Friday, May 26, 2017

The Bloody Benders

In a recent post I mentioned "The Bloody Benders." Readers were quite interested in the Benders who are known as one of the six most terrifying serial killer families in American history. So by popular request here's what happened:

The Benders lived in Southeast Kansas in Labette County which is southeast of Wichita.

Their little wood-sided house on the prairie served a dual purpose as an inn and living quarters for a family of four. Weary travelers--hungry, exhausted--were delighted when they came across this oasis. They were welcomed by the beautiful articulate Kate Bender, along with her brother, John, Jr., her father, John and her mother, Elvira.

Kate had a reputation as a healer and a spiritualist who conducted séances. She claimed to be able to heal blindness, fits, deafness, and drunkenness. She spoke excellent English, as did her brother, but the parents only spoke German.

Visitors were seated at a table with their backs toward a canvas curtain which divided the store from the living quarters. The chair was on top of a trap door. Distracted by Kate's charms, the hapless victims were unaware of the man in back of the curtain. Either the father or the son crushed the man's skull, the women immediately fell upon him and insured his death by slashing his throat, and then the trapdoor was released and their mark fell into the cellar six feet below.

More than a dozen bullet holes were found in the roof and sides of the room, possibly indicating that some of the victims had attempted to fight back after being hit with the hammer.

After men were stripped of their valuables, they were buried either in the cellar or outside on the prairie. Twenty-one victims--including an eight-year-old girl--have been verified, but there is some speculation that not all of the bodies were recovered

There were tales and whisperings of mysterious disappearances. And people became uneasy about the Benders. Nothing certain. Nothing they could put their finger on. The son seemed touched in the head. His laugh was crazy. The mother was mean as a snake. They were not the kind of family to invite for a cup of tea.

The Benders were outed through a series of events. In 1873, a widower, George Loncher and his eighteen month daughter set off to visit a friend, Dr. William York. Loncher never arrived. Concerned, Dr. York began to search for his friend and followed his trail to Labette County. Dr. York went missing too.

Alarmed by his brother William's disappearance, Colonel Ed York, a Civil War veteran, hunted for his brother and the trail led to the Benders. The family tried to switch suspicion regarding William's disappearance to the Osage Indians, but Ed didn't buy it. He told the Benders he would continue west, but would be back if there wasn't a trail.

Ed didn't like the feel of this family and obtained permission to search the place. He returned with a posse of fifty men. In the meantime, the Benders had fled. The searchers discovered Dr. York's body and many others. Some in the cellar, some thrown down the well, some buried on the prairie.

The Benders were never apprehended.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Why I Stop Reading a Series

After viewing 31 seasons of the TV show “Chopped”, I recently dropped it from my list of shows to watch. That’s over 400 episodes of chefs creating appetizers, entrees and desserts from some of the oddest combination of ingredients you’ll ever see.

I stopped watching it because it dawned on my I wasn’t enjoying the show anymore. That I was watching it because I always had. That was quite a revelation for me. You see, I’m the kind of person who must see every episode of shows I consider worth watching. I can get quite obsessed about it.

That goes for books I read as well. If a mystery series captures my attention, I’ll generally read every book in it. Sometimes long after, shall we say, its expiration date.

This got me thinking about why I stop reading a mystery series and if there’s such a thing as the perfect length for one. I had a discussion with an avid mystery reader about the latter at a library event once. After some thought, he decided 7 books was the right number for a series. He felt the books after that didn’t match up to the first seven.

This interests me now in particular because I recently signed a contract for books 4, 5, and 6 in my Aurora Anderson mystery series. I have lots of ideas for these three books, but whether or not I’ll have ideas for ones past that, I don’t know. That’s a bridge that I’ll cross a few years from now.

Back to thinking about mystery series in general. I’ve read some where only 3 books were published and I felt there should be more. And others where 3 books were published and I thought that was too many. Then there’s the Aunt Dimity series. I’m 17 books in and still loving them. Sure, there are ones I enjoy more than others, but I love the characters and settings so much I don’t envision dropping it from my mental TBR pile.

