Thank you so much for having me on your blog!
The pandemic has been a tumultuous time for so many of us writery folks. Still, I’ve been super busy and full of ideas. My most recent release is a gothic romance story called “The House Must Fall,” which is a queer homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher. It’s part of the Haunts and Hellions Gothic Romance Anthology, and you can order a special edition with extra goodies from HorrorAddicts.net.
I also re-released my Rock ‘N’ Romance series in May. The Rock Season, Road Trip, and You Fell First are all music-inspired stories full of hope, love, and rock ‘n’ roll featuring folks from the San Francisco Bay Area on their journeys toward a happily ever after. Here’s a quick excerpt from You Fell First. The scene is told from Deputy Calvin Graham’s perspective as he’s directing traffic during a storm where trees are threatening to block the road. Those of you from the Bay Area will recognize this as Crow Canyon Road.
Cars flew by, ignoring signs to slow down, and my field training officer, Sergeant Diaz, warned me this could be a seriously hazardous situation. Diaz and I had thrown down some flares to hopefully grab the attention of drivers multitasking in their SUVs.
I couldn’t help but be distracted myself. Way up high on the hillside, a lone tree trimmer was strung up in the tree, trying to cut back some limbs that had fractured but hadn’t dropped. The guy’d been up there for at least two hours and the crew kept a close eye on his progress. He’d come down a few minutes prior and was on his way up the second tree, and for the life of me, I couldn’t help but watch the graceful way he managed to climb the ropes like some sort of acrobat in Cirque du Soleil. He was obviously experienced. I turned back to watch the traffic but I kept glancing back, captivated by his movements.
The wind picked up and howled through the canyon, causing his ropes to sway. Someone in his crew shouted at him in Spanish and he flipped them off. I chuckled to myself at their camaraderie before I turned back around. In time to see my life flash before my eyes.
Diaz shouted as the SUV heading right for us skidded at a forty-five-degree angle. The driver overcorrected and clipped our patrol car, causing the front end to slam into me and knock me backward. The SUV crashed into the trees, one of which the trimmer was suspended from.
Everyone froze as that tree groaned and lurched sideways, falling into the tree next to it. The trimmer dangled between the two, frantically trying to grab on to one or the other. He swung to the other tree and wrapped his arms and legs around the trunk.
I was still trying to catch my breath from where the fall had knocked the wind out of me. Diaz ran to my side. “Sonofabitch, Graham! You alright dude? You went down hella hard.”
I nodded as I coughed and gestured for him to help me up.”Paramedics are on their way. You need to get checked out.”
A cracking noise came from the other tree the car had smashed against and it shifted, jolting the car. I heard another crack and then shouts from the public works crew.
I reached into the SUV and came out with both kids. I managed to get several steps away as the tree groaned once more and fell forward onto the car.
The tree trimmer screamed as the rope, which was caught in the second tree, pulled his legs away from the tree he was holding on to.
That was a female scream. That’s a woman up there!
I watched in horror as the woman was pulled towards the fallen tree. She held on to the other tree desperately but she was losing the battle.
One of the other workers was getting harnessed up so he could climb the other tree and grab ahold of the hanging woman. The crew was trying to get around the giant tree but I spotted a more direct route. I pulled out my Leatherman and climbed up the back of the SUV so I could get to where the rope was attached.
Time stopped for a moment as I looked up into the trees. She stared down at me and then she nodded.
“Sí officer, corta la cuerda!” An older man on her crew who’d been trying to get to the rope gestured for me to cut it, but I worried the sudden change in tension would cause her to let go. My heart was in freefall as I prayed she wouldn’t be.
Do you write in more than one genre? I do! I love challenging myself. I started with paranormal and contemporary romance, and now I’ve branched out into horror and supernatural suspense.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? Wherever I can, whenever I can. I have all the distractions, especially over this past year. My current workspace is a standing desk in the living room. Between my two cats and psycho black lab, my two teens, and my husband, who is also working from home, it’s quite chaotic in our 1000sqft house.
What are you currently working on? I’m currently working on a co-author project—remember what I said about challenging myself? It’s a gay romance set in the custom car world featuring a Puerto Rican family shop in Florida. It’s been so fun to have someone be just as excited about the story you’re working on as you are. We’re using Google Docs to go back and forth and writing a chapter at a time. I love it. My partner Sera Taíno and I are a good match.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Well yeah. Anyone I know is fair game. Kidding. Maybe.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? A sabbatical from teaching after 27 years. I’ll be full-time writing as I work on my health and my home. As far as writing is concerned, I have a queer anthology coming out June 8th called Love Is All Vol 4 with some fantastic authors, which will raise funds for charity. Later this year, I have two full-lengths—a contemporary romance set in Spain and a supernatural suspense follow-up to last year’s Healer. I’ve got lots to do to get those ready for launch!
Do you have any advice for new writers? Find your people! Whether it’s a formal group or a site like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) that supports folks at all levels of their journey. Find a place where you feel accepted, where there are folks at different places in their journey, and where you feel supported. If all else fails, hit me up. I love to chat with folks, and brainstorming might be one of my superpowers… Maybe. If they actually exist.
How do our readers contact you?
Folks can find me at www.rlmerrillauthor.com, and I’m usually lurking @rlmerrillauthor on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I love connecting with readers and other writers, so don’t hesitate to reach out! I also write horror-inspired music reviews for HorrorAddicts.net, and I hope to start attending shows again soon now that I’m vaccinated. Maybe I’ll see you at the rock show! Thanks to George for having me on the blog today, and Stay Tuned for more Rock ‘n’ Romance…
Sabrina Flynn is the author of Ravenwood Mysteries, set in Victorian San Francisco.
When she’s not exploring the seedy alleyways of the Barbary Coast, she dabbles in fantasy and steampunk. She has a habit of throwing herself into wild oceans and gator-infested lakes.
Her new historical mystery, Beyond the Pale, is the eighth book in the Ravenwood Mystery series. An innocent accused. An infamous hotel. And a murder everyone wants to hide.
While recovering from a brutal beating, Atticus Riot is arrested for the murder of his ex-agent—the same agent who left Riot for dead. His wife and partner, Isobel Amsel, watches helplessly as he’s taken to San Francisco’s notorious ‘sweat box’ for interrogation by an inspector with a grudge.
Desperate to save her husband, Isobel seeks out the one ally they have—only he’s in the infamous Hotel Nymphia, neck-deep in a murder investigation with a ghastly corpse and over three hundred suspects. In exchange for the inspector’s aid, Isobel agrees to work as a consulting detective on his case.
Now Isobel needs to prove Riot’s innocence while tracking down a killer no one wants to be caught. The diverging trails lead to an old friend, a tangled web of secret lives, and one all-consuming question: where’s the line between justice and murder?
Do you write in more than one genre? I feel comfortable writing in all genres. I’m currently published in historical mystery, epic fantasy, Gaslamp fantasy, and have a WW1 thriller I’m editing along with a planned contemporary mystery series. It’s always hard for me to pin a genre on the novels I write. Ravenwood Mysteries is a mix of mystery, history, romance, action and adventure, wild west, Victorian, and noir.
Tell us about your writing process: I just tell myself a story. I’ll start at a point or with a vague idea, and that’s pretty much it. My writing process is a lot like hiking to a distant mountain. I know the starting point; I know where I want to end up, but I have no clue what lies between those two points. And sometimes, the twists and turns and obstacles along the way take me to an entirely different mountain. But that’s all right. It’s the journey that’s exciting.
