M.E. ROCHE – Loves Writing & Follows Characters

I’m the product of a Midwest upbringing, but I’ve lived on both coasts as well as in Ireland. As a registered nurse, I’ve had the opportunity to work in many facets of nursing. Once officially retired, I began volunteering with the local coroner—part of the sheriff’s department—in northern California.

My favorite books have always been mysteries.

What brought me to writing? I first decided to try my hand at writing when I discovered there were so few books written about or by nurses and nothing for young readers since the student nurse mysteries of the 1950s. I started with three young adult mysteries modeled on those early works. I liked the writing process—of having a character tell me where the story would go—and when I decided to bring my student nurses into adulthood, I began writing for an adult audience, and now I have an additional three mysteries and two standalones.

New Book My newly released novel, TOOTS, is a historical stand-alone work based on one of my great aunts, one of my grandmother’s sisters. Growing up, I only knew my aunt as living with my grandmother. She was quiet but warm and generally retreated to somewhere quieter in the house when my family of eight kids arrived. I don’t remember ever having any extended conversation. We were told that her husband and children had died in a fire, and she had come back to her family in Chicago from wherever they had been living. I began thinking about this story several years ago, and I wanted to know more, but there was no one from that generation left to ask. And so I began trolling the memories of my siblings and cousins, but they were no wiser

Research TOOTS required spending a lot of time with Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com and my local genealogy people at the library. The amount of information out there is amazing. My grandmother and her sister, Toots, came over from Ireland by themselves at ages 12 and 10. They came to work as servants—first in New York and later in Chicago. My grandmother married and stayed in Chicago, but Toots met and married a homesteader from Nebraska. So many questions! I began by tracking down the ship manifests. Census reports, marriage records, obituaries, and homestead records. Finally, I made a road trip to Nebraska to see the homestead for myself. But then…what happened after Nebraska?

I discovered that there is also a ton of information to be found in obituaries. A good example: I knew my grandfather was a train conductor on the Northwestern railroad, but I had always thought of him as a passenger conductor (he had passed before I was born); his obituary stated he was a freight conductor! Tracking down the routes—possibly through Nebraska—that his train would have taken in 1915 led me to the tiny town of Albion in Nebraska, where my aunt’s husband’s homestead happened to be. There is no one alive to verify my guess, but I’d say my grandfather played matchmaker for his sister-in-law!

Setting the Location: I think it’s important to know something about the setting of one’s story, which is why I felt the need to see Nebraska. How many people plan to visit Nebraska? It was, however, a great experience—visiting the Homestead museum and learning something about the Dust Bowl period, of which I knew little beyond The Grapes of Wrath. It is beautiful farm country; the cover for TOOTS is a photo of their homestead. Similarly, I lived in San Francisco and northern California for some time, as well as in Boston, so I enjoy adding bits of local color to stories set in those locations.

Writing Process My writing process is changing. I’ve always felt most creative in the early morning hours, but not so much now. I do my own editing and preparation for publishing, and the more I write, the more time it takes to complete these non-creative tasks. I’ve discovered that my head doesn’t work for editing in the early morning. So now, I have coffee, walk, have breakfast, and then work on editing. But as I finish those tasks required by a new book, I think I’m almost ready to start writing something creative again. We’ll see.

Current Project Before turning to the final edits and publishing aspects of TOOTS, I finished the first draft of a mystery that spans the two coasts and centers on an arson group of firefighters in Boston. In the first re-read of that draft, I saw some serious problems, and now I’m looking forward to seeing what can be done to fix those problems. After that, I have the start of a black widow murder mystery.

Please visit my website and sign up for my newsletter at https://www.meroche.com, where I am now adding a section for Book Clubs with questions and personal recipes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 Comments

  1. Laurel Kallenbach

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

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

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

      Reply
  2. Candace Hardy

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

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

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

      Reply
  3. Pamela Ruth Meyer

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

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Many thanks!

      Reply
  4. Peg Roche

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

    Thanks , George, for introducing Debra!

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

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

      Reply
  5. Debra Bokur

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

    Reply
  6. Donnell Ann Bell

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

    Reply
  7. Marie Sutro

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

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Thanks, Marie! I agree on all accounts.

      Reply
  8. Michael A. Black

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

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

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

      Reply
  9. Heather Haven

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

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

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

      Reply

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DP LYLE – But It Really Happened

But it really happened. I swear. – This is the defense fiction writers offer when someone says their story isn’t believable. “That could never happen,” they say. But it could. It did. Still, their disbelief lingers.

 

I write both fiction and non-fiction. When people inquire about the difference between creating the two, my response is, “They are exactly the same, only different.” With NF, the research comes first. It must be gathered, fact-checked, and organized. Then, the writing begins. With fiction, you must first know your characters, plot, and setting before researching the materials needed to create a story that rings true.

Fiction winters often base their stories on a true crime. A look at best-selling books and iconic movies over the years underlines this fact. The horrific slaughter of the Clutter family in rural Kansas became Truman Capote’s masterpiece In Cold Blood—a book that sits somewhere between fiction and true crime. Serial killer Ed Gein fashioned furniture and clothing from human skin and inspired Hitchcock’s Norman Bates in Psycho and Buffalo Bill in Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs.

For fiction writers, a true crime book, a news story, or maybe a blog post sparks the idea. For my third Samantha Cody book, Original Sin, I created a snake-handling preacher character. My research led me to the National Book Award finalist Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington. It chronicles the story of Glenn Summerford, pastor of the Church of Jesus with Signs Following, who employed a rattlesnake in the attempted murder of his wife. You bet that little wrinkle appeared in Original Sin.

Or Victor Borkov, the bad guy in my first Jake Longly story, Deep Six. His enemies often found themselves lashed to an iron ring and dropped into the Gulf of Mexico. Alive. This is based on the actions of Skylar Deleon. Look up sociopath. You’ll see his picture. Under the guise of buying their boat, Skylar and a thug friend convinced Jackie and Thomas Hawks to go for a test cruise. It ended with the Hawks bound to an anchor and dumped in the Pacific Ocean. Alive.

These true stories are unbelievable. Yet true. For fiction writers, the trick is to morph unbelievable facts into believable fiction.

We fiction writers owe a great debt to true crime writers. They do the heavy lifting, the research,  the telling of the crime, and we use that to inspire and create our stories. Ann Rule once told me that when she approached a true crime story, she looked for the person who was the heart of the story. Not the bad guy, often not the victim, but someone scarred by the crime. In fiction, we do the same but have the added freedom of not being bound to the facts.

The marriage between crime fiction and true crime is alive and well.

Keep your eyes open for Unbalanced coming soon.

DP Lyle, Award-winning author, lecturer, story consultant

Website: http://www.dplylemd.com
Criminal Mischief Podcasts: https://www.dplylemd.com/podcasts

1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    I’m familiar with D.P. Lyle’s work and he is an excellent writer. This one reminded me of an old Mark Twain quote: “The difference between fiction and real life is that fiction at some point has to make sense.”
    (I may not have gotten that one exactly as the esteemed Mr. Twain put it, but you get the idea.)
    Good luck with your new one.

    Reply

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Book Passage Corte Madera – Sisters in Crime Author Readings

Saturday, May 4, 2024, was a miserable day. But then again, it was a fantastic day. It began with a forty-minute drive that took over ninety. It was the heaviest rain I’ve seen this year. Seven or eight other authors said the same.

Then I arrived at Book Passage in Corte Maderaeverything changed.

New Liberty – Robbers and Cops – The Mona Lisa Sisters

Just steps inside the front door was a table displaying books. Three of those books were mine. (I am not a photographer) can’t describe the wonder feeling that enveloped me.

I walked up to the main counter and enjoyed another wonderful moment.

Mounted on the wall were the same three books. Wow! What a great day!

Things only got better. I joined nine other authors, all fantastic writers, for readings by each. We also enjoyed Jenn Prosser, M.D.’s reading about her wonderfully frightening podcast, Pick Your Poison. Sister in Crime-NorCal’s own Glenda Carroll collaborated with the amazing staff at Book Passage to put the program together.

Stop by  Book Passage Corte Madera 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA • (415) 927-0960 to show appreciation. While there, ask about their impressive Mystery Writers Conference. This year, Friday, July 19 – Sunday, July 21, 2024.

 

5 Comments

  1. Linda

    What a wonderful adventure, George. You put in the hard work and look where it got you. Keep it up and you’ll reach your impossible dreams.

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Hey, Big Guy, congratulations. I wish I could have been there.

    Reply
  3. Marie Sutro

    So sorry I missed it!! Sounds fabulous!!

    Reply
  4. Shelley Lee Riley

    .Your hard work has paid off! Your books were prominently displayed at this Sisters In Crime event, and I can well imagine how thrilled you must have felt. It’s great to see your efforts recognized and appreciated. Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience with us.

