Donna Schlachter is a hybrid author. She writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than fifty times in books, is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both, and is an avid oil painter.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes, in historical and contemporary. All contain some romance, some mystery, and are squeaky clean.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I like to write at home, in my office. Distractions include two large cats, a husband who shares my office, and a basket of laundry that seems to grow exponentially with my lack of time to address it. I also like to write at a local coffee shop once a week so that I can say I do get out from time to time. Oh, yes, and so I can eavesdrop.
What are you currently working on? I am working on a contemporary Christmas romance to be released in November. Set in a mountain town called Christmas Ridge, I feature a woman who leads the local food ministry and a widowed veterinarian with a seven-year-old son.
Who’s your favorite author? Agatha Christie.
How long did it take you to write your first book? About two years, including edits and re-writing, although the first 50,000 words came together in 20 days (NaNoWriMo)
How long to get it published? Twelve years.
How do you come up with character names? For historical, gravestones in cemeteries. Or a contest in one of my newsletters, as with this book. Her name is Edith. A strong name for a strong woman.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? I want my men to sound like men, not like masculine women. Tricky until I took a course at a writer’s conference that explained how men talk to each other and how they talk to women. Eye-opening.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I always have subplots, most of which come from one of my main character’s interests or job. I weave them in like spaghetti, and most often, they culminate at the end and are part of the main plot.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I am committed to several multi-author projects for books in 2023 and still have a couple of my own series I want to continue, as well as noodling around ideas for a brand new series.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Never. Quit.
Hollow Hearts: Middle-aged widow Edith Cooper walks away from the cemetery along the Green River near Simpson’s Hollow, Utah Territory. Away from the husband buried there this morning. Away from their plans and dreams for their future. Along the way, two men offer their hand in marriage. For her protection, one says. For his children’s sake, says the second. Were any of these reasons enough to marry? She must choose one. But which?
Albert Whitt, the stationmaster of the Pony Express Station, loves his independent life. Twice stood up by women, he takes the only course that ensures no more rejection: stay clear of them. But when he learns that the stoic Widow Cooper is considering two proposals from men not worthy of lacing her boots, he must do something. But what?
Can Edith and Albert find a new beginning in the midst of tragedy, or will they choose the most convenient path—alone?
You can find out more about the story or pre-order the eBook here: https://www.amazon.com/Hollow-Hearts-Book-Pony-Express-ebook/dp/B0B5B7H4XG
Leave a comment, and Donna will draw randomly for a print copy (US only) or an eBook of Hollow Hearts. Don’t forget to cleverly disguise your email address like this: Donna AT livebytheword DOT com.
How do our readers contact you?
www.DonnaSchlachter.com Stay connected so you learn about new releases, pre-orders, and presales, and check out featured authors, book reviews, and a little corner of peace. Plus: Receive a free eBook simply for signing up for our free newsletter!
Check out previous blog posts at www.HiStoryThruTheAges.wordpress.com and www.AllBettsAreOff.wordpress.com
Books: Amazon: http://amzn.to/2ci5Xqq
Etsy online shop of original artwork: https://www.etsy.com/shop/Dare2DreamUS
Mary Keliikoa is the author of the multi-award nominated PI Kelly Pruett mystery series and HIDDEN PIECES, the first book in the Misty Pines mystery series. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World and the anthology Peace, Love and Crime: Crime Fiction Inspired by Music of the ’60s.
A Pacific NW native, she spent many years working around lawyers. When not in Washington, you can find Mary with toes in the sand on a Hawaiian beach or making plans to travel abroad. But wherever she goes, she’s always plotting her next murder—novel, that is.
HIDDEN PIECES, first in series: A small-town sheriff debilitated from the loss of his child and marriage answers the call for one last case, a “runaway” teen; but when it’s clear the girl has been abducted and ties to a tragic cold case emerge, he must confront his own ghosts before another child is lost.
Thank you so much for having me on your blog today, George! I’m excited to be back. I was here last when DENIED, the second book in my PI Kelly Pruett mystery series, had just come out. Since then, my third and final book in the series, DECEIVED, was released in May, and HIDDEN PIECES, the first in the Misty Pines mystery series, just published.
HIDDEN PIECES means a lot to me for several reasons, but probably the most significant was that it is loosely based on a crime that happened in my hometown in 1979 when two girls went out walking and one didn’t come home. I was drawn to the idea of exploring what happened to the survivor and how one would process that, or not process, the grief of that traumatic experience—especially if the victim was a sibling. While a fictional account, it explores how grief and trauma can have lasting effects, not only for the survivor but also for the cop who felt a failure for not bringing that child home. And it’s all woven into a current abduction. Let’s just say there will be many connections to the past.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Hidden Pieces was my first time writing a male protagonist, and I had a bit of a learning curve in working out his thought process, his abbreviated dialogue, how he processed information, and grief of events that have happened in his present and past. Those elements were the biggest challenge. But I tried to approach Jax from the perspective that regardless, many emotions are universal. And while men and women communicate differently, what drives their need for communication is universal. It was definitely fun exploring the full range of differences and commonalities, and I hope to continue to write Jax and other male protagonists in the future.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? Such a great question and the answer is no. As a storyteller, I feel my job is to listen to the story the characters want to tell. Sure I have an idea of where I’d like them to go, and I have the case in mind they’re to solve. I even think I know the arc I’d like them to take. But how they get there comes out as I write. And to be honest, they often lead me on a path that is far more interesting and fun than the one I had planned for them.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations?
I have generally kept my stories in the Portland area or used Portland as a reference point. In my PI series, it was set in Portland. In my new series, Sheriff Turner was a Portland homicide detective but came to the fictional small coastal town of Misty Pines.
I often will use the fictional town when I want to reference things in the area, but I want the creative license not to be overly specific. For example, Misty Pines is really a compilation of the Hammond, Warrenton and Seaside, Oregon areas at the northern coast. So I would say even when I do use fictional, I have generally based them on places I’ve been to or know fairly well. In Hidden Pieces, I lived in Hammond for many years as a kid, so that area was the perfect setting for the novel.
What are you currently working on? The second book in the Misty Pines series, DEADLY TIDES, has already been drafted, so I’m currently working on edits for my agent on a domestic suspense novel and starting a standalone where the main character will be a bit of a vigilante. I’m very excited about this new project. I’ve generally written investigator-type protagonists, and this one will be full of moral ambiguity. So she’s going to be a lot of fun to write!
Do you have any advice for new writers? Continue to hone your craft either by taking classes, reading books, or finding a group of other writers you can bounce ideas off. Above all, write. Sometimes you can get caught up in thinking you need to do things a particular way, and nothing beats simply sitting down and getting words on the page. Don’t let anyone define what that means to you, whether it’s a journal, a poem, a short story, or a novel.
And second, find your community. I’ve really enjoyed the connections I’ve made on this journey, and I encourage others to do the same.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you?
Lots of writing is in store. I am finalizing the second book in the Misty Pines series, which will be out in the fall of 2023, continuing to edit my domestic suspense, and starting on my next project in the next few weeks. I’ve always said as long as I’m having fun, I won’t slow down. And it’s safe to say I won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
How do our readers contact you? https://marykeliikoa.com
Elizabeth Varadan is a former teacher who writes poetry, children’s fiction, and adult mysteries. She and her husband live in Sacramento, California. They love to travel and divide their time abroad between Braga, Portugal, and Galicia, Spain.
Varadan’s previous stories, flash fiction, and poems have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies. Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, a middle-grade mystery featuring Sherlock Holmes, was published in 2015 by MX Publishing. Her story, “Kidnapped,” was included in the 2016 Holmes-related story collection, Beyond Watson, by Belanger Books, and “What the Raven Knew” was included in 2019 in Sherlock Holmes, Adventures in the Realms of Edgar A Poe. In 2017 Belanger Books published her picture book, Dragonella, both in English and Spanish, followed in 2018 by a children’s story collection, Carnival of the Animals. Her chapbook, Saudade, Thirty Poems of Longing, was published in 2019 by Finishing Line Press.
Deadly Vintage, a cozy mystery for adults, released in November 2019, also published by Belanger Books, is set in Braga, Portugal, as is Deadly Verse, its sequel. At present, she is working on a third book in the series, Deadly Variation.
DEADLY VARIATION Carla spies an old friend who says he’s in Braga as a tourist. A street singer sings a song in two languages. A man pats the friend on the shoulder and disappears. Moments later, Carla’s friend is dead.
What brought you to writing? I’ve scribbled for as long as I can remember. My mother encouraged me when I was a child. (She was an unpublished writer.) However, writing full-time had to wait for retirement. I was an elementary/middle school teacher for over 20 years; before that, I worked in insurance (claims), and there were university classes. There wasn’t time to take writing seriously. As for what brought me to writing originally, I think you could say “reading.” There’s something about a well-written page that pricks the imagination.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Absolutely. I belong to two writing groups that operate as beta readers, as well as the organization Sisters In Crime and the local Sacramento chapter, Capitol Crimes. (The latter two get professional speakers and nationally known mystery authors who give invaluable information and advice. And my publishers have also interacted in ways that have turned fellow authors and myself into what feels like a group of colleagues working together, supporting each other. In differing ways, all of them have helped me grow as a writer.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I generally have one or two subplots going just to keep it realistic: i.e., in my mysteries, there’s a mystery to be solved, the main plot. But characters have ongoing peripheral lives; solving the mystery can’t happen in a vacuum. I try to make sure the subplot isn’t more interesting than the main plot (lol).
Do you base any of your characters on real people? No. I write fiction but have a very literal mind. If I tried to base a character on a real person, I would keep thinking, “but that didn’t happen . . .,” or “it didn’t happen that way . . .” The reality part would keep tripping up my story.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Panster. I’ve tried outlining. I outlined a whole book once and found I no longer wanted to write it. It was like the outlining had given me closure on the plot. I really do like, as I write, to find out what’s happening as it unfolds. Sometimes, once the story is underway, I’ll semi-outline what needs to happen in the next scene or two and usually have a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel idea of how the story ends. But sometimes, I don’t until the very last chapters.
What kind of research do you do? Suppose I’m doing something from another era. In that case, I look up everything I can think of that might have a bearing on the story: Novels or poetry written in the era (that my protagonist might read), novels about the era or subject, timetables, newspaper articles, weather reports. If set in another country, I look up restaurants and contact police departments (if a mystery is involved). You can overdo research and get lost, but if you sift out things that could become an “information dump” on the reader, all those remaining details can provide great texture that makes a setting believable.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Both. I use real towns, real restaurants, hotels, rivers, museums, whatever.
But if something bad happens, I make up the particular café or building where it happens – unless it’s some very public space like a plaza, say, or park, someplace where anything could happen without reflecting on an establishment.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Well, the conventional wisdom is to “write every day,” but sometimes you can’t. It’s still good advice, although “new writers” have usually been writing as often as they could all their lives. So, to that suggestion, I would add “read every day” and read everything, every genre, style, nonfiction, and fiction. Next: take a writing class or two. You don’t have to have an MFA, but a couple of classes or workshops will point you in a good direction, and good books on writing can be a great follow-up. What else? find a good writing group or set of “beta readers.” Shop around. A good writing group’s members should support your strengths while pointing out what doesn’t work for them as readers. (As in, “what I don’t quite understand is why . . ..”) And they catch a lot of errors, as well (typos, repeated words, omitted words, etc.) A good group is invaluable. And last but not least, don’t lose heart or give up. You write because you love it. Keep loving it. Keep writing.
How do our readers contact you?
Link to Trailer by Belanger Books https://vimeo.com/724543646?fbclid=IwAR0IL0xIFpUWW82LGkq1Aq0_aC7gFQ9MBAkpLRjLrvQcq34ehOnLcwoDgbw
Author page and list of books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Books-Elizabeth-Varadan/s?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_27%3AElizabeth+Varadan
With the impending release of George’s latest novel, Robbers and Cops, I suggested he let me interview him for his blog. I happen to know that George is a talented writer and that he’s also very modest. Tooting his own horn is not in this man’s DNA, but I insisted. So here it is: an interview with the author, the man himself.
Now I get to turn the tables on Big George and interview him about his new book and a few other things. Michael A. Black
Okay, George, let’s start with an easy one: In which genre(s) do you write? I’ll try to make it complicated. I began Robbers and Cops as somewhat of a memoir but got bored with the protagonist, switched to a police procedural thriller, and then stopped for eight years to write The Mona Lisa Sisters as historical-literary-woman fiction.
I also write some, very little, poetry. And I love writing flash fiction.
Why did you choose those? I get pieces of stories in my mind that determine what I’ll write. Flash fiction’s inspiration is about telling a story, beginning to end, on one page. Poetry is either about writing or a social issue, such as the 1864 massacre of a peaceful Arapaho and Cheyenne village in “Sand Creek.”
Now tell us a bit about your writing process–Plotter or Pantser? Outlining and I don’t get along. I begin writing with an idea and create ten thousand or so words either at the beginning or at the end. Then, I ponder how I got there, how or where the journey began. I take lots of detours.
Have you ever tried doing it the other way? Yes—total failure.
What do you need for your writing sessions? I still write in cursive, and my handwriting is so bad I need a laptop. Add a flat service and comfortable straight-back chair, and I’m set. I can be at my desk, kitchen table, library, or coffee shop. Conversations don’t bother me, except at home.
Does anything ever hamper your writing? Artificial sounds, music, radio, or television.
It must be hard to screen all of those out. Do you have a special place where you like to write? Libraries, surrounded by books.
What do you love about writing? The hope of using written words to paint a picture another person can experience in such a way as to place themselves in the setting and scene.
Painting a picture… That’s very metaphorical. Your first book references a rather famous picture—The Mona Lisa. Care to tell us what that one’s about? I was attending an introductory workshop when the instructor randomly handed out pictures of scenes. We were given fifteen minutes to describe the setting. Instead, I wrote the end of the manuscript. Eight years later, I finished the journey.
What’s the most challenging aspect for you about writing? It’s when I’m searching for the right colors (words) to paint that perfect scene.
What do you find to be the hardest thing about being a writer? Sitting down and writing that first word. Or when I’ve finished the manuscript, I’m about 10,000 words short. I don’t want to add fluff.
That’s interesting. Most writers try to cut words from a manuscript. How do you determine the proper length? When I finish adding 10K new words, I’ve cut at least 5K and have to go back again.
What is the easiest thing, if anything, about being a writer? The ability to take on any project that allows me to avoid sitting down and writing that first word. My best escape from creating new material is to self-critique and edit my already-written work.
Is there something that you always put in your books? Last year I heard that some author always puts his name somewhere in his work. I took that as a challenge, and I’m hidden in Robbers and Cops. In New Liberty, the first in the Hector Miguel Navarro Trilogy, George Cramer gives advice to a young detective.
Things you never put in your books: Steamy sex. I tried it once, but my two daughters were horrified that I would write about sex—never again.
What are your favorite books (or genres)? Now that is a tricky question. I like Bernard Cornwell immensely. I was not a fan of his until I read a few of his works while studying for an MFA at the Institute of American Indian Arts. But that is strictly for fun. Among my favorites for content and impact, I would have to include Hard Times: For These Times by Charles Dickens in 1854; and The Stranger, the 1942 novella by Albert Camus.
Those would be considered classics by most people. Which current writers influenced you the most? Right up there is The Round House by Louise Erdrich and Perma Red by Debra Magpie Earling. These two indigenous authors are incredible.
Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena should be a must-read for every person living in these trying times.
As far as right now, I choose Black Pearl by Donnell Ann Bell. I can’t wait to get her autograph and talk writing.
Are there any books you won’t buy? Horror stories by Stephen King. I can’t handle horror. However, I have a paper and hardback copy of Stephen King On Writing because he is such a phenomenal author.
All right, we’ve dallied long enough. Your new book is Robbers and Cops. Tell us about that one. I’m leaving that to you with the blurb you graciously wrote.
A fascinating odyssey of complex characters—robbers and cops that spans five decades in its telling. Imagine if Elmore Leonard had written The Grapes of Wrath, tossed in a dash of The Naked and the Dead, and finished up morphing into a pure Joseph Wambaugh police procedural. ~Michael A. Black – Amazon Bestselling Author.
Robbers and Cops will be released on November 1, 2022, and is available for pre-order.
So would you say it’s a crime story or police procedural, or a sociological novel? Wow! I would have to say a thrilling sociological police procedural.
You’ve got an extensive background in police work and investigations. Has this helped you with your crime fiction? With Robbers and Cops, I wanted to build a story around two brothers. I met one of them when I helped a San Mateo detective take him into custody. My involvement in the incident was limited to hours, yet the story haunted me for decades. When I fell in love with writing, I used four decades of investigation experience to go from the ending back forty years in time and created the road that ended with my completed manuscript.
What is one of the most daring things you’ve done? Overcoming my fears while becoming a certified scuba diver without knowing how to swim so I could dive with my oldest son, a professional deep water diver—we never did.
That sounds like it would make a good story. Have you considered writing about your experience as a memoir or fictionalizing it into a novel? Never going to happen.
Who’s the most remarkable person you’ve ever met: My Dad.
You’ve got a lot of fans out there. Anything else you’d like to tell them? Please visit my blog and then come make a guest post about your work.
All right. Thanks for the opportunity to let me place the master blog interviewer on the spot.
How do your readers contact you or buy your books?
Buy Books: There is a buy link on my website.
Amazon – https://tinyurl.com/4xw228ft
Barnes and Nobel -: https://tinyurl.com/4t4h6x8y
Lisa writes novels, short stories, Victorian mysteries featuring authentic details, and scholarly work about the young H. G. Wells. When she’s not researching and writing, she can be found pontificating about online pedagogy, gardening in root-bound soil, or watching classic movies. She was born in England but has lived in California most of her life.
My thanks to George for asking me to talk about my writing practice and my books! I’ve chosen a few topics to address.
New! Murder at an Exhibition – A Victorian mystery about a photographer’s Murder and how his assistant Bridget and her friend Jo unravel the mystery.
Writing process challenges – The most challenging part of my writing process is that I keep interrupting myself to do research. Let’s say I am writing a scene where my character needs to get across town, and I decide she’ll catch an omnibus. I’ll actually stop and research omnibus routes in 1862 London, checking how often they run and where they pick up. As a historian, I find it’s unreasonably important for me to be accurate, and that means interrupting my writing to be sure.
I also interrupt myself for research just because I don’t know things. Once I even contacted an astronomer to find out which direction the moon would be coming up for a scene. Yes, I could just keep writing, make a note and get back to it later, but I get fascinated when I have a question! I love learning.
Character names – Don’t you just love it when a character’s name evokes something about them? Although I think Charles Dickens went over the top with this (Mr. Gradgrind in Hard Times comes to mind), I do like the idea that names should somehow reflect the personality of the character.
Detective Inspector Cuthbert Slaughter, for example, has a very old English name, and he’s a fairly stable and old-fashioned person. Cyril Price, an actor/manager at the Surrey Theatre, has a stage-actor name. Jo Harris, who illustrates for magazines, has a strong name because she’s an intelligent and assertive person. Tommy Jones is the exception: he has a deliberately ordinary name, but he’s not ordinary at all.
Character names are also part of historical accuracy. I want to know what names people really used in the 1860s. So I look through lists of names common in Victorian England, but I also get great names from directories. Sometimes I can find out the real names of people who, for example, had shops on a particular street, so even the publican or grocer might have an actual historical name.
I also base some of my characters on famous or semi-famous people. And sometimes this happens on accident—I’ll read in the Illustrated London News that a person I’ve never heard of designed a building, or I’ll see a daguerreotype of a woman whose expression is just priceless. If I know the names, I’ll find out more about them and build sub-plots around them. Or I’ll just have them pop into a scene—I did that with Mrs. Catherine Dickens in Murder at Old St. Thomas’s. I have a lot of fun doing historical “guest stars.”
And yes, Thomas Crapper really was a plumber and entrepreneur who sold bathroom fixtures.
Plotter or Panster? You’ve probably gotten the idea already that I like serendipity when writing, which makes me an inveterate “pantser.” I have tried plotting; I really have! But it feels like stopping in the middle of a movie and guessing what’s going to happen. I know a lot of authors say the characters take on a life of their own, and sometimes so does the action. I may have a vague idea of the beginning and the overall theme, but I don’t know what’s going to happen until I start writing.
Historical Research – While historical research comes naturally to me after decades as a trained historian, researching for a novel is different. I need breadth more than depth. Rather than finding out everything, there is to know about one topic and then reading articles where historians analyze the perspectives on that one topic. I have many things to research at once—clothing, manners, food, water systems, building materials, omnibuses. And because I’m a stickler for reality, if I cannot find or access something (like a train timetable), I will change the story or the action to create something supported by the sources.
So I’m one of those historical fiction writers where the emphasis is on the historical. I use the newspapers, magazines, art, books, and material culture of the time. Accessing online databases, library resources, and city directories—these are all just part of deepening the story. My goal is to write novels and short stories that could only have taken place during the mid-Victorian era in England. The past is not just a passive setting but rather a place where our commonalities can be seen across time.
Contact me at https://www.facebook.com/grousablebooks
Books and buy links: https://grousablebooks.com/books/
Before the Time Machine (literary fiction)
Murder at Old St. Thomas’s
H. G. Wells on Science Education (1886-1897)
Sisters in Crime (and Partners in Crime San Diego Chapter)
Historical Novel Society
H. G. Wells Society
Social media groups
Facebook: Historical Novel Society (and UK chapter), Historical Fiction Lovers Book Club, SHINE with Paper Lantern Writers, Instagram (@grousablebooks), TikTok (@grousablebooks), Goodreads.