Lisa Towles is an Amazon bestselling and award-winning crime novelist and a passionate speaker on fiction writing, creativity, and self-care. She has eleven crime thrillers in print, and a new thriller, Codex, is forthcoming in June 2024. Her latest thriller, Terror Bay, won a NYC Big Book Award, Literary Titan Award, and she is a Crimson Quill Awardee from Book Viral. Her 2022 thriller Salt Island won five literary awards and is the second book in her E&A Investigations Series. Lisa’s deep commitment to helping other authors led her to develop her Author Spotlight blog and her new YouTube author interview series, Story Impact, which gives authors a powerful medium for promoting themselves as speakers and discussing the meaning and impact of their books to readers. Lisa has an MBA in IT Management, is a communications and marketing advisor, and is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers.
Tell us about your latest book. Terror Bay is a standalone psychological thriller about a San Francisco detective whose life falls apart after he’s shot in the line of duty. While in a coma, he “encounters” a female diver and wakes up to a sudden impulse to discover if she’s real and what she wants from him. In so doing, he discovers an ancient shipwreck, buried treasure, and the answer to a question that had haunted him since childhood.
What do you think are some challenges of the writing path? Being a published author requires two distinct skill sets – the creative aspects of writing and editing a book for publication and the business of writing. Writers need to be adept at social media, book promotion, cultivating a following, connecting with readers, and public speaking to talk about their books. These themes connect them to readers and explain why their books matter. So, a challenge is knowing what tasks to do yourself and what tasks to outsource to others. And this can be tricky.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? My books do have subplots, sometimes several. And the process of integrating all the threads into one is both an art and a science. I use plotting techniques like storyboarding to understand how subplots fit together, but some of those answers are just intuitive and require quiet time in my thinking chair…and time to allow the story to emerge.
What kind of research do you do for your books? Every book I write requires research, but Terror Bay required even more, such as diving research, medical research on coma and traumatic brain injuries and related recovery, regional research on the Puget Sound/Bainbridge Island setting, and historical research on the actual shipwreck and treasure on which the plot is based.
Besides promoting Terror Bay, what else are you currently working on? I’m working with my editor to prepare my next thriller, Codex, for release in June 2024, and I am writing a new standalone thriller about the oil and gas industry.
Do you have any advice for new writers? I always advise novice writers to honor the truth of the story that wants to emerge. There’ll be plenty of time to edit and polish that story later and align it with a specific reading market. But it’s so important (especially early on the writing journey) to allow yourself the freedom to just openly create and to give voice and wings to the story that wants to be told.
How do our readers contact you?
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Buy my books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/lisatowles
• Follow me on social media: https://linktr.ee/authortowles
I am an author, attorney, and retired journalist. My last journalism employment was covering legal cases for the Bloomberg Industry Group. I was the publisher and editor of several trade magazines, including Waste Age, Mortgage Banker, and Music Educators Journal, and vice president of finance and production for Hanley-Wood Inc. My short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Shakespearean Whodunnits, Royal Whodunnits, Jacobean Whodunnits, A Matter of Crime No. 2, and Malice, Matrimony, and Murder, as well as the UK publication Crimeupcopia: Rule Britannia, Britannia Waves the Rules. My books include Truth and Lives on Film: The Legal Problems in Depicting Real Persons and Events in a Fictional Medium ( https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/truth-and-lives-on-film-2/ ) and The Radio Burglar: Thief Turned Cop Killer in 1920s Queens ( https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/The-Radio-Burglar/
Apart from my journalism work, most recently on court cases for Bloomberg Industry Group, the writing on my own has mostly been fiction, primarily short stories. (The most recent one appears in the anthology Malice, Matrimony, and Murder.) I took on my true crime book—The Radio Burglar: Thief Turned Cop Killer in 1920s Queens–for a personal reason that blossomed into the pursuit of a good story.
My wife’s mother was in the process of dying. In order to keep her mind occupied and entertained, I asked her to tell me the story of the Radio Burglar. For years, she had casually mentioned when the dinner-table conversation turned to crime that her uncle, Patrolman Arthur Kenney, had been killed in the line of duty by the Radio Burglar. Most of us were unsure what that really meant. But when I asked her to tell me the story, she described how the burglar had been so named because he had primarily stolen radios, which in 1926 were the most expensive item in homes and had the unfortunate attribute of calling attention to themselves—“Hey! This house has a radio!”
The burglar’s actions terrorized all of New York City and prompted the formation of police manhunt units. Kenney was part of one that spotted the burglar; he pursued him and was shot. He died a week later in the hospital. The manhunt intensified with the death of a member of the force. Two detectives picked up a clue—the New York Times later compared their work to Sherlock Holmes—and captured him at a celebrated sports event with Mayor James J. Walker in attendance.
The Radio Burglar confessed and tried. His confession forced his attorneys to employ an argument that had been offered in the trial of the accused murderer of President James Garfield in 1882. Kenney’s wounds had become infected at the hospital, and the defense contended that he had been killed not by the burglar’s bullet but by hospital malpractice. There was a conviction, an appeal before renowned Judge Benjamin N. Cardozo, and a trip to Sing Sing Prison.
But the story and the trauma suffered by the Kenney family didn’t end on death row. Nine years later, the Kennedys, the NYPD, and the city were involved in another sensational murder trial.
By the time of her death, I was able to show my wife’s mother a partial manuscript, which pleased her because she had always wanted to write a book. But there was more to do. My Bloomberg experience enabled me to pursue century-old court records to flesh out the story more, especially the trial transcripts. I interviewed other family members and their children. I almost lived at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., searching for and reading long, out-of-print memoirs of police officers and detectives who were involved in the case. And most important of all was the ability to access, online and on microfilm, the daily reports of over a dozen New York City newspapers that covered the events daily, as well as accounts on the trial from across the country.
When the book came out, I had good friends saying kindly and almost confidentially, “You have all this dialogue and comments. You must have made some stuff up.” I assured them that the quotes were all from the trial transcripts and newspapers, with the quotes documented in the notes. Even small stories, such as how a teenager told the police she was the burglar’s girlfriend and had accompanied him on his crime spree, actually happened. She was ultimately discovered to have made it up.
I think it is essential that the reader be comfortable in a book describing a “true crime” that the events actually happened as related. (I have another book, Truth and Lives on Film: The Legal Problems in Depicting Real Persons and Events in a Fictitious Medium, which explores how “based on a true story” can mean something different for filmmakers.) But I found out in writing The Radio Burglar that not only my legal reporting experience but also my storytelling background came into play, not in making things up but in making the faintly remembered real. For example, I was able to visit, either in person or through Google Maps—street view, some of the locations where the crimes and trials took place. But all I saw was how these places look one-hundred years later. The trial transcripts included photos of the crime scene and the backyards where the bullets were fired. But these were flat and faded. And so, I tried mentally to enter the images and imagine the feel, scent, and sounds of those backyards, remembering helping my mother hang laundry behind her house, going through neighborhoods in Long Island and Queens where my wife and her family lived, and hearing the scratchy music from 45 rpm records seeping out of the house next door. For the chase where Patrolman Kenney pursued the burglar, I recalled being pursued in alleys in tough neighborhoods of downtown Washington, D.C., with the gravel scattering and pinging as I ran.
After ten years of research and writing, the book was finally completed and published. I believe it’s an exciting story worth the retelling. I hope you think so, too.
I am a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the Mid-Atlantic Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the National Press Club (Silver Owl–+25 year member).
For contact information: http://www.johntaquino.com .
James L’Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars as an influence in his award-winning novels, short stories, and screenplays. He is a former associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, and director of California’s state parole system. His novels have been shortlisted or awarded the Lefty, Anthony, Silver Falchion, and the Public Safety Writers Award.
Face of Greed is his most recent novel. Look for Served Cold and River of Lies, coming in 2024. You can find out more at www.jamesletoile.com
There’s this old saw in literary circles that authors should write what they know. I don’t necessarily agree with that guidance because I often find it more interesting to write about what I want to know. If I’m interested, then maybe the reader will be as well.
But there was a piece of that advice that stuck with me as I wrote Face of Greed. Write what you know, but write it while you can. There is a plotline in the book dealing with the main character’s mother, who is struggling with the ravages of cognitive decline—dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Detective Emily Hunter is a hard-charging investigator working to solve a complex murder of a political powerbroker who has to balance that demanding job with acting as a caretaker for her mother.
Emily’s burden is something many of us with aging parents have experienced or might have waiting for us in the years ahead. It’s a scary thing, and for the purpose of the story, in Face of Greed, it keeps Emily off balance. She’s sure-footed in her role as a detective with keen instincts and a solid partner in Javier Medina to follow the clues and bring down the bad guy. But with dementia and Alzheimer’s, Emily struggles.
One day, her mother is living independently, and the next, she’s had to move in with Emily because her memory lapses had gotten to the point when she nearly burnt her house down, forgetting the stove was on. It’s an insidious disease. Emily has a conversation with her, and she seems “with it,” aware of what’s happening around her. Then, the next moment, she loses touch and thinks Emily is still in high school.
Emily has to balance her responsibilities to her mother as her primary caregiver with the demanding job of a homicide detective. She has no family to rely upon, and she’s not the kind of person to ask for help. Emily must step outside her comfort zone and not only ask for help to care for her mother but make critical decisions for her long-term care.
So where does all this come from, you ask?
I was once in Emily’s shoes. My mother had dementia in her later years. It crept in slowly, and, as I found out, those who experience dementia become clever about filling the gaps in their memory. They’ll invent an idea that fits, and they’re convinced it’s what really happened. For example, I found Mom dressed and ready to go to a doctor’s appointment when I went to her place. I picked her up, and halfway there, she forgot where we were going and decided we were going to the grocery store instead. Another sign was simple decision-making would cause anxiety, so she found a workaround common to people with dementia. At a restaurant faced with dozens of menu options, the deception is, “What are you having? Oh, that sounds good. I’ll have that too.” It’s a workaround so they don’t have to make that decision. All the sensory input from the menu can’t get through.
As a caregiver for an aging parent, the roles are suddenly reversed. You’re now the parent to the much older child. And that dynamic can create a great deal of friction. Emily experiences it, and so did I. The person living with dementia sometimes realizes their life, who they were, is slipping away. They feel lost, disconnected, and alone. Some experience Sundowner’s Syndrome, where they try to leave wherever they are to get “home.” Their perception of home may be a fragment of memory from the distant past.
Caregiving can be difficult for the caregiver as well. It’s exhausting and mentally draining listening for the next sound of an escaping parent or that phone call that they’ve run off or hurt themselves.
I wanted to bring this into Face of Greed for a couple of reasons. It makes Emily struggle to balance her life. She feels guilt and sadness over her mom’s situation. And she realizes she can’t do this alone. She must bring other people into her life and let them help. Asking for help isn’t something that comes naturally to Emily—wonder where she got that from?
But I also wanted to talk about dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease because so many of us have gone through this—parents are aging, and this is an unfortunate common experience. I’ve gotten feedback from many readers who tell me that Emily’s struggle in this area resonated with them. They’d felt similar demands and struggled to find the help their parent needed.
It makes Emily a bit more multi-dimensional, and as tough as she seems, she’s got a big heart. It opens her up to people coming into her life at the right time—as she’s the better for it. I guess we all need to be a little more like Emily. And we all need to write what we know while we can because we don’t know what the future will bring.
Visit Amazon to meet Emily: Face of Greed (A Detective Emily Hunter Mystery) – Kindle edition by L’Etoile, James. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
Austin S. Camacho is the author of eight novels about Washington DC-based private eye Hannibal Jones, five in the Stark and O’Brien international adventure-thriller series, and the detective novel Beyond Blue. His short stories have been featured in several anthologies, and he is featured in the Edgar nominated African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study by Frankie Y. Bailey. He is a past president of the Maryland Writers Association, past Vice President of the Virginia Writers Club, and one of the directors of the Creatures, Crimes & Creativity literary conference – now in its 10th year.
Subtle Felonies – Is retired basketball star Xander Brown missing or kidnapped? His crazy family and dangerous friends draw DC detective Hannibal Jones into a deadly chase to find – or rescue – a complex man. In public, Xander is a husband, father, partner, and friend, but who is he in private? Which role took him away?
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. My primary work is detective fiction – The Hannibal Jones mystery series. I love writing about a private eye’s adventures. My mysteries have complex plots and tend to be deep character studies. But writing about a PI walking the mean streets of Washington, DC, I’ve noticed the stories getting darker and grittier because I strive for realism. But I also write straight-up thrillers. The Stark & O’Brien novels feature a mercenary soldier and a jewel thief who have formed a personal protection company and do odd jobs for the CIA. It’s great fun and not as dark as the noir style of my mysteries. I’m told the action in my thrillers feels more like the Indiana Jones movies.
Who’s your favorite author? There are too many to name, but if I have to choose one, it would be Raymond Chandler. His prose is near poetry, and let’s face it, Phillip Marlowe is the detective we all chase in our writing. But Ross McDonald wrote the best plots of any mystery writer I’ve read. And Elmore Leonard created the best characters, bar none.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I have never based a character on a real person. However, some of my characters are an amalgam of people I’ve known or read about. Some real life people are almost archetypes – Rupert Murdoch and Elon Musk are examples. Oddly, several people I know personally have accused me of using them as the model for one of my characters. I guess my fictional people are real enough that they see themselves in them.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I have to outline and don’t understand how anyone can write otherwise. In order to build a puzzle that is a good mystery, I have to plant clues at the right times, and pacing is important in mystery AND thriller fiction. And I have to know where the story is going in order to cut unnecessary stuff. How do you do that without an outline? Of course, during the writing, things change, and the story will veer away from the original outline, but I always know where I’m going, so I never get lost in the story and never feel writer’s block.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? As soon as I finish a Hannibal Jones novel, ideas appear for another. But I’m also starting a new series about a Black female professional assassin named Skye. It is being so much fun to write.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Stick with the basics. Write every day. Write to the end of your story before you begin to rewrite. Accept that your first draft is just piling sand into your sandbox. You build your castle in the rewrites, and you can expect to do that three or four times. And join a strong critique group. Others will always see things in your writing that you miss.
I am an active member of:
Mystery Writers of America (Mid-Atlantic Chapter),
International Thriller Writers,
Sisters in Crime,
Virginia Writers Club,
Maryland Writers Association.
Public Safety Writers Association
Reach me on
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/austin.camacho.author/
Twitter at @ascamacho
website – https://ascamacho.com/
Buy my latest, Subtle Felonies, at https://www.amazon.com/Subtle-Felonies-Hannibal-Jones-Mystery/dp/B0CBWN5V1X/
Or see all my novels at https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Austin+S.+Camacho&i=stripbooks&s=review-count-rank&crid=27N759Y4XYN1R&qid=1653645317&sprefix=austin+s.+camacho%2Cstripbooks%2C70&ref=sr_st_review-count-rank
Mary Keliikoa is the author of award-winning Hidden Pieces and Deadly Tides in the Misty Pines mystery series, the award nominated PI Kelly Pruett mystery series, and the upcoming Don’t Ask, Don’t Follow out June 2024. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World and in the Peace, Love and Crime anthology.
A Pacific NW native, she admits to being that person who gets excited when called for jury duty. When not in Washington, you can find Mary with her toes in the sand on a Hawaiian beach. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun, she’s plotting her next murder—a novel that is. www.marykeliikoa.com
There’s an adage that would-be writers often hear when working on their first pieces: write what you know. In fact, in the beginning, and even now, it was advice that I heard quite often. And I don’t disagree. There is wisdom to that. Among other things, when one is so busy making things up, as we fiction writers do, it’s nice to lean into some solid information that we have personal knowledge about. It saves on research, for sure. But let’s face it—one’s knowledge base can only go so far. And I believe that in addition to what you know, writing what you want to learn about, understand, or what fascinates you can add richness to a story.
When I wrote the first book in the Misty Pines mystery series, HIDDEN PIECES, I decided to set the series in a place I was familiar with. That’s why I chose the Oregon coast, where my parents moved our family when I was a toddler.
While I don’t remember much about those early years, by the time I reached the age of five, many things about the coast stuck: the mist and the cool weather that never seemed to end, and that saturated our clothes was near the top. But also the moss laden trees in the towering forests. The hum of the ocean waves reverberating in the air. The sheer rock cliffs and violent eddies at their base. The call of the seagulls overhead, the bark of sea lions on the rocks, and the brackish smell of seaweed.
I also knew the people that chose that area as home. The family-like atmosphere where everyone knows your business. That the worry lines on the face of a fisherman’s wife don’t soften until he’s safely back across the bar. That fish and chips, and beer are necessary fare when gathering to tell tall fish tales at the local gathering hole.
I know the intriguing items that wash up along the ocean beaches, which was an absolute treat for the treasure hunter in me. From glass fishing floats and sand dollars to various creatures in the tidal pools, I could spend hours running along the ocean shores.
Setting I knew. But I also wanted to explore what I wanted to understand. In the Misty Pines series, that is grief—and the desperate need for redemption. In Hidden Pieces, I focused on a true crime that happened in my hometown where two girls went out walking and a car stopped. One girl never made it home. Using that as a backdrop, I explored how an individual might cope with a tragedy like that in their life…or perhaps not cope so well.
In DEADLY TIDES, the second book in the series out now, I went in another direction. I was interested in a phenomenon that has occurred with some regularity in the Pacific Northwest: severed feet washing ashore. Crazy enough, that has been happening for over the past decade. As to who the feet belong to, sadly, many have been victims of accidents, and some due to suicide. However, I write mystery with a dose of suspense, so of course, I chose a more nefarious cause.
Which brings me back to why those feet washed ashore—and understanding what might drive someone to such a gruesome act. And that led me back to that element of grief and how it might change a person.
Sometimes, it takes them to the edge, questioning their own existence. Sometimes, it has them acting out in a way they would not otherwise. Sometimes, grief morphs into bitterness and erodes an individual’s very core.
I explore this in the Misty Pines series through my main characters because it is a subject that I am familiar with…but want to understand. And here’s what I’ve learned.
Grief is a pesky neighbor that shows up at one’s window unannounced and knocks insidiously until it’s let in. There’s always the option to hide—close the window shade and pretend not to be home. But at some point, you have to come out. And grief, like that neighbor, will be waiting. Sometimes, it’s best to just let them in because they aren’t going anywhere—and one might as well learn to live peaceably next door to it because the alternative could be dire…at least that’s the direction I take in my novels. Like those feet, which thankfully I never ran across, severed or otherwise, when out beachcombing as a kid.
Now that I have a better understanding of grief… I’m on the lookout for the next thing to understand that fascinates me and that I can weave into my next story. I have a feeling it won’t be a problem!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: www.marykeliikoa.com