Wednesday, October 31, 2018

An Interview With Alan Orloff

by Grace Topping

One of the benefits of attending a writer’s conference is coming away with a large bag of books donated by various publishers—a reader’s goodie bag. Frequently, the bag contains a book by someone I’ve wanted to read but haven’t gotten to yet. Finding a copy of Deadly Campaign gave me the opportunity to read a book by Alan Orloff, a fellow member of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime. I enjoyed discovering that Alan’s dry sense of humor comes across in his writing, and I went on to read several of his short stories and his Agatha Award nominated book for Best First Novel, Diamonds for the Dead. It was fun talking to Alan and learning more about his broad body of work, including his latest book, Pray for the Innocent.

Pray For the Innocent

Can former best-selling novelist Mathias King—now a rumpled, grizzled English professor—save America from a terrorist of his own making?

In the shadow of the Pentagon, a secret DoD brain research experiment goes terribly wrong, and an ex-Special Ops soldier escapes, believing he is Viktor Dragunov, the Russian operative from the 80’s thriller novel, Attack on America. To capture him, the Feds turn to the person uniquely qualified to predict his next moves, the man who created the fictional character, best-selling author Mathias King.

Now a reclusive English professor, King is reluctant to get involved, having sworn off the culture of violence after a deranged fan murdered his wife. But when innocent people start dying, King is thrust back into that dark world. With help from his enthusiastic graduate assistant Emily Phan, King must outsmart his own creation—while outmaneuvering the cover-up-loving Feds—before Dragunov succeeds in his hell-bent mission. 
To destroy America.      

Welcome, Alan, to Writers Who Kill.

Your short story, “Rule Number One,” was selected for The Best American Mystery Stories 2018, edited by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler. Congratulations, that was quite an honor. Of the many accolades you’ve received, which one made you feel that you had truly arrived?

Alan Orloff
I’m not sure a writer ever truly believes he or she has arrived. Seems like the publishing business is just a series of acceptances and rejections, often with little rhyme or reason. It just proves how subjective reading and writing really is. Having said that, it’s great if I happen to get any notice for my writing, and I’m very appreciative.

Your short stories have appeared in some very respected publications such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Chesapeake Crimes anthologies and other anthologies. Are there publications you’ve yet to be published in that you are aspiring to?

Sure. Tops on my list would be Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, but there are many others I’d love to be published in.

Your story, “Happy Birthday,” was named a 2018 Derringer Award finalist in the Flash category. What is flash fiction? 

Flash fiction is short fiction, usually with a hard cap on the number of words. Often it’s 1000 words, but it varies some depending on the publication. It’s fun to write, and I encourage anyone who hasn’t to give it a try.

If you could point to one short story that you feel most represents you or is your favorite, which one would it be?

I think my favorite is the one most recently published. (Or maybe it’s the one that sold for the most.)

In addition to contributing to short story collections, you served on the editorial panel of the Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays. What’s involved with being on an editorial panel?

The editorial panel is responsible for reading all the submissions and selecting those that best fit the anthology. It’s a fun job, and I learned a ton doing it. I find it very enlightening to see how other writers approach certain situations. It’s a pretty cool feeling “discovering” a new writer.

Have you published a collection of your short stories?

I have not. Actually, I have. Sort of. Earlier this year, Wildside Press published a trilogy consisting of three of my short story reprints. It’s a great way to get a taste of my writing, all in one place, for less than a buck (on Kindle).

In your short story, “World’s Greatest,” which appeared in 50 Shades of Cabernet, you actually started your story with, “It truly was a dark and stormy night.” Starting with a line like that is a pretty good indication that the story is going to have humor. Do most of your short stories and books contain humor?

I try to inject some humor into most of my stories and novels, but it depends on the story, of course. Usually, the humor is not the main point of the story, but I have written a number of stories where it is the focus, including “World’s Greatest,” “Bark Simpson and the Scent of Death” (Fur, Feathers, and Felonies), and “Togas and Toques” (Noir at the Salad Bar). I should point out that I wrote two novels with a stand-up comic as the protagonist, but even in those books, the emphasis was on the mystery/suspense and not the comedy. Maybe that’s why they didn’t sell so well.

What is the most challenging thing about writing with humor?

Humor is tough, really tough, because it’s so subjective. Different things tickle people’s funny bones in different ways, sometimes in wildly different ways. When it comes to book-length fiction, I generally leave writing humor to the professionals (see: Donna Andrews).

Readers of your short stories may not be aware that you’ve also written eight books (three written under the name Zak Allen). Diamonds for the Dead was a finalist for Best First Novel Agatha Award. After receiving that level of recognition, was it harder writing your next novel? 

You know, it’s just plain hard to write a book, period. Some books seem harder to write than others, but I think that’s more a function of the story itself or exogenous factors. (I haven’t used the word exogenous since B-School!) I don’t think it helps anyone’s writing if you also have to bear the weight of expectations based on a previous success.

Do you have a favorite among your books?

I don’t know if it is my favorite, but I sure had a ton of fun writing my horror novel, The Taste. Very cool (if disgusting) premise, and the words just flowed like a rampaging river. I think it’s one of the few books that came out way better than my original vision. (Although I was pleased with how Pray for the Innocent came out, too. Of course, that’s not to say I was displeased with how my other books turned out, but…well, you know what I mean.)

In your Last Laff Mystery series, your main character, Channing Hayes, is a comedy club owner and occasional performer. Have you ever done stand-up comedy yourself? Where did the inspiration for this series come from?

No, I’ve never done stand-up comedy. Mostly I torture my family with dad jokes and elicit groans on Facebook with my *humorous* posts. However, for some Killer Routine  and Deadly Campaign launch events, I thought it would be fun/crazy/different/painful to develop about fifteen minutes of open-mic-night-quality stand-up to perform. And I did. All I can say is I was lucky to have friendly audiences. 

As for the inspiration for the series, I was always fascinated with the fine line between comedy and tragedy many of the famous stand-up comics walked (Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison, Robin Williams). I tried to explore some of the challenges and setbacks a comic might face in real life, all while trying to be funny on stage.

Which do you enjoy most, writing short stories or novels? Which one do you find the most challenging?

I enjoy writing novels because it allows me to explore a topic/situation/character arc in depth. I enjoy writing short stories because it allows me to focus on “just one thing.” (Hat tip to Barb Goffman.)

I think I like whichever one I’m not writing at the moment better.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about writing a short story?

As I mentioned above, I got a piece of advice from Barb Goffman about writing a short story: “Concentrate on just one thing.” So whether it’s a plot point, or a particular theme, or a character trait, or a specific situation, just focus on writing about that one thing.

In addition to all the writing you do, I understand that you also conduct writing workshops. Please tell us about that.

When I decided I wanted to try writing fiction, I actually knew nothing about writing fiction (I’m an engineer and a numbers guy—I never took a creative writing class in my life). So I decided I needed to take some workshops to learn what to do. I took my first workshop at The Writer’s Center (Bethesda, Maryland) around 2004 and continued taking more. Those workshops were invaluable. Fast forward some years later, and now I teach workshops at The Writer’s Center. It’s very rewarding (for me, and I hope for the students), and I think I know exactly what many of them are going through—it’s still fresh in my mind.

Ben Boulden in Mystery Scene magazine said your story “Getting Away” was his favorite story in the first issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine. Being praised by other writers is high praise in deed. Do you ever receive fan mail?

Thanks so much, Ben!! (Your check is in the mail. Don’t tell anybody, ‘k?) Once in a while I do get an email or a tweet telling me how much a reader has liked one of my stories or books and, I have to tell you, it’s a pretty good feeling knowing someone has enjoyed something enough to take a few minutes to contact me. 

What do you have coming out next?

In November, I have a story, “The Quarry,” coming out in Landfall: Best New England Crime Stories 2018 (Level Best Books). I believe I’ll also have a story in an upcoming issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine. And in 2020, my PI novel, I Know Where You Sleep, will be published by Down & Out Books.

Thank you, Alan.

To learn more about Alan and his books and short stories, visit his web site:

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Six-Toed Cats, A Studio and a $20,000 Swimming Pool by Nancy Eady

This summer, my family and I got a chance to revisit Key West, where one of our favorite places is the Hemingway house. Ernest Hemingway lived there with his wife Pauline for about 9 years in the 1930’s. (All of the facts listed in here came from the tour guide. I hope I am remembering them correctly.)  This is the approach to the house from the side.

Side Wall of the Hemingway House Grounds
The first time Mark and I saw the Hemingway House, we parked about four blocks away and walked, but this time, with Kayla, we took the Key West Trolley which stops only a block away. 

Cat in the Ticket Booth

This friendly feline was helping to greet visitors in the ticket booth. Ernest Hemingway liked cats and was particularly fond of those cats with a mutation that gives them six toes. The more scientific name is a “polydactyl” cat. He had somewhere between 40 and 60 living on the grounds of the house while he was there, and the people who take care of the house now keep the population also around 40 to 50 cats. Interestingly, each cat’s birth is recorded, so each of the cats currently residing at the house has its own genealogical record. The cats are everywhere on the grounds and the house and the staff works hard to keep them happy so the cats will stay there. (This was the one spot in Key West where we didn’t see any roosters; the roosters in Key West are ubiquitous, but not stupid!)

The European Chandelier
This chandelier came from Europe and includes Venetian glass. Pauline shipped it from Europe to use as a centerpiece of the house, and apparently it was the talk of the town once it was installed. The house was originally built by a doctor, who paid to have the limestone coral base rock excavated to provide the only full basement in the city of Key West. It sits on a full acre of land, which also makes it one of, if not the, largest homesteads in Key West.

A Cat Asleep in the Master Bedroom
In the master bedroom, it is not unusual to find a cat comfortably curled up on the pillows at the top of the bed.

Second Floor Bookshelves
The upstairs hallway, although a little narrow, is lined with bookshelves on one side. These books are not necessarily the ones that were in the house when Ernest Hemingway lived there, but they are books he owned and used or had given to him as gifts. He had an estate in Cuba after he left Key West around 1939, and he kept most of his books there. Unfortunately, the estate was confiscated by Castro after the Bay of Pigs invasion. 

View from the Upper Veranda
There is a huge veranda that wraps around the outside of the house on the second floor. Mark took this picture for me. On the front side of the veranda, you get a wonderful view of the Key West lighthouse through the branches of the African Tulip Tree on the house grounds. The African Tulip Tree, as you might tell from the name, is not native to the Keys, and in the city of Key West they are rare. The flowers on it are striking.

The Writing Studio

Behind the house is what used to be a coach house and barn. When the Hemingways moved into the house, they converted the top floor into a writer’s studio, the first one Ernest Hemingway had. He was a very disciplined writer and would go out there every morning to write.

One of Hemingway's Typewriters
I just had to take a close-up picture of the typewriter in the studio that he used to write on. From a writing standpoint, I felt that I was standing on hallowed ground and I admit I was hoping that somehow wafts of inspiration and writing talent would descend upon me while I was standing there.  The most important thing I learned from the tour was to write every day. Period. Of course, it helps to have something to say, too!

Cat in the Writing Studio

 One of the cats had found its way into the writer’s studio (human visitors can only view the studio through a piece of clear plastic, but the estate owners left an opening large enough in the bottom of the barrier for the cats to get in.)  He or she looked quite comfortable.

Cat Feeding Area
The estate has several areas where food is put out for the cats, and this was one of them. It is between the house, and the writer’s studio and pool. None of the cats were around it at the time we were there, but I am sure it is a frequent haunt of theirs!

Since I was there as a tourist, and not as a blogger, I forgot to take a picture of the pool, but it is a beautiful salt water pool put on the grounds by Pauline. It cost $20,000 to build in the 1930’s. The dollar equivalent today I cannot even begin to calculate. The reason it was so expensive is the hard coral bedrock of the island. It took an extraordinary amount of manpower to excavate the bedrock out in order to put the pool in. According to the tour guide, Pauline put the pool in while Ernest Hemingway was off on a trip somewhere. When he came back, he tossed a penny in the pool, telling her that she might as well have his last cent, too. The same penny now is covered by plexiglass on the pool deck.

The Hemingway House is not the only famous residence in Key West, but it is a unique memorial to a giant of American literature.  If you get the chance, be sure to stop by!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Check Out Promotions and Giveaways From Our Authors!

Tina Whittle's The Dangerous Edge of Things is FREE this week on all e-book platforms. 

You can find it HERE.
The Dangerous Edge of Things is the first in the Tai Randolph Mystery series from Poisoned Pen Press.


Debra H. Goldstein has a Goodreads giveaway for One Taste Too Many -- officially coming from Kensington December 18 and available for pre-order. 

Click HERE for the chance to win one of twenty-five copies for free!   

Jim Jackson's Ant Farm freebie is still on for today, Monday, October 29. The 50% off special on the other Seamus Series novels goes through Halloween. Here's the link to all of them


Shari Randall will celebrate Halloween with a giveaway on her Facebook Author Page.
Just stop by on Halloween for a chance to win a copy of her latest book, Against the Claw.

Grace Topping signed a three-book contract with Henery Press for her Laura Bishop Mystery Series. The first in the series, Chute to Kill will be released April 30, 2019. Back Cover Copy: Laura Bishop just obtained her first decorating commission—staging for sale a 19th century mansion that hasn’t been updated for decades. When a body falls from a laundry chute and lands at her feet, flowered wallpaper becomes the least of her worries. To clear her young assistant of the murder and save her fledgling business, she must find the killer. Not an easy task since Laura’s prejudice against handsome men has complicated her dealings with both the police detective assigned to the case and the real estate agent trying to save the mansion from foreclosure. Worse, the meddling of a horoscope-guided friend, a determined grandmother, and the local funeral director could get them all killed.


Interested in a free print copy of a Jesse Damon Crime Novel?

Send a request with your shipping address to:

and I’ll mail you one of the first five titles.
Kathleen Rockwood

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Coming Up for Air

I did it! I turned in my 8th Zoe Chambers Mystery (titled Fair Game) on time along with my thoughts about the cover art. After being overwhelmed with a back-to-back book release and deadline, the sense of freedom was exhilarating.

Someone recently asked me how I celebrate these things. Let’s see…

I ate chocolate. My husband and I toasted with a glass of mead, homemade by my good friend Tami McClain.

We bought a new car…
Hubby's new Crosstrek (which I borrowed for
my road trip)
Okay, that last item had nothing to do with the deadline. Hubby’s old car was nearing 200,000 miles and needed some major repairs. He was long overdue for a new vehicle.

He also let me and my travel buddy, Liz Milliron, take the new Crosstrek on a weekend road trip to Indianapolis for Magna Cum Murder, another nice way to celebrate. I didn’t even pack my laptop, although I did take my Chromebook to check email. It was nice being able to devote all of my convention time to hanging out with readers and making new friends as well as touching base with old friends. No retreating to my room to hammer out a scene or a chapter.
Glamming it up with travel buddy Liz Milliron at
the Magna Cum Murder banquet
Free! I’m free!

Since I’ve come up for air, I intend to go on a couple of dates with my husband, maybe catch a movie. I’m working my way through my to-be-read piles (shelves, mountains). And I’ve started my spring cleaning!

Yes, you heard me right. My spring cleaning. I’m well aware that it’s October.

However, I can’t get too used to the concept of having a life away from the fictional world where I spend most of my time. I need to make an outline for the next book. Maybe start playing with some opening lines. Because before too long, Fair Game will come back to me complete with edits and I’ll once again crawl into Book Jail with a deadline to meet.

The freedom of coming up for air is sweet but short-lived.

Do you celebrate your work accomplishments? How?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Boo Happy Halloween by Kait Carson

Oh, the times, they are a changing! The Carson family is in the midst of planning yet another move. Note, I said planning. We’ve decided to spend our golden years in the snow country of the Crown of Maine not the sun country of southern Florida. Perverse, I know, but that’s the Carsons for you.

We already have a house in Maine. It’s tidy and snug and it sits on 167 acres. Our Florida house is tidy and large and sits on a single acre. Needless to say, we are looking at everything from a take it, donate it, or toss it viewpoint. Part of the adventure of what we have decided is our last move is looking at the unpacked boxes from our move to Florida. A planned move sounded like opportunity knocking to check out the contents of those mystery boxes. Trick or treat for the adult set.

Box cutter in hand I slit the packing tape on the first crate and discovered an entire box of photo albums covering my childhood to just before we moved. I thought we had left them in Maine, but no, here they were. Unfortunately, at some point my parents had decided to modernize and my childhood pictures were put in “magnetic” photo albums so they will forever remain stuck between gluey pages. It would have been a hoot to feature some vintage Halloween pix here.

I had forgotten how much fun Halloween was as child. I grew up in a small town, the kind where you couldn’t get away with a thing, not that I would know about that. Oh, no. We trick or treated in groups of six or eight, all of us dressed in spectacular homemade costumes. We were cowboys and cowgirls, lions and tigers, princes and princesses. One little girl was a bride dressed complete with veil. All of us were in full make up. Only the Lone Ranger had a store-bought mask. We weren’t just collecting candy for ourselves either, we all had little red cardboard boxes, too. I forgot about UNICEF boxes.

Parents gathered at their own Halloween parties waiting for the kids to return home lugging bags of loot, candy, fresh fruit, baked goods. We even had one lady who made candy apples for the local kids. Moms and Dads commandeered the trick or treat bags before we ate too much of the candy. I suppose they checked the goodies over for tampering, but it was a different time. We’d been cautioned not to eat anything unwrapped before we got home, but it would be years before we heard anything about razor blades in apples. Since our parents did not accompany us on the road, we’d already swapped out all the good stuff before we turned in our bags for inspection and the candy corn lovers had eaten their fill.

The next day in school, we’d tell tall tales of how we were brave enough to ring the bell of the local haunted house and when the door opened no one was there. In fact, the local haunted house was vacant, and had been from before I was born, and I for one never rang the bell. One year someone did put a skeleton on the front porch. We thought it was the gym teacher, but we could never prove it.

Finding those photos brought me back to crisp fall days and the sounds of leaves crunching under our feet as we marched up and down sidewalks to ring bells. I heard again the sounds of my friends giggling in the night air and singing out, “Trick or treat, trick or treat for UNICEF.” In my mind’s eye I saw the young women who always seemed to answer the door, clap both hands to their mouths in fright and surprise at our appearance, and then reach for a bowl of treats as she begged us not to play any tricks on her house. The last sound we heard was the gentle clink of coins falling into the UNICEF box just as the door closed.

It’s been a long time since trick or treaters came to my house, or even that I’ve seen them in the street. The world has become a frightening place, more frightening than any vampire costume. It’s sad to know that generations will never know the joy of Halloween, and won’t have the opportunity to learn about the greater good of using the day to collect for a charity.

The world has lost innocence, and that’s sad. So, I would like to leave you with a story of the last trick or treater that I remember coming to my house. It was 1993. The little boy was about two years old. He was dressed as a cowboy and his daddy stood at the end of my driveway waiting for him. The little guy swaggered up the path to my house and knocked. I opened the door, acted surprised, complimented him on his costume, and put candy in the bag he held out. He was silent the entire time. Then he turned and walked away. I must have been his first house. His father said, “Darren, aren’t you going to say thank you?” The little boy stopped in his tracks. He looked back at me, he looked at his father, then he sniffed and cried, “You told me never to speak to strangers.”

Perhaps it’s best trick or treating has fallen from favor, it can be very confusing.

Did you trick or treat? Did you enjoy it?

What was your favorite treat, or trick?

Friday, October 26, 2018

Bad Reviews

Bad Reviews:

Image from Pixabay
There is no escape from bad reviews. In some ways, I feel relieved when I first receive a review that is less than stellar on something I’ve written. It’s not that I like it, but I know it’s going to happen. It’s like getting the first dent in a new car.  The way I write and drive, it is bound to happen.  
After some time I relax my jaw and loosen my stranglehold on whatever object had the bad karma to be close at hand when I read the review. I calm down and try to see what I can learn from the feedback. Sometimes the reviewer nails my writing on a weak spot. Maybe I was unclear. Perhaps I left out something that was absolutely evident to me since I know the character’s life history, foibles and why he or she mistrusts men who wear bowties but relies on women wearing bowler hats. On one occasion I learned that high schools no longer operate the way they did when I was in high school. Apparently, it is now passé for a wrangler to tie his horse to the hitching post outside the school, stomp the dust from the cattle drive off his boots and come in looking for he schoolmarm carrying a bunch of poesies.  
Sometimes I learn that reviewers’ comments are based on their opinions and peculiar likes and dislikes. A good friend of mine got a very bad review from one person who disliked the heroine’s nickname. Really that was the only criticism mentioned.
I once got a bad review based on the title of my book, Murder Manhattan Style. The reviewer described my title as deceitful. This person admitted the mystery stories took place in Manhattan but they were not set in the high society Manhattan setting of the reader’s imagination.   
The truth is that nobody is as critical of my work as I am. I know where the stitching is coming loose on the seams, where coincidence is the only reason for the reader to go from point A to point B and when I’ve forced an indignant character to do something he or she would never willingly do.
My biggest critic is me.

Thursday, October 25, 2018


Books and movies with a paranormal theme are quite popular now: those with ghosts, vampires, zombies, werewolves, witches and other paranormal or fearful beings. I haven’t heard much about aliens from another planet lately, but at one time there were serious believers in them and there probably still are. With any topic – even climate change – you’ll find believers and non-believers.
I’ve always been pretty much a skeptic although some of the articles and stories from people who claimed they’d actually been examined by aliens made me wonder a little. My mother believed in them. For me the other paranormal beings I never considered them anything more than something spooky for Halloween. But as I grew older that started to change as I listened to the stories I heard from family and friends and to a lesser extent from my own experience.
My grandmother was a fearless woman, who one night chased off a peeping Tom with a broom when my grandfather was on a fishing trip. However, after my grandfather died, she saw and heard the doorknob turning on a side porch door. She got out of bed and checked to see who was out there. Not only was no one there, but there were no footsteps in the snow on the porch and no wind to cause a rattling. Sometime after my grandmother died, my cousin Linda’s husband was working on the house one evening prior to their moving in when he heard a shout coming from the basement. He packed up in a hurry and left. When he told my cousin about it and imitated the voice, she said it sounded just like her grandpa, who he had never met. One evening after they moved in Linda went into labor with her second child and my aunt, a very unimaginative person, came to stay with their first born child, a one-year-old. Towards morning, the baby awoke and was fussing and my aunt lay there listening and wondering if the child would go back to sleep since it was still dark. Then she heard the back door open and footsteps coming across the floor. She called out to her son-in-law asking if they’d had a boy or girl and there was no answer. So she got up to check. There was no one there and the door was still locked.

Fast forward to the old house I bought after my divorce. My son, never given to flights of fancy, was in the basement working one evening with another man on replacing the wiring when they both heard footsteps. He called out and getting no answer went up to check. No one was there.
When I finally moved into a house not completely finished inside, I would see shadows out of the corner of my eye; but nothing more. I didn’t mention it to my youngest daughter, Mary, because I didn’t want to spook her. But early one morning after working a midnight shift when it was not quite light, she was sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast and she saw something white at the foot of the steps going upstairs. It was the shape of a man with what looked like a dark belt in the middle. At another time she heard men’s voices talking where the back door originally was, and once she even heard someone riding a horse through the living room. It had to be Chick, the former owner who had lived there over fifty years before he died. He raised Arabians and bred them. I’ve never seen or heard him, and I know he’s gone now, but sometimes when I’m relaxing in my bath at night, I hear the low murmur of men’s voices coming through the wall in the direction of the library. It’s sort of like talk radio, but so low no words can be made out.
My sister-in-law told me of a time when she was almost asleep and had turned over not realizing she was so close to the edge of the bed. She almost fell out when she felt a small child’s hand on her back pressing to keep her from falling. Many years ago, a small child had fallen down a well on their 1842 farm and drowned.

A few years ago, my daughter Mary’s best friend, Tracy, from grade school, died of ovarian cancer. She was a great friend with a terrific sense of humor who liked to play pranks. Even though my daughter had moved to California years before, they stayed in touch joking and laughing over the phone or on visits when Mary came home. Long before she found out she had cancer, Tracy would tell my daughter if she died, she’d come back to haunt her. Sometime soon after she died, Mary was sitting quietly in her apartment when a large candle inside a glass jar suddenly went out. There was no wind and no reason for it to go out. At another time the water faucet in the kitchen started dripping for a while on its own and then just as suddenly stopped, and her cat started staring at a wall and growling. A few days later when she was at work on the midnight shift and feeling sad, she brought Tracy’s obituary up on the computer to show a nurse she was working with. It was then that a clock on a wall near one of her patients came loose and fell. Mary and the other nurse had never known that to happen before. Later that evening another nurse, one who had given Mary trouble ever since Mary had started there, dashed out of the break room where she’d been taking a nap saying the room was haunted. A chair had started rattling and moving. She said she'd never go in that room again. Mary had complained about this nurse to Tracy in the past. Those things stopped after that, but Mary feels Tracy was letting her know she was there.

Do I believe ghosts communicate with the living? I don’t think so except maybe briefly as in the case of Tracy and also a few experiences my son, daughters and I had after my son died. At one of my Sisters in Crime meetings we had a mother/daughter paranormal team come who had been featured on some ghost hunters TV show. They said the vast majority of cases of  a haunting they get called about have a rational reason for what seems to be a haunting and it’s not ghosts. However, they do believe there are actual hauntings. What they seemed to think and I tend to believe, too, is it’s someone who has not accepted their death and can’t leave a place they feel is their home. Maybe Chick was upset with what we were doing to his house. We totally gutted it. But he must have come to accept it because he seems to be gone now and I’m alone again. I think.

Have you ever had a paranormal experience?   Do you think ghosts are real?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Savannah Reid Author G. A. McKevett Interview by E. B. Davis

No Christmas, no matter how bright the tree, fragrant the food, bountiful the gifts,
or merry the fellowship, would ever be as sweet, as soul satisfying,
as that one had been more than thirty years ago….
G. A. McKevett, Murder In Her Stocking, (Kindle Loc. 66)

As the Moonlight Magnolia Agency revisits old memories on Christmas Eve, Granny Reid takes the reins back thirty years to the 1980s—back when she went by Stella, everyone’s hair was bigger, and sweaters were colorful disasters. But murder never went out of style . . .

Christmas has arrived in sleepy McGill, Georgia, but holiday cheer can’t keep temperamental Stella Reid from swinging a rolling pin at anyone who crosses her bad side—and this season, there are plenty. First an anonymous grinch vandalizes a celebrated nativity display. Far worse, the scandalous Prissy Carr is found dead in an alley behind a tavern. With police puzzled over the murder, Stella decides to stir the local gossip pot for clues on the culprit’s identity . . .

Turns out Prissy held a prominent spot on the naughty list, and suspects pile up like presents on Christmas morning. Unfortunately, the more progress Stella makes, the more fears she must confront. With a neighbor in peril and the futures of her beloved grandchildren at risk, Stella must somehow set everything straight and bring a cunning criminal to justice before December 25th . . .

The first book in the Savannah Reid mystery series, Just Desserts, popped into the market in 1995. Written by prolific writer Sonja Massie under the pseudonym, G. A. McKevett, the twenty-third in the series, Hide and Sneak, was released in April 2018. To say the least, the series has been a hit for the author and Kensington Press.

Murder In Her Stocking is the first Granny Reid mystery, which will be released on October 30, 2018, and appears to be a spinoff of the Savannah Reid mystery series. It is presented as a memory flashback of Granny Reid, who is attending a family Christmas gathering at Savannah’s California residence in the present time. I’m so glad that it appears to be the first of its own series because I have so many questions about what happens after this book ends.

In Murder In Her Stocking, Granny (Stella) Reid tells the story of her favorite Christmas throwing the reader back in time to the 1980s and back to their hometown in Georgia, when Savannah was twelve-years-old. Savannah is the oldest of her many siblings and must help Granny solve a mystery. But in doing so, the family solves a larger problem. It’s a true Christmas story that focuses on the fundamental elements of life. I enjoyed the story very much.

Please welcome G.A. (Sonja) McKevett to WWK.                                                                         E. B. Davis

Does every town no matter how small have a resident pervert?
Unfortunately, there are probably more sexual predators per capita, in both tiny towns and major cities, than we want to believe. Though I doubt most are as easily identified as McGill’s resident pervert. Shall we say, Elmer lacks…um…subtlety?

Did you grow up in a small Southern town?
I did. And in northern towns and western towns and eastern towns. My father didn’t believe in paying his income taxes and participated in somewhat shady schemes that brought him to the attention of various states’ attorney generals. The result was a rather nomadic existence for the family. It wasn’t unusual for me to come home from school, find the car packed with our belongings, and be told we were moving on. It was an adventure. And an education.

I remember mercurochrome, but what is Merthiolate?

Both mercurochrome and Merthiolate (pronounced mah-THIGH-late by us Southerners) contain mercury, are red, and sting like the dickens when applied. Seriously! Back in the day, we hid our skinned knees and elbows from well-meaning parents for fear of a treatment. It was applied with a little glass wand that was attached to the inside of the bottle cap. My folks would smear it on the boo-boo and then immediately start blowing like crazy on the wound to take away part of the sting. I hear Merthiolate was used during surgeries at one time. (I’m guessing the surgeons didn’t blow on their patients’ incisions.)

Stella is known for her sleuthing. Describe for our readers the cases she’s solved in McGill prior to this story?
Being nosy by nature and an astute observer of human nature, Stella has always been able to figure out “who done it,” sometimes, even before they do it. But she gained her reputation as the town’s prime sleuth after she uncovered the villain who vandalized Miss Abigail’s flower garden on the evening before the County Rose Competition. She also figured out the miscreant baker who laced the brownies at the church social with Ex-lax. And it was she who identified the teenage hoodlums who had placed numerous outhouses (not their own) on top of barns (also not their own) on homecoming night.

All in all, crime-prone McGilllians worried more about Stella exposing their misdeeds than Sheriff Gilford.

Was it unusual for a white Southern lady in her fifties to have a black woman as a close friend? How did Stella and Elsie Dingle form such a friendship?
Yes, such a close, mixed-race friendship would have been unusual, but not unheard of. In the small town’s one church, attendees would have opportunities to get to know one another in meaningful ways, share their commonalities, celebrate each other’s joyful experiences, and offer support during life’s trials.

But Stella and Elsie share a dark, childhood connection that will be revealed in the second book of the series, which I’m writing now, Murder in the Corn Maze. Sorry. I can’t tell you much about that at the moment.

Florence Bagley is Stella’s closest neighbor and an unlikely friend since Florence is one of the wealthiest women in town, but they’ve known each other their entire lives. Do small towns make such friendships possible or does Florence’s affluence get in the way of their friendship?
It isn’t Florence’s affluence that hurts her relationship with Stella, and the other citizens of McGill. It’s Florence’s need to constantly talk about it. She isn’t as cruel as she is thoughtless and uninformed. Never having been poor herself, she doesn’t realize how painful it can be to have one’s poverty pointed out. She’s never felt indebted to anyone and doesn’t understand what a heavy burden “gratitude” can be.

It seemed to me that Florence would have more legal/financial power against her abusive husband, Bud, than she realized. Community property, joint bank accounts, etc. Was she totally naïve or totally powerless?
Sadly, then as now, legal intervention and financial assets don’t always translate into “power” for victims of domestic violence. She could have a fortune in the bank in her own name, but if her husband beats her because she forgot to buy his favorite beer, she has to wonder what he would do if she withdrew that fortune and tried to use it to escape him.  Even if local law enforcement is enlightened and understanding of her plight, and even if she can get to a phone and call for help, it could take them five, ten, thirty minutes to arrive. A great deal of damage can be inflicted in literally one minute during an attack. And who knows that better than one who has been attacked over and over again?

Tragically, wealthy, intelligent, resourceful victims of domestic violence are hurt, maimed, even killed just like the poor, less privileged among us. Domestic violence knows no boundaries: social, financial, educational, religious, gender, age, race, sexual orientation, or any other human “classification” imaginable.

Stella has quite the reputation along with her cast-iron skillet. Was her attack on Florence’s husband an emotional response or a cold-blooded one?
Stella’s reputation is mostly based on the exaggeration of her “attack” on Bud, thanks to the town’s highly imaginative gossip mill. The frying pan whacking she gave Bud, was two smacks, not exactly the “Stella Reid Skillet Massacre” that became part of McGill folklore.

That fateful Sunday, Florence had come running to Stella’s house to escape a beating-in-progress at the hands of her husband. Stella had just finished cleaning her 14-inch cast iron skillet, when Flo charged into her kitchen, nose bleeding, terrified, and looking to her for protection. Stella called the sheriff, but before he could arrive, an enraged Bud broke down Stella’s back door, intent on fetching his disobedient wife and taking her back home to finish the job he’d started.

Was Stella emotional when she smacked him twice with the skillet and changed his mind? No doubt. I’m sure her heart was pounding as she defended her friend, her home, and herself from a vicious bully. Was it cold-blooded? I don’t believe so. I think it was instinctive and incredibly brave.

Waycross has a heavy burden being the only male child. The only father figure he ever knew was his late grandfather, Stella’s late husband, Arthur Reid. Does Waycross have the ability to talk with his dead grandfather?
I believe, with his own sweet, childlike faith, Waycross hears his grandfather and communicates with him. How much if it is “real” and how much is based on the stories Waycross has heard about his remarkable ancestor…I’ll leave that up to the reader. And Waycross.

In this story, there are seven grandchildren. But in later Savannah books, there are nine children. Are there “oh, no, not again” issues that will occur in subsequent books?
Oh yes. There will be a couple more. Shirley’s so fertile that if she walks by a peach tree, it bursts into bloom.

When Stella finds the town hussy dying in an alley behind a bar, Stella shows her nothing but respect. Is Stella’s faith the reason she withholds judgment or does she understand that circumstances often draw good people to make bad choices?
I suspect it’s a combination of both. Stella takes her faith to heart and, as best she can, tries to follow its precepts in her daily life, not just inside the church walls on Sunday morning. She has also seen many good people make bad choices and bad people perform virtuous acts, so she at least tries to withhold judgement. Regularly, she reminds herself that it’s hard enough for her to understand why she, herself, does what she does. How can she truly know another person’s heart?

If Stella’s daughter-in-law, Shirley, doesn’t want to mother her own children—why doesn’t she give custody to Stella?
We all have to look in the mirror from time to time, and we want to like the person we see there. We humans can rationalize almost anything to excuse the man or woman looking back. Shirley has done a lot of rationalizing, so she’s good at it. She has convinced herself that she’s a pretty great mom, considering what a lousy hand Life has dealt her. She figures, any “minor” shortcomings she might have as a mother are due to other people’s downfalls, not her own.
To surrender her children to Stella would be to admit her own weaknesses and acknowledge Stella’s strengths. Plus, it’s a control issue. She would never give up her control over her children to any woman, let alone one she hates.

“Most things that are worth doin’ at all are worth doin’ well.”
Savannah paused in her fudge cutting and looked at Stella, confused.
“I thought the first part of the saying was ‘Anything that’s worth doing at all.’”
“That’s for overly persnickety folks. The truth is, there’s a lot that’s not worth doing
at all, let alone worth doing well.” (Kindle Loc. 3205)

Why does Stella point out that distinction for Savannah?
Having once been young and a perfectionist, Stella has learned over the years that her time and energy aren’t limitless, as she once thought. She has come to realize that some things must be left undone, or done with only minimal time and energy, so that one can address what’s most important. Not everything is worth the resources required to do it “well.” Sometimes, “good enough” will suffice. And some things can simply be set aside.

What’s next for Stella and the kids?
As I mentioned before, in this next book, Stella confronts some unresolved issues from her own childhood. Even though most of the grandchildren will, thankfully, be too young to understand what happened all those years ago, the mature-for-her-age Savannah will. And for readers of the Savannah Reid Mysteries, it will illuminate some aspects of the adult Savannah’s character.

In closing, I’d like to thank you for your interest in this new series and for the opportunity to connect with you and your readers. I wish you well and thank you for all you do for those of us who love this genre.