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

Our April author interviews: Perennial author Susan Wittig Albert--4/5, Sasscer Hill, horse racing insider--4/12, English historical, cozy author, TE Kinsey--4/19, Debut author, Susan Bickford--4/26.

Saturday Guest Bloggers in April: Heather Baker Weidner (4/1), Christina Hoag (4/8), Susan Boles (4/29). WWK Saturday bloggers write on 4/15--Margaret S. Hamilton and on 4/22--Kait Carson.

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 June, 13, 2017. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Linda here in June!

Cross Genre Publications anthology, Hidden Youth, will contain Warren Bull's "The Girl, The Devil, and The Coal Mine." The anthology will be released in late November 2016. The We've Been Trumped anthology released by Dark House Press on September 28th contains Warren Bull's "The Wall" short story and KM Rockwood's "A Phone Call to the White House." KM writes under the name Pat Anne Sirs for this volume.

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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Sunday, April 23, 2017

10 Similarities Between Birding and Writing

By James M. Jackson

Birding and writing have a lot of similarities. Say what? Read on.

I'iwi
As part of our Hawaiian vacation, Jan and I joined a birding tour of the islands. It was a great vacation and I did very little writing while we were gone, but I did think about writing. Here are ten ways birding and writing are similar.

1. In birding and writing, no matter how good you are, someone is better than you, at least in some aspects.

No additional commentary needed on this one.

2. Birding and writing can both be solo activities.

Much of my writing time is spent by myself, often in the early hours of the morning before others have risen. One of my favorite times to bird is soon after sunrise before heat sears the day. The birds are frequently most active then (they’re hungry) and, even in suburbs and cities, human activity is mostly quiet. The commitment and effort for each activity can be individual and requires very little more than directed effort: paper and pen or computer for writing, alert eyes and ears (binoculars help) for birding.

Red-tailed Tropicbirds
3. It’s often more fun when you bird or write with a group.

I do love being out in the woods or fields by myself (or joined by a faithful hound), but birding with a group has some real advantages. Multiple sets of eyes spot more birds. Group expertise aids any identification problems, and I gain insights from other group members. Lastly, there is the comradery of a shared passion.

So, too, with writing. Many of us benefit from critique groups, writing retreats (even when they are virtual), and the comradery of a shared passion.

4. Sometimes the fastest way to a desired result in birding and writing is to pay for expertise.

I dislike paying other people to do things I can do myself. However, I’ve learned there are times and places where paying for expertise provides a superior result. In writing, a professional developmental edit not only saves me the time of countless rewrites I would have to suffer through to make a story as strong as I would like it, but a professional spots issues I would never see for myself.

Young Laysan Albatross waiting for parents to return with food (this was in someone's front yard!)

In birding, I could bumble around trying to find the right places to see a particular bird and then struggle to identify it when similar species are also around. Paid experts who have scouted the area can significantly increase my odds of seeing more and different birds than I could do on my own.

In an expert’s hands, arcane becomes accessible. For example, when asked how you can tell a yellow-billed cuckoo from a black-billed cuckoo, a novice takes the name clue and concentrates on the bill. Someone who knows those two species can tell them apart in a flash by looking at the tail. Now you know, too.

5. Sometimes in birding and writing one significant detail paints a memorable picture.

In Hawai’i, there are no woodpeckers. The pound-on-a-tree-to-get-food niche was taken by the Akiapolaau, which over generations shortened and strengthened its lower mandible into a strong stub it uses for pounding holes into the tree. The top mandible curved into a specialized instrument to pry food from the hole. One look at its bill, and I can remember that bird forever. There is nothing like it.

Akiapolaau

Nor can one forget a character described as, "He was a funny-looking child who became a funny-looking youth — tall and weak, and shaped like a bottle of Coca-Cola."

6. In birding and writing, little details often make a big difference.

LBJs: Little brown jobbies, are the bane of birders everywhere. Yet, if you focus on the correct detail, you can differentiate between one confusing fall warbler and another, a male versus a female. The differences can be subtle: white wingbars versus pale yellow, a full eye-stripe versus a partial, winter coloring versus mating plumage. These differences give clues to birders about species or subspecies, age, and sex -- useful when birding and important when we write about a specific time or space.

Pacific Golden Plover in winter and summer plumage

Consider these Pacific Golden Plovers in winter and mating plumage and think about how impoverished a paragraph would be that only mentioned their name without any sense of which set of clothes the bird was wearing.

Forest devastation
7. You never know what else you’ll learn while you’re birding or writing.

Keeping an open mind while writing or birding often leads to interesting insights. Sometimes I am drawn to write about something as a way of exploring a topic that perhaps I didn’t realize I needed to understand. When birding, I often discover something I had not understood. I knew before my trip to Hawai’i that the islands had suffered significant avian species losses since Captain Cook “discovered” the island chain.

While in Hawaii, I “discovered” that the remaining endemic bird species are being ravaged by a combination of avian diseases new to the islands and decreasing habitat caused by new microbes and viruses recently introduced into Hawaii. The death of forests inevitably leads to the death of birds, especially those specialized to only one or two plants.

8. Setting the scene is equally important in birding and writing.

Common Myna with attitude

In good writing, a character acts within a setting, and the setting brings out certain character elements. Eliminate setting cues and the writer must rely on talking heads or internal dialog. Setting is a major clue birders use in their attempt to identify an unknown bird. Some birds are ground dwellers, others prefer the tops of trees. Some like forest, others prefer open space or ocean.

Marsh Sandpiper, taken through a fence at a LONG distance
And yet the biggest surprises are when a character or bird are found out of their natural habitat. How did they get there? How do they adjust? We want to know what will happen. On our last official birding day in Hawai’i, we visited sewage treatment settling ponds and spotted a Marsh Sandpiper. This species breeds in Central Europe and Central Asia and normally winters in Africa, the Persian Gulf, India, or Australia—and yet this wanderer found its way to the big island of Hawai’i. Anthropomorphize for a moment: what stories it can tell after it returns home to its flock.


9. A picture can be worth 1,000 words.


My memory is triggered by pictures. I could journal a thousand words to describe the power of waves lashing the shore created from lava flows centuries ago in an effort to remember the experience, or I can take a single picture and use it to trigger a remembrance of the day, including the wind whipping the tops of waves, the scent of the sea. I use those same picture-triggers to inform my writing when I am describing a scene, for instance standing on a Hawaiian cliff, watching Red-footed Boobies flying by.

Red-footed Booby

10. Paying it forward works equally well in birding and writing.

I could spend an entire blog’s worth of words simply listing names of writers who have befriended me without recompense. I like to think I would appear on others’ lists as well. Similarly, I can think of birders who have gone out of their way to help me become a better birder, for example differentiating between Greater and Lesser Scaup. I always offer my telescope to others to see birds in a way their eyes or binoculars will never allow them to see, like seeing a Black-crowned night heron “up close.”

Black-crowned Night Heron

I either convinced you or not about the similarities between birding and writing. What I’m curious about is which picture you like best and why.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Back to my Roots a/k/a Houston, we have a problem By Kait Carson



Forty years ago, on April 13, 1970 Fred W. Haise, James A. Lovell, and John L. Swigert, were taking a little trip, to the moon. Like many travelers, they had a little problem. In their case, all oxygen stores were lost within about 3 hours, along with loss of water, electrical power, and use of the propulsion system. I mentioned they were on their way to the moon? AAA had no one close. So, they did the next best thing, they called Houston, and—remember these guys were trained professionals, but not writers—they said, “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” Not what you thought, huh? Me either.

What happened to our beloved “Houston, we have a problem?” Didn’t they say that? Well, according to the Washington Post article quoted above, four years later there was a TV show that used that quote for its title. Why? Drama. Every writer knows the present tense is so much more dramatic than the past perfect!  It’s one of those rules we learn when we go back to our roots. So, Houston, we have a problem is iconic. And although few alive at the time remember the flight in the present tense (we’d grown rather jaded with space flight by 1970) the phrase put Apollo 13 on everyone’s personal radar. That’s a lot of power for five words, and it only could happen with a great editor and a writer going back to his/her roots.

Thirty years ago, during the time of the Cocaine Cowboys (the last of whom was allegedly captured the same week I’m writing this blog), T.D. Allman published a book titled Miami City of the Future. The book’s theme is that Miami will always be relevant because it is a city of constant renewal. Ever changing, always reinventing itself, more a style and way of life than a city. It can never be obsolete, the roots of Miami, the place it always returns, is the future. 

The writing life is like that too. Writing does not get old, it merely goes back to its roots and
gets reinvented and, from the basics, new trends burst on the scene, wash over writers and readers alike, ebb into the past, and along comes the next wave. The trick is figuring out the next wave. Sometimes writers hop on a trend full throttle because it’s what we were writing anyway and thank heaven it’s popular (think cozies). Sometimes writers follow a trend because it’s selling, and dang, this is a tough business and my book would work with this trend (think recipes in books). Sometimes writers are lucky enough to start trends (think Girl titles).

What crests, ebbs, of course, the consolidation of major publishing houses has resulted in the cancellation of a number of favorite cozy series. The first wave hit last year, and fewer and fewer series are being renewed, but new ones are debuting. The cozy is alive and well, it seems to be becoming a bit edgier in the process. Other series are reaching a natural end. One the author always intended, or perhaps one that the character arc dictates. Characters grow and change. Sometimes, the end means, well, the end.

My Hayden Kent series will always be softer and cozier than my Catherine Swope series. That was the plan from the beginning. Catherine has recently demanded more of my attention. I think she’s felt neglected. That’s another character trait. Writers spend so much time with characters that they do become sounding boards, sidekicks, and friends. Scary glimpse into a writer’s psyche that. Since Catherine is making so much emotional noise, and because she is so different from Hayden, I decided to make a bold departure and take her more into the suspense/thriller realm. To do that, I’m moving back to my roots and back to the basics of voice, plotting, outlining, etc. I’m having a blast reacquainting myself with the basics of writing  and developing my characters and stories in a different style.

