Sunday, March 31, 2019

FBI Citizen’s Academy: Week 3

I’m pretty sure my head is going to explode before this eight-week course is complete.

Week #3 opened with a session on combatting the opioid epidemic. The numbers of people affected are staggering. In my local county, roughly 28% of the population have suffered from it, either as a user or as the family or loved one of a user. And nearby West Virginia leads the nation in opioid deaths.

Those addicted will pay whatever the cost, driving demand. So where do they get their fix? Partly through health care fraud—drug diversion, pill mills, and forged script rings.

And then there’s the darknet. Basically, on this alternate internet, you can shop for fentanyl, oxy, crystal meth, and whatever other drugs or supplies an addict could want as easily as we shop for books on Amazon. In fact, the pages for these online distributors look amazingly like any legit vendor. Except the items being sold are illegal drugs.

On the darknet or Tor network, IP addresses can’t be tracked. Orders are paid for in cryptocurrencies, mostly bitcoins, although there are lots of others. This is a peer-to-peer network without any financial institution as an intermediary. Side note: bitcoins themselves are not illegal, however, criminals are quite fond of the anonymity they provide.

Equally amazing (to me) is these “vendors” ship through the US Postal Service, just like anything else ordered online. 

The special agent giving the talk showed surveillance photos of a guy dumping bags and bags of standard shipping envelopes into one of those blue USPS boxes at a strip mall. Repeatedly. Day after day.

For more information on the darknet and opioids, click here.

One last note I found fascinating is the new trend of drug users carrying their own Narcan. At least they’re prepared. 

(FWIW, listening to these special agents talk about their cases is a blast! They clearly love their work and have fun bringing down the bad guys.)

The final presentation of the evening dealt with the Intelligence Community. This is the part of the FBI (and other federal agencies) that collects and analyzes information to determine whether it’s something that needs further investigation. The analysts are as excited about their work as the special agents, and, while they’re more behind-the-scenes, they’re every bit as important. Possibly more so. Click here for a deeper look into the FBI Intelligence Program. My big takeaway (as an author) is the fact that all the agencies SHARE their intel, unlike what we often see on TV and in fiction. Having local, state, and interagency conflict because of each department being stingy about what they know might make for good fiction, but it’s not how things are done anymore. Since 9/11, the Intel Community’s default has been “SHARE.”

I, for one, am very glad. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Fear by E. B. Davis

I started writing about ten years ago. Early on, I had success getting my short stories published in various anthologies. Writing was fun. 

After writing short stories for a few years, I knew I had to push myself to the next level and write novels. My plotting tended toward the complex. I liked to read novels with multiple POVs so instead of one plot line, my outlines looked like a city planner’s diagram of coordinated stoplights, paralleling and intersecting the characters movements. They took a long time to write, but when they were finished I was happy with them. They were the type of books I liked to read. Not cookie cutter. Of course, I also learned they aren’t ever really finished.

I got involved in exchanging manuscripts with other writers, and I learned not all beta readers are equal. Some are not able to read outside of their own genres. But the helpful beta readers enabled me to pinpoint weak points and aided in revision. I took classes and wrote cover copy and summaries for my novels along with cover letters to agents. My first manuscript must have impressed some agents. I was asked for partials and one for a full manuscript. All in all, I tried perhaps twelve agents. Some ignored me. One asked for an exclusive and then ignored me for months. I also realized that since my books weren’t cookie cutter, telling agents where they would place it on the shelf wasn’t an easy task. Agents wanted new and fresh, but without my having a publishing track record, no one would take a chance with a newbie. I gave up and concentrated on my second manuscript. 

The second manuscript was a paranormal mystery. It was not as well received by beta readers as the first manuscript, and when that one went nowhere, I became discouraged. I continued to write short stories, but trying to step up my game, I submitted to more professional publishers without success. I became more discouraged.

For a time, I couldn’t write fiction. I wrote a blog or two and continued with my interviews of other authors. I know that paranoia can destroy you, but the fear of rejection stopped me in my keyboard. Last year, I wrote a short story that came to me fait accompli. I knew the beginning, middle, and end before I wrote the first word. It was fun. I submitted it, but I haven’t found out yet if it has been accepted. I’m not holding my breath.

After New Year’s, Grace Topping, who had beta read my first manuscript, prompted me to market my first novel again. It had to have been four or five years since she read it. I was amazed she even remembered it. But her urging me to go-for-it, has motivated me to start the query process again. I’m having to break through that wall of fear that has made writing a terrifying process. I want it to be fun again because I don’t think you can write well while feeling fear.

Have you broken through fear? How did you do it?

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Barrakee Mystery by Arthur Upfield: A Review by Warren Bull

The Barrakee Mystery by Arthur Upfield: A Review by Warren Bull

Image from Fidel Fernando on Upsplash

For Christmas, I got a copy of The Barrakee Mystery by Arthur Upfield. First published in
1929 by Hutchinson and Company Ltd.,  the book was the author’s second novel and the first introducing Inspector Napolean Bonaparte. I’ve reviewed a couple of Upfield’s novels about the detective and have recommended them highly, taking into account the time and point-of-view of the author. This novel, I would say proves that writers get better with practice.
The writing is stiff to say the least. Bony doesn’t show up until page 63. By the time he appears, the reader already knows who the killer is. The method of the murder is pretty obvious. There is a tepid love story. Followed by a florid one or two. Upfield goes out of his way to tell the reader what the clues are when they appear. He describes one character as being the farthest thing from a tease immediately after she teases some of the characters. I missed the description of Australia that became such a strength in the author’s later work.
Bony’s introduction is underwhelming. There are hints of what will make him interesting later on but his confidence comes across as complete arrogance. Writing about the “Abos” is less sympathetic than in the author’s later work. The author’s belief in their inferiority is blatant.
However, I stayed with the book and about 2/3 of the way through the author began to develop the threads rather clumsily put out earlier. My interest picked up.  The author showed what he later developed into a real ability at storytelling.
I can recommend The Barrakee Mystery to admirers of Arthur Upfield who want to see how far he came as an author, but except as a curiosity, most readers would do better to choose one of his later novels.

Thursday, March 28, 2019


                                                   BRINGING DOWN THE TREES

For the last few days this week, I've had two different tree services coming out to cut down some of the large spruce trees around my house, mostly those that were dead or seemed to be close to dying. Each different tree service company came with three trucks and other equipment that was incredibly

It was interesting to watch them, though. Especially watching the young men who ended up in the trees to cut the branches up high which then fell to the ground. How brave they seemed to be. Others were gathering the branches and putting them in a chopping machine on one truck and then throwing the pieces into another truck to take away.

My sister who had trees cut down last year told me that it was very dangerous for these tree guys and a lot were killed.

Part of me hated to see the trees go, but one tree in particular needed to be cut down. It was a very large spruce right behind the sun room on my house that was leaning towards my house the young man who took care of that put spikes on his shoes and then a large white long part of one of the  trucks swung out with a rope holding a heavy dark ball. The young man grabbed a hold of it and was lifted up and over to the large tree a little behind my house. He started with the chain saw to cut the top off that tree and continued going down cutting off branches. and more of the top of the tree and continued going down cutting off branches and more of the top of the tree. The tree was incredibly tall and it worried me to see him up so high in the sky. He didn't seem to mind and when he came down closer to the ground I asked him not to cut the tree too low to the ground because I wanted a stump to put either a bird bath on it or a large pot of flowers to look at from my sun room windows where I sometimes eat lunch on summer days.

I loved these large trees except for one problem. Not only was my yard covered in dead pine
needles, but also hundreds and hundreds of dead pine cones which will make it difficult for me to my my yard once the grass starts growing.

Both of the tree companies (whose owners are friends) will be coming back in a few days to each
cut down one more tree but only those that look like they are dying. At the back edges of my backyard there are more spruce trees so I'm not going to be treeless by any means, and there are a few
on the south side of my house, too. Two of my sisters are coming today to help me clean up all the pine cones and then we'll go to lunch.

Have you ever had a tree service come in and cut down dead trees at your place?

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

An Interview with Author Sarah Graves by E. B. Davis

“What an interesting coincidence,” Ellie added under her breath.
“No Kidding.” If the hairs on the back of my neck had hairs of their own,
they’d have been bristling too. Because as far as I’m concerned, coincidence is right
up there with the Tooth Fairy, benevolent dictatorships, and the
even-halfway-edible all-you-can-eat buffet in the believability department.
Sarah Graves, Death by Malted Milkshake, Kindle Loc. 1547

The island fishing village of Eastport, Maine, has plenty of salty local character. It also has a sweet side, thanks to Jacobia “Jake” Tiptree, her best friend Ellie, and their waterfront bake shop, The Chocolate Moose. But when island life is disrupted by the occasional killer, Jake and Ellie put their chocolate treats aside to make sure justice is served.

This summer, Eastport’s favorite lovebirds, kindergarten teacher Sharon Sweetwater and Coast Guard Captain Andy Devine, are getting married. The gala reception is sure to be the fĂȘte of the season, especially with a wedding-cake-sized whoopie pie courtesy of The Chocolate Moose. For Jake and Ellie, the custom-ordered confection will finally reel in some much-needed profits. But the celebratory air, and sweet smell of success, are ruined by foul murder.

When Sharon’s bitter ex-boyfriend Toby is poisoned with an arsenic-laced milkshake, Andy is jailed as the prime suspect and the wedding is cancelled, whoopie pie and all. Then Sharon makes a shocking confession—one that sounds like a fishy attempt to get Andy off the hook. Now both the bride and groom are behind bars. And with the fate of The Chocolate Moose at stake, it’s up to Jake and Ellie to catch a poisonous predator before someone else sips their last dessert.

Death by Chocolate Malted Milkshake is the second book in the Death by Chocolate mystery series. I felt very at home reading this book. Normally, I hate to miss the first book in the series, but even so I enjoyed it. But start with the first book, Death by Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake.

One of the reasons the book felt familiar, like home to me, is the setting. I live on Hatteras Island, NC. Like Eastport, ME, Hatteras is dependent on summer tourist dollars to support its economy. Many of the homes aren’t in the best shape due to the harsh marine environment, also the case in Eastport evidently. And the town population shrinks during the off season.

Another reason I liked this book was main character Jake Tiptree. Jake isn’t a typical cozy heroine. Her background is a bit sketchy. She’s worked for the mob in creative accounting. Her father likes to blow stuff up. She has four generations living in her one house. Sarah Graves has created a situation in which just living her life, Jake is under pressure. Top that off with a failing business and murder—it’s a winning and complex basis for amateur sleuths.

Please welcome Sarah Graves to WWK.                                           E. B. Davis

What are the complications of writing a series in not only a real place, but one where you live?

I don’t put real people into my books, and I don’t put dead bodies into real houses other than my own. That seems to cover the two major complications I can think of, or anyway it’s worked so far. The real Eastport is actually a main character in the books: its beauty and charm, but also its remoteness and its dangers. It’s that combination that creates tension, I think.

What’s the population of Eastport, ME?

We have around 1100 or so people year-round, but that goes up a lot in the summer when the weather is so perfect. Between January and April it’s pretty quiet around here!

Is Tiptree a Native American name?

It’s not, actually. I chose it because I couldn’t find anyone whose last name it really was, except for the writer James Tiptree, Jr., whom I admire very much.

What is Moxie?

Moxie is a bitterish soft drink invented in the late 1800s and first called Moxie Nerve Food. It was invented by a Mainer, and in 2005 it became the official soft drink of Maine. But have I mentioned that it is bitter? You’ll either love it or hate it, I suspect.

Jake is a grandmother. Ellie’s daughter is still in school. How much older is Jake?

Jake was a very young mother, so she’s not a lot older than Ellie, who didn’t give in and marry George for quite a long time.

I was surprised the engaged couple wanted a Whoopie Pie wedding cake because I think of them as Amish. Are Whoopie Pies popular in Maine?

Oh, yes, they’ve been making them here for a hundred years and the Whoopie Pie is actually the official Maine state treat! As opposed to blueberry pie, which is the official dessert...  so can a blueberry-cream filled chocolate whoopie pie be far behind? I think not!

Throughout the book, Jake advises the reader about recipes and baking within the story. Why did you decide to include this insight and perspective?

It seemed natural to me that Jake would be making these comments, since the whole baking thing is somewhat new to her and thus she’d be thinking about them rather than just doing them automatically out of habit. Also, in mysteries about art we get art details and in horse racing mysteries we get horsey details, so why not the same for baking?

Jenna’s an interesting character. She seems mean and yet she evokes sympathy. Why?

Oh, because she’s so miserable at heart. I mean, I guess some people are mean deliberately, but it’s obvious that she’s in pain and lashing out on account of it. Also, the way Jake and Ellie and Bella react to Jenna gives us a hint as to how we might want to react, too.

Although Mika is a violinist, she works at the chocolate shop. Is she trying to substitute baking for music to adapt to the local economy?

I think right now Mika’s just trying to find her way in this new family of hers, and she’s got this useful talent that she can help out with, so she does.  You’re right, though, that moving to Eastport means adapting to the local economy and finding a way to thrive in it, because jobs a person can live on are even scarcer way out here than they are everywhere else.

Jake is more of the lead investigator, thinking and asking questions about the case. What does Ellie contribute to the team?

Ellie has a truly ridiculous amount of energy and nerve, as well as a lot of information about local history and local people – information that may hold the key to someone’s motive, for instance. Also she’s got a lot of heart, which inspires Jake, and she’s completely on Jake’s side, the kind of friend I think we all either feel grateful for, or wish for.

What’s a clam hod?

A clam hod is a slat-bottomed wooden basket with a handle, used by clam diggers to hold the clams they’ve dug.

Jacob, Jake’s dad, has had a heart attack. At what point does protecting him become dominating him? How does he deal with Bella and Jake’s behavior?

Yes, that’s the question, all right. They want to do their best for him, but that’s not always what is best for him. He deals with their behavior in his usual stubborn way, by rebelling against it – but that doesn’t mean he’s not listening to them.  It just means that when he knows he’s right, he behaves accordingly and lets other people come around to his way of thinking in their own good time.

Is Pleasant Point a real place?

Yes! Pleasant Point is the Passamaquoddy tribe’s nearby reservation, home to about 700 people.

What other series do you write?

None right now, but Jake and Ellie had a previous series, also set in Eastport, called the Home Repair is Homicide series. The first one was The Dead Cat Bounce, and if you like the Death by Chocolate books you might like the Homicide series, too.

What’s next for Jake and Ellie?

Oh, they’re busy! Right now they’re making chocolate frosted doughnuts, so you can guess what the title of their next adventure will be. Other than that, all I can say is that it involves boat rescues, cannon explosions, a guy with a cutlass through his heart and a stuffed parrot on his shoulder, and the best chocolate mint cookie you ever tasted in your life.  I can’t wait to learn how it all turns out!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Hazards of Research -- The Mystery Edition

It’s a story that went viral in only a few hours — a woman innocently uses Google to search for “pressure cooker” followed on the same computer by her husband who innocently uses Google to search for “backpack” followed by their son innocently using Google to reach for information about the Boston bombing . . . followed by a not-so-innocent visit from some well-armed gentlemen bearing pointed questions.

It sounds like the inciting incident for a mystery novel. But it really happened. Sort of.  As did the story of the novelist who wrote a blog called How To Murder Your Husband and who was indicted last year on charges of — you guessed it — murdering her husband. She is currently being held without bail as she awaits criminal trial—she is also facing a multi-million-dollar civil lawsuit filed by her stepson. I am virtually certain that part of her defense will be asking what kind of idiot would write such a thing and then actually do it.

As a crime writer, I tend to look at the news as idea fodder, fuel for the creative engine. These stories hit several particularly interesting subjects — Internet privacy, free speech, the broad powers of the NSA, the ethical and moral and civil rights issues of being spied upon by a faceless bureaucrat armed with equally faceless tracking programs.

I tell my friends and family that if I’m ever accused of a crime — any crime — I’m sure to be convicted once prosecutors share my search history. In real life, I’m a rather average person, as bland as a picket fence. Online, however, I’m a schemer, a wacko, a homicidal manic searching relentlessly for the perfect way to murder — holy cow, like, a dozen people — in ways both mundane and extraordinary. And then hide all evidence of the crime. Or blame it on some innocent. Or skip town entirely and set up shop in Belize under an assumed name.

I mean, I’m a member of a blogging group called Writers Who Kill. What evidence could be more damning?

Should writers who research the dark side worry about that official tapping at the door? Only as much as any other citizen. In the meantime, I’m using Duck Duck Go as my search engine — they make it a point not to collect or track information from their users. You can learn more about them (including their reasoning behind their decision to offer anonymous searches) at their website —

So, just between us, what does your search history look like? What are you researching now that would make you look nefarious if you were ever on trial?
*     *     *

Tina Whittle writes the Tai Randolph/Trey Seaver mysteries. The sixth book in this Atlanta-based series—Necessary Ends—is available now. Tina is a proud member of Sisters in Crime and has served as both a chapter officer and national board member. Visit her website to follow her on social media, sign up for her newsletter, or read additional scenes and short stories:

Monday, March 25, 2019

DISNEY by Nancy Eady

          My family and I are going to Disney World soon. Most families take such trips to please the younger members of the family, but we go there for me. It is not the most relaxing place, of course; the planning I put into a Disney World trip rivals the effort I used to put into law school exams. But "The Happiest Place on Earth" is one of my happiest places, too. 
          I started attending Disney parks when I was in elementary school back in the early to mid-1970’s (a/k/a The Dark Ages to those individuals born never knowing the hardships we suffered without smart phones and Google.)  We lived in San Diego then, and visited Disneyland a few times. My memories of those trips are happy ones. I may be one of the few people who remember using tickets for the rides, rather than a single admission price for everything. The tickets were graded A through E, and cost different amounts. “A” tickets were for the smallest, slowest, least thrilling rides, and “E” tickets were for the most popular, most thrilling rides. Visitors bought ticket books at kiosks in the park with differing amounts of all 5 tickets in them.
            From the first visit, I was hooked. Disney keeps their parks scrupulously clean, and their service is impeccable. I’ve never had a bad visit to any of them.
            These days, since we live in the Southeast, we travel to Disney World. As I’ve gotten older and done more writing, I’ve discovered a second reason I love Disney parks – their total immersion in a story. Every ride at a Disney park has its own story. Every area of each park has a theme, and that theme is reflected even in the most minute details.
            When you wait in line for a ride (and trust me, you will be waiting in line for a lot of rides), the story behind each ride is set out around you in the decorations and displays designed to keep you distracted from the fact that you just spent 60 minutes standing in line for a five-minute ride.  The ambience created by the attention to detail is unique to each ride. I not only ride the rides for fun, but also to study the setting and details for the rides and try to glean lessons from Disney’s story telling methods to my own writing.
          The new Pandora area at Animal Kingdom is a perfect example of the attention to detail.  Based on the world of the movie “Avatar,”  called Pandora, rock formations float in the sky, and exotic flora and fauna line the pathways.  Pandora is especially striking at night – just like in the movie, the vegetation emits an otherworldly bioluminescent glow.  As you get near one of the two main rides in Pandora, called Flights of Passage, the line transforms into a hiking trail alongside a waterfall.  As you travel along the hiking trail, you learn that 100 years have passed since the time of the original movie.  A group of the Na’vi and humans are working to clean up pollution left by a mining company that threatens the entire planet.  You go through a deserted control room left by the mining company, but as you exit the deserted control room, you see that Pandora’s vegetation is beginning to reclaim the building.  By the time you reach the ride, a simulated flight on an animal called a banshee, you are completely immersed.  What a wonderful way to tell a tale!
            What places do you visit that help you tell stories?  

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Living on the Edge

By James M. Jackson

In previous blogs I mentioned moving my winter residence from the Savannah area to Madison, Wisconsin. It hasn’t been a smooth move, and the latest hitch is one I never expected. It has the potential for showing up in a story sometime.

Our place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is fifteen miles from where you can buy anything. Fourteen of those miles are gravel or dirt roads maintained by the logging companies or by private property owners. When I filed a building permit for our unimproved cabin (1999), I had to certify that I understood no town or county services were available where I lived before I received the permit. Ditto when I built our house in 2005.

There is no rural free delivery out by me. I am allotted a free post office box in Amasa, the village that’s fifteen miles away. That makes my mailing address easy and anonymous—perfect for an author. I can use that PO Box for most things, but many governmental and banking rules require a physical street address. That’s a problem.

I purchased a fire number[i] so we would have one. In Iron County, Michigan they determine the number based on the distance your property is from the start of the road and whether you are on the right or left side of the road. Our dirt road had a name, so we were almost there. What town/village to use was another issue. One choice is to use Amasa, where our post office is. That works for most things because the postmistress knows us and sticks any mail with our names into our box. Even when she’s on vacation, the substitute gets that right. That’s why my official street address uses Amasa, but it leads to occasional problems.

Voting, for example. We live in Crystal Falls Township; Amasa resides in Hematite township. Michigan requires a photo ID to vote. I use my passport, which has no address, but has my full name and a recognizable picture. The banks are a bigger problem. When they check my address on the USPS database, it doesn’t show up. What will work is to use Crystal Falls Township.

That’s Jan’s approach and that’s what’s on her driver’s license. But, the zipcode for the township is not our mailing zipcode, which means any mail addressed to her at that address may take a long time to arrive, if it ever does.

Early on, the Crystal Falls library challenged me when I tried to renew my free library card because Hematite Township has their own library, and their residents must pay to use the Crystal Falls library. Despite my having paid property taxes for years to Crystal Falls Township, they were sure I didn’t know where I lived. I made them call the Crystal Falls Township offices to confirm I was a resident. That’s no longer a problem: one advantage of being a published author.

The US Postal Service has a wonderful online service for forwarding mail that works for temporary or permanent changes. It costs $1.05. We’ve used it successfully for years in forwarding summer mail from Savannah to the UP. When we want to forward winter mail from the UP, we chat with our postmistress and she fills out the form at no cost. We’ve never had a hitch with the system.

When we moved our winter abode from Savannah to Madison, we had to permanently forward Savannah mail and change the forwarder from Amasa so that mail comes to Madison rather than Savannah. We filled out the Savannah to Madison forwarding online and called our Amasa postmistress to change that forwarding. One minor hassle is that because our place in Madison is new construction, the USPS system initially rejects the address. You must confirm you have the right address and check a box saying it was built within the last six months. We did that. The other minor hassle is that if your credit card uses an address other than the old or new address, then you must wait seven days for the forwarding to begin. That’s me: I use my UP address on all my credit cards.

Despite those hurdles, everything worked—until last week when a neighbor sent me an email. Some of my mail had been delivered to her. We have the same address except our last two digits are reversed. It gave me an opportunity to meet her. When I looked at the mail, all forwarded from Savannah, I saw the yellow forwarding sticker had her address, not mine.

I went online and discovered my forwarding used her address. Correcting what I figured was my dyslexic error, I ran into the problem of the system not finding my address. The only way I could correct the issue was to cancel the first forwarding and put in a second request. That cost another $1.05 and a seven-day delay. Who knows what will happen to the mail during that seven-day period? I figured it would eventually find its way to me. My penalty for screwing up the first time.

Then, early this week the neighbor brought over the next batch of mail. This time it was mail forwarded from my Amasa PO box. I called my Amasa postmistress, because I was “sure” I had received earlier forwarded mail from Amasa without a problem.

She had filled the form in correctly. Somehow the system decided my online change and her paper change were both wrong and “corrected” them by reversing the last two digits. She changed it back in the system to the proper address but didn’t have an answer for how we could prevent the system from “correcting” it again.

So, I schlepped to my Wisconsin post office (which, although I live in the city of Madison, my postal address is Verona, WI, sound familiar?) and presented them with the issue. After disbelieving us for many minutes, he looked at the system, saw we had presented the problem correctly, and had no idea how to fix it. He needed to talk to his supervisor, who was out. He took down all our information and my phone number. That, as I write this on Thursday, it where things stand.

This imbroglio has me thinking: What if a postal employee wanted to mess with someone who wronged them? What if an individual trapped in a situation similar to mine had mail they wanted to hide delivered to a neighbor? What if politicians used the exact-match address requirements some states have been putting in to prevent “voter fraud” to deny voting to a whole class of citizens caught in a similar Catch 22? Oh, the stories I may yet weave.

Oh, and I’m still waiting to hear from the post office.

[i] Fire numbers allow the local fire department to find an address in the middle of the woods far away from street signs. They are optional, which is why I purchased one when the UP became my official residence.

* * *
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

Saturday, March 23, 2019

You Don’t Look a Day Over 90 by Kait Carson

We’ve been having a vibrant craft discussion on the Guppies Listserv centered on writing the mystery series. For those who don’t know, Guppies is an Internet chapter of Sisters in Crime. Although I’m more lurker than participant, I’ve recently begun a new series, so I’ve filled several notebooks with information, reminders and cross-references that I gleaned from the discussion.

I anticipate the series to consist of twelve books and have paragraph outlines for each. As part of my research, I decided to revisit long-running series, old and new, that I have enjoyed, to see how they adhered to the advice from the Guppy commenters. It’s a great trip down memory lane. Reading a series as a whole is an eye opener as bits and pieces that are forgotten in the lapse of time between books fall into place and information gleaned as characters mature becomes meaningful, and sometimes bittersweet when you know much loved secondary characters will be leaving. There was also a caution to be learned.

Most of the series I read are in real time. For a writer who writes in real time, dating characters can be a tricky. Tying your characters’ ages to a significant event can ultimately age them out of the lead. In one series I revisited the early books referenced the character’s memories of WWII. He was ten at the time and the event significant enough that the reader can date it to 1941. The writer has stopped referring to the character’s childhood memories, which is good, because he is still employed by a police agency and sleuthing in 2019. 

Other books in my favorite series refer to characters’ service in Viet Nam or the Gulf War, or presence in the town of Lockerbie, or on the mound at the Twin Towers, in Iraq or Iran. All of those references are fine, in their own time, but they are very quickly aging characters in real time. It’s great shorthand for a writer. Those few phrases establish so much about a character. They’ve given service to their country, they’ve been in bad situations, and they are of a certain age. Unfortunately, if the series continues, the character is also in danger of aging out.

We discussed this at our local library book club. Members easily recalled the names of characters who were tied to events and quickly calculated their ages. A few confessed to no longer reading some series because they had visions of aging detectives stooped and stumbling trying to solve crimes even though their personal description was at odds with the one on the page. Yet when asked how old their favorite characters were that weren’t tied to significant events few had hard dates to offer. Most guessed around 30 or 40 depending on the book. Oddly enough if the book offered a hero and a heroine, the readers often defined the ages by the difference between the two.  The moderator asked if the non-event dated characters aged. Very few of the group were sure and most said no.

Readers and writers, do you keep a mental birthday list of your favorite series characters? How do you know if they have aged?

Friday, March 22, 2019

More Questions from EB Davis for the Author of Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories (Warren Bull)

More Questions from EB Davis for the Author of Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories  (Warren Bull)
Buy links: Amazon:

Image from etc.usf. edu
What is your response to the tearing down of Confederacy Civil War memorials?
Asking me that question is sort of like asking a watchmaker what time it is. You may get more of an answer than you expect.
There is an interesting story behind those monuments to history. Immediately after the Civil War, memorials to fallen soldiers were erected in graveyards usually by the families of the deceased and commemorated individual soldiers according to historian Mark Elliot. They were expressions of grief and mourning.
However, starting in the 1890s and continuing through the 1950s memorials changed. They were no longer dedicated to individuals who had died, but instead, the memorials featured the leaders of the Confederacy displaying weapons. They glorified the Confederacy; they were placed, not in graveyards but in town squares, in front of state buildings and in prominent places.
Those monuments were public statements espousing values endorsed by organizations such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which re-imagined the Civil War according to mythology we now call the “Lost Cause.” According to that body of misinformation, slavery was benign and all Confederate soldiers were gallant gentlemen.
The dates of construction coincide with “Black Codes” enacted to keep blacks “in their place,” “Jim Crow” laws, lynching, KKK marches, poll taxes and other efforts to stymie civil rights.
Further evidence that such monuments have little to do with the actual Civil War and more to do with a backlash to improved civil rights comes from other actions taken. Georgia redesigned its state flag to include what is called the Confederate Battle Flag in 1956. South Carolina put that flag atop its Capitol Building in 1962. Incidentally, the state of Mississippi approved the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1995 but did not notify the US Archivist to make it official until 2013. 
So I believe the monuments should be available to the public in museums along with clear statements about their entire history.
I would like to point out that there are a growing number of museums throughout the country and notably in the South that deal with the experiences of black Americans forthrightly including The National Memorial for Peace and Justice recently opened in Alabama which shows the history of lynching,  and where the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Tuskegee Human & Civil Rights Multicultural Center are also located. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History in Washington, D.C. is another great example.
What surprised you when you did research for your book?
I knew before I started my research that Blacks had been active participants in the Civil War, but I did not realize how crucial their participation was. For example, I did not know that a black spy in the Confederate White House conveyed Jefferson Davis’s plans to the Union on a regular basis.
I did not know that on one occasion Lincoln “borrowed” some of General McClellan’s Army, scouted, planned, and oversaw an amphibious military attack that resulted in a victory and the Confederates scuttling an iron-sided ship that had sunk many Union vessels.
I did not appreciate how tragic a figure Mary Todd Lincoln was.
What’s next for Warren Bull?
I don’t know. I have enough raw material for a second book on Lincoln. I working on two science fiction/fantasy manuscripts. I’m doing some concert choir, musical theater and jazz singing. Writing lyrics is fun. Maybe that will develop into something.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Animals in Cozies by Gloria Alden

Animals in Cozies by Gloria Alden

It seems like most cozy books include animals. I know mine do, probably because I'm an animal lover with a dog, cat, and ponies, too. Although pets aren't just in cozies by any means, they are more likely to appear there. Readers of this genre are looking for something a little less threatening than a police procedural or thriller.

One of my fictional female police officers has a large malamute that can take on any criminal. Since the officer is tough, she can handle most criminals, too. My protagonist, Catherine Jewell has a cat and acquired a dog at the end of the second book. She ends up giving the dog to a little girl who is grieving, but acquires another dog in the fifth or sixth book. Her romantic interest, the police chief of Portage Falls, her small home town, also has a cat and then ends up with a dog of a murder victim at the end of the first book.

In my opinion there are several reasons why authors include animals in their books.
One: Writing is a solitary life. The writers need to isolate themselves as much as possible to
write, and unless the writer has another job with social interactions or an active family living
with them it could be a lonely life.

Two: Pets humanize the protagonist, showing a tender side to them. Because both cats and dogs are popular pets, many readers can relate to them. Of course, children can soften a
protagonist, too, but children create problems. It's hard for a sleuth, especially an amateur
sleuth to take off sleuthing on a whim when they have children to consider. Not that it's
impossible, but it's much easier to leave a cat or dog at home than a child.

As I mentioned above, my protagonist has a cat, and after giving away the first dog she acquired, she ends up with another dog (a collie who looks like my Maggie). Because I've had cats and dogs for years, I find them easy and natural to write about. 

Do you enjoy reading books with animals? Does your main character own a pet?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

An Interview with Warren Bull by E. B. Davis

Abraham Lincoln Seldom Told Stories includes:
•As a soldier, Lincoln started at the rank of captain before becoming a private.
•When the Republican Party was founded, Lincoln was an unlikely candidate.
•Lincoln had a “second home” in a barbershop owned by a black man.
•Lincoln was involved in the largest execution in American history.
•Lincoln was challenged to a duel that he accepted.

Unlike Warren Bull’s two previous books, Abraham Lincoln Seldom Told Stories is not fiction. Warren asks questions about Lincoln, and then answers those questions using Lincoln’s words and actions as historically documented. The book includes an extensive bibliography at the end as well as online resources for further research.

Seldom Told Stories showcases Warren’s research and knowledge of Lincoln, who serves as the main character of his fiction books, Abraham Lincoln For The Defense and Abraham Lincoln in Court and Campaign.

Some of the questions were surprising, such as: “Was Abraham Lincoln a racist?” or “Was Abraham Lincoln a Scrooge?” My first inclination was to shout out, “No.” But Warren actually knew better. His responses were based on the realities of the times in which Lincoln lived in contrast to the values and mores of our times. Which leads to my first question.

Welcome again, Warren, to the flipside of WWK.                                                                  E. B. Davis

What is your response to the tearing down of Confederacy Civil War memorials?

Warren’s response to this question turned into a blog, which he presents this Friday, March 22.

Lincoln didn’t really support women’s right to vote, did he?

I suspect he did privately. T.B. Hanna, a suffragette, in 1911 mangled a quote from Lincoln’s 1836 election campaign to make it appear that he did. Among all the misquoting and false claims that Lincoln said this or that, her effort stands out as particularly clever. Lincoln tacked on the phrase, “by no means excluding women” to a speech advocating expanding voting rights. In context it was a joke, but Lincoln consistently advocated expanding voting rights.

What patent did Lincoln hold?

From his experience of being on a boat that got stuck on a sandbar, Lincoln developed a system of forcing air chambers down to lift a boat up off an impediment. It was never built and may not be practical but the principle is sound. He is the only President to hold a patent.

What ports in the Confederacy did Lincoln block and why did he use that method?

Eventually the entire coast of the Confederacy was blockaded. Early in the war, there was a fear that foreign powers might become involved. Blockades were recognized by international law. The legal procedure gave foreign ships notice of the intention of blockade and time to leave the ports peacefully. Also, Lincoln overruled members of his administration and apologized to foreign governments when a US naval captain violated international law.

Why were foreign governments opposed to slavery by the mid 1800s? And how did that relate to why Lincoln made sure that the North did not fire the first shot in the Civil War?

At one time slavery was an accepted practice among European nations and their colonies. (Thomas Jefferson wanted to criticize the English for bringing slavery to the colonies as part of the Declaration of Independence.) That changed over time through the efforts of church people and reformers. By the mid 1850s, slavery was opposed by European nations. 

Part of Lincoln’s determination not to start the shooting war was his recognition that the Civil War had major international repercussions.  Lincoln acted in accord with international law. The Confederacy chose to make the first attack – nothing Lincoln did required them to. Lincoln’s action that some people still call “provocative” was to send a single unarmed ship with food to a garrison running out of food. His administration reminded other nations of the very clear statements by the Confederacy that their actions were to insure their freedom to enslave others.
All the United States asked of foreign governments was neutrality. European governments were run by monarchs or emperors who opposed the idea of common people being in charge of their governments. But the rulers knew their people would strenuously object to supporting a nation founded on the principle that God intended the superior race to enslave the inferior race for the benefit of both.

Why did the Hungarians read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address over the radio in 1956?

Before he became President, Lincoln supported efforts by people in Europe to establish republican forms of government. He praised the people of France for forming a republic. He supported the short-lived independent nation of Hungary. By the time of the US Civil War those efforts had failed, but common people in those nations remembered his support. During the failed Hungarian rebellion against the Soviet Union in 1956, rebels read his Gettysburg Address over the radio as an act of defiance.

How was the Emancipation Proclamation used as a model for the Hague and Geneva Conventions?

Although it is not well known, the Lincoln Administration wrote policies on how to conduct war and limitations on what behavior is acceptable during war times. For example, the Union army had policies against rape and prosecuted US soldiers who violated the policies. The policies contributed to international standards including the Hague and Geneva Conventions.

Lincoln was a Know-Nothing?

The, thankfully short-lived, political party called “Know-Nothings” for their instructions to members about how to answer questions about the party was an anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant group. They opposed the Democrats (and just about everything else you can imagine) more than they supported Lincoln. He was not a member, but some of them voted for him.

Why do you compare Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Jr.?

I see direct parallels between Lincoln and MLK, Jr. Both men were little-known outsiders who seized an opportunity to become leaders. Their soaring rhetoric and beautiful use of language enriches our understanding of what it means to be an American. They gave us ideals to strive for.

I had no idea the decisions by the Supreme Court were not [at that time] accepted automatically. Why not? Wasn’t it the law then?

All branches of government have evolved over the years. During Lincoln’s time, it was not unusual for judges to question rulings from other states. Attorneys tended to wait after a Supreme Court ruling to see how other courts reacted to the rulings before deciding to take them seriously. Andrew Jackson famously ignored a Supreme Court decision and said something along the lines of, “The Chief Justice has ruled, now let him enforce it.”
Both Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas were known to question Supreme Court rulings they disagreed with. 

Although Lincoln voted against Christmas as a national holiday, he supported Thanksgiving. Why?

Lincoln voted against giving the day of Christmas as a holiday to government workers at a time when it was another working day to most workers. Christmas became a major holiday over the years, but it was not always one.
Thanksgiving became a national holiday after Lincoln called for a day of prayer and thanksgiving in the midst of the bloodiest war in American history — the Civil War. Lincoln acknowledged the tragic consequences of the ongoing war and still asked for praise of God for His gifts. Lincoln did not call for vengeance or condemn those in rebellion but asked everyone to pray for peace and reconciliation. You can read his remarkable words in my book.

People had to rent pews to attend church?

Until the early twentieth century, renting pews was the primary source of income for many American Christian denominations. Pews closer to the front were more expensive. And which pew your family rented demonstrated your wealth and social standing, which was part of the reason the practice was eventually abandoned.

Why Lincoln? What is it about the man and president that attracts you?

I lived in the state that has “Land of Lincoln” on the automobile license plates. My hometown was the site of one of the important precedent-setting trials. The college I attended was where one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates took place. My first novel is based on one of his trials and a letter he wrote about the trial gave me an outline for the book. I wish he could do that again.
I believe Lincoln is one of the greatest writers of American English. I am fascinated that this self-educated man who fought depression and exhibited amazing empathy, prosecuted the bloodiest war in American history without persecuting or demeaning his enemies. His compassion for others and his ability to forgive are incredible. I feel like he is a friend or a shirttail relative who is out of sight but still present in my heart and mind.   

My questions did not address any of the items in the boxed Amazon book description, but please feel free to ask him about those items. Warren’s book is also available at: