Monday, November 27, 2023

Blogs for Mystery Writers

By Elaine L. Orr

You could spend a day going from blog to blog about writing mysteries, learning about mysteries, or just plain reading them.

My favorite blog is Writers Who Kill, which has varied and thought-provoking posts from a group of mystery authors and occasional guest posts. Usually 15-20 posts per months. You might like a recent one on creating content for your blog.

If you want an overview of several sites, check out this article on the top six sites (updated in 2022). Detailed descriptions of sites such as The Mystery Writers Forum and several organizations for writers, such as Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

More for readers than authors is the Cozy Mystery List Blog. Excellent compilation of upcoming books in this popular genre. Superb index so you can scan years of books. 

If you're just getting into mysteries, go beyond current authors. Ah Sweet Mystery! covers the golden age of detectives. Think Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock -- a great mix of authors and characters such as Lord Peter Wimsey, Miss Marple, Dr. Gideon Fell, Father Brown, Inspector Maigret, Edgar Allen Poe, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Charlie Chan, Ellery Queen and Nero Wolfe!

This will get you started. I'll post more another time.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

How Life Experiences Affect Writing -- Even if You Don't Know it

By Elaine L. Orr

Characters in my books or stories periodically end up in a hospital emergency room, usually because of a diabolical act by another character. They don't stay long, but I'm often told how realistic my hospital scenes are. 

I should hope so. I can't count the number of orthopedic incidents (for want of a better term) I've been through. I could win any race on crutches. What it's given me is perspective. What's it like to ride on a gurney? You can count ceiling tiles or lights as you whiz by. When you're wheeled into an operating room, it's really cold.

Here's an exchange at the beginning of Vague Images, a Jolie Gentil book.

 IF IT HADN’T been for the deer that ran in front of my car I wouldn’t have hurt my foot jamming on the brakes. If I hadn’t hurt my foot I wouldn’t have gone to Ocean Alley’s hospital. If I hadn’t been in the hospital I wouldn’t have seen him. Not that I could follow him. I was on my butt in the emergency room.

Doctor Birdbaum raised his voice. “Jolie, you need to lie still while I wrap your ankle.”

“I need to…”

“You need to be still.” His voice was firm.

I stared at the fluorescent light above me and winced. “Ow. Does it have to be that tight?”

“Only if you want it to do any good.” Dr. Birdbaum is a short, round man who rarely exhibits any sense of humor. I didn’t think he was kidding now.

Riding a subway helps with scenes where people are squeezed together so tightly burping is not an option. If you've every rear-ended the car in front of you, you'll remember the feelings of guilt and the strong desire to yell at yourself for following too closely. You don't have to write a car accident scene, the sense of how-could-I-be-so-dumb can apply to many settings.

In talking about her character, Miss Marple, Agatha Christie said: "She's had a long life of experience in noticing evil, fancying evil, suspecting evil and going forth to do battle with evil. - Author: Agatha Christie

Dame Agatha added many experiences for Miss Marple, and she seized them all.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Gun Metaphors in Everyday Language

By Elaine L. Orr

As a mystery writer, I have learned more about guns than I ever thought I would. I don't use them a lot in my books, because I write traditional or cozy mysteries. Murders are more often spur-of-the-moment action or are committed with items that could be in a household. Think fireplace poker or a shove down the stairs.

The other day I heard someone say, "Don't go off half-cocked," -- an expression my dad used. He was telling us not to jump to conclusions or act without thinking something through.

That led my mind to wander to the many gun-related expressions in American English.These metaphors crop up more often in a country that started with a revolution and then bore the scars of a civil war than, for example, in Canada, where the country was settled in a more orderly fashion. I'm not attaching a value judgment to either situation, it's simply a difference.

Here are a few expressions that come to mind quickly:

Don't shoot your mouth off -- advice to think before you speak.

Keep your powder dry -- be careful or look ahead

Shoot from the hip -- acting quickly, without thinking clearly

Big guns or big shots -- important people in a business or town

Set your sights on something -- establish a goal

Come under fire -- take criticism for an opinion or action

Take flak -- see come under fire

Dodge a bullet -- fortunate to avoid a problem or accident

Silver bullet -- an almost magic solution, as in there's no silver bullet 

to solving a plot problem in a novel.

Naturally, I'm not the first to put together such a list. When I was considering examples, I came across a National Public Radio transcript on the topic -- Gun Metaphors Deeply Embedded in English Language. It's worth a read if the topic interest you. Feel free to add more examples in the comments.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The Reality Balancing Act

By Elaine L. Orr

Reality is not the first concern when writing fiction, but individual scenes have to be realistic --- within a book's  premise or setting.

If a book deals with mayhem or murder, an author can't describe a massive wound or injury and then have the character recover in a couple of days. The mean kid at school is not suddenly a kind volunteer (without substantial intervention), and no one gets across New York City in ten minutes.

As a traditional/cozy mystery writer, I've created sleuths who have (to me) interesting jobs -- real estate appraiser, landscaper, graphic artist, and small-town police chief. I also like my characters to be involved in things besides solving a mystery. Unless it's your job, who would stop all activity to pursue suspects?

In fact, I once made the amteur sleuth a teacher. That left too little time for crime-solving, so she broke her arm and had to be off work for a couple of weeks.

Wat about those other "things" sleuths do? 

On my website, I say this:

     "What makes Elaine’s fiction different from other traditional mysteries? Some might say the dry humor (only a few say lame), but she thinks it is the empathy her characters show to others. Fiction can’t ‘lecture’ readers. But it can contain people whose paths we cross every day — whether we know it or not. The bright colleague or grouchy neighbor who’s actually in severe emotional pain, the families struggling to provide enough food for their children, the vet with PTSD. While characters solve crimes or plan silly fundraisers, they can tacitly let us know there is a world beyond those activities. And maybe they can make it a little better."

For me, reality is recognizing the world around us isn't perfect and quietly doing something about it. However, people read fiction in part to escape reality. So, if one character runs a food pantry, part of the attention to it is through a silly fundraiser.

I think one reason I like M.C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth books is his involvement in things around him beyond the crime he's solving. Admitedly, sometimes his fixes are pretty unlikely. But, he is a constable (at least when he's demoted) so he can do a lot.

None of a character's 'other activities' are meaningful unless they tie into the story. I've learned it's easier to have a real estate appraiser involved in many activities and get all over town than for a graphic designer. But even bad guys could need a TikTok video.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Monday, October 16, 2023

Twelth Anniversary of Blogging. Who Knew?

By Elaine L. Orr

On October 16, 2011, I wrote the first post on this blog, Irish Roots Author. Its title was "First time blogger at what age?!" Below is the post:

I have long been a writer, but have never blogged.  It took me a couple years to get a Facebook account, and I still prefer email -- faster and fewer distractions.  Now that I have "retired" I am publishing more of what I write, and would love to have people read my books or articles.  Does that happen if you sit in a home office and keep the cat off the laptop keyboard (which kitty believes is her electric blanket)?  Nope. 

So, here I sit with not a clue about how to use a blog to my advantage and willing to learn.  Did I mention I can't update my web site because the host site (Yahoo) no longer allows Microsoft Front Page?  Learning new software for the web site and creating a blog?  Yikes.

If you had told me I'd write hundred of posts on reading, writing, publishing, and what I term musings, I would have scoffed. (There's a word you don't get to use too often.)

Early posts were shorter than most current ones. However, as I learned more about publishing, I tried to share what I'd learned. It didn't take me long to figure out that I might spend hours learning how to do something (load a book to a website, develop marketing ideas), but I would use two minutes of those hours to get the job done. I kept trying to compress the information so others could take less time.

Now I try to write mostly about writing, though I diverge or relate what I write to other aspects of life. The hardest part is to write steadily. I've set on three posts a month, and appreciate forcing myself to do it. When you write fiction, self-discipline is your friend and your nightmare.

No words of wisdom today. Just acknowledging that I'm still here, pushing the electronic pencil.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Reading Books with Libby

I have read books with Kindle, Nook, and on my computer since 2010. I do like paper copies, but you can't carry 400 books in your purse or pocket, and if you move you pay 50 to 60 cents per pound to get them to your new place. Plus, some books are heavy and my fingers prefer less weight these days.

I didn't use library ebook services much, simply because I already had so many Kindle ebooks I hadn't read. However, some of what I want to read is expensive on commercial sites, especially audiobooks, so I've delved more into Libby, the free reading app most public libraries use. 

How do you start using Libby? First, you need a library card. Then download the Libby App on your phone or laptop (or both). 

Apple Download

Android Download

Amazon Kindle Fire

Libby's own instructions are better than any I could write, and very clear. Visit Libby's Getting Started help pages. You need a Libby account, but it's free and you access it from the app you installed for Apple or Android (Google). 

Once you've downloaded the app, sign in with your library card from your own library website or the Overdrive sign-in page, which lets you put in your library card number. (Overdrive is Libby's parent site.)

Overdrive signin for Libby with your lbrary card number. (There is a way to set up an account using your email, but I have not done this.)

Make sure to go to "account" and add your email and select your library. You'll do this by entering your zip code or libray name and selecting your library. Your library will usually be part of a consortium, so your zip code search may take you there first.

Once you are signed in, the fun begins. You'll usually see a list of bestselling books, but you can easily search by author, title, or subject. You may need to place a hold on a book, since libraries only have so many copies of a specific book. You'll be notified by email when it's available.

These are general guidelines. As with any app or software, explore a little. Books are always worth the time it takes to find them. Happy reading!

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Monday, September 11, 2023

Never Forgetting

Elaine L. Orr

You don't need to be an American to remember where you were on September 11, 2001. I was in an office in Washington, DC, about 10 blocks north of the Potomac River. A south-facing window showed the smoke rising from the Pentaton.

The fire was out very quickly, unlike in New York City. Because of the massive demand for news, we couldn't get on the Internet. TV and radio worked fine, and rumors rocketed around the office. A car bomb was said to have been found in front of the State Department -- not true, but the most persistent of the batch. It wasn't until I saw a two-inch "rumor-denied" piece in the next day's Washington Post, that I realized that rumor was also false.

Pentagon gap is below lowest-hanging traffic light

My office was three blocks west of the White House and eight east of the U.S. Capitol, so after the plance crashed in Pennsylvania, we worried about more planes en route to DC. For about an hour, traffice was gridlocked. I had come in on the Metro. Could we take the subway home? And when I say 'home,' I mean a friend's house. I was visiting from Iowa. With all air traffic stopped, several days later I could fly home, but not before then. 

My clearest memory is that I was the only one watching the office television who cried when the second tower came down. Were people numb? I never asked the others why they didn't cry.

Letter from school children after September 11th/
Fence at Arlington National Cemetery.
Such concerns are minor compare to what was happening at the Pentagon and in New York City.

On the 13th, I drove to Arlington, Virginia and parked close enough to walk to a spot next to Arlington National Cemetery. My parents are in there, and my mother sometimes worked in the Pentagon during World War II. The huge hole boggled my mind, as did the idea of 184 people dying there two days prior.

Lots of other people wanted a sense of community with the tragedy, as you can see by the sign hung on the fence that surrounds the cemetery. A couple dozen people stood or sat quietly, looking at the Pentagon.

Most years I write about September 11th. Maybe someone who lived through that time will be comforted, and perhaps someone who has no memory of it will feel the sorrow. We cannot forget.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter