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

WWK's May interviews will be: 5/2--indie author Bobbi Holmes, 5/9--TG Wolff (aka--Anita Devito), 5/16--Chocolate Bonbon author Dorothy St. James, 5/23--Lida Sideris, 5/30--Food Lovers' Village (and multiple Agatha winner) Leslie Budwitz. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

Our May Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 5/5--John Carenen, 5/12--Judy Penz Sheluk, 5/19--Margaret S. Hamilton, 5/26--Kait Carson.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Tina Whittle's sixth Tai Randolph mystery, Necessary Ends, debuts on April 3, 2018. Look for it here. Tina was nominated for a Derringer Award for her novelette, "Trouble Like A Freight Train Coming." We're all crossing our fingers for her.

James M. Jackson's Empty Promises, the next in the Seamus McCree mystery series (5th), will be available on April 3, 2018. Purchase links are here.

Dark Sister, a poetry collection, is Linda Rodriguez's tenth published book. It's available for sale here:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with the authors in this anthology on 4/14! Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

Shari Randall's second Lobster Shack Mystery, Against the Claw, will be available in August, 2018.

In addition, our prolific KM has had the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," appears in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

An Interview with Ally Shields by E. B. Davis

Seeing ghosts should make solving homicides easy, right? Not even close.

 When detectives Maggie York and Josh Brandt catch a new murder investigation
involving occult rituals, ghosts, and venomous snakes, it seems like a case that
could only happen in New Orleans. Not only does the victim's ghost demand Maggie's attention, but three apparitions begin appearing to her…sending the detectives on a
search for more bodies. They soon discover the ghostly trio has links to the Witching
Hour Society, an organization of self-declared witches with far more going on
behind the scenes. Meanwhile, a neighbor believes the victim killed his family
with a curse, and the media eagerly sensationalizes the entire story.

 Making things worse, Maggie and Josh have hit a rough spot in their personal
relationship. The tension between them is already high when Josh's ex-fiancée
arrives in town…and wants him back.

Soon the violence is escalating, the ghosts grow more aggressive, and
the deeper Maggie and Josh dig, the stranger things get. Welcome to
murder New Orleans’ style.

I needed Ally Shields. My supernatural mystery manuscript was in limbo. Beta readers had torn it to shreds. Some wanted me to get rid of the supernatural elements. Others wanted me to get rid of the mystery. It was clear no one “got it.” Then, I saw on the Guppy email list that Ally Shields, who wrote paranormal mystery and urban fantasy, was a member. I asked her to read my manuscript and she did, teaching me much about building fantasy worlds and boosting my confidence in my work when others wanted to trash it. I realized then that not all beta readers are equal. I can never express my gratitude enough to Ally.

When I saw Ally had started a new series, Maggie York Paranormal Mysteries, I decided to read the series, so far two books. The first, Ghost Walking, was released in the spring of 2016. This interview will concentrate on the second book released in October 2016, Ghost Witching.

Please welcome Ally Shields to WWK.                                                                                      E. B. Davis

What attracts you to write paranormal mystery and urban fantasy?

Ally:  I've always enjoyed reading fantasy, and I absolutely thrive on mysteries. It only made sense to weave the two together in some fashion. In spite of that, my first book started as a traditional mystery and evolved into urban fantasy when I realized on day three that the protagonist was a witch. It turned out to be a happy turn of events. I've loved writing in the genre because the story is only limited by the stretch of your imagination. Building worlds and populating it with fantastical creatures and abilities is great fun.

What factors must you consider when building fantasy worlds or connecting the real world to a fantasy world?

Ally:  My characters always dictate the worlds they live in. Even real worlds—like New Orleans—are chosen or shaped to fit the needs of the characters. New Orleans was the perfect setting for Maggie York because the area has a strong belief in ghosts and the supernatural. Since Maggie isn't a believer and her ability to see ghosts was forced upon her, we immediately have her at odds with her environment, a good vehicle for creative conflict.
To build and sustain any urban fantasy demands consistency within the fantasy element— ie. establish your world rules early and don't violate them (unless it's an explainable plot point). But don't let the readers forget they're surrounded by a contemporary world. Keep the story grounded with real-world reminders/influences that the reader will recognize, such as stopping for a cappuccino, mentioning a known public figure, etc. 

For each new fantasy, I work out a complicated structure of characters, creatures, abilities, and the rules and limitations of each. The process has resulted in very different worlds for each of my three series. In the Guardian Witch series, Arianna is a supernatural, a witch cop working in a city where Otherworlders and humans know about and interact with each other on a daily basis in tolerant but uneasy harmony.

In the Elvenrude Trilogy, elite elf Kameo visits the real human world—where supernaturals are unknown—through a magic portal from her magical world of Elvenrude. In the Maggie York mysteries, my heroine is a human cop. She doesn't believe in magic or paranormal activity, never even considers it until it was thrust upon her. Each of these approaches created their own challenges of how to blend the real and imaginary…which made them fascinating to write.  

Are there subgenre conventions that if violated would turn off fantasy readers?

Ally:  Urban fantasy requires the story be set in a city (usually contemporary), and that the main character's life be significantly influenced by both the paranormal and real world aspects. If any of those three elements are missing, it might be a great story, but it isn't urban fantasy.

In the first book, Maggie wakes up in the hospital after she is nearly shot to death. Bombarded by ghosts, she talks about them. The authorities note her “hallucinations,” which gets her diagnosed as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and suspended from the force. Did Maggie have any prior supernatural experiences?

Ally:   None. She was born in New Orleans, but her parents whisked her away in infancy to avoid her relatives and the family heritage. She was raised in Chicago with typical Midwestern values and not one ounce of belief in the paranormal or supernatural.

When Dalia LeMay, a lost relation, contacts Maggie—she thinks Dalia’s loony.  But Dalia has evidence that sways Maggie. What prompted Dalia to contact Maggie and inform her of their family’s “gifts?”

Ally:  Dalia had tried to keep in touch with Maggie and her parents over the years, but Maggie's mother had prevented it, hoping to protect her daughter from a family history of witchcraft that she herself had rejected. When Dalia heard of Maggie's return to New Orleans, she kept a close eye on her career, and when the shooting and subsequent rumors of PTSD arose, she knew what had happened. She felt compelled to tell Maggie the truth.

Why does Maggie find peace in her gun-range therapy rather than on the psychiatric couch?

Ally:  Shooting is a tangible, concrete part of the career she loves. It is a controlled action, grounded in reality, a learned behavior that doesn't require her to face or challenge her fears or beliefs. And she's good at it. Success without any mental gymnastics to get there.

Joshua Brandt doesn’t doubt Maggie’s newly found abilities to see ghosts. Why?

Ally:  Josh has a very pragmatic side to his character, accepting what is and trying not to worry about what he can't change. He's intensely attracted to Maggie and wants to believe her. Her very rejection of the ghost sightings makes them more believable. Unlike Maggie, he's never known her when she didn't have this ability. It's just one part of who she is. No wonder Maggie's having a harder time—she has to rethink the Maggie she was for the first 28 years of her life.

Joshua is not only Maggie’s detective partner, but he is also her significant other. Why does Maggie halt their personal relationship?

Ally:  Josh could have been killed when he placed himself between Maggie and an active shooter. The incident terrified her (for several reasons that are gradually explained) and angry that he hadn't treated her as a true equal, had in fact played the alpha card. Her fears fueled her anger. They had a big fight and Maggie—prone to impulsive behavior from time to time—walked out.  She'd like to go back but how can she when nothing has changed?

The ghosts in the first and second books are very different. Why?

Ally:  Ghosts—at least those who hang around with unfinished business—retain part of their human personalities. Bobby Hurst (book one) was a rather timid, two-bit hood, as opposed to the three assertive women Maggie dealt with in book two. Plus, the ghostly trio had a reason to be angry with Maggie, but to mention why would definitely be a spoiler. :)

Maggie learns not to “touch” ghosts, but she already has violated that rule before she knows. What happens if she violates that rule too many times?

Ally: Scary things. Each time she touches the "chill of the Veil" (which all ghosts carry) adds a taint to her human soul. Too much taint could allow her soul, while she is still living, to be pulled through the Veil, thus stranding her in limbo for eternity. Not something you want to happen.

When three ghosts appear, Maggie and Josh find the ghosts are connected via the Witching Hour Society, which won’t give out a members list. Are there secret societies in New Orleans or is this part of the magic of fantasy?

Ally: I think this is where I have to add a disclaimer: every character and all groups in the Maggie York books are fictional. But yes, New Orleans has its share of secret and semi-secret societies. Locals will talk rather freely about some of them. Ask about others, and they'll simply look away (and may cross themselves while doing so). I made up the Witching Hour Society, but New Orleans does have a Witches'Ball.

If Maggie were a hard candy, what candy would Annie, Maggie’s best friend and a human-interest freelance journalist, be?

Ally: (Maggie would be a cinnamon ball, btw) But her friend Annie would be peppermint with a chocolate center (she's very much the romantic softie down deep).

Maggie observes that the newly dead resemble their life forms, but as time passes ghosts look less like their living human form. What is the philosophy behind that observation?

Ally: Their essence is gradually transforming to the afterlife despite their will to stay behind and resolve the issue that keeps them from moving on. They can maintain their essence on this mortal plane but not their image.

You aren’t new to this subgenre writing. Is it a small world or are most publishers and agents open to the subgenre?

Ally:  Except for specialty houses, most publishers and agencies now accept urban fantasy and other paranormal subgenres. The popularity of vampires and witches in movies and television has opened many doors. Sometimes the fit isn't the best - for example, my own publisher handles a lot more romance (including 18+)—but they've been good to me and keep pubbing my PG-13 stories. So I'm okay with that.

Would you rather vacation in the mountains or at the beach, Ally?

Ally:  Oh, hard choice. I've done and loved both. Right now, it's freezing outside, so a warm beach with a good book is strongly appealing!



Margaret Turkevich said...

interesting interview, looking forward to reading your books. I've published two short stories set in New Orleans and after my recent visit, have the perfect setting for a third. The more I learn about the city, I realize I'm still scratching the surface.

Grace Topping said...

Thanks, Ally, for joining us at WWK. Your books sound intriguing. During these times we need something to take us outside our normal world. I look forward to reading your work.

Shari Randall said...

New Orleans is such an inspiring place. Your books definitely intrigue me, Ally! Great interview, ladies.

E. B. Davis said...

Ally blends realism and fantasy very well. I like the supernatural elements, but if they weren't grounded in reality with very stable characters, it wouldn't be as believable. This is definitely a mastered craft. Thanks for the interview, Ally!

Warren Bull said...

New Orleans is great setting. Thanks for sharing.

Gloria Alden said...

Ally, I have reasons to believe in ghosts, so I think I'd like to read your series.

KM Rockwood said...

It isn't easy to write a paranormal mystery that has both enough supernatural to satisfy that element and believable enough for the mystery portion. It sounds like Ally has mastered that!

mickibrowning.com said...

Ally, this sounds fascinating. I love the different world parameters you establish. All best!

Ally Shields said...

Thanks to E.B. and to Writers Who Kill for hosting me!

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed the interview. I've read the Maggie novels, as many as have released so far. And I have to say Jan not only pulls me in with the mysteries and the ghosts, and New Orleans, but once again, I really love her main character, Maggie. Sigh. Too easy to pull out my iPad and read about Maggie and get lost in NO rather than work.