50 Ways to Murder Your Fictional Characters

Sue+Colletta

I find it endlessly fascinating to “meet” other writers and discover more about them, their work, and what makes them tick. Today I’m introducing you to an exciting new crime fiction writer, Sue Coletta, who writes great murder mystery stories. I couldn’t resist poking around inside the mind of a crime writer (Castle, anyone?), and Sue generously shares her thoughts and insights freely. Join me in welcoming Sue to the spotlight!

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

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Q         As a crime writer, you must think about how to commit the perfect crime or murder all the time. How do you plot the crimes for your books?

A         I’m a big proponent of Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering and Story Physics. For those who haven’t read these craft books, basically I plan the important milestones– Hook, Inciting Incident, 1st Plot Point, 1st Pinch Point, Midpoint, 2nd Plot Point, 2nd Pinch Point, All-is-lost Moment, Resolution– on index cards. I include theme, concept and characterization and think: What’s the worst crime that could happen to that character, one that strikes at her inner demons? I pose this question as a “What if?” And then work from there. Usually the “What if?” question will lead to more “What if?” questions, thus writing the entire book. Did I answer your question or did I get totally off track? LOL

Q         What is it about crime and mystery writing that draws you in and holds you?

A         I’ve always been fascinated by how a killer’s mind works. What makes someone want to kill? Is it money, passion, or a fantasy they’ve had since childhood? And by people’s inner demons. What drives them? What happened in their life to make them into the person they are today? And the big question; why would one person turn to murder where another wouldn’t? I guess the short answer is psychology.

Q         Who is or was your greatest mentor, either personally or professionally, and why?

A         Again, I’d have to say Larry Brooks. He’s an amazing person and a talented storyteller/teacher and writing coach. His writing is crisp, clean, with a voice that deeply resonates with me. I’m glued to the pages of his books, both craft and crime thrillers. I dissect them like a surgical intern curious about how the body works, and then take what I’ve learned and use it in my work. I’m very fortunate to call him a friend.

Q         You wrote a piece on Molly Greene’s blog about going after the traditional publishing package, which is where you and I “met”. What do you think the future of publishing will look like for writers? (I’ll include a link to that article)

A         Contrary to what some believe, I don’t think traditional publishing will ever die. Or that e-books will be the norm above paperbacks or hardcovers. There’s something uniquely special about the smell and feel of a physical book, and I think too many people feel like I do for the industry to shy away from printing. I do, however, think there will be more hybrid authors that have an agent, continue with traditional publishing, and then self-publish books that don’t fit neatly on a shelf. That’s the best of both worlds, if you ask me, and my ultimate goal.

Q         What is the most difficult part of writing for you, the beginning, middle, or end, and why?

A         That first line is always a bugger to figure out. Really, the first paragraph, trying to encapsulate the protagonist, genre, voice, and characterization, all in one fell swoop. However, since I’ve planned my book in advance I don’t really have much trouble after that. Although, during the planning stage it’s always the big twist ending that I think on the longest.

Q         What is your advice to new writers regarding marketing and building a platform?

A         Start a blog now! Don’t wait. Don’t worry that you think you’ll have nothing to say. Just do it. While you’re at it, implement an email list with a giveaway to lure people into signing up. Everyone loves to get something for free. It can be a short story, a writing tool like my “50 Ways To Murder Your Fictional Characters” (see how I got that in there?), something that peaks interest. I also think it’s important to gear your blog toward your brand. Brand; meaning you, the author, not your book. That’s your product. For instance, when you click on my site it screams crime because that’s what I’m passionate about and write about. When you gear your blog this way your passion shines through, it becomes infectious, and leads others to want to hear what you have to say. It’s magical, really, when you think about it. Give people a slice of yourself, be genuine, help other writers, and you’ll do fine.

Q         People have been fascinated by true crime and mysteries for centuries. Why do you think that is?

A       How much time do we have? I think it boils down to “the forbidden”, “the taboo”. What makes killers tick? What’s the worst thing you can do to another human being? Kill them. Of course the crime writer in me can think of worse things. 🙂 But let’s say “to kill”. Then it becomes what kind of person does this? What pushed them over the edge? And when we hear about killers that had a great childhood, a good marriage, successful children and a high-paying job, we are totally baffled. Again, it’s the psychology of it, I believe, that drives people to want to know more. Sure, some are probably motivated by the gore, but I don’t think that’s the norm. It’s like when you drive by a car accident and can’t look away. You want to know, what happened? Why? Who’s to blame? Because human beings are curious creatures, we try to put logic ahead of madness, and sometimes the two aren’t separate issues. Sometimes the reason, or lack thereof, is simple– because he wanted to see if he could kill and what it felt like. And that’s frightening to think about, because it means we could end up the next victim.

Q         What kind of research do you do for your novels?

A         It depends. I have a few police consultants/coroner/firearm experts I turn to when I need a quick answer. Otherwise, let’s say I’m writing more of a police procedural and I better get my facts right in case a detective reads my story. On my site I have a menu option entitled “Crime Writer’s Resource“, where I’ve listed links to forensic sites, homicide crime scene checklist, writing sites, craft books, writing tools, etc. Each link leads to more links. There are pages and pages of information I’ve gathered over the years, including former detectives who answer questions for writers. All are welcome to use it, by the way.

Q         What is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness, and why?

A         My greatest weakness is also my greatest strength, and I’ll tell you why. I love supporting other writers. I love the writing community as a whole. But when helping someone means I can’t get my own work done, it’s a problem. I have a terrible habit of putting others’ needs above my own. That’s not to say I ever want to stop supporting other writers. I just need to find balance. Does that make sense? I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. Put another way; if I can’t achieve my own goals, how can I help someone else achieve theirs?

Q         If you could interview any writer, living or dead, who would it be and why?

A         This is easy. Edgar Allen Poe. I wish I could crawl inside his mind for just an hour. What a fascinating yet disturbing place that would be.

Q         Crime and mystery writing can take both the writer and reader into some pretty dark places. Have you ever had to wrestle with a character or scene that challenged you to examine your own sense of right and wrong? If so, how?

A         Ooh, good question. I’ve definitely given myself nightmares on more than one occasion, where I was stuck in my fictional world and couldn’t get out. I’ve cried when I’ve had to kill a character I loved. I’ve laughed at other characters. Writing is magical that way. As far as wrestling with my inner demons, no. I’ve never had fantasies about taking a life. When someone pushes me to the breaking point, I just go home, turn them into a character, and then kill them in unspeakable ways. Sure makes me feel better.

Q         What’s next for you, Sue?

A         Good question. Who knows? That’s up to the literary gods, I guess. I’ll keep writing and keep journeying toward my dream. I’m working on two projects now. One is based on a question that’s haunted me for years; what lengths would you go to spend one more day with a lost loved one? And the other is based on a true story; how an undercover operative befriended a serial killer to take him down. Since I’m working with a confidential informant, I can’t say more than that, except that it’s exciting, clandestine stuff.

Find Sue here:

My website/blog: http://www.crimewriterblog.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/@suecoletta1

Facebook page: www.facebook.com/suecoletta1

Author’s blog: http://www.auniqueandportablemagic.blogspot.com

Contribute to: www.venturegalleries.com and www.marciamearawrites.com

50 Ways To Murder Your Fictional Characters giveaway: http://bit.ly/1HlrCrC

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Murder at Melcham Hall

Dave Watson

It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed.

