Ryan Rivers is the author of the Bucket List Mystery series, featuring ICU nurse Sho Tanaka and former tween TV detective Levi Blue.
By day, Ryan teaches technical writing and stops the spread of unnecessary adverbs and vague pronoun references. By mid-afternoon/early evening, he fights crime with his trusty sidekick/toddler son. Together they have uncovered who, in fact, has got your nose and tracked the elusive Peekaboo. They live, eat, and occasionally sleep in North Texas with their Brussels griffon pup.
Ryan is a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors. Visit him at http://www.ryanriversbooks.com
Arbor Day Can Be Deadly is a lighthearted novella in The Bucket List cozy mystery series.
Sho Tanaka is running from his problems. Placed on extended leave after a traumatizing incident led to his prescription drug addiction, the once-successful ICU nurse flees to his estranged sister in Texas. But when the tiny town’s Arbor Day Festival ends with him getting accidentally punched in the face, he makes an unexpected friend in the man who comes to his aid.
Former tween TV detective Levi Blue plans to never be forgotten. Fearing his father’s fate of an early death, he returns home to check in on his fan museum’s progress when a fight between the mayor and police chief takes out an innocent bystander. So, turning on the fading celebrity charm, he ropes the new guy into his mission of hunting down his missing construction manager.
Still feeling like a fish out of water, Sho reluctantly helps his benefactor question the mayor, who claims to be afraid for her life. And Levi’s “experience,” tells him they’ve stumbled onto a crazy conspiracy full of corruption, fraud… and sudden threats to their lives.
If you like complex characters, laugh-out-loud moments, and clean whodunits, I invite you to download this novella for free: https://BookHip.com/QWCVWAW
Tell us about your writing process: As a full-time academic and single parent, I look for any pocket of time to write. Sprints have been invaluable to my writing process.
I wrote most of my Bucket List Mystery novella in 5-minute sprints, while my son hung out in his crib after diaper changes. In the afternoons, we’d stroll in the park, and I’d dictate into my phone in 15-minute sprints. When you do that consistently, the words add up, and I soon had a first draft to edit.
All the “best practices” say I should write in the morning, but I find it therapeutic and relaxing to write in the evening, right after my son goes to bed. Writing in the evening diverts my focus from any bad events from the workday, and I actually sleep much better.
How do you come up with character names?: My stories take place in a fictional Texas Hill Country town, located between Austin and San Antonio. Many of my character’s names are inspired by Texas towns and landmarks – Abilene, Odessa, Wayland, Vaughn. My son and I road trip through the Hill Country often, so I keep a running list of character names.
I also have a secret, slightly embarrassing way of coming up with characters’ names. I started writing during the pandemic – while caring for an infant, – so there were lots of moments where I was too tired to read, write, or think.
Naturally, I watched a lot of trashy reality TV, and what’s trashier than the boozy socialites on the Real Housewives of New York? So, yes, I have one character in every story named after a housewife – Aviva, Ramona, Sonja. If you know your Housewives’ history, it’s only a matter of time before Jill, Bethenny, and Dorinda appear.
What kind of research do you do? Each of my Bucket List Mysteries centers around a hobby or community event—aerobics, barbecue competition, community theatre—, so I first research these worlds. I spend lots of time in half-price/discount bookstores; college towns are known for eclectic tastes, so I find sources here I wouldn’t otherwise.
I also watch a lot of YouTube videos and documentaries on my hobby – this helps be visualize the settings and listen to speech patterns for writing dialogue.
I take lots of notes, and eventually, characters (or suspects, victims, and killers) emerge. Once I understand the world these characters could live in, motives for murder and deep secrets emerge.
I then brainstorm how to join this world with my other fictional world of Bluebonnet Hills, Texas. Sho and Levi bridge both worlds, so I need plausible ways for them to, for example, become extras in an aerobics video.
As I work, flashes of scenes or snippets of dialogue pop into my head. When I can visualize a scene, I know I’m on the right track. I take lots of notes and clumsily organize them into a plot. Then, I take off and see where the characters land.
Other authors have more efficient research processes, but I find immersing myself in these worlds helps me construct realistic plots and characters.
What are you currently working on?: Right now, I’m editing Aerobics Can Be Deadly, the first novel in the Bucket List Mysteries.
Fearing his father’s fate of an early death, former tween TV detective Levi Blue begins his bucket list. He enlists his new best buddy Sho Tanaka to help him train for a triathlon.
But the triathlon training detours when Levi instead takes part in the filming of an aerobics video with fitness icon Barbara Lou Sinclair. Stop me if you’ve read this before, but someone ends up dead, and it’s up to Levi and Sho to crack the case and keep Bluebonnet Hills safe.
Aerobics Can Be Deadly will be published in September 2022, but you can preorder it from your preferred eBook retailer: https://books2read.com/u/mgEnw0
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you?: Hopefully more Bucket List Mysteries. My novels are an “alphabet mystery” series. The keyword for each title starts with the next letter of the alphabet: Aerobics Can Be Deadly, Barbecue Can Be Deadly, Comedy Can Be Deadly, etc. With this system, I pretty much have the next 26 years planned out!
I also enjoy writing shorter fiction in this world. Those novellas and short stories are titled with a holiday: Arbor Day Can Be Deadly, Halloween Hoedowns Can Be Deadly, etc.
I have ideas for other cozy series, but for now, I enjoy my regular visits with Sho, Levi, Jenny, and the residents of Bluebonnet Hills.
Victoria Kazazian writes the Silicon Valley Murder series. She is at work on a cozy series debuting this fall, The Laughing Loaf Bakery Mysteries, which takes place in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Victoria’s recent release is Across the Red Sky, Book 2 in Silicon Valley Murder.
When CEO and eco philanthropist Rosalind Mabrey is murdered on a local running trail, the chief suspects are Mabrey’s three company co-founders. Since launching the company as a startup with Rosalind twenty years ago, each of the other founders has a reason for wanting to see her dead. Monte Verde police detective Dani Grasso, a runner herself, takes on the case alongside her mentor, Detective Jimmy Ruiz.
This book follows my debut mystery last year, Swift Horses Racing. The characters in that book came to life and started doing things of their own accord—both good and bad—and they demanded that I keep writing about them. George, I liked your question about whether my protagonist ever disappointed me–yes! One of mine made a huge mistake in my first book, and it was heartbreaking, but it made for a better story. His character arc will continue to play itself out in book 3 of this series, which is due out this summer.
On her first murder case, rookie Detective Dani Ruiz literally steps up her game in Across the Red Sky. She’s an avid video gamer who processes cases while playing video games after hours. She’s also grieving the loss of her tight-knit family, who have disowned her for choosing detective work over a job in her Italian grandfather’s grocery store chain.
What brought you to writing? As soon as I learned to read, I was writing. When I was a kid, I’d read a book, then get out a tablet of paper and write my own. Over the years, I wrote fiction secretly while working for tech companies in Silicon Valley as a technical writer, advertising copywriter, then marketing project manager. When I wrote user manuals for a software company, I created characters to use in the examples and developed a narrative through the manuals.
After having kids, I left the tech industry and became a high school English teacher. Teaching literature was one of the best things I could do for my writing. I learned what made a good story. I learned to love a variety of voices and to see the craft of writing in a new way. I also learned to use commas correctly!
How long did it take to write your first book? It took me two years to write my first (unpublished) mystery. Many authors have that starter novel in a drawer somewhere, the one in which they learn structure and work out the bugs in their writing. I learned a lot while writing that first one, but I don’t think it’ll ever leave the drawer. I finished Swift Horses Racing (my first published novel) within a year, then Across the Red Sky took me about four months from start to finish. I learned that I’m a “plantser” when it comes to writing—a “pantser” who plans. I dive in, and the story seems to write itself until I’m about three-quarters of the way through the book. Then I screech to a halt and outline the rest. I need a road map. Sometimes I come up with two different outlines for how the story could end.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? My setting in this series is Silicon Valley—the south San Francisco Bay Area and peninsula. I’ve created a fictional town on the west side of the valley called Monte Verde. It made me happy that one of my local writing friends thought it was a real town and tried to look it up on a map.
My books don’t go into technology at all; it’s the people in the valley that interest me. I am not much of a techie, but I’m surrounded by them (My husband is a software engineer.) They give me lots of material to write about. It’s a valley full of smart, talented, and very quirky people. Some with too much money and some who don’t have enough money to live on because they’re not working in tech. And there are women fighting to be recognized in the male-dominated tech industry, like my murder victim in Across the Red Sky.
The stakes are high in Silicon Valley for almost everyone. It makes a great setting for a mystery.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m continuing my Ruiz-Grasso Silicon Valley Murder series with book 3, A Tree of Poison. The book starts with a home invasion gone wrong in the upscale town of Monte Verde. At the same time, I’m working on a culinary cozy mystery series set in the Santa Cruz Mountains – about a woman who turns in her husband for selling tech secrets and is relocated to a small town under the federal witness protection program. She starts a bakery and is determined to keep a low profile–until the body of a male underwear model turns up on her doorstep. It’s lighthearted, and I’m having so much fun writing it.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Write every day. Take your computer or notepad with you while waiting for your kid to finish soccer practice. Write instead of surfing the net on your phone (preaching to myself here). Write while dinner’s cooking. Write on your lunch break at work. It’s amazing how much you can get done in short bursts. Don’t edit what you’ve written till you’re done writing. Keep reading. Read really good books because that’s the best inspiration for writing one of your own.
Join a writing group or organization. Sisters in Crime has been a big help to me, with lots of resources and very encouraging members. I would not have gotten published as soon as I did without their help.
For more info on my books, go to my website: https://victoriakazarian.com/
Amazon Author Central page https://tinyurl.com/5y7uje6s
The last post here was a fictional account of a soldier returning from the Vietnam War. This post is a letter written by a Vietnam War Veteran. I have not changed a single word.
While going through my diary I ran across a letter I wrote shortly after returning from Vietnam and thought it might be of interest to some who would take the time to read it or not. Let me know what you think.
I am a Marine and from the day I entered boot camp in 1964 I was taught that Marines are fearless. From the moment I landed in Danang Vietnam in October of 1967 I feared for my life. Can I put a date on incidents that increased that fear no not really. The memories of my thirteen months in Vietnam are locked away in my mind. On occasion when I am asked to remember those days I do so with reluctance.
My first thought of dying was probably in November of 1967 when the sirens went off and I heard the screaming sound of rockets overhead and the explosions of 120mm rockets as they impacted on the flight line. I grabbed my rifle and helmet and ran for the bunkers on the flight line in the revetments. I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to run that fast. With my fellow Marines we dashed the hundred yards to the bunkers as rockets landed all around us. When the rockets struck the shrapnel flew around us, it was pieces of fiery gold metal, and somehow we ran faster. On one occasion a rocket struck an aircraft ahead of me and the explosion knocked me back. I dodged to the right and angled to the bunker away from the exploding A-6.
These attacks occurred on an irregular basis throughout my tour.
On one occasion when I ran for my position at the bunker at the entrance to our hangars a rocket struck the aviation fuel tank 29 yards from the command bunker and the tank exploded and burned all night long. The sides of the tank seemed to melt as the tank collapsed. I remember seeing a man on a bicycle pedaling by as if the devil himself was chasing him. We laughed at the time but I thought afterwards how I emphasized with the man and felt his fear.
On a weekly basis I would travel to the Air Force’s side of Danang’s airfield and I saw the open sided sheds that were 15’ high and filled with shiny aluminum caskets. They were the dead waiting to be transported back home. That sight still haunts me as I think of the 50,000 men killed in a futile war.
I remember hearing that a truce was declared between the North Vietnamese and the US only no one told the Viet Cong. They kept on attacking. In January of 1968 during Vietnam’s Tet or New Years the Viet Cong began a massive assault on South Vietnam. We heard they had overrun Hue and several other Marine bases. Our turn came shortly after. The rocket attacks intensified, on one occasion the rockets struck all around as we were in the chow hall. I dropped my utensils and ran for the nearest bunker. I tripped on the wooden sidewalks leading to the bunker, falling face down and splitting my lip when my teeth smashed through my lip. My partners scooped me up and carried me to the bunker and later to the medical center where the Corpsman stitched my lip . I remember him saying “Your mouth is dirtier than your asshole!” When he saw the startled look on my face he said there were more germs on my lips than on my anus
My friends joked that I should get Purple Heart for being injured during combat. I thought of all the Marines out in the jungles being wounded and killed by bullets and booby traps and thought my injury paled in comparison to their traumas.
One night during a rocket attack a missile struck the bomb dump at the end of the runway and blew down dozens of our tin roof screen sided huts. There was a mushroom cloud rising into the sky and I thought they had finally gone the final step and dropped an Atomic bomb on us and I would surely die a horrible death from the radiation. Shortly after they hit the Flare dump in the same area and I saw the most spectacular fireworks show I had ever seen. We were standing on the top of our bunker between our huts photographing the explosion dressed in our underwear, a flak jacket and helmet when the First Sergeant came up to us and told us to get our ass’s inside the bunker. Shrapnel was whizzing all about us piercing the side of our hut and the sandbags of our bunker. I still have pieces of shrapnel as a reminder of how close I came to being maimed or killed.
When the Viet Cong over ran the base we ran to our bunkers on top of the revetments and began shooting at the black pajama clad Viet Cong as they ran down the run way caring satchel bombs to throw under our aircraft. Suddenly bullets started striking the metal below our sand bags. We discovered it wasn’t the Viet Cong shooting at us, it was the Air force. I thought that it would be a hell of a thing to be killed by “friendly fire.”
Speaking of “friendly fire” shortly after Martin Luther King was killed back in the States a black soldier went berserk and began firing a M-79 grenade launcher into our living area scaring the hell out of me and every other Marine in the area. Fortunately he was captured before he could complete his revenge attack on the “white people” who had assassinated his hero. Was I scared, hell yes I was scared every day I was “in country.”
The last thirty days were the worst. Rumor had it that more men were killed in the month before they rotated back then any other day of their tour. The happiest day of my life was when the plane carrying me home lifted off the runway in December of 1968. When I flew over the San Francisco bay to land at the SF airport a lady commented on how muddy the water was and I said “yes it is but it’s my home and I’m so glad to be back here alive and not in a silver box!”
My first wife can testify to my lingering fears; when a siren would go off and I would jump out of bed and run for the door. She caught me and held me till the fear and shaking stopped. My second wife can tell you how movies about the war in Vietnam would ignite those old fears so bad that she wouldn’t allow me to watch those films.
I was in Country during the intense spraying of “Agent Orange” to defoliate the jungles to expose the trails and hiding spots of the Viet Cong. Did this cause the degenerative nerve disease Multiple Sclerosis? I don’t know and I don’t think my Neurologist Doctor Joanna Cooper can say for certain. The cause of MS is still unknown but the possibility is there.
I returned to the States in December of 1968 and was advised I would get an early out in December instead of May 1969. I was still credited with a full four years of service. I received a letter from Sgt Major at Treasure island advising me that Marine Corp in its infinite wisdom promoted me to Staff Sergeant, added a metal and then invited me to Treasure Island to accept the stripes and ribbon. I declined seeing an re-enlistment pitch coming.
David R. Evans USMC 2113468
David R. Evans-6580
USMC 1964-1968 Semper Fi
The Public Safety Writers Association, 2022 writing contest awarded “Coming Home” second place in flash fiction. The 302-word story chronicles the welcome a Vietnam Veteran received upon his arrival in San Francisco, California. The ending is open to the reader’s interpretation.
I’m still running. I’m running from something; I’m not sure what. It’s time to stop running.
It could have been the reception I received at the San Francisco Airport on that cold and foggy day. I had worn the uniform for what seemed an eternity. I took a cab into the city, but it had started before then. First, the baggage handler threw my duffle bag at me, and then the cabbie acted as though I was Typhoid Mary.
I’m confused. I only did what was expected of me. Why this?
Dropped at the Greyhound Bus Depot, I was treated as a pariah. People glowered at me, most backed away. One woman spat on me after saying something about babies, a killer. I had never imagined a woman could do something like that.
The bar was the same; one drink and I walked away. I found myself standing in front of a Harley-Davidson dealer. I went in—it was different. “Hi, welcome home, welcome to Dudley Perkins.”
The man treated me with dignity. Maybe that’s why I bought an Electra Glide in blue. I threw the uniform into a Dempsey dumpster. I didn’t go back for my duffle bag.
Now five days later, I’m in Utah, stopped alongside a lonely highway. Leaning against the motorcycle, I stare at a stark rock formation in a long-dead sea bed. The trees, those with foliage, display orange and yellow leaves that shift and drop as a cold wind passes through the lonely valley. I feel as cold and lonely as the scene in front of me as I prepare to say goodbye to a world that no longer cares.
Rhonda Blackhurst is a die-hard indie author and enjoys empowering and educating others in the process. She has ten published novels: The Inheritance, a Hallmark-style fiction stand-alone; seven in The Melanie Hogan Mysteries; and the Whispering Pines Romantic Suspense.
In her day job, she has worked in the law enforcement arena in the victim witness field and as a paralegal for the past 20+ years; she recently took an early retirement from the Adams County District Attorney’s Office.
In addition to being an author and indie author consultant, she is a certified life coach with a program called “Rise From Victim to Victor—How to Make What Happens to You, Work for You.” She enjoys running, biking, hiking, spending time at their Arizona house, and anything outdoors. She, her husband, and their very spoiled Fox Face Pomeranian reside in a suburb of Denver.
What brought you to writing? I began writing at an age when no one realized where it would take me—four years old, and unfortunately, it was with crayon on the knotty pine walls of our family home. I didn’t draw pictures. I actually wrote what I thought were words because I apparently had something to say. And it’s never stopped. I spent endless hours sitting on the dock by the lake we lived by or in our fishing boat, dreaming of worlds and words. I wrote a lot of poetry back then. In Jr/Sr High School, I saw the movie Absence of Malice with Sally Field and Paul Newman, and from there, I was determined to be a journalist in New York City. To start, I wrote a few articles for the city newspaper about school events. I got derailed a bit in college, and when my babies were little, I wrote two novels with pen and paper. I still have those manuscripts in boxes. After moving to Colorado, I began writing as a stringer for the local newspaper, but my heart was in fiction. After my last child left home, I began taking writing seriously, joined writers’ groups, and published my first novel in 2012.
What are you currently working on? This past April, I published the last book in a cozy mystery series, Shear Misfortune, in The Melanie Hogan Mysteries.
When a fitness center is a locale for both health and murder,
exercise enthusiasts must weigh their odds of the outcome.
I am writing the first draft of Inn the Spirit of Murder, book one in a new cozy mystery series, The Spirit Lake Mysteries, and having a ball with it. It stars Andie Rose Kaczmarek, the Spirit Lake Inn owner and a life coach, who has a feisty nun as a sidekick. It contains a bit of paranormal activity and all the colorful small-town characters. New ideas for books in the series keep popping up as I write—a writer’s dream! I’ve worked in the law enforcement arena in some capacity—mostly as a paralegal and in the victim witness field—for the past 20+ years. I was immersed in the darkness of the world where there are often no winners in the end. Writing cozy mysteries was my way of being able to leave that darkness in the evenings while I wrote and tied up the ending of the story with a pretty red bow. Cozies give me hope because the good guys win in the end, something I didn’t often see in my day job.
How do you come up with your character names? Naming my protagonist and antagonist is perhaps the most indecisive part of my writing. But when I finally decide on a name, it solidly clicks. In the Abby series (The Whispering Pines Mysteries), the name Abby brings to mind both vulnerability and strength. I have no foundation to hang that on, but it’s such a strong connection in my mind that it’s become a fact. Her ex-husband’s villain in that series makes it his mission to track her down, so he is appropriately named Hunter. In the Melanie Hogan mysteries, I chose the last name of Hogan because one of the most famous governors of Minnesota was Hulk Hogan (Jesse Ventura), and it just seemed to fit. The protagonist in my new series, Andie Rose Kaczmarek, I struggled with the most. I think I changed the first name several times and went back to the first name I chose. And at this point, even if I wanted to, there’s no going back because she’s a character in the last book of the Melanie Hogan Mysteries, which is already published. However, her last name solidly clicked because Kaczmarek is Polish for “Innkeeper.”
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? A resounding Yes! I think writers’ groups are essential to an author. Just being in the same room as a bunch of creatives is energizing. And learning from one another is such a huge benefit. Writers are one of the most giving, helpful groups of people I’ve known. I’ve met so many who are willing to share what they know and help in any way they can. The first writing group I belonged to was Northern Colorado Writers, and theirs was the first conference I attended. They hold a special place in my heart. I’ve added Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Sisters in Crime. I’m currently President of Sisters in Crime—Colorado Chapter. I strongly encourage writers, no matter where they are on their writing journey, to get involved in whichever groups they belong to, as well as conferences. Volunteering is the best way to get full advantage of the experience.
Do you have any advice for new writers? There is only one solid rule—write! You will never be a writer if you don’t eventually stop thinking about it and write. And don’t let anyone “should” on you. Your path is uniquely yours. For every person who says you must do it one way, there’s another who will disagree. Your path is your path. Have fun with it!
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” ― Louis L’Amour
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