In her youth, Kassandra Lamb had two great passions—psychology and writing. Advised that writers need day jobs and being partial to eating, she studied psychology. Now retired from a career as a psychotherapist and college professor, she spends most of her time in an alternate universe populated by her fictional characters. The portal to this universe (aka her computer) is located in Florida, where her husband and dog catch occasional glimpses of her.
Service dog trainer Marcia Banks tackles a locked room mystery in a haunted house. She has trained a dog to clear rooms for an agoraphobic Marine who was ambushed during combat. But the phantom attackers in his mind become the least of his troubles when Marcia finds his ex-wife’s corpse in his bedroom, with the door bolted from the inside.
All my books are mysteries, but I like variety, so I tend to explore different subgenres. I have one completed series of traditional mysteries, one series of cozy mysteries that is winding down, and I have started a new series of police procedurals. I’ve also written some romantic suspense stories under the pen name of Jessica Dale.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? Some behave, but many do not. My main characters tend to behave most of the time. An exception was the main character of my cozies, Marcia Banks (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha). I originally gave her a few neuroses, so she’d have some things to overcome during the course of the series. The main one was a longing to “be normal,” as she had been teased as a kid over her name and because she was a pastor’s kid. Plus, she’s licking her wounds after a short but disastrous marriage. But then she decided to throw a strong resistance to commitment into the mix, which drove her love interest a bit crazy for a very long time.
Minor characters often assert themselves and insist on bigger parts in the stories. I had two minor characters do this in my Kate Huntington series. One, Skip Canfield, wooed his way both into Kate’s heart and into a main character role.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I use some of both. If I’m only going to have good things happen in a location, I’ll probably use a real place. The last two of my series are set in Florida, where I live now. Locals get a kick out of seeing a location name and being able to say, “I know where that is,” or “I’ve been there.”
But if I’m going to have negative things happen, such as corrupt cops, I make up a location. I’ve added three fictitious counties and a fictional city to the Florida map, so far.
What is the best book you ever read? Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, by Bebe Moore Campbell. It is set in the 1960s and 70s when I was a teen and young adult, and it addresses race relations in a very human way.
Ms. Campbell captured the thoughts, feelings, and internal conflicts of all of her characters, including the extremely bigoted white males! She handled the multiple points of view so well that I was inspired to try that approach in my Kate Huntington series. (I’ve since switched to one point of view, usually first person, in most of my stories.)
What are you working on now? I’ve started a series of police procedurals, and I’m really enjoying that new challenge. The protagonist was a secondary character in my Kate Huntington series, a homicide lieutenant who becomes increasingly frustrated with big-city politics (the Kate series is set in the Baltimore area) and with riding a desk instead of being out on the street. Judith Anderson takes a job as Chief of Police of a small city in Florida, figuring if she’s in charge, she can be more hands-on. In Book 1, Lethal Assumptions, she’s only eight days on the job when she finds herself chasing a serial killer.
I’m currently writing the first draft of Book 2, Fatal Escape, which deals with human trafficking and domestic abuse. But since I’m used to writing cozies (which are supposed to be “clean”), I’m trying to keep the gore and swearing to a minimum. I don’t want to offend my loyal readers.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I usually do, especially in a full-length novel. Often the subplot is about the main character’s love life. My favorite kind of subplot, though, is one that ends up tying into the main plot at the end of the story.
In Fatal Escape, Judith’s love interest is the sheriff of the next county over. She calls him Sheriff Sam inside her head. She already has a drowning case on her plate—that could be a suicide or murder—when she gets a call from Sam to come to a murder scene on the boundary line between their two jurisdictions. They have a funny little back-and-forth in which each is trying to give the case to the other one.
Sam finally takes the case since Judith’s already got her hands full. But later, it turns out that the two cases are linked. I won’t say more for fear of spoilers, but I can hardly wait to write the chapter in which they make the connection. Every time I think about it, I want to rub my hands together and laugh diabolically.
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Steve Rush is an award-winning author who won joint first prize in the 2020 Chillzee KiMo T-E-N Contest and was a finalist in the 2020 Page Turner Awards.
His experience includes tenure as a homicide detective and chief forensic investigator for a national consulting firm. He was once hailed as “The best forensic investigator in the United States” by the late Joseph L. Burton, M.D, under whom he mastered his skills and investigated many deaths alongside Dr. Jan Garavaglia of Dr. G: Medical Examiner fame. Steve has investigated 900+ death scenes and taught classes related to death investigation. His specialties include injury causation, blood spatter analysis, occupant kinematics, and recovery of human skeletal remains.
Do you write in more than one genre? In addition to my latest release, Kill Your Characters: Crime Scene tips for Writers, I write suspense/ thrillers and have three nonfiction books in the Christian market.
What brought you to writing? I began writing after reading multiple novels and watching the masters unfold stories page after page. A homeless man’s murder prompted me to write my first novel (Façade, written pseudonym Shane Kinsey) after I identified the deceased by skin removed from his thumb. (In the novel, a killer uses skin from a dead man’s thumb to leave a bloody thumbprint at his murder scenes.) Wings E-press was accepted and published in 2010. I was hooked.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write at home ninety-nine percent of the time. I shut off my surroundings and become a spectator in my characters’ world. The other percent is in a hotel/condo while on vacation or a weekend getaway. I get involved to the extent I have no clue of anything happening around me.
Tell us about your writing process: I am a pantser. I tried to outline and found myself deviating from my notes more and more. I have an idea of story and denouement and write as the story unfolds in my thoughts. I like to ask “What if?” and go from there.
What are you currently working on? I am writing about a high-school senior who lost his parents in a fire-bombing.
Who’s your favorite author? Dean Koontz
How long did it take you to write your first book? Several years writing while working a full-time job that required travel across the U.S.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? My latest book is all about killing characters, so, yes, I kill characters when necessary to advance the story and keep the others honest.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? Stephen King. The first novel of his I read left me wondering if he is a writer I should continue to read. I read The Green Mile and others and believe King is in the top five of the best-writer list.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? No.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Both.
Do you have any advice for new writers? I will elaborate below. Add suspense. Increase tension. Write what you know.
Writers and editors differ in opinion when it comes to book-length fiction. They suggest we turn off our self-editor and get words on the page. Edit the work after we have a first draft. While the advice works well in most cases, some authors prefer to edit along the way. One author reviews and edits the writing done in a previous session. Another author edits while writing. (Both are New York Times best-selling authors.)
Some authors are outliners; others are pantsers. I am a pantser. I find editing along the way works best for me.
Whatever method you choose, the most crucial aspects to remember when writing inciting incidents, especially crime scenes, are authenticity and credibility. This is where more-than-a-few writers see a stop sign. How can we write what we know if we don’t know it?
Facts support our efforts. I learned this from the cases I investigated as a homicide detective and forensic investigator. They prompted me to write, Kill Your Characters—Crime Scene Tips for Writers.
Facts paint images we want readers to see as if everything happens in their presence. We show readers how to kill. We show how to collect evidence, how to investigate deaths, and how to put together a case for prosecution. Each endeavor must embrace appropriate facts.
Elements of story direct readers where we want them to go until a twist of facts proves otherwise. This includes misdirection. Some facts inserted in the story alter the outcome. Details in fiction reflect real-world situations. Unbelievable instances in life frequently prove to be true, although many come as a surprise to us. When readers see events as too easy and convenient, skepticism turns focus away from our story.
The next step begins when the protagonist arrives and examines the scene. Choices rest on their training from that time forward. The difference between a protagonist’s competence and incompetence depends on their level of expertise. That expertise, or the lack thereof, comes from the facts we give them.
As writers, we share ideas visualized in our minds. We invite our audience to see our inciting incidents. We reveal bits and pieces of the story, one scene after another. We perform our job well when we grab their attention and keep them reading.
True-to-life facts support and give credibility to our stories. What better way to intrigue our readers?
Kill Your Characters—Crime Scene Tips for Writers
There’s a dead body on the floor, and your detective character has to learn every detail about the crime in order to solve the case and bring the murderer to justice. If you’re not an experienced forensic investigator, how can you describe the manner of death accurately so that the evidence means what you want it to mean?
Kill Your Characters by former detective and forensic investigator Steve Rush gives you the tools you need to pass the inspection of all the armchair detectives (and more than a few real ones) out there. Discover your ultimate empowerment source for writing the page-turning inciting incident you have always wanted to write. Become a master and save hours of research effort searching elsewhere for accurate information.
This book will help you answer: How did your character die? What were the circumstances of the murder? What weapon did the killer use? What evidence was left behind? How can you build a rock-solid case against the suspect?
Kill Your Characters will help you answer these questions and more with facts to back up your fiction. When plotting the next murder scene for your story, you may run into obstacles such as how the detectives determine the time of death or the forensic evidence left by a gunshot wound. Steve Rush’s extensive experience is accumulated in a series of writing tips that will significantly improve your story. Kill Your Characters is for any author looking to elevate their murder scenes with credible and authentic details.
Order your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1947521780
Nick Chiarkas grew up in the Al Smith housing projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. When he was in the fourth grade, his mother was told by the principal of PS-1 that “Nick was unlikely to ever complete high school, so you must steer him toward a simple and secure vocation.” Instead, Nick became a writer, with a few stops along the way: a U.S. Army Paratrooper; a New York City Police Officer; the Deputy Chief Counsel for the President’s Commission on Organized Crime; and the Director of the Wisconsin State Public Defender Agency. On the way, he picked up a Doctorate from Columbia University, a Law Degree from Temple University; and was a Pickett Fellow at Harvard. How many mothers are told their child is hopeless? How many kids with potential simply surrender to desperation? That’s why Nick wrote “Weepers”—for them.
Weepers: The murder of an undercover cop in a New York City Housing Project in 1957 has unexpected ties to the unsolved disappearance of a young father walking home in those same Projects with his son, Angelo, on Christmas Eve 1951. The only witness to the cop killing is Angelo, now 13, as he was on his way to set fire to a grocery store at 2:00 am. The killers saw him. These events forge a union between a priest, a Mafia boss, a police detective, and Angelo, a gang member. In Weepers, we see that if you drop a rock into the East River, the ripples will go all the way to Italy. In the end, Weepers shows us that the courage of the underdog—despite fear and moral ambiguity—will conquer intimidation.
Awards for Weepers:
• Firebird Grand Prize Best Book Award (2022)
• Best Mystery Novel for 2017 the John E Weaver Excellent Reads Award by Earthshine. https://www.speakuptalkradio.com/nick-chiarkas-firebird-book-award-winner/
• Award Winner – Best Novel of 2016 by the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA)
• Award for Best Book Award by Midwest Independent Publishers Association (MIPA)
• Award for Best Young Adult Novel for 2016 by Bookvana
• Award for Best Crossover (Mystery & Young Adult) Best Books Award for 2017
• Award for Best Young Adult Coming-of-Age by Readers’ Favorite for 2018
Nunzio‘s Way: Nunzio drifted back to his childhood there on the Lower East Side. The narrow, trash-lined streets and alleys weaved together decaying brownstone tenements with common toilets—one per floor. Alone at ten years old, after his mother died, he learned to survive in one of the most notorious neighborhoods in the city. He shoveled coal and guarded the produce stored there by the ships docked off South Street to pay for living in the cellar at 57 Canon Street. After school, Nunzio mostly walked the streets. He recalled the putrid smell of decomposing cats and dogs covered with a trembling blanket of insects, rats, and things he didn’t recognize. And lying in the gutter against the sidewalk on Pike Street was a horse, with old and fresh whip wounds, shrouded in a cloak of flying and crawling insects. Only three years later, at the ripe age of thirteen, Nunzio killed his first man, a hulking longshoreman people called “the bear.” His life and the lives of four of his friends changed forever. Plenty of other horrors and hardships confronted him throughout his life, but when he closed his eyes, Nunzio saw the horse.
“Nunzio’s Way” In 1960, Declan Arden, an ambitious New York City lawyer, asked his boyhood friend and client, Nunzio Sabino, the most powerful organized crime boss of his time, to help him win the election for mayor. Nunzio agrees to help Declan, telling him, “In this city, you can have anything you want if you kill the right four people.” In Italy, after killing a top member of the Gomorra, Heather Potter, arrives in New York City seeking vengeance on the people who murdered her family. Those people include Nunzio Sabino and Mac Pastamadeo. Mac is the father of Angelo, the leader of the Weepers gang.
NICK’S FAVORITE WORKSPACE
Five fun facts most people don’t know about me (Nick Chiarkas)
- I received the Law Enforcement Commendation Medal from the Sons of the American Revolution, and I received the Equal Justice Medal from the Legal Aid Society – These two awards are not in conflict but in harmony. I believe that no one is above the law’s enforcement nor below its protection.
- I raised my two oldest children mostly as a single dad – just the three of us. They taught me a lot.
- I was one of a handful of NYPD cops sent to Woodstock in 1969 to provide security – it was incredible.
- While in an Army hospital, I received a very kind letter from J.D. Salinger.
- I was in the movie The Anderson Tapes (Starring: Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, and Christopher Walken).
Available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, University of Wisconsin Bookstore, Mystery to Me, other local independent bookstores, and from the publisher.
Frequently accused of drinking too much tea and getting lost deliberately, award-winning writer Debra Bokur is the author of the Dark Paradise Mysteries series (Kensington Books). She’s also a contributing author to Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry (The Bench Press, 2001) and the former poetry editor at Many Mountains Moving literary journal. Bokur is an award-winning journalist and longtime contributor to national publications, including Global Traveler Magazine. She divides her time between Colorado and coastal Maine.
The Lava Witch – In a remote, mountainous area of a Maui forest near Haleakalā volcano, the naked body of a young woman is found hanging from a tree. The devil is in the details: the woman’s nostrils, mouth, and lungs are packed with lava sand. Her hands are bound in twine, and her feet are charred and blackened, suggesting a firewalking ceremony. Detective Kali Māhoe’s suspicions are immediately aroused. It has all the signs of ritual torture and murder.
But Kali’s investigation soon leads her down a winding trail of seemingly unconnected clues and diverging paths—from the hanging tree itself, a rare rainbow eucalyptus, to rumors of a witch haunting the high areas of the forest, to the legend of the ancient Hawaiian sorceress Pahulu, goddess of nightmares. Casting a shadow over it all—the possibility of a Sitting God, a spirit said to invade and possess the soul.
Aided by her uncle, Police Captain Walter Alaka’i, Officer David Hara, and the victim’s brother, Kali embarks down the darkest road of all. One that leads to the truth of the mountain’s deadly core and a dark side of the island for which even Kali is unprepared.
“This procedural keeps readers guessing all the way to the gratifying solution. Fans of Tony Hillerman will be enthralled.” —Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW on The Lava Witch
“A cool police procedural with engaging characters and fascinating components.” —Kirkus Reviews on The Lava Witch
Controlling the Weather – Thanks for inviting me to post on your site today, George. As I prepare for the launch of The Lava Witch, I’ve been mulling over a few concepts that I suspect may be common among both readers and writers of mystery/crime fiction, all of which have coalesced into the notion of controlling the weather.
Consider this: Nearly everything in the world operates according to forces that are out of our control — day and night, tidal waves, tornadoes, disease outbreaks, growing old, watching the neighbors paint their house the wrong color. That’s plenty to dwell on, even on a sunny day, while we can still bolt up and down staircases with ease. When you add in the forces of malevolence, things take a much darker turn.
Like most people, I’ve encountered evil firsthand. Sometimes it’s shiny or dressed up with beguiling surface beauty meant to mislead and confuse; sometimes, it doesn’t bother to pretend to be anything but what it is —cruelty, malice, and deliberate mayhem unleashed to disrupt or destroy the lives and equilibrium of others.
While I’ve never actually talked to other mystery writers or readers about this, I’m sure I’m not alone when I say how satisfying and fulfilling it is to see darkness overcome by goodness and light. I believe it’s one of the reasons we love to read mysteries and thrillers. I know it’s one of the reasons I find it gratifying to write them. Sure, remedying all the ills of the real world and conquering evil in its multitude of forms is beyond my powers as a single human being; but as an author, I can control storms and decide when the sun comes out, and make certain that those who deliberately bring about pain, grief, and misery — at least within the pages of my books — are made fully accountable for their actions. And, I get to bring readers along for the ride, setting off with them on difficult journeys that I know will lead, at last, to a moment of resolution and healing.
How do our readers contact you?
Groups I belong to:
- Sisters In Crime (National, Colorado, and New England chapters)
- Mystery Writers of America
- Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers
- Colorado Authors League
- International Thriller Writers
- Society of American Travel Writers
Leaving international thrillers to world travelers, Donnell Ann Bell concentrates on suspense that might happen in her neck of the woods – writing SUSPENSE TOO CLOSE TO HOME. Traditionally published with Bell Bridge Books, she has written four Amazon single-title bestsellers. Her most current release is Black Pearl, a Cold Case Suspense, book one of a series, and Until Dead, A Cold Case Suspense, Book two, to be released May 31, 2022. To sign up for her newsletter or follow her on social media, check out www.donnellannbell.com
Hi, George; thank you for inviting me to chat with your readers on your esteemed blog. Before I begin this extremely important subject, I’d like to ask your viewers, especially if they are reading this on their laptops, how many of you have a sticky note or an obstacle blocking your computer camera lens? I’m not a statistical guru, but I would wager the number is more than 50 percent. That, or your newer laptop comes with a device that does it for you.
Did you know that in 2020 (and quite possibly before), employers purchased software programs to monitor their off-site employees to verify they weren’t surfing unrelated work sites and were, in fact, working? People quickly started logging off at night to avoid these unwelcome electronic voyeurs.
I think about things like this because, as my blog title suggests . . . well, you know. I’m careful to research apps to ensure they aren’t loaded with malware. When I’m at my son and daughter’s homes, I whisper around Alexa, stare cryptically at the baby monitors, and don’t get me started on the Ring doorbell. I’ve even searched the dark web . . . All right, no, I haven’t gone anywhere near the dark web. But my antagonist in Until Dead, A Cold Case Suspense has.
I had so much fun creating an evil character who has in-depth knowledge of everything I fret about. At first, I thought I was being ridiculous, that my ideas were over the top. But I’ll have you know I have people—IT expert friends—who not only didn’t laugh at my plot, they dove in and verified what I was writing.
So, imagine you’re on an FBI task force and an assassin with explosives, weapons, and IT skills, one who calls himself The Tradesman, has been hired to take out an assistant U.S. attorney? Would that make you . . . uncomfortable? I bring back my entire team (and a few newcomers) from Black Pearl, A Cold Case Suspense. Fortunately, this task force is smarter, braver, and far more qualified than the author. But I should warn you—there will be times in Until Dead, my task force is paranoid.
Until Dead, a Cold Case Suspense releases May 31, 2022, and is now available for preorder. Until Dead: A Cold Case Suspense – Kindle edition by Bell, Donnell Ann. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
Pre-order at your favorite bookstore today!
“This outstanding follow-on to Donnell Ann Bell’s Black Pearl [is] highly recommended!” — Barbara Nickless, Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Charts Bestselling Author
This killer won’t stop . . . until she’s dead
When Lt. Everett T. Pope is notified of an explosion in downtown Denver close to the judicial buildings, his first instinct is a gas leak. No such luck. As Incident Command and Pope’s own Major Crimes unit move in, he discovers he knows the intended victims—an Assistant U. S. Attorney—and Pope’s former partner, now a private investigator, has died shielding the injured AUSA with his body.
As ATF and the FBI take over investigating the bombing and unraveling motives behind the murder attempt, Pope is relegated to a peripheral role. But the injured AUSA’s aunt is a United States senator used to getting results. She turns to the team that solved the Black Pearl Killer murders with a very big ask—find her answers and locate the bomber.
FBI Special Agent Brian DiPietro must recall his entire cold case team from their far-flung assignments, knowing he’s being asked to do the impossible. The senator, however, doesn’t know the meaning of the word. All too soon, DiPietro finds his team working alongside ATF on a red-hot mission. One that uncovers a decades old cold case.
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