cup of coffee. When one of them, Sophia Sarfatti, a long time customer, complains about her shoe being uncomfortable, Emily looks into it and finds a fistful of diamonds secreted in the heel. When Sophia turns up dead and things begin to heat up.

The shoes were a find for Emily who bought them for a good price from a neighborhood kid who got them when they “fell off a truck.” As things progress, Emily scrambles to get back the other pairs she’s sold. As she does, she becomes involved with the Italian mafia, the Russian mob and several neighborhood pals, any one of whom could be a murderer. The only saving grace is that all this running around puts her in the path of Murphy the Cop, who she met when she helped him nab a killer and would definitely like to get to know better.

Well Heeled is the second book in Roz’s Emily’s Place Mystery series following Goodie One Shoe, but can be read as a stand alone. And, I for one, am tapping my foot as I type this, impatient for Emily to step out again.


Fidelity or Adultery? That is the Question

bed_frameI’ve come to a definite conclusion about the things I read and watch of late.  I find I’ve become increasingly uninterested in plots that include infidelity in a marriage. It seems so easy to me for characters to forget promises they’ve made and loyalty to a spouse to enjoy the secrecy and intrigue of adultery. The marriage bed is no longer sacred.

I know this happens in real life. My husband and I were part of a group of eight couples when we were newlyweds. Before we moved away from our hometown, there was only one other couple besides us still together. Nearly all of these marriages ended with adultery. One husband engaged in a work-place romance. Another friend lost her husband to her best friend. With another, the affair was between two men. I’m not foolish enough to think it never happens, but I am tired of seeing it as a gratuitous sex on the screen and between the pages.

I’ve been wondering if other people feel the same way. One thing I enjoy about murder mysteries is while the crime is often about passion, it can be passion about anything, not just love and sex.

I still enjoy romance novels, and I love the many mystery series I read. While John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport was a real lady’s man when he was single, he hasn’t been unfaithful to Weather since they married. Eve Dallas and Roarke value each other and their commitment too much to consider infidelity. Robert B. Parker’s Spenser adores Susan even though they have never married.

I also know I can choose the “hotness” of the books I read, but I’ve always enjoyed a variety of genres and books. I’m just tired of seeing adultery as a key plot element.

Anybody else thinking this way?

Broken Window by Dorothy H. Hayes

Broken Window by Dorothy H. Hayes, one of our very own, is out today!

Hayes2Reporter Carol Rossi achieved some local notoriety with her last investigative piece for the local newspaper in Wilton, Connecticut. Still, it’s completely unexpected when she’s drawn into a case that has her trolling for information in the streets of New York City.

Kelly Singleton, a recent graduate of Wilton High School, was thrilled to take her friends to see her dorm room at NYU. The girls had begged their parents to let them learn the ins and outs of riding the subway.

However, the young women discover they’re completely out of their element when Kelly vanishes without a trace.

We met Rossi in Dorothy’s first novel, Murder at the P&Z, where she used her investigative skills to look into local politics at the Planning & Zoning Commission. She’s an interesting and innovative amateur detective who loves to rescue animals and is an uncompromising vegan.

Hayes has woven a complicated mystery with this challenging story line, set in steamy New York City in 1984. It’s obvious she did extensive research into the times and issues facing NYC during this critical time.

Check out this trailer for this suspenseful read:

For a chance to win a copy of Broken Window, check out my review at Criminal Element and enter the sweepstakes!

A dogged reporter and a missing teenager lost in a city of millions. It makes for good mystery.