Hanging Falls: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery
A deluge has flooded the high ground near Hanging Falls—but heavy rains aren’t the only menace descending on Timber Creek. While on a scouting mission to pinpoint trail damage, Officer Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo stumble upon a body floating at the edge of a lake. Robo catches a human scent, which leads to an enigmatic forest-dweller who quickly becomes suspect number one.
With help from veterinarian Cole Walker, Mattie identifies the victim and discovers an odd religious cult whose dress and manners harken back to the 19th century. As the list of suspects grows, an unexpected visit from members of Mattie’s long-lost family sheds new light on her childhood as they help Mattie piece together details of the fateful night when she was abducted at age two.
The tangled threads of the investigation and family dynamics begin to intertwine—but darkness threatens to claim a new victim before Mattie and Robo can track down the killers.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer? During the nineties, I owned my own rehabilitation agency and worked long hours as both manager and speech pathologist. My husband ran a busy veterinary practice, and together we balanced the responsibilities of our household and the care of our children. One day I was waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store, and as I gazed at the paperback novels on the bookstand, I was struck with the notion that I wanted to write one of those books, too. By the end of the decade, I was ready to sell my company, and I knew that novel-writing would enter into the next phase of my working career. That’s when I began to study the art and craft of writing fiction.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? Quite a long time actually. I had to learn how to reshape my technical writing experience into fiction writing and all its many facets. I wrote five manuscripts that I consider practice, and that will never be published. It took a journey of a little more than ten years before I found my agent and my publisher.
Do you have a publisher? I’m traditionally published by Crooked Lane Books, a company based in New York, NY.
Where do you write? I’ve converted one of our bedrooms into an office where I also do the bookkeeping for my husband’s veterinary clinic and our Angus cattle herd. I typically write fiction there in the mornings and then spend the afternoons—when I’m often brain dead—doing the many tasks required by our businesses as well as the business of my writing.
Do you need music to write by? For me, silence is golden, and I often light a candle before I sit down. It helps me in that meditational state where I can focus on the movie that plays in my head while I record the action and details.
Where do you find your characters? My Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries features Deputy Mattie Cobb, her K-9 partner Robo, and veterinarian Cole Walker. I mentioned that my husband is a veterinarian, and though I’ve never worked in his practice daily, I’ve assisted him after hours and on weekends countless times. It was always apparent that his clients, and anyone else that happened to be in the barn when he made farm calls, were interested in watching him work, so I was inspired to include a vet in my mystery series.
I wanted to write police procedurals, and it seemed natural to create a second protagonist who was a K-9 officer. My husband put me in touch with one of his clients, who was a K-9 trainer, and he was willing to let me shadow him. I also have a friend who is a retired K-9 officer and trainer, and she has become a valuable consultant for the series. One of her past partners was named Robo, which is what inspired my dog character’s name. And finally, years ago, my husband and I trained two of our dogs in search and rescue. My experiences there have also been applied to my characters and to the dog behaviors in my books. So my real life has contributed greatly to my writing.
Where is Timber Creek? Timber Creek is a fictional town in Colorado inspired by the small town I grew up in and set in the mountains of the southwest corner of the state.
Please tell us a bit about your protagonist. Mattie Cobb suffers from repressed memories caused by childhood abuse. Thus she has a great deal of baggage that she gradually unpacks throughout the series. She struggles with nightmares and flashbacks and has sought help from a trauma counselor who recommended yoga and breathing techniques to combat her posttraumatic stress. In one book, her yoga breathing actually plays a part in saving her life.
You started writing in the nineties, how was the timing? I would have started working toward my writing career much earlier. But in reality, the timing was probably perfect considering everything I had going on in my life when I was younger.
Do you have anything in the works? I’m currently working on the seventh book in the Timber Creek K-9 series, and book eight is also under contract, so I’ll be busy with those during the next couple years. I invite your readers to give the series a try, and I hope they’ll enjoy reading the books as much as I enjoy writing them.
Anything else you’d like to tell us? No, but I do want to thank you for hosting me on your blog. I always appreciate an opportunity to talk about my books.
Contact Information: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: https://margaretmizushima.com/
Lani Longshore introduces us to science fiction, quilting and writing about life (blog)
The Chenille Ultimatum (with Ann Anastasio). Susan thought she was done with space aliens when she sent her mother, Edna, and daughter Cecily as ambassadors to the planet Schtatik. Instead, she must travel across the galaxy to stop a civil war that Edna started when she made herself queen of one of the clans. As Susan struggles to make everyone calm down, she learns how strong she really is, and how important it is to carry an embroidery project wherever she goes.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels? I’ve thought of myself as a writer since elementary school. In high school and college, I produced short stories, poems, essays, and news articles. I was fortunate enough to find a good writing support group as an adult and wrote my first (still unpublished) novel.
How long was your road to publication? The first book in the Chenille series, Death By Chenille, was published twenty years after I began writing novels. I’m working on the fourth novel in that series with co-author Ann Anastasio.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? I am indie published.
Where do you write? I write at my computer desk in the family room. I transitioned from writing by hand to a typewriter when I interned at a local weekly newspaper while in high school. In college, my portable typewriter took up most of my desk.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? Since I write in the family room, I write to all sorts of sound. Sometimes there is music, sometimes the television is on, sometimes there is only the drone of the dishwasher from the kitchen. As other people are often in the room, the choice of music isn’t entirely up to me, so I’ve learned to embrace all genres.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? While aspects of the plots and characters’ are drawn from life, I avoid pulling too much from my own experience. My co-author and I used to perform on the quilt lecture circuit, producing 1-act musicals about quilts and the women who make them. The real story behind a quilt isn’t always entertaining. We took the part that fit our needs and made up the rest, a process we’ve continued in our cozy sci-fi novels about quilters who repeatedly save the world from alien invasions.
Describe your process for naming your characters? I go through a baby book first. If that fails, I start searching the bookshelves for author names I can adapt. If that fails, I go to actors’ names I can manipulate. There was an old movie on TV when I needed a name for a secondary character in the first Chenille novel, Death By Chenille, so Randolph Scott became Scott Randolph.
What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has? One of my aliens puffs out colored smoke from his body whenever he gets emotional. The colors match the emotion.
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why? There are many books I wish I had written, but I am reading A Gentleman in Moscow now by Amor Towles and would love to have written it. His character studies are brilliant, and his plot devices are amazing.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? Complicated punctuation in dialog. People speak in pauses and full stops. Who do you know who speaks in semi-colons? No one, that’s who! It’s rare enough to find someone who speaks in full sentences, so I prefer authors to stick to dashes, commas, and periods (with the occasional exclamation point and question mark where required).
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? I don’t suppose I could pull an ocean-going boat, fuel for me and the boat, and a really strong radio from a parallel universe, could I? Okay, then I’ll want a food replicator because I’m a vegetarian, so all the fish in the sea won’t do me any good, and what’s the use of life without chocolate? I’ll also want embroidery supplies to make fiber art to decorate my hut (I get a hut, right?), and a crate of notebooks and pens.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? I’ve never been able to answer that question because there are so many wonderful books available and more on the way. I also can’t settle on a favorite color or even a favorite candy bar.
What’s on the horizon for you? If the Lord is willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll finish the fourth book in the Chenille series, The Captain and Chenille, by spring.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? When I finally outgrew imagining I knew everything, I realized if I wanted to know anything at all, I should say yes whenever someone offered to teach me. It’s why I know how to quilt when I don’t have a domestic bone in my body (okay, I love to cook, but that’s a survival skill), and why I’m a black belt in karate when I come from a long line of pacifists. Three bits of trivia: I’ve seen Lenin’s Tomb; two of my quilting students were recipients of presidential pardons for federal crimes; both sides of my family have scandals regarding running away from the clan and taking the reasons why to the grave. As to my books, The Chenille series came out of a failed plan to create a platform for a quilting technique book. Ann and I had a great idea, and our proposal received favorable comments, but we weren’t famous enough in quilt circles for a publisher to take a chance on us. We decided we would write a novel to get some publicity. Quilting mysteries were just starting to take off, but neither Ann nor I had enough confidence we could write a good mystery. Since we had already created quilting vaudeville with our 1-act musical comedies, we decided to create quilting science fiction. We still aren’t well known enough to get our technique book published, but we’re working on our fourth novel. The remarkable thing about our collaboration is that Ann and her family moved several states away before we had finished our second book, and yet we still managed to get that one and the third book completed.
Renowned editor, essayist, screenwriter, teacher, and anthologist.
I met Victoria when she was an instructor in a Master Class at the Kauai Writers Conference. I learned a great deal from her and have maintained a relationship ever since. If you get a chance to hear her speak or teach, do your best to attend. I’m so pleased to have Victoria Zackheim here with us.
Victoria, we would like to hear about how you start a project…whether it’s essay, novel, memoir, or film. We can’t cover all these talents in one visit; you will have to come back for another visit. We’ll let you take the lead—your choice of topic(s) today.
First of all, thank you for the invitation. I’m not so sure about the “renowned” part, but I’ll accept accolades! Now, to your questions…
What inspires you to start a project? I get an idea and cannot shake it. It might be something I’ve read, dreamed, heard in a passing conversation. My novel, The Bone Weaver, started out because I wanted to write a story that dealt with the challenges facing women. In this case, the isolation so many women experience, especially when they focus on their careers. In this case, the protagonist was very successful in her academic environment, but she had no idea how to sustain a relationship. She used her work as her escape. This was fine until a crisis forced her to confront herself.
My film project was more hands-on, in the sense that I overheard someone describing an outrageously funny (and I learned later, serious, and deadly) experience in Northern Ireland, and the story burned through me for several years. It’s now one of my two major projects.
How do you know which genre best fits an idea? Oh, George, you’re asking about my Acorn concept, yes? From an acorn, a nut of an idea comes the project.
I’ve started writing a novel, only to realize early on (hopefully) that it’s a short story…or a personal essay. When I was editing my first anthology, The Other Woman, the essays began arriving. Twenty-one remarkable women were sharing their highly personal stories. From the first essay, I knew this was a play. I saw it. Five women seated on the stage, the script in binders, no memorization, a five-person dialogue about infidelity of all kinds. It’s had dozens of readings, and I never tire of sitting in the audience and watching how actors interpret their roles. And I love that it’s often used as a fundraiser for women’s shelters.
Starting…that is…launching the writing…can be daunting. A lot of people give up at this point. What advice would you like to share about beginning a project? If a project is dumped, it’s often because the grunt work, the preparatory work, wasn’t done. We all read about writers who “just sit down and write” and somehow create a wonderful novel. But I’m guessing there are far more successful projects that result from long hours contemplating the story and character arcs, the plot threads, etc. And then days, sometimes weeks, creating the outline. I have a dear friend, a mystery writer (with 30 million books in print!) who takes at least a week, all day work, to create the first outline, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. Even when she’s satisfied with the outline, she spends more time on it. When she’s certain that it has everything, and in the right order, with characters and plot fully developed, only then does she begin to write.
What happens if a writer begins with a memoir…and then backs away? Family pressure, the guilt of hurting people, or even the fear of a lawsuit. It happens that many of the books I edit (as a freelancer) are memoirs, and I run into this with every project. Dare I reveal this? What will my family/friends/ colleagues think? I recently worked for nearly a year on a memoir with a highly gifted, National Book Award recipient. Her memoir was brilliant, poetic, poignant, charming. Before submitting it to her agent, she shelved it. Too personal, too revealing, family members might feel hurt or angry. I was disappointed because I thought it was a very important work, but I fully supported her decision. Her next step? She was considering reimagining it as a novel.
Have you ever abandoned a project? Why? I have one novel that I wrote sometime in the 80s and put it away. I take it out every few years and noodle with it, but I’m quite sure it will never be published. The plot just doesn’t sing, and I find myself trying too hard to make it relevant. On the other hand, at 3 am, in 1996, I dreamed an entire novel, got up, and wrote a description. I’ve revised that story perhaps a dozen times…and then, last year, at a friend’s urging, I dusted it off and did a major revision. It was soundly and enthusiastically rejected by several agents until TA-DA! A wonderful agent suggested a few changes, which I’m now doing. Who knows? A quarter-century later, that puppy just might get published. Tenacity…or stupidity…I’m not sure. But I’ve always loved the story, so perhaps there’s a chance. Writing is like going to Vegas and placing a bet. Win or lose; we always go back and try again.
At what point does a writer throw it all out? Once thrown out, can a project be resurrected? I have a friend whose first novel was a bestseller. Wait, let me reword that: I have a friend who threw out ten novels, all rejected by agents, before she figured out what wasn’t working…and what was. She wrote, with these guides in place, and she’s had many NY Times bestsellers since then.
But to answer your question: Yes, a project can be resurrected. As we write, we grow, and what might have seemed perfectly fine and gifted writing ten years doesn’t meet our standards today. So…I urge writers to take that old project and see if there’s still life in it. If it excites you, figure out why. If it drags, why? Answer these questions, and you might be ready to revisit the story.
When did you realize you wanted to write and edit? I wanted to write when I was a child. Perhaps it’s because I was pretty lonely, so creating stories in my head kept me occupied? I’m not sure. I took a few writing courses in college, but praise from my professors terrified me. Besides, in “those days,” girls were directed toward “safe” areas: teaching…and…teaching. I knew I didn’t want to teach, so I went into an unrelated field. In fact, I didn’t start teaching until fourteen years ago…and I’ve loved every minute. Online, in a classroom, at writers’ conferences. It’s heaven. And working with so many writers…well, it almost gives me permission to write. I’m a very good writer, but it’s the storytelling that challenges me. Perhaps that’s why I’ve leaned toward editing.
The editing came quite accidentally. I had an idea for an anthology, it sold, and I found myself editing twenty-one personal essays. I have to add that my very first “client” from this anthology was Jane Smiley. I was terrified. I’d never been a real editor, and I was expected to edit a piece written by a Pulitzer Prize recipient? I made myself sick for days, until my agent reminded me that the editor and author work together. So I did the edits, which were few. Jane was a dream. Now, eight anthologies later, and having worked with some of the top writers in the country, I look forward to each project. It’s a rare and often wonderful relationship, this collaboration between author and editor, and both of us want the same result: the best storytelling possible. I’ve worked with perhaps two hundred writers, and there are very few I would never work with again.
Where do you work? In my home office, at my desk, on my orthopedic chair. I also love to write on airplanes. Or I did when there were still airplane flights. Window seat, laptop activated, the world disappears.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind? I love music—classical, mainly—but it’s purposeless to play when I’m working. I hear nothing. Nothing. A fire engine could pull up in front of my house, sirens piercing the air, and I wouldn’t hear it.
How did you get into teaching? A writer friend was teaching online in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and suggested I apply. I felt quite inadequate until she reminded me of all the courses I had created and taught, and was teaching, workshops, and conferences. UCLA was wonderful, helping me to create several courses, all of them in the Creative Nonfiction section. I teach every term and have now for fourteen years.
What’s your quirkiest quirk? Really? You expect me to reveal that? Okay, let me think. I’m still thinking. Oh, dear, I don’t think I have any! And for a writer, that won’t do! If any of my friends are reading this, I welcome your input. Please, find me a quirk!
Everyone, at some point, wishes for a do-over. What’s yours? That’s an easy one. I started college in pre-med and was talked out of it by an advisor who thought girls couldn’t compete. (Hey, I’m old, this was a long time ago!) So I majored in English. Looking back, journalism would have been a good choice, or some path that would have taken me into politics. I’ve written speeches and position papers for candidates (Congress and US Senate), but running for office might have worked.
A funny side story: in the 80s, the Democratic party asked me to run for Congress. A Democrat had NO chance of winning this district, so they needed a candidate who could lose and not be dogged by the loss. (In other words, had no future in politics!) I declined, they chose another candidate, he lost.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? I have an exceedingly difficult time working with writers who have chosen me to edit their work, but secretly believe their work is perfect. I had one client whose essay was 6,000 words, but the publication was clear that 3,000 was the limit. I edited it down, she refused every edit. When I (almost patiently) explained that it was too long, her response was memorable: “Perhaps, but every word is a poem.”
Where do you go from there?
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Oh, not fair! Especially with so many dear friends who are published authors. So, let me tell you the novel that made me understand the magic of writing: Ole Edvart Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth. I was a teenager and found myself reading the same paragraphs over and over, struck by the images they created, the way I was transported to that time and place. Wallace Stegner’s novels have had a similar effect on me.
What’s on the horizon for you? I’m hoping to complete the revisions of this mystery novel in the next few weeks…but seeing as how I started writing it in the 90s (yes, another century), who knows? I’m working on a screenplay with a very enthusiastic team, and thinking about a two-act play. The outline and a few scenes are written, but it’s a matter of time. I have another play, my favorite of all, but it has a history. I had written all of Act I and II, on my laptop, in an apartment when I was living abroad. I was robbed. He (yes, I saw him) took not only my laptop, but the backup diskette with the entire play and around sixty pages of research. I’ve tried to recreate it, but it’s quite disheartening.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself or projects? I’m very fortunate, because I truly love what I do. Teaching, editing, writing, collaborating. I’m aging, but I become so lost in my writing that I feel ageless. That is, until I have to rise from my chair…
Minimalist Artist Wanda Dean
I have enjoyed viewing the Vincent van Gogh paintings posted on FaceBook over the last few months. Several of them remind me of the work of Wanda Dean. Wanda is a fantastic artist and friend I met in Western New York State. She also happens to be my wife’s aunt.
I’m fortunate to have one of her pieces hanging on my wall. I’ve asked her to tell us a bit about her work. I was surprised to find that she faces some of the same issues artists of the written word face. One surprised me. Like our characters, she must be on the watch to see where her brushes take her.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist? As a small child, I was always drawing and being creative, which continued until I started studying Art seriously around 1980. I was fortunate to have studied under Many wonderful mentors through the years, such as Cole Young at Bonaventure University, Fred Lipp, Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, Catherine Nelson, Alfred University Art Professor, and Thomas Buechner, a master artist from Corning, NY. These mentors helped me get where I wanted to go in my work. I took a critiquing class for many years at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester with Fred Lipp. Because of this class, I decided I wanted to be a minimalist painter and to stop painting when I’ve’ said’ everything I wanted to say about the painting.
What mediums do you work in? My paintings are all done with alkyds and oils. I also work in charcoal, watercolor, and acrylics for other projects.
Please tell us a few words about the painting posted here. Along my daily walk, one day, I noticed the dark tree trunks against the bright oranges and golds of the foliage. The strong lights and darks just struck me, and I immediately went to my studio and started the painting. In all of my work, I start with an idea, but I carefully watch what my paint is doing on the canvas, and it dictates my next move. In other words, the painting’ tells ‘me where it wants to go, and I follow that lead. As I am working on a painting, I constantly watch to see what is working or not working.
Where do you work? I work in my studio for the most part but start some of my work on site.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to work by? I work with music for the most part, but there are times I like it silent. I listen to instrumental music only: Boch, George Winston, Una Mattina, Liquid Mind, and others.
Do you name your work? If so, what is your process for naming? Naming my work is not easy. I study the piece, and usually, a title comes to mind.
If you could have painted any work (one that someone else has already painted,) which one would it be? Why? Mark Rothko is a Minimalist painter, and I would love to paint any one of his works, but No. 10 is one of my favorites. His luminous paintings have such a sense of space and light. His minimal paintings just let you go on you on the journey as few elements are distracting. I strive to continue to be more minimalistic because of Mark Rothko. I take out things that detract me from getting the special feeling that I want.
Everyone, at some point, wishes for a do-over. What’s yours? I wish I would have been a student in a fine arts program at a University, and gotten an MFA
What’s your biggest pet peeve? Being interrupted when I am working in my studio.
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? Food, Art supplies, and books
What’s on the horizon for you? Just being able to keep learning and painting.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your paintings? I am fortunate to have a husband that supports my work and respects my need to have the time to paint. I love discussing art with my artists’ friends or those who appreciate art. While I do enjoy being social, I need to have lots of time to be alone. I need privacy.
Where can we see your work: Wannie311 on Instagram
A few readers commented that when I posted this article from Kirkus Reviews, it was much too small to read.
A perfect balance of mystery, romance, and history.
The Kirkus Reviews arrived earlier this week along with a pleasant surprise, The Mona Lisa Sisters is shown on Page 170. I’ll let the pictures tell the story.
The Mona Lisa Sisters
I am happy to announce that my debut novel was released on Amazon today. If you ordered the e-book, it should be in your Kindle library.
Thanks to all of you that pre-ordered the e-book or the printed version. I look forward to hearing your comments.
Our guest today is Mark R. Clifford
A Proud fourth-generation San Franciscan, Mark is the second-born in an Irish Catholic family of seven, making him a self-proclaimed expert in the pseudoscience of birth order characteristics. He served in the Marine Corps infantry for ten years and as a Police Officer for over a quarter-century. TYPHOON COAST tells the story of what haunts him.
In the Marines, he rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant. Mark received Special Operations training while attached to the 3d Marine Division in Okinawa and was operating in the Philippines in 1991 during the historic eruption of Mount Pinatubo. His law enforcement career was equally eclectic. He rose to the sergeant’s rank and served in a myriad of assignments to include SWAT and undercover narcotics.
Mark still calls the San Francisco Bay Area home. He and his wife have been married for almost thirty years and have raised three beautiful children. He has written for the San Jose Mercury, Contra Costa Times, San Leandro Times, and read his works at the famous Cody’s Books in Berkeley.
Mark, we have a few questions about TYPHOON COAST and your writing history. To begin with, what genre or genres do you write in? I work mainly in adventure fiction, magical realism, and historical fiction.
Please tell us a bit about your book.
Ten-year-old Trent McShane watches in horror as his beautiful young mother is swept away from California’s Typhoon Coast into the unforgiving wild blue Pacific, never to be seen again. Lost and bewildered, Trent falls under the spell of class clown Eddie Thompson, who has a wanderlust for treasure hunts—in particular, the infamous World War II Golden Lily Treasure, buried on the other side of the ocean, deep in the wild green Philippine jungle.
Together, Trent and Eddie follow childhood illusions of grandeur through San Francisco, then become men in the vast Philippine mountains. Mount Pinatubo explodes with apocalyptic fury, but does it take the Golden Lily Treasure with it? Eddie and Trent are not alone in the hunt. The trillions in treasure could afford the US government incredible power in international affairs and bankroll the nation’s black operations. It’s all fair game.
Typhoon Coast is a rollicking ride through 1980s San Francisco, through the vibrant eyes of a boy who loses his mother, and then his innocence. In the jungles of the Philippines, in the 1990s, that boy becomes a man, falls in love, and begins a lifelong quest for a mythical treasure trove hidden in the canopy. Magical realism and romanticism merge with the hard, cold reality of a Marine’s life to reveal a glimpse into how the imagination conspires to keep us dreaming.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels? After twenty-six years, I retired from police work as a Sergeant on June 1st, 2020. Sadly, I watched a massive mob loot and burn the town I served from one end to another. I had friends die on those streets. Friends become disabled; their dreams cut short. Police officers live many lifetimes. It is common to live a lifetime in one shift—all a single life’s emotions wrapped up in a unique tour.
I lost a friend and fellow writer on those streets. He was savagely gunned down. As I folded the flag over his coffin, I promised I’d write a novel. I started soon after.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? Sharing my work with the world was always part of the plan. As the writing process ended, the marketing began. I quickly realized that the publishing industry was changing, and I had to make my luck.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? Next step! I am not the smartest guy. But I am stupidly ambitious. I found a guy (now friend) who wanted to give indie publishing a shot. I put the magic on paper, and Greg put his spell on the computer. It was a joint operation, and we were pretty proud of Typhoon Coast the day she was born.
Where do you write? I write from where I am in life. I went from being an altar boy and an Eagle Scout to being a Marine and a cop. I work at my computer in the family room every morning at 6:30. Writing is not a discipline for me; writing is something I serve.
I reach for my hot cup of black coffee in a military veteran mug that my kids gave me for Christmas years ago. The computed screen glows in a dark room. My dog sleeps on the couch behind me. I like quiet; however, I don’t need it. Technically, I was not a true feral child raised by wolves, but I’m Irish-Catholic, and I was the second oldest in a family of seven children—I got peace like I got stigmata.
The world is still quiet at six-thirty—a treat.
I remember my dreams from the night before. I still dream about the jungle and the streets. The concerns of the day will begin in a couple of hours. At six-thirty, the story I serve weaves itself into the rules of my craft. I am its servant.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? Henry David Thoreau wrote, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” I will never claim that Typhoon Coast is an autobiography. On the other hand, every single detail has a pure life nexus. A writer must write from a place they know.
Sadly, at twenty-six, I was wealthy beyond imagination.
The Philippines is a nation of 7,641 islands and just as many spectacles. June 1991, I was a Marine stationed on Luzon, the chain’s largest island, where fate had ushered me to a front-row seat to an epic adventure. While enduring the fatigue of jungle patrol, I’d befriended a Filipino selling machetes. He’d disclosed to me the suspected whereabouts of a treasure trove rumored to be near the top of the now-infamous Mount Pinatubo.
There is much history about this legendary Golden Lily Treasure, as well as intrigue behind its origin. My new cohort and I soon took a jarring jeepney ride, to board a slow-sinking banca boat that ferried us back to the boonies, where we footslogged toward Pinatubo’s Vesuvius splendor, to unearth our riches in Luzon’s lawless wilderness.
Treasure hunting is rousing. I don’t need to bother you with the intricate details of how the machete man read a series of etchings in rocks, or how we avoided a bottle as if it was a landmine because the Japanese filled Saki bottles with deadly gas to protect the cemented entrances from looters. But we’d found the sealed cave! I could smell the perfume of my soul within…that undeniable fragrance of one’s hopes and dreams. The bigger problem was staying alive to claim it. However, in the end, it didn’t matter. A few days later, I was back on filthy jungle patrol. I tasted the unmistakable lure of treasure that had seeped into my nose and caked to the back of my tongue, as I watched Pinatubo’s cataclysmic eruption blow 500 feet of its summit twenty-two miles into the wild blue yonder.
Typhoon Coast was inspired by the second-largest volcanic eruption of the twentieth century, which blew my life of opulence to oblivion. I have since raised a family and was a cop for more than twenty-five years. I plan on writing two more books based upon the adventures of Typhoon Coast’s main character, Trent McShane. We will follow his life of dramatic happenstance, as he is plucked off his beat and back into the Marines, seizing opportunities to right his life’s tragic wrongs on the trail of a high-stakes mission.
Describe your process for naming your characters? One of the biggest problems with man is that we name everything we see! A “name” is a label that simplifies very complicated things. For example, “Man” is a word that reduces a person’s biology, psychology, genetics, and personal history to three letters. I have lost lots of friends whom I immortalize throughout Typhoon Coast. Their loved ones will recognize them.
Real settings or fictional towns? Why? Create a world that your reader will understand and do it early. I learned something important about storytelling as a young cop. I’d lose my audience at body number two in a multiple homicide story. It wasn’t that I couldn’t tell a dramatic tale; it was that the subject matter was just too remote for a reasonable person to grasp. Now try telling a story about being buried alive in quaking cataclysmic volcanic eruption while a typhoon raged outside. An actual apocalypse that blackened out the sun. They just can’t connect. As a result, I create composite settings and situations to better reach my reader. They are not looking for me. I’m looking for them.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? I rarely read for pleasure today. I write. I do read voraciously to see how others have written. I have bookshelves uniformly fitted with tattered books that profoundly influenced my inner writer. Drum roll…. The best book I ever read (and recommend to fellow artists) …. Ready for the big reveal?
Answer: The Moon and Sixpence is a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, told in episodic form by a first-person narrator, in a series of glimpses into the mind and soul of the central character Charles Strickland, a middle-aged English stockbroker who abandons his wife and children to pursue his desire to become an artist.
BUT! Don’t run out and buy it. It’s available through my website and Amazon.
What’s in the future for you and your writing? To continue to write, of course. A story can be told from many perspectives.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? Stay tuned for Barbary Coast: Fly from Evil to be released in 2021!
Website and/or blog links: www.typhooncoast.com
GHOSTED – The Drifter Series: Book Four
We have the great pleasure of a visit from Jackie Taylor Zortman. A fine write, Jackie lives in the Colorado Mountains not too far from the Million Dollar Highway, one of the most beautiful stretches of road I’ve ever ridden. Jackie writes police procedural, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, and non-fiction grief.
When you finish check out Jackie’s website:www.jtzortman.wordpress.com
Please tell us a bit about your newest book in the Drifter Series.
Jake rides his Harley again in GHOSTED – The Drifter Series Book #4. He brings his carefully concealed personal secret out into the open for the first time. An untimely and unexpected classified mission in The Tetons of Wyoming takes him away from Kimble, Colorado, at the worst possible time in anyone’s life. His leaving without warning creates hurt, embarrassment, and fury in Tomi. Will it end their relationship forever this time?
Leaving his beloved red Harley behind, Jake has his pilot friend, Stephan, fly him into Jackson Hole Airport in his private plane. Without his cycle, he rents a Jeep to pursue his assignment. An old friend suddenly re-appears in Jackson Hole and indirectly becomes an important fixture in Jake’s world as he finally settles an old score that changes the lives of many beloved people.
Find out what shocking discovery Jake has exposed this time and learn if it turns out to be the wonderful surprise he expected or a total disaster. It’s all there inside the pages of GHOSTED.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels? My 21-year-old grandson fell to his death in the black of night from a mountain ledge. Sixteen months later, I sat down and wrote WE ARE DIFFERENT NOW to soothe my aching soul. It sold like hotcakes and still sells, as needed. I feel Pete lives on through its pages.
As for writing novels, my husband once mentioned he’d like to see a particular case he worked for the Wichita PD as the Senior Homicide Detective as a book. I wrote FOOTPRINTS IN THE FROST, spiral bound it and tossed it on a shelf. Years later, I ran across it, modernized it, and sent it to the Public Safety Writers Association’s Writing Competition in 2014. If it bombed there, it was going into the trash. Imagine my surprise when it won First Place Fiction Book Unpublished. I wrote the sequel, SNOW ANGEL, and it won an Honorable Mention, so I was off and running as a novel writer.
Next, I began writing my JAKE series – he’s a drop-dead handsome hot-shot wildland firefighter with a Harley who is a drifter. He hides a secret and only stops when some place flags him down where there’s a disaster for him to solve. Women want him, and men envy him. I’ve written WHISKEY, WATER & WILDFIRE, WINDS OF CHANGE, ECHOES OF SILENCE & GHOSTED featuring Jake.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? My first non-fiction book was published immediately by Oak Tree Press, as was my first novel Footprints in the Frost, probably because of the award it won.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? I was originally traditionally published by Oak Tree Press and then Aakenbaaken & Kent, but now I independently publish by choice.
Where do you write? I write in my office in the Colorado mountains on my desktop PC and scribble occasional notes by hand when I’m away from the office.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? Depends on the book. My Detective Max Richards is loosely based on someone from real life. The other characters are pure fiction. My Jake character and most of the characters in those books are pure fiction, except for one. A young male friend wanted to be included in the book I was writing, so I put him in, but in a fictional manner.
Describe the process you use for naming your characters? I knew immediately what Detective Max Richards should be like, so he was easy. He’s very much like my detective husband. Everything about Jake came to me totally out of the blue and completely intact, name included.
Real settings or fictional towns? Why? At first, I used only fictional towns. Then I discovered it was okay to use actual towns. I prefer to use a fictional name for the town, that is my base setting. So the answer is, I use both. The reason I prefer fictional towns is that I don’t want readers who know me to confuse fiction with fact. I’ve discovered readers see themselves or people and places they think they know in my books, though they are wrong.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Secrets of the Dead by Caleb Pirtle III is my all-time favorite. However, in a different genre, I think Where the Crawdads Sing is a fictional masterpiece.
What’s in the future for you and your writing? Hopefully, Jake will continue to stay with me as I continue to write. Book #5 is already haunting me. I also intend to write another non-fiction book about Mild Cognitive Impairment because it has touched my life via someone very near and dear to me.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? I am a Charter Member of the Public Safety Writers Association, having started with Roger Fulton as The Police Writer. I am also proud to have won ten PSWA Writing Competition Awards since the day I sent that first manuscript in to see if it would sink or swim. I’m also a member of The Rocky Mountain Fictions Writers. GHOSTED is my seventh published book.
Jim said, “If we kill him, and get caught, they will electrocute us. If we kill him, we have to do it in a way that can’t be proved.” He went on, “We gotta make sure the rest of the prisoners know it was us, so they’ll fear us.” They spent weeks coming up with plan after plan.
* * * * *
Ben, the youngest and least threatening on the chain gang, was the water boy. He shuffled up and down the line passing out water from two canvas buckets hanging by ropes from a wooden yoke. A tin cup was attached to the yoke by a cord. The prisoners were allowed to dip bug laden and brackish water twice each hour. Pete reveled in his domination of Ben by forcing him to fill the cup and hand it to him.
Ben said, “We can grind up glass to a fine powder and put it in his cup. It’ll cut his innards to pieces.”
“It’ll cut you, and the guards will see your bloody hands.”
“I’ll carry it in something and slip it in before I get to him.”
“I like the idea, but not glass. There are too many risks. If you get caught, what’ll you say?”
The chain gang was on a particularly tough stretch of the swamp, clearing brush and bamboo. Hardly a week went by without someone getting bit by a snake. Everyone, including the guards, was jumpy. As one of the prisoners put it, “You had-ta look where you was cutting every time you swung your machete. Otherwise, you could-a hit a snake.”
The men carried long bamboo shafts to thrust ahead of where they worked to get the snakes to move away; even the guards had poles.
Ben had read somewhere that finely shaved bamboo slivers could kill a man slowly and painfully with little evidence. In these surroundings, he was sure he could conceal this deadly gift.
“I’ll try bamboo and see if it does the job.”
The next day Ben cut a few inches from his shaft. Working with a jailhouse knife made from a piece of tin, he cut fine shards. So fine, they were almost invisible to the human eye. He wasn’t careful, and a sliver got stuck in his finger. He felt the pain but could not see the offending shard. “Damn, this hurts.”
“How you gonna test it?” Jim asked.
A pack of mongrel dogs hung about the camp surviving on scraps, roadkill, and what they could beg off the prisoners and guards. “I’ll try it on one of the mutts.”
Jim asked, “How can you do that?”
“Easy, I’ll save my meat Saturday and mix in the bamboo.”
Angrily, Jim retorted, “I mean, how can you kill a dog?”
“Easy if it will help get rid of Pete.”
Jim slumped, head down as he whispered, “Oh, God.” After a moment, he looked up and said, “Okay.”
Two days later, Saturday, the one night a week they got meat, Ben saved what passed for meat, ground-up hog, beef entrails, and chicken scraps. Because it was his plan, Ben said, “I’ll do it.” After dinner, he slipped one of the dogs, a mangy collie mix, a handful of bamboo-laced meat.
Ben and Jim watched the mongrel. The first day they saw no change in its behavior. The second day the dog began whimpering and crawling around in pain—the third, it passed blood from its ass and coughed up more—the fourth it died.
Two days later, Ben gave Pete a water and bamboo cocktail. Based on their experience with the dog, they expected some sign on the second day. Pete seemed as healthy as a sadistic bastard can be. Ben thought about giving him another dose of bamboo. Jim vetoed the idea as too risky.
Ben smiled at Pete and said, “How’s the water?”
“What the f*@k are you talking about, punk?”
Ben smiled. He made sure that Pete’s crew overheard the exchange, a conversation he repeated as the day wore on.
On the third day, Pete began to complain of severe stomach pain. Walking up with a bright smile, Ben almost sang, “Hey Pete, you want another cup of water? I fixed it special for you.” Pete declined—by then—it was too late.
By the fourth day, Pete was shitting and puking blood. He couldn’t walk. Even the guards knew he was dying. Once again, Ben offered to bring him water.
It took Pete five days to die.
No autopsy, no investigation, just a quick burial in an unmarked grave: the other prisoners knew Ben had killed Pete, only not how. Life on the chain gang remained hard.
Ben was never attacked again.
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/george.cramer