Award-winning author Kathleen Donnelly has been a handler for Sherlock Hounds Detection Canines—a Colorado-based narcotics K-9 company—since 2005. Her debut novel, Chasing Justice, won a Best Book Award from the American Book Fest and was a 2023 Silver Falchion finalist in the Suspense category and Readers’ Choice Award. She lives near the Colorado foothills with her husband and four-legged coworkers. Sign up for Kathleen’s newsletter to receive her free short story eBook collection, Working Tails.
Hello friends, and thank you, George, for having me as a guest today on your fabulous blog. This is my second visit here, and I’m excited about the release of Hunting The Truth, Book #2 in the National Forest K-9 series. Here’s a little more about my writing background and process.
Hunting The Truth Quick Summary: “Hide, Maya. Don’t let the bad people find you.” Those are the last words Forest Service law enforcement officer and K-9 handler Maya Thompson ever heard her mother say. Returning to the Colorado mountains, ex-soldier Maya is no longer a scared little girl. She’s here to investigate her mother’s cold case. After new DNA evidence surfaces, Maya and her K-9 partner, Juniper, track a suspect deep into the forest and directly into grave danger…
What brought you to writing? I have always loved reading and writing stories. My parents believed in reading to both my brother and me when we were kids. Listening to the stories was my favorite part of the day, and it wasn’t long before I was reading as many books as I could. I would often complain to my mom that I didn’t like how a book ended or I didn’t like something that happened in the story. She would tell me to write my own story and come up with a different ending or create a new character. I was also one of those kids who would wake up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep. I would wake up my parents and tell them I was bored.
Looking back, my poor parents! I’m sure they never thought they’d get any sleep. My mom once again told me to lie in bed and make up stories. So, I did. Over time, I started to write them down. The dream of being a mystery writer came when I first read Mary Higgins Clark in high school. Here was a female author who wrote stories I couldn’t put down. I wanted to do the same thing.
I didn’t start writing fiction until I was an adult. I wrote my first full novel when I was about 30. I was hooked, and I haven’t stopped writing since. I now have three books written in the National Forest K-9 series. The first two are published, and the third book, Killer Secrets, will be out on March 26, 2024. I have many more ideas for more books in the National Forest K-9 series and a new series as well.
Do you have any advice for new writers? I would tell new writers to stay true to themselves. What I mean by that is write what you love. Write what is you. Don’t worry about trends or if someone tells you something isn’t going to work. Learn your craft, but stay true to yourself.
Go to conferences to network, take classes from other authors, and study the business if you want to publish. I would encourage new writers to learn about different paths to publication. There’s no right or wrong way.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? My books are set in a fictional national forest, and most mountain towns are fictional. I did include the real town of Fort Collins, CO, in Hunting The Truth. My decisions were based on two of my favorite authors—Craig Johnson and William Kent Krueger. Before I started writing the National Forest K-9 series, I was lucky enough to ask both about their decision regarding fictional versus real locations. They both had similar answers.
When you have a fictional town and forest, you don’t have to worry about landmarks, rivers, lakes, etc. being in an exact location. You have more fictional liberty. But adding a real town can give the reader a sense of location if they look up the city on a map.
From there, I created the fictional Pino Grande National Forest and envisioned it in the area of the Roosevelt and Arapaho National Forests. In Hunting The Truth, I have Maya drive from the fictional town of Pinecone Junction to the real town of Fort Collins. I grew up in the Fort Collins area, so it was fun to include that location in my book.
What kind of research do you do? I love doing research and learning more about the jobs and settings I portray in the National Forest K-9 series. My research has included taking the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office citizens academy, talking to other K-9 handlers and trainers, and riding with a mountain deputy. I was also lucky enough to connect with a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer and K-9 handler. His knowledge has been invaluable, and I really appreciate how willing he is to answer questions.
About ten years ago, a new neighbor moved in next door to us, and I found out he was a retired Chief of Police. I asked him if I could ask some questions, and he was open to answering anything I wanted to know. His knowledge has been helpful.
A recent law enforcement expert I’ve connected with is Patrick O’Donnell, who has the Cops and Writers podcast. His Facebook group and Patrick himself have been fantastic with sharing law enforcement knowledge.
For my mountain setting, I’ve learned a ton about the mountains, which was my goal as I wanted the setting to be a character in my novels. My dad worked for the Forest Service as a researcher and is deeply knowledgeable about the forests in our area. I feel fortunate to have so many great resources so that I can make my book as realistic as possible.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? I’ve taken classes from best-selling author Grant Blackwood. He was the one who really helped me figure this out. Grant called, raising the stakes, “dialing up.” Basically, this is asking ourselves, how can we make things worse for our characters? This includes both the protagonist and antagonist, and if you can play those character motivations off each other and make it personal, even better.
For example, in Hunting The Truth, Maya solves the murders of a friend, her mother, and her grandmother. In real life, that’s (hopefully) never going to happen. This was my way of “dialing up” the story and making it personal for Maya, giving her even more motivation.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m excited to have Hunting The Truth out now and a third book in the National Forest K-9 series, Killer Secrets, coming out in March 2024. I also have some new series ideas that will include K-9s and my other passion—horses.
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Where to Purchase Hunting The Truth
Patricia Crandall is the author of ten books and a 2023 winner of the Besties of the Capital Region Awards, Author Category. Her latest book, Murder, Mayhem and Ghost Stories, is a series of short stories the author has successfully published in various magazines and newspapers over the years. The third edition of her book, The Dog Men, was also released in the spring of 2023. Patricia is a member of Sisters in Crime (Mavens) and the National Association of Independent Editors and Writers. She lives with her husband, Art, and a rescue cat, Bette, at Babcock Lake in Grafton Mountains near Petersburgh, New York. She has two children and three grandchildren who live nearby. www.PatriciaCrandall.com
September 5, 2023, Murder, Mayhem and Ghost Stories, by Patricia Crandall, was published by The Troy Book Makers is available at Independent Bookstores and on Amazon.com.
“Mystery stories are meant to thrill and entice you, the reader, while engaging your thought process to see if you can figure out who has committed the evil deed. I invite you to such a challenge, one I’m sure is worthy of your ability and interest, to solve the crimes before the end of the various stories. Murder, Mayhem and Ghost Stories is a series of short and very short stories about murder, mayhem and ghostly happenings that I have successfully written and published over the years. Most were for a particular magazine requiring a specific number of words, e.g., 100 to 2000 words. The book is divided into categories, and there is one very special story written by my Granddaughter, Nicole St. Onge, No Guts, No Gory, which will satisfy your mysterious needs.
Writing and publishing these stories have been my enthusiastic path to writing many full-length books. So, take the leap into these pages and enjoy a good read.” P. Crandall
Heidi Morrell, Windsor Products, Los Angeles, CA: Patricia’s writing is thrilling and exceptional.
Lee Pigeon, Passages, Counselling Services: Patricia Crandall is a seasoned writer. A perfect Saturday Eve is a breezy warm night while entering a whole other world in one of Patricia Crandall’s richly written stories.
Judith Luci Writes: Love her books!
Where can we buy your books?
Contact Author Representative: MarciagRosen@gmail.com
Frank Zafiro writes gritty crime fiction from both sides of the badge. He was a police officer from 1993 to 2013, holding many positions and ranks. He retired as a captain. He is the award-winning author of over forty novels, most of them crime fiction. You can find out more at http://frankzafiro.com
On October 4, 2023, my novel, All the Forgotten Yesterdays, the fourteenth installment of my popular River City series, will be released. When I wrote the first book in the series, Under a Raging Moon, back in 1995, I couldn’t have predicted that I’d still be writing about these characters almost three decades later.
But I’m glad I am.
River City is a police procedural series that follows an ensemble cast of officers, detectives, and even leaders as they face a different challenge each time out. To date, RCPD has encountered robbers, kidnappers, rapists, gangsters, a school shooting, a serial killer, a terrible chief of police, and more. Through it all, one of my intentions was to show these events in a realistic light. In fact, these books have been favorably compared to the works of Joseph Wambaugh and Ed McBain in that respect—high praise, if you ask me. One reader called them “a paperback ride-along, ” which also sums it up well.
In the beginning, I thought I’d be focusing mostly on a young patrol cop named Stefan Kopriva. But by the time I hit the second book, Kopriva’s fate on the department was already sealed (though he lives on in a spinoff series, the Stefan Kopriva mysteries). Another officer, Katie MacLeod, rose to the forefront. And while she was certainly first among equals, I spent considerable time with a half dozen other characters—the veteran Thomas Chisolm, partners Anthony Battaglia and Connor O’Sullivan, and police leader Lieutenant Robert Saylor, to name a few.
That’s not to mention a score of others that the reader gets to know less well but still interacts with. Then add in the fact I’ve written enough short stories in this setting to fill more than three collections, and the result is that the River City canvas is heavily painted upon. (The nice thing about the short stories is that it allows me to explore main characters more deeply at times, and at others, to explore characters who don’t get to be stars in the novels but do in their own short story).
The River City timeline starts in 1994 with the first novel. The newest book, All the Forgotten Yesterdays, is set in 2010. That’s sixteen in-universe years. A lot of things change in sixteen years (especially when it’s been twenty-eight years for me in our world!). I’ve made sure these changes are reflected in the series. New technologies and tactics emerge. There are marriages, retirements, and even deaths. No one is safe from the ravages of time.
Katie MacLeod was in the very first book, and by the third book, she had emerged as the core character of the series. Even so, she sometimes plays a minor role in certain books, such as her sole appearance, Chisolm’s Debt. In other outings, she is the POV for the entire book—this is true in The Worst Kind of Truth and again in All the Forgotten Yesterdays. She will retain her status as a major POV for the next couple, as well.
But time marches on. More than half of the officers prominently featured in the first book have either retired, been promoted, or are dead. It’s been difficult to say goodbye to them, whether that was due to their demise or simply because their new position meant I wasn’t going to be featuring them nearly as much. This is the pain I’m referring to in the title of this essay.
The steady march of time also requires rookies to join the department and graduate to veterans. As Katie’s role changes, new officers fill in her old roles—whether as a patrol officer or a detective. Getting to know these new officers and introducing them slowly over the course of several books, is one aspect of that joy I referred to in the title.
Does this require knowing where things are going for the next seven or eight books? If you’re not an outliner, this might sap the fun of creation for you. I’m not an extensive outliner myself—more of a note-taker—but I have to say I have found it at least as satisfying to view my series through the meta lens as through the micro.
In the micro, I’m right there on the street with the characters in each individual book, reveling in the details that make for good police procedurals. That experience is about moments.
In the macro, I get to see the long view of things and explore the journey and the ultimate fates of these fictional characters. That experience is about the years, even the decades.
Honestly, there is joy and pain in both elements. Here’s what I mean: I’ve only been moved to tears while writing a scene on two occasions. The first was in the fourth entry of the series, And Every Man Has to Die. As the title suggests, someone does die. Writing that scene—indeed, reading it back to my wife later on—choked me up and brought tears to my eyes. It was all pain.
The other instance was in The Worst Kind of Truth, which I wrote eleven years later. This time, the scene was a wedding. Now, I don’t normally cry at weddings. But this one was a long time coming. It tied directly back to that death in book four and represented a sort of healing without forgetting. Thus, it was both happy and bittersweet. Pain and joy, you see.
I think, in the end, what it comes down to is this: after spending almost three decades of my life with these characters and shepherding them through almost two decades of their own fictional lives, I’ve come to see them as being real. I know it’s a writer’s worst cliché, but it is absolutely true. And because their journey hasn’t been a static one, but has passed through time and events as well, there has been plenty of opportunity for both pain and joy to occur.
But, on balance, mostly… joy.
(Note: Even though this is #14 in the series, each volume stands alone, too. You can start anywhere in the series, but if you want to experience what I just wrote about, I suggest going back to number one).
email: email@example.com (or contact button on website)
Buy ALL THE FORGOTTEN ESTERDAYS: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BSB6HFPJ
Check out the whole River City series: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRDW2SN
Over the course of the last forty years, I’ve written and published one book after another, all but one of them murder mysteries. Blessing of the Lost Girls, due out September 29, 2023, is number 66. In order to produce that many books, the writing process generally takes six months from beginning to end.
That tradition came to a grinding halt in 2021 when I started work on the most recent Ali Reynolds book, Collateral Damage. That one took a whole year. As I struggled to bring that book to order (I’m definitely a pantser as opposed to an outliner!) I kept thinking that maybe I had lost my mojo, and that would be the last book I ever wrote. Eventually, I finished it, and the handwork paid off because my readers loved it.
But in the meantime, when I was only a couple of months into the Collateral Damage ordeal, a friend called and told me the following story:
In the nineties, a serial killer roamed the West—a guy who happened to hate Indians. His version of hate crimes before “hate crimes” became a thing. His deal was to ride boxcars and push Indians under moving trains. He became known as the Boxcar Killer and is still, at this time, serving life without parole in prison.
Around that time, a Lakota named James was working in the rail yard of a small city in Oregon. That’s when he had his encounter with the Boxcar Killer. James was pushed under a moving train and dragged for a mile and a half before the train was able to stop. Cops were called to the scene. They declared him dead, zipped him into a body bag, and had him transported to the local morgue, which was located in the basement of the community hospital. A nurse who worked there and who was also Lakota happened to know James. That night, when she got off shift, she went down to wash his hair—a time honored Lakota custom.
When she unzipped the body bag, his arm came out because he wasn’t dead. He was immediately transported from the morgue to the OR for the first of the countless surgeries it took to duct tape him back together. He was in the hospital for months on end. He ended up being a paraplegic. He lost the use of his dominant hand. He had to learn how to speak again as well as how to read and write.
One of my friends and fans, a woman named Loretta, has children who are half Lakota. She was also a volunteer at the hospital where James was treated. During his many hospital stays and before he learned to read again, she went to his hospital room and read books to him. And because she’s a fan of my books, she read my books to him, including her favorites—the Walker Family books set on Arizona’s Tohono O’odham Reservation. James loved them.
Once he recovered enough, he spent the next twenty years of his life working with disaffected urban Indian youth in the Portland area, helping them “find the right path.” The last time my friend spoke to James was shortly before his death in the spring of 2021. On the phone, he told her, “Tell your friend she needs to write another Walker book. There aren’t enough Indian heroes in books”.
After James passed away in the spring of 2021, although his case will never come to court, his autopsy report says that he died as a result of homicidal violence, and he is counted as one of the Box Car Killer’s victims. After his death, he was transported back to the reservation, not in a casket but wrapped in a buffalo robe.
I grew up as one of seven children. Our mother had plenty of rules. At dinner, you had to eat a little of everything on your plate or no dessert. I’ve taken that rule into my writing career in that I’m not allowed to think about the next book until I finish the one I’m currently working on. So, the remainder of the time I was working on Collateral Damage, I didn’t allow myself to think about writing the book James wanted me to write. Still, once I cleaned my literary plate, it was time to write Blessing of the Lost Girls, and I did so, beginning to end, in two months flat!
The story flew together, in part, I believe, because writing it was a sacred charge given to me by a powerful Lakota warrior. And if you read Blessing and meet a character named John Wheeler, you’ll know at once that although James said there weren’t enough Indian heroes, now he is one.
J.A. Jance’s Website is www.jajance.com
Autographed books will be available from Mostly Books in Tucson, Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, and Brick and Mortar Books in Redmond, Washington.
Jill Amadio is an author, journalist, ghostwriter, and audiobook narrator from Cornwall, UK. She lives in Westport, CT. She has ghostwritten 17 memoirs, including Rudy Vallee, a U.S. ambassador, a nuclear physicist, an oil baron, a rodeo champion, an inventor, and others. Jill writes three mystery series, a column for a UK online magazine, and for The Writes in Residence. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Authors Guild, and Mystery Writers of America.
What brought you to writing? I won every English award at school and college with my passion for writing, while I failed miserably at math. My life ambition was to be a reporter, and I achieved that goal at newspapers in London, UK; Madrid, Spain; Bangkok, Thailand; and in Westport, CT. I wrote a syndicated column for Gannett Newspapers and an automotive column for Entrepreneur magazine.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I write mysteries, novels, true crime, biographies, and ghostwriting memoirs. I was once hired to write a thriller by a client and went on to write my own crime series featuring a British amateur sleuth in America.
Tell us about your writing process. At first, it was daunting to come up with 70,000 words after writing 3,000-word articles. I am lucky to have the drive to write and rarely experience writer’s block. I awake each day eager to get to my necessary research, which can send my plot off in a different direction than planned, but it can also open new scenarios. I always write at my desk because it feels more like working rather than at a café or other outside location.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I am both. I think up a rough idea for a plot, mulling three or four different ways to go, then I expand upon my choice, create the characters, decide on the settings, and then write a two- or three-page outline. Once I begin writing the first draft, however, I become a pantser, which means I feel free to change any of the elements as I go along. As I write I often get better ideas than my original ones, especially when writing dialogue,, and I am always delighted when this happens.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Realizing that my characters try to make their own decisions, I once decided on a particular character as the murderer, but the more I ‘wrote’ her, the more I came to like her, so I picked someone else for the killer, throwing the plot into chaos but eventually fixing it, and keeping her as an ongoing minor character in the series. I’m a great fan of descriptive verbs, and particularity can challenge a writer to create colorful, original detail.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist – for the antagonist? Raising the stakes is one of the most exhilarating times of writing a mystery or a thriller, especially with cliffhanger endings worked out for each chapter. I can half-drown someone, have my sleuth flee the murderer with an extraordinary feat, or put characters into great danger with the flick of the keyboard. It all depends on the imagination whether and how any of the victims should be spared or not, whether the killer must be caught in an unexpected, explosive ending, and if the plot is so compelling with a satisfactory ending, the reader eagerly awaits the next book in the series.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? No, but they can go off the grid, so to speak, because my sleuth, Tosca Trevant, is a transplanted Brit in California who is often mystified by the lifestyle. I occasionally wish she was more understanding and less impulsive. In my novel based on a true 9/11 story, the protagonist is a real-life young woman who had asked me to ghostwrite her memoir. I eventually published it as fiction, but the book is closer to true crime than novelistic.
What are you currently working on? I have started two new mystery series, as well as completing my third book in the Tosca series. One of the new series features three retired librarians living in a New England fishing village who find murders on their doorstep. The other series’ protagonist is a ghostwriter based in Connecticut who is mistaken for a ghost hunter.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Find the authors you most admire and study their technique, style, and how they craft their stories. Each of us writers has a different, natural talent and means of expressing ourselves in our books, so don’t worry you might be copying your idol. Use them as guidelines.
Jill can be reached through her Facebook page, Jill Amadio, and her website, www.ghostwritingpro.com.
Halito (hello), fellow authors! I appreciate George having me on his blog today. I’m Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, a Choctaw author and digital course creator. My signature course, Fiction Writing: American Indians, equips authors to write authentic stories that honor Native American history and culture. I also teach a live Dictation Bootcamp for Authors that takes you through the process of mastering dictation through easy exercises that lead you to become the master of your fictional worlds.
As a tribal member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, I’ve written and published 16 historical fiction books. I’m highlighting pieces of my writing life in the hope you find them helpful on your journey.
Do you write in more than one genre? Historical fiction is my primary (and favorite) genre to read and to write. Something about digging into the past gives me a deeper connection to the present. That is especially true of my American Indian heritage. My books range from the Choctaw Trail of Tears in the 1830s to the Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I. I love a good old-fashioned western, which I get to share through my Doc Beck Westerns series set in the 1890s, featuring an Omaha Indian woman doctor. I write clean stories with close family relationships, fistfights and gunfights, and accurate cultural heritage.
What brought you to writing? When I was five years old, I had a story I wanted to share about being kind. But I was horribly shy and knew the only way to share my message was through writing it. My mama has saved that story to this day, and she continues to be my greatest fan and encourager. In my early twenties, I released a lot of the chaos in my life, wiped the slate clean, and handed the chalk over to God. He brought writing back into my life and let me know I was born to tell stories.
What are you currently working on? I released Fire and Ink, book 5 in the Choctaw Tribune series, in August and am outlining the final book in that series. There are 3 more books to go in the Doc Beck Westerns that are also underway. I have my first traditionally published nonfiction book coming out this fall, a biography on a WWI hero who was Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee — Otis W. Leader: The Ideal American Doughboy (Chickasaw Press).
How do you come up with character names? Authenticity is a significant component of my work. One of my methods for naming my American Indian characters is diving into historical records. Census, tribal rolls, and recorded stories are great sources for me to find authentic names for the people and times I’m writing about. Do you base any of your characters on real people? Absolutely. My novella, Tushpa’s Story, was based on a young boy who had a dramatic experience crossing the Trail of Tears in 1834.
Though the main character is fictional, the characters in Anumpa Warrior: Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I are the real men who were the code talkers and their commanding officers. I had the honor of interviewing descendants who knew these men and shared personal aspects that lent so much to the story. There are many historical figures sprinkled throughout my stories.
What kind of research do you do? I didn’t start off as a good researcher. I was scattered, but I knew research was vital because of the roles my work plays in the world. These books let readers experience authentic First American history and culture in an entertaining story. Through that, my stories are ambassadors. They are also a way to preserve this heritage for generations to come. My research has taken me down the backroads of Oklahoma and our homelands in Mississippi; deep into the secure vaults of the National Archives in Washington, DC; reading through stacks of nonfiction books and online archives; the WWI battlefields and cemeteries of France; sitting quietly and listening to elders.
Today, I love research and the treasures I discover of my ancestors that I get to share with readers.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m terribly excited to get started on an action-adventure series set in the 1970s that stars a Choctaw artist who has to fight the bad guys and retrieve priceless historical American Indian art pieces. In between my own books, I’m actively teaching authors how to create authentic stories that honor Native American history and culture. I’m also gearing up for my live Dictation Bootcamp for Authors in October. Nearly 100 authors joined me in April of this year to master the skill of dictating their stories. It was a rousing success, and I can’t wait for the one this fall.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? The faith of my ancestors continues to inspire my writing life. They walked the trail for me, and I’m so grateful to share their extraordinary lives through my real and fictional characters so that you, the reader, can go on the journey with us.
Find out more about my books (and my mama’s art) over at ChoctawSpirit.com
Interested in the Fiction Writing American Indians digital course? Find it here: https://www.fictioncourses.com/americanindians
Want to join the live Dictation Bootcamp for Authors in October? That’s here: https://www.fictioncourses.com/dictationbootcamp
Former Metropolitan Opera violinist Erica Miner is an award-winning author, screenwriter, arts journalist, and lecturer. Her debut novel, Travels with My Lovers, won the Fiction Prize in the Direct from the Author Book Awards, and her screenplays have won awards in the WinFemme, Santa Fe, and Writers Digest competitions.
Based in the Pacific Northwest, Erica continues to balance her reviews and interviews of real-world musical artists with her fanciful plot fabrications that reveal the dark side of the fascinating world of opera. Aria for Murder, set at the Metropolitan Opera, published by Level Best Books in October 2022, is the first in her Julia Kogan Opera Mystery series. The sequel, Prelude to Murder, which takes place at the Santa Fe Opera, is due for release in September 2023. The third book in the series, set at San Francisco Opera, will follow in 2024.
PRELUDE TO MURDER follows the further adventures of young violinist Julia Kogan, who leaves her home base, the Metropolitan Opera, for a guest appearance with the Santa Fe Opera. Teaming with a Shakespeare-quoting detective, Julia finds enough ambition, intrigue, and jealous wrangling behind the scenes to ensure plenty of suspects when murder takes center stage.
A Note From the Author: In my 21 years as a violinist at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, I witnessed deadly accidents, suicides, onstage fatalities, and other nefarious goings-on behind the scenes that far surpassed what took place onstage. What occurs behind that “Golden Curtain” can be as startlingly dramatic as any opera plot. The potential for murder and mayhem at an opera house is virtually limitless.
I was convinced both opera lovers and mystery novel aficionados would be fascinated by an insider’s view of the egos, rivalries and jealousies that make an opera house tick. With the help of my wicked writer’s imagination, I tossed my unsuspecting violinist protagonist into the fray: my “Opera Mystery” series was born.
I was convinced both opera lovers and mystery novel aficionados would be fascinated by an insider’s view of the egos, rivalries, and astonishing behavior of individuals who made the opera house tick. I discovered that the potential for murder and mayhem at an opera house is virtually limitless: it’s always “dark and stormy” at the Metropolitan Opera. Thus, with the help of my wicked writer’s imagination, I tossed my unsuspecting young violinist protagonist into the fray, and voilà: my Julia Kogan “Opera Mystery” series was born.
What brought you to writing? I actually started writing before I started playing the violin. In grade school, I was placed in an after-school program for Creative Writing. I loved the whole process, creating characters and plots and weaving them together to tell stories. My love of writing began at that time and has kept going throughout my adult life. Even when I was performing at the Met Opera, I took writing classes whenever I could fit them into my schedule. After I left the Met, I went back to my lifelong love of writing as my creative outlet. I still love telling stories!
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I feel most comfortable and productive writing on my desktop Mac in my office. I have everything I need within reach and within sight. In front of me are shelves holding my favorite screenplays, musical scores, books on writing, copies of my own books, photos of beloved family members, and even stuffies—a minion and a Brünnhilde Teddy bear—to keep me company and inspire me to make up great stories. When I’m stuck or need to contemplate for a moment, I look around at my familiar accoutrements, and I’m motivated to keep going. What I can’t abide in the way of distractions is noise: music, outdoor landscaping, and such. That is the worst distraction for me.
What are you currently working on? The third book in my Opera Mystery series is due for release in September 2024. Meanwhile, I will keep my musical writing muse active by reviewing performances in my local Seattle concert halls and opera houses.
How do you come up with character names? Creating character names is one of my favorite parts of writing a novel. Often I am inspired to use names of close relatives and friends who have made a deep impression on me, some of them since childhood, who have similar traits to those of my characters.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? In my Opera Mystery novels, I’m always tempted to base my characters on people I’ve worked with at the Met Opera, whether in the orchestra, onstage, or backstage. I like to combine the characteristics of different colleagues into one character, though sometimes I have based a character wholly on a real person.
What kind of research do you do? I have had extensive training in musicological research, so I do exhaustive studies to ensure I have a historical basis, both for the operas I include in my plots, the opera houses where they are performed, and the cities in which they are located. The history of opera, its composers, and its performances are absolutely fascinating. I delve into the composers’ lives, how and why they wrote a particular opera, the singers who have performed those works since the beginning, and all kinds of other fascinating facts. Then I weave it all into my stories.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? So far, I’ve used real locations. The first in the series took place at my home base, the Metropolitan Opera in New York. After being there for 21 years, I knew the place inside out, and it seemed the logical and perfect place to set my first Opera Mystery. When one reader suggested I set a sequel at Santa Fe Opera, I jumped on it. No other major opera company performs in the middle of the desert of New Mexico. After that, various opera companies asked if I would consider writing mysteries taking place at their opera houses. There are so many amazing opera venues and so many wonderful theatres from which to choose, all of them having their own unique characteristics. So, for the time being, I’m more than happy to place my stories in real locations. It would be fun at some point, however, to fabricate my own opera house in a made-up location, too.
“Erica Miner has created a world few people know or have access to. A mystery with music beyond the words on the page. If all music aspires to the human voice, this author has found hers from the start.” Gabriel Valjan, Agatha & Anthony nominated author of the Shane Cleary Mystery series
“Erica Miner is the Agatha Christie of the opera world.” – Richard Stilwell, international opera star
“Prelude to Murder is a tantalizing peek behind the curtain of the world-renowned Santa Fe Opera. There’s plenty of mayhem on the bill, sumptuous history, and metaphysical frights set against bloody arias and deadly recitativo.”
-James W. Ziskin, Anthony, Barry, and Macavity Award-winning author
How do our readers contact you?
Web site: https://www.ericaminer.com
Email ‘ firstname.lastname@example.org
SOCIAL MEDIA HANDLES:
[These are for currently available Aria for Murder. Will send links for Prelude to Murder when available]
Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/Aria-Murder-Julia-Kogan-Mystery/dp/1685121985/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
Barnes & Nobel – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/aria-for-murder-erica-miner/1142495216?ean=9781685121983
Third Place Books – https://www.thirdplacebooks.com/book/9781685121983
GROUPS I BELONG TO:
Sisters in Crime
Pacific Northwest Writers Association
International Thriller Writers
EPIC Group Writers
Carl grew up in Cleveland in a religious family that believed that God could heal all illnesses. No wonder he escaped to California. He attended Stanford University and discovered a whole new world. Carl graduated in economics and then studied music at San Jose State. His parents were not thrilled with the music. They were relieved when he became a banker. That career enabled him to live and work in Latin America, Canada, and North Africa. He’s put his foot in his mouth in Spanish, French, and Portuguese. He also became a dual U.S. and Canadian citizen. His debut thriller, MURDERABILIA, won Left Coast Crime and San Diego Book awards. SAVING EVAN is his second novel and was published in August 2023.
Nonprofit work also inspires him. He is the president of Partners in Crime, The San Diego chapter of the Sisters in Crime organization of authors and fans of crime writing. Additionally, he works with San Diego Social Venture Partners, an organization that mentors other nonprofits.
Carl lives with his wife in San Diego. His two grown sons are close by, and wonder how he knows so much about serial killers and banking crimes.
Saving Myles – When the FBI can’t help free his son from kidnappers, an unassuming banker takes matters into his own hands. He joins a bank owned by a drug cartel and negotiates. Wade gets his son back. But now he needs to save his family.
What brought you to writing? As a young child, I read and wrote stories. That continued through high school, where I added writing poetry and music. But in college, I felt I needed a career and majored in economics. No fiction writing at all. That and international study in Colombia launched me into a career in banking. I got to work in some exotic places—Montreal, Colombia, Venezuela, and North Africa. I was in Algeria 3 months after the Iraq invasion. But while I was a banker, I kept wanting to do something more creative. So I started back on what I’d loved as a kid—writing fiction. I did it in secret and told no one at work until I published my first book. When we moved from Montreal to San Diego, a whole writing community and support system opened up for me. Writers conferences, page submissions to editors and agents, critique groups, writing coaches, and groups of writers like Sisters in Crime. That led to my first published book, Murderabilia. During this long apprenticeship, I learned that not only did my books take place in the financial industry, but they involved families. My motto became: Behind every crime is a family.
Tell us about your writing process: I extensively outline a book before the writing begins. There are corkboards and index cards in my office. I also use Plottr. The outlining applies to characters too. I define their physical characteristics, their backgrounds, their tragedies, motivations, and weaknesses. I hate doing this, but it helps me get off the ground. Then I became a pantser, and the outline continually changes as I write.
My first draft is by hand on a legal pad. I scratch out a scene as fast as possible, often just dialogue. A sense of relief comes when I reach 5 or 6 pages because that means I have something. The best feeling is when the characters move ahead of me, and I can’t write fast enough to keep up. Sometimes the scene doesn’t begin until after the first page, but that doesn’t matter. Within 24 hours, I type it into the computer. That’s when I start removing unnecessary exposition or flatness. I also fill in setting, senses, and stage direction.
How long did it take you to write your first book? A long time. The book took more than ten years and was never published. Murderabilia was the next book. That also took several years—more than 20 revisions. But I got better. However, the last revisions made the book worse, and I had to go back to an earlier version. I have to continually guard against not over-revising.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Portraying a woman and her voice is difficult. One of the POVs in Saving Myles is a mother who has sacrificed her younger years and much of her career to help her son through his troubles. The workaholic father has been absent. After they have sent their son to a treatment center, she separates from him and sets about rediscovering herself. That includes having an affair. I really needed to understand her and get inside her psyche to make her sympathetic.
What kind of research do you do?
I had to research the wife in my book and why a woman like her would have an affair. I also had to research a teenager. How do they talk, and how do they view the world? I tried to get into the mind of a boy fascinated by girls, determined to go his own way, resentful of his parents for sending him to a treatment center, and wanting to be closer to them. The idealism of a teenager is wonderful.
The book contains lots of insider information about kidnapping, money laundering, and settings in Tijuana. A number of people helped me—the author Kimberly Howe, two FBI agents, and two DEA agents. I also I enrolled in courses at Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS), an international organization dedicated to fighting financial crime. In Mexico, I talked to a man who had been kidnapped and got his perspective on a terrible ordeal.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I based my settings as much as I could on actual places. In San Diego, I tried to find the right details that would evoke a visual and emotional response in the reader. To get them right for Mexico, some of my friends at the Y took me around to locations in Tijuana to pick out where scenes could occur.
Do you have any advice for new writers? The two most important qualities for a beginning writer are patience and tenacity. Patience comes first. Most of us submit our work far before it’s ready. Taking writing courses and joining a critique group helped make the manuscript better. The downside of critique groups is that they can only see a few pages at a time and may miss where the pace or character growth is falling short. Or how the middle got boring. That’s why a beginning writer needs to submit their work to a development editor.
That brings me to the second quality—tenacity. Critique groups, agents, acquisition editors, and reviewers will highlight all the weaknesses. The writer has the hard test of figuring out what makes sense and what doesn’t and then revising. My rule is if two people find the same thing wrong, I should revise it. Many people can write a book. But only a few have the tenacity to bring it to the level where it can be published. You aren’t born a writer; you must become one.
How do our readers contact you? I have a website and a newsletter you can sign up for there. I’m also active on Facebook and Instagram. I enjoy talking to people. Here are the contacts:
Facebook: Carl Vonderau
Instagram: Carl Vonderau
Groups I belong to
President of Partners in Crime, the San Diego chapter of Sisters in Crime.
Part of Social Venture Partners, a nationwide nonprofit dedicated to helping other nonprofits rise to the next level.
Thomas Burchfield was born in Peekskill, New York. After many years as a legal clerk and library assistant in the Bay Area, he now lives in semi-retirement in Grass Valley, California. His latest short story, “McCain, the Stranger,” recently appeared in the online version of The Mystery Tribune. A freelance editor, he’s also the author of the short story “Lucky Day” in Berkeley Noir’s anthology (Akashic Press 2020). He’s also the author of Butchertown (Ambler House 2017), a ripping 1920s gangster thriller, and the award-winning contemporary vampire novel Dragon’s Ark (Ambler House 2012). His original screenplays Whackers, The Uglies, Now Speaks the Devil and Dracula: Endless Night are available in e-book editions only. His reviews and essays have appeared in Swing Time Magazine, Posthoc.com, Bright Lights Film Journal, The Strand Magazine, and Filmfax. He also posts essays on Medium and his own webpage, A Curious Man.
What brought you to writing? I’ve been writing pretty much since I first picked up a crayon. I started out like all writers by copying my favorites. In my case, I started by retyping A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. That, of course, became boring. I then started writing up the Universal horror movies I loved as a kid (which I still do). Eventually, I started writing my own stories, and I found people liked what I did, so I kept going.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in my home office. I always play music: classical, jazz, and film music, especially the scores of Ennio Morricone. Music is sometimes inspiring. At other times, it provides solace and keeps me in my chair when things are not going well.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The first draft. My first drafts are awful, like finger-paintings by a three-year-old. Second drafts and upward are where the fun begins.
What are you currently working on? I have several pots bubbling on my stove. As for fiction, I’m currently working on what I call “The McCain Stories,” a series about a big city cop who’s assigned to police a Sierra Foothill community as it recovers from a devastating wildfire. They’re inspired by Georges Simenon’s “Maigret” novels and Midsomer Murders.
How long did it take you to write your first book? I tried writing my first novel in the 1980s but failed miserably. I then spent about fifteen years trying to break into Hollywood screenwriting (during which I wrote some pretty good scripts) until I aged out of their interest in 2001. (Screenwriting can be an excellent way to learn about plot and structure, though you’re unlikely to sell any of them). Around 2002, I finally started my Dracula novel, Dragon’s Ark. It took me about seven years.
How long to get it published? I spent about a year looking for an agent for Dragon’s Ark, and while I received plenty of praise, no one bit. I then published it myself under my Ambler House imprint. That took a year.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I don’t see how a novel can do without them. Any action on a character’s part will have consequences beyond the story’s main plot. Different characters will have different goals and will take different actions. Entanglement of other stories with your main one is inevitable unless it’s a single-character novel, like Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, which I found very boring.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? I get him into as much trouble as I can. To paraphrase Vladimir Nabokov, I chase a man up a tree and throw rocks at him. The great silent comic Harold Lloyd described comedy as “a man in trouble.” I work from those principles.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? My characters contain streaks of real people, including myself, those I’ve known, and, occasionally, indelible movie characters (but not too close, lest the book or story become too meta). Eventually, a character should be able to breathe on his own regardless of his origins in real life, literature, or cinema.
One exception: A best friend of forty years has made numerous appearances in my work under variations of his name but always described as looking exactly like him. I always kill him off, much to our mutual delight.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I was a pantser until I got stuck in too many swamps. A while back, I met Jeffery Deaver at a MWA workshop, and he described how he “outlined” his novels in bits and pieces, sometimes starting with the ending, sometimes in the middle, sometimes with just a scene, and then weave it all over time. I now work from that template. I generally like having a good idea of my ending from wherever I start.
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? My love and respect for history and historians is boundless, so I keep real historical figures mostly at the edge when it comes to fiction. I want to avoid debates about whether I got this or that factual detail about Calvin Coolidge right. I’m going to disappoint someone somewhere, but on the other hand, I don’t want to distract from my purpose, which is to change the reality we know into one that feels almost as real.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Learn to be your own best, most sharp-eyed critic. Writing groups are helpful when you’re starting out, but while you learn about craft, structure, and character development, they tend toward conformism, so you eventually want to get away and write from your own soul. But to do that, you have to learn to recognize when you’re not good. No one’s a good writer every time: not Shakespeare, not me, not you. Learn to recognize it. By no means hate on yourself—because that just makes you quit–but seek a level of Zen: a calm, almost scientific, detachment from your materials where you sit calmly back and say, “Hmmm . . . that’s not working.” And then work at it until it does. Writing badly is not a crime. Not fixing it is.
Second, don’t show your first drafts to anyone, not even to torture your worst enemy.
Third, don’t bother chasing the marketplace. You may be knocked out by the sales figures for I Was a Twelve-Year-Old Serial Killer but by the time you finish I Was a Ten-Year-Old Serial Killer, the marketplace will have moved on to novels about man-eating talking plants. Be the self that God gave you, for good and bad, above all.
How do our readers contact you?
I can be reached at email@example.com.
My author’s page is http://amblerhouse.blogspot.com;
My essays and reviews can be found at https://thomburchfield.medium.com and http://tbdeluxe.blogspot.com.
You can also find me on Facebook. Finally, if you’re looking for an editor for your non-fiction, check out Thomas Burchfield Writing and Editing.
Hello, I’m Christine Knapp. After practicing as a nurse-midwife for many years, I now write the Modern Midwife Mysteries.
I have always loved to read, and mysteries, thrillers, memoirs, non-fiction, cookbooks, and children’s books compete for a place on my bedside table. Libraries and bookstores fill me with wonder and anticipation. The New York Times Book Review is always the first thing I read with a warm cup of tea on Sunday mornings. My favorite book is John Irving’s, A Prayer for Owen Meany. It’s about love, compassion, and the affirmation that life is miraculous.
l discovered Dame Agatha Christie many years ago as a midwifery student. Now, with the Modern Midwife Mysteries, I am thrilled to combine my love of midwifery and mysteries as a fiction writer. I narrate books weekly for the visually impaired.
As a nurse-midwife, I have always been very disillusioned with how nurses and midwives are portrayed in books and films. I’ve read mysteries with historical and Amish midwives but never one with a present-day practitioner. By combining a mystery with a modern-day midwife, I hoped to accurately portray current practice and demystify midwifery. To that end, the story has many obstetrical vignettes, and each chapter starts with an epigraph related to pregnancy.
My first book, Murder at the Wedding, took about five years to write. I did not use an Outline and, after many revisions, realized that, at the very least, a general outline would be helpful for me. Finally, after dozens of rejections, I signed with a great agent, Dawn Dowdle of the Blue Ridge Literary Agency. My books are published by Gemma Halliday Publishing.
For inspiration, I highly recommend, Swallowed by a Whale: How to Survive the Writing Life, edited by Huw Lewis-Jones, to fellow writers. Sixty authors offer insights into their writing process and offer both advice and encouragement. Many days, I would open it at random and always come away determined to stay the course.
Murder at the Wedding introduces Maeve O’Reilly Kensington, a midwife, her wealthy acerbic sister Meg, and their indomitable Boston Irish mother. Together, they try to solve the murder of the chief obstetrician at his daughter’s extravagant wedding in the quintessential New England town of Langford. Since Maeve’s husband, Will, is the wedding caterer. The stakes are very high. Adding to the drama, Maeve spends her days helping to bring babies into the world yet struggles with her own fertility journey.
The second book in the series, Murder on the Widow’s Walk, was written in about six months. This time, I used an outline and felt it helped me tremendously—along with revisions, revisions, revisions. My characters may veer off course at times, but at least I had a road map. This mystery finds Maeve and company trying to solve the untimely murder of Monty Livingstone, also known as the Takeover King, as he sets up shop in Langford, alienating some in the community. Maeve’s love of rowing is featured in the story, and her road to motherhood takes an unexpected course.
Book #3, Murder on the Books, will be released this fall. It also took about six months to write. Maeve O’Reilly Kensington has fully recovered from her heart-pounding escape from a murderer last summer. Now she and her husband, Will, are happily adapting to life as parents of an eight-month-old while also preparing for the birth of their second daughter. However, nothing stays calm in Langford. Just before Christmas, Maeve finds the well-loved librarian dead. Who would harm this lovely woman? Can the crime be solved before Maeve has her baby?
Murder at the Wedding was a Finalist for the IAN Book of the Year Awards and is currently a Finalist for a Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award. Tantor Media has contracted for the audiobook version of the Modern Midwife Mysteries.
It is such an honor to be featured on George Cramer’s blog. I faced long odds of finding an agent and a publisher. My best advice is never, ever give up.
I’d love to connect with writers or fans of the cozy mystery genre. You can find me at:
Buy my book on Amazon.
Buy my book at Barnes & Noble
Sisters in Crime
Sisters in Crime New England
ITW Debut Class Authors