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The people at the Parliament House, a gay resort complex in Orlando, Florida, highly influenced the writing in Naked Alliances. The complex has seven bars with different themes, a full service restaurant, hotel suites, a pool, and the Footlight Theater. My husband and I attend the comedy shows and performances at the theater. My characters, both the private investigator and his sidekick, an exotic dancer, were developed based on personalities we had met at the complex. The community service by the Parliament House after the Pulse Shooting was highly commendable.

I had been writing deep, philosophical, dark novels and was falling into a funk. My husband, who reads two or three crime novels weekly, and had turned me onto some amusing Florida regional crime fiction authors, challenged me to write something lighter. Naked Alliances is a crime thriller with a humorous edge that falls on the spectrum somewhere between the work of Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard.

My family owns and operates one of the oldest and largest nudist resorts in the country, Cypress Cove, so it was a given that a fictional nudist resort would need to be worked into the settings of the Naked Eye Series, a collection of private investigator stories.  No chance of having someone carry a concealed weapon there! Having lived at the resort for six years, I developed a deep understanding of the lifestyle choice and how it is extremely different from the sex industry, yet harbors clandestine elements of intrigue and fascination.

Social issues are at the forefront of all of my writing. A former sexual assault nurse examiner (S.A.N.E.), I have a special interest in the subject matter of sex-trafficking, and have seen, up close and personal, the horrendous nature of the crime and its effects on the lives of the victims and their families.

Sex-trafficking is a heinous crime that occurs in all areas of the world, but frequently gets swept under the rug. There is somewhat of a misconception that it does not occur in our own communities, rural and urban, but it is a serious problem. I wanted to bring this crime to light in my story and interviewed many victims to obtain a realistic view of the nature of the crime. Yet, it was my desire to soften the harshness of the reality with a humorous approach.

The cold case in this dual plot thriller, actually came about as curiosity on how evidence collected at the scene of a crime can, after many years, point in an entirely different direction from that previously expected. A medical examiner in my area, Dr. Jan Garavaglia (Dr. G.) and forensics specialists I have come to know through social media, contributed to the resolution of the case.

My husband, Greg, a rocket scientist, has been super supportive throughout the process of writing Naked Alliances, as have many blogger and author friends, and my community at large.

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Title: NAKED ALLIANCES

Genre: Mystery

Author: S.K. Nicholls

Website:  www.sknicholls.com

Publisher: Brave Blue Heron Books

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book: In Naked Alliances, novelist S.K. Nicholls takes readers on a witty, wild, wickedly fun romp that exposes a side of Orlando tourists rarely see. The debut release in The Naked Eye Private Investigator Series, Naked Alliances introduces lone wolf P.I. Richard Noggin.

 When a young immigrant woman and an exotic dancer are forced to flee men with guns and have no place to hide, Richard Noggin, P.I., can’t turn his back—even if helping out makes him a target. Richard plans to impress an aspiring politician by taking on a big white-collar case that could take him from the streets to an air-conditioned office. Instead, he’s handed a cold case and quickly finds himself sucked into a shadowy world of sex, secrets and…murder. Marked for a bullet and stretched thin by his investigations, Richard reluctantly teams up with the unlikely, brassy custodian of the young woman on the run. With bodies piling up, Richard and his companion are forced to go undercover in a most unlikely locale: the Leisure Lagoon, a nudist resort.  Going undercover in this instance will mean going uncovered…but lives are at stake—and this Naked Eye will have to juggle to keep his balls in the air and connect the dots before anyone else is murdered. As his pulse-quickening quest for answers leads from the dark corners of Orlando’s Little Saigon to the sunny exposure of the Leisure Lagoon, Richard will be put to the test. Just how much will this Naked Eye have to bear…or bare? The heat is on in this quirky Sunshine State crime thriller.

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About the Author: S.K. Nicholls’ family owns and operates one of the oldest and largest nudist resorts in the nation located in Central Florida, Cypress Cove. Her experience gives her a deep understanding of the lifestyle choice and how it is extremely different from the sex industry, yet harbors clandestine elements of intrigue and fascination. Social issues are at the forefront of her writing. A former sexual assault nurse examiner, she has a special interest in the subject matter of sex-trafficking. A native of Georgia, she lives in Orlando, Florida with her husband, Greg.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sknicholls/

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soft_dsc4762bS.K. Nicholls is a crime romp novelist that lives in Central Florida where her family has owned and operated Cypress Cove, a nudist resort, since 1964. A Registered Nurse and former Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, (S.A.N.E.), she has a special interest in sex-trafficking. Social issues are at the forefront of her writing that is always blended with humor. When she’s not writing, she can be found tracking down Snorlaxes, wandering city parks with the homeless, or sipping margaritas on the bow of a boat. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Florida Writer’s Association and Writers of Central Florida…or Thereabouts.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Naked Alliances. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?

A: Naked Alliances is the first book in the Naked Eye Series. It’s a 74,000 word crime romp set in the seedier side of Orlando that the amusement park industry tries to hide from public view.

In it, a lone wolf private investigator reluctantly goes undercover in a nudist resort and teams up with the unlikely custodian of a girl on the run to solve a cold case and bring down the mastermind of a sex trafficking ring. No possibility of encountering a concealed weapon there! With bodies piling up, Richard juggles both cases and works hard to keep his balls in the air. As his pulse-quickening quest for answers leads from the dark corners of Orlando’s Little Saigon to the sunny exposure of the Leisure Lagoon, Richard will be put to the test. Just how much will this Naked Eye have to bear…or bare?

I love to read books by Tim Dorsey, Carl Hiaasen, Tim Baker, and Randy Wayne White. I like the local Florida history woven into their work along with the humorous approach to crime fiction. I had been writing dark fiction for a while and my husband challenged me to write something with a humorous edge, lighter reading, and more softcore. I’m crazy about Chablis in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. We attend the comedy shows at the Parliament House here in Orlando. It’s a great gay resort and home of the Footlight Theater. Characters and plot started forming in my head and Naked Alliances was born.

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Q: What do you think makes a good crime romp? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: Readers must be entertained and held in suspense.

  • Grab them with a hook in the first chapter that’s filled with action and interesting.
  • Use comic relief to temper the suspense and pace the reading.
  • Characters must have agency. The characters must drive the plot, rather than the plot driving the characters. In the words of Chuck Wendig, “Character agency is, to me, a demonstration of the character’s ability to make decisions and affect the story. This character has motivations all her own. She is active more than she is reactive. She pushes on the plot more than the plot pushes on her. Even better, the plot exists as a direct result of the character’s actions. The story exists because of the character. The character does not exist because of the story.”

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: I started out with the story in my head and began writing in a word doc. With mystery and suspense, there are so many elements that must be gradually revealed. I was scribbling notes on anything I could write on, making mind maps and schematics. The characters took over and started doing their own thing. I quickly moved into Scrivener to outline and stay organized. I love how you can set up a binder where you can easily move between chapters, keep your outline on index cards in the top right corner of your writing screen, and manage all the finite details of your writing process like word counts and targets. Adding the photographic images of famous people as my characters to refer to in profiles was fun, too. It’s a mild learning curve to use it effectively, but once you get it down, you’ll never go back to writing any other way.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: As mentioned above, character development is key to success. I go all out with character sketches separate from my manuscript and drop their histories into the novels in bits and pieces, gradually revealing details. Naked Alliances has dual protagonists, and each had to have their own background, their own stories, their own struggles and challenges.

Richard Noggin, P.I. is a gambling man, a loner, and somewhat reserved, but open-minded. His family life was strained, and his sister went missing in his childhood. Brandi is an exotic dancer at the Parliament House, a gay resort complex. She was formerly an E.O.D. Specialist in the Army and had a brief stint as a cop that didn’t turn out too well. She’s transgendered, biracial, and has developed a morbid fear of guns.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: Being a dual plot thriller, there is also more than one antagonist. Several people die, and several are abducted. I can’t tell you who the murderers and villains are, but I can say they also had histories and their conflicts are intertwined in the story. They have their every-day-lives that keep them real.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: Comic relief helps break the tension when instituted at the right time. It also helps with pacing to take a break from the suspense, letting both the characters and the reader breathe, then pick the story back up. When writing an action-packed thriller, these moments of reprieve can be those times when you dribble in back story, drop in some history of your characters, and build your ancillary character’s background. You don’t want any character coming across as cookie-cutter. They all need their own stories. Narrative builds to support a plot.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: Florida is notorious for its zany “Florida Man” and “Florida Woman” stories. In a crime novel people are not as interested in setting as they would be for, say, a fantasy novel. Readers are cued to examine plot elements. However, the setting in any story creates the flavor of the book. My writing is regional specific and reality based. I try to add as much actual description of places as I can without distracting from the plot. Weaving in historical information is also a way to keep the narrative interesting and describe setting.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: Social issues are at the forefront of all of my writing, whether I am writing historical fiction with tons of research, or quirky crime novels. Racism, prejudice against people who are different from us, phobias, substance abuse/addiction, and mental illness will always be a part of my work. I have these things in my mind before I ever begin to write anything down on paper about characters or plot. In Naked Alliances, sex-trafficking, a horrendous crime that exists in all communities whether urban or rural, is examined as part of the ongoing theme in the Naked Eye series. That thread begins with book one, but will return in subsequent books, laying the fabric for the series. A theme of crazy characters who do outrageous things also underpins Florida regional fiction. Honor, loyalty, justice, revenge and other underlying themes are usually not revealed until the work is complete.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: Art is the unique spin put on your work. Craft is the skill with which you can pull off that spin. Especially in writing crime novels, craft can be learned. There are wonderful crime novel craft book writers, like Larry Brooks, who can have anyone writing the next best-seller. The art of writing is something that I feel is inherent. It comes from the soul you are born with, and some people have it and some people don’t. It’s a gift of the right brain. Craft work is left brain stuff.

Can editing destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

Yes, and no.

I edit as I go, but still require professional editing when I’m done. I have beta readers (advanced copy readers) who tell me if and when things don’t quite seem cohesive, or when I’m doing a really fantastic job. These are early readers who are privy to my worst faults. Hearing negative feedback can make you want to shelve your idea and quit, but you can’t do that. You have to suck it up and tell yourself, “These are my readers. This is my audience.” But be careful that you’re not hearing just one person’s opinion. I look for consistency in complaint among my beta readers. If everybody says a fight scene isn’t working because of this and that, I know I need to reexamine, but if only one person had issue with it…it’s probably their perspective. Once that beta reading and those edits are completed, I still send the work to a professional editor.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: I can’t give you three things, only one. Ask yourself one question, “Am I enjoying what I am doing?” If the answer is, “No,” do something else. Life is short. Work is a four letter word. If you’re enjoying it, it’s not work. When you get to the point where you’re not working any longer, you’re successful.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: I would have been a professional student if there had been anyone willing to pay me to be one for the rest of my life. I love research as much as I love writing. Learning is the only way to stay alive.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: I’m a member of Sisters in Crime, Florida Writer’s Association and my local critique group, Writers of Central Florida…or Thereabouts. Writer’s Associations are wonderful ways to network and get in touch with agents, acquisitions editors, copyeditors, fans…networking, in general.

A local writer’s critique group can also offer the practice and encouragement you need to persevere in the worst of times. My local group offers writing prompts for short stories, which we read aloud in a public venue, as well as one-on-one critiques of our written work, helping members over the rough places.

I also attend Sleuthfest in Boca Raton yearly in February. It’s sponsored by Mystery Writers of America and offers both a wonderful opportunity for networking and a fabulous opportunity to attend workshops on the craft covering a variety of topics with both expert panelists and best-selling authors sharing tips and tricks.

Larry Brooks, is the USA Today bestselling author of ten books, including six psychological thrillers (novels he calls “relationship thrillers”), and three #1 bestselling writing craft books, published by Writers Digest Books.

He is the creator of the popular fiction writing website, http://www.storyfix.com/. He has a method for writing suspense that I am studying, and I have read and been highly impressed by the work of some of his students, like crime writer Sue Coletta author of Wings of Mayhem. He has mastered tension building and suspense, and she has absorbed every ounce of what he teaches.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: If you are a writer, never give up. If you are a reader, tell us what you think when you’ve read our work. I read all reviews personally so that I may continually write what people are wanting to read. Naked Alliances is Book One in the Naked Eye Series, your feedback is crucial. And thank you for your support. Peace, and keep the faith.

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Cover Art

Steals A Holy Book

By Rosemary and Larry Mild

Release: September 2016

Magic Island Literary Works

Available in trade paper (ISBN 978-0-9905472-0-4, 243 pages, $14.95)and eBook editions

Husband-and-wife mystery novelists Rosemary and Larry Mild have created a tightly woven, cleverly plotted and supremely suspenseful tale in Death Steals A Holy Book.  Resplendent with action, intrigue, wit, and a to-die-for cast of characters, Death Steals A Holy Book is bound to delight.

Reluctant sleuths Dan and Rivka Sherman yearn for a tranquil life as the owners of The Olde Victorian Bookstore in Annapolis, Maryland. But when the Shermans acquire a rare volume, they find themselves embroiled in a firestorm of deceit, thievery, and violence.

Israel Finestein, renowned restorer of old books in Baltimore, has just finished his work on the Menorat ha-maor, “The Candlestick of Light.”His life is brutally snuffed out and the book disappears. What makes this rare text so valuable that someone is compelled to kill for it? Two Baltimore detectives find a puzzling number of suspects. Is it the controversial woman whom Israel plans to marry? The rare book agent who overextended himself in the stock market? Israel’s busybody cousins who resent his changed lifestyle? Or the wayward lad who thinks a gun is the way to big bucks?

This case could be one for the books…

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Rosemary and Larry have published award-winning novels, short stories, and essays. They coauthored the popular Paco and Molly Mystery Series and Cry Ohana, a thriller set in Hawaii, as well as stories in anthologies.Members of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Hawaii Fiction Writers, they now call Honolulu home.

www.magicile.com

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Jjd daniels holds a Doctor of Arts degree from Drake University with a dissertation of her poetry.  Her award-winning fiction, non-fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications, including: The Broad River Review, The Sylvan Echo, The Elkhorn Review, Doorknobs & Bodypaint: An Anthology, The National PEN Woman’s Online Magazine and riverbabble. “Nancy’s Woodcut” won a prize in a contest sponsored by Emerson College, Cambridge University.

