Ana Manwaring is a former newspaper lifestyle columnist. Her poetry, personal narratives, book reviews, and short stories have appeared in diverse publications, including the California Quarterly, KRCB Radio, Morning Haiku, and Mystery Readers Journal.
A graduate of the University of Denver (B.A.) and Sonoma State University (M.A.), Ana teaches creative writing, produces the monthly North Bay Poetics poetry event on Zoom, and operates her editing company, JAM Manuscript Consulting—“Spread Excellence.” She’s also the 2022 SinC-NorCal programs chair. In her “past life,” she has prepared taxes, taught ESL, worked for a PI, consulted brujos and out-run gun totin’ maniacs on lonely Mexican highways—the inspiration for the JadeAnne Stone Mexico Adventures.
Ana, husband David, ace gopher hunter Alison, and a host of birds, opossums, skunks, deer, fox, coyotes, and occasionally the neighboring goats co-habitat an acre of Northern California.
After earning her M.A., Ana finally answered her mother’s question, “What are you planning to do with that expensive education?” Be a paperback writer. (ebook and audiobook, too!)
The JadeAnne Stone Mexico Adventures: A missing persons case to locate an American gone missing in the resorts of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo turns investigator JadeAnne Stone’s life into a nightmare of secrets, betrayals, and pursuit as she and her dog are ensnared in a web of trafficking. Who will she trust as loyalties shift and greed rules?
JadeAnne and I are thrilled to be back on George’s blog. Since our first visit, we’ve published books two and three of the JadeAnne Stone Mexico Adventures. And now we’re unpublishing them. Why on earth? Because I’ve been picked up by Indies United Publishing House who is re-releasing second editions of all three books and publishing the 4th this year. An Ambitious publishing schedule, but penance for taking 28 years from being threatened on a lonely stretch of the Pan American Highway in Michoacán (the inspiration and inciting incident) to publication of Book 1, Set Up. I’m paying my dues now with the new covers, more revision, and editing, as well as finishing Coyote—Pursuit and Terror Across the Border (there’s going to be an exciting chase, shoot-out, and lots of suspense), which will release in November.
Set Up re-released February 16, 2022.
People ask about my writing process. Unfortunately, I’m lousy at discipline and routine. The most challenging part of the process is getting myself to sit down at the computer to write. I always find pressing things to accomplish first. Today it was weeding. But I’m really fortunate to be blessed with a large, light-filled writing studio on the second story of a barn behind my house. I look into oaks and eucalyptus and can watch the birds, the play of light and shadow through the leaves, listen to the soft susurrus of the breeze off the coast, and, when I’m not distracted, write. I’m making good use of our wonderful Sisters in Crime write-ins (I attend 1 Pm and 10 Pm currently) and my M/W/F Study Hall with my writing students. I use the social writing time for outlining, revision, poetry writing, blogging, or brainstorming character names, which often come through reading my mail. In book 4, we’re going to have two new bad guys: Denver “Zeke” Stoner and Slim Killins. I have no idea who they are or what parts they’ll play yet, but when I went to mark my mail-in Recall ballot in the California recall election, there they were. The good news, I get to my desk every day since COVID and sometimes three times, even if I’m not specifically writing, but I’m most productive with high-intensity writing stints like NaNoWriMo.
A huge help in launching my writing career (besides retiring in January) is Sisters in Crime NorCal. I can’t stress enough how beneficial professional organizations and conferences can be to your development as a writer, marketer, and speaker. I’ve met many wonderful writers and readers who’ve helped me, taught me, and encouraged me. I’m a member of several branches of SINC, MWA NorCal, California Writers Club, and a Left Coast Crime attendee and participant. I’m looking forward to our LCC after two years without a conference. I’m excited about Albuquerque, too. The big chase scene culminating in the climax of Coyote will take place between Albuquerque and Denver, and I’m going to take a few days while I’m in the “area” to scout out locations. I try to experience my settings whenever I can. However, I’ll leave the shoot-out to vicarious experience and my imagination—but I’ll know what the air feels like and how the trees smell!
I write in more than one genre. I’m currently completing a memoir of my years in Mexico, and occasionally I write book reviews and short personal essays. I have two poetry chapbooks published, and I’m working on a third of “found” poems on climate change. I’m also writing the great American dysfunctional family novel told in three voices: the dying matriarch with dementia, the elder daughter who is deceased, and the resentful second daughter. Luckily the dead sister is pretty funny.
Two events brought me to writing: I’ve always loved reading stories and wrote a short story entitled “Me and My Dinosaur” instead of writing my third-grade dinosaur report. My teacher Mrs. Clancy loved it, and I got to read it to the class. (This trick worked again in Medieval History at University—I wrote a short story instead of writing a term paper, Another A, but no public reading). The second push toward writing was when I was 11 or 12, and a palm reader predicted I’d be a bestseller by the time I was 50. Isn’t 70 the new fifty?
I’m on my way! Set Up released on 2/16, The Hydra Effect releases 5/18, Nothing Comes After Z 8/17, and Coyote 11/16.
Find me at:
Alec Peche is the California author of nineteen mystery and thriller novels. She writes the Jill Quint Forensic Pathologist series (13 books), the Damian Green Mystery Series (4 books), and the Michelle Watson Thriller Series (2 books). She is also the treasurer of the Sisters in Crime Coastal Cruisers Chapter and a member of the 20Books to 50K Indie Author FB group.
A wedding and . . . a murder an elevator pitch:
I had reader feedback that they wanted to see my protagonist and her partner marry in the 13th book in this series. Since I write murder mysteries, there had to be a murder, right?
ASHES TO MURDER is Book 13 in the Jill Quint, MD Forensic Pathologist series. The story is set in Asheville, North Carolina. It was released just a few days ago. Here’s the blurb:
A wedding night interrupted by murder. . . .
Jill and Nathan are in Asheville, North Carolina, for his wine label business. Jill is a part-time vintner and consulting Forensic Pathologist, while Nathan is a world-renowned wine label designer. He proposes and they organize a wedding in an old church ruin in just four days.
After their guests leave and they’re making the final sweep of their location, the property owner notifies Jill that their officiant is lying in the attached vineyard and is unresponsive to his voice. Jill rushes over and checks the woman to find her cold and pulseless. The police arrive, and their officiant is transported to Charlotte for forensic examination.
Jill can’t help as she’s a suspect, right? Fortunately, her friends who help her with cases are nearby having witnessed their nuptials. The team goes to work on her wedding night to solve the mystery of the woman’s death.
Romance is not my area of comfort or writing skill, but I had to dig deep to cover romance because how could you have a wedding without a bit of romance in your story. The two characters have been a couple for twelve books and about three years of chronological time. I was likely content to let them stand as partners and lovers, but I bow to my readers’ wishes. In truth, marriage hadn’t crossed my mind at all.
The series features Jill Quint, MD, forensic pathologist, vintner, and private detective. She solves murder mysteries using her forensic and detective skill sets and surrounds herself with a group of girlfriends who bring their own skills to any investigation. While Jill and Nathan live in California, the cases are set around the globe.
My writing process: I’m a scary mix of pantser and procrastinator. I have a one-sentence idea of what the story is about. I pick a title and have my cover artist design the cover. That makes the book feel real.
I like to write in my office whenever possible. I can use Dragon dictation, and I have a big screen. Occasionally, I write on my MAC laptop when I’m going to have time to kill away from home.
Once I reach 10,000 words of the manuscript, I’ll make the book available for pre-order by setting a publication date on Amazon. This forces me to write when I can find a thousand better things to do, like pull weeds, lol. I then notify my two editors with an estimate of when the book is coming their way, which is usually a month before publication. I then tend to do my best imitation of a sloth. I wonder if the book is any good and why I’m wasting time writing it. Then in the two weeks, before the book is due, I’m in a real panic, and I start cranking out 4,000 words a day. I’ve always made it by the deadline, but sometimes with as little as ninety minutes to spare – that is the procrastinator part. Sadly, the more books I write, the worse this behavior seems to be getting.
With this 18th book, I also started writing the 19th and 20th books that belong to my other two series. I thought that having the other books would allow me to write faster by feeling refreshed, moving from story to story. Well, I’m at 3,000 words with one story and 4,000 with the other, and it didn’t go as planned. Still, I have the titles, and the book covers ready to go. I hope to finish both books by summer’s end.
After I finish the publishing process, I like to spend some concentrated time on marketing between books. When you’re an indie author, everything is changeable. Sometimes I’ll update book blurbs, book categories, and keywords. Usually, I spend time creating new ads for Amazon, FB, and Bookbub.
I’m also a voracious reader and audiobook lover. Someone else’s great story will slow down my writing. I read mystery and thriller stories primarily. I’m currently listening to A Place to Bury Strangers. I also like urban fantasy (I’m reading the Exceptional Sophia Beaufont) and Lit-RPG (role-playing games). If you’ve never heard of Lit-RPG, you’re not alone. Basically, they are very long books in which humans get dumped into an alien world and have to level up their skills in order to survive and thrive. It’s a cross between reading a book and a video game. They are clearly written for a younger audience than me, but I enjoy these characters’ journeys. I’m currently listening to the He who fights with Monsters series.
How Do Readers Contact You and Locate Your Books:
They can contact me directly at Alec@alecPecheBooks.com or at my website, www.AlecPecheBooks.com
Readers can find Ashes to Murder at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09QMQ3W1J
Maddie Day pens the Country Store Mysteries and Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. As Agatha Award-winning author Edith Maxwell, she writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, the Local Foods Mysteries, and short crime fiction. Day/Maxwell lives with her beau north of Boston, where she writes, gardens, cooks, and wastes time on Facebook.
Batter Off Dead, out on February 22, is the tenth Country Store Mystery. After a summer evening’s fireworks end in South Lick, Indiana, a senior citizen knitter is found dead, a puncture wound in her neck. The woman’s death echoes that of a decades-old unsolved homicide. To help find the killer, Robbie Jordan has to untangle the knotty relationships deep in the victim’s past.
Do you write in more than one genre? I write contemporary cozy mysteries and also have seven books in my historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries. All my books have a female amateur sleuth for the protagonist.
What brought you to writing? I wrote lots of fiction as a child and then had several careers writing different kinds of non-fiction. I didn’t get back to fiction in a serious way until I was laid off from a hi-tech job in the fall of 2008, and I’m so glad I did. I found another job for the next five years, but I was already hooked on writing mysteries. My first book, Speaking of Murder, came out in 2012, and Batter Off Dead is #27!
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I have a lovely second-floor home office in our antique home. It has a door that shuts, and I’m working by seven each morning. I stand at my desk and often take little walks around the room as I think. I also monitor the walkers and delivery vehicles on the quiet street outside the windows. I try for hour-long sprints of writing (or revising) because if I wander onto the internet, it could be a long time before I’m back. I never listen to music while I work, but sometimes the next thing on my daily to-do list distracts me.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m a write-into-the-headlines type of gal, but I do submit a synopsis of each book to my editor before I start writing. It acts as a kind of road map, albeit a fuzzy one. And it changes as I follow my characters around and write down what they do and think.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? All of my contemporary mysteries take place in fictional towns. Some are modeled on real places. The town of South Lick, where Robbie Jordan has her country store restaurant Pans ‘N Pancakes, came entirely out of my imagination. That said, it’s nestled in the very real Brown County, Indiana, a lovely hilly place filled with artists and nature.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m delighted to share that the Country Store Mysteries have been renewed through book #13. I also write the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. #4, Murder in a Cape Cottage, releases in September. I have a new historical novel out with an editor, and I’m working on a proposal for a new cozy series set in a small town in my home state of California. Never a dull moment!
Find her at EdithMaxwell.com, wickedauthors.com, Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen,
and on social media: Twitter – Facebook – Instagram
Marie Sutro is an award-winning and bestselling crime fiction author. In 2018, she won the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for the Best New Voice in Fiction for her debut novel, Dark Associations. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and a volunteer with California Library Literacy Services.
Her great-grandfather, grandfather, and father served in the San Francisco Police Department, collectively inspiring her writing. She resides in Northern California and is currently working on the next Kate Barnes story.
April 26, 2022, is the release date for Dark Obsessions – The darkest woods hide the darkest of obsessions. SFPD Detective Kate Barnes heads to Washington and finds herself embroiled in a complex case of ever-increasing horrors.
Available for preorder at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as independent bookstores
What brought you to writing? My love of writing burgeoned from an early love of reading. As an ardent bibliophile, the only thing I enjoy more than reading a book is writing one for the enjoyment of others.
In addition, I have always been a huge fan of mysteries and puzzles. Add to that a family legacy wherein my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all served in the San Francisco Police Department, and crime writing was a natural choice.
What kind of research do you do? Given the nature of my writing, my research is extremely broad. In one sitting, I may go from perusing sales listings for boats (used for the Foul Rudder in Dark Obsessions) to reviewing autopsy photos. While I appreciate the accessibility of online research, I am a big proponent of visiting places and people whenever possible. I am willing to go wherever the answers can be found, including crimes labs, shooting ranges, nature preserves, police departments, and a variety of diverse locales.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? One of my favorite things about reading is the ability to visit places I have never been to and may never get the chance to see. I always try to incorporate as many real locations in my stories as possible to give others the same opportunity. Fictional settings are reserved for places where a specific plot point or subplot point requires attributes I cannot get from real locations (ex. Aaru in Dark Obsessions). I spend a substantial amount of time on research to ensure fictional, and real places fit together seamlessly.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Being a member of Sisters in Crime has been an important part of my writing journey. One of the greatest benefits of membership has been the wonderful support of the Sisters in Crime writing community. They offer an ongoing wealth of informational programs ranging from technical writing assistance to research references and marketing tips.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Subplots are a great way to add different types of suspense into the story while enriching the characters. They can also be great ways to strengthen the threads between books in a series. While I always start with a story outline, many of my subplots seem to pop up on their own as I write. Those moments when a new subplot takes off on its own are always magical.
Do you have any advice for new writers? The best advice I can give is to be open and enjoy the journey. While the path is fraught with challenges, it is also full of sources of inspiration and joy. New ideas and feedback are like sunlight. Be willing to pull the drapes wide open!
While a qualified and experienced naval architect and an avid car enthusiast, he always reserved space in his life for a deep fascination with paleontology. This drove his writing process as he strove to write tales of the rich and complex history of life on Earth.”
My current book is The Lazarus Taxa—a tense, science fiction thriller.
“67 million years in the past. Deep time—the true final frontier. But all is not as it seems. Which should be feared most—the dinosaurs… or the people? The Lazarus Taxa follows the first scientific expedition through time to the Late Cretaceous.”
The Lazarus Taxa is available now, having only been released at the start of the year. It can be found on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1739750012/ref=cm_sw_r_apan_glt_i_RXG3N1BFQ5FMC8F1E7Q6
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes! While I only have the one book published, my works in progress span sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. I tend to write a story and then worry about what genre it might fit into later, resulting in some “genre-hopping.” I like to experiment with different styles, audiences, and tones; I don’t think any of my current works bare much resemblance to one another.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Simply finding the time! Between looking after two children, working full time as a naval architect, and restoring classic cars, it gets a little tricky to get the chance to just sit down and write. Fortunately, I’m somewhat of a night-owl, so late nights are often my writing hours.
How long did it take you to write your first book? From writing the first line to publication took me almost two years. Being my first novel, there was a steep learning curve and many, many re-writes. I think I have my process dialed in now, so I’m hopeful that future projects can be turned around somewhat quicker!
How do you come up with character names? I draw a lot of inspiration from real people. For example, one character in The Lazarus Taxa, Dian, is named after Dian Fossey—I felt both the real life and fictional Dian stood for very similar ethics.
Strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? They most certainly run the show. One of the most important aspects in character writing, I find, is that characters should make mistakes and bad decisions because that’s exactly what real people do. Sometimes they’ll act rashly, or even cowardly—sometimes they’re just plain stupid. These are core parts of what makes them believable.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? Call me a sadist, but I’m probably more likely to kill off a popular character! Sometimes a death is simply a way to demonstrate danger or to cleanly clean up a character who has served their storytelling purpose. Often, however, a death is used to drive the plot as a motivation to the main characters. The reader has to feel that motivation, too, so the reader should care about that character as much as the main character does.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I do, but never an entire character. I’ll take the characteristics of certain people and blend them together. It helps to create believable characters; it’s far easier to imagine how a real person might react to the situation you have placed them in.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I definitely outline; in fact, I tend to do that long before beginning to write a book in earnest. My phone is filled with skeletal outlines of novels which I note down as they come to me. By the time I sit down to write a new project, I already have a pretty good outline.
What kind of research do you do? It depends on the story, but certainly, there was a lot of paleontological research involved in The Lazarus Taxa. It was important to me to present up to date representations of dinosaurs and not just Hollywood monsters. Hence, months of research went into these animals. Of course, being somewhat of a natural history geek, I had years of pre-existing research to build on.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I tend to prefer fictional settings. Perhaps it’s just laziness, but I find researching whether a real life village has, for example, a train station or a hospital in order to fit the story rather tedious. If it’s a place I’m not personally familiar with, it becomes an easy way for plot holes and inaccuracies to creep in. If it doesn’t add to the plot, I’ll avoid real places where possible.
Of course, much of my work in progress is set in the real town of Lyme Regis, but that’s a rare exception.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I have more book ideas than I know what to do with, so I think I will continue to write for some time. My current work in progress is a quirky, family-friendly fantasy novel that I hope to release early next year.
After that, I’ll have to choose between a sequel to The Lazarus Taxa and one of my many scribbled outlines!
Do you have any advice for new writers? I’d say I have two pieces of advice. Firstly, if you have an idea, just write it! It sounds so simple, but for years I sat on what I thought were some great ideas for a story. I convinced myself that putting them in a book was unrealistic, and it took the sheer boredom of lockdown for me to pull the trigger.
Secondly, a professional editor is priceless. Not actually priceless, they’ll definitely put a price on it, but a good editor can be the difference between a good and a bad book. There are so many norms and conventions within novel writing that, as a first time writer, you simply won’t be aware of (I certainly wasn’t).
How do our readers contact you? Facebook is my primary method of communicating with my readers. You can follow me at the link below
Cindy Sample is a former corporate CEO who decided plotting murder was more entertaining than plodding through paperwork. She retired to follow her lifelong dream of becoming a mystery author. Her eight-book Laurel McKay Humorous Mystery series is primarily set in the California Gold Country unless Cindy feels like traveling. Then the characters tag along with her on trips to Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Las Vegas.
Cindy is a five-time finalist for the LEFTY Award for Best Humorous Mystery, a two-time finalist for the SILVER FALCHION Award for best traditional mystery, and a two-time finalist for the Chanticleer MURDER & MAYHEM AWARD for best cozy mystery. BIRTHDAYS ARE MURDER, the first book in her new Spindrift Cove Mystery series set in Washington state, was just released.
BIRTHDAYS ARE MURDER – After Sierra Sullivan moves to Spindrift Cove, Washington, she soon discovers gigs for middle-aged entertainers are scarcer than good hair days. She reluctantly accepts a party-princess gig. Little does Sierra know she’ll soon be upstaged by a corpse and become the leading-lady suspect.
What brought you to writing? I discovered Nancy Drew in the first grade, and by the time I turned eight, I’d read all the books in the series. One night, I decided to use my spelling words and dashed off a sixteen-page sequel. It would have been longer, but my mother made me go to bed at 8:30. I received an A+ and was hooked. I knew I wanted to be a mystery author. Although it took a half-century for me to realize that dream.
What are you currently working on? I just released BIRTHDAYS ARE MURDER, the first book in my new Spindrift Cove Mystery series set on the Olympic Peninsula. I’m currently plotting the sequel while also writing DYING FOR A DECORATION, a holiday novella that will be the ninth book in my Laurel McKay Humorous Mystery series. Laurel manages to get in trouble without much prompting from me.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? In the first two Laurel McKay Mysteries, my characters behaved and aligned with my original plot concept. When I began writing DYING FOR A DAIQUIRI, the third book in the series, the victim absolutely refused to let me knock her off. So she was upgraded to a suspect. At the time, I was vacationing in Hawaii, the book’s setting. The next day, while dining at my favorite oceanfront restaurant, I visualized the new victim, a hula dancer who worked at Laurel’s brother’s Daiquiri bar. More suspects than I could ever have imagined walked into that story. At first, I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out who the killer was. But I also discovered how much fun it is to play detective while writing a book. The murderer was finally revealed to me around page 170. Since then, I have let my characters evolve on their own.
Do you have subplots? I have a very fertile imagination and so do my characters. I never experience writer’s block, but I dream up so many plots that sometimes it’s difficult to choose. I try to weave in subplots about my protagonist’s family that are relatable to readers. Domestic issues can range from her eight-year-old son and teenage daughter to her bossy mother and feisty octogenarian grandmother. I also added a 150-pound Bernese Mountain dog in book seven who provides plenty of humor all by himself.
What kind of research do you do? I love my research, whether riding an ATV, performing at a ballroom dance competition, sampling daiquiris in Hawaii, or donuts in the Gold Country. My Laurel McKay series is known for its comic chase scenes. I’ve ridden backhoes (slowest chase scene ever), snowmobiles, wave runners, gondolas, stagecoaches, and tandem bicycles to make sure the details were just right. And I watch a ton of YouTube videos, too as well. Since Laurel and I are equally klutzy, the humor comes naturally to both of us.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I live in the California Gold Country, a beautiful area with historic gold mines, wineries, and apple orchards, close to the Sierra Nevada mountains. I wanted to profile the town and some of my favorite places. The series has become so popular locally that business owners frequently request that I “stuff a stiff” in their venue. The Spindrift Cove series is set in a fictional town which gives me more latitude in certain respects, such as the size of the local police force. But I also refer to real places on the Olympic Peninsula that people are familiar with. It’s an incredibly beautiful area, and I love showcasing it.
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M.M. Chouinard is the USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Amazon Charts bestselling author behind The Vacation, a standalone psychological thriller, and the Detective Jo Fournier series, featuring The Dancing Girls, Taken to the Grave, Her Daughter’s Cry, The Other Mothers, and Her Silent Prayer (releasing April 7th, 2022). She loves animals, coffee, amateur genealogy, and anything to do with Halloween, Serial Killers, or the zombie apocalypse.
When the body of single mother Melissa Rollins is found trapped inside a bedroom closet in her immaculate suburban home, Detective Jo Fournier is horrified to find that Melissa’s heating was turned up to the max while she died of thirst. As she delves deeper into the case, Jo uncovers a link between Melissa and a recent cold case: another single mother who was tied up and brutally murdered. Then, as the team works around the clock to stop a twisted killer, someone from Jo’s past catches up with her. They’re watching her family’s every move, and they will stop at nothing to get revenge. Can Jo save the people she loves and catch the killer before it’s too late?
Do you write in more than one genre? So far, my published books have all been in crime fiction, although I have written a women’s fiction manuscript and several literary shorts. I cover several sub-genres within Crime fiction, including my published police procedural series and a published standalone psychological thriller. I’ve also written an action thriller, a private-eye novel, and a traditional mystery I hope will be published someday.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I try to write in as many different locations as I can. I’ve been lucky enough to write full-time, and that means I have to work within deadlines, both those I put in place myself and those for my publisher. Writing on a schedule is an important part of that, and I can’t allow myself to lose time because I’m in an inhospitable environment for some reason. So I routinely write in cafes, at home, outside at parks, even at the doctor’s office. I write in quiet and noisy places, so I’m used to focusing in less-than-ideal settings when circumstances for me to do that.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? I waited to join MWA and SinC until I had my first book contract, thinking it wasn’t a useful thing to do until I was a published writer. That was a HUGE mistake, and I’d advise every writer out there to immediately join whatever association brings together people in your genre. Between the events that have educated me on the publishing industry and craft, the write-ins that help keep me focused, and the ability to talk to people who’ve gone through things I’m going through, it’s all been invaluable.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? For me, there are two aspects to this. Raising the stakes for my protagonist in a within-book way is one thing, and it usually involves the antagonist taking action that impacts her in a personal way. Sometimes that means literally—my murderer may threaten her life or the life of someone she loves. But it always means psychologically. Even if the murderer isn’t threatening her directly, the murders they’ve committed always tap into some psychological struggle she has. So the race to get justice for a murdered child may tap into my protagonist’s own struggles with her mother, or a dysfunctional husband/wife relationship may challenge my protagonist to examine some dysfunctional attitudes she brings into her own romantic relationships.
In addition, I try to raise the stakes between books for the protagonist in my police-procedural series. She’s learning and growing, but life keeps handing her new challenges that build on the other things she’s learned.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? Hemingway. He was part of my curriculum fairly early in my school years (I believe when I was twelve or thirteen). At that age, I didn’t relate to the content or the pointedly masculine point of view. But what I did respond to even then was his writing style, and that kept me coming back. As I lived more life, his themes began to resonate with me, and I found myself fascinated with the points of view his work reflected.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I’ve done both, and I think there are plusses and minuses for each. One big concern for me is that I’m not in law enforcement. I have never been, and that means no matter how much research I do and how many people I consult with, I’m always in danger of getting something wrong or writing a character that inadvertently reflects badly on a given law enforcement agency (or newspaper, or other agency I write about). It’s one thing for a mistake I make to reflect badly on me, but I never want it to reflect badly on anybody else. So for my police-procedural series, I set the stories in a fictional Western Massachusetts county and do my best to reflect how law enforcement functions in the actual region without pulling anybody real into it.
Where can our readers find you and your books?
Link to Her Silent Prayer on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09Q3QQL98/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0
Recently two events reminded me of Lucia Berlin and her remarkable collection of stories, A Manual For Cleaning Women. There is a television series out, The Cleaning Lady. But what got me was Author Chip Livingston mentioning her on FaceBook. I went into my notes and found a piece I wrote about this wonderful book.
To not give away too much, I removed most of what I originally wrote. It is a wonderful read.
Berlin’s stories are interwoven, almost as memoir. In A Manual For Cleaning Women, the reader can imagine the stories are interconnected memoirs. The old writers saw, write what you know is visible throughout the work. She brings her knowledge and experiences to life so that we, the readers, understand the emotion that she and her characters experience. “It has been seven years since you died.” The emotional pull hits the reader like a hammer.
Berlin has no fear of reflecting on her life experiences as she addresses addiction, alcoholism, sexual abuse, suicide, and depression. She weaves a web about an abusive, alcoholic, and suicidal mother throughout the stories. She tells the reader about her grandfather, who sexually abused her and her younger sister.
There is a similarity in the down-to-earth and straightforward style with Alice Munro; both speak in the voice of their characters. There is no pretentiousness, no judgment. Unlike Munro, her work seems always to be dark depression. In one scene, we see this darkness when the protagonist contemplates her sister Sally’s death. “Every day, you’ve said good-bye a little. Oh, just get it over with, for God’s sake.” Anyone who has experienced the slow death of a loved one understands this completely. However, she can turn an otherwise sad scene into one of joy. One example is while waiting for Sally to die, she moves her under the bedroom window. Sally sees the sky and feels the warmth of the sun. The reader shares the feeling of beauty and warmth.
Having lived in Alameda County, California, for fifty years, I’m able to recognize many of the settings and the accuracy of Berlin’s work. Her description, “the affluent foggy Montclair hills…. Beneath Zion Lutheran church is a big black-and-white sign that says WATCH OUT FOR FALLING ROCKS.” I once lived in Zion church as the caretaker. I can verify that the sign has been there for at least fifty years.
Berlin weaves her protagonist’s story in and around the other characters in the collection.
In one story, Berlin changes format and tells the entire story in a series of letters to Conchi. The letters flow and give the reader a timeline of the character’s life. Beginning with college and meeting a man with whom she falls in love. There is joy in her affair cannot that will not be long lived. Her parents’ object, take her out of school, and force her to go to Europe. When she tells her lover, he knows they are finished. He tells her that it’s over, “you’ll… marry some asshole.” In typical Berlin style, she destroys any hope of happiness.
Berlin’s work is full of contradiction, despair, and lack of hope. But through it all, her work is believable and full of imagery. No more so than in this paragraph from “Electric Car, El Paso.”
Mrs. Snowden … passed me fig newtons wrapped in talcum Kleenex. The cookie expanded in my mouth like Japanese flowers, like a burst pillow. I gagged and wept. Mamie smiled and passed me a sachet-dusted handkerchief, . . ..”
Not only does she bring scenes to life through imagery, but she does the same with objects such as her mother’s ratty old coat. “It had a fur collar. Oh, the poor matted fur, once silver, yellowed now like the peed-on backsides of polar bears in zoos” (245).
Everything she writes is realistic. Her characters are believable, imbued with human traits, blemishes, and goodness. All are flawed, allowing the reader to understand their actions and motives.
Many of the characters in this collection reappear in various stories throughout the collection. We have plenty of time to get to know them. But even in stories about one character, Berlin develops them in depth, with simple phrases and words.
As with all her stories, the dialogue is magnificent.
An unmentioned strength in Berlin’s writing comes from another trait she shares with Alice Munro. She is non-judgmental. She presents the world as it is, blemishes and all.
Ramona Ausubel Marie-Helene Bertino
Either Romona Ausubel (No One is Here Except All of Us) or Marie-Helene Bertino (2 AM at the Cat” s Pajamas) suggested I read this work. I can’t recall which, (maybe both)so I’ll say thank you to the two finest mentors and authors I ever had the opportunity to work with. THANK YOU!
Berlin, Lucia. A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories. Picador, 2015.
I will tell you about books I’ve read and enjoyed from time to time. When I do, you can expect reviews to appear elsewhere. gdc
Jennifer J. Chow is the Lefty Award-nominated author of the Sassy Cat Mysteries and the forthcoming L.A. Night Market Mysteries. The first in the Sassy Cat series, Mimi Lee Gets A Clue, was selected as an OverDrive Recommended Read, a PopSugar Best Summer Beach Read, and one of BuzzFeed’s Top 5 Books by AAPI authors. She currently serves as Vice President on the national board of Sisters in Crime. She is an active member of Crime Writers of Color and Mystery Writers of America.
One of BookRiot’s Best Upcoming Cozy Mysteries for the Second Half of 2021!
When murder follows Mimi Lee to her romantic island getaway, she puts on her best sleuthing hat with her sassy cat in tow in this adventurous cozy mystery by Jennifer J. Chow.
“Chow offers original characters, clever banter, and a laid-back California vibe. This is perfect for lovers of crime-solving animal cozies.”—Publishers Weekly
Mimi Lee Cracks the Code is the third book in the Sassy Cat Mystery series and just got nominated for a 2022 Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery!
Do you write in more than one genre? I’ve most recently written cozy mysteries but have also dabbled in multicultural women’s fiction and young adult. You can find out more about all my books on my author website listed below.
What brought you to writing? The love of the written word. I got transported by stories at an early age and always enjoyed living in my own imaginary world. It was beautiful when I realized that you could write for a living and share that joy and wonder with others.
What are you currently working on? I’m working on a new cozy mystery series, the L.A. Night Market Mysteries, which feature opposite-personality cousins who run a food stall. When one of their customers dies at a local night market, they get served a side of murder and start investigating. The first in the series is called Death by Bubble Tea and is available for pre-order!
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Yes, definitely! I’m biased because I now serve as Vice President on the national board of Sisters in Crime, but I really appreciate the camaraderie and community there. Writing is a solitary profession, and it’s so important to get support from those who understand what it’s like. The encouragement and cheering from other writers also helps you keep persevering when you go through rejections and low points in your writing journey.
How long to get it published? My first novel took me about five years to get published, if you include missteps and shelved manuscripts. Mimi Lee Cracks the Code was part of a three-book deal I got with Berkley/Penguin Random House. The first book in the series, Mimi Lee Gets A Clue, happened to be a quick acquisition because the imprint was already looking for a pet-themed cozy series with an Asian American female lead. It took only several months from providing them with sample chapters to getting the official contract!
How can our readers buy your book and contact you?
Mimi Lee Cracks the Code buy link: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/605898/mimi-lee-cracks-the-code-by-jennifer-j-chow/9781984805034/
Author website: www.jenniferjchow.com
Who Am I? I’m a lifelong central Ohio native educated at Capital University Law School. I enjoy true crime and police detective television shows like NCIS, Snapped, and Columbo. I have three grown children and two grandchildren. I enjoy adult coloring and diamond dot painting. My bucket list includes travelling to all fifty states and taking a Mediterranean cruise. I write true crime peppered with a bit of fiction.
What is your most recent release? Sweet Burial was released last month. My inspiration was a true crime perpetrated in the central Ohio area in the early 90s. It’s a tale involving sex, lies, videotape, and murder. Rarely do newlyweds who experience marital conflict jump immediately to the drastic option of divorce. Christian Wright and his bride Chloe choose instead to engage the professional services of a marriage counselor soon after entering into what was supposed to be wedded bliss. While initially there’s no physical violence between them, their relationship is rife with emotional, verbal, and psychological harm. Just as they are on the verge of ending it all, they learn Chloe is with child. Sadly, the birth of their son isn’t the blessed event they hoped it would be. Their child is differently-abled. Chloe embraces their son, while Christian rejects him as if he is a defective toy. A flimsy facade of family perfection is perpetuated to outsiders looking in for years. There is nothing Christ-like nor morally correct about the deadly choices Christian Wright ultimately makes, forever turning his family’s life upside down.
What was your debut title? His Dream, Her Nightmare was my first book. It’s a tale of misplaced trust. Our romantic choices do not always serve us well. This is even truer when duty or tradition rather than authentic love compels one to stay in a toxic relationship or marriage. Unfortunately, a young lovesick Winnie is unable to realize her condition will only lead to calamity. Winnie is determined to stand by her man Nelson even though he doesn’t value her worth as a woman nor her loyalty to him. To honor her vows, she is committed to him despite his criminal past, infidelity, and controlling ways. At her tipping point, when she is ready to finally leave their imbalanced union, Nelson won’t let her. Winnie disappears suddenly after they celebrate his milestone thirtieth birthday. With the help of his crafty lawyer, Nelson is able to stave off suspicions of her family, friends, and most importantly, the authorities for years. He is able to live his happily ever after as a free man until he meets his karmic end.
Why did you start writing? I originally tried to have a YouTube content creator highlight the real life case chronicled in my novella on her true crime channel. After forwarding research to no avail, I decided to tell the story myself. It explores how a woman who went missing in the mid-seventies from the Columbus area. She left behind her young children, a good job, and her jealous husband, who coincidently was a convicted rapist. Because of its brevity, many readers are clamoring to learn more about whether justice is served for the main character Winnie. To that end, I’m working on the sequel, Her Dream, His Nightmare: The Saga Continues to be released in August of this year.
My writing grew out of my grieving process. I lost my mother to Covid-19 a little over a year ago, three days before Christmas 2020. The fictional main character murdered in my first book was a long-term friend of my mother’s. Pat, who is a staunch advocate for justice in the book, is the portrayal of my mother. The victim was among the first to benefit from facial reconstruction techniques developed at the Smithsonian.
I like writing about crimes in the past when gumshoe detective work rather than high tech science was the primary means to solving murder cases. I prefer settings in the 70s to 90s, because it forces the reader to imagine a time when cell phones, closed circuit television, and DNA either weren’t prevalent or at times nonexistent. Lastly, I have lived in Columbus all of my life, so there are references to many old restaurants, landmarks, and of course, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
What is your current project? Currently, I’m working on Misplaced Danger: A Fatal Prescription. It explores the interconnected lives of a greedy doctor and his drug addicted patient. Living on opposite ends of town, both are on paths to doom. The main character Teddy, a late bloomer, has challenging stressors at home and on his job. He has the misfortune of being referred to Dr. Ben Eagleston, who prescribes seemingly innocuous meds that only make his life worse. It’s full of plot twists. What’s more, it too is based on actual headline events from my sleepy hometown.
Are there any unique quirks in your writing? Without giving spoilers, I will point out two hidden themes. In Sweet Burial, there is a food or cooked dish mentioned in almost every chapter, even in a serious court trial scene. In Misplaced Danger, there will be direct and indirect avian references.
What is on your writing horizon? A series centered around femmes fatales is the future project brewing on the outer reaches of my creativity. I have a working title, subtitles, and cover ideas. The antagonists will be ruthless, fierce, and violent women underestimated by their prey.
What advice would you give to another writer? Admittedly, I am a novice. If I had to give tips or advice to an even newer writer than myself, it would be two things. One, a writer writes. Keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas. Take time to write every day. My benchmark is daily word count because I have figured out my natural rhythm for writing. Two, set aside time to work on your craft. There are so many moving parts to this writing and publication process. The more you expose yourself to honing your craft, the better your completed works will be.
How do our readers contact you?
Amazon Central Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Marla-K-Morris/e/B09DP1XLSL/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1
Blog: Marlaz Memoz: https://www.blogger.com/blog/posts/848832704092691407?hl=en&tab=jj
Sweet Burial available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Burial-Tragedy-That-Beneath-ebook/dp/B09F86M2PR