The Two-Headed Killer   By Sarah E. Glenn


When Gwen and I show our book to other authors, the first questions we are usually asked are: “You wrote a book together? How did you plot it?”mmexcoverfront

Creative types often have problems working together. It’s like another cook in your kitchen or, worse, a boss that tries to micromanage you. You have your creative process, and they have theirs. This is true for even authors who married other authors; sometimes the choice comes down to writing separately vs. divorce.

Yet it does happen. Richard Levinson and William Link created great television together: Columbo, Ellery Queen, Murder, She Wrote, and many other popular shows. Sometimes they devised plots together (often under the pen name ‘Ted Leighton’) which scriptwriters would turn into a television episode. James Patterson is also known for co-writing, but he takes a top-down approach: he creates the characters and a detailed plot, which is then taken over by other writers.

In our case, short stories were relatively easy. We discussed what should happen, and then one of us would begin the writing. We took turns. I remember, while writing one story, saying to Gwen, “You need to invent something,” because we’d hit the point where the character needed to reveal his invention. Then, we both had to figure out how to use it to help resolve the situation. The dialogue was a breeze. It’s fun to write, and Gwen suggests comebacks I can play off of.  It was great fun to have another imagination to build a story with. The sum was greater than the halves.

Writing a novel, though, was a bigger challenge. One of our biggest roadblocks: writing style. Gwen is a true ‘plotter’, while I am a pantser (a writer who flies by the seat of the pants). When Gwen sits down to write, she lays out her plot, then starts at the beginning of the book and produces the ensuing material in a linear fashion. She inserts scenes only when the story demands it.

I don’t do well with beginnings, since story openings invite a lot of second-guessing and, frankly, procrastination. Instead, I write the scenes that are the clearest in my head. It’s like a spider web: I fill the space between the scenes with the stuff that should precede or follow them. As a result, it can take me as long as 30,000 words to figure out what a novel is really about and force it into a logical chronology. Short stories are so much easier.

So, clashes ensued. We came up with the characters together, including ‘the crime before the crime’ and who the killer was. Gwen let me choose the poison because I love that sort of thing. I began the book because she was working on Concealed in Ash. I started with a crude sequence of events for the first part of the novel and worked with the scenes I had the strongest ideas for. Then, Gwen took over for a while and added more background to my work, plus she added the scenes between the scenes. So far, no problem.

I got back into the novel after editing a couple of anthologies, read over the previous text to reorient myself, and added further scenes. This was when the trouble started. I had this unfortunate habit of writing the scene where the killer was revealed to give myself a goalpost for the in-between narrative. Then, I wrote some critical clue discovery scenes between it and where Gwen left off.

This was a big mistake. Gwen started writing at the first gap and, through organic process, revealed a big clue that I’d set later in the book. I was unhappy that she hadn’t looked ahead, while she felt that certain clues would be discovered sooner with the technology available at the time. Then, I had a spark of an idea of how future trouble could be created with the information she’d changed. We discussed the new plot twist, and I removed and retooled the conflicting scenes as necessary. After that, I made sure to run ideas by her before I wrote them.

Gwen and I finished the book by using yWriter to coordinate the plot and firm up the chronology (which days the train ran, when court was open for arraignments, etc.). Even then, details cropped up that required retrofitting other scenes and adding new narrative.

I did the final edits to sand down the bumps. Some chapters needed more work than others.  Once the text was smoothed out, though, we had a pretty good product. Readers seem to appreciate the cultural details and the plot twists that started as accidents.

I’ve begun the sequel. We have the story mapped out in yWriter, and have agreed that if one of us makes changes to the plot, it needs to be changed accordingly in the master plot. I hope this will produce a good story more quickly, but how else were we supposed to learn?

gwen-and-sarah-fapa-conf-smallerGwen Mayo is passionate about blending her loves of history and mystery fiction. She currently lives and writes in Safety Harbor, Florida, but grew up in a large Irish family in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. She is the author of the Nessa Donnelly Mysteries and co-author of the Old Crows stories with Sarah Glenn.

Her stories have appeared in A Whodunit Halloween, Decades of Dirt, Halloween Frights (Volume I), and several flash fiction collections. She belongs to Sisters in Crime, SinC Guppies, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, the Historical Novel Society, and the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Gwen has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Kentucky. Her most interesting job, though, was as a brakeman and railroad engineer from 1983 – 1987. She was one of the last engineers to be certified on steam locomotives.

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Sarah E. Glenn has a B.S. in Journalism, which is a great degree for the dilettante she is. Later on, she did a stint as a graduate student in classical languages. She didn’t get the degree, but she’s great with crosswords. Her most interesting job was working the reports desk for the police department in Lexington, Kentucky, where she learned that criminals really are dumb.

Her great-great aunt served as a nurse in WWI, and was injured by poison gas during the fighting. A hundred years later, this would inspire Sarah to write stories Aunt Dess would probably not approve of.

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This Is Hard by Kait Carson

One of the biggest tenets of mystery writing is playing fair with the reader. That makes this blog hard to write. My first instinct was to write something frothy and fun. Always leave ‘em laughing, right? Then I thought about writing something deep and meaningful. But hey, this is Kait, who would buy that? Mike is the deep one in the group. Me, I’m comic relief.

So, with all of my options foreclosed, I guess I’ll come clean. This is my last blog with MurderMeansOpportunity. Don’t get me wrong, it ain’t that I don’t love you, or blogging here. I do. It has been a great experience and I’ve loved every minute of it, and I fully intend to hang around in the shadows and hold everyone accountable for what happens here. It’s just I realized that no matter how I cut the cake, I couldn’t figure out a way to get more than 24 hours out of a day. I tried, oh how I tried. My own writing was taking a back seat to the fun of blogging. And blogging is a lot of fun. You see, blogging has a start and a finish. That siren song calls loudly when you’re stuck in the middle of a rough plot point. There I would be, trying to get Hayden or Catherine out of the corner and the blog would call, “Kait, come on, you know you want me. Five hundred words, beginning, middle, end. No complications, just in and out.”

Blogging was becoming like crack. The opiate of the stuck writer. Easy to turn to when all else failed and not only that, it was free! With a weekly blog to write, it was too available. I had to take control again. So, a difficult decision was made. The time had come to cut the cord. I had to kill my darling and turn my back on MMO. I’ll be lurking though. You can count on that. And I hope that when my next book releases someone here will invite me back for a guest blog. Mike, please?

I’m going to miss you all, but I’ll still be dropping by to comment. And if anyone wants to drop by Mysteristas, I’m there on the first Tuesday of most months (February 28th this month), and I can usually be found on Writers Who Kill on the fourth Saturday of the month. Hope to catch you all there.

Wish me luck!

Author photos 009Kait Carson lives in an airpark in south central Florida with a pilot husband, eight tropical birds, and six rescue cats. By day, she’s a practicing probate and litigation paralegal, in the evening, legal pads give way to a keyboard, and she spins tales of murder and mayhem set in the tropical heat. Kait writes two series, the Catherine Swope series, set in Miami, and the Hayden Kent series set in the Fabulous Florida Keys.

Kait loves to hear from readers, check out her website at; follow her on Facebook at, on Twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at



John Beyer on Motivation for Writing

Motivation for writing should be the writing itself. But that is not always the case – theoperationscorpion true motivator for this Wordsmith, is to be read.

I’m not a diarist, keeping my inner thoughts inside the covers of a notebook not to be seen by the outside world. No, to be read by complete strangers is the motivation which prompts one to spend hours upon hours in the make believe world of fiction (or nonfiction for that matter).

Then again, why write? Why not paint? Construct beautiful pieces of sculpture? All are worthy for the creative mind but why do so many of us put pen to paper or fingers to keypads?

Seems simple enough – to tell a story. Be that a short story or a novel – a story needs to be told and the one with the imagination to express the prose must be the one to share it. And most importantly a story needs to be read.

Thus a writer is born.

Then again, opportunity is a great happenstance to motivate the mind.

When I was younger, an opportunity presented itself to me and I met it head on. Writing for a local monthly magazine gave me the chance to meet some incredibly interesting people, and one of those was Ray Bradbury. Yes, the magical story teller of such international fame as Fahrenheit 451, All Summer in a Day, and The Martian Chronicles just to name a few. He was a guest speaker at a local library and I wandered in to hear from the master himself. Forty minutes later I knew I wanted to be a fiction writer. The pieces I had written up to that point were non-fiction for both the magazine I wrote for and the occasional newspaper articles.

The way Ray brought to life his love of storytelling was so impressive that I jotted as fast as I could into a small 5 x 7 spiral notebook. Everything was golden to the ears of this very young and impressionable journalist. At the end of his lecture – yes, the professor was speaking to his student, I realized two things.

First, I would interview Ray Bradbury for the magazine, and secondly I would someday be both a novelist and short story author.

Approached and approved for a phone interview the following week I was giddy with anticipation and scared at ‘screwing’ up my first real opportunity at interviewing a ‘celebrity.’

I was nervous but it was all for naught. Ray Bradbury immediately put me at ease and soon the interview turned into a true conversation between two writers. A world famous legend and a struggling one who now had dreams of fame and fortune.

Article written and published – so my job was done.

Two weeks later the phone rang and it was Ray. “Good job on the article. You made me sound as though I know a thing or two about writing.”

Wow, Ray Bradbury calling me to congratulate me on an article. He had actually read it!

From then on we’d speak once or twice per year via phone or snail mail. To this day, especially after his passing in 2012 I believe he was part of my personal motivation to keep writing.

Did it work? Three novels and numerous stories –both non-fiction and fiction in the last decade – it seems to this writer that Bradbury had a major influence to keep that once young student’s fingers pecking away at the keyboard as part of an almost daily routine.

Of course, I had been writing prior to this meeting with Bradbury, but there was something there which was inspirational.

With that and the support of a loving family, if one is so lucky to have that, would be another wonderful factor in becoming successful in this world of storytelling. The hours locked away in the study with the understanding from loved ones that the door would open when certain events occurred.

That would be when dialogue flowed smoothly, the action took place, tears fell on characters faces, or the other one hundred things which have to happen to make a story a story.

Stories must be told and that should be enough to make a person have the desire to write but often it is not enough.

Opportunity will often give birth to motivation – it did for this writer.

doing-researchFormer street cop, training officer and member of SWAT John Beyer has been writing most of his life. He’s traveled to at least 23 countries (and was actually shot in the head in Spain in 2000 during a march between Neo Nazis and Communists two days after running with the bulls in Pamplona). He was caught in a hurricane off the coast of east Baja (Bahia de los Angeles) while kayaking and lived to tell about it. Essentially, it’s hard to tell where experience leaves off and fiction takes over. You’ll want to read his books.

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The Year of the Rooster by Kait Carson

I love Chinese food, or at least what passes for Chinese food in this country. Never having been to China, I don’t know if what we have here in the States is even close to the real thing. I suspect it may not be. One thing that seems to be a constant in US Chinese restaurants, at least on the East Coast, are placemats. Placemats depicting the symbols of the Chinese zodiac. I’m a dragon. Frankly, that describes me better than my astrological sign of Cancer.

The traits of the Chinese and astrological overlap and braid together to form character. When I sit down to plot a character, I will often take both their birth date and their birth year into consideration and use the information to chart their salient character traits. The information provides a touchstone for me when I face the inevitable question of what will my character do now. Hayden Kent is an Aquarius born in the year of the Tiger. Her birth sign and birth year share traits. She is truthful, curious, imaginative, and optimistic. She also has a tendency to get off track and to run from emotion. Her color is blue green. Her friends refer to it as Hayden blue.

In much the same way, Catherine Swope is Virgo and a Rooster. This puts her very much at odds with herself. Virgos are reliable, intelligent and overly reserved while roosters are well, cock of the walk. They are brave and hardworking, but also can enjoy the spotlight and be vain. Catherine can get herself in trouble when her Rooster traits come to the fore, and there are other times when she needs those very traits to get her out of trouble. Hers choices are harder than Hayden’s and a good bit of the conflict in the Swope books is internal and more difficult to write.

My current WIP is the next book in the Swope series. In it, everything Catherine believes will be called into question. The foundations of all of her relationships will be shaken. As the turmoil swirls around Catherine something else more timely will be going on. 2017 is the year of the Rooster as well.

Without turning to politics, which have no place in this blog, I can only say that each year seems to have a unique character, both globally, and personally. This is the year that chickens seem to be coming home to roost. Large decisions will be made. Events long forgotten, or long thought forgotten will be brought to mind and things will change. For better, or for worse, that remains to be seen.

The year of the Rooster arrives on January 28th. Are you expecting roosting chickens?

Kait Carson lives in an airpark in south central Florida with a pilot husband, eight tropical birds, and six rescue cats. By day, she’s a practicing probate and litigation paralegal, in the evening, legal pads give way to a keyboard, and she spins tales of murder and mayhem set in the tropical heat. Kait writes two series, the Catherine Swope series, set in Miami, and the Hayden Kent series set in the Fabulous Florida Keys.

Kait loves to hear from readers, check out her website at; follow her on Facebook at, on Twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at


Author Appearances by Carl Brookins

Dark. Night. Moon up there somewhere. Temperature in the low teens and the raw windinsidepassage numbed my nose. We stumbled across an ice-rutted parking area in the industrial heart of a suburb somewhere on the northern fringe of the city. Box trucks, vans. Shiny automobiles. Harsh floods bolted high on the concrete walls of the narrow parking space sent needle-sharp shadows caroming off dingy windshields. Behind me a faulty compressor rattled in its cage against the concrete block wall. The wind moaned low.

I slowed and scanned the area, noting two small huddled clusters of figures. Male or female it was impossible to tell. They were plotting a move or sharing a joint. The lone point of color was a garish red orange sign, OPEN, over a glass door. Behind the door, a raucous crowd sampled beer from Bent Brewstillery, ate Jimmy John sandwiches, told each other jokes and lies.

I pushed my way through the tables, heading to the bar. Behind a tall iron-barred barrier, two-story fermenting tanks stood silent sentry duty. Overhead, set against the ribbed ceiling, big televisions sprayed silent electrons of colorful light from sports competitions that the crowd mostly seemed to ignore.

brookins-signingThe trim bartender in a tight t-shirt raised her plucked eyebrows at me. I pointed at the menu and gestured for a small glass of beer. We were checking out an event hosted by a microbrewery. The server poured a glass of rich amber fluid and took my money. My companion and I eeled through the press to the middle of the room where we found a table and two empty chairs. The crowd, a mixed range of ages, got louder and bigger. In another time the atmosphere would have been thick with cigarette smoke. People shifted and surged around the room. I glanced around again slowly, wondering how many were carrying.

A large bearded fellow in a dark woven stocking cap aslaunch on his forehead picked up a wand and cleared his throat into the sound system. He looked like he could handle himself. He looked like he could be competently employed at any of a dozen downtown bars as door minder or bouncer. He muttered an expletive and welcomed the crowd. The beer was excellent. Applause rattled the pile of old board games. Another Noir at the Bar evening of dark readings by local crime writers about nasty, violent crimes, was about to begin. There were a few minor celebrities from the local crime scene in the audience.

The mob organizer of the evening, dressed in in a long dark floor-length gown took the brookins-costumemike. She stared malevolently at us until the restive crowd subsided. Her reading was followed by excerpts read by several local authors. In between readings we all had a few drinks. I read a few paragraphs, a teaser, from my latest detective story, “The Case of the Stolen Case.” There were few questions. I thought it was well received. We drank a little more and I contemplated the sometimes doleful role of the author. Did we sell any books? I can’t say for sure. Later, a short indie film was projected on the painted block wall. We escaped with our lives into the cold and windy winter night.

Authors find themselves promoting their books in some surprising circumstances. The cliché that we lead solitary and lonely lives is just that—a cliché. And even those of us who concentrate at the darker end of the writerly spectrum, often enjoy a relatively normal life with friends, lovers and other writers

brookinsBefore he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Carl Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave.
He writes the sailing adventure series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney. The third novel is Old Silver. His new private investigator series features Sean NMI Sean, a short P.I. The first is titled The Case of the Greedy Lawyers. Brookins received a liberal arts degree from the University of Minnesota and studied for a MA in Communications at Michigan State University.


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The Case of the Yellow Diamond

Come and enjoy a time of conversation with author Carl Brookins as he talks about translating his sailing adventures to fiction and creating fictional characters that feel like old friends. Brookins is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave.

Seven Deadly Writer Sins by Kait Carson

I may have to borrow from Jimmy Buffett here if I run out of ideas but hey, Jimmy, I remember you at Bubbas, so ‘nuff said. Those of you who did not go to or hang out at the University of Miami in the early 1970s will have to make up your own stories. No, I did not know Jimmy Buffett then, or now, for that matter. But there was that wild night in Sint Maarten when I did tell him not to quit his day job. But that’s not what it sounds like either. And I doubt he’d even remember it. Jimmy, I’m glad you didn’t take my advice, but acapella, you don’t sound like you!

How does that relate to writing? It’s all about the story and not committing the seven deadly writer sins.

#1 Thou shall not head hop.

What is head hopping? Mavis asked herself.

How can she not know, Peter wondered? She does it all the time.

Jack shook his head in amazement and bit his tongue. Those two would argue over which way to screw in a lightbulb. “I have whiplash,” Kait moaned.

#2 Thou shalt not hide clues from your readers.

The key to keeping your books from hitting the wall when readers get to the end is to always play fair. This is harder than it sounds. When the sleuth stumbles across, uncovers, or develops a clue, the reader has to know at precisely the same moment. As a writer, I always feel as if a kick line of Rockettes is surrounding the fireworks shooting neon colored clue. My beta readers generally don’t have the same impression.

#3 Thou shalt not make thy victim a saint.

Everyone has good and bad points. There are few random crimes in the mystery writing world. There are some, but in those books, the perpetrator is known, the story is about something else. While the victim does not have to have a fatal flaw, he or she does need to be flawed. He or she is human, just like the rest of us. Those flaws may or may not have provided a motive.

#4 Thou shalt not make thy criminal Satan.

Even a murderer’s dog loves him. See above for good and bad points. It is essential that your criminal is human, and can hide in plain sight among the suspects which brings me to number 5.

#5. Thou shalt not point thy finger at only one character.

Multiple suspects are essential. Draw them out as if they are each the perpetrator and give every suspect motive, means, and opportunity. No one did this better than the two Dames, Agatha Christie and PD James.

#6 Thou shalt not forget to resolve thy red herrings.

I read a book once that had more loose ends than my first attempt at crochet. Suffice it to say I did not pick up another by that author. So, even if you don’t have a solution for a particular red herring (and there are times when life can imitate art) honor your reader and have your protagonist at least acknowledge it.

#7 Thou shalt not forget that writing is best accomplished when accompanied by chocolate and wine or the libation of your choice!

Your mileage may vary for these very simple seven deadly sins. Writers and authors—do you have a different list?

Kait Carson lives in an airpark in south central Florida with a pilot husband, eight tropical birds, and six rescue cats. By day, she’s a practicing probate and litigation paralegal, in the evening, legal pads give way to a keyboard, and she spins tales of murder and mayhem set in the tropical heat. Kait writes two series, the Catherine Swope series, set in Miami, and the Hayden Kent series set in the Fabulous Florida Keys.

Kait loves to hear from readers, check out her website at; follow her on Facebook at, on Twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at




There is so much fiction writing advice out there, I finally decided to strain it down for myself to what I think are the essentials. See if you agree with me!artie-bundle

  1. Write fiction every day.

This is number one. You make it a habit, you build your writing muscles, and you produce lots of stuff to work with later.

  1. Always be aware of what the villain is doing.

I only heard about this idea a while ago, but it makes so much sense. And it’s fun to imagine what the guy or gal is doing behind the scenes besides rubbing hands together in glee.

  1. Use a professional editor (not your mother, even if she is a professional editor).

Once you have done your very best with the material you wrote, you should have someone go over it, if just a proofreader. If you do that, at least there’s one thing readers and reviewers cannot complain about.

  1. Begin each scene with action (no one lying in bed mulling things over), and nailing the location and characters present right away.

This is hard, and I admit I don’t always accomplish it. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes, to say nothing of second nature. (What the heck is first nature, anyway? Or third?)

  1. End each scene with a cliffhanger—it doesn’t have to be heart-stopping, it can simply be a question.

Another hard thing to accomplish, but worth a shot. It might even help you write the next scene. You’ve already set something up that the characters have to deal with. Make a list of all the things that can go wrong in life. Use one to end each scene. Fire, flood, a dead body. You get the idea.

  1. Be absolutely sure the reader always knows who is speaking.

Nothing is more annoying than wondering who is talking and having to go back and read several paragraphs to figure it out because the writer left off an attribution. This is one of my pet peeves. And I see it happen in almost every novel I read, no matter if it’s self-published or one of the “big publishers” in New York who put it out. Maybe rule #1 should be: don’t annoy the reader.

  1. While editing, hunt down and delete every single unnecessary word and phrase.

This makes for a tight story, thus a better story. There’s no downside, and if you make it a goal during your last pass-through, you will have a better piece of writing.

  1. Read fiction every day.

Learning from other good writers is so enjoyable, isn’t it? And reading bad writing can show you what not to do better than any advice about it given to you.

  1. Read non-fiction every day.

Just for fifteen minutes is enough, but of course, the more the better. I suggest at least one book about writing a month. You can also use this time to do some research. Or just read about things you are fascinated by. You might be able to work them into future work.

  1. Write fiction every day.

Try not to repeat yourself. But when something is really, really important, just do it!

Anyone have a rule they swear by that they think everyone should follow? Let us know in the comments!

janBIO: Jan Christensen grew up in New Jersey and now resides in Texas. Her nine published novels include three series and one stand-alone. She’s also had over seventy short stories appear in various publications, among them a collection, The Artie Crimes, from Untreed Reads.  She’s past president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and a member of Mystery Writers of American, and Sisters in Crime. Learn more on her website: