If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our June author interviews: Fish Out of Water Authors--6/7, Susan Van Kirk--6/14, Renee Patrick--6/21, and Joanne Guidoccio--6/28.

Saturday Guest Bloggers in June: 6/3--Geoffrey Mehl, 6/10--Joan Leotta. WWK Saturday bloggers write on 6/17--Margaret S. Hamilton and on 6/24--Kait Carson.


“May 16, 2017 – The Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) today announced the finalists of the second annual Star Award, given to authors of published women’s fiction. Six finalists were chosen in two categories, General and Outstanding Debut. The winners of the Star Award will be announced at the WFWA Retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico on September 23, 2017.”

In the general category, WWK’s Carla Damron was one of three finalist for her novel, The Stone Necklace. Go to Carladamron.com for more information. Congratulations, Carla!

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

Linda Rodriquez has two pending book publications. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel will be released by Scapegoat Press on November 29th. Every Family Doubt, the fourth Skeet Bannion mystery, is scheduled for release on October, 18, 2017. Look for the interview by E. B. Davis here on that date!

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lines that Stick

At New England Sisters in Crime meetings, we sometimes read lines we wish we’d written. People in the group have quoted from well-known authors and from short stories written by other Sisters in Crime.

I’ve avoided having to choose from among the many talented writers I know and instead include four quotes that I’ve never been able to forget. They’re not from mystery writers but the words touch on violence, mystery, and power.

From Ralph Ellisons’s The Invisible Man, “I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, because people refuse to see me.”

I don’t pretend to experience what a black person does but I have often felt invisible.

Charles II of England said on his death bed, I’m sorry to be such a long time dying.

He had over one hundred illegitimate children and was said to be truly the father of his people. I think he learned how to read his audience and he knew those around his bed couldn’t wait to grab power and make sweeping changes.5274323662_4f98246ef7_m

George Orwell in Animal Farm wrote, “Everyone’s equal but some are more equal than others.”

I think that sums up our human endeavors to make equality and democracy real.

In Paradise, Toni Morrison wrote, “They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time. No need to hurry out here.”

Those first lines are so stark and set the mood for the rest of the story. They haunt me.

I’m sure there are mystery writers who can quote lines as witty and/or haunting.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

An Interview with Agatha Nominee Sasscer Hill

Although I haven’t ridden a horse in years and don’t follow horseracing, except for the Triple Crown races that are televised, I read Sasscer Hill’s Full Mortality in one long read, glued to its pages. Hill’s series focuses on horse racing. Her experience in this milieu enables her to create authentic characters, interacting professionally and socially, and with the horses, portrayed as individuals, athletes and property. Full Mortality is a page turner, but learning about the world of horse racing was an extra bonus. E. B. Davis


For those readers who haven’t yet read Full Mortality, could you give us the line log of your Agatha nominated book?

Jockey Nikki Latrelle gets the chance of a lifetime -- to ride the favorite in a stakes race -- only to have her dream destroyed when a mysterious intruder kills her mount the night before the race. When she discovers a gunshot victim, Nikki becomes a prime suspect. Framed and facing a possible murder rap, Nikki is ruled-off Maryland’s Laurel Park racetrack.

Even deprived of income, she cannot abandon an ill-tempered racehorse doomed to slaughter. Nikki and the filly wind up at a seedy stable with a motley group of felons, drunks, and drug-addicts. With help from a fashion-conscious wholesale meat-seller, a recovering addict, and an ancient groom, Nicky follows a crooked trail of insurance scam and betting fraud. But can she clear her name—and put the real criminals behind bars?

Do you hold a jockey’s license?

I have never held a jockey’s license as my race-riding was in “amateur” steeplechase races. I have held an owner’s license in the states of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. I bred, raised, broke, and did the early training on most of my horses myself.

You mentioned that you won at Pamlico…?

I have won as the “owner” of horse in all those states save Pennsylvania.

How much is Nikki like you?

Nikki is a lot like me, but probably a better person. She got my best qualities -- brave enough to fight the odds, chase after her dreams, but always kind to those less fortunate. Sadly, I might be a tad less kind than Nikki. Happily, she lacks some of my more dubious qualities, and I’m not talking about those!

Full Mortality was a page turner for me. How did you conceive your plot?

After writing my first novel, HEART OF A WINNER, I acquired an agent, but the book was turned down by New York publishers. I took the rejections hard, and after wallowing in self pity, I started Full Mortality. I never thought about a female jockey series, only that jockey “Nikki Latrelle” seemed a good idea for a protagonist. Unfortunately, for me, I galloped into the book the same way as the first novel – by the seat-of-the-pants. I took a snail mail course with Writer’s Digest, where I developed characters and setting, but plot totally eluded me. I’ve never been so stuck.

Desperate, I signed up for a mystery writing course at Maryland’s Bethesda Writer’s Center with author Noreen Wald. She told us to bring a one page plot outline the first day. Yeah, right. But I did it.

Don’t ask me how, but I suddenly saw the story, got pumped, and had the basic plot down lickety split. I was always a good writer, but Noreen showed me craft. Synopses, story arcs, chapter endings with a punch, all the things I knew nothing about. She also convinced me to nail down my plot first. It is, she said, a road map to keep you from getting lost. Amen to that!

Are your characters taken from real life, an amalgam?

I’d have to say taken from real life. For example, my character Mello -- the old groom with second sight -- is modeled after a wonderful black man named Loyd Pinkney. He was a sharecropper on my father’s farm back when I was a little girl, and Maryland still planted tobacco. Lloyd was born on the farm where I live now, stayed here all his life, and kept his own chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows, and plow horses.

I remember once, I was on a step-ladder painting the chicken coop, when I saw Lloyd running toward me. He grabbed my rickety ladder just as it was about to go over. From the porch of his house, he’d seen disaster heading my way and had rushed to protect me. In my novel, Mello watches over Nikki, but I embellished his character by giving him “the second sight” and adding the reincarnation of the famous Maryland race mare, Gallorette.

There were several references to Christmas in your book, such as red and green colors, discussion of the name Christmas, any reason for that?

The Christmas family has played a major role in my life. Rhoda Christmas Bowling was probably America's first female sports writer. She wrote a racing column for the Washington Times Herald in the nineteen forties, and taught me how to ride when I was quite young. Rhoda's brother, Edward Christmas, trained the legendary Gallorette, the mare that won the Metropolitan and Brooklyn Handicaps, the 1948 Whitney Stakes, and beat the champion colt Stymie. Gallorette became a character in Full Mortality.

Rhoda’s nephew, Donelson Christmas has foaled a number of my horses and been an incredible friend for years. I could write a book about him! His father trained the 1965 Black-Eyed Susans winner, Sue Baru.

How satisfied were you with your publisher, and will you publish with them again?

I am very pleased with my publisher, Wildside Press. It’s a tiny press and there isn’t much cash flowing about, but the owner, John Betancourt, edits my writing and he’s wonderful. My next book, Racing From Death, comes out with Wildside before Christmas, with a January 2012 publication date.

Have agents made you offers since your nomination?

I do not have an agent at the moment, and yes, there have been inquiries.

What is the synopsis of Racing From Death?

Racing at Virginia’s beautiful Colonial Downs twists into a nightmare when a sociopath sells diet cocktails – killing jockeys who struggle to make racing weight.

Alarming events greet Nikki and exercise rider Lorna upon their arrival at Colonial, and Nikki’s unease turns to dismay when bad-boy Bobby Duvayne mesmerizes young Lorna with his raw sexuality and a dangerous supply of drugs.

A hidden meth lab, an old family secret, a body buried years ago in the woods, and Lorna’s disappearance pull Nikki into a race against death.

Since your nomination for the Agatha, have sales of Full Mortality increased?

Yes, they increased quite a bit, but author friends tell me the release of a second book in a series will have an even better effect.

