More Murder Mystery in the Museum

Thanks to everyone who has contributed ideas to the murder mystery game we have planned for the local museum. Although I was able to use only one or two of your ideas for the game, I will keep the rest to help me with the book. (I’m thinking that my next book should be based on this museum experience, though instead of a fake body, we find a real body.) The book will be in the present, so I should be able to make use your ideas such as time zone variances and medical conditions; unknown twins, seamen, and parrots.

Meantime, I’ve been researching Clay Allison, and I found suspects in the history of the times. (After all, it is an historical museum event.) I’ve figured out how to present the clues for everyone except Colonel Mustard and Mrs. Peacock, but if I don’t, I don’t suppose it matters. In the end, it could come down to a guessing game. This, then, is what I have written so far:


Spur of the Moment Murder Mystery

It is Monday, March 5, 1877. Rutherford B. Hayes has just been publicly inaugurated as the nineteenth president of the United States. Hayes lost the popular vote but won the most electoral college votes after a ferociously disputed ruling by a Congressional committee. Citizens of the town are out late, some celebrating the victory, some drowning their sorrows at having a Republican in office.

Revelers discovered the body of Clay Allison outside the jewelry store at 9:00pm. There is no lack of people who want Clay Allison dead.

Mrs. Peacock, born in 1842, is the married sister of Deputy Charles Faber. Clay had gunned down the deputy after the deputy had demanded Clay and his brother relinquish their guns. Mrs. Peacock is not only grieving the loss of her brother, but is fuming that Allison went free after the judge ruled Clay Allison’s actions self-defense. She claims to have been home alone with her husband.

Colonel Mustard, the blacksmith, born in 1832, was at the garrison at Gainesville Alabama when Clay and the others in his Confederate unit surrendered at the end of the Civil War. Clay claimed he’d been pardoned, though Colonel Mustard maintains that Clay had escaped the night before he was to go before a firing squad. Twice Clay had escaped justice, and that does not sit right with the Colonel.

Mrs. White, schoolteacher, born in 1824, was overheard telling a friend that Clay Allison deserves to be shot for mangling the English language. Clay had bragged that he was a shootist. “Shootist?” said Mrs. White. “He just made up that word.” Mrs. White claims to have been at a suffragette meeting that evening at the schoolhouse. The suffrage referendum had just been defeated in Colorado, and she and other women in town knew they’d have to form a political coalition to work on getting suffrage for women in Colorado.

Professor Plum, a professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, born in 1878, is writing a book about Clay Allison. He came to town to talk to Clay, though Clay seemed disinclined to tell him the truth of his life, which enraged the Professor. Professor Plum was seen in the vicinity of the jewelry store around the time of the murder, though this seems to have been a nebulous sighting at best.

Miss Scarlet, dance hall girl, born in 1860, hated Clay Allison for promising her marriage and a life of respectability and then reneging on the deal. She claims to have been with Mr. Green when the incident occurred.

Mr. Green, bank teller, born in 1847, says he was not with Miss Scarlett, had never even met her. He claims to be an upstanding citizen with pretentions to being bank president one day, though he does admit that Clay Allison tended to play fast as loose with the ladies in town, and should be shot on general principles.

Rules:

Look for clues in the above history, in the various exhibits, by talking to the characters. Check off the characters as you learn they didn’t do the dirty deed. Whoever is left, then, must be the killer.

o Mrs. Peacock.
o Colonel Mustard
o Mrs. White
o Professor Plum
o Miss Scarlett
o Mr. Green

So who killed Clay Allison? How was he killed? Why was he killed?


And there you have it (as of right now anyway), my murder in the museum scenario. It’s subject to change of course, if I come up with more history or better ideas.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

 

A Murderer at the Museum

I’ve been trying to figure out how to set up a live murder mystery evening sans dinner, sans skit, just a simple game similar to Clue. The best way I’ve come up with so far, is to finger six or seven suspects, tell why they hated the victim, and offer alibis for each. Visitors will be given this brief history, along with a check list of suspects so they can cross off those they know couldn’t have done it.

I spent the afternoon at the history museum trying to find a mystery and decided to kill off Clay Allison, a self-proclaimed shootist, ten years before he actually died. (He died at 45 when he fell off a wagon —literally — and a wheel ran over his neck.) Considering that Allison killed a deputy in this county and was never prosecuted (the killing was considered self-defense though the deputy had been doing his job as a lawman at the time of the gunfight in the saloon), I figure a lot of local folk back then would have liked to dispatch the evildoer.

