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

July Interviews

7/1 Lena Gregory, Scone Cold Killer
7/8 Jessica Baker, Murder on the Flying Scotsman
7/15 TG Wolff, Driving Reign
7/22 Leslie Budewitz, The Solace of Bay Leaves
7/29 Cynthia Kuhn, The Study of Secrets

Saturday Guest Bloggers

7/11 Mark Dressler
7/18 James McCrone

WWK Bloggers:

7/4 Valerie Burns
7/25 Kait Carson


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 for Kaye George and Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Kaye's story is "Life and Death on the Road" and 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.

Kaye George's second novel in the Vintage Sweets mystery series, Deadly Sweet Tooth, was released on June 2. Look for the interview here on June 10.

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


Monday, July 13, 2020

A Salute to Mildred Wirt Benson, the first “Carolyn Keene”

By Shari Randall

When I was a little girl, I rarely noticed the authors’ names on the books I gobbled up like penny candy from the corner store.  The only exception was the author of my favorite books. Even though we referred to them as “Nancy Drews” my friends and I knew the author of the yellow covered books we traded was Carolyn Keene. 

Imagine my shock when I learned there was no “Carolyn Keene” and that it was a pen name for a stable of ghostwriters from the Stratemeyer Syndicate (is there a more terrifying corporate name?)

As the years passed, I occasionally stumbled upon articles about the authors who made up that group, especially the first ghostwriter, Mildred Wirt Benson. Mildred and the other “Carolyn Keenes” inspired generations of young readers, especially girls. These authors gave us an independent female protagonist who solved crimes, faced danger with confidence, had a great circle of friends, a supportive, undemanding boyfriend, and a jazzy blue roadster. Who wouldn't want to be Nancy?

I believe Mildred and her co-ghosts were one of the most influential groups of women in America (and if my FB feed is any indication, the world). Many women who broke glass ceilings have spoken of their hours reading Nancy Drew, women including presidential candidates and Supreme Court justices. My years as a children’s librarian taught me that very little shapes the world view of a child like the stories they read. 

Every July 10 on my Facebook author page, I commemorate Mildred’s birthday. As “Carolyn Keene,” she ghostwrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drews, creating the template for the determined girl detective that has inspired millions of young readers.

Raise a glass with me to Mildred. She opened the door for so many of us to the joy of reading mysteries. To Mildred!

Here are five fast facts about Mildred:

  • Her typewriter is in the collection of the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History.
  • She was an avid traveler and adventurer who trained as a pilot, traveling to South American archaeological sites before they were opened to tourists.
  • In 1927, she was the first student, man or woman, to earn a master’s in journalism at the University of Iowa.
  • She worked as a journalist for 50 years, mostly on the courthouse beat for the Toledo Blade.
  • Her role as Carolyn Keene was kept under wraps until researchers uncovered the story in the 1980s.

Shari Randall is the author of the Lobster Shack Mystery Series. It's possible that her protagonist, Allie "Allegra" Larkin, and her chums, Verity Brooks and Bronwyn Denby, were inspired by Nancy, Bess, and George. You can see what she's up to on Facebook

Sunday, July 12, 2020

New Beginnings by Annette Dashofy

Last week, I opened a blank Word document, formatted the header, spaced down a few lines, and typed “Chapter One.” 
With ten published novels and several unpublished ones stashed away on my computer, this isn’t the first time I’ve gone through the process. While the level of “what the hell am I doing” anxiety is lower than it used to be, there’s still some of it to contend with.

At author events, I’ve been asked what’s the hardest thing to write? The beginning or the end? My answer is “Yes.” Also, add the middle in there. Basically, the hardest part to write is the part I’m currently working on.

Sometimes, I go through the above-mentioned process, hoping that by the time I’ve set up the document, titled, and saved it in a brand-new folder, the opening line will have come to me. Sometimes, I start typing, knowing full well I’m going to rewrite or delete a large chunk of it during revision. I simply need to put words on the page, hoping that more and better words will follow.

But not this time.

This time, I knew right away where the story began. I knew the opening scene and what all needed to happen in it.

Being a glutton for punishment, I have two protagonists with alternating points of view, which means I frequently have two opening scenes. On rare occasions, Pete and Zoe share an opening scene.

But not this time.

This time, Pete has the first scene all to himself. Once I completed it, I started over with a second opening scene, introducing Zoe. Words are flowing!

New beginnings, be they a work of fiction or a life change, can be exhilarating or terrifying. Or both. A lot of us are experiencing new beginnings during what’s already a stressful time in the world. My heart breaks for those who were eagerly anticipating opening a new business only to have their doors quickly shut due to the pandemic.

I’ve started two different books since the world shut down. The first, a different series, was placed on hold. For now.

While eager to try something new, after receiving some wise professional advice, I tucked it aside, opting instead for another story with tried-and-true characters and settings. For one thing, I don’t have to venture far to research the location, which is good under the current circumstances. For another, while it’s a new beginning, it’s also comfortable. And with so much uncertainty in the world, hanging out with Pete, Zoe, Sylvia, Baronick, and the gang is soothing to my soul.

I don’t have to social distance from them!

Writing has once again become a welcome escape, a place where my imagination takes me away from a current reality that’s more frightening than a Stephen King novel. Each morning, I eagerly shut out the world, take a seat at my desk, and disappear into the world of my story.

There have been times when the prospect of filling hundreds of blank pages has been daunting. Right now, this new beginning is a safe haven.

Fellow writers, are your works in progress providing an escape for you, or are you struggling to put words on the page with everything else going on? Readers, what kind of books are you choosing right now to escape reality?

Saturday, July 11, 2020

We Are the Killers by Mark L. Dressler

It’s no secret that mystery writers live in a dark world, a society of killers.  We murder more people in a never ending variety of ways each year than anyone could imagine.  There should be a prison, maybe several jails full of us. We are living proof that crime does pay.

We are a cult of people who are cunning enough to come up with gory as well as subtle criminal acts, from torture to poisoning. We wield knives, swords, machetes, handguns, rifles, hammers, axes. You name it, one of us has used it. Our brilliance is having someone else carry out our missions. We get other people to commit our killings. We’re smart enough to keep our assassins on the run, until someone…a cop, a detective, a neighbor, or amateur sleuth nabs our dirty deed doer. We never get tired of killing, because as soon as we’ve managed to have one murderer jailed, we do it again, and again. We never get caught, we’re never even a suspect, but we are the guilty ones. Success, we’ve framed someone for our hits

Some of us are nastier than others, we’re serial killers. I may be on an FBI list of possible deranged serial killers. A future book of mine is titled Avenger. It is the story of an ex-inmate who had studied serial killing while in prison. He becomes one when he is released. The rub on me is that I have used the internet to create a massive file…profiles of every serial killer from Manson to Dahmer.   

I’m probably on an ASPCA list of people who practice animal cruelty.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a pet owner and would never harm an animal…spiders, yes, but not an animal. The truth is that in my first book (Dead and Gone) a really bad guy shoots and kills a dog. Worse yet is that he repeats the act and kills a second dog later in the story, and refers to that dead dog as a floor ornament. In my defense, both scenes play out in a way that shooting those dogs makes sense, fits within the story, and shouldn’t offend animal lovers.

The problem I have with myself is that I have no idea where this thirst to commit murders comes from. I am the opposite personality of anyone who might even think about killing someone. I started writing 4 years into retirement at age 69, so where did my inspiration for killing come from? It all happened by chance. One of my daughters had a house in a rural part of Connecticut that sat on 7 acres of land. The house was set far back from the long dirt, tree-lined driveway that led to the place. The backyard was an undevelopable mass of trees. I would stand on her deck, look out there and say “There could be a dead body out there and no one would ever find it.”

After one visit to her house, I came home and sat at my computer writing about a dead body that was found deep into the woods on her property. That thought became 300 pages of a first draft of Dead and Gone.

Now, I lead a life of writing and playing with my imaginary friends. And my wife sleeps with one eye open.

Bio - Author of Dead & Gone and Dead Right; two Hartford CT. mysteries featuring Dan Shields (The detective who breaks all the rules.) My books are available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Also available from any bookseller. They remain best-sellers at Barnes & Noble in Hartford. 
Media publicity includes TV appearances: Channel 8 WTNH - New Haven, Channel 61 FOX -Hartford, Nutmeg TV, and WIN TV. Newspaper articles: The Hartford Courant (Twice) - Dead Right was named a most notable book of 2019, Journal enquirer, Windsor Journal, Boston Children’s Hospital newsletter (Honored because I donate partial proceeds from my books to that Hospital).  

Member of Mystery Writers of America, and Connecticut Authors and Publishers.



Friday, July 10, 2020

Hear and Gone by Warren Bull

Hear and Gone by Warren Bull

Image from Almighty Duck on unSplash

One unfortunate similarity between music and writing is how quickly works disappear from view. As an author, I was always rather alarmed and upset that even successful authors with ongoing series had their early books in the series go out of print.  It never made sense to me that authors I spoke with would describe books they had enjoyed writing about characters whose lives they found interesting, but when I asked where I could find a copy of their books they told me those works had vanished from the current marketplace.
You would think that people would buy older books from a writer whose current work they discover and enjoy. You would be wrong. Even though when I find a wonderful book, I always look for other books by the author, apparently, book nerds like me are not enough of an audience for a publisher to keep printing copies. Publishing contracts do not favor the creators without whom the business of publishing would not exist.
Sadly, the same is true in the music publishing business. There are clever and catchy songs in many musicals, for example, that do not make it into sheet music compilations of the musicals. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, for example, starts with a brief prelude that sets the atmosphere beautifully, for a rollicking night of joy and mayhem, but it is not included in sheet music for the show.
There is a deliciously unrepentant song by the villain in The Snow Princess, a non-Disney cartoon based on Swan Lake. The villain proudly announces his evil intentions and how much fun he has as the antagonist. The tune is reminiscent of New Orleans jazz, but even the composer told me he no longer has a copy of the score. 
I know someone whose job at a music publishing house is to listen to and notate music that exists only in recordings. He does a remarkable job, at a reasonable rate for the time and effort involved. And it costs more than I want to pay for a song I may never perform in public. Yes, I’m ridiculously fascinated by music (and writing) but even I have my limits. There are sheet music hunters who have collections of songs not found elsewhere and who can search for rare sheet music. And there are used booksellers who can scour the world for particular editions or books that are not in their personal collections.
Also, a surprising number of misheard lyrics are available at different sources. I am convinced that nobody knows the actual lyrics to the song Louie Louie, a hit by the Kingsmen in 1963 that is, by the way, in the Grammy Hall of Fame. But there are other audible song lyrics that bear little resemblance to what was composed. 
At least readers are spared from titles like To Kill a Rocking Word and Catsup in the Why.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

A Garden Meditation


By Margaret S. Hamilton

Daily temperatures are above ninety in Cincinnati, the riverfront air heavy with humidity, my yard filled with insidious biting chigger mites. It’s tempting to spend all day pushing the dogs off a major air-conditioning vent so I can stay cool, but I live with the constant threat of the yard police reporting me to the village authorities. Early every morning, I venture outside garbed for the equatorial jungle, shielded by two coatings of bug spray, wearing long sleeves, pants, and high socks, for an hour of intensive weeding.

Some of my neighbors have beautifully designed and maintained perennial gardens. Iris blooms in May, followed by June daisies and daylilies, and during the summer doldrums in July and August, brown-eyed Susans and coneflowers. The beds are mulched and edged, with nary a weed in sight. Perfection, with no soul, like a book of pretty prose, lacking excitement and emotion. Boring.

Reblooming daylilies
Shasta daisies

I, however, subscribe to the “fill the beds with plants to crowd out the weeds” philosophy. Unfortunately, thistles, vines, and sucker growth co-exist nicely with my perennial salvia and short, reblooming daylilies. Meanwhile, in what used to be an organized shade garden, the giant hostas have engulfed the dainty astilbe and silver ferns, evoking memories of an epic sixties sci-fi movie, The Day of the Triffids. And the prickly pear cactus the previous owner planted next to the curb, probably to deter dogs, is expanding with great enthusiasm.

Prickly pear cactus

While hacking back the worst of the sucker growth and vines, I savor moments of joy: a crepe myrtle I nursed after two back-to-back winters of crippling below-zero temperatures will bloom this year; a precious Japanese iris flowers for one day every summer; helianthus from a deceased friend’s garden; each fragile hydrangea blossom emerging from bushes reduced to dead stems after what is now our annual late-spring hard freeze. Harmonious blooms of purple salvia, peach daylilies, and dwarf blue spruce next to the walkway, and the late May show of Caesar’s Brother blue iris and red knock-out roses around the front door. A combination of rosy returns daylilies and raspberry monarda bloom for the Fourth of July.

Japanese iris
Reblooming daylilies
Knock-out roses
Endless Summer hydrangea
Caesar's Brother iris

Emotion, conflict and resolution. Subplots with robins teetering on thin limbs as they devour service berries, nesting song sparrows, and visits by a red-tailed hawk. The sweetness of the goldfinch’s song as it flits across the yard with its distinctive zig-zag flight. The occasional black snake and resident rabbit eating her way through the flower beds. More worrisome, daily coyote sightings when neighbors walk their dogs at daybreak.
Raspberry Monarda
Rosy returns reblooming daylilies

All is not well in our area. In addition to late spring freezes, we have too much rain in the spring, followed by summer droughts. The reliably healthy spruce trees have succumbed to Cytospora canker fungus. Expensive injections didn’t save the ash trees from Emerald Ash borers. We have fewer birds, bees, and butterflies. Caterpillars should be crawling all over my parsley plants. The monarda, normally a-buzz with bees and hummingbirds, is quiet.


Readers and writers, what do you think about while tending your garden?


Wednesday, July 8, 2020

An Interview With Jessica Baker

by Grace Topping

For writers, one of the most exciting things is holding a copy of that first book and celebrating the accomplishment of becoming a published writer. Jessica Baker’s first book, Murder on the Flying Scotsman, was launched this spring, just in time for the pandemic to put a stop to her book launch celebrations, public appearances, and book signings. So we here at Writers Who Kill are happy to celebrate Jessica’s accomplishment and help introduce Murder on the Flying Scotsman to our readers.  

Murder on the Flying Scotsman
Back Cover Copy

As the 1910 London Season comes to an end, it’s time for Lady Theodora Prescott-Pryce’s annual pilgrimage to visit her cousins in Scotland. Accompanied by only her maid, Molly, she thinks she’s in for another long, dull trip aboard the Flying Scotsman. The last thing she expects to find as they departed from London is a body in her compartment. Despite Molly being accused of the murder, Thea knows her maid is innocent. Aided by a young Scotland Yard inspector and an American heiress, Thea uses the detective skills she learned from reading Sherlock Holmes to track down the real murderer, but will she find them before they can strike again?

Welcome, Jessica, to Writers Who Kill.

You set your book in England, in fact, on the famous Flying Scotsman. What inspired you to write about murder on a train—and that train in particular?

Jessica Baker
I’ve loved trains for as long as I can remember. My mother always talked about taking train trips when she was growing up, and I thought that would be a fun way to travel. I knew I wanted to set a book in England, so I went looking for train services that were in operation around that time. 

Why a historical mystery?

I’ve always loved history. I hadn’t actually discovered many mysteries set in the Edwardian era at the time I decided to write my book. 

What did you decide on first—the setting or the characters?

I decided on the characters first. Thea and Molly popped into my head and refused to leave until I wrote them down. Thea’s full name, Theodora Prescott-Pryce, came to me before I even had a story to go with her character, but with a name like that, I knew she had to be an English lady.

With a setting in England, were you able to visit England to do research? If not, what proved to be the best method for learning what life was like for a young Englishwoman living in the early twentieth century. 

I didn’t get to visit England, but I’ve always wanted to go. I did a lot of research on the Internet. YouTube was particularly helpful for the setting since the Flying Scotsman is still in operation. The train has been updated to a sleeker and faster design, but the route is still the same, and people have videos of that. Some of my research was from the Downton Abbey Behind the Scenes books. There was a lot of specific etiquette that young women of that time had to follow. 

According to the mores of the time, Lady Theodora was nearly on the shelf. Why was she reluctant to marry? 

Thea’s main reason for being so reluctant to marry was she saw how marriage affected her peers. Thea’s closest friend, Ilene, married Thea’s brother, Cecil, and their relationship became strained after that, so in the back of her mind, she’s worried that she’d do the same.

Could having an American mother account for Thea’s outlook on life and her more forward manner?

I think having an American mother definitely accounts for her outlook. Thea’s mother was inspired partially by Cora Crawley in Downton Abbey, but mostly from a line that Lady Mary said to her mother: “You wouldn’t understand. You’re an American.” I’ve always loved reading about the American heiresses who married into the British nobility, the Million Dollar Princesses, and the fascinating lives they went on to lead. 

What aspect of the publication process have you enjoyed the most and the least?

The part that I’ve enjoyed the most is hearing from people that they loved my book. The part that I’ve enjoyed the least is when I’ve had file corruptions. For example, I had some books printed, only to discover the cover file was corrupted and all those books have a printing error.

The path to publication can sometimes be filled with potholes. What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned along the way?

The most valuable thing that I’ve learned is that formatting for e-books is harder than you’d think if you’ve never tried it. I’ve spent a lot of time with online tutorials trying to figure out how to make things happen and where I want them to happen, only to discover that the minute it’s converted into a MOBI file, a lot of that gets stripped away. But it’s also something that you want to try at least once because it gives you an appreciation for the professional formatters who do that as a job.

Who are some of the writers who inspired your work?

For historical, I’ve always loved Frances Hodgson Burnett and Eva Ibbotson. I love the way they describe things so even the bad situations their characters were in took on a magical quality.
For mystery, one of the first adult mysteries I can remember reading and enjoying was Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, so I tried to emulate some of that. 

Please tell us about your work as a freelance camera assistant in film? 

I started working as a production assistant. I was on a production as a production assistant, the bottom of the set food chain, where the only person I knew was the camera assistant. It was for Disney, and I was super nervous. So I clung to the camera assistant’s side quite a bit during that production. On the next job, the camera operator and producer remembered that I had been helping the camera assistant. Suddenly I started getting called specifically to be a camera assistant. 

I’ve always enjoyed it. Every job is a new experience. One of my most exciting ones was getting to slate for Jerry O’Connell at the AKC Dog Show. On my last job, I was moved from 2nd Camera Assistant, who is basically support for the one pulling focus, to the 1st Assistant Camera, which is the person actually pulling the focus. I was a nervous wreck because I responsible for not messing up the shot. If everything is out of focus, the footage isn’t usable. It was amazing how much faith he had in me that I could do a good job with it. 

Now that you have a book out, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started out? What advice would you give pre-published writers?

Something I wish I had known when I started was that it would have been better if I published sooner than I did. My timing was off and I published right after the pandemic started, so I wasn’t able to promote my book in person as I expected. Promoting solely online is harder than I thought it would be. Since I overthink things too much, I know that I don’t promote as much as I should and miss a lot of opportunities.

To pre-published writers, my advice is if you think you’re overthinking things, you probably are. My first draft of Murder on the Flying Scotsman was completed in December 2017 (which coincided with the release of the new Murder on the Orient Express movie coming out). I had about fifteen drafts of edits. I debated back and forth whether I wanted to look for an agent or not. At one point, I even had a query letter completely written and ready to send. I realized that these were all just my way of stalling and that if I didn’t just go ahead and publish it myself, I wasn’t going to let it see the light of day.

What’s next for Thea Prescott-Pryce? Will we be seeing more of journalist James Poyntz or Inspector Leslie Thayne?

In Book 2, Thea will be in Scotland with her aunt, uncle, and cousins at their castle during their big hunt when the body of a maid who went missing six years ago is found. I have a title for it, The Corpse at Ravenholm Castle, and I’m currently figuring out how much editing needs to be done before I have an exact release date. I’m aiming for August though.

James Poyntz and Inspector Leslie Thayne are both in the next book, as is Wilhelmina Livingston. It’s a society party as much as a hunt, so we’ll get to meet their families at the party. Since it’s in Scotland, Inspector Thayne doesn’t have jurisdiction over the investigation and it drives him crazy because he wants to be involved.

Thank you, Jessica. 

To learn more about Jessica Baker and Lady Theodora Prescott-Pryce, visit www.jessicabakerauthor.com.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Where Do You Get Your Ideas? By Carla Damron (reposted from 2012)

As a mystery writer, I’m often asked this question. It’s right there with, “How did you get your publisher?” and “Which way to the ladies’ room?” (That’s a question we authors used to get at book signings, back when there were bookstores).  I must confess though, I HATE to get the “where do you get your ideas” question.

I mean, it’s a reasonable query, and I don’t spite the asker of the question. But it makes me face something a little unpleasant about myself: I NEVER run out of murderous plots. I know plenty of people who need killing (by my pen). When I read in the newspaper about a chemical spill, I couldn’t help but mentally file it away under “Death by poison,” in the sick filing cabinet I have in my brain.  I can’t walk through a hardware store without marveling at all the potential murder weapons. I once stood in front of a giant auger for a full ten minutes imagining a creepoid killer using it to bury bodies.  (That thing had a bit that was over eighteen inches wide—who wouldn’t see the homicidal potential?)

And you don’t want to sit beside me on a plane. The poor guy who introduced himself to me and said he was an “environmental engineer” probably didn’t expect an hour of interrogation about what industrial solvents are the most lethal.  When a friend described how his bone marrow treatment for leukemia actually altered his blood type, I sympathized, I celebrated his recovery— then pondered how a killer might exploit the change in blood type, especially if the police had old blood evidence on file. This is just how my mind works.

There are advantages to this little quirk of mine. When a good friend was horribly mistreated by a jerk on her job, I looked her in the eye and promised: “I will kill him in my next novel.” And I will—though it will be under a different name and gender.  There is little I can offer my buddy who is going through a horrific divorce, but her ex and his mistress may add to the body count in some upcoming project.  And that newspaper article about the coach who turned out to be a predator? Oh yeah. He’s going down.

Note: Fiction can be a very therapeutic outlet. (My husband says he feels safe as long as I keep writing.)

So the question “where do I get my ideas” isn’t one I struggle with. My problem is this: I have so many plots in my head, so many murders needing to be written, I can’t possibly get to them all. I’m not a fast writer—it takes a year for me to complete a novel—so,  if I’m to write every murder I have on my list, I need to live to be (have my calculator out, doing the math …) nine hundred and twelve years old.

I better start working out.

The next time I’m at a book signing, and a reader asks me “Where do you get your ideas?”,  I think I’ll smile politely and reply, “Been to any hardware stores lately?”  

How would you answer that question? 

Monday, July 6, 2020

Finding Time to Write Your Novel--free book excerpt

[Right after my book first published, I posted this excerpt on WWK, but recently I've had requests from students and on social media for help with finding time to write, so I thought I'd offer this again.]

Book Excerpt—To Find Time to Write Your Novel, You Must Make Time to Write

I have recently been asked by a number of people how to find time to write novels. I decided to offer a free excerpt from my book, Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, that deals with precisely that problem to the Writers Who Kill readers. I hope our readers will find it helpful.


How do you find time to write the novels which are your vocation in the midst of job and career demands, family and housework demands, community and societal demands? When everyone else expects so much from you that there’s nothing left for your own dreams, what can you do about it?

First, we have to change our terminology from “finding time to write” to “making time to write.” The sad truth is that no one finds time to write. There aren’t big pockets of time just lying around waiting to be picked up and used in most of our lives. For most of us, we’ll have to give up some comfort or pleasure to make real time to write—in some cases, to make any bits of time to write at all.

The first step is to make the decision to own your own life. Time is not a commodity—the time we’re talking about is the substance of your life. When it’s gone, so are you. If you want to write anything, you have to claim your own life and find out what you want.

How do you find those pieces of time and the regular schedule for writing that leads to a body of work? The trick is to create order and make a tourniquet for a time hemorrhage, but first you must destroy all of those 'shoulds' and 'what will people thinks' that are standing in your way. Make it easy on yourself by asking for help and accepting help when it’s offered to you. Take the time to de-stress. When you’re not frazzled by stress, you’ll find it easier to set limits and boundaries and hold to them.

Whenever you find your desk or day becoming chaotic, take time to reorganize. It will repay in more time that you can steal for your illicit love affair with the novel. To make sure you stay on track with those things that absolutely must be done, make a brief list of the way your time was spent at the end of each day and week. Check it for places where you abandoned time reserved for writing or other truly necessary tasks to engage with lower priority urgencies or comfort activities. After a disastrous day, sit down with a notebook and figure out how to handle things differently if you face the same situations again. Review the situation and just what happened step by step, pinpointing the spot(s) at which you could and should have made a different decision or taken a stand against someone else's urgency with your time. Figure out a strategy for dealing with this situation when it next arises, and write it down. Then forget the day and relax.

Worrying about the myriad things, some great but most small to tiny, that we must take care of wears us down. When you find yourself doing this rather than being able to write or revise the passage you want to work on, keep an ongoing master list and write down each task or obligation the moment you think about it. Get it out of your head and onto paper to free your mind and stop the energy drain. Then, later, you can decide which tasks can be delegated to someone else and arrange the remaining tasks in the order that will allow them to be done quickest and most easily.

We can also free up energy by developing habits and systems to take care of the mindless stuff. We already do this every day, brushing teeth, driving to work, without having to make decisions for each tiny action that comprises these tasks. Develop a system for handling things that recur, and stick with it for twenty-one days. Then it will be a habit, and you can forget it and set your mind free to be more creative.

Much time use is sheer habit. Work smarter. Find the ways in which you want and need to spend time. Steal those minutes and hours from low-priority tasks. Break down everything on your to-do list into small tasks and estimate the minimum time to accomplish them. (Double all time estimates!) Schedule into your calendar. If they won't all fit in the time allotted, then something must go. Nothing is fixed in stone--renegotiate and eliminate whatever you can. Of the rest, what can you successfully delegate? It pays to invest time (and money, if possible) in training someone to do it.

Become assertive. Don't be afraid to approach someone with a request, and don’t take it personally if they refuse you. Learn to say 'no' kindly and firmly and to receive a 'no' without letting it affect your self-esteem or your relationship. Be secure.

Author of many published novels and teacher of writing, Holly Lisle, says it the best way I’ve ever seen it. “Realize that real writers who write multiple books and who make a living at it have systems they use. A process for brainstorming, a consistent way of outlining a story, a certain number of words or pages a day, a way of plotting, a way of revising, a way of finishing. Writing is work. It doesn't fall out of your head by magic. It doesn't just happen because you want it to.”

What tips do you employ to make time to write?

Linda Rodriguez’s ten books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have received awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Oklahoma Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book, Midwest Voices & Visions Award, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. A short story has been optioned for film. Find out more at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Slough House Series - Review by Keenan Powell

I’m binge-listening to the Slough House series by Mick Herron. It’s a smart, sardonic British spy series, like Tinker, Tailor if it had been written by Douglas Adams. Slough House refers to the derelict building that houses the disgraced MI5 team known as “Slow Horses,” agents MI5 want to get rid of but don’t want to fire lest it gives rise to thorny legal actions. As a writer, I’m fascinated with the author’s voice, his multi-layered characters, and the rich spy culture he has created.

Each of the Slow Horses has committed a sin proving he or she is unfit for the spy business resulting in banishment to Slough House. River Cartwright, the heart of the stories, was accused of making a critical mistake during a training exercise that crashed Victoria Station during rush hour, but he might have been set up by the man he thought was his best friend. Some of his teammates include Rodney Ho, an IT wizard who is so arrogant and clueless that his teammates fantasize about killing him; JK Coe, a psychologist with a wicked case of PTSD who listens to music all the time and pulls a knife on people who disturb him; and Shirley Dander, a short squat cocaine addict with anger management issues. 

The boss of the unit, a father figure, is Jackson Lamb, a disgusting and offensive man drinking and smoking himself to death as fast as he can who enjoys verbally abusing his staff. It is unknown what sin he committed to relegate him to Slough House. The mother of the unit, recovering alcoholic Catherine Standish, Lamb’s secretary and the only person who isn’t afraid of him provides a calming and restorative influence.

There are many characters, teammates, secondary characters, and antagonists, and there’s a reason for that: red shirts galore. The Slow Horses want nothing more than to go back to the “The Park” even though the overarching motive of those employed there are to climb over the dead bodies of their friends and superiors. Whereas MI5 at “the Park” first analyze every incident from a self-interested point-of-view, the Slow Horses act without consideration for their own safety or reputation. So as each Slow Horse tries to seek redemption, they are constantly challenged by their loyalty to their teammates and duty to their country.

The first book in the series was published in 2010, the plots of each are timely. Slow Horses (book #1) is centered around the terrorist kidnapping of a London youth with a televised beheading threatened if the money ransom is not delivered. In Dead Lions (#2), a former MI5 agent found mysteriously murdered leaves behind a cryptic clue referencing a Soviet bogeyman from the Cold War era. In Real Tigers (#3), Slow Horse “mom” Catherine Standish is kidnapped, the ransom demanded is intelligence buried in the bowels of The Park. There are currently six Slough House novels and two novellas in print and another to be published in 2021 and a TV series in development with Gary Oldman playing Jackson Lamb.

Most of the audios are narrated by Gerard Doyle, one of my favorite narrators. He also performs the Deborah Crombie books and Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series. He has a gift for phrasing, pitch, and accents that allows him to clearly distinguish several characters. Once the characters are established, his delivery is so crisp, you don’t need attribution to understand which character is speaking. I enjoyed the second book so much that as soon as I listened to it, I started it over and listened again from beginning to end.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Accuracy vs Public Safety: It’s a Fine Point by Valerie Burns

All authors want to “get it right.” No one wants to get emails pointing out typos, incorrect grammar or worse of all, errors. Just like Mary Poppins, we would like to believe we’re practically perfect in every way. Unfortunately, writers (and editors) are human, and regardless of the number of times a manuscript is edited, sometimes mistakes happen. While I can’t speak for every author, I can say that most of us don’t mind when readers point out typos or grammatical errors that wheedled through rounds of editing to make their way into the final book. Sadly, if the author is traditionally published, there may not be anything they can do once a book makes its way to print. Although, indie authors have a bit more flexibility. However, I do think there may be a time when authors may choose errors over accuracy.
Before you panic, hear me out. Authors spend a lot of time researching. Chances are if you checked the browser history of your favorite crime writer, you would find some alarming things. You’d likely find research on poisons, bombs, guns, knives and other weaponry, not to mention details on corpses, insects and decomposition that would make your blood curdle all in an effort to provide credibility and realism to a story (and avoid being called out by the crime savvy reader). However, authors have to walk a fine line between getting it right and getting it too right. Today, authors need to take into consideration how someone will use the information. Thanks to the Internet, it’s possible to find detailed directions on things that a na├»ve soul or someone intent on evil and destruction could use to harm others. Recently, I saw a story about David Hahn, who at 17, attempted to build a breeder reactor in the shed behind his mom’s house in Michigan in 1991. Hahn was a Boy Scout who hoped this project would gain him his Eagle Scout badge. While he didn’t succeed in building a breeder reactor, he did manage to create a neutron source. Not sure what the difference is? Me either, but it’s on the Internet. Was this overzealous boy scout an intentional harbinger of death? Or were his actions the innocent mistakes of a misguided youth? Schlemiel, schlimazel. It was still radioactive and had to be cleaned up by The Environmental Protection Agency with the potential to cause a great deal of damage.
So, where do authors draw the line? What’s the balancing point between accuracy and public safety? Nobody can know how the information in a book will be used. However, sometimes in the interest of the public good, it may be best to omit a detail. Do readers need to know all of the ingredients that can be purchased on Amazon or your local supermarket to cook up an undetectable poison? Or, is it critical to the story to provide a shopping list of ingredients to make a breeder reactor (or nuclear source)? Ultimately, that decision will be up to the author. Keep in mind, savvy readers, there are times when a deliberate error or omission has its place, especially when it comes to crime fiction. Typos, not so much.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Juneteenth or Disappearing from History by Warren Bull

Juneteenth or Disappearing from History by Warren Bull

Image from Wikimediacommons 

President Trump planned to hold a political rally and speak on June 19, 2020. When he learned the date coincided with a holiday named Juneteenth, he rescheduled the rally. It is not surprising that he did not know about Juneteenth. It was a pretty obscure holiday in the past. The 2020 observance, however, was compounded by recent events that have reignited the significant racial trauma and unrest experienced by black people and communities.  The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, and Rayshard Brooks by police forced attention on that date as never before.

In The New Yorker 6/16/2020 article by Jelani Cobb titled: Juneteenth and the Meaning of Freedom, the writer quoted Kelly Navies, museum specialist in oral history at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Navies said, "Juneteenth is an important holiday for all Americans to recognize.”
Navies shared Juneteenth's history: Union General Gordon Granger came to Galveston in 1865 with a force of 1,800 to 2,000 troops, some of them members of the United States Colored Troops. The order he announced read, in part: "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free."

The announcement met with delays and resistance from whites, but the event marked a hopeful turning point. In the years afterward, Juneteenth celebrations spread from Texas to other communities during the Great Migration when 6 million Black Americans moved from the South into other areas of the U.S. between 1916 and 1970. In the 1970s, Juneteenth picked up popularity as an expression of freedom and arts in the Black community, and Texas made it a state holiday beginning in 1980.

As Navies put it, "June 19 is a day to reflect on the meaning of freedom, the challenges that we've had to overcome, and the challenges that we still face. It's  time to come together with our families and our communities and talk about steps we can take to move forward in the future. It is celebrating that we're alive and we made it to this point, even if we still have obstacles to face before us.”
Navies noted that George Floyd graduated from Jack Yates High School in Houston, Texas. Reverend Jack Yates, a formerly enslaved person, led the effort to buy property for Juneteenth celebrations. Raising $1,000, Yates and his congregation purchased 10 acres of land in Houston and named it Emancipation Park. It was the only municipal park for Black Americans during the era of segregation.

Popular American history has a way of ignoring minority people and events. You are more likely to know about Lewis and Clark than about Sacagawea, a Native American woman, and York, a black man even though without each of them the Lewis and Clark expedition would have failed. Other relatively unacknowledged blacks include Mathew Henson, who, as part of William Perry’s trek to the North Pole might have seen the pole before the leader of the exploration did; and two formerly enslaved people Bass Reeves, who was appointed Deputy US Marshal in 1875 and worked in that role for thirty five years, arresting an estimated 3,000 outlaws ; and Mary Fields, known as “Stagecoach Mary who carried the mail for the US Postal Service for twenty years starting in 1855.

Although I am white, male, married, monogamous, financially stable, and thus an unlikely target of discrimination, I once had the experience of being excised from history on purpose. Somewhere in Crime, an anthology compiled by Central Coast Mystery Writers was reviewed by a Sisters in Crime member.  She reviewed all of the stories except three. Apparently, the reviewer, member of Sisters in Crime - an organization founded to combat sexual discrimination in mystery writing - simply decided that three authors were beneath her attention and not worthy of mention since they were men. She overruled the editors’ selection of stories. Without mention or apology, she simply made no mention of the stories by those authors.  In my opinion, she consciously discriminated against people on the basis of gender. I believe her behavior undercut the very reason Sisters in Crime was founded. I believe she exacerbated the prejudiced action by feeling no need to point out what she had done in print, as if dismissing someone’s work because of their gender was so common that there was no reason to even comment about it.

With the reviewer’s permission, I wrote about my anger and objections. I included her response to my views. The great majority of people who commented agreed with my point of view, but a few expressed the idea that women, having been discriminated against, should be able to “discriminate back” at men, any men, even those who, like me, have supported both women and men as writers.
It is, I readily admit, a tiny, tiny sliver of what many people experience much more often and in much more serious ways. But I can tell you it was a profoundly eye-opening and disturbing experience.

Personally, I have celebrated Juneteenth for many years.