A student of many interests, Jim Guigli, has been a SCUBA diver, auto-mechanic, and gunsmith . . .toured Quantico as an FBI Citizens Academy graduate and earned BFA and MA degrees in Art/Photography. Jim is an active member of SMFS, PSWA, & Sacramento CWC.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Both. Start pants, finish with structure.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Real with fictional subparts.
Tell us about your writing process: I get an idea, a title, or one sentence, and then I write.
For example, my short story, Blood on the Stairs, was an idea and a title.
I like the old Dell Map Back mysteries and follow them on eBay. One title, Blood on the Stars, by Brett Halliday (pen name of Davis Dresser) appeared often, but I always read it as, Blood on the Stairs (touch of dyslexia). I put that new title with an idea that came to me after I attended a Left Coast Crime Conference:
What would happen if the attendees at a writers’ conference were encouraged to visit (bother) real local private investigators during the conference?
I already had my PI, Bart Lasiter, and my setting, Old Town Sacramento, with Bart’s fictional building and office. Then I added a murder and some what-ifs to get:
Bart attends a Crime Writers Conference and pencils in a murder.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Both. Start pants, finish with structure.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Real with fictional subparts.
Tell us about your writing process: I get an idea, a title, or one sentence, and then I write. For example, my short story, Blood on the Stairs, was an idea and a title.
Blood on the Stairs is available from Amazon in the fine anthology Murderous Ink:
Crimeucopia – We’ll Be Right Back – After This!
How do our readers contact you? firstname.lastname@example.org
James L’Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars as an influence in his award-winning novels, short stories, and screenplays. He is a former associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, and director of California’s state parole system. His novels have been shortlisted or awarded the Lefty, Anthony, Silver Falchion, and the Public Safety Writers Award.
Face of Greed is his most recent novel. Look for Served Cold and River of Lies, coming in 2024. You can find out more at www.jamesletoile.com
There’s this old saw in literary circles that authors should write what they know. I don’t necessarily agree with that guidance because I often find it more interesting to write about what I want to know. If I’m interested, then maybe the reader will be as well.
But there was a piece of that advice that stuck with me as I wrote Face of Greed. Write what you know, but write it while you can. There is a plotline in the book dealing with the main character’s mother, who is struggling with the ravages of cognitive decline—dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Detective Emily Hunter is a hard-charging investigator working to solve a complex murder of a political powerbroker who has to balance that demanding job with acting as a caretaker for her mother.
Emily’s burden is something many of us with aging parents have experienced or might have waiting for us in the years ahead. It’s a scary thing, and for the purpose of the story, in Face of Greed, it keeps Emily off balance. She’s sure-footed in her role as a detective with keen instincts and a solid partner in Javier Medina to follow the clues and bring down the bad guy. But with dementia and Alzheimer’s, Emily struggles.
One day, her mother is living independently, and the next, she’s had to move in with Emily because her memory lapses had gotten to the point when she nearly burnt her house down, forgetting the stove was on. It’s an insidious disease. Emily has a conversation with her, and she seems “with it,” aware of what’s happening around her. Then, the next moment, she loses touch and thinks Emily is still in high school.
Emily has to balance her responsibilities to her mother as her primary caregiver with the demanding job of a homicide detective. She has no family to rely upon, and she’s not the kind of person to ask for help. Emily must step outside her comfort zone and not only ask for help to care for her mother but make critical decisions for her long-term care.
So where does all this come from, you ask?
I was once in Emily’s shoes. My mother had dementia in her later years. It crept in slowly, and, as I found out, those who experience dementia become clever about filling the gaps in their memory. They’ll invent an idea that fits, and they’re convinced it’s what really happened. For example, I found Mom dressed and ready to go to a doctor’s appointment when I went to her place. I picked her up, and halfway there, she forgot where we were going and decided we were going to the grocery store instead. Another sign was simple decision-making would cause anxiety, so she found a workaround common to people with dementia. At a restaurant faced with dozens of menu options, the deception is, “What are you having? Oh, that sounds good. I’ll have that too.” It’s a workaround so they don’t have to make that decision. All the sensory input from the menu can’t get through.
As a caregiver for an aging parent, the roles are suddenly reversed. You’re now the parent to the much older child. And that dynamic can create a great deal of friction. Emily experiences it, and so did I. The person living with dementia sometimes realizes their life, who they were, is slipping away. They feel lost, disconnected, and alone. Some experience Sundowner’s Syndrome, where they try to leave wherever they are to get “home.” Their perception of home may be a fragment of memory from the distant past.
Caregiving can be difficult for the caregiver as well. It’s exhausting and mentally draining listening for the next sound of an escaping parent or that phone call that they’ve run off or hurt themselves.
I wanted to bring this into Face of Greed for a couple of reasons. It makes Emily struggle to balance her life. She feels guilt and sadness over her mom’s situation. And she realizes she can’t do this alone. She must bring other people into her life and let them help. Asking for help isn’t something that comes naturally to Emily—wonder where she got that from?
But I also wanted to talk about dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease because so many of us have gone through this—parents are aging, and this is an unfortunate common experience. I’ve gotten feedback from many readers who tell me that Emily’s struggle in this area resonated with them. They’d felt similar demands and struggled to find the help their parent needed.
It makes Emily a bit more multi-dimensional, and as tough as she seems, she’s got a big heart. It opens her up to people coming into her life at the right time—as she’s the better for it. I guess we all need to be a little more like Emily. And we all need to write what we know while we can because we don’t know what the future will bring.
Visit Amazon to meet Emily: Face of Greed (A Detective Emily Hunter Mystery) – Kindle edition by L’Etoile, James. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in 1969, I was drafted into the U.S. Army. After basic training and military police school, I spent a year with the 557th M.P. Company at Long Binh, South Vietnam, in 1970. Upon completing my military service, I joined the Pleasant Hill Police Department. I retired in 2001 as a Sergeant after 30 years of service. I was then hired as the lead Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC) instructor for the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office. I have earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Administration of Justice and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration through California State University.
My writing career began when another Sergeant at the police department, a fellow Vietnam veteran, and I swapped stories of our experiences in Vietnam. The other members of the department would listen and began to encourage me to write down my stories. They said it would make a good book. So, taking heed of their advice, I started my first novel. After two years, I began shopping for a publisher, choosing to go the small press route. I was lucky enough to be accepted for publishing by Writers Exchange, and the Vince Torelli series was born with the publishing of M.P., A Novel of Vietnam.
I continued my writing endeavors with my second book, relying on my 30 years of police experience for authenticity. I used the same main character as in M.P., Vince Torelli, now 25 years older and a homicide inspector with the San Francisco Police Department. I have written five books in the Inspector Torelli series, one stand-alone thriller with a paranormal element and a demonic possession horror story. I am currently hard at work on my ninth book, the first in the Detective Sergeant Louisa (Louie) Princeton, Richmond County Sheriff’s Dept, Georgia series.
All my life, I have been an avid reader. I remember my mother taking my brother and me to the local library every two weeks so we could check out books. Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes, and I have always admired authors who could spin a good tale. As such, I get much more pleasure from hearing a reader say they enjoyed one of my books than the royalties from the sale. By the way, my favorite author is Edgar Rice Burroughs.
I want to thank George for having me as a guest on his wonderful blog. He is an accomplished, award-winning author in his own right, and I am proud to call him my friend.
People often ask me what my favorite thing about writing is. I answer unequivocally—researching places, events, and the history of the locations where the stories take place. By making Vince Torelli a San Francisco PD homicide inspector, it is easy, and exceeding interesting, to research scene locations, like the 19th-century tunnels under the city utilized by the killer in The List, to landmarks like Mt. Davidson, where the climax of Blood Debt takes place, to extensive research into demonic possession and exorcism for An Echo of Lies. I have to say- that was VERY frightening!
When I’ve changed locations to places out of the San Francisco Bay Area and California— as I did in several of my books—to Tennessee, Atlanta, Augusta, Northern California, South Carolina, and others, it sparked my research gene to find real places—hotels, restaurants, streets, highways, etc. Most key scenes in the five Vince Torelli books are in those places. Even in my Vietnam book, a work of fiction based in part on some of my personal experiences, takes place in real places, and all the military units—American, South Vietnamese, Viet Cong, and North Vietnamese are actual units that were operating in the area at the time. Using real places, streets, and buildings in my books, I think, adds a touch of realism for the readers. I have received several comments that they recognized certain places and liked it very much. It adds a visual reference to the scene and drama being played out as they read.
As a fun thing, I’ve used the address of my childhood home in one of my books and the name and address of my best friend, a big fan of my books, in another, and knowing my friend will be reading the book, I didn’t tell him what I had done. I gave him a copy and awaited his phone call when he got to where he was mentioned. I also have dedicated a couple of my books to special people in my life, living and deceased. That is special to their families and me.
So, can you tell how much I enjoy writing?
In closing, If I could advise any aspiring writers, there would be two things. First—sit your butt down and write, write, write—the basic mantra for writers.
Second, have fun doing it! It will make your writing more enjoyable and the finished product better!
Please take a moment to visit my website—currently being updated— where the first chapters of some of my books are posted, along with a couple of short stories. And thanks for taking the time to read this.
Follow me at my Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100023497601286
Austin S. Camacho is the author of eight novels about Washington DC-based private eye Hannibal Jones, five in the Stark and O’Brien international adventure-thriller series, and the detective novel Beyond Blue. His short stories have been featured in several anthologies, and he is featured in the Edgar nominated African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study by Frankie Y. Bailey. He is a past president of the Maryland Writers Association, past Vice President of the Virginia Writers Club, and one of the directors of the Creatures, Crimes & Creativity literary conference – now in its 10th year.
Subtle Felonies – Is retired basketball star Xander Brown missing or kidnapped? His crazy family and dangerous friends draw DC detective Hannibal Jones into a deadly chase to find – or rescue – a complex man. In public, Xander is a husband, father, partner, and friend, but who is he in private? Which role took him away?
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. My primary work is detective fiction – The Hannibal Jones mystery series. I love writing about a private eye’s adventures. My mysteries have complex plots and tend to be deep character studies. But writing about a PI walking the mean streets of Washington, DC, I’ve noticed the stories getting darker and grittier because I strive for realism. But I also write straight-up thrillers. The Stark & O’Brien novels feature a mercenary soldier and a jewel thief who have formed a personal protection company and do odd jobs for the CIA. It’s great fun and not as dark as the noir style of my mysteries. I’m told the action in my thrillers feels more like the Indiana Jones movies.
Who’s your favorite author? There are too many to name, but if I have to choose one, it would be Raymond Chandler. His prose is near poetry, and let’s face it, Phillip Marlowe is the detective we all chase in our writing. But Ross McDonald wrote the best plots of any mystery writer I’ve read. And Elmore Leonard created the best characters, bar none.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I have never based a character on a real person. However, some of my characters are an amalgam of people I’ve known or read about. Some real life people are almost archetypes – Rupert Murdoch and Elon Musk are examples. Oddly, several people I know personally have accused me of using them as the model for one of my characters. I guess my fictional people are real enough that they see themselves in them.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I have to outline and don’t understand how anyone can write otherwise. In order to build a puzzle that is a good mystery, I have to plant clues at the right times, and pacing is important in mystery AND thriller fiction. And I have to know where the story is going in order to cut unnecessary stuff. How do you do that without an outline? Of course, during the writing, things change, and the story will veer away from the original outline, but I always know where I’m going, so I never get lost in the story and never feel writer’s block.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? As soon as I finish a Hannibal Jones novel, ideas appear for another. But I’m also starting a new series about a Black female professional assassin named Skye. It is being so much fun to write.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Stick with the basics. Write every day. Write to the end of your story before you begin to rewrite. Accept that your first draft is just piling sand into your sandbox. You build your castle in the rewrites, and you can expect to do that three or four times. And join a strong critique group. Others will always see things in your writing that you miss.
I am an active member of:
Mystery Writers of America (Mid-Atlantic Chapter),
International Thriller Writers,
Sisters in Crime,
Virginia Writers Club,
Maryland Writers Association.
Public Safety Writers Association
Reach me on
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/austin.camacho.author/
Twitter at @ascamacho
website – https://ascamacho.com/
Buy my latest, Subtle Felonies, at https://www.amazon.com/Subtle-Felonies-Hannibal-Jones-Mystery/dp/B0CBWN5V1X/
Or see all my novels at https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Austin+S.+Camacho&i=stripbooks&s=review-count-rank&crid=27N759Y4XYN1R&qid=1653645317&sprefix=austin+s.+camacho%2Cstripbooks%2C70&ref=sr_st_review-count-rank
Mary Keliikoa is the author of award-winning Hidden Pieces and Deadly Tides in the Misty Pines mystery series, the award nominated PI Kelly Pruett mystery series, and the upcoming Don’t Ask, Don’t Follow out June 2024. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World and in the Peace, Love and Crime anthology.
A Pacific NW native, she admits to being that person who gets excited when called for jury duty. When not in Washington, you can find Mary with her toes in the sand on a Hawaiian beach. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun, she’s plotting her next murder—a novel that is. www.marykeliikoa.com
There’s an adage that would-be writers often hear when working on their first pieces: write what you know. In fact, in the beginning, and even now, it was advice that I heard quite often. And I don’t disagree. There is wisdom to that. Among other things, when one is so busy making things up, as we fiction writers do, it’s nice to lean into some solid information that we have personal knowledge about. It saves on research, for sure. But let’s face it—one’s knowledge base can only go so far. And I believe that in addition to what you know, writing what you want to learn about, understand, or what fascinates you can add richness to a story.
When I wrote the first book in the Misty Pines mystery series, HIDDEN PIECES, I decided to set the series in a place I was familiar with. That’s why I chose the Oregon coast, where my parents moved our family when I was a toddler.
While I don’t remember much about those early years, by the time I reached the age of five, many things about the coast stuck: the mist and the cool weather that never seemed to end, and that saturated our clothes was near the top. But also the moss laden trees in the towering forests. The hum of the ocean waves reverberating in the air. The sheer rock cliffs and violent eddies at their base. The call of the seagulls overhead, the bark of sea lions on the rocks, and the brackish smell of seaweed.
I also knew the people that chose that area as home. The family-like atmosphere where everyone knows your business. That the worry lines on the face of a fisherman’s wife don’t soften until he’s safely back across the bar. That fish and chips, and beer are necessary fare when gathering to tell tall fish tales at the local gathering hole.
I know the intriguing items that wash up along the ocean beaches, which was an absolute treat for the treasure hunter in me. From glass fishing floats and sand dollars to various creatures in the tidal pools, I could spend hours running along the ocean shores.
Setting I knew. But I also wanted to explore what I wanted to understand. In the Misty Pines series, that is grief—and the desperate need for redemption. In Hidden Pieces, I focused on a true crime that happened in my hometown where two girls went out walking and a car stopped. One girl never made it home. Using that as a backdrop, I explored how an individual might cope with a tragedy like that in their life…or perhaps not cope so well.
In DEADLY TIDES, the second book in the series out now, I went in another direction. I was interested in a phenomenon that has occurred with some regularity in the Pacific Northwest: severed feet washing ashore. Crazy enough, that has been happening for over the past decade. As to who the feet belong to, sadly, many have been victims of accidents, and some due to suicide. However, I write mystery with a dose of suspense, so of course, I chose a more nefarious cause.
Which brings me back to why those feet washed ashore—and understanding what might drive someone to such a gruesome act. And that led me back to that element of grief and how it might change a person.
Sometimes, it takes them to the edge, questioning their own existence. Sometimes, it has them acting out in a way they would not otherwise. Sometimes, grief morphs into bitterness and erodes an individual’s very core.
I explore this in the Misty Pines series through my main characters because it is a subject that I am familiar with…but want to understand. And here’s what I’ve learned.
Grief is a pesky neighbor that shows up at one’s window unannounced and knocks insidiously until it’s let in. There’s always the option to hide—close the window shade and pretend not to be home. But at some point, you have to come out. And grief, like that neighbor, will be waiting. Sometimes, it’s best to just let them in because they aren’t going anywhere—and one might as well learn to live peaceably next door to it because the alternative could be dire…at least that’s the direction I take in my novels. Like those feet, which thankfully I never ran across, severed or otherwise, when out beachcombing as a kid.
Now that I have a better understanding of grief… I’m on the lookout for the next thing to understand that fascinates me and that I can weave into my next story. I have a feeling it won’t be a problem!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: www.marykeliikoa.com
Kelly Oliver is the award-winning and bestselling author of three mystery series: the seven-book contemporary suspense series, The Jessica James Mysteries; the three-book middle grade kid’s series, Pet Detective Mysteries; and the soon to be seven-book historical cozy series, The Fiona Figg Mysteries.
Kelly is currently President of National Sisters in Crime.
When she’s not writing novels, Kelly is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emerita at Vanderbilt University. To learn more about Kelly and her books, go to www.kellyoliverbooks.com.
Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie in this charming historical cozy. “A delightful English countryside mystery with two handsome suitors and twists and turns worthy of Agatha Christie herself!” – Amanda Flower, USA Today Bestselling Author.
London, 1918 –
Fiona Figg finds herself back in Old Blighty, saddled with shuffling papers for the war office. Then, a mysterious card arrives, inviting her to a fancy house party at Mentmore Castle. This year’s Ascot-themed do will play host to a stable of animal defense advocates, and Fiona is tasked with infiltrating the activists and uncovering possible anti-war activity.
Disguised as the Lady Tabitha Kenworthy, Fiona is more than ready for the “mane” event, but the odds are against her when both her arch nemesis, dark-horse Fredrick Fredricks, and would-be fiancé Lieutenant Archie Somersby arrive unexpectedly and “stirrup” her plans. And when a horse doctor thuds to the floor in the next guest room, Fiona finds herself investigating a mysterious poisoning with some very hairy clues.
Can Fiona overcome the hurdles and solve both cases or will she be put out to pasture by the killer?
Today and every day, I’m grateful for writing. Writing enables me to live. It’s a necessity and not an option. Because of that, I’m especially thankful for readers. At this point, having readers respond to my writing is the most gratifying part of my life.
I began my writing career as a philosophy graduate student and then as a philosophy professor. I wrote nonfiction and scholarly works for decades. I wrote my first fiction, a mystery novel, almost ten years ago. Last December, I retired from Vanderbilt University to write novels full-time. I loved my philosophy career. But I was ready for a new challenge.
One of the greatest joys and challenges of my current writing projects is writing historical characters. I have three mystery series, and only one of them is historical. While I enjoy all of them, writing characters based on real-life people is especially fun.
For example, many of the characters in the latest Fiona Figg & Kitty Lane Mystery, Arsenic as Ascot—out next Tuesday and available for pre-order now—were inspired by real people.
Emilie Augusta Louise Lind af Hageby, known as Lizzy Lind, was a Swedish-born animal activist who founded the Purple Cross for horses and started the first veterinary field hospitals for military animals. She did enter medical school at the University of London to expose their vivisectionist cruelties. And she co-founded—with Lady Nina Douglas, Duchess of Hamilton—the Animal Defense Society with an office on Piccadilly. Nina used her estate at Ferne as a sanctuary for animals abandoned during the war, especially World War II, when food was in such short supply that many pet owners could no longer afford to feed themselves and their pets.
The character of Dr. Sergei Vorknoy is inspired by Dr. Serge Voronoff, known as the “monkey gland expert” and the “monkey gland doctor.” The real Dr. Voronoff, a Russian immigrant, grafted tissue from chimpanzee testicles onto wealthy men and their horses. He claimed the operation would restore youth and vitality and boost intelligence. He performed his operations mainly in France but also in England. This “side hustle” made him rich. Seems lots of wealthy men were ready to give it a go.
The novel Lady Sybil is loosely based on Lady Sybil Grant, daughter of Lord Archibald Primrose, Earl of Rosebery, who served as the prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1894–1895. He did close the gates to one of his estates, The Durdans when his son left to fight and never again reopened them. And after his wife, Hannah de Rothschild, died, he wore mourning for the rest of his life. He was also an avid horse lover and owned several stables and racehorses. He did not, however, hide horses from the War Office, and neither did his groom. Lady Sybil was known for her unconventional ways, including climbing trees, issuing orders with a bullhorn, and traveling with the caravan of Romani she allowed to camp on the estate. Don’t you just love this?
My recurring baddie, Fredrick Fredricks, is inspired by real-life spy Fredrick “Fritz” Joubert Duquesne, the South African huntsman who escaped from prison several times in outrageous ways, adopted several personae and generally charmed his way through high society posing as a New York journalist, a British army officer, and a Russian duke. One of his aliases was indeed Fredrick Fredricks. He was also the leader of an infamous Duquesne spy ring in World War II until his capture in one of the largest espionage convictions in United States history. Fredrick Fredricks is a fan favorite and one of mine, too!
Some of the joys of writing historical characters is learning about fascinating people like these. For a writer, their stories provide built-in plots, which is nice. The challenge is finding an appropriate voice and fleshing them out. Research only gets you so far. Sure. You can learn facts about someone’s life. But that doesn’t tell you who they were. Taking a journey into the head of a historical figure is both exhilarating and an enormous responsibility.
My goal is to tell a good story inspired by real-life characters and true events. Creative license is key to both starting and finishing any project. Without it, I would be paralyzed. Thankfully, at the end of the day, mine are fiction, not history books.
I love historical mysteries because I can learn about history while enjoying a rip-roaring good story.
What do you love about historical mysteries?
Arsenic at Ascot LINKS
Apple Books https://books.apple.com/us/book/arsenic-at-ascot/id6463619182
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/arsenic-at-ascot-kelly-oliver/1143980413
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CD3N2XSH/
Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/Arsenic-Ascot-Fiona-Kitty-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0CD3N2XSH/
Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/Arsenic-Ascot-Fiona-Kitty-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0CD3N2XSH/
Kobo CA: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/arsenic-at-ascot