No One is Alone

Since the death in 2021 of renowned musical theatre titan, Stephen Sondheim, I have pondered his influence on the world at large, as well as my own little patch of soil.

Stephen Sondheim

I was raised in the Church of the Latter Day Sondheim. One of the things my parents had in common was a passion for music and theatre – they first met when my mother sang tenor in the Westerville choir my father was conducting. (Her voice has lowered even further with age – when she speaks, the phrase basso profundo springs to mind.)  Later, when my father was conducting choirs of American service men in Nurnberg, she sang Hansel in a German production of Hansel and Gretel; soon after, my father played the Cary Grant role in Arsenic and Old Lace, featuring Peter Lorre in the cast. (My mother once alluded darkly to The Peter Lorre Incident, but I could never get her to elaborate. Later, when I discovered after many years that my father was in fact gay, I was even more intrigued, but her lips were sealed.)

After a few years in Germany, my parents returned to Ohio.  And, with the first Broadway production of Company in 1970, they began what would soon become regular pilgrimage to New York to see the newest Sondheim show.  My aunt lived in Bucks County, PA, and they would make a day of it, taking in a museum, finishing the evening at Sardi’s.  (When my father died, I scattered a few of his ashes on the carpet at the second floor bar.)

My parents always returned from their trips with a shiny new LP of the cast album, which my sister and I played nonstop until we had memorized every song.  My father also bought the sheet music as soon as it was available – on Saturday nights we would gather around the piano with my father at the keyboard, bellowing out the latest Broadway hits.

My father was Dean of Garfield College, and my parents threw a lot of faculty parties.  Unfortunately, I had inherited my parents’ thespian gene, and would corner unsuspecting guests, regaling them with selections from the latest Sondheim cast album.  I can still see the nervous sweat on Miss Rubio’s upper lip as she backed away from me, one hand clutching her gin and tonic, the other grasping frantically for the shrimp cocktail on the sideboard.  I remember the panic in Dr. Mansel’s eyes as they shifted desperately around the room in search of escape.  Ever the performer, I remained undeterred.  It was in my blood.

A Little Night Music was the first show I saw on Broadway, having memorized the album weeks before.  Later, when I was cast as the Countess in a local production, I had butterflies every night at the prospect of negotiating the nimble melodic gymnastics of “Every Day a Little Death.”  

By the time Sweeney Todd premiered on Broadway, I was fresh out of college, pounding the unforgiving streets of New York in search of acting work.  To satiate the crush I had developed on Len Carious, I haunted the vast cave of the Uris Theatre during matinees, slipping in after intermission – “second-acting” the show, as it was called, a trick I learned from my perennially broke theatre friends. A transplant from the shores of Lake Erie to the banks of the Hudson River, I had memorized the entire show on the long drive east from Ohio, playing the tape my father gave me as I rolled past the tidy farms of Amish country, the crags and glens of the Pocconos, the lush pastures of Morris County in New Jersey. 

But I never tired of seeing the show live.  I studied every moment, every gesture not only of Cariou, but the marvelous Angela Lansbury.  (One of my great regrets is turning down the role of Mrs. Lovett in a regional production.  I was only twenty-six at the time, but I had just joined Actors Equity and did not want to betray my union by appearing in non-union company.  I later realized no one would have noticed, let alone cared, but such is youthful idealism.)  It’s still my favorite Sondheim show – I love the score’s harmonic dissonances and angular melodies, the dark, witty lyrics, and the Gothic evocation of the Victorian era at its most perverse.

After I began concentrating more on writing than performing, I tried my hand at writing musicals, and to my astonishment, I had a knack for it.  (I was a mediocre pianist, and had always assumed that meant I had no talent for composition.)  I had many role models – the superb Frank Loesser, the wonderful Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, and the marvelous Rupert Holmes, among many others.  But looming over them all like a Colossus, inescapable and inimitable, was Sondheim.  When I began writing musicals, he was at the pinnacle of his fame, his influence and place in the world of musical theatre assured.  These days, he would be his own meme.

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.  And everybody in the New York theatre community not only knew his name, they knew what he looked like (rumpled, bearded, avuncular), where he lived (Turtle Bay), and his favorite hobby (puzzles). 

I can’t say that I was able to match his lyric brilliance or his compositional rigor, but there is no doubt I was influenced by him.  We all were: playwrights, composers, lyricists, actors and singers.  We lived and breathed the same air he did, though we suspected his was a more rarified atmosphere.  The shadow he cast was long, and is likely to remain so.  Now and forever, those of us in New York and in the greater world of theatre will always be able to say we lived in the time of Stephen Sondheim.


Hamilton Shmamilton — when your own project is Dead in the Water

I may be the only New Yorker who has not seen Hamilton.

Correction: I may be the only New Yorker who has no intention of ever seeing Hamilton. It’s not that I think it’s an unworthy effort – I’m sure the world was waiting breathlessly for a hip hop musical about one of my favorite founding fathers. And with the help of a little Krazy Glue, I could probably sit through two hours of rapping colonials.

The reason I probably won’t see it is that a few years ago I wrote Treason, a musical about Benedict Arnold. Since Arnold himself was a notorious traitor, he was an unlikely protagonist. So, in the style of Evita, I have the young Alexander Hamilton serving as a Che Guevara type narrator who takes the audience on the journey, commenting on the action and appearing in key scenes – as he did in real life, being the aide-de-camp to General Washington at the time.

However, being a white woman who writes somewhat traditional musicals, I realize the show that absorbed two years of my life is now dead in the water. I would never be able to convince anyone that I was writing Treason long before Hamilton break danced onto the scene – I have no doubt the word “derivative” would surface with any producer I was foolish enough to approach.

More power to the creators of Hamilton for their fresh new take on an important time in American history – I too believe immigrants “get the job done,” yada-yada-yada. Most of us are immigrants, and one job we got done very efficiently was the slaughter of this land’s only rightful occupants, the Native Americans.

I’m sure Hamilton is an important teaching tool for people who knew little of that time period or the truly fascinating title character. But having done countless hours of research, I’m not in that target audience, so I’ll save my $400, or whatever the outrageous price of a Broadway musical is these days, to see Book of Mormon, thanks very much. Mormons are still a mystery to me.

So what’s a girl to do? Just what you do after a bad breakup – move on, get over it, write a new show. I’m thinking about a rap version of the Trump Administration. I really think Sarah Huckabee Sanders deserves a hip hop dance number, with the Washington press corps as the chorus. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.


Mystery Novel Writer’s Primer: Part 1

So, you want to write mystery novels, eh?

You might well be an excellent writer, but each genre has particular methods and techniques, and mystery writing does, too. So, let’s start with some simple tips.

First, though, I’m going to assume that you’ve been studying how to write by taking classes, going to workshops and generally trying to educate yourself about writing’s art and craft. Preparation is the critical first step. Learning how to write is the most important thing you must do, and it takes constant practice to be good.

For instance, while at a cocktail party, I overheard a conversation between a writer and a surgeon. The sawbones said, “Oh, so you’re a writer. I’ll be retiring soon and am seriously considering writing as a second career.” The writer replied, “My how interesting! It’s funny you should mention that because, when I retire, I was considering becoming a surgeon.”

Moral of the story: There is no substitute for training and experience in any field. If you are dedicated, you are always writing, learning and seeking new information and ideas about your craft.

Who’s your favorite character?

Have you read lots of mystery novels? Every writer develops plots and characters differently, and reading a wide range of authors gives you ideas about how to approach your novel. If you have read many of them, pick out some that you most remember or enjoyed, then re-read them with a critical eye. If you’ve only read a few, get busy reading.

When you return to your chosen books, try to view the stories from a 1,000-foot view and see the arc of the plot, characters, and so on. Try as best you can to re-read them with a somewhat detached view and, when you find passages that excite or fascinate you, ask yourself what moves you. Take notes about them, and perhaps sticky flags and a highlighter are in order, too. This is not an invitation to copy, but learning how to build your own style.

Who do you love, or love to hate?

Next, do you have a main character or characters? As you read, notice how the authors develop and expose the facets of their characters. Often in mystery writing, they are a policeman, detective, private eye, criminal investigator, or perhaps amateur sleuth. Don’t be bound by those, though, because maybe a lack of skills or training can serve as part of your character. For instance, they could be a genius, autistic savant, son of a famous detective, a master analyst, or anything that you can weave into a plausible character.

Your main character is pivotal to your reader’s interest. Does the reader experience your story through them in first-person, or do you write in an observational style, or … ? What is their personality like? Their morals? What drives them to seek answers, take risks and make personal sacrifices?

The more questions like those you ask, the more interesting your character, and the more ways you can develop your story. Character inspirations are everywhere. Do you have particularly interesting persons in your life? Perhaps you use them as a platform from which to build your characters. How about crimes in your area, present or past? There are story and character springboards everywhere – go find them.

Okay, now we’ve scratched the surface. These first few installments are to get you thinking about preparation before you write. Go start reading and, please, include my works in your list. Go here to see them:

Ruth’s reading list of my books – nice list, great blog

On her blog, Turadh, Ruth posted a list of my books, and she is working her way through the whole list. As an author and a human, I am honored that she’s taken such an interest in them. Thank you so much, Ruth.

Beyond my works, she has a wonderful selection of other topics. Quite the interesting blog with a variety of topics besides books. You should visit by clicking here.

Praise from the UK – The Eloquent Page’s review of “Edinburgh Twilight”

eloquent-pageI am particularly thrilled with this review of my newest murder mystery thriller, Edinburgh Twilight, by The Eloquent Page.

The site’s owner, Paul (@pablocheesecake), has been blogging since 2010 and has compiled an impressive and wide-ranging site filled with reviews on books of all kinds. It’s a delightful reader’s paradise filled with info and thoughtful reviews on a very wide variety of books. I am entirely grateful for his appreciation of the historical crime genre. As someone well familiar with Edinburgh, his insights are much appreciated. And he is absolutely correct, one should visit there if you can. It’s a fascinating and beautiful place.

Edinburgh_cover_SM(This is a synopsis, not his review.)
As a new century approaches, Edinburgh is a city divided. The wealthy residents of New Town live in comfort, while Old Town’s cobblestone streets are clotted with criminals, prostitution, and poverty.
Detective Inspector Ian Hamilton is no stranger to Edinburgh’s darkest crimes. Scarred by the mysterious fire that killed his parents, he faces his toughest case yet when a young man is found strangled in Holyrood Park.
With little evidence aside from a strange playing card found on the body, Hamilton engages the help of his aunt, a gifted photographer, and George Pearson, a librarian with a shared interest in the criminal mind. But the body count is rising. As newspapers spin tales of the “Holyrood Strangler,” panic sets in across the city. And with each victim, the murderer is getting closer to Hamilton, the one man who dares to stop him.”

You can find Edinburgh Twilight at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and through GoodReads affiliates.

This is the first in the Ian Hamilton Mysteries, available now.
Look for the second installment, Edinburgh Dusk, releasing in January, 2018.

Carol Bergman’s “Nomad’s Trilogy” – Fiction Born of Harsh Reality

(Thank you, Carole, for inviting me to be a guest blogger. We were colleagues at NYU for many years and have followed one another’s writing careers.  Although we write in different genres, we have much in common besides our love of teaching workshops: We are disciplined writers, we are devoted to our students and we are courageous, prolific, transgressive writers. )

Here’s the scoop on my “NOMADS TRILOGY,”  a compendium of three books in one volume – short fictionalized stories which reviewers have compared to Lydia Davis. I began the series in 2000 when I was working on “Another Day in Paradise,” a book about international humanitarian relief workers. That was an intense experience as many stories were about war and natural disasters. In order to keep myself sane I began to sketch small fictionalized stories just for myself. It was all I had time to do in between travelling, interviewing and editing manuscripts. The atrocities I was witnessing, or reading about, were heart rending. As a child of refugees myself, I was drawn to the subject, and also traumatized by it. I needed release and solace. These short NOMADS stories are the result.

Carol Bergman

I showed a few to writer friends and they commented on the precision of the writing, the unusual genre I’d chosen—some were even very funny – and the experimental feel of the work. Even after “Another Day in Paradise” was published, I continued writing these short stories as an exploration and a writing practice. Titles began to accumulate in my journal. Before long I had enough pieces for the first volume. Two more followed, and now I have published them all together.

All three books were launched as “theatrical evenings” at the Cornelia Street Café in Manhattan by actors taking turns on a small stage reading a selection of stories. I look forward to another performance event soon to celebrate the publication of “NOMADS TRILOGY.” Carole, I hope you will be there! It will be wonderful to see you, as ever.

As for me, how can I not admire Carole Bugge? That is a rhetorical question. Thank you again for your interest in my work, your professional companionship, and your inspiration and imagination.

Digging Into a Plot

You probably know the answer to the question, “What’s the most important thing in real estate?”  (Answer: location, location, location.)  Okay, what’s the most important thing in crime or mystery writing?  Answer: plot, plot, plot.

Anyone who says they find writing plots easy is either a liar or a fool.  It’s gritty, sweaty work, and it’s what separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and the professionals from the wannabes.  It goes by other names – structure, story, narrative throughline, storyline – but it is the single most important element in the commercial (and often critical) success of a book in the crime genre.  (Remember The DaVinci Code?)  To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, plot is not the most important thing, it’s the only thing.  All the pretty prose, marvelous metaphors, and captivating characters in the world will not make up for the lack of a good story.

So what makes for a good plot, and how do you get one?  If that answer were easy, we’d all have as much money as Dan Brown and Michael Crichton combined.  (When asked where he got his ideas, Harlan Ellison used to answer, “Schenectady.  There’s a swell Idea Service in Schenectady; and every week I send ‘em twenty-five bucks; and every week they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas.”)

A really good premise helps – a lot.  But a great premise is only a small part of the battle.  Even a great premise can be ruined by bad execution, and a mediocre premise can be transformed into a brilliant story.  If you have both, of course, you’ve hit the Story Jackpot.

He Who Suffers

Every story must have a main character, or protagonist – which, by the way, is Greek for “he who suffers the most.”  Ignore this linguistic hint at your peril.  By all means, make your protagonist suffer – and if others suffer along with him, so much the better.  It has been said that we long to read stories about things happening to people that we would never, ever want to happen to us or the people we care about.  The irony, of course, is that stories only work if we do come to care about the characters – especially the long-suffering protagonist.

Some stories have what is called a “group protagonist” – a group of people acting as one, wanting the same thing, working toward the same goal.  A good example of this is Caleb Carr’s intriguing historical thriller, The Alienist, as well as its sequel, Angel of Darkness.  Both books have a small band of folks who work together to identify and capture the serial killer prowling the streets of 19th century New York City.  No one person stands out in either book as being the central character, even though both books have a first person narrator who is close to the action.  Of course, a potential drawback of using a group protagonist is that the reader can end up bonding rather weakly with several characters instead of bonding strongly with one – thus decreasing his emotional involvement.  (This is true in both of Carr’s books, in my opinion, but no worries:  the real star in both books is the setting, which Carr brings to life masterfully.)

And emotional involvement is a key element in any genre.  The word “emotion” means “movement,” and when people read stories, they want to be moved.  So it’s our job to deliver not only thrills but chills – not only to engage our readers, but to move them.  So give your protagonist something worth struggling for, and then, by god, make him struggle.

plot2In the old fashioned version of the classic murder mystery, there may not be a terrific amount of emotional involvement on the part of the reader, but that lack of emotion is replaced by the pleasure of trying to solve the puzzle.  This would be especially true of the so-called “cozies,” which engage the reader not by terrifying or moving them, but by presenting them with charming characters, picturesque settings, and a jolly good puzzle to solve.  Though P.D. James is a novelist of terrific intellect and keen insight, some of her Inspector Dalgleish novels teeter toward the cozy end of the spectrum.  In Death Holy Orders, for example, Dalgleish travels to a quaint seaside theological college to uncover the mystery behind the death of a student.  The reader is given a lot of historical detail about the area, the setting is both picturesque and appropriately spooky, the characters are eccentric in the way only the British can be, and eventually the criminal is brought to justice.  But it is a “closed society” killer – the threat never widens out into society in general, and Dalgleish himself is never truly in danger.  It’s a good ride, but it’s not an edge-of-your-seat page turner.

Please, Sir, May I Have Some More?

When young Oliver approached the dour cook in Oliver Twist, he really wanted some more porridge – no, he needed it, because he was starving.  Who among us can’t relate to the plight of a starving orphan?  He’s starving, for god’s sake, and he’s an orphan!  Give the kid some more gruel!  That’s one of the many ways Dickens draws us into the plight of his characters – the stakes are high, the situation dire, and his poor characters are in terrible, life or death situations.  In his day, he was the equivalent of J.K. Rowling – people lined up at the docks of New York to wait for the ship bringing the next installment of The Old Curiosity Shop to see if poor Nell lived or died (I hate to break it to you, but she died.)

In order to have a story, you need a character who wants something – no, who needs something.  In The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade really needs to know who killed his partner, Miles.  In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov at first needs to kill the landlady (or feels he does, which is the same thing from his perspective), and later he needs to evade the police (until he feels the need to confess, which is another brilliant twist in Dostoevsky’s masterpiece of a novel).

And then you have to put as many obstacles in his way as you possibly can – the more, the merrier.  Janet Burroway has a neat little formula:  Drama = Desire + Danger.  And the greater the desire, or need, the greater the possibilities for drama.   But to make the story work, you have to add the key element of danger.

Danger, Will Robinson

I have my own mantra to spur me on to gripping storylines:  the greater the danger, the more you interest a stranger.  In other words, your readership is in direct proportion to how much you make your characters struggle to get what they want.  The kicker, of course, is how do you do that?

Well, first of all, it is key to create a situation in which the character has something to lose if he or she fails.  In other words, raise the stakes.  And, as I mentioned in the first lecture, the more there is to lose – the more people who might be affected if your protagonist fails – the better.  

In The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade will lose both his self-respect and his professional reputation if he fails to find the killer.  There is also a good chance whoever killed Miles will come to kill him.   In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov’s sanity and self-image are at stake before he murders the landlady – afterwards, his liberty and perhaps even his life are at stake.

This is wonderfully clear in the premise of The Andromeda Strain.  What is at stake is simply the survival of mankind.  Either the virus wins, or we do; it’s as simple as that. Okay, you may not think we’re the greatest thing that ever happened to this planet, but if contemplating our total annihilation doesn’t send a chill up your spine, you’re probably too thick-skinned to be a writer.  And defeated by a virus?  Crichton makes his scientists struggle mightily against not Nature herself – and, as we all know, you can’t fool her . . .

Nature makes a pretty good villain in a lot of genres – certainly in most medical thrillers she is an accomplice at the very least, if not the main threat.  Of course you have to pile human drama on top of that – people struggling with and against each other, but more about that later.

This Time, It’s Personalplot1

So how do you make the reader care?  Well, the most obvious way is to make the struggle matter greatly to the protagonist – in other words, make it deeply personal. Unfortunately, this can be clumsily done, and can come across as painting-backstory-by-numbers.  In The Princess Bride William Goldman lampoons this story cliché in the Mandy Patinkin character, who, in scene after scene, intones “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” in an overdone Spanish accent.  Comedy trades in clichés, of course – without them, it would be a thin world for comedy writers.  

But clichés become common because there was once something vital and true about them; otherwise, they wouldn’t have caught on in the first place.  The trick to breathing life into any well-worn device is to make it fresh, give it a twist – or, best of all, imbue it with emotional truth.  What exactly is emotional truth?  Well, perhaps it is a little like pornography, in the famous definition given by the Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who, while admitting he couldn’t define it, insisted that “I know it when I see it.”

Emotional truth comes about when you write from within yourself, forging the protagonist’s struggles from elements in your own life or character or (dare I say) soul.  If you sit down to give your protagonist a backstory of say, a dead wife, and you can’t relate personally to this, having never been married or never experienced such a thing, or if you lack the imagination to experience it vicariously, then your choice will ring hollow.  You can’t just pluck a plot point out of the air because you decide you need “something,” so this will do.  If you do, the reader will smell a rat.

But since imagination is one of the prerequisites for being a writer, you can give your protagonist that backstory, even if you’ve never been married or suffered such a loss, but only if you can put yourself in his shoes and experience the loss as fully as possible.  It is no coincidence that most playwrights were once actors.  The skill set is similar: imagination, sympathy, the desire to live a character’s emotional life vicariously.  It is also no accident that many writers have one or two themes they pursue obsessively, working out the problem again and again, much as Monet was drawn to painting the Sacre Coeur over and over.  

You often don’t have to dig very deep to find the origins of a writer’s obsession.  For instance, Conrad Aiken wrote story after story about the loss of a child, his most famous being “Secret Snow, Silent Snow,” in which a little boy is lost to madness.  It all makes sense when you know that he lost his little sisters at the age of five and never recovered – though I prefer to think he recovered a little with each story he wrote.

James Elroy’s mother was murdered when he was a boy, and it colored his entire life.  His career as a crime writer no doubt came about in part because of this loss – he even wrote a fascinating memoir about her death, My Dark Places.

As to my own personal backstory and obsessions, well, I guess you’ll just have to read my work and figure it out.  And you’ll probably be right.

Three Little Words

Given the general aura of discontent and dissent now pervading our political climate, I thought the first blog post of the new year should be something positive, a paean to our possibilities, rather than a condemnation of our rather obvious flaws.  (And for those you who think I’m showing off, I had to look up the spelling of “paean.”)

So I am going to write about the British.

On a recent trip to Great Britain (or the United Kingdom, as it is now optimistically called), I came to the conclusion that in order to understand English culture, you need three key words or phrases.  They are: “You all right?” “Sorry,” and “Sorted.”man-678341_640

As an American raised by unabashed anglophiles (our family holiday dinners were Downtown Abbey sans servants), I was drawn to the island that once spawned so many generations of conquerors, a world power in inverse proportion to its size, now reduced to a toothless pet tiger.  Because whatever else the British have, they have charm.  An adorable dog loving culture – those accents, meats pies, and oh, those hats.  What other world monarch would appear at a state function wearing an inverted pink salad bowl on her head?

So I slipped on a pair of zippered boots, waited patiently while airport security X-rayed them for explosives, and boarded a plane for the land of raincoats, Wellies and sticky toffee pudding.   On my last trip across “the pond” (as frequent fliers fondly refer to the Atlantic Ocean), I found the English infinitely strange – odd, eccentric, and fussy.  They were an entirely foreign race – more remote than the Russians, say, or the Japanese.

But on this trip I sensed a deeper, more appealing aspect of our English cousins.  Shortly after my arrival, I forayed to Sainsbury’s, that wonderland where you can buy butternut squash soup and batteries, salmon croquettes and shampoo, tikka masala and thumb tacks.  I was taken aback by the greeting I received from a passing sales clerk, who looked at me kindly and inquired, “You all right?”  Her concern alarmed me – was I looking peaked?  Had jet lag left its mark – dark circles under the eyes, a tremor in my hands?  Was one side of my face drooping, droplets of drool dangling from my lips?  I muttered a reply and dashed to the bathroom – or toilet, as they vulgarly insist on calling it – to see what had prompted such a solicitous reaction.  To my surprise, I looked quite normal – chipper even, the garish fluorescent lighting notwithstanding.

I eventually learned that “Are you all right?” is the English equivalent of “Hello.”  The Brits deliver it with such earnestness that it took me a while to realize it was merely a routine, perfunctory greeting.  In New York we say “How ya doin’?” – but in such an offhand way that only the most pathetic ponce would mistake it for actual concern over his wellbeing.  But the Sainsbury’s lady seemed to really want to know how I was; her brown eyes glistened with sympathy.

I pondered over the correct response – “Doing well, thank you,” or “I’m all right, Jack – how about you?” or even “G’day, mate,” but that seemed more Hulk Hogan than Big Ben.   I finally settled on the nondescript “Fine, thanks,” hoping it was appropriate.  I trotted it out, searching for raised eyebrows; finding none, I concluded that it was.

It is the delivery of this greeting, more than the words themselves, that says so much about the English – the implication that it is meaningful, a sincere inquiry into your state of well being.  It is a hint at the deeply communal, empathetic side of British culture.  There were other signs.  Everywhere I went I saw charity shops – what we call thrift stores – run by organizations like Cancer Research and Hospice International, as well as organizations familiar to us, like the Salvation Army and Oxfam.  But in Britain there are so many of them – the little Surrey town where I stayed had nearly a dozen.  British television has a series of ads about living with cancer – not promoting a product, but simply advocating compassion and care for people stricken by the disease.  There is a culture of kindness and politeness that we can only scrape the surface of – not just people holding doors for each other, but unlikely strangers going out of their way to help.

This was brought home to me one day while walking the elderly dog I was looking after along a busy suburban street in Surrey.   In spite of his advanced age, he suddenly lunged at a squirrel, slipping out of his collar.  A boy of about eight was running by, trying to catch up with his father, who had just passed us.  Seeing my panicked look, the boy grabbed the dog to prevent him from running into traffic, scooped up the collar and handed it to me before I could speak.  As if that wasn’t enough, he proceeded to advise me about mending the collar – all as his father receded further into the distance.   Stunned by his considerate behavior, I mumbled my thanks as he sprinted off to catch up with his oblivious parent.  I tried in vain to imagine an American child behaving that way.  It wasn’t just his helpfulness – it was that a boy of his age would see a stranger’s distress and react so quickly and unselfishly.

This deeply ingrained altruism leads us to the second word of British identity: “Sorry.”  

The English apologize continuously and compulsively for everything.  I was getting a loaf of bread at Tesco (another delightful temple of food fun), and a gentleman apologized for plucking a loaf out of the same basket – even though he didn’t inconvenience me in any way, or even so much as brush against my sleeve.  A lady in line in front of me apologized for ordering a sandwich.  I was never sure why – maybe she was afraid it would take too long.  The British seem constitutionally fretful about taking up too much space; they are cosmically self-effacing.  They seem to share an existential shame at the very fact of their existence, perhaps a vestige of guilt over the power they once wielded over other cultures.

But my favorite incident was when a traffic cop apologized for pulling me over.  His entire statement was a masterpiece of English decency:  “I’m sorry, Madame, but you cut me off twice.”  I cut him off twice, but he was the one who apologized.  I dare you to imagine a New York State trooper in his crisp greys, Ray Bans and Smoky the Bear hat apologizing for pulling you over.  (I never did get a ticket – he bought my Clueless American Having Trouble with this Whole Left Side of the Road Business.  I’m embarrassed to admit it was the truth.)

In another country, this compulsive apologizing might be irritating.  But in England, it is adorable.  (Note:  I speak here only of the English.  The Scots are exempt from this trait of incessant apologizing.  They don’t apologize much, if at all, for anything.)  

Which leads to the final key word of British life: “Sorted.”

In America, you might sort your sock drawer.  Or possibly your spice shelf.  (In a spasm of desperate procrastination, I once alphabetized my entire kitchen.)  In the British Isles, however, everything and anything is a candidate for sorting.  A broken leg?  No worries.  Go to the hospital –they’ll sort it.  Political scandal, personal disaster, hurricane damage – all will be sorted.  I actually heard a woman tell her husband that the doctors would “sort” his heart condition.

This could be seen as an expression of a devotion to order, but I think it’s something deeper.  The notion of “sorting” a broken limb or an embarrassing personal scandal speaks to the famous Stiff Upper Lip, a way of downplaying catastrophe.  After all, how bad can something be if you can put it right by “sorting” it?  It’s a nifty bit of semantics – asserting linguistic control over what might otherwise be extremely upsetting or terrifying.

Those, then, are the three phrases or words of Britain (“Are you all right” may be several words, but as pronounced, it’s only two syllables: “Yawright?”)  To me they are windows into the essential decency, kindness and humility of a country that once ruled the world, the transformation of a culture that once believed the mere fact of being British conferred God’s blessing.  Now they don’t seem so righteous, and that insecurity is appealing.  As a citizen of a country only too sure of itself, whose latest president is a sexist sociopath wearing an orange chia pet on his head, I take comfort in our self-effacing English cousins.  Maybe there’s hope for those of us on this side of the pond.

Diana Chambers, Author

Diana in blue2Diana was born with a book in one hand and a passport in the other. Maybe it was A Tale of Two Cities, but she was soon wandering Paris cobblestones. An Asian importing business led to LA where she worked as a scriptwriter until her characters demanded their own novels. The first was Stinger, set in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She lives in a small Northern California town with her family.

Stinger_eCoverWhen a secret shipment of Stinger missiles goes missing near the Khyber Pass, CIA officer Nick Daley becomes entangled in an unusual triangle with a San Francisco journalist and her former lover, now an elusive Afghan leader with a price on his head. These characters lead us into a realm of intrigue and betrayal, where hidden agendas provide their own kind of veil until the truth is revealed in a shocking climax.



The Movie in Your Head

Many years ago I wrote a screenplay set in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A romantic thriller with a twist, Stinger was optioned by a noted London producer who shared my view that it could become an exciting international production. As such things happen, the option lapsed, for in those pre-9/11 days few people were interested in the region.

The characters, however, kept urging me not to abandon them and so I wrote their story, my touchstone the film Casablanca. My novel too is a romantic triangle that takes place during a time of war, when no one is who he or she appears and intrigue is everywhere.

These days, the region is on everyone’s map. And so, Stinger was published as an ebook. Then came the opportunity for to release it as an audiobook.

To be honest, I am not an audio “reader,” but I know so many people are. I was curious about the audiobook process and wanted to stay involved as narrator/actor Charles Kahlenberg began to record it. He urged me to buy a good pair of headphones and agreed to send me each chapter as it was finished.

And so the story took on another incarnation. Mr. First Reader, my husband, who has been around since the screenplay days, was struck by images I know he’s read before. I found myself chuckling at a clever phrase—if I do say so myself—or at Charles’s witty delivery. As a writer, I engage with my words almost like a potter, working with them, shaping them into life—or sometimes, beating them to death! As intimately connected as I am with Stinger, I was astounded how the story came to life in a whole new way.

So, give a listen. Take Stinger with you in the car, the garden, or on a hike. Forget the movie, make your own images!

Stinger, narrated by Charles Kahlenberg, released by Audible. Also at iTunes and Amazon. Available in print and digital at those sites as well as the following:

Indie Bound

Barnes & Noble


Have you listened to a book that you had already read? I’d love to hear what you think the differences are. For the first five people who comment here, I have some giveaway copies. Thank you,!

Bill Crider, Author

Bill059BILL CRIDER is the author of more than fifty published novels and numerous short stories. He won the Anthony Award for best first mystery novel in 1987 for Too Late to Die. He and his late wife, Judy, won the best short story Anthony in 2002 for their story “Chocolate Moose.” His story “Cranked” from Damn Near Dead (Busted Flush Press) was nominated for the Edgar award, the Anthony Award, and the Derringer Award. It won the latter. He’s won the Golden Duck Award for best juvenile science fiction novel and been nominated for a Shamus. His most recent novel is Between the Living and the Dead from St. Martin’s Press.

Here are a few handy links to where Bill can be found on the Internet:

Author homepage


Facebook author page

Twitter Account

Amazon Author Page


Thanks for the opportunity to say a few words about my latest mystery novel.

One of the difficult things about writing a series of books that’s continued for 30 years is keeping it fresh both for myself and for the readers. I know that by this time people expect certain things in each book. For me to drop the interplay between certain characters would be like Rex Stout dropping Nero Wolfe’s visits to his orchids in his brownstone’s greenhouse or like Richard S. Prather omitting Shell Scott’s description of the women he encounters. So I keep that kind of thing in the book. Besides, I love writing it.

The books always have to include a murder, too. All my books in the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series, including Between the Living and the Dead, are set in a small town in a mythical Texas county, the kind of place where the usual crime is something like a salad bar without a sneeze guard. In a place like that, a murder makes things a lot more interesting. I include the small crimes, because those are as much fun to write about as the characters, but I have to put in a murder or two.

So how do I make things different?

For one thing I try to have the murders related to different things, like modern cattle rustling or the prevalence of feral hogs in rural Texas or the terrible stench of factory chicken-farming. For Between the Living and the Dead, I decided to write a book about a haunted house. A good many years ago when I was writing horror novels under a different name, I planned to write a book about a haunted house, but the horror market sort of disappeared before I could do it. I never gave up the idea, however, and when I started thinking about writing another book in the Sheriff Rhodes series, it occurred to me that just about every little town has an old deserted house with a story that local people like to tell about it. Often that story involves a ghost. So why not write a straightforward mystery novel that also includes a haunted house? It seemed like good idea, and I went with it.

Naturally a haunted house has to have a ghost to haunt it, and that led me to the idea of ghost hunters. One day when I was in the Wal-Mart parking lot here where I live in Alvin, Texas, I saw a van with advertisements for ghost hunters painted all over it. If there could be ghost hunters in the real small town where I live, why couldn’t there be ghost hunters in my fictional town? The Sheriff Rhodes books have a continuing character who’d be perfect as a ghost hunter, so I drafted him for the job.

With a haunted house, a ghost, and a ghost hunter lined up and ready to go, all I needed was a murder, and I thought that the perfect place for it to occur would be inside the haunted house. That’s where it happens. I also wanted to give the house some of the usual trappings of haunted houses: spiderwebs, rats, mysterious noises, and even a surprise or two. I did that, too.

In doing all these things, I was able to come up with what I think of as a book that has the same qualities that the previous books in the series have but that also has a different kind of plot and atmosphere. It works for me, and I hope it works for my readers.

The next book in the series, to be published later in 2016, is called Survivors Will Be Shot Again, and it has an entirely different premise. And of course a couple of murders. Something to look forward to!

indexBetween the Living and the Dead: A Dan Rhodes Mystery (Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mysteries) – August 11, 2015

Life is never easy for Texas Sheriff Dan Rhodes. When he is called in the middle of the night to investigate gunshots at a haunted house, Rhodes finds the body of meth dealer Neil Foshee. Recently released from jail, Foshee has his fair share of potential murderers, including former girlfriend Vicki, her new boyfriend, the nephew of Clearview’s mayor, and Foshee’s criminal cousins Earl and Louie.

Complicating matters is Seepy Benton, the community college math professor who has a new summer job. He’s founded Clearview Paranormal Investigations and wants to solve the murder by communing with Foshee’s ghost. But when Benton connects with something else instead and a second body is found, Rhodes is left with more questions than ever. Who’s the dead person? How long has the body been hidden? Is Benton really able to communicate with ghosts? And, most important, what, if anything, does the body have to do with Neil Foshee’s death?

Between the Living and the Dead, Bill Crider’s latest installment in the critically acclaimed Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery series, finds Rhodes dealing with ghost hunters, runaway bulls, and assorted low-level crimes, including people’s failure to use their turn signals. It’s all in a day’s work in Clearview, Texas.

Caroline Crane, Author

portraitSince the age of ten, what I wanted most was to be an actress. Throughout my teens, I wrote, directed, and starred in plays with my relatives and friends. At Bennington College, I majored in drama.

Soon after graduation, the acting bug left me and the writing bug took over.  For one thing, I was better at it. My first six novels were for young adults, published by Doubleday, David McKay, and Random House. My seventh was rejected, and I spent the next several years trying to break into adult mystery writing. Finally I was picked up by Dodd, Mead, which became my regular publisher until it was cleaned out by a venture capitalist.

Now, for the time being, I am back to writing for young adults. My publisher is Fire and Ice, a branch of Melange Books in Minnesota.

While all this was going on, I married Yoshio Kiyabu, of Okinawan descent and Hawaiian birth. He was a travel agent in New York City, where we lived and raised two children. Now widowed, I live in the Catskill area near my daughter and her family, and I still write for Fire and Ice. Recently I received an email from a fan who begged me to write more adult books. After four more young adult novels that rattle around in my head, I will definitely go back to adult suspense.

The books I have recently written are a series about two teenage girls who, in an effort to right wrongs, get themselves into perilous situations. In the one I am working on now, the heroine tries to find a little boy she was babysitting for who didn’t come home on the school bus. In the book whose cover is pictured here, she discovers she had a brother she didn’t know about and he is suspected of murder. The body was found in his car.

The books are published by Fire and Ice and are available, in both print and electronic versions, from and from


BOOK COVERIn Under Cover, a high school youth is found dead in a car. It makes news, but has nothing to do with our heroine, Cree Penny. Until her father comes all the way from Borneo, where he has been living. It doesn’t take Cree long to discover that the owner of the car is a half-brother she didn’t know she had. This pulls her deep into the mystery, until she and her brother are tied up in the basement of a school in which explosives are set.


Matt Coyle, Author

Coyle Head ShotMatt Coyle grew up in Southern California battling his Irish/Portuguese siblings for respect and the best spot on the couch in front of the TV. He knew he wanted to be a writer as a young teen when his father gave him THE SIMPLE ART OF MURDER by Raymond Chandler.

It took him a few decades but he finally got there. His debut novel, YESTERDAY’S ECHO, won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, the San Diego Book Award for Best Mystery, the Ben Franklin Silver Award for Best New Voice in Fiction, and was named one of the Best Mysteries of 2013 by DEADLY PLEASURES MYSTERY MAGAZINE. The second book in the Rick Cahill Crime Series, NIGHT TREMORS, was named a top pick for 2015 by Matt lives in San Diego with his Yellow Labrador, Angus where he is currently working on the third Rick Cahill crime novel.

Night Tremors final Jacket (2) (1)NIGHT TREMORS

Nightmares of the man he killed two years ago still chase Rick Cahill through his sleep. The memory of his murdered wife haunts him during waking hours. His private investigative work, secretly photographing adulterers, paid for his new house but stains his soul.

When an old nemesis asks for his help to free a man from prison, a man he thinks is wrongly convicted of murder, Rick grabs at the chance to turn his life around. His investigation takes him from the wealthy enclave of La Jolla to the dark underbelly of San Diego. His quest fractures his friendship with his mentor, endangers his steady job, and draws the ire of the Police Chief who had tried to put Rick behind bars forever. With the police on one side of the law and a vicious biker gang on the other, all trying to stop him from freeing the man in prison, Rick risks his life to uncover the truth that only the real killer knows―what happened one bloody night eight years earlier.

LINK to Matt’s Amazon Author’s Profile

(1) Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

I watch a lot of true crime and the germ of the idea for NIGHT TREMORS came from a story that was covered by both 48 Hours and Dateline. That story is about a young man wrongly convicted of murdering his parents and the efforts to free him from prison. I fictionalized the story and added a few twists.

(2) How do you get inspired to write?

Deadlines. Inspiration is usually good for about a paragraph. The rest is sweat equity.

(3) What are you currently working on?

I just turned in the third Rick Cahill crime novel to my publisher. In it, Rick tries to prove that a cop and ex-Navy SEAL was murdered and didn’t commit suicide as ruled by the medical examiner and police. He meets resistance from the police and violence from dark forces.

(4) What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

Read, write, and join a writers group. Write when things are going well. Write when it’s difficult. Keep writing.

(5) What’s the best thing about being a writer?

There are a lot of nice things. Putting a “The End” on a 90-thousand-plus word story is a great feeling and a reward in itself. I’ve met a lot of great people and made wonderful friends in the mystery writing community. Receiving an email from a reader who felt touched by your work is right at the top of the list.

(6) How do you deal with writer’s block?

I usually stare at the computer screen for about an hour or so and if nothing bubbles to the surface, I write a scene that may come later in the book but comes easily. Eventually my subconscious will solve the puzzle that had me stumped. It just may take a few days.

Phil Bowie, Author

Phil photo for buzzPhil Bowie is a lifelong freelancer with 300 articles and short stories published in magazines including The Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, Harper’s, Yankee, Troika, Heartland USA, Make, AOPA Pilot, Southern Boating, and many other travel, aviation, and boating publications.

GUNS, his debut novel in the John Hardin series, earned honorable mention at the London Book Festival. He also has a collection of short stories out. Dagger and other tales includes a number of previously-published yarns such as “The Cat from Hell,” an award-winner begun by Stephen King.

Phil is a light-plane pilot, Coast Guard-licensed boat captain, motorcycle rider, inventor, fiddler, and voracious reader of everything.


The site includes reviews, a photo gallery, and easy direct-buy links to all of Phil’s books.

Deathsman cover.jpegPhil Bowie’s new novel, DEATHSMAN, is number four in a taut suspense series. The first three books, GUNS, DIAMONDBACK, and KLLRS, have been endorsed by top international bestsellers Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts. The new tale finds pilot John Hardin (a WITSEC identity) and Cherokee girlfriend Kitty Birdsong pitted against a crime lord who sells generic illegal drugs, and a shadowy hit man named after professional executioners of centuries past, the deathsmen.

Like all of Phil’s novels, this one takes place mostly in the misty folds of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Buy link

(1) Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

I wanted the background to be about illegal drugs because they’re such a huge problem across the country. But I wanted a fresh slant.

Prior to 2012, people were freely selling analogs of illegal drugs through convenience stores, disguised as bath salts or aroma products and labeled not for consumption to avoid FDA scrutiny. Actually, analogs are smokeable chemical concoctions that push the same brain buttons as illegal drugs. They were, up to quite recently, perfectly legal because the specific chemistry was not DEA-listed. Think of them as street generics. Laws have been passed, but that’s only driven the analogs underground and pushed up prices. So this became the novel’s background.

I like to paint such backgrounds for my stories. With my debut, GUNS, it was the world trade in light weaponry, which fuels so many conflicts, often with the sanctions of major governments. The backdrop for DIAMONDBACK was a lost Cherokee gold mine, based on true history. KLLRS involved a psychological study of the approach-avoidance conflict, a study I took part in as a test subject many years ago when I was skydiving.

You have to take care with background agendas, though. The stories can never get preachy or stridently angry or too complex because that will put off readers. I just like to honestly lay out some well-researched anchor or framework issue as a back story and let readers form their own opinions while I hope the up-front story entertains them.

(2) How do you get inspired to write?

My mother was an excellent newspaper reporter back when reporting was supposed to be scrupulously objective and unbiased. She interviewed Boris Karloff (Frankenstein’s monster on the movie screen, but a mild-mannered gentleman in person) and Eleanor Roosevelt, a lady she much admired. She told me real and imaginary stories, and instilled in me a love of and respect for language, for its beauty and power. She ignited my early inspiration.

I can also remember from childhood how I loved to get absolutely lost in my wide-roaming imagination for hours. Pretending a picnic table overturned in my back yard was a sailing ship on the open ocean. Imagining how it would feel to fly from a mountain top near my home out over the valley. Creating a community in my sand box. Voraciously reading stacks of comic books—Superman and Superwoman, Prince Valiant, Popeye.  Playing cops and robbers with my friends, armed with cap pistols. Making up characters and stories.

I’ve never quite grown up. I still like to get lost in my imagination. Now I do it through writing.

(3) What are you currently working on?

I want to set the next novel in Africa because the people and their many dire, entrenched problems intrigue me. But I’m uneasy because I’ve never been there, so it will take a lot of research before I’ll feel confident setting a believable novel there.

It’s a big departure for me because I like to write as much as possible from personal experience for verisimilitude. My series protagonist is a pilot, loves old western movies, rides a motorcycle, and likes to work with his hands. That’s pretty much me. His girlfriend is part Cherokee. My Naomi (editor, incisive critic, soul mate, number-one supporter) is also part Cherokee, and I admire the Indian cultures. I grew up in the Berkshires of Massachusetts so I love the similar Great Smokies of North Carolina, where my stories are mostly set.

And I’m always working on a short story or a magazine article.

(4) What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

Read Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It’s a skinny little book but the finest on how to use language accurately and well. Keep it by your computer. Follow its dictates. Also read On Writing by Stephen King.

Read widely in the genre you want to write. But simply reading lots of good books won’t teach you the basics, because top writers have fleshed out their stories cleverly, making it look easy. Which it most assuredly is not. Choose a few novels by top bestsellers you admire and take them apart. That is, read them through, then go back and read them again, taking notes on characters, scenes, pacing, twists. Strip them down until you expose their bare bones, and you’ll begin to understand how it’s done.

Shun adverbs and don’t overuse adjectives. Don’t use clichés; write from your own careful observations of people and settings. Be clear. Be accurate.

Get stubborn. Never give up. You’ll only lose when you quit. Shrug off rejection, which every writer experiences. Value honest advice from critics to improve your writing but ignore those one-star losers who roam the Net, often anonymously, and who’ll try to drag you down out of sheer meanness.

Above all, write.

(5) What’s the best thing about being a writer?

There’s something attractive, magical, enviable, even admirable about the word freelancer. About setting out to accomplish a major feat like writing a hundred-thousand-word novel simply relying on the wonderful powers stored within your own mind.

Of course it’s also fulfilling to reach people. I keep a file of notes and e-mails from readers who’ve enjoyed my work.

An example: “This is the first fan letter I have ever written in over twenty years of reading . . . your books have taken me back to what I miss the most, the outdoors and all its splendor, what it means to be alive . . . your writing stays with me as I step up the physiotherapy intensity . . . I thank you sincerely.” That came from a man in Birmingham, England, confined to a wheelchair because of an auto accident. It’s taped to the wall behind my computer.

(6) How do you deal with writer’s block?

I’ll take a walk. I can start out on a three-mile jaunt mulling over some vexing plot problem, say, or casting about for a new short story idea, and quite often by the time I get back I’ll have at least the glimmer of an answer. I think it’s because walking lets me focus without distractions and it helps oxygenate my brain.

Steven Martin Cohen, Author

Author's photo from BR back coverSteven Martin Cohen is a scientist, engineer, inventor, artist, humorist, and writer.

Author of Becker’s Ring (Crown Publishers and Warner Books), Seven Shades of Black (Warner Books), Toy Inventor, Katherine’s Bosom, The Watermark, Screw the Planet, Urban e-tiquette, and coauthored Caverns of the Shawangunk and its Environs, Southeastern New York, published by the National Speleological Society. His books have been published in Italy, England, Japan, and Romania.

Link to Author’s Amazon Page

7 shades of black cover 404 verticalSEVEN SHADES OF BLACK

While the Persian Gulf War rages, radio-controlled bombs are murdering hundreds of people in skyscrapers and Manhattan landmarks. Detective Brent Kramer combines forces with a brilliant team assembled to find Saddam Hussein’s elite terrorist cell known as The Seven Shades. Improvised munitions expert Nigel Atkerson reverse engineers bomb construction from shards of evidence. Herbert Raymond Boucher, former classmate of Nigel at MIT, is the FBI’s top anti-terrorism expert. Kurdish freedom fighters are smuggled into the US to search for the same mastermind who murdered 5000 people in a genocidal gas attack. Also enlisted is the most unlikely crime-fighter of all, notorious pickpocket Handy Hands, whose photographic memory guides police to track down the three most dangerous people on earth. Technology, guile, and ingenuity combine in an action-packed techno-thriller, taking us from abandoned New York train tunnels to cable cars high above the East River, from glider air drops over northern Iraq to an ill-fated hostage exchange—they must find the secret lab where a mild-mannered chemical engineer is cooking up on a kitchen stove the most powerful liquid explosive known to man, and no one is safe while his soldering iron connects the wires of another detonator.

Katherine bosom cover 416 verticalKATHERINE’S BOSOM

Katherine Parvo considers herself to be a good Christian, astrologer, scholar of many disciplines, and loving mother of an interracial child. In reality, she is a shallow, pretentious, fetishistic white Afrophile pretending to be more black than her black husband while smothering their daughter in a vice of sadistic control, mixed signals, and lies. And she has a secret sexual life she shares with no one. Under the fig leaf of tedious political correctness, Katherine is really a selfish, negligent scatterbrain with a pathological appetite for worship by those ensnared within her manic web of deception.

Hypocrisy and duplicity are taken to new levels as she manipulates family and friends to create a real estate empire that consists of a single mismanaged eight unit tenement slum. Guilt and psychosexual shame compound her dysfunctional relationships. She thrives on the creation of the chaos, which grows in ever-expanding circles as insane solutions to small problems beget still bigger problems, until things explode in catastrophe and murder. Katherine is a disease masquerading as the cure. And when she finally snaps, nothing good results, with many moving parts on a collision course in this dystopic Petri dish powered by hilariously-flamboyant mental illness.

beckers ring front cover 601 verticalBECKER’S RING

Recently released parolees are being abducted and having their hands amputated in an underground operating chamber. Their bones are then surgically fused to make one continuous limb from elbow to elbow. When dumped back on the street, the press calls them hoopers, and they become media celebrities under the tutelage of a sleazy promoter who shamelessly exploits these victims. The lead detective assembles an eccentric team of experts to catch the lunatic surgeon who is taking the law into his own hands. The mutilations grow more bizarre, resembling tree grafting experiments gone awry, and the comic horror escalates in a techno thriller where all things have gone terribly wrong in a life-or-death race against time. Will the cops find the mad surgeon before the most gruesome experiment of all?

Urban E-tiquette Cover small e 810 verticalURBAN E-TIQUETTE

Everyone who walks on a sidewalk experiences the stupid movement of others. In cities we collectively waste millions of hours just being in each others’ way. In one single rush hour subway stop two entire man-days can be collectively squandered due to aggressively-inconsiderate behavior of a few idiots blocking the doors. This time adds up. Man-days of waste become man-years, and eighty years of stolen time from the collective is not unlike murdering an entire person, several of which are micro-murdered every day. This time is carved from each of us against our will, and it can be prevented. Think of what could be accomplished with all this lost time.
There is a science to walking on sidewalks and stairs. There are optimal places to position oneself in moving crowds. There are sensible ways to get on and off elevators and trains. Conventions of motion etiquette can minimize delay. This pull-no-punches book humorously explains the dynamics of movement to save time. Pathologies are identified and named so people know what to call different time-wasting syndromes. And knowing what to call obstructive movement helps us avoid it.
This book also places bad social behavior under the microscope. Spitting and litter affect our quality of life. Things people wouldn’t dream of doing in their living rooms they freely do in public. As our awareness of intelligent motion and modern 19th century hygiene rises, so too will our movement efficiency and appreciation of where we live, work, and play.
Anyone visiting large cities should read this book, as should seasoned urban residents to refresh what they may only think they already know. Urban e-tiquette is a handbook for movement and general behavior in crowded places, and you’re guaranteed to have a few laughs.

Toy inventor cover 2498vTOY INVENTOR

When a brilliant toy inventor gets his vintage sports car stolen, he wages vengeance on car thieves in New York City. Diabolically booby-trapped cars are used as lures, and when the bait is taken, thieves are murdered within these computer-controlled execution chambers of horror. The press goes wild as the high profile death toll rises, and the heat is on the police to catch the psycho while public opinion splits between getting criminals off the street and opposition to vigilantism. Jealous love interests play upon the sexual deviance of the booby-trapper, threatening to unravel all his plans. Detective Brent Kramer is back from Becker’s Ring, along with Nigel and Sally, and politically incorrect mishaps escalate to give an inside peek at the perversions of the toy industry.

STP cover Issue 1 798 verticalSCREW THE PLANET, ISSUE #1

Like dark humor? Sick of all the politically correct crap they force feed you—the lies, hypocrisy, perversion, religious psychos, sleazy corporations, corrupt governments, and stupidity on a global scale? Well, Screw the Planet might just be the underground antidote for that politically incorrect laugh you’ve been longing for! So go ahead, indulge your inner misanthrope and laugh your ass off. We’re all going to Hell anyway.

WARNING: Screw the Planet is not approved by Corporations, Church, or State. Screw the Planet is harmful to the conformist brain. Screw the Planet can cause irreversible brain damage to those lacking a sense of humor. Many consider Screw the Planet to be a crime against humanity. Do not take Screw the Planet if you suffer from excess sensitivity, ignorance, are brainwashed, unevolved, or are just a plain douchbag.

STP cover Issue 2 798 verticalSCREW THE PLANET, ISSUE #2

Issue # 2 is armed and dangerous. Like dark humor? Sick of all the politically correct crap they force feed you—the lies, hypocrisy, perversion, religious psychos, sleazy corporations, corrupt governments, and stupidity on a global scale? Well, Screw the Planet Issue # 2 might just be the underground antidote for that politically incorrect laugh you’ve been longing for! So go ahead, indulge your inner misanthrope and laugh your ass off. We’re all going to Hell anyway.

WARNING: Screw the Planet is not approved by Corporations, Church, or State. Screw the Planet is harmful to the conformist brain. Screw the Planet can cause irreversible brain damage to those lacking a sense of humor. Many consider Screw the Planet to be a crime against humanity. Do not take Screw the Planet if you suffer from excess sensitivity, ignorance, are brainwashed, unevolved, or are just a plain douchbag.

Tom Coffey, Author

tomcoffeypicTom Coffey’s most recent novel, BRIGHT MORNING STAR, was published earlier this year by Oak Tree Press. His first novel, THE SERPENT CLUB, was published in 1999 by Pocket Books and earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Pocket Books published his second novel, MIAMI TWILIGHT, two years later. In 2008 Toby Press printed BLOOD ALLEY, which also earned a starred review from PW. Tom has worked as a reporter and editor for some of the leading newspapers in the country, including The Miami Herald, The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and New York Newsday. Since 1997, he has been a staff editor at The New York Times, and since 1999 he he has been a member of Mystery Writers of America. Tom lives in Lower Manhattan with his wife and daughter.

CF 1 - Bright Morning StarBook link:

Here’s a link to my author page on Facebook:

And here’s a link to my website:



And now for those questions:


BRIGHT MORNING STAR is a historical novel with a mystery at its core. It’s set in the early 20th century, in both the United States and the Philippines, and the plot revolves around the nasty guerrilla war that American troops fought against Filipino insurgents after the Spanish-American War.

I got the idea for the book a long time ago. I’m old enough to remember the Vietnam War, and its attendant controversies. Many members of the World War II generation were puzzled by all the dissent. Didn’t America always unite in times of war?

Actually, it doesn’t. With the exception of World War II, all of America’s wars faced considerable opposition while they were going on. Which led me (I’ve always been a history geek) to study this country’s military involvement in Asia, which dates to the Spanish-American War (1898), when America, to the astonishment of everyone in the United States government, gained control of the Philippines.

The Filipinos wanted independence, but the United States was not going to grant it. The result was a protracted struggle that featured atrocities by both sides, but particularly by the Americans. The squelching of another people’s desire for independence, coupled with lurid stories about war crimes, combined to make the war deeply divisive in the States. Many prominent Americans, most notably Mark Twain, lined up to denounce the government’s policy as being in direct violation of the principles upon which this country was founded.

I’ve wanted to write a novel with the Filipino war as its backdrop for many years. With our seemingly endless struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan, the topic seems particularly timely. (We keep fighting wars in Asia. We keep learning nothing.) A few years ago, I hit on the idea of framing the book as a love story. The protagonist is a young woman (a departure for me) who is, daringly for her time, a magazine journalist. She is assigned to investigate the court-martial of a soldier who has been convicted of murdering civilians in the Philippines. The twist is this: the soldier is a young man she was romantically involved with back in her hometown in upstate New York.

The setting gave me a chance to explore issues about sex, race, religion and America’s role in the world — all topics with a great deal of resonance today. It also gave me a chance to have some fun with historical figures like Twain and Theodore Roosevelt.


“Inspired” really isn’t the word I’d use. Writing is the best way I know of trying to say something meaningful about the human condition. To that end, I view writing as a craft, and I do my best to set aside time every day for writing. Since I work nights, I’m almost always able to get some writing done during the day.

I’m always looking for ideas. I carry around a small battered notepad with a New York Mets logo on it, and whenever an idea strikes me (which can happen frequently as I go about my business), I write it down immediately. At this point in my life, I have to write down an idea right away. If I don’t, I’m almost certain to forget it.


I am returning to my roots and writing noirish crime/mystery novels. I recently completed a novel titled PUBLIC MORALS, which is set in the New York of the 1970s and today. I don’t want to give away too much, but I’ll say this: In the first part of the book, in the ’70s, a crime is committed. In the second part of the book, in the very different New York of 2015, the crime is revisited. I’m trying to get an agent to represent it, and if anyone out there knows of anyone …

Right now I’m writing a sequel to PUBLIC MORALS titled SPECIAL VICTIM. All of my previous books have been one-offs, and the process of writing a sequel is interesting. For one thing, I already know a lot of things about the main characters. That’s saving me a lot of time.


Do not wait for inspiration, whatever that is, to strike. You have to write consistently, and you have to hone the craft constantly. Carve out a specific time of the day, every day — at least an hour — and make that your writing time.

And be observant. As Yogi Berra was once reputed to have said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” If you prefer to quote Henry James, he put it this way: “Be the type of person upon whom nothing is lost.”


When my daughter was in second grade, her reading ability made tremendous strides. One day she was looking around our apartment and she asked me, “Daddy, why does that book have your name on it?” And I replied, “Because I wrote it.”

That felt good.

My daughter is now a teenager, and about a year ago she read my novel BLOOD ALLEY, a murder mystery set in New York in the 1940s. She was visiting her grandparents while she read it, while I was stuck in New York, and she started texting me as soon as she finished it. She went on and on about how twisted it was, especially at the end, and finally I asked her if she liked it. She confessed that she did.

That felt good, too.


Weirdly enough, I’ve never gotten writer’s block. I think that stems from creating a schedule where I write at least five days a week. I know that some days will be better than others, but I never get too down on myself when I struggle — or too euphoric when it all seems to be coming easily.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that I’m just not intelligent enough to get writer’s block.

Closing out this e-interview, I just want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to promote my latest book and say a little bit about it. And thanks for the questions — they gave me a lot to think about.

Sharon Love Cook, Author

portraitSharon Love Cook grew  up in Gloucester, MA, American’s oldest seaport.

Granite Cove, the setting for her mystery series, is inspired by her New England coastal upbringing. Additionally, like her protagonist, Rose McNichols, Cook writes for newspapers and once wrote for a weekly similar to the Granite Cove Gazette.

She is an art school grad who has illustrated her book covers. The next Granite Cove Mystery is Laugh ’til You Die, in which Rose moonlights doing stand-up at nursing homes, something Cook has undertaken.

She lives in coastal Beverly Farms, MA with her husband and  cats.





It’s midnight in Granite Cove and only the sea clams are open. Murder creates havoc in this sleepy New England fishing village and Rose McNichols, reporter for the Granite Cove Gazette, is drawn into the case. Who killed Vivian Klinger, Ph.D., a woman too perfect for mere mortals, a woman who had everything but a sense of humor?



(1) Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

This is my third Granite Cove Mystery. When it appears, I can truly call it a series. In my mind, three books are a series, or at least a sound beginning. In my current book, Laugh ’til You Die, Rose McNichols, my protagonist, is moonlighting as a stand-up comic. Her hours at the Granite Cove Gazette have been reduced. Best friend Betty Ann, activities director at Green Pastures Retirement Center, gets Rose a gig at Shady Nook, a pretty shady facility. There Rose meets Mabel Smithwick, former society maven who’s daughter in law has had Mabel committed to a locked unit.

Mabel tells Rose that she witnessed a drowning at her pool the previous summer. She’s afraid she was seen by the killer, a hooded figure. Rose doesn’t give much credence to Mabel’s fears until Mabel’s roommate dies in a questionable accident while sleeping in Mabel’s bed.

I felt confident writing about Rose’s ordeal as a nursing home stand-up comic because I have done this as well. Working the nursing home circuit is good practice for life. If you can continue your act while your audience falls asleep or walks out in disgust, you have conquered pride.

(2) How do you get inspired to write?

At 17, I was hired by the Cape Ann Summer Sun, a seasonal supplement to the Gloucester Daily Times. I was a correspondent, covering Long Beach in Rockport, where my family lived. I also drew cartoons, illustrating some aspect of my column. It was the first time my cartoons appeared in print. In any event, not much happened during those summers in the mid ‘60s. I wrote about the Red Cross swim classes and the dances at the old wooden hotel at the end of the beach. Occasionally I’d mention their dinner specials. I also covered the August jellyfish invasions, including who got stung.

For decades I’ve written a (humor) column for The Salem News, which is now, ironically, a sister paper to the Gloucester Daily Times: LINK

Writing a humor column is much more interesting than writing news stories. In college (where I was an adult, non-traditonal student), I was an editor for the campus newspaper. This was great because I drew a lot of cartoons and never rejected my stuff.

(3) What are you currently working on?

I have finished my third Granite Cove Mystery: Laugh til You Die. Right now I’m editing it, going back over every chapter, which is a lot easier than having to write original stuff every day(!) Once I’m finished, I give it to Linda Ellis, a professional copy editor who not only picks up grammar errors, etc., but also offers advice on content. Writers need objective, experienced input. I’ve worked as an editor and have an MFA in writing, yet I know to seek others’ opinions.

(4) What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

Read the above about seeking professional help to make your book as “perfect” as it can be. Also, I’m always amazed by what happens when I put my manuscript away in a drawer and take it out two weeks later–or longer. The errors fairly jump off the page. I’d advise everyone to do this. I’d also add that it’s probably better to write to your strengths. If you like “cozy” mysteries but think you should pen a thriller because that’s what’s popular, go ahead and do it. It will probably feel like you’re slogging away. I think you must be totally invested in your writing. Otherwise your readers will yawn and nod off.

(5) What’s the best thing about being a writer?

You get to sit a lot, which is also one of the worst things about being a writer. What I love is creating a town–in my case Granite Cove, a “sleepy New England fishing village”–and populating it with “real” people. By the time you’ve written your third book, you see these characters. You know them intimately.

(6) How do you deal with writer’s block?

I went to Bennington College in Vermont for an MFA in writing. It was a low-residency program where we were on campus for two weeks every semester. When we returned home we had to write chapters of our novel, or in my case, short stories. This was pre-email days when we’d send our packets off to our faculty advisor who would make comments, etc. We had a deadline for sending our work in. Teachers wouldn’t accept excuses. Additionally, I used to write a column for another newspaper, a local weekly, in the ’90s. I had to submit my column every week, no excuses. Needless to say, the experience helped alleviate writer’s block.

Leslie Budewitz, Author

Leslie-WEB-Color 200Leslie Budewitz is the author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and the Spice Shop Mysteries—and the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. She first fell in love with Pike Place Market when she was a college student in Seattle. As a young lawyer working downtown, she ate her way through the Market at least twice a week, and still makes regular pilgrimages.

The president of Sisters in Crime, Leslie lives in northwest Montana with her husband, Don Beans, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat Ruff, a cover model and avid bird-watcher. Connect with her through her website and blog (LINK) or on Facebook (LINK).

Book links


GUILTY AS CINNAMON (Spice Shop Mystery #2, out December 1, from Berkley Prime Crime)

Pepper Reece knows that fiery flavors are the spice of life. But when a customer dies of a chili overdose, she finds herself in hot pursuit of a murderer…

From the cover …

 Murder heats up Seattle’s Pike Place Market in the next Spice Shop mystery from the national bestselling author of Assault and Pepper.

Springtime in Seattle’s Pike Place Market means tasty foods and wide-eyed tourists, and Pepper’s Seattle Spice Shop is ready for the crowds. With flavorful combinations and a fresh approach, she’s sure to win over the public. Even better, she’s working with several local restaurants as their chief herb and spice supplier. Business is cooking, until one of Pepper’s potential clients, a young chef named Tamara Langston, is found dead, her life extinguished by the dangerously hot ghost chili—a spice Pepper carries in her shop.

Now stuck in the middle of a heated police investigation, Pepper must use all her senses to find out who wanted to keep Tamara’s new café from opening—before someone else gets burned…


Readers often imagine that the main character in a novel—the protagonist, in writer-speak—is the writer herself. Now I’m writing two series, the Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries and the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries set in NW Montana. Which woman is me—Pepper Reece, my Seattleite, or Erin Murphy, my Montana girl? Both—and neither. And that’s the fun. I get to draw on my own experiences, while imagining very different lives.

Erin Murphy, the protagonist of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, is a lot like me in many ways. She left her native Montana, then returned in her early 30s. She spouts off snippets from plays and poems with little provocation. Jewel Bay, her hometown, is a lot like the community where I live, so she lets me dive into that theme of coming home, only to find that both you and the place have changed more than you expected. I also get to share my love of this wonderful state and a town that never fails to surprise visitors!

On the flip side, Erin is quite a bit younger, lives near her food-loving family, and even runs a business with her mother. Challenges, challenges!

Pepper Reece, the owner of Seattle Spice Shop in the Pike Place Market, is a Seattle girl through and through. She lets me indulge and explore my love of the Emerald City. We both fit the “life begins at 40” cliché, and as with Erin, I find it a lot of fun to explore an aspect of my own life through the life of a younger woman with her own talents, quirks, and choices.

Pepper dove into retail after her marriage ended and the law firm where she’d worked in HR, managing staff, imploded in scandal and took her job with it. She tossed her office wardrobe, cut her hair, and bought the Spice Shop, a forty-year-old institution that had lost its verve. She’s also got a wonderful loft in a century-old downtown warehouse, and in ASSAULT AND PEPPER, inherits a dog. She’s loyal, creative, and adventuresome, traits I think we share. Those are also great traits for an amateur sleuth. In GUILTY AS CINNAMON, those traits lead her to investigate the murder of a young woman she’d admired, and expose secrets that others are desperate to keep hidden.

As with Erin, Pepper’s commitment to her business gives her eyes and ears in the community—and that allows me to slip them into an investigation easily. Both are passionate about what they do, making them great company—a bonus when you spend months with a character.

I’ve got a theory about what makes amateur sleuths so intriguing, and it fits both Pepper and Erin. Murder disrupts the community. In an amateur sleuth mystery, the protagonist investigates, while law enforcement runs a parallel, official investigations. The officers and prosecutors are responsible for restoring external order. The amateur, through her involvement in the community, restores the social order. Both are essential for true justice.

And that drive, that belief that each of has a responsibility to work for justice, is ultimately what unites my protagonists and me, and makes them worth writing.

Alan Cook, Author

portraitAlan Cook is a recovering computer nerd who is well into his second life as an author of mystery/suspense novels and children’s books. His Carol Golden amnesia series now numbers five novels with the publication of Good to the Last Death.


Alan Cook

Author’s Den



When Carol Golden’s husband, Rigo, disappears, she not only has to look for him but also elude the FBI at the same time since there is evidence she may have been involved in his disappearance. She doggedly follows a faint trail, keeping her location a secret from everybody except her friend, Jennifer, a spy-in-training, who takes time off from her top-secret job to help Carol. What they find out is that an organization of “good” people dedicated to saving the earth from pollution and global warming may feel justified in carrying out activities reminiscent of the worst tyrants of the twentieth century as part of their solution, and that Rigo may be the first casualty.
The search for Rigo and the truth will take Carol from her married home of Los Angeles to the ruggedly beautiful Rocky Mountains near Denver where an unusually hot summer is fueling passions that may not be conducive to the long-term viability of the human race. Carol and Jennifer must have concrete evidence of wrongdoing and Rigo’s whereabouts before they can call in the FBI, but keeping themselves alive is going to be their first job. One misstep in the mountains can be fatal.

Links for purchasing Good to the Last Death:







Some people say the science of global warming (or fill in your own favorite cause) is settled. Science is never settled. If it were, the earth would still be the center of the universe. But new discoveries are constantly being made. My new suspense novel, Good to the Last Death, takes a look at do-gooders who may be doing a lot more harm than good.

When Carol Golden’s husband, Rigo, disappears, she not only has to look for him but also elude the FBI at the same time since there is evidence she may have been involved in his disappearance. She doggedly follows a faint trail, keeping her location a secret from everybody except her friend, Jennifer, a spy-in-training, who takes time off from her top-secret job to help Carol. What they find out is that an organization of “good” people dedicated to saving the earth from pollution and global warming may feel justified in carrying out activities reminiscent of the worst tyrants of the twentieth century as part of their solution, and that Rigo may be the first casualty.

The search for Rigo and the truth will take Carol from her married home of Los Angeles to the ruggedly beautiful Rocky Mountains near Denver where an unusually hot summer is fueling passions that may not be conducive to the long-term viability of the human race. Carol and Jennifer must have concrete evidence of wrongdoing and Rigo’s whereabouts before they can call in the FBI, but keeping themselves alive is going to be their first job. One misstep in the mountains can be fatal.

Albert Ashforth, Author

Albert Ashforth, authorAlbert Ashforth attended a technical high school in Brooklyn, where he became interested in drafting and illustration, and after graduating served in the Army overseas. After returning to the States and graduating from Brooklyn College, he worked for two New York City newspapers. Although he took his first newspaper job with the thought of becoming a cartoonist, Mr. Ashforth’s first writing was done for newspapers. On the basis of a newspaper article he wrote, he was offered a contract to write a book on the 19th-century English scientist, Thomas Henry Huxley, a project which required two trips to London for research at the Imperial College. Mr. Ashforth subsequently returned to Europe to work as a military contractor, and has done tours in Bosnia, Germany, Kosovo, Macedonia and Afghanistan. Among the subjects he has taught for the University of Maryland’s Overseas Program are Technical Writing and German. At the University of Basel and the University of Bern, in Switzerland, Mr. Ashforth delivered lectures on the acceptance of Charles Darwin’s ideas in continental Europe. He has worked as an instructor at Special Forces headquarters in Bad Tolz and trained officers at the German military academy in Neu Biberg. Mr. Ashforth has written three books and numerous stories, articles and reviews on a variety of subjects. His recently published novel, The Rendition, which unfolds against the background of Kosovo’s struggle for independence, is an espionage thriller which takes the readers into one of Europe’s poorest and most crime-ridden countries. The Rendition received the bronze medal from the Military Writers Society of America as one of the three best thrillers of 2012. Publishers Weekly described The Rendition as “an exciting spy thriller.” Mr. Ashforth is an assistant professor at SUNY and lives in New York City. He has completed the sequel to The Rendition. The title is Afghan Vindication. It takes place largely in Afghanistan and is scheduled to be published early next year by Oceanview.



The brutal secret war to win Kosovo’s freedom from Serbia is in full swing when The Rendition takes readers behind the headlines for an inside look at the United States’ involvement. Alex Klear, a veteran intelligence officer, is sent to the Balkans on a hastily planned rendition which goes terribly bad. Alex decides it’s time to retire. However, when he is persuaded to go to Germany as part of an operation connected to the rendition, he finds himself caught between two dynamic women, an old girlfriend and the female colonel running the ‘op.’ While there, he becomes a target of the Kosovo Liberation Army, a murder suspect to the German police, and for his superiors the perfect fall guy to take the heat for a badly botched secret operation. With Kosovo’s independence declaration coming closer by the day, the secret war heats up and Alex comes to realize that he is at the center of a murky conspiracy aimed at making the United States an international pariah.


A Villain By Any Other Name by Albert Ashforth

The place was a military installation in Germany. The time was the 1970s, smack in the middle of the Cold War. In the course of briefing a number of GIs, an officer announced, “Let’s not forget, we’re here for one reason, guys – and that’s to kill Commies!”

Looking back to that time, I’m reminded that “Commies” was an all-purpose word which served to describe our enemy. A Commie was a person who wasn’t quite human, and you didn’t need to suffer any qualms of conscience in the event that, along the way, you might have killed one or two. Just the opposite was true. As the officer indicated, killing “Commies” was a pastime to be encouraged.

I still remember that briefing, and I have to confess I was mildly surprised at the time to hear our enemies described in such a direct and unsympathetic manner. Didn’t “Commies” have families? Weren’t any “Commies” nice guys? Were there any “Commies” who helped old ladies to cross the street?

Today, military people are still straightforward in talking about the enemy. Commies, of course, are no longer the problem. In Afghanistan, I often heard the enemy referred to as Talibs,” but more often simply as “bad guys.”

But hold on! Our enemies in Afghanistan don’t think of themselves as “bad.” They think of themselves as “good.” For them, we Americans are the “bad guys.” We’ve invaded their country, and in the course of the invasion, we’ve been shooting up the towns, the cities and the landscape. Of course, we would say we’ve invaded for a good reason – to avenge the World Trade Center attack and to help make Afghanistan a more modern and better country. In this case, the invasion is seen from two different viewpoints, and that’s what causes each side to regard the other as “bad.”

Human nature being what it is, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a phrase in the Pashto language which serves to demean us the way we use “bad guys” to demean them.

Moving into the mystery writing world, I think we writers have a problem similar to that of military people. In talking about their books, mystery writers often refer to the “villains” inhabiting their stories. The term “villain” is interchangeable with “Commie” or just plain “bad guy,” and I think the problem is clear. The character in the story doesn’t think of himself or herself as a villain. No matter what they might be doing, I can assure you the “villain” feels perfectly justified in doing whatever he or she is doing.

In fact the term “villain” often sounds as if the author is writing off the character’s motivations as being unjustified. Or just plain awful. Or illogical. This is unfortunate because the person who is opposed to the hero is frequently the most interesting person in the book – and in fact can often be quite likable.

The best example of a likable villain is probably to be found in a couple of Shakespeare’s plays. Looked at closely, Falstaff is as awful a person as can be imagined. Sir John is repulsive in just about every way, and is everything a knight is not supposed to be. And yet he was the most popular and likable figure in all of Shakespeare’s plays. He obviously has some good qualities. He’s got a sense of humor. He can laugh at himself. He’s imaginative and never at a loss for words.

So take it from the Bard. Where your villain is concerned, give him or her some good qualities – thoughtfulness, generosity, a sense of humor. Let your villain be as likable as you can make him or her.

And give him or her some good lines. What are the most memorable lines in Hamlet, Shakespeare’s most popular play, and who speaks them? Polonius’s words of advice for his son are unforgettable. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” he tells Laertes, who is on his way to Paris. These lines also emphasize his concern for his son. In fact Polonius’s love for Laertes seems so great, it led him to murder King Hamlet. In the course of the play, he wants to kill Prince Hamlet probably to make it possible for Laertes to one day become king of Denmark. Polonius is definitely someone who thinks ahead – and who has an interesting mix of motivations, some good and some not so good.

As I said, the “villain” is quite often the most fascinating and complex character in a thriller or mystery. This means his or her motivations should be closely analyzed and explained in the course of the story.

I think “villain” is a kind of all-purpose term which is thrown around too casually. I prefer to think of people not on my hero’s wavelength as “opponents.” They are people who very definitely have an agenda different from my hero’s. By not thinking of them as “bad,” I find it is easier to make them human and interesting.


Donis Casey, Author

Donis Casey is the author of eight Alafair Tucker Mysteries, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, Hornswoggled, The Drop Edge of Yonder, The Sky Took Him, Crying Blood, The Wrong Hill to Die On, Hell With the Lid Blown Off, and All Men Fear Me. Her award-winning series, featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, is set in Oklahoma and Arizona during the booming 1910s. Donis lives in Tempe, Arizona, with her husband.

All_Men_Fear_Me_CoverALL MEN FEAR ME

Read the first two chapters on her website (LINK)

The U.S. has finally entered the First World War and scheduled the first draft lottery. No one in Boynton, Oklahoma, is unaffected by the clash between rabid pro-war, anti-immigrant “patriots” and anti-conscription socialists, who are threatening an uprising rather than submit to the draft. Alafair Tucker is caught in the middle when her brother, a union organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, pays her a visit. Rob Gunn is fresh out of an internment camp for participants in an Arizona miners’ strike. He assures Alafair that he’s only come to visit family, but she’s not so sure. More unsettling, Alafair’s eldest son enlists, and a group calling itself the “Knights of Liberty” vandalizes the farm of Alafair’s German-born son-in-law. Alafair’s younger son, 16-year-old Charlie, is wildly patriotic and horrified by his socialist uncle. With his father’s permission Charlie takes a part-time war job at the Francis Vitric Brick Company. Soon several suspicious machine breakdowns delay production, and a couple of shift supervisors are murdered. Everyone in town suspects sabotage, some blaming German spies, others blaming the unionists and socialists. But Charlie Tucker is sure he knows who the culprit is and comes up with a plan to catch him red-handed. And then there is old Nick―a mysterious guy in a bowler hat who’s been hanging around town.

Available in all formats from AmazonPoisoned Pen PressBarnes & Noble, or anywhere books are sold.

Jessie Chandler, Author

Official Author Headshot Jessie ChandlerAward-winning author Jessie Chandler lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her wife and two mutts, Fozzy Bear and Ollie. In the fall and winter, Jessie writes, and spends her summers selling T-shirts and other assorted trinkets to unsuspecting conference and festival goers.

The first book in Jessie’s new National Investigation and Protection Unit Operation series, Operation Stop Hate, launched March 2015. Lesbians on the Loose, Crime Writers on the Lam, a mystery anthology co-edited with Lori L. Lake was released in May 2015. Blood Money Murder, the fifth book in the Shay O’Hanlon Caper series, will be out in 2016, and the first book in Jessie’s new Art Thief series will follow. Learn more on her website (LINK)

Book Links




Social Media Links




Special Agent Cailin McKenna and her National Protection and Investigation Unit partners are drawn into a case that started with a pair of school shootings in Minneapolis. They soon learn that a hate group is recruiting teenagers on school grounds, handing out metal music rife with violent messages, and plotting a terrorist offensive on a major Twin Cities venue.

The case gets personal when the stabbing of Cailin’s brother is linked. To complicate matters, Cailin’s fiery new relationship is threatened by the return of a psycho stalker ex-girlfriend hell-bent on getting Cailin back.

Cailin soon finds herself in a fight for her life. And the clock is ticking–can she prevail in time to stop the worst terror attack that Minnesota has ever seen?


(1) Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

My most recent book is called Operation Stop Hate. It involves a school shooting, a hate group distributing hate music on school grounds and the investigation into the hate group to stop a terrorist attack on the Twin Cities. The underlying story is the true meaning of family and the many forms it can take. ​I originally wrote this in ​2005, I think it was. In Minnesota we’d had two school shootings–the Red Lake Massacre and the Cold Spring shooting. Both moved me to think about bullying and hate and guns. I pulled the manuscript back out a couple of years ago and pretty much rewrote the whole thing. I was surprised and disappointed we as a society had not moved forward nearly as far as we should have…school shootings are still happening with alarming frequency.

(2) How do you get inspired to write?

​Initially, I’d read a series of books that ended, and I was so disappointed! I wanted to know what was going on with my favorite characters. They’d become my best friends. I was crushed. After moping around awhile I decided that if I wrote my own series, I could keep my new friends around as long as I wanted to. Then I stumbled across National Novel Writing Month and the rest is history!!​

​Now, as soon as I go out and buy a new notebook, I know it’s time to work on the bones of a new book. That alone inspires me to get going!​

(3) What are you currently working on?

​I’m currently working on the 5th book in my Shay O’Hanlon Caper Series, Blood Money Murder. ​

This is a story about Eddy, Shay’s mom-figure, and a 25 year old secret she’s got that is about to come back and bite her and those she loves right in the derrière. ​It’ll be released by Bella Books in 2016.

(4) What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

​Take classes. When you think you know what you’re doing, you probably don’t. Don’t give up. Get it on the page and then you can worry about revising and editing. Write the story you want to tell, and give your characters VERY BAD TROUBLES. They need to learn and grow and that’s how you do it. Above all, writing should be fun. If it isn’t, something’s wrong!​

(5) What’s the best thing about being a writer?

​Writing gives me the ability to express myself in a different way than I do in real life. When I can take someone out of the day they’re having, and distract them…make them laugh, it’s my kryptonite. If I can touch somebody and entertain and perhaps even educate them, it makes my day. Being able to go to work in your pajamas isn’t a bad thing either!

(6) How do you deal with writer’s block?

​I’m lucky. I ​outline my behind off, so I rarely wind up with writer’s block. Outlines don’t have to be the dreaded old school formula. It can be numbered scenes, it could be by chapter, it could be by plot vs subplot. I can always veer off my course and have something happen I didn’t anticipate, but then I have my roadmap so I can get back on the right street that’ll get me where I’m going.

Carol Caverly, Author

1_head shotCarol Caverly is the author of the Thea Barlow Wyoming mystery series, All the Old Lions,  Frogskin and Muttonfat, and Dead in Hog heaven. The fourth in the series, Death by Doodlebug, will be out in early 2016. First published in hardback, the books are currently available as e-books for Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook. They were also selections of the Detective Book Club.

Carol lives in Colorado Springs now, but uses her extensive background of Wyoming ranch living for the settings of her mysteries.

LINK to her Amazon page

all the old lions coverALL THE OLD LIONS

Thea Barlow, Chicago native and newly minted editor for the city’s Western True Adventures magazine, is on her first assignment: prove her worth by getting the story of Halfway Halt, a defunct whorehouse in Hijax, Wyoming.

Upon arrival in Hijax, Thea is met with hostility. Assuming Thea is the “new girl” for the whorehouse, the townsfolk do not want the old days revived or their secrets revealed.

Then a local woman is murdered and the present owner of Halfway Halt is found unconscious in an old building. Now Thea must dig deep to unravel the mysteries of Halfway Halt if she’s to get the story… and survive.

The Best Part of Writing by Carol Caverly

                One of the things I’ve liked the most about writing fiction is being able to write about experiences that have thrilled me, and ideas I want to share. Twisting them into stories to entertain readers then becomes a challenge that has meaning, and is also quite a bit of fun.

Raised in a Chicago suburb, I married into a pioneer ranching family in Wyoming. The culture shock was enormous, but filled with awe and wonder. All my surroundings had changed. New experiences appeared around every corner, and the fascinating history of the Wild West was as close as the person standing next to me. My husband’s grandfather lived at the ranch through his declining years. He spent much of his youth as a round-up cook for various outfits. He was full of stories–encounters with the Butch Cassidy gang, a vigilante hanging in Newcastle, the ins and the outs of Johnson County war, and hundreds of others. I couldn’t get enough of them.

When my life-long love of reading turned to a desire to write a mystery guess who I chose as a heroine. You’re right! A young woman from Chicago who goes to Wyoming for the first time, not as a bride, but as an editor looking for stories. She, too, sees everything with new eyes. I even made a list of things I wanted her to experience, and evolved a plot that would include them. Things like ferocious thunder storms that turn dirt roads into quagmires of sticky, gumbo mud; spooky dugouts built into hills; underground coal fires caused by lightning or prairie fires; old-timers with secrets they want to keep buried, and of course, good-looking cowboys.

All you writers out there know that this story didn’t happen overnight. It took years of practicing craft, writing articles and short stories, learning the business, and becoming part of the writing community. But when my first novel was published, in hardback, it was the story of that young woman experiencing Wyoming for the first time. It’s the first book in the Thea Barlow Wyoming mystery series, All the Old Lions (which references those old-timers mentioned above.) I hope my love of Wyoming shines through all three (soon to be four) of the books.

Time moves along at an incredible rate. Everything changes. The small Wyoming town I knew as a bride, population three to four thousand, four paved streets, is now a thriving energy center, booming and busting through oil, coal, methane, and who knows what’s next. I’ve moved along as well. I now live in Colorado, but dream often of Wyoming.

I write about a lot of different things now, new places, new experiences, new ideas. But that first book–the thrill of writing, testing new skills–will always be the book of my heart.

If any of you have similar stories about a “special book” that you have written, or are working on, I’d love to hear them.

Jeffrey B. Burton, Author

JeffreyBBurtonB&WJeffrey B. Burton was born in Long Beach, California, but grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. He received a BA in journalism at the University of Minnesota. Jeff was delighted to be one of the winners in ThrillerFest X’s 2015 Best First Sentence Contest in New York City with a winning entry of: Alison chewed through relationships like a teething puppy.

Jeff is an active member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, the International Association of Crime Writers, and the Horror Writers Association.

To learn more about Jeff, please visit his website (LINK)  or his Facebook page (LINK).

TheLynchpinCoverTHE LYNCHPIN (MP Publishing, spring 2015) is the second novel in Jeffrey B. Burton’s Agent Drew Cady mystery series. Its predecessor, THE CHESSMAN, came out in 2012 to some excellent reviews, including a starred one in Publishers Weekly, and went on to sell to Random House in Germany as well as to other publishers in The Netherlands, Turkey, and the U.K.

THE LYNCHPIN begins with Agent Cady having waved goodbye to Washington, D.C., and ten-plus years of chasing violent felons for the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. He’s moved to Minnesota to be with his fiancée, and now works on the FBI’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force. Life could not be better. However, Cady’s tranquility is short-lived. He is ordered to help the local authorities investigate the murder of a young woman whose body was pulled from Lake Superior, then his workload doubles when his former boss kills a fellow agent and stands accused of being a spy. Cady’s plans of living the dream dissolve into a nest of killings and foreign intrigue.

THE LYNCHPIN is available at all online bookstores (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.), bricks-and-mortar shops, and in libraries across the United States and Canada.

Where do you get your ideas?

If an idea occurs to me, I’ll jot it down on a piece of scratch paper and toss it in my idea drawer. Then I’ll let the idea ferment for awhile to frame the rest of the elements of the story. For example, a few years back I’d jotted down “serial killer in hot pursuit of his own copycat.” Originally, it was going to be a short story, something along the lines of Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, where the killer has trapped his copycat and, whilst exacting revenge, explains exactly why his captor should never have insulted him by stealing his M.O. But the story kept getting longer and longer, and eventually it grew into THE CHESSMAN.

Please tell us about your writing process

I’m a bit of a binge writer where, if I get in the zone, twelve hours fly past and I have to remind myself to let the dogs out. Sometimes this goes on for days, which is a good thing as I’m able to make huge strides. And the dogs have for the most part been good—only a few messes.

In terms of working with editors, I’ve had the great privilege of having Ed Stackler edit both THE CHESSMAN and THE LYNCHPIN. Ed edits all of Greg Iles’ novels and his insight is invaluable. Both times Ed provided copious feedback, and, after calling the dogs a few less-than-hospitable names, I rolled up my sleeves and wound up incorporating all of Ed’s edits, which made the books much better.

Julia Buckley, Author

portrait 200Julia Buckley is a Chicago writer. She debuted with THE DARK BACKWARD in 2006; she followed that with the Madeline Mann trilogy and several stand-alone novels, now available on Kindle.

She has two upcoming series with Berkley Prime Crime; the first book, THE BIG CHILI, comes out on October 6.

Her hobbies are reading, writing, binge-watching tv series on Netflix, and hanging out with her husband, sons, and three cats.

Visit Julia at her website – LINK

book cover 200THE BIG CHILI

First in a delicious new mystery series filled with casseroles, confidences, and killers…

Lilah Drake’s Covered Dish business discreetly provides the residents of Pine Haven, Illinois, with delicious, fresh-cooked meals they can claim they cooked themselves. But when one of her clandestine concoctions is used to poison a local woman, Lilah finds herself in a pot-load of trouble…

After dreaming for years of owning her own catering company, Lilah has made a start into the food world through her Covered Dish business, covertly cooking for her neighbors who don’t have the time or skill to do so themselves, and allowing them to claim her culinary creations as their own. While her clientele is strong, their continued happiness depends on no one finding out who’s really behind the apron.

So when someone drops dead at a church Bingo night moments after eating chili that Lilah made for a client, the anonymous chef finds herself getting stirred into a cauldron of secrets, lies, and murder—and going toe to toe with a very determined and very attractive detective. To keep her clients coming back and her business under wraps, Lilah will have to chop down the list of suspects fast, because this spicy killer has acquired a taste for homicide…

Her Amazon Author’s Page

Now from Julia

(1) Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?
I had written a mystery set in the 1980s about a woman who owned a Hungarian restaurant. One of her employees was murdered, and the clues to the killer traced all the way back to the Hungarian Revolution in the 1950s. I sent it out to several agents, three of whom really liked it, but couldn’t quite figure out what “niche” it fit. Oh, those dreaded niches!  One of the three agents, though, told me that although she couldn’t find a place for my book, she liked my writing and was willing to dialogue with me about writing a slightly more “cozy” mystery. I ended up chatting with her via e-mail, and after I heard what she was looking for, (and after she gave me the seed of an idea that the agency had worked up just for me), I wrote three chapters of a book, along with a proposal for a three-part series, and she liked it. She had me tweak it a bit, and then she said she wanted to send it out.
I still love that first book that led me to agents and got them looking seriously at my writing, but I also love the new book that I created after the generous help and dialogue from my agent, Kim.
(2) How do you get inspired to write?
Some days I truly am inspired. I can write for hours and barely realize that I’m writing. I fall into what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “FLOW,” and I let the story come pouring out of me. On these days writing seems akin to magic (which is exactly what the Romantics like Mary and Percy Shelley thought about those ideas that come into our mind out of nowhere–that they were literally magic–and on some days I agree with them).
There are other days when I want to write, but nothing will come out.  They call this writer’s block, and I suppose I have experienced it, but I will also say that writer’s block can be conquered by simply pushing through. It’s much harder work, when the writing doesn’t flow, but it is often these days of pushing out the text, trying to get to that next scene, that are the real work and reward of writing. Sometimes I will drag myself through an hour or two of writing and realize I’ve only managed to scrape out a few pages, but later I’ll find that those pages are not bad; in fact, they can often be just as good as the passages written in “flow.”
My favorite writing times, obviously, are those inspired moments where I have an idea, and something clicks in my brain and I realize how the story should move forward. I practically run to my computer to get those thoughts down. At those times my computer is my beloved companion. On other days, when I avoid it, it feels as though my laptop is looking at me, judging me.  🙂
(3) What are you currently working on?
Thanks to my agent, I am writing two separate series for Berkley Prime Crime.
One centers around a culinary whiz named Lilah Drake who makes money by creating delicious covered dishes for friends and acquaintances and letting them take the credit. This becomes complicated when Lilah’s food is poisoned and she has to choose between telling the police the truth and protecting her secret business–and the clients who want her to remain anonymous.  The first book, THE BIG CHILI, comes out in October, and I’ve already written the second book. This summer I am working on the third.
The second series, called The Writer’s Apprentice series, involves a young woman named Lena London, who idolizes a writer of Gothic Romantic Suspense Novels (someone like Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, Victoria Holt). Through a series of serendipitous events, Lena gets to meet her idol. She ends up being hired as a ghost writer, and she moves into the very Gothic house of the famous Camillla Graham. Suddenly Lena’s life becomes as mysterious and dangerous as the lives of the heroines she admires in Graham’s books.
I have turned in the first book in that series, and this summer I am working on the second one, alternating with work on the book in the other series.  This is sort of an interesting brain challenge.  I’ll write on one book until I get sort of tired of it; then I take a break and work on the other book.  But this means I have to keep both stories fresh in my mind, which is difficult after a while.  I do a lot of re-reading.
(4) What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
I would tell aspiring writers (which I am as well–all writers aspire to that next best piece of writing), I would say that it is about talent, but even more so it is about persistence. That is true of more than writing–I’ve come to believe that one can reach any goal through persistent pursuit, and that is in fact how I reached mine. I contacted close to 70 agents with my last query, and three of those showed interest, and from those I winnowed down to the agent I’m working with now. She is my third agent, but she seems to be a good fit for me.
If I had only sent my book to one or two agents and then given up, I would not have gotten to this point in the publication process. If you get a rejection, take a day to be sad, and then send something out again in the morning. Hope springs eternal, and you should always have a query out there to keep hope alive.
Once you do start getting feedback from agents, even if it’s in a rejection, that’s a sign that you’re getting closer. Pay attention to that feedback; I did, and it helped me.
(5) What’s the best thing about being a writer?
Writers today can do all sorts of connecting with readers and fellow writers via the Internet and conferences and bookstores, and I’ve had some highly rewarding experiences in that regard.  When it comes right down to it, though, I’m an introvert, and my favorite part of writing is sitting down with my laptop and telling stories.  I’ve loved to do this since I was a small child. I still have little poems that my mother saved, some that I wrote as early as first and second grade, and I’ve been writing ever since.
Because I have always loved reading, I turned naturally to writing as an extension of that. I loved reading stories and novels, which led me to start writing stories and novels. My Writer’s Apprentice books are truly an homage to my love of reading, especially those great Gothic suspense novels of a bygone era.  So another great thing about being a writer is the chance to connect with the things you love the best in a fantasy world of your own creation.
(6) How do you deal with writer’s block?
As I mentioned above, I simply power through writer’s block, but it’s not a pleasurable activity. Since I have experienced its opposite, though, I am willing to plow through at low speed in hopes of eventually building back up to that state of flow.  We’ve all felt it, in one activity or another, and it’s worth working for.

Rebecca Bates, Author

IMG_3739Rebecca lives in Boulder, Colorado and writes in multiple genres under several pen names. She is the author of The Drowning of Chittenden, The Signal, Murder in the Dojo, Murder with Altitude, The Mound Dwellers, The Jigsaw Window, and various collections of short stories. The second book of her Centauri series, Prelude to Proxima, will release next month. Two more novels—a Sue Star and a Williamson-Beatty collaboration—will be released in early 2016. All titles plus collections of short stories can be purchased through links on her publisher’s website LINK.

Her Facebook

Twitter link

Follow the adventures of Rebecca and her pen names LINK

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00066]Amateur sleuth Nell Letterly returns in the second book in the series. A morning training run cleanses the mind and invigorates the spirit. Unless the training run involves finding a dead body and becoming the prime suspect for the police. Again. For Nell it also means dealing with powerful, established families that want to ruin her life, a lawyer on a rampage and a developer who wants to own all of Boulder. By the way, her father is losing it, her daughter is becoming more uncontrollable and her deceitful husband is still missing. Time to find the killer before the killer finds her.



Talking about Pen Names

There are as many reasons for using a pen name as there are writers who’ve used them.

I never expected to use a pen name. I like my name. And what if my friends don’t recognize a name as me?

Writing isn’t about me. Writing is a business, and I write in multiple genres. I want my readers to be able to find the type of story they expect.

I didn’t always think about writing as a business. I started writing because it was fun to make up stories in my head, and then I found out that my stories entertained others. Writing teachers always tell you to write what you like to read, and since I read all across the board, I started exploring different types of stories to write. I couldn’t choose just one genre! Exploring the variety of structures and styles that readers of different genres expect has helped me grow as a writer. So I’ve fallen into using pen names. Pen names point readers to the particular type of story they want to read.

My first publications were science fiction and fantasy short stories, which came out under my married name, Bates. My speculative fiction kept revisiting the theme of exploring other worlds, and eventually the Centauri series was born. The Signal sets up the first manned mission to Proxima Centauri in the near future.

But meanwhile I was also writing a romantic suspense, which is quite a different expectation for readers of speculative fiction, and so I decided to go with my maiden name, Williamson.

My next mystery turned out to be an amateur sleuth, which is a more traditional whodunnit, set in today’s funky world, and it’s part of a series. Fans of such cozies don’t always want their heroines to brood about the mysterious men they’re attracted to. They don’t always want to save humanity through science. I needed to separate those types of stories, so as not to lead my readers astray. That’s when the pen name of Sue Star came about. Murder in the Dojo introduces sleuth Nell Letterly as a single mom who teaches martial arts despite the opinions of her teenage daughter, sophisticated sister-in-law, and crotchety dad. Their misadventures continue in Murder with Altitude, about attitudes that can be deadly. The third book, Murder for a Cash Crop, will be released in March 2016.

As I continue to learn, some of my writing is growing edgier. I have been drawing from triggers from recent history, inspired by events I experienced through my travels. These stories deal with revolutions and political corruption and cultural differences. I could see that I was going to need another pen name, as cozy readers don’t always care for such darkness. Thus, Bill Beatty. One of Bill’s stories about a Turkish cop in the 1950’s will appear this November in Fiction River’s Hidden in Crime. And a novel, Dancing for the General, will be released in early 2016.

Being Bill or Sue is no secret. They just represent some of the different voices my writing plays with. It’s fun, being more or less anonymous, but at the same time anonymity is challenging in introducing pen names to readers. One thing’s for sure: I’m enjoying the journey!

Tony Broadbent, Author

Tony Broadbent 4CELAuthor of an award winning series about a Cockney cat burglar in austerity-ridden, black-market-riddled, post-war London that gets blackmailed into working for MI5: The Smoke, Spectres in The Smoke, Shadows in The Smoke, Skylon in The Smoke (2016). Short stories by Tony Broadbent also appear in the anthologies: ‘A Study In Sherlock’ and ‘Mystery Writers of America: The Mystery Box’. The One After 9:09 – A Mystery With A Backbeat is his latest mystery novel.

Tony’s been a fan of The Beatles since The Sixties…when he first heard and saw the group play on their first British tour. They rocked his world then…and they still do today.

Tony sang and played in a number of beat groups when he was a teenager… and was in The Ivy Leaves when the group was resident at Windsor’s famed Ricky Tick Club

He was an art-student in London, in the late Sixties—from ‘Revolver’ to ‘Let It Be’—and was an award winning copywriter and creative director at advertising agencies in London, New York and San Francisco. He lectures and consults on ‘Creative Thinking’.

909 Cover 4CELTHE ONE AFTER 9:09

Liverpool 1961. A city about to explode with the sound of raw-edged rock ‘n’ roll—reborn. Beat groups outnumber street gangs. Gangs of Teddy Boys terrorize dance halls and clubs with flick-knives and bicycle-chains. Gangsters demand protection money and firebomb clubs that don’t pay. But nothing can stop the beat. The beat goes on. The demand for drink, cigarettes, sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll just keeps growing.

But The Beatles are going nowhere fast—and they know it. Liverpool’s grown much too small. Hamburg has become a drag. It’s the same old grind—day in, night out. The big question: Who can get them a recording contract down in London—get them to ‘the toppermost of the poppermost’?

Only two men have vision enough to do it. Sam Leach—a pushy, local, rock ‘n’ roll mad promoter with towering dreams way beyond his means. And Brian Epstein—the sophisticated, urbane owner of a local record store.

A group of rival promoters are plotting to push Sam Leach out of the business for good. The man convicted of beating, robbing, and blackmailing Brian Epstein has not only vowed to kill him, but is about to be released from prison. Everyone, it seems, wants to spoil the party.

Into the swelling scene steps art student Raymond Jones, an angry young man desperate to find something—someone—to believe in after the death of his dad in a road accident. Picasso, Pollock, and de Kooning don’t have the answers. Neither do Kerouac, Camus, or Sartre. So, just maybe, he’ll find his salvation in rock ‘n’ roll.

Website LINK to purchase this book – IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble



by Tony Broadbent


THE SMOKE SERIES - 4CELA | The Beatles were one of the defining pop-culture events of the second half of the Twentieth Century. They helped shape the hopes and dreams—and aspirations—of millions of young people in the UK, the US, and all around the world. They certainly helped shape me. England made me? Yes—but so, too, did The Beatles. So you could say they’ve always loomed large. They’ve certainly given rise to countless thoughts, ponderings, and reflections in my life—and not just to do with their extraordinary music. Their story is truly one of the great folk tales of our times, worthy of being a grand opera, but as my talents don’t at all extend to that, I chose to look at the early days of The Beatles unfold in the form of a mystery novel


A | Some sources put the number of books published about The Beatles, worldwide, over the last fifty years, as being closer to two thousand. But even with all that, ‘the birth of The Beatles’ is still very much shrouded in controversy—mystery, even—and the traditionally accepted story of those early events has been questioned increasingly in the last 10-15 years or so. It’s the speculation that continues to swirl around the true beginnings of the band that gave rise to the novel.


A | The One After 9:09 touches upon a number of mysteries. Perhaps the most notable one arises from the meeting that history tells us took place around 3 o’clock, on Saturday, the 21st October 1961, in NEMS record store, in Liverpool. When an eighteen-year-old teenager, named Raymond Jones, asked Brian Epstein, the manager of the pop music department, if he had a copy of a disc called ‘My Bonnie’. “I’m afraid not,” Epstein replied, ”Who’s the record by?” “A group called The Beatles,” said Jones. That fabled meeting is said to be what first prompted Brian Epstein to seek out the then relatively unknown Liverpool beat group, The Beatles, and become their manager, and steer them on to worldwide fame and fortune. So you see the meeting was very much key to the whole Beatles’ story.


A | People have said for years that Raymond Jones was nothing but a figment of imagination—invented by one of Brian Epstein’s assistants simply as a means of getting ‘My Bonnie’ onto NEMS record store’s order books. But there’re an increasing number of people who now claim that Raymond Jones really did and indeed still does exist and that he really did go into NEMS to ask for the Beatle’s record. There’re even photos of him, apparently, from the Sixties and today.

I find both versions very compelling, but am still somewhat undecided about it. I feel that some questions—mysteries—motives—hopes, dreams, and fears—are perhaps better explored in a narrative form. It’s not that I’m trying to get away from Beatles’ history—far from it. Whenever The Beatles appear in the novel, the times and dates, almost every incident and event, are taken directly from research done by a huge number of people over the past 50 years. Primary sources for me being Bill Harry and Mark Lewishon. Followed by Philip Norman, Ray Coleman, Bob Spitz and others. My debt of gratitude to all of the many individuals concerned is total.


A | He does in my book—although I also give him a nickname to help muddy the waters even more. The funny thing, though, once you start looking for Raymond Jones in The Beatles’ story, the name pops up in the most unexpected places. I all but fell out of my chair when I found out the bass player in The Dakotas (Billy J. Kramer’s backing group) was called Raymond Jones. Small world. And as to why Brian Epstein would think it necessary to introduce the world to Raymond Jones—real or imaginary—in his autobiography A Cellarful of Noise—well that’s much of the story of The One After 9:09


A | It goes directly to who Brian Epstein was and why he did what he did. Not to deal with that part of his life would have been to render a great disservice to an extraordinary man trying to exist—and succeed—in difficult, very much more bigoted and blinkered times. Homosexuality was a very serious criminal offense in Great Britain during Brian Epstein’s life—punishable with prison. How he dealt with it all—shaped him—and in turn helped shape The Beatles as a hugely successful band. I don’t believe for one instant that his prime or only motive for him wanting to manage the group was because he fancied John Lennon. That’s far too simplistic a reading. His story is far more complex than that. And I truly believe that without Brian Epstein and all he did for the group, we would never have heard of The Beatles. The band would have broken up and gone their separate ways. As individuals—John and Paul—even George—might well have succeeded to some degree, but it wasn’t at all guaranteed and unlikely to have been anything like the worldwide success they went on to achieve as The Beatles. Ringo Starr, already justly famous as a drummer all round Merseyside, was already looking for new and greener pastures and was even thinking of emigrating from the UK to Texas.


A | Huge. I can only repeat what I said about Brian Epstein. Without George Martin—and the unique support and creative license he gave the group—however brilliant their potential—individually or collectively as a band—we would simply never have heard The Beatles as we all came to know, know, know them—and love, love, love them. George Martin’s input—his musicianship, wit, wherewithal, and style—was unique among London record producers at the time. Everyone else would have tried to remake The Beatles into something they were not. And even George Martin was on the verge of making such a mistake at the beginning of their artistes-producer relationship. Lucky for all of us that he sensed ‘the something very special’ waiting to rock the world.


A | That’s another one of those mysteries that Beatles’ fans are still arguing over. Even people, who were there, in Liverpool, at the time, have different theories as to why it happened. And again, The One After 9:09 allowed me to explore the event—not The Beatles’ finest hour—within the larger context of the times—the motives—the moods—hopes and dreams—of all the many characters involved. And—no—I don’t put it all down to George Martin deciding that Pete Best wasn’t good enough to drum on any future recordings made by The Beatles. Again, I believe it to be a more complex story—and one much influenced—for good or ill—by the mores and moralities of the times.


A | Sam Leach played a hugely significant role in helping to establish and extend the success of The Beatles in the early years. John Lennon and Paul McCartney said as much on different occasions. It stuns me that, other than for a few relatively well-informed Beatles’ fans, he still remains largely unacknowledged for all that he did. There’s hardly any mention at all of him in The Beatles – Anthology. Bill Harry—the founding editor of Mersey Beat—invariably features Sam in all of his many encyclopaedic works on The Beatles, but you have to know exactly who to look for and why. Ray Coleman featured him, prominently, in Brian Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles. (The book that first alerted me to the importance of Sam Leach.) And—as you’d expect—Sam and all his magical, madcap doings are faithfully recorded in the many works of The Beatles’ historian Mark Lewisohn. But Sam Leach is missing-in-action almost everywhere else, which is a crying shame.


A | Yes. Almost. John’s song is actually entitled: ‘One After 909’. It was one of his very earliest compositions—even though it only came to light much later—and almost as a throwaway—in the Savile Row rooftop concert filmed at The Beatles’ Apple London headquarters for the documentary ‘Let It Be’—later included on the album of the same name. Written very much in the style of American railroad songs. (Johnny Cash did as much with ‘Folsom Prison Blues’.) And if you were a teenager in England, in the late Fifties and early Sixties, you couldn’t but fail to jive to Lonnie Donegan—the King of Skiffle—and his version of ‘Rock Island Line’—the song by the great bluesman, Huddie Ledbetter—also known as ‘Lead Belly’.

And so if John’s song ‘One After 909’ was the genesis of the book—then one of Paul McCartney’s first songs, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, was what in the end gave it its tone and form—and heart. And, hopefully, if I’ve achieved nothing else, it’s a way for me to give ‘heartfelt thanks’ to two extraordinary men—John Lennon and Paul McCartney—for their sublime body of work and all that they—and George Harrison and Ringo Starr—have meant in my life.

Judy Penz Sheluk, Author

Judy Penz ShelukJudy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was released in July 2015 by Barking Rain Press. Her short crime fiction appears in World Enough and Crime (Carrick Publishing) and The Whole She-Bang 2 (Toronto Sisters in Crime).

In her less mysterious pursuits, Judy works as a freelance writer, specializing in art, antiques and the residential housing industry; her articles have appeared regularly in dozens of U.S. and Canadian consumer and trade publications.

Her Amazon Author Page




new book coverHANGED MAN’S NOOSE

Small-town secrets and subterfuge lead to murder in this fast-moving, deftly written tale of high-stakes real estate wrangling gone amok. Journalist Emily Garland lands a plum assignment as the editor of a niche magazine based in Lount’s Landing, a small town named after a colorful 19th century Canadian traitor. As she interviews the local business owners for the magazine, Emily quickly learns that many people are unhappy with real estate mogul Garrett Stonehaven’s plans to convert an old schoolhouse into a mega-box store. At the top of that list is Arabella Carpenter, the outspoken owner of an antiques shop, who will do just about anything to preserve the integrity of the town’s historic Main Street.

But Arabella is not alone in her opposition. Before long, a vocal dissenter at a town hall meeting about the proposed project dies. A few days later, another body is discovered, and although both deaths are ruled accidental, Emily’s journalistic suspicions are aroused. Putting her reporting skills to the ultimate test, Emily teams up with Arabella to discover the truth behind Stonehaven’s latest scheme before the murderer strikes again.

PrintClick on the Barking Rain Press logo to sign up to receive the first 4 chapters FREE and get a 35% off coupon to buy the book!




I’m beyond happy to be part of this blog series, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. Yes, I’m here to promote my debut mystery, The Hanged Man’s Noose, but it’s much more than that. You see, back in the Winter of 2011, I took Mystery I through Gotham Writer’s Workshop and my instructor was Carole Bugge!  I was working towards my Fiction Writing Certificate (which I received in July 2012), and, though I knew absolutely nothing about writing mysteries, it was a genre I loved to read.

Carole’s assignments focused on plot, character, dialogue and much more. She was always encouraging and supportive, while providing great feedback. Here’s one comment from Carole to my post in “The Booth” (a place where all the other students can a portion of your work and comment):

“I think you have a good strong premise and setting and protagonist, and once you start cleaning up some of the story details, you’ll be in great shape.”

Of course, the manuscript changed many times since then (I did, in fact, clean up the story details!) but Mystery I gave me a safe place to test the waters, learn more about the craft, and gain confidence as a writer.

Thank you, Carole, for making a difference in this writer’s life.

[You can read Judy’s Student Success Letter to Gotham here (LINK) ]

Albert Bell, Author

BELL_ALBERT_00277Albert Bell teaches history at Hope College, in Holland, MI. He and his wife have four adult children and a grandson. He has been publishing in various genres since the 1970s.

Bell is the author of two middle-grade historical mysteries, The Secret of the Lonely Grave and The Secret of the Bradford House. He also writes a mystery series set in ancient Rome, featuring Pliny the Younger. In addition Bell has written a contemporary mystery, Death Goes Dutch, set in west Michigan and two non-fiction books.

His websites links

Albert Bell

Pliny Mysteries


Pliny’s servant Aurora, who is also the forbidden love of his life, has played Good Samaritan to a woman who claims to be searching for her missing husband. Thinking he can help the woman, Pliny steps in, assisted, as usual, by his friend Tacitus. But the situation turns into a web of deception and intrigue when they discover evidence of a horrific murder while searching in the countryside for clues to the whereabouts of the missing man. After Aurora is injured, Pliny’s involvement becomes personal. He’s even desperate enough to ask Regulus, his longtime sworn enemy, for help when the case brings him to the malevolent attention of the emperor Domitian.

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For most of my professional life I have studied the Roman writer Pliny (rhymes with Minnie) the Younger, who lived in the late first century AD. I’ve used his letters as sources in my academic writing and in my teaching. A friend of mine says she thinks I am Pliny reincarnated. I can’t go along with that, but I do find it a bit unsettling that Pliny’s favorite estate was his house at Laurentium (Laurens in Latin) because I was born in Laurens, SC.

Thirteen years ago I began writing historical mysteries featuring Pliny and his friend, the historian Tacitus. The fifth in that series, The Eyes of Aurora, came out last year. I’m 60,000 words into the next one, but more about that at the end of this post. What made me decide to use Pliny as a detective was the skeptical, inquisitive mind he displays in his letters. His eyewitness description of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD is still an important source for volcanologists today. His letter about the Christians is the earliest and most valuable non-Christian description of the church that still survives. He also provides valuable insights into the social milieu in which he lived.

As a writer I find Pliny appealing because he also thought of himself as a writer. He held various government offices and pled cases in court, as a gentleman of his class was obliged to do. Like his uncle and adoptive father, Pliny the Elder, he carried out a variety of official duties, but in his letters we find that he considered himself “devoted to literature” and begrudged every minute spent doing anything other than reading or writing. One of his biggest complaints about government work was having to write “unliterary letters.”

By the time he was thirty Pliny was considered one of the best writers of the day. His letters are really short essays on various topics. Scattered throughout the collection, however, are Pliny’s observations on the craft of writing. He shows us how little the writer’s problems and aspirations have changed over the centuries.

Writing must be a fulltime job, Pliny says, even if you earn a living doing something else. He took notebooks along on hunting trips so that, if he (his servants, actually) failed to catch anything, he could still utilize the time and the inspiration of the countryside. In one letter we find him at his desk during the Saturnalia (the Roman equivalent of Christmas/New Year). In another he refuses to waste time at the chariot races. (I substitute “television” and find the advice uncomfortably applicable to myself.) For Pliny, his literary activity “brings me joy and comfort. It increases every happiness and consoles every sorrow.”

Pliny’s advice on writing is not merely theoretical. He suggests a kind of training regimen to increase a writer’s productivity:
• Keep yourself physically fit. “It is amazing how physical activity sharpens one’s wits,” he says in one letter. In another he mentions “the exercise which makes my intellect ready for work.”

  • Write passages on subjects that others have written on, then compare yourself to them. This is a basic technique used in some modern writing courses (and is a standard

method of producing TV programs and movies).

  • Revise things you wrote earlier. This will “rekindle your fire.” It might also result in a sale, as I learned when I revised and sold a piece I had written five years earlier and put aside after a couple of rejections.
  • Try writing in different genres. In Pliny’s words, “the ground is renewed when planted with different kinds of seed.” My own writing career—if that’s not too pretentious a term—began with a number of non-fiction articles in newspapers and magazines. Then I took a stab at writing stories for children’s and women’s magazines. Not only did I enjoy some success in those fields, but I found that everything else I wrote benefited from the emphasis on plot development and characterization in those genres. For Pliny, “this is the principle which permits me to mingle my more sober works with amusing trifles.” He wrote speeches, essays, a play, even smutty poetry (none of which survives).
  • Read, especially in your primary field of interest. “A writer must read deeply, not widely,” Pliny advises.
  • Persevere. Pliny shames all of us who have an unfinished novel in the bottom desk drawer when he says, “If you don’t finish the work, it is the same for posterity as if you never started it.”

Such is Pliny’s philosophy of writing on the large scale. He also has advice on handling a work in progress.

First, keep your focus. “I consider it a writer’s primary responsibility to read his title, to constantly remind himself what he started out to say, and to remember that he will not say too much if he stays with his theme.”

Second, be certain your style is appropriate to the type of piece you’re writing. In one letter Pliny refuses to write history because at the moment he is working on some speeches, and he doesn’t want to risk mixing the two genres, “for fear that I’ll be carried away in the confusion and treat one genre in a style more fitting for the other.”

Third, accept criticism and revise. This is one of the most frequent themes in Pliny’s letters. He sent copies of his works to friends or read things to them and asked for criticism. In one letter he describes how he supplied desks and writing materials so his listeners could make notes while he read them a piece he had written. In another letter he sends a piece to a friend, confessing that he is thinking of publishing it, “if only you give me a favorable reply.” He expects to receive, and promises to give, honest critiques to fellow writers: “my sting may be duller than usual, lacking some of its sharpness, but it has not been completely pulled out.”

Pliny and his friend, the historian Tacitus, exchanged manuscripts for critique. One of Pliny’s letters accompanied the manuscript he was sending back to Tacitus with his suggestions on it. What we wouldn’t give to have a copy of Tacitus with Pliny’s marginal notes!

Revision can be overdone, though. Pliny tells one friend to stop revising his book and publish the thing. “Your book is finished, I would even say perfect. Further revision won’t polish it. All it will do is dull the finish.” He tells another friend, “I’m glad that you go to so much trouble in revising your work, but you must put a limit to this. In the first place, too much polishing blurs the outline instead of sharpening the details, and then it . . . prevents you from starting on a new piece.” That’s a point I’ve tried to make with a couple of people in my writers’ group.

Pliny shows us how little the difficult process of writing has changed in two millennia, no matter how much the technology surrounding it has improved. He would feel at ease, I think, having coffee with a group of modern writers and talking about our craft. One question that would inevitably arise would be, If it is so all-consuming a thing to be a writer, why do we do it?

For Pliny the answer wasn’t money. Like most of us, he never made money from his writing. (They didn’t even have royalties in those days.) But he found the self-satisfaction which law and politics couldn’t provide. He was gratified to learn that his books were selling as far away as southern Gaul. People stopped him on the street and said, “You’re Pliny, aren’t you?” I still recall with pleasure the day my first article appeared, while I was in graduate school. Another student in one of my classes turned around and asked, “Are you the Mr. Bell who writes for the Christian Century?”

Pliny would also say that immortality can come only from creating something which outlives us. Without getting metaphysical he advises his friends that they don’t know what lies beyond death. Only by publishing something can they “leave behind some monument to prove that we ever lived.”

Pliny’s letters brought him the immortality he hoped for. And they have much to teach modern writers about the fine points of their craft. They show us that writers, in any time period, are ultimately seeking the same objective, which Pliny summed up in this challenge: “Create something. Perfect it so it will be yours for eternity.”

Now, about the sixth book in my Pliny series. Ingalls Publishing Group did the first three books. For the fourth and fifth, I moved to Perseverance Press, hoping to get more national exposure. I was invited back to Ingalls for the sixth book, but the owner of Ingalls died in March and his wife is closing down the operation. Perseverance’s list is full for the foreseeable future, so at the moment I’m dead in the water.

My inability to get to the next level in publishing has long been a source of frustration for me. I have not only another Pliny book to offer a publisher, but also several other projects. Library Journal named the second Pliny book one of the 5 Best Mysteries of 2008. Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus have said kind things about other books in the series. Steven Saylor and John Maddox Roberts, authors of two of the best known Roman mystery series, have offered enthusiastic comments about my work. One of my middle-grade novels won the Evelyn Thurman Young Readers’ Award in 2008. My wife isn’t the only one who thinks I’m a pretty good writer, but I can’t get an agent to look at my work. I don’t want to self-publish. Pliny did, but that was the only kind of publishing available in his day.

I hate to close on a whining, self-pitying note, but if anyone reading this knows an agent or editor who would like to take on a writer with a proven track record, please let me know.

Luisa Buehler, Author

1 of 2Luisa Scala Buehler grew up in the town of Berkeley, IL, a suburb of Chicago. when her parents made the decision to sell their home on the west side of the city. The small bungalow on Victoria Street was perfect for her family: two parents, older brother, and an uncle.

Her first exposure to a public library was the small “volunteer” library located in the basement of a grocery store onTaft Avenue. It was there that she discovered Nancy Drew. Luisa realized that this would be her career; not girl detective, but girl mystery writer. About that time, her family subscribed to the Sunday paper and Luisa found another fascinating role model in the comic pages, Brenda Starr, reporter!

Website LINK to purchase her books

150200p440EDNthumb14rosary2The Rosary Bride: A Cloistered Death

Book One of the Grace Marsden Mystery Series

During the 1940’s the women attending Rosary College insisted a beautiful young woman wearing a ‘fancy dress’ haunted the halls near the chapel.  Many claimed to see the apparition often entering, sitting, and softly crooning a mournful melody. Stories of the ‘Rosary Bride’ continue from generation to generation. Fifty years later, during the renovation of the college library, workers expose a skeleton.

Grace Marsden, present at the discovery is drawn into the search for the victim’s identity, fearing the remains will lead to skeletons in her own family closet. Against her husband, her best friend, and her own common sense Grace determines to find the truth. Her involvement grows beyond her control when the dead woman reaches out to her. Can Grace name the ‘Rosary Bride’ before her killer strikes again?

Plotting while Potting by Luisa Buehler

2 of 2

How do my stories grow? The answer to the nursery rhyme would be, much like my garden. Many of the plot devices and much of the descriptive tone of my stories were developed while I gardened. Over the last twenty years I have planted and nutured a perennial flower garden that runs the length of my yard, across the front atrium and around the side of the house to the deck. I do the work on my own with occasional hired help to move mulch and flagstone.

During the hours I spend immersed amongst the plants, my mind often turns to murder and mayhem. In my second book, THE LION TAMER: A CAGED DEATH, I use fool’s parsley as a means to poison a character. I got the idea from studying the similarities between the doppelganger, growing in the field behind my house, to my real garden grown parsley. It’s an easy mistake to make and I capitalized on that fact.

That discovery led to my interest in garden variety poisonous plants, many of which I already grew (but didn’t know) and others that I’ve since planted. Beyond finding ways to dispatch characters, time spent in the garden helps me plot, develop and polish the story.

When I noticed that my grey coneflower grew taller than I had envisioned when I planted it, I realized that I’d have to move it or the thick growth would smother the more fragile Blue Gentian. When I thought about that, I realized in my WIP at the time that I had over developed a story thread that turned out to be too weak to carry the story. The more interesting plot had been left to languish under the heaviness of the other story thread. I rewrote the focus and developed the intricate story as the continual thread and switched the larger story as a backdrop running behind the scenes. The story took off and practically wrote itself.

So many writing tips come from my garden time. Readers have commented that they ‘hear’ and ‘smell’ scenes in my books. You can’t avoid the sounds and scents in a garden: freshly turned rich, black soil, a whiff of Trumpet Flower or Night Jasmine, birds’ early morning calls or the drone of a bumble bee searching out a favorite flower. Awareness of those sounds and smells reminded me to write beyond only visuals. In one scene the thrip, thrip, thrip, tat, tat, tat, tat, of a lawn sprinkler provides a clue with a sound they should have heard, but didn’t.

The south side of the house is a bit of a naturalized area. I have consciously planted ground cover and evenly spaced taller plants. The other plants have wandered in from air born seeds, bird assisted planting or replanted bulbs courtesy of a busy squirrel. In a story, most of the ideas are planned but some ideas show up, take hold and bloom.

Working in the garden allows the ‘no-brainer’ tasks at hand to present sounds, plot twists, murder methods and structure to my subconscious mind which always has a plot percolating.

The only transition I’ve not yet made from garden to writing is suspense. Difficult to spot tension between plants, although I think the Monarda shivers when the Monskhood leans its way.

B. L. Wilson, Author

Betty Profile 250 x 250 (google+)After an unpleasant publishing experience, BL decided to take control of her own fate and that of her books. She became a self-published writer two weeks before All Hollow’s Eve of this year.

She enjoys writing. She loves using it to release her inner bitch through the characters she creates. Her novels and short stories allowed her to examine who she is, in black, white and various shades of gray.

She can work out her ‘stuff’ through her characters. She finds it very liberating to do so. She vows to keep writing until she can’t.

Book Giveaway For Tiger Eyes: Can a woman change her stripes?

Giveaway dates: Aug 15 – Sep 15, 2015

Tiger EyesONE AUTOGRAPHED COPY. B.L.’s seventh novel, Tiger Eyes, can a woman change her stripes?, explores the contentious relationship between a famous doctor, Bedford Riddle, and his estranged police sergeant daughter, Elaine.

Sergeant Elaine Riddle becomes the victim of a holiday DWI. Luckily, Dr. Sandra Moxely, an ER trauma surgeon, witnesses the fatal car crash. She provides medical assistance at the scene and then performs the surgery to repair Elaine’s broken wrist. The two women act on their attraction for each other and begin filling nights and weekends with each other at the Double R Ranch.

Tensions explode when Elaine discovers her father confided a terrible secret to Sandra instead of to her. In a fit of jealous anger, Elaine banishes Sandra from the ranch and her life.

Thus begins Elaine’s journey of self-discovery. Should she let go of an old family rift that occurred between her and her father before it is too late? Should she allow herself to let her guard down and admit the love she has for beautiful Sandra and take the next logical step? Can a woman who thinks she has life figured out change her stripes?


Facebook Giveaway – ONE autographed copy of my “Safe Haven” book

Safe Haven# 1 in UK Kindle Store for African American mysteries, thrillers and suspense!
Get your copy of the fastest-selling Kindle book from BL Wilson!
A runaway wife discovers love in the arms of a female doctor who treats her broken bones and bruises then mends her broken heart.

Joanna Fairfield AKA Ms. Smith AKA June Davis is on the run from a murderous man who wants more than her love. Vicious killer Vernon Brown wants to take Joanna’s son, adopt him and kill her.

Running away for the second time on a dark stormy night, Joanna stops in a place called Eagle View, North Carolina. It’s the small town her grandmother always claimed was a good place to raise any child. Her son, Danny is ill and she needs a doctor. When she meets the town’s one and only family doctor, Dr. Ellie Winston, sparks fly.

Funny at times, poignant and deeply moving, Safe Haven, is a survivor’s tale that you’ll remember.

This book is intended for mature audiences.


Michael A. Black, Author

PortraitMichael A. Black began his police career as a US Army Military Policeman. He subsequently entered civilian law enforcement and was a police officer in a south suburb of Chicago. He worked in various capacities in police work including patrol supervisor, SWAT team leader, plain clothes tactical sergeant, and investigations. He was awarded the Cook County Medal of Merit in 2010, and retired from police work in 2011. Black is the author of 25 books and over 100 short stories and articles. He has a BA in English from Northern Illinois University and a MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. He has written two novels with television star Richard Belzer of Law & Order SVU. Black also writes novels in the Don Pendleton Executioner series. One of these, Sleeping Dragons, was a finalist for Best Novel in the International Media Tie-In Writer’s Association in 2013. His novel Payback was once again nominated in this category in 2014. His latest Executioner novels, Dragon Key, Desert Falcons, and Uncut Terror, are due out in 2015. Black’s latest novel under his own name, Chimes at Midnight, is a thriller set in Washington D. C.

IANACWith Richard Belzer

I Am Not a Cop!


When Richard Belzer meets Rudy Markovich, NYC medical examiner, for dinner in Brighton Beach, he has little reason to expect anything more than a friendly bull session. But in the next twenty-four hours Belzer finds himself in the middle of a vicious street brawl, splashed across the tabloid headlines as an out-of-control celeb, and fearing for the life of his good pal Rudy — who police assume is sleeping at the bottom of the East River.

As Belzer finds himself increasingly required to call upon the resources he taps to portray Detective Munch on nbc, he maintains his sense of humor and carries us along on a rollicking ride through the underworld of New York City. With Rudy kidnapped, or worse, it falls to The Belz to track him down and solve the riddle to the vanishing act.

The lives of Detective Munch and Richard Belzer collide and mesh in I Am Not a Cop! as one of America’s great comics and TV cops brings all of his talents to bear in book form and provides a triumph of the mystery genre.


  • What tips would you give someone that is thinking about writing their first book?

I’ve usually tell people who are thinking about writing that first book to quit thinking and get busy writing. I teach a class on getting published at a junior college and tell people about the various types of would-be writers. One type, the idea man, is always coming up with these “great” ideas. The only problem is that he never gets around to writing about them. Another type is the endless reviser. He starts his novel, writes a chapter or two, and then goes back to revise what he’s written. Usually he gets caught in a loop, having a few really polished chapters, but never a completed manuscript. So I tell people, if you want to write, quit talking about it, put your behind in the chair, and do it.

  • Why did you become an author?

I’ve been writing just about my whole life. I wrote my first short story in the sixth grade. I wrote an essay about this in a Writer’s Digest book called How I Got Published. It’s out of print, but I think it’s still available on Amazon. The name of my essay was “A Sixth Grade Education.” I guess to sum things up, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. And while we’re on the subject, I think the most important trait of anyone who wants to me a writer is perseverance.

  • Any new releases on the horizon?

Well, my Executioner novel, Desert Falcons, just came out in June. I write these under the name Don Pendleton. I have another new Executioner novel coming out in October 2015. It’s called Uncut Terror. The working title was Diamonds Aren’t Forever, which I figured they’d change, but they actually use it as a subtitle on the back cover. As I said, these books are published under the name Don Pendleton, who was the creator of the original series and characters. I always try to write a book that I hope he would have liked. I’ve got a thriller under my own name coming out next year called Blood Trails. The last book that came out under my own name was last year’s Chimes at Midnight.

  • How did you find your voice as a writer?

Well, as I said, if you want to be a writer, you’ve got to write. The great Ray Bradbury once said you have to write a million words before you find your voice. While I don’t think everyone has to match that number, his point was well taken. As I said, I’ve been writing all my life and you have to keep writing, revising, and learning. I’m always seeking to improve my writing. It’s essential to get good feedback on what you’ve written, and then revise. I use Rolad Dahl’s quote, “Good writing is rewriting,” in all of my classes.

  • Tell us about your writing process.

I try to write every day. I always have a pen and tablet with me in case I get an idea. There will be days when you have a million excuses on why you don’t feel like writing, but you have to force yourself. If you wait until you’re in the mood to write, you’ll probably never finish that novel. My procedure is to sit down and force myself to write two pages. When I finish that second page, I reassess the writing session. If it’s not working, I stop and do something else. But sometimes you can write yourself into the mood and continue. In any case, if you do two pages a day, you’ll have sixty pages by the end of the month, and a couple of novels done by the end of the year. Like I said before, if you want to be a writer, you’ve got to write.

R. G. Belsky, Author

Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, in New York, NY (John Makely / NBC News) NBC News Dick Belsky.R. G. Belsky is an author of crime fiction and a journalist in New York City. His new suspense thriller, SHOOTING FOR THE STARS, is being published by Atria on August 11. It is the latest in a series of books featuring Gil Malloy, a hard-driving newspaper reporter with a penchant for breaking big stories on the front page of the New York Daily News. The first book in the Gil Malloy series – THE KENNEDY CONNECTION – was published in 2014 and an ebook novella titled THE MIDNIGHT HOUR came out in February 2015. Belsky himself is a former managing editor at the Daily News and writes about the media from an extensive background in newspapers, magazines and TV/digital news. At the Daily News, he also held the titles of metropolitan editor and deputy national editor. Before that, he was metropolitan editor of the New York Post and news editor at Star magazine. Belsky was most recently the managing editor for news at His previous suspense novels include PLAYING DEAD and LOVERBOY. He lives in New York City.

Author Facebook Page

Author website

Twitter: @DickBel

shootingforthestarsupdatedSHOOTING FOR THE STARS

Some thirty years ago, movie star Laura Marlowe was shot to death by a crazed fan in New York City, who then killed himself. The police ruled it a murder-suicide, the case was closed, and the beloved starlet faded away into history. But when New York Daily News reporter Gil Malloy re-investigates Marlowe’s death, long-buried secrets emerge and he begins to uncover the trail of a new serial killer. And more people are dying. Now, before he can solve the current crimes, Gil must find out what really happened to Laura Marlowe all those years ago.

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O.J. AND ME    By R. G. Belsky

I’ve never met O.J. Simpson. But I feel like I’ve known him all my life. All three O.J.s. The beloved football superstar of the ‘70s. The accused murderer from the Trial of the Century in the 90s. And the O.J. who sits in a jail cell in Nevada today.

My new suspense thriller, SHOOTING FOR THE STARS (Atria – August 11), is about a celebrity crime. I tell the story of a tabloid newspaper reporter named Gil Malloy who links the long-ago murder of a legendary Hollywood movie star to a series of present-day celebrity killings. I draw on a number of real-life celebrity murders – most notably John Lennon and Sharon Tate – in my fictional story.

But it also brings back memories of the most amazing celebrity crime case I ever covered as a journalist – the murders of O.J. ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

My first connection with O.J. came when I wrote a biography of him while he was the most famous athlete in America as a star NFL running back with the Buffalo Bills, budding movie star and TV pitchman for Hertz rental cars (who can forget those old commercials of him running through an airport!) and a lot of other products. I told the inspirational tale of how he had risen from a San Francisco ghetto to fame and fortune; talked about him being humble, kind and a loving family man; and lavished praise on him for being a wonderful role model for American youth. Hey, who knew back then?

Then, in 1994, I was a tabloid news editor at Star magazine when his ex-wife Nicole was murdered. I dispatched a reporter to the scene who said the police had found blood on his property that might be linked to the murder – and O.J. could be a suspect. It all exploded a few days later with the White Bronco chase on the freeways of LA, the O.J. murder trial that became must-see TV; and the colorful cast of characters that emerged in the case like Johnny Cochran, Kato Kaelin and all the rest. We ran O.J. Simpson on the front page of the Star for more than a year.

By the time of the final sad chapter in the O.J. story, I was an editor for NBC news websites. We covered exhaustively his trial, conviction and sentencing for a bizarre botched armed robbery attempt in Las Vegas to retrieve some of his football memorabilia. Of course, the bald, aging O.J we saw in the Nevada courtroom by then was a lot different than the charismatic football hero who won America’s hearts so many years ago. But O.J. Simpson was still making big news.

Now in my book, SHOOTING FOR THE STARS, I tell the celebrity crime story of Laura Marlowe – a young Julia Roberts like actress – who was gunned down by a crazed stalker on the streets of New York City in a scene reminiscent of the John Lennon slaying.

Or was she?

Newspaper reporter Gil Malloy uncovers evidence there was much more to the slaying – and that the real killer could be responsible for many other celebrity deaths. Among the suspects are a crazed Charles Manson-like group of fanatics; a brutal mob boss; and greedy family members of Laura Marlowe who are still making a fortune on the Laura’s Marlowe name after her death.

But the truth is that no matter how many twists and turns and crazy characters I put into my novel, I’m still not sure they can ever match the amazing but true story of O.J. Simpson.

I mean just think about the O.J. storyline for a potential celebrity crime book or movie plot. The man goes from poverty to riches and then bankruptcy; from obscurity to fame and then infamy; from a ghetto to a Hollywood mansion and finally to a jail cell. And it all really happened.

Now if O.J. could only find Nicole’s real killer….

Rex Burns, Author

Rex in sunRex Burns is the author of numerous books, articles, reviews and stories. The first in his series of police procedurals, The Alvarez Journal, won an Edgar for Best First Mystery and introduced the hard-boiled Denver homicide detective Gabriel Villanueva Wager. Another, The Avenging Angel, was made into a feature movie starring Charles Bronson. With Suicide Season, Burns introduced the Devlin Kirk series, a Denver private detective specializing in industrial security.

Burns’ books are published in hardback and paperback and have been translated into a number of foreign languages. He is also co-editor, with Mary Rose Sullivan, of an anthology of detective stories entitled Crime Classics, and has published under the pen name “Tom Sehler.” He has published short stories in several periodicals and anthologies, and his “Leonard Smith” series of Aboriginal police stories currently appears in “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.”

For several years Burns wrote a monthly mystery book review column for the Rocky Mountain News. Other of his reviews have appeared there and in the Denver Post, the Miami Herald, and the Washington Post. A number of his essays on craft have been published in The Writer and elsewhere. He was a contributor to Scribner’s Mystery and Suspense Writers, and an advisor and contributor to the Oxford Companion to Mystery.

He received his AB from Stanford University, and, after serving in the Marine Corps, his MA and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. He has published articles on American literature and culture, and a study of nineteenth century values entitled, Success in America: The Yeoman Dream and the Industrial Revolution. Retired from the University of Colorado, he lives and writes in Boulder, CO.

Agent: Sorche Fairbank, Fairbank Literary Representation.

His Web page LINK

His Email:

crude carrierWhen a sailor dies under unusual circumstances, Raiford goes undercover on the high seas

The Rossi family received only a handful of letters after their son shipped out on the supertanker Aurora Victorious. The first dispatches were from Harold himself, describing the blend of tedium and excitement that defined life onboard the ship. The last communication came from the ship’s owners: four brief sentences informing them that their son had died and been buried at sea. Desperate to know more, the Rossis turn to James and Julie Raiford, the father-daughter detective team behind the Touchstone Agency. As the Raifords soon learn, work on the open sea is dangerous—and asking questions can be deadly.

When the shipping company stonewalls the investigation, James joins the Aurora Victorious as an electronics officer, and Julie digs into the proprietors’ shadowy background. International oil shipping is a ruthless business, and its secrets run as deep as the ocean itself.

LINK to his Amazon Author Page to purchase his books


1) Idea for most recent book
It came from the “what if” file: what if someone could steal a lot of oil, how and why and where . . . . and the story begins.

2) Inspiration
I don’t know if “inspiration” is the term. More like desperation–not writing makes me grouchy, writing (well) makes me happy. It’s a compulsion that can even occasionally become a burden.

3) Current project
The current project is a novella featuring a series character who has so far appeared only in short stories: Constable Leonard Smith of the West Australia Police.

4) Advice for aspiring writers
Have a second job. As for writing advice, Ben Johnson said it in the 1500’s: read the best writers, hear the best speakers, and practice, practice, practice.As for profiting from one’s work–the changes in publishing make marketing more important for an author than ever–even, it often seems, more important than writing talent.

5) Best thing about being a writer
The satisfaction of telling a good story that has, in some way, added to a reader’s enjoyment.

6) Writers block
Start  four or five different stories and go with the one that feels right. Usually, two or three out of the four or five storylines will fall together, and you’re off and running.

Nancy Barr, Author

nancy_barr_portrait_9955A transplant to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at the age of 9, Nancy Barr grew up in the tiny town of Rapid River nestled at the top of Little Bay de Noc. She earned an associate’s degree with honors from Bay College, and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Lake Superior State University, a master’s degree in rhetoric and technical communication from Michigan Technological University (MTU). Her favorite memories as a young child are of weekly trips to the neighborhood library with her late mother to spend hours poring over books of all kinds. An award-winning newspaper reporter and editor for ten years, she teaches technical communication at MTU, where she is also a PhD candidate in rhetoric, theory, and culture. An animal aficionado, she lives on the Keweenaw Peninsula with three demanding, but lovable, cats. When not writing, Nancy enjoys hiking and photographing the natural beauty that abounds in the Upper Peninsula. Her novels include Page One: Hit and Run (July 2006), Page One: Vanished (May 2007), and Page One: Whiteout (November 2009), all from Arbutus Press, and available in e-book and trade paperback format.



Amazon Author’s Page

Hit and Run cover lo resPage One: Hit and Run

Sassy, gutsy reporter Robin Hamilton investigates a murder in Escanaba, Michigan, a small-town where things are not always as they seem. As Robin covers the scoop of a hit and run accident for the local newspaper, a killer watches her every move. Tension builds as Robin discovers the killer’s motives and becomes a target herself.


Vanished coverPage One: Vanished 

While vacationing in picturesque Copper Harbor, Michigan, newspaper reporter finds a dusty old scrapbook in a used bookstore that opens a Pandora’s box of horrors as she delves into the disappearances of several teenage girls across the Upper Peninsula over a thirty-year period.

Door with a mysterious glowing light rays.Page One: Whiteout 

After her fiancé Mitch, a suburban Chicago cop, is gunned down on duty, Robin escapes back to the peace and quiet of her hometown in Upper Michigan, but finds that neither distance nor a job with the local paper can erase the memories, nightmares, and questions of who killed Mitch. The hunt for Mitch’s killer sends Robin into a world of guns, drugs, and money laundering that shatters her illusions about small-town folks.


What it means to be an ‘honest’ writer

By Nancy Barr

Author of the Page One mystery series set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

 Lately I find myself in awe of people who have the freedom and courage to speak their mind, regardless of the repercussions. I recently read Roxanne Gay’s fabulous collection of essays titled Bad Feminist and marveled at the way she used of humor and plain English to dispel a multitude of myths about what it means to be a feminist and a woman who does not fit into neat categories. Her work has got me thinking about what it means to be a writer, one who is honest with herself and her work.

I began writing the first Page One mystery novel in 2000 with just one thing in mind – tell the story of Robin Hamilton, a young woman about my age who also did not fit into neat categories. At the time, there were few mystery novelists focusing on Generation X women and their concerns, especially in rural areas, experiencing lifestyles and making choices far removed from the Sex and the City myth portrayed routinely on screen.

Robin is not beautiful, wealthy, or particularly brilliant. Like her namesake, the herald of spring in Michigan, the character is physically fragile – petite, blonde, more likely to fall on her ass than kick it with a well-placed roundhouse. But she is also strong, building a career as a newspaper journalist at a time when journalism was losing its Woodward-and-Bernstein golden halo of civic duty, unafraid to peel back the layers of obfuscation that are the natural product of concentrated wealth, power, and cronyism.

Most importantly, through Robin I explored the grieving process, something I have experienced too many times and seen abused as a cinematic trope. If I had one objective for the Page One books, wherever the series led me, it was for Robin to be real, to cry, to fear, to drink to excess to hide that fear, to doubt, and finally, to rise from the ashes of her past trauma and again fly fully-formed into the future.

It turned out that it took three books for me to tell Robin’s story, three books that feature the small historic mining and logging towns, lakefront resorts, and thick forests of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, my home now for more than three decades.

On the surface, the U.P. may seem like a strange place to launch a murder mystery series. It’s not exactly a hotbed of crime and its residents, not particularly diverse in terms of race (predominately white, with several thriving Native American tribes), tend to be on the lower end of the economic scale. However, it is the beloved home base for multitudes of educated Yoopers (the nickname given to U.P. natives) who physically left to earn a living, but spiritually remain tied to the region. Robin speaks to everyone who has ever needed to hit the reset button on their life, to go back home before she can move forward again.

The U.P., a heavily forested area nestled among three Great Lakes, provides the peaceful setting needed for rejuvenation and an honest appraisal of one’s self. Yoopers do not suffer artifice lightly. You rarely see faces altered by Botox. Instead, crinkles at the corner of the eye settle on nearly every face by the age of 25 thanks to years of smiling, sometimes through tears, as we make the best of unpredictable weather and economic malaise, while thanking the heavens for our pristine environment and tight-knit communities.

After reading the Page One trilogy, I hope you feel what it’s like to be a Yooper on a beautiful fall day or during a blizzard, what it’s like to grieve for loved ones in waves that are sometimes crashing and sometimes lapping, and what it’s like to find a path forward through the darkness.

Here’s a link to where I call home now and the focus of my work in progress:

James R. Benn, Author

James-R-BennJames R. Benn is the author of the Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries, published by Soho Press.  The debut title, Billy Boyle, was named one of the top five mysteries of 2006 by Book Sense and was a Dilys Award nominee.  Several books have been Indie Next Picks and well-reviewed in the New York Times. The eighth, A Blind Goddess, was long-listed for the Dublin Literary Prize. The ninth, The Rest Is Silence, is a Barry Award nominee for 2015. The tenth, The White Ghost (9/1/15) garnered a starred review in Booklist.

Benn lives in Hadlyme, Connecticut with his wife Deborah Mandel. In 2011 he retired to write full time after working in the library and information science field for over thirty years.  He received a graduate degree in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State University. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the Author’s Guild.

Benn finds his writing is best guided by two quotes that have helped keep him focused.
The first is from Oscar Wilde, who said “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s pants to a chair.” The second is from novelist Rachel Basch, who stated “The story has to move down, as well as forward.”  Both are simple, profound, and complex.





book coverIn the Pacific during WWII, Billy Boyle must discover if skipper, and future president, Jack Kennedy is a cold-blooded killer.

1943: In the midst of the brutal, hard-fought Solomon Islands campaign between the Allies and the Japanese forces, Lieutenant Billy Boyle receives an odd assignment: he’s sent by the powerful Kennedy family to investigate a murder in which PT skipper (and future president) Jack Kennedy has been implicated. The victim is a native coastwatcher, an allied intelligence operative, whom Kennedy discovered on the island of Tulagi with his head bashed in. That’s Kennedy’s story, anyhow.

Kennedy was recovering in the Navy hospital on the island after the sinking of his PT-109 motor torpedo boat. The military hasn’t decided yet whether to make him a hero for surviving the attack, or have him court-martialed for losing the boat, and the last thing the Kennedy clan wants is a murder charge hanging over his head. Billy knows firsthand that he shouldn’t trust Jack: the man is a charmer, a womanizer, and, when it suits his needs, a liar. But would he kill someone in cold blood? And if so, why? The first murder is followed by two more, and to find the killer, Billy must sort through a tangled, shifting web of motives and identities, even as combat rages all around him.



How do writers of historical fiction remain true to the past? It’s nearly impossible.

“There is no such thing as human history,” according to the 19th century historian John Lothrop Motley. Addressing the New York Historical Society in 1868, he said all we possess is “a leaf or two from the great book of human fate as it flutters in stormwinds ever sweeping across the earth. We decipher them as best we can with purblind eyes, and endeavor to learn their mystery as we float along to the abyss; but it is all confused babble….”

Motley was talking about the inability of moderns to fully understand the past, to leave behind their own preconceptions and their grounding in contemporary times. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. referred to Motley in his famous paper “History and National Stupidity”, published in the New York Review of Books in 2006. “History is not self-executing,” Schlesinger said. “You do not put a coin in a slot and have history come out…the past is a chaos of events and personalities into which we cannot penetrate. It is beyond retrieval and it is beyond reconstruction.”

Chaos beyond retrieval. Yet professional historians keep writing books about Lincoln, about Rome, the American Revolution, about the great devils of history and the fewer angels who inhabit the past.

Writers of fiction labor at history too, illuminating the past not through footnotes and the global view, but from the viewpoint of characters, giving modern readers ancient eyes with which to see the through those stormwinds of history. A society must know and understand its past, just as a person needs to know where they came from: the story of their life, their parent’s lives and the lives of others who came before. If we fail to understand our past, either as a legend or the objective truth, we stand on crumbling ground as we try to move forward.

As a writer of historical fiction, I make up a lot of things. But the core of the story, the sense of when at the heart of the novel, remains sacred ground. That is the place I try to go and see with ancient eyes. Only once in my life did I truly see with those eyes. It was September 12, 2001. I stood outside, gazing up at the empty blue sky, and realized that for the first time in my life, I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I was adrift, and felt a kinship with my fictional character, Billy Boyle, going off to war in 1942. Those men and women didn’t know what was going to happen next either. All the history I’d read had not prepared me for that simple truth. As a matter of fact, it disguised that truth by giving me the outcome to every great battle and struggle of history, telling me a finished story that blinded me to the open-ended human drama. The wondering; what will become of me? Of those I love? Of my country?

I always thought he was joking, but now I understand what Oscar Wilde meant when he said, “The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.”

In The White Ghost, I worked to present a young Jack Kennedy at the brink of maturity, coming to grips with the real world in the steamy seas surrounding the Solomon Islands. Through the fictional lens of a murder investigation conducted by fellow Boston Irish-American Billy Boyle, the reader may hopefully understand the historical forces that shaped the young man who would go on to be President John F. Kennedy.

Claire Applewhite, Author

Claire Applewhite 200Claire Applewhite, mystery writer and Acquisitions Editor for Smoking Gun Publishing, LLC, is a graduate of St. Louis University. Her published books include The Wrong Side of Memphis, Crazy For You, St. Louis Hustle, Candy Cadillac and Tennessee Plates. She is also an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis.

Applewhite has served as a Past President of the Missouri Writers Guild and Board member of the Midwest Chapter, Mystery Writers of America. Organizational memberships include the St. Louis Metropolitan Press Club, St. Louis Writers Guild, Sisters in Crime, Ozark Writers League and Active member, Mystery Writers of America.


Smoking Gun Publishing

Claire Applewhite

Claire du Noir LLC

PrintStruggling to comprehend his new and sometimes cruel reality involving poverty, disease, drug addiction, and racial tension, the young intern, Thomas Spezia, is not prepared for the rigors of training and the gritty reality of St. Louis City Hospital. When his mentor, Dr. Skelton, assigns the case of Lori Raines, a terminally ill patient, Thomas becomes overwhelmed by her needs and the demands of her philandering husband and so he embarks on a treacherous road to self-discovery that indelibly transforms his life. Everyone has a dream, but every dream has a price. Thomas must answer the question that gnaws at him, day and night: Has the price become too high?



(1) Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

My latest release, THE DOCTOR’S TALE, is based on a diary found in a patient’s medical records during the demolition of St. Louis City Hospital. An entry called “Bitter Rendezvous” is particularly poignant. In it, a terminally ill patient describes her husband’s affair, and her own subsequent decision. The unfinished story really grabbed me, and I wanted to give it an ending.THE DOCTOR’S TALE is the result. It was just released on Amazon this past week.

(2) How do you get inspired to write?

The movies, music and fashions of the 1940’s are inspiration for my novels, as well as snippets of conversations and/or people I meet that I find intriguing. I’m always asking, “What if?”

(3) What are you currently working on?

I am currently at work on a romantic suspense novel called A BUNNY’S TALE. Of course, it has a femme fatale named “Bunny.”

(4) What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

I would advise aspiring writers to strive for a daily production quota of at least five pages. Read, read, read, especially the work of those authors who write in a similar genre. Learn from them what works for you. Most importantly, write to find your own unique voice.

(5) What’s the best thing about being a writer?

The best thing about being a writer is being able to create a fantasy world, the people who live there, the words they say, and the things they do. It’s so much fun, and when other people tell you they enjoyed reading your work, there is nothing better.

(6) How do you deal with writer’s block?

Write through “writer’s block.” Just keep writing, even if you think it’s not going to be your best work. Some of my best scenes started out that way. Just remember, you can go back and rewrite it later. Don’t let yourself get in your own way.


Mike Befeler, Author

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMike Befeler has six published books in his Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series, the most recent being Nursing Homes Are Murder. He also has two published paranormal mysteries, The V V Agency and The Back Wing and a theater mystery, Mystery of the Dinner Playhouse. His First non-fiction book, For Liberty: A World War II Soldier’s Inspiring Life Story of Courage, Sacrifice, Survival and Resilience was released this year. His first historical mystery, Murder on the Switzerland Trail, will be published in October. Mike is past-president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.




book cover 200

For Liberty: A World War II soldier’s inspiring life story of courage, sacrifice, survival and resilience. May 1, 2015

What price did our World War II veterans pay for Liberty? “For Liberty” is a World War II veteran’s inspiring life story of courage, sacrifice, survival and resilience Ed was a Jewish-American soldier who served in the 399th Infantry Regiment of the 100th Division in Europe during World War 2. From the end of 1944 through 1945, the division fought valiantly to expel the Germans from France. Ed recalls the battle in the foxholes, hand to hand combat that involved knifing the enemy, throwing Molotov cocktails at enemy tanks and more horrors of war during the relentless combat. The 100th division suffered over 12,215 casualties and hundreds of soldiers reported as missing in action were actually taken prisoner by the Nazis in Germany and mistreated as were all of the holocaust victims. Some, like Ed, miraculously survived. (There were over 94,000 Americans detained in the European campaign during World War II.) In order to transport the prisoners to the POW camps, the Germans forced Ed and hundreds of prisoners into overcrowded rail cars and locked them in for 7 days without food and water. They could only stand chest to chest. Ed survived but the time in the crowded box car damaged a leg. However, many perished before arriving at the camp.

Book Buy Link

Author’s Amazon Page

Pen Names by Mike Befeler

 When I started writing in 2001, I used my name Mike Befeler for all my manuscripts. Although my legal first name is Michael, I have gone by Mike since elementary school. The only exception was my mom would call me Michael when she was mad at me.

When my first mystery novel, Retirement Homes Are Murder, was published in 2007, I didn’t give it a second thought. Then I met authors who wrote under pen names. Some chose a pen name because their names were complicated or didn’t seem appropriate for the genre they wrote. I could understand this. One of my favorite non-fiction books is Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Since I reference this book in talks I give, I had to go to a pronunciation web site to figure out how to say his name. This might not be the catchiest name for a mystery writer.

Then I learned of authors who have multiple pen names. To me this seemed confusing. I have enough trouble keeping my one name straight to say nothing of having multiple Facebook pages, etc. Some publishers required their authors to assume multiple pen names for different series. This didn’t make much sense to me. I could understand this if someone wrote both children’s books and erotica, but to have multiple cozy mystery series under different names appeared artificial to me. This was supposedly to not confuse readers about the different series. But readers are smart. They know who the author is so why go through the pretense of different names?

The most important reason to use different pen names is to meet readers’ expectations. But I think this can be achieved with clear communication on the type of book it is and a well-defined description on the author’s web site.

One of my favorite examples of an author who went to the extreme was thriller writer John Creasey who over a forty year career published 562 books under twenty-eight different pen names. In addition to crime fiction, he wrote science fiction, westerns and romance—the romance being under his wife’s name.

But I have stubbornly continued to publish under the name Mike Befeler for my geezer-lit mystery series, a standalone theater mystery, two different paranormal mysteries and a non-fiction biography. In addition I have my first historical mystery coming out later this year. Having worked with four different publishers, no one has yet tried to get me to change my name. So I can continue to hand out one business card.

What do you think about authors using more than one pen name?

Cynthia Morgan, Author

author 200Cynthia A. Morgan is the creator of the mythical realm of Jyndari and author of the recently published epic fantasy, “Dark Fey: The Reviled”, which draws the reader into a mystical realm of primordial forests, magic and the lives of Light-loving and Darkness-revering Feykind. Not to be confused with pixies or “Tinkerbell” type fairies, the feyfolk of Jyndari are winged beings the size of any human who live in a realm where tradition, magic, and spirituality are fundamentals of everyday life.

Cynthia is also the author of the trending blog, which in less than two years has amassed over 5000 followers and has hosted in excess of 90,000 visitors from more than 170 countries worldwide. Her social media reach continues to grow via Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter where she has gained an additional 3000+ followers. She is a current member of the Independent Author Network, has had poetry published on the websites,, D’, and is also a prominent guest writer on Poet’ In March 2015 Cynthia was interviewed by The Lebanon Daily News about the publication of DARK FEY and upcoming book signing events.

Some of her other interests include a deep love of animals and the environment, which led her to become a Guardian with the ASPCA since 2008. She loves music; frequently is heard laughing; finds the mysteries of ancient times, the paranormal and the possibilities of life elsewhere in the cosmos intriguing, and believes in the power of Love, Hope, Peace and Joy, all of which is reflected in her lyrically elegant writing style.

Cynthia is currently writing “Dark Fey: Standing in Shadows”, book two of the eagerly anticipated Dark Fey Trilogy.

FINAL Cover 200Dark Fey, The Reviled is a fantasy set in the primordial forests of mystical time in a land peopled by both Light Loving and Darkness Revering Faeriekind, or Fey. It is a tale of Light and Darkness, of Joy and Sorrow, the Loved and the Unloved. It shares the Trials and Triumph of Courage and Perseverance while wrapping the reader in lush, lyrical descriptions and exquisitely developed characters. 
In the mystical realm of Jyndari, a relationship between two unsuspecting, yet kindred souls who are separated by far more than social stigma, blossoms in secrecy that could shatter both their worlds. Ayla, a Light loving, Guardian of Childfey hides more than a few secrets; secrets that isolate her and set her apart. Secrets that bring her to the attention of one who comes in shadow and silence; one who watches, waiting for the ideal moment to step from the darkness, reveal the truth about himself and alter the course of her life forever. 
Escape into a world of Magic and Mystery; into a Realm of Beauty and Enchantment, into an intense adventure for your Mind and Spirit that will leave you yearning for more.

Dark Fey The Reviled can be found on Amazon – LINK

Connect with ~Morgan~ via:

Her Blog




Blessings and Giggles? by Cynthia Morgan

Blessings and Giggles 300

Yes, why not? After all, God invented Laughter, so why not share our giggles and smiles with the world? It could be easy, I suppose, to sit long faced, moping, sullen, brooding, cantankerous, but what purpose does it serve? One only ends up vexing everyone else, including oneself!

As Children we smile and giggle throughout the day. We laugh, we play, we make up rhymes ( and some of us never stop doing that!), we create words, (or that!) we reach out to others with open hearts and smiling spirits. So what happens to change that and when? Metaphysics may not be my Ph D, it may not be my cup of tea (yep, there I go rhyming again), but where do the giggles go? What brings reality crashing down upon us to make laughter stale and smiles sour?

I cannot tell you, but for every frown, there IS a smile, somewhere, waiting to be shared. For every growl of anger or bitterness, there IS an infectious giggle just waiting to burst forth, and for every scoff of derision and unkind muttering there IS a light-hearted tune playing quietly in the background…somewhere. It may be half way around the world, and it may be just next door, it’s hard to say, really, where you may find it or when it may suddenly, smilingly, appear, but it IS there.

Now, what if you were the melodious tune being whistled? What if you were the genuine smile offered in the face of a scowl? What if you supplied the unexpected, mirthful giggle? Whose life might you lighten and brighten? Whose day might be inexorably altered? If that person thought Happiness was miles away and, instead, it was just in the next office cubicle, or beside them on the tube, or in the next car while mired in rush hour traffic, then Heaven would be, briefly, within reach, wouldn’t it?

And YOU would be the Angel winging Love and Hope, Peace and Joy and GIGGLES, to the world.

So yes, Blessings and Giggles, my dear Friends.


Doug Allyn, Author

ALLYN PHOTO 1The author of eight novels and more than a hundred and twenty short stories, author Doug Allyn has been published internationally in English, German, French and Japanese. More than two dozen of his tales have been optioned for development as feature films and television.

Mr. Allyn studied creative writing and criminal psychology at the University of Michigan while moonlighting as a guitarist in the rock group Devil’s Triangle and reviewing books for the Flint Journal. His background includes Chinese language studies at Indiana University and extended duty USAF Intelligence in southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

Career highlights? Sipping champagne with Mickey Spillane and waltzing with Mary Higgins Clark.

His first published story won the Robert L. Fish Award from Mystery Writers of America and subsequent critical response has been equally remarkable. He has won the coveted Edgar Allen Poe Award twice, ( nine nominations) seven Derringer Awards for novellas, and the Ellery Queen Readers’ Award an unprecedented eleven times.


downloadDr. Dave Westbrook, a small town veterinarian, is often bitten by Boxers, clawed by cats, and trampled by trotters, but the most dangerous animals of all walk upright on two legs. 
In cooperating with the local sheriff, Dave sees the dark and violent side of pets and their owners. And when it comes to killing, the human race could give lessons to lions.

Book buy LINK



What we do. What they do. By Doug Allyn

          The last time I spoke with Robert Parker, turned out to be the very last time we would ever talk. Life’s like that sometimes. A smorgasbord of surprises, some of them not so easy to swallow.

But that night was a pure pleasure. A brief conversation at the Edgars banquet, between two guys who knew each other to say hello to, but that’s about it.

Bob had chosen one of my stories for a Year’s Best anthology, and we talked about that, then I mentioned that my favorite book of his, was Love and Glory.

“Wow, haven’t heard that title in awhile. It only sold six copies and I think my mom bought two.”

(Love and Glory is a college romance about a blue collar kid who falls for a girl who’s much too good for him. And wins her in the end.)

I asked if he’d talked to my wife for his research. He laughed and said that Joan gave him all the input he needed.

“The truth is, not counting MacBeth, most guys marry women who are too good for us.” And I agreed.

“But I still loved that book, and I’m glad you wrote it, even if it wasn’t a big hit.”

“No problem, I never expected it to be…”

And there was a pause, as we both considered what he’d just said. And then we both laughed at the same time.

“What?” I said. “You had doubts it would sell, but wrote it anyway? What’s up with that?”

“It’s a truth about this business that I picked up early on. We do what we do, they do what they do.”

I must have looked baffled.

“What we do, the writing, is an important part of the trade. But it’s not the only part. Publicity, marketing, and the freakin’ phases of the moon all affect the way a book sells.”

“Probably,” I agreed.

“Oh, it’s true all right. And what I realized was, that I couldn’t really affect the way a book sells. I couldn’t write a hit book. All I could do was write the very best book I could. So that’s what I do. But whether it’s a hit or not? That’s not up to me.”

“That part’s what they do,” I nodded, getting it. “That’s a dangerous philosophy.”

“It’s worked pretty well for me,” he grinned. “So far, anyway.” We shook hands and said our goodbyes. As it happened, for the last time.

But gone is not forgotten. I’ve often mulled over that talk. And what it meant.

For openers, I reread Love and Glory, to see if it was as good as I remembered. I liked it even better than before. Hell, a roughneck kid who falls for a girl who’s much too good for him?

That’s my story too. No wonder I like it.

So why didn’t more people buy it?

Damned if I know. Phase of the moon? Bad cover? Pick one, or make up your own reason.

Bob’s point was, if you can’t affect the outcome, why make yourself crazy worrying about it? “We do what we do, they do what they do.”

Does that mean a book like Love and Glory is a failure?

Hell no. Bob Parker had a good time writing it, this reader loved it and I’m sure many more will discover it over the years.

But just in case it does remain overlooked, he dealt with many of the same universal issues, (mismatched love and the frictions thereof), in every Spenser, Jesse Stone and even his westerns.

He kept on doing what he did. Better than anybody.

And that’s all any of us can do. Our very best.

“We do what we do, they do what they do.”

And then we do it again.

Baron R. Birtcher, Author

Author PhotoBaron R. Birtcher spent a number of years as a professional musician, and founded an independent record label and artist management company. Critics have hailed Baron’s writing as “The real deal” (Publisher’s Weekly) and his plots as “Taut, gritty, and powerfully controlled” (Kirkus Reviews).

His critically-acclaimed Mike Travis series (Roadhouse Blues, Ruby Tuesday, and Angels Fall) have been LA Times and IMBA Bestsellers. Angels Fall was nominated for the “Lefty” Award by Left Coast Crime, and his stand-alone, Rain Dogs, was a finalist for both the Claymore and Silver Falchion Awards.

Hard Latitudes, the newest Mike Travis thriller, is being released in June 2015.

Link to his website

hard Latitudes CoverThe fourth installment in Baron R. Birtcher’s bestselling Mike Travis series begins when a botched blackmail scheme draws Mike, an ex-homicide cop, back from Hawaii to Los Angeles to the aid of his estranged brother, a man of privilege with the soul of a predator.

A seemingly arbitrary act of violence in Macau has initiated a chain of events that ripples across the Pacific, developing into a thunderstorm of murder, extortion, and betrayal half a world away. Together with Travis’ friend, Snyder – a man with a checkered past of his own – Travis uncovers vile truths involving sexual slavery and insatiable personal greed that have already cut a path of vicious cruelty from the shipyards of Hong Kong to the shores of the Hawaiian islands.

As Travis unravels the disparate thread of duplicity and moral compromise, it threatens to devastate the lives of one powerful family, while Travis himself becomes a suspect in a murder that threatens to destroy his life as well.

This stylish thriller, epic in scope and atmosphere, driven by compelling characters, will rise to a climactic confrontation on the shores of a place that some call paradise.

Link to his Amazon Author Page


I began my creative life as a professional musician. I played guitar, sang, wrote songs, played live dates, even opened for some major acts along the way.

These days—when I’m not writing hardboiled thrillers—I operate on the business side of the music industry, as a record producer and artist manager. The fact is, I love the creative process. I love interacting with creative people. They think differently, and in many cases view the world slightly differently.

The truly great musicians express that world view in a unique and fascinating way, whether it be through the playing of their instrument in an unusual/boundary-pushing sort of way (think Carlos Santana, Eddie Van Halen or Miles Davis); or through lyrics that touch or provoke us (think Dylan, Bono or Jim Morrison). Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to encounter an artist who possesses both skills (think Joni Mitchell or David Crosby).

There is something there that reaches out to us as an audience, engages us and captures our attention and imagination; something that demands another listen.

For me, the reading process is very much the same. There are some authors who simply captivate me with their enviable use of language. Others weave plots that are so compelling that you practically rip the pages from their binding from turning them so quickly.

So, I asked myself: What keeps me reading? What makes a great book great?

There are likely as many answers to that question as there are readers. Still, I suspect that there are some common threads that most avid readers would agree upon. I have no intention of speaking for that vast Venn Diagram bubble that encompasses “the world of people who read,” but I will speak for myself.

I don’t know whether it is simply a function of my professional background, or whether there is a more Universal truth contained here, but for me, a truly great book shares much of the same artistic architecture of a great album. (Yes, I realize that I am dating myself here merely by using the word ‘album,’ but I do so unapologetically). I grew up in a time when radio listeners of my generation found themselves moving away from Top-40 AM, singles-oriented music, to the more exploratory, long-form territory of FM. Suddenly, songs began to stretch from the virtually mandatory 2 minutes 30 seconds to—in some cases, entire sides of an LP. Groups like Pink Floyd, Yes, and Emerson Lake & Palmer entered the consciousness of popular culture, together with jazz artists like Coltrane, Davis and Jarrett. The lines that separated genres blurred, and it was a good thing. The long-form album became the medium of preference for any self-respecting artist, because it gave them a larger platform, a larger canvas on which to paint, and the ability to explore melodic themes and lyrical content that inevitably grew into Rock Opera.

My point is not that all of it was great. Some of it was crap. Some was genius. Regardless, the best of it got the listener engaged.

So what is our objective when we write our stories? For me, I aim to immerse my reader in an environment woven from whole cloth; to create characters who live their lives, think, feel, act and speak with their own unique voices. I want to create a fully-rendered world into which a reader can enter, get caught up in the struggle and fight the good fight together with the protagonist, emerging at the end feeling as though they had been somewhere, and done something.

When I set out to write a novel, I almost always have a musical theme running through my head, literally. I will think of the songs that feel the way I want my words to feel when they are read. I have a narrative structure in mind that will (hopefully) ebb and flow, build and recede, then finally explode, only to bring the reader safely home. I try to think in terms of preludes, interludes, fugue, crescendo, and finally, postlude.

But there’s more.

Words matter. Word choice matters. Just as with a great album, the lyrics and the melodies have to share a common destination. Otherwise, it’s just a collection of noises. Great writing has a rhythm. Some are staccato (Hemingway), others are more elegiac (James Lee Burke), still others push genre boundaries so far that we don’t know what to call them (Hunter S. Thompson). And there are myriad examples of every combination in between. Great writing transcends story-telling and becomes a tone poem.

I recognize that this process, indeed this whole outlook of mine, may very well be unique (or outright odd) to what works for me—what motivates me. However, what I am driving at here is that we, as writers, have this magnificent blank canvas upon which to paint, and it is our privilege to choose to be explorers. I genuinely love this thing we do.

So, what’s the short answer to the question I posed at the outset of this missive?

The answer, for me, is this: Ideally, when I read, I want it to be a visceral experience.

Much like great music.

Bob Avey, Author

author pictureBob Avey is the author of the Kenny Elliot mystery series, which includes Twisted Perception, released April 2006, Beneath a Buried House, June 2008, and Footprints of a Dancer, October 2012. He lives with his wife and son in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma where he works as an accountant in the petroleum industry. When he’s not writing or researching writing techniques, he spends his time prowling through dusty antique shops looking for the rare or unusual, or roaming through ghost towns, searching for echoes from the past. Through his writing, which he describes as a blend of literary and genre, he explores the intricacies and extremities of human nature.

Bob is a member of The Tulsa NightWriters, The Oklahoma Writers Federation (active board member for 2006), The Oklahoma Mystery Writers, and Mystery Writers of America.



coverBook Description

 November 12, 2010
Porter, Oklahoma, holds a dark secret-and troublesome dreams plague Tulsa Police Detective, Kenny Elliot, who grew up in the small town. When a bizarre murder catapults Elliot into his past, he’s brought face-to-face with the fabric of his nightmares. A shiny necklace dangles from the rearview mirror of the vehicle where Lagayle Zimmerman, the victim, is discovered. Nine years earlier, in Porter, a similar necklace swung from the mirror of a Mustang that harbored the mutilated bodies of Elliot’s friends, Jonathan Alexander (Johnnie Boy), and Marcia Barnes. Most of the town believed Elliot killed his classmates, but no arrest was ever made. Risking his job and his sanity, Elliot digs into his past to solve the murders and expose the truth.

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It All Adds Up by Bob Avey

 There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in the world right now.

Let’s talk about something else.

As I bang away at the keyboard of my computer at home, I think back to a few hours earlier when I was banging away at the keyboard of my computer at work. Consideration of the similar actions jolts me back even further, a year earlier actually, to May 2014 when I attended the OWFI (Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc.) annual conference.

While maneuvering the crowded hallways of the Embassy Suites, during the conference, I chanced upon Charlotte Smith, a friend and fellow writer. I can’t remember what I said to her, but her reply had stuck with me. She’d said, “Making a living often gets in the way of living.”

Returning to the present, I rub my chin and stare into open space, wondering about Charlotte’s cryptic phrase. I can’t decide where to go with it, but since OWFI is now in the air I continue to follow that.

Just before OWFI, I’d acquired the BMW that most of you have heard about, and as thoughts of the drive from Tulsa to Oklahoma City run through my head a smile turns the corners of my mouth. The Turner Turnpike is no Autobahn, but reality does little to curb my imagination. My father had always complained that I lived in my own little world. I thank God that I do.

Drifting off again to OWFI, I remember my room at the Embassy Suites. The bathroom had sported fixtures that were several inches lower than I’m used to. I felt a bit like Gulliver. To put it subtly, using the facilities reminded me, in no pleasant fashion, of the squatting position assumed prior to jumping over some unfortunate kid in a game of leapfrog; taking a shower caused me to engage in a rather clumsy version of the Limbo; and brushing my teeth proved a bit of a challenge as my reflection in the mirror somewhat resembled a giant with the rabies. But it’d been a small price to pay. During the conference, Dan Case, the chief cook and bottle washer of AWOC Books, my publisher, had volunteered to act as shepherd for David Morrell, one of the conference speakers. I took the opportunity to tag along as Dan carried out his shepherd-like duties, which put me in a position to get to know David Morrell, who is best known for his debut novel, First Blood, which introduced the character Rambo. David is a great writer and a wonderful person.

During the final hours of the conference, while I was in the atrium of the hotel talking to a group of writers, Mr. Morrell showed up, dragging a suitcase and looking mildly distressed. He couldn’t locate his shepherd who was to take him to the airport.

I told him not to worry, that I would try to locate Dan, and if I could not, I would get him to the airport myself.

It took me a few minutes, but I finally found Dan in a conference room, taking pitches from potential clients. Even though I seldom wore a watch, I tapped my left wrist and Dan immediately understood what I was telling him. We rushed into the atrium, collected Mr. Morrell, and strolled out of the hotel. I don’t remember the reason, but Dan asked if we could take my car. I agreed of course. However, as fate would have it, another small problem arose: Mr. Morrell couldn’t get the handle of his pull-a-long suitcase to collapse. It wouldn’t be a problem getting the bag into the car, but the situation might entangle the boarding of the aircraft.

It must have been a sight, three grown men kneeling over a suitcase in a parking lot. Several passersby, perhaps thinking we were attending to a fallen comrade, asked if we needed assistance, though the lot of them quickly backed away upon determining our attention being set upon a piece of insubordinate luggage.

How hard could it be, you might ask?

As time became more of an issue, I suggested we employ brute-force and simply rip the insolent handle from the beast. The suggestion was not well received.

Finally Dan whipped out his cell phone. It seems his son lives in Oklahoma City and had some sort of shop nearby. With the connection made, we grab the luggage and scramble into the car.

Minutes later, we turn onto a barely-known backstreet of Oklahoma City where we find an industrial-looking building with several large overhead doors along the side. As we pull into the lot, we notice that one of the garage doors is open, and we see Dan’s son waving us over.

How much valuable time did getting the motley, crew to this point cost? My guess was too much. But seeing a large man in overalls take a reciprocating saw to the defenseless luggage was — priceless.

We gave our thanks and said our goodbyes then gathered the pieces of luggage. Our lack of time had now become critical. Someone was giving me directions to the airport. Someone else asked, “How fast can this thing go?”

Never ask a BMW owner that question.

Let’s just say we made it to the airport on time. I think Dan and I made an impression on Mr. Morrell. Only time will tell.

Eric Beetner, Author

Eric Author photo SMEric Beetner is an award-winning author of several novels including RumrunnersThe Devil Doesn’t Want MeDig Two Graves, The Year I Died Seven Times, Criminal Economics. He is co-author (with JB Kohl) of One Too Many Blows To The Head andBorrowed Trouble. He’s written Split Decision and A Mouth Full Of Blood for the popular Fightcard series.




rumrunners-cover-01Meet the McGraws. They’re not criminals. They’re outlaws. They have made a living by driving anything and everything for the Stanleys, the criminal family who has been employing them for decades. It’s ended with Tucker. He’s gone straight, much to the disappointment of his father, Webb.

When Webb vanishes after a job, and with him a truck load of drugs, the Stanleys want their drugs back or their money. With the help from his grandfather, Calvin-the original lead foot-Tucker is about to learn a whole lot about the family business in a crash course that might just get him killed.

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The Year I Died 7 Times

The Devil Doesn’t Want Me

Dig Two Graves

It’s Been A Busy Year by Eric Beetner 

This is getting ridiculous.

I’ve just handed in final revisions on my novel, The Backlist, which comes out in September. That novel was co-written with Frank Zafiro and it’s an old school mob story meets hit man tale with a lot of surprises along the way. But it’s early to talk about it, mostly because I’m still talking about my novel The Year I Died Seven Times which came out earlier this year and has been doing quite well on the Noir charts over on Amazon since it’s release in March.

But, really, that book is old news, almost. (Hopefully not really) But my latest, Rumrunners is out this month and my focus is on getting the word out on that book. A novel Samuel Gailey called, “A fast a furious read.” and what Grant Jerkins called, “A fuel-injected, mile-a-minute thrill ride.”

However, I can’t rest because in June my next novel comes out. This one, called Over Their Heads, is my third collaboration with author JB Kohl and our first set in contemporary times. Of that one, noir writer Anonymous-9 said, “The writing team of JB Kohl and Eric Beetner give the middle finger to polite crime writing and splatter the pages of Over Their Heads with foul mouthed, two-fisted action delivered in a hail of bullets.”

Yep, it’s a busy year for me. And I haven’t even mentioned the books coming out in October and November.

I’ve been called prolific. This year might seem like a cheat, though. Rumrunners, for example, was written four years ago, but took a back seat to other projects I was publishing until it was rescued from obscurity by publisher 280 Steps. (

It’s great to get this one out into the world and I was grateful for a diligent editor who had patience enough to work through what a different writer I was years ago.

For both Over Their Heads and The Backlist I wrote with co-authors so really I only wrote half a book each. And working with both Frank and JB is such a pleasure it feels like even less effort than that.

The Year I Died Seven Times came out last year as a serialized novel in seven different installments over the course of the year, so this full omnibus version is a cheat.

And the book coming out in November is a novella, so again – cheater.

But don’t think I’m resting on my laurels. I’ve already signed on to write two more novellas this year for release in 2016. I’m half way finished with a new standalone novel and have started work on a sequel to The Backlist and am making plans for a Rumrunners sequel.

I’m not sure how I can top the flood of output for 2015, but it’s good to have something to strive for.

Steven James, Author

his pictureSteven James is the bestselling author of twelve novels that have received wide critical acclaim from Publishers Weekly, New York Journal of Books, RT Book Reviews, Booklist, Library Journal and many others. He has won three Christy Awards for best suspense and was a finalist for an International Thriller Award for best original paperback. His psychological thriller The Bishop was named Suspense Magazine’s book of the year. He is also a contributing editor for Writer’s Digest and has taught writing and storytelling principles around the world. Publishers Weekly calls James “A master storyteller at the peak of his game.”

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furyBook Description

 April 28, 2015

The disturbing visions that helped Daniel Byers solve a deadly mystery have finally quieted, and the sixteen-year-old basketball star is looking forward to things settling back to normal. But when his father mysteriously disappears, Daniel realizes that the key to finding his dad rests in deciphering his chilling hallucinations.

Soon, long-buried secrets begin to surface, revealing clues that could help him locate his father. But as the past collides with the present and reality begins to blur around him, Daniel faces a race against time to save his dad before it’s too late.

Filled with pulse-pounding suspense, Fury continues the thrilling young adult Blur Trilogy from bestselling author Steven James.

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Telling the Truth in Fiction by Steven James

 A number of years ago when my daughter was in sixth grade she was studying for a spelling bee and one of the advanced words was agathokakological. It took us a while to track down the definition: “consisting of both good and evil.” What a fabulous word: agathokakological.

We humans have agathokakological hearts, motives, dreams, passions.

Chesterton called us “broken gods.” Pascal called us “fallen princes.” Philosophers have long wondered how we fit into this world, somewhere between the apes and the angels. To make us into one or the other is to deny the full reality of who we are because we have both animal instincts and divine desires.

A friend of mine told me that we are each Cinderella in the moment of transformation—half dressed in ashes and rags, half clothed in a royal gown ready to meet the prince.


We can tell we’re from here but don’t belong here. We’re meant for more than this. We are an odd race capable of both martyrdom and murder, poetry and rape, worship and genocide. Search the ragged terrain of our hearts and you’ll find that we are both nurses and terrorists, lovers and liars, suicide bombers and little grinning children with milk mustaches.

So what does all of this mean for us as writers?

Well, I believe that when it comes to fiction, we should tell stories that express the full measure of humanity—stories that reveal both the glory and grandeur of life, while also honestly acknowledging the darkness and deviance that is there as well.

How to do this? Here are three specific ways.

#1 – Avoid Worn Out Cliches

In your fiction, stay clear of simplistic and trite themes such as “Follow your heart,” “Pursue your dreams,” or “Be true to yourself.” After all, serial killers follow their hearts. Rapists pursue their dreams. Pedophiles are true to themselves.

We need to follow something greater than our hearts, choose very carefully which dreams to pursue, and be true to something more trustworthy than ourselves.

Pursue virtues which are universal, not “values” which are subjective and personal. Why? Because what if someone values cowardice? Or greed? Or killing endangered species? Stick with exploring virtues.

#2 – Be Honest About Evil

In our culture, evil is most often muted or glamorized.

Some books and television shows do so by diminishing the value of human life. A person is killed and no one grieves; a cop just mutters a wisecrack about the body, then we cut to a commercial or a chapter break before diving into solving the crime. This isn’t honest.

Death matters because life matters.

We measure the worth of something by how much pain it causes when it’s lost, so if people are slaughtered or indiscriminately killed in our fiction and no one grieves, we end up devaluing the worth of human life. The more pain someone’s death causes, the more value their life had and, by inference, the more value our lives have.

On the other hand, some fiction makes violence seem glamorous and intriguing. The most interesting person is the serial killer or axe-wielding slasher. Readers almost begin to identify with the justification of evil. This desensitizes people to it. And since we tend to emulate those we admire, I believe movies or books that celebrate violence draw people toward it.

Instead of muting or glamorizing evil, our books should lead people to look honestly at what our world is like. People’s lives need to be treated as precious. Portray evil as disturbing, rather than alluring.

#3 – Tell the Truth About the World

Rather than opening both eyes to see both the wonder and horror of our world, most of us see things either through the lens of wishful thinking or the lens of nihilism. Those who don’t weep have closed one eye to the world. Those who never laugh have done the same.

It just doesn’t make sense that life could be both this magnificent and this terrible, but yet it is. People really do live in palaces. People really do live in garbage dumps. Those of us who make our homes in middle-class America tend to believe the illusion that this is a middle-class world, but it is not. It is a world of great poverty and great wealth, great pain and great peace. Ecstasy and oblivion.

The only option left is to accept the paradox that our planet is somehow full of both tear stains and giggles, both delight and despair. It’s an all-of-the-above world.

The poet Robert Bly beautifully noted the paradox of this world’s sadness and splendor when he wrote of “the puzzled grief we all feel at being appointed to do mysterious tasks here, on this planet, among mountain meadows and falling stars.”

In the end, the glass isn’t half empty or half full. It’s not half anything. Life is both more full than you’d ever expect and more empty than you can imagine. Lift the strange cup of reality to your lips, look closely at the world for yourself, and you’ll see what I mean.

Let your stories explore that and they’ll begin to make a real difference in people’s lives.

We are an agathokakological breed. And part of our calling as storytellers is opening up people’s eyes to that fact by being honest in our fiction.

Shannon Baker, Author

IMG_3189Shannon Baker is author of the Nora Abbott Mystery series, a fast-pace mix of Hopi spirituality, environmental issues, and of course, murder, published by Midnight Ink. Tattered Legacy, the third in the series hit the shelves in March. After kicking around the west for several years, she’s settling in Tucson with her husband and new Weimeraner puppy to drink mai tais by the pool and keep tapping out mysteries. Shannon is proud to have been voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2014 Writer of Year. For now, Nora’s adventures will continue in Shannon‘s head but watch for a new series debuting from Forge in September 2016 that’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. Stripped Baer is the first book about a woman sheriff in rural Nebraska.


Tattered Legacy (1)Nora Abbott risks her career at Loving Earth Trust on a film project to convince Congress to expand the Canyonlands National Park. But someone is desperate to keep the secrets of the land hidden. When her best friend and director of the film is found dead, Nora is convinced it wasn’t an accident. Nora’s Hopi kachina messenger has vanished and now it looks as though Cole Huntsman, the man she’s finally allowed herself to love, has left her, too.

As Nora uncovers an unlikely intersection of ancient Hopi legends, a secret polygamist sect, and one of the world’s richest men, she is drawn deeper into danger. Her mother’s surprising past holds the key to the clash of cultures, but will Nora put all the pieces together in time to prevent disaster? Set in the iconic red rocks of Moab, Utah, Nora races to discover what really lies beyond the stars.

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Why We Do What We Do by Shannon Baker

When I wrote Tainted Mountain, the first in the Nora Abbott series, I thought I’d written a thriller. But I accidently sold it to a mystery editor and she told me, no, it’s a medium-boiled mystery. When we negotiated the contract and she asked me if I intended it as a stand-alone or a series, I cleverly responded, “Series.”

Then I had to set about writing a couple more books. In a mystery series. For mystery readers who’ve been reading the genre all their lives. These readers know the conventions and tropes. They have way more mystery savvy than I do.

Here’s my confession: I was never a mystery reader. I didn’t grow up with Nancy Drew. I’d never read an Agatha Christie book until I sold Tainted Mountain. My mother handed me a Phyllis A. Whitney book when I was in junior high and I mowed through several of those but that’s as close to mystery as I came. Before that, I read Little Women and Bambi, Black Stallion. Later, I devoured mainstream and literary fiction.

No mystery series.

At my first Left Coast Crime convention in Sacramento, I met a very nice retired lady. I knew, at most, two people at the convention and she had such a sweet smile I struck up a conversation with her. I met her again at Malice Domestic later that year and we talked more. She is something of an expert mystery reader. I asked her for suggestions to start my mystery education and she sent me an initial reading list.

I worked my way through her suggestions and we continued to build our friendship. I was honored and thrilled to share accommodations with her at Bouchercon in Long Beach last October. This is where I learned she reads well over 500 books a year. That’s more than one per day. Every day. She keeps two data bases and records all the books she reads. She races through whole series. She not only attends the mystery conventions in the United States, she also takes mystery convention tours in Europe.

Then, after all this time it occurred to me. She is why we write. (I know, I often miss the obvious.)

I’m banging my head on the wall trying to slam some great ideas into my manuscript, or pounding away on the keyboard to get the story down, I’m thinking about what my agent, my critique group, my editor will think about my writing. What are reviewers likely to say? And hovering over it all, how am I going to make a buzz so people will buy my book. Too many times it’s about the sale and not about the read. In other words, I’m trying to be a great writer so I’ll sell a bunch of books, not so that I’ll entertain readers. It’s a subtle difference.

In her gentle, unassuming way, this woman whopped me upside the head with the basic truth that it’s not about me. It’s about her and everyone like her. Readers.

What I need to remember above everything else is this woman. This smart, funny, interesting woman who loves the stories we create. My focus should be toward her, to give her something worth her time. For all her devotion to our genre, she deserves my best.

So Valerie, may I present to you Tattered Legacy. It’s the third book in the Nora Abbott Mystery Series. It’s the best one so far. I think it’s pretty good and I hope you like it.

Here is my promise to you: I will continue to work hard to get better. For all the selfish motivations I have for improving, I hope I can always remember the real reason for writing stories is for you.

If you’re a writer, has a fan ever motivated you? If you’re a reader (and aren’t we all?) do you ever contact your favorite writers?

Ann Aptaker, Author

Ann Aptaker, PhotoNative New Yorker Ann Aptaker has earned a reputation as a respected if cheeky curator of art during her career in museums and galleries and as an Independent Curator in New York. She brings the same attitude and philosophy to her first love: writing. Her fiction has appeared in two volumes of the FEDORA anthology series before that series’ unfortunate demise. She has also had short stories published in the Punk Soul Poet e-zine, as well as numerous curatorial essays published by museums and galleries in conjunction with their exhibitions.

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Criminal Gold 300dpiBook Description

 November 17, 2014
Midnight, New York Harbor, 1949. Cantor Gold, dapper dyke-about-town, smuggler of fine art, waits in her boat under the Brooklyn Bridge for racketeer Gregory Ortine. In the shadow of the bridge, he’ll toss Cantor a satchel of cash, and she’ll toss him a pouch containing a priceless jewel. But the plan, and the jewel, sink when a woman in a red sequined dress drops from the bridge and slams onto Cantor’s boat. She is Opal Shaw, Society Page darling and fiancée of murder-for-hire kingpin Sig Loreale. Through a night of danger, desire, and double-cross, Cantor must satisfy Loreale’s vengeance, stay ahead of an angry Ortine, and untangle the knots of murder tightening around Opal’s best friend and keeper of her dirty secrets, Celeste Copley, a seductress who excites Cantor’s passion but snares her in a labyrinth of lies. The lies explode in a collision of love, loyalty, lust…and death.

~~~ CRIME TIME  by Ann Aptaker ~~~

Writing crime fiction is fun. Writing crime fiction from the criminal’s point of view is even more fun. Taking the opposite tack from singer-songwriter John Mellencamp’s classic lyric, “I fight authority; authority always wins,” writing from the criminal’s point of view gives me, the writer, and you, the reader, the satisfaction of authority NOT winning, affording us the vicarious opportunity to tell authority to piss off, something we’ve all daydreamed about from time to time, even in our otherwise law-abiding lives. Who doesn’t want to tell off the teacher who wouldn’t pass you for the semester, even though you were one measly point shy? The meter maid who writes you a ticket when you show up at your car one lousy second after the parking meter’s time has expired? The boss who bleeds your energy dry, or the jerk who didn’t hire you in the first place, hired his idiot nephew instead, even though you really needed the job? In my world of crime fiction, these and other of life’s irritations, minor or major, are of little or no consequence to my criminal protagonist, the dapper art smuggler Cantor Gold. She’ll live life her way. The risk of capture pales in comparison to her thrill of owning her own life, and ignoring authority.

But writing from the criminal’s point of view also brings up serious questions about crime itself, about the morality of disobeying the Law, even of accepting violence. Aside from the fact that there really are some very evil, greedy, or unstable people out there, not everyone labeled “criminal” is heinous, and it is there that the issue of morality becomes murkier. Just what is crime, anyway? Why do people commit crime? Why do some make a career of it? We know some of the answers: poverty, oppression, lack of opportunity in the larger society, among other triggers. And so sometimes, in some circumstances, committing crime is the most immediate way to put food on the table and keep a roof over one’s head. After all, why obey authority if authority and its systems denies you the means of basic survival, or doesn’t even listen to you when you plead? Crime, then, for some, is not only an economic activity, it becomes a way to tell authority to piss off. Crime fiction, told from the criminal’s point of view, lets us experience that sassy victory.

Writing historical crime fiction is fun, too. My Cantor Gold stories take place in mid-20th century New York. The first, “Criminal Gold,” is set in 1949; the second, “Tarnished Gold,” releasing in September, takes place in 1950; and the third, a work currently in progress, takes place in 1952. The series will move through the 1950s. So the period is very recent history, which means that primary source material (newspapers, magazines, recordings of radio programs and music, videos of early television shows, even people who were there then) is readily available. And New York City, my hometown and where I live, has terrific research facilities where much of that material is maintained. Researching crime and its 1950s milieu is a juicy experience, with stories often “straight from the horse’s mouth.” The city’s tabloid newspapers, available in the New York Public Library’s microfilm room in the main branch (the one on Fifth Avenue with the famous lions out front), loved to splash crime stories and photos across their pages, with columnists attending every trial, and writing about the proceedings in their colorful big-city lingo. These stories, often with statements by the gangsters themselves, revealed an entire world living right beside us but unseen, until the violence of that world exploded into view.

And what a world it was! Well dressed. High living. Bold. Arrogant. And dangerous. Cops? Bought off. Judges? On a crime lord’s payroll. For criminals who managed to evade the Law, life was good at a time when New York City was a golden place, the heart of art, culture, and money. But for many, New York, like the rest of post-World War Two America, was also a place of conformity, of fitting into the accepted standards of life and family: a 9-to-5 job for the husband (even if he hated it), a wife in the kitchen (even if she hated it), and two scrubbed kids. If that paradigm was too tight a fit for you, too bad…unless you had the nerve to tell the civic and cultural authorities to piss off. Some did: avant garde artists, political outcasts…and, yeah, criminals.

John Betancourt, Author/Publisher

JohnAs I have aged, I’ve found that my perspective on the publishing field has changed dramatically. When I was a teenager, my only goal was to get into print professionally. (Thanks to Isaac Asimov, John F. Carr, and Martin H. Greenberg, I made my first professional sale—”Vernon’s Dragon”—at age 16, to their anthology, 100 Great Fantasy Short-Short Stories. Being in a hardcover Doubleday anthology with Isaac Asimov’s name on the cover was very cool. Of course, I didn’t sell anything else professionally until I was 19, though I racked up a number of small press publications.)


SkuldoggeryTalmage Powell - Mission Impossible 6

These days—40 books and more than 100 short stories later—I have largely stopped writing. (I do still tell people that Star Trek novels bought our first house, though.) Instead, I concentrate on preserving the works of other writers through my small publishing company, Wildside Press. It’s a fulfilling niche: rescuing “lost” works by old-time authors who might otherwise be forgotten. Many of these authors published books I loved as a teenager (and sometimes as a pre-teen) which have now been out of print for 40+ years or more. Sometimes a lot more. Am I dating myself? I’m 51 and often bought used books as a teenager, since they were cheaper. So my favorites were often years or decades old when I first encountered them.

TheRunawayRobotIn the science fiction field, Lester del Rey. Mack Reynolds. William Tenn. Clifford D. Simak. Reginald Bretnor. In the mystery field, Talmage Powell, Fletcher Flora, William Holding. And so many, many others.


As traditional “corporate” publishing increasingly focuses on blockbusters and movie tie-ins, the last 80 years of published books is being lost. If you’re in your 40s or older, think about a favorite childhood book that isn’t by someone who became a household name. Chances are it’s been out of print for at least 20 years or more. If the author passed away, chances are high that everything he or she wrote is out of print.

AntiGravityPaintConsider the 15-volume Danny Dunn series of middle-grade books, published from the late 1950s through the early 1970s by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrakshian. These books—with titles like Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint and Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine, were pro-science, fun, and featured 3 kids (Danny and his best friends, Joe and Irene—yes, a girl featured prominently). They were school library staples when I was young. I loved them. When I looked them up two years ago on the used book market, I found plenty of copies…all at collector prices. Nothing new. Nothing in print.

Then and there, I decided to try to track down the authors’ estates. An online mention of a decade-old pending reprint (by a Canadian company that went out of business before a single book could be published) led me to a U.K. literary agency that had once represented both authors. Unfortunately, the agency had “lost” both authors’ estates. Couldn’t find them, despite years of trying. They did, however, supply a slim lead—they thought Jay Williams had had a daughter in New England.

I tried, using and Google searches. Nothing. I gave up, came back to it six months later, and this time tried creating family trees for both authors on — and bingo! Suddenly I had a daughter’s name. Alas, “Williams” is a fairly common name…do you know how many “Williams” families there are in the United States? Easily forty or fifty million, it seemed. Maybe more. Billions. A White Pages search turned up hundreds of potential listings. A Google search turned up tens of thousands of pages.

I tried the state where her father had lived, found what might have been an old address for her, with a non-working phone number. Another dead end. Ultimately, I had to give up. But I still couldn’t forget about Danny Dunn.

After another six months, I went back at it again, trying to trace the daughter…she had helped start a New Age community…had worked in spas that specialized in things like yoga and meditation…and did personal counselling.

And this time, I found her. And she remembered that Raymond Abrashkin had had a son, as well as the town where the son lived. Talk about a shortcut!

Two days later, I had a deal to reprint the entire Danny Dunn series. The first two books are now out (sample chapters and reminiscences by both children can be downloaded – “click” here) with more on the way. And I’m considering an audiobook offer from a large audio producer. So Danny and Joe and Irene have a second life…and this time, they’re going to stay in print.

* * * *

In all my searching for the Jay Williams/Raymond Abrashkin estates, I discovered I had a knack for locating author estates. In the last two years, I have tracked down about 50 lost and forgotten authors. (And I’m still looking for more than 100 estates.) Sometimes the estates have passed to siblings, cousins, or in-laws. One marriage and the family name changes. One marriage and two cross-country moves, and the estate has effectively vanished. And sometimes the families have just died out.

Often the stories are sad. Several estates were being managed by a literary agent, who was holding all the money received “in escrow” while claiming the estates were “lost”. One estate went to the writer’s son, who died thinking his father had been completely forgotten. And sometimes families don’t even know their grandparents had published books or stories in the 1940s or 1950s.

I’ve made lots of new friends —the children and/or grandchildren of these authors are now around my age, and we often have much in common (like our own kids in college!) I assist Bud Webster with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Estates Committee, which has begun tracking the estates of writers—whether SFWA members of not. (You can find more info on the SFWA Estates project – “click” here). And I get to introduce new readers to writers I loved growing up. Life is good!

Marc Bilgrey, Writer & Cartoonist

pictureMarc Bilgrey is the author of two humorous fantasy novels, And Don’t Forget To Rescue The Princess, and, And Don’t Forget To Rescue The OTHER Princess.

He is also the author/ cartoonist of, Cubist In A Cubicle, a book of business cartoons. All three books are available on Amazon for Kindle.

To learn more about Marc’s work, “click” here.




Marc Bilgrey

You’ve read all of Douglas Adams, Terry Prachett, Piers Anthony and Robert Asprin, so what do you do now? I’m glad you asked! Here are a few other authors who wrote very funny fantasy and science fiction books you might also like.

number 1Robert Sheckley wrote hilarious science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories years before Douglas Adams. In fact, Douglas Adams said, “Sheckley is one of the great funny writers.” Read MindSwap, a funny SF novel or any of Sheckley’s many other novels or collections of short stories such as, Untouched By Human Hands, or, Do You Feel Anything When I Do This? Sheckley’s work is witty, surreal, satirical and always funny.

John Collier wrote what might be called magical realism before the term existed. Or maybe he wrote contemporary fantasy, slipstream or fabulist fiction. Don’t worry about the labels just read one of his collections of short stories like Fancies and GoodNights. If you like stories set in our world with magic, all told in a dry but always funny way try him. Neil Gaiman loves his work and you will too.

number 2William F. Nolan, the co-author (with George Clayton Johnson) of the science fiction classic, Logan’s Run, also wrote (and writes) very funny short stories and novels. Check out the Sam Space series. These laugh out loud stories and novels are about a wise cracking private eye that works out of a seedy office on Mars. Imagine Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in outer space and you get the idea. Try the collection, Seven For Space, or the novel, Look Out For Space. (For more about Nolan’s Sam Space series, “click” here to read my blog)

Roald Dahl, the children’s book author writes funny novels? Oh, I’m not talking about his books for kids; I’m referring to his short stories for adults. These are humorous in an ironic and sardonic way. Dahl’s stories range from dark fantasy to horror to crime to just plain weird. All his tales are creepy and filled with macabre humor that makes the Addams family look tame. Try his collections, Kiss Kiss, and Switch Bitch. These books are definitely not for children.

Now don’t tell me that you have nothing to read!