Friday, October 22, 2021
Thursday, October 21, 2021
Saralyn Richard and I are both members of the Blackbird Writers. We've discovered we have many things in common, among them we were both teachers and we both write mysteries and books for kids. Her mysteries are well-written and have won several awards.
How did your earlier career in education influence your becoming a fiction writer?
It really didn’t. In fact, my career in education delayed my writing for several decades. The years I was a teacher, administrator, and school improvement consultant, I had to put writing on the back burner. I didn’t have the time or discipline necessary to tell stories.
Those were not wasted years, however. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by thousands of diverse, interesting people, whose lives offered insights about human nature. Getting to know people and helping them address their challenges is a fertile training ground for an author of fiction.
I also believe that there is a strong similarity between the acts of teaching-learning and writing-reading. In both cases, you can’t have one without the other.
Inspector Parrott, the sleuth and protagonist of your mystery series, is a wonderful character. How did you go about creating him?
I’m so glad you enjoy Detective Parrott as much as I do. Parrott actually appeared to me, fully-formed, when I was writing Murder in the One Percent. He’s African-American, male, and just starting out in his career—all things that I am not. He is, however, well-organized, morally grounded, and serious about righting wrongs—all things that I like to think I am. Having worked in mainly urban high schools, I’ve known and nurtured many “Parrotts.” I understand his struggles and ambitions, and I enjoy exploring them in each of the books. Because I want him to be authentic, I sometimes rely on my former colleagues and students to help vet particular details.
Now that I’m writing the third book in the Detective Parrott mystery series, I know his character as well as I know my own. He inhabits my dreams and whispers to me quite often. He always has a lot of fascinating things to say.
Why did you set that series in Pennsylvania?
I mentioned earlier that I’ve been collecting ideas for novels for a long time. Some years ago, I attended an elegant birthday party at a country mansion in Brandywine Valley. The area impressed me as so lush, so peaceful—the last place you’d ever expect a murder to take place. The night of the party, after a nine-course meal with wine pairings, I turned to my fellow guest and said, “This would be the perfect setting for a murder mystery.” That was the seed for Murder in the One Percent and then A Palette for Love and Murder.
One of the things I love about the series is that Detective Parrott is an outsider in this community that he serves. The ultra-wealthy people who inhabit that community, many of them horse enthusiasts or artists, have different ideas and different ways of behaving. Yet his outsider perspective is exactly what makes Parrott so successful in solving cases.
Your books include a variety of settings, topics and occupations. Bad Blood Sisters, the book I've just finished reading that's scheduled to come out in March, has a protagonist whose family owns a funeral home. How did you research for this profession?
Because I write murder mysteries, my books often have funeral scenes in them. Whenever I’ve had questions about funerals, I’ve gone to professionals for information. That’s how I met a Pennsylvania mortician, who has become a friend. I also know a local funeral home director in Texas who answers my questions whenever I have them. Through my conversations with them and others, I became intrigued by the question, “What if a woman working in death services were faced with having to prepare the body of her estranged best friend?” That was the seed for Bad Blood Sisters.
I find it interesting that you alternate each Parrott book with a stand-alone mystery. How did you come to write your books in this order?
I didn’t plan this pattern, and, in fact, the writing order was not exactly the same as the publication order. The alternating writing order just evolved. I must say, though, that I like returning to a new Parrott novel after I’ve been immersed in a different world with a standalone novel. I believe that writing a new setting and new characters ignites my imagination and allows me to grow as a writer. After a “vacation” from Parrott, I’m always looking forward to coming home.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I used to claim to be a pantser. I don’t outline, beyond having a general idea of beginning and ending and the main character’s arc. I like the spontaneity and freedom to let the story go where the characters take it. Over the years, though, after painting myself into more than a few corners, I’ve understood the value of having story anchors. So now I would say that I am a planter.
What do you think is the most effective way to reach your readers?
I teach creative writing to adults, and one of the most important things I encourage my students to do is to write from the heart. If an author tells her best story the best way she knows how, and she enjoys the writing experience, that passion and effort will flow through to the reader. For me, connecting with readers is the best part of being a writer.
Who are some of your favorite mystery authors that you love to read?
Some of my tried-and-true favorites are Agatha Christie, Michael Connelly, and William Kent Krueger, but I love finding new favorite mystery authors. I can highly recommend many of my fellow Blackbird Writers and members of The Stiletto Gang, including someone you know well, Allison Brook.
What advice do you have for someone first starting out as a new mystery writer?
Think of your book as an intellectual and emotional puzzle. The way you unveil the various pieces can make or break the experience for the reader. As in so many other artistic endeavors, timing is everything.
Your one children's book is about Nana, your real-life English Sheepdog. Do you think you'll be writing more children's books in the future?
Many of Nana’s fans have clamored for a series. They’ve suggested lots of interesting ideas: Nana Goes to Hollywood, Nana Goes into Outer Space, Nana Finds a Best Friend. I’d love to pursue some of these, and I also want to write the story of a tame cheetah I once met. And then there are contemporary topics like day care, staying healthy, and dealing with violence. I’m full of ideas but short on time, and right now my adult novels are keeping me super-busy.
What new books do you have coming out or are planning to write?
My most recent release, A Murder of Principal, goes behind the scenes of an urban high school when a new principal upsets the status quo. Next will be Bad Blood Sisters, in which a young woman’s past comes back to haunt her when her former BFF is killed, and what she’s buried puts her in extreme danger.
Currently I’m writing the next Detective Parrott mystery, still untitled. This one will be released in August, 2022.
Buy link for Saralyn's books: http://books2read.com/u/4XnzxL
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
by Grace Topping
Hearing the name Lorie Lewis Ham, mystery writers immediately think of her Facebook Kings River Life Magazine and MysteryRats Maze Podcasts, where she promotes and supports mystery writers. Recently, Lorie launched her mystery, One of Us. It was a pleasure talking to Lorie and hearing about her new mystery and her KRL and MysteryRats activities.
One of Us
At 35, children’s book author Roxi Carlucci finds herself starting over again after her publisher drops her book series. With no income, she has to pack up her life on the California Coast, along with her pet rat Merlin, and move in with her cousin, P.I. Stephen Carlucci, who lives in Fresno, CA. The one redeeming factor is that Stephen lives in the Tower District—the cultural oasis of Fresno.
Stephen talks Roxi into helping out with a community theatre production, which is also a fundraiser for a local animal rescue. Little did she know that someone would be murdered during a rehearsal, and that she and Stephen would be hired to find the killer. The killer has to be one of Roxi’s new acquaintances since the theatre was locked at the time of the murder, but no one seems to have a motive. How can they solve a murder without a motive? Could the local gossip website hold any clues? Can they stop the killer before they strike again?
Welcome, Lorie, to Writers Who Kill.
In a mystery, an amateur sleuth needs a good reason to get involved in a murder investigation. As a newcomer to Fresno and the Tower District, Roxie gets involved by reverting to her former job as a PI. What made her leave her PI job before this book opens?
She only worked part time as a PI for her cousin Stephen’s PI business one summer in between jobs. Her heart has always been in being a writer and doing animal rescue. But now she is starting over, and since she also has a degree in criminology, it felt like a natural fit at least while she sorts her life out.
Roxi refers to her family’s Mafia connections in passing. Did those connections cause a rift with her family? Will you be providing more about her family background in future books?
Not really for her. It never touched her life that much because her parents ran the “family” winery. Yes, I will be. At some point, we will be looking more into her parents’ deaths—was it really an accident?
You set your story in the Tower District theater scene and write about theater knowledgably. Have you been involved in community theater?
My kids were involved in theater in high school and I was a theater mom, helping with the shows and fundraising. The online magazine that I publish, Kings River Life, covers local theater, so I have been involved in that way since then. I also have friends in theater, and we cast local actors for our mystery podcast Mysteryrat’s Maze.
You’ve promoted writers for years through your Facebook Kings River Life Magazine and Mysteryrat’s Maze podcasts. Now that you’ve launched One of Us, what’s it like to be on the other side?
I published five mystery novels in the past, but things have changed a lot since then and that was before Kings River Life. I had a lot to learn about promoting mysteries now. The mystery community has been super nice and supportive of me with the new book and that has really touched my heart—I appreciate it so much! I also have a whole new understanding for how authors feel when I ask them to do a guest post for us and don’t offer suggestions lol—it can be so hard to come up with ideas!
In your Mysteryrat’s Maze podcasts, you have actors read the first chapter of books by various authors. Do you plan to have an audio version of One of Us?
There is an excerpt up on Mysteryrat’s Maze right now https://mysteryratsmaze.podbean.com/e/one-of-us-by-lorie-lewis-ham/. There aren’t any plans at this time for an audiobook because I don’t have the funds to do it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen someday. The actors for the podcast are all volunteer, but to do something as big as a whole book, I would need to pay them.
What came first, writing and then promoting others’ books, or promoting others’ books and then becoming a writer?
Writing. I started writing as soon as I could put sentences together, and I published my first poem when I was 13. So I have been writing for most of my life.
Greeting a dog, Roxi says, “I’d take the love of a pet over the love of a man any day.” What accounts for that?
Roxi is a very independent person who doesn’t really feel she “needs” a man in her life, but she couldn’t imagine life without animals. Plus animals give love unconditionally. Also, she is a bit on the cynical side, and while she has a huge love of King Arthur and Camelot, she has never believed in Prince Charming in real life.
Roxi has a pet rat, Merlin, and talks about what good pets they make. Have you ever had a pet rat?
Not only have I had pet rats, I ran a pet rat rescue for several years. You can check out the whole story of how I got involved with rats in a guest post I did on Clea Simon’s website https://www.cleasimon.com/lorie-lewis-ham-on-a-different-kind-of-pet/.
Recently we adopted a new pet rat whose name is Yuki. He is a blue rat like Remy in Ratatouille.
Animals and animal rescue feature big in One of Us. Is this an issue near and dear to your heart?
Oh, yes. I have had animals my whole life. As I mentioned above, I ran an animal rescue for pocket pets for several years (rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits). Also, Kings River Life runs regular animal rescue columns from several different animal rescue groups. Fresno Bully Rescue and Rattie Ratz Rescue are real and are both mentioned in the book.
As a fan of old movies, Roxi makes lots of references to Clark Gable and other actors. What is it about the old movies that she particularly likes? Is she using actors like Clark Cable and Cary Grant as role models for the type of man she would like in her life?
Wow good question. Well she gets her love of them from me. I grew up watching old movies on a local TV station that played them every Saturday morning. I am not sure either of us could say exactly why we love them, just that we do. Perhaps it’s nostalgia from our childhood. And actors from that time period feel larger than life so I think there’s more of a tendency to idolize them more than maybe actors now. I’m not saying that it’s good or bad, it’s just different.
But no, she does not see them as role models for the type of man she would like in her life. They are just fun to watch on the big screen.
What are you working on now? What’s next for Roxi?
Book promotion is still taking up a lot of my time when I am not working on KRL and the podcast. I hope to start the next book in the series next month. The next book will be set at a book festival in the Tower District that Roxi will be involved in as an entertainment podcaster. And of course, someone will be murdered. The plan is to set it at Halloween.
Thank you, Lorie. And thank you for all your efforts in promoting writers.
Lorie's Website: https://www.mysteryrat.com/
Kings River Life Magazine: https://www.facebook.com/kingsriverlife
Kings River Life MysteryRat’s Maze Podcasts:
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
by Paula Gail Benson
Pat Conroy Literary Center
For those of us who live in South Carolina, Pat Conroy is simply one of our own. He wasn’t born here, but his military family was stationed in Beaufort, and that became the place he adopted as his hometown. Conroy spoke of the pluff mud with love: “I don’t know of any place that smells like this. It’s a magnificent smell. It’s the smell of where all life comes from. I love that all shrimp, all crab, all oysters are born in the marsh.”
I feel incredibly fortunate to have been surrounded by connections to Pat Conroy. My historian friend Alexia Helsley attended high school with him. Pat’s sister-in-law, Terrye, worked as a law librarian at the University of South Carolina School of Law. Her husband, Tim, was Pat’s youngest brother, an extraordinary poet, and a former member of my local writing group.
At one of the last South Carolina Book Festivals, the Conroy brothers and a sister gathered on stage to reminisce about their life experiences. They spoke genuinely and sincerely before a packed ballroom of listeners.
|2014 S.C. Book Festival featuring Conroy panel|
of our former WWK blogging partners, Carla Damron, had her book The Stone Necklace, published under the
University of South Carolina Press’ Pat Conroy imprint, Story River. Another
former blogging partner, Sam Morton, wrote about attending the Citadel. His
work appeared with one of Pat’s essays in the University of South Carolina
Press’ Places in the Heart. Sam
shared with pride that Pat said he wished he had Sam’s experience at the
|Sam Morton and Pat Conroy|
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit earlier this year. Gina Baker, my tour guide, provided a masterful presentation, telling me about Pat’s life as well as showing me the collection. I had the benefit of being the only tourist and took full advantage with many questions.
|"Tell me a story."|
|Gina Baker, my tour guide|
In the hallway, a bulletin board contains notes and letters that admirers still send, talking about Pat’s influence on their lives. The Center operates a summer program to encourage young writers and offers programs throughout the year for writers and readers of all ages. The Center’s Executive Director is Jonathan Haupt, who worked with Pat at the University Press.Are you familiar with Pat Conroy’s work? Check out the Pat Conroy Literary Center and you’ll experience the joy he found in writing and gave to so many dedicated readers.
Monday, October 18, 2021
The Happy Hooker
By Lois Winston
No, this is not a post about the world’s oldest profession. It’s about opening hooks. Because attention spans aren’t what they used to be, authors have precious few seconds to grab a reader’s attention. If you don’t hook a reader with the first page of your book, chances are, she won’t read the second page.
Too many writers make the mistake of opening their books with long passages of description and back-story. Bad idea! Especially when you open with a description of the weather.
There’s a reason Snoopy kept getting all those rejection letters whenever he submitted his novel, which opened with, “It was a dark and stormy night…” It’s also the reason that a well-known annual writing contest for the worst opening lines in books is named for Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the author of that famous line. It appeared in his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. If you’ve never read the complete opening sentence, here it is:
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
Pretty bad, right? The sad truth is that too many writers open their stories in a similar manner. That’s why I’m a firm believer in hooking a reader with the very first line of my books. I want my readers to be intrigued enough by that first line to continue reading.
A book’s hook doesn’t have to be defined by the first sentence, but that first sentence should
The opening of a book should suck the reader into the world the author has created. Back-story can come later, trickling in to tease the reader to continue reading, not as information dumps that pull the reader from the story. A good opening will include only the barest minimum of back-story that is essential for that moment.
As for description, it should be woven into the narrative and dialogue. Nothing bores more than long paragraphs describing everything from the length of the protagonist’s hair to the color of her toenail polish. It, too, pulls the reader from the story. And pulling the reader from the story is a definite no-no. It adversely affects the pacing of a book. Good pacing, especially in a mystery, is imperative for a well-written novel.
Solve any murders over the weekend?”
That’s the opening line of Stitch, Bake, Die!, the tenth and newest book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. I hope it entices you to want to read the next sentence…and the next…and the next….
Do you have a favorite first sentence from a book you’ve read?
Stitch, Bake, Die!
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 10
With massive debt, a communist mother-in-law, a Shakespeare-quoting parrot, and a photojournalist boyfriend who may or may not be a spy, crafts editor Anastasia Pollack already juggles too much in her life. So she’s not thrilled when her magazine volunteers her to present workshops and judge a needlework contest at the inaugural conference of the NJ chapter of the Stitch and Bake Society, a national organization of retired professional women. At least her best friend and cooking editor Cloris McWerther has also been roped into similar duties for the culinary side of the 3-day event taking place on the grounds of the exclusive Beckwith Chateau Country Club.
The sweet little old ladies Anastasia is expecting to find are definitely old, and some of them are little, but all are anything but sweet. She’s stepped into a vipers’ den that starts with bribery and ends with murder. When an ice storm forces Anastasia and Cloris to spend the night at the Chateau, Anastasia discovers evidence of insurance scams, medical fraud, an opioid ring, long-buried family secrets, and a bevy of suspects.
Can she piece together the various clues before she becomes the killer’s next target?
Crafting tips included.
Paperback (available Oct. 4th)
USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.
Newsletter sign-up: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5
Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com
Sunday, October 17, 2021
Some things are known/googleable. (Not only is it fun to say, it’s in the dictionary, or a dictionary. I know. I googled it.) When writing a scene about a crime, I look up the correct term, who would investigate the crime, the expected punishment. I post a question on the Facebook groups Cops and Writers or Legal Fiction. I ask attorney friends or a nurse at work whose husband is a police officer. While I start with what I’ve seen on TV or read in books, I want to be sure I have the facts right. Not every reader will notice or care, but I don’t want to ruin the experience for an attorney or paralegal or police officer because I was lazy. And yes, you can end up in the internet rabbit hole and waste precious writing time, but bear with me here.
I sometimes receive questions from authors about medical details in their fiction and I’m happy to answer them. Most of us know nurses or paramedics or other healthcare providers who are only too happy to share their expertise. There is also a Facebook group called Diagnosis: Fiction where we can post questions. And yet, authors still get basic things wrong. I’m not talking about debut authors on a shoe-string budget who can’t afford an editor. I’m talking about world famous full-time authors with movie contracts and, I assume, access to the best editors money can buy.
This week I listened to a new novel by one such famous author and found several glaring mistakes. Here’s one of the more egregious: The POV character, a physician, is examining an unconscious accident victim. He shines a light in her eyes and is relieved when they DILATE in response to the light. He (and his editor) didn’t need a medical consult to tell them that’s backward, he could look in the mirror.
I know, not a big deal, I should let it go. But I get invested in the books I read, invested in the characters. And now I’ve been taken out of the story. The handsome hero is suddenly less heroic, and the next, less obvious errors, become more noticeable. As I think about why this bothers me, I can come up with lots of reasons, some more pessimistic than others. In the end, I think it might just be that it feels lazy. Errors are fine, we all make mistakes, and maybe that’s all this was. But based on the subsequent inaccuracies, it feels more like he didn’t take the time to check on google, or ask a medical person (or someone with a mirror) to read those sections. Maybe there were deadlines, maybe the editor blew it, maybe covid intervened.
What is an author to do? We want to include the details that give our stories the breadth and depth readers crave, but we need to do it accurately, without taking readers out of the story to question our credibility. One possibility is that, where research and expertise fail, I will seriously consider leaving out details that might be wrong. The author above could have written, “Her pupils responded to the light.” That would have been accurate enough and would have left this reader with a much better impression of the whole book.
So, the moral of the story in my mind is…If I don’t know, and I don’t have the time or energy or resources to learn, vague may be preferable to wrong.
Saturday, October 16, 2021
Thanks so much for having me as a guest on Writers Who Kill! I’m thrilled to be here, chatting about the inspiration behind my Colorado Wine Mystery series.
This somewhat spontaneous date led to a joint hobby of ours, and was the initial seed that would eventually spark the premise of my cozy series.
When we first went to tasting rooms, we knew next to nothing about wine tasting. We swirled our glasses high in the air and sniffed daintily because we thought that’s what would make us look like experts. For the record, they recommend swirling your glass on a flat surface so as to avoid spillage and getting your nose all up in that crystal bowl. But the owners and people working behind the bars were so friendly and informative! Sharing cool factoids about the winemaking process along with tips on how to best detect aromas and flavors in the hallowed beverage.
Everything we learned fueled our curiosity. The next summer, we visited Palisade, where Parker’s grapes are sourced in the story, and learned how their grapes, often grown near orchards, take on the sweet and tangy notes of peaches. And every subsequent trip after that—to Italy, France, Napa, Washington (we’re big travelers)—we’ve enjoyed tasting local wines and noting their unique flavors. How they can be more buttery, briny, or jammy depending on where the fruit is grown and what aging techniques are leveraged.
For a while, we even harbored a fantasy of trying our hand at crafting our own wine! Which, of course, is very difficult (shout out to vintners everywhere!), although never say never, right?
Until then, I’m vicariously fulfilling that dream through writing this series, happily researching the industry, grape harvest, chemistry of fermentation, and, naturally, partaking in a glass or two along the way. Cheers!
Bio: Kate Lansing is an award-winning short story author. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her
About Mulled to Death: A Valentine's Day getaway is on the rocks when a young winemaker discovers
a body at an alpine resort in this delightful cozy mystery.
When Parker Valentine decides to take a weekend getaway with her boyfriend Reid, a ski trip seems like the perfect choice. Between hitting the slopes and persuading the resort's wine director to sell her mulled wine, Parker is eager to mix business with pleasure. But her plans are muddled when she finds the resort owner's body on a treacherous portion of ski trail near the resort.
As a result, not only is Parker's romantic weekend thrown into chaos, but now that the owner has died, her business deal is due for a frosty reception, and her life might be in danger as well. After a series of unfortunate mishaps befall Parker, she realizes that whoever killed the resort owner might want to tie up loose ends. Parker's going to need all of the investigative skills at her disposal to catch a killer before they put her on ice.
Penguin Random House: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/621062/mulled-to-death-by-kate-lansing/
Friday, October 15, 2021
Thursday, October 14, 2021
Margaret S. Hamilton
After reading two fast-paced suspense thrillers, I took a deep cleansing breath and immersed myself in a traditional mystery, Ann Cleeves’s The Heron’s Cry, set in North Devon. In the second book of her Two Rivers series, the bodies soon start to drop.
Matthew Venn is the introverted lead police detective in charge of the murder investigations. In her first book of this series, The Long Call, Cleeves explores Venn’s childhood and family. In this book, she presents more about Venn’s marriage to Jonathan. Venn’s husband knows the victims, their friends, and families, and his knowledge proves integral to the plot resolution.
Venn depends upon his sergeant, Jen Rafferty, who attends a party with a murder victim the night of his death. Jen is able to establish a rapport with witnesses and the families of the victims. Venn trusts her insights, much in the way PD James’s Adam Dalgleish trusts his team member, Kate Miskin. Completing the murder squad is Ross May, inexperienced but eager to succeed, who serves as the liaison with a freelance digital forensic expert.
Cleeves alternates points of view among the three investigating officers, Venn’s husband, and the daughter of one of the victims who finds herself in grave danger.
Venn’s investigation is complicated by a local young man’s recent suicide and a benefactor who intends to close a retirement home and displace the residents. Venn is a listener, a thinker, and a methodical investigator, assessing new information his team discovers and incorporating it into what becomes a larger investigation into several suspicious deaths. Venn ruefully realizes that he is basing his investigation on “guesswork and intuition,” which clashes with his more usual buttoned-down, analytical style.
WWK blogger Kathleen Rockwood points out that Cleeves often keeps relevant details from the reader, though the POV characters are aware of them. Cleeves doesn’t write puzzle mysteries, but instead, creates wonderful narratives focused on a richness of setting and characters, with a convoluted plot.
Ann Cleeves spent her childhood in North Devon, and, I suspect, incorporates childhood memories with more recent visits to the area. She describes Westacombe, a farm and artist’s community from the perspective of Jonathan, Venn’s husband:
“The low sun made the place glow, seem magical. Every colour was heightened, more intense: the red of the brick and tile at the big house and the green of the field next to the lane where black and white cows grazed. From a distance, the thatched cottage could have been a poster for the North Devon Tourist Board. It was all too perfect and not quite real.” (p.141-142)
Seabirds play a role in Cleeves’s Two Rivers series. For her first book, The Long Call, the title refers to a seagull’s complex vocalization of aggression toward other gulls. In The Heron’s Cry, Venn’s husband tells him, “Those birds always remind me of you. So patient. Just willing to wait. Entirely focused on their prey.” (p.236)
In the final chapter, Venn reflects on the same bird: “Matthew drove home across Braunton Great Marsh, past the pools rich with wading birds and waterfowl. The grey heron stood still, solitary and motionless, its eyes fixed on the water. Under the huge sky, Matthew felt the tension drain from his forehead and his limbs, and all he was left with was his own guilt.” (p.380)
I’m a diehard green rainhat fan of the Vera Stanhope series—though it’s difficult to separate Brenda Blythen’s portrayal of Vera from how Cleeves portrays her in her books. I’m enchanted by the Shetland series, particularly how the setting assumes the role of a major character (like PD James’s books). In the Two Rivers series, I’m learning about Matthew Venn, who is confronting and moving on from a complicated past, while he and his husband build their marriage. Venn, the listener, is becoming Venn, the astute investigation leader. Perhaps by the third book Venn will be able to communicate more of his thoughts to his husband and investigative team. Maybe the heron will finally cry.
Readers and writers, do you have a favorite Ann Cleeves series?
Wednesday, October 13, 2021
M. E. Browning’s main character Detective Jo Wyatt finds clues that twist and change the theories of how the child went missing and where she may be found. This case development spurs the reader through the pages of Mercy Creek. As a mom, I shy away from reading about child abductions or whenever a child is harmed, but Micki (M. E.) blunts the raw emotion with facts, logic, and the interplay among police department personnel—for which I am grateful.
The complication is the child’s parents and Jo’s history together, which makes all of them conflicted. It’s a small place where everyone knows one another, and yet the new police chief is an outsider, and he operates as if he’s got blinders on.
This is the second book in the Jo Wyatt mystery series, and it intrigues just as the first book did. The cases are very different. Here’s a link to my interview with Micki on the first book.
Welcome back to WWK, Micki! E. B. Davis
We know from how you structured the book that the older sister lied. Then Jo finds out the child’s father lied. As an officer, was it your experience that everyone lies?
First, I’d like to thank you for inviting me back to Writers Who Kill! It’s a pleasure to be here.
As to your question, the answer is absolutely not. Sure, there are always going to be those who have a vested interest in misleading an officer, but the majority of people want to be helpful. The kicker is that everyone has their version of the truth—and there are a lot of reasons why someone might say something that doesn’t align with other known facts. Trauma is certainly one reason. Crisis, PTSD, eye witness recall, group think, fear, embarrassment, ignorance, and embellishment can all unintentionally skew the truth as the individual believes it to be. That’s why witness statements are only one facet of a comprehensive investigation.
What is Calliope music?
The short answer? Creepy. A calliope is a musical instrument that has a keyboard, looks a bit like an organ, but the musical notes are produced by forcing steam or compressed air through whistles. It’s the amusement ride music at most traveling fairs.
Where were the 4-H leader and her fellow 4-Hers when Lena, the missing girl went missing?
Everyone was outside the livestock pavilion watching the fireworks at the end of the night.
In high school, Lena’s mother, Tilda, and her father, Lucero, had a fight. Tilda accused Lucero of abusing her, which Jo reported to her cop father. Tilda backed down and said Lucero was not the cause of her injuries, but even though not convicted, Lucero lost college scholarships. Why are both of them mad at her? Why is it that the person doing right is always wrong?
I know there are people who are convinced that no good deed goes unpunished, but that’s not Jo’s mindset—even though in this instance it destroyed her relationship with her childhood friends. In reality, it's not uncommon for officers to respond to a domestic dispute and have two people who were moments ago at each other’s throats, now a united front against the officers. The stakes are high—most domestic violence offenses are felonies—emotions are raw, and the consequences of an arrest are real. Jo did what she thought was right, but it was Tilda and Lucero who had to deal with the repercussions—both individually and as a couple. They scapegoated Jo.
“Squint tended to focus on the facts at hand. Jo dwelled on what seemed to be missing.” (Kindle Loc. 306) What does this say about Jo and her partner’s personalities?
The strength of any police department is in their diversity, be it in terms of gender, ethnicity, or interests. While everyone is trained to the same standards, there are a lot of career paths in law enforcement that capitalize on an individual’s strengths and focus. SWAT team members and crisis negotiators have different skill sets. Some officers are wonderful investigators, others want to stay in patrol their entire careers. Squint is a very pragmatic person and deals with what is in front of him as issues crop up. Jo is more idealistic, capable of seeing things that may not actually be there. Together, they make a great team.
What’s a pancake holster?
It’s a no-frills holster that sandwiches the gun between two pieces of material and tends to be more concealable than the typical retention holsters many officers carry on patrol.
For a father of a missing child, Lucero is quite hostile. Even if he had a beef with Jo (which seems to be a case of convenient transference), doesn’t he want his child found? Can’t he cooperate?
Lucero has a lot of secrets and initially believes Lena is with her mother. After that? Now we’re moving into spoiler territory…
What are 5.11 cargo pants?
Why are German Shepherds just as good of trackers as hounds?
Oh, I’m not going to wade in the middle of that argument! Handlers gravitate towards favorite breeds and can cite chapter and verse as to why, but the individual animal is more important than its lineage. Hounds have the best nose, but there is far more to search and rescue tracking than merely following a scent trail. Jo, however, is personally partial to German shepherds.
Why doesn’t Jo leap for joy when the new Chief wants to promote her to Sergeant? After all, she lost out on the promotion to her ex previously.
Every police department has policies and procedures in place regarding who is eligible to test for promotion and what the process entails. Circumventing those policies would open her up to accusations of favoritism, or being handed a job she wasn’t qualified to hold at the expense of a better candidate who was denied the opportunity to test. It’s hard enough being a woman in law enforcement without inviting mean-spirited and sexist speculation that she slept her way to the top.
During a meeting about the case with the new Chief, the detectives and close associates read each other’s expressions and body language. Why the politics and pressure?
Getting a new boss is a lot like dating. There’s a period of getting to know each other, seeing how the new person settles in, what different expectations they bring to the job. Chief Prather came from another state and a much larger jurisdiction. Rural and urban police agencies share many similarities, but there are considerable differences as well. The new chief is trying to make a name for himself without understanding the small-town dynamics, and he shows no indication he wants to listen to the input of his staff officers or investigators. It’s behavior that wouldn’t bode well on a date nor in the command post.
Marisa, Lena’s older fifteen-year-old sister, helps her mother Tilda with a press conference. It’s her idea, and she knows all about leveraging. How did she become so media savvy?
No. Most missing children either left their home voluntarily by running away, or were thrown out by their parents. If a child was abducted, however, it’s most likely the child was taken by a family member. Stranger abductions happen rarely, but they generate the most attention because they often end in tragedy. Statistically, most children are found or return home on their own, but that’s cold comfort to the family of a child who doesn’t.
How is chaos the great equalizer?
Most people don’t train for crisis management and when they find themselves in a critical incident, higher reasoning goes right out the window. It doesn’t matter what your net worth is, your level of education, or who your friends are, in a life-threatening situation, we all tend to either fight, flee, or freeze.
Lena was not put on an AMBER Alert. Why?
The AMBER Alert Plan is a voluntary partnership between law enforcement and the media and not all agencies or media outlets participate. For those that do, law enforcement is tasked with determining if a missing person case meets the requirements for triggering the alert, and many do not. First, law enforcement must believe an abduction occurred (versus a voluntary missing such as a runaway). Additionally, the child must be seventeen years old or younger, and the officer believes the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death. The most difficult requirement to meet is that there must be sufficient information known to the officer about the circumstances of the abduction—this means there is actionable information such as the identity of the abductor or information about the vehicle used in the abduction. In Mercy Creek, there was not enough information about Lena’s disappearance to trigger the alert—much to her mother’s dissatisfaction. Even though an AMBER alert wasn’t triggered, the information regarding Lena’s disappearance was still shared with the media.
At one point, Jo resists the urge to hip check a reporter into a lake. At another, she has to suppress her glee at taking down a suspect. Is suppressing emotion elemental in police work?
Actually, no. Officers needs to be compassionate, understanding, and fair in order to be effective on the job. They also need to acknowledge their fear—it’s an early warning device that should be heeded. That said, officers need to control their emotions. Those who don’t risk overreacting and making poor decisions because they’ve allowed their fear or anger to dictate rather than inform their actions. Police work is full of emotionally charged calls that require officers to compartmentalize their feelings. The emotions I chose to display on duty helped build bridges between me and the person I was with—victim or suspect. Then there are the calls that follow officers home, and may take days or weeks to sort out. So, while Jo wanted to hip check a reporter into the lake, she didn’t. And after mentally likening the arrest of a suspect who fled from the officers to a team roping event and suppressing a whoop, Jo changed gears and went to help another officer. The trick is finding the balance.
What is next for Jo?
That’s the beauty of police work. There’s always another case!