M.M. Chouinard is the USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Amazon Charts bestselling author behind The Vacation, a standalone psychological thriller, and the Detective Jo Fournier series, featuring The Dancing Girls, Taken to the Grave, Her Daughter’s Cry, The Other Mothers, and Her Silent Prayer (releasing April 7th, 2022). She loves animals, coffee, amateur genealogy, and anything to do with Halloween, Serial Killers, or the zombie apocalypse.
When the body of single mother Melissa Rollins is found trapped inside a bedroom closet in her immaculate suburban home, Detective Jo Fournier is horrified to find that Melissa’s heating was turned up to the max while she died of thirst. As she delves deeper into the case, Jo uncovers a link between Melissa and a recent cold case: another single mother who was tied up and brutally murdered. Then, as the team works around the clock to stop a twisted killer, someone from Jo’s past catches up with her. They’re watching her family’s every move, and they will stop at nothing to get revenge. Can Jo save the people she loves and catch the killer before it’s too late?
Do you write in more than one genre? So far, my published books have all been in crime fiction, although I have written a women’s fiction manuscript and several literary shorts. I cover several sub-genres within Crime fiction, including my published police procedural series and a published standalone psychological thriller. I’ve also written an action thriller, a private-eye novel, and a traditional mystery I hope will be published someday.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I try to write in as many different locations as I can. I’ve been lucky enough to write full-time, and that means I have to work within deadlines, both those I put in place myself and those for my publisher. Writing on a schedule is an important part of that, and I can’t allow myself to lose time because I’m in an inhospitable environment for some reason. So I routinely write in cafes, at home, outside at parks, even at the doctor’s office. I write in quiet and noisy places, so I’m used to focusing in less-than-ideal settings when circumstances for me to do that.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? I waited to join MWA and SinC until I had my first book contract, thinking it wasn’t a useful thing to do until I was a published writer. That was a HUGE mistake, and I’d advise every writer out there to immediately join whatever association brings together people in your genre. Between the events that have educated me on the publishing industry and craft, the write-ins that help keep me focused, and the ability to talk to people who’ve gone through things I’m going through, it’s all been invaluable.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? For me, there are two aspects to this. Raising the stakes for my protagonist in a within-book way is one thing, and it usually involves the antagonist taking action that impacts her in a personal way. Sometimes that means literally—my murderer may threaten her life or the life of someone she loves. But it always means psychologically. Even if the murderer isn’t threatening her directly, the murders they’ve committed always tap into some psychological struggle she has. So the race to get justice for a murdered child may tap into my protagonist’s own struggles with her mother, or a dysfunctional husband/wife relationship may challenge my protagonist to examine some dysfunctional attitudes she brings into her own romantic relationships.
In addition, I try to raise the stakes between books for the protagonist in my police-procedural series. She’s learning and growing, but life keeps handing her new challenges that build on the other things she’s learned.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? Hemingway. He was part of my curriculum fairly early in my school years (I believe when I was twelve or thirteen). At that age, I didn’t relate to the content or the pointedly masculine point of view. But what I did respond to even then was his writing style, and that kept me coming back. As I lived more life, his themes began to resonate with me, and I found myself fascinated with the points of view his work reflected.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I’ve done both, and I think there are plusses and minuses for each. One big concern for me is that I’m not in law enforcement. I have never been, and that means no matter how much research I do and how many people I consult with, I’m always in danger of getting something wrong or writing a character that inadvertently reflects badly on a given law enforcement agency (or newspaper, or other agency I write about). It’s one thing for a mistake I make to reflect badly on me, but I never want it to reflect badly on anybody else. So for my police-procedural series, I set the stories in a fictional Western Massachusetts county and do my best to reflect how law enforcement functions in the actual region without pulling anybody real into it.
Where can our readers find you and your books?
Link to Her Silent Prayer on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09Q3QQL98/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0
Recently two events reminded me of Lucia Berlin and her remarkable collection of stories, A Manual For Cleaning Women. There is a television series out, The Cleaning Lady. But what got me was Author Chip Livingston mentioning her on FaceBook. I went into my notes and found a piece I wrote about this wonderful book.
To not give away too much, I removed most of what I originally wrote. It is a wonderful read.
Berlin’s stories are interwoven, almost as memoir. In A Manual For Cleaning Women, the reader can imagine the stories are interconnected memoirs. The old writers saw, write what you know is visible throughout the work. She brings her knowledge and experiences to life so that we, the readers, understand the emotion that she and her characters experience. “It has been seven years since you died.” The emotional pull hits the reader like a hammer.
Berlin has no fear of reflecting on her life experiences as she addresses addiction, alcoholism, sexual abuse, suicide, and depression. She weaves a web about an abusive, alcoholic, and suicidal mother throughout the stories. She tells the reader about her grandfather, who sexually abused her and her younger sister.
There is a similarity in the down-to-earth and straightforward style with Alice Munro; both speak in the voice of their characters. There is no pretentiousness, no judgment. Unlike Munro, her work seems always to be dark depression. In one scene, we see this darkness when the protagonist contemplates her sister Sally’s death. “Every day, you’ve said good-bye a little. Oh, just get it over with, for God’s sake.” Anyone who has experienced the slow death of a loved one understands this completely. However, she can turn an otherwise sad scene into one of joy. One example is while waiting for Sally to die, she moves her under the bedroom window. Sally sees the sky and feels the warmth of the sun. The reader shares the feeling of beauty and warmth.
Having lived in Alameda County, California, for fifty years, I’m able to recognize many of the settings and the accuracy of Berlin’s work. Her description, “the affluent foggy Montclair hills…. Beneath Zion Lutheran church is a big black-and-white sign that says WATCH OUT FOR FALLING ROCKS.” I once lived in Zion church as the caretaker. I can verify that the sign has been there for at least fifty years.
Berlin weaves her protagonist’s story in and around the other characters in the collection.
In one story, Berlin changes format and tells the entire story in a series of letters to Conchi. The letters flow and give the reader a timeline of the character’s life. Beginning with college and meeting a man with whom she falls in love. There is joy in her affair cannot that will not be long lived. Her parents’ object, take her out of school, and force her to go to Europe. When she tells her lover, he knows they are finished. He tells her that it’s over, “you’ll… marry some asshole.” In typical Berlin style, she destroys any hope of happiness.
Berlin’s work is full of contradiction, despair, and lack of hope. But through it all, her work is believable and full of imagery. No more so than in this paragraph from “Electric Car, El Paso.”
Mrs. Snowden … passed me fig newtons wrapped in talcum Kleenex. The cookie expanded in my mouth like Japanese flowers, like a burst pillow. I gagged and wept. Mamie smiled and passed me a sachet-dusted handkerchief, . . ..”
Not only does she bring scenes to life through imagery, but she does the same with objects such as her mother’s ratty old coat. “It had a fur collar. Oh, the poor matted fur, once silver, yellowed now like the peed-on backsides of polar bears in zoos” (245).
Everything she writes is realistic. Her characters are believable, imbued with human traits, blemishes, and goodness. All are flawed, allowing the reader to understand their actions and motives.
Many of the characters in this collection reappear in various stories throughout the collection. We have plenty of time to get to know them. But even in stories about one character, Berlin develops them in depth, with simple phrases and words.
As with all her stories, the dialogue is magnificent.
An unmentioned strength in Berlin’s writing comes from another trait she shares with Alice Munro. She is non-judgmental. She presents the world as it is, blemishes and all.
Ramona Ausubel Marie-Helene Bertino
Either Romona Ausubel (No One is Here Except All of Us) or Marie-Helene Bertino (2 AM at the Cat” s Pajamas) suggested I read this work. I can’t recall which, (maybe both)so I’ll say thank you to the two finest mentors and authors I ever had the opportunity to work with. THANK YOU!
Berlin, Lucia. A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories. Picador, 2015.
I will tell you about books I’ve read and enjoyed from time to time. When I do, you can expect reviews to appear elsewhere. gdc
Jennifer J. Chow is the Lefty Award-nominated author of the Sassy Cat Mysteries and the forthcoming L.A. Night Market Mysteries. The first in the Sassy Cat series, Mimi Lee Gets A Clue, was selected as an OverDrive Recommended Read, a PopSugar Best Summer Beach Read, and one of BuzzFeed’s Top 5 Books by AAPI authors. She currently serves as Vice President on the national board of Sisters in Crime. She is an active member of Crime Writers of Color and Mystery Writers of America.
One of BookRiot’s Best Upcoming Cozy Mysteries for the Second Half of 2021!
When murder follows Mimi Lee to her romantic island getaway, she puts on her best sleuthing hat with her sassy cat in tow in this adventurous cozy mystery by Jennifer J. Chow.
“Chow offers original characters, clever banter, and a laid-back California vibe. This is perfect for lovers of crime-solving animal cozies.”—Publishers Weekly
Mimi Lee Cracks the Code is the third book in the Sassy Cat Mystery series and just got nominated for a 2022 Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery!
Do you write in more than one genre? I’ve most recently written cozy mysteries but have also dabbled in multicultural women’s fiction and young adult. You can find out more about all my books on my author website listed below.
What brought you to writing? The love of the written word. I got transported by stories at an early age and always enjoyed living in my own imaginary world. It was beautiful when I realized that you could write for a living and share that joy and wonder with others.
What are you currently working on? I’m working on a new cozy mystery series, the L.A. Night Market Mysteries, which feature opposite-personality cousins who run a food stall. When one of their customers dies at a local night market, they get served a side of murder and start investigating. The first in the series is called Death by Bubble Tea and is available for pre-order!
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Yes, definitely! I’m biased because I now serve as Vice President on the national board of Sisters in Crime, but I really appreciate the camaraderie and community there. Writing is a solitary profession, and it’s so important to get support from those who understand what it’s like. The encouragement and cheering from other writers also helps you keep persevering when you go through rejections and low points in your writing journey.
How long to get it published? My first novel took me about five years to get published, if you include missteps and shelved manuscripts. Mimi Lee Cracks the Code was part of a three-book deal I got with Berkley/Penguin Random House. The first book in the series, Mimi Lee Gets A Clue, happened to be a quick acquisition because the imprint was already looking for a pet-themed cozy series with an Asian American female lead. It took only several months from providing them with sample chapters to getting the official contract!
How can our readers buy your book and contact you?
Mimi Lee Cracks the Code buy link: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/605898/mimi-lee-cracks-the-code-by-jennifer-j-chow/9781984805034/
Author website: www.jenniferjchow.com
Who Am I? I’m a lifelong central Ohio native educated at Capital University Law School. I enjoy true crime and police detective television shows like NCIS, Snapped, and Columbo. I have three grown children and two grandchildren. I enjoy adult coloring and diamond dot painting. My bucket list includes travelling to all fifty states and taking a Mediterranean cruise. I write true crime peppered with a bit of fiction.
What is your most recent release? Sweet Burial was released last month. My inspiration was a true crime perpetrated in the central Ohio area in the early 90s. It’s a tale involving sex, lies, videotape, and murder. Rarely do newlyweds who experience marital conflict jump immediately to the drastic option of divorce. Christian Wright and his bride Chloe choose instead to engage the professional services of a marriage counselor soon after entering into what was supposed to be wedded bliss. While initially there’s no physical violence between them, their relationship is rife with emotional, verbal, and psychological harm. Just as they are on the verge of ending it all, they learn Chloe is with child. Sadly, the birth of their son isn’t the blessed event they hoped it would be. Their child is differently-abled. Chloe embraces their son, while Christian rejects him as if he is a defective toy. A flimsy facade of family perfection is perpetuated to outsiders looking in for years. There is nothing Christ-like nor morally correct about the deadly choices Christian Wright ultimately makes, forever turning his family’s life upside down.
What was your debut title? His Dream, Her Nightmare was my first book. It’s a tale of misplaced trust. Our romantic choices do not always serve us well. This is even truer when duty or tradition rather than authentic love compels one to stay in a toxic relationship or marriage. Unfortunately, a young lovesick Winnie is unable to realize her condition will only lead to calamity. Winnie is determined to stand by her man Nelson even though he doesn’t value her worth as a woman nor her loyalty to him. To honor her vows, she is committed to him despite his criminal past, infidelity, and controlling ways. At her tipping point, when she is ready to finally leave their imbalanced union, Nelson won’t let her. Winnie disappears suddenly after they celebrate his milestone thirtieth birthday. With the help of his crafty lawyer, Nelson is able to stave off suspicions of her family, friends, and most importantly, the authorities for years. He is able to live his happily ever after as a free man until he meets his karmic end.
Why did you start writing? I originally tried to have a YouTube content creator highlight the real life case chronicled in my novella on her true crime channel. After forwarding research to no avail, I decided to tell the story myself. It explores how a woman who went missing in the mid-seventies from the Columbus area. She left behind her young children, a good job, and her jealous husband, who coincidently was a convicted rapist. Because of its brevity, many readers are clamoring to learn more about whether justice is served for the main character Winnie. To that end, I’m working on the sequel, Her Dream, His Nightmare: The Saga Continues to be released in August of this year.
My writing grew out of my grieving process. I lost my mother to Covid-19 a little over a year ago, three days before Christmas 2020. The fictional main character murdered in my first book was a long-term friend of my mother’s. Pat, who is a staunch advocate for justice in the book, is the portrayal of my mother. The victim was among the first to benefit from facial reconstruction techniques developed at the Smithsonian.
I like writing about crimes in the past when gumshoe detective work rather than high tech science was the primary means to solving murder cases. I prefer settings in the 70s to 90s, because it forces the reader to imagine a time when cell phones, closed circuit television, and DNA either weren’t prevalent or at times nonexistent. Lastly, I have lived in Columbus all of my life, so there are references to many old restaurants, landmarks, and of course, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
What is your current project? Currently, I’m working on Misplaced Danger: A Fatal Prescription. It explores the interconnected lives of a greedy doctor and his drug addicted patient. Living on opposite ends of town, both are on paths to doom. The main character Teddy, a late bloomer, has challenging stressors at home and on his job. He has the misfortune of being referred to Dr. Ben Eagleston, who prescribes seemingly innocuous meds that only make his life worse. It’s full of plot twists. What’s more, it too is based on actual headline events from my sleepy hometown.
Are there any unique quirks in your writing? Without giving spoilers, I will point out two hidden themes. In Sweet Burial, there is a food or cooked dish mentioned in almost every chapter, even in a serious court trial scene. In Misplaced Danger, there will be direct and indirect avian references.
What is on your writing horizon? A series centered around femmes fatales is the future project brewing on the outer reaches of my creativity. I have a working title, subtitles, and cover ideas. The antagonists will be ruthless, fierce, and violent women underestimated by their prey.
What advice would you give to another writer? Admittedly, I am a novice. If I had to give tips or advice to an even newer writer than myself, it would be two things. One, a writer writes. Keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas. Take time to write every day. My benchmark is daily word count because I have figured out my natural rhythm for writing. Two, set aside time to work on your craft. There are so many moving parts to this writing and publication process. The more you expose yourself to honing your craft, the better your completed works will be.
How do our readers contact you?
Amazon Central Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Marla-K-Morris/e/B09DP1XLSL/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1
Blog: Marlaz Memoz: https://www.blogger.com/blog/posts/848832704092691407?hl=en&tab=jj
Sweet Burial available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Burial-Tragedy-That-Beneath-ebook/dp/B09F86M2PR
Carl Vonderau is the author of MURDERABILIA, which won The Left Coast Crime Award for Best Debut Mystery and the San Diego Book Award for Best Mystery/Suspense. Like the protagonist, he has been a private banker and was raised in a Christian Science family. On the other hand, his father was never a serial killer whose photos launched the “murderabilia” market. Carl has worked in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, and North Africa. He is now a full-time writer. He has another book in submission with publishers.
Carl is the president of Partners in Crime, San Diego, a chapter of Sisters in Crime. He is also a partner at San Diego Social Venture Partners. This organization mentors other nonprofits to reach the next level. Carl lives with his wife in San Diego, and they have two grown sons.
WHERE ARE YOU IN YOUR WRITING CAREER? I have been writing for thirty years. I guess it takes some time to become competent. My money-making career was as a banker. That’s why the characters in my books are in the financial industry.
My debut novel, MURDERABILIA, is a thriller. Unfortunately, the publisher, Midnight Ink, closed its doors. I’ve reissued it with Amazon with a new cover, so it is readily available again. A number of publishers are considering my second book. It’s a nervous time until someone decides to buy it.
I’m currently working on a third novel which is stand-alone domestic suspense.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS? I begin with a premise and then try to outline 30-40 scenes. I usually structure around an inciting incident and 3 acts. Then I start to write by hand. I do this on a legal pad and like to work at coffee houses. The objective is to write as fast as possible. When I have at least 3-4 pages, I’m relieved because I know I’ve got something that can be a scene. When I’ve finished the scene by hand, I try to type it into my computer within 24 hours. In that process, I will add parts like gestures or settings, or senses. I’ll also take out writing that doesn’t work. Sometimes while I’m typing, I see that the scene doesn’t really begin until the middle, so I leave out the first part.
I’m continually trying to improve my process. For the latest book I’m working on, I used Plottr to map out the scenes. Then I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time and wrote like a madman to get down 57k words. I’ve never written even close to that much so quickly. This process has enabled me to get a very rough draft faster than I have ever gotten one before. Just don’t ask about the quality. Now I’m going back to each scene to make sure it deserves to be in the book. If it does, I revise it.
I write a few hours every day, taking breaks throughout. One of the most creatively productive things is to finish working on a scene and then do something else like exercise or the dishes. This gives me distance and allows the scene to reverberate in my subconscious. I usually get a good idea while I’m away from my laptop. The shower is great.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO GET PUBLISHED? A lifetime. My kids are in their thirties, and I began writing when they were very young. I was also working, so writing became any snatch of time I could steal from the day. We moved from Chicago to Montreal, and I had to work and learn French. But I always made some time to write. The lesson I got from these years is that, even if you only have 15 minutes, you can scratch out some words. You just write as fast as you can. That’s part of the reason it took me so long to write my first book.
That first unpublished novel took 15 years. I didn’t have a writer’s group or mentor, so I just stumbled around. The novel was set in Colombia. It didn’t all go into the drawer. I used some of it years later for a short story that went into the San Diego Sisters/Partners in Crime anthology, CROSSING BORDERS. I started on another novel after we moved to San Diego. That took about five years. It was also unpublished. But by then, I had discovered writing conferences and writing coaches, so I got better.
MURDERABILIA took about four years to write. There were more than 20 revisions. But this time, I got to work with Jacquelyn Mitchard as a content editor and learned a lot. Then I had to find an agent. I took a course on crafting elevator pitches. I used what I came up with to land an agent at the San Francisco Writers Conference. It took more than a year for the book to finally come out in print. It won a Lefty and a San Diego book award. Not exactly an overnight success.
There are a couple of big things I’ve learned over all this time. The first is that tenacity is more important than talent. The other thing is: Get feedback from a writer’s group, courses, conferences, or a writing coach. The book never works as well as I think it does.
HOW IMPORTANT IS SETTING TO YOU? I think setting is extremely important. It is not only the physical details and sensory feel of where the book takes place. It is also the culture that surrounds the characters. I like to go to the cities where my books are set. In my first book, I went to Colombia and walked the streets of Bogota. I wrote down impressions in a notebook. Most of it I didn’t use. But some of those details really helped create a sense of place. For MURDERABILIA, I used details from Colombia, Algeria (where I’d traveled on business), San Diego, and banking. I got help from friends in Tijuana for the book currently in submission. They took me to places where I could set scenes. Then I combined what I’d seen into some fictional locations. I also used notes and pictures. I want the setting to evince who my characters are and how they feel.
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