1. a little devil or demon; an evil spirit.
2. a mischievous child.
One or both of these definitions probably suit our target members who are readers, authors, and publishers who are looking for more than the standard mystery fare produced by well-known authors through long-established publishing houses.
From time to time we will feature interviews with authors and publishers. Follow @mysteryimp on Twitter for ongoing exchanges among mystery authors, publishers, and others interested in the world of mysteries. On Facebook visit and “Like” the Richard Davidson, Author page. Blogs of interest are ReadWorthy Books for book reviews on mysteries and more.
“The hymn straggled to its raggedy conclusion…” leads us into this complex and satisfying tale. Arthur Blake is preaching to a tough audience at his new assignment, Parkville United Methodist Church. Lead Us Not into Temptation by Richard Davidson is an intricate tangle of genealogy, murder and morality. From Parkville, Illinois to war torn Germany the story moves with twists and turns that keep you turning the page.
Davidson uses Arthur’s expertise as a former NASA engineer, his formidable logic, and his fascination with history to unravel the mystery of the skeletons in the closet of his new church. As the story unfolds, we meet a diverse cast of carefully drawn characters. How their decisions have impacted their lives and those of others hints at the consequences of succumbing to temptation. The novel touches on a number of moral and ethical dilemmas, from wartime romance to basic human greed.
The wealth of historical information provides a rich backdrop for this captivating tale. Thorough research is evident as the lives of a seemingly disparate cast of characters are artfully intertwined into a series of mysteries. Hats off to Mr. Davidson for a splendid first novel. I am looking forward to reading more of Pastor Blake’s adventures in the future!
ISBN 978-1-60264-407-6 Book info at davidsonbookshelf.com
Reviewed by Carol Henderson, freelance writer.
For more on the Lord’s Prayer Mystery Series including the more recent volumes, visit davidsonbookshelf.com
Go to the ReadWorthy Books Blog for additional reviews of books with varying subject matter including many mystery novels. Other useful links: Off Campus Writers’ Workshop, RADMAR Publishing Group
Imp Mysteries Series
Implications by Richard Davidson is the first volume in the new Imp Mysteries Series. All of the planned titles will begin with “Imp”. Implications starts with the late night burning of a rural church. The subsequent arson investigation reveals that the church had a very unexpected and highly tainted history.
Find information on the entire Imp Mystery Series at davidsonbookshelf.com
1. Q: In your many years of teaching at University of Wisconsin, Madison, you have influenced many fledgling writers. Have you seen variations and trends over time suggesting differences in the kinds of people who write and their levels of proficiency?
A: More and more people are writing – and publishing – fiction now, which I of course think is wonderful. Proficiency is and always has been all over the place, but pretty much every student I interact with is scared and doesn’t think he/she is any good at it.
2. Q: The last figures I saw showed you as the author of 21 nonfiction books and 6 novels. I believe that your mystery series contains your most recent works. You were once quoted as saying, “I love writing. Fiction, nonfiction, grocery lists, doesn’t matter.” Do you currently consider yourself more of a novelist, and do you plan on more mystery novels in the future?
A: You’re missing the most recent, “Walking Wounded: A Wartime Love Story”, my seventh published novel. (And by the way, I never stop being amazed and thrilled every time a new book comes out.) I’m definitely focused on the novel now; it was always my first love. I’m hoping for a fifth book in the Monona Quinn Mystery Series, and I have a couple of other things rattling around inside.
3. Q: I have read that “Murder Over Easy” was based on the real-life murder of a diner owner. Do you recommend basing a mystery novel on an actual event, or do you think authors do better when they use their imaginations without being restrained by headlines? (One television series deliberately characterizes its plots as being “ripped from the headlines”.)
A: We do better when we aren’t restrained by anything in terms of material to write about. The first two novels in the monona series were based on real events. Three and four are not. All four are total works of fiction, meaning I made the stuff up.
4. Q: You once recommended that a query letter sent to an agent or publisher should pitch a single novel except for the situation where you are writing a series. How would you handle the situation where you are pitching the second novel in a series to a different publisher than the one who issued the first volume?
A: Same process, but you of course mention the existence of the first book (which should help rather than hurt your chances with the second).
5. Q: What do you think about some of the new technical trends in publishing? Will economic realities, better editing, and quantities of titles guaranty eventual parity of POD books with traditionally published titles? Will the numbers game of e-book publishing make it very difficult for any one title to stand out?
A: I LOVE the new technology (and that from one who reveres the book as a holy object). POD and e-books have opened up publishing incredibly and made book publishing much more economical and less wasteful. That said, it has made it tremendously difficult for any one title to receive any attention and find its readers. (The problem has shifted from getting published to getting noticed.) When I first started teaching, there were 65,000 books published that year in America (about a tenth of them fiction). The number is now ten times that! (with the same ratio of fiction to non-fiction). Average sale of a POD self-published book is 147 – but millions of people are selling them, so the so-called tail of the marketing dragon has become huge.
