Wednesday, July 29, 2015


This post comes courtesy of Lori's Reading Corner and Great Escapes Virtual book Tours. :-)

            Remember the last time you sneezed? There was that little itch that sent your nose into high alert. This could be the big one, you think, a real head-bobber, or it could be a tiny little nothing sneeze. Or it could be a false alarm. You just never know what to expect. There's the build-up, then the sneeze and, finally, the feeling of relief. And then it's over, or at least you hope so. I always sneeze three times in a row, but that's just my thing, a little author trivia.
            So, how is a sneeze like reading a mystery? Well, I'm glad you asked.  Like a sneeze, the plot of a mystery starts out slowly, the tension gradually builds while the reader wonders, is something about to happen? Is this a clue? Is this a major plot development? Or is it a fake-out?  For every build-up of tension in a mystery, there must be a release afterwards, a resolution to the problem and then a period of low-tension. In most books, this pattern will happen many times before the final resolution (the big sneeze!) which signals the end of the story.
            Without conflict, there is no story, of course, so the writer wants to keep putting the characters in dangerous or stressful situations. A good writer keeps the reader on edge by dangling the prize in front of the protagonist and then snatching it away at the last minute, or by throwing roadblocks in the way. The author has to be subtle about it, so the obstacles vary constantly. Maybe the protagonist loses faith in herself, or is physically detained. Maybe someone she cares about has a crisis and she has to stop what she's doing to offer help. Or maybe she's sent on a wild goose chase or follows the wrong lead. She may wind up in physical danger, or some other kind of trouble. 
            Here's an example of a best-selling mystery plot. The novel begins with the murder of a beautiful prosecutor in her apartment. The protagonist, also a prosecutor, was her co-worker, and is assigned the case. Nobody knows that the victim was the protagonist's former lover (raising the stakes). The protagonist's boss is up for re-election and the murder of one of his people is embarrassing. If he loses the election, the protagonist loses his job (raising the stakes some more). The election is lost and suddenly the protagonist finds himself accused of the murder. There's lots of evidence to implicate him: calls made from his home to hers the night of the murder, a glass with his fingerprints on it, carpet fibers, etc. The courtroom drama raises the tension even further; taking many turns along the way. But the expert testimony proves unreliable. The protagonist learns the judge had a relationship with the victim and also that the judge, the victim and his former boss all took bribes from suspects. A crucial piece of evidence for the prosecution disappears and the judge dismisses the case for lack of evidence.
            But the reader still doesn't know who killed the prosecutor! Was it the protagonist? He's the narrator, but is he reliable? Yes, he is, and he figures out who murdered his former lover…dun dun dun! It was his angry, betrayed wife who tried to frame him. Recognize the plot? It's Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow.
            The challenge for the mystery writer is how to build the tension to a crescendo and timing is everything. Think about that horror movie trick where the girl (and the audience) is terrified because we know something bad is about to happen. We're on the edge of our seats, our hearts are racing, and, suddenly, something scary jumps out at the girl--and it's just a cat. Everyone lets down their guard, shakes off the nervous tension and--WHAM--the bad guy/monster/psycho/alien then attacks the girl. That twist worked great the first time we saw it, but now we've come to expect it.
            In my Jamie Quinn mystery series, Jamie is a reluctant family lawyer who keeps finding herself involved in murder cases. In Death by Didgeridoo, her disabled cousin is accused of murdering his music teacher; in The Case of the Killer Divorce, Jamie's client is accused of murdering her husband, and in Peril in the Park, Jamie and her boyfriend are in danger from an evil jester who has already murdered one person. The tension rises and falls in each book while Jamie tries to figure out what's really going on, while, at the same time, there are mysteries to solve in her personal life. Because these books are part of a series, the tension isn't completely resolved at the end of each book. Certain story lines continue through to the next book and, in fact, each book ends with the first chapter of the next book as a teaser.

            Now, I think you understand how a good mystery can be just like a sneeze. And who doesn't like a good sneeze? It can be energizing and unexpected. But, at all costs, you want to avoid books which don't have tension; the kind that go on and on, the ones you wish would hurry up and end already. They are like having the hiccups and nobody wants those! 

