Terri Benson has published three novels and nearly a hundred articles and short stories. In addition to The Pickup Artist, her credits include November 2021—The Angel and The Demon, Book #1 of Lead Me Into Temptation, a historical romance; 2012—An Unsinkable Love, a historical romance set on the Titanic and in the New England Garment Manufacturing District. She works at a Business Incubator, and her hobbies include camping, jeeping, and dirt biking. More info at https://www.terribensonwriter.com/
The Pickup Artist, A Bad Carma Mystery, was released on April 1, 2022, from Literary Wanderlust. A female classic car restorer discovers her newest project comes complete with a serial killer who now has her in his headlights, and, by the way, she’s also the local LEOs #1 suspect.
I’m currently working on more Bad Carma Mysteries and Lead Me Into Temptation books.
Do you write in more than one genre: Yes, I write both mysteries and historical romance, but no matter what I’m writing, there is bound to be romance, mystery, and a little bit of history.
Tell us about your writing process: I’m a bit odd in that I come up with a title first. Then I figure out what scenario I can see working with that, then I write. Since both my series are fairly defined by the series titles, I know what kind of book I’ll be writing from the start.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Absolutely. I’ve belonged to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers for more than a decade, and I fully credit the great friendships I’ve made there with dozens of amazing writers, agents, editors, and publishers—including the two who published my last two books (The Pickup Artist and The Angel and The Demon)—to those friendships. I had access to hundreds of workshops from RMFW and Pikes Peak Writers that helped me hone my craft, getting me to the point agents and editors would look at my work. I also found the publisher for An Unsinkable Love pre-RMFW via a contact in a critique group I belonged to. I can’t recommend “finding your tribe” enough for new and not so new writers. I’m also a member of Sisters in Crime.
How long did it take you to write your first book? My “first” book took 20 years, but I’ve never submitted it to anyone – eventually, I probably will. My first “published” book took four months to write, and since it was for an open call for books about the Titanic, it had a due date to submit. I remember meeting my best friend, who is my most critical beta reader, and her passing the manuscript from her car to mine in the dark at about 8:00 at night the day it was due to be submitted. If a cop had seen us, they’d have suspected a drug deal! I made edits and submitted it with less than 10 minutes to spare. It was published about a year later, in time for the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking.
How do you come up with character names? I drive through a cemetery every day to get to work and eat lunch there almost every day (it’s very pretty and quiet, with frequent visits by deer). I often wander around and write down names to use. And for Renni in the Bad Carma Mysteries, when I needed to have her full name be mentioned, I ended up with Renault Landaulette Delacroix because her father was a car-obsessed Frenchman.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Mine run wild and crazy! I’ve discovered some amazing things about my characters over the years, but only when they let me. And sometimes that plays havoc with the story! Do yours behave or run wild?
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into your story? I always have subplots because my characters demand it. I also think it makes the story more real and in-depth if things are going on between characters that impact and enhance the main plot. It might be a romance with sub-characters or a situation with a car that causes problems to make Renni’s life more difficult, but also helps show her faults and foibles and/or that of other characters.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? My Ed Benson character is patterned off my brother-in-law, with his blessing. But he did go from being a middle-aged white guy to a billionaire inventor who is the spitting image of Morgan Freeman (again, with Ed’s blessing) because that’s what the character wanted.
What kind of research do you do? I do a ton of research. With Bad Carma, I need to have a selection of cars to restore and know what kinds of equipment I’d find and how they’d be used in a restoration shop. For my books, because they all have some historical plotlines, I do a lot of historical research to find out what was happening when the car was being made or the era the romance is set in. I like to know interesting facts that I can use (sparingly!) in the story to give my readers a little tidbit they won’t have known. My favorite tidbit in An Unsinkable Love was that the Titanic had floor tiles that were more expensive than marble – a new product called Linoleum!
Where do you place your settings – real or fictional locations? I generally have settings in the west, around the Four Corners area, because I know those places from spending my life living there or camping and traveling around there. But Unsinkable was set on the Titanic and in the New England garment manufacturing district, so I don’t feel obligated to use any particular place except what works for the story.
Why did you choose to have a female classic car restorer as your protagonist in the Bad Carma Mysteries? I’ve always loved old cars, especially those pre-1950, and think that perhaps if I had my life to do over, I might have been Renni! Then I could work on the cars instead of just going to as many car shows and auctions as I can and check out the intricate details on the older cars. My research has uncovered hundreds of potential vehicles to use in my stories, and I find more all the time. The Divco delivery van pictured is what Renni drives to shows and is based on one owned by a guy here in town who let me climb around it and lent me a book on the Divco history. Renni hitches it to a custom-made “Jim Dandy” teardrop trailer. I found the plans for the trailer online and was intrigued because it has an ahead-of-its-time swing away hitch, allowing the kitchen area to be at the front of the trailer rather than the rear like most do. The 1950’s era Mercedes Gullwing pictured is just an amazingly beautiful car and will be featured in a future Bad Carma.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Learn everything you can about craft. Join writer groups. Find a critique group. Don’t try to do this alone. It’s more fun, you will be a better writer faster, and you’ll make friends that understand the angst of writing.
Where can our readers learn more about you and where to buy your books?
My website: https://www.terribensonwriter.com/
My books are available at:
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-pickup-artist-terri-benson/1140930664?ean=9781956615029
As well as most book distributors.
Kaye George, an award-winning novelist and short-story writer, writes cozy and traditional mysteries and a prehistory series, which are both traditionally and self-published: two cozy series, Fat Cat and Vintage Sweets; two traditionals featuring Cressa Carraway and Imogene Duckworthy; and the People of the Wind prehistory Neanderthal mysteries, Over 50 short stories have also appeared, mostly in anthologies and magazines. She reviews for Suspense Magazine and writes a column for Mysterical-E. She lives in Knoxville, TN.
Do you write in more than one genre? Kind of, but not really? Most of my writing is mystery, but I work in different sub-genres. I’ve had contracts for two 3-book cozy series and have a couple of other series that are more traditional. And my prehistory series, which doesn’t really fit anywhere, but I call it historical if I have to slot it somewhere. I have done a few horror short stories, but not many.
What are you currently working on? I finished up a psychological suspense novel, which is a huge departure for me. I read a lot in the genre and have wanted to write one for some time. So, I did it! It’s taken me a long time because I lay it down, do another project, and then return to it. I hope to be querying soon. It would be ideal if I could snag a new agent with this since I’m between agents.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? I have to give a lot of credit to the Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime. The critique groups, manuscript swaps, and especially the subsidized online classes have given me so much! I gave back for a few years, serving as treasurer, then president. I’m back to just being a member now—very restful.
How long did it take you to write your first book? Not long for the very first one, but that one will never see the light of day. I started on one that got me published after working on a specific one for about ten years. It took about a year to write CHOKE, my first published book, because, by that time, I had learned how to write a mystery. The ten-year book did get published, but the publisher failed, and it’s now languishing until I can find a new home for it. That one was called EINE KLEINE MURDER, but I’d like to change that title if it has a rebirth somewhere.
How long to get it published? The one I worked on for ten years got published a couple of years after the one I wrote in frustration at not getting published in 2011. That one was my first one, CHOKE. However, I jumped at a publisher when I should have been a little more selective. I ended up taking it back and self-publishing it a year later, in 2012. EINE KLEINE came out inf 2013.
What kind of research do you do? For regular books, I research the geography and weather of the area, sunset and sunrise times, too, at least. A whole lot more on occasion for a specific project. I often base a fictitious town on a real one, but I’ll use the real things about the real town. Of course, I research all my murder methods, police procedures, and body trauma. For police and forensics, the Citizens’ Police Academy I took in Austin was a valuable experience.
But for my Neanderthal series, tons and tons and tons of research. I try to keep up with new theories and discoveries, and there have been many of those over the past few years. Fans of that series have been wonderful about keeping an eye out and informing me of new developments, too. It takes me a full year to write one of those. I can write a book in other sub-genres in 9 or 10 months. I’m not a fast writer!
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? The long-awaited third Neanderthal mystery, DEATH IN THE NEW LAND, is finally out on July 10th. I’m very excited to have finally finished this!
How do our readers contact you?
PUBLIC FACEBOOK GROUPS:
Jennifer J. Chow is the Lefty Award-nominated author of the Sassy Cat Mysteries and the L.A. Night Market Mysteries. The first in the Sassy Cat series, Mimi Lee Gets A Clue, was selected as an OverDrive Recommended Read, a PopSugar Best Summer Beach Read, and one of BuzzFeed’s Top 5 Books by AAPI authors.
JENNIFER currently serves as Vice President on the national board of Sisters in Crime. She is an active member of Crime Writers of Color and Mystery Writers of America. Connect with her online at www.jenniferjchow.com
Death by Bubble Tea Two cousins who start a food stall at their local night market get a serving of murder in this first novel of a delicious new cozy mystery series.
This is the first in a new series! I’m excited about the L.A. Night Market Mysteries because it combines my own personal history of working at a family restaurant with my love for food. Also, I get to add recipes at the back of the book!
(My other recent cozy series is the Lefty Award-nominated Sassy Cat Mysteries, which feature Los Angeles pet groomer Mimi Lee and her sassy telepathic cat, Marshmallow.)
How do you come up with character names? In general, I get inspiration from baby name books, online name generators, and the Social Security archives. For Death by Bubble Tea, Yale popped into my head because I know a few folks who are named after universities (yes, I do know a Harvard!). Celine’s name cropped up because I wanted to pay homage to celebrity-inspired names (along with popular artists and songs that my family enjoys karaokeing to).
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave or run the show? My characters usually run the show. I’d love for them to rein themselves in, but a few like to hog the limelight. On the other hand, it puts them in interesting and precarious sleuthing situations. My comedic characters often add a huge dose of sparkling wit and humor.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I usually do have a subplot. A lot of these are character-driven. In my last Sassy Cat Mystery, Mimi Lee Cracks the Code, Mimi Lee and her boyfriend Josh go on a romantic getaway that soon turns sour. She’s got crimes to solve—and a relationship to mend!
With Death by Bubble Tea, there’s an ongoing conflict with recently arrived Celine. Yale has to deal with her opposite personality cousin along with running a new food stall.
The subplots come organically, as I think they do in real life. People are dealing with multiple things on an everyday basis, and that’s reflected in my stories.
What kind of research do you do? I try to research in all sorts of ways. The Sassy Cat series had me visiting pet salons, going down the rabbit hole of YouTube pet grooming videos, and having vivid encounters with animals at dog readings, cat cafes, and more.
With the L.A. Night Market series, I suppose I unknowingly did pre-research. I’ve gone to multiple night markets (think lively festivals set in the evenings) in Asia and in the States. My family has roots in Southern China and Hong Kong, so I didn’t have to research those cultural aspects as much. However, I did keep a dim sum cookbook around while writing and had a Chinese dictionary handy. Since Book 1 is called Death by Bubble Tea, I also did obligatory boba tastings (yum!). For the recipes in the back of the book, I made several attempts and passed those culinary efforts on to my family to eat and drink.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I have a mix of real and fictional in my settings. Usually, it’s a made-up community in an actual geographic region. For example, the L.A. Night Market series has a small fictional planned community called Eastwood Village, but it’s positioned in the greater West L.A. area. I also had fun inserting real sites into this new series, particularly with the more unique locations that Yale and Celine visit as Yale takes her cousin around and introduces her to Los Angeles.
Vinnie Hansen fled the howling winds of South Dakota and headed for the California coast the day after high school graduation.
A two-time Claymore Award finalist, she’s the author of the Carol Sabala mystery series, the novel Lostart Street, and over forty short works.
She claims to be still sane(ish) after 27 years of teaching high school English, despite the evidence of her tickling the ivories with ukulele bands. Vinnie lives in Santa Cruz with her husband and the requisite cat.
ONE GUN – After the Russos interrupt a burglary, they race to find the thief’s tossed handgun before his cohorts do; when two tweeners find it first, the characters find themselves on a collision course with tragic consequences.
What brought you to writing? I’m tacking “One Gun” on to this question.
One Gun has its roots in two real events. The first was the burglary of our house. The day before Thanksgiving, my husband and I came home from grocery shopping to find a thief leaving our house with a backpack stuffed with our belongings.
As I called 9-1-1, my husband gave chase. The burglar stopped, pulled a gun, aimed it at my husband’s head, and threatened to kill him.
Yet, when the young man continued to flee, my husband resumed his pursuit, thinking, I guess, that the thief couldn’t fire while running. However, he wheeled around with the semi-automatic while frantically dumping the items he’d stolen.
I won’t go into more detail except to say my husband didn’t die, and the burglar was apprehended but after he’d ditched the gun.
Sandy Hook was the second event that contributed to the writing of this book. All shootings are horrible. But as a retired teacher, I’m most deeply disturbed by the massacres at schools. And out of all these, Sandy Hook still distresses me the most. Twenty children were slaughtered. The innocence of the victims makes my stomach shrivel. The courage of the six school employees who died trying to protect them moves me to tears. And then there are the images of the children leaving the school. Terror stamped on their faces. They’ll carry the trauma for a lifetime.
My personal experience followed by this horrific national experience solidified that I wanted to use my writing ability to somehow address gun violence.
Yet, preachiness is a fatal flaw in fiction. I needed a good story. Our burglary wasn’t enough.
But what about the story of the gun used in the burglary? What happened to it? It was never recovered.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? As mentioned above, the burglary of our house was a catalyst for One Gun. A similar scene opens the book, although it serves only as a McGuffin to launch the story of the gun.
In the early drafts, the main characters, Ben and Vivi Russo, bore a remarkable resemblance to my husband and me.
While my husband and I are somewhat interesting people, we make boring characters. As do most “real” people. Real people—like real dialog—are not the stuff of good fiction.*
The biggest changes between the first draft of One Gun and draft 11C were to Ben and Vivi Russo—the two characters people are still bound to equate with my husband and me. However, Ben has gained a background entirely different from my husband’s. He’s no longer Jewish. He grew up in a different city, had a different career, and enjoys a different passion.
aining the distance to treat Vivi and Ben like characters is a huge part of why this novel took so long to write. Struggling to the point of artifice made One Gun a much better book.
*(There are exceptions, like my father, who was, as people say, a character.)
What are you currently working on? I never envisioned One Gun as the start of a series. However, publishers like the idea an author might be good for more than one book, so as soon as I had a complete draft of One Gun, I started a companion novel titled Crime Writer.
The books are connected by place. Both are set in Playa Maria, a fictionalized Santa Cruz (central coast of California). A few minor characters reappear in the second book, and there are a couple of references to the crime that occurred in One Gun. Both titles, though, could be read as a stand-alone.
Unlike One Gun, which has multiple points of view as the reader follows the trail of the gun, Crime Writer has a single protagonist, crime writer Zoey Kozinski. She’s had early success with her books but is currently stuck on the second book for a two-book contract. The story opens with Zoey on a police ride-along which ends up jump starting a lot more than her stalled writing.
I have a complete first draft of Crime Writer. Who knows how many drafts there will be? Perhaps fewer than with One Gun because I don’t have to work through personal issues to get to the story, and it doesn’t have the challenging multiple points of view.
On the other hand, every new piece of writing seems to raise my standards.
The virtual launch for One Gun will be via Bookshop Santa Cruz on Tuesday, June 28th, at 6 p.m. (Pacific Time). You can sign up for the Zoom event on Bookshop’s Events Page. Vinnie will be interviewed by Edgar-nominated author Susan Bickford, past president of the NorCal Chapter of Sisters in Crime.
Learn more about Vinnie at Vinnie Hansen
Lisa Towles is an award-winning crime novelist and a passionate speaker on fiction writing, creativity, and Strategic Self Care. Lisa has eight crime novels in print with a new title, a political thriller entitled The Ridders, forthcoming in November 2022. Lisa’s last four books have won numerous awards, including a First Place Win in the category of Mystery/Crime for her new series thriller, Hot House. Lisa is an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She has an MBA in IT Management and works full-time in the tech industry in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Hot House – PI Mari Ellwyn brings on a new partner to investigate the blackmailing of a federal judge, two missing journalists, and a dead college student.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Since Covid, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to manage my emotions well enough to be able to tap into my “create” energy and do it with consistency. It’s challenging to balance a general awareness of what’s going on in our world without getting pulled into the resulting emotional vortex, and that vortex can very easily derail my normal writing focus. I’m pretty good about getting myself back on track, and our daily drop-in writing events through Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America are such a wonderful resource in that context. I’m endlessly grateful for my writing friends and peers.
What are you currently working on? My new thriller, Hot House, the first in my new E&A series, is releasing on June 15. I’m working hard to promote that title through community events, digital media promotion, and engaging with readers. I’m also writing a new international thriller, struggling to find a daily writing groove with it, but I’m excited about the story, and I’ve got about 13k words so far.
What kind of research do you do, and did you base the location of Hot House on real places? I’m excited to answer this question because I got to research Hot House with my sister, who lives on the East Coast, and that was a very special trip for us. She flew out to LA, and I drove down, and we spent a week exploring parts of LA, Beverly Hills, and all the way down to San Diego to bring extra authenticity to the story. There’s a coffeehouse down there that I mention several times – a place called Cognoscenti’s that my main character, Mari, loves. So, all three of the E&A Series books take place in different parts of California.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? My political thriller, The Ridders, will be published on November 30, 2022, and the next book in the E&A Series, Salt Island, will be released in June of 2023.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Write when you have the ENERGY to write. We’re all so busy that things always get in the way, so if you have a sudden passion to write at two in the morning or are about to eat lunch, pause whatever you’re doing and jump on it to capture that energy while it’s hot! You might be a little tired the next morning, but you’ll be glad you did.
Where can readers learn about Hot House? The Hot House page on my publisher’s website, indiesunited.net/hot-house, contains a Sneak Peek link to read the first two chapters, the book trailer, a synopsis, and editorial reviews.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? If you read my last book, Ninety-Five, or when you read Hot House, please leave a positive review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads if you enjoyed it. There’s almost nothing more important and valuable to a book’s success than positive reader reviews, and they’re a wonderful way to demonstrate support for authors and the books they spend so much time writing.
How do our readers contact you?