Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hieroglyphic Novels Took Too Long

Advertisements often pander to our fears and vanities, and offer solutions based on fantasy. Does using red, white, and blue toothpaste take care of patriotic duty? Does reading a romance with a steamy luchschen070400059cover make a person a great lover? Sometimes, as though their own emotions weren’t important enough, teenagers practice expressing emotion by copying the behaviors and language of their favorite movie and TV stars. I don’t think copying emotions and attitudes is unique to teenagers. Sometimes it’s hard to cut through all the illusions and make-believe.

Occasionally advertisers come up with a statement that makes a listener think. The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones, I heard recently. That’s for sure. The area where I live could have kept the world in stones for another millennium. Science fiction books and movies sometimes show people living in gangs fighting over the last few drops of oil to keep their vehicles, which look remarkably like cars from the forties and fifties, running. I’m never sure exactly where people are heading in their rusty vehicles—to another oil puddle?

Where I live, many people have taken to growing enough food to last summer and winter. Buying out of season fruit and veggies is no longer popular. If an apple’s shiny, it’s suspect. The smell of apple is what counts. Will people start making their own energy? Wood stoves are increasing in popularity. Will an enterprising inventor come up imagesCAG9CZI8with a backyard windmill that provides enough electricity for a home? Garden catalogs now advertise more and more containers that will grow fruit and veggies in an apartment or on the roof of an apartment building. Some of these containers use light, water, and nutrients so plants grow when the snow is three feet deep outside. Several of my neighbors own chicken and goats. Perhaps people who live in cities could come together in groups to own land just outside the city for growing and grazing.

Also changing is the world of publishing. An advertisement could say that we don’t use e-readers because we ran out of paper. Libraries have stored human knowledge and the best that human imagination could produce. All that can now be stored in an area one-millionth the size of the original storage space. Kids grow up tuned into whatever is lightweight, digital, and wireless. I’d guess the youngest generation will be more willing to publish independently and not rely on gate-keepers. Do we need to worry about vast quantities of trash being published? (Always supposing you haven’t become immune to the vast quantities of trash on land and sea). What’s popular one year, disappears the next. Sometimes e-published writers receive bad reviews from all who read them.

If everyone except writers stops reading fiction, what will happen? I know several intelligent people, especially boys and men, who don’t read fiction. My sister, an MD, hasn’t read a novel since high school. If the general public stops reading fiction, will writers stop writing fiction? I doubt it.

Who will be the audience for fiction? How will imaginary stories reach us?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Author Pat Remick

Our guest blogger today is Pat Remick, 2010 President of the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime and 2007 winner of the Al Blanchard Award. Like Stacy Juba, one of our earlier guest bloggers, and like Hank Phillippi Ryan, nominated for the Agatha Award for best mystery of 2010, both members of the New England chapter, Pat has journalistic experience.

So, Pat, tell us about yourself.

“It’s All Novel Material”

by Pat Remick

When it comes to life, “it’s all novel material.”

Everything in our pasts, the present and even our futures can be grist for great stories if we simply add imagination and a few “what ifs.” The first seeds of a compelling mystery can stem from a brief experience or observation, a conversation overheard or even a fleeting emotion. Or it might emanate from something life-shattering and overpowering.

If we can harness the ingredients, mix them up a little and convey them in a way that entertains and/or affects someone, we create wonderful fiction. You could say we’re recycling the world around us.

But as many of us know, it’s not always that simple. To paraphrase a saying familiar to many authors, writing fiction is more difficult than real life because fiction has to make sense.

Real crime doesn’t always make sense – which may be one reason that journalists like me often turn to writing mysteries. We need to find the truth and understand horrific events that are not easily explainable.

My first encounter with this cruel reality came on August 24, 1975, when a beautiful blonde newlywed named Deborah Sue Williamson was brutally stabbed 17 times outside her Lubbock, Texas, home. I was a young police beat reporter when the 18-year-old’s murder shocked the West Texas city. My editor vowed there would be a front-page story every day until it was solved. By the time he gave up months later, I knew far too much about the case and the young woman’s history, but no one had discovered a credible motive for her slaying.

More than 35 years later, her murder remains unsolved. And although I did not attempt to write a mystery until relatively recently, her death and the many other tragedies I’ve observed over the years greatly influence my writing today.

I spent decades as a journalist working for newspapers, United Press International, CNN and a variety of other media outlets, as well as co-authoring two professional development books – “21 Things Every Future Engineer Should Know”

and “21 Things Every Home Inspector Should Know.” (link )

What are your present plans for your writing?

These days I primarily work for the City of Portsmouth, NH, as a writer and in other capacities that provide health insurance. A few years ago, I decided it was time to write a novel although I hadn’t written fiction since college. Being a longtime fan, I decided to try a mystery –and possibly exorcise some of the demons from my police beat days. I plunged in by entering the 3-Day Novel Contest (link: ) and wrote 168 pages over a Labor Day weekend. They became the beginnings of a first draft of my Continuous Novel in Progress (CNIP) entitled “Murder Most Municipal.”

Tell us about your involvement with Sisters in Crime

In 2007, I entered a story in the New England Crime Bake Conference’s ( short story contest and won. “Mercy 101” stemmed from being tailgated on NH Route 101 by a teenager in a beater car. As my road rage increased, I wondered what would make someone angry enough to kill over it and a short story was born. (It’s all novel material!)

Winning the Al Blanchard Award led to two years of judging this wonderful short story contest and increased involvement in the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime (, where I’ve met amazing women (and men) who also love the mystery genre. I served as president last year, which also meant co-chairing the 2010 New England Crime Bake with Charlaine Harris as guest of honor and a dedicated group of mystery writers donating endless hours to its success.

And now:

Although I loved the involvement with the mystery community, I’ve stepped away from nearly all commitments this year to concentrate on my own writing and finishing that CNIP.

And with each new story I begin and every day I work on my CNIP, I think about Deborah Sue Williamson and the other victims as I incorporate pieces of their stories into my writing.

Not only is it “all novel material,” I am inordinately grateful that fiction allows me to right wrongs, ensure the killers are caught and guarantee justice for the dead and their families.

Why do you write mysteries?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Time sure flies by fast. Have you noticed?

One of my cousins emailed me some old pictures. As I looked at them, I thought back to the days when life was simpler. 

In the breakfast nook at my Aunt Mildred’s house sits my Aunt Mildred, my Aunt Mary and my cousin Mary Alice. Mary Alice looks like she may be about 12 years old. The wallpaper on the walls behind them is busy, the chrome kitchen set sits in the small area with two long windows on either side. It was summer in Ohio, the windows are open and my aunts and cousin are wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts. Aunt Mildred’s cigarettes lay on the table.

Both my aunts are gone now, and Cousin Mary Alice is now a grandmother. When I went to college at the age of 38, I wrote articles for newspapers and magazines. My aunts were very proud of me. They made me feel like I was someone smart. Somehow I’d never thought smart and me belonged in the same sentence.  

Going to college and then writing gave me the self esteem I lacked as a child. Writing is therapeutic for many of us. I read once that writers are their own psychologists, and I believe that’s true.

When I worked as a reporter, I found it fascinating that I could be nosy, ask questions, find out about people and their lives—and get paid for it. I also took the pictures that went with the stories at some of the newspapers. 

As farm page editor, I learned a lot about farm animals, farmers trying to save their family farms, and how they struggled to save their crops during a draught. Another year they were the ones helping out farmers in another state who had a draught by sending hay and straw to them.

I interviewed 4-H children. Some were talkers and were excited to tell me about their pigs, cows, sheep or goats. Others, well, there were times it would’ve been easier to interview their animals. One young girl raised beef for her 4-H project. But for several years she couldn’t eat at McDonalds as they bought her prize beef. She feared her hamburger might be one of her cows.
A woman who was in her twenties raised rabbits for their fur. They were her pets and the fur they provided was turned into yarn to make sweaters etc. One night some wild animal broke into her crates in the barn and killed most of her rabbits. She was devastated. 

The one thing I had a hard time dealing with is when I learned people raising goats not only used them for their milk but also for their meat. I learned that goat meat is the number one meat in the world. Truth is, I fell in love with some breeds of goats. They reminded me of dogs. I always thought I’d adore sheep, but learned they aren’t overly smart or affectionate—at least not the ones I met. One goat in particular caught my attention at the county fair. He’d stand in a corner and pout the whole time he was at the fair. I was invited to come to their farm and see the goat a few weeks later. Like they said, the goat had a very different personality at home—he was friendly and loveable.
The younger people I worked with at the newspaper used to say to me, “So now I know everything I ever wanted to know about pigs, cows and all those other animals,” when they proofed my stories.

Funny, I kept all these articles in albums never thinking I’d pay much attention to them, but my grandkids may want to see them some day. They don’t seem to show much interest. However, I’m finding I am looking through these stories for writing ideas.

Do you find life is passing by too fast, too? Do looking at pictures and stories give you writing ideas?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Paranoia Can Destroya’

When writers start to plot a novel, they contemplate characters given a certain situation and then ask themselves, what if? My husband and I have a certain on-going situation, and I’ve entered the paranoid zone. He enters the hospital in two weeks for two days of back surgery. His hospital stay length is estimated at a week. I’ve started to ask myself the what if questions. Having read a few “murder in the hospital” novels and being a mystery writer, my natural mental proclivity is to wander to the dark side. I’m sure the health care staff is professional, BUT WHAT IF,

The surgeon has a screw loose. Brilliant people are often characterized in novels as over-the-top. He seems forthright, experienced, and knowledgeable. His reputation is stellar. But what if for some reason, he doesn’t like my husband or me? Maybe he’s prejudice, and we’re too blond, blue eyed, white or middle class. Maybe he hates building contractors (my husband’s profession). Maybe some building contractor did him dirt ten years ago and he’s waited all this time to enact his revenge. Yes, of course, all of this is paranoid musings, but perhaps I remind him of his ex who took the kids, his bank account, and his mother loved her better than him. My nefarious imagination can’t really compete with reality, which is that no matter how experienced, competent, and sterling his reputation, surgical mistakes happen, not often, but...and what about the surgical assistants?

The anesthesiologist is evil.

The nursing staff is overworked. Like postal workers, one might go off on a shooting spree. (My daughter attends VA Tech, so don’t scoff at the idea.) What if a nurse is supposed to be assigned seven patients and my husband is her ninth. One over her regular load maybe acceptable, but two? Easily remediated by attaching the wrong meds to an IV. Although he won’t be eating much, deadly substances can be put in food too.

The orderly on his floor belongs to the lunatic fringe. He believes overpopulation is a global problem and anyone sickly and over fifty must die. He belongs to a religion that doesn’t like Christians, and he’s found out my husband is a church trustee. My husband hired him as a laborer fifteen years ago and didn’t like him. He is just plain stupid, so he retrieves used IVs from the bio waste container thinking that recycling will save a buck. He rinses them first in ammonia.

I know that none of these scenarios will happen. If there is any enemy at the hospital, it is HAIs, hospital acquired infections, which are spread mainly through hand contact. The most deadly HIA is MRSA, an HAI that is an antibiotic resistant staph infection. I’ll watch the medical staff handling my husband to see if they put on fresh gloves when tending to him. While others may bring my husband well-wishes, flowers and magazines to comfort him, I’ll bring a spray bottle of Clorox Clean-Up, gloves, and wipes. Cleaning his hospital room may be the most life giving chore I can do, and it will give me something productive to do while he recovers.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Whose Skills?

You are walking in the mall and discover a lost cell phone. You pick it up and open it, intending to find out who’s it is so you can return it. When you turn it on a heavenly voice comes on saying,

“Because of your good intentions the angel of writing is going to reward you.”

“Can I get a five book publishing contract with a guaranteed big advance?

“Sorry, I’m only an angel. A miracle of that magnitude is way out of my league. What I can do is give you skills. You can name one skill from four different living authors and I will give you an equivalent level of that skill without reducing the ability of the author.”

“Can I have time to think about it?”

“Nope. In three minutes this phone will disappear and any unused requests will vanish with it.”

In this, sadly imaginary, situation I chose.

Elmore Leonard’s ability to write dialog

David Mamet’s economy of language

Carolyn Hart’s ability to engage readers

Lee Child’s skill in creating suspense

What authors and what skills would you chose?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Growing Season

For once, I exercised patience after receiving critiques on my stories, long and short. Usually I keep digging at whatever I haven’t finished, hoping to reach the end stage before I start something new. This time, I glanced quickly at the critiques and then set the stories aside until I received the mental prompt to take another look at the critiques and revise.

Snow fell yesterday where I live but the calendar says spring so I’m thinking about what I’m going to plant and work on this year. I learned years ago to focus on one or two garden projects each growing season and not try to change the whole garden.

I think I give new plants equal care and opportunity but I can never pruningbe certain which ones will take off as though on steroids and flourish year after year.

Revising and finishing a writing project requires the same patience and attention as newly planted fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Finally, I have to step back and let nature decide what thrives, what limps along year after year, and what dies.

Sometimes writing that seems the least promising at first develops beyond what I expected and imagined. As long as I’m patient and give orchid1it time to germinate.

In one of the workshops I took, the instructor suggested a writer should wait years before revising a long work. So much for the book a year required by publishing houses.

How long do you put aside a piece of writing before trying to wrestle it into shape? Or do you keep working on the writing without a break?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

An Interview with F. M. Meredith

EBD: Your latest release, Angel Lost, is part of your Rock Bluff P.D. series, also called the Dark Oak series. Why Dark Oak?

FMM: Dark Oak is just what the publisher calls all the mysteries Oak Tree publishes. It has nothing to do with my title.

EBD: How did you develop this series? Who is your main character? What’s the series hook?

FMM: I’ll start with the hook. The RBPD series focuses on the town’s police department, the officers and their families. My intent is to show how what goes on with the job affects the families and what’s happening with the family affects the job. There are a lot of on-going characters who make an appearance in most of the books, but each book tends to focus a bit more on one or two characters. The focus character in Angel Lost is Officer Stacey Wilbur who also acts as the department’s vice officer but can’t concentrate on much except her upcoming marriage to Detective Doug Milligan.

When I wrote the first book in the series, Final Respects, I had the same intent, but didn’t plan on writing a series. The more books I wrote the more I fell in love with the characters and wanted to know what was going to happen to them.

EBD: Why did you title your book Angel Lost?

FMM: I can’t really tell you the reason for the title without giving away two huge plot points—but I will say the title has a double meaning.

EBD: Your setting is almost another character, portrayed vividly. Have you lived in a small coastal California town?

FMM: Yes, we lived for over twenty years in Oxnard back when it was a small town (which it is no longer) and that’s the main reason I created the fictional location of Rocky Bluff that is between Santa Barbara and Ventura—but it isn’t Carpinteria.

EBD: Tell me about your other series, Tempe Crabtree. Who is Tempe Crabtree, and where is the series set?

FMM: Tempe Crabtree is a Native American female resident deputy in a mountain community in the Southern Sierra called Bear Creek. (Bear Creek is similar to the place where I live though I moved it 1000 feet higher in the mountains for better trees and occasional snow.) The Sierra (which means mountain, by the way) is the range which runs down the eastern spine of California. Bear Creek is north and east of Bakersfield and south and east of Fresno in the Central Valley.

EBD: Both series are police procedurals of sorts, but that’s not the only subgenre in which you write. Tell me about the Christian Horror. Is it paranormal?

FMM: I wrote three Christian Horror, which I’d term supernatural rather than paranormal. They are extremely scary but also Christian. Between my series, I wrote a romance with a touch of the supernatural, Lingering Spirit.

EBD: Although Angel Lost is about the Rocky Bluff P.D., there is an element of the paranormal in it. Do all of your books have this element?

FMM: I think this is the first time I’ve had anything you might call paranormal in a RBPD book—but it’s based on something that actually happened in the city of Porterville, which is 17 miles away from my home. There is almost always some kind of Indian mysticism in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series.

EBD: You have nearly twenty books published. Were they all published by Oak Tree Press? Are your books available in electronic format?

FMM: I think the number is closer to thirty these days. I guess I ought to count them all. I’ve had lots of publishers over the years—a couple of crooks, two that died, one that quit the business, and a couple I chose to leave. Oak Tree Press published the last three in the RBPD series and I’m very happy. Mundania Press publishes the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series. Mundania requires their books to have some sort of supernatural element in them. I’m very happy with them too.

Many of my books are available in electronic format. Final Respects, Fringe Benefits, No Sanctuary, and An Axe to Grind are all RBPD books that are available electronically. Several of the Deputy Tempe Crabtree ones are too, as is Lingering Spirit.

EBD: Your book had few editing errors. How does Oak Tree Press deal with its authors? What is the publishing process like with this publisher?

FMM: You must’ve read the ARC since the regular books are just now leaving the printer—I hope we caught all the errors before it went to press with the cover on it, but I wouldn’t bet on it, since I think there are gremlins who hover over the books and insert errors.

This is my process with Oak Tree. I’m not sure what other authors do. I read every book I write to my writing critique group, which I call my first editor. Next, I rewrite. When I think it’s in the shape I want it, I send it off to a reader who is best at catching consistency errors and typos. Then off it goes to the publisher who goes over it and makes suggestions. It comes back to me as a PDF, which I again go over and send back corrections. It came back to me again for another look-over. Yes, I found more mistakes. Those were fixed and the ARC was printed. We both found more errors in the ARC and hopefully they’ve all been fixed.

I usually buy books at a discount from the publisher since I do a lot of hand selling—book and craft fairs, speaking to writers groups and at libraries and writing conferences. This time I ordered 100, which I should have by the time the blog tour is underway.

EBD: What do you like most about being a writer?

FMM: I’ve written all my life. I wrote for years without being published. Received lots of rejections. What I like most right now is that both my publishers like my work and though I have been asked to make minor changes I’m pretty sure that when I finish a book it will be published. What I like most about being a writer is following along with the lives of these people I’ve created though I don’t always know what direction they might take next. I know them far more intimately than I know my closest relatives and friends—because I actually know how these fictional people think.

When I read Angel Lost, my favorite parts of the book were F. M. Meredith’s ability to portray her characters, and her use of setting as another character. If you’d like to buy Angel Lost go to Amazon or obtain an autographed copy through her website.

Monday, March 21, 2011


There are tricks of every trade. Recently, I discovered that freezing cake layers before icing them provides a better surface for cake frosting resulting in a more professional looking finish. After blaming myself, the icing, the cake, my oven, etc., for years, this trick has become invaluable to an amateur baker like me. But like baking, novel writing has its tricks too.

When starting a novel, I have mentally sketched a basic storyline. My main characters have history and function within the story. After determining what POV fits and which character(s) will best tell the story to the reader, I start to write.

Sometimes, I may write the entire novel, but other times, I seek out critiques by my writing partners before I’m finished the first draft, and revise before finishing the manuscript. The later process, revising as I write, makes the process of finishing the first draft slow and tedious. But because I’m substantially improving the story as I go along, which may change how the story culminates, I am starting to like this method better than plowing through the first draft all at once.

What I’ve discovered through this process is the art of layering. If I add one line referring to the story’s environment, I can also create a connection between the characters and their physical reality. By adding this line, my character may react to the environment, adversely or not. It might also enhance the plot, but even if it doesn’t, it injects a realism into fiction that bolsters plausibility.

I’ve mastered revealing my main characters’ traits and nuances. But my secondary characters need work. Adding another layer of secondary characters’ identifiers, such as their speech, has forced me to get to know all of my characters well, which will enable the reader to recall them when they appear sporadically throughout the novel. When adding this layer, I can find specific actions for them in the story fitting those identifiers. Their newly created characteristics also may foster other functions within the story.

Adding details from real world research can detract if the story bogs down in detail, and yet those details add interest when presented in a slight of hand manner. Deciding which of those facts adds to the story without Michenerizing a novel can be tricky. Understanding how your novel fits into the real world can change scene location, titles used by characters, and procedures utilized by your novel’s fictitious authorities. This layering must be correct if used. Nothing blows credibility more than when the author includes real world references but doesn’t apply them correctly.

What are your most favorite secondary characters? What tricks have you found that add credence to your story?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Between Words

When my friends ask about my writing I usually reply, “I’m always working on something.” At this moment I am not, well except for this blog. Part of being a writer is like pouring raw product into a pipeline. I worked in a boot factory once. I wasn’t very good at it. I did learn about the factory process. While some people cut pieces out of rubber, other people transport the pieces to an assembly line where still others put the various pieces together. Others check to see the assembly is correct, others seal the pieces to make boots, somebody else packs the product and people outside the factory transport them. No doubt others took orders, hired and fired people, kept the books and did other needed activities.

On “the floor” wherever you worked you depended on people earlier in the process to give you what you need for your part of the assembly. Even once I found my best niche (custodian) I was well aware that my mistakes could slow the process and cost the company as well as everyone working there.

Now I am my own assembly line. I just sent off two submissions and I am currently between words. I cannot submit before I identify a possible market. That depends on how the novel/story/essay or whatever turns out. That depends on editing after getting feedback. Before anything is ready for feedback it needs to be sent to my first reader and then extensively revised. But it has to be made ready for my first reader by the constant reviser. He does not get into the picture until the first draft writer finishes providing the raw data known as the first draft. And he has to keep working no matter how much crap he writes and how he shapes it until it fills the mold of a first draft. None of that is possible until the idea has been found by the explorer who wades through the tar pits of my unconscious and wrests the bits and pieces from the muck that might be anything from a saber tooth tiger to a ground sloth. Some pieces come up easily and other fight against removal.
Uh oh, time to clock in. I’m holding myself up. Time to work.

What are you working on?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chaos and Control

I hoped no one would say it but someone did declare that God is punishing the Japanese. There has to be a group of people who are getting God’s messages on their Facebook pages or maybe they come in tweets. Did individuals in direct contact with God ever look around and see that misfortune doesn’t always correlate with bad behavior or vice versa?

I can’t believe God sticks a finger through the clouds and says, let’s get Tom, Dick, or Harry because they don’t go to church on Sunday, or I never liked Haiti, New Zealand, or Japan so I’m going to make everyone living there suffer beyond what they can imagine.

Recently, I saw a TV miniseries, Any Human Heart. A man is imprisoned in a foreign country during WWII. When he’s finally released, he finds out the war is over and, in one of his wife’s last letters, that she is expecting their second child. He rushes home only to find out his wife, daughter, and unborn child were killed by a bomb. The man spends the rest of his life looking, subconsciously, for his lost children, and he can’t stop comparing other women with his dead wife.

How many young Japanese parents dreamed of helping their children reach their full potential and now can no longer hold onto that dream? So many citizens experienced overwhelming loss. Securities they took for granted vanished in an instant.

And all that is part of a Divine plan? More and more I believe man made God in his image rather than the other way around.

I understand that a fictional character who battles against odds to solve a crime and restore harmony to a fictional world through justice produces a satisfactory story. I enjoy such stories. However, stories that include the unforeseen, the reversals of fortune that most of us suffer, and a protagonist who has to reassess his goals and even accept what he doesn’t want stay with me longer.

9/11 changed the way I see the world. Now, Japan seems closer to my daily life. I’ve often wondered what my life would have been like if I’d been born in an African village, in China, or in Tibet.

Perhaps there are readers and writers who see fiction as something totally apart from reality. A writer who focuses on the market might see fiction differently from a person who writes what moves him. A hundred years ago, it was possible for a writer to sit in his or her room and write about society. Maybe there are writers like that today but I’m not aware of their books.

Does the shrinking world change the way you write?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Author Barbara D'Amato

I met Barbara D’Amato at the Malice Domestic conference two years ago. For such a prodigious writer, who has served as the president for the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, her demeanor was understated and quiet, which brought me to the conclusion that you have to watch out for quiet writers. They save their energy for writing.

EBD: Over the past thirty years, twenty-two of your books have been published, an impressive record. And yet, between 1981 and 1990 none was published. This hiatus seems daunting. What happened?

BD: Yes, I couldn't get anything published for seven years after the second book. Ace/Charter decided to drop mysteries and I couldn't sell anywhere else. In 1988, On My Honor was published by Pinnacle under the name Malacai Black. But seven years and no sale was, as you say, daunting.

EBD: Twenty of your books were published within the last nineteen years, and I noticed on your website that you’ve written musical plays. Do you concentrate on one book at a time, or do you juggle projects?

BD: I've never been able to split focus. It's always one book at a time.

EBD: During this time, you were also president of MWA and SinC. Do you ever take a vacation?

BD: I'm not a lie-on-a-beach person. But once a year I take my granddaughter to New York. We go on the train and she gets an upper berth, which was thrilling to her when she was little. We see two plays and come home. I go to two or three mystery conventions every year and consider those a vacation.

EBD: During the 1990s, you concentrated on writing two mystery series, the Cat Marsala and the Chicago Police series. In this decade, you’ve written stand-alones. Why the change to one-off thrillers?

BD: Scribner dropped the Cat Marsala series when my editor retired, so that was that. The stand-alones came about because I get interested in some specific topic. A few years ago, I started to look into the use of hallucinogens in ancient religions, and after a while, it became my new book, Other Eyes.

EBD: Your publishing record indicates that stand-alone thrillers take a lot of research. I suspect you like research. Is that statement true, and if so why?

BD: Finding out new stuff freshens my outlook. It seems to me I would write dull stories if I only wrote about things I already knew.

EBD: To me, many thrillers are based on cabal theory, although in your book the government is involved as well. Ian Rankin has explored the complex relationship between the underworld and what he calls the “overworld.” What’s your opinion on the reality of those concepts or is it all just great fodder for fiction?

BD: What we see on a daily basis is pretty superficial. As to cabals, we all feel small compared to the big world, to government, to global corporations. Huge multinationals are quite recent, and so they are interesting.

EBD: What is the hook of Other Eyes?

BD: Other Eyes is about a forensic archaeologist, Blue Eriksen. She became famous, much to her amazement, for a scholarly book about goddesses in ancient religions. In the course of researching that book, she accumulated a lot of data on the use of hallucinogens in the early religions. Coming to believe that one substance, psilocybin, derived from a mushroom, can prevent or cure drug addiction, she is working and publishing in the area. The multinational that controls drug distribution and pricing worldwide like OPEC does oil [it is nicknamed DOPEC in the book] has sent a man to kill her.

EBD: What is Blue’s weakness?

BD: Good question. Her Achilles heel in the book--in a good way--is that, because of the death of her husband, she has to take her year-old son with her everywhere on her digs. I had to find safe food for him in Anatolia and Peru, babysitters for the few times she actually had to leave him for a couple of hours, games and entertainment--

EBD: You start the book in present day, give your readers glimpses of life 20,000 years ago, and then bring them back to present. Has man really evolved?

BD: People who know more than I say that if a baby born twenty thousand years ago could be placed in a modern home he could grow up to fly a 747. Physically humans haven't changed much. And one of the lessons of archaeology is that people are much the same all over the planet and at all times. I do think we've made progress in social consciousness--tolerance of our neighbors, tolerance of other religions.

EBD: I’m always interested in cause and effect in writer’s crafting of a book, even in the practical sense. The book is set in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Peru and Turkey. Have you traveled to Peru and Turkey specifically for the book, or did you use those settings because you already had traveled to those places?

BD: Oh, gee. I want SO much to say I travelled there. But I didn't. I used the Internet, of course, but I also have a wide group of friends who helped, like the archaeologist [and mystery writer] Sarah Wisseman. My doctor traveled in Turkey and had many photos to show me. And there were many, many more helpful sources.

EBD: One line from the book that sticks with me is the old adage; people hear only what they want to hear. Do you think naiveté is purely the result lack of experience or do we all have our own uniquely designed ignorance?

BD: Yes, and partly that not one of us has the time to evaluate all the issues that come up. You simply can't pay attention to everything every day. So to some extent you need your preconceptions. But still you should question as much as you can.

EBD: Did you have a specific message or purpose in writing this book?

BD: If there's a message I hope it is that people are all much the same.

EBD: The title, Other Eyes, is a bit baffling. Is perspective a factor in your choice of title?

BD: In a way. Other times, other views, other eyes, but all human.

EBD: In 2000, your book, The Doctor, The Murder, The Mystery: The True Story of the Dr. John Branion Murder Case was published. How did a fiction writer end up writing a true crime novel?

BD: Dr. Branion's wife had come to my husband, Tony, who is a law professor. Tony had been involved in getting a man out of a prison in Mexico and Shirley Branion hoped Tony could free her husband. But Dr. Branion was in prison in this country and the situation was very different. I started to research the case because Branion was clearly innocent and we hoped the facts could free him.

EBD: You’ve been published by Noble Press, Five Star, Charter, Ace, Scribner, and now Forge for the last ten years or so. Was there a choice? Does it pay an author to shop publishers and switch every now and again? Or is having an established relationship with one publisher better?

BD: Actually, there was never a choice. Noble did only non-fiction, so they published the Branion book. Five Star reprinted On My Honor. Ace/Charter stopped publishing mysteries. And so it goes.

EBD: Sub, pasta or pizza, which is your preference?

BD: Can I have all three? But if you force me to choose, a nice three-cheese lasagna would do splendidly.

If you have any questions about Barbara’s career or her books, please post a comment. For further information on Barbara, go to Buy Other Eyes at Amazon.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Kissing Can Kill You

Did you know that kissing could kill you?

Really, it can. So how can you use this in your mystery novel? Say your bad guy is harassing the heroine. He killed her best friend and she wants to get even with him. He’s allergic to shrimp. Maybe she knows it and maybe she doesn’t. He follows her to a seafood restaurant where the steam from cooking the shrimp lingers in the air. Even that will affect a person with shrimp allergies. It’s toxic to him and he struggles for his breath. The ambulance doesn’t arrive on time. Bingo, he’s dead.
Or say an abused woman’s boyfriend won’t let her alone. She knows he’s allergic to shrimp. She eats the shrimp and the oil lingers on her lips. He grabs her and kisses her, but instead of telling him not to, she lets him kiss her. His allergy is severe and in minutes he could be dead. She waits five minutes before calling for an ambulance. He’s dead by the time they arrive.

What should she have done if she really wanted to save him? She would brush her teeth several times, rinse her mouth three or four times and then scrub her lips. The oil from the shrimp would remain on her lips which would be passed on to the kisser and kill him. In addition, she would have to wash her hands many times in order rid all traces of the shrimp from her body.

However, if she wanted him to die, she would simply tell the police she didn’t know what happened to him, and when they discovered the shrimp allergy, she’d say she had no idea he was allergic to the shrimp or that it would harm the man.

As for the adults in the stories, they knew they had those allergies, but if they were determined to destroy the person who followed them to the restaurant or to kiss a person who didn’t want kissed, then they got the kiss of death. 

Think of the possibilities to kill off someone this way. Kiss that man and watch him croak. Who would ever guess that’s what he died from? 

Or the person who’s allergic to bees and doesn’t have one of the pens to inject can die off pretty fast, too.

Recently on the local news it was reported children at a certain elementary school won’t be allowed to bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school, or anything else that contains peanuts. Why? Because some children are allergic to peanuts. The school announced the police will bring in dogs to sniff for peanut butter.

Of course we don’t want a child to die, but I think it’s ludicrous to make P&J sandwiches outlawed. These are hard times and people struggling sometimes find P&J sandwiches are all they can afford to feed the kids for lunch. And not everyone is eligible for the free or reduced lunches, especially if it was recently they lost their jobs. Another reason to make the kids P&J sandwiches is because some kids are darned fussy and that’s the only sandwich they want to eat. 

I do feel bad for the child or children at schools who have this problem. I also find it strange that when I was growing up no one I ever met had an allergy to peanuts. What is put into the peanuts today that wasn’t there before?

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Blog by Kate M. George

I interviewed Kate M. George, 2009 Daphne Du Maurier Award winner for her novel Moonlighting in Vermont, on September 29, 2010. Her main character, Bree MacGowen, like Kate, lives in a small Vermont town. Mainly Murder Press releases her next novel in the series, California Schemin’, this month. Please welcome Kate back to WWK.           E. B. Davis

A Not So Alien Interview

I'm continuing my series of interviews of and by the varied cast of characters from the Bree MacGowan Mysteries. In the first book, Moonlighting in Vermont Bree discovers her boss dead and becomes a suspect. In the second book, California Schemin' Bree accidentally gets embroiled in another murder while on vacation in California. The irony is that she went to California to recover from the first murder. Today FBI Agent Madison Truefellow alleged alien life form, interviews Marshall "Moose" Moore an agent from one of the covert agencies working under the radar. He won't say which one because, and I quote, "Then I'd have to silence you forever." But he also assured me he wasn't a killer so who knows what that means.

Let me just say that by no means are we certain that Madison is actually an alien. Those of you hoping for a paranormal twist are likely to be disappointed in her. While it’s possible that she really is an alien, I think it’s more likely part of her subterfuge. Take it away Agent Truefellow.

Agent Truefellow: Agent Moore, I've heard you are very tight with Richard Hambecker. When did the two of you first meet?

Agent Moore: There's high level misinformation circulating about me. Anything you heard is likely a lie.

Agent Truefellow: But I've seen you with Richard and I know you worked with him on the Wallace case. So when did you two meet? Is it true you went through high school and into the Army Rangers with him? Or was that the Navy Seals?

Agent Moore: I can neither confirm nor deny that I attended high school.

Agent Truefellow: Moose, why did you agree to this interview if you aren't going to answer the questions?

Agent Moore: You haven't asked me any questions I'm free to answer. There are certain matters of national security that I'm not at liberty to discuss.

Agent Truefellow: Your relationship with Richard Hambecker is a matter of national security? I find that hard to believe.

Agent Moore: Nevertheless, I am under strict instructions not to discuss Richard Hambecker.

Agent Truefellow: Who instructed you not to discuss Agent Hambecker? Oh wait. It was Richard, wasn't it?

Agent Moore: I'm not at liberty -

Agent Truefellow: Oh stop it! You're just being difficult. What harm would it do to say how long you've known him?

Agent Moore: It's imperative to national security that Hammie's, er Hambecker's past remain cloaked in mystery.

Agent Truefellow: Oh really. What did he say to you when you told him I was interviewing you?

Agent Moore: He found out through the grapevine before I had the chance to tell him. He said I was crazy to let you interview me, and to leave him out of it. I tried to tell him that I was doing it a favor for a friend but he wasn't listening.

Agent Truefellow: He wasn't listening?

Agent Moore: He got a call about a probable mob hit in Vermont. I think he was worried about Bree.

Agent Truefellow: Richard was worried Bree was involved with a mob hit?

Agent Moore: It was in the town where she lives. You know how she gets caught up in things.

Agent Truefellow: She does have a tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Is she okay?

Agent Moore: As far as I know. Hambecker left town and I haven't heard anything since then.

Agent Truefellow: Bree's in trouble and you didn't go with him? I thought you liked Bree.

Agent Moore: I wasn't invited.

Agent Truefellow: There's no law prohibiting Federal Employees from visiting Vermont.

Agent Moore: I've been reassigned. I'm shipping out to Alaska tomorrow.

Agent Truefellow: Alaska? Why do they need you in Alaska? Let me guess - it's a matter of national security and you can't tell me.

Agent Moore: It's kind of you to answer my questions for me.

Agent Truefellow: You're impossible. Do you know that? Impossible.

Agent Moore: I'm sorry. Being interviewed by extraterrestrials makes me nervous.

Award winning author, Kate George, originally hails from Northern California, where she was raised on a ranch alongside two brothers, feral cats, cattle, a poodle named Molly and at least one mountain lion. After working in a variety of occupations from actress to motorcycle safety instructor she earned a degree in anthropology from UC Davis before deciding to return to writing. She now lives in Vermont with her dogs, kids, husband and currently several feet of snow. You can reach her at Her latest release is California Schemin’ available at Mainly Murder Press, Amazon, and can be ordered from any bookstore.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Psychopathology of Everyday Writing

The Psychopathology of Every Day Writing

If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome, writers, spend a great deal of time in a state closely resembling psychiatric patients. We write revise and submit our work over and over again. We get rejection letters over and over again.

The rational thing to do would be to quit. I know. I quit writing my novel Abraham Lincoln for the Defense at least a dozen times in the nine years it took to get published. Irrationally, I started again each time. It was published, went out of print and is now available at

So what keeps us going? How do we sustain the near-delusion? For me, it was the belief that I was getting better as a writer. In addition to belief I had indicators along the way. I got a few very nice rejection letters from editors who told me how much they liked the work they declined to publish. Although I would have much preferred to hear that the editors didn’t care for my work but were going to publish it anyway.

Another factor was support from others, especially other writers who were going or had gone through the same torment. Groups like Sisters in Crime and their online group Guppies were helpful. My family and friends have always believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. My next-door neighbor insisted that I send my manuscript in and promised to nag me if I did not. I knew she would. So I sent it to a publisher who had already turned it down before. The publisher accepted it.

Another way of encouraging myself was to recognize smaller goals leading toward publishing. I set expectation for the number of pages written, then chapters. The first novel I wrote was amazingly crappy but writing 120, 000 words was a real accomplishment. I stuck the floppy disc (remember those?) in a drawer and had a celebration.

Whatever I have accomplished in my life is due more to persistence than any other quality. A writer friend of mine once explained that 90% of publishable quality submissions do not get accepted. That gave me a reasonable yardstick to evaluate my work by. I enjoy getting my work to a level of excellence, although I do not enjoy every second of the process. I take satisfaction in sending off submissions that could be published. That might be the moment I enjoy most in the writing process.

Acceptance of a piece often comes months or years later when I’m not longer intimately involved with the characters. And I’ve been around long enough to know that acceptance does not guarantee publication. Similarly, one publication does not guarantee there will ever be another. Murder Manhattan Style available at came together as an idea for a venue that died as I was organizing the book. Having no sane reason to think that a collection of short stories would ever be published, I continued to work on it. It came off the press after only seven years later.

I once heard the comedian, Robin Williams, say being famous gave him an extra thirty seconds in front of an audience before they start booing or walking out if he is not funny. Being able to offer evidence in a bio that you’ve been published might buy you about the same amount of time with an agent reading your synopsis or an editor reading your first paragraph but like Robin Williams you still need to perform quickly.

By the time something of mine reaches publication I’m deeply involved in another effort. It’s like seeing an old friend I have fallen out of touch with.

What keeps you going?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Unidentified Frozen Objects

Rain drops hit the windows and splatter into the puddles in the front yard. Piles of crusted and muddy snow and ice start to flatten and liquefy. I’m grateful I don’t have to and couldn’t shovel emerging rivulets flowing towards the street.

0511-0805-0118-3757_Thawing_Snow_on_a_Tree_Branch_clipart_imageRain means the air and earth, or at least in the valley where I live, are at last beginning to warm up. Growing strawberries no longer seems wishful thinking so I ordered my strawberry plants. I can almost taste the fresh fruit.

All that water trapped in snow and ice is moving again. I remember a TV ad in which a woman takes a plastic bag out of her freezer, and, unable to see what’s inside the bag, proceeds to pound the bag with a 0511-0903-2316-3628sledge hammer. Stop trying to identify unnamed frozen objects and buy our freezer labels is the message of the ad.

I guess many of the unidentified frozen objects in the subconscious weren’t named before they were dropped into the dark unknown to be developed at a later date. Attacking them with the equivalent of a sledge hammer doesn’t seem a good idea.

I don’t write memoirs so working on internal conflicts through writing has not been one of my goals. I’m not a particularly introspective person. However, I think the commitment writers make to their work eventually leads to conflicts being tackled through fictional situations and characters. Some writers see conflicts common to most of us and other writers see more personal conflicts.

When I wrote poetry on a regular basis, the compressed use of language and unusual juxtaposition of images led to resolutions, rarely what I planned. After my mother died, a constant stream of images of my mom, of her interacting with family members and with me flowed through my brain. My memory of her was almost entirely pictorial. Once I reached an acceptance of her non-presence, I found the words to describe her and how I felt about her.

So, I wonder if, when we write, we focus on the story within and with the characters we create face conflicts, seek resolution, and come to conclusions that may or may not be what we wanted.

When the urge strikes me, I take out of the fridge everything I’m not using on a regular basis and discard it. That can work with writing and imprints of past events. Who needs a frozen fuzzy mammoth covered in green mold?

Do you feel a certain lightness, a sense of freedom, even if only for a moment, when you finish a piece of writing to your satisfaction?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Michelle Black, Steampunk

Michelle Black

Author of The Second Glass of Absinthe and An Uncommon Enemy

Coming in 2011--Séance in Sepia

Blogging at

My traditional author website gives more information about my books. It is


---Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I started out as a lawyer, but when I moved to the Colorado high country in 1993, I decided to take a break that now seems permanent. I became a bookstore owner in the little town of Frisco, Colorado. During this time, I wrote my first mystery novel, Never Come Down. The story was set in an old mining ghost town, of which there were many in the area where I lived. There is nothing like poking around the ruins of a ghost town to set a novelist's imagination on fire.

I have now completed my sixth historical novel, which will be published next October.

---Can you tell us about your writing?

All of my novels have been set in what I call “the Victorian West.” America during the 19th Century was such a fascinating period that I never seem to tire of reading about and researching it.

---Your depiction of time and place is really well done. How much research do you do for your writing?

I love doing the research for my books and that is probably a primary reason I love the historical genre. My research takes me to places and acquaints me with people I would never have met otherwise.

For example, I never imagined I would end up publishing a course in the Cheyenne language when I began to write the novel that would become AN UNCOMMON ENEMY, but when I met a linguist on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation who had created this course and was printing it himself at the local Kinkos, I knew I could use my knowledge of publishing and book distribution to help him make the course available to the bookstores and libraries nationwide and thus help in the effort to preserve our Native languages.

In researching my upcoming Victorian mystery, SÉANCE IN SEPIA, I used real-life feminist Victoria Woodhull as my protagonist. She was a fascinating subject to research. The fact that she was the first woman to run for president was only one of her many accomplishments. She eventually left the U.S. and lived in England the last half of her very long life after marrying a wealthy British banker. I had the privilege of meeting one of her descendants who invited my husband and me to dine at his townhouse in the elegant Chelsea neighborhood of London. (Only steps from the house where Oscar Wilde once lived). That was an unforgettable evening and one I would never have had but for the writing of my historical novels.

---I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the idea of steampunk. What is steampunk and when did it start as a genre?

Steampunk is difficult to articulate, but in the simplest terms, as a literary genre, it is “Victorian science fiction.” The first Steampunk novels started to appear in the late 1970’s and 80’s. The first one I read was “The Difference Engine,” by celebrated “cyberpunk” novelists William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. It was published in 1990, though I did not read it until a couple of years ago.

The term Steampunk these days embraces a much broader concept than just novels. It is a style of dress, a type of music, a visual art form, a genre of drama, and a style of home design among other things.

Mike Perschon, who writes a website called The Steampunk Scholar, describes steampunk as an “applied aesthetic” which involves elements of a retro-futuristic, neo-Victorian techno-fantasy. I realize that is a lot of hyphens! Basically, we are taking the look and style of the Victorian age and reinventing it for a variety of purposes.

In Steampunk literature, the technology of the late 19th Century is re-imagined to be more advanced—time machines, ray guns, even computers might be posited to exist—and the novelist creates what effects such developments might have on the society and within the story parameters.

My own novels are not really true steampunk stories. I call the recent ones, particularly THE SECOND GLASS OF ABSINTHE and SÉANCE IN SEPIA, “steampunk-adjacent” in that they are set in the Victorian era and involve themes of the occult, but the supernatural elements of the plot are not pronounced enough to cause the novels to jump the aisle from mystery to fantasy.

SÉANCE does skirt the genre more closely in that it focuses on the very real phenomenon of spirit photography. Some Victorian photographers attempted to photograph the departed during séances conducted in their studios and this practice has to represent the ultimate nexus of two Victorian obsessions: technology and the occult.

---Besides the costumes, which are definitely cool, what do you enjoy about the genre?

In art and design, the Victorian aesthetic is applied to current objects like phones and computers in creative new ways. It was actually a Victorian designed computer by Jake Von Slatt ( that first enchanted me and attracted me to the whole Steampunk movement.

And, of course, the costuming is just plain fun. Do we ever outgrow our love of playing dress-up? The amount of creativity one sees in the costumes at a steampunk convention are truly amazing. Nobody is camera-shy at such gatherings. The success of one’s attire is judged by how often others ask one to pose for a photo.

---If our readers are interested in finding out more, what resources do you recommend?

I have written a feature article for True West Magazine on Steampunk which will run in the March issue (available Feb. 15) I also blog on various steampunk themes at . I have a new informational blog devoted entirely to absinthe debuting this spring at

There are numerous websites now devoted to steampunk. A good starting point is one called Airship Ambassador. ( This directs you to countless other sites, events, and other resources featuring steampunk.

Now! Hot off the presses MIchelle is offering a free copy of SOLOMON SPRING to someone chosen at random who comments on this post and has a mailing address in the United States