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Between the Pages, Past
A Mystery Column

Golden Opportunity for Mystery Authors
Columnist: Dennis Collins

Today’s market is flooded with books about terrorist fighting secret agents. The mold calls for a maverick who has been somehow wronged by the CIA, FBI, or some other nameless covert agency. He’s usually retired and has to be coaxed back into service for one last assignment. He reluctantly returns and immediately bumps heads with the guy in charge. In the field, he operates outside the box and is under constant threats of discipline from his superiors who secretly cheer him on. The formula is simple and way too familiar. The bookstores are full of these kinds of tales.

What is missing?

The traditional mystery, that’s what. Sam Spade, Mike Hammer, Amos Walker… nobody hears from them anymore. But I firmly believe that the audience exists. They’re patiently waiting for the next tough private eye to clean up streets that seem to be populated by muggers and hit men. The hero has to face a foe with overwhelming resources and protected by really big bodyguards… and he has to do it alone.
So who’s going to write these stories? Well, you can. I'm already doing it, and if I can, lots of people can. You don't need to be a scholar or an academic. John Steinbeck was a common laborer on a sugar beet farm and he had a terrible time with spelling. But he was a great story teller.

Becoming a fiction writer begins with being a story teller. If you've ever entertained friends around a bonfire, you've got a good start. And today’s word processing programs make it easy to change and correct things, certainly a far cry from how I started with a legal pad and handful of pencils.

The hardest part of writing is putting the first words together. Lots of tasks are like that. Getting started, that’s the first challenge. If you can beat that, the rest is morbidly slow but not really harder. From there on, it’s primarily commitment.

I began writing with absolutely no literary background. I came from the world of engineering.

When I wrote my first book, I gave up on it at least three times, once for almost six months. But after fishing it out of the bottom desk drawer and rereading it, I decided that it wasn’t as horrible as I remembered. A couple of small changes and I was off and running for another twenty thousand words until I became frustrated once again and threw it back into its dungeon. It sat there for several more months until I got antsy again. The cycle repeated one more time until I became curious about how it would end. And that was the incentive I needed to finish it.

I joined a writers group and asked their help critiquing the story, fixing the typos, and sweeping up the leftover commas. They were a tremendous help and their suggestions improved the story considerably.

Six months later I was strutting around a major writer’s conference, chest puffed out and holding my book above my head and proclaiming myself to be an author.

Six books later the trepidation still tries to intimidate me when I write those first few words, but now I know better.

Try it, Try being a story teller.

2016 Past Columns