Friday, June 22, 2018

Mystery/Crime Fiction: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow by Jacqueline Seewald

During the holiday season this past year, a good friend who also reads and writes mystery fiction gifted me a copy of THE GOLDEN AGE OF MURDER by Martin Edwards which I appreciated.The book got me thinking about what I want to discuss in regard to mystery and crime fiction.

The traditional mystery features a detective or several detectives who investigate a crime or series of crimes. The amateur sleuths can work in any number of unique and unusual professions which provide interesting background and setting for the story. They can live in any place in the world. They can be nosy spinsters who live in small English villages or gifted professors who investigate bizarre historical crimes. From cozy to thriller, the amateur sleuth fascinates readers.

The private detective novel is a mystery genre unto itself. In 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, the most famous of all fictional detectives. Sherlock Holmes was not the first fictional detective. However, his name is one we think of immediately. Conan Doyle stated that the character of Holmes was inspired by Dr. Joseph Bell, for whom Doyle had worked as a clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Like Holmes, Bell was noted for drawing large conclusions from small observations.  The quirky Holmes was renowned for his insights based on skillful use of observation, deduction and forensics to solve puzzling cases. Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short stories featuring Holmes, and all but four stories are narrated by Holmes's friend, assistant, and biographer, Dr. John Watson. The Sherlock Holmes mystique is still celebrated today in books, short stories, films and television programs. Holmes, the “consulting detective,” still fascinates a modern audience of devotees.

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction, the 1920’s and 30’s, brought many writers of detective stories to the forefront. British female authors like Agatha Christie are particularly memorable. Of the four "Queens of Crime" of that era: Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham, all were British except for Marsh who was a New Zealander.

In the 1930’s, the hard-boiled private eye novels began to evolve with American writers. Over the years, many interesting writers have emerged in this genre. Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, Ross Macdonald, and Robert Parker are just a few of the writers who still resonate with readers. P.I. detectives are tough guys dealing with seedy characters on the mean city streets, the so-called underbelly of society. They are professional detectives who live by a code of honor but rarely earn much for their efforts. They generally have antagonistic relationships with the police and, like the amateur detective, tend to be more intelligent than professional law enforcement counterparts. The P.I. novel was male-dominated until the late 1970’s and early 80’s when writers such as Sara Paretsky, Marcia Miller and Sue Grafton began creating women investigators who were as tough as men. These novels offered more in-depth characterization and, in the case of Paretsky, a social agenda.

The police procedural provides the reader with a different type of detective story. In reality, most crimes are investigated by police. This type of mystery stresses step-by-step procedures followed by professional detectives such as processing crime scenes to collect physical evidence, canvassing the area for witnesses or suspects, postmortem examination of bodies in the case of murders, identifying a victim if that is not known, and interviewing known friends, co-workers, relatives and associates. The list is often long and tedious. Not generally so in a novel. Although it is agreed that the police procedural should be accurate in portraying what law enforcement officers actually do, it is not necessary to bore readers to death. Like the P.I. novel, this is action-oriented genre fiction. While the plot may be the backbone of a police procedural as O’Neil De Noux, a longtime police officer and homicide detective, observed in an article written for The Writer (“How to Write the Police Procedural Novel,” October, 1992 issue), the novel won’t interest readers unless there are well-developed central characters-- witness the great success of Ed McBain's 87th precinct series in books, film and as a television series.  Much of the appeal of the novels rest with main character Steve Carella and his relationship with Teddy, his deaf-mute wife, as well as his interaction with fellow police detectives such as Meyer Meyer.

Distinctive places also add interest to the modern police procedural. For example, moody Scandinavian settings have provided bleak backgrounds for the investigations of Inspector Martin Beck (Sjöwall and Wahlöö in the 1960’s) or Wallander  (Henning Mankell) and more recently Inspector Tell (Camilla Cedar).

It goes without saying that all books should be researched for accuracy of detail. However, Eric Wright observes (The Writer, October 1990 issue, p. 9) that writers should do their research last. His reasoning: once a story is written the writer will know what information is actually needed and necessary. Collecting unnecessary facts proves to be a waste of valuable time. I am of the opinion that it also leads to information dumping as many writers then cannot resist the temptation to include material that should be cut and which has no purpose in the book or story.

Of course, the more traditional view is that authors who write police procedurals must insist on total accuracy. Margaret Maron, for instance, has explained how she used interviews with police detectives and civil service clerks, attended “criminalistics” classes and took notes on the trivia associated with everyday police activities in a station house to depict realism in her police novel series (The Writer, June, 1993 issue).

Patricia D. Cornwell’s novels have long graced the bestseller lists.  Her Dr. Kay Scarpetta forensic pathologist crime novels are strongly associated with her own career. Cornwell describes herself as having been a crime reporter. The character of Dr. Scarpetta appears to have been initially inspired by an interview she had with a female medical examiner. She went to work for the medical examiners and eventually became their computer analyst. Her opinion: stories that lack credibility and authenticity will be unread (The Writer, December 1991, p. 18-20).

P. D. James is another author of police procedurals we can describe as the real deal. James held a position as a senior employee in the Criminal Policy Department in England. Joseph Wambaugh has given us some memorable characters who happen to be police officers based on his personal experience and knowledge. 

Cross genre fiction combining elements of romance, the paranormal, and suspense with mystery have become more common in today’s crime fiction. I believe this less traditional approach is becoming a trend in modern mystery fiction. The traditional lines are blurring and authors are experimenting with a greater variety of style and technique in a genre that is now more dynamic, fluid and exciting. What remains the same is the need for a well-developed plot, well-rounded and well-defined characters, and a distinctive setting.

My latest novel DEATH PROMISE from Encircle combines elements of mystery thriller with romantic suspense. Set in Las Vegas, New York and London, the pace is fast-moving and exciting which is more typical of the modern crime novel and appealing to today’s readers who do have a shorter attention span.

For more about the novel, check it out here:

DEATH PROMISE is now available  in print and e-book from:

and many other booksellers.

Positive reviews are starting to be posted:

Library Journal

"Romantic suspense with an interesting plot...the plot kept this reviewer turning the pages."

Your thoughts, input and comments welcome and appreciated!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Writing Thoughts, Dreams and Reflections

I just finished reading Alice Duncan's blog below, and boy did her words resonate with me. Alice edited my first novel, "Feisty Family Values" and she was a guest on my blog a few weeks back ( She's a delightful lady, and when we discussed her guest blog, she actually remembered my book. That was eight years ago, and I think she is lovely to say so. I love reading her stories and understand her feeling the loss of joy with writing from time to time. She was wise to edit and do other things to prevent her totally giving up the craft. She is inspiring. 64 books, WOW!

As you may recall, I wrote about retirement a month ago, and today was my first day of being emancipated from my day job. It was a good day, to be sure. I woke up early as was able to beat the heat and water flowers, mow and weed a little. A very productive morning. After cleaning up and making lunch, I lay down to read and fell asleep. Napping in the afternoon is very lovely, I could get used to that - especially in this heat.

My list of "things to do" is very long, but at the top is to write! Blog. Read. And write some more. It is part of the plan, my new daily routine. I'm sure you've noticed that we humans are creatures of habit. Writing is my returning habit. It's not fattening. It won't make me sweat (I don't think). It can be loads of fun. And when it's not, then it's time to go out and weed the garden, pick up a book to read, call a friend, take a walk, or sit on the patio enjoying the birds.

Like Alice, I was not able to make a living with my writing. There are only a dozen or so extremely wealthy writers, many who just get by, and most of us make a little bit to support our book buying addiction. Since the paychecks will not be coming anymore, I am going to finish reading what is on my shelves, supplement it with the e-books on my Kindle, and go to the library. Working all the time left little time for shopping at bookstores or perusing the shelves at the library. Amazon made it WAY too easy to just download a book on the Kindle in minutes.

I remember spending hours in the library and the bookstores looking at everything on the shelves. Reading dust covers and admiring book cover art. Do you remember the smell of all those books in one place? The smell of paper, glue, and dust. I loved walking through the old books with their musty leather aroma. Time to go back and enjoy those sensations and perhaps revisit some classic novels. It's been years since I've read a book multiple times, with some notable exceptions - "To Kill a Mockingbird" is still my all-time favorite. It's time to reread it, I'm sure.

There are so many excellent new novels, too. Millions are printed every year. I don't think I'll get them all read, but I will make a path through the tomes. And I will add to the numbers of good books out there with my own. It feels like we authors are very alone, but really we are part of a vast crowd. Thanks for being there, fellow writers. It's nice to know you are out there, too.
Facebook: Bonnie D Tharp Books
Amazon: Bonnie Tharp Author Page

Friday, June 8, 2018

Have You Ever Wondered… by Alice Duncan

I have the privilege of welcoming Alice Duncan to Author Expressions again. Alice is both a mystery writer and romance author as well as an editor. In fact, she edited seven of my novels for Five Star/Cengage and remains my favorite editor.

Have you ever wondered how nice it would be to make a living by writing books?

Me, too. All the time. I’ve been in the book-writing and being-published business since 1994, and I still can’t make a living at it. It makes me sad sometimes. Often, in fact.

On the other hand, I kind of am making a living thanks to my many published books (I think there have been 64 of them so far). That’s because, since so many books of mine have been published, people think I know what I’m doing. Therefore, I’ve been hired by Cengage/Five Star as a freelance editor. So, in effect, my writing has paid off; just not in the way I’d hoped it would.

Since I’m too stubborn (or too stupid) to give up, I keep writing books anyway. The last few years, writing hasn’t been fun for me. When I first began writing books, I had high hopes that I’d become, if not rich and famous, at least self-supporting via writing. That hasn’t happened, although there have been a few high points along the way. My very first book, One Bright Morning, won the HOLT Medallion for the best first book published in 1994. That made me happy. I stopped entering contests shortly after that, however, because it was too expensive. Also, although many people are likely to dispute this, I honestly don’t think you can judge one book as being better than another book, unless you’re talking about English usage, etc. Not everyone likes the same things. If you loathe historical romances, chances are pretty good you won’t like One Bright Morning. If you prefer a tearjerker to a funny book, you definitely won’t like my books. Speaking of that, I was very nearly dismayed to discover I’m funny whether I mean to be or not.

In fact, when my first book (the above-mentioned One Bright Morning) was published, a former teacher of mine was so thrilled, she asked me to read some of it in front of an audience at the South Pasadena Public Library. I gladly agreed, feeling pleased with myself and my book. So I read the very first sentence in OBM, and everyone laughed. I was shocked! It wasn’t supposed to be funny! That book was a heart-wrenching emotional saga of a lonely widow-woman with a little daughter who inadvertently got mixed up in a range war and ultimately found true love.


Not on your life! However, since that time, I’ve come to accept my writer’s “voice,” as it’s called, as my own. Can’t do much else, since evidently I write the way I talk. Many people have told me that, so I guess it’s true.

After my initial exuberance had dwindled (which took 15 or 20 years) I began to find writing books more of a chore than a joy. For me, editing somebody else’s book is much easier than thinking up a bunch of characters, developing a plot, and painstakingly putting it all down on paper for 80,000-100,000 words. That’s a lot of words. It takes a long time to write that many words if you want them to be placed in coherent English sentences and in a logical order. Yet people can read all those words in a day or even in a few hours. Hardly seems worth the effort. Even if you can then get those words published as a novel, you won’t make much money for it unless you’re Stephen King, Nora Roberts, James Patterson or someone who twinkles in the same galaxy as they. Mind you, I don’t begrudge Stephen King or Nora Roberts their fame and wealth. Not so sure about James Patterson, but that’s only my opinion. Clearly not many other people agree with me.

However, my writing life has taken an upturn of late. Not that I’m making any more money, mind you. But a man whose books I edit for Five Star’s Frontier Fiction Line has lent me one of his characters! Peter Brandvold, who writes excellent westerns full of adventure, sex and violence, gave me Lou Prophet, an old-west bounty hunter to play with in my next book. The book in question is Shaken Spirits, an historical cozy mystery, and it’s set in the solidly respectable city of Pasadena, California, in 1925. Poor old Lou is past his prime, being in his seventies, and has managed to lose a leg, so he walks on one leg and a stump. He lost his leg when the motorcar in which he rode (along with two women of the night and a crate of bootleg liquor) took a dive off a cliff in Santa Monica. Lou was the sole survivor, although he did lose a leg, and he’s now confined to the Odd Fellows House of Christian Charity in Pasadena.

Things get interesting from then on. My main character, Daisy Gumm Majesty, finds the crusty old Lou Prophet quite an interesting fellow. Her fiancé, Detective Sam Rotondo of the Pasadena Police Department finds him interesting too, but he’s not as enchanted with the old reprobate as is Daisy. Anyway, thanks to Peter Brandvold and Lou Prophet, I’m actually having fun writing again! I didn’t think that would ever happen, but I’m so glad it has. Mean Pete (he calls himself that; I’m not casting aspersions) has gifted me not merely with Lou Prophet, but also a ton of fun old-west sayings Lou uses, thereby confounding poor Daisy, who eventually decides to create a dictionary of old-west terms.

I don’t expect to begin making tons of money through my books any time soon, but at least the joy of putting words on paper (virtually speaking, since I write books on my trusty computer) has returned, and it’s all thanks to Peter Brandvold.

In case you’re interested in the book in which Lou Prophet appears, you can pre-order it on Amazon. Just click on link underneath the book cover:

If you want to read Daisy’s latest adventure, in which her dachshund, Spike, finds a shoe with a foot in it at the Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, California, you may do that, too:

If you’re interested in visiting my web site, here’s the link:

If you’re interested in visiting Mean Pete’s Amazon page, here’s the link for that:

Thank you!

Friday, June 1, 2018

What I read . . .

Like anyone else with a computer and an Internet connection, I have email. My Inbox welcomes me every morning with missives that are mostly spam, but I receive a few that I look forward to and enjoy. These sites are varied, and mostly but not all about writing and publishing.

Literary Hub has a weekly newsletter that lists about a dozen curated articles of interest to writers and readers, along with interesting historical information about figures in the literary world. A recent issue included a link to a piece in the Guardian that discussed a letter by John le Carre in which he described Tony Blair as "one bad Scottish piglet."

This site also produces CrimeReads, which offers a variety of articles, for example, on book covers, prisoners performing Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men at Sing Sing Prison, and Spanish noir.

A favorite blog is The Graveyard Shift, by Lee Lofland (, which covers topics related to crime and law enforcement, with the interest of writers in mind.

Not everything I read is directly related to crime fiction or writing. One of my favorite newsletters comes from Nautilus, an online journal about science. The editors choose a theme and explore it from different perspectives over one or more issues, culling articles from many sources.  Current articles explored the problems besetting scientists in finding new antibiotics, whether or not suicide bombings are driven by ideology, and whether or not you can overdose on happiness. These are light-hearted titles for serious, thoughtful analyses.

As a writer I receive numerous newsletters about writing and publishing, most of which I ignore. The few that I scan for interesting insights or information are The Creative Penn (, on writing, self-publishing, and marketing, among other topics; The Passive Voice (, by a lawyer who culls articles from various sources on aspects of writing and publishing of interest from a legal perspective; and the Boston Review (, which describes itself as a political and literary forum.

One of my favorites is, which provides a new word every day (except weekends), with pronunciation, meaning, etymology, and usage. There is also a quote, for the thought for the day. The word for today, as I write, is metanoia (go look it up).

To help with general issues in my Anita Ray stories I read The Hindu Blog (, which covers topics related to the Hindu calendar, practices, principles, and the like.

Another newsletter gets me into the appropriate frame of mind for writing the new Pioneer Valley series featuring Felicity O'Brien, the newsletter for the National Farmers Union ( This one covers topics related to farming, such as crop insurance, changes in federal policies, environmental concerns, fact sheets, new policy initiatives, rail regulation, food waste, and coping with climate change.

You probably have your own list of reliable sources for reading entertainment and information, and I'm ready to admit I probably wouldn't read these if I had to trek to the library to find the hard copy. 

Coming in the early fall, with more farming information, is Below the Tree Line, from Midnight Ink. Until then you can find me and my work here: