Category: Writing

1. Begin with the murder.

7 Tips for Writing Crime Fiction (written for Writer’s Digest) by Dana Stabenow I only wish I’d had this list when I began writing, but thirty-seven novels later I do have a few things figured out. I don’t follow all these rules slavishly. I say begin with the murder but…often I don’t. Every writer does…

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[repurposed from November 2010]

How about a little shameless self-promotion for today, featuring author interview with Les Wanner of

Len Wanner: Should crime fiction get more critical attention?

Dana Stabenow: No, I think it gets plenty nowadays, both online and off.

LW: Have you read any Scottish crime fiction?

DS: Scottish crime fiction isn’t separated out as a separate subgenre on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble, so I don’t know.

LW: What are the merits of crime fiction for you?

DS: The merits of good crime writing are the same merits of any good writing: The better I tell a story, the more engaged the reader will be.

LW: Did you choose this genre because it gives a voice to those we rarely listen to?

DS: If I wanted to bang the drum for a cause I’d write non-fiction. I do believe evil exists in human form, however, and the snake always has the best lines.

LW: How do you see yourself as a writer?

DS: I’m an entertainer. I’m the one sitting around the fire, spinning tales, hoping to get a few coins in my bowl before turning in for the night. If I don’t deliver, no coins, and no supper.

LW: Would you say that crime fiction is becoming ever more popular because it offers ersatz justice?

DS: Yes. Most of the time in crime fiction justice prevails. If we can’t have the reality of social justice, at least we can escape to it in fiction.

LW: Can the genre be too heavy-handed on questions of corrective measures?

DS: Only by accident, if the writer is doing their job properly.

LW: Does the genre afford us an opportunity to identify with a person driven to crime?

DS: Some people are just plain mad, bad and dangerous to know. No crime fiction writer can afford to underestimate the human propensity for evil. But no crime fiction reader should forget they are reading fiction.

LW: What makes a hero?

DS: All the best crime fiction heroes share at bottom the core characteristic of decency and many of them a willingness to sacrifice for their code or an individual or the common good. That’s what makes them heroes, they are better than you and me.

LW: Is the crime novel read as the new social novel – to identify with people in distress, to feel that we are not alone in our fears and uncertainties?

DS: The social novel has disappeared? Wait, I don’t even know what a “social” novel is. This could apply to any novel in any genre.

LW: Would you agree that crime fiction is read with a view to sounding out one’s own lived experience through the contrast between idealized patriarchy and how things actually work?

DS: Judging by my fan mail, some do. Some just read for the thrill.

LW: Do you write crime fiction because this genre doesn’t hesitate when it comes to the extremes that human beings are capable of?

DS: Crime fiction is a very versatile genre. There is nothing you can’t do in crime fiction and make it work. So yes.

LW: Who does it best?

DS: Reading is a wholly subjective exercise, and every book has a different effect on each individual reader. You’re casting a pretty wide net here. I will simply say that lately I’ve been enjoying Ariana Franklin, Craig Johnson, Barbara Cleverly, PD James and Reginald Hill.

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Note: On occasion on #thiswritinglife posts I include reviews of books on the craft of writing. Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is the book I recommend most often to aspiring authors. I reread it myself cover to cover every few years. Notenote: For aspiring Alaska authors I also recommend The Associated Press Stylebook…

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Long ago and far away I taught a class on “The Business of Writing” at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. One of the segments was how to write a query letter, and included a sample query letter I wrote to give my students an idea of how to get their toe in the door. From…

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[from the archives, February 10, 2008, with present-day commentary also in bold] Okaaaaay, five days after publication of Prepared for Rage, I have received the first email wanting to know when the next Kate novel will be out. Laurie King and I were talking about this yesterday. We’re pleased and flattered that you “Just…

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[Originally posted on October 21, 2013. Repeating it here because reading is as much a part of #thiswritinglife as writing is. And because you never know what you’ll find inside a used book, or what will happen when you write a blog post about it.] I found this copy of Ernie Pyle’s Here is Your War in…

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People often ask if I’m afraid I’ll run out of ideas. No, that’s not what I fear. My CPA, who I’ve been with since before I sold my first book, including those seven–or was it eight? possibly nine–years I had no earned income at all, retired last year. We’ll pass over the massive trauma this…

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If you write long enough, eventually someone will ask you to contribute a chapter for a serial novel. What is a serial novel, you ask? In the archaic meaning, it’s a work of fiction published in installments–think of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop and people in New York waiting on the docks for the ship carrying copies…

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On March 15th 49 Writers hosted a conversation between me and Haines, Alaska writer Heather Lende. Pro tip: It never does for writers to take themselves too seriously. We didn’t. My review of Heather’s book is here, Of Bears and Ballots, which book you should most definitely read along with everything else she’s ever written.

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Dana here–The Authors Guild is unquestionably the biggest bang you can get for your writing buck. Doug Preston tells us why. [reprinted by permission] In talking to some of you, I’ve discovered that not everyone is awareof the extensive benefits that come with Guild membership. Pleasetake a moment to look through the list, because there…

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