What does an emerita professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison do when she no longer leads a research lab? She writes!
Most efforts to recruit women and minority students to science majors are minimally successful. Thus, I was fascinated when a woman professor reported a number of minority and women students majoring in biology claimed they first considered a career in science after they’d become fans of the kooky Abby on NCIS television program.
That’s when I decided the heroine in my mystery and thriller novels would be a woman scientist. I quickly decided I didn’t want my heroine tied down to a laboratory but wanted her to have skills that would make her a valued consultant by a variety of agencies. Hence, my heroine Sara Almquist emerged as a globe-trotting epidemiologist who dislikes the constraints of university departments and loves her Japanese Chin dog Bug. Sara and Bug have been together now in eight novels in my Science Traveler Series, even though Sara’s human love interests have evolved over time.
The first, The Flu Is Coming, explores the psychological effect of a police-enforced quarantine on an upscale, gated community where a new type of flu virus kills nearly half of the residents in less than a week. The Centers for Disease Control recruits epidemiologist Sara Almquist to find ways to limit the spread of the epidemic. As she pries into the residents’ lives, she finds promising scientific clues, but violence ensues when she learns too many of the residents’ secrets. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0578423251
In Murder…A Way to Lose Weight, the second novel in the Science Traveler Series, Sara helps police discover who killed the diet doctor—an ambitious partner, disgruntled patients, or old-timers with buried secrets. Sara consults on public health issues in Bolivia in Ignore the Pain and tries to increase scientific cooperation between Cuba and the U.S. in Malignancy. However, in both countries, she learns too much about the international drug trade and is nearly ambushed by drug dealers several times.
I’m fond of the fifth book in the series I Saw You in Beirut because it allowed me to write about my experiences as a science consultant in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. In this thriller, Sara must examine her past to find the clues needed to extract a nuclear scientist from Iran. https://www.amazon.com/ dp/0960028544
My sixth book, Riddled with Clues, is based “loosely” on a friend’s notes (a CIA operative in Laos during the Vietnam War) and my experiences working with homeless veterans as part of a pet therapy team with my real dog Bug. In this mystery, Sara is attacked after listening to the strange tale of an undercover drug agent recovering at the VA hospital in Albuquerque. As she fights to survive, she keeps receiving riddled clues from a homeless veteran. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1938436237
I think A Pound of Flesh, Sorta has one of the most mischievous first chapters I’ve read in a thriller. A box of animal guts is delivered to Sara’s home. Did I mention the box is ticking and contaminated with bacteria that cause the plague? The police and Sara can’t decide if the box is a threat, a plea from a rancher fearing another round of plague in his livestock, or a clue needed to solve a series of mysterious “accidents.” https://www.amazon.com/ dp/0960028560
My latest novel is Dirty Holy Water. In this psychological mystery, Sara’s world is turned upside down. Instead of being a trusted FBI consultant about to vacation in India with her boyfriend, she’s the chief suspect in the murder of a friend. Sara soon realizes the difference between a villain and a victim can be alarmingly small. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0960028587
I try to make my readers feel like they are part of the action in my novels in several ways. The settings are real. I’ve visited the foreign locations mentioned in my books, and I pay attention to details. Even the foods served in restaurants are consistent with the restaurants’ menus. The characters have carefully researched backstories, sometimes based on those of real people. There is a theme in each novel that reflects a current issue. For example, scientific patents and immunotherapy for the treatment of cancer are featured in Malignancy, and water pollution is a focus point in Dirty Holy Water. I include two pages called “The Science Behind the Story” at the end of each novel. It’s a way to assure my readers that the scientific facts mentioned in my books are accurate. Two of my books (Malignancy and Murder: A Way to Lose Weight) won the annual contest conducted by the Public Safety Writers Association. Many have been finalists in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards competition.
To learn more about me, visit my website: http://www.jlgreger.com and my Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/J.L.-Greger/e/B008IFZSC4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share.
THANKS, GEORGE, FOR WELCOMING ME AT YOUR BLOG SITE.
Please tell our readers about your upcoming release: Traitor in the Realm is a story about four teens, two worlds, and one perilous summer. Teen artist, Kallan MacKinnon, becomes trapped with her family in a medieval kingdom that is under attack. She and her foster brother, Matthew Webbe, tangle with magical beings and prehistoric creatures in their attempt to reach the gateway back to Earth before it closes forever. Their friendship is tested when they meet Carys and Cadoc Dunstan, magically gifted twins from the new world. The Earth teens must determine if it is worth risking their lives to save a foreign realm from a homegrown threat and how much they are willing to sacrifice in exchange for safe passage home.
Kallan and Matthew encounter a world quite different from our own, yet similar in many ways. The story is an adventure tale that revolves around friendship and the meaning of family and home. In addition, individuals react to their place in society and the expectations others place on them. Kallan and Matthew each discover hidden talents and must decide when and if they want to use them, despite the inconvenience and risks involved.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I write poetry, contemporary stories, and fantasy tales. I also write nonfiction articles about a local symphony for community newspapers.
What brought you to writing? I worked as a research meteorologist and a science and math teacher before I began writing fiction. I’ve always been an avid reader and love learning new words and facts. I’m also fascinated by the ability of books to transport me into other worlds. After a lifetime of being steeped in books, story ideas eventually began to come to me, and I decided to write them down and share them with others.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I mostly write in my home office. Before the pandemic closed everything down, I also worked in coffee shops and at the library. I don’t play music while I’m writing. At home, it’s easy to avoid distractions. In public places, I am pretty good at shutting out what’s going on around me. As a child, I would often get engrossed in a book to the point that others had to raise their voice or get right in front of me to attract my attention. That skill of getting immersed in the current task helps me with writing as well.
Tell us about your writing process: Once a story idea comes to me, I jot down important points about it, then do research if necessary. When I write the first draft, I tend to write the story out without a lot of editing. However, with the novel, I found myself editing chapters before the first draft was completed. On the second and subsequent drafts, I may do a lot of revision. I look for characters’ motivations and consistency in actions, and I add in more sensory information to round out the story. I let a scene play out in my mind as I write it and imagine the sounds, scents, and tastes the characters might be aware of, as well as the visual elements.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Coming up with new story ideas. Once I have an idea or a character occurs to me and won’t leave me alone, the process begins, and I can write the first draft.
What are you currently working on? The second novel in the Next World Over Series.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? I have been a member of the Tri-Valley Branch of the California Writers Club for about nine years. Tri-Valley Writers’ presentations, workshops, conferences, and critique groups have all helped me with various aspects of the craft and making the switch from writing nonfiction to fiction.
Who’s currently your favorite author? Elizabeth Strout, for her storytelling, characters, and lovely, long descriptive sentences.
How do you come up with character names? I like to look at the meaning of names and choose names that relate to characters’ personalities and characteristics of locations. For Traitor in the Realm, I used mostly Celtic names.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? Sometimes, aspects of my characters’ personalities or motivations arise that I wouldn’t be aware of if I didn’t, in a sense, let them speak for themselves as I write. Occasionally, new characters pop up on their own. Dolph, one of the characters in Traitor in the Realm, simply appeared in my mind as I was writing a scene. He turned out to be a fun character with a quirky personality.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? No, not consciously. Some character traits may come from people I’ve met, but generally, those are features of many people, not one individual.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I make a broad outline first, but I leave myself open to new directions and new characters as I write. Stephen James refers to the “pantser” process as organic writing. I prefer that term also, and I like to allow for that process to play out.
What kind of research do you do? For Traitor in the Realm, I used a variety of reference books and the internet to research prehistoric animals, Neanderthals, and aspects of the middle ages that I wanted to include in the story. For woodland scenes, I drew on childhood memories and trips over the years to upstate New York, as well as visits to parks in California. I toured several castles on vacation in Scotland and England a few years ago, which helped me visualize the royal castle in the story.
What is the best book you ever read? It’s hard to choose only one, but Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, is one of the best.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? More books in the Next World Over series. Also, I’d like to publish a book of poems and haiku and a collection of short stories.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Keep at it. Read books about writing and do practice exercises. Get support from others through a writing club and/or a critique group. Give yourself time to absorb critique partners’ comments. Your initial reaction may change upon reflection. One person pointing out a weakness may simply reflect that person’s bias, but if three or more people give you the same message, there is probably something amiss that you need to address.
How do our readers contact you? Your website, blog links, any links you want posted?
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Patricia-J-Boyle/e/B08QGD335B
Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20991018.Patricia_J_Boyle
“Be a Creator, not a Witness” Walter Mosely
I first read Walter Mosely’s debut novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, sometime around 1994. I was hooked, even though I didn’t know it at the time. I read it in a matter of days and enjoyed it. I can’t tell you much more other than I took a liking to Easy Rawlins. I read a few more of the Rawlins’ stories and moved on to other authors.
Fast forward to 2020 and the Covid lockdown. I put out the dollars for MasterClass (https://www.masterclass.com). The selling point was Joyce Carol Oates. I once feared her for the horror she conveyed in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” I’ve since come to admire her and her work. I subscribed to the program and found it enlightening. Recently Walter Mosley was added to the lessons. When I saw his name, I didn’t recall who he was, and I wondered why he sounded vaguely familiar. Still, or maybe because he seemed familiar, I decided to watch his talks. Within minutes of watching his talks, I knew he was talking directly to me. When Mosley started discussing character development for Devil in a Blue Dress, I remembered the book. I also remembered that the woman was the catalyst, not the protagonist.
Mosley read the first paragraph, and I was hooked again. As soon as the break came in the talk, I tried to find a print copy. Not much luck, so I braved the outside world and drove to Half Price Books. None in stock, but they could order copies from Texas. I ordered two, one for me and one for my oldest daughter, a voracious reader. The books arrived a week later. I read the first line, “I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy’s bar.” Seeing it in print was even more vital than when Walter Mosley read it to me. I finished the book in two sittings.
I was amazed at the power in Mosley’s words. I found myself enthralled, stopping, and rereading paragraph after paragraph. I have to stop doing that if I ever want to finish! The pages flew by at an astonishing pace.
Walter Mosley’s novel and his Master Class lectures are similar lessons on life—the world’s reality.
Novel and lecture intertwined, Mosley tells the reader and the audience a story of life. He brings out the horrors of genocide, racism, child abuse, incest, and war with his poignant vignettes—each riveting and evocative.
In a few short paragraphs, Mosley conveys the monstrous cruelty of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany to life.
Walter Mosley reinforces the importance of conflict and growth as Easy Rawlins overcomes one obstacle after another. During my reading, I became Easy Rawlins; his thoughts were my thoughts. I felt the emotions, the fear, the joy. This author managed to engage me at every level.
Walter Mosley is a Master.
Deputy Chief Freedland, (Ret.) Irvine Police Department (CA) had a long and action-packed law enforcement career in addition to his writing.
In “The Pepper Tree,” a Southern California landmark primarily known only to law enforcement earned a reputation for crime scenes of the most unspeakably vicious murders. Infamous serial killers had chosen this location to discard and display their victims as trophies of their horrific acts. Lieutenant Scott Hunter leads a team of detectives seeking to capture the perpetrator who targets young women and has selected this landmark to showcase his victims.
This story is a work of fiction, but the Orange County location is real. So notorious, in fact, that those officers working the graveyard shift need only radio their activity at a site bearing two words – “pepper tree,” and they are immediately dispatched a back-up officer.
As a young patrol officer, Hunter had been introduced to the “terror at the tree” on an evening when he turned his police cruiser down that dusty road separating asparagus fields and discovered a corpse hanging from a tree limb. But now, as the leader of the Robbery/Homicide team, he received that most dreaded call interrupting the stillness of the night, a body dump.
Tell us about your writing process: In my 34-year law enforcement career, I worked assignments that included SWAT, Detectives, Training Bureau, Internal Affairs, and a street-level, Narcotic Suppression Unit. I would think about the most unique cases and then start outlining a plot using other actual investigations to complement the storyline. I developed a protagonist based upon a handful of mentors from my career who exhibited strong moral character and superior technical and physical skill-sets. I included sub-plots to give readers opportunities to speculate on the primary suspect’s identity and included a romantic character that matched the protagonist in interest and intellect.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Trying to include sufficient detail in a criminal investigation to convince the reader that the story is credible without getting wrapped up in the scientific minutia can be particularly challenging. I remember working on my first novel, “Lincoln 9.” I was constantly thinking that the most cantankerous detective was looking over my shoulder, criticizing my failure to include steps 3 & 4 in my homicide investigation. As I read more crime thrillers written by successful authors, I realized that it was more important to include a few choice technical procedures and get into the characters’ minds and emotions.
What are you currently working on? I’m working on my third novel, which involves homicides and human trafficking cases that will take the characters to Japan in pursuit of suspects and victims. The first chapter begins with a graphic, contract-style hit that my department worked in conjunction with the FBI, which led investigators into the mysterious world of assassins for hire. During my years of competing in martial arts, I had the occasion to train in Japan and visited several dojos (training halls) located near some of the darker parts of society. It should provide some intrigue and texture to the pursuit of international crime syndicates in the Orient.
What is the best book you ever read? Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” was my favorite book and was a masterpiece in the preparation of a surprise ending. It is the total package: history, romance, fascinating characters, and intense suspense. Dickens has always been considered a master of developing memorable characters. But in this historical novel, he presents some of the most fascinating people whose lives are impacted by the French Revolution. Whose names are perfectly suited to their personalities.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? Twenty-five years of my career involved serving in several areas of responsibility in Special Weapons and Tactics Teams (SWAT), which included Hostage Negotiator, Scout, Team Leader, and Team Commander. Our team was well-trained and well-financed. Based upon our successful operations and competition performances, the California Association of Tactical Officers sponsored our team to compete in the International SWAT Round-Up in Florida. We have had training relationships with members of SEAL Teams 3 & 5, and one of the firearms trainers for the U.S. Army’s Delta Force comes to California one weekend a year to train our team members. In each of my books, I introduce the reader to some aspect of a SWAT operation; a look behind the curtain of secrecy shrouding how SWAT operators perform. Based upon reviews, readers have found this piece of the plot an interesting addition to the fabric of the story.
When you visit my author’s website, www.davefreedland.com, you will find several photos from SWAT operations and training scenarios in which I have participated.
I would like to thank George Cramer for inviting me to share on his blog. Please take a visit to my website, and hopefully, one or more of my books will interest you. If you have a technical question, I always find time to respond.
Links: Facebook: Dave Freedland Instagram: dfreedland01
My debut novel, Unnatural, Erica Rosen MD Trilogy Book 1, is a medical thriller
Unnatural features a San Francisco pediatrician who happens upon a Chinese girl with blue eyes. Puzzled by this seeming impossibility (Chinese people have brown or occasionally green eyes – but not blue), Erica eventually learns that the girl is the product of embryonic stem cell gene editing performed at a secret government facility in China. Erica and her roommate, Daisy (a Chinese American), head off to China to expose the secret operation and rescue the girl’s younger brother, who is being held at the secret facility.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m in between. I have a definite plot and resolution in mind, as well as many of the stops along the way. However, I do not make a detailed outline. As I write, I’ve found that I come up with ideas that are better than many I think of ahead of time, so I go along with those changes.
Do you write in more than one genre? I’ve been sticking to the suspense/thriller genre, mostly medical suspense/thriller. I enjoy using my background in biochemistry and medicine when developing my plots. Keeping the details accurate is challenging and fun.
What is your writing process? I come up with a general concept, either something I’ve read about or something that pops into my head. After that, I need time to develop a plot around the concept. For Unnatural, I decided to write about embryonic stem cell gene editing. Then I figured out the where and the who. My writing is more plot-driven than character-driven, although I do put a lot of thought into developing the characters.
What kind of research do you do? I do a lot of research. For instance, for Unnatural, I learned about gene editing with CRISPR/Cas9. The technology that forms the backbone of my story, by reading A Crack in Creation by Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternberg. Dr. Doudna recently won the Nobel Prize for her work in that area. Another book I read was Young China by Zach Dychtwald, where I learned a lot about the current culture. I also read relevant references online. I find the internet indispensable not only for researching the scientific aspects of my writing but also for maps, pictures, videos, and information on hotels, airline flights, and general fact-checking. I’ve found that such research often leads to pesky emails and website ads for things, such as hotels and restaurants in Beijing. A small price to pay for all the information I can gather from the comfort of my home.
Where do you write? I like to write in my home office, at my PC. I bought myself a large, curved screen a year ago, which makes my writing much easier. I can have my word document open while I search the internet for information. Sometimes I’ll reference an eBook I display on my screen. When I have finished the whole novel, I can scroll through many pages at a time to look for underlines Word has made. I find the large screen to be very efficient. I prefer to work in a quiet environment, but since I don’t live alone, that’s often impossible. When I’m traveling (something I barely remember doing, but which I hope to do in the future), I bring my laptop but mostly use that only for typing short stories and editing, not for novel writing. For that, I like my home setup.
How much of your plots or characters are drawn from real life? All of my characters are fictional, although I give many of them attributes I have gleaned from people I have encountered. For instance, in the first novel I wrote (unpublished at this time), one of the characters was a graduate student in biochemistry who was also a nun. That’s an unusual combination. However, years ago, when I was a biochemistry graduate student myself, there was another graduate student who was also a nun. Strangely, she also had a prosthetic leg. I let my fictional graduate student keep both her legs because one has to be careful not to make fiction as bizarre as real life often is—readers won’t go for it.
As I am very familiar with laboratory and hospital settings, it is easy for me to come up with accurate descriptions. I had to google some specialized laboratories and equipment, however, to accurately describe some things. I found YouTube videos extremely helpful.
What are you currently working on? I am working on books two and three of the trilogy. Book two is titled Unwitting; I haven’t decided on a name for the third book. While the main story in Unnatural reaches a resolution, the next two books include developments in the lives of Erica and other characters introduced in book one, as well as new problems Erica finds herself thrust into.
How do readers contact you?
I can be contacted through my website https://www.devengreene.com
My blog is https://www.devengreene.com/blog
My Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/devengreeneauthor
My Instagram name is: devengreeneauthor