Wednesday, May 31, 2017

An Interview with Sherry Harris by E. B. Davis

“Sometimes talking to New Englanders was like pulling ticks off a dog, slow and painful.”
Sherry Harris, A Good Day To Buy, Kindle Loc. 1897

While writing this interview both of my credit cards were cancelled due to fraudulent activity, which I confirmed. (I’m awaiting their replacement via snail mail.) Why mention this all-too-common modern-day crime? Sherry Harris’s new book in her Sarah Winston Garage Sale Series, A Good Day To Buy, focuses on fraud. Not credit card fraud, character fraud. I know the virtual world is full of posers (poseurs). And I also know about real life cons. But Sherry described a different sort of fraud. It smacked me, but I can’t imagine how those who served in the military would react.

A Good Day To Buy is the fourth book in this well-received series. Sherry’s murder plots are enjoyable, but I think readers return because main character Sarah Winston is so likeable and to find out what will happen next in her private life (at least I do!).

Please welcome Sherry Harris back to WWK.                                                                        E. B. Davis

Do you think up your own titles or does Kensington? Thus far in the series it’s been a 50/50 split. I came up with the first and fourth title while my editor at Kensington, Gary Goldstein, came up with the second and third.

Does all your literary activity, such as serving as President of the Chesapeake Chapter of SinC, blogging with the Wicked Cozy Writers, attending conferences, and traveling to promote your books interfere with going to garage sales? How do you keep current? Winter interferes more than my activities do! I love to attend yard sales when I’m traveling. It’s fun to see if people do things differently in various parts of the country. And now it’s easy to participate in virtual yard sales too. Two weeks ago I spent the day with a friend at an outdoor antique show in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was fantastic.

Sarah coordinates a garage sale for a couple, the Spencers, who are moving. Velma Spencer’s behavior vexes Sarah, but she knows how to deal with difficult people. How did she acquire her skills? As a military wife, Sarah has moved many times, adjusted to many places, and dealt with a lot of different people. Living on a base can mean living in close quarters with an interesting personal structure because of people being divided by ranks. It was all training for her current job.

After Sarah finds Mr. Spencer dead and Mrs. Spencer near death in the garage, she returns to her apartment alone to ponder the motive for the attack—and lunches on a Fluffernutter (peanut butter and marshmallow fluff) sandwich. I’ve come to regard these sandwiches as pivotal plot points because just after lunch Sarah’s long-lost brother, Luke, shows up at her door. Would you confirm or deny my assertion? This is such an interesting observation. I’ve never deliberately done that, but now I’m going to go back through the books and see if I’ve done it subconsciously.

Sarah’s relationship with Luke is complex, compounded by his post-traumatic stress disorder. She compromises her values and character to help him. Why? I’m not sure that I agree that Sarah compromises her values and character although she goes to the edge of them to help her brother. Sarah longs to reestablish a relationship with Luke. They’ve had very little contact in twenty years. Sarah feels like a few sins of omission are worth the risk to find out why Luke disappeared from their family.

CJ, Sarah’s ex husband, but current boyfriend, makes assumptions about Sarah. But Sarah doesn’t always tell CJ what’s happened in her life. Why doesn’t Sarah tell CJ that she’s seen and talked with Luke? Luke asks Sarah not to tell anyone he’s in town, especially CJ who is the chief of police. Sarah agrees with the caveat that if she has to tell CJ she will let Luke know first.

Because only the military can confirm or deny who has served, it’s rather easy for people to claim they’ve served in the military. What motivates people to pretend they’ve had military careers? There are several reasons: bravado, ego, and shame (for not serving) among others. I read an interesting article about a man who one time said he’d served when he was with a group of people who had. The small statement became a huge lie over the next twenty years. He finally confessed when he knew it was going to come out.

Although the situation in your book about military posers is immoral, it isn’t really criminal. Have these posers actually stolen real military personnel’s identity to claim benefits? Their medals? Two presidents, George W. Bush and Barrack Obama signed into law Stolen Valor Acts which prohibited people from wearing military medals if they didn’t serve. Both have been overturned as 1st amendment issues. Wearing a uniform is a separate issue and there have been broad interpretations of the rule. But people have gotten benefits by stealing someone’s identity. It’s difficult these days because of computer databases but not impossible.

Is there really a military regulation prohibiting military personnel from obtaining outside psychological help? According to my source, the regulation doesn’t prohibit military from seeking outside help but says it has to be reported. Everyone in the military has to meet standards of fitness (including mental health) to maintain their ability to serve and/or deploy. So a commander has to know what is going on in the military person’s life.

Gennie, one of Sarah’s clients, makes Sarah box with a bag to help improve her self-defense skills. Have you tried boxing? Only shadow boxing in a fitness class. I have a feeling I’d be terrible at the real thing – my hand-eye coordination is abysmal.

What is a cage fighter? On TV it’s called Mixed Martial Arts. Two people go into a cage like boxing ring and use a variety of martial arts to battle. I thought it would be an amusing and different occupation for someone so Gennie “the Jawbreaker” was born.

 After writing four books in this series, do you think the first was the hardest to write or is the latest always the hardest? The book I’m writing is always the hardest. I always want the next book to be better than the last. I always want to see a review that says this is the best in the series and am terrified that someday one will say, it was okay.

Did having your first in the series, Tagged For Death, nominated for an Agatha Award provide for lasting promotion of the series? Absolutely! I can forever say the Agatha Award nominated Sarah Winston Garage Sale series. I was so humbled and honored that Tagged was nominated with a great group of books and authors – Annette Dashofy, Terrie Moran, Susan O’Brien, and Tracy Weber. 

What’s next for Sarah Winston? I Know What You Bid Last Summer comes out in March 2018. Sarah tangles with the school board when she’s asked to run an equipment swap to raise money for the school district. She’s also running an over-the-top, high end garage sale for a woman with a strong vision of what the event should look like. When Sarah finds the body of the murdered school superintendent right after the swap, she’s drawn into a tangled web of lies and deceit.

When Sarah Winston’s estranged brother Luke shows up on her doorstep, asking her not to tell anyone he’s in town—especially her ex, the chief of police—the timing is strange, to say the least. Hours earlier, Sarah’s latest garage sale was taped off as a crime scene following the discovery of a murdered Vietnam vet and his gravely injured wife—her clients, the Spencers.
All Luke will tell Sarah is that he’s undercover, investigating a story. Before she can learn more, he vanishes as suddenly as he appeared. Rummaging through his things for a clue to his whereabouts, Sarah comes upon a list of veterans and realizes that to find her brother, she’ll have to figure out who killed Mr. Spencer. And all without telling her ex . . .

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Three-Act Format and E-Format Percentages by E. B. Davis

Every writer has his methods of composing whether he outlines or pantsers. But there are standards in style and composition that everyone follows. Mystery novels are written, like most fiction, in the form of three acts. The first act establishes the crime and motivation, if the main character is an amateur sleuth. The second act follows the investigation, and the third act provides the whodunit and the hows and wherefores. Usually, the first and third acts together equal the second act in volume. That ratio among acts spurs my interest in Kindle’s percentages of book read.

Those percentages appear in the lower right corner of Kindle’s screen. In physical books, you can judge by the thickness of the book how much you’ve read. In the virtual world, that physical judgment can’t occur. The reader is blind. Kindle provides percentages to make up for that lacking in the virtual world. If the publisher or author includes advertisements for other books placed after the novel ends, the percentage isn’t accurate. Likewise, the new practice of placing the author’s notes, dedications, and thanks to friends, family, and colleagues also throws off the percentages. When the percentages aren’t accurate it’s annoying because I find the book’s ending comes much sooner than I anticipated, which lessens my enjoyment of the book. I think this proves that a reader’s anticipation of the ending is a factor for authors to consider. Most readers don’t want to be smacked in the face.

Perhaps because I’m a writer, those percentages attract my attention. If the investigation seems slow, I’m checking to see if I’m near the seventy percent mark because at seventy-five percent, I should get near to the denouement, the third act. If I haven’t been lead to two suspects by then, I question whether I’ve been given the clues I need to solve the case; whether the writer will pull the proverbial rabbit out of the sleuth’s hat, which can be a good ah-ha or cheap-trick moment. Infrequently I come across a very clever writer who’s stumped me. It isn’t often that getting smacked is a good thing, but there are times when the smack is more a surprise that delights.

If I’m truly engrossed in the book, I may never look at those percentages, but those books are few. The more twists in the investigation, the more engrossed I become. The sleuth’s insight into his own foibles and possible misinterpretation of the clues provides an element of humility that shows unbiased intelligence. Complications and continued backstory helps, too. Some advanced reader copies don’t contain that percentage information—annoying me greatly. And perhaps that is why I’ve noticed the lack. I read a lot of ARCs. Those percentages are like a gauge to me that aligns what I’m reading with the three-act structure. Without them, I feel as if I’m reading into the void.

As a reader do you check the story progression against the percentage of book read? As a writer are you aware of percentage progress in bringing the plot to conclusion?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Let's Look at Emotions

by Linda Rodriguez

Aristotle, the great philosopher of art, said that the emotions are: anger, friendship, fear, shame, kindness, pity, indignation, envy or jealousy, and love. In the 20th century, Paul Ekman, a psychological researcher, identified six basic emotions: fear, anger , happiness, sadness, disgust, and surprise. Researchers atGlasgow University have recently challenged these lists, claiming that there are only four basic emotions—happiness, sadness, fear, and anger—based on analysis of facial expressions across cultures, genders, and ages. Every emotion is some mixture of these, as with the primary colors on a color wheel with so many others in between in varying admixture.

Writers, of course, prefer to work with many more than those four basic emotions. The important thing for writers about emotions is that they come from the limbic part of the brain, not the conscious, logical part, and they can often sideswipe us, taking us unaware and prompting us to do things we would not normally do. Also, emotions motivate most of what we do in life. Behind almost anything important that we do lies at least one emotional motivation and often a complex of emotions. And, in turn, everything we do, everything that happens to us, triggers an emotional reaction that then may motivate another action on our part, so that our lives become a chain of emotional motivations and consequences.

Often writers think that the secret of an exciting book is the dramatic plot events that happen in the course of the story. Dramatic events are important to an exciting story, of course, but they're only part of that story, the extremely visible part. The greater but often less visible part of the story, like the unseen vast bulk of an iceberg that is what really kills the ships, is the emotions causing and resulting from those actions and events. Dramatic actions and events are not enough on their own to hold a reader's interest.

In Lord of the Rings, Sam's dogged devotion to Frodo and fear of what's happening to his friend and Frodo's fear of what the Ring of Power is doing to him and his battle with the lust for power, greed, and selfishness that the ring engenders in everyone keep us following their journey through dreary landscape with the same passionate interest that we give to the flashy, magical duel between the sorcerers, Gandalf and Saruman, and the pageantry and dramatic battles of the horse warriors of Rohim. And even those horse warriors draw us in with the emotions of Éowyn, the dutiful niece and sister who longs for the life of a warrior rather than that of a wife and mother and who tragically and hopelessly falls in love with Aragorn, who has long ago bonded with the elf princess, Arwen. If you examine the books you've loved, you will find that emotions drive all those dramatic actions and events.

As writers, if we're fully aware of this underlying iceberg of emotion, we can use it to control the pace of our story, to vary and build up the dramatic tension. We can also use character emotions to draw the reader into our books. In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner discusses the importance of creating for the reader what he calls "a vivid and continuous dream." The goal of every writer is to entice the reader into a dream world and to keep her there for the duration of the story. The bridge for the reader into your story dream world is emotion, that non-logical aspect of humanity that pervades everything we do. If you can make a character's emotion real on the page, the reader will connect to it and follow that character's journey, partaking of it as if it were her own. Brain research shows that, when we read fiction, we experience everything we read within our own brains as if we were actually doing and living through those events and learn from that vicarious experience as we would if it had been real. It is emotional connection and identification which allows us to do this.

Linda Rodriguez's Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, are her newest books. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear in autumn, 2017. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at

Sunday, May 28, 2017

One sock at a time: Making time to write (or garden or cook or travel...)

by Julie Tollefson

Years ago, when my son was little and time was at a premium, I had an epiphany: I could carve out precious minutes for myself if I stopped doing some of the things I loathe, the things that supposedly make you a grownup. My house, my rules, after all.

So I stopped folding and putting away socks.

On laundry days, I spent minutes that seemed like hours sorting socks, matching them up, and bundling them into pairs, always with unmatched strays left over. After my epiphany, I adopted a “sock bin” method, where every clean sock gets tossed into a laundry basket, newly repurposed as the hold-all for socks. When a member of the family needs socks, they know where to look. Sure, we each have to dig through dozens of individual socks—different shades of pink, white with blue stripes or gray stripes or red stripes, black crew or black no-show styles—to find a match.

It’s a terribly inefficient system when dressing in the mornings.

My working theory, going on more than a decade now, is that if someone in the house hates the sock bin enough, he (ahem) will fold them himself. So far, that has not happened. Well, maybe once.

Now, what have I done with that extra ten or twenty minutes a week? Dunno.

What I do know is that there’s still never enough time for all I want to accomplish, and distractions (24/7 news, Internet, social media) are abundant. Every extra minute counts.

I’d love to hear your suggestions for saving or managing time. How do you drag yourself away from news (or is it just this former journalist who can’t control that obsession right now)? Do you have creative tips and tricks that help you do more—more writing, more family togetherness, more gardening, more projects?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Palisades Amusement Park…by Kait Carson

Oh no, I’m not stepping on any copyright, but I bet you’re humming!

I really wanted to post something serious and writerly this month. Something worthy of Writers Who Kill. I tried, I started at least ten wonderful posts. They died. Hum, does that fit with the Writers Who Kill theme? Nah. Not really, the deaths were neither mysterious nor unexplained. They died, you see, of boredom.

This is Memorial Day weekend. A serious and hopeful double-header for my friends and family during my school years that still permeates my senses. Serious because the weekend commemorates the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of men and women across the decades in the service of their country. Fun because it’s the start of the crazy, lazy, long, dreamy, days of summer!

The halcyon days of pools, beaches, and amusement parks opening are long gone. My brother and I no longer argue over who controls the radio knob. Me listening to WABC (Cousin Brucie!) in the brief time between parade and fireworks, or him, listening to the roar of race cars at the Indy 500. I can still smell the fried chicken competing with the scent of fresh cut grass and the excitement of waiting for the fireworks to begin. If we were lucky, we had places on the hill where we could see into the stadium. As dark fell, the floor of the local high school stadium became a fairyland of sparkling lights telling the story of the revolution, as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the White House swirled in colors that seemed to ignite one from the other. As they faded to darkness, Old Glory sprang to life in front of the scoreboard and the first of the skyward explosions took off. The show never varied, and it never ceased to awe.

Memorial Day was almost as much fun as Christmas. It marked, after all, the end of a school year. A far more important year to a kid then the turn of a calendar year. Nothing would ever be the same. You were going to the next grade. Huge questions loomed for the fall about teachers and classmates. That was the future. Summer was the present. It was the perfect time to make changes, reinvent yourself, rededicate yourself, make new habits, learn something new and exciting, and move ahead and figure out what to do over.

As Memorial Day approaches I still have that same feeling of pent up excitement building. Anything is possible, and frankly, 2017 so far, well, it’s been pretty harsh. I could use a do over. How about you? Nothing done will change, but maybe, just maybe 2017 redux will get better, and better, and better.

See you at Palisades! I’m riding the coaster again this year, but this time—up front!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Murder Must Wait by Arthur W. Upfield: A Review by Warren Bull

Murder Must Wait by Arthur W. Upfield: A Review by Warren Bull
Image from Touchstone

Originally published in 1953, Murder Must Wait is one of the novels featuring the “half-caste” Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte. As usual the author provides a novel where Australia is as much of a character as any person portrayed. 

The Inspector, Bony to his friends, is asked to investigate a series of kidnapping. Four infants in a small town have disappeared. A police task force from the police headquarters has been unable to find any clues. When Bony is asked to investigate, he requests a particular assistant. First Constable Alice McGorr. Although they have never met, the inspector has heard about her and determined that she the perfect fit for the job.

When another abduction apparently includes murder of the mother, the stakes are raised even higher. Bony decides finding the infants, who are presumably alive, must be the focus of the investigation. Uncovering the killer will have to wait. In this book the author portrays the tension between police administrators who have to face political pressure and newspaper coverage and the brilliant investigator who only wants to resolve the mystery. Bony is an outsider because of his ethnicity. McGorr is a woman, which automatically makes her of lesser importance in the male-dominated police agency.

Part of the fun of this book is the interaction between two strong-willed people who have very different backgrounds. As in other novels Bony use both sides of his genetic inheritance to solve the mystery.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Finishing One Book & Starting Another

In March I published my eighth book, Amaryllis for Phyllis, which takes place in January. My books all go by the months of the year. I took longer writing this book than any other book except for my first book, The Blue Rose. In March 2016, I’d just published my seventh book Blood Red Poinsettias shortly before going to Malice Domestic.
San Francisco Bay. We always go to Fisherman's Wharf.
I’d spent a lot of time writing it so I decided to wait a while before starting a new book. As I wrote in an earlier blog, the year 2016 was busy filled with an ex-husband moving in with my son next door after his third wife died, and then his death in October. There were several trips including camping with my sisters, and going to California to visit my daughter. I hosted two reunions at my house, delivered Mobile Meals, attended two book clubs and writers’ group meetings, a graduation and a few birthday parties. This was in addition to my daily chores of weeding and planting my gardens, mowing my extensive lawns, and feeding my critters.

The corrected cover

Sometime in October I started my eighth book which takes place in January – Amaryllis for Phyllis. I put a lot of time into it in between having my California daughter come home shortly after her father died, and later getting ready for Christmas and other things that always keep me busy. But with the weather no longer pleasant, I had more time to work on the book keeping at it until I finished it sometime in early February. Then I had to wait and wait until my step-granddaughter finished the cover. She had a hard time finding a picture I liked of a woman in a wheelchair like I wanted. Finally, she went to a hospital with her mother and had her pose in a wheelchair. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but I settled for it. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice she’s misspelled Phyllis’s name. She spelled it Phillis. I didn’t notice that until I opened the box of twenty-five books I had ordered. It took a while to get in touch with her and have her change it, and then it took some time to change it on Create Space, because she hadn’t sent the correction in a PDF file. Finally, she did that. I still have to order some of the corrected books. Ellen Eckhouse at the Village Bookstore that sells my books said they’re collector editions and will be worth money someday. So far those who like my books don’t mind the ones with the misspelled title.

They're in the barn nights, & have shelter days if they want it.

Because the winter was a mixture of cold, snow or lots of rain and wind, too, I couldn’t do much outside except care for my ponies and chickens. So I started writing my ninth book for the month of February Red Roses for Valentine’s Day. I was on a roll with that book. It pretty much wrote itself once I got started.  On Friday, I wrote chapter forty – my last chapter. Now I have to start the job of doing one final edit and then reformatting it into a 6” by 9” book with opening pages, etc. And then I’ll be going over each page again when it is put into a book that size because there will be pages I have to edit to make it look better, as well as some lines or words that are misspelled that I didn’t notice, nor did my critique partners at the time. 
She's using the picture of my aunt & mother
My step-granddaughter is already working on a cover for it as well as a cover for a memoir a ninety-three
year old member of my writing group wrote. My friend Laura edited her memoir, and I reformatted it into book size and made some edits, too. I’m hoping I can get her book published soon.

 I have a few ideas for my March book, but I think I’ll wait a while before I start that. However, I may start it sooner than I planned if I get a really good idea for it. Still there’s a middle-grade historical fiction book I started with a young ghost as the main character in the town of Hiram, Ohio where I taught third grade for years. I want to get back to that, too. Another thing I haven’t done for a while is write short stories for contests. I probably should work that in, too, when I’m not weeding, planting, mowing or camping, and the other things that keep me busy.

If you’re a writer, how do you feel when you finish a book?

Are you eager to start another one?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

An Interview With Martha Reed

by Grace Topping

Many of us may know Martha Reed through her Nantucket Mystery series. Each book in this excellent series received recognition: The Choking Game was a 2015 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion nominee for Best Novel/Traditional Mystery, The Nature of the Grave received an Honorable Mention for Mid-Atlantic Best Regional Fiction, and No Rest for the Wicked was nominated for a 2017 Independent Publisher IPPY award. What many may not know is how committed Martha is to supporting women crime writers. She is an active member of Sisters in Crime, Inc., and just recently completed a four-year term on the SINC Board, serving as the organization’s National Chapter Liaison.

Thank you, Martha, for all you’ve done for women crime writers and welcome to Writers Who Kill.

The pace of No Rest for the Wicked is one of its strongest features. Even with a complex story line it moves and is hard to put down. There are definitely no slumps in this story. Is there a secret to good pacing?

Martha Reed
First off, thank you, Grace, for inviting me as a guest on Writers Who Kill.

It’s no secret that when I’m drafting I use index cards and a storyboard. Each card outlines a plot point, a surprising twist, a red herring, or a reveal that I want to hit, and the storyboard keeps me on a tight track. This practice also helps me quickly decide which POV character needs to open the following chapter, which focuses and smoothes the story’s continuity.

You have quite a lot going on in your book: a baby kidnapping cold case, a stalker, law enforcement agency competition, and the emotional fallout of the main characters demotion. What was the greatest challenge to having all the threads of your story come together?

Finding the right balance was the greatest challenge; as a writer, I want each of these things to support the story until the resolution without having any one of them take over and skew the story off my themes. It’s an ongoing process. I’m still learning how to manipulate the story’s sub-arcs to support the traditionally “saggy middle” second act.

I’ve learned a lot with No Rest. I’m looking forward to putting what I’ve learned to the test with my next stand-alone.

The competition among the various law enforcement agencies comes out in your book. It’s obvious that you’ve done a lot of research on the operations of these agencies. How much research do you do for your stories?

I can spend days on it, and then only use the information in a few key sentences. That used to drive me nuts, but I’ve learned to accept it. There’s no need to hit a reader with a bucket of detail. When your characters are comfortable with their insider knowledge, it will naturally come through in their conversations and actions. When FBI Special Agent Cesar Mayas offers FDDU buccal collection kits, the readers love the detail, and it adds a dose of reality, and authority, to the action.

Another reason I added the agency competition to No Rest was to push my characters into experiencing personal growth, and growth comes through conflict. Having the Boston FBI step into the local investigation shook things up. That action triggered conflict, as well as fresh opportunity. It challenged long-standing friendships and alliances. Members of the Nantucket force began to question their personal life and career goals, which offered new insight into their characters. Writing No Rest was a delight, because two of my characters surprised me with their final decisions. I love finishing a paragraph, sitting back, and saying: “Well, I didn’t see that coming.”

Frequently books are categorized as being character or plot driven. You have a wonderful balance of both. How do you keep that balance in your books?

Thank you. It all comes down to telling the story in the right way. If the characters are fully rounded, they will bring their memories and experiences from their past into the story’s present. Each time a character hits a plot point (a surprise, a twist, or a reveal), the reader should see a spark of logical and plausible character reaction that then moves the plot forward in a believable manner.

That character reaction can be a good development; it can also be a bad one. No one makes the right decision every single time. Everyone makes mistakes, or has an off day, including me, and my characters.

Although you live in the Pittsburgh area, you’ve chosen to set your book in Nantucket. Why Nantucket?

When I started writing mysteries, I couldn’t find an agent or a traditional publisher who was interested in using a Pittsburgh location. They were all looking for exotic locations like Phoenix, or Baltimore. I’m happy to report that this east of the Hudson River mind-set has changed, although I think that switch had more to do with the availability of digital e-publishing, internet access, and regional readership than with any traditional publishing house thought process.

Knowing that I couldn’t use Pittsburgh, I started casting about for “exotic.” I went to a Nantucket wedding, and as soon as I stepped off the ferry I realized “this is it.” The far-away isle offered everything I was looking for in a setting: extensive pre-history, authentic charm, and an occasionally isolated location. It also helped, since I was a newbie writer just starting out that the island setting was contained. If I needed to trap my characters with a dense fog or a hurricane, I could.

My next book, a stand-alone, is set in New Orleans. I enjoyed my visit there during Bouchercon 2016 very much. When it came time to think of a fresh setting, I wanted to pick a city where my characters could get into serious trouble. At first, I considered Vegas, but NOLA stole my heart, and my vote.

Tell us about your journey to publication? Was it a long one filled with challenges?

Publishing was in the beginning of a developmental whirlwind when I stepped into it. Digital e-books were just getting started, and there was a lot of pushback from agents, the traditional publishing houses, and even from traditionally published authors, too. One famous personality told me that I would be committing professional suicide if I decided to self-publish. At the time, there was a lot of fear, and discussion, over what the change meant.

I had twenty years’ experience in financial printing, and before I made my decision to self-publish, I examined this new digital idea thoroughly. At that time, I was seeing good writers producing material that they hated, simply to maintain a publishing contract. Writers weren’t getting their royalty reports in a consistent and timely manner, either. It was like going up against a blank Chinese wall. Also, as I mentioned, I couldn’t get an agent interested in publishing the story I wanted to tell. So I took a deep steadying breath, and I decided to self-publish. I had the typesetting and formatting knowledge base; I had already developed a web site. I had to learn the marketing and promotional pieces of the business, but most authors I met were doing it themselves anyway. I hired Ramona DeFelice Long as my editor, and Karen Phillips as my graphic designer. Both are professional caliber. When I weighed the two sides, I couldn’t think of a compelling reason not to self-publish. I’ve never looked back.

Many writers are faced with the decision of whether to continue pursuing traditional publishing, going with independent publishers, or taking their careers into their own hands and self-publishing. What advice would you give writers facing this decision? What is the most challenging thing about the route you took?

My advice is to take the necessary amount of time to really think it through. There is no single easy path. I wish there was, I’d be doing it! Find an author who seems to be doing what you’d like to do, and ask for their advice. In the end, it is your decision to make. You’ll have to live with it, so make sure you really believe in what you’re doing.

I’d also like to say that it’s not one choice versus the other. Some traditionally published authors have retrieved their backlist rights and self-published them. Some “hybrid” authors have a foot firmly in both camps with a traditionally published series (or two) and self-published stand-alones. I will say that self-publishing is a ton of work, but you get to keep the creative control, and a higher percentage of the royalty.

My best advice is to make sure that you’re writing the story you really want to write to the best of your current ability. Good storytelling will rise to the top, no matter how it’s published, and in whatever format: hardback, paperback, e-book, or audio file.

We all look back on things we’ve written and wished that we had done some things differently. Anything in your books that you wished you had changed?

Sure. Hindsight is twenty-twenty. Without giving away any spoilers, I did have another character sub-arc in No Rest that I decided not to use. Making that decision cost me three day’s worth of manuscript high anxiety. The sub-arc would have added 6,000 words, and another significant red herring, although John Jarad would have been able to show off his mad detective skills yet again. I really liked the idea, but I was finishing No Rest in November 2016 during the presidential election. I kept telling myself that people are tired; they’re feeling beat up. Next summer they’ll want a beach read that’s relatively straightforward and simple.

I still love that sub-arc idea though. I’m saving it for the movie.

Which writer has influenced you the most?  Who do you enjoy reading when you have time?

Some authors blow me away with their ability: Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, Annie Proulx, Nancy Pickard, Wallace Stegner, and lately, Megan Abbott and Art Taylor.

My genesis influences would have to be Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series, Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, with a tip of the hat to Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs. I’m proud of that last one. I discovered Thom Harris with Red Dragon. I was ahead of the pop curve with him. That doesn’t happen often.

What was the best piece of writing advice you’ve received along the way?

“Never give up.”

I attended a workshop with the insightful Timons Esaias, and I wondered if it was time to throw in the towel. I’d written two Nantucket Mysteries, and the second book was a beast, a real bear. I rewrote the manuscript four complete times before I was satisfied with it. I asked Tim, “Is this worth it? I’ve spent hundreds of hours away from my family. I could be doing other things.” And he said, “When you’re ready to quit is when you’re really just beginning.”

So, I took another deep breath, opened my laptop, and started writing No Rest. It was a complete joy. The story flowed like magic. My new nickname for Tim is Yoda.

What’s your favorite part of writing? Your least favorite?

I love drafting the middle of a new manuscript, when all of the ideas are fresh possibilities, and the characters and the plot can still surprise me.

I’ve developed a handy trick that I’ll share. Whenever I reach a plot point, outlined on an index card, and I’m thinking that I’ll move the story forward to X, I pause, and I ask myself: What if Y happened instead? And suddenly, in a mental blink, the new Y possibility rolls out and presents itself, and it’s usually a better surprise, twist, or reveal than what I had planned on doing with the original X. It’s a real joy, because it’s a surprise to me, too.

Whenever a bit of creative serendipity like that happens, I call myself First Reader, because with each new manuscript that’s what I am.

Since I self-publish, my least favorite chore is formatting the Word document into the many different publishing versions that I’ll need. By the time I’ve reached this stage, after copy-editing and proofing for punctuation and typos, I’m down to the deadline wire, and my brain is toast. This is when I call myself The Mayor of Crazy Town, and I’m not allowed to operate heavy machinery until it’s done.

Writing is such an isolated activity. How do you stay connected to others?

Conventions are my lifesaver, and my reward. I try to attend Malice Domestic, Bouchercon, and at least one regional convention like Killer Nashville or CrimeBake each year. I also cherish my local Sisters in Crime chapter. We usually meet one a month for a creative discussion, or a guest speaker. I love meeting my writer friends face to face.

How is it having to balance writing and promoting your books? Do you enjoy the promotion aspects?

I do, because I am gregarious, and I love to travel and meet new people. I’ve also had some professional effective presentations training, so standing up in front of a crowd doesn’t throw me. It’s like a big cocktail party, with books!

What have you learned that could help writers starting out?

Join Sisters in Crime, Inc., immediately, and then join the Guppies (i.e., the “Great UnPublished.”) The online Guppies community is the golden ticket for any newbies just starting out. It’s a wonderfully supportive, knowledgeable, welcoming, and non-judgmental writer’s community.

And then buy these books: Stephen King’s On Writing, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and Rainer Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. Read them until they fall apart in your hands, and then buy fresh copies. Everything you need to know is in those three books.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

I do. I have my mother’s desk pushed up next to a big window in my apartment. It overlooks the street, and it’s very cozy. I have two crazy orchids to keep me company, although, when I’m really drafting a story and writing for hours at a time, I move my MAC over to the kitchen bar so that I can stand while I write. Standing that long took some getting used to, but I prefer it, now.

What’s next for John and Sarah Jarad? Are there going to be more books in the series?

Again, no spoilers, but if you’ve read No Rest, you know that I left John and Sarah with a lot on their plate. They deserve a break. I’ve been torturing them for three books. I’m going to go work on my NOLA stand-alone, and then I’ll come back and check on them and the Nantucket crew, to gauge how they feel about doing Nantucket Mystery Number Four. Never say never. Hey, maybe that’s the title?

Thank you, Martha.

Follow Martha on Facebook and Twitter@ReedMartha or visit her online at

No Rest for the Wicked

When state archaeologists lift the lid on a suspicious steamer trunk buried in the Madaket landfill, Detective John Jarad's world explodes. The trunk's contents reactivate intense interest in Nantucket's most notorious cold case crime, the Baby Alice Spenser kidnapping in 1921.

Sarah Jarad has a slightly different life focus. Halfway through a twin pregnancy, Sarah is convinced that she is losing her mind. She can't shake the feeling that she's being watched. She'd like to blame her paranoia on raging hormones, but that doesn't ring true. Sarah fears that her control freak ex-fiancée Mason has finally tracked her down, and that Mason is on Nantucket, plotting revenge.

As John pursues the Baby Alice investigation, myriad family scandals emerge from the Spenser's privileged and gilded past. Events flare white-hot when a copycat criminal snatches a second child. John and Sarah must race against the clock to unmask the kidnapper and expose these modern day threats.

Offering an array of colorful island characters and an intricate plot filled with surprising twists and reveals, NO REST FOR THE WICKED promises to be the perfect summer beach read.