Or maybe he did himself in — after all, he’d once shot himself in the foot as evidenced below.

Although it’s easy leaving clues and red herrings, the difficulty comes in proving which of the alibis are correct. (It’s much easier proving them wrong.)

At the suggestion of one writer friend, one of the suspects will be out of time/place (he will have been born after the shoot-out), and the only clue of his innocence will be his date of birth. One woman, a dance hall girl, will say she was with the local chiropractor, and though he will deny it, a photo of the two of them will be hung somewhere in the museum.

And that’s as far as I’ve got. One suggestion I considered was to use the time zone change. Although today it would work since the dateline is only an hour or two away, back then, it would have been a couple of days hard ride, so I haven’t been able to make that work.

Since this is more of a scavenger hunt than a live Clue game or skit, the clues to who didn’t do it need to be visual so they can be scattered around the museum. Luckily, I still have a couple of weeks to figure this out.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

UNFINISHED is on Sale at Amazon!

If you have a stack of Amazon gift cards that are burning a hole in your pocket, the paperback edition of my novel Unfinished is on sale today.

The story: Amanda Ray thought she’d grow old with her pastor husband David, but death had other plans. During David’s long illness and his withdrawal from her, Amanda found solace in the virtual arms of Sam Priestly, a college professor she met at an online support group for cancer patient caregivers. Amanda thought that when their spouses were gone, she and Sam would find comfort in each other’s arms for real, but though David succumbed to the cancer that riddled his body, Sam’s wife, Vivian, survives. Vivian had been in the process of divorcing Sam when she fell ill, and after the diagnosis, Sam agreed to stay with her until the end. Since Sam plans to continue honoring his vow, Amanda feels doubly bereft, as if she is mourning two men.

Rocked by grief she could never have imagined, confused by her love for Sam and his desire for her to move near him, at odds with her only daughter, Amanda struggles to find a new focus for her suddenly unfinished life. As if that weren’t enough to contend with, while clearing out the parsonage for the next residents, Amanda discovers a gun among her devout husband’s belongings. Later, while following his wishes to burn his effects, she finds a photo of an unknown girl that resembles their daughter.

Having dedicated her life to David and his vocation, this evidence that her husband kept secrets from her devastates Amanda. If she doesn’t know who he was, how can she know who she is? Accompanied by grief and endless tears, Amanda sets out to discover answers to the many mysteries of her life: the truth of her husband, the enigmatic powers of love and loss, and the necessity of living in the face of death.

Although the feelings of grief Amanda experiences are based on my emotional journey during my first two months of profound grief, the story itself is fiction. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to deal with not only the loss of one’s mate, but the loss of the idea of one’s mate. Well . . . yes, I guess I can imagine how it would feel, because I wrote the novel! I hope you will read UNFINISHED. It’s an important book because too few fiction writers portray the truth of new grief, and that lack leaves the newly bereft feeling isolated and as if they are the only ones dealing with grief’s craziness.

You can purchase the print version of UNFINISHED (published by Stairway Press) here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1941071651/

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Pacific Crest Trail Theory of Writing

A new mystery writer posted an interesting question in a writing group I run. She wanted to know how to make her story unique.

It’s a good question because almost every situation imaginable has already been written. Almost every character is now a cliché because authors have taken the clichéd character, turned it on its head, and created a shadow cliché of the original.

But still, there is originality even in the most banal situation. A situation becomes unique and original if you fully develop the characters and the situation. You give the good guys bad characteristics and the good guys good characteristics. You show why your characters are the way they are, giving them good reasons rather than just throwing them into the mix fully formed. You tie them to the story, making their characteristics an integral part of the plot. When you find that your story is going too much in one direction (straight to the resolution of the plot, for example), you turn the situation and throw more trauma at your characters. What does this trauma do the clichéd drunk cop? Make him or her give up drinking? What does the new trauma do to a clichéd rookie cop? Make him or her stronger, weaker, more determined, go seek counsel from someone who has been a tormentor? And you work against their characteristics and strengths. If the rookie is smart, throw her into a situation where her intelligence is no help. If the drunkenness of the cop is a liability, throw him into a situation where the drunkenness becomes an asset.

