Thursday, December 10, 2015

Secondary Mystery Characters Who Play Fair

It’s a mystery reader’s challenge and the name-of-the-game: Every character who populates a page could be a suspect. While the author and reader know who is and who isn’t, the reader can’t be sure. The author must play fair.

 Secondary characters main role is usually to move the story along. They serve food and drink to the sleuth, drive him or her around, are family members or associates who attend holiday parties.

 Often sketchy and written in without taxing the author’s brain, these secondary characters challenge the reader, especially in early chapters. The author also faces a dilemma. If drawn to narrow, the reader quickly dismisses the character as not a suspect. Flat, one-dimensional characters also create lifeless reading.

 The author who desires to have as many viable suspects as possible can not overlook the minor characters, especially on their stage debut. That is because, if the only three-dimensional characters are the hero/sleuth and the villain/criminal, the reader won’t have any fun in trying to decipher whodunit.

 The balancing fulcrum between reader and author must be fair play.

 Fair play in that the reader knows as much as the sleuth and there are multiple suspects.

 If the sleuth enters a supermarket, what type of individual might he find?

Example one:

The obese, heavyset white-shirted male with the store badge clipped to his black belt knelt near an aisle merchandise display.  His gray hair and facial wrinkles said he neared retirement. He chewed a yellow pencil stub as if it were a toothpick. His brown eyes were downcast and hardly brighter than his scuffed black shoes.

 Comment on Example one:

 Many writers pass off this physical description as strong characterization. Other than outward appearance, what do we know about this character. Is he a clerk, a middle-level manager, or the store owner. Was he concerned with merchandise or had he dropped something? There’s a lot we don’t know and nothing that really makes this male memorable, except the writer really wanted us to know the character carried extra weight by the needless repetition.

Example two:

The purple-shirted male with a shaven head knelt with his hob-nailed engineer boots blocking any grocery store cart that dared attempt to pass him. The red of his bulbous nose contrasted sharply with deep-set dark eyes. A red bandana tucked into his rear blue jeans pocket lay limp against his right butt.

Comment on Example two:

This exaggerated attempt to add “color” to the character spins a blurry and confusing palette. Is this person young and not know better or old and doesn’t care. Perhaps, he stopped into the store for water before he was to set out for the costume party. Who knows? These types of characters don’t ring true to the reader. It draws unneeded attention to the author. The reader. as well, might question the motives of the author, and not in a good way.

Example three:

The store clerk pushing a wheeled merchandise-laden cart hummed “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” Must be new, Detective Jim thought. He hadn’t met this blue-jacketed young man before.

     “You practicing for Christmas Eve?”

     “Easter,” said the clerk. He grinned and Jim knew he wasn’t serious.

      “Where’s the eggnog?”

      “Aisle 9.”

Comment on Example three.

 What does this brief introduction tell the reader about the young man? Yes, young, but we don’t know years so the reader must actively engage his or her imagination and draw upon personal experience. May be a high school or college student working during the Christmas break. He wears what might be a common clerk uniform jacket so the reader can deduce he’s an employee. If he hums, there’s an indication of how he approaches his tasks. His response to Detective Jim indicates a sense of humor. Since he knows where the eggnog is, he’s either studied the store layout or has worked there for a sufficient time to become familiar.  If not naturally friendly, perhaps he’s sophisticated in how to hide his true feelings.


 The store clerk in the last example hasn’t been over developed. Yet, if need be, his character can reappear later. It’s the same gradual process of creating major characters.

 Examine your secondary characters. If the restaurant server is mentioned only because a plate of food must be in front of the sleuth, there is likely no reason even to give the server a name or gender. If the server is in a cowboy outfit and that is a way to identify the restaurant as a BBG joint, then by all means add this as one of the few details necessary to orient the reader.

 One last point, in real-life we often learn more about another person by the way they act and talk than by their dress. Detective Jim will likely remember the clerk’s humming rather than he wore an employee uniform. Chances are the reader will, too.

Donan Berg's latest novel is a romance entitled One Paper Heart. Read a free sample of One Paper Heart by clicking the underlined link or at your favorite online bookseller.

His recent mystery is Adolph's Gold. Read a free sample at the following link Adolph's Gold or online at your favorite bookseller.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Book Clubs Select Adolph's Gold and One Paper Heart

A second book club has selected an Author Donan Berg novel. His police procedural mystery Adolph's Gold will be a January 2016 selection.

An excerpt of Adolph's Gold can be found at this site or a sample at or

Author Donan Berg's debut romance novel, One Paper Heart, an excerpt which can be found at this site, has been chosen to be a book club's December, 2015 selection.

In separate news, Donan Berg earned a 5 out of 5 rating for his book critique (editing) of a client's latest novella.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Writer Choices: May the World be Yours

World building is the first goal of science fiction writers;  a goal that isn’t completed until it’s the weirdest ever. A thing or creature is greater than physical features. It interacts. It communicates.


All writers swear an allegiance, either knowingly or subconsciously, to the world of communication. How do we do it? The moronic answer: we put words on paper. Dah!


C’mon, it’s not that easy. Right you are. Let’s try to list the ways our words on paper impact the reader?


            1. Characters can think, speak, act and/or interact.

            2. Things exist and have a history, known or unknown.

            3. The environment (i.e., scenery) impacts by whatever it does.

            4. What’s left out.


Number 1 is a no-brainer in concept and difficult in execution. Does the head have one eye or two? If not a human, maybe no head at all. What characters think tells us about them. A sports fanatic, one scared of water, or one who procrastinates each travel a different path or no path at all. Is there a difference between a mile runner who goes straight versus one who enjoys an oval surrounded by cheering fans?


There can be differences in all these. That’s the payoff to a writer. You agonize and then you get to choose. Choices, that’s what communication is no matter how done.


Number 2 can be as vast as number 1. The simple rock may not attract attention until a pickax exposes a vein. “Gold!” is the cry. “Stupid rock.” “Fool’s Gold.”  Its toss onto a pile eight-feet high instantly tells a story. Things can be chosen for intended results. An old letter to bring the writer’s history to the forefront. Bright or faded, the marks can be decipherable or not. Modern day electronic bytes zooming through space unseen can be a challenge or not. One day society might have a machine that displays the unseen words. In your writing you can have it today.


Number 3 is the environment. Number 2 mentioned space. There is a connection. Compartmentalizing numbers one, two and three is possible, but so is combination. Writers separate the ingredients to create a pie presented to the reader. It’s a metaphor. Writer’s like, no love, them. With our pie metaphor there is the flour and water that makes the crust. A fruit, apples my favorite, mixed with cinnamon and sugar, as a filling. Then, either a full crust to hide the filling or strips to expose and tantalize the prospective eater. While the aroma may be the same, size may not be. Would it sit on a window’s sill or enter a contest? As with the pie, trees, lakes, buildings, sewers, drain spouts, insects, mammals provide an infinite number of choices that can be shaded with singular or combined variation.


Number 4 can be as important as any of the above. What is left out is also a choice. If a writer never mentions a character’s feet, maybe they don’t exist. If they exist, are there three or five toes? Maybe they’re fashioned out of clay? Oh, is that literal or figurative? Again, what is left out leaves an impression. It’s a good impression if the dull stuff isn’t left to be read. There are necessary physical acts for a character seated in a room to answer the door. Readers can figure that out if its every day normal suburbia. But? The writer says the character flew to the door. Is it literal?


All this certainly left out an encyclopedia. If it made you think, that’s enough. Now, make those choices, change them, circle back, try a choice outside your comfort zone. To revert to the pie metaphor, the world awaits your choices and will enjoy the taste, even if they don’t recognize or understand how you made it.





Friday, July 31, 2015

Author Donan Berg's One Paper Heart excerpt

Enjoy the following excerpt from romance contest winning author Donan Berg's first romance novel. He promised the first chapter, but as you read you'll find it continues into Chapter Two. If you don't tell, we won't. You can reward our error by visiting . There's a longer sample there. How far it goes, we don't know. You can discover. If you enjoy, write a review.
One Paper Heart

Donan Berg


Moline IL


DOTDON Books are published by


DOTDON Personalized Services

514 17th Street

PO Box 1302

Moline IL 61266-1302


Author e-mail:


Library of Congress Control Number:  2015908571



All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner and DOTDON Books, Moline, IL, except for brief quotation in a review.

This is a work of fiction. The places, characters, and events represent the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is unintentional and purely coincidental.

Cover by James


Copyright ©2015 Donan B. McAuley

ISBN 13: 978-1-941244-09-8 (E-book)

ISBN 10: 1941244092


ISBN 13: 978-1-941244-10-4 (Paper)

ISBN 10: 1941244106


First U.S. Edition: August 2015

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


To lovers, now and forever.

There is a heart of muscle and blood.

There is a heart that guides our soul.

There is a heart of yearning and peace.

There is a heart we search ever for.


May the full benefit of all be yours.


Express your love, and pray for

all who have or will sacrifice

to keep this world safe.

Chapter One

The romantic flames of Alicia Danielson’s sweet dreams flared into conscious panic. A sliver of red light from the triple ones on her digital alarm clock oriented Alicia to her bedroom door. Two coughs of acrid smoke convinced her to abandon her search for a robe. On hands-and-knees, she crawled toward her three-room Minneapolis apartment’s hallway exit. Sweat drips and the fear of being burned alive snowballed to spur her determination. Yesterday’s funk of dying a twenty-six-year-old spinster laminated by a budding hysteria.

A raspy third cough tore at the raw lining of her constricted throat. When her heartbeat amplified the faint hallway doorknob jangle, she willed her butt not to rest on her heels and lurched her shoulders forward. Smoke curled and swirled past her ears.

Unable to hold her breath and lessened the pain of her smoke-irritated lungs, she whispered, “Dam. Hoover Dam.” For twenty-three years since age three, she’d deleted the “n” and disguised the profane word “damn” by pairing it with real concrete dams. While at first it was to avoid her mother’s soap bar inside her mouth, her quirk blossomed into moments of schoolyard pride. If challenged, her dog-eared atlas proved her prowess to name each and every United States dam. For those itty-bitty dams without names in Minnesota’s Hennepin County, she’d rattle off the numbers of highways leading to and across them. It grew to be a crutch to relieve stress.

When her forehead banged the metal hallway door, she shouted as loud as she could, “Help.” Grand Coulee Dam. “Help me.”

Alicia flinched. She sucked the twinge from three right-hand fingertips. “Where are you?” Alicia’s throat ached. “I’m here.” The door’s hot doorknob confirmed that flames, prepared to sear human flesh, lurked inches away. Intensified gray-blackish smoke seeped under her high-rise’s tenth floor door. Sirens outside blared. With each blast, Alicia cursed the ditzy blonde rental agent who pooh-poohed fire emergencies to extol the virtue that higher floors muffled late night street noise.

Alicia rejected all worry about makeup. Neither she nor any other woman needed lipstick at two in the morning for firemen in Darth Vader masks. Her three spaced shrieks inflamed her vocal cords. I’m doomed. Fire engine ladders never extend higher than the seventh floor.

The medical examiner won’t care. With her chest sliced and peeled back, her god-enhanced bar-coded breast assets would wiggle as a synchronized dancing pair on a stainless steel audition tray while her toes dripped water droplets from the corpse washing spray.

Alicia flattened her torso to the floor to breathe in the coolest heated air. Her teary eyes burned. Don’t be hysterical. Gather your wits. Slow your emotions. Lock and Dam No. 4, flow south Ol’ Man River.

A thunderous crash on the other side of the hallway door bounced the floor beneath her body.

“Have the police checked this floor?” The muffled gruff voice goose-bumped her skin.

Looters? Alicia held her breath. A second crash flung her rearward. Smoke billowed.

A gloved hand forced her lower jaw into her upper lip and then the pressure subsided.

Alicia screamed. She shuddered as a sprayed callused hand compressed her cheeks. Alien prickled-skin fingers rubbed as if to probe and scrub the innermost recesses of her skin’s pores. Her paralyzed vocal cords unable to squeak. Her left instep painfully scraped her threshold’s hard lip. Strong powerful hands squeezed her waist.

Alicia wished she could’ve gazed into her rescuer’s heavenly eyes to be smitten forever. His Neil Armstrong bubble helmet temporarily denied her all opportunity.

Muscular arms clutched her tight to connected hoses and the oxygen tank strapped to her rescuer’s chest. They dashed to chilly air beneath a street lamppost. A thin blanket warmed her boobs indented by metal tank edges and braided-hose connectors. She expected the crenated depressions to disappear in two weeks if no scars lasted.

Chapter Two

Alicia loved her new South Minneapolis third floor apartment. Macho alpha fireman hero Joel energized her life with her first real dates in two years. True to her Mom’s admonition to save herself for marriage, Alicia’s dates began and ended outdoors, in daylight, to avoid all suggestion of physical contact encouraged by darkness. Her and Joel’s dating length broke her previous longevity record.

It had been a year since her fire escape and Joel’s inspection of her new building before she signed the lease had set her mind at ease. What Joel couldn’t prevent was her loss of her third grade teacher employment nor offer her a solid lead to an elementary vacancy.

Alone in her bedroom, she stretched her fingers above her Dell keyboard to invigorate blood flow. Coy with Joel, she labored in secret to revise her romance novella after a New York City literary agent had scribbled in the margins of her thirty-second rejection letter the first encouraging professional words she ever received. Her fictional fireman, christened Joseph and nicknamed Joe, lived happily ever after with the damsel he rescued from an East End warehouse fire. Alicia prayed the novella would garner the recognition necessary to jump-start acceptance of her full length novel, “A Search Fulfilled.”

Atop her frilly bedspread, Alicia’s cell phone chirped and vibrated.

Alicia’s slipper heels propelled her and the computer desk chair rearward. The chair’s rollers caught her elongated floral-patterned blue nightgown hem. Without last year’s protruding stomach fat, she grabbed flannel and jerked her chair sideways to free her hem.

“Claiborne Lock and Dam, Alabama,” she whispered. The shrill chirps stopped; she pressed redial to connect with her Mom. “Yesss, Mom.” How many times did she have to repeat herself? “I’m applying for a new teaching position. No, Mom. I haven’t given up. Sure, I’ll be home Sunday for dinner.” Alicia bit her tongue. “No, Aunt Agnes shouldn’t bring her card-playing friend’s visiting nephew. Love you, too.”

Connecticut Dam. Mansfield Hollow Dam. Her quirk soothed Alicia’s frustration.

She sighed. Her irritation with Mom had ebbed since her twenty-first birthday. Deep down Alicia realized an embedded uncontrollable grandmother DNA gene governed her mother’s actions. Her diminutive aunt last Christmas nearly burst the blood vessels on Mom’s forehead by asking Alicia if she’d ever visited Le Adult Toys on East Jervis, off East Hennepin Avenue. Mom’s icy glare, and near faint, distracted Aunt Agnes from Alicia’s failure to answer.

With her novella revision fresh in her mind, there wasn’t time to brood about Mom’s latest matchmaking attempt. Mom would never relent. Alicia would bet all the calories in a Dunkin Donut glazed donut dozen, a favorite she’d given up with her diet, that Mom had cajoled Aunt Agnes to bring the nephew.

With her blond hair air-dried from an earlier shower, Alicia hustled to slip into a brown peasant dress and sandals. Joel would ring the lobby buzzer within the hour. She loved his attention, his sweetness. To protect her diet from the salty French fries Joel craved, she’d filled a picnic basket with tuna fish sandwiches and cut vegetables.

Alicia answered the buzzer. “You’re early. I’ll be right down.”

Neither Joel’s puffy gray eyes nor his brief lobby hug lingered. The smoky scent of burnt wood did. Her stomach turned over, over, and over, almost in sync with the fire engine lights she imagined and repressed. A year, and her fire fear never completely vanished.

“I’ll carry that.” Joel’s muscular right arm reached for her picnic basket. “Lake Minnetonka here we come.”

As they turned the apartment building’s north corner for the parking lot, late morning sun beads twinkled on the complex’s swimming pool surface and wherever splashed water collected on the its terra cotta deck. The pool’s ambiance didn’t excite her. Her agreement to Lake Minnetonka saved her from packing the black Lane Bryant one-piece bathing suit since discarded.

Within minutes they were in luck. No picnic table, but a clean grassy knoll dappled with shade beneath a fifty-foot oak. Alicia straightened the Army blanket’s corner after Joel snapped it and allowed it to float to the ground.

“Let’s take a walk,” Alicia suggested.

Joel’s droopy eyelids struggled to maintain the narrowest of slits. “Sorry. Little tired. Fought a four-alarmer into the wee hours.”

While she begrudged his audacity, she accepted his apology. Alicia extracted her portable radio from her picnic basket. As she spun the dial, bits of music, most jumbled, permeated the air until she lit upon easy-listening.

Propped against the oak, Joel muttered, “If you don’t mind, I’ll eat in a few minutes.” He rolled onto his left side.

Alicia bit her lower lip. Her open Harlequin paperback lay upside down beside her. To onlookers, she and Joel appeared to be an old married couple. Like her physician asking her to estimate her pain on a scale of one to ten, she rated her loneliness at ninety-nine. She aimlessly watched two pairs of parading mallards splash into the lake. Nature created romance. How could she write romance if only despair floated through her system?

“Whatcha doing?” Alicia tried to smile through her question.

“Twins baseball is on ‘CCO.”

Alicia squelched her anger as he switched the dial from music to sports, not her thing. During the between inning commercials she expected at least limited conversation. Didn’t happen. In the secret chambers of her heart, where her pride reigned, rational thought of six months of dates with Joel dissolved into emotional nothingness. When Joel snored, she stared at him lying on his back, eyes closed. To be polite, she nibbled on a tuna fish sandwich rather than chance disturbing him with repeated crisp celery bites.

His lips moved. Alicia leaned forward and couldn’t decipher his words until he muttered he’d have her sweaty, pinned against the tree. He didn’t spelled out “have” and Alicia chose to play it safe and not challenge her assault imagery or the word’s definition. She loathed to be a prop to Joel’s ego.

When the nearby church bell chimed three times, she jostled Joel’s shoulders twice. She pointed out the lengthened sun rays and suggested they leave. She entered her apartment with a still heavy picnic basket and the tingle of a lingering kiss on her cheek.

Twice in the next two weeks, Alicia declined Joel’s date requests. His third week telephone calls she let ring without answering.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

New 2015 A Body To Bones novel reviews at

Four new 2015 reviews for Donan Berg's A Body To Bones, First Skeleton Series Mystery, have been posted at One was quoted in its entirety by this blog on April 1, 2015. The first one below is the one reproduced earlier. Snippets of three others follow. You are invited to read all in full at

Karsun, April 1, 2015:

"A Body To Bones by Donan Berg . . . immediately drew me in.

"I loved this from the start . . ."

Grady Harp, March 15, 2015:

"Donan writes with the skill of a practiced artist, retaining some of the special Irish flavor that flows in his system. He creates characters about whom we care and with whom we can easily identify despite the rigor of mystery that surrounds them. His use of his little town newspaper headlines and stories adds a clever and credible aspect to his writing.

"Donan has his pen so polished that he leaves us with the need to read more of his work. He is a find."

bertiejf, April 14, 2015:

"I enjoy a good mystery and this is a good mystery.

"This is a good story well paced with some very good twists."

Joy Fox, April 18, 2015:

"If you enjoy mysteries, this book if for you.

"This is a well-crafted book, with likeable characters and a well thought out plot."

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

No Foolin' New 5-star Review for A Body To Bones

No fooling. April 1, 2015 brought forth a Five Star review for Donan Berg's A Body To Bones, First Skeleton Series Mystery.

As published on by Karsun:

In-Depth Characters and Background

"A Body To Bones by Donan Berg is a book that is the first Skeleton Series Mystery and it immediately drew me in.

"The book is about an old secret, one that won't remain buried and threatens to not only involve Sarah's family but she is the target of a killer.

"I loved this from the start, which was set in the past. Immediately it captured my interest and made me want to keep reading - from prologue to the end. I enjoy mysteries and this was not only written well but had depth and imagination without becoming too unrealistic. Instead, it was a story that made me want to keep tapping away at my Kindle in order to get to the next chapter.

"If you love a good mystery and characters that are rich in depth and background, this is definitely the book you'll want to read."

Sunday, March 29, 2015

New 2015 5-star A Body To Bones review

Donan Berg's debut mystery novel, A Body To Bones, First Skeleton Series Mystery, receives a March 2015 Five-Star review at

Reviewer Grady Harp wrote:

"As he (author Berg) states the common denominator for his stories is a series of characters who battle everyday concerns to become truly heroic.

"A BODY TO BONES is his first Skeleton Series Mystery. He grabs our attention with a confessional that bodes mystery - in 1954 a woman confesses she is carrying a child not the progeny of her husband. 'One life extinguished was the result of an unholy union. It's death does not unburden me. My failure to be morally strong and my failure to honor my mother do not go away. I feel ashamed, conflicted. I cannot be truthful. To speak out will only bring shame, chastisement, and hurt the persons I love who live, or the memory of those departed. It's hard to hold it all inside, to not let the lies be seen, to bear all the pain in secret behind an accepted fa├žade.'

"In 1964, Oscar does not comprehend the magnitude of what he discovers, its potential to bring a killer out of hiding to strike again, or a past connection to the penitent and her confession of ten years prior. Already we are immersed in a scenario that bodes evil.

(Quoted author synopsis is omitted.)

"Donan writes with the skill of a practiced artist, retaining some of the special Irish flavor that flows in his system. He creates characters about whom we care and with whom we can easily identify despite the rigor of mystery that surrounds them. His use of his little town newspaper headlines and stories adds a clever and credible aspect to his writing. But most important is the fact that despite this being a debut novel, Donan has his pen so polished that he leaves us with the need to read more of his work. He is a find!"