J.L. GREGER – Can Mysteries Educate as Well as Entertain?

J.L. Greger is a scientist turned novelist. She includes science and international travel in her award-winning mysteries and thrillers: The Flu Is Coming, Games for Couples, Dirty Holy Water, Fair Compromises, and seven others.

A woman scientist and her FBI colleagues rush to find who poisoned the food at a political rally with botulism toxin in order to kill their target—a woman candidate for the U.S. Senate.

A number of physicians and biologists have become novelists, including Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Homes series), Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park), Colleen McCullough (The Thorn Birds), and Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita). Agatha Christie worked in a pharmacy during World War II. Several have commented that they wrote novels because they wanted to arouse interest in the medical sciences and public health among their readers, i.e., Robin Cook (Coma) and the inventor of birth control pills Carl Djerassi (Cantor’s Dilemma).

Do novelists impact readers’ interest in science? Maybe. A number of undergraduate women and minorities majoring in biology at one university claimed Abby Sciuto, the forensic scientist for many years on the popular T.V. show NCIS, was a role model because she was a caring person even though she was a scientist.

Their comments were particularly interesting because the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation have invested millions of dollars trying to recruit women and minorities into scientific fields but have had limited success. It seems many students think of scientists as being weird, white males. One can’t wonder if this stereotype was enhanced by fictional villains, such as Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Strangelove, and Dr. Moreau.

As scientist and dean, I can tell you that recruiting and retaining women and minorities to faculty positions is not easy. Furthermore, it’s not fun being the only woman on a government panel.

What I decided to do? I decided to write mysteries and thrillers with a woman scientist Sara Almquist as my protagonist. Sara is a feisty woman who tired of the constant bickering among university faculty members and became a consultant on epidemiology for the FBI and other agencies, including the USAID, an arm of the State Department concerned with agriculture and public health issues internationally. She has a love interest but is too independent to marry him. He calls her “a nosy do-gooder,” and she reluctantly agrees with his assessment of her.

In each of the mysteries and thrillers in my Science Traveler Series, Sara investigates a different scientific issue as she helps law enforcement agencies solve murders. They include weight loss schemes, industrial sabotage in the biotechnology industry, and bubonic plague in livestock.

In my newest mystery FAIR COMPROMISES, Sara Almquist and her FBI colleagues rush to find who endangered the lives of a hundred attendees at a political rally by poisoning the food with botulism toxin. The poisoners’ target was a woman candidate for the U.S. Senate; the rest were just collateral damage. As these agents track clues from a veterans’ hall in Clovis to health spas of Santa Fe, they must make a multitude of personal and professional (perhaps too many) compromises.

What is known about botulinum toxins? One of the hottest anti-aging products offered at health spas is BOTOX or related botulinum products. I suspect many clients get rid of their wrinkles or make their lips look luscious, and pouty know little about the injections they are getting.

Botulinum products, such as BOTOX, are produced by the same bacteria (Clostridium botulinum) that grows in improperly canned vegetables and meat. Perhaps a few of you remember your mother using a pressure cooker when she canned vegetables to prevent the lethal effects of botulinum toxin.

Your mother was right. Scientists have found botulism toxin is the most toxic natural compound ever discovered. It literally paralyzes muscles. Hence, the victims of botulism poisoning die of paralysis of the muscles needed for respiration. The death rate used to be 90%. Now with an antidote, the death rate is 5-10%.

During World War II, botulism toxin was considered as a potential weapon of war. In the 1980 and 1990s, scientists discovered tiny amounts of it could be used and injected into muscles that spasmed in various neurological conditions. They also figured out that tiny injections of botulinum toxin would prevent the muscle contractions that caused crow’s feet around the eyes and worry lines.

How is botulinum toxin used in FAIR COMPROMISES? In this mystery, state public health officials quickly determine that botulism poisoning has caused double and blurred visions and headaches in dozens of people who attended a political rally the day before. The health officials requested the help of the FBI when they realized the symptoms of the senate candidate at the rally were much worse than those of others, and she was progressing rapidly to respiratory paralysis. They think she may have been targeted.

Thus FAIR COMPROMISES is a medical mystery in which the source of the toxin must be identified. At first, improperly home canned food served at the rally appears to be the source of the toxin. The mystery turns from being the analysis of a severe food safety breach to the investigation of a diabolical murder attempt using “cosmetic” botulism toxin when Sara, with the help of a talented lab crew, discovers a more sinister source of the toxin at a health and beauty spa in Santa Fe.

How are these bits of science in FAIR COMPROMISES useful?

  • It’s a reminder to home canners to follow recipe instructions carefully.
  • It helps consumers appreciate the scientific basis of public health regulations in regard to food processing and cosmetics.
  • It reminds women to get the facts before they select to “beat the aging process” with just an easy injection or cream.
  • Maybe it will generate interest in the science in general.

J.L. can be contacted at: https://www.jlgreger.com

FAIR COMPROMISES is available at: https://www.amazon.com/Fair-Compromises-Science-Traveler-Greger/dp/1735421421

18 Comments

  1. Valerie Brooks

    p.s. Is that a Havanese in your photo? If so, I have one and just love her.

    Reply
  2. Valerie Brooks

    Fascinating article! I love science and when I worked at a community college, the head of the science department was a woman. She spoke of the very issues you say hamper women going into science. You had to have a tough spine for some of the situations I heard about. Thanks for the botox info. I’ve tried to get my sister to stop injecting it, but at least she is doing it in a clinic setting. Still. … Now I will have to read your books! I love thrillers that have some meat on their bones. If you know what I mean.
    And welcome to George’s blog!

    Reply
  3. Candace

    But…but…but…I love Botox!!!

    Reply
    • J.L. Greger

      As I note in novel, it is a very effective drug for a number of conditions. It can do wonders to make some individuals look younger. However, Botox parties aren’t really safe. Please get your injections in a clinical setting.

      Reply
  4. j. L. Greger

    George, thanks for hosting me on your wonderful blog.

    Reply
  5. Victoria Weisfeld

    Medical mysteries are such fun! Especially like the public health angle J.L. Greger describes. There’s plenty of room for mayhem and misinformation! I have a master’s degree in public health, and even I’m surprised at the odd twists the field must follow.

    Reply
    • J. L. Greger

      I hope you enjoy this medical mystery- Four Compromises.

      Reply
  6. Joseph HAGGERTY

    This is scary business as evidenced by the last two years dealing with Covid. Chemical warfare is something I hate to think of, but I pray our Government thinks about constantly. Experts like Janet are essential to uncovering these threats and in making people more aware. I’m an old man and my vanity left with the loss of my hair so things like botox have no appeal to me. Just like Mr. Black stated I believe ladies should stay away from the use of Botox.

    Reply
    • J. L. Greger

      Botox has its medical uses and can be a very effective drug. But its distribution during so called Botox parties seems dangerous.

      Reply
  7. Michael A. Black

    Take a pass on the botox, everybody. I’ve known Janet for years. She’s a regular at the PSWA Conference and is always fascinating to listen to. Believe me, this lady can write and really knows her stuff. Her books are great reads. Do yourself a favor and pick up her series.

    Reply
    • J. L. Greger

      Thanks for your comments. Happy Holidays

      Reply
  8. Donnell Ann Bell

    I love this post! Welcome to George’s blog, Ms. Greger. I’m curious a statement you mentioned. You write: As scientist and dean, I can tell you that recruiting and retaining women and minorities to faculty positions is not easy. Furthermore, it’s not fun being the only woman on a government panel.

    Is there a shortage of women majoring in biology? I obviously understand how difficult it must be to reach your level of academia as far as hiring. But why is it difficult for women to be *retained* once they get there? Thank you, and what stellar company you’re in! I had no idea Agatha Christie worked in a pharmacy during World War II.

    Reply
    • J. L. Greger

      The number of women majoring in biology has increased but retention is a severe problem. There are many reasons. One is inflexibility in academia for family responsibilities. The major one is women generally don’t receive the same money or respect as men in similar positions.

      I can add diversity is important because it affects the type of research problems that are emphasized. I hope my books encourage women and minorities to select careers in science. I try to show in my books a few possibilities besides the traditional academic ones.

      Reply
  9. Ashley-Ruth M. Bernier

    Such a cool article! As the daughter of a Black female Ph.D. in neuroscience, I grew up hearing about the situation described in your post—a lack of women and minorities in high positions within university faculty and in health-related fields. Luckily, I had my mom as an example (and because she worked at 2 HBCUs, I saw plenty of others), but I think it’s awesome that you wrote a series featuring a female scientist to give others that great example. Your book sounds very interesting, and I’d certainly love to read it! (On that note, I bet my mom would, too!)

    Reply
    • J. L. Greger

      First off, your mother is to be congratulated.
      Maybe she’d enjoy one of my books for Christmas. Faculty in nursing schools have often commented they like my insider comments.

      Reply
  10. Elizabeth Varadan

    Goodness, this was such an interesting post! The book sounds fascinating, and the scientific facts do, too, and so relevant to the quick fixes on aging that still seem to plague so many women. I will be on the lookout for her books.

    Reply
    • J. L. Greger

      I try to find different and relevant scientific topics for all my books.
      I focused on the emerging areas of cultured and artificial meats in Games for Couples. That book allowed me to explore the problems faced by biotech companies. I focused on new approaches to weight control in Murder…A Way to Lose Weight.

      I guess that’s my point. Science is interesting.

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

LORNA & LARRY COLLINS – Dynamic Writing Duo

Lorna and Larry Collins grew up together in Alhambra, California. They have been married for fifty-seven years and have one daughter, Kimberly.

 

They worked together on the Universal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka. Larry was a Project Engineer responsible for the Jurassic Park, JAWS, and WaterWorld attractions. Lorna was the Document Control Supervisor in the Osaka field office.

Their memoir of that experience, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, was a 2006 EPPIE finalist, and named one of Rebeccas Reads Best Nonfiction books of 2005.

Their mysteries, set in Hawaii, are Murder…They Wrote and Murder in Paradise.

Along with several friends, Lorna co-wrote the six sweet romance collections in the Aspen Grove Romance Anthologies series, set in Colorado. Directions of Love won the 2011 EPIC eBook Award as best anthology.

Her solo mystery/fantasy is a ‘beach read’ called Ghost Writer. She also wrote Jewel of the Missions: San Juan Capistrano and a children’s book, Lola, The Parrot Who Saved the Mission. Their joint venture is The Memory Keeper, a historical novel set in San Juan Capistrano in the 1800s, told from the point-of-view of a Juaneño Indian.

Larry’s collection of short stories is entitled, Lakeview Park. His latest project is his sci-fi series, The McGregor Chronicles. He has finished nine books in the series.

Their latest collaboration is Dominic Drive, from an idea of Lorna’s late brother, Ronald Travis Lund. (Available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audio.)

Dominic Drive is the coming-of-age story of Charlie Williams, a young man who has a difficult childhood but who remains optimistic and hopeful, told through the eyes of another young man who becomes as close as a brother to him. Set in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it captures life in a post-WWII community.

All their books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, their website (www.lornalarry.com), and other online book outlets. Follow Lorna’s blog at http://lornacollins-author.blogspot.com.

Do you write in more than one genre? We started writing a nonfiction memoir of our time spent working in Osaka on the Universal Studios Japan theme park, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park. We never expected to write and publish anything else. However, we attended a writing conference and got an idea for our first Mystery, Murder…They Wrote. This led to our second mystery, Murder in Paradise, and we have added several other genres since.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Since we write together, blending our voices into one seamless voice was initially a challenge. Also, Larry is a plotter, and Lorna is a “pantser.” (She writes by the seat of her pants.) Over the first few books, Larry learned to trust the characters, and Lorna became more disciplined. We sometimes disagree on plotlines, but we usually throw out both ideas and settle on another—better—one. After having written several books together, the process has become almost second nature.

What are you currently working on? After nearly three years of research, in 2014, we published The Memory Keeper, a historical novel set in San Juan Capistrano, California, between 1820 and 1890. We talked about a sequel and started the research for it. However, we both were pulled into other projects, and this one languished. When Larry finished Book 9 of The McGregor Chronicles, he was ready to get back to it. Meanwhile, Lorna had written quite a few chapters, but she needed Larry’s voice in the story. They are finally finishing the sequel to be called Becoming the Jewel, to be published soon.

Has an association membership helped you with your writing? After we wrote our first book, it was nominated for an EPPIE award from EPIC (The Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition). We attended their conference in 2006 and became members. There we met publishers, other authors, agents, and other industry professionals, from whom we learned a great deal. We did presentations and panels at over a dozen or more of their conferences, including one keynote address, and Lorna moderated the publishers’ panels. We remained members until the group disbanded several years ago.

Through members of EPIC, we joined PSWA (Public Service Writers Association). We have attended several of their conferences and learned a great deal about police procedures as well as how other safety professionals work. We have also made some great friends in the group.

What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters of the opposite sex? This is where writing together gives us a decided advantage. For the most part, Larry writes the male characters, and Lorna writes the female ones. With one exception: Larry writes most of the old ladies in our novels! For some reason, he started writing them in our first mystery, and he has continued ever since.

Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? Between 1861 and 1863, a plague (black pox or smallpox) killed 90% of the Indian population of San Juan Capistrano. When we were writing The Memory Keeper, we knew at least one of our characters would have to die. Larry was set to lose one, but Lorna argued with him. If 90% of the native population died, then their family would have to lose more of their members.

When we reread the completed chapters about the plague, Lorna sobbed. She does so every time she rereads the book. A few chapters later, we needed to lose another character. He was a particular favorite, so his loss felt very personal to both of us.

In these cases, their loss was already part of the plot. (Larry is a plotter, remember?) The storyline already included their losses, so the storyline continued as planned.

What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? Because we write about the authentic history of San Juan Capistrano, California, and because history is so revered and protected here, we have to be 100% accurate. (History is like a second religion in town.) If we say a particular thing happened at a specific time, it did. Historical figures must be portrayed exactly as they were. So far, we have received no criticism about our historical accuracy, so we must have done a few things right. But in order to achieve this level of accuracy, we have to read a great many books and articles and interview many experts. About 95% of what we learn never makes it onto the pages of our books, but it is necessary for us to know it.

Do you have any advice for new writers? The first thing is to keep writing. Too many writers give up early. Second, join a critique group or take a college-level writing class. Third, when you think you are finished, find a few beta readers, who are NOT friends or family members, to read the complete work and give you feedback. This is where professional organizations can be of great help.

Once you get positive feedback, hire a professional editor. No one can properly edit their own work—including us.

Last, if you intend to self-publish, also invest in a professional cover artist. Since books are now purchased mostly online, the cover must stand out when seen as a thumbnail image. A professional can help you with an image that will sell your book.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourselves? Lorna is a well-respected professional editor. She had lots of experience in her former career in Document Control and carried it into her writing profession. She provides content and line editing as well as formatting for ebooks and print.

Larry is a professional cover artist with well over 100 published covers to his credit. He has designed nearly all of the covers for their books.

8 Comments

  1. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    My admiration for these two is enormous. First they are great writers, but to be husband and wife and writing together is an accomplishment in itself. I can’t have a lengthy conversation with my wife without her getting pissed off at me. I ask questions for clarification to better understand what she is saying or what she heard someone else say. I unfortunately am always concerned about sources and language and that seems to lead to frustration on her part and annoyance. I love her beyond words, but she’s a country girl and I’m a city kid and sometimes there seems to be a language barrier that is usually my fault. Great interview and I truly enjoyed their answers.

    Reply
  2. Marilyn Meredith

    Of course, Lorna and Larry are very good friends of mine. We met at an Epic conference years ago, have attended many of the same conferences, and they are responsible for the repubishing of all my mysteries and my other books–Lorna is an excellent editor, has done the work of publishing, and Larry, the covers. Enjoyred reading this.

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Larry and Lorna in person at the PSWA Conferences and I can attest that they’re both outstanding individuals who know a lot about writing. Best of luck with your new book.

    Reply
    • Lorna Collins

      Thanks, Mike. We have enjoyed our time with you!

      Reply
  4. Bruce Lewis

    Lorna and Larry’s advice to “not give up” when writing is excellent. My first novel was rejected by my publisher. I rewrote it in six weeks and got a contract a week after resubmitting it.

    San Juan Capistrano, where my mother-in-law lives, is a beautiful community with tons of history. Good job digging it out and sharing it.

    Reply
    • Lorna & Larry Collins

      WE adore San Juan and have written several books set there. We are currently finishing the sequel to our historical, “The Memory Keeper” called “Becoming the Jewel,” set between 1891 and 1912.

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

MICHAEL A. BLACK – From the Wild West to Modern Day Bounty Hunter

Our guest today is Michael A. Black, author of over 47 books, including his latest series featuring ex-army ranger Steve Wolf as a modern-day bounty hunter.

Michael A. Black is the award-winning author of 47 books, most of which are in the mystery and thriller genres. He has also written in sci-fi, western, horror, and sports. A retired police officer, he has done everything from patrol to investigating homicides to conducting numerous SWAT operations.

 

Black was awarded the Cook County Medal of Merit in 2010. He is also the author of over 100 short stories and articles and wrote two novels with television star Richard Belzer (Law & Order SVU). His Executioner novel, Fatal Prescription, won the Best Original Novel Scribe Award. His latest novels are the Trackdown series (Devil’s Dance, Devil’s Fancy, Devil’s Brigade, Devil’s Advocate, and Devil’s Vendetta) and Chimes at Midnight (under his own name), Dying Art and Cold Fury (under Don Pendleton), and the Gunslinger series (Killer’s Choice, Killer’s Brand, Killer’s Ghost, Killer’s Gamble, and Killer’s Requiem) under the name A.W. Hart.

Let’s start with something off the beaten track. Tell us something about yourself that isn’t in your bio. Okay…One of the reasons I was interested in writing westerns is that Zane Grey is a distant relation of mine.

You have a new book out. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about it? I’d be glad to. It’s the latest installment of my Trackdown series about disgraced ex-army ranger Steve Wolf, who was wrongfully accused and convicted of a war crime in Iraq and sentenced to prison. Upon his release, his mentor, Big Jim McNamara, picked him up and helped him get back on his feet with Mac’s bail enforcement business, i.e., bounty hunting. Wolf and McNamara had several adventures through the first four books in the series (Devil’s Dance, Devil’s Fancy, Devil’s Brigade, and Devil’s Advocate), and the newest one takes up where the last one left off. It’s called Devil’s Vendetta.

Sounds like a devilish series; what’s the new one about? Devilish is right. Wolf’s goal is to clear his name since he was wrongfully convicted, and through the first four books, he fought to do this by trying to bring the rich and powerful adversary who framed him to justice. In the fourth book, he came close to succeeding, but as everyone knows, nothing is simple when it comes to our justice system. Devil’s Vendetta continues this theme and begins a new story arc. In this book, Wolf receives a call from his mother in North Carolina that his younger brother, Jimmy, has fallen in with a bad crowd, and an intervention is needed. After going back home for the first time since his release from prison, Wolf finds the old adage, “You can’t go home again,” grievously accurate. His hometown has a bit of a problem with political corruption and a growing crystal meth epidemic. To make matters worse, Wolf’s brother and his friends have concocted a dangerous scheme to rip off a drug kingpin. Wolf finds himself battling against superior odds trying to save what family he has left.

And this one continues the series, correct? It does. It’s actually number five in the series. Numbers six and seven are also coming out in short order as well.

You’ve got three new books coming out together? Right. Number six is Devil’s Breed, which takes up where Devil’s Vendetta left off, and then number seven, Devil’s Reckoning, follows in short order. My publisher, Wolfpack, is releasing all three books in the space of about a month (October 4th, October 25th, and November 15th) under their new Rough Edges imprint. I’m feeling a little bit like Charles Dickens. He used to do a chapter a week when his novels were serialized in the newspaper.

That certainly does sound like a quick succession. How long did it take you to write these? I started working on these three last year (2020) in August. I wrote straight through to this past August, with a few other projects interceding from time to time. It was a busy year.

It sounds like it. Three novels in a year is pretty impressive. Actually, I managed to squeeze in a fourth one, but that was a co-author project. I did a novella, too. They don’t call me the fastest keyboard in the Midwest for nothing.

That sounds like a well-earned title. So does the series continue beyond these seven books? Well, each book is a story in itself, with continuing plot threads. At this point, the series could end, but I’ve left enough of a thread that it could continue. That’ll be up to the readers.

What are you working on currently? After spending so much time with Wolf and Mac, I had a yearning to do something different. I also write westerns and had an idea on the back burner for a while. It’s set in 1913 during the early days of motion pictures. It’s got a troubled veteran of the Philippine/American War, a silent movie being filmed, real-life author Ambrose Bierce, the Mexican Revolution, and of course, some nefarious goings-on.

Sounds ambitious. Good luck with that one. But, before we let you go, I have a question about a group you are active in, the Public Safety Writers Association. I understand that you are not just engaged but, in fact, chair the annual PSWA Conference. Please tell us about that.

Sure. I’ve been a member of the PSWA for a number of years and work with the other board members to run the annual conference in July. We always host it in July at the Orleans in Las Vegas and have a great time. I’ve been to many writer’s conferences, and I can truly say that the PSWA Conference is the best. It’s all about sharing your experiences and becoming a better writer. The people are great, and the members come from a variety of backgrounds. It’s affordable and always a lot of fun. Check out the PSWA website for a glimpse of this past conference.

Thanks for stopping by.

Always a pleasure to be on the best of the best blogs, George. Thanks for having me.

How can our readers contact you and buy your books:

Well. Someone in China hacked my website, and I still haven’t gotten around to organizing another one, but all of my books (Ebooks or paperbacks) are available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble,  or at your local bookstore. If you want to get hold of me, my email is DocAtlas108@aol.com. I’m always glad to hear from people.

Whatever you wish to list here, like links to seller/buy sites or any URL.

Devil’s Vendetta: A Steve Wolf Military Thriller (Trackdown Book 5) – Kindle edition by Black, Michael A.. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Devil’s Breed: A Steve Wolf Military Thriller (Trackdown Book 6) – Kindle edition by Black, Michael A.. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

19 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Thanks, Joe. I value your friendship as well. Thanks for stopping by.

    Reply
  2. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    I certainly agree with what everyone has said about Michael’s books and will continue being a buyer. I’ve already read 5 of his books and only have 42 to go. The thing I like about Mike is not only his friendship, but it’s the help he has given me with my writing. He is unselfish and generous with his critiques without being condescending. As a novice writer it is good to have a friend who is such a professional.
    George, as always, your interviews are first rate.

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Raymond, Rick, and Maddie thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. Your friendship and support means a lot to me.

    Reply
  4. Madeline Gornell

    Congrats, Mike! You are amazing…off to Amazon right now…

    Reply
  5. Rick McMahan

    Another really good series from you, Mike. I enjoy the characters and storylines. Keep it up, brother.

    And a great interview.

    Reply
  6. Raymond Benson

    I’ve known Mike a LONG time. He’s a consummate professional and I’m happy to know him.

    Reply
  7. Michael A. Black

    Thanks, to all of you who’ve stopped by and especially to those who commented.
    I appreciate your support. These comments, coming from such a talented group of writers means a lot to me. You’re the best.

    Reply
  8. D. Record

    Congratulations on your series. Look forward to reading your latest book and when your Western comes out.
    Continued success. You’re an inspiration to the rest of us.

    Reply
  9. Mysti Berry

    congrats to one of the hardest-working writers in crime today!

    Reply
  10. Dave

    I have always enjoyed Mike’s novels and stories. You get a real sense of the street in them. Not only are his books entertaining, but they remain authentic as well, obviously written by one who’s been there. Can’t wait to dig into the newest one(s), lol!!!

    Reply
  11. CAMILLE MINICHINO

    OK, it took me a minute, but now I get it. Mike BLACK distantly related to Zane GREY. Good one, just like all your books!

    Reply
  12. Martin G

    Mike’s books are well-written. Looking forward to his latest.

    Reply
  13. Nick Chiarkas

    Excellent Blog Post. I will pick up your book and read it with a glass of bourbon.

    Reply
  14. Nick Chiarkas

    Excellent blog; I’ll pick up your book and read it with a glass of bourbon.

    Reply
  15. Bob Doerr

    Hi Mike, looking forward to reading these!

    Reply
  16. Steve Rush

    Hi Mike,

    I purchased Devil’s Vendetta two days ago and look forward to reading it and the others in the series. Thanks for sharing a bit about yourself and your writing.

    Reply
  17. Victoria Weisfeld

    Ordered my copy of Mike’s new one. Coming soon . . . But can I keep up??

    Reply
    • John Schembra

      Mike is a friend and a terrific, prolific author. I’ve read a couple of his Executioner books and a couple of his westerns. I’ve enjoyed every one. He is an amazing writer.

      Reply
    • George Cramer

      Victoria, I know what you mean. I just ordered the last two in an effort to get caught up.

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ALBERT VANDE STEEG – Discusses the Lives of Cops AND Life Under Nazi Occupation

Good morning. I am Albert vande Steeg, an immigrant from the Netherlands. My careers include ranch hand, police officer (detective) contractor, and a builder of missionary buildings in fourteen foreign nations; Europe, Africa, South America, and the South Pacific.

Cops have many stories that relate humor, intrigue, serious crime, and danger. Most of these stories are told when cops get together and they “one-up” each other. Others are told at family gatherings. When the stories are good and told well, someone will say, “you should write a book.” That is what my former partner said, and six months later, The Black Band had its first draft.

Yes, it was a struggle to get published. Having no experience and no writers club or conferences to guide, I found the Writer’s Market with all the publishers and agents listed. Reading this taught me how to persevere. Six months later, the contract was offered, and nine months later, The Black Band was published by Oak Tree Press.

The Black Band has been rewritten and titled “The Canopy.” Many of the stories found in the book originated at the cop bar, The Canopy. That is where stories were told and retold over mugs of beer and giant “Texas” cheeseburgers.

 

Writing about places is easier if one is familiar with the setting, so the descriptions are natural and real. Maps are used to correct street names and create a community the reader will identify as genuine.

Finding names for characters posed a real difficulty. Remembering created names of people not known brought a memory fog to writing. The solution was to name all the good and liked characters the first name of a friend or person that is admired and the last name of another such person. The bad guys then became people who are not liked or admired, again mixing first and last names. That is easy to do when doing police work.

For instance, there was a particular thief who stole calves from farmers. Knowing that many farmwives use the cash they receive from selling calves for their grocery fund, I was offended because my early years were spent in hunger during WWII. His name and that of a Sergeant who stole a pistol from the evidence locker became the name of the calf thief.

Speaking of hunger reminds me of that time enduring the pangs of hunger and the fear of living under the Nazi occupation, a story told each year to the fifth graders at our local elementary school.  Having heard the war and immigration story, these students and their teachers suggested that it would be a good read if written.

That was the birth moment for writing The Dutch Winter. I knew how it started and how it would end; the plot and stories would flow as writing began for a historical novel. It had to be a novel in order to include the many stories told by parents, uncles, and aunts and historical accuracy for locations and events.  The research was done by touring the sites in Holland and subscribing to a group that publishes Dutch war events, and I interviewed people who lived during that time.

Since there is a retirement home with many Dutch residents nearby, it is easy to find people in their nineties who would tell their stories over a nice lunch at their favorite restaurant.  There I found a spry ninety-three-year-old lady who carried messages for the underground resistance as a girl of sixteen. She was a lovely lady with great humor who cried when telling of the horrors she experienced.

The Dutch Winter is not limited to one hero or heroine. The Dutch were patriotic and brave in their zeal to resist Germany and protected the lives of the underground fighters and Jews from capture and extermination in concentration camps.

Another main character is a Dutch patriot that returned to Holland from Minnesota to fight the Nazis. He is paired with the girl who delivered messages, and they fight side by side, and, as every story needs some romance, they marry.

That required that I know where he came from and be familiar with his hometown. I chose a small country town where a friend was born and raised. Along with a map and internet search of the town, Pease, Minnesota became real.

To ensure that the cities, streets, and places in Holland were spelled correctly and placed geographically, I secured maps of these places to verify accuracy.

All my writings bring the characters to life with their beliefs and practices. During WWII, it took faith in God and strength of character to survive hunger and fear. Thirty thousand Dutch died of starvation during the winter of 1944-45. The majority were grandfathers who gave what little they had to their children and grandchildren and then searched for food and died on the streets, too weak to continue.

That patriotism and spiritual strength is evident in The Dutch Winter.

The Dutch Winter and The Canopy are available to order at any bookstore or Amazon.

My website is Albertvandesteeg.com  and my email is albertvandesteeg@gmail.com

2 Comments

  1. Thonie Hevron

    Thanks for this informative post, Al and George. I’m definatley interested in the Dutch WWII novel. I’ll see you at the conference.

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    It’s great to hear from you again, Al, and I’m looking forward to checking out your books at the upcoming PSWA conference. Having met you before, i can say are a true gentleman in every sense of the word. I’m glad you’re telling these stories of suffering and sacrifice. As you said, they need to be heard. Good luck to you.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

VICKI WEISFELD – Shares Her Story

Vicki Weisfeld’s short stories have appeared in leading mystery magazines and various anthologies, winning awards from the Short Mystery Fiction Society and the Public Safety Writers Association. She’s a book reviewer for the UK website, crimefictionlover.com.

The crime/mystery/thriller genre is what I like to read, so that’s what I write. Puzzles, seeing justice meted out, preventing catastrophes. Some thirty of my short stories have been published, and this summer, my first novel, the murder mystery Architect of Courage, comes from Black Opal Books. I especially enjoy stories about ordinary people in difficult situations where they must use their wits and skills in new and unexpected ways. And I like a story with a bit of a lift at the end. Not necessarily a happy ending, but one trending toward better days.

My novel’s protagonist, successful Manhattan architect Archer Landis, is one of those ordinary people. Ordinary, that is because he doesn’t have any martial arts training or obscure weapons expertise. No experience tracking ne’er-do-wells. He is a Vietnam veteran, but his service was decades before this story takes place in the summer of 2011.

People often ask where I get my ideas. The short answer is: everywhere. Real-life events, interesting people, or amalgams of several of them, tricky situations born in my imagination can be an initial spark. Architect of Courage is a 350-page novel that started with a specific imagined situation. I envisioned a married man (Landis) entering his girlfriend’s apartment and finding her murdered. It’s all I had, and I covered it in the first two pages. 348 to go!

The threads that eventually worked their way into the story—his marriage, his troubled relationship with his son, how the police treat him, their suspicions about the dead woman, her faked identity, whom he relies on among his friends and colleagues, the succession of mysterious attacks—all that developed later.

If you know the terms “plotter” and “pantser,” you’ve probably already pegged me as a “pantser.” I could no more plot out all my scenes before I begin, as some excellent writers do than I could fly to the moon. I write by the seat of my pants, letting the story grow organically, and the relationships deepen as it moves forward. I throw in bits of information (potential clues) as they occur to me and keep those that ultimately fit. Yes, it’s a little messy at times, but I enjoy that thrill of discovery.

For example, early in the story, the police show Landis shocking photos of scars on his girlfriend’s wrists, evidence of a serious suicide attempt. He hadn’t known about that. The explanation of the scars isn’t revealed for 258 pages, when it emerges as a significant piece of evidence, totally unanticipated those many pages earlier. I credit my subconscious mind with figuring out that problem and giving me the answer when I could use it!

Truthfully, I do make some efforts to organize the chaos. When I get to a place where I can’t easily answer the question, “now what?” I take a big sheet of paper, write the main character’s name in the center, and array all the other characters around, maybe with a few notes about their conflicts or characteristics. Then I draw lines to show how they intersect. Opportunities for new and unexpected connections emerge and points of possible conflict. Perhaps a superfluous character is revealed—someone with few connections to anyone else. That person may best be edited out!

One strategy I’ve found helpful in moving from short story to novel is to keep a list of “story questions.” I can’t reveal everything upfront; it is a mystery! Unresolved issues may be, “Where did the gun come from?” or “How did he know she’s allergic to shellfish?” Making sure all those questions or clues have answers—artfully buried, I hope—means that when readers reach the end, they feel satisfied. Television programs too often do not do this. The credits roll, and it’s “What just happened?”

Nor can I withhold some key piece of information and plop it on the last page. Readers have to have reasons to at least suspect that two characters are brother and sister, for example. They need “Aha!” moments. As Aristotle pronounced a long time ago, the best endings are both surprising and inevitable.

I’m also asked what it was like to write a male protagonist. I’ve spent a lot of time around confident, assertive men. I know how they act. Landis is a busy, successful professional. He’s not rude, but he’s direct. It saves time. He’s also a mentor to the people working for him in a profession that requires creativity. He can’t squash their inventiveness, and he’s full of praise when it’s merited. Typically, he makes clear his expectations about end results and lets them figure out how to get there.

I did pick over his dialog to make sure it wasn’t laden with weak phrases like “I just want,” “If you don’t mind,” “May I suggest,” and qualifiers like “somewhat” or “kind of,” which I consider waffle-words. If Landis wants something, he says so. And I usually substitute “need” for “want.” There’s a website where you can paste in your manuscript—any length—and run it through an analyzer to find out whether it reads “masculine” or “feminine.” Architect of Courage is “weakly male,” but at least it’s male! I found that aspect of writing this book interesting. Fun, too.

A few words about the publishing journey. Long. Hard. Exhausting. Though I’ve internalized all the advice about crafting pitch letters, synopses, etc., my queries to agents rarely received a response. I gave up on that and turned to smaller publishers who take unagented queries and are open to genre literature, especially crime. Architect of Courage was professionally edited twice. While, on the one hand, I hoped this would suggest to prospective publishers they wouldn’t have to invest a lot of editorial time, on the other, I didn’t want to give the impression I considered the book perfect and would resist their ideas and suggestions.

The best advice I have for wading into the publishing waters is to develop a long—and growing—list of prospects and send queries (strictly adhering to their wildly varying requirements, of course) in batches of three to five. Two weeks later, send another batch. An Excel spreadsheet helps, and save a copy of each cover letter to be sure of what you sent. Having additional prospects in the wings keeps the job from being too disheartening. I handle my short stories the same way. Rejection? Fine. Next! At least it has worked for me thirty times!

Vicki blogs at www.vweisfeld.com.

7 Comments

  1. Valerie J Brooks

    Vicki, thanks for your honesty and tips. Best of luck on the novel!

    Reply
  2. Madeline Gornell

    Great meeting you, Vicki! excellent interview, and love that you’re a “panster” and your thoughts on “ordinary people!” Continued success!

    Reply
  3. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    Wow, what an interesting way to plot your story. I really like writing all the characters on a piece of paper and connecting the dots. Great interview, thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Reply
  4. Michael A. Black

    Having been a fan of Victoria’s short stories for years, I eagerly await her first novel. Congratulations, Vicki and thanks to you and George for providing another great interview.

    Reply
    • Vicki Weisfeld

      Answering interviewers questions make me think about a lot of stuff I just take for granted! Thank you for your kind words!

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *