LOIS WINSTON – Artificial Intelligence: Is it Time to Freak Out Yet?

USA Today and Amazon bestselling author Lois Winston began her award-winning writing career with Talk Gertie to Me, a humorous fish-out-of-water novel about a small-town girl going off to the big city and the mother who had other ideas. That was followed by the romantic suspense Love, Lies, and a Double Shot of Deception.

Then Lois’s writing segued into the world of amateur sleuths with her humorous Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, which Kirkus Reviews dubbed “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” The series now includes twelve novels and three novellas.

Lois has published twenty-one novels, five novellas, several short stories, one children’s chapter book, and one nonfiction book on writing.

Like it or not, AI is here to stay, and there is much to worry about. It’s one of the major sticking points in the writers’ strike, which is still ongoing as I write this, and which many predict will last through the summer. It’s scary to think that all of us writers can be replaced by a series of algorithms, and even scarier when you hear that those algorithms often get things wrong. I’m not sure what’s worse, AI that makes mistakes or AI that gets things so very right that they fool us humans in ways that can result in great harm.

Will writers become obsolete? Many are worried it’s only a matter of time. Why should publishers pay royalties when they can hire someone to sit at a keyboard to input a few parameters into an AI site, and a minute later, the computer starts churning out all the company’s upcoming titles? Think it can’t happen? The future is already here. I’ve heard that AI novels and nonfiction books are already showing up on Amazon and other e-tailer sites at an alarming rate. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Or not.

Rather than sit around worrying, I did a bit of experimenting recently and concluded that AI has a long way to go before it replicates my creativity or that of any author. That doesn’t mean any of us can breathe easy, but AI isn’t going to take over publishing tomorrow.

My experiment involved ChatGPT. I told it to write a manuscript in the style of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries by Lois Winston.

Artificial Intelligence is supposed to be able to analyze text and produce new work in the style of the author. My books are widely available online, both on my website and at various e-tailer sites. All include the first chapter of each book, the covers, and the back cover copy. Anyone who has never heard of me or my books can type in my name or the series name and readily find this information for the twelve books and three novellas in the series.

In less than a minute, ChatGPT started spitting out chapters for the book it decided to call Murder and Mayhem in the Crafting World. However, AI did an extremely poor job of analyzing my books. There were glaring errors in the first sentence, and it only got worse.

I write in first person. The ChatGPT-generated mystery was in third person. Not only did it get my protagonist’s occupation wrong, but it morphed her Shakespeare-quoting African Grey parrot into her uncle! How intelligent is artificial intelligence if it can’t even discern the difference between a parrot and a human? We’re not talking rocket science here.

Worst of all, ChatGPT didn’t come anywhere close to capturing my voice. My readers would know instantly that I didn’t write Murder and Mayhem in the Crafting World. I write humorous amateur sleuth mysteries. Anastasia is a Jersey girl with a Jersey girl’s outlook on life. Publisher’s Weekly compared her to Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon from Thirty Rock. Kirkus Reviews called her “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” The chapters that ChatGPT created were devoid of any humor. The writing was so dull it could be marketed as a non-pharmaceutical remedy for insomnia.

However, perhaps I was partly at fault. I had asked the AI to write a manuscript “in the style” of my series. So I decided to try again. This time I asked it to create a book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series by Lois Winston.

The result, A Deadly Yarn, was no better. ChatGPT did a terrible job of researching my series. Not only did it get my sleuth’s profession wrong a second time, but this book transformed Anastasia’s mother’s white Persian cat into another human. So not only can’t AI tell the difference between a parrot and a human. Apparently, it can’t tell the difference between domestic animals and humans.

Ralph, the parrot, appears within the first pages of the first book in the series. The cat doesn’t show up until Chapter Five, where she’s introduced as “Catherine the Great, my mother’s extremely corpulent white Persian cat.” Since ChatGPT scanned enough of the first book to pick up the cat’s name, how could it not figure out that a white Persian is a four-legged furry feline and not a human being?

There are three pets in the Pollack household, a parrot, a cat, and a dog. There’s an illustration of them on the page of each ebook on Amazon. I thought about trying a third experiment to see if ChatGPT would morph a French bulldog into another human but decided I had better things to do with my time.

Artificial intelligence is something to worry about. Silicon Valley and our government need to develop regulatory measures to prevent a real-life Battlestar Galactica or Wall-E from occurring. However, for now, I’m not going to worry about AI taking over my series. At least not yet. It’s still got a lot to learn about what goes on in my brain.

Post a comment for a chance to win one of several promo codes I’m giving away for a free download of either the audiobook version of Decoupage Can Be Deadly, the fourth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, or A Stitch to Die For, the fifth book in the series.

A Crafty Collage of Crime – An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 12

Wherever crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack goes, murder and mayhem follow. Her honeymoon is no exception. She and her new husband, photojournalist (and possible spy) Zachary Barnes, are enjoying a walk in the Tennessee woods when they stumble upon a body on the side of a creek. The dead man is the husband of one of the three sisters who own the winery and guest cottages where Anastasia and Zack are vacationing.

When the local sheriff sets his sights on the widow as the prime suspect, her sisters close ranks around her. The three siblings are true-crime junkies, and thanks to a podcaster who has produced an unauthorized series about her, Anastasia’s reputation for solving murders has preceded her to the bucolic hamlet. The sisters plead for her help finding the real killer as Anastasia learns more about the women and their business, a host of suspects emerge, including several relatives, a relentless land developer, and even the sisters themselves.

Meanwhile, Anastasia becomes obsessed with discovering the podcaster’s identity. Along with knowing about Anastasia’s life as a reluctant amateur sleuth, the podcaster has divulged details of Anastasia’s personal life. Someone has betrayed Anastasia’s trust, and she’s out to discover the identity of the culprit.

Craft project included.

Buy Links
Amazon: https://amzn.to/3NX6O13
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/a-crafty-collage-of-crime
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-crafty-collage-of-crime-lois-winston/1143442079?ean=2940161008225
Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/a-crafty-collage-of-crime/id6448801378

BIO:

Website:http://www.loiswinston.com
Newsletter sign-up: https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/r2e9v1
Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/anasleuth
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Anasleuth
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/722763.Lois_Winston
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/lois-winston

11 Comments

  1. Peg Roche

    Enjoyed your perspective, as always, Lois. Thanks! And thanks to you, George!

    Reply
  2. Lois Winston

    Thanks, Gay! Think we’ll still be around when history looks back on AI? Or will all the history books be written by AI at that point? Scary thought!

    Reply
  3. Gay Yellen

    Ah, the AI conundrum. Both quite useful and goosebump-scary. Guess we’ll have to wait to read the history books to see how it all turns out. Good post!

    Reply
  4. Lois Winston

    Thanks, Carol! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    Reply
  5. Carol L White

    Lois, I had wondered about AI, and your experience was eye opening–and a lot of fun to read! Love the non-pharmaceutical remedy for insomnia analogy!

    Happy writing!
    Carol

    Reply
  6. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    OMG, I’m so relieved. Thanks Lois, for bravely going where any author would be scared to go. I mean, seriously, what if the AI had done a better job? I’m not sure, but it would have been disturbing at the very least.
    I’m curious, though—what occupation did AI think Anastasia did?

    Reply
    • Lois Winston

      Pam, in both versions AI made her a shop owner. I think AI has a very limited knowledge of cozy mysteries, probably based solely on Hallmark Mysteries. 😉

      Reply
  7. Michael A. Black

    Welcome back, Lois, and thanks for tackling the AI dilemma. I also think the AI takeover is a bit overrated. Having worked with spellcheck since I started using a computer, I never cease to be amazed at just how many times it’s downright wrong. Granted, Spell check is a far cry from the AI of today, but maybe not. after reading your account, I don’t think it’ll ever replace human creativity. Goldie, my huge Persian cat agrees. He would be very miffed at being mistaken for a human.

    Reply
    • Lois Winston

      LOL, Michael. I don’t thin Catherine the Great was all that thrilled, either!

      Reply
  8. Lois Winston

    George, thanks so much for hosting me again!

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Glad to have you back. Thanks for tackling AI, something I fear.

      Reply

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SUSAN VAN KIRK – Educator – Author – Sisters in Crime Leader

Susan Van Kirk is the president of the Guppy Chapter, the online chapter of Sisters in Crime, and a writer of cozy mysteries. She lives at the center of the universe—the Midwest—and writes during the ridiculously cold and icy winters. Why leave the house and break something? Van Kirk taught forty-four years in high school and college and raised three children. Now that the children are launched, she writes.

Her Endurance mysteries include Three May Keep a Secret, Marry in Haste, The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney, Death Takes No Bribes, and The Witch’s Child. She also wrote A Death at Tippitt Pond. Her latest Art Center Mysteries include Death in a Pale Hue and Death in a Bygone Hue from Level Best Books. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

Thanks so much for inviting me to answer some questions about my writing on your blog, George. My latest book, Death in a Bygone Hue, just launched from Level Best Books. It’s the second book in my Art Center mysteries. Death in a Pale Hue, the first mystery, came out a year ago.

Death in a Bygone Hue When Jill Madison returns to her hometown to become executive director of a new art center, she never dreams unexpected secrets from the past will put her life in danger. Her parent’s old friend and Jill’s mentor, Judge Ron Spivey, is murdered. He leaves behind more than a few secrets from the past. His baffling will makes Jill a rich woman if she survives the will’s six-month probate period.

She finds a target on her back when the judge’s estranged children return. They form an unholy alliance with a local muckraking journalist who specializes in making up the news. According to the judge’s will, if Jill dies, the family inherits.

Jill and her best friend, Angie Emerson, launch their own investigation, determined to find the judge’s killer. In the meantime, Jill must run her first national juried exhibit, launch a new seniors group, and move the weavers guild into the art center. Easy peasy, right?

What brought you to writing? A few years prior to finishing a thirty-four-year stint teaching in high school, I decided to write a memoir about my teaching life. I’d written one story, and it was published quickly by Teacher magazine. So, I added fourteen more stories and self-published the creative non-fiction book. It did very well, and that led me to my decision to write mysteries once I retired (after another ten years of teaching at the college level.) Mysteries are my favorite genre to read, so why not try my hand at writing a few? I just finished #8.

Has an association membership helped you with your writing? I joined Sisters in Crime and soon discovered their Guppy Chapter. That has been a delightful experience, and I’ve learned so much. They have craft classes, critique groups, manuscript swaps, a brilliant newsletter, a fantasy agent project, and many more programs designed to help mystery writers. I was elected to the Steering Committee, served three years, and became President for the past three years. I’ll be stepping down at the end of this month. This is a fantastic organization to help new mystery writers.

How long did it take you to write your first book? That would be the teaching memoir. It probably took over a year, but I was also working then. Once I retired, my first mystery, Three May Keep a Secret, took about four months.

How long to get it published? The older I get, the more I realize that many serendipitous events are a case of luck and timing. I sent my first mystery manuscript to Five Star Publishing, and it landed in the hands of Deni Dietz, senior editor. She told me since I followed directions, she put my submission at the top of her stack. (Now that’s a low bar.) Within two weeks, she emailed me to say they wanted to buy my manuscript. I was afraid I hadn’t suffered enough, but Five Star closed their doors to mystery publishing after two of my books were published. I don’t think I brought them down, but I felt fortunate that they saw something in my writing. But now I was orphaned.

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I do use one or two subplots with each book I write. Usually, they have a connection to the main plot. In Three May Keep a Secret, a subplot involves an employee of a sports bar who decides to blackmail a killer. The main plot involved the search for that killer. Secrets were the connecting idea. In Marry in Haste, a book with two plots, the main one takes place in the present, and the subplot in the past. Both involve women who hide a similar deadly secret. They share the same Victorian house—one hundred years apart. Their stories mirror each other. Each book I write contains at least one subplot that comments on the main plot in some way. Often it is a theme relationship.

My current art center mysteries often have subplots that involve the kinds of work and projects done at the art center. While Jill Madison is investigating a murder, she also has an art center to run, so the daily grind of doing that job is one of the subplots.

Weaving subplots into the main plot is tricky. Pacing makes an enormous difference as far as placement of a subplot. Often an event in the main plot leads to a scene with the subplot. A writer must think long and hard about the relationship between the plots and how they fit together in the scheme of the whole novel.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I am both. The world is far from black and white. I make a basic outline of the chapters. Then I fill in the details as I go along.

What kind of research do you do? This depends on the book. For The Locket: from the Casebook of TJ Sweeney, I did a great deal of DNA research. It was key to the plot. I also went back to the 1940s and the Big Band Era and researched the Roof Garden, a dance venue in my hometown where Big Bands played during the early war years. My local library had so many anecdotal stories about that time and place. I even interviewed an elderly lady who went there and met her future husband. The murder victim was last seen there. The novella takes place in the present with the murder of a cold case.

My newest series about an art center has involved extensive research since I’m not an artist. I’ve learned about how the local art center lifted the floors of an 1870 building to make it safe for its patrons. Researching, I’ve learned about how to install artwork, how to transport it for forensic testing, how to do forensic testing, how to detect fraud, and how national exhibits are run. I’ve even learned about the FBI Art Fraud Division. Whew! I’m learning a great deal about a world I never knew much about.

Thanks for having me on, George.

Website: www.susanvankirk.com
FB http://www.facebook.com/SusanVanKirkAuthor/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/susanivankirk/
Goodreads www.goodreads.com/author/show/586.Susan_Vankirk

8 Comments

  1. Carol L White

    Great post! As a member of SINC, I am ever grateful for you.

    Reply
  2. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Susan Van Kirk, to me, you are a trailblazer—a trailblazer with a giant heart. You may not see this, but you are STILL a teacher, no longer in a classroom or lecture hall, but instead at SinC’s Guppies. I think that instinct you have in you to mentor, to guide, to nurture the best in others, must be in your DNA. I love the section here about research. I see it as demonstrating the value and joy in always growing, always learning. Thank you for all you do
    PS: As I best enjoy mystery series in order, I just bought DEATH IN A PALE HUE! Summer reading and a good book in the mail with its younger sibling waiting in the wings… YIPPEE!

    Reply
    • Susan Van Kirk

      Gosh, thanks so much. You’re right that volunteering at the online Guppy group gives me great satisfaction—similar to teaching. I’m glad to see you joined us; we have so much to offer writers. And thanks for reading my book!

      Reply
  3. Donnell Ann Bell

    To take on the rewarding yet complicated job of Guppies president as well as engage in a writing career, I salute you, Susan. So very well done. Wishing you much success in your writing!

    Reply
    • Susan Van Kirk

      Thank you, Donnell. I visit your blog site on occasion. It’s always interesting and informative.

      Reply
  4. Susan Van Kirk

    Thanks so much, George, for inviting me to your website. Best of luck down the road with your own publishing!

    Reply
  5. Michael A. Black

    It sounds like you’re a very disciplined person, Susan. It’s great that you spent so many years teaching and now are writing mysteries that I’m sure some of your former students are enjoying. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Susan Van Kirk

      Thanks so much, Michael. When people retire from a long career and say to me, “I don’t know what I’ll do,” I suggest they consider what they loved about their career. In my case it was a natural move to readers, conversations, and books.

      Reply

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SALLY HANDLEY – South Carolina Author of Cozys & Suspense

Current Secretary and Past President of the Upstate SC Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Sally Handley is the author of the Holly and Ivy cozy mystery series and the stand-alone suspense novel, Stop the Threat. Additionally, she writes a series on the new Kindle Vella platform entitled The Adventures of Trixie, written from her faithful companion’s point of view. Finally, Sally writes an occasional blog entitled “On Writing, Reading and Retirement” at www.sallyhandley.com. Also a member of PSWA, she is currently busy writing the sixth book in her cozy series entitled The Toxic Blooms Mystery

On Genre – I consider myself primarily a cozy mystery writer. That is the genre I love to read, so it was just a natural choice for me when I started to write. But after I attended a local Citizens’ Police Academy, I was motivated to write a suspense novel based on a discussion we had with the School Resource Officer. The question of arming teachers came up. I asked myself, “What might really happen if we did that?” And that question led me to write my first suspense novel.

On Writing Process – So my writing process is not very complex. Once I get an idea, I mull it around in my head for a bit, but then I just sit down at my kitchen island and start typing. For me, the story evolves based on the things the characters say and do. When I get to a point where I’m unsure about what comes next, I take a legal pad and pen, and a big mug of coffee over to the couch and plot. I ask a bunch of what-ifs and consider where the story might go depending on the scenarios I consider. That usually gets me back to work. Admittedly, it sometimes takes more than one mug of coffee.

On Characters – Next to plotting, character development, to me, is really the key to engaging the reader. In writing a series, the challenge is creating characters your readers enjoy spending time with so they’ll want to continue reading the series. In Stop the Threat, I had a huge cast of characters ranging from School Board Members to teachers to students and their parents. The challenge there was creating a cast of intriguing characters with whom the reader could identify.

You ask if my characters ever disappoint me. Never. But they do surprise me. I’m better at writing dialogue than description, so oftentimes, my characters will say something, and how another character reacts can be rather unpredictable, taking the story in a whole new direction.

On Association Membership – When I moved to South Carolina, one of the first things I did was join the Upstate SC Chapter of Sisters in Crime. The first person I met was Judy Buch, another cozy mystery writer. We hit it off and formed our own critique group, which now includes fellow authors Wayne Cameron and Cindy Blackburn. They are my most trusted and treasured resource. Because writing is mostly a lonely endeavor, having like-minded partners to read and assess your work is invaluable. And, since all writers are subject to bouts of self-doubt, it’s great to have folks cheer you up and keep you from succumbing to the depths of discouragement. Also, I recently joined the Public Safety Writers Association and have already gotten answers to questions about how police would handle a certain situation from author Michael A. Black. My advice to any writer is join a writer’s group. You won’t regret it.

On Research – I’m not a traditional researcher, but I am frequently amazed at how the information I sometimes didn’t even know I needed just comes to me. My cozy mystery sleuths, Holly and Ivy, are look-alike sisters who like to garden. Their knowledge of plants helps them solve crimes. A few years ago, I took a day trip to an arboretum in North Carolina. Lo and behold, they had an exhibit entitled Wicked Plants, based on a book of the same title by Amy Stewart. That book helped me select the perfect poison in book 4 of my series.

My favorite research story happened very recently. I attended a wedding in New Jersey last November and stayed at a hotel in Morristown. They just happened to be hosting a Goth convention at the hotel the same weekend. Amazingly, in the book I’m currently writing, I have a Goth character. I can’t really say why I chose a Goth character. I just sort of pictured her when I was writing. Anyway, it occurred to me that I really didn’t know very much about Goth culture. So, I introduced myself to a guy on the elevator, explained what I was doing, and asked if he’d be willing to talk to me. Ever so graciously, he invited me to join him and some friends he was meeting in the lobby. I spent about an hour with them. I learned a lot. Talk about serendipity!

I have to say that Stop the Threat involved more research than my cozy mysteries require. I interviewed the School Resource Officer and did lots of online research about guns and gun training. I also read everything I could about schools who had armed their teachers. My critique group and my book club friends were wonderful in forwarding any articles they came across on the topic – another reason to be part of a group. (Wish I had known about PSWA back then.)

The book I’m working on now involves GMOs, and my working title is The Toxic Blooms Mystery. When I began writing this book, I realized, to my horror, that a basic idea that I had about GMOs was erroneous. I knew I had to step back and do some serious research. Then I remembered a young neighbor of mine, who once did some clerical work for me when I was a marketing consultant. She’s now a biology teacher, so I contacted her. We scheduled a Zoom call, and within an hour, she helped me develop a basic plotline for the book. She also agreed to be a beta reader when I’ve finished my first draft.

So, reflecting back on what I’ve written here, I realize there’s a well-known adage that ties it all together –“it’s not what you know, but who you know.” For me, associates, topic experts, and beta readers are the best resources a writer can have.

Where to find me:
• Website: www.sallyhandley.com
• Blog: https://www.sallyhandley.com/blog/
• Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sally.handley1/
• Linked-in: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sallyhandleyinc/
• Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16850782.Sally_Handley
• Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/sally-handley

12 Comments

  1. Carol L White

    Excellent post!

    Reply
  2. Vicki Weisfeld

    What a great interview! Your writing process is pretty much like mine. I love the thrill of discovery!

    Reply
    • Sally Handley

      Thanks, Vicki! Looking forward to your next book. Are you, by any chance, going to the PSWA conference next month. Would love to see you in person.

      Best regards, Sally

      Reply
  3. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Sally, this post was so encouraging for me. I’m still unpublished, but I feel I’m really getting close. I soaked up the discussion of your writing process–it resonates with me, sounding similar to mine. LOL at the ‘sometimes more than one mug of coffee’ comment.
    Thanks and best of luck with STOP THE THREAT. As a high-school science teacher here in the Bronx, I live the threat every day. It hits a little bit too close to home for me, if I’m honest. (The first day of school this year the NYC DOE presented a PowerPoint with a slide showing a cartoon teacher responding to an intruder in the building by guiding our students to “RUN, HIDE, FIGHT.” They instructed us to “assess the ability to confront with items already in the room such as chairs, window pole and Lysol.” Note: the Lysol in each room was there as part of our joint confrontation with another endless threat–Covid. I planned ahead, placing our nation’s flag and its 8-foot-long pole in the corner closest to my desk. It had a pointy, arrowhead type of top. There were also lots of rocks on hand from our Earth Science Rocks & Minerals unit). Yes, as Donnell Ann Bell said above, your book is timely.
    Thanks to you too, George. Thought-provoking as usual ( ;

    Reply
    • Sally Handley

      Oh, Pamela. I think perhaps the most heart-breaking accounts I’ve read are those just like yours — teachers and students having to figure out how to take the items that are meant as learning tools and turn them into weapons. I was a public school teacher back in the 70’s and taught English Composition as an adjunct at the end of my marketing career. I was fortunate not to have the active shooter as one of my concerns as an educator. I wish you the best of luck with your writing. So happy to hear my post was encouraging to you. Please let me know when you’ve published your book. sallya@sallyhandley.com. Best regards, Sally

      Reply
  4. Donnell Ann Bell

    Sally, I am the proud owner of Stop the Threat, which reminds me I owe you a review. I admire that you acknowledge your strength. I like to include description through character POVs so it’s up close and personal rather than an omniscient feel. But dialogue is so important. Readers fall in love with characters and differentiate characters if an author is more in their head and not everyone sounds the same. Stop the Threat is a unfortunately timely, important book that makes people think. Well done. Thanks George!

    Reply
    • Sally Handley

      Thank you, Donnell. I so appreciate those words coming from an author whose work I admire.

      Reply
  5. Heather Haven

    Great interview and am following Michael A. Black’s suggestion. Checking out your books now. Will also check out the Public Safety Writers Association. Thanks!

    Reply
  6. Michael A. Black

    Good interview, Sally and thanks for mentioning me and the PSWA. I read Stop the Threat several months ago and it literally blew me away. (Pardon the pun.) Sally is one of those rare authors who can handle complex and often controversial subjects with both grace and skill. I haven’t gotten the chance to read her cozy series, but I have it on my kindle and I’m looking forward to it. Check our her books. You won’t regret it.

    Reply
    • Sally Handley

      Thanks, Mike! Truly appreciate your positive remarks, especially coming from an author of your stature.

      Reply

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JOSEPHINE (JO) MELE – World Travel – Memoir and Cozy Mystery Author

Josephine (Jo) Mele is a world traveler, tour guide, magazine editor, and life-long mystery reader. Author of: The Odd Grandmothers, a memoir of three generations of her Italian immigrant family, and The Travel Mystery Series: Bullets in Bolivia, Homicide in Havana. Mystery in Monte Carlo, Bandits in Brussels, Death on the Danube, Corpse in the Castle, Sicilian Sanctuary, and she is about to release Incident in India. Jo lives in Contra Costa County and is a member of Sisters in Crime and the California Writers Club.

Mark Twain is credited with saying, “Write what you know.” I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around the world with my job as a tour director, and I am an avid mystery reader. I decided to blend the two. The teacher in me feels the need to share what I’ve learned about the culture, history, and people of places I’ve traveled to. I love to cook and eat, so food plays an important part in each book, to the dismay of my critique group, who often call for a lunch break after I read.

In my cozy mysteries, I spotlight a current event or problem the locals face. In Bullets in Bolivia, large corporations were taking control of the water; human trafficking was the theme in Sicilian Sanctuary.

June Gordon, my protagonist, has one job; to come back with the same number of people she left with. Fate often has other plans, and June finds herself tripping over bodies, rescuing victims, helping the police, or fighting off the bad guy. She’s known at police stations and emergency rooms around the world. I never know what June will get us into, and after eight books, I’m getting a little afraid of traveling with her. Today, she has me in India, saving a young girl from an honor killing. Yes, I’m a pantser.

I recently spoke at a book reading. At the Q&A session, a precocious ten-year-old asked how long I’d been writing and why I chose to self-publish. I told her I’d been drafting short stories about my extended family for a long time, and my writing teacher and friend Camille Minichino suggested I put the stories together in a memoir. I wrote The Odd Grandmothers and decided to publish it on Amazon in 2019. I wanted to get my books out quickly and not wait years for an agent to sell my book to a publisher. I didn’t want the honor of being the oldest person to publish my first book. Self-publishing is the route I chose.

My relatives loved the memoir and said they’d learned things about our family history they never knew.

My sister said, “I remember some of this much differently.”

Thanks for taking the time to read about my adventure into writing. If you have any questions or comments, you can reach me at jomele@comcast.net. My books are available at Amazon or at Reasonable Books in Lafayette, CA.

8 Comments

  1. Violet Moore

    My twin sister and I remember childhood events and even a few later events differently. It reminds me of what a memoir writing workshop instructor told the group. “Memoirs are creative nonfiction.”

    Reply
    • Jo Mele

      I was surprised to hear that happens with twins too. My sister was two years younger and would say,”DId you make that up? I don’t remember it.”

      Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Wow, your books sound fascinating. Your protagonist really gets around. Best of luck to you with your writing.

    Reply
    • Jo Mele

      My mother always warned me as I was leaving on a trip to “not talk to strangers.” If she only knew!

      Reply
  3. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    My goodness, Jo, you have blended so many different parts of yourself into your writing! It must feel greatly fulfilling to complete yourself this way. Best of Luck on your continuing adventures with June.

    Reply
    • Jo Mele

      I wanted my grandchildren to remember that I was once young and always adventurous.

      Reply
  4. ana manwaring

    Wow! These sound like my kind of book! I just ordered books 1 &2 from Amazon. I can’t wait to get reading and armchair traveling!
    Ana

    Reply
    • Jo Mele

      Thank you. I hope you enjoy reading my books, traveling to unusal destinations, and love the food.

      Reply

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KAREN A. PHILLIPS – Author / Boxer / Trailer Fan

Karen A. Phillips enjoys writing mysteries, MG/YA fantasy, and poetry. She resides in northern California and is a proud member of Sisters In Crime and Willamette Writers.. . . and yes, she does take boxing lessons.

Thank you for having me on your blog, George. I’m excited to be here!

 

A DEADLY COMBO What do boxing and vintage trailers have in common? Meet Raquel (AKA Rocky) Nelson, a retired single woman with an attitude and love for boxing.

Sisters Rocky and Bridget enjoy each other’s company at a vintage trailer fest until they stumble over a corpse. The dead guy is none other than the local trailer restorer Bridget was overheard threatening to kill. Mounting evidence leads police to focus on Bridget as a person of interest. Desperate to prove her sister innocent of murder, Rocky dons her deerstalker cap and goes sleuthing until she runs into police detective Thompson who warns her off his case in no uncertain terms. But Rocky is tenacious, if not stubborn. Combined with a 78-year-old father who becomes her sidekick, Rocky uses her courage and skills learned in boxing lessons to protect her family and keep from becoming the killer’s next victim.

My debut mystery is A DEADLY COMBO – a blend of traditional and cozy genres. The inspiration for my story came from attending my first vintage trailer fest at a winery. About fifteen trailers in all colors and styles were spread out over a carpet of green grass. The owners, known as “trailerites,” invited the public inside their vintage trailers. They loved to talk about how they found their trailer (typically abandoned in a field somewhere) and how they restored the trailer to its former glory. Stepping into each trailer was like stepping back in time. It was so much fun, and then the thought occurred to me, “Wouldn’t this be a great place to find a dead body?” And thus, A DEADLY COMBO was born!

I must admit I caught the vintage trailer bug and did purchase my own trailer. I needed to have first-hand knowledge for my book, right? I bought what I could afford, a square Aristocrat Starliner. However, I quickly learned how much of a money pit owning a vintage trailer can be. Alas, I sold my trailer after a couple of years. If I ever get rich, I will buy an Airstream Bambi. The Airstream is a classic, and the Bambi is a compact model, so easier to haul.

The title of my book, A DEADLY COMBO, is a shorter version of A Deadly Combination. The title hints at how the victim dies and is a nod to the sport of boxing. My protagonist takes boxing lessons. I thought it would be a unique hobby for an amateur sleuth and would come in handy in several ways. Believe it or not, I take boxing lessons. The trainer in my story is patterned after my own coach. Boxing is a great way to stay in shape, and I highly recommend it.

Have you ever been to a vintage trailer fest or owned a vintage trailer? Have you ever taken boxing lessons?

Karen is a member of:

California Writers Club
Sisters in Crime
Willamette Writers

Visit her at https://karenaphillips.com/
Facebook: KarenAPhillips/Author
Instagram: kannphillips
Twitter: @phillips_writes

15 Comments

  1. Ana manwaring

    I must talk to you about trailer
    Life. I’m not ready for boxing, but I’m sure ready to hit the road! I look forward to the book. Congratulations Karen. I love the cover!

    Reply
  2. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Karen, you show us all the magic of creativity, mixing what we know with what we imagine. CONGRATULATIONS!
    And George, you continue to bring unique and fun writers to your blog. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Reply
  3. Donnell Ann Bell

    So original, Karen! I’m buying your book today! Love the ideas all around. An amateur sleuth boxer along with her father sidekick, and those refurbished trailers, you’ve shot fresh out of the box! Congrats!

    Reply
  4. Marie Sutro

    An airstream sounds awesome. Loved Deadly Combo!

    Reply
  5. Violet Moore

    Karen, my spouse and I owned a vintage trailer so long ago that I forgot the manufacturer. Then we switched to an older Class C motorhome. A money sucker for sure. But things got worse after we moved up to a Class A. Now that I’m alone, no more trailer travels.

    Reply
    • Karen A Phillips

      Hi Michelle – if you do take boxing lessons, let me know if you enjoy the workout as much as I do!

      Reply
  6. Michael A. Black

    Hey, Karen, you certainly have come up with a winning combination-boxing and mystery. Your novel sounds like a real hoot. Keep on punching and best of luck with your writing.

    Reply
    • Karen A Phillips

      Thank you, Michael. I hope you read the story. I’m honored to say I’m getting great reviews!

      Reply
  7. Chris DREITH

    A Deadly Combo is such a fun read! It makes me almost want to take boxing lessons. Almost.

    Reply
    • Karen A Phillips

      Ha ha! Chris Dreith, I assure you, if you take boxing lessons you will enjoy it. Maybe too much!

      Reply
  8. CINDY SAMPLE

    A Deadly Combo is a fantastic read. It’s hard to believe that it’s Karen’s debut novel. Rocky Nelson is an intriguing and relatable protagonist and her father is a real kick. The twists and turns of Rocky’s investigation kept me engrossed until the knockout ending.

    Reply
    • Karen A Phillips

      Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting, Cindy!

      Reply
  9. Karen A Phillips

    Hi George – thank you so much for having me on your blog! I appreciate all you do in support of writers.

    Reply

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DONNA SCHLACHTER – Squeaky-Clean Historical and Contemporary Suspense

A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky-clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 50 times in books; is a member of several writer’s 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.

 

A Mommy By Christmas: – A community care center, a calico cat, and Christmas—can a single middle-aged woman bring a town together in time to celebrate the King’s birthday? Can a widowed father find a reason to join in? And can the pair see God at work in their lives?

Do you write in more than one genre? I write both contemporary and historical mysteries, usually sprinkled with romance.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I usually write at my desk in my basement office, but at least two days a week, I write away from home. Distractions are many when you work from home: cats, laundry, meals, and my hubby across the desk from me.

Tell us about your writing process: I usually start with a short synopsis. Sometimes I write this by hand rather than on the computer. Then I schedule out the chapters to write and what day that will be. I try not to write on the weekends, but if I get behind…well, suffice it to say, the entire household knows when I fall behind.

What are you currently working on? I am working on a historical mystery, the second in my Mail-Order Romance series, released on December 31st. You can find the preorder here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BLZMWNTD

Do you base any of your characters on real people? I love to base my characters on people I know. I’ve learned that folks love to see themselves in print. Sometimes I use their real names—after asking their permission, of course. A Mommy By Christmas has several examples of real people: the veterinarian is named after a friend; the couple that helps my heroine with the dinner are real names of a dear couple; and the veterinarian’s last name is the surname of dear friends whose son died tragically last year.

Do you have any advice for new writers? Never quit. Let the stories flow. Trust God to get them into the hands of those who need to read them.

Groups I’m connected with:
American Christian Fiction Writers
Writers on the Rock,
Pikes Peak Writers,
Christian Women Writers,
Faith, Hope, and Love Christian Writers,
Christian Authors Network

How do our readers contact you?
www.DonnaSchlachter.com Stay connected so you learn about new releases, preorders, 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!

www.DonnaSchlachter.com/blog

1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    It sounds like you accomplish more in a week than most of do in six months, Donna. Glad to hear you’re knocking out those squeaky-clean mysteries. Best of luck to you.

    Reply

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