Please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com for information on guest blogs and interviews. September Interviews 9/1 Carol Perry 9/8 Nupur Tustin 9/15 Maggie Pill 9/22 Veronica Bond 9/29 Rhys Bowen Guest Blogs 9/18 Mark Leichliter -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

An Interview with Mary Keliikoa By E. B. Davis

 

She stood, her eyes serious, her face tight. “I understand. You’re very

disappointed in me and my betrayal of our friendship.”

I got to my feet, feeling much better with that weight off me.

“See the thing is, Linda, I’m not. I’m done. There’s a difference.”

Mary Keliikoa, Denied, Kindle Loc. 4060

 

A high-risk pregnancy. A dangerous secret. When her case turns deadly, can this investigator avoid racking up a fatal debt?

 

Despite her injuries, PI Kelly Pruett is eager to get back to work. So when a mommy-to-be hires her to locate her estranged dad, Kelly is thankful for the straightforward missing-persons case. But as she rummages through his trash in search of clues, she uncovers gambling debts to gangsters… and a blood-soaked severed finger.

 

With her investigation no longer cut-and-dried, Kelly’s hunt takes a deadly turn when her quarry is found driven off a cliff to his doom. And she’ll need more than her cop boyfriend’s help to expose the truth when the mob sends her a cease-and-desist notice with an explosive ending.

 

Can the determined detective take on the mafia and make it out alive?

https://marykeliikoa.com/pi-kelly-pruett

 

Denied is the second book in Mary Keliikoa’s Kelly Pruett mystery series. It was released May 11. Derailed is the first in the series, which I recommend reading first.

Mary’s main character, Kelly Pruett is a private investigator who takes over her late father’s PI business. She’s trying to juggle work in a dangerous field and part time parenting of an eight-year-old deaf girl, shared with her ex-husband. She’s also trying to forge a new relationship with a cop, but living next to her ex mother-in-law makes being discreet hard.

 

When an old classmate asks Kelly to find her father, Kelly wants to help. Kelly’s memories of the classmate’s attentive father spur her to take the case. But, she finds it isn’t quite as simple as she thought. Floyd, her Bassett Hound, helps her investigate. Gambling is at the center of the story, but maybe that isn’t the only issue.

 

Please welcome Mary Keliikoa to WWK.                   E. B. Davis

 

How do you pronounce your last name? It is a mouthful, isn’t it! It’s Hawaiian, and as such, every vowel is pronounced. So it’s ke-lee-ee-koa.

 

Are your settings real or based on real places? The answer is it really depends. In an upcoming series out in 2022, the location is based on several real places, compiled to make one location. In Denied, however, I did both. Portland, Oregon is where PI Kelly Pruett lives and works from—home base if you will. But Riverview, Washington shares the stage and that location is based on a city near Portland. I gravitate towards creating a fictional spot when I want more creative license than the actual location could provide.

 

Why doesn’t Kelly want to attend high school reunions? Kelly had a few close friendships during her school years, but her lone-wolf-ways started early on in her life. Ultimately, with so much on her plate and not feeling like she has a lot in common with her classmates—being a PI, a single mom to a deaf daughter, her father dying and taking over his business—she’s not anxious to return.

 

How did Kelly come to drive an old Spitfire Triumph? Is it fast? Does it aid her investigations? The Spitfire was a car her father gave her when she graduated from high school. It is fast, but it doesn’t always aid in her investigations as it’s a bit recognizable. But the connection to her father makes it hard to part with.


Kelly makes note that Detective Kuni is from the islands. What islands? Why did Kelly initially call him?
Detective Kuni is from the Hawaiian Islands. A little unknown fact (until now!)—Detective Kuni was inspired by my husband’s uncle who spent years as a homicide detective in Oregon. Kelly calls him because her client/former classmate had spoken with him initially when she couldn’t get a hold of her father, Vince, and requested a welfare check. When Kelly finds something in Vince’s house during her initial search, she makes the call to the detective for his assistance due to his familiarity with the situation.

 

Kelly makes newbie PI mistakes. Most states require a training period and specify the number of hours they must apprentice prior to being fully licensed. How long has Kelly been licensed? Had she studied with her late PI father? Oregon requires 1500 hours of training, which can be broken down into practical and educational classes. Kelly has been licensed for several years and worked under her father. However, her father was quite protective and delegated process serving and occasional stakeouts to Kelly, rather than letting her do any real investigating. He also kept a lot of facts and connections he had during his investigations hidden from her view. He had good intentions, but ultimately it has set Kelly up to make some novice mistakes.

 

What are “frighteners?” Frighteners means to threaten someone. With gambling and mafia-types hanging out in Denied, it’s guaranteed that there will be a bit of that happening!

 

What is Waardenburg Syndrome? It is a genetic condition that can cause deafness, and is the reason why Kelly’s daughter, Mitz, is deaf.

 

Kelly grew up with her ex-husband, Jeff. Were both of their fathers PIs? Did they work together or were they just friends? Jeff’s dad, Jack, and Roger were simply good friends. So much so that Kelly’s dad had him come out on a case with him that Kelly learns about in Denied. Part of what Kelly has learned about her father since he died was how much he held back from her. When I started writing the series, I felt this particular relationship between neighbors would be fun to layer in since it shows that Kelly’s father had secrets on many levels.

 

Do people notice hair more than any other detail? I’m not sure if they notice it more, but it’s right in there with other physical characteristics that catch our attention right away: eyes, nose, smile. For Kelly, it tends to be what she notices quickly.

 

Is Portland Meadows a real horse racetrack? It is—or more accurately, it was! It opened in 1946 to over 10,000 people in attendance and it hosted both quarter horse and thoroughbred racing. It also boasted a casino, a couple of bars, restaurant, and a poker room. Sadly, the race track was closed in 2019 and demolished in 2020.

 

What is Sporadic Reinforcement? Why is it good for training dogs and gamblers? It essentially means to reward good behavior and ignore the bad. That approach can be good for dogs especially when tasty treats are involved. For gamblers, it’s that intermittent reward that keeps them coming back for more, dropping those last few dollars, hoping for the next reward and the next!

 

How did Kelly end up living next door to her ex mother-in-law, Arlene? Is Arlene in denial about her son’s shortcomings? Kelly moved in with her father, who had continued to live in her childhood home located next door to Arlene, after Kelly and her husband, Jeff, divorced. When Kelly’s dad passed away, he left the house to her. Arlene is not necessarily in denial about Jeff, but she has a traditional view of what it is to be a woman and a mother. What I love about her character however is that she and Kelly grow not only individually, but in their relationship throughout the series.

 

Does Kelly have an addiction to peanut butter? She does. That and coffee! She also loves Italian food that her new flame, Kyle, whips up for them.

 

What is the Portland Vibe? Portland, Oregon is quite liberal and full of hipsters. What that means is you will find lots of vegan eateries, food trucks, coffee shops, tattoo parlors, and vintage stores peppered throughout the city. The Portland vibe embodies all of that.

 

What has Kelly been denied? What is she denying? Time with her father so that she could learn the PI ways more and to understand who he was. Also, to heal their relationship which is fractured from information she learns in the first book of the series.

 

In fact, the idea of being denied runs throughout this second novel. Kelly’s client is being denied the ability to make things right with her own father. And that father is being denied the ability to know his first grandchild.

 

As for what Kelly is denying, that’s easy. She doesn’t like to admit she needs people in her life. Kelly likes to go it alone because she believed that’s what her father had always done. But she learns that wasn’t always the case—she just didn’t know about the different situations where he had help. Kelly’s journey is truly to learn that she can lean on others in her life. I have a feeling it might sink in before the series is through!

 

What’s next for Kelly? Kelly’s next adventure will unfold in Deceived, which is out May 2022. The pitch is:  On the verge of exposing misdeeds inside a women’s shelter, PI Kelly Pruett hopes to coax a resident out of hiding; but when another girl goes missing and the bodies pile up, Kelly will be forced to face her long-buried grief to bring the girls home alive. Needless to say, Kelly will be keeping busy with that case!

 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION by Nancy L. Eady

The challenge a mystery writer (or any writer) faces is to tell a believable story from the writer’s imagination.  Real life, however, is much different. Here, we face outlandish situations people have difficulty believing are real. I have several of those in my past; as I relate them, ask yourself if you would believe these stories if they were in a work of fiction. I do promise you they are 100% true.

Back in the early 1990s, my husband and I visited Boston in June to attend my great-aunt’s 90th birthday party. We flew in from Alabama and rented a car at the airport. We ended up with a neon green Kia Sportage, an early SUV with a high, boxy profile. On Sunday, with the party over we headed to the airport. Since we had some time to kill, and Mark had never seen Boston, we drove around the city. When we spied a narrow alley with an interesting graveyard, we turned into the alley. Suddenly, a twenty-piece marching band, complete with trumpets, trombones, woodwinds, and drums, swung out of the graveyard in front of us. Someone at the end of the band swung the gate shut. The alley was too narrow to turn around in, so we trailed behind the band like the grand marshals in a parade. A homeless man, a bottle shaped paper bag in his hand, walked out in front of the band and marched in front, waving one of the best parade waves I’ve ever seen. At the end of the alley, we came out on a major thoroughfare crowded with tourists. A police officer stood at the intersection to direct traffic. The homeless man wandered away, the band reached the street, and the police officer’s eyes met ours With a quirky smile, and a look that said, “Tourists!”, he raised his hands like he was parting the Red Sea and urged the band to either side of the roadway. He waved us through the band and off the parade route. Once we were safely on the way to the airport, Mark pulled over so we could finish laughing, too.

Then there was the time we took our first dog, Shadow, to the local football field. She had never run loose before. It was completely fenced in, so we didn’t have to worry about losing her. We all enjoyed it, but finally it was time to go. Mark started calling Shadow to him. He was walking straight at her, and she knew if she didn’t obey, she’d be in trouble. She started turning her head around to look everywhere but straight in front of her, saying through her actions, “I hear you, but I can’t see you.” It didn’t win her any more time at the ball field, but it was a clever try.


Fast forward to the last Bouchercon that was held in New Orleans. It was my first Bouchercon, and I was excited to be there, while my husband tagged along because he liked New Orleans. While I attended the various Bouchercon meetings, he drove around sight-seeing and ended up at the Metairie cemetery, where he met Lewis, the resident backhoe operator there. Lewis gave him a free tour of the cemetery, letting Mark ride the backhoe with him and showing him where all the “famous” graves were.


So, what’s your verdict? Are those incidents stranger than fiction, or would you believe them if they occurred in a book?

Monday, June 28, 2021

ESCAPES by Nancy L. Eady

I love mysteries, of course, or I wouldn’t want to write them. I read some mysteries for the fun of solving the “whodunit” puzzle. But I read series for more than that. The series I most enjoy create places and people so vivid that they become friends I can drop in on whenever I want.


It’s hard to say what makes a series magical to me. One of the first series I fell in love with was the Nero Wolfe mysteries. Archie Goodwin, Mr. Wolfe (only his best friend, Marko Vukcic, would ever call him “Nero”), and their supporting cast, which includes Fritz, the cook and butler, Saul Panzer, private detective extraordinaire, and a few others are very real to me. The brownstone building with the orchid greenhouse on the top is one of my favorite haunts. I was in New York City on business once and tracked down the address where Nero Wolfe is supposed to live. The address is nothing like Nero Wolfe’s habitat. That’s okay with me. The New York City Archie moves around in is a New York City I will never see but visit constantly.


Two of my newer series favorites are written by co-bloggers here at Writers Who Kill:  the Sarah Blair series, by Debra Goldstein, and the Haunted Library, by Allison Brook, aka Marilyn Levinson. Debra’s series takes place in a contemporary suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. I recognize the places and people which remind me of places and people I see in the real world. And who can’t love a “cook of convenience,” whose highest culinary achievement was the recipe, “Jell-O in a Can.” Top that off with the fact that Sarah is an animal lover with both a Siamese Alpha cat named Rahrah and a dog named Fluffy. Now there is someone I can’t help but enjoy getting to know. My only beef with Sarah is the fact that she refuses to even consider her friend and boss, Harlan Endicott, as a potential dating partner. But since the series continues, I can hope!


The librarian main character, Carrie, in Marilyn’s series is someone I relate to differently. Until book 1, she had been an itinerant wanderer, but with the help of the library’s resident ghost, Evelyn, she has settled down in one place as the librarian in charge of programs. Book by book I enjoy watching her rebuild her life and many of her relationships. And the idea that small towns exist in Connecticut fascinates me. I tend to picture the Northeast United States as one big city from Washington D.C. up to Boston, except for bucolic Vermont.


I am a little OCD with series. When a new book comes out, I start at book 1 and read through the end of the latest book. It can be quite time-consuming when reading series like Donna Andrews Meg Langslow series and Bobbi Holmes’s Haunting Danielle series, both of which have over twenty books in them. It’s worth it to escape to the worlds created by each of my favorite series’ authors.

And who knows? Maybe one day I will find THE enchanted bookmark or page or gizmo that will let me step into the pages of my favorite books and meet my friends in person. I think they’d be happy to see me. 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Story Ripening by Annette Dashofy

Over the years, I’ve picked up tidbits of writing advice from hundreds of sources. Whether it’s an organized writing conference or workshop or merely an informal lunch with fellow writers, I always walk away with something. 

I’ve carried around one such tidbit for decades and wish I could remember who to credit it to. The speaker compared starting a book with growing tomatoes. The story starts as a bud. The idea blossoms and begins to bear fruit. The author said the idea would grow but advised against putting words to the page until the idea was fully ripe, bursting from its skin, demanding to be told. 


I understood the sentiment. Back then, I even managed to apply it. But then publication happened and along with it, contractual deadlines to be met.

While I never completely forgot the tomato metaphor, I no longer had the luxury of letting an idea simmer long enough to be considered “ripe.” More often than not, I’d type Chapter One on the page and hope the ideas would come. They did, of course, but they often didn’t reach ripe status until multiple revisions.


And that's okay. When there's a contract and a deadline, we have to be professional enough to get the work done regardless.


Currently, I’m well ahead of schedule with my only contracted novel. A new series proposal that my agent has been shopping has garnered some lovely rejections. (I focus on the “lovely” part, but let’s face it—they’re still rejections.) So, it’s become clear I need to come up with another proposal. 

Part of me thinks the rejections of the previous proposal might have to do with the characters not being fleshed out enough in my mind and therefore on the page. 


This time, I’ve slowed down (probably much to my agent’s chagrin) and have been allowing the characters to fill out. I’ve been letting the story simmer in my brain. 


I’ve been letting the whole thing ripen on the vine.


Yes, I’ve been putting words on the page. Scribbled notes in my journal. A character list in Excel. The villain’s backstory in a Scrivener folder. But I’ve resisted opening Word and typing “Chapter One.” Wait, I’ve thought. It’s not quite ripe yet. 

Side note: I do have a garden and I do struggle to wait until the tomatoes are fully ripe there too. I blame the groundhogs and the hornworms. It’s maddening to finally pick that beautiful red tomato only to find it half-eaten. But that’s for another blog. 


Last week, I couldn’t hold back any longer. I knew the story was ready. If I waited even one more day, that tomato’s skin would’ve split wide open. I typed “Chapter One,” hit enter twice, and the words poured onto the page. It was amazing.


Does any of this mean I’ll find a publisher for the new proposal any sooner? Probably not. If it happens, you’ll hear about it! Either way, I don’t think I’ll be able to blame the rejections on having rushed the story or the characters. 

What about you? Do you start without a clear idea of what’s going on? Or do you allow a new project, writing or otherwise, to ripen before diving in?

 

 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Help Me—I’m Bingeing Again by Kait Carson

The sad fact is, I am a binger. Not sure what that says about me. Especially as I can guarantee you that I won’t be on the front lines of a binge. I’ll definitely arrive at it late.

 

Case in point – I watched Downton Abbey in 2019. It was wonderful. I wondered why I’d waited so long. Downton Abbey, I hasten to add, was not directly based on a book. However, the producer admitted that he had read To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol Wallace, for inspiration. Downton did remind me of the delicious novels by Evelyn Waugh, most particularly Brideshead Revisited.

 

I spent part of my pandemic downtime watching the Longmire series. Yes, I know. Late again – after I watched the series, I read each of Craig Johnson’s books. Always promising myself that this was the last, I simply wasn’t going to buy the next one. I lied. I own them all and have number 17 on pre-order.

 

Recently, I took up crochet. It’s boring but I enjoy it. That led me to look for something to do while I tied yarn in knots. The something was Bosch, the Amazon series. I’m not a complete luddite. I, at least, knew of the character Bosch. Michael Connelly was the featured speaker when I attended the Writer’s Police Academy. To prepare for the event, I read several of Connelly’s then contemporary Bosch books. He was a wonderful speaker, I enjoyed the books, never watched the show. Until now. Yes, book 1 is on my Kindle to be followed by book 2, etc. and then, who knows, maybe The Lincoln Lawyer series. It could happen.

 

MacColl and Wallace were not involved in the writing of Downton Abbey. Based on the article, they were surprised to learn of their novel’s connection to the show. Nevertheless, the writers followed the conventions of a novel. The show and each of its characters had multiple arcs. There were subplots, main plots, a historical backdrop, and a fabulous castle that was the main character. The Abbey’s very survival is tied to the fortunes of the Crawley family and the current Earl. It is the Abbey that drives the plot.

 

Both Craig and Connelly are/were involved in bringing their books to the screen. Longmire has ended, but the characters and some storylines were very much a part of the series. I’ve not read the early Bosch books so I don’t know how closely the scripts follow the novels. I suspect license has been taken, but under the author’s watchful eye.

 

The video arcs of Longmire and Bosch are very different. Longmire took a longer arc. The story continued from episode to episode over the course of years until Longmire, quite literally, rides off into the sunset. It was a brave act to retire the sheriff while continuing the novel series. Will the books end the same way? Only Craig Johnson can speak to whether the televised series foreshadows the written series. Johnson’s books are a master class in the first-person point of view. The video series, of necessity, takes a more global view. Johnson served as Executive Creative Consultant but did not write the scripts.

 

Bosch is different. I’m currently beginning season 3 and Amazon released the seventh and final season last night. I’ve read there is to be a spinoff series, but have no idea if Harry continues as a character. The Bosch series is comfortable territory to a writer. Each season has an arc, as do the characters. The episodes are very similar to chapters. It’s not too difficult to see the hand of a novelist in the structure. Connelly is involved in writing the scripts so it makes perfect sense that they follow a novel format.

 

It seems there is a difference between scripts written by novelists of their book and scriptwriters based on their reading. The structure reflects the orientation of the writer. I wonder if that’s why Stephen King always shows up in movies based on his books. Is it his way of retaining control, or is he emulating Hitchcock?

Thursday, June 24, 2021

What Happens Next? by Connie Berry

 


The very first story written by one of my children (I’m not telling which one) was a single sentence covering three entire pages—phrases and sentences joined by the word and until the final period. This happened, and then this happened, and then that happened and then....


Obviously, authors want readers to ask, “What happens next?” We want them to keep turning pages. But the story isn’t the plot—or at least it isn’t only the plot.


In Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence (Ten Speed Press, 2012), author Lisa Cron says, “Contrary to what many people think, a story is not just something that happens. If that were true, we could all cancel the cable, lug our Barcaloungers onto the front lawn, and be utterly entertained, 24/7, just watching the world go by.”


So true. Stories are not really about what happens next but about why that event happens, who it happens to, and how it affects and changes the characters who populate the story world. And that’s not all. The links between events are seldom linear. Complications ensue. Faulty evidence leads to dead ends. Errors in judgment create disasters. Lies send the protagonist off in the wrong direction.


This month I’ve been thinking about a new story, a book I hope I will be writing this year. The bare bones of plot is only a beginning, a framework. The real story happens when things go wrong—when people get it wrong and must pay the price.


Complications, confusion, complexity, change. Tools of the trade.


As my new story takes shape over the next few months, the questions I need to be asking aren’t so much what or even what happens next but who and why?


Why do you read books? Plot? Characters? Themes? A combination?


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

An Interview With Jackie Layton

by Grace Topping

 

It’s always a pleasure to hear good news about an author’s career. Jackie Layton joins us today at Writers Who Kill to talk about her Low Country Dog Walker Mystery Series and to share some exciting news. 

 

 

Welcome back, Jackie, to Writers Who Kill.

 

In your Low Country Dog Walker Mystery series, Andi Grace has her own dog walking business. What inspired you to have a character care for dogs? Do you own or have experience caring for animals?


I have a fifteen-year-old Westie, and some friends joke about how well we treat him. I took a lot of time trying to find a fun job for Andi Grace that would also give her time to solve mysteries.

I read mysteries very carefully looking for clues, hoping to identify the villain by the end. In Bite the Dust, you had me fooled. Do you know who the villain will be in your story before you start a book?

 

Yes. I have a loose plot when I begin writing a story.

 

The story arc for your series includes Andi Grace’s family history and relationships. Did you plot the arc before you started the series?

 

I knew Andi Grace needed to grow in each book, but I wasn’t sure of specific details. I have another family surprise for my readers in the fourth book.

 

Family is very important to Andi Grace, especially since she had to assume responsibility for her younger brother and sisters when she was only eighteen. Now, years later, does she feel any resentment having to forego her plans for college and her independence? 

 

Andi Grace loves her siblings too much to ever feel resentment. It was her choice, and she doesn’t regret the sacrifices she made.

 In Dog-Gone Dead, Andi Grace has to work to clear her brother of murder. Does she still feel a need to protect her siblings? Do they resent her “mother hen” manner?

 

Nate, Andi Grace’s brother, doesn’t always appreciate her mothering. Andi Grace will slowly learn through the series to treat them like her siblings and not her children.

 

You’ve set your series in the South Carolina low country. What does this setting contribute the most to your books? 

 

The weather and beach play a big role. People in the low country spend more time outside all year long, both in real life and in the books. The more time you spend together, the stronger the friendships.

 

Tell us about your journey to publication? Did you have a smooth journey, or was it filled with lots of twists and turns? 

 

Ha ha, twists and turns for sure. At the first writing conference I attended, a speaker said it normally takes a person ten years to get published. That was a real eye-opener, and it was true. It took me about ten years of writing and learning before I signed with my agent, Dawn Dowdle. I will always appreciate how much she’s done for me.

What mystery writers have inspired you the most?

 

Should we start with Carolyn Keene? I was hooked on Nancy Drew. Diane Mott Davidson was one of the first mystery authors I consistently looked for. I’ve read all of Hank Phillippi Ryan’s books and met her at Malice Domestic in 2019. She was kind and gracious. 

 

Has your career as a pharmacist given you some ideas for committing undetectable crimes? If so, are you tempted to use any of them in your books? 

 

I’m playing around with an idea for an undetectable crime using poison, but I don’t want to give too much away. 

 

I understand you have a new cozy series coming out. Can you tell us about that? 

 

Thanks for asking. The new series is set in a small Texas town. The main character is a flower farmer who discovers a dead body while delivering flowers to a local business. There are a variety of characters in this series including a retired TV star, a German baker, a veteran barista, three elderly sisters who know everybody’s business, and many more characters.

 

What’s next for Andi Grace? I hope we’ll see more mysteries featuring her and her family.

 

Yes. Andi Grace and Marc’s relationship continues to grow, and she’ll expand her business. She has no intention of solving another murder until, well, until she finds another dead body. There will be some new characters in the fourth book along with the regulars. The fourth book is scheduled to release in February 2022.

Grace, thank you so much for hosting me today. It’s been so much fun!

 

Thank you, Jackie. I look forward to the new series.

 

 

You can learn more about Jackie Layton and her books at www.jackielaytoncozyauthor.com

 

 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Post-COVID-19 Repeopling

I’ve often wondered how people repeopled in the past after surviving a catastrophic event like the Spanish Influenza or the end of a World War, a shattering earthquake, a volcanic eruption, or a tsunami. I don’t believe it’s simple survival. I think life has a fundamental need and ability, if given a chance, of bouncing back to being productive and good (and yes, this perception is based on the human judgment of what is productive and good.)

After researching the WWII American liberation of Japanese prisoners of war in Manila, the Philippines for my short story, “Strangler Fig,” two situational aspects have stayed with me: 1) the established reality for everyone in the camp, guards and prisoners alike immediately switched the moment the American tanks rolled through the front gate. Civilian prisoners went to sleep captive and woke up free again. Guards instantly changed roles and became prisoners. Everyone’s day-to-day reality literally flipped 180 degrees within minutes; and 2) even in the most horrible, heart-rendering, and godawful moments, human responses fundamentally remained human – for better or worse.

As crime fiction writers, how can we incorporate this twisty type of perceptive change into our stories? Are these twists a writerly tool to be used?

The research I adored most was uncovering the oh-so-human touches. For instance, when the American Army nurses were liberated from the internment camp, guess what they asked for first. These career women had been starved, deprived, brutalized, and imprisoned for three long war years. What did they want most? Coffee? Cigarettes? Scotch? Wine? Not on your life. When the Red Cross arrived, these nurses ripped what hospital sheets they had left to make stylish turbans and asked for lipstick because they knew that the war correspondents and Life photographers were on their way, and they wanted to look their best. These were professional Army nurses. They had a reputation to maintain.


So here we are in June, battered and bruised by our own plague year experience. As we head deeper in 2021 with reactivated in-person meetings and crime fiction conferences like Killer Nashville and Bouchercon NOLA, I’m amazed to find myself suddenly dropped back into the buzzy pre-conference mix of panel and moderator selections, program ad copy designs, short story anthology selections, and new panel author introductions as if nothing had happened. Life is rolling merrily along. This idea would have seemed inconceivable to me six months ago as I worked from my kitchen in yoga pants.

In January, I was terrified to go to the grocery store without a mask and hand sanitizer. Today, for lunch, I attended an open-air market and festival.

Did everything including my perception change simply because I got a shot?

And what does a significant flip in perception mean for us as writers? Will we use COVID-19 isolation in new stories, or ignore it by developing timelines that bypass the pandemic and leave it out? Will readers even be interested in reading a story that involves so much terrible self-isolation? The quarantine held all of us in its global death grip. Have we had enough? Will the COVID-19 experience turn out to be like the 9/11 World Trade Center terror, a hit to our collective consciousness that gets hinted at but never fully explored? Or, after a year or two or three, will the 2020 pandemic fade into history like the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, honored and remembered by a dwindling few?

And yet, it is the writers who string the words together to make the stories we all remember, bringing to life the people, the history, and the emotions all humans share. Homer with Paris and Helen, Hector and Achilles at Troy. The poetry of Sappho and of Rumi. Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, and Henry V. All of the great and the meek and the nameless in one long continuous line, kept alive and vibrant in that sacred space where all are “freshly remembered.” And all are revealed again the minute someone pulls a book off a dusty shelf, cracks it open and reads.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Intimidation and Mystery in the Midlands by Debra H. Goldstein


Intimidation and Mystery in the Midlands by Debra H. Goldstein

I’m not easily intimidated, but sometimes, when I’m in the presence of authors whose books I adore, I find myself absolutely tongue tied. Rather than bothering the author, I quietly sit back and observe unless something happens that breaks the ice for me.

 

The first time it happened was at one of the first Malice Domestic conferences I attended. There, standing across from me in an elevator was Carolyn Hart, a writer I’d met and admired for years. I tried not to stare or to make eye contact, but when there are only two of you in such a confined space and lots of floors for the elevator to go up… you get the idea. As the elevator slowed, I looked right at her and blurted out “Ms. Hart, I love your books.” She thanked me, pointed to the doors open behind me, and politely asked if this was my floor. I stumbled backwards out of the elevator – Carolyn Hart and I had talked to each other.

 

During the conference, our paths passed several times. Each time, I observed how warm and gracious

she was to everyone, but what impressed me most occurred during the hour she was being interviewed as the Amelia award recipient. Carolyn Hart took a moment from her hour of glory to give a new writer a shout-out. It was the first time I’d seen that kind of generosity from an honoree, and I was impressed. We ended up in the elevator alone again on the last day. This time, I was able to talk intelligently and end by saying, “Carolyn, have a safe trip home.” You see, I’d finally realized that the mystery community is warm with its welcoming embrace and giving with advice and support.

 

That’s why, on June 26, from 10:30 a.m. – 2:45 p.m. EST, I’m going to be in awe but also thrilled by the wonderful authors who will be sharing a part of themselves with readers and other authors alike as part of the virtual Crowdcast Mystery in the Midlands conference. Mystery in the Midlands, which is sponsored by the Palmetto Chapter of Sisters in Crime and the Southeast chapter of Mystery Writers of America, will feature three panels moderated by Dana Kaye – Searing Suspense, Hot for Historicals, and Scorching Shorts. It will also have a keynote interview of Dr. Kathy Reichs, the author whose life and books inspired the television show, Bones.

Besides Dr. Reichs, the panelists read like a who’s who of the crime fiction writing world. They include Alex Segura, Yasmin Angoe, Robert Dugoni, Caroline Todd, Laurie R. King, Lori Radar-Day, Michael Bracken, Barb Goffman, and Frankie Y. Bailey. I could be intimidated, but I know these wonderful people have so much to offer readers and


writers that I want to take advantage of every word they have to say. I hope you do, too. The cost, to defray expenses, is only $5. The registration link is: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/mystery-in-the-midlands-2/register .

By now, you’re wondering how seeing so many people I idolize in a virtual setting could possibly intimidate me? It’s simple – I’m the one interviewing Kathy Reichs.

 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

A Few Helpful Items from the Writing Trenches

by Tammy Euliano


Every writer evolves differently. On interviews we are frequently questioned about our writing technique: “plotter or pantser?” (both), “morning or evening” (both), “tea or coffee” (neither). And there are innumerable programs in books and on the internet offering suggestions, from snowflakes to post-its to tentpoles to grids. I’ve dabbled with many of them and found promising tidbits in most. Having published only one novel to date (but written 3 others), I’m far from an expert, and my methods continue to evolve, but here are a few that seem to really help me.

1)    An enormous white board. You can now buy an erasable whiteboard as a sticker for the wall for <$50. In addition you’ll need super-fine colored erasable markers. I choose a color for each character and then jot details about them, linking those to other characters in a mindmap. Every once in a while, I take a picture of the board, since un-delete doesn’t work (I know, I’ve tried). There are software-based mind mapping programs, but they just don’t work as well for me, even with a monitor the size of a tennis court.

2)      A monitor the size of a tennis court. You can buy a huge HDTV for <$200 (much cheaper than a monitor) and they work great. I have Scrivener open alongside Word with my Beta reader edits, and Thesaurus.com in another window.

3)    3)   A standing desk. Mine is manual, sits on my existing desk, and can be set at various heights. Highly necessary between doses of caffeine. We have a little plastic tray I can strap to the treadmill but it gets sadly little use. I have difficulty walking and reading/typing. Oh, and chewing gum...

  A  4)    A mobile laptop stand. I take this outside and write while intermittently throwing a ball for my dogs – so I also recommend a Chuck-It to get the ball far enough away. While I’m at it, I recommend a dog that actually brings the ball back to you, instead of hiding it under a bush for you to find, but they were all out of that brand when we got our Golden (or maybe it’s me).


5)   A large 3-ring binder and clipboard. When I finish the first draft, I print it 2 pages to a sheet in landscape view (it looks like a paperback where the pages flip from the top), then read it with only pencil and various colored sticky tabs. This keeps me from word-smithing while I read. I also print out the chapter synopses I made in Scrivener as a spreadsheet, put that on a clipboard, and write in any major changes there, like rearranging or adding chapters. Meanwhile in the main text, I just circle clunky words/phrases and write notes/questions in the margin or on the blank facing page.

6)     6)    +/- Natural Reader. I use the free version and let it read my story to me. It’s far from perfect, but does a reasonable job. I’ve learned to do a global replace for things like “Dr. Downey” because it reads it as “drive.  Downey”. So I replace Dr. with doctor and phonetically spell frequently used uncommon names if it will bug me. I don’t always have the book read to me, but it does keep me from editing while I read, and I can do it while walking above dogs who may or may not be pulling in opposite directions on their leashes.

      I hope you found something in there helpful! Please share your own tips, especially if they relate to teaching an old dog new tricks, like how to LISTEN.

        

Tammy Euliano

      Author of Fatal Intent

      Physician, author, wife, and mother of 3 kids and 2 very independent dogs.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Adapting the Screenwriting Paradigm to a Novel By Lynn-Steven Johanson

I have worked in various areas of theatre most of my life, primarily as a director and later as a playwright. In the early 2000’s, I began to experiment with writing screenplays and wrote two crime dramas. Both did well in screenwriting contests, but I concluded that if I didn’t live in Los Angeles and schmoose with the right people, selling one would be next to impossible. So, I chalked up the writing to a good learning experience, and both scripts languished in a database on my hard drive.

 

What does this have to do with writing a novel, you may ask? Well, I mentioned to my wife one day that I had dried up on ideas for a new play, and she suggested adapting one of my screenplays into a novel. I scoffed at the idea saying, “I can’t write anything that long.” I eventually went on to write a few more plays. Then, a couple years later, I hit another dry spell and remembered what she said about writing a novel.

 

I pulled up what I considered the better of the two screenplays and looked at the first scene. Throwing caution to the wind, I wrote the narrative and expanded the dialogue. The result was chapter one. I handed the draft to my wife and had her read it because I trusted her opinion. A former English teacher, Joyce consumes at least one novel a week, and her favorite author is Dick Francis, who wrote some great mysteries. Her response was, “Keep going. I’ve read worse.” With those words of encouragement, I continued adapting scenes into chapters, and about six months and thirty-six chapters later, I had the first draft of Rose’s Thorn. Following numerous revisions, a fruitless search for an agent, and a few publisher inquiries, Rose’s Thorn was picked up by Level Best Books and published in March 2020.

 

I didn’t have the luxury of having a screenplay to adapt for my second novel, Havana Brown. I had to write it from scratch. But being a person who needs structure, I decided to adapt the screenwriting paradigm espoused by Syd Field in his book, The Screenwriter’s Workbook, into a structural paradigm for a novel. Now, some people swear by Field’s book and some people swear at it. Personally, I happen to like it because I used his paradigm for writing my two screenplays.

 

What this paradigm does for a novel is to break it down into a three-act structure. As Syd Field defines it for the screenplay: Act I is the setup, Act II is the confrontation, and Act III is the resolution. At the end of Act I, a major story event needs to take place, and at the end of Act II, another major event needs to happen. Since Act II is twice as long as Act I and Act III, a midpoint needs to be established that acts as a link to connect the first half and the second half of the confrontation. This link can be an incident, an event, a piece of dialogue, or anything that directs the second half of the confrontation forward toward the resolution. Now, keep in mind the events in this paradigm are fluid and subject to change as you write. While the paradigm structure itself doesn’t change, the events often will.

 

Without giving too much away about Havana Brown, the paradigm works like this: Act I (74 pages in length) ends with plot point one which is the detective noticing pet hair on a particular individual; the Act II (136 pages) midpoint at page 143 is the killer committing a minor traffic violation; and Act III (41 pages) begins at page 211 with plot point two, which is the murder of a person close to the detective.

 

The rest of the events in the story are constructed in between these plot points. They are the incidents, clues, reveals, dead ends, red herrings, and all the other things writers of mysteries use to tell the story. Havana Brown has a main plot as well as two subplots. But the paradigm’s plot points focus only on the main plot—apprehending the serial killer.

 

I know that some writers are not like me and don’t require the kind of structure that I do. They can keep basic story ideas in their heads and write freely. I envy those people. But if you are like me and need to structure your novels ahead of time in some outline form, I recommend reading Syd Field’s book. Even if you write freely, the book is worth a read. I find getting different perspectives on craft is always important and thinking outside the box can add additional techniques to the writer’s tool chest.

 

Lynn-Steven Johanson is an award-winning playwright whose plays have been produced on four continents. Born and raised in Northwest Iowa, Lynn holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His most recent novel, Havana Brown, was released in May 2021, by Level Best Books. Lynn lives in Illinois with his wife and has three adult children. He is currently working on the third installment of his Joe Erickson Mysteries.