Madeline (M.M.) Gornell has nine published Literary Mystery novels, some of which have garnered awards, such as Uncle Si’s Secret (PSWA award winner), Death of a Perfect Man, Lies of Convenience (Hollywood Book Festival Honorable Mention), Reticence of Ravens (finalist for Eric Hoffer 2011 fiction Prize, the da Vinci Eye for cover art, and the Montaigne Medal for most thought-provoking book), Counsel of Ravens ( London Book Festival Honorary Mention and LA Book Festival Runner-Up), Rhodes The Mojave-Stone (Honorable Mention in the San Francisco Book Festival), Rhodes The Movie-Maker received Honorable Mention in The Great Midwest Book Festival, Rhodes The Caretakers. Her latest, Rhodes Never Forgotten, recently received Honorable Mentions in the LA Book Festival, The San Francisco Book Festival, and The New York Book Festival.
Settings and character uniqueness are her inspiration, and she currently continues to be inspired by the Mojave Desert—its beauty and all the human tales—as she likes to say, “blowing on the Mojave winds…”
Madeline lives with her husband and assorted canines in Newberry Springs on Route 66.
For some, the unknown future is far more interesting than past or present realities. The Mojave Desert, especially along Route 66, offers endless possibilities for exploration into past happenings, experiencing the intensity of the desert environment in the present, and positing unknown futures. And, of course, for creating fanciful fiction spanning all time periods.
Thank you so much, George, for inviting me to your blog! For me, scenery and characters are writing’s “Holy Grail,” and I think I will be answering several of your excellent questions by just talking about setting and characters in terms of my novels.
For sure, settings have inspired all my books. Years ago, we lived in North Bend, WA, at the base of Mt. Si. Thus, the inspiration for Uncle Si’s Secret—my trying to share the magnificent and grandiose Pacific Northwest. And tell a story—and a murder—at the same time. It took many rejections before finally being published. And of course, when it was, I was on cloud nine!
When leaving Puget Sound and before ending up in the Mojave, we looked around several western states from a base in Ridgecrest, California (with two dogs and a cat!) That locale inspired Death of a Perfect Man. One particular street in the town seemed to call to me and plays in several key scenes. Setting had worked its magic again. When finally settling in San Bernardino County, CA, in the high desert, all my other books have been inspired by the “new to me” at the time, and now still awesomeness of the Mojave Desert in my area.
My characters are completely made up (I think!). They are people I would like or be interested in knowing more about—even the villains. And indeed, to your character questions, getting the right name is part of my development process. I’m fond of Welsh names and managed to squeeze “Delyth” into my latest.
For me, characters are the vehicle for a reader to experience my story. Through their eyes—actually all their senses—a reader experiences(I hope) my plot. What they see, the smells, the touches—not just their dialogue and my narrative. I have nattered on in past writings about developing characters, and honestly, I am still challenged by telling my story through their eyes the best I can. For me, writing isn’t an end accomplishment but a continuing process. To your question about aspiring writers, that would most probably be my advice—always challenge yourself to do better. As an aside, I write in 3rd person, and my lead characters are of the opposite sex.
And to answer one more of your excellent questions, my favorite authors are Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and P.D. James.
Finally, I’d like to put in a plug for Public Safety Writers Association. I haven’t been able to attend conferences lately, but PSWA writers are the nicest and most supportive, information-laden and eager to share, group of writers I’ve ever met. My first novel was a prize winner at PSWA, and again put me on cloud nine!
Joseph B. Haggerty Sr. Author of the novels: Shame: The Story of a Pimp and An Ocean in the Desert Contributor to the PSWA anthology: Felons, Flames and Ambulance Rides Award-winning poet, writer, and lecturer on the sexual exploitation of women and children in prostitution and pornography.
I’m Joseph B. Haggerty Sr. a retired vice detective and academy instructor from the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. (35 yrs). I was a Senior Special Agent in Investigations with the Office of the Inspector General for Amtrak (6 yrs). In 2009, I received an award, Heroes of the Heart, from the organization Children of the Nights in California and was recognized as one of the top ten law enforcement officers in the country for rescuing children from the street. I was President of the Writers League of Washington for nine years. I have been a member of the Public Safety Writers Association since 2010. I have a self-published novel, Shame: The Story of a Pimp, which I wrote based on my experiences investigating child predators in prostitution. I was honored to have 3 short stories and 2 poems published in the PSWA anthology, Felons, Flames and Ambulance Rides. I also have another book from Oak Tree Press, titled, An Ocean in the Desert. A number of my poems have been published in my FOP lodge newspaper and Tears on the Walls was recorded on a CD titled Heroes Unsung. I am married with six children, eleven grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.
The first book I wrote was because of the way, and movies and television portray prostitution. They make it look glamorous, safe, and profitable. Most serial killers either start out killing prostitutes or easily convert to killing them. For one good reason, they are easy targets. Pimps are the real problem on the street. They are the real criminals. Prostitutes are the pawns used to make the pimps money and are sacrificed just as easily. I wanted to write about what the street is really like. As a vice detective specializing in going after the pimps in Washington, D.C.( excluding Congress), I learned a great deal about how the pimps do their business and how they get their victims and hold them. My book, Shame, The Story of a Pimp, is just that. It’s a story of a pimp from birth to death, how he learned about pimping and became a pimp. It’s a story of sex and violence because that’s the story of prostitution. It’s a story of the sexual exploitation of children by pimps. It’s a story of the pimp world and pimp law. I interviewed over 5000 prostitutes who worked the D.C. streets in my over twenty-seven years on the street and also interviewed hundreds of pimps. Some of my cases are intertwined in the book. I changed names and locations, but the events are the same.
I’ve also written a book, An Ocean in the Desert, where two private investigators specialize in finding missing children. If they find the child has been a victim of a sexual predator, they offer the child’s family an additional service to guarantee their child will never return to that predator.
I’m in the process of writing a third book, tentatively named Craig’s Follies, which is about a male prostitute who became a professional informant for several police departments across the country as well as Washington, D.C.
A publisher has agreed to publish a book of my short stories about the street and my life as an investigator.
As a Public Safety Writers Association(PSWA) member, I have learned a great deal about writing and other aspects of law enforcement, medical situations, and firefighting. Through the list/serv and our conferences, I have had numerous questions, answers, and ideas for handling plots, characters, setting, point of view, and numerous ways to kill people. PSWA has given me confidence and encouragement for the submissions I have made to the various writing contests for which I have won many awards. I would recommend PSWA to anyone thinking about writing or who has been fortunate enough to have a book, short story, or poetry published.
I wrote my first book in less than a year, finishing it in 1987. I wrote it longhand on a legal pad. It took another couple of years to have it put on a computer disc. After finally having it on my computer and another couple of years of editing, I took it to a literary agent. The agent turned me down, saying the book needed too much editing. I went to another literary agent and got the same answer. I did more editing. I couldn’t afford a real editor as the book was over 500 pages. I went to a third agent, who said I had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting published as an unknown writer. In 1999, I joined a writers group, The Writers’ League of Washington. Through their encouragement and confidence-building, I decided to go the route of self-publishing, and my book, Shame, The Story of a Pimp, was published in 2008.
In Shame, I have several subplots. There are three main subplots. Shame’s mother gets involved with a gambling pimp who rips off the mob. I had one of Same’s women kidnapped by another pimp, and a rescue attempt is made. The third is a policewoman who goes undercover as a prostitute to discover the truth about a murdered friend. One other thing, I’m not sure you could call them subplots, but I didn’t want to just concentrate on Shame’s women. A number of other women worked the street, and the reader will read about them. I wanted the reader to know how they got to where they were. I wanted the reader to see the whole street.
With my first two books, I wrote as a pantser, but with Craig’s Follies, I am outlining. I am also writing a book with another member of PSWA, and we’re outlining with that book.
I have to say that my favorite books are the ones that inspired me to write. The first is The Stand, by Stephen King. I’m not a big Stephen King fan, but the characters he created in The Stand are extraordinary. I am a slow reader, and The Stand is a big book, which was a challenge to me. Still, the characters he created were the driving motivation to read the book in its entirety. The second book that inspired me was Cathedral by Nelson Demille. This book was about Irish terrorists that take over St. Patrick’s cathedral in New York. This was one of those books you can’t put down. The action was non-stop, with great characters and a great story.
You can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The title of his latest release is When Silence Screams.
Mark Edward Langley is an award-winning author of the Arthur Nakai Mystery Series, including Death Waits in the Dark which won both as a finalist in the American Book Fest Awards in 2020 and winning the coveted Feathered Quill Book Award for best mystery of 2021. He is currently writing his fourth novel of the series, Broken Glass, due out August 2022. He and his wife, Barbara, divide their time between the home in Indiana and New Mexico.
Award-winning author James Wade had this to say about it: “Langley’s third installment of his Arthur Nakai Mysteries is the most thrilling yet. The characters are fully formed, and the danger is real and urgent. Langley has an unmatched feel for his New Mexico setting, both the landscape and the culture. A master of dialogue, Langley lets the banter flow freely and allows the mystery to drive the story from the opening pages to its heart-pounding conclusion. There’s not a better detective writer in the American West.”
And these best-selling authors had this praise for my Arthur Nakai series: Anne Hillerman said this: Death Waits in the Dark tells a gritty story of betrayal, deceit, and danger through the eyes of Navajo protagonist Arthur Nakai. The tightly written noir plot moves from scene to scene like a thriller, building suspense on every page.
William Kent Kreuger said this: With Death Waits in the Dark, Mark Edward Langley offers readers an utterly compelling portrait of human beings struggling to deal with the aftermath of great trauma. Langley writes about the great Southwest with a loving eye for detail that fans of Tony and Anne Hillerman will readily embrace. I was utterly captured by this fine second novel in the Arthur Nakai series. Along with those who are already fans, I can only hope that there will be many more stories to come. I recommend this book with a full heart.
Craig Johnson said this: “Combining the gait of a fine horse, the comfort of your favorite Indian blanket, and the ease of a well-worn saddle, Mark Edward Langley’s Path of the Dead is one heck of a debut novel!”
Do you write in more than one genre? I only write in the mystery genre. I have always loved reading them and watching them because I am always intrigued and try to figure them out. The best ones are the ones that surprise me!
What brought you to writing? I fell in love with it when I began reading the Spenser series by Robert B. Parker. Then, when I discovered Tony Hillerman, I kept telling myself, “you can do this! You need to do this! You have stories to tell!”
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in my office. It gives me the privacy I need, and I am surrounded by inspiration. Plus, I have an extensive cd library and often play Native American flute music … and the occasional Pink Floyd album to help my mood.
Tell us about your writing process: My process consists of coming up with a title and composing a story around it. Then I do what seems to be reams of research, categorize it into a manageable pile, create new characters and begin mapping out each chapter. For the next book–Broken Glass–I contacted the Navajo Nation, Albuquerque, and Phoenix police departments and obtained closed case files concerning the main crux of the story my protagonist Arthur Nakai will move through. It’s wonderful to see how police procedures move things along in an organized fashion.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Hands down–the research. Sometimes it is daunting, but it is always worth it. Even if I search out one fact for one sentence, it makes the story that much more authentic.
What are you currently working on? I am three chapters into Broken Glass (book four) and recently had an idea based on a title (Midnight Harvest) for book five and wrote the first chapter of that. I have also begun creating another series set in another part of New Mexico featuring another wonderful character. When it comes to fruition, I will let my Members Only subscribers of my website know first.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? I belong to four associations, but the most help I have received has come from Western Writers of America. ITW has done very well helping to promote my work, and I look forward to a long relationship with them all.
Who’s your favorite author? I would have to say it is Robert B. Parker. Spenser is a wonderfully written character. I loved his books from the moment I picked up my first copy. Working in a bookstore at the time gave me a wide array of authors to choose from–including Tony Hillerman, Mickey Spillane, and John D. MacDonald (whom I share a birth date with–July 24th.)
How long did it take you to write your first book? I heard someone say once that “Life is what happens while you’re busy making plans.” That is absolutely true. Path of the Dead took 20 years before it saw the light of day. Once I retired at the end of 2016, I focused on my writing. I think it’s worked out pretty well.
How long to get it published? I was lucky. I first got an agent. He submitted my manuscript to six publishers, and in two weeks, I had a two-book deal.
How do you come up with character names? I keep a list of Navajo and other names to choose from. I also have several other pathways and often combine first and last names to create a character.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? I would say that they run the show. No matter how I map out a chapter, my characters seem to have their own minds and their own will, especially during dialogue scenes. They have lives, they have ideals, they have thoughts that lead me off my pre-written trail and down a new, unseen path.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Well, I use a lot of personal experience and do a lot of research as well. You have to find a way into their minds. In my case, it’s Arthur’s wife Sharon and her thoughts on pregnancy, depression, and PTSD, all things I have no experience with.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? No. They do not. They always amaze me with their individuality and loyalty.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Yes, I have subplots. Often they are little stories inside the main story that gives the reader an authentic feel of the area. In book three, When Silence Screams, the two subplots have a more prevalent connection.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? By making something unexpected happen. Because fiction, like life, moves forward when conflict occurs.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? Stephen King. I just can’t read him. My wife can, but I just can’t get into him. I love watching films based on his work–my favorite being The Dark Half.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Like most writers, I pull from friends, school buddies, and the like. And sometimes, it’s a conglomeration of several people.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I outline. I like to know where I’m going and how I’m getting there.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? 98% of the locations in my novels are real. I have driven the hard packed dirt roads, the open highways and visited the small towns and places I write about. I feel I have to do that in order to give the reader an authentic experience so they can feel and smell and taste and see everything that New Mexico and the Navajo Reservation holds.
What is the best book you ever read? Robert B. Parker’s Crimson Joy and Finding Rachel Wallace. I actually read both twice.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Hopefully, my dream will continue to come true, and I can enjoy writing and make a good living at it. I figure I have maybe 15 to 20 years left to be creative and want to enjoy those years with my wife with what success will offer me.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Never let go of YOUR dream. No one else will ever understand because it is not THEIR dream. They may find every reason they can to dismiss you and alter your mindset and resolve, but don’t let them. YOU have the vision … don’t give them the power to change it.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? If anyone wants to learn more about me and my books, they can visit markedwardlangley.com and join Members Only for exclusive content access. From my website, you can navigate to all my social media pages, watch book trailers, listen to my podcast and radio interviews, and much more!
Margaret Mizushima writes the award-winning and internationally published Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. She serves as president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and was elected the 2019 Writer of the Year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She lives in Colorado on a small ranch with her veterinarian husband, where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals.
Margaret’s the Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries, are police procedurals set in a small town in the Colorado high country. Married forty years to a veterinarian, Margaret enjoys setting up puzzling crimes for her protagonists to investigate—Deputy Mattie Cobb, her K-9 partner Robo, and veterinarian Cole Walker. Together these three heroes battle murder and mayhem in the fictional town of Timber Creek, Colorado.
Margaret’s seventh book in the series is now available. In Striking Range, the past and present collide when Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo are torn between investigating her father’s cold case and the death of a young mother whose body is found near Timber Creek. As a deadly storm batters the area, taking its toll on the investigative team, Mattie and Robo search for the woman’s missing infant, hoping to find the baby before it’s too late. But Mattie soon realizes that a killer, who may be the mastermind behind it all, is within their midst, ready to strike again.
What brought you to writing? It seems like I wanted to write and publish a book for most of my life, but I needed to help my husband earn a living and raise our two daughters first. As soon as I retired from my first career as a speech pathologist, I began studying the art and craft of novel writing. I wrote several books before trying my hand at mystery writing. My first book in the series, Killing Trail, was picked up by Crooked Lane Books (New York) and released in 2015. We’ve been launching a new book together every year since.
Where do you write? Tell us about your writing process. After my daughters moved away from home, I converted an upstairs bedroom into my office. I’m a great believer in having one’s own writing space. When I’m writing the first draft of a new book, I try to go upstairs and get started by 8:00 a.m. each morning. I scan my email, answer any that need immediate attention, and then switch from business mode to creative.
I usually light a candle and set a timer for forty-five minutes. During that time, I let nothing interrupt me. (Distractions in the form of social media and phone calls are all around, but unless from family, I do my best to ignore them.) After forty-five minutes, I take a break for fifteen, get up and stretch, answer any messages I need to, and then sit back down for another forty-five-minute stretch. Called the Pomodora Method, these short sprints of giving full concentration to a task help hold my attention best. Unless I have an appointment or something scheduled, I keep up these cycles until I’ve reached 1000 words. Using this method, I can usually write the first draft of a book in about four months. Then I revise several times before sending it to my editor.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Figuring out the plot. In every episode, I need to weave in my character arcs, a homicide or two, a social issue that I want to spotlight, work that my veterinarian character has to do that helps solve the crime, work that my K-9 character Robo has to do to turn up clues and work that my K-9 handler Mattie has to do. I love developing the premise of each book, choosing the theme, and working out the series arcs for my characters. It’s the nitty-gritty details of the puzzle, the clues, and the red herrings that are hard to wrestle into submission.
We hear about strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? I think having characters strike off on their own is part of the challenge, but it’s also part of the fun. When one of my characters takes off in a direction I didn’t plan, I have to pause and ask if this direction will serve my overall plot or is it going to lead me to a dead end. Sometimes I’m surprised when a character finds a clue I didn’t know was there. For example, in the second episode in the series, Stalking Ground, the detective and Mattie find the victim’s diary under the passenger seat of her car. I had no plan for that and was as surprised as they were. But what a happy turn it took in the story, and what a wonderful vehicle for giving my investigative team more evidence to work with!
How do you come up with character names? I give my series a western flavor, and so I tried to come up with names that are more common here in the west. I actually listen to the names of participants in rodeos and keep a running list. Cole Walker, the veterinarian in the book, has a name that resonates with the west. Mattie, my K-9 handler, was the name of one of my classmates. (We attended school in a small town in Colorado.) And the dog’s name, Robo? His was inspired by an actual K-9 partner that one of my consultants had when she worked in law enforcement in Bellingham, WA. Her Robo was a wonder dog, just like the Robo in my books. He could do it all, from tracking a fugitive or a missing person to finding narcotics or gunpowder to finding evidence after a crime. The stories I heard about the real Robo inspired the skillset that my fictional Robo demonstrates in every book.
What are you working on next? I’m working on the eighth book in the series, as yet unnamed. It will launch in the spring of 2023. I invite readers to get to know Mattie, Robo, and Cole—each mystery stands alone, but if you want the full effect of the character’s stories, start with Killing Trail.
Thank you for hosting me on your blog today, George. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my writing process and the Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries.
You can find Margaret at:
I met Jon when I inquired about the low-rez MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). Five days later, he had me admitted. During the program he wasn’t just the director, he was a mentor and friend to every student. When I had a serious medical issue that prevented my attendance one semester, he created a remote program that allowed me to complete my requirements and graduate with my cohort.
Jon, I can never thank you enough for your compassion and friendship. Yôotva – Thank You, George
My name is Jon Davis. I was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and grew up in the nearby town of Orange. After graduating high school, I worked for eight years, primarily as a mason and a warehouse manager, before attending the University of Bridgeport. I went on to earn my MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana. I taught for 30 years, 28 of them at the Institute of American Indian Arts. In 2013, I founded the IAIA low residency MFA in Creative Writing, which I directed until my retirement in 2018. From 2012-2014, I served as the City of Santa Fe’s fourth Poet Laureate. I have published seven books of poetry, one book of poetry in translation, and six chapbooks of poetry.
My new book of poetry, Above the Bejeweled City, will be available from Grid Books on September 15. Here’s the official book description:
In his seventh poetry collection, Jon Davis exhibits the range and mastery that is the result of fifty years of study, teaching, and practice. Above the Bejeweled City opens and closes with homages to Federico Garcia Lorca’s dream-struck ballad “Romance Sonámbulo.” In between, he inhabits what the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty calls the “inexplicable existence” that marks our passage here on Earth.
Part absurdist, part satirist, part tender correspondent, Davis writes in the slipstream of writers like Joyce, Beckett, Parra, and Plath. In an age that calls out for hopeful verse, Above the Bejeweled City offers, instead, a treatise on defeat and despair—and on how letting go is a way of holding on.
I think of it is as the third book in a tryptich with my previous two books, Improbable Creatures and An Amiable Reception for the Acrobat. All three books were written more or less simultaneously.
Do you write in more than one genre? I write in many genres—poetry and short fiction primarily, but I’ve also written screenplays, plays, creative nonfiction, literary criticism, satire, and songs. My first published writings were record reviews, and for a while, I was the music critic for a weekly newspaper in New Haven, Connecticut. I also write poetry and perform as Chuck Calabreze, an alter-ego of sorts that I developed in the 90s.
What brought you to writing? I was always an avid reader, and, for some reason, when I was in third grade, I suddenly wrote a 23 page story, the hero of which was a young Navajo man who had stumbled across a bag of money—I think some thieves had stashed it. The story followed him as he was pursued by both the authorities and the original thieves. I didn’t know any Navajo names (I was an eight year old living in Orange, Connecticut), so I borrowed an exotic-sounding name I’d seen in the newspapers for my hero: Tse (borrowed from Mao Tse Tung!). Four years later, I began writing imitations of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. (I read both when I was 11 years old.) I’d wander the woods with a journal (I mean, the notebook actually said “Journal” on the cover!), and I’d scribble down my romanticized observations of nature. I still have one of those journals. Trust me, nobody is going to see it.
But I didn’t think of writing as something one devotes oneself to until my 7th grade English teacher talked about James Joyce and his notion of the literary “epiphany. ” I think she defined it as the writer “seeing into the heart of things.” I remember thinking, “I want to do that!” The same teacher also made me stay inside during recess when I didn’t complete my assignments on time (which was most of the time). As “punishment,” she’d make me memorize poems. I remember being given John Donne’s “No Man is an Island.” I thought it was the best punishment ever.
It took a while before I came to poetry myself, though. What finally brought me to writing poetry was a dirt bike accident when I was 18. I was riding alone on a tight dirt track I’d carved out of the woods. It was the first cold morning in November, 16 degrees. I slid hard into the berm on the first turn, but instead of sliding around the turn, the tires bounced off the frozen berm. The bike stopped dead and fell on my calf muscle. I pulled the bike upright, got back on, and rode home. I figured I’d torn my calf muscle (two weeks later, I went to the doctor, and he confirmed my diagnosis), so I hopped up the stairs, sat at my desk, thought, What am I going to do now?—and started writing poems.
I taught myself by reading the generation ahead of mine, so Richard Hugo, Norman Dubie, and others were my teachers at first. In 1977, I wrote a letter and sent some poems to a poet named Dick Allen, whose book I’d found in the mall book store and who taught nearby, at the University of Bridgeport. Dick loved what I’d sent him and invited me to take any course I wanted. The one that fit into my schedule was a 300 level creative writing class. At the first full class, four of my poems appeared at the end of the mimeographed handout. After he’d led lively discussions of the other work on the handout, my poems came up for discussion. Nobody raised a hand, nobody spoke. Dick let the silence continue. He passed the time fiddling with his glasses, poking through papers in his briefcase. Meanwhile, I was thinking, I’m in the wrong class, I need to give up this crazy idea of writing poems, etc. Finally, he stood up and addressed the dumbfounded class. “These poems,” he said, “are instantly publishable in any journal in America.” He went on to tell the class what he knew about me—I was a construction worker, I’d taught myself to write these poems—and the various virtues he saw in my poems, then class ended. I talked to him briefly after class, then drove the twenty minutes home in my battered 68 Buick, sobbing all the way.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write wherever I am and write longhand, on a computer, or on my iPhone. Sometimes I record on my iPhone. When I’m writing as Chuck Calabreze, I shout and growl lines and either record them or scribble them down immediately after growling them. I often drive with a notebook beside me and scribble poems (mostly without looking) across the pages. I keep a notebook beside my bed for those times I wake up having dreamt part of a poem. I can write poems no matter what’s happening around me. I’ve written poems in emails and group chats, on Facebook messenger, and in text messages.
Tell us about your writing process. As you might surmise from my previous answer, I don’t have a writing process. In fact, I don’t believe in the idea of a “creative process”; experience tells me poems and stories happen in thousands of different ways. So my approach is to stay open and alert and attentive to the wild world and to my own wildly associative brain. I write notes everywhere, let every glimpse or whimsy, every hurt or big idea, every cluster of words or silly thought, every fleeting buzz or bing into my awareness. I’m apt to drop everything and start writing. Or at the very least, text myself a title, a line, a part of a poem or story or song. I have this idea that the composition / revision divide (process?) is an artificial distinction that was produced by writing workshops. For me, it’s all composition—one fluid (okay, sometimes not so fluid) movement. I suspect that relying on a process will get you processed poems, not quite real poems the way processed “cheese food” isn’t quite cheese.
What are you currently working on? Even before I’d completed Above the Bejeweled City, I was deep into the next collection—by deep, I mean deep for a poet: I have about 30 pages. Some of these poems will appear in State of the Union, a chapbook coming from Finishing Line Press in 2022.
Who’s currently your favorite author? I am currently reading The Glass Constellation by one of my favorite poets, Arthur Sze, whose innovations, developed over fifty years of poetic practice, reveal an entire worldview.
Do you have any advice for new writers? For poets: Imagine what the perfect poem looks like for you, then spend your life trying to write it. Ignore fashion. Ignore equally failure and success.
How do our readers contact you?
My web site: jondavispoet.com
My email: email@example.com
Chuck Calabreze’s blog: voydofcourse.blogspot.com
Copper Canyon Press: https://www.coppercanyonpress.org/books/preliminary-report-by-jon-davis/
Lynn Slaughter is addicted to chocolate, the arts, and her husband’s cooking.
After a long career as a professional dancer and dance educator, Lynn earned her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. She writes coming of age romantic mysteries and is the author of the newly released Leisha’s Song; While I Danced, an EPIC finalist; It Should Have Been You, a Silver Falchion finalist; and Deadly Setup (forthcoming from Fire and Ice, 2022). Lynn lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where she’s at work on her next novel and serves as the President of Derby Rotten Scoundrels, the Ohio River Valley chapter of Sisters in Crime.
Tell us about your recent release and your other books. Leisha’s Song centers around a young woman in a year when everything in her life changes. On scholarship at a prestigious New England boarding school, Leisha never intended to fall in love with classical singing or get involved with Cody Harrington—let alone risk her life trying to find her missing teacher.
Leisha’s Song follows two other YA novels, While I Danced and It Should Have Been You. In While I Danced, Cass, an aspiring ballet dancer, deals with family and romantic problems when she discovers a betrayal that leaves her questioning whether she even wants to continue dancing. In It Should Have Been You, seventeen-year-old Clara’s twin sister, a piano prodigy, is murdered. Rumors swirl that Clara was involved in her twin’s demise. And then she starts receiving threatening notes, the first of which says: “It should have been you… But soon.”
What brought you to writing? Initially, writing fiction started as a therapy project! Age and injury had led to my retirement from dance, and I was grieving the loss of my career and identity as a dancer. I’d always loved reading young adult fiction. Teenagers had been my favorite age group to work with, so I guess it’s not surprising that I was drawn to young adult fiction. When I wrote my first novel about an aspiring dancer, I think it was a way to honor my old life and invent a new dream. Interestingly, my subsequent novels have all involved characters passionate about the arts.
Tell us about your writing process. First, I get the wisp of an idea for a story. For example, in the case of Leisha’s Song, I overheard a conversation at New York’s Port Authority between a young woman and her grandmother. It became apparent that the grandmother was sending her granddaughter off to boarding school in New England, and the teen was reluctant to go. It got me thinking about what it would be like to be a whip-smart young woman of color at a private school populated by mostly wealthy white students. So, I had a vague idea about a character and a setting. Since I’m a romantic mystery writer, I thought about what the mystery would be. I came up with the disappearance of a teacher Leisha was close to and a romance between Leisha and a boy who appoints himself her investigative sidekick. After that, I did a lot of thinking and writing about Leisha and her missing teacher and the people in their lives, past and present. That gave me tons of ideas for plot complications, conflicts, and the identities of folks who might have had a reason to want Leisha’s teacher to disappear. The story grew from there.
What are you currently working on? I’m excited that my fourth YA novel, Deadly Setup, about a young woman who goes on trial for the murder of her heiress mother’s fiancée, is coming out in 2022, so I’ll be working on final edits for that.
Meantime, I’m working on two projects which are a bit out of my comfort zone in that they’re not for young adults. The first is the expansion of a short story I wrote for Malice Domestic’s anthology, Murder Most Theatrical. My story, “Missed Cue,” is now a novel in which the identity of the murderer of a renowned ballerina has actually changed. I’ve had fun developing the personal life of the female homicide detective in charge of the case.
I’m also working on a middle-grade novel about Varney, a young vampire who hates the taste of blood and is convinced he’s landed in the wrong body.
How long did it take you to write your first book? A long time. I worked on it on and off for about ten years. The subsequent novels didn’t take nearly that long!
Do you have any advice for new writers? Never give up. Do lots of reading and write regularly (I call that my “butt-in-chair” prescription!). Study the craft of writing. Join writer’s organizations, take courses, find a helpful critique group, and be open to feedback. If more than one person tells you something is a problem, paying attention is a good idea.
Keep in mind that while lots of writing involves revision, the first order of business is to get something written to work with. The best piece of advice I received in my MFA program was: “You can’t fix a blank page.”
Lynn loves hearing from readers and invites you to visit her website, which also houses her blog: https://lynnslaughter.com/
Leisha’s Song is available at:
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Hi George and Readers, It’s a pleasure to be back. I’m excited to announce the first four Argolicus Mysteries are now available in a collection, Argolicus Series Books 1-4.
The stories are traditional mysteries with late Roman Italy as the backdrop. History changes, but people remain the same. That’s what I find is fun about writing historical mysteries.
The Roman Heir: Argolicus begins a journey home to retire from politics. As a personal favor, he delivers a book to a young scholar. But the young man’s father is murdered hours before, and Argolicus is tasked to find the killer among the patricians in an unfamiliar town where he knows no one.
The Used Virgin: The governor holds a family friend prisoner. When Argolicus visits to investigate, he unearths a greedy plot to tarnish a good man’s name. To expose the plot, he must challenge the governor’s venal power to reveal a scheme.
The Vellum Scribe: When Argolicus’ uncle finds a dead body, it starts a chain of treacherous alliances based on greed and envy based on old friendships. But then an ambush attack produces a clue.
The Peach Widow: A simple request from his mother sends Argolicus to settle a legal question in a family at odds. Perplexed by subterfuge and greed motivating each family member, he finds no clues until the farm dog starts to play.
What readers are saying:
- A story well told. A ‘world’ worth settling into!’
- ‘Transport you to that ancient time, so you can meet their people and see their lives.’
- ‘Absolutely wonderful.’
- ‘A rich tapestry of interactions that serve to draw the reader deeper in..’
- ‘Highlights some of the most basic of emotions: anger, possession, hurt, sympathy, loss and guilt and, of course, greed..’
- ‘No telephones, no computers, no scientific method as we understand it, no mysterious villains with international organizations – and it works. .’
- ‘If I had to put stars for this book, I have had to put six stars!’
- ‘A thoughtful atmospheric pierce with wonderful characters.’
- ‘For mystery lovers with a love of history.’
- ‘Packs not only a great mystery but also a lot of truly interesting information about the era.’
- ‘A world with very different rules for dealing with murder.’
I started writing these stories when I was researching for a longer book. One of the letters in Cassiodorus’ Variable, he wrote as Prime Minister for King Theodoric, mentions a strange punishment. Scholars wondered what could cause such a puzzling punishment that wasn’t much of a punishment.
I thought, Who better to put this mystery to rest than our hero, Argolicus. And, so, The Used Virgin came to life. It’s the only mystery in the series with no murder but an attempt to kill a man’s reputation.
Argolicus was a real person at the time of Theodoric’s reign in Italy. He is mentioned nine times in Cassiodorus’ Variae as praefectus urbis of Rome.
Argolicus is a learned man who turns detective at the bidding of friends and neighbors who know him as trustworthy, wise, and fair. His tools are the logic of Aristotle, the self-restraint of Epictetus, the theology of Arius, and the empirical insights of Marcus Aurelius, all sharpened to an edge by ferocious curiosity. He collects evidence, deciphers politics, and digs into the deepest secrets of the human heart.
Zara Altair writes traditional mysteries set in Ostrogoth, Italy. Meet Argolicus, the Roman patrician who thinks his way to finding a killer. The Argolicus Mysteries are The Roman Heir, The Used Virgin, The Peach Widow, and The Vellum Scribe.
The Grain Merchant, the fifth in the series, was recently released.
A mystery lover since childhood, she writes about writing for several publications, including ProWritingAid and International Thriller Writer. A member of Sisters in Crime., Zara lives in Beaverton, OR, where she reads, walks among trees, and shares space with a cat. She coaches mystery writers at Write A Killer Mystery. Find her video tutorials on YouTube.
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Although Sandy Sheehy was born in New York, after graduating from Vassar, she moved to Austin and lived there, then in Houston, Galveston and Albuquerque. She now divides her time between Texas and New Mexico. Sheehy and her husband, historian and University of New Mexico professor emeritus Charles McClelland, spend several months a year traveling internationally.
Sheehy has written frequently on human relationships and the natural environment. Her work has appeared in Town & Country, Forbes, House Beautiful, Self, Working Woman, and Money, among other national magazines. She is the author of Texas Big Rich (1990, William Morrow), a group portrait of the state’s financially fortunate, and Connecting: The Enduring Power of Female Friendship (2000, HarperCollins).
Sandy’s first novel, Deserts of the Heart, is a multicultural historical romance set in 1798 near Santa Fe (June 2021, White Bird Publications).
I have another book out this year: Imperiled Reef: The Fascinating, Fragile Life of a Caribbean Wonder, October 5 from the University of Florida Press, grew out of her love of scuba diving. “Drifting weightless above a coral head is the closest those of us alive today will ever come to visiting another planet,” she explains. This nonfiction book describes the natural history and ecology of the world’s second-longest barrier reef.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. My previously published books have been nonfiction.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in the room my husband calls the “study.” It sounds small, but it’s the largest room in our 1940-vintage house, and it has a view of the Sandia Mountains.
Tell us about your writing process: I find I work best if I keep regular hours, getting up around 7:00 a.m., dressing, having breakfast, dealing with my email, and then writing for a couple of hours. I use the Authors Guild discussion posts as a warmup. Six days a week, I head for the pool at my health club and swim between three-quarters of a mile and a mile. On the seventh day, I meet with the other three members of my writers’ group. A couple of days ahead of time, we circulate whatever we’ve written that week so that we can discuss each other’s work at the meeting.
What are you currently working on? I’m writing a sequel to Deserts of the Heart. Set two years later (1800) in the same location, this one is a romantic murder mystery
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? You’re helping me right now, George. Fellow member Rosina Lippi (aka Sara Donati) has also been helpful. But everyone who’s actively involved in those AG discussions has taught me something.
How long did it take you to write your first book? It took me a year to research and another six months or so to write. Part of that process involved writing a proposal since it was nonfiction and my agent was shopping it.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? I’m killing one right now. As a fan of murder mysteries, I prefer the ones where the reader has a chance to get to know and like the victim before he or she is killed. Doing so makes solving the mystery more than just an intellectual exercise.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Whether I’m writing nonfiction or fiction, I always outline. I need to know where I’m going. Sometimes characters do step forward and take over the road along the way.
What kind of research do you do? For Deserts of the Heart, I visited the 18th century living history museum Rancho de las Golondrinas, “New Mexico’s Williamsburg,” the Pueblo Cultural Center, and several museums in the region. I also relied heavily on Internet sources, especially for details like clothing. For anyone who writes historical fiction, portraits posted online can be amazingly helpful.
Readers are welcome to check out my website, www.sandysheehy.com. I’d like to encourage anyone who wants to purchase my books to visit their local independent bookstore. Ordering online from Amazon or Barnes & Noble is convenient, of course, but those local shops need our support.
Dr. Eve Sprunt was the 2006 SPE President of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. In 2010 Eve received SPE’s highest recognition, Honorary Membership. She has 35 years of experience working for major oil companies, 21 years with Mobil, and 14 years with Chevron. In 2013 Eve received the Achievement Award from the Society of Women Engineers. She was the 2018 President of the American Geosciences Institute. She was the founder of the Society of Core Analysts in 1985. Her S.B. and S.M. degrees are from MIT (Earth and Planetary Sciences) and her Ph.D. (Geophysics) from Stanford. She was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in Geophysics from Stanford. She has authored more than 120 editorial columns on industry trends, technology, workforce issues. She is the author of A Guide for Dual-Career Couples and Dearest Audrey, An Unlikely Love Story, and co-author with Maria Angela Capello of Mentoring and Sponsoring: Keys to Success. She speaks and consults on both energy issues and women’s issues.
My first book, A Guide for Dual-Career Couples, Rewriting the Rules (2016), was a labor of love that I started work on after I retired in late 2013 and published by Praeger in 2016. That book was prompted by my being horrified by how women were discriminated against by being part of a dual-career couple. The young women mistakenly thought that if they got some international experience at a convenient time in their career, that was needed. Instead, the industry wanted a trailing spouse and a willingness to go anywhere at any time.
I self-published the first manuscript I started, Dearest Audrey, An Unlikely Love Story, in 2019. I found an agent who got a publisher for A Guide for Dual-Career Couples.
At this point, the book I really want to promote is Dearest Audrey. I thought I knew my Auntie Audrey well. Still, when long after her death, I discovered letters she had written while in Pakistan as one of the earliest Fulbright scholars, I was captivated. While in Pakistan, Audrey had a brief encounter with an American photographer, whose marriage proposal forced her to choose between her hard-won career and love.
I write both self-help career guidance books and memoir/biography. The latter is a combo in that I have some interesting people in my life, such as Audrey, and have been advised that since I know them, I should “put more of myself in the story.” I’ve been working through the Tri-Valley Branch of the California Writers Club critique groups parts of my memoir/biography of my mother, Passionate Persistence. Starting when she was 49, my mother had 29 children’s fantasy books she wrote and illustrated, published. Her first book, The Wednesday Witch, sold well over a million copies and was translated into multiple languages. Combined, her books sold over nine million copies. My mother’s diaries, written between when she was 13 and 81, had been collecting dust in my home when I decided at the beginning of covid that it was now or never. I have been working on Passionate Persistence ever since. Reading those diaries, I was shocked that even though my four siblings and I were born within an eight-year time span, and we were all raised in Brooklyn in the same house, we had drastically different childhood experiences. When I left home, my mother’s career as a children’s book author finally took off. Deeply immersed in her career, Mother lost all interest in supervising my younger siblings. Too much supervision was not fun, but the consequences of too little were far worse.
Early in my career as a scientist, I realized that one way to get credit for my work was to document and publish it. Since I worked for giant corporations, I got very creative in finding ways to get company permission to publish and become actively involved in the editorial side of a couple of professional societies’ publications. By the time I shifted from focusing on technology to business and management issues, I had 23 patents and 28 technical publications. In 1994, I took on the voluntary position of Senior Technical Editor of the worldwide Society of Petroleum Engineers. That role came with a monthly column in the flagship journal that went out to over 100,000 members worldwide. I saw writing my column as “walking along the edge of a cliff and trying not to fall off.” I wrote from the “underdog” position about issues that bedeviled technical professionals. Despite or perhaps because of my risk-taking, I survived numerous layoffs, including two in which half of the people in my group were terminated. I quit calculating the odds that I still had a job after the second 50% layoff – my odds of survival were too small. In retirement, I enjoy being able to write without worrying about corporate censorship.
I’m currently working on a memoir/biography of my mother, Passionate Persistence, and A Guide to Career Resilience – When Silence is not the Answer. I began writing that book when we were collaborating on Mentoring and Sponsoring, Keys to Success. During the interviews we conducted for that book, I occasionally sensed that our interviewees were concealing what I view as the dark side of mentoring and sponsoring. Getting people to talk about problems is much more challenging than getting them to brag about their successes. We have had a few people share devastating experiences, and my co-author and I have been filling in the gaps from our own careers.
Tri-Valley has been very beneficial to me. I had never before been in a critique group, and the process has greatly benefited me. Writing bio/memoir is very different than writing business books, editorials, and technical papers. The feedback and suggestions have been invaluable. As a scientist, my goal was to write from a very analytical and objective perspective. I have applied those skills to interpreting the consequences of my mother’s actions but need to include the emotional impact of writing about them in the bio/memoir.
My first book published was my second book attempt. The agent found a buyer for the second, but they wanted it written from an entirely different perspective. I had written the manuscript trying to persuade management to change their approach to managing dual-career couples. Praeger used librarians to review book proposals. They said that my audience should not be management but members of dual-career couples. By the time the contract was negotiated, I had six weeks to get the manuscript submitted to be included in the next book catalog. My agent had taken over a month to work out the deal. (Praeger primarily sells through their catalog.) Since I was retired and working for myself, I realized that I wasn’t limited to regular working hours; I began working seven days a week, from morning into the night, and finished with about a week to spare. It was a fun exercise turning my first manuscript around to address the issues from the opposite perspective.
There are subplots even in bio/memoir. Weaving them into the main story can also be challenging.
Despite being an analytical person, when I write, I am a pantser. I write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.
The fictional book that may have had the greatest impact on my life is Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love. I took away the idea that you can have multiple careers in life, and you can bluff your way through some things. One of my favorite non-fiction books is Powers of Ten, About the Relative Size of Things in the Universe by Philip Morrison, Phylis Morrison, and the Office of Charles & Ray Eames. I had Philip Morrison for the 6th level physics course at MIT, but this book wasn’t published until two decades after I graduated. For me, it signifies that as we go both up and down in scale, things become more and more esoteric and unknowable. My mother’s younger brother was a Physics professor at Berkeley. I would ask him, “What is the universe in?” His answer to me was always very unsatisfying. He said it was a shape that closed in on itself.
Readers can contact me through LinkedIn or FaceBook. Fortunately, my name is unique, so I’m easy to find.
Paula Chinick is the international award-winning author for Red Asscher~Living in Fear—a WWII spy thriller series, which includes Living in Turmoil and Living in War. She is a CWC Tri-Valley Writers past vice-president, president, and conference project manager. Paula’s publishing company, Russian Hill Press, has been in business since 2014.
I have published a WWII historical spy thriller series under the title Red Asscher, Living in Fear, Living in Turmoil, and Living in War. The stories are set in 1943. In the first novel, Anya Pavlovitch, a Russian expat working for the U.S. War Department, is asked to assist a naval officer who is being sent to Japanese occupied Shanghai. Throughout the series, the two try to flee China but find themselves caught up in situations that impede their escape.
What are you currently working on? I am currently working on a prequel set in Russia in 1898 through the revolution and ends in China in 1920, where the first book begins. The story centers on Anya’s parents.
What brought you to writing? I have been writing since I was a tween but didn’t get serious until I was laid off in 2008. In hindsight probably the best thing to have happened. I love the freedom that stream of consciousness writing allows. It may end up being crap, but it’s exciting to see the words appear on the page as your mind reels.
Tell us about your writing process: When I wrote my first book, I spent 8 hours a day writing and editing. It was my job, and I took it very seriously. In the other books, I relaxed a bit and would try to write 1000 words a day. Sometimes it worked, other times not so much. Currently, I’m taking a break. I recently adopted a puppy who is in training which occupies most of my waking hours.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? It’s easy to write the beginning and the ending. What’s difficult is all the stuff in the middle. There are days, even weeks where my mind is blank. I try to research for inspiration; sometimes, it works; other times, I have to wait for the muse to strike.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Definitely. My membership with the California Writers Club has been invaluable in helping me to become a better writer, editor, and critiquing. It has opened doors to conferences, workshops, and seminars. All important outlets if you want to be a serious writer.
Who’s your favorite author? I fell in love with the Spanish author Arturo Perez-Reverte. I love historical fiction, and his writing inspires me. I also enjoy reread Jane Austin, D. H. Lawrence, and my favorite, Dashiell Hammett.
How long did it take you to write your first book? Off and on about ten years. I didn’t get serious until about four years before I published the first in the series. After the first one, it took about three years to publish the second and another three years for the third.
How do you come up with character names? I used a few family names and researched foreign names for those characters that were outside of the U.S.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? I don’t find it any more challenging than writing from the same sex but at a different age. I use a combination of characteristics from people or children I’ve known or know. I have men and women beta read to see if the characters are believable.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? I kill a lot of my characters—it’s war, and people die.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? I try to place obstacles in front of them and make them figure out how to work around it or avoid it.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? I would have to say, Shakespeare. It was required reading in high school, and my head just wasn’t in it. It wasn’t until I attended the Ashland Shakespeare festival (for almost ten years) where I developed a love for his histories. I bought a thick book with all his plays and read them.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I have, but they have since passed. I try not to defame them. I read biographies about them and pick and choose what I want to use. Some real characters I have placed in a bad light, but they were evil people who lived in a foreign country and have been dead for decades.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m a plotter. I create a rough outline that I constantly rewrite. I mainly use it to remind me where the plot is headed and my character’s traits. Sometimes I go off the trail and end up pantsing a bit. Sometimes I keep it. Sometimes I toss it.
What kind of research do you do? I use the internet a lot but try to get my questions answered by several different sources. I have purchased old Life magazines for insight into the language and history. I also read other’s historical writings from the period.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I generally use real locations. I research old photographs to see the layout of streets, buildings, transportation, and attire in that period. I try to build a world that is believable. I may get a few things wrong, but for the most part, I think most readers are forgiving.
Do you have any advice for new writers? My only advice would be if you like to write then WRITE. It doesn’t matter if you wish to publish or not. Do it for yourself. Writing is something that you alone own, and no one can take it from you. If you wish to be a serious writer, then you need to join a writers group that offers critique, attend conferences, and build your vocabulary.
For further information, you can contact Paula at www.russianhillpress.com/contact
Russian Hill Press www.russianhillpress.com