Has the horse world supported your writing?

The horse world has been wonderful! Pimlico racetrack gave me my very first book signing. I sold 38 copies! The Saratoga Museum and the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs have also sponsored book signings. Horse lovers and racing fans have been the biggest buyers so far, but non-horsey readers are multiplying as they hear they can go on the ride whether they know anything about horses or not.

How have you marketed your book?

I mostly market online. I have over 1,600 friends on Facebook, am a member of a variety of lists, and spend time tweeting on Twitter. I’ve done numerous book signings, but sell more books at horse shows and racing events than at any bookstore.

What was the best advise you’ve ever received about writing and publishing?

The best advice I ever got was short, sweet, and from author Noreen Wald. She read my early chapters of Full Mortality, looked me in the eye, and said, “Keep going.”

Sasscer Hill lives on a Maryland farm and has bred racehorses for many years. A winner of amateur steeplechase events, she has galloped her horses on the farm and trained them into the winner’s circle. Her next book, “Racing From Death,” the second in the “Nikki Latrelle Racing Mystery” series, appears in December, 2011. Sasscer is the author of several short stories appearing in the “Chesapeake Crimes” Anthology, her articles have appeared in numerous magazines. Read Chapter 1 of Full Mortality at http://fullmortality.blogspot.com/ or buy Full Mortality at Amazon. Sasscer blogs at: http://www.sasscerhill.blogspot.com/.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Good Old Days

Since I was asked to participate in Writers Who Kill, I have lost two computers, one to a virus, and my laptop to a broken screen. We had just retrieved my husband’s lap top from the tech-hospital after he spilled beer or coffee (it depends on who you ask) on the keyboard.


I think I am going to give up computers in favor of quill pens.

They go well with my period clothing.

Quill pens are inexpensive or free if you know where to look. They are easy to get since they are the byproduct of Thanksgiving dinner, turkey or goose flight feathers. To make your own, you will need the feathers, a pen knife and a bit of skill to turn out quills you can write with.

The ink can be scraped off the inside of a wood stove and mixed with a little water to form a sooty liquid.

Writing with one is easy after a bit of practice. They are smooth and hold enough ink to write a line and a half before they have to be re-dipped. They do have to be sharpened often, but that’s an easy chore since the pen knife is always at hand. I often take a quill pen, an ink jar and business card sized paper so people can try it out. Sometimes I autograph the books with the quill.

Much of what I write is set in the time of quill pens, but one of my stories features someone receiving the gift of her first fountain pen. Any of my characters would use pencils for every day work. No one much cared how things were spelled as long as the reader could figure out what was being said.

Not one of my characters used a computer. Not one had to put up with accidentally deleted documents. Not one ran out of printer ink and had to go buy more provided they had enough money. None had to search for internet connections. Or like me, couldn’t remember which thumb drive the document was on.

They did have to copy documents over by hand rather than printing another copy. They did have to check their own grammar and if they did want to make sure it was spelled correctly, resort to the dictionary rather than spell check. They had to slow down their thinking to match the speed of their writing.

And if they wanted to rearrange paragraphs or change the name of a character they had to rewrite the whole manuscript.



OK, so maybe I will buy a new screen for my lap top.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Story Behind the Story

Black humor characterizes the Darwin Awards because they are bestowed upon those who have eliminated themselves from the gene pool by dying (or otherwise incapacitating themselves) due to stupidity. To laugh at another’s misfortune isn’t nice. However, when reading those awards one can’t help but be amazed at the ways in which people die or mess up their lives. For mystery writers, it’s research.

A post on a writers’ email group listed the most recent Darwin Awards, which reminded me of an award given several years ago that caught my attention. It sparked a plot that ended up as a short story, which not only was my first published, but also became the basis of my WIP, Toasting Fear.

The location of the story caught my attention: Buxton, N. C. I have vacationed near there and now own a house in a nearby town. When I read the story, I didn’t question that it occurred. There were too many elements, which rang true from my experience and knowledge of the place.

Here’s the story: A young couple chose Buxton (home of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse) as their honeymoon destination. A windy day on the beach prompted the husband to dig a hole in the sand large enough for him to sit in to avoid blowing sand. He must have dug quite a hole because, after sitting in it, the sides collapsed on him. His new wife and others on the beach tried to dig him out to no avail. The rescue squad arrived to dig him out of the hole, but they too failed. They finally called in a backhoe to dig him out. Of course, by the time they found him, he had suffocated to death.

The idea of digging a hole prompted my short story, "Daddy's Little Girl.” If you have time, read it to find out where I took off from the horrible, real story that resulted in the Darwin Award. Taking off from reality, asking “what if” from a given situation can result in plausible, even if bizarre plots.

Is there a story behind your story?

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Power of Dialog


The Power of Dialog

One way writers can quickly demonstrate the nature of a character they are writing about is to put that character into a particular situation and simply have him or her speak. I purposefully left out everything but the characters’ words in the four examples below to demonstrate how a character’s speech alone gives a sense of the character’s emotion, background, the tone of the writing, and a hint of possible conflict and/or humor to come. Don’t you get a vivid mental picture from these snippets? Of course the authors amplified and expanded their work in each case, but I wanted to show effect of the dialog in isolation.

Bette Davis is unforgettable as “Madge” in the movie Cabin in the Cotton, screenplay by Paul Green. When talking to a possible suitor, “I’d like ta kiss ya but I just washed my hair.”

Susan Ferguson’s unnamed character in the short story “Pearls” in her short story collection Gaze suggests to her writing group that they have a retreat at her farm. “What do you think? It would be primitive. It would be cold and there won’t be enough water. And flies— this time of year there will be hundreds of dead flies. And no furniture. Well, some furniture, but no beds. Not beds like you’d expect. Sofas. And there’s no phone. But we should do this. It will be fun.”

In Death on Demand, Carolyn G. Hart’s hero, Max Darling, hears his ex-girlfriend answer the phone with the name of her new bookstore, “Death on Demand.” He responds with, “Do you provide a choice? Defenestration, evisceration, assassination?”

In my short story “A Detective’s Romance” from my short story collection, Murder Manhattan Style, the character Mary Beth enters the office screaming and then explains. “Sorry about the rebel yell ya’ll. I thought I spotted some Yankees before I remembered I was in New York. Nearly everybody here is a Yankee. Of course, I’m not talking about Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and their lot.”

What is your favorite example of how compelling and enlightening a character’s words can be?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Conclusion of Susan Santangelo’s Interview

The book I’m just starting, Marriage Can Be Murder, will involve dating and re-marriage issues for Boomers, the marriages of adult children (and the in-laws!), and will include a destination wedding on Nantucket.  There are 7 books projected for the series so far. Book 4 is tentatively titled Memories Can Be Murder, and will deal with the dreaded high school reunion. Carol has lots of subjects to explore. I hope I can keep up with her!

How do you keep track of your sales?

I keep a log of which stores have which books, how many copies of each, and how many books have sold in that store. And, of course, what their payment policy is. Some indie stores don’t pay authors as quickly as they used to, which is understandable in this economy. But it can be tough on the authors! E-book sales are much easier to track. I’m on all the major e-book sites, and the books sell like crazy there, especially on Kindle. Because I have author accounts with all these sites, I can log on once a week (for example, Kindle posts new sales figures every Sunday for the previous week) and see what I’ve sold.

How has belonging to Sisters in Crime and The Cape Cod Writers Center helped your writing career?

Both organizations are tremendous resources for writers -- both newer ones like me and established ones. Writers are tremendously generous with sharing information and resources. With the publishing industry in such a state of flux these days, we all help each other as much as we can.

Most of us don’t stumble over bodies in our daily lives. Your victims, a retirement coach, and the buyer of Carol’s home, appear naturally as dead bodies and part of the unfolding stories. Do you find yourself looking for crime in daily and seemingly innocent activities?

Unfortunately, I don’t have to look too hard to find crimes being committed. All I have to do is read the daily paper or watch to the news. Most of the stories there are far more serious than I’d ever write about. And I must confess that I’m a terrible eavesdropper. Standing in line to check out at the supermarket, for example, I overhear the most amazing conversations. And so many people talk on their cell phones these days without knowing – or caring – that complete strangers, like me, can overhear the most intimate details of their lives. It doesn’t take much to start my imagination going. Any one of these things can be a springboard for a story idea, or a character.

Your protagonist has wit, compassion, and experience on her side. Are you planning to reveal and use mature aspects of Carol’s character in future books? (There has to be some reward for surviving youth).

I hope Carol grows as a person in every book I write. In Book One, she was kind of silly and superficial. Whiny, even. Although she did say things that lots of wives have thought about! In Book Two, she became more serious, more concerned about social issues. But no matter what Carol has to deal with, she’ll never lose her sense of humor.

Your protagonist has a husband and loyal group of friends. How much do you think these characters reveal about your character and move the plot forward?

Carol couldn’t exist without her support system. I don’t think any of us can. And because they know her so well, all the dialogue is carefully designed to tell readers more about Carol and their individual relationships with her. And keep the story going. And keep readers wanting to know more.

I look forward to reading your next book in the series. In the series, Murder She Wrote, fans suspended belief and didn’t obsess about the main character being apparently surrounded by murderers wherever she went. Are you concerned that your protagonist will look like typhoid Mary?

That’s a very interesting question, and one I’ve thought about for a while. After all, how many dead bodies can a single person trip over? There’s a very successful mystery series that’s been going for a long time, involving a caterer who seems to find bodies whenever she’s doing a party. I don’t think I’d hire her to cater something for me! I’m going to concentrate hard on making each murder, and Carol’s eventual involvement in it, believable. I don’t think it’ll be easy, though. That’s why I only have one murder per book. That’s enough for her to deal with.

The publishing industry is changing rapidly and writers are being urged to become entrepreneurs. You’ve started your own publishing business. Do you plan to publish other writers and how would you approach the problem of quality control?

As of now, we’re not accepting submissions from other writers. However, with the e-book phenomenon exploding, it’s relatively easy to publish a book electronically these days. The trick is to write the very best book you can, and have it professionally edited, before it’s put on Kindle, Nook, or any of the other platforms. In the end, it’s all about the writing.

I enjoyed both Retirement Can Be Murder and Moving Can Be Murder. Best wishes for your success with these novels and future books in the series. Thank you for being our guest blogger on WritersWhoKill.

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Thank you, Pauline!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Interview with Author, Susan Santangelo

Susan Santangelo and her husband have started their own publishing press, Baby Boomer Mysteries Press. Susan has published two books in a series featuring Carol Andrews, a baby boomer confronting murder.

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Website is www.babyboomermysteries.com.

Blog spot is www.murderousmusings.blogspot.com. I blog the first and third Sundays of every month.

Both you and your husband have previous experience in public relations and publishing. Did you find this experience helpful when you started your own publishing company, Baby Boomer Mysteries?

Both Joe and I have been involved in public relations for years in a variety of capacities. Many years ago, in another life (smile), I was an editor and proofreader for several magazines in the New York area, including Cosmopolitan. And I also did lots of line editing for book publishers, most of which, sadly, are no longer in existence. But neither one of us had any experience in the design and physical production of a book. That’s an entirely different skill set. We were fortunate to find the terrific designers at Grouper Design in Yarmouthport, MA., who have become part of our team. I’ve learned so much by working with them about colors, type fonts, type size – it’s amazing.

What forms of promotion have you found most helpful in promoting your novels, Retirement Can Be Murder and Moving Can Be Murder?

I love doing book talks and signings. Even if people don’t buy a book then, I always give everyone I meet a bookmark. Folks love that, and my hope is that they’ll save it and one day that bookmark will springboard into a book purchase. But since our travel budget is limited, I’ve taken advantage of several on-line promotional opportunities as well. I have a web page, and blog twice a month at Murderous Musings, which is a virtual group of mystery writers. It’s a very diverse blog. We even have one writer from Brazil and another from Iceland. I’m on Facebook, and I post regularly. The on-line community has generated lots of book sales. But if I have my choice, and an unlimited budget, I’d travel all over to do talks. I love the stories other Boomers share with me about their lives, retirement, etc. And I get some great story ideas.

You have noted previously that agents are unwilling, for business reasons, to take a chance on new authors unless the author has a platform. As a baby boomer close to retirement age and as a survivor of breast cancer, do you hope your writing will focus more attention on people who are no longer young but have much to offer?

Boomers and seniors have so much left to offer. We’ve learned a lot over the years. Our children are grown and have left the nest. Now is the time to try something new. That’s one of the things I hope to show in my writing. My protagonist, Carol Andrews, has been a stay-at-home wife and mother, content to let her husband support the family. But now that he’s retired, she’s discovering new life opportunities for herself. Such as writing freelance articles on important issues like domestic violence. And, oh yes, solving a mystery or two.

Young female protagonists deal with finding the right mate, sorting through date options, and developing their careers. Carol Andrews, your protagonist, faces problems with her husband’s retirement and with selling a home where she’s spent much of her adult life. Have you received feedback from readers that they identify with these issues?

The feedback from readers about the issues I’m writing about in my books is incredibly positive. Women have told me I’m writing their lives. Others have asked me when I met their husband! I’m focusing on everyday issues that people of a certain age have to deal with. In a humorous way. With a dead body thrown in to move things along.

There are other problems for retirees—money and how much they need to retire, ill health, moving and losing social support, remaining in the lives of their children and grandchildren, and what to do with the time they have left. Do you think your protagonist, Carol, will explore these issues in future books?

The second book, Moving Can Be Murder, has a moving quiz in the back to help readers focus on where they really want to live as they age. Plus some websites I found in my research that I hope will be helpful.

Here are a few sample questions from the moving quiz: How do you rate the community where you now live? Include factors like public safety, property taxes (and the possibility of an increase), access to public transportation, availability of senior services, and trash/recycling collection. Do you love your current home? Is it convenient to stores, dry cleaners, your faith community, and other things that are important to you? If you live alone, is there someone you can count on to check on you to be sure you are OK? Does your home have potential for a first-floor master bedroom and bath, with no stairs involved? Could you close off current rooms and save on energy costs? If you decide to move, do you have a bit of wanderlust and want a complete change in lifestyle, climate, or even country? How quickly do you think you'd develop friendships in a new location? There are so many things to consider.

If the decision is made to stay in the current home, there are also resources listed in the book which can be helpful.

CAPS is a certified Aging-In-Place Specialist program designed by the National Home Builders Association in partnership with AARP. Check out their website: www.nahb.com/caps.

The National Aging In Place Council's website is www.aginginplace.org. And the American Society of Interior Design also has an aging-in-place component on its website: www.asid.org/designknowledge/aa.inplace.

Good luck!

The second half of Susan’s guest blog will appear tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

One Man's Trash


“Have you noticed anything unusual in Jane Bond’s trash? Do you see a large number of empty beer cans or wine bottles in her recycle bin?” These are questions I am repeatedly asked when one of my neighbors is undergoing a background check for a government job. When I was new to the DC metro area, I didn’t know that it was business as usual for an agent to knock on the door, flip his or her government ID badge and then ask a series of questions about a neighbor. The questions vary but I am always asked about trash.

After that first rather unsettling interview, I surreptitiously strolled down the street and checked out my neighbors’ garbage. (I did this out of curiosity and not nosiness you understand.) In one recycle bin I saw a Pampers for Swaddlers wrapper. Their baby wasn’t due for a few weeks so the baby was either premature or they had visitors. I’ll have to give them a call. In another recycle bin I noticed a number of empty tequila bottles belonging to a couple who don’t normally drink. Must have had a Cinco de Mayo party and I wasn’t invited. Hmmm In front of a third house there was a large amount of bagged trash piled on the curb. Perhaps their college bound son had the unenviable chore of tossing his cherished clutter. Poor guy.

