Thursday, December 18, 2014



The easy answer is wherever it works best for the plot. In much detective fiction, the murder, or discovery of the body takes place at the beginning or very early on. But a lot of good stories take a while to develop, even when the motivation for the detective is the act itself.

If the story is focused on the characters more than on the action, or, is a balanced presentation, then a murder may not take place until well into the book. Nothing wrong with this, assuming the writer has mastered all the other tools of the trade. A bunch of people standing around endlessly trading bon mots or quips or cutting insults becomes exceedingly tedious, even if, as veteran readers of crime fiction, we know it’s all leading to murder, or worse.

On the other hand (isn’t there always?) a small clutch of really unusual interesting characters can carry a reader a long way into the story. Add other unusual or unsettling circumstances, such as weather or location and it’s possible to “compel” readers for many pages. Yet too many authors of crime fiction seem to offer a cast of similar characters. For example, I just finished a novel in which all three main characters have similar backgrounds: they moved back to town after a successful career and a failed marriage. Their careers were in large coastal cities and adjusting to a more bucolic life takes some getting used to (at least several pages). Now, analyzing the structure of the novel, I find the story line and it’s significant events take up about half the book. We have a good short story or novella but not a full length novel.

In my short story, “A Winter’s Tale” weather, circumstances and (I hope) mounting realization of inevitable conflict leading to horrific acts, drive the story and the reader forward, but actual murder, and thus the placement of body parts occurs as bookends to the tale. On the other hand, my latest novel, The Case of the Purloined Painting has a complicated back story requiring at least some understanding of modern history. But rather than inflict several pages of WWII on readers, I have spread salient facts related to the main motivator through the narrative. And bodies occur in several chapters. Readers will judge whether those unhappy events distract or push the plot along..

In conclusion, although old rules for crime fiction suggest readers require a body in the early going, I don’t believe that’s necessarily a requirement. At the same time, I think authors are well-advised to be cautious. If your protagonist runs a fast food joint in Southern Mississippi, you can’t start every book finding a body in the deep fryer.

Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Carl Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors.

He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave.

He writes the sailing adventure series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney. The third novel is Old Silver. His new private investigator series features Sean NMI Sean, a short P.I. The first is titled The Case of the Greedy Lawyers. Brookins received a liberal arts degree from the University of Minnesota and studied for a MA in Communications at Michigan State University.


The Case of the Purloined Painting
By Carl Brookins

ISBN-10: 0878397086
ISBN-13: 978-0878397082
North Star Press
Trade paper, 176 pgs

Blurb: When an American Army unit arrived at the end of the war, some soldiers appropriated items in what appeared to be abandoned circumstances. A small painting by a mid-level Polish painter is used by an ex-GI to float a bank loan which results in the founding of a manufacturing firm in Minneapolis. 

Now the painting and the ledger become the center of murderous attempts by the descendants of the veteran to conceal the paintings journey. World-wide efforts at repatriation of stolen art from WWII is a major ongoing effort and the story links to that effort as international operatives descend on the Twin Cities. 

Enter private detective Sean Sean. He is a short but effective operative who, unlike many PIs of the modern era, doesn’t sleep around, doesn’t shoot people unnecessarily, and has many friends among various local law enforcement agencies.


Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors.

He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave.

He writes the sailing adventure series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney. The third novel is Old Silver. His new private investigator series features Sean NMI Sean, a short P.I. The first is titled The Case of the Greedy Lawyers. Brookins received a liberal arts degree from the University of Minnesota and studied for a MA in Communications at Michigan State University.

P.S. I met Carl for the first time at the now defunct Mayhem in the Midlands mystery conference. I was fortunate to run into him and have several conversations at various other mystery conferences over the years. I miss having the opportunity to listen to his wisdom about mystery writing and other topics.  Marilyn

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Busy, Busy, Busy by Marilyn Meredith

Yes I am, but not so much with Christmas doings.

My house is as decorated as it's going to be. My Christmas checks are written--yes, that's what I do. If you had four adult kids, 18 grands, and 15 great-grands, you might resort to giving money too. Actually I give to the families these days, then they can do what they want with the cash.

I'm farming out the cookie baking to my granddaughter and daughter-in-law.

I've ordered the Honeybaked ham for Christmas Eve.

Tonight hubby and I are headed to my writer's group annual Christmas dinner. This will be the only Christmas party I'll attend. Missed the church's party last weekend because I was ill.

So what am I busy with?

It seems something comes up every day I have to tend too.

