Monday, September 30, 2019

It's Hot, Y'all! by Nancy Eady

This past Saturday in Montgomery, Alabama the temperature reached at least 95 degrees. On September 28, six days after the official start of fall. I am formally registering a protest with the Weather-Powers-That-Be as soon as I find out who they are. I get that I live in a state known for its heat and humidity in the summer and that summer extends from late May through early September, but at this point in the calendar, even here in Alabama, we’re entitled to lower temperatures. Nothing drastic, mind you, just temperatures topping out in the mid-80’s instead of the mid-90s. A little less humidity would be nice, too, but I’m trying not to be greedy. And to add insult to injury, apparently Yellowstone is being treated to an early snow storm!

I know for a fact that we hit at least 95 degrees yesterday because I took my daughter and her friend to the Montgomery Zoo. It was by far the worst trip we ever took to a zoo we enjoy.

I think the lions had the best idea—the two lions, one male and one female— found a shady spot in their enclosure and sprawled out sleeping, the male one lying on his back. Other animals looked at the people passing by and you could just tell they thought we were idiots to be out in the heat. I was tempted to agree with them.

The fashion industry runs on a colder clime’s schedule. This is unfortunate, since few of us are in the mood to buy winter coats, wool long-sleeved sweaters and mittens when it’s in the mid-90s outside. Now if they were selling swimsuits, shorts and short-sleeved shirts and T-shirts, that would be another story. I keep waiting for a fashion designer to discover this, but they haven’t so far.

So please do me a favor, if you’re somewhere with more seasonal weather—step outside, take a deep breath of the crisp air, view the deep blue autumnal sky and send prayers and good thoughts our way for your weather to arrive down here soon.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Life and Death of a Character

I’ve once again delved into my list of questions posed by my street team at Zoe ChambersMysteries & Friends. This time, Jolee Jank asked if it was a good (or bad) idea to kill off a regular or semi-regular character.

I’d have answered this sooner, but I’ve been pondering it for several weeks.

Killing off a regular or recurring character is always tricky business. Fans feel these people are friends. If we, as writers, have done our job well, our readers genuinely care about the characters who populate our books.

I’ve been known to weep as I’ve killed off a character who only appeared in that one book, and who I knew had to go from the moment I opened the document and typed “Chapter One.” 

So the decision to permanently end a character who has been around awhile doesn’t come lightly.

Like readers, television viewers become attached to characters in their favorite series.
Cait meets her end after one season
I was as shocked and saddened as everyone else when Cait was felled by a sniper’s bullet at the end of NCIS’s first season. Eventually, I and most other viewers came to love Ziva David, who took her place. So much so that when she left the series in 2013, fans were in an uproar for years.

Major characters “die” in television more often than in books. Actors choose not to renew a contract. Sometimes the actor playing the part dies in real life leaving producers with the decision of whether to kill off the character, too, or recast.
Hannibal Heyes before
Pete Duel's death
(For the love of all that’s holy, guys, do NOT recast. Please!)
Hannibal Heyes recast
as Roger Davis
In books, characters can live on, even after the death of their author.

Twice in my series, I started a book with the intention of having a regular-but-secondary character die at the end. Twice I changed my mind. Or to be more accurate, the story changed my mind for me. However, I’m not ruling it out in the future.

(How’s that for a tease?)

Here’s the thing—like my readers, I also feel that my characters are real. They live and breathe inside my head and my heart. I try to make them real and place them in real circumstances for my readers too. And in real life, no one gets out alive. Tragedy and illness happen. Only a cartoon character can have an anvil fall on their head and pop up to foil their nemesis another day.

I don’t write cartoons.

So, is it a good idea? Probably not. Will it happen anyway? Probably.

Fellow writers: have you ever killed off one of your secondary (but regular) characters? What kind of reaction did you receive? Fellow readers: which characters—in books or in TV shows—have you mourned when they died? Did you continue to read or watch the series afterward?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Oh, Agatha! by Kait Carson

It’s official, Amtrak is discontinuing dining service. They are easing into the change, but cooked-to-order food will be replaced by pre-packaged food. The articles I’ve read have been short on logistics. Will patrons order when they ticket? Will a car or two be devoted to something that looks like the old Horn & Hardart?