Saturday, July 25, 2015


My guest post  appears on the wonderful blog: Storeybook Reviews as part of my Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours                                                       
            Picture yourself in the stands at a baseball game, not just any baseball game, but the last game of the 2014 World Series–winner takes all. You’ve invested a lot to be here, having spent a small fortune on a ticket (that was very hard to come by) and an entire day of your life driving, parking, and fighting the crowds, all so that you could watch this game. The man sitting next to you, clearly a Giants fan, is decked out in so much orange and black that he could be an advertisement for Halloween.
            In between cheering for his team, your seatmate observes how quiet you are and asks: “Hey, man, who are you rooting for?”
            “Nobody in particular,” you answer.
            The man is flabbergasted. “Then, why are you here?”
            Why, indeed? When you have no stake in the outcome, no skin in the game, why would you stick around? That is the reader’s dilemma. Authors are asking a lot of them: to invest money in a book and to spend precious time reading it, but what’s in it for them? What do they get out of the experience? For a reader to enjoy a book, to be satisfied with his expenditure of time and money, he doesn’t necessarily have to like the characters or have anything in common with them, but he must be invested in them. In other words, he needs to be rooting for somebody, to care about at least one character’s plight, to wonder how that character will resolve the issues in his life and whether he will learn anything along the way.
            A good example of the reader’s dilemma is The Kite Runner, a 2003 novel set in Afghanistan where the protagonist, Amir, sacrifices (spoiler alert!) his friend Hassan by not rescuing him from his attackers. Amir not only justifies his behavior, but takes out his guilt by treating Hassan horribly, causing him to be ostracized, and possibly ruining his life. This protagonist is not likable or admirable and we are universally appalled by his actions, so, why do we keep reading to the end? Why was this book a runaway bestseller? With an initial printing of 50,000 copies, this book went on to sell seven million copies and was also made into a movie. Everyone loves Harry Potter, the boy wizard, but nobody liked the jealous, weak and morally-bankrupt Amir. Even when Amir tried to redeem himself years later by helping Hassan’s son, the reader felt no respect for him. Too little, too late, we thought. But we read on–and not just to find out how Hassan’s life turned out. We kept reading because we were both fascinated and horrified, convinced that we would have done the right thing if faced with the same choices. In other words, that we were not Amir! But then, we wondered whether we would have been too scared to try to rescue our friend from his vicious attackers, whether we would have been willing to admit that we stood there and did nothing. The novel struck a chord because it made us explore our own characters; it made us think about how we would act in such an impossible situation. How would we deal with jealousy? With guilt? Would we be willing to risk our lives to redeem ourselves or to right a terrible wrong?
            As readers, we were invested, big time! But then, just when we thought the stakes couldn’t possibly get any higher and that Amir’s regret and guilt couldn’t get any worse, we learned that Hassan wasn’t only a servant boy, he was also Amir’s illegitimate brother! Gut-wrenching stuff, for sure. And that’s the answer to our question–we stick around because of EMOTION. A novel without emotion is like a paper doll. It can be a beautiful paper doll, but it will never be three-dimensional no matter how hard it tries. Clever dialogue, sharp prose, interesting characters, lovely scenery, may be enough to hold our interest, but we will always leave feeling dissatisfied.
            My Jamie Quinn Mystery Series opens with my protagonist Jamie Quinn mourning the death of her mother. Nothing can pull her out of her depression until her aunt calls in a panic because her disabled son Adam, Jamie’s cousin, has been accused of murdering his music teacher. The love Jamie has for her aunt and cousin, the guilt she feels for not being there for Adam in the past, for not being there for her aunt in the present, all motivate her to come back to life. In this first book, Death by Didgeridoo, there’s enough guilt to go around, as well as some jealousy, revenge and regret, but there’s also playfulness in the dialogue and some fun scenes between characters. Emotion gives a story genuineness, but not necessarily realism. Until I wrote my book, I’d never heard of anyone else being killed by a didgeridoo, so that’s kind of far out there, but the interplay between Jamie and the other characters, as well as the doubt and insecurity Jamie expresses are sentiments the reader can relate to.
            To sum up, I will quote you an Amazon book review I once read: “I wasted eight hours of my life reading this book and I’m writing a review to save you from the same fate!” What a kind soul, to want to save strangers from wasting their time! As an author offering advice to new authors, I hope to do the same because, if you’re not going to write with emotional resonance, then, why are you here?
 , cozy mysteries, great escapes virtual book tour, storeybook reviews

Monday, July 20, 2015

Inspiration, Brainstorming and Keeping One's Head

Guest Post courtesy of the blog, "Jane Reads" and  "Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours"!

Inspiration, Brainstorming and Keeping One's Head

Let's talk about Scheherazade, shall we? You remember her--the legendary Arabic queen and star of One Thousand and One Nights. She had the misfortune of marrying a king with a nasty habit of killing his wife every night and marrying a new one the next day. Luckily, she was very clever and a master storyteller and has provided us with the first documented case of the cliffhanger. On her first night with her new husband (which was also slated to be her last night with her new husband), she told him a fascinating story, spinning a tale all night long and stopping at dawn, right at the juiciest part of the story. Her curious, but still murderous husband told her she could live one more night, just to finish the story. She did finish and then started a new story every single night for a thousand and one nights until he finally told her she was so interesting he would allow her to live. That's almost three years' worth of stories, people! And you thought you were stressed about deadlines…

When your head isn't literally on the chopping block, it can be difficult to find inspiration, so what's an author to do? The prolific Stephen King, who never seems to run out of story ideas, says that his secret is to take interesting characters and put them in an interesting situation and see what happens. One of his recent books, Cell, provides a great example. King makes no secret of the fact that he hates cell phones, so why not make them the villain of the story? The premise, according to Wikipedia is this: it is an apocalyptic horror novel in which a New England artist struggles to reunite with his young son after a mysterious signal broadcast over the global cell phone network turns the majority of his fellow humans into mindless vicious animals. There are definite possibilities in that scenario, wouldn't you say?

Yes, you agree politely, but he's Stephen King, and I'm not. How am I supposed to brainstorm something brilliant? Ah, that's the key right there. It doesn't have to be brilliant--in fact, it can be the stupidest idea you've ever had! But it may lead you somewhere if you go with it, follow it, twist it, flip it on its head. You should defy your own expectations and, most importantly, keep asking why. Why does your character go to New York? Who he is going to see? Does he want to go or is he being forced to go? Is he running from something? How does he get there? What obstacles must he overcome? Pursue every avenue, exhaust every possibility and then throw another character into the mix. What are her motivations? What is their relationship? And then comes the most important question you'll ever ask about any imaginary scenario: What is the conflict? No conflict, no story, it’s that simple. Things must go wrong, fall apart, and look bleaker than bleak before you can write that happy ending. But it doesn't have to be an external conflict, it can be internal. 

In my first Jamie Quinn Mystery, Death by Didgeridoo, the protagonist, Jamie, is depressed about the death of her mother. She has taken a hiatus from work that has stretched into six months and still, she cannot get her act together. That is an internal conflict. Then her Aunt Peg calls, frantic, because her disabled son Adam has been accused of murder and she begs Jamie for help. Jamie is a family law attorney who knows nothing about criminal law but very much wants to help. When she arrives at the police station, she gets into an argument with the cocky young state attorney who wants to bolster his reputation by making an example out of Adam. Jamie soon realizes that the only person who can help her track down the real killer is someone she despises. Conflicts all over the place! See what I mean?

A good source of ideas is the daily news. People are doing the craziest stuff all the time; you can't make up some of this stuff. I live in Florida, where bizarre news is the norm, so it's easier for me. Here's an example of something going on right now: a man and woman had a brief fling and produced a child. They planned to share custody of their son and signed a parenting plan in which one of the conditions they agreed to was that the son would be circumcised and the father would pay for it. This agreement was incorporated into a court order and then the mom changed her mind, she didn't want her son circumcised after all. Four years of litigation ensued, the case moved from State to Federal Court and the father ultimately prevailed. So, what did the mom do? She fled the state with the child, but only after seeking assistance from radical activists called "intactivists" who reject circumcision as barbaric and who staged protests on her behalf. (They also threatened the doctors. I told you they were radical, didn't I?)

While I don't have an opinion on this particular subject, I think I've proved my point, that the news is a great way to start the creative juices flowing. Just don't forget to change the names and situations in order to fictionalize your story. And remember that conflict can be anything, it can be huge: a war between nations, a hostile takeover of a corporation, the Avengers taking down the bad guys. Or it can be intangible: a clash of ideas, a phobia, or the agony of choosing between two lovers. Make your characters sweat it out! They may hate you for it, but your readers will love you. Now that you're out of excuses, sit down and start writing! (Or you can stand if you want to, that works too.)

The Author

About Barbara Venkataraman

Award-winning author, Barbara Venkataraman is an attorney and mediator specializing in family law and debt collection.

She is the author of Teatime with Mrs. Grammar PersonThe Fight for Magicallus, a children’s fantasy; a humorous short story entitled If You’d Just Listened to Me in the First Place; and two books of humorous essays:I’m Not Talking about You, Of Course and A Trip to the Hardware Store & Other Calamities, which are part of the Quirky Essays for Quirky People series. Both books of humorous essays won the “Indie Book of the Day” award.

Her latest works are Death by Didgeridoo, first in the Jamie Quinn series; The Case of the Killer Divorce, the second Jamie Quinn mystery; and, just out, Peril in the Park, the latest in the popular Jamie Quinn series. Coming soon, Engaged in Danger — the next Jamie Quinn mystery!

Find her on the web at

Friday, July 17, 2015

Writing and Narrating Humor :-)

Courtesy of
sponsored by


An Interview with author, Barbara Venkataraman
 and narrator, Carrie Lee Martz


--You two have eight audiobooks across three different genres, how did you find each other? Carrie, what appealed to you about these stories?
"Barbara actually found me through ACX just 9 days after I created my profile, but I'll let her tell that part of our story. The first book we did was “A Trip to the Hardware Store;” it was just really relatable and quirky, so I knew it’d fun to narrate."

--Barbara, how did you know Carrie was the narrator who could pull off humor AND narrate your mysteries?
I got very lucky! I wanted a narrator with a sense of humor and a range of voices who was willing to work for free. I either had to convince a total stranger to spend hundreds of hours recording my self-published books as unpaid labor, OR, find a narrator through ACX willing to royalty-share (spend hundreds of hours recording my self-published books as unpaid labor AND split any profits, assuming there were any).
Throwing caution to the wind, I posted two projects on ACX simultaneously. After listening to and rejecting many demo recordings, I began to question the whole project, but kept slogging through. Suddenly, the heavens parted and I heard an angel sing, only she wasn't an angel, she was Carrie Lee Martz. Her demo was a voiceover demo in which she showed off her range of voices. She was perfect! I made her an offer for both books and she accepted. We exchanged e-mails and confessed that we'd never done this before, but we were both game and jumped right in. 

--Carrie, as a narrator, how do you approach a humorous work differently?
"I don’t really. Narrating comedy isn’t about telling jokes or trying to be funny. If it were, I’d be in trouble, because I think I’m the least funny person I know and I literally can’t tell a joke to save my life! LOL I think what’s most important is understanding the writer’s sense of humor and being able to fully commit to the characters and the story. If you focus on those things, the funny will automatically shine through."

--Barbara, what advice do you have for authors about writing humor? 
Don't ask me, ask Ellen Degeneres, lol! I think humorous writing is the unexpected combined with the sublime and the ludicrous. It's based on common experiences we've all had (or can easily imagine), and often focuses on the minutiae. Look at the comedian, Jim Gaffigan and how much mileage he's gotten out of mocking Hot Pockets. My advice is to read a lot of humor and try to analyze why it works. There's a lot of timing involved and also a build-up of expectations.

--Carrie, do you have any advice for narrators thinking about trying Audible? Has it met your expectations?
"Go for it! Audible’s ACX program gives new narrators and indie authors a vehicle to break into the audiobook business without the usual constraints. I mean, what have you got to lose!?! I'd never narrated a book before, but my voiceover coach, Amy Hartman, suggested that I create an ACX profile to start practicing and auditioning. I was so excited to have a place to get "real world" experience auditioning for audiobooks, that I didn’t really have any expectations. Given that, the program far exceeded my expectations! With ACX, I get to audition and practice my narration skills on a regular basis and have launched the beginning of my audiobook career, with several books for sell on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.  AMAZING!!!"
--Barbara, do you also recommend Audible?
Definitely! But be prepared to do some serious marketing on your own. Once you and your narrator have exhausted your personal connections, it's time to hit the virtual streets. Get free download codes from ACX and give them away like crazy. When you run out, ask for more. Sadly, we can't all be featured in the New York Times book section.

-- Carrie, how has your acting experience helped you as a narrator?
"Being an actress has taught me how to make strong choices and how to fully commit to those choices, the characters, and the story. This is a really critical skill for actors, but it’s even more important for audiobook narrators! All you’ve got to work with are the characters and the author’s words, so you’ve got to be really clear in your mind about who the characters are and what the words mean. If you stay focused on the characters and have clear intentions for the story when you read, it helps to paint a better picture for the listeners."

--Barbara, What type of feedback have you gotten?
Carrie and I have gotten some wonderful feedback on our audiobooks and Carrie really brings my characters to life. Here are some examples of feedback we've received: you made me laugh, thanks for the chuckles, you almost made me spit my coffee out through my nose! My absolute favorite, though, was the woman who said Carrie did an excellent drunk voice. Carrie and I agreed that when we finally meet, we'll drink some wine and practice our drunk voices together.

--Carrie, have you gotten feedback on your narration & did it surprise you in any way?

"I've gotten quite a lot of feedback actually, which is pretty cool. I’ve had bad and good surprises. The bad – people can be incredibly critical and even a little mean in their reviews – it’s really taught me to “let go” of the negative comments (you just can't please everyone) and to pay special attention to the "constructive criticism" (if you learn to identify it, you can use it to improve and hone your skills). The good – I've had a lot of people say that listening to my narration is like sitting with a good friend while she shares the humorous stories of her life.  WOW – what a great compliment! Since I’m always striving for that kind of intimate experience when I narrate, it's so freaking cool to hear that it comes across that way to listeners!  =D"

How fun to get to know more about 
Barbara and Carrie!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Check out my interview in Omnimystery News! :-)

Day 2 of my virtual book tour and I have an interview in Omnimystery News! Thanks to Lance Wright and Lori Caswell.

Monday, July 13, 2015

First day of my virtual book tour, yay!

Check out my virtual book tour that started today. :-)