What caused the most work is the branch of the bank we've used for many, many years is closing. The nearest branch will be much too far away. So we've changed banks. It took two hours to open two accounts at the new bank. Now we're in the throes of making all the needed changes for our direct deposits. Won't close the old checking account until all the checks we've written clear. That may take awhile. (Just so it all is done by March 1.)

Now what's going to take my time for the next couple of days is going over the 2nd edits to my next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery. Need to get with it because it's way overdue.

And of course I wrote this because I saw I didn't have anything new until tomorrow.

Merry Christmas.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Another Christmas Memory

I was around 9 or 10 and oh, did I ever want a two-wheel bicycle.

The problem was, and I'd had this pointed out to me many times, no bicycles could be purchased because of the war. (WWII). The metal was needed for the war effort and bicycles were not being made.

What a surprise on Christmas morning when I came out to discover a shiny new, blue girl's bicycle standing up by the tree.

How could this possibly have happened when it was impossible to buy a new bicycle anywhere?

I didn't count on my dad's expertise at being able to make anything. Yes, that's exactly what happened, he built my bicycle from scratch. I have no idea how he managed to get all the parts, some of the bike was made of pipe (he was a plumber) but he did. Not only did he build my bicycle but he built another for my cousin Barbara who lived a block away.

Learning how to ride the bicycle took me forever. (My cousin was much quicker at it much to my humiliation since she was 11 months younger.)

My poor father held onto the seat and ran alongside me over and over until I finally got the  hang of balancing.

After that I rode that bike everywhere--not to school--probably afraid someone might steal it. I rode to my friend's houses. And in the summer, I packed up my basket with books, tablets, pens and pencils and rode around until I found a home with a big tree (Weeping Willow preferred) and parked myself on the lawn in the shade. Sometimes I even packed a lunch.We didn't have any parks close by.

Never did a home owner come out and ask what I was doing.

I was so fortunate to have a dad like mine. Another year he built me a three story doll house and my artist aunt made all the furniture and curtains for the windows.

He also built our first TV with a Heath Kit. We were the first ones in the neighborhood to own a television. We had lots of company to help us watch wrestling, roller derby, Beanie and Cecil, and whatever else was on which wasn't much.

Frankly, for a long time, radio was much more exciting.

Merry Christmas Everyone.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas Traditions Over the Years

When I was growing up, we had several traditions.

One was attending the Christmas program at our church. The program often was the children performing some version of Christ's birth.

Though most Christian churches today don't have anything to do with Santa Claus, back then, after the Christmas program ended, Santa Claus handed out small stockings with candy in them to every child.

My father worked for Paramount Studio which always had a wonderful Christmas program for the children of the employees, followed by expensive gifts for every child there. I remember some of the events being held way out in the country (now right in the middle of Studio City), and others at a theater in Los Angeles.

I don't remember doing anything special on Christmas Eve, but I do know we were anxious to get to bed then couldn't sleep. Along about 4 a.m. we begged to get up and go into the living room and see what awaited us. 

We always had to wait for our parents to dress and allow us to begin the Christmas unwrapping.

Dinner was always at our grandmother's house in South Pasadena. We always wore something we'd received for Christmas--usually a new sweater, even if it was a hot day.

This is where we received her presents and the ones from our Aunt. 

Years later, when I was married and had my own family, when possible, we drove down to Los Angeles to have Christmas there. 

One Christmas though, I expected my third child and everyone drove to our little rented house in Oxnard for Christmas. I suppose I cooked the dinner, though I don't remember. The baby didn't arrive until December 28th.

When I was working, we had Christmas at our own house--by this time we owned a home. One Christmas I worked a split shift and the kids opened their gifts while I was gone. I wasn't happy. And we ate our Christmas dinner in a restaurant. (The only time I can remember doing that.)

Many years later when we'd moved to Springville, and lived in and ran a care home, we always had a bit of a celebration dinner Christmas Eve--but presents for our ladies were always opened on Christmas Day after we had a great breakfast.  And later of course, the whole family came to be in on Christmas dinner.

Now that we've retired from the community care business, we have our big dinner on Christmas Eve--and that's when some of the family come and presents are opened.

The next day all the grown kids (who are now grandparents) have their own traditions. And we eat leftovers. We usually watch movies and relax.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions?


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fatal Attraction by Jennie Spallone

My most recent mystery FATAL REACTION shines a light on my former career as a special education teacher and tutor of students with emotional and learning disabilities. Spoil Alert: No one I taught wound up killing their father! They might have hurt and maimed -- just kidding!

In this book, I examine how a catastrophic family event causes a nurtured child to morph into a school bully. Yes, I worked with school bullies in real life. Their trust in adults has been destroyed. Their hearts are crusted with despair. And so they lash out for attention. Whether positive or negative, attention reflects that they are "visible" in the eyes of others.

These kids "act out" because they lack a responsive, responsible adult to guide them through their daily lives. Responsive because we all need love and gentle direction to steer us down the path. Responsible because limits must be set to inform the child what behavior will be tolerated and what behavior is off-limits. As a teacher, I found it difficult to offer consistent consequences for negative behavior. Dealing with manipulative teenagers is exhausting, especially in a classroom setting! It didn't help that my own parents divorced when I was a young child, and I was raised without boundaries. Yet I knew I was loved and cherished, which kept me on the straight and narrow.

Maybe our task is to reach out to these kids as a weekly mentor through OMNI YOUTH SERVICES or other Big Brother, Big Sister Programs in our local area. Give them one-on-one attention, whether it be to take them out for lunch, shoot some hoops, watch their favorite sports team on television, or engage in an activity that peaks their interest. No, not drugs!

I believe we are all instruments of G-d, each with our own view of the Divine. As an instrument of the Divine, "being there" for a kid just might keep them from shooting up a school cafeteria or cutting their wrists.,,, 

Book Blurb:

Lake Forest bank executive Joseph Barge is dead and everybody he’s tormented is celebrating, all except Ellie, his 13 year-old daughter. Left to the cold glare of her father who drowned his sorrows in rage and alcohol, Ellie resorted to bullying to get his attention. Years ago, she lost her mother. Now her father,too!

In shock at her father’s death, Ellie plunges into a deep depression, unable to communicate with the outside world. Distressed by her student’s suffering, special education teacher Mitzi Maven teams up with CPD Detective Maggie O’Connor and hottie North Shore Detective Eric Whelan to solve the case. 

It doesn’t take long for Mitzy, a former investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, to discover a slew of suspects who wanted Barge gone. A disgruntled co-worker. The sexually-harassed nanny. The sister-in-law who fought for custody. Half the White Oaks Middle School teaching staff.


Suspense author Jennie Spallone wrote over one hundred profiles and feature stories for local and national publications, as well as the award-winning mystery novel Deadly Choices and Window of Guilt, before putting pen to Fatal Reaction.

Jennie, an active member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, has spoken at local bookstores, schools, and libraries, in addition to Mystery Conferences throughout the country, including Scene of the Crime, Bouchercon, Printer’s Row, Sleuthfest, Malice Domestic, Magna Cum Murder, Midwest Literary Fest, Love is Murder, Public Safety Writers of America, Romantic Times Writers’ Conference, and the University of Wisconsin Writer’s Institute.

Please send your comments, questions and speaking engagement queries to

Monday, December 8, 2014

And the Winner Is (Are)---

Or course I'm talking about the winner of my recent blog tour for River Spirits, the latest mystery in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series.

As the tour continued, I had an good idea who really wanted to win the prize and be a character in my next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

When I'd responded to the last one to comment on the very last blog of my tour, it was very clear who would have a character using her name:: Linda Thorne.

She left a comment on at least 20 blog posts--sometimes two.

Congratulations, Linda.

There were others who commented on many of the blog posts, but the close follow-up was Nancy Li Petri. I'll give her the opportunity to choose one of the earlier books in the series as a reward for her efforts.

Over 80 people left comments on posts. Some commented on several, just one or two.

I recognized about 60% of the names, others were new to me.

Doing a blog tour is a lot of work--but it's also fun or I wouldn't bother.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

The First Christmas I Remember by Marilyn Meredith

It was at my Great Grandmother, Minnie Smith's house in Bakersfield.

A widow, she supported her self by renting out rooms boarding house style. As I remember, her big, living room dining room was in the middle of  her house with all the bedrooms and kitchen leading off all around. (This could be totally wrong since I have no one to check with, but that's how I remember it.)

I also remember a Christmas tree off in one corner.

Since I was really young, I have no idea where my parents and I slept, but my guess is probably in one of the bedrooms that wasn't rented out.

I'm sure my grandparents were there too.

Sometime in the night I heard bells and I knew that was Santa Claus coming. The next morning I told everyone I'd heard Santa on the roof.

I remember nothing about presents or anything else much, except for a vague picture of a long table with a Christmas feast and many people enjoying it.

My Great Grandmother died when I was 12.

I know a lot about her younger years because of a book I wrote based on my family genealogy.
Minnie's name once was Desdemona Diane. But her adoptive parents changed her name to Minnie.

She was a true pioneer woman and supported herself most of her life. If you'd like to know more about her, you can read, Indian Paintbrush on your Kindle.

What is the earliest Christmas you can remember?