LAURIE STEVENS – Battles AI in Her Latest Novel

Laurie Stevens is the author of the Gabriel McRay thriller series. Her books have won twelve awards, including Kirkus Review’s “Best of” and a Random House Editors’ Book of the Month. International Thriller Writers says she’s “cracked the code” regarding writing psychological suspense, while Suspense Magazine claims she’s the “leader of the pack.”

Laurie’s short stories have appeared in many anthologies and magazines, and she co-edited the Sisters in Crime anthology Fatally Haunted. Laurie’s newest novel, THE RETURN (just released in January), pits human consciousness against artificial intelligence.

ELEVATOR PITCH: Completely reliant on automation and artificial intelligence to run their lives, human beings struggle to survive when a war destroys all the power grids across the globe. Pitting human consciousness against AI, The Return is a timely, suspenseful story of human survival, coming-of-age love, and the true power unleashed when our human hearts connect.

Do you write in more than one genre? When I completed the Gabriel McRay psychological suspense series, I thought I was strictly a crime fiction writer. Then, I began researching the tech that’s upcoming (yikes!) and got the idea for The Return, which is not only a sci-fi/fantasy but a Young Adult crossover. Quite a change!

Was it difficult to change genres? Changing genres blew me out of my comfort zone, for sure. I’m working on a psychological suspense stand-alone novel right now, and writing it feels like a visit with an old friend. That said, I really enjoyed exploring the sci-fi and fantasy elements of the new book. I never intended The Return to be YA, but my editor was once a middle-grade English teacher and said, ‘Do you realize you’ve hit all the hallmarks of a YA novel? I would recommend this to my students!”

Your Gabriel McRay novels featured a male detective, and The Return also features a young male protagonist. What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? When I first wrote the character of Gabriel McRay, I asked my husband if he hated shaving every day and other things like that, but then Gabriel sort of took over and began writing himself. A creative writing class at UCLA dissected my second book, Deep into Dusk, and most of the students enjoyed the “role reversals,” where Gabriel has a feminine side and his medical examiner girlfriend, Dr. Ming Li, has a masculine side. I swear I didn’t try to switch them up. Aiden Baylor, the protagonist from The Return, is a young man facing the challenges many young men face. Having a son made my job easier, but placing this young man in a future world created its own set of challenges. Teen crushes may never change, but how a kid 75 years from now pursues his interests is another story.

What kind of research did you do? To build a world dependent entirely on automation and tech, I spoke with tech professionals, got my subscription to Wired and other tech magazines, and read fiction books like Blake Crouch’s Upgrade and non-fiction such as The Fourth Age by Byran Reese. In the book The Digital World “Unplugs,” I had to research how people once lived off the land. I don’t mind. I am a research junkie. It’s my favorite part of the writing process.

Tell us a little about your new book. Well, you might have gathered a little info from the previous paragraph. Here’s the logline: Completely reliant on automation and artificial intelligence to manage their lives, human beings learn to survive, bond, and unlock the power of their minds when a war destroys all the power grids across the globe.

Believe it or not, I based the story on a question inspired by the biblical story of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Why would God kick Adam and Eve out of Eden because they gained wisdom and awareness? What’s so bad about knowledge? I explore a possible answer in this book.

Do you have any advice for new writers? An acquisitions editor from a publishing house once asked me if I had any vampire manuscripts lying around or perhaps a story about wizards at a boarding school (you can imagine about what year this took place). I said, “No, I have a manuscript about a traumatized Los Angeles male detective, and every case he works triggers a key point in his psychological recovery.” That went over like a lead balloon with this editor. My advice is, you have to make a choice. If being published means the world to you, and an editor asks if you have a vampire manuscript, go home and write one.

If the message in your heart is of utmost importance to you, write it and hope it resonates with the gatekeepers or better yet – the readers.

How do our readers contact you?
You can always see my books at https://lauriestevensbooks.com
To get in touch with me, laurie@lauriestevensbooks.com

THE RETURN is available at:
Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/The-Return-Amazon
Barnes and Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-return-laurie-stevens/1144524026?ean=9798223883234
Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-return-250
Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-return/id6474872190
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1497892

Thanks for having me as a guest blogger. It’s been fun!
Laurie

2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Congratulations on your success, Laurie. You sound like you’ve got some great ideas and books. Your interview was an inspiration. Now I’m going to bow the dust off that unhappy vampire masquerading as a wizard at that boarding school for exceptional youths. 😉 Best of luck to you.

    Reply
  2. Marie Sutro

    Wow!! Sounds like a fantastic story!

    Reply

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2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Good interview, Lynn. It sounds like you have totally professional writing process. I’m intrigued and will give your books a look-see. Nice looking car. Good luck.

    Reply

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KATHERINE RAMSLAND – Serial Murderers–Upclose

Dr. Katherine Ramsland teaches forensic psychology and behavioral criminology in the criminal justice graduate program at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. She has appeared as an expert in criminal psychology on more than two hundred crime documentaries, was an executive producer of Murder House Flip, and consulted for CSI, Bones, and The Alienist. The author of more than 1,800 articles and blogs and seventy-two books, including The Forensic Science of CSI, The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds, How to Catch a Killer, and Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, The BTK Killer, she was co-executive producer for the Wolf Entertainment/A&E four-part documentary based on her talks with Rader.

Over the past two years, Katherine has worked with Elmer Wayne Henley Jr. to tell his story of being an accomplice to the “Candy Man,” Dean Corll, who tortured and murdered at least twenty-seven boys during the 1970s. Ramsland’s new book, written with journalist Tracy Ullman, is The Serial Killer’s Apprentice: The True Story of How Houston’s Deadliest Murderer Turned a Kid into a Killing Machine, Crime Ink, April 2024.

Click to Preorder

Elevator Pitch for The Serial Killer’s Apprentice: Elmer Wayne Henley Jr. is the only accomplice to a serial killer who killed the predator to end the spree. As a cautionary tale for kids today, Henley describes how he was lured at the age of fifteen and then leveraged to kill.

What is this book about? In 1973, 17-year-old Wayne Henley shot and killed Dean Corll, an adult predator who’d used him and another accomplice to help procure local boys for torture and murder. Henley called the police to report it and showed them where twenty-seven victims were buried. The true crime books published quickly thereafter offered just part of the story (with errors). Fifty years later, our book not only provides more details, including interviews with Henley but also tracks down what both accomplices stated: there was an active sex trafficking organization in Dallas that Corll had used to leverage them. We use this case to discuss teen vulnerability to adult predators, which is as relevant today as it was back then. Within this frame, we show how predators like Corll identify and groom recruitable kids to get them involved in criminal acts.

What is it like to interview serial killers? I’ve spent a lot of time over nearly thirty years researching the criminal mind, so talking to these offenders isn’t as daunting as you might think. I’m not a collector. I don’t have letters from hundreds of murderers. I’m more interested in the deep dive, which means I spend a lot of time on a few. I have a clinical goal, which gives me a sense of purpose, and I select those who want to help us understand how they developed. Dennis Rader, for example, was eager to get his story on record within the frame of psychological analysis. The process took five years. Wayne Henley proved to be a reflective individual who contributed considerable insight to my studies. Yet I’ve spoken to others who simply wanted to express their anger or gain some advantage, and I cut them off before I’d wasted much time. But each of these interview experiences, whether productive or not, had its moments. It’s difficult to listen nonjudgmentally to someone coldly describing torture or murder. Still, it’s important to do so because we’re trying to identify the signals of disorder in young people before they turn violent.

What inspired your current work? I’ve been researching the psychology of extreme offenders for over 25 years. Some time ago, I came across a documentary called The Collectors, which is about people who collect murderabilia. One of the subjects being interviewed was Elmer Wayne Henley Jr., who’d created some impressive artwork. As he talked about himself, it changed the impression I’d gained of him from the true crime books on the “Candy Man” case. Over a decade later, when I was given the chance to choose someone as a documentary subject, I named him. I didn’t know if he’d even talk with me, but he did. Once he trusted me, our discussions grew into a unique kind of book. No one had yet told his story from his personal experience. I soon realized that the kind of vulnerability he had in Houston in 1972 when Dean Corll recruited him is the same for many kids today. And we now have many more predators looking for partners. The book is more than a new telling of an older crime with more information than earlier authors knew; it’s a guide to help parents, teachers, and counselors protect their children.

You’ve written 72 books, and you often write more than one at once. How do you keep them straight? I was writing the second and third novels in my “Nut Cracker Investigations” series while I was also working with Henley (and working a full-time teaching job). But I’ve always undertaken multiple projects at once. Our brains thrive on cross-fertilization. I keep the projects separate by placing relevant documents in separate piles on my office floor. Some days, I can barely find a path through them, but I always know where to find things I need. When I tire of one project or finish one, I’m glad to have something else to keep the juices flowing. It’s been this way for me for at least thirty years.

What is your writing process? First, I form habits. I believe in the power of body memories. I get up, get coffee, and get on the computer. My days vary, but my body is used to starting the day with writing (and often ending the day this way). I’ve written a book, Snap: Seizing your Aha! Moments, which describes one of the best things to do for the creative process. I’ve discovered that you can set yourself up for flashes of insight and get them regularly. In the book, I propose a program that I’ve found useful for generating sparks. First, you create your “mental salad.” You toss in all kinds of info and experiences. Then you relax in whatever way works for you. (For me, it’s walking or riding a horse.) During this time, you let the brain’s association network mix and match the various pieces of info you’ve added to yield what you need: an unexpected plot twist, a new character, the resolution of a scene, a new direction to take, etc. I’ve been counting on this process for years for both fiction and nonfiction. Order and chaos working together.

Do real people ever influence your fictional characters? My discussions with Wayne Henley had an impact on two of my novels. In I Scream Man, the first novel in my fictional series based on a female forensic psychologist, I have a scene in which the Candy Man is mentioned as a predator with two accomplices. It becomes a parallel story for what happens in the novel. While writing that scene, I remembered I’d long wished to speak with Henley. Three years later, a set of serendipitous circumstances made it possible to contact Henley and work with him. To some extent, his story influenced the “Danny” character in I Scream Man, but I also used what I’d learned directly from him for a character in the next book, In the Damage Path. In fact, all the novels in that series are based on actual cases and, therefore, on things that actual people did.

What obstacles do you face when writing about people no longer alive? The figure of Dean Corll, central to The Serial Killer’s Apprentice, remained mysterious. In some ways, I had to write around the holes in his story. Since Henley had killed him, he couldn’t give interviews—if he even would. Some journalists collected comments from his relatives and coworkers, but it wasn’t enough to flesh him out, especially psychologically. The two who knew him best were his accomplices, David Brooks, and Wayne Henley. But both said he was secretive and wouldn’t talk about himself. We know a lot about what he did to his victims, how he leveraged his accomplices, and how he constantly moved from one place to another in Houston, but we don’t truly know how many victims he had. Brooks claimed Corll had killed someone in California, but I could learn nothing about his time there other than a potential connection with another serial killer. We do know he killed alone at times and had burial sites other than the three his accomplices were aware of. I tried to piece this together, but it was difficult. I was able to use the frame of what we know about sadists and predators to figure out some likely traits for Corll, but I’m frustrated that we may never know crucial details about his development.

What is your experience of writing with a co-author? I met Tracy Ullman while working on the A&E production of the BTK documentary. When a producer asked me who I’d want to interview for a similar venture, I named Henley. She told me Tracy had already talked with him about another project and had police reports and news articles. Henley trusted her, so when she made the introduction, he was open to what I had in mind. Over the next two years, Tracy and I balanced responsibilities. She worked on the inroads she’d made with Wayne’s mother and childhood friends while I organized the material to write the book. Tracy had also spent over a decade compiling research on the sex trafficking organization that seemingly linked Dean Corll to serial killer John Wayne Gacy, so she wrote the chapter segments where that material was relevant. We talked frequently to reinforce our focus and discuss issues that arose. She always responded quickly to deadlines and the tasks of seeing a manuscript through the production process. We developed a relationship of mutual trust and respect because we shared a vision for the book and honored each other’s expertise. In the midst of all this, of course, were the discussions with Henley. In a way, he’s a co-author, too. He had to trust us both despite being burned a lot by the media.

How do our readers contact you?

Readers can find me mainly on Facebook. I have three pages there. Also, my website, which I set up for my latest novel series, has an email address.

2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    You have a tremendous work ethic and energy that is tremendously impressive. Having heard you speak on numerous occasions, I look forward to your next book and to seeing you once again at the Writer’s Police Academy. Stay safe.

    Reply
    • Katherine

      Thank you. I will be there.

      Reply

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CHARLENE BELL DIETZ – Move Over Susan B. Anthony

Charlene Bell Dietz lives in the central mountains of New Mexico. She taught kindergarten through high school, was a school administrator, and was an adjunct instructor for the College of Santa Fe. After retirement, she traveled the United States, providing instruction for school staff and administrators. Her writing includes published articles, children’s stories, short stories, and mystery and historical novels.

Elevator Pitch: Move over Susan B. Anthony. There’s an unsung woman asking for the vote 224 years before you, and murderous rebels and bigoted gentlemen can’t prevent spinster Lady Margaret Brent from wielding her power to defend Maryland settlers from plunder and obliteration.

