In her youth, Kassandra Lamb had two great passions—psychology and writing. Advised that writers need day jobs and being partial to eating, she studied psychology. Now retired from a career as a psychotherapist and college professor, she spends most of her time in an alternate universe populated by her fictional characters. The portal to this universe (aka her computer) is located in Florida, where her husband and dog catch occasional glimpses of her.
Service dog trainer Marcia Banks tackles a locked room mystery in a haunted house. She has trained a dog to clear rooms for an agoraphobic Marine who was ambushed during combat. But the phantom attackers in his mind become the least of his troubles when Marcia finds his ex-wife’s corpse in his bedroom, with the door bolted from the inside.
All my books are mysteries, but I like variety, so I tend to explore different subgenres. I have one completed series of traditional mysteries, one series of cozy mysteries that is winding down, and I have started a new series of police procedurals. I’ve also written some romantic suspense stories under the pen name of Jessica Dale.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? Some behave, but many do not. My main characters tend to behave most of the time. An exception was the main character of my cozies, Marcia Banks (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha). I originally gave her a few neuroses, so she’d have some things to overcome during the course of the series. The main one was a longing to “be normal,” as she had been teased as a kid over her name and because she was a pastor’s kid. Plus, she’s licking her wounds after a short but disastrous marriage. But then she decided to throw a strong resistance to commitment into the mix, which drove her love interest a bit crazy for a very long time.
Minor characters often assert themselves and insist on bigger parts in the stories. I had two minor characters do this in my Kate Huntington series. One, Skip Canfield, wooed his way both into Kate’s heart and into a main character role.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I use some of both. If I’m only going to have good things happen in a location, I’ll probably use a real place. The last two of my series are set in Florida, where I live now. Locals get a kick out of seeing a location name and being able to say, “I know where that is,” or “I’ve been there.”
But if I’m going to have negative things happen, such as corrupt cops, I make up a location. I’ve added three fictitious counties and a fictional city to the Florida map, so far.
What is the best book you ever read? Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, by Bebe Moore Campbell. It is set in the 1960s and 70s when I was a teen and young adult, and it addresses race relations in a very human way.
Ms. Campbell captured the thoughts, feelings, and internal conflicts of all of her characters, including the extremely bigoted white males! She handled the multiple points of view so well that I was inspired to try that approach in my Kate Huntington series. (I’ve since switched to one point of view, usually first person, in most of my stories.)
What are you working on now? I’ve started a series of police procedurals, and I’m really enjoying that new challenge. The protagonist was a secondary character in my Kate Huntington series, a homicide lieutenant who becomes increasingly frustrated with big-city politics (the Kate series is set in the Baltimore area) and with riding a desk instead of being out on the street. Judith Anderson takes a job as Chief of Police of a small city in Florida, figuring if she’s in charge, she can be more hands-on. In Book 1, Lethal Assumptions, she’s only eight days on the job when she finds herself chasing a serial killer.
I’m currently writing the first draft of Book 2, Fatal Escape, which deals with human trafficking and domestic abuse. But since I’m used to writing cozies (which are supposed to be “clean”), I’m trying to keep the gore and swearing to a minimum. I don’t want to offend my loyal readers.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I usually do, especially in a full-length novel. Often the subplot is about the main character’s love life. My favorite kind of subplot, though, is one that ends up tying into the main plot at the end of the story.
In Fatal Escape, Judith’s love interest is the sheriff of the next county over. She calls him Sheriff Sam inside her head. She already has a drowning case on her plate—that could be a suicide or murder—when she gets a call from Sam to come to a murder scene on the boundary line between their two jurisdictions. They have a funny little back-and-forth in which each is trying to give the case to the other one.
Sam finally takes the case since Judith’s already got her hands full. But later, it turns out that the two cases are linked. I won’t say more for fear of spoilers, but I can hardly wait to write the chapter in which they make the connection. Every time I think about it, I want to rub my hands together and laugh diabolically.
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Steve Rush is an award-winning author who won joint first prize in the 2020 Chillzee KiMo T-E-N Contest and was a finalist in the 2020 Page Turner Awards.
His experience includes tenure as a homicide detective and chief forensic investigator for a national consulting firm. He was once hailed as “The best forensic investigator in the United States” by the late Joseph L. Burton, M.D, under whom he mastered his skills and investigated many deaths alongside Dr. Jan Garavaglia of Dr. G: Medical Examiner fame. Steve has investigated 900+ death scenes and taught classes related to death investigation. His specialties include injury causation, blood spatter analysis, occupant kinematics, and recovery of human skeletal remains.
Do you write in more than one genre? In addition to my latest release, Kill Your Characters: Crime Scene tips for Writers, I write suspense/ thrillers and have three nonfiction books in the Christian market.
What brought you to writing? I began writing after reading multiple novels and watching the masters unfold stories page after page. A homeless man’s murder prompted me to write my first novel (Façade, written pseudonym Shane Kinsey) after I identified the deceased by skin removed from his thumb. (In the novel, a killer uses skin from a dead man’s thumb to leave a bloody thumbprint at his murder scenes.) Wings E-press was accepted and published in 2010. I was hooked.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write at home ninety-nine percent of the time. I shut off my surroundings and become a spectator in my characters’ world. The other percent is in a hotel/condo while on vacation or a weekend getaway. I get involved to the extent I have no clue of anything happening around me.
Tell us about your writing process: I am a pantser. I tried to outline and found myself deviating from my notes more and more. I have an idea of story and denouement and write as the story unfolds in my thoughts. I like to ask “What if?” and go from there.
What are you currently working on? I am writing about a high-school senior who lost his parents in a fire-bombing.
Who’s your favorite author? Dean Koontz
How long did it take you to write your first book? Several years writing while working a full-time job that required travel across the U.S.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? My latest book is all about killing characters, so, yes, I kill characters when necessary to advance the story and keep the others honest.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? Stephen King. The first novel of his I read left me wondering if he is a writer I should continue to read. I read The Green Mile and others and believe King is in the top five of the best-writer list.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? No.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Both.
Do you have any advice for new writers? I will elaborate below. Add suspense. Increase tension. Write what you know.
Writers and editors differ in opinion when it comes to book-length fiction. They suggest we turn off our self-editor and get words on the page. Edit the work after we have a first draft. While the advice works well in most cases, some authors prefer to edit along the way. One author reviews and edits the writing done in a previous session. Another author edits while writing. (Both are New York Times best-selling authors.)
Some authors are outliners; others are pantsers. I am a pantser. I find editing along the way works best for me.
Whatever method you choose, the most crucial aspects to remember when writing inciting incidents, especially crime scenes, are authenticity and credibility. This is where more-than-a-few writers see a stop sign. How can we write what we know if we don’t know it?
Facts support our efforts. I learned this from the cases I investigated as a homicide detective and forensic investigator. They prompted me to write, Kill Your Characters—Crime Scene Tips for Writers.
Facts paint images we want readers to see as if everything happens in their presence. We show readers how to kill. We show how to collect evidence, how to investigate deaths, and how to put together a case for prosecution. Each endeavor must embrace appropriate facts.
Elements of story direct readers where we want them to go until a twist of facts proves otherwise. This includes misdirection. Some facts inserted in the story alter the outcome. Details in fiction reflect real-world situations. Unbelievable instances in life frequently prove to be true, although many come as a surprise to us. When readers see events as too easy and convenient, skepticism turns focus away from our story.
The next step begins when the protagonist arrives and examines the scene. Choices rest on their training from that time forward. The difference between a protagonist’s competence and incompetence depends on their level of expertise. That expertise, or the lack thereof, comes from the facts we give them.
As writers, we share ideas visualized in our minds. We invite our audience to see our inciting incidents. We reveal bits and pieces of the story, one scene after another. We perform our job well when we grab their attention and keep them reading.
True-to-life facts support and give credibility to our stories. What better way to intrigue our readers?
Kill Your Characters—Crime Scene Tips for Writers
There’s a dead body on the floor, and your detective character has to learn every detail about the crime in order to solve the case and bring the murderer to justice. If you’re not an experienced forensic investigator, how can you describe the manner of death accurately so that the evidence means what you want it to mean?
Kill Your Characters by former detective and forensic investigator Steve Rush gives you the tools you need to pass the inspection of all the armchair detectives (and more than a few real ones) out there. Discover your ultimate empowerment source for writing the page-turning inciting incident you have always wanted to write. Become a master and save hours of research effort searching elsewhere for accurate information.
This book will help you answer: How did your character die? What were the circumstances of the murder? What weapon did the killer use? What evidence was left behind? How can you build a rock-solid case against the suspect?
Kill Your Characters will help you answer these questions and more with facts to back up your fiction. When plotting the next murder scene for your story, you may run into obstacles such as how the detectives determine the time of death or the forensic evidence left by a gunshot wound. Steve Rush’s extensive experience is accumulated in a series of writing tips that will significantly improve your story. Kill Your Characters is for any author looking to elevate their murder scenes with credible and authentic details.
Order your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1947521780
Public Safety Writers Association members can submit their work to an annual contest. The winners are revealed at the annual conference. This year’s winners were announced on July 17, 2022. I was delighted to learn that the poem I had submitted, “Sand Creek,” was awarded second place.
The First People trusted you
to protect, and
to feed our people.
You betrayed The People.
You stole the food the Great White Father sent
to nourish The People,
our children, our future.
You betrayed The People.
Instead, you raped our women
beheaded our children.
You failed the Great White Father.
You betrayed The People.
Your soldiers murdered The People.
You murdered The People.
You failed the Great White Father.
You betrayed The People.
We died for your sins,
When you murdered the people.
You failed the Great White Father.
You betrayed The People.
To learn more about the Public Safety Writers Association, visit https://policewriter.com
Lynn was the company Historian for Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco for 25 years. Her biography of the company’s founder, Levi Strauss: The Man Who Gave Blue Jeans to the World, won the Foreword Reviews silver INDIE award.
Her latest book, American Dude Ranch: A Touch of the Cowboy and the Thrill of the West, is a cultural history of the dude ranch, America’s original vacation. The book has been reviewed in The Wall Street Journal, True West, and Denver Post.
Her first work of fiction, Dudes Rush In, is a historical novel set on an Arizona dude ranch in the 1950s. The book won a Will Rogers Medallion Award and placed first in Arizona Historical Fiction at the New Mexico-Arizona book awards.
Lynn got obsessed with the dude ranch when she worked for Levi’s She has amassed a large collection of traditional and unusual ranching memorabilia. She works as a consulting archivist and historian when she’s not writing. Her clients include the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California; Beaulieu Vineyard in Rutherford, California; the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, Arizona; and the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. She lives in Sonoma County, California.
American Dude Ranch: A Touch of the Cowboy and the Thrill of the West, was published March 2022. “Dude ranches are more interesting than City Slickers would have you believe. They’ve influenced American culture for 140 years, from food to film to gender relations.”
Lynn’s other published works include:
- Arequipa Sanatorium: Life in California’s Lung Resort for Women, 2019. Winner of the WILLA award for Scholarly Nonfiction from Women Writing the West.
- Arizona’s Vulture Mine and Vulture City, 2019. Finalist for the New Mexico-Arizona book award.
- A Short History of Sonoma, 2013.
Lynn Shares Her Story: I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but I didn’t get paid for it until 1985 when I sold my first article to a historical journal. And until 2020, all of my published work was nonfiction about the history of the West. In that year, Pronghorn Press released my first novel, Dudes Rush In, which was a story that had been bouncing around in my head for nearly ten years.
I wanted to write a historical novel about a dude ranch (with a bit of mystery in the story), and one night the characters and plot started running through my head like someone turned on a movie projector. The ranch itself, called the H Double Bar, was based on a real dude ranch in one of my favorite places, Wickenburg, Arizona – once called the Dude Ranch Capital of the World. Yes, though I am a dudine (I don’t ride), I’ve stayed at dude ranches and loved every minute.
I worked on the novel sporadically for a few years, in between writing my other books. But in 2019, I made a commitment to finish the story, even though the process of writing fiction was so different from writing history. I wondered if I’d be able to do it, but the experience turned out to be some of the most fun I’ve ever had as a writer. I had a plan or outline for each chapter because that’s how I organize my nonfiction. My characters had other ideas, so I just took them where they wanted to go. I’ve always heard novelists talk about how little control they had over their stories, and now I know what they meant.
When I turned in the manuscript of Dudes Rush In to the publisher, I went right to work on my next history book, which came out in March of this year: American Dude Ranch: A Touch of the Cowboy and the Thrill of the West. Making the switch from fictional to real dude ranching wasn’t hard at all. I had been researching dude ranches since my time at Levi’s, and I decided that I wanted to look at their 140-year-history from a cultural standpoint. I’d found so many links between dude ranching and movies, food, clothing, the role of women, literature, and more. And that’s where all the best stories were.
Right now, I’m about halfway finished writing my second novel. It’s a sequel to Dudes Rush In, which will probably be called Dude or Die. Then I’ll put my history hat back on and will write the story of a young Boston writer and poet who joined a dangerous western expedition in 1871 and ended up dying in one of the West’s most infamous massacres.
Groups: I am the 2022 President-Elect of Women Writing the West and a member of Western Writers of America.