The Tao of Doo

In his kind and generous review of my first mystery, DEATH NOTICE, author James Reasoner said the plot was vaguely reminiscent of something found in Scooby-Doo, only played seriously. He meant it as a compliment and I took it Read more


Another October, another release date. Since BAD MOON is my second book, you would think I'd be used to it. But nope, I'm not. BAD MOON's publication date feels as surreal as DEATH NOTICE's did last year. For readers, the Read more

Writing With ... Louise Penny

I am thrilled beyond words to welcome one of my favorite writers, Louise Penny, whose Armand Gamache mysteries have appeared on bestseller lists worldwide.  Her last book, BURY YOUR DEAD, won the Ellis for best mystery in Canada, and Read more

Is Browsing Dead?

I'll be the first to admit that I was a nerdy teenager. Not pocket protector nerdy, but no sports star, either. I was bookish, I guess you could say. I read A LOT back then, and nothing pleased me Read more

Why We Left Earth

Outer space has always been a mystery. Even before mankind fully grasped its vastness, they wanted to go there. Early astronomers, fascinated by the stars, invented ways to get a closer view. Think Copernicus, Galileo, Cassini. Writers not content Read more

On Writing

The Tao of Doo

Posted on by Todd Posted in Featured, Musings, On Writing | Comments Off on The Tao of Doo

In his kind and generous review of my first mystery, DEATH NOTICE, author James Reasoner said the plot was vaguely reminiscent of something found in Scooby-Doo, only played seriously. He meant it as a compliment and I took it as such. In fact, I was thrilled by the comparison, because Scooby-Doo was my favorite cartoon growing up and continues to influence me today.

What? I hear you collectively say. You’re influenced by a cartoon about a bunch of brightly dressed pesky kids? That’s ridiculous!

But it’s not. Influences come in many forms, and if it works, it works. In fact, every mystery writer could benefit from having the Scooby Gang in mind when they sit down to write. Now, I’m not saying that you should insert a talking German shepherd into your book. (Although more power to you if you do.) But I do think Scooby-Doo offers lessons that all mystery writers should take to heart. Here are just a few:


In all honesty, the Scooby Gang shouldn’t have been friends. Fred was handsome but bland. Daphne was, well, Daphne. Velma was the smart one. Shaggy was the cut-up. And Scooby was the inadvertent hero who often saved the day while really trying to sprint away in fear. Yet it worked. Each of them brought something to table, whether it was Fred’s steadfastness or Daphne’s ability to alert everyone to when she got goosepimples. And it was invariably interesting to see them paired up in different combinations.

So when creating a set of characters, mix them up a little. Form a crew of people who are different, who will sometimes clash, who will bounce against each other. Every character has something to offer and the best stories allow them to prove their worth, no matter their skills are.


The Scooby Gang ended up in some pretty strange places. Like that haunted riverboat in the bayou, for example. Or that creepy castle in the middle of nowhere. Or that spooky abandoned mansion that Mama Cass inherited. But when I was watching it as a child, I didn’t question why they were there or dwell on the strange twists of fate led the Harlem Globetrotters to that desolate hotel when their tour bus broke down. I didn’t care. They were there and I was happy to watch them.

It’s the same with readers. By necessity, most mysteries walk a fine line between plausibility and outright ridiculousness. But readers know this. They’re prepared to willingly suspend disbelief if an author can entertain them for a few hundred pages. So don’t worry if your plot is vaguely preposterous. Most mystery plots are. If you do your best to ground it in reality, then readers will happily turn the pages.


I refuse to get into the reasons Scooby and Shaggy always had the munchies. That’s not for me to speculate about. All I know is that those two were hungry. I’m talking let’s-forget-about-that-zombie-roaming-this-abandoned-mansion-and-dig-up-some-grub-in-the-kitchen hungry. (I’m also not going to theorize on why the kitchens in these creepy, abandoned mansions always seemed to be fully stocked with sandwich fixings.) What matters is that they had an appetite, and they were more interesting characters because of it.

So when creating your characters, be sure to give them appetites as well. It doesn’t have to be food, although that’s a nice start. Kat Campbell, the heroine of DEATH NOTICE and BAD MOON, has an amusingly desperate thirst for coffee. That appetite can be for music. Or extreme sports. Or sex. Or drugs. What the characters hunger for outside of the main plot makes them more human and interesting, and — just like Shaggy ignoring the investigation at hand in search of a sandwich — can shape their actions and attitudes.


The Scooby Gang wasn’t perfect, nor did I want them to be. They all had flaws that made their quest to unmask the bad guy that much harder to attain. Even Velma, the smartest one in the room, had to fumble around on the floor like an idiot every time she lost her glasses.

And that, really, is what characters need to do. After reading an early draft of DEATH NOTICE, my agent told me that the investigation in the book went too smoothly. “They need to bump into walls and encounter dead ends,” she told me. In short, she wanted them to fumble around like Velma, on their hands and knees in the dark, reaching out for any bit of information they could find. I did, and the book was better for it.


Trust me, it will only make them look silly.

Computer Blues

Posted on by Todd Posted in Musings, On Writing | Comments Off on Computer Blues

It’s every driver’s worst nightmare — you’re driving along, maybe listening to the radio, when all of a sudden you hear a tell-tale ping! from the dashboard. You take your eyes off the road, only to see that an ominous warning light has suddenly blinked on. Your mind races. What’s wrong with the car? What did I do?! Oh my God, what’s happening?!?

Then, while that last thought is leaving your brain, the car simply decides to stop running, leaving you stranded on the side of the road with a growing sense of worry, shock and unease.

Well, the computer version of that happened to me the other day. It was after midnight, and I was just getting ready to finish my daily writing quota. An alert popped up on my laptop monitor. It was from my virus protection service, and it wasn’t the usual yellor or orange alert. This sucker was a shade of red that could only mean bad news.

Before I could fully grasp what was happening, the manuscript for my third novel vanished into thin air — Poof! — never to return.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  “Todd, why on earth didn’t you back up your file?” Well, this was my backup file. It was saved on a thumb drive that allowed me to work between multiple computers. For some nefarious reason, my antivirus software deemed it a security risk and removed it from that multipurpose backup drive. Like a dingo in a Meryl Streep movie, Norton Antivirus ate my baby.

I went through all the stages of grief in about fifteen minutes. Denial (“No, dammit, this is not happening, right?”), anger (“What the hell, computer?!? That’s not a virus. That’s my blood, sweat and tears you just deleted!”), bargaining (“If you can somehow make that file appear again, I swear I’ll buy you a real laptop bag and not toss you into that leather thing I bought at Target.”), depression (Insert the sound of my tears) and, finally, acceptance.

All isn’t completely lost. I do store files in Dropbox (which is a writer’s best friend) and there was an earlier version of the manuscript just waiting for me to pull it off the bench and put it in the game. The only downside is that the file is two weeks old. Not ideal, but it’s better than having to start my entire manuscript from scratch. I can live with having to rewrite two weeks of work. Losing two months of work would have driven me mad.

So that’s my computer sob story. The valuable lesson I learned is to back up everything, every day on every computer I own. If I do that, hopefully this mess won’t happen again.

So, fellow writers, have you ever lost anything really, really big? Something that puts my story to shame? Also, what backup systems work for you? (Because I think I could really use it.) Sound off in the comments section.

Beating the Block

Posted on by Todd Posted in Musings, On Writing | 5 Comments

I usually post my big weekly musing on Monday morning. But as you can see from the time stamp at the top of this entry, it is now Tuesday morning. So what gives?

Writer’s block, my friends. A heavy wall of it as thick as a barge and more impenetrable than steel. That I didn’t manage to break through it yesterday is obvious. But that failure, to me at least, is also surprising.

Because over time I’ve become pretty good at fighting writer’s block. A lot of this has to do with my background in journalism. Deadlines aren’t patient. They don’t wait until you feel like writing. You have to produce something — anything — within your alloted time. So over the years, I’ve devised a few ways to deal with it and, hopefully, beat it. They (usually) work for me, and I hope they’ll work for you, too.


This is the first trick I use when writer’s block strikes, and it usually works. I go to one of my many bookshelves and grab something by a writer whom I respect and enjoy. There’s something about excellent writing that gets those creative juices flowing again. Lately, my go-to authors have been Laura Lippman and Dennis Lehane. Those two can write like nobody’s business, and seeing their effortless prose inspires me to try to keep plugging away.


I know, this is easier said than done, especially when you’re staring at a blank computer screen with no idea how to proceed. The key is to write something with the knowledge that it’s utter crap and that it won’t ever see the light of day. It’s a mental trick. Knowing that what you’re jotting down will be rewritten very soon frees the brain to start thinking of words and forming sentences. Before you know it, you’re writing again. And nine times out of ten, that crap you have no intention of keeping turns out to actually be pretty good.

Exercise (physical)

This one has been hard this spring, when it’s been raining more often than not. But if the weather is clear, it doesn’t hurt to get outside and go for a nice, long walk. The fresh air clears your head. The time spent walking gives you time to think about what you’re writing that day. As an added bonus, you burn the calories you’ve amassed while sitting at your desk eating cookies. (Please tell me I’m not the only writer who does this.)

Exercise (mental)

This is another good trick that I learned from Naomi Epel’s THE OBSERVATION DECK: A TOOL KIT FOR WRITERS. Instead of sitting there and writing nothing, give yourself a little mental exercise. It could be something as simple as describing the room you’re in, doing a brief character sketch or writing a six-word sentence that tells a complete story. These mental calisthenics tap into that creative part of the brain and lets the words leak out again.

Give up

This one is a last resort, but sometimes it comes to that. There are days when you just know, deep down in your gut, that the words aren’t to come. The muse has left the building and you’ve got no choice but to give up for the day. When you get to that point, it does you no good to sit there and beat your head against your keyboard. Just vow to try again and go do something else. To paraphrase Lawrence Block in his amazing book WRITING THE NOVEL, some days it’s best to just give up the ghost and go to the movies.

So there you have it, folks, my five ways to deal with writer’s block. I’d love to hear how you handle those horrible blocked days. If you’ve got a good tip to share, tell me in the comments section below.