Tag Archives: Mystery


Louise Penny is a Canadian crime-fiction / mystery writer and international BestSelling author of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. Louise graciously shares her thoughts behind her phenomenal success and on what it takes to get recognized in today’s traditional publishing world.

AA1ALike most writers – I was turned down more often than I care to remember, or cared to admit to my agent. Now, when it’s too late for her to dump me, I might as well admit it. A few things would have helped had I known them earlier. This is a small attempt to make your life a little easier, if you’re an unpublished author.

First – finish the book. Most people who start books never finish them. Don’t be one of those. Do it, for God’s sake. You have nothing to fear – it won’t kill you. It won’t even bite you. This is your dream – this is your chance. You sure don’t want to be lying on your death bed regretting you didn’t finish the book.

Read a lot.

AA2ARead books on writing and getting published. I read Writing Mysteries, edited by Sue Grafton and published by Writers Digest. I also read Bestseller by Celia Brayfield and a bunch of other books including The Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published.

If this is your first time writing a book – why would you assume you know what you’re doing? Why put that sort of pressure and expectation on yourself? You might very well have an innate appreciation of character and structure and pacing. Some people do, and don’t need these books. Frankly, I’m not totally sure how much good they did me. But I know for sure they did no harm. And it was comforting to ‘listen’ to other writers and know they struggled with the same things. I felt much less alone and inept.

‘The cure for writer’s cramp is writer’s block.’
Inigo DeLeon

I suffered from writer’s block for many years. Terror had taken hold. I was afraid that, once tested, I’d prove my worst fear true – I was a terrible writer. What cured me was a sudden realization that I was taking myself way too seriously. And that I was trying to write the best book ever published in the history of the world. And if I didn’t, I was a failure.

I decided instead to just have fun with it. To write what I loved to read. And to people the book with characters I’d want as friends.

AA3Clearly we all choose our own characters – but make sure you’re going to want to spend lots of time with them. They don’t have to be attractive, kind, thoughtful. But they do need to be compelling. Look at Scarlet O’Hara. A petty, jealous, willful, vindictive character, almost without redeeming traits, whose tragedy is her failure to change. But she’s riveting.

‘Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.’
Cyril Connolly

Be true to yourself.

Write what you want – even if friends and relatives think you’re nuts. And – be very careful who you show the first draft to. Once finished, I’d strongly suggest you make a list of ‘readers’, friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, who’ll read your work and critique it. This is a crucial stage. But remember, your ‘baby’ is fragile – as is your ego at this stage.

AA4Mine certainly was. I’d invested so much of myself a too harsh criticism or cruel critique (always said with a knowing smile) could have made me toss the whole thing away. I wish I could sit here and tell you I was strong and determined and centred and courageous about the first draft of STILL LIFE, but I wasn’t. And you’re probably not absolutely sure your first book is any good either.

Here’s the trick.

You need to get it into the hands of other people. You need to be open to criticism and guidance and suggestions. But you need to choose those people wisely. Some people are simply petty. Some people see it as their God-given purpose to find fault. This process isn’t about finding fault. Frankly anyone can do that. It’s facile. No book is perfect. It’s about making the book even stronger. You need supportive, encouraging, thoughtful readers. People who’ll offer critiques in a kind and constructive way and who understand the difference between truth and opinion.

‘A good writer must be willing to kill her young.’

A novel should be more than 70,000 words in length.

AA5BPublishers and agents judge length not by the number of pages, but by the number of words. Your computer will have a word count option. In Microsoft Word it’s under the ‘tools’ heading. You might aim for between 60 and 90-thousand words for a first book. There are always exceptions – some very successful debuts are mammoth, but you’re simply making it more difficult to find a publisher. Still, more than anything, you need to be true to yourself. If it needs to be 150,000 words, then go for it. But my first draft was 168,000 words. I cut it in half and it made the book much stronger. Once my ego and pride was set aside I was able to kill my darlings.

‘You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent you’ll receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.’
Isaac Asimov

Persevere. Believe in yourself.

If you’ve actually finished your first book – well, you’re AMAZING!

