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


Our reason for creating WWK originated as an outlet for our love of reading and writing mystery fiction. We hope you love it, too, and will enjoy our holiday gifts to our readers with original short stories to celebrate the season. Starting on 11/16 stories by Warren Bull, Margaret S. Hamilton, Paula Gail Benson, Linda Rodriguez, KM Rockwood, Gloria Alden, and E. B. Davis will appear every Thursday into the New Year.


Our November Author Interviews: 11/8--Ellen Byron, and 11/15--Sujata Massey. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.


November Saturday Bloggers: 11/4 Margaret S. Hamilton and 11/11 Cheryl Hollon.


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

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: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," just published, will appear in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos.


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 30, 2017

Trivial Pursuits

By Julie Tollefson

Every two weeks, my husband and I join a group of friends to compete in trivia night at a local bar. We’re always among the top scorers going into the final round, and we always blow it at the end. We wager too much (points, not money) and, sometimes, overthink the “twist” behind the last question of the night and talk ourselves out of the right answer.


Trivia night at Johnny's Tavern and members 
of our Up for Anything team.
Despite our missteps, it’s no mystery why we keep coming back.

Friends

It's a journey with friends, first and foremost. Our trivia group is an ever-changing cast of characters. Co-workers, friends of friends, acquaintances. We laugh and worry and argue our answers and eat and drink and try to spy on other teams. It’s comfortable and evokes the same kind of feelings as when a new novel featuring familiar characters releases. Sally Goldenbaum’s Seaside Knitters series comes to mind. I look forward to every new adventure with her four women protagonists and I envy their close friendships and weekly dinner gatherings.

Fun

Because my book club met the same night last week, I missed most of trivia. I arrived, head buzzing with ideas (and a topic for a future blog post), just as our team (Up for Anything) entered the final round. We led all other teams by a few points, and my teammates were bordering on giddy with the exhilaration of closing in on our long-cherished goal of beating Hops and Barflies. Their excitement charged the grease-laden, beer-tinged air around our table with a delightful tension of the sort I associate with reading a well-crafted thriller (think Meg Gardiner or Lee Child).

Suspense and a twist

Our trivia master of ceremonies is a, well, master of suspense. He knows how to draw out the big reveal. The final round category—movie villains—sounded easy enough, but the question (on the American Film Institute’s list of top 50 villains, only one villain never appears on screen—name this 1942 movie) was tricky. We had decided to risk most, but not all, of our points, and now we dithered over the answer. At the last possible moment, we scribbled the name of a movie on our entry and raced to turn it in under the deadline.

Then we waited, literally on the edge of our seats, for judgment.


The trivia host announced the results slowly. “Not a Tumor, you said The Shadow. You’re incorrect. You had fifty-three points. You bet fifty-three, bringing you to zero.”


He continued through each entry, about a dozen in all. Most teams guessed wrong and lost all of their points. Then Hops and Barflies named the right movie (our host didn’t say what it was) and doubled their score, putting them fifty-plus points ahead of us.


We could barely contain our anxiety.


Finally: “Up for Anything, you wrote “[redacted—put your guess in the comments!]. You’re correct…”


At this, we screamed and jumped and high-fived and completely missed the last of his announcement declaring us the winners.


Okay, it might be a stretch to compare one winning night at trivia with book structure, but it seems to me the elements that I most enjoy in a novel are also the elements that make nights out with friends so danged entertaining. And it’s given me much to think about as I continue revisions on my manuscript-in-progress.


Oh, and that $25 prize money split eight ways? Sweet!


Anyone care to guess the answer to our final trivia question? It’s a movie virtually everyone has seen. (No cheating!)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

What We're Reading Now By WWK Bloggers


Linda Rodriguez
Right now, I'm reading Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. I'm a fan of Gaiman's work and loved his American Gods, which was the forerunner to Anansi Boys, but had never read this one. In it, as in American Gods, the gods are alive and making lives the best they can here among us humans in the modern world. So far, the sequel is much more comic than the original American Gods. Gaiman's an engaging writer who brings unique characters to life. 
 
I've just finished Dean James' Posted to Death. This is the first in a series of his books that I'd never read, a series of cozy mysteries about a vampire in Britain. The premise intrigued me, and James carries it off with great good humor. I'm not sure how it could hold up over a whole series, but the first book was an enjoyable read.



E. B. Davis
I just finished reading/skimming KP Authors Cook Their Books, which is a promotional cookbook featuring Kindle Press authors. Each author wrote a promotional blurb about his/her book and then presented an excerpt and recipe(s). Many of the authors I didn’t know, but then I saw the name James Montgomery Jackson—in a cookbook! I was shocked. Jim’s main character Seamus presents his recipe for pizza and applesauce. Jim promotes Ant Farm for this volume.

Polly Iyer and Maggie Toussaint, SinC Guppies members, whose writing I love, also promote via this cookbook. Polly’s featured book is Indiscretion, and she presents “Paul’s Omelet.” Maggie, writing Sci Fi as Rigel Carson, promotes G-1. “Chicken Apple Hash,” “Gingerbread Man Cookies,” and “Baked Chicken Wings” give a home-down twist to Rigel’s Sci Fi genre.   
I hope to pick up a few new authors from this collaboration. Happy reading and eating, everyone!

(BTW—Linda Rodriguez also has a cookbook, which I downloaded. Yes, it’s true—Here’s the proof!) 


Julie Tollefson

At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson

I'm reading outside my comfort zone this week with Kij Johnson's collection of speculative fiction short stories. The stories are beautiful and insightful. Some are deeply personal. Some are difficult to read but rewarding. All are thought-provoking.


Warren Bull

The Right Mistake: The Further Philosophical Investigations of Socrates Fortlow is the third book by Walter Mosley about an ex-convict who has murdered and raped in the past and now has to live with his guilt and survive in South Central Los Angeles. After twenty-seven years in prison, he is the number one suspect by the police for every serious crime, still strong enough to kill with his bare hands and trying with others in his community to understand the unanswered questions of life.

Tina Whittle

I’m reading (studying) Linda Rodriguez's Plotting the Character-Driven Novel. I'm a pantser trying to learn how to add more structure to that process without losing the organic, "surprise me" pleasure of discovery on the page. This book is turning out to be just the thing I need—short chapters with direct, useful techniques I can put into practice right now that makes sure the "who" of my book remains the driving force behind the "what happens."

Jim Jackson
Jonathan and Faye Kelleman were the guests of honor at this year’s Left Coast Crime. Their publisher sponsored a breakfast and provided a copy of Breakdown by Jonathan. This is one of the most recent in his Dr. Alex Delaware series. In this the psychologist tries to determine what happened to a young boy he had worked with five years earlier as part of an evaluation of the child’s mother, who in the last five years went from Hollywood actress to homeless.

Margaret S. Hamilton
Rhys Bowen, In Farleigh Field         
Bowen’s standalone mystery is set in rural Kent in 1941, an excellent companion to the latest season of Home Fires on PBS. With more than a whiff of Downton atmosphere, an aristocratic family with five daughters (a bit like the Mitford sisters) becomes involved in the war effort. The youngest, Phoebe, with her Cockney sidekick, Alfie, plays the Flavia de Luce role of a twelve-year-old amateur sleuth on her pony. Pamela is a codebreaker at Bletchley Park, and Margot is an undercover intelligence agent, her French lover a member of the Resistance.
Add a mysterious soldier who parachutes to his death on the Farleigh estate, a wily RAF pilot from a neighboring estate recuperating from injuries he suffered during his escape from a POW camp, and the vicar’s son Ben Cresswell, an MI5 agent hot on the trail of a plot to assassinate Churchill.
After watching all the Foyle’s War episodes on PBS, I recognize a black marketeer when I come across one. Wealthy Nazi sympathizers play a role in the plot. They’re the only people with unlimited petrol and access to heavily rationed items like meat and sugar.
With the threat of an imminent German invasion, Bowen ably portrays the tremendous will of the local community to survive the war. A very satisfying mystery.

Grace Topping
I am also reading Rhys Bowen's In Farleigh Field. I love the way she transports the reader to England during WWII. The story reminds me of the five Mitford sisters, who lived during this time period. I just completed and highly recommend K.M. Weiland's book, "Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success." It is full of practice advice on how to outline your work before you begin writing.    

Paula Gail Benson
I was so impressed with Sheila Turnage’s Three Times Lucky (a mystery for middle grade readers, Newbery honor winner, New York Times bestseller, and Edgar Award Finalist) that I signed up for a course taught by Ms. Turnage. Three Times Lucky is the story of rising sixth grader Mo LoBeau, of Tupelo Landing, NC, who tells about her experiences with the authority of a young Scout Finch. She arrived in Tupelo Landing, NC, in a flood, and has been raised by the Colonel and Miss Lana, taking an active part in helping them to run their café, all the while seeking out her unknown “upstream mother.” When one of the café’s customers ends up dead and Mo’s best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, is the main suspect for the murderer, the two become the Desperado Detective Agency in order to find the true killer.                                                                                         

Friday, April 28, 2017

Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie: A Review by Warren Bull







Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie: A Review by Warren Bull

Image from Precut dot com

Alexie uses the form of a mystery/thriller to write about the issues of identity and racism. A serial murderer in Seattle terrorizes the city by hunting and killing white people. The crimes set off waves of hatred and violence directed at Native Americans.

The characters in the book include John Smith, a Native American raised by white parents who knows very little about his heritage, Jack Wilson, an ex-cop and novelist who wants so much to be Native American that he imagines a heritage in the group, Dr. Clarence Mather who teaches classes about Native Americans and thinks he knows more about them than his Native American students.

Also present are Truck Smith, a radio show host who vents bigoted rants against Native Americans that keep adding pressure to the community and Marie Polatkin, a Native American activist who struggles against the prejudices and ignorance of those in power.

Alexie writes clearly and vigorously giving readers a grim, realistic picture of being a minority in a predominately white society. He shows how racism and ignorance affect both majority and minority people.


That this book is written like a mystery is not important. What matters is what Alexie writes about. For a greater understanding of what Native Americans face in our society, I recommend this highly.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Getting Ready for Malice

Writers Who Kill - KM, Me, Jim, Shari & E.B.

Today I’m on my way to Malice Domestic; my tenth year of going to this conference. The first time I went it was with my best friend Phyllis and my two cousins Sally and Linda. Then it took place at the Marriot in Crystal City. We had two rooms reserved, my cousins in one and my friend and I in the other one. We ate our evening meals together. I didn’t go to the Agatha Banquet that year. During the days my cousins and friend toured the D.C. taking the transit that came near the underground mall by the hotel, while I spent all my time at the conference meeting new people and enjoying the panel discussions. It was when I first discovered Sisters in Crime as well as the Guppies and signed up to be a member of each that year. In going back to my journal for that year, I mentioned seeing some big name authors whose books I’d read like Margaret Maron, Nancy Pickard, Dorothy Cannell and Carolyn Hart.
Luci Hamsson Zahray the poison lady is always there.

All four of us went back the following year, too, but the year after that my friend didn’t want to go, but my cousins did and we tripled up in one room. Again they toured the DC and Alexandria, while I stayed with the conference. The following year my cousins didn’t want to go, but by then I was with a mystery writing group in the Cleveland area, and got a ride there with Amanda Flower and her mother. I roomed that year with Beth Groundwater. The next year I went again with Amanda Flower and her mother and roomed with Casey Daniels. The next few years I rode there with Irma Baker and on in 2014 I roomed with Kathleen (KM) Rockwood for the first time. I hadn’t met her other than online before that time. We’ve been rooming together ever since. The last two years I drove to her home south of Gettysburg and she drove from there. This year I will be riding again with Irma, but still staying with Kathleen, who is a good roommate.
The books I read except for one returned to the library

So now I’m getting ready to go again with a whole list of things that must be done before I leave. One of which is to finish reading the books of my panelists on “Murder Small Town,” some of the five panelists have two series. I only have half of one book still to go so that will be okay. Then I have to work on questions for the group and for each individual author. Three of my panelists I had for the panel “Small Town Murders,” last year at Malice. I also volunteered to bring something for the silent auction. I still need to shop for some of the things and put a basket together. I need to pack my books I’ll be taking for Mystery Loves Company to sell as well as pack my clothes, etc.
A group picture of all the Guppies last year.

Then there were the things I needed to do before I left that involved my critters and other things. My friend Laura is housesitting and caring for all my critters that she loves, but I left this morning, and she can’t come until Friday evening so I had to arrange with my granddaughter to come over before I left so I could go over all the things that needed done the days she’ll take care of them. Laura came Monday evening to go over anything different like the new prescription for Maggie’s arthritis in her left leg. I always print out a list for the animal care of my critters including phone numbers to call for the vet, my children, and my Tracphone, although most of the time that is turned off. I also added the telephone number of the hotel.
 
Jim moderating a panel with Frankie Y. Bailey & other panelists.
On my list of things to do was to clean my house somewhat, mow my lawns broken up into sections by gardens; at least most of them if not all. I did mow the front yard, beside my house, the back yard and in front of the barn, and I do not use a riding mower. Of course, the bird feeders would need filled, inside bird cages cleaned as well as the litter boxes. I needed a haircut before I left. I had to return library books I read for my book clubs and one that was for one of my panelists, too. Of course, I needed to get money out of the ATM and call my bank to tell them I’d be out of town.  Make sure there’s lots of bottled water for my friend because most people don’t like my well water even if I do. I needed to make sure I had plenty of food for Maggie and the cats before I left, too. And even though it’s not totally necessary, I did want to write more chapters for my tenth book that’s close to being finished. And it would be awfully nice if I could find the little white cord I plug into my camera and then into my computer to download my pictures. I have a feeling one of my cats made off with it. 
Another WWK picture with Shari, me, Jim and Paula

Have you ever gone to Malice Domestic?

When you leave home for a while what preparations do you need to do?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

An Interview with Susan Bickford by E. B. Davis


Often, when I read first-published books by SinC Guppy members, my assumption of a cozy read is right, especially when the publisher is Kensington. After reading Susan Bickford’s A Short Time To Die, I found that assumption was wrong!

The language can be rough, the concepts—obscene, and the tone—suspenseful. We hope the main character, Marly Shaw, will come out on top. And just when we’re wringing our hands, Susan’s counterpoint POV, Detective Vanessa Alba, provides calming relief, but then—we’re afraid of what she’ll find out.

For a debut author, Susan’s approach is gutsy. I can’t wait to see what she writes next. Please welcome Susan Bickford to WWK.                                 E. B. Davis

You dedicated your book to Kathy Bernhard and George-Ann Formicola. Who were they?

Wheatland Chili, outside Rochester, NY, was quite small—about 100 students in each grade, with a combined junior and senior high school. Georgie, Kathy, and I were in the same homeroom and we giggled and snickered at the back every morning.

On our last day of school freshman year, they went swimming and never came home. The rumors were that they had run off. But two months later their bodies were found nearby, hideously mutilated. Their killer was never identified. It has haunted me all these years—girls who deserved their own futures.

Charon Springs is a town in Central New York State where the central part of your story takes place. Did you base the town on someplace you lived? Like Chili, perhaps?

How did you know about Chili? Georgie and Kathy lived in a small Chili community that was a stone’s throw from Rochester but very isolated in a way.

My parents seemed to prefer towns that were the farthest commuting point into the nearby city. I always had the sense that the end of the world began about five miles down the road.

Charon Springs is a mix of a number of tiny communities around Central New York and a bit of Vermont.

Why does the water in Charon Springs smell badly? What’s the mythology of the town?
Upstate New York is a fascinating place geologically with ancient mountains and old seabeds, scoured by glaciers. Syracuse is the Salt City because it was dominated by salt production for many decades.

The downside is that the water is universally hard and tastes terrible. In addition, certain areas have sulfur water because the water filters down through many layers of salty sediment.

Here and there, communities tried to turn this into an asset: Ballston Spa. Saratoga Springs. Saratoga means bitter water in Iroquois languages.

Charon Springs tried and failed to become a spa back in the nineteenth century.

The Harris family rules Charon Springs much like the Mafia. But the Scotch Irish settled the town. Is this power and rule-by-violence clan mentality or just a congenital or learned sickness?

I would call it the rotten apple principle, so it is a bit of both. Every one of us has the capacity for cruelty but also for kindness. My personal belief is that this goes back to very ancient instincts that allowed us to identify weak animals while hunting, for example. Sadly, that same instinct can be turned against those around us. At the same time we also developed a sense of empathy and the necessity to help each other in communities. Both are congenital. However, circumstances can allow for the cruel side to prosper. The Harris family set up a pattern of abuse and domination long ago and those who remained are infected.

Marly calls her mother, Denise, by her first name. Why?

Marly loves her mother but cannot respect her. Denise has made so many disastrous decisions in her life that have impacted the entire family and she never learns or matures. Marly is filled with teenage frustration and anger, because she is trapped in so many ways. This is her way of showing contempt. Eventually Marly accepts that her mother is a deeply damaged person who will never change.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

The above quote repeated through my mind when reading your book. The police seem somewhat inept and fearful. The librarian, Mrs. Haas, who Marly works for, seems to know a lot, but never says much. Girls are beaten, threatened, and killed. Why so much silence?

The police care but are overwhelmed and don’t have sufficient tools to seriously combat this type of insidious, low level crime and violence. Everyone else has only two choices: leave forever or stay and play along. No one wants to poke the bear.

Marly teams up with beating victim, Elaine Fardig. They hadn’t been friends before Elaine’s beating. Why does Marly have incentive to befriend Elaine, and what do they have in common?

Marly realizes she won’t survive long on her own if she wants to escape. She needs allies beyond Mrs. Haas, the librarian. Elaine was brave enough to stand up to the Harris family despite the risk and Marly needs someone like that in her corner. People in surrounding communities look down on their little town. Elaine is ambitious and needs to get away and is not concerned with kissing up.

You provide readers with the POV of Santa Clara County (CA) Detective Vanessa Alba, of Colombian descent, who, along with her temporary partner, Santa Cruz County (CA), Detective Jack Wong, come into the Charon Springs’ story after finding two partial skeletons of Harris clan members in their jurisdictions. Was using her POV showing how limited the police are in crime solving, or is it more a show of good and bad aspects of discretionary authority?

I needed someone to reveal aspects of the story that Marly wasn’t aware of and would never learn. An outsider who works in law enforcement fit perfectly. Vanessa’s outsider status also allows her to see the situation in Charon Springs with fresh, unjaded eyes. She is smart, observant, and passionate. It’s more about being effective. Besides, Vanessa doesn’t have to remain in Charon Springs so she has the advantage of being able to call things as she sees them.

Carl Harris, due to the deaths of ruling family members, becomes the head of the Harris clan. You kept me guessing whether or not he was good or bad. There’s reason to believe that he’s checking up on Alba and Wong’s investigation—threatening them. And yet, he’s helped Marly. What’s the verdict?

Ah yes—a good bad guy or a bad good guy? I adore Carl. He and Marly are opposite sides of the same coin. They are both smart, self-aware, strategic thinkers, and want to do the right thing.  The high pressure corruption of his family twisted Carl’s moral compass a bit. Somehow the same pressure taught Marly empathy, although she struggles. She mostly manages to keep the positive side of the coin facing up, Carl not so much. Ultimately I think Carl is a good guy who can’t help himself. His wife, Betty, loves him and Betty is no fool.

Officer Paul Daniel bugs me. He bugged Marly, too. What is it with that guy? Is he part of the conspiracy of silence, a nerd, or slime?

Paul is on the autistic spectrum and not very smart. He clings to his dysfunctional world of Charon Springs because he can’t figure out how to leave. He has been bullied his entire life but he has figured out how to survive. He’s not really part of the conspiracy of silence because he can’t really process or connect the dots very well. He bugs Marly because he is weak, needy, and unable to evolve—much like her mother. She has run out of sympathy. Eventually she realizes that she is indulging in the same bullying behavior as others by teasing him and targeting his weaknesses. Paul bugs Vanessa too, but she quickly sees the tragic side of Paul’s situation.

What is “Marlyfication,” and why would Marly do anything for the town or people in the town where she grew up in fear?

Marly learned the hard way that policies of benign neglect or containment never helped the people of Charon Springs. The situation just festered and many innocent people were sucked under or failed to thrive. She understands that she was able to be successful because other people came to her defense, and that she was lucky enough to be able to take advantage of that. She wants to prove that the right kinds of intervention can turn things around in Charon Springs. I hope she is right.

How did you get your contract with Kensington, and do you have advice for unpublished writers?

I didn’t plan ahead of time. Every step of the way I thought, “Gee, what’s next? I wonder if this story is worth writing, worth polishing up, worth publishing…” Then I thought, “I wonder if I could get an agent? Let’s try.” And finally, “OMG, my agent actually found a publisher.”

I was perfectly happy to take on a small publisher or go the self-publishing route but it just so happened that the agent and publisher arrived first.

I also knew myself well enough to realize that I was not going to enjoy all the detailed micro-management I would need to handle to self-publish, particularly going through it the first time. I’m extremely pleased with what Kensington puts into distribution and marketing and it’s still a lot of work for me.

To unpublished writers, my advice would be to take your time to write the best story you can and enjoy the journey. Once you publish, the pressures to write the next one is intense (particularly if you have a contract), plus promotion and marketing pile on.

While you’re doing that, take the time to study your options and understand the tradeoffs. It’s not as simple as self-publishing or traditional publishing via an agent. Some traditional publishers will accept direct submissions, there are excellent small presses out there, and cooperative publishing seems to work very well for many. Avoid vanity publishing. The rest is all good in different ways.

Which would you prefer, Susan, a mountain or a beach vacation and why?

Actually, I have both in California and my house in Vermont is on a beautiful lake in the Green Mountains. I’m not much of a beach bather, but I love the power of water and the grandeur of the mountains. For non-family vacations, I tend to look for a change of pace—a trip to a corner of the world I haven’t seen yet, for example. I particularly love it when I can visit old friends at the same time. They become so precious to me as time marches on.

______________________________________________________________________________
A Short Time To Die Jacket Blurb
Walking home from a high school dance on a foggy autumn night in rural New York, Marly Shaw sees a flash of approaching headlights. A pickup truck stops and two men get out. One of them is the girl’s stepfather. She runs. They follow. Minutes later, gunshots are fired, two men are dead, and one terrified girl is running—for the rest of her life…

Thirteen years later, human bones are discovered in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. DNA tests reveal they belong to a mother and son from Central New York. Both have criminal records. Assault. Involuntary manslaughter. Maybe more. Santa Clara County Sheriff Detective Vanessa Alba wants to know how these backwater felons ended up so far from home.

Vanessa and her partner, Jack Wong, head to the icy terrain of the Finger Lakes to uncover the secrets of a powerful family whose crimes are too horrifying to comprehend. Whose grip over a frightened community is too strong to break. And whose twisted ideas of blood and honor are a never-ending nightmare for the one family member who thought she got away…

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Back to the Cave



When I was ten years old, I was attacked by baboons. Spoiler alert: I survived. But it’s one of those stories I tell when people ask me to share something interesting about myself. There are others. I once saw a UFO. I own two chickens, Onomatopoeia and Chicken Whittle. I know all the words to Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" and Eminem's "Lose Yourself" and have recited both to my freshman comp classes. I box—very badly—but enjoy it very much. And I once prepared to fight a grizzly bear with my bare hands.

In isolation, each of these facts will tell you very little about me, but when they are placed together into a context, they create a narrative. A story. A report of connected events, real or imaginary, presented in a sequence. Your brain loves a narrative, loves it better than a list, loves it like bees love honey, with an instinctual affinity. This is why stories have been one of the sturdiest building blocks of our civilization, outlasting even castles and temples.

Storymaking is one of our oldest skills, going back over thirty-five thousand years ago to the Upper Paleolithic Age. One prime example of it can be seen in the cave paintings at Chauvet Pont d'Arc in France (you can read about them HERE).

During the dawning of our species, our ancestors eventually discovered that cave living was a fine idea. The world was a dazzling and dangerous place, and a cave kept out the larger hazards. Back then, every single day began with the same to-do list: survive until the next morning. Find food, avoid becoming something else’s food, don’t fall off a cliff, don’t step on a snake, don’t let the fire go out, don’t mess with that other tribe across the river because they will club you, don’t don’t don’t.

And yet, in those dark smoky caves, after what must have been grueling, back-breaking days of non-stop work and intermittent terror, we human beings made art. We daubed red clay on the wall and recreated what we saw out in that world: horses, mammoths, rhinos, lions. To our contemporary eye, these pictures may look primitive, childish even. The images blur into each other. The rhinos have six or seven horns, and the horses’ haunches overlap, as if someone were trying to draw a herd and just didn't have the skill to pull it off.

This would be an incorrect interpretation, however, a deception brought about by our modern eyes having grown accustomed to steady illumination. In the dark of the cave, lit by only the flickering glow of a fire, the images begin to move. In the dance of light and shadow, tails twitch, muscles ripple, and manes toss. The herd gallops across the plain, hooves and dust. The predator cat follows, fangs bared. These paintings were the world’s first virtual reality, and our prehistoric ancestors created them out of mud and memory.

Not just a collection of drawings. A series of connected events. A narrative. A story.

When you write or read, you’re participating in a human activity older even than writing or reading itself—storymaking. Stephen King called it an act of telepathy—two humans connected by neither time nor place, nonetheless together. A meeting of the minds, he says. Magic.

Consider this next time you pick up a book. Even if it’s too hot for a fire in the fireplace, imagine one anyway. Imagine that dance of light and shadow on the page. Invite your inner caveperson to move closer so that you can share the story together.

*     *     *

Tina Whittle writes the Tai Randolph mysteries for Poisoned Pen Press. The fifth book in this Atlanta-based series—Reckoning and Ruin—was released in April. Tina is a proud member of Sisters in Crime and serves as both a chapter officer and national board member. Visit her website to follow her on social media, sign up for her newsletter, or read additional scenes and short stories: www.tinawhittle.com.