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

January Interview Schedule:

Debra H. Goldstein 1/2, One Taste Too Many,

JC Kenney 1/9, A Literal Mess,

Barbara Ross 1/16, Steamed Open,

Joana Garcia 1/23, Voice Over Actor,

Sherry Harris 1/30, The Gun Also Rises.

Saturday Guest Bloggers: 1/5 Jane Isenberg, 1/12 Bob Germaux

WWK Satuday Bloggers: 1/19 Margaret S. Hamilton, 1/26 Kait Carson

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories was released. It is available at: GoRead: https://www.goread.com/book/abraham-lincoln-seldom-told-stories or at Amazon: http://a.co/d/jdSBKdM

Grace Topping signed a three-book contract with Henery Press for her Laura Bishop Home Staging series. Congratulations, Grace!

KM Rockwood's new short story, "Map to Oblivion," has been included the anthology Shhhh...Murder! edited by Andrew MacRae and published by Darkhouse Books. It was released on Sept. 12.

Warren Bull also has a story in Shhh...Murder! Look for "Elsinore Noir," Warren's short story, in this anthology.

Annette Dashofy's Cry Wolf, was be released on September 18th.

Shari Randall's third Lobster Shack Mystery, Drawn and Buttered, will be published February 26, 2019 and is available for preorder now.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

I Can See Clearly Now: Part 2

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my first cataract surgery and the challenges I faced leading up to the second surgery. A little over a week ago, I had that second surgery and now truly can see clearly.
Still not allowed to wear makeup,
but I can SEE!

Second Eye Syndrome:

For those of you about to have your cataracts removed, this is another tidbit they may not tell you about. I learned of it the day of my second surgery. Just when I thought I knew exactly what to expect, they informed me I was wrong.

It started when I spoke with the anesthesiologist prior to heading into the operating room. I’d had no memory of the first surgery. I remembered being rolled into the room, and the next thing I recalled was being asked what kind of snack I wanted. I was fully dressed with no idea whether I’d done it myself or been assisted by the nurse. Honestly, I was fine with that. Wake me when you’re done. Ah, but it doesn’t work that way. The anesthesiologist told me it was common for a patient to have much clearer memories of the second procedure.

What? No. Please, give me temporary amnesia!

He was right. They wheeled me into the operating room. I thought, okay, I can black out now. Instead, I was conscious the whole time. In the week since the operation, the details have faded, like a vivid dream that gradually drifts away. The good news for anyone heading into cataract surgery and is squeamish…I never saw them coming at me with a scalpel. I felt no pain, no cutting, no pressure. All I saw was three white lights. The surgeon had said they’d look like marshmallows. And they did.

The next time I heard of Second Eye Syndrome was when the nurse wheeled me out to my car and I complained about my eye really burning, something I hadn’t noticed the first time. She told me it was common for a patient to feel more pain or feel it more intensely on the second eye. Perfectly normal. Oh, goody.

I’ve since read up on this syndrome. According to the article, patients who breeze through the first surgery with no pain, often go into the second one without the stress or concern they’d experienced prior to the first. But then they remember more of the surgery, like I did, and feel more discomfort.

Here is where my experience parted company with the article. I did feel some minor discomfort following my first surgery. Other than that initial burning, which cleared up by the time I arrived home, I’ve had a much easier go of it this time. Less discomfort. Less light sensitivity.

And my brain is overjoyed that both eyes are back in sync.

So yes, there is definitely such a thing as Second Eye Syndrome. Your experience with the second eye won’t be the same as it was with the first. But it won’t necessarily be worse either.

No matter. It’s worth it. The pain and discomfort are fleeting.

And the improvement in vision is amazing. 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Letters of Recommendation

By Margaret S. Hamilton

I spend October- January interviewing young women who are high school seniors for need and merit-based college scholarships. Based on feedback from my children, I schedule interviews in a high school conference room, rather than the local Starbucks. During an hour-long interview, I establish rapport with the candidate, explain the application process and deadline, and extract enough specific information from the candidate to write a detailed one- or two-page letter of recommendation. My objective is to create, on paper, a compelling portrait of the candidate that will persuade the screening committee to award her a scholarship.

Some of the information is easy to obtain: “What is your grade point average, what Advanced Placement classes have you taken, and where have you applied to college?”

 My questions become more difficult: “Everyone is a leader in her own way, at school, camp, or church. Can you describe your role as a leader?” Club president, camp counselor, Sunday School or Youth Group leader roles are typical. “Have you started or raised funds for a program? Do you mentor younger players on a high school team or organization? Do you train new employees at your workplace? Have you found an internship opportunity and followed through with the school administration?”

Many high schools have community service requirements. “What kind of community service do you perform? What do you enjoy the most about your community service?” One candidate from a large family explained her assigned chore was doing her grandparents’ yard work. We had a passionate discussion about how the elderly can age in their homes with access to community services like transportation and home maintenance assistance.

Preparation for college is more than Advanced Placement classes. “Tell me about your academic load this semester and how you balance it with sports, work, and family obligations.”

“I’ve read that a daily hour learning music or art techniques is beneficial to the learning process. Are you involved in the arts?”

Though babysitting for cash may be the most lucrative job available, I’m impressed with students who work in a restaurant or store, particularly those who work nights and weekends during the school year. “What are your job requirements? Do you enjoy your job? If you could have a different or better job, what would it be?”

 Consider Daisy, a fictional candidate I created for a workshop on writing letters of recommendation:

Daisy slipped into the conference room, gave me a limp handshake, and sat at the table, eyes downcast. Her hair was pulled into a tight ponytail, her nails bitten to the quick. She wore dog and cat-printed scrubs, a ratty hooded sweatshirt, and worn rubber clogs.

Daisy was on her way to her daily after-school job at a veterinary clinic, where she would work till their six o’clock closing. Before she was old enough for a work permit, she volunteered at the local animal shelter. The vet who became her mentor and employer noted that Daisy was that rare breed—a dog whisperer. The vet trained her both as her assistant and as a post-surgical caregiver for the dogs and cats in the practice. Daisy also works an eight-hour day on Saturdays, and fulltime during school vacations.

Daisy became more animated as she described the challenges of caring for ill or injured animals. She was convinced that one-on-one “cuddle time” was vital for successful healing. She has an excellent rapport with the animal patient owners, and carefully reviews with them her patient’s medications and care, often demonstrating how to administer a pill, eye drops, or ear ointment.

Daisy’s mentor has encouraged her career goal of veterinary medicine. With her mentor’s guidance, Daisy has completed the necessary math and science classes for a college major in Biology. Daisy is well aware of the highly competitive nature of veterinary school admissions, but is determined to do well enough in college to qualify for admission.

Daisy lives with her mother, who works two pink-collar jobs. Daisy had a thriving dog walking and pet sitting business, in addition to her animal shelter work, until she was old enough to work for the vet. Daisy commutes by bike to school and the animal hospital, and also does the household food-shopping, cleaning, and laundry. On Sundays, her only day off, she organizes soccer scrimmages for the children in her apartment complex and volunteers as a dog walker for elderly neighbors.

Due to her extreme financial need, Daisy has always selected classes for which she will earn the highest grades—honors or college prep instead of weighted accelerated/AP level. During her senior year, she is enrolled in her first AP class, Biology, where she proudly maintains an A average.

Daisy played JV soccer for three years, with the Booster Club paying for her cleats, shin guards, and athletic fees. She has never been able to afford club soccer or summer training camps to achieve the skill level necessary for the varsity team. She shrugged it off, telling me “vet school is more important.”

Daisy is a fiercely determined and hard-working young woman with a passion for veterinary medicine. I enthusiastically endorse her for a scholarship.

When I led a discussion at the scholarship workshop, one attendee was in tears. “If Daisy doesn’t get a scholarship, she won’t be able to attend college.”

I assured the woman that Daisy was typical of many young women, and yes, she would complete her education.

Readers and writers, are you involved in tutoring or mentoring students?

I interview candidates for P.E.O., a philanthropic, educational, organization that raises money for scholarships for women at the undergraduate, graduate, and return-to-college levels. Information about their scholarship projects can be found at:


Friday, January 18, 2019

Plotting not Plodding by Warren Bull

Plotting not Plodding by Warren Bull

Image by Jesse Ramirez on Upsplash

I plan to attend a general audition, fondly known as a “cattle call,” which will allow many singers and actors to strut their stuff to several theater companies at the same time. To ready myself for the event I joined Portland Area Theater Association. I need to have a “headshot” and a resume that fits specific requirements.  The theater organization put out the notice below:
Audition Requirements – Read Carefully
Each actor will have 2 MINUTES to perform up to 2 contrasting contemporary pieces. Alternatively, you can use your 2 minutes to perform a monologue and a song. 
Your 2 minutes start AFTER you slate.[Slate means you describe the song, the character who sings it ,and show the song is from] If you are singing, you must slate after you give your music to the accompanist
A single chair will be available on the audition stage.
DO NOT bring any hard copies of your headshot or résumé.
DO NOT bring props, costumes or instruments. 
Remember to dress for a job interview!

Your audition time is an appointment – please call or email if you cannot attend. 

See, no sweat. Just chose no more than one hundred and twenty seconds of two contrasting and contemporary songs. And perform them with a pianist who is basically sight-reading, i.e., playing music he or she is looking at for the first time.
Like a television commercial — get in, get out and while in do something that will stand out in a positive way compared to the herd of singers who proceed and follow you.
Think of a story arc presenting the tale of me as a singer.
The first task is the selection. Of all the contemporary musical theater songs, which ones should I choose? That depends on how I am presenting myself. When people who cast parts in shows see me, what kind of character do I want them to see in me? Physically I am an old, fat, balding man.  Vocally I am a baritone. So, for example, if someone is casting Oliver, I don’t want to perform songs sung by the characters of Oliver or Nancy because I will not be considered for those parts no matter how well I sing. However, Fagin fits my appearance and my range.  
The second task is to find contrast. If I sing something upbeat and showy where I can, “chew the scenery” first, then I will want to follow up with something melodic and lyrical perhaps a ballad or a lament. 
An upbeat song I’ve had good results with is Love Potion Number Nine.  That is loud and comedic.  I can start with a four measure introduction and then the lyrics She Jumped down…That chunk of the song allows me to have a comedic, dramatic and overblown ending. 
I have a number of ballads in my reparatory but I would like to try something new. Characters that I fit include Arvide Abernathy, Sarah Brown’s grandfather in Guys and Dolls, Fagin, the grandfatherly crook who sends boys out to pick pockets in Oliver, and Henry Higgins, the crusty old bachelor who teaches a Cockney flower girl to speak like a Duchess in My Fair Lady. Abernathy has one song, a lovely simple ballad. Fagin has a couple of comedic songs. Higgins has several songs. I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face inMy Fair Lady has enough information for a story plus an opportunity to show emotional change during the first few bars of the song. I’m going to attempt that. 
Two minutes. One hundred twenty seconds. What could possibly go wrong? 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

finding a body

                                                                     FINDING A BODY

My beautiful collie Maggie.
             I'm a mystery writer. I murder people albeit only on the written page. I'm somewhere around forty victims now including both books and short stories. The protagonist in my Catherine Jewell mystery series so far has found at least six bodies. Actually maybe more. She's beginning to feel like she's a jinx to her town.
Although at my age I've confronted death, I had never discovered a body. That is until four years ago.

It began as a normal morning. I went out to feed and water my two ponies, and six hens and put the ponies out to pasture. As always, my collie Maggie was with me most of the time. However this morning she went out beyond the barn and kept barking towards the woods. I checked and couldn't see anything and wondered if a hunter was out there. I headed for my morning walk in the woods where I go past my son and daughter-in-law's house and continue my trail making a sizeable loops giving me a good half hour's exercise. When we'd been walking a while and started heading towards the back of my woods, Maggie started barking again. I thought maybe it was a squirrel except she didn't take off like she does when she spies one. When we'd been walking awhile we stopped at a log where Maggie always jumps up for a treat. We always linger awhile at that spot. When I started on, Maggie headed north with her nose to the ground which wasn't unusual for her, and I walked on until  I saw him. It was a man crouched in a strange posture on his toes with his knees bent and his arms slightly out to his sides.

 I thought maybe it was the man I saw several years ago dressed in camouflage with a rifle across his lap. I had challenged him and told him to get out of my woods because my dog and I walk there every morning.   He said he knew that, but I had a different dog now.  He was gone when I went back that way.

Now I wondered if he was the same man. So I yelled at him and told him to get out of my woods. Then I noticed a thin wire around his neck going up to a branch above him. I thought maybe someone was playing a trick on me. Then I thought someone had hung a dummy there. But on closer look I could see he looked too real to be a dummy. My final parting shout was that I was going to call  the police. He never moved his eyes.

I knocked on my daughter-in-law's back door and when she answered I told her what I'd seen. She dialed 911 and gave me her phone. I told the responder what I'd seen and then babbled on that I thought it might be a  prank to spook me because I was a mystery writer. He got the address of where I was and told us to wait outside for the police to come.

After a while a sheriff's deputy arrived and I told him what I'd seen. Then a fire truck with two women arrived followed by an all-terrain vehicle with two young men. I told them the paths were too narrow for it to go in. While my daughter-in-law looked for boots for the deputy because he didn't want to get his shoes dirty, I took Maggie home before I returned to lead everyone into the woods on the shortest path leading to the body while the deputy and fire men and women fanned out checking for clues, I guess. I figured out the man had rigor mortise set in.

So I got to watch a real crime scene investigation. Sort of. There was only one police officer there and when he got on the phone with another one, he had me go out and meet him to give him a statement while the others got ready to cut the body down because the other officer didn't want to come in the woods and get his shoes dirty either.

 I gave my statement to the other officer. He seemed rather amused when I told him I thought it was a prank at first because I was a mystery writer. Anyway, he wanted my name, address and identification. Identification? A rather small woman like me murdering and hanging a man in the woods?

Later that afternoon I walked over to see if my daughter-in-law had learned anything new and found out he lived on a side street with back yards that butted up against my woods. While we were talking a car drove in and two women got out. One was the wife of the man who committed suicide although she thought maybe he'd been murdered because his yellow car was missing. The other woman was her mother. I found out he was only 37 years old and they'd been together for six years. She wanted us to take her to where he'd been found and we refused. She told us they'd been together for six years and married for three years and that he had two children and her three young daughters called him daddy. Then she asked me if I'd like to have her four month old German Shepherd. I said no.

Was I traumatized by this? Not seriously for several reasons. One I've dealt with the death of loved ones. I held my son when he died at only seventeen years old. I was with my brother when he died, and was also present when my daughter gave permission for her six-year old brain-dead daughter's life support to be removed. I've been to many funerals in my life time. Another reason is that I talked to so many people that afternoon and evening on the phone, and weird as it seems, we were laughing. Not at the poor man's death, of course, but of my yelling at him before I fully realized he was dead, and over the irony that a mystery writer would actually find a body hanging in the woods.

Several evenings later his two sons showed up at my door and wanted to talk to me. They told me they hated the woman he was with because she'd started their father on heroin. I could tell they were really grieving for him

Did I stop walking in my woods? No! The next day I walked again, but that time I took six daffodil bulbs I dug up that morning, a garden trowel and gardening gloves. When I got to that spot, I planted the daffodils, said a prayer for him, and picked up the half full bottle of water he'd left behind and took it home to recycle and a piece of cellophane. Strange that the deputy never picked it up as possible evidence, isn't it?

The death of any loved one is a tragedy, and I think suicide must be the worse way for loved ones to deal with. We who write or only read mysteries don't always think about the suffering the families of real victims go through.

Have you ever discovered a body?  How do you think it would affect you if you did?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


An Interview with Author Barbara Ross by E. B. Davis

“My dear friends think I have cause for concern because they know something about
me you don’t. I killed my husband, you see. For most of the years I was
away from Herrickson House, I was in prison.”

My astonished reaction was unfortunately obvious to all of them.
I consciously closed my gaping mouth, giving Mrs. Fischer a tight grin.

“So if you help me, dear, I would appreciate it, she said.
“When a crime is committed, the police love to look no further than at the criminals.”
Barbara Ross, Steamed Open, Kindle Loc. 953

It’s summertime in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, and the clamming is easy—or it was until a mysterious new neighbor blocks access to the beach, cutting off the Snowden Family Clambake’s supply. Julia Snowden is just one of many townspeople angered by Bartholomew Frick’s decision. But which one of them was angry enough to kill?
Beachcombers, lighthouse buffs, and clammers are outraged after Frick puts up a gate in front of his newly inherited mansion. When Julia urges him to reconsider, she’s the last to see him alive—except the person who stabs him in the neck with a clam rake. As she pores through a long list of suspects, Julia meets disgruntled employees, rival heirs, and a pair of tourists determined to visit every lighthouse in America. They all have secrets, and Julia will have to work fast to expose the guilty party—or see this season’s clam harvest dry up for good.
I wrote this interview before Christmas. One afternoon I had every intention of making and baking cookies, that is, until I started reading Barbara Ross’s seventh book in the Maine Clambake mystery series, Steamed Open. Maybe I’d had enough Christmas already, maybe the cold outside made me sink into the pages depicting hot and sweaty summer, maybe I was just lazy, but I was lost in the mesmerizing middle of her book.

Yes, when other books drift into the dreaded-doldrums midsection, Steamed Open blew into full-speed ahead. As a writer, I can’t help but think of those plots that form in entirety like an unexpected gift. I wondered if that had happened to Barb when writing this book.

Let’s not talk of murder, which would only lead to spoilers. This book is about mothers. Mothers, mothers everywhere. The death of a mother preceding the murder, most of the suspects, and mothers in the backstories. And they were all different. Each child with his own story of and relationship to his mother. What circumstances knit and healed while others wounded and festered? After reading the book, ask yourselves the question.

Please welcome Barbara Ross back to WWK.                                 E. B. Davis   

Have you plotted your series? Did this book’s plot present itself fait accompli?

Thanks for your kind words about the book, E.B. I am so glad you liked it. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of a chess-player mind where I can see dozens of moves ahead. In this case, I knew I wanted to write about the contentious shoreline access issues we have in Maine. And I wanted to feature clams, which are an important part of the clambake. Earlier books had focused on the lobsters and the blueberries in the dessert. And lighthouses. I knew I wanted to write about lighthouses. The lighthouse, beach, and the death of the 101-year-old Lou Herrickson that kicks off the book are very loosely inspired by real people and places on an island, reachable by bridge, from our peninsula in Maine.

About these “soft-shell” clams—I looked them up because I’d never heard of them. Where I live, on Hatteras, the only soft shelled anything are crabs. The difference, as I understand it, is that soft-shell clams don’t close their bivalve hinges all the way and have longer necks because they dig to deeper depths in the sand. I’m used to eating hard-shell clams such as little neck and cherry stone as steamers. (We have quohogs, but you could play jacks with them.) In fact, if I found a clam that wouldn’t close all the way, I’d throw it out. Likewise, after cooking, if one hadn’t opened, I’d throw it out. So, way up yonder, do you all have different clams and cooking standards?

We have quahogs, too. Those go in the clam chowder. Steamers likewise aren’t eaten if they come out of the clambake fire closed. The soft shell range does extend farther south than New England, but we’re the North Americans who feature them most prominently in our cuisine.

Heloise Herrickson died before the start of the book. Her memorial service was held onboard the Jacquie II where people described her as a philanthropist, a collector, an artist, having humor in old age as she donned outlandish wigs to compensate for her thinning hair, giving generously to the community, and yet…. Does everyone have a dark side, not perhaps, unprovoked, but, does everyone possess some duality?

When I was writing, I didn’t think of it as a dark side and a lighter side. I thought of it as a “before” and “after.” Lou Herrickson drew a firm line in her life when she married Francis Herrickson and moved to Maine. Mainers knew her only one way. Others, from earlier in her life, knew her as another.

I asked that previous question because I felt that, although Heloise had a few specific qualifications in her will, many of the problems incurred were due to her not specifying and qualifying her wishes, leaving many in want. Did she have a philosophy about life and death that dictated a more laissez-faire will?

I think Lou’s will was the way it was because she wanted to do what her long-dead husband would have wished. He had no children, though he had a sister, the grandmother of Bart Frick who inherits. The house, beach and lighthouse come from Francis’s family. Lou leaves everything to that side, even though the bulk the money and possessions in the house come from her.

I thought Le Roi (how did he get his name?) lived with Julia. In Steamed Open, he’s living on the island, greeting guests, and conditioning them for treat donations from their meals. Where does Le Roi live? Isn’t he Julia’s cat?

Le Roi, who is named for his resemblance to the later, Vegas-era Elvis ‘the King’, starts out in book one, Clammed Up, being the cat of the caretaker and his wife who live on the island in the summer and on the mainland in the winter. When they’re unable to keep him that fall, in Fogged Inn, he goes home with Julia because her sister Livvie is pregnant and can’t take him. He always lives on the island in the summer, but his living arrangements in the winter vary. I just finished a novella that takes place in the fall after Steamed Open. In it, Le Roi is spending the off-season (very happily) at Julia’s mother’s house.

The Snowden mansion, Windsholme, and Herrickson House had the same designer, Henry Gilbert. Was he a real architect or did you make him up?

I made him up, though he was inspired by a real Maine architect. There will be more about him in book eight, Sealed Off.

Julia is a conscientious clambake manager, calling clammers every day to insure they have the needed supply for their meals. Is this due to how close the family came to bankruptcy or is this her nature?

It is her nature, but it also springs from necessity. They can store live lobsters in the cages under the dock on Morrow Island for a day or two, but basically fresh seafood has to be delivered to the island every day during the season.

On Hatteras, the National Park Service owns the beach so everyone has free access. I was appalled to learn that in Maine, homeowners own the beach to the LOW tide mark. What nonsense is the 1640 Colonial Ordinance that Maine still follows as set by the Massachusetts Bay Colony?

The issue of shoreline access in Maine has been much litigated—as it has in other places. The Ordinance of 1640 (think about how early that was!) gave rights to the low tide mark because the English hoped it would encourage the Colonists to build much-needed wharves. The law has fundamentally never changed, as often as it’s been challenged in court. It’s an issue because only twelve percent of Maine’s 5400-mile coastline is publicly owned. Because of our jagged coast and many islands, Maine has more ocean shoreline than any other state, even California.

Emmy Bailey is an employee of the Snowden’s helping with the meals on the island. I was a bit surprised she had no need to find the father of her child, Vanessa, no matter how inappropriate Julia’s boyfriend Chris was to ask about a DNA test for her. Wouldn’t a mother want at least financial support for her child?
I think after the one-night stand that resulted in Vanessa, Emmy wanted nothing to do with the man again, especially as he was quite clearly not father material. Sometime after Vanessa’s birth Emmy married the man who is emotionally and financially Vanessa’s father. They’ve fallen on hard times due to a job loss and separated before the start of book six, Stowed Away.

I was surprised to learn that Maine wasn’t a state until 1820. Why was that?

Maine started out as a colony of Massachusetts. If you think living in a colony is tough, try living in a colony of a colony. By the time the citizens of Maine elected to separate from Massachusetts and join the United States, there were twenty-two states, half slave and half free. Congressmen from slave-owning states would only support Maine becoming a state if a slave territory was also admitted, which was the Missouri territory, thus the Missouri Compromise. You see a similar dynamic playing out today when people talk about statehood for Washington, DC or Puerto Rico—not over the issue of slavery, but over the predominant political affiliation of the prospective state’s citizens.

Many of the characters had a happy-endings in Steamed Open. But for Julia, not so much. What’s next for her?

Such a good question! I don’t know, but I know I have at least two more books and one novella to figure it out!


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Trodding the Boards

by Paula Gail Benson

Either at year’s end or the first of the new year, my post is about the Christmas musical dinner theatre production held at my church. I’m both the writer and director for this effort--a great responsibility that is accomplished with lots of assistance from many folks, including not just the cast and company, but our great supporters who provide contributions, food, and encouragement throughout the process.

Participating in this operation makes me think I have a little insight into how Shakespeare worked. He knew something of his audience expectations (and, if we can believe Shakespeare in Love, had to deal with the commands of the sovereign). He was very familiar with his company of players, understanding their strengths and what made their performances shine. Having been an actor himself, he also could imagine the performers’ desires for new challenges. All those elements (along with limitations and innovations with staging, props, costumes, and sound effects) factored into the plays he wrote.

It’s an exhilarating, yet complicated process. Warren Bull understands, as you can see from his recent posts about “plotting songs.” (See: his initial and subsequent posts.)  From a writer’s standpoint, you get to see all aspects of your work come alive in great detail, including the characters, the settings, and the descriptions of all that takes place. You view how hand movements and facial expressions convey emotions. And, from a visual perspective, you learn about editing by seeing when something is overplayed or repeated too often.

Jinny Nantz, Asa Arnold, Jim Jarvis, Mark Wade, John Arnold, Olin Jenkins, Janie Fulmer, and the director silhouetted!
Photo by Colleen Fannin Arnold. 
When music is added to the mix, it gives the author and cast another means of exploring the themes of the play. Devotees of musicals and opera know that song can heighten and focus on a particular moment in ways monologue or dialogue are ineffective.

This year, I began planning an original work that would have taken ten or twelve actors. After canvassing the players, I learned that a number of our regular cast members could not participate due to other commitments. I had seven performers, and I knew my initial idea could not be converted for such a small group.

I began looking for adaptable short stories. I thought of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” but it’s been done often and probably didn’t need as many as six actors.

Then, I came across an O. Henry short story called “A Cop and an Anthem.” It’s included as one of five O. Henry stories in an anthology film (O. Henry’s Full House) narrated by John Steinbeck. The story is about a homeless man, named Soapy, who tries to get arrested for three months so he has a warm place to stay for the winter. At the end of the story, while listening to a church organ, he’s ready to try a new life. However, that’s the moment he’s apprehended by the law and taken into custody.

Much of the story had to be revised and updated for a modern audience. And, I have to admit opting for a happy ending where our homeless hero, named Buddy, is embraced by the community and saved from a prison sentence. What made the tale special for our congregation is that we recently had our pipe organ restored. I found a company in the neighboring state of Georgia that created a backdrop for us featuring the image of our church and recorded our organist playing from the restored organ.
A view with our backdrop. Photo by Fran Bush.

One of our parishioners enjoyed the production so much he came to both performances! That’s a sure sign you have a hit.

As always, I’m tremendously proud of our actors, our musical director, and our sound and lighting crew. Our producer, John W. Henry, who usually commented on this post, passed away during the summer. This first show without him was bittersweet. But, he would have been proud that we raised over a thousand dollars to benefit a homeless ministry program.

I’m tremendously grateful for the opportunity I have to hear my words, lyrics, and music performed. It’s been an incredible benefit in all aspects of my writing.

Are you a theatre enthusiast? I hope so!

Our Cast with Crew Billy Itter and Dean Long and Music Director Margaret Davis.
 Photo by Heather Coats.

Monday, January 14, 2019

You're Invited! Lunch with Barb Goffman and Shari Randall

SCENE: A small table on a sunny patio outside a Mexican restaurant. (You know this is
a fantasy because Barb would never eat outdoors--flying insects within a 100-mile
radius always know when she tries to eat outside, and then they come to bother her.
But we digress. ...)

Chips and salsa are on the table. A margarita (for Shari) and a Coke (for Barb) are at
the ready.

A handsome waiter approaches.

WAITER: What can I get you ladies?

SHARI: She will have the steak fajitas. (Shari nods at Barb.)

BARB: And she will have the fish tacos. (Barb nods back.)

WAITER: I gather you've eaten here before.

SHARI: No. We just know what we like. (She winks at the waiter.)

BARB: What happens at a Mexican restaurant stays at a Mexican restaurant!

They clink glasses as the waiter leaves.

SHARI: So nice to see you, Barb!

BARB: You, too. We've all missed you down here in Virginia since you moved to
Connecticut. Our loss is New England's gain.

SHARI: I miss you all, too. But living in Connecticut has made it so much easier for me
to write my series.

BARB: I bet. Who better to write a cozy mystery series involving a lobster shack than a
woman who lives right near the beach? Your first two books in the series came out in
2018, right? CURSES, BOILED AGAIN!, which was your debut mystery, came out in
February, and AGAINST THE CLAW came out in the summer.

SHARI: A reviewer told me that they’re like Murder She Wrote – with lobster rolls.

BARB: What made you make your main character an injured ballerina? Allie Larkin's
such an unusual cozy protagonist.

SHARI: Three reasons. First, I love a fish out of water story (no pun intended). Second, a
dancer looks at people differently, especially their body language – that helps Allie in
her investigations. Finally, I wanted a character who could believably do her own stunts
to get herself out of all the dangerous situations I get her into.

BARB: It works! Your books also involve a lot of food, especially lobster rolls. How do
they fit into the plots?

SHARI: You wouldn’t believe what some people will do for a lobster roll – or a secret

The entrees arrive and the ladies dig in.

SHARI: Speaking of fictional food, you had two short stories published in 2018 involving
food, right?

BARB: I did. "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" appeared in FLORIDA HAPPENS,
which was the 2018 Bouchercon anthology. It involves, as you can imagine, pot roast.
The main character is Bev, who retired with her husband down near the Everglades.
The story opens with her thinking: "Looking back, I should have known something was
wrong when the pot roast disappeared." But Bev has bigger problems that distract her
... to her detriment.

SHARI: I'd say so. Did I hear correctly that the story was originally supposed to involve
a missing cat?

BARB: Yeah, but it would have been too dark a story. I wanted to make it funnier and
cozier. So instead of a missing cat, we have a missing pot roast. (Anyone interested in
reading "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" can read it by clicking here.)

SHARI: You had another funny story involving food last year. Right?

BARB: Yep. "Bug Appétit" was published in the November/December issue of ELLERY
QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE. This story is set at Thanksgiving. A con man has
finagled himself an invitation to a rich girl's home. He hopes to steal her jewelry after he
fills his stomach, but he's so focused on his goals that he misses some important
culinary details that may derail his plans. (Anyone interested can read "Bug Appetit" on
my website by clicking here. )

SHARI: Given the title, I doubt I'll spoil the story for most people if I say it involves bugs.
Though I might spoil some appetites.

BARB: Indeed. But the story is funny, not gross. At least that's what readers have told
me. Speaking of funny, your third book, coming out next month, involves a funny
subplot about a missing gigantic lobster.

SHARI:  DRAWN AND BUTTERED drew on a lot of things that fascinate me – old
cemeteries, the secrets of college fraternities, Halloween - I’ve been dying to set a story at Halloween – and I just had to throw in a giant lobster.

BARB: How big was it?

SHARI: The largest lobster ever caught was 44 pounds and about three feet long. The one in my story is just shy of that. It’s a monster – perfect for Halloween.

BARB: In addition to your Lobster Shack mysteries, you had a short story published last spring. "Pet" appeared in CHESAPEAKE CRIMES: FUR, FEATHERS, AND FELONIES.Your main
character is a young Russian immigrant who becomes the caretaker for an uber rich
woman's dog and gets mixed up in murder. The story has a noir feel--different from your
cozy novels. What made you write it?

SHARI: I was inspired to write “Pet” after a visit to the fabulous Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C. Hillwood was the home of the Post family (of cereal fame). I started wondering what would happen to a naïve young woman who forged a friendship with someone that wealthy. It was lots of fun to write something so dark! I have to say, your animal choice for your story in FUR was surprising.

BARB: I like writing stories that surprise people, and few people see exploding cows coming. But while I hope "Till Murder Do Us Part” makes people smile, readers should know that the cow explosions aren't gratuitous. They play a role in the police-procedural murder mystery involving a man who rents out his barn for weddings.

SHARI: What's next on your plate?

BARB: I have a flash short story, "Punching Bag," scheduled to be published sometime
this month at the ezine FLASH BANG MYSTERIES. And in the spring I'll have a story
about a woman on trial for killing her husband in DEADLY SOUTHERN CHARM: A
LETHAL LADIES MYSTERY ANTHOLOGY. It's called "The Power Behind the Throne."
What's next for you?

SHARI: I’m working on a Christmas novella about the Lobster Shack characters. And a
launch party is in the works for DRAWN AND BUTTERED. Stay tuned!

BARB: Well, I will definitely have to make it out for one of your book events. And then
afterward, we can go out for more Mexican food.

SHARI: Margaritas for everyone!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

About this New Year's Thing . . .

Happy New Year, everyone. Yes, I know it’s January 13, but this is my first Writers Who Kill blog for the year, so it still feels like a new year. For those who make resolutions, there’s probably a 50/50 chance you’re keeping all of them. And for those who celebrate the new year using other calendars: Chinese, Hebrew, Hirji, and so many others I have no clue about, I don’t apologize for my celebration of the Gregorian calendar. Nor do I put my version of keeping track of time ahead of yours. It is, however, the way I see the world.

This “how I see the world” is important to understanding how deeply buried our preconceived notions can be. And when we turn to the author business of creating characters, we must also keep in mind that people act from their beliefs, regardless of facts.

Taking calendars as an example, embedded in my use of the Gregorian calendar is Christianity. In its original form, the current calendar year would be referred to as AD 2019. The AD comes from the medieval Latin anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord”, referring to the year attributed to the birth of Jesus Christ. (Scholars don’t agree on when Jesus was born, but most think it was several years before the Gregorian calendar starts counting. The Gregorian Calendar is a modification of the earlier Julian calendar done to more accurately reflect leap years.)

Sometime during my lifetime, a movement occurred to secularize naming of years and change AD to CE, which stands for “Common Era.” Turns out, like many things “I know,” the actual timing of this movement is not as I remembered. The first reference may have been 1615 used by the astronomer Johannes Kepler. Scientists were the first adopters.

The Latin equivalent of anno Domini is ante Cristum natum (before the birth of Christ). Unlike the AD, which stuck, ADN did not, and many languages rejected the Latin and substituted the words in their own language. In English this became Before Christ, shortened to BC and occurring after the numerical date, so the year before AD 1 is 1 BC. Poor zero never got a chance to strut his stuff. BC, morphs to BCE (before Common Era) in the secularized version.

Yet even dressing up dates with the new CE and BCE tags, does not eliminate their Christian origins. The origins are obfuscated, but no less present. Scratch the surface the tiniest bit and the Christian origins sparkle beneath the clothing we’ve put on dates.

People and characters often hold truths that are not fact-based. My false recollection that the use of CE was introduced during my lifetime is a small, and probably inconsequential, example. But it does suggest we need to periodically question the basis of our understandings.

In discussing Trump’s Wall with someone of a more conservative persuasion than I hold, I referred to the first line in Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

I was told I had missed the whole point of the poem, which she claimed was contained in the last line:

“Good fences make good neighbors.”

And this illustrates our differences more clearly than I could have earlier articulated: my strong attachment to the poem’s first line, hers to its last. I argue context: the narrator does NOT agree with the “Good fences make good neighbors.” statement handed down from neighbor father to neighbor son, spoken reverently without reflection upon the rationale behind the saying or when it may or may not be justified.

That, of course, is my point of view and it fits my personality, I often challenge “truths” to test their limits. My math background makes me dig for the hidden assumptions that support the “facts.”

Others prefer to follow the well-worn path espoused by those before them. Testing these known truths is irrational and counterproductive.

The problem with unchallenged misunderstandings in ourselves or others is they become bedrock truths. I would have great difficulty thinking that today belongs to the year 5779 (Hebrew Calendar). Conceptually, I understand it’s just a different number system that mathematically maps calendar days one-to-one from my current system. No day is lost, none added. It’s a matter of convenience, I say, and ignore the cultural significance of the choice.

I often see errors in fact made by people espousing all shades of political views. When I have specific expertise (usually actuarial or financial), I’ll often try to provide a correct explanation. This reflection on the New Year and its cultural bias has made me realize maybe I should have a New Year’s resolution.

I hereby resolve to try to be more conscious of my inherent biases before touting my opinion.

But, I already know as soon as I enter the world of Facebook, I’m more likely to find the speck in your eye than the beam in mine. How long will your resolution last?

* * * * * * * *
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, January 12, 2019

Grammar Sex (How Dangling Your Participle Can Hurt Your Book Sales) by Robert Germaux

Okay, I got your attention with that grammar sex thing, right? I’m sure you already know that in the wild and crazy world of eBooks, getting people to look at your work is often more difficult than it was to actually write the thing in the first place. And I’m sure you also know why. It’s because there is an inordinate amount of simply awful writing out there, so much so that the sheer volume of it can easily overwhelm the relatively few really good books, books like yours. The best way to keep your artfully-crafted masterpiece from drowning in that sea of mediocrity is to do everything you can to separate it from those thousands of other books. Research shows, and here I’m talking my made-up research, but I’m sure actual research would back me up on this . . . anyway, research, real or otherwise, indicates that once you’ve grabbed your readers’ attention (by, for example, throwing the word sex into your title), the best way to keep them turning those pages is to present them with prose so superbly written, so free of errors in spelling and punctuation and syntax, that they simply lose themselves in your wonderful narrative.

So how do you go about guaranteeing that your book lands in the can’t-put-it-down category? There are several potential paths to that goal, a few of which I’ll list here.

1.     You can follow my example and spend thirty-one years as a high school English teacher before beginning your writing career. Frankly, unless you’re at a total loss about what to do with the next three decades of your life, I’d skip this option.
2.     Find out where the retired English teachers in your area hang out and pay them a visit. It wouldn’t hurt to pick up a couple boxes of donuts along the way and put them on a table off to one side of the room. The retirees might think they’re at yet another faculty meeting, and you could give them your manuscript to proofread while they enjoy the free pastries.
3.     Join a writers group and identify the best writer there. Then befriend that person (praise, pastries, whatever) and be completely open to every comment, suggestion or criticism that individual has to offer.
4.     Go Google crazy. The problem here, of course, is that you’d have to at least know what was wrong and then Google a solution. Plus, contrary to what you might have heard, you really can’t trust everything you read on the Net. (True story: The Wikipedia entry for one of my college roommates, who went on to become a best-selling author, says he was born in 1951, which would have made Richard twelve our freshman year. I’m pretty sure I would have noticed.)

In the end, the how isn’t as important as the what. One way or another, get help. Even the best writers occasionally hit a literary speed bump, and it’s nice to have someone around to pick you up and point you in the right direction when that happens.

A final word of advice, something I used to tell my high school students. There’s no such thing as good writing, just good rewriting. So good luck with your writing and, especially, your rewriting.

About the Author
Robert Germaux has written several mysteries, one book of humorous essays and a love story, The Backup Husband, which includes a chapter or two explaining that whole grammar sex thing. You can find information on both Bob and his books by going to his Amazon Author Page.