Happy Earth Day to all.

Do you remember the Apollo series?
If you do, do you remember Apollo 13 as it happened, or after the movie?
Totally off topic, but there could be extra credit—do you think manned moon flights will be resumed?

Friday, April 21, 2017

World Book Day



Image from coffeecupsandcrayons (dot) com

Reading changes lives
World Book Day - Sunday April 23, is all about celebrating reading and books.
Reading paves the way for intellectual and emotional growth throughout our lives. Studies show that there are many benefits to reading — from helping us overcome stress to keeping our brains sharp.
Books nurture our imaginations and our empathy, take us places we've never been, and introduce us to ideas and people we might never have otherwise encountered. Literacy skills can help empower people, positively impact communities and enrich lives.
Happy World Book Day!

Join us in supporting literacy
The charities below work to provide books and reading resources at home and around the world.
Worldreader - their mission is to create a world where everyone is a reader.
Room to Read - a focus on improving literacy and gender equality in education in the developing world.
First Book - provides new books, learning material and other essentials to children in need.


Amazon dot com is also donating and accepting donations.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

CREATING CHARACTERS


I’m almost finished with the ninth book in my Catherine Jewell Mystery Series. It’s my February book, “Red Roses for Valentine’s Day,” and soon I’ll be planning my tenth book that will take place in March. In my last book I’d had the ideas and plot in my mind for some time, but I still needed new characters. Since I write a series taking place in a small town, many former characters will return, but I need new ones, too.

 Soon I’ll start making up biographies for those new characters. How big a part they play determines how long his or her biography will be. The murderer needs a biography, too.  I need to know what drives that person to commit murder. I don’t write thrillers with psychopaths. My murderer is often, although not always, a normal, even a nice person, but something drives him or her to murder. It might be the victim standing in the way of something he or she desires, or  feels threatened in some way by the victim. Even with only one murderer per book, I do need to bring in new characters to populate my town of Portage Falls, similar to the Cabot Cove in the series Murder She Wrote. I’ve already killed off seven plus eliminated the murderers as they populate the state’s prisons.  
My brother at one of our sibling evenings.

I’ve based a few characters on people I know although never the murderer. A character I love, Ed, is based on my late brother, Jerry. Ed looks like my brother, is the avid gardener and an intelligent well-read person. But they diverge in other areas, especially in their wives.
My sister-in-law is a delightful person nothing like Ed’s wife, although after she read my first book she kept insisting she was. She has a delightful sense of humor.

Catherine, my protagonist, shares the same name as my youngest sister, and like my sister she's a botanist and a  blonde. Other than that their only comparison is being smart, curious and nice.






The first thing she asked after my son died,
in my arms  was how many breaths he took.

Millie is a cook at Elmwood Gardens, the large public gardens important in my series. She’s based on my mother-in-law, now deceased. Millie is extremely nosy and often asks inappropriate questions. She loves gossip and because of this she often unknowingly gives Catherine and the reader clues or red herrings.

Another character is based on a teacher I knew combined with a woman I didn’t know personally, but lived close to where I taught who was crazy about squirrels and put out signs warning people to drive carefully because of squirrels. This character became a kindergarten teacher who loved squirrels, but looked like the teacher I described even though she didn’t teach kindergarten. I gave her the name of “Polly Popcorn,” who had changed her name to go along with teaching kindergarten. Another character my readers like.




Grace is an amazing person. I'm really impressed by her.

A character I added recently is a woman in her nineties named Grace Meadows. I not only kept
her name, with her permission, I moved her, her house and greenhouse to Portage Falls. I met her over a year ago when a friend of my sister’s took us to meet her. She’s an avid reader of mysteries and keeps a three-ring binder with the name of each mystery author on a page and lists each book and a brief synopsis of the book. I’ve been sending her my books since I’ve met her and once she reads them she donates them to the library. I’ve visited her several more times and plan on going again once her garden is in bloom.

Other characters are mostly created from my imagination with sometimes a quirk or a certain look of someone I know or maybe from a conversation I’ve overheard in a restaurant or someplace else between two strangers. Also, the human interest stories in the newspaper or magazines are a good source of characters. So are obituaries.  In Twinsburg, Ohio, there is a yearly gathering of twins. One of the awards given is for the oldest pair of twins. So in my third book, I have elderly twins, a brother and sister, who constantly bicker.

Names are easy. I pluck them from the newspaper, books, magazines or people I know – a first name here, a last name there.  Once I had my cousin and her husband visiting a workshop at Elmwood Gardens where Catherine works. Another time I gave a character the last name of a woman in one of my book club. One of the members insisted on having her name in one of my books. She didn’t care if she was a victim or the murderer. When she read the book she was not pleased. She said, “You not only made me black, you made me old.” A friend of mine also in the book club thought that was funny. It didn’t matter to this woman the character I gave her name to is delightful as is the character’s sister. A lot of readers like them. So do I.

