On the cusp of becoming a star, a young Hollywood actress is
murdered. Honey Black remains on earth intent on fingering her killer. Who
wanted her dead? Was it her ex-husband? Her new boyfriend? Her backstabbing
roommate? Her co-star? The movie director? The list seems endless.
But Honey can’t imagine what would cause anyone to end her
life. As she follows the detective around town, her biggest hurdle is how to
communicate with the lead detective in charge of her case.
November is National Novel Writing Month. This is an annual internet-based, creative writing project that began in 1999. During the month, you write 50,000 words. The idea is that you write, write, write and don't stop to look back or edit your work. At the end of the month you have completed (or written a humongous chunk of) a novel. Now you have a first draft to revise and edit. There is a dedicated website (no fee involved) which includes much more than recording your word count. There are forums where you can interact with other members, get advice, ask or answer questions, receive encouragement and/or find tools to help with your writing. If you're a social animal, be sure to check if your local community offers write-ins. Word sprints are popular. (A nonverbal vomit, if you will.) Know a youth who loves to read and make up their own stories? Introduce them to Nano's Young Writers Program--a writing workshop aimed at kindergarten to 12th grade students. This is a self-challenge. You ‘win’ by writing 50,000 words
and there are online sponsors who offer
prizes. (You can’t cheat, since the reward for winning is your own completed
Now that you know—dust off your keyboard, gather your notes
and ideas and write!
Nowadays, there are many categories and subcategories for mystery novels. Classifications vary depending on the source of the information. Listed below, I have compiled definitions for each (though categories are always changing and expanding especially since trends ebb and flow). Cozy-The protagonist is an amateur sleuth; murder and sex happen off the page; light, sometimes humorous with heavy character development. Think Jenn McKinlay, E.J. Copperman, J.J. Cook, Jennifer Oberth & Ella Barrick. Thriller-These stories typically start off with a bang--high stakes and the threat of constant danger keep the pace fast-moving throughout the entire book. It's usually a frantic race against time (that old ticking clock cliche) for the protagonist to defeat the threat. (The plot may or may not include a murder.) Think James Bond & Lee Child. Classsic Whodunit-The crime is typically a murder and is told from a detective's point of view. All the clues to solve the murder are spread throughout the story as the author must play fair with the reader. Think Agatha Christie & Rex Stout. Police Procedural-The protagonist is a law enforcement agent. The focus is on the mystery so character development is not as heavy. Factual police operations should be followed. Law enforcement is a team effort, a well-oiled machine including office politics. You'd better know your stuff! Think Ed McBain & Julie Smith. Historical-Setting your mystery in the past (near or far) will make the novel fall under this category. Not only do you have to plot your mystery, but you also need to do lots of research on the time period you've picked. Think Victoria Thompson, Susanna Calkins & Anne Perry. Supernatural-Murder plots with supernatural elements. Think Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher & Leigh Perry. Private Eye-The detective (almost always licensed) operates on the fringes of the law. Typically there is no love lost between the detective and the cops. These stories usually fall in the hard-boiled category. Think Robert B. Parker & Sara Paretsky. Noir- Okay, a dame with gams to kill for walks into the private dick's office and hires him. Lots of bottom-drawer booze, trench coats and neon lights. Think Raymond Chandler & Dashiell Hammett. Courtroom-The action is predominately set in the courtroom with a defense lawyer protagonist determined to prove his/her client's innocence by finding the guilty party. Think Erle Stanley Gardner, Scott Turow & David Housewright. Romantic Suspense-The murder is just a vehicle for two characters to romantically connect. Yes, there's murder, but love conquers all in the end. Think Nora Roberts. Medical- Obviously the action centers around a medical theme-either an outbreak of some contagion or the illegal use of medical technology. The protagonist can be a doctor or nurse or a patient of relative of the victim. Think Robin Cook. Heists & Capers--The crime is the focal point of the story. Detailed planning and execution drive the characters. In a heist, the characters are often criminals and more often than not, they get caught. A caper leans toward light-heartedness and comedy, where the characters share a noble goal and they usually get away with their crime. Think Donald Westlake & Michael Crichton. True Crime—It’s
all in the name. Obviously the books highlight a real-life murder case. Think
‘In Cold Blood’ & ‘Helter Skelter’
Horror, Locked Room mysteries, Howdunit, Espionage, Hard-boiled, Soft-boiled, Women
in Peril… It’s a never ending list of categories (continually changing and
evolving) which can go on and on and on…
When Steel Magnolias first came
out, my mother encouraged (read: forced) my sister and I to go see it. We
didn’t know anything about the movie
and went in blind. Afterwards, my sister and I both agreed that if we’d known
what it was about, we would’ve passed. We get enough angst in our lives without
watching it play out on the big screen. However, it’s one of the best movies I’ve
ever seen and I’ll never forget it. Laughing one minute, crying the next.
Switching back and forth between tears of joy and tears of sadness. Boy, I
aspire to write like that!
The first book I laughed out loud at was Janet Evanovich’s One For The Money. Janet created a great
scenario. Her protagonist is Stephanie Plum, an out of work Jersey gal who
takes a job as a bounty hunter for her cousin, Vinnie. Stephanie knows
absolutely nothing about the job and her encounters with crooks are hilarious. And
anybody who’s read the book can’t forget the dinner scene with Grandma Mazur
and the chicken! (My mother recommended this book to me and again she was spot
on. Does my mother know me or what?)
There are many funny books out there. Not always laugh out loud funny,
but certainly enjoyable. The cozy subgenre has numerous series that make me
smile. I read for enjoyment and escapism, so I adore mysteries with a sense of
humor. When I write, I try to paint a funny character or situation and hope the
humor shines through. You know the expression—if it bleeds, it leads. Well, I like to think—if it’s witty, you’re sitting pretty.
Jack the Ripper, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Zodiac, BTK, Charles Manson, Richard Spencer, Son of Sam... these are all real life serial killers. Some have never been identified. Their murders are gruesome and horrendous and also the reason I write cozy mysteries. In a cozy, the murder is lightly displayed-it happens off-page and the reader doesn't get immersed in bloodshed and gore. I write to entertain, not gross out readers. That's also the type of books I prefer to read. Luckily, I'm a visual person. If I do read about a ghastly death, I don't visualize it in graphic detail. If I see it on screen where it's shown in all its glory, I'll have nightmares. (I loved CSI-the original set in Las Vegas. But the minute the show switched to the autopsy scenes, I knew to look away. The stories were fantastic, but I couldn't stomach the gory corpses.) I grew up on Agatha Christie. (I adore her/she’s my idol!) Her
murders were off-page with the exception of A
Holiday for Murder. This was a Christmas story with bloodshed galore
happening on-page in full view of the reader. In 1938, she made this dedication
for her brother-in-law, James: “You have
always been one of the most faithful and kindly of my readers, and I was
therefore seriously perturbed when I received from you a word of criticism. You
complained that my murders were getting too refined and anaemic, in fact. You
yearned for a ‘good violent murder with lots of blood’. A murder where there
was no doubt about its being murder. So this is your special story—written for
you. I hope it may please. Your affectionate sister-in-law, Agatha”
This infamous serial killer
terrorized London in 1888 and to this day his identity is a well-kept secret.
All five of his victims were woman and their gruesome deaths took place within
a one mile radius in or near the Whitechapel district of London’s East End. The
district was notorious for squalor, violence and crime. At the time,
prostitution was legal unless it created a public disturbance.
Jack’s modus operandi was sadistic
butchery—mutilation and disembowlment. This led to rampant speculation that the
killer possessed a certain amount of medical and/or anatomical knowledge.
The killer allegedly sent a
multitude of letters to the London Metropolitan Police Service (aka Scotland
Yard) taunting the officers about his crimes and promising future horrific murders.
Various suspects emerged and have
been speculated on throughout the decades since his appearance.
Walter Sickert—a German born famous Victorian painter. He was known
for painting prostitutes and some people believe he inserted clues and symbols
into his artwork. It is also believed that Sickert was impotent (many serial
killers throughout history have been proven to be impotent or suffering from
sexual problems and the act of killing becomes their only means of sexual
fulfillment). In her book, Potrait of a
Killer: Jack the Ripper—Case Closed, author Patricia Cornwell claims to
have found mitochondrial DNA evidence on several of Jack the Ripper’s letters
which were a match to several letters written by Sickert ???
Carl Feigenbaum—a German merchant sailor and a known psychopath. He
confessed to mutilating women and was working at Whitechapel on every date that
a woman was killed. He emigrated to America in 1890 and was subsequently
convicted of killing Julianna Hoffman and sent to the electric chair.
Aaron Kosminski—a Polish barber. His mitochondrial DNA was found on
victim, Catherine Eddowes shawl (a ha!). Kosminski had settled in London in
the early 1880’s. He had a strong hatred of women, homicidal tendencies and was
sent to an asylum in 1889. Recently, two British researchers identified
Kosminski as the Ripper. They conducted genetic testing of blood and semen on a
shawl found near the body of Catherine Eddowes, the killer’s fourth victim. The
researchers have been analyzing the shawl for years and compared it with
samples from living descendants of both Eddowes and Kosminski. It is the only
surviving piece of physical evidence linked to the murders.
Montague John Druitt—an Oxford educated man from a good family. It
was put forth that he was ‘sexually insane’. Many experts believe he was the
killer. He was seen in the district at the times of the murders and after his
body was found floating in the Thames as an apparent suicide the murders
Frances Spurzheim Craig—a reporter who covered the police courts
and inquests on the Whitechapel murders. In 1884 he married Elizabeth Weston
Davies, who is commonly believed to be a prostitute who went under the name of
Mary Jane Kelly. Yep, that Mary Jane
Kelly—the Ripper’s fifth and final victim. The theory is that Craig discovered
Elizabeth was a prostitute and she went into hiding in the district. And he
used the age-old plot device of killing others to disguise the real murder—that
of his wife. Because isn’t the husband always the best suspect…
Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward—Queen Victoria’s grandson.
This theory was bandied about but later disproven by way of his alibis. Prince
Eddy was not even in London on the dates of the murders.
These are just the top contenders.
Jack the Ripper’s identity has been hotly debated for over a century. There
have been numerous books and movies about this very subject and to date, over
one hundred suspects have been named. Jack’s identity will probably never be
proven to anyone’s satisfaction. Who do you
think it was?