Trash isn’t something I had ever thought about but obviously some people consider it a treasure trove of information because it can reveal a lot about a person’s lifestyle and habits. Now, whenever I put out my trash I wonder… Who is observing the contents of my trash bags and overflowing recycle bin? What conclusions are they drawing about me? Could something that one neighbor notices in another neighbor’s trash lead to murder?

The tales the trash can tell led me to consider the contents of my heroine’s and villain’s garbage. My single mother heroine would recycle her empty macaroni boxes and soup cans while my older male villain would throw away his cigar butts, pill bottles and broken machine gun magazines. What’s in your characters’ trash?

Monday, June 20, 2011

My Obsession

I confess that I am a shell seeker. I have no power to control my pursuit of shells. It’s an obsession, one that I make no apologies for, because I hurt no one in my single mindedness.

I have tried walking on the beach without looking down. Trying to power walk is impossible. Running—forget it. When I sit in my beach chair, I look at the ocean or dunes. The second that I stand, my eyes go to the beach surface, and I resume my hunt. As I wade into the ocean, I check the surf. The surf holds many beauties that I retrieve with the enthusiasm of a dog catching a Frisbee. The shells wait for me to find them.

My husband and I four-wheel drive on the beach. I’ve trained him to stop as soon as I see a shell dump on the beach. Before our truck stops, my door is open, and I leap out to start my hunt. He used to wait for me, motor running. Now, he gets out too. I may have passed on my obsession to him, but at least he no longer moans in disgust.

When going to the beach on a summer’s day, I stuff my beach bag with my finds. This requires emptying my beach bag every day so that it doesn’t weigh a ton. I also want to examine my catch, so I wash my shells at the end of the day, putting them on a towel to dry. The picture on the right shows a typical day’s catch.

In the winter, the best time for shelling, I use a drywall compound bucket to store my finds. The most unusual shells appear during the winter months. Perhaps the winter storms drive them onto the beach or when there are few people on the beach, I find more of them. Whatever the case, I know that I have only found Scotch Bonnets, North Carolina’s State Shell, during the winter months. One winter, I found nine Scotch Bonnets after twenty years of finding none. It may have been a bad winter for them. For me, it was nirvana. No matter the cold winds, I don my winter coat and traverse the beach in my quest. Here’s a Scotch Bonnet. I’ve provided a gold measure that some of my fellow writers may know quite well.

What do I do with all of my shells? I wish that I possessed artistic skill. But, I do not. I have ideas of what I’d like to do if I had that talent—so if you are an artist in need of shell ideas, let me know. I have plenty of work for you. When I first wanted to display my shells, I found the cost of display case type coffee tables prohibitive. I had an epiphany in Home Depot one day while looking at the flower pots. Here is the result, which I converted into cheap but functional tables by having glass cut for the tops. From the top down, you can see into them for a peek at my beauties. At twenty dollars each, I had to have two colors! Of course, on top of the shell buckets’ glass tops I’ve displayed more shells.

Does my obsession spillover into my WIP? You bet! Abby Jenkins saves herself one afternoon using a trusty clam shell to fight her way out of a hole when a demon is after her. There’s just no end to the uses for shells. I’m going to experiment with baking in some of them. Crab Imperial might be even tastier served in a shell.

I’ve stuffed shells in every crevice I can think. Here is my nightstand with lamp base stuffed with shells.

Don’t think I’m ruthless. I do have principles. A few weeks ago while combing the surf I found a perfect palm-size snail shell. I tracked it rolling through the water and snatched it before the next wave crashed over it. As I held the shell in my hands, examining it and turning it over, dark and hairy legs popped out from inside its tubular hollows. Shocked, I threw the shell back in the surf with heavy heart. My find was another’s. We scavengers must respect each other. The hermit crab had first dibs on the snail shell. But next time, it will be mine.

Like any addict, my craving has no end. Just one more shell…

Do you or your characters have obsessions?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Searching for Sergeant Bull


The first time my father traveled to Europe was in the hold of a boat built to haul bananas. He was a nineteen-year old Iowa farm boy sailing on the USS Marine Devil with approximately 1,700 other young men recently inducted into the army. He was assigned one canvas shelf to sleep on in a stack of eight shelves set eighteen inches apart in a frame of pipes. The convoy zigzagged slowly for eleven days while the men on the ship endured seasickness, bad food, and cold seawater showers.

The convoy also carried bombers, gasoline, tanks, weapons and ammunition. All these were thrown into World War II against the veteran forces of Nazi Germany.

My father’s division, the 99th of the 395th Infantry, suffered an 84% casualty rate over the next six months. The war ended for him when he was wounded severely enough that he had to be evacuated to a hospital for treatment.

Forty-five years later he returned to Europe by traveling for ten hours in commercial jets that offered warm meals, drinks, and cozy reclining seats. He traveled with his wife, his two sons and their wives.

Like many men of his generation, my father walled off his war experiences. I remember as a child being fascinated by and frightened of that part of my father I saw in rare glimpses that raged and cried within him. My father never let the monster out and, although it became less ferocious over the years, it never went away entirely. He let me play with his sergeant chevrons and other patches from his uniform. My father could occasionally be persuaded to talk about being in the army. He explained that he still has shell fragments in his lung and showed me where he was wounded in his finger. He told funny stories about training and mentioned one or two minor things that happened while he was in Europe. When I asked my father if he was a hero, he invariably answered, “No. The heroes did not come home.” Even as a child, I had a sense that there were many things he refused to talk about.

However, over the years he had gradually become more active in attending reunions of his battalion. He toured Europe with my mother and visited places he saw as a young soldier. When he asked my brother and me to accompany him to Europe on a second visit, we saw the invitation as a chance to learn something about a chapter of my father’s life that he rarely opened. Maybe his sense of mortality gave him the impetus to show us something of this part of his life while he still could.

Although father was not ready to speak about the battles he was in, to help us prepare for the trip, he gave us books about his battalion written by fellow soldiers who my father profoundly respected (Infantry Soldier by George W. Neill, University of Oklahoma Press, 2000, and Butler’s Battlin’ Blue Bastards by Thor Ronnigen, Brunswick Publishing, 1993) plus a book by the commanding general, Battle Babies by Walter Lauer, The Battery Press, 1985).

We read about the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last desperate attempt to break through the allied forces in Europe and drive toward the sea in hopes of splitting the allied armies and forcing truce talks that might leave him in power. The Germans successfully hid the movement of their forces in preparation for the attack. On December 16, 1944, they threw approximately one quarter of a million soldiers in twenty four divisions against five American infantry divisions (the 99th, 2nd, 106th, 4th and 28th) defending sixty miles of ground known as the Ardennes front.

Outnumbered and outgunned at least three to one, the 3rd battalion of the 99th division held its ground on the north shoulder of the bulge against three veteran battalions. Small groups of men in isolated foxholes and buildings survived by killing the enemy with unfaltering efficiency. American artillery was sighted directly on the battalion positions. Men had been told to dig their shelters deep into the frozen ground to avoid being hit by shrapnel from their own guns. When the battle began the untested Americans held their fire until the Germans were so close that in two cases dead German soldiers fell into American foxholes. In the bitter cold, usually knowing nothing about the scope of the battle beyond what they could see with their own eyes, the soldiers held on through December and to the end of January. There were no celebrations when the front line finally straightened out again. The allied forces were ordered to continue their advance.

When we visited the area forty-five years later it had changed from an icy hell to a hilly, forested tourist destination close to the medieval city of Monshau, Germany. Despite construction of a bridge and a highway in the area, my father walked directly to depressions in the ground that he was certain were what remained of foxholes he had stayed in during the battle decades before.

My father said that during the part of the battle that took place at the city of Bastongne, Belgium, American forces were surrounded, seriously outnumbered and short of food and ammunition. In a famous incident they were offered the chance to surrender so they would not be completely annihilated. The American commander, Major General Anthony McAuliffe, answered, “Nuts.” My father said years after the battle he asked his battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel McClernand Butler, if the Germans had offered to accept the surrender of the 99.th He said Butler told him, “Hell, no. They were too busy attacking us to ask for our surrender.”

We read about crossing the Rhine River on the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany. With allied forces advancing following the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans ordered every bridge across the Rhine River to be rigged with explosives and blown up before the allies could cross. The orders also stated that the bridges should remain intact as long as possible to allow retreating German troops back into the interior of Germany. The river would then present a serious natural barrier protecting Germany. There were 22 road bridges and 25 railroad bridges that spanned the Rhine. All but the Ludendorff at Remagen were destroyed before they could be captured.

The Ludendorff bridge was completed in 1918 just before the end of World War I. It was constructed of steel, 1,069 feet long, and wide enough for two sets of train tracks and a pedestrian walkway. It was 96 feet tall at the highest point and 48.5 feet above the average water level of the Rhine. Twin towers three stories high were constructed with gun embrasures built into the walls to serve as defensive structures at each end of the bridge. Construction included features to help the defenders destroy the bridge.

On March 7, 1945 the 9th armored division of the 1st American Army commanded by Brigadier-General William Hoge appeared on the horizon above Remagen. They drove into the town toward the bridge. The Germans used explosives to create a trench, preventing tanks from getting to the bridge. The defenders attempted to blow up supports from one side of the structure so it would slide into the river below. The ignition system failed. A squad of volunteers lit the fuses of the secondary charges by hand. When those charges went off. The bridge was lifted into the air, but it settled back in place, damaged but intact.

The American commander immediately sent his men running across the span, dodging obstacles while under fire. The Germans shelled the bridge with every gun available because it was the only way to get more than a few men at a time across the river.

In the next days they fired V-2 rockets at the span. Bombers tried to destroy the bridge. Seven frogmen went into the river in a futile attempt to blow up the supports. Hitler was so upset that within a week four officers were executed for their failure to destroy the bridge. As soon as they could the Americans sent amphibious vehicles to carry troops across the river while a pontoon bridge was being built next to the Ludendorff. Building the pontoon bridge and repairing damage to the Ludendorff continued twenty-four hours a day despite constant shelling so that tanks and other vehicles could cross. When vehicles trying to cross the span were hit and disabled, they were pushed off the bridge and fell into the river below through holes that shells had blasted in the railroad bed.

By March 11, the 99th division was the first complete division across the bridge. Stepping over dead bodies and avoiding holes from the bombardment, the men worried that the Germans were waiting to blow up the bridge until it was full of GIs. Men were hurried across without regard for organization. McClernand Butler directed them to their units on the east side of the bridge. MPs stood on the bridge directing traffic and urging men along. Some were killed by the shells that landed on the bridge on average once every two minutes. My father said that the combat veterans thought that it was about time someone else had the experience of being under fire.

On March 17 the bridge finally collapsed from the sustained damage. Twenty eight engineers died, and ninety three more were injured in the collapse, but by that time roughly 25, 000 soldiers had passed over it. Crossing continued on the pontoon bridge and engineers pushed other bridges across the Rhine.

The Ludendorff bridge over the river is gone now, but fragments remain on each side. The remnants are of various widths and roughly five feet thick like puzzle pieces discarded by a giant. Massive black towers still reach high into the sky. Inside one of the towers a peace museum has been set up that tells the history of the bridge. When we visited my father wanted to see it but he did not want to buy a ticket.

He allowed me to pay saying, “I already paid.”

From time to time, I caught a glimpse of the nineteen-year-old farmer’s son who my father had been. The army drafted him and sent him to an intensive college program to develop needed engineering skills. When the need for combat infantrymen outweighed the need for engineers, the army terminated that program and sent him with many others to the front line.

As we drove through a lush green valley, his infantry skills came back to him. “This is a bad place for tanks – too narrow to maneuver. We’d knock the steeple off that church to keep it from being used by observers and send in infantry with just a few tanks. We’d have to watch for mine fields and for dragon’s teeth set to funnel us into the pre-sighted killing zones.”

At the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, he separated from us to mourn over three graves of friends, men from his platoon. In his words, “They never came home and never got any older. I wonder why I survived and they didn’t.” My mother told me that after visiting the graves my father had nightmares like the ones he had just after the war.

Without a current address and not speaking German or French, we stumbled upon the house where my father and his squad sheltered with a family in Belgium for a few days forty-five years earlier. My father said, “It was the first time in months that I was dry, warm and safe.” Guy, who had been five when my father saw him last, still lived in the house. When Guy figured out who he was talking with, tears came into his eyes. He brought out a photo album with pictures from that time. My mother brought out photos she carried to compare to Guy’s. Two identical photos showed the family with Guy in shorts. Only Guy and his older sister, Josie, were still alive.

Another two images showed my father’s eight-man squad. In the photos my father knelt front and center, a young, handsome man with black hair. My father pointed to the young men in the picture and recounted their fates. “He died a day or two later. This one died a week after that. These three men and I were wounded seriously enough that they evacuated us back to the states. That one disappeared on a night patrol and I never learned what happen to him. This man survived the war without a scratch.”

Guy called his niece who spoke English. She took us to meet with Josie. Josie had a picture of her daughter in clothing that my parents sent shortly after the end of the war. My father asked how many men from the several groups of soldiers who sheltered in their home had made their way back.

She told him, “Only one, you.”

We walked across the Wied River on a pedestrian bridge in a recreation area. My father said he remembered wading through waist-deep freezing cold water in the middle of the night while machine guns fired from the other side of the river. We saw someone parasailing through the bright blue sky.

Not far beyond the Wied, my father had been wounded seriously so he was transported to England and back to the United States. Not long after we crossed the Wied, our vacation ended and we returned to our daily lives. Ever since then, I have thought about that trip frequently and about the teenager who became my father. I don’t think I will ever understand what he went through or how it changed him. I do know that I treasure the memories of moments when I saw an Iowa farm boy in the face of my father.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Zone

Nancy Pickard is one of the guest speakers at the Crimebake conference this year. Not only will I reread her novels but I’ve discovered the book she wrote with Lyn Lott, a therapist/writer, Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: the Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment. Both experienced and novice writers go through these seven steps.

So far, I’ve read the chapter on unhappiness, step 1, the restlessness and discomfort that precedes creativity, and step 2’s chapter, wanting.

To find out what I really want, Pickard and Lott suggest I take into account negative feelings that include jealousy and envy. Once I know what makes me jealous, I can make a list that will help me discover my real desires.

By now, around pages 50 to 60 in the book, I’m sure several readers are delving into these feelings and making great lists. I’m slow at tasks like this. I’ve written stories and not included a single internalized thought or feeling. Introspection isn’t my bag. I see pictures and memorize everything I see. However, I wanted to uncover new stories and characters so I persisted with the task.

I wish I could write pages of internal thoughts like Harlan Coben that are as dramatic as action. I wish I could use language to show character and emotion the way Lisa Gardner does. I wish I could give a glimpse into the lives of three boys and then show their stories unfolding and intertwining when they’re adults. As a reader, I was convinced each boy could only become the particular adult portrayed in Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River. I wish I could use language the way Tana French does to show the visceral responses of her characters. I wish I could create a character like Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy.

After looking into what makes me jealous, I believe I’m interested in making better use of language and delving deeper into character.thumbnail

I’ve just begun to try the approach suggested by the seven steps. At every conference I’ve attended, I’ve learned what agents and publishers are looking for. It doesn’t make sense to totally ignore the marketplace. However, I’d like to find out more about the themes and characters that preoccupy my subconscious.

To reach the zone, I sometimes have to turn off all the voices of critics, no matter how helpful in the past, and of expert marketers. It’s not easy. Listening to a favorite piece of music helps me. Do you have a method to reach the zone?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Susan Schreyer Blog

Today our guest blogger is Susan Schreyer. Susan is a writer with whom I’ve enjoyed getting acquainted with the past few years. I have read her second novel and enjoyed it very much. Her characters are interesting. Thea’s mother can drive you nuts at times. Her sister, well, at times you want to tell her to straighten up and fly right. But you can’t help but love them.

Welcome, Susan!

DHG: How long have you been a member of SinC and the guppies?

SS: I joined Sisters in Crime when I was completing the first draft of Death By A Dark Horse back in 2007. I joined Guppies shortly afterwards.

DHG: How long have you been writing?

SS: I've been seriously dedicated to writing mystery novels for about seven years. I've always been writing something, though, like most people who finally get around to admitting they really really really want to write a book.

DHG: How many novels have you completed?

SS: I've completed three full length novels. A fourth is in the works.

DHG: Tell us about Death By A Dark Horse & Levels of Deception

SS: Death By A Dark Horse introduces Thea Campbell, her horse Blackie, and her family and friends. She lives in the town of Snohomish, Washington, has her own accounting business and loves to ride her horse. They have a very special connection, by the way. At least her aunt believes so. She thinks Blackie has a psychic connection to Thea that lets him know when she is in trouble. In this first book, Blackie is stolen and the person who appears to be the thief is found murdered. Clearing Blackie of the crime is far easier than Thea convincing people she didn't do it. Of course nothing goes smoothly. She's juggling scary people, and a disaster of a love life right along with family and friends who are behaving rather mysteriously.

Levels Of Deception is the second in the series and finds Thea in a new relationship that isn't going all that smoothly. Paul, the sexy paleontology professor from the first book, is at a dig in Montana when a colleague at the University of Washington is murdered. Thea discovers evidence that valuable fossils have been stolen, and hears that the police are connecting the murdered professor as well as Paul to the thefts. Paul warns her off the case, immediately raising her suspicions that he's hiding something from her. Unwilling to see him framed for crimes he didn't commit, Thea launches her own investigation. Then an attempt on her life lands her in the hospital. Everyone, including Paul, insists she run to his protection at
his dig site in Montana. But what she finds there is far from a refuge. The levels of deception are more personal and extend farther than she could have imagined. The price of her pursuit of truth will be blood.

DHG: How did you get the ideas for these books?

SS: The first one was the hardest. I wanted to write a mystery with a horse as one of the characters. It finally occurred to me that I really needed a crime and a reason for my protagonist to become involved in order to get things rolling. I stared at the ceiling for many nights pondering this until I had an epiphany; the best motivation for a horse owner to step outside her safe existence would be to have something happen to her horse. Since I didn't want the horse injured, I had him stolen. The story took off from there.

The second book was easier. I got the idea while I was finishing up the first. It was like a cork had been pulled from my "idea bottle." I could barely keep up with what my muse was throwing at me.

DHG: Characterization: How do you form your characters? Do they remind you of people you have met?

SS: Some character jump fully-formed into my mind, like Juliet. Others, like Paul, I have had to coax to reveal themselves. I suppose you can say that each character is a composite of people I've known, and of my own characteristics (since they are my creation, that's inevitable). However, when all is said and done, they are as unique and individual as anyone in real life. They often take their part of the story in a direction I hadn't planned, or say and do things that surprise me, but are at the same time totally "them." It's one of the reason I love to write. If I want the characters to be compelling to my readers, they have to be compelling to me.

DHG: In your books, you have a horse that is psychic. Is Eddie, your real horse, like that?

SS: Well, Eddie is very smart and handsome, but psychic he is not. I have to admit, however that when dressage is done right it is exactly like the horse is reading the rider's mind. Getting back to the psychic-thing -- I wanted to give Blackie the extra quality, or connection to Thea, who loves him, that horse-lovers everywhere fantasized about as children. I hope when people read about Blackie and Thea that they reach back into their own childhoods and pull those lovely daydreams to the surface.

DHG: Why did you decide to self publish?

SS: Ah, now this is a question with a very long answer, but I'll try to make it short. I had a long talk with myself a little over a year ago when e-publishing was taking off and causing a huge stir in the industry. I asked myself what my goals were, and what I would be willing to do to achieve them. Then I did my research and made my decision. At the time I thought I was giving up something, but I don't feel that way anymore. I'm very glad I chose to self-publish. I love the whole adventure!

DHG: How are your sales doing?

SS: Sales are slowly improving. Remember, I'm an unknown author, so I have to put a lot of effort in not only letting people know who I am and that I write books, but that my books just might possibly be entertaining enough to spend a few dollars on and a little time investigating.

DHG: Have you done a lot of promoting, and if so, how and where?

SS: I have done a lot of promoting, but there is always more to do. AND it's a huge learning curve for me, as well as a step or three outside of my comfort zone. I do the usual social networking, have two of my own blogs, and contribute to a third in order to connect to my audience. In addition, I've formed an Author Tour group where I live in Western Washington. Our aim is to take the many talented local authors to the readers who might not otherwise go to book events farther afield. I've also joined a group that helps form business connections and helps solve business related issues -- which is what selling one's books is really all about. It's not an easy thing to marry the creative side that writes the books with the business
side that promotes and sells them.
***
Susan Schreyer, author of the Thea Campbell Mystery Series, lives in the great state of Washington with her husband, two children, and a variety of animals or various species. The horse lives within easy driving distance. When not writing stories about people in the next town being murdered, articles for worthy publications, or blogging, Susan trains horses and teaches people how to ride them. She is a member of the Guppies Chapter of Sisters in Crime and is co-president of the Puget Sound Chapter of SinC.

Susan Schreyer Mysteries web site http://susanschreyer.com
Things I Learned From My Horse - blog http://thingsilearnedfrommyhorse.blogspot.com
Writing Horses - blog http://writinghorses.blogspot.com

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday's Bloggers

Weekly blogging can be a formidable task. Dee Gatrell has decided to retire from WWK to focus on her work and writing. We will miss her. Two writers came to our attention, KB Inglee and Kara Cerise. We invited them to take Dee’s place, and by doing so lessened the time commitment required by each. They will be contributing on alternating Tuesdays and are introducing themselves today. Please welcome KB and Kara to WWK.

I am glad to be among you. I am KB Inglee and I write short historical mystery fiction. My published work ranges from the Colonial to the Victorian periods, 1700 to the late 1890s.

Twenty years of working as a psychiatric social worker has shown me lots of human suffering to work with. Ten years of historical interpretation has allowed me to inhabit the past actually living as our ancestors did. I have run a water-powered gristmill, tended a flock of heritage sheep, and spent a weekend living like a farmer’s wife in the 1700s, without running water or air-conditioning. I make my own outfits; hand sewing as well as any nine-year-old girl would in the 1700s. I spin the wool from the sheep I tend, and knit it into small items. I learned to tie fish nets for my latest story “Netted.”

Like most writers, I have unpublished novels on disks, and a zillion unfinished stories. My latest project has been receiving manuscripts for scoring, and sending the highest scoring to the editor for a new Guppy anthology, Fish Nets.

I have always been a keeper of absurd statements made by people who should know better. When I retired from social work, I had five pages of dumb stuff. Now I collect weird things the public says at my sites. Last weekend a kid asked the Civil War soldier who was cooking a chicken over a campfire: “Is that a real fire?” His dad chimed in with “Of course not.”


My name is Kara Cerise and I am honored to join the talented crew of Writers Who Kill. Like most writers, I have been writing since I could hold a crayon. My earliest stories were filled with adventure, the importance of friendship and shocking mysteries, such as who stole Mary’s yellow polka dotted socks. Not much has changed from those early days except I have a larger vocabulary, use a computer and write about secret agents and murder.

My work life has included stints in advertising, the legal field and museums. These all may sound quite staid and boring but in my imagination were really about ways to hoodwink consumers, massive toxic waste conspiracies, and stolen artwork.

Currently, I live in the Washington, D.C. metro area not far from the “Big Top Secret Organization.” This means I see and hear some strange things and don’t know what some of my neighbors do for a living. It’s the perfect place for someone who enjoys mystery and intrigue. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you.


Kara Cerise

KB Inglee

Monday, June 13, 2011

For The Next 24 Hours


FOR THE NEXT 24 HOURS, I WILL:



• NOT DO HOUSEWORK
• BRAINSTORM PLOT IDEAS
• NOT WORRY ABOUT:
  1. MY KIDS
  2. BUSINESS
  3. CHORES UNFINISHED
  4. OTHER PEOPLE’S PROBLEMS
  5. WHAT I COULDA, WOULDA, SHOULDA, DONE
• CONCENTRATE ON ONE THING AT A TIME
• TAKE A WALK OR WORKOUT AT THE GYM
• TRY SOMETHING NEW
• NOT ENGAGE IN SOCIAL MEDIA
• NOT REACT LIKE PAVLOV’S DOG TO MY EMAIL/CELL PHONE
• FOCUS ON WRITING
• FINISH THE NEXT CHAPTER OF MY WIP
• GET IN THE ZONE

Saturday, June 11, 2011

How real life reflects in our writing

They say we should write about what we know. Most of us know a little about a lot of things. With me, it’s motherhood, reporter, writer, and educational advisor.

Motherhood, writer and advisor are a lot alike. Why? With your children, you scold them and give them advice. When I write, I tend to put lots of people—family, and their problems—in my stories. 

When I put my educational advising hat on it’s like being a mother to a lot of people. Again, it’s scolding them when they do poorly in their classes, praising them for doing well, and kicking butt when you know they are going to fail their classes again.

Reporting is a little different. Sort of. You get to be nosy, ask a lot of questions and sometimes tick people off. Most of my reporting was at school boards and farm news. My favorite part of working as a reporter was feature writing. I found it fun to ask questions, to be nosy, learn things I didn’t know about and write about it.

There was a time when I was asked to attend a meeting for a dead president whom I’ll leave nameless. This was a small town newspaper and everyone knew everyone. This dead president had a groupie following. I knew there would be several people at the meeting and took my tape recorder. They tended to talk at the same time. I tried to keep the names straight. But after the story was published I got a phone call from the leader of the group. He said I did a nice job, except for one thing.

“You listed the president’s supposed mistress as the name of the person to contact if they’d like to join our group.”

Whoops! The woman was dead, so I did a retraction.

The one story I wrote that made a front page headline was about farmers losing their farms. It was a heartbreaking story to do, listening to four and five generation farms being lost. I learned a lot about farming and farm animals when I was farm page editor.

As for advising, I retired from the college, but still return during registration times—anywhere from six to nine weeks. Lately I’m hearing a lot of personal tragedy stories. Students whose parents have died or deserted the family; students who need food (we have a food bank); student returning from wars; and students who have been incarcerated or their parents are serving time. With these students, I believe the best thing to do is to listen to them, let them talk. They are hurting inside and need a dose of kindness.

For those students who I know are just attending for the financial aid and then fail, I put on my mommy face and give them a lecture, telling them I am not speaking as their advisor, but it’s my mommy talk, the same one I would give my children. To my surprise, some of them actually thank me.

When I write stories, I tend to have my characters deal with the same situations I have had to deal with in life. These are things we all deal with and a reader can identify with them.

How does your life reflect in your writing?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Blogging Blog


Blogging Blog

I have been bogging on Writers Who Kill Blog Spot for more than six months now. That should make me a self-appointed expert, right? What other credentials could I possibly need? The blog has survived for a year now. It was attracting new readers when I joined it and it continues to become more popular. We have passed the 100 mark in followers Woo Hoo!

Writing once a week is just about perfect for me. I don’t want to take a lot time away from writing short stories and novels, but I want to have a presence in the writing world. I don’t want to be famous, exactly, that would be a royal pain. I want to be more than a total stranger.

Multiple myeloma, that is bone marrow cancer, makes it hard for me to travel to conferences and conventions. Although I feel fantastic at the moment, at unpredictable times I may feel exhausted or get a migraine headache. My favorite conference — The Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave got cancelled due to financial problems. At this point I am one sale short of qualifying for active membership in Mystery Writers of America, which means I may not qualify for a panel at a convention. All of that makes attending writing conferences significantly less attractive.

Blogging is less stressful. I can do it tottering around in my usual work uniform, gray sweat pants and a tattered sweatshirt. I can write between naps or when I have trouble sleeping but the muse is awake. I’ve attended some readings and conferences where authors dressed casually but except for HARRY POTTER book releases I’ve never seen one where pajamas were acceptable attire.

Blogging is more complicated than I expected. It does take time and research. I believe any writing does. It does need editing and my fellow bloggers (none of whom is a fellow) all offer helpful comments and tolerate my occasion smart-alecky remarks about their work. I have been lucky enough to participate in other blogs after my new book came out. Some blogs have required a serious investment of time.

Another issue for me is I don’t want to write a blog I could publish or better yet sell somewhere else. But I do want to write well enough so that readers think, “Maybe I should check him out, i.e., BUY, his books.”

At the same time I do not want to one of those blogger like Sandra Seamans describes as annoying readers by a constant sales pitches like that

MURDER MANHATTAN STYLE is available at http://www.ninthmonthpublishing.com/books.html and

ABRAHAM LINCOLN FOR THE DEFENSE is available on Smashwords at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/13700

Although I plead nolo contendere to the charge of sneaking in references to my works when it is possible that they are not strictly needed (See above.) In my defense I cite the reader who mentioned in an e-mail that she did not write down the links until the fifth time she saw them. What’s an author to do?

It’s not easy to come up with ideas for the blog. When I avoid writing other projects blog ideas seem to pop up. I will put up the occasional poem, parody, comedic piece serious essay, personal story or whatever.

We on the Writer who Kill Blog Spot don’t want to just echo other blogs. So please tell us.

What would you like to read about?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Violence in Unexpected Places

Last week I wrote about the gunman who appeared on my unit when I worked the night shift in a large urban hospital. The nurse who first confronted tMB900230793he gunman advised him that guns were not allowed on the floor.

Now that might not seem the smartest comment in the circumstances but nurses aren’t trained in law enforcement. Violence in hospitals had not yet become an issue discussed by management and part of employee training.

Also, the day before the gunman incident, a family had complained to the unit staff that their dad said he was threatened regularly by Arabs with guns. The father had Alzheimer’s disease and thought his call light was a nuclear weapon. The nurse who responded to the family’s complaint stated, with more sarcasm than sympathy, that visitors were expected to check their weapons at the security desk downstairs. Little did we know.

I’m not sure why it took so long for violence to become a hospital issue. Hospital employees are beaten up by demented patients and patients under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Nurses used to keep the keys to narcotics on a cord around their necks. I knew of at least one nurse who had the cord ripped off her neck. If a drug thief was suspected of being on a unit, security would lock down that unit as well as the floors above and below it. The nurses were locked in with the suspected drug thief.

Before the danger to staff of needle sticks became an issue, used needles were pushed into a container with a mesh top. Sometimes the containers became very full. After they were replaced, the old containers were stored in the dirty utility room where anything contaminated was kept. Before it was common knowledge that HIV could be spread by contaminated needles, these containers were MB900200021sometimes stolen for the many used needles they held.

How did the thieves enter the hospital? The basement of the hospital had several entrances at that time, and they weren’t all alarmed or watched. The night pharmacy was in the basement. If we ran out of a particular narcotic during the night, a nurse would descend to the basement pharmacy, present her identification badge and receive the narcotic in a plain brown bag. I wondered whether potential thieves would believe I was carrying my lunch rather than narcotics.

One time, although nurses always had to present identification and couldn’t go past any locked pharmacy door, a man who claimed to be delivering flowers to a pharmacy employee was granted access during daylight hours. He had a gun and forced a pharmacist to open the narcotic safe. A pharmacy employee managed to send out an email and a security officer happened to be checking his email.

Unit staff quickly becomes acquainted with regular visitors and employees from other hospital disciplines. They would report anyone who seemed suspicious. Still, it’s surprising more threats of violence don’t occur in hospital settings. If a person arrives in the ER clutching his chest, the ER staff doesn’t assume he’s faking it and using the symptom as a ploy to steal narcotics.

There have been stories and TV shows about angry patients or relatives showing up with a gun at a hospital. I can think of a whole lot of other scenarios in which hospital staff could be caught off guard. It’s probably not the prisoner who arrives with his own police escort who presents the biggest threat.

How to create a story that hasn’t been done? I think I could come up with ways to sneak onto a unit with evil intent but do I want to give someone ideas?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Mystery, Flowerbed of State. Interview with Dorothy McFalls.

Dorothy St. James’s novel, Flowerbed of State, was published by White House Garden 2 025Berkley Prime Crime on May 3, 2011. Her novel, The Nude, written as Dorothy McFalls was a finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence for best historical romantic mystery/suspense novel. Dorothy lives in South Carolina with her sculptor husband, and their dog, Iona, and kitten, Suki.

Website: http://www.dorothystjames.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/dorothystjames

Twitter: @dorothystjames

Tell us a little about yourself.

Thank you, Pauline, for inviting me to spend some time on your blog. My educational background is in wildlife biology and public administration. My experience is in government service. And my passion has always been, for as long as I can remember, writing fiction. The first book I wrote, Help! The Purple People Eater Is Here garnered fabulous reviews from my parents. (I was five-years-old at the time.) My writing has improved a wee bit since then. My passion for genre fiction still burns as strong as ever.

Writing the White House Gardener Mystery series has challenged me to try new things not just with my writing but also with gardening. I’ve moved my yearly vegetable garden from the safe pots on my deck out into the wilderness of my lawn. Also, like Casey, I’ve gone 100% organic this year. No more quick green-ups with Osmocote plant food for me!

Flowerbed of State is being published under the name, Dorothy St. James. Did you choose a pseudonym because this is a new mystery series?

A few of my Dorothy McFalls books have...um...sex in them. (Blushes.) Cozy mysteries are clean. Very little swearing. And absolutely no sex. I didn’t want to confuse my readers, so I decided to keep things separate with the new name. I’ve been enjoying the new identity. I feel like an undercover spy.

What is the hook for Flowerbed of State?

Free-spirited Casey Calhoun, the White House's new organic gardener, has a lot on her mind with her upcoming presentation to the First Lady outlining her plans for implementing organic practices on the White House grounds while preparing for the Spring Garden Tour and the annual Easter Egg Roll. But all her carefully made preparations begin to unravel after she's mugged in the same park where a Treasury accountant was murdered. Not long after that, she flowerbed1accidentally pepper sprays a Secret Service agent, a senator begins a campaign against organic gardening, and Wall Street's most eligible bachelor takes a sudden romantic interest in her. Not to mention the President's new puppy is constantly nipping at her heels and digging holes in the South Lawn.

The FBI and Secret Service assure her that they are on top of the murder investigation, but something isn't adding up.

As I read Flowerbed of State, I wondered how you researched all the details of the White House and the staff who work there.

It helps that I love research, politics, and gardening. I latched onto the research like a dog with a bone. A tough, uncooperative bone.

There’s so many things relating to the White House that need to remain classified because of national security.  Also, I found current employees and anyone remotely associated with the White House hesitant to speak with a novelist, especially a crime novelist. They have their careers to worry about. So I did hit many, many walls at first.

Luckily, I found my way to a couple of reporters who generously shared their experiences and knowledge. I also made contacts with former interns who worked in the White House and in Congress. Each person added invaluable nuggets of information. In addition, I attend the White House garden tours in the spring and fall where the gardeners are available to answer questions from the public. Memoirs from former employees and blogs have rounded out my research.

I think my background in the public service also helped. Before I decided to write full time, my entire career has been spent in the public sector. I’ve worked at all levels of government. I used that experience to fill in the remaining gaps.

Your protagonist, Casey Calhoun, is hit on the head at the beginning of the story. Her recovery from this enables the writer to bring in recent history without including the dreaded information dump in the story. Was it difficult to decide how much research and inside information to include in the story?

Goodness, yes! I wrote and rewrote that beginning dozens of times over several months. I had all this information in my head about the White House and the gardening staff that I wanted to tell the reader immediately. I finally knocked Casey over the head and started the story from there.

Why did you change from romance to mystery? Did your change in genre start with Birds in Paradise published by Barking Dog Press in March 2011?

I wish I could say that I had a brilliant epiphany or flash of insight, but that wouldn’t be true. Most of my books have some level of suspense/mystery, I dabbled in writing short mysteries like “Birds in Paradise,” and I have always read and loved the mystery genre. However, I considered myself a romance writer. It took a wise editor to see the untapped potential and point me into the direction of writing a full-length mystery novel. I’m so glad she did!

You have published paranormal romantic suspense and Regency romances with Wild Rose Press, Cobblestone Press, Five Star, and Signet as well as publishing through Smashwords and Amazon. How did you become an author for Berkley Prime Crime?

As you can see, I’m quite the dabbler. I go where the opportunities take me, frustratingly never moving in a straight path. My editor with Five Star, the same editor who suggested I try writing mysteries, came up with the idea for the White House Gardener Mysteries. The book packaging company who employs her, Tekno Books, hired me to write a proposal, which they sold to Berkley Prime Crime. My dream mystery publisher!

It just proves that you never know where new contacts will lead or what doors will open.

Was your publication through small presses and e-books financially rewarding? Was it a learning experience both through the publication process and through your development as an author?

Since working with a small press led to my book deal with Berkley Prime Crime, I have to say yes. I’ve worked with some wonderful editors at the small presses and learned loads about the craft of writing and the publication business from them. But I’ve also worked with a few editors who seemed to be frustrated writers with chips on their shoulders. Those experiences left me pulling out my hair and gnashing my teeth.

With the growth of self-publishing for e-books, before I would consider signing another contract with a small e-press, they would have to prove to me what they can do for me in terms of publicity, placement, and reviews. I’m not sure if self-publishing is the way of the future or not, but it’s an exciting time to be an author. I enjoy the monthly paycheck I receive from my backlist e-books I’ve placed for sale on Kindle, Nook, and distributed through Smashwords. (Smashwords pays quarterly.)

What are your writing plans for the future?

I’m contracted for two more White House Gardener Mystery books. I hope to continue this series as long as the publisher lets me. Book two is tentatively titled The Scarlet Pepper and takes place during the White House’s summer growing season.

Casey Calhoun is back to work in the gardens in the hot, humid July sun of D.C. She's helping the First Lady get her vegetable garden ready for its first harvest when chili peppers show up where bell peppers are supposed to be. The tomatoes go missing entirely. And there's a dead reporter in a flowerbed. What else could possibly go wrong? Wait, Casey really shouldn't ask that!

It's scheduled for a May 2012 release.

Thank you for appearing on our WritersWhoKill blog. I wish you every success with Flowerbed of State and future books in the Casey Calhoun series