Wednesday, May 31, 2023

An Interview with Alison Goodman By E. B. Davis


A high society amateur detective at the heart of Regency London uses her wits and invisibility as an ‘old maid’ to protect other women in a new and fiercely feminist historical mystery series from New York Times bestselling author Alison Goodman.

Lady Augusta Colebrook, “Gus,” is determinedly unmarried, bored by society life, and tired of being dismissed at the age of forty-two. She and her twin sister, Julia, who is grieving her dead betrothed, need a distraction. One soon presents itself: to rescue their friend’s goddaughter, Caroline, from her violent husband.
The sisters set out to Caroline’s country estate with a plan, but their carriage is accosted by a highwayman. In the scuffle, Gus accidentally shoots and injures the ruffian, only to discover he is Lord Evan Belford, an acquaintance from their past who was charged with murder and exiled to Australia twenty years ago. What follows is a high adventure full of danger, clever improvisation, heart-racing near misses, and a little help from a revived and rather charming Lord Evan.

Back in London, Gus can’t stop thinking about her unlikely (not to mention handsome) comrade-in-arms. She is convinced Lord Evan was falsely accused of murder, and she is going to prove it. She persuades Julia to join her in a quest to help Lord Evan, and others in need—society be damned! And so begins the beguiling secret life and adventures of the Colebrook twins.


Alison Goodman has created main characters who are progressive and easily championed. The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies is, I hope, the first book in a series in which the ill-mannered ladies take on the wickedness of their time, 1812. It is set in England. They take on three “cases.” Unfortunately, blackmail, murder, slavery, and human trafficking seem to be never-ending injustices. Gus and non-identical twin sister, Julia, are very different people, but they have complementary skills and seek justice in their society.


Please welcome Alison Goodman to WWK.        E. B. Davis


You write in a variety of genres. Why historical mystery?

As you say, I have written in a number of genres, namely science fiction, contemporary crime, high fantasy, historical fantasy and now historical mystery/adventure. I go where the story and the characters take me and where I find a challenge, whether it be in the way a story is structured, the style, the way I use the genre conventions or the research required. This time, with The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies, I have challenged myself in the way the novel is structured – three novellas that are linked with an overarching storyline—and the mystery and adventure genre conventions which have been great fun to play with and twist around for maximum delight.


Are you a historian? You must have done a lot of research. The language you use is almost foreign.

I am not trained as a historian, but I have just received my doctorate in Creative Writing and Historical Fiction Research, so in a way I do have some expertise. I would probably describe myself more as an enthusiastic history nerd. I initially spent eight months researching the Regency era for my novels, and I am still researching it as I write. Frankly I love the early 1800’s and could talk about the Regency non-stop. My husband has now restricted me to only three Regency facts a day for his own sanity.


Julia is five foot, two inches tall. Augusta (Gus) is five foot, nine. Their physical differences seem to mirror their different interior landscapes, and yet, at times, Julia is bolder than Gus. What accounts for Julia’s nonconformity when she is more conventional than Gus?

You are right, Julia is more conventional than Gus and seeks a quieter life. However, if her twin sister is ever in trouble, then Julia’s other side comes out—her courage and boldness––and she will fly to the defense of her sister. Nothing can stand in her way. For Julia, family is everything.


With their father dying in a most compromising and undesirable way, their brother Duffy is head of house, although luckily, they live in different houses. Duffy pronounces that a woman’s piety equals her femininity. What do the sisters think of that pronouncement?

Gus, who is struggling with the loss of her faith, finds her brother fairly hard to take at the best of times, but particularly when he pontificates about the place of women and how she and Julia should conduct their lives. Julia is more or less the middle child—the second twin--and so is the peacemaker between Gus and their younger brother. Julia is very firm in her faith and respects her brother more than Gus does, but even she thinks Duffy’s pronouncement is a bit dubious.


And yet, Duffy isn’t dumb. He proposes marriage to a woman who will inherit a considerable fortune. Why does fiancĂ© Harriet Woolcroft take against the sisters?

For Harriet, her impending marriage to Duffy is all about achieving rank and status. She is enjoying the fact that on her marriage she will outrank Gus and Julia. However, she is also very aware that she is the daughter of a baronet—a much lower rank than Gus and Julia, who are daughters of an Earl—and so she is seeking to quickly and firmly assert herself as the new, highest-ranked female in the family. Although the match between Duffy and Harriet is clearly not a love match, she is aware that her betrothed constantly clashes with his sister Gus, and so she takes his side and in doing so, alienates Julia too.



Julia has a lump in her breast. Did the medical community know about cancer? Were they experimenting with surgery?

Yes, the medical community did know about cancer and, in fact, one of the first mastectomy operations was performed on the famous author Fanny Burney in Paris in 1811. She wrote an extraordinary description of the procedure in a letter to her sister-in-law which still holds enormous power today. I like to incorporate real historical people into my novels and Fanny Burney makes a cameo appearance in The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies.


Was there an assassination of a Prime Minister in 1812?

Yes, the British Prime Minister Lord Spencer Perceval was assassinated in May 1812 in the lobby of the House of Commons. As Perceval entered the lobby, a man shot him fatally in the chest but did not flee the scene and so was immediately arrested. The killer was a merchant by the name of John Bellingham who believed he had been unjustly imprisoned in Russia and was entitled to compensation from the government but was aggrieved because all of his requests had been rejected. Bellingham was tried and hanged within the same month as the assassination – swift justice, indeed.


Who was Prior? Was he an early watchmaker?

Yes, George Prior was a British watch and clock maker. In the novel, Gus has one of Prior’s beautiful fob watches, a treasured gift from her father.

Although divorce wasn’t unheard of, it took an actual Act of Parliament to get a divorce and considerable social and financial losses to obtain. Really?

Yes, really. Divorce was prohibitively expensive and required an Act of Parliament, which meant it was really only available to the very wealthy or titled. It was also socially unacceptable and would drastically affect the social standing of both parties to the point of being ostracized by respectable society.


Is butler, Weatherly, black? He was abducted as a child and lived as a slave until he was freed and came to work for the sisters’ father. Although he is in their employ, does Weatherly see himself as an alpha male, even though he was a slave?

Yes, Weatherly is black and a freed man. The concept of the alpha male is very recent so I doubt Weatherly would see himself in that light. However, he does have a very solid sense of who he is and a great deal of justified confidence in his ability to deal with any situation.


Who was Equiano?

Olaudah Equiano was a writer and leading anti-slavery activist (an abolitionist) in the mid-1700’s who was enslaved as a child in Africa, sold twice and finally purchased his freedom as a young man. He wrote a famous autobiography about his experiences titled The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano which was a bestseller during his lifetime and helped secure the British Slave Trade Act.


When was the Slave Trade Act passed? How was it limited?

The Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807. It prohibited the slave trade in the British Empire but did not abolish the practice of slavery.


What is:


On-dit: a scandal.

Belcher neckerchief: a scarf/handkerchief that Regency men, often of the lower ranks, tied around their necks instead of a cravat.

Debrett’s: a guide to the British aristocracy.

Foxed: drunk

Dimity: a cotton fabric used in ladies wear.

Abigail: a lady’s maid.

Bon ton: good society or high society.

Jean (not the same as our jeans): a hard-wearing cotton material that was often used to make half boots.


What was the window tax about?

The window tax was literally a tax on the number of windows in a house. It resulted in landlords boarding up windows to avoid the tax and therefore cutting down on ventilation and light which created health problems and aggravated epidemics.


Why were dance floors chalked?

The dance floors were chalked—often in beautiful designs––so that the surface was not too slippery for the dancers. Shoes at the time were handmade with leather soles which had no grip.


Why did the maids have men’s names?

A lady’s maid was considered a senior servant and so would be called by her surname such as Julia’s lady’s maid who is called by her surname, Leonard. The use of a surname was a mark of higher rank within the servant hierarchy. House maids and kitchen maids were of lower rank and so would be called by their first name.


What is next for Gus, Julia, Evan, and Weatherly?

The Ill-Mannered Ladies, Evan, and Weatherly are all coming back for another set of adventures. I am in the final stages of writing Book 2, and I’m having just as much fun writing it as I did The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies. I can’t say too much, but be prepared for resurrectionists, Georgian sex clubs, and spies!



Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Mystery Stories and Mystery Schools By Skye Alexander

What comes to mind when you hear the word “occult”? Evil cults that worship the devil? Weird rituals where animals or even children are sacrificed? Wizards with nefarious aims wielding power behind the scenes? If so, you probably got those impressions from Hollywood or from fear-based religious groups. Those ideas are mostly wrong.


Let’s pull back the dark curtain that shrouds the occult arts to discover how you can incorporate magick into your writing. And in case you’re wondering about the spelling “magick,” it’s intended to distinguish serious occult practices from stage illusion and tricks. We can thank the Victorian-era English magician Aleister Crowley for that.


What Does “Occult” Mean?


First of all, the word “occult” simply means hidden, as in hidden knowledge. For centuries, people who practiced the occult arts had to hide what they knew and practiced in order to avoid imprisonment, torture, and murder at the hands of misguided authorities. It’s estimated that during the witch hunts in Europe (from about the 14th through the 18th centuries) tens of thousands of witches, diviners, cunning folk, herbalists, and other suspicious sorts were hanged, burned, or otherwise executed at the behest of the Christian Church. To avoid persecution, they formed secret societies sometimes known as Mystery Schools, passed down wisdom through symbols and oral tradition, and wrote in secret code.


Yet occult ideas and practices––witchcraft, divination, spellcasting, incantations, and magick potions––continue to fascinate us to this day. Perhaps the most famous scene in literature comes from Shakespeare’s MacBeth where three witches stir a mysterious brew while they prophesy “toil and trouble” for the Scottish king. The Bard’s plays MacBeth and Hamlet also feature ghosts, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream involves faery spells and shapeshifting. More recently, J.K. Rowling’s incredibly popular Harry Potter stories have captured the imaginations of millions of young people worldwide and introduced them to some of the tenets of magick work––and its possibilities.


Using the Occult in Plotting Your Story


Occult practices involve working with forces beyond the mundane, tapping into reservoirs of hidden power, and sometimes interacting with supernatural beings. Therefore, they let writers step outside the ordinary limitations of a storyline. Ghosts and spirits can also expand your readers’ knowledge into realms beyond the physical. In Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, for example, a murdered teenaged girl shares a perspective of the crime from her vantage point in heaven.


Oracles such as the tarot or runes can give veiled glimpses into the future. Is someone destined to die when the Death card turns up in a tarot reading? Secret symbols can provide clues for readers to ponder. In my mystery novels What the Walls Know and The Goddess of Shipwrecked Sailors, a tarot card reader sees trouble lurking ahead for the protagonist, which adds to the stories’ suspense. By including messages from divination devices––tarot, runes, astrology, Ouija boards, the I Ching, tea leaves, etc.––you can hint at forthcoming dangers and challenge readers to predict what will happen.


Using Occult Ideas and Practices in Your Novel


If you decide to include occult ideas in your writing––and you’re not already a knowledgeable practitioner––it’s wise to do some research to familiarize yourself with various schools of thought. Don’t rely on what you’ve seen in movies such as The Exorcist or Carrie or The Witches of Eastwick, or what you read in Merriam-Webster, Wikipedia, and many other popular resources. You’ll end up with a lot of misinformation that will undermine your novel and turn off those who know better. For example, Wiccans don’t cavort with Satan. Astrology is infinitely more than your sun sign. And black magick is often performed, not by witches and wizards, but by ordinary people who don’t know what they’re doing. You’ll also miss out on a lot of fascinating stuff that could enrich your story and help educate your readers.


Instead, peruse several books on subjects that interest you and that you might want to explore in your writing. I recommend those published by Llewellyn Worldwide and Red Wheel/Weiser, two well-respected publishing houses that have specialized in occult literature for 120 and 65 years respectively. I also hope you might consider looking at the books I’ve written about contemporary witchcraft, astrology, and tarot––they’re designed for beginning readers. (If you have questions or want to run ideas by me, please feel free to contact me through my website––I’ll do my best to answer your questions).


Questions to Contemplate


Is your character a seasoned metaphysician or is she a novice dabbling with forces beyond her knowledge and control, like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice?


Does your character pursue a metaphysical path that leads him to a discovery or danger? How does he grow from this experience?


Is a character transformed in some way by a mystical/magickal experience?


If you’re writing a historical novel, what local customs, religious beliefs, and laws affected occultists at that time?


Would historical events, such as the Salem Witch Trials of the early 1690s, be worthwhile additions to your book? If so, how can you integrate fact into a fictional narrative?


Does your character conjure a spell that works––or goes wrong––and takes the story in an interesting direction?


Can you use signs, symbols, or synchronicities to help the plot unfold?


Do nonphysical entities influence a character’s decisions, aid her in solving a problem, or guide her into a realm beyond the physical one?


Would time travel, shapeshifting, past-life memories, or shamanic journeying enhance your story?


Oh, and by the way, writing is a powerful form of magick. When casting a spell, you envision an outcome you want to create. Then you infuse it with color, action, emotion, intention, and passion. You experience what you’re doing as if you’re living it right now. In your mind’s eye, you see the result as if it already exists––and you’re the Creator who makes it happen. Sounds like writing a novel, doesn’t it?


Skye Alexander’s historical mystery novel What the Walls Know, the second in her Lizzie Crane Mystery Series, features a colorful cast of occultists, including several mediums, a tarot reader, an astrologer, a witch, and a wizard. She’s also a recognized authority in the field of metaphysics and the author of fifteen bestselling nonfiction books on witchcraft, magick, and the occult arts including The Modern Guide to Witchcraft, The Modern Witchcraft Book of Tarot, and Magickal Astrology.

Monday, May 29, 2023

A Trip With Unfortunate Incidents by Nancy L. Eady

Today is Memorial Day, and my family and I are headed back from a weekend at the beach.  Growing up, Mark worked for his family’s moving company; 80% of their income came in the summer when the military bases in Montgomery moved people so it wasn’t until the 90’s that he had his first Memorial Day off.  Since then, we try to go somewhere every Memorial Day weekend.  This weekend we are at Gulf Shores, one of our favorite beaches.  It has been a pleasant trip, but one trip we took to Gulf Shores was not.  

You won't want to believe me, but I solemnly swear this story is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  

One Fourth of July weekend, Mark and I arranged for my mom to come with the two of us and Kayla in our camper, and to meet one of my sisters, her husband, and her daughter at an RV resort in Gulf Shores.  They had a camper too.  

The Fourth of July was on Monday.  My sister’s crew was supposed to leave the Friday before from North Alabama and arrive that day.  We left Saturday since the beach is much closer to us than it is to them.  Saturday morning, Mark and I, Kayla, and my mom were safely tucked into our motor home and headed south towards the beach in heavy, but tolerable, traffic when we got a text from my sister about 10 a.m. Instead of being at Gulf Shores, they were about 30 minutes from the beach and their truck had died.  They had called a wrecker and were waiting for it.

The next text came about 15 minutes later.  The wrecker had arrived; its operator had gotten the truck to start by hitting the alternator with a hammer, but he was following them into town to the nearest (open) mechanic’s shop to be sure they got there safely.  10 minutes later, we heard that the first place they were towed to did not have a mechanic on duty, so they were headed to a different place.  About 10 minutes after that, the tow truck following them was hit by someone who was DUI and with drug paraphernalia in her vehicle.  Once that was sorted out with the police, my sister’s family and the tow truck continued their trek over to an auto parts store which we will call, for convenience sake and purely incidentally resembling the name of an existing chain, O’Raley’s Auto Parts Store.  O’Raley’s had mechanics on duty, but they weren’t highly motivated to work on the truck – until it died again in front of the bays they use to fix vehicles, at which point O’Raley’s helped.  Which was great, except that O’Raley’s didn’t have the exact alternator they needed in stock, which meant that the O’Raley’s people tried three parts stores before they found the correct alternator.

About 1:00 that afternoon, when we were 45 minutes from the beach, we got a text from my sister that the truck was fixed and they were headed on to the campground.  At which point we all heaved a huge sigh of relief and relaxed.  Until 10 minutes later.

Kayla shouted, “Stop!  Stop!  Stop!”  She had been watching our rear view camera.  The front end of the Hyundai Veloster that we towed behind us had detached itself from the rest of the vehicle.  Fortunately, the break happened on a local road while traffic was going slow, so the towing safeguards held stuff together enough that no-one around us got hurt and we reached the side of the road.

While the police were working on the required incident report for us, a couple of cars in the left hand lane collided into each other.  We think maybe they were watching us instead of each other.  The policeman stuck working on the Saturday before the Fourth of July was much busier than he might have been otherwise.

After about 45 minutes, the policeman was done with us, the tow truck driver called by AAA had arrived and taken the Veloster off with him, and we resumed our drive. 

Now short one car, we decided to rent one for the weekend.  However, it was 2:00 p.m. on the Saturday before the Fourth of July in small town Alabama, and no one was open except for one Avis Rent-A-Car place in Daphne, 30 minutes away from us in normal traffic – and the beach traffic on this weekend was anything but!  Plus, they closed at three.  My brother-in-law grabbed Mark when we got into the campground, and the two dashed off in his truck to get the car, arriving at the Avis place at 3:00 exactly, where the kind young man at the counter took pity on them and helped.

Meanwhile, back at the campground, Mom, Kayla, my sister, and her daughter went to the pool.  I stayed behind at the camper to regain some semblance of equanimity and decided to put the chicken for supper that night out to thaw.  Deciding it would thaw more quickly outdoors, I carried it outside to put on the picnic table.  I started to go back inside the air conditioned camper -  and discovered I had locked myself out.  I sat outside at the picnic table for a while but July in Alabama is not the time to stay outdoors with no water, so I went to the pool, where my sister took pity on me and brought me back to her trailer while we waited for Mark and my brother-in-law to return.

Once they got back with the car and the camper was unlocked, everyone took a deep breath and started to finally relax. We enjoyed dinner together, and even went to bed a little early.   It had been a stressful day, but we were finally there, set up and able to rest.  Until 2:30 a.m. that morning.

The electricity in our camper was kaput.  Normally, this is not a big deal – a breaker just trips somewhere and needs to be reset.  Not this weekend, though.  Whatever was wrong with our electrical system was systemic and not going to be fixed by something as easy as a flipped circuit breaker.  By 3:30 a.m., Kayla and Mom had woken up too.  We conceded defeat and headed home the next day.  

So no matter what obstacles we encounter camping on regular holiday weekends, we always have something to compare it with and know nothing is as bad as it could be.  And that disastrous trip has been the fodder for many a family story and laughter for years afterwards. 

What trips have you taken that did not go according to plan?  Have you had a good Memorial Day weekend? 

Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Writing Sprint by Annette Dashofy

As I write this, I’m sitting at the front of a classroom on the last day of the Pennwriters Conference. I’ve been tasked with leading a writing sprint.

For those who don’t know what that is, the writing sprint is a concept that has been around for ages with different names. But the fabulous late Ramona DeFelice Long made it a “thing.” She created variously named Facebook groups where members logged in and pledged to write for an hour or set a word or page goal. 

Ramona (far right) with a few of her regular sprinters
Those groups eventually morphed into what is now Ramona’s Sprint Club. Before Ramona passed, she turned over the reins to Wende Dikec, who continues to host the group.

Wende posts a welcome message every morning at 7:00 a.m. The rest of us sign in when we can. Once we’ve said, “good morning,” some of us state what we’re working on or list a goal for the day.

And then we unplug. No email. No online research. Nothing but one hour of writing. One. Hour.

A lot of us often think we don’t have time to write. We need large blocks of time, and without that large block of time, why bother?

Ramona proved this wrong. With a focused, no-distraction hour—ONE HOUR—a day, we can create a novel in a year or less. When I was struggling to meet my deadlines of my early contracts, these one-hour sprints saved my bacon. I honestly believe I’d have never completed those first books without Ramona and her sprints.

Eventually, that one sacred hour of writing time became ingrained in my DNA. Now, I write multiple sprints per day. But I still like the concept of one hour. By then, my Fitbit is buzzing, so I get up and stretch, walk around, rest my eyes…and then I sit back down and write for another hour.

Of course, I can’t always do these multiple sprints. Some days, life has other plans. But I still sign in on Ramona’s Sprint Club’s page and sit down at my computer for one hour. Afterward, I can go about my tasks and obligations, content that I’ve put words on the page. Content that I’ve made progress on the WIP. Content that I’ve kept my head in the story.

Maybe for you, an hour is more time than you have in a day. That’s okay. Make it a half hour. Make it fifteen minutes! The idea is to simply create a period of time EVERY DAY. Your writing time is sacred. Those emails can wait. The online research rabbit holes can wait.

Here’s the thing: if you decide you only have fifteen minutes, and you sit down to write, when you come up for air, you might discover you’ve been there for much longer.

For those of you who aren’t writers, this same trick can work for whatever passion you have that you don’t have time for.

For those of you who ARE writers, do you set aside a sacred hour (or half hour or quarter hour) each day?

And if you feel this is something that might work for you, join us at Ramona’s Sprint Club! 

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Writing for Fun and Profit by Kait Carson

I hear you laughing, writers. Fun and Profit! Seriously? That’s the definition of the intersection of the divine and absurd. Or is it? They’re not mutually exclusive.


When people ask me why I write, I tell them it gives me pleasure. There is something so satisfying about looking at a page of raw words and shaping them into something that resonates. I never understood Dorothy Parker’s “I hate writing, I love having written” quote. Had she said, “I hate the business of writing, I love writing,” she’d be singing my song. Times were different back then. Writers didn’t carry the entire can for their work. They wrote. Publishers and agents facilitated the business of getting the books to market and into the hands of readers. That is not true of this brave, new, world of writing.


In this, the second, third, I’ve lost count, act of my life, I decided to follow my bliss and be a full-time writer. Writing is fun, wouldn’t do it otherwise, but it’s also a business. It’s essential to pay attention to details, including financial details. As an independently published writer, that includes not only the universal costs of computer, printer, and paper, but software, editing, and advertising. Ideally, costs are covered by sales. As any start-up business owner will tell you, that takes time.


I am not a “wide” writer, one with books available on multiple platforms. I made that choice for several reasons. When my books were wide, most of my sales came from Amazon. I needed to be exclusive to Amazon to take advantage of their Kindle Unlimited (KU) program. Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service for readers. Readers pay a fee to receive access to the books of participating authors. Authors receive payment for pages read. Because my books are currently available only in the Kindle format and not in paperback or hardback, it’s a win/win.


This brings up the problem of how to get my books to the attention of readers. Social media plays a role, as does my newsletter (you can sign up here), but those results are hard to quantify. There are a number of pay-to-play marketing services who will feature writers’ books on their newsletters. Some of the more popular ones are BookBub (you have to apply and be accepted), Fussy Librarian, Book Gorilla, and BargainBooksy. Those are often effective when running discounts or for new launches. They are also most effective if you have a backlist as readers will often buy a discounted book, read it, and return for more from the same author.


Another option, and one I am learning, is paid ads. Facebook and Amazon both offer them. Of the two options, Amazon has made the most financial sense. Facebook allows the ad buyer to target certain audiences for a fee the author sets and agrees to pay. The fee is not tied to book sales and sales are difficult to track. My solution is to assign a Bitly shortcut. Bitly allows me to track the number of clicks to that particular link and offers some insight into origin. I have not found Facebook ads to be particularly effective and attribute this to the inability to refine targeting. It’s also my opinion that most Facebook users ignore ads.


Amazon ads have proven to be far more effective, although there is a learning curve, and I’m still on it. Amazon’s sponsored ads allow me to target book buyers, and drill down by categories, keywords, genre, and targeted ad copy. Unlike Facebook ads, there is no fee to place the ad. The advertiser pays based on clicks and the dashboard tracks impressions (people who looked at your ad, but didn’t click – no idea how they do that), sales, and KU pages read. The advertiser also sets a bid and a daily spend cap. Scary at first, but the advertiser is always in control.


Figuring out what works and what doesn’t is easy. For example, one of my categories is sea adventure. I receive lots of impressions, but no clicks or sales. That tells me that my scuba diving mystery books are not what sea adventure readers are looking for. Because of the high exposure, I’ve continued to run the ad, but I won’t run it again because it’s not producing. Another of my selected categories is scuba diving. It receives few impressions, but all of the impressions have resulted in a click, and of those about half of the clickers buy or read the book on KU. That’s a category I’ll keep.


A word of caution. The Amazon marketing dashboard is not easy to figure out or navigate. I joined Bryan Cohen’s quarterly Amazon marketing webinar to figure it out. It’s free as it’s an introduction to his paid classes and he offers step-by-step instructions that are invaluable. There are a number of other free and paid classes available, Reedsy, Mark Dawson, and Nick Stephenson all come to mind. If one comes along, and you’re considering placing Amazon ads, try it.


Overall, I’m learning that writing isn’t the only fun part of authorship. Putting together the puzzle of profit runs a close second.


Writers, what platforms do you use for advertising? Readers, what encourages you to click on an ad?

Friday, May 26, 2023

No Experience Needed: by Warren Bull


Image by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

No Experience Needed: by Warren Bull

Luckily crime writing is not like method acting. Direct experience is not required.  That does not mean all writers have been angels for their entire lifetimes. 

For example:

While working as a newspaper reporter in San Francisco, Jack Boyle became an opium addict. He fell into crime including kiting checks and robbery. Boyle was serving a term in San Quentin prison when he created the character of Boston Blackie. First published in 1914, for his first stories Boyle used the pen name of “No.6066.” 

When Boston Blackie began to find success on the silver screen, Boyle edited the stories into a book, Boston Blackie (1919) by revising and rearranging the order of the stories to create a cohesive narrative—a common practice at the time known in publishing as a fixup, that I have used too. This was the only time the character of Boston Blackie was presented in a book format. But Boyle continued to write short stories about him.

The earliest Boston Blackie film adaptations were silent movies dating from 1918 to 1927.  Columbia Pictures picked up the character in 1941 with Meet Boston Blackie. Chester Morris starred and Robert Florey directed the 58-minute-long B movie that was well received and started a series. 

In the action/comedy features, Boston Blackie is played as a reformed jewel thief who is always suspected when a daring crime is committed. In order to clear himself, he investigates personally and brings the actual culprit to justice, sometimes using disguises. Blackie could be charming or dangerous depending on the situation. There was an ensemble cast of veteran actors and up-and-coming new stars including Dorothy Malone, Nina Foch, Forest Tucker, and Lloyd Bridges. New directors got a chance to show their talents. The series continued until 1949.

Edward Bunker, actor and author can be seen in quite a few films including (The Longest YardTango & Cash, Animal Factory, and Reservoir Dogs to name a few.) His criminal record is even more impressive than his acting. He destroyed his neighbor’s generator with a hammer when he was three before burning the same neighbor’s garage down at age four. By age 17, he was locked up in Los Angeles County Jail. There he stabbed a guard and escaped. Recaptured, he was sent to San Quentin prison becoming the youngest inmate they’d ever had. A record he apparently still holds. 

Placed in solitary confinement near the cell of a notorious killer and rapist named Caryl Chessman, who was, himself, already a published writer of some repute, Bunker became fascinated by the idea of telling stories and decided to try writing himself. After 18 years of crime both in and out of jail Bunker ended up in Folsom prison, still working on his writing. After 12 rejections, he finally managed to publish his novel, No Beast So Fierce, while still incarcerated. His novel was adapted into the 1978 movie Straight Time, with Dustin Hoffman playing a character who is a loose version of the author.  Bunker was given a small role in the film you can see here: 

Bunker went on to write several best sellers, wrote and produced a few movies, and acted in a number of film roles. Director, Quentin Tarantino apparently saw Straight Time back when he still worked in a video store. 

Jimmy Boyle, a gangster from Glasgow, while hiding out in London with the protection of the notorious Kray twins, was arrested in 1967 for the murder of a fellow gangster named Babs Roonewhile.  Boyle protested that he was innocent of Babs Roonewhile’s murder but he was duty-bound not to snitch on the real killer. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

At Barlinnie Prison in Scotland prisoners were allowed a voice in how the prison was run. They were encouraged to express themselves artistically. In 1977, Boyle wrote his first book, a thinly disguised autobiographical novel called Sense of Freedom. The book described Boyle’s harsh upbringing on the streets of Glasgow, his first forays into crimes, and his eventual redemption after discovering art and literature in jail. The Sun later called him “Scotland’s Most Notorious Murderer.”

Three years after the novel’s release, Boyle married a psychiatrist who’d arranged to meet him after reading it. He received parole in 1982 and hasn’t been back in prison since.  Boyle is now a successful novelist and sculptor whose work, in 1999, sold for about £10,000.

For more details and to find out about other criminals who became authors check out the links below: 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Siren Song of Research by Connie Berry

I love research way too much. When I’m writing a book, I have to watch myself carefully because if left to follow my inclination, I’d waste precious time researching everything from the weather to popular colors in Edwardian England to the makeup used by women in ancient Rome. Most of it never makes it into the book because it’s irrelevant—a bad practice when you’re on a deadline. Research has to be strategic. 

Nevertheless, the siren song of research still tempts me toward the rocks because you never know what you might find, right? Like picking through a garage sale or flea market, the prospect of finding something truly valuable keeps me scrolling. Usually, however, the fascinating titbits I find have little or nothing to do with my book. I just love information.

Today I thought I’d share with you one of the fascinating but useless bits of research I uncovered during the writing of my first book, A Dream of Death, set on a fictional island in the Scottish Hebrides. This research may have been useful in another place and another time (another book), but it had nothing to do with my actual setting or plot. It involved Stirling Castle. 

Of all Scotland's castles, Stirling Castle wins the prize for the most eccentric resident. Sometime around the year 1500, John Damien, a penniless adventurer of either Italian or French origin, arrived at Stirling Castle, claiming to be an alchemist on the verge of discovering the key to turning base metals into gold.

Fortunately for Damien, King James IV—arguably the most successful of the Stuart monarchs—was keenly interested in the new "scientific" discoveries of the Renaissance. He was even more interested in possessing an inexhaustible source of gold to fund his frequent military campaigns. And wealth wasn't the only blessing John Damien promised. Not only would he produce the most sought-after object of the day, the Philosopher's Stone—that mythical and magical substance needed to transform lead into gold—but he also offered the king an even more precious prize because the Philosopher's Stone, when mixed with wine, was said to produce the Elixir of Life, curing all illnesses and granting the drinker eternal life and eternal youth.

Not bad, right?

With these tantalizing possibilities in mind, King James IV provided John Damien with a hidden laboratory in the castle, along with such luxuries as damask fabric for his clothing, tapestries, a fine bed, plenty of "aqua vitae" (whiskey), and all the equipment—flasks, cauldrons, glass beakers, and ingredients—he would need to conduct his experiments.

When years passed by and no gold was produced (surprise, surprise), court gossips began to accuse Damian of fraud. Sensing that a spectacular demonstration of his powers was called for, Damien announced he had discovered the secret of mechanical flight and would fly under his own power from the castle to France. On September 27, 1507, he strapped on a pair of bird-like wings and leapt off the towering ramparts of Stirling Castle. He dropped like a stone. Lucky for him, he landed (so the story goes) on a soft dung heap, breaking only a thigh bone. Damien blamed the failure on the fact that hen feathers had been mixed in with the eagle feathers he called for—and as we all know, hens can't fly.

In spite of this, King James IV, a remarkably tolerant sovereign, continued to fund Damien’s research until the king's death at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Hope springs eternal.

What piece of useless but fascinating research have you uncovered in the writing of a book? Here’s my real question: how do you discipline yourself so you don’t waste time searching for the straw that will become gold in your plot? I need to know.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

An Interview With Mark Bergin

by Grace Topping

What would prompt an award-winning reporter to become a rookie police officer? For retired Alexandria, Virginia, police lieutenant Mark Bergin it was the same commitment to public service that motivated him to write a novel to raise awareness of police suicide and donate half his profits to programs that would help combat it. Kirkus Reviews called his novel, Apprehension, “A gritty and authentic new voice in police fiction. It was a pleasure talking to Mark and learning more about him, his police career, and his novel.  


Cover Copy


Tonight a cop loses everything. But today he can save a kid. Detective John Kelly was a solid professional until he failed to stop the murder of his kidnapped niece. Kelly’s family thinks he did nothing to punish her killer, who died before trial, but Kelly can’t confess the secret, shockingly violent thing he did, a secret about to be dug up by his fellow detectives. And he’ll be ruined. Broken, twitchy and hung over, Kelly must push past this threat and focus on a pedophile trial, a slam-dunk conviction, except the defense attorney is Rachel Cohen, Kelly’s new girlfriend. Rachel just told him she’s pregnant, but she can’t tell him her job forces her to destroy him on the stand. Rachel also can’t reveal she’s investigating a twisted team of drug cops. While his friends work in secret to save him, Kelly is forced to the breaking point – and beyond.

Welcome, Mark, to Writers Who Kill.


After a career as a police officer, what prompted you to write about it?


Since junior high I’ve wanted to write a book. I was a big reader as a kid and inhaled novels by Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, Hammond Innes, Adam Hall, John D. MacDonald, and Raymond Chandler. Later, Joseph Wambaugh, George V. Higgins, and Ed McBain. My days working as a reporter, then as a police officer, left little time for writing. I had ideas for a detective story thirty years ago and took pages of notes but set them aside. In 2013 I had two heart attacks and actually died, which brought on my retirement a bit early and gave me some free time to begin the book. Five years later, ta da.

You set Apprehension in 1988. Why over thirty years ago?


That is when I first took notes for the novel, and that planted the story in that time frame. A criminal law change that’s key to the plot occurred in 1989, and I wanted the book to be authentic. Also, Apprehension is about communication, miscommunication, and misunderstandings, so if anybody in the story had cell phones, none of the drama would have happened. 


John Kelly suffers from the effects of a case that really hit close to home. It affects his relationship with his family and ultimately has him turning to alcohol. Today, would this be considered a form of PTSD?

It would, and we would deal with it more aggressively or more compassionately. There are better resources available now and more acceptance of asking for help or pushing it. It doesn’t mean more help is taken. I am a member of my department’s peer debriefing team, who can meet with and talk to officers having trouble. There are bad calls, and there are bad family or health situations that pressure us. We help them air it out and direct help when we can and where it’s needed.

In your 1988 setting, John Kelly is reluctant to turn to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for help because of the stigma or reflection of it in his record. Is that still a problem in 2023? 

Yes. It’s better than it was, but I still know cops who didn’t get the help they thought they needed. Maybe that kind of help isn’t available, or in the form they think they need it. But there is still mistrust of EAP and other counseling. I am donating half my profits to programs that combat police suicide, among them the National Police Suicide Foundation. NPSF runs a no-tell hotline, one that cops can call and know their department won’t be told. They don’t want to lose their jobs, and that’s a greater fear than exists for most occupations. Your dentist or hairdresser won’t lose their career for seeking counseling, but cops can. Or they believe they can, which is functionally the same thing. 

You address the issue of suicide by members of the public, prisoners, and police officers themselves. Is this an issue you dealt with often and wanted to raise awareness of it? 

In my twenty-eight-year career, one fellow Alexandria police officer was killed in the line of duty. But in the same time, three officers took their own lives, as well as two city deputies. And just last year, a dispatcher was a victim of suicide. Six to one. That’s a heavier ratio than normal, but every year more law enforcement officers kill themselves than are killed by others. We don’t talk about that, but I want to. I hope the book prompts some conversations. 

During your career you more than likely dealt with painful situations. How do you separate yourself emotionally from the seedier things you dealt with and now write about? 

Maybe I didn’t. My cardiologist tells me my two heart attacks were caused by stress, and he forbade me to go back to work. It’s weird having a cardiologist. Also, I ate too much, drank too much, internalized things, and didn’t talk with my family or others. A sad thing about retiring is I finally learned how much my family worried about me once they didn’t have to worry anymore. They never said, and I never brought it up for fear of upsetting them. So maybe that’s a happy thing about retiring. 

A theme throughout your book is how the members of the local police force and those of local jurisdictions look out for each other. While a good thing, how do the authorities prevent the police from turning a blind eye to officers who are abusing the system? 

There is a wide line between helping partners through tough times or administrative jams and turning a blind eye to brutal or criminal acts. In Alexandria, I knew fellow officers who reported brutality when it occurred. When I was a supervisor and commander, a big part of my job was investigating excessive force incidents involving officers, or allegations of wrongdoing. Some departments don’t control themselves and allow a culture of brutality or cruel behavior to continue, if not thrive. We see enough reports in the news to know this occurs. It makes most cops sick and makes it harder for them to do their jobs. I was very lucky as a reporter to have found Alexandria wasn’t like that. Here, we start from a pretty high position of honor, and keep a close eye to make sure we stay that way. As a reporter, getting to know good cops here was the major reason I decided I could become a cop. 

Frequently cases are dismissed on a technicality. How did you as a police officer and now a writer deal with that?

Gotta roll with it. Every cop can recite cases that were decided unfairly, where a clearly guilty person got off. Once I watched a girl buy crack cocaine and put it in her right pocket and walk behind a truck. When my partners got to her, vectored in by me, she had crack in her left pocket. Not guilty. We couldn’t prove the crack I’d seen was the crack she had, so the judge decided we didn’t have the right to stop and search her. You try not to get invested in it. It’s your job. You are paid to be there whether they go in or not. If they did stupid stuff, you’d get them another day. 

John Kelly uses one of the best pick-up lines I’ve ever heard: I’m thinking there are so many different, better, happier, shinier places to be than here, and if you name one, I’ll take you there. I might have fallen for that one myself. How was it including romance in your book?

Hardest part of the whole book. I could never deliver that line, and since I’ve been married for almost thirty years, I’ve never had to. There’s no sex in the book, other than some oblique references and thoughts of off-screen feelings. Plenty of violence though. Maybe that doesn’t say good things about me. One friend cried and stopped reading at a certain scene. Another, a former cop, told me his nightmares came back after he read it. I thought, YES!

Most police procedurals are heavy on plot and lean on characterization. You have a good balance of both and show the emotional effects of police work on police officers and their families. Given that, if you had a chance to start your work life again, would you select police work?


In a heartbeat. Absolutely. It was a ton of fun, very rewarding. But it’s not for everyone. For very few, actually. I am glad my kids didn’t go into police work. They’re too smart, thoughtful, and kind for that. They could have done it, though, and succeeded. They’re tough. 

Do you still feel a close connection to the police force and police activity? Like once a police officer, always a police officer?


I miss it. I volunteer at the department just to keep in contact. As I mentioned, I’m a peer debriefer. I also do public fingerprinting for civilians. I’ve relaxed a bit, and while I no longer need to sit watching the door for bad guys in restaurants, I usually want to. Sometimes when I’m driving around places where I used to work, it will feel quiet, and I unconsciously reach down to turn up the volume on the police radio that, of course, isn’t there. 


What has been the reaction from previous co-workers to your writing? Supportive or afraid they’ll show up in one of your books or short stories?


They’ve been very supportive, and many have ordered the book. I tried hard not to model characters after real people, but some of my friends’ and enemies’ characteristics have come through. A lot of the small scenes in Apprehension did happen.  Wart Lip, “Oh, is you Jewish?” and the shotgun suicide are real events. There was a witch doctor in Alexandria and a drug case disappeared, but no connection was ever shown. But we didn’t use the magnets. Joked about it, though. 


How have the last few years been for you and your writing?


Outstanding, surprising and challenging. Writing the second book has proven harder than the first. I’d rather not know now what I didn’t know then, and I am too demanding of my output, over-laboring over passages instead of grinding through to an end and then laboring over polishing. And the difficulties I had finding a publisher were daunting, so I feel gun-shy of rushing back to that part of the process. But… I have broken through that internal logjam, and St. Michael’s Day is close to completion, maybe in a few months. Plus, I have found a better path to publication, a hybrid I like that gives me the same control over characters and covers that I had the first time through. Apprehension may not have achieved great sales but it got noticed: it was a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award at the Killer Nashville crime writers conference and won an award from the Public Safety Writers Association. 


And, oddly to me, I have found some success and fun in writing short stories. They never interested me until I was invited to join a writers’ group in Alexandria called the Royal Writers Secret Society, successful and talented novelists and short story artists who weren’t really paying attention when they let me in, but I have learned from them.  I’ve had five short stories published in the past two years. Two of them appear in anthologies that have been nominated for Anthony Awards this year: “Stay Here, Honey” in Land of Ten Thousand Thrills. Look for that in Paranoia Blues. Others are “Perception” in The Tattered Blue Line, “The Gravity of Hope” in The Eviction of Hope, and “Sometimes Maggie Stands With Me” in the Creatures, Crimes and Creativity Anthology 2021. This last one isn’t for sale—it was given to conference attendees, but I’m very proud of it. (Want a story copy? Email me at

"Stay Here, Honey" was my first short story, written for a reading at a DC Noir at the Bar reading. Afterward, a guy came up and told me how much he liked it, and that I should send it to (a mystery magazine of great stature, which ignored it). I had to ask somebody and found out he was James Grady, famous and talented author of Six Days of the Condor. Fanboy me could have swooned. 


Thank you, Mark. I look forward to your second book.


To order a copy of Apprehension, visit the publisher's website at: or your favorite bookseller.


Find The Eviction of Hope at

Find The Tattered Blue Line at

Find Land of Ten Thousand Thrills at

Find Paranoia Blues at

Find Apprehension at


To connect with Mark, visit his website: 

and his Facebook page:



Grace Topping is the author of the Laura Bishop Mystery Series.