The Spinster, the Rebel, and the Governor by Charlene Bell Dietz – Lady Margaret Brent, compelled to right wrongs, risks her life by illegally educating English women, placing her family at risk. She fights to have a voice, yet her father and brothers exclude her from discussions. Worried the king’s men may know of her illegal activities, she flees to the New World, where she can enjoy religious tolerance and her own land, believing she will be allowed a voice. Once in Maryland, she presents cases in provincial court, where she’s hired as the first American woman attorney. Still, she uncovers perilous actions there, prompting her to build a fort to shield those within from being murdered. Can Margaret Brent’s integrity and ingenuity protect Maryland from being destroyed?

Note:  The American Bar Association honors five deserving women attorneys each year with the Margaret Brent Award. Little has been written or is known about her because she left no primary source material. My research studied the conflicts and social mores of the times and places as well as what the gentlemen of note said about her. Her 134 cases tried before Governor Calvert’s provincial court gave me insight into her personality and voice. What’s astounding is even the gentlemen of the time, 1638-1648, hired her as their attorney.

One of life’s secrets nobody ever tells you is that life is full of unintended consequences. Bet if you think back through the last few days, you’ll discover several times when you wanted to or started to do something, and along with the doing of it, it changed. Maybe slightly, maybe a whole messy lot. I started to fix a leaky faucet. With my wrench and washers in hand, ready to go, the built-up calcium deposits stopped me. Argh. I’d need to get some Blaster-penetrating catalyst. A slight change of plans isn’t a big deal, but here’s how some more serious unintended consequences turned me into a writer.

Never, ever did I want to become a writer. My chosen college classes encompassed art history and studio classes, but I needed a saleable profession. Education became my life. Then, close to retirement, I inherited my mother’s elderly sister. Our family had no other female to be a caregiver (it seems it’s always a female—guess we’re designed to do these things).

Yikes! This redoubtable woman turned the air blue with her chain smoking and language. She started drinking at noon and until she turned out the lights at night, after smoking and reading in bed. This aunt read everything quickly, always begging for more books. Her stories encouraged my husband and me to drink rum and coke with her just to hear more. She ran away from high school at age sixteen to Chicago in 1923 to become an entertainer during prohibition a Flapper in the Roaring Twenties.

When she died, she had left me holding the memories of her incredible life. I couldn’t turn my back on her stories. These were too good not to be told.

After writing a few chapters, I saw a teaser on the internet. “Send us your first page, and we’ll tell you if you have talent.” Ha! I know the scheme, but I did it anyway. Here’s the opening line of my story: “Die, old lady, please just die.”

Within minutes, a New York editor contacted me and asked to see the rest of the few chapters. A week later, he emailed me and praised my quality writing with dialogue but told me this story wouldn’t go anywhere because I didn’t have a plot. Plot? I replied, “But this happens, and then this happens, and then…”  Clearly, my ignorance showed brightly.

He responded, educating me on why that wasn’t plotting. I told him I didn’t have a clue and asked if he would teach me. He agreed. My purse became lighter, but my head became fuller. Ten years later, The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur found a publisher and went on to win a Kirkus Review’s (starred review) and be named to Kirkus Review’s Best Book of 2018. Now, there’s a huge unintended consequence.

Because this first story received so many awards, it pushed me to continue writing. Each of my stories strives for suspense and mystery. Interestingly, they all have a historical element, which requires lots and lots of research. My current work in progress is a murder mystery series set in Albuquerque in 1967. This is the year marked by the downturn in America’s educational excellence. It takes place in a fictitious high school, Duke City High, and abounds with quirky characters, a flummoxed teacher, and dead bodies. My latest book is a historical biography novel about a spinster, an English woman in 1638, The Spinster, the Rebel, and the Governor. This story tightly follows historical events, revealing how she, as a woman, accomplishes the impossible and saves precolonial Maryland from destruction.

Contact: chardietzpen@gmail.com

https://inkydancestudios.com/ or Char Bell Dietz @CharBellDietz

Purchase: http://apbooks.net/srg.html

12 Comments

  1. Charlene Bell Dietz

    Thanks, George, for hosting an interview with me. So much fun. I’m in the middle of your gang infested book, NEW LIBERTY. I swear you plucked some of the kids right out of my high school classes. You depict a way too accurate portrait of gang members and their families. Yikes!

    Reply
  2. Peg Roche

    Loved hearing your story, Charlene, and that you took the time to hear the stories your aunt had to tell over rum and cokes and cigarette smoke! Good luck!

    Reply
    • Charlene Bell Dietz

      Peg, the rum and cokes sure beat the smoke. Ugh. However, it seemed to be time well spent, and my aunt totally enjoyed recounting her quirky past.
      Thank you for your comments.
      Best!

      Reply
  3. Donnell Ann Bell

    Loved The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur, can’t wait to read your latest, Charlene, off to purchase! I remember reading the queries for it and was intrigued even then.

    Reply
    • Charlene Bell Dietz

      Hi Donnell!

      Oh, I’m so behind on my stack of books to be read, and I keep finding more to add. Guess that’s our life. I’ve certainly enjoyed your mysteries. Excellent reads just before bed–ha-ha.
      Happy writing, and thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  4. Charlene Bell Dietz

    Oh, Michael–that opening line got me into a whole lot of trouble with my critique group. They argued that I just could not dare to start a book with such a mean, shameful thought.
    Convinced, I redid the beginning and this story went NO WHERE. My husband said, “Put it back in. That’s what caught the NY editor’s eye, right?” I put it back, and then the magic happened. Thank you for your comments about how I started writing. I have a tendency to jump up to my neck in stuff I know nothing about. I started bee keeping two years ago. Yikes! What an education. However, writing and bee keeping makes my heart sing.

    Happy writing to you!

    Reply
  5. Marie Sutro

    Thank you for sharing your story, as well as Margaret Brent’s!! Just bought the The Spinster, The Rebel, and the Governor and can’t wait to read it!!

    Reply
    • Charlene Bell Dietz

      Wow! Thank you so much, Marie. I’d love to meet and talk with you. I’m always so curious as to how readers respond to my writing. Even more so with this story. I learned so much, and I wonder if my readers learn too.

      Again, I really appreciate your reading my book!

      Reply
  6. Alfred J. Garrotto

    Thanks for sharing your initial writing experience and your humility. A self-centered writer would’ve said, “My writing is just fine. Ask any of my closest friends and they’ll tell you.”

    Reply
    • Charlene Bell Dietz

      Well, you just made me giggle. Alfred, I have found that I can use all the help I can get. After learning how to plot that editor also gave me other insights for writing with excellence,. I am quite lucky to have been opened minded for this help. Currently, I judge hundreds of books for contests, and I feel so joyful when I discover well-written stories. When I come upon one that “isn’t there yet” it’s all I can do to keep from contacting the author and saying, “This is what’s preventing your book from shining. Try doing such and such.” Sigh. That would get me into forbidden territory, I fear. Thank you for your comments.

      Reply
  7. Michael A. Black

    That’s one hell of an opening line. Your story of how you got started writing is like a novel itself. Good luck to you.

    Reply
    • Charlene Bell Dietz

      Michael, thank you! Just submitted a reply, but then it disappeared. Here goes another. That opening line created a whole bunch of trouble for me. My critique group argued with me about how I could not start a story with such a mean, unsympathetic first line. Hmmm. Finally, I got rid of it and started submitting it to agents and editors. It went NO WHERE. My husband reminded me it was that first line that grabbed the attention of the NY editor. It stood again as the opening line of the book, and bingo! The magic happened. I do have a tendency to jump into things I know nothing about–like last year I started bee keeping. Yikes! So much work, and what an education–but now writing and bees make my heart sing. I really appreciate your comments.

      Reply

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MARY SEIFERT – Mixes Math & Logic into Fiction

A former math teacher, Mary ties numbers and logic to her Katie and Maverick Mysteries, peppered with intricate puzzles, a bit of history, a geocache, and a tasty cocktail recipe. When she’s not writing, she’s making incredible memories with family and friends, walking her dog, whose only speed is faster, carefully deleting reference to murder from her web browser, and pretending to cook. You can find her nibbling chocolate and sipping wine, both of which sometimes occur while she is writing and reading.

RECENT RELEASE-CREEPS, CACHE & CORPSES – March 7, 2024

ELEVATOR PITCH: When Katie’s spring break plans for a romantic getaway with her beau fall apart, and she skips the chance to go skiing with her dad and the sister she’s very recently met, she and Maverick accompany a group of friends attending the memorial service for a student’s mother. However, it is spring break, so there will also be salon treatments, shopping, and sightseeing. But, from the moment they arrive, tension fills the air as the oddball innkeeper and her nephew appear to be harboring secrets.

Katie and her friends are in town less than 24 hours when, during a geocache outing, Katie and her students discover a dead body concealed in a remote area of a county park. Unfortunately, the victim just happens to be one of the few people in town they’ve already met, and Katie’s group is getting the side-eye from the local cops.

The suspects are numerous, and the motives tricky, but Katie and those close to her are shocked when the sheriff leaps ahead to arrest one of their own. How can Katie find enough evidence to convince him otherwise, especially when she’s been warned to leave it to the professionals—many times?

NEW PROJECT FOR EARLY SUMMER RELEASE: Katie Wilk tries to reconcile her definition of family with her new reality, a half-sister she never knew she had. Caught in the frenzy of end-of-the-school-year activities, it’s easy to avoid her half-sister until she’s accused of murder, and Katie knows she can’t let anything get in the way of their future relationship, whatever that may look like.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in our sunroom with my dog cuddled at my feet, a cup of black tea at my right hand, the laptop in front of me, and lots of room to pace. I’ve learned I work best in quiet, so I’ve settled on early morning when silence is golden in my house. Later in the day, everything breaks loose.

Who’s your favorite author? My favorite author changes every time I finish a new book. However, I am and will forever be a fan of Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Isaac Asimov, Charles Dickens, Nancy Drew, and Ellery Queen. Of course, then there are the children’s authors….

How long did it take you to write your first book? It wasn’t the writing of the first book that took so long but the rewriting. And it took seven more years to get my great publisher.

How do you come up with character names? I have used familiar names for ALL the good guys–the names of my children, my husband, my friends, and my extended family. I take more time with the antagonists because I don’t want anyone to say, “What do you have in for….?” but sometimes I reread the mug my friend gave me and chuckle. “Please do not annoy the writer. She may put you in a book and kill you.”

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I hope all my books contain two complete stories. There is the crime itself that needs to be solved, but because Katie is a high school teacher and club adviser, there are difficulties she helps her students survive as well.

How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? Posing problems–math, geocache, social, puzzles–to Katie Wilk is one way I raise the stakes for her. Katie was trained in encryption as a Mathematical Cryptanalyst, and all of my stories include a code of sorts, the solution of which adds an unexpected hurdle to the path of my egotistical (I am so bright, no one can catch on to my clues) antagonist. Of course, so far, my crimes have included a corpse and someone close to Katie accused of the crime, so there’s always that at stake for Katie.

What kind of research do you do? I love research and can get lost down the rabbit hole for days. I talk to professionals in the areas of expertise that might show up in my story now or later. I’ve taken a class with a gun instructor and a fabric artist, talked to pharmacists, a church curator, realtors, surgeons, lawyers, a police officer, a pathologist, an ER doctor, ice fisherpeople, a dog trainer (essentially a dog-whisperer who can make a dog do almost anything), therapy dog volunteers, and Search-and-Rescue evaluators. We finesse the cocktail recipes at the back of my books with multiple taste tests and — ooops. I’m spiraling out of control.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? My stories take place in outstate Minnesota. I love history and attend seminars in our local area. At one such event, I learned that in 1872, the governmental powers decided they couldn’t afford to build and support all the county seats WAY OUTWEST, so they merged Monongalia with Kandiyohi Counties. Monongalia’s county seat would have been Columbia. Plaque markers still exist. Most of my stories take place in a NOW fictional Columbia, MN, the county seat of Monongalia County. Still, I can use my local landmarks and familiar geography to color my stories. However, one of my stories has taken place in my real hometown – another location I know and love. Therefore, the answer to the question is a resounding YES – real and fictional.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? With Book 8, which will be released in early summer, Katie and Maverick are destined to discover more bodies and solve more crimes.

Do you have any advice for new writers? My advice is to never give up doing what you love to do.

How do our readers contact you? maryseifertauthor@gmail.com
LINK to AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B2N876FZ
LINK to Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Mary%20seifert
LINK to KOBO: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/search?query=mary+seifert&fclanguages=en.
GROUPS
Facebook
Katie and Maverick Cozy Mysteries
Sisters in Crime
Mystery Writers of America
LINKS
Webpage: www.maryseifertauthor.com
Facebook: Katie and Maverick Cozy Mysteries
Instagram: maryseifertauthor
TikTok: maryseifertauthor
LinkedIn: Mary KG Seifert
X: @mary_seifert
Email: maryseifertcozies@gmail.com

6 Comments

  1. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    This was an inspirational post, George and Mary. Once again, it is proof that a few good ideas, hard work, and determination are the best ingredients for getting us where we want to go.

    Reply
    • Mary

      Thanks so much and it was such fun. We do what we love with the daily grind – light roast for me.

      Reply
      • George Cramer

        Mary,

        Thanks for your unforgettable post and advice. I agree with all except light roast. It’s medium or nothing for me.

        Reply
        • Mary

          🙂
          (sometimes I wish I drank coffee!)

          Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    It sounds like you’ve got a winning formula: Interesting Ideas + Mary Seifert = X. Since I was never that good at math, I’ll solve it for you by saying that X = Great Writing. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Mary

      Michael, that was ingenious. Thank you most sincerely! Obviously your math skills are much better than you give yourself credit for.
      Best always,
      Mary

      Reply

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PAULA F. WINSKYE – Writer of Mysteries

Paula F. (Pfeiffer) Winskye, a North Dakota native, began writing stories about horses at age 12. More than 30 years later, in 2003, she published her first novel. Poachers in the Park is her 26th and second book for younger readers.

Winskye has also penned twelve Tony Wagner mysteries, three Randy McKay mysteries, two Lunar Enforcement science fiction mysteries, three romances, and four volumes of the Collins family saga.

Winskye and her husband, John, live near Snowflake, Arizona, where she is a Navajo County Sheriff’s Auxiliary Volunteer.

“Some of my earliest memories are of laying awake, thinking up new plots to my favorite cartoons. I was a writer even before I could write.

Genres: Though I have published other genres, I now only write mysteries. My protagonists are straight arrows. They are flawed but strive to do the right thing.

Locations: Most of my locations are real, with a few exceptions. Tony Wagner’s hometown is fictional. And, if one of my protagonists is dealing with corrupt or incompetent law enforcement, I will set that in a fictional town. I won’t disparage real law enforcement agencies.

Current project: My current project is Tony Wagner mystery 13. The first, The Reverend Finds His Calling, reached number six on Amazon for serial killer mysteries. Why “The Reverend?” In that book, Tony is a seminary student who gets drawn into the hunt for the National Park serial killer. Though he decides to go into law enforcement, people still call him “reverend.”

Tony is by far my most popular character. Fans are always looking for the next in the series. Tony has been compared favorably to C.J. Box’s Joe Picket.

When I finish the first draft of this novel, I’ll set it aside and begin working on my fourth Randy McKay mystery. Tony will make an appearance there, too. This is the second crossover featuring both characters.

Outline or not: I also have the plots for Lunar Enforcement number three and the second mystery for younger readers. I am a pantser. Fortunately, my brain can store detailed plots for several novels, even some dialog. I have a notebook where I sometimes write the general idea for a story but never an outline.

Challenges to writing: Life is the biggest challenge I face in my writing career. I stepped away from some of my responsibilities to give me more time. I’m a morning writer. The earlier I can get to work on my story, the more I accomplish. If I have to leave home early, I may not get any writing done that day.

Writing advice: I used to deal with writer’s block by working on another project. Now, it isn’t a problem because I’m not afraid to write badly. If I push through that tough spot, writing a scene I consider not so good, it can be revised. You can’t edit a blank page.

That is one of the best pieces of advice I give to beginning writers. Don’t be afraid to write badly. Perfectionism is the enemy of the first draft. A bad first draft is better than only a perfect first page.

Other advice. Jot ideas when they come to you. Use waiting time (before appointments, waiting for the kids) to take notes. If you don’t have an idea for your novel, use writing prompts or free write. Don’t just talk about writing. Write.

Join a writers’ group. If there isn’t one in your area, start one. Put up signs at the local library or bookstore to recruit others. Use local social media.

Organizations: I belong to Sisters in Crime and its Tucson chapter. It has given me opportunities which I never would have had otherwise. I recently joined the Arizona Professional Writers and look forward to working within that organization.

Promotion: For those of you who are published authors, you are your book’s best advocate. As writers, getting out and talking to the public is usually not our thing. It wasn’t mine.

From the time I published my first novel, I knew that I would have to be the one to sell it. Even getting your books into bookstores involves salesmanship skills. I signed up to sell my books at craft shows, fairs, and swap meets. My best venues are book or arts festivals. Still, after consistently attending other events for years, people look for my latest novel.

I recently heard two speakers giving separate presentations offering the same advice. “The best advertisement for your first book is your second book.” I couldn’t agree more.

My goal for the next year is to sell on a broader scale, specifically to expand my internet sales. My books are available on Amazon. I’m starting to branch out to other sites and expand my advertising.

I believe that if more people try one of my novels, many will be back for more. For that reason, the e-book edition of The Reverend Finds His Calling is free on Smashwords, Kobo, and Amazon.

website– Author Paula F. Winskye (winskyebooks.com)

FB page– Facebook

 

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Mary

    Nicely done, Paula. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Paula, this was a delightful post. Thanks for all the great writing advice, and I appreciate your respect for law enforcement. You sound like you’ve got a great writing process. I hope you’ll consider joining the PSWA (Pubic Safety Writers Association). You’d fit right in. Best of luck to you and the Reverend.

    Reply
  3. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Paula, you had me at “laying awake, thinking up new plots to my favorite cartoons.” That’s hysterical and sweet and magical, all in one. Best of luck with POACHERS IN THE PARK.

    Reply

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DEB RICHARDSON-MOORE – From Journalist to Minister to Author of Twisty Murder Mysteries

Deb Richardson-Moore is a former journalist who had a second career as pastor of a church that included homeless parishioners. Now a full-time author, she writes murder mysteries that fall somewhere between cozies and gritty psychological thrillers.

Her six titles include the three-volume Branigan Powers series, the stand-alones Murder, Forgotten and Through Any Window, and a memoir about her early years as a pastor, The Weight of Mercy.

Deb and her husband live in Greenville, South Carolina, and are the parents of three adult children.

In Deb’s newest release, Through Any Window, 25-year-old Riley flees to her cousin’s upscale home in a gentrifying Southern neighborhood where ritzy houses rise beside crumbling boarding houses and homeless people live in nearby woods. When a double murder explodes, detectives are left wondering: Are the deaths personal or the result of the neighborhood’s simmering economic tensions? And is Riley to blame, as someone has so meticulously planned?

 

Do you write in more than one genre? Not anymore. After my memoir about my harrowing early years as a pastor to street dwellers, my publisher in England asked if I’d write a sequel. But that didn’t interest me. I wanted to write a murder mystery like those I’d read all my life. He encouraged me, and I combined things I’d learned about homelessness with the mystery genre. In The Cantaloupe Thief, The Cover Story, and Death of a Jester, a homeless man helps a news reporter solve crimes by seeing and hearing things most of their townspeople don’t.

What brought you to writing? Voracious reading. As far back as second grade, teachers challenged me to write stories for extra credit. I veered into journalism early, editing my high school and college newspapers, then wrote for The Greenville (SC) News for 27 years.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in a bright sunroom with five uncovered windows overlooking my backyard. My latest purchase is a metal riser that lifts my laptop so I don’t hunch over to read the screen. It’s a back saver! As far as distractions, I allow them all – coffee with friends, yard work, televised thrillers. I’m not writing for money at this stage, so I can take my time and enjoy the process.

Tell us about your writing process. Well, it’s inefficient, I’ll tell you that. I just jump in and start a scene or a book. As the characters and setting gain clarity, things occur to me. So, I go back frequently to add necessary scenes and plant clues. In Through Any Window, I was more than halfway through before I realized that I wanted the relationship between two sisters to be fleshed out. It meant moving some chapters around and adding flashbacks, but I think the novel became stronger.

What are you currently working on? I’m working on a book set on a fictional South Carolina barrier island. In The Last Beach Town, a prickly young woman inherits her family’s seaside home but arrives to find that her aunt’s murder is complicating the bequest.

Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? I did this once, and it opened up an entirely new line of action. I loved the freedom it gave the manuscript. However, I had to defend the decision – vigorously – to my writers’ group. One member complained that I’d broken a contract with the reader. I was gratified that she cared enough about the character to object so vociferously!

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? You have to have subplots, I think. There’s only so much tension and “fear gripping her” that can be sustained within the main plot. The trick is to weave subplots in without losing sight or veering too far from the central storyline. My subplots crop up as I flesh out characters, and I try to be open to them. But in the book I’m writing, I have a subplot that I’m having trouble resolving. It may not survive the rewrite.

How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? Ah, the $64,000 question. I grow weary of books where the protagonist is forever being chased or stalked, but you do need her in a certain amount of fear and trepidation. Maybe you can plant worry about several things simultaneously. Perhaps you can hint at danger from a character she trusts. Or, my personal favorite, maybe you can have her pet behave oddly. (See Murder, Forgotten.)

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I use a mix of real and fictional locations but sometimes change the names of the real ones. That way, I have something in my head to describe, but I don’t have to worry about getting everything exactly right. In Murder, Forgotten, I used two real seacoasts I was familiar with – Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, and the fishing village of Crail in Scotland. In Through Any Window, I use an urban park in my hometown but call it by a different name.

What is the best book you have ever read? Oh, my, what a difficult question. But certainly among the top five is We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. I finished it as my husband was driving me to guest preach in another city. I was so shell-shocked by the ending that I could hardly get out of the car.

Do you have any advice for new writers? Write what interests you, not what others tell you is hot or marketable. I think it’s impossible to predict what agents or publishers will be looking for 18 months from now. And writing a book is so laborious that you want to enjoy the world and characters you create. Also, know that your inner critic will raise her ugly head from time to time. Her presence is part of the process. Ignore her.

How do our readers contact you?

Email richardsonmoored@gmail.com
Web site www.debrichardsonmoore.com
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/deb.richardsonmoore/
Instagram https://www.instagram.com/debrichardsonmoore/
Publisher https://redadeptpublishing.com/
Just for fun https://booklisti.com/booklist/5-mysteries-twisted-me-into-knots-deb-richardson-moore/lx3x96y
Books are available
Amazon https://www.amazon.com/stores/Deb-Richardson-Moore/author/B008ALE12Y?
Fiction Addiction https://www.fiction-addiction.com/
M. Judson Booksellers https://mjudsonbooks.com/local-authors/
Facebook groups:
Upstate Sisters in  Crime: https://www.facebook.com/groups/upstatescsistersincrime
South Carolina Writers Association: https://www.facebook.com/groups/51934904087
Southern Authors and Readers: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1284419714917352
Partners in Crime Writing: https://www.facebook.com/groups/226018664078743
Friends and Fiction: https://www.facebook.com/groups/FriendsandFiction
Bookish Bibliophiles: https://www.facebook.com/groups/aliterarycoven

4 Comments

  1. John Schembra

    Interesting blog post. I share some of te same writing techniques with you, Good luck with your writing.

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    It sounds like you’ve got a lot of great ideas for books, Reverend, and God bless you for the work you do with the homeless. That’s got to be very hard. Best of luck to you with your writing.

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Thank you for posting with us. AND, thanks for the kind words.

      Reply

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PATY JAGER – Brings Westerns and Native American Stories

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 55 novels, eight novellas, and numerous anthologies of murder mystery and western romance. All her work has Western or Native American elements, hints of humor, and engaging characters.Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. Riding horses and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes about the Western lifestyle, but she also lives it.

Thank you, George, for inviting me to your blog. The Pinch, book 5 in my Spotted Pony Casino Mystery series, was published on February 22nd. It is available for pre-order.

Dela Alvaro, a disabled veteran and head of security for the Spotted Pony Casino, is doing a security check for a casino on the Oregon Coast when a child is kidnapped and Dela’s friend is murdered.

The idea for this story has been in my head for many years. I usually plan two writing retreats a year at the Oregon Coast. I stay a week and get a lot of writing done because I’m not catering to the animals or my husband. There aren’t any chores, and I write, walk on the beach, and write more.

On one such trip, I was walking along the beach, enjoying the briny salt air and the mist of the fog and waves. I noticed an older man with a boy about four or five out at the water’s edge. The boy was splashing and digging with a plastic shovel. I continued walking and noticed a boat close to the shore, or closer than any I’d witnessed before. My gaze gravitated to rocks sticking up out of the waves a good thirty or more feet from where the water lapped at the beach. Watching the splashing waves and enjoying the moment, I thought I saw the head of a seal bobbing by the rocks. That seemed dangerous, but they are good swimmers. I continued on and eventually turned around, heading back to where I’d entered the beach.

The boat was gone, and the older man walked up to the hotel without the boy. I looked around and didn’t see him anywhere. That was where my imagination kicked in. By the time I was back at the place I was staying, I’d come up with a kidnapping, a premise, and how it would play out. My only problem is that I was writing romance books at the time, and I didn’t see how to use this in western romance.

However, the idea stayed with me, and when I started writing mysteries, I kept coming back to the idea, trying first to make it fit with my character in the Shandra Higheagle mysteries, but I didn’t see how I could make it work. Then, when I started writing the Gabriel Hawke novels, I thought, now, I can use that story. But even though I took Hawke to Iceland for a book, I couldn’t find a plausible reason for him to be on the Oregon Coast.

Then came the Spotted Pony Casino mystery series and Dela Alvaro, my disabled veteran who is head of security for the Spotted Pony Casino on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation. After four books where she has helped the FBI and Tribal Police track down killers, she has a reputation for running a tight security staff. She is invited to a Tribal casino on the Oregon Coast to help them tighten up security, and now I could finally see how my story and premise would play out.

When I decided now was the time to write the book, a friend and I went on a road trip to visit a casino on the Oregon Coast. I had planned to use that casino in the book. Still, when I started making fictional employees at the casino accomplices in the crime, I decided I needed a fictional casino. Then, my mind wasn’t tied to logistics anymore, either.

Even though I had visited the casino and talked to security staff, I kept running into things I hadn’t realized I’d need to know to write the story, and the emails I’d sent to the casino asking questions went unanswered. Having the epiphany to use a fictional casino as I do in the Spotted Pony Casino books freed up my mind to work on the kidnapping and murder rather than logistics.

This series points out the widespread danger that Indigenous people- mostly women, face. My main character lives with the fact that in high school, she left her best friend in a small town not far from the reservation because she didn’t want to leave when my character had to get back for basketball practice. She is found the next day murdered and sexually assaulted. In the first book where this character comes to life, Stolen Butterfly in my Gabriel Hawke novels, she helps find two women missing from the reservation and last seen at the casino.

In this book, she not only has to deal with a missing child but she is reunited with a best friend from her time in the military, only to have her murdered. One more slash to my character’s heart and one more spark to make her always find justice.

This book took a long time to come to fruition, but I believe it was worth it.

Recent Projects

I published Christmas Chaos in October to give readers of my Shandra Higheagle Mystery series some closure. A short story with Dela and Heath characters in my Spotted Pony Casino Mystery series is available in the Windtree Press Whispers anthology.

Blurb / Long- Dela Alvaro, head of security for the Spotted Pony Casino, is asked to do a security check of a casino on the Oregon Coast. She no sooner starts her rounds at the casino than a child is kidnapped. The parents are a dubious couple. Special Agent Quinn Pierce of the FBI has been out to get the father for some time.

One of Dela’s best friends from the Army appears, and they catch up, only to find her friend strangled the next morning after having divulged to Dela she may have photos of the kidnapping.

As Dela struggles with the violent death of yet another best friend, her lover, Tribal Officer Heath Seaver, arrives, and the two begin untangling the lies, bribes, and murders.

In the end, as Heath carries the child to safety, Dela must face a cunning killer alone.

Blurb / Short – Dela Alvaro, a disabled veteran and head of security for the Spotted Pony Casino, is doing a security check for a casino on the Oregon Coast when a child is kidnapped and Dela’s friend is murdered.

Groups I belong to:
Crimescene writers loop
Sisters in Crime
Niwa
Alli
Author’s Guild
20 Books 50
Links
Book link for The Pinch – Universal book link- https://books2read.com/u/38Y787
Social Media Links
TikTok – @authorpatyjager
Instagram – @patymjager
YouTube – @PatyJager
Facebook – Author Paty Jager
Twitter – @patyjag
website – https://www.patyjager.net
blogs – https://ladiesofmystery.com and https://writingintothesunset.net

10 Comments

  1. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Wow, George and Paty, this was a great post. It’s reassuring to know that the spark of an idea can last that long. It’s inspirational, really. Thanks, and best of luck with your launch of THE PINCH, Paty.

    Reply
    • Paty Jager

      Pamela, thank you! Yes, it was an idea that hung in there until the right book came along. Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

      Reply
  2. Carl Vonderau

    It’s amazing where the stories come from. Your fiction writing mind is always at work. The books sounds great.

    Reply
    • Paty Jager

      Carl, Thank you. Yes, I have an active imagination and it keeps stories coming at me faster than I can write them.

      Reply
  3. Peg Roche

    Looking forward to reading “The Pinch”. I can picture the setting and am interested in your lead character. Those twice a year retreats sound like a great idea! Good luck with this new book. Thanks for the introduction, George!

    Reply
    • Paty Jager

      Peg, Thank you for stopping in and commenting. I do enjoy my retreats and get a lot accomplished when I’m there.

      Reply
  4. Kathleen Kaska

    I enjoyed reading about your latest mystery. You are such a prolific writer!

    Reply
    • Paty Jager

      Hi Kathleen, Thank you! I have fun coming up with the premises and hopefully enlightening people as well as entertaining them.

      Reply
  5. Michael A. Black

    Sounds like you use your powers of observation to come up with new plots, which is really neat. Your series sounds fascinating, but I have to ask…. did you ever find out what happened to the little boy? Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Paty Jager

      Hi Michael, No. I never knew what happened to the little boy. I never saw the older man again either. It is one of those mysteries that will rattle around in head and help me to come up with other scenarios for books.

      Reply

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JENNIFER J. CHOW – Cozies and Fortune Cookies

Jennifer J. Chow writes cozies filled with hope and heritage. She is an Agatha, Anthony, and Lefty Award-nominated author. Her newest series is the Magical Fortune Cookie mysteries; the first book is Ill-Fated Fortune (February 2024). Jennifer’s previous series is the L.A. Night Market Mysteries. Death by Bubble Tea was reviewed by the New York Times, featured in Woman’s World, and hit the SoCal Indie Bestseller List.

Jennifer currently serves as Immediate Past President on the board of Sisters in Crime and blogs at chicksonthecase.com. She is an active member of Crime Writers of Color and Mystery Writers of America

Felicity Jin and her mother run a magical bakery in the quaint town of Pixie, California. Their life is charmed—until a prediction from one of Felicity’s handmade fortune cookies comes true in an unlucky, murderous way.

Researching the Fortune Cookie  – Book research takes you down unexpected paths. When I first thought up my new series, I figured fortune cookies would be an excellent treat for my baker protagonist to make. I mean, what’s more Chinese American than a fortune cookie?

Turns out there’s a lot of interesting history (and some drama) behind the humble cookie. I’d grown up eating and serving a lot of fortune cookies. My family, after all, owned a Chinese restaurant. At the end of every meal, I’d be sure to bring a customer their check along with a free fortune cookie.

Little did I know then that in uncovering the convoluted history of the fortune cookie, I’d find Japanese roots. After online research and a thorough reading of Jennifer 8. Lee’s The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, I traced the cookie’s origin to tsujiura senbei. This wafer-like cookie from the Kyoto region of Japan also has an enclosed fortune, although it has a more savory flavor than the modern fortune cookie.

In America, California is definitely the birthplace of the fortune cookie, with entrepreneurs from San Francisco and Los Angeles claiming to be the original makers of the cookie. And around World War II, both Japanese and Chinese restaurants appeared to serve the treat. With the incarceration of Japanese Americans during that tumultuous period, though, the manufacturers of the cookies shifted. Chinese bakeries started making fortune cookies—and eventually developed a mechanized process to mass-produce them.

So, through my research, I learned that fortune cookies aren’t tied to my Chinese roots like I’d expected. I hint at this fact in Ill-Fated Fortune, the first in my Magical Fortune Cookie mysteries. However, they could be considered American—at least the sweet vanilla version. In the end, I guess that factoid accurately reflects my main character: Felicity Jin, the third generation in her family to live in the U.S.

Connect with Jennifer online and sign up for her newsletter at JenniferJChow.com

Ill-Fated Fortune released 2/20/24

Here’s a buy link: https://read.macmillan.com/lp/ill-fated-fortune/

FACEBOOK GROUPS (though I’m not really that active anymore):
https://www.facebook.com/groups/DialCforCozy
https://www.facebook.com/groups/726103940858234/

8 Comments

  1. Carl Vonderau

    I didn’t know that fascinating history about fortune cookies. Sounds like a great series.

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Jennifer, I just broke open my fortune cookie and it says: Ms. Chow will have much good fortune and success. It sounds like you’re riding the crest of the wave. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Jennifer J. Chow

      Ha, Michael! That’d be an amazing fortune. Thank you!

