Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why Readers Love Mystery Thrillers

Why do Readers Love Mystery/Thrillers?

As a person who has studied psychology and worked as a psychotherapist for many years and now writes mystery thrillers, I tend to always come back to the central question, "Why?" Why do so many people love mysteries and mystery thrillers? What is it inside so many of us that attracts us to these books and movies?

Even very young children love mystery books and thrilling adventures. When I was a child I loved to read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boy books and I would spend many hours on the sofa at home curled up with a blanket reading, reading, reading. At school the teacher allowed us to go to the library when we completed our work and my friend and I would race to finish and then race to the library. We would vie to get the newest mystery book on the shelf.

After writing professional books and articles, and retiring from my profession, I began to look around for another challenge. I decided to try my hand at writing fiction. I spent many hours studying the art of fiction writing, which is quite different from what I knew. I thought that maybe I would try romance. "That should be easy," I said to my husband. He looked at me with that big question mark on his face like he did when he thought that I'd gone a little out of my mind. I ignored him. Why not, I thought? I know about relationships. I've counseled lots of couples. Even helped them become more romantic.

To make a long story very short, or rather a short story very short, I "sucked" at writing romance. Boring. Every romance story I wrote turned into a mystery with thrilling events that had nothing to do with romance. At last I came back to my husband and asked him to be honest with me. He laughed. "Ana," he said, "You know you have always loved a good mystery. Look at what you read and watch on TV." So I did. Agatha Christie when I was in college, then John Grisham, now Preston and Child, the most recent Sherlock Holmes series and New Tricks on TV, and on and on. Okay. He was right, but why along with so many other people was I drawn to these books?

Before I decided to write mystery thrillers I asked several people I knew why they read mostly books in this genre. What I learned was that most of us had certain things in common.

Here is what I found:

1. We had loved mystery books even as children.

2. We were all very curious about, "What happens next? Who did it?" Some people spent hours trying to figure out the answers.

3. We loved a great mental (analytical) puzzle with lots of twists and turns and unexpected endings. It kept our brains stimulated and exhilarated, and therefore we felt satisfied and happy (most of the time) especially at the end.

4. We loved excitement and these books took us into a world of intrigue, excitement, and conflict  without actually having to risk our own lives and sanity in the process.

Leave a comment and let me know why you love mysteries or mystery thrillers.

Oh, by the way, why don't you psychological mystery/ thriller lovers read my book "Justice Forbidden" (only $2.99 on Amazon Kindle) and let me know what you think.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Why use Keywords?

Hi all,
I am back and am excited to be writing for WNI again. I have missed you all.

As many of you may know, my husband Ron passed away from COPD in August. The last 5 months have been the most difficult and challenging ones of my life. After 49 years of a great marriage, I am struggling to come back to myself without him but I am moving forward again.

This is an important article he wrote for my blog soon before he died but it was never published. I am publishing it now for your knowledge and also to honor his life, his brilliance and his work as an Invertebrate Pathologist working for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for 25 years.

by Dr. Ronald H. Goodwin

                   The Value of Key Words for more Effective Communication

The concept of keywords began very early on with the age of computers, especially in the area of scientific literature. The world of science communication and publication demanded that increased thought be given to the guidance that was then being codified in the Science Citation Index and with that, electronic bibliographic content and early subject oriented search engines which searched abstracts, synopses, and titles of articles.

Many scientists in the 1970's were unaware of this new automation of bibliographic searching and its critical use in the then present and future of the communication of scientific thought. They often treated their publications as onerous requirements that were unimportant compared to their "real work" of scientific exploration and experimental activities. After all, who would find them and read them?

As a scientific researcher working for the USDA, I noticed with alarm that title words and words in abstracts often did not represent or flesh out the subject being investigated and often dwelled on the trivial side issues, or belabored technicalities. It became apparent that appropriate key words would need to be used to classify publications properly and they would not be passed over due to appropriate wording. In the late 1970s I gave a talk at the national agriculture library (NAL) conference for scientists on bibliographic searches. I stressed the importance of accurate keywords and what happens without them. Not only do people not read about your work, you may be completely misunderstood.

I imagine most of you have heard of the Golden Fleece award for the least significant scientific research of the year. Actually, the research was, in most cases, important basic research conducted for a very good reason, but because the reasons for the research were never included in the article's key words, it seemed completely ridiculous to others who knew little about it.

Things have changed since those days. Now everyone uses keywords to bring readers to their writings. But the present internet use of keywords has led to inappropriate terms, descriptions, and claims in an attempt to garner a higher place in subject listings on Google Search. Both fiction and nonfiction writers are trying to "game" the system and as a consequence the present system sometimes also mistakes what the contents of articles and books are dealing with. I believe that "hot words" and emotional "hook" words will become their own worst enemies. Readers are not stupid and will soon catch on to misleading statements "hyping" certain sensational viewpoints.

You owe it to your readers and to yourself to be honest in clearly stating your actual viewpoint and what your publication is really dealing with. You will not fool your readers for long. Responses, both positive and negative, are now immediate in this internet world of ours. Likewise it is probably unwise to pursue publication if you have little to say. The truth is that content is still king. Ask yourself, "What do I believe I have to say that it is important for others to know? Do I really know exactly what it is I want to say and the facts about the topic, instead of an arbitrary opinion I can't substantiate?" Write whatever you wish to, but tell your ideas or read your article to some honest friends before you commit to publishing them.

Now that you have written something meaningful, and/or moving, or entertaining, you must tell your reader clearly about the subject and how you have dealt with it. Only you know what the critical words are that will evoke quick recognition of the depth of the topic you have chosen.

If you are writing a book that falls between genres or outside of ordinary classifications, and wish to get it published by a large publishing house, good keywords will be especially important. But don't depend upon prospective agents or publishers to know or effectively and fairly judge your work. Many excellent and widely recognized authors were dismissed or rejected due to a lack of imagination by big publishing houses: Mark Twain, John Grisham, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and many others were initially rejected before becoming successful writers.

Good luck all writers. You have something important to say. Don't let your readers slip away because you didn't use the right keywords!


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Over the Boards: Toller Cranston

Toller Shalitoe Montague Cranston
Born: April 20, 1949, Hamilton, Ontario
Died: January 25, 2015, San Miguel, Mexico

We learned of the death of Toller Cranston today.

 In my youth, I had the rare privilege of watching him skate at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club. In fact, I used to skip school and sit behind the glass watching him in total awe. Sometimes he would be at the school figures, and believe it or not, I would watch that too. If I close my eyes, I can hear the carving sounds of his powerful blades on the ice. He was a never ending source of inspiration. When free skating, he would practice his signature camel spin, often creating new variations, about every eight minutes. I must have witnessed the perfect line he created with his body hundreds of times, and each one was a marvel. We knew the risks he took in an era when men's figure skating was a bit stiff and conservative. Certainly, Toller was entirely unique, and in full possession of the courage to be an artist. He changed the sport forever.

Friday, January 23, 2015

From the Writer to the Reader

We are pleased to offer this wonderful piece of advice from one of the greatest American authors.

John Ernst Steinbeck
Feb. 27, 1902, Salinas, California
Dec. 20, 1968, New York, N.Y

"Man is the only kind of varmint sets his own trap, baits it, and then steps in it." 

      Dear Writer:       Although it must be a thousand years ago that I sat in a class in story writing at Stanford, I remember the experience very clearly. I was bright-eyes and bushy-brained and prepared to absorb the secret formula for writing good short stories, even great short stories. This illusion was canceled very quickly. The only way to write a good short story, we were told, is to write a good short story. Only after it is written can it be taken apart to see how it was done. It is a most difficult form, as we were told, and the proof lies in how very few great short stories there are in the world.
      The basic rule given us was simple and heartbreaking. A story to be effective had to convey something from the writer to the reader, and the power of its offering was the measure of its excellence. Outside of that, there were no rules. A story could be about anything and could use any means and any technique at all - so long as it was effective. As a subhead to this rule, it seemed to be necessary for the writer to know what he wanted to say, in short, what he was talking about. As an exercise we were to try reducing the meat of our story to one sentence, for only then could we know it well enough to enlarge it to three- or six- or ten-thousand words.
      So there went the magic formula, the secret ingredient. With no more than that, we were set on the desolate, lonely path of the writer. And we must have turned in some abysmally bad stories. If I had expected to be discovered in a full bloom of excellence, the grades given my efforts quickly disillusioned me. And if I felt unjustly criticized, the judgments of editors for many years afterward upheld my teacher's side, not mine. The low grades on my college stories were echoed in the rejection slips, in the hundreds of rejection slips.
      It seemed unfair. I could read a fine story and could even know how it was done. Why could I not then do it myself? Well, I couldn't, and maybe it's because no two stories dare be alike. Over the years I have written a great many stories and I still don't know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances.
      If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.
      It is not so very hard to judge a story after it is written, but, after many years, to start a story still scares me to death. I will go so far as to say that the writer who not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium.
      I remember one last piece of advice given me. It was during the exuberance of the rich and frantic '20s, and I was going out into that world to try and to be a writer.
      I was told, "It's going to take a long time, and you haven't got any money. Maybe it would be better if you could go to Europe."
      "Why?" I asked.
      "Because in Europe poverty is a misfortune, but in America it is shameful. I wonder whether or not you can stand the shame of being poor."
      It wasn't too long afterward that the depression came. Then everyone was poor and it was no shame anymore. And so I will never know whether or not I could have stood it. But surely my teacher was right about one thing. It took a long time - a very long time. And it is still going on, and it has never got easier.
      She told me it wouldn't.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Literary Marriage

August 19th, 1978

Very early in our relationship my husband professed his intent to see me achieve my writing dreams. He told me that it would happen. There have been many times when I have asked him if he wasn't perhaps deluded, or just plain wrong. These are joking comments from me because his steadfast belief has sustained me from start to finish.

Many writers have described unions where both parties are committed to the literary life. Female writers joke about needing a wife, one who types each draft, brings lunch in on a tray and does not say a word while the genius is at work. If early success yielded substantial financial success, that just might work, but for most of us, it is not that cut and dried.

 The ups and downs are all imaginary.

He asks, “How was your day?”

“A new character arrived!”

“That's great!”

Or, “How was your day?”

“My novel is falling apart. I just wasted the last decade, no the last four decades, no my entire life. I should have gone to law school.”

“How was your day?”

“My agent called. The book is going to auction. There's talk of a movie deal too. They think it will be perfect for Johnny Depp.”

I never stop thanking God for the gift of my imagination.

If you read copious volumes of writer's diaries, you learn a great deal about their marriages.  Lucy Maud Montgomery had a terrible time of it, and I could all but cry for her as she listed her trials and tribulations. I wanted to whack her husband over the head with a hockey stick and said so aloud to my beloved as I waded through the volumes. She created a fine fictional husband for herself in the person of Gilbert Blythe. Ted Hughes, married to Sylvia Plath, is not held in very high esteem either. Leonard Wolf, married to Virginia, tried very hard, but as it was she who wrote the diaries, he did not fare very well either. What of Zelda Fitzgerald and the Hemingway wives? If you read The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, you know what I mean.

I will state here and now that I owe everything to my husband. In changing times, I was afforded the choice to be home with my children, a decision I will never regret. In fact, I miss those days sorely. My husband has helped me with computer issues, printer foibles, discouraging setbacks and several lapses in confidence. Being a creative person himself he knows that the power of the imagination can leave artistic types rather unhinged from time to time.

Tolstoy had the secretarial sort of wife, and by all accounts, she did not exactly have the life of Riley. What would the marriage of two writers look like? I shudder to think.

“How was your day?”

“Chapter five is falling apart again. What about you?”

“Our accountant called. He said we should just pay off the mortgage with the last royalty check.”

Constant support and eternal optimism. That is what marriage has given me. Last night we watched back to back episodes of Downton Abbey.

“Should we really be watching last week's show when we've seen it already?”

“Yes,” I answered. “We can discuss each developing storyline and then watch the new episode in silence.”


Do we know of any really admirable literary marriages? Stephen King writes only for his wife. She does not read each developing page, but is given the privilege of being his first and most important reader. She is very independent according to him and has no trouble filling the hours where he is unavailable. He is not to be interrupted for any reason. She once slid a note under his study door to inform him of a plumbing emergency. He considers himself lucky, as do I.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Intelligent General Audience

Richard Flanagan, Man Booker International Prize Winner, 2014

In my way of thinking the intelligent general audience refers to just about everyone.  It is also the stated intention of the Man Booker Prize International's committee of judges. Once a book is chosen as the winner, it will always deserve my interest, and in most cases, an immediate order from Amazon. The Best Food Ever Book Club is nearly always game to read the top pick of the esteemed judges. In short, the Booker Prize is a stamp of approval. It is designed by its very nature, to put great books into the scattered framework of our attention. How do we choose the books we read? If Amazon, or my local bookstore has failed to put a selection before me that is truly aligned with my tastes, I will turn to the experts and look at authors who have won prizes. As with Hollywood, it is a great boon to be nominated. It is a matter of course for me, if I have already read the Booker prize winner, to browse the short list and then the long one. Sometimes, after reading those great novels that nearly won, I find myself in passionate disagreement with the judges. It can be rather like Figure Skating contests; it has to be subjective to some degree, particularly when the field is ripe with excellence. If I were ever selected as a judge, it would be a happy day for me indeed. While others might complain about having to read so many books, I would proclaim, “I can't do anything. I have to read!”

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan won the coveted award for 2014. Born in Tasmania in 1961, Flanagan spent twelve years crafting this masterful work. His writing is so vivid; his ability to put the reader right in the scene made for some grueling nights for our book club. The protagonist, Dorrigo Evans, once a captive of the Japanese army has the great misfortune to be enlisted to work on the Thai-Burma Death Railway. Their inhumane treatment of prisoners is regrettably, all too prevalent. Never before in my life have I read descriptions of atrocities with more turning of the head and knotting of the stomach. I found myself getting thoroughly depressed. Man's inhumanity to man is nothing new to me but never before has it been described in a manner so profoundly real. Flanagan puts you in the sensibilities of the prisoners. You want to get away, but you cannot.

The story shifts between Dorrigo's love affair with his uncle's young wife. It was another case of being captive, but this time by desire. As he recalls various times with young Amy, he also continually fails to let us forget who she is and how flawed he must be to have gotten himself involved with her in the first place. He can't avoid thoughts and memories of their time together any more than he can get away from his captors. This is not a story of straight up redemption. We wish it to veer in that direction, but perhaps Flanagan wanted to paint a more realistic picture. In reading about the book on the Man Booker Prize International's website, I learned that Flanagan's father had been a worker on the infamous narrow road. He survived his experience and died on the day his son finished the novel which was twelve years in the making.  The writing is very vivid. The prize speaks volumes, as always.

From Page 22:

“Looking back down the railway pegs, Dorrigo Evans saw that there was around them so much that was incomprehensible, incommunicable, unintelligible, undivinable, indescribable. Simple facts explained the pegs. But they conveyed nothing. What is a line, he wondered, the Line? A line was something that proceeded from one point to another-from reality to unreality, from life to hell- 'breadthless length', as he recalled from Euclid describing it in schoolboy geometry. A length without breadth, a life without meaning, the procession from life to death. A journey to hell.”

The Washington Post:

"Nothing since Cormac McCarthy's The Road has shaken me like this."

The Irish Times:

"Homeric... Flanagan's feel for language, history's persistent undercurrent, and subtle detail sets his fiction apart. There isn't a false note in this book."

For much of the country, 2015 has begun with bitter cold and day after day of epic snow. Out west, we seem to veer from snow to rain. While I prefer snow, what I love most about winter is that it is so conducive to my great loves: writing, reading, skiing and fine dining. It is my hope that whatever the choice may be, the intelligent general audience finds a warm hearth, a cozy nook and an inviting stack of books.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Farewell to Jenny and Hello to New Beginnings

Writing North Idaho is experiencing what we hope is a temporary hiatus from our veteran contributor, Jenny Leo. Jenny is an original founder of WNI and has been an integral part of its development. Her intelligence, insight and flare for the interests of writers have led this blog to its successful place among writers worldwide. Her life as a full time editor, author of novels and nonfiction essays, family enthusiast and community volunteer make for a full life.  We appreciate all we have learned from her! We will miss her regular posts but we look forward to hearing of her many adventures in life. Please follow her at: and read in the archives of this blog her over 150 posts on various subjects about writing.
A new year means new beginnings. Many people start exercise programs or make lists of things they wish to accomplish in the next months. Several people will record the names of books and authors they read in 2015. Others will chart the numbers of miles they run, new recipes they want try or numbers of jig saw puzzles they work. If you are reading this, you are probably a writer and have thought about your ongoing or upcoming works.

Experts have tips as to how best to do that set goals or benchmarks we can achieve.
    Ø  Since January 1st has passed, begin your path toward your goals on a Monday. This is a psychological benchmark that helps you focus and feel energized.
    Ø  Make a plan. Good intentions are not enough. Actual plans prevent procrastination.
    Ø  Do not have a back up plan. “Plan B” weakens your resolve to work hard on Plan A. Think though what you want to accomplish and how you going to do it. The more details the better.
    Ø  Build in a strong incentive. Monetary rewards have shown great success. is a web site that will take your money and donate it to a cause of your choice if you fail. Make a pact with a spouse or friend who also has set some type of a goal. The person who does not complete his or her desired goal treats the other to an agreed upon pay-out. It could be dinner out, a weekend trip, a pre-set number of doing a chore for the one person or whatever you can find that will be the impetus for you to work hard on your own goal.
    Ø  Place benchmarks throughout your main plan. These can be small or short goals. Reaching each one is a reinforcement and reward for accomplishing a portion of your goal and encouragement for reaching for the next mark.
    Ø  Experts tell us to conserve our willpower. We do not have an unending supply of it. Do not attempt to work on several major goals in a given time. For instance, you should not try to loss 35 pounds, learn a new language and write a novel in the same span of time. All will fail because you will have spent your willpower.

For writers, an evaluation of our writing achievements from the previous year is a good beginning to setting our writing goals for the future. Ask yourself these questions.

  #  What did I write this past year? How many stories did I actually finish? How many did I start? How many did I discard as rubbish? (These efforts should not be discounted as we always learn from our efforts.)
  #   Did I enter any contests? Did I “podium” in any of them? Would I enter any of the same contests again? Do I want to find other contests to enter?
  #   Did I take any writing classes and what was my goal and outcome of those classes? Would I take more classes from that source? Why or why not? What other classes are offered, at what time, the topics, the cost, the time and the place?
  #   Did I do what I set out to do writing-wise last year?
  #  Am I proud of my writing(s)? Why and why not?

Writers are always challenged. Each day presents us with opportunities. It is up to us to decide what we are going to do with them. Good luck in your writing for this year! Good luck to Jenny in all she does!

Write magically!