Creating characters is fun. It’s one of my favorite aspects of writing. Maybe it’s because I’m curious about people. I want to know more about them. What’s their story? What makes them who they are? Of course, there are people I meet I don’t care to know better.  That doesn’t mean
I can’t use what attributes I don’t like in a character.  A book needs well rounded characters, those who are a mixture of positive and negative elements with the characters we like best usually leaning more towards positive. But unlike the old-time westerns, no one today wears a white hat signifying they’re a good guy or a black hat signifying they’re the evil-doer. And neither should our characters although I have to admit sometimes I do make the villain not such a nice person, but I usually add some other characters that are equally unpleasant characters.

Another thing I like about creating characters I use characters to bring social issues into my books. I have a young man with Down’s syndrome, an autistic man, a couple who are gay, and all are characters judged favorably by my readers. I’ve brought in prejudice, spousal abuse, and other issues. It’s my way of not only writing a book that people will hopefully enjoy, but also maybe making a difference in other ways. I recently read that readers tend to be more tolerant of others.

If you are a writer, how do you create your characters?

If you’re not a writer, what kind of characters would you like to create? 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

An Interview with T E Kinsey, Historic Cozy Author by E. B. Davis




Lady Emily Hardcastle is an eccentric widow with a secret past. Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidante, is an expert in martial arts. The year is 1908 and they’ve just moved from London to the country, hoping for a quiet life.

But it is not long before Lady Hardcastle is forced out of her
self-imposed retirement. There’s a dead body in the woods, and the police are on the wrong scent. Lady Hardcastle makes some enquiries of her own, and it seems she knows a surprising amount about crime investigation…

As Lady Hardcastle and Flo delve deeper into rural rivalries and resentment, they uncover a web of intrigue that extends far beyond the village. With almost no one free from suspicion, they can be certain of only one fact: there is no such thing as a quiet life in the country.
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T E Kinsey writes the Lady Hardcastle historical cozy mystery series. I found the first book, A Quiet Life in the Country, on Kindle Unlimited, to which I subscribe, downloaded it without anticipation, and read a delightful, historical cozy. Well, aside from a bit of bother at the end. I found the second, In the Market for Murder, also on Kindle Unlimited, downloaded and enjoyed it as well. The third book in the series, Death Around the Bend, won’t be out until May, but I suspect it will also get downloaded and gobbled up much like the Easter Candy, which has disappeared from my basket at an alarming rate. Jolly good fun!

Please welcome T E Kinsey to WWK.                                                                                       E. B. Davis
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Spring, 1909, and Lady Hardcastle, amateur sleuth and all-round eccentric, is enjoying a well-deserved rest. But a week after a trip to the cattle market, Spencer Caradine, a local farmer, turns up dead in the pub, face-down in his beef and mushroom pie. Once again, it is up to Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Florence, to solve the case.

Armed with wit and whimsy, not to mention Florence’s mean right hook, the pair set out to discover what really happened and why. Was it poison or just ill luck?

As they delve further into their investigation, they encounter a theft where nothing is stolen, a séance with a troubled ghost and an ever-increasing number of Spencer’s family and friends who might just have motive for murder. One thing’s for sure: Lady Hardcastle has a mystery on her hands.

 Amazon.com

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The Lady Hardcastle series starts in 1908. You read history at Bristol in your youth. What is it about these years prior to WWI that attracts you to set your books then?
I actually specialized in medieval history, although I did at least one course on Victorian social history.

The Edwardian period in England is a bit of a weird no-man’s-land for British historians. Nothing very much happens. The Victorian age winds gently down. A few things begin (of which more in a moment), but there are no major changes. Very few people study it in isolation.

To the Victorian specialists it’s a sort of jaunty coda to the Victorian era. All the social and economic upheaval brought about by the Industrial Revolution is more or less done. Urban poverty is still a problem, but nowhere near as much as it had been. Workers are beginning to get more rights. Developments in medicine mean that public health is greatly improved. Life for the working class is far from grand, but it’s far less grim.

The upper classes, too, are settling into their new roles. The newly-rich industrialists are now firmly part of the establishment. Landowners are slowly accepting the changes to their own lives that have come about as a result of industrialization and urbanization. The idea of “The Great Binge” is a new one, but it’s true that drink and drugs were enthusiastically consumed by the end of the Victorian era and we now have this soft-focus image of Edwardian England as being a ten-year party for the wealthy.

Generally, though, it’s not as exciting as the Victorian era at all. It’s Victorian Lite.

For scholars concentrating on the Great War and beyond, the Edwardian age is the place where everything begins, but nothing really happens.

The Labour Party was founded in 1900 but didn’t really become a major force in British politics until after the war. The Women’s Suffrage movement gets going in 1903, but doesn’t really start making headlines until 1910. There are political shenanigans across Europe, but they don’t explode until 1914.

All of this means that for a writer of fiction, it’s rather a pleasant playground. It’s a hazy blend of old and new and it’s possible, without breaking anything at all, to make it into pretty much whatever you want to be. It’s old enough to be exotic. The class system is still very much in place and the nature of people’s lives was very much governed by the class they happened to be born into. But it’s also new enough to be familiar. People were talking about workers’ rights and women’s suffrage. Technology that we now take for granted (phones and cars, for instance) was new, but not weirdly so.