You can also find uniqueness in what the characters see. (That’s what made Sherlock Holmes so popular — he saw things differently from other people.)

And you can look at things through a different kind of glass. For example, I lost someone very dear to me a few years ago, and now I cannot write a character that isn’t affected by that grief. For another example, people who hike the Pacific Crest Trail are always afterward affected by what happened to them on the trail.

So, this brings me to the Pacific Crest Trail Theory of Writing. Every year, thousands of people attempt to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the beginning to the end. The trail is always the same. It is what it is. In a way, the people are always the same, too, divided primarily into a couple of groups — the kids (mostly boys) just out of college and older recently retired couples. (Though people from all over the world of all ages hike the trail, these are the two biggest groups.) Despite this similarity, each of those hikers hikes a different trail and a different hike because each one of those hikers has a different motive and motivation, each sees something different, each reacts differently to what they experience.

And so it is with writing — it is the characters, their motives and motivations, how they experience what they experience, that makes a story unique.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Free Review Copy of Unfinished

Stairway Press has just informed me they have review copies of UNFINISHED to give away! If you would like to review this novel about the secrets a grieving widow uncovers when she goes through her deceased husband’s effects, please leave a comment on this blog. Reviews are to be posted on Amazon and at least one other place, such as your blog if you have one, Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook. Stairway Press would also like permission to post the review on their website.

The review doesn’t have to be brilliant, just a few words to tell your honest opinion of the book and how it made you feel.

If you’ve already read the book, and have not left a review, please leave a review on Amazon. As Stairway Press said to me in a recent email, “Your book is good. It should please readers and fan word-of-mouth flames. But, it’s just sitting there looking at us as if it expects us to do something.”

So, let’s do something! Even if you don’t want to review the book, please share this post so that it can reach as many people as possible. Thank you.

Click on the cover below to read the first chapter and see if Unfinished is something you’d like to read and review.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

He Loves Her. He Loves Her Not Yet.

I was making progress with my decade-old manuscript until I got to where I just want to end it. I’ve made the points I want to make, and I’m afraid the rest of the story will seem anti-climactic, and yet I need to get my two characters where they need to be — assuming, of course, I can figure where that is. The ending is also dependent on their having a baby, and they just now had sex. So there has to be something happening between now and then.

This book isn’t a romance, though there is romance of a sort in the story. The two start out not liking each other, come to an uneasy alliance and perhaps even respect, and then they make love. I’m not sure I’ve built a strong enough connection between the two of them so that it will seem to the reader that these two are actually in love,  though it doesn’t matter for the story’s sake. I mean, they are the last people left on earth — they are stuck with each other either way.

Still, it would be nice if they did love each other.

In the sex scene, as I originally wrote it years ago, after they’ve had sex, the man tells the woman he loves her. And she admits the same. Nice, right? But if the connection isn’t there, then it seems glib. So I took out those few lines. Then the scene seemed less romantic, so I added them back in. Then it seemed too romantic since up until that time, they had little actual contact, so I took the lines out again.

At the moment, those few lines are back in the manuscript.

Ideally, the words of love need to be saved until a time when the characters actually feel more connected (or when the reader feels that they are connected) but those parts have to be written.

I hoped to have the book finished before I took off on my trip, but I’m running out of time, I’m thinking of skipping to the end, giving them their baby, and being done with it.

But no. I’ve waited this long to finish the book, so I might as well do it right.

As soon as I figure out if he loves her or loves her not yet.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Reviewers Wanted!

Stairway Press has just informed me they have review copies of UNFINISHED to give away! If you would like to review this novel about the secrets a grieving widow uncovers when she goes through her deceased husband’s effects, please leave a comment on this blog. Reviews are to be posted on Amazon and at least one other place, such as your blog if you have one, Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook. Stairway Press would also like permission to post the review on their website.

The review doesn’t have to be brilliant, just a few words to tell your honest opinion of the book and how it made you feel.

If you’ve already read the book, and have not left a review, please leave a review on Amazon. As Stairway Press said to me in a recent email, “Your book is good. It should please readers and fan word-of-mouth flames. But, it’s just sitting there looking at us as if it expects us to do something.”

So, let’s do something! Even if you don’t want to review the book, please share this post so that it can reach as many people as possible. Thank you.

