Thomas Burchfield was born in Peekskill, New York. After many years as a legal clerk and library assistant in the Bay Area, he now lives in semi-retirement in Grass Valley, California. His latest short story, “McCain, the Stranger,” recently appeared in the online version of The Mystery Tribune. A freelance editor, he’s also the author of the short story “Lucky Day” in Berkeley Noir’s anthology (Akashic Press 2020). He’s also the author of Butchertown (Ambler House 2017), a ripping 1920s gangster thriller, and the award-winning contemporary vampire novel Dragon’s Ark (Ambler House 2012). His original screenplays Whackers, The Uglies, Now Speaks the Devil and Dracula: Endless Night are available in e-book editions only. His reviews and essays have appeared in Swing Time Magazine, Posthoc.com, Bright Lights Film Journal, The Strand Magazine, and Filmfax. He also posts essays on Medium and his own webpage, A Curious Man.
What brought you to writing? I’ve been writing pretty much since I first picked up a crayon. I started out like all writers by copying my favorites. In my case, I started by retyping A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. That, of course, became boring. I then started writing up the Universal horror movies I loved as a kid (which I still do). Eventually, I started writing my own stories, and I found people liked what I did, so I kept going.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in my home office. I always play music: classical, jazz, and film music, especially the scores of Ennio Morricone. Music is sometimes inspiring. At other times, it provides solace and keeps me in my chair when things are not going well.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The first draft. My first drafts are awful, like finger-paintings by a three-year-old. Second drafts and upward are where the fun begins.
What are you currently working on? I have several pots bubbling on my stove. As for fiction, I’m currently working on what I call “The McCain Stories,” a series about a big city cop who’s assigned to police a Sierra Foothill community as it recovers from a devastating wildfire. They’re inspired by Georges Simenon’s “Maigret” novels and Midsomer Murders.
How long did it take you to write your first book? I tried writing my first novel in the 1980s but failed miserably. I then spent about fifteen years trying to break into Hollywood screenwriting (during which I wrote some pretty good scripts) until I aged out of their interest in 2001. (Screenwriting can be an excellent way to learn about plot and structure, though you’re unlikely to sell any of them). Around 2002, I finally started my Dracula novel, Dragon’s Ark. It took me about seven years.
How long to get it published? I spent about a year looking for an agent for Dragon’s Ark, and while I received plenty of praise, no one bit. I then published it myself under my Ambler House imprint. That took a year.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I don’t see how a novel can do without them. Any action on a character’s part will have consequences beyond the story’s main plot. Different characters will have different goals and will take different actions. Entanglement of other stories with your main one is inevitable unless it’s a single-character novel, like Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, which I found very boring.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? I get him into as much trouble as I can. To paraphrase Vladimir Nabokov, I chase a man up a tree and throw rocks at him. The great silent comic Harold Lloyd described comedy as “a man in trouble.” I work from those principles.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? My characters contain streaks of real people, including myself, those I’ve known, and, occasionally, indelible movie characters (but not too close, lest the book or story become too meta). Eventually, a character should be able to breathe on his own regardless of his origins in real life, literature, or cinema.
One exception: A best friend of forty years has made numerous appearances in my work under variations of his name but always described as looking exactly like him. I always kill him off, much to our mutual delight.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I was a pantser until I got stuck in too many swamps. A while back, I met Jeffery Deaver at a MWA workshop, and he described how he “outlined” his novels in bits and pieces, sometimes starting with the ending, sometimes in the middle, sometimes with just a scene, and then weave it all over time. I now work from that template. I generally like having a good idea of my ending from wherever I start.
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? My love and respect for history and historians is boundless, so I keep real historical figures mostly at the edge when it comes to fiction. I want to avoid debates about whether I got this or that factual detail about Calvin Coolidge right. I’m going to disappoint someone somewhere, but on the other hand, I don’t want to distract from my purpose, which is to change the reality we know into one that feels almost as real.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Learn to be your own best, most sharp-eyed critic. Writing groups are helpful when you’re starting out, but while you learn about craft, structure, and character development, they tend toward conformism, so you eventually want to get away and write from your own soul. But to do that, you have to learn to recognize when you’re not good. No one’s a good writer every time: not Shakespeare, not me, not you. Learn to recognize it. By no means hate on yourself—because that just makes you quit–but seek a level of Zen: a calm, almost scientific, detachment from your materials where you sit calmly back and say, “Hmmm . . . that’s not working.” And then work at it until it does. Writing badly is not a crime. Not fixing it is.
Second, don’t show your first drafts to anyone, not even to torture your worst enemy.
Third, don’t bother chasing the marketplace. You may be knocked out by the sales figures for I Was a Twelve-Year-Old Serial Killer but by the time you finish I Was a Ten-Year-Old Serial Killer, the marketplace will have moved on to novels about man-eating talking plants. Be the self that God gave you, for good and bad, above all.
How do our readers contact you?
I can be reached at email@example.com.
My author’s page is http://amblerhouse.blogspot.com;
My essays and reviews can be found at https://thomburchfield.medium.com and http://tbdeluxe.blogspot.com.
You can also find me on Facebook. Finally, if you’re looking for an editor for your non-fiction, check out Thomas Burchfield Writing and Editing.
Hello, I’m Christine Knapp. After practicing as a nurse-midwife for many years, I now write the Modern Midwife Mysteries.
I have always loved to read, and mysteries, thrillers, memoirs, non-fiction, cookbooks, and children’s books compete for a place on my bedside table. Libraries and bookstores fill me with wonder and anticipation. The New York Times Book Review is always the first thing I read with a warm cup of tea on Sunday mornings. My favorite book is John Irving’s, A Prayer for Owen Meany. It’s about love, compassion, and the affirmation that life is miraculous.
l discovered Dame Agatha Christie many years ago as a midwifery student. Now, with the Modern Midwife Mysteries, I am thrilled to combine my love of midwifery and mysteries as a fiction writer. I narrate books weekly for the visually impaired.
As a nurse-midwife, I have always been very disillusioned with how nurses and midwives are portrayed in books and films. I’ve read mysteries with historical and Amish midwives but never one with a present-day practitioner. By combining a mystery with a modern-day midwife, I hoped to accurately portray current practice and demystify midwifery. To that end, the story has many obstetrical vignettes, and each chapter starts with an epigraph related to pregnancy.
My first book, Murder at the Wedding, took about five years to write. I did not use an Outline and, after many revisions, realized that, at the very least, a general outline would be helpful for me. Finally, after dozens of rejections, I signed with a great agent, Dawn Dowdle of the Blue Ridge Literary Agency. My books are published by Gemma Halliday Publishing.
For inspiration, I highly recommend, Swallowed by a Whale: How to Survive the Writing Life, edited by Huw Lewis-Jones, to fellow writers. Sixty authors offer insights into their writing process and offer both advice and encouragement. Many days, I would open it at random and always come away determined to stay the course.
Murder at the Wedding introduces Maeve O’Reilly Kensington, a midwife, her wealthy acerbic sister Meg, and their indomitable Boston Irish mother. Together, they try to solve the murder of the chief obstetrician at his daughter’s extravagant wedding in the quintessential New England town of Langford. Since Maeve’s husband, Will, is the wedding caterer. The stakes are very high. Adding to the drama, Maeve spends her days helping to bring babies into the world yet struggles with her own fertility journey.
The second book in the series, Murder on the Widow’s Walk, was written in about six months. This time, I used an outline and felt it helped me tremendously—along with revisions, revisions, revisions. My characters may veer off course at times, but at least I had a road map. This mystery finds Maeve and company trying to solve the untimely murder of Monty Livingstone, also known as the Takeover King, as he sets up shop in Langford, alienating some in the community. Maeve’s love of rowing is featured in the story, and her road to motherhood takes an unexpected course.
Book #3, Murder on the Books, will be released this fall. It also took about six months to write. Maeve O’Reilly Kensington has fully recovered from her heart-pounding escape from a murderer last summer. Now she and her husband, Will, are happily adapting to life as parents of an eight-month-old while also preparing for the birth of their second daughter. However, nothing stays calm in Langford. Just before Christmas, Maeve finds the well-loved librarian dead. Who would harm this lovely woman? Can the crime be solved before Maeve has her baby?
Murder at the Wedding was a Finalist for the IAN Book of the Year Awards and is currently a Finalist for a Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award. Tantor Media has contracted for the audiobook version of the Modern Midwife Mysteries.
It is such an honor to be featured on George Cramer’s blog. I faced long odds of finding an agent and a publisher. My best advice is never, ever give up.
I’d love to connect with writers or fans of the cozy mystery genre. You can find me at:
Buy my book on Amazon.
Buy my book at Barnes & Noble
Sisters in Crime
Sisters in Crime New England
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David Haldane, a former Los Angeles Times staff writer, has published three books: an award-winning memoir entitled Nazis & Nudists, a short-story collection called Jenny on the Street, and, his latest, an Amazon bestselling compilation of essays exploring life on a tropical island. He has also written and produced radio features, for which he was awarded a Golden Mike by the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California.
Haldane, along with his wife and two young children, currently divides his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where he writes a weekly column for the Mindanao Gold Star Daily called “Expat Eye.” A compendium of those pieces was published earlier this year under the title A Tooth in My Popsicle and Other Ebullient Essays on Becoming Filipino, a book expressing the joys, triumphs, tribulations, exigencies, and hilarities of expatriate life. You can get it on Amazon.
What brought you to writing? Many years ago, living in a barren unheated apartment in Berlin, Germany, during the coldest winter months, I hit rock bottom. Specifically, I felt lonely, hopeless, abandoned, and extremely depressed at having to wear my fur coat inside and constantly seeing my breath as white wisps of steam. In utter desperation, I started writing letters to friends back home, especially an old girlfriend who’d given me the boot. It became a daily ritual that saved my life. I’ve been writing ever since.
Do you write in more than one genre? Having spent most of my life working as a journalist, I am naturally drawn to nonfiction. After getting laid off in what came to be known as the Mother of All Recessions, however, I later expanded my notion of nonfiction to include, well, things that weren’t entirely true. As in short stories. Mostly, though, I work somewhere between those two extremes in the realms of narrative nonfiction—i.e., stuff that reads like fiction but isn’t—and personal (often also narrative) essay, which pretty much describes my columns. These days, that’s where I really live.
Where do you write? I write wherever I have to, which can range from hotel rooms on my laptop to in bed on my cell phone. Where I prefer to write, though, is in the spacious office on the top floor of the dream house my wife and I built overlooking Surigao Strait at the northernmost tip of Mindanao Island in the Philippines. It has a 180-degree view of the ocean dotted with distant islands and, frankly, is the place wherein I was born to contemplate the blank page. The only distraction I allow is my two-year-daughter and her three-year-old cousin coming in to visit bearing cookies. They are especially fond of jumping on the couch to see whether they can reach the ceiling, a habit I find quite annoying but also hopelessly enchanting. And definitely uninterruptible.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Because most of my writing happens in short bursts, I am, by instinct, a pantser. The idea of plotting something long and complicated is terribly intimidating to me and, frankly, something I can’t even imagine ever doing. What has become an inevitable part of my process, however, is sometimes jotting quick notes after getting an idea, probably in case I forget what it is. Which, I must admit, has happened more than once. After more years of doing this, than I care to admit, I am finally beginning to feel confident in knowing the difference between a mere idea and a genuine story. Still, I don’t always know exactly where it’s going until I sit down to write, which is why the notes help.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I plan to give up writing and become a dog catcher. Just kidding. Actually, I’m planning a sequel, another essay collection starting where this one left off on the theme of surviving a major typhoon that blows the roof of your house and empties all its contents. I’m thinking of calling it Aching Testicles. Also, I just had one of the most amazing experiences of my life; discovering a whole new family in Germany I never knew I had. My mother was a Holocaust survivor who always told us that most of her family got wiped out. It turns out that her brother survived and, not only that, became a prominent journalist, politician, and the father of two children. Not to mention, several other of my grandfather’s descendants of whom we were completely unaware. So now, 90 years later and long after the principles are dead, we’ve all reconnected in a reunion that’s been incredibly emotional for everyone. I think there’s definitely a future book in that: the story of a family tragically torn asunder and then miraculously reunited almost a century later. I’m open to any suggestions for a title.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Sure. First, don’t do it for the money because you probably won’t make much. Pray that writing by actual living human beings rather than AI bots will continue to be a thing, at least until you die. And hope that the next generation retains the ability to read. Finally, don’t become a writer unless you absolutely have to. If it’s not an obsession, don’t even bother.
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Syrl, a retired teacher, lives in upstate New York with her husband and two lively dachshunds. She writes the Samantha Davies Mystery series featuring Samantha Davies and her loveable dachshund, Porkchop. When not writing, she is busy hooking, rug hooking, and enjoying her family. Her newest book, number four in the series, Pups, Pumpkins, and Murder, will be released on September 19th.
What brought you to writing? While I’ve always been an avid reader, I’m not one of those writers who was born with a pen in their hands. I was an editor for my high school’s newspaper and enjoyed writing for it, but I wasn’t into becoming an author yet. That would come many years down the road.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in a small bedroom on my laptop at a small desk. The operative word here is small. I try not to stop until I have accomplished my self-imposed daily word limit, which I’ve set at 1,000 words. My only distraction is my dachshund when he barks to be fed. There’s no ignoring that. Oh, yes, and the Spam calls that inevitably come when I’m writing.
What are you currently working on? Right now, I’m working on Chilled to the Dog Bone, book 5, in my Samantha Davies Mystery series. It involves a Fireman’s Ball, a skillet toss, outhouse races, and of course, a corpse. All set during the winter in beautiful upstate New York.
How do you come up with your characters’ names? Many of the names are from people I know in real life. I have a friend who wanted to be the murderer in one of my books; hence I named the perp after her. I now have to keep a running list of all the names I’ve used in order not to repeat any.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave or run wild? I’d like to think mine are well-behaved, but my main character, Samantha’s side-kick, her Southern Belle cousin, Candie, is known to be a wild card. Candie has been engaged eleven times and tells it like it is. Then there’s Sam’s octogenarian neighbor, Gladys, who dyes her gray curls to suit the occasion, red for Valentine’s Day, green for Saint Pat’s. She is a force to behold.
Do you base your characters on real people? Absolutely! Beware, or you might wind up in one of my books. People love that they are an inspiration for a character. Candie is modeled after a good friend from a writer’s group. Hank was inspired by my husband, who also was a police officer. I love dachshunds, and Porkchop, Sam’s dog, was named after my Porkchop.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Oh, my. I had a sketchy outline for the first 4 books in the series, but with Chilled to the Dog Bone, that has gone completely by the wayside. I’ve pansted the whole thing. I don’t know why, but it just flowed that way.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I live in a beautiful area of upstate New York near the Adirondacks and Lake George. My settings are a conglomeration of this area, small towns, and lovely people with lots to do and places to go. These are close-knit communities where almost everyone knows you, which is the same in my books.
Mavens of Mayhem – Sisters In Crime: www.upperhudsonsinc.com
Nick Chiarkas is a Wisconsin Writers Association Board Member and the author of nine traditionally published books: two award-winning novels Weepers and Nunzio’s Way and seven nonfiction books. He grew up in the Al Smith housing projects on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. When he was in the fourth grade, his mother was told by the principal of PS-1 that “Nick was unlikely ever to complete high school, so you must steer him toward a simple and secure vocation.” Instead, Nick became a writer, with a few stops along the way: a U.S. Army Paratrooper; a New York City Police Officer; Deputy Chief Counsel to the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations; Deputy Chief Counsel for the President’s Commission on Organized Crime; Chief Counsel for the USATBCB; and the Director of the Wisconsin State Public Defender Agency. On the way, he picked up a Doctorate from Columbia University, a Law Degree from Temple University, and was a Pickett Fellow at Harvard. How many mothers are told that their children are hopeless? How many kids with potential surrender to despair? That’s why Nick wrote Weepers and Nunzio’s Way — for them.
Nunzio’s Way – “In this city, you can have anything you want if you kill the right four people.” ~ Nunzio Sabino
In Weepers, Angelo and his gang defeated the notorious Satan’s Knights with the help of his uncle Nunzio Sabino. Now, in Nunzio’s Way (a standalone sequel to Weepers), it’s 1960. Nunzio is the most powerful crime boss in New York City, protecting what’s his with political schemes, business deals, and violence.
Against this backdrop of Mafia wars, local gang battles, and political power plays in the mayoral election; an unlikely assassin arrives fresh from Naples after killing a top member of the Camorra. Nunzio has lived by the mantra; Be a fox when there are traps and a lion when there are wolves. Will Nunzio be a lion in time?
Who’s your favorite author? J. D. Salinger, his writing is beautiful, inventive, and skillful. For example, here is a sentence tucked into a narrative toward the end of his short story A Girl I Knew, “She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there, leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.” I find it breathtaking. On a personal note, in 1965, while I was in an Army hospital at Ft. Campbell, Ky, I received a kind letter from J. D. Salinger; subsequent exchanges inspired me to write.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Yes. When I think about them as characters, they may slip into a caricature; however, basing my people/characters on real people, they come to life with all their failings and attributes.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Although my novels are crime-thrillers, I write them as Roman à clef – a novel with a key – which is a novel based on actual events, people, and places overlaid with a façade of fiction. The fictitious names in my novel represent real people, places, and events, and the “key” and the fun are the relationship between nonfiction and fiction.
What is the best book you have ever read? This is hard; here are three: Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Godfather by Mario Puzo, and Yesterday and Today by Louis Untermeyer.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Before you write a first (bad) draft, tell your story to a recorder (10 minutes maximum). Just as if you were telling me the story sitting in a pub. Don’t tell me what it’s about; tell me the story. When you’re finished, please wait a few days before listening to it. Then listen to your story with paper and pencil in hand. You will learn three things. (1) Do you have a story and a plot; (2) Does it hold your interest; and (3) What research is necessary? If yes to (1) and (2), do the research and then write your first (bad) draft.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? Recently, at a book talk, I was asked, what was the primary inspiration for my novels Nunzio’s Way and Weepers?” My response was that I wanted to show that life was hard and dangerous when I was growing up in the projects, yet there was love and cohesion between families, friends, and neighbors. I added this brief story as an example:
It was late afternoon on a sunny day in 1957. I was 13 years old and sitting on a bench in the small concrete playground near my building. I was alone reading a Little Lulu comic book. Sylvester Green, tall, tough, and 16 years old, walked into the playground.
He said, “Whatcha readin’, Nicky?”
“Lemme hold your comic book.”
I had to say “no,” or I would be a punk. I put up a bit of a fight, but Sylvester knocked me over the back of the bench into brittle and painful bushes. He took my comic book and left. I got up and looked around; nobody saw what had happened. Good. I dusted myself off, wiped some blood off my face with my sleeve, and went home.
My mother met me at the door when I got to my apartment. She asked me where my comic was mbook was.
“Ah, I must’ve left –”
She said, “Zitto cetriolo.” Which means “shut up, cucumber” in Italian. Why cucumber? I have no idea. “I saw that boy, Sylvester; take your comic book.”
“It’s no big deal, Ma; I –”
“No big deal? Andiamo.”
You guessed it, Andiamo means let’s go. She grabbed my arm, and off we went to Sylvester’s building. This was not good news for little Nicky, but I was counting on Sylvester being out somewhere, enjoying my comic book. As I said, it was a lovely day, and it wasn’t supper time or anything—no chance he would be home.
My mother knocked on Sylvester’s apartment door. Sylvester’s mother opened the door. “Marie, can I help you?”
“Stella, your son took my son’s comic book.”
“Sylvester, give Nicky back his comic book,” Stella shouted over her shoulder.
She did not give Sylvester a chance to lie ; she just told him what to do. Sylvester came to the door, handed me my Little Lulu comic book, and looked at me in a way that made it clear that tomorrow would be a bad day for me since we went to the same school. My eyes and body language tried to explain that I didn’t say anything to him. My mom just saw what had happened. No use.
My mother thanked Mrs. Green. Mrs. Green thanked my mother. That was the end of it…except for me the next day.
When I think about that story, I realize no police were involved. The mothers took care of everything. Families knew families. Police were rarely called for anything. The benches were usually lined with women and out-of-work men. They all watched over the neighborhood. This was the inspirational string of the family and neighbors coming together to solve problems that tie my two novels together. And when they couldn’t handle something, they knew who to go to: Nunzio’s Sabino.
Despite the poverty, we (the kids growing up on those streets) felt loved and valued. Not just by our family but by our neighbors, not by the greater society, but by our neighborhood. The older women and men told us stories and shared life lessons. Lessons like: Don’t be a bully; Do what’s right even if you catch a beating; Be polite; Share; Help; Don’t self-pity; Accept responsibility; Don’t be a sore loser; If you win, don’t brag; Read at the Public Library; Be a stand-up guy. Mostly, I learned that it is not about what you get for what you do but what you become by doing it.
How do our readers contact you? They can use my email – firstname.lastname@example.org