Boston native STEPHEN M. MURPHY graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the University of San Francisco School of Law. After graduating from law school in 1981, he served as a law clerk to the justices of the New Hampshire Superior Court. While in New Hampshire, he worked on a murder trial that inspired his first Dutch Francis novel, Alibi. For over 34 years, he represented plaintiffs in personal injury and employment litigation. He is Past President of the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association, which voted him Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2008. SuperLawyers have also named him as one of the Top 100 lawyers in Northern California. He is the author of several books and is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters-in-Crime.
ABIDING CONVICTION: Lawyer Dutch Francis defends a high-profile murder case in which a judge is accused of killing his wife, when his own wife, TV news broadcaster Ginnie Turner, goes missing. As he confronts an ineffectual police department, suspicious that he is involved in his wife’s disappearance, he decides to take matters into his own hands. Exhausted by the murder trial, he struggles to balance both responsibilities, pushing him to the brink of losing everything he holds dear. At first, he thinks Ginnie was kidnapped in retaliation for her recent stories about sex scandals. But after receiving bits of her in the mail—fingernails, hair—he realizes the kidnapper may actually want to punish him. Could his defense of the judge be the reason?
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I write mysteries, legal thrillers, and historical fiction set in Ireland. I am still trying to get the latter published.
Where do you write? I generally write at a local café called Simple Pleasures.
What, if any, distractions do you allow? I like to listen to music, preferably jazz, blues, or classic rock and roll while writing.
What are you currently working on? I am writing a mystery featuring a San Francisco judge whose father and son are charged with the murder of a high-tech executive in the Tenderloin.
How long did it take you to write your first book? It took me nearly ten years to write ALIBI, a legal thriller/murder mystery set in New Hampshire, based on my experience as a law clerk to the superior court.
How long to get it published? About five years.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? I confess to having great difficulty figuring out how women think, which I’m sure is a character defect on my part.
Do you have subplots? Yes.
If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I tend to link my subplots by theme rather than plot. For example, in ABIDING CONVICTION, my latest Dutch Francis novel, the protagonist’s lawyer has to search for his missing wife while trying a high-profile murder case in which a judge is accused of killing his own wife.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Both. I tend to write a rough outline at first, start writing, and when I have a first draft, go back and outline in more detail. I’ve tried outlining an entire book at the beginning but just couldn’t do it.
What kind of research do you do? For my Dutch Francis legal thriller series, I research the geography of the various towns in New Hampshire that are mentioned. Since I lived in New Hampshire for only one year –forty years ago – I find Google Maps and Google Earth invaluable to reacquaint me with the area.
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? The biggest obstacle is creating realistic characters rather than just ones known to history. That means delving into their personal lives, other things they did that did not make them famous and personal relationships. For my Irish historical series, I include many historical figures and have to avoid getting caught up in the history and ignoring the stories I’m trying to tell.
What is the best book you have ever read? It’s tough to single out one book, so I’ll give you two. PRINCE OF TIDES by Pat Conroy and SHANTARAM by Gregory David Roberts. I’ve re-read both and found them just as enjoyable the second time around.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I plan on writing novels in both the Dutch Francis and the Irish history series.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Learn to love the process. The publishing business is a rough one: full of rejection both by agents and publishers. Don’t write just to get published because that may never happen. If you love writing, write for yourself or to share with family and friends. Publication is an added bonus.
How do our readers contact you? steve@stephenMmurphy.com or www.stephenMmurphy.com. My website has a link to various booksellers for my books.
Late last year Denise and I were chatting at a California Writers Club – Mt. Diablo Branch meeting about the challenges we writers face. She gave me some advice that worked for me. Recently I was able to convince her to write an article for the blog.
Before we jump in to that, here is a little about Denise..
Denise P. Kalm, BCC, was trained as a personal/executive coach at John F. Kennedy University and as a creativity coach by Eric Maisel. She has been practicing as a coach for over 10 years; her client base includes many IT professionals, engineers and scientists. Her 30+ years of experience in IT, as well as her experience with numerous life transitions informs her work. She earned her MS in Biochemical Genetics at the University of Michigan, and though she hasn’t worked in the field, keeps up on the latest research.
Where I Started – Just like many of you, I loved the idea of writing and seeing my name in print. I wanted to see what people thought of my work and to keep creating it for the rest of my life. But then, there’s that blank page staring at me. Whether you still enjoy writing on paper (I do, when not near a device) or prefer to write on a device, the emptiness of an unfilled page is intimidating.
I tried a variety of tricks. If I didn’t finish a story or a chapter, I could come back to a non-blank page. I tried writing prompts, no success. Even when I had a clear idea in my head of what I wanted to say, once I sat down, my brain said, “not today.” I’m a big Natalie Goldberg fan, but couldn’t seem to get the words to flow on demand.
The only exception came when I did some writing for newspapers. The challenge is that news has a short shelf life. If you want to respond to an issue, you need to get it done quickly. It also has to be short. All writers know the truth of Blaise Pascal’s famous words, “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” Writing tight is tough and often takes more edits. And yet, when I worked on these kinds of pieces, writer’s block simply didn’t happen.
The Great Insight – I confess I didn’t analyze or understand why the newspaper work just flowed. As my career shifted from being a super-techie, I found a niche doing a variety of writing for software companies. White papers, articles, public relations, customer success stories, product briefs, etc., became a staple of my workday. At work, there’s always a deadline, so I didn’t have the luxury of sitting around for days, simply thinking about it. I had to write.
Some of the pieces were easier, because they were based on templates. You just followed the “script, putting in the specifics of a product. But most of the work was highly creative. Part of the competitiveness of a software company is in the attractive reading on the website or in print to hand out at conferences. If people don’t read about what you sell, you aren’t going to sell as much of your software.
At first, I struggled a little. But whenever I got stuck, I would take a short walk, just to clear my head. I never focused on what I was working on and just let my mind drift. But inevitably, I would come back with a clear idea of how to construct the piece. Often, I would come up with a great title at the same time.
In a shorter time than you might expect, I could get to work and just start writing. Even when I was crafting a long article or a talk, I had begun to craft ways of approaching it. Who’s the audience? What’s the message I need to convey? Have I narrowed it down to fit in the allowed word count?
As I got better (and faster) at this kind of writing, more assignments came my way. The fun part is I could swap writing for something I didn’t want to do.
When asked to take on blog writing for the company, I felt the same way I did when I wrote a short story that turned out well. Exhilarated, happy, in flow. And the numbers of readers slowly increased, giving me immediate feedback and reward.
Writing ALL the time makes a difference. You need a deadline. You need to craft rules for each type of piece. Just like with cooking, it matters if you’ve done your mise en place – your preparation. Even if you aren’t writing for an employer, you can define those rules and ask the right questions upfront. This serves to get you grounded. If you struggle with your “assignment,” go for a short walk. It has to be outside, in nature. I’ve found a treadmill doesn’t spawn the same creativity.
I hated hearing that the best writers write every day. It seemed too tough an obligation. But they’re right. Just as Malcolm Gladwell noted, it can take 10,000 hours to achieve excellence (and we can all get better). If you only write a few hours a week, you may find it hard to keep improving.
Challenge yourself to write something every day, even if it’s just some of the planning and strategy for your writing. Letters, fleshed out ideas, stories—it all counts if you put in your best effort. I NEVER have writers block anymore! You can do it too.
She is a published author
Lifestorm, – A novel
Career Savvy – Keeping & Transforming Your Job,
Tech Grief – Survive and Thrive Through Career Losses (with Linda Donovan)
First Job Savvy – Find a Job, Start Your Career
Retirement Savvy – Designing Your Next Great Adventure
All are available on major sites as paperbacks and e-books.
Web site: www.denisekalm.com
Blog site: Right on the Left Coast | Denise Kalm | Substack
Sonja Dewing uses her adventurous spirit and travels to inspire her short stories and novels. She’s worked as everything from a waitress in a haunted Inn to an Instructional Designer for an unnamed government agency.
Now she’s a full-time author and helps other writers through her business, The Women’s Thriller Writers Association. She was nominated for a Silver Falchion for Best Action/Adventure and won second place from the NM Press Women for her novel Castoffs of the Gods and her short story A Glass Mountain. Her published novels include Toy of the Gods, Gamble of the Gods, Castoffs of the Gods, and, coming soon, the final book in the Idol Maker series, Relics of the Gods.
You can start the series with Toy of the Gods – Leslie needs a break. Instead, she’ll have to face down an Inca god and drunken monkeys. Get your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07P71ZKGB?tag=sdewing2309-20
What are you currently working on? I never just have one thing going on. I think that’s the curse of the over enthusiastic creative, perhaps, but I love being busy. I’m finishing book 4 in my series Relics of the Gods, and I’m producing a podcast – The 5 Minute Author, that’s all about writing and self-publishing tips, and I’m producing my first audiobook. I decided to try a short story audio first. It’s a short horror I wrote under a pen name called Evil Nuns from Space.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist? At some point in my book, I ask myself, what’s the worst thing that can possibly happen to my protagonist besides death? That question has always led to some fun and interesting twists. Like in Castoffs of the Gods, Leslie Kicklighter is exhausted from traveling the Amazon river all day but finds herself stranded, away from her friends, and has to find a way to get back to safety. It’s when we truly test our characters that we see what they are capable of.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I call myself a plantser (no – not misspelled). Before I start drafting a book, I have very specific scenes in my head. I’ll put those down as a rough outline, then fill in the rest of the story as I write.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? All of my locations are fictional but based on real locations. When I was in the Amazon basin, I stayed in an eco-resort. I used that resort as my fictional resort in Toy of the Gods. My second book is based in New Mexico, where I live. Then book three is based in the Amazon again, and book four will be in New York City and Iceland, some of my favorite places.
What kind of research do you do? The best research I ever did was to travel to the Amazon in Peru. This was after I had written the draft of my first book. So when I came home, I spent a month rewriting the novel with the jungle as an antagonist. I learned so many things that I would never have gleaned from watching a YouTube video or reading about it. For my current book, Relics of the Gods, I traveled to New York and visited all the places that show up in the book.
How long to get it published? It was a long road for my first book. In search of an agent, I had several male agents tell me no one would read an adventure with a main female character. And I believed them. Until I finally changed my mind and went with a small publisher. I needed someone to tell me my book was good enough to publish. But then two things happened. A stranger gave me a 5-star review on Amazon, and I found out my publisher had never fully read the book. That’s when I took the book back and self-published it.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Absolutely. Every character has their own goals, which are often not in sync with other characters. That’s what creates my subplots. For example, in Castoffs of the Gods, Leslie is in the Amazon to find and rescue her friend, AJ is there to find out more about her magic powers, Alex is there to steal an artifact, and others are there for other reasons. Each of those goals will conflict with the other and create subplots. I weave them in through the actions of the characters.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Yes. In your early writing career, please don’t give your writing to friends or family. They’ll tell you two things because they don’t understand that writing is a process (aka, like any job, it takes time to get it right). Either they’ll be really nice and tell you they loved it, or they think they need to be honest and tell you it’s terrible (which might discourage you from ever writing again!). Instead, find a review group of other writers who can share constructive criticism to make the story and your writing better.
How do our readers contact you? They can email me at email@example.com. They can check out my work at sonjadewing.com or find out more about my group at womensthrillerwriters.com
Through the years, Heather Weidner has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers is the first in her cozy mystery series, the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries. She writes the Delanie Fitzgerald mystery series set in Virginia. Her Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries debut in 2023.
Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of Cabernet, Deadly Southern Charm, and Murder by the Glass, and her novellas appear in The Mutt Mysteries series.
Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.
Film Crews and Rendezvous – Hollywood has come to Fern Valley, and the one-stoplight town may never be the same. Everyone wants to get in on the act.
The crew from the wildly popular fan favorite, Fatal Impressions takes over Jules Keene’s glamping resort, and they bring a lot of offscreen drama and baggage that doesn’t include the scads of costumes, props, and crowds that descend on the bucolic resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Added security, hundreds of calls from hopeful extras, and some demanding divas keep Jules’s team hopping.
When the show’s prickly head writer ends up dead under the L. Frank Baum tiny house in what looks like a staged murder scene with a kitschy homage to the Wizard of Oz, Jules has to figure out who would want the writer dead. Then while they are still reeling from the first murder, the popular publicist gets lost after a long night at the local honky-tonk and winds up strangled. Jules needs to solve both crimes before filming is canceled and her business is ruined.
How did you come up with the title? This is my first cozy mystery series, and I was looking for titles that described the story but were fun. So far in this series, there’s VINTAGE TRAILERS AND BLACKMAILERS, FILM CREWS AND RENDEZVOUS, and CHRISTMAS LIGHTS AND CAT FIGHTS.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? My stories all have some sort of crime, and most have at least one murder. While I do write crime fiction, I think of them as stories of justice. Good triumphs over evil, and the truth comes out with the help of my amateur sleuth.
What are your current projects? Right now, I’m writing this series and two others. My Delanie Fitzgerald series, set in Richmond, Virginia, features a sassy private investigator who gets in way more trouble than I do. I also write the Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries (2023), also set in Virginia, that feature a quaint beach town with unique shops and a penchant for attracting trouble.
Name one entity that you feel supports you outside of family members. I was so fortunate to find a group of writers, mentors, and friends when I found Sisters in Crime. This group of mystery and suspense writers has helped me hone my craft, learn the publishing business, and get my first mystery credit.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? I love the research and writing parts. I get so energized and excited to work that time just breezes by, but I must admit that revisions and edits are my least favorite part.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)? All of my novels and stories are set in Virginia. I’m a life-long native, and I love to show the beauty, the diverse landscapes, and the wonderful people of the region. We do a lot of day trips for my research. Right now, we live in Central Virginia, where we’re close to cities, the ocean, and the mountains. I love the art and culture of the region, and I will always be a beach girl at heart with my roots in the sand of Virginia Beach.
Do you have any advice for other writers? Writing is a business. If you want to be published, you need to work on your craft, read everything in your genre that you can get your hands on, and be persistent.
What is your favorite quote? I like Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s “Well behaved women rarely make history.” I also like the quote that’s been attributed to several folks. This is Ann Richards’s version “After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backward and in high heels.”
What is your favorite movie, and why? My favorite movie of all time is the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz. It has all the right elements for a perfect story: friends, a quest, a girl who fights evil, and her adorable dog.
Do you like audiobooks, physical books, or e-books better? Why? I was a diehard advocate of the physical book for years, and then the Pandemic hit. I was so thrilled to be able to get books electronically during the lockdown. So now, I read the turn-the-page kind and the electronic ones.
How do our viewers reach you and find your books?
Website and Blog: http://www.heatherweidner.com
Amazon Authors: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00HOYR0MQ
Book Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BHLSYBZ9?ref_=pe_3052080_276849420
After a long career as a professional dancer and dance educator, Lynn Slaughter earned her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. She writes coming-of-age romantic mysteries and is the author of the newly released Deadly Setup, a 2022 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards silver medalist. She is also the author of Leisha’s Song, a 2022 Imadjinn Award winner, a Moonbeam bronze medalist, Agatha nominee, and Silver Falchion Award winner; While I Danced, an EPIC finalist; and It Should Have Been You, a Silver Falchion finalist. Her first mystery for adults, Missed Cue, comes out from Melange Books in the summer of 2023. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where she’s at work on her next novel. She currently serves as president of Derby Rotten Scoundrels, the Ohio River Valley chapter of Sisters in Crime.
DEADLY SETUP Seventeen-year-old Sam’s life implodes when her heiress mother’s fiancé turns up dead, and Sam is accused of his murder and goes on trial. She fights to prove her innocence with the help of her boyfriend’s father, an ex-homicide cop. Just when things are looking especially bleak, Sam makes a startling discovery.
What brought you to writing? I spent much of my career as a professional modern dancer and dance educator. But I’d always enjoyed nonfiction writing and research. While still dancing, I moonlighted as a freelance magazine journalist specializing in writing about the challenges of adolescence and parenting teens. In all honesty, I didn’t think I had the fiction gene!
However, when age and injury led to my retirement from dance, I got an idea for a story about a young aspiring dancer with lots of family and friendship issues. That became my first young adult novel, WHILE I DANCED. I got hooked on fiction writing and returned to school, earning my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. It was a wonderful program, and I’ve kept writing ever since!
Tell us about your writing process. I tend to get a general idea for the premise of a novel. For example, DEADLY SETUP began as the kernel of an idea: What if a teenager was accused of murdering her mother’s fiancé?
Before trying to develop a plot, I spend a lot of time developing my characters and their backstories. Out of that work, I get a very good idea about my characters’ internal issues and how they will intersect and conflict with one another. It never ceases to amaze me how many plot ideas and complications grow out of starting with character development! I owe this insight to Elizabeth George. I’ve found her books on craft, WRITE AWAY! and MASTERING THE PLOT, to be so helpful.
What are you currently working on? I’m working on three projects which are at different stages of development:
Missed Cue, my first adult mystery, is coming out this summer from Melange Books, so I’m about to receive editorial notes.
I’ve also been working on a middle-grade fantasy about Varney, a kid vampire who hates the taste of blood and is convinced he’s landed in the wrong body. Thanks to a friendly witch, he gets a chance to switch with a human boy who is very unhappy in his life and longs to be a vampire.
Finally, I’m working on a young adult novel about a teen whose mother goes missing. The evidence indicates suicide, but my teenage protagonist doesn’t believe her mother would have killed herself and is determined to find out what really transpired.
How do you come up with character names? I have a book of baby names that gives a bit about where each name came from and what it means. I love going through it and finding names that seem to fit with the personalities and backgrounds of my characters.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I do! I find they often emerge organically from the relationships of the major characters. For example, in DEADLY SETUP, the protagonist has a close gay friend who’s involved in a romance with the closeted son of parents who think homosexuality is a sin. When his parents discover his romance, they forbid him to see his boyfriend. He becomes severely depressed, and after his failed suicide attempt, he eventually moves in with more supportive relatives.
This subplot actually reinforces a major theme of the novel, which is that sometimes when your family of origin is unable or unwilling to be unconditionally loving and accepting, it is sometimes necessary to create an intentional family.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Read voraciously and put yourself on a writing schedule that works for you and that you can stick to!
Join writers’ associations, such as Sisters in Crime and its subgroup, the Guppies, and make use of their resources.
Study craft books and analyze your favorite books in your chosen genre to see what makes them work so well.
Find a supportive writing community and a helpful, constructive critique group. If more than one person points to a problem in your manuscript, pay attention!
Above all, persevere!
Groups I belong to:
Mid-South Region of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Guppies and my local chapter of Sisters in Crime, the Derby Rotten Scoundrels
I love hearing from readers and can be contacted through my website: https://lynnslaughter.com/
Amazon: Deadly Setup – Kindle edition by Slaughter, Lynn.
Print book: https://www.amazon.com/Deadly-Setup-Lynn-Slaughter/dp/B0B5KV5424/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1664994693&sr=1-1
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/deadly-setup-lynn-slaughter/1141674720?ean=9798886530087
Books-a-Million: Deadly Setup by Lynn Slaughter (booksamillion.com)