Jan 26, 2023 | Historical, Mystery |
Boston native STEPHEN M. MURPHY graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the University of San Francisco School of Law. After graduating from law school in 1981, he served as a law clerk to the justices of the New Hampshire Superior Court. While in New Hampshire, he worked on a murder trial that inspired his first Dutch Francis novel, Alibi. For over 34 years, he represented plaintiffs in personal injury and employment litigation. He is Past President of the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association, which voted him Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2008. SuperLawyers have also named him as one of the Top 100 lawyers in Northern California. He is the author of several books and is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters-in-Crime.
ABIDING CONVICTION: Lawyer Dutch Francis defends a high-profile murder case in which a judge is accused of killing his wife, when his own wife, TV news broadcaster Ginnie Turner, goes missing. As he confronts an ineffectual police department, suspicious that he is involved in his wife’s disappearance, he decides to take matters into his own hands. Exhausted by the murder trial, he struggles to balance both responsibilities, pushing him to the brink of losing everything he holds dear. At first, he thinks Ginnie was kidnapped in retaliation for her recent stories about sex scandals. But after receiving bits of her in the mail—fingernails, hair—he realizes the kidnapper may actually want to punish him. Could his defense of the judge be the reason?
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I write mysteries, legal thrillers, and historical fiction set in Ireland. I am still trying to get the latter published.
Where do you write? I generally write at a local café called Simple Pleasures.
What, if any, distractions do you allow? I like to listen to music, preferably jazz, blues, or classic rock and roll while writing.
What are you currently working on? I am writing a mystery featuring a San Francisco judge whose father and son are charged with the murder of a high-tech executive in the Tenderloin.
How long did it take you to write your first book? It took me nearly ten years to write ALIBI, a legal thriller/murder mystery set in New Hampshire, based on my experience as a law clerk to the superior court.
How long to get it published? About five years.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? I confess to having great difficulty figuring out how women think, which I’m sure is a character defect on my part.
Do you have subplots? Yes.
If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I tend to link my subplots by theme rather than plot. For example, in ABIDING CONVICTION, my latest Dutch Francis novel, the protagonist’s lawyer has to search for his missing wife while trying a high-profile murder case in which a judge is accused of killing his own wife.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Both. I tend to write a rough outline at first, start writing, and when I have a first draft, go back and outline in more detail. I’ve tried outlining an entire book at the beginning but just couldn’t do it.
What kind of research do you do? For my Dutch Francis legal thriller series, I research the geography of the various towns in New Hampshire that are mentioned. Since I lived in New Hampshire for only one year –forty years ago – I find Google Maps and Google Earth invaluable to reacquaint me with the area.
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? The biggest obstacle is creating realistic characters rather than just ones known to history. That means delving into their personal lives, other things they did that did not make them famous and personal relationships. For my Irish historical series, I include many historical figures and have to avoid getting caught up in the history and ignoring the stories I’m trying to tell.
What is the best book you have ever read? It’s tough to single out one book, so I’ll give you two. PRINCE OF TIDES by Pat Conroy and SHANTARAM by Gregory David Roberts. I’ve re-read both and found them just as enjoyable the second time around.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I plan on writing novels in both the Dutch Francis and the Irish history series.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Learn to love the process. The publishing business is a rough one: full of rejection both by agents and publishers. Don’t write just to get published because that may never happen. If you love writing, write for yourself or to share with family and friends. Publication is an added bonus.
How do our readers contact you? steve@stephenMmurphy.com or www.stephenMmurphy.com. My website has a link to various booksellers for my books.
Oct 18, 2021 | Uncategorized |
FOUR CUTS TOO MANY – Sarah Blair, who finds kitchens more frightening than murder, gets an education in slicing and dicing when someone in the culinary school where her friend teaches serves up a main corpse. Sarah soon discovers that there’s no time to mince words when it comes to finding the real killer.
Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series (Four Cuts Too Many, Three Treats Too Many, Two Bites Too Many, and One Taste Too Many). Her short stories, which have been named Agatha, Anthony, and Derringer finalists, have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Malice Domestic Murder Most Edible, Masthead, and Jukes & Tonks. Debra is on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and president of SEMWA. She previously served on Sisters in Crime’s national board and was the Guppy Chapter president.
Do you write in more than one genre? Although my six novels are all traditional or cozy mysteries, my published short stories range from non-mystery literary works to different mystery genres. During my time as a judge and a litigator, almost all of my writings were non-fiction legal articles and book chapters.
What is your writing process, and what is most challenging about it? My true nature is to be a pantser who listens to the voices of my characters but only writes when the muse strikes me. I repeatedly tell myself I need to get up and write every day, but I constantly fail to do so. This was the exact style I used when I wrote the first Sarah Blair book, One Taste Too Many; however, after Kensington contracted the first three books, I faced several challenges. First, each book now had a deadline for submission, which meant I had to produce on time. That was a challenge I could easily meet. What was more difficult was that for each book, my New York editor wanted a detailed synopsis. It was emphasized to me that it needed to be detailed. Consequently, I spent weeks working out the plot of Two Bites Too Many and finally submitted an eighteen-page synopsis. My editor had only one comment: “Next time, double space.”
Although I wouldn’t say I like thinking the books out in advance, and I often must send my editor an email with a little change – like I discovered there needed to be a new character added to the cast in Three Treats Too Many. I have learned to write and appreciate having shorter, double-spaced treatments for each book.
Has any association membership helped you or your writing? When I announced that I was going to write mysteries, I was told to join Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. These two organizations provided classes and mentoring guidance that helped me develop my skills and understanding of the craft and business aspects of writing. They also have proven invaluable in helping me make friends at all levels of writing and who generously share their expertise and encouragement.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? The basic premise of the Sarah Blair books is that Sarah, who was married at eighteen, divorced at twenty-eight, with the only thing she got out of the marriage being RahRah, her Siamese cat, is starting over with no skills and a lack of confidence. As the series proceeds, Sarah evolves. She acquires new skills, including those needed to solve murders, and she grows in terms of her confidence level. Sarah’s interaction with the people around her set up several personal interaction sub-plots in each book. Whether the sub-plot revolves around family, friends, community groups, or her pets varies based upon the main plotline. I also work in social issue subplots, including economic development, mental abuse, ageism, and animal rescue. The key to these subplots is to make my point without banging the reader over the head with it. My goal is to have readers enjoy a carefully crafted whodunit but walk away with subconscious thoughts raised by the subplots.
What kind of research do you do? When Maze in Blue and Should Have Played Poker were orphaned, I knew I had to write something new and that I wanted it to be a cozy mystery. Having spent a great deal of time in small southern towns when I was litigating for the Department of Labor, I knew I could capture their essence in any book I wrote. I also had no problem making my sleuth an amateur. A problem arose when I thought about the fact that most cozy mysteries include crafts or cooking, and I hate both. Once I decided there had to be readers out there who hate the kitchen as much as I do, I had a hook for my series – a woman more frightened of the kitchen than murder. Despite Sarah’s unfamiliarity with the kitchen, I had to learn about it in order to write the kitchen scenes realistically.
Consequently, I approached several restaurant owners, chefs, and waiters in Birmingham, Alabama, which has become a foodie town. They graciously told me their stories and took me through their kitchens. From each person I interviewed, I learned something new that appears in the various books. For Three Treats Too Many, I wanted to write about a community motorcycle group and a veterinarian’s office. To get these things right, I interviewed a few individuals who collect motorcycles, and I shadowed a veterinarian for a day. I believe the more hands-on research I do, the more realistic and enjoyable my books are.
Website – www.DebraHGoldstein.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/DebraHGoldsteinAuthor/
Twitter – @DebraHGoldstein
Instagram – debrahgoldstein
Bookbub – https://www.bookbub.com/profile/debra-h-goldstein
Four Cuts Too Many and the other Sarah Blair books are available from indie and big-box bookstores but can also be purchased online.
Four Cuts Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)
Thanks for this post, Stephen (and George).
Ten years to write the first book is long, but from what I’ve seen, not all that uncommon. I figure you wrote it while ALSO working full-time representing plaintiffs. Then five years to get the book published. For all of us yet to be published, you are indeed an inspiring model for what Winston Churchill encouraged about perseverance in the darkest of times– “Never, never, never give up.” ( In truth, he said about TEN ‘nevers,’ I believe).
I’m wondering, did you acquire an agent? If so, how long did that take? I’d love to hear that story. And if you got your first book published without an agent, that piques my interest too. Did you find the journey a lonely one? Did you have much support along the way? Inquiring minds want to know. Thanks again,
Pamela: Thanks for your post. Yes, perseverance is an important attribute for any writer. I did have an agent for my first novel. It took years to find one, but once I did the book sold fairly quickly. However, my agent was unable to sell the second book in the Dutch Francis series, ABOUT POWER, so I self-published it on Amazon. For my latest book, ABIDING CONVICTION, I did not have an agent since my agent retired, but was able to sell it on my own to Oceanview.
As you can tell, it’s been a long journey, which fortunately has been made easier by my writers’ group, which has been most supportive.
Sounds like some sound advice, counselor. Best of luck on your new one.
Thanks, Michael. You may not remember but you read the first chapter of ABIDING CONVICTION through the MWA. You inspired me to keep going.
Damn, now that you mention it, I thought there was something familiar about your summary. Well, congratulations on your success. I’m flattered that you remember me.
“If you love writing, write for yourself or to share with family and friends. Publication is an added bonus.”