LISA TOWLES – Supports Writers While Writing Thrilling Novels

Lisa Towles is a crime novelist, a passionate speaker, and an avid supporter of other writers. Her 12th crime novel, Codex, will be released on June 20th by Indies United Publishing and was called “Fast-paced and ingenious” by The Prairies Book Review.



Lisa lives in northern California and works in the tech industry.

Tell me about your forthcoming book and what kind of readers you’re targeting. Codex, my new (standalone) psychological thriller, aligns with my other books’ pace, vibe, and style – fast-paced, high-concept action thrillers with impact, meaning, and relevance. They’re written for readers who like puzzles and complex plots involving games, conspiracies, politics, corruption, and espionage. I think Codex delivers all of that with a punch.

What are the themes of Codex, and how will they help readers identify with Angus? Mental health and substance abuse are two predominant themes with which Angus struggles throughout all of the challenges put before him. And then, the themes of loss and grief are an important part of how Angus’ mind and heart transform as the story evolves. I think it’s an emotional book to read, and it certainly was to write as well, but not without its rewards.

What is a challenge your character faces in this story, and how does he respond to it? Angus is confronted by two strangers at different points in the story – one gives him a lavish gift, and another tells him that the life he thought he’d lived wasn’t real – that the accident that killed his wife was no accident, and that she was about to expose an unthinkable technology and a massive coverup. Realizing the danger and burden that his wife had faced alone wakes up his mind and inspires his broken heart to find the truth about her killer and expose her story to the world.

What types of research did Codex require? I did a lot of CIA organizational research for this book (online and through a personal contact), historical research on CIA programs, regional research of Half Moon Bay and the peninsula, Texas, and New Mexico, as well as mental health and substance abuse, military, legal, and corporate research. It’s all fun because I learn so much from research and from my characters as we’re on this journey together.

Do you start with a character, a crime, a setting, or something else? They’re all different in the way that they announce themselves to me, and there’s always some catalyst that lets me know that it’s time to put my fingers to the keyboard. For Codex, Angus Mariner showed up as broken and rock bottom. Having been there, I could identify with how he felt and seeing the world from that jaded, dark, vulnerable place.

What are some activities on your writing journey that don’t involve writing? Research for story, plotting, and setting; social media and marketing; graphic design; community engagement to set up events; book clubs to engage with readers; making book trailers; and I’m now hosting a YouTube author interview series called Story Impact that’s so much fun.

What’s next after Codex? Specimen is a young adult thriller that Indies United Publishing will release on December 3, 2024. I’m excited about this story because it confronts some very contemporary themes of gaming, diversity, inclusion, and controversial science and technology. It takes place all over San Francisco and in the Marshall Islands. To learn more about Specimen (and see another awesome cover design from, click here.

Learn more at or follow her at

Pre-order Codex here:



  1. George Cramer

    FYI Folks, Lisa makes fabulous trailers.

  2. Michael A Black

    It sounds like you did a great job researching and writing this one, Lisa. Best of luck to you.

    • Lisa Towles

      Thank you Michael! 📚✍️

  3. Donnell Ann Bell

    Lisa, love learning about new authors. Thank you to George for the introduction. You book also sounds fascinating and right up my interest alley! Warning: My TBR stack may soon fall through the floor! Great interview and best wishes!

    • Lisa Towles

      Thank you so much and nice to meet you!


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PATY JAGER – Brings Westerns and Native American Stories

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 55 novels, eight novellas, and numerous anthologies of murder mystery and western romance. All her work has Western or Native American elements, hints of humor, and engaging characters.Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. Riding horses and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes about the Western lifestyle, but she also lives it.

Thank you, George, for inviting me to your blog. The Pinch, book 5 in my Spotted Pony Casino Mystery series, was published on February 22nd. It is available for pre-order.

Dela Alvaro, a disabled veteran and head of security for the Spotted Pony Casino, is doing a security check for a casino on the Oregon Coast when a child is kidnapped and Dela’s friend is murdered.

The idea for this story has been in my head for many years. I usually plan two writing retreats a year at the Oregon Coast. I stay a week and get a lot of writing done because I’m not catering to the animals or my husband. There aren’t any chores, and I write, walk on the beach, and write more.

On one such trip, I was walking along the beach, enjoying the briny salt air and the mist of the fog and waves. I noticed an older man with a boy about four or five out at the water’s edge. The boy was splashing and digging with a plastic shovel. I continued walking and noticed a boat close to the shore, or closer than any I’d witnessed before. My gaze gravitated to rocks sticking up out of the waves a good thirty or more feet from where the water lapped at the beach. Watching the splashing waves and enjoying the moment, I thought I saw the head of a seal bobbing by the rocks. That seemed dangerous, but they are good swimmers. I continued on and eventually turned around, heading back to where I’d entered the beach.

The boat was gone, and the older man walked up to the hotel without the boy. I looked around and didn’t see him anywhere. That was where my imagination kicked in. By the time I was back at the place I was staying, I’d come up with a kidnapping, a premise, and how it would play out. My only problem is that I was writing romance books at the time, and I didn’t see how to use this in western romance.

However, the idea stayed with me, and when I started writing mysteries, I kept coming back to the idea, trying first to make it fit with my character in the Shandra Higheagle mysteries, but I didn’t see how I could make it work. Then, when I started writing the Gabriel Hawke novels, I thought, now, I can use that story. But even though I took Hawke to Iceland for a book, I couldn’t find a plausible reason for him to be on the Oregon Coast.

Then came the Spotted Pony Casino mystery series and Dela Alvaro, my disabled veteran who is head of security for the Spotted Pony Casino on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation. After four books where she has helped the FBI and Tribal Police track down killers, she has a reputation for running a tight security staff. She is invited to a Tribal casino on the Oregon Coast to help them tighten up security, and now I could finally see how my story and premise would play out.

When I decided now was the time to write the book, a friend and I went on a road trip to visit a casino on the Oregon Coast. I had planned to use that casino in the book. Still, when I started making fictional employees at the casino accomplices in the crime, I decided I needed a fictional casino. Then, my mind wasn’t tied to logistics anymore, either.

Even though I had visited the casino and talked to security staff, I kept running into things I hadn’t realized I’d need to know to write the story, and the emails I’d sent to the casino asking questions went unanswered. Having the epiphany to use a fictional casino as I do in the Spotted Pony Casino books freed up my mind to work on the kidnapping and murder rather than logistics.

This series points out the widespread danger that Indigenous people- mostly women, face. My main character lives with the fact that in high school, she left her best friend in a small town not far from the reservation because she didn’t want to leave when my character had to get back for basketball practice. She is found the next day murdered and sexually assaulted. In the first book where this character comes to life, Stolen Butterfly in my Gabriel Hawke novels, she helps find two women missing from the reservation and last seen at the casino.

In this book, she not only has to deal with a missing child but she is reunited with a best friend from her time in the military, only to have her murdered. One more slash to my character’s heart and one more spark to make her always find justice.

This book took a long time to come to fruition, but I believe it was worth it.

Recent Projects

I published Christmas Chaos in October to give readers of my Shandra Higheagle Mystery series some closure. A short story with Dela and Heath characters in my Spotted Pony Casino Mystery series is available in the Windtree Press Whispers anthology.

Blurb / Long- Dela Alvaro, head of security for the Spotted Pony Casino, is asked to do a security check of a casino on the Oregon Coast. She no sooner starts her rounds at the casino than a child is kidnapped. The parents are a dubious couple. Special Agent Quinn Pierce of the FBI has been out to get the father for some time.

One of Dela’s best friends from the Army appears, and they catch up, only to find her friend strangled the next morning after having divulged to Dela she may have photos of the kidnapping.

As Dela struggles with the violent death of yet another best friend, her lover, Tribal Officer Heath Seaver, arrives, and the two begin untangling the lies, bribes, and murders.

In the end, as Heath carries the child to safety, Dela must face a cunning killer alone.

Blurb / Short – Dela Alvaro, a disabled veteran and head of security for the Spotted Pony Casino, is doing a security check for a casino on the Oregon Coast when a child is kidnapped and Dela’s friend is murdered.

Groups I belong to:
Crimescene writers loop
Sisters in Crime
Author’s Guild
20 Books 50
Book link for The Pinch – Universal book link-
Social Media Links
TikTok – @authorpatyjager
Instagram – @patymjager
YouTube – @PatyJager
Facebook – Author Paty Jager
Twitter – @patyjag
website –
blogs – and


  1. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Wow, George and Paty, this was a great post. It’s reassuring to know that the spark of an idea can last that long. It’s inspirational, really. Thanks, and best of luck with your launch of THE PINCH, Paty.

    • Paty Jager

      Pamela, thank you! Yes, it was an idea that hung in there until the right book came along. Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

  2. Carl Vonderau

    It’s amazing where the stories come from. Your fiction writing mind is always at work. The books sounds great.

    • Paty Jager

      Carl, Thank you. Yes, I have an active imagination and it keeps stories coming at me faster than I can write them.

  3. Peg Roche

    Looking forward to reading “The Pinch”. I can picture the setting and am interested in your lead character. Those twice a year retreats sound like a great idea! Good luck with this new book. Thanks for the introduction, George!

    • Paty Jager

      Peg, Thank you for stopping in and commenting. I do enjoy my retreats and get a lot accomplished when I’m there.

  4. Kathleen Kaska

    I enjoyed reading about your latest mystery. You are such a prolific writer!

    • Paty Jager

      Hi Kathleen, Thank you! I have fun coming up with the premises and hopefully enlightening people as well as entertaining them.

  5. Michael A. Black

    Sounds like you use your powers of observation to come up with new plots, which is really neat. Your series sounds fascinating, but I have to ask…. did you ever find out what happened to the little boy? Best of luck to you.

    • Paty Jager

      Hi Michael, No. I never knew what happened to the little boy. I never saw the older man again either. It is one of those mysteries that will rattle around in head and help me to come up with other scenarios for books.


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STEVE HOCKENSMITH – Bringing Sherlockian “Deducifyin’” to the Wild West

Steve Hockensmith’s first novel, the mystery/Western hybrid Holmes on the Range, was a finalist for the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, and Dilys Awards. His heroes — a pair of 1890s cowboy brothers who solve mysteries using the “deducifyin’” methods of their hero, Sherlock Holmes — have gone on to appear in six sequel novels and more than a dozen stories. (Their latest adventure, “Enchantress,” can be found in the current issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine).

Hockensmith has also written a bestselling zombie novel (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls), tarot-themed whodunnits (The White Magic Five and Dime and its sequels), and a series of middle-grade mysteries (the “Nick and Tesla” books, co-authored with frequent Jimmy Kimmel Live! guest “Science Bob” Pflugfelder). His latest book is Black List, White Death: Two Holmes on the Range Novellas.

What brought you to writing? A complete lack of talent for any other form of human endeavor. Except for making chili. I’ve gotten pretty good at that over the years, but there’s no money in it.

I’ve always had the impulse to tell stories. I remember turning in an English assignment in fourth or fifth grade — writing sentences that show I understand a list of 20 vocabulary words — and having the teacher say to me afterward, “You didn’t have to make a story out of them. I just wanted sample sentences.” And I was like, “Yeah, I know. It was more fun to connect them and have something happen.” So that’s a writer for you: giving yourself extra homework for life.

I didn’t get serious about writing until I left college and failed miserably at being a musician. (I had friends in a rock band, and they were having a lot of fun. Unfortunately for me, I have zero musical talent. I could handle playing the cowbell, but that’s about it.) I knew I wanted to do something creative, and writing had a big advantage: if you sucked at it while you learned how to do it, no one would see you. (Well, except for the editors who reject you. But they’re used to that.) So I sucked at writing for a while, then I stopped sucking and started selling. Voila! I was a writer! It’s not quite as cool as being in a rock band, but I’m proud I made it.

Do you write in more than one genre? The real question is, what genre haven’t I written in? The answer is erotica. Although, now that I think about it, my zombie novels have some pretty lovey-dovey parts.

When I first gave writing a serious try, I focused on science fiction. I’d read a lot of it as a kid, so I figured I knew the genre well enough to write it myself. I even took a writing class taught by the great Gene Wolfe, author of the classic “Book of the New Sun” series. Gene was wonderfully supportive and encouraging and never told me my science fiction blows. Though it mostly did. I sold a few stories, but I could tell it wasn’t working. Then I stumbled onto a cheap copy of The Big Sleep in a used bookstore and whammy. I knew what I should be doing.

Mysteries opened the door for me. Since then, I’ve also written Westerns, zombie romances, and books for kids. Maybe I’ll get around to real erotica one of these days. But I think most folks would prefer I didn’t.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I am a big, big, BIG believer in outlining. For me, anyway. I can’t write a word unless I know exactly where a scene is going. I lock up without a road map. Like, “Maybe the characters should start talking about the weather…? Maybe they should decide to get a sandwich…? Maybe one of them needs to go to the bathroom…? MY GOD — WHAT SHOULD THEY DO?!?!?!?”

My mysteries tend to be pretty intricate, with lots of clues and red herrings that fit together at the end, and I definitely couldn’t pull that off without thinking everything through first. I know some writers work by producing draft after draft after draft and fine-tuning by rewriting, but that would drive me nuts. I spend weeks brainstorming, researching, and outlining first, then I write. I also write really, really slowly, polishing as I go. Which I know would drive other writers nuts. But it works for me. When I’m done, I’m done. I’ve never had to do a major revision.

So, in a nutshell, my secret to writing is “Torture yourself by making it as slow and laborious as possible. You’ll thank yourself afterward!” For some reason, it’s advice most other writers don’t take…

Do you have any advice for new writers? Yes: Ignore what I said in my previous answer. That’s what works for me. What works for you might be completely different.

I outline meticulously and write slowly. Maybe you’re the type (and there are a lot of them, I think) who just jumps in and writes fast. Whatever! You can figure out your best approach with just two or three or, a dozen, or thirty years of trial and error.

The main thing is to try. By which I mean write. Type a word, then type more, and then type even more, and don’t stop!

Or do stop if you need to. Everybody’s writing journey is different. Maybe yours involves a three-year pit stop. Don’t let that discourage you. If you’ve written before, you can write again. Writers write. I would tell folks, “Just do it,” but I don’t want to hear from any corporate lawyers.

Has an association membership helped you with your writing?

Absolutely! I’ve been a member of Mystery Writers of America (MWA) for more than 20 years. I let my membership lapse once when I was at a low ebb and thought my writing career was toast — I got dropped by my first agent and contracted an acute case of Imposter Syndrome — but I got over it and rejoined before long. This nutty business has a lot of ups and downs, so it’s nice connecting with the other folks on the rollercoaster.

I recently joined Western Writers of America, too. I haven’t been able to get to any of their events yet, but I’m looking forward to it. They seem like nice, welcoming people. They have a magazine, Roundup, that’s really impressive — jam-packed with tidbits about the state of the genre—Ditto for The Third Degree, MWA’s newsletter. Anyone trying to break into either field can learn a lot from reading those.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Writing! Rough Edges Press is going to publish a pair of spin-offs from the “Holmes on the Range” series in 2024, and the little hitch to that is that I’ve only finished one of them. So I’ve got some work to do. After that, I’ll write another “Holmes on the Range” story for Ellery Queen and then another “Holmes on the Range” novel. Given my writing pace, that means I’m booked up through…oh, probably June of 2025.

After that, who knows? I’ll be writing, but I don’t know what. Maybe it’ll finally be time to get serious about erotica…

How do our readers contact you?






Barnes & Noble:
Poisoned Pen Bookstore:
Indie Bound:



  1. Kathleen Kaska

    Hi Michael,

    I’m the founder of The Dogs in the Nighttime Sherlock Holmes Society. We meet once a month to discuss a Holmes story, usually one from the Canon but occasionally one written by another author. I will share this post with the members. Best of luck.

  2. Steve Hockensmith

    Thanks, Pamela and Michael! Best of luck with all your writing, as well!

  3. Michael A. Black

    Great interview. I enjoyed hearing the story behind Holmes on the Range, which I bought a few years ago. I enjoyed it and passed it on to a professor friend of mine who thought it was hilarious. Good luck with your writing.

  4. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Thanks for this, Steve and George. I’m one of those not-yet-published writers who could sure use your encouragement. It’s fun to learn about how many different genres Steve writes.
    PS: Thanks for including the Facebook and Instagram links–I liked and followed them.
    Best of luck with all future ‘deducifying.’


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JOHN SCHEMBRA – Veteran – Mentor – Friend – Award-Winning Author

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in 1969, I was drafted into the U.S. Army.  After basic training and military police school, I spent a year with the 557th M.P. Company at Long Binh, South Vietnam, in 1970. Upon completing my military service, I joined the Pleasant Hill Police Department. I retired in 2001 as a Sergeant after 30 years of service.  I was then hired as the lead Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC) instructor for the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office.  I have earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Administration of Justice and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration through California State University.

My writing career began when another Sergeant at the police department, a fellow Vietnam veteran, and I swapped stories of our experiences in Vietnam.  The other members of the department would listen and began to encourage me to write down my stories.  They said it would make a good book.  So, taking heed of their advice, I started my first novel.  After two years, I began shopping for a publisher, choosing to go the small press route.  I was lucky enough to be accepted for publishing by Writers Exchange, and the Vince Torelli series was born with the publishing of M.P., A Novel of Vietnam.  

I continued my writing endeavors with my second book, relying on my 30 years of police experience for authenticity. I used the same main character as in M.P., Vince Torelli, now 25 years older and a homicide inspector with the San Francisco Police Department. I have written five books in the Inspector Torelli series, one stand-alone thriller with a paranormal element and a demonic possession horror story. I am currently hard at work on my ninth book, the first in the Detective Sergeant Louisa (Louie) Princeton, Richmond County Sheriff’s Dept, Georgia series.

All my life, I have been an avid reader.  I remember my mother taking my brother and me to the local library every two weeks so we could check out books.  Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes, and I have always admired authors who could spin a good tale.  As such, I get much more pleasure from hearing a reader say they enjoyed one of my books than the royalties from the sale.  By the way, my favorite author is Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I want to thank George for having me as a guest on his wonderful blog. He is an accomplished, award-winning author in his own right, and I am proud to call him my friend.

People often ask me what my favorite thing about writing is. I answer unequivocally—researching places, events, and the history of the locations where the stories take place. By making Vince Torelli a San Francisco PD homicide inspector, it is easy, and exceeding interesting, to research scene locations, like the 19th-century tunnels under the city utilized by the killer in The List, to landmarks like Mt. Davidson, where the climax of Blood Debt takes place, to extensive research into demonic possession and exorcism for An Echo of Lies. I have to say- that was VERY frightening!

When I’ve changed locations to places out of the San Francisco Bay Area and California— as I did in several of my books—to Tennessee, Atlanta, Augusta, Northern California, South Carolina, and others, it sparked my research gene to find real places—hotels, restaurants, streets, highways, etc. Most key scenes in the five Vince Torelli books are in those places. Even in my Vietnam book, a work of fiction based in part on some of my personal experiences, takes place in real places, and all the military units—American, South Vietnamese, Viet Cong, and North Vietnamese are actual units that were operating in the area at the time. Using real places, streets, and buildings in my books, I think, adds a touch of realism for the readers. I have received several comments that they recognized certain places and liked it very much. It adds a visual reference to the scene and drama being played out as they read.

As a fun thing, I’ve used the address of my childhood home in one of my books and the name and address of my best friend, a big fan of my books, in another, and knowing my friend will be reading the book, I didn’t tell him what I had done. I gave him a copy and awaited his phone call when he got to where he was mentioned. I also have dedicated a couple of my books to special people in my life, living and deceased. That is special to their families and me.

So, can you tell how much I enjoy writing?

In closing, If I could advise any aspiring writers, there would be two things. First—sit your butt down and write, write, write—the basic mantra for writers.

Second, have fun doing it! It will make your writing more enjoyable and the finished product better!

Please take a moment to visit my website—currently being updated— where the first chapters of some of my books are posted, along with a couple of short stories. And thanks for taking the time to read this.

Follow me at my Facebook author page:


  1. Deven Greene

    Thanks for sharing your interesting story, John. It was very inspiring. You have many accomplishments in addition to your writing. I really enjoy your books and urge anyone who hasn’t read them to pick some up!

  2. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    I’ve several of John’s book and enjoyed them very much. Not only is John a great writer he never hesitates to help other writers. As a member of the Public Safety Writers Association, John has given me many tips to help my writing and he made a great president as well.

    • John Schembra

      Thanks for the kind comments, Joe. Much appreciated, my friend.

  3. Dave Wolf

    I first became acquainted with John when he reviewed my novel “Probable Cause for Vengeance” several years ago. Since then, I have read several of his books, beginning with “MP, A Novel of Vietnam”, also the Vince Torelli mystery series and most recently, “Sin Eater”. All are excellent reading and keep you eagerly turning the pages. He writes from experience and the way he tells the stories, puts you right there with the characters. John is an accomplished author and I look forward to reading many more of his captivating stories!

    • John Schembra

      Glad you have enjoyed my books, Dave. I really like getting comments like yours, and thanks for your support.

  4. Michael A. Black

    I’ve been honored to know John for several years and can attest that he’s an exceptionally talented writer. I’ve read many of his books and I’ve enjoyed them all. He exemplifies the very best in what makes America so great. John, thanks for your service, both military and in civilian law enforcement. Stay safe, brother

  5. Mysti Berry

    You’re a natural-born storyteller, John! Thanks so much for all you’ve given to the writing community!!!!

  6. Nicholas Chiarkas

    Impressive story and excellent books. Welcome home, brother.

  7. John Taylor

    Great guy & writer. Write a best seller, John!

  8. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    This was an inspiring post, John and George. John, I love the researching bit too.

  9. Lisa Towles

    John, Thank you for your Service and your series sounds wonderful 🙂

  10. Camille Minichino

    What an impressive life of service, John. Thank you for all of that, and for sharing your stories through your fiction. And thanks, George, for highlighting a fellow author.


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CARL VONDERAU – Banker – World Traveler – Thriller Author

Carl grew up in Cleveland in a religious family that believed that God could heal all illnesses. No wonder he escaped to California. He attended Stanford University and discovered a whole new world. Carl graduated in economics and then studied music at San Jose State. His parents were not thrilled with the music. They were relieved when he became a banker. That career enabled him to live and work in Latin America, Canada, and North Africa. He’s put his foot in his mouth in Spanish, French, and Portuguese. He also became a dual U.S. and Canadian citizen. His debut thriller, MURDERABILIA, won Left Coast Crime and San Diego Book awards. SAVING EVAN is his second novel and was published in August 2023.

Nonprofit work also inspires him. He is the president of Partners in Crime, The San Diego chapter of the Sisters in Crime organization of authors and fans of crime writing. Additionally, he works with San Diego Social Venture Partners, an organization that mentors other nonprofits.

Carl lives with his wife in San Diego. His two grown sons are close by, and wonder how he knows so much about serial killers and banking crimes.

Saving Myles When the FBI can’t help free his son from kidnappers, an unassuming banker takes matters into his own hands. He joins a bank owned by a drug cartel and negotiates. Wade gets his son back. But now he needs to save his family.

What brought you to writing? As a young child, I read and wrote stories. That continued through high school, where I added writing poetry and music. But in college, I felt I needed a career and majored in economics. No fiction writing at all. That and international study in Colombia launched me into a career in banking. I got to work in some exotic places—Montreal, Colombia, Venezuela, and North Africa. I was in Algeria 3 months after the Iraq invasion. But while I was a banker, I kept wanting to do something more creative. So I started back on what I’d loved as a kid—writing fiction. I did it in secret and told no one at work until I published my first book. When we moved from Montreal to San Diego, a whole writing community and support system opened up for me. Writers conferences, page submissions to editors and agents, critique groups, writing coaches, and groups of writers like Sisters in Crime. That led to my first published book, Murderabilia. During this long apprenticeship, I learned that not only did my books take place in the financial industry, but they involved families. My motto became: Behind every crime is a family.

Tell us about your writing process: I extensively outline a book before the writing begins. There are corkboards and index cards in my office. I also use Plottr. The outlining applies to characters too. I define their physical characteristics, their backgrounds, their tragedies, motivations, and weaknesses. I hate doing this, but it helps me get off the ground. Then I became a pantser, and the outline continually changes as I write.

My first draft is by hand on a legal pad. I scratch out a scene as fast as possible, often just dialogue. A sense of relief comes when I reach 5 or 6 pages because that means I have something. The best feeling is when the characters move ahead of me, and I can’t write fast enough to keep up. Sometimes the scene doesn’t begin until after the first page, but that doesn’t matter. Within 24 hours, I type it into the computer. That’s when I start removing unnecessary exposition or flatness. I also fill in setting, senses, and stage direction.

How long did it take you to write your first book? A long time. The book took more than ten years and was never published. Murderabilia was the next book. That also took several years—more than 20 revisions. But I got better. However, the last revisions made the book worse, and I had to go back to an earlier version. I have to continually guard against not over-revising.

What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Portraying a woman and her voice is difficult. One of the POVs in Saving Myles is a mother who has sacrificed her younger years and much of her career to help her son through his troubles. The workaholic father has been absent. After they have sent their son to a treatment center, she separates from him and sets about rediscovering herself. That includes having an affair. I really needed to understand her and get inside her psyche to make her sympathetic.

What kind of research do you do?

I had to research the wife in my book and why a woman like her would have an affair. I also had to research a teenager. How do they talk, and how do they view the world? I tried to get into the mind of a boy fascinated by girls, determined to go his own way, resentful of his parents for sending him to a treatment center, and wanting to be closer to them. The idealism of a teenager is wonderful.

The book contains lots of insider information about kidnapping, money laundering, and settings in Tijuana. A number of people helped me—the author Kimberly Howe, two FBI agents, and two DEA agents. I also I enrolled in courses at Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS), an international organization dedicated to fighting financial crime. In Mexico, I talked to a man who had been kidnapped and got his perspective on a terrible ordeal.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I based my settings as much as I could on actual places. In San Diego, I tried to find the right details that would evoke a visual and emotional response in the reader. To get them right for Mexico, some of my friends at the Y took me around to locations in Tijuana to pick out where scenes could occur.

Do you have any advice for new writers? The two most important qualities for a beginning writer are patience and tenacity. Patience comes first. Most of us submit our work far before it’s ready. Taking writing courses and joining a critique group helped make the manuscript better. The downside of critique groups is that they can only see a few pages at a time and may miss where the pace or character growth is falling short. Or how the middle got boring. That’s why a beginning writer needs to submit their work to a development editor.

That brings me to the second quality—tenacity. Critique groups, agents, acquisition editors, and reviewers will highlight all the weaknesses. The writer has the hard test of figuring out what makes sense and what doesn’t and then revising. My rule is if two people find the same thing wrong, I should revise it. Many people can write a book. But only a few have the tenacity to bring it to the level where it can be published. You aren’t born a writer; you must become one.

How do our readers contact you? I have a website and a newsletter you can sign up for there. I’m also active on Facebook and Instagram. I enjoy talking to people. Here are the contacts:

Facebook: Carl Vonderau
Instagram: Carl Vonderau
Groups I belong to
President of Partners in Crime, the San Diego chapter of Sisters in Crime.
Part of Social Venture Partners, a nationwide nonprofit dedicated to helping other nonprofits rise to the next level.




  1. Thomas Burchfield

    Thanks Carl for your unique perspective!

    Thomas Burchfield

  2. Violet Moore

    Thanks, George, for interviewing Carl. Thanks to Carl for a peek into your writing process. Interesting because of your financial experience. I worked in domestic finance for more than 15 years in banking and a few in privately-owned finance lenders. Money laundering probably existed during my years of internal auditing, but my assignments were to discover employees skimming or diverting funds and customer kiting (writing insufficient fund checks from one bank to cover insufficient funds in another). Catching dishonest employees was a mix of thrill and sadness when the employee was dismissed.

  3. Pat Morin

    Hi Carl,

    Liked your overall interview. I was particualrly interested in the banking aspect and illegal activities internationally. My husband worked for/with major Brokerage firms: Merrill, EFHutton-where no one listens anymore, Lehman-Shearson-Smith Barney-American Express, ending up as cashier for Fidelity Investments. The reason I bring this to you attention is he has written a book that highlights some of the questionable practices of brokerage houses. We will be interested in reading your books now to explore your aspect of the banking crimes.

    Sounds very interesting!

    • Carl Vonderau

      Thanks for reading my book. Boy, I’ll bet your husband has some stories. There has been lots of money laundering, insider trading, stealing, and bad advice in the brokerage industry. I’ve thought about doing a book in that field too. Wish your husband good luck for me with his book.

  4. Patricia Boyle

    Thanks, Carl and George, for the interview. I enjoyed reading about your writing method, Carl. I like the process of writing, plotting, and making allowance for organic development. I also appreciate the research you put into your work!

    • Carl Vonderau

      I try to do as much research as possible. Then the challenge is what to put in and what to put out.

  5. Carl Vonderau

    Thanks, George, for making me a part of your blog!

  6. Michael A. Black

    Comment *Good interview. Lots of good advice. Wishing you much success.

    • Carl Vonderau

      Thank you.

  7. Marilyn Meredith

    Excellent interview! Definitely showed how Carl goes about his writing and research.

  8. Peg Roche

    I’ve put SAVING MYLES on my tbr list. It’s great to see how you write, Carl—the research and multiple revisions. Writing the first draft by hand is pretty amazing. Thanks for sharing. And thanks to George for the introduction to Carl!

    • Carl Vonderau

      Us old-fashioned people still like to write cursive. I hope you enjoy the book.

  9. Victoria Weisfeld

    A fascinating interview! I agree so strongly with what he said about patience and tenacity! It’s great he’s lived in so many different places and probably has a pretty good idea of where Americans’ blind spots about the world are! Good job, George and Carl!

    • Carl Vonderau

      Thank you. I often tell people I never felt more American than when I lived in Montreal, and more Canadian than when I moved to San Diego.


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