6. Q: As online book sales become increasingly important, do you think that publishers will do away with the free return policy for bookstores? If they do, what will bookstores of the future look like?
A: Great question. I think in the not-too-distant future bookstores will have display copies only. When you buy a book, someone pushes a button, and a computer publishes a single copy of the book, your copy, at a regional distribution center. You get your book within a day or so, and there are no returned/remaindered books.
7. Q: What makes British mysteries so special? Is it history, environment, humor?
A: I think every country has lots of “special” mysteries and tons of not-so-special ones. To the extent that there’s a national outlook and a collective consciousness, the mysteries reflect this. The Brits gave the world the cozy. America and France gave it noir. Nobody does hard-boiled better than America.
8. Q: The new technologies of publishing make it relatively easy to creat a new publishing firm. Would the emergence of many new small, specialized publishers be a good trend? How do you see publishing developing in the future?
A: We already touched on this a bit. Len Fulton (Dustbooks) has been tracking (and nurturing) small press publishers for four decades (God bless him). I join him in thinking that the little indies have been and remain the source of incredible vitality and experimentation in our literature. I love the fact that publishing is becoming cheap enough for many more to do it. This really parallels the advent of the computer in terms of making publishing more accessible.
9. Q: There are genre mysteries, and there are mainstream novels that have mystery aspects to them. Do you think most mystery readers are specialists, or do you see a wider market for mystery writing in one form or another?
A: I think we pigeonhole novels and novelists, primarily because it’s a lot easier to market them that way. But there are and have always been writers who defy categorization and transcend genre. From Raymond Chandler to Elmore Leonard and James Lee Burke, we have mystery/thriller/crime novelists writing great literature. And tell me Ernest Gaines’ “Long Day in November” is “just” a kids’ book and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is “just” a young adult novel.
10. Q: Are the better mystery and mainstream novelists formally taught techniques, self-taught through trial and error, or just born to the art?
A: I think folks are born with the inclination, desire, and even need to write stories. It may even be that the stories pick the writers instead of the other way around. And certainly, just as some folks are born with greater natural athletic ability, some are born with more natural facility with language than others. But I’d never try to discourage anyone anywhere from writing. Some writers are products of creative writing classes and MFA programs. Many are not. Take Louis L’Amour, who jumped a freight and hoboed around the country at age 15 and taught himself by stopping at the public library everywhere he went. He became our foremost writer of westerns and a true expert on the west. If I had to choose whether to close down the writing schools or the libraries, I would without hesitation choose the former.
Interviewing Marshall J. Cook, Part 2 Q: Given the violent world we live in, what should a mystery writer do to keep the reader’s attention when he/she sees murders every day on the news, and the writer is creating a whole novel about “only” one or two murders?
A: You can’t outdo life for gore, violence, and inhumanity. I don’t even try; that’s one reason why I write so-called cozy mysteries. No matter what you write, though, I think you earn and keep the reader’s attention by creating credible characters and giving the reader a reason to care about them. Shockingly, some of my favorite [mystery] novels don’t have any murders at all!!!!
Q: When I write a novel, I try to add significance by framing it around events that might have “national news impact” and bring in the historical background behind what is happening now. This is my style, and it gives me confidence that the reader will learn something from my novel. What do you think about the importance of style and voice to an author?
A: I think they’re important, and I’d add “attitude” and “way of looking at the world” to the list. That said, I think the writer should absolutely forget all about such things and just try to tell a story as truly and sincerely as he or she can. Your style and voice will emerge naturally out of who you are, your experiences, your passions, your convictions.
Q: Catherine Wallace has said that there are many more reasons to write than there are to publish. Given this point of view and the hundreds of thousands of books that are published each year in the U.S. alone, would you ever suggest to your students that they write novels or nonfiction and never even try to publish them?
A: My job is to encourage, nurture, and help them do what they want to do. I do stress, though, that the act of writing itself, for oneself, is inherently valuable and needs no further justification, including publication. Writing is communication, sure, but it’s also therapy, self-discovery, exploration, mastery of skills and forms — all very good things.
Q: I’ve always been fascinated by authors like Isaac Asimov, J. R. R. Tolkien, and J. K. Rowling, who created their own worlds. Then they determined the natural laws and relationships that controlled those worlds. Have you ever thought about creating your own version of reality in a book? Would you like to play God in that sense?
A: I’ve never felt called to write science fiction, in that sense, but I think every fiction writer creates his/her own version of reality, a whole world. You are in that sense the God of your own little universe.
Q: It has to be very frustrating to authors to see that anyone with a bit of celebrity or notoriety can get bigger contracts and sell more books than most professional writers. What do you think about “star power” in publishing, and what do you think about the quality of most celebrity books?
A: Two Different questions.
Celebrity “books”: Most of them aren’t books at all. They’re a little scrap of the celebrity, like a signed picture, something of that person that we can have for our very own. In terms of the quality of the book: Aw, you know they generally aren’t very good. You don’t need me to say so. But the ‘star power’ writers — Stephen King, Danielle Steele, Patterson, Clancy, all the rest — I say more power to them, and thank God for them. If we didn’t have superstar fiction writers, only the courageous small press publishers would publish any fiction at all. And the stars get folks reading novels, which they might not otherwise do at all. And finally — some of those ‘stars’ write really good stuff. Lonesome Dove was a blockbuster; it’s also a great American novel.
Q: You pointed out earlier that in the U.S. only about ten percent of the books that are published each year are fiction. With a nonfiction book, it is fairly easy to determine your (somewhat specialized) market and your platform for promoting it. I know people who have written novels that have appeal to a specific geographic or historical interest market. How do you feel about writing a novel to suit a marketing plan?
A: GOOD LUCK.
Q: What do you think about writing contests? Do they work better when everyone writes to meet a specific assignment, or are they best for assessing the value of already-published works?
A: That’s not really an either/or, is it? They certainly both have value. (I think the ones with a specific assignment are more interesting and fun.) I’ve never been much for entering contests. (For me the ‘contest’ is “Do you want to publish this?”) But I think they’re great if they encourage writers.
Q: I know that you teach some writing courses online. Do you think that writers get more out of a short in-person course or a longer self-study online course?
A: Depends on the learner and the learning style, I’m sure. I love classroom/face-to-face teaching and had my doubts initially about online teaching. I’ve been amazed at how wonderful it is. You really can teach writing this way, and you develop relationships with your students that are in many ways deeper and more authentic than face-to-face ones. It’s great!
Q: I think that the best way to learn how to write is to write. @@@Amen, Brother!@@@ While you are in the process, and when you are revising, you can apply skills and information you have picked up along the way. As an educator, do you think there are skills that should be honed before one tackles creative writing? Should a novice writer feel self-conscious about writing down his or her thoughts?
A: Should you learn your scales first and jump right in and try to play a song, right? I’m definitely of the second school of thought. Get in there and tell stories. You start figuring out right away what you don’t know and what you need to know. It’s organic.
Q: I was fortunate to have a great Creative Writing teacher back in high school. He said that the secret to any written work could be found in two words: unity and coherence. (HMMM. Nobody told William Faulkner, I guess.) Do you have any similar succinct keys that are favorites?
A: They aren’t similar, but over 40+ years of teaching, I’ve got it honed down to seven words:
Don’t give up.
IMPS is primarily interested in conventional mystery novels. We are not interested in stories with excessive sex and violence, but rather tales involving clever and creative solutions to a puzzle or one or more crimes. Both genre and mainstream novels are of interest to us, but the ultimate solution must be based on information that has at least been obliquely presented to the reader. Solving a mystery through sudden visions or magic is considered unfair to the reader.
Many mysteries are like a wrinkled shirt, the more wrinkles the better. A straight line is the shortest distance between two points, but taking a straight line in the plot of a mystery story or novel is uninteresting and probably obvious to the reader. Create interest by interweaving three or more plots, and take the reader to unexpected places.
As in the creation of any story, two extremely important ingredients are Unity and Coherence. The story you create should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There should be sound logic in creating the paths the reader treads, and the wrapup of the story should answer dangling questions. Generally, the protagonist and the main supporting characters should grow through their experiences in a novel. Growth in a short story may be limited or difficult.
One of the author’s most important tools is the Timeline. The author must keep track of the relative ages of all of his characters and the dates when major events in their lives and in the story occurred. The story won’t feel real if dates are omitted and lives described without documented details. Without a timeline, the author and his readers get confused. Another valuable tool in generating a manuscript is a Table of Contents which may be retained or removed from the published novel. We suggest the use of chapter titles but removal of the Table of Contents after the work is complete. Titles on chapters can be useful to set the time or point of view or the mood. Exposing the reader to the complete Table of Contents can give too many clues as to the road map of the story. The true value of the Table of Contents comes during the Revision Phase of writing the novel. Every change to the manuscript requires easy access to other points in the manuscript where the initial change causes falling domino effects. The modern reader gets bogged down in long descriptive pasages. We recommend short chapters that balance lively dialog with terse exposition in order to secure the reader’s continuing attention.
Don’t spend too much time worrying in advance about the details of your project. Just write! Your characters and situations will tell you how to proceed to the next logical step in plot development. Some feel more comfortable with detailed outlines, but we prefer plot development through logic as the story develops, in order to achieve a novel that has spontaneity and creativity.
There is nothing more important in pursuing a writing career or any other career than the making of good decisions. Follow our guidance and commentary on this subject as applied to writing and living successfully on the Decision Time! Blog.