Grousable Newsletter 2 August: Mystery and more

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Bouchercon Historical Mystery Panel

Big news this fortnight is that I’m on a panel for Bouchercon, one of the biggest mystery writer conferences anywhere.

Bouchercon poster

It’s a panel on historical mysteries, although I believe I’m the only actual historian. Which is good, because then I can bring a different viewpoint. In fact, I hope to mention two salient ideas:

  1. Primary sources are fantastic for both ideas and accuracy. (So diaries, newspapers, old photos can both trigger a story and make it more authentic.)
  2. Historians have training and tendencies that other historical fiction writers may not have, such as an understanding of the larger historical context in which the action takes place, or an obsessive tendency to find out whether smoke/fog in a can had been on the market in 2004 (see below).

But mostly, of course, I’ll be there to learn things, meet people, and get to know new works. 

Creating a California town

Back in April I had some questions about my Work in Progress, a beach cozy mystery that begins with a body buried in the sand near a bluff: Who is he? How did he get there? And what does it mean that one of those little paper umbrellas was found at the scene?

I’ve discovered that he is Bud Carson, a scout for Western Petroleum in Bakersfield. What was he doing in . . .

San Benno. That’s my So Cal beach town. It’s somewhere vague between Los Angeles and San Diego, a previously sleepy seaside town that’s just become a city. I have a professional sleuth (the new-in-town detective Rory Gallardo) and my amateur sleuth (Rosie McMahon, an older woman who has a writing shed filled with technology, some of which she built herself). And I now know the paper umbrellas came from Dino’s, one of those wood-sided old restaurants with a neon dinosaur decor trying to go upscale. 

Mystery image for San Benno

Creating a town is a fun thing to do. It’s ironic that I set my English mysteries in real places, but I live in So Cal and I’m going to invent one. 

Featured blog post

Well, to be honest, it’s the only post I did in July! It’s been a busy month. This post is about a mystery writer (that’s me) writing a romance (which I did), and some lessons I learned along the way. 

Featured blog post

Gardening update

Mid-July here in SoCal took us from the amazingly steady rains in June to heat and dryness. That shouldn’t be news — the warm and dry happens every year. How did plants respond? It varied. At first the roses went nuts; now they’re tired. The tomatoes cowered in the cool rainy days; they they started jumping up when it got warm. One of the possums in the yard had her babies. This is her second litter this year. It was easy to tell she’d birthed them–her poor pouch was practically dragging on the ground when she walked, and when she sat to eat your could see little hands and tails poking out.

a possum eating dinner

But this possum has not seen any Disney movies or wildlife websites, so she doesn’t know she’s supposed to do the cute thing: carry around the babies clinging to her back (and singing “When I Was Single”, for those who remember America Sings at Disneyland). As she dide for her last litter, as soon as she can she leaves them hidden in the nest to go feed herself. It makes me feel good that she thinks my garden is so safe. 

AI and writing

The biggest talk everywhere these days, other than the writers’ strike, is the impact of Artificial Intelligence on writing. Already quite a few things we read on the web are written by a computer, so this should’t be news. But most studios, producers, and publishers like nothing better than to make money and getting rid of writers saves money. The creative writing produced by computer may not be up to snuff yet,.

asking AI for sources and getting a mystery

But AI can certainly deal with anything formulaic. This is because AI garners from the web not only its information (sometimes false) but also its format (which it does much better). So heck, go ahead and use AI to write a draft of that form letter/book summary/resumé. Since AI doesn’t have a handle yet on the creative stuff, most people won’l like how it writes fiction. The plots may be good (formula again!) but the expression is banal. Rather like Data on Star Trek reading an adventure story aloud.

Will I use AI to write a mystery? Absolutely not–I’m the author, so I do the writing. Will I use it as a sophisticated search engine? Absolutely. The other night I was trying to research something for my Work in Progress. I needed to know whether they had canned smoke/haze in 2004, since I wanted my sleuth to use it with lasers. Google searches yielded nothing, but ChatGPT told me when it was invented and whether it might be likely or not. 

This month’s e-book promotions: & a free book! 

Starting today through August 20, you can download The Dancing Colonel: A Short Story for FREE in the Find Your New Favorite Author campaign.

Murder at Old St. Thomas’s is being featured through Kobo for UK readers only. Special price is £2.99 through August.


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