Wednesday, August 8, 2018

What Do I Love in a Good Mystery?

When I decided to enter Heartless into the contest for this anthology, I didn't have a clue about how to write a mystery/thriller. However, I'd read a lot of them: Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen King, and lots of the ever-so-dark Mr. Poe--so I said, well, how hard can it be?

I can be naive even at my advanced age.

I started by asking myself, "What do I love in a good mystery?" Here's what I came up with.

I love it when I feel as if I'm right there. I can hear the scream. I can see the blood. I can taste the acrid burning of cyanide on my tongue. The spider webs netted across the path stick to my skin, and I can smell the electrical short that's about to erupt into flames and destroy those helplessly trapped in the basement. 

I want to hear the scream.
I love it, when on page one, my eyes fly open and my brain goes on alert--even if I'm lying in bed and thinking about sleep. I want page one so irresistible that I have to turn to page two and see what happens.

I love it when the guy or gal whose in charge of bringing justice into this unjust world is someone I can relate to. They're human but they have a few quirks and definitely a few flaws, but above all they're determined to do the job no matter the cost to themselves.

I love it when I'm half way through a page and exhausted, but still I can't put down the book to sleep. 

I love it when after the chase through the cemetery, the moor, the deep and dangerous cavern, I get something to smile or laugh at. And it must have the sharpness of wit about it. Don't give me prat falls.

I need a laugh after the spooky parts.

I love it when there's a labyrinth of clues that intrigue and confuse me, but keep me making my way through to the end.

I love it when a bigger--even more dangerous event--looms in the background. I want a race against the clock for the guilty, but also the innocent.

I love it when there's an end that wraps up all of the threads to my satisfaction and brings a sense of "ahhh."

All of this makes for what's called a TALL ORDER, so, of course, I tried. I didn't write a book, but I took some baby steps and wrote Heartless

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Are You Considering Submitting A Short Story To A Themed Anthology?

I hope you're considering submitting a short story to a themed anthology  because there are a lot of reasons why it's a good idea. When I jumped into Tick Tock: A Stitch in CrimeI wanted to try out a different writing style and switch from my usual category. This was the perfect time. 

In my story titled Heartless, I had a chance to play with a period piece and use the syntax, style, and slang of 1871. Of course, while I wanted the dialogue to sound as if it belonged in that era, I still wanted the story to appeal to the modern reader. In trying to do that, I learned a lot about how historical fiction writers manage. 

The mansion I pictured for Heartless

I read a few pieces from that period to get the flavor and to contrast it with modern language. I also read some secondary pieces by writers I like. Then I relied a lot on my ear, trying to work the syntax into an approximation of 1871, but keep it readable in 2018. 

Here's part of a scene with an explanation of what I did with the language. 

“When did this report come in?” Scofield demanded.
“Last night, sir.”
The detective halted and faced the sergeant. “And nobody notified me.” [Incomplete sentences help break up any dialogue, but I think it's essential when writing period dialogue.]
“You were not,” the sergeant cleared his throat, “on duty, sir.” [I deliberately didn't contract "were not." Then I broke up this sentence with an action.]
“Blast it, Hawkins. ["Blast it" is actually from the 1600s, but it carried through several centuries with some slight modifications. I thought it worked here.] I made it clear to fetch [I felt this verb was better than get, or call.] me immediately when a new missing person report came in. Young girl. Kenwood area. What didn’t I make clear?”
When the sergeant didn’t answer, Scofield waved off the next angry words ready to spring ["Spring" was a little stilted, but I didn't think it didn't stood out much. And I followed with fragments.] from his lips. “Never mind. Too late. What do you have so far?”
The sergeant handed the papers over and stepped back, silent. 

This will be my fourth themed anthology. With each one, I've learned something new about writing, so I'm kind of a cheerleader.  I think readers will find this one has some excellent stories.


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

IWSG & Writing Goals

by Jemi Fraser

Welcome to another fabulous IWSG day! Thanks to the amazing Alex J. Cavanaugh and his merry band of delightful minions and clones, we have a day where we can support and encourage each other as we travel this fascinating journey of publication.

Check out the list of other IWSG writers here and find some new friends to visit this month!
IWSG Badge
July's question: What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

My writing goals have definitely changed over time.

1st Level Goal: Write for fun! (= 2 or 3 drafts)

2nd Level Goals: Meet other writers and learn things (=, incredible crit buddies, and the realization that I knew nothing!!)

3rd Level Goals: Learn more things & write a draft that someone else might want to read (= learned the rudiments of editing, social media, & more drafts ... I can first draft forever!!!)

4th Level Goals: Learn more things, polish a story, & query (= sent out a few queries, some full requests, excellent feedback, learned more about pacing & conflict)

5th Level Goals: Learn more things, learn to plot (= so much angst over plotting!!!, several more drafts)

6th Level Goals: Learn more things, take some risks (= enter a #Pitchwars contest where I made awesome new friends & got excellent feedback, enter a IWSG contest and got a story chosen for the Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime anthology!)

7th Level Goals: Learn more things, take more risks, finish a good draft using an outline, write more short stories, get my stories ready to head out into the world, consider querying & self-publishing 

And that's where I am today. Still learning, still growing, still risking, still thinking about publishing paths, and (most importantly) still having fun writing!

How about you? Have your goals evolved with time? Doesn't it feel great when you achieve a goal? (I know I'm still Happy Dancing over UNTIL RELEASE being out and about in the world!)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Book Sales

by Mary Aalgaard

Like most authors, I struggle with self-promotion. While I am proud of my writing, classes, and work, and want people to support them, I am also a Midwesterner, and we are a little shy about tooting our own horns. However, when asked, I cheerfully start tooting away, and find that people are interested. Also, changing up your day to day activities can have positive results.

I am a member at our local YMCA health club. I enjoy the group fitness class at noon on Mondays and Wednesdays. I also teach piano lessons, and on Wednesdays, my students started arriving by 2:30, which made that noon class a little tight for me to go home, each lunch, clean up and be ready to teach. So, I started going to the earlier group fitness class. Sue, who I had met at the noon class, but switched to the earlier time, saw me there and asked about my writing. I told her about my short story "One More Minute" that is included in the Tick Tock Anthology.

"How can I get that book?" she asked.

"I can sell you a copy," I said, as I loaded up my weights.

"Great. I'll be volunteering at the library on Friday morning."

"Thanks," I said, feeling a little stronger, "I'll bring a book over."

Not only did Sue buy a book, but also another person who walked in while we were doing the transaction did as well. I was thrilled because it was Meg, the editor of the local women's magazine, who was the first person to publish my work and call me an author.

I set a couple books out in my piano studio, thinking that maybe one of the parents would ask about it when they were dropping off or picking up their kids. Turns out, the kids were interested in the book. The sweetest moment was when a boy, then later the girl (pictured below), came with their money clutched in their hands, asking me to sign their book.

Of course, all the authors are sharing the book with friends and family, asking local bookstores and libraries to buy a copy, sending out tweets, and promoting on all their social media. It feels great to have created something that other people are interested in, and that might inspire a young writer, too.

If you'd like a copy of Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime, you can find it at these various locations.

Want to join the community of people talking about Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime? Add the book on Goodreads or like our Facebook page. 

Mary Aalgaard is a playwright and piano/theater teacher, living in the heart of Minnesota. She writes theater reviews and supports the arts through her blog Play off the Page. She teaches youth theater workshops in the Brainerd lakes area, writes articles for regional magazines, and works with both seniors and youth in multi-generational programs to enhance quality of life and build community. Her website is You can follow her on her Playoff the Page Facebook page, @MaryAalgaard on Twitter, and email her at

Go. Create. Inspire!

Mary Aalgaard, Play off the Page!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Why Do We Love This Horror Stuff So Much?

