MARLA K. MORRIS – Combines True Crime and Fiction

Who Am I? I’m a lifelong central Ohio native educated at Capital University Law School. I enjoy true crime and police detective television shows like NCIS, Snapped, and Columbo. I have three grown children and two grandchildren. I enjoy adult coloring and diamond dot painting. My bucket list includes travelling to all fifty states and taking a Mediterranean cruise. I write true crime peppered with a bit of fiction.

What is your most recent release? Sweet Burial was released last month.  My inspiration was a true crime perpetrated in the central Ohio area in the early 90s. It’s a tale involving sex, lies, videotape, and murder. Rarely do newlyweds who experience marital conflict jump immediately to the drastic option of divorce. Christian Wright and his bride Chloe choose instead to engage the professional services of a marriage counselor soon after entering into what was supposed to be wedded bliss.  While initially there’s no physical violence between them, their relationship is rife with emotional, verbal, and psychological harm. Just as they are on the verge of ending it all, they learn Chloe is with child. Sadly, the birth of their son isn’t the blessed event they hoped it would be. Their child is differently-abled. Chloe embraces their son, while Christian rejects him as if he is a defective toy. A flimsy facade of family perfection is perpetuated to outsiders looking in for years. There is nothing Christ-like nor morally correct about the deadly choices Christian Wright ultimately makes, forever turning his family’s life upside down.

What was your debut title? His Dream, Her Nightmare was my first book. It’s a tale of misplaced trust. Our romantic choices do not always serve us well. This is even truer when duty or tradition rather than authentic love compels one to stay in a toxic relationship or marriage. Unfortunately, a young lovesick Winnie is unable to realize her condition will only lead to calamity. Winnie is determined to stand by her man Nelson even though he doesn’t value her worth as a woman nor her loyalty to him. To honor her vows, she is committed to him despite his criminal past, infidelity, and controlling ways. At her tipping point, when she is ready to finally leave their imbalanced union, Nelson won’t let her. Winnie disappears suddenly after they celebrate his milestone thirtieth birthday. With the help of his crafty lawyer, Nelson is able to stave off suspicions of her family, friends, and most importantly, the authorities for years. He is able to live his happily ever after as a free man until he meets his karmic end.

Why did you start writing? I originally tried to have a YouTube content creator highlight the real life case chronicled in my novella on her true crime channel. After forwarding research to no avail, I decided to tell the story myself. It explores how a woman who went missing in the mid-seventies from the Columbus area. She left behind her young children, a good job, and her jealous husband, who coincidently was a convicted rapist.  Because of its brevity, many readers are clamoring to learn more about whether justice is served for the main character Winnie. To that end, I’m working on the sequel, Her Dream, His Nightmare: The Saga Continues to be released in August of this year.

My writing grew out of my grieving process. I lost my mother to Covid-19 a little over a year ago, three days before Christmas 2020. The fictional main character murdered in my first book was a long-term friend of my mother’s. Pat, who is a staunch advocate for justice in the book, is the portrayal of my mother. The victim was among the first to benefit from facial reconstruction techniques developed at the Smithsonian.

I like writing about crimes in the past when gumshoe detective work rather than high tech science was the primary means to solving murder cases. I prefer settings in the 70s to 90s, because it forces the reader to imagine a time when cell phones, closed circuit television, and DNA either weren’t prevalent or at times nonexistent. Lastly, I have lived in Columbus all of my life, so there are references to many old restaurants, landmarks, and of course, the Ohio State Buckeyes.

What is your current project? Currently, I’m working on Misplaced Danger: A Fatal Prescription. It explores the interconnected lives of a greedy doctor and his drug addicted patient. Living on opposite ends of town, both are on paths to doom. The main character Teddy, a late bloomer, has challenging stressors at home and on his job. He has the misfortune of being referred to Dr. Ben Eagleston, who prescribes seemingly innocuous meds that only make his life worse. It’s full of plot twists. What’s more, it too is based on actual headline events from my sleepy hometown.

Are there any unique quirks in your writing? Without giving spoilers, I will point out two hidden themes. In Sweet Burial, there is a food or cooked dish mentioned in almost every chapter, even in a serious court trial scene. In Misplaced Danger, there will be direct and indirect avian references.

What is on your writing horizon? A series centered around femmes fatales is the future project brewing on the outer reaches of my creativity.  I have a working title, subtitles, and cover ideas. The antagonists will be ruthless, fierce, and violent women underestimated by their prey.

What advice would you give to another writer? Admittedly, I am a novice. If I had to give tips or advice to an even newer writer than myself, it would be two things. One, a writer writes. Keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas. Take time to write every day. My benchmark is daily word count because I have figured out my natural rhythm for writing.  Two, set aside time to work on your craft.  There are so many moving parts to this writing and publication process. The more you expose yourself to honing your craft, the better your completed works will be.

How do our readers contact you?

Amazon Central Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Marla-K-Morris/e/B09DP1XLSL/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1

Blog: Marlaz Memoz: https://www.blogger.com/blog/posts/848832704092691407?hl=en&tab=jj

TikTok: marlamorris3

Sweet Burial available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Burial-Tragedy-That-Beneath-ebook/dp/B09F86M2PR

4 Comments

  1. DONNARAE MENARD

    I’m thinking true crime might be in my future as a more serious reader. I don’t think I could stay the course as far as a sprinkling of fiction, I’d be dropping it in by the cupful. You took some hard subjects, and I heartfully wish you the best.

    Reply
  2. Katherine brinston

    I have read both of your books and enjoyed ever bit of them keep writing waiting on the new one to come out what a amazing writer and story teller

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Wow, for such a nice lady, you certainly write about gruesome subjects, but I think that’s great. Your writing advice is certainly solid and right on the mark. Best of luck to you. Keep those pages coming.

    Reply

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CARL VONDERAU – Award Winning Author

Carl Vonderau is the author of MURDERABILIA, which won The Left Coast Crime Award for Best Debut Mystery and the San Diego Book Award for Best Mystery/Suspense. Like the protagonist, he has been a private banker and was raised in a Christian Science family. On the other hand, his father was never a serial killer whose photos launched the “murderabilia” market. Carl has worked in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, and North Africa. He is now a full-time writer. He has another book in submission with publishers.

Carl is the president of Partners in Crime, San Diego, a chapter of Sisters in Crime. He is also a partner at San Diego Social Venture Partners. This organization mentors other nonprofits to reach the next level. Carl lives with his wife in San Diego, and they have two grown sons.

WHERE ARE YOU IN YOUR WRITING CAREER? I have been writing for thirty years. I guess it takes some time to become competent. My money-making career was as a banker. That’s why the characters in my books are in the financial industry.

My debut novel, MURDERABILIA, is a thriller. Unfortunately, the publisher, Midnight Ink, closed its doors. I’ve reissued it with Amazon with a new cover, so it is readily available again. A number of publishers are considering my second book. It’s a nervous time until someone decides to buy it.

I’m currently working on a third novel which is stand-alone domestic suspense.

WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS? I begin with a premise and then try to outline 30-40 scenes. I usually structure around an inciting incident and 3 acts. Then I start to write by hand. I do this on a legal pad and like to work at coffee houses. The objective is to write as fast as possible. When I have at least 3-4 pages, I’m relieved because I know I’ve got something that can be a scene. When I’ve finished the scene by hand, I try to type it into my computer within 24 hours. In that process, I will add parts like gestures or settings, or senses. I’ll also take out writing that doesn’t work. Sometimes while I’m typing, I see that the scene doesn’t really begin until the middle, so I leave out the first part.

I’m continually trying to improve my process. For the latest book I’m working on, I used Plottr to map out the scenes. Then I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time and wrote like a madman to get down 57k words. I’ve never written even close to that much so quickly. This process has enabled me to get a very rough draft faster than I have ever gotten one before. Just don’t ask about the quality. Now I’m going back to each scene to make sure it deserves to be in the book. If it does, I revise it.

I write a few hours every day, taking breaks throughout. One of the most creatively productive things is to finish working on a  scene and then do something else like exercise or the dishes. This gives me distance and allows the scene to reverberate in my subconscious. I usually get a good idea while I’m away from my laptop. The shower is great.

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO GET PUBLISHED? A lifetime. My kids are in their thirties, and I began writing when they were very young. I was also working, so writing became any snatch of time I could steal from the day. We moved from Chicago to Montreal, and I had to work and learn French. But I always made some time to write. The lesson I got from these years is that, even if you only have 15 minutes, you can scratch out some words. You just write as fast as you can. That’s part of the reason it took me so long to write my first book.

That first unpublished novel took 15 years. I didn’t have a writer’s group or mentor, so I just stumbled around. The novel was set in Colombia. It didn’t all go into the drawer. I used some of it years later for a short story that went into the San Diego Sisters/Partners in Crime anthology, CROSSING BORDERS. I started on another novel after we moved to San Diego. That took about five years. It was also unpublished. But by then, I had discovered writing conferences and writing coaches, so I got better.

MURDERABILIA took about four years to write. There were more than 20 revisions. But this time, I got to work with Jacquelyn Mitchard as a content editor and learned a lot. Then I had to find an agent. I took a course on crafting elevator pitches. I used what I came up with to land an agent at the San Francisco Writers Conference. It took more than a year for the book to finally come out in print. It won a Lefty and a San Diego book award. Not exactly an overnight success.

There are a couple of big things I’ve learned over all this time. The first is that tenacity is more important than talent. The other thing is: Get feedback from a writer’s group, courses, conferences, or a writing coach. The book never works as well as I think it does.

HOW IMPORTANT IS SETTING TO YOU? I think setting is extremely important. It is not only the physical details and sensory feel of where the book takes place. It is also the culture that surrounds the characters. I like to go to the cities where my books are set. In my first book, I went to Colombia and walked the streets of Bogota. I wrote down impressions in a notebook. Most of it I didn’t use. But some of those details really helped create a sense of place. For MURDERABILIA, I used details from Colombia, Algeria (where I’d traveled on business), San Diego, and banking. I got help from friends in Tijuana for the book currently in submission. They took me to places where I could set scenes. Then I combined what I’d seen into some fictional locations. I also used notes and pictures. I want the setting to evince who my characters are and how they feel.

CONTACTS

  • carlvonderau.com
  • Facebook: 1)Carl Vonderau, 2) AuthorCarlVonderau
  • Twitter: CarlVonderau
  • Instagram:Carlvonderau

 

2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    What an inspiring account of the tenacity of being a writer. My congratulations on finishing the 57000 words in NoRhyMo. That’s quite an accomplishment in itself. Best of luck to you. Keep writing.

    Reply
    • Carl Vonderau

      Thank you, Micheal. The most important things are to put in the hours and to get feedback. Thanks also to you George for giving me some space on your blog.

      Reply

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LYNN-STEVEN JOHANSON – Award-Winning Playwright / Mystery Writer

Lynn-Steven Johanson is an award-winning playwright and novelist living in Illinois. His mystery novels, Rose’s Thorn and Havana Brown, are published by Level Best Books. His next mystery, Corrupted Souls, will be published in 2022. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is retired from Western Illinois University.

 

Havana Brown, a prequel to my first novel, Rose’s Thorn, was the 2021 winner of a Royal Dragonfly Book Award for mysteries.

“Homicide detective Joe Erickson returns, this time obsessive as ever when he is pitted against a serial killer as methodical as Dexter and as cold as a winter breeze in Chicago. Fans of thrillers will feel Joe’s every frustration and relish his small triumphs, but they won’t deny author Lynn-Steven Johanson’s talent. Havana Brown has twists and turns, crisp dialog, and introduces readers to a sinister, terrifying, and unforgettable killer.” —Gabriel Valjan, Agatha and Anthony-nominated author of The Naming Game.

My third book in the Joe Erickson Mystery Series, Corrupted Souls, is due to be published this spring.

How long did it take you to write your first book? Because Rose’s Thorn was based on a screenplay I had written about ten years previously, the adaptation only took about six months. Most of the dialogue was already there. But I had to teach myself to write narration. Fortunately, my wife helped me with that. Being a former English teacher and an avid novel reader, she was able to assist me with my narrative writing. She still acts as my editor. Once I complete a chapter, she reads it and suggests fixes, and points out things that I missed. She’s nice about it and doesn’t use red ink!

How long to get it published? That took a while because once Rose’s Thorn had gone through numerous drafts and I was satisfied it was in good shape; I started to send out queries to agents. For over a year, after reaching out to forty agents, getting ignored by half, and receiving thanks-but-no-thanks messages from the other half, I began to approach publishers who were accepting solicitations from authors. Level Best Books requested the entire manuscript, and they eventually offered me a three-book contract. The entire process from the first email to an agent to the contract offer was two years. It goes to prove it pays to be tenacious.

 How do you come up with character names? My main character, Chicago Detective Joe Erickson, is named for my maternal grandfather, who died eight years before I was born. It’s a good, strong Midwestern name. His romantic partner, Destiny Alexander, a criminal profiler, has a name that is symbolic as she is Joe’s destiny. This one woman will always be with him. I see my characters in my mind and hear them talk, so my other character names are based a lot on how the characters look. Sometimes I search for “popular names for men or women” on the internet in order to see lists. Starting with Havana Brown, my second novel, the stories take place in Chicago, so I have a lot of ethnic characters. For instance, Joe’s partner is Detective Sam Renaldo. I found his names by doing internet searches for common Hispanic first and last names. I chose his names based on what seemed to fit him. And on a rare occasion, I will use a friend’s first or last name for a character. I did that to pay homage to a late friend in Corrupted Souls.

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Only once. When I decided to write a prequel for my second novel, I knew I would be employing subplots. Havana Brown has a main plot which is Joe Erickson on the trail of a serial killer. But there are two subplots. The first is his developing romantic relationship with Destiny. The second is Joe dealing with his aging father’s health issues. I wrote it in a tight chronological order. I devoted certain chapters to Joe and Destiny and some to Joe and his father. But even in those chapters, something happened with the serial killer case, so the main plot was still intertwined with the subplot chapters. The subplots did make for a longer book.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m a playwright as well as a novelist, and I approach playwriting as a pantser. But having written two screenplays, I learned to write them via Syd Field’s method, which is highly structured. And I applied that method to writing novels. Syd Field calls his structure a paradigm that essentially lays out the story in terms of three acts: the setup, the confrontation, and the resolution. Each is separated by a plot point which is a major event in the story. Since Act II is twice as long as either Act I and Act III, it has a mid-point, which is another type of plot point that turns the confrontation in a direction toward the resolution. Once these points are decided, you begin filling in the story elements. I like to think of these elements as potential chapters. When you actually begin writing, the elements of the paradigm remain fluid. They can change as you write, but the plot points remain constant because they are the major events you write toward.

What kind of research do you do? I like to be as accurate as possible, so I do a lot of research on various aspects of a story. My first novel took place in the Iowa county where I grew up, so I knew the area quite well. But I had to research local law enforcement when I was writing the screenplay. I interviewed the county sheriff, and he answered all of my questions. Covid has made it difficult for me to do on-the-ground research on my subsequent novels. I live in downstate Illinois, but my locations are in Chicago, and I have been unable to travel up there. Using Google searches has been a godsend. My fictional detective works out of Detective Area 3, which covers the north side of the city on the Lake Michigan side. I am somewhat familiar with that area and can look up nearly everything on the internet I need about neighborhoods and police districts covered by Area 3. I also called Area 3 and spoke to a detective a couple of times about a few technical things. When I began working on my third novel, Corrupted Souls, I discovered a former homicide detective on LinkedIn who still works out of Area 3. He agreed to be an adviser for me, and he has been a great resource.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I use real locations in so far as street names, neighborhoods, hotels, and well-known landmarks in Chicago like the Art Institute, Burnham Harbor, Navy Pier, and places like that. What I don’t use are the names of actual businesses like restaurants, bars, theatres, independent stores, and so on. If I’m looking for a bar in a particular neighborhood, I’ll do an internet search, choose a particular establishment, and instead of giving the name, I will write something like, “an Irish pub on East Ohio Street.” I go to their website, look at photographs, and may use a few details in my description. Some savvy readers from Chicago may be able to guess the pub I’m referencing on East Ohio Street. If it is important, I will use a fictitious name for an establishment, but that is an exception to the rule.

How do our readers contact you?

They can contact me through my website at www.LSJohanson.com. I would be happy to respond to them. My books are available on Amazon, and there are links on my website.

1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    It’s good to “meet” a fellow writer from Illinois. I picked up on a few ironies. I’m a retired cop and writer and I live in the Chicago area, but I wrote a story set downstate in Southern Illinois once. I also worked with a guy on the PD named Erickson. Best of luck to you with your writing.

    Reply

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SUE PEPPER – Not so Cozy Mysteries Set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

I’m Sue Pepper, and I write not so cozy mysteries for millennials. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my two kids, a fuzzy yellow dog, and a real-life action hero husband. I’m a former resident of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, pushed out by the billionaire-caused housing crisis, and I enjoy writing revenge and redemption for the fictional residents of my Jackson Hole Moose’s Bakery Not So Cozy Mystery series.

 

My newest book, Hot Springs Murder, is the second in the series and is set in snowy Jackson Hole winter. In it, my second-generation bakery owner protagonist Sadie Moose is enjoying a romantic evening in a moonlit hot spring with her new boyfriend when a dead body floating in the pool interrupts their steamy interlude.

Yes. Another dead body. But she is absolutely not getting involved this time. She has enough to do with a business expansion underway, her new renters, and her new relationship.

Except the chief suspect is the troubled grandson of one of the regulars at her bakery. She promises she’ll ask some questions to keep him out of jail. And then her new barista is a neighbor of the deceased, and she’s having a hard time sleeping, thinking someone in her tight-knit neighborhood is a murderer. So, Sadie asks a few more questions.

Soon, she’s embroiled in the investigation, with danger lurking around every snowy corner. With help from her sexy boyfriend, rowdy bakery crew, a maybe-mob-princess, and her trusty canine companion, Tyrone, Sadie must clear the mist surrounding this mystery before the killer boils her, too.

I’m excited to answer some questions today!

What is a not so cozy mystery? Cozy mysteries are defined by an amateur sleuth, unlikable victims, quirky characters, and a cozy setting. Death and violence happen off-page. My not so cozy mysteries have all those hallmarks, with the added spice of salty language and steamy scenes. They’re cozy mysteries for spicy romance readers, for everyone that’s watched a Hallmark movie and wished the characters acted more like real people. While my series has romantic elements, each book doesn’t have a Happy Ever After or Happy For Now, so they don’t qualify as romance. There will be an HEA within the series arc, though!

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I knew Jackson Hole was the perfect backdrop when I started writing this series. The tension between the strained local workforce, billionaire second and third homeowners, developers, tourists, wildlife, and conservationists was too delicious to pass up! We lived in Jackson for three years, and we miss it dearly. Setting my series there helped me reconnect with it and our memories of the place.

Most of the specific establishments are based on actual businesses, but renamed, moved, and tweaked for my purposes. Moose’s Bakery, Sadie’s family business, is inspired by three Jackson Hole coffee houses. It has the vibe of Cowboy Coffee Co, the location of Persephone Bakery, and the knotty pine look of Jackson Hole Roasters. Get Rich or Thai Tryin’, the Thai food truck my characters frequent, is imaginary, but how fun would it be if it was real? In Hot Springs Murder, the book is set at two different hot springs. Pritchard, which is based on the real Granite Hot Springs, just moved for my convenience and renamed, and Astoria Hot Springs, which are real and located just where I said in the book. I think taking author’s license to make things the way I wish they were is one of the most enjoyable things about writing!

Do you have subplots? How do you weave them into the series arc? My goal for this series is twelve full-length books with interstitial short stories between each, so my books are ripe with subplots! The lives loves, and adventures of each of the characters, not just my main character, will be explored throughout the series. Sadie’s crusade against developers and the ongoing workforce housing crisis is also an overarching plot. In book one, Mountain Town Murder, Sadie’s childhood home is under threat of being razed to make way for pricey condos the workforce can’t afford. I won’t spoil the ending, but the decision she makes about her home will play out for the series. I love writing my interstitial short stories, which occur between full-length novels and handle a smaller mystery, but flesh out subplots I don’t have room for in the main books. I have two of those out, Escape From the North Pole #1.5 and A Deadly Secret Admirer #2.5.

What brought you to writing? I’m the stereotypical “I’ve been writing all my life” person! Since I can remember, I’ve been scrawling ideas down in notebooks and hoarding them under my bed where no one could read them. I’ve plotted out dozens of books but never could get past the beginnings. I’d almost given up, but the pandemic brought me home with my kids, and over time, I started carving out time to research self-publishing and the business of writing. Last year, the idea for this series hit me, and I decided to write it, put it out on Wattpad, and stop worrying about what people would think. While I didn’t build much of an audience on that platform with only one story, I completed a book! After lots of tweaks, I published Mountain Town Murder in November 2021, and the floodgates opened. Now I can’t stop writing, and I plan to release four full-length novels in the series this year.

What are the challenges of being an indie author? I find being an indie author challenging but also so freeing. Whatever the problems I have are, it’s up to me to fix them. I get to set my priorities, and the limit to what I can learn and what I can earn are on me! The biggest challenge is balancing time between writing and marketing, as well as building funds to invest in editing, cover design, and more. I’ve found great self-publishing communities online that have taught me so much!

When’s your next book coming out? Book three in the series releases 4/26/22! Boss Babe Murder is set at a multi-level marketing retreat cut off from the world and is my first locked-room mystery. Sadie’s on her way to a hard-earned all-inclusive beach vacation, but she needs to make just one stop before she heads to the airport. When the road closes behind her, she finds herself stranded with the leaders of a pyramid scheme and their acolytes, including her in-to-deep friend from college and a mysterious man from her past who’s hiding his true identity. When one of the company leaders is murdered, and help can’t reach them, Sadie must solve the mystery to clear her friend’s name and discover the killer before they strike again.

Thanks for having me, George!

Find Sue Pepper online at www.suepepperauthor.com, on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.

16 Comments

  1. Darlene Dziomba

    A series set in Jackson Hole, I can’t wait to read it. Congratulations on succeeding as an Indie author. I’m self-publishing my first book this year. I agree there are challenges, but freeing to set my own deadlines.

    Reply
  2. CINDY SAMPLE

    Great interview, Sue. I love that part of the country so I’m looking forward to checking out your “not so cozy” cozy.

    Reply
  3. Mary Hagen

    I married a man who grew up in Jackson and often lamented over the changes. Although I’m not into steamy, I love stories about the beautiful valley. Looking forward to reading it

    Reply
  4. Susan Drew

    I love your books, Sue! Sadie is such a great character. I can’t wait to dive into your next book and catch up with all my favorite bakery buddies.

    Reply
  5. Sue Pepper

    I’m having trouble threading replies, but thank you everyone for the comments!

    Carole – nice to “meet” a fellow PNW writer!
    Ana – I also visited the Tetons when I was 11 on a family vacation, and they left a lasting impression on me. Little did I know twenty years later my family would end up living there!
    Margaret – Thanks for your kind comments!
    Helen – I have a lot of fun writing it, so I hope it’s fun to read, too!

    Reply
  6. Sue Pepper

    Thanks, Nancy! I cannot claim to have created it, but as soon as I heard it I knew it was what I was writing!

    Reply
  7. Carole T. Beers

    As a fellow Northwest scribbler—and fan of Jackson Hole—I soaked in your post, seeing so many other points of delight: sassy cast, a canine buddy, crime puzzles with ‘benefits.’ Nice to discover you!

    Reply
  8. ana manwaring

    I loved my visit at age 11 to Jackson Hole and the Tetons. Mom bought a painting that my brother and I have fought over since 196. Who would inherit it? Unfortunately, he won. But I loved it there so much I’m already your fan before I read word. And I like your publishing plan. You’ll make sure I meet my Goodreads reading goal!
    Ana

    Reply
  9. Margaret Mizushima

    So glad you reached the stage of not caring so much what people think! That is definitely freeing. Congrats on your series, and I enjoyed reading about your not so cozy mysteries. Great setting and I love the image of a corpse floating up while things are getting steamy in a moonlit hot springs! Wishing you all the best!

    Reply
    • vicky

      yes

      Reply
  10. Michael A. Black

    I enjoyed hearing about you and I love the “Not so cozy mystery” designation. Best of luck to you on completing your series. It’s great you’re writing about Wyoming and the modern West. Stay strong.

    Reply
  11. George Cramer

    Glad to have you stop by for a visit.

    Reply
  12. Sue Pepper

    Thanks for having me on your blog, George!

    Reply

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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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