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Monthly Archives: May 2014


Character Development

Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths Chapter Spring Event: Part IV

Author Donis Casey was the first afternoon speaker. I’ve heard her speak before and always learn so much. She is the author of seven books in a series set in Oklahoma after 1910. Her protagonist, Alafair Tucker, is middle aged with ten children. Donis writes about every day life and the adventures of that time and place. You can learn more about Donis and her books here. The latest was released this month.

During her whole talk Donis stressed the need to be accurate and authentic for the character in that place and time. It is necessary to make the reader care about the characters and believe in them. If an author loves her story and characters it will show. Donis knows everything about Alafair. She described her, in part, as funny, reflective, sad, the center of her family, a legendary cook, nosy and practical. Doesn’t that make you want to meet (or read about) her?

Donis is a “pantser” or somebody who writes by the “seat of the pants” instead of with outlines and detailed plans. She does keep a “bible” or log of details so character’s eyes don’t change color from chapter to chapter and other inconsistencies that drive readers crazy. Each character has a page or section with their details and chronologies from chapter to chapter. Her research notes, details on the setting and other details are noted.


She stressed the importance of trusting the reader to know and remember the details. The color of a characters eyes, or their place in the family, or their favorite song don’t need to be repeated. The writer must be invisible. She used the great example of having Alafair sorting through her thoughts on a problem while cleaning out the ashes from the stove. There’s action and it gives the reader a chance to learn something about her life in that time. To keep it moving Donis suggests reading each passage out loud.

She then went on to discuss each of Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing. I’d never heard of this list but it is now in the front of my journal.

Donis is obviously an avid reader and listed some of her favorites as: Larry McMurtry, Lindsey Davis, Nancy Turner, Walter Mosley, Toni Morrison and all the noir writers. She added that you should always write what you love to read.

Donis joined other speakers in stressing that writers should “practice, practice, practice.”

To be continued.


Partners In Writing

Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths Chapter Spring Event: Part III

A few years ago I attended a book discussion and signing by two local authors who had partnered in writing a book about a ghost in Sedona, Arizona:  The Ghost Wore Polyester. It was a fun read. We didn’t stay in touch but later I ran into one of them at one of the Desert Sleuths events. We’ve been in touch ever since and now, just this month she has a new book out with a new partner:  Stealing the Moon and Stars by Sally J. Smith and Jean Steffens. 

Sally and Jean spoke at Desert Sleuths on working with a partner and shared many valuable tips.

As a team they get together three days a week to write side-by-side at the computer. They also share marketing and other duties of being authors. They work with an outline and keep a bible or lexicon of each scene and event in the book in a Word document. They also keep a timeline from chapter to chapter. These tools keep them on track and help them avoid inconsistencies. Each character also gets a detailed biography back to their great grandparents and their own timeline.

Before they reached this point they were able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses. They sealed the decisions in a collaboration agreement before they set anything to paper/computer. Writing for a partner isn’t for everyone but Sally and Jean have a great thing going.

“Readers are fussy and they are smart and they will call you on it.” Sally J. Smith



A Private Investigator and an Attorney

Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths Chapter Spring Event: Part II

These second part of the crime scene session was a panel with questions from Margaret Morse of Desert Sleuths to Private Investigator Paul Huebl and Attorney Richard Geirloff.

Again the main thing they stressed is that it just isn’t like in the movies. Also laws vary from state-to-state. I hadn’t realized how much.



Paul Huebl talked about the differences in work done by private investigators vs the police. One big difference is the PI doesn’t have to have a search warrant. If he can get in he can use whatever he finds. Paul works in Arizona, California, Illinois and New Jersey. The laws for taping secretly varies in each one.

He commented about being told by someone in Chicago that “execution style” killings aren’t what most of us think. The true term means that the victim was blindfolded and tied to a stake and shot with a volley of bullets instead of kneeling down and shot in the back of the head. As with other things the passage of time and common use seems to have changed this over time but it was interesting to note.

Paul talked a lot about some high-profile cases he has worked on and quite a bit about his background. You can find more on his blog.

Richard Geirloff has worked on many high-profile cases in Arizona. It was interesting to learn that he is “death qualified” which means he is specially licensed to work on death penalty cases. He also talked about the use of “future dangerousness” which is whether or not a person can be tried with reference to whether he is a possible danger. It was a drawn out discussion but very interesting. The best predictor of future menace is from the past but this is not always allowed.

He states that he averages four to seven hours of  prep time for every hour in court.

Although I didn’t take many notes during this session I learned a lot about the views of these men and their place in the community.

To be continued.



Learn True CSI

A couple of weeks ago I attended the spring workshop for Desert Sleuth’s Mystery Writer’s Club.

I’ve attended these before and they are always great; and Free!


It was a windy, rainy, chilly day. Perfect to stay inside and learn about writing mysteries.

The event is always held at the Scottsdale Civic Center Library in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona.

It is a beautiful library with gorgeous surroundings.


I love the sculpture hanging over the entry.


 There were six sessions so I’m going to share a few fun and helpful things I picked up over the day.

The first speaker was Detective Tim Moore who told us how to work a crime scene.

One of his pet peeve’s with the CSI shows is that they never wear booties and seldom wear gloves. He said to never have your fictional detective pick anything up with a handkerchief or pick up a gun by sticking a pen or pencil in the muzzle. There goes your evidence. He stressed the need for always getting everything and protect the chain of command. Use a digital recorder and camera to record everything. It was all quite interesting and more than an author would want to use in a scene but by knowing how to do a scene correctly the author will be able to present the aspects he needs for the story in an accurate manner.

The scene is described from the overall boundaries  of street signs, houses and other landmarks. Then medium views and then down to the close=ups. This would be a good way to describe a scene in a book also.

Det. Moore then led us to another room where he had set up a crime scene for us to analyze with the information he had just provided.


 As the day went on we were able to return to the “scene” as he added placards.

It was interesting that these placards always face north. When sketches are made the point of view is always straight down.


Something many authors forget is to use all five senses. He stressed that this is also important at a crime scene. Are there lingering scents of perfume, gunpowder, blood, smoke?

One of the things stressed throughout the day was “you better get it right.” Readers are more informed than ever and if you, the author, makes a mistake they will call you one it and your credibility will be questioned.

To be continued.