After some thought, here’s my list of reasons why I stop reading a series:

I no longer care about the characters. I don’t necessarily have to like the characters to enjoy a series, but I at least have to find them interesting. Once I feel ho hum about what happens to them, that’s it for me.

The main character is too much of a wimp. I don’t expect the main character of a series to be Wonder Woman or Batman. Everybody has their wimpy moments and that’s okay. I’m pretty much a wimp myself. I also know there are professions where the customer is king and you’d better kowtow to them or you’ll be out of a job. I don’t count those in this. But there is a point that I find it hard to define where a character crosses once too often into Wimpville for me. That’s when I’m apt to not even finish the book and immediately cross the series off my reading list.

Situations have become too preposterous. I’m pretty easy going when it comes to books, especially amateur sleuths. Situations and reasons for investigating only have to be marginally believable for me. But sometimes, after many books, things become a little too preposterous even for me. This hasn’t happened very often. Maybe it has more do with the next item below than anything else.

I’ve grown tired of the main character. Sometimes a character I enjoyed at the beginning of a series no longer appeals to me. Maybe they’ve grown too far away from what I liked about them in the first place or maybe I’ve grown tired of their quirks.

I’m no longer enjoying the books. And then there’s the revelation I talked about at the beginning of this post. Nothing’s changed about the series. I just don’t enjoy the books anymore. Maybe this has to do with growing older and really realizing there’s limited reading time and I don’t want to waste it on something that’s just okay.

That's my list. Type M readers, why do you stop reading a mystery series? Do you think there's a perfect length for one?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Serendipity? I wonder…

by Rick Blechta

It’s late in the day to be posting, but I got held up by some “clientary” duties which I’ve finally managed to clean up.

So here I am.

The Castle Hotel in Chicago, circa 1896
The other night my darling wife and I watched the first two episodes in the fourth series of Sherlock on Netflix. Both were entertaining and thought-provoking, so we weren’t disappointed. (I feel this show is nothing short of brilliant – though others may disagree.)

Funny thing is, the second episode, “The Lying Detective”, really struck a chord with me. Why? Because I’d just read an article about one of the “background” characters.

The episode, based on Conan Doyle’s “The Dying Detective”, revolves around a serial killer whom Holmes is trying to unmask. During the course of the episode, this person talks about a famous mass murderer based in Chicago during the late 1800s.

So, here is the article: An infamous and sadistic American serial killer was hanged in 1896. Or was he?

For me, having the above prior knowledge made the Sherlock episode so much more real, considering that the killer as played by Toby Jones was a bit of a caricature of these most evil of people. He did pull it off admirably, but talking about H.H. Holmes in the way he did actually put a frisson of fear down my back. And that takes a lot of doing.

I won’t anything more to spoil the episode in case you haven’t yet seen it and would like to (I’ve really given nothing away), but it is well worth a viewing, especially if you’ve read the article above.

And to top it all off, is the very plausible theory that H.H. Holmes may have actually “gotten away with it”!

Stay tuned. I’m following this story avidly.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Guest Post - Daryl Wood Gerber

Please welcome Agatha Award winning author Daryl Wood Gerber to Type M. I met Daryl at a Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles meeting many years ago. Over the years, she’s given me some great advice. You may also know her as Avery Aames, author of the bestselling Cheeseshop Mysteries. Be sure to visit her at Take it away, Daryl...


by Daryl Wood Gerber  
Are you:
  • Organized or disorganized?
  • Right brain or left brain?
  • Enjoy the process of writing and hate the editing, or vice versa, or a little of both?
I am all of the above. It depends on the day and the mood. Did I wake up on the right side of the bed? (I always wake up on the right side, but sometimes my mood—a lovely cranky girl I call “Moody Two Shoes”—seems to have hiked over to the other side to crawl—um, slither—out.)

To keep myself on track, I start my mornings with exercise. I need to open up the lungs, get fresh air into them, and clear the cobwebs of my mind. All to pull Moody into the game.

Once that’s done, I get a cup of decaf coffee. If I have caffeine, I jitter. No need to jitter through the day. I like the warmth of coffee. And I love the smell. And I have a very special coffee machine that makes decaf taste phenomenal. Kid you not. Along with my coffee, I eat—I must eat breakfast or Moody becomes, ahem, Monster. She definitely is not my writing buddy.

After breakfast and a quickie crossword puzzle—one of the best ways for me to get focused—I face the computer; the blank page; the pages from the day before; the outline. At whatever stage I’m at,
that’s where I start. I’ve read that it’s important to review what I wrote the day before and then start. Sometimes that works for me; most times it doesn’t.

I do work from an outline. That seems to keep Moody in check, but at all times, the outline is a work in progress. I consider it a road map. For example, I could be driving up highway 5 to Northern California and suddenly see a sign to Paso Robles and veer off for an adventure. That’s how my outlines work. I know the basic route. I know where I’m headed. Yes, I know who did the deed and why, but filling in the parts about the other suspects and why they did or didn’t do it is key. I have the basics for each of them when I start, but sometimes their motives require a detour; a kick-start; a revamping. Their whereabouts and the lies they weave need to be revised. Sometimes I take a detour so I can design a day of fun or intrigue for my protagonist. Often I take the detour so my protagonist can encounter a new set of people who might prove valuable with clues. On occasion, I take the detour simply to appease dear sweet Moody because she wants to write something in an entirely different genre! Harrumph!

[Making a note to myself to be more forceful with Moody. She is not the boss of me.]

So, although I start the day with a plan, I have to remain flexible at all times. Just the other day, a character demanded more “page” time. She wanted a big role, not a cameo. I obliged, and in an instant, her history became clear to me. Was that the left or right brain taking over? Was it Moody butting into my “planned” story? Or was it simply me being flexible and open to creative thought? I didn’t care; it worked.

Writing is a wonderful, glorious, exciting, scary prospect. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What’s your process?

Agatha Award-winning and nationally bestselling author DARYL WOOD GERBER ventures into the world of suspense again with her second stand-alone novel, DAY OF SECRETS. Daryl writes the bestselling COOKBOOK NOOK MYSTERIES and will soon debut the new FRENCH BISTRO MYSTERIES. As Avery Aames, she pens the bestselling CHEESE SHOP MYSTERIES. Fun tidbit: as an actress, Daryl appeared in “Murder, She Wrote.” She has also jumped out of a perfectly good airplane and hitchhiked around Ireland by herself.

Twitter: @darylwoodgerber

Friday, May 19, 2017

Had I But Known

No, I'm not referring to the subgenre of crime fiction/romantic suspense in which the protagonist informs the reader, "Had I but known the dangers that lurked beyond the gates of that Gothic manor…" I did gobble those books up like candy when I was an adolescent, but I'm referring here to my HIBK as a writer.

I'm in the midst of reading student papers as commencement weekend looms – beginning tonight with a graduation ceremony. But last night, during our first real storm of the spring, I took a couple of hours out to read a book that I'm using for research. As I read, my mind drifted to a thought inspired by a phrase the author had used. And – as I have many times since I became a writer – I regretted that I didn't know that I would eventually write and publish. I knew I felt like a writer and wanted to write. But I thought I would be a veterinarian, and I didn't anticipate a career beyond that. I was a Biology major during my freshman year. I later double-majored in Psychology and English, but I have never caught up. I have always read, but even as an English major (who took the required courses), I was drawn to some eras and some writers. Having read Shakespeare in high school, I plunged with delight into three quarters of his plays and sonnets. But I have yet to make my way beyond the first few pages of Moby Dick. I know the plot – as I do other books that I have struggled to read – but I have not read the book. And I want to. On the other hand, I have read Thomas Hardy.

Then there's the music. I'm learning about jazz as the backdrop for the historical thriller I'm working on. But opera still eludes me. I somehow managed not to learn about music in a systematic fashion.

My point is that if I had known I was going to be a writer, I would have made a list of the things I might need or like to know. I would have joined the Girl Scouts. I'd like to know how to start a camp fire or find my way in the woods. I'd like to be able to name the trees and plants. I'd also like to know how to swim and speak several languages. I'd like to know how to milk a cow and grow a rutabaga.

I'd still like to learn karate and be a whiz at first aid. I'd like to be able to make a martini or a really good cup of coffee.

But I'm not giving up. I don't have to restrict myself to what I need to know. I can still learn what I want to know. I've already bought the seeds, and this year I will try again to learn to garden. Maybe I'll also work my way through The Adventurous Boy's Handbook that I can see on a book shelf. This summer, during my breaks from writing, I'll try again to get beyond Melville's gorgeous first paragraph.

What would you have tried to learn more about if you had known you were going to become a writer?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The art of the synopsis

This week, as I wrap up teaching, meetings, and an unanticipated hire, my agent emailed to say she needs a synopsis for each of the three Peyton Cote novels: “...just the retelling of each book as you would tell a friend on a leisurely evening. There is no rule about length.”

Damn, I wish I outlined, was my first thought. Having an outline kicking around my Google drive or gathering dust in a desk drawer would be helpful right about now.

Then, Relax, how difficult can it be? was my second.

Well, I can answer the second question here and now: Pretty damned difficult. It not as easy as you probably think. What details need to be in there? What events can I skip? Which characters stay? Who goes?

Perhaps I’m synopsis challenged, but it’s taking longer than I thought. I’m trying to write things in present tense as one would the narrative sections of a screenplay, without leaving out too much, and while keeping the pace moving. After all, it is to be shopped to potential TV writers. My goal is to show the commercial appeal and potential plotlines.

I usually thoroughly enjoy writing the teaser (catalogue copy) on the back of the book. So I thought this would be easy. Not so. The synopsis, while not a summary, should offer the scope and depth of the novel. It also has to be tense. I’ve written and revamped the description, for example, of the opening scene four times.

“. . . just the retelling of each book as you would tell a friend on a leisurely evening. . . “ Really? I’m not finding much to be leisurely about this process so far.

I would love suggestions and/or to hear what my Type M colleagues and our readers think about synopsis writing.


Donis here. I ought to be taking advantage of the last of the good weather here in Arizona, but I'm still working hard to finish my next Alafair Tucker novel. I haven't even been outside much lately, except to drive hither and yon and talk to groups about books and writing (which BTW, check out Barbara's excellent entry on the care and feeding of writers, below). Judging by my husband's behavior, I am becoming crabby and weird, which often happens as I near a deadline. But the dear man has been picking up the slack around our house, and even brought me a present a couple of days ago. I had mentioned that I'd like to have new bedspreads for the twin beds in guest room, and he traveled all the way out to a mall in a neighboring town and bought a beautiful set. I was so happy that my limbic brain took over and I cried, "Oh, nifty newpot!"

I have not uttered those word for decades. This is a phrase that my sister Carol coined in her dewy youth, and it became usual in my family to use it to describe anything wonderful. Carol was and still is a little bit off center in a most delightful way. She's well known for the way she manipulates the English language. One of my favorites is, "Stop here for a minute. I want to pooch into the store."

All of my siblings are vocabulary-gifted. When we were young, it was a matter of great amusement to us to sit around the dining table and carry on a conversation in the most convoluted and pretentious language possible. It was hilarious, and it seems to have done something to our brains. I could give you endless amusing examples, Dear Reader, but that is not the point of this entry.

The point is that sometimes it is brought home to me how much I was influenced by my siblings when I was growing up. I am the person I am partly because of them. I am the eldest of the four, so I imagine they would say the same about me. I'm a little bit sorry about that, because I often think I could have done better by them when we were young. Our family (like all families, I'm sure) had some very rough times to go along with all the good. There were periods where I felt like I should do my best to protect them. So I made a habit of not talking about what was going on or asking them how they were coping. In hindsight, this was not the best strategy. Of course part of it was that I was pretty young, myself, and didn't really know what to do. Still, I can see that all four of us bear some scars.


We are all funny and self-depreciating, erudite and self-sufficient to the point of almost being anti-social. Life and circumstances have scattered us. I live in Arizona, my sisters live in Colorado and Missouri, my brother in Oklahoma. Since our mother died, we don't keep in touch as regularly as we did. But that doesn't mean I don't think about them a lot. We survived a lot together, really good stuff and bad. We're like old war buddies who are the only ones who can understand what we went through.

My siblings are the inspiration for many of the events in my books and many of the personal traits of my recurring characters. In fact, I'll admit that part of the reason I invented Alfair Tucker's safe and stable family was to provide the safe place for the children. I didn't know how to do it when I was a kid.

p.s. the photos of me and the sibs were all taken on the same day in 1972 or thereabouts.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The further care and feeding of writers

Barbara here. There are so many possible topics for a blog this week, from the cultural appropriation firestorm currently raging in Canada, set alight by a flippant and ill-advised editorial in the Writers' Union of Canada's magazine, to Donald Trump's latest bizarre and even more ill-advised venture into international relations. But I decided to steer clear of political firestorms in favour of further discussion on nurturing the arts, culture, and literature in our own countries.

In my last post, using tiny Iceland as an example, I talked about the cultural attitudes and government supports that allow local and regional creators to earn something approximating a living in our increasingly global culture. In this week's blog, I want to talk about what individual readers can do to make a difference, and what decisions readers make that help or hurt authors.

Do's ...
  • Buy their books new. It doesn't matter whether it's an ebook or paper book, online or from a bookstore. Only the purchase of a new book pays any money to the author who spent a year or more writing it and to the publisher who took them on.
  • If you like the book, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Peer reviews are showing up everywhere now, from airbnbs to lawn mowers, and increasingly people rely on them to help them sort the good from the bad. The review needn't be long or exhaustive. A couple of short sentences will do. Reviews not only help separate good from bad, but the more ratings and reviews a book has, the greater its visibility on sites like Amazon.
Don'ts ...
  • Avoid buying used books. Whether from a yard sale or a used book store, they give no money back to the author or the publisher. Not everyone knows this. All the money stays with the seller. I am slightly ambivalent about harping on this, because the low price of used books can entice readers to try unknown authors, and if they like that book, they might buy the next book new. 
  • Don't use "free download" sites to get electronic copies. These are pirated copies, much like pirated music sites. Some people are under the misconception that authors make enough money that they won't miss the few dollars lost on an ebook. Many authors have incomes below the poverty line. Some people think the author needs those few dollars less than they do. Multiply that by hundreds or thousands of free downloads, and you have an author who's making virtually no money. Likewise, some people think there is no cost to an ebook because it's just a file without the cost of printing or paper. But paper and printing is only a small part of the process. Most of the cost of a book is in the year's labour of the writer, the salaries of the editor, formatter, cover designer, sales, marketing, and publicity people, and all those involved in the creation of the work.
  • Free download sites are also often scams or fronts for criminal organizations after your personal information.
Do's ...
  • Do take books out of the library. If money is a concern, particularly when trying out an unknown author, use the library. Unlike used books or free pirated downloads, authors and publishers do get money indirectly when their book is in the library, at least in Canada. If you don't find the book you want in your library, ask them to order it. The more libraries the book is in, the better for the author!
  • If you enjoyed the book, tell your friends. Over and above all the tweets and blogs and reviews, one of the most powerful marketing tools is word of mouth, and a recommendation from friends goes a long way towards cutting through all the books shouting to be read. Telling your friends on social media counts too.
Don'ts ...
  • However, don't pass your one copy around among all your friends. That's one sale, of which the author typically gets 10% (so $2 on a $20 book). When people proudly tell me they're seventh on the list at their workplace, I smile weakly. I'm happy my book is reaching so many people, but selling at least a couple of copies would be nice.
  • Don't expect a free copy just because you are friends with the author. People sometimes think authors get books for free, but we don't. We get a few copies which we use for promotional activities like draws and door prizes, or as thank yous to those who provided advice or expertise for the book. We have to buy the rest from the publisher, at a discount, but not free. We'd go broke giving away books.
  • For the same reason, think carefully before asking an author to donate a free book to a charitable cause. It can be difficult to say no; we want to be good citizens, and the charities are always worthy. But authors often find themselves donating as many as a dozen books to different silent auctions and fundraising ventures in a year, almost always without any kind of charitable receipt. Another path to bankruptcy.
So that's my list of kudos and pet peeves. But it's by no means exhaustive. Writers and readers, if you have more to add, I'd love to hear from you!