DEBRA BOKUR – The Power in Story (Even When It’s a Fish Tale)

Debra Bokur is the author of the Hawai’i-based Dark Paradise Mysteries series published by Kensington Books (The Fire Thief, The Bone Field, and The Lava Witch), often favorably compared by Publisher’s Weekly and other reviewers to Tony Hillerman’s Southwest-based mysteries. She’s served as an editor on the staff of multiple national magazines, has been a feature writer for Global Traveler Magazine since 2007, and works as a book narrator and voice actor for Audible. Bokur divides her time between Colorado and coastal Maine and is working on a new series set in the 160-year-old haunted inn in Maine that she and her husband are restoring.

The summer before my junior year of high school, I worked at the concession stand at the local drive-in movie theater in St. Augustine, Florida. The much-anticipated release of the film Jaws, based on the novel of the same name by author Peter Benchley, was underway.

It was 1975. Everyone had appalling hairstyles and wore bell-bottom denims held up by double-ring leather belts. We drove ridiculous cars (do a Google search for “Pacer,” and you’ll see what I mean). Those very cars came to be parked by the speaker posts in the sandy lot in front of the drive-in’s huge movie screen, and their passengers — locals and schoolmates — all found their way to the concession counter to gather enough popcorn, soda, and reheated frozen pizza to carry them through to the film’s big wrap-up.

By the end of the summer, I knew the entire script by heart, had acquired a deep interest in story arc, and found a best friend. Her name was Ally (changed to protect her privacy), and she, like me, was a smart-alecky New England transplant who loved writing, books, and films. She still does, and we’re still friends, and to this day, we exchange book recommendations and snippets from our own writing. And we can each still quote a shocking number of lines from Jaws.

The most important thing we accomplished that summer was not to memorize blockbuster scripts or earn money to stash in our small bank accounts (a lot of which was diverted to buying books); it was to create a story for ourselves that had nothing to do with sharks, or navigating challenging home lives, or deciding on which scholarship programs to angle for: It was all about becoming the successful women that everyone in our neighborhoods insisted on telling us we could never be.

Back then, I had a half-formed fantasy of my future as a successful author who lived a double life as an international spy, cruising on assignment through the Swiss Alps in a vintage Jaguar (British Racing Green, natch) or piloting a sleek wooden Chris Craft speedboat between small harbors in the Greek Islands, waiting for an impossibly sexy co-spy to meet me on the dock in front of a private villa. The co-spy always carried a secret document hidden in the pages of a Dylan Thomas poetry collection and always smelled like sandalwood and neroli. My efforts, of course, would save humanity from a dire end; and, depending on the fantasy details of any particular day, also rescue at least one puppy and several children from the path of a tsunami.

Not too long ago, one of those countless subscription television networks ran a Jaws movie marathon, endlessly playing the original film in the legendary shark-attack franchise back-to-back. I left the television on and the film playing in the background while I did a deep clean of my kitchen cabinets and drawers. In no time at all, I was speaking along with the actors, the script seemingly lodged forever in one of those strangely shaped little rooms in my brain.

Hearing those lines again reminded me of how words can so easily get under our skin and infiltrate our psyche; how some stories stick with us, and the memory of them becomes a powerful link to moments that we share with others.

Today, my secret fantasies have less dramatic details but are far more meaningful: Most revolve around book sales and good reviews; of meeting readers who found something engaging in one of my novels and who can’t wait to read the next one; of walking into a bookstore in a faraway town and seeing my books prominently displayed on the shelves.

Sometimes, those things actually happen. Maybe, someday, there will be speedboats, Jaguars, and clandestine meetings on villa docks, too. Perhaps my spy fantasies were really all about the longing to make some kind of positive mark; doing something — even undercover — might change the world in a good way. Making sure the imaginary killers in my mystery series get caught and properly punished is how I practice.

We all have our own concession stand memories, I think; people we meet along the labyrinth trails of our lives who, if we’re lucky, become enduring friends. For authors, readers who come back time and again to read our latest work are exactly like that: friends whose names we may not know but to whom we are nevertheless indelibly connected.

Connections matter. Today, Ally, a gifted vocalist, sings as part of a successful musical group. She has an incredible family and a happy life, and she still writes stories that take my breath away. In the process of getting my own work out into the world, I’ve met and become friends with some marvelous authors and equally amazing readers. Is there a movie or song or book that triggers one of your own most powerful memories that brings you back to a place and time that you had no idea would become a seminal moment in your own journey? I hope so, and I hope you’ll share it in the comments here. Thank you for allowing me to share my own.

Professional affiliations:
Society of American Travel Writers,
Mystery Writers of America,
Sisters in Crime (National, Colorado and New England chapters),
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers,
International Thriller Writers.

Here are links:
My website (all the purchase links are there):
https://www.debrabokur.com/ (more…)

16 Comments

  1. Laurel Kallenbach

    Your devotion to telling stories—and revisiting them over and over again—is inspiring. Our lives would be dull and meaningless without stories in books, films, and told orally. Thanks for sharing your own story. And I can’t wait to read your next mystery series!!!

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Thank you, Laurel. I realize you already know this, but you’re one of those enduring friends I mention. And a fabulous writer, as well.

      Reply
  2. Candace Hardy

    Debra, I just finished listening to Stories that Stick by Kendra Hall, and your story is a perfect example of the power of stories. I enjoyed when I was young a thousand years ago Native American books by Grace Moon, and the movie I watched a zillion times is Broadcast News. Diverse, I’m happy to say. Enjoyed your post.
    Candy

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Wow, Candace thanks — I love that movie, too. I’m not familiar with author Grace Moon, but you’ve definitely put her on my radar!

      Reply
  3. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    This post was such fun, Debra ( and George). As others already said, it was a great trip down memory lane. Best of luck with LAVA WITCH.

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Many thanks!

      Reply
  4. Peg Roche

    Really enjoyed your story, Debra, and look forward to reading the first of your books I just downloaded: The Lava Witch (the only one available).

    Thanks , George, for introducing Debra!

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Thank you, Peg – I truly hope you enjoy the book! I had a lot of fun writing it.

      Reply
  5. Debra Bokur

    Wow, thank you, Donnell. You are both thoughtful and kind. And that music, right? I wonder if the filmmakers had any idea that decades after the film was born, that music would still be source of chills. I didn’t read the book until years after seeing the film, and I could still hear it in the background!

    Reply
  6. Donnell Ann Bell

    Debra, thank you for such a wonderful trip down Memory Lane. I graduated high school in 1975 and your details of the era are as precise as I remember, I cannot wait for your haunted ghost series. it will be a departure from your excellent Hawaiian mysteries, which will be a hard act to follow! Even in a promotional blog describing what brought you this point, your writing ability and wisdom shine. I suspect you owe it in part to concession stands, your friend “Ally” and to Peter Benchley’s JAWS. What kid doesn’t remember the lines from this thriller? I spent much of my time covering my eyes, particularly when Da ta . . . Da ta . . . Da.ta da.ta Da.ta played on the screen. All I can say in closing is this is a sensational blog, and . . . “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Thanks George for sharing Debra Bokur with us!

    Reply
  7. Marie Sutro

    Love this!! Jaws will always be a favorite. The very best friendships are forged in popcorn, soda, and suspense!

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Thanks, Marie! I agree on all accounts.

      Reply
  8. Michael A. Black

    Great Jaws story, Debra. I’ll have to check out your books. Be careful swimming.

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Thank you, Michael! I tend to stick to lakes and pools these days, though I used to love that Jaws ride at Universal Studios 🙂

      Reply
  9. Heather Haven

    What a great post! And I love the phrase, “concession stand memories.” Thanks so much for sharing your life, hopes, and dreams. Putting aside the jaguars, they were very similar to mine.

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Thanks, Heather — And for the record, I would consider an Aston Martin an acceptable substitution if a Jag isn’t part of the Universe’s plans 🙂

      Reply

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MAILAN DOQUANG – Shares the Story of Her Debut Fiction Novel

Mailan Doquang holds a Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU. She has published extensively on the art and architecture of medieval France, in addition to teaching at some of the top universities in North America. Mailan is an avid photographer, traveler, and runner. She is a Canadian transplant and a longtime resident of New York City. Blood Rubies is her debut.

Blood Rubies Elevator Pitch: A jewel thief’s life spirals out of control after a heist goes sideways and a loved one vanishes from a Bangkok slum. Pre-Order – Release Date May 7, 2024

What brought you to writing? Writing is central to my work as an architectural historian. I published a book on the role of ornament in French Gothic churches with Oxford University Press in 2018. I’ve also published academic articles and essays, catalog entries, and book reviews and created content for an EdTech startup. A few years ago, I realized that my favorite part of being an academic wasn’t research or teaching but writing. I wanted to write things that are accessible, so I decided to give fiction a try. I chose thrillers because they’re the books I enjoy most, and I wrote a mixed-race protagonist because they’re rare in this genre, and representation matters in every field.

How long did it take you to write your first book? Blood Rubies is my first novel. I drafted the book in under a year, but that doesn’t include the revisions I made with my agent, which went on for several months. The manuscript was clean by the time it got into my editor’s hands, so that process was quick and easy. By contrast, my Oxford book took six years to complete, from the time I started researching to the moment I sent the final draft to my editor.

We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave or run wild? My protagonist, Rune Sarasin, is impossible to control! It’s one of the things I love about her. Rune is a quintessential antihero. She steals, she’s rebellious, and she struggles with impulse control. That said, she’s also whip-smart and loyal—she’ll stop at nothing to save the people she loves. Antiheroes are fascinating because they’re unpredictable. They zig when we expect them to zag, which adds uncertainty to scenarios that might otherwise unfold in predictable ways. Running wild is a big part of their appeal.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m solidly in the pantser camp. What I enjoy most about writing fiction is the way stories reveal themselves to me, like I’m watching a movie or reading someone else’s novel, only very slowly. By the time I got to the midway point of Blood Rubies, Rune was so fully formed in my mind that her narrative voice dictated the rest of the story.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? By training, I’m an architectural historian, so I work hard to create an authentic sense of place and space. It’s a point of professional pride! Most of my settings are real places I’ve visited. I incorporate some fictional locations into my stories, but even those are based on real places. I find it helpful to have a concrete point of departure that I can retool as needed.

What are you currently working on? I’m currently working on two projects. The first is the sequel to Blood Rubies, scheduled for publication in 2025; the second is a book about a Vietnamese American art curator whose life unravels after she becomes the victim of a violent crime.

Do you have any advice for new writers? Run your own race.

Memberships:
Crime Writers of Color
International Thriller Writers
Mystery Writers of America
Sisters in Crime
Sisters in Crime New York

Contact:
Instagram: @authormailan
Twitter: @AuthorMailan
Publisher: https://penzlerpublishers.com/product/blood-rubies/

Blood Rubies is available at:
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CL199RSB
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/blood-rubies-mailan-doquang/1144209733
Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/p/books/blood-rubies-mailan-doquang/20682930
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/blood-rubies-3

6 Comments

  1. Marie Sutro

    Sounds like a fabulous read!!

    Reply
    • Mailan Doquang

      Thank you very much, Marie! I hope people enjoy it!

      Reply
  2. Rhonda Blackhurst

    Thank you for the post Mailan & George! It’s inspiring to read another author’s process and it’s impressive that you went from in-depth non-fiction writing to fiction. Your advice to other authors is timeless and something I remind myself of all the time when I find myself in that endless loop of comparisonitis.

    Reply
    • Mailan Doquang

      Thank you so much, Rhonda! When I started grad school, I had a moment of panic and said to my boyfriend (now husband), “What if everyone is smarter than me?” I think of his response whenever comparisonitis creeps in: “Don’t worry about how smart everyone else is. Focus on how smart you are.” I picked a good one!

      Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Congratulations on your first novel, Mailan. You sound like you have the perfect approach to being an author. The book and the protagonist sound intriguing. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Mailan Doquang

      Thanks so much, Michael! I’m so excited for my book baby to be out in the world!

      Reply

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SHELLEY LEE RILEY – Where Do I Find Inspiration for My Writing?

 

A horse-crazy girl from the suburbs, with the help of a colt that nobody wanted, made history in 1992 when Casual Lies placed second in the 118th running of the Kentucky Derby. He was the highest-placed finisher trained by a woman since its inaugural running in 1875. A record that still stands to this day as the 150th running approaches. Casual Lies went on to run in all three Triple Crown races, another record. Now living in a forest in Central Oregon, Shelley enjoys honing her craft as a writer.

Generally, I find inspiration when I am not looking for it: a story in the news, the lyrics of a song, or a life experience, to name three. For example, my latest novel, Labyrinth of Ruin, was inspired by song lyrics and personal experience. One day, as I was writing, I had music in the background, and Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra came on. I have to ask, how many of you can say that song, with its amazing upbeat sound and inspiring lyrics, doesn’t move you? As I listened to the lyrics, really listened, I detected a subtle message, at least for me.

“Oh, Mr. Blue Sky, please tell us why you had to hide away for so long?”

Latching onto this, my main protagonists were developed to show their differences in ways that set them apart from their peers. And how, whether overlooked, tormented, or bullied, each character strives to go unnoticed.

Secondly, it is often said that a writer should write about what they know. As a woman trainer of racehorses for over two decades, a business predominately dominated by men, I find this especially true in the higher echelons of the sport, like the Kentucky Derby. When I came across a weedy colt that nobody wanted at a sale in Lexington, Kentucky, who could have predicted that one day I would be screaming my heart out as that colt, who had become something really special, was in front of the rest of the field as he ran down the lane in that storied race? Certainly not me.

So, using that hard-earned knowledge, I added wings to the equine athletes I was so familiar with and let them soar into that blue sky. While understanding through my own experiences how something or someone can be ridiculed and overlooked only to exceed all expectations, I let my characters discover their strength and self-worth, as once did I. You can read more about Labyrinth of Ruin, dragon racings equivalent to the Kentucky Derby, as well as Casual Lies at my website www.shelleyleeriley.com

 

2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Wow,, Shelley, your life sounds like it would make a good movie. And now you’re writing about racing dragons? Will there be a fire-breathing finish? Best of luck to you. You’re an inspiration.

    Reply
    • Shelley Riley

      Why thank you, Michael, on all counts. As to the ending? I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you, but dragons do like to flame. It’s in their nature.

      Reply

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LAURIE STEVENS – Battles AI in Her Latest Novel

Laurie Stevens is the author of the Gabriel McRay thriller series. Her books have won twelve awards, including Kirkus Review’s “Best of” and a Random House Editors’ Book of the Month. International Thriller Writers says she’s “cracked the code” regarding writing psychological suspense, while Suspense Magazine claims she’s the “leader of the pack.”

Laurie’s short stories have appeared in many anthologies and magazines, and she co-edited the Sisters in Crime anthology Fatally Haunted. Laurie’s newest novel, THE RETURN (just released in January), pits human consciousness against artificial intelligence.

ELEVATOR PITCH: Completely reliant on automation and artificial intelligence to run their lives, human beings struggle to survive when a war destroys all the power grids across the globe. Pitting human consciousness against AI, The Return is a timely, suspenseful story of human survival, coming-of-age love, and the true power unleashed when our human hearts connect.

Do you write in more than one genre? When I completed the Gabriel McRay psychological suspense series, I thought I was strictly a crime fiction writer. Then, I began researching the tech that’s upcoming (yikes!) and got the idea for The Return, which is not only a sci-fi/fantasy but a Young Adult crossover. Quite a change!

Was it difficult to change genres? Changing genres blew me out of my comfort zone, for sure. I’m working on a psychological suspense stand-alone novel right now, and writing it feels like a visit with an old friend. That said, I really enjoyed exploring the sci-fi and fantasy elements of the new book. I never intended The Return to be YA, but my editor was once a middle-grade English teacher and said, ‘Do you realize you’ve hit all the hallmarks of a YA novel? I would recommend this to my students!”

Your Gabriel McRay novels featured a male detective, and The Return also features a young male protagonist. What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? When I first wrote the character of Gabriel McRay, I asked my husband if he hated shaving every day and other things like that, but then Gabriel sort of took over and began writing himself. A creative writing class at UCLA dissected my second book, Deep into Dusk, and most of the students enjoyed the “role reversals,” where Gabriel has a feminine side and his medical examiner girlfriend, Dr. Ming Li, has a masculine side. I swear I didn’t try to switch them up. Aiden Baylor, the protagonist from The Return, is a young man facing the challenges many young men face. Having a son made my job easier, but placing this young man in a future world created its own set of challenges. Teen crushes may never change, but how a kid 75 years from now pursues his interests is another story.

What kind of research did you do? To build a world dependent entirely on automation and tech, I spoke with tech professionals, got my subscription to Wired and other tech magazines, and read fiction books like Blake Crouch’s Upgrade and non-fiction such as The Fourth Age by Byran Reese. In the book The Digital World “Unplugs,” I had to research how people once lived off the land. I don’t mind. I am a research junkie. It’s my favorite part of the writing process.

Tell us a little about your new book. Well, you might have gathered a little info from the previous paragraph. Here’s the logline: Completely reliant on automation and artificial intelligence to manage their lives, human beings learn to survive, bond, and unlock the power of their minds when a war destroys all the power grids across the globe.

Believe it or not, I based the story on a question inspired by the biblical story of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Why would God kick Adam and Eve out of Eden because they gained wisdom and awareness? What’s so bad about knowledge? I explore a possible answer in this book.

Do you have any advice for new writers? An acquisitions editor from a publishing house once asked me if I had any vampire manuscripts lying around or perhaps a story about wizards at a boarding school (you can imagine about what year this took place). I said, “No, I have a manuscript about a traumatized Los Angeles male detective, and every case he works triggers a key point in his psychological recovery.” That went over like a lead balloon with this editor. My advice is, you have to make a choice. If being published means the world to you, and an editor asks if you have a vampire manuscript, go home and write one.

If the message in your heart is of utmost importance to you, write it and hope it resonates with the gatekeepers or better yet – the readers.

How do our readers contact you?
You can always see my books at https://lauriestevensbooks.com
To get in touch with me, laurie@lauriestevensbooks.com

THE RETURN is available at:
Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/The-Return-Amazon
Barnes and Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-return-laurie-stevens/1144524026?ean=9798223883234
Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-return-250
Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-return/id6474872190
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1497892

Thanks for having me as a guest blogger. It’s been fun!
Laurie

2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Congratulations on your success, Laurie. You sound like you’ve got some great ideas and books. Your interview was an inspiration. Now I’m going to bow the dust off that unhappy vampire masquerading as a wizard at that boarding school for exceptional youths. 😉 Best of luck to you.

    Reply
  2. Marie Sutro

    Wow!! Sounds like a fantastic story!

    Reply

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KATHERINE RAMSLAND – Serial Murderers–Upclose

Dr. Katherine Ramsland teaches forensic psychology and behavioral criminology in the criminal justice graduate program at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. She has appeared as an expert in criminal psychology on more than two hundred crime documentaries, was an executive producer of Murder House Flip, and consulted for CSI, Bones, and The Alienist. The author of more than 1,800 articles and blogs and seventy-two books, including The Forensic Science of CSI, The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds, How to Catch a Killer, 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 her talks with Rader.

Over the past two years, Katherine has worked with Elmer Wayne Henley Jr. to tell his story of being an accomplice to the “Candy Man,” Dean Corll, who tortured and murdered at least twenty-seven boys during the 1970s. Ramsland’s new book, written with journalist Tracy Ullman, is The Serial Killer’s Apprentice: The True Story of How Houston’s Deadliest Murderer Turned a Kid into a Killing Machine, Crime Ink, April 2024.

Click to Preorder

Elevator Pitch for The Serial Killer’s Apprentice: Elmer Wayne Henley Jr. is the only accomplice to a serial killer who killed the predator to end the spree. As a cautionary tale for kids today, Henley describes how he was lured at the age of fifteen and then leveraged to kill.

What is this book about? In 1973, 17-year-old Wayne Henley shot and killed Dean Corll, an adult predator who’d used him and another accomplice to help procure local boys for torture and murder. Henley called the police to report it and showed them where twenty-seven victims were buried. The true crime books published quickly thereafter offered just part of the story (with errors). Fifty years later, our book not only provides more details, including interviews with Henley but also tracks down what both accomplices stated: there was an active sex trafficking organization in Dallas that Corll had used to leverage them. We use this case to discuss teen vulnerability to adult predators, which is as relevant today as it was back then. Within this frame, we show how predators like Corll identify and groom recruitable kids to get them involved in criminal acts.

What is it like to interview serial killers? I’ve spent a lot of time over nearly thirty years researching the criminal mind, so talking to these offenders isn’t as daunting as you might think. I’m not a collector. I don’t have letters from hundreds of murderers. I’m more interested in the deep dive, which means I spend a lot of time on a few. I have a clinical goal, which gives me a sense of purpose, and I select those who want to help us understand how they developed. Dennis Rader, for example, was eager to get his story on record within the frame of psychological analysis. The process took five years. Wayne Henley proved to be a reflective individual who contributed considerable insight to my studies. Yet I’ve spoken to others who simply wanted to express their anger or gain some advantage, and I cut them off before I’d wasted much time. But each of these interview experiences, whether productive or not, had its moments. It’s difficult to listen nonjudgmentally to someone coldly describing torture or murder. Still, it’s important to do so because we’re trying to identify the signals of disorder in young people before they turn violent.

What inspired your current work? I’ve been researching the psychology of extreme offenders for over 25 years. Some time ago, I came across a documentary called The Collectors, which is about people who collect murderabilia. One of the subjects being interviewed was Elmer Wayne Henley Jr., who’d created some impressive artwork. As he talked about himself, it changed the impression I’d gained of him from the true crime books on the “Candy Man” case. Over a decade later, when I was given the chance to choose someone as a documentary subject, I named him. I didn’t know if he’d even talk with me, but he did. Once he trusted me, our discussions grew into a unique kind of book. No one had yet told his story from his personal experience. I soon realized that the kind of vulnerability he had in Houston in 1972 when Dean Corll recruited him is the same for many kids today. And we now have many more predators looking for partners. The book is more than a new telling of an older crime with more information than earlier authors knew; it’s a guide to help parents, teachers, and counselors protect their children.

You’ve written 72 books, and you often write more than one at once. How do you keep them straight? I was writing the second and third novels in my “Nut Cracker Investigations” series while I was also working with Henley (and working a full-time teaching job). But I’ve always undertaken multiple projects at once. Our brains thrive on cross-fertilization. I keep the projects separate by placing relevant documents in separate piles on my office floor. Some days, I can barely find a path through them, but I always know where to find things I need. When I tire of one project or finish one, I’m glad to have something else to keep the juices flowing. It’s been this way for me for at least thirty years.

What is your writing process? First, I form habits. I believe in the power of body memories. I get up, get coffee, and get on the computer. My days vary, but my body is used to starting the day with writing (and often ending the day this way). I’ve written a book, Snap: Seizing your Aha! Moments, which describes one of the best things to do for the creative process. I’ve discovered that you can set yourself up for flashes of insight and get them regularly. In the book, I propose a program that I’ve found useful for generating sparks. First, you create your “mental salad.” You toss in all kinds of info and experiences. Then you relax in whatever way works for you. (For me, it’s walking or riding a horse.) During this time, you let the brain’s association network mix and match the various pieces of info you’ve added to yield what you need: an unexpected plot twist, a new character, the resolution of a scene, a new direction to take, etc. I’ve been counting on this process for years for both fiction and nonfiction. Order and chaos working together.

Do real people ever influence your fictional characters? My discussions with Wayne Henley had an impact on two of my novels. In I Scream Man, the first novel in my fictional series based on a female forensic psychologist, I have a scene in which the Candy Man is mentioned as a predator with two accomplices. It becomes a parallel story for what happens in the novel. While writing that scene, I remembered I’d long wished to speak with Henley. Three years later, a set of serendipitous circumstances made it possible to contact Henley and work with him. To some extent, his story influenced the “Danny” character in I Scream Man, but I also used what I’d learned directly from him for a character in the next book, In the Damage Path. In fact, all the novels in that series are based on actual cases and, therefore, on things that actual people did.

What obstacles do you face when writing about people no longer alive? The figure of Dean Corll, central to The Serial Killer’s Apprentice, remained mysterious. In some ways, I had to write around the holes in his story. Since Henley had killed him, he couldn’t give interviews—if he even would. Some journalists collected comments from his relatives and coworkers, but it wasn’t enough to flesh him out, especially psychologically. The two who knew him best were his accomplices, David Brooks, and Wayne Henley. But both said he was secretive and wouldn’t talk about himself. We know a lot about what he did to his victims, how he leveraged his accomplices, and how he constantly moved from one place to another in Houston, but we don’t truly know how many victims he had. Brooks claimed Corll had killed someone in California, but I could learn nothing about his time there other than a potential connection with another serial killer. We do know he killed alone at times and had burial sites other than the three his accomplices were aware of. I tried to piece this together, but it was difficult. I was able to use the frame of what we know about sadists and predators to figure out some likely traits for Corll, but I’m frustrated that we may never know crucial details about his development.

What is your experience of writing with a co-author? I met Tracy Ullman while working on the A&E production of the BTK documentary. When a producer asked me who I’d want to interview for a similar venture, I named Henley. She told me Tracy had already talked with him about another project and had police reports and news articles. Henley trusted her, so when she made the introduction, he was open to what I had in mind. Over the next two years, Tracy and I balanced responsibilities. She worked on the inroads she’d made with Wayne’s mother and childhood friends while I organized the material to write the book. Tracy had also spent over a decade compiling research on the sex trafficking organization that seemingly linked Dean Corll to serial killer John Wayne Gacy, so she wrote the chapter segments where that material was relevant. We talked frequently to reinforce our focus and discuss issues that arose. She always responded quickly to deadlines and the tasks of seeing a manuscript through the production process. We developed a relationship of mutual trust and respect because we shared a vision for the book and honored each other’s expertise. In the midst of all this, of course, were the discussions with Henley. In a way, he’s a co-author, too. He had to trust us both despite being burned a lot by the media.

How do our readers contact you?

Readers can find me mainly on Facebook. I have three pages there. Also, my website, which I set up for my latest novel series, has an email address.

2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    You have a tremendous work ethic and energy that is tremendously impressive. Having heard you speak on numerous occasions, I look forward to your next book and to seeing you once again at the Writer’s Police Academy. Stay safe.

    Reply
    • Katherine

      Thank you. I will be there.

      Reply

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G.M. MALLIET – Mystery and Cozy Mystery

G.M. Malliet is an American award-winning author of mystery and cozy mystery novels. She is best known for writing the Agatha Award-winning Death of a Cozy Writer (2008), the first installment of the St. Just Mystery Series, named among the Best Books of 2008 by Kirkus Reviews.

 

The holder of degrees from Oxford University and the University of Cambridge, G.M. Malliet has wide experience in journalism and copywriting. Before switching to fiction writing, she wrote for national and international news publications (Thomson Reuters) and public broadcasters (PBS). She currently resides in the U.S.

Elevator Pitch: Max Tudor thought he’d left the world of deceit when he resigned from MI5 to become an Anglican priest. Then his bishop asks him to return to his Oxford college, St Luke’s, to investigate the death of its chaplain, and Max realizes there’s no leaving the past behind.

What brought you to writing? Writing was always just there. It’s the kind of thing you are compelled to do rather than take up idly on a whim. The longer I live, the more I wish I could cut back on the writing, but that compulsion is still there.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? My office is right in the middle of a several-story house, so it’s Grand Central Station. I think that might just be what I’m comfortable with. If I have too much quiet, I can’t really work.

Tell us about your writing process: The early stages of writing are always the fun part when you’re not committed to anything. That’s where the joy comes in.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? What are you currently working on? Book 6 in the St. Just series. It is called Death and the Old Master.

Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Both SinC and MWA have provided friendships with seasoned experts willing to share their expertise.

How do you come up with character names? Like most authors, I use a baby naming site or the Census records.

Do you ever kill a popular character? I wanted to kill an early Max Tudor character. St. Martin’s wouldn’t allow it. I still regret caving.

G.M. Malliet is a member of:
Crime Writers’ Association (U.K.),
International Thriller Writers,
Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance,
Mystery Writers of America,
Sisters in Crime (former National Board member).

Contact me:
Website: Gmmalliet.com
Email me at gm at gmmalliet dot com.
I can’t always answer, but I love fan mail 😉

 

14 Comments

  1. Glenda Carroll

    “It’s fun but … it’s not.” Glad to hear someone else say that. I think that’s my motto. Get interview.

    Reply
    • G.M. Malliet

      There’s a meme or whatever going around FB that says, “We don’t do this because it’s easy. We do it because we thought it would be easy.” That sums it up perfectly, doesn’t it?

      Reply
  2. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    I’m sorry I don’t understand not being committed to anything when you start writing. I am always committed the story I have in my head. I’ll grant you the story doesn’t always go the way I intended, but I don’t think I was would have started writing if I wasn’t committed to the story.

    Reply
    • G.M. Malliet

      I’m committed (probably) to the place or theme or characters. but at the beginning, wide open!

      Reply
  3. Michal Strutin

    “…the fun part” indeed! On the reader end, just starting a new mystery is also fun. It so happens that the one I’m starting this evening is The Washing Away of Wrongs.

    Reply
    • G.M. Malliet

      Thank you Michal! I hope you like it!

      Reply
  4. Vinnie Hansen

    I enjoyed learning more about you, G.M.

    Reply
    • G.M. Malliet

      Thank you. So glad George gave me the opening!

      Reply
  5. Karen A Phillips

    Thanks for sharing “I wanted to kill an early Max Tudor character. St. Martin’s wouldn’t allow it. I still regret caving.” It is always interesting for me to hear what it’s like to be an author with a traditional publisher.

    Reply
    • G.M. Malliet

      Publishers tend to want to keep doing what worked in the past for them. But that means they miss a chance to break out into new areas.

      Reply
  6. Michael A. Black

    Ms. Malliet, I loved your comment abut your favorite part of writing is the early stages when you’re not committed to anything. So true. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • G.M. Malliet

      So true, yes. Right now I’m editing a short story and fixing the “Little Problems” that crop up as I go along. It’s fun but … it’s not.

      Reply

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