10 Ways to Get a Clue

How many moving parts does it take to build a mystery novel?

Do you want the short answer? (lots)

Or the long answer? (lots and lots)

Building Blocks

Now, I’m not whining over the terrible fate of being a mystery author. Actually, I like being a mystery author. I like building intricate plots where seemingly disparate elements eventually are revealed as critically connected. I like writing cliffhanger chapter endings and dialogue that kills (pun intended).

But it does take alot of scribbling and planning and editing and coffee drinking, all while elbowing (literally) the dog away from the keyboard. Once I’m into a plot, it takes over. While I’m doing the daily needful, I’m mentally trying out different plot devices and personalities to see if they will fit the outline. Sometimes all goes swiftly, other times not so much.

Right now, as I slog away on the 4th Detective Emilia Cruz, KING PESO, I’m stuck on the little matter of how one key bit of evidence is revealed to Emilia.

Elementary, my dear Emilia

How can Emilia find the clue? I came up with 10 ways:

1. Snitch (also known as stoolie) on the street tells her: Emilia pays somebody for information

2. Online research and discovery: criminal posts a YouTube video, information is about a business with a website or listed in a business registry, etc

3. Part of a parallel investigation: another cop finds out somehting relevant to her case and shares it

4. Forensic evidence: DNA testing; fibers or dirt provide context and additional information, tire treads, etc etc

5. Anonymous caller: tip comes in through a hotline or to police station

6. Ballistics: gun used has a history known to the police

7. Autopsy results: something about manner of death or body provides important information

8. Cold case files: the current case is linked to a past unresolved case

9. Photography: video or still photos capture information relevant to her case

10. Witness: witness at the scene of the crime tells all to Emilia

Hmmm. #10 would be so easy.

I hate easy . . .

If you have more suggestions, please leave a comment. Otherwise this whodunnit might end up as a sortadunnit.

In other news

I’m still pinching myself:

“Screenwriter and director Emily Skopov is pleased to announce the acquisition of film and television rights to the Detective Emilia Cruz series by mystery author Carmen Amato. The series, which includes the novelsCLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS, as well as a collection of short stories, features Emilia Cruz as the first and only female police detective in Acapulco. Physically tough yet emotionally vulnerable, Cruz must be her own moral compass as police investigations pit her against Mexico’s drug cartel violence, government corruption, and gender bias against a woman in a traditionally male occupation . . .

“Having been approached by two other film producers, Amato ultimately chose to work with Skopov in large part due to their shared view that the time is right for an entertainment franchise that puts Latino characters center stage in substantial, complex and diverse roles that transcend simplistic categorizations.”

Read the full press release here: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/writerdirector-acquires-rights-to-groundbreaking-emilia-cruz-detective-novels-300084734.html

Cliff Diver coverGet the first Detective Emilia Cruz for just $0.99 today! It’s a trip to Mexico you’ll never forget!

Leighton Gage’s Legacy

On Wednesday, 13 May, Facebook reminded me that it was Leighton Gage’s birthday. I found the reminder somewhat disturbing.

Salute to a Pioneer

Disturbing, because fellow mystery author Leighton Gage passed away some time ago. I never met him, but respect him tremendously as a pioneer. His was the first commercially successful mystery series I encountered with a Latino central character.

Chief Inspector Mario Silva is Brazilian.

Not American. Not British.

book coverrelated post: Book Review: Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage

At the point I read an article about the series, and rushed out to get the first Chief Inspector Silva book, I was still smarting over advice received from an Important Author who assured me that a book in which all the characters were Mexican would never sell.

Huh.

related post: Why Write a Book About Mexico

RIP, Social Media

Facebook wants me to celebrate Leighton Gage’s birthday. Goodreads wants me to suggest books to him.

The social media machinery doesn’t know when we have passed away. On one hand, this reassures me that we are not yet robots; embedded into social media so much that it knows our every move, every thought, every hope and dream.

But on the other, it is as if our lives never stop. Without being able to log in one last time and cancel an account, our personas last forever inside The Great Web.

Memory trumps machinery

So much for Great Thoughts on life and social media. I choose to regard Facebook’s prompt as a gentle reminder of a great mystery author, who if he got the same advice I did, chose to ignore it.

We never met, but his choice unlocked a door and made all the difference to me.

In other news

Cliff Diver coverCLIFF DIVER, the first Detective Emilia Cruz novel, is only $0.99 for Kindle this week!

When Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz is forced to investigate the death of a dirty cop, she knows she could be the next victim

Grab a margarita and come on down to Acapulco . . . if you can take the heat

Film Rights to Acapulco Mystery Series Acquired by Screenwriter

I am thrilled to announce, after weeks of negotiations between lawyers, that a contract for the film rights to the Emilia Cruz mystery series has been inked. Screenwriter and director Emily Skopov (ever hear of a little series called Xena, Warrior Princess?) released the news yesterday:

PITTSBURGH, May 18, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Screenwriter and director Emily Skopov is pleased to announce the acquisition of film and television rights to the Detective Emilia Cruz series by mystery author Carmen Amato. The series, which includes the novels CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS, as well as a collection of short stories, features Emilia Cruz as the first and only female police detective in Acapulco. Physically tough yet emotionally vulnerable, Cruz must be her own moral compass as police investigations pit her against Mexico’s drug cartel violence, government corruption, and gender bias against a woman in a traditionally male occupation. A relationship with an American man in a high-profile position further complicates Cruz’s life.

Read the rest of the press release here: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/writerdirector-acquires-rights-to-groundbreaking-emilia-cruz-detective-novels-300084734.html

Join me in a virtual margerita! Hollywood, here we come.

Entice and Enlighten

Did you hear the recent radio ad from McDonald’s touting their fish sandwich with “homemade” tartar sauce? Just whose home was it made in? And given the millions of fish sandwiches being sold, how many homes are cranking out tartar sauce for Ronald and friends?

Play on Emotion

Grandma is not chopping pickles and mixing up tartar sauce every day for McDonald’s. But “homemade” is a comforting word with positive connotations. A selling word.

A word that assumes buyers aren’t going to be annoying mystery authors with a literal bent.

Related post: Why Selling Books is Like Choosing Wine

A Better Sauce

In contrast to advertising that tries to manipulate me, I appreciate advertising that entices and enlightens. Monocle magazine, which bills itself as a briefing on global affairs, business, culture, and design, does this the best of any publication out there, in my view.

Monocle magazineFor our mutual reading pleasure, herewith some of their best teasers:

  • “Attack at dawn: the new media battle to get you out of bed”
  •  “Medellin’s makeover: taming Colombia’s wild child”
  •  “The rules of attraction: what makes a city livable and loveable.”
  •  “Break for Bandung: Indonesia’s high-altitude hub of craft, creativity, and cooler living”

Entice by Cover

I’ve been giving the whole “messaging” issue some thought because over the next 5-6 months, all of the Emilia Cruz series books will be re-released with new covers more evocative of the police procedural genre.

Just like an ad for fish sandwiches, cover design can be manipulative. Think shirtless muscle bound man in unbuttoned jeans and a Stetson hat. Victorian women swooning out of their chemises. They’re in every grocery store in the US.

But I don’t think there will be a girl in a bikini on the Emilia Cruz mystery series covers despite the fact the series is set in Acapulco and covers with scantily-clad people sell books.

Hopefully, the new Emilia Cruz series covers will be as enticing and smart as a Monocle tagline.

Without having to chop any pickles.

Any cover design elements you think should be featured on the covers? Leave a comment. I’d love to read your suggestions.

Cliff Diver cover

As she investigates the death of a dirty cop, Emilia becomes a pawn in a deadly game played by Acapulco’s ruthless mayor and a police union strongman. Check out the 1st Emilia Cruz mystery, now just $0.99 for Kindle.

Intention versus Reaction

“Persistence is the master virtue.”

The quote is attributed to the great thinker Anonymous. As I plug away at the 4th Detective Emilia Cruz mystery, KING PESO, it really resonates. But along with persistence, a few other key words have been useful lately.

A good friend is a student of human behavior and has broadened my every day vocabulary with words like “intentional” and “threading.” Not only have these words led me to consider how I plot mysteries but also how my characters behave.

And me, too.

Related: The Emilia Cruz series character bios

Intention

To act with intention, or be “intentional” is a positive I-will-own-this-outcome concept. In contrast, by not acting with intention, we are willing to be reactive. That means possibly ending up owning  someone else’s agenda.

That’s not to say that acting with intention means you’ll always get your way. But to risk another quote from Anonymous: “If you aim at nothing you will surely hit it.”

Threading

Threading is another great term. When I’m threading, I’m carrying my intention through a series of actions. We talk about the “thread of a conversation,” often in the context of not losing it. What if we kept the thread, unspooling it via multiple intentional interactions? Wouldn’t that improve the odds of getting what we intended?

Huh. I think that’s called persistence.

In Other News

CLIFF DIVER, the first Emilia Cruz mystery, is just $0.99 for Kindle. Meet Emilia as she dives into the death of a dirty cop . . . her own lieutenant. Is another cop the killer? Or does a conspiracy reach far beyond the detectives squadroom and into Acapulco’s political machine?

Emilia is the first and only female police detective in Acapulco. Good thing she can take the heat.

Cliff Diver cover

The Elusive Charms of Productivity

I’ve been reading the blog of James Clear, a life coach and productivity expert. While I mostly agree that productivity is all about Me, I also think it’s all about Them.

Where for art thou, Productivity?

Clear gives great advice on how to live a richer life and enjoy the ride as you journey toward your goals, which I soak up like a sponge. As a mystery author, it is easy to lose sight of why I started writing in the first place and instead focus on sales numbers, useless comparisons with other (invariably more clever and successful) authors, and what I’m doing wrong (no marketing acumen) instead of what I’m doing right (creating memorable characters and stories that resonate and entertain).

Clear’s advice on productivity is thoughtful and practical. But he’s not the only one. There are oodles of tips for authors looking to maximize their time: write 1000 words a day, use these writing prompts, set a timer to take a break every 45 minutes because you’ll work like the dickens before the break.

But progress on the next Emilia Cruz novel, KING PESO, is merely crawling along. With all this great advice out there, why isn’t my productivity through the roof?

Maybe it’s not about me at all.

The Therapy Chair

For years, I wrote in the spare bedroom. The room featured a desk, a computer, and a pull out sofa. The kids were small and my writing time was limited to weekend mornings when Dad kept them busy.

When we moved, the new guest room featured two twin beds. The bed closest to my desk was a magnet for the kids as they made their way through elementary, then middle school. They’d lay back and talk about everything; teachers and homework and dogs.  They jokingly called it “the therapy bed.”

Another move and I gained a proper writing office, albeit with only enough space for an extra chair. It was promptly dubbed “the therapy chair.”

Over the years, I spent hours at the computer, hands in my lap, mystery plots replaced by conversations about teen romances, crazed teachers, and American TV shows the kids were missing because we lived overseas. The doctor was in.

Of course I don’t begrudge that time with my kids, and think those conversations helped them both to be the college honor students they are today. Could I have written more without that therapy chair? Possibly. But I would have missed the important stuff.

The most fascinating person in the world

Sometimes it is hard to be productive because you’re just too fascinating. Everybody wants to be with you, talk to you, have a little of that fascination rub off on them.

Fellow scribbler Deb Nam-Krane, wrote a short but brilliant list of why productivity can be so elusive and gave me permission to reprint it here:

1. If you want to convert Night Owls to Morning People, just start waking up really early (like 4:30 AM early) so you can work out, wash the dishes and get some writing in. This will ensure that everyone else will start waking up early, too, no matter how quiet you are. Because you are the most fascinating person ever.
2. Take advantage of every second of Adult Alone Time you have if you’re trying to be productive in ways that require concentration; otherwise you’ll be trying to get things done while two of your children are chatting in your room. Never mind that Every. Other. Room. in the house is unoccupied. Because, again, you are the most fascinating person ever.
3. The best way to get people to stop complaining about things you do and decisions you make is to put them in your shoes. It might take a long time, but it works.
4. Laundry is always there for you, just like the dishes.
5. Don’t waste energy resenting that you have to clean up after people who technically should be able to clean up after themselves. Just do it for your own survival- and then start throwing away anything of theirs you find in a place you disapprove of.

You can read more of Deb’s clever observations on life and writing on her blog: http://writtenbydeb.blogspot.com/

Productivity goes to the dogs

The therapy chair was semi-retired when the kids went to college.

But then we got a puppy.

A killer attack voodoo puppy. Or for the layman, a Belgian Malinois from a breeder who sells to Navy Seals.

While we lived in Mexico, our big dogs thwarted more than one robbery. When it was time for another dog, we knew we wanted one that could keep our home safe no matter where we live.

Well, the home is now safer than Fort Knox. The dog is slowly becoming a good citizen, as long as you aren’t the pizza delivery guy, the mailman, or other intruder with evil intent. Training takes time. Plus there are toys to destroy, endless trips to the back yard to investigate the woodpile, walks to get used to her new urban setting, and an insatiable need for belly rubs.

Hmm. Maybe productivity is overrated.

In other news

Cliff Diver_June2014_120pxThe first Detective Emilia Cruz mystery, CLIFF DIVER, is just $0.99 for Kindle this month! Get the book Kirkus Reviews called “Consistently exciting . . a clever Mexican detective tale that will leave readers eager for the series’ next installment.” 

Rated 4.6 out of 5*

Come on down to Acapulco . . . if you can take the heat

Visiting Norway, Mystery Author Style

Can a mystery author who writes about sunny Mexico really love cold places?

Yep. Besides Mexico, where my mystery series is set, my favorite country (except for home) is Norway. Not only does the country have superb natural vistas of mountains and fjords, but Norway’s history is likewise fairly amazing, if little known. Yes, Virginia, there’s more to Norway than Vikings, Voss water, and fellow mystery author Jo Nesbo.

Spectacular moments and singular people

Amundsen with dogsled and flag

Picture of Roald Amundsen courtesy The Sunday Times, UK

  • Norwegian Roald Amundsen led the first expedition to the South Pole, beating out British explorer Robert Scott
Nansen passport

Picture courtesy World Digital Library

  • Norwegian explorer and statesman Fritjof Nansen’s Nansen Passport enabled WWI refugees to remake their lives
Norwegian resistance fighters

Picture courtesy cryptomuseum.com

  • The Norwegian Resistance fought during WWII  with courage and distinction

Related post: Remembering Resistance 

  • The nation of Rohan in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy looked eerily like Norway’s traditional architecture. Okay, so this is the fabled battle scene when the Rohirrim ride against the orcs, not anything architectural. But a great bit of film and you should watch it.

Museums

Stave Church

Stave Church

I’ve been lucky to visit Norway twice and fell in love with the cobalt blue sky, crystal clear water, excellent (albeit pricey) shopping, and terrific museums. The Fram Museum houses the specially built polar ship that carried Nansen north and Amundsen south. The Folk Museum, where the Stave Church is located–the interior of which was very dark and smelled like bacon–is an immense meadow outside of Oslo filled with period homes.

Related post: The Kitchen UN

It was at the Folk Museum that I learned the Norwegian words for King (Konge) and Queen (Dronning) when I bought a huge paper doll poster. Awkward to carry home, I had notions of framing it. I still do.

King, Queen, and costumes

If cut out, Konge and Dronning would be bigger than Barbie and Ken. Each doll has several different costumes, just like these smaller paper doll postcards of Norwegian folk costumes also purchased at the Folk Museum.Unni and Elin paper dollspaper doll from Norwaytraditional Norwegian paper dollsAllied costumes

The last paper doll postcard is the most interesting of all, as it looks like 1940’s fashions. Norway struggled under German occupation 1940-1945. When reading accounts of those days it doesn’t seem that many women were wearing ball gowns or fancy dresses.

Another mystery?

For a couple of years, I’ve been gathering notes for a thriller set in Oslo during WWII. It is loosely inspired by OSLO INTRIGUE, the real-life account of Helen Astrup, a British woman who worked for the Norwegian Resistance during the war.

I don’t know when I’ll write the thriller. Maybe after I finish the latest Jo Nesbo :)

Thrillers are Tastier on Talavera Pottery

If you read this blog with any regularity you know the following;

Talavera Pottery

The latest thing to jog my imagination is talavera, the beautiful and colorful Mexican pottery. The only authentic talavera comes from Puebla and the surrounding villages “because of the quality of the natural clay found there and the tradition of production which goes back to the 16th century.

talavera

Traditional talavera pieces. The store owner eyed me suspiciously when I took the picture but was less suspicious when ringing up my purchases.

 

Talavera pottery pops against a yellow wall at Alter Eco

Talavera pottery pops against a yellow wall at Alter Eco

You can buy talavera online at La Fuente and Direct from Mexico.

Tasty Writing

Talavera was featured in THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY. The main protagonist, Eddo Cortez Castillo, is from Puebla. His family runs one of the oldest and wealthiest talavera companies.

Talavera,” Tomás said. “The Cortez family owns Marca Cortez, half of Puebla, and the land the new Volkswagen factory is on. Eddo is still the family’s legal advisor and sits on the board of directors. Don’t know how he finds the time. It helps that he never sleeps.”

Eddo is rich. Richer than the Vegas, even richer than the Portillos. “Puebla,” Luz said. “The city or the state?”

“Both.”

Phenomenally rich.

Real talavera is relatively expensive, although when I lived in Mexico City it was popular to go to Puebla and order service for 8 of a particular pattern. I knew of one family in Mexico City that refused to let their domestic help eat off of their talavera plates, prompting this intense scene in HIDDEN LIGHT.

Luz blinked at her sister. Lupe’s bottom lip was trembling. “Okay,” Luz said, drawing it out. A tiny white lie could put this awkward conversation to rest and Maria could be told the truth later. Luz took a deep breath as if embarrassed. “I . . . uh . . . broke a dish.”

“Six hundred fifty pesos for a dish?” Tío shouted. Everyone jumped. Someone’s spoon clattered to the floor.

Luz shrugged. “It was talavera.

Tío’s hand hit Luz’s cheekbone with a stinging smack. Her head snapped back, her eyes watered, the room sparkled with vertigo and she tasted blood.

Through a curtain of dizziness, Luz watched Juan Pablo rise up and throw a wide looping punch across the table. He put his weight behind it, his chair spurting out behind him, his feet nearly coming off the floor. Fist connected with jaw and Tío spilled to the floor.

“Don’t you touch my sister!” Juan Pablo yelled furiously.

“She’s a stupid girl,” Tío roared, scrambling to his feet. “Breaking dishes when her family needs the money.”

“So you can drink it?” Juan Pablo was barely in control.

“Lupe is pregnant,” Tío shouted.

“If you’re so worried, why don’t you get a job?”

Tío threw a counterpunch across the table but Juan Pablo was younger and faster and sober. He jerked back to avoid the blow, then lunged forward, and suddenly they were snarling and grappling like two wild dogs, hands locked in each other’s shirts. The table between them rocked wildly as they wrestled over the dishes and the tortillas and the clay cazuela full of rice and seafood, ready to kill each other in the small cramped kitchen with everyone else sitting like shocked statues. Plastic glasses spun crazily and tipped over, flatware clattered to the floor, and Luz’s plate slid onto her lap.

Hidden Light by Carmen Ama

Keep reading!

4.8 out of 5 * on Amazon

“You’re hooked. Amato nails the gritty setting, the tug of a dream.” — Michael Schmicker, author of The Witch of Napoli

All the Best Fiction Books Deserve a Podcast

Finally, the Emilia Cruz series is not the exception and the podcast has landed.

I had the honor of being interviewed by George Plunkett of ChoseMexicotoRetire.com this week. George asked about my writing, favorite places Mexico, and the Emilia Cruz series. He’d read CLIFF DIVER and was much taken with the brawl in the unisex bathroom in the police station (no spoilers!)

George’s website showcases podcasts from a range of expatriates knowledgeable about Mexico, including authors, realtors, and owners of news sites. The podcast is available on the website, iTunes, and is already getting good attention.

All the best fiction books get a podcast, I hear. But if I could ask a favor. Let me know if I sound like Chandler’s old girlfriend Janice . . .

Giving Thanks to God on Rusted Steel

After a few bites of the cake Raul seemed to realize that she was waiting. “He read about the United States and wanted to go. He tried to cross the desert but the Virgin abandoned him because what he was doing was wrong. He got lost and died in the sun.”

“I’m so sorry, Raul,” Luz said.

“His mother had a retablo made for the Virgin to have pity on his soul.”

“I’m sure his soul rests in peace.”

“When his mother died I had the retablo buried with her.” Raul continued to eat.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, Luz’s heart twisting in sadness. Retablos were primitive paintings of a scene of something that happened in a person’s life for which they were giving thanks to the Virgin. But not this time. The son had died trying to get to El Norte and the mother had probably died of a broken heart. (THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY)

I’ve been giving alot of thought to visual inspiration as I tackle KING PESO, the 4th novel in the Acapulco Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series. The quote above isn’t from one of the Emilia Cruz books, but from political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, which drew on many visual cues such as  Mexico’s architecture and food, as well as Mexico’s fine art.

The Catholic Church is a strong cultural and artistic influence in Mexico, and my books reflect that. Retablos are part of Mexico’s tradition combining art and faith, made all the more interesting to me because they are rustic folk art meant to capure a moment in time for which someone is giving thanks to God.

I bought these two retablos in a small shop in the Zona Rosa a couple of years ago. They are each about 5×7 inches, and painted on rusted steel. The edges are sharp. My guess they were cut from a barrel and done by the same person.Retablo as visual inspiration

In this retablo, thanks are given to the Virgin of Saint John of the Lakes for saving the school children from the ox (el buey) in Jalisco.religious retablo inspires a mystey series

This retablo depicts the Virgin appearing and saving Jacinto from the black dog which appeared in the cemetary in Oaxaca. I don’t know if this should be taken literally or is a reference to illness or the devil.

I wonder at the journey these retablos took from Perla and Jacinto, who were giving thanks to God some 50 years ago, all the way to that shop in Mexico City. Now they are part of my writing journey. Just like you.

Book coverTHE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, a political thriller

“A multilayered novel of love and drama” — Literary Fiction Review