SARAH CORTEZ – Award-Winning Author and Law Enforcement Veteran

ATSNStop the ThreatChuck Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

vintage Italian mafia gangster in 1930 in New York

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

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

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

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

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

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

Readers can contact me at: or at

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

Phone: 713-331-9342

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

Follow us on Facebook at   The Carlucci Betrayal | Facebook




  1. Holli Castillo

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

  2. Michael A. Black

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


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ROSE OWENS – Author and Professional Storyteller

Rose Owens writes middle-grade fiction, short story, essay, and memoir.

As a professional storyteller, she often tells stories that she has written. The name of her blog site is Rose the Storylady: Making a Difference through Storytelling and Writing That title explains her motivation for blogging. She is a past vice-president for the Tri-Valley Branch of California Writers. She currently serves as the Newsletter Editor. She edits the Toolbox column in that newsletter, which provides other members a place to ask questions and share information. Rose has become somewhat of an amateur Zoom expert. She hosts storytelling, family chats, a cooking club and art club for her family, and online meetings. Zoom links for her two storytelling programs (Storytelling for All Ages and an Interactive Storytelling Program for preschool and lower elementary students) are posted on her website. Http://

Rose is the author of the Maryalise Trilogy (middle-grade fantasy novels) that are available on Amazon. She has also authored a picture book: Who Was There: A Nativity Story for Children. She has been published in the Las Positas and Tri-Valley Writers’ Anthologies. Rose’s essay, “We Live in a Mobile Home,” contains family stories about the process of recovering from a fire that destroyed the interior of her home. It was published in the BYU Alumni Magazine. A BYU Family Recovers from a House Fire with Humor and Help 

The Poemsmiths of the Mojave High Desert branch of California Writers have selected two of Rose’s poems, “How Far to Bethlehem” and “They Pity Me in the Village,” for inclusion in the anthology, From Silence to Speech: Women of the Bible Speak Out. Rose recently attended the online Surrey International Writing Conference, where she participated in an Author Showcase and had the opportunity to talk about her books.

Rose lives in Livermore, California. She arrived fifty-five years ago and has settled in nicely. She is the mother of seven children and the grandmother of twenty-five. She finds inspiration for her writing as she crafts, cooks, gardens, walks, and participates in other activities.

Tell us about your recent release and other books. Maryalise and the Snatched Fairy (published 2020) is the third book of my Maryalise trilogy. Maryalise is a fairy child hidden in the mortal world with no memory of her previous life. In Maryalise and the Singing Flowers (2019), she discovers her identity, learns to use magic, and ultimately goes down into an underground cavern without magic to rescue her father, who the evil fairy, Villiana, has imprisoned. In Maryalise and the Stolen Years (2019), she must discover how Villiana has stolen years of magic from the people who are buried in an old forgotten cemetery. William (another fairy) and Cuthelburt (a ghost) help her in this quest. In Maryalise and the Snatched Fairy (2020), she goes into the Fairytale Dimension to rescue William, who has been stolen by Villiana. She interacts with the Cheshire Cat, Snow White’s stepmother, the Hansel and Gretel Witch, the Chicken House, and Baba Yaga. Blackie (who is actually a dragon in disguise) helps her. All three books have been self-published on Amazon. She has also published a picture book: Who Was There: A Nativity Story for Children, available on Amazon.

What brought you to writing? I have always enjoyed writing. As an elementary school student, I wrote poetry and an impossible fairytale story. When I was in junior high school, I wrote very mushy, sentimental love stories. Fortunately, none of these early writings have survived. I wrote poetry and essays during my child-rearing years. In 2007 I registered for a creative writing class. Since that time, I have written essays, poetry, stories, and novels. The idea for my Maryalise trilogy happened because my teacher gave her students a prompt to write on in class. Maryalise emerged from my imagination, and her adventures have been chronicled in three books.

Tell us about your writing process I have learned that when I get an idea, I should write it down—even if I don’t have time to develop it fully. Otherwise, that idea disappears into the void. The Idea for Maryalise and the Snatched Fairy came in a dream. The sensation of being snatched and carried away into the void woke me in the middle of the night. I wrote the details down and went back to sleep. When I looked at my notes in the morning, I realized that I had the idea for my third Maryalise book. When I am working on a book, I start my writing time by reviewing the previous chapter and making minor edits. Then, I am ready to begin the next chapter. After I finish writing, I think about what needs to come next. I process that information during the day and before I go to sleep at night. When I am writing shorter pieces, I usually wait several days before I edit them.

What are you currently working on? I am writing a non-fiction piece about the Bank of Vernal. The 80,000 bricks for this bank were mailed from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Vernal, Utah via the US Postal System. I am using the same research to write The Outlaw Trail, a middle-grade historical fiction novel about the son of William Coltharp (the man who built the Bank of Vernal). Butch Cassidy and Josie Bassett are two of the historical characters who appear in this novel.

There have been a lot of versions of The Three Little Pigs published. But one day, I thought, What About Mama? I am working on telling her story.

How long did it take you to write your first book? It was about three years from the time I created the character of Maryalise until I finished the book. However, it took about ten years to write the Maryalise trilogy. I waited until I had finished all three books before I published them. This turned out to be a good decision because I was able to make minor changes in the first books based on what happened in the third book in the trilogy.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

  • Keep a notebook or computer file of ideas.
  • Write regularly.
  • Edit and edit again.
  • Save the pieces that don’t fit into your current project. They may be useful later.
  • Find a compatible critique group, listen to the other members. But don’t change your work just because someone else has a different idea.
  • Organize your computer files. (I’m still working on this)
  • Save backups of your work in 2-3 different places. Save a hard copy. Email a copy to yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to try a new genre.
  • Search with your planned title on Amazon or Google it. You want to know what other books have similar titles.

Where do you write? Distractions? I usually write on my computer. Sometimes I am sequestered in my storytelling room, and sometimes I write in the family room. I’m able to tune out the distraction of the television noise and just write. Having a regular schedule for writing keeps me from procrastinating my writing to a time later in the day that never seems to arrive.

How do your readers contact you?

My readers can contact me through my blog

Book links on Amazon:

Maryalise and the Singing Flowers Maryalise and the Singing Flowers (Maryalise Trilogy Book 1) – Kindle edition by Owens, Rose. Children Kindle eBooks @

Maryalise and the Stolen Years Maryalise and the Stolen Years (Maryalise Trilogy Book 2) – Kindle edition by Owens, Rose. Children Kindle eBooks @

Maryalise and the Snatched Fairy Maryalise and the Snatched Fairy (Maryalise Trilogy Book 3) – Kindle edition by Owens, Rose. Children Kindle eBooks @

Who Was There: A Nativity Story for Children Who Was There?: A Nativity Story for Children – Kindle edition by Owens, Rose. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @

1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    Wow, Ms. Owens, your story and your work ethic are enviable. I particularly liked the advice you listed for new writers. Those comments were excellent. Best of luck to you on your new book.


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LYNN HESSE – Come Visit as this Author Shares Her Story

Lynn Hesse won the 2015 First Place Winner, Oak Tree Press, Cop Tales, for her mystery, Well of Rage. Her novel Another Kind of Hero was a finalist for the 2018 Silver Falchion Award and won the International Readers’ Chill Award in 2021. Her short story “Jewel’s Hell” was published September 2019 in Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology by Level Best Books and edited by Elizabeth Zelvin.

Her short story about a domestic homicide, “Murder: Food For Thought,” published in the anthology Double Lives, Reinvention & Those We Leave Behind, 2009 by Wising Up Press, was adapted in the play, We Hunt Our Young, produced at Emory University Field Showcase and Core Studio Luncheon Time Series, 2011. Excerpts from the play “Unacceptable Truths” were performed on the Atlanta BeltLine in 2013.

An interview concerning Lynn’s role as a police officer, “Blue Steel,” is in The Women’s Studies Archives, The Second Feminist Movement, Georgia State University. She performs in several dance and theatrical troupes in Atlanta, Georgia.

 Appreciation for Other Writers: I owe Public Safety Writers Association, PSWA, gratitude, and a hearty thank you for mentoring writers. Let me tell you why. My latest endeavor is an audiobook release based on my first novel, Well of Rage, and, of course, the marketing of it.

Recruit Carly Redmund is accused of mishandling evidence by her white-supremacist training officer and must solve the cold case murder of an African-American teenager whose bones and high school ring are found in an abandoned well in Mobile, Alabama.

During the 2016 PSWA conference in Las Vegas, I was given a suggestion by Lorna Collins, another PSWA member, to submit to Desert Breeze Publishing concerning my traditional mystery Another Kind of Hero. They published my novella.

A casket full of drugs and money found at the Pick’n Pay in Forsyth, Georgia, plus a ghost, put two contentious sisters and an uncover DEA agent in jeopardy.) Lorna also edited this novella, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award at the 2017 Killer Nashville Conference, and won the International Readers’ Chill Award in 2021.

What new skills have you learned recently? I finished the audio book’s final proofing for Well of Rage and came away with several valuable lessons. For instance, most tags “he said” or “she said” necessary in a regular book are distracting while listening to an audiobook. It makes me aware of cutting out as many tags as possible in my regular writing and give the character an action or gesture to convey who is speaking. If there are only two characters in a scene conveying pertinent dialogue, tags should be minimal. I’m considering going back to Vellum to edit the eBook. Again.

Next time I will pick a southerner to read my books. Conveying how a southern drawl should sound by email is frustrating. I’m acutely aware of how I pronounce the words either and route. I’ll probably pick a woman to read my upcoming novels with female protagonists. The professional male reader I chose for Well of Rage did a good job; however, I missed hearing some version of the female voices I have in my head.

I found several paragraphs left out during the first proofing process, and some random scenes sounded robotic. When I replayed the audio during the last proofing process, it had vanished, but it took patience and effort on my part.

If you are interested in helping me reach my goal of testing Amazon’s algorithms for bestselling books, please preorder/buy the audible book for Well of Rage and then post a review.



What manuscript have you completed this year? Gritty stories, sometimes with a bit of jaded humor, pour out of me. If statistics prove anything, female crime writers are traditionally published less often than male ones, but rejection goes with the territory. If I’m not offered a traditional contract soon, I’ll self-publish the sequel to my first novel, A Matter of Respect, the first of next year.”

In Mobile, Alabama, Officer Carly Redmond witnesses a robbery in progress and makes an off-duty arrest of a mentally ill man, Joshua Randall, that leads to the death of a fellow officer by the suspect in the jail’s intake sally port. During interrogation by her department’s Internal Affairs and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, Carly learns the jail’s video of Joshua murdering the officer with a knife is missing, and the radio printout is altered. She is sure she patted down Joshua and bagged the switchblade, but “the powers that be” accuse her of negligence.

 What are you in the midst of publishing? I am in the process of self-publishing Stranded in Atlanta, a novella about a trio of con artists. They are stuck in Atlanta without funds when the oldest member has a heart attack and dies. Clara Shannesy Blyth and her adopted Uncle Roman are crushed at their mentor’s death. Still, Clara must take over the reins of the duo and pull off a risky art heist of an Edward Hopper painting with a cut-throat team. She falls in love for the first time at twenty-seven with Hernando and realizes too late he is the Hopper painting’s forger, and his brother is the man trying to kill her.

Stranded in Atlanta took me deep into research about the Roma culture and their displacement into ghettos throughout European history. My studies about the Roma culture and their myths are ongoing. However, Julie Baggenstoss—a flamingo dancer and academic in matters concerning the marginalized Roma culture and the important influences of their people—was one of my six beta readers and provided research materials for me. Also, my Spanish daughter-in-law at the time added her insights. Darija Pichanick, the SinC President for the Atlanta Chapter, provided details about Croatian food, geographic traveling timetables, and attitudes toward foreign guests. This eye-opening research drove me to develop what I hope is a likable anti-hero character as my protagonist.

When you aren’t writing crime novels, do you write in other genres or styles? Yes, I branched out during the pandemic and wrote a short science fiction piece to entertain my teenage grandson. It has turned into a YA novel-in-progress called “Grams and Grandson Teddy, the A.I. Private-Eye Detective.” Recently, I was informed my short story “Bitter Love” will be in the fall issue of Crimeucopia by Murderous Ink Press.

Have you ever judged a writing contest? I was honored to judge a local writing contest, and now I have empathy for editors who read countless submissions.

You may contact me at:

To buy my books



  1. Lynn Hesse

    Thanks, Marilyn,
    It would be lovely to see you again. The plane ride to Las Vegas is a pricey trip for me, but I appreciate PSWA.

  2. Marilyn Meredith

    Hi, Lynn, so excited to hear about your endeavors. PSWA has helped me in so many ways. Would love to see you again.

    • lynn hesse

      Thanks you, Lynn. I was named after my paternal grandfather, a Pentecostal preacher. Congrats on your new novel published by Level Best Books.

  3. Lynn Hesse

    Thank you George for hosting my story on your blog.

  4. Lynn Hesse

    Thanks, Vicki,
    FYI: My husband has 6 feral cats. You want one?

  5. Vicki Batman

    very nice interview and good to learn more about you

  6. Michael A. Black

    Great to hear you’ve got so many projects rolling, Lynn and thanks for mentioning the PSWA. I’ve always been fascinated by the regional accents of our country as well, and I know what you mean about hearing your work read by someone whose accent is not the same as your character’s. Keep up your fantastic research and writing pace and best of luck to you.

    • Lynn Hesse

      Hi, Mike,
      Thank you. I feel like a slacker compare to you and others who published multiple books a year.

    • lynn hesse

      Thank you, Mike. I feel like a slacker compared you and others who produced multiple books a year.


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Twitter: @Mark_Coggins

The Dead Beat Scroll –

Podcast (where I do serial readings of some of my books) –



  1. Mary Hagen

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

  2. Mar Preston

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

  3. Michael A.Black

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

  4. Thonie Hevron

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


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L.J. Sellers and Teresa Burrell Discuss“No Consent,” a Universal Issue

L.J. Sellers and Teresa Burrell met at a mystery/thriller convention long ago and have remained great friends. Combined, they have 41 highly-rated novels with 15 International Readers Favorite Awards, a UP Award, and a San Diego Best Mystery Award.

L.J. writes the Detective Jackson mysteries, the Agent Dallas thrillers, and the made-for-TV Extractor suspense stories. Teresa has authored twelve books in The Advocate series and three in her spin-off Tuper series. In addition, she’s known for her work as a legal advocate for children.

Teresa and I both feel strongly about addressing social issues in our novels. In The Advocate series, Teresa focuses on children’s traumas, and in my Detective Jackson series, I highlight people who are marginalized, including the abuse of those caught up in our legal system. So a news story about a corrupt prosecutor caught my attention. That injustice concerned the rights of people accused of a crime and the DA’s planting of informants in jail cells to ensure convictions—a legal no-consent issue that affected mostly men.

But the social issue of no-consent, as it applies to women, is always simmering in the back of our female minds. The me-too movement was personal for both of us. In a broader way, it morphed into a person’s right to say “no”—regardless of circumstances. Such as the way a woman dresses, the provocative subjects she might write about, or how she makes a living, even if it includes something sexual.

As we developed our plot, we needed one of our main characters, a female district attorney, to be engaged in a compelling trial. About that same time, the social media site OnlyFans came to my attention. The platform—and the women who make a living there—intrigued us so much we knew we had to write about them. Then Teresa, a defense attorney, came up with a brilliant crime/trial that fit into our story and theme perfectly.

We’d love to share more details, but we don’t want to spoil the surprises. But again, the issue was lack of consent. In the end, we crafted synergistic themes for our characters, Conner & Hitch, and plotted a story that brings it all together. In short: Just because a man has been accused of a crime doesn’t mean his legal rights can be violated. And just because a woman posts sexy videos doesn’t mean it’s okay to sexually assault her.

But does the legal system actually protect either person? That depends on the prosecutors, judges, and juries involved. And humans are flawed, so the system often fails. For writers, the joy of crime fiction is the opportunity to create our own endings and have justice be served. As readers, it helps us feel a little better about the world.

I don’t want to give away more—because we plotted some shocking twists—but readers call the novel  “scintillating,” “brilliant,” and “totally engaging.” Here’s a tagline that gives a hint about our characters: A stressed-out prosecutor needs help from a charming ex-con. What can possibly go wrong?

Readers are already asking what’s next, so we’re plotting a second adventure for Conner & Hitch. We hope you’ll check out NO CONSENT and find the story as intriguing and emotionally engaging as we did.

Learn more about L.J. and Teresa at:


  1. Lynn

    I’m so glad to hear you include social issues in your books and delve into the complexities of the issues through the plot and characters. I’m looking forward to reading your novels.

    • L.J. Sellers

      Thanks! We love new readers! L.J.

  2. Vicki Batman

    Wonderful to learn more about you! Great interview. vb

    • Teresa Burrell

      Thanks, Vicki. It’s fun to be here.


  3. Teresa Burrell

    Thanks, George. I hope you’re having a good time!

  4. George Cramer

    I folks,

    I’m attending the 20Books-Las Vegas Conference in Las Vegas this week. So, if like Val, your comments are slow to post, it’s because I’m not at my laptop most of the day.

    Aren’t L.J. and Teresa awesome? I’m so glad to have a chance to read their post live.

    Take Care & Stay Safe


  5. Michael A. Black

    Bless you for bringing these important issues to people’s attention through your books, and for looking out for the welfare of children. Good luck.

    • Teresa Burrell

      Thank you, Michael. We both feel it’s important to shed light on social issues through our writing.

  6. Teresa Burrell

    Hi Everyone,

    We’ll be around today, checking in, so if you have any questions, feel free to ask.

    Teresa & L.J.

    • Val

      I love the way social issues are written about without being preachy. Fiction is the perfect vehicle for delivering truth. And I agree that satisfying endings give us a boost in an otherwise rarely ‘fair’ world. Particularly in our justice system. Looking forward to Book 2 in the series.


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BILL RAPP – Cold War, Berlin Wall, Espionage

The title of my latest book is Berlin Walls, the fourth book in the Cold War Thriller series from Coffeetown Press. In Berlin Walls, CIA officer Karl Baier returns to Berlin to exfiltrate a KGB defector just as the Wall is going up. The world of Cold War espionage is about to change forever. As if that wasn’t difficult enough, Baier’s German-born wife asks him to help get her family out of East Germany at the same time.

Karl Baier is the protagonist in each of the Cold War spy stories in this series, which begins in the months immediately after the end of World War II in the ruins of Berlin. His adventures then take him to Vienna on the eve of the signing of the State Treaty ending the occupation of Austria in 1955 (The Hapsburg Variation) and Budapest during the Hungarian revolt and Soviet invasion in 1956 (The Budapest Escape).

I was initially attracted to mysteries as a graduate student working on my Ph.D. in European History. When I needed a break from all those history books, I took to reading mysteries and fell in love with the novels of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. Throughout my 35 years working for the CIA, I harbored the dream of writing my own stories and finally broke through with one set against the fall of the Berlin Wall, which I experienced during my assignment in the city between 1989 and 1991. I followed that with a three-book private detective series set outside Chicago, where I grew up. Later, my memories of the many times I had visited and lived in Berlin and Europe brought me to the first spy thriller, Tears of Innocence, and the Cold War series that followed. I draw on my years of experience as an analyst, diplomat, and senior executive at the Agency and my background in European—and especially German—history for these novels, a writing experience that allows me to blend two of my greatest passions: history and intelligence.

I am definitely a pantser. I usually start with little more than a general idea and an opening scene, and then I find that my characters tend to take over the story. I have to confess that I find working on an outline a bit daunting and, frankly, too much work. I really have only a vague idea of where the storyline will go eventually. But I also find that to be a much more enjoyable creative process. And things rarely unfold as I had initially thought they would.

I would not say that the characters disappoint, but they often do not act as I thought they would—or should. Raymond Chandler never had his great hero, Philip Marlowe, become romantically involved with anyone he met while working on a case because he feared it would compromise his integrity, something that made Marlowe good enough for anyone’s world and the best man for his own (to paraphrase the master). And yet, in the third book of my P.I. series, the protagonist, Bill Habermann, does just that and ends up with the woman at the end of the book. I had to sit back and ask myself how the hell that happened. In the current Cold War manuscript I’m working on, Karl Baier has an affair with a Turkish woman. However, in the real world, an intelligence officer wants to avoid putting himself in such a vulnerable and compromising situation. And Baier is happily married! But in the real world, people do not always act rationally and responsibly. No one is perfect. But it is also the author’s obligation to ensure that there are consequences when something like this happens.

The best book I have ever read? That is perhaps the toughest question on this list. And I am going to cheat by breaking that down into separate time frames. It’s how I respond to the question of the great American novel because each book reflects a different stage of our country and its culture and how those have evolved. I begin with Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, then move onto Henry James’s The American and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. From there, I select Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March. Granted, there are no spy novels on this list. Still, I can always say that I find the novels of Charles McCarry, especially The Last Supper and Secret Lovers, as the finest in that genre.

My advice to anyone starting out in this field, or thinking of becoming a writer, is to read and then read some more and more again. I find that critically important in developing your own voice because you will find writers who speak to you more so than others, often because of how they have come to learn their craft and how to express themselves. You have to be careful not to become too imitative (my initial attempts at writing detective fiction read like the work of a Raymond Chandler-wannabe). Still, it will really help in finding your own voice, one that you are happy to put on the page and tell your story.



  1. Bill Rapp

    Thanks, Joseph. See you in July. We should have even more to talk about.

  2. Bill Rapp

    Robert, I hope these books in the series mean something special to you.

  3. Bill Rapp

    Thanks, John. I enjoyed meeting and talking with you in Las Vegas. I’ve got M.P. on my reading table and will finish it before the next PSWA conference. See you there.

  4. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    Bill we met at the PSWA conference. I knew from our first conversation that you had some interesting experiences and I envied your travels as well as your time with the agency. I definitely will be buying some of your books and look forward to seeing you at the next conference.

  5. Thonie Hevron

    I just finished Bill’s first novel, Tears of Innocence and loved it. I’m looking forward to Karl’s adventures in the second book. A fun interview, Bill and George. Thank you!

    • Bill Rapp

      Thanks so much, Thonie, for your kind words. I’m really glad you enjoyed Tears of Innocence. I just hope you find the others in the series as interesting and worthwhile.

      It was great meeting you in July, and I hope to see you at next year’s PSWA conference.

  6. John Schembra

    Good to meet you, BIll. Sounds like you led a very interesting life. Good luck with your newest book. I definitely will be checing out your stories!

  7. Michael A. Black

    Bill Rapp is the real deal. His writing has a sophisticated edge to it and I strongly recommend his work. His advice to prospective writers to read, read, read, is right, right, right. Good luck with your new one, Bill.

    • Bill Rapp

      Thanks, Mike. I’m about to pick up the The Heist and really looking forward to it.

  8. Madeline Gornell

    Great to meet you, Bill, and very much agree–read, read, read, then find your own voice. Continued success! (I was also born and bred in Chicago! Though haven’t been back there for many many years. Different times way back then in the dark ages(smile)).

    • Bill Rapp

      Great to hear from a like-minded colleague–and Chicagoland native! I’ve been fortunate to return to my old haunts in Naperville and the Fox River Valley at least once a year for decades now (except when I’ve been overseas, of course). You should get back there. it’s changed, but then so much remains the same. I get inspired every time I return.

  9. Robert Coburn

    I was an United States Army occupation soldier with the 6th Infantry Regiment in Berlin from March 1955 to August 1957. This time included the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.


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LOIS WINSTON – On Using Real-life Settings

USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick-lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

Shortly before Covid hit and the world closed, my husband and I attended a wedding that was held at a former private estate in New Jersey. Sitting on acres of prime real estate in one of the priciest counties in the United States, the estate with its manor house claims to be “the most exclusive, private and sought-after venue for weddings, private social events and corporate meetings in the country.”

The land on which it sits was purchased in 1912 by renowned New York City industrialist Charles Walter Nichols. He hired Augustus N. Allen, one of the premier architects of the day, to create a home reminiscent of the Norman architecture of Northern France and Southern England. The landscape architect Augustus E. Furlong (I wonder how common Augustus was as a name back then, given the coincidence!) was hired to transform the grounds into a combination of formal gardens and woodlands featuring ponds, streams, and meandering footpaths.

In 1994 the estate was purchased, updated, and opened as a conference and event center. It’s also become a much sought-after filming location for major motion pictures and television shows, as well as for fashion photoshoots.

I’ve found that too often, wedding venues are over-the-top gaudy with far too much faux gold, crystal, and marble for my taste. This estate was spectacular in its understated elegance. I could easily envision the family who called it home at one time. I certainly wouldn’t mind living there—if I had a few hundred million dollars!

For the tenth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, I had decided to have Anastasia present a series of needlework workshops at a conference for an organization of retired women. But I didn’t want the conference held in a hotel. I wanted a more secluded, private setting for the plot I had in mind. The estate where I’d attended that wedding was the perfect location.

A book’s setting should play an integral part in the story. There should be a reason why the author chooses to set her story in a particular town or place. Sometimes authors make up locations. Other times they set their stories in real settings. And sometimes they fictionalize real locales, which is what I chose to do for Stitch, Bake, Die!.

For me, basing my settings on actual locations enables me to give my readers a better sense of where the scenes are taking place. For this book, I could close my eyes and see all the details of the estate where my story was unfolding as I wrote it because I’ve been there. I’ve wandered the many rooms of the manor house and walked the grounds. I hope that the picture I’ve painted with my words enables my readers to see in their minds what I saw with my own eyes.

You’ll notice, though, that in this article, I haven’t named the estate where the wedding took place. In the book, I’ve deliberately given the location a fictitious name. After all, this is a mystery series, and there’s murder afoot!

Have you ever read a book that took place in a fictional setting but were convinced it was actually a place you knew?

Stitch, Bake, Die!  – An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 10

With massive debt, a communist mother-in-law, a Shakespeare-quoting parrot, and a photojournalist boyfriend who may or may not be a spy, crafts editor Anastasia Pollack already juggles too much in her life. So she’s not thrilled when her magazine volunteers her to present workshops and judge a needlework contest at the inaugural conference of the New Jersey chapter of the Stitch and Bake Society, a national organization of retired professional women. At least her best friend and cooking editor Cloris McWerther has also been roped into similar duties for the culinary side of the 3-day event taking place on the grounds of the exclusive Beckwith Chateau Country Club.

The sweet little old ladies Anastasia is expecting to meet are definitely old, and some of them are little, but all are anything but sweet. She’s stepped into a vipers’ den that starts with bribery and ends with murder. When an ice storm forces Anastasia and Cloris to spend the night at the Chateau, Anastasia discovers evidence of insurance scams, medical fraud, an opioid ring, long-buried family secrets, and a bevy of suspects.

Can she piece together the various clues before she becomes the killer’s next target?

Crafting tips included.

Links to buy books and where to visit Lois:

Apple Books

Newsletter sign-up:
Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog:



  1. Patricia J. Boyle


    I like your differentiation of real, fictional, and fictionalized locations. I generally create settings from my imagination, but when I base them on a real place, it makes it easier to provide details that bring the setting to life. I once read a novel in which many roads and towns had names of real locations, but not the city where the action took place. I asked the author if I was correct in my guess about the fictionalized place. I was. I knew something of that city, and he did a good job of fictionalizing it. Thanks for the informative and interesting column!

  2. George Cramer

    Lois, reading guest posts like yours, and those of all our visitors, is a pleasure. Not to mention all that I’ve learned about our craft from our brother & sister authors.

    I think this is the first time I’ve posted a comment. 🙂

    • Lois Winston

      Wow, George! I’m going to try very hard not to let that go to my head!

  3. Donnell Ann Bell

    An amazing first person author. I have learned so much from Lois Winston. Her protagonist’s zany family is so much fun to read!

    • Lois Winston

      Donnell, I’m blushing! Thanks so much.

  4. Michael A. Black

    I’ve always been a fan of the type of mystery that takes place in an isolated estate such as this. It sounds like you’re the worthy successor to Agatha Christie. Good luck.

    • Lois Winston

      Hi praise, Michael! Thanks so much!

  5. Kathlee

    Lois is on my reading list too!

    • Lois Winston

      Thanks, Kathleen! So glad you’re enjoying the series.

  6. Lois Winston

    Marilyn, you’re such a sweetheart for saying that! Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Marilyn Meredith

    I’ve been following Lois Winston for a long time now. Her books are good, and her writing insights always great.

  8. Lois Winston

    George, thanks so much for hosting me today on your blog.


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JOHN BLUCK – Crime and Sci-Fi Novelist and Storyteller

The title of his latest book is Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales: Crime and Sci-fi Short Stories.

John G. Bluck is the author of five books, some in the crime/mystery genre and others science fiction. He worked for thirty years for NASA and retired as a public affairs officer. Prior to that, he was the daytime crime reporter/photographer for WMAL-TV (now WJLA) in Washington, D.C. During the Vietnam War, Bluck was an Army journalist at Ft. Lewis, Washington.

Another of his recent books, Death in the Holler, earned praise in a BookLife review printed in the January 11, 2021, issue of Publishers Weekly magazine. “For Southern murder mystery fans, this whodunit and its heart-of-gold protagonist will hit a bullseye. Murder, gangs, and black-market marijuana run rampant in this testosterone-filled thriller. . . . Bluck’s mystery keeps readers quickly flipping the pages with short, fast-moving chapters.”

Tell us about your most recent book. My latest book is Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales. It’s a collection of sixteen crime and science fiction short stories; some are strictly fictional crime stories. Others are solely in the science fiction genre. Many of the yarns combine both crime and sci-fi genres. Florida Grand Theft was released on October 4. The first image below is for the paperback and the second is for the eBool.








I began writing a couple of the stories as long as fifteen years ago when I was working at NASA. Over the years, I edited and revised them numerous times. One of those stories is the “DNA of History.” In it, ant-sized extraterrestrials visit a young boy, affecting his entire life. A second sci-fi story that I began developing a long time ago is “Adventures in Time.” In this story, an astronaut transmits a message as his ship careens toward a black hole.

I dreamed up other stories only months ago. That’s obvious when you read one of them, “Big Brother’s Bracelets,” which is related to the current pandemic and Covid-19. In this story, a feuding couple has to adjust their lives.

In the first story in the book, “Florida Grand Theft,” a young woman short of money tells how she’s tempted to steal a purse. In “Death by Snub Nose,” a hobo is accused of murder. These are among the crime and sci-fi stories I wrote recently, as is “Buzz.” Buzz is a robotic bee who’s an undercover agent.

Why do you write in more than one genre? I spent much of my life in a career path that’s linked to both crime and science-fiction. When I was in the army, I wrote news stories for an army newspaper and read army news on a couple of local radio stations.

After that, I worked a few years in Washington, D.C., as the television daytime crime cinematographer for WMAL-TV (now WJLA). I mainly covered homicides and bank robberies. Naturally, I covered other stories, too, including sports, politics, and even Watergate. I was in a pool of about six or seven still and motion picture photographers who filmed the submission of President Nixon’s letter of resignation.

Then NASA hired me to be a documentary producer. I saw many fascinating things at NASA that were true, but which might as well have been science fiction. I saw huge rocket engines; walked under the Space Shuttle; peered through telescopes, and wandered through laboratories, machine shops, wind tunnels, as well as many other locations.

When I explored NASA and filmed news for TV, I met many kinds of people. Whether they were in bad or happy situations, they taught me about human nature. Covering news “on the scene” in city streets and later working in science and engineering environments gave me a myriad of potential story ideas related to both crime and science.

How do you create your characters? Lately, I’ve been consulting a psychology book to try to shape some of my characters’ personalities so that they are vastly different from each other. This can lead to conflict and drama.

I don’t try to dictate what a character will do all of the time. I like to put characters with different personality traits into the same room or location. I begin to write dialogue rapidly. I permit the characters to talk, to say what they want. This is hard to describe, but it’s as if they wake up and begin to speak. I simply type what they’re saying. That’s why I say I don’t try to make the characters do or say what I want them to say.

However, there are times when something specific has to happen—a climax, a turning point. Then I might dictate that a tree will fall, a ship will sink, or a fire will erupt. The characters then have to react to the situation based on who they are and their personalities, which I have assigned to them. Sometimes, that personality changes when a character starts to act and come alive. I’ve found that if I “listen” to my characters, rather than try to shape them too much, the people who populate my books are more realistic, more human.

Do you outline, or do you write as you go? When I design a novel (plot it), I like to outline “sort of.” That is, I use the Act I, Act II, and Act III format.  I know where the climax is supposed to be. I write the beginning and the end first and perhaps the climax, and then I fill in the middle of the story. Each scene is like a bubble or a block. I note what “should” happen in a scene.

But as I go along, I let the characters have a lot of freedom, and they may take me off on a tangent. Also, sometimes when I’m writing, a character will just pop up. This is where the “sort of” comes into my writing process. I then have to decide if an unexpected path taken by a character is good or is merely a diversion that takes the story too far off course.

I like to work in this hybrid—mostly planned—but freewheeling kind of a way.

What’s your next book going to be about? Its potential title is Murder at NASA. Luke Ryder, the protagonist of my last mystery novel, Death in the Holler, is called into work undercover to solve a cold-case killing at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, where I worked last at the agency. I’m quite familiar with the Ames campus, which some Hollywood producers have called a great location to make a movie. I doubt that Ames would ever be the set for a major movie, but the place has so many good locations for me to use in a novel. I’m almost salivating; I’m ready to completely plot my ideas and turn the characters loose at Ames.

How do our readers contact you?

Readers can message me through my website:

They can visit my Facebook page:

My Twitter page is located at:

Readers can sign up for my e-mail list by visiting:


  1. Mar Preston

    I could use a few Florida stories now as Canada grows cold. You’ve had an interesting life and been drawn into some good situations to write about.

    • John G. Bluck

      Hello Mar,
      Thanks for finding my stories of interest as winter approaches. Though the first story in “Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales” is set in the sunshine state, there are other stories that take place in the greater Chicago area, northern California, Cleveland, New York and Naples, Italy…. so I hope you also find the stories set in these other locations interesting enough to warm up your imagination. (Many are places where I’ve visited or lived.) Of course, I haven’t been to outer space and a few other locations on which I focus in a few of the yarns.
      But my ultimate goal is to entertain. I hope you enjoy the sixteen stories in the volume.

  2. John Schembra

    Interesting background- I can see it would lead to some intruiging plots. I will look you up to find out more about your books!

    • John Bluck

      Thank you, John. I appreciate it that you’ll check out some of my books. Cheers, John G. Bluck

  3. Michael A. Black

    John Blunk is a masterful writer. I read his Death in the Holler and enjoyed it immensely. I’m delighted that Luke Ryder is heading to NASA for another adventure. I ordered his new short story collection, too. I love stories set in Florida. Good luck, John.

    • John Bluck

      Thanks, Michael. I also enjoy your books. I’m looking forward to read one of your latest books, “Chimes at Midnight.”


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MAR PRESTON – Teacher – Editor – Amateur Actress (Her Words) and Author

Mar Preston is the indie multiple award-winning author of seven police procedurals, six writing craft books, and many short stories.

Her whodunit mysteries celebrate the mean streets of Santa Monica and a fictional California mountain village. She is a writing teacher and editor, a very amateur actress, and a comedy skit writer. She now lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada’s national capital.

By Accident is the 5th in a series about a Santa Monica Police Department cop working homicide. The Santa Monica Police Department is composed of 233 sworn police officers and 250 civilian staff members. The 8-square mile city on the Pacific Ocean edge of the Los Angeles sprawl generates a lot of heat and excitement.

By Accident may be the last in the series about my Santa Monica cop that I’ve come to know so well. I’m just too far away now for the scents and sounds of the city to reach me. I moved back home to Canada after a 50-year hiatus in California just in time for Covid-19. I’ll always be tempted to write another because interesting things happen in Santa Monica that give me ideas.

Santa Monica’s beaches and luxury hotels are tourist destinations for millions of international travelers, and they are the targets of crime. The city is also called “The Home of the Homeless.” Homeless people like sunshine and beaches as much as anyone else, and a felon on the run can’t flee from trouble any further west.

It’s also the home of about 100,000 residents, most of them ordinary dog-petting citizens. But Santa Monica is more known for celebrity sightings and drunken starlet wrecks in Lamborghinis on the Pacific Ocean Highway. I had my nose down some nasty rat holes in previous books researching international crime, genocide, and female mutilation. By Accident? I did my research while waiting for the hairstylist reading People magazine, Us, supermarket tabloids, and watching Entertainment TV. For a time, I knew who was doing whom and how.

I’ve been fascinated for a long time watching smirking celebrities stroll out of the courtroom … if the case even gets that far. In By Accident, the celebrity couple gets it, and they get it good. I’m grateful to Sgt. Bill Lewis (Ret.) of the Oxnard Police Department for a chase and capture ending I never could have dreamed up myself.

Here’s a link to the Santa Monica Police Department series and a very different series featuring a homicide detective in the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

Mar shooting the ARB-15 at the Writers Police Academy.

You can contact Mar at:


  1. Vicki Batman

    I enjoyed reading the interview and getting to know you.

  2. Madeline Gornell

    Glad you’re doing well and engaged with everything going on around us these days! Good to hear from you, so glad we met at PSWA.

  3. Marilyn Meredith

    Mar has been a friend of mine a long time–dating back to when she lived in the mountains off the 5. We are fellow Sisters in Crime, members of PSWA, and it’s been too long since I’ve seen her in person.

  4. Ana Manwaring

    Hi Mar! So lovely to hear about you and the book. I look forward to reading it, and will anticipate the new series set in Ottawa!

    Thanks to you to George. Alway interesting posts!

  5. Thonie Hevron

    I’m so looking forward to reading Mar’s books. I met her several years ago at the Public Safety Writers Conference and loved her goofy sense of humor immediately. Thanks for this lovely interview, George and Mar!

  6. Deven Greene

    Your books sound interesting. It’s probably easier to imagine crime taking place in Santa Monica than in Ottawa, but I’ll bet there are a few criminals even in Canada.

  7. Mar Preston

    I sneak in a lot of social commentary in my books. I write about things that make me mad that I can do very little about.

    When I first heard about Alec Baldwin and that mess I thought aha! Another celebrity. Is he going to walk out of the courtroom smirking. Now I’ve come to have a little sympathy for him.

    I would imagine a lot of you have discussed this thoroughly.

  8. KGThomas

    Thank you for this blog post about your writing journey and your past research – including very interesting resources. Your series sounds like the kind of story I like to read – especially because it operates through class divide and privilege.

  9. John Schembra

    Mar is a member of the Public Safety Writers Association, a wonderful writer, and delightful person. I’ve read a couple of her books, and can highly recommend them. Well written, great plots, and filled with wonderful characters!

  10. Michael A. Black

    Mar is a very talented writer and teacher. I highly recommend her books, which she thoroughly researches and writes with an elegant style. She also a very nice lady and I hope our paths cross again at a future conference. Stay strong, Mar.


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DEVEN GREENE – Pathologist – Researcher – Traveler – Author

Fiction writer Deven Greene lives in the San Francisco Bay area. Ever since childhood, Deven has been interested in science.  After working as a biochemist, she went back to school and became a pathologist.  When writing fiction, she usually incorporates elements of medicine or science. Deven has penned several short stories. Unnatural, Erica Rosen MD Trilogy Book 1 is the first novel the author has published. Her recently completed novel, Unwitting, is the second novel in the trilogy.

After a suicide bomber explodes at a baseball game, Erica takes in a young autistic man who has been trained to be a suicide bomber, hoping to find the perpetrator behind the operation and prevent further bombings.

Any comments about any other of your books: Unwitting is the second novel in the Erica Rosen MD Trilogy. It can be read as a stand-alone, although I think the reader might enjoy knowing the protagonist’s background and others in her sphere, which would be learned in the first book of the trilogy, Unnatural.

Tell us about your writing process. My writing is generally plot-driven. I start with a concept or idea I find interesting, often something in popular culture or the news. After I research the topic, I come up with a suspenseful plot centered around that idea. Then it’s time to conjure up characters who can pull it off. Lastly, after spending a fair amount of time thinking about it, I come face to face with my computer screen and type.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? I find that every time I re-read something I’ve written, I notice things to change. I suspect I often toggle the wording back and forth in some passages each time I see them. It is also difficult for me to decide when I’m done. Maybe I could improve the wording here or there, but at some point, I need to move on.

What are you currently working on? I am, of course, working on the last and final installment of my Erica Rosen MD Trilogy. The working title is Unforeseen. Again, Erica and those close to her will be involved.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? I absolutely do base my characters on real people. This is most true in Unwitting, where Erica becomes the caretaker for a young man inspired by one of my children. Other characters often have smaller similarities to people I have known. Some people may see themselves in particular individuals living in my books, but that is purely coincidental. Or is it?

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m in between. I learned early on that if I have a detailed blueprint, it’s bound to run into insurmountable obstacles as I write. I definitely have a plan, who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, some things that happen along the way, and how it will end. But as I am writing, ideas, details, and even inconsistencies pop up unexpectedly, so I need to be flexible and allow myself to make changes as I go along.

What kind of research do you do? I do enough research to feel comfortable with what I’m writing about if I don’t already know the subject sufficiently. I read books, do internet searches, and talk to experts that I know. I’m not writing fantasy, so I try to be accurate.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? For the most part, I use real locations. In the trilogy I’m writing, my protagonist, Erica Rosen, lives in San Francisco. I describe real places, such as Oracle Park baseball stadium. However, I often fabricate places such as homes, small stores, and towns.

Advice for new writers. Edit like crazy, and seek the opinion of others. It may be painful to hear criticism of your work, but it will help you in the end. There’s nothing worse than a rejection of your work without an explanation. Learn to appreciate whatever input others are willing to give you. You may not agree with it, and you don’t have to act on it, but you should at least listen with an open mind. One person may think your writing sucks, but if five out of five think it sucks, it probably does. Never fear, though. You can improve. It takes time to hone your writing skills.

Contact information:



Twitter:  @DGreeneauthor

Instagram:  devengreeneauthor




  1. Violet Moore

    Both your books were well written, great plot with twists that kept me guessing where the story would go next.

    • Deven Greene

      Thanks, Vi. I appreciate your editing skills in getting them into tip-top shape.

  2. Glenda Carroll

    You and I write about similar locations; one of them being Oracle Park. Your series sound great. Can’t wait to read it.

    • Deven Greene

      I made special trips to San Francisco to check out the places included in my books. I don’t know about you, but although I’d walked around the city many times, I didn’t pay that much attention to detail until I was going to write about it.

      • Glenda Carroll

        I worked for the SF Giants for 8 years working the games so I know the ins and outs of the ballpark. There are many little rooms and passageways that are perfect for mysteries.

  3. Mar Preston

    Enjoyed your comment about forensic pathologist weirdness. Like psychiatrists are the weirdest of medical doctors.

    • Deven Greene

      Psychiatrists can be pretty strange, but in my experience forensic pathologists beat them on the weirdness scale. That said, there are weirdos in every branch of medicine (and in every other occupation – probably even writers, not that I know any).

  4. John Schembra

    I’ve read both of your books and really enjoyed them. The characters are varied and vibrant, the plot exciting, and you paint a picture with your words- I can “see” the characters and settings, and feel the tension from wondering “what will happen next?”
    The story flows nicely, and your writing skill is spot on! You are a master at weaving an intricate, exciting, story.
    Looking forward to the third installment!

    • Deven Greene

      Thanks, John. As you know, we writers never get tired of positive feedback.

  5. Jim Hasse

    I loved “Unnatural” and am about to finish “Unwitting.” I’ve come to really care about Erica and her buddy, Daisy. Erica’s husband, Lim, is a cool guy and a great partner. It is interesting how you brought the American and a Chinese culture together. Lim’s understanding, or rather misunderstanding, of English idioms has made for some funny situations.

    I normally wouldn’t be into romance, but you’ve done an excellent job writing mysteries with a touch of romance. There is a soft side to all your characters. It is obvious that Dr. Erica is a compassionate doctor.

    I am looking forward to “Unforeseen.”

    • Deven Greene

      Thanks for the kind words, Jim. I hope you didn’t find too many punctuation errors in the interview above. (Inside joke).

  6. John G. Bluck

    The premise of your book, “Unwitting,” is very good. I’ve always wondered what would motivate a person to become a suicide bomber. I like the process that you use to plan and research your novels. Also, you note that you are flexible, permitting your characters and the situations in which they find themselves to take you along slightly different directions at times. I look forward to checking out “Unwitting.”

    • Deven Greene

      If you do read it, I’d of course love to find out what you think of it.

  7. Madeline Gornell

    Great meeting you, Deven, and learning about your process! Love hearing how other writers think and work. So agree, “Edit like crazy, and seek the opinion of others.”

    • Deven Greene

      Yes, I can’t overemphasize how important constructive criticism is. Still, it’s nice to hear from friends or relatives that your work is perfect. Just don’t believe it.

  8. Michael A. Black

    Being a pathologist gives you an interesting perspective that you can bring to your writing. Your writing process sounds a lot like mine. Your trilogy sounds interesting. Best of luck to you with your writing.

    • Deven Greene

      I certainly use my pathology background in my writing. I am not, however, a forensic pathologist – they tend to be the weirdest of an already weird group.


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