Please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for January include: (1/5) Jennifer J. Chow, (1/12) Amy Pershing, (1/19) Heather Weidner, (1/26) Marilyn Levinson.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

How Bad Is Your Bad Guy? by Connie Berry


 I was invited to Zoom-in to a book club recently. They’d read one of my books that month and wanted to meet the author. One question surprised me and made me think. In the book they’d read, I’d set up some red herrings that pointed for a time to a likable character as the killer. A member of the book club said, “I really thought (s)he might be guilty. I was so upset I almost stopped reading.”

Fortunately, she didn’t stop reading. But the question made me think about bad guys in crime fiction. How bad should they be? Is it a mistake to make them too bad or too likable?

The first thing to say is, if there is a correct answer to this question, I don’t have it. What I do have are a few thoughts.

New authors are frequently told to create fully rounded characters. Our protagonists aren’t perfect. They have faults, flaws, fears, and failings like all people—or should have. These human imperfections make them characters readers can identify with. Faults can deepen the backstory, ramp up the tension, create opportunities for change and growth, and create interest.

But how about our bad guys? Nobody (or almost nobody) is completely bad without any redeeming qualities whatsoever. Well, maybe there are such people (Hitler comes to mind), but they are so unique that they become literal icons of evil. With the possible exception of some international thrillers, few mysteries feature bad guys that awful.

So, do we humanize the killer?  Does he save a litter of abandoned kittens or send a portion of his ill-gotten gains to a charity for the homeless? How much is too much? How can you make your bad guy human and yet deserving of his fate?

Knowing there are always exceptions to the rule, here are my thoughts:

1. Bad guys are usually self-deceived.

Very few people believe they are horrible human beings. They think they have good reasons for doing what they’re doing—getting revenge, for example, or making up for what they see as life’s unfairness. They got a raw deal. They deserve more than life has given them. One way to humanize a bad guy is to show his actions, however evil, as understandable and acceptable to himself: “I have good reasons for doing what I’m doing.”

2. Bad guys can actually have good reasons for doing bad things.

I just watched an episode of a crime drama on TV in which the killer did what she did to protect someone she loved. Maybe someone is holding her child hostage or he’s a victim of blackmail. If his secret is made public, innocent people would be harmed. Yes, he must be stopped, but his downfall leads to the real bad guys behind the scenes.

3. Bad guys might be the victims of circumstances.

In real life, people can start down a wrong path in life because of events not in their control—inherent deficits, an evil environment, the bad choices of others, adverse conditions, poverty. But you don’t want your bad guy to be a complete victim. In that case, bringing him to justice won’t feel like a satisfying resolution. If your bad guy is the victim of circumstances, give him at least one moment when he is forced to make a choice: “Do I continue down this path, or do I stop right now and choose another path?” Most readers of crime fiction like an ending with order restored and justice prevailing.

4. Bad guys can be mentally off-kilter.

This one can easily be overdone. Creating a scenario where insanity is the only motivation for evil is a cop-out. Even if your bad guy is mentally ill, he should have believable reasons for his actions, and his illness should be understandable and realistic. An interesting resource for mental disorders and phobias is the DSM Guide (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders), found in most libraries. You can also consult online websites such as www.psychiatryonline.org. If you’re going to use a mental disorder, at least make it interesting and believable.

5. Bad guys can sometimes be redeemed.

There’s always hope, right? If your bad guy has a really pathetic backstory or is the victim of circumstances, readers will agree he must be punished, but they will also accept and applaud his redemption at the end—even if it comes too late to save him.

Those are my thoughts on the characters we love to hate.

What are your thoughts?

Can a bad guy be too bad to be believable? 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

An Interview With Marilyn Levinson/Allison Brook

by Grace Topping

 

One of the pleasures of being a member of the mystery writing community is attending writers’ conferences and spending time with the friends you make there. Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to meet up regularly with Marilyn Levinson, writing also as Allison Brook, at conferences like Sleuthfest and Malice Domestic. Marilyn is also a regular contributor to Writers Who Kill. It was a delight to read the latest book in her Haunted Library series, Death on the Shelf,and to learn more about her and her series.

 

Death on the Shelf


Clover Ridge librarian Carrie Singleton is thrilled to attend her best friend Angela's wedding, but Angela's family can be a bit...much. Angela’s wealthy cousin Donna hosts an extravagant bridal shower at her resplendent home, but the celebrations turn to gossip as the guests notice Donna's surgeon husband, Aiden, spending a bit too much time with Donna’s cousin Roxy. At the wedding reception, the sweet occasion turns darkly bitter when Aiden topples into the chocolate fountain - dead. 

The suspect list is as long as the guest list, and as difficult to sort out as the seating chart. A few of the top contenders on Carrie’s suspect list are the flirtatious Roxy, emotionally unstable since her recent divorce; Angela's grouchy brother, who feels Aiden betrayed him; and Roxy's scorned ex-husband. Even Donna may have had reason to want her husband dead. And Aiden's gossipy office manager has plenty to say about them all. 

Then another member of Angela's family is murdered, making Carrie more determined than ever to find the killer. Can library ghost Evelyn and library cat Smoky Joe help Carrie solve the murders before she becomes the next of Angela’s wedding guests to head to the grave?

 

 

Welcome, Marilyn.

 

Since you first introduced Carrie Singleton in your Haunted Library series with her purple hair and goth appearance, she has evolved considerably. What accounted for this?

 



When Carrie came to stay with her great-aunt and uncle in Clover Ridge, she was unhappy and lacking a sense of belonging anywhere. Her goth appearance reflected her lack of purpose. As soon as she is offered the position of head of programs and events at the Clover Ridge Library, she settles into her job and proves to be a hard worker and a responsible citizen. 

 

Evelyn, the library ghost, provides Carrie with information about people in the community, but she is unable to identify villains or directly help Carrie solve a crime. With Evelyn being in the great beyond, why can’t she do more?

 

Evelyn holds back information when it reflects badly on her two nieces and nephew. She has no more knowledge regarding a murderer's identity than Carrie does. However, Evelyn is in her mid-sixties and occasionally offers thirty-year-old Carrie advice about life in general.

 

Death on the Shelf features a bridal shower, a wedding, and a murder at the wedding. People love weddings. Did you have to walk a fine line with having the crime happen at the wedding and with who died?

 

I felt a bit bad about having a wedding guest die during Angela and Steve's wedding. But the murder takes place near the end of the reception and is comical in a noirish way. Of course the murder brings a good deal of anguish to Angela and her family because the victim is a relative and the murderer might also be a relative.

 

Having a cat at the library seems to be popular with most of the library patrons and with readers. Have you known of a library cat? Are you a cat owner?

 

Alas, my Sammy died a year and a half ago. I love cats and thought that Smoky Joe, being the sociable feline that he is, would make a wonderful library cat. In Read and Gone he even helps solve a mystery.

 

In each of your books, we have followed Carrie’s relationship with her parents. In Death on the Shelf, Carrie has developed a closer relationship with her father. What accounted for that? Do you think Carry will ever be able to fully bridge her relationship with her mother?

 

Carrie always adored her father, but being a thief, Jim Singleton spent a good deal of Carrie's childhood away from the family. He makes a startling reentry into her life in Read and Gone, the second book in the series. At first Carrie is very wary of rekindling their relationship for fear of getting hurt again. But Jim is determined to atone for his past behavior. He gives up his life of crime, and he works at establishing a solid relationship with Carrie. Ironically, Jim gets a job at   the investigative agency of which Carrie's fiancé is part-owner. 

 

Carrie's mother Linda is another story. She's self-centered, rather pretentious, and not very maternal. In Checked Out For Murder, Linda and her husband Tom come to Clover Ridge because Tom is in a movie being filmed there. Carrie ends up having her mother as a house guest for a short time. While the two women don't suddenly become bosom buddies, Carrie realizes that her mother does love her. She begins to accept that Linda will never be the warm, selfless mother she wishes she were. 

 

With five books in this series, how are you able to keep the series fresh?

 

While the series continues the ever-evolving development of Carrie and her relationships with friends, colleagues and relatives, I consider each book a new adventure that deals with a different theme, a new set of problems, and a murder or two. And of course each book introduces new characters. I've been told by many readers that each book stands on its own. Someone could enjoy reading Death on the Shelf, for example, without having read the previous four books.

 

I really enjoyed your Twin Lakes and Golden Age of Mystery Book Club mystery series. Do you ever see yourself adding to those series? Any thought about a possible new series?

 

I would love to continue my Twin Lakes and Golden Age of Mystery Book Club series, but I can only write one book at a time, and right now I'm focusing on the Haunted Library series.  I do have an idea for another series, and I would like to try my hand at writing mystery short stories.

 

With your experience writing for children and your expertise in Spanish, have you ever considered writing children’s books in Spanish?

 

Not really.

 

What is the one thing that has contributed the most to your career as a writer?

 

Perseverance. I kept on writing despite receiving rejections. Becoming a marketable writer is a process that comes from years of writing.

 

What has been the best thing for you about being a writer?

 

I love communicating with readers via Facebook and other social media. Knowing that readers are enjoying my books and are eager to read more of them inspires me to write.

 

What’s next for Carrie and Dylan?

 

I'm about to start writing book number seven. Carrie and Dylan are engaged and looking forward to their future together. Dylan travels to the Chicago area to retrieve a painting he has inherited, which turns out to be more problematic than he expects with murder and art fraud on the horizon. 

 

Thank you, Marilyn.


Buy link: https://bit.ly/36OkDrG


website: http://www.marilynlevinson.com

 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

It's Bond. Vaga Bond by Martha Reed

Over Christmas break, I told my friends and family about some recent lifestyle changes that I’ve made. Once they got over their shock, they said I should share my new rootless retirement lifestyle experience because other writers might be interested in hearing the details of what I’ve set up and in doing something similar.

So, here we go.

Vagabond: (n) A person who wanders from place to place without a permanent home. (adj) Having no settled home.

First off, I’ve already started living this way, so some of this narrative may be catch-up and backstory. I’ll keep that brief, but if you do have specific questions, leave them in the Comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them. I promise to share the things I uncover living this way, the good with the bad, and all in their unvarnished truth. With humor, of course. I must have my humor. It keeps me sane.

What am I doing?

On December 8, 2021, I sold my Crescent Heights, St. Petersburg FL home. On December 9th, I started living in short-term (7-14 day) VRBO and Airbnb rentals on a bi-monthly basis, living my life online, and digitally.

Why am I doing this?

When I retired in July 2020 after forty years in corporate world, I had promised myself that I would write full-time, which I am doing. That said, continuing to own a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house after retiring made zero financial sense. When I considered downsizing to a smaller condo unit, I followed that logic out until not owning anything at all seemed to be the brightest idea, so I’m giving it a try. Plus, I love travelling and exploring new locations. Living a vagabond retirement life gives me the freedom to do it.

How am I doing this?

It took some organizational effort, but it wasn’t impossible. After purging my “stuff” for my recent multiple moves, I’ve stored the little that’s left (e.g., mostly books) in a climate-controlled secure storage unit. I’ve organized the storage unit so that any writerly materials that I may need like my book inventory for hand sales at festivals and conventions are located near the front of the unit, easily accessed. The storage unit offers gated 24/7 access.

Any remaining personal accounts can be checked via apps on my phone. Any documents or statements that I might need (and there are few) are e-delivered to my Gmail account. USPS snail mail is forwarded to my new UPS mailbox which offers a street address to allow for Amazon package deliveries. Even with that, when a package arrives, I get a text message about it on my iPhone.

It’s been two months, and so far, it’s working. As a modern-day writer, I’ve realized that all I really need is my laptop, my iPhone, a WIFI connection, and my creativity. Because I’m a first-born Taurus, to be double-safe I’ve added a mobile WIFI hotspot to my phone service, just in case. I was a senior project manager. I can’t turn it off.

How does this tie into my writing life?

I’m thrilled that this digital lifestyle is letting me focus on my writing including improving my social media efforts and presence. It did take some time to wrap my head around the fact that I’m now free to write whatever I like whenever I like instead of whenever I could. I used to carve out sacred writing time every morning and on weekends and fit my projects around my corporate work schedule. With retirement, I’m clear of those constraints. I have even more time now without the household maintenance chores. It’s liberating.

With great freedom comes great responsibility. I’ve heard other writers talk about putting themselves in ‘book jail’ to finish a writing project when up against a deadline. Living my vagabond life is like being in book jail 24/7 where I’m not only the prisoner; I’m the warden, too. (Go figure. It’s a left brain/right brain thing.) But because my days are free to be filled now as I see fit, I need to discipline myself to keep doing the writing and not fritter away my free time. Fortunately, I love working with words so having more time to do that is an extra bonus.

Post your questions and comments. I’ll do my best to answer them.

Monday, January 24, 2022

A Hypochondriac’s Guide to Surviving COVID by Nancy L. Eady

I gave up reading about disease symptoms online about the time I read up on the symptoms of bubonic plague and decided (wrongly) I was coming down with it.  However, with the advent of the COVID pandemic, I find at least one news story a day which sets out the current list of possible symptoms. As I told someone at work weeks ago, if I got tested and isolated myself every time I thought I might have COVID, I would no longer be employed.

So, it is ironic that the time I finally tested positive for COVID is the time I went to get help with something else. I suffer from an IGG deficiency, which means the memory in my immune system isn’t always great. It’s really just a fancy way of saying that if I get a cold or a sniffle anytime in the winter, I end up with bronchitis. And in true January fashion, I had every sign I was headed there—the congestion, the drainage, the sore throat and the coughing. And with IGG, the only way to stave off  bronchitis is to take antibiotics.

Tuesday, January 11, found me setting off in search of an urgent care. Little did I know one would be hard to find. The first place I tried (note, I arrived there five minutes before it opened at 8 a.m.) had no openings before 5 p.m. that day. The second place I tried, where I arrived 20 minutes after they opened, was already closed for the day because they had filled all their appointments. I tried one other place, which wasn’t any better, so I bit the bullet and drove the two hours back to the town where the Alex City branch of my work is located.  The Alex City hospital’s urgent care could see me after a mere two and a half hour wait. They insisted on testing me for COVID and darned if I didn’t test positive. The doctor there loaded me up with a bunch of prescriptions, told me to stay home for five days, and wished me well.

The good news is that IGG patients, at least this one, apparently don’t develop bronchitis with COVID. We cough like we’ve got bronchitis, mind you, but we don’t have it. But this fatigue stuff is for the birds. No matter how sick I have been with anything, I have always been able to read and write. Always. Until now. COVID fatigue is like trying to push a thought through cold molasses. The thought is there, somewhere, but you just can’t get it to filter through. And somewhere in the middle of searching through the molasses for the thought, you end up falling asleep. I have slept more and written less the last 2 weeks than ever before.

I am slowly climbing out of the Sargasso Sea I have found myself stuck in. I am distressed by how conflicting the information out there is about when I will finally be done with this mess. Three different people told me I should keep getting tested until I test negative, and two different urgent cares told me there was no point in getting tested again because I could test positive even 90 days from now but that was okay because no matter how I feel, I’m no longer contagious. Now, I just tell the armchair quarterbacks trying to call plays I am following doctor’s orders.

So, I’m going to be grateful I am getting better, no matter how slowly, and be thankful I have been able to keep a steady supply of DayQuil and NyQuil to get me through it. Now it looks like it’s time for me to take another nap…

Have you had to deal with COVID yet? What was your experience? 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

If Your Dreams Don’t Scare You

By Annette Dashofy 

When Sidney Poitier passed away earlier this month, I saw a meme with the quote, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough,” attributed to him. Research shows the same quote attributed to various others as well.


 Whoever said it, thank you. 

For the last year and a half, I’ve ventured away from the known and the comfortable. A new agent. A new publisher. A foray into indie publishing as well. Change is almost always a mixture of excitement and trepidation. There have been ups and downs as I’ve tread new territory, but overall, the ups have prevailed. 

As 2022 begins, I’ve mapped out my writing business plan: marketing and promoting my next release in May, working on a second draft of a new book/new series, and outlining the next Zoe Chambers Mystery. 

It’s the outline that’s vexing me. 

My goal is to plot and research the story in January so I can buckle down and pound out the first draft in February and March. I already had the seed of an idea for it—two sentences I’d jotted down more than a year ago. But as I flesh out that nugget of a plot, I realize that what started out as a simple (two sentences!) story is anything but. 

For one thing, the entire novel (sans epilogue) takes place in less than twenty-four hours. The stakes start out high and ratchet up and up again. It’s not a traditional whodunit although finding a murderer and a missing little girl are at the heart of it. True, we don’t know the identity of the killer, but there are no red herrings. There are, however, obstacles galore. 

This will be the twelfth in the Zoe Chambers series and my thirteenth or fourteenth published novel. And it is scaring the heck out of me. I shared the plot with my husband and even he said, “That’s going to be hard to write.” Ha. No kidding. But he also pointed out that with so many books already out there, it would be a good time to push the envelope. 

That’s when I spotted the Sidney Poitier meme. “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.” I sat back in my chair, stared at those words, and felt a wave of relief. 

This new book has been rattling around in my head for a while. Am I a good enough writer to do it justice? I don’t know. But I’m not going to back down from my dream. 

Maybe Mr. Poitier didn’t say those words, but I’m grateful to the person who did. I’m also grateful to whoever posted that meme to honor his passing because that was exactly what I needed to see at that moment. 

Are you facing any projects or dreams that scare you? Are you going to tackle them anyway? 

Saturday, January 22, 2022

A Cause to Celebrate by Kait Carson

I consider myself a fiction writer. Currently I spend my days drafting devious plots and killing people (in books and stories). I’ve dabbled in romance, and am noodling around with a paranormal plot.

 

My adult writing life began with none of these. It began with responding to a call from Chicken Soup for the Soul[1]. They were seeking essays on—dare I say it—menopause. This was back in the days when Jack Canfield was involved with the franchise and Soup books were on everyone’s gift list. That was followed by a sale to the Cup of Comfort series. In my case, Cup of Comfort for Cat Lovers[2]. Both books were published in 2008 and they gave me the confidence to think I could do this writing thing I loved so much.

 

I soon morphed into fiction writing and then life, and a fuller than full-time job got in the way. It’s been a while since I’ve published anything new. Been writing, just not moving ahead from there. With the arrival of the pandemic, my day job departed. I returned to full-time writing. Here’s the deal with that: 1) it takes a while to write a book 2) writing is like a muscle. Use it or lose it. Oh, it comes back, but I’m the first to admit that my initial drafts were hot messes. I’m getting better now. And having fun again, but I admit to an initial crisis of confidence.

 

Enter my husband. He innocently came into my office to find out what all the moaning was about. I talk to myself? Do you? Wait, maybe I shouldn’t admit that. Oh, too late. Anyway, my office walls sport the covers from both the Chicken Soup and Cup of Comfort books. After listening to me rant for a bit, my husband pointed at the framed covers and asked why I didn’t write some short essays again. “You know,” he said, “to get your feet wet.”

 

The Cup of Comfort series is now a Simon & Schuster imprint. They may do submission calls, but I wasn’t able to find any. Chicken Soup, on the other hand, has a robust webpage, and it lists multiple submission calls. One topic, Believe in Angels appealed more than the others. I had been touched by an angel when I was in college. The episode probably saved my life. I wrote the essay in one sitting. A few months later, I received an email accepting my essay. The book is releasing on Monday, and if you are so inclined, you can order your copy here. Truly, a cause for celebration!

 



[1] Written as Kim A. Hoyo

[2] Written as Kim H. Striker


Friday, January 21, 2022

FFT by Warren Bull


                                                                                FFT


My thanks to Brene Brown 

Thanks to Brene Brown for the concept of FFT, which stands for Freaking [insert bad word here] First time. For writing and for every other human endeavor when we start anything new you have to slog ahead through uneasiness and doubt until they eventually disappear. There rocky patches, mud holes and and potholes just like there were when you were a kid learning to ride a bike after the training wheels were removed.  

This applies to little things as well as big things like a change in marital status. We can get so scared of being vulnerable and discombobulated that we start to avoid trying new things. It is easy and comfortable to rely on what we know already. But then we stop growing. 

So what can we do? Brown suggests naming it. Why do my insides feel like bread pudding right now? Oh, this that %$#*^ FFT. The unnamed has power over us. Remember He Who Cannot Be Named? He drew power from fear and by staying unnamed.

Once named, the FFT can be shrunk back into proportion. "Oh, you again. I have met and conquered you before. As long as I keep my expectations in touch with reality, I can get through this nasty passage like I have before. If this FFT is truly a horrible FFT. Okay, it is miserable and... it is as bad as it gets.

My latest FFT was putting together a video of songs I wrote for a Portland, Oregon open arts festival named Fertile Ground. I learned to make short videos because recitals I was in were taped due to COVID canceling live performances. I learned, kicking and screaming because if I wanted to be in recitals, and I did, I had to learn how to get them on video.

Living where I do, I knew I could supply the piano and an audience. That was easy to lock down. But for this horror, I knew I had to find people to do what I cannot do. I needed someone to play the piano, sing the mezzo-soprano part, and film the concert.  

My approach was two-fold. I worried in sequence.  For example, I needed to have the pianist and the other singer before I needed to find a filmmaker. And I decided to do what I wanted to do least as the first step in each sequential task. I tend to avoid unpleasantness because it is unpleasant. Each piece of every task got easier and less bothersome as I progressed. 

I worked through my family members, music teachers, and friends seeking a singer. They all had excellent reasons for turning me down. Really, they did and they offered connections that led to me finding a great singer. Through friends, I had met an underground filmmaker who once cast me in a movie. (My character had no lines, but he did have a name, and the maybe ten-second scene of me waving at some of the main characters is in the movie. If you ever see it, don't blink during the restaurant scene or you'll miss me.)     

The video is done. It is thirty minutes long and actually fun to watch, in my opinion. I still have a Meet The Press moment and a press release to write. When the whole thing is over, I will have another FFT to use for next time.  I might even decide it was all worth it. Eventually.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Some Thoughts for the New Year by Marilyn Levinson

Happy 2022, Everyone! I'm not one for making New Year's resolutions. It's not that I consider my lifestyle to be perfect but I eat properly, exercise regularly, and get my manuscripts to my editor on time. I could resolve to write first thing every morning before checking my email and Facebook sites instead of getting in a few hours before dinner, but my pattern is set and it works well enough. I stay in touch with friends and family. I get enough sleep and I keep up with doctors' appointments and necessary shots. What I needed, I soon realized, was to simplify my life—cut down on activities and delete what wasn't working in my life.

With that in mind, I withdrew my membership from a group of mystery writers I'd joined at its inception a few years ago. I liked the idea of being part of a group whose purpose was to support one another and promote each others' books in various ways. I grew to like the members very much but after a while began to wonder if the group was working for me. Very few members were writing cozies like me and most were indie-published, which I'm not. I had certain obligations to the group, which I fulfilled, but rarely volunteered to fill positions, which made me feel bad for not giving it my all. And I wasn't giving it my all, I realized, because I wasn't fully invested in the group's activities. And so I left.

I'm at an age where I have to choose my activities because whatever I do takes a bit more time and a bit more effort. I soon realized that I was putting pressure on myself in ways that had nothing to do with other people. Oddly enough, this had to do with my evening, which is my so-called "free time" because I don't do any work related to writing. But being goal-oriented I feel obliged to remain busy. Accomplish. Some of the activities that have to be done and accomplished involve going through two newspapers online, working a crossword puzzle, watching a few streaming shows, then read or listen to a book—and do some knitting if my hands don't hurt. Needless to say, these "accomplishments" keep me occupied till after midnight. Of course I enjoy doing them, but why the pressure? Why the urgency to see all, read all, do all? Who cares how many of the series, movies and books my friends recommend I get to enjoy as well? The point is, I have to learn not to care.

