Saturday, August 29, 2015

Writing Tips Part 3 from Augustus Cileone

I'm thrilled to welcome back author, Augustus Cileone to my blog today for his third post in my writing tips series. Today he will be discussing the allure of mysteries, a topic I find quite fascinating myself. Although this isn't a straight writing tips-type of post, I think it does speak to the issue of what draws readers, particularly to the mystery genre.

In case you forgot, here's a little bit about my guest: 

Augustus Cileone won the Dark Oak Mystery Contest sponsored by Oak Tree Press, for the novel, A Lesson in Murder, about homicides associated with a Philadelphia Quaker school. His second novel, Feast or Famine, a satire, deals with a traumatized man dealing with his Catholic Italian American upbringing in the 1960's and 1970's. His latest novel, Out of the Picture, published by Sage Words Publishing, is a mystery loaded with movie references, and deals with social outsiders. He has been honored for his writing by Annual Art Affair, Hidden River Arts, the annual Writer’s Digest writing competition for two plays, The Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, the Montgomery County Community College’s Annual Writers’ Club Poetry and Fiction Contest, Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards, and the Annual StoryPros International Screenplay Contest.  His short stories appear in the anthologies entitled South Philly Fiction and Death Knell V, and in the literary periodical Schuylkill Valley Journal.

And now, Mr. Cileone: 

The Allure of a Mystery

Many people have heard the phrase, “Everybody loves a mystery.”  William G. Tapply, who wrote The Elements of Mystery Fiction, and is the author of the Brady Coyne mystery series of novels, stated in the March, 2007 edition of The Writer magazine the following:

What sets mystery novels apart from other types of fiction and makes them particularly appealing to fans are their whodunit puzzles. Mystery readers want to detect clues, to sniff out red herrings … to finger suspects. In other words, they want to play detective.  

The derivation of a red herring, which is where the writer leads the reader astray, comes from the English practice of dragging a red herring along a path to fool hunting dogs.  I don’t know why anyone would want to fool hunting dogs, but I guess you would have to ask the British to find out. Mr. Tapply goes on to say how readers like to match wits with the sleuth of the story, but the readers will be disappointed if they figure out the mystery before the main character does. You may get satisfaction from guessing some parts of the mystery correctly, but you get a charge out of a story that fools you, and then you look back and say, oh yeah, there were the clues, and that was clever how I was fooled. I still can’t believe I didn’t guess the ending of The Sixth Sense.

But I think the appeal of the murder mystery goes even further.  Patricia Cornwell, one of the biggest best selling mystery novelists, said in the same edition of The Writer:

"I cannot fully explain my fascination with violence, but I suspect it has to do with my fear of it … my writing is dark, filled with nightscapes and fear. Isolation and a sense of loss whisper throughout my prose like something perpetually stirring in the wind.  It is not uncommon for people to meet me and find it incongruous that I write the sort of books I do."

I think what she says speaks to the old idea about why we want to look away from a car accident, but can’t. We are both drawn to and repelled by the horrible. We want to understand, and are fascinated by, the killer who crosses the boundaries of society. But, at the same time we desire safety from and ignorance of terrible acts.

Patricia Cornwell’s quote also addresses the concept of our double nature. Outwardly she may seem the last person to deal with violence, but inwardly she can explore the dark side of a character in her writing. This concept brings up the theme of surface appearance versus inner reality. A big influence on me was Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs.  A brilliant psychiatrist, very sophisticated culturally, is in fact a murdering cannibal. This duality may also explain the popularity of the serial killer character Dexter in the books and TV show featuring him. He appears to be a normal person working at his forensics job, and is a dedicated brother. In fact, he is a serial killer. The extra twist is that he is someone meting out justice against vicious killers. 

On a personal level, I became interested in mysteries through films. My father took me to see Alfred Hitchcock movies. I especially liked Psycho, so I became interested in exploring the dark side of characters. I then started reading Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen novels. I love a complicated mystery because it is fun to try and solve the puzzle and be surprised by the twists in the plot. Two movies that influenced me in this way are The Last of Sheila (written by Anthony Perkins of Psyhco fame and Stephen Sondheim) and the original Sleuth, based on the Anthony Schaffer play. Wanting to explore complex stories is probably why I was addicted to the TV series Lost, and loved the 1960’s TV show The Prisoner, which may be the two most enigmatic shows ever written.

Some classify the mystery as some type of second rate genre. I think this criticism is a disservice. The very act of wanting to find out the solution to mysteries is basic to humans:  it takes place in science, mathematics, social sciences, psychology, in fact in just about every discipline. People vary on how much they thrive on answering questions and solving problems in their lives: some love it, doing crossword or picture puzzles, while others find questing after answers very taxing. But, we can’t escape it. Mystery stories at the very least provide an entertaining outlet for this primal drive; at the most, they help us to explore complex themes of what it is to be human.


Want to check out some of Mr. Cileone's brilliant work? His newest release, OUT OF THE PICTURE was released in February! You can check it out here

From the Amazon page: 

Vince Singleton, a writer, part-time English professor at Philadelphia Sacred Covenant University, and huge movie fan, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He witnessed the accidental shooting of his wife by a policeman during a robbery. Vince, however, suspects that her death was intentional. Now, an old friend of his is found dead amid unusual clues. Vince helps the lieutenant working the case, despite his wariness of policemen. Faculty members associated with animal abuse are murdered and strange items are discovered near the bodies. Vince determines that the clues refer to movies, and, with the help of his daughter, his journalist brother, and a female professor, tries to find the killer before another person is taken … out of the picture.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Things I Want You to Know About

It's me! Just little old me. I just have a couple of things to bring to your attention. Then next week I'll have another awesome writing tips post for you!

This author is Karli Rush:

Don't know her. Never met her. Never had any dealings with her at all. But I saw a Facebook post floating around about her yesterday. It touched me in my core. Her husband just died suddenly. He was the primary income in the family. They have two children. One is Autistic and the other is on dialysis awaiting a kidney transplant. I cannot even imagine the stress that this woman is under. Losing your partner suddenly and unexpectedly is difficult enough without adding all of the tremendous financial burden that now falls squarely on her shoulders--and she has a very sick child. This story hurt my heart. My prayers go out to her and her family. I simply cannot imagine what she is going through or how she is getting out of bed in the morning. A fundraising page has been set up for her and her family. Please consider donating and/or buying one of her books. Every little bit counts. Even $5 or $10 will go a long way if many, many people contribute.

You can donate HERE.

You can check out and buy her book(s) HERE.


On a less grave note, I'm thrilled to tell you that FINDING CLAIRE FLETCHER is finally available on AUDIO from Tantor Media. It's narrated by actress Amy Landon and let me tell you: she did an amazing job. Superb. Excellent. Awesome. I'm so incredibly happy with the way she brought Claire to life, I've been floating around on my own little cloud of euphoria since yesterday! Thank you, Tantor and thank you, Miss Landon.

So you can check it out on Amazon (CDs) or on Audible.

Or you can try to win a copy. Go to THIS LINK and comment on this photo, which is pinned to the top of the page:

On Friday evening, I'll draw a random winner and that person will receive one of the copies pictured above!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Writing Tips from Author, Tony Knighton

I am super excited to welcome fellow crime fiction author, Tony Knighton to my blog today with his 7 Suggestions for Writing Crime Fiction. Tony is not just a Philadelphia resident like myself, he is a Philadelphia firefighter and a former Marine! (Thank you, Tony, for your service to this great nation and our great city!) I actually read about Tony in my local, neighborhood paper and reached out to him to see if he would do a guest post for me. He graciously agreed. Here's a little more about my guest:

Tony Knighton is...

both an author and a lieutenant in the Philadelphia Fire Department, a thirty year veteran. Born in western Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, his family moved to Philadelphia when he was seven. With the exceptions of a short stay in Toronto, Ontario, and the military, he’s been in Philadelphia ever since.

He published the novella and story collection Happy Hour and Other Philadelphia Cruelties with Crime Wave Press. His story “The Scavengers” is included in the anthology Shocklines: Fresh Voices in Terror, published by Cemetery Dance, and his story “Sunrise” is included in the anthology Equilibrium Overturned, published by Grey Matter Press. He has also published short fiction in Static Movement Online and Dark Reveries.

