Mar Preston is the indie multiple award-winning author of seven police procedurals, six writing craft books, and many short stories.
Her whodunit mysteries celebrate the mean streets of Santa Monica and a fictional California mountain village. She is a writing teacher and editor, a very amateur actress, and a comedy skit writer. She now lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada’s national capital.
By Accident is the 5th in a series about a Santa Monica Police Department cop working homicide. The Santa Monica Police Department is composed of 233 sworn police officers and 250 civilian staff members. The 8-square mile city on the Pacific Ocean edge of the Los Angeles sprawl generates a lot of heat and excitement.
By Accident may be the last in the series about my Santa Monica cop that I’ve come to know so well. I’m just too far away now for the scents and sounds of the city to reach me. I moved back home to Canada after a 50-year hiatus in California just in time for Covid-19. I’ll always be tempted to write another because interesting things happen in Santa Monica that give me ideas.
Santa Monica’s beaches and luxury hotels are tourist destinations for millions of international travelers, and they are the targets of crime. The city is also called “The Home of the Homeless.” Homeless people like sunshine and beaches as much as anyone else, and a felon on the run can’t flee from trouble any further west.
It’s also the home of about 100,000 residents, most of them ordinary dog-petting citizens. But Santa Monica is more known for celebrity sightings and drunken starlet wrecks in Lamborghinis on the Pacific Ocean Highway. I had my nose down some nasty rat holes in previous books researching international crime, genocide, and female mutilation. By Accident? I did my research while waiting for the hairstylist reading People magazine, Us, supermarket tabloids, and watching Entertainment TV. For a time, I knew who was doing whom and how.
I’ve been fascinated for a long time watching smirking celebrities stroll out of the courtroom … if the case even gets that far. In By Accident, the celebrity couple gets it, and they get it good. I’m grateful to Sgt. Bill Lewis (Ret.) of the Oxnard Police Department for a chase and capture ending I never could have dreamed up myself.
Here’s a link to the Santa Monica Police Department series and a very different series featuring a homicide detective in the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.
Mar shooting the ARB-15 at the Writers Police Academy.
You can contact Mar at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vera Chan, Murderers’ Feast in Midnight Hour: A Chilling Anthology of Crime Fiction by 20 Authors of Color, edited by Abby L. Vandiver
Vera Chan has likely published a million words — most of them true. The former reporter and editor marks her fiction debut with Murderers’ Feast in the Midnight Hour anthology edited by Abby Vandiver. A UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alum, she has worked at daily newspapers and the world’s biggest online destinations covering everything from lifestyle and entertainment to news features and search trends. Her mystery-in-progress Following won her the Sisters in Crime’s Eleanor Taylor Bland award. Her unpublished humor novel The Mounted Position garnered second place for fiction at the inaugural Effie Lee Morris Women’s National Book Association Literary Awards, San Francisco Chapter. Both manuscripts are out on submission through the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Her day job is as senior manager, worldwide journalism relations at Microsoft.
“Men had been murdered for less. And yet John Manley still lived. Five days, surrounded by false friends and his truest enemies. Every last one of them, cowards.”
My short story Murderers’ Feast is what I call corporate noir. It’s dark yet tongue-in-cheek, about an insufferable gazillionaire throwing a five-day retreat with people he has screwed over. The story even includes kombucha (which runs freely in some corporate cafeterias) as a deadly weapon.
Like many journalists, I’ve always wanted to write fiction. As a kid, I devoured books, gravitating to British classics like Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Rebecca. Mystery has always been a favorite genre, and there too, British authors dominated childhood favorites (e.g., Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). That said, nothing tops Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin canon. I’ve even sought out radio plays and various screen interpretations. Sadly, nothing has captured the series’ trenchant charm (imagine a young Robert Downey Jr. as Goodwin). I’ll refrain from ranting about how Hollywood grievously lags behind the Brits in honoring its mystery classics with a cinematic treatment and charismatic casting.
Having my fiction debut alongside the works by established authors is miraculous. I joined Crime Writers of Color (CWOC), an association founded by award-winning authors Kellye Garrett, Gigi Pandian, and the legendary Walter Mosley. What’s brilliant is how the group embraces not just published authors but also emerging writers, which makes a huge difference in trying to navigate an already challenging field. Abby Vandiver proposed an anthology in a Groups.IO thread, and Midnight Hour came together in stunning speed — during a pandemic. The miracle is how nobody questioned having a newbie in the mix: I keep waiting for someone to say, “How the hell did this one sneak in?” So far, I haven’t been found out.
I must confess, while I’m giddy about being part of a groundbreaking anthology, the kicker for me is that Midnight Hour will be at Target! I shop locally when I can and boycott chains that don’t compensate employees fairly. I’ve revered Target for many reasons, among them as a place that made high design accessible to plebes, even with something as prosaic as a broom.
Getting into publishing hasn’t been easy: I often joke, grimly, that I’m trying to break into an industry even more challenging than journalism. (I use a more colorful term than “challenging.”) Finding my spectacular agent took years; now, she suffers on my behalf in the excruciating pace of submissions, made worse by the pandemic. My decision to go “traditional” rather than self-publish lies partly in my “traditional” journalism route and because of my parents. My father was trained as a chemist and my mother an English teacher: When they escaped the Cultural Revolution to the United States, they ran their own mercantile and restaurant businesses. Witnessing their sacrifices made me leery to pursue an entrepreneurial route. Plus, reasonable or not, I feel writing is a wonderful indulgence and a privilege that I can justify by making it part of a larger business.
As for those stories on submission: The Mounted Position is about shy hapless tech writer Abba Welles-Lee who, despite being practiced in the arts of evading intimacy, finds herself dragooned into the bruising yet comical world of martial arts. (The title refers to a mat wrestling maneuver.) Finding an agent took so long, I wrote Following, which centers around amateur private eye Brenna Hom, tasked with spying on the wayward children of moneyed Asian parents during the most accelerated pace of digital communication innovation in the history of the world.
I’ve been so restless about those books making the rounds that I’m writing a third — a mystery satire about a series of deaths accompanied by messages written in excruciating business jargon.
As you might guess, work is the pattern, which may explain why I also like police procedurals. Indeed, this draft could be pitched as Janet Evanovich meets Ed McBain.
The other commonality is martial arts: Watching (too) many kung fu movies with stellar fighting women has made me impatient with stories featuring insipid females. And yes, those Hong Kong action films inspired me to take martial arts, where I met my husband. I’m not great, but I’m still at it after 35 years and volunteer-teach at Cal.
Because whether it’s work, play, or getting published, it’s about putting up the good fight. Thanks, George, for letting me get a couple of rounds in your marvelous blog.
This link will take you to my website: http://verahcchan.com/
This link will take you to all the outlets where you will find Midnight Hour: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/673674/midnight-hour-by-abby-l-vandiver/
— R. Scott Decker, PSWA Vice President and author of Recounting the Anthrax Attacks.
Introduction – As I continue to write and refine my style, I find my mind visualizing the words as I form a sentence. I struggle not to use the same word twice on a page, to stay in the active voice, alter sentence length, and so on. My goal is that writing becomes second nature. It takes work.
I am also finding that I visualize spoken words and unconsciously critique the speaker’s use of words and phrases. My mind sees the spoken words on a page. I find myself cringing at certain phrases used in abundance and not always in the correct form. I evaluate discussions and media commentary for what would be suitable or unsuitable in written narrative. Overuse and misuse of the King’s English has become my unintended pet peeve.
I’m not alone. At the beginning of the year, two young TV announcers/anchors presented their list of overused and abused words. They put “literally” at the top of their list. Unfortunately, many celebrities, including Hollywood A-listers and popular talk show hosts, did not see the broadcast or pay attention if they did. At the top of my list for this season is “moving forward.” It’s everywhere—sports, politics, and the nightly news. Some examples:
Commentator during the fourth game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Finals – “We will continue to monitor COVID test positive results moving forward.” Redundant?
Tom Bevan, opening of the 9/29/2020 Presidential Debate – “Forward-looking vision for the future.” What?
A prolific and widely-read romance author recently penned advice for fellow writers: “I think the biggest mistake an author makes when writing a rough draft is stopping and rereading/editing their work. The key is to keep moving forward and get the whole story out.” Could forward be left out without losing the meaning? I vote, yes.
Second on my list is “transparency” and its negative, “lack of transparency.” When did this one replace the more articulate, “lying by omission,” “not being truthful,” “hiding the facts, “without explanation?” Candidate Joe Biden used “transparency” more than once during the 9/2020 Presidential Debate. Even my personal hero, Chris Wray, Director of the FBI, uses “transparency” in his public addresses.
Landing at third on my overuse list are adverbs—those ending in “-ly.” Usually (oops) they waste oxygen. What morning talk show doesn’t broadcast “literally” during every airing?
New Words and Terms – And there is the use of new words when the tried and true won’t do. For 2020 we have “impactful.” And “content” to describe information. “Break it down” for explaining things. “Deeper look” has replaced closer look and scrutiny. During a Las Vegas Springs Preserve TV ad this past summer, the narrator said, “during a rain event” to describe when it rains; and repeated it three times in one minute! And there is “price point” to describe price; “skill set” to mean skills. Is there no end?
Summing Up – Writing benefits from brevity, using less words to say more. More often than not, it lends itself to a faster paced narrative. As writers, we must embrace the use of a wide and varied vocabulary. Word’s thesaurus feature is a good start. I find reading the work of prominent authors especially useful, such as that of John McPhee. As I took breaks in my book writing to read his tome, Coming into the Country (FSG, 1991), I kept a list of words he used that were unfamiliar to me. The list grew to more than one hundred by the time I finished the book. I kept a dictionary close at hand.
Our guest today is Alec Peche author of Mystery and Thriller.
Who knows the most about how to get away with murder?
Jill, Nathan, and Angela head to New Zealand and Australia on a trip that is part work and part vacation. Jill is speaking at a forensic conference, while her friends are meeting with wineries to conduct business.
Dr. Jill Quint is a forensic pathologist by training. She left her crime lab to pursue her own winery but was called back by old colleagues to comment on cases. Those referrals expanded into a business where Jill offers second opinions on the cause of death. She also has her PI license and can be hired to investigate a suspicious death. Her friends assist her with cases by bringing their own skills like accounting, interviewing, and social media research. Nathan is her partner and is a world-renown wine label designer.
New Zealand has a reputation as a very safe country, so why are people dying in the cities she visited so far on her trip? They aren’t dying by gunshot or stabbing, rather these are unusual ‘accidents.’ In time, it becomes clear that these deaths are staged as ‘how to get away with murder’ events by a professional.
As Jill and friends transition to Australia, will the killer follow them? Is Jill the final target?
Read Forensic Murder for a crime story set down under.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels? Probably sometime in my 40s after reading a bad book. Throughout my high school and college classes, I was at best an average student, and I hated creative writing. I could rarely think of something to write about when I had to do it for a class.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? In July 2012, I made my first attempt at writing a mystery. I fumbled around looking for a format on what to do. I hit a wall early in that I didn’t know who my characters were or much beyond the story’s premise. I tried software and a few books, but my page was still empty. Then I decided I would just sit down and write a page, then the page became several pages and flowed into chapters and a story. I had no contacts in the writing world, and I felt like my style of writing was cheating as I had no list of characters or an outline. I was a pantser but didn’t know there was such a thing. I finished the book in the spring of 2013, and I had a friend who was my first reader, and she said she enjoyed it. She didn’t tell me it was the best book she’d ever read or that it would be a bestseller. She told me where the holes in my story were. I came out of the business world and had never written more than a three-page memo, so I hired an editor who taught me a little about grammar and style. I published that book in September of 2013. I’ve gone back and re-written it a few times. You don’t use contractions when writing in business, and so I didn’t do that in my first two books. That makes any dialogue stiff, so creating contractions and more casual dialogue was part of the book’s improvements since being first released. I read Stephen King’s memoir ON WRITING and heaved a sense of relief when I learned that many authors don’t outline.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? Indie for all 14 books.
Where do you write? Ninety-five percent of my writing is done in my office on a desktop computer in Word. I’ll occasionally write on my iPad, but I like the big screen and mechanical keyboard in my office.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? Silence! My characters are talking to me in my head as I type, and that’s all the ‘noise’ I need to write.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular? A fair amount of my real life is in my books. My three best friends are the series recurring characters. I worked for over thirty years in hospitals. Not as a physician, but with a lot of physicians over the years. Generally, every book setting is a vacation I’ve taken. I visited Australia and New Zealand two years ago. In FORENSIC MURDER, there are cities in the two countries that I didn’t visit (Wellington, Christchurch, the island of Tasmania), so I used Google Earth to fill in the blanks.
Describe your process for naming your characters? I used to keep a telephone book’s white pages around and randomly pick names. Now, that I have many countries that I set my stories in, I’ll google ‘popular first names or surnames in Israel or Quebec’, and pick a name.
Real settings or fictional towns? A little of both. My protagonist in one series lives in a made-up city in the central valley of California, and my protagonist in my second series lives on Red Rock Island, an actual island in San Francisco Bay.
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why? Harry Potter, the popularity of that book series is quite the empire. Also, it’s a mystery and an adventure. Of course, if I had written it, probably the last two books in the series would have been less dark.
Everyone, at some point, wishes for a do-over. What’s yours? I wished I had picked a different pen name.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? There’s so much strife in the world at the moment, who has the mental energy for pet peeves?
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? Another person, a big dog, and shelter.
What was the worst job you’ve ever held? Hand cutting onions at Jack in the Box. I would have to go into the walk-in refrigerator to slow down the tears. To this day, I hate onions.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Hard to say. I’ve listened to On Writing 2-3 times, Harry Potter – first in series, Ron Chernov’s Bios of Washington and Grant, JD Robb’s In Death Series. They are all very immersive stories.
What’s on the horizon for you? I’m playing with proposals in my head of starting a new series in Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Mysteries. But first, I need to finish FORENSIC MURDER for its release date of November 2.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? My writing process is evolving. I haven’t hit on the perfect path that works for every book.
USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston
Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.
Up until fairly recently, I juggled three careers, one of which gave me the idea for my long-running Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. Until retiring last year, I worked for decades as a designer and editor in the consumer crafts industry, primarily designing needlework for kit manufacturers and magazine and craft book publishers. However, I have been known to wield a nasty glue gun from time to time and have the scars to prove it! But it’s been well worth the pain, given the accompanying inspiration it’s provided. (see below)
I began my writing career in the romance genre. My first published book, Talk Gertie To Me, which was more humorous women’s fiction than romance, was published in 2006. Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, a romantic suspense, came out in 2007. By then, I had decided to take my writing in a different direction with a mystery series. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun was the first book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. I sold the series at the end of 2009, and the first book was released in January 2011.
But I said I juggled three careers, didn’t I? After selling my first book, the agency which represented me invited me to join them as an associate, which made me, for a time, an author, an agent, and a designer. With the changes that have occurred in publishing the last few years, coupled with the death of two of our agents and the retirement of one, the agency owner decided it was time to close shop after nearly fifty years in business. So now I’m back to one career. Truthfully, it’s the one I love most because it enables me to live 24/7 within my imagination.
The idea for the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries came about thanks to a conversation my agent had with an editor. The editor was looking for a crafting mystery series. My agent figured, with my background, I was the perfect person for the project. I hadn’t read any crafting mysteries at that point, and when I began researching them, I discovered that most featured amateur sleuths were shop owners. I wanted to come up with something different and tapped into my own industry experiences as a crafts editor, making Anastasia the crafts editor at a women’s magazine.
The idea for the first book came about from a combination of events. My husband had recently lost his job, and although he’s nothing like Anastasia’s husband (thank goodness!), it sent me into a tailspin of worry regarding money. Although I juggled three careers at the time, none of them provided me with a steady income. On top of that, I was having mother-in-law problems. Finally, when I first started contemplating the series, The Sopranos was still on HBO. I’m a Jersey girl. How could I not set a mystery in my home state and involve the Mafia in some way?
All of these elements, along with just having sustained a painful burn from my hot glue gun, came together to form the basis for both the first book and the overall series: When Anastasia Pollack’s gambling-addicted husband permanently cashes in his chips in Las Vegas, her life craps out. She’s left with two teenage sons, a mountain of debt, and her nasty, cane-wielding communist mother-in-law—not to mention a loan shark demanding fifty thousand dollars.
Given the premise for the series, I knew it had to be humorous. I’ve always been drawn to quirky characters. They make me laugh. I think we all need more laughter in our lives, especially with everything going on right now! Releasing those endorphins is the only thing sustaining many of us these days.
In crafting quirky characters, I usually take traits from various people I know, exaggerate them, and blend them together to create unique characters. Let’s face it, most people aren’t as quirky or funny in real life as they are on the printed page. The exception is Lucille, Anastasia’s mother-in-law. With a few minor differences, Lucille’s personality (along with her communist leanings) mirrors that of my now deceased mother-in-law. Hence, the mother-in-law problems I mentioned above—and the reason why some of my husband’s relatives no longer speak to me!
There are now nine full-length novels and three novellas in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, which have received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist and an Amazon #1 Bestseller. The latest book is A Sew Deadly Cruise, released October 1st.
Come for the laughs, stay for the mystery!
A Sew Deadly Cruise – An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 9
Life is looking up for magazine crafts editor Anastasia Pollack. Newly engaged, she and photojournalist fiancé Zack Barnes are on a winter cruise with her family, compliments of a Christmas gift from her half-brother-in-law. Son Alex’s girlfriend and her father have also joined them. Shortly after boarding the ship, Anastasia is approached by a man with an unusual interest in her engagement ring. When she tells Zack of her encounter, he suggests the man might be a jewel thief scouting for his next mark. But before Anastasia can point the man out to Zack, the would-be thief approaches him, revealing his true motivation. Long-buried secrets now threaten the well-being of everyone Anastasia holds dear. And that’s before the first dead body turns up.
Craft projects included.
Apple iBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/a-sew-deadly-cruise/id1526052822
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