Five Questions (and answers)

One of the hosts for my The Dead of Summer blog tour emailed me five questions to answer. Then something happened and he couldn’t make the post. Well … I figure I might as well post it here.

If you could give “Past You” one piece of advice, what would it be?

Move to someplace tropical right after college graduation and grab whatever jobs you could find until landing a newspaper beat or other writing gig. In reality I latched onto a newspaper job before I graduated, and that was in Quincy, Illinois. A nice enough town, but I’m a tropical soul. I crave summer, sun, breezes … and I basically hibernate during Midwest winters. Really … I seriously dislike the cold. So I’d tell my past self to go where the weather suits your soul and work your heart out until everything else falls into place. Find your happy place. My younger self was too serious and responsible … my older self regrets that earlier lack of impulsiveness and daring. Life is way too short to be so serious and responsible, eh?

Do you see any issues in your genre and how are you addressing them?

Hmmmmmmmm, interesting question. An issue I’ve noticed with some new writers in the police procedure mystery field is lack of quality … not in the writing, but in the research. I’m lightning quick to grab new novels by veterans Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Lee Goldberg, Tami Hoag, and the like because they know what they’re writing about. They know about guns, ammunition, police procedure, and when villains should be read their rights. I’m much more cautious about picking up a writer new to the game because several of the ones I have tried don’t get it right … their characters collect evidence incorrectly, don’t know how to process a crime scene, put the wrong bullets in the wrong guns, etc. In short, they haven’t done their research. Admittedly, some of these books are from smaller presses, and it is likely the editors or proofers are not versed in police procedures either. But I like my fiction to feel real, and so I don’t bother to finish these books. And I don’t pick up a second by those authors; one chance is all you get in this crowded market. Sooooooooooooo many books published today, an author better get it right to keep selling. At least to keep selling to me.

How do I address it in my writing? I had an advantage of starting out as a reporter, and I often covered cops and courts. I have police friends and a county prosecutor I turn to for advice, and who graciously will read sections of my work to make sure I’ve got it right. I have books on forensics and firearms. And one of my police buddies sent me boxes of law enforcement manuals. I want my novels to be authentic in their procedure, and I’ll put in the time to do it.

Interestingly, when I started my Piper Blackwell books, I thought I was writing cozy mysteries. A couple of agents corrected me, saying they were police procedurals … cozy police procedurals … and that there wasn’t a category for cozy police procedurals. Huh. I like writing them.

What is one thing that you’ve done for research that you’ve struggled to explain to a non-writer?

The need for hands-on research. Many of my friends think all I do is sit at a keyboard and write … and take breaks to Google aspects of my topic. Sure, I do a lot of research on the computer. But I’m an old-school news reporter at heart, and I generally learn more from talking to an expert … a detective, sheriff, coroner, politician, etc. … than by reading articles on the internet. Cultivating personal sources for my fiction writing has made my stories better and more authentic. Yes, it takes extra time—sometimes a lot of hours, but it is nice to back away from the computer once in a while and go old-school. In my new Piper Blackwell book, she deals with a situation at the county fair. I spent hours at a county fair, parked at a picnic table with my notebook, recording the sights, sounds, scents, clothing, conversations—and drinking Lemon Shakeups. Some people don’t understand the value in face-to-face information gathering sessions … neither do some young writers in the classes I’ve taught. One such soul said she didn’t have time to waste on that kind of research.

Which of your characters would you least want to meet in a dark alley? Conversely, which of your characters would you want at your side in that alley?

Pob was a villain in a novel I wrote with Andre Norton—Return to Quag Keep. I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley. Liquid evil, the shadows were his friends. You wouldn’t walk out of that alley; he would consume you. Nasty, nasty sludgy monster.

On the human side, I’d stay away from alleys with my current villain in it. Said character sees to have no mercy. Shivers. And said villain apparently likes to inflict pain. Yeah, shivers.

By my side? Basil Meredith. The new detective for the Spencer County Sheriff’s Department is a former Chicago cop. He’s big, tough, savvy, and has lots of experience. My main character, Piper, would be good in that alley, too. But Basil’s tougher … and Piper knows it.

