Terri Benson has published three novels and nearly a hundred articles and short stories. In addition to The Pickup Artist, her credits include November 2021—The Angel and The Demon, Book #1 of Lead Me Into Temptation, a historical romance; 2012—An Unsinkable Love, a historical romance set on the Titanic and in the New England Garment Manufacturing District. She works at a Business Incubator, and her hobbies include camping, jeeping, and dirt biking. More info at https://www.terribensonwriter.com/
The Pickup Artist, A Bad Carma Mystery, was released on April 1, 2022, from Literary Wanderlust. A female classic car restorer discovers her newest project comes complete with a serial killer who now has her in his headlights, and, by the way, she’s also the local LEOs #1 suspect.
I’m currently working on more Bad Carma Mysteries and Lead Me Into Temptation books.
Do you write in more than one genre: Yes, I write both mysteries and historical romance, but no matter what I’m writing, there is bound to be romance, mystery, and a little bit of history.
Tell us about your writing process: I’m a bit odd in that I come up with a title first. Then I figure out what scenario I can see working with that, then I write. Since both my series are fairly defined by the series titles, I know what kind of book I’ll be writing from the start.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Absolutely. I’ve belonged to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers for more than a decade, and I fully credit the great friendships I’ve made there with dozens of amazing writers, agents, editors, and publishers—including the two who published my last two books (The Pickup Artist and The Angel and The Demon)—to those friendships. I had access to hundreds of workshops from RMFW and Pikes Peak Writers that helped me hone my craft, getting me to the point agents and editors would look at my work. I also found the publisher for An Unsinkable Love pre-RMFW via a contact in a critique group I belonged to. I can’t recommend “finding your tribe” enough for new and not so new writers. I’m also a member of Sisters in Crime.
How long did it take you to write your first book? My “first” book took 20 years, but I’ve never submitted it to anyone – eventually, I probably will. My first “published” book took four months to write, and since it was for an open call for books about the Titanic, it had a due date to submit. I remember meeting my best friend, who is my most critical beta reader, and her passing the manuscript from her car to mine in the dark at about 8:00 at night the day it was due to be submitted. If a cop had seen us, they’d have suspected a drug deal! I made edits and submitted it with less than 10 minutes to spare. It was published about a year later, in time for the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking.
How do you come up with character names? I drive through a cemetery every day to get to work and eat lunch there almost every day (it’s very pretty and quiet, with frequent visits by deer). I often wander around and write down names to use. And for Renni in the Bad Carma Mysteries, when I needed to have her full name be mentioned, I ended up with Renault Landaulette Delacroix because her father was a car-obsessed Frenchman.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Mine run wild and crazy! I’ve discovered some amazing things about my characters over the years, but only when they let me. And sometimes that plays havoc with the story! Do yours behave or run wild?
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into your story? I always have subplots because my characters demand it. I also think it makes the story more real and in-depth if things are going on between characters that impact and enhance the main plot. It might be a romance with sub-characters or a situation with a car that causes problems to make Renni’s life more difficult, but also helps show her faults and foibles and/or that of other characters.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? My Ed Benson character is patterned off my brother-in-law, with his blessing. But he did go from being a middle-aged white guy to a billionaire inventor who is the spitting image of Morgan Freeman (again, with Ed’s blessing) because that’s what the character wanted.
What kind of research do you do? I do a ton of research. With Bad Carma, I need to have a selection of cars to restore and know what kinds of equipment I’d find and how they’d be used in a restoration shop. For my books, because they all have some historical plotlines, I do a lot of historical research to find out what was happening when the car was being made or the era the romance is set in. I like to know interesting facts that I can use (sparingly!) in the story to give my readers a little tidbit they won’t have known. My favorite tidbit in An Unsinkable Love was that the Titanic had floor tiles that were more expensive than marble – a new product called Linoleum!
Where do you place your settings – real or fictional locations? I generally have settings in the west, around the Four Corners area, because I know those places from spending my life living there or camping and traveling around there. But Unsinkable was set on the Titanic and in the New England garment manufacturing district, so I don’t feel obligated to use any particular place except what works for the story.
