KATHERINE RAMSLAND – Forensic Psychology in Fiction

Dr. Katherine Ramsland teaches forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, where she is the Assistant Provost. She has appeared as an expert in criminal psychology on more than 200 crime documentaries and magazine shows, is an executive producer of Murder House Flip, and has consulted for CSI, Bones, and The Alienist. The author of more than 1,500 articles and 69 books, including The Forensic Science of CSI, The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds, How to Catch a Killer, The Psychology of Death Investigations, and Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, The BTK Killer, she was co-executive producer for the Wolf Entertainment/A&E four-part documentary based on the years she spent talking with Rader. Ramsland consults on death investigations, talks to killers, pens a blog for Psychology Today, and is writing a fiction series based on a female forensic psychologist who manages a private investigation agency.

Elevator Pitch for I Scream Man: Forensic psychologist Annie Hunter’s PI team plunges into a perilous case of missing kids and a well-connected network of sex traffickers.

In which genres do you write? I started publishing in the mid-1980s, so I’ve covered a range of genres, mostly in nonfiction: biographies, adventure memoirs, travel, true-crime, writing craft, psychology, paranormal, encyclopedias, scientific analyses, textbooks, and even a cookbook. I’ve also written scripts and treatments for Hollywood. With fiction, I’ve published horror, paranormal urban fantasy, and now my private investigation series. I find that there’s a lot of cross-fertilization.

What inspired your current work, the Nut Crackers Investigation series? I teach forensic psychology, including a course called Psychological Sleuthing, on the psychology of investigation (which I designed and for which I wrote the textbook). I also consult on unusual cases, so it was natural to base a character and her investigative team on what I do. I’ve written a lot of nonfiction on forensic science, psychology, and investigation, so I’ve developed a network of consultants – and some are real characters. In the series, I connect Annie Hunter’s team to whatever consultant she might need, from digital to anthropology to meteorology (yes, there’s forensic meteorology!). Between access to plenty of cases, conversations with multiple offenders, and teamwork with many different professionals, I have a solid set-up for creating plots and characters.

How do you incorporate research or true events into your fiction? I generally start with a twisty crime I’ve come across that will call on my characters’ unique skills. On my core team is a cadaver dog handler, a PI who’s also an artist, and a psychologist with a specialty in suicidology and staged scenes. I research the crime, especially in legal documents, and sometimes talk to key personnel (including offenders). Then, like Law & Order, I spin my fictional scenario. Since I also know the psychological literature, I’m careful to develop characters along realistic lines. One more dimension is that I use actual settings, so I go experience them. I take a lot of photos. For example, after I set a scene in a recreational area, I traveled there to see where I might place an inconspicuous grave. Sometimes the places I see inspire me to turn them into settings. The tower in Ireland that poet W. B. Yeats owned, for example.

You’ve written 70 books, along with multiple other types of projects, and you often write more than one at once. How do you keep them straight? I once heard that a change is as good as a rest. I find this to be true. I work on multiple projects at once – including my day job as a professor and assistant provost. Each provides inspiration for the others. I merely keep them in separate folders on my computer, or in separate piles on my office floor. But when I tire of one project, or finish one, I’m glad to have something else to keep the juices flowing. I have no time for postpartum writing grief because another project is calling for attention.

What is your writing process? I’ve written a book, Snap: Seizing your Aha! Moments, which describes one of the best things to do for the creative process. A lot of people believe that flashes of insight happen at random, but I’ve discovered that you can set yourself up for these to occur regularly. In the book, I propose a program that I’ve found useful for generating the spark. I call it a “snap,” because the flash of genius that really counts is insight plus momentum – it snaps you toward action. It resolves your impasse. First, you create your mental salad. You really work at it, gathering all kinds of info and experiences to toss in. Use a routine so you can tap into body memories, too. Then you relax in whatever way works for you. For me, it’s walking. During this time, you let the brain’s association network mix and match to come up with a plot twist, a new character, the resolution of a scene, etc. I’ve been counting on this process for years. I love it.

What advice do you have for new writers? The most important thing a budding writer can do is to form a support group. This is not a critique group. It’s a small group of people who believe in their work and will be there to assure them when they have doubts. Maybe they’ll be proofreaders (mine are). Maybe they’re just cheerleaders. But they’re essential for the hard times that inevitably come to every writer.

You’ve been writing a blog for Psychology Today for ten years. What’s the theme? “Shadow-boxing,” the title and theme, is about our darkest impulses, as well as anything that may lurk beyond our awareness, “in the shadows.” I write a lot about crime and criminals, since that’s my primary field of expertise, but I also write about creativity, literature with dark edges, investigative techniques, and psychological conditions. Sometimes, I review books.

What can we look forward to in this series? I certainly hope readers will enjoy an investigative series with a deep dive into psychology. They’ll learn about psychological quirks as well as investigative tips. Since Annie Hunter is a forensic psychologist with private practice cases on the side, she has insight into criminal behavior that’s often missed by PIs and cops. Annie has a podcast, Psi Apps, and she’s open to a lot of oddities, including cases with paranormal aspects. And I hope to have weather events in every novel. Might be a hurricane, a tornado, a snowstorm, a flood. I love weather, and I love mysterious places. Wherever I go, I’ll take readers with me.

Annie Hunter’s House

How do our readers contact you? Readers can find me mostly on Facebook. I have three pages there. Also, the website has an email address.

Website: https://www.katherineramsland.net/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katherine.ramsland
Twitter: https://twitter.com/KatRamsland
Blog: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shadow-boxing
Group Membership:
Sisters in Crime
Writers Police Academy
Mystery Writers of America
Private Eye Writers of America

 

17 Comments

  1. Vicki Batman

    Thank you, Katherine. I’ve appreciated your blogs, etc.

    Reply
  2. Marie Gallagher

    Hey K, I’m going to read your new book (I Scream Man) and suggest it to my Book Club!! Sounds like the kind of book I’m going to love reading!!!

    Reply
    • Katherine Ramsland

      Hey, Marie! Thanks. If your book club wants me to come in by Zoom, I’d be happy to.

      Reply
  3. Kassandra Lamb

    The series sounds fascinating. Can’t wait to read I Scream Man.

    Reply
  4. Valerie Brooks

    Hi Katharine, I’ve found immense help from your books. The snap idea is so worth nurturing. I’m so eager to read I SCREAM MAN. Congrats!

    Reply
    • Katherine Ramsland

      Thanks, Valerie. I’m glad I’ve been able to inspire you. I appreciate the post.

      Reply
  5. Margaret E Mizushima

    Just ordered I Scream Man! I’m looking forward to reading your new book and meeting Annie Hunter. I also use walking to come up with new plot ideas. I enjoyed your interview with George!

    Reply
    • Katherine Ramsland

      Thank you, Margaret. I hope you enjoy meeting my team and entering their adventure. Thanks for reading the blog.

      Reply
  6. Debra Bokur

    You had me at “forensic meteorology,” Katherine. I look forward to meeting Annie Hunter. As for creating momentum and sorting out plot lines and details, walking has been my solution throughout my own writing career. Nothing like a brisk ramble to shake things loose.

    Happy writing!

    Reply
    • Katherine Rams;and

      Hi Debra:

      Walking has always been my go-to for inspiration, and it always works. I’m glad you’ve had the same experience. Thanks for reading about my work. I hope you enjoy the book.

      Reply
  7. Ellen Kirschman

    Hi Katherine: I look forward to your new series. I am always interested in how other psychologists fictionalize their work.

    Reply
    • Katherine Rams;and

      Thank you, Ellen. I’m excited to be launching this series. Psychologists have more range than we usually see in fiction.

      Reply
  8. Joyce

    This book is right up my alley, Katherine, I can’t wait to read it. Sounds fabulous.

    Reply
    • Katherine Rams;and

      Thanks, Joyce! I appreciate it.

      Reply
  9. Katherine Ramsland

    Thank you. I appreciate your comment. Thanks for dropping by.

    Reply
  10. Michael A. Black

    Interesting insights on writing, especially regard set up the “snap.” Best of luck with your new book.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

J. WOOLLCOTT – Writing Mysteries Set in Northern Ireland

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

9 Comments

  1. Katherine Rams;and

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

    Reply
  2. Valerie J. Brooks

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

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

    Reply
    • Joyce

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

      Reply
  3. DonnaRae Menard

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

    Reply
    • Joyce

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

      Reply
  4. Michael A. Black

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

    Reply
    • J. Woollcott

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

      Reply
  5. J. Woollcott

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

    Reply
  6. Vicki Batman

    Good morning, Joyce and George. Very good interview!

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

JENNIFER CHOW – Author of Sassy Cat Mysteries and the L.A. Night Market Mysteries

Jennifer J. Chow is the Lefty Award-nominated author of the Sassy Cat Mysteries and the L.A. Night Market Mysteries. The first in the Sassy Cat series, Mimi Lee Gets A Clue, was selected as an OverDrive Recommended Read, a PopSugar Best Summer Beach Read, and one of BuzzFeed’s Top 5 Books by AAPI authors.

 

JENNIFER currently serves as Vice President on the national board of Sisters in Crime. She is an active member of Crime Writers of Color and Mystery Writers of America. Connect with her online at www.jenniferjchow.com

Death by Bubble Tea Two cousins who start a food stall at their local night market get a serving of murder in this first novel of a delicious new cozy mystery series.

This is the first in a new series! I’m excited about the L.A. Night Market Mysteries because it combines my own personal history of working at a family restaurant with my love for food. Also, I get to add recipes at the back of the book!

(My other recent cozy series is the Lefty Award-nominated Sassy Cat Mysteries, which feature Los Angeles pet groomer Mimi Lee and her sassy telepathic cat, Marshmallow.)

How do you come up with character names? In general, I get inspiration from baby name books, online name generators, and the Social Security archives. For Death by Bubble Tea, Yale popped into my head because I know a few folks who are named after universities (yes, I do know a Harvard!). Celine’s name cropped up because I wanted to pay homage to celebrity-inspired names (along with popular artists and songs that my family enjoys karaokeing to).

We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave or run the show? My characters usually run the show. I’d love for them to rein themselves in, but a few like to hog the limelight. On the other hand, it puts them in interesting and precarious sleuthing situations. My comedic characters often add a huge dose of sparkling wit and humor.

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I usually do have a subplot. A lot of these are character-driven. In my last Sassy Cat Mystery, Mimi Lee Cracks the Code, Mimi Lee and her boyfriend Josh go on a romantic getaway that soon turns sour. She’s got crimes to solve—and a relationship to mend!

With Death by Bubble Tea, there’s an ongoing conflict with recently arrived Celine. Yale has to deal with her opposite personality cousin along with running a new food stall.

The subplots come organically, as I think they do in real life. People are dealing with multiple things on an everyday basis, and that’s reflected in my stories.

What kind of research do you do? I try to research in all sorts of ways. The Sassy Cat series had me visiting pet salons, going down the rabbit hole of YouTube pet grooming videos, and having vivid encounters with animals at dog readings, cat cafes, and more.

With the L.A. Night Market series, I suppose I unknowingly did pre-research. I’ve gone to multiple night markets (think lively festivals set in the evenings) in Asia and in the States. My family has roots in Southern China and Hong Kong, so I didn’t have to research those cultural aspects as much. However, I did keep a dim sum cookbook around while writing and had a Chinese dictionary handy. Since Book 1 is called Death by Bubble Tea, I also did obligatory boba tastings (yum!). For the recipes in the back of the book, I made several attempts and passed those culinary efforts on to my family to eat and drink.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I have a mix of real and fictional in my settings. Usually, it’s a made-up community in an actual geographic region. For example, the L.A. Night Market series has a small fictional planned community called Eastwood Village, but it’s positioned in the greater West L.A. area. I also had fun inserting real sites into this new series, particularly with the more unique locations that Yale and Celine visit as Yale takes her cousin around and introduces her to Los Angeles.

Links

10 Comments

  1. Thonie Hevron

    What a fun interview! I enjoyed all your answers and even learned a thing or two.
    I wish you great success!

    Reply
  2. Carl Vonderau

    I love the research you do. It sounds like a lot of fun. I also use naming books and Google searches to help name my characters.

    Reply
    • Jennifer J. Chow

      Thanks, Carl! Coming up with names and not replicating them can be tough work.

      Reply
  3. Debra Bokur

    I loved reading about your books, Jennifer, and can’t wait to explore them. Sassy cats! Love the whole concept.

    Reply
  4. Michael A. Black

    Great reading about you, Jennifer. You certainly have a unique method for choosing names of your characters. And I love the idea of a telepathic feline. Sometimes I think my cats are telepathic. Good luck with your writing.

    Reply
    • Jennifer J. Chow

      Thanks for the well wishes and for reading the post, Michael!

      Reply
  5. Jennifer J. Chow

    Thanks so much for having me on your blog today, George!

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      It’s a pleasure to have you and your new series here for a visit.

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

VINNIE HANSEN – Fun Loving Santa Cruz Author

Vinnie Hansen fled the howling winds of South Dakota and headed for the California coast the day after high school graduation.

A two-time Claymore Award finalist, she’s the author of the Carol Sabala mystery series, the novel Lostart Street, and over forty short works.

She claims to be still sane(ish) after 27 years of teaching high school English, despite the evidence of her tickling the ivories with ukulele bands. Vinnie lives in Santa Cruz with her husband and the requisite cat.

ONE GUN – After the Russos interrupt a burglary, they race to find the thief’s tossed handgun before his cohorts do; when two tweeners find it first, the characters find themselves on a collision course with tragic consequences.

 What brought you to writing? I’m tacking “One Gun” on to this question.

One Gun has its roots in two real events. The first was the burglary of our house. The day before Thanksgiving, my husband and I came home from grocery shopping to find a thief leaving our house with a backpack stuffed with our belongings.

As I called 9-1-1, my husband gave chase. The burglar stopped, pulled a gun, aimed it at my husband’s head, and threatened to kill him.

Yet, when the young man continued to flee, my husband resumed his pursuit, thinking, I guess, that the thief couldn’t fire while running. However, he wheeled around with the semi-automatic while frantically dumping the items he’d stolen.

I won’t go into more detail except to say my husband didn’t die, and the burglar was apprehended but after he’d ditched the gun.

Sandy Hook was the second event that contributed to the writing of this book. All shootings are horrible. But as a retired teacher, I’m most deeply disturbed by the massacres at schools. And out of all these, Sandy Hook still distresses me the most. Twenty children were slaughtered. The innocence of the victims makes my stomach shrivel. The courage of the six school employees who died trying to protect them moves me to tears. And then there are the images of the children leaving the school. Terror stamped on their faces. They’ll carry the trauma for a lifetime.

My personal experience followed by this horrific national experience solidified that I wanted to use my writing ability to somehow address gun violence.

Yet, preachiness is a fatal flaw in fiction. I needed a good story. Our burglary wasn’t enough.

But what about the story of the gun used in the burglary? What happened to it? It was never recovered.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? As mentioned above, the burglary of our house was a catalyst for One Gun. A similar scene opens the book, although it serves only as a McGuffin to launch the story of the gun.

In the early drafts, the main characters, Ben and Vivi Russo, bore a remarkable resemblance to my husband and me.

While my husband and I are somewhat interesting people, we make boring characters. As do most “real” people. Real people—like real dialog—are not the stuff of good fiction.*

The biggest changes between the first draft of One Gun and draft 11C were to Ben and Vivi Russo—the two characters people are still bound to equate with my husband and me. However, Ben has gained a background entirely different from my husband’s. He’s no longer Jewish. He grew up in a different city, had a different career, and enjoys a different passion.

aining the distance to treat Vivi and Ben like characters is a huge part of why this novel took so long to write. Struggling to the point of artifice made One Gun a much better book.

*(There are exceptions, like my father, who was, as people say, a character.)

 What are you currently working on? I never envisioned One Gun as the start of a series. However, publishers like the idea an author might be good for more than one book, so as soon as I had a complete draft of One Gun, I started a companion novel titled Crime Writer.

 The books are connected by place. Both are set in Playa Maria, a fictionalized Santa Cruz (central coast of California). A few minor characters reappear in the second book, and there are a couple of references to the crime that occurred in One Gun. Both titles, though, could be read as a stand-alone.

 Unlike One Gun, which has multiple points of view as the reader follows the trail of the gun, Crime Writer has a single protagonist, crime writer Zoey Kozinski. She’s had early success with her books but is currently stuck on the second book for a two-book contract. The story opens with Zoey on a police ride-along which ends up jump starting a lot more than her stalled writing.

 I have a complete first draft of Crime Writer. Who knows how many drafts there will be? Perhaps fewer than with One Gun because I don’t have to work through personal issues to get to the story, and it doesn’t have the challenging multiple points of view.

On the other hand, every new piece of writing seems to raise my standards.

The virtual launch for One Gun will be via Bookshop Santa Cruz on Tuesday, June 28th, at 6 p.m. (Pacific Time). You can sign up for the Zoom event on Bookshop’s Events Page. Vinnie will be interviewed by Edgar-nominated author Susan Bickford, past president of the NorCal Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Learn more about Vinnie at Vinnie Hansen

 

9 Comments

  1. Valerie J Brooks

    How scary! And all for a bag of your belongings. I love the cover, Vinnie. Best of luck with your launch.

    Reply
  2. Alec Peche

    Awesome cover. Good luck with your launch!

    Reply
  3. Marie Sutro

    Two very powerful inspirations. Glad your husband made it through unharmed!

    Reply
  4. Vinnie Hansen

    And before I forget my manners, thank you, George, for hosting me, and for all the support you give our mystery-writing community.

    Reply
  5. Vinnie Hansen

    Thank you, Michael. I’m very glad, and I’m sure my husband is even gladder, that he wasn’t shot! I’ll always wonder why the young man had a gun, aimed it, but didn’t pull the trigger. What stopped him? He was, as it turned out, a veteran burglary with an extensive criminal history.

    Reply
  6. Mary Hagen

    I’m glad you and your husband survived injury. I, too, came home and found my home robbed. We live on a farm and the man who worked for us came to the house, found the door open and broken glass on the floor. Hearing noise, he came inside calling my name. Realizing I was being burglarized, he left fortunately and called the sheriff. The robbers left quickly without loading up stuff by the door. They were never apprehended. For a time, I didn’t want to leave my house but decided that was ridiculous. After all, it was only stuff.

    Reply
    • Vinnie Hansen

      Yes, Mary. The stuff is the least of it–although our burglary did take my husband’s wedding ring! That’s a whole other story. When the thief was convicted my husband and I asked for restitution, never thinking we’d see a penny. But over the years, we were amazingly fully reimbursed. Nothing, though, can restore my sense of security in my home.

      Reply
  7. Michael A. Black

    I’m glad your husband wasn’t injured in chasing the burglar. I salute you for your dedication to teaching and now to writing. Best of luck to you and One Gun.

    Reply
    • Vinnie Hansen

      Thank you, Michael. On my good days, I was a fabulous teacher. I see your comments often on George’s site. Are you a writer as well? What do you write? Are you and George friends? (Sorry, I’m nosy. I think it goes with being a writer.)

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

DEBRA BOKUR – Award Winning Author Takes Her Readers Into Hawaiian Mystery

Frequently accused of drinking too much tea and getting lost deliberately, award-winning writer Debra Bokur is the author of the Dark Paradise Mysteries series (Kensington Books). She’s also a contributing author to Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry (The Bench Press, 2001) and the former poetry editor at Many Mountains Moving literary journal. Bokur is an award-winning journalist and longtime contributor to national publications, including Global Traveler Magazine. She divides her time between Colorado and coastal Maine.

The Lava WitchIn a remote, mountainous area of a Maui forest near Haleakalā volcano, the naked body of a young woman is found hanging from a tree. The devil is in the details: the woman’s nostrils, mouth, and lungs are packed with lava sand. Her hands are bound in twine, and her feet are charred and blackened, suggesting a firewalking ceremony. Detective Kali Māhoe’s suspicions are immediately aroused. It has all the signs of ritual torture and murder.

But Kali’s investigation soon leads her down a winding trail of seemingly unconnected clues and diverging paths—from the hanging tree itself, a rare rainbow eucalyptus, to rumors of a witch haunting the high areas of the forest, to the legend of the ancient Hawaiian sorceress Pahulu, goddess of nightmares. Casting a shadow over it all—the possibility of a Sitting God, a spirit said to invade and possess the soul.

Aided by her uncle, Police Captain Walter Alaka’i, Officer David Hara, and the victim’s brother, Kali embarks down the darkest road of all. One that leads to the truth of the mountain’s deadly core and a dark side of the island for which even Kali is unprepared.

Recent Reviews:

“This procedural keeps readers guessing all the way to the gratifying solution. Fans of Tony Hillerman will be enthralled.” —Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW on The Lava Witch

“A cool police procedural with engaging characters and fascinating components.” —Kirkus Reviews on The Lava Witch

Controlling the Weather – Thanks for inviting me to post on your site today, George. As I prepare for the launch of The Lava Witch, I’ve been mulling over a few concepts that I suspect may be common among both readers and writers of mystery/crime fiction, all of which have coalesced into the notion of controlling the weather.

Consider this: Nearly everything in the world operates according to forces that are out of our control — day and night, tidal waves, tornadoes, disease outbreaks, growing old, watching the neighbors paint their house the wrong color. That’s plenty to dwell on, even on a sunny day, while we can still bolt up and down staircases with ease. When you add in the forces of malevolence, things take a much darker turn.