Say Yes, a book of poetry, 2013 topped the local bestseller list in Iowa City. The Old Wolf Lady:  Wawewa Mepemoa, was awarded a publication grant from The Iowa Arts Council and three research grants from the college where she still teaches writing. Minute of Darkness and Eighteen Flash Fiction Stories debuted January, 2015. Through Pelican Eyes, 2014 is the first of the Jessie Murphy Mystery Series.

The Iowa Arts and Poets & Writers Directories invited her inclusion. She is also a co-founder and an editor for Prairie Wolf Press Review, a literary online journal featuring new and emerging writers and visual artists.

jd maintains a blog, is a member of two critique groups, Mystery Writers of America, and South West Florida PEN Women.  She continues to teach writing at the college level. Quick Walk to Murder, the Second Jessie Murphy Mystery, was recently released.  Visit her website to find where you can get her book:  www.live-from-jd.com

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Quick Walk to Murder. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it? 

A:  Quick Walk to Murder is a mystery, so of course there’s a sleuth trying to nail a murderer.  In this case, she’s property manager/artist, Jessie Murphy.  The victim is the son of a Matlacha, Florida crab fisherman.

I love my amateur sleuth, Jessie Murphy.  She’s my alter ego and has bits and pieces of my creative mother in her as well.  I get a high when I get into her skin and brain to solve these murders.  As soon as I finished the first book with her as a protagonist, I started writing the second.  Plus, Matlacha, Florida, an island I fell in love with, is the perfect setting for this mystery. It’s funky and colorful.  A pleasure to describe.  So, I guess I would say, both wanting to spend more time with the main character and being surrounded by the sea are big factors in inspiring me to write these mysteries.

QW_lg.jpgQ: What do you think makes a good mystery? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A:  Hm, hard to narrow down to only three elements, but let me try:  1. Tight, compelling plot and sub-plot. 2.  Engaging, unique characters set in a colorful environment 3. Red herrings, subtle clues, surprising twists, a dramatic climax and a believable resolution.  Okay, so I cheated.  This is far more than three elements isn’t it?  I could list more, so I guess it’s impossible to narrow down to just three.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A:  In the first draft I let the story unfold on its own.  After this, I do a plot check to see if it follows the classic mystery outline. If it doesn’t I begin to cut and paste.  If a writer goes online they can find a very handy tool called “Plotting the Mystery Novel” as defined by contemporary editors and publishers.  I beginning check my plot against that on the second draft.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A:  My character is twenty eight, Irish and a fledgling artist.  Her first name is my mother’s middle name.  Her last name was my mother’s maiden name.  While she is no doubt my alter ego, she was also developed from how I envisioned my creative beloved mother to be at this young age.  Thus, each time I write a book with Jessie Murphy in it, I’m also exploring and visiting my mother’s life who passed away several years ago at the age of eight-six. So character interviews and sketches were done over a lifetime of being her daughter.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A:  My antagonist is a compilation of different people I’ve known over the years. Unfortunately, I’ve had personal experience with more than one sociopath. Without giving away who the killer is, I’ll just say that I had to do research to make sure him or her was portrayed realistically.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A:  As you see from my bio, I’ve taught writing for several years.  While doing this, I spend much time moving my students away from a passive voice to an active one.  I find that when writing a mystery such as mine this is apt advice.  Use of first person, active verbs, specific nouns, realistic dialogue, strong metaphors that fit the setting and time, plus the use of similes and minimal background information helps keep the reader engaged and turning the pages.  One thing that helps my students understand this concept is to pretend your reader is standing over your shoulder as you create pictures on the page with words, including the five senses in as many scenes as possible.  Make sense?

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A:  When writing about setting, I use the same “picture-making” tools that are needed to make for an exciting narrative.  By considering the five senses, by thinking of the setting as a character while you are writing the book, helps greatly in making it one.  This means that once you initially describe the setting, each time after that (like your protagonist or other characters) when you use the setting in a chapter, you must show different aspects of it to develop it into a place the reader can actually identify with and see in their mind.  I am happy to tell you that one reader did say I had been successful in doing this in the first book.  I hope I’ve succeeded in Quick Walk to Murder too.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A:  My themes for Quick Walk to Murder became evident as the characters and plot developed.  This is one thing I love about my process—the creative journey—the constant learning and surprises.  At least one of the themes is recurring—action versus apathy—others are unique to the mystery’s situation.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A:  Hm, another interesting question.  Perhaps this is why I write the first draft before referring to that plot outline—I want my imagination to have freedom before I have to consider my reader. I began as a poet as well as a fiction writer.  In fact, I have a doctorate in poetry from Drake University.  I don’t think you can create your own path until you understand your craft—the elements that make a fine mystery, novel or poem.  I’m a person who free writes in a journal often.  I also encourage this activity for my students.  But freewriting is only a tool to free the imagination, after this the hard work of being a writer begins.

I believe if writers understand that writing is a complex process, that editing is only one important aspect of that process, their initial creative thrust will not be destroyed.  Some fledging writers don’t understand this and they can be adversely effected by editing.  It’s a shame, but happens all too often.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A:  1. One who receives respect for their work.  2.  One who honors their passion by making a life as a writer.  3.  One who understands the importance of discipline and persistance.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A:  Makes me smile.  As a life-time learner, I couldn’t agree with the famous writer more.  The difference is that you are your best teacher, a fact I stress with my students probably more than they want to hear.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career? 

A:  There are so many.  I already mentioned the outline for plotting for mystery writers.  With the amazing technology we have today, I’d say just Google what you want and sit back until multi-sites pop up on your screen.  But I also recommend The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maas, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder and Imaginative Writing:  The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway.  Again, there are so many more to add to your library.

Writers also have to be readers of their genre.  Whatever genre you choose to write, read and study as many books as possible in that area.

Writers Market is always announcing workshops for all sorts of things writers need to know, including insights into the changing publishing world.  She Writes does as well, as does Poet & Writers and Mystery Writers of America.  There is also an amazing number of workshops and writer’s retreats offered world-wide.  Many of these are expensive, but many offer free tuition for those who are accepted as Fellows.

The important thing is to do your research. Take yourself and your decision to become a published author seriously. Read and take workshops that are practical and will help you become the writer you want to be.

It’s an amazing journey.  Enjoy.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A:  I guess I’d just like to emphasize that knowing your craft is essential if you want to earn respect in your field.  I recently was chatting with another editor of a respected young adult traditional publishing company.  She said something quite wise: “In the mystery editor’s world, anyone can be a fine wordsmith, but if you don’t know how to plot, you don’t know your craft, it makes no difference.”

 

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Rosie Claverton, December 2013

Rosie Claverton, December 2013

Rosie Claverton is a screenwriter and novelist. She grew up in Devon, daughter to a Sri Lankan father and a Norfolk mother, surrounded by folk mythology and surly sheep. She moved to Cardiff to study Medicine and adopted Wales as her home, where she lives with her journalist husband and pet hedgehog.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Captcha Thief. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?  

A: Captcha Thief is the third novel of The Amy Lane Mysteries, which features agoraphobic hacker Amy Lane and streetwise ex-con Jason Carr as they fight crime in Cardiff. In this book, they are investigating a break-in at the National Museum of Wales, where a security guard has been murdered and a priceless Impressionist painting stolen.

Q: What do you think makes a good mystery? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: For me, there is only one thing that is sacrosanct – a good mystery must be solvable by the reader. I hate to have a surprise murderer introduced right at the end. It can be extremely difficult to solve, but it should be possible.

Apart from that, I look for great characters, people I want to spend time with – even if only because I love to hate them! If they have the sticking power for several books, even better. I also hate to be blinded by science. All the computer wizardry Amy works is theoretically possible, but I’ve been recently burned by purported mysteries where advanced too-futuristic science, time travel and the supernatural have come out of nowhere to explain the ending. If that’s going to be a feature of the book, I want to know from the blurb, not in Chapter 50.

CaptchaThief-Cover-HighRes.jpgQ: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: With Captcha Thief, I had planned out the bare bones of the plot and figured out the murderer and their motivations – but something wasn’t hanging together properly at the midpoint. I was getting bored with the story, and I couldn’t work out why. So I rejigged some of the characters, changed the culprit’s characteristics and gave them an entirely different motive. Once that was all in place, the writing of the book flowed much better towards its conclusion.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: Before I wrote Binary Witness, I wrote some brief character biographies for both Amy and Jason to get a feel for them – everything from favourite TV shows and best friends to their worst fear and how they react in a crisis.

 

For Amy, it was also important to be clear about her mental health problems and how they affected her. As a psychiatrist, I also wanted to be certain in my mind about things like diagnosis and what it would take to change things for her – if that was even possible. With Jason, it was more about getting the prison particulars right, and how that experience had forged him. I also knew family would be really vital to both of them, with Amy’s difficult relationships and Jason’s strong ones.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: The most important thing for an antagonist is motivation. Just like a protagonist, they have to pursue goals and act in a way that they think is the best thing to do, for whatever gain. In Binary Witness, my serial killer was fuelled by delusional love, yet in Code Runner, I had a character who wanted to build a criminal empire, but also just enjoyed playing with people. I spend as much time constructing a new antagonist as I did with my protagonists originally.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: I come from a screenwriting background, so I’ve developed a good understanding of pacing and story beats. When I’m planning the plot, I know how the character arcs have to swing – from a false victory to an “all is lost” moment. I used Save the Cat, a practical screenwriting book, as a guide to the basic Hollywood story structure and it’s also served me well in novels.