I've read many stories in my lifetime, and these stories vary as widely as the human experience-- everything from comics to biography. But the ones that stick in my head as vividly as the time I read them and shoot a rapid pulse into every part of my body were penned by writers like Poe and King. 

When I want to explore my greatest fears I read The Tell Tale Heart or The Cast of Amontillado or The Shining. Brrrr.

King says that people read horror to explore death through fiction. And to some extent I think he's right. Reading about death has a therapeutic release. It allows us to be anxious and fearful, but at a safe distance. 

He also maintains that horror appeals to us because it gives us a chance to experience emotions our society demands we keep under close control. (King, 47, Danse Macabre). It's wrong to kill and to torture, but inside a horror story, we're free to watch and feel those terror-inducing acts through characters.

But here's something even more primal, and it's what I think is at the root of our love for horror. I found the following quote HERE if you want to read more.

"If you go to your video store and rent a comedy from Korea, it’s not going to make any sense to you at all,’ says literature scholar Mathias Clasen based at Aarhus University, ‘whereas if you rent a local horror movie from Korea you’ll instantaneously know not just that it’s a horror movie, but you’ll have a physiological reaction to it, indicative of the genre."

Horror crosses cultural barriers, and it's timeless. Our pre-historic ancestors whose greatest fear was being eaten by another carnivore. (Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara) are at the root of our craving for horror. It's human nature to be fearful. Surviving depends on it, so stimulating the amygdala (fear's command center) shoots our adrenaline to full flight mode, and we live to hunt another day. What better way to stimulate this part of the brain than to read or see a good horror story, but today from the safety of our home?
If you think about it, most horror tales focus on characters who are about to be eaten by some creature. Think Tremors or The Rats or Jaws. With stories that have human-type predators, they come equipped with over-sized claws like Freddie Krueger or dreadful teeth and a love of Chianti to pair with human liver like Hannibal Lecter.

Just writing that shook up my amygdala, and I'll leave the lights on a bit longer tonight.


I hope you'll pick up a copy of Tick Tock A Stitch in Crime and stir up your own amygdala. Eleven writers have offered up horror, crime and some thrillers for your reading entertainment.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

#IWSG:Titles and Names

 by Rebecca M. Douglass

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month there's an optional question members can answer in their IWSG post. This month's question is:
 What's harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?

The awesome co-hosts for the June 6 posting of the IWSG are Beverly Stowe McClure, Tyrean Martinson, Tonja Drecker, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor!

I love this question! Mostly, I love it because it tells me I'm not the only one who struggles with these things. In my first book, most of the names came easily--Big Al, Tom the Ninja Librarian (well, his name was a given since he was written for a real librarian), the children in the school. The title of that first book was easy, too.

I thought that was how it would always be.

Boy, was I wrong (I'm good at being wrong).

To answer the question, titles are harder, because I can cheat with character names--when I'm stuck, especially for minor characters, I use a random name generator, hitting the "generate name" button over and over until I piece together something I like. My own inventions aren't always so good. An early reader pointed out that in the first draft of Death By Ice Cream I had an unusual number of characters with alliterative names. That got fixed. And I have trouble with names that suggest different ethnicities (without being cliches). Too bad I didn't realize until too late that "Brian" is a really bad name for an author who types faster than she should. Spell-checker won't tell me when I've changed the poor boy to "Brain"! That was left to a reader (thanks, Deirdre!). Still, there are ways to get help naming those characters who resist an easy naming.

But book titles... I have never been happy with the title on my middle-grade fantasy, Halitor the Hero (just sort of a statement of who the book is about. Surely I could do better). And I ended up holding a poll on my blog to pick the title Death By Ice Cream. I also check each title against the listings on Amazon, because I don't want to be one of a dozen books with the same title.*  

I waffled about the title for my Tick Tock story, too. Should I use the whole adage, and call it "The Tide Waits for No Man"? Or was there a better option entirely? As with the "Death By..." series, I ended up appealing to others for help, and chose to go with "The Tide Waits." I realized after that it's a much better title, since it both evokes the adage and also suggests something lying in wait... much like the evil that drives the killers in these mysteries!

*On the other hand, I've made at least one sale of The Ninja Librarian to someone looking for the more widely-publicized Ninja Librarians--with an ess. I even got a good review from that person, which is how I know!

So tell us about your characters or titles--what was the best or worst you did?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Interview THEY Don't Want You To Read

During the press tour for Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime, all of the contributors did interviews at various writing and review sites around the blogosphere. I participated and replied to their questions, as all we writers do on a regular basis. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting that my writing style does not appeal to a lot of people, so much so that one of the blog tour sites refused to publish my interview.

Are any of my answers particularly offensive? There's a couple of bad words, but I personally am not the best judge of that. It gets a bit weird in the middle, which I thought was funny but maybe the blog host didn't appreciate it (I've been kicked out of writing contests for my jokes, so I'm used to it). I think the biggest problem was me shilling my books full of graphic violence, sex and potty humour, and they were afraid their audience would be offended.

Anyway, the interview didn't get published then, so I'm going to try and offend all of YOU with it now... Happy reading!


Oh, and if you do like my style of writing and humour, then you will LOVE my contribution to Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime, about a punch-drunk, recovering drug-addict private detective bumbling through an investigation to take down organized crime in the seedy underbelly of Mount Vernon, Washington. It's called "Gussy Saint and the Case of the Missing Coed" and no, I don't take anything seriously.

When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
I've been writing stories since I was five years old, but I think I got passionate about it when I was about eleven or twelve. I would get really excited writing stories in English class. Most kids would see it as a chore and struggle to write a page or two. I wrote ten to twenty pages, and usually illustrated a cover, too. The teacher would often have me read them out in class (whether to save herself from writing a lesson plan for that day or to shame the other kids into writing better, I can't say), and I've always been a ham in front of  a crowd so that worked for me. I was never good at sports or popular at school, so entertaining the other kids with my silly yarns was a big deal for me. I've wanted to write and tell stories ever since.

What makes you passionate about writing?
I love the moment when an idea comes to fruition in words, when the story is flowing and coming together. It's so easy and fun, and the best feeling in the world. Of course, it always comes crashing down when reality sets in and I have to re-write everything to death, but the moment when the words are coming fast and furious is the moment I feel like a real writer.

What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
Erratic. I tried to get a couple of books published when I was in my early twenties, in the early 2000s. This was before the rise of digital self-publishing, and I had no luck breaking in the traditional way. Probably had something to with the fact my writing wasn't that great and I was submitting to completely the wrong markets. I forgot about it for a while, but when Amazon KDP became big it piqued my interest. I thought about it long and hard for five years... and then self-published my first book in a rush without having a clue what I was doing. It was terrible, full of mistakes and typos. I sold a bunch of copies to supportive friends and relatives, who have since not bought anything of mine because the first one was so terrible.

Now, my next book was much better (it helped that I had a proper editor work with me to polish it up) and I actually went back and nearly completely rewrote that first one. Ten Thousand Days is now a proper, finished book, and it's the book I wish I had put out the first time, two years earlier.

Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
Like I mentioned above, I tried to get my book published years ago without any success. I was young and naive, so I did get discouraged when rejection after rejection came in. I didn't feel that discouraged at the time, but it took me over ten years before I tried to seriously get published again, so it must have hit me more than I realized. Maybe it was because back then someone had to take the trouble to stick a rejection letter in an envelope and mail it, so that meant they REALLY didn't want you. It took the passage of time to ease the memory of it, and the inexorable onset of age and mortality to kick my ass into gear and remind me that if I didn't get started soon I might never see my work in print.

What books have most influenced your life?
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas taught me about the wonders and benefits of drug use. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy told me never to leave the Solar System without my towel. Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler taught me where not to hide the bodies. Marilyn Manson's autobiography taught me how to be a self-centered dickhead. The Cat in the Hat taught me not to let talking cats into the house when my mom is not home. The Secret taught me I should write terrible self-help books.
Is that what you meant?

Please tell us about your book, Hell Comes to Hogtown.
Hell Comes to Hogtown was my second self-published novel. It's the story of the hapless night manager of a comic book store and his womanizing, drug-addled pro-wrestler best friend. It follows their adventures trying to avoid being murdered by a bloodthirsty demonic hobo while clearing their names in the kidnapping of the prime minister's wife. There's lots of sex and violence and bad words, and it's not for the faint of heart.

What genre is it?
Middle-grade romance.

Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?
Before I start I usually have a few clear points in my head. Probably a few scenes, a couple of major plot points, some background info. I may or may not have the ending. I start writing and when I get to the end realize it's a total jumbled mess that doesn't look anything like what I had envisioned. Now that I know where the story is going, THEN I write an outline, and basically re-write the book so that it falls into a logical shape. I should really try to outline first to save myself a lot of time and headache, but I find that when I outline too much, I never get around to actually writing the story. It's like if I figure out all the details beforehand, it's not as much fun. I like to feel a little surprise myself as I go through the writing process.

What has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
As poorly has my first self-publication went, it really helped me out. It showed me how the publishing process is supposed to work, and a lot of mistakes I made along the way. Plus, my feeble attempts to promote the book also made me a lot of contacts and friends in the business, which makes a great network to support me in the future. If I could translate that into advice, it would be to go ahead and make mistakes on your first book, no matter how bad it is. If you want, use a fake name and go through the process just to see how it works. It's eye-opening, and using a fake name will save you some of the embarrassment. When you release your next book with your real name (or "real" pen name), you'll feel more confident going into it.

What’s your secret to making the character’s in your books come to life?
Dialogue. I come from a theatre background, so dialogue is very important to me. I try to give each character their own distinct voice, and play with how those voices interact with each other. Knowing what a character wants is very important, but knowing how they talk about what they want is just as important. Do they speak forwardly, being candid about what they want and think? Do that have unusual speech patterns or certain words they use frequently?  Do they have an accent? Do they speak to some characters differently than others? Are they eloquent or blunt? All of these things make the words and the individual personalities stand out on the page. Or just make them annoying to read, but I like to think it's the former.

Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?
I don't know... nunchuck skills, bow-hunting skills, computer hacking skills. All the skills girls look for in a boyfriend.

How do you come up with your character’s names?
It really depends on how tired I am at the time. Some names have a deep meaning, or have a carefully-crafted joke built-in. Others are just made up at the spur of the moment, the first thing that pops into my head. There's a character in my current WIP named Thumb. There's no real rhyme or reason to that, like, he doesn't have particularly interesting thumbs or anything. Sometimes I go back and change those names when I think of something better, other times they grow on me and become part of the character. And sometimes my main character ends up with the name Fistpunch.

What is the best compliment you could receive from a reader?
Hey, I'll take any compliment I can get! Anyone who's willing to give my work a chance and spend a couple of dollars to read it is a-okay on my book! And if they take the time to actually write a review I'm over the moon.

Ah, who am I kidding? The best compliment will be when someone buys the film rights for $500,000 plus a percentage of the profits.

Where can readers go to find your books?
The best place to get your CD Gallant-King goodness is my homepage, If you want to skip my thought-provoking and life-changing blogs to go straight to the riveting thrills of my novels, then check out my Amazon page at If you prefer to read my random thoughts about daddyhood and Star Wars, then check me out on or And if you just want to write passive-aggressive negative book reviews, then there's always


So what do you think? Was it really that bad?

If you haven't already, go pick up Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime and let me know if my story about Gussy Saint is any good, too. Reviews and gratuities are appreciated. Love letters will not be answered, but will be read and cherished.