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.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Tracy L. Ward - Guest Author

Please welcome a fellow member of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Tracy L. Ward. She describes herself as introverted, driven, enthusiastic, organized, and modest. She describes her writing as dark, descriptive, evocative, unexpected, and intriguing.

In addition to her novel writing, which she discusses below, she penned a short story in the collection Fish or Cut Bait that included one of my shorts. Without further ado, here's Tracy.

What makes a great short story?

I think a great short story is one that employs subtly. I love when a writer is able to pull a theme through the entire story without the reader realizing it until the very end. Given the length of a short story it’s important to use every word with purpose. The shorter the length the more this applies. A great short story gets you to the end satisfied but still craving more.

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

I write most prolifically at night between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. when my family is sound asleep and my house is quiet. Even the dogs have passed out after a long day. This is when I flourish. It’s just me and the light of my laptop. With all my surroundings dark I can better imagine my historical world, the sights, subtle sounds and smells. I do most of my research and plotting during the day but the dead of night is when my Victorian world comes to life. 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 try to read at least one to two fiction books a month while I am working on a new book (which is all the time). It really depends on the type of book and the style of writing. I can polish off a fun chick-lit or dreamy romance in a weekend. These stories are great escapism and a good, fun break from my darker mysteries. If I am reading a historical, mystery or otherwise, I like to take my time, analyze the prose and fall in love with the time period.

I read a lot of non-fiction, not just for my writing research but also for personal development. I am a sucker for biographies and have fallen deeply for a book about Shirley Temple and the Great Depression. Prior to that I was reading a book about Grey Owl, a Canadian conservationist who convinced everyone he was a Native American not an Englishman who grew up in Hastings, UK. It’s all fascinating stuff.

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

Jane Kirkpatrick is an interesting writer who uses fiction to flesh out biographical accounts from history. My favourite book by her is The Daughter’s Walk, a story about a young woman, Clara and her mother, Helga who, in 1896, accepted a wager to walk from Washington State to New York City within seven months. The promised $10,000 was to help save their struggling family farm. In her author notes, Kirkpatrick is upfront about what poetic license she takes to create a well-rounded story and I love the way it’s part biographical, part fictional.

Nick Cutter is a very creative horror writer and I really enjoyed his book The Troop. The book is about boy scout troop secluded on an island off the coast of Prince Edward Island that is beset by a terrible affliction, a parasite that causes its victims to eat anything… and everyone. My husband recommended this book to me because he thought I would find it interesting. What I found most useful in my own writing was Cutter’s sense of timing to create ever increasing suspense as well as his fully fleshed out characters.

W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear are two other favourites of mine, especially their People of the Longhouse series. I’ve been completing a lot of research on native tribes in Canada and found their books a great fictional retreat into that time period and culture. I love their understanding of the tribes and the customs. I also think they do a stellar job creating the world from that time period through vivid description and thought-provoking characters.

What motivates you to write?

When I first began writing as a teen I was most interested in the escape. I wasn’t finding the books I wanted to read so I made my own. I continued writing through college and after I started a family. It was always something I did even though a lot of what I wrote lacked real story structure or marketable qualities.

Now that I am on the fifth book in my series I am motivated by the characters themselves and the need to continue their story. I love receiving messages from readers who ask me what’s going to happen next. Knowing that others love Peter and Margaret as much as I do motivates me to keep going in that direction, wherever it leads me.

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

The storyline for Sweet Asylum was conceived after I watched a documentary about mental illness in Victorian England and the feminine side of the equation that allowed men to deposit their wives, sisters or mothers at asylum gates with very little proof of lunacy. Mental illness was extremely misunderstood at this time in history and for many it was much easier to send away a post-partum mother, or Down Syndrome child or epileptic than to determine the cause of their affliction.

Given that my protagonist is a doctor of the era I felt it was only natural that he would encounter an asylum through one of his cases and of course it makes him question his own sanity after everything he and his sister, Margaret have gone through.

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

By all accounts Peter Ainsley shouldn’t be a doctor. The son of a rich earl, Ainsley grew up with all the best money could buy and could easily live the life a true gentleman, not a lowly labourer. But an easy, docile life never held any interest for Ainsley who craves a deeper purpose as well distinction from his domineering father.

Despite a diluted view of morality, at his heart Ainsley is a good man who wants to serve those who are less fortunate and hopes in turn it will give him a greater sense of accomplishment. Possessing a brilliant grasp of anatomy but terribly slow abilities as a surgeon, Ainsley’s skills naturally lend themselves to work in the morgue where he can determine true causes of death and bring justice to grieving families.

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

Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read.

My college professor at Journalism School wrote this on the board that circled the entire room. “Read anything and everything you can get your hands on,” he said as he placed the period. This has been the absolute best advice I have ever received. Even at times in my youth when I wasn’t writing all that much I was reading. I was learning from the masters without even realizing it and I have no doubt it has made me a better writer overall. I believe the hardest thing for aspiring writers is determining their style. How do they prefer their prose? What types of language do they like to use? Sentence structure? Description? This is all decided from the viewpoint of a reader.

To get regular updates regarding Tracy L. Ward and her books follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TracyWard.Author/

Here’s a bit of a blurb for Sweet Asylum:

Unable to shake the oppressive atmosphere of the city after a life-changing case, Dr. Peter Ainsley retreats to his family’s country estate near Tunbridge Wells to find asylum and, perhaps, forgiveness. The discovery of a strange girl in the backwoods introduces him, and his sister, Margaret, to the peculiar Owen family with a questionable reputation in town.

Soon Margaret discovers her unexpected new friend, Ivy Owen, who talks to herself and is prone to angry outbursts, is with child and the question of the unborn baby’s paternity lingers. When a catastrophic barn fire leads to a man’s death Ainsley is forced out of his refuge and back into the work that once toyed with his sanity. Haunted by ghosts of his past and forced to relive moments that scar him still, Ainsley begins to piece together a disjointed puzzle of family strife, loose morals and questionable sanity.