Sunday, December 4, 2011


Good morning Readers. Welcome to the 10th day of the MURDER WE WRITE HOLIDAY BLOG TOUR. I hope you’re enjoying my guests as much as I am.

Remember: The group is giving away over 50 FREE BOOKS during this tour. For a chance to win one (or more) of these mysteries, visit each blog and leave a comment.

Today our guest author is Derringer Award winning author Earl Staggs. Many of his short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies. He has also served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. His novel MEMORY OF A MURDER earned thirteen Five Star reviews online at Amazon and B&N. His column “Write Tight” appears in the online magazine Apollo’s Lyre. He is also a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery. He hosts workshops for the Muse Online Writers Conference and the Catholic Writers Conference Online and is a frequent speaker at conferences and writers groups.

Earl Staggs

By Earl Staggs

I find it interesting to know how authors came to write a particular novel or short story. Where did the idea come from? How did they develop the characters? How did they come up with the plot?

With that in mind, this is the story about a short story of mine which eventually led me to write my first mystery novel with the same characters.

When my wife and I left the cold winters of Maryland behind and moved south, I made two decisions. One, I would retire from full time employment and, two, I’d do something I’d always wanted to do: become a mystery writer. The first step was to sign up for a writing class at the community college.

“By the end of this class, each one of you will have written a short mystery story.”

The instructor made that announcement the first night.


When I signed up for a class called “Writing Mystery,” I thought someone was going to teach me how, not make me do it right away. Okay, I reasoned, she’s a professor of literature at the college, so if she says we can do it, I suppose we can.

Then she said, “You have to come up with your own plot and your own characters.”

Another gulp.

I had no idea where to start, but not knowing how had never stopped me from doing anything before.

I thought about characters first. My protagonist, I decided, would be a former FBI agent who is now a private investigator. That would give him the training and expertise to pursue the bad guys. But I wanted him to offer something different from all the other PI’s already out there. It happened there was a Psychic Fair in town that week. That reminded me of a fascination I’d always had with psychic phenomena. I went to the Fair and talked with several psychics. These were not the storefront psychics who wear flowing robes and put on a bizarre show. They were also not the kind who will tell you everything you want to know over the telephone for three dollars a minute. They were ordinary people who lived ordinary lives when not using their gift. When they did use their gift, it was to assist law enforcement agencies solve crimes. Yes! That’s what I wanted for my guy.

I named him Benjamin Masterson and gave him some psychic abilities. He wouldn’t see or talk with ghosts or dead people. A medium does that, not a psychic. When he visited a crime scene or touched an object related to a crime, however, fleeting images would flash in his mind. Sometimes, those images would steer him in the right direction. Other times, they would only leave him confused because he didn’t understand what they meant. That’s the way it is with real-life psychics. It’s not an exact science. For the most part, Benjamin would rely on his FBI experience and old-fashioned police work.

I made Benjamin a widower because I felt a single PI has more freedom to travel, stay out all night if necessary, and be receptive should one of those beautiful and mysterious women -- a blonde, of course -- enter his life. I also added some close friends, some people who were not friends and, naturally, someone intent on killing people.

The next hurdle was to come up with a plot. I started with Benjamin receiving a phone call asking him to consult on a case that had local police stumped. A sniper had taken shots at a popular politician, but missed him and killed another man instead.

With a lot of help from the instructor and feedback from others in the class, I finished the story. I called it “The Missing Sniper.” I was quite proud of it and thought I’d done a great job even though Benjamin was not approached by a beautiful, seductive blonde. The story was so good, I decided to send it out to a few magazines, then wait to see which one offered me the best deal. Instead of deals, they all offered rejection letters. I was crushed. So crushed, I stuffed that story in a drawer and wiped it out of my mind.

I didn’t stop writing short mystery stories, however, and within a couple years, was fortunate enough to have several of them published. One day, I remembered that first story and dug it out. When I looked it over, I saw many reasons why it had been rejected. I suspect I’d learned a lot about writing by then. I decided to rewrite it.

The first thing I did was change the main character’s name. Benjamin Masterson seemed too stiff and formal for him. After much thought, his name became Adam Kingston. Next, I cut out about 4,000 words. The story shrunk from 13,000 words to 9,000. Apparently, I had also learned something about editing and tightening since that first attempt. I could have filled a large trash can with unnecessary adverbs, adjectives, and anything that didn’t move the story forward.

When I sent the story out this time, two magazines wanted it. One was a print magazine and one was an ezine. What to do? Incredibly, they both agreed to publish it simultaneously. I’d never heard of that, and I was thrilled.

When “The Missing Sniper” appeared, response to the character and the premise was so enthusiastic and encouraging, I decided to put the same guy into a full novel. I did, and a couple years later, MEMORY OF A MURDER featuring Adam Kingston was published and is still selling quite well.

Now, to everyone who read all the way to here, you’re invited to drop by my Blog/Website at: and visit with my special guest for the day, an author I know you’ll find interesting.

While you're there, you can read Chapter One of MEMORY OF A MURDER, my first mystery novel, which earned thirteen Five Star reviews.

Memory of a murder

You can also read “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer,” which some say is the funniest story I’ve ever written. There’s another one there called “White Hats and Happy Trails,” about the day I spent with a boyhood idol, Roy Rogers.

Don’t forget to leave a comment on my site. Everyone who does will be entered in a drawing on December 9. The first name drawn will receive a signed print copy of MEMORY OF A MURDER. The second name drawn will have a choice of an ebook or print copy of SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS, a collection of sixteen of my best short stories.

Short Stories of Earl Staggs

Thank you, Jackie, for allowing me to visit here and tell the story behind the story.

Earl, the pleasure has been mine, I assure you. I love your humor and your books, and I'm sure my readers will, too.

Here's Earl's contact information: 

Thanks to everyone for stopping by, and remember, if you leave a comment that gives you a chance at winning a free books.



Anonymous said...

Hi, Earl:

Love your post showing your creative mind at work. And I love your short stories, too.

Pat Browning

Jackie King said...

Thanks Earl, for being a gracious guest. And thanks to you, Pat for leaving a comment.
Cyber hugs to you both.

Susan Shay said...

I love hearing how writers started writing. Thank you for sharing!
BTW: I loved Roy Rogers, too! Happily, meeting Dale in real life a couple of times made me glad he was one of my childhood heroes!

Twisted Sister said...

Awesome blog today!
Enjoy reading about other writers.

Jackie King said...

Susan and Twisted Sister, Thanks a million for stopping by. As always during this tour, your name goes into my drawing for a chance to win a free book.

M.M. Gornell said...

Very interesting, Earl, on how you got started. Sure glad you did!


john M. Daniel said...

Nice work, Earl. I bet Adam Kinsgston told you he wasn't finished yet, and it was time for a whole book about him. Characters have a way of taking charge. I enjoyed learning about your writing process.

Marilyn said...

Wow, Earl, I have great respect for anyone who can tell a coherent story in a few thousand words. Make it a mystery, and I'm overawed. Congrats!

Jean Henry Mead said...

Wonderful post, Earl. I'm glad you made it all the way to published author because I certainly enjoy your work. :)

Timothy Hallinan said...

Great stuff, Earl, especially to see how pliable a piece of good material can be. This was, of course, the Raymond Chandler method: write a story, revisit it as another story, and combine a couple of them to provide the framework for a novel. so you're in good company.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I love discovering new authors. Thanks Jackie and Thanks, Earl. I've have to go the book!

Mike Orenduff said...

I love the story of you rescuing an early effort and whipping it into publishable form. I haven't been able to summon up the nerve to try that with my mutli-rejected early works. Maybe it's fear that they aren't worth fixing or maybe I don't want to be reminded of all those rejections.

WS Gager said...

Earl: I'm so glad you didn't give up after the first one! Wendy
W.S. Gager on Writing

Alice Duncan said...

Boy, Earl, talk about being thrust right into the game! Good for you, and keep it up. I've loved your shorts so far :-)

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks to everyone who liked the story of my early writing efforts. Thanks also to those who said they liked my short stories. I love writing the short stuff for many reasons. In fact, I have another character who wants to go into her own novel. I love when that happens.

Jackie King said...

Marilyn, Thanks for stopping by. I've heard you say before that you think writing a 5,000 word short story is harder than writing a 70,000 novel. (Doesn't take as long, perhaps, but is harder.) And Earl certainly is skilled in this art.

Karen Mayers said...

I am really impressed with your determination and fearlessness. I'm off to read more of your work as soon as I can locate it. Besides that, you are a great salesman, just what you need to be these days. Keep writing.

Jackie King said...

Lynn, Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. And good luck on your new book on Amazon!

Jackie King said...

To My Blog Tour Buddies, Thanks to all of you for stopping by. Today has been a socially busy day for me, so not much time for blogging and commenting. But each comment meant a lot to me, and I know it does to Earl, too.

And Earl, What a fun guest you are! So happy to have had you visit me today.

Jackie King said...

Karen, I know that you'll enjoy Earl's books and short stories. And your name is going into the pot for a chance to win one of my free books at the end of this tour.

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks for visiting, Karen, and for your kind words. I hope you win one of Jackie's books. You

Earl Staggs said...

Jackie, you're the mostest hostest ever. I may drop in on you again sometime. Be warned.