Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Catching Up with Carla Damron

 by Paula Gail Benson

Carla Damron

Not so long ago, Carla Damron was one of our blogging partners here at Writers Who Kill. Today, she’s retired from a career as a social worker and is writing full time, which is great for all of us who love her work.

How Carla Spends Her Spare Time

I first met Carla as a member of a local writing group. Together, we’ve critiqued each other’s stories, served in leadership positions with the local Sisters in Crime chapter, and had some terrific times with extraordinary people.

Literary Titan described her recent novel on human trafficking, The Orchid Tattoo, as an “emotionally charged crime mystery filled with suspense and thrilling twists. It is a story that will stay in your mind for a long time after reading and will force you to question why we aren’t discussing the atrocities of human trafficking more often.”

I thought it was time to catch up with our friend and find out more about her life and work. Welcome back to Writers Who Kill, Carla!

What drew you to study psychology in college and how has that benefited your writing?

I’ve always been fascinated with how the mind works, so psychology was the right fit for me. As a writer, I love to explore the complexities of relationships and family dynamics, which draws from my social work and psychology backgrounds.

At what point did you decide to become a social worker?

Right out of a college, I got a job at a small mental health clinic where I worked with several social workers (my salary was a stunning $9,900 a year!!!). These clinicians taught me so much—I especially loved how the social work field views the person within the systems that affect them, including families, communities, and cultures. So I soon realized this was the right career path for me.

In your social work career, you served in various capacities and venues. You worked directly with clients then later shepherded an association and planned conferences. What were some of your most memorable moments?

I’ve worked with some fascinating clients who taught me more than any textbook ever did. Mostly they showed me the power of resilience and recovery, which I love to explore in my writing.

Later in my career, when I worked for the National Assn. of Social Workers, I spent time doing advocacy, which meant spending time with other advocates and policy makers.

I also visited the statehouse watching the “sausage” get made. I remember sitting in the gallery when legislators were debating the removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. One elderly representative fighting the removal kept proposing ridiculous amendments to delay the process. It was exhausting. And annoying. Suddenly, out of the blue, my phone decides to speak—Siri says, loudly, “I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU’RE SAYING!” in the middle of the Representative’s rant. I thought for sure they would kick me out, but instead we all just laughed.

What drew you to work with human trafficking victims?

I never did direct practice with survivors except for one mental health client. But during my advocacy work for stronger anti-trafficking legislation, I met survivors, advocates, law enforcement officers involved in combatting this crime. I heard story after story of how this crime ruins lives. I learned how common it was, right here in South Carolina, and how certain groups (like foster kids) are especially vulnerable. Emotionally, I needed to write about it. As an advocate, I needed to tell people what I’d learned.

Did it surprise you how pervasive human trafficking is?

Absolutely. There are 40.3 million human trafficking victims globally, and it is a 150-billion-dollar industry. In the US, there have been 40,000 cases reported to the Human Trafficking Hotline over the past ten years—and that’s a huge undercount. In South Carolina, the state human trafficking task force reports 277 known victims in 2022. Imagine what we don’t know about. It’s stunning. People can read more about it at www.polarisproject.org or www.a21.org.

Your protagonist in The Orchid Tattoo, or perhaps I should call Georgia Thayer one of your leading characters, is a social worker who is determined to find out what has happened to her missing sister. While strong and resilient, Georgia must cope with her own mental illness. How did you develop Georgia? Did she come to you as your mystery series protagonist Caleb Knowles did, a complete person, or did she evolve?

Georgia has been knocking around in my brain for several years, it just took a while to find her story. I wanted a protagonist who is feisty, smart, and struggling. Georgia hears voices but doesn’t let her mental illness define her. I thought it was important for a character in the mystery genre who has mental illness to NOT be a villain, but is a hero. Or rather, a shero! She’s also very flawed, or rather, very human, which makes her fun to write.

Kitten, the trafficking victim in The Orchid Tattoo, incredibly combats some truly tragic situations. How did you find the strength to write about her ordeal? How did you manage to keep readers engaged with her story?

Kitten never gives up. That’s what readers connect with. She is determined to escape the traffickers and never lets that awful life take her soul. You are right, she undergoes several challenging ordeals, but her quest for freedom is what keeps her going. I didn’t want her to be a tragic figure, I wanted her to be, in her own way, a warrior.

Why did you feel it was necessary to include a point of view from Lillian, the former victim who now works for the traffickers?

Because that happens in trafficking organizations. Some victims identify with the trafficker as a survival technique, and I wanted to explore that. Lillian is a victim who ends up running a brothel—and her evolution becomes an important engine in this story. Readers seem very fascinated with her.

As you’ve learned about human trafficking, you’ve worked with organizations that support victims. Could you tell us about those groups and how proceeds from The Orchid Tattoo are helping victims?

Doors to Freedom, a low-country organization, helps survivors of trafficking by giving them housing, counseling, rehabilitation, and job skills. I’m donating part of my royalties to them. Also, the survivors make jewelry!! I’ve been selling their bracelets at book events for them. 100% of money made goes to the artist. Folks can order them here: https://www.doorstofreedom.com/herbracelets

What’s on the horizon? Anything new planned for Caleb Knowles or the characters in The Orchid Tattoo?

Caleb is BACK!!! The fourth in this mystery series comes out later this year. In  Justice Be Done, Caleb tries to solve a murder that happens during race riots spawned by a hate crime.

I’m also drafting the sequel to The Orchid Tattoo—those characters stayed with me and wanted to be heard from again. Funny how that works!


Carla, thanks for visiting and feel free to join us anytime!

Brief Bio:

Carla Damron is a social worker, advocate and author whose last novel, The Orchid Tattoo, won the 2023 winter Pencraft Award for Literary Excellence. Her work The Stone Necklace (about grief and addiction) won the 2017 Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award for Best Novel and was selected the One Community Read for Columbia SC.

Damron is also the author of the Caleb Knowles mystery novels, including Justice Be Done, the fourth in this series. She holds an MSW and an MFA. Her careers of social worker and writer are intricately intertwined; all of her novels explore social issues like addiction, homelessness, and mental illness.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Mentors for a Reason, Season or a Lifetime by Debra H. Goldstein

Mentors for a Reason, Season or a Lifetime by Debra H. Goldstein

An unknown poet often is quoted in slideshows, Facebook posts, and books of thoughts to live by as writing: People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. For me, this idiom hasn’t proven true in the writing world. Instead, each writing mentor coming into my life fills all three roles. Each has been there for a specific project, element of writing, or modeling of behavior for an ongoing or defined period of time, but what I’ve learned from each will stay with me for a lifetime.

For example, when I attended my first Malice Domestic, in 2012, I found myself alone in an elevator with Carolyn Hart. I stumbled over my words as I tried to tell Ms. Hart how much I enjoyed her books and was delighted she was receiving the Amelia Award. She was most gracious, even when I tripped over my own feet backing out of the elevator. During the weekend, when she was interviewed, she did something none of the other honorees did – instead of touting only her own accomplishments, she plugged an up and coming writer (Terry Shames). At the Sisters in Crime breakfast, Carolyn and another New York Times bestselling author had a programming idea for the “We Love Libraries” project. Rather than demanding or assuming it be implemented, they asked my opinion as the initiative’s coordinator. I barely kept it together during our discussion. At the end of the conference, again together in an elevator, she kidded “We can’t Keep Meeting Like This,” and I replied, “You’re right, Carolyn.”
Although our paths subsequently crossed occasionally as acquaintances, I believe, even though the season was limited to that weekend, the reason for our interaction was to put me at ease at Malice and in the writing world. It was her example of a grounded personality and humility that will stay with me for a lifetime.

After reading “Thea’s First Wife,” I wrote my first fan e-mail to author B.K. Stevens. In the e-mail, I expressed my awe at the story and asked if she taught internet writing classes. She didn’t, but she wrote me a detailed note of things I should read and could do. We became friends. She was one of a group of people who encouraged me to have the guts to submit my work to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen. The last time we were together, before her untimely death, was at last year’s Malice conference when the new Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine issue provided to every attendee featured my story, “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place.”

A few weeks after the conference, I received a package from Bonnie which contained several copies of the issue and a note telling me she knew I’d want extra copies and that the story was award winning. Her words alone would have been a compliment, but I wish she could have known other writers and readers agree with her – “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place” is a finalist for this year’s short story Agatha Award.

Bonnie, or B.K., was only in my life for a few years, but reading her works taught me technique. Personally, she instilled confidence in me. Both things, and the hope of emulating her willingness to help other writers, will keep her with me for a lifetime.

When I was assigned to a panel with Bill Crider, my impression was of what an unassuming nice guy he was. His bio said he’d been a teacher and the calm way he came across belied that fact. Thinking he was a nice Joe, I invited him to write a guest post for my personal blog, “It’s Not Always a Mystery.” He agreed. A few months before his post was scheduled, another friend called to say my blog was cited in his Ellery Queen column as one that lived up to its name – it offered thoughts on writing and general life from Debra H. Goldstein and her friends. The week I wrote to remind him his promised piece was coming due, he responded he was appreciative of the reminder and would dash something off that day because he was going into the hospital for some testing the next day. I offered to forget his piece, but he wanted to fulfill his obligation. He sent me an excellent piece on writing, which I received while he was undergoing the tests that diagnosed his cancer. I printed the piece that week and reprinted it the week he announced that the doctors advised him the treatments were no longer working and he should enter hospice. (http://www.debrahgoldstein.com/guest-blogger-bill-crider-write-novel/ )

I can reread Bill’s lesson on writing and look at the mention in his column where, unsolicited from me, he gave my writing career a vote of confidence, but it was reading his posts about the VBKs and seeing how he handled himself during his final months that left an impact. Bill was humble, a gentle man and a gentleman. Again, an individual who came into my life for a reason, season, and a lifetime.

The writing world is filled with mentors. They don’t necessarily take inexperienced writers under their wings and teach particular skills, but the way they act, treat others, and live their lives impacts others in small and large ways that can last a lifetime.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

A Live True-Crime Experience by Sarah E. Burr

Anyone who has watched an episode of The Bookish Hour knows I am fascinated by true crime podcasts. I’ve even blogged about my favorite shows on Writers Who Kill. So, imagine my excitement when I got a text message from the incredible Ashley Flowers (podcast host extraordinaire) inviting me to attend her show, The Deck Investigates.

Okay, so I don’t know Ashley personally, and I have to assume she texted this news to all her Crime Junkies, but I digress.

Ashley is the founder of the award-winning media production company audiochuck, and the host of one of my favorite podcasts, Crime Junkie. She’s a huge genealogy DNA testing advocate and an all-around fantastic role model for young people. Two years ago, Ashley began investigating a case she thought she would feature on her cold-case podcast, The Deck. However, the 1984 murder of Darlene Hulse in Argos, Indiana, would send her down a wild and twisted. After reading the details of Darlene’s case, Ashley and her reporter, Emily, embarked on a journey to discover the truth behind Darlene’s death, a journey they are still on to this day.

As they explored the aspects of this crime, Ashley realized Darlene’s murder was much bigger than a single podcast episode. It was even bigger than an entire podcast. She wanted to share Darlene’s story with as many people as possible, so she launched The Deck Investigates, billed as a live true-crime documentary that unfolds right before its audience.

When I got tickets for The Deck Investigates tour, I wasn’t sure what I was signing up for other than a train ride into New York City in the middle of winter. The show took place at the Beacon Theatre, a gorgeous, intimate space, and I had pretty amazing seats. I honestly felt like I was getting ready to see a musical.

The feeling continued when Ashley walked out on stage. She was met with uproarious applause and cheers, and I must admit, it was pretty cool to see the woman I listen to every week sitting so close to me on a cute, cozy couch. Behind her, a giant projection screen shared an image of Ashley standing in a cornfield like a ‘90s grunge album cover. However, once Ashley began speaking, the excitement and fun that had saturated the room just moments before evaporated. We were all gathered here to learn the haunting details of a truly shocking crime. This wasn’t a Broadway show. This wasn’t an evening of fun and frivolity. This was a wake-up call that justice needed to be served.

Ashley laid out the case for her audience. She used her projector and three whiteboards stationed around the stage. She went through maps, schedules, mugshots, and crime scene photos. The details of the case were baffling. The evidence was jaw-dropping. Evidence that was both collected by the police and completely ignored by them.

As a cozy mystery writer, I try to avoid making law enforcement look incompetent in my books; my amateur sleuths are often involved in the mystery for personal reasons and take investigative avenues that the police cannot due to procedure. However, it is na├»ve to believe this happens in real life all the time. Darlene’s case will make you mad. This case will rattle your belief in our justice system. Darlene’s killer is getting away with murder because law enforcement members are not doing their job.

I left this live true-crime documentary feeling angry but also highly motivated. Why? Because even though law enforcement is not taking this case seriously, we have the power to hold them accountable. Ashley’s goal in sharing Darlene’s story was to raise audience awareness about how we can help move this case forward. And since she knew everyone couldn’t make her tour, she released The Deck Investigates, a fifteen-episode podcast, last week.

In the podcast, which I’ve since devoured, Ashley outlines the information she shared with her live audience but also reveals new information, witnesses, and suspects she and Emily have uncovered in recent months. Information and evidence they have tried sharing with Indiana law enforcement, but for whatever reason, action is not being taken. Evidence such as the killer’s DNA. Like, seriously, what?!

So, my post this month is to raise awareness about Darlene Hulse. Darlene was twenty-eight years old and a mother of three when she was murdered. Her three young girls witnessed their mother’s gruesome attack before thankfully managing to evade her assailant. I highly encourage you to check out The Deck Investigates and listen to their story.

If you’re not a podcast fan and just want to help, please visit https://darlenehulse.com and sign the petition to help pressure the Marshall County Prosecutor’s office to do its job and give this woman the justice she deserves.

Again, the website for the petition is https://darlenehulse.com. Thank you.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Setting the Stage by Lori Roberts Herbst

“Setting is the soul of your story…improve upon it, and it will take your writing to the next level.”—Ruth Ann Ridley


I have scuttled through a twisty topiary maze with a crazed psychopath at my heels. (The Shining, by Stephen King)


Beneath a tapestry of floating candles, I have savored a magical meal in the Great Hall of a school for wizards. (The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling)

On a passenger train in a remote area of Yugoslavia, I have bolted myself into my compartment and pressed my ear to the door, listening for a killer’s approach. (Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie)


In a crowded pub in Kilbane, County Cork, I’ve danced a jig and enjoyed a pint. (The Irish Village series, by Carlene O’Connor)


Strolling the smoky streets of Venice at dusk, I’ve searched the cobblestones for clues to a murder. (The Commissario Brunetti series, by Donna Leon)

I have contemplated life as I gazed at the snowy branches of a trio of pines trees in Quebec. (The Three Pines series, by Louise Penny)


These fictional journeys were made possible thanks to masterful authors and their skill at creating vivid, authentic settings. I strive to learn everything I can from their talent.


As a mystery writer, I know my stories won’t flourish without a solid plot, complete with a page-turning pace and a few twists along the path. And an engaging cast of characters is the core of any good series, leaving readers excited to visit these people (and animals) again and again.


But if plot and character serve as the foundation, setting gives the story wings. Whether it adds to the feeling of camaraderie or the sense of isolation, whether it offers comfort or produces anxiety, a story’s setting helps pose themes, reveal characters’ worldviews, and define the overall tone. 


Above all, great setting is immersive. As a reader, I love nothing more than getting lost in a book, and that is most likely to occur when I am absorbed into the location. A talented author has me inhaling the scent of pine, experiencing the pinprick of frigid air against my cheek, and listening to the whistle of the wind through the tree branches as dark clouds drift overhead. I become part of the story, walking alongside the characters as they maneuver their way through the plot. Setting should generate an emotional response—maybe positive or perhaps negative, but always captivating.


When I started writing my Callie Cassidy Mystery series, I had a setting in mind before a single character was born. I knew I wanted the books located in a mountainside village. My family had visited Estes Park many times, and it became the inspiration for the fictional Rock Creek Village that Callie and her family and friends inhabit. With that template in mind, I designed my own small town and nestled it into the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. 


But it turns out creating an interesting setting isn’t easy, nor is maintaining it. What are the changes we see each season? How does the place look at different times of the day? Who lives where, and whose shops neighbor each other? Above all, how do I keep describing the place in fresh ways?


Even deciding how much information to provide is a balancing act, one I’m still learning to navigate. As I write, I ask myself if I’m offering enough details that the reader can visualize the scene. Or am I painting too particular of a picture, thus robbing readers of their own imaginative contributions? After all, I want my readers to be part of the world building, so I need to allow room for some creative latitude. 


Negotiating those questions is part of the artistry of writing, and I’ll never completely master it. And thank goodness for that—otherwise, I might as well give up and let the AI software do all the work.


“I always strive to create a setting that leaves the readers’ imagination room to roam. That way, every reader sees the story through their own eyes.”—P.S. Bartlett


I shared some settings I love. Now, what are some of your favorites?

NEGATIVE REACTION, the newest book in the Callie Cassidy Mystery series, releases April 25. For more information, visit my website, www.lorirobertsherbst.com

Friday, March 17, 2023

Poker Face: A Review by Warren Bull


Image from Pixio

Poker Face: A Review by Warren Bull

Peacock Network has a new mystery show that caught my attention even though it is early in first season. Ten shows are planned. Like many earlier and successful television shows, it features a different crime every week.  It avoids de-populating a small town, by being a road trip.  

Award-winning Filmmaker, Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper, Star Wars, the Last Jedi, Knives Out, Glass Onion, A Knives Out Mystery, and Knives Out 3) created the series. Natasha Lyonne portrays Charlie Cale, a gravel-voiced, trailer park resident, and unofficial detective.

Charlie has the quirks and observational skills of Jessica Fletcher or Sherlock Holmes. Like Columbo, the question is not who killed whom, but how will they NOT get away with the crime. Unlike Columbo, Charlie has no police authority.  What’s worse, she is on the run herself from a crime family enforcer, Cliff Legrand, played by Benjamin Bratt. 

In the first episode, Charlie works as a waitress in a casino bar and lives more or less contentedly in a trailer only slightly better than the one Rockford owned.  The new casino manager, the son of a Mafia boss, is ineptly trying to keep up a legendary casino/resort. The audience gradually learns that Charlie works there as a result of a deal she made with the Mafia boss. She has a modest income and a home in return for not employing her remarkable skill. She can tell immediately and completely accurately when someone is lying. 

In the past, she haunted low to moderate poker games, where she won each game by using her skill.  Gamblers noted her success. The mob boss became intrigued and eventually figured out why she won so often. She was blacklisted from games. The boss negotiated a deal where she would never play poker and he would not kill her.

The Boss’s son discovers her ability.  He is angry that one of the casino’s biggest betters, known as “a whale” uses the casino for the site of unauthorized games of his own, cutting the casino out of the money made for sponsored games.  

Note: This is accurate. A few wealthy players attract action that all casinos covet. In the show, the son said his father gave him only two instructions before making his manager – “Keep the carpet clean and never upset a whale.”

A maid, cleaning the whale’s room and unaware that he is in the shower, walks in and sees the television running something on a videotape that the audience cannot see.  It shocks her profoundly.  She tells the manager, who assures her he will deal with the matter. He sends her home. 

The hotel security director, a mob enforcer, at the instruction of the manager, kills the maid, making it appear that her boyfriend murdered her and then committed suicide.

Meanwhile, the manager bugs and secretly has a camera put in the whale’s suite. He convinces Charlie to watch the high-stakes game and to tell him when the whale is lying so he can tell a competitor in the game and take the whale’s money. 

Charlie figures out the murder. Her encounter with the local police makes it clear they are working with the casino’s owner.  From there you can watch to show to see what she does and how she does it.

Suffice it to say she ends up on the road in her 1967 Plymouth Barracuda fleeing the mob enforcer.

At each stop along the road, she looks for a job that pays cash and does not ask questions.  At every stop she enlists local help to bring some sort of justice to the wrong-doers she unwittingly happens across.   

I find the concept original. The filming is much better than the average television quality.  Charlie is a fascinating character.

My highest recommendation for this show.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Some Thoughts on Writing Fiction by Marilyn Levinson

My non-writing friends think I'm lucky to be a writer because writing gives me a purpose that occupies my days. They know I'm part of a world filled with fellow authors, readers and publishers.

Being a writer means I always have projects that require my attention, often with a deadline. First and foremost is writing my current WIP—work in progress. I'm often working on edits for the book scheduled to be published in a few months. That requires a great deal of marketing: guest blogs, and interviews, posting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well as writing my monthly newsletter, and seeing to other tasks that arise and need my attention.

As a fiction writer, I am constantly learning. There are the electronic ABCs of being a writer: knowing how to post photos and stories all over the web. These "devices" like stories and reels keep on changing and we writers better keep up with these changes if we want readers to find out about our books. I'm still learning how to make changes on my website, and one day I'll learn how to make a YouTube webinar. For now, I'm content to be interviewed or part of a panel and having my host or hostess take care of putting them up for others to see.

The great thing about writing fiction is you're always creating something new. Honestly, it's kinda scary as well. I write mysteries, which means each book needs a new set of issues or problems, suspects and victims that are presented in a fresh, appealing way. This involves doing research on whatever subject that book is about. A few topics I've read up on are: bank robberies, how to tell a diamond from a fake, the correct order in a wedding procession, witch hangings in Connecticut, and art forgery. The array of topics that lend themselves to murder and mayhem is endless.

Like many fiction writers, my first attempts at writing were short stories. From there I went on to write novels for kids and then on to writing mysteries for adults. Since one of my children's books will come out in a new edition next month and I'll be following it up with three more books in the series, I've been thinking that many fiction writers write in more than one genre or form. While I write mysteries and books for kids, many of my fellow mystery authors write mystery short stories as well as novel. I suppose I started writing books for kids because I was home with my two sons; I began to write mysteries because I love to read them.

What's the difference between writing a book for kids and a book for adults? The only answer I can offer is that regardless of the type of book I'm writing, I'm in the protagonist's head and seeing things from his or her perspective. So if I'm in ten-year-old Rufus's head, I'm thinking like a ten-year-old who suddenly discovers his magical powers. If I'm inside thirty-year-old Carrie Singleton's head, I'm aware of her responsibilities as head of programs and events at the Clover Ridge Library and her aptitude for solving murders. I suppose my language level varies depending on what kind of book I write, but that happens naturally. I've never over-simplified my language in a kids' book. Just thinking as a person of a certain age takes care of that.

I've no idea why so many of my books include a paranormal element. This has always come about in a most natural way, going back more than twenty years when I first wrote my mystery, Giving Up the Ghost. A ghost plays a role in my Haunted Library series as well as in my kids' novel Getting Back to Normal. Rufus is a witch like his mother, grandmother, aunt and evil uncle. Perhaps there's no need to come up with a reason why I often include a paranormal element in my books since "other creatures" appear in our fairy tales and literature. Think of Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Topper, and Aladdin, to name a few. All part of our heritage and as real to us as Sherlock Holmes and Robin Hood.

Writing fiction is a delight. It's hard work. It's a privilege to create characters in stories that people will read and remember and talk about.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

An Interview with Joyce St. Anthony By E. B. Davis


As World War II rages in Europe and the Pacific, the small town of Progress is doing its part for the soldiers in the field with a war bond drive at the annual county fair. Town gossip Ava Dempsey rumors that Clark Gable will be among the participating stars. Instead of Gable, the headliner is Freddie Harrison, a B-movie star. When Freddie turns up dead in the dunk tank, Irene Ingram, editor-in-chief of The Progress Herald, starts chasing the real headline.
There are plenty of suspects and little evidence. Ava’s sister Angel, who was married to the dead actor, is the most obvious. The couple had argued about his affair with the young starlet Belinda Fox, and Angel was the last person to see Freddie alive.
Irene discovers there’s more than one person who might have wanted Freddie dead. As Irene draws on her well-honed reporter’s instincts to find the killer—nothing is what it seems in Progress, and now her own deadline could be right around the corner.




Death on a Deadline is the second book in Joyce St. Anthony’s (Joyce Tremel) Homefront News mystery series. I’m attracted to this series because it is set during WWII, which I know something about because my parents were in their twenties during this era. There are very few mystery series set during this time. Irene is a plucky main character groomed for her editor-in-chief job by her father, who volunteered to be a war correspondent. Like many young women who stood in for men during the war, it is a challenge and an opportunity for her, and she succeeds.


Please welcome Joyce back to WWK.  E. B. Davis

Thanks for having me!


What attracted you to this era to set your series?

     I’ve always loved the WWII era. I blame it on my mother listening to her Big Band records. Her favorite song was Glenn Miller’s String of Pearls. I grew up loving the sound, the clothes, the hairstyles—just about everything. I really wish those clothes would come back in style!


Like those new opportunities afforded women during WWI, WWII not only provided opportunities, but proved that women were indispensable to the war effort. Were they given more respect than the previous era?

     I think they were for the most part, but like some of the men in the newsroom at the Progress Herald, they didn’t like it much. It was more tolerated than respected at times. It opened a lot of eyes to what women could do.


If Irene’s parents had had a son, would Irene have been given the same opportunity to fill in for her father?

     That’s a tough question. I hadn’t really thought about it. I guess it would have depended on whether the son had an affinity for writing, editing, and running the paper. If he hadn’t worked there, I think Irene’s dad would still have put her in charge. He was pretty liberal for the times. It would also have depended on whether the son enlisted after Pearl Harbor, like most of the boys did. And I wrote the books, so I’d still put Irene in charge, lol.


Irene’s mother seems a quiet person, but she also has to be a product of the Victorian era. Is she supportive of Irene’s progressiveness or does she just stay out of the way?

     In the first book, Front Page Murder, Irene’s mother gives her a lot of grief over Irene working an “unladylike” job. She comes around a little bit in Death on a Deadline, but still expects Irene to quit the job as soon as the war is over, get married, and have babies. Irene’s not buying it.


Hollywood seems to have headed up the war bond drive. Was it done collectively by studio or actors guild?

     It was a collective effort by a lot of Hollywood stars. The Hollywood Victory Committee began on December 10, 1941, three days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The idea was to give stars who weren’t in the military a chance to contribute to the war effort. They would do bond drives, USO shows, and radio shows among other things. The first chairman of the committee was Clark Gable, who enlisted other actors to join in the effort. If anyone reads Death on a Deadline, you’ll see him mentioned on the very first page. The actual Hollywood Victory Caravan travelled across the country for two weeks in late April and early May 1942. I fictionalized the caravan a bit so it would fit into the story. There’s a fantastic book by Christian Blauvelt called “Hollywood Victory: The Movies, Stars, and Stories of World War II” that I highly recommend.


There are a number of young male actors like Kirk and Freddie. Why weren’t they drafted into service like the rest of the men?

     Some probably were, and some enlisted. Those who weren’t inducted were able to contribute in other ways like the Victory Caravan, other war bond drives, making movies and documentaries about the war, etc.


When Hollywood starlet Belinda Fox dresses and acts in a provocative manner, Irene’s mother is offended. Was overt sexuality by women a form of rebellion?

     Not necessarily. Women back then—and even earlier—weren’t much different than now. There’s just not as much stigma attached to being overtly sexual these days.


And yet—due to the need to conserve materials and fabric for the war effort, weren’t shorter hemlines encouraged?

     Clothing definitely became more streamlined during the war. Dresses went from mid-calf to just below the knee, fuller skirts to A-line, smaller lapels on jackets, etc. No silk or nylon stockings.


Did you base the character of Greta Gray on Hedda Hopper? Unbelievably, Hedda was born to a Pennsylvania Dutch family in Hollidaysburg, PA.

     Only loosely. Hedda Hopper was more likable and wasn’t purposely malicious. Greta is a nasty piece of work.


One of the problems Irene has when interviewing the suspects, most of whom are actors, is

that she doesn’t know if they are acting or not. Is it hard for people to trust actors? Like fiction writers, if they are good, everything they say could be made up.

     I don’t know any actors, but if they were any good, I imagine it would be hard to know if they were being truthful or not.


What did they do with blue and gold stars displayed in windows? Did the mothers form clubs?

     A blue star designates that the household had a family member in the service. There would be a star for each service member. A gold star meant a family member had been killed in action. There are blue and gold star groups across the country even today. You’ll still see those flags in people’s windows.


You start each chapter with a news headline. Are most of them real?

     All the war related headlines are real. It was not only a way for me to keep track of what day it was in the book, I thought it was a good way to inform readers about what had happened on those days. I used the Google News Archive to check various newspapers. The only fictional headlines were the ones related to the town of Progress and the goings on there.


Irene’s neighbor Richie becomes a war casualty after the Battle of Midway. His mother is in denial, and his sister becomes enraged at old classmate Eugene/Kirk Allen, who became an actor participating in the war bond rally. She contends he encouraged Richie to become a flyer. I was surprised. Did people play the blame game during WWII?

     I don’t want to give anything away, but there was a little more to Richie becoming a pilot than that. Richie’s sister also hadn’t realized that he’d always wanted to fly and Kirk wasn’t to blame. I’m sure the blame game happened on occasion. We all think that everyone supported the war effort, but if you dig into history, it wasn’t the case. Even after the attack on Pearl Harbor, there were still citizens who thought we shouldn’t get involved, and many were still in support of Germany.


Cousin Donny isn’t as contemptuous of Irene in this book. What happened? Did his ego get a needed boost?

     It did! He has a girlfriend now, which makes all the difference.


Irene’s friend Peggy seems content to play the sidekick. Will she be happy to become a homemaker/mother/wife after the war is over? How about Irene?

     I can see Peggy being a stay at home mom if she has children—at least for a while. Irene would never be content with it. At one point in the book she thinks if she ever has children she’ll just add a nursery to the newsroom. She is way ahead of her time!


Were there incidents of war bond money getting stolen from rallies?

     I’m not really sure. It’s one of those things that could have happened, though.


What’s next for Irene?

     I wish I knew! I was only contracted for the two books and I’m still waiting to hear if the publisher wants more. I really, really want to write more. I have a third book outlined so if my current publisher doesn’t want it, I’ll have my agent shop it elsewhere. I do have a contemporary series releasing in January 2024. The first book in the Cider House Mysteries is called Deadly To The Core and features a young widow who inherits a fruit orchard and opens a cider house. When her orchard manager is murdered with her walking cane, she vows to find the killer. I’m waiting on edits for that book at the moment, which I’ll be afraid to open. It needed a lot of work, lol.


Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Writing Short Stories for Podcast by KM Rockwood

Short stories have long been some of my favorites, both reading and writing them, and I’ve added listening to them to the menu.

I’ve also been trying my hand at writing for podcast distribution.

Podcasts have much in common with audio versions of books, and owe much to that earlier invitation to “return to those thrilling days of yesteryear” on pre-TV radio.

But I’m learning that the stories written for podcast do present some unique challenges.

Perhaps the most obvious one is in presenting dialogue. Most of my short stories contain quite bit of dialogue, which often serves to define character and move the story along.

What presents as a witty repartee on the page can quickly devolve into a confused mess on a podcast. Without the visual clues we depend upon to follow the who’s saying what, it can be almost impossible to know who really is saying what.

We know that quotation marks indicate the beginning and end of a spoken statement. And that each new speaker will have a new paragraph. Using those clues, characters on the page can hold a lively back-and-forth conversation.

Without those clues, however, dialogue is much harder to follow. It won’t be as obvious to the ear as it is to the eye who is speaking. To keep things understandable, each bit of dialogue must be attributed to whichever character is saying it.

The last thing we need is a listener who puzzled over “who was saying that?” For one thing, the podcast proceeds relentlessly. No chance to re-read to sort out a bit of confusion. While someone could theoretically stop the narration, reverse, and replay a passage, that’s a major interruption in the flow. It’s just as likely to have the listener check out as continue.

Ubiquitous use of “he said...” “she said…” when seen on the page allows the eye to skim over the words, letting them fade into the background and become virtually unnoticeable. In the podcast, this will become a monotonous repetition that grates on the ear.

While a character certainly need not present multi-paragraph lectures, blocks of dialogue can be longer than in written works, and might not need as much prompting from other characters. I do struggle with violating my usual “no more than three sentences before a change in character or a break” rule. I have always recognized exceptions, but for the podcast, exceptions may become the rule.

Interspersing actions with dialogue, always a good way to keep the story moving, is especially important on a podcast.

Another area where the lack of visual clues can cause problems is with character names. We all know to be careful about using similar-appearing names for characters, especially ones that begin and end with the same letters. Elizabeta and Elspathia may be distinct names, but for many readers, the beginning E and the ending A can be confusing, especially for the casual reader who does not want to have to concentrate deeply on what is undoubtedly leisure reading.

For the podcast, this extends to sound. We should not have Cindy the heroine and Sandie the villain in the same piece. And definitely not secondary characters named Andy or Manda.

Likewise, words that sound too similar need to be avoided, or at least separated by time and distance.

Our committed character may contend with a conflict and be called upon come to some conscientious conclusion, but the concept under consideration should not be categorized as contentious. Not if we want the listener to be able to make sense of the story.

On the plus side, this is a perfect venue for onomatopoeia—words that sound like what they mean. When they’re read aloud, tinkling chimes, clanging cell doors and water whooshing over a spillway acquire a presence that cannot be achieved when merely written on a page.

Likewise, judicious repetition of words or sounds can draw attention to important aspects of the story and emphasize them. Perhaps, when on duty, a character is always alert, always prepared, and always ready to swing into action.

My present work-in-progress is intended for submission to Tina and Jack Wolff’s Mysteries to Die For. These stories are traditional who-dun-its, where clues (and, of course, red herrings) are laid out, and toward the end of the podcast, listeners are invited to take a stab at the solution.

I’m enjoying the challenge of working for this format, and hope listeners will enjoy the presentations.

Link to The Bus Stops Here, my latest story in a podcast presented by Mysteries to Die For.