In addition to his work as a fireman, he has also worked on the side as a roofer for many years. Knighton served in the United States Marine Corps, and attends classes sporadically at Community College of Philadelphia.

And now . . . Here's Tony:

Seven Suggestions* For Writing Crime Fiction

I want to thank Lisa for graciously inviting me to post my ramblings on her blog.

1. Take Notes.

I find myself worrying about my characters – these people who don’t really exist – often while I am far away from my computer keyboard (a twenty-year old Mac clamshell).  If I don’t write down an idea at the moment that I have it, it will be gone.  Try this experiment: carry a pad and pencil with you for a week.  Write down story ideas as they occur, each on a separate page.  Don’t look at them afterward, just put the pad away until you have another thought.  At the end of the week, go through your notes.  If you’re like me, you’ll have forgotten quite a few.

2. Be flexible.

Plot is essential, but if you are too rigid, your story won’t be as much fun as it could be.  Write scenes.  See where things go.  The stories of mine that I am happiest with are those that started with a premise, or a situation, or a character, instead of those that I outlined from start to finish.

3. Get the details right.

Make it easy for your reader to suspend disbelief.  Get as much factual stuff as correct as possible.  The details sell the story.  One of the reasons that I love the Parker series of books by Richard Stark (pen name of the late, great Donald Westlake) is that Mr. Westlake was interested in things – how they are made, how they work.  Anytime Parker had to break into (or out of) somewhere, the construction details – of the wall, or the floor, or the roof that Parker needed to breach – were dead on.  The same with guns, cars, alarm systems, places – anything – Westlake nailed the details.  If you don’t know about something that you’re trying to write about, it will show.  Go see it.  Read about it.  Or talk to someone who knows.  Don’t be shy.  People like to talk about themselves and what they do.  They might thank you for asking.

4. Let your characters tell the story.

Make ‘em do stuff and say things.  Long, expository passages are dull.

5. Cut, cut, cut.

I was going to title this suggestion Re-write, but for me, that essentially means cutting.  My first drafts are bad.  I weed and prune until they are better.  I try for economy – to avoid a three-syllable word if there’s a one-syllable word that works as well, or not to say with ten words what can be said with five.  Everything should be pushing the story along.  If it isn’t, I cut it.

6. Avoid clichés.

This should be obvious, but writers who know better sometimes resort to lowest-common-denominator stuff – dialogue like this: “It’s way too late for that!” or “You’re out of control!”, scenes like: two tough guys, pointing guns at each other while they say tough guy stuff (more clichés), or characters like these: the detective with a fifth of whiskey in his file cabinet, the aging hippie, the lesbian who drives a Subaru wagon.  Don’t do it.  Please.

7. Trust your reader.

People who read fiction are smart.  Drop your reader into the middle of something.  As long as the writing is strong, she’ll hang in there.  If a detail is obscure, but the passage well written, your reader will figure it out through context.  One of my favorite books is The Friends of Eddie Coyle, by the late, great George V. Higgins (sad – all of these guys – whose work I love – are gone).  Writers and reviewers universally rave about the dialogue.  I agree, and also think that the strength of the book comes from the trust Mr. Higgins has in his readers. There is no set-up, and nothing is explained.  George knew that we’d get it.

That’s all I’ve got.  Have fun.

Tony Knighton

* I love the late, great Elmore Leonard’s “Ten Rules of Writing,” published by the New York Times.  Mr. Leonard was a master.  It would be presumptive of me to call these any more than suggestions.


A young grifter steals an overcoat. As he discovers forty-thousand dollars in its inside pocket, the coat’s owners come after him. The action never stops as his pursuers seem to be both ahead and behind him at all times, killing and destroying everything in their wake to catch up with their money and the young thief. 

Happy Hour is as breathless as writing can be.

Knighton’s debut novella is accompanied by a selection of short stories that can run with the best of American Noir literature. It’s cold out there, folks. 

Please check out Happy Hour HERE.

You can find out more about Tony at his WEBSITE or check out his AMAZON PAGE.