What's in Store

Meet the Authors, Writers Doing Right, Book Reviews and More!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Lesley retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida--cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office. Back north, she devotes her afternoons to writing and, when the sun sets, relaxing on the bank of her trout stream, sipping tea or a local microbrew.

Welcome Lesley!

Please tell us about your latest novel, "A Deadly Draught", featuring master brewer Hera Knightsbridge.

I have to tell you things are popping around here because Mainly Murder Press just released the second in the microbrewing series.  It’s entitled Poisoned Pairings.  Whereas the first, A Deadly Draught, introduced the reader to the world of craft brewed beers…and murder, the second focuses on paring beer and food and provides some insight into how to put the right beer with the right food …with murder, of course.  Here’s a quick look at what Hera is up to in this second book:

A student helping set up for a beer and food pairings event in Hera Knightsbridge’s microbrewery dies there under suspicious circumstances.  At first the death looks like a suicide, but the medical examiner determines it is murder, and Hera and her lover, Deputy Sheriff Jake Ryan again find themselves partners in searching for the killer.  Not only does murder threaten the community, but something more explosive has come to the valley—hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a controversial gas drilling technique whose proponents say can take the poor families of the region out of debt.  Hera and her fellow brewers are convinced it will contaminate the water supply, as it had in other places, and change forever the pristine beauty of the valley.  Connections among the student, the family of a dead brewer, a religious leader and the gas companies lead Hera and Jake into a maze of confusing and conflicting clues.  Before the two can unravel the case’s tangled threads, Jake is called away to another job, leaving Hera alone to uncover the identity of the killer before she becomes the next victim.

I’m really excited about this second book because I use the controversial gas extraction technique of hydraulic fracturing as a political and economic backdrop to brewing and murder.  Making beer requires a lot of water, clean water.  It is the main ingredient in any brew, so focusing on how fracking may affect microbrewing in the Butternut Valley gives the reader a microcosmic view of the larger issue of what drilling, if not safeguarded,  might do to the most necessary resource in our lives, water, the commodity over which will probably come our next wars and conflicts.

On a lighter note, Untreedreads just released my humorous mystery Angel Sleuth.  So take a leap of faith and believe for a moment that there are guardian angels, and one might be hovering over you right now.

Just the name sounds fun! Tell us about "Angel Sleuth".

Here goes:

Kaitlin Singer needs time off—from a philandering husband, from a writing career stalled on a buzzard as a main character, and from the stash of chocolate in her lingerie drawer.  Her decision to return to her childhood home might seem like the perfect way to get her life back together were it not for her mother foisting two visitors on her, guests who claim to be guardian angels.  Perhaps not all is lost, for the angels might just be the companions she needs to help her solve the murder of a local newspaper columnist.  To uncover clues to the crime, Kaitlin takes over the dead woman’s work, writing the column as well as volunteering in the senior center, moves which put her in the path of the killer.  She and her guests will need assistance from a pot-bellied pig and some pool skills to bring the murderer down.

Because it is true of what I like to read, I think the reading public likes genre variety as well as light and dark tones in their reading.  So with my work, you can get both a serious consideration of an environmental issue and a light-hearted escape from the tedious stresses of relationships and family life.

Beer, glorious beer! Your blog is Another Draught, and your website proclaims Beer, Books, and Brouhaha!  Is beer a specialty hobby like vitnering? (Not sure that’s a word, but it works for me!)

I like the word vintering and, similarly home brewing is a hobby for many, begun thousands of years ago and, in our country, during prohibition because there were no sources outside one’s own home.  The kind of brewing I write about is microbrewed beers or craft brewed beers, brewed in smaller amounts than beers such as Budweiser and Coors.  If you’ve never had a microbrew, you might be surprised how different it is from what we’ve come to know as beer in this country.  The product that comes out of these small breweries, found all over the country, is unique to each brewery but includes some standards such as IPAs, stouts, porters, all types of ales and lagers, each with the brew master from that brewery’s spin.  A stout from one brewery tastes a bit different from that brewed in another brewery.  Why?  That’s complicated and related to the balance of the hops, malt, and yeast used and the brewing process.

I am a scotch and wine drinker, but I’m hooked on some locally brewed beers here in the Butternut Valley such as Butternuts Beer and Ale just three miles down the road from me.  They make the very best stout in the world—great to drink and wonderful for cooking.  And of course there’s Ommegang near Cooperstown, NY.  They brew Belgian style ales, very worth sampling. Look around for a local brewery and pay a visit.  You might like it.

I imagine being a former professor of psychology has its advantages when writing about murder. Did you study criminal psychology at all? And is that what led you to write crime fiction?

 I never studied criminal psychology in depth.  My focus was developmental psychology, and it fits in nicely with how I create my protagonists because I confront them with events that force them to reconsider the choices they’ve made in their lives.  That’s very much the same with everyone because we do not embrace change, do not like it, but to go forward in our lives especially when confronted with any crisis or unusual event,  we must find a new way to deal with the world and the people in it.  Murder is simply the catalyst forcing my protagonists to make that change.

I’m fortunate that my husband is a sociologist who developed a university program in criminal justice.  If I need help with my bad guys I go to him.  He’s also knowledgeable about firearms.

