August 12 HoTXSinC Meeting
Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter
Criminal Law for Crime Writers
The villain has committed the dastardly deed, and has been doggedly run to ground by the intrepid protagonist. So what happens next? In his August 12 presentation, Criminal Law for Crime Writers, Adrian Eissler takes the Sisters in Crime into the framework of Texas criminal law, laying a foundation for members to conduct efficient legal research into the points of Texas criminal law that may be relevant to their works.
The presentation will first cover some of the key sources of criminal law in Texas, including the Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, Rules of Evidence, appellate opinions, and the U.S. Constitution. Delving further into these sources, we’ll discuss points of law that may be of particular interest in plot development, including culpable mental states, transferred intent, causation, accomplice liability, self-defense, insanity, and death penalty issues. Finally, we’ll dust off a fascinating case from 1898 that highlights the wealth of powerful stories to be found in the old case reporters in law libraries.
Adrian Eissler is currently a lawyer for the Public Utility Commission of Texas. He previously practiced corporate law in Boulder, Colorado and served as a research attorney to Judge Paul Womack at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. During law school at the University of Texas at Austin, he worked in the appellate division of the Travis County District Attorney’s office. Adrian currently lives in northwest Austin with his wife and their three-year-old son.
Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter, meets monthly on the second Sunday of the month at 2 p.m. at the Westlake Barnes & Noble bookstore, located at the southeast corner of Loop 360 and Bee Cave Road, in The Village at Westlake shopping center.
Sisters in Crime is an international organization of women and men whose purpose is to promote mysteries written by women, and combat discrimination against women mystery authors. Speakers include published mystery authors and technical experts who help writers craft better mysteries and readers enjoy what they read. Meetings are free and open to all. For more information, check out the Sisters in Crime website at www.hotxsinc.org.
For information contact: Joyce Arquette, Publicity (512) 266-6543
How to Write a Mystery: Janet Kilgore Subs for Joan Upton Hall at BookPeople Workshop
by Gale Albright
Joan Upton Hall, author of the Excalibur series, was scheduled to present a free, all-day mystery workshop at BookPeople on June 16, 2012. Unfortunately, Ms. Hall became ill and had to cancel her appearance.
Janet Kilgore, humorist, editor, and secretary of the San Gabriel Writers’ League in Georgetown, graciously stepped up to the plate and took over the workshop.
Using Hall’s class notes and her own background as editor and teacher, Kilgore led the class through the maze of mystery sub-genres, including amateur sleuth, cozies, disaster, eco-thrillers, legal, espionage, ethnic, gay, medical, noir, occult, government agent, hard-boiled, private eye, senior sleuth, true crime, and country noir.
Cozies are usually short (159-200 pages), make the reader feel good, and can be humorous. Non-fiction true crime books involve a case that’s already been solved.
Joan Hess writes humorous mysteries. Bill Crider is author of a western sheriff series. Good sources for mystery writers include Farm Fresh Forensics, a Houston website, and the Texas Rangers.
In the afternoon session, talk turned, among other things, to sex.
According to Kilgore, well-done sex scenes in suspense and true crime books can be very …well, sexy. In cozies, sex usually happens off stage. Sex sells when it’s done right.
Moving on to editing, Kilgore covered several ways to make one’s writing more professional and readable.
- “To be” verbs tend to dilute the text. They are repetitive. Replace them with action verbs.
- Tightening the text is like tuning a guitar.
- Get rid of unnecessary “thats,” most of them, that is (joke). It will improve and tighten the text.
- Don’t send an unedited manuscript to a publisher. Follow submission guidelines to the letter.
- Prologues can be handy if you’re trying to set the time and place, or set a scene that is not readily apparent. Prologues should not be used to start the story. Use them sparingly.
- Dialog (not dialect) is “where you can get away with murder.” Take your favorite book and look at the way dialog is written and handled. Try to avoid “he said/she said.” Watch for too many clichés.
- Show, don’t tell.
- Create a sense of place. A child’s POV (point of view) can give a reader a great sense of place. Senses other than sight can also create a sense of place.
At the end of the day, workshop participants received plenty of good writing advice. Kudos to Janet Kilgore for her presentation.
June HoTXSinC Meeting: Scott Montgomery, Bookseller
by Gale Albright
Scott Montgomery, crime fiction coordinator at BookPeople in Austin, was guest speaker at the Heart of Texas Sisters in Crime June 10 meeting held in Barnes and Noble, Westlake.
Montgomery, after a stint at the Mystery Book Store in Los Angeles, moved to Austin to work for BookPeople, where he became “a glorified bookseller.” Part of his job as head of the mystery section is setting up author signings and reading and promoting new books.
His advice to writers is “make yourself known to your local bookseller. Introduce yourself when your book comes out.”
Mystery is a “wide genre.” With 185 paperbacks, 87 hardbacks and various foreign imports coming in each month, Montgomery can only read so many books at a time.
Local authors must make themselves known. Use social media to promote yourself and your work. If you have a book signing, how many people can you get to come? See if you can get another author to join you.
“Be nice to your book sellers. We don’t make that much money, so be patient,” said Montgomery, who leans toward hard-boiled noir. At the moment he’s on a “Mickey Spillane kick. I don’t know much about light mystery, but I do like authors Janice Hamrick and Sophie Littlefield. BookPeople sells a lot of mysteries by Craig Johnson and Ace Atkins. I get lots of ARCs (Advanced Writer Copies) from writers I know that are worth championing.”
Writers are told to be aggressive in promoting their books, but “don’t tell us how to do our jobs.” Part of his job is to moderate author panels at such events as Bouchercon and the Texas Book Festival. He often isn’t given much time to read all the authors’ books. Montgomery once requested an ARC from an author on a panel list and was told that he wasn’t going to get a “free copy” and “Sorry, can’t help you. Go to the library.”
It’s foolish to antagonize your bookseller. Montgomery says he likes to help writers, but won’t go out of his way for “difficult authors.”
Besides playing nice with your local bookseller, authors should pay attention to their book covers. People say “don’t judge a book by its cover, but nobody does that.” A photograph is better than an ugly book cover with shoddy, computer-generated art. An ugly book cover is a source of embarrassment for your booksellers. Sometimes just the title, author’s name and a simple photo is the best way to go.
A big publisher may not allow an author any control over the cover, but small presses can present an author with more leeway in this area. Montgomery cited Kaye George’s book Choke as an example of a good cover.
As well as a decent cover, blurbs are important to help promote an author’s work. Make sure the author you get to write blurbs writes pretty close to what you write. Support other writers.
Use book blogs, social media and ARCs to promote your book. Montgomery recommends Jen’s Book Thoughts as a good book blog.
More than anything, “Book selling is a relationship business. A bookseller may be the only person going to bat for your book.”
When asked if the growth of e-books is causing problems for traditional booksellers, Montgomery replied that e-books actually helped BookPeople “get its act together. We got innovative and concentrated on what makes us unique. We promoted events in the store. The years 2010 and 2011 were good for BookPeople. E-books have made people more aware of books.”
Always a crime fiction fan, Scott Montgomery worked on the sales staff of the acclaimed and influential The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles for four years. After three years as a bookseller at BookPeople, Texas’ largest independent bookstore, he helped develop MysteryPeople, the mystery bookstore within the store. He has moderated panels for the annual Bouchercon mystery conference, Texas Festival Of Books, and other events. He has written articles and reviews for The Weekly Lizard blog, Crimespree magazine, and other blogs and publications. He also hosts The History Of Mystery Class and Hard Word Book Club at BookPeople.
“Scott is one of the foremost experts on crime fiction. I’d put him up against any college professor in a test of wits anytime. He saw the many influences that went into this book (The Ranger) — as diverse as classic Burt Reynolds films to Dashiell Hammett to the crime fiction of William Faulkner. Not much escapes Scott.” ~ Bestselling Author Ace Atkins talking about the heart and soul of MysteryPeople, Crime Fiction Coordinator,Scott Montgomery.
Material from http://mysterypeople.wordpress.com/about/
MysteryPeople, August 1: Lone Star Author Panel
by Gale Albright
Scott Montgomery, BookPeople crime fiction coordinator, introduced a panel of four Texas authors to talk about their new novels. Tim Bryant kicked off the evening by performing a couple of his own songs, including “Buenos Noches, Nacogdoches.”
Bryant read the first three paragraphs of his novel Dutch Curridge, a hard-boiled detective novel set in post-World War II Fort Worth. Music plays a big part in it, partly because Bryant is a musician. The protagonist, Dutch, is a fan of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and goes to clubs in 1953 Fort Worth to hear them. According to Bryant, “It’s a little bit of a ghost story and there’s a little bit of Native American mysticism.”
Bill Durham read from his novel Amarillo, which is part legal thriller and regional novel. Durham said there’s lots of “music, cussing, fighting, sex, horseback riding, pool shooting, sex, etc.” He said he “drew the short straw” and had to represent the more sensitive side of the Texas male of the four authors. He proceeded to read a lyrical description of a West Texas sunrise and a touching kiss between protagonist Max Friedman, a lawyer from New York, and Angel, an Amarillo pool hall proprietor.
Scott Montgomery described Reavis Wortham’s Burrow as one of the “creepiest and cringe-worthy books I’ve read in a long time.” Burrow is a coming of age novel and the second in the Red River series. It follows a family in Northeast Texas in 1965. Ned Parker is the constable of a small town “full of weirdos and crazies.” Burrow involves a booby-trapped building, a warehouse packed full of garbage, a deputy held hostage, and the terror of being buried alive.
Known throughout Texas for his Blanco County series, Ben Rehder read several paragraphs from his new novel The Chicken Hanger. The protagonist is Ricky Delgado, an undocumented immigrant who works under dangerous conditions in a poultry plant. Set in the mythical Texas border town of Rugoso, The Chicken Hanger explores the meaning of justice when Ricky’s brother is shot and passions run high on all sides of the immigration controversy. Montgomery called Rehder the “Hill Country Hiaasen” for his use of humor.
In a general discussion, the authors talked about vocabulary and dialect. Texans have their own way of doing and saying things. One author said his editor didn’t know what caliche was. However, in the big, universal themes, the emotions and motivations of the characters in Texas novels are not really that different from people in other states.
According to Montgomery, “All your books, no matter how dark, have moments of laughter and humor.” The consensus at the end of the evening was that dark humor is the best humor.
Gale Albright is a member of HoTXSinC, a former Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writer, and a 2008 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest Winner, YA Division. She is working on a historical novel for middle grade readers and a mystery novel.
Book Review: Mercy Kill, by Lori Armstrong
Reviewed by Margaret-Anne Halse
Mercy Kill is the second in writer Lori Armstrong’s series focusing on Mercy Gunderson, a former military sniper trying to adjust to life back in her South Dakota hometown.
When one of Mercy’s fellow service members is found murdered and it looks like the sheriff is shuffling his feet, she sets out to find the killer.
Mercy is a sassy, no-nonsense woman who makes for a compelling protagonist. The book’s unique setting gives readers a glimpse of life on a Native American reservation, and the subplots involving Mercy’s family and love life provide added depth and suspense.
Curiously the author gives away the murderer from the first book in the series. So if you don’t want to read a spoiler, check out that first book, No Mercy, before reading Mercy Kill. The other complaint I had is that an oddity found on the body of Mercy’s murdered friend is never explained.
Overall, though, Mercy Kill is an enjoyable read, and Mercy Gunderson is a character that readers will want to follow.
Simon & Schuster
Paperback, 293 pages
ISBN 978-1-4165-9707-0 (ebook)
FTC Disclaimer: A review copy of Blacklands was provided to HoTXSinC by the publisher. That did not influence the reviewer’s opinion.
Margaret-Anne Halse is a member of HoTXSinC. She was a Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writer in 2011.
Roni Loren warns “Blogger Beware: You CAN Be Sued for Using Pics on Your Blog–My Story.”
Nancy Mehl defines the cozy mystery in “Writing the Cozy Mystery,” on Nike Chillemi ~ Crime Fictionista.
Register for 6th annual writing workshop Do the Write Thing @ Tarrant County College Northeast Campus, Hurst, Texas, August 17-18.
- January 8 – Detective Ruben Vasquez: “Murder Investigation Step by Step”
- February 12 – Gordon A. Bowers: “Property and Evidence Management”
- March 11 – Durriyah Chinwalla: “Banking as You Don’t Know It, or Laughter Is the Best Medicine
- April 8 – Easter: No Meeting
- April – No Meeting
- May 20 – Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event
- June 16 – Joan Upton Hall: “How to Write a Mystery”
- July 8 – Rex Craft: “Training Dogs for Law Enforcement”
- August 12 - Adrian Eissler: “Criminal Law for Crime Writers”
- September 9 – New Authors’ Panel: Robin Allen, Kaye George, Janice Hamrick; Hopeton Hay, Moderator
- October 14 – TBA
- November 11 – Denae Rickenbacker: “Mental Illness and the Law”
- December 9 – Greg Pyles: “Underwater Search, Rescue and Crime Scenes”
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