    Reply

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MAILAN DOQUANG – Shares the Story of Her Debut Fiction Novel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Comments

  1. Marie Sutro

    Sounds like a fabulous read!!

    Reply
    • Mailan Doquang

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

      Reply
  2. Rhonda Blackhurst

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

    Reply
    • Mailan Doquang

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

      Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

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

    Reply
    • Mailan Doquang

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

      Reply

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MICHAEL COOPER – Historical Mysteries in the Holy Land

Michael Cooper writes historical fiction set in the Middle East; Foxes in the Vineyard, set in 1948 Jerusalem, won the 2011 Indie Publishing Contest grand prize, and The Rabbi’s Knight, set in the Holy Land in 1290, was a finalist for the CIBA 2014 Chaucer Award for historical fiction. In December of 2023, Wages of Empire, set at the start of WW1, won the CIBA 2022 Hemingway first prize for wartime historical fiction and the grand prize for young adult fiction.

A native of Berkeley, California, Cooper emigrated to Israel in 1966, studying and working there for the next decade; he lived in Jerusalem during the last year the city was divided between Israel and Jordan and graduated from Tel Aviv University Medical School. Now a pediatric cardiologist in Northern California, he travels to the region twice a year on volunteer missions for Palestinian children who lack access to care.

Do you write in more than one genre? I write in the historical fiction genre with added elements of mystery, action-adventure, mysticism, coming of age, and a dash of romance. Having lived in Israel during my formative years (between the ages of 17 and 28), I fell in love with the immediacy of history that awaited you around every corner—especially in Jerusalem. This comes in handy since all my novels are, at least in part, set in the Holy Land, and having lived and traveled extensively throughout Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, I have a wealth of first-person knowledge of the physical topography of this part of the world.

What are you currently working on? That’s easy. I’ve already completed the next book in the “Empire Series,” Crossroads of Empire, which immediately follows Wages of Empire and is also set at the beginning of WWI. This will be published in the Fall of 2024.

How long did it take you to write your first book? I began writing Foxes in the Vineyard and finished in about eight years. It took a while since I was also working full-time.

How long to get it published? It took about the same amount of time to write as to get published. Having finished Foxes in the Vineyard in 2003, it was published by being the grand prize winner in the 2011 San Francisco Writers Conference Indie Publishing Contest. The grand prize was a complete publishing package from iUniverse.

In writing historical fiction, how do you strike the right balance between history and fiction? The wonderful thing about crafting historical fiction is that historical events and characters provide the scaffolding for stories that are at once incredibly old and still being written since “history” is a continuum and flows from the past into our present.

It’s also invigorating to create compelling fictional characters—for their nobility, humor, brilliance, passions, human failings, and interesting, ingenious, and sometimes evil designs. These fictional characters allow me to play within the historical scaffolding.

I will leave it to the reader to determine if I’ve hit the “right balance” of historical and fictional characters in my current book, Wages of Empire.” But what is true for me in writing about all my characters—historical and fictional—are those wondrous times when the character takes over, dictating the action and dialogue. At these times, all I have to do is transcribe.

How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you? I researched the historical backdrop for the book by reading iconic histories about the roots and initial months of the First World War. To capture the essence of the historical figures and to inform the development of the fictional characters, I devoured everything I could find in the way of autobiographies, biographies, and collected letters. For the reader, I’ve included some of these references at the end of the book in a section called “Suggestions for further reading.”

As to surprises I’ve experienced during research, I was often astonished by fascinating elements of hidden history, unsolved mysteries, and interesting, even bizarre, character traits of some historical characters. I also encountered some engaging and bizarre characters that insisted on being included in the final draft.

In this manner, storylines arose organically from the historical timeline and the historical characters themselves—creating a portrait that could be enhanced by the fictional characters who allowed for additional surprises, plot twists, betrayals, loves, and alliances. And as the book progressed, I loved watching the weave tighten as storylines were drawn together.

Regarding elements of hidden history that I uncovered during my research for Wages of Empire, I don’t want to issue any “spoiler alerts.” Still, one extraordinarily rich trove of evidence implicated Kaiser Wilhelm II as having acted in many ways to bring on the First World War. Though I would hasten to add, he certainly wasn’t singly responsible for it. However, as a narcissist in control of a global power, his unpredictability, his need to be acknowledged, his arrogance, his hypersensitivity to perceived slights, his excitement at the idea of flexing his muscles, his sense of entitlement, his clumsy and often insulting personal diplomacy—all these raised tensions in Europe, combining to bring Germany closer and closer to war.

What do you hope readers take away from the story? Wages of Empire is a novel about war that is being published in a time of war—both in Europe and in the Middle East. I hope the reader can appreciate the richness of this historical wartime setting since it offers all the elements for a compelling story: drama, heroism, conflict, tension, intrigue, action, betrayal, heartbreak, and romance. Indeed, the effect of armed conflict on history is itself dramatic since war accelerates history, often with dramatic changes in human and natural topography.

I also hope the reader feels the compelling tension between knowing and unknowing as they engage with the historical characters in the grip of their threatening present, infused with their anxiety at the uncertain outcome, their unknowable future. And that the reader, knowing their future, might be touched by the poignancy of their ignorance.

Michael’s Editorial Assistant

Lastly, I hope that Wages of Empire, a novel about war, will hold up a mirror to time past that reflects on current wars and present uncertainties. I hope the reader will ask questions—what do present wars have to do with the past? What do our present travails have to do with history? Because the answer is…everything.

You can learn more on his website, which also includes links to a variety of platforms where his books can be purchased: https://michaeljcooper.net/

6 Comments

  1. Lisa Towles

    What a great interview, Michael nice to meet you and good luck with your book!

    Reply
    • Michael J Cooper

      Dear Lisa, Thanks for the support! Look forward to assisting fellow authors along our journeys.
      Michael

      Reply
  2. Peg Roche

    Best of luck, Michael. Your writing is certainly timely.

    Reply
    • Michael J Cooper

      Thanks, Peg. Appreciate your picking up on the interface of my WWI historical fiction with current realities, especially in the Middle East. As I stated toward the end of the interview, “What do our present travails have to do with history? The answer is…everything.”

      Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    It sounds like you are a man of many talents and true humanitarian as well. God bless you and good luck with your writing.

    Reply
    • Michael J Cooper

      Thanks, Michael – I hope you enjoy reading Wages of Empire, which at present stands alone, but will soon be followed by Crossroads of Empire. These books are also connected with my “stand-alone” back-list, which are all inter-connected by two threads; the St. Clair/Sinclair blood line and Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

      Reply

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

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

    Reply
    • Shelley Riley

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

      Reply

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BRUCE BERLS & JIM ROWSON – Friends Chat & Collaborate

Bruce Berls and Jim Rowson are the authors of UNCOMMON SCENTS, a cautionary frolic with more humor and 80% less dystopia than the average near-future thriller. The authors are reclusive introverts rarely seen in public, so having them with us is thrilling.

Bruce: Thank you for coming today.

Jim: What are you on about? I’m in my living room, the same as you.

Bruce: I’ve known you since we were wee lads in high school.

Jim: We were both six feet tall when we met, so “wee lads” isn’t quite the right image. I think we bonded in high school because everybody else thought we were weird.

Bruce: We became fast friends right away – in tune with each other’s senses of humor, sharing a love of science fiction during its glory days in the 70s, and being there for each other as decades went by – roommates, best man, bad influences, someone to laugh at each other’s jokes and provide comfort in hard times. In 2021, I had been writing snarky articles about Microsoft for Bruceb News for twenty years, but it was slowing down. You were finishing your career at YouTube and would soon have free time for the first time in your life. The drab landscape of retirement stretched before us until you said casually, “Have you ever thought about writing a novel?” Technically, everything that has happened since then has been your fault. What in the world was in your head?

Jim: I’m completely astonished that I’m writing novels now. My background is in programming, where fictional stories are not an asset. I actually can’t remember ever taking a creative writing course while at school, though I would be delighted to boor you with details of the 20,000 lines of BCPL code I wrote in 1976. As an avid sci-fi reader, I’ve loved world building. My favorite books are those that have a new idea on every page, exploring how new ideas and tech impact society. Our collaboration started with building a world around technology that enables everyone to experience augmented reality without special equipment.

Bruce: I’m convinced that augmented reality will have an even larger impact on the world than computers and the internet. Instead of doing research, we invented injectable nanobots over lunch at an Italian restaurant. Then, we came up with a plausible explanation of how a large company would convince everyone to adopt them. The word “plausible” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.

Jim: Some near-future science fiction is heavily researched. It winds up being dystopian because whatever current trend you research – AI, climate change, bio-warfare, gene editing, drones – leads inevitably to the conclusion that we’re all doomed. We didn’t want to write that kind of story, so we just made stuff up.

Bruce: We’re plotters, not pantsers. UNCOMMON SCENTS has an Oceans 11-style plot involving corporate secrets and mixed-up MacGuffin envelopes moving from place to place. Collaboration was fun as we figured out how to get characters where they needed to be.

Jim: I’m pretty sure that the personalities of a few of your characters are drawn from me and our wives. Two questions: (1) How could you? Those things are private, and you’re well aware no one pressed charges. (2) Where did the characters come from? Is there any significance to the names?

Bruce: Obviously, you’re the inspiration for Spiro, our uber-nerd programmer who works at Arrgle and invents a way to augment people’s sense of smell. Congratulations! Cabalynne came out of thin air, a slightly pudgy young woman who spends her big scene in an ill-fitting ninja suit. As a leader of an online army of conspiracy believers, it’s appropriate that her name starts with “cabal.” She plays a minor role in UNCOMMON SCENTS, but she was a natural to become the protagonist in my second novel VEILPIERCER.

Jim: One of my favorite characters is Sanger Manjoo, a garrulous reporter whose voice was inspired by the Peter Falk character in the movie The In-Laws. I’d quote him, but we don’t have space, as Manjoo would want to buy you a cookie and learn in great detail how your day has gone.

Bruce: He pretends to be a New York Times reporter, so I drew his name from two real NYTimes reporters, David Sanger and Farhad Manjoo. The character’s name was originally intended to be an online pseudonym, but the two of us fell in love with him as we wrote the book, and now it’s impossible to imagine him with any other name. After finishing the book, we had to figure out how to publish it.

Jim: Yeah, we tried the traditional route. We sent off query letters to a bunch of agents that specialize in science fiction. Sadly, our impatience and their indifference got the best of us.

Bruce: I find it strangely thrilling to say that Uncommon Scents was rejected by some of the top agents in the business.

Jim: We ended up self-publishing through Amazon, partly because we couldn’t wait to get our hands on a printed copy. Now, we’re working on marketing, trying to find a way to stand out from the crowd.

Bruce: Our website at https://arrgle.com provides hours of riveting entertainment – articles in plain English about augmented reality, ChatGPT, and modern tech, along with sample chapters from our novels. Sign up for the weekly newsletter, which is far more than the usual marketing fluff.

Jim: You can also follow us at @ArrgleBooks on both YouTube and TikTok, where we pique our followers’ interests with quotes from famous authors, sci-fi book reviews, snippets from our work, and even my Mom’s chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Bruce: We’re working on two more novels. Both are set in the same world as UNCOMMON SCENTS, but neither is a sequel. I’m revising the sixth draft of VEILPIERCER, the story of a young woman who assembles an unlikely team for an assault on the most powerful computer on earth, seeking to expose the secrets of the wealthy. It has the same snarky tone as UNCOMMON SCENTS because it is literally impossible for me to write any other way.

Jim: And I’m working on a serious noir detective story called THE AVATAR MURDERS, also in the Arrgle universe. My detective, Kurt Hardash, solves mysteries using his eyes that, due to a mishap when young, can see both augmented and actual reality. He sees more than others, allowing him to solve a serial murder case and track down who killed his wife—less snark, more violence, including altercations with forks and kitchen appliances.

Bruce: Thank you, Jim. You’re my favorite collaborator.

Jim: If I was going to say lovely things about you, I think you know this is where they would appear.

Website: https://arrgle.com
Newsletter: https://arrgle.com/newsletter/
YouTube: @arrglebooks
TikTok: @arrglebooks

Contact: info@arrgle.com

4 Comments

  1. Nathan Berris

    I’ve read Uncommon Scents, it’s fabulous! I recommend it.

    Reply
  2. Cynthia McIntyre

    Disclaimer: I went to high school with Bruce and Jim. It would be difficult to find two smarter, nicer guys. That said, my completely unbiased opinion is that Uncommon Scents was a really fun and imaginative book. I enjoyed it very much and highly recommend it. Have you ever considered a podcast? You’d be great!

    Reply
  3. Shelley Riley

    If the characters in your novel are as entertaining as you two, it should be a very exciting read. I will enjoy taking a look at your collaboration.

    Reply
  4. MIchael A. Black

    Congratulations on Uncommon Scents. You two should have your own talk show. Good luck with your new projects.
    Write on.

    Reply

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VICTORIA KAZARIAN – How I Went from Baking in Real Life to Baking in Books

Victoria Kazarian writes The Laughing Loaf Bakery Mysteries, a culinary cozy mystery series set in the redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Northern California. For two years, she owned a bakery of her own called The Laughing Loaf, baking homestyle, artisanal, and French levain breads. Based in Silicon Valley, she also writes a police procedural series, Silicon Valley Murder.

What got you into baking? For years, I wrote for the high tech world—first as a tech writer, producing user manuals for a software company, then I moved on to writing marketing and advertising for software and high-tech companies. What eventually drove me crazy was the fact that I was writing about something that was not tangible. You can tap away on a computer and see what software does on a screen, but you can’t hold, touch, taste, or smell software.

When I was growing up, my father baked bread for fun. I loved watching him–seeing the bread go from a lump of dough to the beautifully domed browned loaf you pull out of the oven. Bread smells like happiness. After I left high tech, I started baking at home. I dreamed of doing it as a job.

Why did you quit your bakery business? Before I first started The Laughing Loaf in 2013, I went to a great organization in Santa Clara County called SCORE, which advises new business owners. I was assigned a couple of retired businessmen who asked me detailed questions and wanted to see my business plan. They quickly pinpointed my downfall—distribution. I had no cost-effective way to get bread into people’s hands. I delivered most of my orders myself. This personal delivery fed my soul but not my bank account. I loved connecting with people. Some of my regular customers became friends. But I ended up working a grueling schedule for no profit. Eventually, I closed down the business. As if I needed another reason to stop, my husband was diagnosed with gluten intolerance around the same time.

How did you end up writing your bakery cozy series? In 2021, I published my first book, Swift Horses Racing, in my Silicon Valley Murder police procedural series. Even as I continued writing police procedurals, I wanted to use my bakery experience to write a culinary cozy mystery.

The character of Gracie Markley began to form in my head. Gracie works in tech in Seattle, but when she finds out her husband is selling defense tech secrets to foreign governments, she turns him in. Witness Protection relocates Gracie, her professor father, and her little dog Biga to a small town in the Northern California redwoods.

Burnt out by her life in tech, Gracie opens a bakery, using bread recipes she baked with her father growing up. The Laughing Loaf Bakery becomes a gathering place in the small town of River Grove, bringing people together over bread, baked goods, and coffee. She uses her tech problem-solving skills as she investigates murders that pop up in town.

I published Drop Dead Bread, the first in The Laughing Loaf Bakery Mysteries, in 2022. Each of the books includes recipes from the original Laughing Loaf Bakery. I’ve just released Sourdough and Cyanide, which includes instructions for making your own sourdough starter and sourdough loaf and recipes for using all that discard you end up with.

Will you continue with cozies? My cozy series is doing better than my police procedurals, so I’m sticking with them. I read a lot of cozies to prepare for writing this series, and I let go of some misconceptions. Cozies can have humor, but they don’t have to be silly. And the people in them don’t have to be caricatures; they can be real human beings. One value I love in cozies is community—a safe place where people support and accept each other. That, and freshly baked bread, is something everybody wants.

To contact Victoria, drop her a line at TheLaughingLoaf@gmail.com
To buy The Laughing Loaf Mysteries go to: https://a.co/d/cdSskRg
You can find out more about The Laughing Loaf Mysteries at https://a.co/d/cdSskRg and see what Victoria is up to at https://victoriakazarian.com/ She’s on Instagram at vkazarian1 and on Facebook at Victoria Kazarian, Author

4 Comments

  1. Pam

    As someone who has read all of the Laughing Loaf stories, I have wondered about your life as a baker. I’m sorry that your “soul-feeding” career didn’t work out, but glad that you turned your focus to writing. I regularly bake one of the bread recipes from your series, and can attest to your wizardry with a “lump of dough!”

    Lovely interview and fun pictures!

    Reply
  2. Robin Somers

    That’s hilarious, in a sad way—your husband’s gluten intolerance. One door closes, another opens. In your case, the oven to the book cover. Terrific interview and I love the image of your dad and your discussion of what a cozy can be.

    Reply
  3. Victoria Kazarian

    Thank you, Michael. I like that—offing someone with a baguette. Then slice it and make brushetta to get rid of the evidence…

    Reply
  4. Michael A. Black

    Nicely done, Victoria. Good luck with your writing. While I don’t bake myself, I always thought that a long loaf of French bread might make an interesting weapon in a story.

    Reply

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M.E. PROCTOR – With Busy Background–She Prefers Writing Fiction

M.E. Proctor was a freelance journalist for a music magazine and an advertising account executive before becoming a corporate communications advisor. She prefers writing fiction.

She is the author of four dystopian science fiction novels, The Savage Crown Series, and a short story collection, Family and Other Ailments – Crime Stories Close to Home (2023, Wordwooze Publishing).

The first book in her Declan Shaw detective series, Love You Till Tuesday, comes out in August 2024 from Shotgun Honey.

Proctor is a Derringer nominee. Her fiction has appeared in various anthologies and magazines: Vautrin, Stone’s Throw, Mystery Tribune, Black Cat Weekly, Thriller Magazine, and Bristol Noir, among others. Born in Brussels and a long-time Houston resident, she now lives in Livingston, Texas, with her husband, James Lee Proctor, who is also a writer.

Elevator Pitch for Family and Other Ailments: Blood ties, the family we’ve been given, the friends we make, the loves we keep, and those we lose. The twenty-six stories in this collection vacillate on the brink, hovering at the periphery of the possibility of crime. Under a certain light, at an angle, they’re all love stories.

About writing in multiple genres: One of the joys of writing short fiction is genre-hopping. I mostly write crime these days, but I occasionally dip a toe in horror. “Quiet” horror—Stories where everyday life turns into something else and reality starts slipping. A few of these are included in the Family and Other Ailments collection. The dividing line between crime and horror is often blurry. I’m still interested in science fiction and even if I don’t plan to add books to the Savage Crown series, I write short stories when I feel the urge to leave the planet. I think it’s healthy to mix things up. Switching between working on a book and writing short stories keeps things fresh. It’s like varying your workout to exercise different muscles.

The writing process: I’m a short fiction improviser. A story can start with an image, a sentence, or a line of dialogue. I don’t have it all mapped in my head. For example, a girl sits at a window and watches a wasp walk the length of the barrel of the rifle she’s holding. I don’t know who she is or what she’s planning to do. Or what she’s done already. The answers come as the story is being written. No Recoil is one of the pieces in the collection. It starts with the girl and the wasp.

The process is different for a book. I don’t do a real outline, but I have enough of a story idea to start writing a few chapters and get momentum going. Not all the characters are lined up, and the ending is up in the air. After a hundred pages or so, I write a rough storyline: A happens, then B, C, this is character X’s arc, etc. I know where the book is going. The big bullet points are nailed down. Things will still change, especially the finale, and secondary characters might get a bigger role, but I have a handrail I can rely on to avoid getting stuck.

Current projects: A retro-noir novella with a fellow crime writer. I’ve never written in collaboration. It’s an interesting experience. We started with a short story idea, and the manuscript grew bigger. It’s a double POV plot, and we go back and forth between his character and mine. I enjoyed the ping-pong. What if we do this? What happens next, throwing ideas against the wall? We completed a first draft a few weeks ago and are now in the polishing phase. I’ve been obsessing about this project for the past two months, so everything else has been put on the back burner.

Now, I have to work on the very last edits and the preparation for the launch of Love You Till Tuesday, the first book in my Declan Shaw detective series. It comes out in August from publisher Shotgun Honey. There’s more in store for Declan, including a project I started last fall that I feel a strong pull to get back into. The more I write about the guy, the better I know him, and the more time I want to spend with him; a good sign when you plan a series with a recurrent character!

Apart from that, I have short stories in upcoming anthologies and a free Substack newsletter I release every other Thursday – The Roll Top Desk—conversations about books and writing. I’ve been doing it for a year and a half. It’s a nice change of pace from writing fiction.

About writing from the perspective of the opposite sex: A few months ago, I was preparing for a reading, and I expected questions about writing from a female or male point of view. I went through the 26 stories in the collection and counted how many I had on each side. The tally came to thirteen girls/women and twelve boys/guys. One story doesn’t count; it’s a news report.

For me, choosing a main character falls in the same category as deciding to tell the story in first person or third, present or past tense. It’s what feels right for what I want to say. One of the stories in the book Hour of the Bat is inspired by an Edward Hopper painting, Summer Evening. It shows a young couple having a conversation. Looking at it, I knew the story had to be about the girl because of the expression on her face. And it would have to be in first person. It felt natural. I heard her voice.

The main protagonist of my detective books is male. His name popped into my head before I knew what he was doing for a living and what nettles I would drag him through. Declan Shaw was born on my back porch one Labor Day weekend out of the blue. Where the name came from is a mystery (the only Declan I know is Elvis Costello/Declan MacManus). When I stepped in his shoes, I gave him some of my personality traits and added a scoop of attitude and restlessness. To make sure I get the masculine vibe right, all my beta readers are guys. The first and toughest reviewer is my husband. A couple of times, he told me: A man would never say that. I think I got it now.

Favorite author: More than one, as my bookshelves and the library on my e-reader will confirm. It’s a hard choice, but I’ll pick Georges Simenon. I grew up with his books all over the house. Lots of books, the man was insanely prolific. I’ve always been a fast reader, consuming the novels by the pound. My admiration for his work has only increased with time. His writing is deceptively simple. It looks effortless, basic almost, but he catches characters with one line, sometimes with a single word. He’s so good at finding the fault line in mundane situations, the unease behind the appearances. A family at a dinner table, a couple that’s been married a long time, the simmering resentment, the weight of silence, all the things that are not said between lines of dialogue. It’s brilliant.

How do our readers contact you:
I’m on Facebook – Martine Elise Proctor – https://www.facebook.com/martine.proctor
Substack is a good option, too, at The Roll Top Desk – https://meproctor.substack.com
And there’s a contact button on my website: https://www.shawmystery.com
All the format options for the short story collection, Family and Other Ailments, are here:
https://books2read.com/u/3Lx0v5
The science fiction series and all the anthologies are on my Author page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/stores/M.E.-Proctor/author/B009JE9JWI/allbooks

Groups:
Facebook:
Short Mystery Fiction Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/608752359277585
Crime Fiction Writers: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1307945053456724
Criminally Good Reads: https://www.facebook.com/groups/5356552667708259
Thriller, Mystery and Suspense Writers: https://www.facebook.com/groups/290472645391267
Sisters In Crime: https://sistersincrime.tradewing.com/community
On LinkedIn:
Fiction Writers Group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12178764/
Writers and Illustrators Circle: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/3723330/
Detective Fiction Writer’s Group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/4911106/

15 Comments

  1. John Schembra

    Quite a diverse writing style, and background! Interesting point about writing from the prospective of the opposite sex. I’ve found that challenging, to put it simply!

    Reply
    • Martine Proctor

      I often have that conversation with male writers. Some are a bit nervous about it. I believe in finding the empathy and then asking beta readers to comment. If it sounds wrong, they’ll tell you!

      Reply
  2. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Martine, I was interested in your discussion of writing from the perspective of one’s opposite sex. I have less access to beta readers who are male.
    I wonder, though, if the majority of one’s readers are female, maybe those female readers would enjoy a male character’s perspective that FEELS like what THEY (as women) envision or hope for. What do you and George think?

    Reply
    • Martine Proctor

      I’m guilty of putting in some of my male protagonists attitudes or behaviors that appeal to me (even if I don’t write romance!). I have to be careful about being “too cuddly”, but once the guys start acting and speaking in the stories, they pretty much do their own thing. My male beta readers find very little to criticize, so I guess I channeled them properly. After all we live and work together. It isn’t another species 🙂

      Reply
    • George Cramer

      My debut novel, The Mona Lisa Sisters, was primarily from a woman’s POV. Once I got into the swing of it, it was a hoot. I was lucky to have four or five lady friends read as I went along. With only a few suggestions and much support, I was off to the races.

      Once published, not one woman reader complained about the POV.

      So, those sitting on the fence, give it a try.

      Reply
  3. Rhonda Blackhurst

    Like Michael, I like the visual of the wasp on the rifle barrel. Even she did fire the gun before the stroll–the visual was enjoyable. As a mystery novelist, I’ve just recently (the past couple of years) tried my hand at shorter fiction. It’s far more difficult than I thought it would be but helps tighten up my novels. I look forward to reading yours.

    Reply
    • Martine Proctor

      Thank you, Rhonda. Yes, short fiction teaches you to go for the essential. It’s a different rhythm though. There’s a lot of intensity in short fiction, in a book, relaxation is needed. That tightness cannot be sustained without fatigue over 85,000 words.

      Reply
  4. Donna

    Although some already congratulate you i just want to do the same thing congrats I am also a staving writer lol

    Reply
  5. Michael A. Black

    Excellent interview and cogent writing advice, Ms. Proctor. I loved he image of the wasp walking on the rifle barrel. Now that would be a true test of a sniper’s moxie. Best of luck to you on your new one.

    Reply
    • Martine Proctor

      Thank you, Michael. I don’t like wasps 🙂 – if you read the story, you’ll know that the girl fired the gun before the wasp took a stroll…. does it make a difference?

      Reply
  6. Jim Guigli

    I love Martine’s writing. And, she was kind enough to grant me a blurb about one of my short stories.

    Reply
  7. Jacqueline Seewald

    Congratulations on your new novel! Wishing you much success.

    Reply

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