Saturday, April 14, 2012

A visit with Axel Brand (aka Richard S. Wheeler)

Award-winning novelist Richard Wheeler has published more than 70 books, among them westerns, historicals, biographies and nonfiction. But few know that he's also Axel Brand, mystery writer. He kept his identity secret from critics since his debut mystery, Hotel Dick, hit the bookstores. That is until now. Next in his series is The Dead Genius.

Richard, why, after publishing 70 books of various genres, did you decide to write a mystery series?

 I love mysteries. These would be a change of pace for me. I'm always looking for new worlds to conquer.

Your pseudonym, Axel Brand, sounds more like a Western author. How did you come up with it?

It's at the top of the alphabet. That means the books will probably be shelved at eye level in any alpha-organized collection, which means they are more likely to be seen and read.

Why did you set your series in the 1940s as opposed to the present time?

There are few mysteries set in that period. Also, it allowed me to employ gumshoe detection without dealing with modern forensic sciences. The series is set in 1940s Milwaukee, where I grew up, a big industrial city I remember well, and one little resembling cities now. In my stories the cops sometimes catch streetcars to get where they're going.

How difficult was it to make the switch to the mystery genre? And did you read a lot of mystery novels before you began writing them?

It wasn't difficult at all. I had to begin with an apparent crime, and let my hero work on it. I've read mysteries much of my life, and have no idea how many. The thing is, mysteries are stories like other fiction, so one starts by spinning a story.

Briefly tell us about your protagonist, Lieutenant Joe Sonntag, and your debut novel, The Hotel Dick.

Well, I loved Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday when I was growing up, so I wanted a low-key detective who used shoe-leather to get down to the facts. I proposed calling my guy Joe Sunday, and the publishers axed that idea, but they bought Joe Sonntag, which amused everyone, and fit Milwaukee perfectly.

What kind of predicament did you get Sonntag into in your forthcoming novel, due to be released in July?

The novel is called The Dead Genius, and the dilemma is whether there was a crime at all. The victim seems to have died a natural death, but Sonntag's superior, Captain Ackerman, has a hunch it was not natural, and sends Sonntag out on a fruitless, dumb investigation that consumes a lot of the resources of the police. Sonntag, meanwhile, is annoyed to be on a case based only on a lousy hunch.

You mention a number of former Hollywood stars in your debut mystery novel. Was that the result of your years in Hollywood as an aspiring actor and screenwriter?

Not really. One of the things that intrigued me about the forties was the look-alike contests that were popular then. People who looked like Shirley Temple or Alan Ladd or Dorothy Lamour could compete, and win prizes for looking the most like the star. Sometimes they would get a trip to Hollywood and a studio tour as the prize, and get a signed picture of the person they resembled. All that, transplanted to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was intriguing, and I built on it. The victim, the hotel detective J. Adam Bark, was involved in the look-alike contests.

Which of your varied genres do you enjoy researching and writing most?

I probably enjoy my biographical novels the most. These require that I remain true to history and true to the character I am depicting, so there is much more challenge to them, and it is also easier to slip up. And because lives are not continuously dramatic, it is harder to place real people in a story. But the mysteries are giving me new challenges. I have to decide on a crime, and work toward its solution, which is entertaining.

Advice to aspiring writers?

Give the stories meaning and make what happens consequential. I keep reading stories in which everything that happens is meaningless and has no impact, which makes a weak story. If it's a murder mystery, remember that death is consequential. People grieve. Families are upset. There are consequences in law, and upon society. I come across murder mysteries where no one cares, there are no funerals, it doesn't seem to matter, all of which undermine the story.

Which mystery writer's work most influenced your own?

Actually, none. There are many mystery writers I enjoy, including Tony Hillerman, Elmore Leonard, Craig Johnson, and Margaret Coel, but these didn't apply to 1940s. Milwaukee and the sort of cop story I had in mind, so I had to feel my way along on my own.

Thanks, Richard.

Thank you for including me in your thoughtful interviews.

You can visit Richard at his blog site:

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Visit with Bestsellling Author Alina Adams

Alina Adams is the New York Times bestselling author of Oakdale Confidential, The Man From Oakdale and Jonathan's Story (with Julian London). She has written figure skating mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime, and romances for Avon and Dell. She's currently in the process of converting her entire backlist to enhanced ebooks with audio, video, and more, as well as creating original works such as "Soap Opera 451: A Time Capsule of Daytime Drama's Greatest Moments."

Alina,  tell us about your involvement in the Friday the 13th free book giveaway with 12 other authors. What role will you play in the event?

I've always been the odd man out, and this time is no different. Though I am also a mystery writer, having published five Figure Skating mystery novels for Berkley Prime Crime, my role in Friday the 13th's 13 book giveaway extravaganza is as the resident romance novelist. My contemporary romance, When a Man Loves a Woman, originally published by Dell in 2000, and tackling the age-old question of: Can Men and Women Ever Truly be Just Friends, has been turned into an enhanced multimedia ebook. Now, in addition to all the text of the paperback, there are also links to songs that compliment and comment on the action, and form a soundtrack for the story.

 You have an interesting background. Born in Russia, you learned English at age seven by watching soap operas on TV in San Francisco. How did that influence your later writing?

I have a very hard time stopping a story. As a reader and as a writer. As a reader, if I fall in love with a particular set of characters, I want the story to continue forever. I feel the same way as a writer. I want to know what happens next. And what happens after that. And after that. And after that. That's why my next project, "Counterpoint," is going to be a continuing series of novels. But, inspired by a project I launched for Procter & Gamble in 2009,, I am actually going to ask readers to chime in on where they want the story to go next, and then I'm going to write it according to their specifications! 

Alina, tell us about your writing background?

I've published a dozen novels - regency romance, contemporary romance, non-fiction, and women's fiction with various publishers, ranging from Avon to Simon & Schuster. Now, I have gotten the rights back to a majority of my books and am in the process of releasing them as enhanced e-books. For instance, for my Figure Skating Mystery series, I made a deal with Ice Theatre of New York ( to include their performances in my books to represent the various fictional characters. I also produced a book for a fellow author. Dan Elish is a Broadway writer ("13") and he'd published a children's book in 1988, "The Worldwide Dessert Contest," as well as written a musical score to go with it. I combined the two to create "The Worldwide Dessert Contest: Enhanced Multimedia Edition." I am also developing other titles with writers of romance, Young Adult, and non-fiction to re-release them all as enhanced ebooks. Authors who think they have titles that might benefit from enhancement can contact me at:

What was it like working for Proctor and Gamble Productions as website producer for the soaps, “Guiding Light” and “As the World Turns”?

 I was there for 10 years, and I had a wonderful time. Writing the websites meant writing in the voices of characters from the show, characters I hadn't created but still needed to bring to life through words (without the help of actors!). It's a great skill for any writer to have.

Tell us about your latest groundbreaking project, Soap Opera 451: A Time Capsule of Daytime Drama's Greatest Moments.

Soap fans love to talk about their favorite moments. And there have been books written on the history of various soaps and stories. But, up until now, you could only read about how great they were, you couldn't actually view the scenes themselves. That's all changed now. "Soap Opera 451: A Time Capsule of Daytime Drama's Greatest Moments" is a one of a kind book in that, after asking fans and soap experts what were some of the greatest moments of all time, I went and interviewed the actors, writers, producers and directors involved with those moments - and then I added links to where you could actually view them. It's a completely interactive experience that's never been done before.

How did you become a bestselling author?

Doug Wilson, who directed ABC's figure skating coverage for many, many years tells a story of how, during the 1988 Olympics, he was planning to open Brian Boitano's Long Program with a shot from across the ice. But, the camera he'd designated for it broke down, and he had to improvise what became Boitano's dramatic, opening head-shot, which is still used on retrospective shows today.

According to Doug, "This just goes to show, that if you work hard and prepare and plan everything out... there's not telling how lucky you can get." Like Doug, when it came to being a bestselling author, I got lucky. In December of 2011, I wrote a biography of skater Sarah Hughes, hoping she would at least make a respective showing at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Two months later, she won the whole thing.

In 2006, I pitched the idea of doing a book based on "As the World Turns" to coincide with their 50th Anniversary. The show wrote the book into the on-air story. And "Oakdale Confidential" debuted at #3 on "The New York Times" best-seller list.

 Advice for novice writers.

Writing is a job. Treat it like a job. Don't wait for inspiration to strike. Just get up in the morning, do what you have to do (in my case, it's get three kids off to two different schools, pack lunches, and periodically remind my sleepy husband what time it is, so he can make it to work on time), and then sit down and write. (This advice also works if you're an evening person. In that case, just substitute doing the dishes and putting kids to bed for waking them up and packing lunches.) Write one word. Then write the next word. And the next sentence. Keep writing. I think it was Danielle Steele who said, "It's much easier to rewrite a bad page, than a blank page." Oh, and here is something really depressing. You know those days when the writing flows and it's brilliant and easy? You know those days when every word feels like pulling teeth and sweating blood? Go back and read the whole book a year after it's published. Both passages will read exactly the same.

Finally, don't for a minute think that your job as a writer is done once the book is on the shelves and up at Amazon. Promoting your own work is the most important part of being a writer. As the frustrated artist laments in Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park with George," "If no one gets to see it, it's as good as dead."

We may not like it, we may wish matters worked differently, but keeping your work alive is your job. Same as writing it.

Alina can be reached via her website: