Saturday, January 31, 2015

My Name is Kait--by Kait Carson

Hi, my name is Kait. You and I have met before; I’m a writer who kills. You’ve had me as a guest a couple of times in fact, but this is my first meeting, such as it is, as a regular blogger on Writers Who Kill. I can see y’all sipping down your coffee, and a couple of you, tasting something stronger. We don’t have those rules here. You can drink what you like, long as you know who you are and what you do. Heck, you could probably light up a smoke or two. Might even help the atmosphere.

Ok, enough. I need to get down to it, I guess. I mean, you didn’t come here to listen to me wander all over the Southeast and points north. Fine.

Here’s the skinny on me. I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen. Nice, simple, stories, you know the kind. The house with the door and four windows in the front, the mommy and daddy, the brother to go with me. One face in every window. The true American Dream. Car in the garage, rose bushes alongside the steps. Regular stuff. I liked it. I liked that other people liked it. I really liked that the teacher liked it, and I got high praise for my efforts.

When you’re a kid like that, you think it’s never gonna change. No one is ever gonna look under the cover, flip the drawing over, see the inside. But that kid. She knows. She knows how many knots you need to tie into the sheet to get out the bedroom window. How Daddy is funny with one drink, a laugh a second with two, and someone you never met with three. All that while Mommy stands back and says, “He’s your father, do what he says.”

That’s when you want that family of four to look just like you, ‘cause if they don’t, there’s no place left for you to go. No place but down, and that’s where you’re going.

By third grade, you stop drawing that family. Those teachers, they’re smart. They figure you know your own house enough now. They don’t need to know what really happens. But they teach you something better. Something way better than drawing circles for Mommy and Daddy faces. They teach you to write. And they teach you about fiction. Pretty soon, you’re bringing home gold stars on your papers. Your teachers praise your creativity. Your parents put them up on the refrigerator. You’re going to be a writer.

For a while, you read every book you can get your hands on. Phyllis Whitney, Edgar Allan Poe, Louisa May Alcott. Everything. Nothing is immune from your reading need. You start to incorporate details from each of your heroes in your books. Suddenly, your teachers aren’t talking about classwork, they’re talking about careers. You and your career. You are a cut above. That’s rich. A cut above. If only they knew.

It’s about this time that some teacher hands you the book that changes your life. Some old guy named Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote something called The Little Prince. It’s a short book, you read it twice before dinner. It was there that I learned to judge by deeds not words. That words are the source of problems and to love something, it must be let go.

That’s when I became a writer who killed. All of my prior stories were stories of my perception. I wrote what I saw. There was always a happy ever after. But after I learned that words were the source of all problems and deeds their resolution, well, I discovered that one must look deeper. Deeper than words. Some characters by their acts need killin’. And so, I’m a writer who kills. I look at the story world, and I listen to my characters, right and wrong, clear-eyed and self-deluded. Then I ask myself. How to help them write their own real stories?

What about you? What’s your criteria for a bad guy? Bad through and through or merely someone who through twists and turns, maybe jealousy and envy, becomes irredeemable?
You can reach Kait Carson at Facebook, @twitter, or at Her books are available at bookstores everywhere and at

Friday, January 30, 2015

Do you ever get to feeling like you should be living up to your email?

Do you ever get to feeling like you should be living up to your email?

I almost giggle when some psychics on the web predict something horrible is about to happen to me while other email psychics forecast that something wonderful is on the way.   Make either prediction continually and eventually the prediction will come to pass.

On the other hand I have been told that (insert name) knows my deep dark secret. I was sorely tempted to reply so I could find out what it was.  Shouldn’t everyone have at least one deep dark secret?  Said person also knows my arrest records.  So do I.  There are none.  I might have been photographed at an anti-Viet Nam war rally when I was a college student, but that’s nothing special for someone my age. I haven’t been arrested yet.

Then there are the supposed official institutions such as the United Nations, the FBI and international governments that want my attention.  I’ve never been asked for input by any federal agency except for the IRS and Social Security. Who knows? Maybe I could contribute something useful.  Sometimes in the movies they sent a helicopter to pick up someone with special knowledge.  I am the world’s leading expert on… pretty much nothing.  Never mind.

Elizabeth just sent a note saying she has to have me in her life.  Well, Lizzy, you lived your entire life to this point without me.  I suppose you’ll have to make do with some other guy, inferior as he may be.  And who are you anyway?

Many times I have been advised that I have won or been awarded a ton of cash.  My policy is to accept this as factual just as soon as an armored vehicle drops off bags full of greenbacks at my house.  I do appreciate the FBI and other official agencies taking the time to assure me the messages are accurate.  I’d like to tell them: Please just send the cash over and get back to tracking fugitives, spying and other official duties. 

I once got a message that a researcher had found out fascinating information about my family background based on my last name.  Curiously the message did not mention my last name.  It was as if the message was being sent to millions of people with various last names.  Okay, you can bring the information over.  Set it down over there alongside those barrels full of money. 

Sorry email. Surely you have people with more exciting lives than mine. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Importance of Solitude

Be Still and Know That I Am.
Proverbs 46.10

Growing up with four siblings – five after I got married – as well as living near cousins. You would think there wasn’t much time for being alone. But I lived in the country next to my grandparents’ farm in a time of no cell phones and no TV until I reached my teens. Although I spent a lot of time with the brother closest to me in age and various cousins who lived near, much of it spent on the farm, I still had alone times; times I cherished. I was a reader and often curled up in a chair reading alone in a room. Sometimes in the summer, I’d climb an old hollow willow tree beside my grandparents’ house and in the crook of that tree, I’d read out of sight of everyone. As a teenager, my group of friends and cousins were often together. We played softball, kick the can and other games. My girlfriends and I formed a group called “The Crazy Teens.” Not that we were crazy by today’s standards. But I also took solitary walks through the fields resting on a log at the top of a rise in a boundary line of trees. There as a teen, I wrote poetry. Or in my room I wrote short stories.
One of my gardens where I work in solitude.
Today people live in a busy connected world; a world of cell phones with people constantly talking to others or texting or tweeting. How often in a store have you turned thinking someone was talking to you when they were on the phones or even more the person walking around seeming to talk to themselves when they have a blue tube in their ear? And if we’re not talking on our phones, we’re emailing others or checking Facebook. Those who work with others are even more connected with little alone time.

I am a social creature. Most of us are. I easily chat with people I don’t know in line at the grocery store. I’m interested in people. I enjoy getting together with others at my book clubs or writers groups. I like my Mobile Meals people; both the other volunteers and the people I deliver to. Sunday Mass is special to me; sitting with people I know, the music, the rituals that I’m comfortable with as well as the sermons and scripture readings. I enjoy when my siblings and I get together for a meal, maybe a DVD and always the laughter and talking. I enjoy my children and grandchildren, and reconnecting with old friends. That’s why my siblings laughed when in a previous blog I mentioned that I’m a bit of an introvert.
A morning walk with my Maggie

However, the times I’m most at peace and content are when I’m alone. I like my quiet morning walks in the woods in mostly silence except for the sounds of birds, the rustling of leaves by my feet in the autumn, the occasional bark of my collie when she’s treed a squirrel, the sound of traffic in a distance with no horns honking on my country road, but only a soft swish coming and going like the sound of waves on a shore.

Today solitude is becoming rare and appreciated by only a few. Many people equate solitude with loneliness. They think those who embrace solitude are sad, depressed or antisocial. Alone has a negative connotation for many. Society sometimes scoffs at the loner, but, in fact, solitude can be healthy both physically and psychologically. It’s important to our well-being. Being able to enjoy and appreciate solitude is an important skill to possess.
My little goldfish pool near my patio is soothing

Studies have shown that periods of solitude are strongly beneficial to personal development. Author Susan Cain found that people working alone often tend to achieve better results than those in groups because original ideas get lost in groups. Researcher Bethany Burum of Harvard also found that simply being around other people causes our minds to become preoccupied with their thoughts as we wonder about what they think of us, etc. She also found that those in her study tended to have stronger and clearer memories when alone than those with other people in the room. Other things discovered in her study found that cognitive and emotional processes benefited from solitude, too. People, who had more solitude time, showed more empathy for others. It is also important for finding one’s self when everyone else is gone.

The most successful painters, musicians and writers often find or found their inspiration through solitude. That’s why I can’t understand those who find their best writing is done in cafés on a laptop surrounded by people and noise. It must work for them, but I need silence. I turn off the radio after the morning news and work and write in silence. I know I’m luckier than most because I have that option. I’m retired and except for assorted critters, I live alone so I’m blessed with the solitude I need to write. Does it make me a great writer? Smile here. No, but it makes me better than what I would be if I had to work around people. In fact, when I’ve been in a writing class or a workshop where the participants are given a prompt to write to with other people around me, I freeze up. I’m lucky to come up with one pathetic paragraph when the time is up. It only makes it worse hearing and seeing other people scribbling away putting lots of words down.

Do you treasure your times of solitude?

Are you able to concentrate and work well with others around you?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

An Interview with Alyssa Maxwell--Guilded Newport Mysteries

Alyssa Maxwell writes the historic Gilded Newport mystery series, set in the Newport, Rhode Island during the end of the gilded era, approximately 1880 to 1920. This time and place presents enormous opportunity for highlighting women’s issues. Murder at the Breakers, the first of the series, is set in 1895. Murder at Marble House, the second book, occurs a few days later. The Breakers and Marble House were mansions owned by two branches of the Vanderbilt family in Newport. Kensington Publishing will release the third book, Murder at Beechwood, on May 26th, 2015.

Main character, Emmaline Cross, is a poor relation of the Vanderbilts. Poor, though, is a relative term. Emmaline is an independent woman due an inheritance from an aunt. That inheritance places her in the cross wire of society. She is not wealthy, but she has access to the wealthy due to her family connections. She solves murders that occur at the mansions all the while struggling to become a professional journalist, grappling with losing her independence if she marries, and increasing her income to support her causes, mainly women who are in crises.

I knew most of the history, but as I read the books, they reminded me of the horrors of the gilded era and the paradox of an extreme society. Queen Victoria wielded so much power when other women in the same era had so little.   

Please welcome Alyssa Maxwell to WWK.                                                                          E. B. Davis

Hello and thank you so much for having me!

What attracted you to this place and time?

It was the place that attracted me first. I’m married to a “native Newporter” whose family has been there for generations. Through him, I not only saw the “glitter” and excitement of Newport, but learned a bit about what makes Newporters tick, and what makes this such a special place to live whether you’re wealthy or not. I also loved the island setting, and the fact that during the Gilded Age (actually right up until the 60s when the Newport Bridge was built), Newport was cut off from the mainland except by boat or a single railroad heading north, creating somewhat of an isolated environment very much at the mercy of the elements. In addition, it’s a small town environment where everyone knows everyone else and their business, and to me, both qualities are very much in keeping with the structure of the cozy mystery.

Having decided on Newport as a setting, I then thought about what time periods Newport is most famous for, as well as which would provide the most fodder for mystery and mayhem. Ruthless robber barons, fierce society matrons, heiresses being used as social and political pawns, not to mention fashions from the House of Worth for which I have a serious weakness (I can spend hours just pouring through the Metropolitan Museum’s online collection), and then pitting all of this against the backdrop of Newport’s very stoic, steadfast, and very New England working class society of those days – all this made choosing the Gilded Age a no-brainer. 
Marble House's Gold Room

The descriptions you write of the houses make them seem like palaces. There is a real reason for the term “gilded” that refers to gold, not only wealth but also due to the use of gold in the finishing treatments of these houses. Are any of them still in existence? Are they still owned by the Vanderbilts?

Most of the Gilded Age mansions in Newport still exist. Some are still owned privately – and they post signs saying as much at their gates to prevent tourists from knocking on their doors. But houses like The Breakers, Marble House, Chateau Sur Mer, The Elms, Rosecliff, and Rough Point, to name a few, are owned either by the Preservation Society of Newport or the Restoration Foundation. Recently, both Beechwood (The Astor estate featured in book 3) and Belcourt (owned by Oliver Belmont and Alva Vanderbilt after they married) became privately owned, but I understand the plans for both are to restore them to their Gilded Age condition and open them as museums once again. Ochre Court, once owned by banker and real estate magnate Ogden Goelet, is now part of Salve Regina University.

Emmaline’s situation epitomizes many heartbreaks of the era. How did you create her character and her personality? Is the character based on anyone real?

Some of my inspiration for Emma came from Nellie Bly, a Gilded Age journalist who very bravely fought for her right to report on “hard news,” rather than the society fluff thought more appropriate for women writers of the time. Nellie broke new ground for women journalists, especially when she had herself committed to an insane asylum in NYC in order to expose the horrible conditions there, and again in 1889 when she became the first woman to travel alone around the world, beating the fictional Phileas Fogg’s trip in Around the World in Eighty Days. But in my mind, Emma isn’t strictly a feminist because she isn’t political. Rather, she is an individual who believes very strongly in personal responsibility, both in her private affairs and in her ability to affect change in the world. When something needs doing, she does it without stopping to ask whether she ought to become involved or not. The inspiration for this comes directly from my wonderful mother-in-law who was always ready to lend a hand, whether it was running the soup kitchen at her church, helping neighbors, making a disabled coworker’s day a little easier, etc.

Although newspaper owner and journalist Derrick Andrews saves Emmaline from harm on occasion, she also saves men’s and women’s lives, which eliminates her from being cast as a damsel in distress. Was this fine line hard to depict?

Actually, not really. I always look at Emma as an individual first and foremost, and then as a woman. Yes, this may be a modern perspective on my part, but I maintain that there have always been women throughout history who were unafraid to utilize their intelligence and emotional strength to assert themselves. Again, Emma’s sense of personal responsibility doesn’t allow her to accept the role of victim. Instead, she views all adversity in terms of possible resolutions – she just has to find the right one. Having said that, I do make sure to keep her aware of society’s limitations on women. When she breaks proper decorum, she does so fully aware of the possible repercussions, and, for example, when she investigates dockside pubs in Murder at Marble House, she’s sensible enough to bring Derrick along with her.

Even though Alva Vanderbilt (William K.) Belmont eventually became a leader in the women’s rights movement, the competition between Alva and Alice Vanderbilt (Cornelius) seems petty, as if they were two spoiled brats. Why did women in the upper classes disservice themselves with displaying this behavior?

I have a theory about that. From the reading I’ve done, I don’t believe these women were stupid or even naturally petty. But more than anyone else in their time, they were narrowly restricted in their actions, despite their enormous wealth. Imagine an intelligent, ambitious individual being relegated to planning parties and marrying off their offspring to the best available prospect. Imagine your primary function in life being to showcase your husband’s power and wealth. I can see how it would easily become a competition among these women, who had no other outlet for their talents, and who were raised to believe they would never be able to contribute anything of true substance to society.

I think Alva demonstrates this perfectly. Before her divorce from William Vanderbilt, her life was defined by the Gilded Age ideal of womanhood, and in her mind the natural pinnacle of this ideal was to become THE Mrs. Vanderbilt, i.e., the grand dame of one of America’s most powerful families. Unfortunately, her sister-in-law Alice, wife of Cornelius, had already claimed that honor. It must have driven the very ambitious Alva crazy. How to get even? By marrying her daughter, Consuelo, into English nobility. Yet defying society with her divorce seemed to have had a liberating effect on Alva. Little by little she turned away from the old restrictions and began redefining her role in society, so much so that Marble House, once built for petty, self-serving reasons, became a launching pad for the women’s suffrage movement.

The Breaker's Entrance
In Murder at Marble House, Alva is forcing her daughter to marry a poor, British duke, which is based on the true story of Consuelo Vanderbilt. Money has always defined societal rank and yet for Americans, who came to this country to escape the restrictions of the monarchy and class society, it seems incongruent that the values of the time seem dominated by British class distinctions even when some of the British had little money. Why were Americans so enamored with British society?

Aren’t we still? Don’t we rush to the TV to see the latest news on Will and Kate? It could have to do with those fairytales we read as children. But make no mistake. American Gilded Age society was as – or even more – class conscience as the British. I can only guess at the reasons, but I do think it’s natural for humans to divide themselves into groups – us and them – in order to establish boundaries and a sense of belonging. And safety. It’s as if the wealthy circled the wagons to protect their interests, and if that left the vast majority out in the cold, couldn’t be helped. Still, no matter how rich and powerful those few Americans became, there remained a distinction between new and old money, the latter being preferred I suppose because it implied permanence rather than a flash in the pan. Who better personified “old money” than the Europeans with their titles and landed estates? True, many of them had lost the bulk of their fortunes by the 1890s, but they hadn’t lost their prestige or their privileged place in society. With nothing material left to gain, Americans set their sights on European nobility for that last bit of validation that they were not only America’s elite, but the world’s.

Did you have trepidation writing fictional accounts of real life characters? Have Vanderbilt family members read your books and contacted you?

Funny, but I had more trepidation about Newporters reading my books. It was so important to me to portray Newport realistically and in a way that made locals proud of their home and of these books. My biggest fear was that I’d get emails to the contrary, but happily that hasn’t happened. In fact, I’ve made some wonderful contacts with readers from the area who have expressed their support and their enjoyment of the stories. A couple have even sent me Newport-related gifts, which I treasure.

I haven’t heard from any Vanderbilt family members so far, but it was also important to me to portray their ancestors fairly, and as whole, well-rounded individuals. As I did my research, I actually came to like Alice, Cornelius, and the rest – especially their son, Neily – and I feel about them as Emma does. I see their good and not-so-good qualities but I’ve grown genuinely fond of them. The most surprising thing I learned about them was how much like the rest of us they were. Hope, fear, love, pride, uncertainty, determination – they shared these qualities with the rest of the human race.

Emmaline faces sexual discrimination at work. Is her boss just a sexist blockhead?

No, I don’t see him that way at all! Ed Billings, her coworker and rival reporter, most certainly is a blockhead, but Mr. Millford is simply a man of his time. I feel his behavior is more paternal than anything else, and his reluctance to allow Emma to report on hard news is his attempt to protect her from harm and preserve her womanly reputation. I’m sure that sounds sexist to the modern ear, but in 1895 it would have been the norm, and no gentleman would willingly send a young woman like Emma into indelicate situations.

Do you see any similarities between the gilded-age economy and today’s economy?

All I’m going to say to that is history has a tendency to repeat itself, especially when we as a society don’t learn from our mistakes.

What’s next for Emmaline Cross in Murder at Beechwood?

Emma will find a shocking delivery on her doorstep – a baby. That same night, an unidentified man is murdered along Ocean Avenue near her home. This, combined with a scrap of expensive lace tucked into the baby’s blanket, sends Emma to Mrs. Astor’s estate, Beechwood, ostensibly to report on the woman’s Season-opening events, but actually hoping to find clues into the baby’s origins. She does find clues, but they are complicated by yet another death and accusations that Derrick Andrews might be to blame. What follows involves the twisted relations between two illustrious families and the testing of Emma’s faith in human nature.

Are you a beach or mountain gal, Alyssa?

Both! I love both equally! Surely I don’t have to choose? Both dazzle and inspire me, put me into an utterly relaxed state, and just make me happy!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Too Big to Fail?

“Characters can grow larger than their creators. That's when authors attempt to kill them off, with very mixed results.” ~ Warren Bull

Warren wrote the above as a blog post comment, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Is it really possible for characters to grow so large that their creator tries to kill them off?  I understand that an author might sacrifice a minor character in order for the main character to change. For instance, a secondary character could die while heroically saving someone’s life thus spurring the main character or the story to change. But why would an author kill off a main character?

It seems that there are a number of reasons.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempted to kill off Sherlock Holmes by having him tumble over the Reichenbach Falls. Why? Well, Conan Doyle saw himself as a historical novelist and thought that Holmes kept him from better things. Resentful of his character, he tried to scare off The Strand Magazine from requesting more stories by demanding increasingly outrageous rates. They agreed to pay his price and eventually Conan Doyle felt that he had no choice but to kill off the detective.

Sherlock Holmes fans protested his death so vehemently, even wearing black arm bands in mourning, that Holmes was “resurrected” in a later story. Readers in the 1800s saw something special about this larger than life character that many of us see today. I predict that Holmes will still be around, in one form or another, in the next century.

Some authors are ready to eliminate an important character, but decide against it. Tess Gerritsen admitted that she was prepared to kill off Jane Rizzoli in The Surgeon during a climactic scene in a cellar. Gerritsen wrote, “But as I was about to perform the coup de gras on her … something stopped me. You know what it was? She’d grown on me. She had so much heart, she’d faced so many struggles, that to end her life there struck me as appallingly unfair. So I let her live.” At the time Jane Rizzoli was a secondary character. I’m glad that Gerritsen let her live and become a main character. Can you imagine Isles without Rizzoli?

J.K. Rowling almost pulled the plug on Ron Weasley. Originally she planned for none of the kids to be killed. But midway through the series she almost offed him “out of sheer spite” because she “wasn’t in a very happy place.” Fans were relieved for many reasons but mainly because Ron was Hermione’s true love.

What are the consequences for eliminating a well-liked main character? Author Karin Slaughter received hate mail when she killed off a main character, Jeffrey, in Beyond Reach. In an interview with Lee Child she said that killing off Jeffrey was difficult but the best thing for the series because there wasn’t anything new or interesting to say about him. However, angry readers didn’t agree with her decision. They wrote that she hated men, hoped she never sold another book, and that she should die.

How do authors cushion the blow for readers when killing a main character…and avoid hate mail? Tess Gerritsen says that she gives the reader time to grieve by not abruptly ending the book but lengthening it by a few chapters. She believes this allows the readers time with the remaining characters to see how their lives change for the better.

Has an author killed off one of your favorite characters?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Books as Memories

When I was a little girl, we went up to Hastings, Nebraska, to visit my grandmother twice a year. What I remember more than anything about those trips was reading the same book every night I spent in Grandma Ruth’s house: Pippi Longstocking.

I was the type of child who followed the rules and made sure others followed the rules, too, so I always was so fascinated by Pippi, a girl who had no rules to follow. I mean, she was sort of this sad, ramshackle character who didn’t know she was sad or ramshackle at all. She lived her life in the realm of magic (and superhuman strength) and was ornery and brave when she should’ve been lonely and scared.

There were other books at Grandma’s house, of course. But I was always drawn to the girl who lived in Villa Villekula. So much so, I’m pretty sure I read that book on every single trip to Hastings, even into college.

Last week, Grandma Ruth passed away at the age of 94. She’d moved to Kansas a few years ago and I was lucky enough not to have to drive six hours to see her over the past few years. And though her copy of Pippi Longstocking seems to have disappeared when she sold her house years ago, I decided right away that I’d buy my own version to enjoy with my kids in her memory.

Do you have certain books you associate with loved ones?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Middle Age in Fiction By Janet Greger

 Book publishers and movie and TV producers don’t know what to do with middle-aged individuals, especially women. Think about it.

Many of the middle-aged women in novels and films are victims - mothers who lost their children and wives abused by their husbands and/or the welfare and penal systems. They’re often pathetic, and they certainly don’t radiate a positive image for middle-aged women, at least at the start of the novels.

Successful professionals in many romance, suspense, and mystery novels are unrealistically young. Most physicians are close to thirty-five by the time they complete medical school, their basic residency, and their fellowships. Less than three percent of the principal investigators on major grants from the National Institutes of Health are thirty-six or younger. However, physicians and scientists in novels are world-class experts in their field in their early thirties. Wow!

Sometimes, writers create “fortyish” physicians and scientists as protagonists in their novels, but the characters are transformed into thirty-year-olds in TV series and movies. A prime example is Kathy’s Reichs’s Tempe Brennan character in the TV series Bones.

Middle-aged protagonists are problematic in thriller and adventure fiction. The comic book action heroes (Superman, Batman, Spiderman, X-Men) grew out of cartoons and more recently video games designed to appeal to adolescent males. Not surprisingly the characters never aged past thirty-five. The fate of women protagonists – Lara Croft and Superwoman — in this genre is worse. They seem to stay eternally in their twenties.

The more “realistic” action heroes, such as John McClane, Indiana Jones and Rambo, were conceived of as sexy, active men in their thirties. However, middle age has snuck into action films as Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, and Sly Stallone aged. Screenwriters ignored the problems engendered by middle-aged stars, and producers hired more stunt doubles and starlets twenty years than the stars. One exception to my statements is RED (Retired and Extremely Dangerous). The scriptwriter let the characters show their age and eliminated extreme action scenes or gave them a humorous twist. The film even has woman action hero – Helen Mirren.

Most middle-aged characters in novels, TV shows, and movies are forgettable. The cast of Downtown Abbey supplies good examples of the fate of middle-aged characters. Julian Fellows wrote the most interesting lines for the elderly, sharp-tongued Violet Crawley, played by Maggie Smith. The under-thirty crowd provides all the action and romance in the series. The two main middle-aged characters, the Earl of Grantham and his wife, are costumed background pieces, who spout trite phrases. Similarly, Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple is an elderly spinster, not a middle-aged woman.

There is one class of novels, which defy the norms. Protagonists of most cozy mysteries are middle-aged women, but often they are so addled they’re contemptible.

Why don’t writers make their protagonists be articulate, fit women in theirs forties and fifties? Women who could be portrayed by Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Sigourney Weaver, or Alfre Woodard.

Don’t laugh at my question. The middle-aged market is large. According to the census in the U.S. in 2000 and the census in the U.K. in 2011, about one-half of the females in these countries are between thirty and sixty-five years of age. The Motion Picture Association of America found a quarter of all moviegoers are over fifty, and the percentage is growing.

My message is: authors should populate their novels with more smart, fit women in their forties and older.

I practice what I preach. The heroine in my medical thriller series is Sara Almquist, an epidemiologist who retired early to get away from the male-dominated academia. She’s energetic and attractive, but doesn’t attempt to be twenty again. Here’s how Rachel Jones, twenty-nine-year-old blonde beauty describes Sara in Malignancy.

What do Chuy and the other men see in her? She does have guts, but look at her. She has no style. Her pixie haircut accentuates the small sags in her jaw line, her slightly droopy eyelids, and her ten pounds of extra weight.

I can tell Rachel what the men see in Sara: a resourceful woman who helped to find a cure for a deadly flu epidemic in Coming Flu, consulted on public health problems in Bolivia in Ignore the Pain, and helped set up exchanges between scientists in the U.S. and Cuba in Malignancy. And that’s the only the work-related side of her life. She never flinches (well, not much)  when she confronts a drug czar in the Albuquerque area with strong ties in Bolivia.

Bio: As a professor in nutrition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I honed my story-telling skills as I lectured to bleary-eyed students at 8:30 in the morning. Students remember chemical reactions better when the instructor attaches stories to the processes. 

Now I have two great passions – my Japanese Chin dog, Bug, and travel. I’ve included both in my novels: Coming Flu, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, Ignore the Pain, and Malignancy. You can learn more about me at my website: and blog (JL Greger’s Bugs): I also answer question directed to:

MALIGNANCY: Men disguised as police officers shoot at Sara Almquist twice in one day. Albuquerque police suspect Jim Mazzone, a drug czar who Sara has tangled with several times, will order more hits on Sara. Thus when colleagues in the State Department invite Sara to arrange scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, she jumps at the chance to get out of town and to see the mysterious Xave Zack, who rescued her in Bolivia. Maybe, she should question their motives.

Malignancy is available (paperback and Kindle formats) at Amazon and Oak Tree Press:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Walking With Lillian

Walking with Lillian

It had been a long time since I walked with a small child.  Given the chance to walk with Lillian, her Mama and my wife so we could meet Dada I accepted gratefully.  As we all walked I was able to watch her mother and later her father display good parenting, which I always find utterly satisfying. 

I had forgotten many things such as:

To a two-year-old wearing boots means we should be walking in the snow and not on the shoveled sidewalk.

Each successive puddle is a new opportunity to splash.

Even with the goal of meeting Dada, a walk is a series of jaunts toward interesting items and people heading, more or less, in the general direction of Dada’s office.

Fallen leaves sitting on deep snowdrifts are more appealing than leaves on the cleared sidewalk.

Aunties and uncles are fun to chase. 

And finally:

Doggies poop on the sidewalk, which is of great interest to tiny people involved in potty training. 

Have you walked with a small child recently? 

I am away from my computer today, but I will look at the comments as soon as I can.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why Do People Murder

Doing research for my new book.
I’m working on my fifth book now, Murder in the Corn Maze. Although I’ve created numerous murderers, including those in my short stories, I put more into developing the character for my book murderers. For those murderers I want to know more about what brings him/her to feeling they need to murder the victim.

Even though I’ve read thousands of mysteries over the year and read and hear about killing daily through the news, I decided to see what experts have to say about this.

According to Dr. K. Sohail, author, humanist, speaker and therapist, there are seven reasons why
people kill; personal revenge, serial killers, social violence of gangs, mental illness, political/national violence, violence of religious fundamentalists and international violence.
My son willingly posing as a body for the cover of book one.
In “Everyday Psychology” Paul G. Mattiuzzi, PH.D, says there are the chronically aggressive individuals, who are easily frustrated, resent authority, often express passive-aggressive behavior, believe violence and/or aggression are legitimate responses to various problems, and although they won’t admit it, derive pleasure from their aggressive behavior. Often they are stimulus seekers. Usually, the violence occurs during a fight or disagreement.

Then there are the over-controlled hostility types,who rarely displays or expresses anger. They’re rigid and inflexible and very strict about interpreting rules, morally righteous and upstanding and see themselves as “good people.” They’re often judgmental, and could also be a non-assertive or passive type who allows other to take advantage of them, and their anger builds up like in a pressure cooker before they explode. These are the ones in which people say they never expected it.

There are also the hurt and resentful, who feel people walk on them and they’re never treated fairly. They always find other people to blame when things don’t go well for them. They do not accept criticism well, and in response to reprimands, they develop grudges, that are often deeply held. Often they’re whiners and complainers, and sometime wallow in their victimization and are impotent in being able to handle their anger in other ways before their anger erupts into violence.

There are those who have been traumatized by someone and as a victim seek revenge for what their abuser did to them.

The obsessive personality is immature and narcissistic. They crave attention and affection and like a baby, cannot stand to be deprived of what they desire. They’re the ones who make numerous phone calls and often become stalkers, and sometimes may resort to murder if they can’t have the object of their obsession.

There are the paranoid who believe their lover is cheating on them, or think people are out to get them. Sometimes their paranoia escalates to insanity.

A few are actually insane whose delusional beliefs make them incapable of rational behavior.

And there are the just plain bad and angry; a combination of most of the above except insanity. They’re angry, hostile, jealous, resentful, impotent and disturbed individuals, who are socially isolated, socially inadequate, who feel worthless. They may be seeking attention or seeking revenge.
Most of the above I already knew, and I’m sure you did, too. The above descriptions have been abbreviated because of space limits, but it is something to ponder when you create the murderers in your books or stories.

 I don’t create murderers who are psychopaths or mentally ill nor do they fit anything except sometimes the first one on Dr. K. Sohail’s list. My murderers are the ones in real life, who shock people into saying things like, “He was such a nice guy, always helpful and friendly, etc.” Or “I would never have guessed someone like her would murder (whoever they murdered).” I think there are attributes of some of the personality types in Dr. Mattiuzzi’s list of personality types, however.

Although I personally can’t imagine harming someone or something other than a fly or mosquito, etc., I’m sure if it came to protecting myself or someone I love, I could probably do so. Since I don’t own a gun, nor want to, I don’t know how I would do that. I don’t think a fly swatter would work. I imagine I’d all too easily be disarmed if I tried using a knife.  Poison is something I use often in my books or short stories, but that would take premeditation and that I wouldn’t do.

In developing my murderer, I have to give the person a strong motive for murdering their victim. So far I know who my murderer is in this book as well as the victim, but I’m working on developing my murderer’s bio a little more to make him/her a more realistic and believable murderer for me as well as the reader. As for the victim, it’s rare that I have a victim anyone would grieve for. Maybe a family member to a certain extent, but no one the reader would care that much about. In fact, they’re usually not a very nice person so the reader sees their death coming.

Unlike many books, I don’t have the murder happen anywhere near the beginning, although with the title, the reader knows there will be a murder and where it happens. I want to introduce the murderer, the victim, and all the suspects before the murder. And I want to include a few red herrings before and after the murder.  For me, I want to keep the reader guessing as long as possible who the murderer really is. It’s what I like in the mysteries I read, too.

How do you create your murderers if you write mysteries?

Do you prefer psychopaths, mentally ill murderers or the guy next door kind of murderer?

Can you imagine actually killing someone? Why or why not?