Vera Chan, Murderers’ Feast in Midnight Hour: A Chilling Anthology of Crime Fiction by 20 Authors of Color, edited by Abby L. Vandiver
Vera Chan has likely published a million words — most of them true. The former reporter and editor marks her fiction debut with Murderers’ Feast in the Midnight Hour anthology edited by Abby Vandiver. A UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alum, she has worked at daily newspapers and the world’s biggest online destinations covering everything from lifestyle and entertainment to news features and search trends. Her mystery-in-progress Following won her the Sisters in Crime’s Eleanor Taylor Bland award. Her unpublished humor novel The Mounted Position garnered second place for fiction at the inaugural Effie Lee Morris Women’s National Book Association Literary Awards, San Francisco Chapter. Both manuscripts are out on submission through the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Her day job is as senior manager, worldwide journalism relations at Microsoft.
“Men had been murdered for less. And yet John Manley still lived. Five days, surrounded by false friends and his truest enemies. Every last one of them, cowards.”
My short story Murderers’ Feast is what I call corporate noir. It’s dark yet tongue-in-cheek, about an insufferable gazillionaire throwing a five-day retreat with people he has screwed over. The story even includes kombucha (which runs freely in some corporate cafeterias) as a deadly weapon.
Like many journalists, I’ve always wanted to write fiction. As a kid, I devoured books, gravitating to British classics like Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Rebecca. Mystery has always been a favorite genre, and there too, British authors dominated childhood favorites (e.g., Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). That said, nothing tops Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin canon. I’ve even sought out radio plays and various screen interpretations. Sadly, nothing has captured the series’ trenchant charm (imagine a young Robert Downey Jr. as Goodwin). I’ll refrain from ranting about how Hollywood grievously lags behind the Brits in honoring its mystery classics with a cinematic treatment and charismatic casting.
Having my fiction debut alongside the works by established authors is miraculous. I joined Crime Writers of Color (CWOC), an association founded by award-winning authors Kellye Garrett, Gigi Pandian, and the legendary Walter Mosley. What’s brilliant is how the group embraces not just published authors but also emerging writers, which makes a huge difference in trying to navigate an already challenging field. Abby Vandiver proposed an anthology in a Groups.IO thread, and Midnight Hour came together in stunning speed — during a pandemic. The miracle is how nobody questioned having a newbie in the mix: I keep waiting for someone to say, “How the hell did this one sneak in?” So far, I haven’t been found out.
I must confess, while I’m giddy about being part of a groundbreaking anthology, the kicker for me is that Midnight Hour will be at Target! I shop locally when I can and boycott chains that don’t compensate employees fairly. I’ve revered Target for many reasons, among them as a place that made high design accessible to plebes, even with something as prosaic as a broom.
Getting into publishing hasn’t been easy: I often joke, grimly, that I’m trying to break into an industry even more challenging than journalism. (I use a more colorful term than “challenging.”) Finding my spectacular agent took years; now, she suffers on my behalf in the excruciating pace of submissions, made worse by the pandemic. My decision to go “traditional” rather than self-publish lies partly in my “traditional” journalism route and because of my parents. My father was trained as a chemist and my mother an English teacher: When they escaped the Cultural Revolution to the United States, they ran their own mercantile and restaurant businesses. Witnessing their sacrifices made me leery to pursue an entrepreneurial route. Plus, reasonable or not, I feel writing is a wonderful indulgence and a privilege that I can justify by making it part of a larger business.
As for those stories on submission: The Mounted Position is about shy hapless tech writer Abba Welles-Lee who, despite being practiced in the arts of evading intimacy, finds herself dragooned into the bruising yet comical world of martial arts. (The title refers to a mat wrestling maneuver.) Finding an agent took so long, I wrote Following, which centers around amateur private eye Brenna Hom, tasked with spying on the wayward children of moneyed Asian parents during the most accelerated pace of digital communication innovation in the history of the world.
I’ve been so restless about those books making the rounds that I’m writing a third — a mystery satire about a series of deaths accompanied by messages written in excruciating business jargon.
As you might guess, work is the pattern, which may explain why I also like police procedurals. Indeed, this draft could be pitched as Janet Evanovich meets Ed McBain.
The other commonality is martial arts: Watching (too) many kung fu movies with stellar fighting women has made me impatient with stories featuring insipid females. And yes, those Hong Kong action films inspired me to take martial arts, where I met my husband. I’m not great, but I’m still at it after 35 years and volunteer-teach at Cal.
Because whether it’s work, play, or getting published, it’s about putting up the good fight. Thanks, George, for letting me get a couple of rounds in your marvelous blog.
This link will take you to my website: http://verahcchan.com/
This link will take you to all the outlets where you will find Midnight Hour: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/673674/midnight-hour-by-abby-l-vandiver/
FOUR CUTS TOO MANY – Sarah Blair, who finds kitchens more frightening than murder, gets an education in slicing and dicing when someone in the culinary school where her friend teaches serves up a main corpse. Sarah soon discovers that there’s no time to mince words when it comes to finding the real killer.
Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series (Four Cuts Too Many, Three Treats Too Many, Two Bites Too Many, and One Taste Too Many). Her short stories, which have been named Agatha, Anthony, and Derringer finalists, have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Malice Domestic Murder Most Edible, Masthead, and Jukes & Tonks. Debra is on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and president of SEMWA. She previously served on Sisters in Crime’s national board and was the Guppy Chapter president.
Do you write in more than one genre? Although my six novels are all traditional or cozy mysteries, my published short stories range from non-mystery literary works to different mystery genres. During my time as a judge and a litigator, almost all of my writings were non-fiction legal articles and book chapters.
What is your writing process, and what is most challenging about it? My true nature is to be a pantser who listens to the voices of my characters but only writes when the muse strikes me. I repeatedly tell myself I need to get up and write every day, but I constantly fail to do so. This was the exact style I used when I wrote the first Sarah Blair book, One Taste Too Many; however, after Kensington contracted the first three books, I faced several challenges. First, each book now had a deadline for submission, which meant I had to produce on time. That was a challenge I could easily meet. What was more difficult was that for each book, my New York editor wanted a detailed synopsis. It was emphasized to me that it needed to be detailed. Consequently, I spent weeks working out the plot of Two Bites Too Many and finally submitted an eighteen-page synopsis. My editor had only one comment: “Next time, double space.”
Although I wouldn’t say I like thinking the books out in advance, and I often must send my editor an email with a little change – like I discovered there needed to be a new character added to the cast in Three Treats Too Many. I have learned to write and appreciate having shorter, double-spaced treatments for each book.
Has any association membership helped you or your writing? When I announced that I was going to write mysteries, I was told to join Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. These two organizations provided classes and mentoring guidance that helped me develop my skills and understanding of the craft and business aspects of writing. They also have proven invaluable in helping me make friends at all levels of writing and who generously share their expertise and encouragement.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? The basic premise of the Sarah Blair books is that Sarah, who was married at eighteen, divorced at twenty-eight, with the only thing she got out of the marriage being RahRah, her Siamese cat, is starting over with no skills and a lack of confidence. As the series proceeds, Sarah evolves. She acquires new skills, including those needed to solve murders, and she grows in terms of her confidence level. Sarah’s interaction with the people around her set up several personal interaction sub-plots in each book. Whether the sub-plot revolves around family, friends, community groups, or her pets varies based upon the main plotline. I also work in social issue subplots, including economic development, mental abuse, ageism, and animal rescue. The key to these subplots is to make my point without banging the reader over the head with it. My goal is to have readers enjoy a carefully crafted whodunit but walk away with subconscious thoughts raised by the subplots.
What kind of research do you do? When Maze in Blue and Should Have Played Poker were orphaned, I knew I had to write something new and that I wanted it to be a cozy mystery. Having spent a great deal of time in small southern towns when I was litigating for the Department of Labor, I knew I could capture their essence in any book I wrote. I also had no problem making my sleuth an amateur. A problem arose when I thought about the fact that most cozy mysteries include crafts or cooking, and I hate both. Once I decided there had to be readers out there who hate the kitchen as much as I do, I had a hook for my series – a woman more frightened of the kitchen than murder. Despite Sarah’s unfamiliarity with the kitchen, I had to learn about it in order to write the kitchen scenes realistically.
Consequently, I approached several restaurant owners, chefs, and waiters in Birmingham, Alabama, which has become a foodie town. They graciously told me their stories and took me through their kitchens. From each person I interviewed, I learned something new that appears in the various books. For Three Treats Too Many, I wanted to write about a community motorcycle group and a veterinarian’s office. To get these things right, I interviewed a few individuals who collect motorcycles, and I shadowed a veterinarian for a day. I believe the more hands-on research I do, the more realistic and enjoyable my books are.
Website – www.DebraHGoldstein.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/DebraHGoldsteinAuthor/
Twitter – @DebraHGoldstein
Instagram – debrahgoldstein
Bookbub – https://www.bookbub.com/profile/debra-h-goldstein
Four Cuts Too Many and the other Sarah Blair books are available from indie and big-box bookstores but can also be purchased online.
Four Cuts Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)
Helping other writers is my passion
Why? I didn’t have a lot of help in the early part of my writing journey, and so I feel driven to use what I’ve haphazardly learned to help other writers cultivate a better beginning to their journey – by showing them how to get help, feel supported, and stay inspired. One of the ways I do that is by writing and speaking about Writer Self Care.
Obviously, writing is what you love. Now it’s time to get serious about loving what you do.
How? Minimize what you don’t like to do as a means of building more JOY into your daily process. I’m specifically talking about writing, but this idea works in many contexts. So how do you do that? Start with self-reflection.
For this part, we need to get off the treadmill, so to speak, long enough to gain a perspective on what we’re doing. Take an afternoon off from writing or a day or two to rest your hands, rest your brain, and create some space to assess and recalibrate.
Which parts of your writing life and process bring you the most happiness and satisfaction? Research?
And which parts do you dread because they drain your life force? Editing? Marketing? Promotion and outreach?
Let’s dig into this a bit because I have good news: there’s a way around the pain. I know what you’re thinking, though. You’re a writer, so that means you’re gritty, and you’re accustomed to pushing through obstacles. That’s a good thing. But you might also be wasting a lot of time and creative energy agonizing about what you don’t want to do, finding ways to procrastinate, and ultimately not meeting your writing goals.
Here’s a solution: Outsourcing.
Outsourcing is an old concept primarily based on supply chain engineering and the economics of leveraging available resources. The aim is efficiency and cost-savings (and there are many definitions of “costs”). The vast benefits include reducing the size of your to-do list, leveraging specialists who have expertise in the areas you need, and saving you time.
Another benefit I’ve discovered is that the feeling of having people on my writing/publishing “team” helps me feel more supported, more empowered, and less alone.
I hired a graphic designer to design a book cover for me, and now she’s designed a few social media ads that are sized correctly for each platform (Facebook, Instagram, etc.).
In preparation for my forthcoming book release, I’d been searching for someone to help me with social media – not so much posting, but more like ad placement, targeting, and trafficking. So through a marketing friend, I found a social media manager who’s been helping me with Facebook and Instagram ads and advising me on hashtag strategies, audience targeting, and timing. It feels so wonderful to have a grownup sitting at the table with me to help coordinate and manage the parts of the process I’m not good at, and I’ve learned so much from her.
Where to get help:
For the parts of the writing and publishing process that you dread, maybe there’s someone who finds joy in those specific tasks. And maybe the work they do for you will help bring refinement and visibility to their skills. And by getting support for these things, you’ll be freeing up more of your time and mental energy for the things you love doing most (more joy).
If you’re traditionally published, your publisher or agent might have resources available for you to consult with or a list of trusted vendors you can hire to perform the work for you.
How do you decide whether to outsource or not? You might want to create a mailing list and start publishing monthly email newsletters. Consider why you need this resource, whether this feels like the right time for it, how hard it would be to learn it yourself, and how much you’re willing to pay a freelancer to do it for you. The upcoming Sisters in Crime NorCal workshop on October 16th will include an author panel on developing author newsletters featuring bestselling authors MM Chouinard and Gigi Pandian. Click here to register.
Most people think of the writer’s journey as being very solitary. But as I’ve grown as a writer, I’m realizing that writing is a team sport, and the process works better that way – for you and for the team that’s supporting your success.
One of the most important symbols of self-care is saying no. And outsourcing some of your most unpleasant tasks is a compassionate way to maintain boundaries, prioritize your mental wellness, and keep yourself pumped up for what you want to do most – create!
To learn more about Writer Self Care, check out this blog post: https://digitalraconteur.wordpress.com/2021/08/01/self-care-for-writers/
And to stay updated on my book and writing news, you can subscribe to my email newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/hFmk8P.
Till next time,
Lisa Towles is the author of the award-winning crime novels Choke and The Unseen. Her 7th novel, Ninety-Five, will be released in November of 2021. Learn more about Ninety-Five and read a sample here: https://www.indiesunited.net/ninety-five.
Nanci Rathbun is the author of four mystery/crime thriller novels available in print, ebook, and audiobook format. Look for the PI Angelina Bonaparte Crime Thrillers at your favorite retailer—in whatever format you prefer.
The audiobook market has grown from forty-two million in 2013 to over two billion in 2019. But there are those who dispute whether listening is ‘cheating.’ Is it equivalent to reading? Or is it somehow ‘less’?
My personal prejudices came to a full stop in 2016, after a severe reaction to meds following cataract surgery. I spent weeks in the dark, unable to solace myself with reading, and reluctantly turned to audio to escape scream-out-loud boredom and recenter my focus outside of my painful situation.
A whole new world opened up to me during that rough patch. A world of voice acting that took me back to my childhood as an Army brat living overseas and listening to Armed Forces Radio. A world that enticed me to construct characters and settings in my head in a different way from when I read. A world that somehow activated a way of experiencing the written word as visual imagery.
I think we’re wired that way. Our ancestors gathered around fires to hear stories that educated and enlightened, as well as entertained. Wisdom stories like fables taught community values. Stories like Genesis taught the philosophy of existence and humanity’s place in the cosmos, and some stories, like the epic of Gilgamesh, used fictional narrative to exalt heroes and culture.
So are listening and audiobooks a lesser form of reading? Recent brain studies have shown that both reading and listening activate the same areas of the brain, giving evidence that they are on a par neurologically. Listening predates reading by millennia and continues to attract its own unique audience. And listening opens up a world that might not exist to vision-impaired persons and persons who struggle with learning disabilities.
And last but not least, listening to audiobooks allows us to be entertained while accomplishing other tasks that we might find boring, repetitive, or difficult: exercising—I walk farther when listening to an audiobook; cleaning—put on some Motown and get it done faster; driving—long road trips through open prairies or the Utah salt flats don’t make my chin hit my chest; and even dealing with insomnia—YouTube and sleep stories for adults (yes, that’s a thing!) have saved me from many a wakeful night.
So while reading is my choice in general, listening has captured a place in my heart as well. Like a good parent, I can’t claim one sibling is better than the other. Vive la difference!
How do our readers contact you?
Links to each book across all retailers: https://tinyurl.com/NanciRathbunBooks
Twitter handle: @nancirathbun
Twitter link: https://twitter.com/NanciRathbun
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Nanci-Rathbun/e/B00E9E7QCI
It’s 1923, and a young Black theologian—and Sherlock Holmes fan—receives a cryptic telegram to return home to Denver to solve the cold-case murder of her estranged father. But, in a city ruled by the KKK, will she unravel the crime before becoming a victim, too?
Patricia Raybon, former Denver Post reporter and former journalism faculty member at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is an award-winning Colorado author and novelist who writes at the intersection of faith and race. Her published books include My First White Friend, winner of the Christopher Award, and I Told the Mountain to Move, a Book of the Year finalist in Christianity Today’s 2006 book awards.
Her debut historical mystery, All That Is Secret—a Parade Magazine pick for “Mysteries We Love” Fall 2021—released October. 5th from Tyndale House. CrimeReads listed it among the “Most Anticipated Books of 2021: Fall/Winter Edition.”
Where did the idea come from to write about 1920s Denver and the Ku Klux Klan corruption? First, I love “clergy” mysteries—Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton, Grantchester’s vicar Will Davenport, and the like. My hope was to introduce a faith character in Colorado during one of its darkest times, the 1920s. Since fiction needs a threat element, I used the Klan as a hovering danger for a young Black theologian’s attempts to solve her father’s murder. I hope it makes for good tension.
How unusual was a female seminary professor in the 1920’s? A Black theology professor of either sex? Not totally unusual for two reasons. Many college-educated women in the U.S. matriculated at all-female seminaries, forerunners of female colleges such as Smith or Wellesley. Their goal was to prepare young, unmarried women to be teachers. Meantime, there was a move by many denominations to launch colleges for “Negroes,” now known as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Some white schools, such as Oberlin, had accepted Black students even earlier—at Oberlin since 1835. While most white colleges in the U.S. didn’t admit Black students until much later, Annalee would’ve found a place to study. Her study of theology would be rare but not impossible.
Was the neighborhood burning based on an actual event? Yes, the historic Shorter A.M.E. Church in Denver—founded in 1864 and named for an A.M.E. bishop (James A. Shorter)—was destroyed by fire on April 9, 1925, with many suspecting the Klan. One year later, on Easter Sunday, April 4, 1926, the congregation moved into a newly built building on the site of the previously burned structure in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, staying at that location until 1981 before moving to Martin Luther King and Colorado boulevards. My husband Dan and I have been members of Shorter for nearly 40 years. Knowing about the fire, I used the incident in my novel, All That Is Secret.
What sort of research did you do? I started out reading histories about Colorado’s Klan. Then, I scoured old newspapers at the Colorado Historical Newspapers site (a treasure) and listened to oral histories at the Denver Public Library’s amazing Digital Collections—also poring over their old phone books, street maps, vintage photos, church bulletins. I love history, so digging through this material never got old.
Are you a Sherlock Holmes fan? What other mysteries do you like? Sherlock Holmes is my first fictional barometer for mystery writing. I also deeply love Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and I love historical mysteries set in other countries, including Vaseem Khan’s Baby Ganesh mysteries in India, Harriet Steel’s Inspector De Silva mysteries in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness mysteries in the U.K. (and her stand-alone novels), Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency mysteries in Botswana, as well as American author William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor mysteries in Minnesota and his excellent stand-alones.
This is your first novel. What led you to try fiction? The pandemic. It sounds prosaic, but I’d started working on a mystery some ten years ago and then put it on a shelf. However, during the pandemic lockdown of summer 2020, I was desperate for something to take me away from the horrible daily news. So, I went back to my mystery. What had changed was me. Older now, I simply worried less about what people might think or say about prim Patricia Raybon writing a romantic historical mystery—or worry about what my characters needed to say and do. No reaction could be worse than a pandemic. So, I let her rip and gave it my all.
Did you find the “learning curve” challenging? I found it exciting. I’ve been reading about fiction writing for at least 30 years. I admire the format and always wanted to learn how to plot a novel. So, during the pandemic, I sat myself down on my back deck and re-read Robert McKee’s wonderful screenwriter’s “bible” entitled Story, James Scott Bell’s books on structuring the novel, John Truby on The Anatomy of Story, G.K. Chesterton’s classic reflection on “How to Write a Detective Story,” Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing, plus bunches of books on understanding story beats, especially in romance and thriller plots.
I tried to have fun with the writing so the reader would, too. That was my goal—excitement and readability.
What did you learn by writing a mystery? To treasure life even more. In a mystery, since someone’s life usually gets taken, that invites a brave look at all things in life that die—especially spiritually—for each of us. What, indeed, can we learn about life by looking hard at dying? To a theological detective, that’s a key question. As for historical fiction, hindsight reminds us that winners write history. But what’s the rest of the story? Historical fiction allows a second look. Writing my novel helped me get in touch with both sides of a historical time and place.
As for the actual plot—the moment-by-moment action—I honored those experts who say to focus on what the character wants most. Once I met Annalee and understood what she wanted—to solve her father’s murder, over everything else—that was my North Star.
I wasn’t trying to reinvent the fiction wheel but roll with what others already have studied and shared about plot—starting, in fact, with Aristotle. I’m a beginner at this, however, so I know there’s much more to learn.
Is this the beginning of a series? Where are Annalee and Jack going from here? To my wonderful surprise, the Annalee Spain Mysteries are envisioned as a series. Tyndale House requested three books to start out. Mystery readers love series, of course. So, overnight, I went from writing one book to developing a mystery series. I just completed Book 2, which I loved writing. I love that the relationship between Annalee and Jack is an intentional subplot in the stories. So, to find out what happens, follow along on their next adventure.
Did you enjoy the experience of writing a novel? It’s extraordinary fun, so much that I regret not turning seriously to fiction decades ago. My only consolation is believing that age and life experience will make me a better novelist. I sure hope so!
At my website at patriciaraybon.com
On Twitter at twitter.com/PatriciaRaybon
Facebook at facebook.com/PatriciaRaybonAuthor
On my Faith Journey Newsletter at http://bit.ly/2jgpasW
Ms. Barbara Butterfield is California-born and raised and currently resides in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, where she lives with her favorite feline friend: Baybee.
Romance, integrity, suspense, playfulness, and personal growth are all values that play a vital role in her novels. More importantly, the gospel and spiritual growth are also an aspect of life into which she delves.
Ms. Butterfield has written for many years, her first novel having been penned at the age of fourteen. She also studied writing and journalism, becoming the Editor-In-Chief of the school’s newspaper.
My latest work, “A Curious Christmas,” will be coming out shortly. These days, I primarily write in the military and law enforcement genres, so this light-hearted romance with a touch of psychology, mixed with a healthy dose of poignancy, is a bit different for me.
“A Curious Christmas” synopsis: Alysha Dunsworth is running from haunting memories of tragedy but soon discovers there’s no guarantee of winning the race.
Two recently published novels were a particular favorite to write: “The Last Flag” and its sequel: “Partners in Crime.”
At the time, Charles and Zach, the two leading characters, were co-workers of mine. I used their names because of their personalities and the way they interacted with each other, but the storyline was created.
Because of their inspiration, those books were so much fun to write. Total ‘guy’ books, these two novels don’t even have a leading lady.
The Last Flag goes from Charles and Zach serving in the Marine Corps to Partners in Crime, where we see they have been discharged (honorably, though just barely) and now recruited into the FPI (Federal Piracy Interdiction), which is a division of the FBI and the trouble they get into there. When all is said and done, and the angst and laughter have subsided, Charles and Zach save the day and go from being toast…to heroes. Both are exceptionally entertaining yet complex stories.
So, years ago, friends said, ‘you ought to write a book.’ It seems they got a warped kick out of my letters. One person even complimented me by saying my humorous writing style was a cross between Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry. I have to admit that was quite humbling.
One day, while waiting for the moving van to arrive, I was bored. Everything was packed, except the computer. I sat down and tapped out a single paragraph that later developed into a 7-book series, and that was that. Now, eighteen novels later, I’m still writing.
I write in my living room at a little table that I pull over in front of my easy chair, with my old laptop (that I should replace.)
I write from emotion, which means I feel what I write. Consequently, my books are not written sequentially, but each chapter is written based on how I’m feeling at the time and then inserted where it belongs in the story, like driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles by way of Denver.
Writing comes very easily to me. In twenty years of writing, I can only think of one time that I had ‘writer’s block.’ I had a friend at the time who was a lawyer in Texas, I lamented to him, and within minutes he sent me a 1-page ‘idea.’ I was off and running, and “The Rogue of Port Cuevas” was born (my own 1800’s pirate’s story).
For me, the most challenging aspect of writing is suspense. I’m in too much of a hurry to let my readers know what’s going to happen. So, I have to pace myself. Not always an easy thing to do. That said, the only people that die in my novels are the bad guys. The bad guy in “For Love or Money” was particularly obnoxious, and he did get it good in the end.
I do my research online. Google can be handy. But also, as applicable, my friends can be a resource: an RN (who also edits for me), a retired USAF colonel who was a pilot, a retired USMC captain, etc. I belong to one writers association, and the expertise of its members is also a good resource.
I rarely use an outline to write from. But I have at times, depending on how convoluted the plot/sub-plots are.
My characters are created, but I often use my friend’s names for my characters. I’m fascinated by names, so when I run across one that is particularly interesting, odds are… it’ll turn up in a book.
Another aspect of my writing is that I create the covers. I have used some ‘stock’ photography, but I moved into doing my own cover and interior galleys quite some time ago.
I orchestrate the whole gig: models, locations, props, and costuming. For “Journeys with Jesus,” I produced a music video to compliment the story. It was a unique and moving experience to watch the production unfold and see the story spring to life.
I choreograph the entire production: scene by scene and time it to include both camera time and costume changes. Depending on the complexity, I’ll host a pre-production meeting. In short, it’s a lot of work, but also a lot of fun.
Lastly, hmmm, advice for new writers? Writing can be a special and unusual calling. It can be rewarding and frustrating. Getting into writing is one of the hardest things you will ever attempt. It almost seems as if literary agencies exist merely to reject your work, thereby kicking you to the proverbial emotional curb. Roll with it, learn, and keep going.
I self-publish for this very reason. It still gets the book out there where people can read it and like it. In my case, people love my work and have told me so. But all I get from agencies are rejections. Hence, I self-publish…and keep going.
Also, writing doesn’t pay, not until you build a name and reputation, and that can be a long, hard climb, and it surely doesn’t happen overnight, if at all. So, you write not for the money, but because it is the heart of who you are.
So, in short, write. If there’s a story inside of you, it will find a way to make itself known.
Also, you never write a final copy when you first sit down at the computer. You will write and then fix it. Then read it, and change it. Eventually, you’ll end up with a manuscript that is just the way you want it. If you’re having a hard time starting, just sit down, jot out a paragraph and see where it leads. Remember, you don’t always need a map to see where the road may lead.
Readers are welcome to contact me at my email firstname.lastname@example.org. Books may be purchased through any online retailer like amazon.com or Barnes & Noble, etc.
John Schembra spent a year with the 557th MP Company in Vietnam in 1970. His time as a combat M.P. provided the basis of his first book M.P., A Novel of Vietnam.
After returning from Vietnam, he became a police officer with the Pleasant Hill Police Department, retiring as a Sergeant after nearly 30 years of service.
John has six other published novels in the mystery/thriller genre. One mystery, Sin Eater, has supernatural undertones. His latest book, The List, won the 1st place award in the Public Safety Writers Association 2021 writing competition. John has earned nine writing competition awards. You can find out more about him and his books and read their first chapters, plus a couple of short stories at his website; www.jschembra.com. John can be reached at his email; email@example.com.
John is currently writing his eighth book, Southern Justness, number six in the Vince Torelli series.
What brought you to writing? I’ve been an avid reader ever since I was a little boy (thanks to my mother) and have admired authors who could weave a story that made me feel I was there, inside their words. While with the police department, I wrote several trade articles on police procedures but didn’t get into fiction until I was 50. I‘d spent a year as an MP in Vietnam. Another police sergeant and Vietnam infantryman and I would swap stories at the police department. Other officers would stop and listen, and one of them told me I should write a book based on my experiences. So, one day, I grabbed a yellow paper pad and a pencil and started writing. 2 years later, my first book, M.P., a Novel of Vietnam, was published. In case you are curious, yes, I did do most of the writing on a computer.
I enjoyed writing the book, and many people liked it. I decided to write a second book, then a third, etc., etc., and here I am, working on my 8th novel!
Tell us about your writing process: I am strictly a pantser. I never was very good at outlining and dislike it immensely, so when I start a book, I write the first chapter, then write an ending. From there, I go back to the beginning and start filling the story in, letting it flow as an active document—a way to say the story flows freely as I write.
Who is your favorite author? Edgar Rice Burroughs. I was introduced to the Tarzan books by my uncle when I was eight or nine. Burrough’s ability to create new worlds, beings, creatures, and plants is amazing. He is the best I’ve read at writing to show, not tell. Burroughs has written eighty novels, and I have read every one of them, most more than once.
I do have to admit the best book I have ever read is Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. What a terrific story. It was books like Burrough’s and Hemingway’s that inspired me to become a writer.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? The five Vince Torelli mystery/thrillers all take place in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vince is a homicide inspector with SFPD, but his cases take him to various locations around the Bay Area. Since I grew up across the Bay from San Francisco, I try to use real places—streets, buildings, businesses, and surrounding cities are real places. I know when I read a book, if it takes place somewhere I am familiar with, it makes the story more enjoyable for me. Using real places makes the need for research a must. I use Google and Google Maps quite a bit when finding settings for various scenes. Also, I have a couple of close friends who are SFPD officers, so I rely on them to ensure I have Vince doing things according to SFPD procedures. Research is one of the tasks I most enjoy doing in my writing. I actually got the idea for my sixth book, The List, while researching information about the 19th century tunnels under San Francisco. I reconstructed the tunnels, which have mostly been filled in, and used them in several crucial scenes.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I have two books, one at the publisher undergoing editing and getting the cover art done. The other one available through Amazon, Sin Eater, is about a serial killer in a fictitious college town in the central valley of California. There is a supernatural twist to the story that adds a dose of creepiness to the book. The other book, An Echo of Lies, is the story of a police officer who gets gravely wounded during a traffic stop. Not expected to recover fully, he makes a complete and astonishing recovery due to being possessed by a demon.
Do you have any advice for new writers? The best advice I can give is don’t let any doubts you have about writing stop you. If you worry about the mechanics too much, you will never get the book done. Attend a writer’s conference or two. Join a writer’s group— there are tons of them out there, easily found with a google search. Groups such as Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, California Writers Club can be very helpful in getting you started and on the right track. There will likely be a group near you, wherever you call home.
If you write with a public safety theme, check out the Public Safety Writers Association, which I am the president of. It is a nationwide group of very talented authors willing to help other members with anything to do with writing. We also have a wonderful three-day conference in Las Vegas every year, with terrific keynote speakers and many informative panels, plus it is loads of fun! It is well worth attending. Check us out at www.policewriter.com.
Thank you for taking the time to visit with me. Many thanks to George Cramer, himself an award-winning author, for having me as a guest on his wonderful blog. Keep writing!
Nothing Left to Prove is a gut-wrenchingly honest story of one cop’s career and his unique insights battling PTSD and being forced to leave the profession he loved.
Danny R. Smith spent 21 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the last seven as a homicide detective. He now lives in Idaho, where he works as a private investigator and consultant. He is blessed with a beautiful family and surrounded by an assortment of furry critters whom he counts among his friends.
Danny is the author of the Dickie Floyd Detective Novel series, the Rich Farris Detective series, and his law enforcement memoir, Nothing Left to Prove. He writes about true crime and other topics in his blog, The Murder Memo.
He has appeared as an expert on numerous podcasts and shows, including True Crime Daily and the STARZ channel’s WRONG MAN series. He is the host of Unsolved Murders with Danny Smith on the Dr. Carlos Crime Network podcast.
Please tell us about your current book and any comments about any other of your books: Nothing Left to Prove is my latest penning and the first nonfiction I have written. Previously, I’ve only published detective novels. I have two series: The Dickie Floyd Detective series and a spinoff of it named for the new lead character, the Rich Farris Detective series.
Do you write in more than one genre? Technically I write in two genres, true crime, and crime fiction.
What brought you to writing? My shrink. I had no notion of writing before a psychiatrist suggested that it would be therapeutic for me. Before meeting with him, I was asked to complete a questionnaire that would help him evaluate my mental health as it related to my ability to continue working as a homicide detective. It was immediately clear that there was no way to answer the form questions in the space provided, so I wrote across the form, “SEE ATTACHMENT.” I went to work on my computer, explaining in detail to this counselor just what it was about my job that had turned me into a banana. After reviewing my fourteen-page type-written response, Doc looked at me and said, “You should write for a living. Honestly.”
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? When my younger daughter married and ran away with an Army captain (with our blessings, of course), I converted her bedroom with a wonderful view of our property and neighbor’s farmland into an office—perhaps finished and moved in before the newlyweds reached Fort Hood, Texas—and that is where I spend much of my time pondering and writing, writing and pondering. I also waste more time than I should on social media. (That’s a confession. There are many more in my memoir.)
Tell us about your writing process: Most have heard the terms “plotters” and “pantsers” used to describe the two most common styles of writing prose. The first is done by plotting out the book in its entirety before starting a manuscript; the latter is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method, and that is what I do. I begin with a general idea, and I start writing. When I am on a roll, it flows nicely. Other times, I get stuck in a rut and have to walk away. The best part about being a pantser is that I’m as surprised as my readers about what happens in my books.
What are you currently working on? Now that my memoir is published, I’m back to writing fiction. I’ve started working on book 7 for the Dickie Floyd novels, which will be a pleasant surprise to my fans. (I had said after book 6 that it was the last for that series, and many of my readers were unhappy about it.)
Who’s your favorite author? Currently, Dennis Lehane. I love his style of writing, and all of his novels are phenomenal. Longtime favorites include Elmore Leonard and Joseph Wambaugh.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? There are just some things a guy doesn’t know or understand about women. Okay, back that up—we know very little about them! However, I married a fabulous one, raised two beautiful, confident, and smart daughters, and I have worked with some terrific female cops. So, in the same way, I have survived nearly thirty years of marriage. I have one secret about writing women characters: ask one or more of them to help you understand what makes them tick.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? Honestly, Dickie and Floyd drive me crazy, one wound too tightly, the other more worried about having fun that you’re amazed every time he comes alive in the dead-serious moments that matter most. But you have to read the series to know which is which.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I do. Many of my cop characters are loosely based on people I’ve worked with over the years. The reason is quite simple—nobody can invent more interesting characters than the men and women with whom I was privileged to serve.
What kind of research do you do? Fortunately, most of my work falls under the often advised “write what you know” classification. In the third Dickie Floyd novel, Echo Killers, my antagonists are former soldiers from Fort Hood. I came up with the idea while touring the army base while I was in Texas visiting my daughter and son-in-law, so as I wrote the book, I had a direct source for technical information. I also had my son-in-law beta read that book to be certain I hadn’t screwed anything up.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? My settings are predominately Los Angeles, and I use a lot of real locations to give people that L.A. feel.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’ll continue writing crime fiction, but I also plan to write a few true crime books from some of the cases I handled as a homicide detective: a Native American burned alive by skinheads; a seamstress murdered by her evil daughter, who had also murdered her first husband. Both of those will make very compelling true crime reads.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Study your craft and hone your skills. I have eight books published now, and I learn with each effort. More than anything else, though, write.
How do our readers contact you? I’m on Facebook as Danny R. Smith, Twitter as @dickiefloyd187, Instagram as author_dannyrsmith. I have a Facebook group: Dickie Floyd Novels VIP. My blog is The Murder Memo (https://murdermemo.com or dickiefloydnovels.com), and there you can sign up for my newsletter. You can find my books on Amazon or through my website: dickiefloydnovels.com/books/
I close off the Gunslinger Series.
Michael A. Black is the award winning author of 43 books, most of which are in the mystery and thriller genres. He has also written in sci-fi, western, horror, and sports genres. A retired police officer, he has done everything from patrol to investigating homicides to conducting numerous SWAT operations. Black was awarded the Cook County Medal of Merit in 2010. He is also the author of over 100 short stories and articles, and wrote two novels with television star Richard Belzer (Law & Order SVU). His Executioner novel, Fatal Prescription, won the Best Original Novel Scribe Award. His latest novels are the Trackdown series (Devil’s Dance, Devil’s Fancy, Devil’s Brigade, and Devil’s Advocate) and Legends of the West (under his own name), Dying Art and Cold Fury (under Don Pendleton), and the Gunslinger series (Killer’s Choice, Killer’s Brand, Killer’s Ghost, Killer’s Gamble, and Killer’s Requiem) under the name A.W. Hart.
Last January, Paul Bishop, the acquisitions editor at Wolfpack Publishing, contacted me and said they wanted me to finish off the Gunslinger series that I, and a few others, have been writing under the house name of A. W. Hart. I’d already written three other books in the series, Gunslinger: Killer’s Chance, Gunslinger: Killer’s Brand, and Gunslinger: Killer’s Ghost. I had a great time writing each one of those. With my westerns, I try to make them as historically accurate as I can while still paying homage to the western mythology that has popularized the genre.
Sometimes this is easier said than done. Remember, writing westerns today, unless the book is set in modern times, deals with a rather bleak era. I mean, think about it. How entertaining would it be to read something that has total historical accuracy regarding a harsh, cruel era before toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, deodorants, personal hygiene practices, etc.? Thus my cowboys break the historical mold and take baths when they can. And I also like to pay homage to the western mythology that has been popularized through the ages. The quick draw, for example, was pretty much a myth that originated in those movies and TV shows of a bygone era. However, my intention in writing the books is to entertain. I still get a thrill each time I watch James Arness walking on that dusty street to face down the bad guy in the opening credits of Gunsmoke. Sure it probably wasn’t anything like that in the real Old West, but like I said, that’s entertainment.
As I’ve said, it’s been a blast writing this series. I started with Gunslinger: Killer’s Chance, which has Connor, Abby, and Hicks rescuing a Chinese man named Lee, who’s tracking the whereabouts of his missing fiancée. The book touches on the way the Chinese immigrants were exploited while building the railroad system in the western United States. Naturally, Mr. Lee is something of a martial artist. (Anybody remember Kung Fu? Bruce Lee came up with the concept, but was considered “too Chinese” for the role by the television big wigs and was replaced with “round eye” actor David Carradine.) There’s also a professional gunman who has a business card with the chess symbol of a rook printed on it.
WIRE RANDALL D. LANDECKER SANTA FE
Gunslinger: Killer’s Brand has a powerful man who, along with his sons, runs roughshod over the entire territory adjacent to his large ranch called The Dominion. Added to that one are an ex-buffalo soldier who’s charged with murder, a group of mysterious masked riders, and a courtroom scene reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird. Gunslinger: Killer’s Ghost is my version of a western monster story as an enormous, mysterious creature stalks a mining encampment.
So when the opportunity to finish off the series by tying up the ongoing story arc that had been running since the first book was offered, I jumped at the chance. I quickly penned Gunslinger: Killer’s Gamble, which has the trio traveling through a California town and becoming involved in a big poker tournament as well as a boxing match. The first American Heavyweight Champion, John L. Sullivan, makes an appearance, as well as an actual western poet named Joaquin Miller. There’s way more to it than that, including Abby deciding to leave Hicks and her brother to be with a beautiful female gambler. This one sets up the final confrontation between our heroes and the mysterious man who’s been their nemesis from the beginning.
In Gunslinger: Killer’s Requiem, all of the questions about who Connor and Abby really are and the secret that River Hicks has been concealing since the first book are answered in a slam-bang, traditional western-style showdown. Let’s see; besides the revelation of the major villain and all the plot revelations, there’s a bounty hunter with a sawed-off rifle called the Mule’s Leg, a maniacal fanatic known at The Dark Deacon who leads a band of army-trained mercenaries, a masterful gunman whose skills rival those of River Hicks himself, the Pinkerton Detective Agency’s best detective, and a host of other surprises. I even found a way for the Bard himself, William Shakespeare, to make an appearance in this one. Romeo, Juliet, and Hamlet are all on hand.
I hope you’ll make A. W. Hart’s day and check out these last two books in the series. Although I finish off the story arc, there’s a chance our trio of heroes could return to strap on the guns one more time if the demand is great enough. In any case, I guarantee, if you like westerns, you won’t be disappointed.
Contact Information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Legends of the West: A Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves Western
I had to include this image because Mike likes it, but the real reason, it is my favorite Michael A. Black novel. gdc
Daisy Bateman is also a world-renowned expert in Why You Should Buy That.
In what passes for a normal life, she works in biotech. She lives in Alameda, California, with her husband and a cat, only one of whom wears a tuxedo on a regular basis, and a puppy on a mission to chew the world into tiny pieces.
Murder Goes to Market is my debut, published last year by Seventh Street Books, and was nominated for the Lefty for Best First Novel. Briefly, it’s the story of Claudia Simcoe, an ex-techie who opens an artisan marketplace in a town on the Sonoma coast and subsequently has to deal with the murder of her least-favorite tenant.
What brought you to writing? I was brought to writing by a lifetime of reading and making up my own stories to go with the books I loved. Mystery has always been my favorite genre, and when it came to what I wanted to write, there was no question that there would be a body or two.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? These days, I mostly write at home, at my dining room table. In the Before Times, I did some of that too. Still, most of Murder Goes to Market was written on the ferry between Alameda and South San Francisco, crossing the Bay on my way to work. Sadly, that route has been temporarily discontinued during the pandemic, so I’m left to do my writing without the possibility of seeing a dolphin. (In the absence of potential sea mammals, I’m mostly distracted by the Scylla and Charybdis of Candy Crush and Twitter.)
What are you currently working on? I just sent off the revisions for the second Marketplace book, A Dismal Harvest, which is due to come out next March. (When I hope to finally have an in-person book launch!) At this point, most of the heavy lifting should be done (she said optimistically), and it’s all over but the copy-edits. So I’m taking advantage of the free time to try something new in a standalone mystery. Stay tuned for more!
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Absolutely—I’ve been a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime for many years. The knowledge I’ve gained and the friends I have made in both organizations have been very important to my writing career. From meeting members of my writing group through the Sisters in Crime mailing list to the current weekly write-ins with the NorCal MWA chapter, the organizations can be vital for bringing a sense of community to what is a very solitary endeavor.
How long did it take you to write your first book? Aside from juvenilia, I wrote my first book as a college undergrad, scribbling longhand in a repurposed binder, sitting on the lawn in front of the faculty club. From that point, until I finished it, I think was three or four years. Then a much shorter time for it to be rejected by every agent I could find who might in a borrowed copy of Jeff Herman’s Guide be appropriate (this was, shall we say, a while ago).
How long to get it published? That first book was never published, and if there is any justice in the world, it never will be. Between that time and Murder Goes to Market, there were three more books, one closed publisher, and a number of years that I would rather not specify. As an author, I would say that my primary characteristic is grim determination.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I work in a style I call “chaotic neutral.” Basically, I should outline, but I’m too lazy to do it well. So I start with an approximate plot, add notes to the end of the manuscript as I write, and then go back and try to make sense of it later. I would not recommend this approach to others.
What kind of research do you do? Cheese research! I’m joking, but not totally. Since artisan foods are at the heart of my books, it’s essential for me to get to know what’s out there and how it’s all made. (And, incidentally, if there’s any part of the process that could provide a good murder weapon!)
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? San Elmo Bay, the town where the Marketplace Mysteries is set, is fictional, but its location on the Sonoma coast is real enough, and I hope that people who are familiar with the area find things about it they recognize.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Always have the next thing in the hopper. Publishing is a rough business, and no matter how confident you are in your current project, there’s always the chance that it’s one you’re going to have to end up shelving. And when that happens, the only thing that makes it easier is to know you have something else up your sleeve.
Where can our readers find you?