It's time I learned to relax. Not feel obliged to load up my schedule so that every minute is spent in a worthwhile endeavor. I'm well past the age of retirement and entitled to simply sit and daydream occasionally without mentally working on my plot. I need time and space to just . . . be.


Wednesday, January 19, 2022

An Interview With Heather Weidner

by Grace Topping

Setting is often such an intricate part of a story it can almost be viewed as another character. Heather Weidner’s novels and short stories showcase charming Virginia settings and make them so appealing you’ll want to spend your next vacation there. In Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers, Heather introduces us to the world of glamping and campground resorts—in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. 

 

Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers: A Jules Keene Glamping Mystery

 

There is nothing like finding a dead body, clad only in a red satin thong, on your property to jolt you from a quiet routine. Jules Keene, owner of the posh Fern Valley Camping Resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is thrust into the world of the Dark Web when one of her guests, Ira Perkins, is found murdered in the woods near her vintage trailers. Jules quickly discovers that the man who claimed to be on a writing retreat was not what he seemed, and someone will go to any length to find what he left at her resort. Jules, along with her Jack Russell Terrier sidekick Bijou, has to put the rest of the missing pieces of a blackmailing scheme together before her business is ruined.

Jules’s resort, set in the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville in the quaint town of Fern Valley, offers guests a unique vacation in refurbished and upcycled vintage trailers. Hoping to expand her offerings, she partners with her maintenance/security guy to create a village of tiny houses, the latest home DIY craze, but a second murder of a reporter interrupts Jules’s expansion plans. Curiosity gets the best of her, and she steps up her sleuthing to find out what Ira Perkins was really up to and what he was really hiding at her resort.

                                                                                                www.amazon.com

 

 

Welcome back to Writers Who Kill, Heather.

 

I found the mystery featured in Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers intriguing and a bit frightening, but at the same time, I was fascinated by the concept of glamping. Is that something new? 

 

Glamping has been around a while. It’s “glamorous” camping, and it comes in all kinds of flavors. I’m not a roughing-it kind of gal, so luxury accommodations in the woods were appealing to me. I’ve seen upcycled trailers, posh yurts (large round tents), oversized tents, tree houses, and tiny houses. This site documents a variety of experiences with some really interesting photos. After being home so long during the pandemic, I can’t wait to go on an adventure.

 

The Fern Valley Camping Resort, tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, sounds like a terrific place for a short visit or an extended stay, especially in order to write a book. Do such resorts actually exist, or is it a product of your imagination?

 

They do. My husband does a lot of restoration projects (e.g. classic cars, campers, boats, houses…), and we watch a lot of DIY programs on TV and YouTube. I came across one a few years ago from California where a couple restored vintage trailers. They sold a lot of them to a resort in California’s wine country. I was doing some research this week for a book, and I found another resort like this in Oregon’s wine country. I made up Fern Valley. It’s based on a traditional campground that my aunt and uncle owned near Crabtree Falls in Virginia in the 1970s.

 

You mention just a few of the vintage trailers Jules Keene and her father refurbished and rent to resort guests. Have you always been interested in vintage trailers that you were able to incorporate your knowledge into the story, or did it take a lot of research? Is there a big market for refurbished trailers? 

 

I fell in love with the idea that people save these campers and their history from the scrap heap. A lot of the post-WWII campers were part of the American driving and camping craze in the 1940s and 50s. These campers, especially the quirky ones with fins and rocket-like designs, spawn a lot of fond memories. I love stories, history, and pop culture, so they became a way for me to share some of these moments from our collective culture. It’s a lot of fun to research and theme Jules’s trailers and tiny houses. Besides the ones decked out in honor of Virginia’s flora and fauna and a fishing-themed one, Jules has themed campers for James Dean, Barbie, Elvis, Area 51, Robin Hood, and Lucille Ball.

 

Some of these trailers sound quite small and without a lot of conveniences that would make for a luxurious stay. Still, it sounds like guests would tolerate a lack of space and features for the opportunity to stay in one the trailers or in the tiny houses Jules and Jake are building. What is the draw?

 

I am fascinated with the tiny spaces. Jules and Jake did their best to modernize each of the campers with posh amenities like wine chillers, luxury linens, and lots of technology gadgets for the modern visitor. She also plans events and themed vacations at the resort like wine tastings, decadent dessert tastings, book events, nature hikes, and crafting weekends to attract visitors who want to have experiences as part of their get-away. 

The tiny houses are TINY. They typically range from 400 to 1,100 square feet. The ones that are made to be portable have to fit within one car lane on the highway. The creators of these spaces do a fantastic job of building storage and useful space in some interesting places. A lot of furniture folds away, staircases often have storage under them, and the buildings are designed to maximize wall space for practical use and decoration. To live in one full-time, you definitely need to have a minimalistic lifestyle. I have too many books and collections right now, but I would love to have one as a writing space in my yard.

 

While trying to solve two murders, Jules still comes up with ways to attract tourists to the small town of Fern Valley. So much so, she’s encouraged to run for president of the town’s business council. Your ideas in this story and in your other books show a real talent for business. Are you a natural entrepreneur?

 

I’ve dabbled through the years. (And I think you have to be an entrepreneur to be a writer and marketer of your works.) I’ve been a technical writer, graphic designer, editor, college professor, software tester, special events coordinator, and IT manager through the years. A lot of my work life and experiences seep into my writing.  

 

The motive for the murders in your mystery is so heinous it involves both the local police and the FBI. Without providing readers with spoilers, was the reason for the blackmailing something that could actually happen?


This one is scary, and it could very easily happen. I’ll put on my IT manager hat and remind people to be safe out there. There are a lot of bad actors who are looking to take advantage of folks. Make sure that you patch and update your computer regularly. Attacks, hacks, and malware are on the rise (exponentially) since folks started working at home. Don’t click on links. This makes it too easy for the bad guys to gain access to your system. Also, be careful who you friend (and give access to your information) on social media. Sometimes, they use this to gain information on you and your other friends. If something looks or smells fishy, it probably is. 

I was at an IT conference in Florida a few years back (before the plague), and I attended several sessions on Bluetooth and other technologies. All of these IoT (Internet of Things) products are amazing because of the tasks they can do. We now have personal assistants, refrigerators that can tell you when you’re low on milk, smart cameras and thermostats, and medical devices that provide real-time data to your doctor. But unfortunately, there are bad actors out there who use this technology in ways for things it was not intended. Without protections, all of these devices can easily be hacked (and often controlled). I love technology, but the thought of the unintended consequences makes me want to hide under the bed. Be careful out there. It’s a dangerous world sometimes, but it provides material for all kinds of mysteries and thrillers.

 

Jules shares her life with Bijou, her Jack Russell Terrier. Dogs feature prominently in your books and short stories. Are dogs special in your life? 

 

Our dogs have always been part of our family. We share our home with a brother-sister team of Jack Russell terriers, Disney and Riley. Disney’s the model for Bijou. They are spunky, adventurous dogs who love long walks around the lake, any kind of snack, and chasing the hundreds of squirrels that live in our yard. And they make great, fuzzy coworkers. They have beds in my office, and they help me plot and review dialog in my stories. They also photo-bomb Zoom meetings more frequently than I would like.

 

You’ve written a number of short stories featured in anthologies. Which do you find more challenging to write, short stories or novels? 

 

I like writing both, but I think short stories are more challenging to create. You have a condensed amount of space and fewer characters. Every word counts. I like the challenge, and I tend to experiment more in the short story world. My short stories tend to be a little darker/edgier than my novels.

 

You set your novels and short stories in Virginia, where the settings almost become another character in your stories. How do the Virginia settings add to your stories?

 

I write where I know. I’ve lived in the Commonwealth my entire life. I grew up in Virginia Beach, and now we live outside of Richmond. Virginia has so much to offer – history, varied landscapes, cultural sites, and amazing restaurants. We’re centrally located on the East Coast, and you can get to the beach, mountains, or Washington, D.C. in a few hours. 

 

I enjoyed your Delanie Fitzgerald mystery series, set in Richmond, Virginia. Will we be seeing more of those?

 

Thank you so much. I finished the fourth book, which will be out this summer. It’s called Male Revues and Subterfuge. I also have a short story in Virginia is for Mysteries III, where Delanie, Duncan, Chaz, and Margaret appear. It’s set near the great Church Hill Tunnel disaster in Richmond, and we finally find out the truth about sleazy strip club owner Chaz Smith’s face tattoo.

 

What’s next for Jules Keene and her resort?

 

In book two, Film Crews and Rendezvous, Hollywood comes to Fern Valley, and the one stoplight town may never be the same. It launches this October, and Christmas Lights and Cat Fights will be out in 2023. 

 

Thank you, Heather.

 

 

Biography:

Through the years, Heather Weidner has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers is the first in her cozy mystery series, the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries. She also writes the Delanie Fitzgerald mystery series set in Virginia, and her Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries launches January 2023.

Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of CabernetDeadly Southern Charm, and Murder by the Glass, and her novellas appear in The Mutt Mysteries series. 

She is a member of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Chesapeake, and Guppy chapters, International Thriller Writers, and James River Writers. 

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers. 

 

Links:

Website and Blog: http://www.heatherweidner.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/HeatherWeidner1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HeatherWeidnerAuthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/heather_mystery_writer/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8121854.Heather_Weidner

Amazon Authors: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00HOYR0MQ

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/HeatherBWeidner/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heather-weidner-0064b233?trk=hp-identity-name

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/heather-weidner-d6430278-c5c9-4b10-b911-340828fc7003

 

Book Links:

Apple Books: ‎Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers on Apple Books

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Vintage-Trailers-Blackmailers-Heather-Weidner/dp/1685120369

Barnes and Noble: Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers by Heather Weidner, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)

BookBub: Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers: A Jules Keene Glamping Mystery by Heather Weidner - BookBub

BookShop: Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers a book by Heather Weidner (bookshop.org)

Booktopia: Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers eBook by Heather Weidner | 9781685120375 | Booktopia

FNAC: Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers - Dernier livre de Heather Weidner - Précommande & date de sortie | fnac

Goodreads: Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers by Heather Weidner | Goodreads

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/vintage-trailers-and-blackmailers

Target: Vintage Trailers And Blackmailers - By Heather Weidner (paperback) : Target

Thalia: Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers von Heather Weidner - eBook | Thalia

 

 

 

 

  

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

One Voice Instead of Many

 by Paula Gail Benson

Sadly, I’ve spent another year with very little access to theater (thanks to Covid and its variants). I saw a traveling company of the musical Anastasia, but opted for an aisle seat where I could leave easily if I felt uncomfortable amidst the crowd. I also attended two ballet performances, Dracula: Ballet with a Bite at Halloween and The Nutcracker just before Christmas. For those performances, I sat with a friend in the section for disabled or special needs. We had plenty of room and felt socially distanced.

My one opportunity to express myself theatrically was through submitting to an anthology published by Red Penguin Books. I highly recommend this small family-owned business to writers and readers. It is producing fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, poetry, and collections of material, both for youth and adults. In addition, once you have been published by Red Penguin, the publishers keep you connected with messages, podcasts, workshops, and writing groups. They are building a community of authors and it will be exciting to see how their methods help develop new and established writers.

The story that connected me with theater was for an anthology entitled, An Empty Stage: A Collection of Monologues. Since it was my first submission, I wanted to make a good impression. I also wanted to select a character that resonated and could be empathetic.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
I had just watched Cross Creek, a 1983 film featuring Mary Steenburgen, Peter Coyote, and Rip Torn. It was based on a combination of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ autobiographical work and her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Yearling. A lot of what became the film story did not accurately reflect life. Rawlings did not leave her husband to come to Florida. They arrived together, but Charles Rawlings did not take to the lifestyle as Marjorie did and finally left. Marjorie didn’t meet her second husband, hotelier Norton Sanford Baskin, as shown in the film, with her car breaking down and him fixing it.

What is interesting about the film, in that first scene, as Marjorie walks into town, an old timer sitting in a ladder-backed chair outside the general store directs her to the hotel and tells her she needs to talk with Norton Baskin. That old timer is in fact the real Norton Baskin, who is thanked in the film credits for all his technical assistance.

I began reading about Marjorie and Norton’s relationship. They spent a great deal of their married life separated since Marjorie bought property in New York and Norton remained in Florida. Norton resented being called “Mr. Rawlings” and Marjorie could be difficult, depending upon her mood and needs. In “The Man at Cross Creek It Wasn’t Easy Being Married to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: Just Ask Her Husband--Whose Story Isn’t in Any Book or Movie,” Danielle Flood, writing for the Sun Sentinel, spoke to Norton Baskin in 1985, learning about his impressions of the film as well as his tempestuous times with his wife. What is clear is that Norton ended up using all those people pleasing skills he learned in hotel management to help Marjorie and keep her on an even keel. After her death, he upheld her literary legacy. He also wrote her epitaph: “Through her writings she endeared herself to the people of the world.”

Norton Sanford Baskin

Red Penguin published my monologue, which I styled as being spoken by Norton Baskin. I placed him in the lobby of a hotel greeting guests and offering them a cool beverage. When he is recognized, he admits to having a brief role in a movie and then reveals he was married to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. He speaks about the tension in their relationship and says maybe what she liked best about him was that he kept to the hotel business and let her do the writing.

He says: “When my time comes, it will be enough to lie beside her, with only my name on the stone. Of course, it would be pleasant to have ‘Beloved Husband’ after my name. I think she might have considered me that.”

If you visit Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ grave in Antioch Cemetery, Lochloosa, Florida, you’ll see the words Norton Baskin had inscribed for her. His grave is beside hers. Below his name and the years he lived are the words: “Beloved Husband.” That became the title of my monologue.

 

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlingsgrave
Find a Grave

Norton Sanford Baskins grave
Find a Grave



Have you ever written or memorized a monologue? What did it tell you about the character?