HEATHER WEIDNER – Virginia is for Mysteries

Heather Weidner has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers is the first in her cozy mystery series, the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries. She also writes the Delanie Fitzgerald mystery series set in Virginia (Secret Lives and Private Eyes, The Tulip Shirt Murders, and Glitter, Glam, and Contraband). Her Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries launches in January 2023.

Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of Cabernet, Deadly Southern Charm, and Murder by the Glass, and her novellas appear in The Mutt Mysteries series.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.

Virginia is for Mysteries Volume III Virginia may be for lovers, but to fifteen authors, it’s more sinister. This anthology of sixteen short stories, set in the Commonwealth, features Virginia landmarks and locations such as the Church Hill Tunnel, the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, the Historic Cavalier Hotel, St. Luke’s Historic Church, historic Ashland, and the Assateague Channel, to name a few. Be transported across the diverse backdrop of the Old Dominion to a unique and deadly landscape filled with murder and mayhem.

 

Authors: Teresa Inge, Heather Weidner, Kristin Kisska, Yvonne Saxon, Frances Aylor, Jayne Ormerod, Michael Rigg, Maggie King, Smita Harish Jain, Sheryl Jordan, Vivian Lawry, Maria Hudgins, Rosemary Shomaker, Max Jason Peterson, Judith Fowler

 

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I usually write in my office on my computer. We moved to a house in the woods, so I have a great view of the treetops. My two crazy Jack Russell terriers hang out with me and help me plot.

I get distracted by the internet. I pop on to research something, and then I find that I’ve been watching dog videos for an hour. I try to stay focused when I’m writing, but sometimes, it’s hard. I always have music playing in the background. Classical, spa, or jazz for writing. Louder music for revisions.

Tell us about your writing process. It took me about five years to write the first book and about another two until it was finally published. I am a lot faster now. At the pandemic’s start, I decided to use my normal commuting time for writing, and I was much more productive when I wrote every day.

I usually come up with the book ideas and title drafts first. Then I plot out an outline. I found that the plan for the book helps me to stay on track, and I don’t get lost or stuck. I draft the book. If I stick to my daily word counts, I usually finish the first draft in three months. Then I do several rounds of editing and revising. Then I send it to my critique group. Then it’s off to the editor, and I do lots of revisions. The manuscript goes to my agent and my publisher’s editors.

What are you currently working on? I write the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries, the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries, and the Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries. I just finished the third book in the Mermaid Bay series, and I’m working on books four-six for the Glamping mysteries.

My short story, “Derailed,” is part of the Virginia is for Mysteries Anthology that launched this February. It’s full of stories about locations in Virginia. Mine takes place at the site of the infamous Church Hill Tunnel disaster, where a cave-in blocked the exits and trapped railroad workers and a train deep under the city of Richmond. The search and rescue quickly became a recovery mission—not all the victims were found. The railroad filled and sealed the tunnel with the train and some of the victims inside. The spooky site has been the center of local lore and legend about ghosts and even a vampire. I used the site and its history in my story, and there may be one more body than expected inside the tunnel.

Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Writing is a solitary task, and you need your crew. I am so lucky to be a part of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and International Thriller Writers. These offer networking and learning opportunities. I treasure the contacts I’ve made, and I am so grateful to all the talented authors who share their time and advice.

 We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave? None of my characters behave. My sleuths are strong-willed, determined, and sassy females who get into way more trouble than I do. I plot the mysteries and have an idea where the story is going, but they often have a will of their own.

One minor character in the first Delanie book was supposed to just make an appearance as a sleazy strip club owner. He was so much fun to write that he joined the cast full time, and he shows up (warts and all) in all the books.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? I get a lot of my material and ideas from those around me. No conversation or story is safe. I take notes and use names, places, and fun anecdotes. Usually, the characters are an amalgamation of several different people and traits. I use names of real people and places from time to time, and if you look closely, you’ll see some character names from pop culture.

What kind of research do you do? I do a lot of research for my mysteries. Readers want to learn about new things, and I want the story to be as accurate as possible. For my WIP (work in progress), I’m researching haunted places in Virginia, ghost hunting technology, tiny houses, and glamping.

I’m Cop’s Kid. My dad is my best law enforcement resource. He’s retired from forty-six years on the force and is always willing to answer my weird questions. There are just some things you don’t want to Google, like, “Hey, Dad, what does a meth lab smell like” or “what caliber of bullet would make this kind of wound.”

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I write where I know. I grew up in Virginia Beach. I now live outside of Richmond. I use a lot of Virginia locales in my stories. The Commonwealth has so much to offer: mountains, beaches, a central, East Coast location, historic sites, and fantastic restaurants.

If I have a scene where there is a gruesome crime, I make up the location.

Do you have any advice for new writers? Writing is a business, and you have to treat it like one. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. You need to be persistent. Hone your craft, network with other authors, and build your author platform. There is no feeling like opening that box of books and seeing your name on the cover.

How do our readers contact you or purchase the books? 

Book Link: Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09GGBFWT5

 

5 Comments

  1. Madeline Gornell

    Great meeting you, Heather. You sound disciplined and thorough! Two traits I could definitely use more off! Continued success!

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Heather, your disciplined approach is very good advice and will surely take you far in the writing business. Good luck with your series watch out for those vampires. 😉

    Reply
  3. Heather Weidner

    Thanks so much for letting me stop by your blog on Valentine’s Day and talk about books, mysteries, and glamping!

    Reply

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Virgil Alexander – Miner, World Traveler, Historian, Author

History must be what it is. There is no need for excuses or blame.

My first book remains a large, fractured manuscript, still a work in progress, titled Ranching in the Heart of Arizona. From a conversation with a coworker about 14 years ago about the fact that many old ranchers in our area were passing away and my comment, “Someone should get their history before it’s too late.” She said, “Why don’t you do it?” Expecting to be dealing with a score or so ranches, research has turned up more than three hundred old ranch-families in my home Gila County; and started me on my never-ending personal story.

In fact, it was the act of researching that history that I first happened on the very interesting 1889 robbery of US Army Paymaster Major Wham and his escort at Cottonwood Canyon in Arizona. My first fiction novel, The Wham Curse, set in two different centuries relates the story of the robbery and creates a fictional answer to what if the Wham loot were found in modern times?

I became friends with my lead characters and needed to keep them alive. I am the author of a four-book series of mysteries set in rural Arizona and the greater Southwest. I am also an Arizona Historian, with several papers for the Historical Society, museums, on-line history pages, articles in print magazines and newspapers, and an editor and contributor to a history book.  My interest in the Southwest’s natural and human history and my love for mystery stories are combined in my fiction stories. A sense of place and history plays out in my stories as a natural part of the setting.

Each of my books has a primary murder plot, three or four subplots, and character backstories. In The Wham Curse, the primary plot is solving the inexplicable killing of a young Apache boy, which makes no sense until connected with the old robbery. Secondary plots deal with historic preservation, environmentalism, and crime on the Indian Reservation.

Saints & Sinners has the main plot of protecting a Mexican girl from cartel assassins. Secondary themes resolve around border issues, a romance blooming for Deputy Sanchez, international crime, and Mexican culture.

Archaeological theft and international illegal marketing and murder are the primary plots of The Baleful Owl. Subplots include dealing with differing views among different tribes, acceptance of the mentally disadvantaged, and the place of preservation in the rapidly changing Southwest.

Set in two fictional mine developments in Arizona, Murder in Copper, deals with a murder and both industrial and international espionage, justice on the reservation, international relationships with former Soviet republics, alcoholism, and grief.

I do a lot of research, even for my fiction. The Apache, O’odham, Mexican, Mormon, and rural culture will be as accurately depicted as I can make it. The geography, natural environment, and history of each setting will be very accurate. I research the legality of situations and law enforcement jurisdictions, and the local culture’s influence. So when the story is in Hermosillo, Solomon, Spain, Turkmenistan, San Carlos, Tempe, Tucson, Ft. McDowell, or wherever, I used actual street names, buildings, office locations, and sometimes business names, such as the Casa Reynoso in Tempe and Taylor Freeze in Pima.

When I write, I have a general idea, sort of a very sketchy outline of my main plot. From there, I simply tell the story, let it flow naturally. I’m often surprised where this takes me; I guess that’s the pantsy part of me. But the “engineer syndrome” part of me comes to play in that I keep track of each plot and subplot, the clues, and each character I invent on spreadsheets. While I always have new characters in each novel, I also reuse characters from other books. This organized tracking facilitates reuse of interesting minor characters, keeps me from revealing a clue or a clue-related action at the wrong time, and lets me weave the progress of plots and subplots in a logical order, and to sometimes connect subplots as contributory to the main plot.

I love the act of writing, especially fiction because I can take it wherever I want it to go, as long as it makes sense to the story. But I hate to be interrupted when writing. This makes it kind of a tough, lonely time for my longsuffering wife. I need about a three-hour block of time, so I can get the story flowing and translate it to words; with any less than that, I spend most of my time trying to figure out where I am in the story and where I want to go. There have been times I started writing at seven pm and interrupted to go to bed at seven am.  Such a session is very productive; it’s like playing at the top of my game.

One thing I do when writing either pure history or depicting actual history in a novel is present the facts as they actually happened and in the context of the period, without passing judgment or equating it to today’s values. History must be what it is. There is no need for excuses or blame.

For more about my work or myself, visit my page: https://virgilalexander.weebly.com/books.html

The books are available in print and digital at Barnes & Noble Stores and Online, at Indy stores, and through Amazon.

 

10 Comments

  1. John G. Bluck

    I like your method of using real places, Google maps and the Internet to accurately describe locations depicted in your novels. I’m sure your experience as a historian has helped you a lot, as well. One of my daughters lived in Arizona for a while. I look forward to further exploring the Southwest via your books.

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    It definitely sounds like you’ve got a system that works well for you, Virgil. Using spreadsheets to keep things on track is a novel idea. Good luck with your writing. I hope to see you at the next PSWA conference.

    Reply
    • Virgil H. Alexander

      Once, I decided to maintain minor characters across by books, it became necessary to keep them straight. In was an idea for novels, so truly a novel idea, right?

      Reply
  3. Valerie Leach

    I have known Virgil for many years and graduated high school with his wife, Lois! Just finished reading “The Wham Curse” and loved it! Will now be reading “Saints and Sinners”! Learning a lot about Gila County where I grew up and love the accuracy of these historical novels!!

    Reply
    • Virgil H. Alexander

      Gila County gets a little more exposure in the Baleful Owl, and Globe-Miami are a major setting in Murder in Copper.

      Reply
  4. Keith Alexander

    So, what are the best methods for researching distant locales which you can’t visit them in person?

    Reply
    • Virgil H. Alexander

      For scenes of places where I’ve never been, I review the official webpage of the place, then I “explore” it using google street view, so I can accurately describe the setting. I did this with the scenes in Saints & Sinners set in Hermosillo, and in Spain. The CIA World Book is a great source of basic economic, political, and cultural information for any country. Research is so much easier with the internet than having to use physical archives or microfilm.

      Reply
      • Katherine Alexander

        What does pantsy mean?

        Reply
        • Virgil H. Alexander

          Pantsy refers to “flying by the seat of the pants”, writing as ideas flow to you, rather than planning a detailed narrative and following it. This is the way most of my writing is done, though I also usually have a rough outline of what I want in the main plot.

          Reply
  5. Virgil H. Alexander

    Thanks again George for helping to get the word out on my works. I’m hoping we get some interesting discussion of questions. Fellow readers, I will be out for a while late morning today, but will check in periodically for comments.

    Reply

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