Like most people, I’ve encountered evil firsthand. Sometimes it’s shiny or dressed up with beguiling surface beauty meant to mislead and confuse; sometimes, it doesn’t bother to pretend to be anything but what it is —cruelty, malice, and deliberate mayhem unleashed to disrupt or destroy the lives and equilibrium of others.

While I’ve never actually talked to other mystery writers or readers about this, I’m sure I’m not alone when I say how satisfying and fulfilling it is to see darkness overcome by goodness and light. I believe it’s one of the reasons we love to read mysteries and thrillers. I know it’s one of the reasons I find it gratifying to write them. Sure, remedying all the ills of the real world and conquering evil in its multitude of forms is beyond my powers as a single human being; but as an author, I can control storms and decide when the sun comes out, and make certain that those who deliberately bring about pain, grief, and misery — at least within the pages of my books — are made fully accountable for their actions. And, I get to bring readers along for the ride, setting off with them on difficult journeys that I know will lead, at last, to a moment of resolution and healing.

How do our readers contact you?

Groups I belong to:

  • Sisters In Crime (National, Colorado, and New England chapters)
  • Mystery Writers of America
  • Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers
  • Colorado Authors League
  • International Thriller Writers
  • Society of American Travel Writers

14 Comments

  1. Donnell Ann Bell

    Yay, Kali Māhoe is back. I so enjoyed her in The Bone Field. The plot sounds amazing, Debra! Congratulations on your release and a starred review!

    Reply
  2. Margaret Mizushima

    Our heroes and heroines are always battling weather, terrain, and evil, which makes for a thrilling story. Thanks for this post, Debra and George. And like you, Debra, this mystery writer enjoys watching darkness succumb to the light.

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Thank you, Margaret. Here’s to Team Light 🙂

      Reply
  3. Barbara Nickless

    We must never give up the battle against evil–in the real world as well as in our fictional ones. Thanks for a great post!

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Much appreciated, Barbara. The quest is everything.

      Reply
  4. Debra Bokur

    Thanks, Michael! It’s nice to be able to escape to the Islands, even if only in my imagination — especially on Rocky Mountain days like this when there are snow flurries blowing through my newly planted spring garden.

    Reply
  5. Joseph HAGGERTY

    I love inventing a little super natural even when it’s manufactured. The mystery of the investigation is one thing but when something comes along that can’t be explained, it adds to the mystery and since it’s fiction who can say if it’s real. Loved this post.

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Thanks, Joseph – a little mystery keeps things interesting, I think.

      Reply
  6. Michael A. Black

    Your summary sounds like a fascinating novel, Debra. You’re totally right about being able to control things as an author. We need more books set in Hawaii. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
  7. Peg Brantley

    Justice being served while we’re alive to see it is one of the reasons crime fiction is so fabulous! Great post, thank you!

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      You’re very welcome. Agreed about crime fiction — and instant karma isn’t so bad, either!

      Reply
  8. Mare Sutro

    Overcoming the darkness is what it is all about. Thanks for sharing these wonderful insights!

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      It’s important not to let the darkness win, whatever form it takes.

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

KATHLEEN DONNELLY – Chasing Justice with a K-9

Award-winning author Kathleen Donnelly is a K-9 handler for Sherlock Hounds Detection Canines—a private narcotics dog company. She enjoys using her K-9 experience to craft realism into her fictional stories. Along with working dogs, Kathleen loves horses. She owns two horses and a bossy yet adorable pony. Kathleen’s love of the mountains inspired her setting for Chasing Justice. She enjoys escaping to the high country to hike and photograph the scenery and wildlife. Kathleen has a B.A. in Journalism from Colorado State University and formerly wrote for The Berthoud Weekly Surveyor, where she won a Colorado Press Award. Kathleen lives in Colorado with her husband and all their four-legged friends.

Please tell us about your upcoming release: Chasing Justice

After losing her military K-9, Marine Maya Thompson swears she’ll never work with dogs again. But when she returns home to Colorado and accepts a job with US Forest Service law enforcement, fate brings K-9 Juniper into her life just as another tragedy unfolds.

Chasing Justice is a must-read for dog lovers and crime fiction lovers alike.” ~Margaret Mizushima, author of the award-winning Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries, including Hanging Falls

Thanks so much for having me on your blog today, George! I enjoyed answering questions about my path to publication and inspiration for Chasing Justice, my debut novel and the first in a series. Stay tuned to my social media channels and newsletter for more information about future books.

How long to get it published? I started writing Chasing Justice in 2016. However, the idea had been rattling around in my brain for a couple of years. I knew I wanted a female protagonist who would be a K-9 handler. Once I had the concept figured out, I started writing. In 2017, Chasing Justice (then titled Free Base) was a finalist for the Claymore awards, but I hadn’t completed the book yet. However, being a Claymore finalist gave me a confidence boost, and I finished the book over the next few months.

I then entered the book into the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Contest, where it took second place. I thought this would lead to immediate publication, but it received rejections when I sent the book out. I decided to send the manuscript to an editor who had just started freelancing. She’d previously worked at St. Martin’s Press, and the genres she specialized in included mystery and romance. Her edits showed me that while I had the possibility of a good book, I still had a lot to learn. I knew I had to start over except for the first three chapters.

I did just that and continued to study other books along with reverse engineering books that I liked. I started to understand what the editor was telling me. I went back to doing an outline, and I rewrote the entire book finishing it in the spring of 2020. I started querying my novel, and by July of 2020, I had a request to read the full manuscript from my agent Ella Marie Shupe who’s part of the Belcastro Agency. After reading the full manuscript, we talked on the phone, and soon after, Ella Marie offered me representation. We spent the fall of 2020 editing, and in January of 2021, Ella Marie started submitting to publishers. By spring, we had an offer from Carina Press, and I signed the contract a few months later. The rest, as they say, is history.

 We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? I would love to say that my characters behave, but they just don’t! They seem to have a mind of their own. I do an outline, and we have long talks during that process where I tell my characters to speak now or forever hold their peace. Most of the time, they listen. I have one character in Chasing Justice (I won’t say who because that would be a spoiler.) that started out completely different in previous drafts. I wanted this character to be responsible for certain actions, but in the end, that character won out and got their way.

Maya, my main character, is quite strong-willed and stubborn. We have had many discussions, but what I love about her is how honest she is and how much she wants to do the right thing. She has been a fun character to work with.

Then there’s my fictional K-9, Juniper. While Juniper’s character developed from K-9s that I’ve worked, she can definitely change course and do her own thing—especially if it involves ripping up her dog bed. When you read Chasing Justice, you will see Juniper loves to get her way and keeps Maya on her toes.

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Chasing Justice has a subplot that I left somewhat open for future stories. There are some small subplots within the novel as well. I used my outline to make sure the subplots made sense in the storyline and blended well with the entire arc of the novel. The freelance editor was very helpful in teaching me about weaving in subplots. The biggest lesson I learned was that you need to have a strong core of the story—one that can be put into a sentence. Once you have that core, you can develop subplots that go with that storyline. For example, Maya comes home to Colorado after being in the military but isn’t speaking to her grandfather. This plays into the main story, but the reason she and her grandfather aren’t speaking is a subplot.

My editor with Carina Press, Mackenzie Walton, also helped me figure out how to weave in and refine the subplots. Mackenzie’s edits on Chasing Justice were fantastic, and she did a great job of pushing me to become a better writer.

How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? I love the “what if” game. I spend time brainstorming and mind mapping ideas. I was lucky enough to take some classes from best-selling author Grant Blackwood. He showed us how mind mapping can help tweak the stakes for your character.

I considered ideas such as how a drug-running militia living in the mountains might work. I asked, who are they? Why are they doing this? What type of drug should they be making and trafficking? For most of us, meth and marijuana are the first drugs that come to mind. I wanted something different. I started googling and mind mapping different ideas for drug production. (So far, neither the DEA nor FBI have shown up at my door, after all, my googling. Phew!) I found out about a drug called Krokodil. It’s not common here in the United States. Having an unusual drug upped the stakes for my characters and their investigation.

One thing I learned along the way is to not raise the stakes by adding another plotline. That may sound simple, but I think that happens a lot with new fiction writers. Keep the main plot, and then figure out how you can make things more difficult for your characters. Even with the dog work, I thought, okay, if I’m working a dog in the mountains, what makes things more difficult? Often, in real life, it’s the environment, so I raised the stakes by adding weather issues such as wind and dangers in the forest like trees with broken branches called widowmakers. The “what if” game is a ton of fun!

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional? I created a fictional National Forest for my book. It’s loosely based on the location of the Roosevelt and Arapaho National Forests. I did this because many Coloradoans know the national forests well, and I didn’t want to worry about whether or not there really was a lake near a trailhead. I also thought that by creating a fictional national forest and towns, I would have more fictional leeway for the story.

 Do you have any advice for new writers? If you love writing, just stick with it! Learn all you can. Attend conferences and be open to feedback. Conferences allow writers to receive critiques from best-selling authors and editors with extensive backgrounds. Take notes, ask questions, and learn everything you can from them. I have so many published authors to thank for their help as I worked towards publication. I met most of them at conferences. Writing a novel and getting it published is a lengthy process with a big learning curve. Most importantly, enjoy the journey.

How do our readers contact you?

Readers are welcome to reach out anytime via email at: kathleen@kathleendonnelly.com

Here are more ways to connect with me:

Website: www.kathleendonnelly.com

Newsletter Sign-up: https://kathleendonnelly.com/#newsletter

Social Media:

 

Facebook@AuthorKathleenDonnelly 

Twitter–@KatK9writer

Instagram–@authorkathleendonne lly

Goodreadshttps://www.goodreads.com/author/show/22280955.Kathleen_Donnelly

Where to Purchase Chasing Justice: https://kathleendonnelly.com/chasing-justice/

 

 

20 Comments

  1. Rhonda

    Great interview, Kathleen! Looking forward to the great read!

    Reply
  2. Madeline Gornell

    Great meeting you, Kathleen, and LOVE your LOVE for animals. All the best!

    Reply
    • Kathleen Donnelly

      Nice to meet you too, Madeline! I definitely do love all animals! They are just amazing! Thanks for reading my guest post and wishing you all the best! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Barbara Nickless

    Thanks for a terrific interview! Kathleen, I love reading about your journey. And–just a thought–maybe you could teach a class on how to reverse engineer a novel as part of the ongoing learning-to-write process. 🙂

    Reply
    • Kathleen Donnelly

      Thanks so much for stopping by and reading the post, Barbara! That’s a great idea for a class…I’ll definitely think about it! I have to give credit to Grant Blackwood for teaching it in the class I took from him, but it would be fun to dig deeper and do a longer course on reverse engineering. Thank you! 🙂

      Reply
    • George Cramer

      Barbara, I second your suggestion that Kathleen teaches a class about reverse engineering a novel.

      Reply
      • Kathleen Donnelly

        Thanks, George! I’ll definitely consider it. Reverse engineering would be fun to teach. I know it really helped me out and I still plan on doing it as I write more books. 🙂

        Reply
  4. Lisa Towles

    What a wonderful interview. Kathleen’s background and book sound so intriguing, can’t wait to read it!

    Reply
    • Kathleen Donnelly

      Thanks so much, Lisa! I hope you enjoy Chasing Justice! 🙂

      Reply
  5. Peg Brantey

    This interview is fantastic! I love the questions, George. Kathleen, I appreciate your candor, and wish you every success. You deserve it!

    Reply
    • Kathleen Donnelly

      Thanks so much, Peg! I really appreciate all you’ve done to help me and all the encouragement along the way! 🙂

      Reply
  6. Margaret Mizushima

    Wonderful interview, Kathleen and George. I appreciate the hard work you’ve done to get this debut ready for the world, Kathleen. Loved reading about your journey!

    Reply
    • Kathleen Donnelly

      Thank you so much, Margaret! And thank you for your help along the way!

      Reply
  7. Michael A. Black

    Great interview, Kathleen. It sounds like you’ve worked really hard to perfect your writing and now you’re reaping the results. Congratulations on your success and best of luck with Chasing Justice.

    Reply
    • Kathleen Donnelly

      Thanks so much, Michael! It’s been a lot of hard work, but a lot of fun along the way. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Donnell Ann Bell

    Terrific interview! Love that you added the weather as a potential antagonist. Colorado certainly perfect… beautiful one moment, two feet of snow the next, dry one second, fire season the next. Can’t wait to dig into Chasing Justice, Kathleen. Thanks, George!

    Reply
    • Kathleen Donnelly

      Thanks so much, Donnell! And thank you for all your support in this journey. I do love the mountains as an antagonist. I remember driving up Hwy 34 to Estes the year after the floods as this story was starting to develop in my mind. There was a combo of devastation and beauty. This juxtaposition really stuck with me and made me think about how the mountains can be their own character. Hope you enjoy Chasing Justice!

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.