*Note from George: I love Sabrina’s example of hiking from a point to a distant mountain and all the obstacles one faces.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? I’m an organic writer. So my characters definitely run the show. I don’t know what they’re going to say until I type it, then end up laughing at whatever joke they cracked. There have been numerous times when I want them to do one thing, and they just won’t do it. For example, in the first book, Atticus Riot showed up with a gentleman’s walking stick. I didn’t know why he had a walking stick. I tried to make him limp, but he wouldn’t limp. So I tried to take it away from him, and that didn’t work either. I said, ‘Fine, keep the stick!’ And it wasn’t until halfway through the book that I was like… ‘Oooh, that’s why you have the stick.’ Then in book three, I discovered the stick had sentimental value, so I’ve learned to just go along with the unexpected.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? I grew up with four brothers, so I actually find writing feminine women difficult. It’s hard for me to connect and understand women (or men) who are stylishly dressed, are worried about breaking a nail, or getting sweaty because it will mess up their hair. I’m not big on talking about feelings in my prose either. I’d rather show it than tell it. So I think that’s something my readers notice pretty quickly with my writing. Several readers have compared Ravenwood Mysteries to some classic noir authors like Raymond Chandler.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? Death is the end of a story. It’s a common everyday occurrence where life goes on for the living. So it’s not something that’s thrilling to me or even shocking in a book. It’s just… death. It’s much more interesting to me as a reader (and writer) to read about people who survive against all odds. Writing characters who live and thrive despite difficult circumstances is the hard part. Death is easy to write.
In my epic fantasy series, I came to a place where the hero could have died this epic death that would’ve been perfect for him, but I found keeping him alive left more of an impact.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Oooh, do I ever. I come from an epic fantasy background, so I naturally write overarching storylines into my mystery series. I plant seeds throughout my books for future books in the series. For example, the first sentence in the first chapter of the first book (From the Ashes) isn’t explained until book four of Ravenwood Mysteries. I did the same with another subplot that’s been woven throughout the series, and that will finally be addressed in book nine. I usually have multiple storylines and mysteries going at once, which keeps things interesting.
What kind of research do you do? Lots of reading. And not just from one source. Newspaper archives are great, but they can be slanted one way or the other, so I look for other sources as close to 1900 as I can find. It’s a great way to pick up the actual language of the time and not fictionalized vocabulary and slang.
I’m also very hands on whenever possible. When I lived across from San Francisco, I tried to visit whatever place I was writing about. But so much of San Francisco was destroyed in the 1906 fire that most places have changed locations or were destroyed. Isobel, one of my protagonists, is big on sailing, so I took a sailing class in the bay to get a better feel of it. And when my protagonist was learning lock-picking, I bought a set of lock picks to practice with.
But I think my most drastic bit of research was when I tossed a protagonist overboard into San Francisco Bay, and a beta-reader claimed she would’ve drowned, been eaten by a shark, or died of hypothermia. So I jumped off a ferry at Alcatraz and swam to Aquatic Park in San Francisco sans wetsuit. She didn’t argue with me anymore.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Hopefully, lots of ocean swimming, trail running, and writing!
Where can we find you and your latest work, Beyond The Pale: http://www.sabrinaflynn.com
My books are on all the major online retailers. Here are some links.
Bookbub profile: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/sabrina-flynn
Apple books: https://books.apple.com/us/author/sabrina-flynn/id747418916
Sheldon Siegel is the New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon best-selling author of the critically acclaimed legal thriller series featuring San Francisco criminal defense attorneys Mike Daley and Rosie Fernandez.
Sheldon is the author of the thriller novel The Terrorist Next Door featuring Chicago homicide detectives David Gold and A.C. Battle. Sheldon’s books have been translated into a dozen languages and sold millions of copies worldwide. A native of Chicago, Sheldon earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois in Champaign in 1980 and his law degree from the University of California-Berkeley in 1983. He specializes in corporate and securities law with the San Francisco office of the international law firm of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP. Sheldon began writing his first book, SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES, on a laptop computer during his daily commute on the ferry from Marin County to San Francisco. A frequent speaker and sought-after teacher, Sheldon is a San Francisco Library Literary Laureate. He is a former member of the National Board of Directors and the Past President of the Northern California chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, and an active member of the International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime. His work has been displayed at the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley. He has been recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Illinois and a Northern California Super Lawyer. Sheldon lives in Marin County with his wife, Linda, and a 17-year-old tabby cat named Betty. They also have twin sons named Alan and Stephen. He is a lifelong fan of the Chicago Bears, White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks. His twelfth Mike Daley/Rosie Fernandez story, FINAL OUT, was released on January 26, 2021. He is currently working on his next novel.
What brought you to writing? I always wanted to be a writer, but I don’t know why. I’ve discussed this with other writers, most of whom have said that it seems that there is something hot-wired into our system to try to tell stories. It’s a bit presumptuous for us to think that we have something interesting to say. I have no formal training. I studied accounting in college at the University of Illinois, and I’ve been a corporate lawyer with a big law firm in San Francisco for more than 35 years. I have never handled a criminal case (not even a parking ticket), but I’ve written twelve best-selling novels about murder trials. I like to tell people that I’m a fraud on multiple levels.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? When I was practicing law full time, I used to write on a laptop computer on the ferry between Marin County and my firm’s office in San Francisco. I no longer work full-time, so I do most of my writing at home in the spare bedroom in our house. It’s a great luxury to be able to write almost full-time.
Tell us about your writing process: I start with a light outline. It helps me to know the beginning and the ending. I write a series, so I know that the books will feature Mike Daley and Rosie Fernandez and will be set in San Francisco. I outline in greater detail about 50 pages ahead of wherever I am in the story. I try to write to the end of the outline, and then I outline another 50 pages. I generally try to write straight through from beginning to end, but I sometimes skip ahead and write the ending. I spend about 50 percent of my time on the first 100 pages because if I make a mistake in the early part of the book, I’ll pay for it later. Once I get to the midway point in the book, I don’t stop until I get to the end. I tend to write long and cut. I usually do at least six full drafts. The first draft takes about eight months, the second about two months. The remaining drafts take a couple of weeks.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? I’m self-taught, so I find plotting to be challenging. First drafts are more difficult than second and third drafts. There’s nothing scarier than looking at a blank sheet of paper. Once I have something in the computer, I know that I can go back and fix it.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? I have been a member of MWA, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers for years. I served on the national board of MWA and as the president of the Northern California Chapter years. These organizations provide a supportive environment for writers since we spend so much of our time in front of our computers.
How long did it take you to write your first book? It took three years. I had the idea for my first book, Special Circumstances, for about ten years before I started writing it. I took one creative writing class at Book Passage in Corte Madera, which was very helpful. Then I worked on the book in short increments on my commute to work and late at night.
How long to get it published? I got very lucky. When I finished the manuscript for my first book, I was introduced to an agent who was friends with one of the attorneys at our law firm. She agreed to read the manuscript as a favor to my colleague. The agent liked the manuscript and agreed to represent me. She submitted it to multiple houses in New York, and they liked it. Two weeks later, I had a two-book deal with Bantam for a six-figure advance. The chances that this would happen again are one in a million, so I am very grateful.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? My characters have minds of their own. At times, I feel like I’m just a stenographer. That’s why my outlines are so light—my characters tend to misbehave, and they rarely follow the plotline that I’ve started.
Do you try to make the antagonist into a more human character? Yes. Good guys are interesting when they have flaws, and bad guys are interesting if they have some positive elements. Characters who are all good or all bad are one-dimensional.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Read a lot and write a lot. Work on your craft so that you can make your story as good as it can be. It’s fine to read a few books about writing, but it’s better to spend your time writing than reading books about writing. I would recommend Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and On Writing by Stephen King.
How do our readers contact you?
My debut novel, Unnatural, Erica Rosen MD Trilogy Book 1, is a medical thriller
Unnatural features a San Francisco pediatrician who happens upon a Chinese girl with blue eyes. Puzzled by this seeming impossibility (Chinese people have brown or occasionally green eyes – but not blue), Erica eventually learns that the girl is the product of embryonic stem cell gene editing performed at a secret government facility in China. Erica and her roommate, Daisy (a Chinese American), head off to China to expose the secret operation and rescue the girl’s younger brother, who is being held at the secret facility.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m in between. I have a definite plot and resolution in mind, as well as many of the stops along the way. However, I do not make a detailed outline. As I write, I’ve found that I come up with ideas that are better than many I think of ahead of time, so I go along with those changes.
Do you write in more than one genre? I’ve been sticking to the suspense/thriller genre, mostly medical suspense/thriller. I enjoy using my background in biochemistry and medicine when developing my plots. Keeping the details accurate is challenging and fun.
What is your writing process? I come up with a general concept, either something I’ve read about or something that pops into my head. After that, I need time to develop a plot around the concept. For Unnatural, I decided to write about embryonic stem cell gene editing. Then I figured out the where and the who. My writing is more plot-driven than character-driven, although I do put a lot of thought into developing the characters.
What kind of research do you do? I do a lot of research. For instance, for Unnatural, I learned about gene editing with CRISPR/Cas9. The technology that forms the backbone of my story, by reading A Crack in Creation by Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternberg. Dr. Doudna recently won the Nobel Prize for her work in that area. Another book I read was Young China by Zach Dychtwald, where I learned a lot about the current culture. I also read relevant references online. I find the internet indispensable not only for researching the scientific aspects of my writing but also for maps, pictures, videos, and information on hotels, airline flights, and general fact-checking. I’ve found that such research often leads to pesky emails and website ads for things, such as hotels and restaurants in Beijing. A small price to pay for all the information I can gather from the comfort of my home.
Where do you write? I like to write in my home office, at my PC. I bought myself a large, curved screen a year ago, which makes my writing much easier. I can have my word document open while I search the internet for information. Sometimes I’ll reference an eBook I display on my screen. When I have finished the whole novel, I can scroll through many pages at a time to look for underlines Word has made. I find the large screen to be very efficient. I prefer to work in a quiet environment, but since I don’t live alone, that’s often impossible. When I’m traveling (something I barely remember doing, but which I hope to do in the future), I bring my laptop but mostly use that only for typing short stories and editing, not for novel writing. For that, I like my home setup.
How much of your plots or characters are drawn from real life? All of my characters are fictional, although I give many of them attributes I have gleaned from people I have encountered. For instance, in the first novel I wrote (unpublished at this time), one of the characters was a graduate student in biochemistry who was also a nun. That’s an unusual combination. However, years ago, when I was a biochemistry graduate student myself, there was another graduate student who was also a nun. Strangely, she also had a prosthetic leg. I let my fictional graduate student keep both her legs because one has to be careful not to make fiction as bizarre as real life often is—readers won’t go for it.
As I am very familiar with laboratory and hospital settings, it is easy for me to come up with accurate descriptions. I had to google some specialized laboratories and equipment, however, to accurately describe some things. I found YouTube videos extremely helpful.
What are you currently working on? I am working on books two and three of the trilogy. Book two is titled Unwitting; I haven’t decided on a name for the third book. While the main story in Unnatural reaches a resolution, the next two books include developments in the lives of Erica and other characters introduced in book one, as well as new problems Erica finds herself thrust into.
How do readers contact you?
I can be contacted through my website https://www.devengreene.com
My blog is https://www.devengreene.com/blog
My Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/devengreeneauthor
My Instagram name is: devengreeneauthor
Highly Acclaimed Author, Robert Dugoni, Shares His Thoughts
Robert Dugoni is the critically acclaimed New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Internationally Best-Selling Author of 20 novels in The Tracy Crosswhite police detective series set in Seattle, the David Sloane legal thriller series, and the Charles Jenkins espionage series as well as several standalone novels including The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, a #1 Amazon kindle download and The Cyanide Canary, a Washington Post best book of the year. Several novels have been optioned for television series. Robert is the recipient of the Nancy Pearl Award for fiction and many other awards.
I’m known mostly for my mysteries and thrillers, specifically the Tracy Crosswhite series, which is now eight novels. But I’ve always enjoyed other genres. I grew up mostly reading literary novels like The Great Gatsby, A Prayer for Owen Meaney, and The Old Man and the Sea. I got the opportunity to write a literary novel with The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, and it did very well. I have a second literary novel coming out next September, The World Played Chess. I’ve also written a successful espionage series with Charles Jenkins, a spinoff character from my legal series with David Sloane.
My 8th Tracy Crosswhite Novel, In Her Tracks, will be out in April 2021. The World Played Chess will be out in September 2021.
What brought you to writing? I’ve always loved to write. My mother would hand me classic literary novels when I was young, and by the seventh grade, I knew I wanted to write stories. In high school, I edited the school newspaper, and in college, I majored in journalism, and creative writing, then went to work for The Los Angeles Times. I ended up in law school and practiced law for a while before getting back to writing. It took me several years to get established, and since 2013 I’ve written full time.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I now write at home. My wife and I added on a beautiful office with a lot of windows and ambient light. I treat it as a job, though I love what I do. I write full days, five days a week. The one distraction I allow now is golf. It gets me outdoors in the fresh air with good friends, and it’s a great distraction.
Tell us about your writing process: Monday through Friday and some weekdays when the muse is flowing, I write from seven in the morning until around four or five. When I am writing the story, as opposed to doing research, I read Stephen King’s novel, The Green Mile, every morning until I hear the muse. Then I begin. When writing the first draft, I don’t edit myself. I treat it almost like an outline. I write as fast as I can, learning about the characters and what they want and need. Then on the second draft, I go back and begin to add and cut as needed.
What are you currently working on? I have a Tracy Crosswhite mystery novel, In Her Tracks, coming out in April. A literary novel, The World Played Chess, is coming out in September, and I’m completing the third novel in the Charles Jenkins series, The Silent Sisters.
How long did it take you to write your first book? It was an ordeal. I must have thrown out 1000 pages and wrote 19 drafts over several years. I did it backwards. I wrote before I studied story structure and really understood how novels were told. Now I can write three novels in a year. I understand story structure after studying The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler and other craft novels.
How do you come up with character names? I often use the obituaries because you know the names were real. There are also websites, like fakenamegenerator.com, but I don’t stay on the site for long. It just seems like the kind of sight where someone is sucking you in.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Honestly, the hardest part is not trying to write from the opposite sex. I get asked questions all the time about how I write from the perspective of Seattle Homicide Detective Tracy Crosswhite. My answer is I don’t try. I write from the perspective of a person who has been grievously injured in her life and is struggling to find a life for herself and later, for her family. Tracy wants what we all want in her personal and her professional life. I always try to keep that in mind.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? Actually, it’s usually the opposite. They usually please me. When I’m really into a story and into a character, and I let that character tell the story rather than try to force the story, the character will often do things I never thought of or considered. That’s one of the best parts of being a writer, having characters surprise us.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? I did in the David Sloane series upon very bad advice. I won’t do it again. Readers don’t like it. They feel you’re trying to manipulate them. I did it because I was told that married protagonists aren’t interesting. I’ve come to realize that simply isn’t true. Marriage comes with its own trials and tribulations, and it is those that make the characters real.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m a pantser. I’ve tried outlining, but I’m usually off the outline very quickly. Instead, I do a lot of research, and from the research, I usually find my characters and often scenes that become the story.
What kind of research do you do? I try to travel to all the locations I write about. Beyond that, I do a lot of research, reading books, papers, watching documentaries and television shows.
What is the best book you ever read? Probably Lonesome Dove.
How do our readers contact you? Your website, blog links, any links you want to be posted?