Award-winning author Kathleen Donnelly has been a handler for Sherlock Hounds Detection Canines—a Colorado-based narcotics K-9 company—since 2005. Her debut novel, Chasing Justice, won a Best Book Award from the American Book Fest and was a 2023 Silver Falchion finalist in the Suspense category and Readers’ Choice Award. She lives near the Colorado foothills with her husband and four-legged coworkers. Sign up for Kathleen’s newsletter to receive her free short story eBook collection, Working Tails.
Hello friends, and thank you, George, for having me as a guest today on your fabulous blog. This is my second visit here, and I’m excited about the release of Hunting The Truth, Book #2 in the National Forest K-9 series. Here’s a little more about my writing background and process.
Hunting The Truth Quick Summary: “Hide, Maya. Don’t let the bad people find you.” Those are the last words Forest Service law enforcement officer and K-9 handler Maya Thompson ever heard her mother say. Returning to the Colorado mountains, ex-soldier Maya is no longer a scared little girl. She’s here to investigate her mother’s cold case. After new DNA evidence surfaces, Maya and her K-9 partner, Juniper, track a suspect deep into the forest and directly into grave danger…
What brought you to writing? I have always loved reading and writing stories. My parents believed in reading to both my brother and me when we were kids. Listening to the stories was my favorite part of the day, and it wasn’t long before I was reading as many books as I could. I would often complain to my mom that I didn’t like how a book ended or I didn’t like something that happened in the story. She would tell me to write my own story and come up with a different ending or create a new character. I was also one of those kids who would wake up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep. I would wake up my parents and tell them I was bored.
Looking back, my poor parents! I’m sure they never thought they’d get any sleep. My mom once again told me to lie in bed and make up stories. So, I did. Over time, I started to write them down. The dream of being a mystery writer came when I first read Mary Higgins Clark in high school. Here was a female author who wrote stories I couldn’t put down. I wanted to do the same thing.
I didn’t start writing fiction until I was an adult. I wrote my first full novel when I was about 30. I was hooked, and I haven’t stopped writing since. I now have three books written in the National Forest K-9 series. The first two are published, and the third book, Killer Secrets, will be out on March 26, 2024. I have many more ideas for more books in the National Forest K-9 series and a new series as well.
Do you have any advice for new writers? I would tell new writers to stay true to themselves. What I mean by that is write what you love. Write what is you. Don’t worry about trends or if someone tells you something isn’t going to work. Learn your craft, but stay true to yourself.
Go to conferences to network, take classes from other authors, and study the business if you want to publish. I would encourage new writers to learn about different paths to publication. There’s no right or wrong way.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? My books are set in a fictional national forest, and most mountain towns are fictional. I did include the real town of Fort Collins, CO, in Hunting The Truth. My decisions were based on two of my favorite authors—Craig Johnson and William Kent Krueger. Before I started writing the National Forest K-9 series, I was lucky enough to ask both about their decision regarding fictional versus real locations. They both had similar answers.
When you have a fictional town and forest, you don’t have to worry about landmarks, rivers, lakes, etc. being in an exact location. You have more fictional liberty. But adding a real town can give the reader a sense of location if they look up the city on a map.
From there, I created the fictional Pino Grande National Forest and envisioned it in the area of the Roosevelt and Arapaho National Forests. In Hunting The Truth, I have Maya drive from the fictional town of Pinecone Junction to the real town of Fort Collins. I grew up in the Fort Collins area, so it was fun to include that location in my book.
What kind of research do you do? I love doing research and learning more about the jobs and settings I portray in the National Forest K-9 series. My research has included taking the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office citizens academy, talking to other K-9 handlers and trainers, and riding with a mountain deputy. I was also lucky enough to connect with a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer and K-9 handler. His knowledge has been invaluable, and I really appreciate how willing he is to answer questions.
About ten years ago, a new neighbor moved in next door to us, and I found out he was a retired Chief of Police. I asked him if I could ask some questions, and he was open to answering anything I wanted to know. His knowledge has been helpful.
A recent law enforcement expert I’ve connected with is Patrick O’Donnell, who has the Cops and Writers podcast. His Facebook group and Patrick himself have been fantastic with sharing law enforcement knowledge.
For my mountain setting, I’ve learned a ton about the mountains, which was my goal as I wanted the setting to be a character in my novels. My dad worked for the Forest Service as a researcher and is deeply knowledgeable about the forests in our area. I feel fortunate to have so many great resources so that I can make my book as realistic as possible.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? I’ve taken classes from best-selling author Grant Blackwood. He was the one who really helped me figure this out. Grant called, raising the stakes, “dialing up.” Basically, this is asking ourselves, how can we make things worse for our characters? This includes both the protagonist and antagonist, and if you can play those character motivations off each other and make it personal, even better.
For example, in Hunting The Truth, Maya solves the murders of a friend, her mother, and her grandmother. In real life, that’s (hopefully) never going to happen. This was my way of “dialing up” the story and making it personal for Maya, giving her even more motivation.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m excited to have Hunting The Truth out now and a third book in the National Forest K-9 series, Killer Secrets, coming out in March 2024. I also have some new series ideas that will include K-9s and my other passion—horses.
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Where to Purchase Hunting The Truth
Patricia Crandall is the author of ten books and a 2023 winner of the Besties of the Capital Region Awards, Author Category. Her latest book, Murder, Mayhem and Ghost Stories, is a series of short stories the author has successfully published in various magazines and newspapers over the years. The third edition of her book, The Dog Men, was also released in the spring of 2023. Patricia is a member of Sisters in Crime (Mavens) and the National Association of Independent Editors and Writers. She lives with her husband, Art, and a rescue cat, Bette, at Babcock Lake in Grafton Mountains near Petersburgh, New York. She has two children and three grandchildren who live nearby. www.PatriciaCrandall.com
September 5, 2023, Murder, Mayhem and Ghost Stories, by Patricia Crandall, was published by The Troy Book Makers is available at Independent Bookstores and on Amazon.com.
“Mystery stories are meant to thrill and entice you, the reader, while engaging your thought process to see if you can figure out who has committed the evil deed. I invite you to such a challenge, one I’m sure is worthy of your ability and interest, to solve the crimes before the end of the various stories. Murder, Mayhem and Ghost Stories is a series of short and very short stories about murder, mayhem and ghostly happenings that I have successfully written and published over the years. Most were for a particular magazine requiring a specific number of words, e.g., 100 to 2000 words. The book is divided into categories, and there is one very special story written by my Granddaughter, Nicole St. Onge, No Guts, No Gory, which will satisfy your mysterious needs.
Writing and publishing these stories have been my enthusiastic path to writing many full-length books. So, take the leap into these pages and enjoy a good read.” P. Crandall
Heidi Morrell, Windsor Products, Los Angeles, CA: Patricia’s writing is thrilling and exceptional.
Lee Pigeon, Passages, Counselling Services: Patricia Crandall is a seasoned writer. A perfect Saturday Eve is a breezy warm night while entering a whole other world in one of Patricia Crandall’s richly written stories.
Judith Luci Writes: Love her books!
Where can we buy your books?
Contact Author Representative: MarciagRosen@gmail.com
Frank Zafiro writes gritty crime fiction from both sides of the badge. He was a police officer from 1993 to 2013, holding many positions and ranks. He retired as a captain. He is the award-winning author of over forty novels, most of them crime fiction. You can find out more at http://frankzafiro.com
On October 4, 2023, my novel, All the Forgotten Yesterdays, the fourteenth installment of my popular River City series, will be released. When I wrote the first book in the series, Under a Raging Moon, back in 1995, I couldn’t have predicted that I’d still be writing about these characters almost three decades later.
But I’m glad I am.
River City is a police procedural series that follows an ensemble cast of officers, detectives, and even leaders as they face a different challenge each time out. To date, RCPD has encountered robbers, kidnappers, rapists, gangsters, a school shooting, a serial killer, a terrible chief of police, and more. Through it all, one of my intentions was to show these events in a realistic light. In fact, these books have been favorably compared to the works of Joseph Wambaugh and Ed McBain in that respect—high praise, if you ask me. One reader called them “a paperback ride-along, ” which also sums it up well.
In the beginning, I thought I’d be focusing mostly on a young patrol cop named Stefan Kopriva. But by the time I hit the second book, Kopriva’s fate on the department was already sealed (though he lives on in a spinoff series, the Stefan Kopriva mysteries). Another officer, Katie MacLeod, rose to the forefront. And while she was certainly first among equals, I spent considerable time with a half dozen other characters—the veteran Thomas Chisolm, partners Anthony Battaglia and Connor O’Sullivan, and police leader Lieutenant Robert Saylor, to name a few.
That’s not to mention a score of others that the reader gets to know less well but still interacts with. Then add in the fact I’ve written enough short stories in this setting to fill more than three collections, and the result is that the River City canvas is heavily painted upon. (The nice thing about the short stories is that it allows me to explore main characters more deeply at times, and at others, to explore characters who don’t get to be stars in the novels but do in their own short story).
The River City timeline starts in 1994 with the first novel. The newest book, All the Forgotten Yesterdays, is set in 2010. That’s sixteen in-universe years. A lot of things change in sixteen years (especially when it’s been twenty-eight years for me in our world!). I’ve made sure these changes are reflected in the series. New technologies and tactics emerge. There are marriages, retirements, and even deaths. No one is safe from the ravages of time.
Katie MacLeod was in the very first book, and by the third book, she had emerged as the core character of the series. Even so, she sometimes plays a minor role in certain books, such as her sole appearance, Chisolm’s Debt. In other outings, she is the POV for the entire book—this is true in The Worst Kind of Truth and again in All the Forgotten Yesterdays. She will retain her status as a major POV for the next couple, as well.
But time marches on. More than half of the officers prominently featured in the first book have either retired, been promoted, or are dead. It’s been difficult to say goodbye to them, whether that was due to their demise or simply because their new position meant I wasn’t going to be featuring them nearly as much. This is the pain I’m referring to in the title of this essay.
The steady march of time also requires rookies to join the department and graduate to veterans. As Katie’s role changes, new officers fill in her old roles—whether as a patrol officer or a detective. Getting to know these new officers and introducing them slowly over the course of several books, is one aspect of that joy I referred to in the title.
Does this require knowing where things are going for the next seven or eight books? If you’re not an outliner, this might sap the fun of creation for you. I’m not an extensive outliner myself—more of a note-taker—but I have to say I have found it at least as satisfying to view my series through the meta lens as through the micro.
In the micro, I’m right there on the street with the characters in each individual book, reveling in the details that make for good police procedurals. That experience is about moments.
In the macro, I get to see the long view of things and explore the journey and the ultimate fates of these fictional characters. That experience is about the years, even the decades.
Honestly, there is joy and pain in both elements. Here’s what I mean: I’ve only been moved to tears while writing a scene on two occasions. The first was in the fourth entry of the series, And Every Man Has to Die. As the title suggests, someone does die. Writing that scene—indeed, reading it back to my wife later on—choked me up and brought tears to my eyes. It was all pain.
The other instance was in The Worst Kind of Truth, which I wrote eleven years later. This time, the scene was a wedding. Now, I don’t normally cry at weddings. But this one was a long time coming. It tied directly back to that death in book four and represented a sort of healing without forgetting. Thus, it was both happy and bittersweet. Pain and joy, you see.
I think, in the end, what it comes down to is this: after spending almost three decades of my life with these characters and shepherding them through almost two decades of their own fictional lives, I’ve come to see them as being real. I know it’s a writer’s worst cliché, but it is absolutely true. And because their journey hasn’t been a static one, but has passed through time and events as well, there has been plenty of opportunity for both pain and joy to occur.
But, on balance, mostly… joy.
(Note: Even though this is #14 in the series, each volume stands alone, too. You can start anywhere in the series, but if you want to experience what I just wrote about, I suggest going back to number one).
email: firstname.lastname@example.org (or contact button on website)
Buy ALL THE FORGOTTEN ESTERDAYS: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BSB6HFPJ
Check out the whole River City series: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRDW2SN
Over the course of the last forty years, I’ve written and published one book after another, all but one of them murder mysteries. Blessing of the Lost Girls, due out September 29, 2023, is number 66. In order to produce that many books, the writing process generally takes six months from beginning to end.
That tradition came to a grinding halt in 2021 when I started work on the most recent Ali Reynolds book, Collateral Damage. That one took a whole year. As I struggled to bring that book to order (I’m definitely a pantser as opposed to an outliner!) I kept thinking that maybe I had lost my mojo, and that would be the last book I ever wrote. Eventually, I finished it, and the handwork paid off because my readers loved it.
But in the meantime, when I was only a couple of months into the Collateral Damage ordeal, a friend called and told me the following story:
In the nineties, a serial killer roamed the West—a guy who happened to hate Indians. His version of hate crimes before “hate crimes” became a thing. His deal was to ride boxcars and push Indians under moving trains. He became known as the Boxcar Killer and is still, at this time, serving life without parole in prison.
Around that time, a Lakota named James was working in the rail yard of a small city in Oregon. That’s when he had his encounter with the Boxcar Killer. James was pushed under a moving train and dragged for a mile and a half before the train was able to stop. Cops were called to the scene. They declared him dead, zipped him into a body bag, and had him transported to the local morgue, which was located in the basement of the community hospital. A nurse who worked there and who was also Lakota happened to know James. That night, when she got off shift, she went down to wash his hair—a time honored Lakota custom.
When she unzipped the body bag, his arm came out because he wasn’t dead. He was immediately transported from the morgue to the OR for the first of the countless surgeries it took to duct tape him back together. He was in the hospital for months on end. He ended up being a paraplegic. He lost the use of his dominant hand. He had to learn how to speak again as well as how to read and write.
One of my friends and fans, a woman named Loretta, has children who are half Lakota. She was also a volunteer at the hospital where James was treated. During his many hospital stays and before he learned to read again, she went to his hospital room and read books to him. And because she’s a fan of my books, she read my books to him, including her favorites—the Walker Family books set on Arizona’s Tohono O’odham Reservation. James loved them.
Once he recovered enough, he spent the next twenty years of his life working with disaffected urban Indian youth in the Portland area, helping them “find the right path.” The last time my friend spoke to James was shortly before his death in the spring of 2021. On the phone, he told her, “Tell your friend she needs to write another Walker book. There aren’t enough Indian heroes in books”.
After James passed away in the spring of 2021, although his case will never come to court, his autopsy report says that he died as a result of homicidal violence, and he is counted as one of the Box Car Killer’s victims. After his death, he was transported back to the reservation, not in a casket but wrapped in a buffalo robe.
I grew up as one of seven children. Our mother had plenty of rules. At dinner, you had to eat a little of everything on your plate or no dessert. I’ve taken that rule into my writing career in that I’m not allowed to think about the next book until I finish the one I’m currently working on. So, the remainder of the time I was working on Collateral Damage, I didn’t allow myself to think about writing the book James wanted me to write. Still, once I cleaned my literary plate, it was time to write Blessing of the Lost Girls, and I did so, beginning to end, in two months flat!
The story flew together, in part, I believe, because writing it was a sacred charge given to me by a powerful Lakota warrior. And if you read Blessing and meet a character named John Wheeler, you’ll know at once that although James said there weren’t enough Indian heroes, now he is one.
J.A. Jance’s Website is www.jajance.com
Autographed books will be available from Mostly Books in Tucson, Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, and Brick and Mortar Books in Redmond, Washington.
Jill Amadio is an author, journalist, ghostwriter, and audiobook narrator from Cornwall, UK. She lives in Westport, CT. She has ghostwritten 17 memoirs, including Rudy Vallee, a U.S. ambassador, a nuclear physicist, an oil baron, a rodeo champion, an inventor, and others. Jill writes three mystery series, a column for a UK online magazine, and for The Writes in Residence. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Authors Guild, and Mystery Writers of America.
What brought you to writing? I won every English award at school and college with my passion for writing, while I failed miserably at math. My life ambition was to be a reporter, and I achieved that goal at newspapers in London, UK; Madrid, Spain; Bangkok, Thailand; and in Westport, CT. I wrote a syndicated column for Gannett Newspapers and an automotive column for Entrepreneur magazine.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I write mysteries, novels, true crime, biographies, and ghostwriting memoirs. I was once hired to write a thriller by a client and went on to write my own crime series featuring a British amateur sleuth in America.
Tell us about your writing process. At first, it was daunting to come up with 70,000 words after writing 3,000-word articles. I am lucky to have the drive to write and rarely experience writer’s block. I awake each day eager to get to my necessary research, which can send my plot off in a different direction than planned, but it can also open new scenarios. I always write at my desk because it feels more like working rather than at a café or other outside location.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I am both. I think up a rough idea for a plot, mulling three or four different ways to go, then I expand upon my choice, create the characters, decide on the settings, and then write a two- or three-page outline. Once I begin writing the first draft, however, I become a pantser, which means I feel free to change any of the elements as I go along. As I write I often get better ideas than my original ones, especially when writing dialogue,, and I am always delighted when this happens.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Realizing that my characters try to make their own decisions, I once decided on a particular character as the murderer, but the more I ‘wrote’ her, the more I came to like her, so I picked someone else for the killer, throwing the plot into chaos but eventually fixing it, and keeping her as an ongoing minor character in the series. I’m a great fan of descriptive verbs, and particularity can challenge a writer to create colorful, original detail.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist – for the antagonist? Raising the stakes is one of the most exhilarating times of writing a mystery or a thriller, especially with cliffhanger endings worked out for each chapter. I can half-drown someone, have my sleuth flee the murderer with an extraordinary feat, or put characters into great danger with the flick of the keyboard. It all depends on the imagination whether and how any of the victims should be spared or not, whether the killer must be caught in an unexpected, explosive ending, and if the plot is so compelling with a satisfactory ending, the reader eagerly awaits the next book in the series.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? No, but they can go off the grid, so to speak, because my sleuth, Tosca Trevant, is a transplanted Brit in California who is often mystified by the lifestyle. I occasionally wish she was more understanding and less impulsive. In my novel based on a true 9/11 story, the protagonist is a real-life young woman who had asked me to ghostwrite her memoir. I eventually published it as fiction, but the book is closer to true crime than novelistic.
What are you currently working on? I have started two new mystery series, as well as completing my third book in the Tosca series. One of the new series features three retired librarians living in a New England fishing village who find murders on their doorstep. The other series’ protagonist is a ghostwriter based in Connecticut who is mistaken for a ghost hunter.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Find the authors you most admire and study their technique, style, and how they craft their stories. Each of us writers has a different, natural talent and means of expressing ourselves in our books, so don’t worry you might be copying your idol. Use them as guidelines.
Jill can be reached through her Facebook page, Jill Amadio, and her website, www.ghostwritingpro.com.