      Reply
  3. Margaret Mizushima

    How cool, Jennifer! I’ll have to tell my husband about this. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Jennifer J. Chow

      Hurrah, Margaret! And, yes, let your husband know.

      Reply

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BRUCE LEWIS – Journalist to Author

Bruce Lewis graduated from California State University at Long Beach with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. After completing the 36-week Copley Newspaper Training Program, working as a reporter for six California daily and weekly newspapers, he began a seven-year career as a general assignment reporter. During that period, he wrote over 5,000 stories and won six awards for best news and feature writing. He specialized in crime news, going undercover with cops and covering the courts, sheriffs, California Highway Patrol, and fire districts.

His post-retirement bucket list included writing one novel. That novel, Human Strays (published originally in November of 2021 under a different name and title), was intended to be his one and only. Like most writers, he got the fiction-writing bug. He wrote and published four novels in three years: 1-Angel of Mercy, 2-Human Strays, 3-Family Curse, 4-The Red Flock, and the novelette Love Storm. He is working on his fifth novel in the series, Bless Me, Father—For You Have Sinned.

After retiring and settling in Portland, Oregon, Bruce created a bucket list:

  • Create a family genealogy (completed in 2020)
  • Write a novel (completed in 2020)
  • Kick the bucket (just joking)

“The idea for my first thriller, Human Strays, baked for a decade before I wrote it. The idea came from a pro bono project I took on to benefit the Mendocino Coast Humane Society (MCHS),” said Lewis. “One of my fellow Mendocino Rotarians, the chair of the Human Society Board of Directors, asked me to help promote The Ark, the Society’s thrift store, a major source of funds to support its mission. As president and co-founder of Lewis & Summers Public Relations (based in Lafayette, California), it was a natural extension of work I was already doing for a half dozen clients on the coast.”

Bruce toured the Humane Society to help plan his fundraising strategy to save and house stray cats and dogs. An hour later, Lewis was coming out of a supermarket in Fort Bragg, where a homeless man dug food scraps out of a trash can.

“Buy a sandwich,” I said, handing him five dollars. He looked at it, stuck it in his pocket, and continued his treasure hunt, swallowing a few ounces of leftover soda from someone’s fast-food lunch.

“That evening, it hit me: homeless humans are strays like the dogs and cats temporarily housed at the shelter. They sleep outdoors and scrounge for food to survive.”

The First Novel –  Fast forward ten years to 2015, when Lewis retired: “My wife and I had moved to Portland, Oregon, where I began drafting Human Strays. The book’s theme is about veterinarian Jim Briggs’s effort to save a drug-addicted homeless woman by finding her a permanent home. If he could save one, Briggs figured he could save others.

Lewis said he wrote the book over two years, working primarily at Ovation, a busy coffee shop on the edge of Portland’s Field Park, under the Fremont Bridge.

“I’d walk a mile to the coffee shop with my laptop, write for an hour or two, then walk home. During these strolls, I thought of new characters, how to write scenes, and how to fix the organizational mess I created by using nifty author software to move chapters freely from one location to another. A steady diet of Moroccan Lattes and right-out-of-the-oven toasted coconut scones fueled my writing. The exercise walks didn’t hurt.”

“On any day at the coffee shop, I could be surrounded by a hubbub of cyclists getting their caffeine fix, women from a nearby yoga class gossiping about their lives, or a group of young mothers in hijabs giggling, and I could tune it out. That’s the beauty of being a newspaper crime reporter for seven years, turning out copy every day on deadline in a chaotic newsroom.”

Because of that experience, he says he can write for an hour, wash a load of clothes, eat lunch, read a book, and then come back and write more with no problem getting back into the story.

Writing What You Know – Human Strays is filled with unsheltered characters, primarily based on homeless people Lewis had observed on his daily walks, looking for ideas and photos for his blog, WalkingPDX. He often combined several homeless people he observed into a single character, careful not to make a person identifiable.

When he finished Human Strays, he pitched it to numerous agents and publishers before he found an independent publisher with more than 500 authors under contract.

Despite having written some 8,000 stories during his newspaper and public relations careers, he discovered he had much to learn about writing fiction when he turned in his manuscript. Six weeks later, the rejection letter said, ‘I’m sorry, we won’t be representing you. Our reviewer said the writing was good, but there was too much tell and too little show. It might be too much to fix. But good luck.’

“I laugh about it now,” said Lewis. “I had to Google show versus tell. I looked at some examples and rewrote the book in six weeks, adding about 20,000 words of show. The updated version of the manuscript was accepted two weeks after he re-submitted it.

The Writing Bug – Like most writers who publish a novel, Lewis got the fiction-writing bug. He wrote and published four novels in three years: 1-Angel of Mercy, 2-Human Strays, 3-Family Curse, 4-The Red Flock, and the romantic mystery Love Storm. He is currently working on his fifth novel in the series, Bless Me, Father—For You Have Sinned (Summer 2024).

Asked if he is a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of his pants) or a plotter (plots every chapter before starting), Lewis smiled and said, “I’m a plotting pantser.” I create a one-page outline—one chapter per line—and then write by the seat of my pants. I can visualize scenes and write them as if I were there. I believe that’s the result of covering hundreds of news events as a reporter.”

Asked how he could have a veterinarian as a protagonist in his books without having been one. “Easy,” he said. “I had dogs for 25 years, met many vets, and learned about dog care first-hand, including putting down our Beagle, Mac.” When in doubt, he visited the website of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Writing What You Know – “Of course, I make up stuff, but a good amount of my novels are sprinkled with lived experiences, like Veterinarian Jim Briggs saying goodbye to his dying mother in Human Strays:

Briggs leaned over and whispered to Susie, “I love you, Mom. I’ll miss you.” An instant later, her head flew off the pillow, her eyes bulging with terror, inches from Brigg’s face. He jumped back. Just as quickly, she lay back down, as inert as before.

Lewis confided, “This is just how it happened when I removed my Mom from life support on Mother’s Day 2004.

Bruce Lewis – Author

Website: http://www.TheAngelOfMercy.com
Email:  blewis16@icloud.com
Instagram: PDXWalker

3 Comments

  1. Deven Greene

    Thanks for the interesting insight into your writing career. Even though you are no longer working against a newspaper deadline, you are very productive! While generally “unseen,” the unhoused are an important topic of discussion these days. Best of luck with your next book, Bless Me Father–For You Have Sinned. Interesting title!

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    A lot of reporters gravitate naturally to fiction writing. Your background seems to be tailor made for this. Good luck with your writing, but be careful around those homeless people. I found them sad but sometimes unpredictable and volatile. Good luck with your new book.

    Reply
  3. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    A model for bucket lists the world over. Inspiring post. Thanks, George and Bruce.

    Reply

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