Click on the cover below to read the first chapter and see if Unfinished is something you’d like to read and review.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Group as Character

I’ve been working on my decade-old manuscript, and it’s actually going well. I just have one problem you might be able to help me with.

Several of the characters are part of group, and the group will be disappearing en masse. The fact of the disappearance won’t be shocking because such things have already happened in the story, though it will sadden the two left behind and help set up the final act of the story.

I’ve been mostly developing the group roles and trying to present the group itself as a character rather than the individuals in the group because none of them individually advances the story. Consequently, I haven’t done much besides give the individuals brief profile sketches and conflicts within the group, but now I’m wondering if that’s enough.

Since the story is told from a single viewpoint — the main character — any development of other characters has to come from what that one character can observe. A couple of the characters hate the hero and would not tell him anything, so I haven’t given them much of a background, but should I find a way to tell their backstories? Is it necessary?

WRITERS, how fully do you develop your minor characters, especially characters who are going to be killed off?

READERS, how fully do you want to be invested in such characters? Would you feel more cheated if you had to invest time and emotion in such characters only to find out they weren’t pivotal to the story, or would you feel more cheated by not being able to invest emotion in them at all?

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Polka-Dotted Loin Cloths

I have my decade-old manuscript open on my laptop, so the first thing I see when I lift the lid is the last thing I wrote. And this is what greeted me today:

The polka-dotted loin cloths and cave girl outfits did not disappear, but Bob did.

Seeing that sentence amuses me and makes me excited about working on this new/old book. Not excited enough to actually write, you understand, but enough to keep me thinking about writing. Still, any kind of excitement when it comes to my writing is a good thing.

Actually, I have been writing a few words each day — nothing immortal, just brief bits to connect stray scenes. Much of what still needs to be written are the day-to-day activities of the characters, with enough interaction between the secondary characters and the hero so you get to understand them and their group roles and perhaps care when they meet their ignominious end.

After that, there is the whole last part of the book where the characters that remain find a place to settle down before they are whapped with one final horror.

But, until then, a whole lot of daily details need to be written. Thousands of words worth.

You never know — I might actually write a few of those words today.

Well, perhaps later.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

On Writing: Potential Discrepancies

In a scene in my work that’s still not progressing, I have my characters roaming a hostile landscape in nothing but Tarzan and Jane outfits. Until a few days ago, they wore their normal clothes, including shoes.

Keeping that in mind, can you spot the potential discrepancy in the following excerpt?

Faint screams became deafening as Chet approached. Christopher rolled around on the ground, ignoring Francie’s pleas to hold still. The others huddled off to the side. The eyes they turned to Chet had a blankness in their stare.

Chet rushed to Francie’s side. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. He tripped and fell an hour ago, or maybe two minutes or two hours. Out here, there seems to be no time.”

“Did he break a bone?”

“No. He looks fine, but he won’t stop screaming.”

Chet knelt on one knee by Christopher, then immediately jumped up, his kneecap burning as if impaled with a thousand splinters. Gritting his teeth, he limped to a hassock-sized rock, perched on the edge of it, pulled his knee to his chest to study it, but could see nothing out of the ordinary.

“. . . wrong?” Francie said, the rest of her words drowned out by Christopher’s screams.

Chet glanced at her and found her looking at him, a crease of concern between her brows.

“I don’t know what’s wrong.” He exaggerated the words so she could read his lips, and touched his knee to show here where he hurt. The touch made him gasp with pain. He turned his knee toward the sun to get a better look, then he saw them—hundreds of tiny blond filaments sprouting from his skin. They came out easily; the hard part was finding them all. What were they? Leftovers from a furred plant that had disintegrated in the heat? Not that it mattered where they came from. Just something else to watch out for.

When he could finally touch his knee without hurting, he hunkered by Christopher’s side and began removing the filaments. Francie’s eyes grew wide with comprehension, then she too set to work.

Christopher’s screams subsided to sobs then whimpers.

I’m sure you didn’t spot the discrepancy. In fact, I didn’t either at first. So, here’s the problem: they aren’t wearing shoes now, right? And had been wearing them until a few days previously? Which meant their soles weren’t yet acclimated to walking barefoot. Then why didn’t all the characters feel the splinters on the bottoms of their feet?

That’s as good a starting place for today’s writing session as any. Now I just need to figure a way around the problem. And hope there aren’t any more potential discrepancies.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.