Vera Chan, Murderers’ Feast in Midnight Hour: A Chilling Anthology of Crime Fiction by 20 Authors of Color, edited by Abby L. Vandiver
Vera Chan has likely published a million words — most of them true. The former reporter and editor marks her fiction debut with Murderers’ Feast in the Midnight Hour anthology edited by Abby Vandiver. A UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alum, she has worked at daily newspapers and the world’s biggest online destinations covering everything from lifestyle and entertainment to news features and search trends. Her mystery-in-progress Following won her the Sisters in Crime’s Eleanor Taylor Bland award. Her unpublished humor novel The Mounted Position garnered second place for fiction at the inaugural Effie Lee Morris Women’s National Book Association Literary Awards, San Francisco Chapter. Both manuscripts are out on submission through the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Her day job is as senior manager, worldwide journalism relations at Microsoft.
“Men had been murdered for less. And yet John Manley still lived. Five days, surrounded by false friends and his truest enemies. Every last one of them, cowards.”
My short story Murderers’ Feast is what I call corporate noir. It’s dark yet tongue-in-cheek, about an insufferable gazillionaire throwing a five-day retreat with people he has screwed over. The story even includes kombucha (which runs freely in some corporate cafeterias) as a deadly weapon.
Like many journalists, I’ve always wanted to write fiction. As a kid, I devoured books, gravitating to British classics like Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Rebecca. Mystery has always been a favorite genre, and there too, British authors dominated childhood favorites (e.g., Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). That said, nothing tops Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin canon. I’ve even sought out radio plays and various screen interpretations. Sadly, nothing has captured the series’ trenchant charm (imagine a young Robert Downey Jr. as Goodwin). I’ll refrain from ranting about how Hollywood grievously lags behind the Brits in honoring its mystery classics with a cinematic treatment and charismatic casting.
Having my fiction debut alongside the works by established authors is miraculous. I joined Crime Writers of Color (CWOC), an association founded by award-winning authors Kellye Garrett, Gigi Pandian, and the legendary Walter Mosley. What’s brilliant is how the group embraces not just published authors but also emerging writers, which makes a huge difference in trying to navigate an already challenging field. Abby Vandiver proposed an anthology in a Groups.IO thread, and Midnight Hour came together in stunning speed — during a pandemic. The miracle is how nobody questioned having a newbie in the mix: I keep waiting for someone to say, “How the hell did this one sneak in?” So far, I haven’t been found out.
I must confess, while I’m giddy about being part of a groundbreaking anthology, the kicker for me is that Midnight Hour will be at Target! I shop locally when I can and boycott chains that don’t compensate employees fairly. I’ve revered Target for many reasons, among them as a place that made high design accessible to plebes, even with something as prosaic as a broom.
Getting into publishing hasn’t been easy: I often joke, grimly, that I’m trying to break into an industry even more challenging than journalism. (I use a more colorful term than “challenging.”) Finding my spectacular agent took years; now, she suffers on my behalf in the excruciating pace of submissions, made worse by the pandemic. My decision to go “traditional” rather than self-publish lies partly in my “traditional” journalism route and because of my parents. My father was trained as a chemist and my mother an English teacher: When they escaped the Cultural Revolution to the United States, they ran their own mercantile and restaurant businesses. Witnessing their sacrifices made me leery to pursue an entrepreneurial route. Plus, reasonable or not, I feel writing is a wonderful indulgence and a privilege that I can justify by making it part of a larger business.
As for those stories on submission: The Mounted Position is about shy hapless tech writer Abba Welles-Lee who, despite being practiced in the arts of evading intimacy, finds herself dragooned into the bruising yet comical world of martial arts. (The title refers to a mat wrestling maneuver.) Finding an agent took so long, I wrote Following, which centers around amateur private eye Brenna Hom, tasked with spying on the wayward children of moneyed Asian parents during the most accelerated pace of digital communication innovation in the history of the world.
I’ve been so restless about those books making the rounds that I’m writing a third — a mystery satire about a series of deaths accompanied by messages written in excruciating business jargon.
As you might guess, work is the pattern, which may explain why I also like police procedurals. Indeed, this draft could be pitched as Janet Evanovich meets Ed McBain.
The other commonality is martial arts: Watching (too) many kung fu movies with stellar fighting women has made me impatient with stories featuring insipid females. And yes, those Hong Kong action films inspired me to take martial arts, where I met my husband. I’m not great, but I’m still at it after 35 years and volunteer-teach at Cal.
Because whether it’s work, play, or getting published, it’s about putting up the good fight. Thanks, George, for letting me get a couple of rounds in your marvelous blog.
This link will take you to my website: http://verahcchan.com/
This link will take you to all the outlets where you will find Midnight Hour: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/673674/midnight-hour-by-abby-l-vandiver/
FOUR CUTS TOO MANY – Sarah Blair, who finds kitchens more frightening than murder, gets an education in slicing and dicing when someone in the culinary school where her friend teaches serves up a main corpse. Sarah soon discovers that there’s no time to mince words when it comes to finding the real killer.
Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series (Four Cuts Too Many, Three Treats Too Many, Two Bites Too Many, and One Taste Too Many). Her short stories, which have been named Agatha, Anthony, and Derringer finalists, have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Malice Domestic Murder Most Edible, Masthead, and Jukes & Tonks. Debra is on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and president of SEMWA. She previously served on Sisters in Crime’s national board and was the Guppy Chapter president.
Do you write in more than one genre? Although my six novels are all traditional or cozy mysteries, my published short stories range from non-mystery literary works to different mystery genres. During my time as a judge and a litigator, almost all of my writings were non-fiction legal articles and book chapters.
What is your writing process, and what is most challenging about it? My true nature is to be a pantser who listens to the voices of my characters but only writes when the muse strikes me. I repeatedly tell myself I need to get up and write every day, but I constantly fail to do so. This was the exact style I used when I wrote the first Sarah Blair book, One Taste Too Many; however, after Kensington contracted the first three books, I faced several challenges. First, each book now had a deadline for submission, which meant I had to produce on time. That was a challenge I could easily meet. What was more difficult was that for each book, my New York editor wanted a detailed synopsis. It was emphasized to me that it needed to be detailed. Consequently, I spent weeks working out the plot of Two Bites Too Many and finally submitted an eighteen-page synopsis. My editor had only one comment: “Next time, double space.”
Although I wouldn’t say I like thinking the books out in advance, and I often must send my editor an email with a little change – like I discovered there needed to be a new character added to the cast in Three Treats Too Many. I have learned to write and appreciate having shorter, double-spaced treatments for each book.
Has any association membership helped you or your writing? When I announced that I was going to write mysteries, I was told to join Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. These two organizations provided classes and mentoring guidance that helped me develop my skills and understanding of the craft and business aspects of writing. They also have proven invaluable in helping me make friends at all levels of writing and who generously share their expertise and encouragement.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? The basic premise of the Sarah Blair books is that Sarah, who was married at eighteen, divorced at twenty-eight, with the only thing she got out of the marriage being RahRah, her Siamese cat, is starting over with no skills and a lack of confidence. As the series proceeds, Sarah evolves. She acquires new skills, including those needed to solve murders, and she grows in terms of her confidence level. Sarah’s interaction with the people around her set up several personal interaction sub-plots in each book. Whether the sub-plot revolves around family, friends, community groups, or her pets varies based upon the main plotline. I also work in social issue subplots, including economic development, mental abuse, ageism, and animal rescue. The key to these subplots is to make my point without banging the reader over the head with it. My goal is to have readers enjoy a carefully crafted whodunit but walk away with subconscious thoughts raised by the subplots.
What kind of research do you do? When Maze in Blue and Should Have Played Poker were orphaned, I knew I had to write something new and that I wanted it to be a cozy mystery. Having spent a great deal of time in small southern towns when I was litigating for the Department of Labor, I knew I could capture their essence in any book I wrote. I also had no problem making my sleuth an amateur. A problem arose when I thought about the fact that most cozy mysteries include crafts or cooking, and I hate both. Once I decided there had to be readers out there who hate the kitchen as much as I do, I had a hook for my series – a woman more frightened of the kitchen than murder. Despite Sarah’s unfamiliarity with the kitchen, I had to learn about it in order to write the kitchen scenes realistically.
Consequently, I approached several restaurant owners, chefs, and waiters in Birmingham, Alabama, which has become a foodie town. They graciously told me their stories and took me through their kitchens. From each person I interviewed, I learned something new that appears in the various books. For Three Treats Too Many, I wanted to write about a community motorcycle group and a veterinarian’s office. To get these things right, I interviewed a few individuals who collect motorcycles, and I shadowed a veterinarian for a day. I believe the more hands-on research I do, the more realistic and enjoyable my books are.
Website – www.DebraHGoldstein.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/DebraHGoldsteinAuthor/
Twitter – @DebraHGoldstein
Instagram – debrahgoldstein
Bookbub – https://www.bookbub.com/profile/debra-h-goldstein
Four Cuts Too Many and the other Sarah Blair books are available from indie and big-box bookstores but can also be purchased online.
Four Cuts Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)
Helping other writers is my passion
Why? I didn’t have a lot of help in the early part of my writing journey, and so I feel driven to use what I’ve haphazardly learned to help other writers cultivate a better beginning to their journey – by showing them how to get help, feel supported, and stay inspired. One of the ways I do that is by writing and speaking about Writer Self Care.
Obviously, writing is what you love. Now it’s time to get serious about loving what you do.
How? Minimize what you don’t like to do as a means of building more JOY into your daily process. I’m specifically talking about writing, but this idea works in many contexts. So how do you do that? Start with self-reflection.
For this part, we need to get off the treadmill, so to speak, long enough to gain a perspective on what we’re doing. Take an afternoon off from writing or a day or two to rest your hands, rest your brain, and create some space to assess and recalibrate.
Which parts of your writing life and process bring you the most happiness and satisfaction? Research?
And which parts do you dread because they drain your life force? Editing? Marketing? Promotion and outreach?
Let’s dig into this a bit because I have good news: there’s a way around the pain. I know what you’re thinking, though. You’re a writer, so that means you’re gritty, and you’re accustomed to pushing through obstacles. That’s a good thing. But you might also be wasting a lot of time and creative energy agonizing about what you don’t want to do, finding ways to procrastinate, and ultimately not meeting your writing goals.
Here’s a solution: Outsourcing.
Outsourcing is an old concept primarily based on supply chain engineering and the economics of leveraging available resources. The aim is efficiency and cost-savings (and there are many definitions of “costs”). The vast benefits include reducing the size of your to-do list, leveraging specialists who have expertise in the areas you need, and saving you time.
Another benefit I’ve discovered is that the feeling of having people on my writing/publishing “team” helps me feel more supported, more empowered, and less alone.
I hired a graphic designer to design a book cover for me, and now she’s designed a few social media ads that are sized correctly for each platform (Facebook, Instagram, etc.).
In preparation for my forthcoming book release, I’d been searching for someone to help me with social media – not so much posting, but more like ad placement, targeting, and trafficking. So through a marketing friend, I found a social media manager who’s been helping me with Facebook and Instagram ads and advising me on hashtag strategies, audience targeting, and timing. It feels so wonderful to have a grownup sitting at the table with me to help coordinate and manage the parts of the process I’m not good at, and I’ve learned so much from her.
Where to get help:
For the parts of the writing and publishing process that you dread, maybe there’s someone who finds joy in those specific tasks. And maybe the work they do for you will help bring refinement and visibility to their skills. And by getting support for these things, you’ll be freeing up more of your time and mental energy for the things you love doing most (more joy).
If you’re traditionally published, your publisher or agent might have resources available for you to consult with or a list of trusted vendors you can hire to perform the work for you.
How do you decide whether to outsource or not? You might want to create a mailing list and start publishing monthly email newsletters. Consider why you need this resource, whether this feels like the right time for it, how hard it would be to learn it yourself, and how much you’re willing to pay a freelancer to do it for you. The upcoming Sisters in Crime NorCal workshop on October 16th will include an author panel on developing author newsletters featuring bestselling authors MM Chouinard and Gigi Pandian. Click here to register.
Most people think of the writer’s journey as being very solitary. But as I’ve grown as a writer, I’m realizing that writing is a team sport, and the process works better that way – for you and for the team that’s supporting your success.
One of the most important symbols of self-care is saying no. And outsourcing some of your most unpleasant tasks is a compassionate way to maintain boundaries, prioritize your mental wellness, and keep yourself pumped up for what you want to do most – create!
To learn more about Writer Self Care, check out this blog post: https://digitalraconteur.wordpress.com/2021/08/01/self-care-for-writers/
And to stay updated on my book and writing news, you can subscribe to my email newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/hFmk8P.
Till next time,
Lisa Towles is the author of the award-winning crime novels Choke and The Unseen. Her 7th novel, Ninety-Five, will be released in November of 2021. Learn more about Ninety-Five and read a sample here: https://www.indiesunited.net/ninety-five.
Nanci Rathbun is the author of four mystery/crime thriller novels available in print, ebook, and audiobook format. Look for the PI Angelina Bonaparte Crime Thrillers at your favorite retailer—in whatever format you prefer.
The audiobook market has grown from forty-two million in 2013 to over two billion in 2019. But there are those who dispute whether listening is ‘cheating.’ Is it equivalent to reading? Or is it somehow ‘less’?
My personal prejudices came to a full stop in 2016, after a severe reaction to meds following cataract surgery. I spent weeks in the dark, unable to solace myself with reading, and reluctantly turned to audio to escape scream-out-loud boredom and recenter my focus outside of my painful situation.
A whole new world opened up to me during that rough patch. A world of voice acting that took me back to my childhood as an Army brat living overseas and listening to Armed Forces Radio. A world that enticed me to construct characters and settings in my head in a different way from when I read. A world that somehow activated a way of experiencing the written word as visual imagery.
I think we’re wired that way. Our ancestors gathered around fires to hear stories that educated and enlightened, as well as entertained. Wisdom stories like fables taught community values. Stories like Genesis taught the philosophy of existence and humanity’s place in the cosmos, and some stories, like the epic of Gilgamesh, used fictional narrative to exalt heroes and culture.
So are listening and audiobooks a lesser form of reading? Recent brain studies have shown that both reading and listening activate the same areas of the brain, giving evidence that they are on a par neurologically. Listening predates reading by millennia and continues to attract its own unique audience. And listening opens up a world that might not exist to vision-impaired persons and persons who struggle with learning disabilities.
And last but not least, listening to audiobooks allows us to be entertained while accomplishing other tasks that we might find boring, repetitive, or difficult: exercising—I walk farther when listening to an audiobook; cleaning—put on some Motown and get it done faster; driving—long road trips through open prairies or the Utah salt flats don’t make my chin hit my chest; and even dealing with insomnia—YouTube and sleep stories for adults (yes, that’s a thing!) have saved me from many a wakeful night.
So while reading is my choice in general, listening has captured a place in my heart as well. Like a good parent, I can’t claim one sibling is better than the other. Vive la difference!
How do our readers contact you?
Links to each book across all retailers: https://tinyurl.com/NanciRathbunBooks
Twitter handle: @nancirathbun
Twitter link: https://twitter.com/NanciRathbun
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Nanci-Rathbun/e/B00E9E7QCI
It’s 1923, and a young Black theologian—and Sherlock Holmes fan—receives a cryptic telegram to return home to Denver to solve the cold-case murder of her estranged father. But, in a city ruled by the KKK, will she unravel the crime before becoming a victim, too?
Patricia Raybon, former Denver Post reporter and former journalism faculty member at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is an award-winning Colorado author and novelist who writes at the intersection of faith and race. Her published books include My First White Friend, winner of the Christopher Award, and I Told the Mountain to Move, a Book of the Year finalist in Christianity Today’s 2006 book awards.
Her debut historical mystery, All That Is Secret—a Parade Magazine pick for “Mysteries We Love” Fall 2021—released October. 5th from Tyndale House. CrimeReads listed it among the “Most Anticipated Books of 2021: Fall/Winter Edition.”
Where did the idea come from to write about 1920s Denver and the Ku Klux Klan corruption? First, I love “clergy” mysteries—Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton, Grantchester’s vicar Will Davenport, and the like. My hope was to introduce a faith character in Colorado during one of its darkest times, the 1920s. Since fiction needs a threat element, I used the Klan as a hovering danger for a young Black theologian’s attempts to solve her father’s murder. I hope it makes for good tension.
How unusual was a female seminary professor in the 1920’s? A Black theology professor of either sex? Not totally unusual for two reasons. Many college-educated women in the U.S. matriculated at all-female seminaries, forerunners of female colleges such as Smith or Wellesley. Their goal was to prepare young, unmarried women to be teachers. Meantime, there was a move by many denominations to launch colleges for “Negroes,” now known as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Some white schools, such as Oberlin, had accepted Black students even earlier—at Oberlin since 1835. While most white colleges in the U.S. didn’t admit Black students until much later, Annalee would’ve found a place to study. Her study of theology would be rare but not impossible.
Was the neighborhood burning based on an actual event? Yes, the historic Shorter A.M.E. Church in Denver—founded in 1864 and named for an A.M.E. bishop (James A. Shorter)—was destroyed by fire on April 9, 1925, with many suspecting the Klan. One year later, on Easter Sunday, April 4, 1926, the congregation moved into a newly built building on the site of the previously burned structure in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, staying at that location until 1981 before moving to Martin Luther King and Colorado boulevards. My husband Dan and I have been members of Shorter for nearly 40 years. Knowing about the fire, I used the incident in my novel, All That Is Secret.
What sort of research did you do? I started out reading histories about Colorado’s Klan. Then, I scoured old newspapers at the Colorado Historical Newspapers site (a treasure) and listened to oral histories at the Denver Public Library’s amazing Digital Collections—also poring over their old phone books, street maps, vintage photos, church bulletins. I love history, so digging through this material never got old.
Are you a Sherlock Holmes fan? What other mysteries do you like? Sherlock Holmes is my first fictional barometer for mystery writing. I also deeply love Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and I love historical mysteries set in other countries, including Vaseem Khan’s Baby Ganesh mysteries in India, Harriet Steel’s Inspector De Silva mysteries in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness mysteries in the U.K. (and her stand-alone novels), Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency mysteries in Botswana, as well as American author William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor mysteries in Minnesota and his excellent stand-alones.
This is your first novel. What led you to try fiction? The pandemic. It sounds prosaic, but I’d started working on a mystery some ten years ago and then put it on a shelf. However, during the pandemic lockdown of summer 2020, I was desperate for something to take me away from the horrible daily news. So, I went back to my mystery. What had changed was me. Older now, I simply worried less about what people might think or say about prim Patricia Raybon writing a romantic historical mystery—or worry about what my characters needed to say and do. No reaction could be worse than a pandemic. So, I let her rip and gave it my all.
Did you find the “learning curve” challenging? I found it exciting. I’ve been reading about fiction writing for at least 30 years. I admire the format and always wanted to learn how to plot a novel. So, during the pandemic, I sat myself down on my back deck and re-read Robert McKee’s wonderful screenwriter’s “bible” entitled Story, James Scott Bell’s books on structuring the novel, John Truby on The Anatomy of Story, G.K. Chesterton’s classic reflection on “How to Write a Detective Story,” Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing, plus bunches of books on understanding story beats, especially in romance and thriller plots.
I tried to have fun with the writing so the reader would, too. That was my goal—excitement and readability.
What did you learn by writing a mystery? To treasure life even more. In a mystery, since someone’s life usually gets taken, that invites a brave look at all things in life that die—especially spiritually—for each of us. What, indeed, can we learn about life by looking hard at dying? To a theological detective, that’s a key question. As for historical fiction, hindsight reminds us that winners write history. But what’s the rest of the story? Historical fiction allows a second look. Writing my novel helped me get in touch with both sides of a historical time and place.
As for the actual plot—the moment-by-moment action—I honored those experts who say to focus on what the character wants most. Once I met Annalee and understood what she wanted—to solve her father’s murder, over everything else—that was my North Star.
I wasn’t trying to reinvent the fiction wheel but roll with what others already have studied and shared about plot—starting, in fact, with Aristotle. I’m a beginner at this, however, so I know there’s much more to learn.
Is this the beginning of a series? Where are Annalee and Jack going from here? To my wonderful surprise, the Annalee Spain Mysteries are envisioned as a series. Tyndale House requested three books to start out. Mystery readers love series, of course. So, overnight, I went from writing one book to developing a mystery series. I just completed Book 2, which I loved writing. I love that the relationship between Annalee and Jack is an intentional subplot in the stories. So, to find out what happens, follow along on their next adventure.
Did you enjoy the experience of writing a novel? It’s extraordinary fun, so much that I regret not turning seriously to fiction decades ago. My only consolation is believing that age and life experience will make me a better novelist. I sure hope so!
At my website at patriciaraybon.com
On Twitter at twitter.com/PatriciaRaybon
Facebook at facebook.com/PatriciaRaybonAuthor
On my Faith Journey Newsletter at http://bit.ly/2jgpasW