What is it about mysteries that compel us to pour a cup of tea, settle into a cozy armchair by the fire, and proceed to match wits with fictional detectives? Lovers of this genre have a new sleuth to admire in Inspector Wesley – the creation of author Dave Watson whose latest book, Murder at Melcham Hall, is the third in a page-turning series that transpires across the pond.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with some background about your upbringing in Middlesex. Was it a landscape that fueled your imagination for history, mystery and village life?

A:  I was born in 1956 in Heston, Middlesex, some twenty miles from London. In those days Heston was a tiny village where the hive of activity took place along the small parade of shops and, of course, the local public house. The village is steeped in history and I have traced my family back to the early 1700’s where Watson was the predominant surname. When I was a youngster, there were no fences to separate neighbours’ gardens and everyone walked in and out of their neighbours’ back doors. I have always longed for a village life again and maybe one day that dream will come true.

Q: Were you an avid reader as a child? If so, what authors and titles might we have found on your nightstand?

A: I have always been an avid reader. As a child I read all the ‘Biggles’ books written by Captain W E Johns. In my teenage years I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings along with Jules Vernes’ classic 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.

Q: Who or what first sparked your interest in becoming a writer?

A: I wrote a couple of short stories for my children when they were in Junior School and that was probably the spark. It was something I really enjoyed.

Q: Are there some favorite authors that influenced your own style of storytelling, character development and dialogue?

A: The authors who have influenced my style of writing are Agatha Christie, Kate Ellis and Jacqueline Winspear. These authors have the ability to write leaving the reader to want to keep turning the page. They create characters that one can envisage and relate to, almost as if they were real.

Q: If you could go to lunch with any of these authors and ask them one question, who would it be and what would you want to know?

A:  It would have to be Agatha Christie, and my question would be, “Did you always decide who the murderer was at the start of each novel, or did you change the culprit as the story unfolded?”

Q: What’s the first book you had published and how long did it take from start to finish?

A: The first book was titled Full Circle and it took me around eighteen months from start to finish.

Q: For many authors, the task of finding the right publisher for their work can be even more time consuming than writing a book in the first place. What was your own experience in this regard?

A: To anyone starting out I would simply say, shop around. The Writers and Artists year book is a good guide. Look for publishers who specialize in your genre. It is also important that you find a publisher who understands your work.

Q: What governed your decision to create a mystery series and what are some of the particular challenges of this approach?

A: Initially I think Agatha Christie is responsible. One of the main challenges in each story is remembering the personalities and mannerisms of the main characters.

Q: So what’s Murder at Melcham Hall all about?

A: The story relates to centuries of corruption and fraud surrounding the ownership of Melcham Hall. When a young girl is found murdered on the estate, Inspector Wesley soon uncovers a web of deceit. Someone living at Melcham Hall is not who she appears to be and when an elderly woman living in the grounds of the estate disappears, things take a dramatic twist.

Q: One of my college professors once said that if you’re going to write murder mysteries, it’s better to set them in an earlier time period versus contemporary because of all the advances in technology that make crime-solving easier. What are your thoughts about that?

A: To some degree that’s correct. I also think readers often prefer to be taken back in time as stories set in an earlier period often carry more nostalgia.

Q: Who’s your favorite character to write about and how did s/he evolve in your imagination?

A: My favorite character has to be Inspector Wesley. I grew up watching old British detective series on television (in the days of black and white television) and Wesley evolved from there. Rather a plain character who sits back to roll a cigarette whilst contemplating the case in question.

Q: How much historical and police procedural research goes into your stories?

A: Quite a lot really. It helps to get a feel for a location and if you can base it on somewhere you’ve been then so much easier to visual places. My police procedural research is mostly done from watching TV programmes and learning from other authors.

Q: Writing is a solitary craft. Do you allow anyone to have sneak peeks at your work in progress or make them wait until the whole thing is done?

A: I occasionally ask family or friends for feedback, especially if I’m unsure about a particular paragraph or chapter. It helps to obtain feedback. I have learnt that no one asks a silly question.

Q: What’s a typical writing day like for you?

A:  I usually shut myself away around mid-morning until mid-afternoon. That time of day works for me. However, it’s in the evening that I read other people’s novels and discuss book matters with friends and colleagues via Facebook and other outlets.

Q: Have your characters ever surprised you by doing or saying something you hadn’t planned when you were fashioning the story in your head?

A: Yes and no. Once or twice I have written a few lines about what one of my characters is doing at the time, only to stop and ask myself the question. Would he/she really say that?

Q: You also have a short story out about a pair of adventurous cats. That’s quite a departure from Inspector Wesley, isn’t it?

A: Smudge’s Adventures is a short story written for charity. A close friend lost her baby due to Group B Strep which is a life threatening infection. My son and a few friends ran a number of 10K races to raise money and I thought I could add to the pile by writing a short story donating all proceeds to the charity. http://www.gbss.org.uk/

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: Ah good question. I guess it would be that at 57 years of age I have only been writing for around 4 years. I wish I had started earlier. There’s a story in everyone.

Q: What’s your best advice to writers who are just starting their own journey and wanting to get published?

A: Be prepared to allocate yourself some time each day and stick to it. Put your story together and read it numerous times before asking someone else to proof read it. Take time to find someone who is prepared to edit your work. Only then, search for a publisher, someone who works in your genre. Look at who else they publish. Look to see who publishes other works similar to yours.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m currently working on a 4th Inspector Wesley novel, titled The Loxwood Legacy which I hope to have published in the Spring.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: The best place is to check out my website www.davewatson.info or take a look at my author page on Amazon.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: It is an amazing feeling knowing that other people read your books and in doing so share your thoughts and ideas. It makes all those solitary hours of writing so worthwhile!

 

 

Sketch of a Murder

Aya Walksfar

Complex stories with complex characters grab us and reel us in as readers. Throw in twists of cleverly crafted murders, secrets and sensitive subject matter, and you might find yourself wondering what thrilling ride you’ve just jumped on. In author Aya Walksfar’s first three books, Good Intentions, Dead Men and Cats, and her latest, Sketch of a Murder, there is enough suspense, drama and plenty of unexpected turns to keep readers embroiled in what we’ve always known and loved: good old fashioned cases of whodunit.

 Interview: Christy Campbell

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Why do you enjoy writing?   

In my family, my mother and my grandmother carried oral stories. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t sit at their feet listening. Stories were important whether they were told as stories, or as songs. Add to that culture of oral storytelling the fact that my grandfather, Pap, was completely illiterate, even signed his paychecks with an X, and Grandma was nearly-illiterate, though she could read and write at about a third grade level. Due to their own lack of education, my grandparents were passionate about me obtaining an education. To them, books and education were the ticket out of poverty.

For me, writing is about sharing. Sharing dreams, sharing moments that transport people beyond their current existence. To share a special time with them, a piece of myself, very much like what oral storytellers do. Reading gave me so much that I wanted to give that kind of wonder, that kind of freedom to others.

What inspired you to write Sketch of a Murder?

Sketch of a Murder is just one of the murder mysteries that I’ve written. I got into writing murder mysteries after my grandfather was murdered when I was nine years old.  His killer was never brought to justice.  I loved Pap with all the passion that a grandchild of a doting grandfather has, which is to say I practically worshipped him. It was really difficult to accept his death, so I began crafting stories about how the killer was caught, and ultimately punished. It helped me to deal with the grief.

Who is your favorite character in Sketch of a Murder?