Was it your goal to become a mystery writer when you retired? Or did you “fall into it”?

 I always read mysteries from Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie as a child to Elizabeth George and Robert Parker in adulthood.  And I always wrote—poems, short stories, essays and those awful angst-filled missives of adolescent.  Once I retired, I had time to free my creative side which had been saddled with the rationality necessary to write scientifically and embrace another kind of writing.  I’m so happy I did.  Mystery writing is so liberating.

 I’ve read your blog and know that you love cows. Do you work them into your books at all? A small touch of your childhood passed on to the reader? (Do they even have cows in Florida?)

 We have the best cows in Florida.  The usual breeds such as Angus or Hereford are crossed with Brahman cattle to produce a rangy looking beast, wattle hanging from the neck, bony body and head, but with the most marvelous huge, floppy ears.  I adore those ears.  They are nothing like the ears on the cows I grew up with on our farm in Illinois.

What’s next for you?

I’m doing the final edit on the second in my Big Lake mystery series set in rural Florida.  It’s entitled Grilled, Chilled and Killed and features my protagonist Emily Rhodes who—yep, you guessed it—finds another dead body, this one in a beer cooler truck.  Oh, Ms. Emily, will you never learn not to get involved in solving these murders?

After that, I will spend the summer and fall promoting my books and taking a writing break as I consider my next work.  Will it be the third in my already existing series or work on a stand alone, one with a multiple personality?  We’ll have to see what dances off the pages for me.

Thanks so much for having me visit here.  I certainly enjoy talking about my work and about the process of creating it.  I write mysteries, but it’s no mystery how I accomplish this, and I think readers like to get into the mind of the writer as she creates her characters and the plot.

Thank you so much for visiting us today, Lesley!  Don't forget to check out Lesley's great website and blog!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Review of "Catholic Family Fun"

Catholic Family Fun by Sarah A. Reinhard
2012, Pauline Books and Media, $11.95

Wondering what to do with the family this weekend? Wishing you could talk about your faith without putting the kids to sleep? Sarah Reinhard has done the legwork for you and combined the solution to both dilemmas in Catholic Family Fun!

In her book, Reinhard offers parents a variety of ways to work faith into family life in an easy-to-follow format. Each entry estimates the total prep time, duration, and cost involved, so parents can discern which project will fit both schedule and budget.

She first breaks down the “how to”, which can include suggested materials as well as the steps involved. Each project is followed by a “Faith Angle”, which can turn a simple treasure hunt into a treasure trove of family faith. When possible, she includes suggestions to personalize the activity for your family.

The book is divided into sections such as Craft Projects and Story Starters, which makes it easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. Activities include rainy day projects that can be done at home as well as outdoors activities to get you out into the fresh air. Reinhard even includes suggestions of places to visit, always with a potential “Faith Angle” to enrich the experience. There is even a handy chart in the back of the book that allows for a quick scan to find something that meets your current needs.

Not every activity is spirituality in disguise. There are also straight-on faith activities, such as starting a Mary Garden and Saint celebrations as well as suggestions for how to pray together as a family. Finally, nothing drives home Jesus’ message better than serving those in need, and Reinhard suggests several opportunities that exist in almost every community.

One of the author’s points is that it’s not only easy to work faith into your family activities, it’s fun. This book provides perfect opportunities to grow closer as a family while incorporating the most important lessons your children will ever need in life. The book is currently available in paperback, and you can conveniently order from Pauline Books through Amazon . 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Judy Alter is a mystery author, passionate cook, and proud mother of four and grandmother to seven. Aside from her fiction, Judy has written several non-fiction books pertaining to Texas, a cookbook, and restaurant reviews in the Fort Worth, Texas area. (I'm suddenly craving Whataburger!) You won't find any recipes in her mysteries, but "Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books" is available on Amazon.

Welcome Judy!  

Could you tell us about your latest book, No Neighborhood for Old Women, (LOVE the title!) and your protagonist, Kelly O’Connell?

Kelly O’Connell is a harried and hassled single mom of two young girls (I think they’re adorable) and a realtor with her own company and a specialty in renovating and restoring Craftsman houses. They live in a historic inner city neighborhood in Fort Worth,  Texas. Kelly is almost determinedly single, still wounded by the desertion of her husband and the girls’ father. But there’s this neighborhood police officer . . . .

No Neighborhood for Old Women is actually about a serial killer—not exactly what you’d expect in a cozy, but I think I’ve been able to use that plot thread and still stay mostly within the conventions of the cozy. When her former neighbor is the first victim, Kelly investigates, in spite of the pleas of her companion, policeman Mike Shandy, and her assistant, the colorful Keisha, that she stay out of it. Kelly knows a serial killer will hurt business, and she worries about the frightened old women in the neighborhood. And when Claire Guthrie, a friend and former client, shows up at Kelly’s front door announcing that she’s just shot her husband in the butt, Kelly becomes her champion. Kelly knows about bad marriages and bad husbands from her own experience. Then Kelly’s mom, the needy Cynthia O’Connell, decides to move to Fort Worth to be near her grandchildren. Kelly, unwittingly puts her children, her mom, and herself in danger and almost derails her love life.

Judy, I love that you have photographs on your website that depict your character’s neighborhood. What a great way to add to the readers’ imagination, and it ties in so well to Kelly’s real estate career. What advice do you have for other author’s about “branding” their website?

My publisher, Turquoise Morning Press, has done a wonderful job of branding the first two books with thematically consistent cover design—I’ve requested the same kind of treatment for the third, Trouble in a Big Box, due out in August. And in blogging or anything about the books these days I make sure to use the series title: Kelly O’Connell Mysteries. I plan to add a “Meet Kelly” page to my Web site with photos of the neighborhood, more detail about Kelly, and a note about Craftsman architecture. Then I’ll offer a free pdf of a Kelly O’Connell short story to anyone who requests it. May take a bit to get this done.

I sense a Wild West theme on your website!  Sue Ellen Learns to Dance is about women in the America West, and you’ve received awards from the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the Western Writers of America, including their Owen Winster Award for Lifetime Achievement.  Tell us about your love affair with the West!

It began in graduate school because my ex-husband and I were poor as church mice and did free things, like museums. The Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth has a wonderful collection of works by Frederic Remington and Chares Russell, and we were fascinated, particularly by the sculpture. I began to study literature about the West, fiction and nonfiction, and for thirty years I wrote mostly about women of the American West. Some of my western fiction now has a second life as e-books—Sue Ellen Learns to Dance as well as the novels Libbie (a fictional biography of Elizabeth Custer’s years with George Armstrong Custer), Sundance, Butch and Me (about Etta Place and the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang), and Mattie (loosely based on the life of a pioneer woman physician on the Nebraska prairie in the late nineteenth century. I also wrote several young-adult novels about girls in the West.

Which do you think is a more difficult audience to write for--adults or children/young adults? And why?

 I started out writing for young adults and found myself pigeon-holed, so it was hard to make the transition to adult fiction. In today’s market I think it’s harder to write for young adults, because they’re interested in things I’m not---horror, paranormal, etc. I could never have written and don’t think I can read The Hunger Games but my oldest granddaughters loved the books and the movie. One think that helps with either audience is my tendency to write in the first-person. I put myself in that girl or woman’s head, get the first sentence down, and go from there. I’m definitely a pantser, not a plotter. In fact, in the third Kelly O’Connell Mystery, I didn’t know “who done it” until three-quarters of the way through. Of course then I had to go back and rewrite some. Ooops, I wandered from your question—sorry.

I love Potluck with Judy! You cook like I do, only better, I’m sure. Any chance you’ll come out with a cookbook? Or do you include recipes in your mysteries? 

I actually have a cookbook: Cooking My Way Through Life With Kids and Books. I sort of saw my life in four periods—growing up in a semi-British household with lots of meat and potatoes and formal suppers, marriage to a Jewish man and a move to Texas (two new cuisines all at once), single parenthood (I call that chapter “The Casserole Years”) and finally, living alone, as I do know, entertaining a lot and experiment with recipes—even on dinner guests.

I haven’t put recipes in my mysteries—Kelly’s not a good cook, too often relies on pizza or The Old Neighborhood Grill for cheeseburgers) but I’m starting a new series in January, The Blue Plate Series, about a café in a small East Texas town, and I’ll probably include recipes there. I had a friend who ran a ranch B&B and I have many of the recipes she and I cooked together. But remember, I didn’t grow up with southern cooking—never ate a black-eyed pea until I came to Texas and even then, reluctantly at first.

What’s next for you? 

More mysteries. There are at least two more Kelly O’Connell Mysteries—the one in August and another sometime in 2013 which is as yet unwritten and pretty much unimagined except for a rough proposal to my publisher. I’d also like to post some more of my older books as e-books, but that depends on income from the existing ones—have to see if it’s worth the time and expense.  Retirement (I was director of a small academic press) has been very good to me, and I’m busier and happier than I’ve ever been. I also keep a five-year-old grandson after school every afternoon, and that takes up some of my time.

Thank you so much, Judy! I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm hungry! Be sure to check out Judy's recipes, books and more on her website and blog, Judy's Stew!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sarah Reinhard writes about marriage, motherhood, the Catholic faith, books, and life on a farm at her blog: www.snoringscholar.com.  She is also a frequent contributor to other blogs, podcasts, and websites such as: Catholic MomFaith and Family LiveCatholic Foodie, and Catholic Writers Guild. Sarah lives in central Ohio with her husband and their three children.

Sarah gave advice on blogging at the recent Catholic Writers Guild Online Conference, and she rocked! If you are Catholic and looking for a great writer's group to join, I highly recommend checking out the Guild site.  The site it being updated, but there is a wealth of information in the blogs and through email.  Commercial over. And now, on to Sarah!

Sarah, your books are all geared toward family faith. Well, many Catholic parents take their kids to Mass and send them to Sunday School. Isn't that enough? And isn't it the job of the priest and  teachers to instruct our children in all things Catholic?

Parents are the first catechists of their children. When we have our children baptized--many of them as infants--we take this responsibility on in the most sacred way.

But it's HARD. It's also downplayed. In my work through our parish office (I've logged eight years so far), I see--and fight--the uphill battle as we try to give parents the confidence and tools to effectively catechize their children.

It seems like a lot of people are used to handing over the reins, but I'm a bossy sort.

Since we are a parish FAMILY, it's all of our jobs to instruct. That's why I'm a catechist in our parish religious education program.

But in my own family, the people who live in my house and especially my children, I'm going to be the one who answers to God someday. Me.

That's a tall order.

So it makes it hard to say "enough," at least for me.

I think of my job as a catechist and a parent as being very akin to that of a farmer. I plant seeds. God does the watering and he provides the sun (or Son, more accurately).

No matter how big the field seems, how impossible the task, I have to keep planting. I must not give up. I have to be feeding myself and keeping my own field tended, so that I know what to do when I see sprouts.

Being Catholic is such serious business, what with the incense and chanting and stern nuns with rulers. Or is it??? Can you give us some examples of how your book, Catholic Family Fun, incorporate fun into faith? 

Few things are as FUN as being Catholic in my life. Who else hosts parties with wine?

OK, that makes me sound like a lush.

I find that when I spend time with the most important people in my life--those people God has entrusted to me through the sacraments of marriage and the wonder of new life--I have fun. We make memories. We stick our fingers together because I'm no good with a glue gun. We try new things and we laugh.

One of my favorite family activities (and it's also included in Catholic Family Fun) is horseback riding. Now, I didn't need to write this book to have that be a favorite activity. But here's how it incorporates faith, without even stuffing it down anyone's throat: we are out in nature. Who made nature? And who made those horses? And wow, look! There are baby horses being born at the horse farm we go to! The room to discuss God's creation are boundless.

Did I mention that we're smiling while we talk? That we're in the middle of something we love, and that the conversation is natural?

For me, making faith fun is more about integrating it into everything. The word "catholic" means "universal," and it's so true that you can find elements of our faith, of God, in nearly everything we do.

If you're having fun, you'll feel closer to God. That's true for your kids, too. And if you're together as a family? Even better.

At what age do you think children are ready to take part in family prayer and Lenten practices?

I say 36. (That's because I'm 35.)

From what I observe in other people's families, you can start at about 3 or 4, depending on your child and...this is the kicker...YOU.

I fail at this sort of thing. FAIL in a BIG way.

And so I get up and try again. And again. And...again.

If Mary, Mother of Jesus, had a Facebook page, you would litter her site with LIKES. What role does Mary play in your life? And why?

I have no idea WHY, but Mary seems to be at the heart of much of what I do in my writing and other work. My children were all born on Marian feast days, and I was married on a Marian feast (though I didn't know it at the time).

Mary is the thread that ties me to Jesus. She's the hand that guides me back to him when I wander away into what *I* think is best. She's the reality check, the fact that makes Jesus HUMAN to me, instead of inaccessible and impossible to relate with.

You are the Catholic Blogger Extraordinaire! From "Mary in the Kitchen" on Catholic Foodie to "New Evangelizers", you're out there writing about meaningful topics that can help deepen our relationship with God. How do you balance so many obligations with being wife and mother of three? 

*blush* Thank you for your kind words.

Balance is an ongoing struggle. I use lists like a crazy woman, I juggle carefully, and I try to always be offline in the evenings after supper (I fail, mind you). I begin each day with prayer (the amount varies by day, but I try to at least start with a rosary).

And I do my very best to leave things in God's hands. It's HIS problem, these limits and parameters. And my big-V vocations of wife and mother always, ALWAYS come first. (At least, I try to make sure of that.)

I loved your Top 13 Essential Apps for Catholics on Tech Talk at CatholicMom.com. I had some already, like Divine Office, but hadn't heard of them all. Do you have a few favorite books for those who aren't yet technologically savvy? 

That was a fun column to write, and wow! It got some great feedback, too!

Essential books? OK, let's say that the two heavyweights are already on your shelf (the Bible, the Catechism).

First: Chesterton. Before you roll your eyes, I love his fiction and his essays the best, though I do attempt to read his other stuff when my brain is feeling up for it. I love that he wrote in a way that wasn't always scholarly; he had a lot of fun and humor in his writing.

Second: good fiction. Yes, I know, that's a category, not a book, but I'm sticking by it. Without fiction, I wither away. There's great nonfiction out there (and I'm reading it like crazy), but I always try to have a good novel going in my reading pile (or two, if I'm lucky). I am heartened by good storytelling, and I find good storytelling in fiction. Here are a couple of books I've read recently and know I'll be rereading someday:
  • The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis - I consider it a great examination of conscience (and I also consider it a must-read every single year)
  • The Father's Tale, by Michael O'Brien - it's long, and it might not be your thing, but I loved reading it, and I imagine I'll reread it someday, because it was so wonderful the first time around
Third: helpful nonfiction. Again, a category. But there are SO MANY books. Sometimes, what speaks to me (whether a novel or not) doesn't speak to someone else. I find I have to be able to put it down, move along, and go forward. Some recent reads I've really enjoyed:

  • The Work of Mercy: Being the Hands and Heart of Christ, by Mark Shea
  • The Catholic Girl's Survival Guide for the Single Years, by Emily Stimpson (no, I'm not single, but I found this book moving and relevant!)
  • In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton

And now you've moved into podcasting. Is this fairly easy to do for people who would like to jump in and give it a try? (I'm nearly technologically illiterate.) 

I have to correct you: I "podsquat," which means I record segments and other people do the heavy lifting of producing the actual podcast.

Is it easy? Maybe, maybe not. Is it for you? Again, that depends.

Taking on anything new requires a level of discernment, which requires talking--and LISTENING--to God.

What's next for you?

I have a book coming out from Ave Maria Press in October, A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism, so that will be fun. I also have this idea for a book that I need to get into proposal form...we'll see. (I keep "not having time" for it. Hmm.)

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Best Death Ever...Death by Chocolate with Author Julie Lindsey!

Julie Lindsey is a mother of three, wife to a sane person and Ring Master at the Lindsey Circus. Most days you'll find her online, amped up on caffeine & wielding a book.

You can find her blogging about the writer life at Musings from the Slush Pile
Tweeting her crazy at @JulieALindsey
Reading to soothe her obsession on GoodReads
And other books by her on Amazon

 Who wouldn't, if given the choice, choose to die by a girl's second best friend? (Diamonds being the alleged first.) Read on and hear what Julie has to say about the potential criminal tendencies of sweet church ladies, and get a brief summary of "Death by Chocolate" at the end of the post. And now, I welcome Julie Lindsey and her guest post.

I Enjoy Irony

Thank you SO much, Jackie, for inviting me to your blog today.  I’m on the Death by Chocolate blog tour, which means irony is king! The lady in this novel killed her husband and she’s not feeling super awful about it. This novel came to be when an idea I got at church one day grew legs and took off. Dead serious.

I was watching these church ladies ladle chicken soup into Styrofoam containers. Everyone thanked them and hugged them and smiled. I sipped my soup and wondered what those ladies were like at home. What about when they took off their simple suits and took the pins from their hair? Did they light up a smoke and toss back a brandy? If they did, how would anyone ever know? What if one of them was a drug dealer? 

How cool would that be? (I mean of course totally not because drugs are back. Crack is whack. Just say no and things kids.) BUT those sweet little church ladies could really cause a lot of damage and get away with it. No one would suspect them and they know everyone.


Ruby Russell was born.

Ruby’s an emotional mess. Kind of bumbling. A nervous ninny. So, bless her heart everything she does goes – w.r.o.n.g. But what’s a best friend if she won’t help you cover a few murders? Am I right? So, there you go. Death by Chocolate was written ( I swapped the chicken soup for chocolate because no one can resist chocolate!) and now it’s here,  and I am a little bouncy.

If you’re in the mood to let loose and smile at the inconceivable, try my sweet ladies. But don’t try their goodies. You have been warned. LOL Death by Chocolate is available now on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. I hope it will make you smile : )

Death by Chocolate

Ruby Russell has reached her limit. When she discovers her hipster husband has a dirty little secret, she whips him up a Viagra-infused-chocolate mousse punishment, but in the morning, her husband's a stiff. Armed with a lifetime of crime show reruns and Arsenic and Old Lace on DVD, Ruby and her best friend Charlotte try to lay low until after Ruby's son's wedding, but a nosy therapist, meddling minister and local news reporter are making it very difficult to get away with murder.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Lighter Side of Jan Christensen

Jan Christensen grew up in New Jersey and now resides in Texas. She's had over fifty short stories published in various places over the last dozen years, two of which were nominated for a Derringer Award. Others won a Fire to Fly award and the Mysterical-e 2000 Award for Best Story Previous to 2001. Jan writes a regular column for Mysterical-e about reading and can be found on Facebook, location Corpus Christi. She's also had one novel published, "Sara's Search," now available in Kindle format.  Learn more at her website .

Jan, you are a short story wonder! Over fifty published! Do you have any series characters?

Jackie, first I want to thank you for having me here. To answer your question, I do have a few series characters, and they are all characters with outsized personalities. Which is probably why I like to keep writing about them. One is “my” female PI character who has appeared in a couple of short stories (unpublished) and a couple of novels (also unpublished, but hope to get them self-published soon). Her name is Paula, she lives in Rhode Island, and she’s very smart. Twins who are also private investigators, brother and sister, have only appeared in two short stories (both published), but I wouldn’t doubt that there will be more. And there’s Artie, the burglar, which leads me to answer your next question.

“Artie and the Long-Legged Woman”. What a title! Can you tell us a little about Artie and the story?

Artie has just stepped out of the jewelry store where he helped himself to some watches and fine jewelry. Unfortunately, he bumps into the long-legged owner of the place. And she has a deal he can’t refuse unless he’s willing to go to prison for robbing her store.  Sort of a pact with the devil. But those legs! Poor Artie. In the next, also already-published story from Untreed Reads in this series, he meets the red-headed woman who begs for his help to get away from her father, an old friend of Artie’s. How can he refuse? That one is titled, “Artie and the Red-Headed Woman,” no surprise. Coming up soon from Untreed Reads are “Artie and the Green-Eyed Woman,” and “Artie and the Brown-Eyed Woman.” Then I have to get busy and write some more in the series!

How do you come up with so many characters and storylines? Where do you begin your stories?

I can’t explain how I come up with different characters and storylines. I think it’s mainly because I’ve read so much since I was pretty young. An average of two-to-three books a week, mostly novels, mostly mysteries. All those stories have to be percolating in the back of my mind. Give me an idea of any kind, I can write a story about it. I can pick an object in a room, pick out a certain trait from someone I know and take off with it. It amazes even me, and I don’t take any kind of credit for it. I only take credit for sitting in the chair and doing the writing. The rest just is. As for where I begin—I try to begin in the middle of something interesting going on in my main character’s life. Usually. But don’t hold me to it. I might begin anywhere.

Did you fall into writing shorts, or was it your plan all the while?

I did deliberately decide to write short stories in order to hone my craft. I figured it would be easier and quicker to learn by writing many stories with many characters and situations. Then I became hooked on writing them and find them a lot easier to write than novels. Tightly focusing on one small part of a character’s life is easier for me than the big sprawl of a whole novel. Not that I don’t like writing novels, too. I’ve written eight so far, and one, “Sara’s Search,” was published back in 2004 and is now out in Kindle format. But it’s really easier for me to write short stories.

You have several articles on reading, including “Reading Thoughtfully”. What’s the one piece of advice you want readers to remember the next time they pick up a book or short story?

I never thought of writing a column about reading, but the publisher of Mysterical-e, Joe de Marco, where I’ve had several short stories published over the years, asked me to. I took up the challenge and have a column now in every issue. I want readers to enjoy reading. I suggest they leave their critical minds behind while reading fiction. Trust the author until the very end. Then you can become critical if you want to think more about the story or the book or write a review or discuss it with others. In other words, go along for the ride, enjoy the journey. Maybe because we are in touch with so many more people because of the internet, and many writers are also talking about reading with other writers, it seems to me we are not always enjoying reading as much as we used to.

Are you in or do you have any desire to be in anthologies?

I’ve already been in several anthologies. Two from Whortleberry Press, edited by Jean M. Goldstrom—“Strange Mysteries” and “It Was A Dark and Stormy Halloween.” Then there’s a story in “Carols and Crimes, Gifts, and Grifters” edited by Tony Burton with all proceeds going to Toys for Tots. And I have one in “On Dangerous Ground” edited by Ed Gorman (what a thrill to have my story in the anthology right next to his!), Dave Zeltserman (a true gentleman, publisher of “Hardluck Stories,” but sadly “Hardluck” is no longer being published) and nice guy Martin H. Greenberg. All three of those men had to okay the story for the western noir anthology. It’s one of the highlights of my career. And sure, I’d love to be in more. But, I need to submit more!

What’s up next for you?

In a word (or two—it’s hyphenated, after all): self-publishing, plus the Artie stories still to come from Untreed Reads. First, I’ll have a collection of three already-published-but-no-longer-available short stories in ebook format. It was just uploaded to the Kindle last week, and your readers are the first to know about it except a few close friends and family. The collections will all be called “Warning Signs,” but each will also be numbered, so everyone can kept track of what they have and don’t have. There will be many more collections to come because so many of the magazines and ezines I’ve been published in are out-of-print. They are all titled “Warning Signs,” and a mile marker on the cover will indicate which volume you’re reading.

Next I have a few novels to publish in ebook and soft-cover format. The first one of that batch is called “Revelations.” I’m waiting for an edit, and when that’s done, out she goes. I already have the cover. It takes place in the 1980s and is about a religious cult and a murder.  After that are several more novels along with the collections. Right now I’m concentrating on getting everything set up to publish. I’ll be happy when that’s done and I can get back to the main thing—writing! But a side-note here. My cover artist is Derek Murphy, and he is so easy to work with, and does such a wonderful job, don’t you think?

Jackie, thanks so much for letting me blather on here. You ask great questions, and I really appreciate it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Author F.M. Meredith Gives a Minor Character Top Billing

F.M. Meredith, also known as Marilyn Meredith, is the author of over thirty published novels—and a few that will never see print. Her latest in the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series, from Oak Tree Press, is No Bells. Rocky Bluff P.D. is a fictional beach community between Ventura and Santa Barbara and F. M. once lived in a similar beach area.

F. M. (Marilyn) is a member of EPIC, Four chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves as the program chair for the Public Safety Writers of America’s writing conference. She’s been an instructor at many writing conferences.

I'm almost giddy about this guest blog. Why? Because I LOVE Gordon Butler! He's the kind of sympathetic character who makes you want to pick him up and kiss his boo-boos. It's a girl thing. And he's often unintentionally funny. Haven't we all been there? Just see if you don't love him by the end of the post. And don't forget to read all the way to the bottom, because there's a chance to win big!

Who is Officer Gordon Butler?

Gordon started out as a minor character in one of my earlier Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novels, Fringe Benefits, which was mainly a story about a very bad cop. In that one and subsequent others, things have not gone well for Gordon.

Being a police officer is all that Gordon ever wanted to do. He knows the law better than anyone on the force. His biggest joy is catching a criminal—or any law breaker for that matter. He hands out traffic tickets gleefully and seldom gives anyone a break.

He is not a buffoon, though if something can go wrong for him, it will. Gordon once had a crush on Officer Stacey Wilbur. His feelings were not returned and it didn’t take him long to realize his competition was Detective Doug Milligan.

Not only is Doug a good friend, he rented a room from him until Stacey and Doug were married. Unable to find other lodgings, he’s now residing with Stacey’s parents which he plans on being a temporary situation.

Gordon has fallen for a lovely redhead he gave a speeding ticket to even though her emerald green eyes mesmerized him. The budding romance gets complicated when his new love turns out to be the major suspect in a murder case.

Of course Detectives Doug Milligan and his partner Frank Marshall’s investigation of the murder plays a major role in the story. What Gordon does about his dilemma is the underlying plot of No Bells.

My readers can’t get enough of Gordon and keep telling me they hope things are going to be better for him in this book. They will have to read No Bells and find out for themselves.

No Bells Blurb:

Officer Gordon Butler has finally found the love he’s been seeking for a long time, but there’s one big problem; she’s the major suspect in a murder case.

CONTEST: The person who comments on the most blogs on my tour will win three books in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series: No Sanctuary, An Axe to Grind, and Angel Lost. Be sure and leave your email too, so I can contact you.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Author Karen McCullough Juggles Several Genres!

Karen McCullough is the author of eleven published novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. She’s also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. Her most recent releases are THE NIGHT PROWLERS, a re-release of one of her backlist romantic suspense novels, MAGIC, MURDER AND MICROCIRCUITS, a paranormal romantic suspense now available in most electronic formats, her Christmas vampire story, A VAMPIRE’S CHRISTMAS CAROL, and A GIFT FOR MURDER, published in hardcover by Five Star/Gale Group Mysteries. She invites visitors to check out her home on the web and her site for the Market Center Mysteries series . 

Karen, you write in several different genres: mystery, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, and then both short form and novels. Do you have a favorite genre, and what makes it your first love?

Actually I don’t really have a favorite genre.  I write in all of them because I enjoy all of them, and the story ideas I get seem to fall all over the genre spectrum. 

I grew up reading in all of those genres.  It’s probably not the best career move to write in so many different ones, since readers who like my mysteries may not like fantasy at all, but I find it helps to keep my writing fresher. I like letting my imagination roam into whatever odd corners it wants to explore. It keeps me interested in writing new and different stories.

You started out with a degree in Spanish and Anthropology, moved on to social work, went back for a Computer Science degree, and on to the land of computers, all before you wrote your first word as an author. Did you always want to write? Or did your path just lead you there?

No, I didn’t always want to write. Or at least I didn’t always know I wanted to write. In college I hated writing papers as much as the next student.  What has always been true is that I have a rich fantasy life, and I’ve been creating stories in my head for as long as I can remember.

The writing bug didn’t really bite until I was an adult and starting to burn out on computer programming. My husband one day suggested, almost out of the blue, that I try writing short stories. So I tried it. And I liked it!  It was so cool to create something completely new and original. My own world and characters that jumped out of my own imagination. I was hooked.

I wrote probably a dozen or so short stories before I ventured to try my first novel. It was bad, bad, bad, but I at least managed to finish it. I realize now I had the germ of an interesting story in that book, but I was clueless about storytelling techniques.

I joined a local writer’s group and several critique groups, bought books, and kept at the writing. And the books got better as I went along, until I made the first sale.

Tell us about your latest release, The Night Prowlers.

The Night Prowlers was my first published novel, originally released in hardcover in 1990.  It was the sixth complete novel I wrote.  I still clearly remember the day I came home from work and found a voice mail message on my machine from the editor at Avalon saying they wanted to offer me a contract for the book.  There was some serious celebrating in the McCullough household that day.

My contract had a clause that allowed me to request the rights back five years after publication if the book was out of print.  Once the five years had elapsed, I requested and got back rights to this book and all my other Avalon books. Of course, at the time (1997 or thereabouts) nobody had heard of epublishing and I had no idea what to do with the rights, so I let them sit.  I’ve had books from other publishers released in the interim and I’ve been collecting the rights to most of those as they become available.

Fast forward to 2011 and Amazon’s Kindle, B&N’s Nook and all the other ereader formats and now I’m thrilled I have the rights back to my books.  I’ve been working on making my backlist available in as many ebook formats as possible.

Here’s the blurb for The Night Prowlers, the first of my Avalon books to be re-released:

Graduate assistant Jan Lindell has her hands full supervising a team of archaeology students as they excavate the site of a Colonial-era inn in central Virginia. Sweltering heat, feuding students, vandalism, a visit from the local lunatic fringe, and complaints from the handsome son of the property’s owner are all complications she doesn’t need.

Her problems increase when it becomes clear someone doesn’t want them around. Vandalism turns into threats and then attacks on the students. On the bright side, when Gary Simpson, whose mother owns and lives on the property, assists her in the effort to thwart and identify the assailants, they discover a mutual attraction.

But someone seriously wants to stop them. When the attacks escalate and threaten to turn deadly, Jan realizes she’s fighting for more than a graduate degree and an archaeological site. All of their lives may be at stake.

I don’t usually associate Vampires with Christmas! What brought about this interesting combination in A Vampire’s Christmas Carol?

I have a romantic suspense novel published by Cerridwen press, the non-erotic imprint of Jasmine-Jade enterprises, better known for their Ellora’s Cave Erotic Romances. Several years ago, on the Cerridwen authors’ listserve, a couple of people were trying to put together an anthology of paranormal Christmas novellas. I loved the idea. As we brain-stormed stories for the collection, the title, A Vampire’s Christmas Carol, jumped into my head.  Honestly. Just like that. And with it came the main outline for the plot. I’d never done a vampire story but this idea was too intriguing not to pursue.

My story isn’t another retelling of the Dickens story with vampires, but some aspects of the plot were suggested by A Christmas Carol. It has the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, but in a somewhat different format. And there is a main character who needs to recover his soul and renew his spirit.

Here's the Blurb: Can Christmas Eve get any more fun? On her way to her family's home, Carol Prescott’s car slides into a ditch in a deserted area with no cell phone signal. The only available shelter is already occupied…by a vampire. To Michael Carpenter, Carol is the bait of a trap.

In an effort to hold onto his soul, Michael has resisted the urge to drink human blood for almost a century. Now he hovers between human and vampire. If he doesn’t drink from a human before the night ends, he’ll die. He’s desperately thirsty, but Michael has seen the soulless monsters vampires are and he prefers death. Carol is pure temptation to him, the Christmas present from hell…or is it from heaven?

The original anthology, Beneath a Christmas Moon, went out of print a year or so ago and I was granted reversion of rights.  I managed to get the official letter in time to get the novella up on Amazon, B&N and Smashwords in time for Christmas!

Could you tell us about your Market Center Mysteries? (And what a great idea!)

Thank you!

After years of working in the computer industry, I made a career change to the publishing industry, taking a job as an associate editor at a trade publishing company. Trade publishing means magazines and newspapers focused on specific businesses and industries rather than magazines targeted at the general public.

Working for a trade publisher involves going to trade shows. The very first time I went to one, I looked around and thought to myself, “This is a perfect setting for a mystery. It’s limited in time and space; you have a lot of money, power, and prestige riding on the show; and most of the participants know each other – they’re long-time friends, rivals, enemies and lovers – sometimes all at the same time.”

It was several years before I got the first book written and then several more years before Five Star bought it. My heroine, Heather McNeil, is the assistant to the director of a market center where many shows are held. She’s good at her job, and she’s also the kind of person that people talk to and confide in, which lets her get inside information to help solve crimes at the center.

The first book in the series is called A Gift for Murder and takes place during a gift show.  Here’s the Publisher’s Weekly review, which includes a blurb:

Just before a busy gift and home trade show opens at the Commerce & Market Show Center in Washington, D.C., in this lively first in a new cozy series, Heather McNeil discovers a crowbar-smashed corpse in the center's dumpster. Figuring out who wanted Tim Bethel, the co-owner of Grantwood & Bethel, a supplier of gifts and accessories, dead is up to Det. Peter Gilmont, but plucky Heather, the overworked assistant to the center's director, and her potential boyfriend, security guard Scott Brandon, show they're up to the job and more as they get on the track of Tim's killer. Despite some padding and predictable twists, McCullough (A Question of Fire) shows real flare in describing the hectic trade show world, including an exhibitor with a smelly, malfunctioning popcorn machine.”

I’m currently working on the second novel in the series, tentatively titled Wired for Murder, and I have ideas for a couple of novellas to go along with them.  I just need more hours in the day.

There is an entire section on your web site devoted to dragons. It looks like you’re a collector. What do dragons represent to you?

Good question!  Honestly I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about it too much.

Dragons appeal to me visually. There’s something amazingly graceful about their form, with long necks and tails and wings, and the way  their scales glitter.  

They’re a pretty universal archetype since they appear in so many places and cultures. I have no idea what that means, in truth, but it strikes me that possibly they represent incredible power. After all they’re huge, they fly, they spit fire, and you have to figure that a creature with such a big brain would have some intelligence as well.

And of course, being reptilian gives them an edge.  Dragons are really the alpha bad boys (and bad girls) of mythical creatures.

I love your book titles: Can You Jump Start a Reindeer? and  Magic, Murder, and Microcircuits for example. Do you have a title in mind as the subject of your story before you write? 

It varies. Sometimes I’ll think of a title and the plot together as happened with A Vampire’s Christmas Carol. It happened with Can You Jump Start a Reindeer? as well, but more often I struggle with titles. Magic, Murder, and Microcircuits started out as The Wizard of Morgan’s Island, which just seemed too bland, and then became The Wizard’s Shield, which sounded too much like epic fantasy. A Gift for Murder went through several iterations before it came to that. And The Night Prowlers wasn’t my idea at all. My editor suggested that title because she didn’t like Danger at the Dig.  Dang, she was right, too.

What's next for you?

A couple of things.  I’m currently writing Wired for Murder, the sequel to A Gift for Murder.  I hope to have it ready to submit by the middle of May. I’m also working on getting the rest of my backlist ready to release as ebooks. My second Avalon book, Programmed for Danger, has been scanned, re-edited by me, and is now in the hands of another editor to be sure the copy I release is clean and up-to-date.

And I’ve had an idea for a series of novellas about a man who channels a dragon, but those are still in the idea stage.  I do have a title for the first one, however: Breakfast with the Dragon.  I’ll likely self-publish those.

Thank you, Karen! And good luck with your many projects!