Today I appear on Karen's Killer Book Bench in an author interview. I talk about my day job, how I started writing, and my newest projects. You can read the interview here.
This week I read two stories in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and one in Kings River Life, all with amazing twist endings. A twist is an unexpected turn of events in a story that causes the reader to reevaluate characters or plot. Rather than attempt further explanation, here are three fine examples of stories with twist endings.
Unfortunately, I can't reveal what the twists are, or I would ruin the story for you. I'll have to be coy with my analysis, and hope you'll look up these stories.
On the Hook, by Larry W. Chavis - Shelby is having an affair. I can't say I feel much sympathy for the woman when she receives what sounds like a blackmail letter. Here we go, I thought, another tale of infidelity and the inevitable, predictable consequences. Then Shelby decides how she'll deal with the blackmailer. It gets more interesting as the story takes a definite turn for the worse. It ends with an unexpected twist that I didn't see coming. One of those "wow" kind of endings.
A Respectable Lady, by Joseph D'Agnese - A woman who appears respectable, if a bit worn around the edges, arrives alone in a public establishment. This is not quite proper behavior in the story's time period. A gentleman joins her. He is thoroughly obnoxious, and the reader may wonder why she tolerates his rude treatment. Then the story unfolds, ending with a twist that resolves a lot of questions reaching far beyond this tale. At first I was so startled, I was annoyed with the author. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the story. This tale delivers a multi-layered twist. I hope you'll read it. And then you'll want to read it again.
The Countess of Warsaw by Susan Breen - This story did not end with quite as dramatic a twist as A Respectable Lady, but it was equally satisfying. Maggie Dove runs a small detective agency that so far has only acquired jobs chasing after an old woman's foul-tempered cat. Then the old woman goes missing. The elderly are vulnerable on many levels. In this case, the self-proclaimed Countess of Warsaw makes claims others dismiss as part of an old lady's diminishing mental capacity. By the end of the story, Maggie is in a real dilemma. Were the woman's ramblings just dementia, or is there truth to her outlandish claims? The story leaves you wondering.
Three stories with twist endings. Each story had a different tone, and successfully employed the twist in different ways to accomplish the author's purpose. If you've read these tales, do you agree? What stories have you read that have a great twist ending?
I will be on a panel at Killer Nashville August 25, talking about time management for writers. I haven't been to a writers conference in over a year. Plenty of reasons, but suffice it to say, sometimes life gets in the way.
I'm excited about going to Nashville. As an introvert, being around hundreds of people for a weekend is seriously challenging, but I've heard good things about this conference.
Hopefully, my husband can join me in Nashville for some sightseeing. So many of the conference events sound interesting that I'll have a hard time tearing myself away, but I think I can manage.
Speaking of time management, I completed my first novel for the Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library series. First, it goes to critique group. Then, off to the publisher! If you're a fan of sweet cozy mysteries, the Annie's Fiction Series may be your cup of tea.
Flash Fiction, as defined by the Short Mystery Fiction Society, is a story up to 1,000 words. One e-zine is dedicated entirely to flash fiction, publishing a story a day. Flash Fiction Magazine also publishes anthologies of the best of the stories to appear on their website. Author Shannon Lawrence noted that most flash fiction ends with a twist. That is true of many of the stories in Flash Fiction Magazine.
I jumped right in with The Other Side of the Window, by Tony Wassom. A recent widow lingers over breakfast, in a definitely melancholy frame of mind. Why? What is she going to do? You find out fast in a thousand word story!
Because the stories are so brief, I immediately read the previous day's offering, Ruby, by Virginia Pye. This story is from a dog's point of view, and it works. Very clever.
The fun of flash fiction is that the author can experiment with characters, literary devices, and themes he or she may be reluctant to pursue for a longer story, or an entire novel.
On a slightly different topic, if you like a little laughter with your mystery, here's an article by author Peter DiChellis on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Murder. Learn why humor works in a genre focused on crime.
Good news! The entire Rock Shop Mystery series is now available in trade paperback! Even better news, they can be purchased from Colorado Springs independent bookstore Why Not Books?
Stone Cold Dead is available in e-book, and now in paperback from Why Not Books?, on Amazon, or directly from publisher Encircle Publications here.
In Book One, business at the Rock of Ages is as dead as the fossils cluttering the shop’s dusty shelves. When Morgan Iverson discovers a body on a hiking trail, a killer attempts to eliminate the only witness to the crime. The problem is, Morgan didn’t see anything. Unless she can dig up the identity of the murderer, Morgan’s life won’t be worth a pile of fossilized dinosaur dung.
Stone Cold Case continues the series. The e-book is available, and now the paperback can be purchased from Why Not Books?, on Amazon, or directly from the publisher Encircle Publications here.
In Book Two, Morgan Iverson’s discovery of human remains reopens a cold case and unhealed wounds in a Colorado mountain town, while her find of a rare gemstone sparks a dangerous treasure hunt. The rock shop’s mascot donkeys and an elderly cowboy chase after a Sasquatch look-alike who may hold the key to a prom queen's death fifteen years ago. When Carlee’s mother asks Morgan to investigate her daughter's death, the clues seem as convoluted as the coils on a fossilized ammonite.
I am pleased that both use the same fine cover art by Deirdre Wait of ENC Graphic Services.
The third book in the series, Stone Cold Blooded is available in e-book and paperback here.
Book Three opens when Morgan's reclusive neighbor is blown to bits. The police believe he stumbled into his own trap. His granddaughter claims he was murdered, and asks Morgan and newspaperman Kurt Willard to find his killer. Their search for clues is interrupted by alien hunters, a small town election, and the annual mineral and fossil show in Denver. In book three of the Rock Shop Mystery series, a Triceratops brow horn may hold the key to solving a prospector’s Stone Cold Blooded death.
You can learn more about the Rock Shop Mystery series here. Bookstore Why Not Books? is located at 5975 North Academy Boulevard Suite 204, Colorado Springs, CO 80918 - phone 719-426-2013
Merit Making, by R. T. Lawton, appears in the July/August 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Lawton is a prolific author, with over 100 short story publications in various magazines and anthologies.
While this is a stand-alone story, it continues the tale of a young Chinese man struggling to stay alive while jousting with his elder half-brother for a position in the family opium smuggling business.
In Merit Making, a mysterious man stumbles into his father's mountain camp in Thailand, then dies while under the dubious care of the camp physician. The mystery unfolds reliably, because Lawton is skilled at setting out clues for his readers to follow through the plot to an ending, often with an unexpected twist.
What I enjoyed even more than the mystery was the character development. The narrator has been pulled from his private school in Hong Kong to join his half-brother "in this jungle world Father had thrust me into." For an outsider city-boy, he adjusts quickly.
His scout is a bit of a mystery as well, but is the one person the narrator trusts. Sort of. The scout seems to be guiding the narrator through the dangerous political manipulations of opium warlords during a Buddhist ceremony. By the end of the tale, the narrator has acquired merit, not just in the karmic sense, but in his scout's eyes as well.
Previously, I wrote about setting the tone of a story using the literary technique Voice. To review, Voice presents the author's writing style, as well as the character's speech and thought patterns, creating a distinctive "sound" to a story.
Today I'll discuss how Voice is used to set the scene. The two novels I selected as examples have drastically different locations. They are also different mystery sub-genres, with different reader expectations. I enjoyed both stories, and have read multiple novels by each author.
Checked Out, by Elaine Viets, is # 14 in the Dead End Job series. Private Detective Helen Hawthorne lives in the Coronado Apartments with her husband Phil in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. As a cozy mystery, the reader wants enough description to know where they are, but doesn't need long passages of setting.
The Flora Park Library was as beautiful as its name, Helen thought. The color of dawn light, the two-story building had a sun-warmed barrel-tile roof and graceful arched windows. A curving wrought-iron fence wrapped around the Mediterranean building like an elegant vine.
I can see the library, or at least my interpretation based on the author's choice of descriptive words. Further details, as Helen moves around the library, are delivered in brief passages. A sentence here, a paragraph there. Here's another example of setting a scene in Checked Out.
The one-bedroom apartment had smooth art moderne curves, a speckled terrazzo floor, and a slatted-glass jalousie door. The two private eyes used the former living room to meet with clients, and worked in the back room. Phil swore that Sam Spade would drink bourbon in an office like this, so he hung a brooding Bogart poster over his desk.
But the office was too cheerful for dated noir romanticism. Coronado Investigations was clearly a successful small business.
Viets packs a lot of information into a few words. More importantly, she establishes a cozy mystery voice, as well as her own unique voice within the sub-genre. Note how Viets slips in that this is not a noir-appropriate setting. The room is modestly stylish and cheerful.
Iron Lake, by William Kent Krueger is # 1 in the Cork O'Connor series. The ex-Sheriff lives in a remote Minnesota town. This is a thriller that relies on the setting almost as another character in the story. In a descriptive passage early in the story, Cork is a young man on a hunting trip with Sam Winter Moon.
The sky was a clear blue, the air cool and still, the great woods full of the russet and gold of late fall. They moved quickly and Cork was filled with excitement. His stomach growled loudly from the fasting and he rustled the dry leaves as he walked. Sam said not to worry too much about the noise he made. A bear, especially a big one, would not be much concerned with sounds. The smell of a man, that was the thing to keep from a bear. Sam hoped they would be able to come at the animal from downwind. If not, he hoped the tallow would mask them.
The reader learns the following: the forest is empty and quiet enough that walking through autumn leaves might alert animals to their presence. There is potential, but not immediate, danger. Krueger has established that he will describe a setting through his narrator's eyes in action sequences. Fitting for a thriller. In another example, snow dominates the description.
The lake was lost behind the snow. Cork trudged through the drifts toward a tall Cyclone fence that edged Sam's property. My property, Cork still had to remind himself. On the other side of the fence was the Bearpaw Brewery, the buildings big and dark and indistinct through the blinding snow. He followed the fence to the edge of the lake. Although the rest of the lake had been frozen for awhile, a large expanse of water near the fence stayed open year round because of the runoff from the brewery. Warning signs had been placed on the ice, and safety stations with sleds and life rings stood along the shore. Cork was surprised to see a figure in a familiar red coat hunched at the water's edge.
The reader definitely knows it's cold by the end of this paragraph. The lake, the ice, and the snow later play an important role in the plot.
Sentence and paragraph length, word choices, and how those words are strung together, all contribute to the creation of voice. An author who makes effective use of voice will be easily recognizable. Let's take a closer look.
Viets: Florida library. Her word choices evoke beauty and comfort - a place the reader might like to visit The building is the color of dawn light, has a sun-warmed barrel-tile roof, and graceful arched windows.
Krueger: Minnesota lake. His word choices evoke danger. The brewery buildings are "big and dark and indistinct," and the lake has warning signs posted. The mention of safety stations implies the lake is a place where a person would be wise to watch his or her step.
Obviously, different locations will require different descriptive language. The point is, when describing the setting, every word choice lends itself to the development of the unique voice of the story. Consider voice as you read your favorite authors. What do their setting descriptions convey? Do they fit the author's genre?
This week, I review two tales involving theft, and one 4th of July story. In other short fiction news, just released is an anthology I haven't started reading yet: Flash Bang Mysteries. Amazingly, you can partake of this summer treat for free. On to my reviews:
Karma by Jim Farren
Mystery Weekly Magazine
A carefully planned bank heist goes wrong, and a cascading series of karmic events unfold quickly. The reader isn’t sure which character will receive what flavor of just desserts next. Karma is a quick, fun read with more twists and turns than the “one-lane back road leading nowhere” that takes the narrator on his journey.
Vanity Case by John Floyd
A Sheriff’s mother looks past the obvious to help nab a thief. Vanity Case is a puzzle mystery. The clues are spelled out clearly by Sheriff Lucy Valentine, Deputy Ed Malone, and a boy who is an eye-witness to the crime. Lucy’s mother Frances inserts herself in the case, even after being told to “go on home.” Linger over the clues to see if you can figure out the solution before the end of this entertaining short story.
The Find of the Century by Amy Denton
Kings River Life
When a community college catches fire, students make an unexpected discovery in the ruins. This story is light on mystery elements, but I enjoyed following the college professor, musing about how to keep students engaged in learning. As she helps clean up the mess, the staff and students are disappointed to miss out on their part in the local 4th of July celebration. Then they realize they’ve made the Find of the Century.
I missed a couple blog posts because I was off the grid. We were camping on our mountain land that we have grandiosely dubbed a ranch. One day of our escape from civilization, I took a daughter and the grandkids for a trail ride on the M Lazy C Ranch. While we were riding the range, our other daughter and her husband climbed a 14er. We did go fishing once. Didn't catch anything. All in all, it was a great time. The only down side was realizing our connectivity is worse than we thought. I did get some work done on a novel-in-progress. Didn't need internet for that. Now it's back to the city, back to routine, and back to blogging!
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