Dining cars will be “modernized.” No more tables. The roomette and sleeping car patrons may have booths, at least for a while, but the concept is to move to a cafĂ© setting. Amtrak says the changes are being made to appeal to the millennials who desire privacy over companionship. Really? Then why are GenZ and Millennials self-ranked as the loneliest generation? Half the fun of a dining car is sitting with strangers who, by the end of the trip, have become high-level acquaintances. One of the joys of eating on a train, even in this connected age, is speaking with other humans, and if you are a writer, listening in on multiple conversations swirling around.

Amtrak, what are you thinking? Can you imagine Rachett confiding in Poirot over a microwaved bit of cod and potatoes? Each party seated in his own club chair more engrossed in Alto’s Adventure than conversation. Closed room mysteries require interaction. Where better to interact than over dinner? With strangers. Christie enjoyed train travel. She frequently drew her inspiration from true-to-life events. Murder on the Orient Express was a mash-up of the Lindberg kidnapping and actual events that stopped and stranded the Orient Express. For the story to work in a modern day Amtrak train, Wi-Fi would need to fail.

Ah, there’s an inspiration – a long journey over the rails without e-mail or electronic distraction. Yes, murder would be afoot!

Has train travel been a part of your life? Will you miss the dining car?

Friday, September 27, 2019

Writers’ Quiz by Warren Bull

Writers’ Quiz by Warren Bull
How many of these literary terms can you define before reading the definitions?

Freytag's Pyramid:
A pyramidal diagram of the structure of a dramatic work; symbolizes Gustav Freytag's theory of dramatic structure. This "dramatic arc," as it is known, comprises five parts: exposition (inciting incident), rising action, climax, falling action (resolution), and dénouement.
A figure of speech in which a word is replaced by something that is associated with it; it may provide a common meaning for that word.

A figure of speech by which a part is substituted for the whole (such as "50 sail" for "50 ships"), the whole for a part (such as "society" for "high society"), the species for the genus (such as "cutthroat" for "assassin"), the genus for the species (such as a "creature" for "a man"), or the name of the material for the thing made (such as "boards" for "the stage").

Using words that have the same or very similar vowel sounds near one another (as in "summer fun" and "rise high in the bright sky"); vowels are repeated but consonants are not; popular in poetry and prose.

Several consecutive sentences all starting with the same words. For example – I will not give up. I will do it.  I will succeed.
Nut Graf: 
In journalism, the paragraph that contains the main point of the story.
Widows and Orphans: 
In publishing, a “widow” is the last line of a paragraph, printed alone at the top of a page. An “orphan” is the first line of a paragraph, printed alone at the bottom of a page.
Recursive Process:
Moving back and forth between the planning, drafting and revising stages of writing.

The art of close reading in order to interpret a text. We often utilize this technique for poetry, but for fiction it works as well to tease out the effect of certain words or phrases, uses of repetition, references to earlier events in the text, or hints about what is to come.
“The Greek word for imitation. . . . A literary work that is understood to be reproducing an external reality or any aspect of it is described as mimetic."
Chris Baldick, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (Oxford UP, 1990)
If you knew any of these, you scored better than I did.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

An Interview with Maggie Toussaint by E. B. Davis

The fall from superstar to worker bee in a matter of seconds
felt meteoric, but truthfully it was another day at the office.
I was the sheriff’s new app. Instead of point
and click, I’d become point and sniff.
Maggie Toussaint, Dreamed It, (Kindle Loc. 1266)

Justice for the dead and solace for the living is Baxley Powell’s creed, but she faces uncharted territory in this sixth book of the Dreamwalker Mystery Series. The Suitcase Killer has struck again, only this big city menace is now a problem for Baxley’s hometown. As that investigation heats up, a local woman is reported missing. The sheriff orders Baxley to work the missing person’s case. Listening to the dead is familiar ground for Baxley but finding a missing young lady isn’t in her skill set. Besides, her dreams rarely follow a timeline. With the clock ticking, can this crime consultant discover a way to reach the living? Her main source of help in the afterlife, a mentor named Rose, is unavailable. Instead, Baxley must rely on her wits and her Native American boyfriend, Deputy Sam Mayes, to find leads. Each shared dreamwalk and energy transfer binds them closer together, creating another issue. Mayes wants to marry Baxley but it isn’t that easy. They’re hampered by their community roles in opposite ends of the state. Baxley juggles the pressure of two high-profile cases, a determined suitor, and expanding her limits. One thing is certain. Without her extrasensory sleuthing, the missing woman will die.

If you’ve followed Maggie Toussaint’s Dreamwalker series, this cover shows changes the new sixth novel Dreamed It introduce. While previous covers had color, few had a human figure on them let alone full face. It’s not Baxley Powell, Maggie’s dreamwalker main character, because she doesn’t have white hair.

Baxley has solved the riddles of her past and made peace with them. She still has ongoing issues with her mentor, Rose, who is curiously absent in this book. I can’t say I missed her. Although Baxley’s dreamwalks help solve the mystery, most of the action takes place in reality—real world dilemmas that are life threatening.

Dreamed It is one of the best reads in this series. I loved the others, but this one realigned the series. It’s powerful. It’s a balance between Baxley and Sam Mayes, her boyfriend, between Mayes and Sheriff Wayne, and hopefully will become a balance between the dreamwalkers and Rose.  We’ll see what Maggie brings us next!

Please welcome back Maggie Toussaint back to WWK.                                                    E. B. Davis   

Thank you, E.B. Davis, for the opportunity to visit Writers Who Kill. I always love coming here and your interviews are so much fun.

At the start, Baxley and Sam wake up from a dreamwalk they don’t remember, but they also find that they are in a different place. Although they eventually figure out what happened, they don’t know who is responsible. If it had been Rose, wouldn’t one of Baxley’s tattoos Rose seared on Baxley’s arm disappear or change in some way indicating she owed Rose less time?

Based on the rules of this story world, one assumes that would happen. However, as you’ve mentioned some key elements are shifting in this saga. There’s still that dichotomy of “is Rose really what she says she is” playing out, i.e., is she really an angel masquerading as a demon? Baxley doesn’t exactly trust her Other World mentor, but she relies on Rose for help in the afterlife so she is allied with her.

When a body of a woman is found inside a suitcase near a closed stripper bar, Sam Mayes calls his boss, a sheriff from a northern Georgia county, to get reassigned so he can stay near to Baxley and also get involved in the high-profile case. How can another sheriff reassign personnel to another county without a request?

In this fictional world where Mayes’ boss is running for governor, anything is possible. Baxley’s boss, Sheriff Wayne Thomson, is savvy enough to realize he doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of the future governor of Georgia. Though Wayne is all-about-Wayne, he agrees to have Mayes temporarily reassigned to his unit. After all, he requested Maye’s help in a previous case (Confound It), so there is already a precedent set wherein all the players have established a cooperation basis.

Mayes contacts an agent in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) without getting Wayne’s permission. He knows the agent has been collecting data about the Suitcase Killer. Was it an inadvertent gaff or was it done “accidently on purpose?”

Those new to the series might not know that Mayes is being groomed for Sheriff Blair’s job in North Georgia. He’s used to running his own investigations and working without close supervision. However, Sheriff Wayne Thompson keeps all of his staff on a short leash. To Mayes, contacting the GBI agent was the next step, and since they were acquainted, it was expedient for Mayes to initiate contact. Wayne did not take that well, and overreacted, which put Baxley in a near-death situation.

A missing-person’s report is filed on a young woman in Baxley’s county. After Baxley is over stimulated and passes out from exposure to the stripper bar, Sheriff Wayne assigns her to the missing-person case. How does Baxley contact the living?

As an author, this was a fun problem to have! In each book of the series, Baxley has been opening herself to accepting all of her psychic powers. She’s gone from only dreaming in her sleep, to dreaming in a meditative state, to touch readings, and more. In this book, she struggles to access the missing woman. What she is able to first detect through touch readings is the woman’s despair and loneliness. Her ghost dog also helps track the missing woman, so she doesn’t have to do this by herself.

Is Mayes’s Native American name for Baxley, Walks with Ghosts, a misnomer? She seems to be able to walk with the living as well.

Mayes gave her that nickname because he knew that Oliver, an earthbound dog spirit, was attached to her. In language and religion, there are times when the words ghost and spirit are used interchangeably. I favor this usage, and by extension, have Baxley contacting the spirit portion of a living person in addition to her communion with spirits of the dead. However, as with learning any new skill, there are speedbumps and errors along the way.

What does u ge-yu-di mean? Why won’t Mayes tell Baxley what it means?

It means lovely. And he does tell her. He’s also sneaky about using her ignorance of his cultural traditions to get them engaged Native American style before he asks her parents for her hand in marriage. Mayes knows a good thing when he sees it, and he’s made no secret of the fact that Baxley is the life mate he wants by his side.

You made up the embarrassing tale involving the embezzlement of public funds and the mayor of Tampa, FL, right?

Absolutely! One hundred percent fiction. In the first book of the series, Rose had Baxley contact a woman in Tampa as a test. When I needed someplace for Baxley to go in Dreamed It, Tampa was the logical alternative. As for mayor scandals, there are a good many reported online from other cities.

Why doesn’t Baxley like surprise gifts?

A long time ago, she got the terrible surprise of sitting in an uncle’s chair and getting trapped in the rift. Not knowing how to traverse the area between the living and the dead, she tumbled out of control until someone noticed her plight. Ever since then, she’s very guarded and prefers to have order in her already chaotic life.

Baxley asks good questions. Mayes makes good deductions. Is that why they are a good team?

It’s part of the dynamic. Mayes is also a dreamwalker so they can work together in this world or the next. His skillset is slightly different, and one of the things he can do is generate energy to recharge Baxley when she overdoes it. Basically, he speaks her language on every plane of existence.

Baxley and Mayes get into an awkward situation at the morgue. Because the ME bleached the victim’s bones, they must team up to dreamwalk because the connection is too weak. To do so, Baxley lays down on top of Mayes while each of them holds a bone of the victim to tap into her memories. But they are caught by the morgue staff, who thinks they are doing something kinky. Why is Baxley so adamant to rectify their perception and Mayes doesn’t seem to care?

As a local crime consultant, Baxley can’t afford to have avenues of investigation closed to her. Plus she’s mortified that the M.E. thought she would do anything unprofessional in the morgue. Mayes is more pragmatic. The M.E. has a closed mind and nothing Mayes says or does will change that. It’s cultural. Baxley dreams of universal acceptance while Mayes feels that some people’s prejudice’s run too deep for acceptance.
Does Cherokee custom mandate the prospective groom ask for the bride’s mother’s permission to marry?

Yes. Cherokee have a matriarchal society.

When Wayne gets into trouble with the FBI, Mayes seems eager to take over the sheriff’s position, and yet, when Wayne covers for them, Mayes is fine with Wayne taking credit for finding the serial killer. I find that a bit hard to believe. Doesn’t Mayes want credit?

Mayes is quite comfortable in the role of acting sheriff due to being groomed to take over as sheriff in his home county in north Georgia. One thing to remember about Mayes. He isn’t a lawman for the glory of it. It’s one more tool in his skillset to fight the evil in this world. Like Baxley, he’d prefer to stay out of the limelight. In Dreamed It, Mayes and Baxley grapple with their careers being in opposite ends of the state. Mayes would give up being a deputy if it meant he got Baxley.

Will Baxley learn much from her dreamwalker grandmother’s journals?

Baxley struggles with her unusual skill set, wanting a normal life for her daughter, and community acceptance. The journals represent a way for her to see how an ancestress dealt with similar issues. There is a bond that occurs when people share the same journey and the net effect is to give Baxley a clearer view of who and what she is.

“Perception versus truth” is a big element of Dreamed It. Why and how does it apply?

Authors rarely write in a vacuum, and I have found that larger scale events in reality can sneak into my work. I don’t have a degree in sociology, so apologies if I misstate this principle. “Like attracts like” is a real thing. If a room was filled with orange people and there were two blue people at opposite ends of the room, more than likely the blue people would seek each other out. The reason for this is that people in general are comfortable with people who look like us, act like us, and think like us. People with different customs, manners, behaviors, and more take us out of our comfort zone. Further, some people value perception over truth. In our nation and the world, we see that playing out over and over again. In Dreamed It (and other Dreamwalker novels), Baxley and Mayes face people willing to believe perception and unwilling to hear uncomfortable truths. Sound familiar?

What’s next for Baxley?

In fall of 2020, book seven of this series, All Done With It, will release. Writing this book challenged me in ways I couldn’t imagine before I started on it. My goal for this book is for everyone to have a sense of closure as various elements of the series come together and reprise in a new way. I don’t want to say too much and give away the plot but I think it’s pretty darn awesome.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Counting Cards

by Tina Whittle

It was one of those social media things making its rounds on Facebook—share ten things that most people don’t know about you. I mentioned the usual—like being attacked by baboons on an elementary school field trip—but it was the last item that sparked the most conversation.

Once upon a time, I was a semi-professional tarot card reader.

Tarot is often associated with fortune telling, but I practice intuitive tarot, using the cards to engage the subconscious knowing so that it emerges in sudden hunches and gut feelings. This kind of tarot reading can feel a bit like playing hide and seek—sometimes it seems the harder you look, the more elusive your quarry becomes—but this is where my work as a mystery novelist comes in handy. For just like creative writing, tarot is all about creating a narrative

Tarot gives the subconscious a set of pretty pictures to play with, which sometimes lures it out of its hidey-hole. It’s this aspect of reading the cards that I find both most challenging, and therefore, most rewarding. When a reading starts to take shape, it’s the same feeling that happens during my writing when a crucial bit of backstory plugs right into a plot hole, or a previously misunderstood character motivation suddenly shines with clarity. There’s this bright burst of “aha!” followed by an almost effortless falling into place.

Like a good book, each tarot spread has a narrative thread running through the middle, connecting each image to a central theme. My job is to help my clients figure out this narrative for themselves. I interpret the cards, ask questions, make comparisons. But the heavy lifting of the reading is done by the client, not by me. I’m more of a midwife, guiding and encouraging and explaining as the answer to the question on the table starts to become more apparent.

The tarot functions as a tool, a channel, a container for meaning. And most of the time, the answer that bubbles up in response to the seeking isn’t a surprise. My clients already know what they need to know—sometimes they simply need a place to put that knowledge.

As a mystery novelist, I’m often stuck behind a computer making up imaginary scenarios for imaginary people. Tarot pulls me into the real world again, into the company of real people. It keeps me authentic, and it grounds me in the greater human narrative. Even with my skill at making stuff up, I don’t think I could have made up a better second job for myself than reading tarot.

*     *     *

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, September 23, 2019

The World Through the Eyes of a Puppy by Nancy L. Eady

Last Saturday, I did something reckless. My family has had five different canine members over the years, but the last time we adopted a canine under the age of 2 was 1995. Saturday, though, with clearance from my family, I stopped by the Lake Martin Humane Shelter. Among the many faces greeting me was this one:

It was National Pet Adoption Weekend or something similar, so I snatched her up. There were several points in her favor. She had a blue and a brown eye and we just lost a dog with those same eye colors, while the black and white markings on her chest reminded me of the second dog we ever owned. And her white-tipped tail, which is just too cute, is completely her own. None of our other dogs had one. 

So, for the first time in over 20 years, we are raising a puppy. We’ve named her Daisy Duke. The shelter called her Evie, which wasn’t a bad name, but Evie Eady just didn’t sound right. She has never been in a house before, so there is a lot to learn.

I had forgotten how much energy a 7-month-old puppy can have. The only time in the past seven days I have seen her absolutely zonked out was Saturday, after we gave her the first bath she’s received at our house and her first encounter with a hose and shampoo. Apparently, it was a traumatic experience, although it can’t possibly be as traumatic as the first bath we gave Tyra, the dog we adopted in 2003. We gave Tyra a bath in the spare bathroom the day we got her. From that day until the day she died twelve years later, she never once volunteered to set foot in either of our tiled bathrooms. Daisy has shown no signs of being ready to eschew the outdoors with the same determination; she’s still trying to go out the door to the garage—which I’m trying to teach her is the “no-go” door—whenever we come near it.

She studies everything around her.  Some things were easy for her to understand, like the water bowl and the food bowl.  We have another dog, Darwin, who is 10.  So she also has quickly learned that she has her own bowl and shouldn’t come near brother’s bowl. Other things are more difficult. She saw our big Dyson vacuum cleaner in action for the first time today. She decided discretion was the better part of valor and felt it wise to keep a safe distance from it. Twice on Saturday she knocked wooden things over that made a big “clunk” sound on the floor, which immediately sent her dive-bombing into my side for safety. The TV is new to her, too. Most of the time she ignores it, but last night we noticed that she jumped on the couch beside my husband and stared fascinated at the YouTube display of a blue grass group performing. When we moved on to something else, she lost interest. We’re the ones still trying to figure that one out.

She escaped three times Monday because we weren’t quick enough to shut the “no-go” door from the house to the garage, and the outside garage door was open. She’s a quick little canine. I managed to grab her three houses down with the help of one of my neighbors, but my daughter ended up chasing her four blocks uphill to the local police station. Daisy didn’t understand why that was wrong, either.

Darwin is not sure what to think of her. She so wants to play with him and he either doesn’t want to or can’t figure out how. She’s a fourth of his size.

You may indeed wonder what any of this has to do with writing, but a relationship exists. Trying to figure out the world as she sees it makes me see the world around me differently.And isn’t that what every writer hopes to do for her readers?

What books have you read that changed the way you see the world, even for a moment?