AA16You’re already so far ahead of the pack they can barely see your dust! Most people never even start that first book. Of the few that do, most never finish. If you’ve actually finished, well done! Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, the pact you made with yourself, probably as a child, is complete. You wrote the book. You did it. And, if it’s never published, you should have no regrets. I’m serious.

You’ve accomplished something most people only dream of.

Still, chances are, you want to get it out there, and why not. Here’s how I did it, and my suggestions – remembering that every writer has their own story and no one of us is ‘right’ – it’s just our opinion and experience.

Make sure your manuscript is as good as you can get it. Edit. Edit. Edit!

‘Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’, otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.’
C.S. Lewis

Print out a copy for yourself. When you think you’ve finished set it aside for a few weeks then sit down and read the hardcopy. For convenience sake I print it out single-spaced, double sided and get it bound. Much easier to hold, and it feels like a real book! Thrilling.

AA6When it’s time to send it out, print double spaced, in 12-point, on white paper, single sided and do not bind the manuscript. Print your name and a key word from the title on the top of each page, in a corner. Eg. Penny/Still. There’s an automatic function for that on your computer as well. You don’t have to do it manually.Number the pages from the first page to the last. Don’t start the numbering fresh with each chapter. Don’t worry that the manuscript will appear to be huge. Always scares me when I see it at first. Looks like a dog house.

Aim high.

AA8AMight as well be turned down by the best. Buy those huge thumpin’ bricks of Guides To Agents and Publishers in your country – read them carefully. There will be essays on writing query letters, and each listing will tell you what the agent/publisher specializes in. Don’t waste your time – or theirs – by sending them a mystery when they only deal with non-fiction.

Send multiple queries. It takes a long time for them to get back. Go to conventions and network. Enter contests.

OK, here it is. This is how I got a leading London literary agent and three-book deals with Hodder/Headline in the UK and St. Martin’s Minotaur in the US. Ready?

I entered a contest.

AA9I was surfing the web and came across the Crime Writers Association in Great Britain and noticed their Debut Dagger contest. The Debut Dagger competition is open to anyone who has not had a novel published commercially. Click here to view the official CWA website.

There were 800 entries worldwide in my year (2004). They shortlisted 14, and I was one. I knew then my life had changed. As a reward for being shortlisted, we were all invited to the awards lunch in London. My husband, Michael, and I went.

AA8BI came in second – and networked like mad. I cannot overstate the importance that award has had on my career. I met Teresa a couple of nights later, actually at a private party – but she knew my name and my submission. All good London agents who deal with mysteries read all the shortlisted CWA submissions.

‘There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.’
W. Somerset Maugham

Now – I did something else that was crucial to my success.

Before the awards I did my homework and found out who were considered the top agents in London. When Teresa introduced herself at the party I was able to look her in the eyes and truthfully tell her I’d heard of her and she was considered a top agent. I think that made an impression. If nothing else it showed a degree of work and commitment on my part.

In my experience you get out what you put in.

AA10The harder you work, the more research you do, the more knowledge you have, the better your chances of success. Which isn’t to say some people don’t walk in totally unprepared and have great success. And why not? I have no problem with that at all. Anyway that works is fine with me. But for myself, the more prepared I am, the calmer I am, the better my brain works. Again, it’s giving myself every chance of success, instead of handicapping myself through either fear or laziness.

There are other awards out there.

AA11The Crime Writers of Canada has the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished Mystery. It’s very exciting. The website for more information is: www.crimewriterscanada.com. Another important and exciting one for writers of traditional mysteries, like STILL LIFE, is given out by St. Martin’s Press and Malice Domestic, which is a fan run convention in Washington. Very prestigious. Very knowledgeable and sophisticated people. The great thing about this prize is that St. Martin’s agrees to publish your book if you win. You’ll find information on it at: www.minotaurbooks.com . You have to kind of root around in the site to find it, but it’s there.

There – my brain is empty.

If any of you have other suggestions for unpublished writers, please go to the contact me page on my website and send them to me.

AA17For instance Elizabeth Kimmel, a very successful writer of children’s books, wrote with a fabulous tip. She suggested that after you send out your first book to agents and publishers, while you are waiting for their response, instead of fretting – you might consider starting your second book. That way you pass the time doing something constructive and creative. Elizabeth did exactly that, and while her first book actually didn’t sell, her second – the one she wrote while waiting – did!  And launched her career. Brilliant idea, Elizabeth. Thank you.

We need to support each other.

Isabelle Allende once said that the end doesn’t justify the means, the end is decided by the means. If we’re petty and greedy and shallow and put our need to win ahead of our humanity, then nothing good will come of our careers.

Others have helped me and I consider it a real privilege to help you by sharing this on DyingWords.

*   *   *

AA18Louise Penny is a prominent Canadian crime-fiction/mystery writer and a #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail BestSelling author. She’s best known for her series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec mystery novels.

AA18Louise has won numerous awards, including a CWA Dagger, an Anthony Award, the Agatha Award (five times), and was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. Her work has been published in 23 languages. 
In 2013, she was made a Member of the Order of Canada “for her contributions to Canadian culture as an author shining a spotlight on the Eastern Townships of Quebec” where she lives with her husband.

Here’s a look at Louise Penny‘s books:

Visit Louise Penny’s website at http://www.louisepenny.com/


JFKThere are only three significant questions left unanswered in the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy which occurred in Dallas, Texas, on November 22nd, 1963.

First is Lee Harvey Oswald’s motive.

Why’d he do it? We’ll never know for sure because Oswald never confessed and he died two days later, taking that secret to his grave.

Second – where was Oswald going after the assassination?

LHO photoHe left the scene, went home, grabbed his revolver, and was walking south on a Dallas street when intercepted by Officer JD Tippit. Oswald shot Tippit and continued fleeing before getting cornered in a theatre where he attempted to shoot the arresting officers. Clearly he was planning to live another day.

The third question – what happened to the missing bullet?

This can now be reasonably explained, although it’s taken a half century to figure it out.

LHO Rifle -Lt DayEvidence clearly shows that Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots from his 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Carcano rifle which was recovered from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Conspiracy theorists – give it a rest. Oswald was the trigger man and he acted alone. Not one single piece of evidence exists to refute this because non-events leave no evidence. It never happened any other way than Oswald acting alone.

The problem with the three shot evidence is that only two bullets were recovered. One has never been accounted for.

So what happened to it?

Let’s look at the firearms evidence in the JFK homicide case.

First of all, you have to weigh the ear-witness reports. The vast majority of witnesses stated that three gunshots were heard. Some claimed that one, two, and as many as nine shots were heard, but you’re going to get that variation with the hundreds of people that were present in Dealey Plaza when Kennedy was shot.

JFK Snipers nest 6You’ve got to give credibility to the witnesses who were closest to the muzzle. There were three Texas School Book Depository workers directly below the sixth floor, southeast window (sniper’s nest) where Oswald fired from. They were unshakable and unanimous that three shots rang out.

Their testimony is corroborated (backed-up) by the fact that three expended shell casings were found in the snipers nest. These three casings were forensically matched as being fired from Oswald’s Carcano ‘to the exclusion of all other firearms’ as the categorical term goes.

JFK Cartridges 510What’s clearly telling is the location in which these casings were found and photographed. In all my reading and research, I can’t find any official comment on the meaning of the casing pattern, although it’s obvious when you simply think about it. Two casings are grouped together, and the third is by itself about five feet from where Oswald pulled his trigger.

JFK 3 Cartridges Clear photoTo further understand the significance, you have to know that Oswald piled a small fortress of book boxes around the sniper’s nest to conceal himself, creating a cardboard wall. When he ejected the casings from his bolt action rifle, they flew through the air at a 90 degree angle from the barrel and struck the wall of boxes to Oswald’s right, then ricocheted to rest on the floor.

Hmmm… two were together and one was off by itself. It’s obvious that Oswald’s barrel position changed between the lone cartridge and the group of two.

So how does this explain the missing bullet?

Let’s look at the two shots that were accounted for.

CE399The first bullet that hit Kennedy, known in assassination terminology as The Single Bullet Theory, got him through the back of the shoulder/ base of the neck, exited his throat, then entered Texas Governor John Connally’s back. In a rapidly diminishing velocity, it traversed Connally’s chest, blew out below his right nipple, continued on to smash his wrist, and lodge in Connally’s thigh. It remained intact, as full metal jacket bullets are designed to do when they penetrate soft mediums like cloth and flesh, and was recovered on Connally’s stretcher at Parkland Hospital. This bullet is also known as The Magic Bullet.

