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


Starting on 11/27, WWK Bloggers will present new holiday short stories for your reading pleasure until the New Year. Look for a new short story each week. We will resume blogging on January 1, 2021.

11/27--Margaret S. Hamilton, "They Shoot Pumpkins, Don't They?"

12/03--Annette Dashofy, "A Christmas Delivery"

More to come!













*************************************************************************************************

KM Rockwood's "Stay Safe--Very Safe" appears in this year's 2020 BOULD anthology. Congratulations, KM!

Margaret S. Hamilton's "Dealing at the Dump" will appear in Cozy Villages of Death Fall 2020.

Margaret S. Hamilton's "Black Market Baby" and Debra H. Goldstein's "Forensic Magic" will appear in Masthead: Best New England Crime Stories Fall 2020.

Two new books for WWK members: Jennifer J. Chow's Mimi Lee Reads Between the Lines (look for the interview on WWK on 11/11) and Judy Penz Sheluk's Where There's A Will. Both books will be released on November 10.

For The Love Of Lobster Tales by Shari Randall is now available to download free for a limited time. Go to Black Cat Mysteries at: https://bcmystery.com/ to get your free copy! Thanks for the freebie, Shari.

Annette Dashofy signed with agent Dawn Dowdle of the Blue Ridge Literary Agency. Congratulations, Annette!

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

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

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.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Memories of Thanksgivings Past by Connie Berry

 


Of all the Thanksgivings I can remember, this one may be the weirdest.


No traveling to visit relatives. No gatherings of friends and family around a bountiful table. This year there will be exactly four of us—my husband, myself, and our two sons. Except for me, all males. Which means Thanksgiving dinner will be over and done with in about twenty minutes.


Why would I spend two days cooking and baking for twenty minutes? I wouldn’t—at least not this year. I’m so not in the mood. Instead, I’ve ordered a complete Thanksgiving dinner to be delivered (hopefully) on my doorstep the day before Thanksgiving. Do I feel guilty? To be honest, a bit. But not that much.


Now to the question that really matters. Thanksgiving is traditionally a time to reflect on our blessings and express our thankfulness. Do we have blessings to be thankful for this year?  


Of course we do. So in spite of trips not taken, conferences cancelled, Covid hair, missed restaurant meals, no time spent with friends over coffee, here is my THANKFUL THANKSGIVING LIST, 2020 style:


·       NO COVID. None of my family members—even extended family of at least 150—have gotten Covid. In fact, although I’ve heard of cases, I don’t actually know anyone personally who’s gotten it—yet, anyway. I know we have a ways to go before vaccines are widely available.

·       ZOOM. This free app has provided a way to keep in touch with people I care about. Okay, I admit I’m a little tired of it at this point, but it’s better than nothing.

·       EMMIE. My new puppy is the sweetest little soul. Having her helps me in so many ways to cope with the pandemic. Even though it means setting the alarm for 2 am to help her make it through the night. Small price to pay in my book.

·       COOKING. Never my favorite activity, but during the pandemic, my husband and I have developed a new routine for the evening meal. We gather in the kitchen and share both the cooking and the puppy romping. Emmie loves her ball, and she’s lightning-quick. We think she’s headed for a career as a goalie.

·       WALKS. Okay, it’s not England, but this year in Ohio we’ve had the most beautiful autumn. Sunshine. Glorious colors. My favorite season has not disappointed.

·       WRITING. If I can’t actually be in the British Isles, I can travel there (virtually) every day as I join Kate Hamilton and Tom Mallory in their small slice of Suffolk. The best part? In my fictional world, there’s no Covid. All the shops and pubs are open for business.

·       ASSURANCE IN UNCERTAINTY. As a child of God, I know my journey and destination are in the hands of a loving Father.

·       MEMORIES. This Thanksgiving may not be my favorite, but I have so many happy (and hilarious) Thanksgiving memories to draw upon:

o   The Thanksgivings I spent as a child at my Danish grandmother’s house, eating her turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie. Food at her house was always the best.

o   The year I followed a new online recipe and stuffed the turkey with lemon halves. Big mistake. Everything (turkey, stuffing, gravy) came out tasting like bitter lemon rind. If I ever find that recipe again, I’m pressing charges.

o   The year I saved the turkey carcass to make soup, put the pot in the extra fridge in the basement, and then forgot about it—for three months. Ended up tossing out not only the lethal contents but also the nice stainless steel soup pot.

o   The year Bob and I spent Thanksgiving alone in a rented trailer in the icy interior of Alaska—playing over and over again the tape my mother made for us at the family Thanksgiving gathering. I can still hear the voice of my Scottish aunt’s elderly father: ’Tis a grand day, a grand day.

o   All the years we celebrated Thanksgiving with my parents. I so miss them.

o   The year relatives traveled to our house for Thanksgiving and one of the teenagers, incensed about something that happened on the drive over, spent the entire day fuming in their van. As the mother of teenagers myself, I could sympathize.

o   The year I was preparing Thanksgiving for a huge crowd—not my gift—and realized I’d forgotten to buy ingredients for the pumpkin pie. I was about to rush off to the grocery store one more time when a friend showed up at my door with a glorious, fully baked, homemade pumpkin pie. A true miracle.

Thanksgiving In The Time of Plague will be a memory, too, one day, and I’ve realized that I can choose how it will be remembered. 


Will I regret what I can’t have or celebrate what I do have? Will I fume over what doesn’t feel right or will I keep a sense of humor? Will I harbor bitterness or will I look for the joy?


I choose joy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

An Interview with Author Libby Klein by E. B. Davis

 I HAVE REFORMATED THIS BLOG FOUR TIMES. BLOGGER IS NOT DOING ITS JOB. EXCEPT FOR THESE FEW LINES, NO OTHER LINES WERE CAPITALIZED IN MY BLOG. IF BLOGGER WANTS TO CHARGE IT SHOULD DO SO--NOT DESTROY BLOGS. E. B. DAVIS

It's vintage Poppy McAllister when the gluten-free baker and B&B owner tries to solve a murder at a Cape May winery . . .
 
When Poppy and Aunt Ginny agreed to host a Wine and Cheese Happy Hour for a tour group at their Butterfly House Bed and Breakfast on the Jersey Shore, they never anticipated such a sour bunch. Grumpy guest Vince Baker should be in a better mood—he’s filthy rich and on his honeymoon with his much younger wife Sunny, who seems to dote on him almost as much as her high-spirited teacup Pomeranian, Tammy Faye Baker.
 
But the honeymoon is over when Vince drops dead the next day touring the Laughing Gull Winery. Turns out he's been poisoned, and it seems like everybody on the tour is hiding something. Now Poppy has to put her gluten-free baking on the back burner and bottle up her feelings for the two men in her life while she charges after a bitter killer with a lethal case of sour grapes . . . 

Amazon.com


Whatever you do, don’t read this book when hungry. Libby Klein’s descriptions of blue cheese-stuffed bacon-wrapped dates; toasted baguette slices infused with orange olive oil, topped with half a fig and goat cheese; and chocolate mousse tartelettes will induce you to buy out the gourmet section at the grocery. Wine Tastings are Murder debuts on December 1. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Murder, mayhem, and chaos are typical at the Cape May B & B and in that milieu, Poppy must decide between beaus. Will she choose Tim, her high school sweetheart or Gia, the kind Italian? Meanwhile, Aunt Ginny and her cohorts are up to something that involves muscular aches and pains, stupefying Poppy, who observes them sitting on bags of frozen vegetables. And then, erroneous alerts and answers to unasked questions spout from Zalexa, the new electronic gadget gifted to Aunt Ginny.

The Poppy McAllister mystery series is a joy to read. In comparison to Poppy’s dilemmas, your stress level will deflate. 

Please welcome Libby Klein back to WWK.                              E. B. Davis

 

Do you own an Alexa-like devise? Have you developed a satisfactory relationship with her yet or does she make you want to swear? Does she embarrass you in front of guests?

I have several Alexas. We have a love hate relationship. At least once a week I check on a timer to hear her respond that there are no timers set - when I know I clearly set a timer. She drives me crazy with her selective hearing. She hasn’t embarrassed me yet, but she is often used against me as a fact checking resource. I need to find a way to program her to agree with me when she hears my husband’s voice.

 

Tim creates a sign for his restaurant Maxine’s in the form of a female crab named Maxine. Is Tim aware that the crab has attributes of a woman that isn’t Poppy? I don’t think he is. Tim is very focused on making his restaurant successful and he’ll do whatever it takes to draw people in. He is a good example of how we can get tunnel vision and miss the cues around us that something is off.

 

Why doesn’t Aunt Ginny want to marry her beau Royce? Aunt Ginny has been married five times. She’s not ready to give up her free-wheeling lifestyle and settle down again. Her days of sharing the remote and doing a man’s laundry are behind her - at least for the time being…

 

Poppy reacts when Tim says he wants her to work for him every day. Poppy reacted to “everyday.” I reacted to his use of the word “for.” Wasn’t theirs supposed to be a partnership, like their relationship? They were always going to be equal partners, in business and romance. A lot of time has passed and they’ve had a few bumps along the way to finding out if they have a future together. It’s possible that we see both of them reveal a side to their true feelings in the use of those words you’ve pointed out. It’s something they’ll have to overcome if they’re meant to be together.

 

Victory, Poppy’s new chambermaid, passed three requirements to get the job. What were they? She
was available. She had a valid work visa. And she wasn’t spooked away by Aunt Ginny and Figaro’s antics. That last one is harder to pass then you might think.

 

Are cliques now squads? Why the change in terminology? Cliques exclude others from being a part of the group because they aren’t good enough or cool enough to be friends with. A squad is your group of best friends, but you’re also open to having new friends join the group.

 

Figaro keeps Poppy on her toes. Does your cat play head-games with you? How do you know for sure? My cat is very naughty. She keeps finding new and creative ways to get what she wants. Her newest trick is pressing the buttons on an air purifier next to my bed until the beeping wakes me up. The first time was a happy accident. Every time after that has been carefully calculated to annoy me. 

 

Birthday boobs? And what might they be? That’s when a rich girl gets breast implants for her 18th birthday. I think I got a diaper bag.

 

There are TSA dogs in Hawaii that sniff for fruit? Yes. Absolutely. Illegal fruit? What is illegal fruit? Customs is very strict about what you can take on and off the island. How do they train the dogs to sniff fruit without eating it? I have no idea, but I’d love to know the answer to that. How do they differentiate between fruit and illegal fruit? Maybe they go to fruit trafficking school and sniff contraband papaya all day. I don’t think you can take fresh fruit onto or off the island with the exception of Dole pineapple. Maybe they spray that with something to make it safe. We’ll have to ask the dogs to be sure.

Poppy doesn’t react well when Gia hires a young redhead to work the coffee bar. Does she really think Gia will trade her in for a newer model?
Poppy’s self esteem is tenuous at best. She’s making great strides in self-acceptance, but a younger, skinnier red head would be a challenge for the strongest of egos.

 

I grew up going to Ocean City, NJ for vacation. Is Morrow’s Nut House still around? It was there last year. I didn’t get to visit this year because of the pandemic, so I don’t know if Covid has made any drastic changes to the area landmarks. I hope everyone has weathered the storm. I ordered ingredients from a few places in Cape May to put in my recipes for the next book so I’m doing my small part to keep them around.

 

Guests named Baker check into the B & B with a teacup Pomeranian named Tammy Faye. Which is bigger, Figaro or Tammy Faye? Figaro is bigger than a teacup pom. Which animal is innocent? Neither.

 

Sunny Baker looks like a gold digger. She’s much too young for her husband. She’s a stay-at-home wife. But when her daughter-in-law and social media lifestyle bogger, Zara, gang up on Sunny, she defends herself well by saying, “I thought women fought for the right to make their own choices in life and not have someone else tell them how they should live.” I felt like applauding Sunny. Is judging Sunny harshly too easy? You’ll have to decide that for yourself. No one is one-dimensional. The characters in my books are rarely what they seem. I hope they surprise you.

 

Is there a bridge to Cape May? There are two bridges. One from North Cape May that leads to West Cape May, and one at the end of the Garden State Parkway – Exit Zero. Cape May is a man-made island.

 

Victory has uniform problems, but that’s not her biggest problem. Why does Poppy find Victory asleep all the time? Victory has narcolepsy. That was not mentioned on her job application.

 

I think we all have had cheerleader problems. Did you? I definitely did. The cheerleaders were the mean girls in my school. That’s not to say that I have a bitter grudge against all cheerleaders. My daughter and granddaughters were cheerleaders, and they were wonderful. I think people are individuals. Bullying and shallowness are not caused by pompoms, but they sure ran rampant in my small neck of the woods.

 

Who really said, “With great power comes great responsibility”? Uncle Ben. A character in Spider Man. You can ask Alexa. She’ll tell you.

 

Why does Poppy’s best friend Sawyer think Poppy is cursed? Because it’s not normal to keep finding murder victims. Don’t Google this. Just take my word for it.

 

Is there a recipe for strawberries in chocolate balsamic glaze? Chocolate balsamic vinegar can be found in gourmet and specialty stores. Just drizzle the chocolate balsamic over the strawberries. It’s delicious over ice cream too.

 

How much do people need to have in common to make a relationship work? I don’t think there’s a simple answer for this. The only constant is that it takes a lot of hard work to make a relationship endure, and it isn’t always as fun or easy as Hollywood makes it look.

 

What is keto flu? The temporary detox effect of your body kicking sugar and going through withdrawals from a lack of simple carbohydrates. You feel like you have the flu for a few days. The more sugar you are used to eating before you cut it out, the worse you feel while you adjust. It’s like drinking four cups of coffee a day then cutting out caffeine cold turkey. I get terribly loopy after a vacation or holiday when I go back to no sugar. 

 

Even though Poppy’s high school nemesis (cheerleader) turned detective Amber wants to keep the suspects together by having them stay at Poppy’s B & B, surely Poppy should be able to charge them. Why does she take on the burden and do it for free? Amber can’t make them stay anywhere they don’t want to stay unless they’ve been officially charged with a crime. The detective saying, “Don’t leave town” is only a thing in television and movies. Poppy is trying to garner a little good will with the police by working with them to provide a way to keep the suspects in town during the investigation. Free lodging at a beach B&B would be hard to pass up. And no one wants to make themselves look suspicious by refusing the generosity.

 

I was so happy with the ending until you dropped the bomb. What is next for Poppy and Aunt Ginny? So many delightfully horrible things. Beauty Expos Are Murder comes out next summer and it picks up moments after Wine Tastings ends. You’ll get to see how Poppy handles the men in her life, and whether or not she chooses to move forward with romance. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

2020, The Plague Year Revisited by Martha Reed

As we near the turn of the year with a hopeful promise of a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, I wanted to stop and consider any writerly lessons I’ve learned from the quarantine isolation and social distancing experience since the experiences may eventually be used as grist in the fiction writing mill.

Fortunately for me, quarantine didn’t impact my daily writing output. I’ve followed the same routine I had pre-COVID, working on my WIP (e.g., Work in Progress) during the mornings and taking care of any marketing and promotion or other author business related chores in the afternoon.


I suspect this routine sameness directly correlates to the fact that I don’t have school age children quarantined at home.

 My complete and absolute sympathy goes out to those creative writers and parents who are home schooling their kids during this pandemic as they continue to develop their stories. I can see on Facebook that some folks are successfully doing it and they deserve a heartfelt salute. When I consider how much extra energy, time and focus home schooling must take, I’m in awe of their success. I believe I’d lose my damn mind if I had to do it, especially knowing that the little buggers would be expectantly crouched outside my home office door ready to ask: ‘What’s for dinner’?

 Virginia Woolf once said, “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” To my mind, that room must include a door to firmly shut out such distractions and these days also include the ability to ruthlessly disconnect the internet, that great time sucking thief.

A surprising lockdown silver lining is the availability of online writer’s conferences. I love attending conferences and conventions. They’re my reward for doing the creative writing work. I’ve always had international conferences like St. Hilda’s Crime Fiction Weekend in Oxford, England and Bloody Scotland on my radar, but in 2020 everything went online and best of all, free. There were no more excuses for not setting aside the time to attend them and I joyfully signed up. I’ve now been introduced to an expansive brave new world of European crime fiction authors with distinctly non-American plots and writing styles. It’s been an eye-opening opportunity with lots of room for new personal writerly growth.

 The negative side of online conferences is that I miss the personal introductions, interactions, and new connections that I make, one of the greatest joys in my life. Crime fiction writers are my family. Sure, during Zoom calls everyone is friendly, but it’s not the same thing. Not to grumble, but I do feel that COVID-19 robbed my year of that. I’ve been doing the work without getting the full perks. Hopefully, this will change in 2021 and we can all raise a glass together again soon.

 The bottom line is please stay safe. How are you coping with quarantine and social distancing? Have you developed any new good writerly habits?

 

 

Monday, November 23, 2020

HISTORY OF THANKSGIVING AS A NATIONAL HOLIDAY by Nancy L. Eady

             This Thursday is Thanksgiving. Because I post on the fourth Monday of every month, and because we at Writers Who Kill change our schedules from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day, 2020 is one of the very rare years when I post the week of Thanksgiving. Usually, the fourth Monday in November happens after Thanksgiving. Wherever you are, here in the United States or overseas either with our armed forces or as an expatriate, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving in spite of COVID. 


           Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays; it is a time to breathe before I am pushed into the Christmas season, relax with my family and, most importantly, thank God for the many, many blessings in my life. It’s hard to imagine a year without a Thanksgiving, but Thanksgiving hasn’t always been a national holiday. Curious, I decided to look into its history. NOT the history of the first Thanksgiving; I love that story too much to clutter it with inconvenient historical facts (although I know my share of them). I prefer to leave my mental image of the grateful Pilgrims with the helpful Indians intact. Instead, I looked up how Thanksgiving came to be the beloved national holiday it is today. 


            During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress declared one or more national days of official Thanksgiving, as did George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison as presidents. In 1817, New York became the first state to adopt an official day for a yearly Thanksgiving holiday. Several other states followed suit, but in keeping with the unanimity we expect from the separate 50 states, each state selected a different day. In 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale began campaigning to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. As the editor of first The Ladies Magazine and then Godey’s Ladies’ Book until the age of almost 90 (she retired in 1877), she had, as Teddy Roosevelt would have said, a bully pulpit from which to lobby. (Ms. Hale was also the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”) 


            After 36 years of hard campaigning, which included editorials and dozens of letters to governors, presidents, congressmen, and senators, she achieved her goal when in 1863 Abraham Lincoln designated the last Thursday in November as the national holiday of Thanksgiving. In his proclamation, made in the second year of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln asked Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” 


           The first Thanksgiving Day parade was held in Philadelphia in 1920; the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Day Parade began in 1924, along with America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit. In 1934, the Detroit Lions hosted the first of their annual Thanksgiving Day games, a tradition that continues even today. The only years since then that the Detroit Lions haven’t played a Thanksgiving game were in 1939 through 1944 during World War II. They’re even playing this year, in spite of COVID-19, although the fans won’t be able to attend in person.  The Dallas Cowboys began their annual Thanksgiving Day game in 1966. Then, in 2006, the NFL added a third game to the schedule, completing the slate of Thanksgiving Day football games as we know it today. 


                Thanksgiving continued to be held every year on the last Thursday of November until 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the middle of the Depression, attempted to move it up to the third Thursday in November in an effort to increase holiday retail sales. This change was incredibly unpopular (some critics called it “Franksgiving”) and in 1941 he reluctantly signed a bill from Congress establishing Thanksgiving as occurring on the fourth Thursday of November, where it remains today. 


            Because Thanksgiving has been a national holiday since the Civil War, most families now follow their own special traditions. My husband, daughter, and I travel somewhere in our camper, just the three of us, for Thanksgiving weekend. Usually, we go to the Gatlinburg area. If we can, Kayla and I watch at least part of the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade together, because I know my Mom and sisters are doing the same wherever they are. It gives us a sense of closeness even though we are apart. What are your family traditions?

Sunday, November 22, 2020

NaNoWriMo by Annette Dashofy

 


 

For those unfamiliar with “NaNoWriMo,” the letters stand for National Novel Writing Month, an annual challenge that takes place in November. The idea is you sign up at the website and commit to write 50,000 words, a complete first draft, in thirty days.

 

The mere thought of that many words in that short period of time has always made me slightly hysterical. Plus I always had a really good excuse for not participating. I was either on deadline for a work in progress, or edits were due, or I was working on an upcoming release… There simply wasn’t an opportunity to focus so completely on blasting out a first draft.

 

However, I’ve frequently “borrowed from the NaNo energy,” as I called it, to write more than usual. That was my plan for this year as well.

 

Several of my writing buddies announced they’d signed up. It still wasn’t enough to put myself through the stress. But then two things happened.

 

First, one of those writing buddies said she was doing NaNoWriMo as a distraction from everything going on in the country. A distraction. Hmm. That might work.

 

Second, near the end of October, I signed with an agent! And not only for the new series, but for the next Zoe Chambers Mystery too! She’s submitting a proposal based on the first three chapters and synopsis because the book itself isn’t finished.

 

Which brought me back to NaNoWriMo. While you’re supposed to start a new manuscript at the beginning, I didn’t see any mention on the website about NaNo police. No one would come knocking on my door to see what I was working on. Fatal Reunion, my Zoe WIP, was at 35,000 words and progressing at a snail’s pace. I estimated it would finish out at about 85,000 words. I may not be great at math, but even I can calculate I needed roughly 50,000 words to complete the manuscript.

 

The universe was speaking to me. And I took the hint.

 

As I’m writing this, I’m happy to report that I’m on track. In order to meet the 50K word goal, I need to average 1667 words per day. I’ve only missed the mark once, and having anticipated that slow day, I’d written extra words for several days prior.

 

It’s been easier than I anticipated. I have to turn off my inner editor. I’m using a lot of weak verbs and adverbs just to keep plowing ahead. I’ve hit research speed bumps and learned to type brackets as placeholders until I find the answers I need. And I’ve trained myself to keep pounding the keyboard even when I feel I’ve run out of things to say. Yes, the stuff I’m putting on the page is absolutely horrid. But it’s easier to fix words than to stare at a blank page.

 

Fellow Writers Who Kill, have you ever tried NaNoWriMo? If so, how did you do? And readers, have you ever taken on a challenge that felt overwhelming? Tell us about it.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

A Writer Looks At 2020 by Kait Carson

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times[1]? Nope. Nationally there was no best of times. It was a dickens of a year? Nope. That merely echoes the quote above. Same caveat. It was an annus horribilis? Ah, that’s better. Thank you Queen Elizabeth II. By the time this blog appears we will have been through the 2020 election cycle and may know who was elected president. We may also know if COVID-19 thrives in cold weather and, if we are lucky, how close we are to a vaccine.

New Year’s articles are traditionally filled with hope and looking forward to good news. This year began with the threat that thieves were just waiting to backdate our legal documents and thwart our intentions if we didn’t use all four numerals of the year. We should have been warned. 2020 was not going to be a normal year.

As the New Year kicked off, we were aware of an outbreak of a coronavirus in China. In January, China seemed far away. By March, well, we all know where that went. Writers had an especially difficult problem with isolation and self-quarantining. Most writers are introverts. We like our own company. We also seem to prefer to have isolation optional. Once it became the law of the land, Facebook posts and message boards made it clear that writers were unable to write.

COVID-19 didn’t only sap energy from its victims. It sapped it from writers, too.  Facebook and Twitter were full of posts about an inability of writers to be creative. Part of it may have been due to everyone isolating together. A writer used to solitude may not adapt well to isolation with spouse and children. I contend, with no evidence other than many discussions with other writers, that the paucity of energy and creativity sprang from a different source. Truth is always stranger than fiction, but in 2020 we were all parties to the same nightmarish story. How do you top current events?

Worse, with information, true and false, flying at the speed of the old Concorde jet, how is a writer supposed to have the energy to parse the information, separate the chaff from the wheat and write? Based on my unscientific survey of social media, it took writers the better part of five months to get back to their former stride.

Facebook writer groups filled with questions of addressing the pandemic. Should fiction writers acknowledge or ignore it? No one knows how long the pandemic will last or what the new normal will be on the other side. Will the failure of our characters to socially distance, be mindful of crowds, and/or have a face mask at the ready serve to date our work as pre-pandemic? Has writing scenes as we know it reached the end of an era?

Most of us, writers and readers alike, read to escape. We want to be drawn out of our everyday lives and entertained. Do readers want to read about pandemic issues or do they want to leave them behind? Hard choice, but one that must be answered.

Readers and writers, has the pandemic changed what you read? How? Writers, do you intend to incorporate pandemic mores into your books?

I wish you all peace, love, and rock and roll in 2021 and thank you readers for staying with us on the roller coaster ride that is known as 2020.



[1] Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

My Zooming Life by Marilyn Levinson

These days I find my life surprisingly more hectic than it had been before. Being a writer, I'm used to spending most of my daylight hours indoors in front of my computer, working on a book and keeping up with social media. With COVID limiting my social activities, I'm now spending more time at home. I walk daily and venture out to food markets. On occasion, I even shop for other items. But, like most people, I haven't been going to restaurants or movie theatres and the like. And traveling to faraway places is a distant memory. But the one activity I've been doing lots of is Zooming.

Zooming is how most of us have been staying in touch with friends, colleagues, and the outside world. I've been to a Zoom funeral service. I've taken part in Zoom writing conferences and book club meetings. I get to watch interviews and programs. And I now Zoom once a month with my three closest college pals and with my new writers' group.

My calendar is filled with Zooming dates. This past Thursday, I kept three Zoom meetings: a lesson on Instagram, a discussion about wine, and taking part in a panel with other authors. I had to cancel a fourth when I realized it was in conflict with the ones already scheduled. And tonight I'm on a panel at a mystery book store discussing The Secret Lives of Mystery Writers. Zooming has become a mainstay of my life.

We are all Zooming, Skyping, and FaceTiming because these are safe ways to connect with friends, families and colleagues in the Time of COVID. Zooming and the like have their limitations, of course: Cameras freeze; people may not look their best; voices are sometimes garbled. But I am grateful that we have these electronic means to spend time together. In fact, I think we'll still be Zooming when we're free to move about again. No need to hop on a plane to attend a conference. Getting together in person is best, but not everyone's up to traveling. At least we've found a way to be together. To talk, share jokes, and experiences. 


 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

An Interview With Nicole J. Burton

by Grace Topping

This interview ran in 2018 and deserves a repeat. 

Here at Writers Who Kill we generally blog about writing and reading books that fall into the “whodunit” category. But occasionally we find a book that may lack a body in the library but is still full of mystery and just as suspenseful. Nicole J. Burton’s book, Swimming Up the Sun, a memoir of her search for her birth parents, may be outside the mystery genre, but it has as many twists and turns as the latest bestselling page-turner. It was a pleasure talking to Nicole/Nicki about her search, the roller-coaster ride of emotions it evoked, and her varied career.  

Swimming Up the Sun

Adopted in Britain, playwright Nicole J. Burton always wanted to find her birth parents. After immigrating with her family to the United States, she sought the elusive characters haunting her imagination. With an appointment with one of Her Majesty's social workers and her birth mother's name in hand, she returned home. There she began a search that led to more drama than any play she could possibly conceive.


Welcome to Writers Who Kill, Nicki.

In your book Swimming Up the Sun, you tell the story of your search for your birth parents. What motivated you to start your search? 

Nicole J. Burton
When I was nineteen, the British government passed a law allowing adult adoptees to gain access to their original birth certificates, if they passed a screening interview. I knew immediately I would go and get my document because all my life I’d wanted to know my biological kin and my true story.

What prompted you to write about it?

You did! And many others to whom I told the story as it unfolded. It was engaging, with plot twists and turns, and even though I’m a playwright, many people said to me, “You should write a book!” So I did.

Where did the title come from?

My natural mother “Eve” (I changed her name in the book to protect her privacy) lived in a stone cottage on the east coast of England in Suffolk when my sister was young.  She used to swim every day in the North Sea, in the morning, and as she swam due east up the carpet of the glittering light cast upon the water, she called it “swimming up the sun.” As soon as my sister told me this, I thought, what a lovely image and how apt for a story of adventure and discovery.

Your search was complicated by a number of factors but particularly because you had been born in England but now live in the U.S. How did you overcome this hurdle?

I came to the U.S. as a teenager when my adopted family emigrated here. I had to travel back to England to pursue my search, which was expensive and time-consuming for a young person in her 20s. This was the era before the Internet, before documents were digitized, and you had to go in person to libraries, adoption agencies, and the like. Some English people didn’t even have phones in the 1980s. And even when they did, international calling was prohibitively expensive as well as awkward. It took two trips six years apart to complete the search.

Besides living in a different country from your birth parents, what was the major obstacle blocking you from getting the information you needed to locate them?

The shame. The social ostracism that women were subjected to when they faced single motherhood in the bad old days. People who could help me trace my parents were reluctant to speak to me. The law stood in my path until it didn’t. Thank goodness we live in a more enlightened era, at least in the U.S. and Europe. Other countries, from which offspring are obtained for adoption, still use social stigma and ostracism to keep the industry going. I favor family preservation instead of adoption.

Your story had so many twists and turns that it read like a suspense novel. What was the best thing and worst thing about your experience?

The best and worst things were meeting my natural parents. I was both excited and terrified, excited that I would finally see faces that looked like mine and learn my true story and family history, and terrified that they might reject me again. To meet one’s parents at the age of 27 is life-altering in many dimensions.

How did you deal with the emotional fallout from it while balancing a full-time job, going to school at night, and having a home life? Did the search take a toll on you?

I survived and thrived because humans are resilient. For years, during what’s called “The Honeymoon Period,” I was obsessed with my search, meeting my parents and siblings, soaking up and analyzing every detail as I learned it. I know my friends got tired. Fortunately, my husband, whom I met before I found my natural parents, was 100 percent supportive and the essence of patience. I could not have done it, meaning broaden my family circle to include all my relatives, without his support. The spouse or partner of the adult adoptee is the unsung hero of reunion. 

Did you ever have a moment of “Now that I’ve found them, what do I do?”

Often. I once had drinks with my natural father and my husband in a hotel while my adopted father was upstairs in his room. The feelings that accompany reunion are intense and textured. Some of my relatives had difficulty dealing with their feelings, which made it harder for me, but we managed and we got through those first years when the feelings are especially intense. Time is a great healer. 

In your book you used different names to identify your parents and their extended families. Why?

My natural mother had not told anyone about me and had become an intensely private person, a posture she conveyed to my sisters. Consequently, I changed all the names in the book on my natural mother’s side. My natural father’s family, however, was the opposite. After the shock of learning I existed, they were quite comfortable with my talking and writing about them, and because they were tickled to be included in a book, I used their real names. I think a writer must be sensitive to relatives’ preferences and these can vary across the spectrum of openness to secrecy. 

How was the book received by your adoptive family and your birth parents and their families?

A book is a powerful statement, more than I imagined when I set out to publish. People feel unclothed by words in print, and if they don’t grasp and accept their own feelings, they may lash out or close up. My natural mother’s family was guarded in their response, but my natural father’s family and my adopted family were accepting, even excited. After reading the manuscript before it was published, my adopted father said to me, “I had no idea how difficult reunion was for you.” I so appreciated his support.

I understand that you have since adapted Swimming Up the Sun into a stage play that was recently performed here in the D.C. area. Why a play?

I’m a playwright. I thought it would be relatively easy to write a stage adaption that would allow new audiences to experience the story, but it was a hard process. Plays are deeper and narrower than books. I thought I had “gone deep” with the book, and I had, but I had to go a hundred times deeper with a play, oh boy! That said, I stuck with it to learn what this particular play had to teach me as a writer, and I’m delighted with the resulting script.

Any hope of readers getting to see a stage production of Swimming Up the Sun?

I’m hoping for a production in the 2019-2020 season in the D.C. area, but I don’t have anything firm to announce yet. Stay tuned.

You’ve written a memoir and a number of stage plays (some performed at the Kennedy Center and even at a federal prison). Have you ventured into other areas of writing? 

My first novel, Adamson’s 1969, is coming out in late summer in August. It’s something completely different, an adult/young adult coming-of-age romp. In the book, Adamson, a young Englishman, navigates his first full year alone in America during the war protest, rock 'n' roll, weed-infused year of 1969. He faces dating, a cross-country adventure, Woodstock, antiwar protests, college, personal tragedy, and more, all while avoiding the draft.

You are known as an author, playwright, and publisher. Where does the publishing part of your life come in?

As a playwright, the peak of one’s literary experience is production. Later, the play may be published to make other productions possible but production is the goal. When I wrote my first book, Swimming Up the Sun, I needed a publisher. I followed all the recommended steps and had an agent at one point, but I came up empty handed: no one wanted to publish my memoir. I knew it was well written and a good story, so I decided to learn the publishing business and create my own small imprint, Apippa Publishing Company. Since then, I’ve published an exceptional Vietnam-era novel by Grady Smith, Blood Chit, and a color photography photoblog book by James Landry (my husband) called Memory Music. Adamson’s 1969 will be the fourth publication from Apippa Publishing.  

As a result of your experience, you’ve become an advocate for adoptee human rights and adoption reform. Please tell us about that. 

When Swimming Up the Suncame out, I set about marketing the book, going to conferences and doing bookstore readings and interviews. I thought I knew the field of adoption from the adoptee perspective, but I was wrong. I knew what reunion had been like in England, but there was much I didn’t know. For instance, do you know that even today, millions of adult adoptees in all but fifteen states are permanently denied access to their own original birth certificates? It’s a terrible human rights violation that I’m working with adoption reforms activists to correct. Through my own and others’ stories, I’ve learned that relinquishment into closed adoption is traumatic for mother and offspring alike, even when the offspring ends up in a decent family as I did, and that the trauma lasts a long time.

What advice would you give an adoptee thinking about doing a search?

I say, if you have the slightest interest in knowing your biological kin (and why wouldn’t you?), then do it! Be prepared for the ride of your life. There will be ups and downs, joy and heartbreak, but it will be real and the story will be yours. Don’t make the journey alone: Enlist supportive friends and family. Find a good adoptee support group and use the services of a therapist experienced with working with adult adoptees in reunion. Employ DNA testing and search services to knock down the remaining walls to claiming your birthright. I’ve never met a single adoptee who said that she regretted searching.  

What would you most like to be remembered for?

I want to be remembered for my kindness to others and for my books. James Baldwin said, “Remember, baby—a shelf of books—a whole shelf.” 

Thank you, Nicki.

To learn more about Nicole J. Burton, her plays/books, and her publishing company, visit her web site: https://www.nicolejburton.com





Tuesday, November 17, 2020

AN INTERVIEW WITH E.A. AYMAR/E.A. BARRES

by Paula Gail Benson

If you hear writers and readers talking about author Ed Aymar, they may be referring to the successful columnist for the Washington Independent Review of Books and host of D.C. Noir at the Bar (virtual and in-person), or E.A. Aymar, whose short stories have appeared both in online and print anthologies (including two novels in stories, for one of which, The Night of the Flood, he served as co-editor) and whose novel, The Unrepentent, was nominated for an Anthony. Not to mention, he’s written a wonderful letter to his young son that appears in Writers Crushing Covid-19 and has a series of poems attributed to E.A. Alkimist that can be heard on his website. His latest novel, They’re Gone, just launched with him credited as E.A. Barres.


So, prolific and multi-talented Mr. Aymar/Barres, how do you describe yourself as a writer?

Well, it’d definitely be nice to say “prolific” and “multi-talented!” I can live with that! It’s funny because I never imagined myself as “prolific,” but I suppose I am. When I started to take my writing seriously, I really only imagined that I’d write novels. And I assumed that was all I could write.

I started to write more because, although the act of writing has its own immediate rewards, the act of publishing does not. I’ve just had the best launch week I’ve ever had for a novel, and it’s been so lovely…but that came after a grueling submission process to publishers, revision after revision, anxiously waiting for reviews, glancing at GoodReads. I realized early on that I needed something to carry me through those barren stretches of waiting, and writing non-fiction and short stories has been great for that.

We’re taught in school that hard work equals reward, a system that school verifies – study hard, and you’ll do better. With writing, you can work harder than you ever thought possible, and there’s no guarantee of reward. And then doubt and concern creep in. Writing outside of novels helps alleviate that concern for me. It’s nice to have the validation of an accepted essay or short fiction while you’re waiting on word from your work. Plus you flex other creative muscles, and the extra publishing credits can help spread word of the book you’re hoping to sell.


Reviews for The Unrepentent call it “gut-wrenching,” “unflinching,” “gritty,” “brutal, dark, and disturbing,” and “an enjoyable hard-boiled tale that pulls no punches.” In it, you tell the story about a human trafficking victim, the traffickers, and the persons who attempt to help her. How did you decide to write about this subject?

I’m really jealous of the way my friend Jennifer Hillier has established her – I hate this word – “brand.” She writes “dark, psychological suspense,” she does it well, and it’s what her readers expect. It helps with her craft, and it helps with promotions.

Until recently, I didn’t quite know what I wrote.

But there were recognizable themes in my work, one of which is violence. And when you see violence the way I do – as unsettling and horrific – that leads you to an honest examination of its brutality. And that leads to the violence of men done to women (men make up a hugely disproportionate number of violent criminals, particularly in matters of sex abuse).

Violence to women is typically seen in a number of places, but sex trafficking was, to me, one of the most horrifying. The more I read about it, the more I was compelled to write about it, and that informed The Unrepentant.

What research did you conduct to write The Unrepentent and what did you learn that made the greatest impression on you?

I did more traditional research for The Unrepentant than I’ve done with any other novel, or anything I’ve ever written outside of my Masters thesis. I read a lot of books about sex trafficking and sex work, interviewed people who had worked in those practices, and spoke with organizations determined to prevent it.

One of the things that most interested me most was the battle between legal sex workers and sex trade abolitionists. It’s a lively, vital debate that can be found in academic essays, on social media, and in newspapers. And I don’t really know where I stand. I’m not opposed to sex work, provided the participants are of legal age and the workers have their own firm authority. But I’m also aware that places with legal sex work (like Amsterdam or Germany) have experienced greater numbers of illegal sex trafficking, a practice that typically involves unwilling women or children.

I also remember an account a former sex trade worker wrote about. A father brought his son, upon turning eighteen, to see her. And she couldn’t help thinking about this boy’s first introduction to sex, and the perception that women were able to be bought. The way that this transactional nature in regards to people, and the corresponding attitude of male superiority and female sub-humanity, remained in her. And me, as well.

You write incredibly strong, yet vulnerable women characters. What is your inspiration for depicting females so realistically?

Aw, thank you! That means a lot to me. BUT I GUESS MY MALE CHARACTERS SUCK, IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE SAYING, PAULA?

Just kidding. I have very strong women in my life – my agent, my editor, my wife – who have no qualms calling me out when I get something wrong. And I appreciate that. It’s imperative to me, for a number of reasons, to get characters right who are markedly different than I am.

But it’s not just those women. There are so many wonderful female crime fiction writers today. I marvel at how well someone like Kathleen Barber or LynDee Walker or Tara Laskowski or Kellye Garrett or Angie Kim delves into the psychological makeup of their female protagonists. The emotional dynamics are palpable and complex and endearing and, often, funny. If I have any success in capturing a female character, then it’s because I’ve taken my cues off of some of today’s best women writers.


In They’re Gone, you entwine the stories of two dissimilar women who join forces to investigate the deaths of their husbands, which occur on the same night in the same manner. What led you to write this novel?

It started with Susanna Calkins, a great writer of historical mysteries. We were at the Printers Row Book Festival in Chicago, and she was telling me about the research she’d done about early twentieth century Chicago (which led to her “Speakeasy Murders” series). And she mentioned a term she’d seen in a newspaper, depicting the widows of the men killed by Al Capone after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. They’d been referred to as “The Bullet Widows.”

I IMMEDIATELY told her that I was going to take that title for a book, and she was like, “It’s yours.” The story came from it, even if we eventually changed the title to They’re Gone. Which is probably more marketable, even though I still love The Bullet Widows. Fine, Susie, you can have it back. Also, everyone should read The Speakeasy Murders.

Northern Virginia, where you reside, is the setting for both The Unrepentent and They’re Gone. It’s as significant as any character in your stories. What makes it so intriguing and well-suited as a location?

I have a love-hate relationship with where I live. There are a lot of practical reasons for living here – jobs, an aggressive and educated readership, a supportive crime fiction community, diversity, Georgetown Cupcakes. But there are also major drawbacks. The traffic sucks. Northern Virginia is a lovely place to raise a kid, but it can often feel like one gigantic suburb. And Washington, D.C., has much to offer, but it lacks the outspoken, recognizable personalities of its east coast counterparts. You can tell when someone is from Philadelphia, Boston, New Jersey, New York, Baltimore. Not so much with D.C. or northern Virginia.

There are reasons for that, some tied to racism and poverty and gentrification, some to the transient nature of this area. And those reasons, for writers living here, are worth studying and integrating into our work. The important thing, I think, for any writer is to have a relationship with your location. You don’t have to love it, and you probably shouldn’t, but you do need to study and include it. I want to make characters recognizable to readers anywhere and, along those lines, I absolutely want local readers to easily identify with them.

I hope my admiration for, and frustration with, the DC/MD/VA region comes through. And I hope I represent it honestly, in both regards.


Your phrasings, descriptions, and dialogue are precise, keeping the narrative moving. Has this always been your style? Was it influenced by your short fiction and by writing noir?

Aw, so that’s really sweet to hear. Thank you!

My two favorite writers, for years, were Anne Tyler and John Updike. I marveled at Updike’s dexterity with language, his enviable vision and poetic phrasing. And Tyler’s gift for nuance and character was inspirational. I wanted to do what they did, and I still do.

Crime fiction, later, became a more dominant influence. I started reading Lippman and Abbott and Atkinson and Block and Massey and I became aware of how well their prose influenced pacing. You never want to have slow moments in a thriller, but there are times when you need to hop out of the speeding car and walk. Taut prose keeps the walk brisk.

Tell us about your son. Does he ever ask you about your writing? If so, what do you tell him?

That kid has changed my world. I used to have this wonderful selfish life where I could write and read for as long as I wanted, and watch endless TV, and SLEEP. And then he was born and all of that has changed and I wouldn’t change it back.

And one thing he’s changed in me is my approach to violence. A former professor of mine, Marguerite Rippy, told me something really helpful about children. Basically, she said, and I’m paraphrasing, “children are total psychopaths, and you need to raise them out of that.” She’s right! I mean, my son’s not torturing dogs or decapitating hobos or anything, but there’s a definite attraction to violence that seems both inherent and misunderstood.

But it’s not just him. Almost everything boys are introduced to has a violent component to it, from superhero pajamas to action figures. Its cartoon violence, and bloodless, but there’s a disconnect in seeing Spider Man punch out a villain and my son sadistically pummeling a teddy bear in the head. I find myself making sure he understands the ramifications of his actions, much more than I ever expected. Some of that is just parenting, but given my own wary relationship with violence, I’m very sensitive to it.

Then again, I keep showing him Marvel movies. I’m the problem.


Following the launch of They’re Gone, what’s next on your writing horizon?

More books, for sure, but lately it’s been nonfiction. I just had two pieces published: one in the Washington City Paper about the DC/MD/VA crime fiction community, and one in CrimeReads about writing outside of identity.

Thank you for spending time with us here at Writers Who Kill. Best wishes for your continuing success.

E.A. Aymar/E.A. Barres (Short Bio)

Anthony Award-nominated E.A. Aymar’s most recent thriller, The Unrepentant, was published in 2019. His next thriller, They’re Gone, will be published in November under his pseudonym E.A. Barres.

His past thrillers include the novels-in-stories The Swamp Killers and The Night of the Flood (in which he served as co-editor and contributor). He has a monthly column in the Washington Independent Review of Books, is a former member of the national board of the International Thriller Writers and, for years, was the managing editor of The Thrill Begins, an online resource for debut and aspiring writers. He is also an active member of Crime Writers of Color, the Mystery Writers of America and SinC. He also runs the Noir at the Bar series for Washington, D.C., and has hosted and spoken at a variety of crime fiction, writing, and publishing events nationwide.

His website is https://eaymarwrites.com/