CLAIRE M. JOHNSON – From Pastry Chef to Author

Claire M. Johnson worked as a pastry chef in San Francisco Bay Area for a number of years. Ms. Johnson’s first novel, Beat Until Stiff, was set in the restaurant world and was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and was a Booksense pick. Her second book in this series, Roux Morgue, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. She has written two Jane Austen pastiches and has recently finished a first-person POV historical memoir of Pauline Pfeiffer (Ernest Hemingways’s second wife) and a mystery set in San Francisco in 1930. She is currently President of MWA NorCal.

In 1930 San Francisco, the  Moore Detective Agency is two months away from closing its doors. When the wife of one of the most prestigious bankers knocks on their office door asking them to look for her wayward stepson, secretary Maggie Laurent takes the case. The aftermath of the stock market crash nine months earlier is now being realized in soup kitchens and bread lines. She needs this job to help support her widowed mother. Maggie soon finds herself up to her neck in murder, arson, and the lies and double lives of San Francisco’s wealthy elite. Will she be the next victim?

Do you write in more than one genre? I’ve written two mysteries, two Jane Austen pastiches, a standalone YA thriller, a first-person POV biography of Pauline Pfeiffer, and my latest book is a historical noir mystery set in 1930 San Francisco.

What brought you to writing? I moved to the suburbs! I found myself without a name, essentially. I was someone’s wife or mother. I felt my identity slipping away and was terrified that one day I’d walk up, look in the mirror, and there wouldn’t be anyone there. Writing is about as personal as it comes.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? For the first time in my life, I have a real office—no more laptop on the dining room table—with an old-fashioned oak desk that I got from UC surplus. I overlook my garden and am occasionally distracted by the antics of the squirrels chasing each other from tree to tree. Does this make me more productive? No, but it’s lovely to have all my books, my piano, and pictures of my family around me.

What are you currently working on? I’m working on the second in the series set in San Francisco in 1930, right after the stock market crash. In the first book, my heroine Maggie Laurent is the secretary to a detective. When a “dame’ does him wrong, he goes on a months-long bender, and she takes over a simple missing person’s case. Which, naturally, turns out to not be that simple.

Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Yes. I think that belonging to writers’ groups helps you establish a tribe that speaks the same language you do. You can share knowledge, frustrations, successes, and information on agents, what publishers will consider books without an agent, etc. Writing is a business, and I think that networking is critical. Plus, writers are a great group of people.

Who’s your favorite author? I have many favorite authors, but I would say that in this genre that John Le Carre is the master. The genius of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is that this book is 90% backstory, which is usually the death knell of any book. And yet… His book The Constant Gardener left me stunned for weeks.

How long did it take you to write your first book and get it published? Oh years. I was lucky that Poisoned Pen Press was just opening its doors, and they were open to writers without agents at that time. Unfortunately, it was difficult then, and twenty years later, it’s even more difficult.

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I think you must have subplots because otherwise, it becomes too formulaic. Subplots are an excellent vehicle for exposing characters that enriches what happens in the main plot arc. I think this is a tricky road to walk because you don’t want to detract from your main storyline too much. Otherwise, it only serves as a distraction rather as an element that is complimentary. That is the key function of a subplot. It should compliment and enhance some aspect of the main plot line, whether it be an expansion of a character study or even the secret key to solving the puzzle of whodunit.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m basically a pantser. For me, part of the joy of writing a book is discovering who my characters are. Even though I’m writing this, I’m also acting as the first reader. What are they going to do next? What are they going to say? I’ve heard many writers say that at some point, the characters take over. I have experienced that as well. Your id is firing overtime, and you can’t type fast enough. Even if you don’t use much or any of the additional material, it gives you insight into their character. I’m a character-driven writer, so this is the cream in my coffee. I will say that I always know the ending. First, this tells me why I want to write a book. The “why” a story needs to be told. Second, it gives me a goal post to write to.

Otherwise, I can get distracted by the shiny. I also have a fair idea of what the middle is. Sometimes that gets delayed a bit, but I think if you have a firm grasp on the middle of a book, say around 40,000–45,000 words, then you can race toward that end with the knowledge that much of the book’s character arcs are developed enough that you can concentrate on the action in the last half of the book. Not that you abandon your character arcs because you need them to respond to the plot arcs, but it does give you the freedom to go hell-bent for leather in the last half of the book. I also have a firm beginning in mind, but beginnings are hard for me. I always end up rewriting any beginning to my books a minimum of six times. Grabbing the reader in the first fifteen pages is hard, which these days is a mandatory requirement. The days when you are allowed to mosey into the plot are over.

What kind of research do you do? For my Pauline Pfeiffer historical novel, I delved into the world of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the ex-pat world of Paris after World War I. I have more biographies on this period lining my bookshelf than any sane woman should admit to. Also, that period saw an explosion of photographic documentation of history with magazines such as Life.

I’ve just written my first historical mystery novel, which is set in 1930 San Francisco. I’m old enough to remember much of older San Francisco, so I wasn’t faced with trying to capture what San Francisco looked like before the Summer of Love, at which point everything changed. Newspapers are a great source for photographs. The SFGate archive is amazing.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I hope it’s published! I have three finished novels I’m currently shopping. I have self-published before, and while I don’t relish the amount of work that self-publishing entails, I think all these books are good reads and deserve an audience, so I never say never.

Email: clairemjohnson@gmail.com
Website: https://www.clairemjohnsonwrites.com/
Blog: http://clairemjohnson.blogspot.com

Links for Books:

Beat Until Stiff
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/beat-until-stiff-claire-m-johnson/1100278295?ean=9781615951031
https://www.amazon.com/Beat-Until-Stiff-Mary-Mystery/dp/1590589688/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Roux Morgue
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/roux-morgue-claire-m-johnson/1100277782?ean=9781615951048
https://www.amazon.com/Roux-Morgue-Mary-Claire-Johnson/dp/1590589106/ref=sr_1_1?crid=29UHLIDEI12KU&keywords=Roux+Morgue&qid=1659135592&s=books&sprefix=roux+morgue%2Cstripbooks%2C148&sr=1-1

Pen and Prejudice
https://www.amazon.com/Pen-Prejudice-Claire-M-Johnson/dp/061575726X/ref=sr_1_1?crid=XO33WX4FVRB2&keywords=Pen+and+Prejudice&qid=1659135714&s=books&sprefix=pen+and+prejudice%2Cstripbooks%2C138&sr=1-1

Resolution
https://www.amazon.com/Resolution-Claire-M-Johnson/dp/1089202172/ref=sr_1_5?crid=I7VQYY26PCL&keywords=Resolution%2BJohnson&qid=1659135774&s=books&sprefix=resolution%2Bjohnson

 

8 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Varadan

    What a range of genres and topics Claire M. Johnson writes, and they all sound fascinating. I love the idea of a noir mystery of the 30s set in San Francisco. Good luck to all the new endeavors.

    Reply
    • Claire Johnson

      Thank you so much, Elizabeth. It’s been a lot of fun researching that era. I’m very grateful that I don’t have to spend money on hats and gloves!

      Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Sounds like a fascinating plot for a novel. I love the era and setting it in San Francisco is really neat too. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Claire Johnson

      Thank you, Michael: I grew up in the Bay Area, and so much of the era of the big department stores, etc., was still present when I was a kid. I can remember my parents buying me toys in the City of Paris for my birthday, and then eating down at the Wharf when it still WAS a working wharf. It’s been wonderful hunting down the history of the 1920s. I’m working on the second book in this series now, and, the rise of labor, with San Francisco front and center with the dock worker strikes. Sadly, San Francisco no longer has much of a working waterfront, all that went to Oakland and Stockton with the advent of the container business, but it’s still magnificent.

      Reply
  3. Katherine Cramer

    Claire M Johnson is a local Gem from the Bay. Claire knows her locations (SF, Bay Area and extending through Northern California + the world) and weaves authentic details. I’m so thrilled that Claire M Johnson shares her creative talents that make many of my loves (Jane Austen, Mystery, Style, Gourmet Foods, Aesthetic History and Characters) enriched and more alive. Thanks for the engaging interview George Cramer.
    Katherine Cramer (and no, I am not a Cramer relative!)

    Reply
    • Claire Johnson

      Thank you for all your support, Katherine. It means so much to me!

      Reply
  4. Donnell Ann Bell

    Fascinating! I love the title Beat Until Stiff, and I can’t wait to read your memoir on Ernest Hemingway’s second wife. Best wishes!! Thanks George, for another excellent blog!

    Reply
    • Claire Johnson

      Thank you, Donnell. I did ten years of research on Hemingway and his various wives. If I can’t get a publisher, I will certainly self-publish it. Pauline isn’t a very nice person, but she’s fascinating, and her story is a wonderful snapshot of that era.

      Reply

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VASEEM KHAN – Historical Fiction Sent From India

Vaseem Khan is the author of two award-winning crime series set in India. His debut, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, was a bestseller, translated into 16 languages, and a Sunday Times 40 best crime novels published 2015-2020 pick; the series won a Shamus Award in the US. In 2021, Midnight at Malabar House, the first in the Malabar House novels set in 1950s Bombay, won the Crime Writers Association Historical Dagger, and in 2022 it was shortlisted for the prestigious Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award. MW Craven, CWA Gold Dagger winner.

ELEVATOR PITCH – THE DYING DAY by Vaseem Khan. Bombay, 1950. A 600-year-old copy of Dante’s The Divine Comedy vanishes, leaving behind a series of complex riddles and bodies. ‘The Da Vinci Code meets post-Independence India.

Do you have any advice for new writers? I wrote and submitted my first novel aged 17! It was awful. I spent the next 23 years and seven novels trying to get published before landing a four-book deal for my Baby Ganesh Agency series. Perseverance is important. But more crucially, it’s important to recognise that quality will out – it takes time and effort to bring your writing to the standard that agents and publishers consider publishable. On my website www.vaseemkhan.com you’ll find a blog piece entitled “Is this is a Dagger I see before me – lessons from 30 years of writing”. It might be useful.

What was your debut novel? And what happened next? My debut, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, was written after I went to work in India for ten years. It became a Times bestseller after I launched it on the BBC Breakfast sofa to an audience of several million! I then found myself having to write a novel a year. That has meant strict discipline. Luckily, I’m a deadline masochist!

 

Tell us about your writing process: Wake up. Drown in a few moments of existential angst. Remember that there are still books and cricket in the world, so it can’t be all meaningless. Write for about three hours until my brain stops working. Potter around for the rest of the day, avoiding any DIY assignments my wife would like me to tackle.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? I’m a detailed plotter – that takes months to get right. My current historical series is compared to Agatha Christie in style – so much so that this year I’m speaking at the International Agatha Christie Festival. The books include complex clues and, sometimes, codes and cyphers, as well as a wealth of historical detail about the period when India became independent after 200 years of British rule. Balancing all these elements is a challenge!

What do you feel are your biggest writing achievements? Getting published after two decades of trying! Followed by winning a Crime Writers Association Historical Dagger, the world’s premier prize for historical crime fiction – for Midnight at Malabar House. In the book, we meet my protagonist, Persis Wadia, newly qualified as India’s first female police Inspector at a time when India is still an intensely patriarchal society. No one knows what to do with her, so they stick her in Bombay’s smallest police station – Malabar House – where all the rejects and undesirables are sent. And then a sensational murder – of an English diplomat – falls into her lap… and she’s off! In fiction, we love pioneers. There’s something mythic about a protagonist challenging the status quo. Persis, as a woman in a male dominated environment, is forced to prove, time and again, that she belongs. As a man, it wasn’t easy to write such a character!

Why do you write about India? I was born and grew up in England but lived in India for a decade in my twenties. It was an intense culture shock. In The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, there is a chapter that takes place in a slum in Mumbai. I visited that slum while living in India, and it was eye-opening to observe poverty on a scale we simply can’t imagine in the West. At the same time, it was life-affirming to see the locals just getting on with things – especially the ever-grinning kids!

How do you come up with character names? A great character name is euphonious, meaning it is pleasing to the ear because it fits the character completely and makes them more real. I trawl through hundreds of online name lists to get just the right name.

We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave or run wild? The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, introduced a middle-aged Mumbai policeman who must solve the murder of a poor local boy – whilst dealing with the odd dilemma of inheriting a baby elephant. What do you do when you live on the fifteenth floor of a tower block, and someone sends you an elephant? Read the book to find out! That elephant has become incredibly popular with readers around the world, so much so that I continue to get email about him. To be clear: he doesn’t talk or fly or solve the mysteries. The elephant is merely a symbol for India and allows me to showcase a different side of Chopra’s personality – he’s a very rigid and honest man. He has to gradually come to terms with the idea that he is responsible for this animal’s welfare.

What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? I wrote a female lead for the Malabar House series because I wanted to say something about the patriarchal, sometimes misogynistic society that was India in the 1950s. Persis is ambitious, so much so that she is sometimes quite ruthless in her desire to prove herself. And why shouldn’t she be? We allow male mavericks in crime fiction, so why not a female?

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Always! For instance, inThe Dying Day, the second book in the Malabar House series, we see twin plots. A 600-year-old copy of Dante’s The Divine Comedy vanishes from Bombay’s Asiatic Society, and the case lands on Inspector Persis Wadia’s desk. Uncovering a series of complex riddles written in verse, Persis – together with English forensic scientist Archie Blackfinch – is soon on the trail. But then they discover the first body.In a subplot, Persis must also investigate the murder of a beautiful white woman whose body is found on train tracks. Could the two cases be related? The trick is to plan in advance exactly how your subplots fit together. If they don’t hang together at all, I think it can sometimes lead to readers feeling cheated! .. Oh, and to date, only one person – an Australian reader – has claimed to have solved all the riddles in The Dying Day. The challenge is made!

Do you base any of your characters on real people? A lot! Early on in Midnight at Malabar House, Persis finds herself working with Archie Blackfinch, an English forensic scientist based in Bombay. They get off to a rocky start, but we know this is going to be one of those will-they-wont-they situations. And this presents a challenge for Persis. Because, of course, this is India just after Independence. The idea of an Indian woman in a relationship with a white Englishman… They’re both socially awkward people – but whereas Archie is one of those Englishmen who’d rather hack their own arm off than speak out of turn, Persis’s determination to succeed sometimes means that she’s a bit ruthless, such as when she almost shoots Archie’s ear off. I guess you could say there’s a lot of me in Archie. (Though my wife hasn’t shot my ear off. Yet.)

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m getting ready to promote THE LOST MAN OF BOMBAY, the third book in my Malabar House series, out in August in the UK and Kindle in US on August 18, 2022, hardcover on November 22, 2022, in the US. Frankly, I’d buy it just for the amazing cobra on the cover! It’s set in 1950 in Bombay, India. In this one, a white man is found frozen to death in a cave in the Himalayan foothills. His face is crushed, making his identity a complete mystery. When the case lands on Persis’ desk, she discovers a notebook on the body holding a series of cryptic clues. As Persis and Archie Blackfinch chase down the clues, more murders occur in Bombay of Europeans. Could there be a serial killer loose in the city? Pre-orders really help, so don’t be shy!

How do our readers contact you?

Website: http://vaseemkhan.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VaseemKhanOfficial/
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/VaseemKhanUK
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/vaseemkhanwriter/

FACEBOOK GROUPS:
The Book Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/readrecommendreview
UK Crime Book Club https://www.facebook.com/groups/ukcrimebookclub
Lost in a Good Book https://www.facebook.com/groups/1715381925391873
Mystery Readers Café https://www.facebook.com/groups/2024429557790696
Bookaholic Café https://www.facebook.com/groups/BookAholicCafe
Book Connectors https://www.facebook.com/groups/1466353170351020
Crime Fiction Addict https://www.facebook.com/groups/507750129408471
The Crime Book Club https://www.facebook.com/groups/CrimeBookClub
The Fiction Café Book Club https://www.facebook.com/groups/FictionCafe

1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    It sounds like you’re really on a roll, Vaseem. Congratulations on your success. Your story is inspirational. Good luck and watch your ears. 😉

    0

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MICHAEL A. BLACK – From the Wild West to Modern Day Bounty Hunter

Our guest today is Michael A. Black, author of over 47 books, including his latest series featuring ex-army ranger Steve Wolf as a modern-day bounty hunter.

Michael A. Black is the award-winning author of 47 books, most of which are in the mystery and thriller genres. He has also written in sci-fi, western, horror, and sports. A retired police officer, he has done everything from patrol to investigating homicides to conducting numerous SWAT operations.

 

Black was awarded the Cook County Medal of Merit in 2010. He is also the author of over 100 short stories and articles and wrote two novels with television star Richard Belzer (Law & Order SVU). His Executioner novel, Fatal Prescription, won the Best Original Novel Scribe Award. His latest novels are the Trackdown series (Devil’s Dance, Devil’s Fancy, Devil’s Brigade, Devil’s Advocate, and Devil’s Vendetta) and Chimes at Midnight (under his own name), Dying Art and Cold Fury (under Don Pendleton), and the Gunslinger series (Killer’s Choice, Killer’s Brand, Killer’s Ghost, Killer’s Gamble, and Killer’s Requiem) under the name A.W. Hart.

Let’s start with something off the beaten track. Tell us something about yourself that isn’t in your bio. Okay…One of the reasons I was interested in writing westerns is that Zane Grey is a distant relation of mine.

You have a new book out. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about it? I’d be glad to. It’s the latest installment of my Trackdown series about disgraced ex-army ranger Steve Wolf, who was wrongfully accused and convicted of a war crime in Iraq and sentenced to prison. Upon his release, his mentor, Big Jim McNamara, picked him up and helped him get back on his feet with Mac’s bail enforcement business, i.e., bounty hunting. Wolf and McNamara had several adventures through the first four books in the series (Devil’s Dance, Devil’s Fancy, Devil’s Brigade, and Devil’s Advocate), and the newest one takes up where the last one left off. It’s called Devil’s Vendetta.

Sounds like a devilish series; what’s the new one about? Devilish is right. Wolf’s goal is to clear his name since he was wrongfully convicted, and through the first four books, he fought to do this by trying to bring the rich and powerful adversary who framed him to justice. In the fourth book, he came close to succeeding, but as everyone knows, nothing is simple when it comes to our justice system. Devil’s Vendetta continues this theme and begins a new story arc. In this book, Wolf receives a call from his mother in North Carolina that his younger brother, Jimmy, has fallen in with a bad crowd, and an intervention is needed. After going back home for the first time since his release from prison, Wolf finds the old adage, “You can’t go home again,” grievously accurate. His hometown has a bit of a problem with political corruption and a growing crystal meth epidemic. To make matters worse, Wolf’s brother and his friends have concocted a dangerous scheme to rip off a drug kingpin. Wolf finds himself battling against superior odds trying to save what family he has left.

And this one continues the series, correct? It does. It’s actually number five in the series. Numbers six and seven are also coming out in short order as well.

You’ve got three new books coming out together? Right. Number six is Devil’s Breed, which takes up where Devil’s Vendetta left off, and then number seven, Devil’s Reckoning, follows in short order. My publisher, Wolfpack, is releasing all three books in the space of about a month (October 4th, October 25th, and November 15th) under their new Rough Edges imprint. I’m feeling a little bit like Charles Dickens. He used to do a chapter a week when his novels were serialized in the newspaper.

That certainly does sound like a quick succession. How long did it take you to write these? I started working on these three last year (2020) in August. I wrote straight through to this past August, with a few other projects interceding from time to time. It was a busy year.

It sounds like it. Three novels in a year is pretty impressive. Actually, I managed to squeeze in a fourth one, but that was a co-author project. I did a novella, too. They don’t call me the fastest keyboard in the Midwest for nothing.

That sounds like a well-earned title. So does the series continue beyond these seven books? Well, each book is a story in itself, with continuing plot threads. At this point, the series could end, but I’ve left enough of a thread that it could continue. That’ll be up to the readers.

What are you working on currently? After spending so much time with Wolf and Mac, I had a yearning to do something different. I also write westerns and had an idea on the back burner for a while. It’s set in 1913 during the early days of motion pictures. It’s got a troubled veteran of the Philippine/American War, a silent movie being filmed, real-life author Ambrose Bierce, the Mexican Revolution, and of course, some nefarious goings-on.

Sounds ambitious. Good luck with that one. But, before we let you go, I have a question about a group you are active in, the Public Safety Writers Association. I understand that you are not just engaged but, in fact, chair the annual PSWA Conference. Please tell us about that.

Sure. I’ve been a member of the PSWA for a number of years and work with the other board members to run the annual conference in July. We always host it in July at the Orleans in Las Vegas and have a great time. I’ve been to many writer’s conferences, and I can truly say that the PSWA Conference is the best. It’s all about sharing your experiences and becoming a better writer. The people are great, and the members come from a variety of backgrounds. It’s affordable and always a lot of fun. Check out the PSWA website for a glimpse of this past conference.

Thanks for stopping by.

Always a pleasure to be on the best of the best blogs, George. Thanks for having me.

How can our readers contact you and buy your books:

Well. Someone in China hacked my website, and I still haven’t gotten around to organizing another one, but all of my books (Ebooks or paperbacks) are available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble,  or at your local bookstore. If you want to get hold of me, my email is DocAtlas108@aol.com. I’m always glad to hear from people.

Whatever you wish to list here, like links to seller/buy sites or any URL.

Devil’s Vendetta: A Steve Wolf Military Thriller (Trackdown Book 5) – Kindle edition by Black, Michael A.. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Devil’s Breed: A Steve Wolf Military Thriller (Trackdown Book 6) – Kindle edition by Black, Michael A.. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

19 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Thanks, Joe. I value your friendship as well. Thanks for stopping by.

    Reply
  2. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    I certainly agree with what everyone has said about Michael’s books and will continue being a buyer. I’ve already read 5 of his books and only have 42 to go. The thing I like about Mike is not only his friendship, but it’s the help he has given me with my writing. He is unselfish and generous with his critiques without being condescending. As a novice writer it is good to have a friend who is such a professional.
    George, as always, your interviews are first rate.

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Raymond, Rick, and Maddie thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. Your friendship and support means a lot to me.

    Reply
  4. Madeline Gornell

    Congrats, Mike! You are amazing…off to Amazon right now…

    Reply
  5. Rick McMahan

    Another really good series from you, Mike. I enjoy the characters and storylines. Keep it up, brother.

    And a great interview.

    Reply
  6. Raymond Benson

    I’ve known Mike a LONG time. He’s a consummate professional and I’m happy to know him.

    Reply
  7. Michael A. Black

    Thanks, to all of you who’ve stopped by and especially to those who commented.
    I appreciate your support. These comments, coming from such a talented group of writers means a lot to me. You’re the best.

    Reply
  8. D. Record

    Congratulations on your series. Look forward to reading your latest book and when your Western comes out.
    Continued success. You’re an inspiration to the rest of us.

    Reply
  9. Mysti Berry

    congrats to one of the hardest-working writers in crime today!

    Reply
  10. Dave

    I have always enjoyed Mike’s novels and stories. You get a real sense of the street in them. Not only are his books entertaining, but they remain authentic as well, obviously written by one who’s been there. Can’t wait to dig into the newest one(s), lol!!!

    Reply
  11. CAMILLE MINICHINO

    OK, it took me a minute, but now I get it. Mike BLACK distantly related to Zane GREY. Good one, just like all your books!

    Reply
  12. Martin G

    Mike’s books are well-written. Looking forward to his latest.

    Reply
  13. Nick Chiarkas

    Excellent Blog Post. I will pick up your book and read it with a glass of bourbon.

    Reply
  14. Nick Chiarkas

    Excellent blog; I’ll pick up your book and read it with a glass of bourbon.

    Reply
  15. Bob Doerr

    Hi Mike, looking forward to reading these!

    Reply
  16. Steve Rush

    Hi Mike,

    I purchased Devil’s Vendetta two days ago and look forward to reading it and the others in the series. Thanks for sharing a bit about yourself and your writing.

    Reply
  17. Victoria Weisfeld

    Ordered my copy of Mike’s new one. Coming soon . . . But can I keep up??

    Reply
    • John Schembra

      Mike is a friend and a terrific, prolific author. I’ve read a couple of his Executioner books and a couple of his westerns. I’ve enjoyed every one. He is an amazing writer.

      Reply
    • George Cramer

      Victoria, I know what you mean. I just ordered the last two in an effort to get caught up.

      Reply

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MICHAEL BARRINGTON – Almost Executed in West African Civil War

Michael was born in Manchester, England. He lived in France and joined a French Order of Missionary priests. He spent ten years in West Africa, several of them during a civil war when he was stood up to be shot. He spent a year living as a hermit in Northern Ireland, was a teacher in Madrid, Spain, and as part of the British ‘brain drain’ taught at the Univ of Puerto Rico.

The owner of MJB Consultants, he flew all over the world monitoring and evaluating humanitarian projects and has worked in more than thirty countries. He is fluent in several languages, an avid golfer, and academically considers himself over-engineered, having three Masters’ Degrees and a Ph.D. On his bucket list is to pilot a helicopter, become fluent in Arabic, and spend a week’s retreat at Tamanrasset in the Sahara Desert.

Michael lives with his French wife, who designs and paints the covers of his books, and a Tibetan terrier in Clayton, California.

His latest novel, The Ethiopian Affair (May 2022), begs the question: Is there a plot to abduct the US ambassador to Ethiopia? MI6, the CIA, and NISS (Ethiopian Secret Service) are faced with discovering the truth.

He has always been a writer, and his first book, The Bishop Wears No Drawers (2017), is a memoir of his time in Africa. Let the Peacock Sing (2020) is a historical novel set against the backdrop of the French Resistance during World War II. His second novel, a coming-of-age book, Becoming Anya, was published in November 2021. Michael also writes fiction and nonfiction articles for several magazines, including Alive East Bay and The Big issue (UK). He is a feature writer for the Mt Diablo Gazette.

Do you write in more than one genre? My first book is a memoir of ten years spent in Nigeria as a catholic missionary priest, where I was stood up to be shot. My second book is the historical novel Let the Peacock Sing.

What brought you to writing? I have always been a writer, mainly nonfiction and academic articles on philosophy and spirituality. Retirement gave me the time to develop my craft and let my imagination run wild.

Tell us about your writing process: I treat my writing like a job as if I am employed and quite disciplined. I usually spend six to eight hours a day on a book, either writing or doing research. I take breaks with a round of golf and vary my writing by producing fiction and nonfiction articles for various magazines.

With fiction, I usually have an idea with just a couple of specific points, and the rest of my process depends entirely on my characters. As they grow and develop, they tell me who they are, what they want to say, and what they are doing.

Nonfiction: It depends on my mood and particular interest at a given moment. I occasionally do book reviews.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The only challenge I have as a writer is that there is insufficient time to write all the stories and characters in my head.

What are you currently working on? I am five chapters into a novel comprising six different stories, all intertwined with links to two main characters. It’s fun and challenging.

Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Not really. I joined CWC because writing is a lonely business. I started the Writers Connection, where a group of us could meet to socialize and talk about anything related to writing.

I read more biographies than novels. Who’s your favorite author? Depends on the type of book. Thrillers: John Le Carre; Literary: Edna O’Brien & Jose Luis Borges. Paul Theroux is, for sure as a travel author.

What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Love/romantic scenes are particularly difficult to write, just to get the language balance and sensitivity right. My wife, who is both a painter and psychologist, is always the first to review my drafts and gives me excellent feedback.

Do you have subplots? Always have several subplots. That’s a major part of the fun and challenge in writing.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? Yes. I believe that almost every author, especially early in their career, base some characters on their own experiences. We often write from what we know.

What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? Sometimes it’s difficult to access or find all the information needed about a character. For example, I needed a great deal of information about the French railways during World War II. There are lots of bits and pieces, but that complete history has still to be written. I have researched French archives and come away empty-handed.

Where do you place your settings? Depends. I write a lot about places and countries I have lived in, especially France, Ireland, Spain, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Latin America.

What is the best book you have ever read? Henry Kissinger: 2 Vols. The Whitehouse Years, and he was writing in a second language. From the point of view of command of language and style, Mark Kishlansky’s A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 1603-1714.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? My head is full of characters wanting to tell their stories. I’ll just keep writing because I must. I would like to see my book Let the Peacock Sing turned into a mini-series, and I am working on that.

How do our readers contact you?

Majb7016@gmail.com

Website: www.nbwriter.net

Facebook: Michael.Barrington733

Twitter: @Mj_Barrington

6 Comments

  1. Valerie Brooks

    What a wealth of material, Michael! You need three lives to complete all the works you have in you. I was going to mention the same thing Debra mentioned about being a spy. I know, I know, you can’t say anything.
    Best of luck with your work!
    Valerie

    Reply
  2. Alfred Garrotto

    Michael’s an inspiration to those who know him. As a fellow writer, I’m in awe of his pool of experiences from which he builds his work. I’m grateful to be in his writing community. I mostly listen and hopefully learn from him.

    Reply
  3. Debra Bokur

    Michael, the only thing missing from your resume is “international spy.” But I suppose most international spies-turned-author don’t publicize that, correct? Your books sound fascinating!

    Reply
  4. Glenda Carroll

    The life you’ve lived is made for writing stories.

    Reply
  5. Marie Sutro

    Having your spouse as the first reviewer is a special gift!

    Reply
  6. Michael A, Black

    It sounds like you’ve got a lot of experiences to drawn upon. I had a friend who was in country during the Nigerian civil war and he said it was brutal. Congratulations on surviving. Best of luck to you in your writing.

    Reply

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J. WOOLLCOTT – Writing Mysteries Set in Northern Ireland

I’m a debut author, Canadian, and have just signed a two-book publication deal with Level Best Books. My first title, A Nice Place to Die, is due for release in early August 2022. Blood Relations, number two in the series, is due August 2023.

 

 

The books are set in Northern Ireland, where I was born and lived for over twenty years. They are police procedurals featuring DS Ryan McBride and his partner DS Billy Lamont, and while they deal with murder, I do add humour and focus on the setting and characters.

Like many of us, I’m sure, my journey to publication was long. I worked (in broadcasting) until I decided to take early retirement, write, and travel. Well, we all know what happened to travel!

As an unpublished writer, I entered a few competitions and won the Mainstream Mystery and Suspense Daphne du Maurier Award in 2019. I’ve been long-listed four times for the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Awards, and I was finally shortlisted in the CWC Canadian Awards of Excellence in 2021.

I applied for a few grants to conferences. While I never received a grant, I did come to the attention of one of the committee members who had read and enjoyed my first few chapters. She asked me to send her the book to read. I did not, however, feel it was ready to send out for such professional scrutiny (she was a publisher!) and asked that she allow me some time. Two years later, with Covid in between and many more rewrites on my part, I resent the manuscript. This time she read the whole book and offered me a three-book contract. I ended up deciding to go with two books to start, publishing schedules are short, and I take a long time with my books!

I started out as a pantser. I wrote my first book, Abducted, in one linear process. Honestly, I can’t believe I did it that way. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. That manuscript, however, did get long-listed in the CWC annual awards competition. That gave me such a boost. I started my second book, the first in the Northern Ireland series. I began to write it the same way and quickly got lost in the plot. Frustrated, I took Simon Wood’s class, Plot Thickeners, via Sisters in Crime. He showed us how outlining and plotting out make life easier. I wouldn’t say I am a total outliner; I wish I was, but more like a hybrid.

I can’t say exactly the best book I ever read, but I love Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series. I also love November Road by Lou Berney. I enjoy police procedurals so I must mention the wonderful British writer Susan Hill. And I just finished an older book, The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim. It was fantastic.

The take-away for me on this journey is, don’t rush your work. Write the best book you can. Take classes, ask for help, write and rewrite. Join critique groups. Read in your genre and outside it. It’s taken me about four years to write A Nice Place to Die. The first edition of that manuscript was not very good. It’s a process. Certainly, for me, as a new writer, joining Sisters In Crime was the single most important thing I did—classes, critique partners, advice online, and making writer friends. Going to conferences is costly but worth it, and if you can afford a professional editor, so much the better. Enter competitions and apply for grants. Why not?

A Nice Place to Die is due for release in August 2022. –  It’s 2016, and Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided province by years of distrust and hatred. But not all crimes are related to the troubles, and Northern Ireland’s past history is the least of Detective Sergeant Ryan McBride’s problems. He has enough to worry about with his latest murder inquiry. Unwilling to risk losing the case, he breaks the rules and fails to disclose a one-night stand he had with the victim. As to the investigation, it’s going nowhere fast as one-by-one, his prime suspects are murdered.

Blood Relations is due for release in August 2023 – Retired Chief Inspector Patrick Mullan is found brutally murdered in his bed. Ryan and Billy are called to his desolate country home to investigate. In their inquiry, they discover a man whose career was overshadowed by violence and corruption. Is the killer someone from Mullan’s past or his present? And who hated the man enough to kill him twice?

I’m a graduate of the Humber School for Writers in Toronto and BCAD, University of Ulster. I’m also a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, and the Suncoast Writer’s Guild.

Where can our readers contact you and order A Nice Place to Die?

Buy the book: https://amzn.to/3CGIzi0
My email is woollcottauthor@gmail.com
My website is jwoollcott.com
Twitter: @JoyceWoollcott

 

9 Comments

  1. Katherine Rams;and

    Good luck with your debut, Joyce. I hope it’s going well. This is a great novel for your launch. I enjoyed reading it.

    Reply
  2. Valerie J. Brooks

    Joyce, I’m a sucker for Irish writers. Full disclosure: my husband is of Irish descent and has the gift of the Irish when it comes to writing to me and professing his love.

    I’ll be sure to check out your novels. Thanks for all the juicy info about you and your journey.

    Reply
    • Joyce

      Ah Valerie, I think by now everyone has a bit of Irish in them, we get around you know! Thanks for the nice comment,
      Best,
      Joyce

      Reply
  3. DonnaRae Menard

    See I told you Joyce, it would be great. You’ve got positive vibe reviews everywhere. Good luck my friend. (Can I call you that?)

    Reply
    • Joyce

      Thank you DonnaRae! You’re the best,
      🙂
      Joyce

      Reply
  4. Michael A. Black

    Ireland has a long history of turning out fabulous writers so I’m wishing you the best of luck in continuing that tradition. It sounds like you’ll fit right in.

    Reply
    • J. Woollcott

      Thank you Michael! I appreciate your kind words,
      Joyce.

      Reply
  5. J. Woollcott

    Thanks Vicki,
    Might have something to do with the host’s excellent direction!
    J.

    Reply
  6. Vicki Batman

    Good morning, Joyce and George. Very good interview!

    Reply

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COMING HOME – The Story of a Returning Veteran

The Public Safety Writers Association, 2022 writing contest awarded “Coming Home” second place in flash fiction. The 302-word story chronicles the welcome a Vietnam Veteran received upon his arrival in San Francisco, California. The ending is open to the reader’s interpretation.

Coming Home

I’m still running. I’m running from something; I’m not sure what. It’s time to stop running.

It could have been the reception I received at the San Francisco Airport on that cold and foggy day. I had worn the uniform for what seemed an eternity. I took a cab into the city, but it had started before then. First, the baggage handler threw my duffle bag at me, and then the cabbie acted as though I was Typhoid Mary.

I’m confused. I only did what was expected of me. Why this?

Dropped at the Greyhound Bus Depot, I was treated as a pariah. People glowered at me, most backed away. One woman spat on me after saying something about babies, a killer. I had never imagined a woman could do something like that.

The bar was the same; one drink and I walked away. I found myself standing in front of a Harley-Davidson dealer. I went in—it was different. “Hi, welcome home, welcome to Dudley Perkins.”
The man treated me with dignity. Maybe that’s why I bought an Electra Glide in blue. I threw the uniform into a Dempsey dumpster. I didn’t go back for my duffle bag.

Now five days later, I’m in Utah, stopped alongside a lonely highway. Leaning against the motorcycle, I stare at a stark rock formation in a long-dead sea bed. The trees, those with foliage, display orange and yellow leaves that shift and drop as a cold wind passes through the lonely valley. I feel as cold and lonely as the scene in front of me as I prepare to say goodbye to a world that no longer cares.

25 Comments

  1. Hartmann, Linda

    Excellent flash.. i could feel the disillusionment, aching for the welcome imagined but not received, and the powerful dissonance in our country at that time, with misguided projection of feelings. No reruns please. Loved the road trip on a bike to a different sort of freedom in nature’s beauty. A gift of a read. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Marilyn J. Dykstra

    Powerful flash piece, George! You put me right in the scene. I also like how you left me up in the air as to how the story precedes: Does he commit suicide? Does he walk out into the desert never to return to society? Or does he ride off into the sunset? I fear that he will commit suicide. I envision him walking out into the desert. But I think he must have ridden off into the sunset to find a new future.

    Reply
  3. Donnell

    Powerful George. God bless our veterans.

    Reply
  4. Barbara Nickless

    Thanks for this powerful story, George. I’ve worked with Vietnam veterans at the UCCS Veterans Health and Trauma center (where I teach creative writing) and been profoundly affected by their stories. It’s unimaginable, sometimes, how we treat our veterans–sometimes with cruelty and often with indifference.

    Reply
  5. Michelle Chouinard

    Amazing story. It taps right into what I remember my step-father telling me about returning from Vietnam. I’ve always believe it’s so important to honor the sacrifices of the soldiers fighting for our freedom even if we don’t agree with the choices our government is making. Soldiers don’t get to choose their missions.

    Reply
  6. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    many of the soldiers there were there because they were drafted. I worked with a lot of Vietnam Veterans, and they were best. They were honorable, dedicated, and compassionate. I know it was a small minority who treated our soldiers like criminals, and it was fueled by the media and activists that blamed the government. To them our soldiers were the government and an easy target.
    A black man came to one of our yard sales wearing a baseball cap that say Vietnam Veteran. I shook his hand, thanked him for his service and said I was honored to meet him. He said I wish everyone felt that way, but I would do it again if necessary. My wife and I never forgot his visit and his devotion to this country.

    Reply
  7. Jordan Bernal

    George, you put me right there with the returning Vietnam Veteran. I felt his confusion, his pain, his despair. A slice of America’s past that should never be forgotten, and never repeated.

    Reply
  8. Frederick G Yeager

    A sad story of beliefs and principles gone astray in today’s world

    Reply
  9. Lynn

    Heart-wrenching and unfortunately how many vets were treated who served during the Vietnam War.

    Reply
  10. Shelley Lee Riley

    Wow, George. Just wow! I didn’t serve, but I knew someone who did. Frank S. was special to me, as we had gone through school together. We were attending Foothill Junior College when he got called up. He was a football player, gentle and kind, and he could really take a hit. But he couldn’t take the hit that the Vietnam war delivered. The cruelty and bitterness piled upon those that returned . . . Frank, like so many others, did not deserve and he suffered greatly due to it.

    Reply
  11. Lew

    George, you put such a strong emotional impact in to such a short story. Left me wanting more.

    Reply
  12. Jen Halmo

    Wow. Very well written!

    Reply
  13. Alec Peche

    Wow, great piece. Very atmospheric despite the low numbers of words.

    Reply
  14. Mary

    What a gift you have, George. What a powerful story. Congratulations on being recognized for your great writing skills.

    Reply
  15. Michael A. Black

    Good story, George. I can see why it won the award. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a veteran of the Korean War. He said we were attacked at Pearl Harbor and went to war. After WW II they welcomed the GI’s back as heroes. They were indifferent to us after Korea, and they despised the Vietnam vets for no good reason. After the Gulf War soldiers and marines were given a hero’s welcome home again, and then were heroes again after the 9-11 attack as went to war again. Now, after twenty years or so, the public seems to have slipped back into the indifference stage. (Note the lack of outrage at our disastrous pull-out from Afghanistan. It was a year ago this week that it began and I’ll be able to bet nobody reading this can recall one name of the 14 members of our military who lost their lives.) Things run in cycles, but one thing’s a constant. Our military personnel bear the brunt and pay the price.

    Reply
  16. Kaye George

    I did know a few vets who got spat on and cussed out, but not all of them. My hubby served during Vietnam, but was sent instead to S Korea. Good atmosphere in the story.

    Reply
  17. John Taylor

    Well done, George. Personally, I never experienced the disdain and hatred you depicted in your story, but I’m certain it took place often enough to leave some veterans feeling like outcasts. One minor editing suggestion. You failed to use a question mark after the short sentence, “Why this.”

    Reply
  18. Violet Moore

    This story rings true. It touches the soul.

    Reply
  19. John Schembra

    Great story, George. I was lucky- I didn’t experience much of that. Congrats on the writing awards!

    Reply
  20. Lisa Towles

    Wow, what impact George. Great writing and so powerful

    Reply
  21. Rhonda

    Great job! Definitely evoked lots of emotion.

    Reply
  22. Victoria Kazarian

    A poignant slice of experience that rings true to what I’ve heard from Viet Nam vets. I love your description of the Utah landscape—I can see it in my mind. Well done, George!

    Reply

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