BY RACHEL M. ANDERSON – CONTRIBUTING WRITER
What if a tree uprooted in a windstorm revealed a buried metal box? What if you overheard a conversation in which a local police officer indicated he had committed a crime?
These are just a few of the questions that really got people thinking at the Oct. 24 mystery writers workshop held at the Barnes and Noble Galleria in Edina in honor of The Month of Mystery (October). The free community event, led by former Edina resident and award-winning mystery author Marilyn Jax and her friend and fellow mystery author Craig MacIntosh, attracted nearly 20 people from the community.
The workshop began with an introduction to the writing process. Jax offered advice that comes from experience on everything from writing style and key components of a mystery to some of the techniques she picked up as a former enforcement investigator for the state of Minnesota.
“You know how you can tell someone is lying?” she asked. “They will avoid making eye contact with you, the pitch of their voice will change, they will blink a lot, and they will get fidgety,” said Jax, who went on to explain how authors can use this knowledge to develop clues for the reader as they develop their stories.
In addition to offering tips on crafting the perfect mystery, Jax also involved participants in a series of writing exercises. In one, she handed out pretend book covers that contained a single opening sentence or two, and asked participants to write two paragraphs continuing the story.
Among the images on those book covers were blood splatterings on a wall, a curtain pulled back in a window, and in honor of Halloween, a glowing Jack-O-Lantern sitting on a cluttered desk in the back corner of a room.
After Jax finished sharing writing tips and engaging the attendees in the writing exercises, MacIntosh stepped in to talk about the book publishing process. He focused on the importance of hiring a good editor before sending your book to a prospective publisher, and he talked about how to find one. He also shared his experiences as an independent author.
MacIntosh has authored four published novels and is currently working on a fifth. His books include the World War II mysteries, “The Fortunate Orphans” and “The Last Lightning,” as well as “McFadden’s War,” a story of intrigue, romance and treachery set in the Philippines, and “Wolf’s Vendetta,” a tale of intrigue set in the Russian Underworld.
Jax is the author of the award-winning mysteries, “Never in Ink,” set in Europe, “Sapphire Trails,” set in Montana, “Road to Omalos,” set in Crete, and “The Find,” set in Miami, the Caribbean and London. Each novel in her highly-acclaimed Caswell & Lombard series features the same two private investigators working to solve a different crime.
She too is currently working on a fifth novel. “The Ploy” is due out in 2016. And her first short story, “A Fare to Remember,” will appear next summer in a mystery anthology, “Cooked to Death,” published by Nodin Press.
Patricia Trebnick of Minneapolis has read all of Jax’s mysteries, and when she heard about the workshop decided she just had to attend.
“The workshop is excellent. It’s a good guideline for someone who wants to write mysteries. I’ve taken a lot of writing classes, and this is one of the best. I learned a lot,” she said.
Grace Smith, 14, a freshman at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, learned about the workshop from her grandfather, who is a regular customer of the store. She writes modern fantasy and Medieval fantasy.
“I may not write mysteries, but when you write a certain genre it’s a good idea to also learn different styles, and I learned a lot,” she said.
“We were happy to host the event. We received a great response from our customers and will do it again in the spring,” said Lin Salisbury, community business development manager at Barnes & Noble Galleria.
The next free community event at Barnes and Noble Galleria will be the Mini Maker Faire that runs from Friday, Nov. 6 through Sunday, Nov. 8. Participants will be able to see demonstrations and experience some of the latest products in 3-D printing, robotics, coding, programming and more.
For additional information visit the store’s website: http://stores.barnesandnoble.com/store/2514.
Rachel M. Anderson is a contributing writer for the Sun Current.