I have to admit I love strong female characters, so it’s Nita Slowater. Lieutenant Williams is a very close second, though.

What makes a good protagonist?

Complexity that is logical. The character needs to have a three-dimensional life, a reader needs to ‘feel’ a back story in that character’s life. That complexity needs to be logical; every action, word and thought needs to follow in a logical manner. Why does Sergeant Nita Slowater hate reporters? That hate is part of who she is, but it has to have a reason for being. Why is Lieutenant Williams so against having a female as his second-in-command? Why does Officer Mulder act like he hates everyone equally? Now, none of these things have to do with solving the crimes, directly, but they impact how the characters react and interact which makes the story real.

If a protagonist is always tough, smart mouthed, and so forth, yet the reader isn’t given a feel for why they are this way, then the character becomes a cardboard cutout being moved by the writer and used simply as a device. The reader can’t develop a relationship with that character. When I read, I want to be drawn into a protagonist’s life, feel the joys, and the sorrows, and know there is a logical reason behind them.

How did you come up with the title?

The title comes from the fact that the key to the killer’s identity lies within a homeless, black woman’s art.

Are all your books about crime?

No, my award winning literary novel, Good Intentions, is about the impact of family secrets.

An award! Tell us about which one and what that was like.

The Alice B. Reader Award for Excellence was given to me for my first edition of Good Intentions, published by Rising Tide Press in 2002. I loved having the book recognized by professionals, but the best “award” I ever got for Good Intentions was when a young man contacted me and said it helped him deal with some of his family issues.

What was one of the challenges in creating your book?

Stories come fairly naturally to me, but keeping a timeline correct while the story stretches out over several increments of time, whether that is days, weeks, months or years, can be challenging. I draw graphs to help me with this aspect.

You have a Pinterest site. What kind of thing do you like to pin?

I started out just posting my book covers, some pet photographs, that kind of thing. One night I was moaning because I didn’t know what to do with my Pinterest site, so my wife said she would see what she could do with it. Deva is a fantastic photographer; she simply has an eye for it. She started up a discussion not long after she began working with my site: what did I want to accomplish with Pinterest? I had never given it adequate thought, but after we talked for a while, I realized I would love to pin some photos of places I talk about in my novels, like Mount Baker.

I eventually coupled the photos on Pinterest with doing character interviews on my blog. For example, one character interview was with Sergeant Nita Slowater. Nita’s home town is Mount Vernon, Washington. So one weekend afternoon Deva and I hopped on our bikes (motorcycles) and took a spin up there to do a photography session. That evening Deva posted the photos of Nita’s home town. And yes, we followed Nita’s recommendation about the best pizza place and ate at Pacino’s.

You are involved in social media to promote yourself, which is a great way to get your titles recognized. What makes Facebook, Twitter and your blog different from one another?

FB is more interactive with my readers who become friends. We share on Facebook whereas on my blog I am offering my readers something, a story, and an article, whatever. It is much less interactive although I do love reader comments. To be honest, I haven’t quite figured out how to connect with others on it in an efficient and useful manner. For me, FB is an easier media for connecting with others, finding wonderful sites like Cops Kind to Critters or Wild and Wise Women.

What is the most difficult thing about the writing life?

Marketing. How does a person get their work out in front of the public without becoming an obnoxious bore? Connecting with others on social media, I am discovering, is one of the keys. Not only connecting with other authors, who I’ve found to be extremely generous with their time and expertise, but with readers as well. When I say connecting, I don’t mean doing the constant jumping up and down saying ‘read my book.’ You have to find some way to offer a benefit to others, and they in turn will offer benefits to you. The other key is the long-time standard of physical contacts at bookstores, and other community events.

Learning how to do marketing is a long process with a steep learning curve, and I have a long way to go, yet.

At this point, what is the most important thing you have learned in life, writer or not?

Dream. Don’t ever give up your dreams. Don’t be afraid to dream. Whether you achieve your dreams or not, the journey is awesome.

 

Connect with Aya on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/ayawalksfar

Visit Aya and meet some of the Special Crimes Team on her blog: http://www.ayawalksfar.com

Check out photos on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/ayawalksfar

Check out Aya’s books on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/ayawalksfar

Murder on Camelback Mountain

Steven Wyner book cover

“Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle,” wrote Mickey Spillane. “They read it to get to the end. If it’s a letdown, they won’t buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.”

It’s a formula for success that Arizona author Steven Wyner has taken to heart with the debut of his Herb Nash series, Murder on Camelback Mountain. Wyner artfully couples his passion for the Southwestern landscape with his extensive knowledge of how lawyers and private eyes operate in investigating crimes and bringing wrongdoers to justice.

 Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Prior to penning your Murder on Camelback Mountain, you spent 20 years doing ghostwriting for lawyers. How did you fall into that particular profession and what did the work entail?

A:  I owned a bus tour company during the Reagan years that ran turnaround gambling trips to Las Vegas. This was before Las Vegas reinvented itself, and way before Indian casinos had proliferated the Phoenix area. Competition amongst tour operators was fierce and nasty. My company was sued by a larger competitor. I spent two years fighting them and fighting with my own attorney who liked to say I had a propensity for the law. The case was finally dismissed but I had lost my zeal for the bus tour business and went back to (night) school. As I was about to complete my paralegal studies people began asking me to help them represent themselves in family law and guardianship cases. The self-help craze was sweeping the nation, but people still needed help completing complicated court paperwork. It wasn’t long before I was being solicited by lawyers looking for ways to save money on fulltime payroll. They hired on a contract basis to legal ghostwrite for them and the next thing I knew I was in demand as a legal ghostwriter.

Q: Is truth really stranger than fiction?

A:  I’ve found that to be true in the legal world. That’s why you may often hear workers in law offices say I ought a write a book.

Q: What are some of the challenges you encountered as a wordsmithing “silent partner”?

A: Lawyers don’t really burn midnight oil, at least not since the advent of the computer age . . . and the light bulb.  They’ve become increasingly dependent on others to do their legal research and writing, while they’re in court or out looking for more clients. Skilled legal ghostwriters anticipate what needs to be written or not written, as the case may be, even before a lawyer orders up a project. One even learns to write in that particular lawyer’s voice. It gets real scary sometimes when that happens. There are two main challenges to deal with. First, take nothing for granted. I’ll vouch for about 85% of what I write, but I insist the lawyer take the time to double check my work to make sure they’re comfortable with what I have researched and written. Many lawyers like to cap off what I write with something I may not have been privy to. But sometimes they sign off without reading what they have just signed. Yes, that’s what I said. Maybe it’s because they trust my abilities more than they should, or maybe because they’re just lazy or in a hurry. Sometimes, that can come back to bite them in the ass . . . usually in open court. Lawyers are only people, even though they’re held to a higher standard. So my second challenge, even though it shouldn’t be, is to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Q: How did you make the segue from ghostwriting for attorneys to becoming a published author?

A: You mean how did I go from writing legal fiction to writing real fiction? A few years back I was involved in another (yes, frivolous) lawsuit. This time I did all the legal ghostwriting for the attorney who was representing us. The case was dismissed in our favor halfway through a two week jury trial that followed three years of litigation. It was my mother who said, “You ought a write a book.”  I had no interest in recounting the horrible events of that case, so I tried to fictionalize them. The characters literally jumped out of the keyboard and begged me to tell their story. But I didn’t know who the hell they were. I felt like I was conducting an intake interview in a law firm. After a year of writing, I had a novel called Zepka’s War which originated during WWII. It’s about Saul Zepka, a demolitions expert who wrongly believes he killed some American soldiers in the hedgerows of Normandy and then discovers 40 years later that he’s a hero. I had totally forgotten about writing the book about the lawsuit. Then I spent a year or so writing query letters to literary agents and trying to perfect the art of being rejected. They’d say things like “I’m too busy this year” or “Zepka’s War is not a good fit for this agency.”

Q: So what is Murder on Camelback Mountain all about? Inquiring minds want to know.

A:  Herb Nash is on his way back to Phoenix from a lost weekend in Los Angeles. It’s really been his first chance to be alone since his recent divorce after 25 years. On his way to a business appointment at friend’s law office to discuss working on a new probate case, he discovers he and the lawyer, Lamar Madison, are about to be questioned by a homicide detective who suspects them both of brutally murdering a small time con-artist and only son of one of the city’s wealthiest widows.

The dead man’s dismembered body parts were discovered earlier that morning splayed around a storm drain in the heart of an exclusive Camelback Mountain neighborhood. All because their business cards were found tucked inside the dead man’s shirt pocket, they’re “persons of interest” and potential suspects in the murder investigation.

The only thing Herb Nash has ever used his PI license for was for skip-tracing deadbeat dads and credit criminals. Lamar convinces him to use it to open doors in search of more likely persons of interest to keep the police busy and off their backs. In the process Herb Nash cheats death, takes down a psychopathic killer, and discovers a startling secret about him.

Q: What was your inspiration to write it?

A:  During my Zepka’s War experience I found that many literary agents were looking for detective novels. I had read everything by Michael Connelly, John Grisham, Lee Child, Joseph Wambaugh and many other lesser known published authors. I was familiar with the style and convinced myself that I could write something along those lines. I knew it would not be a Michael Connelly or a John Grisham, but maybe it would be a Steve Wyner. Since I was in the legal support business with significant experience on the legal side and exposure to the detective side and 20 years of case files to use as my inspiration, I decided my protagonist, Herb Nash would be created as a private detective who dabbles in paralegal work on the side, or the other way around, as the case may be. He becomes a go to guy indispensible to lawyers. Particularly, lawyers who often find themselves in ethically challenged situations. I’ve found lawyers in these cases are looking for a non-lawyer possessing legal knowledge to help them through their ethical dilemma, even while they snobbishly try to knock the guy down a peg or two on the socio economic scale.

Q: Did you work from an outline or simply listen to your muse as you went along?

A: The title came to me from I don’t know where, and then I just started writing on the basis of people I’ve known and what I always thought should happen to them, or would not have been surprised to discover what did happened to them.

Q: Tell us about your protagonist Herb Nash and what makes him unique in the world of sleuthing.

A:  First, he’ not a super hero, which means the reader only has to suspend disbelief once in awhile.  Unlike a Jack Reacher, where you have to do that cover to cover, which is obviously fine, I know there are a lot of readers who also enjoy reading about a guy like Herb Nash. Second, he’s in the mid age range of baby boomers. He’s dealing with no longer being 30 or even 40. Mentally, he’s okay, but physically he’s starting to feel his age. Third, carries no gun after a lifetime doing sedentary PI work, tracking down basically non-violent offenders of one kind or the other. He does own a gun, but it’s not a sexy Glock or Beretta. Herb’s 38 snub nose is a hat tip to Raymond Chandler, and it’s used for target practice and nothing more. In the real world where Herb Nash dwells, PIs don’t usually carry guns.  He’s carved out a niche for himself and as I said earlier, he’s built a reputation among local lawyers as a go to guy. They may love him or hate him, but not because he can shoot and hit anything that moves.

Q: What made you choose Arizona as the backdrop for your story?

A: I’ve lived here for over 30 years. It made more sense than Debuque.

Q: How much research was involved to get all of the investigative/procedural information right?

A: Much of it is from personal knowledge from cases I’ve been involved in, and some of it came from a Phoenix cop moonlighting as a security guard at Starbucks.

Q: Did your characters “talk” to you during the development of the story? Did you listen to them?

A: Not so much as they did in Zepka’s War. Herb Nash looks to me for just about everything. He and the rest of them do pretty much what I tell them to do without too much complaining.

Q: From start to finish, how long did the book take to write?

A: Probably about 6 months stretched out over a year.

Q: Did you allow anyone to see your chapters in progress or did you make them wait until you were completely finished?

A:  Occasionally, I’d test ideas and partial paragraphs on a lawyer I work with. My mother helped proofing.

Q: Did you envision Herb Nash to be a recurring character in a mystery series at the start of the book or was it a case of simply not being able to let go of him after you typed “The End”?

A: I knew he would be a recurring character the minute he woke up at that truck stop in Monterey Park on page 1.

Q: Let’s say that Hollywood comes enthusiastically knocking on your door and wants to turn Murder on Camelback Mountain into a feature film. Who would comprise your dream cast for it and why?

A: William H. Macy . . . he’s the right age and has the mix of average guy softness around the edges, quirkiness, and go for the jugular cunning I imagined.  I’d settle for John Malkovich for the same reasons.

Q: If you could go to lunch with a contemporary mystery writer, who would it be and what one question would you most want to ask him/her about their life, their books or the publishing industry?

A: Michael Connelly. We’d be having Moo Shoo chicken at the Friends of China Restaurant, in Los Angeles, a place I’ve actually eaten at to confirm Harry Bosch’s opinion of the food quality. I’d ask Mr. Connelly how he can stay focused cranking out at least one best seller a year for the last 20 years without having to take out the garbage, or fix a leaky faucet . . . at least in the beginning, before he hit the big time.

Q: Like a lot of authors today, you’ve gone the route of self-publishing. What were some of the considerations that went into your decision to ultimately choose Create Space?

A: My age and my ability to make something from nothing. I’m too old to wait a lifetime for some snarky literary agent to tell me I just hit the query letter jackpot. I tried that but enough is enough already. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and what with the self-publishing industry maturing the way it has, it was full speed ahead. I’m comfortable with Create Space’s model and it’s user friendly.

Q: What do you know about the publishing world now that you didn’t know when you began?

A: I know how to write a great query letter, my walls are papered with them. But seriously, tastes in writing are clearly subjective. So getting published for an unknown author is more a numbers game played by literary agents and publishers that is not always necessarily based on quality or skill, although that is essential.  Imagine my surprise when I find a typo in a John Grisham novel. Anyway, I guess I always thought that a book is published, therefore, it was meant to be. But now I believe many books are being published that should not have been and many are not published that should be. And that getting published is all based on the whims and biases of literary agents and publishers. It would be nice to be discovered by one of them and see Herb Nash depicted on the silver screen by William H. Macy, but in the mean time I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A:  That I tried to heal myself by getting on the highway and listening to Elvis, and dangerously ignored the damage to my psyche?

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A:  Keep an eye out for the next Herb Nash thriller The Crossword Killings and the paperback and Kindle editions of Zepka’s War on Amazon.com. Also on Amazon.com is a book called Four Quirky Short Story Compilation: Lifetime Guarantee Series & Money Grows on Trees, inspired by endless nights of watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents on Netflix. And I’m working with a couple of attorneys to ghostwrite AZ Primer on DUIs.

If anyone wants to know where I stand on the issues of the day, they can catch me on FB anytime and feel free to request that I be their friend.

