BRIAN YOUNG – Navajo Author of The Healer of the Water Monster

Brian Young is a graduate of Yale University and Columbia University. He is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. He enjoys reading, watching movies, playing video games (when he has time), and keeping physically active.

What brought you to writing? When I first wrote The Healer of the Water Monster, I lived in Albuquerque and worked as a meat cutter, and contributed to the native film community as a screenwriter and director. I first envisioned Healer as a movie, possibly a trilogy of feature films. But when I sat down to write it, I knew that a film interpretation wasn’t feasible. The scope and size of Healer’s story was growing in ways that would require an extensive budget to successfully depict. At that time, no one was willing to financially produce native stories because of the prejudiced idea that “Native stories don’t sell.” So, I made the decision to write Healer first as a book because those limitations that filmmaking imposed don’t exist with prose writing. It also helps that I love writing.

How long did it take you to write your first book? Such a long time! Six or seven years? The first draft took me like two months because I was really motivated and in love with the story. I already had daydreamed about the plot points and character growth paths. I did revisions to it for three years. But I was using techniques from screenwriting. I’d have huge paragraphs at the beginning of chapters and scenes going into great detail of the land and environment, then like five pages of nothing but dialogue. I had to grow as a storyteller, definitely as a prose writer. That’s why I decided that getting an MFA was going to help me get Healer published. I was super fortunate but also did a tremendous amount of work to get into Columbia’s MFA for Creative Writing. Through that program, I learned the tools, techniques, and unique abilities that prose writing has.

How long to get it published? I hear this process can take a long time. But for me, it was very short. To complete my MFA program, I did a ground-up revision of Healer for my thesis. I took a third year to rewrite every single sentence of my manuscript. Columbia University’s School of the Arts hosts an agent mixer for third-year writing students and alumni. It was there that I met my agent. I pitched Healer to him, and he wanted to read my manuscript. I wasn’t fully finished with my revision, and he agreed to wait.

A month later, I had finished the revision and sent it to him. When he offered me his representation, I cried. I literally spent ten minutes in my room praying and saying thank you to the Navajo Holy Beings. After accepting his offer through an email, he wanted to go right into sending it out to publishers and editors. After another revision I felt was needed, my agent and I sent Healer out to publishing houses and editors. The rejections came first, as they usually do. But then, we got some interest. My agent set up some meetings, and I had the massive fortune to meet with Rosemary Brosnan, who was gearing up to launch Heartdrum, a native-focused imprint of HarperCollins. I had some immediate gut vibes that told me Rosemary was the one who was going to help bring Nathan’s story across the finish line. After we met, Rosemary offered a pre-empt and my agent worked his magic. By the end, I had a signed two-book deal! It was finalized the day I picked up my mom and sister from LaGuardia for my graduation from Columbia. I had experienced so many setbacks and heartbreaks before. But all that hardship was worth it when I showed my mom my contract. All in all, it took four months, getting an agent then a book deal. After that, Rosemary and I did another revision (I’ve lost count of how many revisions I did), and that is the version that went to print.

We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? In my opinion, if your protagonist isn’t making decisions that shape the environment, world, people around them, then why are they the protagonist? Nathan, the protagonist of The Healer of the Water Monster, definitely runs the show. Both he and I agreed that his actions would have consequences for the worlds around him. There are very precious few stories that depict native children as heroes whose actions shape the world around them. So, throughout all the revisions and from the very start, both Nathan and I wanted him to be as active as he could possibly be. I speak of him as an actual person because I spent seven years with him! Actually more, because he is in my next book!

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? On that spectrum, I am more of an outliner. I love seeing the story in its entirety. It’s actually my favorite part of the writing process. I love looking at the macro-level of the story and tinkering with plot points and action beats. When writing a new story, I’ll often do a 27 chapter outline and write a paragraph describing what happens in each chapter and break it down further into scene outlines for each chapter.

That being said, my initial 27 chapter outline usually becomes useless because at the halfway point in the actual writing of the story is when I’ll diverge from the outline. Or I’ll discover some story bits or character emotions that I overlooked when writing the whole story. It’s also here in the middle of the story that the characters start to do their own actions and say their own words. When I’m in the zone, I don’t know what the characters are going to do. It’s like I’m reading a new book that is being written right in front of my eyes.

So, I like to start with having an outline down but will concede to the characters when they start to fully come into their own.

Do you have any advice for new writers? My biggest advice is “Write what you love.” I can’t stress enough that this is a long journey that you are on. From inception to publication, it took me seven years to turn The Healer of the Water Monsterinto a book. You, new writers, are going to be with the story that you are writing for a very long time. If I didn’t love the story or characters, I’m not sure if I would have been as committed to its publication, nor am I sure if I would have been able to devote seven years of my life to Healer. If you love your story, the sacrifices and effort needed to publish a book will be worth it.

People can buy The Healer of the Water Monster on Amazon, but I recommend Red Planet Comics and Books (native owned and operated in Albuquerque, NM)
https://redplanetbooksncomics.com/products/healer-of-the-water-monster?_pos=1&_sid=a217895af&_ss=r

To reach me, here is my author website: https://brianlyoung.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BYoungWrites
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/byoungwrites/

5 Comments

  1. Thonie Hevron

    What an interesting story about Brian Young’s journey to bring Healer to fruition. I’m looking forward to reading it.

    Reply
  2. Glenda Carroll

    Congratulations on the publication of The Healer. You are to a great start in your writing career.

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    The story of your novel’s evolution reads like an adventure story itself. Congratulations on realizing your dream and completing your MFA. Best of luck to you with your future writing.

    Reply
  4. Madeline Gornell

    Great meeting you, Brian. Sounds like you’ve gotten a great start to wonderful writing career. Much success!

    Reply
  5. Alec Peche

    Congrats on getting a book deal. You mention that you love outlining and start with a detailed 27 chapter outline. As a pantser, that sounds like my version of a monster. I’m curious as to whether there were any pantsers in your MFA class?

    Reply

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VINNIE HANSEN – Author of the Carol Sabala mystery series

The day after high school graduation, Vinnie Hansen fled the howling winds of South Dakota and headed for the California coast. There the subversive clutches of college dragged her into the insanity of writing, where the dark influences of Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller coaxed Vinnie to a life of crime. A two-time Claymore Award finalist, she’s the author of the Carol Sabala Mystery series (misterio press), the novel Lostart Street, and many short stories. Retired after 27 years as a high school English teacher, she remains sane(ish), notwithstanding the evidence of her tickling the ivories with local ukulele bands.

Do you write in more than one genre? Yes, my short stories range from literary to noir. They’ve appeared in diverse publications from Lake Region Review to Santa Cruz Noir. My most recent print publication, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” is in Gabba Gabba Hey: An Anthology of Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Ramones

In full-length work, my Carol Sabala series falls most accurately in the Private Investigator tradition. Carol Sabala starts as an amateur sleuth, but her career arc in the seven-book and one-novella series takes her into official private investigation.

I’m currently working on two novels, One Gun and Crime Writer, in the literary suspense sub-genre of crime fiction.

Finally, I dabble in non-fiction with a lovely creative non-fiction piece published in Catamaran Literary Reader’s Winter 2021 issue and an article in the last issue of Mystery Readers Journal.

Who’s your favorite author? An impossible question to answer, George! Since I write all over the place, I read all over the place. Right now, I’m in love with literary suspense, and my favorite authors in that sub-genre are Jane Harper, Allen Eskens, and Lou Berney.

When I was working in PI fiction, my inspiration was Sue Grafton.

Some of my favorite books of all time lie where the literary and mystery genres intersect. Think William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace or David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars.

But an author who is a favorite for other reasons is Dorothy Bryant. She comes from an English teaching background, as do I, and that background wends its way into works like Miss Giardino. Dorothy Bryant was feisty, the first woman to wear pants when teaching at Contra Costa College.

Her first book, Ella Price’s Journal, was traditionally published. Still, when her agent deemed her second book “very bad,” Bryant struck out on her own before self-publishing was common or easy. She established Ata Press and published this “very bad” book, The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You. The book was later picked up by Random House and stayed in print for 30 years. Who doesn’t love that story?

But the main thing I love about Bryant is how she explored everything from the diary format to stage plays to science fiction. She followed her love of writing wherever it led her. She did not feel confined by genre. More than any other writer, she’s my role model.

What kind of research do you do? I do whatever research a book or story demands. The fifth Carol Sabala novel, Death with Dessert, involves immigrants coming over the border in Arizona, so I went to Arizona and drove down to Sasabe. I wanted to see the terrain, feel the quality of the air, smell the desert. You can’t Google those sensory details.

Since I’m a crime fiction writer, I’ve toured our local police station, the county jail (twice), San Quentin prison (twice), the FBI Crime Lab in San Francisco, and a prison in Wisconsin. I tried to visit a detention facility in Mexico but was rather forcibly removed. I’ve done two police ride-alongs and attended the Writers Police Academy, where I made a tourniquet for a writhing dummy squirting blood and participated in Shoot; Don’t Shoot video scenarios used for police training.

My personal experience has led to some unintended research. My husband and I were both handcuffed and put in the back of a sheriff’s vehicle to bake for an hour as the LEO’s sorted out a report of shots fired on our street. The photo shows what our street looked like that day. That’s our brown house!

We also came home while our house was being burglarized; my husband gave chase to the burglar, who pulled a gun and threatened to kill him. Luckily, he didn’t. Because of my husband’s pursuit, the cops were able to arrest the young man, and we ended up with front row seats to the criminal justice system—from arraignment through trial. The burglary and the question of what became of the gun served as the impetus for my next novel, One Gun, coming from Misterio press either late this year or early next year.

I’ve attended numerous panels and workshops on everything from search-and-rescue to autopsies. In a survival camp, I constructed an emergency shelter and tried to make a fire. I’ve been to a gun range, of course.

On a more cerebral level, I’ve read Adam Plantinga’s books 400 Things Cops Know and Police Craft and have reference books at my fingertips like Deadly Doses, when I need a little poison, or Police Procedure & Investigation by Lee Lofland when I need a better sense of how the whole bureaucracy operates.

Not all my research is so dark. I visited the Grateful Dead archives here in Santa Cruz to write my story “Dead Revival,” which was published August 15th at Yellow Mama. For an earlier story (“Room and Board” in Fishy Business, the Fifth Guppy Anthology) featuring the same duo of numbskulls, I toured our local Surf Museum.

And, of course, probably like every writer, I go down rabbit holes on the internet. I’ve spent whole afternoons looking at and reading about blue scorpions. For the story in Gabba Gabba Hey, I killed an hour watching videos of killdeers.

Vinnie Hansen, two-time Claymore Finalist
The Carol Sabala Mystery Series
LOSTART STREET, a novel
Newsletter
BookBub

21 Comments

  1. Susan Alice Bickford

    It’s great to hear your summary of all these events and efforts in one spot. You’ve lived a very interesting life and written some excellent fiction.

    Reply
    • Vinnie

      Thank you for visiting, Susan. And welcome back to NorCal. See you later.

      Reply
  2. carole price

    Enjoyed your interview, Vinnie, particularly your research. I’m 20 years in as a police volunteer.

    Reply
    • Vinnie Hansen

      Carole, I’ve often thought volunteering for the PD or the Sheriff’s Office would be an excellent way to gain a better understanding of law enforcement.

      Reply
  3. Cindy Sample

    Wonderful interview, Vinnie. You really spend the time researching your books and it shows in your fine mysteries.

    Reply
    • Vinnie

      Thanks for visiting, Cindy! I’m so looking forward to when I’ll start seeing my writing buddies again. Are you going to LCC in Albuquerque?

      Reply
  4. Heidi Noroozy

    Great interview, Vinnie! Ordinary Grace and Snow Falling on Cedars are also two of my favorite books.

    Reply
    • Vinnie

      Good taste, Heidi. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Michelle Chouinard

    I’m also a big fan of Sue Grafton, and she was also a big inspiration on me! I recently finished a PI novel that my agent and I are getting ready to shop…I think of my protagonist as “If Kinsey Millhone had had a daughter…” So glad you decided to come hang out in California!

    Reply
    • Vinnie

      Thanks, Michelle. Glad to get out of the cold. I’ll watch for your book. What is the title?

      Reply
  6. Kassandra Lamb

    Great interview, Vinnie!! I loved The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You. One of my all time favorites. But I didn’t know all that about the author. Fascinating!

    I too cannot wait to read One Gun.

    Reply
    • Vinnie

      The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You was Alice Walker’s favorite book. (Just another bit of trivia I did not throw in the interview).

      Reply
  7. Liz Boeger

    What a great interview! So much fun in reading about your writing journey and research paths. Looking forward to reading One Gun.

    Reply
    • Vinnie

      Thanks for dropping by, Liz. I look forward to reading you debut mystery, too. When will Chainlinked be released?

      Reply
    • Vinnie

      Thanks for dropping by, Liz. I look forward to reading you debut mystery, too. When will Chainlinked be released? r

      Reply
  8. Glenda Carroll

    Like you, I was inspired by Sue Grafton and her writing. It was so down to earth just like her protagonist, Kinsey Millhone. Great interview. I’ve been in a shoot, don’t shoot scenario. Once I hit the family dog.

    Reply
    • Vinnie

      I’m beginning to think, “Weren’t we all?” I met Sue Grafton at LCC Monterey and had the perfect opportunity, when we were by ourselves, to tell her what a fan I was. Instead, I muttered a couple of inane comments about the SinC table. One of the regrets of my life!

      Reply
  9. K.B. Owen

    Fab interview, Vinnie! Wow, that’s some formidable research…especially the involuntary kind. *wink*

    Congrats on the Gabba Gabba anthology, and good luck on your projects!

    Reply
  10. Michael A. Black

    I found your interview very inspiring, Vinnie. It’s great that you’re putting your English degree to such good work. Best of luck to you. I’ll keep an eye out for your stuff.

    Reply
    • Vinnie

      Thanks for reading, Michael. I recommend Black Beans & Venom to readers sampling my work.

      Reply
  11. Vinnie

    Thank you, George, for hosting me, and for all the support you’ve been giving your fellow authors!

    Reply

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GLENDA CARROLL -Sportswriter – Open Water Swimmer – Author

Glenda Carroll writes the Trisha Carson mysteries that take place in the San Francisco Bay area, from Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants to the beautiful lakes in the East Bay to the tree-lined streets of Marin County.

Her mysteries are set in the world of open water swimming. The third book of the series Dead Code will be published by Indies United Publishing House. The launch date is October 27, 2021. Books one and two, Dead in the Water and Drop Dead Red, introduced Trisha Carson, a 40-something woman trying to find her way in the world, and her family to the mystery reading community.

When not writing, she tutors high school and college students for Canal Alliance, San Rafael, in English and occasionally History. These are first-generation teens who understand that education is the way out of poverty.

What brought you into writing? Good question. I never, ever thought I would write fiction. For almost twenty years, I was a sportswriter for the Marin Independent Journal. I covered mostly water sports: sailing and sailboat racing, boating (in general), surfing, some swimming. I remember someone once asked me, “Do you have a novel in there?” I was miffed. “How can you write about something that isn’t true?” I huffed and puffed. But I found that not only could I use my imagination and find dead bodies in all types of strange locations. But I liked doing it!

What is your writing process? Several years back, I entered a NaNoWriMo 6-word contest about writing. “Write like a hurricane. Edit later,” was my prize-winning entry. That seems to be what I do. I blast through the first draft. After that, it’s torture. I write draft after draft. I often take out big chunks of copy and put them in a special deleted file. I’m not sure why I keep them. I have never used anything that I’ve buried in that file. For Dead Code, three people volunteered to be my Beta readers. It was the first time I was that organized to ask for help. They were great…excellent suggestions that made the manuscript better.

Have you ever had writer’s block? Oh yes. When I was writing the first book in the series Dead in the Water, I reached a point where I didn’t know what to say and what to type. At those times, I would go out and cut the grass. I had an old-fashioned push mower, and it was in the middle of summer. Maybe it was the dripping sweat that kickstarted my brain, but when I came back inside to my cool house, my mind was working again.

How do you come up with characters’ names? For the protagonist of the series, Trisha Carson, I knew her age and researched the popular girls’ names the year she was born. After that, I began to use the names of family members. In all the books, there is a character I called Inspector Carolina Burrell, San Francisco Police Department. That moniker contains my granddaughter’s name and the name of a former San Francisco Giants outfielder, Pat Burrell. I used my sons’ first names for ballplayers on the Giants. My grandson Caden’s name was used for a secret swimming spot, Caden’s Corner. If you’re related to me or even someone I admire, your name will be usurped at some point.

Do you have subplots? There is definitely a subplot in Dead Code. As I mentioned earlier, the first two books of the series are firmly set in the world of open water swimming, and the plots are water-oriented. Dead Code moves away from being totally involved with water into the world of hacking. (There are swimming scenes for those who can’t get enough of H2O.) Just as I finished the first draft, I had my identity stolen. My hacker found his way into my bank accounts, health care, phone, and email. I tore my hair out for about a week, trying to understand what was going on and how to stop it. I knew I had to add that to the manuscript. I rewrote the whole thing so Trisha could share my pain. She hated it as much as I did.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Honestly, I seem to start in the middle and work toward the beginning and the end. I usually don’t know ‘who did it’ until I write it. However, I tried to become more organized with book two. For Drop Dead Red, I carefully worked out an outline. Then I started writing. I didn’t make it through the first chapter before I strayed from the outline. I’m not sure why I can’t stick to an outline. I just can’t. I wish I could.

“(Trisha Carson is)…a smart, steadfast gumshoe who, in her second book, continues to flourish…Carroll’s writing bounces off the page.” Kirkus Reviews

What are you currently working on? As I mentioned, I am approaching the finish line with Dead Code. This is a different subject for me, involving hackers and ransomware. I only had a cursory knowledge of the computer crime world. I needed to read everything I could on the subject, and I even lurked on a few hacker bulletin boards. My sister’s sweetheart started his own computer security firm ages ago, and he was happy to answer all my questions, from the simplest to the most complex. He even made a few plot suggestions.

Advice to new writers?

First, keep reading—everything you can. But be critical (in a good way) of the text. How does the author use verbs? What are transitions like? What makes you say, “I wish I wrote that sentence, paragraph, chapter?” Does the ending work?

Second. Do your best to keep that inner voice that tells you. You don’t know what you’re doing at bay. Half the time, I never know where the story is going until I write it. However, I am beginning to have confidence that something, maybe even something worth reading, will come out of the process.

Third. Write. Even when you don’t want to.

Looking to the future, what is in store for you? As you might guess, I write about open water swimming, because I swim in open water (as well as a pool). I swim in rivers, lakes, the ocean, and over the past year in the chilly San Francisco Bay. I’ve raced in more than 150 open water events in Northern California and Hawaii, and Perth, Australia. Currently, I am training for an Alcatraz swim in early September. I was swimming along the other day in the choppy Bay, putting in the distance, and the idea came to me for the next book. A swimmer is making their way across the Bay, and she is being escorted by a pilot boat. The swimmer gets a bit off course, and when she turns to look back at the boat, something is strange. She swims over to it, and the pilot (the captain or driver of the boat) has disappeared. The swimmer and the empty boat are in the middle of the Bay, alone. Sound interesting?

How can our readers contact you?

Ggcarroll43@gmail.com
Webpage: glendacarroll.com
FB: Author page: https://www.facebook.com/Carrollandfriends
Personal FB page: https://www.facebook.com/glenda.carroll
Twitter: @ggcarroll
Instagram: Glenda.carroll
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Ms.-Glenda-Carroll/e/B00CIJ7HJ8/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

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14 Comments

  1. Thonie Hevron

    What a fun interview! The new book sounds fascinating. As a former Marinite, now a Petaluman, I love the local aspect of these stories. Thanks George and Glenda!

    Reply
    • Glenda Carroll

      Petaluma isn’t that far away. In fact, it’s a destination in Dead Code toward the end. Glad you liked the interview.

      Reply
  2. Vinnie Hansen

    I loved reading this and learning more about you and your books, Glenda. “Write like a hurricane. Edit later,” would make a perfect motto for Nanowrimo.

    Reply
    • Glenda Carroll

      Thanks for the kind comments. I wish I could put off the ‘edit later’ part to the next millennium sometimes.

      Reply
  3. Ana Brazil

    “I didn’t make it through the first chapter before I strayed from the outline.” Love this!

    Reply
    • Glenda Carroll

      I know. I am such a klutz when it comes to following an outline.

      Reply
  4. Heidi Noroozy

    Such great writing advice, Glenda! And I learned something new about you too: I didn’t know you were a sports writer. Your idea for the next book sounds exciting!

    Reply
    • Glenda Carroll

      I’m just hoping the idea for the next book doesn’t come true when I’m doing the Alcatraz swim.

      Reply
  5. Rebecca Salazar

    Always something up your sleeve- just one of the many reasons I love yah, Sis!

    Reply
  6. Glenda Carroll

    Thx! The hurricane part is fun; the edit later, not so much.

    Reply
  7. Michelle Chouinard

    I also am a big believer in the ‘write like a hurricane, edit later’ approach and I love that you won a contest with those six words! Congratulations on the new book. 🙂

    Reply
  8. Alec Peche

    Glenda,
    I love the premise for your next book! I can imagine the terror and bewilderment of the swimmer.

    Reply
    • Glenda

      Me too. A swimmer’s nightmare.

      Reply

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Mary Miley, historian, and author of five mysteries set in the Roaring Twenties

Miley began her fiction career with The Impersonator, winning the Mystery Writers of America Best First Crime Novel award, and currently optioned for a television movie.

A graduate of William and Mary, she worked at Colonial Williamsburg and taught history at Virginia Commonwealth University for many years. She retreats to her Virginia winery for getaways, where everything she does would have been illegal during the Prohibition era.

You think it’s easy, naming characters? Ha! It’s harder than naming your own baby. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things about writing—for me, anyway. I was talking with an acquaintance the other day who said, “How about using my name in your next book? I don’t care if I’m a villain or a hero—or even just a walk-on part.” It put me on the spot. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but choosing names for characters doesn’t work like that. It can be a daunting prospect—especially for authors who, like me, write historical novels.

First and most important, the name has to fit the era. My mysteries are set in the Roaring Twenties, so names popular in the 1950s or 1970s or today may not work well at all. Authors who set their books in the medieval era or Revolutionary Russia have an even tougher time.

One place I consult for ideas is the Social Security website, where the most popular names of any given decade are listed. If I have a character who is 35 years old in 1925, I look at the records for 1890 to learn which names prevailed. I don’t necessarily use the most popular names on the list, but I definitely want a name from that list. For example, the top 5 names for boys in 1890 were John, William, James, George, and Charles; the top 5 for girls were Mary, Anna, Margaret, Helen, and Elizabeth. There is zero overlap with today’s popular names (Liam, Noah, Oliver, Elijah, and William; Olivia, Emma, Ava, Charlotte, and Sophia). I also take into consideration naming styles of the era. In the 1920s, it was common to use –ie or –y endings on nicknames for men, not just boys. Thus, lots of grown men were called Freddy, Tommy, Jimmie, Johnny, Timmy, Frankie, Eddy, Wally, and so forth. You don’t hear those much today, do you? Also common was the use of nicknames that bore no resemblance to the given name, like Slats, Studs, Lucky, Stretch, Fats, Porky, Babe, and Lumpy. This is particularly true in the criminal underworld; think of Bugs, Scarface, Hymie, Killer, and Snorky—all real gangsters.

But first names are a breeze compared to last names. For those, I need to consider not only the era but the likely ethnicity of the character. The Roaring Twenties was a time of heavy immigration from eastern Europe, so many people in urban centers had last names that were Italian, Jewish, and Polish. If I’d been writing about an earlier time, the names might have skewed to German, English, Irish, and Scots. I have to also consider professions: police forces in 1920s Chicago skewed toward Irish, so I named the cop in my latest book Kevin O’Rourke. In the early part of the twentieth century, servants were often Irish immigrant girls or African American women, which is why the young Irish housemaid in my current book is called Ellen, and the Black cook is Bessie Jackson. Their employer’s name is Weidemann, a German name representing the German immigrants of the previous generation. Unlike today, when African Americans often use names that have African, Muslim, or biblical origins, in the early 20th century, they chose names that closely resembled those used by European-Americans.

In writing my current book, I muddled my way through several names before settling on Maddie for my main character. She was born in the 1890s in Chicago to immigrant parents from French Canada, so I gave her a French name, Madeleine, which I Americanized with a nickname to Maddie. She married an Italian immigrant I named Tomasso Pastore, so she now has a multicultural name—how very American!

Another fun tool I use to help me with ideas is the online random name generator. This site lets me choose the gender, the ethnicity, the country, and the age of a person; then, it spits out an appropriate name. So if I needed a name for a minor character who is an Australian male living in America today and in his fifties, I get . . . (drum roll please) Eddie J. Adcock. Sounds good to me! Check it out at www.fakenamegenerator.com.

Some authors, like my friend David Baldacci, auction the naming rights of their characters for charity, promising to use the winner’s name in their next book. It’s a nice fund-raiser, but it’s risky for the author. I guarantee you, the author worries about the winning name! What if he or she ends up having to use a name that doesn’t fit any of her characters? I’d love to auction a name for charity, but I can’t risk getting stuck with something that didn’t exist in the 1920s. It’s really more appropriate for authors who write contemporary fiction.

I explained a little of this to my friend and promised him I’d keep his name in mind for future books. But, off the record, it won’t happen. His name is far too modern for a Roaring Twenties mystery, and that’s the era I love.

“I wasn’t proud of what I did, but I was proud of how well I did it.” It’s 1924, and Maddie Pastore has it made. A nice house, a loving husband with a steady job—even if it is connected to Chicago’s violent Torrio-Capone gang—and a baby on the way. But then Tommy is shot dead and she learns her husband had a secret that turns her life upside down. Penniless and grieving, Maddie is sure of only two things: that she will survive for the sake of her baby and that she’ll never turn to the mob for help. So when she’s invited to assist a well-meaning but fraudulent medium, she seizes the chance. She’s not proud of her work investigating Madam Carlotta’s clients, but she’s proud of how well she does it. When Maddie unearths potential evidence of a dark crime, however, she faces a terrible dilemma: keep quiet and let a murderer go unpunished or follow the trail and put herself and her baby in mortal danger. . .(Cover Flap)

And before I go, one more thing . . . who doesn’t love illustrations in a book? I sure do, but unfortunately, adult novels seldom contain illustrations—a map, perhaps, or a genealogy chart are the most readers can hope for, considering the cost. So in order to overcome this visual wasteland, I set up a Pinterest page for The Mystic’s Accomplice, where I post illustrations of Maddie’s Chicago in the 1920s, although many buildings no longer exist.

Because I weave real people through my stories (people like Al Capone and Johnny Torrio), I include photos of them, plus photos of the objects mentioned in the story. Please take a peek at the page and let me know what you think! https://www.pinterest.com/mmtheobald/the-mystics-accomplice/

Mary Miley www.marymileytheobald.com

The Impersonator (St. Martin’s: 2013)
Silent Murders (St. Martin’s: 2014)
Renting Silence (Severn: 2016)
Murder in Disguise (Severn: 2017)
The Mystic’s Accomplice (Severn: 2021)
Spirits and Smoke (Severn: 2022)

 

6 Comments

  1. Madeline Gornell

    My first comment didn’t seem to go through? Trying again… Really enjoyed your post, like selecting name. Madeline “Maddie” (smile)

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Hi Madeline,

      Unless you are a regular visitor, your comments are screened for viruses. That’s the reason for a bit of a delay.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting.

      George

      Reply
  2. Madeline Gornell

    I really enjoy naming characters! Enjoyed your post.

    Reply
  3. Marilyn Meredith

    I write in modern times, and now moms are giving their kids unusual or old fashioned and biblical names: in my family we have Aleena, Avyanna, Aria, Achilles, Asher, note all the A names, Jeremiah, Olivia, Eleanor, Madeline. When I’m picking names I like to look at all the graduation programs I’ve collected and pick a first name and last name that fit the characters.

    Reply
  4. Violet Moore

    Great naming process to make fictionalized characters fit with the historical period.

    Reply
  5. Michael A, Black

    I found your reflections on writing very fascinating. The Roaring Twenties is a great and underused era for fiction writing. I love the pulp and a lot of them were written back then but you have the added benefit of looking back with a retroactive hindsight. Good luck with your series.

    Reply

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Heidi Noroozy – Traveler, Translator, Writer

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I write multicultural fiction inspired by the places I have visited around the world.

As a student in Leipzig, East Germany, I sampled Hungarian wine at the Auerbachs Keller, the underground restaurant where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe set scenes from his tragic play, Faust. While living in Switzerland, I biked around my family’s Bürgerort (ancestral village), explored the Jura Mountains near Neuchậtel, and never passed up an opportunity to sample Swiss fondue. These days, I regularly travel to Iran, where I have pondered the ancient past amid the ruins of Persepolis, baked translucent bread with Kurdish women in the Zagros Mountains, dipped my toes into the azure waters of the Caspian Sea, and observed the dichotomy of a publicly religious yet privately modern culture. My work has appeared in World Literature Today, Nautilus Magazine, and several anthologies and has been translated into five languages.

What brought you to writing? When I was in college, I studied languages and world literature and wrote stories on the side. When graduation approached, and it became time to put some thought into a career, I decided to combine my two loves, language and writing, and become a translator. I had a vision of translating works by my favorite German novelists. But the reality is that we all have to make a living and, as any writer will tell you, literature doesn’t pay the bills. Not even literary translation. So I became a patent translator and continued to write stories on the side.

Do you write in more than one genre? I write short stories and novels, but the short form is my favorite. I’ve written murder mysteries, capers, thrillers, and political satire. More recently, I’ve begun to write literary fiction as well.

What kind of research do you do? My stories usually begin with a place. I never leave the house without a small Moleskin notebook in my pocket. Perhaps some detail or snippet of conversation will come my way, and I whip out that notebook to jot it down. I’ve written entire travelogues in my little notebook while on extended trips to faraway locations.

Research always gives me a good reason to travel. When writing my short story, “Trading Places,” which was published in the online magazine, Nautilus, I went back to Leipzig for the first time in thirty years to check out locations for my setting. Set in the city’s socialist past, the story is about a graffiti artist who paints satirical political slogans all over town in an attempt to inspire a workers’ uprising, similar to the Polish Solidarity movement. I discovered that the city had changed a lot since my student days, so I enlisted the help of a local friend to scout out places that still held the old socialist atmosphere. And I filled my Moleskin with personal stories I learned from the people I met along the way.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I use both real and fictional places. In Trading Places, I set the story in real-life Leipzig, but some streets and businesses no longer exist or have been renamed since German reunification. I am currently working on a novel that takes place partly in New England and partly in Iran. The early chapters are set in a fictional town in Vermont because I wanted the flexibility to alter the setting to fit the needs of the story. The Iranian portion of the story unfolds in two real places (Tehran and Shiraz) and one fictional village on the Caspian Sea. I chose the real places for authenticity, but again I wanted more flexibility for the Caspian Sea setting, so I made up a town. However, it’s based on a real village situated on the shore of the inland sea. I simply added a few features that don’t exist in the real place and changed the name.

The photo is of an Iranian fish market near the Caspian Sea.

How do you come up with character names? I collect names all the time. I keep lists of them on my computer, and when I come across an interesting one, either through my reading or in real life, I jot it down and add it to my list. Websites of baby names are a great resource, especially for foreign names. Often they list the meaning of the name as well. This can be fun when picking Iranian names, which sometimes refer to mundane objects or abstract concepts: Mozhgan (eyelashes) or Arezou (wish). I named one hot-tempered character Atesh (fire) and gave the name Noor (light) to another, who helped the protagonist find what she was seeking.

Has an association membership helped you in your writing? I’ve been a member of Sisters in Crime for many years, and it is likely the reason I am published at all. It is a wonderful group for both support and learning craft. Also, I always run my work past several beta readers, both in a critique group that meets twice a month (on Zoom at the moment) and others with whom I exchange completed manuscripts by email. Many of these readers are people I met through Sisters in Crime.

The former Stasi headquarters in Leipzig, Germany, now a museum.

How can our readers contact you?

Website/blog: https://heidinoroozy.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/heidi.noroozy
Twitter: https://twitter.com/HeidiNoroozy

My Cold War short story can be read here: https://nautil.us/issue/6/secret-codes/trading-places

 

16 Comments

  1. Glenda Carroll

    This was a fascinating interview. I often use a real place and change it up just enough so readers are kept guessing where it is.

    Reply
  2. Jenny

    Hi, Heidi. So nice to read this interview and learn more about you and your writing process. (I didn’t know that you wrote short stories! Shame on me.)

    Jenny

    Reply
  3. Debra Bokur

    Hi Heidi! I too, collect names and bits of conversation while traveling. I’ve been accused of being a professional eavesdropper in train stations, airports and foreign cafes—but I think it’s part of being a writer. So glad to hear I’m not alone! And, for the record, I love Leipzig.

    Reply
    • Heidi Noroozy

      Hi Debra! Leipzig is a very different city today than it was when I lived there. Much for the better. I go back there on every trip to Germany to revisit old haunts and long-standing friends. I still think of it as my German home.

      Reply
  4. Madeline Gornell

    Glad to meet you, Heidi! So impressed by your traveling savvy, (I’m a poor traveler) and interesting how your traveling and writing intersect! Much success!

    Reply
    • Heidi Noroozy

      Thanks, Madeline! At least you can travel vicariously through books.

      Reply
  5. Alec Peche

    I agree with Heidi that Sisters in Crime is a great organization to further our writing careers. It’s interesting to use real cities in your books as there is so much information on Google Earth and so far I haven’t needed to re-organize a city for purposes of the story.

    Reply
    • Heidi Noroozy

      Yes, Alec, I use Google Earth too for settings. It’s a great resource.

      Reply
  6. Ana Manwaring

    What a fascinating life Heidi has led. I can’t wait to read her books (I’m ashamed to say I haven’t yet) . As alway, George, your blog interviews are interesting and illuminative. Keep ’em coming!

    Reply
    • Heidi Noroozy

      Ana, you will have to wait until I’ve actually published a novel! In the meantime, there are som short stories of mine here and there…

      Reply
  7. Vinnie

    So fun to learn more about you, Heidi. After high school, I was an exchange student in Switzerland. Your travels to Iran really fascinate me.

    Reply
    • Heidi Noroozy

      Vinnie, I love Switzerland! I’m Swiss on my dad’s side and still have some cousins there. A few years ago, I visited my family’s ancestral village. In the archives at the church there, I discovered that my family traces its roots back to the year 800. The Swiss are meticulous record-keepers.

      Reply
  8. Michelle Chouinard

    I also carry a little notebook when I travel, and I love that places tend to be the starting points for your stories! I always mean to jot down names I like, but never seem to do it, I need to get more disciplined about that…

    Reply
    • Heidi Noroozy

      Michelle, I’m afraid that name collecting has become a bit of an obsession for me. No discipline necessary. I’d be lost without my little black book.

      Reply
  9. Michael A. Black

    I envy your ability to read the works of foreign authors in their native languages. I’ve never cared much for translations, due to the fact that so much is dependent on the translator, but I’ll bet yours are first rate. Good luck

    Reply
    • Heidi Noroozy

      Thanks, Michael. For a long time, translation was not taken seriously as a profession, at least in the English-speaking world. That’s changing now and the translations have also improved. Some of the major writer’s organizations, like PEN and the Author’s Guild, support translators. The Man Booker International Prize now recognizes translators as well as authors, which helps raise the profile of the profession and promote good translations.

      Reply

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R.L. MERRILL -Author – Teacher – Mentor

Thank you so much for having me on your blog!

The pandemic has been a tumultuous time for so many of us writery folks. Still, I’ve been super busy and full of ideas. My most recent release is a gothic romance story called “The House Must Fall,” which is a queer homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher. It’s part of the Haunts and Hellions Gothic Romance Anthology, and you can order a special edition with extra goodies from HorrorAddicts.net.

I also re-released my Rock ‘N’ Romance series in May. The Rock Season, Road Trip, and You Fell First are all music-inspired stories full of hope, love, and rock ‘n’ roll featuring folks from the San Francisco Bay Area on their journeys toward a happily ever after. Here’s a quick excerpt from You Fell First. The scene is told from Deputy Calvin Graham’s perspective as he’s directing traffic during a storm where trees are threatening to block the road. Those of you from the Bay Area will recognize this as Crow Canyon Road.

Cars flew by, ignoring signs to slow down, and my field training officer, Sergeant Diaz, warned me this could be a seriously hazardous situation. Diaz and I had thrown down some flares to hopefully grab the attention of drivers multitasking in their SUVs.

I couldn’t help but be distracted myself. Way up high on the hillside, a lone tree trimmer was strung up in the tree, trying to cut back some limbs that had fractured but hadn’t dropped. The guy’d been up there for at least two hours and the crew kept a close eye on his progress. He’d come down a few minutes prior and was on his way up the second tree, and for the life of me, I couldn’t help but watch the graceful way he managed to climb the ropes like some sort of acrobat in Cirque du Soleil. He was obviously experienced. I turned back to watch the traffic but I kept glancing back, captivated by his movements.

The wind picked up and howled through the canyon, causing his ropes to sway. Someone in his crew shouted at him in Spanish and he flipped them off. I chuckled to myself at their camaraderie before I turned back around. In time to see my life flash before my eyes.

Diaz shouted as the SUV heading right for us skidded at a forty-five-degree angle. The driver overcorrected and clipped our patrol car, causing the front end to slam into me and knock me backward. The SUV crashed into the trees, one of which the trimmer was suspended from.

Everyone froze as that tree groaned and lurched sideways, falling into the tree next to it. The trimmer dangled between the two, frantically trying to grab on to one or the other. He swung to the other tree and wrapped his arms and legs around the trunk.

I was still trying to catch my breath from where the fall had knocked the wind out of me. Diaz ran to my side. “Sonofabitch, Graham! You alright dude? You went down hella hard.”

I nodded as I coughed and gestured for him to help me up.”Paramedics are on their way. You need to get checked out.”

A cracking noise came from the other tree the car had smashed against and it shifted, jolting the car. I heard another crack and then shouts from the public works crew.

I reached into the SUV and came out with both kids. I managed to get several steps away as the tree groaned once more and fell forward onto the car.

The tree trimmer screamed as the rope, which was caught in the second tree, pulled his legs away from the tree he was holding on to.

That was a female scream. That’s a woman up there!

I watched in horror as the woman was pulled towards the fallen tree. She held on to the other tree desperately but she was losing the battle.

One of the other workers was getting harnessed up so he could climb the other tree and grab ahold of the hanging woman. The crew was trying to get around the giant tree but I spotted a more direct route. I pulled out my Leatherman and climbed up the back of the SUV so I could get to where the rope was attached.

Time stopped for a moment as I looked up into the trees. She stared down at me and then she nodded.
“Sí officer, corta la cuerda!” An older man on her crew who’d been trying to get to the rope gestured for me to cut it, but I worried the sudden change in tension would cause her to let go. My heart was in freefall as I prayed she wouldn’t be.

Do you write in more than one genre? I do! I love challenging myself. I started with paranormal and contemporary romance, and now I’ve branched out into horror and supernatural suspense.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? Wherever I can, whenever I can. I have all the distractions, especially over this past year. My current workspace is a standing desk in the living room. Between my two cats and psycho black lab, my two teens, and my husband, who is also working from home, it’s quite chaotic in our 1000sqft house.

What are you currently working on? I’m currently working on a co-author project—remember what I said about challenging myself? It’s a gay romance set in the custom car world featuring a Puerto Rican family shop in Florida. It’s been so fun to have someone be just as excited about the story you’re working on as you are. We’re using Google Docs to go back and forth and writing a chapter at a time. I love it. My partner Sera Taíno and I are a good match.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? Well yeah. Anyone I know is fair game. Kidding. Maybe.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? A sabbatical from teaching after 27 years. I’ll be full-time writing as I work on my health and my home. As far as writing is concerned, I have a queer anthology coming out June 8th called Love Is All Vol 4 with some fantastic authors, which will raise funds for charity. Later this year, I have two full-lengths—a contemporary romance set in Spain and a supernatural suspense follow-up to last year’s Healer. I’ve got lots to do to get those ready for launch!

Do you have any advice for new writers? Find your people! Whether it’s a formal group or a site like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) that supports folks at all levels of their journey. Find a place where you feel accepted, where there are folks at different places in their journey, and where you feel supported. If all else fails, hit me up. I love to chat with folks, and brainstorming might be one of my superpowers… Maybe. If they actually exist.

How do our readers contact you?
Folks can find me at www.rlmerrillauthor.com, and I’m usually lurking @rlmerrillauthor on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I love connecting with readers and other writers, so don’t hesitate to reach out! I also write horror-inspired music reviews for HorrorAddicts.net, and I hope to start attending shows again soon now that I’m vaccinated. Maybe I’ll see you at the rock show! Thanks to George for having me on the blog today, and Stay Tuned for more Rock ‘n’ Romance…

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