Dana Mentink Guest Post: Setting

Novel Reaction is excited to welcome author Dana Mentink as part of our Murder and Mayhem celebration!

Dana Mentink lives in California where the weather is golden and the cheese is divine. Her family includes two girls (affectionately nicknamed Yogi and Boo Boo.) Papa Bear works for the fire department and he met Dana doing a dinner theater production of The Velveteen Rabbit. Ironically, their parts were husband and wife.

Dana is a 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year finalist for romantic suspense and an award winner in the Pacific Northwest Writers Literary Contest.  Her October release, Betrayal in the Badlands, won a 2010 Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award.

She spent her college years competing in speech and debate tournaments all around the country. Besides writing, she busies herself teaching Sunday school and working in second/third grade combination class. Mostly, she loves to be home with her family, a dog with social anxiety problems, a chubby box turtle and a quirky parakeet.

Dana loves to hear from her readers via her website (www.danamentink.com) or her Facebook reader page.

Hello, Novel Reaction! How nice to be here. My name is Dana Mentink and I write inspirational romantic suspense for Harlequin. This month marks my seventh book with them, entitled Buried Truth. It’s the second of three books set in the South Dakota Badlands. Sounds like a good locale for a ‘run for your life’ kind of adventure? I thought so. It’s a place of extremes, from violent summer lightning storms to relentless winter winds. Rich in fossils, poor in nutrient rich soils and nonetheless home to hundreds of species of animals.

When in the planning stages of writing a suspense novel, the setting is always foremost in my mind. This is not to say an author couldn’t write a rip snorting novel that takes place in regular old suburbia, but I find the more hostile and unusual the setting, the more interesting the story. To that end, I’ve crashed a plane in the remote Cascade Mountains, hidden characters in Alaska just shy of the Arctic Circle and stranded people in the Arizona desert. I find it works just as well to set a comedy in an out of the way place, as I did in an eBook I wrote about a city slicker who has to manage her aunt’s trailer park in Seepwillow, Arizona, a hundred miles from nowhere.  The setting becomes a character itself, either an antagonist to the hero or a backdrop which can reveal the roots of the character’s psyche.

So what am I busy thinking about now? Another series set in the Guatemalan jungle, or maybe a historical which starts during a horrific journey to the rugged California gold fields via the Panama crossing. Either way, you can be sure those poor characters will prove their worth or die trying as they navigate their fictional world. The harsher the setting, the better the story will be!


Thanks Dana for sharing with us about the importance of setting. I have to admit I picked up her latest novel Buried Truth based on the desolate looking cover (review to follow). Living in the extreme desert of Arizona I am always intrigued by novels set in a desolate location, wondering how the characters will survive not only the crazy killer after them but the extreme elements also.

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Amanda Lee Guest Post: What Writers Can Learn from Lost, Season One

Novel Reaction is excited to welcome Author Amanda Lee.
Amanda Lee is the author of the embroidery mystery series published by Obsidian. The latest book in the series, Thread Reckoning, will be released on September 6, 2011. In addition to the embroidery mysteries, the author writes a cake decorating series under the name Gayle Trent. The latest book in that series–Killer Sweet Tooth–will be released in October of 2011. Please visit Amanda/Gayle online athttp://www.gayletrent.com or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gayle-Trent-and-Amanda-Lee-Cozy-Mystery-Writer/123653074333103).

My family watched the first season of LOST when the show was in its fourth season. We thought the first episode-the plane crash-might be our last, as our daughter covered her face during some of the gorier moments. But that episode ended and we all agreed to watch the next . . . and the next . . . and the next . . . and the next. We’d have likely watched another, but that was all that was on that first disk.So why is LOST so compelling? It doesn’t hurt that many of the show’s talented cast have found themselves on various “pretty people” lists; but, mainly, it’s the writing. Here are a few of the lessons to be learned from LOST:

* Have questions form in your readers’ minds immediately. In LOST, viewers have the obvious question: Why did the plane crash? But we also have more subtle questions: Why is there tension between the husband and wife? Who are these people? Why were they on this particular flight? What was the rock singer Charlie doing before the plane crashed that got him in trouble with the flight crew? Why is Sawyer so surly and suspicious? What is the roaring in the jungle?

What burning questions can you put into your readers’ minds?

* Before you answer those questions, throw more questions out. In LOST, it’s obvious all of these people have a past. We begin to be slowly drawn into their characters as they have flashbacks. As writers, we’re told to handle flashbacks carefully. LOST’s writers handle flashbacks with something akin to surgical precision. For example, an early flashback reveals John Locke was once in a wheelchair. Now he is walking. In later flashbacks, we see additional scenes from Locke’s life. In one flashback, he is shown in a wheelchair being treated terribly by his young supervisor. In another flashback, he is shown as an adult, but he is walking. What happened to him? Was he in an accident? Did someone beat him up? It’s questions like this-plus the more pressing questions like “Will they be rescued?-that keep viewers tuned in.

* Realize that even the “bad guys” have their reasons. We see some of the characters in LOST do some “bad guy” things, but they all have reasons for what they do. The lesson here is to make your villain human. Your villain doesn’t do bad things just because he’s bad; he does them 1) to protect himself, 2) to protect someone he cares about, 3) for love or money, 4) for revenge, or maybe 5) because he doesn’t know what else to do.
* Make your readers care about your characters. By the time we realize Charlie has a drug problem, we’re already rooting for him. We’ve seen that he’s a good person; he’s trying to help everybody else; and we want him to overcome his addiction. Rose sits alone looking out at the sea. Her husband was in a different part of the plane, but she “knows he’s alive.” The others pity her and bring her back into the group.
* Your characters have very different backgrounds and perspectives, even if they are from the same area or even the same family. No two people will look at a situation the same way. For example, some of the LOST survivors decide to wait to be rescued. Some decide they have to prepare for the worst. Some reach out to the other survivors; others withdraw. Some become leaders; others become followers, waiting to be told what to do. Some have been through so much prior to the crash, they want to begin life anew on the island.
* A little humor goes a long way. Well-placed humor can offset tense situations and can make your characters more realistic. When Charlie reveals his “deepest, darkest secret” to Hurley, he expects Hurley to reciprocate. Hurley does, but Charlie doesn’t believe him and gets angry because he feels Hurley treated his confession as a joke. This is funny because the viewers know Hurley is telling the truth, but it also contributes to the dynamic between Charlie and Hurley and the realization that sometimes that which we think is unbelievable is actually true. For example, I once worked with a woman who I thought was not very well off financially. She lived modestly, dressed sensibly and brought her lunch to work every day. Years later when I went to work for an accounting firm, I learned the woman was a millionaire.
* Don’t neglect your setting. The island on LOST is practically a character itself. It’s both beautiful and menacing. It provides their food; and yet, there are life-threatening presences in the jungle.
* Throw in a few surprises. Just when things are starting to go smoothly-or sometimes when everything is going badly-something dramatic happens.

* Cliffhangers aren’t always answered right away. As writers, we often end our chapters with cliffhangers but resolve them immediately as the next chapter begins. The LOST writers often make viewers wait for a resolution. It seemed like it took forever to find out what was in that hatch.


Hope this helps you plot YOUR next mystery!
Thank you Amanda for sharing with us what we can learn from Lost.  Amanda Lee/Gayle Trent is the author of several books including Murder Takes the Cake (you can read my review here).

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Mary Reed and Eric Mayer Guest Post: Mithras Religion

Novel Reaction is excited to welcome the author husband and wife team of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer.

The husband and wife team of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer published several short detections involving their protagonist John, Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, prior to 1999’s highly acclaimed One For Sorrow, their first full length novel about their protagonist. The series continued in Two For Joy, a Glyph Award winner and a finalist for the IPPY Best Mystery Award, followed by Three For A Letter. Four For A Boy and Five For Silver were nominees for the Bruce Alexander History Mystery Award. Six For Gold and Seven For A Secret continued John’s adventures. In June 2003, Booklist Magazine named the novels one of its Four Best Little Known Series. Eight For Eternity is their latest entry in this long-running historical mystery series, and Nine For The Devil will appear in March 2012.http://home.earthlink.net/~maywrite

Our protagonist John, Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian I, was not only the first eunuch detective to appear in print but is also the only Mithran sleuth in the field.

Given John’s adventures take place in and around the imperial court in sixth century Constantinople.a reader might well ask why is John devoted to a religion considered pagan and thus proscribed in the officially Christian court, and the answer is two-fold.
First, Mithraism permitted us to introduce clashing viewpoints and the ever present fear of discovery, meaning John has to practice his religion in secret with all the attendant risks. In fact, some recurring characters — notably John’s close friends Anatolius, former secretary to Justinian and in later books a practicing lawyer, and Felix, captain of the excubitors (palace guard) — are also Mithrans and equally liable to exposure and severe punishment.

Second, John had been a mercenary, and Mithraism was a religion that appealed to military men, who carried it to the far edges of the empire. So it was appropriate that if John, an austere man in his ways despite great wealth, had any religion at all, he would be a Mithran, given it was a religion that appealed greatly to men with this sort of background.

Who then was his god Mithras?

Born of a rock, Mithras was a Sun God. He killed the Great Bull, represented in every underground mithraeum (temple), by a sculpture or bas relief depicting him kneeling on the bulll, pulling back its head, and stabbing the beast. From the animal’s body, as Franz Cumont has written, came forth not only the multitude of useful plants and herbs growing on earth but also “all the beneficent [animals] on earth”.

As a mystery religion, information about its practices is not over-abundant. However, we do know the virtues required of adherents, and they were certainly admirable: chastity, courage, faithfulness, and military brotherhood being the most striking. Social rank counted for nothing in this religion and women were not admitted to the ranks of worshippers.

Mithran rituals included inititiation ceremonies, sacred feasts, and celebrations of the birth of the Sun God on 25th December. The seven-stage priesthood began with the rank of crow and continued upwards through occult (sometimes rendered bridegroom, adepts of this rank being veiled) soldier, lion, Persian, solar messenger, and father. John holds the penultimate rank, which we style as runner of the sun. He is content to remain at that level, not having the time to devote to religious matters were he to advance further due to other, more public, duties on behalf of Justinian.

It appears during Mithraic ceremonies those at various levels wore clothing or headgear identifying their rank within the religion. Mithraic underground temples had sacred statuary as well as representations of Mithras slaying the Great Bull. A fire burnt on their altars and offerings were made to the sun each day.

Mithrans believed in an afterlife, reached by fighting their way past seven gates, each featuring guardians who had to be passed to continue upward. It was very much a soldier’s religion and there are striking parallels with Christian beliefs and rituals or even masonry, though these similarities have long been a controversial topic.

This is necessarily only a brief outline of our protagonist’s religion, which colours his life, thoughts, and actions to a great extent, but those who are interested in representations of Mithras, along with scholarly works and other articles about this religion, may like to consult our webpage featuring such information at http://home.earthlink.net/~maywrite/mithra.htm


Thank you so much Mary and Eric for sharing with us a little more about the religion that plays such a large part of your mystery novels. There are currently eight novels in the Lord John Eunuch Mystery series.




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Vicki Delany Guest Post: Four Cops, Two Paramedics, One Mystery Writer

Novel Reaction is excited to welcome Vickie Delany as the first guest author during our month of Murder and Mayhem here to talk about getting police experience for writing novels.

It’s a crime not to read Delany,” so says the  London Free Press.

Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific crime writers. She writes everything from standalone novels of psychological suspense such as Scare the Light Away and Burden of Memory, to the Constable Molly Smith books, a traditional village/police procedural series set in the British Columbia Interior, including In the Shadow of the Glacier and Among the Departed, to a light-hearted historical series, Gold Digger and Gold Fever, set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Having taken early retirement from her job as a systems analyst in the high-pressure financial world, Vicki is settling down to the rural life in bucolic, Prince Edward County, Ontario where she rarely wears a watch.

Visit Vicki at www.vickidelany.com , www.facebook.com/vicki.delany, and twitter: @vickidelany She blogs about the writing life at One Woman Crime Wave (http://klondikeandtrafalgar.blogspot.com)


Four cops, Two paramedics, One Mystery Writer

That’s how many people it took to wake one man up to go to work.

After I’d published two novels of standalone suspense with Poisoned Pen Press my editor, Barbara Peters, and I decided it was time to try a series.  I knew right away that I wanted to write the type of series I like most to read: the traditional British-type police procedurals.

But first, I had one problem: I have no experience in law enforcement whatsoever.  I used to be a systems analyst at a bank. Not a lot of gun battles or drunk-and-disorderlies in that job. We didn’t even have a jail in the office basement.

I knew that if I was to create a reasonably realistic police series I would need some help.

I’ve been very lucky and there are now five novels in the Constable Molly Smith series set in the fictional town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, Canada.

Everywhere I’ve been I’ve found police officers to be more than helpful in talking to me about the ins and outs of their job.  I have a detective constable who enjoys answering all my questions and will look things up, or ask the department lawyer, if he doesn’t know the answer to any one of them.  I’ve toured police stations, met many officers, been out on ride-alongs and walk-alongs, talked to the dog handler and met his dog, been to watch in-service training, been to the firearms training course (where they didn’t let me touch a weapon, you’ll be pleased to hear).

I’ve had some really boring nights too.  As I try to explain when the nice officer assigned to take me out apologizes because nothing at all happened, if I want to see a gun battle or a bank robbery in progress, I’ll watch TV.  It’s the everyday details of the ordinary cop’s job that I’m interested in seeing first hand, that I want to give veracity to the books. The protagonist of the Constable Molly Smith series is young, green, a bit naïve.  When the series begins, in In the Shadow of the Glacier, she is still on probation.  She walks the beat on a Saturday afternoon, attends fender-benders, throws drunks into the drunk tank, tells people to empty out their cans of beer, helps confused old ladies cross the street, answers domestic disturbances, and stands outside crime scenes not letting anyone in.

This is the detail of day-to-day policing I’m trying to get right for my books. That as well as the way the officers relate to each other, the jokes they tell, how they balance families and young children, how they train (or not). My books are about murder and kidnapping and tragedy, yes, but they are also about people and relationships.

One thing I’m learning from the ride-alongs I’ve been on over the past three years, is that there can be a lot of humour in a cop’s job. It’s a tough, often unpleasant, job and they put their lives on the line every day. But boy, do they get a good laugh some times.

Recently, the car I was in was called to a home where a man wasn’t answering the door to his friend who had come to take him to work. It was the usual time and the usual routine, and the friend was worried because the man had a medical condition. He had hammered on the door, tried to peer in windows, even climbed a tree to get a peek inside. But no answer and no movement.

When we got there, the officer banged on the door, and bellowed, and peered in windows, and banged and bellowed again. He called for an ambulance. Reinforcements arrived, including the sergeant. Someone crouched down and yelled into the cat door. (And took a sniff – ug). Eventually there were four cops, two paramedics, and one mystery writer gathered at the top of a rickety set of stairs leading to the upstairs apartment. Permission to knock down the door was given, the door was kicked in, and everyone rushed in. Everyone, that is, save said mystery writer, who hung behind not wanting to see anything yucky. Then I heard a shout, “XX, what are you doing still in bed? Aren’t you going to work?”

So I also wandered into the apartment to have a look.

Yup, the guy was tucked up in bed. Didn’t feel like going to work, didn’t bother phoning in, and didn’t particularly want to get up and open the door.  Out we all trooped, one mystery writer, two paramedics, four cops, leaving XX in bed and a broken door swinging on its hinges.

I’ve also learned things I’ve decided not to incorporate into my books.  For example, it is the norm in most U.S. police K9 units for the dog to live in the house with the officer; in Canada they follow the RCMP model in which the dog lives in a kennel outside the house. I decided in this situation I’d go for atmosphere and colour rather than veracity and so I let Norman, my RCMP dog, stretch out on the rug beside the fireplace.  Sometimes the story has to come first.

It is, in fact, precisely while Norman is snoozing on the carpet at the beginning of Among the Departed, the fifth book in the series, that he gets a call to search for a little boy lost in the mountain wilderness.

Here is a picture of one of the handsome officers I’ve had the pleasure of meeting as I do my research.


Thanks Vicki for sharing about your ride alongs, I have to admit I am glad I am not that guy having to explain to my boss I just didn’t feel like coming into work today.

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