Tuesday, December 13, 2016

An Open Letter to President-Elect Trump and the Members of the 115th Congress (on repealing Obamacare)

An Open Letter to President-Elect Trump and the Members of the 115th Congress

RE: Repealing “Obamacare”

Beginning January 20, 2017 with the inauguration of President Trump, a vote to repeal Obamacare moves from political posturing to potential reality as the assured veto of prior bills by President Obama is no longer available. I urge members of the 115th Congress and President-Elect Trump to consider the real and varied consequences of any changes to the current programs.

Public reports indicate Congressional leaders are considering a sweeping repeal of Obamacare with implementation delayed until a replacement plan is developed. The uncertainty caused by such an approach will result in unintended negative consequences for the individual healthcare market.

Certain aspects of the current law function only because private insurers expect robust risk pools. The Health Practice Council of the American Academy of Actuaries recently sent a letter to House Speaker Ryan and Minority Leader Pelosi, expressing their concerns regarding a deterioration in individual health insurance markets if certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act are repealed without immediate replacement. You may find a copy of the letter at http://actuary.org/files/publications/HPC_letter_ACA_CSR_120716.pdf

I urge you to thoroughly understand the risks outlined in the letter before voting on any repeal measures. Unintended consequences can include significant premium increases by insurance carriers to offset increased uncertainty and reflect adverse selection in which younger and healthier individuals drop coverage. The adverse selection will quickly lead to spiraling premiums and contraction of markets as only high-risk individuals remain in plans and more insurance companies drop coverage. The number of uninsured would rise from current levels, leading to less preventative care and higher use of emergency services with their attendant costs.

I also caution you not to retain certain popular provisions of Obamacare without understanding the incentives necessary to make them work. For example, retaining pre-existing conditions protection without exorbitant costs requires either a very large enrollment base over which to the spread costs of that benefit or direct subsidies. Keeping the provision without providing appropriate incentives to provide one or both mechanisms will rapidly lead to a collapse in the individual healthcare market.

If you do not have sufficient experience with the actuarial and underwriting principles that underpin the individual insurance marketplace, I urge you to work with the American Academy of Actuaries to understand how those principles relate to any proposed legislation before casting your vote.


James M. Jackson
Retired Actuary

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Nupur Tustin - Guest Author

Nupur Tustin is a former journalist who says she misuses a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate mayhem in Haydn's Austria. She also writes music. Her 1903 Weber Upright is responsible for that crime. I first met Nupur in the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?

I'm so glad you ask. I hear the squeals, shrieks and squabbles of two rambunctious toddlers interspersed with the intermittent indignant cries of their baby brother when they tease him. Occasionally, my son will poke his head into the room, and ask: "Whatcha doin', Mom?" Or my daughter will cuddle up beside me on my bed as I write, and with the wide-eyed wonder of childhood, exclaim: "Wow! Look at all the letters. Did you write them, Mom?" My baby son follows soon after, and babbles endearments as he flashes his radiant smile at me. Not ideal, but I love it!

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?

I've recently discovered Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti series, and am fast falling in love with her works. Quietly in their Sleep isn't the first book in the series, but it is the first one I read.
Leon's mysteries are set in modern-day Venice, a city that reminds me oddly enough of my birth city, Calcutta. A once-glorious city, rich in history, overtaken by corruption. And her characters have the same resigned cynicism. We've been taught to believe that the best mysteries are fast-paced, page-turners in the sense of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. Yet here's an author who, like a master chef, invites you to linger over her pages and savor her writing. And her books are no less enthralling than Dan Brown's works, which I've enjoyed as well.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

Somewhere in between, I've come to realize. A large-scale project like a novel needs a plan to help you keep track of things. If you write puzzle plot mysteries, you're going to have a hard time inserting clues and subtly diverting and misdirecting the reader without that plan.

I think of my outline as a roadmap. Just as Google Maps isn't going to tell you which roads are going to be closed the day you set out on your trip, and won't give you precise details of landmarks you need to look out for, your plot outline won't provide you with all the small scenes that will link from one major point to the next. As you write, other ideas will come along to flesh out the main idea, and sometimes you'll change major plot points around because it's in the actual writing that you see what works and what doesn't.

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

I have a fondness—as you might suspect from my own choice of protagonist—for mysteries that center around historical figures. With that in mind, I'd recommend Rosemary Stevens' Beau Brummel mystery series. If you like the Regency period and Georgette Heyer's books, you'll enjoy this series.

Brummel was known for his wit, and Stevens has a light touch and is especially adept at the witty banter that characterized him. Unfortunately there are only four of these, so read at your own risk. After the fourth, there aren't any more to feed your addiction.

I'm not a huge fan of romance, but I'm beginning to notice that romance writers are wonderfully skilled at lending emotional depth to their characters and using the readers' emotional investment in the story to create and sustain tension. When writers like Amanda Carmack, who writes the Kate Haywood series set in Elizabethan England, turn to mystery, the puzzle plot combined with their ability to maintain tension makes for an unforgettable reading experience.

Another reason to like Carmack's series: her protagonist is a musician at the court of Queen Elizabeth.

Finally, if you're a sucker for real-life rags-to-riches stories, you'll be inspired by Mani Bhaumik's Code Name God. He went from a small village in Bengal, India, where he walked barefoot to the nearest school, to owning mansions in Bel Air, California. But it's not so much the wealth he amassed that inspires one, it's that science led him to God and a stronger belief in the divine. Quantum physics has always fascinated me, and when a physicist talks about seeing God in sub-atomic particles, I'm sold! By the way, it was my high school physics teacher who told me about this book. And, yes, that was aeons ago.

When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

I tend to write sparse, and I think that's because I began as a short story writer. My journalism experience must come into play as well. So I add in words, and I'm usually fleshing out and adding depth to characters and scenes. I also often tend to assume that the reader has a hotline to my mind's eye, and can see and hear everything I do. Obviously that's not the case, so there are small but crucial details that need to be clarified and filled in as well.

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

I'd just come out of a Ph.D. program when the thought of writing a novel took hold of my mind. And I'd been reading what I refer to as biographical mysteries, Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen series, Susan Wittig Albert's Beatrix Potter series, and Bruce Alexander's John Fielding series. So, my love of research and biography made the general choice of subject fairly apparent. But I decided I didn't want to set my novel in England, and I didn't want to focus on a writer, or his brother in the case of Alexander's novels.

I've always loved music and the German lessons I had as a college student led me to the German composers. After that it was a simple question of deciding which one. Haydn, who was so approachable his musicians called him Papa Haydn, and who had the ability to settle disputes without getting into the center of them, seemed like the best choice for a detective. He was also interested in more than just music. He had, for instance, all the works of Shakespeare in his library, in the original English. He enjoyed shooting, and was rather good at it. His notebooks from London show him to be a keen observer of men and manners.

What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?

I like to think I'm pretty tolerant of most errors and, unless they interfere with my ability to read and understand the story, I can usually gloss over most. The one thing that does grate on the nerve like a shrill, out-of-tune piano, though, is hearing Haydn's name mispronounced and seeing it misspelled. It's "hy-den" and not "hay-den." And you really have to resist the temptation to add that 'e' between the final consonants.

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

For the Haydn series, Haydn's earliest biographers and their accounts of the composer continue to inspire me. I must have read G.A. Griesinger and A.C. Dies a thousand times, and every time I feel downcast, there's something in there that spurs me on. I have only to read a few pages for any scene I'm writing to come out far better than I anticipated.

When I decided to set a mystery in eighteenth-century Austria, the question of voice perplexed me. What voice would best convey the story? Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen series and Jane Austen, herself, provided the answer. This is the voice I love best, the one that says: historical mystery coming up.
Finally, Kate Kingsbury, I think, is a marvelous storyteller, and extremely skilled at unfolding a story primarily through dialogue. The constant "he said," "she said" of some novelists can get tiresome. But Kingsbury's skilful use of beats—I feel sure she must have some experience in the theater—makes for a pleasant reading experience. I think my ability with dialogue has sharpened as a result of reading and re-reading her works.
Yes, I know you asked for three writers, and I somehow managed to give you five, didn't I? [Editor’s Comment: It’s not the most egregious example of counting-challenged authors, so you’re safe!]

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

There are no rules; only tools. This is a piece of songwriting advice from Berklee's Pat Pattison, but I think it applies to any kind of writing, indeed to any artistic endeavor. Haydn would have agreed if you'd asked him what he thought about occasionally flouting the rules in the interests of creating a certain effect.

Consider point-of-view (POV), for instance. We're told, are we not, to stringently avoid using more than one when writing a scene? Yet, Nora Roberts and Donna Leon, whom I've already mentioned, and countless other writers flout this rule to excellent effect.

In Nora Roberts' Dance Upon the Air, there's a scene that subtly shifts from Nell, the main character on the run from an abusive husband, to Mia, a strong supporting character in the novel who's considering offering Nell a job. And it sizzles with tension as a result of the technique. Mia senses Nell's fear, her distrust of strangers, and sympathizes with it. If we saw things from Nell's perspective alone, the scene would simply fall flat. We are vividly shown just how strong Nell's fear is when we realize she can't see beyond it to know who can be trusted.

I haven't had the courage to try this technique myself, but I'd love to. Maybe in the third Haydn novel. We'll see.

For more about Nupur Tustin and the Haydn Mysteries, please visit http://ntustin.com. And to whet your appetite, here’s a blurb and advanced praise for A Minor Deception.

When his newly hired violinist disappears just weeks before the Empress's visit, Haydn is forced to confront a disturbing truth. . .
 Kapellmeister Joseph Haydn would like nothing better than to show his principal violinist, Bartó Daboczi, the door. But with the Empress Maria Theresa’s visit scheduled in three weeks, Haydn can ill-afford to lose his surly virtuoso. But when Bartó disappears—along with all the music composed for the imperial visit—the Kapellmeister is forced to don the role of Kapell-detective, or risk losing his job.
 Before long Haydn's search uncovers pieces of a disturbing puzzle. Bartó, it appears, is more than just a petty thief—and more dangerous. And what seemed like a minor musical mishap could modulate into a major political catastrophe unless Haydn can find his missing virtuoso.

"A standout in the genre of historical mysteries. An encore is requested!"
 Midwest Book Review

Direct Links for your purchasing ease:

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Susan Van Kirk - Guest Author

Susan Van Kirk, a Midwest author, just released her second Endurance mystery, Marry in Haste. This follows Three May Keep a Secret (2014) and a novella, The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney. I first met Susan in the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Inc. where she serves with me as a member of the Steering Committee.

What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?

I occasionally write while I’m listening to classical music. No lyrics. But more often, I write in complete silence, whether I’m in my home office or the local college library. I’m a 60s junkie, so I can’t listen to that music or I’ll start typing the lyrics in the middle of a description.

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?

I just finished Charles Finch’s The Inheritance. I’ve read his entire Charles Lenox series, and I am captivated by his aristocratic detective and his setting of mid-19th century London. He does such a wonderful job of adding detail from that time, and after reading this novel, I now know why the British drive on the left side of the rode and why Americans drive on the right. If you want the answer, you’ll have to read his book.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

I’m a plotter. The connection between teaching and writing is very strong in my life. The overview of a teaching unit is like the early stages of a book when I’m thinking about the idea and how to execute it. Unit planning in teaching is like chapter planning in writing. Lesson objectives in teaching mirror objectives for each chapter of writing. When I taught, I was constantly adjusting content and techniques for changes in my situation, and I do the same when writing. My teaching methods grew out of my need for structure to contain the chaos and teach material, and my writing methods are all about taming the ideas and fitting the pieces together.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

The characters are my focus, and if I can’t get involved with the characters, I’m out of there. I need to have that emotional connection. Oftentimes, when I read a book with literally no characters that I like (think Gone, Girl), I just have a hard time staying with it. I need someone who touches me as a human, and a book without humanity is one that I don’t finish.

Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?

I do read reviews of my books when I happen to see them. They help me understand what readers notice, comment on, and like or dislike. An occasional bad review doesn’t bother me because I understand how subjective reading is. Publishers read reviews, so it makes sense to have some idea of what they’re talking about when they ask you about your reviews.

What do you do that you suspect causes your copyeditor to pull her/his hair out?

My copyeditor undoubtedly pulls her hair out if I drop backstory too early and for too long. I have become much better about that, but I’m sure when I first started out, she lost a lot of hair.

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

My most recent work, Marry in Haste, is about two marriages, one in 1893 and one in 2012. Both involve murders, and both have a dark secret: they are abusive relationships. I wanted to find out more about this topic—the psychology of it as well as its relationship to PTSD—because people I have known and loved have found themselves in such relationships. I needed to know more about why this happens, how abusers isolate their victims, why victims stay, how laws have changed or not, how courts have changed in their treatment of victims and abusers, and how abuse affects someone psychologically. Since the large percentage of victims are women, my victims mirror that statistic.

At the same time, I wanted to create a setting that would continue in my series, and a grand old Victorian home I used to live in became that setting. It had over 4,000 square feet of living space, and researching its past and how to renovate it became an interesting part of my story.

What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?

The use of “fun” as an adjective grates on me. “Fun” is a noun. We are going on a trip to have fun. It bothers me when people say or write, “We had a fun time.” I have never thought of that word as an adjective, never used it that way, and it bothers me when others do.

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

Each time I finish my writing for the day, I make a list of where I am going to start tomorrow and what ideas will jog my memory for the next day’s writing.

For more information about Susan and her books, catch her on these social media sites:

Website and blog:  http://www.susanvankirk.com

And here is a quick blurb for Marry in Haste:

It is 2012 in the small town of Endurance, and wealthy banker, Conrad Folger, is murdered and his wife, Emily, arrested. Emily Folger was one of Grace Kimball’s students in the past, and Grace knows Emily could never murder anyone. So, Grace joins Detective TJ Sweeney to investigate the murder, and they uncover a dark secret.

In 1893, Olivia Havelock, age seventeen, moves to Endurance to seek a husband. She finds one in Charles Lockwood, powerful and wealthy judge, but her diary reveals a terrifying story.

Two wives—two murders a century apart—and a shocking secret connects them. Marry in Haste is a story of the resilience of women, both in the past and the present.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Six Pointers in Writing a Novella

Do you read instruction manuals before you start? After you’ve hit a snag? What are instruction manuals?

I know it’s a stereotype that all guys are loathe to read instruction manuals on the theory that they should know better. But stereotypes are based on observed behavior, and as the saying goes, “If the shoe fits, wear it!” I know what instruction manuals are, but often use them only as reference manuals to figure out where the leftover part belongs and how many steps I need to redo.

I’m in the process of writing my first novella. It’s intended for an anthology with the proposed title Lowcountry Crime: Four Novellas. I wrote the first draft, revised for a second draft, and sent it to an editor for her to work her magic.

As I sat down to write this blog, the thing that came to mind was to write about novellas, since that’s what I had been working on. At which point, I thought perhaps I should read the instruction manual. What, after all, is a novella?


A quick online search turns up a plethora of references for 20,000 to 40,000 words. Others take the top end up to 60,000. The Hugo Award for Best Novella uses 17,500 to 40,000. The stories in this anthology are to be between 15,000 and 25,000 words. Mine currently sits at 20,800; I’m safe under most definitions. Whew, but it illustrates my point about the dangers of looking at the directions after the project is complete.


The word novella implies a shortened form of novel, but containing all of its elements. Rather than an extension of the short story, a novella will likely contain a traditional three-act structure.


A novel allows for a leisurely reveal of characterization for a number of actors. A short story requires a precise cast and pinpoint characterization. A novella splits the difference, but when in doubt, err on the side of the short story. Take a short story’s approach and use the absolute minimum number of characters possible. Since I am a pantser, I don’t worry about this in my first draft, but in the first rewrite I look for ways to eliminate and combine as much as possible. The novella’s length compared to a short story does allow more space to develop the remaining characters to allow readers a more in-depth understanding of motivations.

Point(s) of View:

Novels often provide the reader with perspectives from multiple characters. This becomes much more difficult when dealing with a novella’s word-count limitation. Plan writing from one character’s POV and deviate only if you must to tell your story.


My Seamus McCree novels run around 90,000 words, which allows me to introduce multiple subplots that may involve crimes, family issues, love interests, personal growth along a multiple-book character arc, or some combination. Short stories have space for only one main storyline. While some suggest sticking only with the central conflict in a novella, I’d feel cheated if there weren’t an interesting subplot as well. However, care must be taken to limit the subplot’s scope to leave room for a complete telling of the central conflict.


Each setting requires additional words to bring the reader along. After the first draft, consider both how scenes can be combined to accomplish multiple ends and how settings can be used for multiple scenes.


A novella’s reduced word-count requires the author to maintain a laser focus on the unifiers in the story: key characters, precise storylines, and multiple-use settings.

~ Jim

This blog originally appeared on Writers Who Kill 10/15/16

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Amber Foxx - Guest Author

Amber Foxx (a fellow member of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in crime) is a college professor, yoga teacher, and author of the award-winning Mae Martin Psychic Mystery series. She spends the academic year in Virginia and summers in New Mexico.

What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?

Noise? What noise? The silence is there because that’s where the deepest feelings and ideas live, a place that’s hard to reach with a lot of external stimuli in the way. I can’t write with music playing. Music makes me listen to it—or get up and dance. I occasionally brainstorm to music, but that’s not the same process. I’m not writing while I do it.

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?

Stung, by Pari Noskin. I’m not quite finished yet, but I have to choose it as my recent excellent read. The narrator, Darnda Jones is a New Mexico bug psychic. What a perfect and original idea. You drive into Albuquerque and you are greeted by a billboard advertising a psychic. Santa Fe has a professional ghost buster who cleans negative energies out of homes that aren’t selling. The state is home to a lot of people who practice psychic skills, genuine and otherwise, and it’s also home to some whopping big insects. So what could be more eccentrically New Mexican than a bug whisperer?

Another reason this book charmed me immediately is that I love insects. I think they’re beautiful (most of them) and have no fear of bees or wasps. Darnda’s love of the natural world exceeds even mine, but I relate to her. That someone so gentle she literally won’t hurt a fly (she can psychically tune into bugs and inspire them to go away) could get involved in a murder investigation seems unlikely, so the juxtaposition is inventive. In Stung, Darnda is engaged to de-bug an outdoor wedding in Houston, and the only witnesses to a murder during the wedding may be … insects. The humor in the book comes authentically from relationships, events, and Darnda’s offbeat outlook on the world. Her insight into the ways plants, birds and insects communicate with each other and sense the world are fascinating and thoroughly researched, yet they never slow down the story-telling.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

In between, and it varies from book to book. The Calling, my first book was so complicated that I used a kind of plotting grid as I went along, making sure each theme and subplot stayed on track, and yet it had a few undecided turns that evolved as I worked. Shaman’s Blues flowed more spontaneously, as did Snake Face. The plots for these middle two books in the series came naturally from one strong conflict.

Soul Loss, like The Calling, has multiple oppositional characters and a web of subplots, and I had to do the half-plotting half-pantsing grid to weave the threads into a coherent whole. The latest book, Ghost Sickness, was plotted in my head more than on paper. I kept a list of open threads to resolve or pull out, and my “letter from the antagonist” that reminded me what clues I would need to plant and what was going on offstage, since I don’t write the antagonist’s viewpoint. Although I’ve tried a few times, I’ve never outlined a book the way a true plotter might.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

After committing to review a book a couple of summers ago and dragging myself through to the end despite hating it, I decided never to suffer that way again. I gave myself permission to quit. If, after forty pages, I am annoyed by the main character to the point of wanting to smack her, or by features of the author's style such as an awkward use of present tense or a tendency to restate the same thing three times, I close the book and feel no guilt. Whether it’s a best-seller or an unheard-of new indie book, I’m not obligated to read it past forty pages. However, I think a book deserves that much of a chance to win me over.

Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?

I read them. I used to be an actor, and I could hear the laughter during a comedy, and I could hear the thunderous applause—or lack of it—at the end of an act. I’m writing for an audience, and I want to know if they're engaged with my stories and in what way. I learn from reviews, noticing what themes are coming across in my work. Some followers of the series get so involved with protagonist’s personal life that their reviews include what they think of her relationships, as if she’s real and they need to talk to her about her choices.

I was intrigued to see that the cat Gasser (yes, that’s his name) got favorable mention in two reviews of Soul Loss. I’ve kept him as an ongoing character of sorts. Reviews have helped me with marketing as well as knowing how my books are received. One early review of The Calling, though favorable, pointed out just how unconventional a murderless mystery was and this inspired my series tagline: No murder, just mystery. I don’t want readers expecting a dead body. There won’t be one.

What do you do that you suspect causes your copyeditor to pull her/his hair out?

It used to be the extra spaces between words. She says my work is the cleanest she’s ever seen otherwise, and that I don’t make her work very hard. Those extra spaces are an artifact of my own obsessive editing. She taught me to put a double space into the “find” bar and choose to replace it with a single space so she wouldn’t have to do it. My tendency to leave small words out drives me crazy, but most people can’t see that they’re missing, not even my editor. I finally found a proofreader who can notice a missing “a” or “the”. I still don’t know why I do that. It makes me pull my hair out, and the fact that my beta readers and editor go right past them, mentally filling in the missing word, makes me even crazier, though I know that’s the way the human mind works. My amazing proofreader found twenty missing words in each of my last two books. I hope none are missing in this post!

What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?

This one: “I laid on the bed. While I was laying there, I was grammatically incorrect.” I know that some people talk like this, and my protagonist is from a region where the dialect includes this idiom, but I can’t bring myself to make her say it. I allow her a few grammatical lapses, but not this one. Bob Dylan’s “Lay, Lady, Lay” is a beautiful song, and maybe it would sound odd to us if he’d sung “Lie, Lady, Lie,” but actually that’s what he’s inviting her to do on his big brass bed. The following vignette will either make the rules clearer or more confusing.

“Lie on the couch,” Mary said, giving Jack a cold look. “Lay your things by the door.”

After laying his muddy boots on the mat, he laid his rain-soaked coat on the radiator. “I had hoped, madam, to lie in your bed.”

“Madam.” She snorted. “Don’t pull that Regency romance crap with me. You’re drunk.”

He lay on the couch. She folded her umbrella and glared at him. “You’ve lied to me.”

He tried to look innocent. “About what?”

Lying on the love seat across the room, she crossed her ankles and folded her arms. “About all the other women you’ve lain with.”

Lain with. Now who sounds like a Regency romance? Laid, you mean.”

“So you admit it, then.”

“Bloody hell,” he grumbled. “All right. I lay with them, have lain with them, I lied—I got laid—whatever. I did it all.”

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

The ideas for Ghost Sickness came from multiple sources. One of my ongoing characters in the series, Mae Martin’s friend Bernadette Pena, is a member of the Mescalero Apache tribe, and Mae was due for a visit to Bernadette’s home reservation. I’d wanted a set a book in Mescalero for a long time but all the plots I tried didn’t work. I also had a plot on the back burner that originated with an article I read in a free newspaper that I found lying on the café counter in a Whole Foods.

I was reading it to amuse myself while I grabbed a quick meal after shopping, and there was a story about an event that gave me the perfect seed for a plot in which psychic could be the detective solving a crime other than murder. I can’t say more because the article related to the solution to the mystery. I had to work backwards and create everything that led up to it. I tried writing that story, set in Truth or Consequences, but it lacked scope and complexity. Then I brought my Mescalero characters into it and the marriage of the two earlier attempts was successful.

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

Fellow paranormal mystery writer Terri Herman-Ponce and I were in a critique group together a few years back, and I was struggling with a decision about whose point of view to use in a scene. Terri gave me this advice: The scene is in the point of view of the character with the most at stake. (I asked her if she originated this, and she said she didn’t, but that she couldn’t remember where she learned it.) I write in close third person, using two or at most three characters’ viewpoints. Analyzing who has the most at stake not only puts my scenes in the right POV, but keeps me focused on the action and conflict that move the plot.

Ghost Sickness

The fifth Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

A visit to the Mescalero Apache reservation turns from vacation to turmoil for Mae Martin.
Reno Geronimo has more money than a starving artist should. He’s avoiding his fiancée and his family. His former mentor, nearing the end of her life, refuses to speak to him and no one knows what caused the rift. Distressed and frustrated, Reno’s fiancée asks Mae to use her psychic gift to find out what he’s hiding. Love and friendship are rocked by conflict as she gets closer and closer to the truth.

The Mae Martin Series

No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all.

To find more information about Amber Foxx and her writing go to http://amberfoxmysteries.com

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Cassandra Sky West - Guest Author

Hello, my name is Cassandra Sky West I have been creating worlds and telling stories since I was 12 years old and now I get paid for it. I have had the privilege of joining a fine group of authors who are published by Kindle Press (which is where I met my host Jim Jackson). [Ed. Note: Cassandra answered more than 10 questions, but what the heck, today’s her book’s birthday, so let’s all help her celebrate!]

You have an all-expense-paid long weekend to spend with three guests. The Starship Enterprise has agreed to beam you to the place of your choosing, so travel time is not a consideration. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you staying (and why)?

Boy did you ask the right person! If the Enterprise beamed me up with three friends and said, “We’ll take you anywhere you want.” The place I would most want to go would be the Enterprise! I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. Why would I? The three people I would take with me would be my spouse and our two children.

What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?

I have this process with music and it is two part. First, every protagonist has a theme song. Almost like if they were in a TV show. For Alexi, it is Tear in my Heart by 21 Pilots. I listen to it first thing before I start writing. I listen with my eyes closed and I try to think about the character and why I like them. The rest of the morning it is instrumental. Some Piano Guys, Star Trek movie soundtracks (told you I’m a Trekkie), and anything by Hans Zimmer. I would listen to him if he conducted a recorder! I don’t really have separate playlists for different kinds of scenes. I’m a pantser, which means there could be a fight scene or a really dramatic moment at any given time. It would take to much and break my rhythm if I tabbed out of Scriv to change tracks.

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?

I don’t normally read novella’s but I stumbled across one called The Ember Isle by Ashley Capes. It is part of a series called The Book of Never. Which is an awesome name for a protagonist. I wish I had thought of it! It is tons of fun.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

I’m definitely a pantser. That’s not to say that I don’t plot, I think everybody does to some degree. For me, I think about what I want the book to feel like and what I want the main characters to be like. Once I have it down I start writing. After a couple of thousand words, I’ll know if I’m going in the right way. I go for a walk every morning and I think about what I want to write. Once I get back I’ve got a great idea of what to do.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I don’t think I have ever not finished a book in my life. I can’t imagine putting a book down.

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

Ashley Capes. He’s fantastic. His worlds are really unique. I feel like he’s Brandon Sanderson ten years ago. If the universe is fair, he’s going to be huge.
Colleen Vanderlinden. She was writing fantasy then switched to superheroes and I love her series Strikeforce. Her hero is totally my kind of bad-ass. She’s smart and creative and she worked hard to be where she is.
Debbie Cassidy. This one is kind of cheating. She’s a fellow Kindle Press author and I only discovered her work because we share a publisher. I read her book, Forest of Demons and fell in love. Her fantasy comes from a Hindi background and I feel like it is a breath of fresh air. 

Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?

Yes. I shouldn’t because the first one star is going to have me in the fetal position. However, there are thousands (hopefully) of readers. They will spot problems and threads I might miss. I have to read them.

When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

More, way more. I usually add five to ten thousand to the draft. Usually, I find scenes I didn’t describe enough or interactions which need more dialogue.

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

I read allot. I am also a massive movie buff. Sometimes I will see something really cool, then imagine it going off in another direction. Alexi started with the idea of a vampire who didn’t want to be one. What would that person be like? What would they do? How would they live?

What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?

I make my share of mistakes so I try to be forgiving. Having said that, if you ax me a question I am liable to hit you with an ax.

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

It’s hard to narrow it down to just three because I feel like I’ve gotten inspiration from every author I’ve ever read. However, the three I think that our most crucial to my idea of what urban fantasy is would start with Patricia Briggs. She writes the Mercy Thompson Series which is awesome and her character is awesome and even though she writes first person (I write third) I still think that I’m drawing heavily from her influence. She is so unique and new in urban fantasy with the whole skinwalker stuff it really made me feel like I could write anything.

I don’t think you can write urban fantasy without reading Laura K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. It’s a fantastic series with a terrific protagonist. While I did leave the series after book four, it wasn’t because it was poorly written. I was just disappointed with the choices her main character started to make. The world she created for Anita is amazing and really helped me with the idea of supernatural creatures in the modern world.

Finally, Harry Harrison. I know what you’re saying, he writes humorous science fiction. Slippery Jim Degriz is my favorite protagonist of all time, hands down. The Stainless Steel Rat is why I’ve wanted to be a writer my whole life.

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

There are so many talented writers in the world who give advice I feel a little under qualified. Having said that, here is my advice. You have to write every day seven days a week. Sit down and write. Nothing ever happened from wishing it was so. If you can’t sit down and write every day, then this will never be anything more than a hobby.

Writing With the Dawn has been an incredible journey. There were times I thought I would never get here. I still can’t believe I have. You can read more about me and my process at www.cassandraskywest.com, follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/cassandraskywest or email me at (you guessed it) cassandraskywest@gmail.com. If you sign up for my mailing list you will receive a free story called, By Silver Light. With the Dawn is available at Amazon.com today!

Here’s a quick blurb for With the Dawn:

Alexi Creed needs to know who murdered her, and why. When she wakes up with no memory of her previous life, the only clue she has is a sudden, undeniable thirst for human blood. She finds allies in a mysterious witch with an enigmatic warning of the future and a brooding werewolf in search of redemption. Together they must fight malevolent vampires, agents of the Arcanum, and the forces of darkness if she is going to uncover her past and save the world from a night that will never end.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Vickie Fee - Guest Author

Vickie Fee is the author of the Liv and Di in Dixie mystery series. She blesses hearts and makes Jack Daniels whiskey balls that’ll scorch your tonsils. She’s a fellow member with me of both the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime and the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association.

What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?

Usually it’s just the whir of the air conditioner in the summer and the popping sounds of the radiant heater in the winter. I’ll resort to instrumental music if the neighbors’ voices start competing with the voices in my head.

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?

Terror in Taffeta by fab cozy author Marla Cooper. Because: It’s a fun and well-plotted mystery. And I had been on lockdown most of the summer trying to finish my own manuscript for Book 3 in the Liv and Di in Dixie series, so it was great to read just for enjoyment again. Plus, I had the privilege of hanging out a bit with Marla at Malice Domestic earlier this year and knew she was a lot of fun.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

I’m a pantser by nature. But once I reach critical mass in the manuscript and have all the big pieces, then I work on a detailed outline/timeline, figuring out where everything goes, moving scenes around and filling in the gaps.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I used to finish every book I started. But now that I write novels I don’t have nearly as much time to read them. If I’m not hooked on the story or the characters by some point in the second chapter, I let it go and move on to the next book on my teetering To Be Read pile.

Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?

Yes – I can’t help myself! The good ones offer encouragement to counterbalance all those nagging self-doubts writers have. But even the less than stellar reviews can be instructive. If there’s thoughtful criticism, I pay attention to that.

What do you do that you suspect causes your copyeditor to pull her/his hair out?

I toss commas like confetti throughout my manuscript. But she’s beginning to rehabilitate me. (I have made my very serious copy editor smile at least once, as evidenced by the photo here of a comment she made on the manuscript for It’s Your Party, Die If You Want To!)

When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

I write a bit short – that’s because I don’t write the book in order. I write the big scenes first for the main plot, then the main subplot. Once all the big pieces are in place, I do a detailed outline and go back and fill in the plot holes, write transitional scenes and finally sprinkle in finishing touches of additional description and punch up dialogue here and there.

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

The murder in this book happens at a retreat center during the annual Dixie businesswomen’s retreat, and includes an excursion with a celebrity ghost hunter into a small family cemetery behind the lodge. This part of the book is actually drawn from a real life experience! The Memphis chapter of Sisters in Crime held an annual writer’s retreat each October at a retreat center very similar to the one described in the book, including the family plot. One year we invited some paranormal investigators who brought along their ghost-detecting equipment, and we all traipsed through the little cemetery out back!

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

Have the courage to admit to yourself when a manuscript is beyond repair. Let it go and start a new novel. Before I got a book deal, I spent way too much time on my first two seriously flawed manuscripts, trying to convince myself they could be saved. I finally buried them in the backyard where they belonged – and Manuscript #3 turned out to be the one that landed the agent and the publishing deal.

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.

Here's a quick blurb from It’s Your Party, Die If You Want To (comes out Sept. 27)

Between a riverboat gambler-theme engagement party and a murder mystery dinner for charity, Dixie, Tennessee, party planner Liv McKay is far too frenzied to feel festive. Add to the mix her duties at the annual businesswomen’s retreat and the antics of a celebrity ghost-hunting diva, and Liv’s schedule is turning out to be the scariest thing about this Halloween—especially when the ladies stumble across a dead body in a cemetery…

Morgan Robison was a party girl with a penchant for married men and stirring up a cauldron of drama. Any number of scorned wives or frightened philanderers could be behind her death. As Liv and her best friend, Di, set out to dig up the truth, they’ll face the unexpected and find their efforts hampered by a killer with one seriously haunting vendetta…