Friday, April 24, 2015

Linda Barnes Revisited

Bestselling author of the Carlotta Carlyle and Michael Spraggue series, Linda Barnes's novels have won or been nominated for The Anthony, Shamus, America Mystery Award, and the Edgar as well as named one of the "Outstanding Books of the Year" by the London Times.

Linda, how did 6 ft. 1 in. red haired private eye Carlotta Carlyle come to life? Tell us about her and do you share characteristics with Carlotta?-

She came knocking at my door while I was writing a mystery with a male detective, Michael Spraggue. Spraggue was an actor. I'd intended him as a one-off, a break-in book, so that I could get my foot in the publishing door before writing a female PI. When I finally sold that first book, my publisher insisted that a woman PI would never sell. He wanted a sequel and I wound up writing four Spraggue novels, but all the while Carlotta was screaming in my ear, demanding to be heard. She and I are both tall, stubborn, and wear size 11 shoes.

Why crime fiction? What prepared you to write the subgenre?

Growing up in Detroit. That's the light response, but it has serious underpinnings. I lived next door to a cop who killed someone on my front lawn when I was very young. Then when I was 21, a dear friend killed himself. When I wrote my first mystery, I was trying to make sense of his death.

Do you prefer writing about Carlotta or Michael Spraggue? And how do their crime detection techniques differ?

Absolutely Carlotta, although I have a warm spot for Spraggue. Carlotta's a pro; she's been a cop; she knows cops. She knows investigation techniques.

Over the years you’ve won or been nominated for a number of awards. Which one means the most to you?

Each means a great deal. Awards from your peers, like the Edgar, are wonderful. Awards from fans, like the Anthony, are even better. And awards from critics, like Publishers Weekly naming Lie Down With the Devil one of the best mysteries of the year, are incredibly helpful in terms of publicity.

Which of your books was the most difficult to write?

None of them are easy. How I wish they were. Heart of the World posed a special challenge because it was set in Colombia, a country I both love and fear.

What are the most important ingredients in a bestselling novel?

It's all character, plot, and language. But the most important of these is character.

Tips on acquiring an agent?

Real agents live in New York. Troll the Internet till you find a reliable list of literary agents. (Their association used to be called the Society of Authors' Representatives, but now it has a different name.) Write a one-page killer letter saying who you are and why your book will sell. Send it to any ten names on the list. If your letter's any good, you'll get a least one request to read your manuscript.

The writer(s) who most influenced your own work?

Dashiell Hammett and Dorothy L. Sayers.

Advice for fledgling writers?

Keep at it.

Who would you like to be trapped in an elevator with, past or present?

Dashiell Hammett or Dorothy L. Sayers.

Thanks, Linda, for taking part in the Mysterious Writers series.

Linda's blog site:

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Reflections of a Pack Rat

by Tim Maleeny

When I was a kid I collected everything — baseball cards, comics, bottle caps, key chains, action figures, coins, stamps, even pieces of wood, electrical circuits and plastic tubing in case I had to build a rocket ship or teleportation device. Boxes and bins filled my room, the closets, and the bookshelves, along with hundreds of books (which were probably the second thing I started collecting, after stuffed animals).

Some of those collections were put on display, many were played with, but there was something magical about having a collection just in case. Nothing was more exciting than playing a game which suddenly called for a contraption that could only be made with fifty bottle caps and ten yards of old string, knowing you had those essential ingredients somewhere in your closet, in the blue box with the Batman sticker.

Years later my desk and the walls of my office look a lot like my childhood shelves, with scraps of paper, scribbled notes, photographs, articles torn from newspapers, and file folders everywhere. Some of the information is new, dug up at the library or printed from my computer, but many items were found years ago and have only recently been pulled from a drawer or taken from a bulletin board to become part of my next novel.

One of my books, which has the unlikely title Greasing The PiƱata, was called by Library Journal “a cracking good mystery!” When I look at some of the disparate elements that comprise the plot, they include a missing U.S. Senator, a trip to Burning Man, a bipolar drug lord, a clergyman-turned hitman, an female assassin raised by the Hong Kong Triads, a trip across Mexico, and a financial scam that begins in corporate boardrooms and ends somewhere in the heart of the environmental movement. (Those are just a few of the major players or settings, because I forgot to mention San Francisco, the box jellyfish, the magic act and the castle on the beach.)

So the question is how these seemingly unrelated items ended up in the same book, and how do they work seamlessly in a story that Publishers Weekly said, “smoothly mixes wry humor with a serious plot.” Did I know I was going to use them all when I started writing? Absolutely not. But more importantly, I didn’t realize I was going to use any of that information when I first discovered it-—I just collected it as I went along, putting each experience, article or thought into its own bin to retrieve later, just like those bits of plastic and electrical circuits from my youth. As a writer, you never know when you’ll have to build a time machine.

I used to travel for work to places like Hong Kong and Mexico, and though I wasn’t writing then, I did collect those experiences, along with some snapshots, stories and memories that came in handy when I decided to set my novel there. A file folder stuffed with articles about deadly sea creatures came in handy when I decided a box jellyfish should make an appearance. And a box of magic tricks I performed as a child, which I’ve since taken from the attic and given to my daughter, provided the inspiration for one of the more memorable scenes in the novel.

I see my daughters collecting things, both of them already interested in writing their own stories even as they are learning to read, and though I occasionally step on a bottle cap, it always makes me smile.

Lefty Award winner Tim Maleeny appears in Mysterious Writers where his interview can also be read. The book is available in ebook and large print editions at

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Don't Go Home

by Caroline Hart                                             
In the spring of 1985, I was a failed author. I’d had seven books published but another seven manuscripts were stacked, gathering dust, turned down by a raft of publishers. This was the heyday of steamy romance novels. I tried that. No sale. I wrote WWII novels. Escape from Paris, the story of two American sisters in Paris in1940 who help British airmen flee the Gestapo, is possibly the best suspense novel I ever wrote.  Escape from Paris later sold to a small publishing house in England, then to Doubleday in the U.S. and has been reprinted now by Seventh Street Books. But in 1985, it was in the unsold stack of seven.
1985 marked a turning point in mystery publishing for American women. Until then, publishers considered the American mystery to be the hard-boiled male (of course) private eye written by men. That mold was broken by Marcia Muller, Sara Paretsky, and Sue Grafton.They wrote hard-boiled books but the protagonists were women. Publishers saw their sales and decided American women readers were interested in books by and about American women.
As a writer living in Oklahoma, I didn’t know a sea change was occurring. All I knew was that I’d written book after book and no one was interested. I was teaching at the time and attended a meeting of Mystery Writers of America in Houston. Wonderful Joan Lowery Nixon, a renowned Houston YA writer, had a cocktail party for the MWA members.
I attended though I felt out of place even though I’d had seven books published. There was that stack of seven unsold and nothing on the horizon. Everyone was friendly and kind, as writers generally are. I met Bill Crider who had just sold his first book. As we talked, he asked if I’d been to Murder by the Book. I asked him what that was. He said, “A mystery bookstore.” I’d never heard of a mystery bookstore. The next day I took a cab from the hotel to Murder by the Book. The owner was there, gracious and appealing Martha Farrington. I didn’t introduce myself or mention my previous books. Instead I gloried in the store, row after row of shelves filled with mysteries of all kinds, suspense, thrillers, traditional mysteries, crime novels, British mysteries, and a whole wall of used books. In Oklahoma when we like something we say, “I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven.” That, to me, was Murder by the Book. (Martha has since retired but fabulous Murder by the Book continues to be a Houston triumph.)
I returned home, energized by friendly writers talking about the books we loved to read and loved to write and by visiting Murder by the Book. I’d just started a new book (the triumph of hope over experience) set in a bookstore. I made it a mystery bookstore. I wrote the kind of book I love to read, about ordinary people and the passions and heartache that lead to murder and about a young couple, Annie Laurence and Max Darling, who truly love each other. I called the book Death on Demand. 

In New York, publishers were looking for books by American women. The book sold to Kate Miciak at Bantam, one of the mystery world’s most fabulous editors. I had written it more in defiance than in hope. The possibility that anyone would publish it seemed remote. It never occurred to me to think in terms of a series. Kate called to talk and asked, “It’s the first in a series, isn’t it?” I immediately said of course it was. I wrote the next and the next and readers read them and I kept going. The 25th in the Death on Demand series - Don’t Go Home - will be published May 8. 

Annie Darling tries hard to keep her promise to Max that she will never again put herself in danger but their good friend Gazette Reporter Marian Kenyon faces scandal and heartbreak when an author’s return to the island ends in murder. He knew too much about too many. Choices are made by Annie about the importance of friendship and by Marian about what kind of truth matters.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

An Icy Death

Vickie Britton
Loretta Jackson

by Vickie Britton and Loretta Jackson

Wyoming winters are often a challenge with temperatures dropping to zero and wind chill. Experiencing these harsh weather conditions personally and the panic that sets in during an emergency inspired us to write this book. 

Between Fort Collins, Colorado, and Laramie, Wyoming, a distance of about fifty miles, the weather can change dramatically from sunny to severe snow as the elevation increases, and despite weather warnings a sudden whiteout between destinations often catches travelers by total surprise.  One time, we tried to get through the mountains before the storm hit.  Halfway home, the blizzard struck.  In these conditions it is impossible to slow down because other traffic such as big trucks cannot see you and the risk of a collision is imminent.  Stopping is also out of the question because you might get struck by a passing vehicle or get hopelessly stuck.  If you slid off the road into one of the deep embankments, you might not be found and unable to summon help.

On that night, the blowing snow made it almost impossible to see the road and the steep drop-offs.  We were in a position where underlying ice made braking impossible and many trucks on the road were swerving wildly out of control.  We hit a patch of ice and barely escaped a bad crash into the canyon.  This experience led us to write An Icy Death. 
In Wyoming most travelers are warned to bring food, water and extra blankets in case of an emergency.  But sometimes people are caught unaware, or even these precautions aren’t enough to guarantee safety. Every winter in the area, despite weather watches and road closings, there are casualties from exposure and hypothermia. A person can freeze to death in a very short time. 

We have read newspaper accounts of people getting out of their car and losing track of direction, or staying in their vehicle and freezing to death. Wrecked or stranded cars leave travelers faced with a life or death decision to remain or to go for help.  And such was the case of our fictional characters, the wealthy, middle-aged couple, Arthur and Margaret Burnell.

Our story begins when Sheriff Jeff McQuede hears about a stalled vehicle and leaves the highway to find a woman frozen to death in a car.  Footsteps in the snow indicate that someone has gone after help, and McQuede expects to find the second part of a tragedy.

McQuede soon learns that Margaret and Arthur Burnell have traveled from Casper and taken a shortcut to Durmont.  Margaret is a partner in the Trevino Sporting Goods store chain, the local store which has recently been robbed.  While she is in town, she plans to have an audit of the books.  Because Arthur Burnell has signed a prenup, part of her fortune remains with the business, yet her husband would still profit enough to make him a prime suspect.   But he’s not the only one with motive and opportunity.  
In his pursuit of the killer, McQuede faces many grave dangers. In An Icy Death, in order to solve the crime he must face the brutal elements as well as a deadly killer.