PROFESSOR HARINI NAGENDRA Visits from India & Shares Her Debut Novel

Harini Nagendra is a Professor of Sustainability at Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India, and has written several non-fiction books, including the award-winning Cities and Canopies: Trees in Indian Cities. The Bangalore Detectives Club, the first book in the Detective Kaveri mysteries, is her first novel. She lives in Bangalore with her family.

The Bangalore Detectives Club is the first in a charming, joyful, cozy crime series set in 1920s Bangalore, featuring sari-wearing detective Kaveri and her husband, Ramu. Solving crimes isn’t easy. Add a new marriage and a jealous mother-in-law into the mix, and you’ve got a problem. But Kaveri finds nothing is too difficult – not when you have a talent for math, a head for logic, and a doctor for a husband.

Do you write in more than one genre? Yes, I have written several popular non-fiction books on nature and the environment – part of my day job as an ecologist and university professor. I also write a regular monthly Sunday newspaper column. Writing non-fiction is a very different process – I write tight, to a specified word count, and need to make every word count. I need to switch off my non-fiction voice very firmly in order to write fiction, or else I can never get going!

What brought you to writing? From when I can remember, I’ve always written – at first, short stories for school newsletters, then a small ‘book’ for my father when he was living in a different city for a while. Writing is a huge stress-buster for me and one of the things I love doing the most.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write anywhere and everywhere, but my favourite writing spot is on an old couch in my bedroom. I drink copious amounts of tea as I write – Indian masala tea, or chai, with milk and many spoons of sugar. When I’m especially stuck, I ask Alexa to play old Indian movie songs – period music, for inspiration.

Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Sisters in Crime, and Mystery Writers of America, have been of huge help. I’m beginning a career in fiction writing late in life – my first book will be published in the same month I turn fifty. I’m also based in India, thousands of miles from where my books are being published in the US and UK. Thanks to SinC and MWA, I have met so many incredibly supportive authors, attended virtual happy hours, and made some good friends – and lucked out on blog opportunities such as this one!

How long did it take you to write your first book? The Bangalore Detectives Club is my first fiction book. I wrote a number of short stories when I was younger. And I have written non-fiction books, but that’s always been easy, as they are largely based on my research as a career academic. I never thought I could write a full-length novel.

Sometime in 2007, the main protagonist, Kaveri, apparated into my mind and demanded that I write about her. In my innocence, I thought it would take me a few months at most – I was then pregnant with my daughter. I believed I could churn out the book in the few months that I planned to take slow with my new baby, rocking her with one hand while typing with the other. Boy, was I naïve. It took me fourteen years to complete the book and bring it to publication. The best part of the long journey is that my daughter, now a teen, is one of my best beta-readers (the other is my husband)! With a three-book series in hand, I can’t afford to take fourteen years for each new book. I need to write a new book every year and shift gear into a different mode. My day job is hectic – I teach, lead a research centre, and do quite a bit of research administration, so finding time to write is not easy. But thanks to my long experience with writing non-fiction, I’m used to squeezing time out to write in brief chunks – it all adds up.

How long to get it published? I was very fortunate. My agent, Priya Doraswamy of Lotus Lane Literary, is an old school friend from Bangalore. She really ‘got’ the book from the start and was a great help in pushing me to the finish line and helping me edit and revise the book into shape. That took about six months. Then things moved very quickly. Within a few weeks, Priya found a terrific publisher in Little Brown UK’s Constable and Robinson imprint, which specializes in crime fiction. Later, Pegasus Books acquired the US rights.

How do you come up with character names? That’s relatively easy. I look for common Indian names of the era I’m writing, which are specific to the community I’m writing about – I try and make sure they’re relatively easy for a foreign audience to pronounce, but that’s about it. I did make a blooper when I realized (just before the book was going into copy-editing) that one of my main characters, who had a very common name – think Mike or Anne in the US – shared her name with at least two close family members, and one friend, any of whom might take offence. I quickly changed her name to a less common one. Now I try to make sure that I select names of people that I do not know personally.

We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? My characters certainly run the show. Two new characters – Inspector Ismail and a woman in trouble, Mala – were not part of my original plot. Still, they turned up one day, inserted themselves onto the page, and insisted on taking the story in a different direction. They’re terrific, and I have enjoyed getting to know them – I guess I just need to get comfortable with giving up control.

What kind of research do you do? My series is set in 1920s Bangalore, during the British colonial era, and I need to get the setting right. I’m fortunate to have a large amount of archival material on Bangalore history, which I’ve collected over the years as part of my work on Bangalore’s ecological history, but I do need to re-read to gather details on the architecture, weather, traffic conditions, and other important aspects that determine the setting. I read old newspapers to get the little details, such as a notice of a flower exhibition or a workers’ strike. And to understand the social milieu, I talk to my mom, who is in her 80s. Her grandmothers came of age in the same era that my protagonists did. The stories my mom tells, passed on from her grandmothers, give me an intimate glimpse into women’s domestic lives in 1920s Bangalore and help me to understand their daily joys and obstacles in a way that historical documents simply cannot match.

How do our readers contact you?

12 Comments

  1. Lori Roberts Herbst

    I can’t wait to read this book! Congratulations, and best wishes for many more to come!

    Reply
    • Harini Nagendra

      Thank you Lori! Looking forward to reading your next book soon too.

      Reply
  2. Monica

    I am hoping to read the book soon I can get my hands on it. Keep writing and inspiring.

    Reply
    • Harini Nagendra

      Many thanks for reading, Monica!

      Reply
  3. Ravi Sekhar

    Great Stuff, Harini! The genre of detective writing has always been fascinating in India and the duel between the Sleuth (wonderful film that) and the Inspector makes wonderful reading, The number of television series bears testimony to the fact. “The game is afoot,Watson!”

    Reply
    • Harini Nagendra

      Ravi – indeed yes, from the age-old days of Feluda and other Indian detectives, this has been a fascinating genre. Female sleuths have been relatively sparse in India thus far (with some terrific exceptions like Sujata Massey’s Parveen Mistry series, and Vaseem Khan’s Persis Wadia) – and hopefully now my sleuth as well, Kaveri Murthy. I hope you enjoy the book!

      Reply
  4. Shyam Suri

    Can’t wait to get my hands on your book Harini

    Reply
    • Harini Nagendra

      Thanks so much! Looking forward to this too

      Reply
  5. Michael A. Black

    This sounds like a fascinating era to write about. I hope your book provides a cultural bridge between our two countries. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Harini Nagendra

      Thank you Michael! I hope so indeed. –Harini

      Reply
  6. Marilyn Meredith

    That sounds like book I would love. I have several Indian friends and I’ll let them know about your book too. Best of luck with it and your future writing.

    Reply
    • Harini Nagendra

      Thank you Marilyn! That would be great – and much appreciated. I hope you enjoy the book. Cheers, Harini

      Reply

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VIRGIL ALEXANDER – Miner – Arizona Historian – Author

Virgil Alexander was born in his parent’s home in rural Gila County between Globe and Miami, Arizona. His uncles and cousins worked in law enforcement for various agencies. His dad was a volunteer reserve deputy, so he grew up with a lot of cop-talk. His father raised subsistence livestock and kept horses, so as a youth, he spent a lot of time taking care of these. His recreation was camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, and riding. His hot summer afternoons were spent reading at the Miami and Globe public libraries. He enjoyed history, mysteries, westerns, and Arizona geography and nature.

He worked for 42 years in mining jobs, from laborer to corporate management. After retirement, he began consulting with museums on mining and Arizona history, researching and writing papers for the Historical Society, and articles for newspapers, magazines, and webpages. He is a member of the Arizona Historical Society, Public Safety Writer’s Association (PSWA), Western Writers of America, Southwest Writers, and Storymakers. He has won awards from the PSWA in categories: Best Published Fiction Book and Best Non-fiction Published Article.

Alexander’s contemporary rural police series, the Deputy Allred & Apache Officer Victor Series, consists of five mysteries published by Aakenbaaken & Kent. Broken Earth is the 5th book.  Alexander’s books are infused with real settings in which the natural and human history of the place is part of the setting. The western lifestyle of ranching, farming, timber, and mining feed into the stories, as does the contemporary Hispanic, Mormon, and Native American cultures.

Broken Earth: Released by Aakenbaaken & Kent on October 6, 2021.

Sergeant Al Victor must walk a thin line between legal ethics and sacred Apache secrets when a fellow medicine man goes bad and flees into the sacred Broken Earth.

My Writing In my pre-retirement career I wrote technical manuals, standard operating procedures, research papers, and training manuals. I also wrote public communications articles and project newsletters. This turned out to be a handicap when I started writing fiction. I sent my first draft of Wham Curse to an editor, and she called me and asked, “Are you an engineer?”

“I’m a technical superintendent.”

“I thought so. You write like an engineer; STOP IT!” She then spent several weeks teaching me not to write like an engineer.

When I’m actually writing my story, I have the general idea in mind. From this, I create a simple outline to refer back to when I start wondering where is this going? But I don’t write to the outline; I let the story flow as it goes. This impromptu style often takes turns I didn’t plan on and often requires adapting earlier parts of the story to make more sense.

I write in vignettes representing one viewpoint, either of a character or the all-knowing narrator. In order to keep track of characters, I maintain a spreadsheet of all my regular and minor characters. So a jeweler, or medical examiner, or rancher from an earlier book might reappear in the book I’m working on when I need one of those people. Likewise, I track all the vignettes and storylines on a spreadsheet. These allow me to control my clues and events in a logical sequence.

Because my books involve two neighboring agencies, I always have multiple storylines. Some of them involve both the Sheriff’s Office and the Tribal Police, and others only involve one of the agencies. So I may have from three to six major storylines, plus quite a few minor ones.

I write several strong women characters in my books, principally Deputy Pat Haley, but also FBI agents, a State Department attorney, ranch women,  and Deputy Sanchez’s petit wife, Jennie, who in one of the books shoots a bad guy to save her husband. How do I write my women characters? I think of a man then take away reason and accountability… Wait. No, that was Jack Nicholson.  I base my women on women I know or have known. I was fortunate in my career to work with many outstanding and competent women, many in nontraditional roles. The women closest to me, my wife and daughters, are highly accomplished and leaders in their chosen fields.

I generally do a lot of research as I write. Since I really have no idea where my story may take me, about the only preparatory research I do is on the places I plan to use and if I have a particular source of murder I want to pursue. So when I wrote scenes in Chaco Canyon, I researched the place, as well as the organizational structure of the park, the routes that can be used, hotels and restaurants my people would use, etc. Then as I develop the story, I research new items as they pop up.

I use real places for my settings, including towns, streets, specific stores, cafes, wilderness trails, mountains, rivers, hospitals, etc. The only time I use a fictional place is if the place is really bad so that I won’t put a bad light on a real place. If somebody gets food poisoning at a restaurant, it will be a nonexistent place.

Many of my characters are based on real people I have known. I don’t say who I translate as a character because some would be honored, and some would sue. Most are a conglomerate of several people from whom I’ve borrowed their looks, integrity, dark side, or manner of speech.

Looking forward, I will likely write more books in this series. I would also like to get my book on the history of ranching in Gila County finished up. I have been dabbling in writing an epic historical novel using all real people and history to track the western movement of the American frontier, factual but written in novel style.

George, I appreciate the opportunity to appear on your blog. If anyone wants to know more about me, they can go to my webpage to see an expanded bio, all my books, my blog, coming events, photos, and more at: https://virgilalexander.weebly.com/

3 Comments

  1. Marilyn Meredith

    Well, I learned some new information about Virgil, this was a great post.

    Reply
  2. Madeline Gornell

    Wonderful hearing more about you, Virgil, especially your growing up background! Congratulations on your writing and continued success! Have a great 2022.

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Hey, Virgil, it’s great to hear from you. I look forward to hearing more about your writing, especially that big historical novel. Good luck with your writing.

    Reply

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I GUESS FAULKNER WAS RIGHT by Abigail Keam

Abigail Keam is an award-winning and Amazon best-selling author who writes the Josiah Reynolds Mystery Series about a Southern beekeeper turned amateur female sleuth. The Last Chance For Love Series tells of strangers who come from all walks of life to the magical Last Chance Motel in Key Largo and get a second chance at rebuilding their lives and The Princess Maura Fantasy Series.

Award-winning author Abigail Keam welcomes you to her new mystery series—the Mona Moon Mysteries—a rags-to-riches 1930s mystery series that includes real people and events into the storyline. The new series is about a cartographer who is broke and counting her pennies when there is a knock at her door. A lawyer representing her deceased uncle announces Mona has inherited her uncle’s fortune and a horse farm in the Bluegrass. Mona can’t believe it. She is now one of the richest women in the country and in the middle of the Great Depression!

William Faulkner’s line, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” is one of the most quoted lines in American 20th century fiction and resonates today in all literature, including historical mysteries.

Does history revolve in circles or undulate in waves? The same patterns keep emerging—the same type of grifters who try to con the gullible, the same type of heroes who risk everything, and those who watch from the sidelines.

I have always been fascinated by history and knew I wanted to write an entertaining mystery series where I could combine fiction with historical fact.

When I began writing my 1930s Mona Moon Mysteries, I decided to weave real people and events into the story line. I wanted to make those mysteries come alive with both the saints and the scoundrels of the day. After doing much research, I discovered that the 1930s had been politically explosive like the 1960s and today, with many of the same issues still confronting the world. So how does one incorporate themes of social justice, world events, and conflict into a mystery and write a story that is still entertaining and fun to read? Not with a hammer, but with a soft wave of a woman’s hand fan.

One way is to give voice to a female protagonist to whom women will relate. The second is not to become “preachy.” My job as a mystery writer is to author an engaging story with facts that enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the book—not deter. One thing that helps is that my intrepid champion speaks from the perspective of a gal who needed grit and resolve to survive the harrowing years of the Great Depression. She is my “every woman.”

Enter Mona Moon, my American cartographer, who is broke with no prospects in sight. Not good news for a single woman in one of the worst years of the Depression. A man, wearing a Homburg hat, knocks on her tenement door after midnight. She answers with a pistol in hand. The man announces he is a lawyer representing her estranged dead uncle and informs Mona that she has inherited the Moon family fortune.

With that introduction, I plucked Mona from New York City and planted her on a horse farm in Kentucky’s Bluegrass where Mona discovers that half of her farmhands can barely read or write. Her bank refuses to give her credit because she’s a woman, and the employees at the Moon copper mines are threatening to strike due to low pay. All three concerns were real issues in the 1930s, which caused protests/riots in the dark days of the Depression—lack of educational opportunities, women’s economic rights, and workers scraping by on subsistence pay.

Throughout the series, I write about the influential people of the day such as Mary Breckinridge, founder of the Frontier Nursing Service; Gertrude Bell, Far East cartographer and founder of the National Museum of Iraq; Albert “Happy” Chandler, governor of Kentucky and Baseball Commissioner who integrated baseball, Jack Keene, founder of Keeneland Race Course, and Alice Roosevelt, daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt. Alice was witty, provocative, and politically astute, a force in her own right. She was one of the most quoted and socially followed women of her day. To write scenes between Alice and Mona sparring with each other was a pure delight. Having such accomplished women disagree on how to hold the fabric of society together and then solve a murder mystery collectively made me giddy with delight. The words just flew from the keyboard. I hardly had to fictionalize much of Alice’s dialogue. I used many of her famous quotes in the novel and stayed as true to her real character as possible.

  • “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”
  • “My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding, and the baby at every christening.”
  • “I have a simple philosophy: Fill what’s empty. Empty what’s full. Scratch where it itches.”
  • “My specialty is detached malevolence.”

And by using Alice Roosevelt as a character in Murder Under a Black Moon 6, I will be able to segue to Mona meeting Eleanor Roosevelt, Alice’s first cousin, in Murder Under A Full Moon 7. I have spent many an hour imagining what those three astute women would discuss over lunch.

I believe Faulkner was right about the past. It is never dead, and writers can incorporate the past into their historical mysteries, making them richer. If a reader enjoys the mystery and learns something as well, then I am thrilled because we should all be keepers of history. And as we all know from a good mystery, secrets from the past never stay buried. See you between the pages.

Miss Abigail would love to hear from you!

3 Comments

  1. LISA TOWLES

    Abigail, Murder Under a New Moon sounds intriguing and shines a light on an important time in history. Can’t wait to read it! p.s. I love your cover

    Reply
  2. Mary Hagen

    I love history. It does repeat itself so we should know our history. Eleanore Roosevelt is one of the great ladies of the thirties, fourties. I will love reading about her. Alice Roosevelt was an interesting character, too. 0

    Reply
  3. Michael A, Black

    Abigail, your books sound very interesting. The 1930’s is a decade that so often gets overlooked. I’m glad you’re exploring it in your series. Any plans to pout Amelia Earhart or Bessie Coleman in the books? The perimeter road around O’Hare International Airport here in Chicago is named after Miss Coleman. Good luck.

    Reply

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ELLEN KIRSCHMAN, PhD. – Public Safety Psychologist – Author

Ellen Kirschman, PhD. is an award-winning public safety psychologist and author of I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, I Love a Firefighter: What the Family Needs to Know, lead author of Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know, and four mysteries, all told from the perspective of police psychologist Dr. Dot Meyerhoff. She blogs with Psychology Today and is a member of Sisters-in-Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the Public Safety Writers Association.

Thanks, George, for inviting me back just in time for the December 12th launch of my latest, never-before-published fourth Dot Meyerhoff mystery—The Answer to His Prayers—and my first venture into the world of independent publishing.

Poor Dot is in trouble again. She’s trying to plan her wedding to Frank when a 911 dispatcher takes the worst call of her young life. As Dot helps track down the possible arsonist, she proves herself a sensitive yet doggedly persistent sleuth—even when ordered to mind her own business. The case drags her through the seedy underbelly of her small town and finally to the local prison where she meets the imprisoned puppet master Badger, who is an unexpected acquaintance from her past. Badger believes Dot is the only one who can help him get what he wants most in life—contact with a son he’s never met. Stopping at nothing, including kidnapping, his efforts to bend Dot to his will endangers Dot and everyone she loves.

Crime is not the only thing on Dot’s mind. Her anxiety about getting married is causing rifts in her relationship with Frank. Memories of her family and her first marriage are overwhelming, prompting Dot to start therapy with Dr. Philipp Rogoff. Their relationship is contentious. Dot thinks Rogoff doesn’t know what he’s doing. Rogoff thinks Dot is resistant to his advice and only pretending to want help.

I had a good time writing this book, especially the dueling relationship between Dot and Dr. Rogoff. Therapists make the worst clients. Ask me; I’ve been on both sides of the couch. I loved writing about Rivka Meyerhoff, Dot’s plucky widowed mother. Rivka’s rants about anti-Semitism are timely, given the recent rise in hate crimes against Jews. Even though I am Jewish, writing and thinking deeply about what it means to be Jewish in the modern world is a first for me. I have written about religion before. Buddhism is at the heart of The Fifth Reflection, as the mother of a missing child cloaks her pain with kindness, frustrating the police who need her cooperation to catch the abductor.

What I’m Working on Now: Moral choice and moral pain are themes in many of my books, including my WIP, a standalone that is taking up a lot of my time. The provisional title is Call me Carmela. It’s the story of a young girl searching for her birth parents. What she discovers will destroy one family and heal another. The theme is courage: The courage to let go of someone you love, the courage to overcome trauma to help someone who needs you, and the courage to pursue justice, no matter the cost.

For the first time ever, I joined NaNoWriMo with my buddy, Anne Gelder, author of much short fiction and the enchanting, off-beat novel, Bigfoot and the Baby. Another first, I joined up with a NaNoWriMo sub-group of the NorCal Sisters-in-Crime chapter. About ten of us, including our blog host George Cramer, met online almost every day for a short chat and shared writing time. It was more helpful than I anticipated. It helped me stay on track, kept me accountable, and reduced the isolation that is part of any writer’s life. These groups will continue after NaNoWriMo. I intend to keep on going.

Another first is the entrance into the world of independent publishing. When my traditional publisher rejected The Answer to His Prayers, I decided to get my rights back so that I could publish the series all under one roof. I am working with an online marketer. All four books are now available as eBooks on Amazon, with a boxed set coming in January. So far, so good. The first book in the series, Burying Ben, was a #1 best seller in the Kindle Store, Literature & Fiction, Women Sleuths, Police Procedurals, and Jewish American Fiction. The others are also doing better than ever before. Stay tuned to see where this heads.

Thanks again, George, for the opportunity to vent, crow, and indulge in SSP. I am happy to assist my fellow writers with any questions they may have about police psychology, PTSD, psychotherapy, self-publishing, etc. Your readers can follow my occasional blog on Psychology Today or sign up for my occasional newsletter at www.ellenkirschman.com. New signers get a copy of my mini-memoir about my short-lived career as a dance hall hostess.

28 Comments

  1. Lisa Towles

    Great interview, George and Ellen, wonderful to hear more about your milieu and your forthcoming projects! #inspiration

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Thanks Lisa. Good luck with your launch of 95, it’s really a good read.

      Reply
  2. Vinnie

    Good books. I look forward to reading the fourth, Ellen.

    Reply
  3. Thonie Hevron

    I’ve read all your books and am eagerly awaiting the new one! Happy Holidays, Ellen. Hope to see you next year at PSWA.

    Reply
  4. Marilyn Meredith

    This was a wonderful post. So glad to see what you’ve accomplished. I too hope you can come to the next PSWA conference. Also wondered about your independent publishing experience and your online marketer. Would be a great panel topic.

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Hi Marilyn
      I am waiting to see how being an indie works out. So far, so good. Fingers crossed we’ll both be at PSWA.

      Reply
  5. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    I’ve read I Love A Cop and Burying Ben. That means I’ll be reading more of your books because I enjoyed those two so much. I Love A Cop was very insightful and made me see things I hadn’t seen before in my 41 years in law enforcement. Keep up the great work you do as well as your writing.

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Hi Joe- what a compliment coming from you, such an experienced LEO. I’m blushing.

      Reply
  6. Ellen Kirschman

    Hi Vicki: thanks for reading and writing. So nice to meet new readers.

    Reply
  7. Ellen Kirschman

    Hi Margaret: Thanks for your wishes. I do hope our paths cross in person some day.

    Reply
  8. Heidi Noroozy

    Ellen, your WIP sounds intriguing! I’ll look forward to reading it. I’m also glad you will continue with the SinC Norcal drop in writing lessons. They help keep me on track!

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Hi Heidi
      Our online writing groups are fun and helpful. See you soon. I’ll miss all next week, but I’ll be back.

      Reply
  9. John G. Bluck

    Thank you for the interesting write-up about your books. I’m wondering if in your writing process you purposely pit different psychological types of persons against one other. Or do you just rely on your inner muse to guide you when creating characters?

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Hi John- interesting question. A combo of experience, inner muse, research, and an eye for individual differences.

      Reply
  10. John Schembra

    Congrats on your new release, Ellen! I’ll be checking our your books!

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Hi John
      Thanks so much. Hope to see you at PSWA next year.

      Reply
  11. Vicki Batman

    So interesting to learn about you.

    Reply
  12. Vicki Weisfeld

    She manages to weave current issues into these books in what sounds like a most effective way. Her WIP also sounds fascinating! The whole “birth parent” question is becoming increasingly complicated!

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Thanks Vicki. Things are getting more complicated every day.

      Reply
  13. Margaret Mizushima

    Ellen, congratulations on becoming a hybrid author. I know this transition has been a lot of work, and I wish you all the best. I hope we get a chance to meet at a conference sometime, and I look forward to reading your new book! Happy Holidays, blessings, and peace.

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Hi Margaret: Thanks for your good wishes, I need all those I can get. Hope our paths cross in person in the near future.

      Reply
  14. Michael A. Black

    Good to hear about your latest writing ventures, Ellen. I hope to see you at the next PSWA conference. Good luck with your new one.

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Thanks Mike. I share your hopes to meet up again at PWSA. Good luck with your new book as well.

      Reply
  15. Donnell

    My goodness, there are so many books I would love to own as a result of reading this blog. Thank you, George, for hosting Ms. Kirschman. I plan to look over her long list of books.

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Thanks Donnell. All four in the series will be available as ebooks on 12/11. Some may even be free!

      Reply

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SARAH CORTEZ – Award-Winning Author and Law Enforcement Veteran

ATSNStop the ThreatChuck Thompson

Sarah’s latest crime fiction thriller is The Carlucci Betrayal.

Here is a glimpse into Sarah’s award-winning career:

Sarah Cortez, a Councilor of the Texas Institute of Letters, Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, and Fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has poems, essays, book reviews, and short stories anthologized and published in journals, such as Texas Monthly, Rattle, The Sun, Pennsylvania English, Texas Review, Louisiana Literature, The Midwest Quarterly, Southwestern American Literature. Winner of the PEN Texas Literary Award, her debut poetry collection is How to Undress a Cop. Her books have placed as finalists in many contests, such as the Writers’ League of Texas Awards, Los Angeles Book Festival Awards, and the PEN Southwest Poetry Awards Latino Book Awards, Border Region Librarians Association Award, Press Women of Texas Editing Award. She has been both a Houston and Texas finalist for poet laureate; she is a law enforcement veteran of 28 years. Her memoir entitled Tired, Hungry, Standing in One Spot for Twelve Hours: Essential Cop Essays brings the reader into the patrol car as it reveals America’s most dangerous profession.

The Carlucci Betrayal takes readers deep into the Mississippi Delta during Prohibition to witness the founding of a criminal empire, and not since The Godfather has a Mafia family captivated readers the way the Carlucci brothers do in Robert Wilkins’ and Sarah Cortez’s rollicking novel of love, lust, and naked ambition.

Michael Bracken  – Anthony Award-nominated editor of The Eyes of Texas

 Genres in Which I Write: I write in more than one genre, and I love seeing how the interaction of skill and intention translates and doesn’t translate across genres.

I began as a literary fiction writer, then to poetry, then to memoir. At this point, I think I’ve been published in almost all popular and literary genres and subgenres. I love all kinds of writing and edit all genres.

Writing Process: In terms of my writing process, I don’t have much leeway to choose a particular set of locations or circumstances to write. As a full-time professional writer/editor, I write when and where I can. I always seem to have deadlines breathing down my neck, whether for writing or editing. I am also an editor for a large international Catholic online journal of the arts. Those deadlines keep me very busy. www.catholicartstoday

First Publication: My first book came out within less than three years of beginning to write poetry. I now have 14 books—all traditionally published. For quite a few years, I had one or two books published per year. I have been very fortunate to work with publishers who really believed in my book projects.

Characters: In the popular genre of crime fiction, there are usually two strong-willed characters: the criminal and the sleuth. They must be fairly evenly matched in order to have a drawn-out conflict that is sufficiently interesting for a reader to read the entire novel.

The process of creating a 3-D character, particularly a main character is involved and mysterious. Tomes have been written about it. Curiously enough, it is the one critically important step that most fiction writers, particularly beginning fiction writers, don’t spend enough time doing. All the hours of research, imagining, taking notes, thinking through personality and choices, and personal history of the character pay off. Yet, most fiction writers either skip this step or do it quickly—a fatal mistake to both plot and the possibility of writing a book that readers enjoy.

Writing Characters of the Opposite Sex: Due to police work and my corporate career before policing, most of my life has been spent working with men. I do not find it a particular challenge to write from a male’s POV. In fact, most of my literary and popular fiction is written in a male’s POV.

Do You Base Characters on Real People? As a freelance editor who has been privileged to work with many writers, I think that basing a fictional character on a real person is an absolute no-no. Fiction that does this results in erratic character motivation and is often boring. Characters must be free to act according to the psychological and emotional dimensions based on the imagined history and personality that the writer has given them. So, you can see from this line of thought that I never base my characters on real people and certainly never on myself.

How To Raise the Stakes for Characters? Especially in popular fiction, but also to a lesser degree in literary fiction, the author’s “job” is to apply stress on the main character. These stresses of circumstance create conflict, and conflict creates plot. The way the stress is applied to each character will be different since each character has a different personality and history.

Does a Protagonist Ever Disappoint You? As an author, I am not thinking about my reactions to characters in a book. I am always thinking, however, about what the scene needs to be of interest to a reader. Sometimes a protagonist needs to fail, whether that failure is of his choice or imposed on him. If the writer is writing a protagonist that changes throughout the book, the protagonist will make mistakes. Some characters, like James Bond, do not change over the course of a book. But even this type of character does experience failure of action and choices.

vintage Italian mafia gangster in 1930 in New York

What Kind of Research Do You Do? I research what I need to research. Sometimes that involves an entire era with its cultural artifacts of music, dance, clothes, attitudes, disasters, politics, etc. Sometimes research is very specifically related to a particular scene. For instance, in The Carlucci Betrayal, I had to find out how a young male below the age of military service would get to Europe in 1938 to volunteer to fight against Hitler. Since 1938 was before the U.S. declared war, I had to see which avenues were open to this young man. This only affected a couple of sentences in a phone conversation between two main characters, but it had to be historically accurate.

Also, for The Carlucci Betrayal, I had to research Mississippi law regarding homicide and manslaughter in the late 1920s for a courtroom scene and for the lawyer’s arguments to be accurately based on the law.

A Writer You Admire: I greatly admire Megan Abbott, a wonderful noir writer. She successfully combines what’s best about crime fiction with exquisitely styled prose. She is so successful because so few writers write with her precision and energy in such gorgeous prose. My favorite title of hers is Bury Me Deep.

Advice for New Writers: I’ll pass along some wise advice from a professional saxophone musician: don’t choose anything but your horn. In other words, writing demands a serious commitment to practice and learning. When the others meet their friends to go bowling or drink at the bars, you must be reading, learning, revising, drafting, studying, etc. If you’re going to be a good (highly skilled) writer, then writing isn’t a hobby. It is your job.

Anything Else You’d Like to Mention: Getting to work on The Carlucci Betrayal was tremendously hard work and also tremendous fun! I’ve always wanted to write Mafia-era fiction. This gave me an opportunity to research plus create three-dimensional characters that acted according to a different era’s pressures in a society that was both more constricted and more free-wheeling than today’s.

I also relished my research into Mafia fashion. Not only for the men but for the women. Holsters, spare magazines, stilettos, razors, cigarette lighters, etc. Types and calibers of guns. Several PWSA members helped me out with these questions. For me, becoming conversant with places of concealment, fashions for men and women, mobsters on different coasts, and what they wore—fascinating! It was a delicious peek into the psychology and practicality of why the mobsters and their ladies wore what they wore.

Readers can contact me at: cortez.sarah@gmail.com or at carluccibetrayal@gmail.com

Our website,  carluccibetrayal.com – Search Results | Facebook, also has a “Contact Me” button.

Phone: 713-331-9342

I am available for virtual book readings and presentations on Mafia Fashion.

Follow us on Facebook at   The Carlucci Betrayal | Facebook

 

 

17 Comments

  1. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    Sarah, great post, your Advice to New Writers should be the Pre-amble to any book about writing. I am totally intrigued with The Carlucci’s Betrayal and will add it to my reading list.

    Reply
  2. Madeline Gornell

    Sorry I’m late to the party, Sarah, but what an interesting post. Very impressed by your accomplishments and inspired! Especially awed by your writing in so many genres. Continued success!

    Reply
  3. Ana Manwaring

    What concept–Mafia Fashion! Thanks so much for your interview. Thank you too, George!

    Reply
  4. sarah cortez

    Thank you, John Bluck, for your positive comment. I appreciate it!
    Sarah

    Reply
  5. sarah cortez

    Hello, Michael,
    It is good to remember how you gentlemen (and ladies) of the listserve helped me with research.

    We all need to stay strong . . . you are so right.
    Bless you,
    Sarah

    Reply
  6. sarah cortez

    Oh, Holli,
    I’ve thought of you during the years since Gabe and I attended you and your husband’s opening in NOLA. Email me sometime and let me know how and what you’re doing these days!!

    Reply
  7. sarah cortez

    Oh, Marilyn,
    It always makes me happy to see your name! I have an entire “Marilyn Meredith” section in my bookcases.

    I hope to make it to another conference soon.

    Reply
  8. sarah cortez

    Thank you, John, for your comment. You’ve always been so great to me.
    Sarah

    Reply
  9. Lynn Hesse

    I found another author’s work with law enforcement experience I want to read. Thanks, Lynn

    Reply
  10. John Schembra

    Great post Sarah. Interesting to
    Learn other author’s writing process, and how they plan/organize their characters and plots. Best of luck with your new book!

    Reply
  11. Darlene Record

    Congratulations on your new book. Just purchased it and look forward to reading it. Really enjoy your work.
    Thanks for your helpful advice on writing.
    Darlene Record

    Reply
  12. John G. Bluck

    I like your comments about building strong characters. I look forward to reading your books!

    Reply
  13. Marilyn Meredith

    Great post, Sarah, with so many valuable tips. I was so glad to see at the recent PSWA conference and catch up with you some. Hope you’ll come again soon.

    Reply
  14. Holli Castillo

    Sarah, loved learning about your writing process. I find it more difficult to write from the male perspective so I envy your ability to do it so easily. I also find the idea of mafia fashion fascinating. Your thorough research is evident in your work as it always rings authentic.

    Reply
  15. Michael A. Black

    Hi, Sarah. Great advice about writing and the dedication to learning one’s craft. I loved the saxophone allusion. Your new one sounds interesting. I’ll have to check it out. I remember when you were researching the holsters and such. Good luck and stay strong.

    Reply

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MARK COGGINS – See What Has to Say About Writing Successful Crime Fiction

Mark Coggins was born in the Four Corners region of New Mexico and is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation. His work has been nominated for the Shamus and the Barry crime fiction awards and selected for best of the year lists compiled by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Detroit Free Press, and Amazon.com.

 

THE DEAD BEAT SCROLL – Private investigator August Riordan’s quest to avenge the death of his old partner drops him in the missing person case his partner was working when he died. An alluring young woman named Angelina is looking for her half-sister, but what Riordan finds instead is a murderous polyamorous family intent on claiming a previously unknown manuscript from dead Beat writer Jack Kerouac.

What brought you to writing? I composed my first published short story, “There’s No Such Thing as Private Eyes,” in the late ’70s for a creative writing class at Stanford University taught by Ron Hansen. This was shortly after I’d learned about Raymond Chandler and his distinctive writing style in another class, that one taught by Tobias Wolff. I was all of 19 years old when I typed out the original draft on my Smith-Corona portable, but it was eventually published in the mid-1980s in a revival of the famous Black Mask magazine, where Hammett and Chandler got their start.

In addition to being my first appearance in print, the tale also introduces my series character, San Francisco private eye August Riordan.

Tell us about your writing process: I maintain a research folder on my computer for each novel I write. In it goes digital photographs, Word and PDF files, links to web pages, etc.—anything that can be stored on disk. I also have a small notebook in which I write a variety of things, including location descriptions, snatches of dialog, plot ideas, and similes. The dialog can be imagined or something I’ve overheard.

Of course, the reason I have the notebook is to draw upon the entries when I’m writing. If I decide to use an item from the notebook, I put a tick mark beside it, so I know I’ve already put it in a novel. But even when I don’t select something I can use directly, I find thumbing through the notebook can be helpful, especially when I’m suffering from writer’s block. Somehow, just reading through everything I’ve jotted down can be inspirational, and I usually come up with an idea to get me back on track again.

Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? Yes, in The Dead Beat Scroll, I killed a character named Chris Duckworth. (This isn’t a spoiler since the book begins with news of Duckworth’s death.) Duckworth was Riordan’s sidekick for five of the seven books. Many readers found his personality and the byplay between Riordan and him to be one of the most entertaining aspects of the novels. Although Riordan and Duckworth are estranged at the time of Duckworth’s death, I hope Riordan’s regard for Duckworth and the real grief he experiences come across in the book. I found the process of writing the final scene in the novel—which is a celebration of life for Duckworth—to be particularly poignant. I hope some of that poignancy is transmitted in the text.

What kind of research do you do? The first research I do is on Bay Area locations, where most of my books take place. I usually walk around a neighborhood I’m going to set a scene in, taking both pictures and notes that I use to jog my memory when I get to the actual writing.

I also do research about the theme or social issue I’m using to drive the plot. For instance, in my novel Runoff, I researched electronic voting and the possibility of defeating the security of voting machines to rig an election. To do that research, I interviewed computer science experts on the topic and talked with poll workers who had an “on the ground” understanding of how the machines are used in a precinct.

For my novel Candy from Strangers, which was about cam girls, I interviewed a young woman who has a website where she solicits anonymous gifts.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? My settings can probably best be described as hyper-real. I try very hard to set every scene in a real location—often in San Francisco—and many of my books feature black and white photographs of those locales.

Do you have any advice for new writers? I can’t emphasize enough the importance of critique groups. In addition to providing camaraderie and support, they give you feedback, encourage you to write to deadlines. Reading other writers’ work with an eye towards making suggestions for improvement helps me better understand what does and doesn’t work in fiction. Good writers read a lot, and even better writers read a lot and analyze what they are reading.

 

Website: https://www.markcoggins.com/

Twitter: @Mark_Coggins

The Dead Beat Scroll – https://www.amazon.com/Dead-Beat-Scroll-August-Riordan/dp/1643960318

Podcast (where I do serial readings of some of my books) – https://riordansdesk.buzzsprout.com/

 

4 Comments

  1. Mary Hagen

    Enjoyed your comments. Unfortunately, my critique group disbanded. I miss them.

    Reply
  2. Mar Preston

    I don’t miss my critique group meetings for anything, Mark. That’s sound advice. Something that is glaringly obvious to you may not be to anyone else. It can be humbling.

    Reply
  3. Michael A.Black

    Really sound advice, Mark. Thanks. I remember the short-lived revival of Black Mask and have several of them. I’ll have to look for your first story as well as check out your new one. Good luck.

    Reply
  4. Thonie Hevron

    Fascinating interview! Thanks for letting us get to know you.

    Reply

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