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

Here are the upcoming WWK interviews for the month of July!

July 4th Christopher Huang, A Gentleman's Murder

July 11th V. M. Burns, The Plot Is Murder

July 18th Edith Maxwell (Maddie Day), Death Over Easy

July 25th Shari Randall, Against The Claw

Our July Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 7/7--Mary Feliz, 7/14--Annie Hogsett, 7/21--Margaret S. Hamilton, 7/28--Kait Carson.

Our special bloggers for the fifth Monday and Tuesday of July--Kaye George and Paula Gail Benson.

Please welcome two new members to WWK--Annette Dashofy, who will blog on alternative Sundays with Jim Jackson, and Nancy Eady, who will blog on every fourth Monday. Thanks for blogging with us Annette and Nancy!

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Annette Dashofy's Uneasy Prey was released in March. It is the sixth Zoe Chambers Mystery. The seventh, Cry Wolf, will be released on September 18th. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Annette on September 19th.

Carla Damron's quirky short story, "Subplot", was published in the Spring edition of The Offbeat Literary Journal. You can find it here: http://offbeat.msu.edu/volume-18-spring-2018/

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

James M. Jackson's Empty Promises, the next in the Seamus McCree mystery series (5th), was published on April 3, 2018. Purchase links are here. He's working on Seamus McCree #6 (False Bottom)

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

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

Shari Randall's second Lobster Shack Mystery, Against the Claw, will be available in July 31, 2018.


Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Tale of a Street Team

I was at a loss about what to write for today’s post, so I took the question to my “street team” on Facebook. “What should I blog about?” As always, they gave me some great ideas. Not only for blog posts but for future stories as well. However, the winning suggestion was simple.

“Blog about us!”
Zoe Chambers Mysteries & Friends
Zoe Chambers Mysteries & Friends has turned into one of the highlights of my day. To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing when I started it about a year and a half ago. I’d been told “street teams” were the way to go. But what was a street team? And how does someone start one?

In my case, I joined a few Facebook fan groups and mostly lurked, observing what worked and what didn’t. Noting what appealed to me and what felt wrong.

Armed with only a few vague ideas and two friends who agreed to help with administrative duties, I launched what has become known as Team Zoe in January of 2017. The membership is a mix of readers and other authors who post about their own books with my blessing (and sometimes prodding). I figure I can’t possibly put out books fast enough to satisfy my fans’ voracious mystery appetites, so I’m happy to share the stage.

“What does a street team do?” you ask.

For starters, we have giveaways. For a while, I was doing one a week but that strained my budget a bit. Now it’s more like twice a month. 
Mug Giveaway

I’ve given away mugs, totes, and mousepads boasting my book covers. I’ve given away signed copies of my own and of friends’ books. I’ve given away gift cards. And I’ve even given away a Kindle.
I implemented another mutually beneficial perk last week when I put out a call for volunteers. The fun part was I didn’t tell them what they were volunteering for! Still, I had a barrage of willing hands go up. The prize? An advance read of Cry Wolf with a request for an honest review! (Sorry. The offer closed at midnight. You’re too late to jump on board now!)

I’ve also hosted contests where the winner gets to have a character named after them. I make no promises about whether the character will be a major or minor one or if she’ll be a good guy or a bad one. That doesn’t stop those vying to win from suggesting who they want their namesake to be. Sometimes I think they should be writing my books instead of me!

To further demonstrate my fans’ creative side, they’ve started throwing virtual parties when I’m away. I’m a little miffed that the parties only take place in my absence because they sound like a blast. Virtual wine, beer, and mead flow freely along with tons of treats. Furry mascots and unwanted guests take over the “Clubhouse” as well, requiring some members of Team Zoe to scramble to clean the place up when they know I’m headed home.

Honestly, they come up with this stuff on their own.

I don’t know what I did to develop such a fun and welcoming group of readers. We have a birthday list, and when I post birthday greetings, everyone chimes in. New members are welcomed with joyful enthusiasm.

Oh! And yes, they help promote me. When I have a big announcement such as a new book on pre-order or a release day or a cover reveal, all I have to do is ask, and the team spreads the word. They’ve asked their local libraries and bookstores to invite me to their town (and I go whenever I possibly can swing it!)

