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

September Interviews

9/2 Dianne Freeman, A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder

9/9 Ellen Byron, Murder in the Bayou Boneyard

9/16 Marilyn Levinson, writing as Allison Brook, Checked Out for Murder

9/23 Rhys Bowen, The Last Mrs. Summers

9/30 Sherry Harris, From Beer To Eternity

September Guest Bloggers

9/19 Judy Alter

WWK Weekend Bloggers

9/5 V. M. Burns

9/12 Jennifer J. Chow

9/26 Kait Carson


Keenan Powell recently signed with agent Amy Collins of Talcott Notch. Congratulations, Keenan!

KM Rockwood's "Secrets To The Grave" will appear in the new SinC Chesapeake Chapter's new anthology Invitation To Murder, which will be released by Wildside Press on 10/6.

Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

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

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

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

Look Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

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

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


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

An Interview with Keenan Powell by E. B. Davis

"So where did you get the money?” Tom asked.
“The Native corporations receive federal loans and no-bid contracts to do all kinds of stuff. One group of villages got a contract to replace bridges in Napa, California. Someone else replaced all the windows in the JFK federal building in Boston.” Turner barked a laugh.
Keenan Powell, Hemlock Needle, Kindle Loc. 365

In Anchorage, Alaska, Yup’ik Eskimo chief financial officer and single mother, Esther Fancyboy, walks out of a party and into a blizzard. She is never seen again, leaving behind a seven-year-old son, Evan. The local cops say she’ll come home when she’s done partying, but family friend Maeve Malloy doesn’t think it’s that simple. She goes looking for Esther just as she’s getting bad news of her own, a career-ending accusation. When Esther’s body turns up in a snow berm and a witness is shot to death in front of Maeve, she suspects Evan might be in danger. Maeve must race against time to save the boy–along with her career, and maybe her life.

Last month, Level Best Books released Hemlock Needle, the second book in Keenan Powell’s Maeve Malloy mystery series. Keenan is an Alaskan lawyer who has seen it all and lived to tell the tale. The book is not a traditional legal thriller. The focus is on a murder investigation, which delves into federal contracts given to Native corporations, and on Maeve’s current problem with the bar association brought on by her past mistakes. But that doesn’t mean Maeve’s stupid, it means when even the good guys aren’t, there’s little recourse.

The book contains a glossary of terms at the very end. When I finished reading and found it, I felt as flummoxed as when I read A Clockwork Orange, eons ago, without knowing it contained a glossary of terms at the end of the book. Perhaps my advanced copy lacked a table of contents but don’t read the entire book full of Native language terms without bookmarking the glossary at the end. 

Read my first interview with Keenan here. Welcome back to WWK.                                                                                                                            E. B. Davis

You refer to the Alaskan natives as “Natives” or “Eskimos.” Are either politically correct? How do the natives refer to themselves?

That’s a great question.
In recent history, there was a commonly-used vulgar term used to describe Eskimos, which I won’t repeat. During that period of time, the politically-correct term was “Eskimos”. However, there are more than one Eskimo group. I am aware of several in Alaska: the Alutiiq, Chupik, Yup’ik, Inupiat, and Inuit. There could be more.

In addition, there are tribes in Alaska historically referred to as “Indian” rather than “Eskimo”. Those include the Aleuts, Athabaskans, Ahtna, Kenaitze, Tlingit, Haidi, and Tsimshian.

These groups did not care to be lumped together. Not all of these groups are friendly towards each other. They have had recent history of competing for resources and even war between some of these groups. For instance, the Aleuts sided with the Russians against the Tlingits in the Battle of Sitka in 1804. So nowadays, it is common in media to refer to the specific group the person identifies with.

However, in the distant past it was customary to take all the Native children from their homes and send them to a boarding school where they met and intermarried. So it is not uncommon to meet someone who has a complex heritage.

I read an article in a local newspaper when I was writing this book about specifically how Eskimos felt about the term “Eskimo”. Some said that it was offensive to them and some said they were proud of it. So, each to his own.

The term “Native” is often used in the media when identifying a suspect or a victim. With well-known individuals, such as mushers or politicians, their specific heritage is usually noted. “Native” is also used in reference to all the Natives, such as the Alaska Native Medical Center or the Alaska Federation of Natives.

Akutaq’s (Eskimo ice cream) ingredients are whale fat, seal oil, and blueberries whipped to cream consistency. Have you eaten it? Doesn’t it taste like fish?

Once upon a time, I visited the western Alaskan village of Kwethluk and while there, our hostess served akutaq. She apologized because she didn’t have whale fat or seal oil. So in their stead, she used vegetable shortening and vegetable oil. It looked like blue Cool Whip. I ate it. It looked prettier than it tasted to me as blueberries in western Alaska are bitter. Years later, I talked to a little old lady in Anchorage who said that she would add sugar to her akutaq if white people were going to eat it.

A Chinook wind melts snow and ice revealing a missing woman’s body (Esther Fancyboy) whom Maeve and her investigator, Tom, are looking for at the request of her mother, Cora, an old acquaintance of Maeve’s. Is a Chinook wind the same as El Nino? How warm is warm? Are bodies often found after such a wind?

A Chinook wind isn’t the same as El Nino. El Nino is weather cycle that effects large portions of the globe. During El Nino years, Alaska will have a milder winter.

A Chinook wind is a more discrete event. In Alaska, it is caused by warm air moving in from the Pacific Ocean. The winds are often 40 to 50 degrees in temperature and gust over 100 mph, so snow and ice melt fast.

It is not unusual for a body to turn up after a Chinook rips through Anchorage.

If it is a tradition of native peoples that grandparents raise their grandchildren, doesn’t it follow that native children are always behind due to older values and lack of technological knowledge? Is this also why Esther’s son, Evan, calls her by her first name rather than “Mom?”

In the village in olden days, the grandparents would raise their grandchildren while both parents were expected to hunt, fish, gather, prepare food, and attend to the family needs. However, with statehood and development of urban centers occurring at the same time that traditional subsistence activities were outlawed or regulated and the removal of Native children from their homes to go to boarding school, these traditions have been disrupted. That disruption is more extreme in nuclear families who are now living in Anchorage, having left the extended family in the village.

I am not quite sure why the Native kids I’ve seen address their parents by their first name. I wonder if it’s a holdover from precontact.

I had no idea many natives were of the Russian Orthodox religion. How did that come about and what is a Starring ceremony?

Russians settled Alaska before it was sold to the United States. Coastal areas were occupied by fur trappers and traders and the Russian Orthodox Church took on the challenge of spreading Christianity amongst the Native Alaskans. 

Starring is a Christmas tradition like Christmas caroling. In the village, people stroll from house to house singing Christmas songs while men hold tinsel stars about two to three feet in diameter and spin them. Then everyone goes inside, eats and drinks, and the singers move on to the next house. In Anchorage, the different Native groups gather in an event room at the Alaska Native Medical Center where food is shared, songs are sung, dancers dance and the stars are spun. Orthodox Christmas is January 7.

In times of stress, Maeve, a recovering alcoholic, experiences phantom tastes of alcoholic beverages. I’ve heard of smells setting off memories, but never this phenomenon. Was stress the reason Maeve drank?

Maeve is an alcoholic of the genetic variety. She didn’t need a reason to drink. Once she experimented with alcohol in college, her disease took hold. Negotiating a sober lifestyle is stressful in itself for the newly-recovered and if something extra stressful happens, yearning for oblivion, the kneejerk reaction of any alcoholic or addict, is a typical response.

When Maeve is brought up on charges of malpractice stemming from an incident that happened prior to her going into mandated rehab, she realizes she was set up. It seems like she’s being punished twice for the same incident, and this time the outcome could get her disbarred for life. The charge is due to her client providing a false alibi, which at the time she didn’t know about. She was a public defender. Isn’t it the prosecution’s responsibility to break the alibi? Why is she being charged for what she didn’t know? Vice Versa, if the prosecution knew and didn’t say, why aren’t they charged with malpractice?

These are all really good questions. It seems unfair, doesn’t it?

I developed this plot point because it occurred to me that the authorities can be trapped in a web of their own making.  What would happen if the police were working with a confidential informant (“snitch”) who, at the same time, was doing something illegal. Would they turn a blind eye?

What if the only way the prosecution could win the second case (where the snitch is involved in illegal activity) was to disassemble the snitch’s alibi thus revealing that he was a snitch in another investigation, possibly destroying that case and/or risking the snitch’s life?

Point in fact: just a few months ago, a snitch was identified in a drug case to the defendant’s attorney and two days after his identification, he turned up dead. The defendant who he was testifying against has not been charged with his murder.

In Maeve’s case, her client’s alibi witness lied. He testified that he was with the defendant in a strip club and not robbing a store when in fact the snitch was on the other side of town doing a controlled drug deal for the police. A controlled drug deal is when the police wire up the snitch, give him marked money, observe and record the transaction.

Under ethical rules, the prosecution has no duty to reveal their methods or strategy. Nor do I believe that they have an ethical duty to inform the court that another party’s witness is lying. If they did, it would open a snake pit of side-litigation because in almost every case, an element in virtually every case is the accusation that the other party’s witnesses are lying.

But an attorney has an ethical duty to inform the court that her own witness lied or plans to lie. When Maeve learned afterwards that her alibi witness had lied, she was under a duty to inform the court even though her client was acquitted and couldn’t be tried again.  Instead, she swept it under the rug hoping no one would find out.

Maeve feels responsible for the actions of her clients, whom she can’t control. One mentor keeps after her about it “not being all about her.” Why can’t she take that advice?

That’s a complicated question. I’m not a psychologist but I’ve observed that there are many people, alcoholic or not, who interpret every event as effecting them personally or feel they have the power to effect everything around them. Thinking that everyone is out to get you or that when something good happens to someone else, you’re getting cheated is the flipside of the personality that thinks they can go around fixing everyone else. Both behaviors are rooted in self-centeredness.

Newly recovering alcoholics like Maeve sometimes have difficulty grasping this concept. It could well be a developmental thing as many alcoholics begin drinking as teenagers when they should be figuring out who they are, where they end, and where other people begin. So when they sober up, they are adults in adult world with the psyche of a young teenager. It can be quite confusing.

Thomas Sinclair, her investigator, is a complicated character. He’s good at what he does, but he also seems personally involved with her. He’s teaching Maeve defense moves, which she needs. He presses his jeans. He champions Maeve. He protects her, but she provides work for him. Does he fulfill the lack of male role-models in her life, father, brother, boyfriend? How old is Tom?

Tom is functioning in all those roles for Maeve. He introduced her to sobriety. He got her into rehab. He went to her boss to get her time off to go to rehab. He quit his job to go work for her when she left the Public Defender’s Office in part because he enjoyed working with her but also because he hated the politicking at the office. He is like a big brother but his feelings towards her are complicated and so his presence in her life seems to keep her from dating other men. And because Maeve is that teenager psychologically in an adult world, she doesn’t have perspective on her relationship with Tom to understand what exactly is going on between them.

I see Tom as about ten years older than Maeve. So if she’s in her late 20’s, he’s pushing forty.

“Traditional Yup’iks were stoic, especially in the presence of white people.” (Loc. 210) Why?

Traditional Yup’iks seem stoic to white people because white people haven’t learned how to read their facial expressions and body language, which is subtler than in the white culture. Several years ago, I was a presenter at the Alaska Federation of Natives annual conference on the topic of subsistence, having just won a major case in federal court related to that issue.

Before my talk, a local politician spoke. He told the audience that they didn’t need subsistence rights, they needed electricity and clean water and jobs. He was met with stony silence. Then he made a crack about the audience being inscrutable.

I had no problem reading them. Those folks were angry. They were doing just fine before we showed up, thank you very much, and subsistence lifestyle was their job. State regulation of their subsistence rights had turned them into a dependent poverty-stricken population. Then to have this politician show up as a guest at their convention preaching they should assimilate was truly insulting. And bad manners.

The federal government awards contacts to corporations formed by natives. Because of a lack of experience and/or knowledge many of the contracts are subbed out to nonnative corporations. The money passes through the natives who take a cut off the top. I can understand this happening at one time, but like Esther’s cousin who is an engineering student, at some point the new generation should get the education and experience necessary to manage and/or execute contracts. Does the money still just get passed through the natives?

As far as I know, these SBA programs are still being funded and administered.

Sal, a retired cop, opens an Italian restaurant on the first floor of the building in which Maeve’s office Is located. Will she ever get immune to the smells of bread and pizza?

Man, I wish. Of course there is a part of me in Maeve and every time I smell baking bread or pizza while I’m driving down the road, I want to turn my car around and find it.

Isn’t hemlock poisonous?

The hemlock tree in the Pacific Northwest is a variant of pine. It’s not the same stuff Socrates drank. Tea can be made from the needles of the hemlock tree.

What’s next for Maeve and Tom?

The next book, Hell and High Water, is scheduled for release in 2020. After the events in Hemlock Needle, Maeve is not practicing law – at least temporarily. She has taken a summer kitchen helper job at an ecolodge in Seward, Alaska, while Tom is in Homer working on a halibut charter boat. A “pineapple express”, a late summer storm with lots of rain and wind, moves into the area cutting the lodge off from civilization just before someone is murdered. Maeve needs to find who the murderer is and avoid getting killed herself. Tom is doing everything he can to get to Seward to rescue her.


E. B. Davis said...

An edgy story with a main character you root for! Thanks for the interview, Keenan. How cold is it in Alaska today?

Liz Milliron said...

HEMLOCK NEEDLE was a great follow up. Wonderful interview!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Hi Keenan, looking forward to reading your books and maybe, one day, visiting Alaska. Elaine, terrific interview.

judyalter said...

Keenan, what a wonderful niche you have for your mysteries, a world unfamiliar to most of us. I learned a lot just reading this interview. now I'm off to read the book, and I expect to learn a lot more.

Kait said...

The chemistry between Maeve and Tom is outstanding. It's the perfect push you pull me that conflict thrives on and it keeps this reader wondering if it will be Maeve's saving grace or downfall in her long term fight for sobriety and sanity. That and the great stories of course. I'm really looking forward to reading Hemlock Needle. The native Alaskan culture is so rich yet so few writers can effectively portray it as you do.

Shari Randall said...

Wonderful interview, Elaine and Keenan. This series is so intriguing - I've learned so much about Alaskan culture just from this interview. Congratulations on your Agatha nomination, Keenan!

Gloria Alden said...

This sounds like a fascinating mystery series. I'm going to see if I can find them in one of my local libraries or order the books.

Keenan Powell said...

EB: Thanks so much. Mid-20's, my favorite winter time temp for walking outdoors.
Judy Alter: Hope you enjoy it. There's so much more to Alaska than light/dark, snow and mountains and it's my privilege to share the wonder.
Kait: (Wipes tear from eye). Wow! Thanks so much. I love working with Tom and Maeve's relationship.
Shari: Thanks so much! I still walking on air since I learned of the nomination. I keep having to check my calendar to find out what day it is and where I'm supposed to be.
Gloria: Thanks so much! Hope you enjoy it!

Keenan Powell said...

Liz: Thanks so much! Those were insightful questions; I really enjoyed how they made me ponder a bit.
Margaret: Thanks! Hope you enjoy them. The best time to visit Alaska is May 30-July 15. Even earlier in May if you want to catch the whale migration.

Grace Topping said...

Very interesting interview, Keenan and Elaine. This series sounds quite fascinating and a view into life in Alaska.

Keenan Powell said...

Grace: Thanks! There is nothing I love more than living in Alaska and it's a privilege to be able to share that with readers.

KM Rockwood said...

Such an intricate plot in such a fascinating setting with complex characters. Sound like a real winner to me.

Keenan Powell said...

Thanks, KM!