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.