Friday, June 30, 2017

The Case of the Hesitant Hostess by Erle Stanley Gardner: A review by Warren Bull

The Case of the Hesitant Hostess by Erle Stanley Gardner: A review by Warren Bull

In the interest of full disclosure I hereby admit this is the first novel by Erle Stanley Gardner that I have ever read.  I have, however, seen at least a dozen black and white television episodes of the series Perry Mason that starred Raymond Burr as the famous attorney.

The Case of the Hesitant Hostess was first published in 1953. From reading it I can understand why the author was so popular. He had honed his skills by writing for the pulps. He was successful at churning out and selling tales that made up in action for what they lacked in character development.
In the novel I read Perry Mason was as much hard-boiled investigator as he was an attorney. The plot zings along as the hero risks life and limb to defend an indigent client who was set up to take the rap for crimes he did not commit. I am certain the standards of practice of defense attorneys has changed from the time the novel was written. So perhaps back then there were fewer blatant violations that would result in a lawyer being disbarred than the half dozen or so that I noticed.

The author wrote to entertain and to make money. This is definitely entertaining. I started and finished reading in one day. I recommend it as entertainment. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Who Are the Survivors? By Gloria Alden

(We are republishing this post by Gloria Alden. Gloria was hospitalized this week. In the spirit of this blog, we send our wishes and prayers to her on recovery. E. B. Davis)

I deliver Mobile Meals every other Thursday. On my route I met a woman for the first time last week although I’ve been delivering meals to her and her husband for over a year. I met him briefly once, and at that time he told me to leave the meals in the basket by the back door and not to knock on the door. The woman – I only know their last names – was cleaning out the car and her little dog came up to greet me. I said “Hi” to her and asked about the dog and made some small talk to which she barely responded. However, she did follow me to the door where I put their meals. I got a glimpse of her husband inside the door, but he quickly disappeared. I mentioned that I knew of her sorrow, and that I had lost my oldest son, too, and I gave her a quick hug. She started to open up, but still did not lose the sadness and anger from her face. She said she and her husband had been married for 39 years and he never hugged her anymore. To tell the truth, the more I listened to her the more I understood his pulling away. She was not only in full grief after five years since her son died from suicide – an Iraq War vet – but she was angry at the whole community and went nowhere anymore. She ranted about how they weren’t there for her anymore and then ranted about how when they did come around they mentioned suicide. What is especially tragic, they have a younger son who now lives in California, and she doesn’t want him to come home because he’s not like her older son, who was special. Foolishly, I gave her my phone number when she said she wanted to call and console me sometimes. I don’t need consoling, but I didn’t tell her that.

I know there is no time line for grieving, but there is a time when one has to stop letting it rule your life. This past winter I joined a Grief Bereavement Team that was being started at my church. So far we’ve only been having meetings with some knowledgeable outsiders. One woman from Hospice was the most helpful. She not only had us all laughing – strange for a bereavement team, right? But she also gave us sound and good advice. One thing she did mention is that some people never let go of their grief and they can’t be helped.

Grieving isn’t just about death of a loved one. It can be over the breakup of a marriage, over an unhappy childhood where one never felt loved, or the loss of a friend who no longer cares to have you for a friend. Even the death of a beloved pet can cause grief.

So why do some people pick themselves up and go on with their life while others continually hold on to their grief, or anger, or their “poor me” outlook on life?

My granddaughter, Megan's and son, John's graves. 
The loss of a child can be one of the most devastating events in a parent’s life. I know and so does one of my daughters.  She lost her only child who at that time was just six. And yet both my daughter and I went on and live productive lives. Do we still think of our children and miss them and what might have been if they’d survived? Of course, we do.

I’ve experienced the loss of a child, my first grandchild, my parents, a dearly loved brother and a best friend of fifty years plus numerous other relatives. And yet I’m a cheerful and optimistic person who loves life. Did I love my son less than this woman still grieving loved her son? No.

I also experienced the loss of a long time marriage. My dad died on a Saturday night, his funeral was on Tuesday, a friend called me that night to express her condolences and in the conversation mentioned my husband was having an affair. I confronted him with it and the next day, a Wednesday we went to his lawyer where he’d already set everything up and then on Saturday our house went on the market. I survived that, too, and am now quite happily single.

So what I’m wondering about is what gives some of us the strength to go on? I started college for the first time after the death of my eighteen year old son. I got a degree in elementary education and spent twenty years teaching third grade and loving it. Does my inner strength come from my parents? They were great parents teaching us all the important values of life; a work ethic, honesty, compassion, a love of learning and books and so many other things. But I have several writing friends who had unhappy childhoods. Two women who are good friends of mine had wicked stepmothers who made life miserable for them while they were growing up, and yet both have positive outlooks and a good sense of humor making them a delight to be around and both live productive lives working and writing. 

Almost every week I read in the paper or somewhere about people who have survived incredible hardships and persevere to make productive lives for themselves, hardships that make what I’ve gone through puny by comparison. I tip my hat or lift a glass of wine to those people who overcame all odds and in one way or another survived with a positive attitude.


Why do you think some people are able to overcome life’s hardships while others can’t?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

An Interview With Joanne Guidoccio

by Grace Topping

When Joanne Guidoccio created Gilda Greco, the main character in her mystery series, she gave her talent, initiative, good friends, an ability to solve murders, and $19 million dollars. What could possibly go wrong for Gilda? Reading Joanne’s most recent book in the series, Too Many Women in the Room, I soon discovered that lots can go wrong, and a money windfall isn’t always a blessing.

Too Many Women in the Room

When Gilda Greco invites her closest friends to a VIP dinner, she plans to share David Korba’s signature dishes and launch their joint venture— Xenia, an innovative Greek restaurant near Sudbury, Ontario. Unknown to Gilda, David has also invited Michael Taylor, a lecherous photographer who has throughout the past three decades managed to annoy all the women in the room. One woman follows Michael to a deserted field for his midnight run and stabs him in the jugular.

Gilda’s life is awash with complications as she wrestles with a certain detective’s commitment issues and growing doubts about her risky investment in Xenia. Frustrated, Gilda launches her own investigation and uncovers decades-old secrets and resentments that have festered until they explode into untimely death. Can Gilda outwit a killer bent on killing again?

Welcome, Joanne, to Writers Who Kill.

Gilda Greco, your main character in Too Many Women in the Room, received a sizeable lottery win and stayed in her hometown where the residents know that she is now a very wealthy woman. What affect has the win had on her life?

Joanne Guidoccio
As one of the few millionaires in the mid-sized Northern Ontario city, Gilda knew she couldn’t maintain a low profile. Instead, she embraced her life in the spotlight and searched for ways to improve the quality of life in Sudbury. She’s also managed to attract the attention of a handsome widower.

You began Too Many Women in the Room with a prologue, which was quite effective. With so many agents and editors warning writers away from prologues, why did you use one?

I struggled with this decision but decided to follow the advice given by a workshop facilitator: Use a prologue only if it adds an interesting and integral layer to the narrative. Starting with the victim’s POV fits both of these requirements and provides the reader with insight into the character’s motivations and thoughts during his final hour.

With the luxury of being able to spend money on whatever she wants, Gilda invests in a startup Greek restaurant—knowing nothing about the restaurant business. What prompted her to take this gamble?

While Gilda is a self-proclaimed non-foodie, she has great appreciation for the culinary talents of friends and relatives. After sitting at Chef David Korba’s table, she couldn’t resist helping him launch Xenia, an innovative Greek restaurant. She had every confidence in a chef whose skills had been honed in Greece and the Danforth in Toronto.

Reinvention is a recurring theme in your novels and short stories. Why this particular theme?

Reinvention is a core theme of my own life. A cancer diagnosis at age 49 and a decision to retire at age 53 prompted me to reassess my life goals. An avid reader, I searched for fiction and nonfiction literature that would help me navigate these uncertain waters. And then I decided to write the books I wanted to read.

In addition to investing in the Greek restaurant, Gilda helps people in other ways. In one case, she established a business called ReCareering and offers free initial counseling sessions. What is recareering, and how does she help her clients? Why doesn’t she just give them money?

Setting up a ReCareering office was one of my retirement goals. After obtaining a post-graduate diploma in career counseling, I had hoped to set up a coaching business that would focus on the needs of boomers in transition. But personal and family challenges forced me to reconsider. Instead, I am living vicariously through Gilda Greco. In addition to helping boomers launch second acts, Gilda also offers her services to adolescents searching for career direction, twenty-something and thirty-something disgruntled workers, and middle-aged women planning to re-enter the workplace.  In short, Gilda hopes to empower rather than give handouts to her clients.

In one of your blogs, you wrote about Toastmasters and how membership in this organization helped you. Can you tell us how an organization devoted to public speaking helped you in your writing career?

To be truthful, I didn’t expect Toastmasters to significantly affect my writing career. I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself writing more confidently and succinctly. I became more prolific and experimented with different genres.

I love your definition of a cozy mystery: …mysteries [that] appeal to readers who wish to be engaged but not horrified. Is that why you write cozies? Have you thought of writing mysteries that are darker?

During my cancer journey, I devoured several cozies a week. I enjoyed the well-plotted and engaging storylines that entertained me and kept my mind active. While I do enjoy the occasional psychological thriller, I don’t think I could ever write that “dark”…it just isn’t in me.

You are currently writing about your experience dealing with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). As a breast cancer survivor, why was it important for you to document your journey?

Sharing is caring. That is so important in the cancer community. During my own journey, I was blessed with five angels who came forward and offered tangible and intangible support. I wish to pay it forward.

With the challenges you’ve faced, how do you stay inspired?

Prayer and positive thoughts help. So does setting goals and rewarding myself at different milestones.

Your blog contains links to writings on mind, body, and spirit. Do you find these readings help your writing?

A strong mind/body/spirit connection enabled me to survive and thrive during one of the most challenging seasons of my life. Reading inspirational literature has helped me improve in all aspects of my life, including my writing career.

I was pleased to see that you set your Gilda Greco series in Canada, especially in areas I have visited and have friends. So many Canadian writers set their books in the U.S. and other countries. Have U.S. readers been discovering Gilda?

I’m thrilled with the American interest in the Gilda Greco Mystery Series and my hometown of Sudbury, Ontario. I’m proud of my province and country and love sharing with the rest of the world.

Please tell us about your Mediterranean Trilogy.

While querying A Season for Killing Blondes, I decided to distract myself with a series of workshops offered by fantasy and horror writer Sarah Totton. At first I focused on the writing advice but later toyed with the idea of writing fantasy for boomer women. Not wanting to feature witches, werewolves, zombies, or other dark creatures, I thought back to my childhood and recalled my favorite fairy tale, The Little Mermaid. The following What-if scenario whirled through my mind:

What if a mermaid is transformed into an overweight, middle-aged woman and then abandoned on the fog-drenched shores of southwest England. Can she reinvent herself?

Find out more in Books 1 and 2 of the Mediterranean Trilogy: Between Land and Sea and The Coming of Arabella.

You did a terrific trailer for Too Many Women in the Room. Has the trailer helped with promotion and sales?

I’m very grateful to videographer and author Jody Vitek for creating the trailer. As for helping with sales…it’s so difficult to pinpoint what does and doesn’t correlate. I like having trailers for each of my novels.

Do you enjoy the promotion aspects of being a mystery writer? What is your favorite promotional activity?

I enjoy meeting one-on-one with prospective readers. Participating in panels, readings, and signings are my favorite promotional activities.

What’s next for Gilda Greco?

In Book 3, A Different Kind of Reunion, Gilda reconnects with former students who are grieving the death of a classmate. Haunted by a missed email that could have prevented this tragic death, Gilda agrees to participate in a psychic-led reunion.

Thank you, Joanne.

Where to find Joanne...

Book Trailer

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Sweat and Storytelling

My boxing coach insists that I need to be running. Apparently pounding the heavy bag, lifting weights, and performing rep after rep of crunches and push-ups and squats aren't enough training. And so my classmates and I slather on the sunscreen, pop in our earbuds, and head out into the ninety-four-degree heat for a pre-workout slog around the park.

I hate every second of it. The sweat stings my eyes and the sunlight beats me about the head and face like a mugger. Every step feels like I'm moving through sludge, and with the humidity at almost one hundred percent, I literally am. The air is heavy and still and thick, and I am no natural athlete. I have no generous allotments of either fast-twitch or slow-twitch muscles. I am a plodder. I have come to accept this about myself.

But I run anyway. And my coach is right — it makes me a better boxer. It keeps my legs well-muscled and my cardio capacity strong. But then, so would a host of other physical activities. The real reason I run, the one that keeps me lacing up those athletic shoes, is what running does for my writerly brain, which gets stronger and more capable with every step I take.

I'm not the only writer to have noticed the cognitive and creative benefits of running, of course. Many famous authors, including Joyce Carol Oates, are also runners. Three of the authors in my own creative circle have completed half-marathons with dang fine times, but the prowess is not the point. The point is one foot in front of the other. Rinse and repeat.

Scientists have noticed this correlation. Some connect it to the pattern of brain waves known as gamma rhythm, typically controlled by attention and learning, but also governed by, apparently, how quick one is on one’s feet. As researcher Mayank Mehta of the University of California, Los Angeles, explains, there is "an interesting link between the world of learning and the world of speed." Other studies show that vigorous physical exercise literally creates new neurons, and it makes them in the region of the brain associated with learning and memory. Running also increases blood flow to the frontal lobes, the place where clear thinking and good planning happen, and provides support for emotional regulation and recovery. Though researchers remain unsure how that latter result comes about, they have documented that it does.

I regularly do other physical activities, but nothing primes the creative pump like running. During a good run, it's as if my body goes into autopilot mode, letting my brain hang out and enjoy the ride. Boxing and swimming and yoga all require mindfulness—I must be present in my body every second of the time. My thoughts are not allowed to wander because I need them to keep my fighting stance, or my alignment in a pose, or my head above water when I need to breathe. Running lets me experience mindlessness, a kind of mental anti-gravity that's both useful and refreshing.

And so I run, even in the summer. My body and brain are the better for it, and so are my stories. 

*     *     *
Tina Whittle writes the Tai Randolph mysteries for Poisoned Pen Press. The fifth book in this Atlanta-based series—Reckoning and Ruin—was released in April. Tina is a proud member of Sisters in Crime and serves as both a chapter officer and national board member. Visit her website to follow her on social media, sign up for her newsletter, or read additional scenes and short stories:

Monday, June 26, 2017

That Old Black Dog of Fear

by Linda Rodriguez

People are afraid of many things. The saddest is the fear of black cats and dogs. Because of this fear, more black cats and dogs are euthanized by kill shelters than other colors. People are afraid to adopt them because they’re black, and these shelters, which usually have to euthanize because they’re public shelters and have to keep taking in all surrendered/lost pets brought to them, must kill them when they’ve been there too long and space gets short. Because of this problem, many of these shelters periodically offer “sales” on black cats and dogs—half-off adoption fees, very low adoption fees, even sometimes no adoption fees.

The prejudice against black cats and dogs goes back a long way to old superstitions about them being the devil’s animals and being bad luck. I could trace these legends back to their beginnings in the battle between religions where the animals were simply used as props and propaganda weapons by the warring sides, but I’m not going to burden this blog with that today. It’s a shame that companion animals have to be dragged into our human quarrels in this way.

The only thing sadder than a rejected black pet is an older cat or dog who’s also black. No one wants these. You combine the prejudice against older animals with the prejudice against black animals and come up with a stone wall these cats and dogs can’t get over, no matter how sweet, cute, bright, well-behaved, and gentle they are. If you talk to anyone in the rescue business or look on any of their websites, you’ll quickly find that this is a sad, basic truth in the world of those who care for and try to find permanent homes for older, black pets.

My dog, Dyson
The silliest part of it, to me, is that the pet doesn’t even have to be all black, certainly not if it’s a dog. Check out your local humane shelter’s “black dog sale,” and you’ll find that dogs that are only part black are included in the sale because they’re included in people’s prejudices against black animals. My own rescue dog is a Plott hound with the typical brindle brown coat, but because he has a black saddle on his back, he was deemed a black dog and unadoptable.

Rescue and shelter animals have enough prejudice against them. Every year, approximately 3-4 million cats and dogs are euthanized in shelters. These are animals people gave up and threw out, or the offspring of such animals. It’s getting worse because many families have lost homes and been forced to move to apartments that refuse animals, causing them to surrender family pets if they can’t find friends to take them. Yet still, people pay big bucks to buy dogs and cats from breeders—and oddly enough, many of those wanted, purchased purebred dogs and cats (but more often dogs) find their ways into shelters around the country. I’ve been taking in shelter dogs all my adult life, and I’ve noticed a big change there. It used to be rare to find a purebred animal at a shelter. Now, they’ve all got some, and often quite a number of them.

I can’t stress enough how important I feel it is to give homes to shelter/rescue cats and dogs, if you can and if you are looking for a pet. They make grateful, loyal, and affectionate pets, and you’re quite literally saving a life when you do. And while you’re looking for a good pet at your local shelter, please, please don’t bypass the older, black animals in your search. Older, black cats and dogs are at the highest risk of being euthanized because no one wants them. Take one home and bask in its love and affection. You’ll be glad you did as the years in company with your faithful pet slip past.

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, June 25, 2017

Starting from Scratch

by Julie Tollefson

The revisions I’m making to my current manuscript have taken the story in unexpected directions, developments that have created holes in the storyline—huge, gaping canyons in logic and flow that leave me breathless.

The way forward is clear. I simply need to write several new scenes that bridge the gap from Ugly Draft to Not-So-Ugly Draft. I know the characters. I know what needs to happen to make the story make sense. Yet here I sit, fingers poised, and the words will not come. Faced with the blank screen, I freeze.

I’ve been in this exact same position a number of times in the past month. Once I finally start writing, the fear and the doubt fall away. But in that space between thinking about writing and writing, I can lose minutes, hours, in staring at the empty screen. Or worse, I’ll decide to pop over to check Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, just for a minute (uh-huh) while I marshal my thoughts.

It’s the polar opposite of the way I feel when I’m so far inside my story the real world feels alien. Then, when the words flow effortlessly, I resent people, real people, who dare to intrude in my fictional world and drag me back to reality.

I’ve heard other authors say that every new project feels like the first time. Daunting, with a healthy side of “I don’t know how to do this.” That’s a comfort when I feel truly stuck. Maybe this down time is my subconscious brain working out the best plot.

Or maybe I’m just a hopeless procrastinator.

Regardless, I’ve picked up a few strategies that help turn the word tap back on. The obvious—re-read previous scenes to get my head back in the story—works most of the time.

The rest of the time?

Occasionally, my brain says, “Here are some ideas, but they’re stupid, predictable, clichéd, and not very elegant.” Then, I give myself a stern talking to, a reminder that the first words on the screen can be weak or trite because I will revise them later.

And when the doubts seriously set in, I stoke my ego by re-reading previous work (“It’s not dreck! Cool!”) or feedback from others (“rich, lyrical descriptions”) to regain that “I’ve done it before, I can do it again” determination.

In the end, what it boils down to, after all is said and done, the only way forward Aww, heck, just do it already.

What are your go-to strategies when you’re stuck on a problem?

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Killer Inside of Me by Jim Thompson: A Review by Warren Bull

The Killer Inside of Me by Jim Thompson: A Review by Warren Bull

Stanley Kubrick described The Killer Inside of Me as, “Probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever seen.”

I agree. First published in the United States in 1952, there are now 57 editions of the novel including several in languages other than English and at least two movies based on the novel.

The use of first person intensifies the experience of reading. Thompson manages to make the narrator both human and deeply disturbed. Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford is a well-respected resident of a small Texas town. The worst that can be said about him is that he’s a little slow and boring. However, underneath that appearance, what the deputy calls the “sickness” waits for the chance to flare again and dominate his personality. In the past his family was able to conceal the problem, to keep it under wraps and monitor him closely. When the sickness emerges again years later, there is no one to around to watch him; no one who even knows about the problem.

The writing is graphic in terms of being intense and engrossing. It is not needlessly gory.  It reminds me of the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho. The violence is largely implied. In the shower  scene the knife is never seen touching the victim. 

This is a classic novel of suspense. I recommend it highly.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

All Quiet on the Western Front

Last week my Third Thursday Book Club met at my house to discuss the book All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. It is a classic written by a German who served in World War I and wrote it in 1928. The book has beautifully written prose that was almost lyrical at times, but so depressing in the details of what happened to the young men sent to war. Although the characters were fictional, one gets the feelings that the main character written in first person was based on what Erich Remarque himself went through. He was wounded in the war.

All but one of the six of us had read the book, and even though it was sad in so many ways, we were glad we read it, and saw how lessons weren’t learned from the horrors of WWI and continue still to this day where most of those who go to fight aren’t the sons of the wealthy, but the poorer young men who are rather clueless on what to expect. Yes, there were some young men of wealthy people who went to war like John Kerry and John F. Kennedy, but most of the wealthier young men managed to get out of being drafted. As it said on the cover of the book, “On the threshold of life, they faced an abyss of death.”

In the book, the main character, Paul Baumer says “I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow . . .”

What got all of us is when he went home on leave after watching so many die or be seriously wounded in a gruesome way, and being so hungry much of the time because food when it did reach them wasn’t all that good. Everyone except his mother wanted to know what was going on, and the men especially thought they knew just what should be done. And because there wasn’t much food for those left behind in the small German towns (farmer’s horses had been confiscated for the war) the people in the towns seemed to think that the soldiers were all being fed generously when nothing was further from the truth, unless it was the officers. He didn’t feel like he belonged in his small town anymore. No one had any idea what he and the others had gone through and would still be going through when he went back to the war. He didn’t feel right about telling them the truth for fear they’d think he was against the German government and be considered an enemy.

Eventually Paul realizes that the enemies are no different than they are. They are young men fighting a war of hate perpetrated by higher ups in the governments for their own purpose.

On the back cover, The New York Times Book Review said “The world has a great writer in Erich Maria Remarque. He is a craftsman of unquestionably first frank, a man who can bend language to his will. Whether he writes of men or of inanimate nature, his touch is sensitive, firm and sure.”

In his bio at the back of the book I learned he was born in 1898 and lived to 1970. He was in combat in World War I, and was wounded five times, the last time was severely. After the war he taught briefly, became a stonecutter in the cemetery of Osnabruck, the town where he had been born, and served as an assistant editor of Sportsbild. He worked as a librarian, businessman, journalist and editor. Remarque came to the United States in 1939 after he’d moved to Switzerland, and remained until after World War II, but returned to Switzerland afterwards.

Wanting to know more about him, I went to Wikipedia, In addition to the book we read, he wrote many other books and essays about the war. All Quiet on the Western Front was made into an Oscar-winning film. This book and his other works made him an enemy of the Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Geobbels, who banned and publicly burned Remarque’s works.  Apparently they didn’t question his German background or Catholic faith, but hated his writings. They claimed he had not seen active service in World War I and revoked his German citizenship. He was born Erich Paul Remark, but changed his middle name to Maria in honor of his mother. Changing his last name Remark to the French spelling of Remarque was another thing that angered the Nazis.

His first marriage was to the actress Ilse Jutta Zambona. Their marriage wasn’t a good one. They divorced in 1930, but in 1933 they fled together to Switzerland. In 1938 they remarried, to prevent her from being forced to return to Germany. They immigrated to the United States where they both became naturalized citizens in 1947. They divorced again in May 1957.

During the 1930s, he had relationships with Austrian actress Hedy Lamar, Mexican actress Dolores del Rio, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo. (You can learn more about this at Wikipedia.) In 1958 he married actress Paulette Goddard and they remained married until his death from a heart collapse from an aneurysm in 1970. In his lifetime he sold millions of copies of his books and became quite wealthy, but I think the book that still remains a classic is the one we read.

In 1943 they arrested his younger sister, Elfriede Scholz, who had stayed behind in Germany with her husband and two children. After a trial, she was found guilty of “undermining morale” for stating that she considered the war lost. Court President Roland Freisler declared, “Your brother is unfortunatelybeyond our reach – you, however, will not escape us.” She was beheaded on December 16th, 1943. Remarque was not aware of this until after the war, and would dedicate his 1952 novel Spark of Life to his late sister.
One of the things that left us bothered is that the world hasn’t changed all that much. There are still wars being fought and so many people uprooted from their homes and lives being lost, and people not trusting those of different nationalities.  Maybe if this book was required reading in high school or college, things might change for the better. However, it was well read in Germany and didn’t stop World War II, did it, but maybe it was because it was burned before more people had a chance to read it.

Have you read All Quiet on the Western Front?

If not, do you think you would like to read it?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

An Interview With Renee Patrick

(Rosemarie and Vince Keenan)

by Grace Topping

When I met Rosemarie and Vince Keenan (writing as Renee Patrick) at the Malice Domestic conference and heard them talk about their series featuring the Golden Age of Hollywood, mystery, fashion, and Edith Head, I was intrigued. After reading the first book in the series, Design for Dying, I knew they had a hit on their hands. Fans at Malice Domestic agreed, nominating Design for Dying for an Agatha for Best First Novel. Word is spreading about this terrific book, and it was recently nominated for an Anthony. The second book in the series, Dangerous to Know, released in April, is also being well received. If you love old movies, beautiful fashion, and intriguing mysteries, this series is for you. It was a pleasure interviewing Rosemarie and Vince and learning more about them and their work. 

Welcome, Rosemarie and Vince, to Writers Who Kill.

Why did you select Edith Head for your series?

Rosemarie and Vince Keenan
Costume design struck us as an interesting way to explore the behind-the-scenes history of Golden Age Hollywood. After all, there are no secrets in a dressing room. Edith is the most-well known designer of the era, collaborating with many legendary figures in front of and behind the camera. Plus her personal story fascinates us, working her way up from sketch girl to head of Paramount’s wardrobe department.

Lillian Frost (a fictional character) is your point-of-view character, with Edith Head featured in the story. First, why didn’t you use Edith Head as the POV character, and second, will she play a larger role in future books in this series?

We wanted to be faithful to Edith’s fabled around-the-clock work ethic. The nature of her job meant she’d be an armchair detective along the lines of Nero Wolfe. A Nero needs an Archie, so Lillian was born. Lillian is free to explore every strata of show business while Edith is at the studio--but Edith will always have a hand in solving the mystery.

In addition to Edith Head, you’ve included famous people such as Bob Hope, Barbara Stanwyck, and Martha Raye in Design for Dying. What is the most challenging thing you face using actual people in your books?

It’s actually two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, voice; when these characters appear on the page we want them to be recognizable to their fans. Conversely, we’re also concerned about the reaction of readers who are less familiar with these real-life stars. We strive to make them engaging even to those who don’t know their names.

Design for Dying was nominated for the 2017 Agatha for Best First Novel and recently for an Anthony. How exciting was that? Has receiving recognition early in your mystery-writing career put more pressure on you?

Recognition for the book was completely unexpected, so it was an enormous thrill. And we can now vouch for the truth of that old show biz saying: it truly is an honor to be nominated! It’s not pressure at all. We prefer to think of it as encouragement to continue to do our best work.

From the quality of your writing, it’s obvious you are experienced writers. The terrific analogies and metaphors you used could be textbook examples. (I found myself underlining passages.) Is this series your first work of fiction, or have you published other books?

Thank you! This is indeed the first work of fiction that we’ve published, although Rosemarie has written a few work emails that come close and Vince’s résumé is a tissue of lies. For several years he’s been the managing editor of Noir City, the magazine of the Film Noir Foundation, which has kept him steeped in both writing and Hollywood history.

One of the strongest things about your book is your voice. You’ve also captured the sounds of the Golden Age of Hollywood perfectly. What do you think helped you manage that?

Years of watching old movies. It’s one of the things that brought us together. Turner Classic Movies is the background to our evenings. We turn it on and collect old slang expressions and turns of phrase that we’re itching to put back in circulation.

What motivated you to write as a team?

Necessity. Rosemarie had the initial idea and a broad knowledge of the period, but no writing experience and a demanding day job. Vince loved the idea and thought we could each bring something unique to the equation.

What is the most challenging part of writing together as husband and wife?

Remembering to turn it off occasionally. You tend to live in a book as you’re writing it, and that impulse can be a genuine problem when your partner in work is also your partner at home. There’s a risk you might talk about nothing else. You have to establish boundaries and stick to them, often with the help of a cocktail or two.

Do you bring different skills to the team?

Yes. Rosemarie’s had a lifelong interest in fashion and costume design. Vince’s background in screenwriting and video games gave him experience with plotting and structure.

Please tell us about your process. Do you have different levels of participation?

We divvy up the research then plot the book together. One of us then writes the first draft while the other edits and makes notes. We reverse roles for the polish, so that each of us feels we’ve gotten our fingerprints on the material. Then we do a last pass side by side, which we think of as the Renee Patrick version.

If you disagree, who’s the tiebreaker? 

Renee. It’s gotten to the point where one of us can say, “We know what you want and what I want, but what does Renee want?” And we both somehow know the answer.

What surprised you the most about the process?

How quickly we realized what Renee’s voice was. We couldn’t have described it to each other when we started, but we soon discovered we were both envisioning the same kind of book with the same kind of humor.

Based on your experience writing together, what advice would you give writers who plan to write with a partner?

Don’t live with them. It just makes life easier. And if you have to live with them, give yourselves breaks. If not from each other, then from the work. Finally, make sure you have the same sense of humor. Our only disagreements were about jokes.

I loved the clothing style hints you subtly wove in Design for Dying. Will we be seeing more in future books?

Edith Head
Absolutely. Edith was a pioneer in providing style advice on television and radio, and we’d like to incorporate some of her tips because they’re as useful today as they were back then. Some fashions never go out of fashion.

What’s next for Lillian Frost and Edith Head?

We’ve always seen the books as a fictional female-centric history of Hollywood, so we look at what was happening in the film industry at the time and construct stories around that. We’re planning a book that touches on the origins of Citizen Kane but from the perspective of Marion Davies, who’s still so underrated as an actress.

Thank you, Rosemarie and Vince.

Learn more about Renee Patrick and this series at and on Facebook.

Design for Dying
Los Angeles, 1937. Lillian Frost has traded dreams of stardom for security as a department store salesgirl . . . until she discovers she's a suspect in the murder of her former roommate, Ruby Carroll. Party girl Ruby died wearing a gown she stole from the wardrobe department at Paramount Pictures, domain of Edith Head.
Edith has yet to win the first of her eight Academy Awards; right now she's barely hanging on to her job, and a scandal is the last thing she needs. To clear Lillian's name and save Edith's career, the two women join forces. 
Unraveling the mystery pits them against a Hungarian princess on the lam, a hotshot director on the make, and a private investigator who's not on the level. All they have going for them are dogged determination, assists from the likes of Bob Hope and Barbara Stanwyck, and a killer sense of style. In show business, that just might be enough…

Dangerous to Know

Los Angeles, 1938. Former aspiring actress Lillian Frost is adjusting to a new life of boldfaced names as social secretary to a movie-mad millionaire. Costume designer Edith Head is running Paramount Pictures’ wardrobe department, but only until a suitable replacement comes along. The two friends again become partners thanks to an international scandal, a real-life incident in which the war clouds gathering over Europe cast a shadow on Hollywood.
Lillian attended the Manhattan dinner party at which well-heeled guests insulted Adolf Hitler within earshot of a maid with Nazi sympathies. Now, secrets the maid vengefully spilled have all New York society running for cover – and two Paramount stars, Jack Benny and George Burns, facing smuggling charges.
Edith also seeks Lillian’s help on a related matter. The émigré pianist in Marlene Dietrich’s budding nightclub act has vanished. Lillian reluctantly agrees to look for him. When Lillian finds him dead, Dietrich blames agents of the Reich. As Lillian and Edith unravel intrigue extending from Paramount’s Bronson Gate to FDR’s Oval Office, only one thing is certain: they’ll do it in style.