Author Visit from Mark de Castrique

Author Mark de Castrique was the guest speaker last night at the February meeting of Rocky River Readers Book Club. He spoke to our group a couple of years ago, so we all looked forward to his return visit to talk about his two political thrillers, The 13th Target and The Singularity Race.

Mark de Castrique , speaking at Rocky River Readers Book Club, February 27, 2017
Mark de Castrique , speaking at Rocky River Readers Book Club, February 27, 2017

The 13th Target

Mark talked about how the economic recession of 2008 prompted him to write about the Federal Reserve in The 13th Target. For that novel, he created a protagonist named Rusty Mullins who was a former Secret Service agent.




The Singularity Race

Mark continued the Rusty Mullins character in The Singularity Race. That second thriller is about artificial intelligence. Mark pointed out the difference between the arms race in the 20th century (a race between nations) and the singularity race of the 21st century (a race between nations, organizations, corporations, universities, and possible a 17-year-old computer geek working at home.)

The book presents┬áthe conflict between the two opposing points of view by experts in the field as a backdrop for the story: (1) Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering, GOOGLE, says artificial intelligence will be “pivotal” in meeting the “grand challenges of humanity;” however, (2) Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking says, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” The book deals with the danger people who are working on artificial intelligence can be in as the race heats up. Rusty Mullins gets involved in trying to protect certain individuals who are in that race.

General remarks

In his planned topics and in answering questions from the audience, Mark talked about various aspects of writing fiction, including the following:

  • Beware of information dumps
  • When writing a series, it can be challenging to come up with fresh ways to describe location and a continuing character. You don’t want to bore the series reader, but the new reader needs to know some background from earlier books in the series.
  • The difference between a mystery and a thriller
  • If you create a world for a novel, you have to remember where everything is, whereas, if you set your story in a place that actually exists you can revisit the place to refresh your memory or even use Google Maps for details.

I have merely hit the highlights here. As I have said before, never pass up a chance to hear a writer speak.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.


Mark de Castrique’s Mystery Writing Workshop – Part 2

Today’s blog post is a continuation of my blog post on October 19, 2016, about Mark de Castrique’s Mystery Writing Workshop I attended last Saturday at Lanier Library in Tryon, North Carolina.


Picking up where I left off on October 19, today I will start by talking about the first of two writing exercises we did during the workshop.

A Writing Exercise

The most challenging part of the three-hour workshop was the first writing exercise. Participants were instructed to do the following in 20 minutes:

  1. Create a character who was a police officer or detective
  2. Think of (or write, if we wished) a bio for that character
  3. Place that character in a single setting
  4. Write a narrative scene in first person
  5. End the scene just before a body is discovered.

Each of us read our work aloud. Mr. de Castrique gave everyone positive feedback. I was amazed at the talent in the room. Mr. de Castrique did a good job making us feel like we were in a safe, non-judgmental place. He put all of us at ease.

Carolyn Wheat’s Four Arcs of a Book

Mr. de Castrique recommended How to Write Killer Fiction, by Carolyn Wheat. Ms. Wheat says a book has the following four arcs:

  1. The beginning
  2. The middle
  3. The place where the detective in a murder mystery faces something that seem impossible to overcome
  4. The ending.

Mr. de Castrique described each arc. He talked about novel endings that work and endings that fail.

Amateur Sleuth

The next thing Mr. de Castrique addressed was putting an amateur sleuth in your book. He talked about the advantages and disadvantages of doing that.


Mr. de Castrique said the theme is “the thing in a book that will haunt you.” He cautioned us that a book can turn into a sermon if the author tries too hard to drive a point home. (He gave Stephen King credit for having said that, but I paraphrased it.)

Group Writing Exercise

The workshop ended with a group writing exercise. It was a great idea and should help me to think of future story ideas. We had to be in agreement on our choices throughout the exercise, but it would certainly work for a writer working alone. Here’s what we got to work through together:

  1. Select a closed setting, such as a shopping mall
  2. Select six individuals whose occupations would place them at that closed setting without other people being there
  3. Assign an age to each of the six characters
  4. Decide on a secret that each character has
  5. Which one gets murdered and which one is the killer?

Five Takeaways

Five points that I took away from the workshop are as follows:

  1. A good book is one where at the end you liked the world the writer created so much that you would read the book again.
  2. If you can take a scene out without hurting the story, it never should have been there to begin with.
  3. The reader should forget she or he is reading.
  4. Every reader brings his or her own life experiences to the reading of a book, so it’s no wonder that you might hate a book but someone else might say it is the best book they’ve ever read.
  5. When stumped on what to write about, I should refer to last Saturday’s group writing exercise.

After the workshop, Mr. de Castrique autographed my copy of his new book, The Singularity Race. It was an enjoyable afternoon and well worth the cost and time invested in attending the workshop.

Until my next blog post in a few days, I hope you have a good book to read and, if you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.



Mark de Castrique’s Mystery Writing Workshop – Part 1

Mark de Castrique conducted a mystery writing workshop at Lanier Library in Tryon, North Carolina on Saturday afternoon. Having heard this author speak twice in the last several years, I knew I would benefit from attending his workshop.

Tryon, NC

Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Tryon is an inviting place to visit on a beautiful early fall day. There were lots of people out and about in the quaint downtown business district. Tryon is dog friendly. Some of the shops provide water bowls on the sidewalks to quench the thirst of local dogs on their daily walks.

The Book Shelf Bookstore

An added highlight on Saturday was visiting the new location of Penny Padgett’s The Book Shelf Bookstore in Tryon. The shop recently moved just a few feet down South Trade Street from its former location. I was delighted to reconnect with Penny. She graciously had a book signing for me (see “Book Signing at The Book Shelf in Tryon, NC” on my blog on April 14, 2015) to publicize my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The new shop gives Penny more space for books and book signings. Visiting her shop also gave me a chance to purchase Mark de Castrique’s latest and sixteenth novel, The Singularity Race.


In the three-hour workshop, Mr. de Castrique covered Aristotle’s six components of a story:

  1. Plot
  2. Character
  3. Thought
  4. Language
  5. Melody and
  6. Spectacle.

He talked about sequence in plotting — how it has cummulative power. “A” must come before “B” which must come before “C.” He said the worst plotting for a novel is episodic, meaning the sequence of events can be in random order. (Think episodes of the old TV show, “Gilligan’s Island.” One episode did not build on the previous one.) That works for a TV program but not in a mystery novel.

What if?

Mr. de Castrique talked about the value of a writer asking, “What if?” to get his or her creative juices going. Other topics included write what you know and write from a sense of place.

Illusion of Authenticity

Mr. de Castrique talked about the different methods of research:

  1. Memory
  2. Imagination, and
  3. Fact

and how a novel needs the illusion of authenticity. If you’re writing something that cannot happen, you need to set it up so that it can possibly happen. It has to be believable.

Reader Response Theory

Mr. de Castrique talked about reader response theory, which was a new concept for me. It addresses the following:

  1. Real author
  2. Implied author
  3. Narrator
  4. Characters
  5. Narratee
  6. Authorial audience, and
  7. The reader

In my next blog post on Friday, I will write about the rest of the workshop, including descriptions of the two writing exercises we did. Until then, I hope you have a good book to read and, if you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.