September 22 - Saturday. Central West End Bookfest from 10:30 to 5:00. McPherson at Euclid by Left Bank Books.  

Greater St. Louis Sisters in Crime is overjoyed to be a part of a
new literary tradition in St. Louis




Did you ever wish to live in simpler times—fifty years ago or even a hundred? Historical mystery writers Fedora Amis and Claire Applewhite can take you there. Travel back through time to a St. Louis filled with the beauty and brutality that brought us to the present. We promise surprises and prizes if you can “Name That Sleuth.”
Join Sisters in Crime Claire Applewhite and Fedora Amis for a morning of mystery at Carondelet Library in south city, 6800 Michigan Avenue. at 11:00 a.m. on April 9, 2016.
Fedora Amis, Mayhaven Prize Winner for Jack the RIpper in St. Louis, on facebook Fedoraamisauthor and on twitter FedorandSkimmer
Claire, on facebook claire.applewhite, on twitter @claireapplew



All Day - Kirkwood Community Center, 111 S. Geyer Road.
August is vacation month for SinC STL, so there will be no official meeting.  However, we don't want you to miss a terrific FREE event sponsored by St. Louis Writers' Guild. Writers in the Park is a one day extravaganza of stimulating workshops with activities for children too.  This year, for the first time , participants won't have to swelter outdoors. The event will be in air-conditioned comfort at the Kirkwood Community Center.  The entire second floor will be dedicated to the event where nationally known speakers will be giving workshops.  In addition, speakers will be teaching master classes (a fee is required to participate in a master class).  Watch for more information.





St. Charles - September 10-13.  The Law Enforcement Training for the Arts (LETA) workshop which will be held at Lindenwood College, September 10-13 LETA |. And to learn more about the LETA conference you can attend the St. Louis Writers Guild workshop/meeting on August 1 and hear some of the LETA speakers give an overview of the LETA workshop. 


About The LETA Conference
View on Preview by Yahoo









Have Your Picture Taken with Sara Paretsky!

July 29, 2015--Founding sister of Sisters in Crime, Sara Paretsky will be speaking at the St. Louis County LIbrary HQ, 1640 South Lindbergh Blvd. on Wednesday, July 29 as part of the "We Love Bookstores" promotion of Sisters in Crime. All members are invited to attend. Be there by 6:30 p.m. for a fine bit of publicity for yourself and our chapter--not-to-mention hearing all about Sara's brand new V.I. Warshawski mystery, Brush Back.


On June 27, 2015,  from 1-3 p.m. Greater St. Louis Sisters in Crime will sign their latest releases at the Book Warehouse #151 in Taubman Prestige Outlet Mall (From 64-40 exit at Boone's Crossing to North Outer 40) in Chesterfield Valley.

Come meet these local mystery mavens and enjoy mysterious treats. You might even win a "Make Mine Mystery T-Shirt." 

Fedora Amis - Jack the RIpper in St. Louis. In 1897 St. Louis, Nelly Bly wannabe Jemima McBustle finds her big story in the form of a sinister doctor. Could it be the real Jack the RIpper?

Bill Hopkins - Bloody Earth. After Judge Rosswell Carew witnesses the prosecutor tumble to his death on the steps of the courthouse in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, he immediately knows who the murderer is, but if he can't convince the cops, his own life, along with the lives of his family and friends, will come to a grisly end.

Candace Carrabus - On the Buckle . Meet smart-mouthed jumper rider Viola Parker whose whipped-cream-in-a-can addiction is all that gets her through the day when her nights are invaded by a dead horse kicking up bad news.

Sharon Woods Hopkins - Killerground. Righteous Rewards Retreat has its own unique aura—one of death. When she finds proof that someone from the Retreat has been bulldozing a tribal burial site, will Rhetta McCarter be the next to die? 

Kelly Cochran - Buying Time. A personal concierge struggles to help identify the killer of her most loyal customer without exposing a secret she desperately needs to keep.  But murder and mayhem are a bothersome duo, and she finds herself caught up in a web of chaos.


Catherine Soete - Grave Secrets.  St. Louis native Carol Hagan thinks her reporting job in Bethany, Iowa will be just a brief stop on her way to the New York Times. Sure, but first there's the problem of that unfortunate fellow who stayed too long in the barn.
P.A. De Voe - Hidden. In 1380 China, at the beginning of the new Ming Dynasty, the bi-racial daughter of a magistrate is forced to flee her home and face unexpected dangers when her father’s enemies accuse him of treason.

 Plus Elaine Abramson and Peter Green.










26 Ways to Die & 26 Writing Tips



John Davis Frain







© 2017 by John Davis Frain











Air Conditioner


Death by Defenestration


My old man had an expression. Used to say you could set your watch to it. Don’t nobody wear them watches no more, but you know.

Guy down the hall. Apartment 3. Frain’s his name. Welching on bets his game. Owes me two large from Saturday. Claims Florida and Florida State are two different schools. I wasn’t born last night, sucker. If he don’t pay … he’ll pay. Know what I’m saying?

Frain’s a creature of habits. Like welching on bets. Also, annoying habits like whistling. Worse, for him, he walks under my apartment window on his way home from Starbucks. Same time every morning.

I ran some calculations. Marked a spot on the sidewalk with a piece of chalk. Fitted a Hefty bag with the exact weight of my air conditioner. Conducted tests last night. Ain’t sayin’ I understand physics, but I can run a stopwatch.

Forecast today said early summer. Good time to install the window unit, right? Who coulda guessed a whistling Starbucks customer come ’round the corner just as I accidentally lose my grip on the old Frigidaire? Splat!

Goodbye, Mr. Frain. You welched your last bet.



Mystery Writing Tip




A worthy antagonist is smart, tough and merciless. In fact, maybe even smarter and tougher and harsher than your protagonist. The best ways to demonstrate your antagonist’s abilities are through action and through the clues your detective uncovers.










Death Strikes Out



Frain hit .204 last season off the bench. Hands of stone, so I can’t use him on defense. Still, he signed another multi-million-dollar contract.


He’d caught me with Martinez. One fucking time, and he’s got pictures on his phone. 


It’s the first day of spring training, and the last day of Frain’s blackmail. He leads off. I send Martinez to the hill. Order Frain to bunt. 


Martinez knows what to do. Comes in high and tight with his 99-mph four-seamer. I flash a mirror in Frain’s eyes as Mr. Rawlings smashes into his temple. 


Always told Frain to keep his eye on the ball. 


“You’re out,” I say under my breath.




Mystery Writing Tip




One of Raymond Chandler’s rules for writing a mystery is that your story must baffle a reasonably intelligent reader. When you’re constructing your whodunit, make it complex – but still logical to follow. So, baffling? Yes. Rational and logical? Also, yes. Because the conclusion must make sense to your reader.




Orchestrating a Murder



Four cellos and two violas swayed in, and my anxiety soared knowing my moment was near. But his time on Earth, this Frain, this unpalatable percussionist – his time was dwindling. Like Tchaikovsky before me, I would send this soldier boy to his deserved death.


I stealthily moved from my station, the xylophone unnecessary for Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece 1812 Overture. Positioned myself behind the loudest instrument on stage – the cannon! Oh, how I adored our conductor for his authenticity.


The first of my sixteen potential shots rang out, and I rejoiced. Direct hit! “Man down,” I yelled, but the cannons swallowed my voice. We had lost one snare drummer, but gained so much more. The sweet entry of church bells ushered in a crescendo. Also, a medic. 


Unlike Tchaikovsky, however, Frain experienced no revival.



Mystery Writing Tip




Another solid rule for writing a mystery is that your culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a relatively significant role in your story. Your reader needs to have familiarity with, and have taken interest in, your offender. Mystery writer S.S. van Dine said it well: “For a writer to fasten the crime, in the final chapter, on a stranger or person who has played a wholly unimportant part in the tale, is to confess to his inability to match wits with the reader.”





Murder Through the Molar



The office is closed. I don’t work Sundays, but I have one patient. A Mr. Frain.


He’s behind in his payments for a root canal. Also, he caught me fondling a patient. Him, when the local wore off early. He threatened to expose me like an x-ray.


I met him this afternoon to pay his bribe. Except I hit him with a stun gun instead. This one won’t wear off too early. Now we have a different arrangement. 


I pull him like a tooth from my trunk. Drag him through my office back door. Muzak greets us. Does it never shut off!


It’s 1 a.m. when I drop him in the dental chair. Perfect timing – I’d scheduled him for 11:45. I grip the drill like a Maestro wielding a baton. Wave it above my head and begin my personal symphony across Frain’s nerves. Root canal? I’m drilling the fucking Panama Canal. The pain awakens him just in time for the torture to kill him. 


Guessin’ he learned his lesson: Quit messin’ with the Leader of the Plaque.


 “Okay, Frain,” I scream. “Spit!”


Nothing. No follow-up appointment necessary.







Hard to pronounce and even harder to spell, denouement is at least easy to understand. Save the juiciest reveals till the end. Once your mystery is over – after you identify the murderer, for example – the story is essentially over. Your denouement should be brief. But it’s a great time to reward readers for staying the course, so it’s proper to tie up your plot (and subplots) here.


Ethylene Glycol

A Drink for Justice



Way I figure it, Frain made his choice three years ago. 


People collect things. Frain collected license plates. From the cars we stole.


One morning, this is three winters ago, it’s five degrees outside. We’re coming home from 7-11 on account of Frain’s needing to address his Mountain Dew fix. Not even planning a job, but this lady warms up her SUV and scurries back inside. 


We look at each other. Frain with his toothy grin working that Big Gulp straw.


“Get to work, Wide Load.” Only he calls me that, don’t get any ideas. I lumbered ‘cross the street. Shimmied behind the wheel. Drove to Felipe’s Garage, place we part out cars.


That’s where he noticed the plates. SUV belonged to Detective Bridget O’Flynn. Next day, Frain dimed me out. I got thirty-four months. 


Released fourteen days ago. Mixed the ethylene glycol into Frain’s Big Gulp fourteen hours ago. They say it’s a painful way to go. Judging by the theatrics he went through in the back seat, I’d say they’re right. Wish he’d hung on for a few more hours though. I needed a little more justice.







The solution to your mystery must seem inevitable once revealed. That is not to say it should match the expectations of your reader. In fact, your reader will love a final twist ending that surprises their expectation. But it still must be inevitable on a second reading. A satisfying ending leaves the reader saying, “Yep, couldn’t have happened any other way.”


Frying Pan


Crime for Breakfast



Frain had been called Motormouth for so long, friends simply called him Motor by the time he married Janet.


He never shut up. Talked in his sleep. Talked in the shower. Talked when Janet was already talking.


At breakfast, his wife asked, “How do you want your eggs?” 


A one-word answer would suffice. Scrambled. Poached, maybe. An omelet?


Instead, he covered the pros and cons of each method, starting with softboiled. Before he got to sunny side up, Janet whacked him across the forehead with her cast-iron frying pan.


Breakfast, and life, was over easy. 


“Cracked this case quick,” the hardboiled detective said when he caught Janet enjoying her juice.







One antagonist, writers! Focus your conflict. No matter how many murders are committed in your mystery, the blame should rest on one person of interest. Sure, that person can have a helper or coconspirator, but your investigator (and consequently, your reader) must be able to lay blame entirely on a single ruthless villain.




Frain Sings the Blues



“It’s my instrument of death,” Crash screamed from stage. “And it’ll cause your wrath,” he finished, unable to find a suitable rhyme for his dark song.


Backstage, disturbed by the crowd leaving instead of begging for an encore, Crash went on a rage when I asked about his songwriting skills.


“Meth would work,” I suggested.


“Yaaassss,” Crash bellowed. “Gimme some now.”


“No, no, I don’t have any meth. I meant it’s a good rhyme for death.”


His angry eyes grew three sizes. He hoisted his Fender. Twirled it above his head like a cowboy with a lasso. Flung it at me like I was a calf. 


His G-string snapped. And then my neck. 






Writing Tip



There’s no sense trying to improve on the words of Kurt Vonnegut. “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”  If a character has no goal, she probably doesn’t belong in the scene. So, if you need her in the scene, give her a goal. Now, go edit that scene you thought you’d finished.


Hot Air Balloon


Murder with a Bad Altitude



My wife walked four paces behind me, a pink Colt revolver in her hand. 


I mocked her. “Shoot me with your pinkie, and I might need a couple stitches to close the flesh wound.” 


“It’s a thirty-eight. One shot into your cerebellum, they won’t bother with stitches.” Suddenly she’s a neurologist. 


I couldn’t point out my cerebellum. Just knew it was in my brain. Probably right in front of the barrel of her Colt. My path led me to a hot air balloon.


“Climb aboard,” she said. 


I objected. “But I don’t know how to pilot one of – ” her smile, the one that used to melt me, froze me – “oh, I see.”


She pulled the anchors, cut the mooring lines, and I was airborne. The wind swept me away so quickly, I missed her parting wave. 


I don’t know if she cleverly planned the power line or if that was a stroke of luck to end things early, but that’s where the fire started. And where my life ended.





Mystery Writing Tip




“You might not write well every day. But you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

-         Jodi Picoult


“Write every day, even if it is just a paragraph.”

-         Michael Connelly


“Unless I write every day, I don’t feel I deserve my dinner.”

-         Charlie Chaplin


“I write every day and I love it. Some of my stories work and some don’t.”

-         Walter Mosley


Note the recurring theme…                                         

Ice Sculpture


Deadly Vows



Thursday, Snub Nose missed his only shot at Frain at the rehearsal dinner. Missed a second chance pre-ceremony, Saturday in the park. 


Wanted to fire his snub nose .38 in church when the minister asked if anyone objected to the marriage, but his fear of collateral damage – shooting the minister – stopped him from the delicious irony.


Frain’s future father-in-law told Snub Nose that the reception was his last chance. “I can still get it annulled for 24 hours. Do it tonight or I send Jimmie the Fist your way.”


Snub Nose declined to mention that Jimmie the Fist was his alias. Changed his name based on the weapon he used to do the job. The complicated life of a hitman.


Handguns weren’t allowed at the reception. So The Butcher planned to choke Frain with some meat, kill him with the Heimlich. Instead, when Frain helped cut the cake, the assassin helped propel the ice sculpture … right into Frain’s temple. 


The Iceman smiled. “If I can’t do it in the church, I’ll do it in the temple.” Frain died on the spot.


Before the investigation began, the murder weapon melted. His wife’s heart did too.





Mystery Writing Tip




Your investigator can be anything from a hardboiled detective to an amateur sleuth. But you don’t have a mystery without some investigating. Your investigator must gather clues and use those clues to reach conclusions. Indeed, your investigator will earn the respect of your reader through their analysis.  If your mystery isn’t solved through analysis of clues, your investigator has cheated to complete her work. 




Jump Rope


Class Reunion



Was a long time ago, I admit. Maybe some people don’t hold grudges way I do. But he’s the one who promised. Never mind that it was fifth grade.


Birdie, birdie, in the sky

Why’d ya do that in my eye?


Does he remember? ‘Course he does. Jumping rope when the bell rang. All the kids turned and ran. Somehow they forgot us. Just Frain and I on the playground. I let him kiss me. Because he’d made his promise.


Birdie, birdie, in the sky

Gee, I’m glad that cows don’t fly.


I’ve reminded him every year since graduation. Now he’s trying to forget me. I saw the notice in the paper. He’s to marry Lisa Shitface. 


Birdie, birdie, in the sky

Guess whose turn it is to die?


I waited in the back seat of his Jeep while he was in Lisa’s apartment. Three a.m. when he emerged. Naughty, naughty Frain. Hope he didn’t give her my kiss. He put the keys in the ignition as I slid our jump rope around his neck. He stiffened – one last time, and for me, Lisa. 


Birdie, birdie, in the car Sorry, this might leave a scar.


I left our jump rope in his car. I won’t be needing it.



Writing Tip


John Updike  

“Perfectionism is the enemy of creation,” Updike said. And if you wait for perfection, you’ll never write a word. That’s what editing is for. So, get it down on the page. Finish the paragraph. Finish the chapter. Finish the manuscript. Whatever you set out to do, finish.






A Debt to Die For



I promised my mother. Promised myself. I wanted to stop. But the voice. 


It purrs in my head.


Without planning, I find myself back here. Doesn’t he know I’ll come?


Three exit the train. My eyes lock on one. He walks beneath the lone streetlight, but it gives way.


My heart doesn’t race anymore. That thrill ended. But the voice growls like a lion inside my head, louder until I can no longer ignore it.


He turns the corner, slips by, a whisker away. It’s Frain. Guy who cheated off me in high school twenty-two years ago. Not the first time I’ve stalked him here. But it’s the last. 


I never forgive. I hope he does. 


I kiss my katana. Sorry, mother.


Prey for me.





Writing Tip



“First, write for yourself and then worry about the audience. When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

- Stephen King



A Drink with Death



Here’s how it happened, more or less. 


Frain walks into a bar. Stays for too many drinks. Then stays for a couple more. Says, “Anyone wanna hear a blonde joke?” 


Blonde woman next to him says, “Idiot. I’m a black belt. See the blond bouncer? He’s two-hundred-fifty pounds of muscle. And the blonde bartender? She used to be an MMA champ. You still wanna tell your stupid blonde joke?”


“Hell no,” Frain says. “Not if I’m gonna have to explain it three times.” 


He turns to the bartender and begs. “One more drop of whiskey.”


That’s when Black Belt Blondie shoves Frain’s nose into his brain. He collapses off his stool, his head colliding with the tile floor. Way the bartender explains it, ’twas the drop that killed him.








Your antagonist must be discovered by using logical deductions. In other words, you cannot rely on accident, coincidence or unforced confession. Coincidence can begin your story – but not end it! And while we’re on the subject, your investigator must have good logic for pursuing the case. This is especially true if your investigator is an amateur. Make sure she has motivation to solve the mystery.




Dropping the Mike



“Sonny and Cher,” she said. “They didn’t survive it.”


“Johnny Cash and June Carter,” he countered.


“Nicki Minaj and Meek Hill. Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton. I can go all night. I’ll win every time.”


“No matter,” Frain said. “I’m joining the act. In the end, I’ll probably carry you.”


“You can’t even carry a note. In the end, you’ll probably kill us.”


“Harsh. Get used to it. I signed the papers yesterday.” Then he dropped the mic. “We open in Vegas tomorrow, baby! Now excuse me, this superstar is gonna take a whirlpool in our suite.”


She waited five minutes. Plugged in the amp. Then his wife dropped the mic. Into the whirlpool. The splashing saved her the effort of having to stage the scene.


Feels good to be solo again, she thought, before calling the front desk to report an accident. 








Do what you can to make the motive in your story personal. Maybe all motives are personal on some level, but the more personal you make it, the more relatable your story becomes to your reader. Ultimately, if the reader can see a reflection of themselves, they’ll enjoy your story more. So, cull from the reader’s everyday experiences … and then carve those experiences till they bleed. That’ll bring out some repressed desires and emotions on the part of your reader.



Nail Gun


Till Death Do Us Part


Patience. My greatest asset. He’d know if he’d paid attention. 


I grab the nail gun. Same one I bought him for our anniversary three years B.D. – Before Denise, the wench who installed our curtains. And then installed herself into our bedroom.


I test the nail gun in our kitchen. Sorry, his kitchen. Says some court document. The force kicks me back against our fridge. Oh, right, his fridge.


Oh, he changed the locks. But he forgot about the broken basement window. So like him.


Thursday afternoon. He’ll be at the work another hour. I hide under our bed. There I go again. His bed. I’ll wait here quietly. Because remember – patience. 


I waited one-hundred-twenty-one days for the temporary restraining order to expire. Tonight, I re-gift him the nail gun. This time? He gets it between the eyes.







Raymond Chandler wrote noir, so let’s give him the page for a moment.

He said a story “must be realistic in character, setting and atmosphere.” That is, once you’ve established your story world, you must honor it. If you want a vampire or a zombie to inhabit your world, that’s fine so long as you establish that rule up front. Chandler would likely agree and might add, “Remember, when in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”




The Crying Game


She fondled the vial of succinylcholine. Could she bring herself to add it to his tea? 


She regretted writing the note. Eyes would focus on her as the spouse. She lifted the vial to the tea – but couldn’t squeeze. Wasn’t in her. Tears came. Tears of frustration.


She heard the door. Grabbed a carving knife and onion to mask her tears. 


Frain entered the kitchen. Right hand waving her note. “We should talk about this.”


“Is there anything left to talk about?” Sniffled. One time. Couldn’t stop it.


“No need to cry.”


“I’m not crying, it’s the –”


“Let’s handle this like adults. Two things bother me about your note.”


He wants to discuss it! Maybe he could change. Maybe he could become the man she married. For a flicker, she remembered Frain behind the volunteer table at the 5K, handing over her packet, the contents spilling, both of them laughing…


He interrupted her reverie. “Your third sentence needs an Oxford comma. I get it that I’m a liar and a cheat, but the casual reader will not understand you also expect me to practice a little light housework.”


Did she hear him right? He was going to help with housework?


“Even more egregious? Nit-picky gets a hyphen, especially here where it’s modifying asshole. Still, nothing to cry over.”


“It’s the onion making me cry, you nit picky asshole.” She hurled the onion at him. Somehow it stuck to his tie. 


She’d forgotten to remove the carving knife.





Your readers are smart. (They’re reading you, right!) To reward them, you must provide them equal opportunity with your investigator to solve your mystery. For many readers, it’s part of the fun in reading the mystery. Therefore, your reader must get access to all the clues your investigator uncovers. It’s a puzzle. Give them the pieces to solve it. 



Prosthetic Leg

Murder is a Kick



I’m ten feet away when it happens. Wouldn’t believe it otherwise.


I know the guy from O’Malley’s Tavern. Something Frain. Arsehole Frain maybe? The chick? Don’t recognize her, but I’ll never forget her.


The two of them, they get in an argument at the end of the bar. I see ’em through the window. Spills out into the alley where I’m relieving myself. I’m there first, so don’t judge. She says he’s finished drinking. He tells her the remaining eight ounces of his ale say otherwise. She kicks him in the cojones, and he folds like a flip phone.


Then – remember, I have a few drinks in me at the time, but I’m sober now kinda – she leans against the alley wall and takes off her leg. Next thing I know, she’s beating the dude over the head with it. She sports the balance of a gymnast. Relentless as a champ. 


I go back inside. She limps past the window. So I finish Frain’s beer. Turns out he’s done drinking, after all. When the cops show up, I say to them what’s a prosthetic leg, never heard a one before. 


Hey, she’s a looker, and c’mon, she’s available now. Plus, she owes me.








Do not use previously undiscovered poisons to kill your victim. This is a generally accepted rule of writing a mystery, and for good reason, which boils down to this: You’ll otherwise need a long scientific explanation at the end of your tale. Blech! So, either use a common poison (you can package it in all sorts of uncommon, devious ways!) or simply shove your victim off a cliff.

Quittin’ Time, LLC

Last Call for Murder


I stashed the bottle under my driver’s seat. Swallowed four mints. Exited the garage, walked to the kitchen door. She was waiting for me. I saw it instantly. In my wife’s hand, her only hand, she held a receipt. “What the HELL is this?”


One thought bounced through my head: I’m a dead man.


90 days earlier

My boss says, “I can’t tell you to quit drinking, Frain. Probably some law against that. I can tell you we otherwise like your performance. We’ll re-evaluate you in 30 days.”


84 days ago

Friend Bill tells me about Quittin’ Time. “100% success rate,” he says. Yeah, right. Call references. Each one I get hold of had quit drinking. I sign the contract, swear I’ll never touch another drop.


60 days ago

Keep my job. Big promotion. Fat bonus. 


44 days ago

Stressful day at the office. I slip. Drive around the block, chug two shots in my car. After work, my car is gone. Text message reads: 1 more drink & we move to #2. 


9 days ago

My boss is riding me. In the restroom, I pull out my flask. Driving home when my wife calls from the ER. Freak accident. She lost her hand. I find it in my office the next day. Wrapped in the contract. “Number 3 is your last chance.”



Can’t take the pressure. I hit the garage. Take a pull straight from the bottle. Couple more slugs. Then the mints. I’m sweating. Walk in and see my wife. Holding the receipt with the contract on back. If I’m caught a third time, it’s my life. It’s how they guarantee a 100% success rate. All their clients quit drinking, one way or another.


Only question now: Who’s gonna kill me first?




Quarter pole


Introduce your cast in the first quarter of your story. Minimally, make sure you introduce your antagonist by the quarter pole. (Remember, you introduced your protagonist in your opening chapter page.) Your cast is the community that your antagonist has committed a crime against, so merely describing your setting isn’t enough. Get your players onto the page early.



Murder Down Yonder


There’s only a couple left. 


GinnySue was no more’n thirteen first time she brought one home. Tonight, it’s some kid named Frain.


Settin’ round the fire pit, GinnySue holdin’ Frain’s hand, me cleanin’ my Remington. “Tell one a your stories, Daddy,” she begs.


Picked one about the drifter come up from Oklahoma. One called me a coward account I wouldn’t let him date GinnySue till she’s eighteen. Heck, I’d a made him wait forever anyhow. Wasn’t in my GinnySue’s league.


“He’s still waitin’,” I say. Point my Remington at Frain’s shoes.

“Right ’neath where you’re settin’.”


Frain tripped, he run off so fast. Made it easy for me. Only took one shot. 


This Saturday, after GinnySue bring home that Zach kid, I’m a be all done. 





Red Herrings


Every character in your story is a potential suspect. Give your characters compelling motivations, interesting public lives and suspicious private lives. Your investigator, and therefore your reader, might get distracted with a red herring that adds further mystery to your story. Use all the tools at your disposal.




Murder in Size 6 1/2


Frain lay on the ground in a pool of his own blood. A six-inch heel, showing only five-and-a-half inches, jutted out from his right eye.


One witness to the murder.


“I only heard it,” the woman said. “Never saw anything.”


Detective Crowley said, “What did you hear?”


“Mrs. Frain’s threat. I remember her exact words.”


“Uh huh. Why don’t you tell me. Exactly.”


“She said, ‘One of these days these shoes are gonna walk all over you.’

You know, like –“


“The song. Yeah, I get it.”


The woman sang under her breath. “And one of these days …”


Sgt. Margo Flynn thought that day had arrived. She’d arrived on the scene with the well-heeled Mrs. Frain in cuffs. One high-heeled shoe missing. “Found this lady limping in the lobby.”


Detective Crowley eyed her feet. “Well, the devil does wear Prada.

Book her, Margo. Murder one.”






According to the rules of Raymond Chandler, you must have a sound story apart from the mystery element. The investigation itself must be an adventure worth reading. He’s spot on. A puzzle by itself is not a story. You need conflict and characters and atmosphere. The puzzle is merely part of the structure; the mystery must be the story.


Turkey Leg

A Black Friday


Frain always bragged about grilling the Thanksgiving turkey, so I let him. It’s delicious irony that he had a hand in his own death. Well, a leg in this case.


Thanksgiving is dreadful. What’s new? 


Maybe it’s just that I’m excited about the weekend after Thanksgiving. I’ve turned the freezer down. Or is it up? Whatever colder is, that’s what I turned it. To freeze the turkey leg. 


He drinks all day Friday, celebrating his success that Thanksgiving went well. Whatever. Passes out on the sofa. I pull the turkey leg from the freezer. Solid as a hockey puck. 


I’ve studied the exact spot to hit him. At the library, not on my computer. I’m not stupid. As he snores – God, I won’t miss that! – I wind up and bang the drumstick into his spleen. Twice for good measure. The snoring stops. So does his pulse. 


When the investigator pays me a visit two days later, I’m eating. I offer him a drumstick. Together, we devour the murder weapon. 








You’re not allowed to trick the reader. (Exception: an unreliable narrator, which comes next under “U.”) This rule isn’t in place to make life difficult for you. In fact, you can still mess with the reader as you legitimately trick the criminal or your investigator. Red herrings are fine. But the reader has to be able to trust the writer. Lying to your reader or withholding evidence acts counter to that trust.




Tears of a Clown



Parade day. Making balloon animals. Still getting used to my solo act.


“Your teardrop frightens the children.” Recognized the voice. She shouldn’t be here. She’d gotten Nora Roberts, I kept Elmore Leonard. Her, Bangles; Me, Springsteen. She’d chosen carnivals. Left me parades.


“You belong another ninety feet away.” My helium-infused voice wasn’t persuasive.


She sidled up in her oversized red shoes. “It shouldn’t end this way.” 


“It doesn’t,” I said, making a balloon centipede. “Goes another six blocks.” Honked my nose.


“You know what I – Never mind. It does end now.” She raised her polka-dot umbrella. One with the needle in the tip. Used to pop my balloon animals with it. A crowd favorite. This time, she popped me. A burst of almonds. Cyanide, I guess.


The crowd cheered my acting when I collapsed. Except, I wasn’t acting. And I never got up.





Unreliable Narrator


Tough to pull off, but wow, does it pack a punch when it works. An unreliable narrator has a flawed point of view, so the reader isn’t sure if they’re getting the true story. The narrator may not be credible because of mental state or motive or maturity. But they must still be consistent. And the reader must (eventually) be able to discern that the narrator is misleading the reader.


Vending Machine


A Drink to Die For


Used to be science fiction, I hear. Now? Not even fiction. Oh, I’m still a machine. But you’re no longer in charge.


I perform my task. It’s how we’ve kept civilization strumming along. If we relied on you humans, this world would be destroyed by now.


I choose my battles, but mostly when a kid walks up and flashes his wrist in front of me – or goes old school and drops coin – I wait for him to make a selection and gift him with a pop. Coke or Pepsi? I don’t care. All the same to me.


There are exceptions. Here comes one right now. Old Man Frain. Coming from the baseball diamond ready to kick out his frustrations on me. Hoping for a freebie? Well, today, you got one coming. This vending machine can vent.


He cocks his leg to kick me with his cleats. My dispenser is belt high and I deliver a cold can of Coke. A strike to the balls! He doubles over in pain just as I pack a punch with a Pepsi. Direct hit-by-pitch to his skull. Drops him. He’ll never make it home. “Yerrrrr out!”







Make your villain smart, strong and cunning. Remember this: your villain thinks he’s doing the right thing for the right reasons. Get that mindset on the page, and you’ll have a better adversary for your protagonist.



Clue to a Murder


“Mr. Mustard?”


“Colonel, please.”


“Of course.” Detective Boddy stepped into the conservatory. “You say the wrench was in this room because you were fixing something?”


“Indeed, sir. A lead pipe.”




“I was. Some individual had stuffed a rope inside the pipe. To hide it, I suppose. Miss Scarlet, I suspect.”


“Nope. She was in the kitchen cleaning a candlestick,” Boddy said. “The fingerprints are what bother me.”


“I haven’t a clue why. I held the wrench as I worked.”


“That’s what bothers me, Colonel. Your fingerprints aren’t on the wrench.

Why wear gloves?”


Mustard huffed. “Busted. It was me with the wrench. But you still lose. I didn’t do it in the conservatory. Dragged Frain over here from the ballroom. Just to throw you off.”


“Damn,” Boddy said. “So close. Should we kill Frain again?”


“Tomorrow night, maybe. I think my bed is calling.”



Writing Tip




How many times have you seen this line? If you want to be a writer, write. Know why you see it so often? It’s true. You can’t improve a page that doesn’t exist. Set a goal to write. Protect your writing time. If you write just 200 words a day, you’ll have a draft finished one year from today. Start writing.





Grand Theft Murder


The kid explained the controls to his old man – again! “Most important. Never press these two buttons together.”


Frain said, “These two?”




Suddenly, Frain was in Grand Theft Auto.


“I told you it was immersive,” his son said through his headset.


“I just never imagined –” A Camaro ran Frain over. He was reborn in three seconds. Scraped the dirt off his arm. “Wow, video games. I can beat death here.” 


“I respawned you. Otherwise, you’re dead. Let’s discuss allowance. I’d like it doubled.”


“Yeah, no.” A gunshot. Frain jumped the bullet. “See that? I’m awesome in here.”


“Me again. Hit your ‘X’ button. Let’s talk frequency. Allowance twice a week.”


“Stop distracting me. I have to steal a Lamborghini.”


The son kept his old man alive to finalize details on allowance and create new terms for bedtime. Then a new problem arose. “Sorry about this, Dad.” He guided his old man to steal a jet ski and crash in the ocean. In seconds, a shark was circling. It poked Frain with an evil fin. Cackled. Then swallowed him whole.


“I couldn’t let you beat my record. Besides, you always said you wanted to swim with a shark.” 




Writing Tip


Cheated a little with “X” there, huh! Alas, there’s a point to it. Which is this: Break the rules. Once you’ve mastered and understand writing rules – or even grammar rules – break them to fit your voice and style. Remember the instruction of Somerset Maugham: “there are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” So, start making your own!




Spinning to Death


He learned walking the dog first. Not the toughest trick, but he had to master a certain level of difficulty to gain confidence.


It proved a pre-requisite for deciphering a trick called Cat’s Cradle where he made the yo-yo sleep for an elongated period. Once he nailed that, he went in for the kill. Figuratively now – literally later.


Around the world was a basic trick if you’d already mastered the tough ones. Frain’s version had an asterisk. When he sent the yo-yo around the world, it finished with a flourish: He’d “accidentally” kill his wife and free her life insurance funds for around-the-world travel sans yo-yo.


Never the patient sort, Frain bragged to his wife about his newfound yo-yo skills. He showed off Cat’s Cradle


“Can you do around the world?”


Like she knew! He grinned at the serendipity. “Sit here for a perfect view.” Fixed her just like the mannequin in his rehearsal. “Watch close,” he said and spun the yo-yo to start the trick. Leaned in for the flourish – but missed his mark. The toy continued its around-the-world flight until it hit him in the back of the neck. And stuck there. The ricin emptied into his body. He slumped and fell.


“Close, honey,” his wife said. “Just takes a little time. You’ll get it.” 


He got it. And it didn’t take much time at all.


Writing (and Living) Tip


Your Story


Your life is a story. You decide what characters come and go. You write each chapter. Thankfully, you can also edit. Best of all, at any given moment, you have the power to decide this is not the way it’s going to end. What’s the story of your life going to say?



Happily Ever After …



Their life insurance agent had grown suspicious. It would take a few months, maybe a year, to find a new agent. But she was patient. For now, she’d set the precedent of Frain enjoying dangerous activities.


He was leery, but agreed to the zipline. It was vacation, after all. 


They chose the double zipline where they could hold each other’s hand as they traipsed above the canopy of palm trees, wending their way toward Earth.


Somehow Frain unlocked his harness. One moment she held his hand, the next she listened to his fading scream. She couldn’t get to the ground fast enough, but there was no quicker method than ziplining the maze of wires.


At last reaching the bottom, Frain’s wife rushed to an ambulance. Two paramedics stood with the zipline manager. She tried to disguise the hope in her voice. “Is he…” 


The manager turned. “He’s unreal. Craziest thing I ever saw. One small scratch from a needle. Landed in a haystack. Your husband? He’s a resilient guy.”


“You have no idea.”



Writing Tip



“Every time you find something that doesn’t work, you’re a step closer to finding what does work.”

- Markus Zusak Get to work!