Please tell our readers about your upcoming release: Traitor in the Realm is a story about four teens, two worlds, and one perilous summer. Teen artist, Kallan MacKinnon, becomes trapped with her family in a medieval kingdom that is under attack. She and her foster brother, Matthew Webbe, tangle with magical beings and prehistoric creatures in their attempt to reach the gateway back to Earth before it closes forever. Their friendship is tested when they meet Carys and Cadoc Dunstan, magically gifted twins from the new world. The Earth teens must determine if it is worth risking their lives to save a foreign realm from a homegrown threat and how much they are willing to sacrifice in exchange for safe passage home.
Kallan and Matthew encounter a world quite different from our own, yet similar in many ways. The story is an adventure tale that revolves around friendship and the meaning of family and home. In addition, individuals react to their place in society and the expectations others place on them. Kallan and Matthew each discover hidden talents and must decide when and if they want to use them, despite the inconvenience and risks involved.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I write poetry, contemporary stories, and fantasy tales. I also write nonfiction articles about a local symphony for community newspapers.
What brought you to writing? I worked as a research meteorologist and a science and math teacher before I began writing fiction. I’ve always been an avid reader and love learning new words and facts. I’m also fascinated by the ability of books to transport me into other worlds. After a lifetime of being steeped in books, story ideas eventually began to come to me, and I decided to write them down and share them with others.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I mostly write in my home office. Before the pandemic closed everything down, I also worked in coffee shops and at the library. I don’t play music while I’m writing. At home, it’s easy to avoid distractions. In public places, I am pretty good at shutting out what’s going on around me. As a child, I would often get engrossed in a book to the point that others had to raise their voice or get right in front of me to attract my attention. That skill of getting immersed in the current task helps me with writing as well.
Tell us about your writing process: Once a story idea comes to me, I jot down important points about it, then do research if necessary. When I write the first draft, I tend to write the story out without a lot of editing. However, with the novel, I found myself editing chapters before the first draft was completed. On the second and subsequent drafts, I may do a lot of revision. I look for characters’ motivations and consistency in actions, and I add in more sensory information to round out the story. I let a scene play out in my mind as I write it and imagine the sounds, scents, and tastes the characters might be aware of, as well as the visual elements.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Coming up with new story ideas. Once I have an idea or a character occurs to me and won’t leave me alone, the process begins, and I can write the first draft.
What are you currently working on? The second novel in the Next World Over Series.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? I have been a member of the Tri-Valley Branch of the California Writers Club for about nine years. Tri-Valley Writers’ presentations, workshops, conferences, and critique groups have all helped me with various aspects of the craft and making the switch from writing nonfiction to fiction.
Who’s currently your favorite author? Elizabeth Strout, for her storytelling, characters, and lovely, long descriptive sentences.
How do you come up with character names? I like to look at the meaning of names and choose names that relate to characters’ personalities and characteristics of locations. For Traitor in the Realm, I used mostly Celtic names.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? Sometimes, aspects of my characters’ personalities or motivations arise that I wouldn’t be aware of if I didn’t, in a sense, let them speak for themselves as I write. Occasionally, new characters pop up on their own. Dolph, one of the characters in Traitor in the Realm, simply appeared in my mind as I was writing a scene. He turned out to be a fun character with a quirky personality.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? No, not consciously. Some character traits may come from people I’ve met, but generally, those are features of many people, not one individual.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I make a broad outline first, but I leave myself open to new directions and new characters as I write. Stephen James refers to the “pantser” process as organic writing. I prefer that term also, and I like to allow for that process to play out.
What kind of research do you do? For Traitor in the Realm, I used a variety of reference books and the internet to research prehistoric animals, Neanderthals, and aspects of the middle ages that I wanted to include in the story. For woodland scenes, I drew on childhood memories and trips over the years to upstate New York, as well as visits to parks in California. I toured several castles on vacation in Scotland and England a few years ago, which helped me visualize the royal castle in the story.
What is the best book you ever read? It’s hard to choose only one, but Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, is one of the best.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? More books in the Next World Over series. Also, I’d like to publish a book of poems and haiku and a collection of short stories.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Keep at it. Read books about writing and do practice exercises. Get support from others through a writing club and/or a critique group. Give yourself time to absorb critique partners’ comments. Your initial reaction may change upon reflection. One person pointing out a weakness may simply reflect that person’s bias, but if three or more people give you the same message, there is probably something amiss that you need to address.
How do our readers contact you? Your website, blog links, any links you want posted?
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Patricia-J-Boyle/e/B08QGD335B
Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20991018.Patricia_J_Boyle
“Be a Creator, not a Witness” Walter Mosely
I first read Walter Mosely’s debut novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, sometime around 1994. I was hooked, even though I didn’t know it at the time. I read it in a matter of days and enjoyed it. I can’t tell you much more other than I took a liking to Easy Rawlins. I read a few more of the Rawlins’ stories and moved on to other authors.
Fast forward to 2020 and the Covid lockdown. I put out the dollars for MasterClass (https://www.masterclass.com). The selling point was Joyce Carol Oates. I once feared her for the horror she conveyed in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” I’ve since come to admire her and her work. I subscribed to the program and found it enlightening. Recently Walter Mosley was added to the lessons. When I saw his name, I didn’t recall who he was, and I wondered why he sounded vaguely familiar. Still, or maybe because he seemed familiar, I decided to watch his talks. Within minutes of watching his talks, I knew he was talking directly to me. When Mosley started discussing character development for Devil in a Blue Dress, I remembered the book. I also remembered that the woman was the catalyst, not the protagonist.
Mosley read the first paragraph, and I was hooked again. As soon as the break came in the talk, I tried to find a print copy. Not much luck, so I braved the outside world and drove to Half Price Books. None in stock, but they could order copies from Texas. I ordered two, one for me and one for my oldest daughter, a voracious reader. The books arrived a week later. I read the first line, “I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy’s bar.” Seeing it in print was even more vital than when Walter Mosley read it to me. I finished the book in two sittings.
I was amazed at the power in Mosley’s words. I found myself enthralled, stopping, and rereading paragraph after paragraph. I have to stop doing that if I ever want to finish! The pages flew by at an astonishing pace.
Walter Mosley’s novel and his Master Class lectures are similar lessons on life—the world’s reality.
Novel and lecture intertwined, Mosley tells the reader and the audience a story of life. He brings out the horrors of genocide, racism, child abuse, incest, and war with his poignant vignettes—each riveting and evocative.
In a few short paragraphs, Mosley conveys the monstrous cruelty of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany to life.
Walter Mosley reinforces the importance of conflict and growth as Easy Rawlins overcomes one obstacle after another. During my reading, I became Easy Rawlins; his thoughts were my thoughts. I felt the emotions, the fear, the joy. This author managed to engage me at every level.
Walter Mosley is a Master.
Deputy Chief Freedland, (Ret.) Irvine Police Department (CA) had a long and action-packed law enforcement career in addition to his writing.
In “The Pepper Tree,” a Southern California landmark primarily known only to law enforcement earned a reputation for crime scenes of the most unspeakably vicious murders. Infamous serial killers had chosen this location to discard and display their victims as trophies of their horrific acts. Lieutenant Scott Hunter leads a team of detectives seeking to capture the perpetrator who targets young women and has selected this landmark to showcase his victims.
This story is a work of fiction, but the Orange County location is real. So notorious, in fact, that those officers working the graveyard shift need only radio their activity at a site bearing two words – “pepper tree,” and they are immediately dispatched a back-up officer.
As a young patrol officer, Hunter had been introduced to the “terror at the tree” on an evening when he turned his police cruiser down that dusty road separating asparagus fields and discovered a corpse hanging from a tree limb. But now, as the leader of the Robbery/Homicide team, he received that most dreaded call interrupting the stillness of the night, a body dump.
Tell us about your writing process: In my 34-year law enforcement career, I worked assignments that included SWAT, Detectives, Training Bureau, Internal Affairs, and a street-level, Narcotic Suppression Unit. I would think about the most unique cases and then start outlining a plot using other actual investigations to complement the storyline. I developed a protagonist based upon a handful of mentors from my career who exhibited strong moral character and superior technical and physical skill-sets. I included sub-plots to give readers opportunities to speculate on the primary suspect’s identity and included a romantic character that matched the protagonist in interest and intellect.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Trying to include sufficient detail in a criminal investigation to convince the reader that the story is credible without getting wrapped up in the scientific minutia can be particularly challenging. I remember working on my first novel, “Lincoln 9.” I was constantly thinking that the most cantankerous detective was looking over my shoulder, criticizing my failure to include steps 3 & 4 in my homicide investigation. As I read more crime thrillers written by successful authors, I realized that it was more important to include a few choice technical procedures and get into the characters’ minds and emotions.
What are you currently working on? I’m working on my third novel, which involves homicides and human trafficking cases that will take the characters to Japan in pursuit of suspects and victims. The first chapter begins with a graphic, contract-style hit that my department worked in conjunction with the FBI, which led investigators into the mysterious world of assassins for hire. During my years of competing in martial arts, I had the occasion to train in Japan and visited several dojos (training halls) located near some of the darker parts of society. It should provide some intrigue and texture to the pursuit of international crime syndicates in the Orient.
What is the best book you ever read? Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” was my favorite book and was a masterpiece in the preparation of a surprise ending. It is the total package: history, romance, fascinating characters, and intense suspense. Dickens has always been considered a master of developing memorable characters. But in this historical novel, he presents some of the most fascinating people whose lives are impacted by the French Revolution. Whose names are perfectly suited to their personalities.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? Twenty-five years of my career involved serving in several areas of responsibility in Special Weapons and Tactics Teams (SWAT), which included Hostage Negotiator, Scout, Team Leader, and Team Commander. Our team was well-trained and well-financed. Based upon our successful operations and competition performances, the California Association of Tactical Officers sponsored our team to compete in the International SWAT Round-Up in Florida. We have had training relationships with members of SEAL Teams 3 & 5, and one of the firearms trainers for the U.S. Army’s Delta Force comes to California one weekend a year to train our team members. In each of my books, I introduce the reader to some aspect of a SWAT operation; a look behind the curtain of secrecy shrouding how SWAT operators perform. Based upon reviews, readers have found this piece of the plot an interesting addition to the fabric of the story.
When you visit my author’s website, www.davefreedland.com, you will find several photos from SWAT operations and training scenarios in which I have participated.
I would like to thank George Cramer for inviting me to share on his blog. Please take a visit to my website, and hopefully, one or more of my books will interest you. If you have a technical question, I always find time to respond.
Links: Facebook: Dave Freedland Instagram: dfreedland01
My debut novel, Unnatural, Erica Rosen MD Trilogy Book 1, is a medical thriller
Unnatural features a San Francisco pediatrician who happens upon a Chinese girl with blue eyes. Puzzled by this seeming impossibility (Chinese people have brown or occasionally green eyes – but not blue), Erica eventually learns that the girl is the product of embryonic stem cell gene editing performed at a secret government facility in China. Erica and her roommate, Daisy (a Chinese American), head off to China to expose the secret operation and rescue the girl’s younger brother, who is being held at the secret facility.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m in between. I have a definite plot and resolution in mind, as well as many of the stops along the way. However, I do not make a detailed outline. As I write, I’ve found that I come up with ideas that are better than many I think of ahead of time, so I go along with those changes.
Do you write in more than one genre? I’ve been sticking to the suspense/thriller genre, mostly medical suspense/thriller. I enjoy using my background in biochemistry and medicine when developing my plots. Keeping the details accurate is challenging and fun.
What is your writing process? I come up with a general concept, either something I’ve read about or something that pops into my head. After that, I need time to develop a plot around the concept. For Unnatural, I decided to write about embryonic stem cell gene editing. Then I figured out the where and the who. My writing is more plot-driven than character-driven, although I do put a lot of thought into developing the characters.
What kind of research do you do? I do a lot of research. For instance, for Unnatural, I learned about gene editing with CRISPR/Cas9. The technology that forms the backbone of my story, by reading A Crack in Creation by Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternberg. Dr. Doudna recently won the Nobel Prize for her work in that area. Another book I read was Young China by Zach Dychtwald, where I learned a lot about the current culture. I also read relevant references online. I find the internet indispensable not only for researching the scientific aspects of my writing but also for maps, pictures, videos, and information on hotels, airline flights, and general fact-checking. I’ve found that such research often leads to pesky emails and website ads for things, such as hotels and restaurants in Beijing. A small price to pay for all the information I can gather from the comfort of my home.
Where do you write? I like to write in my home office, at my PC. I bought myself a large, curved screen a year ago, which makes my writing much easier. I can have my word document open while I search the internet for information. Sometimes I’ll reference an eBook I display on my screen. When I have finished the whole novel, I can scroll through many pages at a time to look for underlines Word has made. I find the large screen to be very efficient. I prefer to work in a quiet environment, but since I don’t live alone, that’s often impossible. When I’m traveling (something I barely remember doing, but which I hope to do in the future), I bring my laptop but mostly use that only for typing short stories and editing, not for novel writing. For that, I like my home setup.
How much of your plots or characters are drawn from real life? All of my characters are fictional, although I give many of them attributes I have gleaned from people I have encountered. For instance, in the first novel I wrote (unpublished at this time), one of the characters was a graduate student in biochemistry who was also a nun. That’s an unusual combination. However, years ago, when I was a biochemistry graduate student myself, there was another graduate student who was also a nun. Strangely, she also had a prosthetic leg. I let my fictional graduate student keep both her legs because one has to be careful not to make fiction as bizarre as real life often is—readers won’t go for it.
As I am very familiar with laboratory and hospital settings, it is easy for me to come up with accurate descriptions. I had to google some specialized laboratories and equipment, however, to accurately describe some things. I found YouTube videos extremely helpful.
What are you currently working on? I am working on books two and three of the trilogy. Book two is titled Unwitting; I haven’t decided on a name for the third book. While the main story in Unnatural reaches a resolution, the next two books include developments in the lives of Erica and other characters introduced in book one, as well as new problems Erica finds herself thrust into.
How do readers contact you?
I can be contacted through my website https://www.devengreene.com
My blog is https://www.devengreene.com/blog
My Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/devengreeneauthor
My Instagram name is: devengreeneauthor
Tim Dees – Writer of Non-Fiction Police Procedure and Technology
I’ve written two books, the first a guidebook for law enforcement officers on how to use the internet. It was written in 2001 and is out of date now. The other is a collection of some of the answers on law enforcement I have posted to Quora.com, titled “The Truth About Cops.” The publisher has gone out of business, and there is a used copy for sale on Amazon for $1052.00. That’s steep for a book whose content you can get for free on a website.
Most of my writing has been articles of 800-1500 words. I started out pre-internet, writing for Police Magazine, Law Enforcement Technology, and Law and Order. I was Law and Order’s technology editor for about eight years.
I got noticed by Officer.com’s owners, who hired me to be their first editor-in-chief. I stayed with them I moved to LawOfficer.com.
Do you write in more than one genre? My go-to topical area was police technology for many years. I’ve since branched out to discuss police training, management, and ethical areas.
What brought you to writing? When I was a working police officer, Police Magazine had a feature on each issue’s last page, titled “The Beat.” It was a first-person short form “war story,” usually from a cop who wasn’t a regular writer. I am told it was the most popular feature of the magazine. I started thinking, “I can write this stuff.” I wrote a short essay about getting ready for a winter graveyard shift in uniformed patrol. They bought it for $75. I later wrote four more articles for “The Beat,” which I think was a record.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I live alone (except for my dog) in a three-bedroom house. One of the bedrooms is set aside as my office.
I allow my aging dog to interrupt the writing process, as he can be very insistent when he wants attention. He never bothers me unless he hears me typing. When I’m writing, I try not to visit any websites or read emails, as that will send me down the rabbit hole.
Tell us about your writing process: When I get an assignment, it has to ripen in my head for a few days. I’m thinking about it, even when I’m involved with something else. When I sit down to write the piece, I start classical music from Amazon Music or my iTunes collection. I try not to get up except to refill my coffee or go to the bathroom. I usually write an entire article in one sitting.
What are you currently working on? I have an assignment about what President Biden can do for law enforcement in his first 100 days in office. I also write a regular column for a trade magazine on various aspects of law enforcement. The magazine goes out to owners and managers of government surplus/Army-Navy stores, which illustrates how there is a trade magazine for every profession or business sector.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? I came to the Public Safety Writers Association when it was called the Police Writers Club. When he handed the club over to what would become the PSWA, I came with it as the web manager. Eventually, I was asked to join the board of directors as a member-at-large and tech consultant.
Like many other members, I’ve benefitted from being able to pick the brains of PSWA members, usually via the listserv. I’ve also met some characters among members, people I wouldn’t have even known about without the PSWA.
Who’s currently your favorite author? I’m partial to Marko Kloos, who writes several military science fiction series.
How long did it take you to write your first book? My (late) wife worked for Walmart loss prevention. When she was promoted and assigned to the Tri-Cities area of Washington, I followed her. I wound up a househusband for about a year. I wrote the book during that time.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? This depends on how familiar I am with the topic. If I know it, I’m a “pantser,” writing out of my head with some guidance from the subject matter expert. If it’s all new stuff for me, I need the outline to cover the topic adequately.
What kind of research do you do? Ideally, I find someone who is using the new technology and pick their brains. When a tech company doesn’t give me access to any of their customers, it’s a big red flag.
One of the challenges of writing about legitimate new tech is that the manufacturers always want to connect me with the sales manager for that product line. He will have the best and most polished spiel, and they can go on forever. Whenever possible, I want to talk to the engineer who designed the device or service, to the “geek.” That person will answer my questions more accurately, if not as smooth.
What is the best book you ever read? I’d have to think about that for a while. It was probably something by Robert A. Heinlein or Tom Clancy. I discovered Heinlein via a school librarian (the unrecognized heroes of education who get kids to read by determining their interests) when I was in the 8th grade. I was the right age for what he called his “juveniles,” articles and books written for publications like Boy’s Life. By the time I graduated from high school, I had read his more adult works, which got pretty strange. One of his central characters is a time traveler who manages to return to his childhood years and has a romantic relationship with his mother.
What’s in store for you? My financial situation doesn’t require that I supplement my income with writing. I have only one regular writing obligation to produce an article of around 1200 words once a month. It can be about anything in law enforcement. I still accept one-off writing assignments from websites like PoliceOne.
Do you have any advice for new writers? When I was a full-time editor, I received lots of pitches, mainly from working cops and correctional officers, who wanted to be the next Joseph Wambaugh. I had a rule that if I found more than five writing errors before I got off the first page, you were done. There are too many aspiring writers who seem to believe that the editor’s job is to correct their spelling and grammar. At the same time, they pontificate on more high-minded issues. Everyone makes mistakes now and then. If you can’t be bothered to proof your work or have someone do it for you before you send it off as a finished piece, I’m not going to do the work your high school composition teacher was supposed to have done.
If you haven’t mastered the basic skills, you will be wanting in the more advanced work. Before a writer can tell their story, they have to learn the fundamentals of writing. These include writing complete sentences, spelling all the words properly, inserting quotes that are formatted correctly, and so on. Those skills come from writing for someone who knows the craft and will be merciless in pointing out your errors.
I also look for competence in using a word processor’s features in the age of word processors. There is a feature in Word that displays all the formatting codes such as spaces, paragraph marks, indents, etc. If I turn that setting on and see that the writer has used the space bar and Enter key to position and format their text, rather than using text alignment, tabs, and paragraph spacing, that’s another red flag. I liken this to asking a journeyman carpenter to drive a nail. If he can’t do that quickly and cleanly, think about how much difficulty he’s going to have in framing a doorway.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your writing? I still value the PSWA, and I’m happy to assist where I can with technical details of policing and anything else I know about. If your question concerns something I don’t know about, I can always make something up.
How do our readers contact you? Your website, blog links, any links you want to be posted?
Marilyn Meredith Writes the Rocky Bluff PD Mystery Series as F. M. Meredith
Marilyn is here to tell you about the latest: Not as We Knew It. It’s #16 in the series, but all the mysteries are solved by the end of the tale. Like all the stories in this series, it is how what’s going on in the small beach community of Rocky Bluff affects the officers and their families.
The challenges come one after another for the Rocky Bluff P.D. to handle―from a missing woman to a fatal house fire. Detective Doug Milligan is faced with new and unusual problems to solve, some on the job and others related to his family. With the department shorthanded because of the Covid virus, Chief Chandra Taylor must make some hard decisions in order to protect the town of Rocky Bluff.
I’ve written in one form or another since I was a child. Because I had five children and now share my home with three great-grandchildren, I’m used to distractions and have no problem return to whatever I’m working on.
George asked if an association membership has helped me or my writing. I can honestly say being a part of the Public Safety Writers Association has certainly given me a big boost in writing about folks in law enforcement, answers to many questions, and sometimes even a plot idea.
Many of my characters are based on real people or combinations of folks. No one has ever accused me of writing about him or her. One exception is a friend who wanted to be a character in my other series. I didn’t use her real name, but I did describe her and her personality, and she loved it. I’ve also held contests where the person who one had his or her name used in a book. That’s fun, too, and the character never is anything like the real person.
Though I usually know the main theme of the story I’m going to write, I don’t outline. I do keep notes as I go along, especially about new characters, so I don’t forget some important detail.
I’ve written and published over 40 books, mostly mysteries but some in other genres. My other series is the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries, the latest being End of the Trail.
Rocky Bluff is a fictional small beach community along the Pacific coast, set between Ventura and Santa Barbara. It has some resemblance to another town but has its own characteristics. To me, it feels like a real place. When I’m writing about it, I can see it in my mind’s eye, and I can smell the ocean and feel the dampness of the fog. I feel the same way about the characters, and I’m compelled to write the next book, so I can find out what happens to them.
To buy: https://www.amazon.com/Not-As-Knew-F-M-Meredith/dp/B08NDT3FW5/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
Mark Langley – Talks About his Approach to Writing
My latest book, Death Waits in the Dark, is the second in a series concerning Arthur Nakai, a former Marine, ex-Shadow Wolf for the CBP. He has left that life and runs his own outfitting business in Northwest New Mexico. His wife, Sharon, a local KZRV news reporter and sometimes anchor, is still struggling with the loss of their first child, and the two of them are trying to move forward in their marriage. This is stressed in my first book, Path of the Dead, and begins to reshape them in Death Waits in the Dark.
I have always wanted to tell stories. After a terrifying car crash in my thirties, I sat in the hospital wondering what if I hadn’t made it? What if I was alive only with the help of machinery? What had I done with my life? From that moment on, I decided to live and go where I always wanted to go: the American Southwest. My parents took me there on a vacation when I was twelve, and the land had been a part of my soul ever since. I had to go back. I had to go back to what I felt was my home. Upon doing so, the urge to write of characters that inhabited that land grew evermore present inside me. I took a two-week trip and dictated everything I saw, felt, smelled, and heard into an old Panasonic tape recorder. That trip became Path of the Dead.
I’ve been told I do things a little backward. I normally think of a title and then create a story around it. Then I sit down and create characters along with backstories and begin to work out the plotline. I may go through several drafts, but I sit down at my laptop and let the Characters take over when I have all I need.
The third book in my Arthur Nakai series, When Silence Screams, is about a missing nineteen-year-old from Santa Fe. When Arthur is visited by the girl’s mother and her brother, she has been missing for six months. The family believes she has been sold into sex-trafficking. While Arthur is searching for her, he learns of a fifteen-year-old girl that has vanished, leaving only her bicycle behind. Then a young woman in her early twenties is fished out of a lake on the Navajo reservation with a ghastly revelation. Are the three connected? Arthur will have to find out.
After reading about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on the reservations in both the US and Canada, I created this story. Like Shirley, Becenti tells Arthur, “When a white girl goes missing from a golf course, the world hears about it. Let it be an Indian, and no one cares.” When I read that in 2016 alone, 5,712 girls and women went missing, I had to tell a story that would make people aware and think. I don’t tell the reader how to think but encourage them to form their own opinions.
Currently, I am reading Craig Johnson’s Longmire series as well as Anne Hillerman’s continuations of her father’s works. I confess I don’t get a lot of time to read, but I have read my author idols: Robert B. Parker, Mickey Spillane, and Ernest Hemingway, along with Ian Fleming and John D. MacDonald (whom I share a birthday with).
Path of the Dead took me about 20 years to write. I have a favorite saying John Lennon said years ago: “Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans.” I began Path of the Dead under the title Navajo Wind, then met the woman who became my wife, worked hard, took her adolescent daughter as my own, and life took over. Other things became more important. For the next 20 years, it was an on-again-off-again romance with writing. Then, at the end of 2016, after retiring, I decided to take my one chance at making my dream come true. And thank God, it did. A few months later, I had an agent and a two-book deal with Blackstone Publishing.
Character names seem to fall into place as I develop the persona of each character. If the name flows, I use it. If it doesn’t, I keep searching. The names have to feel real, not contrived, for me to create a character around them.
As most writers can attest to, you can think all you want about how they would react. Still, whether they are having a conversation, involved in some action, they tend to have a mind and will of their own and do things you hadn’t thought of. Their own “humanity” comes to the surface.
I don’t believe that a man can’t write from a woman’s perspective or vice versa. A lot of Sharon’s actions and words are my wife’s. I think that adds to the reality of their marriage. And my readers have told me they love the characters because they are believable. In Death Waits, I deal with PTSD and Arthur’s military past. Having never had that experience, I turned to my friends that had joined after high school and had been in Afghanistan. I sat and listened and learned a great deal. Then I did a lot of research, and that made me able for Arthur to convey that bond of brotherhood and talk of his past truthfully.
I love having subplots. In Path of the Dead and Death Waits in the Dark, I use them. I find that even if they are little things that actually have happened in the area Arthur calls home, not only will the readers that live in that area remember them, but other readers will see the subplot as an interesting little detour.
Arthur’s looks are based on a Native actor. Sharon is based on a TV reporter I got to know. Jake Bilagody resembles my grandfather in stature. In When Silence Screams, a few characters are based on friends I had in high school and my first job.
I always outline. I find it is much better to have a road map than to wing it. I outline the story as a whole, then each chapter. That always seems to change, however, when the characters take over the narrative.
I compile folders, if not binders, of research concerning what the story will be involving. That is both the hardest part and the most enticing part of being a writer—learning about things of which you had no idea.
I tell my readers that 98% of the locations are real. I have been there, driven the hard-packed roads, and tried to bring those places to life. Then, the other 2% are fictional because there is so much more leeway to accomplish what a writer needs to.
When Silence Screams will be out next August, but right now, I am researching book four, “GLASS.” It concerns the terrible grip crystal meth has on the reservations. In this age of Covid, I cannot visit the area as I have in the past. I rely on doctors near me and the internet to explore this scourge. Glass will be set for release in 2022.
The best advice I have for other writers is to never give up. Perseverance is the key. Never give up on your dream and goal, and NEVER give up on yourself. If you do, then you have lost. No matter how many naysayers there are, they do not understand your dream or goal. That cannot even imagine it. Only you do. Live your truth.
Here is my contact information:
Shannon Brown is the author of Parlor Tricked, a funny psychic novel.
Parlor Tricked – A reluctant psychic, a dead rock star, and a cursed linen outlet. It’s just another day in suburban Ohio. Victoria Maldene is convinced she is the only non-psychic born into a family of mediums until the day she gets a visit from the town’s most famous resident. Victoria doesn’t want to follow in the family business. Her mom and her sister may have psychic visions, but Victoria doesn’t. She’s too busy going to school and working part-time at the local linen outlet to worry about the paranormal. What Vicki doesn’t know is the linen outlet now stands where a cursed theater used to be.
When Victoria starts to see unexplainable things and people no one else can, she brushes it off. Then she meets a famous rock star who grew up in her part of Ohio. Meeting Johnny Billingsley is quite a conversation starter, especially since he died thirty years ago. Johnny wants to pass along a message to his family, and the only one who can help him is Victoria. Will she be able to help, or will Johnny’s secret remain hidden forever? Find out in the hilarious Parlor Tricked.
Beyond the Music – Ellen Daniels was all alone until love showed up at her door. Too bad her new boyfriend’s not all he seems. In the summer of 1966, 21-year-old Ellen Daniels moved to Canada to help out her family’s business. Now the business is failing, and she’s miles away from everything she knows and loves. Then one day, an enigmatic stranger shows up. Ellen finds herself falling in love even though her mysterious new boyfriend has something to hide. Can she trust him, or will she get sucked back into the rhythms of the life she left behind in Indiana?
Rock’n’Roll in Locker Seventeen. An ordinary teen has just discovered the fate of the world’s most famous missing rock star. What happens next will blow your mind. In 1964 Ricky Stevenson had it all, then he mysteriously vanished. Thirty years later, the truth is revealed and turns 17-year-old Steven’s life inside out. So, where has Ricky been, and why? All will be revealed once you read Rock’n’Roll in Locker Seventeen.
Pete’s Potato Problem – Pete has a problem. A new restaurant has opened up in town and taken away all his business. Then Pete gets an idea. The annual Pingleton Potato Festival is coming up. Pete knows if he enters his recipe in the big contest, people will fall in love with his food once again. Then Pete discovers someone is buying up all of his secret ingredients. What will Pete do? Will, he closes up shop, or will Pete find an unexpected way to solve his potato problem?
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. Whatever genre strikes me. I’ve done Young Adult, New Adult, Light Paranormal, and a picture book.
What brought you to writing? I had an idea that I always thought might make an interesting book. Years ago, I worked a holiday job at a mall bookstore. They also ran a temporary kiosk. After the holidays ended, the booth had nothing on sale. No one was interested any more, so it was completely dead. Anyway, I got assigned to this dead kiosk, and the first day I brought a few magazines. I read through them all and was so bored, so the next day I brought a notebook. The manager asked me what it was for. I said to keep track of my schedule. While at the kiosk, I started writing my first book and didn’t stop.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? In my home office. I sometimes listen to music. I sometimes get distracted by the internet, but I try not to let that happen when I am in the zone.
Tell us about your writing process: I sit at my computer and try to get into the zone where ideas flow. Sometimes it happens, other times not as much. Sometimes that zone will hit me other places, and I will write freehand. Some people call it the muse.
What are you currently working on? A novel about a woman who feels like she can no longer relate to the present time, so she slides back into the 80s/90s state of living.
How long did it take you to write your first book? I don’t remember. Rewrites and edits took forever. I wrote the first draft of the third book in the trilogy in a month for NaNoWriMo one year. I need to finish prepping it and release it soon.
How long to get it published? I tried to do it the old-fashioned way initially with query letters. That is achingly slow. It takes months for people to get back to you and some people want you to query them exclusively. When I was trying, the book world was changing, and traditional publishers were not keeping up. Eventually, I got with the times and added it to Amazon and other online booksellers.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? I let them do what they seem to want to do. I don’t know if strong-willed is the right word for them, however. I guess it depends on the character and situation they find themselves in.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Trying to gauge how they would view the opposite sex without making them unlikable.
Do you try to make the antagonist into a more human character? Often my antagonists are not necessarily human in the first place. They are in a struggle the characters must face.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? It depends on the story; I don’t have a formula. I wish I did.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Not really, though people assume I do. I’ve heard it is so and so based on me, more than once. I’ve added single characteristics from people to characters but never a whole character.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Pretty much a pantser, though I may do smaller sub-outlines if I get stuck.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Fictional locations that seem like they could be real places. Often the towns or parts of the cities are loosely based on real places.
What is the first book you ever read? I’m not sure. The first book I ever bought myself was a funny spin on the Bremen Town Musicians’ German fairy tale. I bought it at Long’s Drugs in a rack by the check stand, after my dad gave me some money and told me to pick something out. I don’t know what attracted me to that book, but it was a good one. I read it a lot.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Publishing the third book in my trilogy. It’s almost ready to go. Writing more and trying to get back into promoting my stuff.
How do our readers contact you? Your website, blog links, any links you want to be posted?
The Birth of The Mona Lisa Sisters
Ten years ago, I was managing Safety and Security for Palm, Inc. A few months later, Hewlett-Packard acquired Palm in what is often referred to as a disastrous acquisition. Not long after, H-P began the layoffs. I got a weekly list of those to be laid off the following week. When the notice came for my team, I gave them the week off to start on a job hunt. A few weeks later, I learned I would be terminated the following Monday. I cleaned out my office but hung around in case there were any problems.
Then began my introduction to how rampant age-discrimination had become. After three months, it was so obvious; I started a spreadsheet. I recorded 140 applications after that. Often, I could swear the hiring company had used my resume as the requirements for the position. My mistake was being honest. I included that I was a Vietnam War Veteran. Any H/R person in the world would spot that and know I was at least sixty years old. I got one interview. I walked in, business suit, tie, and white hair. The two people I talked with were wide-eyed twenty-somethings. They were polite in their T-Shirts, torn pants, and sandals . . .for about five minutes. Then, “Thank you for coming in, George. Have a good day.”
Early 2012, I saw that the local senior center was offering a writing class. I figured it might help with a new resume—wrong. It was a fiction writing class. I was learning creative writing, and I loved it. After a month or so, the instructor passed out random pictures to each student. The assignment: “Study the image, taken fifteen minutes, and describe the scene.”
I took one look at my picture, two girls looking up at the Mona Lisa, and ignored the assignment. In those fifteen minutes, I knew I would write a novel. I had notes on paper, the story in my mind, and the title. And it all came together to form the genesis for The Mona Lisa Sisters.
That began an eight-year journey.
I enrolled at Las Positas College and took writing classes. Unlike my earlier college years, it was no longer drudgery. I earned straight As. The assignments lead to multiple revisions of my novel.
In a class taught by Karin Spirn, I read about a fantastic instructor at UC Berkeley who did not have a doctorate. Instead, he held an MFA. In another class, I was introduced to the work of Native American poet Joy Harjo. She was recently appointed to a third term as the U.S. Poet Laureate. I began following her on social media. I saw that Harjo was a guest lecturer at the Institute of American Indian Arts, MFA Program. An enrolled descendant of the Karuk Tribe of California, I called IAIA and applied. Five days later, I received an acceptance notice for the Low-Residency MFA Program. IAIA, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
For the next two years, my manuscript was my thesis paper, The Mona Lisa Sisters. I rewrote, revised, and learned. My mentors were terrific and have, over time, become much more to me. One area that I got dinged on was when I brought my characters to the dinner table. The settings often lacked enough detail to draw the reader into the scene. Ismet “Izzy” Prcic, roared “People don’t go to dinner and leave. They eat. What the “F” are they eating—saying?”
Mona Lisa is set in the early 1890s. So, I had much research to do before bringing food to the table. I did it—overdid it—added several thousand words. Izzy, “I don’t need to know every single effen thing they ate and how it was prepared.” I subtracted words to please him.
Each addition or subtraction required rewrites.
The program required a great deal more than working on my manuscript. I attended lectures, readings, workshops, and read and wrote critical reviews of over forty books. Two authors I had held extreme distaste for became favorites—Albert Camus and Joyce Carol Oates. Most of those forty books are full of underlining, highlighting, and writing in the margins. My mentors and I collaborated on the selection of books. Native Americans wrote at least half our choices. I was introduced to the work of such great authors as,
- Debra Magpie Earling (Bitterroot Salish) – Perma Red
- Louise Erdrich (Chippewa) – The Round House
- David Treuer (Ojibwe) – Little
- Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo) – Ceremony
I met many who shared their world and writing. I met Joy Harjo and chatted over cafeteria dinner. Tommy Orange, There There, was a contemporary, as was Angela Trudell Vasquez. Angie is the Poet Laureate of Madison, Wisconsin.
When I faced the challenge of my thesis/manuscript, one of the questions came from another, fantastic teacher and author, Pam Houston. Her first question had to do with the scenes set in . . . the dining room. I shouldn’t have, but I laughed. I know Izzy put her up to it.
This year, I finished the twenty-third revision of The Mona Lisa Sisters. Agent queries had been returned with polite rejections. I sat back, told the manuscript, “I’m starting to hate you. I’m finished.”
I reached out to Paula Chinick of Russian Hill Press and told her I was done and wanted her to publish the bloody thing. She agreed. I figured my work was done—wrong.
The cover design took months. Getting back-cover reviews became urgent. I was stuck until I recalled a talk where a young author mentioned he sent out requests to known authors and asked them to read and write reviews. “What have I got to lose?” I asked myself and sent out four requests. Three agreed to write reviews. I even had one person, out of the blue, offer to write one.
I used two. Ramona Ausubel wrote one. I love her novel No One is Here Except All of Us. The other, by playwright, editor, and UCLA instructor Victoria Zackheim. I also used a Kirkus review.
Violet (Vi) Moore came on board as the editor. She forced me to pick up the manuscript and read it line by line and make corrections before she would touch it. I’m glad she did. Over two months, we made more corrections and changes than I will ever admit.
Then the galleys came, and Paula made me do it all over again. The editor is usually done by then, but Vi called me and ordered me to reread it. I know we missed at least one typo. One of my readers sent me a note informing me of it.
Paula, Vi, and the cover design team were all very reasonable in the charges to bring the project to fruition.
Amazon released The Mona Lisa Sisters on August 14, 2020. A little over eight years after the instructor handed me a picture of two young girls looking at the Mona Lisa.
I met and have become friends with so many fine people as the result of my diving into the world of fiction writing. I have been and will ever be blessed for having started the journey when I couldn’t find a job.
History must be what it is. There is no need for excuses or blame.
My first book remains a large, fractured manuscript, still a work in progress, titled Ranching in the Heart of Arizona. From a conversation with a coworker about 14 years ago about the fact that many old ranchers in our area were passing away and my comment, “Someone should get their history before it’s too late.” She said, “Why don’t you do it?” Expecting to be dealing with a score or so ranches, research has turned up more than three hundred old ranch-families in my home Gila County; and started me on my never-ending personal story.
In fact, it was the act of researching that history that I first happened on the very interesting 1889 robbery of US Army Paymaster Major Wham and his escort at Cottonwood Canyon in Arizona. My first fiction novel, The Wham Curse, set in two different centuries relates the story of the robbery and creates a fictional answer to what if the Wham loot were found in modern times?
I became friends with my lead characters and needed to keep them alive. I am the author of a four-book series of mysteries set in rural Arizona and the greater Southwest. I am also an Arizona Historian, with several papers for the Historical Society, museums, on-line history pages, articles in print magazines and newspapers, and an editor and contributor to a history book. My interest in the Southwest’s natural and human history and my love for mystery stories are combined in my fiction stories. A sense of place and history plays out in my stories as a natural part of the setting.
Each of my books has a primary murder plot, three or four subplots, and character backstories. In The Wham Curse, the primary plot is solving the inexplicable killing of a young Apache boy, which makes no sense until connected with the old robbery. Secondary plots deal with historic preservation, environmentalism, and crime on the Indian Reservation.
Saints & Sinners has the main plot of protecting a Mexican girl from cartel assassins. Secondary themes resolve around border issues, a romance blooming for Deputy Sanchez, international crime, and Mexican culture.
Archaeological theft and international illegal marketing and murder are the primary plots of The Baleful Owl. Subplots include dealing with differing views among different tribes, acceptance of the mentally disadvantaged, and the place of preservation in the rapidly changing Southwest.
Set in two fictional mine developments in Arizona, Murder in Copper, deals with a murder and both industrial and international espionage, justice on the reservation, international relationships with former Soviet republics, alcoholism, and grief.
I do a lot of research, even for my fiction. The Apache, O’odham, Mexican, Mormon, and rural culture will be as accurately depicted as I can make it. The geography, natural environment, and history of each setting will be very accurate. I research the legality of situations and law enforcement jurisdictions, and the local culture’s influence. So when the story is in Hermosillo, Solomon, Spain, Turkmenistan, San Carlos, Tempe, Tucson, Ft. McDowell, or wherever, I used actual street names, buildings, office locations, and sometimes business names, such as the Casa Reynoso in Tempe and Taylor Freeze in Pima.
When I write, I have a general idea, sort of a very sketchy outline of my main plot. From there, I simply tell the story, let it flow naturally. I’m often surprised where this takes me; I guess that’s the pantsy part of me. But the “engineer syndrome” part of me comes to play in that I keep track of each plot and subplot, the clues, and each character I invent on spreadsheets. While I always have new characters in each novel, I also reuse characters from other books. This organized tracking facilitates reuse of interesting minor characters, keeps me from revealing a clue or a clue-related action at the wrong time, and lets me weave the progress of plots and subplots in a logical order, and to sometimes connect subplots as contributory to the main plot.
I love the act of writing, especially fiction because I can take it wherever I want it to go, as long as it makes sense to the story. But I hate to be interrupted when writing. This makes it kind of a tough, lonely time for my longsuffering wife. I need about a three-hour block of time, so I can get the story flowing and translate it to words; with any less than that, I spend most of my time trying to figure out where I am in the story and where I want to go. There have been times I started writing at seven pm and interrupted to go to bed at seven am. Such a session is very productive; it’s like playing at the top of my game.
One thing I do when writing either pure history or depicting actual history in a novel is present the facts as they actually happened and in the context of the period, without passing judgment or equating it to today’s values. History must be what it is. There is no need for excuses or blame.
For more about my work or myself, visit my page: https://virgilalexander.weebly.com/books.html
The books are available in print and digital at Barnes & Noble Stores and Online, at Indy stores, and through Amazon.