Showing posts with label Murder and Mayhem. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Murder and Mayhem. Show all posts

Sunday, September 17, 2017

"You Know My Methods, Watson!" Murder, Historically Speaking with M.R. Graham

Sherlock Holmes
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Welcome to ThrillWriting!

It's not so "elementary, Watson," when it comes to writing a historical mystery.

I know a lot of would-be historical writers are daunted by research and have no idea where to begin, but that's something I do in academia, so I can shed some light on process and resources.

And of course, the importance of pretty rigorous research when you're messing with social issues. For example, there are still strong ties between poverty and crime, and even stronger PERCEPTION of the ties between poverty and crime, and it gets really sensitive.

Fiona - 
Let's start there - can you give me a your background as it pertains to preparing to write a historical novel?


I'm actually in education and anthropology, not specifically history, but research methods between the two are extremely similar. 

I've taught college students how to conduct research of the library-and-journal variety, without putting too much faith in shallow, often questionable sources like Wikipedia. Working in academia, you realize pretty quickly how little a Wikipedia article really tells you, even if all of the facts are totally accurate. They don't provide context, and they rarely provide conflicting interpretations of theories or events. They're overviews, and that's okay, because that's all they're supposed to be. But that's not enough for someone who wants to portray a complex and nuanced culture, whether in another place or another time. 

The past really is another culture. People thought differently than we do, now, in a lot more subtle and varied ways than the "everyone was a bigot" or "it's all about manners" portrayals we often get. I do recommend at least a cursory study of anthropology for historical fiction writers, just to get a feel for the ways one culture CAN differ from another, things that are so ingrained in our way of thinking that we assume they're human nature, when they're actually learned attitudes.

Fiona -
You have a book that's been included in the Murder and Mayhem boxed set. Can you tell me about that book and how you applied your unique expertise to the plot line?

M.R. - 

Absolutely. My contribution is titled No Cage for a Crow, and while it's historical fiction, it's also more specifically pastiche, placed in Victorian London, directly into the world of Sherlock Holmes. 

This one has actually been in the works for about twenty-five years, now, and it's the first story I ever began, so the research for it has been going since before I really knew what research was. (I was rather small, twenty-five years ago.) A lot of it was just mounded-up knowledge I collected without rhyme or reason, and unsurprisingly, the story went nowhere fast. 

Sadly, a lot of it also came from historical fiction I read as a teenager, and I've had to un-learn a lot of things I thought I knew. It was about ten years ago that I actually got methodical about it, and from that point, the writing has become easier, and the history sounder. All research starts with a question, and the one I chose was "Where are all the women in Sherlock Holmes's world?" Now of course, there are women mentioned. An awful lot of them come to Holmes for help. There's Mrs. Hudson downstairs. There's Irene Adler. But Doyle's work is overwhelmingly masculine. I always meant to write about Sherlock Holmes's sister, but I honestly didn't know what that kind of story would look like. 

I needed to know what was going on with the other half of the population. 

It may sound counter intuitive, but I actually turned to fiction, first. It's important to note, though, that I turned to fiction written BY women DURING the period I was interested in - people who ought to know what they're talking about. As I read, I made notes every time I didn't understand something: a word I didn't know, or a reference to a person or event. The list came out to several composition notebooks full. And I took the time to look up every one of them. Wikipedia was perfectly useful for this part. If anything sounded really significant, like something real people would have strong feelings about, I took the inquiry to Google Scholar, which is a great free resource everyone should know how to use. GS has lots of primary-source accounts, like archived letters, diaries, newspaper articles... the things that would tell you how people felt.

Fiona - 
And you picked a time frame that appealed to you. What called to you about the Victorian age and what did you discover that you found intriguing enough to weave into your plot?

M.R. - 
I was always drawn to the Victorian age. At first it was just because my grandmother was obsessed with it and talked about it constantly, but the more I found out, the more fascinated I became with the sudden, rapid change. It was the first time in history that the end of a decade could look dramatically different from the beginning, in terms of technology and social change. It threw people for a loop, even then. People suddenly had to learn how to use new technology, when for millennia, everyone had used basically the same stuff their parents had. 

And people were suddenly granted rights, denied privileges, starting to move up and down the social ladder, and no one knew how to deal with it. I have a radical suffragist in my story, as well as some social climbing and social plummeting, which really upset what had previously been a rigid class system. 

People at the time pretended the class system was still rigid, even though it wasn't! And part of the way they fooled themselves was to link class to morality. In the middle ages, there was a strong concept of the virtuous peasant, someone who did his job and worked hard and never complained unless there was a famine or something. By the Victorian age, this idea had developed of a strong division between the "deserving poor" and the "criminal poor". Of course there are some good poor people, but most of the poor are where they are because they're intellectually and morally inferior! It was widely believed that there was something genetically criminal about the poor, and something genetically noble about the nobility. (Unsurprising that the English language links wealth with honor.) Looking back at actual court records, it's actually more likely that the nobility were pretty skeevy, just rarely convicted.

Fiona -
Absolutely fascinating! I am hungry to read you novel, but am also hungry to look at your research notes. When my children were little they read the Magic Tree House Series and there was a novel with an accompanying factual book - just throwing that out there.

We have a tradition of asking about your favorite scar or harrowing story - will you indulge us?

M.R. - 
None of my scars have interesting stories, sadly! (I face-planted off a bus, once?) My most harrowing adventure was my senior trip. My mom took me and my grandmother and my little sister to Italy, but we routed through Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. And while we were there, my grandmother's nose started bleeding and would not stop. We didn't know why, and we couldn't continue on to Italy. She was taken to the indigent hospital, which apparently is where you go if you're foreign. It's also in a part of town where the taxi refused to take us! It took us ages to get there after her, and then we had to get a hotel room in this part of town where taxis won't go. Long story short, we were stuck in a very scary part of Paris for three days, not knowing why my grandmother wouldn't clot. The hospital staff was wonderful, though. Incredibly kind. I no longer let anyone claim the French are rude when I can hear them.

I've been to that hospital. The ambulance took an American girl to the hospital because she was bleeding out. They asked me to go and translate. When we got to the first hospital, the doctors stopped the bleeding but said we had to go to the other hospital. They had her on a gurney with an IV, pushed her out the door, and drew a map on how to get there. I pushed this chick - whom, I never met before, down the road, with cars passing and everything--the IV dangling from one of my hands--in the not so nice part of the city. I was terrified. I'm mean - what the bloody heck? LOL But it was lovely once we arrived, and the hospital staff took good care of her.

Before we give them a blurb of your wonderful work as an individual novel, folks should note that this work is coming out soon in a fabulous boxed set!

M.R. -
I can't believe how fortunate I've been to have the chance to work with the great authors in this set. These are some big names, some I've admired from afar for a while, and having had the chance to preview the work they'll be including, I think everyone ought to be as excited about it as I am.

ThrillReaders and ThrillWriters, it's been my pleasure to get to know 
M.R. while working on our boxed set Murder and Mayhem. We would very much appreciate your support. Could you take a moment and order our boxed set? 99 CENTS for 20 Books - all by award winning, authors including USA Today and NY Times bestselling authors. We are hoping to make the lists with this set and every single sale is appreciated. Thank you! (HERE)
 but his sister was lost to history. In one hellish night, Morrigan Holmes ruined everything: her home, her family, her confidence, and her name. Fleeing scandal, loss, and grief, her only choice is to run, but London’s gaslit streets are not kind to young women alone. Within hours, she discovers the horrors of homelessness and the terrible invisibility of the marginalised poor. A child is kidnapped before her eyes, and she barely escapes the same fate. Adrift and alone, Morrigan seeks help in strange quarters: a radical suffragist with a haunted past, a half-blind journalist, a sinister physician, and a gang of street boys led by the striking and enigmatic Magpie. As the number of kidnappings grows, something dark begins to take shape in the London mists. Time is short, still Morrigan cannot escape the family she devastated. Could Sherlock be her salvation… or her destruction?

M.R. Graham


Sherlock Holmes has become legend, but his sister was lost to history. In one hellish night, Morrigan Holmes ruined everything: her home, her family, her confidence, and her name. Fleeing scandal, loss, and grief, her only choice is to run, but London’s gaslit streets are not kind to young women alone. Within hours, she discovers the horrors of homelessness and the terrible invisibility of the marginalised poor. A child is kidnapped before her eyes, and she barely escapes the same fate. Adrift and alone, Morrigan seeks help in strange quarters: a radical suffragist with a haunted past, a half-blind journalist, a sinister physician, and a gang of street boys led by the striking and enigmatic Magpie. As the number of kidnappings grows, something dark begins to take shape in the London mists. Time is short, still Morrigan cannot escape the family she devastated. Could Sherlock be her salvation… or her destruction?

I can't believe how fortunate I've been to have the chance to work with the great authors in this set. These are some big names, some I've admired from afar for a while, and having had the chance to preview the work they'll be including, I think everyone ought to be as excited about it as I am.

LOL - thank you. Cheers I will have this to you Sunday for you to review. Changes may have to wait a few days. My SAR team is searching for a lost person in the national forest and I'll be off grid Sunday day. Then we are on standby for the hurricane - so it all depends on how things go.

Oh, whoa! Be careful and be safe! Best of luck. :<THU 9:34PM

Thank you kindly.

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night - Booze in Your Writing with Nick Thacker

English: Dark 'n Stormy made with Gosling's Bl...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
ThrillWriters and ThrillReaders, belly up to the bar and meet my friend Nick.

Hey, Nick! Cheers, 

Nick - 
Hello, again!

Fiona - 
With the storms down south and the fires in the west, I say drink 'em while you can. What's your drink of choice? 

Nick - 
I am in a whiskey/bourbon phase, and a time-tested great go-to for me is an old fashioned, made PROPERLY (no bright red cherries or other fruit!). However, since it's rainy, chilly, and stormy down south where I'm from (Texas), a Dark and Stormy is a wonderful option. It's a perfect combination of summery feelings with an ominous tone to it. 

Dark and Stormy is essentially rum and ginger beer. I typically try to simplify as much as possible with mixology, as it's easier to remember recipes, so most of my drinks are 2 oz of base. In this case, it's rum -- and I always have Captain Morgan Spiced Rum on hand. For ginger beer, there's no competition: it has to be Cock n' Bull. Usually, 3 oz will do the trick, and a squeeze of lime juice to top it off. The drink is also built up, not shaken or stirred or you'll lose carbonation -- just fill a glass with ice, add your base (rum) and then top with the ginger beer and squeeze of lime

Fiona - 

You're an amateur mixologist (p.s. spell check is offering me assistance and wishes me to say: sexologist, monologist, or seismologist- and while any or all might apply, I think we'll stick to mixology for this interview.)  

Mixologist means a person skilled at mixing cocktails; it also means I'd like to be your friend. You write what you know and have a character who runs a bar. Can you tell us something about that series? 

Nick Thacker- 
The series is the Mason Dixon Thrillers series, and the main character (Mason Dixon) is a southerner from South Carolina who wants to buy out his bar and retire in peace so he can make classy drinks for classy people. In order to do that, he has a moonlighting gig -- as an assassin! 

Fiona - 
For your book you've done some research into moonshine - which is why I want to talk to you. This is a problem that is in an upcoming novel in my Badge Bunny Booze collection. Can you take me through the production process?

Nick -  
Producing alcohol is actually a simple process in concept: you have a "beer" (literally some sort of grain or malted (sprouted) grain that has fermented using yeast to convert sugars into alcohol and CO2.

However, instead of taking that "wort" and adding hops and bottling it for carbonation, you take the alcoholic mixture (usually about 5-10% alcohol at this point), and extract the alcohol using a still. 

The most common and affordable still is a pot still -- essentially a pressure cooker with a spout that allows the alcohol to evaporate, rise through the spout, then get cooled again into liquid, where it runs down another spout into a collection container. 

Here's the kicker: Not all alcohol is created equal. Alcohol boils (and thus evaporates) at a lower temperature than water (212 deg. F), say 170-190 F. The first alcohol vapors to come off the still are, quite literally, nail polish remover. Or wood alcohol. 

If you drink this, spit it out! If you don't spit it out, you can hurt yourself. This alcohol is poisonous to the optic nerve -- you'll go blind. 

After that's thrown away, the next alcohols that come out are all purifications of ethanol, which is what we drink. 
  • "Heads," which are bright and sharp, and don't taste great on their own. 
  • "Hearts" run, which is great-tasting and somewhat mellow. 
  • "Tails," which tend to give flavor (fusel oils) to the alcohol, but can also taste like wet dog or cardboard. 
The science is in knowing what to save/throw away, and in mixing combinations of your heads, hearts, and tails so you have something special to drink. 

Alcohol is regulated, yet people make their own beer and wine. Is it legal to distill their own alcohol? In the vein, are all alcohols equal? I'm thinking about moonshine here. Could I make rum but not moonshine?

Nick - 
In the United States, it is not illegal to make beer and wine for personal use (there is a certain amount deemed "personal use," around 20 or 200 gallons a year, I believe). However, it is NOT legal in any way to distill alcohol. 

To the government, yes, all hard alcohols are considered the same. Beer/wine/cider/etc. is not run through a still, so it's legal. 

Whiskey/moonshine/vodka/etc. is run through a still, so it is illegal. As a wonderful example of government inefficiency, though, I don't believe it's illegal to own a still. 

Fiona - 
200 gallons LOL

Nick -
RIGHT! Surprising, as I'd LOVE to be able to drink 200 gallons of anything in a year. 

Fiona - 
Right, Officer, it is a still but I'm making distilled water to clean my contact lenses. 

Nick - 
Yep -- we're making essential oils with it, nothing more! 

Who regulates the distillation of alcohol - who would come knocking on your door at 3 am? And are the penalties such that it stops people from trying this? PS when I was ten at the Science and Innovation Center I learned how to distill alcohol then we tasted it and took some to our principal who shot it down in one gulp -- times have changed. 

Nick -
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, and/or the ATF regulates. In shows like Moonshiners, they are the guys who come knocking in the middle of the night, looking for pot stills in the back country of Kentucky. 

In real life, it's unlikely anyone -- police included -- would come checking, because it's simply not something many people are doing. Besides that, and contrary to popular belief, many home distillers are using setups that are so small and well-built that they are not at all dangerous. No sealed, pressurized containers, for example, and no open flames (electric burners instead). The only other reason besides safety that the production of alcohol was made illegal was that when moonshiners are selling their production, they're not paying taxes on it. The taxation of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms is a BIG DEAL, so the government wants their cut! 

As far as penalties, yes -- there are fines, mostly. Where I'm from, I've been told, it's probably between $200-$1,000 depending on scale/safety, etc. Though I'd bet that if one was caught, the Feds could do just about anything. 

Fiona - 
What tidbits of information should an author keep in mind when they're writing about mixing drinks/bar tending that a reader could appreciate knowing in real life, maybe make them suave in front of their date? 

Nick - 
I always go for this: no one expects or even wants me to be the utmost expert on everything, yet they do expect and want at least a small amount of believable knowledge in their fiction.

I try to, again, simplify: making drinks is as simple as finding a recipe online, so there's no excuse in having a character explain how to build a cocktail if they're doing it wrong. That said, having some flair or personality in it goes a long way (e.g. "Bond didn't know what he was talking about -- you NEVER shake a dry martini"). If that intrigues the reader, they can do some research and find out why. 

If not, they just keep reading -- they're not bogged down by Clancy-esque descriptions of every little thing from utensils to recipes to ingredients and techniques. So I try to have:
  1. A real drink, usually one they've heard of. 
  2. A tried-and-true recipe that no one would argue with 
  3. Something "unique" or special about the character's way of making it.

One of the best ways to do this is to read some old bartender's manuals, then have your character pay homage to that bartender/era by making the drink their way and explaining to the drinker in the book why they did it. 

Fiona - 
Cool -  Okay - At ThrillWriting we have a traditional request that you tell us your favorite scar story. Would you please? 

Nick - 
Sure thing: I'm a safe, lame, boring guy. My wife is the only reason I've ever been outside. LOL So my "best" (and probably only) scar story is the two lines on the back of my left hand. I was in little league baseball, and one of the rules of the league was that if you turned in a foul ball, you'd get a free soda. 

Well, in my house growing up, soda was like CRACK. Everyone wanted it, no one was supposed to have it, and it was "too damn expensive anyway." Lo and behold, I'm hanging out at the fields and a foul ball comes screaming down over our heads. We race to where it landed, only to find that it ended up in a fenced-in area next to a shed. The chain-link fence was the kind that had the really sharp ends on top, and it was tall, too. 

I should add here that I HATE heights, and moving in general. 

Naturally, 12-year-old me decides he's going to climb the stupid fence and get the stupid ball so I could have my stupid crack soda.

More importantly, I'll look REALLY cool doing it, and the other guys won't make fun of me for not doing it. 

Fast forward to a minute later: I've got the ball in my pocket, I'm climbing back over the fence, and I'm excited to get my Cracksoda. I launch myself up and over the fence, aim my feet at the ground about six feet away, and -- URCH. I hear and feel the top poky things on the fence grab my hand and just... hang there... I stop, dangling, waiting for it to let me go. I have to climb BACK up a bit with my other hand to rip it off my left hand so I can fall down.

When I do, I can't feel my left hand but it's BLEEDING LIKE A WOUNDED GAZELLE and squirting everywhere. I become the coolest kid around for about ten minutes, and I have the scar to prove it! 

Fiona - 
"Nick is a writer, but you already knew that, so he won't waste your time. If he were to describe his work (which is exactly what he's trying to do here), he would say it's a mashup between Jurassic Park, National Treasure, The Da Vinci Code, all of James Rollins' stuff, some of Clive Cussler's stuff, a little of Michael Crichton's stuff, with a side of adrenaline, testosterone, and the good parts of the Michael Bay movies (but only the GOOD PARTS). 

His soon-to-be-written Wikipedia page says that he lives in a cabin on a mountain in Colorado with his wife and daughter, and enjoys being terrorized by the three dogs and tortoise that share his life and do nothing but eat food and cost him money. He would love for you to hang out with him on Facebook or on his website.

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Ready? Steady. Go! Getting Started on Your Novel with USA Today Bestselling Author H.B. Moore

Hi Fiona.
Thanks for hosting me at ThrillWriting.

In new novel POETIC JUSTICE, which I hope will be a start to a great series. I traditionally write historical thrillers, and POETIC JUSTICE is my first contemporary thriller.


Claire Vetra is looking for two men. The first man she’ll kill. The second man she’ll also kill after she makes him watch her destroy everything he’s ever built.

This is only the start of her revenge against the World Alliance Organization that held her hostage for a year and subjected her to live human testing all in the name of medical science.

But when Claire begins to unravel her past, she discovers that unlocking the memories of what happened to her might destroy the remaining shreds of her sanity.

Fiona Quinn asked me to share a little about my writing journey, and so I thought I’d talk about how to start your book.

When I meet writers who are looking to get published, they often ask me how I decide where to start my story, who the characters will be, and how I plot.

So as I’m preparing to write my next book, I thought I’d give you some insight into my process.

1. Thinking. Maybe mulling is the more correct word. I have to have the main character pretty well defined in my mind before starting to write. The secondary characters come into the story to support the main character—and sometimes they surprise even me.

2. Creating a schedule. Writing, of course, is not always controlled by that effervescent muse (Fiona—I’m probably using effervescent wrong). Writing is part creativity, and part science. Editing definitely falls into the science category, as well as actually completing a book. Like any writer, I’m constantly pulled in different directions. But once I decide on a book, I need to create the schedule to get it completed, and limit any other stories in my head that are trying to derail priority number 1. For example, if I decide to turn in a book on December 1st to my publisher and I start on August 1st, I divide the word count by the number of writing days. And I leave a couple of weeks in for editing. August: 25,000 words (average 1,000 words a day, 5 days/week). September: 25,000 words, October: 25,000 words, November: 10,000 (2 weeks), 2 weeks of edits.

3. Character sketching. This is an evolving process and changes and grows as I get further into the writing process. For instance, when I write my first draft, my character motivations aren’t usually ironed out. I’m writing mostly plot and dialog. About half-way through draft 1, I’ve had to make solid decisions about my characters, so I’m adding information to my character sketches as I go. So during the 2nd draft, I’m inserting more characterization to the beginning of the book.

4. Point of view & tense: I take into consideration who my audience will be and who the most important characters are. Will the story happen in real time (present tense) or past tense? Will my characters speak in first person (ideal for YA), or third person? It’s a lot of work to change this part of the process, so doing your research beforehand will save you a lot of time later.

5. Conflict. This goes hand in hand with character sketching. I have to ask myself what is the main conflict of the book, and of each character.

6. Beginning. Now that I have some basics going and I actually sit down to write, I usually concentrate on where I want the story to begin. Not to say that the first chapter I write will be the actual first chapter of the book, but I start pretty near the beginning. Before I start a chapter/scene, I ask myself: “What is the point of the chapter? What will be accomplished? What will it show that may/may not be relevant to the story as a whole?”

7. Creating a scene. I create scenes in several phases. Phase 1: writing and not caring too much about “fleshing out” the characters or the description, but I am nailing down the direction of the scene. Phase 2: revising the scene and inserting more description, making more concrete decisions about the character. Phase 3: this will happen when the whole book is drafted and maybe new developments have happened along the way. So I now have to go back through each scene to make sure the story is properly directed. As you can see, creativity has just been replaced by careful analysis (science).

Okay, looking over this list makes me wonder why I even start a new book. Every writer has what works for them. My style might be convoluted, but you never know, it might work for you as well.

About Me:

I write thrillers under the pen name H.B. Moore. My latest thrillers include Slave Queen and The Killing Curse. Under Heather B. Moore, I write romance and women’s fiction, and my newest release is Condemn Me Not: Accused of Witchcraft. She’s also one of the coauthors of the USA Today bestselling series: A Timeless Romance Anthology.


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