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After his graduation from Harvard Law School, Michael Bowen worked as a trial lawyer for thirty-nine years before retiring in 2015.  He focused on franchise and distribution disputes, but found time to assist in representing the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team in complex litigation over a proposal to put a maximum security prison across the street from County Stadium, and to represent numerous pro bono clients, including one who had been sentenced to death.  His career in fiction began with the 1987 publication of Can’t Miss, a “gently feminist” (St. Louis Post Dispatch) novel about the first woman to play major league baseball.  It continued through publication of one political satire and nineteen mysteries, culminating in 2019 with False Flag in Autumn, a follow-up to 2016’s Damage Control (“ . . . consistently delightful . . . . Bowen’s ebullient antidote to election season blues . . . . ” Kirkus Reviews).  During his legal career he also wrote numerous published articles on legal and political matters, and co-authored the Wisconsin State Bar treatise on the Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law (paperback and movie rights still available).  He lives in Fox Point, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee, with his wife Sara, who is also a Harvard Law School graduate and a published lecturer on Jane Austen and Angela Thirkel.  www.michaelbowenmysteries.com

False Flag in Autumn

INTERVIEW

Q:      Congratulations on the release of your latest book, False Flag in Autumn.  To begin with, can you give us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?

A:      False Flag in Autumn asks why there wasn’t an “October surprise” before the 2018 mid-term elections, and whether there will be one before the presidential election in 2020.  It features Josie Kendall, whose memoirs will not be titled Nancy Drew Goes to Washington, a manipulative Washington apparatchik who is engaging, ambitious, cheerfully cynical, and (as she puts it) not possessed of “an overly delicate conscience.”  A rogue White House aide has tabbed her for the role of unwitting pawn in 2018’s planned October surprise, which leads to her being caught up in the more nefarious scheme planned for 2020.  Knowing that the stakes are high and could quickly get personal, Josie will have to decide whether to keep her head down and pray that the prospective victims die quickly and without too much pain, or to venture outside the Beltway bubble where the weapons are spin, winks, and leaks, into a darker world where the weapons are actual weapons.  She ends up on the side of the angels although, Josie being Josie, these angels play a little dirty.  I decided to write it because, after a lifetime as a reasonably savvy political junkie, I spent 2016 making one wrong prediction after another, and I wanted to see if I could at least imagine something weirder than what was actually going to happen.

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

A:      The single most important element of a political thriller is heart.  The protagonist has to care about something – country, cause, ideology – larger than himself or herself, and the reader has to care about the protagonist and at least one of the potential victims.  As Lenin said, “The death of millions is a statistic.  The death of a single human being – that is a tragedy.”

The second indispensable element is believable action.  A punch in the mouth hurts; you don’t just shrug it off.  People don’t exchange snappy patter during fistfights. Most people have no idea of whether they could fire a gun at another human being, and in combat situations they don’t act like robots (or like Hollywood action heroes – but I repeat myself).

high_mbowen

The third critical element is human weakness, shared by the protagonist with other characters.  The protagonist should have at least occasional doubts, make serious mistakes, and perhaps shiver a bit at times when he (or, in this case, she) looks in the mirror.

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

A:      I firmly believe that plot flows from character.  I had detailed portraits of my main characters in my head before I typed the first word of the story.  Characters being true to themselves will go a long way toward shaping the plot because, after all, the plot is basically what the characters do, and well thought out characters won’t behave randomly.

I had the basic premise in my head before I booted up my computer.  I didn’t prepare a chapter-by-chapter plot outline, but I did work out a reasonably detailed synopsis of the plot in the initially successful pitch that I made to the first publisher I approached.  At the same time, twists and turns inevitably developed, and the plot evolved as I dealt with them.  I think it’s important for writers not to have too much of an ego-investment in their initial conceptions.  You know things that you don’t know you know, and that knowledge will bubble to the surface as you solve basic problems – e.g., after twenty pages of talk, I need an action scene pretty soon – that come up while you’re telling the story.

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:      Since Josephine Robideaux Kendall was fifteen years old, she has wanted to work someday on the White House staff; to fly one day on Air Force One, working out talking points for the president to use in discussing a crisis that arose after the plane was in the air.  Her uncle says that her mind, like the rapids on Louisiana rivers, is fast but not deep, and she agrees.  She knows that she is smart but not (yet) wise, and that she is capable of serious moral lapses, but when they occur she confronts them honestly, without kidding herself.  I had developed Josie thoroughly in Damage Control, and in False Flag in Autumn I let her grow from the harrowing experience that she had in the earlier book as a result of her flippancy and misjudgments.

I prepared a sketch of her, but that was mostly for the benefit of the publisher.  I knew who Josie was and would be.  I didn’t do “interviews” with her.  That idea frankly never occurred to me.  On reflection, it would have been fun but I’m not sure it would have moved the ball very much.

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 key to Hank Sinclair is that he’s book-smart but not gut-smart.  Washington is full of people like that (some of whom have run for president recently).  One of my law partners, who had worked on the staff of a governor and labored in that governor’s effort at a major party convention to get himself put on the ticket as the vice-presidential candidate, told me that the core, single-minded attitude of anyone on any elected official’s staff is “Can do.”  A staffer wants to accomplish whatever the candidate wants, regardless of what it takes, what the risks are, or whether it’s right or wrong.  Put that together with book-smart but not gut-smart and you get Watergate – or Hank Sinclair.  He doesn’t have to be evil.  He simply has to be useful to people who are.

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

A:      The key to excitement is suspense, and the keys to suspense are foreshadowing and investment of the reader in the protagonist (or in whoever is in peril).  Action itself is very useful, but it is secondary to and derivative of suspense.  The reader doesn’t know what’s going to happen, and has to care whether one thing happens rather than another.  Once you’ve accomplished that, you can (as Raymond Chandler put it) have someone walk through the door with a gun in his hand.         It is very important to genuine excitement that action not be arbitrary, that it flow organically from the plot.  You can’t have your protagonist get into a fight just to prove to someone else (the leader of a gang of outlaws or terrorists that he’s trying to infiltrate, for example) that he’s tough or capable.  (That trope, by the way, was a staple of westerns and private-eye TV shows in the 1950’s and 1960’s.)      Finally, action has to conform to character.  Josie Kendall grew up in Louisiana and she knows how to handle firearms, but until she has to find out the hard way she doesn’t know whether she’d be any use in a firefight.  (Neither do I and, odds are, neither do you.)  As she says when considering options in a tight situation, no one will confuse her with Jack Reacher.

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

A:      The most important element of convincing setting is concrete detail.  In Vienna, lots of people ride bicycles at night.  In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, streetwalkers don’t ply their trade east of the Milwaukee River.  In Washington, D.C., everyone hates the Metro, locals have an aversion to tourists, and a lot of people who smoke hide their indulgence like eighth-graders sneaking behind the gym because the optics are bad and Washington is a city where people care about optics.  In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a key police force is the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff and his legions of deputies – and people are not particularly shy about smoking.

In a perfect world, an author can get to some facet of the essence of a particular place.  In the American south, generally, there is a sense of history, and in the American Midwest a sense of identification with a particular locale, that would seem alien to someone in, say, New Jersey or California.  In Washington, one such defining element is the perpetual tension between elected officials (especially presidents), who are viewed as transients, and the permanent government (or “deep state,” as some call it these days) that plans to run administrative agencies forever.  How do you figure out what that defining feature is for a particular place?  Three ways:  (1) live and work there for over a year; (2) marry someone from there; or (3) visit there for a while, keeping your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.

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

A:      I have had the basic themes of my Washington crime stories firmly in mind since I published Washington Deceased some thirty years ago:  Washington is a place where people do things – both good things and evil things – for reasons that would make no sense in (say) San Francisco or Chicago or Atlanta; and where, somehow, for some reason (the genius of the Constitution?  Divine providence?) messy compromises get worked out and the United States muddles through one crisis after another without catastrophe and sometimes in startling triumph.  Somehow a zeitgeist of depraved and sordid cynicism leads to people rising above their limitations and actually shocking themselves by doing what’s right for their country.

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

A:      Let’s not kid ourselves:  in mystery writing, art and craft are basically the same thing.  We’re telling stories about good and evil, free will and determinism, logic and intuition, causation and randomness.  Such storytelling is an art if it’s done right (that is, in a craftsmanlike way), and it’s a waste of time if it’s not.  It’s an art if it engages the reader, which can be done only by those with a confident command of the craft, and it’s a flop if it doesn’t, no matter what literary pyrotechnics attend it.  G.K. Chesterton wrote that it may be a finer thing to be a lyric poet than to be a wit, but it’s a lot easier to pretend to be a lyric poet than to pretend to be a wit.  The same thing is true of writing mysteries and thrillers:  their art and craft is that they work for readers (or they don’t).  If they don’t, you can tell right away, and you know that neither art nor craft is involved.

In theory, of course is it possible for conformist or mindless or ideology-driven editing to negate the creative brilliance shining through an author’s work.  In over thirty years of publishing fiction, however, I’ve never had a bad editor.  Every editor I’ve ever worked with has done everything he or she could to bring out what was best in my work and to cast aside what detracted from its quality.  Hence, I’m more than a little skeptical about whether this theoretical possibility is ever realized in practice.

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

A:      That depends on the definition of “successful”.  If a “successful” novelist is one who writes bestsellers, then the three keys are (1) knowledge of the target demographic; (2) willingness and ability to tell a fast-moving story using an eighth-grade vocabulary; and (3) a talent for developing fresh premises to hang those stories on.  If a “successful” novelist is one who gets critical acclaim in high-minded publications, then the three keys are (1) achieving first-hand or at least second-hand contact with the people, mostly in New York, who determine the orientation of those publications; (2) willingness and ability to tell stories that reflect that orientation; and (3) a talent for developing fresh premises to hang those stories on.  If a “successful” novelist is one who writes stories that he or she (and, ideally, others) can still read with pleasure twenty years after those stories were published, then the three keys are (1) an imaginative knack for asking “What if . . . ?” and then following the implications of that question to an emotionally satisfying conclusion; (2) a willingness to pound a keyboard until your brains fall out and a coherent narrative structure has taken shape; and (3) a talent for developing fresh premises to hang the resulting stories on.  Careful readers will notice a theme here.

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

A:      I don’t agree.  Homework is something you do, even though you don’t want to, because you don’t have any choice.  Professional writers do have a choice.  Anyone who could be an author could, if nothing else, sell fraudulent securities or successfully manage a house of assignation.

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

A:      The closest I can come – and it’s not particularly close – is Evelyn Waugh’s memoir A Little Learning.  Beyond that, the truthful answer is no.  I don’t mean to suggest that I’m so good that I couldn’t have benefitted from resources such as these.  I simply mean that I never consulted them.  Because I was practicing law full time, I had to either write fiction during the times when my partners were playing golf, or not write fiction at all.  Studying about how to write better simply wasn’t an option, because even my partners didn’t play that much golf.

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

A:      Two things.  First, unless you so fervently want to write that nothing I might say could possibly dissuade you, then don’t take up writing as a profession.  Effective fiction should proceed from an urgent inner need that cannot be satisfied except by written expression.  Second, believe in the stories you tell.  There are plenty of successful writers who don’t, and in general they are unhappy people.

 

Author PhotoSusan McCormick writes cozy murder mysteries. She is also the author of GRANNY CAN’T REMEMBER ME, a lighthearted picture book about Alzheimer’s disease. She is a doctor who lives in Seattle. She graduated from Smith College and George Washington University School of Medicine, with additional medical training in Washington, DC and San Francisco, where she lived in an elegant apartment building much like the one in the book. She served nine years in the military before settling in the Pacific Northwest. She is married and has two boys, plus a giant Newfoundland dog.

Connect with Susan on the web:

Goodreads / Bookbub

Find out more about THE FOG LADIES:

Amazon / B&N

INTERVIEW:

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

A:  THE FOG LADIES is a cozy murder mystery with a group of spunky older women and one overworked, overtired, overstressed medical intern who all live in an elegant apartment building in San Francisco where old ladies start to die. Mrs. Bridge falls off a stool cleaning bugs out of her kitchen light. Mrs. Talwin slips on bubbles in the tub and drowns. Are these deaths the natural consequences of growing old, or is it murder?

Years ago, I lived in an apartment building similar to the one in the book, and I always thought it would make a good setting for a cozy. The name of the book and the idea for the group of women came instantly, before anything else about the story. They call themselves the Fog Ladies because you can count on them like you can count on San Francisco early morning fog burning off by midday. Being a life-long cozy murder mystery lover, I concocted murders around them and set a killer loose in their apartment building.

TheFogLadies_w13428_cover

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

A:  Characters drive a cozy, and I tried to create a memorable cast of quirky yet identifiable  characters that will hopefully survive this killer in their building and persevere for more mysteries to come. Another cozy feature is an enclosed setting, like the elegant San Francisco apartment building in my story, so the victims and the killer are all known to each other and it is hard to hide.

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

A:  The first draft of THE FOG LADIES had far too few suspects, thanks to my hope of “letting the story write itself,” without an outline or plot points. That process gave me the wonderful characters of Chanterelle and Baby Owen, who wrote their own scenes. But without enough villains, I had to go back and turn perfectly lovely characters into potential killers. So now I outline everything, and plot it all ahead.

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:  The Fog Ladies each have their quirks and foibles, and I created entire character sketches about each, plus every other character in the book. But sometimes things don’t go as planned, and that is the surprise and magic of writing. Enid Carmichael, a busybody with sharp hearing, discovers Starbucks lattes at the ripe old age of eighty. She loves the bitterness, the froth. I wrote that. Then she craved more lattes, and the next thing I knew, she was stealing Starbucks coupons from her neighbor’s newspaper to feed her addiction. She did that. Not me.

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 killer has his motives, his hopes, his setbacks. The original draft of THE FOG LADIES, that first exciting but unplotted, unoutlined draft, included my villain’s voice sprinkled throughout the story. In re-reading, there were too many points of view, and to decrease reader confusion, I took his chapters out and stuffed all his thoughts into a scene toward the end. I miss his commentary throughout the book, but his perspective is still there.

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

A:  The best part of writing for me, and the part that creates the most memorable and lively scenes, is the part of writing that is not planned. One of my characters wrote herself onto life support and expected me to resuscitate her. Exacerbating but interesting. The characters of ne’er do well teen parents Chantrelle and Big Owen and their baby were nowhere in my mind when I started to write. They created themselves, and the story is richer for them.

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:  I lived in an apartment building much like the one in THE FOG LADIES, minus the murders, when I did medical training in San Francisco. Elegant apartment buildings are found throughout San Francisco, especially in Pacific Heights, where the story is set. Tenants of all ages live together for years, providing the perfect cast of characters and cozy-type enclosed setting for a series of murders. I tried to describe the building, the love the old handyman had in polishing the wood and brass, and also the Fog Ladies’ apartments, aged and dated but still glorious, a little like them.

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:  The theme of murder and fear is a given in a cozy murder mystery. I always knew I wanted to write about growing old and female bonds of friendship. But some of the other themes of the book, like love, mistakes, even parenting, came only after the characters took over.

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

A:  To me, craft is the careful planning and plotting I wish I’d done before the writing fun began, art is the fun I had when I didn’t know what was going to happen. Revision is the ick I had to endure because I didn’t plan and plot ahead. Editing is the tightening of phrases, condensing of scenes, overall improvement made once the manuscript is almost there. The fun creation part of writing lives through all the hard work that comes later.

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

A:  In life, I think the single most important attribute we take to any profession is showing up on time, with enthusiasm. A cruder way to say this is “butt in seat.” I am a doctor in a training hospital, and it applies to our medical residents trying to further their medical knowledge base, it applies to students in college, and my first job as a shopping mall Easter Bunny, and my second job as secretary, and my weirdest job as a mate on a sport fishing boat, and my current jobs as a doctor and author. Putting in the time and looking forward to putting in the time (or pretending to) go a long way to a successful career. For writing, it also helps to have imagination and a talent for storytelling.

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

A:  Until the book is in your hands in hard copy, you are never finished with that book. There are always tweaks to make it better, typos to discover, characters who need one more boost. Even once that book is out in the world, there is promotion and marketing, which means more writing, more time. And there is the next book, and the side book, and the book that’s screaming to be written even though you are writing the next book and the side book. It is never ending.

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

A:  Elizabeth Lyon comes to mind as far as helpful books about editing. Reading cozy murder mysteries is immensely helpful in solidifying my cozy craft while enjoying this genre.

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

A:  Plotting and planning is smart, or you will end up with too few suspects or no side story of how a single mistake can change your life. However, you need to give your characters a little space to be themselves, because the surprises they bring, like Enid Carmichael’s latte binge or the trio of Chantrelle, Big Owen and Baby Owen, will delight you and your readers.

 

 

 

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Title: DARK JUSTICE
Author: Angela Smith
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 249
Genre: Romantic Suspense

BOOK BLURB:

She’s in love with her sister’s killer…

Lauren has loved Luke since first grade. They planned to marry—until he murdered her sister. The moment he was sentenced to prison, Lauren fled with her secret baby and made a new life. Now she’ll do anything to keep their daughter safe. But her hard won peace shatters when Luke is exonerated, and it sets her on a path of mixed emotions to discover the truth. Letting a killer into their tightly knit family is out of the question. Or is it?

She almost destroys her life by threatening his…

Prison stole his future with Lauren and twelve years of Luke’s life, so the last thing he needs from her is a knife in the back or a gun in his face. Lauren believes he killed her sister, and he has no plans to pick up where they left off. Luke can’t afford to trust her, but he wants nothing more than to convince her he’s worth fighting for.

Their daughter is in danger…

Luke is heartbroken when he learns they had a child together. Now his daughter is in danger. Lauren trusted the wrong person for far too long, but he hopes she’ll now trust him. Luke will risk everything to keep them safe. And Lauren will risk everything if she lets him into her heart.

 

★★★★★ORDER YOUR COPY★★★★★

Amazon → www.amzn.com/B07TZWHCC3

 Barnes & Noble → https://tinyurl.com/y4j5n4yd

 

Book Excerpt:

Luke—Twelve Years Ago

 

“All rise for the jury.”

I stand, my legs unsteady. The jurors filter in, one by one, their eyes downcast. Those who look, only glance at the prosecutor. Not me or my defense attorney.

Wayne’s breath hitches. It’s a whispery whoosh, a sound he likely doesn’t realize he’s made, but it tells me everything I need to know. I almost collapse in defeat.

He thinks they found me guilty. And by their expressions, I agree.

I size up the crowd gathering in the courtroom. Most of them sit on the prosecutor’s side. Clint is there. Once my best friend, but now I’m convinced he’s a killer. He’s next to Lauren. The love of my life and the one I presumed would stand by my side forever. But since she believes I killed her sister, I guess I can’t blame her for turning her back on me.

But Clint? Fear curls my spine. He’s charming, I’ll give him that, but he’s an absolute psycho. Nobody in Lauren’s family will listen, especially Lauren. And before all this, I wouldn’t have believed Clint is the killer. He killed her sister. How do I know she won’t be next? How can I protect her if I’m locked in prison for the rest of my life?

The judge drones on about the charge, then asks the jury if they’ve reached a decision. Wayne shifts and gives me a blink that tells me he wants to make sure I’m aware of what’s going on. I’m eighteen, for God’s sake. How could anyone my age understand criminal justice?

He’s warned me of how you can never predict a jury, but this group of fourteen holds their heads high as if they’ve never been surer in their lives. Two of them are alternate jurors, so it’s up to five men and seven women to decide my fate.

An older gentleman hands the bailiff the verdict. I hold my breath, and the judge reads. “We the jury find the defendant, Lucas Donovan Fuller, guilty of murder.”

Gasps fill the room. Chaos erupts, at least in my bones. More like a commotion, nothing too disastrous to alert the judge, and something he’s probably accustomed to. He only regards the crowd. A lot of loud talking, crying, and my mother’s wails. He’s way more patient than me and waits for everyone’s reaction to subside.

My muscles grow weak. I badly want to sit and wonder when I’m allowed. I want to reach out to Lauren. Tell her I’m sorry this happened, I didn’t do it, she has to trust me, and please, please don’t trust Clint. I open my mouth to say these things, but my attorney stations his hand on my shoulder, as if his one palm is going to keep me silent.

He warned me over and over not to react. I’m not allowed to speak. I am barely allowed to move, and I can’t look her way, although I shift to do so. The bailiff puffs out his chest and walks closer, as if I’m going to bolt.

“Calm down,” Wayne says. “We still have punishment. Don’t make a scene.”

Why shouldn’t I react? This is life changing. My life is over. I’m going to prison. The judge hasn’t declared a final sentence but after everyone’s testimony, I’ve started to believe my own guilt. I’m likely going to prison for the rest of my life.

****

Luke—Present Day

 

Luke Fuller’s pen scribbled across the page. His heart hammered while he wrote the words, ears filling with the deep drum of his heartbeat as if he was re-experiencing the event. Tired of writing, he shut the notebook and tossed it on the wrought-iron table beside him, along with his cap and shades. He stood and opened the grill to check the ribeye.

Food would be ready in a few minutes, and all he needed was right here. A little salt and pepper, paper plates and plastic forks to eat with, and a cooler full of drinks. Even a hundred feet from the river, the bullfrogs’ croaking put him at ease.

A sound he never expected to hear again.

He closed the grill, grabbed a beer from the ice chest, and lounged on the patio chair. It took a while for his heartbeat to settle. Writing these memories was difficult, harder than he expected, and his body ached from the flashbacks.

The sun descended, a showcase of gold fueled by rain clouds and humidity. He loved the open porch and didn’t want a screen to filter him and the outdoors. With bug spray, sleeping out here at night was a dream come true, despite the oppressive mugginess. Lightning flashed in the south, implying the much-needed shower was near. Nothing better than the clatter of rain on the roof.

Even the mosquitoes avoided the Texas July heat, but he’d take heat over the prison cell where he’d spent the past twelve years of his life. He’d take it over that any damn day.

LED lights strung across the porch offered a soft glow to ease him come sundown. He hated the darkness. Too many reminders of prison and the things he wanted to forget. But this darkness out in the country was peaceful, welcoming, different. Almost bearable.

A car drove up, the headlights zipping through the trees. His muscles tensed. He studied the nearby monitor attached to the front security camera. The car parked, the lights shut off. His lungs tightened, burned, then disintegrated when the woman stepped out and sauntered to the back.

She remembered. Friends always came to the back door. But she was no friend.

He blinked, his gut churning. Was he dreaming? Hallucinating after writing those memories? Lauren shone bright in his mind, even the seductive scent of honey and berries he once loved to sample behind her ear.

Her footsteps echoed up the stairs, and she came into view. She was no illusion. He remained sitting, nonchalant and drinking his beer as if he had no care in the world.

His mouth dried. The beer a sour tang. Her presence meant nothing good.

She thought he’d killed her sister. The entire community deemed him guilty before a jury of his peers sentenced him to life in prison. His sisters never stopped fighting to prove his innocence. He was released two months ago thanks to Adrienne and Charlotte and the team of defense attorneys who fought for him.

But he favored prison over the look of revulsion on Lauren’s face. A flowing skirt skimmed her knees, the imprinted flowers rivaling the charm of the countryside. Her slender body was as gorgeous as ever, heating him in ways better left ignored. She wore open-toed sandals. He never understood why she chose those shoes while hiking. They had to stop many times during their treks to pluck out grass burrs.

At one time, they didn’t mind the interruption.

Her dirty blonde hair was darker, accented by rich caramel, and the image of her ocean blue eyes burned in his memory. Despite the similarities, she wasn’t the same woman who once loved him.

He didn’t flinch when she pointed the pistol his direction. He continued to sip his beer, his ears tingling with the chatter of June bugs and crickets. If she wanted to shoot him, so be it.

Although he hadn’t killed her sister, he was just as much to blame. He had been selfish in spending his time with Lauren and didn’t mind leaving her sister alone. He trusted his best friend, had known him since grade school, but ignored his recent questionable tendencies. The town of Terrence was quick to point fingers while the real killer roamed free.

****

Lauren—Present Day

 

Lauren Cooper pointed the pistol at Luke, knees knocking and thighs quaking. She was proud of herself for keeping a steady grip despite her sweaty palms.

She’d practiced plenty, eyeing her target, strengthening her resolve. Today, Luke Fuller was her target. Maybe her first moving target—although he didn’t move, didn’t even flinch—and definitely her first human target. Still, she’d often imagined him on the other end of her gun.

What was she thinking? She risked losing her job over this, even facing jail time, for threatening with a firearm. Was it worth it to lose everything she’d worked so hard for? Even worse, to risk her daughter’s wellbeing?

Luke had murdered Elizabeth, was released, and now another man accused. But not just any man. Clint Merkel. A close friend. Almost family.

Thousands of times she’d confronted Luke in her dreams. Robbed him of life as brutally as he had robbed her twelve-year-old sister’s. More like nightmares. The man she once loved with all her heart. The jury had convicted him, but now he was exonerated. Doubts still clouded her mind. The newest facts couldn’t obliterate twelve years of certainty, no matter how credible.

Her spine clenched. She had tossed and turned and cried herself to sleep for years. Her emotions skyrocketed all over the place. Suppressed memories jumbled out of her. Memories of his kiss, his embrace, their shared lives, their plans. In high school, they’d been dubbed Luke and Lauren. She didn’t want to plan college without questioning where he’d go. They were a team, a couple and everybody—including her—presumed they’d stay together after high school.

Stupid to give her life away to a man, to halt her ambitions and plans. And then one fateful night the truth had been discovered, and the cops had placed the cuffs on his wrists.

He was still the most handsome man she had ever seen. Still captivated her. The sting of attraction needled through her muscles, her bones, her heartbeat. Her pulsed thrummed into her toes. She fought to stand her ground and reveal nothing about his effect on her.

Thunder boomed. She jumped. The rain began a harsh and fast hammering on the roof.

He sipped his beer, body relaxing as if knowing she wasn’t about to pull the trigger. He remained unaffected by the thunder, by the deluge, and by her presence.

“You going to shoot me or not?” He shrugged one shoulder, his drawl tightening the shivers in her stomach. Heat flared under her skin, the familiar anger—the reason she came here—blazed to her core. Him all casual, enjoying a beer while smoke billowed from his fire pit. The spices of the steak tore knots in her throat.

But she wasn’t only angry at him. She was angry at herself for letting him charm her.

The storm doused the dusk, but miniature lights lined the porch. She saw every inch of him and the way his gaze slid over her. They had studied each other for hours when they were younger, in love and carefree. The green of his eyes soaked up the earth and emitted the colors of eternity. They were harder, his face bearing a few scars only she might notice.

He dropped his beer to the table beside him. “What are you doing, Lauren? Just shoot me already. I’ve practically been dead these past years, anyway.”

Her throat closed. She refused to imagine what he experienced these last few years.

Luke shifted forward and frowned, let out a rickety cough, then perched his elbows on his knees. He swiped a hand over his face, then continued. “Look. I’m sorry about everything. Sorry you had to go through the loss of your sister and you believed I did it. Sorry I couldn’t comfort you. I’m… just sorry.”

His wobbly voice shattered her reserves. His movements broadcasted an unexpected nervousness. She let out a whoosh of breath, every fiber of her being sinking into a black hole of misery. Tears rolled out of her, hot and choking. Her grip on the gun wavered but remained clasped in her fingers.

He stood and swaggered toward her. His heavy-booted steps on the wooden planks thudded in her ears. She wanted to back away, but her butt rested against the porch railing and an invisible anchor rooted her to the ground.

She swayed.

Her hands shook, and her best interest was to put down the gun before somebody got hurt. Most likely her.

She lowered the pistol. He stopped in front of her and took it. She was too weak, too helpless to fight. His presence suctioned every bit of her power.

He set the gun on the ground. She jumped as another round of thunder boomed. Rain pounded the roof. Droplets hit her skin, but not enough to matter. She craved the cool refreshment. He stood facing her, his eyes boring into hers. She licked her lips as if drawing sustenance from that one small move, a move that drew his gaze to her mouth.

She swayed again, about to fall. He grabbed her and pulled her into his arms.

“Careful.” His words wisped across her ear and trailed down her spine to spool into a reservoir of lust in her loins.

She planted the top of her head against his chest and sobbed as he held her. Her shoulders shook, the tears escaping in violent torrents. She couldn’t stop no matter how hard she wanted to.

He smelled like mesquite smoke and musk, along with crisp grass cuttings under Texas sunshine. Stupid, stupid to imagine such things.

The tears were a release. A goodbye she never had a chance to say.

Had she believed he was capable of murder? She refused to listen to his sister when she begged. All the evidence pointed to him. The police, the prosecutor, even the city mayor had convinced her.

How could they all be wrong? Her mind churned with questions. Questions she should have asked before she’d threatened him with a gun.

His fingers skated up her hair, and he tucked a piece behind her ear. She straightened her spine and lifted her head, willing her body to fight the attraction as her tears dried.

“I don’t know if I believe it,” she finally said.

“What? That I didn’t do it?”

She nodded, her limbs weak and trembling.

“Well, if Clint didn’t do it, why did he run?”

She wondered the same thing, but Clint being a killer was terrifying, even more so than Luke, considering she’d entrusted her daughter with him.

She lowered her head and sniffled. He placed his fingers under her chin and forced her to look at him.

Not a force but a slow, gentle move. He had always been gentle. Clint had been the edgy one, the one who tested her nerves. And yet after Luke had been accused of murdering her sister, she had turned to Clint as a friend and let him take part in her life. How had he manipulated her? How had she allowed it? Her belly flopped, the drying tears searing her throat.

She’d always felt safe with Luke. Safe, yet vulnerable, because her heart was at risk.

He dropped his hand from her chin and finger brushed her hair. Her neck tingled. She longed to savor his mouth on hers after all these years.

“I’ve imagined being in front of you, begging you to listen.” His voice was a slow deep penetration to the core of her being. Something impossible to pull away from. “I did not kill your sister, and as much pain as I knew you were in, it broke my heart you never gave me a chance.”

She lifted her chin higher and stared straight into his eyes. “And I imagined having the chance to stand in front of you and kill you.”

A strangled sob escaped him. His eyes flickered. Her body grew warm with regret. Regret for her words, regret for refusing to hear him out so many years ago, and regret for wanting him so much she hurt.

“You’ve got that chance now. Why don’t you take it?”

Meet the Author

Angela Smith is a Texas native who, years ago, was dubbed most likely to write a novel during her senior year in high school. She always had her nose stuck in a book, even hiding them behind her textbooks during school study time. Her dream began at a young age when her sister started reciting ‘Brer Rabbit’ after their mom read it to them so often. She told her mom she’d write a story one day and never gave up on that dream even though her mom was never able to see it come to fruition. By day, she works as a certified paralegal and office manager at her local District Attorney’s office and spends her free time with her husband, their pets, and their many hobbies. Although life in general keeps her very busy, her passion for writing and getting the stories out of her head tends to make her restless if she isn’t following what some people call her destiny.

★ WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS: ★

Website → http://www.loveisamystery.com

Blog → www.loveisamystery.com/my-blog

Twitter → www.twitter.com/angelaswriter

Facebook → www.facebook.com/authorangelasmith

Goodreads → https://tinyurl.com/y48996ej

BookBub → https://tinyurl.com/yxr9ezxy

 

New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother has written or co-authored 13 books, ranging from narrative nonfiction to memoir and crime fiction. Her latest titles are the true-life thriller Hunting Charles Manson and her memoir short, Secrets, Lies, and Shoelaces. A former investigative reporter at daily newspapers for 19 years, Rother has been published in Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe and Daily Beast. She has appeared more than 200 times on TV, radio and podcasts internationally, including Australian Broadcast Corp’s “World News,” “Crime Watch Daily,” “People Magazine Investigates,” “Nancy Grace,” “Snapped,” and dozens of shows on Netflix, Investigation Discovery, Oxygen, A&E, Reelz, C-SPAN and various PBS affiliates. Rother also works as a writing-research coach and consultant, leads writing workshops, and plays keyboards and sings in an acoustic group called breakingthecode. She is working on two new books, one titled “Justice for Rebecca,” about the Rebecca Zahau death case, and one about the San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo. Please visit her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter or visit her website at https://www.caitlinrother.com.

★ WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS: ★

Website → https://www.caitlinrother.com

Blog → https://www.caitlinrother.com/blog

Twitter → https://twitter.com/CaitlinRother

Facebook → https://www.facebook.com/caitlinrother

Goodreads → https://tinyurl.com/y3oy4cwp

Interview:

Would you call yourself a born writer?

I have been writing stories ever since I was a little girl. I also used to speak them in different voices, talking to each other, to keep myself amused when I was growing up as an only child. I read a ton of books, too, which is crucial to learn how to be a good writer. That said, even after 13 published books, I’m still learning and growing as a writer. And because all but one of those books are narrative non-fiction, I don’t create, exaggerate or embellish any details. With the exception of one mystery novel, NAKED ADDICTION, all my books are deeply researched true accounts. Because, as they say, truth is often stranger than fiction.

What was your inspiration for DEAD RECKONING?

This true crime story tells the story of the murders of Tom and Jackie Hawks by transgender killer Skylar Deleon and a crew of twisted misfits. Skylar, who was still presenting as a man at the time of the murders in 2004, was married to a woman named Jennifer. They had a 10-month-old daughter, and Jennifer was pregnant with their second child. They used their daughter and their pregnancy to gain the Hawkses’ trust, posing as a family that wanted to buy the Hawkses’ boat and run a charter business on it. When Skylar came back with two other men for a sea trial, they forced the Hawkses to sign power-of-attorney documents, tied them to the anchor of their yacht and threw it overboard, drowning them alive. Skylar’s primary motive was to get money to pay for gender confirmation surgery, which she is still trying to get on death row at San Quentin, a men’s prison, where she has transitioned to a woman, using hormones. She just legally changed her name and gender to female, and wants to be transferred to a women’s prison. You can’t make this stuff up.

What themes do you like to explore in your writing?

My true crime books explore murders involving addiction, mental health issues, psychological manipulation for financial and emotional gain, predators and sexual deviancy, and sociopathy. I try to educate people with this information to help protect them and to place a spotlight on flaws in our systems that allow these tragedies to occur, so we can learn from them. My hope is that we can prevent such tragedies from happening again, or at least catch the bad guys (and women). In addition to writing memoirs both for myself and with my co-authors, I always enjoy finding non-fiction topics that will have a positive influence or inspiration on readers, such as my current project about the San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo.

How long did it take you to complete the novel?

This is not a novel, it’s a true crime book, and I’ve been covering this case for longer than any other one in my entire career as a professional investigative journalist and author. The first edition, which came out in 2011, involved going to three trials over several years and then a couple more to research and write. I’ve continued to gather fresh material for this latest updated editions, which brings me to 15 years total.

Are you disciplined? Describe a typical writing day.

Yes, very much so. It’s imperative. But being a professional full-time author of non-fiction is far more involved than just writing. Each book has a series of phases, and with non-fiction, I can go for months just doing research and interviews, while I plan the narrative structure and story arc of the book. Only then do I start writing, because otherwise, I will just have to rewrite entire sections. I first do research to put a book proposal together, which may entail going to an entire trial for months at a time. Then my agent has to sell the proposal to a publisher. After that, I do more research and interviews before I even start writing the book, which usually takes about nine months. But books don’t sell themselves. Once I get going on the next book, I still have to promote the one that just came out. So depending on where I am in the process, I do different tasks all day long, dedicating a certain number of hours to writing or editing, some hours to continued research and follow up calls and emails, until I finally finish the manuscript. Toward the end, I will spend entire days writing and/or editing.

What did you find most challenging about writing this book?

There are a lot of moving parts to this story, many characters, and a large span of time to cover. I had way more story than I had space for, which meant I had to cut 35,000 words from the first draft. This time, because the book was long already, I had to go through it again to find ways to cut 4,000 more words to make room for the updated, fresh material. The trick is to make the story seamless, fast-paced and suspenseful, and still maintain accuracy. I also felt it was important to be sensitive to the victims’ families as well as to the LGBTQ community, which was a tough thing to balance.

What do you love most about being an author?

I enjoy the freedom of being able to choose the stories I want to write about vs. when I was a newspaper reporter and often got assigned stories I didn’t care about. I also enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working for myself. I’m busier than I’ve ever been, but I’m constantly stimulated by my varying tasks and by always learning new things.

Did you go with a traditional publisher, small press, or did you self publish? What was the process like and are you happy with your decision?

The original version of this book was with a traditional publisher. When it let the book go out of print, I got my rights back and did this re-release with WildBlue Press, which is an indie press. For the first time, I got to have input into the cover design, which was great fun, and I think the book and cover turned out very nicely. Statistics show that 70 percent of readers buy their books online vs. in bookstores these days, so this publisher is geared more toward those readers.

Where can we find you on the web?

My website and blog are at https://www.caitlinrother.com. This book is sold at wbp.bz/deadreackoning. The photo gallery, with tons of color pics of the key players, is at wbp.bz/deadreckoninggallery. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just type in my name.

Title: DEAD RECKONING
Author: Caitlin Rother
Publisher: WildBlue Press
Pages: 504
Genre: True Crime

BOOK BLURB:

Tom and Jackie Hawks loved their life in retirement, sailing on their yacht, the Well Deserved. But when the birth of a new grandson called them back to Arizona, they put the boat up for sale. Skylar Deleon and his pregnant wife Jennifer showed up as prospective buyers, with their baby in a stroller, and the Hawkses thought they had a deal. Soon after a sea trial and an alleged purchase, however, the older couple disappeared and the Deleons promptly tried to access the Hawkses’ bank accounts.

As police investigated the case, they not only found a third homicide victim with ties to Skylar, they also uncovered an unexpected and unusual motive: Skylar had wanted gender reassignment surgery for years. By killing the Hawkses with a motley crew of assailants and plundering the couple’s assets, the Deleons had planned to clear their $100,000 in debts and still have money for the surgery, which Skylar had already scheduled.

Now, in this up-to-the-minute updated edition, which includes extensive new material, New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother presents the latest breaking developments in the case. Skylar, who was ultimately sentenced to death row for the three murders, transitioned to a woman via hormones while living in the psych unit at San Quentin prison. Recently, she legally changed her name and gender to female, apparently a strategic step in her quest to obtain taxpayer-subsidized gender confirmation surgery and transfer to a women’s prison. Combined with Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent moratorium on executions, this only adds insult to injury for the victims’ families, who want Skylar to receive the ultimate punishment for her crimes.

“Rother gives readers compelling insight to an unthinkable American nightmare. A gripping read… frank and frightening… it sizzles.”

Aphrodite Jones, host of True Crime on Investigation Discovery and bestselling author

 

Amazon → https://tinyurl.com/y3jr7mk3

 WildBlue Press → https://tinyurl.com/yyj9xlvk

 

Book Excerpt:

PROLOGUE

Alonso Machain was unemployed, with bills to pay, so he took up his friend Skylar Deleon’s offer to help restore a family boat at the Cabrillo yard in Long Beach, California.

As they were sanding the Hatteras together, Skylar boasted about his plans for fixing up his new toy, which he’d gotten from his grandfather. Then Skylar offered his twenty-one-year-old buddy a much more lucrative job.

“How much are you talking about?” Alonso asked.

“A couple million dollars,” Skylar said.

“Wow. How do you make a couple million dollars without it being illegal?”

“Well,” Skylar said, “it’s not really illegal, unless you get caught.”

As Skylar’s plan evolved in the coming days of October 2004, the promised payoff for Alonso soon increased to “several million” dollars to help Skylar “take care” of some people who had done something bad and pissed somebody off.

Skylar wasn’t usually paid for these gigs, he said, but he got to keep the assets of the “targets,” who were typically well-off. His first contract, for example, was a guy who’d been selling drugs in Huntington Beach schools and owed money to the wrong people.

Skylar said he’d split the proceeds of his next job with Alonso, but didn’t give him much time to mull it over.

“So, you want to do it or not?” Skylar asked a couple days later.

Alonso wasn’t really sure what to think. Skylar was always talking about how rich he and his family were, and Alonso believed him. Although he knew Skylar liked to tell stories, he never stopped to consider that the few times Skylar had thrown him a mere twenty dollars for the boat restoration work, they’d had to drive to an ATM to get it.

After Alonso decided to take the job, Skylar went into more detail about the plan, showing him photos of a yacht called the Well Deserved, whose wealthy owners had put it up for sale. Alonso’s role was to help Skylar get “in” with the owners, Tom and Jackie Hawks, then hold them down.

The fifty-five-foot trawler was moored in the upscale community of Newport Beach in Orange County, a sharp contrast to the sprawling mix of urban, industrial, and suburban areas of Long Beach, where Skylar lived with his wife, Jennifer, in neighboring Los Angeles County.

Unlike the spacious homes in Newport, decorated in the mute beiges and sandstone of the wealthy, home for Skylar and Jennifer was a cramped converted garage behind her parents’ duplex. Space was so tight the Deleons had to stack their belongings on the floor and hang their clothing from a pole lodged between two dressers next to the bed. It was a far cry from the opulent mansions featured on The Real Housewives of Orange County and The O.C.

Contrary to the story he’d told Alonso about the $3 million a month he’d earned working with Ditech Funding, Skylar had been fired from his job as appraiser’s assistant there and looked at his wealthier neighbors in “The O.C.” with envy. He coveted their waterfront homes, boats, and private planes that he couldn’t afford, and he lied to persuade folks that he could.

Although he wasn’t anywhere near as smart or capable as Bernie Madoff in building a complex financial scheme, Skylar’s scam was just as—if not more— deceitful. And when it came to lying and manipulating people, Skylar was pretty good at that, too.

The next time he and Alonso met, Skylar said he’d analyzed photos of the boat’s interior for radios and weapons, such as spearguns, and had determined the best way to overcome the couple. Using stun guns and handcuffs, Alonso would grab Jackie in the galley while Skylar took down Tom in the stateroom, where no one could hear him scream.

Skylar said he’d considered taking Tom scuba diving and finishing him off underwater, but he’d realized that would preclude the Hawkses from signing over the boat title and power-of-attorney documents he was going to draw up.

“What I’ll do is just take them out to sea and toss them overboard,” he said.

They purchased two stun guns together, then Skylar sent Alonso, a former jail guard he’d befriended while serving time for armed burglary a year earlier, to buy two pairs of handcuffs.

The next day, November 6, Skylar said it was time to do the deed. By now, Alonso felt it was too late to extricate himself from the situation. If twenty-five-year-old Skylar really was a hit man, what would prevent him from harming Alonso?

As they drove to the dock, Skylar stopped a couple blocks away to scope out who was aboard, then called Tom to pick them up in his dinghy. The Hawkses were expecting them.

On board, Tom proudly gave them a tour of his home, but Alonso could see from Skylar’s tone of voice and body language that he’d changed his mind. Skylar seemed far too relaxed to kill anyone as he chatted with Tom for forty-five minutes about possible modes of payment. Before they left, Skylar made sure that Tom and Jackie knew he was definitely interested in purchasing the vessel and would be back for a lesson on how to operate it.

Skylar told Alonso afterward that he’d changed his mind once he’d realized that Tom was too muscular for the two of them to overpower alone. They really needed a third man. Skylar also sensed some discomfort on the Hawkses’ part, so he called Jennifer on his cell phone as soon as they got back to the car.

“Hey, you need to come down, take a look at the boat, to make these people feel a little more at ease,” he told her.

After sending Alonso on his way, Skylar and his pregnant wife went back on board, pushing their ten-month-old daughter, Haylie, in a stroller, to do just that.

 

 

 

Title: DREAD PIRATE ARCANIST
Author: Shami Stovall
Publisher: Capital Station Books
Pages: #437
Genre: YA Fantasy

BOOK BLURB:

While protecting the newborn griffins on the Isle of Landin, Volke Savan and his adopted sister, Illia, run afoul of the Dread Pirate Calisto, the same cutthroat who carved out Illia’s right eye. As a master manticore arcanist, Calisto’s strength and brutality are unrivaled. When Illia suggests they bring him to justice, Volke wonders if they’ll have what it takes to fight the corsairs on the high seas.

A fast-paced flintlock fantasy for those who enjoy How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, Unsouled (Cradle Series) by Will Wight, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan.

Praise for the Frith Chronicles!

Perfect for those who enjoy the Codex Alera series, the Homas Wildus series, and the Harry Potter series. Stovall is quickly becoming a name I look for.”

Seattle Book Review

An addictive series. Shami Stovall has produced a mesmerizing story of magic, intrigue, and true adventure.”

ManyBooks

Absolutely brilliant.”

Archaeolibrarian

Now continue the Frith Chronicles with the second book, Dread Pirate Arcanist!

Amazon —-> https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07WK2H37L

 

CHAPTER ONE

A CELEBRATION OF GRIFFINS

Today the griffins of West Landin would choose who to bond with. The city officials gathered before the dawn, prepping for the evening celebrations. I watched from afar, on a rocky cliff that overlooked half the isle, the pre-morning winds disheveling my inky black hair. I had never visited the Isle of Landin before now, but I had heard amazing tales of their fearsome griffins since I was old enough to remember stories.

My pulse quickened with anticipation. For fifteen years I had imaged bonding with a mystical creature and becoming an arcanist. Eight months ago it had become a reality, but it hadn’t yet sunk into my heart and gut. Giddiness twisted my insides with each new breath.

While the citizens of West Landin would have to prove themselves to the griffins in a Trial of Worth, I had already been tested and found worthy.

I turned to the shadows next to me, well aware that my mystical creature—my eldrin—lurked in the darkness.

“Luthair,” I said. “Do you know much about griffins?”

“They are stubborn beasts,” he replied from the void of my shadow, his voice more sinister than his true demeanor. “And griffin arcanists are strong, courageous, and skilled at combat.”

“Amazing.”

As a knightmare, Luthair lived among the darkness, merging with it like salt in water. He didn’t need to materialize to speak, and he could slink along next to me without anyone knowing. While some would consider that creepy or unsettling, I enjoyed his presence and trusted him in all things.

I returned my attention to the sprawling city. Unlike the Isle of Ruma, where I grew up, West Landin housed thousands of people, had a massive port, and had constructed a seaside fortress to deter pirates. Their cobblestone roads, twice as wide as home, snaked beyond the city limits to a valley filled with sheep, goats, and horses.

When the sun rose, the oranges and reds of dawn cascaded over the island, washing it in a familiar glow. The Isle of Ruma had wonderful dawns, just like this one. The nostalgia overwhelmed me for a moment, so powerful it almost hurt.

I missed my adoptive father, Gravekeeper William.

The days spent as his apprentice seemed torturous at first, since I had never wanted to be become a gravedigger, but now I understood how much he had influenced my life. He had been the best father I ever could’ve hoped for. I last saw him after I bonded with Luthair, a short time after my fifteenth birthday.

“Volke?”

“Yes?” I replied, recognizing Illia’s voice straight away. I didn’t even need to turn around. I knew she would walk over to speak with me.

Sure enough, she ambled to the edge of the rocky cliff, one hand on the brim of her sailing cap. Then she offered me a smile.

“Are you out here daydreaming?”

“No.” I slipped my hands into my pockets. “I wanted to spot some of the griffin cubs. I’ve never seen one in person before.”

Illia sarcastically lifted an eyebrow. “You weren’t thinking about the Isle of Ruma?”

“W-well, I might have thought about it for a moment.”

“Yeah. I know.” She stared down at West Landin, her one eye unfocused. “I’ve been doing the same thing.”

The wind played with her hair, revealing the twisted knife scars on the right side of her face. Her sailing cap kept everything in place, so I didn’t catch sight of the old wound for long, but I knew it was there.

I still remembered the first night that Gravekeeper William had brought her home. She had been five years old, and the injury hadn’t yet healed. The pirate fiend who had taken her eye had cut in deep, damaging the socket. She had to rest in bed for weeks, her skin pale and dappled with sweat.

Illia glanced over. “Volke?” She frowned. “What’s wrong? You’re not thinking about home anymore, are you?”

“It’s nothing,” I said as I stared at my boots. Illia didn’t like having attention brought to her scars, and I didn’t want to upset her.

“You can’t hide things from me.” Then she smacked my shoulder and half smiled. “You’ll tell me sooner or later.”

Instead of arguing, I nodded and allowed the conversation to end. The morning sun warmed the isle, and the breeze brought ocean mists. I could’ve stayed on the rock cliff with Illia for the entire day, enjoying the atmosphere.

A small ferret-like creature—a rizzel—bounded up toward us, hopping along like only weasels could. His snow-white fur shone in the morning light, and his silver stripes had a metallic sparkle.

“Illia!” he cried out as he scampered over to her feet. “Why would you leave me?”

In a flash of sparkles and sorcery, the rizzel disappeared and then popped into existence on Illia’s shoulder. She stroked his head as he curled around the back of her neck, hiding in her wavy brown hair.

“What is it, Nicholin?” she asked.

“Master Zelfree wants us all to gather near the edge of the woods.”

“Right now?”

“He said before dawn, but it took me forever to find you.” He arched his back and squeaked. “I can’t believe you left me! I’m your eldrin! Arcanists don’t leave their eldrin—it’s unheard of!”

Illia chuckled, but gave no explanation.

All arcanists had a mark on their forehead—a seven-pointed star etched straight into their skin. Illia’s, while faint, had the image of a rizzel intertwined with the star, symbolizing her connection with Nicholin. When I touched my own forehead, I could feel the cracked arcanist star just below my hairline. Unlike Illia, my star had a sword and cape, representing my bond with a knightmare.

“Did you see any griffins?” Illia asked.

I had almost forgotten the reason I perched myself on the cliff. I shook my head. “No. I can’t see their aerie from here, and the bonding ceremony doesn’t start until dusk, so I’m sure they’re still resting.”

“Do you want to wait until you see one? I bet they’ll wander around town before the Trials of Worth begin. We can always tell Master Zelfree that Nicholin got lost or something. It won’t be a big deal.”

“I wouldn’t want to lie. Honesty. Without it, we cannot learn the truth about ourselves.” I said the last bit with dramatic emphasis.

Illia groaned. “Please, Volke. For me. Stop quoting that damn staircase.”

“You know I like the lessons from the Pillar. I think they’re good rules to live by.”

Nicholin crossed his little ferret arms. “You’re wrong. They’re lame.”

“What?” I balked. Then I turned to the darkness. “Luthair, back me up. They’re good, right?”

“Indeed,” he said, his gruff voice echoing from my shadow.

“See? Luthair agrees with me. They’re definitely awesome.”

Nicholin and Illia exchanged knowing glances and huffed in sarcastic exasperation. If it were anyone else, maybe I would be bothered by the mocking, but I knew Illia didn’t mean it. She gave me hard time, just like when we were kids. With all the nostalgia in my veins, I welcomed the teasing.

“I guess we have to find Master Zelfree,” Illia said. “C’mon. Let’s go.”

We walked away from the cliffside, seagulls serenading the dawn with a symphony of caws. The rocks created a natural path, making the trek down an easy one. Illia kept close to me—closer than usual—and I wondered if she was awash in sentimentality as well.

Today would be easy. As members of the Frith Guild, we had been called to the Isle of Landin to protect those attending the griffin bonding ceremony. Until the celebrations began, however, we didn’t have much to do. Perhaps Illia and I could convince Master Zelfree to allow me to reminisce in town.

“I’m glad we became arcanists together,” Illia said. “That’s how I always imagined it when we were younger.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

She smiled and took in a breath, as if she might continue the conversation, but the words never came. We got all the way to the edge of the trees before she turned her attention back to me. She met my gaze with her one eye. I think she wanted me to say something. Maybe about our past? I didn’t know, and the longer she stared, the more disappointed she looked.

Illia lifted a hand and covered the scars over her damaged eye socket.

“Uh,” I began.

Illia waited.

Nicholin perked up, his ears erect. “Hm? What’s that?”

My breath caught in my throat. What did Illia want me to say?

Thankfully, Master Zelfree emerged from the woods, saving me from the awkward moment. He sauntered over, bags under his eyes, his black coat and pants wrinkled from long hours of work. He ran a hand through his black, shoulder-length hair. His fingers caught in a few places, betraying the fact he hadn’t brushed it in a while.

If I didn’t know he was a master arcanist from the Frith Guild, I would’ve assumed he was a hungover drunkard who stumbled away from the festivities.

“Master Zelfree,” Illia said, her eyebrow high.

Unlike me and Illia, Zelfree had a strange arcanist mark—his star had nothing intertwined with it. His eldrin, Traces, was the shape-changing mimic, after all. The bangles on his left wrist were most likely her. That was how she had hid herself in the past.

“You two finally decided to show up, huh?” Zelfree said. “You’re late for the exercise.”

“What exercise?” I asked.

“Don’t worry. It’s something simple.”

Zelfree’s shirt—black, like the rest of what he wore—was open enough to expose his bare chest and guild pendant, a silver symbol that marked him as a master arcanist. My bronze pendant told the world I was an apprentice, but I wasn’t ashamed of my low status. I loved my pendant with every ounce of my being.

“You all have been through a lot,” Zelfree muttered. “And your training as arcanists has been erratic. For the next couple of months, everything will be simple. We’ll take it slow while I assess your abilities, and then we’ll work our way to more challenging assignments.”

“I thought we didn’t have to do anything until dusk?” Illia asked.

“We don’t have to do anything official until dusk.” Zelfree pulled a flask from inside his coat and unscrewed the top. “But I want you all to practice your magic in the meantime. I split the other apprentices into pairs and sent them on their way.”

Nicholin bounced on Illia’s shoulder. “On their way? Where?”

“I hid apples around the daisy woods and I want you to collect them using your magic and your magic alone.”

“What? That’s kids stuff! My arcanist and I can handle anything. We took on Gregory Ruma’s leviathan. We stared into the jaws of death and survived!”

“As an arcanist of the Frith Guild, you won’t always be fighting giant leviathans in the waves of the ocean.” Zelfree cocked half a smile. “Sometimes we’ll be asked to find missing mystical creatures or locate hidden caches. Since none of those things involve traumatizing duels to the death, I figured this would be a relaxing exercise to practice your basic magic.”

“They’re hidden throughout the entire wooded area?” I asked.  The daisy woods covered a few acres of the island. The task felt daunting, even if it didn’t involve combat.

Zelfree shrugged. “Apples aren’t native to the islands. They’re bright red, and I’ve placed them in precarious spots. It shouldn’t take the six of you long to find them all.” He took a swig from his flask. “Whichever team comes back with the most apples will get to spend time with the griffins before the ceremony.”

My chest tightened. “Really?”

“And the pair who finds the least amount will have to wipe down the deck of our ship.”

Illia and I both groaned. No one wanted ship cleaning duty, especially since the sailors would get a good laugh at our predicament. Arcanists stood at the top of social hierarchy, and seeing one swab a deck was a novelty—like watching a crown prince take out the garbage, or a knight commander cleaning all the training weapons. We’d be mocked for the entire journey home.

“Interacting with the griffin cubs sounds amazing,” Illia said.

Zelfree nodded. “The mayor of West Landin asked the Frith Guild to protect the new arcanists until they reached the mainland. We’ll be sailing with them all the way there.”

“Protecting them from what, exactly?” she asked. “You never told us why they wanted the Frith Guild.”

“Pirates are in the area.”

The statement killed all mirth in the conversation. Illia grazed her fingers over the scars on her face. I had seen her react that way a million times before, every time someone mentioned nearby pirates.

The last thing I wanted was to deal with sea thieves and cutthroats.

“Any questions?” Zelfree asked. He swirled his flask as he spoke, and I couldn’t help but take note of it.

I pointed. “I thought you said you were cutting back on the drink.”

He downed the rest of his “breakfast” and walked past us. “Don’t worry. I’ve limited myself to a single serving. Soon I won’t need it to wake up.”

Normally I was the tallest person in any group—six feet—but when Zelfree went by, he straightened his posture, standing an inch or so higher. I never noticed before, probably because he slouched most times. It surprised me.

“Okay,” I muttered. “I suppose we’ll get started with the apple hunt then.”

“Treat this like an urgent mission. The apples are baby mystical creatures. Recover them quickly and efficiently.”

My thoughts didn’t dwell on his statements long. The idea that I could see the griffins up close—before the ceremony!—excited me more than anything else. We had to find enough apples. It would make for a perfect day, and an amazing tale to write to William about.

Illia took my elbow and pulled me toward the trees, a smile on her face.

The slender daisy trees grew sixty to ninety feet into the air, and in dense clusters. Their wide canopies caught the humid breeze and rustled with excitement. The white trunks, striped with brown, would make it easy to spot something crimson.

I kept my gaze up, hoping to catch a glisten of fruit among the branches.

“I’m going to make sure you see those griffins,” Illia said as she let go of my arm.

“Me?” I asked. “But aren’t you excited too?”

“Of course.” She smiled, more to herself than to me. “When I was younger, griffins were my favorite mystical creature. I used to daydream that one would hear I escaped from pirates, and that it would think I was so courageous it had to fly to our island just to bond with me.”

Nicholin swished his tail. “I don’t know if I should feel jealous or sad that I’m not a griffin.”

“No, no, no,” Illia said as she hugged Nicholin close. “That was me as a little girl. Now I know I wouldn’t want to be bonded with anyone but you.”

He made an odd purring noise, like he wasn’t built for it, but still attempted regardless. “That’s right! We’re meant to be together.”

Still—I had heard the excitement in her voice. If Illia wanted to meet a griffin, I would make sure that happened.

Somehow.

Thirty feet into the daisy tree woods and I spotted a rodent hole. While Illia went off to check some shrubbery, I knelt on the dirt and examined the burrow. I had dug enough graves to recognize when soil had been freshly tossed, so it was clear to me the entrance had been tampered with by human hands. Would Zelfree hide an apple here, of all places? I thought he had said they would be clearly visible. Best to check, regardless.

“What’re you doing?”

The snide voice snapped me out of my concentration. I glanced up and all excitement curdled in my system. Zaxis Ren. He stood with his arms crossed and his green eyes narrowed in a condescending stare.

“I’m searching for apples,” I said.

“In the dirt? Like an animal?”

I got to my feet and brushed the soil off the knees of my trousers. “Sounds like someone hasn’t had breakfast.”

“Heh. You think you’re so funny.”

Zaxis confused me more than anyone else. We had known each other our whole lives, and while it had been antagonistic when we were young, I thought we had worked past that during our time in the Frith Guild. Still, he fluctuated back and forth on whether we were being cordial.

Today wasn’t one of those days, it seemed.

His phoenix, Forsythe, glided through the trees on scarlet wings edged with gold. Occasional dustings of soot rained down from his body as he moved, and he swirled around us once before elegantly landed on the ground next to Zaxis. Phoenixes had the bodies of herons, with long necks and delicate frames, but their majestic tails appeared similar to a peacock, with vibrant designs and curved feathers.

Zaxis’s arcanist mark had a phoenix laced between the seven points of his star. I admired it for a moment, remembering the Trials of Worth of our home isle. I had wanted to bond with a phoenix more than anything back then.

Forsythe’s gold eyes stared at me for a moment. “Good morning.” His voice was imbued with a regal cadence.

“Morning,” I replied.

Zaxis huffed and then motioned to a cloth sack of apples sitting behind him. “Forsythe, don’t bother talking to this biscuit. We have a game to win.”

From what I could see, Zaxis had already gathered four apples, all glistening red, almost the same dark shade as his hair.

“I’m not stopping you,” I said, motioning to the woods. “You can leave and keep searching if you—”

Illia stood from the nearby shrub, an apple in hand. “Volke, look. I already found one!”

“Oh, Illia,” Zaxis said as he brushed off his coat. “I didn’t see you.” He straightened his posture. “Beautiful island, right?”

She acknowledged him with a quick nod and then smiled at me. “I think we should hurry. If there was an apple here, I think the others might not be searching as thoroughly as they should be.”

“Okay,” I said.

Before I could return to searching the rodent hole, Forsythe investigated the burrow with his long neck and beak, rooting through the fresh soil. He grabbed the stem of a hidden apple and plucked it from the dirt. He set it at Zaxis’s feet and fluffed his feathers, revealing the bright glow of his fiery body underneath.

“I found one, my arcanist. Aren’t you proud?”

Zaxis flashed me a smirk as he stroked his phoenix’s head. “Oh, yeah. Good job.”

I gritted my teeth, half-irritated at myself and half-irritated at Zaxis. I should’ve ignored him and focused on my searching. Then I would’ve had another apple for mine and Illia’s collection.

Illia walked over and took me by the elbow. “C’mon. What’re you waiting for?”

“This is nice weather we’re having,” Zaxis said to her, smiling wider than usual. “Pleasant and cool without too much wind.”

“Uh-huh,” she muttered. She tugged my arm. “Volke?”

I nodded. “Right.”

I shot Zaxis a look before walking off, amused by his failed attempts at engaging Illia. Did he really think the weather would interest her? He wasn’t as suave as he thought, though I did feel sorry for him. Not many people tried to strike up a conversation with Illia. For both their sakes, I wish he had done better.

Once we had left Zaxis’s presence, I turned my attention to the shadows. “Luthair, help us look for the apples.”

“By your command, my arcanist.”

 

About the Author

Shami Stovall grew up in California’s central valley with a single mother and little brother. Despite no one in her family earning a degree higher than a GED, she put herself through college (earning a BA in History), and then continued on to law school where she obtained her Juris Doctorate.

As a child, Stovall’s favorite novel was Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. The adventure on a deserted island opened her mind to ideas and realities she had never given thought before—and it was at that moment Stovall realized story telling (specifically fiction) became her passion. Anything that told a story, be it a movie, book, video game or comic, she had to experience. Now, as a professor and author, Stovall wants to add her voice to the myriad of stories in the world and she hopes you enjoy.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

Website: https://sastovallauthor.com/

Blog: https://sastovallauthor.com/blog/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GameOverStation

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

 

Sometimes in life you’re faced with a difficult decision.  You have to stop and ask yourself, “How much am I willing to compromise to get what I want?  What is my dream worth to me?”

Many years ago B.C. (Before Computers), I was eighteen and my goal in life was to have a book published.  At the time, self-publishing was very expensive and the product didn’t look very good, so from the beginning, I wanted to be traditionally published.  For all you young folks out there, that meant typing your novel on a typewriter, correcting mistakes with Wite-Out or Correcto-Tape, very messy and time-consuming techniques, finding a box the right size, mailing it to New York, and waiting months for a rejection slip. This went on for years until something magical happened: personal computers and the internet.

Woo hoo!  Now I could cut and paste and delete with ease. Now I had my own printer instead of having to haul three hundred pages down to the copy shop. Now I could email queries and sample chapters, save tons of money on postage, and be rejected in no time, at all!  Then a real miracle happened.  After twenty years of sending manuscripts out and getting them back, I got an agent. Okay, this was it!  My future was assured!

Just one slight problem.

My agent said she could sell my book if I changed my hero to a woman.  My Grace Street series featured a private investigator named David Randall.  His best friend is a psychic named Camden.  He loves a young woman named Kary.  Way too many relationship probems to solve if David becomes Denise.

So I tried another angle. I wrote a book with a female PI, ex-beauty queen Madeline “Mac” Maclin and her con man boyfriend, Jerry Fairweather, and set this book in a small fictional town much like my town of Mt. Airy, NC.  I called it A Case of Imagination.  Okay, now we’re good to go, I thought.

My agent didn’t like it.

I’d waited twenty years for a breakthrough.  I finally had an agent.  She was telling me what I could do to get published, and I couldn’t do it.  I’d spent those twenty years creating characters I loved, and I had thirteen manuscripts all finished.  If I changed Randall, I had to change his entire world.  My entire world.

I couldn’t do it.

The hardest phone call I’ve ever had to make was the one I made to my agent. Many years later, I found Poisoned Pen Press.  They didn’t require an agent.  Ironically, the first book they published was A Case of Imagination, but since then, they’ve published four more of Madeline’s adventures and six of the Grace Street mysteries with everyone’s original gender intact.

I started my quest when I was eighteen.  I received my first book contract when I was fifty-five.  It took longer than I’d hoped to be an overnight success, but I learned a lot about myself in the process.  I’m grateful I didn’t have to compromise on my dream.

Over the Edge cover

About the book: Mel Worthington wasn’t sure what he’d find when he went over the edge into Fairyland.  There he was amazed to discover his mother was revered as a goddess known as the Diamond Queen.  Mel has a rightful claim to the throne, but his fierce bodyguard assigned to guide him tin this world has a claim of her own.

Riley Evensong knows it’s her destiny to rule Eldenfair and is suspicious of the human who’s been asked over by the reigning king to help solve a technical problem.  A strange social media fad called Flitter has all the young fae enchanted and is causing havoc.

Riley must put aside her resentment of Mel and Mel must comes to terms with his emerging magic so together they can save Fairy Tales from becoming warped beyond recognition.

Oh, and there’s talking animal sidekick, of course.

DSC_0131

Jane Tesh, a retired media specialist, lives in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, Andy Griffith’s hometown, the real Mayberry.  She is the author of the Madeline Maclin mysteries and the Grace Street Series. Her mysteries are set in fictional North Carolina towns and are on the light side with humor, romance, and a touch of the paranormal. They are published by Poisoned Pen Press. She is also the author of four fantasy novels, Butterfly Waltz, A Small Holiday, The Monsters of Spiders’ Rest, and Over the Edge, published by Silver Leaf Books.  When she isn’t writing, Jane enjoys playing the piano and conducting the orchestra for productions at the Andy Griffith Playhouse.

Link to author’s website or blog: www.janetesh.com

Link to excerpt: www.janetesh.wordpress.com

Link to purchase page: https://www.amazon.com/Over-Edge-Jane-Tesh/dp/1609752252/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=over+the+edge+jane+tesh&qid=1568404846&s=books&sr=1-1

Link to book trailer: https://youtu.be/SaNhpbljhF0 

 

 

ROSEMARY AND LARRY MILD, cheerful partners in crime, coauthor mystery, suspense, and fantasy fiction. Their popular Hawaii novels, Cry Ohana and its sequel Honolulu Heat, vibrate with island color, local customs, and exquisite scenery. Also by the Milds: The Paco and Molly Murder Mysteries: Locks and Cream Cheese, Hot Grudge Sunday, and Boston Scream Pie. And the Dan and Rivka Sherman Mysteries: Death Goes Postal, Death Takes A Mistress, and Death Steals A Holy Book. Plus Unto the Third Generation, A Novella of the Future, and three collections of wickedly entertaining mystery stories—Murder, Fantasy, and Weird Tales; The Misadventures of Slim O. Wittz, Soft-Boiled Detective; and Copper and Goldie, 13 Tails of Mystery and Suspense in Hawai‘i. 

mild5ROSEMARY, a graduate of Smith College and former assistant editor of Harper’s, also delves into her own nonfiction life. She published two memoirs: Love! Laugh! Panic! Life With My Mother and the acclaimed Miriam’s World—and Mine, for the beloved daughter they lost in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. On her lighter side, Rosemary also writes award-winning humorous essays, such as failing the test to get on Jeopardy; and working for a giant free-spending corporation on a sudden budget: “No new pencil unless you turn in the old stub.”

LARRY, who was only called Lawrence when he’d done something wrong, graduated from American University in Information Systems Management. In 2019 he published his autobiography, No Place To Be But Here: My Life and Times, which traces his thirty-eight-year professional engineering career from its beginning as an electronics technician in the U.S. Navy, to a field engineer riding Navy ships, to a digital systems/instrument designer for major Government contractors in the signal analysis field, to where he rose to the most senior level of principal engineer when he retired in 1993.

Making use of his past creativity and problem-solving abilities, Larry naturally drifted into the realm of mystery writing, where he also claims to be more devious than his partner in crime and best love, Rosemary. So he conjures up their plots and writes the first drafts, leaving Rosemary to breathe life into their characters and sizzle into their scenes. A perfect marriage of their talents.

THE MILDS are active members of Sisters in Crime where Larry is a Mister in Crime; Mystery Writers of America; and Hawaii Fiction Writers. In 2013 they waved goodbye to Severna Park, Maryland and moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where they cherish quality time with their daughters and grandchildren. When Honolulu hosted Left Coast Crime in 2017, Rosemary and Larry were the program co-chairs for “Honolulu Havoc.”

Over a dozen worldwide trips to Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Great Britain, France, Italy, Israel, Egypt, and more have wormed their way into their amazing stories. In their limited spare time, they are active members of the Honolulu Jewish Film Festival committee, where Larry is the statistician and recordkeeper for their film ratings.

Website: http://www.magicile.com

INTERVIEW:

Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Copper and Goldie, 13 Tails of Mystery and Suspense in Hawaii. To begin with, can you give us a brief summary of what the stories are about and what compelled you to write them?  

ROSEMARY and LARRY: Copper and Goldie is a collection of 13 fun-filled stories, each one a complete little mystery. Homicide detective Sam Nahoe takes a bullet in his spine in the line of duty. Disabled, his career with the Honolulu Police Department shattered, what now? Jobless, divorced, and lonely, he becomes a Checker Cab driver and adopts a golden retriever with a touch of Doberman as his partner. Somehow trouble always finds them. Sam and Goldie take on the criminal side of Honolulu: bank robbers, kidnappers, vengeful wives, even killers. Hobbling on two canes, Cane and Able, he orders Goldie to chase the baddies. Snitch/card-sharp Sophie asks him: “You still walkin’ wit’ dem giant chopsticks?”

Cover ARt

What triggered the stories? Larry invents all our plots and dreamed up Copper and Goldie several years ago. We published nine of the stories individually in Mysterical-E, an online quarterly mystery magazine. He also found a perfect outlet for our love of golden retrievers. In Locks and Cream Cheese, the golden retriever Shana helps foil a thug. But dogs, cats, and birds find their way into many of our books. In Cry Ohana, a stray Black Lab becomes homeless Kekoa’s only friend. Lord Byron in Death Goes Postal is a brave kitty who sleeps in the poetry stacks and helps nail a killer. In Boston Scream Pie, Detective Paco teaches his macaws to talk.

What do you think makes a good (traditional “cozy” mystery)? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

ROSEMARY: One, an inventive, well-paced, plot full of conflict. A crime has been committed; or the threat of a crime hangs over the characters. Or, there is no hint of a threat, and then a happy scene suddenly erupts into mayhem. Two, characters who are three-dimensional—way beyond their façade, deep into their minds and hearts. Even the villains must be flesh and blood. Three, An amateur sleuth like a Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher; or a private investigator; or a detective/policeman/inspector solves the crime(s). But solves it by way of a convoluted path that keeps the reader guessing. And always with the author keeping his/her promise to the reader. No unsubstantiated off-the-wall conclusions. So we’ve narrowed the three elements down for you. In truth, we could go on and on in rapturous detail. So fasten your seatbelts, we’ve got mysteries for you.

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

ROSEMARY: Larry insists he’s more devious than I am, so he makes up all our plots and writes the first draft. Often I find a tantalizing scene told low-key or second-hand. I really love turning it into real-time drama and dialogue.

LARRY: I work from a ten- to fifteen-page statement of work, so I know where I’m going in general. The central plot develops from the characters, their situations and reactions. Subplots may pop up at any time. Rosemary has her say in pushing and pulling the growing plot too.

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?

ROSEMARY: Larry has an image in his mind of who the protagonist is; he might make notes on it. In Copper and Goldie, Larry gave Sam his own chronic back trouble; he also walks with two canes and calls them Cane and Able. Often I’ll pick out photographs  in magazines or newspapers that match my concept of some of our characters.

LARRY: Sam and I are simpatico. It goes along with the idea that there is something of the author in every character.    

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

ROSEMARY: Larry and I work hard to give all our characters realism and credibility. For Hot Grudge Sunday, I found a photo of a former Congressman looking down from a balcony in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. He had the perfect commanding demeanor for our antagonist, a mercurial corporation president. It was a start.

LARRY: Antagonists and villains are created from their motives. What is it that they want most and how far are they willing to go to get it? The psychology, subterfuge, skills, preparations, opportunities, and execution take you to the next layer. Our goal: getting the reader into the characters’ minds.    

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

ROSEMARY: If you’re dozing off writing a scene, delete it! Your readers will do the same. Using The Da Vinci Code as an example, end each chapter with a cliff-hanger—meaning a sense of danger or a seemingly hopeless dilemma.

LARRY: Conflict and resolution! Action! Conflict and resolution! Action! And more of the same. Well, almost.

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?

ROSEMARY: We love drawing on our own experiences for our settings. In Copper and Goldie you’ll hang out at Sam’s favorite eating places and parks, which are ours too. In Murder, Fantasy, and Weird Tales, we placed a story in a Cambodian jungle, where an American helicopter pilot and local boatman struggle for possession of a stolen sapphire. In that very setting, we witnessed the massive fig tree roots wrapped around decaying temples.

LARRY: Our short stories are set in at least a dozen countries. There’s nothing like first-hand experience. Our photographs are great tools in recalling those experiences.

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?

ROSEMARY:  Larry knows the general theme when he conjures up each plot. Together we hammer out the details. The theme (or more than one) and outcome evolves in each book. Sometimes the characters lead the way to a surprising conclusion.

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

ROSEMARY: First step: Disgorge (yes, disgorge!) your story. Write the first draft without obsessing over each word and paragraph. Get the whole story out. Then edit. Think about it, mull over it.  When you’re rewriting true craft begins. Did I use an adverb like “he said angrily” when I should have said, “He slammed his fist on the table.” Show, don’t tell. The Maryland Writers Association newsletter once had a cartoon showing a speaker before an audience of writers. On the wall behind him was a large sign: “Adverbs and Adjectives Anonymous.”

LARRY: The art lies in your creativity—the realism, the settings, the conflicts, and the characters who must endure them. The craft comes in how you manage that art—allowing and drawing the reader to see that art. Sure, editing can both destroy and make a story. If the writer(s) and editor(s) work toward the same goals as Rosemary and I do, then a carefully crafted editing job will do wonders for any writing. 

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

ROSEMARY: If “successful” means making lots of money, that “success” doesn’t include us. If we had to live on our earnings from our writing we’d be on welfare! But secretly, we’re proud to admit we don’t need ATMs. Our true success comes from this:  One, a fan of our books coming up to us in our booth at a fair or festival and wanting our newest one. Two, a daughter saying her mother has read all our books and needs to buy her the new one for her birthday. Three, seeing our books in print on shelves. They’re our legacy. On the most practical side, the digital revolution—Print on Demand—means our books will never go out of print.

A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. Thoughts?

ROSEMARY: You better believe it. It’s “Work work work work work” as Mel Brooks manically said in one of his crazy films. But we love it. The work keeps us going.

LARRY: So is it a labor of love or is it just lovely work and we do it?

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

ROSEMARY: Umpteen resources are available. The wittiest, sharpest advice comes from Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty) in Writers on Writing. He lists ten rules in his essay “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points, and Especially Hooptedoodle.” Join a writers’ critique group. Take writing classes at a community college or university. Join writers’ organizations such as Sisters in Crime. Subscribe to The Writer, Writer’s Digest, etc. (they’re also online). Keep a notebook with you so you can jot down ideas, observations, dialogue you hear at the grocery store or during an argument between your parents. First and foremost, just start writing. Try not to get bogged down by advice; there’s no end to it out there. 

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

ROSEMARY AND LARRY: The golden rule of writing is get something down on paper. So what are you waiting for? Start writing. Read in your genre of interest and learn from it. And for happy escapes, read our books!

 

 

 

 

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