Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Blackholes and Subterranean Gremlins

Dear peeps,

I've decided that the reason I can't find things here in this new/old house is that we have some kind of timey-wimey blackholes in the walls, AND/OR we have subterranean gremlins that live under the floorboards of the house.  They must sneak up through the cracks overnight and snatch anything that interests them.

Like, for example, my notebook of story ideas.

Why is it, that the smaller my living abode shrinks, the harder it is to find stuff?

Answer me that.

After several days of pondering that question, and tearing the house apart--twice--I've decided that the only logical answer is, and I repeat...

Subterranean Gremlins.

I'm thinking they look sort of like this:

Sweet and innocent during the day, but voracious little notebook-eating buggers at night.

More study is needed on this matter.

happy trails,

bobbi c.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Mincemeat and Murder

Where Short Story Ideas Come From. . .

I talked to my mother yesterday. I had sent her a copy of my Christmas short story "Holly, Hemlock & Mistletoe" in with her Christmas card. She's always been amazed at my stories and always wants to know where the ideas come from. She marvels at the fact that I actually have ideas, I guess. LOL. When she pressed me for details, I finally said I have more ideas than time to put them into stories.  True. But I really couldn't explain where some of them come from. She never believes me anyway since some of them are so convoluted it's hard to track the origin.

So, this morning I was relaxing and browsing online for recipes. I've recently gotten into making chutneys and such, and love tasting (in my mind) the mixtures of tart, tangy and sweet ingredients. I made two over the last few days—a delicious Pear Ginger Chutney and my annual Cranberry Sauce tarted up (literally) with oranges and candied ginger. (It's similar to Aunt Jewel's recipe for Cranberry Sauce except she's not brave enough to add the ginger. She says it gives her the colly-wobbles.)

I ran across a recipe for mincemeat, a traditional Christmas condiment. That brought back memories. My grandmother was fond of making and eating mincemeat, although as a child we hated the stuff. I wondered why that was since we'd loved her other concoctions. So I went in search for the origin of the stuff and ran across the phrase "Operation Mincemeat."

It seems that Operation Mincemeat was a WWII British "dis-information plan" carried out in order to fool the Germans into thinking that they had, by accident, intercepted 'top secret' documents.  According to an article in Wikipedia, the documents were attached to a corpse deliberately left to wash up on a beach in Spain.

 Ah, a corpse planted with false documents! Interesting! Pretty soon, my mystery-writer imagination went on overdrive and I had an idea for a story. There's still some thinking to be done, because I don't really write historical world war stories. Still, there's a hint of an idea there and actually several other authors over the years have felt the same way.

 I sure hope my mother doesn't ask for the origin of that story, because I'm not sure she'd believe it anyway.


Copyright © 2014 Bobbi A. Chukran. All rights reserved. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Free Short Story -- A Holiday Gift to my Friends

Dear friends,

Please accept this gift as a token of my appreciation for the support that you've given me over the last year. It's just a fun little story, nothing too high-tone, no swearin' or cursin' either. :-)


Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays!

And Happy Trails!

bobbi c.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Five Things I Learned from Patricia Highsmith

by Bobbi A. Chukran

Last week, while re-arranging my book hoard, I came across Patricia Highsmith's book, PLOTTING AND WRITING SUSPENSE FICTION. Then a member of my Sisters-in-Crime group mentioned it, so I decided to re-read it. 

Last time I read the book, it didn't "resonate" with me but I decided to give it another try. It's a short volume and easy to get through in a Sunday evening when there isn't much else on PBS besides the Boisterous Boy's Bell Choir from Belgravia or some such.

Patricia Highsmith was a suspense author from Ft. Worth, Texas (my birth town) who wrote THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, her debut novel that was adapted by Alfred Hitchcock into one of my favorite movies.

Ms. Highsmith admitted that the book is NOT a "how-to write" but a series of things she learned throughout her career. Throughout my re-reading of the book, I learned things about my own writing and had a few mini-epiphanies that will definitely change the way I think about my work.

1. I learned that "who-dunnits" might not be the best thing for me to write.

Ms. Highsmith admitted that she was "not an inventor of puzzles" and that the "mystery who-dunnit" story was "definitely not my forte." She goes on to say that her worst book (A GAME FOR THE LIVING) was of that type. 

This made me think about the types of stories I'm writing. I've been reading lots of cozies and traditional locked room (puzzle) mysteries, and increasingly I have to admit that they aren't my favorite, either. I've actually been trying to write some and have that unsettled "queasy" feeling that comes when I go off track.

Turns out, my favorite short stories I've written have not been the traditional "who-dunnits,"—they've been SUSPENSE. Even my literary short stories have an element of suspense in them (see "Sadie and the Museum Lady" -- free to read on The Dead Mule).  My first mystery novel, LONE STAR DEATH is a sort of hybrid of suspense and traditional who-dunnit. I'm not sure why I never noticed this before.
The stories I like to read the most aren't traditional "who-dunnits" or cozies. Or should I call them "dozies"? Just kidding, sort of.

The ones I like the most are the more suspenseful types with lots of action and  little twists at the end. Stories like you might have seen on the Alfred Hitchcock TV show, or The Twilight Zone. So if I don't like those other types, why write them? Good question!

 I think one of my best stories is "Dewey Laudermilk & the Peckerwood Tree." I consider it more of a suspense story than anything else. And the one that sells the most is my "Aunt Jewel and the Purloined Pork Loin" story. It's a comedy caper with suspense and not a who-dunnit at all.

2. I learned that it's OK not to like all of my characters.

I recently admitted to some writer friends that I don't like many of my characters, and I wondered why this was so. In her book, Highsmith also talked a lot about liking characters and the importance of the reader caring about them. Her amoral, warped characters are actually sympathetic. Highsmith invented characters like Tom Ripley, a con man who became a rich sociopath. Her admiration for the character came through as she talked about him. And, according to Highsmith, it's valid for the author to actually like characters like these—even the bad ones--but we don't have to in order to write a good story.

After reading that, I realized that I DO like some of mine, but I was thinking about my protagonist when I should have been looking in the other direction. I DO like my villains and those like the poor luckless slob in "Dead Dames Don't Wear Diamonds," published recently in THE ANTHOLOGY OF COZY-NOIR (Darkhouse Books).

Now, I need to figure what it is about the characters I DO like and about the ones I do NOT like. Maybe I can apply some of that knowledge to new characters to make them more sympathetic to my readers.

3.  I learned that my main recurring theme seems to be REVENGE and that's OK.

 Ms. Highsmith claims that every author has a "theme" that will eventually emerge and that they should pay attention to it. Her theme, she said, was the relationship between people (especially men) and those sometimes life-changing or threatening encounters. This is certainly illustrated in her first novel, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.

Knowing a theme is useful for an author because it helps with plotting and coming up with ideas for new stories. Sure enough, when I flipped through my files, I found that six stories have "revenge" as the theme. Instead of cringing and feeling like I'm a bad person, I'm running with it.

4.  I learned where that "really sour feeling about the whole project" comes from.

I've been calling it that "queasy feeling" and am glad to know that it's not just me and it's not the stomach flu. The feeling that a story is "forced, self-conscious and utterly without life" comes about when an author doesn't identify with her character and isn't feeling the emotions of the character. Now that I know where it comes from, perhaps I can pay more attention to it and take steps to alleviate it. Without Pepto-Bismol.

5.   I learned that authors have always struggled with some of the same things.

Ms. Highsmith stated, "I have scarcely a morning that doesn't bring something in the post that could be called psychically disturbing" and brings about "anguish and muted screams." She mentioned taxes, not being able to go on four hours' sleep any more like we used to and the feeling that "the aim of society is to put us all out of business." She ends the book with this advice: "…remember that artists have existed and persisted, like the snail and the coelacanth and other unchanging forms of organic life, since long before governments were dreamed of."

Good to know. And to remember.

About the Author

Bobbi A. Chukran writes short tales of mystery & suspense from "Nameless, Texas" featuring mirth & murder, holidays & homicide.
A complete list of Bobbi's stories and books can be found here:

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Cottage Cat Does Christmas

So I says to Roja Consuela Ann Chukran, "Leave that tree alone!"

To which she replied, "Who, me? I am NOT messin' with the Christmas tree. You must be mistaken," she sniffed, looking disdainful.

 Likely story.

Roja looking suspicious, crafty and downright guilty.