If pressed to answer what makes a street team work, I’d have to say, giving the members a voice and a place where they feel at home. We all have fun. We share books. We share laughs. I still don’t really know what I’m doing, but it seems I’m doing it right!

So, my questions are: Readers, do you belong to any fan groups? What do you like or dislike about them? Writers, do you have your own fan group/street team? What have been your successes (or failures) with them?

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Kristen Lepionka's debut novel

By Margaret S. Hamilton

Kristen Lepionka’s debut novel, The Last Place You Look, introduces Roxane Weary, a thirty-four-year-old cop’s daughter and private investigator.

 Lepionka ably establishes the setting in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio:

"I walked to the patisserie on Oak Street for breakfast and drank a cup of tea and ordered the white African sweet potato tart, which was not a breakfast food, so I got it to go in a little paper box in order to pretend it was for later. The neighborhood was caught in midgentrification right now, and though I approved of the introduction of exotic pastries, I hoped Olde Towne wasn’t going to get much nicer. I walked back home in the bright, cold morning air and tried to imagine who I might be appear to be: a rich lady buying a dessert tart for a Tuesday-night dinner party and checking items off a to-do list, instead of a slightly hungover detective inordinately proud of herself for being out and about before eleven o’clock and planning to eat half—no, most—of the dessert tart while driving.” (The Last Place You’ll Look, p.40)

Weary is hired to investigate a fifteen-year-old murder in the fictional suburb of Belmont, where the local police have their own way of dealing with persistent private investigators. She finds a body, though it’s not the one she seeks, and solves several other cases of missing young women as she risks her own life.

 “Chief Jake Lassiter was not happy with me. I doubted there were any circumstances under which he would have been, but he was especially irritated with me now that I’d discovered human remains inside his town’s jurisdiction…I just stood there, arms folded across my chest against the chill in the air and, also, the chill in my blood—from the sight of the brown, brittle bones nestled in the folds of that blue tarp. The sparse strands of long, blond hair. My cases usually stuck to the problems of the living, to the trouble people make for each other. It seemed like a meaningless distinction, that I’d never seen anything quite so dead before, but I hadn’t, and I couldn’t stop thinking that.” (The Last Place You Look, p.136-7)

Weary shows the same dogged determination as Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, while she seeks enough evidence to exonerate a death row inmate. She is a complicated young woman, still grieving for her recently-deceased father and answering to her mother (baked ham, green beans, crescent rolls served at her command appearance family meal). Weary has the emotional support of her father’s former partner and one of her brothers.

In 2015, Kellye Garrett mentored Lepionka through Pitch Wars. She subsequently landed an agent and contract. Published in 2017, The Last Place You Look was nominated for 2018 Anthony and Macavity Awards. Lepionka’s second Roxane Weary book, What You Want to See, has just been released.

Readers and writers, who is your favorite female private investigator?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Rediscovering Joy by Warren Bull

Rediscovering Joy

Image from my photo

This past weekend I attended a family reunion of thirty-three family members ranging in age from 16 months to 95 years who gathered at Cannon Beach in Oregon. We came from Maine, Minnesota, Georgia. Texas, Iowa and Oregon.  Like every family, we had losses to mourn but we had lives to celebrate too. We marveled at Haystack Rock, remnant of an ancient lava flow. We saw a bald eagle snatch a tern off the rock and fly away chased by two hawks. Puffins flew flapping their wings like wind-up toys. A pair of Oyster Catchers with bright orange beaks — they don’t actually catch oysters by the way — chased away an intruder to protect their nest. A sea anemone closed its tentacles around its lunch. Tiny crabs scurried over the sand. But I will remember other wonders of the time together like:

Waking up to the sound of the ocean

Making a child laugh

Falling in love again with my wife

Tasting perfectly prepared halibut 

Hearing a mother’s chuckle in her daughter’s voice

Watching exceptional parenting

The smell of coffee in the morning

Feeling simple and pure delight for another person’s achievement

Laughing at myself 

Starting a conversation with a family member I had not seen for years at the spot where the two of us left off years ago

Smelling bread right out of the oven which reminded me of a summer day many years ago that I spent with my grandparents in Iowa

Effortlessly hitting the exact note I’d been striving for in my singing for weeks

Seeing the sunset paint the clouds and the ocean

The genuinely surprised expression on peoples’ faces when they found out my age

The friendliness of puppies

Splashing through warm salt water

Watching someone display true expertise

Selfless acts of kindness, both witnessing and doing

And realizing, after landing squarely on my face in the sand during the futile pursuit of a volleyball, that although the experience was not exactly pleasant, sand was ever so much more forgiving than a gymnasium floor. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018


My house is invaded by rats. I first saw one in my laundry room as it jumped off a shelf and ran behind the dryer. At first I thought it was my small tabby cat but then realized it was too small. Ever since I moved into my over a hundred year old house I worried a little about getting rats for some reason. Not much scares me not even a bear that I heard in my woods a few years ago, or bears I come across on my camping trips with my sisters.

The first rattlesnake I ever saw was on a hiking trail in Pennsylvania with my sister Elaine. It was a very, very long one and had a large swelling in its middle so apparently it had just had something to eat. Elaine and I walked up pretty close to it and then it slithered into the woods.

The next rattlesnake I saw was on a trail in Shenandoah National Park where we were backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. My sister and her son were ahead of me when I came `across Elaine sitting on a boulder. She said we couldn’t go on because there was a rattlesnake on the trail up ahead. It was a hot day and I was out of water and I wasn’t going to let the snake keep me from going to the next water source. So with my walking stick and my hiking shoes I stomped up close to it. They can’t hear, but they can feel the ground. It was shaking its rattling tail and I kept pounding the ground. Eventually, it slithered down the hill off the trail so we could move on.

The next day after I spied that small rat as I finished cleaning my bird cages and the cat’s litter box, I happened to notice something that looked like a gray rag near the cellar door. I reached down to pick it up and found out it was a dead rat. I quickly used an empty bread bag to pick it up and go outside to throw it in my garbage. It was then that I realized that my cat wasn’t over eating her food which is what I’d though because her dish was empty so often and she wanted more food three times a day. I also realized that’s why the bottom of the bag of cat food had small holes in it. I fed Brat Cat in the cellar way so Maggie, my collie wouldn’t eat her food. The next time I opened the cellar door, I saw a young rat run down the cellar steps.

I had been hearing sounds in my walls and I thought it might be a squirrel because once I had a squirrel who managed to get into my house before my son added on two rooms upstairs and all I had there was a small attic. I didn’t realize it was a squirrel until I found an acorn in my shoe and later an acorn under my pillow. I put out poison for the squirrel, too, much as I hated to do it, but at least he went off somewhere else to die.

My house is over a hundred years old. When I moved into it had a rather gross basement which only got worse as cracks in the floor appeared and muck seeps up when there’s been a lot of rain and spider webs everywhere. I used to work at keeping those swept down and the floor swept, too, until the cracks with stuff seeping through came in. It’s not so bad in the winter when the furnace is working, but we’ve had a lot of rain lately which has puddles on the floor, too.

The following day I bought a bag of rat poison and put it in a plastic container in the cellar way and moved the cat food dish upstairs for Brat Cat, or Pixie as my daughter Mary wants her called because she has a pixie face.

My son and daughter Sue wanted me to hire a rat exterminator. Sue’s husband talked to two farmers he works with and they said a black snake would be the best way to get rid of them. Well, I’m not afraid of snakes but I had no idea where to find a black snake. Besides after one finished eating all the rats what would I feed the black snake?

My daughter Sue called her brother and he gave her the name and number of a guy who called me the next day and we set up a time later that evening. Bill showed up about supper time and he told me the ivy around the bottom of my house was something that would bring rats. I wasn’t that sure of that because I’ve had ivy around most of my foundation for years and I’ve never had rats in my house before although I’ve seen some in my barn once in a while.
The north side of my house with lots of hydranges

I walked around the outside of my house with Bill as he looked it over and pointed out places where they might be getting in. After I went back in he went around the foundation and put down some kind of poison slabs of something I didn’t see what they looked like. Then he came in and we went down in the cellar. He insisted going first so if I slipped on the steps I’d fall into him. He’s a very nice guy. I showed him the other room down there where there’s a wall going part way up and it has dry lumpy soil down there. He told me that’s where they are living. He put some kind of rat poison down there, too, and when we got upstairs, he put some in places in the laundry room a little back beside the washing machine where the cat and dog won’t get it. He also mentioned that the rats are coming for the bird seed thrown out by my African ring-necked doves and my canary, Pavarotti, although they rarely throw any seeds out of their cages.

He told me if it started to smell pretty bad with the rats dying down there, to call him and he’d come to pick them up. He said I shouldn’t do it without rubber gloves because they carry diseases.  

So after I paid him, I was feeling pretty good about the fact that soon all the rats would be gone although that evening as I was sitting in my nesting chair in the living room listening to music on my CD player and reading, I could hear some rustling in the wall between a book case and my piano. I figured it was one young rat that hadn’t yet eaten the poison.

The next morning I was awakened at 5:00 a.m. by lots of rattling around in my walls and under my bedroom floor above my library ceiling. Bill had asked for a large towel to put under the cellar door on both sides of it, and I gave him one that I use to wipe down Maggie if she’s been out in the rain. He said they can get through very small cracks because they can somehow disconnect their jaws and once they slip their heads through the body comes through.

Brat Cat/Pixie

I knew I had some mice because Brat Cat (Pixie) occasionally left a baby mouse in the living room in the night for me to find. There was never any part of it that she ate or any blood, so I picked it up with a paper towel and threw it into the garbage wastebasket under the sink.

I looked up rats in one of my nature books and out of the six rats shown, I figured my rats are Norway rats. I’m just hoping they all die soon even if they stink, although because I have sinus problems and can’t smell much anyways, I’ll just be glad they’re dead. Even if they smell eventually it will go away.

Two of my three chickens in their run.

The next day I heard no sounds of rats in the walls at all. Maybe they are all dead now.
I did find a large dead rat in the chicken stall in the barn. Bill had put some of the rat poison in the barn, too, in a stall full of junk where the barn cats can’t go and behind the bales of hay in a stall where I keep hay for my ponies. I haven’t found any more dead ones in the barn since. I’d never seen more than one rat other than one that was in the chicken stall and immediately ran back to the hole it came in through when I went in to gather eggs.

I downloaded pictures of rattlesnakes but the blogger wouldn't accept them.
Have you ever had rats in your house?
What about a barn or garage?

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Maddie Day (Edith Maxwell) Interview by E. B. Davis

Restaurateur Robbie Jordan is ready for the boost in business a local music festival brings to South Lick, Indiana, but the beloved event strikes a sour note when one of the musicians is murdered . . .
June’s annual Brown County Bluegrass Festival at the Bill Monroe Music Park in neighboring Beanblossom is always a hit for Robbie’s country store and café, Pans ‘N Pancakes. This year, Robbie is even more excited, because she’s launching a new bed and breakfast above her shop. A few festival musicians will be among Robbie’s first guests, along with her father, Roberto, and his wife, Maria. But the celebration is cut short when a performer is found choked to death by a banjo string. Now all the banjo players are featured in a different kind of lineup. To clear their names, Robbie must pair up with an unexpected partner to pick at the clues and find the plucky killer before he can conduct an encore performance . . .

Death Over Easy is the fifth book in Maddie Day’s (Edith Maxwell) Country Store Mystery series. It will be released on July 31 by Kensington. I interviewed Edith when the first in the series, Flipped For Murder, came out in 2015, and I wanted to catch up with the series.

At the start, California native and chef Robbie Jordan visits her aunt in South Lick, Indiana, falls in love with the town, finds a building to buy, and founds Pan ‘N Pancakes, a breakfast and lunch restaurant in a country store, which also sells antique cookware. From there, the murders begin. It’s a great cozy premise: food, small town, repeat characters, a single woman and amateur sleuth.

Since Flipped For Murder, Robbie’s personal life, intriguing backstory and successful crime-solving keep readers coming back for more. In Death Over Easy, Robbie’s professional life expands by her opening a B & B on the upper floor of the restaurant/store building, which is a natural because she provides breakfast for half the town anyway.

Please welcome, Edith Maxwell, writing as Maddie Day, back to WWK.                           E. B. Davis   

Thanks for having me, E.B.  You always ask the best – and hardest – questions. Here goes!

What field did Robbie’s father, Roberto, do his graduate work in? What research did he do in South Lick?

He was studying the geology of the area, which includes a lot of limestone and natural mineral springs. He is from the Pisa area, which also has limestone and hot springs (the leaning tower is built on limestone in 1178). Both places are also hilly, so he would have felt at home in Brown County, Indiana.

The bluegrass festival was held at the Bill Monroe Music Park. Who was Bill Monroe?

He was a well-known mandolin player from Kentucky (the Bluegrass State) who had a band in the 1930s called Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, so he pretty much named the genre. 

Did bluegrass have its roots in Appalachia, Kentucky and Tennessee?

Yes, absolutely, with roots in traditional Scottish, Irish, and English music from the immigrants who settled there.

The victim, Pia Bianchi, borrowed money. What was it for?

It was for the graduate music program at Indiana University. She’s friends with Robbie’s friend Phil (see below), who also studies and works there.

A dancer, Beth Ferguson, and her fiddle-playing partner are staying at Robbie’s B & B. What makes Beth so disagreeable? Is she just cheap?

She’s unhappy and frustrated, and she takes it out on others, as many in that situation do.

This set of guests is Robbie’s first. What does she learn from them?

One thing she learns is that she needs a better key system, as well as an outdoor camera to track her guests coming and going. She also realizes B&B guests can complicate her life, but she can use the extra cash from renting the rooms, so she’s going to deal with it.

Must unincorporated towns in Indiana rely on the state police?

On them and on the county sheriffs.

How does Robbie use crossword puzzles to help her solve crimes?

She sometimes mocks up a puzzle so she can see all the people and motives in one place and how they link. She has an orderly, visual mind and a good memory. Puzzling is a natural way for her to think.

What is an IGA? An IPA?

IGA is a chain of independently owned and operated franchise grocery stores. When I lived in Indiana, we had IGA and Kroger’s. IPA is India Pale Ale, a style of highly hopped beer – and my personal favorite. Hops act as a preservative, and they were added to ale when it was being shipped from England to India in colonial days as a way to keep it fresh on the long voyage.

My store had been open for less than a year and it felt like I’d always been here.
I guess that’s a sign of being where you should be.
(Kindle Loc. 243)

Do you think there is a specific place where people belong?

I think people can feel deeply at home in certain places, sometimes inexplicably.

Isn’t fried mush—polenta?

Yes! West Africans eat a form of thick corn porridge, too, as do Brazilians.

Robbie supplies the police with a lot of information. Isn’t she afraid people will stop talking to her?

She doesn’t appear to be. People love her restaurant and so far nobody’s clammed up on her.

Who is Philostrate (Phil) MacDonald when he’s not baking for Robbie? How did he get his name?

It’s a name from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, which Phil’s parents bestowed on him. He’s a graduate student in the IU Music department, and he’s also the part-time secretary there.

In the middle of dialogue, Robbie notices the foliage and sounds in the area. Does this slow the scene’s pace and put the reader in-the-moment?

You tell me!

We have cream pies, which are milk and sugar based, on the East coast. Is it that cinnamon on top that makes them pure Indiana?

I’d never eaten a sugar cream pie before I heard that it is a typical Hoosier dessert. I’ve had chocolate cream pies, of course.

Robbie bikes. Do you exercise, or is it something you wish you would do and give that attribute to your characters?

I do try to get vigorous exercise every day, usually power walking. I have been biking more lately, but not on her level – I hate riding up hills. Both my adult sons are serious cyclists, though, so I can consult with them on terminology and parts.

Could Detective Henderson and Robbie become friends?

I think they might. I like Anne Henderson.

Isn’t buckwheat—wheat? How is buckwheat soba GF?

No, it isn’t wheat, as it isn’t a grass. It’s a different kind of plant grown for its grain-like seeds.

How has Robbie changed since the first book?

She’s become a better restaurateur, for one. She’s also growing confident in her relationship with her boyfriend, Abe, and is loving getting to know her father. In terms of solving crimes, she’s getting smarter about not venturing into dangerous situations alone. Nobody wants to be labeled Too Stupid to Live!

I hope readers will find me on my web site, at the Wickeds’ blog, and on Facebook (Maddie Day has her own page).  Thanks for stopping by!

Readers:  Where is your favorite B&B? What’s the best breakfast you’ve eaten out? 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Fictional Journeys

by Paula Gail Benson

I’m a great admirer of Charlaine Harris, Toni L.P. Kelner, and Dana Cameron, who all have seamlessly shifted between traditional mysteries and paranormal mysteries (as well as novels and short stories for each genre). I find it fascinating to delve into the worlds of creatures who coexist with humans, yet have their own infrastructure.

Maybe dipping back into mythology earlier this summer with Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles and Circe was a good precursor for some paranormal reading. Also, I have to admit being intrigued when a work colleague read a recent short story I’d written and said it reminded her of Mur Lafferty’s The Shambling Guide to New York City (2013). My colleague was kind to share her copy and I found myself immersed in a familiar, yet very unique Big Apple.

Looking at the cover of the Shambling Guide gives you a flavor of what you’ll be encountering. It shows a young woman walking along a city street and passing by a man with a tail, a monster perched on the hood of a cab, and a skyscraper with a dragon at the uppermost tower. The book’s structure intersperses segments from a city guidebook with episodes in the young woman’s life.

Mur Lafferty
Mur Lafferty’s protagonist, Zoe, shares some of the author’s own background. Mur, from Durham, NC, is both a podcaster (I Should Be Writing) and award winning and nominated science fiction writer. Zoe has left a great job in a Raleigh, NC, travel publishing company (after a horrendous affair with her boss) and is trying to re-establish herself in NYC. When Zoe sees a description of an editorial position that seems tailor-made for her, she wonders why the people involved with the company encourage her not to apply. Stubbornly, she submits a proposal and is given the opportunity, which means she’ll be writing a guidebook to New York aimed at “coterie,” or vampires, zombies, dragons, sprites, fairies, death goddesses, succubi and incubi, and similar creatures. The primary reason Zoe has been warned against applying for the position is that the office is staffed with vampires, zombies, and an incubus, who consider her food. Also, the new CR (Coterie Resources) employee is a “construct” (golem or created monster, like the one in Frankenstein) who has the head of one of Zoe’s ex-boyfriends.

Zoe’s story begins as adventure, very much like Alice slipping down the rabbit hole, but it quickly becomes a thriller where Zoe, with her blunt approach to all things coterie, has to save the city itself from a rogue “zoetist” (a person who gives life to inanimate objects, like Dr. Frankenstein). In explaining zoetists and their constructs, Mur brings many different folklore traditions to the narrative, meshing them together in a manner that is both believable and informative.

At first, I wondered if the excerpts from the guidebook would be distracting from Zoe’s story. Instead, I found they enhanced and broadened it, introducing background in a manner that did not intrude upon and sometimes foreshadowed the action. Reading the Amazon reader comments, I noticed one person expressed a desire for the entire guidebook. Another commenter suggested that Mur’s book was about tolerance. I agree. The characters in the book all had many fundamental differences, but found ways to work together for the greater good.

I have to admit I've ordered the second book in the series, Ghost Train to New Orleans (2014), maybe as much from hearing about Shari Randall’s journey there as well as anticipating what Zoe and her staff will encounter as they write a supernatural tour guide for the Big Easy. The vicarious travel to both the cities and the paranormal world makes for some delightful vacation reading.

What fictional trips have you taken lately?

Monday, July 16, 2018

Wonderment and Writing

Wonderment and Writing by Debra H. Goldstein
The art of writing is both a joy and a business. On the days my ideas and words flow, I forget time and experience a state of euphoria. Unfortunately, the need to deal with finances, promotion, social media, and other tasks often dulls my creative abilities. When that happens, I get angry for not writing. Last week, I failed to write one word. I planned to, but things didn’t work out – even when there was an opportunity and time to write.

I was on a cruise to Alaska with my family. We ranged in age from five to seventy-five. I wasn’t the youngest, but I wasn’t the oldest, either. The five-year-old reminded me of one of the most
important axioms for a writer – never lose the sense of wonderment associated with the passion of writing.

With her eyes wide-open and her parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents trailing her, she explored every nook and cranny of the ship. By the end of the trip, she was able to tell us her three favorite things: “I can walk everywhere without having to sit and wait in a car; I can go to the pool and find friends anytime I want; and, best of all, I love the buffet.”

Being one who is not wild about a buffet, except for late night ice cream or pizza snacks, I was surprised she ranked it as her favorite thing on the ship. It was only after watching her walk from station to station picking out exactly what she wanted that I realized how wonderful the variety of food choices seemed to her. She only selected a little from here and a bit from there, but she knew her options were unlimited – and she relished that experience.

Writers begin with the ability to go in all directions, too. Unfortunately, deadlines, business needs, and even occasionally allowing oneself to become pigeonholed into a certain writing style, can make a writer forget to hold on to the sense of wonderment. I’m guilty of sometimes losing the joy and excitement I usually associate with the passion of writing – what about you?

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Mind of a Killer

by James M. Jackson

It takes an interesting killer to provide a worthy antagonist for a hero. In the Seamus McCree series readers meet two kinds of killers. One is a professional, hired by others to perform a job. Other than in war, most of us couldn’t do it. We talk about such people as “killing machines,” or “without a conscience.” We want to dehumanize them because deep inside we admit that under the right circumstances, we, too, could kill—but that would be different.

A continuing character in the Seamus McCree series is the self-styled “Happy Reaper.” He’s a hired killer who readers first meet in Ant Farm (#1). He returns in Empty Promises (#5) and plays a significant role in False Bottom (#6). [Projected publication date is late 2018.] He’s driven to be the best in the business, and, as we see in Empty Promises, he spends his down time honing his skills. I find one-dimensional hitmen boring. The Happy Reaper has a code of ethics—not like yours and mine, of course—but one he lives by. That makes him more interesting and allows readers and me to explore deeper issues incorporated in the struggle between him and Seamus.

The other killers populating the series are unprofessional. Killing for them is a means unto an end. Sometimes people find themselves backed into a corner and killing becomes (they think) their only way out. Readers can see alternatives, so my task as author is to make a death believable by providing sufficient motivation for the act.

Revenge, which I’ve used as the engine of hate (Bad Policy #2), can be particularly powerful. The event that triggered the revenge can be recent or distant. With distant events, the hurt has had time to fester in a warped mind, magnifying and intensifying the internal damage. I try to put myself in the minds of the killers, to feel their burning need to get even, so when I revel the killer and motivation, the truth explodes on the page fully formed. It’s also important to lay the groundwork in earlier chapters. The reader may be surprised by who done it, but it shouldn’t come as a total shock because the clues were there.

When anger triggers a murder, it is important for the reader to understand why something, perhaps even seemingly trivial, created a lethal response. Was there history between the two? Had the killer been in a similar situation and did not want to repeat the prior outcome? I haven’t dealt with this in my novels, but in real life a mouse of a person who has accepted years of verbal and/or physical domestic abuse, snaps and kills the abuser. To make sense of that as readers, we need to be brought into the mind of the killer, to experience what she experienced, to feel the building rage. Then, although we may abhor both the abuse and the killing, we at least understand the motivation.

The most frightening people for me are those who rationalize that killing others is justified to bring about a better world. Because I fear it, I am also drawn to explore it, which I did in Cabin Fever (#3). To write these killers, I must understand their motivation. I block out my abhorrence for their fanaticism and allow them to explain to me what they find so important about their goals that they can justify using murder as a tactic. Once we’ve had that discussion (all occurring in my head—what does that say about me?), I can allow the character to present his perspective in the novel through his acts, conversations with others, and internal dialog. Understanding the character’s ambition makes their amoral aspect feel more believable when he appoints himself judge, jury, and executioner.

Being able to glimpse the killer’s motivation from their own perspective is one reason I often prefer reading and writing suspense compared to a traditional whodunit. How about you?
James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. Empty Promises, the fifth novel in the series—this one set in the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—is now available. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Ruminations of a Pantser by Annie Hogsett

E.L. Doctorow said, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I swear I see this quote at least once a year. It soothes my raggedy soul every time. Quiets the voice that plagues my writing hours. Well, technically, all my hours. The one that says, “You really don’t know where this is going, do you?” AKA “You really don’t know what you’re doing, do you?” Unsettling either way. There’s no point lying to that voice. It knows what I’m thinking. It is what I’m thinking.

The other thing this quote tells me is that E.L. Doctorow was a Pantser, i.e., he wrote by the seat of his pants. Us Pantsers are all driving home more or less down the same dark road. In an uncontrolled manner that would probably get us pulled over by officers of the law.

People who don’t write, or writers who don’t write this way—the “Plotters,” whom I admire, envy, and sort of pity, all at the same time—no doubt regard seat-of-the pants writing as horrifying. The mark of an undisciplined mind. Perhaps an unstable mind. I’ve seen how people look at the person who claims Pantserhood.

Here’s an example: Readers occasionally ask me how come I made Tom Bennington, the co-protagonist of my mystery series, blind. The simple truth is, “I didn’t make Tom blind. He was blind when I got him.” I can tell by their expressions that they find this pretty…odd.

Odd but true. My entire series was sparked by a scene that unfolded in front of me on the street one morning. Some thoughtless person beeped—in a careless, “C’mon, hustle-up” way—at a blind man crossing the street. And I said to myself, “’Wow. You know you live in a rough neighborhood when somebody honks at a blind man in the crosswalk.”

Fifteen minutes later I was home at my desk. Asking myself—or Whomever-or-Whatever watches over a writer of mysteries who doesn’t have a clue, a crime, or a protagonist—Who said that?”

At that moment all I had was a blind man frozen in a crosswalk in a—let’s just say, unruly—part of Cleveland and a woman’s voice. Over the next four or five hours, Allie Harper told me her name and that she was lonely and broke. She also said this particular blind man was the great, smart—also handsome and hot—guy she’d been waiting forever to meet, and it made absolutely no difference to her that he was blind.

Then I realized, as we went along in the first chapter on that first day, that the winning $550 million MondoMegaJackpot ticket in Tom Bennington’s grocery bag—the one he bought to prove to a kid that gambling doesn’t pay—would provide the motive, means, and opportunity for murder and mayhem in my story. It was the best writing day for me. Magical. Mystical. Hair-raising. Fun.

Too bad it’s not always like that. Writing happens many different ways. Sometimes it’s ugly and slow. Sometimes nobody shows up. Or they speak only in stupidities. Sometimes at the end of the day I roll down my Pantser-car window and fling a few pages back into the night.

As I progress to the third book in my series and deadlines are more inexorable, I notice I’m exploring the “Plotter Dark Side.” Maybe there’s a hybrid for my road trips. Maybe it would be more…economical. So every now and then I give the possibility a test drive. I have always written a final scene for whatever story I’m working on, usually in the first couple of weeks. I don’t have a map, but I have a destination. It beckons to me, like my mother’s phone calls used to, “When will you get here? Where are you now?” I experiment with lists. I make more notes. I had a flirtation with 3x5 cards. (Nonstarter.) I listen to my characters and if they give me clues, I write them down.

It’s always a journey, isn’t it? We do it like we do it.

For the record, I’m painfully aware the road E.L. Doctorow was driving down was a better quality road than mine. I read Ragtime and I’ve listened to him talk. Also, Doctorow’s literary car was equipped with strong batteries and excellent headlights. I’ve got the penlight they give out for free as swag at conferences. Good to have, but it’s not going to show me the way to Ragtime. I imagine, though, that E.L Doctorow, Pantser Extraordinaire, occasionally discarded a couple pages of a story on the road behind his car.

I bet he looked back for a moment, until the darkness swallowed them. Then drove on.

Readers: Are you a Pantser? A Plotter? Or a Pantser/Plotter Hybrid? How come?

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Annie Hogsett has a master’s degree in English literature and spent her first career writing advertising copy—a combination which, in Annie’s opinion, qualifies her for making a bunch of stuff up. Her first published novel, Too Lucky to Live, #1 of her “Somebody’s Bound to Wind Up Dead Mysteries,” was released by Poisoned Pen Press in May 2017. Second in her series, Murder to the Metal, is out now! Annie lives ten yards from Lake Erie in the City of Cleveland with her husband, Bill, and their delinquent cat, Cujo. She has never won a 550-million-dollar lottery jackpot.

“Murder. Mayhem. Romance. Cleveland.” Last summer an accidental MondoMegaJackpot stirred up major murder and mayhem for Allie Harper and Tom Bennington. This summer? Nothing’s changed. Sure, Allie and Tom now reside in a 9,000-square-foot lakeside mansion with a sky-lit shower and breathtakingly high-thread-count sheets. Yes, Otis Johnson is now their live-in bodyguard and gourmet chef. True, Allie’s dream of a T&A Detective Agency to solve “mysteries of the heart,” using Tom’s money, Otis’ P.I. credentials, and Allie’s intrepid…intrepidness now has its first case. That’s where the real trouble kicks in: Allie and Tom are in a high-speed race against danger and death. Again. It’s Murder to the Metal.