JFK CE567The second bullet that hit Kennedy blasted his head apart. It fragmented into multiple pieces, as full metal jackets are designed to do when they hit a hard medium like bone at a high velocity. Less than fifty percent of this round was recovered. By the way, both of these bullets were ballistically linked to being fired from Oswald’s Carcano ‘to the exclusion of all other firearms’.

These two shots were recorded on the famous Zapruder film which shows them occurring 4.88 seconds apart with both trajectories in the same line to the sniper’s nest window.

Ergo. The two tightly grouped casings came from these two shots because the angle of ejection, ricochet, and rest pattern are similar.

So why was the third casing so far apart?

Simple. It was fired from a different angle.

Let’s think this thing out, then look at some more physical and witness evidence.

JFK Houston StIf you were Oswald, intent on shooting the President, would you expose yourself to the eyes-front approach of the motorcade as it approached you from the south on Houston St.?  (Remember, Oswald was unstable, but he was calculating.)  An approaching target, when you’re in a vertical vantage point, is a tough target to hit (Remember, I was a sniper so I know what I’m talking about). It’s common sense that he’d wait until JFK’s limo rounded the corner onto Elm St. and was nearly stopped right in front of him. That’s the most logical time to squeeze-off a shot.

But the two shots that killed JFK happened when the limo was far west of the sniper’s nest and vanishing from Oswald’s sight picture.

So why didn’t he fire when he had the closest opportunity?

Well, he probably did.

The angle of ejection for the lone casing is entirely consistent with Oswald firing it at the first logical opportunity which was when the limo was closest to him and the security eyes were facing away.

So how did he miss?

JFK Traffic LightSimple again. As Oswald was following Kennedy in his cross-hairs, a traffic light came into play. Oswald squeezed off the first round, but it hit the metal housing on the light and fragmented.

jfk traffic light5This accounts for other evidence like where James Tague, a bystander five hundred and twenty feet to the west, was hit in the cheek by a piece of concrete curb that was sent flying by a lead fragment and where Virgie Rachley stated to have seen sparks fly from the pavement behind the limo when the first of three shots were fired. The simplest explanation is that these fragments were from the first, and missing, bullet.

JFK Signal lightEvidence of the strike exists in blowup photos from a Secret Service re-enactment in 1964 where you can see a defect in the traffic light housing. Unfortunately the light was replaced years ago and was never examined.

So, like Occam’s Razor states, the simplest explanation is usually the correct explanation.

To me, it’s obvious that the missing JFK bullet has a simple explanation.


Many thanks to my internet friend, fellow crime-writer, and accomplished stage actor Adam Croft for this insightful look at why murder mysteries will always be popular.

Croft2Human beings are fascinated by death. As morbid and unsavoury as that sounds, it’s a good job they are as otherwise I wouldn’t be here writing this article and you wouldn’t be reading it. 

If we did not have a fascination with death, one of the world’s most popular and enduring fiction genres would not exist and I’d be out of a job. So I’m pretty pleased that we do. But what has caused us to be hardwired to think in this way? What makes death and murder in particular so fascinating to us? 

Fascination goes hand in hand with intrigue, and it is to intrigue that we must turn first. Naturally, human beings are intrigued by why someone would want to kill a human being. To most of us, committing a murder is unthinkable. 

Croft6Of course, we’ve all known people that we’d love to kill, but actually contemplating doing it is something entirely different. This intrigue surrounding those who do, then, is entirely natural. It’s one of society’s final taboos and we are naturally intrigued by the ways in which people murder each other. 

There’s also a sense of needing to understand, which is what compels our sense of intrigue. Naturally and evolutionarily, we feel the need to understand the situation of murder in order to protect our species and prevent or predict future occurrences. It would be fair to say that this is an in-built, animalistic sense, which puts our fascination at a level much deeper than sheer intrigue. 

Croft9However, this would be a little too simplistic. Why, then, do real-life murders not fascinate us as much as they did in Victorian times, when newspaper circulation figures would regularly treble off the back of a good murder? 

Nowadays we’re far more satisfied to get our dose of death through fiction. We know fiction isn’t real, so the purely evolutionary theories go out of the window at this point. In my opinion, it’s the complexity and make-up of the murder mystery or crime novel which provides the fascination here. 

Croft4The truth is that most real-life murder is actually incredibly pedestrian. There’s a fight and someone dies. A jealous husband murders his ex-wife. There’s a gangland killing. No particular element of mystery comes into play with any of these situations, which leads me to posit that our fascination with murder is no longer rooted in our desire to protect our species but instead with the logic of the puzzle and the mystery surrounding a well-constructed mystery novel. 

The longevity of the mystery novel is rooted in its complexity and infinitely changing forms. The number of ways in which a crime is committed and the reasons for someone wanting to commit it is what keeps mystery novelists like me in a job. 

Croft10A clever and sophisticated plot is what readers crave and it’s the reason why Agatha Christie is the best-selling author of all time. Her proficiency for developing the twists and turns and ingenious plots for which she was most famed is the reason why people keep going back to her time after time. 

The most us modern-day mystery writers can hope for, following far behind in her wake, is that we might be able to side-step the reader somewhere along the way and leave you guessing to the last. 

Croft8It would be far too simplistic, though, to say that we’re now purely interested in the type of brain-teasing mystery akin to a crossword puzzle. There’s certainly still a psychological element involved, which is why psychological thrillers are huge business. As a species, we pay attention to these sorts of plots because we have an animalistic need to know we are safe. We need to understand the mind of the killer. 

This understanding is the reason why psychology courses and degrees are so popular in the western world, and particularly in Britain, where the murder mystery is particularly venerated. 

Human beings have an innate desire to understand ourselves and other human beings.

If you’ll forgive me adopting a purely political point of view for a moment, this is a very heart-warming realization from a progressive perspective, as our need to understand each other as human beings is something which we’ve been sadly lacking for most of our existence as a species. 

Croft5We can be sure that crime fiction will last, and there are a number of reasons for this. Crime’s bedfellow in terms of sheer popularity is undoubtedly the romance genre; a type of book which offers resolution and has well-rooted and respected forms and conventions. 

Naturally, it has had to adapt and recent years have seen the rise of rom-coms and even the sub-genre of erotica (although many, including myself, would either put erotica into a sub-genre of thrillers or a genre all of its own). 

Croft11Mystery, too, has had to adapt. Writers such as P.D. James have prided themselves in breaching the (admittedly small) gap between crime and literary fiction, combining a well-written book with a tight and intricate plot. 

It would be worth me noting here that the concept of ‘literary fiction’ does not exist to me. The only great literature is a book that you enjoy. Crime novels, generally speaking, have the added benefit of being stripped of pretension and putting the reader first, not setting the writer on an undeserved pedestal. The enduring popularity of the genre is testament to its superiority. 

It would be fair to say, then, that the crime and mystery genre can be expected to live on.

Croft7As our fascination with death and our need for logical complexity continue to be fused together beautifully by fiction, we can be assured of even more great books to come.

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Croft12Adam Croft is a highly successful British author, playwright, and accomplished stage actor.

Adam tells me that by day, he’s a writer and actor. By night, he’s asleep. He enjoys sunshine, Hobnobs, and talking about himself in the third person.

Croft14In terms of his books, Adam principally writes crime fiction and is best known for the Kempston Hardwick mysteries and Knight & Culverhouse thrillers.

His plays are somewhat (read: very) different, focusing on the subtext behind personal relationships as well as exploring themes of world politics and human ethics.

As an actor, he takes whatever he can get.

Croft13Adam’s work has won him critical acclaim as well as three Amazon bestsellers, with his Kempston Hardwick mystery books being adapted as audio plays starring some of the biggest names in British TV.

His books have been bought and enjoyed all over the world, and have topped a number of booksellers’ sales charts.

I’m thrilled to death to have met Adam and look forward to a lengthy friendship and working relationship.

Check out his website   http://adamcroft.net/ 

Friend him on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/adamcroftbooks

Follow Adam on Twitter  https://twitter.com/adamcroft