M.E. ROCHE – Loves Writing & Follows Characters

I’m the product of a Midwest upbringing, but I’ve lived on both coasts as well as in Ireland. As a registered nurse, I’ve had the opportunity to work in many facets of nursing. Once officially retired, I began volunteering with the local coroner—part of the sheriff’s department—in northern California.

My favorite books have always been mysteries.

What brought me to writing? I first decided to try my hand at writing when I discovered there were so few books written about or by nurses and nothing for young readers since the student nurse mysteries of the 1950s. I started with three young adult mysteries modeled on those early works. I liked the writing process—of having a character tell me where the story would go—and when I decided to bring my student nurses into adulthood, I began writing for an adult audience, and now I have an additional three mysteries and two standalones.

New Book My newly released novel, TOOTS, is a historical stand-alone work based on one of my great aunts, one of my grandmother’s sisters. Growing up, I only knew my aunt as living with my grandmother. She was quiet but warm and generally retreated to somewhere quieter in the house when my family of eight kids arrived. I don’t remember ever having any extended conversation. We were told that her husband and children had died in a fire, and she had come back to her family in Chicago from wherever they had been living. I began thinking about this story several years ago, and I wanted to know more, but there was no one from that generation left to ask. And so I began trolling the memories of my siblings and cousins, but they were no wiser

Research TOOTS required spending a lot of time with Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com and my local genealogy people at the library. The amount of information out there is amazing. My grandmother and her sister, Toots, came over from Ireland by themselves at ages 12 and 10. They came to work as servants—first in New York and later in Chicago. My grandmother married and stayed in Chicago, but Toots met and married a homesteader from Nebraska. So many questions! I began by tracking down the ship manifests. Census reports, marriage records, obituaries, and homestead records. Finally, I made a road trip to Nebraska to see the homestead for myself. But then…what happened after Nebraska?

I discovered that there is also a ton of information to be found in obituaries. A good example: I knew my grandfather was a train conductor on the Northwestern railroad, but I had always thought of him as a passenger conductor (he had passed before I was born); his obituary stated he was a freight conductor! Tracking down the routes—possibly through Nebraska—that his train would have taken in 1915 led me to the tiny town of Albion in Nebraska, where my aunt’s husband’s homestead happened to be. There is no one alive to verify my guess, but I’d say my grandfather played matchmaker for his sister-in-law!

Setting the Location: I think it’s important to know something about the setting of one’s story, which is why I felt the need to see Nebraska. How many people plan to visit Nebraska? It was, however, a great experience—visiting the Homestead museum and learning something about the Dust Bowl period, of which I knew little beyond The Grapes of Wrath. It is beautiful farm country; the cover for TOOTS is a photo of their homestead. Similarly, I lived in San Francisco and northern California for some time, as well as in Boston, so I enjoy adding bits of local color to stories set in those locations.

Writing Process My writing process is changing. I’ve always felt most creative in the early morning hours, but not so much now. I do my own editing and preparation for publishing, and the more I write, the more time it takes to complete these non-creative tasks. I’ve discovered that my head doesn’t work for editing in the early morning. So now, I have coffee, walk, have breakfast, and then work on editing. But as I finish those tasks required by a new book, I think I’m almost ready to start writing something creative again. We’ll see.

Current Project Before turning to the final edits and publishing aspects of TOOTS, I finished the first draft of a mystery that spans the two coasts and centers on an arson group of firefighters in Boston. In the first re-read of that draft, I saw some serious problems, and now I’m looking forward to seeing what can be done to fix those problems. After that, I have the start of a black widow murder mystery.

Please visit my website and sign up for my newsletter at https://www.meroche.com, where I am now adding a section for Book Clubs with questions and personal recipes.

5 Comments

  1. Michael A Black

    Sounds like you’ve got a very interesting family and a great plan for writing. Looking forward to hearing more about your upcoming projects.

    Reply
  2. Pamela Ruthj Meyer

    Great Aunts are the best! Love this idea. And the title, TOOTS, is absolutely perfect.

    Reply
  3. John Schembra

    Interesting background, Peg! You are very meticulous in your writing. and I’m betting it shows in the quality of the book and the story! Looks interesting- I’ll be ordering my copy tomorrow!

    Reply
  4. Marie Sutro

    It must have been so fun to follow your characters into adulthood!

    Reply
  5. Rhonda Blackhurst

    Nice to “meet” you! I imagine you’re happy to be retired from the medical arena after the COVID nightmare. I do my best creating in the morning hours (after working out, walking the dog, and breakfast), but I find I can edit/revise and do business items any time of the day. Wishing you all the best on your new release.

    Reply

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M.E. PROCTOR – With Busy Background–She Prefers Writing Fiction

M.E. Proctor was a freelance journalist for a music magazine and an advertising account executive before becoming a corporate communications advisor. She prefers writing fiction.

She is the author of four dystopian science fiction novels, The Savage Crown Series, and a short story collection, Family and Other Ailments – Crime Stories Close to Home (2023, Wordwooze Publishing).

The first book in her Declan Shaw detective series, Love You Till Tuesday, comes out in August 2024 from Shotgun Honey.

Proctor is a Derringer nominee. Her fiction has appeared in various anthologies and magazines: Vautrin, Stone’s Throw, Mystery Tribune, Black Cat Weekly, Thriller Magazine, and Bristol Noir, among others. Born in Brussels and a long-time Houston resident, she now lives in Livingston, Texas, with her husband, James Lee Proctor, who is also a writer.

Elevator Pitch for Family and Other Ailments: Blood ties, the family we’ve been given, the friends we make, the loves we keep, and those we lose. The twenty-six stories in this collection vacillate on the brink, hovering at the periphery of the possibility of crime. Under a certain light, at an angle, they’re all love stories.

About writing in multiple genres: One of the joys of writing short fiction is genre-hopping. I mostly write crime these days, but I occasionally dip a toe in horror. “Quiet” horror—Stories where everyday life turns into something else and reality starts slipping. A few of these are included in the Family and Other Ailments collection. The dividing line between crime and horror is often blurry. I’m still interested in science fiction and even if I don’t plan to add books to the Savage Crown series, I write short stories when I feel the urge to leave the planet. I think it’s healthy to mix things up. Switching between working on a book and writing short stories keeps things fresh. It’s like varying your workout to exercise different muscles.

The writing process: I’m a short fiction improviser. A story can start with an image, a sentence, or a line of dialogue. I don’t have it all mapped in my head. For example, a girl sits at a window and watches a wasp walk the length of the barrel of the rifle she’s holding. I don’t know who she is or what she’s planning to do. Or what she’s done already. The answers come as the story is being written. No Recoil is one of the pieces in the collection. It starts with the girl and the wasp.

The process is different for a book. I don’t do a real outline, but I have enough of a story idea to start writing a few chapters and get momentum going. Not all the characters are lined up, and the ending is up in the air. After a hundred pages or so, I write a rough storyline: A happens, then B, C, this is character X’s arc, etc. I know where the book is going. The big bullet points are nailed down. Things will still change, especially the finale, and secondary characters might get a bigger role, but I have a handrail I can rely on to avoid getting stuck.

Current projects: A retro-noir novella with a fellow crime writer. I’ve never written in collaboration. It’s an interesting experience. We started with a short story idea, and the manuscript grew bigger. It’s a double POV plot, and we go back and forth between his character and mine. I enjoyed the ping-pong. What if we do this? What happens next, throwing ideas against the wall? We completed a first draft a few weeks ago and are now in the polishing phase. I’ve been obsessing about this project for the past two months, so everything else has been put on the back burner.

Now, I have to work on the very last edits and the preparation for the launch of Love You Till Tuesday, the first book in my Declan Shaw detective series. It comes out in August from publisher Shotgun Honey. There’s more in store for Declan, including a project I started last fall that I feel a strong pull to get back into. The more I write about the guy, the better I know him, and the more time I want to spend with him; a good sign when you plan a series with a recurrent character!

Apart from that, I have short stories in upcoming anthologies and a free Substack newsletter I release every other Thursday – The Roll Top Desk—conversations about books and writing. I’ve been doing it for a year and a half. It’s a nice change of pace from writing fiction.

About writing from the perspective of the opposite sex: A few months ago, I was preparing for a reading, and I expected questions about writing from a female or male point of view. I went through the 26 stories in the collection and counted how many I had on each side. The tally came to thirteen girls/women and twelve boys/guys. One story doesn’t count; it’s a news report.

For me, choosing a main character falls in the same category as deciding to tell the story in first person or third, present or past tense. It’s what feels right for what I want to say. One of the stories in the book Hour of the Bat is inspired by an Edward Hopper painting, Summer Evening. It shows a young couple having a conversation. Looking at it, I knew the story had to be about the girl because of the expression on her face. And it would have to be in first person. It felt natural. I heard her voice.

The main protagonist of my detective books is male. His name popped into my head before I knew what he was doing for a living and what nettles I would drag him through. Declan Shaw was born on my back porch one Labor Day weekend out of the blue. Where the name came from is a mystery (the only Declan I know is Elvis Costello/Declan MacManus). When I stepped in his shoes, I gave him some of my personality traits and added a scoop of attitude and restlessness. To make sure I get the masculine vibe right, all my beta readers are guys. The first and toughest reviewer is my husband. A couple of times, he told me: A man would never say that. I think I got it now.

Favorite author: More than one, as my bookshelves and the library on my e-reader will confirm. It’s a hard choice, but I’ll pick Georges Simenon. I grew up with his books all over the house. Lots of books, the man was insanely prolific. I’ve always been a fast reader, consuming the novels by the pound. My admiration for his work has only increased with time. His writing is deceptively simple. It looks effortless, basic almost, but he catches characters with one line, sometimes with a single word. He’s so good at finding the fault line in mundane situations, the unease behind the appearances. A family at a dinner table, a couple that’s been married a long time, the simmering resentment, the weight of silence, all the things that are not said between lines of dialogue. It’s brilliant.

How do our readers contact you:
I’m on Facebook – Martine Elise Proctor – https://www.facebook.com/martine.proctor
Substack is a good option, too, at The Roll Top Desk – https://meproctor.substack.com
And there’s a contact button on my website: https://www.shawmystery.com
All the format options for the short story collection, Family and Other Ailments, are here:
https://books2read.com/u/3Lx0v5
The science fiction series and all the anthologies are on my Author page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/stores/M.E.-Proctor/author/B009JE9JWI/allbooks

Groups:
Facebook:
Short Mystery Fiction Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/608752359277585
Crime Fiction Writers: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1307945053456724
Criminally Good Reads: https://www.facebook.com/groups/5356552667708259
Thriller, Mystery and Suspense Writers: https://www.facebook.com/groups/290472645391267
Sisters In Crime: https://sistersincrime.tradewing.com/community
On LinkedIn:
Fiction Writers Group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12178764/
Writers and Illustrators Circle: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/3723330/
Detective Fiction Writer’s Group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/4911106/

15 Comments

  1. John Schembra

    Quite a diverse writing style, and background! Interesting point about writing from the prospective of the opposite sex. I’ve found that challenging, to put it simply!

    Reply
    • Martine Proctor

      I often have that conversation with male writers. Some are a bit nervous about it. I believe in finding the empathy and then asking beta readers to comment. If it sounds wrong, they’ll tell you!

      Reply
  2. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Martine, I was interested in your discussion of writing from the perspective of one’s opposite sex. I have less access to beta readers who are male.
    I wonder, though, if the majority of one’s readers are female, maybe those female readers would enjoy a male character’s perspective that FEELS like what THEY (as women) envision or hope for. What do you and George think?

    Reply
    • Martine Proctor

      I’m guilty of putting in some of my male protagonists attitudes or behaviors that appeal to me (even if I don’t write romance!). I have to be careful about being “too cuddly”, but once the guys start acting and speaking in the stories, they pretty much do their own thing. My male beta readers find very little to criticize, so I guess I channeled them properly. After all we live and work together. It isn’t another species 🙂

      Reply
    • George Cramer

      My debut novel, The Mona Lisa Sisters, was primarily from a woman’s POV. Once I got into the swing of it, it was a hoot. I was lucky to have four or five lady friends read as I went along. With only a few suggestions and much support, I was off to the races.

      Once published, not one woman reader complained about the POV.

      So, those sitting on the fence, give it a try.

      Reply
  3. Rhonda Blackhurst

    Like Michael, I like the visual of the wasp on the rifle barrel. Even she did fire the gun before the stroll–the visual was enjoyable. As a mystery novelist, I’ve just recently (the past couple of years) tried my hand at shorter fiction. It’s far more difficult than I thought it would be but helps tighten up my novels. I look forward to reading yours.

    Reply
    • Martine Proctor

      Thank you, Rhonda. Yes, short fiction teaches you to go for the essential. It’s a different rhythm though. There’s a lot of intensity in short fiction, in a book, relaxation is needed. That tightness cannot be sustained without fatigue over 85,000 words.

      Reply
  4. Donna

    Although some already congratulate you i just want to do the same thing congrats I am also a staving writer lol

    Reply
  5. Michael A. Black

    Excellent interview and cogent writing advice, Ms. Proctor. I loved he image of the wasp walking on the rifle barrel. Now that would be a true test of a sniper’s moxie. Best of luck to you on your new one.

    Reply
    • Martine Proctor

      Thank you, Michael. I don’t like wasps 🙂 – if you read the story, you’ll know that the girl fired the gun before the wasp took a stroll…. does it make a difference?

      Reply
  6. Jim Guigli

    I love Martine’s writing. And, she was kind enough to grant me a blurb about one of my short stories.

    Reply
  7. Jacqueline Seewald

    Congratulations on your new novel! Wishing you much success.

    Reply

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JILL AMADIO – Author – Journalist – Ghostwriter – Narrator

Jill Amadio is an author, journalist, ghostwriter, and audiobook narrator from Cornwall, UK. She lives in Westport, CT. She has ghostwritten 17 memoirs, including Rudy Vallee, a U.S. ambassador, a nuclear physicist, an oil baron, a rodeo champion, an inventor, and others. Jill writes three mystery series, a column for a UK online magazine, and for The Writes in Residence. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Authors Guild, and Mystery Writers of America.

What brought you to writing? I won every English award at school and college with my passion for writing, while I failed miserably at math. My life ambition was to be a reporter, and I achieved that goal at newspapers in London, UK; Madrid, Spain; Bangkok, Thailand; and in Westport, CT. I wrote a syndicated column for Gannett Newspapers and an automotive column for Entrepreneur magazine.

Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I write mysteries, novels, true crime, biographies, and ghostwriting memoirs. I was once hired to write a thriller by a client and went on to write my own crime series featuring a British amateur sleuth in America.

Tell us about your writing process. At first, it was daunting to come up with 70,000 words after writing 3,000-word articles. I am lucky to have the drive to write and rarely experience writer’s block. I awake each day eager to get to my necessary research, which can send my plot off in a different direction than planned, but it can also open new scenarios. I always write at my desk because it feels more like working rather than at a café or other outside location.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I am both. I think up a rough idea for a plot, mulling three or four different ways to go, then I expand upon my choice, create the characters, decide on the settings, and then write a two- or three-page outline. Once I begin writing the first draft, however, I become a pantser, which means I feel free to change any of the elements as I go along. As I write I often get better ideas than my original ones, especially when writing dialogue,, and I am always delighted when this happens.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Realizing that my characters try to make their own decisions, I once decided on a particular character as the murderer, but the more I ‘wrote’ her, the more I came to like her, so I picked someone else for the killer, throwing the plot into chaos but eventually fixing it, and keeping her as an ongoing minor character in the series. I’m a great fan of descriptive verbs, and particularity can challenge a writer to create colorful, original detail.

How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist – for the antagonist? Raising the stakes is one of the most exhilarating times of writing a mystery or a thriller, especially with cliffhanger endings worked out for each chapter. I can half-drown someone, have my sleuth flee the murderer with an extraordinary feat, or put characters into great danger with the flick of the keyboard. It all depends on the imagination whether and how any of the victims should be spared or not, whether the killer must be caught in an unexpected, explosive ending, and if the plot is so compelling with a satisfactory ending, the reader eagerly awaits the next book in the series.

Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? No, but they can go off the grid, so to speak, because my sleuth, Tosca Trevant, is a transplanted Brit in California who is often mystified by the lifestyle. I occasionally wish she was more understanding and less impulsive. In my novel based on a true 9/11 story, the protagonist is a real-life young woman who had asked me to ghostwrite her memoir. I eventually published it as fiction, but the book is closer to true crime than novelistic.

What are you currently working on? I have started two new mystery series, as well as completing my third book in the Tosca series. One of the new series features three retired librarians living in a New England fishing village who find murders on their doorstep. The other series’ protagonist is a ghostwriter based in Connecticut who is mistaken for a ghost hunter.

Do you have any advice for new writers? Find the authors you most admire and study their technique, style, and how they craft their stories. Each of us writers has a different, natural talent and means of expressing ourselves in our books, so don’t worry you might be copying your idol. Use them as guidelines.

Jill can be reached through her Facebook page, Jill Amadio, and her website, www.ghostwritingpro.com.

 

2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Hey Jill, I enjoyed your commentary, although I laughed out loudwhen ou said your sleuth is a transplanted Brit who’s mystified by the California lifestyle. I was born here and I’m mystified by California too. Good luck with your writing. You sound like you have great determination, drive, and talent.

    Reply
    • jill amadio

      Thank you, Michael, for your comments. I now live in CT – and it is far more mystifying than CA.

      Reply

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DAVID HALDANE – Dispatches From Paradise

David Haldane, a former Los Angeles Times staff writer, has published three books: an award-winning memoir entitled Nazis & Nudists, a short-story collection called Jenny on the Street, and, his latest, an Amazon bestselling compilation of essays exploring life on a tropical island. He has also written and produced radio features, for which he was awarded a Golden Mike by the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California.

Haldane, along with his wife and two young children, currently divides his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where he writes a weekly column for the Mindanao Gold Star Daily called “Expat Eye.” A compendium of those pieces was published earlier this year under the title A Tooth in My Popsicle and Other Ebullient Essays on Becoming Filipino, a book expressing the joys, triumphs, tribulations, exigencies, and hilarities of expatriate life. You can get it on Amazon.

What brought you to writing? Many years ago, living in a barren unheated apartment in Berlin, Germany, during the coldest winter months, I hit rock bottom. Specifically, I felt lonely, hopeless, abandoned, and extremely depressed at having to wear my fur coat inside and constantly seeing my breath as white wisps of steam. In utter desperation, I started writing letters to friends back home, especially an old girlfriend who’d given me the boot. It became a daily ritual that saved my life. I’ve been writing ever since.

Do you write in more than one genre? Having spent most of my life working as a journalist, I am naturally drawn to nonfiction. After getting laid off in what came to be known as the Mother of All Recessions, however, I later expanded my notion of nonfiction to include, well, things that weren’t entirely true. As in short stories. Mostly, though, I work somewhere between those two extremes in the realms of narrative nonfiction—i.e., stuff that reads like fiction but isn’t—and personal (often also narrative) essay, which pretty much describes my columns. These days, that’s where I really live.

Where do you write? I write wherever I have to, which can range from hotel rooms on my laptop to in bed on my cell phone. Where I prefer to write, though, is in the spacious office on the top floor of the dream house my wife and I built overlooking Surigao Strait at the northernmost tip of Mindanao Island in the Philippines. It has a 180-degree view of the ocean dotted with distant islands and, frankly, is the place wherein I was born to contemplate the blank page. The only distraction I allow is my two-year-daughter and her three-year-old cousin coming in to visit bearing cookies. They are especially fond of jumping on the couch to see whether they can reach the ceiling, a habit I find quite annoying but also hopelessly enchanting. And definitely uninterruptible.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Because most of my writing happens in short bursts, I am, by instinct, a pantser. The idea of plotting something long and complicated is terribly intimidating to me and, frankly, something I can’t even imagine ever doing. What has become an inevitable part of my process, however, is sometimes jotting quick notes after getting an idea, probably in case I forget what it is. Which, I must admit, has happened more than once. After more years of doing this, than I care to admit, I am finally beginning to feel confident in knowing the difference between a mere idea and a genuine story. Still, I don’t always know exactly where it’s going until I sit down to write, which is why the notes help.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I plan to give up writing and become a dog catcher. Just kidding. Actually, I’m planning a sequel, another essay collection starting where this one left off on the theme of surviving a major typhoon that blows the roof of your house and empties all its contents. I’m thinking of calling it Aching Testicles. Also, I just had one of the most amazing experiences of my life; discovering a whole new family in Germany I never knew I had. My mother was a Holocaust survivor who always told us that most of her family got wiped out. It turns out that her brother survived and, not only that, became a prominent journalist, politician, and the father of two children. Not to mention, several other of my grandfather’s descendants of whom we were completely unaware. So now, 90 years later and long after the principles are dead, we’ve all reconnected in a reunion that’s been incredibly emotional for everyone. I think there’s definitely a future book in that: the story of a family tragically torn asunder and then miraculously reunited almost a century later. I’m open to any suggestions for a title.

Do you have any advice for new writers? Sure. First, don’t do it for the money because you probably won’t make much. Pray that writing by actual living human beings rather than AI bots will continue to be a thing, at least until you die. And hope that the next generation retains the ability to read. Finally, don’t become a writer unless you absolutely have to. If it’s not an obsession, don’t even bother.

CONTACT:
Website: https://davidshaldane.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DavidHaldanebooks
Email: davidshaldane@gmail.com

BUY THE BOOK:
Amazon: https://a.co/d/6tiZSUw
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-tooth-in-my-popsicle-david-haldane/1142712082
Lazada: https://www.lazada.com.ph/products/a-tooth-in-my-popsicle-i3545536558-s18264000004.html?

4 Comments

  1. Xavier Fernand Saint

    Some of writing are just looking at the best or all gone living in these hote areas of Surigao del Sur of Mindanao.
    The true is there is a lot of magic in Surigao,
    People are kind and Magic, you do not notice and you lose your wallet.
    During the night Surigao City goes to the darkest one with drinking of horrible rum , beer and juvinal prostitution. I saw group of kids around 12 years old in the street selling themself.
    That is the reality of the city.
    Siargao island sound quite naive but I assume it is getting corrupted.

    As the Spaniards described about Surigao people they are nice, prefer having siestas and have the magic in their culture.

    If you want to know if they have Spanish in their language either Visayan or Tagalog.
    Yes but with different spelling, meaning and pronunciation, it is about 5%
    Now English is 20% in their language.

    Reply
    • David Haldane

      Hi Xavier,
      Thanks for your input, I appreciate your comments and observations. You have seen a seedier side of Surigao that I am only dimly aware of and prefer not to dwell on. And yet, of course, all sorts of things happen everywhere, as I am sure they happen here too. Do you live in Surigao, or come here as a visitor? Again, I thank you for reading the interview and commenting.

      Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Hey, David, good to hear from you again. As far as titles go, I think I’d be avoiding a book called Aching Testicles, but the concept sounds fascinating. As far as the story discovering your family, i think that one has fantastic possibilities. You asked for a title suggestion… I’d go with Delayed Reunion or A Discovery of Things Past. Good luck.

    Reply
    • David Haldane

      Thank for the suggestions, Michael, I like both and will definitely consider them. As for Aching Testicles, well, there seems to a major divergence of opinion on that with some feeling adamantly as you do and others just as adamantly the other way. I suppose it would be a risky choice. Anyway, I deeply appreciate your feedback and suggestions, thank you so much!

      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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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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