Our guest today is Alec Peche author of Mystery and Thriller.
Who knows the most about how to get away with murder?
Jill, Nathan, and Angela head to New Zealand and Australia on a trip that is part work and part vacation. Jill is speaking at a forensic conference, while her friends are meeting with wineries to conduct business.
Dr. Jill Quint is a forensic pathologist by training. She left her crime lab to pursue her own winery but was called back by old colleagues to comment on cases. Those referrals expanded into a business where Jill offers second opinions on the cause of death. She also has her PI license and can be hired to investigate a suspicious death. Her friends assist her with cases by bringing their own skills like accounting, interviewing, and social media research. Nathan is her partner and is a world-renown wine label designer.
New Zealand has a reputation as a very safe country, so why are people dying in the cities she visited so far on her trip? They aren’t dying by gunshot or stabbing, rather these are unusual ‘accidents.’ In time, it becomes clear that these deaths are staged as ‘how to get away with murder’ events by a professional.
As Jill and friends transition to Australia, will the killer follow them? Is Jill the final target?
Read Forensic Murder for a crime story set down under.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels? Probably sometime in my 40s after reading a bad book. Throughout my high school and college classes, I was at best an average student, and I hated creative writing. I could rarely think of something to write about when I had to do it for a class.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? In July 2012, I made my first attempt at writing a mystery. I fumbled around looking for a format on what to do. I hit a wall early in that I didn’t know who my characters were or much beyond the story’s premise. I tried software and a few books, but my page was still empty. Then I decided I would just sit down and write a page, then the page became several pages and flowed into chapters and a story. I had no contacts in the writing world, and I felt like my style of writing was cheating as I had no list of characters or an outline. I was a pantser but didn’t know there was such a thing. I finished the book in the spring of 2013, and I had a friend who was my first reader, and she said she enjoyed it. She didn’t tell me it was the best book she’d ever read or that it would be a bestseller. She told me where the holes in my story were. I came out of the business world and had never written more than a three-page memo, so I hired an editor who taught me a little about grammar and style. I published that book in September of 2013. I’ve gone back and re-written it a few times. You don’t use contractions when writing in business, and so I didn’t do that in my first two books. That makes any dialogue stiff, so creating contractions and more casual dialogue was part of the book’s improvements since being first released. I read Stephen King’s memoir ON WRITING and heaved a sense of relief when I learned that many authors don’t outline.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? Indie for all 14 books.
Where do you write? Ninety-five percent of my writing is done in my office on a desktop computer in Word. I’ll occasionally write on my iPad, but I like the big screen and mechanical keyboard in my office.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? Silence! My characters are talking to me in my head as I type, and that’s all the ‘noise’ I need to write.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular? A fair amount of my real life is in my books. My three best friends are the series recurring characters. I worked for over thirty years in hospitals. Not as a physician, but with a lot of physicians over the years. Generally, every book setting is a vacation I’ve taken. I visited Australia and New Zealand two years ago. In FORENSIC MURDER, there are cities in the two countries that I didn’t visit (Wellington, Christchurch, the island of Tasmania), so I used Google Earth to fill in the blanks.
Describe your process for naming your characters? I used to keep a telephone book’s white pages around and randomly pick names. Now, that I have many countries that I set my stories in, I’ll google ‘popular first names or surnames in Israel or Quebec’, and pick a name.
Real settings or fictional towns? A little of both. My protagonist in one series lives in a made-up city in the central valley of California, and my protagonist in my second series lives on Red Rock Island, an actual island in San Francisco Bay.
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why? Harry Potter, the popularity of that book series is quite the empire. Also, it’s a mystery and an adventure. Of course, if I had written it, probably the last two books in the series would have been less dark.
Everyone, at some point, wishes for a do-over. What’s yours? I wished I had picked a different pen name.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? There’s so much strife in the world at the moment, who has the mental energy for pet peeves?
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? Another person, a big dog, and shelter.
What was the worst job you’ve ever held? Hand cutting onions at Jack in the Box. I would have to go into the walk-in refrigerator to slow down the tears. To this day, I hate onions.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Hard to say. I’ve listened to On Writing 2-3 times, Harry Potter – first in series, Ron Chernov’s Bios of Washington and Grant, JD Robb’s In Death Series. They are all very immersive stories.
What’s on the horizon for you? I’m playing with proposals in my head of starting a new series in Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Mysteries. But first, I need to finish FORENSIC MURDER for its release date of November 2.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? My writing process is evolving. I haven’t hit on the perfect path that works for every book.
Renowned editor, essayist, screenwriter, teacher, and anthologist.
I met Victoria when she was an instructor in a Master Class at the Kauai Writers Conference. I learned a great deal from her and have maintained a relationship ever since. If you get a chance to hear her speak or teach, do your best to attend. I’m so pleased to have Victoria Zackheim here with us.
Victoria, we would like to hear about how you start a project…whether it’s essay, novel, memoir, or film. We can’t cover all these talents in one visit; you will have to come back for another visit. We’ll let you take the lead—your choice of topic(s) today.
First of all, thank you for the invitation. I’m not so sure about the “renowned” part, but I’ll accept accolades! Now, to your questions…
What inspires you to start a project? I get an idea and cannot shake it. It might be something I’ve read, dreamed, heard in a passing conversation. My novel, The Bone Weaver, started out because I wanted to write a story that dealt with the challenges facing women. In this case, the isolation so many women experience, especially when they focus on their careers. In this case, the protagonist was very successful in her academic environment, but she had no idea how to sustain a relationship. She used her work as her escape. This was fine until a crisis forced her to confront herself.
My film project was more hands-on, in the sense that I overheard someone describing an outrageously funny (and I learned later, serious, and deadly) experience in Northern Ireland, and the story burned through me for several years. It’s now one of my two major projects.
How do you know which genre best fits an idea? Oh, George, you’re asking about my Acorn concept, yes? From an acorn, a nut of an idea comes the project.
I’ve started writing a novel, only to realize early on (hopefully) that it’s a short story…or a personal essay. When I was editing my first anthology, The Other Woman, the essays began arriving. Twenty-one remarkable women were sharing their highly personal stories. From the first essay, I knew this was a play. I saw it. Five women seated on the stage, the script in binders, no memorization, a five-person dialogue about infidelity of all kinds. It’s had dozens of readings, and I never tire of sitting in the audience and watching how actors interpret their roles. And I love that it’s often used as a fundraiser for women’s shelters.
Starting…that is…launching the writing…can be daunting. A lot of people give up at this point. What advice would you like to share about beginning a project? If a project is dumped, it’s often because the grunt work, the preparatory work, wasn’t done. We all read about writers who “just sit down and write” and somehow create a wonderful novel. But I’m guessing there are far more successful projects that result from long hours contemplating the story and character arcs, the plot threads, etc. And then days, sometimes weeks, creating the outline. I have a dear friend, a mystery writer (with 30 million books in print!) who takes at least a week, all day work, to create the first outline, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. Even when she’s satisfied with the outline, she spends more time on it. When she’s certain that it has everything, and in the right order, with characters and plot fully developed, only then does she begin to write.
What happens if a writer begins with a memoir…and then backs away? Family pressure, the guilt of hurting people, or even the fear of a lawsuit. It happens that many of the books I edit (as a freelancer) are memoirs, and I run into this with every project. Dare I reveal this? What will my family/friends/ colleagues think? I recently worked for nearly a year on a memoir with a highly gifted, National Book Award recipient. Her memoir was brilliant, poetic, poignant, charming. Before submitting it to her agent, she shelved it. Too personal, too revealing, family members might feel hurt or angry. I was disappointed because I thought it was a very important work, but I fully supported her decision. Her next step? She was considering reimagining it as a novel.
Have you ever abandoned a project? Why? I have one novel that I wrote sometime in the 80s and put it away. I take it out every few years and noodle with it, but I’m quite sure it will never be published. The plot just doesn’t sing, and I find myself trying too hard to make it relevant. On the other hand, at 3 am, in 1996, I dreamed an entire novel, got up, and wrote a description. I’ve revised that story perhaps a dozen times…and then, last year, at a friend’s urging, I dusted it off and did a major revision. It was soundly and enthusiastically rejected by several agents until TA-DA! A wonderful agent suggested a few changes, which I’m now doing. Who knows? A quarter-century later, that puppy just might get published. Tenacity…or stupidity…I’m not sure. But I’ve always loved the story, so perhaps there’s a chance. Writing is like going to Vegas and placing a bet. Win or lose; we always go back and try again.
At what point does a writer throw it all out? Once thrown out, can a project be resurrected? I have a friend whose first novel was a bestseller. Wait, let me reword that: I have a friend who threw out ten novels, all rejected by agents, before she figured out what wasn’t working…and what was. She wrote, with these guides in place, and she’s had many NY Times bestsellers since then.
But to answer your question: Yes, a project can be resurrected. As we write, we grow, and what might have seemed perfectly fine and gifted writing ten years doesn’t meet our standards today. So…I urge writers to take that old project and see if there’s still life in it. If it excites you, figure out why. If it drags, why? Answer these questions, and you might be ready to revisit the story.
When did you realize you wanted to write and edit? I wanted to write when I was a child. Perhaps it’s because I was pretty lonely, so creating stories in my head kept me occupied? I’m not sure. I took a few writing courses in college, but praise from my professors terrified me. Besides, in “those days,” girls were directed toward “safe” areas: teaching…and…teaching. I knew I didn’t want to teach, so I went into an unrelated field. In fact, I didn’t start teaching until fourteen years ago…and I’ve loved every minute. Online, in a classroom, at writers’ conferences. It’s heaven. And working with so many writers…well, it almost gives me permission to write. I’m a very good writer, but it’s the storytelling that challenges me. Perhaps that’s why I’ve leaned toward editing.
The editing came quite accidentally. I had an idea for an anthology, it sold, and I found myself editing twenty-one personal essays. I have to add that my very first “client” from this anthology was Jane Smiley. I was terrified. I’d never been a real editor, and I was expected to edit a piece written by a Pulitzer Prize recipient? I made myself sick for days, until my agent reminded me that the editor and author work together. So I did the edits, which were few. Jane was a dream. Now, eight anthologies later, and having worked with some of the top writers in the country, I look forward to each project. It’s a rare and often wonderful relationship, this collaboration between author and editor, and both of us want the same result: the best storytelling possible. I’ve worked with perhaps two hundred writers, and there are very few I would never work with again.
Where do you work? In my home office, at my desk, on my orthopedic chair. I also love to write on airplanes. Or I did when there were still airplane flights. Window seat, laptop activated, the world disappears.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind? I love music—classical, mainly—but it’s purposeless to play when I’m working. I hear nothing. Nothing. A fire engine could pull up in front of my house, sirens piercing the air, and I wouldn’t hear it.
How did you get into teaching? A writer friend was teaching online in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and suggested I apply. I felt quite inadequate until she reminded me of all the courses I had created and taught, and was teaching, workshops, and conferences. UCLA was wonderful, helping me to create several courses, all of them in the Creative Nonfiction section. I teach every term and have now for fourteen years.
What’s your quirkiest quirk? Really? You expect me to reveal that? Okay, let me think. I’m still thinking. Oh, dear, I don’t think I have any! And for a writer, that won’t do! If any of my friends are reading this, I welcome your input. Please, find me a quirk!
Everyone, at some point, wishes for a do-over. What’s yours? That’s an easy one. I started college in pre-med and was talked out of it by an advisor who thought girls couldn’t compete. (Hey, I’m old, this was a long time ago!) So I majored in English. Looking back, journalism would have been a good choice, or some path that would have taken me into politics. I’ve written speeches and position papers for candidates (Congress and US Senate), but running for office might have worked.
A funny side story: in the 80s, the Democratic party asked me to run for Congress. A Democrat had NO chance of winning this district, so they needed a candidate who could lose and not be dogged by the loss. (In other words, had no future in politics!) I declined, they chose another candidate, he lost.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? I have an exceedingly difficult time working with writers who have chosen me to edit their work, but secretly believe their work is perfect. I had one client whose essay was 6,000 words, but the publication was clear that 3,000 was the limit. I edited it down, she refused every edit. When I (almost patiently) explained that it was too long, her response was memorable: “Perhaps, but every word is a poem.”
Where do you go from there?
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Oh, not fair! Especially with so many dear friends who are published authors. So, let me tell you the novel that made me understand the magic of writing: Ole Edvart Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth. I was a teenager and found myself reading the same paragraphs over and over, struck by the images they created, the way I was transported to that time and place. Wallace Stegner’s novels have had a similar effect on me.
What’s on the horizon for you? I’m hoping to complete the revisions of this mystery novel in the next few weeks…but seeing as how I started writing it in the 90s (yes, another century), who knows? I’m working on a screenplay with a very enthusiastic team, and thinking about a two-act play. The outline and a few scenes are written, but it’s a matter of time. I have another play, my favorite of all, but it has a history. I had written all of Act I and II, on my laptop, in an apartment when I was living abroad. I was robbed. He (yes, I saw him) took not only my laptop, but the backup diskette with the entire play and around sixty pages of research. I’ve tried to recreate it, but it’s quite disheartening.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself or projects? I’m very fortunate, because I truly love what I do. Teaching, editing, writing, collaborating. I’m aging, but I become so lost in my writing that I feel ageless. That is, until I have to rise from my chair…
It is with pleasure that I welcome Jordan Bernal as a guest blogger.
Jordan is a long-time friend and mentor. She writes fantasy with elements of mystery and romance. We are sharing two of her fantasy stories today.
The first, The Keepers of Éire (Celtic Dragonriders Book 1), is a modern-day fantasy. For centuries dragons have protected Ireland, their existence kept secret with the help of earth magic and their human riders. Now that secret is threatened as the bodies of four riders are found at sacred Irish sites. Christian Riley, a man with secrets of his own, is haunted by vivid dreams of each slaying. Devan Fraser, an American searching for her Irish heritage and the meaning of an inherited dragon ring, stumbles into the mystery of the murders. Christian’s only memento from the mother who gave him up for adoption is a dragon pendant that matches Devan’s ring. Together they discover their destinies, the truth of dragons, and the depth of honor and loyalty people will go to protect the ones they love.
Jordan’s latest work, The Keepers of Alba (Celtic Dragonriders Book 2), will be released on September 1, 2020. Devan Fraser, the only rider with the magical ability to hear and bespeaking all dragons, is thrust into the middle of a deadly conflict, decades in the making. Separated from her beloved, Christian Riley, she finds herself in a desperate race against time. Can she decipher the obscure meanings outlined in an ancient prophecy and escape a crazed madman before feuding clans destroy Scotland? Or is it already too late? Is the magic that sustains all dragonkind destined for extinction?
Jordan has allowed her protagonist, Devan Fraser, to tell us about herself and the exchanges she has with the author. To keep some control over where Devan goes with the interview, we’ve given her a few questions.
What was life like before Jordan started pulling your strings? I hate to say it, but my life was boring, with a capital B. You see, I was a researcher at a local university until budget cuts took away my position. So, no job and not many prospects. I started looking for a new job when my parents were killed in a vehicle accident. Oh, and I had just broken up with my fiancé, Rick. Rick will tell you just how much of a bore I am as he spouts all my flaws.
What’s the one trait you like most about yourself? Something that I’ve recently learned about myself: I’m fiercely loyal. Once I believe in someone, I am that person’s strongest advocate. It takes a massive falling-out for me to lose faith in someone I trust.
What do you like least about yourself? That I’m a bit too needy. I tie my self-worth into how much I’m needed. I don’t do well with confrontations. I’m more likely to step back from a situation and thus not deal with it. I’m also a bit too trusting. I’m still a work-in-progress and have my doubts at times, but that’s life, right?
What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you? You mean, besides leaving the U.S.A on barely a whim, travel to Ireland by myself, and then finding out dragons do exist? Well, I did learn I have a special magical talent: I can hear and speak telepathically with all dragons. That ability led to saving a bullied wingless dragonet, Grayson. It also led me to become a dragonrider with the Tuatha Dragon Clan.
Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about? Not really. My author, Jordan, really knows me, probably better than I know myself. And while Jordan’s constantly putting me in dangerous situations, I’m learning how strong, intelligent, and courageous I can be. Though, I do wish I didn’t have to be bruised and battered so much in the learning. Oh, and I was a bit nervous about how quickly I fell in love with sexy Irishman, Christian, but I’ll not argue too much as the loving is fantastic.
What is your greatest fear? To be alone. Truly alone. When my parents died, I had no one. I was an only child, and my grandparents and uncle on my mother’s side had all died before I was born. I don’t know anything about my father’s side of the family, as he never spoke of them.
What makes you happy? Being needed. Belonging. Especially belonging to the Tuatha Dragon Clan, being a partner to my dragon: Dochas, and being Christian Riley’s friend and lover. And by belonging, my confidence in my abilities is growing.
If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why? Of course, I’d want to have my parents still alive. I miss them terribly. There’s so much I want to talk to them about, or enjoy a walk on the beach, or share a cozy evening sitting by the fire. But without my losing them, I wouldn’t have gone on this wild and crazy journey to Ireland. I wouldn’t have met the love of my life, Christian. And I wouldn’t have become Dochas’ rider.
Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why? Kiely, Padrick’s mother. Kiely is a . . . well, let’s just say she’s a master manipulator as well as a bit of a prejudiced gobshite (I’m learning a few choice Irish slang words).
Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why? I can’t think of anyone. I’m finally who I was destined to become. I get to fly adragonback, so my love of flying is set free. I’m madly, wildly in love with my sexy Irishman. Now, if Christian and I can stay a few steps ahead of the killer—at least until we can stop him—my life would be perfect.
Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog? When Jordan Bernal says she was born on the wrong planet, she’s referring to the third planet in the Sagittarian Sector, known as Pern. So clear and descriptive was Anne McCaffrey in her Dragonriders of Pern series, Jordan was transported into the body, mind, and soul of Anne’s characters. Jordan came away knowing she was destined to be a dragonrider; to hop from one foot to the other on the hot sands of the hatching ground awaiting a dragon of her own. She fantasized about the air currents lifting the dragon she rode, soaring over cliffs and chasms, embracing the joy and freedom as together, they broke gravity’s harsh leash. And most of all, Jordan knew she was meant to create stories with a new set of dragons and dragonriders.
Jordan’s enduring love of dragons and her pursuit of her Celtic heritage inspired her to write and publish novels in her Celtic Dragonriders series through her independent press, Dragon Wing Publishing. Jordan’s website is http://www.jordanbernal.com.
What’s next for you? Lots more adventures (i.e., dangerous situations and personal growth) in The Keepers of Alba (Celtic Dragonriders Book 2) due out September 1, 2020. As you might guess from the title, most of this story takes place in Scotland. Maybe I’ll get to learn about my father’s family after all. I do wonder if I’m related to Jaime Fraser of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Wouldn’t that be awesome! He’s so handsome, for a highlander from the 18th century. But my Christian’s all I need.
What’s on the horizon for you and your author? I’ve had a whirlwind (exhausting, yet exhilarating) seven and a half months (eleven years for Jordan) in The Keepers of Éire & The Keepers of Alba. In between these two novels, I made a guest appearance in Reluctant Paladin—a middle-grade anti-bully story that Jordan published in 2017. I know Jordan won’t keep me at loose ends for too long. After all, Dochas, Christian, and I, along with my other dragon and rider friends, must save the magic from extinction throughout the Celtic lands. That said, it takes Jordan quite a while to write my story. And she’s committed to serving as president for her writing club for at least one term.
Author-Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? Devan covered just about everything, but I’ll expand on one thing: the length of time between novels. As a reader, this can be quite frustrating. Believe me; it is for a writer as well. Yet I just can’t write much faster. These novels, except for Reluctant Paladin, are over 120,000 words long. And I have health issues that require me to utilize voice recognition technology (DragonDictate. Yes, I speak Dragon) to tell Devan’s and Christian’s stories.
On top of that, I’m meticulous in my world-building and character development. I find I’m often researching something or some place to use in the novel. All that .takes time. I promise I’ll be as quick as I can in getting Book 3 of my Celtic Dragonriders series written and into readers’ hands.
How can readers reach you?