Wednesday, May 27, 2015

There's No Place Like Home

Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz closes her eyes, clicks the heels of her red shoes, says, “There’s no place like home,” and magic transports her back to Kansas. Dorothy’s trip to Oz was unplanned; Jan and I took our recent road trip because we wanted to. However, after 8,411.7 miles and forty-seven days, we agree there is no place like home.

The trip was great. We saw places new to us; we visited family and friends; we had lots of outdoor time; we identified at least 115 species of birds. I’d do something similar again—just not for a while.

Once the topography changed and the woods resembled my woods, I felt my soul begin to recharge. Exiting the car to unlock the driveway chain, I stopped and took in a long snootful of our vernal freshness. It will take some time to recover from forty-seven days on the road, but I’m not in a hurry.

No one was up at the lake when we arrived. At roughly N 46.4 degrees of latitude, spring had barely begun. The first thing I had to do was turn on the power (we’re off grid with solar panels and huge batteries) so I could run the well pump. Given the high temperature for the day was only forty-one, starting a fire in the fireplace was next on the list.

The only sounds besides us unpacking the car were wind caressing the evergreen branches and occasional bird songs. At one point the quiet was so intense all I heard was the whoosh of blood flowing through my arteries.

An eagle flew by to check us out. At night the frogs sounded from the vernal pond.

The next day the hummingbirds found their feeders. Chickadees, nuthatches, purple finches and goldfinches discovered proffered sunflower seeds. A mink strolled across an open area near the house. Sharp-shinned hawks called to each other (although unlike last year they don’t have a nest right in front of our house.)

In the coming days we’ll experience our seventh or eighth (and last) spring this year. (We lost count as we crisscrossed the country). Just a few miles south of us, trees are swathed in myriad shades of new-growth green. Here, the buds have just exploded; the leaves will shortly follow and the woods will soon close ranks, closing down long sight into their interiors.

Coming home reminds me how blessed I am. Is there a place that recharges your soul?


~ Jim

[This blog originally appeared May 24, 2015 on Writers Who Kill]

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Janet Cantrell - Guest Author

Janet Cantrell (who also writes as Kaye George and has a real name to boot) describes herself as persistent, hardworking, friendly, helpful, unorganized. Now I would not have guessed the unorganized because she writes national-bestselling award-winning, readable, light, fun mysteries. And she knows that hypens lets her expand five adjectives into seven. I know Janet and so cut her some slack. Here are her answers:

You have a table for four at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three people, living, dead or fictional. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you eating (and why)?

First of all, we’re at Red Lobster, because I love it and no one else in the family does.

Secondly, for my first guest I would have an actual Neanderthal. This would involve not only raising from the dead, but time travel. But if we can do one, we should be able to handle the other. I’m not sure he would sit with us very well, never having seen a table—or a chair—and he surely wouldn’t know what the utensils were for, but I’d try to help him—or her. Either a male or female would be fine.

My second guest would be Mozart because I’d like to bask in his genius for an hour or so. I’d like to tell him I’ve played his stuff and like it. He’d probably also like to know that his music has had such tremendous staying power. (I considered Bach, but he’s too close to being a god. I’m not sure I could talk to him.) I guess I would need an interpreter.

Thirdly, I’d ask Agatha Christie and would try to clear up the mystery about her disappearance. I’m not satisfied with any of the theories.

If I could have two interpreters, my fourth companion would be Dostoyevsky. He’s one of the reasons I fell in love with literature and I’d like to tell him that. I’d also like to see what kind of a person he was. If I can’t have the second interpreter, then Charles Dickens, since he’s the other reason I became a writer. I seem to love the guys that write long, involved sentences, where you lose track of what the subject was by the time you come to the verb. I can lose myself in their prose. That’s what I love about it.

[Blog owner's note -- Janet is one of three kinds of people: those who can count and those who can't. With her four guests, she'll be serving dinner instead of joining them at the table for four. I am assuming these days the interpreters will be cell phones with appropriate apps.]

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

For my mysteries, I mostly have to be at my desk in my home office, on my computer. That’s where all my reference works are. The spreadsheets that help me keep track of my characters and plots are on that machine, too. Sometimes, when I know I’ll be away and I feel I should be working while I’m not home, I’ll put my files on my laptop or a flashstick and take them with me, but that’s not the most productive for me.

When I write short stories, I’m much more casual. I’ve written them on my AlphaSmart in airports. Sometimes I get an idea for a new one and either jot the main points down on whatever paper happens to be in my purse, or call home and leave myself a message.

Sometimes I write music and, when I get a musical idea, calling the answering machine and recording myself singing it (badly) is the best way not to lose the idea. Second best, making 5 parallel lines and scribbling notes onto them.

What makes a great short story?

If the writer is O. Henry or Mark Twain, that’s the best way to get a great short story. Failing that, and since they aren’t writing any new ones, I try for an arc, bringing the story in a circle. I also like a plot twist at the end. And really like a double twist.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

Any time after noon. I can’t write worth a darn in the morning. The routine I try to follow has me doing what my husband calls administrivia in the morning: going through emails, sending out notices or promotion, doing my daily pages, and any other networking that pops up. After lunch, if I don’t have errands to run or appointments to keep, I try to settle down, but sometimes don’t start writing for another hour or two. It’s best if I take a walk right after I finish writing, but that doesn’t always happen.

I need caffeine until about 5 pm. If I have any after that, I’ll be up until 2 or 3. I usually turn in around 1 am and get up at 7:30 or 8. If I get less than 6 hours of sleep, I’m not much good.

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?

Family is one of my favorites. The family connections are strong in all my books and the Fat Cat series is no exception, if you define family loosely. Charity “Chase” Oliver, an only child, lost her parents years ago and was raised by a very close family friend, Anna Larson. She thinks of Anna as part mother and part grandmother. They are also business partners, which can cause friction, but there’s enough love to smooth out the rough patches.

What is the most challenging area for you as a writer? What are you doing to address the issue?

Since I’m writing several series, four to be exact, I need to keep track of my characters and settings. Cressa Carraway, in Eine Kleine Murder (which I wrote as Kaye George) drives a Honda. Chase drives a Ford Fusion. I’m very grateful that my editor caught me giving Chase a Honda recently.
I keep a spreadsheet with those details on it. That’s the only way I can keep everything straight. I must remember to consult it often!

What motivates you to write?

Deadlines are my biggest motivator. I usually know exactly how many days and how many words I have left. This helps because I know the minimum I need to write every day. I do try to exceed that so I’ll have breathing room between finishing the project and turning it in. I’m nervous when I haven’t had anyone read over my stuff before I hand it to the publisher. Writing a book every 9 months for Berkley Prime Crime is tight, though. I didn’t have time for beta readers for the second book; hence the Ford/Honda mixup. I’m sure my readers would have caught that!

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

Daryl Wood Gerber said not to give up five minutes before you succeed. She was ready to quit writing mysteries and, just before she threw in the towel, got a publishing contract. (Or maybe that was when she got her agent—at any rate, she achieved success in the nick of time.) I’ve also been encouraged by reading the numbers of rejections that now-famous writers have received.

I stole the Magic Number Theory from someone so long ago that I can’t remember who it was. It goes like this: Everyone has a Magic Number. If yours is 15, you will get an acceptance for publication after 15 rejections. If your number is 465, your 466th query will get you into the publication door. My own number was much closer to that second one, so I hung on for 10 years of rejections, feeling that each one got me closer to my Magic Number.
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The Fat Cat Spread Out

A booth at the Bunyan County Harvest Fair seems like the perfect opportunity for Charity “Chase” Oliver and Anna Larson to promote their Bar None bakery business. Unfortunately, plus-sized pussycat Quincy has plans for their delicious dessert bars other than selling them to customers. After tearing through their inventory, Quincy goes roaming the fairgrounds in search of more delights.

But what he finds is murder.

You can contact me at

My alter ego, Kaye George, has contact info at

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Janet Lynn & Will Zeilinger - Guest Authors

Today we welcome an author duo, Janet Lynn and Will Zeilinger. Janet describes herself as keen, active, considerate, witty, and funny. Will chooses simple, analytical, creative, curious, and empathetic.

His writing is believable, witty, current, snappy, and emotive, while hers is quirky, edgy, clever, insightful, calculating. Sounds like an interesting combination, doesn't it? Let's find out which questions they chose and how they answered...
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Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

Will - I like to write at my desk  in the office we built for our business. It’s comfortable with a view out the French doors and because it’s an office, I am reminded that writing is a business.
If I write somewhere else, I’m often distracted or I fall asleep (sofa, patio, coffee shop) A professional atmosphere works best for me.

Janet - Someone once said "Butt + Chair = Book. For me anywhere I have a light, pen. paper and a place to put my butt! Of course it all gets typed and edited on my desktop in my office with the French doors with a view of my lovely garden.  But the  bulk of my creative writing is anywhere I am.

What makes a great short story?

Will – For me a great short story grabs my attention,  gets to the point quickly and leads directly to a distinct endpoint.  I can tell if a story was written as a short story or is merely an excerpt from a larger work.

Janet - Any short story that holds my attention and leaves me wanting more or to write a sequel.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine?)

Will – (No caffeine needed) For me minimum two hours in the morning before breakfast.  OR evening before supper.

Janet - No caffeine for me either. I am most creative and productive between 6-8 am. basically before life begins. Late evenings never work. In between is jotting ideas for scenes, characters, sub plots, etc.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

Will – one, sometimes two books   I usually read something related to the genre I’m currently writing.  Most recent “great “ book? INFERNAL ANGELS by Loren D. Estleman

Janet -  I read 2-3 books a month mostly mysteries of any type. Just finished DARK SPIES by Matthew Dunn. IT was hard to put it down.

What motivates you to write?

Will – The best motivator is a story that’s stuck in my head and won’t go away until I write it down.  But I am also driven by the thought of crossing that finish line and holding the book in my hands or seeing my book/story online.

Janet - I don't need motivation so much. The story and characters make my head explode and my hands itch until I get it down on paper. Then I calm down until the next episode. Maybe I'm psychotic?

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

Will – Janet and I enjoy noir and hardboiled detective books and movies, and wanted to write one that was set in the 50’s.

Janet - For SLIVERS OF GLASS we had an idea and a sketchy plot. We took a few days off and went to a wedding in Santa Rosa. Our hotel was by an old, run down, fenced off round barn. Every time we drove past the barn we were intrigued. One afternoon we walked around the barn and slowly the sub plots came to us. While at the wedding we inquired about the history of the barn, the locals loved talking about it. Then the characters started to come in to play. It was great!

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.

Will – For this book, Raymond Chandler, Dasheill Hammett, and Mickey Spillane because they set the standard for this genre.

Janet - Ditto, Love these writer's work

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

Will – For me it was:  Just write it. You can always fix it. You can’t fix a blank page. The other pearl was: When you have an idea, write it down – If you don’t, it may go away and never come back.

Janet - Write what you like to read. this made so much sense to me while I was studying the craft of writing. Also, You can't fix a blank page, Will and I must have been to the same meeting!
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Southern California 1955: the summer Disneyland opened, but even “The Happiest Place on Earth” couldn’t hide the smell of dirty cops, corruption and murder.

The body of a woman thought to be killed three years earlier is found behind a theater in Hollywood.  Movie stuntman Skylar Drake, a former LAPD detective, is dragged into the investigation. He can make no sense of the crime until he discovers a dirty underworld and unearths deep-seated… greed.  
The hunt takes Drake to places he’d never expect.  He’s anxious to close this case and get back to his business in L.A., but he’s constantly haunted by the memory of his wife and young daughter, killed in a mysterious house fire.

With more than enough dirty cops, politicians and crime bosses to go around, Drake can trust no one including Martin Card, the cop assigned to work with him.  

Websites: 


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Edith Maxwell - Guest Author

Edith Maxwell calls herself short, energetic, friendly, disciplined, and optimistic. Her writing is clear, effective, comforting, informative, and fun. I know Edith and her writing and I agree. Here is what else she says about herself, much of which was new to me. What fun!
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You have a table for four at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three people, living, dead or fictional. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you eating (and why)?

Anais Nin, Michelle Obama, and Allan Maxwell, Jr, my father (who died in 1985). Anais Nin’s diaries had a huge influence on my life at an important juncture and I’d love to meet her. I admire Michelle Obama so much for her emphasis on health, her love of life, and her great style. And Daddy loved to write, but never got to meet his grandsons or know that I became a published author. He was a smart, sweet, interesting and interested man and I’d give anything to bring him back to life.

I guess I’ll take them to the bistro down the street. The owners and staff are friendly, they cook fabulous foods from fresh local ingredients and the most amazing desserts, and they gave me a recipe for my second Local Foods mystery. Plus we can walk from here and then have time to come home for a glass of something and keep talking.

What makes a great short story?

One intriguing question and at least one unexpected twist.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

I write in the morning starting by seven at the latest, and I only have about a half a cup of caffeinated coffee that I mix with decaf. By the afternoon my creativity is all used up unless I’m on a solo retreat, in which case I write all day and all evening.

Name three not well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.

I love KB Inglee’s historical short stories and how she brings the past to life.

Sherry Harris’ new Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries are a lot of fun, and let me see military life from a the point of view of a former military spouse.

Anna Loan-Wilsey writes wonderful mysteries about the very competent traveling secretary Hattie Davish in the late 1800s.

What is the most challenging area for you as a writer? What are you doing to address the issue? 

Since by nature I write into the headlights – that is, I’m a pantser – plotting give me the biggest challenge. I sketch out a couple of scenes and write them and then stare at my screen, saying, “What happens next? I have no idea where this is going?”

I’ve been getting a bit better at planning out the overall book, since my publisher requires a several-page prose synopsis before I start writing the next book, although that plan often changes once I get deep into the story. But since I know it always (so far) has worked out using my non-method and I’ve completed 8 ½ books, I’m not too worried about it. (See best piece of writing advice below.)

What motivates you to write?

The true answer is that writing makes me happy and I can’t not do it. The practical answer is that I have three multi-book contracts. The real answer is panic! (See the practical answer.)

What motivates your protagonist (if not a series, then use the protagonist of your most recent novel)? What influenced who they are today?

In the Local Foods mysteries, farmer Cam Flaherty is a former software engineer. She’s great with writing code, not so much interacting with people. But she got a lot of love from the great uncle and great aunt who took care of her every summer, and who gave her the farm. She’s motivated to make go of this new venture into organic farming, even when someone is killed in the greenhouse or she’s suspected of another murder. She’s smart, she doesn’t give up, and gradually she learns that getting close to some of her customers, who become friends, can be a positive thing.

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

Butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard. Seriously. If I let myself take a break every time my mind wandered, I wouldn’t write anything.
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Here's a bit of a blurb for Farmed and Dangerous: Organic farmer Cam Flaherty is struggling to provide the promised amount of food to her customers in her first winter in Westbury, Massachusetts, and her new greenhouse might just collapse from the weight of the snow. Supplying fresh ingredients for a dinner at the local assisted living facility seems like the least of her worries—until a cantankerous resident with a lot of enemies dies after eating the meal.

But while the motives in this case may be plentiful, the trail of poisoned produce leads straight back to Cam. Not even her budding romance with police detective Pete Pappas will keep him from investigating her.

As the suspects gather, a blizzard buries the scene of the crime under a blanket of snow, leaving Cam stranded in the dark with a killer who gives new meaning to the phrase “dead of winter.”

For more information about Edith Maxwell and her books check out her website http://edithmaxwell.com/

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Vinnie Hansen - Guest Author

Settle back in your chairs for an exciting ride with today’s guest author, Vinnie Hansen, who describes herself as a Dakota-blizzard, California-beach cocktail and her writing as spare, humorous, character-driven surprises See what I mean? Settle in for the rest of her answers.

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you? What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

Fortified with organic dark chocolate and Vanilla Hazelnut Yogi tea, I ensconce myself in a comfy office chair in front of my desktop computer. It’s ten in the morning, so I’m fully awake and have picked up the house. My husband is at the gym. This is critical. I need to be alone. Even a resurrected Mother Teresa would be asked to leave. My corner desk faces walls so the only distractions are those seductive mistresses: E. Mail and FB. Occasionally, to my side, out the window, a hummingbird alights on a slender branch of pelargonium, pauses from beating his wings 80 times per second, and reminds me to remain calm.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

I’m not a speedy reader, and I read a lot for my critique groups. However, I manage at least one book a month. Yes, I read mysteries while I’m writing them. If I didn’t, I’d either have to forsake writing or reading mysteries. My most recent “great” book was Ordinary Grace. It should drive a stake through the heart of snobs who think genre books can’t be great literature. (JMJ Note: by William Kent Krueger)

Name three not well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.

One of my all time favorite mysteries is Adios Hemingway by Cuban writer Leonardo Padura Fuentes. It’s set in Cuba and Hemingway is a character—enough said.

Christine Finlayson. She’s written one book so far, Tip of the Bone. After a few exchanges with her via the Guppy list, I decided to try her book. Tip of the Bone fell in my To-Read stack right after Terry Shames’ A Killing at Cotton Hill, so I worried for it. As a reader I moved from Texas to the rainy Oregon Coast, from first person present to third person past, and from an older male protagonist with investigative experience to a young female amateur sleuth. Tip of the Bone held its own just fine.

Lastly I recommend Kirsten Weiss, Kassandra Lamb, K.B. Owen and Shannon Esposito, my homies at misterio press. We are dedicated to producing top-quality books for mystery lovers.

What motivates you to write?

I have to. To quote George Sand, “The trade of authorship is a violent and indestructible obsession.”

What motivates your protagonist? What influenced who they are today?

My heroine Carol Sabala is half Mexican-American, but she looks like her American mom and has no memory of her father. This lost part of Carol’s identity underpins the series, whether it’s the compassion she shows toward illegal immigrants in Murder, Honey or the actual quest to find out what happened to her father in Death with Dessert. More immediate reasons propel Carol to investigate each case, but throughout the series she is searching for her identity: changing husbands, changing careers, changing houses . . . always searching.

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.

Sue Grafton – She writes the type of mystery I like to read. I “discovered” her early, at the start of her alphabet series. At the time, there weren’t many contemporary female crime writers offering gutsy female protagonists.

Ernest Hemingway – I covered Papa for my master’s degree oral exam. I read all of his books, all major biographies about the man, and the preeminent criticisms of his oeuvre. I have since attended Hemingway Days in Key West, visited his homes in Key West, Cuba and Paris, read The Paris Wife, and written a novel in which he is a character. Since I’m not that crazy about his actual writing, he’s been more an influence than an inspiration. 

Flannery O’Connor – Also one of the authors I read for my orals. A reminder that dark and weird can be okay. It’s good to know the rules, but to develop our own style, we have to break some.
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A teaser for Black Beans & Venom

No one wants P.I. Carol Sabala to take the case. Her boss is apprehensive about an illegal investigation in Cuba. Carol’s boyfriend worries about her physical safety. But the client is rolling in dough, the office has unpaid bills, and Carol chafes under the mundane tasks assigned to her.

In Old Havana, Carol sets off to track down Megan, the client’s missing daughter, who is battling metastasizing cancer and running from a sociopathic boyfriend. Struggling in the exotic world of the island, Carol races to find Megan, before the disease or her ex-boyfriend kills her.

You can find more information about Vinnie and her writing at www.vinniehansen.com .