Wednesday, April 30, 2014

An Interview with Linda Rodriguez

“Another train clattered through town, and its hooting whistle sounded to me like the murderer jeering at me for not being smarter, not seeing through his veils and machinations.”
                                                                                    Linda Rodriguez
                                                                                                             Every Hidden Fear (page. 198)

 Impersonal murders by hit men aren’t my favorite type of mysteries. In Linda Rodriguez’s Every Hidden Fear, the kill is personal and evoked by passion and fear. The villain-victim emotionally sucker-punched all the suspects. We hate the victim, we’re glad he’s dead, and it almost seems a shame to punish the killer—my favorite type of mystery. The reader wants to help eradicate the fear of the suspects.

The insidious aspect of Linda’s book is her demonstration that in our best attempt to love, we are our own enemy. I’ve loved all of Linda’s books, but this one was personal and affects her MC, Skeet Bannion. I found myself comparing my life to Skeet’s. I think you will, too.                                                        E. B. Davis

Here’s the jacket copy:

Skeet Bannion's Cherokee grandmother has come to live with her and her teenage ward Brian, and Skeet is still trying to adjust to the change while also keeping the peace on the local college campus. Then Ash Mowbray, a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks, comes back to Brewster as a wealthy developer, pushing plans to build a shopping mall on the outskirts of town that will destroy the town square businesses. The town council is split on his proposal, and emotions are running high.

Mowbray makes things worse by announcing that he is the real father of the high school athlete Noah Steen, having left Noah’s mother, Chelsea, pregnant as a teenager when he fled town after high school. Chelsea and her husband Elliott are horrified that Mowbray has publicized that Elliott is not Noah’s father and afraid that he will steal their beloved son from them. Noah is shocked to learn the truth of his parentage and furious with Mowbray. It’s not long before Mowbray turns up murdered with Noah as the prime suspect. Brian and Noah's girlfriend Angie turn to Skeet to find the murderer and save their friend.

Is hate the opposite of love?

Actually, I think hate and love make up a circle. Love can turn into hate, especially love spurned or betrayed. In the extreme, each is a passion, and passions burn brightly or destructively. One can slide only too easily into the other.

Do you think love causes as many problems in the world as hate? Is there an alternative?

There are so many kinds of love, and they’re all terribly important to a world that needs more love in it than it has right now. But love can and does cause problems. Think the smother love of overprotective mothers or the possessive love of partners or parents. Think the insecure, jealous love of Othello or the overly romanticized love of so many of Jane Austen’s heroines’ unfortunate sisters. Think of Gov. Mark Sanford’s “love of his life” for his Argentinian mistress that caused him to destroy his family and fail in his duties as governor.

I do not think love causes as many problems as hate. Love gives us so much that’s wonderful while
hate gives nothing to anyone, except a spurious sense of power. But any emotion carried to an extreme can be a problem.

In loving we become vulnerable. Why does Skeet’s grandmother warn that choosing not to love is just as risky?

Gran quite rightly points out that closing yourself off to love and to other people can be crippling and leave you in a lonely, miserable situation when you grow old. Opening to the possibility of love does leave you vulnerable to rejection, betrayal, manipulation, and many other painful options. We have no guarantees when we give someone our love, but to refuse to love because of our fear of pain is ultimately the greatest failure. It’s like someone going underground to live in one of those 1950s bomb shelters to be safe and staying there for the rest of his life, a terrible waste.

When gambling, most people try to make an educated risk. But Charlie, Skeet’s father, doesn’t care about his odds. Why?

Charlie essentially locked himself into that underground bomb shelter for decades. Now, he’s grown old and realizes what he’s lost because of his fear. He knows that Marie may take advantage of him or hurt him, but he’s decided to take that chance because he’s seen the deterioration that comes with the refusal to take that chance on love.

Skeet knows that she has to allow Brian to make his own mistakes. But loving at any age involves risk. Does knowledge of that risk help to avoid the pitfalls of love?

I don’t think so. Having been around the block and had some of the naiveté knocked off may help us keep from rushing in where angels fear to tread at a moment’s notice, but even older and wiser souls can fall into the grip of a passionate love and find themselves saying and doing things they never thought they would.

I was unfamiliar with three terms you used. Could you define: Friend-zone (which my daughter and I discussed), Creator-signs, and Blind-yonega?

Only one of those is an actual term in the book—friend zone. It’s a term used by some of the men of the generations after the Boomers to mean a man whom a particular woman will be friends with but never have a sexual relationship with. Everything I’ve seen of it refers to the idea that a man can pretend to be friends with a woman, but then if she won’t have sex with him, he’s somehow allowed to feel aggrieved. Some men have even suggested that such women are guilty of “suitor-abuse” and there should be penalties for it under law.

The others are not actual terms I use in the book. Skeet and her gran talk about being able to read the signs that the Creator gives us in everyday life to guide us. The Cherokee don’t make vision quests because we feel that daily life is full of these signs, and it’s our gift and duty to read and interpret them. Yonega is the word for “white man” in the Cherokee language, Tsalagi, and it’s also the word for the English language. Gran says at one point in the book that the yonega are blind to the natural signs around them, focusing too much on technology and material things.

One ignores, one tries to commit suicide, and another kills in response to blackmail. Are you fascinated by how people react in different ways to the same stimuli?

Absolutely! It has always been a wonder to me to see how differently people react to the same stimuli—and often in the most unexpected ways.  It’s really noticeable when you put people under stress. This is what makes writing fiction so seductive. You’ve created these characters, but they often don’t do what you think they should do when faced with stressful situations. It’s always a surprise.

Train whistles form the background music of your novel. Is it realism or symbolism?

The trains are both. They began as realism. One of the small towns around Kansas City on which I based Brewster, Missouri—I used favorite parts of several—is Parkville, Missouri, which has major train lines running through the heart of the town. I added that background music as a realistic detail to evoke setting, and then I used it to further characterization through the ways in which Skeet interprets the train sounds. Sometimes they sound cheerful to her, and sometimes they sound as if they’re mocking her—and sometimes they sound ominous or mournful or angry. She is, of course, projecting her own emotions on them. As I used them in this way through the series, they began to take on a symbolic life of their own, as well.

When a heinous crime is committed by someone who manages to evade our justice system, or that crime is a moral one outside of the justice system, do we have the right to kill them, stopping further destruction and protecting others?

No, I don’t believe we do. As every little kid hears repeatedly, two wrongs don’t make a right. It is an appealing idea, however, when we see so many miscarriages of justice, but once you start down that road, anarchy and violent chaos are your final end points. Ash is a man who’s done evil things and would probably continue to do them, but that doesn’t mean that murdering him is allowable.

Men swirl around Skeet. One she loses, one disappoints her, and another hurts and angers her. Skeet’s love life seems a minefield. Is that an accurate analogy to real life?

Everyone I know, except a few blessed souls who married their childhood sweethearts and lived happily ever after, went through a romantic minefield before finding the partner with whom they could be truly happy—if they have found that person yet. Skeet’s definitely not in the “happily ever after” part yet but rather the emotional minefield part. Her romantic situation is not made better by closing herself off to love’s vulnerability. And that closing off is why she finds men swirling around her. Humans, especially male humans, tend to want what (or who) they can’t have.

Linda your cover art is fantastic. Who is the artist?

The cover paintings for all of my Skeet Bannion books are by Ross Jones of Deborah Wolfe Ltd. The jacket designs are by David Baldeosingh Rotstein and include a font created just for these books that was inspired by the Cherokee syllabary invented by Sequoiah. I feel very blessed with these eye-catching covers. St. Martin’s/Minotaur has been absolutely wonderful about cover art and design, consulting me every time and giving me absolutely gorgeous-looking books.

I can’t wait for the next novel. What’s next for Skeet?

In Skeet Bannion #4, tentatively called Every Family Doubt, Skeet receives a call from her estranged mother wanting Skeet to come to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, to solve a murder and free her stepfather, who’s been jailed for it. Gran insists she go, so she and Gran pack up Brian and head out for Tahlequah, capital of the Cherokee Nation. There she will be faced with and have to come to terms with all kinds of family entanglements and secrets—in her own family and with those involved in the murder.

  Don't be fooled by Linda's placid demeanor!

Every Hidden Fear will publish on May 6th, and it’s getting good reviews. Library Journal called it “engrossing.” It’s available for pre-order right now. Everyone who pre-orders Every Hidden Fear and sends me some kind of proof of pre-order (scan of receipt, email confirmation of order, etc.) at with a subject line of PRE-ORDER CONTEST goes into the pot for the drawing for the prizes. The grand prize is an original design, hand-knitted, multicolor lace shawl made from various luxury fibers, such as baby alpaca, merino, silk, and cashmere, many of which will be handspun and hand-dyed. I used to design and make these one-of-a-kind shawls on commission for hundreds of dollars each. I even made a special one for Sandra Cisneros. The second prize will be the chance to have a character in my next book named after you, and there will be two of these! And everyone who enters will receive a signed bookplate to go in their copy of Every Hidden Fear. For pre-order links, reviews and blurbs for Every Hidden Fear, and more details and photos on the shawl and contest, visit my blog.
Linda Rodriguez’s second Skeet mystery, Every Broken Trust, was a selection of Las Comadres National Latino Book Club and is currently a finalist for both the International Latino Book Award and the Premio Aztlan Literary Prize. Her first Skeet novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was a Barnes & Noble mystery pick, and was a finalist for the International Latino Book Award. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” has been optioned for film. Find her on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda, on Facebook at, and on blogs with The Stiletto Gang http:, Writers Who Kill, and her own blog

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Celebrity Bugs

I have a love/hate relationship with spring. I’m thrilled when the gray sky turns blue, the warm sun melts any remaining snow, and flowers burst up through the ground with the force of corn kernels popping.

But evil lurks in my paradise—bugs. Some with faces only their mothers could love.

My first spring living in the D.C. area (2004) I was warned about the approaching 17 year cicada invasion. I didn’t understand all the fuss about singing bugs. How bad could it get? So naïve.

First, they crawled out of the ground, dark bodies with glowing red eyes that looked like they had been residing in one of Dante’s levels of hell. Then they swarmed on trees, shed their skin, gained wings and flew everywhere. They began emitting otherworldly, pulsating noises that sounded like the Mother Ship was hovering nearby. Not long after, they died—sometimes in mid-flight. One landed in my omelet while I was eating brunch on the patio.

I’ve already begun this year’s spring insect dance. One morning while writing, I glimpsed a dark object on the floor skittle by my shoe, antennae waving, clearly taunting me. I jumped out of my chair and ran after the multi-legged creature trying to stomp on it. The bug zigged, I zagged and a dance to an imaginary tune of The Hokey Pokey commenced. Put your right foot in, take your right foot out…

I sat down to continue writing but spotted a spider hanging off a door. The phantom itching began. Was it poisonous? I searched online for an answer and instead found websites devoted to bugs (and animals) named after celebrities.

Yep, celebrities. No joke. Apparently scientists are given free rein with names as long as they abide by guidelines set by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

Some names made me smile:

Preseucoila imallshookupis …Read More »

 – A species of gall wasp named after Elvis Presley and his hit song "All Shook Up". 

Villa manillae Evenhuis – This bee fly’s name was perhaps inspired by the lip syncing duo Milli Vanilli.

Aptostichus barackobamai Bond – A trapdoor spider named after President Obama because he is a fan of Spiderman comics.

Entomologists named three wasp species Polemistus chewbacca, Polemistus vaderi, and Polemistus yoda after their favorite Star Wars characters: Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and Yoda.

Scaptia (Plinthina) beyonceae A horsefly with a glamorous golden behind named after singer Beyoncé.

Aptostichus stephencolberti A trapdoor spider named after comedian, Stephen Colbert. However, Colbert asked if they could name something cooler than a spider after him. They complied and named a beetle (way cooler than a spider), Agaporomorphus colberti, in his honor.

Euglossa bazinga is a bee species found in Brazil. It was named after the catchphrase, “bazinga,” used by television character Dr. Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.

Fun names, but something bugs me. I saw few insects or animals named after authors. And, unless I overlooked a section, I don’t recall seeing any mystery writers on the list. How about naming an inquisitive animal or bug in honor of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, or Dashiell Hammett?

Do you have a bug horror story?
Does anyone recognize the spider in my photo? Should I be concerned?

Monday, April 28, 2014


Last night I had the nicest surprise in my inbox – the galley of the latest anthology by the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Homicidal Holidays contains my new short story, “Disco Donna.” Happy dance! And I should mention it also has a new story from our own E. B. Davis! Publication is set for this fall.

In “Disco Donna,” three very modern teenage girls stumble upon proof of their town’s most famous urban legend. Disco Donna was the 80’s girl too hot to care about her bad reputation. Donna was murdered on Halloween night, left in her bed clasping a single red rose. Her killer was never found and theories of the murderer’s identity are still whispered in the town’s cafés, shops, and high school hallways.

It was great fun to create my own urban legend and even more fun to work with the talented authors who shared their expertise and time to take my story from rough draft to less-rough draft, sharpening plot twists, highlighting characters, and omitting needless words. We discussed techniques for breaking and entering, ink colors, and the best ways to hide things you don’t want your parents to find. When my drafts came back heavily tattooed with editorial marks, my heart fell, but each suggestion helped me tighten and improve the work.

Now the story is a galley. To sailors, the galley is a kitchen. To lovers of B movies, a galley is a Ben Hur style long boat powered by men chained to oars. In publishing, the galley, or “galley proof” is the mock up of the book, the penultimate step before it goes to be printed. It’s the last chance. The galley is the dress rehearsal of the publishing process. All the writing and rewriting and editing and polishing have taken place and now we’re looking for typos. It’s done. Don’t get any ideas, the editorial coordinator warned me. (OK, Barb!) It’s too late for changes, unless they are huge.

So I am thrilled and a bit afraid to review my story. What if I do find that huge mistake? What if’s make for good story ideas, but also for a bad night’s sleep. But then I remember the great advice and help I have received from my Sisters in Crime editors. Thank you Marcia, Donna, and Barb! Without your help, I wouldn’t have slept as well last night.

How did you feel when you first saw your work in galley form?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Spending Reading Time with the Unpublished

I love knowing other writers for many reasons—reasons I’m sure most anyone reading this shares.
Camaraderie. A sense of understanding. Tips and tricks. Book recommendations.
But, for me, one of the best things about getting to know other writers is getting a chance to read their work.
I find this to be something very unique and fun because I know the brain from which this great story I’m enjoying came. Sometimes, what’s in the pages happens to be a surprise. Other times, I can sit there and go, “That sounds just like so-and-so.” Either way, it’s delicious fun—no matter if the book is published or not.
For this reason, I spend a lot of time reading books that aren’t truly “books” but manuscripts.
I don’t really care if this affects my Goodreads numbers or if I can’t plow through a hot new book the second it comes out. I only have so much reading time and if it goes to something that’s really a manuscript and not a book, who cares? Because, besides the fact that I enjoy it and that I know writer friends find it helpful, there’s another benefit of this practice: It allows me to read all sorts of books without breaking a sweat.
Just in the past few months, I’ve read a time-travel sci-fi, a turn-of-the-century historical, a YA fantasy, a small-town mystery, a literary thriller, a war time historical, a contemporary mystery, and my Kindle is loaded with much, much more. This doesn’t include books I’ve copy edited through the publisher I work for or any of my freelance. And you know what? It’s been fabulous.
Sure, sometimes I like to break it up and read a published book now and again—fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t matter. And sometimes I feel like I might say yes too often to reading books I don’t have the time to get to for another month or so. (Sorry to all the writers out there waiting on me currently.)
But I’m glad I can do this. I love that I can not only give other writers feedback but that I can also grow as a writer simply by reading someone else’s turn of a phrase, or characterization or plotting.
In fact, I dread the day when I’m going to have to be pickier about what I say I’ll read.
I know it’s coming, and probably has been for a while. I know that when I really get into the revision stage of my own projects (as I am now), that I’ll need to save my precious reading time for my own words. And that there might come a day when my editing schedule is so full, I won’t be able to “just read” a manuscript for fun as easily. But I’m relishing in the chance to read as many unpublished writers as I can while I can.
Do you read other writers’ manuscripts on a regular basis? How do you think the practice affects your own writing or writing process (or doesn’t if you don’t do it)?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ways I’ve Killed (In My Novels, That is)

Today Salad Bowl Saturdays is hosting Marilyn Meredith (a.k.a F.A. Meredith) as part of her blog tour for Murder in the Worst Degree. The body that washes up on the beach leads Detectives Milligan and Zachary on a murder investigation that includes the victim’s family members, his housekeeper, three long-time friends, and a mystery woman.

There's a contest at the end, but read the 'tween stuff first, you hear? ~ Jim
Because I’m a great grandmother and a Sunday School teacher, there are many of my friends and acquaintances who are quite startled when they discover I write about murders. What I’ve always said about the Rocky Bluff P.D. series is that I’ve strived to show how what happens to the policemen and women on the job affects the family, and how what happens in the family affects the job. But, after all, I am writing mysteries—and most mysteries include murders

In my first book in the series, the murderer killed in the fashion of a vampire—though he wasn’t one.

Looking back, I’ve used a lot of stabbings and slashings, and even a beheading. And yes, there have been shootings—but not as many as you might imagine. 

Poisonings, yes, and an overdose too.

I’ve never counted the murder methods, nor tried to come up with something unusual, though it has happened. Being a writer who only does a minimal amount of planning before I start writing, I’m often surprised by who ends up being a victim and even the murderer—and often what method the person used to dispatch his or her victim.

Despite the fact my sleuths are police detectives, my Rocky Bluff P.D. series tends to be on the softer side of the procedural spectrum. You may ask, how can you say that after listing all these gruesome methods of murder? My answer, I don’t dwell on the gory details—at least not in my later books. 

Frankly, I enjoy reading the more hard-edged mysteries too, but when it comes my writing I’ll stick to focusing on the characters and the step-by-step solving of the crimes.

Thank you so much for hosting me today.

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith
F. M. Meredith aka Marilyn Meredith is the author of over 35 published books. She enjoys writing about police officers and their families and how what happens on the job affects the family and vice versa. Having several members of her own family involved in law enforcement, as well as many friends, she’s witnessed some of this first-hand.


Once again I am offering the opportunity to have your name used for a character in a book if you comment on the most blogs during this tour for Murder in the Worst Degree(purchase here). Tomorrow you can find me visiting Jackie Vick at

Friday, April 25, 2014

How to be the Best Aunt/Uncle Ever

Photo by David R. Tribble

This morning in the coffee shop I heard a conversation between parents of young children that inspired this blog.  The mother of a four-year-old daughter told the mother of a child of similar age she had a terrible argument with her daughter.  The girl’s grandmother had presented the child with a wonderful gift — finger paints.  The daughter wanted to bring her incredible new possession along with her to the coffee shop to show it to her friend (the other mother’s child.)  Yelling did not convince her mother, stubbornness was not persuasive and even crying did not prevail.  The daughter was left at home with her grandmother who gave her the finger paints.

We swapped stories of child rearing. I supported the time-honored practice of having one set of toys that remains forever at Grandma’s house (such as finger paints.) 

The barista chimed in with the message that when she babysits for her nieces and nephews she gives them chocolate milk, gooey sweets and candy, which creates a sugar high for the parents to deal with.

The momentarily child-free mother said a babysitter she had as a child would encourage her and her siblings to use a cheese grater and the stubby ends of worn crayons to make crayon shavings. The shavings were then dumped into the middle of cookie cutters and baked in the oven to create multicolored crayons in the shape of Christmas trees and gingerbread men.  She acknowledged her parents then had to clean up melted wax in the oven and colored shavings ground into the carpet, but she and her siblings loved staying with that baby sitter. 

Another parent told us about her daughter who put a cream used to prevent diaper rash in her younger brother’s hair. She formed the resulting mess into a unicorn-like spike on top of his head.  After several baths, the coiffure was still in evidence. I can personally attest to that. 

Is this firing any thoughts for those of us who supervise children in the short-term and then return them to their loving parents?  

Thursday, April 24, 2014


On a morning walk in my woods in the summertime.
Tomorrow is Arbor Day. The Arbor Day Holiday was founded in 1872 by J. Sterling Morton, and The Arbor Day Foundation was founded one hundred years later in 1972 by John Rosenow with a mission “to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees.” The foundation is supported by donations, selling trees and merchandise, and by corporate sponsors. In Nebraska City the Foundation manages Arbor Day Farm It’s a National Historic Landmark; the estate J. Sterling Morton, and is an educational visitor attraction. One of the programs the Foundation supports is The Tree City USA program which is co-sponsored by the National Association of State Foresters and the USDA Forest Service. It has grown to include 3080 towns, cities and military bases in all 50 states. I think we all know, or should know, how important trees are to our ecosystem. They help clean up the carbon and pollution in the air and furnish us with oxygen. Trees furnish us with fruits and nuts to eat and for wild animals, too. Unfortunately, not only our reliance on fossil fuels, but with the cutting down of many of our forests to make room for malls, buildings, homes and highways we have a serious problem with global warming.

I planted the dogwood blooming and the Japanese Maple.
I love trees. I’ve always loved trees; oaks, maples, pines, beech, apple, dogwoods and too many others to name here. When I was a little girl, I was a champion tree climber. I could climb faster and higher than my brother and my cousins. Once I climbed a maple tree at least thirty feet up until I got to the thinner branches. One of them couldn’t support me and I fell hitting each branch until I reached the ground. Although I probably sustained a few bruises in the fall, I wasn’t seriously hurt. As a teenager, I’d climb a hollow willow tree near my grandparents’ house and settle comfortably in a crotch to read on lazy summer days.

My backyard seen from my backsteps. 
One of the things that attracted me to the old house I bought twenty-five years ago was the trees around it, including an old weeping willow tree. Unfortunately, the willow tree is no more, but I did plant another weeping willow not quite as close to the house, and in the slightly more than twenty years since it was planted, it’s grown quite large. Yes, they can be a messy tree, but so graceful and beautiful. The trees around my house, mostly pine and spruce, keep my house cool in the summer and protect it a little from winter winds. They’re also home for the birds. My house came with old apple trees that still produce apples for my ponies, chickens and me, and over the years other apple trees have appeared and are now producing apples, too. I’ve planted magnolias, dogwoods, Japanese Maples, pears, sweet gum, crabapples and other trees, also.

One of my two sisters on a camping trip we took last year.

All my camping trips with siblings and my youngest daughter are in forests. I like bodies of water, too; oceans, lakes, rivers and ponds. They’re interesting for a short while, but give me a babbling brook running through a forest anytime. There is always something new and interesting to discover in forests, even in my small woods where I walk almost every day. Once I heard Carolyn Hart in an interview at Malice say she was uncomfortable in forests. She much preferred the open spaces of her home state of Oklahoma. Just as she can’t imagine being without wide open spaces, I can’t imagine not having trees around me.

Most years I contribute to the Arbor Day Foundation and get some small seedlings sent to plant. In spite of already having many trees, every year I add new ones; a crabapple here, a magnolia there or maybe a Japanese Maple, an evergreen of some sort or some other tree. They don’t all make it, but those that do, delight my heart. Recently I bought a Manchurian cherry tree. Will it make it? I don’t know, but I don’t have one so I’m hoping it will. Did I mention that I love trees?

Hiking in the Allegheny Mountains of NW Pennsylvania.

How do you feel about trees and/or forests?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Virginia is for Mysteries with Teresa Inge

I’m talking with Teresa Inge today, who serves with me on the Steering Committee of SinC’s online Guppy chapter. Like many members, Teresa also belongs to her local Virginia Beach SinC chapter. The Virginia Beach and newly formed Central Virginia chapter combined their talents to write short stories. The result: Virginia is for Mysteries, a delightful mix of seventeen mystery stories written by fourteen authors. Please welcome Teresa Inge to WWK.                      E. B. Davis

Teresa, tell our readers about the SinC Virginia Beach chapter and how the collaborative effort evolved with the Central Virginia chapter?

About ten years ago, I searched for a mystery writer’s group in Hampton Roads and discovered there was only romance, inspirational and poets in the area. After receiving the SinC newsletter in the mail, I noticed a list of members at large and mailed each one of them a hand-written note about chartering a chapter. Keep in mind this was before the SinC website and Internet tools we have today. The group met at a local restaurant and we formed SinC Mysteries by the Sea, Virginia Beach chapter. 

In 2011, I attended a one-day Mystery Writer’s conference at the Library of Virginia in Richmond. During the conference, I discussed collaborating an anthology with the Central Virginia chapter attendees. Everyone loved the idea and we began brainstorming.

How was the theme decided, and what were your guidelines to authors?

During the brainstorming session, I suggested Virginia is for Murders, and the group agreed. We also discussed that each story should have a dead body and a Virginia landmark. Later, I discovered we needed permission from Virginia tourism to use the trademark -Virginia is for...I then worked with a state official that approved the more appropriate title Virginia is for Mysteries.

How were the submissions judged?

Each author who submitted a story read three stories submitted by other authors and judged
each story based on character, setting, voice and guidelines. 

Who served as editor or did a team edit the stories?

Multi-published authors Meredith Cole, Maria Hudgins and Jayne Ormerod served as editors.

How did you find a publisher?

As a SinC online Guppy chapter member, I searched the database for a list of publishers and began the submission process. The database is a great resource for guppy members. 

Did your publisher provide the wonderful cover art?

Yes, Koehler Books has an outstanding cover art design team who created the beautiful cover.

I anticipated that the stories would be set in and around Virginia Beach, but the first story was set at the Monticello and the other settings were scattered around Virginia. Did you encourage geographic diversity or did it just happen?

Yes, we required each story to be set in or around Virginia.

I’m familiar with both settings of your stories, Teresa. I travel through Chesapeake frequently, and the Cavalier Hotel was one of my parents’ favorites. I remember staying there in the 1960s. What prompted you to set your stories in these places?

I’ve always been fascinated by the historic Cavalier on the Hill hotel in Virginia Beach. Built in 1927, it’s unique architecture and rich history of presidents, royalty and celebrity guests made a perfect setting for murder.  When doing my research for “Guide to Murder,” I took my family for a weekend stay at the elegant hotel. As soon as we arrived I began combing the grounds for where the murder would take place. I took pictures, explored areas that were not meant for guests and did lots of snooping around! I even stumbled across a vintage sauna that had a huge lock strapped across the front. It was tucked in a dark corner on the bottom floor and was very scary looking. I could only imagine guests of the 1920’s and 30’s going into that sauna.  
In Shopping for Murder,” I was inspired by a fabric store in the Great Bridge Shopping center in Chesapeake since the center is a staple in the community near the historic Battle of the Great Bridge. The center made a dynamic location with lots of options to create great characters and a murder.
Would you give us a description of your current WIP?

