Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tricia Hendricks - Guest Author

Please welcome fellow Kindle Scout winner Tricia Hendricks to answer ten questions today. She describes herself as quiet, thoughtful, passionate, impulsive, and spontaneous. Her writing is entertaining, accessible, humorous, character-centric, and fun. Here are her other chosen questions and answers.

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

I haven't tried too many venues, honestly. I either write with my laptop on my lap, sitting on the sofa in the living room, or else I'm at my desk. I do have an Alphasmart, which is a scaled down word processor that theoretically could allow me write anywhere besides, perhaps, the ocean, but I haven't used it as much as I expected to. Perfect conditions for me are a well-lit screen and a comfortable chair. I haven't tried writing in a bookstore or coffee shop. One of these days I'll give them a go.

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

Since I write full-time and have no obligations to anyone (and because I live in Las Vegas, which is a 24-hour town), I tend to not keep any sort of schedule at all. I'm awake when I'm awake and I'm asleep when I'm not. So there's no best time for me to be writing. I'll sit at the computer all day (or night) and depending on my mindset, I'll either write immediately or I'll surf the internet for hours. I don't need caffeine to wake up, but I'll use it to stay awake if I'm on a roll, writing-wise.

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'd say I average 4-5 books a month, depending on how much writing I need to do. I do read in my genre while I'm writing because it keeps me in the proper frame of mind, however I try to be cautious about not allowing what I’m currently reading to leak into what I'm writing. Often, however, this isn't an issue as I've been reading a lot of horror lately, and I haven't been able to set aside time to write any horror.

A cozy mystery is as about as far from horror as you can get! In saying all that, the latest great read for me is actually a techno-thriller: Zodiac Station by Tom Harper. He employed a non-linear storyline told from multiple points of view that kept me reading long after I'd meant to stop. [Ed. Note: I also read Zodiac Station this year and gave it my top rating.]

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

Adrian McKinty is my favorite crime fiction writer at the moment. He's Irish and typically writes about Irish characters, although the settings can be places like America and Mexico in addition to Ireland. He writes about protagonists who are imperfect and self-reflective who take steps to do the right thing even if, as is often the case, it might kill them. I'm absolutely not a fan of the stoic, superman action hero. I need my protagonist to hurt and to doubt and to overcome himself as much as he overcomes outside forces. McKinty is criminally underrated, in my opinion. His Sean Duffy series is brilliant.

JM Guillen is a diamond in the rough. I believe he's only self-published at this time. What I like about Guillen is that he writes in several genres and he's always trying new angles. He's massively creative and I admire a writer like that, probably because I can't seem to stick to one genre either. It's easy to fall into a rut or a formula, but I think if more writers were as aggressively creative as Guillen, we'd have far more interesting books available to us. Definitely an interesting writer whom few have heard of.

Simon Kurt Unsworth is more well-known than the other two writers I've cited because his The Devil's Detective has been a hit and has been featured in many Best Books lists for the year, but I still don't think he's as known as he should be. He writes in the horror genre, which has something to do with it, as horror writers generally aren't as much a topic of discussion beyond the Big Names like King and Koontz.

Unsworth has a quiet, unassuming writing style that sneaks up on you. One moment you're admiring a poetic turn of phrase and the next you realize you're actually terrified by what's happening on the page. He's written quite a few ghost story collections that are great reads. I hope with the second book in his Detective series (The Devil's Evidence), he gains the attention he deserves.

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?

This question is a bit tricky for me since this post is supposed to be focusing on my cozy mystery, which is the first I've ever written in that genre. In my other writing, which I do under my real name (the cozy is under a pen name), I enjoy writing about redemption and forgiveness, received from others and from oneself. I find it fascinating to explore the mindset of someone who has done something awful and desperately needs to atone for it and who needs to learn to love himself in the aftermath.

The cozy is a bit different, since it's more about the mystery and doesn't delve as deeply into characterization the way I typically do. Still, I managed to give the main character Nicholas a bit of angst because he's simply more interesting that way. I believe characterization is more important than plot, though of course you need both and they need to be strong.

What motivates you to write?

Usually I'm motivated to write a story that I desperately want to read which doesn't exist. I'm filling a void, a demand, even if it's only a personal one. Thankfully, what I want to read seems to be what a few other people want to read as well. Writing is definitely a compulsion and a pleasure, even when it hurts.

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

For A Festival of Murder, I wrote something that I thought was cute and quaint and inspired the need to wrap up in a blanket and settle into a soft chair with a mug of hot chocolate. That's my definition of a cozy mystery. So you've got the snowy setting in the mountains, the holidays, Nicholas' love of all the accoutrements of Christmas (eggnog, Christmas sweaters, Bing Crosby), and of course the closed environment, which is the isolated mountain town.

Having lived in that area of Colorado for a couple of years, I knew it would be a great location for the mystery that Nicholas and his neighbors face. The fact that Nicholas is a former alien abductee is a bit of fun that I think sets the mystery apart from others and allowed me to write some crazy, quirky characters.

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

Nicholas Trilby is an introvert, but he is an introvert because of fear, not because it's his natural personality. He made a mistake when he was younger and shouldered a lot of blame for it, which has colored his interactions with people years later. He's afraid of that rejection again, so it's turned him into a mistrustful hermit, but in his heart, Nicholas cares for people. So when this murder happens and he begins to learn what motivated his neighbors to move out to this remote location, he begins to see them not as antagonists but as friends, which makes his investigation become more difficult as he's faced with the potential task of fingering one of them as the murderer.

Hopefully I've piqued your interest in Nicholas' story. I'd love it if you would check out A Festival of Murder, which is a Kindle Scout selection available on Amazon for the Kindle and in paperback at http://amzn.to/1OUdMgu.

Just in case you want a little more, here’s a quick blurb for A Festival of Murder: What's worse than being abducted by aliens? Not much! But being accused of murder around Christmas time is a close second...

Nicholas Trilby moved to the Colorado Rockies in search of much needed peace and quiet. Unfortunately for him, solitude made him easy pickings for a passing UFO. Now safely returned to Earth, he's a reluctant celebrity in a quirky little tourist town that insists on naming him the Guest of Honor at its annual Alien Fest.

When a hostile reporter from The Roswell Explorer is discovered dead in the nearby lake, Nicholas knows he's in trouble once again. This time it's not little green men he needs to watch out for, but a motivated detective. With the help of his odd, alien-loving neighbors, Nicholas is in a race against time to clear his name. But what if Nicholas himself is the killer—and he simply forgot?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Cindy Blackburn - Guest Author

Please welcome fellow Kindle Scout winner Cindy Blackburn to the blog today. She describes herself as hard-working, an introvert, energetic, a klutz, and a cat-lover. Her writing is funny, cozy, lighthearted, feel-good, and screwball. Let’s see which questions she chose and how she answered them.

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)?

We’d eat in my favorite Italian restaurant because I love spaghetti, and apparently it’s my party. I like the idea of fictional guests. Harry Potter would be lots of fun, and with his wand in hand, who knows where the evening would lead! Miss Marple would be a useful guest for me, a cozymystery writer. She could give me some new ideas on amateur sleuths. On to actual people… How about Jim Parsons? I want to tell him how much I adore The Big Bang Theory and learn about his and Sheldon Cooper’s absolute genius use of comic timing. And number four would be Janet Evanovich. As I started writing mysteries, a friend told me I should try to write funny, like Janet Evanovich. The style and humor of her Stephanie Plum series gave me lots of incentive to give it a try. I’d like to thank her.

[Editor’s note: Cindy will apparently be serving her guests since she didn’t reserve one of the four seats for herself, but heck with those four, the conversation should be great, and Harry can do all the heavy lifting with his wand.]

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

I thrive on routine, so sitting in the same spot every day really works for me. I have a comfy armchair in my living room with a place to put up my feet and put down my coffee. Unfortunately, that chair is my cat’s favorite also. She often wins the fight. And yes—she can bully me out of the coveted spot.

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

Again, I thrive on routine, and so I hit that writing chair first thing in the morning, coffee in hand. I try to write all morning, afternoons I’m fairly useless, but often right before bedtime I can get some good ideas down. If I write a little at night I find I’m more productive the next day.

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 probably read about a book a month. I used to read tons more, but now that I write, I read a lot less. I like to read humorous books—cozy mysteries, chicklit, anything light. I’m not into deep or dark. I know I’m WAY behind the times but have just discovered Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr series. Block’s The Burglar in the Closet was my latest read. Loved it!

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

The first draft of each book is a killer. I dread first drafts! But I love revising and perfecting. So my challenge is getting through the first draft. How do I address the issue? I wish I knew. The first draft is always very slow going, but I remind myself I’ve gotten through that stage with each of my books, and once I’m there my reward will be all that fun revision stuff! {Ed. Note: I know exactly how your feel.]

What motivates you to write?

I like to make people laugh. I want to create stories that help people (especially working women with stressful lives) escape their responsibilities for a few hours. I promise you’ll find nothing edifying or educational in my books. Silliness rules.

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

Five Spot takes place at a romance writers conference. Any romance writers I’ve ever hung out with are great fun and very interesting people, so I knew I could make the thing funny! I’m a pantser. So once I had that premise of a murder at the Happily Ever After Conference, I started writing and let the story go where it would.

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

Write every day. I guess it goes back to the old adage practice makes perfect. Also, writing every day keeps the creative juices flowing, and it’s fun to always have my latest story and characters keeping me company, day in and day out.

If you’d like to keep Cindy company, please check out her website www.cbmysteries.com, or find her on twitter (she’s a self-proclaimed fiend there!) @cbmysteries. See ya’ in cyberspace! And here is a little blurb about The Five Spot.

At long last! Jessie Hewitt is about to take her rightful spot in the Hall of Fame. No, not the one for pool sharks. This is the Romance Writers Hall of Fame. Jessie's so excited she's even convinced über-hunky cop Wilson Rye to tag along for the induction festivities. But things don't go exactly as planned. How could a conference called Happily Ever After take such a wrong turn? Take a guess.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rachelle Paige - Guest Aurhor

Please join me in welcoming author Rachelle Paige, a fellow Kindle Scout winner, to 10 questions and answers. She describes herself as a wife, mother, daydreamer, friend and traveler, Her writing involves small town, home, heart. romance and is flirty. Without further ado, here’s Rachelle.

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)?

If I could invite any three people to eat dinner with at my favorite restaurant, I would choose my grandma, my grandpa, and my grandpa’s brother Uncle Cas. They have all passed and I miss them dearly. Family means everything to me and that really came from their example. We would be eating my grandma’s lasagna and would have her famous apple pie for dessert. We wouldn’t be in a restaurant, we’d be sitting in the breakfast nook of my grandparent’s home that was built in the 1930s by my great-grandparents.

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

My most productive writing venue is our office. It’s on our main floor, away from the kids’ bedrooms. And most importantly, it has a door that locks.

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

My most productive writing time is after 9pm. I’m a morning person and love getting up early. But so do my kids. I spend the whole day taking care of them and have trained myself to sit down and write at least 1000 words after they have gone to bed. Unfortunately, I’ve done such a good job adjusting to this schedule, I have a tough time working during the day when I get time on the weekends! And no, I can manage at least two hours without caffeine.

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?

In a typical month, I’ll read at least three novels. I’m always writing and love reading in my genre, romance, although I often read historical romance novels and I write contemporary. The most recent great book I’ve read was Tucked Away by Jennie Marts. It is a contemporary romance and a fun read.

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?

The recurring theme in my True North series is home. Coming home, finding home, making a home out of difficult circumstances are a few examples that fascinate me. The phrase “you can never go home again” inspires me. Maybe you can’t go back to the home that you had in childhood or earlier in your life, but I don’t think that means that you can’t create something better.

What motivates you to write?

My kids motivate me to write. I’ve been dreaming up stories my whole life and being an author has always been a life goal. But sitting down to actually start and finish a novel didn’t happen until my first child was born. Everything sort of clicked for me and I realized how can I encourage them to work hard and go after their dreams if I’m not living that mantra.

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

Tiny Island Summer started out as an idea to update Pride & Prejudice and set it on Madeline Island in Lake Superior. Combining my favorite novel with my favorite place provided ample inspiration. Of course, the final book has changed a lot from my initial idea. I love how that happened in the process of writing the story.

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

The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever received has been to keep writing, every day, no matter what. I started out as a pantser—someone who doesn’t necessarily have a plan for the book and lets the story go in whatever direction happens. But working with some amazing critique partners, I’ve changed course and am reformed and now plot my stories. The biggest difference I’ve noticed in plotting vs. flying by the seat of my pants is that I can keep writing even when I’m hit with writer’s block. Some days, it’s a real struggle but I know that the next scene is going to be really exciting and fun and I push through to get there.

Catch up Rachelle on her website www.rachellepaige.com, Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Rachelle-Paige-511680888981810/,  or twitter @rachellepaigebooks

And here’s a tiny bit to entice you to read Tiny Island Summer (True North Book 2)

Thanks to her job, Darcy Rogus, has been relocated to the middle of nowhere. But with her determination to succeed and her best friend by her side, nothing is going to sidetrack Darcy achieving her career goals, especially not a handsome and brooding next-door neighbor.

Ben Hampton has put his life on hold to take care of his ailing mother, and he can’t let himself get distracted by anything, even if those distractions come with enticing hazel eyes.

Staying away from each other is easier said than done on an island of fewer than three hundred people.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Donald Trump’s War on Muslims

Taken from DonaldJTrump.com
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

~ Pastor Martin Niemöller

Donald Trump is not the United States of America’s version of Adolf Hitler. However, Hitler and his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, would certainly understand and appreciate Trump’s tactics of gaining political support by picking on a minority religious group and telling big lies enough times they begin to sound like truth to many. Trump’s invective against the Muslims reached a new moral low when he called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

This pronouncement comes fast on the heels of Trump’s statement that the U.S. should “strongly consider” shutting down certain mosques in the United States (likely unconstitutional).

Trump indicated he is open to the idea of a Muslim registry because “we’re going to have to do things we never did before.” Is it much of a step from a Muslim registry to forcing Muslims to prominently display a star and crescent moon on their persons to make the rest of us aware we might not be safe in their presence?

I know; you’re thinking we would never do something like that, right? The German people never anticipated Hitler’s final solution, did they?

Your rights of free speech? Not so much if that free speech happens to infringe on The Donald’s sensibilities. When a Black Lives Matter advocate tried to interrupt one of his rallies and was reportedly pushed to the ground and kicked, his response was, “Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”

We in the United States have a history or forgetting our ideals, not to mention our laws, in times of perceived national security crisis. Abraham Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus and ignored a Supreme Court’s ruling that his act was illegal; Roosevelt illegally interred Japanese citizens; Bush authorized torture, and Obama continued Bush’s practice of allowing illegal information gathering on U.S citizens.

Trump admits that he is willing to break international law by reinstituting President Bush’s authorization of waterboarding. He’s willing to ignore the constitution if it does not suit his purposes. He is Machiavellian with his ends-justify-the-means positions. When he has no arguments to refute his detractors he relies on ad hominem attacks against the person rather than disputing their ideas.

Trump exhibits the characteristics of a playground bully. Like any bully, the earlier we stand up to him and call out his lies, the better it will be for everyone, including Trump.

~ Jim

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Vickie Fee - Guest Author

Please welcome Vickie Fee to our Guest Author questions and answers. Vicki is not only a fellow member of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime, she is a fellow Yooper (person who lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan). Vickie says of herself that she is kind, funny, awkward, smart and caffeinated. Her writing is authentic, Southern, humorous, cozy and readable. It’s about this time of year that she probably wishes her location were Southern as well. Here are her choice questions and answers.

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

I’m brain-dead in the morning and routinely write in the afternoon. But my most productive writing time often ends up being in the dead of night when I can’t sleep. And yes, caffeine in the form of coffee is a major food group for me.

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)?

I’d have supper with the late Anne George, whose Southern Sisters mysteries are the gold standard for humorous Southern cozies in my opinion. I’d ask her for writing advice and to tell me all about the adventures of Mouse and Sister she never got the chance to write. I’d invite Elvis, since I’m from Memphis and don’t have a good Elvis story and because, Southern gentleman that he is, Elvis would surely pick up the tab for dinner and maybe even toss me the keys to a new Cadillac. My husband would also join us—I love sharing experiences with him and he enjoys seeing me happy. We’d have ribs at The Rendezvous because I don’t get to feast on real Memphis BBQ as often as I’d like.

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

My computer lives in a computer armoire in our office/guestroom. It’s the most practical and productive place for me to write because the desktop is a handy spot to stack the scraps of paper I’m constantly scribbling notes on. And the armoire doors provide space to tape up index cards on top of which I affix multiple Post-It notes. This is a very sophisticated system of organization, and it’s not portable.

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 always writing something and I do read a lot of mysteries, but I’m not sure what a typical month would be. My best guess is I read from two to eight books a month depending on what else is going on in my world. Louise Penny’s most recent novel, The Nature of the Beast, was a great read because—Louise Penny. It’s a signed copy that was an anniversary gift from my husband, which is also pretty great.

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?

The strong bonds of family, friendship and community are major themes, as is the case in many cozy mysteries, along with the desire for justice.

What motivates you to write?

The short answer would be deadlines, but that’s not the whole story. I wrote fiction for years without any real deadlines—or much encouragement for that matter—and have two awful, unsold manuscripts and a stack of rejection letters to prove it. So I must be motivated by something beyond deadlines, like stubbornness or insanity, or maybe a little of both!

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

My main character, Liv McKay, is motivated by love, friendship and a fierce protective streak for those she cares about. Besides her loving, if somewhat crazy family, Liv is also deeply influenced by the strong sense of community in her hometown of Dixie.

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

The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn’t write or don’t be afraid of a bad first draft. It’s been said a lot of different ways, but it all adds up to the same thing: Start writing and keep at it!

To connect with Vickie and learn more about her books, visit www.vickiefee.com or find her at www.facebook.com/VickieFeeAuthor and on Twitter: @vickiefeeauthor. And here is a teaser blurb for Death Crashes the Party

Killer parties, Southern charm

In the quirky, close-knit town of Dixie, party planner Liv McKay has a knack for throwing Southern-style soirées, from diamonds-and-denim to black tie affairs — and her best friend Di Souther mixes a mean daiquiri. While planning a Moonshine and Magnolias bash for a couple of high maintenance clients, Liv inconveniently discovers a corpse in the freezer and turns her attention from fabulous fêtes to finding a murderer. Together, Liv and Di follow a trail of sinister secrets in their sweet little town that leads them from drug smugglers to a Civil War battlefield, and just when they think they’re whistling Dixie, Liv and Di will find themselves squarely in the crosshairs of the least likely killer of all…

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Amber Foxx - Guest Author

Please welcome fellow Sister in Crime Guppy Chapter member Amber Foxx to the blog today. She describes herself in alliterative style as a fun-loving, free spirit, who is flexible and funny. Her writing is unconventional, character-driven, non-violent, and suspenseful. Here are her answers to her chosen questions.

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

The kitchen table when I’m in New Mexico for the summer. The view out the window is inspiring, since it’s the setting for most of my series, and I’m on vacation from my college teaching job. I’m productive during the academic year in my home office, but I get twice as much done during summer.

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

During the summer the whole day is my most productive time, but especially the time between ten a.m. when I get up and have coffee and around noon when I go for a run. Actually, I’m quite creative while running, too. During the rest of the year my most productive time is at night, no caffeine required.

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 just finished an advance copy of the latest in J. Michael Orenduffs Pot Thief Series, The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O’Keefe. I love this series for its local color. He gets the personality of the New Mexico and knows its culture and history. I love books that break with conventions and do it well. Hubie Schuze, the protagonist, doesn’t find the bodies or witness the murders, and he’s an offbeat hero—kind, eccentric, on the small side, and on the wrong side of the law when it comes to ancient pots. I enjoy the humor, the quality of the research—I always learn something new from a Pot Thief book, the ongoing characters that have started to feel like old friends, the complexity of the plots, and the fact that they’re as much about art, archaeology, love, friendship and some clever thefts as about murder.

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

Virginia King. She writes an extraordinary series best described as visionary fiction. Her characters’ adventures are so intense, the suspense is nonstop though these are psychological mysteries rather than murder mysteries. I have profound dreams whenever I read her work. And as far as style goes, she’s one of the few writers I’ve come across who can use the present tense effectively to sustain tension without any clunky moments.

Marion Eaton. Her mysteries work through layers of time, interweaving a centuries-past mystery with a twentieth-century one. They're set in a small village in the Romney Marsh area of England, a setting that comes alive through her marvelous way with words.

Martyn V. Halm. I’m hooked on his Amsterdam Assassin series. This is not my typical reading—a thriller series featuring a female professional assassin—but Halm writes with a kind of Zen-like balance and clarity that makes this unlikely protagonist compelling. I’ve read every novella and novel in the series and while each one is a complete story, taken together they form an even bigger story. This level of architecture in plotting amazes me. He blends Eastern culture (one of the main characters is a martial artist) and Amsterdam life, wisdom and darkness, love and enmity, making these books thought-provoking as well as entertaining. The newest in the series, Ghosting, just came out.

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

I get carried away. My first drafts are way too long. I’m trying to find my happy medium between plotting and pantsing, using a kind of plotting grid as I go along, making sure each theme and subplot stays on track, and yet allowing for a few undecided turns that evolve as I work. Even so, I still have to cut a lot. I make small changes that tighten each line, doing what I call the “cut revision.” I also cut subplots and themes that don’t work and scenes that can take place offstage but don’t need to be shown to the reader.

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

The most recent work I released is actually a horror story, Bearing, based on a very scary Apache myth. Soul Loss, the most recent book in my mystery series, emerged from years of reading about shamanism and from encounters with both quacks and authentically gifted seers in Santa Fe and elsewhere. Since the crimes in my books are never murders, I challenged myself to create the kind of mystery that only a psychic could solve.

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

Mae Martin is intensely competitive—she’s been an athlete all her life and likes to win—but also a helper, sometimes too much so. This urge to take care of people is both her greatest weakness and her greatest strength. She was influenced by her maternal grandmother, a seer and folk healer, her father, a coach, and her mother, a nurse—a good caregiver in her professional life but not as a mother.

Collectively they gave her desire to understand people and a curiosity about the world. I wrote a short story, The Outlaw Women, that’s a prequel to the series, which shows her family influences. It takes place when she’s ten, and shows her through her grandmother’s point of view. Other experiences that influenced her were marrying young to the wrong man and getting divorced, then remarrying to a man with two children and becoming a stepmother. In the first book, she finds a mentor who encourages her to explore her gifts and use them.

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

Writing coach James Scott Bell says that a novel is always about the threat of death. It doesn’t have to be physical death, though it can be. The protagonist can be facing psychological death, professional death, the death of a relationship—but it has to be a threat from which she can’t turn away.

Here's a quick blurb on Soul Loss:

Spring winds blow strange times into the City Different:

Mae Martin’s friend Jamie Ellerbee has dropped out of her life—and perhaps his own life as well. A teenaged model breaks contact with her parents after an encounter with a Santa Fe shaman. A psychic fair can’t recruit any psychics. Something is wrong with all of them … except one.

Faced with mysteries that reach into in the spirit world, Mae takes on her most challenging work yet—work that puts her gifts as a psychic and a healer at risk.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

DV Berkom - Guest Author

Please welcome guest author DV Berkom to our question and answer session today. She’s a fellow member of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. She describes herself as impatient, determined, involved, passionate, and kind. Her writing is action-packed, kickass, contemporary, exciting, and about truth. I’m wondering how she’s going to decide her third guest, have the contenders shoot rock, paper, scissors?

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)?

Only 3? Ack. Okay, how about war correspondent Martha Gellhorn for advice on writing and to hear some great war stories, Dorothy Parker for her wit and sarcasm, and, although I’m not particularly religious, either Jesus or the Buddha for their insight into spirituality and modern life. The restaurant would be outside of a crumbling villa in Umbria on a warm spring day, with copious amounts of fabulous Italian food and wine…because Italy.

What makes a great short story?

Pacing, and the ability to cut out everything except the most essential information and still have a complete story with character arc and a compelling narrative.

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

Morning, and yes, I most definitely require caffeine. Lots of caffeine.

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 usually read 3 or 4 thrillers a month, combined with a non-fiction and maybe a historical, so about 5-6. It’s been a long while since I’ve read a book that knocked my socks off, although I thoroughly enjoyed Tim Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty character and plan to read more of his work. I have become quite a bit more circumspect in my praise since becoming a writer. I’ve tried reading the big bestsellers and have been underwhelmed, especially the more recent novels incorporating unreliable narrators. Just not my type of main character, I guess.

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?

Redemption, empowerment, fighting injustice, and family. The main theme that keeps cropping up for me deals with empowering women to take care of themselves, to stop allowing anyone to victimize them. I feel strongly about people (not just women) taking the reins in their lives and making choices that empower, rather than diminish them. That being said, I also strongly advocate an action-packed, kickass read where good almost always triumphs over evil J

What motivates you to write?

What doesn’t? Seriously, though, all I have to do is read the headlines and something will piss me off enough to want to write a book. If I’m passionate about an issue, then I know my interest will be sustained over the course of writing the novel. If I get bored writing about something, then I assume it will bore the reader, and that’s never good.

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

Cargo is the result of reading an article about ivory poaching in Tanzania, and how several groups are working to stop it. Anywhere from 25-65 elephants are killed per day for their ivory, and it’s conceivable that at that rate, elephants could be extinct in this century. As if that wasn’t enough to piss a person off, during the course of researching the book I also discovered several other practices that exploit wildlife, such as tiger and lion bone wine (apparently it’s used for medicinal purposes), and canned lion hunts (where a human-habituated lion is stuck in a pen with anywhere from 2-5 “hunters” with rifles who have paid upwards of $40k for the opportunity).

Another shocker was learning that the body parts of albino children are thought to be “magical” and have, among other properties, the ability to ensure a successful election for the purchaser. There are documented cases of albino children being murdered in Tanzania for just that reason.

Pissed off yet?

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

Leine Basso is a former assassin who decided to quit the life after her boss used her for a job he shouldn’t have. Although she was an assassin who only took out the bad guys, throughout the series the guilt from killing so many drives her to find a way to make up for her past profession and become the mother she wants to be in the eyes of her daughter. In Bad Traffick, the second novel in the series, she finds herself working for an anti-trafficking agency, which ticks all the boxes for her—she’s able to use her considerable talents to look for the victims of human trafficking, as well as fight bad guys when they get in the way.

To find out more about DV Berkom and her writing, check out her website: http://www.dvberkom.com. And while you are at it, here’s a teaser for Cargo:

Money—the universal merchant. Anyone can be bought, anyone can be sold.

Haunted by memories of an op gone bad, former assassin Leine Basso travels to Bangkok in search of a missing backpacker. With help from an old contact, she discovers the man responsible for the girl’s disappearance is connected to a violent Hong Kong triad and is the linchpin of an extensive trafficking network—both animal and human. Making enemies isn’t new for Leine, but making one in the triad is—she soon finds herself a prisoner onboard a cargo ship headed for sub-Saharan Africa. To ensure her survival and to continue her hunt for the missing girl, she must join forces with Derek, an ivory poacher who promises to help her.

For a price.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Chris Patchell - Guest Author

Please welcome fellow Kindle Scout winner Chris Patchell as today's guest author. She describes herself as smart, witty, curious, creative, and poised. She says her writing is dark, complex, tense, suspenseful, and gripping. Here are her eight choice questions, and I think, choice answers:

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

Bar none, my favorite place to write is outside on my deck. I love to hear the wind in the trees, smell the freshly cut grass, feel the sun (when it’s sunny). Being outside awakens my imagination. Not to mention the fact that it’s at least twenty feet away from the hundreds of distractions that can effectively chew up my writing time faster than my dog devours her favorite chewy toy—like laundry, television, my cell phone, oh and hey, the kitchen could use some cleaning. We won’t even talk about the disaster that is our kitchen floor. Sigh. So much writing. So little time. Of course, living in the Seattle area, writing outside only works for four to five months in the year. For some odd reason, my laptop doesn’t like the rain, so from October to May, I’m an INDOOR writer.

What makes a great short story?

GAWD, I wish I could write a short story! God knows, I’ve tried, but every single short story I’ve ever written has ended up sounding more like chapter one of a book. If I could write a short story, I’d say that it would need a few engaging characters (not too many), some snappy dialog, and a compelling problem that can be resolved in significantly fewer words than I’m capable of writing (like 110,000 less). One of my favorite short stories is called "A Piece of Steak." Written by Jack London. It’s a story about an older boxer trying to win a match and make enough money to keep his family afloat.

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

Hell yes! I’m absolutely useless before my second cup of coffee. I don’t even work out until I’ve had at least some caffeine. That said, my most productive time of the day to write is between 11 AM and 4 PM. I’m not a morning person, and quite honestly, I’m dead asleep on the couch by 10 PM, which is kind of a problem for someone who has a full-time day job. So how do I do it? I spend the majority of my lunch hours hunched over my laptop furiously writing, and working outside of my peak productive hours to crank out chapters at a blistering pace.

Last summer, my husband and the kids went on an epic road trip east, and left me at home with my laptop and our neurotic dog. I spent a full, glorious week of vacation time uninterrupted, writing outside on the deck and producing 5,000 words a day. Having that kind of time to focus was amazing!

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

I discovered Anne Emery, a Canadian writer, when I read her novel, Sign of the Cross. It was a great story with unique, well-drawn characters. Monte Collins is a wise-cracking lawyer who is given the impossible job of defending his surly and secretive client, Father Brennan Burke on a murder charge. As the story evolves, Emery does a nice job of humanizing the cleric, showing many sides of his complex character. I’m a sucker for anti-heroes.

From the very first chapter, I was hooked on The Murder Bag. Tony Parsons weaves complex plot with the unique voice of a London police detective, Max Wolfe. Max is a tarnished hero—still carrying the wounds from a broken relationship, you see his vulnerable side in trying to navigate the complex world of parenthood on his own, while tracking down a violent killer. I love broken heroes, and Parsons does a great job with his.

When I read The Dead Room by Robert Ellis, I was struck by the novel’s stunning imagery. Teddy Mack is a lawyer forced to defend a man of diminished capacity against some shockingly depraved crimes. Ellis does a fantastic job writing memorable secondary characters and throwing in enough twists to keep you guessing until the end.

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?

I’m obsessed with the theme of identity. I’m fascinated by the how and whys of people who hide behind masks, showing the world a false version of themselves. I also love writing about the theme of justice and blurring the ethical boundary between right and wrong for my characters, especially the law enforcement kind who have a lot to lose if they step over the line. I grew up watching characters like Dirty Harry Callahan, who do the right things in morally questionable ways.

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

As a writer, I struggle most with getting emotion out onto the page in deep, authentic ways. My husband jokes that I’m an anti-girl in this respect. I’m blessed (or cursed), with a calm, rational demeanor, which makes me great in a crisis, but is kind of a curse as a writer. It takes me longer to work out the emotional arcs in my stories and find interesting and effective ways to portray emotions. I knew I’d had a breakthrough though when I finished my latest book, In the Dark. I was reading one of the final scenes to my writing group when I saw them passing around the box of tissues!

Knowing this continues to be an area growth for me, I’m always on the look out for other authors who do this well. I’ll often re-read scenes to figure out how the writer made me feel the character’s emotions. Sometimes when I’m stuck I will think about a situation in my own life where I’ve felt the emotion I’m trying to convey. I’ll even write about the situation, focusing in on my own emotions at the time. Panic. Sadness. Joy. Digging into my own experiences in a deeper way helps me translate those emotions into a scene that brings them to life.

I met with a book club in California last month over Skype. One of their members asked me about what experiences I’d had in my life that allowed me to capture the panic and intensity of the first scene in my book, Deadly Lies, so accurately. It was the start of a great conversation. As a writer, there is nothing more gratifying than having someone else connect with your work.

What motivates you to write?

I can’t not write (great double negative, eh?). I have so many story ideas rolling around inside my head that I would literally burst like an over inflated balloon if I didn’t write them down. Seriously, I’ll be driving to work in the morning and I’ll be struck by some idea—an image (often my best scenes are image oriented), or a line of dialog, or the resolution to a plot problem and I’ll have to capture it before it slips away. I actually keep a digital voice recorder in my car for just such moments. The creative energy I get from writing spills over into everything else I do.

Writing makes me happy, and I’m a big believer that we all need to do those things in our lives that make us happy, whether it’s running marathons, playing music, writing scary stories, or doing math. I’ve heard it said that there are some people who really love math, although I’m quite sure I’ve never experienced this phenomenon myself.

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

Stephen King because he’s great at writing richly-drawn, small town characters. Big Jim Rennie is one of my favorite bad guys of all time, the epitome of a small-town despot. Annie Wilkes from Misery is the kind of fan we all hope as writers, to never meet. King’s characters are unforgettable. I’ll never look at a clown the same way after Pennywise from his horror classic, It.

Blake Crouch because he writes action and emotion really well. My husband stumbled upon the Wayward Pines series long before it was made into a television show, and once I started reading the first book, I couldn’t put it down. When I’ve burned through everything else on my Kindle and Audible list, I go back and re-read these novels.

George R.R. Martin is a genius at weaving deep intricate plot lines with memorable characters. I came to the series late, which is good, because I tore through all of these books in a matter of months! The first three are brilliant. Each character’s point of view, motivations, and goals are unique and clear. As a writer, I’ve learned a lot by reading his stories.

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

Never rent space in your head to an asshole.

While I was working on my first book, I hit a particularly low point in my writing journey. I had formed a small critique group comprised of a few students from my class. It started out well, but as the weeks went on, I found that one of the people in the group wrote particularly nasty critiques of my work. Sitting in a coffee shop one rainy day, I realized that I was avoiding rewriting a chapter because I didn’t want to read the critique he’d written. It made me feel like the worst writer in the world. Like a failure.

I’d come to a crossroads, and as I sat there staring out at the rain, I thought a lot about failing and quitting. I forced myself to examine what it meant to be a failure. Did it mean that not everyone would like my work? Did it mean not getting an agent or a publishing deal? Sitting in the coffee shop that day, I decided that for me, failure meant none of those things. Failure meant quitting. As long as I didn’t quit writing, I wasn’t a failure. So I kept going. And while it hasn’t always been easy—there have been disappointments and setbacks along the way, I’ve learned an amazing amount about myself, and my craft—things I never would have learned if I’d let someone else’s feedback stop me from doing what I loved to do.

Writing has been and continues to be enormously fulfilling.

For more information about Chris and her writing check out her website http://chrispatchell.com/

Here’s a brief blurb for In the Dark to whet your appetite.

Marissa Rooney stands in her daughter’s empty dorm room, a half-used vial of insulin clutched in her trembling hand. Brooke has been missing for days. Her roommate hasn’t seen her since that night in the bar. And if Marissa has Brooke’s insulin, it means that Brooke does not.

But Marissa isn’t alone in her terror. A phantom from her past is lurking in the shadows, waiting in the night, and holding her family captive…

In the dark.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sheila Webster Boneham - Guest Author

Please welcome guest author Sheila Webster Boneham today. She describes herself as curious, passionate, restless, funny, and disciplined. She characterizes her writing as smart, funny, compassionate, informed, and intriguing. Here are her remaining eight questions and 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)?

My paternal grandmother would be first. I know her only through a handful of stories my uncle told, and I would love to know her. She was one of the first telephone operators in Providence, RI, in the first decade of the 1900s, and when she was in her twenties, she and my grandfather took out a homestead in Alberta, Canada. She died in childbirth when my dad was two years old.

Walt Whitman. I’ve read his poetry since I was in high school, and I would love to have a conversation with him.

Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, The Five Quarters of the Orange, and other luscious books. Her writing is so rich and satisfying, I would like a chance to get to know her a bit.

Since I don’t have a favorite restaurant, I think I’ll choose a cozy fish place, not too fancy, with a lovely view of the ocean. Fish is brain food, so suitable for smart conversation, and I find breaking surf and sea air both calming and stimulating. I’ll order grilled scallops and shrimp.

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

Cafes, preferably in an out-of-the-way booth. I can easily shut out most noise (and when I can’t, I put on my earphones and play instrumental music—New Age, classics, Andean flutes…). Writing can be an isolating pursuit, and I like the sense of connection without obligation a public place provides.

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

Early morning or evening from about six to ten. I do drink a little tea, but I wouldn’t say I need the caffeine. Mostly I’m a water drinker (lime twist optional).

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 don’t track my reading, but best guess? Three to five. I read a lot of shorter writing as well—essays, short stories, poetry. Whatever strikes my fancy. I write literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry as well as mysteries, so if I didn’t read in my genre while I’m writing, I’d be stuck with cookbooks and product manuals!

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?

It’s funny, but sometimes we don’t recognize the themes in our own work. Years ago I took a short-story class, and about half way through, the instructor said, “You know, you always write about responsibility.” I think that’s right—my work, whether fiction or nonfiction, is often concerned at one level with questions of responsibility.

In my mysteries, “who done it” is obviously a major concern. In my essays and literary fiction, questions of responsibility may be more subtle, and I don’t set out to include them, but they do always seem to be present. Much of my work also explores the nature of relationships of different kinds—among people, among other animals, between species, with the land and environment. The over-arching theme, I suppose, is the question of what it means to be alive.

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

At the moment, my biggest challenge is not a writing challenge per se, but a “time and engagement” challenge. The rise of social media has been a blessing and a curse for many people, and I think the distraction of the Internet and various social platforms is especially difficult for writers. We work (most of us) on the computer, so the (positive) connection and (negative) noise are a click away. I love being in touch with friends and readers and other writers, but I also long for long stretches of focused time to think and write and reflect.

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

Shepherd’s Crook, the fourth book in my Animals in Focus mystery series, takes my characters to a sheep-herding event. Janet MacPhail, my protagonist, is a 50-something professional photographer and avid amateur dog and cat (yes, cat) sport enthusiast. Since her dog, Jay, is an Australian Shepherd, I know at the start of the series that sooner or later they would try herding.

In the first three books, events have unfolded around obedience, retriever fieldwork, and agility (canine and feline), so it was about time Janet let Jay use his instinctive herding abilities. The book opens when some sheep go missing. That—plus some notion of the series subplots—were about all I had when I started the book. I tend to let the story develop as I write, then backtrack and fill in the holes as needed. Writing that way can be a bit scary, but I also find it a lot more fun.

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

I have a very smart and insightful friend and mentor named Cait Johnson, and I carry one brilliant piece of advice from her in my mind—“Do what lights you up.” Those five words have helped me make some difficult choices over the past few years. 

For more about Sheila and her books, check out her website http://www.sheilaboneham.com/ (ed. note: where I fell in love with her picture of a great blue heron.)

Here’s a blurb for Shepherd’s Crook (Midnight Ink, 2015) – Animals in Focus Mystery #4
Animal photographer Janet MacPhail has just arrived at a sheepherding competition with her Australian Shepherd, Jay, when she learns that two-dozen sheep have disappeared. Police think the animals have wandered off, but Janet is convinced they’ve been stolen. 

Janet knows she should leave the snooping to the police while she attends to her own problems—new living arrangements, her mom’s wedding plans, puppy and kitten antics, and extremists bent on keeping people from having pets. But when a livestock handler turns up dead, the police and a pair of thugs pay Janet way more attention than she likes. Setting out to find answers, Janet puts herself in the killer’s crosshairs.