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
My latest thriller, The Unseen, was published in June 2019 by 9mm Press and was a Distinguished Favorite for the 2018 IPPY Awards in the Thriller category and was the winner of the Crime Fiction category of the 2019 NYC Big Book Award.
“Lisa Towles weaves an exquisite tale of deception, ancient scrolls, and kidnapping that spans continents and lifetimes. Beautifully rendered, The Unseen is a must-read for thriller lovers!” (Cat Connor, Author of The Byte Series)
My standalone thriller Choke was published in 2017 by Rebel, and it’s about a bioengineer who develops a cigarette that cures lung cancer. That book was a Distinguished Favorite in the 2017 IPPY Awards and the 2018 NYC Big Book Award in the category of Thriller.
My four previous books were published under my previous name, Lisa Polisar, including Escape: Dark Mystery Tales (2010, Nukeworks Publishing), The Ghost of Mary Prairie (2007, University of New Mexico Press), Blackwater Tango (2002, Hilliard & Harris), and Knee Deep (2001, Port Town Publishing).
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Trusting my writing voice enough to allow it to lead the way. Learning to let go of the reins and not try to control everything is a hard lesson. But I’ve discovered that my best writing comes out when I get out of the way, listen, and let my characters take over.
Plotter or Pantser? My outlining style is like driving with my low beams on. I don’t really plan chapter-by-chapter, but I keep a list of upcoming scenes, so I typically know what to do for the next 3-4 chapters. I often get glimpses of how a book is supposed to end and have no idea how I’m going to get there. And that’s the whole fun! -?
What are you currently working on? I’m writing my first series right now – a California-based thriller series, and I’m about 80% done with Book 3. I’m also writing a new standalone thriller.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Oh my goodness, yes. The Mystery Writers of America NorCal community means so much to me and was an important anchor to help me get through 2020. More recently, I re-joined Sisters in Crime NorCal and have been enjoying their frequent write-ins, including a small group that writes from 10-11 pm weeknights. Both organizations have some really wonderful programming that keeps me connected to the how and why of crime writing.
Favorite books/authors: I have so many favorites it’s hard to narrow it down, but I’ll list four:
• Montana, 1948 by Larry Watson is one of my early favorites. I love that book because it’s about what I care about the most in my books – secrets.
• The Resurrectionists by Michael Collins
• The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez Reverte
• The Quantum Spy by David Ignatius.
How long did it take you to write your first book? I think about six months. I wrote my first book when I was 20 after I finished reading the book Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I wrote that book, called Real Horizons, longhand on legal pads. I wouldn’t allow myself to buy a new legal pad until I’d filled in every inch of the current one because I didn’t want to jinx it, so to speak. That book was never published, but it was one of my most important accomplishments because when I finished it, I could finally say that I’d started a creative project that I actually finished.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? I think characterization, in general, can be very challenging. My book The Ghost of Mary Prairie is a heartland suspense that takes place in Grady, Oklahoma, in 1960. The main character is Jake Leeds, a 15-year-old boy. I don’t have any brothers, so I’m still a bit bewildered by that book, and I don’t really know why Jake Leeds’ voice and presence was so strong in my head.
What kind of research do you do? Exhaustive research. Internet research, but that’s top down, so I also try to link up with someone in the field I’m writing about to consult with an actual expert who has more foundational (professional training) knowledge in the field I’m writing about. And before the internet was so widely used, I used to connect with someone from the Chamber of Commerce in whatever area I was researching to ask for maps, feedback, local resources, and people in a community who could answer questions. To me, the most important thing about research is to get a hands-on experience of what I’m writing about.
Do you have any advice for new writers? I feel like I wasted a lot of time, in my early 20’s, trying to be good instead of trying to be me. I read constantly, I still do, focusing on the classics and the masters. In my desire to be taken seriously as a writer, I think I was trying too hard to emulate those masters. In so doing, I think I hindered my authentic writing voice from coming out. So my advice to novice writers is to read a lot, write, and just keep writing to cultivate your unique voice. That’s the voice of your creative passion, the voice that will sustain you.
How do our readers contact you?
My writing website: http://lisatowles.com/
Amazon Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/Lisa-Towles/e/B001JS7KWI?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1618725756&sr=8-1
My writing blog: https://digitalraconteur.wordpress.com/
Facebook Author Page: Lisa Towles | Facebook
Linkedin Profile: www.linkedin.com/in/lisatowles/
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?
What does an emerita professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison do when she no longer leads a research lab? She writes!
Most efforts to recruit women and minority students to science majors are minimally successful. Thus, I was fascinated when a woman professor reported a number of minority and women students majoring in biology claimed they first considered a career in science after they’d become fans of the kooky Abby on NCIS television program.
That’s when I decided the heroine in my mystery and thriller novels would be a woman scientist. I quickly decided I didn’t want my heroine tied down to a laboratory but wanted her to have skills that would make her a valued consultant by a variety of agencies. Hence, my heroine Sara Almquist emerged as a globe-trotting epidemiologist who dislikes the constraints of university departments and loves her Japanese Chin dog Bug. Sara and Bug have been together now in eight novels in my Science Traveler Series, even though Sara’s human love interests have evolved over time.
The first, The Flu Is Coming, explores the psychological effect of a police-enforced quarantine on an upscale, gated community where a new type of flu virus kills nearly half of the residents in less than a week. The Centers for Disease Control recruits epidemiologist Sara Almquist to find ways to limit the spread of the epidemic. As she pries into the residents’ lives, she finds promising scientific clues, but violence ensues when she learns too many of the residents’ secrets. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0578423251
In Murder…A Way to Lose Weight, the second novel in the Science Traveler Series, Sara helps police discover who killed the diet doctor—an ambitious partner, disgruntled patients, or old-timers with buried secrets. Sara consults on public health issues in Bolivia in Ignore the Pain and tries to increase scientific cooperation between Cuba and the U.S. in Malignancy. However, in both countries, she learns too much about the international drug trade and is nearly ambushed by drug dealers several times.
I’m fond of the fifth book in the series I Saw You in Beirut because it allowed me to write about my experiences as a science consultant in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. In this thriller, Sara must examine her past to find the clues needed to extract a nuclear scientist from Iran. https://www.amazon.com/ dp/0960028544
My sixth book, Riddled with Clues, is based “loosely” on a friend’s notes (a CIA operative in Laos during the Vietnam War) and my experiences working with homeless veterans as part of a pet therapy team with my real dog Bug. In this mystery, Sara is attacked after listening to the strange tale of an undercover drug agent recovering at the VA hospital in Albuquerque. As she fights to survive, she keeps receiving riddled clues from a homeless veteran. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1938436237
I think A Pound of Flesh, Sorta has one of the most mischievous first chapters I’ve read in a thriller. A box of animal guts is delivered to Sara’s home. Did I mention the box is ticking and contaminated with bacteria that cause the plague? The police and Sara can’t decide if the box is a threat, a plea from a rancher fearing another round of plague in his livestock, or a clue needed to solve a series of mysterious “accidents.” https://www.amazon.com/ dp/0960028560
My latest novel is Dirty Holy Water. In this psychological mystery, Sara’s world is turned upside down. Instead of being a trusted FBI consultant about to vacation in India with her boyfriend, she’s the chief suspect in the murder of a friend. Sara soon realizes the difference between a villain and a victim can be alarmingly small. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0960028587
I try to make my readers feel like they are part of the action in my novels in several ways. The settings are real. I’ve visited the foreign locations mentioned in my books, and I pay attention to details. Even the foods served in restaurants are consistent with the restaurants’ menus. The characters have carefully researched backstories, sometimes based on those of real people. There is a theme in each novel that reflects a current issue. For example, scientific patents and immunotherapy for the treatment of cancer are featured in Malignancy, and water pollution is a focus point in Dirty Holy Water. I include two pages called “The Science Behind the Story” at the end of each novel. It’s a way to assure my readers that the scientific facts mentioned in my books are accurate. Two of my books (Malignancy and Murder: A Way to Lose Weight) won the annual contest conducted by the Public Safety Writers Association. Many have been finalists in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards competition.
To learn more about me, visit my website: http://www.jlgreger.com and my Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/J.L.-Greger/e/B008IFZSC4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share.
THANKS, GEORGE, FOR WELCOMING ME AT YOUR BLOG SITE.