I recently submitted two short stories to be considered for publication, and I am working on a series about a virtual assistant in Virginia Beach who continues to stumble across dead bodies.

This is probably a no-brainer, but do you prefer beach or mountains, Teresa? 

I prefer both! I love the beach since I live near Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks but also love visiting the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Blue Ridge and Shenandoah Mountains in Virginia.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cogitating Consistency

A friend and former co-worker used to say to me, “Cogitate on that in your copious spare time.” I always liked that phrase and that concept, and I find myself using it now with others.

What does it mean?

“Cogitate” is a synonym for ponder, reflect, ruminate, and deliberate. Most definitions describe to cogitate as to think deeply about something that is a problem or to plan out a scheme.

“Copious” means abundance, which makes it an odd way to describe spare time. Most people don’t have sufficient, much less plentiful unallotted hours. My friend and I always laugh at that part of the phrase.

After doing a previous blog about persistence, there is something I’ve been thinking about in my fleeting spare moments.


A blank sheet of paper is comforting if you have been there often enough. By returning, you develop a practice of writing, maybe even something of a ritual. Giving yourself a place to write and permission to write anything is empowering. Establishing a pattern of going to that place gives you a means to start and continue your work.

My practice is to write by hand in a 5” by 7” notebook. Why that size? It’s easy to carry, so if I have a copious spare minute, my tools are available. I like the notebooks that have 100 perforated pages; pockets in the front where you can put business cards or notes; and a wide enough wire binding to slip a pen into it. I get those ball point pens with caps that do not extend beyond the notebook, so that they stay in place beneath the wire along the side of the notebook.

I put the date on the top line in the outside corner of each page. I number each tenth page as a marker, and I also number each individual entry on a page.

What’s an entry? It might be the title for a future blog or short story; a completely independent idea; a description of something I’ve just seen or heard in a restaurant; or an indication of paragraph breaks if I’ve been working out the plot or dialogue for a short story or novel (I don’t indent on a page unless I’m making an outline).

The idea of numbering each entry has two purposes.

First, it helps me to locate what I’ve written. In the top margins of each page, I often have a word or initials that indicate what matter is contained on the page. For example, the initials of a story title so I can flip through the pages to easily to find and type up everything on that subject.

Second, because I number entries consecutively throughout the notebook, it gives me a sense of accomplishment. I began my last notebook in September and finished in February with 266 entries.

When I look at descriptions of events occurring at the time I was working on short story ideas, I remember what was happening in the world while I was “cogitating” on a certain passage. Also, I persuade myself that my entry pattern will help scholars who later study my work and writing habits. [Please, let’s all pause now and have a good laugh! Even so, it is something that Carolyn See advocates in her book Making a Literary Life. Not only should you picture yourself as a writer, but imagine what being a successful writer will bring into your life. I’m just trying to accommodate that image!]

To mark time and see how quickly I’m able to fill the notebooks, I select notebook colors that reflect the seasons. The notebook I started in September was rose, the one I’m writing in now is deep purple, and one I have for later in the year is green. I also have a bright orange one waiting in the wings!

How often do I write? I wish I could say every day, but that doesn’t happen, particularly during busy times at my work. Listing the date at the top of each page helps remind me how long it’s been since I last wrote and spurs me on creatively.

What keeps me going are the surprises along the way. I’ll think I know where I’m heading, then something intrudes, and I’m off on a different, unexpected path. That surge of joy and discovery propelling me forward is a great motivator to continue. It’s not so much me writing as it is my story directing me. The most wonderful part is that I’m no longer alone in the process. I’m not the only one seeking the way. My story is beside me, also making the effort.

So, why is writing consistently in a notebook beneficial to writers? It gives them a safe place that feels like home, where they can experiment, comment, and, if they are very lucky, race to keep up with a story developing beneath their fingertips.

Do you have methods that help you to write consistently? What are they and how do they benefit you?