In the edit, I go through each chapter listing the main events, the character point-of-view, and the conflict. If the chapter is lacking in conflict or nothing really happens, I try to cut it or combine it with another to keep the narrative moving. An emotional scene without action can still have conflict, and can allow the reader space to breathe with the characters.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: Cardiff is definitely the third protagonist in The Amy Lane Mysteries. When I started writing the series, I was living away from my beloved city, though I had been resident there for five years. That really helped me bring the place to life with words, because I missed it so much. Google Earth is also my best friend – I planned several chases and incredible journeys with that resource.

With Captcha Thief, I had the advantage of having taken that particular journey from Cardiff to Bangor and remembering a lot of features, such as stopping at the natural waypoint of Rhayader in mid-Wales and crossing the misty mountains beside beautiful, yet freezing lakes and reservoirs. Personal experience always enhances description. I’ve never visited Glasgow, so I asked my Glaswegian friend to describe for me the walk between two points – it gave the final sequence a very local and immersive flavour.

I have to work hard at description, as it doesn’t come naturally to me. The way I work on it is to think of all five senses and then what they might invoke in the character. Does the smell of fried chicken remind Jason he’s hungry, or of a very specific moment with his best friend and a stolen car?

 

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: My favourite theme to explore is identity. In Captcha Thief, this primarily came through with the villain of the piece. That person is fighting a number of conflicting pulls on them, trying to make something right that probably can’t be fixed.

The other major theme of this novel, coming after “letting someone in” for Binary Witness and “the past is never over” for Code Runner, was definitely “pride comes before a fall”. Particularly for Amy, it was important to see her getting much stronger and capable as an independent person, and then starting to erode at those certainties.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: Having an editor you can trust is the most important part of the edit. I’ve had the same editor in Deb Nemeth throughout the series, and I know I can rely on her to give good notes. A good note resonates with you when you read it, twinging something that you suspected yourself but hadn’t quite confronted in the first draft. I learned in screenwriting that you don’t always have to take a note, but you do have to address the reason someone gave it – for example, “the plot loses pace here, so you should add an explosion”. You have to pick up the pace but things don’t necessarily have to explode.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: In the first instance, you have to define success for yourself. Is it selling 100,000 copies or is it receiving an email from one devout reader who really took your novel to heart? For series novelists, I think success is measured by how many people come back for more, or tell their friends, or eagerly Tweet at you asking when your next book is out. Of course, it’s also nice to get good reviews and fat royalty cheques, but it’s reader engagement that I love most of all.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: It’s a job, at the end of the day. I bristle when people suggest my writing is a hobby, because it’s definitely a career that involves development and investment as much as my parallel career in medicine. It gives pleasure and reward to the writer without making it any less like hard work!

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: Apart from Save the Cat, which I think all storytellers should read – or the more in-depth Story by Robert McKee or The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell – my number one recommendation would be to read voraciously. Read thoroughly within your genre, and expand your mind outside it. Read as many classics as you can stomach, and also watch television and movies. Expose yourself to as many varied ways of storytelling as you possibly can. This is by far the best education.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: Patience is your friend. The more novels you write, the better you will get at them. I won’t say it gets easier, but you know yourself better. I’ve learned that I always get bogged down in the middle and hate the thing and want to throw my laptop out the window. Yet this too shall pass.

 

 

 

 

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DD Cover for MGRandy Rawls lives in Delray Beach, Florida, slap-dab in the middle of paradise. Not only is the weather perfect, but the writing environment is wonderful. In fact, it’s so good you can’t cross the street without bumping into an author.

Before retiring in Florida, Randy grew up in North Carolina, then spent a career in the Army. After retirement, he went back to work with the Department of Defense as a civilian, the aspect of his career that led him to South Florida. Somewhere along the way, he fell in love with writing. The writing was a natural progression since he has always been an avid reader.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, DATING DEATH. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?   

A: Here’s a brief summary of the book I prepared for the cover: “The Chief of Police of Coral Lakes, FL has the goods on Roger Adamson, a dirty politician; however, the chief knows Adamson has additional information that could bring down a drug lord and disembowel his organization. Chief Elston asks Beth Bowman, a South Florida PI, to assist by becoming Adamson’s consort/bodyguard while Adamson parses out data. Beth agrees, not realizing multiple homicides, a kidnapping, a tight frame for murder, and the loss of the man she loves await her. If not for Beth’s homeless friends, all might be lost.”

My stories come from the headlines. While I’m sure South Florida does not have a corner on the market of politicians who, shall we say, look the other way, anyone who follows the decisions made by these same politicians might find reason to wonder. So, I decided it was time for Beth to take on a dirty politician. That’s where DATING DEATH begins. Once she meets Roger Adamson, the story took on a life of its own.

Q: What do you think makes a good mystery? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: A mystery is (throw out all the frills) a whodunit. With that in mind, the three most important elements are the protagonist(s), the clues, and the red herrings. Everything else is icing on the cake. We must have a competent protagonist(s) who will eventually solve the riddle. We must have clues for our protagonist to find. And, equally as important, we must have red herrings to challenge both our protagonist and the reader.

Think Sherlock Holmes. Yes, we enjoy the relationship between Holmes and Watson, but is it critical to solving the mystery? In my opinion, no. The critical element is Holmes fantastic deductions. But, he must find something to cause him to make those deductions—clues. And, so his life isn’t too simple, Arthur Conan Doyle planted red herrings to keep Holmes from solving the case too quickly. Bingo, we have a good mystery.

Randy Rawls Promo Pic - Hi RezQ: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: I started with Beth and Chief Elston’s request that she “babysit” Roger Adamson, the dirty politician. Beth took it from there, narrating the story faster than I could capture it. Many times, I had to ask her to slow down so I could catch up.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: Beth revealed herself to me as I wrote her stories, similar to learning about a friend in real life. First, she was simply a PI in South Florida, who had run from her ex-husband in Texas because—in her words, “Texas wasn’t big enough for both of them.” Then she told me about her mother who still resides in Richardson, TX and raised Beth and her brother alone after Beth’s father died in a bungled burglary. As we spent more time together, she shared other tidbits of her life—her brother in Wisconsin with the “perfect” marriage, per her mother’s words—the stalker from whom she saved her mother—the retired Dallas policeman who had been her mentor, trainer, and protector when she was on the Dallas force—the man of her dreams—her friends in the homeless community, etc. One of the joys of writing Beth’s stories was getting to know her in depth. She’s a fascinating character.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: Similar to how Beth came about. A basic idea that grew as the story unrolled. In DATING DEATH, I knew there was someone behind the dirty politician. But I didn’t know who or how when the book opened. Then I discovered Zachary Zogby, a seemingly honest and successful businessman, known as Mr. ZZ on the criminal side of his empire. Then came his associates and the rest of the villains, large and small, who fill the pages.

I try to make them realistic and enjoyable to read by giving them one or more specific personality trait(s). Everyone we know has something that makes him/her stand out in our memories. That’s what I tried to do with the villains.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: This is always the challenge to a writer. How to keep the “saggy” middle from sagging. What to introduce to keep the reader reading. In DATING DEATH, I kept the tension about Beth’s future high. She is being sought by the drug lord and, after certain events, by the police. She has no choice but to hide out from both, even as she works to clear her name. Hopefully, the reader will share her desperation and keep flipping pages.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: With all my books, setting is a major character for me. In the Ace Edwards Dallas PI series, each story was set in a small town, and I integrated some history of the town/area into the story. For Tom Jeffries and Beth Bowman, it is South Florida. It would be difficult to write any story set in South Florida without the setting emerging as a major player. In DATING DEATH, everything from the Everglades and canals to I-95 and the Florida Toll Road enter the story, not to mention warehouse areas, well-known local businesses, and amphitheaters. Yes, South Florida is a major player in my stories.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: Not exactly sure what this question is seeking, but the theme of all my books is “good triumphs over evil.” With that in mind, I knew that Beth would win in the end. The problem was how to work her through the multiple dangerous situations and have her come out on the top.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: Every author brings three things to the table: style, voice, and vocabulary. The style and the voice are unique. The vocabulary is shared by the world and is an ever-changing thing. Editing can destroy style and voice by imposing the editor’s whims. An author has to defend his work and be proactive in protecting his voice and style. Good editors recognize this and are careful. After all, it was that same style, voice, and vocabulary that attracted the editor.

Some would say the author brings a plot to the table. That’s true, but there are so few plots in the world that uniqueness cannot be claimed.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: A fertile imagination backed by a willingness to learn and tenaciousness. Without any one of them, failure to is a given. The imagination is obvious. The writer must dream up a plot that will interest the reader. Willingness to learn: Becoming an author is an acquired skill. The writer who is not willing to adjust and learn the “tricks of the trade” will not be successful. And tenaciousness: Nothing comes easy in this business. The writer who tries, then walks away will fail.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: Yes, I can identify with that. Each chapter is a teaching point that must be worked through carefully. Rushing or doing sloppy work is an invitation to failure.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: Oh, yes. As I said above, writing is an acquired skill. No matter the skill level of the presenter, there is always something to be learned. Writers’ conferences are especially helpful. One gets to interface with everyone from the beginner to the proven author. Listen and learn, and you will be stronger for it.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: Yes. The secret to writing is reading. Every author should read, read, read. Through osmosis, he will absorb some good traits, while hopefully rejecting the bad. I’ve heard some writers say they won’t read while writing a book. They are dooming themselves to long-term failure.

 

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Cover for Blog Tour.jpgIt’s hard to remember now, as the crocuses bloom and green buds begin to swell on the trees, but 14 months ago, we thought winter would never end. In the winter of 2014-15, Massachusetts, where I live, was buried under record snowfall of 110.6 inches. And what was worse, all but two inches of this snow came in rapid succession in what the Weather Channel called a “six-week-plus snow siege.” [link: https://weather.com/news/news/new-england-boston-record-snow-tracker] What that means, to you non-New Englanders, is that not only did we get nine-plus feet of snow, but that none of it – as it usually would between storms – melted. Instead it piled up. And piled up. And piled up.

Now, where I live, in Somerville, is pretty urban. Our house is right on the sidewalk, which legally we are obligated to clear. That meant that after every storm, my husband or I would be out there, shoveling – piling the snow higher and higher along the walk, with only a small cut-through for the steps up to our tiny front porch. Before long, our house was walled in by snow, the shrubs in front mostly buried with only one ancient forsythia bush still sticking its branches out, largely because it is on the side of our front porch, behind the snow wall. Soon the city was like a maze – high walls of icy, compacted snow funneling us all along increasingly narrow paths. Errands became major expeditions. We all became accustomed to backing up to the nearest crosswalk to allow oncoming pedestrians to pass.  Carrying groceries home was crazy.

The snow didn’t only affect humans, however. As an animal lover, I’d done my research. I knew that the beasts around here usually do fine in this weather. Small critters, like mice, actually benefit, as they can burrow beneath the snow to the nearest bits of frozen grass or other greenery, out of sight of hungry hawks or other predators.

But how about the bunnies? How would they fare, given the immense amount of snow and the virtual walls of icy drifts that were cutting across the landscape? Where would they do their marketing, so to speak, with everything covered in a thick blanket of icy white?

I found out one night when the snow had briefly ceased. I was looking out my front window when I noticed a set of prints. Looking kind of like parallel semi-colons, they came up the steps from the sidewalk to our front porch, where they seemed to have looked around, exploring the planter that I never managed to put away and the small bench where UPS leaves packages. And then they hopped over to the side of the porch, behind the snow wall, and dropped off.

The local bunny was coming onto my front porch as a way around the wall of snow and hopping off the side to get to that forsythia!

Once I knew what was happening, I began a nightly ritual. Rabbits, I found out, are crepuscular – they like those twilight times when the light is low. And so soon after sunset, I’d start watching. I was rewarded by frequent sightings of our local bunny as he came cautiously up our steps and then turned right, to hop off by that forsythia. Sometimes I saw him nibbling on its branches. Other times, I only saw his footprints and droppings. And when spring finally arrived and I saw three rabbits in our yard, I knew Mr. Bunny, or Ms. Bunny, as I now believe her to be, had survived the winter in fine form. (The forsythia did, too.) And so when it was time to start another Pru Marlowe pet noir, there was little doubt in my mind. A smart resourceful rabbit had to be at the center of it – and is, in “When Bunnies Go Bad.”

Title:  WHEN BUNNIES GO BAD

Genre: Mystery

Author: Clea Simon

Websitehttp://www.cleasimon.com

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

Winter is hard in Beauville, where the melting snow can reveal much more than last season’s dead leaves. So when a wealthy, obnoxious tourist and his ski bunny girlfriend surface in Pru Marlowe’s little Berkshire town, she knows she should stay out of their way. The bad-girl animal psychic has to focus on more immediate concerns, including a wild rabbit named Henry, supposedly tamed and illegally living with an eighty-four-year-old lady in her home. Henry, who seems to be acting out and hiding, avoids responding to Pru. Yet when Pru discovers the tourist murdered and his girlfriend’s high-maintenance spaniel falls to her care, she gets dragged into a complicated case of crime and punishment that involves some new friends, an old nemesis, and her own shadowed past. A recent museum art heist draws the feds into the investigation along with a courtly gentleman radiating menace, who represents secretive business interests in New York and shows a surprising awareness of Pru. Her on-again, off-again romance with police Detective Creighton doesn’t stop him from warning her to steer clear of the inquiry. The spaniel, however, lures her in. Pru lives in a world where only her crotchety tabby Wallis knows the whole truth about her past, her flight from Manhattan, and her unique gift that surfaced abruptly one day. Fearing the worst, Pru now comes dangerously close to being exposed. With everything in motion, Pru, Wallis, and everyone they hold dear will be lucky to escape…by a hare.

Clea.3 - photo by Jon S. Garelick.jpg

About the Author:

Clea Simon is the author of the Theda Krakow, Dulcie Schwartz, and Pru Marlowe pet noir series, as well as three nonfiction books.   A former journalist, Clea lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, with her husband, the writer Jon Garelick, and their cat Musetta.

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