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

June Interviews

6/3 Gretchen Archer, Double Trouble
6/10 Kaye George, Deadly Sweet Tooth
6/17 Annette Dashofy, Til Death
6/24 Adam Meyer

Saturday Guest Bloggers

6/6 Mary Keliikoa
6/13 William Ade
6/20 Liz Milliron

WWK Bloggers:

6/27 Kait Carson
6/30 WWK Writers--What We're Reading Now


Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!

WWK is proud of our four Agatha nominees. Kaye George for Best Short Story--not her first time to be nominated, Connie Berry and Grace Topping for Best First Mystery Novel, and Annette Dashofy for Best Contemporary Novel--her fifth nomination! All are winners but without Agatha Teapots. Onto 20121!

Look for Kaye George and Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Kaye's story is "Life and Death on the Road" and Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Kaye George's second novel in the Vintage Sweets mystery series, Deadly Sweet Tooth, was released on June 2. Look for the interview here on June 10.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.

Shari Randall will be writing again for St. Martin's, perhaps under a pseudonym. We look forward to reading Shari's Ice Cream Shop Mystery series debuting next year. Congratulations, Shari!


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

James M. Jackson Interview by E. B. Davis

“My car’s parked around the corner,” I said. “Do you want to talk there? We’d
eliminate the interruptions, although I would understand if you didn’t want to
get into a car with someone you don’t know well.”

Again, she waved off my concern. “Oh fiddlesticks. You start anythin, I’ll just shoot ya.”
At my startled expression, she tapped her purse. “Concealed-carry permit.”
James M. Jackson, Empty Promises, Kindle Loc. 2726

If you love the suspense and plot twists of domestic thrillers, this page-turner is for you. Seamus McCree’s first solo bodyguard assignment goes from bad to worse. His client disappears. His granddog finds a buried human bone. Police find a fresh human body.
His client is to testify in a Chicago money laundering trial. He’s paranoid that with a price on his head, if the police know where he’s staying, the information will leak. Seamus promised his business partner and lover, Abigail Hancock, that he’d keep the witness safe at the McCree family camp located deep in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s woods.

Abigail is furious at his incompetence and their relationship flounders. Even his often-helpful son, Paddy, must put family safety ahead of helping his father. Seamus risks his own safety and freedom to turn amateur sleuth in hopes he can solve the crimes, fulfill his promise of protection, and win back Abigail. Wit and grit are on his side, but the clock is ticking . . . and the hit man is on his way.

Empty Promises is the fifth book in James M. Jackson’s Seamus McCree series. From page one, I was engrossed. There was no sagging middle. Jim kept up the tension and plot twists throughout, which was the first aspect of his writing that made me take notice.

The second? Writers talk about using setting as character, but it’s a rarity when that concept is illustrated on the page. When I got to the twenty percent mark in my Kindle version of Empty Promises, I had the desire to go for a beach drive. After the Nor’easter, the beach erosion and high surf didn’t make that a go-to place, but still, I had the urge. I realized then the basis of my desire. Jim’s book had me so enmeshed under the forest canopy, driving on Seamus’s ATV over logging roads of Michigan’s UP, that a beach gal like myself had to escape the dense vegetation to the open ocean. Setting as character—a quietly sinister and smothering one, Jim creates well. 

And the third? I can’t tell you. But I think Empty Promises is a pivotal book in the series. How will that play out? I’ll be reading and watching. This is an exciting series that’s gathering momentum. It’s also fun to see a friend develop his writing strength.                                                                    E. B. Davis

Like me, you set up house in a place that gives you peace—in Michigan’s UP. Although I love the beach and ocean, I also know that they are dangerous. Was it hard to render the menacing aspects of the forest from the lighter shades that you value, like its tranquility?

When the nearest doctor or hospital is forty-five minutes away, the dangers of our remote area must
be considered. Some people choose not to take the risk. The positives for me outweigh the possibility that if I experience an accident or medical issue that would be routine in the city, it could be fatal for me. I’d rather go that way than waste away in a nursing home. Everywhere and everything has light and dark aspects. Because it’s close at hand, I find it easy to tap into the darker nature of wilderness when it suits my writing needs.

Throughout the book, Seamus refers to the empty promises he’s made. But if he has made any, they are temporary, and he makes no promises he can’t keep. Why is he so mindful not to make empty promises or is he mindful because others have made empty promises to him?

Seamus, as do many sons who are young when their father dies, has issues with self-doubt and proving himself. His mindfulness of having made empty promises stems less from his own experience of others breaking their promises to him and more because he holds himself to a high standard regarding the value of giving his word.

“Everyone agrees that my decision to go into town that day cost one person his life.
Attribution for the other deaths wasn’t clear-cut, although I thought I also bore that guilt.” Kindle Loc. 1

I checked this statement throughout the book. I totally disagree! None of the deaths were his fault. Why does Seamus always take the blame? Who is “everyone?”

If something goes wrong while Seamus is in charge, he is quick—others would say too quick—to accept responsibility. Perhaps it’s hubris, but caused, I think, by that self-doubt we discussed earlier. That said, we should always be skeptical of hyperbole masked by statements that include everyone, always, never and other absolutes.

I don’t want to give away a key plot point by justifying his statement about the death that he attributes to his going into town that day. I’ll contact you privately with my response (and am happy to do so with anyone else who has already read the book!).

Abigail, Seamus’s business partner and long-term love, thinks in absolutes. Seamus works the angles and sees shades of gray. What is the attraction between the two when they think so differently?

The expression “opposites attract” might fit here. Besides the joint sexual attraction, Seamus appreciates strong, successful women. He truly seeks a life partner, not someone to dominate. Seamus is impressed by Abigail’s confidence in herself and her decisions—even to the extent of downplaying his more nuanced understanding of life.

Abigail assigns Seamus the task of guarding “Elliot,” who they later find out is really named Jason. Seamus “loses” Elliot when he goes to town. Abigail is so incensed, she breaks their business and personal relationship. Do you mix business and pleasure? If you have, did it work out?

I am incredibly impressed when couples can run a business together and stay married. It would have been hard for me to come home from work and not have someone to whom I could complain about how things went at the office. I dated a few coworkers when I was young, but that never worked out. Abigail built her bodyguarding business by herself and is proud of its reputation. But, as many successful entrepreneurs do, she wrapped her self-identity in it. She felt a lot of pressure having Seamus as both business and life partner, and this incident may have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Vocabulary Time! What are?

NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard—a person who objects to having something perceived as unpleasant or potentially dangerous placed in their own neighborhood (an open pit mine in this case), especially while raising no such objections to similar developments elsewhere.

moose tracks ice cream: Smooth vanilla ice cream with peanut butter cups and Moose Track fudge. I agree with Megan, yum!

generation-skipping estate tax move: Upon the death of the owner, assets skip their children and go to grandchildren (or great-grandchildren), ultimately saving on multiple layers of estate tax. Only needed by those with a lot of moolah.

widow-makers (trees?): Trees whose tops have broken off. The tops are held up by another tree. Eventually wind or gravity bring them to the ground, sometimes with fatal consequences.

popple (which means tumbling like boiling water-a verb) tree: In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, aspen trees are called popple.

rainstick: A long, hollow tube filled with small nuts, beans, or stones. When you turn a rainstick on its end, the filling falls to the bottom, producing a sound like rain.

the composition of glacial debris: Glaciers pick up stones, rocks, and boulders as they move south. When they melt, they leave this glacial debris behind.

TOR, the Navy’s “onion router”: TOR is short for “The Onion Router.” TOR directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer overlay network consisting of more than seven thousand relays to conceal a user's location and usage. The original concept was developed by the Navy.

Pine Marten (a mammal?): Yep, they are about two-feet long from tip of nose to tip of tail. They’re
related to weasels and are great tree climbers.

Faraday bag: It blocks electromagnetic fields so signals from your electronic device can’t escape. For example, if you don’t want your cell phone tracked, which can happen even if you have it turned off, you can store it in a Faraday bag.

I was surprised the Happy Reaper, a hit man Seamus has encountered in previous books, could use drones effectively in the forest. I would have loved for your setting-character to have messed with him. Have you flown drones?

My drone knowledge comes from reading. Drones are used in a variety of ways by large forest owners to monitor forest conditions, inspect insect damage, direct wildfire management, and perform a host of other activities. The only real difficulty of using them in a forested area is taking off and landing; otherwise they fly above tree level.

Knowing bird behavior, Seamus uses bird watching as a guise to his advantage during surveillance. How does that help him?

Walk a dog in the suburbs and no one will report you to the police as a suspicious character. In rural areas you can use birdwatching to the same effect. Seamus’s birdwatching knowledge has also provided him clues others might not recognize. Throughout much of the world, birds are the first scavengers of dead animals—nature’s large-scale recyclers. In the winter, as was the case in Cabin Fever, Bald Eagles are the main scavengers. In Empty Promises, which takes place in summer, Turkey Vultures and Common Ravens play that role. Knowing that can lead the curious to discover dead animals.

Birds are aware of everything going on in the woods, and when something they don’t expect happens, their reaction is often to go silent and freeze in place until they can figure out whether they are in danger. Being aware of that behavior, as Seamus is, can tip you off to something unusual happening in the woods around you.

Seamus hates coffee and golf. Do you?

I don’t drink coffee, but during my working years, I used to play golf moderately well. For those who care, my handicap was 12. Once I retired, I stopped playing golf because I no longer needed an excuse to be outside.

Other than his skewed values as a hit man, the Happy Reaper seems an intelligent, logical, and well-rounded sort. He even likes coffee. Does this “normal” man have the makings of an archenemy?

If you forgive the Happy Reaper his profession, there is much to admire about him. He has reached the pinnacle of his profession through hard work and perseverance; he continues to hone his skills to stay on top; and he guarantees his results. He’s the epitome of the Protestant work ethic—other than that pesky detail about not killing. I hope I have made him a worthy antagonist.

“That’s enough excitement for one day. Right pumpkin?” [Seamus says to his granddaughter.]
“Right!” Megan parroted.
Except it wasn’t. Not even close.
Empty Promises, Kindle Loc 158

How do you know when and where to use foreshadowing effectively?

Until readers are fully hooked into a story, it’s important to encourage them into the habit of turning to the next page, next scene, next chapter, until at some point they are fully invested in your story. The first sentence must be good enough to make readers want to read the second sentence. The first paragraph must be strong enough to get them to read the second. For print books, I hope to layout the first page so it ends in the middle of a sentence, encouraging them to turn the page. (With electronic books, I don’t have this control because readers set their own margins and font size.)

If I’ve taken the reader with me over those first hurdles, the next big test comes at the end of the first chapter. That’s where the quoted lines come in. I hoped to accomplish several things with them. (1) Let people know that, even though when they turn the page they’ll discover a second point of view, the characters they have been following aren’t done for the day. (2) Introduce an expectation that further trauma is coming soon to the McCree clan. (3) Subtly suggest (and this is the foreshadowing aspect) that Seamus has no clue what is about to happen—and neither do you, dear reader, so please continue my magic carpet ride.

The technique is a bit of intrusion into the story. I’m borrowing future knowledge to try to convince the reader to stay with me by promising it will be worth their time. I felt I needed to take the risk of this intrusion because the next chapter would break the current storyline and introduce a new POV.

A little of this technique goes a long way. As a reader, I’m willing to grant an author this kind of intrusion once or twice early in the story. More often or later in the story, and my antennae go up—I begin to wonder if the story needs this kind of infused tension because there isn’t enough actual tension inherent in the story.

It reminds me of a story my minister told when he was looking through his father’s old sermons. In the margin of one was the note: raise voice here—point weak.

Do grandchildren remind grandparents of how important their lives are in terms of role models or in how they will be remembered? Is it a promise to the child—part of inheritance?

The cynical part of me thinks that how our grandchildren turn out reflects how well we raised our children, and so we invest in them to prove we did well by our own kids. Equally cynical is the thought that perhaps we are still in a power struggle with our children and spoiling our grandchildren is one way of doing battle. Then there is the issue of our impending mortality. We have meaning only as long as someone still remembers us. Our grandchildren will be around longer than our kids, so perhaps we are trying to promote a positive image to enhance our long-term status.

My less cynical self suggests that by the time most of us are grandparents, we know our ability to affect major changes is (almost) over. The world’s hope is the kids, and so we want to share our experience to try to give them a leg up as they search for their place in the world. And our subversive selves try to counteract the “errors” our children are making raising their children. That’s why we spoil them and teach them to drive a car when they’re 11.

Have you plotted your major characters’ arcs throughout the series?

I am a pantser and my characters continue to surprise me. For example, I had no clue until Cindy became pregnant that Paddy would become Mr. Mom, or that Seamus, who some have called a curmudgeon, would become a doting grandfather.

The one exception to that is Seamus’s mother. I’ve delved into her soul and plumbed her secrets. I understand just how far she will go to protect them. Those secrets and what she has and will do to protect them are the engine of McCree family dynamics. Despite the series consisting of suspense stories and thrillers, their heart is the McCree family—how they relate to each other, and how they change from those interactions.

“Breaking out of the woods several yards away from the vehicle, he [Happy Reaper] recognized its cant meant two flat tires. “Strike three,” he muttered. “No more Mr. Nice Guy.” (Kindle Loc. 3654) How would Seamus respond to this comment?

Seamus would not be surprised. He knows he has crossed a line that he can’t uncross when it comes to his relations with the Happy Reaper.

What’s next for Seamus and where will he be located?

The sixth Seamus McCree novel is titled False Bottom. It takes place shortly after the completion of Empty Promises. Uncle Mike O’Malley, Seamus’s surrogate father, is gunned down. Seamus returns to his Boston roots to handle the retired Boston police captain’s estate. He discovers Uncle Mike left him more than just stocks and bonds to worry about. The secrets and intrigue put the entire McCree clan at risk.


Jim Jackson said...

Thanks for another interesting set of interview questions, EB. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I think your interviews are among the best for mystery/suspense/thriller writers.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Congratulations on your latest book and Elaine, great interview!

I agree about the birds becoming still as their "intruder alert." In my backyard, it's usually a hawk circling overhead.

Jim Jackson said...

Birds have two essential strategies against hawks. One is the "if you can't see me, you can't eat me" approach used by birds with habitat in which to hide. The other approach is "if we all fly around you won't be able to pick on any one of us." That strategy is used by ducks and some open field birds. The ducks will all jump out of the pond and into the air in a confusing swirling mass of wings.

carla said...

Great interview! Fascinating about drones-- I had no idea!!

Jim Jackson said...

Carla -- here's an interesting article from last year about the use of drones in a variety of businesses.

Tina said...

A fascinating interview (you are correct. E.B. Davis is one of the best in the business). I enjoyed EMPTY PROMISES very much -- congrats!

Jim Jackson said...

Thanks Tina -- and if readers don't know Tina also has a new book out, #6 in her Tai Randolph series Necessary Ends, which is a wonderful read.

Shari Randall said...

As always, absolutely terrific interview you two! That drone stuff is so cool and your writing about nature is fascinating. Congratulations on your new book, Jim - you definitely have fans at my house. May it fly off the shelves!

E. B. Davis said...

Thanks for the interview, Jim. Empty Promises was a great read and a pivotal book. All the details you know well make for fascinating reading (even if I'm more a mammal person than a bird person). It will be fascinating to see where you go with this series!

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, I totally loved Empty Promises, and could picture you as Seamus both with location and bird watching, which I did in your other books, too. My only complaint was it kept me awake too late often way past midnight, and I have to admit the ending made me sad.

Jim Jackson said...

Thanks, Shari -- and is your guy recovering well?

E.B. -- I sure am glad my life and family are not nearly as "exciting" as the McCrees!

Gloria -- you know I love it when my books keep people reading past their bedtimes.

KM Rockwood said...

Great interview, Jim. Thanks for sharing so much with us.

Looking forward to the next one!

Jim Jackson said...

My pleasure, KM.