M.M. Chouinard is the USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Amazon Charts bestselling author behind The Vacation, a standalone psychological thriller, and the Detective Jo Fournier series, featuring The Dancing Girls, Taken to the Grave, Her Daughter’s Cry, The Other Mothers, and Her Silent Prayer (releasing April 7th, 2022). She loves animals, coffee, amateur genealogy, and anything to do with Halloween, Serial Killers, or the zombie apocalypse.
When the body of single mother Melissa Rollins is found trapped inside a bedroom closet in her immaculate suburban home, Detective Jo Fournier is horrified to find that Melissa’s heating was turned up to the max while she died of thirst. As she delves deeper into the case, Jo uncovers a link between Melissa and a recent cold case: another single mother who was tied up and brutally murdered. Then, as the team works around the clock to stop a twisted killer, someone from Jo’s past catches up with her. They’re watching her family’s every move, and they will stop at nothing to get revenge. Can Jo save the people she loves and catch the killer before it’s too late?
Do you write in more than one genre? So far, my published books have all been in crime fiction, although I have written a women’s fiction manuscript and several literary shorts. I cover several sub-genres within Crime fiction, including my published police procedural series and a published standalone psychological thriller. I’ve also written an action thriller, a private-eye novel, and a traditional mystery I hope will be published someday.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I try to write in as many different locations as I can. I’ve been lucky enough to write full-time, and that means I have to work within deadlines, both those I put in place myself and those for my publisher. Writing on a schedule is an important part of that, and I can’t allow myself to lose time because I’m in an inhospitable environment for some reason. So I routinely write in cafes, at home, outside at parks, even at the doctor’s office. I write in quiet and noisy places, so I’m used to focusing in less-than-ideal settings when circumstances for me to do that.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? I waited to join MWA and SinC until I had my first book contract, thinking it wasn’t a useful thing to do until I was a published writer. That was a HUGE mistake, and I’d advise every writer out there to immediately join whatever association brings together people in your genre. Between the events that have educated me on the publishing industry and craft, the write-ins that help keep me focused, and the ability to talk to people who’ve gone through things I’m going through, it’s all been invaluable.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? For me, there are two aspects to this. Raising the stakes for my protagonist in a within-book way is one thing, and it usually involves the antagonist taking action that impacts her in a personal way. Sometimes that means literally—my murderer may threaten her life or the life of someone she loves. But it always means psychologically. Even if the murderer isn’t threatening her directly, the murders they’ve committed always tap into some psychological struggle she has. So the race to get justice for a murdered child may tap into my protagonist’s own struggles with her mother, or a dysfunctional husband/wife relationship may challenge my protagonist to examine some dysfunctional attitudes she brings into her own romantic relationships.
In addition, I try to raise the stakes between books for the protagonist in my police-procedural series. She’s learning and growing, but life keeps handing her new challenges that build on the other things she’s learned.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? Hemingway. He was part of my curriculum fairly early in my school years (I believe when I was twelve or thirteen). At that age, I didn’t relate to the content or the pointedly masculine point of view. But what I did respond to even then was his writing style, and that kept me coming back. As I lived more life, his themes began to resonate with me, and I found myself fascinated with the points of view his work reflected.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I’ve done both, and I think there are plusses and minuses for each. One big concern for me is that I’m not in law enforcement. I have never been, and that means no matter how much research I do and how many people I consult with, I’m always in danger of getting something wrong or writing a character that inadvertently reflects badly on a given law enforcement agency (or newspaper, or other agency I write about). It’s one thing for a mistake I make to reflect badly on me, but I never want it to reflect badly on anybody else. So for my police-procedural series, I set the stories in a fictional Western Massachusetts county and do my best to reflect how law enforcement functions in the actual region without pulling anybody real into it.
Where can our readers find you and your books?
Link to Her Silent Prayer on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09Q3QQL98/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0
Lynn-Steven Johanson is an award-winning playwright and novelist living in Illinois. His mystery novels, Rose’s Thorn and Havana Brown, are published by Level Best Books. His next mystery, Corrupted Souls, will be published in 2022. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is retired from Western Illinois University.
Havana Brown, a prequel to my first novel, Rose’s Thorn, was the 2021 winner of a Royal Dragonfly Book Award for mysteries.
“Homicide detective Joe Erickson returns, this time obsessive as ever when he is pitted against a serial killer as methodical as Dexter and as cold as a winter breeze in Chicago. Fans of thrillers will feel Joe’s every frustration and relish his small triumphs, but they won’t deny author Lynn-Steven Johanson’s talent. Havana Brown has twists and turns, crisp dialog, and introduces readers to a sinister, terrifying, and unforgettable killer.” —Gabriel Valjan, Agatha and Anthony-nominated author of The Naming Game.
My third book in the Joe Erickson Mystery Series, Corrupted Souls, is due to be published this spring.
How long did it take you to write your first book? Because Rose’s Thorn was based on a screenplay I had written about ten years previously, the adaptation only took about six months. Most of the dialogue was already there. But I had to teach myself to write narration. Fortunately, my wife helped me with that. Being a former English teacher and an avid novel reader, she was able to assist me with my narrative writing. She still acts as my editor. Once I complete a chapter, she reads it and suggests fixes, and points out things that I missed. She’s nice about it and doesn’t use red ink!
How long to get it published? That took a while because once Rose’s Thorn had gone through numerous drafts and I was satisfied it was in good shape; I started to send out queries to agents. For over a year, after reaching out to forty agents, getting ignored by half, and receiving thanks-but-no-thanks messages from the other half, I began to approach publishers who were accepting solicitations from authors. Level Best Books requested the entire manuscript, and they eventually offered me a three-book contract. The entire process from the first email to an agent to the contract offer was two years. It goes to prove it pays to be tenacious.
How do you come up with character names? My main character, Chicago Detective Joe Erickson, is named for my maternal grandfather, who died eight years before I was born. It’s a good, strong Midwestern name. His romantic partner, Destiny Alexander, a criminal profiler, has a name that is symbolic as she is Joe’s destiny. This one woman will always be with him. I see my characters in my mind and hear them talk, so my other character names are based a lot on how the characters look. Sometimes I search for “popular names for men or women” on the internet in order to see lists. Starting with Havana Brown, my second novel, the stories take place in Chicago, so I have a lot of ethnic characters. For instance, Joe’s partner is Detective Sam Renaldo. I found his names by doing internet searches for common Hispanic first and last names. I chose his names based on what seemed to fit him. And on a rare occasion, I will use a friend’s first or last name for a character. I did that to pay homage to a late friend in Corrupted Souls.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Only once. When I decided to write a prequel for my second novel, I knew I would be employing subplots. Havana Brown has a main plot which is Joe Erickson on the trail of a serial killer. But there are two subplots. The first is his developing romantic relationship with Destiny. The second is Joe dealing with his aging father’s health issues. I wrote it in a tight chronological order. I devoted certain chapters to Joe and Destiny and some to Joe and his father. But even in those chapters, something happened with the serial killer case, so the main plot was still intertwined with the subplot chapters. The subplots did make for a longer book.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m a playwright as well as a novelist, and I approach playwriting as a pantser. But having written two screenplays, I learned to write them via Syd Field’s method, which is highly structured. And I applied that method to writing novels. Syd Field calls his structure a paradigm that essentially lays out the story in terms of three acts: the setup, the confrontation, and the resolution. Each is separated by a plot point which is a major event in the story. Since Act II is twice as long as either Act I and Act III, it has a mid-point, which is another type of plot point that turns the confrontation in a direction toward the resolution. Once these points are decided, you begin filling in the story elements. I like to think of these elements as potential chapters. When you actually begin writing, the elements of the paradigm remain fluid. They can change as you write, but the plot points remain constant because they are the major events you write toward.
What kind of research do you do? I like to be as accurate as possible, so I do a lot of research on various aspects of a story. My first novel took place in the Iowa county where I grew up, so I knew the area quite well. But I had to research local law enforcement when I was writing the screenplay. I interviewed the county sheriff, and he answered all of my questions. Covid has made it difficult for me to do on-the-ground research on my subsequent novels. I live in downstate Illinois, but my locations are in Chicago, and I have been unable to travel up there. Using Google searches has been a godsend. My fictional detective works out of Detective Area 3, which covers the north side of the city on the Lake Michigan side. I am somewhat familiar with that area and can look up nearly everything on the internet I need about neighborhoods and police districts covered by Area 3. I also called Area 3 and spoke to a detective a couple of times about a few technical things. When I began working on my third novel, Corrupted Souls, I discovered a former homicide detective on LinkedIn who still works out of Area 3. He agreed to be an adviser for me, and he has been a great resource.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I use real locations in so far as street names, neighborhoods, hotels, and well-known landmarks in Chicago like the Art Institute, Burnham Harbor, Navy Pier, and places like that. What I don’t use are the names of actual businesses like restaurants, bars, theatres, independent stores, and so on. If I’m looking for a bar in a particular neighborhood, I’ll do an internet search, choose a particular establishment, and instead of giving the name, I will write something like, “an Irish pub on East Ohio Street.” I go to their website, look at photographs, and may use a few details in my description. Some savvy readers from Chicago may be able to guess the pub I’m referencing on East Ohio Street. If it is important, I will use a fictitious name for an establishment, but that is an exception to the rule.
How do our readers contact you?
They can contact me through my website at www.LSJohanson.com. I would be happy to respond to them. My books are available on Amazon, and there are links on my website.
John Schembra spent a year with the 557th MP Company in Vietnam in 1970. His time as a combat M.P. provided the basis of his first book M.P., A Novel of Vietnam.
After returning from Vietnam, he became a police officer with the Pleasant Hill Police Department, retiring as a Sergeant after nearly 30 years of service.
John has six other published novels in the mystery/thriller genre. One mystery, Sin Eater, has supernatural undertones. His latest book, The List, won the 1st place award in the Public Safety Writers Association 2021 writing competition. John has earned nine writing competition awards. You can find out more about him and his books and read their first chapters, plus a couple of short stories at his website; www.jschembra.com. John can be reached at his email; email@example.com.
John is currently writing his eighth book, Southern Justness, number six in the Vince Torelli series.
What brought you to writing? I’ve been an avid reader ever since I was a little boy (thanks to my mother) and have admired authors who could weave a story that made me feel I was there, inside their words. While with the police department, I wrote several trade articles on police procedures but didn’t get into fiction until I was 50. I‘d spent a year as an MP in Vietnam. Another police sergeant and Vietnam infantryman and I would swap stories at the police department. Other officers would stop and listen, and one of them told me I should write a book based on my experiences. So, one day, I grabbed a yellow paper pad and a pencil and started writing. 2 years later, my first book, M.P., a Novel of Vietnam, was published. In case you are curious, yes, I did do most of the writing on a computer.
I enjoyed writing the book, and many people liked it. I decided to write a second book, then a third, etc., etc., and here I am, working on my 8th novel!
Tell us about your writing process: I am strictly a pantser. I never was very good at outlining and dislike it immensely, so when I start a book, I write the first chapter, then write an ending. From there, I go back to the beginning and start filling the story in, letting it flow as an active document—a way to say the story flows freely as I write.
Who is your favorite author? Edgar Rice Burroughs. I was introduced to the Tarzan books by my uncle when I was eight or nine. Burrough’s ability to create new worlds, beings, creatures, and plants is amazing. He is the best I’ve read at writing to show, not tell. Burroughs has written eighty novels, and I have read every one of them, most more than once.
I do have to admit the best book I have ever read is Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. What a terrific story. It was books like Burrough’s and Hemingway’s that inspired me to become a writer.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? The five Vince Torelli mystery/thrillers all take place in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vince is a homicide inspector with SFPD, but his cases take him to various locations around the Bay Area. Since I grew up across the Bay from San Francisco, I try to use real places—streets, buildings, businesses, and surrounding cities are real places. I know when I read a book, if it takes place somewhere I am familiar with, it makes the story more enjoyable for me. Using real places makes the need for research a must. I use Google and Google Maps quite a bit when finding settings for various scenes. Also, I have a couple of close friends who are SFPD officers, so I rely on them to ensure I have Vince doing things according to SFPD procedures. Research is one of the tasks I most enjoy doing in my writing. I actually got the idea for my sixth book, The List, while researching information about the 19th century tunnels under San Francisco. I reconstructed the tunnels, which have mostly been filled in, and used them in several crucial scenes.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I have two books, one at the publisher undergoing editing and getting the cover art done. The other one available through Amazon, Sin Eater, is about a serial killer in a fictitious college town in the central valley of California. There is a supernatural twist to the story that adds a dose of creepiness to the book. The other book, An Echo of Lies, is the story of a police officer who gets gravely wounded during a traffic stop. Not expected to recover fully, he makes a complete and astonishing recovery due to being possessed by a demon.
Do you have any advice for new writers? The best advice I can give is don’t let any doubts you have about writing stop you. If you worry about the mechanics too much, you will never get the book done. Attend a writer’s conference or two. Join a writer’s group— there are tons of them out there, easily found with a google search. Groups such as Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, California Writers Club can be very helpful in getting you started and on the right track. There will likely be a group near you, wherever you call home.
If you write with a public safety theme, check out the Public Safety Writers Association, which I am the president of. It is a nationwide group of very talented authors willing to help other members with anything to do with writing. We also have a wonderful three-day conference in Las Vegas every year, with terrific keynote speakers and many informative panels, plus it is loads of fun! It is well worth attending. Check us out at www.policewriter.com.
Thank you for taking the time to visit with me. Many thanks to George Cramer, himself an award-winning author, for having me as a guest on his wonderful blog. Keep writing!
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
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.