James L’Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars as an influence in his novels, short stories, and screenplays. He is a former associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, facility captain, and director of California’s state parole system. He is a nationally recognized expert witness on prison and jail operations. He has been nominated for the Silver Falchion for Best Procedural Mystery, and The Bill Crider Award for short fiction. His published novels include: Black Label, At What Cost, Bury the Past, and Little River. Dead Drop was released in the summer of 2022. You can find out more at www.jamesletoile.com
Do you write in more than one genre? I write procedurals, thrillers, and psychological suspense. They all fall under the crime fiction umbrella, and I enjoy working in that world. I have written a speculative fiction novel, and it’s out on submission currently. Speculative fiction is a story involving a touch of otherworldly “whoo-whoo.” It’s not horror, fantasy, or paranormal. Spec fiction is a fun way to experiment with a different story structure and play with a new set of rules. It’s freeing.
What brought you to writing? I didn’t begin writing commercially until after I retired from a twenty-nine-year career working in California prisons. I’ve always been an avid reader and thought about writing about some situations and unique characters I encountered behind the walls. I believed I didn’t have the time and honestly didn’t have the confidence to write crime fiction. It’s really a matter of making writing a priority in your life, maybe one less Netflix binge, or get up an hour early. The point is, there are no excuses—if you want to write, you need to put in the time and write. It must be a priority. You need to do it for yourself. The second part—finding the confidence to write crime fiction came when I realized one of my early assignments gave me what I needed. As a probation officer, I’d prepare presentence reports for the sentencing judge. This meant I would interview the convicted person in the jail, talk to the investigating officers, read all the reports, speak with the victims, and cobble together a narrative of the offense to assist the judge make a sentencing decision. I realized what I was actually doing was writing a crime story. I knew how to do this!
Tell us about your writing process: For me, everything begins with character. I have a kernel of a story idea, but before I put pen to paper or type a single word, I get to know my characters. I’ll get familiar with them, their flaws, their tics, and habits. You must present more than flat and stereotyped characters in your work. Readers get bored and don’t engage with your story if you don’t give them someone with a bit of depth. I figure If I’m going to spend months with these imaginary people; it’s important to know them intimately. I’ve written a short story using a specific character’s POV and voice to help me find a better understanding of that character’s worldview, their tone, and what they believe in. Once I have a grasp of the people I’ll be writing about, the story can unwind and reveal the character in slices and scenes in the manuscript. Why so much attention on character? Character is the thing readers connect with and become invested in. Readers will forgive a so-so plot if they want to turn the pages to find out what happens to a specific character they’re connected with.
What are you currently working on? I’m always working on a new project, be it a screenplay, a short story, or a novel length work. Dead Drop was recently released, and while I’m excited about the first book in a new series, it also means I can’t sit back and rest. I’m under contract to deliver additional books in the series, and they don’t write themselves. Before Dead Drop hits the shelves, I drafted the second book. I’m in the rewriting stages now and looking at the potential storylines for book three and beyond.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Writing is a solitary business. You spend hours alone crafting your story, and you need connection with others who understand what you’re going through, who offer support, encouragement, and a swift kick when needed. I’m an active member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW), Mystery Writers of America (MWA), Sisters-in-Crime, and other organizations. ITW and MWA work with and support new authors to develop their craft with both in-person and virtual workshops and craft sessions. I love supporting aspiring writers by teaching at conferences, offering encouragement, and sharing what I’ve learned on my writing journey.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Subplots are a great way to take a breath from the chase, if you will, and give an opportunity for a little character reveal. For example, if you have a detective on the trail of a killer and an additional issue comes up for them to react to, it shows us more about them. A family issue, an aging parent dealing with dementia, and how the detective responds and struggles to balance work and home issues is a brilliant method to keep the story moving, but also to ratchet up the stakes for the protagonist.
Do you have any advice for new writers? The most important thing any writer can do is to write and keep writing. We all get better by putting in the work. Take advantage of craft workshops offered by recognized writing organizations. ITW and Sisters-in-Crime have wonderful support networks for aspiring and unpublished writers. If you’re stuck on something, reach out and ask. I’ve found the writing community, particularly the crime fiction community, incredibly supportive and willing to help.
How do our readers contact you?
You can find me on social media on Facebook @authorjameletoile Twitter @jamesletoile Instagram @authorjamesletoile
Drop by my website at jamesletoile.com or email me at email@example.com
If you spot me at a writing conference like Bouchercon, ThrillerFest, Killer Nashville, or Left Coast Crime, come and say hello.
Denise Kalm is the published author; of the novel, Lifestorm. Her non-fiction books include Career Savvy – Keeping & Transforming Your Job, Tech Grief – Survive and Thrive Through Career Losses (with Linda Donovan), First Job Savvy – Find a Job, Start Your Career, and Retirement Savvy – Designing Your Next Great Adventure. Her books are available on all major sites as paperbacks and e-books.
The new definition of retirement is simply “doing what you want to do.” And this begins with figuring that out and putting it into action. Retirement Savvy is designed to help you design and act on your dreams so that you can take full advantage of these well-earned years.
I’ve been writing since I knew how to write, actually delighting in writing assignments in school. That’s just a part of what made me different throughout my life (okay, weird). I also love to do public speaking, which sets me apart from many writers. I’m an extrovert and highly gregarious, which inspires some of my better ideas as well as giving me great input on dialogue. But that means some aspects of writing are frustrating, as being alone is not my core strength. The writing itself is one thing—once I get going, I have to remind myself to get up for a break. But editing is more challenging, as you rarely can achieve “flow” in editing.
I started out dreaming of being the next Stephen King or Robert Ludlum, liking to write horror as well as suspense. If you check out my writing, you’ll wonder at that, but I have an unpublished book (my first) that is a legitimate techno-thriller about biological warfare. I have an MS in biochemical genetics. And I have a boxful of great horror stories, two of which were published.
What made me switch genres and write four non-fiction, how-to books? I began writing career advice articles for IT magazines when I realized how many techies didn’t know how best to present themselves. As e-books and self-publishing got going (and the economy flat-lined), I was encouraged to publish my tips so more people could learn how to get a job more easily, keep it through layoffs and then transform it into something they loved. Once I had a process and design in mind, the books flowed easily so I could get them out to my friends and colleagues more quickly. I felt like this was a way I could make a difference.
As I got older, retirement started becoming real to me, though I wrote most of Retirement Savvy before I retired. And my plan came out of my book and loads of interviews, research, and thinking on the subject. I still work, though most of it isn’t for profit. I’m crazy-busy and enjoying it. But I do allow my travels to extend out, as I no longer have to cram them into too-short vacation windows.
I started a murder mystery set in a retirement community, and then Covid hit. I needed to interview people to give my story more reality—and I couldn’t. Then, I began to consider what else I could write. Realizing that no one could fire me anymore, I felt empowered to start a blog. The twice-weekly writing “assignment” keeps me busy, researching, talking to people, and responding to comments, and it’s writing I enjoy. Still, years remain to get back to fiction if I want to.
My favorite tip to writers is to go for a walk outside whenever you get stuck. It has to be outside; that’s where inspiration can be found. Don’t think about solving your problem; your brain is hard at work without your effort. Most times, to my endless surprise, the solution is there when I get back to work. I also find I can write whole short stories and articles in my head when I walk. It’s the most powerful inspiration I’ve found.
Writing-wise, I’m a member of CWC-Mt. Diablo.
Web site: www.denisekalm.com.
Blog: Right on the Left Coast | Denise Kalm | Substack
Valerie J. Brooks is a multi-award-winning author of femmes-noir thrillers where the women are badass and take center stage. The first in the Angeline Porter Trilogy Revenge in 3 Parts, was a finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award. NYTimes bestselling author Kevin O’Brien called her second novel Tainted Times 2 “… a real nail-biter from the first page to the last.”
Valerie is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. She teaches workshops and classes on writing noir and creating plot twists.
1 Last Betrayal A former criminal defense attorney receives an alarming text and races in desperation to Florida only to find a ransacked apartment, a poisoned dog, and a missing half-sister.
Let me tell you a story – When I was sixteen, I worked as a New England Tel & Tel switchboard operator. Back then, this was a prime job for someone my age, but it could also be boring, sitting there, waiting for lights that indicated a call.
One day, I connected a call from a Laconia phone booth to a Massachusetts number. I asked the caller to deposit the correct amount of change for the three-minute call, connected the two numbers, and closed the switch. I went on to other calls.
After three minutes were up, I went back to the call. As I did with all calls made from a phone booth, I pulled back the switch to listen in on the call so I could break in during a lull in the conversation without the caller knowing.
What I heard felt so dangerous that I couldn’t talk. The man from the Boston number was setting up a hit with the man in the phone booth. I wish I could remember the conversation, but I did understand that the Boston man gave instructions to the man in the phone booth to kill someone who lived in Belknap Acres, a ritzy, gated residential area that was rumored to have an armed guard at the gate.
I wrote down the two phone numbers and the name of the Boston man associated with the number. I wrote down the few specifics I was able to hear. The conversation was short.
After they hung up and I disconnected the line, I questioned what I heard. Was I imagining it? Was it a joke? But I’d heard too many rumors about Belknap Acres and what went on there, who lived there, why there was an armed guard. I had no idea who was supposed to be killed, but I did have an address.
I had to work a little longer before I could signal the switchboard foreman that I needed to speak with her. We went into her office, and I told her about what I had heard.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything about this,” she said. “You know we’re not allowed to listen in on calls, and we would have to explain how we heard this information.”
I knew the rules but thought this situation would be different. Someone was going to get killed.
All afternoon, I worried about the call. The hit was planned for that evening. I decided to tell my parents when I got home. They were strict with us kids about living by the rules, but I figured they wouldn’t care that I listened in, not for something like this, and Dad often talked about how corrupt Massachusetts was.
Right away, my mom called the FBI. We figured that someone would take the info over the phone, and that would be that.
Instead, twenty minutes later, two FBI special agents knocked on our door. My parents invited them in. One sat down across from me while the other stood by the door. They wore street clothes, no suits. The agent who asked me questions seemed like anyone I’d run into in town—non-descript shirt and pants, a little overweight, a kind smile. I answered all his questions and gave him the piece of paper that I had saved with all the info. The agent spoke softly and made me feel comfortable, not what I’d pictured from an FBI agent. He thanked me for calling them. I asked him if he’d let us know what happens. He just smiled and said, “No. You won’t find out anything about this unless, for some reason, something happens that the news finds out about.”
He thanked my parents, and they left. We never heard anything else. My dad said they must have been working on a local case, and it could have had to do with the information I gave them.
That was the beginning of my interest in mobs and the FBI.
Now to back up a bit – I’d always loved dark stories, gothic tales of secrets, and writers like Wilkie Collins and Daphne du Maurier. Later I fell in love with Jean Ryss novels. Growing up in New Hampshire added to my interest. As children who were expected to be seen and not heard during adult gatherings, we heard plenty. Families worked hard to be perceived as perfect, but we knew better. Perception is a tricky bit of flimflammery because truth seeps out. And who better to know this than children who seemed to be invisible. Early on, I was aware of what I would later call hypocrisy, but because it didn’t pertain to me at the time, I didn’t explore it until much later when I moved to Oregon and began writing.
My interest in the underbelly of life took full bloom while taking college courses in film noir. I loved the voice, the tropes, and the truthful examination of our culture, lifestyles, and capitalistic drive/greed. For me, noir dispelled the fantasy idea of “happy ever after” and “justice wins.” Perry Mason was a fantasy of good winning over evil. Of course, we need fantasy to escape the hard realities at times, but I just couldn’t write like that or write in black and white. As the brilliant Dennis Lehane says, “I live in the gray.”
Living in the gray when you’re a writer sometimes makes the work harder. How do I give a satisfying ending? What do my characters do that make them fascinating? Usually, my characters are like me, except they push boundaries as I never would. For example, Angeline has killed two mobsters in self-defense. Could I ever do that? I don’t know, but I love her for it.
Being a pantser, I start my thrillers with a setting. I might have an idea about the character, but as in my first of the Angeline Porter Trilogy, I wanted to set my story in Paris. Having been to Paris in 2015 and having taken many notes, Angeline came to life, stepping off the Metro. With the second in the trilogy, the setting had to be New Hampshire, where I grew up. There’s not as much action, but there’s a lot of atmosphere and secrets that Angeline discovers, setting her on a direct path to the third thriller I just finished, 1 Last Betrayal. The secrets lead her to trying to save a sister she never knew she had. Off to Hollywood, Florida, where mobsters ruled back in the day. Its history made me yearn to know more about the setting, which was perfect for the “final showdown” with the mob.
Now I’m immersed in the promoting and launching of the third thriller. I miss my characters. Miss them terribly. I’m tempted to write another Angeline story. “We shall see,” as my Brit mom used to say. One thing I know for sure—I need to start writing again. Whatever the story.
Valerie’s short story prequel to the Angeline Porter trilogy is available for free.
Download it here: “Lake Winnisquam 1982”
Michael was born in Manchester, England. He lived in France and joined a French Order of Missionary priests. He spent ten years in West Africa, several of them during a civil war when he was stood up to be shot. He spent a year living as a hermit in Northern Ireland, was a teacher in Madrid, Spain, and as part of the British ‘brain drain’ taught at the Univ of Puerto Rico.
The owner of MJB Consultants, he flew all over the world monitoring and evaluating humanitarian projects and has worked in more than thirty countries. He is fluent in several languages, an avid golfer, and academically considers himself over-engineered, having three Masters’ Degrees and a Ph.D. On his bucket list is to pilot a helicopter, become fluent in Arabic, and spend a week’s retreat at Tamanrasset in the Sahara Desert.
Michael lives with his French wife, who designs and paints the covers of his books, and a Tibetan terrier in Clayton, California.
His latest novel, The Ethiopian Affair (May 2022), begs the question: Is there a plot to abduct the US ambassador to Ethiopia? MI6, the CIA, and NISS (Ethiopian Secret Service) are faced with discovering the truth.
He has always been a writer, and his first book, The Bishop Wears No Drawers (2017), is a memoir of his time in Africa. Let the Peacock Sing (2020) is a historical novel set against the backdrop of the French Resistance during World War II. His second novel, a coming-of-age book, Becoming Anya, was published in November 2021. Michael also writes fiction and nonfiction articles for several magazines, including Alive East Bay and The Big issue (UK). He is a feature writer for the Mt Diablo Gazette.
Do you write in more than one genre? My first book is a memoir of ten years spent in Nigeria as a catholic missionary priest, where I was stood up to be shot. My second book is the historical novel Let the Peacock Sing.
What brought you to writing? I have always been a writer, mainly nonfiction and academic articles on philosophy and spirituality. Retirement gave me the time to develop my craft and let my imagination run wild.
Tell us about your writing process: I treat my writing like a job as if I am employed and quite disciplined. I usually spend six to eight hours a day on a book, either writing or doing research. I take breaks with a round of golf and vary my writing by producing fiction and nonfiction articles for various magazines.
With fiction, I usually have an idea with just a couple of specific points, and the rest of my process depends entirely on my characters. As they grow and develop, they tell me who they are, what they want to say, and what they are doing.
Nonfiction: It depends on my mood and particular interest at a given moment. I occasionally do book reviews.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The only challenge I have as a writer is that there is insufficient time to write all the stories and characters in my head.
What are you currently working on? I am five chapters into a novel comprising six different stories, all intertwined with links to two main characters. It’s fun and challenging.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Not really. I joined CWC because writing is a lonely business. I started the Writers Connection, where a group of us could meet to socialize and talk about anything related to writing.
I read more biographies than novels. Who’s your favorite author? Depends on the type of book. Thrillers: John Le Carre; Literary: Edna O’Brien & Jose Luis Borges. Paul Theroux is, for sure as a travel author.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Love/romantic scenes are particularly difficult to write, just to get the language balance and sensitivity right. My wife, who is both a painter and psychologist, is always the first to review my drafts and gives me excellent feedback.
Do you have subplots? Always have several subplots. That’s a major part of the fun and challenge in writing.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Yes. I believe that almost every author, especially early in their career, base some characters on their own experiences. We often write from what we know.
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? Sometimes it’s difficult to access or find all the information needed about a character. For example, I needed a great deal of information about the French railways during World War II. There are lots of bits and pieces, but that complete history has still to be written. I have researched French archives and come away empty-handed.
Where do you place your settings? Depends. I write a lot about places and countries I have lived in, especially France, Ireland, Spain, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Latin America.
What is the best book you have ever read? Henry Kissinger: 2 Vols. The Whitehouse Years, and he was writing in a second language. From the point of view of command of language and style, Mark Kishlansky’s A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 1603-1714.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? My head is full of characters wanting to tell their stories. I’ll just keep writing because I must. I would like to see my book Let the Peacock Sing turned into a mini-series, and I am working on that.
How do our readers contact you?
Fleur Bradley has loved puzzles and (scary) mysteries ever since she first discovered Agatha Christie novels. She’s the author of numerous mysteries for kids, Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, which was on many award lists, including the Reading the West, Agatha and Anthony Awards, Sasquatch Award, and won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, Sunshine State Young Readers Award, and the Colorado Book Award.
A reluctant reader herself, Fleur regularly does librarian and educator conference talks on ways to reach reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, she now lives in Colorado with her family and entirely too many rescue animals. Find out more about Fleur at http://www.ftbradley.com and follow her on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor.
Daybreak on Raven Island: From the critically acclaimed author of Midnight at the Barclay Hotel comes a thrilling new middle-grade mystery novel inspired by Alcatraz Prison.
Tori, Marvin, and Noah would rather be anywhere else than on the seventh-grade class field trip to Raven Island prison. Tori would rather be on the soccer field, but her bad grades have benched her until further notice; Marvin would rather be at the first day of a film festival with his best friend, Kevin; and Noah isn’t looking forward to having to make small talk with his classmates at this new school.
But when the three of them stumble upon a dead body in the woods, miss the last ferry back home, and then have to spend the night on Raven Island, they find that they need each other now more than ever. They must work together to uncover a killer, outrun a motley ghost-hunting crew, and expose the age-old secrets of the island all before daybreak.
Do you write in more than one genre? Although most people know me as the author of mysteries for kids, I also write short stories and YA. It’s good to stretch your writing muscle a little, I think. I also make sure I read a lot outside my own genre, so I know what’s going on.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in my home office—I’m so fortunate to have one! For years, I wrote in waiting rooms (while my kids were in gymnastics or art classes), food courts, and my dining room. It’s so nice to have a dedicated space. My kids are grown, so that helps too. I have all the time to write.
Tell us about your writing process: I usually start with a broad concept—the crime, since I write mystery, and what I want the book to feel like. That last part is a little vague, but I know a good recipe for a book when I see it, even if it’s just in my imagination.
Setting is a big part of my process too. It creates the mood, and with some research, I usually find ways to use setting. My most recent book, Daybreak on Raven Island, is set on a fictionalized version of Alcatraz. I used the real-life setting as inspiration for everything from the horror feel of the book to the mysteries my three kid characters are trying to solve.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Probably letting it go once it’s time for publication. You can edit forever. That’s just the truth. There comes a time to let readers pass judgment.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Both MWA and SinC here in Colorado have been hugely helpful. They cheer me on and provide simple camaraderie. It’s nice to have people to talk mystery with.
On the children’s writers side, I love my local chapter of SCBWI. I’m very lucky here in Colorado to have so many writer friends.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? I was not a fan of Stephen King until I started reading his short stories. I still don’t always have the patience for his really long books, but I can appreciate the storytelling now.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I love outlining, and the longer I’m doing this, the more I believe in outlining. It just takes too much time to edit without a solid outline. I teach outlining workshops now; I’m such a believer.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I like to take a real-life setting and then fictionalize it, so I can make it what I want. For Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, I used the Stanley Hotel here in Colorado (from The Shining, in case you’re not familiar). For Daybreak on Raven Island, I ‘built’ Raven Island based on Alcatraz. It’s such an incredible tool. Setting can change a story completely, so I try to have that figured out early on in my process.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Daybreak on Raven Island just came out, so I’m spending a lot of time doing virtual and in-person events. Writing-wise, I’m working on another mystery for kids and another for teens. I hope to finish both by the end of 2022 and then will have to see if they find a home somewhere. There are no guarantees in publishing.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Stay positive, and surround yourself with people (especially fellow writers) who lift you up. Publishing is tough and full of rejection. You want friends to pick you up when you’re down and buy you cake when there’s something to celebrate.
How do our readers contact you?
Here’s my website: Fleur Bradley (ftbradley.com)
I hang out on Twitter: Fleur Bradley – preorder DAYBREAK ON RAVEN ISLAND! (@FTBradleyAuthor) / Twitter
And Instagram: Fleur Bradley (@fleurbradley) • Instagram photos and videos
Terry Shames writes the popular Samuel Craddock series, set in the fictional town of Jarrett Creek, Texas. Nominated for numerous awards, she won the Macavity Award for Best First Novel, and her fifth novel won an RT Reviews award.
Terry’s latest book, Murder at the Jubilee Rally, is set at a motorcycle rally at the lake outside Jarrett Creek and includes a lot of the mayhem you might expect from a motorcycle rally—including murder. For more about Terry and to sign up for her newsletter and/ or purchase her books, visit www.Terryshames.com.
I thought since I’m at Bouchercon this week, I’d write about the conference and what I get out of it.
Bouchercon long before I was a writer. I had friends who wrote crime fiction, and they urged me to come as a fan. I loved it! And when I started writing crime fiction, I knew where to go for contacts, information, and support. This conference provides all of that!
For me, Bouchercon this year meant more than “talking crime.” I moved to Southern California a year ago, and settling into a new place has been challenging. I miss my old friends! I think it’s only now that I realize how profoundly the pandemic affected our lives. If there had been no pandemic, I would have gotten oriented at in-person meetings with both Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America in SoCal. Still, with in-person meetings rare to non-existent, I have found it sadly difficult to get established with writer friends in my new area.
So I was especially excited to attend Bouchercon for the first time since Dallas, 2019. It would be a chance to sit down and get to know people from SoCal, and it would also give me a chance to see old friends from the NorCal chapters. People like Susan Bickford, Diana Chambers, Ana Manwaring, Daisy Bateman, and Reece Hirsch, among others.
What is Bouchercon for if it isn’t to mingle and chat? The answer to that question is more complicated than just “mingle and chat.” Mingling and chatting with fans is always a pleasure, and since Bouchercon is primarily a fan conference, you hope to get some of that. But mingling and chatting with other authors is satisfying in a different way.
I ran into Lou Berney the first night of the conference, and we talked about why it was so wonderful to see our fellow authors in person. We agreed that authors are the only people who truly understand the challenges we go through as writers. The triumphs are easy to share with non-writers. But the daily grind of writing an xxx number of words, the frustration when you hit snags in your plot, or you realize you haven’t really got a handle on your characters is harder to convey to non-writers.
Most “civilians” will listen politely to complaints about a writer’s trouble, but a deep understanding is only possible with people who have been through it. And often, talking through your current frustrations with another author can help you get clarity and solve the problem. For example, who but another writer can understand and sympathize deeply with my most recent problem: I realized that I had written my action scenes backwards, that one event needed to happen before another. Changing it was a nightmare. Every writer I’ve shared that with has laughed along with me and immediately grasped the difficulty of the details that had to be addressed with the change. Non-writers look baffled.
Another thing that writers share at a conference is “the publishing situation”—the complaints, the triumphs, the questions: why isn’t my novel being picked up? Why did my publisher go out of business? Why did my publisher suddenly veer toward cozies and away from thrillers or vice versa? The answer always seems to be Publishing is going through a profound change. What a sentence that is! Publishing is always going through a change.
I’m not sure I’ve ever met an author who is perfectly happy with their publisher. There’s always that “little problem.” A best-selling author’s problems may be light years away from the problems a mid-list writer is facing, but there are always glitches. It’s an endless source of conversation among writers. Happily, “publishers” don’t usually include “editors. Many writers idolize their editors.
Add to this the conversations (usually whispered) about agents—do you need an agent? How do you get one? How do you know which one is right for you? How do you keep one? When is it time to move on? It’s part of the chat.
One thing that is often under-appreciated is panels. I’ve heard authors dismiss panels as something they aren’t interested in, but I think they’re missing a bet. At a “fan” conference like Bouchercon, often panel discussions are more geared toward readers than writers. But even those panels can be helpful to writers. For example, I attended a panel on family dynamics in crime fiction, and there were some golden answers to questions that I tucked away for use in my work. The panels are varied, and it’s a chance to hear what authors have to say about their process and their product. It’s a chance to find out new ways of promoting your work. And it can be a way of seeing your own work in a new light. Not to mention the chance to hear ideas that may spark your creative juices. When you are a panel participant, it gives you the opportunity to introduce your work to new readers.
I was thrilled to find that although this year’s Bouchercon was held just a couple of weeks before my next book comes out, the bookstore actually had a few copies of it. Murder at the Jubilee Rally will be the ninth book in my Samuel Craddock series and will be published by my new publisher, Severn House, in hardcover and e-book on October 4. The paperback will come out in a few months. I love the cover.
And here’s how I’m promoting the book at Bouchercon—wearing a motorcycle vest advertising “Jubilee Motorcycle Rally, Jarrett Creek, Texas.”
To end, I’ll paraphrase a quote I just heard that William Kent Krueger made in a recent interview: Make a commitment (to your writing) and stick to it! That’s the kind of advice you can get at Bouchercon than can change your writing!
Dr. Katherine Ramsland teaches forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, where she is the Assistant Provost. She has appeared as an expert in criminal psychology on more than 200 crime documentaries and magazine shows, is an executive producer of Murder House Flip, and has consulted for CSI, Bones, and The Alienist. The author of more than 1,500 articles and 69 books, including The Forensic Science of CSI, The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds, How to Catch a Killer, The Psychology of Death Investigations, and Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, The BTK Killer, she was co-executive producer for the Wolf Entertainment/A&E four-part documentary based on the years she spent talking with Rader. Ramsland consults on death investigations, talks to killers, pens a blog for Psychology Today, and is writing a fiction series based on a female forensic psychologist who manages a private investigation agency.
Elevator Pitch for I Scream Man: Forensic psychologist Annie Hunter’s PI team plunges into a perilous case of missing kids and a well-connected network of sex traffickers.
In which genres do you write? I started publishing in the mid-1980s, so I’ve covered a range of genres, mostly in nonfiction: biographies, adventure memoirs, travel, true-crime, writing craft, psychology, paranormal, encyclopedias, scientific analyses, textbooks, and even a cookbook. I’ve also written scripts and treatments for Hollywood. With fiction, I’ve published horror, paranormal urban fantasy, and now my private investigation series. I find that there’s a lot of cross-fertilization.
What inspired your current work, the Nut Crackers Investigation series? I teach forensic psychology, including a course called Psychological Sleuthing, on the psychology of investigation (which I designed and for which I wrote the textbook). I also consult on unusual cases, so it was natural to base a character and her investigative team on what I do. I’ve written a lot of nonfiction on forensic science, psychology, and investigation, so I’ve developed a network of consultants – and some are real characters. In the series, I connect Annie Hunter’s team to whatever consultant she might need, from digital to anthropology to meteorology (yes, there’s forensic meteorology!). Between access to plenty of cases, conversations with multiple offenders, and teamwork with many different professionals, I have a solid set-up for creating plots and characters.
How do you incorporate research or true events into your fiction? I generally start with a twisty crime I’ve come across that will call on my characters’ unique skills. On my core team is a cadaver dog handler, a PI who’s also an artist, and a psychologist with a specialty in suicidology and staged scenes. I research the crime, especially in legal documents, and sometimes talk to key personnel (including offenders). Then, like Law & Order, I spin my fictional scenario. Since I also know the psychological literature, I’m careful to develop characters along realistic lines. One more dimension is that I use actual settings, so I go experience them. I take a lot of photos. For example, after I set a scene in a recreational area, I traveled there to see where I might place an inconspicuous grave. Sometimes the places I see inspire me to turn them into settings. The tower in Ireland that poet W. B. Yeats owned, for example.
You’ve written 70 books, along with multiple other types of projects, and you often write more than one at once. How do you keep them straight? I once heard that a change is as good as a rest. I find this to be true. I work on multiple projects at once – including my day job as a professor and assistant provost. Each provides inspiration for the others. I merely keep them in separate folders on my computer, or in separate piles on my office floor. But when I tire of one project, or finish one, I’m glad to have something else to keep the juices flowing. I have no time for postpartum writing grief because another project is calling for attention.
What is your writing process? I’ve written a book, Snap: Seizing your Aha! Moments, which describes one of the best things to do for the creative process. A lot of people believe that flashes of insight happen at random, but I’ve discovered that you can set yourself up for these to occur regularly. In the book, I propose a program that I’ve found useful for generating the spark. I call it a “snap,” because the flash of genius that really counts is insight plus momentum – it snaps you toward action. It resolves your impasse. First, you create your mental salad. You really work at it, gathering all kinds of info and experiences to toss in. Use a routine so you can tap into body memories, too. Then you relax in whatever way works for you. For me, it’s walking. During this time, you let the brain’s association network mix and match to come up with a plot twist, a new character, the resolution of a scene, etc. I’ve been counting on this process for years. I love it.
What advice do you have for new writers? The most important thing a budding writer can do is to form a support group. This is not a critique group. It’s a small group of people who believe in their work and will be there to assure them when they have doubts. Maybe they’ll be proofreaders (mine are). Maybe they’re just cheerleaders. But they’re essential for the hard times that inevitably come to every writer.
You’ve been writing a blog for Psychology Today for ten years. What’s the theme? “Shadow-boxing,” the title and theme, is about our darkest impulses, as well as anything that may lurk beyond our awareness, “in the shadows.” I write a lot about crime and criminals, since that’s my primary field of expertise, but I also write about creativity, literature with dark edges, investigative techniques, and psychological conditions. Sometimes, I review books.
What can we look forward to in this series? I certainly hope readers will enjoy an investigative series with a deep dive into psychology. They’ll learn about psychological quirks as well as investigative tips. Since Annie Hunter is a forensic psychologist with private practice cases on the side, she has insight into criminal behavior that’s often missed by PIs and cops. Annie has a podcast, Psi Apps, and she’s open to a lot of oddities, including cases with paranormal aspects. And I hope to have weather events in every novel. Might be a hurricane, a tornado, a snowstorm, a flood. I love weather, and I love mysterious places. Wherever I go, I’ll take readers with me.
Annie Hunter’s House
How do our readers contact you? Readers can find me mostly on Facebook. I have three pages there. Also, the website has an email address.
Sisters in Crime
Writers Police Academy
Mystery Writers of America
Private Eye Writers of America
Lynn Wiese Sneyd is a professional writer and owner of LWS Literary Services, a boutique agency that coordinates book publicity campaigns for authors, assists with query letters and book proposals, and provides ghostwriting and editing services.
Her most recent books are The Horse Lover: A Cowboy’s Quest to Save the Wild Mustangs and Cowboy Up! Life Lessons from Lazy B, both of which she co-authored with H. Alan Day. A frequent presenter at writer’s conferences and workshops, Lynn is the literary consultant for the Tucson Festival of Books and the producer of “The Cowboy Up” podcast.
Before starting LWS Literary Services, Lynn served as the literary publicist for Russell Public Communications and a community relations manager at Barnes & Noble Booksellers. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in English. A recipient of a Ragdale fellowship, Lynn currently resides in Tucson, AZ.
The Horse Lover was released in paperback on September 1, 2022, after eight years in hardcover. Lauded by Booklist in a starred review as “an instant classic, the award-winning memoir tells the story of the cowboy who started the first government-sponsored wild horse sanctuary and the adventures he had caring for and training 1500 wild mustangs. The University of Nebraska Press decided to publish a trade paperback version due to strong annual sales.
Do you write in more than one genre? Prior to ghostwriting The Horse Lover, I published a parenting book, some essays, and a handful of poems. My intention was to try my hand at fiction. But when Alan knocked on the door and shared his story, I knew his memoir needed to find a home. I edited the manuscript, but based on agents’ comments, we didn’t quite get the storytelling right. At my suggestion, Alan hired a few other editors. Again, no one was making the cut. One day, frustrated, I just blurted out, “Let me help you write it,” which was insane because I’d never written a memoir and had been on a horse only half a dozen times in my entire life. Alan, however, agreed. So we started from scratch and eventually figured out how to tell his story. I then went on to ghostwrite three other memoirs, one of them also with Alan.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Writing a creative nonfiction story, specifically a memoir means that you have to get the facts correct. Yes, some details rely on memory, but other details remain static over the years. The landscape in Arizona, for instance: is dusty, dry, and expansive. How does that differ from the landscape of the South Dakota Sand Hills? And how can you make the reader feel those differences? And what about the details of a ranch: the fencing, the corrals, the barn, the main house? As a ghostwriter, I had to rely on the author to share these details. Often, I corroborated my understanding of what I was hearing with facts and images researched on the Internet.
How do you go about writing something you don’t know? I still can’t believe I was involved in writing The Horse Lover. First of all, I grew up in Wisconsin riding a Schwinn bicycle, not a palomino, a paint, or any horse. Horses frightened me. Maybe that’s why I transferred from the horse-riding unit to the sailing unit at Girl Scout camp. So who ends up being my writing partner? Alan Day was one of the great American cowboys. Alan grew up on a 200,000-acre cattle ranch in southeastern Arizona, was practically raised on a horse, and had adventures that I only heard about on Netflix. I can’t tell you how often he described and diagramed what it was like being horseback in a football-field-sized corral with 100 frightened wild mustangs. Also, I really had to listen to his word choice and syntax and not insert my own versions, which tended to sound feminine. He’d usually catch the errors, and we’d have a good laugh and correct them. With all the memoirs, I probably spent as much time listening as writing.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Captivating stories almost always have subplots. Sometimes I see them before I start writing. Other times, they present themselves. When I started writing The Horse Lover, I was concerned that the story, while fascinating, wasn’t enough for a full manuscript. It wasn’t until we were about one-third of the way through the manuscript that one of the main subplots presented itself. Alan was talking about the wild horses and absently said, “Reminds me of the time I roped a renegade bull.” I’m sorry, you did what??? It turns out the wild bull story was suspenseful and colorful and involved one of the horses he dearly loved. That’s when I started weaving stories about horses he had loved throughout his life into the wild horse narrative. 73,000 words later, we had a book!
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m finally trying my hand at fiction, something I’ve wanted to do for the past thirty years. I’m finishing the final draft of a novel that has to do with art and is set in the Midwest, where I grew up. It’s such a kick to create characters and a story. I’m eager to finish and see where the book lands.
For more information about The Horse Lover and Cowboy Up, visit www.alandayauthor.com.
For more information about LWS Literary Services, visit www.lwsliteraryservices.com.
And to listen to The Cowboy Up Podcast, tune in at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-cowboy-up-podcast/id1521902050.
I’m a debut author, Canadian, and have just signed a two-book publication deal with Level Best Books. My first title, A Nice Place to Die, is due for release in early August 2022. Blood Relations, number two in the series, is due August 2023.
The books are set in Northern Ireland, where I was born and lived for over twenty years. They are police procedurals featuring DS Ryan McBride and his partner DS Billy Lamont, and while they deal with murder, I do add humour and focus on the setting and characters.
Like many of us, I’m sure, my journey to publication was long. I worked (in broadcasting) until I decided to take early retirement, write, and travel. Well, we all know what happened to travel!
As an unpublished writer, I entered a few competitions and won the Mainstream Mystery and Suspense Daphne du Maurier Award in 2019. I’ve been long-listed four times for the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Awards, and I was finally shortlisted in the CWC Canadian Awards of Excellence in 2021.
I applied for a few grants to conferences. While I never received a grant, I did come to the attention of one of the committee members who had read and enjoyed my first few chapters. She asked me to send her the book to read. I did not, however, feel it was ready to send out for such professional scrutiny (she was a publisher!) and asked that she allow me some time. Two years later, with Covid in between and many more rewrites on my part, I resent the manuscript. This time she read the whole book and offered me a three-book contract. I ended up deciding to go with two books to start, publishing schedules are short, and I take a long time with my books!
I started out as a pantser. I wrote my first book, Abducted, in one linear process. Honestly, I can’t believe I did it that way. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. That manuscript, however, did get long-listed in the CWC annual awards competition. That gave me such a boost. I started my second book, the first in the Northern Ireland series. I began to write it the same way and quickly got lost in the plot. Frustrated, I took Simon Wood’s class, Plot Thickeners, via Sisters in Crime. He showed us how outlining and plotting out make life easier. I wouldn’t say I am a total outliner; I wish I was, but more like a hybrid.
I can’t say exactly the best book I ever read, but I love Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series. I also love November Road by Lou Berney. I enjoy police procedurals so I must mention the wonderful British writer Susan Hill. And I just finished an older book, The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim. It was fantastic.
The take-away for me on this journey is, don’t rush your work. Write the best book you can. Take classes, ask for help, write and rewrite. Join critique groups. Read in your genre and outside it. It’s taken me about four years to write A Nice Place to Die. The first edition of that manuscript was not very good. It’s a process. Certainly, for me, as a new writer, joining Sisters In Crime was the single most important thing I did—classes, critique partners, advice online, and making writer friends. Going to conferences is costly but worth it, and if you can afford a professional editor, so much the better. Enter competitions and apply for grants. Why not?
A Nice Place to Die is due for release in August 2022. – It’s 2016, and Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided province by years of distrust and hatred. But not all crimes are related to the troubles, and Northern Ireland’s past history is the least of Detective Sergeant Ryan McBride’s problems. He has enough to worry about with his latest murder inquiry. Unwilling to risk losing the case, he breaks the rules and fails to disclose a one-night stand he had with the victim. As to the investigation, it’s going nowhere fast as one-by-one, his prime suspects are murdered.
Blood Relations is due for release in August 2023 – Retired Chief Inspector Patrick Mullan is found brutally murdered in his bed. Ryan and Billy are called to his desolate country home to investigate. In their inquiry, they discover a man whose career was overshadowed by violence and corruption. Is the killer someone from Mullan’s past or his present? And who hated the man enough to kill him twice?
I’m a graduate of the Humber School for Writers in Toronto and BCAD, University of Ulster. I’m also a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, and the Suncoast Writer’s Guild.
Where can our readers contact you and order A Nice Place to Die?
Buy the book: https://amzn.to/3CGIzi0
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
My website is jwoollcott.com
Ryan Rivers is the author of the Bucket List Mystery series, featuring ICU nurse Sho Tanaka and former tween TV detective Levi Blue.
By day, Ryan teaches technical writing and stops the spread of unnecessary adverbs and vague pronoun references. By mid-afternoon/early evening, he fights crime with his trusty sidekick/toddler son. Together they have uncovered who, in fact, has got your nose and tracked the elusive Peekaboo. They live, eat, and occasionally sleep in North Texas with their Brussels griffon pup.
Ryan is a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors. Visit him at http://www.ryanriversbooks.com
Arbor Day Can Be Deadly is a lighthearted novella in The Bucket List cozy mystery series.
Sho Tanaka is running from his problems. Placed on extended leave after a traumatizing incident led to his prescription drug addiction, the once-successful ICU nurse flees to his estranged sister in Texas. But when the tiny town’s Arbor Day Festival ends with him getting accidentally punched in the face, he makes an unexpected friend in the man who comes to his aid.
Former tween TV detective Levi Blue plans to never be forgotten. Fearing his father’s fate of an early death, he returns home to check in on his fan museum’s progress when a fight between the mayor and police chief takes out an innocent bystander. So, turning on the fading celebrity charm, he ropes the new guy into his mission of hunting down his missing construction manager.
Still feeling like a fish out of water, Sho reluctantly helps his benefactor question the mayor, who claims to be afraid for her life. And Levi’s “experience,” tells him they’ve stumbled onto a crazy conspiracy full of corruption, fraud… and sudden threats to their lives.
If you like complex characters, laugh-out-loud moments, and clean whodunits, I invite you to download this novella for free: https://BookHip.com/QWCVWAW
Tell us about your writing process: As a full-time academic and single parent, I look for any pocket of time to write. Sprints have been invaluable to my writing process.
I wrote most of my Bucket List Mystery novella in 5-minute sprints, while my son hung out in his crib after diaper changes. In the afternoons, we’d stroll in the park, and I’d dictate into my phone in 15-minute sprints. When you do that consistently, the words add up, and I soon had a first draft to edit.
All the “best practices” say I should write in the morning, but I find it therapeutic and relaxing to write in the evening, right after my son goes to bed. Writing in the evening diverts my focus from any bad events from the workday, and I actually sleep much better.
How do you come up with character names?: My stories take place in a fictional Texas Hill Country town, located between Austin and San Antonio. Many of my character’s names are inspired by Texas towns and landmarks – Abilene, Odessa, Wayland, Vaughn. My son and I road trip through the Hill Country often, so I keep a running list of character names.
I also have a secret, slightly embarrassing way of coming up with characters’ names. I started writing during the pandemic – while caring for an infant, – so there were lots of moments where I was too tired to read, write, or think.
Naturally, I watched a lot of trashy reality TV, and what’s trashier than the boozy socialites on the Real Housewives of New York? So, yes, I have one character in every story named after a housewife – Aviva, Ramona, Sonja. If you know your Housewives’ history, it’s only a matter of time before Jill, Bethenny, and Dorinda appear.
What kind of research do you do? Each of my Bucket List Mysteries centers around a hobby or community event—aerobics, barbecue competition, community theatre—, so I first research these worlds. I spend lots of time in half-price/discount bookstores; college towns are known for eclectic tastes, so I find sources here I wouldn’t otherwise.
I also watch a lot of YouTube videos and documentaries on my hobby – this helps be visualize the settings and listen to speech patterns for writing dialogue.
I take lots of notes, and eventually, characters (or suspects, victims, and killers) emerge. Once I understand the world these characters could live in, motives for murder and deep secrets emerge.
I then brainstorm how to join this world with my other fictional world of Bluebonnet Hills, Texas. Sho and Levi bridge both worlds, so I need plausible ways for them to, for example, become extras in an aerobics video.
As I work, flashes of scenes or snippets of dialogue pop into my head. When I can visualize a scene, I know I’m on the right track. I take lots of notes and clumsily organize them into a plot. Then, I take off and see where the characters land.
Other authors have more efficient research processes, but I find immersing myself in these worlds helps me construct realistic plots and characters.
What are you currently working on?: Right now, I’m editing Aerobics Can Be Deadly, the first novel in the Bucket List Mysteries.
Fearing his father’s fate of an early death, former tween TV detective Levi Blue begins his bucket list. He enlists his new best buddy Sho Tanaka to help him train for a triathlon.
But the triathlon training detours when Levi instead takes part in the filming of an aerobics video with fitness icon Barbara Lou Sinclair. Stop me if you’ve read this before, but someone ends up dead, and it’s up to Levi and Sho to crack the case and keep Bluebonnet Hills safe.
Aerobics Can Be Deadly will be published in September 2022, but you can preorder it from your preferred eBook retailer: https://books2read.com/u/mgEnw0
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you?: Hopefully more Bucket List Mysteries. My novels are an “alphabet mystery” series. The keyword for each title starts with the next letter of the alphabet: Aerobics Can Be Deadly, Barbecue Can Be Deadly, Comedy Can Be Deadly, etc. With this system, I pretty much have the next 26 years planned out!
I also enjoy writing shorter fiction in this world. Those novellas and short stories are titled with a holiday: Arbor Day Can Be Deadly, Halloween Hoedowns Can Be Deadly, etc.
I have ideas for other cozy series, but for now, I enjoy my regular visits with Sho, Levi, Jenny, and the residents of Bluebonnet Hills.