MARLA K. MORRIS – Combines True Crime and Fiction

Who Am I? I’m a lifelong central Ohio native educated at Capital University Law School. I enjoy true crime and police detective television shows like NCIS, Snapped, and Columbo. I have three grown children and two grandchildren. I enjoy adult coloring and diamond dot painting. My bucket list includes travelling to all fifty states and taking a Mediterranean cruise. I write true crime peppered with a bit of fiction.

What is your most recent release? Sweet Burial was released last month.  My inspiration was a true crime perpetrated in the central Ohio area in the early 90s. It’s a tale involving sex, lies, videotape, and murder. Rarely do newlyweds who experience marital conflict jump immediately to the drastic option of divorce. Christian Wright and his bride Chloe choose instead to engage the professional services of a marriage counselor soon after entering into what was supposed to be wedded bliss.  While initially there’s no physical violence between them, their relationship is rife with emotional, verbal, and psychological harm. Just as they are on the verge of ending it all, they learn Chloe is with child. Sadly, the birth of their son isn’t the blessed event they hoped it would be. Their child is differently-abled. Chloe embraces their son, while Christian rejects him as if he is a defective toy. A flimsy facade of family perfection is perpetuated to outsiders looking in for years. There is nothing Christ-like nor morally correct about the deadly choices Christian Wright ultimately makes, forever turning his family’s life upside down.

What was your debut title? His Dream, Her Nightmare was my first book. It’s a tale of misplaced trust. Our romantic choices do not always serve us well. This is even truer when duty or tradition rather than authentic love compels one to stay in a toxic relationship or marriage. Unfortunately, a young lovesick Winnie is unable to realize her condition will only lead to calamity. Winnie is determined to stand by her man Nelson even though he doesn’t value her worth as a woman nor her loyalty to him. To honor her vows, she is committed to him despite his criminal past, infidelity, and controlling ways. At her tipping point, when she is ready to finally leave their imbalanced union, Nelson won’t let her. Winnie disappears suddenly after they celebrate his milestone thirtieth birthday. With the help of his crafty lawyer, Nelson is able to stave off suspicions of her family, friends, and most importantly, the authorities for years. He is able to live his happily ever after as a free man until he meets his karmic end.

Why did you start writing? I originally tried to have a YouTube content creator highlight the real life case chronicled in my novella on her true crime channel. After forwarding research to no avail, I decided to tell the story myself. It explores how a woman who went missing in the mid-seventies from the Columbus area. She left behind her young children, a good job, and her jealous husband, who coincidently was a convicted rapist.  Because of its brevity, many readers are clamoring to learn more about whether justice is served for the main character Winnie. To that end, I’m working on the sequel, Her Dream, His Nightmare: The Saga Continues to be released in August of this year.

My writing grew out of my grieving process. I lost my mother to Covid-19 a little over a year ago, three days before Christmas 2020. The fictional main character murdered in my first book was a long-term friend of my mother’s. Pat, who is a staunch advocate for justice in the book, is the portrayal of my mother. The victim was among the first to benefit from facial reconstruction techniques developed at the Smithsonian.

I like writing about crimes in the past when gumshoe detective work rather than high tech science was the primary means to solving murder cases. I prefer settings in the 70s to 90s, because it forces the reader to imagine a time when cell phones, closed circuit television, and DNA either weren’t prevalent or at times nonexistent. Lastly, I have lived in Columbus all of my life, so there are references to many old restaurants, landmarks, and of course, the Ohio State Buckeyes.

What is your current project? Currently, I’m working on Misplaced Danger: A Fatal Prescription. It explores the interconnected lives of a greedy doctor and his drug addicted patient. Living on opposite ends of town, both are on paths to doom. The main character Teddy, a late bloomer, has challenging stressors at home and on his job. He has the misfortune of being referred to Dr. Ben Eagleston, who prescribes seemingly innocuous meds that only make his life worse. It’s full of plot twists. What’s more, it too is based on actual headline events from my sleepy hometown.

Are there any unique quirks in your writing? Without giving spoilers, I will point out two hidden themes. In Sweet Burial, there is a food or cooked dish mentioned in almost every chapter, even in a serious court trial scene. In Misplaced Danger, there will be direct and indirect avian references.

What is on your writing horizon? A series centered around femmes fatales is the future project brewing on the outer reaches of my creativity.  I have a working title, subtitles, and cover ideas. The antagonists will be ruthless, fierce, and violent women underestimated by their prey.

What advice would you give to another writer? Admittedly, I am a novice. If I had to give tips or advice to an even newer writer than myself, it would be two things. One, a writer writes. Keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas. Take time to write every day. My benchmark is daily word count because I have figured out my natural rhythm for writing.  Two, set aside time to work on your craft.  There are so many moving parts to this writing and publication process. The more you expose yourself to honing your craft, the better your completed works will be.

How do our readers contact you?

Amazon Central Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Marla-K-Morris/e/B09DP1XLSL/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1

Blog: Marlaz Memoz: https://www.blogger.com/blog/posts/848832704092691407?hl=en&tab=jj

TikTok: marlamorris3

Sweet Burial available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Burial-Tragedy-That-Beneath-ebook/dp/B09F86M2PR

4 Comments

  1. DONNARAE MENARD

    I’m thinking true crime might be in my future as a more serious reader. I don’t think I could stay the course as far as a sprinkling of fiction, I’d be dropping it in by the cupful. You took some hard subjects, and I heartfully wish you the best.

    Reply
  2. Katherine brinston

    I have read both of your books and enjoyed ever bit of them keep writing waiting on the new one to come out what a amazing writer and story teller

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Wow, for such a nice lady, you certainly write about gruesome subjects, but I think that’s great. Your writing advice is certainly solid and right on the mark. Best of luck to you. Keep those pages coming.

    Reply

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HELEN STARBUCK – Coloradoan – OR Nurse – Award-Winning Author

Helen Starbuck is a Colorado native, former OR nurse, and award-winning author of the standalone romantic suspense novels Legacy of Secrets, Finding Alex, The Woman He Used to Know, and the Annie Collins Mystery Series. She loves mysteries, suspense, romance, and any book that is well written. She’s a huge fan of books with independent, strong, women characters and, as Neil Gaiman says, “…stories where women save themselves.”

People often ask, what made you decide to write a book? It’s a valid question based on my career. I began as an art major and lasted two years until I discovered that my talent wouldn’t support me. I transferred to nursing school thinking I’d always have a job, and I did. I quickly learned I wasn’t a ‘bedside nurse,’ and I much preferred working in the OR where you care for patients, but for a limited time. I was fascinated by how the body worked and the procedures we performed. I still am, and that adds a note to my books that others may not have. I then became a nurse editor for a specialty nursing journal. I learned to edit articles for publication and help nurses, who generally aren’t writers, develop their articles and publish them.

I have written for my own pleasure since I was a teen, and that continued until I went part-time as an editor. Years ago, working in the OR, I helped care for a patient who had a very puzzling neurological symptom. Those puzzling symptoms were behind the plot of my first novel, The Mad Hatter’s Son, which took about two years from start to finished published book. I indie published the book because my dad passed at 71 and my mom at 94. It brought home to me that we have no idea how much time we have, and I didn’t want to wait for years to see my book published.

I’m a pantser. I can outline a professional article, but I cannot outline my novels. Because of that, probably the hardest part of writing for me is getting through the middle of a book to the end. I know how the book starts and have a pretty good idea how it will end, but that darn middle can be very elusive. Pantsing also requires a lot of revising because the story often deviates from what you thought it would be. You then have to go back, fill plot holes, and make sure timelines are accurate.

People often have questions about creating characters. The most common are How do I come up with names? How do I know who they are? Do they change? Characters come to me in a basic form as if they were real people I’m just meeting. They have names, I’m not sure where they come from, and I have a general idea about how they look, who they are, what their roles are. That can change–sometimes with input from the character. I remember thinking that Alex Frost, the detective in my first book, would be a one-off character, but he became a major player in the series.

In my new book, The Woman He Used to Know, Elizabeth Harper was much less formidable than she ended up being. The plot behind what happened to her and her husband changed a lot. The villain changed as well.

Writing characters of the opposite sex can be a challenge. I don’t want them to be caricatures like you see in some books, both those written by men and those by women. My best defense against that is to run things by several male friends of mine, who graciously put up with my questions and help me make my guys real. One thing I don’t like in romance or romantic suspense books is the ‘alpha male’ character who is rude, obnoxious, condescending, and borderline abusive. The most unbelievable character arc is when he meets the female character, suddenly falls in love, and does a 180-degree turnaround to become thoughtful, kind, romantic. That’s a huge turnoff to me. I don’t think anyone changes that much based solely on meeting someone. My guys may have issues, but they aren’t jerks, just a little wounded or wary of involvement. It takes a while for them to process their feelings and become involved with the woman in the story.

My books are all set in Denver, with the exception of Legacy of Secrets, which takes place on the eastern plains of Colorado. That was a fun book, and I based the town, which is fictional, on a couple of small towns I am familiar with in Montana and Colorado. Colorado is familiar territory, having grown up here. I don’t feel comfortable setting my stories in places I’m not familiar with. Unless you spend a lot of time in a place, you really don’t know the nuances well enough, and you don’t get that by visiting periodically. At least I don’t. The setting is one thing I hear about from readers all the time—how much they enjoy reading about Denver and Colorado and the memories it brings back if they no longer live here.

The places where my characters live and the Denver police department setting are fictional. They are in real areas, but the houses and buildings are not. For example, the characters in my series—Annie Collins and Angel Cisneros—live in a duplex in Washington park and later in a triplex in the area near Speer Boulevard, but the houses are made up. Elizabeth, in my new book, lives in Cherry Creek. It’s hard to get a tour of the Denver police department, so I let my imagination take over and ask for forgiveness from any real Denver police officers or detectives. I talked with Jennifer Kincheloe, a local author. She works in the prison system in Colorado, about what the Denver Detention Center was like and how prisoners are handled. Still, I don’t describe the physical location.

I sometimes use the names of people I know with their permission, and I will often have a contest when a new book comes out for the winner to be a character in my next book. He or she can choose to be a bad guy or a good guy. That’s fun, and people like the opportunity. Otherwise, names just come to me and either fit or not.

People also ask who’s my favorite author. I can’t choose just one, but I love Tana French, Jane Harper, Stephanie Gayle, Michael Connelly, and Craig Johnson, to name a few. I liked Patricia Cornwell at first, but after a few books, her novels became way too graphic for me. Same with Stephen King when Mercy debuted. I have come back to King’s books, and he writes wonderfully, so I plan to read more of his newer books.

If I have any advice for new authors, it is: no matter how good you think your book is, you NEED an editor and a proofer and not just a friend who knows grammar or reads a lot. You need someone who can evaluate your book with an objective eye and help you correct problems, and you need a proofer because, no matter what, you will not see all the errors.

o Readers can contact me at info@helenstarbuck.com
o My website Helenstarbuck.com
o Facebook at Helen Starbuck—Author
o Instagram @helenstarbuck
o Twitter @HelenSStarbuck (yes, two S’s)
o My books on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Helen-Starbuck/e/B076KPPQ52/

1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    Good blog post, Helen. I’ve always felt that nurses were like the enlisted ranks in the military– They run everything, keep it all on track, and get little of the credit. I love the titles of your books. They sound great. Good luck with your writing.

    Reply

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LYNN-STEVEN JOHANSON – Award-Winning Playwright / Mystery Writer

Lynn-Steven Johanson is an award-winning playwright and novelist living in Illinois. His mystery novels, Rose’s Thorn and Havana Brown, are published by Level Best Books. His next mystery, Corrupted Souls, will be published in 2022. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is retired from Western Illinois University.

 

Havana Brown, a prequel to my first novel, Rose’s Thorn, was the 2021 winner of a Royal Dragonfly Book Award for mysteries.

“Homicide detective Joe Erickson returns, this time obsessive as ever when he is pitted against a serial killer as methodical as Dexter and as cold as a winter breeze in Chicago. Fans of thrillers will feel Joe’s every frustration and relish his small triumphs, but they won’t deny author Lynn-Steven Johanson’s talent. Havana Brown has twists and turns, crisp dialog, and introduces readers to a sinister, terrifying, and unforgettable killer.” —Gabriel Valjan, Agatha and Anthony-nominated author of The Naming Game.

My third book in the Joe Erickson Mystery Series, Corrupted Souls, is due to be published this spring.

How long did it take you to write your first book? Because Rose’s Thorn was based on a screenplay I had written about ten years previously, the adaptation only took about six months. Most of the dialogue was already there. But I had to teach myself to write narration. Fortunately, my wife helped me with that. Being a former English teacher and an avid novel reader, she was able to assist me with my narrative writing. She still acts as my editor. Once I complete a chapter, she reads it and suggests fixes, and points out things that I missed. She’s nice about it and doesn’t use red ink!

How long to get it published? That took a while because once Rose’s Thorn had gone through numerous drafts and I was satisfied it was in good shape; I started to send out queries to agents. For over a year, after reaching out to forty agents, getting ignored by half, and receiving thanks-but-no-thanks messages from the other half, I began to approach publishers who were accepting solicitations from authors. Level Best Books requested the entire manuscript, and they eventually offered me a three-book contract. The entire process from the first email to an agent to the contract offer was two years. It goes to prove it pays to be tenacious.

 How do you come up with character names? My main character, Chicago Detective Joe Erickson, is named for my maternal grandfather, who died eight years before I was born. It’s a good, strong Midwestern name. His romantic partner, Destiny Alexander, a criminal profiler, has a name that is symbolic as she is Joe’s destiny. This one woman will always be with him. I see my characters in my mind and hear them talk, so my other character names are based a lot on how the characters look. Sometimes I search for “popular names for men or women” on the internet in order to see lists. Starting with Havana Brown, my second novel, the stories take place in Chicago, so I have a lot of ethnic characters. For instance, Joe’s partner is Detective Sam Renaldo. I found his names by doing internet searches for common Hispanic first and last names. I chose his names based on what seemed to fit him. And on a rare occasion, I will use a friend’s first or last name for a character. I did that to pay homage to a late friend in Corrupted Souls.

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Only once. When I decided to write a prequel for my second novel, I knew I would be employing subplots. Havana Brown has a main plot which is Joe Erickson on the trail of a serial killer. But there are two subplots. The first is his developing romantic relationship with Destiny. The second is Joe dealing with his aging father’s health issues. I wrote it in a tight chronological order. I devoted certain chapters to Joe and Destiny and some to Joe and his father. But even in those chapters, something happened with the serial killer case, so the main plot was still intertwined with the subplot chapters. The subplots did make for a longer book.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m a playwright as well as a novelist, and I approach playwriting as a pantser. But having written two screenplays, I learned to write them via Syd Field’s method, which is highly structured. And I applied that method to writing novels. Syd Field calls his structure a paradigm that essentially lays out the story in terms of three acts: the setup, the confrontation, and the resolution. Each is separated by a plot point which is a major event in the story. Since Act II is twice as long as either Act I and Act III, it has a mid-point, which is another type of plot point that turns the confrontation in a direction toward the resolution. Once these points are decided, you begin filling in the story elements. I like to think of these elements as potential chapters. When you actually begin writing, the elements of the paradigm remain fluid. They can change as you write, but the plot points remain constant because they are the major events you write toward.

What kind of research do you do? I like to be as accurate as possible, so I do a lot of research on various aspects of a story. My first novel took place in the Iowa county where I grew up, so I knew the area quite well. But I had to research local law enforcement when I was writing the screenplay. I interviewed the county sheriff, and he answered all of my questions. Covid has made it difficult for me to do on-the-ground research on my subsequent novels. I live in downstate Illinois, but my locations are in Chicago, and I have been unable to travel up there. Using Google searches has been a godsend. My fictional detective works out of Detective Area 3, which covers the north side of the city on the Lake Michigan side. I am somewhat familiar with that area and can look up nearly everything on the internet I need about neighborhoods and police districts covered by Area 3. I also called Area 3 and spoke to a detective a couple of times about a few technical things. When I began working on my third novel, Corrupted Souls, I discovered a former homicide detective on LinkedIn who still works out of Area 3. He agreed to be an adviser for me, and he has been a great resource.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I use real locations in so far as street names, neighborhoods, hotels, and well-known landmarks in Chicago like the Art Institute, Burnham Harbor, Navy Pier, and places like that. What I don’t use are the names of actual businesses like restaurants, bars, theatres, independent stores, and so on. If I’m looking for a bar in a particular neighborhood, I’ll do an internet search, choose a particular establishment, and instead of giving the name, I will write something like, “an Irish pub on East Ohio Street.” I go to their website, look at photographs, and may use a few details in my description. Some savvy readers from Chicago may be able to guess the pub I’m referencing on East Ohio Street. If it is important, I will use a fictitious name for an establishment, but that is an exception to the rule.

How do our readers contact you?

They can contact me through my website at www.LSJohanson.com. I would be happy to respond to them. My books are available on Amazon, and there are links on my website.

1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    It’s good to “meet” a fellow writer from Illinois. I picked up on a few ironies. I’m a retired cop and writer and I live in the Chicago area, but I wrote a story set downstate in Southern Illinois once. I also worked with a guy on the PD named Erickson. Best of luck to you with your writing.

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  HEATHER WEIDNER – Virginia is for Mysteries

Heather Weidner has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers is the first in her cozy mystery series, the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries. She also writes the Delanie Fitzgerald mystery series set in Virginia (Secret Lives and Private Eyes, The Tulip Shirt Murders, and Glitter, Glam, and Contraband). Her Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries launches in January 2023.

Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of Cabernet, Deadly Southern Charm, and Murder by the Glass, and her novellas appear in The Mutt Mysteries series.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.

Virginia is for Mysteries Volume III Virginia may be for lovers, but to fifteen authors, it’s more sinister. This anthology of sixteen short stories, set in the Commonwealth, features Virginia landmarks and locations such as the Church Hill Tunnel, the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, the Historic Cavalier Hotel, St. Luke’s Historic Church, historic Ashland, and the Assateague Channel, to name a few. Be transported across the diverse backdrop of the Old Dominion to a unique and deadly landscape filled with murder and mayhem.

 

Authors: Teresa Inge, Heather Weidner, Kristin Kisska, Yvonne Saxon, Frances Aylor, Jayne Ormerod, Michael Rigg, Maggie King, Smita Harish Jain, Sheryl Jordan, Vivian Lawry, Maria Hudgins, Rosemary Shomaker, Max Jason Peterson, Judith Fowler

 

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I usually write in my office on my computer. We moved to a house in the woods, so I have a great view of the treetops. My two crazy Jack Russell terriers hang out with me and help me plot.

I get distracted by the internet. I pop on to research something, and then I find that I’ve been watching dog videos for an hour. I try to stay focused when I’m writing, but sometimes, it’s hard. I always have music playing in the background. Classical, spa, or jazz for writing. Louder music for revisions.

Tell us about your writing process. It took me about five years to write the first book and about another two until it was finally published. I am a lot faster now. At the pandemic’s start, I decided to use my normal commuting time for writing, and I was much more productive when I wrote every day.

I usually come up with the book ideas and title drafts first. Then I plot out an outline. I found that the plan for the book helps me to stay on track, and I don’t get lost or stuck. I draft the book. If I stick to my daily word counts, I usually finish the first draft in three months. Then I do several rounds of editing and revising. Then I send it to my critique group. Then it’s off to the editor, and I do lots of revisions. The manuscript goes to my agent and my publisher’s editors.

What are you currently working on? I write the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries, the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries, and the Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries. I just finished the third book in the Mermaid Bay series, and I’m working on books four-six for the Glamping mysteries.

My short story, “Derailed,” is part of the Virginia is for Mysteries Anthology that launched this February. It’s full of stories about locations in Virginia. Mine takes place at the site of the infamous Church Hill Tunnel disaster, where a cave-in blocked the exits and trapped railroad workers and a train deep under the city of Richmond. The search and rescue quickly became a recovery mission—not all the victims were found. The railroad filled and sealed the tunnel with the train and some of the victims inside. The spooky site has been the center of local lore and legend about ghosts and even a vampire. I used the site and its history in my story, and there may be one more body than expected inside the tunnel.

Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Writing is a solitary task, and you need your crew. I am so lucky to be a part of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and International Thriller Writers. These offer networking and learning opportunities. I treasure the contacts I’ve made, and I am so grateful to all the talented authors who share their time and advice.

 We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave? None of my characters behave. My sleuths are strong-willed, determined, and sassy females who get into way more trouble than I do. I plot the mysteries and have an idea where the story is going, but they often have a will of their own.

One minor character in the first Delanie book was supposed to just make an appearance as a sleazy strip club owner. He was so much fun to write that he joined the cast full time, and he shows up (warts and all) in all the books.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? I get a lot of my material and ideas from those around me. No conversation or story is safe. I take notes and use names, places, and fun anecdotes. Usually, the characters are an amalgamation of several different people and traits. I use names of real people and places from time to time, and if you look closely, you’ll see some character names from pop culture.

What kind of research do you do? I do a lot of research for my mysteries. Readers want to learn about new things, and I want the story to be as accurate as possible. For my WIP (work in progress), I’m researching haunted places in Virginia, ghost hunting technology, tiny houses, and glamping.

I’m Cop’s Kid. My dad is my best law enforcement resource. He’s retired from forty-six years on the force and is always willing to answer my weird questions. There are just some things you don’t want to Google, like, “Hey, Dad, what does a meth lab smell like” or “what caliber of bullet would make this kind of wound.”

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I write where I know. I grew up in Virginia Beach. I now live outside of Richmond. I use a lot of Virginia locales in my stories. The Commonwealth has so much to offer: mountains, beaches, a central, East Coast location, historic sites, and fantastic restaurants.

If I have a scene where there is a gruesome crime, I make up the location.

Do you have any advice for new writers? Writing is a business, and you have to treat it like one. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. You need to be persistent. Hone your craft, network with other authors, and build your author platform. There is no feeling like opening that box of books and seeing your name on the cover.

How do our readers contact you or purchase the books? 

Book Link: Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09GGBFWT5

 

5 Comments

  1. Madeline Gornell

    Great meeting you, Heather. You sound disciplined and thorough! Two traits I could definitely use more off! Continued success!

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Heather, your disciplined approach is very good advice and will surely take you far in the writing business. Good luck with your series watch out for those vampires. 😉

    Reply
  3. Heather Weidner

    Thanks so much for letting me stop by your blog on Valentine’s Day and talk about books, mysteries, and glamping!

    Reply

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LISA E. BETZ – Engineer Turned Award-Winning Author

Lisa E. Betz infuses her novels with authentic characters who thrive on solving tricky problems. Her debut novel, Death and a Crocodile, won several awards, including Golden Scroll Novel of the Year (2021). Lisa combines her love of research with her quirky imagination to bring the world of the early church to life. She and her husband reside outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with Scallywag, their rambunctious cat—the inspiration for Nemesis, resident mischief maker in the Livia Aemilia Mysteries.

Tell us about your new release, Fountains, and Secrets, Book 2 in the Livia Aemilia Mysteries. Imagine a world where Nancy Drew meets ancient Rome. In first-century Roman culture, few women challenged the status quo, but spunky, headstrong Livia dives right into a swamp of danger after learning that her new husband’s mentor has been murdered.

As Livia chases clues in secret, she discovers injustice toward multiple victims and the nasty web of affluent men behind it all. But when her husband, Avitus, learns what Livia is up to, they go head-to-head. Avitus doesn’t want his wife to be in danger, and Livia wants to prove to her husband that she’s capable of solving crimes. Their lack of mutual trust and respect turns into a bitter test of wills—can they learn to trust each other, or will they continue at cross purposes until someone gets hurt?

For readers who enjoy mysteries and historical fiction with a touch of humor, Fountains and Secrets is an engaging tale of identity, purpose, and hope.

What brought you into writing? I’ve followed an unconventional path to becoming an author. I started my career as a mechanical engineer working in a manufacturing plant. That led to fifteen years as a substitute teacher specializing in math and science. And that lead to an opportunity to direct a high school play.

The first play was so much fun that I directed school plays for ten years. I even wrote one. By then, I’d discovered that I really enjoyed writing and toyed with writing a novel, but I kept putting it off.

Then my youngest son went off to college, and I faced a choice: should I return to engineering or follow the new dream of being a writer? I chose writing. I spent the next ten years honing my craft, attending conferences, and writing practice novels. All the work paid off, and my first published novel has won several awards.

Your main character’s adventures take place in Rome. What prompted you to write about this time period? My interest in the Roman Empire stems primarily from many years teaching Bible studies. I have tried to absorb as much as possible about the culture and history of first-century Rome so I can bring the ancient world to life and make the New Testament more relevant to modern Christians.

Also, I favor books set in unusual eras or settings, so Roman times seemed an interesting choice. I particularly like the fact that women in the Roman Empire had more rights and freedom than in many other eras and cultures. For example, they could own and run businesses, like Lydia, who’s mentioned in Acts. So, it’s a reasonable choice for a female sleuth.

How do you come up with character names? As much as possible, I try to use actual Roman or Greek names. I like using NovaRoma.org’s Choose a Roman Name page. Unfortunately, Greek and Roman names can be unwieldy and hard to pronounce, so I sometimes give a character a nickname to make it easier on readers. For example, I gave Asyncritus (mentioned in Romans 16) the nickname Brother Titus. I also try to assign characters names that begin with different letters to help readers keep everyone straight.

How do you decide when to use Latin terms and when to translate terms into English? This is an issue that all writers of foreign settings must face. My decision has been to use English whenever possible to make it easier for readers. I reserve Latin for key place names or for concepts that don’t translate well into modern usage. For example, I use the Latin word dignitas, which encompasses a whole list of qualities, including honor, status, reputation, influence, moral standing, and even physical appearance.

What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters who are different from you? I’m an introverted, non-emotional, non-assertive, analytical thinker, but I wanted a heroine that was spunky, nosy, headstrong, extroverted, intuitive, and a little reckless. I must frequently stop and remind myself that my instinctual reaction to any situation is likely to be quite different from how Livia would respond. I have found the enneagram personality type information very helpful in guiding me to more realistic responses for my characters.

In fact, I’ve developed a workshop to show writers how to use the enneagram to create consistent, believable characters.

Many of your characters are misfits in some way. Why is that? My tagline is Quietly Unconventional for a reason. I’ve never been good at fitting molds. That’s why I’m drawn to stories that feature misfits and underdogs. I understand the pain of not being cool or popular, and I respect others (real or fictional) who are brave enough to overcome and succeed despite their underdog status.

My novels feature characters who don’t fit the conventional mold in some shape or form. I show the heroic or honorable qualities hiding inside these people whom others see as flawed or useless.

My heroine, Livia, is a free spirit who flaunts convention more publicly than I would dare. Her sidekick, Roxana, is a streetwise maid who speaks when she should keep her mouth shut and lacks the polish of a traditional lady’s maid. Avitus is an outcast among the aristocrats because he defends lower-class clients against powerful senators.

And then there are the followers of Jesus, who are leading a quietly unconventional revolution, spreading a message of love and forgiveness, and caring for the outcasts and rejects of society.

What else do you write besides mystery novels? I blog weekly on my website about living intentionally—which to me means making daily choices to live according to my deeply held values instead of mindlessly conforming to the mainstream attitudes, behavior, and priorities. When we live intentionally, we live a more authentic and meaningful life. But we also stand out for making unconventional choices. That’s why my tagline is Quietly Unconventional because I try to live and write as authentically as possible, conforming to God’s will and calling rather than conforming to the world.

How can readers contact you?

Visit my website at lisaebetz.com to find more about me and my books.

Go directly to my Live Intentionally blog here.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Your choice of using ancient Rome as the setting for your books is very interesting. You described how you meet the challenges of doing this very well. If I get the chance to teach my Writing in Different Genres class again, I’ll be sure to use your books in the Writing Historicals section. Good luck.

    Reply
    • Lisa Betz

      Thank you. That sounds like a very interesting talk.

      Reply

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