During my research, I repeatedly find that the limits on what did and did not, what could and could not, happen, are actually pretty loose. If I decide that a character should talk or act in a particular way, it’s usually possible to justify it – everything was just a little bit more flexible than it had been during the previous sixty years and a lot of the attitudes and behaviours were surprisingly modern. I steadfastly maintain, for instance, that the friendship between Lady Hardcastle and Flo wasn’t impossible (especially under the circumstances I devised for them) – the times, they were a-changin’.

I explain the origin of the characters below, and in their first incarnation they were Victorians. When I came to write them as detectives, though, I brought them forward a little. There’s a ton of Victorian (and Victorian-style) fiction out there already, so making them Edwardian would make them a little different. It also adds the possibility of widespread use of telephones and motor cars. I already knew they were going to live in the countryside where hailing a cab or sending a wire would be impossible most of the time, so I needed them to be able to communicate and get about.

That’s already far too much and probably doesn’t answer the question. Sorry.

Where is Gloucestershire, and how do you pronounce the name?
If you head due west from London, Bristol is the last city you hit before you fall into the River Severn (actually, since the 1960s, the Severn Bridge will carry you into Wales so there’s no actual danger of fluvial catastrophe). Weirdly, Bristol is both a city and a county (trust me, it’s a thing). Anyway. To the south of Bristol is the county of Somerset. To the north is Gloucestershire. It’s pronounced GLOSS-ta-sheer. The city of Gloucester, in case it ever comes up, is pronounced GLOSS-ter (and the locals, like everyone down the left-hand side of England, use a rounded R sound (I can’t remember what it’s called and I’m in a beach bar in Antigua so I can’t look it up – is it “rhotic”? Maybe).

Lady Hardcastle went to Cambridge to study, but she didn’t obtain a degree. Why not?
Technically, she didn’t actually go to Cambridge at all. She studied at Girton College, which in the late nineteenth century was a women-only college on the outskirts of Cambridge. The women undertook rigorous courses of study in mathematics, natural sciences, or classics but it wasn’t actually part of the university until 1948. At that point, women were finally awarded the same degrees as men (one source says 1947, but I’m dubious about that).

For the purposes of the stories, she always says she was up at Cambridge. Her older brother, Harry, was there at the same time, and she’s the sort of person who can’t be bothered to explain all the intricacies. As far as she’s concerned she worked just as hard as he did and learned just as much, so the petty distinctions of who was at which university and who gained what degree don’t really concern her.

Miss Armstrong, employed by Lady Hardcastle as a servant, is well read and traveled, partly due to her employer. Because of the ease in their relationship, she rarely has many household duties to perform. Lady Hardcastle actually employs day labors of a cook and maid, freeing Miss Armstrong. She’s more friend than servant. Did you base her character on someone you read about or knew of through family lore?
No, she’s not based on anyone. Not really.

That said, though, there is a sort of family connection which got the whole thing started. My maternal grandmother (whose name was Margaret Kinsey and whose surname I borrow as my pen name) was a cook in domestic service in the 1920s and ’30s. She came from Aberdare in South Wales (just like Flo) but at some point she moved to London where she met and married my grandfather.

She died of a brain tumour in 1940 when my mother was only two. There are no family stories about her - that’s pretty much all I know.

In the ’70s my mother was a big fan of Upstairs Downstairs and The Duchess of Duke Street (it took me years to figure out why she was so interested in early-twentieth century domestic service – I didn’t know anything about Grandma) and so I was exposed to them, too. My entire understanding of servants and their duties came originally from Upstairs Downstairs. When Downton Abbey started, I thought about it all some more.

Both shows depict (for obvious dramatic reasons) large families with a large household of servants.  “Us and them” - Upstairs Downstairs even hints at that in the title. There are lots of stories to tell within each group, and lots more to tell about the interactions between the two groups. It’s a story motherlode.

But, I thought, that’s not typical. Yes, those sorts of households existed, but they were far from the norm. There would be smaller families with smaller retinues. Even, I reasoned, sometimes a single employer with a single servant. “Us and them” would sometimes be “Me and you”.

And what would their relationship be? Would the fact that they were living together in the same house day and night break down the social rules and allow them to be friends? Of course not, don’t be silly.

Ok, but what if they were put under pressure? What if circumstances arose which forced them to rely on each other not just as a payer of wages and a cooker of food, but for their very survival. Maybe not if they were men. Englishmen can be best friends all their lives but social pressure prevents them from ever saying how much they mean to each other. Women? Maybe.

So I devised a story where a young couple moves to a remote hill station in India where he runs a tea plantation and she plays the piano, and paints, and tries to teach the local children to read and write English. They are happy to hire local servants for the most part, but she insists on taking her lady’s maid with her. The husband dies suddenly and unexpectedly (of natural causes) and the wife decides she has to return home. She dismisses the local servants and makes her own way across country to Calcutta with only her maid for company.

It’s a hard journey, beset with difficulties and slowly the two women become actual friends. The social barriers, which ought to keep them apart, start to seem absurd. By the time they return to Blighty they’re talking to each other as equals. Some problems, obviously, ensue.

It all seemed like a splendid idea, but it also seemed like a properly grown-up novel of the sort which I’m not in the least bit qualified to write. I mostly do glib and flippant. I put the characters and the idea to one side.

When I came to write a murder mystery, I realized I already had a detective and sidekick on the character shelf, fully developed and ready to go. I tweaked the back story to put them in China (mostly so that Flo could learn martial arts - something I still find funny). I made Sir Roderick a diplomat rather than a tea planter and his wife a spy rather than a teacher. I had him murdered by foreign agents rather than dying of a fever. But the way that the relationship between Lady Hardcastle and Flo came about was essentially the same. They escaped, mostly alone, across China. They’ve been through extraordinary things together and class distinction doesn’t mean a great deal to them any more.

When they get back to England in 1901, they find the world has plodded on without them, largely unchanged. They’re both canny enough to know that they still have to play the game, that the social rules still apply, but they tend to regard the whole thing as slightly absurd.

It’s all a bit subtexty now. The explicit details of all that got gradually chopped out during the editing process when we changed the structure of the first two books from four, linked stories each to full-length novels and now it’s not at all obvious.

At one point in the first book, Inspector Sunderland and Miss Armstrong discuss their positions and find similarities. Although they enjoy great autonomy in their jobs, they both must answer to their respective employers. They are hired, but they are in respected positions. They’re almost a new middle-class. What was happening in England at the time that would give rise to these more independent professionals?
That’ll teach me to read all the questions before I start writing. See above, really – the Edwardian age was a time of great change and, yes, this blurring of class roles was already happening.

It depends on whose opinion you read, but a police inspector like Sunderland could certainly have been classified as “middle class” even by Victorian standards. The rank of police inspector is broadly equivalent to the rank of first lieutenant in the British army (they were the same shoulder insignia – though as a detective, Sunderland would have been in plain clothes, obviously). As such, he might even be a borderline “gentleman”, though no one would accept him as such.

Flo is a special case. She comes from a working class background and has a very working class job. In practice, though, she’s more like a “companion” than a lady’s maid and that would place her well into the middle classes. They had a conversation about this in one draft, where Flo eventually decided that she preferred being a maid because of the access it gave her in their espionage days. As a maid, it was easy for her to be accepted in working class circles, whereas as a companion she would be regarded with suspicion. I’m not sure if they addressed the fact that she frequently played the role of an upper class lady in some of their skullduggery and could just as easily have played the role of downtrodden maid, but I’m sure they would have argued their way round it somehow.

‘Perhaps not, my lady, but it was thanks to the power of your deductions that
the inspector was persuaded to search Summer’s room.’

‘Abductions, dear.’

‘What?’ I said.

‘It’s abductive reasoning, not deductive. Working from observation to
theory is abduction, not deduction.’

‘But I thought—‘

‘Yes, you and so many other people. We know who to blame, of course, and I’ve
written to him more than once care of his publisher, but he takes no notice.’
T E Kinsey, A Quiet Life in The Country/Kindle Loc. 3231

Is the answer Arthur Conan Doyle? George Bernard Shaw? You like to get everyone guessing, don’t you?
It’s Arthur Conan Doyle. I remembered a segment on QI where this error was pointed out and felt that it was something Lady Hardcastle would know about.

During the edit, we had a bit of a to-and-fro about whether it was abduction or induction. The differences between inductive and abductive reasoning seemed very subtle to we non-philosophers and they both seemed to describe the process that Conan Doyle always calls deduction. Abduction seemed to us to be ‘going from an incomplete set of observations to the most likely explanation for them’. Induction, as far as we could make out was ‘going from specific observations to a general conclusion’. Superficially, they seem so similar as to make no difference. We were stumped.

In the end, though, we plumped for abduction because that was what I’d first heard. One source referred to abductive reasoning as the basis of a medical diagnosis, and we thought that was more like what we were looking for. Abduction is a less commonly used word in a ‘reasoning’ context so it sounds more like the sort of thing that Lady Hardcastle would say (whether she was right or wrong). And that general definition (going from an incomplete set of observations to the most likely explanation for them) seemed best to fit the detective's art. There was something about “induction” that didn't quite seem to match what we thought detectives did.

We might have made the wrong choice but we decided that if we had, it was because there was a better choice, not because ours was completely incorrect.

Would you explain the following terms?

Tiffin?
Tiifin has a couple of meanings, but to the English ladies and gentlemen in Colonial India it was the name for afternoon tea. In fact it was the name for any number of meals between lunch and dinner, but it soon became almost exclusively associated with teatime. Sir Hector clings to the word, having fond memories of his days in the Raj.

Black Maria?
It’s a police van for carrying prisoners. For American readers: Paddy Wagon. Incidentally, it’s pronounced as if it were Mariah (as in Carey).

Mountebanks?
Charlatans and swindlers.