 

Brothers and Bones

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Federal prosecutor Charlie Beckman’s life has his existence turned upside down when a deranged homeless man calls him by a secret nickname, one known by only one other person in the world…Charlie’s brother, who went missing 13 years ago. Such is the premise of James Hankins’ new suspense thriller, Brothers and Bones. Hankins recently took time from his busy schedule to chat about what it’s like to be a full-time writer and stay-at-home dad.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with what compelled you to make the transition from screenwriter and lawyer to working for yourself in the demanding role of “published author”.

A: Well, the transition from screenwriter to lawyer occurred because Hollywood was more reluctant to roll out the red carpet for me than I had hoped, and I had to start paying the bills. So I became a lawyer. I loved writing, had done it all my life, and I wasn’t about to stop simply because I’d started to practice law. But because I’d moved from L.A. to Boston, putting Hollywood thousands of miles behind me, I decided to shift from screenplays to novels. I became a lawyer by day, writer by night, and when my wife and I learned we were going to have twins, we decided that one of us should stay home with them. She’s a fantastic lawyer who has always wanted to be a lawyer, while I was a reasonably good lawyer who always wanted to write, so the choice was easy. I retired from the law two weeks before our boys were born to be a stay-at-home dad who writes books.  

Q: How did your prior employment prepare you to take this leap of faith, and were your expectations about the transition realistic?

A: My expectations were realistic because they weren’t terribly high. My hopes were always high, but my expectations were very reasonable. I’d spent years in Hollywood without making much of a dent in the place, after winning awards at one of the top film schools in the country, so I was well aware that achieving success in certain creative endeavors can be extraordinarily difficult. It’s almost freeing, to be honest, to be shooting so high that no one expects you to hit the target. There’s no pressure. If you succeed, it’s wonderful. But if you fail, everyone knows what a long shot it was anyway. It takes a lot of external pressure off. Of course, the internal pressure, the desire not only to tell my stories but to find someone willing to listen to them, never goes away. Thankfully, though, my reasonably low expectations have been exceeded by a comfortable margin. I’ve been very gratified by the reception my books have received.

Q: How do you budget your time to write amidst the distractions of hearth, home and the Internet?

A: I treat my writing like a job. I try to treat my domestic duties as one, too—at least with respect to household maintenance (hanging around with my sons doesn’t feel like a job). But I’m full-service stay-at-home dad. I do the laundry, shop for food, cook what I can manage, change light bulbs, take out the garbage, help with homework, etc. I try to do whatever chores need to be done in the first hour and a half after I drop the boys at school. Then I write until it’s time to pick them up again. That gives me four solid hours every school day. Sometimes I sneak in a little more later in the day while the boys are at a friend’s house, or at night when everyone else is asleep, or sometimes even on weekends. As for the Internet, it really can be distracting, can’t it?  It’s invaluable when it comes to marketing and social media, and it’s a powerful research tool (like when I needed to find out, when I was writing at 2 a.m., what constellations are visible in the night sky in Indiana in October). I just force myself to stay off of Youtube and limit social media interaction until my workday is over. (There’s plenty of time to watch videos of parakeets riding cats like horses later, with my kids.)

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up? If so, who are the authors that resonated with you and perhaps even influenced your own writing style as an adult?

A: I was. I loved Richard Adams’s Watership Down. I read it as a kid and I’ve read it three or four times as an adult. It’s one of my all-time favorite books. I also loved Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I read the Narnia series, dozens of Tarzan of the Apes books and other Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure books, Ray Bradbury’s science fiction, Jack London’s books. I’m not sure their styles are reflected in my own, but I do see a pattern. I gravitated toward adventure stories, as so many children do, and I write thrillers today. My love for suspense and action is deep-rooted.

Q: What comes first for you – the plot or the characters?

A: I generally come up with the plot first. It starts with a small idea, a seed of a story, something that gets me thinking or wondering. When I have an idea of something interesting that could happen to someone, or an unusual situation a person could be thrust into, then I start to think about the kind of person who could impacted in the most interesting way by whatever that is. This probably comes from my screenwriting days, when story was always king, at least for the kinds of scripts I was writing. High concept stories that can grab you in a sentence. The hook for most thrillers can be boiled down to a sentence or two. That hook is usually what comes to me first, then I develop appropriate characters. That said, I work very hard on characterization, because the last thing I want is to write is a really interesting story populated by cardboard characters.

Q:  Tell us about Brothers and Bones, how it came about, and the influence that your previous career had on giving your protagonist a job as a federal prosecutor.

A: Brothers and Bones is about Charlie Beckham, a federal prosecutor who is on his way to court to start the biggest trial of his career when a deranged homeless man says two words to him that turn his world upside down. He calls Charlie by a nickname known by only one other person in the world—Charlie’s beloved older brother Jake, who went missing 13 years ago. Charlie has a hundred questions but loses the homeless man in a crowd before he can ask a single one. So begins his search for answers, a search that takes him into dangerous places and pits him against ruthless people. The book is a thriller, of course, but it’s also part mystery, part action, and at the core of it is an interesting “partnership” between a prosecutor and a homeless man who isn’t afraid to bend the laws as he needs to.

The seed that grew into the story was planted when I was a lawyer in Boston. I’d pass the same homeless man on the street every day, near the same street corner, and he was always talking to himself as though he were arguing with someone only he could see. He’d be very focused on whatever he was saying and to whomever he thought he was saying it. One day I wondered how strange it would be if, as I passed, he interrupted himself, looked up at me, and said – very clearly and lucidly – “Hi, James,” before resuming his argument with himself. It was an odd thought that I couldn’t shake. Then I thought it would be even stranger if what he called me was something secret, something he simply shouldn’t know. What would that be?  How could he know it?  These questions led to more until it was a mystery I wanted to solve.

I do think that my experience as a lawyer helped me write Brothers and Bones, at least a bit. Like my protagonist, I was a lawyer, but Charlie Beckham is a federal prosecutor while I was an employment lawyer—and those are two very different animals. But from my legal practice I knew what it was like to be a lawyer in Boston. I’ve been to court, and to the federal courthouse where Charlie works. I might have chosen to make Charlie a lawyer even if I hadn’t been one myself, but I’m certain that writing him was a little easier because I did practice law.

Q:  In Brothers and Bones, a defining moment in Charlie’s life took place when his brother, Jake, went missing many years ago. A strong sense of familial devotion is evident in the book – both in Charlie’s dedication to finding out what happened to Jake, and in Charlie’s memories of Jake’s sacrifices for Charlie as they grew up without parents. Does family play an important part in much of your writing?

A: It wasn’t something of which I’ve been conscious, but it’s evident that family has played an important role in my writing to date. As you note, Charlie and his brother had a very strong bond, one that drives the story to a very large degree. In my other books there’s an importance on family, too. In Jack of Spades, my police procedural, the detective is divorced, still in love with his wife, and frustrated that he’s growing apart from his college-age son. This is woven throughout the book. And my supernatural thriller, Drawn, is about four very different people, driven by different forces — some supernatural, some all-too-human – toward a shared destiny. But each of those four characters lacks family in any meaningful way, and they all seem to be searching for it in their own ways without even realizing it. As for me, I’m the last of six kids in a very close family, so I’m not surprised that familial bonds are important to my stories.

Q:  Brothers and Bones is actually one of three books that you released simultaneously. What challenges did you face releasing three at once that you don’t think you would have had publishing one at a time? 

A: The biggest challenge was that I couldn’t promote each book equally, at least not at first. It’s hard enough to get people to pay attention to a new author at all, much less get them interested in three books at once. If I split my focus I would have done none of the books justice. I realized that, instead, I’d have to focus on one book and hope that people would like it enough to buy my others. For the most part, that has worked for me. I chose to focus my efforts primarily on Brothers and Bones because, of the three, it probably has the quickest hook to grab a reader. I love my other books, but Drawn is a supernatural story, which has a smaller audience than straight thrillers, and Jack of Spades is a cop-chasing-a-serial-killer book, which is also a subset of the larger thriller category. I’ve been very pleased to learn from reader reviews many people finish Brothers and immediately buy my other books. Of course, there are also people who start with one of the others, then buy the remaining two. Either way works for me!

Q: If your favorite of these three titles were turned into a movie, who would your dream cast be?

A: I love this question because I never think about this. My wife does and she’s usually spot on with her casting choices. She reads my books and tells me who should star in the movies, and she’s usually right, but I never have anyone particular in mind when I write, though I can see my characters very clearly. I can’t really pick a favorite of my books – I love all of my “children” equally, if differently – but I’ll use Brothers and Bones because it’s the one that would be most likely to make it to the silver screen. For Charlie, the prosecutor, we’d need an early thirties lawyer with a sense of humor. I think Ryan Gosling would be terrific. Tougher casting would be the quirky homeless man who starts out a little deranged but slowly regains his faculties. He’s strange and tough as nails and in his mid-to late forties. Nicholas Cage, who makes really interesting performance choices, could do it well.

Q: Like many authors, you opted to go the self-publishing route on your titles. What drove this decision and what did you learn from the experience?

A: I’ve had a terrific agent for years but we were never able to find a fit for my books with a traditional publisher, despite positive feedback. With the explosion of self-publishing and ebooks, it became obvious that self-publishing was the way for me to go, as it has been for so many thriller writers who aren’t already established in print. Indie publishing seems to be the way that these books are getting out to the world. I’ve definitely learned a few things, but first and foremost is that the work never ends. When the book is finally written, the marketing begins. But all authors are expected to promote their books these days, not just indie authors (though mega-sellers often have access to marketing opportunities that indie authors don’t). But what I also realized is how much control self-published authors have over their work, from how it reads, to how the covers look, to pricing, etc. That’s something that I really like.

Q: What would you like readers to take away from your stories?

A: Other than a burning desire to make sure they’ve read all of my books?  I hope that I help readers escape – just for a while—to a new place, a new life. I want to give them a chance to walk around in someone else’s shoes for a bit, maybe to visit a place they’ve never been, to find themselves in a situation they’ve never experienced, to feel a few tingles up their spines, some excitement and thrills and a sense of mystery and discovery, as well as a sense of satisfaction that causes them, when they reach the end of the books, to say to themselves (and hopefully to all of their friends and family) that reading my books was a worthwhile way to spend their valuable time.

Q: What would your fans be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I almost went with the fact that I can juggle knives (not well, but I can) or that I can recite Lewis Carroll’s wonderful poem of near-gibberish, “The Jabberwocky,” by heart…but I’m going to go with the fact that twenty years ago I got to kiss Dawn Wells (who played “Maryann” on Gilligan’s Island) on the cheek…mostly because I love to tell that story.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Another thriller. It’s too early in the process to say more about it, but I’m working on another thriller. I’m always working on another thriller.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: I hope people visit my website – www.jameshankinsbooks.com. There’s more about me and about my books there. They can sign up for my newsletter, which I send out on only very special occasions. They can also email me through my Contact page. I love hearing from readers. Also, I can be reached on Facebook at  http://www.facebook.com/JamesHankinsAuthorPage. And I’m on Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6644088.James_Hankins.

Of course, most importantly, I’d love folks to check out my books. They’re on the major online retailers’ sites, but here are the Amazon links:

Brothers and Boneshttp://www.amazon.com/Brothers-and-Bones-ebook/dp/B009XGD2DY/ref=pd_sim_kstore_2

Drawnhttp://www.amazon.com/Drawn-ebook/dp/B009XGIHES/ref=pd_sim_kstore_3

Jack of Spadeshttp://www.amazon.com/Jack-of-Spades-ebook/dp/B009XGD6LM/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1

Finally, I want to thank You Read It Here First for this interview opportunity. It was a lot of fun. Happy reading, all!

The Hollywood Murder Series

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When Peter S. Fischer left the bright lights of Tinseltown after nearly three decades as a network television writer/producer, it was with no intention of going quietly into a retirement mode on California’s central coast. If anything, the sound of keyboard tapping is louder than ever with his development of The Hollywood Murder Series, a sequence of mystery novels set against the historic backdrop of moviemaking’s glamorous heyday and which he publishes under his own imprint, The Grove Point Press.

The coincidence of my happening to interview Fischer stemmed from my having read his political thriller, The Terror of Tyrants, and – on the heels of my 5-star review (http://thegrovepointpress.com/tag/peter-s-fischer/ ) – sent an email to thank him for writing such a topical and chilling page-turner. Graciously, he not only took the time to respond but also to share his insights about the craft of writing.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: The glitz and glam of Hollywood has always attracted eager young hopefuls like proverbial moths to a flame. Coupled with this, however, seems to be an increasingly pervasive mindset of “entitlement” and arrogance. A case in point was a teen who recently wrote to me and declared, “The problem with movies and television today is that all you old people and your dumb ideas need to go away.” As someone who left the industry after a long career writing for hit series, why do you think that novelists and playwrights have a longer – and more respected – shelf life as authors?

A: First of all, I lend little credence to a teen who, unless she is exceptional, has no business lecturing us “old folks” about anything. I despair of a generation that believes “Thanks” is spelled “Thx” and spends a huge amount of time regaling each other about their last bowel movement or sexual encounter or the spinach they were unable to eat for lunch. These modern day twits know nothing about the art of conversation and for the most part do not even read unless forced to at the point of a hot poker. They get the television they deserve because TV is ratings driven. If you watch, you get it. If you don’t watch, it gets cancelled. Don’t blame us old folks for that!

The average TV executive at a studio or a network is about 30 years old. Movies have always been part trash, part escapism, often mindless and here and there, brilliant and absorbing. In an era where there are more and more low budget indy producers, you get a wide range from rotten to brilliant. No generalization fits. Ditto books and plays. For every Broadway hit, there are a dozen one-night turkeys. The same applies to books, Even in the old days when a handful of publishers controlled all of the market, many books were published that shouldn’t have been. Today, with self-publishing, the situation is even worse. I guess my point is, there will always be mediocre product and happily there will always be literature in many forms that rises above the norm.

Q: Once upon a time in Television Land, married couples slept in twin beds, no one swore, and husbands/fathers were not portrayed as henpecked twits. Nor were there reality shows in which contestants trashed one another and humiliated themselves to win a million dollars. In your view, are there any programs that indicate the medium is still salvageable as an entertainment venue or will it continue its drekky downward spiral?

A: In keeping with my response to the previous question, there has always been rotten television ever since the days of Lucy and Sid Caesar and Milton Berle, shows that were forgotten a day after they were cancelled. The old rule of thumb used to be for every pilot ordered to script, maybe one in five would be filmed. Of every filmed pilot actually aired, maybe one in five would be given an order for 6 and sometimes 13 episodes. Of those new shows, the odds of being renewed for a second season were also about 1 in 5.

It’s comforting to think back to the golden ages of television starting with the one-hour live dramas of the 50s and then the golden age of the sitcoms like Archie Bunker and Mary Tyler Moore and Cheers where the humor was genuine and character driven. For the most part network television is dismal and the best work is being done on the smaller cable channels where ideas and good writing make up for the lack of budget. Mad Men on AMC and House of Cards on Netflix are two prime examples.

Q: Blurring the line between fact and fiction has long been a popular device in doomsday novels, and you chillingly bridge that divide in your political thriller, The Terror of Tyrants. The premise: A corrupt government controls the major media (“an informed public is a dangerous public,” says one of the higher-ups), implements Executive Orders without Congressional approval, confiscates all firearms, fines and imprisons anyone who criticizes the administration, disables national telecommunications, and orchestrates a fake terrorist attack on a California coastal community in order to declare martial law, seize property and authorize assassinations. This book would clearly make a blockbuster movie but, given Hollywood’s fawning adoration of Obama, what are the chances of it getting produced?

A: The Terror of Tyrants will never get made as a movie unless it was championed by a powerful conservative producer with lots of money behind him. And even then it wouldn’t be easy because Hollywood actors and directors would be afraid to get involved. There are a couple of indy companies in Utah that have made some decent movies with a conservative message but in the end if you can’t get widespread distribution, it’s not worth the effort and liberal Hollywood has the theaters tied up.

Q: Any worries that there’s a drone out there with your name on it?

A: No worries. Invariably my name is spelled Peter Fisher by merchants and charities alike and the administration is a lot dumber than they are so I am safe. However, I do feel sympathy for any real-life Peter Fisher who may live in the vicinity.

Q: Your new Hollywood Murder Series is a juicy marriage of two subjects you know best – the mystery genre and Hollywood films. What governed your decision to start the storyline in 1947 rather than present-day? How many “years” have been published to date and how far do you plan to take this series?

A: I placed my books starting in 1947 because I consider the 30s, 40s and 50s, the Golden Age of Hollywood, rife with glamour real or imagined. These were kinder and gentler times as opposed to the chaos of modern day living and there is to me something intriguing about the nostalgia of old stars and old films. Since then hundreds, if not thousands, of brilliant movies have been created but the whole studio system run by Mayer and Warner and Zjukor, that was a world of its own.

I actually never envisioned a series of books, just the one – Jezebel in Blue Satin. And then I had to write a scene in a director’s office and I thought it might be fun to put a real person into the scene so I wrote in Gail Russell. That’s when it struck me that I could do a follow up book after a year had passed and so I settled on Treasure of the Sierra Madre and made characters of Bogart, John and Walter Huston, Tim Holt and even Ann Sheridan. The ninth book (1955) is currently being printed and revolves around Marty which was shot in New York. Number 10 takes place in Texas (Giant), number 11 in Memphis (Jailhouse Rock) and number 12 (Touch of Evil).The latter are in first drafts. There are a couple of on-going arcs from book to book and I believe I will wrap the whole thing up with either 15 or 16.

Q: Who would your protagonist, Joe Bernardi, prefer to brainstorm his ideas and theories with – Jessica Fletcher, Lt. Columbo or Ellery Queen?

A: None of the above. Except in one or two rare cases, Joe wants nothing to do with these murders that keep intruding on his life and when he gets involved it’s because he has a compelling reason why he cannot just walk away. He doesn’t consider himself a detective, not for one moment. He is closest in philosophy to Jessica who never considered herself a “detective,” at least not while I was running the show. Columbo took great delight in playing cat and mouse with his quarries but it was in the line of duty. It’s what he was paid for. Ellery loved the pursuit of the puzzle and wouldn’t quit until he’d unraveled it. So our man Joe is a reluctant protagonist at best , especially considering his job description. Whoever heard of a press agent solving murders?

Q: Does 21st century technology make it harder or easier for fictional villains to commit crimes and, conversely, for sleuths to solve them?

A: The technology of the 21st century has virtually destroyed the credibility of the so called ‘armchair’ detective. DNA is a shining example. Besides all the other highly technical and scientific things crime labs are capable of. It’s another reason why I started the series of books in 1947 . It’s also not a coincidence that we set the TV series Ellery Queen in the year 1947 for the same reason.

Q: What comes first for you when you sit down to pen a new story – the plot or the characters? In the case of a continuing thread such as Hollywood Murder Series, do you have the full map in your head – including the final destination – when you start out or do you sometimes allow your characters to take the steering wheel and, accordingly, take you along for the ride?

A: Good question. All of the above. First I need the gimmick, the incident that brings Joe into the story. I used Joe accused of murder once. I won’t use it again. I used Lydia, ex-wife, accused of murder. No more of that. In another I have his ex-live in gal pal Bunny eye witness to a murder and in deep trouble. In another, someone has plagiarized Joe’s book and ends up murdered. In another Joe sends out a press photo which may have gotten a man killed. etc etc etc.

Once I have the gimmick and I’ve decided the movie I am going to tell the story around, I invent a few characters and start writing. I don’t have an outline and in several cases – maybe half – have no idea what the ending is. Very often a lot of the pieces come to me while I am in the middle of a chapter. For the most part I let the characters take me where they want to go and most of the time I have no problem with it. Remember that between EQ and Columbo and MSW as well as my other shows, I probably have plotted over a hundred mystery scripts of one sort of another. It’s like second nature but more important, I discovered in later years that a rigid outline was stifling my imagination which is the main reason I gave up outlining. I do know the final destination of the series, I know what is going to happen to Joe’s career and to Bunny and to Jill and to the child, Yvette. How I reveal all this remains to be seen….

Q: The publishing industry has changed radically in the past decade and, as the combined result of downsizing at the major houses and the rise in popularity of ebooks, has driven numerous authors – yourself included – to go the DIY route. Tell us about the debut of your own imprint, The Grove Point Press, and the challenges/rewards of wearing multiple hats.

A: I think the days of the mass market, brick and mortar bookstores are over. People are reading less and less and other venues such as Kindle and POD are the coming thing. The old fashioned way the traditionalists do business has no future. If you are lucky enough to get an agent who is lucky enough to get you a deal for a book which they will publish the following year or maybe even later, it will sit on the shelf for maybe 5-6 months and then – unless it’s a runaway bestseller – it will be shunted off to Nowhereland to make room for the next Great American novel. Online your book lasts forever and there are enough success stories to lead me to believe that we are doing this the right way. I say “we” because my son Chris is handling everything about The Grove Point Press except the actual writing and he is doing a fantastic job. I have infinite patience and infinite enthusiasm for what we are doing

Q: If you could sit down for lunch with any famous author from the past whose writing and vision inspired you, who would it be?

A: I make it a rule never to break bread with any writer unless he is a lot smarter than me and a much better writer. This gives me a huge universe from which to select and I could spend all day picking and choosing! So I’ll keep it short. TV writers, only two. Rod Serling and Paddy Chayefsky. Novelists? Thomas B Costain, the first book writer that captivated me when I was 7 or 8. Scott Fitzgerald, Conan Doyle. Sinclair Lewis. Contemporary: Michael Connolly, John Grishham. Scott Turow. Playwrights: William Inge, Doc Simon, Tennessee Williams.

But if I had to pick only one it would be the late Robert B. Parker, creator of Spenser and Jesse Stone. I loved the way he plotted sparsely but effectively, the way he used humor to temper grimness, his facility with dialogue. I believe my style and rhythms, especially in the Hollywood books, are very close to his.

Q: What would your fans be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: Although I studied writing and drama at Johns Hopkins, I had to put my writing ambitions on hold while I raised a family. Then at the age of 35 I literally sat down at my kitchen table in Smithtown, Long Island ,New York and wrote a movie not knowing that nobody sells a movie this way and nobody gets into the business from a place called Smithtown, particularly at my age. It’s a long story but the happy ending has my movie airing on ABC Movie of the Week, produced by Aaron Spelling under the title The Last Child. It gets nominated for an EMMY for Best TV Movie of the Year. I move to Hollywood and freelance for a few months before I meet Peter Falk and get hired by Universal Studios and the rest, as they say, is history.

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The Blade

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What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Unless, of course, a villain has plans to completely obliterate it from the map. While investigating the theft of a 4000-year-old artifact, a federal agent finds herself confronted with an international fugitive who threatens to destroy Sin City. Such is the pulse-pounding premise of The Blade (Stone Creek Books), an adult thriller recently published by Lynn Sholes and Joe Moore. The pair took time from their busy schedules to talk about the collaborative process of bringing their ideas and characters to life.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: How and when did the two of you become collaborators?

A: Lynn: Joe and I belonged to the same writing critique group that met every week. During the middle of each session we’d take a break and we’d all chat. Sometimes we’d share ideas about other projects we’d like to do. I had this idea about a book I wanted to write, but it wasn’t in my comfort range because of the genre. Joe thought it was a great idea, and after a year or so, he finally threatened me that if I didn’t write the book, then he would. We decided to give co-writing a whirl.

That produced The Grail Conspiracy, our first collaboration, which did very well. It was ForeWord Magazine’s book of the year and an international bestseller. So far, it’s been translated into 24 languages.

Q: So how does your collaborative process work (i.e., brainstorming, logistics, editing one another, utilizing each other’s respective strengths)?

A: Lynn: I can only vouch for what Joe and I do. At first it was very difficult, not because we disagreed on anything, but rather because our styles and voices were so different. Joe wrote male action-adventure with a very bold voice. I wrote historical fiction with a more lyrical voice. So blending took a lot of work, but we stayed with it. As a matter of fact, friends are always guessing which line one of us wrote! They’re usually wrong, but we never tell.

As far as the mechanical process, we do outlining and brainstorming so we know the story. Either of us could write it. Then whoever feels they have the best handle on a scene takes on the first draft of that scene. We send it back and forth for revisions. Using Dropbox makes it easier. We drop a file in the shared Dropbox folder and voilà! The other picks it up.

Q: Where do you get your ideas for the fascinating characters and compelling stories the two of you compose?

A: Joe: An idea that sparks a story can come from anywhere, anytime. Movies, newspapers, magazines, other books. What we look for is the seed that grabs our attention. Our first book written together came from an article in Discover Magazine about a cup found by an archeologist in Israel. He believed it was the Holy Grail and subsequently discovered that traces of blood residue were present. Could it have been the blood of Christ? What if someone used the DNA to clone Christ? The result was our first thriller written together, The Grail Conspiracy. An article I stumbled across on the Internet about the Germans working on an atomic bomb at the end of WWII prompted our latest thriller, The Blade.

Q: When it comes to character development and dialogue in a thriller such as The Blade, do you think it’s easier for a female to write from a male’s perspective or a male to write from a female’s perspective?

A: Lynn: I don’t think it matters to us. Joe and I have never decided to write scenes because of a character’s gender. We don’t take on specific characters when we write; we take on scenes. When Joe has a better handle on a scene or better vision, then he does the first draft of it. If I feel I have a strong image of a scene, then I do the first draft. We both have our strengths, but they aren’t gender-related.

Q: Do you revise as you go along or wait until the novel is complete?

A: Joe: Because there are two of us and we exchange drafts of each chapter many times, the revision process is ongoing, with the final one after input from our editor.

Q: What is your strategy behind short chapters vs. longer ones?

A: Joe: Most of our chapters average 1000 words. We do that to keep the reader turning the pages. If they see that the next chapter is only a couple of pages long, they will decide to read just one more. And then one more…

Q: If The Blade was made into a movie, who would you choose to play Maxine, Kenny and Applewhite?

A: Lynn: Maxine –Julianna Moore, Kenny – Hugh Jackman, Applewhite – Tommy Lee Jones or William H. Macy?

A: Joe: I see Naomi Watts as Maxine, Jude Law as Kenny, and Brian Cox as Applewhite

Q: What’s the best part of working with your partner?

A: Lynn: We left our egos behind years ago. We both have a vested interest in the book so we sort through plot, the details and motivations together. It’s great to have a sounding board and brainstorming partner with the same goal. And the really good part is if someone criticizes something, I can always say, “Joe wrote that part.” 

A: Joe: Like Lynn said, we both have a stake in the book that no one else has. Our spouses give us both a mountain of support, but they are not writers nor do they think like writers. I can ask my wife her opinion and she will give it honestly. But she doesn’t see the big picture; she has other things to think about. I’m sure it’s the same for Lynn and her husband and family. Having a writing partner means I can make a suggestion or throw out an idea, and Lynn will analyze it while considering all the consequences of how it would impact, improve or detract from the story.

Q: Do you ever have writer’s block? If so, how do you handle it?

A: Lynn: Because Joe and I write together, I don’t think we’ve ever had writer’s block. Having a brainstorming partner tends to prevent that. Of course we have plot issues we have to work out, but not true writer’s block. One thing we have learned is that when we come to a stumbling block we talk through it and something eventually pops up. We also know that there will come a time in the process that is devoted to revision.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about writing?

A: Joe: Entering into the “zone” where you lose track of time and place as the words flow freely.

Q: Learning to write compelling fiction takes a lot of time, study and practice. It’s also not uncommon for a writer’s style and vision to evolve and undergo reinvention from what it was originally. Do you ever go back and read your earliest writings? If so, what’s your reaction?

A: Lynn: Yuck! Yes. When I first decided to take writing seriously, I wrote a book called Talisman Rose, mostly to see if I could sustain 100,000 words.  I wrote it on a typewriter which convinced me to get a computer and printer.  Well, I discovered that I could write my way through 100,000 words. But that manuscript rests in a box high in the closet that I never intend to show anyone.  Every time I write a book, I learn something new. Sometimes I look back in horror and slap my forehead asking myself if I really wrote that.

Q: Like many writers, the two of you have ventured into indie publishing rather than going the traditional route. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages you discovered during the process of taking The Blade from concept to publication to marketing?

A: Joe: With the advent of indie publishing, writers have become a self-contained business and must handle most or all of the facets of sales and marketing. It takes away from writing time, but it’s also liberating and fulfilling.

Q: What’s next on your plate (collaboratively or individually)?

A: Joe: What’s next? Maxine returns in The Shield (working title). Former OSI federal agent Maxine Decker is recruited by a blacker than black government operation to track down the theft of alien artifacts originally collected from the 1947 Roswell Incident. Stay tuned!

A: Lynn: As a note of interest, I have just handed over my first four books, written under the name Lynn Armistead McKee, to enter the digital world. Those books are a totally different genre than what Joe and I write. Woman of the Mists, Touches the Stars, Keeper of Dreams and Walks in Stardust are historical fiction in the tradition of Clan of the Cave Bear, but not quite as far back. These are stories about the extinct aboriginal peoples of Florida before European contact.

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Readers can learn more about the authors at http://www.sholesmoore.com/p/author-bios.html.