Tag Archives | mysteries

Isabella Goodwin, a corrupt police department, and a bank heist.

Winner of the Amazon gift card is Ginny! Congrats! And thanks everyone.

Summer is busy. I scrounge up breakfast, dash off to the lake to swim, slather some sun block on my kids, read for a bit, dash home for lunch, then back out to visit friends. Reading short stories are perfect. (Okay, I’ve read at least 6 novels so far this summer too.) (Somewhere in there I remember to do laundry.)

I purchased my second Kindle Single a couple weeks ago. I really enjoyed them.

The first one I purchased was a short story: Midnight’s Tale by George Berger. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? The author, ready to quit writing, submitted this short story and then Amazon contacted him. Since then, the story has taken off. I purchased it because I was so darn curious. I mean, seriously. A goat? I had to find out what the fuss was about.

Purchase from Amazon

I read the sample and enjoyed the irony, humor, and the writing, so I purchased it. But it wasn’t really about a goat. The goat struggled with aspects of life that many people could relate to: the desire to be loved, fear of the future. I highly recommend it. Oh and he faced a blood sacrifice too.

The second Kindle Single I bought was The Fearless Mrs. Goodwin. This short piece was narrative nonfiction. I only had to read the description of a bank heist in 1912 and the woman who cracked the case and I was all over it.

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Here’s the description from Amazon:

Manhattan, 1912. A time of greed, corruption, scandal and distrust, when the police commissioner had this advice for the citizenry: “Don’t take a criminal investigation into your own hands. Don’t poke about a dead body. Don’t investigate a robbery all on your own.”

Then the most outrageous and brutal bank heist of the young century occurred, and the city combusted in fear and anger. Wall Street brokers were carrying guns. The police looked more ineffectual by the day. Not a single man could break the case.

But perhaps a woman could. Mrs. Isabella Goodwin was a smart and resourceful police matron who had gone about as far as a woman in police work could go. The bank robbery presented a unique career opportunity.

As Elizabeth Mitchell writes in “The Fearless Mrs. Goodwin”, a true story so astounding it reads like fiction, only a woman could penetrate New York’s underworld without attracting suspicion. When Goodwin got the call from headquarters, she was ready. With glimmering eyes, the widow with four children to support disappeared into Manhattan’s underbelly. Would she return with her man? Would she make it back at all?

I loved it. Isabella Goodwin spent 7 years as a “glorified housekeeper” for the corrupt NY City police department. She worked 7 days a week in twelve hour shifts for minimal pay and horrendous conditions. Then she got called in for some undercover work. Her first big break. This could change her life.

This short piece was more than the how or the why of a bank heist. It was the story of a courageous woman who fought against the tide of her times to forge her way in life. She put herself in life threatening positions dealing with crime rings and thugs. If her cover had been blown it would’ve meant her life.

This piece also gave me a glimpse into an earlier time, a snapshot of the late 1800s and the early 1900s, which was really cool. Did this real life story spark story ideas for me? You bet your bottom dollar. (Sorry my daughter is involved in musical theater this summer. My family basically now sings to each other at the dinner table.)

What about you? Read any good short stories? Checked out the Kindle Singles? Many of them are extremely appealing. I’m pretty sure I’ll be reading more in the future. 

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Results of the reverse blog tour.

Publishing is changing fast and so is the way we market books! I chose to do a reverse blog tour.

Many writers who choose to publish independently are faced with choosing marketing strategies. Do you do the blog tour or not do the blog tour? Because there are a lot of opinions out there.

It’s a given that if you publish traditionally and are starting out that a blog tour is a must because sales in the first few weeks are crucial. A burst of sales is terrific for any book but with self publishing we have time for a story to build and spread. Blog tours are optional. Marketing is even optional – if you want to risk it.

Here are the different scenarios I’ve seen:

  1. Author rarely blogs or promotes. Book takes off.
  2. Author works her butt off to market and promote and it pays off with decent sales but as soon as the marketing stops, the sales decrease dramatically. It never took off.
  3. Author completes every marketing act known to mankind and never reaches the desired sales count. (Not to say that it won’t happen later.)

These factors got me thinking while I looked at my goals. I wanted to complete the first draft of the sequel to A Spy Like Me before summer vacation started. I realized that blog tours were a lot of work and it was all about me and my book. AND a blog tour and all the work involved don’t always translate over to sales.

But I really wanted to do something to celebrate my debut release.

So I decided on the reverse blog tour. I wanted to celebrate my genre, promote my brand and build awareness of A Spy Like Me. So I asked a mix of authors and bloggers to guest post for three weeks.


  1. I had fun because I wanted to do it.
  2. My blog hits definitely went up.
  3. I helped celebrate and promote authors and bloggers I like.
  4. I introduced new authors and books to readers.
  5. I introduced readers to A Spy Like Me.

Goals accomplished.

Not to say I won’t do a traditional blog tour in the future. In fact, this fall when How To Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings releases, I plan on organizing one.

What marketing strategies do you see that work or don’t work? How might you change it up?

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Taking the Mystery out of Editing Those Pesky Subplots!

The Spies, Murder and Mystery Marathon is winding down but in no way over!

I’ll just say three words and you’ll know who our guest is today: The Emotion Thesaurus! Becca and Angela kicked off their release recently with all the random acts of kindness and their book reached #1 on Amazon! Woo hoo!

Welcome Becca Puglisi to the blog! *cheers and clapping*

Biscuits and Subplots and Cake, Oh My!

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about layers. Not cake layers. Not the scrumptious, peel-off-able pieces of the fluffy buttermilk biscuits my daughter forces me to make (and consume) for breakfast. No, fortunately for my waistline, I’m focused right now on story layers, particularly those that develop through the use of subplots. I’ve figured out that a story is always better when it’s layered, so I added a few extra plot lines into my WIP. There’s the main hero plot line, two romantic subplots, and also a relational subplot surrounding my character’s dysfunctional relationship with her stepmother. In hindsight, inserting these layers was fairly easy. The hard part came when it was time to edit them, and I realized I didn’t know how to do it effectively.

So I came up with a system. I love systems; I have one for pretty much everything. A system for cleaning the house. A system for organizing my week, for teaching my son the alphabet, for plotting my next novel–if it needs doing, I have a system in place to keep it streamlined. It was really just a matter of time ‘til I came up with one for editing subplots:

  1. Number and title your chapters and scenes. If you don’t want to muddy up your story with chapter titles, you can keep a separate list. For me, while editing, I find it easier to include them in the manuscript. Then when I need to go to a particular scene, I can just search-and-find and jump right to it.
  2. Now pick a subplot to edit. Let’s say you want to work on the romantic one. Look through your numbered list and jot down any chapter where you’ve dealt with this subplot in some way. It could be big or small: the first time the characters see each other, a conversation between the two, the hero’s thoughts about the love interest after seeing her across the room. This is a rough outline of the existing content for that subplot. Now it’s time to examine it to see what needs work.
  3. First, look for gaps. Are there long stretches where nothing happens to further the subplot? If so, you may need to add a scene, or add something small into the existing content. Is there a scene where your love interest could show up and get some extra exposure? Could you replace a background character in an existing scene with your love interest? Another option is to use peripheral characters. Maybe the person the hero interacts with in chapter 9 is actually the love interest’s neighbor or distant relation. An innocent conversation could stir up thoughts and feelings in the hero that could be used to further your subplot.
  4. Next, make sure your content is furthering the plot. According to Blake Snyder (of Save the Cat fame, and my new hero), each scene should go somewhere emotionally. If your hero starts out in a negative frame of mind, something should happen so she’s feeling “up” at the end of the scene. Conversely, if the hero is up at the start, by the end of the scene, her emotions should take a downward turn. The reason for this is to make sure that something is actually happening during the scene. No emotional change = stagnation = never a good thing. Tweak existing scenes to reflect some kind of emotional change. If you’re having trouble making it work, consider removing the scene altogether. If it doesn’t further the plot line and doesn’t challenge your hero in some way, it may be extraneous and should be pruned to keep the story strong.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 for each subplot.

One final bit of advice: Don’t be afraid of “extra” work. It’s easy, once you reach the editing stage, to think that the drafting is done. But as you edit, you’ll most certainly discover that scenes need to be added here and there. You might even find, as I realized once I started examining my WIP, that your story is in need of a whole additional plot line. If you go into the editing process knowing that you still have some heavy writing to do, it will be easier to accept these changes.

So there you have it. There are a lot of methods for editing, but this is one that works really well for me. Layers are so important when writing a deep and satisfying story. Hopefully something here will encourage you to smooth them out and make your story even better than you thought it could be.


Becca Puglisi is a YA fantasy and historical fiction writer, SCBWI member, and co-host of The Bookshelf Muse, an on-line resource for writers. She also has a number of magazine publications under her belt. Her book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iBookstore, and Smashwords.



Purchase Links:

Amazon print ~ Kindle ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Smashwords

Becca and Angela are graciously offering an ebook version of The Emotion Thesaurus to one winner! Please comment and tweet!

In celebration, tell us your most over-used, cliche phrase you have to constantly eradicate from your writing! 

There is still time to enter the Indelibles Beach Bash to win a Nook or Kindle loaded with some Indelibles newest releases including my release – A Spy Like Me. Join the fun!

And don’t forget to enter for a signed hard cover of Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter.

See you tomorrow for an awesome post on using spy gadgets in your fiction!


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Spies, Murder and Mystery Marathon Winners – week 2!

Thanks to all our fantastic authors from the past week! 

I’m sure you’re dying to know the winners for this past week. Here they are.

Hickory Smoked Homicide goest to Anne Gallagher! Yay! (Print)

Watched goes to Stina Lindendblatt! Woo hoo!

Imaginary Girls goes to Lisseth Torres! *throws confetti* (Print)

The Impenetrable Spy goes to Ansha Kotyk! *tap dances*


Please use the contact form up on the menu bar to leave me your email address or your mailing address if you won a print book. Mention which version of the ebook you’d like: Nook or Kindle, or PDF.

Coming this week!

S.R. Johannes!

Jennifer Hoffine!

Becca Puglisi!

Gina Robinson!

There are some fantastic posts and books to be won! See you on Monday for more Spies, Murder and Mystery!

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Challenges of writing a cozy mystery with Elizabeth S. Craig!

Woo hoo! End of week 2 of all things mystery. Hope you’ve found some great reads! And now for some great writing tips!

Today let’s welcome Elizabeth S. Craig. You know her – the one who tweets all the writing and industry posts and puts them all together in a searchable data base? The one who also put together a spreadsheet of all the freelance cover designers, editors and formatters? And don’t forget all the cozy mysteries she’s authored!

Cozy mysteries are fun to write, have dedicated readers, and are popular with publishers. Cozies, sometimes called traditional mysteries, are a subgenre in a large field of mystery subgenres. They’re primarily defined by their use of an amateur sleuth, lack of gore and profanity, offstage murder, and focus on the whodunit puzzle. These mysteries are frequently (not always) humorous, character-focused, set in small-towns, and are part of a series.

But there are challenges in writing them.  I’m going to cover six common challenges for writing traditional mysteries and some ideas for getting around them.

Challenge #1: Incorporating a popular hook or theme into your mystery without having it take over the book. If you’re writing a cozy mystery for traditional publishers, then you’re probably going to have a theme for your books. Popular themes for cozies include crafts, hobbies and food. These themes are intended to add flavor to a book without completely overwhelming the mystery. You can better keep your theme in the background if you use it as a tool for telling your story.  Consider using the hook to set up the murder (a conflict at the guild meeting), or to introduce interesting or unusual characters (who gather together at an event that the hook makes possible.)

Challenge #2—Working with amateurs. In cozy mysteries, the murders are investigated by a gifted amateur.  What this means for the writer is that you’ve got to come up with a brief and plausible reason for this sleuth to get involved with a murder investigation.  If the sleuth has a stake in the outcome, then the reader will, too. Did he have a personal connection to the victim?  Is the sleuth a suspect?  Is someone close to the sleuth a suspect?

Another problem the mystery writer will face while working with amateurs is that they won’t have access to all the information that the police will have at their disposal. You’ll want to make sure that either the sleuth is able to obtain insider info from the police (time of death and method is really enough—an overload of details isn’t needed) or else you’ll need to make sure the sleuth already knows the basics…maybe he discovered the body and saw the knife sticking out of the victim.  No forensic data needed.

Challenge #3—The number of suspects.  A cozy mystery will run about 75,000 words.  Suspect numbers can get a little tricky. You’ll want enough suspects to ensure that the killer’s identity is a surprise, but not so many that the reader forgets who they are. I usually like five suspects, killing one in the middle of the book. One of my editors prefers four or fewer.

Challenge #4—Making it fair while keeping it a mystery until the end.  The clues need to be scattered throughout the book, but the reader doesn’t need the equivalent of a neon sign pointing out the clue. Find a way to lay the clue but to distract attention from it—maybe another suspect arriving on stage? A sudden argument between the sleuth and another character? Or even a red herring that seems like a more important clue (the discovery of a will, etc.)

Red herrings should also be fair to the reader. It can be frustrating when a red herring lasts from the book’s beginning to its end and then peters out when the sleuth realizes it’s completely unimportant. It might be better to lay many red herrings and have new ones crop up when others are disproved.

Challenge #5— Working within the strict genre guidelines while ensuring the story is engaging. These stories are fairly gentle, although they should be fast reads.  This contradiction is a challenge to work with.  Unlike other mystery genres, you won’t see a high body count, forensic investigation, or sex and profanity.  Instead, you’ll need to keep the readers engaged through the puzzle itself and the characters. The people populating your story need to either be characters the reader wants to spend more time with or else need to be people that the reader is intrigued by and wants to learn more about.

Subplots can help to move things along and add more flavor to the book. Where your reader has to wait until the end of the book for the mystery to wrap up, you could have a subplot go through an entire, satisfying arc before reaching the novel’s conclusion.

Challenge #6–Keeping it fresh.  If you’re writing cozies, you’re probably writing a series. The important thing with series writing is to keep the readers engaged and your stories fresh.  We’ve all read series where the author has recycled an old plot and stock characters. There are different ways to keep your series from going stale.  One is to have your main character grow through the series (personally or professionally or both.) You can also experiment with secondary characters—bringing in new characters to interact with your protagonist and either antagonize or support him.  Writers could introduce a completely new element with each book—a new setting, new relationship, or a new challenge facing the protagonist.

Do you write or read mysteries?  What challenges do you see for writing one?

She’ll be giving away one of her books so please tweet and comment for a chance to win!

Elizabeth’s latest book, Hickory Smoked Homicide, released November 1 and her next book, Quilt or Innocence, releases June 5. Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder.
Writer’s Knowledge Base–the Search Engine for Writers
Twitter: @elizabethscraig



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