How did Miss Armstrong learn martial arts?
We’ll probably get to that in Book 4.

Three stories were cut from the original self-published editions of the first two books. One of them (The Circus comes to Town) may well resurface at some point. The other two were “thrillers” and concentrated more on the ladies’ espionage skills. This gave me a splendid chance for flashbacks and backstories where all this was explained.

I’m dropping in titbits here and there as we go, but I’ve not got to the death of Sir Roderick Hardcastle and the subsequent adventures.

Short answer: while they were fleeing across China in 1898.

When you say, “I was pleased as Punch…” are your referring to Punch and Judy? What was the big deal about them? I know they were popular. But how did they perform to mass appeal when there was no media advertising, TV, etc.?
We sometimes make the mistake of imagining that we invented the idea of “everyone knowing about stuff”. Fads, fashions, songs, jokes, stories, words, ideas have been travelling around our countries at remarkable speed for centuries.

Punch and Judy were already deeply entrenched in British popular culture and the reference would be well known. They started out in theatre shows in the seventeenth century and became marionette and later glove-puppet shows. They were everywhere.

By the time of our stories, theatre shows had long since closed, but Punch and Judy shows were still popular throughout England even into the 1970s (I’ve seen more than one). The little stripy tent with its head-high “stage” was a regular feature on promenades and piers in almost every seaside town in the country, and in Victorian times the shows would have toured towns, too.

Punch and Judy had been around for so long and had been seen by so many, that it would be more interesting to try to find someone who didn’t know about them.


‘Oh pish and fiddlesticks,’ she said. ‘Gertie Farley-Stroud was here a little while ago, all at sixes and sevens and swooning like a mopsy in a penny dreadful.’
T E Kinsey, In the Market for Murder, Kindle Loc. 470

Would you provide a current translation of that sentence for our American audience?
‘Nonsense,’ she said. ‘Gertie Farley-Stroud was here a little while ago in a state of distress and befuddlement, and fainting like a young woman in a cheap, sensational story.

Lady Hardcastle decides to buy a car and learn to drive. Had she not been a peer and/or a widow, would she have been sold one?

Just a quick point before we go on here. She’s not a “peer”, but she does have her late-husband’s title (he was granted a knighthood for services to the Foreign Office – it wasn’t an inherited title).

But anyway.

The short answer is yes, she would. And no, she wouldn’t.

It all depends on whether we’re talking about the same woman, but in different circumstances, or on some other woman entirely.

Despite the rigid social code, and the dreadful state of women’s rights, trade was trade. If you had the money, you could buy the car. That’s not to say that it would have been easy, or that she wouldn’t have been turned away by one or two disapproving dealers before she managed to get her hands on a bright red Rover 6. But Emily Hardcastle wouldn’t have stood for any of their nonsense and would have insisted that her money was as good as anyone else’s. Eventually she would have bought the car.

A weaker-willed woman with no title? Perhaps she’d have given up at the first mocking smirk. But not our Emily.

How did you obtain your contract with Thomas and Mercer?
I published A Quiet Life in the Country and The Spirit is Willing (which eventually became In the Market for Murder) myself through Kindle Direct Publishing (a service offered by Amazon). I’d written the stories for fun and I thought it would be a lark to publish them and see what happened.

As it turns out, what happened was a surprising amount of interest and enthusiasm from readers of cozy mysteries. Sales were good, the reviews were (largely) good and somehow (I suspect that automated systems were in play) it came to the attention of a commissioning editor at Amazon Publishing.

She emailed me and asked if I’d like to talk. We talked. She wanted to know if there was going to be a Book 3. I said it was already underway and she asked to see it. We talked again a week later and a deal was struck.

I’m afraid I’m a dreadful role model for aspiring writers. I did no marketing, no promotion, and I made no effort to find an agent or a traditional publisher. I just wrote my books and got on with my day job. Sometimes, good stuff just happens.

Thanks so much for the interview. I’m looking forward to reading the third book in your series!
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
September 1909, and Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Florence, have been invited to Lord Riddlethorpe’s country estate for a week of motor racing and parties. They both agree that it sounds like a perfectly charming holiday. But when one of the drivers dies in a crash during the very first race, they discover that what seemed like an uncharacteristic error in judgement may have a more sinister explanation…

Closer investigation reveals that the driver’s car was sabotaged—and the driver murdered. The local constabulary are quick to dismiss the case, but Flo and Lady Hardcastle are determined to find out just who has committed this dastardly act, and why.

As the pair begin to make enquiries of Lord Riddlethorpe’s servants and guests, it seems that, below stairs and above, there is more to this case than meets the eye. And, even in the quiet of the countryside, death is always just around the bend.                         

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

An Interview with the 2016 Agatha Nominees for Best First Novel



Malice Domestic’s 2016 Agatha Nominations for Best First Novel:
Terror in Taffeta by Marla Cooper (Minotaur)
Murder in G Major by Alexia Gordon (Henery Press)
The Semester of Our Discontent by Cynthia Kuhn (Henery Press)
Decanting a Murder by Nadine Nettmann (Midnight Ink)
Design for Dying by Renee Patrick (Forge Books)

Marla Cooper, Alexia Gordon, Cynthia Kuhn, Nadine Nettmann, and Renee Patrick (the pseudonym of married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan) are enjoying having their debut novels celebrated this year at Malice Domestic. We are so pleased to welcome them to WRITERS WHO KILL to tell us about their work. Thanks so much to Marla, Alexia, Cynthia, Nadine, and Rosemarie and Vince, and best wishes!Paula Gail Benson

For many debut novelists, their first published novel may not be the first one they have written. What was your path to your debut published novel?

Marla Cooper, author of Terror in Taffeta (Minotaur Books)
I recently ran across a notebook that contained about 100 pages of my first attempt at a novel about an ill-fated road trip. I think I knew deep down that the world did not in any way need this book to exist, so I abandoned it. (I can’t wait to pour myself a glass of wine one night and see what 24-year-old me thought would be entertaining.) I actually didn’t try my hand at fiction again until I sat down to write TERROR IN TAFFETA. In between the two I wrote — well, a little bit of everything. But the novel was the first thing that I ever wrote that was 100% me. No creative brief, no template, no editorial guidelines, no client. It was just for fun — and I loved every minute of it!

Alexia Gordon, author of Murder in G Major (Henery Press)
Murder in G Major is, actually, the first novel I finished. I recently moved from TX to IL and, while packing, uncovered crates--crates--of previous attempts at novels, ranging from not-quite-finished to barely started to just a couple of ideas jotted on a scrap of paper. I also discovered countless notebooks and photocopied handouts from equally countless writer’s workshops and classes I’ve taken over the years. The program that worked for me was SMU’s The Writer’s Path. Thanks to awesome instructors and supportive classmates, I stuck with the program long enough to finish what I’d started.

Cynthia Kuhn, author of The Semester of Our Discontent (Henery Press)
Like Marla, I was 24 when I attempted my first novel, a romance that opened with four friends meeting for a lunch, during which it was announced that there would be a wedding the same day. Yet the more I typed (this was before everyone had computers), the longer the lunch went on. Eventually I had 50 pages of women lunching and no surprise wedding in sight. One day, the typewriter ribbon ran out, and I felt that it was a sign from the universe—a metaphor for the novel somehow. I immediately stopped working on that book, applied to grad school, and didn’t try again until years later (after publishing poems, short stories, essays, and scholarly studies.)
  
Nadine Nettmann, author of Decanting a Murder (Midnight Ink)
Decanting a Murder was my fifth book so there are four practice novels that will stay in the drawer, though one might emerge eventually. I could say that the fifth time was the charm, but there are a few more numbers to my journey as not only did it take me five books, it also took ten years, and 421 queries. And a few bottles of wine …

Renee Patrick (Rosemarie and Vince Keenan), author of Design for Dying (Forge)
For Rosemarie, it was a minor career as a poet, albeit one that coincided with repeated triumphs in the field of institutional emails. (Her July 12, 2011 composition “RE: Re: Truck Exhaust to Blame for Emergency Building Evacuation” is quoted to this day.) As for Vince, he composed a series of award-winning phone sex ads and several unproduced screenplays by his lonesome. It took their combined brainpower and several pitchers of cocktails to come up with an idea that worked.

----------- (bios)
Marla Cooper is the author of Terror in Taffeta, an Agatha and Lefty nominee for Best First Mystery and book one in the Kelsey McKenna Destination Wedding Mysteries. Her second book, Dying on the Vine, is set in the California wine country and comes out April 4. As a freelance writer, Marla has written all sorts of things, from advertising copy to travel guidebooks to the occasional haiku, and it was while ghostwriting a guide to destination weddings that she found inspiration for her series. Originally hailing from Texas, Marla lives in Oakland, California, with her husband and her polydactyl tuxedo cat. Learn more at www.marla-cooper.com.

Alexia Gordon has been a writer since childhood. She continued writing through college but put literary endeavors on hold to finish medical school and Family Medicine residency training. Medical career established, she returned to writing fiction. She completed SMU's Writer’s Path program in Dallas, Texas. Henery Press published her first novel, Murder in G Major, book one of the Gethsemane Brown mysteries, in September 2016. Book two, Death in D Minor, premiers July 2017. A member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Writers’ League of Texas, she listens to classical music, drinks whiskey, and blogs at
www.missdemeanors.com. AlexiaGordon.net

Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery series, which includes The Semester of Our Discontent and The Art of Vanishing. She is professor of English at MSU Denver and serves as president of Sisters in Crime-Colorado. For more information, please visit cynthiakuhn.net.

Nadine Nettmann, a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, is always on the lookout for great wines and the stories behind them. She has visited wine regions around the world, from France to Chile to South Africa, but chose Napa Valley as the setting for her debut novel, Decanting a Murder. The next book in the Sommelier Mystery Series, Uncorking a Lie, releases in May 2017. Chapters are paired with wine recommendations. NadineNettmann.com

Renee Patrick is the pseudonym of married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington.