Saturday, December 21, 2013

Marriage is a Mystery

by Julie Kramer

What's it like being married to me?

Or any novelist for that matter?

I just returned from Mayhem in the Midlands, a marvelous mystery conference sponsored by the Omaha Public Library. And while the panels I appeared on - true crime as inspiration, forensics across nations, and genesis of the thriller - had their share of laughs...the most fun panel I listened in on featured spouses of Jan Burke, Zoe Sharp, Sean Doolittle, Marilyn Meredith, and Radine Trees Nehring confiding what it's like being married to the likes of us.

Oh their pain. Oh our guilt.

I wasn't the only author in the audience cringing as their tales unfolded of treading lightly around us on deadline, making excuses to friends and family for our unsociable - okay snarly behavior, and doing their best to avoid interrupting our muse with unnecessary questions such as "How long should I cook the green beans?"

The husbands and wives who go to work each day, leaving their significant other home in front of the keyboard, certainly seem to have an easier life than those who work under the same roof or who are simply trying to enjoy their golden years within the same walls as the one they vowed to love, honor, and cherish.

Those of us who are writers think we have it hard, cranking out a book in a year...yet have we given any thought to what our loved one endures? How uncomfortable it makes them to find books of poison on the kitchen counter?

Some author spouses complain they are constantly being badgered for immediate feedback on the pages as they're printed; others complain the writer they live with is too secretive, not wanting to share their work until they've reached The End.

Neither my husband nor I have real jobs these days...after a long career as a newspaper reporter, he recently took a buyout. Now we're both living the freelance life, so at times it feels like he's watching me try to write a book. While I suspect there are times he feels I love him only when I need help with the computer.

While friends and family think because I wrote a book, money is flush and the limo pulls up for me. He knows he's the limo. And he understands the poor struggling writer side of being an author.

When his friends heard I'd written Stalking Susan (paperback out June 23), they nudged him, leering as they inquired whether it contained any hot sex scenes. Well, no... That action happens off screen. (Hey it was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, what do you expect?) But I sensed he worried this buddies might think if my book had no sex, that he wasn't getting any either. And that his reputation as a stud could be threatened.

What might be worse, he later conceded, would be if my book did contain hot sex scenes describing exotic techniques he was unfamiliar with.

In Stalking Susan my protagonist is a widow. Should my husband read anything into that?

My second book, Missing Mark (coming July 14), deals with a wedding gone wrong, a groom gone missing. The most visible reminder of their troubled relationship is a wedding dress the bride is trying to sell.

Which introduces a prime book club question for readers of Missing Mark: Do you still own your wedding dress? What would it take to make you part with it? Anger? Grief? Economics?

My husband can take comfort that my wedding dress still hangs in my closet - evidence perhaps of the strength of our 22-year marriage. I take some comfort that author Marilyn Meredith and her husband, Hap, have been married 58 years. The applause that greeted that news at Mayhem might be the best evidence that if their relationship can survive Meredith publishing twenty books, there's hope for the rest of us writers. For better or for worse.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Do You Believe? by Mark W. Danielson

Normally this time of year, believing refers to Santa Claus, not paranormal activity.  And while discussions about apparitions may seem more topical at Halloween, I address it now because of my latest release, Spectral Gallows.  

Oddly, this story was never envisioned, but rather came to me in my sleep.  What kept me awake was the paradox of how people accept drunken behavior, but shun the notion that the same mental state exists when you have been denied rest.  Exploring this notion gave birth to a down-and-out Vietnam Vet whose haunted past keeps him from sleeping, and has no credibility because of his drunk-like state.  His inability to persuade a friend that the actor who died in 1970 in the basement of Fort Worth’s Scott Theater was hanged, rather than the suicide the police claimed it to be, infuriates him to no end.

Enter Homicide Detective Maxx Watts and partner Blain Spartan where they are instantly drawn in as the two men argue over murder.  Further eavesdropping compels them to visit the Scott Theater where an unexplained voice whispers murder.  Other oddities convince them they must look into this case and resolve the question of murder once and for all.

Not being a paranormal or Quantum Theory expert, I solicited help from real ones.  Their expertise ensured my story was accurate while playing believers and non-believers against each other.  And rather than give the story away, I’ll leave you with some spectral thoughts.  Although I have never experienced anything paranormal, my wife has.  And by coincidence, I received the following from a dear friend who is also one of the most credible people I know.  Read his words carefully, and then try to sleep without thinking about who might be watching.   

“When the grandkids come over, I get turfed into the guest bedroom.  There, I have witnessed three magnificent apparitions walking through the walls, completely benign and, in fact, kindly.  They are of Civil War times.  I think they had a house on this spot where our subdivision house is.  They wander around looking puzzled.  A housemaid with ironed folded linens across her arms (you can smell the warmth), she wears what I'd call a little Dutch linen headcap, kind of like the Amish.  She has a spotless apron and red dress.  She goes into the closet and disappears....  There is a boy about 16 years old, wearing a long leather apron that makes me think of a butcher's apprentice.  The apron is workmanlike, with half inch stitching along its edges, I think its cat gut.  Then there's the guy I want to tell you about.

I was again banished to the guest room when I awoke suddenly, sensing someone was there.  It did not bother me, for it had already happened a few times since we moved in.  I opened my eyes and looked where "something" had made a depression in the bed.  And then there he was, this bald man with a rim of spotless white hair, the loveliest blue eyes one could see anywhere, wearing a three piece suit with a watch fob on his waistcoat, a couple of buttons loose for comfort over his paunch.  He was looking at me, puzzled, like, ‘What are you doing here?’  No malice, just bewilderment.

This time I was prepared.  I closed my eyes, slowly counted to ten, and then opened them again.  This time I was spooked as the old chap was still sitting there looking at me!  After that, he literally dissolved, vanishing from sight.  Neither my wife nor I have seen any of them since.”

The above implies that my wife and friend are better spirit mediums than I, but since I cannot explain how Spectral Gallows came to me, wouldn’t it be ironic if the Scott Theater’s spirit subliminally planted it?  After all, the Scott Theater is only an hour away . . .   

Mark W. Danielson is an international airline pilot and novelist.  Spectral Gallows is his fifth published novel, and second in the Maxx Watts detective series.  I encourage you to visit his web site at for information on his writings and worldly travels.

Thanks, Mark. 

You can learn more about Mark Danielson and his books at: and

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nobody's Perfect by Paul D.Marks

My 2013 Shamus Award-Winning novel White Heat is an intense mystery thriller that begins where the “Rodney King” riots leave off. The main character, Duke Rogers, is a former Navy SEAL turned PI – a tough guy with a tarnished soul and a big heart. 

Duke finds himself in a combustible situation in this racially charged thriller. His case might have to wait... The immediate problem: getting out of South Central Los Angeles in one piece during the 1992 “Rodney King” riots and that’s just the beginning of his problems.

While Duke tracks down the killer he must also deal with the racism of his partner, Jack, and from Warren, the murder victim’s brother. He must also confront his own possible latent racism – even as he’s in an interracial relationship with the dead woman’s sister, Rita.

Duke and his partner Jack, as well as most of the other characters in the novel, are definitely flawed and imperfect. Duke’s actions on a case inadvertently lead to the death of a young black actress. And his guilt in her death sets the plot in motion and eventually threatens the nascent interracial romance between Duke and Rita.

And though I wrote White Heat as an exciting, fast-paced mystery-thriller, what really interests me are the characters. I like flawed characters and I like characters that develop as the plot progresses. And I don’t think they have to be totally sympathetic for people to identify with them.

Duke is a flawed hero, but still he’s a man that I think we all want to be or at least identify with in some ways. His partner Jack is an outright racist, who voices things that many people probably think but are afraid to say. Still, when push comes to shove, Jack is the kind of person who often says the wrong thing, but always does the right thing.

I thought people would have an issue with Jack in particular, but they actually seem to like to him. Why? Are they all racists or latent racists – I don’t think so. I think the reason is that we all have flaws, weaknesses, shortcomings and prejudices – and we also all have people in our lives who have faults, big and little, but who are still basically good people. The world is not always black and white, good and evil, right and wrong, and this is one of the things that I try to portray in White Heat and my other writings.

I look at Duke and Jack as opposite sides of the same coin, the cartoon Devil and Angel on the characters’ shoulders. But when push comes to shove, when they are tested, what will they do?

The spark for White Heat – and I’m not sure if that pun was intended or not – of course comes from the 1992 “Rodney King” riots. When the riots broke out I was living in L.A. and you could see and smell the smoke from pretty much any part of the city. The police were AWOL much of the time in many places. Reginald Denny was yanked from his truck and beaten. People were scared, hunkering down in their homes. They were buying guns. Waiting for it all to end.

I wanted to write something about the riots. But I didn’t want to do a morality play. I come from a screenwriting background which is very audience/entertainment oriented, so I wanted to do something that would be entertaining and also deal with hard-hitting underlying themes, while portraying people and incidents in a realistic way – flaws and all.

I hope flawed characters set against a realistic and tense background intrigues you. And Duke and Jack will be back in the sequel Broken Windows sometime in the (hopefully) near future.

Thank you, Jean, and your readers, for having me.


Paul D. Marks pulled a gun on the LAPD...and lived to tell about. A former "script doctor," Paul's novel WHITE HEAT is a 2013 SHAMUS AWARD WINNER.  Publishers Weekly calls WHITE HEAT a "taut crime yarn."  Paul is also the author of over thirty published short stories in a variety of genres, including several award winners.  And he has the distinction, dubious though it might be, of having been the last person to film on the fabled MGM backlot before it bit the dust to make way for condos.  According to Steven Bingen According to Steven Bingen, one of the authors of the recent, well-received book MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot: “That 40 page chronological list I mentioned of films shot at the studio ends with his [Paul D. Marks’] name on it.”.  You can learn more about Paul at: as well as:
White Heat novel:
twitter: @PaulDMark

Paul will be giving away two copies of White Heat. Leave a comment to be eligible to win. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Lois Winston Revisted

Lois Winston is an award-winning author and designer as well as an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency. Her latest book, Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. 

Lois, as an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency, what advice would you give fledgling writers seeking literary representation?

If I had to pick one piece of advice, it would be: Don’t submit until your manuscript is ready to submit. Too many unpublished authors make the mistake of thinking their work is ready for submission when it’s far from ready. They start their agent search the moment they type THE END, without first learning how to write a publishable manuscript. Today, it’s harder than ever to sell a manuscript. Editors are doing the work of four and five people. They don’t have time to mentor writers with promise. The manuscripts agents submit must be near perfect. Likewise, agents aren’t in business to mentor writers. So before a writer wastes her time and ours, she needs to make sure her manuscript is the best it can be.

Tell us about Anastasia Pollack and your crafting mysteries.

Anastasia Pollack is a women’s magazine crafts editor, a reluctant amateur sleuth, and the star of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, was released in January and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews called it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.”

When Anastasia’s husband permanently cashes in his chips at a roulette table in Vegas, her comfortable middle class life craps out. Suddenly, she’s juggling two teenage sons, a mountain of debt, a communist mother-in-law, AND her dead husband’s loan shark. And that’s before she becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a coworker she discovers hot glued to her office chair.

How important is humor to the mystery genre? And who, in your opinion, has best combined the two?

Humor is very subjective, which is one reason it’s so hard to write. As a writer of humorous fiction, I know that not everyone is going to “get it.” I just hope that more people “get” my humor than don’t get it.

Some people don’t think humor belongs in mysteries. However, I believe that it’s easier to get through anything if you have a sense of humor. A good humorous mystery doesn’t make fun of murder and death. The humor lies in how the protagonist approaches life and deals with all the caca thrown at her.

Personally, I love Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series because Stephanie never fails to make me laugh. Being favorably compared to Evanovich by several reviewers has me floating somewhere over the rainbow. Another favorite series of mine is Lisa Lutz’s Izzy Spellman books.

You’ve received some great reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Book List and Kirkus, among others. How important are reviews to a writer’s career? And do bad reviews really damage a book’s success?

Great reviews certainly give a boost to an author’s career, but many books that have received mediocre or even lousy reviews have gone on to become bestsellers. Word-of-mouth is the author’s best friend. If people like a book and talk, tweet, and blog about it, other people are going to buy it, no matter what the critics have said.

How do you manage to balance your design art with your writing and agenting job?

LOL! I thought I was doing a pretty good job of juggling my designing, writing, and agenting careers until last Saturday at a conference when someone said, “See you next week.” Huh? As far as I knew, I had nothing scheduled for this weekend. Turns out, I’d agreed to speak at a SinC meeting and had completely forgotten about it. I guess the scheduling gods were looking out for me, because if this other author hadn’t said, “See you next week,” I would have stood up several dozen mystery writers.

I’ve decided I need a personal assistant, but first, I need to be making enough money to afford a personal assistant. Either that, or I need to win the lottery -- which means I’d better start buying lottery tickets. I wonder which has better odds.

You’ve won an amazing number of awards. Which one means the most to you? Why?

The award that means the most is the one I didn’t win. I was the first runner-up in Dorchester Publishing’s inaugural American Title contest. Even though I came in second, I was offered a publishing contract. That first sale launched my career as a published author.

How important is blogging? In your own experience, has it increased book sales?

It’s very hard to quantify how successful blogging or any social networking is in regard to actual book sales. All author promo is a crapshoot, whether it’s blogging or giving away tchotkes and doodads with your name and website printed on them. For that matter, even the promo done by publishers and independent PR firms is a crapshoot. What works for one author may lay a ginormous goose egg for another author.

In an ideal world, authors would sit at their keyboards and write while their publishers handled all the promo. However, today’s world of publishing is a less than ideal world, and authors are expected to flak their books. In the three years between publication of my last book and my current book, much changed, especially the way authors use social media for promo.

I knew it was time for me to have a blog, but I didn’t want to compete with all the well-established author blogs already populating the blogosphere. So I decided Anastasia should blog, not Lois. Since Anastasia works as an editor for a women’s magazine, it seemed like a natural extension that the magazine should have a blog. Thus was born Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers -- . Mondays through Thursdays the various editors of the magazine blog. Fridays are Book Club Friday with Anastasia hosting guest authors who talk about their books.

Has Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers resulted in more book sales for me? I don’t know. What I do know is that every week I have more visitors to the blog and a growing following. Hopefully, that’s extrapolating to more book sales.

How has writing changed your life?

Writing has enriched my life in so many ways. I’ve discovered a talent I never knew I had. I’ve met many incredible people, some of whom have become extremely close friends. My life would be wanting in so many ways without these supportive, wise, and knowledgeable women. I’ve also enriched my mind, accumulating knowledge that I otherwise wouldn’t now have. And I’ve learned that it’s sometimes possible to have dreams come true if you work hard enough toward your goals and don’t give up on yourself and those dreams.

Thank you, Lois.
You can visit Lois at her website:,
her blogsite and
Twitter: @anasleuth but she says, "I’m planning to become the last person on the planet not on Facebook."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

You CAN Judge A Book by its Cover

by Susan Santangelo

Everyone knows that old saying – you can’t judge a book by its cover. Well, I beg to differ. At least, as far as my own Baby Boomer mysteries are concerned.

The designer and the cover artist for my books both make a concerted effort to make each book cover truly reflect what the story is about.  And believe me, that’s a lot harder than it sounds.Please don’t misunderstand me. 

The first thing is always to write the very best book you can. Professionally edited. No typos. (Even some of the bigger publishers seem to be miss typos these days.) Next comes the back cover blurb – a huge selling point to attract potential readers. And good reviews from a respectable site, and other readers, are also very important.

But in the age of what I call “click lit,” with so many readers choosing their books online these days through a variety of publishing platforms, an author has about a millisecond to attract a customer. And, even more important, convince them to click and buy.  An attractive cover that grabs the reader’s attention and, even more important, tells the story of the book, is essential.

My book covers have gone through a series of transformations since the first title, Retirement Can Be Murder, was published in 2009. That cover was actually taken from a photograph of two white rockers on a front porch. The book takes place in the summer, so there’s a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses, plus a little something extra, on a table between the chairs. The rockers were chosen because they often symbolize retirement. Because there are two English cocker spaniels, Lucy and Ethel, in the book, the original idea was to have our dog Lucy sitting on one of the chairs. But Lucy had other ideas.
Every time we put her on a chair and told her to stay, she gave us a look that clearly said “Nothing doing,” hopped off the chair, and took off. We finally gave up, and the book designer had the brilliant idea of putting Lucy on the back cover, not the front. And a series of paw prints were sprinkled along the bottom of the front cover, leading to the back and Lucy’s picture. By the way, even though Lucy has gone to her heavenly reward, she’s on the back cover of all the Baby Boomer mysteries, and also plays an important part in every book, along with her sidekick Ethel.

The cover for Book 2 in the series, Moving Can Be Murder (2011), was done by a wonderful Cape Cod artist, Elizabeth Moisan. She used our English cocker spaniel, Boomer, as her cover model, and he became Lucy and Ethel. (He’s not too happy about posing as two females, though.)
Boomer continues to be featured on every front book cover, along with clues to the story, and Lucy reigns supreme on the back. I’ve had readers e-mail me to say that they were first attracted to my books because of the covers – they just love the dogs. There are lots of dog lovers out in the universe!
I’m a ‘seat of the pants’ kind of writer, so Elizabeth can’t start to conceptualize  the cover until I’ve finished the first draft of each book. Why? Because we put the murder weapon on the cover. 
Where is it on each of these covers? Can you guess?
And why does Book 4 have three dogs on the cover instead of the usual two? 
I’ll never tell. You have to read the books!  

Susan is giving away a print copy of her novel, Class Reunions Can be Murder, to someone who leaves a comment here. Be sure to leave your email address at the bottom of your comment.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Middlemen, Mayhem and Mysteries with Anne K. Albert

Welcome back to Mysterious Writers, Anne. Tell us how and why you left traditional publishing to become an independent.
Life is a journey, and so too is the road to becoming an indie author.

 I never imagined I would one day publish my own books. But then, I never imagined ordinary people such as myself wrote books either! Yet, at 45 I decided to give writing my all. I spent the next fifteen years honing my skills. With seven completed manuscripts in hand, I entered contests (won several), attended workshops and conferences, queried agents and submitted my stories to editors.

The rejections piled high until three years ago when a small publisher offered a contract.

At 60 I became a published author! While I knew nothing about the book industry, and even less of social media, I was determined to do my part to promote my books.

And promote I did.

For two solid years I spent every waking hour online. I blogged. Took part in blog tours. Tweeted. Established a presence on Facebook. I also read how-to books, posts and articles that promised success if the author did this or did that as advised by the experts.

So, how did that translate into royalties? Sadly, it did not. Payments always arrived late (as in months, not weeks). Statements were nonexistent, while excuses from my publisher were so plentiful I lost count.

When my husband pointed out I’d earned more at ONE Saturday morning yard sale than I had during my two-year writing career I fell into a funk. I stopped writing. I stopped promoting. I stopped blogging. I ignored Facebook. And I was totally and utterly miserable.
Worse, I suspected my publisher was partially to blame. But how was that possible? Was I being paranoid? Delusional? Unable to decide I terminated my contract in May 2013. Within hours my books were withdrawn from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. I was stunned. I had no idea my publisher could move so fast!

I expected to feel relief, and that did happen. But what surprised me was the depth of sadness that washed over me now that my books were no longer available to readers.

I spent the summer in a writer’s purgatory. Towards the end of July I received the rights back to my books, and also discovered 14 other authors had recently ended their association with my ex-publisher. The reason? Fraud and breach of contract. One writer was swindled out of $5000.00 in royalties.

Misery changed to anger, and that’s when I made the decision to go indie. I realized no one cares more about my writing career (or the proceeds I would make from it) than me. So, I set up my own publishing company. Because I’m Canadian I applied for my EIN (US Employer Identification Number). Next, I set up an account with Amazon’s KDP, and in early August re-released DEFENDING GLORY, book one of the Piedmont Island Romantic Suspense series, in ebook format. FRANK, INCENSE, AND MURIEL hit the shelves this month.

These may be small victories in the grand scheme of things, but they’re huge in my world.

Was it scary? Yes. Did I make mistakes? Oh, yeah! Would I do it again? Absolutely. In a heartbeat.

If you’re considering going indie, my advice is go for it. It’s a fantastic time to be a writer. It’s an even greater time to be self-employed and queen of your universe!

Here are a few tips to help you get started.

(1)  Read everything you can get your hands on about self-publishing. Start with these sources:

(2)  Once you have a better understanding of what is required, decide how much of the process you’ll do yourself. Will you edit and format your books, design the covers, or hire someone to do it for you?

I chose to do it all myself. (I do have beta readers, however, that are worth their weight in gold. They believe in my stories as much as I do, and for that I am eternally grateful.)

 Money was also a factor, but the experience with my ex-publisher also left me with some trust issues. I wasn’t prepared to hand over my books to a stranger. Besides, with a degree from an art college (I graduated in the Stone Age!) and my past work experience at a daily newspaper, as well as a stint as editor for a weaving magazine, I felt confident I could do this. Plus, I love being in total control. If I succeed or fail, I have no one but myself to blame. J At this point in my life, that’s important.

(3)  Start your indie career by publishing something small such as novella or small non-fiction book. The task will not seem as overwhelming, and it will allow you to get a feel for the process. Each time you publish a book it will get easier.

At the moment my books are only available as ebooks. To be honest, when I set out on this journey I could not cope with the enormity of formatting in both versions. So, I took it one step at a time. Sure, it may have cost me a few sales, but my blood pressure is normal! I am determined to offer my books in print in 2014.

(4)  Embrace your mistakes because you will make ‘em! The joy of self-publishing is you can fix them lickety-split. It costs nothing to upload new content, and those mistakes are golden opportunities to look at something differently or tackle a task from another angle.

(5)  Dreams can come true. It can happen to you! If a 60-something woman who first saw a computer in her forties can be an indie author, so can you.
About the Author:Anne K. Albert has taught high school art, sold display advertising for a weekly newspaper, and worked for a national brand water company, but now writes full time.When not at the keyboard, the award winning author enjoys traveling and housesitting with her high school sweetheart husband (22 countries to date), visiting friends and family, and of course, reading using "Threegio" her cherished and much beloved Kindle.
She writes the Muriel Reeves Mystery series and the Piedmont Island Romantic Suspense series. Her books are available on Amazon. Visit her blog. She is also on Facebook and Twitter @AnneKAlbert.

Thanks, Anne.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Rhys Bowen Revisited

Rhys Bowen’s mysteries have been nominated for every major mystery award, of which she's won more than a few .She’s written three series: the Constable Evans mysteries, Molly Murphy Mysteries, and a series featuring a minor royal in the author's native England, circa the 1930s. After graduation from London University, she worked for the BBC, specializing in drama. She became studio manager and wrote her own radio and TV plays. She also worked for Australian Broadcasting in Sydney before settling in the San Francisco area.

Rhys, when did you know that you were a writer?

I have been a writer all my life, from making up stories for the family to acting out as a small child onward. By high school I was writing short stories, one of which was broadcast by the BBC. Strangely enough I didn't look upon writing as a career and it was only when I was working in BBC drama that I decided to try and write my own radio and TV plays. After that I've never stopped writing.

Tell us about your first award-winning children's book. Was the setting in your native England?

It was called Peter Penny's Dance, a picture book, illustrated by Anita Lobel (which obviously helped get attention for the book). It was about a sailor who danced around the world. Great fun.

How do you manage to write more than one mystery series simultaneously? Do you have a rigid writing schedule?

I am currently only writing the Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness series. Constable Evans is on hold, since the publisher started taking some of the backlist out of print. But yes, I do have a very rigorous schedule, writing two books a year, then finding myself on the road, a lot of speaking and promoting. I try to block off three solid months to actually write a book, but I do lots of research ahead of that, as both series are historical.

Your series characters are diverse. Tell us about them.

Molly Murphy is an Irish immigrant in New York City, turn of the century era. She fled from Ireland in the first book, after accidentally killing the man who tried to rape her. She has led a precarious existence since then as a private detective in New York. Molly is feisty, hot headed and not always prudent in her behavior. But she has a strong sense of justice and often the luck of the Irish! These books are fairly gritty, showing various aspects of New York at the time--the garment industry sweat shops, spiritualists, Coney Island, the theater.

My other current heroine, Lady Georgiana, is also plucky but comes from a very different background. She is a minor royal but her branch of the family is penniless, so she is trying to survive alone in London, during the great depression of the 1930s.

How did you conceive the award-winning series about the penniless girl who's 34th in line to the throne? Is it a humorous mystery?

I wrote it because my editor kept bugging me to write a "big dark stand alone". I decided I didn't want to spend six months with serial killers or child molesters or terrorists so I came up with the most unlikely sleuth I could: a minor royal. And yes, the books are intended to be pure fun. Great therapy for times like these.

How do you feel about the latest downturn in publishing? What kinds of changes do you foresee?

The saddest thing I am noticing is more independent bookstores going out of business. But a spark of good news is that people are apparently reading more fiction. I think publishers will trim their lists, not keep any books that are not making them a good return. It will be tougher to break in and tougher to hang in there. Advances will be smaller for the big guys at the top (which might not be a bad thing).

Advice you would give to fledglings just entering the mystery field?

First know the field you are entering. What does the [latest] mystery look like? Second, your first mystery must come across as something totally new and different and exciting—or a new take on an old theme. You have to wow the editors and agents.

How, in your opinion, does the American mystery novel differ from the British?

It's funny: in the old days the American novel was hardboiled—Chandler, Hammett etc, and the British novel was cozy: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers. Now things are reversed. The cozy novel is alive and well in America but completely dead in England. The current English crime scene is very dark, very violent.

Who are your favorite mystery writers, and who most influenced your own work?

My first influences were the ladies of the golden age in Britain, but then the writer who inspired me to write mysteries was Tony Hillerman. He showed me for the first time that a mystery could be so much more. It could take the reader to other times and places, give insights into other cultures. I read one of his books and thought, "That's what I want to do!"

My favorite writers now: Peter Robinson, Reginald Hill, Deborah Crombie, Louise Penny, Jacqueline Winspear and many more. . . Anything else you would like to talk about?

Rhys Bowen's website URL is:
She also contributes to two blogs: and

Friday, October 11, 2013

Louise Penny Revisted

New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny lives and writes in a small village near Montreal, not far from the U.S. border. She's the recipient of the Agatha Award and many other honors.

Louise, you've had a long career as a journalist and radio host in your native Canada. When and why did you decide that you would rather write novels?

Well, I've wanted to write since I was a child, and tried every decade of my life. But the sad fact was, I had nothing to say. I was way too callow and self absorbed. And while I feigned interest in others, I really wasn't listening. These are not promising traits for a writer.

There's a wonderful line from Auden's elegy to Yeats in which he writes, 'Mad Ierland hurt him into poetry.' How searing, how true must that have been? And I feel the same was true of me. Not poetry, of course, but writing. I was finally buffeted and bruised and hurt enough by life that I started to empathise with and feel the pain of others. I understood loss and sorrow and aching loneliness. What it felt like to make dreadful mistakes. And what it felt like to be forgiven. And to forgive. And to love with all my heart. How friendship really felt.

And then I was ready to write.

Your work has taken you from Toronto to Thunder Bay to Winnipeg, Quebec City and Montreal. Have any of those cities served as a backdrop for your books?

My books are actually set, for the most part, in the fictional village of Three Pines, which is south of Montreal, near the border with Vermont. It's the area of Quebec I live in, called the Eastern Townships. However, Chief Inspector Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie live in Montreal, so I'm able to use my familiarity with that gorgeous city. And my next book - out in 2010 - will be set in Quebec City.

I know that you’re a fellow dog lover. Have canines inhabited your novels?
Yes! I love writing about dogs, and have given almost every character, including Clara and the Gamaches, dogs. Clara has a Golden Retriever, like us - and the Gamaches have a German Shepherd. Both are adoption dogs. Indeed, my  book, The Brutal Telling, is dedicated to our local no-kill shelter.

What did you find the most difficult when you made the transition from journalism to fiction?

There were actually a lot of challenges. In radio journalism I was used to a story being half a page long. Just the fact. No plot, no character development. Few adjectives. I was convinced that when I set out to write my novel it would be a page and a half long. What I found quite easy, though, was dialogue, since when I wrote for radio I wrote for the spoken word. And I had 20 years of listening closely to how people talk.

Did marrying later in life influence your work in any way?

Certainly finding love influenced it. My books are about murder and the terror that comes from a crime of such violation, but mostly they're about love. My husband is the first and only man I have loved. With all my heart. I know how Reine-Marie loves Gamache, and he her, because of how I feel. And Michael has also served as an inspiration for Gamache - a mature man, who is happy and content. Not because he's never known sorrow, but because he knows exactly how terrible the world can be, and chooses to stand in the light anyway.

What’s the best part of mystery writing and the worst? And what's your writing schedule like?

One of the great things about a career hosting a daily live radio show is I learned discipline. And perseverance. Two qualities I think are more important even than creativity. I write from January through until the book is finished...generally eight months for a first draft and re-writes. Though I am thinking of a book, and making notes, for about a year before I actually start writing.

Everyday I write at least 1,000 words. Even if they're stinkers...I can always take them out afterward. But I know myself. I can be very, very lazy. So I can't afford to even think about flagging!

In terms of mystery writing, there are so many great things beginning I think with the community of writers, editors, booksellers, bloggers like Jean and of course, readers. It is unbelievably supportive. What a relief not to be around people who smile to your face but stick a knife in when your back is turned.

And the people who read mysteries are the best! Genuinely interested in other cultures, in emotions. They're smart and thoughtful.

There really isn't a downside to writing mysteries--not that I've seen.Though the slight thorn might be when people - some other writers and some readers-look down on the books as 'simply genre' and don't see the depth and power of a well-written mystery. It saddens me a bit, and sometimes it angers me. But mostly I don't notice.

How did you celebrate your first New York bestseller?

First, I shrieked! My publisher and editor called on a conference call from New York to tell me. But Andy Martin, the great publisher at Minotaur, started by saying, 'Do you know why we're calling?'

I, of course, immediately presumed the book, A Rule Against Murder, which had just come out, was such a failure they were about to fire me. And it took two to do it.

When he said, 'You've made the New York Times Bestseller list!' I think there was a moment of silence - then a scream. Poor Michael, in another room, came running. Wow. I will never, ever forget that feeling. Then Michael took me out - we were in Quebec City researching an upcoming book--to a wonderful restaurant for dinner.

Advice to fledgling writers?

Believe in yourself. Never give up. Make sure your 'critic' isn't trying to write the first draft. And a bit of advice I got from an editor who turned down my first book. He said, 'New writers commonly make three mistakes, and you've made all three. The book is too long, too many characters and too many ideas.' I decided he was right. I'd tried to put everything I'd ever learned or thought into that first book. Every character I'd wanted to write showed up. And as a result, it was WAY too long.

But mostly, never forget what a privilege it is to write. I once heard a writer, after she'd won a huge award (not a mystery writer) say that writing is the hardest thing you can do. And I thought, Good Lord, has the woman never waited tables for minimum wages, serving people who sneer at her? Does she realize there are coal miners, daycare workers, teachers, firefighters, doctors who sit by sick children.

Writing is a blessing and a gift, and if you forget it you might win awards, but lose yourself.

Louise's website:
and her blog site:

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Carolyn Hart's Ghost Gone Wild

Image of Carolyn Hart

Carolyn, what prompted you to write about Bailey Ruth, a redheaded ghost ?

I grew up loving Topper and Blithe Spirit. I always wanted to write a book with a happy fun ghost.

I had an idea about a young woman, rather prim, who was in the attic not long before her wedding. She finds an old trunk and while exploring it, discovers that she was a twin but her twin died at birth. This realization brings back her twin, who is feisty, unconventional, and a bit on the wild side.

I was sure that I could write a delicious story about the tug of war between the twins over the future and the feisty twin decicing her sister had picked the wrong man.

But then I realized I needed to think about ghosts. Who are they and how could this ghost appear? I pondered the fact that a ghost is the spirit of someone who has died and gone to Heavan. That led to thinking about Heaven and before I knew it, I'd popped in my mind to Heaven and around a cumulous cloud came a freewheeling redheaded ghost and her name was Bailey Ruith Raeburn and she wasn't anyboy's twin and here was her story . . .

That was Ghost at Work. Now Bailey Ruth appears in her fourth adventure and she's still having fun. 

Thank you, Carolyn. Here's what Publisher's Weekly has to say about Ghost Gone Wild:

Carolyn Hart’s “irresistible cozy sleuth” is back—good-hearted ghost Bailey Ruth Raeburn just can’t say no to an earthly rescue, even when maybe she should…

Bailey Ruth loves to return to earth as an emissary from Heaven’s Department of Good Intentions. Problem is, she’s a bit of a loose cannon as far as ghosts go—forgetting to remain invisible, alarming earthly creatures—so she’s far from the top of department head Wiggins’s go-to list for assignments.

That’s why she’s surprised when the Heaven-sent Rescue Express drops her off at a frame house on the outskirts of her old hometown, Adelaide, Oklahoma, where a young man is playing the drums. What kind of rescuing does he need—drum lessons? But when a window cracks and a rifle barrel is thrust inside, only Bailey Ruth’s hasty intervention saves Nick Magruder from taking a bullet. When she materializes to reassure him, she finds she can’t go back to vanishing. What gives?

It turns out she’s been tricked by Nick’s late aunt—Delilah Delahunt Duvall—to come to the young man’s rescue, which means she isn’t back on earth in service of the department. Wiggins has no idea where she is—and now she may be trapped in Adelaide forever. Unless she can help Aunt Dee snare the person who wants her nephew dead…

Nick's doting Aunt Dee engineered this mission on the sly, Bailey Ruth must operate on earth without her otherworldly powers. When Nick is accused of a murder, she must rely on her wits alone to clear him. Though not fully developed, the secondary characters have some amusing quirks, and even the villain, who's not readily identifiable, has a certain charm. The well-constructed plot offers an ample supply of red herrings. Fans of benign ghosts such as those in Blithe Spirit and Topper will find a lot to like. 


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Catch and Release

by Lawrence Block

Subterranean Press has begun shipping hardcover copies of my new short story collection, Catch and Release, and a beautiful book it is. While the entire edition is essentially sold out, you may be able to secure a copy, if not from the publisher then from an online bookseller or mystery specialty store. But don’t drag your feet; Subterranean’s printing is a small one, and when they’re gone, well, they’re gone.

I’ve just published the Catch and Release eBook, expertly formatted  by Jaye Manus, with Ken Laager’s great cover art. It’s eVailable right now at Amazon (for Kindle) Barnes & Noble (for Nook) and Smashwords (for virtually everything else—Kobo, Apple, Sony Reader, and your pop-up toaster.)

This is the book that led Publishers Weekly’s reviewer to enthuse, “If Block were a serial killer instead of one of the best storytellers of our time, we’d be in real trouble.” The book’s a big one, with 17 previously uncollected explorations of the dark side, including 13 short stories, two novellas, a one-act stage play, and a newspaper op-ed piece, and I have to say I’m pleased with it.
Will there be a paperback?

There will indeed, same size as the Subterranean hardcover, same cover as the eBook, and it’ll be coming soon to an online bookseller near you. Rest assured I’ll let you know about it. that’s all for now. I’ve got packing to do, I’m off to Bouchercon in Albany in the morning, but I wanted to get this to you first.


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Twitter:  @LawrenceBlock

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Nancy Lynn Jarvis Talks About her AARP Gang

Welcome to Mysterious Writers, Nancy. Tell us how  your senior  gang came about.
Mags and the AARP Gang Wasn’t My Idea.

I was finishing up the The Widow’s Walk League, the fourth book in my cozy-style real estate mysteries series, when an impatient female voice began speaking in my head. No, I’m not schizophrenic those of you who write understand what I mean. “I want you to tell my story,” she said.

I dismissed her voice and continued working on the climactic scene where my heroine, Regan McHenry, and the villain struggle with a syringe filled with a lethal dose of… “That can wait. I’m 83, who knows how much time I have left,” my mental intruder insisted. “It won’t take long: I’ll talk, you write down what I say.”

“You mean write in first person? I’ve never done that before, my mysteries are third person omniscient.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake! Just write the first chapter and see how it goes. I’m not going to leave you alone until you do.”

She started dictating. “My name is Margaret Broadly Benson, née Spencer, but you can call me Mags. I should tell you I’ve been married three times, not twice…” She went on, telling me how her friend Harvey convinced her to help him rob the local bank it was that or find another place to live ― they needed money because their low income senior park was facing foreclosure. She was a reluctant participant initially, but when Harvey died unexpectedly days before the robbery was scheduled, she had to take over and run the operation. She told me how the robbery was supposed to work and, in spite of things going terribly wrong, how her band of renegade octogenarians pulled it off. I laughed a lot as Mags spoke; I don’t know if that’s what she intended.

There were a series of reveals in her story. I felt comfortable with them because I use the same technique in mystery writing. And there were plot twists, too, and an elaborate sting that Mags set up to catch the robbers who stole the heist money she and her AARP gang risked so much to steal.

Like all good cozies, Mags’ story had a tidy ending. She pulled everything together and explained, and then just for fun, she threw in a final twist that I didn’t see coming. Mags hasn’t spoken to me since and I’m back to legitimate mystery writing, but I’m glad she got in my head for a time.

Nancy Lynn Jarvis, a Santa Cruz, California, Realtor® for more than twenty years, gave up her license on May 5th. She now tells people she’s a writer, which is much more fun than being retired. After earning a BA in behavioral science from San Jose State University, she worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News. A move to Santa Cruz meant a new job as a librarian and later a stint as the business manager for Shakespeare Santa Cruz at UCSC.

Nancy’s work history reflects her philosophy: people should try something radically different every few years. “Mags and the AARP Gang” represents a new direction in her writing adventure. After four Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries, Nancy put her characters, Regan, Tom, and Dave, on hiatus so she could let Mags and her gang, characters who had been forming in her mind for the past year, tell you their story.

You can learn more about Nancy at her website:, her facebook book page and Amazon author page

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