Guest Post by Garry Rodgers — Would Realistic Crime-Fiction Sell?

Today’s guestGarry Rodgers post comes from Garry Rodgers. If you’d like to be a guest poster on the blog, please contact me.

Articles written by guest posters are all their own words. I don’t edit, censor or change anything.

Garry Rodgers is a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police homicide detective, forensic coroner, and served as a sniper on British SAS trained Emergency Response Teams.

Garry also is an Amazon Top 10 BestSelling crime-writer and host of the popular blog www.DyingWords.net.

Follow him on Twitter @GarryRodgers1


I’ve investigated a lot of real murders over my years as a homicide cop and forensic coroner. Most of these were ‘smoking-guns’ which required no great feat of detective skill to solve. In fact, most were blatantly obvious as to ‘whodunnit’ and they’re hard to remember as there wasn’t much of a story to them.

Given the immense popularity of crime-fiction books and the crime-fiction CSI-type TV shows, there’s obviously a huge market out there which demands deadly stories. That requires a continual feed of fresh and creative content. So where do most of these most-watched and bought stories come from?

I’d say partly from real-life events and partly from pure imagination which, for some writers, there’s no end to. But some of the stories are so far-fetched that it’s a stretch for writers ‘suspend disbelief’ for the audience. That’s the prime accomplishment of fiction.

Hawaii 5-O is a great example. That spectacularly successful show is in its second generation and draws a huge viewing despite being outrageously fictitious. How do they do it? They immediately set a central story question by opening each show with a bang of action. They also have larger-than-life, identifiable characters and a set storyline. So it’s a repeatable formula to which they just change villains and add occasional guest protagonists.

If Hawaii 5-O was reality, by the second season the detectives would be so burnt-out from trauma counselling, court time, and internal investigations that they’d be unable to function. Fortunately it’s fiction, so the writers keep ramping-up the drama and danger. And it works.

But what if I told you crime stories that were real? Would you buy them? Like I said, most murders are unremarkable, but every once in a while a ‘that actually, really happened’ case came along which I’ll never forget.

There were two guys, Micheal Katz and Austin Peer, who escaped from jail and went on a bank-robbery spree, ending up on the west coast of Canada. Here, they cased-out a gun store to get more firearms and ammunition. At closing time, they accosted the two shop-owners, laid them on the floor, and executed them with bullets to the back of the head. Then they loaded up fifty handguns and assault rifles, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition, and drove back to Toronto where they holed up in a sleazy hotel. Two alert police officers suspected there was something up at the room and went to check. The suspects shot the officers which escalated into the wildest shoot-out imaginable. In excess of six hundred rounds were fired before the SWAT team ran an armored personnel carrier into the room and ended it.

Would you buy into the time that I was investigating death threats where the female complainant was terrified that her ex had broken into her house and was waiting to kill her? My partner and I searched her place, found no sign of the suspect, then had her change the locks on her doors and have her new boyfriend stay over while we searched the town. Turns out the bad-guy was hiding in the attic with an axe while we were there. At 3am, while the victims were sleeping, Billy Ray Hennessey climbed down and chopped both their heads off. Talk about a horror story.

How about Wolfgang Muelfelner who got in a fight with his wife? She fell back against the fireplace, cracked her head, and died – probably of a subdural hematoma. Old Wolfie panicked and dragged her outside the farmhouse and burnt her body in a pile of brush. Neighbours called the fire department who came sirens blazing and hosed down the pyre. The warned him that if he ever burnt without a permit again, they’d ticket him. Panicking, he butchered the conflagrated corpse and roto-tilled it into the garden. Her vanishing brought on a year-long psychological cat and mouse game between the detectives and Wolfgang, till he finally broke down and confessed.

Then there’s Floyd Binginham, or ‘Bing’. He was a drunken wife-beater who so thoroughly traumatized his wife over a period of years that she finally shot him dead while he was passed out. The jury heard her tale of years of physical and emotional abuse and acquitted her. The courtroom drama in this case was purely riveting.

How about the homicide where the murder weapon was a bag of frozen pork chops? Or the two school-teachers who conspired to poison another teacher to prevent a promotion? Or the disgruntled client who shot her lawyer dead in his office. There’s a truly shocking story of what led up to that one. I could go on and on, but you get the point.

I think what really makes saleable crime-fiction is a bizarre event, true or invented, with a twisted plot and memorable characters. Fortunately, there’s no end to real-life cases where ‘truth is stranger than fiction’.

I’ve got a bit of an advantage in crime-fiction writing because I’ve been there and seen a lot. My technical knowledge is greater than most crime writers but my imagination is certainly no better. Nor are my research skills.

I’m a firm believer that you can make the wildest crime-fiction story saleable as long as you can get the reader to suspend their disbelief and keep it there throughout. You don’t have to write what you know, like a retired homicide detective and forensic coroner would. But you have to check what you write, because nothing will make a reader set it down faster than calling BS.

Guest Post by Jen Winters — Reader’s Guide to Writers

Today’s guest post comes from Jen Winters. If you’d like to be a guest poster on the blog, please contact me.

Articles written by guest posters are all their own words. I don’t edit, censor or change anything.

Jen WintersJen Winters fell in love with paranormal romance after her daughter was born and she needed a way to escape reality for a few minutes a day. She loved it so much she decided to take her own pen to it. The world of the Guardians was developed through deeply irreligious conversations with her father who likes to misinterpret scripture as often as humanly possible and a good dose of did-I-just-read-that-! when looking into ancient near eastern mythology and scripture.


READER’S GUIDE TO WRITERS

Have you ever wondered what your favorite author was thinking when they wrote your favorite book? Have you ever asked an author a question and received an answer you thought was either completely dissatisfactory or completely amazing? My answer to both questions is a resounding YES! I have asked a lot of authors a lot of questions, so here are my top three worst questions and how to ask them correctly.

1. How do you find inspiration?

This question comes in many different skins:

Where did you find your inspiration?

What inspired you?

The honest-to-god’s own truth is that we don’t have to go looking for inspiration; inspiration stalks us. We go to bed and can’t get to sleep because our work in progress is on our minds. We wake up in the middle of the night (I am currently writing this at 2 am), because we are bursting to the seams with something that we have to get on paper right now. We sit in our doctor’s waiting room and are startled when our name is called because our minds were in a totally different world. This is a writer’s life. Inspiration does not need to be sought; it chases us every ungodly hour of every day.

So, what can you ask instead?

Was there a moment in your writing when you really felt the influence of another person or place bring your story to life? What was it?

The answer for me changes with every book I write and so I don’t have to answer the same question over and over, I get to be creative with my answers, which is my reason for writing. I love being creative, and so does your favorite author.

2. Who is your favorite author?

Really? Is that not obvious? I am, of course. But that isn’t the most humble answer so I have to come up with a favorite among the thousands of authors I have read in my lifetime…

Let’s set the record straight: we are our most favorite author. We have to be, but we also read like it’s going out of style. In the last week alone I have read seven new to me authors, and a couple of them were amazing! So how do you ask this question without making a liar out of your favorite author?

What author do you read that makes you want to be a better writer?

When we have to answer this question we have to actually think about our reading experiences and make a judgment value.

Sherrilyn Kenyon is the one for me. I love her writing, I strive to write as well as she does, to construct a paranormal world and romance as intricately as she has done hers. The other one for me is Stephen King. I’ve only ever read one of his novels, horror isn’t my genre, but I love his essays. He has a way with words that makes me wonder in awe sometimes. I read as much of his non-fictional stuff as I can, because I absolutely adore his writing style.

3. How long did it take you to write your book?

This question has no good answer. It’s a process to write a book. From the moment of inception to the final publication, the book is being written. I have book that is still being written and it was finished fifteen years ago. We all have projects like that. But that certain book you are asking about? Who knows? My book, Kissing Demons, took me six years to get from inception to publication. I was not writing that entire time.  I did absolutely nothing with it while I was pregnant with my second child. Nine whole months of ignoring it! Do I count that in the time it took to write it? No, not really.

So what are better questions to ask?

Were there moments that you found difficult to write? What were they?

The answer to this question will be more in depth and give you a more accurate answer to your question. I can remember my editor telling me that my evil dude wasn’t evil enough. I said, “Yeah, I know! I want my readers to like him.”

Her reply sent me reeling: “You have to kill someone.”

Whaaaaa—?

She was right, of course, but it took me months to get up the courage to actually do it. I didn’t know which of my characters I could let go. It was hard, and it caused quite a delay in my writing, but I am a better writer for it. Once I actually buckled down a decided to kill someone, my story took on new life. And that is a better answer than “Six years.”

Contact Jen and buy her books:

The Thirteenth Room — OUT NOW!

The Thirteenth RoomThe fourth Kempston Hardwick mystery, The Thirteenth Room, is now out and available to buy! You can get your copy by clicking here.

Subscribers to my email list knew about the book and were able to pre-order it last week, as well as enjoying the following benefits:

  • Access to pre-orders
  • The first to know of all new releases
  • FREE short stories and books
  • Access to discounted prices on new releases
  • A whole lot more…

If you’d like to join the email list, totally FREE, by clicking here.

Just to whet your appetite, here’s a little teaser as to what the book’s about:

When a married man seemingly kills himself at a local hotel, Kempston Hardwick is not so sure the death was suicide.

As he tries to convince the police to investigate, Kempston yet again throws himself into an investigation where all is not as it seems, but not before the Manor Hotel is home to more suspicious deaths…

Well, what are you waiting for? Grab your copy NOW!

Joanne Croft liked this post

10 Habits of Highly Successful Writers

The writing process is something which interests me greatly. Writing is such an ethereal and difficult process to pin down that the different ways in which people go about it is something which I’ve always found fascinating.

Today’s post focuses on the writing habits of some of the most successful writers in history. It’s meant more as an interesting look at some quirky ideas rather than a ‘try this’ guide, although I know some of you might want to have a go at a couple of them…

Ernest Hemingway, writing, standing up, presumably in the morning.

Ernest Hemingway, writing, standing up, presumably in the morning.

1. Ernest Hemingway always wrote in the morning.
He was pretty fastidious about this and he continued writing each morning until he was empty. Interestingly, he also wrote standing up. In an interview he said:

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.

2. Haruki Murakami went one step further and threw in some exercise.
This is a line which I try to follow, although getting up early is still proving tricky for me. Murakami said:

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.

3. Vladimir Nabokov wrote in a parked car.
Nabokov said he loved the small, intimate bubble of a parked car where he’d be left undisturbed and able to write in peace. Gertrude Stein was another fan of this particular writing habit.

Mark Twain, not doing very well at convincing everyone that writing’s a real job.

4. A surprising number of authors could only work lying down.
A lot of authors are used to being jokingly referred to as shirkers, but an alarmingly high number of famous writers barely got out of bed at all. George Orwell, Mark Twain, Marcel Proust and a number of other famous names could only write or think whilst in bed. Truman Capote famously referred to himself as a “completely horizontal author”.

5. Jodi Picoult, like me, doesn’t believe in the blanket term ‘writer’s block’.
As one of the world’s most famous modern-day authors, she recognised that writer’s block is, at best, a symptom and not a condition. Her response was much the same as much: sit down and get on with it.

I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it — when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

6. Nathan Englander also recognised that distractions and a busy mind are the cause of ‘writer’s block’.
Englander is an award-winning short story writer and he also recognises that ‘writer’s block’ is caused by technological distractions which stop us from dedicating the time solely to our craft.

Turn off your cell phone. Honestly, if you want to get work done, you’ve got to learn to unplug. No texting, no email, no Facebook, no Instagram. Whatever it is you’re doing, it needs to stop while you write. A lot of the time (and this is fully goofy to admit), I’ll write with earplugs in — even if it’s dead silent at home.

Victor Hugo. With his clothes on, thankfully.

Victor Hugo. With his clothes on, thankfully.

7. Victor Hugo wrote naked.
I’m not entirely sure why, but his excuse was that whilst writing The Hunchback of Notre Dame, he asked his valet to confiscate all of his clothes so he couldn’t leave the house. This ties in with points 5 and 6 quite nicely, actually, proving once again that writer’s block is a symptom and not a condition.

8. Drink enough coffee to wake the dead.
Actually, don’t. Most writers tend to rely on caffeine to some degree, but Honoré de Balzac and Voltaire both drank between 40 and 50 cups of coffee a day. Being French, this was perfectly normal for them but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for anyone else.

9. Dan Brown hangs from the ceiling like a bat.
The author of The Da Vinci Code swears by hanging upside down in order to ‘cure’ writer’s block and generate new plot ideas. Which explains a lot.

10. E. B. White just sat down and got on with it.
Of all of the methods listed here, this has got to be by far and away the best advice. There’s absolutely no substitute for bums on seats and fingers on keyboards. In White’s own words:

The members of my household never pay the slightest attention to my being a writing man—they make all the noise and fuss they want to. If I get sick of it, I have places I can go. A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

Elaine Hughes liked this post

10 Small Life Changes Which Will Make You a Better Writer

writer-605764_640The vast majority of writers, whether new or experienced, will want to become better and better. I know I do. I can look back not only a year, but six months or even one month and see the improvements I’ve made in that time. It’s not simply a case of writing more and more to gain experience (although that helps) but a complete holistic approach to the way you see life.

We all have our own vices and virtues when it comes to writing, but as this is a subject which has long fascinated me I’ve taken the time to distil it down to ten small, relatively easy things you can change in your life in order to make you a better writer.

1. See things from other points of view.
I love to play the devil’s advocate and take a deliberately contrarian standpoint on issues. Of course, killing small children is absolutely abhorrent and wrong — we can all identify with that — but just for a moment, try slipping into the mind of someone who thinks it’s no biggie. It’s hard, it’s disturbing and it’s unpleasant, but it’ll give you an enormous insight into a different mind.

Maybe his justification is that he believes some people are born inherently evil and must be stopped, or maybe she lost an infant child of her own many years back and sees this act as ‘evening out the balance’. Yes, totally unjustifiable and wrong however you look at it, but it’s still someone’s viewpoint. Only by seeing and accepting viewpoints different from your own will you improve as a writer. Until then, your books and characters will all be two-dimensional reflections of yourself.

2. Stop talking and start listening.
There’s a huge amount to be learnt about people and life every day. Next time you’re out for a meal, in a pub or just at work, take the time to stop talking and thinking about yourself and instead listen to other people.

This can help in a number of ways, not least seeing how different people operate and learning about their lives, but even down to the patterns of speech and dialogue which you can use in your work in the future. Realistic and authentic dialogue is very difficult to master, but listening carefully to real people can reap huge benefits.

3. Get out of your comfort zone.
I’m not suggesting that if you’re a crime writer you should suddenly start publishing romance, or vice versa. Getting down and writing in different styles and genres can really open your eyes to aspects of writing which could help your own work. The structure of stories and the way in which different types of writing are pieced together can give a unique insight for a writer. That goes for reading books from different genres, too.

4. Read books and watch TV with a different eye.
We’re often very passive when we watch TV or read books. Don’t simply sit and watch TV dramas or films for enjoyment — bear in mind that these were written and devised by a writer just like you. Use what you know to see how the work’s been pieced together and created, inspiring you to create better work yourself.

Much like I suspect a builder looks at people’s houses in a different way when he comes round to visit, you should be doing the same with books, films and television shows.

5. Get involved in acting.
This has been one of the biggest boosts to my writing, if not the biggest boost. Acting gives you an unrivalled insight into characters’ motivations, feelings and speech patterns in a way to which nothing else can even come close. There are local amateur theatre companies in almost every town or village — often more than one — so there’s no excuse.

If you’re really not keen on getting up on stage, an alternative is to read/act out your work in the privacy of your own home. Ideally, record it and listen/watch back, as then you’ll be able to see if your dialogue really works and actually sounds like someone talking. More often than not, we write dialogue as writing instead of speaking. On the page it might look fine, but read it out and it’ll often sound stilted and planned, and that can be the difference between an average book and a great one.

6. Get active.
There are many enormous links between exercise and brain function/creativity, with exercise helping to release dopamine and other ‘feel good’ hormones which can improve brain function and help boost your creativity. The scientific basis aside, exercise can help release destructive energy which might well be clouding your brain. The clarity of mind following a good exercise session is testament to this.

One of my favourite tips is to combine numbers 6 and 4 by plonking my exercise bike in front of the TV and catching up on the shows I’ve missed whilst getting fit at the same time.

7. Open your mind.
The smallest little things can open your mind in ways which you could never have imagined. Just try some small changes to your daily routine, such as driving a different route to work, listening to a different radio station in the car, having tea instead of coffee, wearing a different style of clothes, doing something spontaneous. It all helps to keep the mind and imagination fresh.

Your brain needs to be kept active and stimulated, and getting stuck in boring routines in one of the biggest wastes of the human mind. You’ve got the most powerful tool in the world sat inside your skull and it needs exercising like a muscle.

8. Write every day.
Regardless of what it is, write creatively every day. Whether it’s work on a novel or play, a blog post or even a private diary entry, write something. It doesn’t need to be something that’s ever published or ever looked at again, but doing it every day will make it a natural part of you.

Scientists often state the 40-day rule, in which a person needs to do an action daily for 40 consecutive days before it becomes a hard-wired habit. Make sure you spend at least some time writing creatively every day for the next 40 days and you’ll have taken a huge step towards your writing nirvana.

9. Break down those barriers.
Much like point 1, you need to break down the pre-conditioned social barriers you’ve become accustomed to during your life. Question everything. What if…? Strip every concept back to its bare bones. Does society really need money? Do people really need to wear clothes? I’m not suggesting anyone becomes a naked hippy, but at least ponder these sorts of questions from a philosophical standpoint. Every time you reason something, ask why.

For example, we wear clothes so we don’t feel uncomfortable walking around naked. But why should we feel uncomfortable? Aren’t clothes more abnormal than a natural human body? This isn’t a personal thing — I’m not a naturist any more than I am a fashion god, but simply questioning these social norms and ‘facts’ of life can open the mind enormously. Question everything.

10. Engage with other writers.
This is so incredibly valuable. Surrounding yourself with other writers and being able to discuss the finer points of story structure, character arcs and narrative with people who understand it in the same way as you do is incredibly rewarding. Being able to share and learn from each other is one of the best things about being a writer.

I absolutely love meeting other writers and chatting about our mutual craft, and can testify to its many benefits. If you’d like to chat, I’m on Twitter at @adamcroft and you can email me through my blog.

Jonathan Barnett liked this post