Why did you choose to have a female classic car restorer as your protagonist in the Bad Carma Mysteries? I’ve always loved old cars, especially those pre-1950, and think that perhaps if I had my life to do over, I might have been Renni! Then I could work on the cars instead of just going to as many car shows and auctions as I can and check out the intricate details on the older cars. My research has uncovered hundreds of potential vehicles to use in my stories, and I find more all the time. The Divco delivery van pictured is what Renni drives to shows and is based on one owned by a guy here in town who let me climb around it and lent me a book on the Divco history. Renni hitches it to a custom-made “Jim Dandy” teardrop trailer. I found the plans for the trailer online and was intrigued because it has an ahead-of-its-time swing away hitch, allowing the kitchen area to be at the front of the trailer rather than the rear like most do. The 1950’s era Mercedes Gullwing pictured is just an amazingly beautiful car and will be featured in a future Bad Carma.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Learn everything you can about craft. Join writer groups. Find a critique group. Don’t try to do this alone. It’s more fun, you will be a better writer faster, and you’ll make friends that understand the angst of writing.
Where can our readers learn more about you and where to buy your books?
My website: https://www.terribensonwriter.com/
My books are available at:
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-pickup-artist-terri-benson/1140930664?ean=9781956615029
As well as most book distributors.
Kaye George, an award-winning novelist and short-story writer, writes cozy and traditional mysteries and a prehistory series, which are both traditionally and self-published: two cozy series, Fat Cat and Vintage Sweets; two traditionals featuring Cressa Carraway and Imogene Duckworthy; and the People of the Wind prehistory Neanderthal mysteries, Over 50 short stories have also appeared, mostly in anthologies and magazines. She reviews for Suspense Magazine and writes a column for Mysterical-E. She lives in Knoxville, TN.
Do you write in more than one genre? Kind of, but not really? Most of my writing is mystery, but I work in different sub-genres. I’ve had contracts for two 3-book cozy series and have a couple of other series that are more traditional. And my prehistory series, which doesn’t really fit anywhere, but I call it historical if I have to slot it somewhere. I have done a few horror short stories, but not many.
What are you currently working on? I finished up a psychological suspense novel, which is a huge departure for me. I read a lot in the genre and have wanted to write one for some time. So, I did it! It’s taken me a long time because I lay it down, do another project, and then return to it. I hope to be querying soon. It would be ideal if I could snag a new agent with this since I’m between agents.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? I have to give a lot of credit to the Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime. The critique groups, manuscript swaps, and especially the subsidized online classes have given me so much! I gave back for a few years, serving as treasurer, then president. I’m back to just being a member now—very restful.
How long did it take you to write your first book? Not long for the very first one, but that one will never see the light of day. I started on one that got me published after working on a specific one for about ten years. It took about a year to write CHOKE, my first published book, because, by that time, I had learned how to write a mystery. The ten-year book did get published, but the publisher failed, and it’s now languishing until I can find a new home for it. That one was called EINE KLEINE MURDER, but I’d like to change that title if it has a rebirth somewhere.
How long to get it published? The one I worked on for ten years got published a couple of years after the one I wrote in frustration at not getting published in 2011. That one was my first one, CHOKE. However, I jumped at a publisher when I should have been a little more selective. I ended up taking it back and self-publishing it a year later, in 2012. EINE KLEINE came out inf 2013.
What kind of research do you do? For regular books, I research the geography and weather of the area, sunset and sunrise times, too, at least. A whole lot more on occasion for a specific project. I often base a fictitious town on a real one, but I’ll use the real things about the real town. Of course, I research all my murder methods, police procedures, and body trauma. For police and forensics, the Citizens’ Police Academy I took in Austin was a valuable experience.
But for my Neanderthal series, tons and tons and tons of research. I try to keep up with new theories and discoveries, and there have been many of those over the past few years. Fans of that series have been wonderful about keeping an eye out and informing me of new developments, too. It takes me a full year to write one of those. I can write a book in other sub-genres in 9 or 10 months. I’m not a fast writer!
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? The long-awaited third Neanderthal mystery, DEATH IN THE NEW LAND, is finally out on July 10th. I’m very excited to have finally finished this!
How do our readers contact you?
PUBLIC FACEBOOK GROUPS:
Martha Crites worked as a mental health counselor for many years. When she decided to write novels, she gave her protagonist another position in the same field. Martha’s two traditional mysteries, Grave Disturbance and Danger to Others, feature Grace Vaccaro, a psychiatric evaluator who determines when a person must be hospitalized against their will.
Danger to Others – October in the Pacific Northwest foothills brings more than a change of season. Psychiatric evaluator Grace Vaccaro is on edge. A field evaluation gone wrong leads to a shooting, Grace’s mother has died, and ghosts from her family past are everywhere. When a young woman says she killed her therapist, Grace suspects it’s delusion and sets out to prove her innocent. Then Laurel escapes from a locked unit, and suspicions abound.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? My writing is very personal; both setting and plot start from real places. Because privacy is so important in mental health, patients’ stories only give general inspiration. But Harborview Medical Center, Seattle’s old county hospital built in the 1920s, is a rich location. The place is full of odors, basement corridors, and patched together buildings added every few decades. I set scenes everywhere, from the emergency room to psychiatric units, to the morgue. I’m also in love with the Pacific Northwest. Many months a year, the dark and dripping rain strike the perfect mood for mystery. When I first began writing, I had just moved from a rural area to the city. I missed the country and its connection to the natural world, so I set the story in the very house where I used to live. Each day, I could go there in my mind and pull out details that deepened the story. For my third novel, I’m using May as the setting. There will still be plenty of storms but a large dose of hope and rebirth.
What kind of research do you do? Danger to Others explores the difference between the old state hospitals and modern treatment of mental illness—both with their own strengths and weaknesses. Research led me to this story. Writing is never easy for me, but often enough, when I need a plot turn, I find the solution in the news within days. With Danger to Others, I was making progress on the main plot and thought, “I really need a subplot.” By the weekend, the newspaper ran an article about Washington’s Northern State Hospital, a mental institution that closed in 1973.
This was a subplot with my name written all over it. As I was about to save the article for inspiration, I realized just how meaningful the topic was—my father’s mother had died in a state hospital before I was born. Families didn’t talk about mental illness back then. All I’d been told was that she’d had a brain tumor. In my work life, from time to time, when I saw a patient with a brain tumor showing confusion or personality change, I thought, maybe that’s what happened to my grandmother, but my father would never speak of it. So my subplot sent me into research mode.
First, I read every book and watched every movie dealing with historic treatment of mental illness—far more than would ever be incorporated into my writing. I was also fortunate to have the diaries of an aunt that revealed a few mentions of her treatment. Next, I visited Northern State Hospital, where a trail winds through the old dairy farm that supplied food and gave patients meaningful work. The mysterious, collapsing buildings set in the shadow of the North Cascades Mountains inspired several scenes.
At the same time, I sent for my grandmother’s death certificate and learned that there had been no brain tumor. Sadly, she died of a heart attack just 19 days after admission to the hospital. Her death was likely the result of the Insulin Shock Therapy she received. Though it reportedly helped with symptoms, the treatment was so physically hard on patients that its use was discontinued by the 1960s. You can see a portrayal of it in the film, A Beautiful Mind, with Russell Crowe as mathematician John Nash.
My grandmother’s diagnosis was late-onset psychosis, meaning she’d led a normal life. Then and now, families struggle to understand what happens when a loved one experiences mental health problems—especially in a world where mental illness is stigmatized. This springboard for my subplot was fictionalized in Danger to Others. In fiction, my sleuth found people with answers to her questions. Answers don’t exist in my life but resolving my protagonist’s questions satisfied me too. My writing journey led me to learn about my grandmother and how her history, without my knowing, might have led to my career in mental health.
Danger to Others is particularly close to my heart because as I began writing, I realized that what many people know about mental illness and its treatment is based on faulty information. Thus began my mission to humanize people we might find scary or funny in daily life. I aim to decrease the stigma of mental illness by writing fully developed characters who also experience mental illness, all while telling a good story.
My books are available on Amazon and other online sources, or please support your favorite bookstore by requesting it.
Please visit me:
- On my website where you can contact me or sign up for my newsletter.
- On Facebook
- On Instagram @marthacrites.author
- Or Twitter @critesmartha
Jennifer J. Chow is the Lefty Award-nominated author of the Sassy Cat Mysteries and the L.A. Night Market Mysteries. The first in the Sassy Cat series, Mimi Lee Gets A Clue, was selected as an OverDrive Recommended Read, a PopSugar Best Summer Beach Read, and one of BuzzFeed’s Top 5 Books by AAPI authors.
JENNIFER currently serves as Vice President on the national board of Sisters in Crime. She is an active member of Crime Writers of Color and Mystery Writers of America. Connect with her online at www.jenniferjchow.com
Death by Bubble Tea Two cousins who start a food stall at their local night market get a serving of murder in this first novel of a delicious new cozy mystery series.
This is the first in a new series! I’m excited about the L.A. Night Market Mysteries because it combines my own personal history of working at a family restaurant with my love for food. Also, I get to add recipes at the back of the book!
(My other recent cozy series is the Lefty Award-nominated Sassy Cat Mysteries, which feature Los Angeles pet groomer Mimi Lee and her sassy telepathic cat, Marshmallow.)
How do you come up with character names? In general, I get inspiration from baby name books, online name generators, and the Social Security archives. For Death by Bubble Tea, Yale popped into my head because I know a few folks who are named after universities (yes, I do know a Harvard!). Celine’s name cropped up because I wanted to pay homage to celebrity-inspired names (along with popular artists and songs that my family enjoys karaokeing to).
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave or run the show? My characters usually run the show. I’d love for them to rein themselves in, but a few like to hog the limelight. On the other hand, it puts them in interesting and precarious sleuthing situations. My comedic characters often add a huge dose of sparkling wit and humor.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I usually do have a subplot. A lot of these are character-driven. In my last Sassy Cat Mystery, Mimi Lee Cracks the Code, Mimi Lee and her boyfriend Josh go on a romantic getaway that soon turns sour. She’s got crimes to solve—and a relationship to mend!
With Death by Bubble Tea, there’s an ongoing conflict with recently arrived Celine. Yale has to deal with her opposite personality cousin along with running a new food stall.
The subplots come organically, as I think they do in real life. People are dealing with multiple things on an everyday basis, and that’s reflected in my stories.
What kind of research do you do? I try to research in all sorts of ways. The Sassy Cat series had me visiting pet salons, going down the rabbit hole of YouTube pet grooming videos, and having vivid encounters with animals at dog readings, cat cafes, and more.
With the L.A. Night Market series, I suppose I unknowingly did pre-research. I’ve gone to multiple night markets (think lively festivals set in the evenings) in Asia and in the States. My family has roots in Southern China and Hong Kong, so I didn’t have to research those cultural aspects as much. However, I did keep a dim sum cookbook around while writing and had a Chinese dictionary handy. Since Book 1 is called Death by Bubble Tea, I also did obligatory boba tastings (yum!). For the recipes in the back of the book, I made several attempts and passed those culinary efforts on to my family to eat and drink.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I have a mix of real and fictional in my settings. Usually, it’s a made-up community in an actual geographic region. For example, the L.A. Night Market series has a small fictional planned community called Eastwood Village, but it’s positioned in the greater West L.A. area. I also had fun inserting real sites into this new series, particularly with the more unique locations that Yale and Celine visit as Yale takes her cousin around and introduces her to Los Angeles.
I was born in London, England, a few years after World War II. I watched London being patched back into a vibrant commercial center. Sights of bombed-out buildings and devastation still linger in my memories.
At age 26, I moved to Saudi Arabia to work for Aramco (an oil company.) I worked there for four years and traveled widely in the region. I grew to love and be intrigued by the local people and their culture.
Years later, as I neared retirement, my family requested I write down some of the many stories I had told over the years. One theme kept appearing in these pieces, my driving a Chevy Blazer from London to the eastern province of Saudi Arabia – a journey of 5,500 miles in 15 days. That became my first book, a memoir, Journey to Self, published in September 2019 – available on Amazon.
While working on that book, I said I had no idea how to write a novel. It seemed overwhelming. However, after one workshop, I saw I had the basic framework for a fictional story. Having never been one to shy away from a challenge, I started work on it. My story is set around a Syrian family and covers themes such as:
- most Syrians, most Muslims, like ourselves, want to live in peace – that is not fiction,
- how to counter a ruthless dictator,
- the roles of men and women in Syrian society,
- how to hold grief, love, and fear while fighting for your life,
- how people, despite their dire circumstances, can imagine a hopeful future.
In the past few weeks, I have received feedback from a group of beta-readers, and so far, there have been no show-stoppers but plenty of words of encouragement. While working through the multiple drafts of this first novel, I started work on the sequel: Syrian Rebirth – Ahmed’s World. This is now a completed initial draft. I have in mind the third and final book in the series, Syrian Rebirth – Fatima’s World.
Syrian Rebirth – Rashid’s World. Rashid wished his family to be safe. He joined the fight against Syria’s brutal president. How would that affect him, his family, and his country?
What brought me to writing: Writing is a way for me to purge demons that hindered me for too many years. I learned to read as a child, but I truly hated and, in some ways, feared it. I read my first book for pleasure when I was 26 years old. To many people, that may sound horrifying, but it was my world as a youngster. Numbers and logic were my saving graces. I became a computer software engineer for a career. Reading never became a pleasurable activity for me. I missed reading the classics, much to my detriment.
Over the years, I have displayed some competence in various artistic mediums: drawing, painting, woodcraft, story-telling, and cooking. Then I started writing, and it became a passion. I have taken many classes, and some teachers have had a profound impact on my writing.
Tell us about your writing process: I arise early each day and make my wife’s coffee (a survival technique I learned early.) Depending on the priorities of the day, I make time most mornings to review and edit what I worked on the previous day. I try to dedicate an hour or two each day to writing new material or making revisions to pieces that are my focus at that time. If I do not manage to find time, I do not judge myself but try to use my sense of frustration as an impetus for the following day.
Do I kill popular characters? Yes. My novels are thrillers. I think in my first novel, more characters are dead than alive in the end. And several of the dead are good/popular characters. One of my favorite characters in that first novel is among the dead, and I still grieve their loss. Reading that section still causes my eyes to tear up. A few beta-readers admitted they cried when that death happened.
How do you raise the stakes for the protagonist? One of my teachers frequently tells me to keep winding up the tension and never let it go. I understand this and try to do that. But I do find when a sub-plot comes to its termination, then along with that, some of the protagonist’s tension is released. So in my novel, the tension is more like waves with spikes along them. Even though some tension may be released at times, it still adds to the overall tension.
How did I come up with Character Names. Most of my main characters are Arabic. So names like Joan, Paul, Marge, and Randy are inappropriate. Thankfully, lists of Arabic names can be found on the web. I have selected names with which I am comfortable, and I hope readers will not trip over. I have tried to have each name start with a different letter for easier recognition. In the forward to each book, I have listed out the main characters and their relationship so that readers have a quick reference, e.g. Rashid is married to Fatima.
Do I outline, or am I a pantser? At heart, I am a pantser, but I will admit that I have my thoughts reasonably outlined in my head before I tackle a section. What fascinates me is how my mind conjures up a scenario that appears on the page/screen without me consciously thinking about it. Sometimes, as I fathom out how to write a section, I will realize in my wordy/ugly first draft I left a hook or a character that will allow for a smooth continuance of the current storyline.
Sources of Expertise / Advice. I have read posts, articles, and books about the book’s locations, particularly from current day journalists. Also, I found a local Islamic Center and talked with one of the leaders about these novels. He gave me some useful information and encouraged me to continue working on them. He agreed that, basically, Syrian refugees are people who have been forced out of their homeland by violence and intimidation. They are desperate to find a safe environment in which to raise their children. They are no more inherently violent than we are.
Going forward, I have plenty of work integrating the comments that I received from beta readers and improving the readers’ experience of the novel. After that, I will reach out to a few agents and publishers. If those connections raise no interest, I am prepared to self-publish, which I did for my memoir.
A reader of this post may be able to assist me with achieving one of my next steps. Does anyone know a Syrian or a person from the Middle East who may be willing to read the revised beta draft of the novel? I would be appreciative if anybody could suggest a female as the book addresses gender roles in Syrian society. But I am looking for any person from that region who may be willing to review the revised draft.
My website can be found at: www.BDHWrites.com
My blog can be found at: www.BDHWrites.com/blog
My email address is: BDHWrites@gmail.com