What went into the creation of Piper Blackwell?

The character? A lot of research. I knew I wanted to write about a young person who wins an election into a difficult job. In the beginning, Piper was going to be a coroner. I’d discovered a couple of states that the age requirement for coroner was eighteen. After compiling some information, I determined I didn’t want to write about a hero coroner, and instead looked at law enforcement. In Indiana, a sheriff could be twenty-one. I made Piper twenty-three instead so she could have a four-year background from the Army, then have time to campaign before the election. She’ll turn twenty-four in her fourth adventure … it’ll be a killer party. I dug into states and counties that had young sheriffs, how they got elected or appointed, minimum requirements, etc. Next, I called Fort Campbell in Kentucky, as that’s where I’d had Piper do her basic training. I talked to a great public information officer. He and some of the soldiers in his department helped me build Piper … create her training program and Military Police background. They detailed the tours in the Middle East she could have been on, and the types of dangerous down range assignments she might have had. Piper feels real and is plausible because of their assistance.

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Back to Back to Back

I probably could have written two chapters in the time it took me to finalize what I wanted on the back cover of The Dead of Summer. I devoured posts about creating sell copy, tips for what to include and what not to include, and groaned at a “how to” blog that said what you put on the back is more important than the novel itself. Back cover copy can entice others to read your book.

I’m not good at writing promotional copy. Never was good at it, but I have friends who do a great job. So I strung together some sentences and sent it to Donald J. Bingle, Chris Verstraete, Stephen D. Sullivan, and Beth Terrell. They are all writers, and I’m thankful they were willing to help.

Spending the two cents they each gave me, I came up with one hundred and ninety-five words that I just sent off to my wonderful artist to put on the back of The Dead of Summer. I learned a few things … you’d think after all these books I would have learned them earlier, eh? … that I will share with you.

  1. Mention the main character, or maybe two.
  2. Hit a high point of the story without giving anything significant away. No spoilers.
  3. Use language that would lure someone to buy the book.
  4. Add a couple of “blurbs” or recommendations from people who have read an advance copy of the book.
  5. KISS it … Keep It Short, Sister.

You have two hundred words or less to work with, including the review blurbs. Otherwise the back of the book is too crowded and the type would be too small.

I’ll add a sixth point: whatever you write, send it to a few friends and ask them to fix it for you. I have awesome friends.

During the course of this exercise I also read the back cover copy of a lot of the books on my shelves … to see what I liked, didn’t like, and discovered some unread books that I better get to soon because the back cover copy really enticed me (and it was probably why I bought those books). I have more books in my house than I will read in what is left of my lifetime. And, yet, I will buy more … influenced no doubt by someone’s excellent back cover copy.

The Dead of Summer will be released toward the end of July. I’m excited.

Back cover … hope it entices you:

Shouts of delight turn to screams of terror when a carnival ride goes berserk at the Spencer County Fair. Sheriff Piper Blackwell must contain the chaos and investigate the possible sabotage, even as she tries to solve a local businessman’s horrific murder. 

But managing two investigations with at least one killer on the loose pushes the young officer and her tiny staff to their limits. Can Piper catch the murderer, or will the summer’s body count continue to rise?

Just when you think you’ve read the best from author Jean Rabe, she throws the thrill ride of a lifetime into her latest mystery. The Dead of Summer starts with a bang, a scrunch, a twist, and screams…lots and lots of screams. The book hooks you from the start.

—Mary Cunningham, author of Andi Anna Jones Mysteries

Jean Rabe immerses you in the sights, sounds, and smells of summer in rural Indiana, as she subtly weaves characters, clues, departmental interactions, and high-speed action into a satisfying criminal confection worthy of a blue ribbon as Best Summer Mystery. Not quite a cozy, but a helluva whodunnit.

Donald J. Bingle, author of the Dick Thornby Spy Thriller series

I am a FAILURE

Everyone wants to be a success, right? Succeeding is important. As a writer, I hope to produce a successful book (trying to finish the third Piper Blackwell adventure right now). In general, I want to succeed at life. But as a foster dog-mom, I am an utter failure.

A failure.

Lulu, a mix-breed puppy, needed a foster home, and I volunteered. I think Hudson’s Halfway Home is an excellent organization, and so I wanted to help out. It is where Missy came from many years ago. Missy is my Bossy Terrier. Here is the link to Hudson’s. Please consider donating, and “friend” them on Facebook.

Lulu was pulled from a Decatur shelter; she’d had a bad reaction to the anesthesia and couldn’t walk for a few days. She can run now. She runs real fast. A puppy of indeterminate months, she housebroke quickly, and “sits pretty” for her dinner bowl. Hudson’s promoted her on Facebook and their webpage, but there were no nibbles for this super-sweet girl. Not one. They’d warned me when they dropped her off that it might take a while because she’s a black dog. Some friends of mine who worked at animal shelters through the years told me “dark colored dogs go last.” They’re not as photogenic. That’s how I ended up with an American Water Spaniel named Keesha when I lived in Wisconsin. A family was going to turn her over to a shelter. A dark dog, I worried Keesha would go last … if at all. It was not a “no kill” shelter. I took Keesha in, and she was quick to become my best friend.

Nothing wrong with black dogs … I think these three are beautiful. Lulu, Missy in the middle, and my heart, Wrinkles, Lord of the Lawn Chair.

After a month of fostering Lulu, Hudson’s still hadn’t received a single application for her. I was flummoxed. Housebroken … check. Friendly … check. Sweet … check. Puppy … check. Loves to sit on laps … check. Dark-colored dog … check. No one wanted her, apparently.

Except me and Bruce.

And Missy the Bossy Terrier, who initially didn’t like the interloper–hated is probably a better term, but who now cuddles and plays almost endlessly with her.

And Wrinkles, my dear, dear pug, who doesn’t play anymore but likes to curl up next to Lulu’s stomach. He’s there right now, in fact. Both of them are snoring under my desk.

And Fable the lazy Lab. But he’s not so lazy anymore. Lulu gets him to run circles in the yard.

We’d all gotten rather attached.

And so I am a FAILURE.

Or maybe if I look at it from a different angle, I’m a success.

I succeed at failing where dogs are concerned.

Welcome, Lulu.

I wonder how big she’ll grow?

Writer’s Block Walks on Four Feet

I subscribe to Tim Waggoner’s newsletter. He’s a great writer, and there are always some grains of wisdom I glean by reading his missives. He tackled writer’s block in one of his recent issues. Great advice, he offered. If you’re a writer or a fan of good writing, subscribe to Tim’s newsletter. Here’s the link to do just that.

Like I said, great advice.

And at this point in time I can’t follow it.

My heart is a twelve-and-a-half-year-old pug named Wrinkles. He’s not doing so well right now. He’s been traveling that downward slope for several months, but lately it is even more pronounced. He stations himself under my desk, and I’m very frequently backing away from the keyboard to check on him and pet him, particularly when he’s caught in a wheezing fit.

In the evenings, when I’d normally work on crafts or outline chapters, I am instead holding him. I don’t want to let him go.

I give him bits of hamburger and cheese, and a little milk when the other dogs are outside. Age has privilege.

I see pictures of fifteen and sixteen-year-old pugs on Facebook. I know my Wrinkles won’t make it that far. Last night Bruce made a comment about him likely not making it to summer.

But I really want him to enjoy the coming summer with me. It’s a time when I take my laptop onto the back porch and open the door so he can go in and out of the yard as he pleases. There are three fans going on the porch, so he’s kept nice and cool. He loves it out there. It is his job to patrol along the fence line and to look toward the train tracks across the field. Ever since we moved here, he’s been diligent about barking furiously to keep the trains from coming onto our property. It was also his job to kill the bushes around the patio, hiking his leg and loosing his potent pee. He can’t do that job anymore, as his rear legs don’t cooperate.

Wrinkles appears in my first two Piper Blackwell mysteries. I’m writing the third now, and I’m going to make sure he appears in that, too. I’m just not writing as fast as I should because of all my pug breaks.

I take lots of pug breaks these days.

Wrinkles was given to me by Juliana Wence, a beautiful and amazing woman who at the time was in the Air Force and could not keep him any longer. In all my years on this planet, he’s been the greatest gift I’ve ever received. He’s been my constant companion for more than nine years.

Wrinkles has been struggling to walk, his back legs not working well. He falls down. I help him back up. And I carry him inside and outside on bad days so the steps don’t tax him. It’s age, I’ve been told.

Pugs have an average lifespan of twelve to fifteen years, and according to Pet MD they’re prone to elongated palates (Wrinks had some of his shaved to help his breathing a few years back) and other maladies (like last year’s cyst removal). Dogs, like people, are all dealt different cards to play. I’m hoping the aces turn up and I have my buddy through the summer. It was an August, those years ago, that he came to live with me.

I should point out that I was sneaky in my acquisition of the Lord of the Lawn Chair, as a friend once dubbed Wrinks. Bruce would take me to a nearby pet shop (one of those places that worked with the dreaded puppy mills), and I’d look at the pug puppies. Just look. Bruce thought he was being kind for me to see them. He said I couldn’t have one for keeps, as while he loved dogs, he wanted ones with proper snouts. “No smushy faced dogs in our house,” he once said.

I guess I wasn’t listening.

A dog groomer in Kenosha, Jean Rozinski, emailed me a picture of Wrinkles one afternoon, with a note saying the owner needed to re-home him. I jumped at it. I emailed Juliana right away, told her about me, my house, my fenced-in backyard, my love of pugs. I’d had pugs when I was a kid … it’s when I learned to treasure them. I also told her about my other dogs.

She picked me for Wrinkles.

I got a pug and Juliana as a friend.

She’s come to see him a few times. I’ll poke around through my computer and see if I can find a picture of them. … Okay, back from my search. I found one of me, Juliana, and Wrinks.

And so rather than pen a blog about what I’m working on, today I wrote one about my writing distraction … my heart, who is softly snoring across my feet under the desk.

He’s a fine distraction.

I’ll still make my deadline on Piper #3. I don’t miss deadlines. That book is titled The Dead of Summer.

I really hope Wrinkles shares the coming summer with me.

Judgmental Judy

Bruce and I celebrated our anniversary at the end of February with a trip to Peoria, Illinois. Nothing exotic, eh? No tropical breezes. I sooooooo would have liked a tropical breeze to chase away this hanging-on winter. But we had a great time.

Trace Adkins and his badonkadonk

There was this MASSIVE country concert. Lauren Alaina opened, and she was fantastic. The other acts included John Anderson (yeah, the audience sang along to We Were Swinging), The Bellamy Brothers (who looked long in the tooth, but who were amazing), Trace Adkins (oh my), and Blake Shelton, who hosted the whole thing. Four hours of country music in a packed venue. The music was truly wonderful, and you could feel the beat rise up through your feet in the stands.

I found a lot of fodder for my fiction in Peoria. We’d went to the Civic Center early so we could get a good parking space. That gave me ample opportunity to sit there with my notebook, jotting notes about people, their dialog and mannerisms. I was even so bold as to stop strangers and just chat, taking notes as I went … everyone accommodating. We got to watch the “merch” set-up, which is the big vendor for t-shirts, mugs, jackets, etc. Did you know that there are a few full-time t-shirt workers who travel from stop to stop with the band, complemented by a dozen local workers hired for just the day? They start their set-up about four hours in advance of a concert, and don’t finish the tear down until about three hours after in the proverbial wee hours. The workers can buy t-shirts after that for half-price. Fans shelled out more than half a million dollars for t-shirts at the previous Bob Seger Peoria concert, part of his farewell tour. We didn’t stick around after the show to ask the t-shirt boss how much Shelton’s memorabilia pulled in. But I was curious.

Anyway, this is all fodder for my fiction. Part of my next Piper book takes place at a country concert at the Spencer County Fair. So all the notes I took are coming in handy right now.

What does this have to do with Judgmental Judy?

Before the concert we went out to dinner at a local steak house … the kind of establishment where you crunch when you walk because there are peanut shells on the floor. I watched the nearby diners, a habit of mine, and took more notes for characters. There was this woman on the far side of middle age, wearing a pink sweater and red lipstick, and she whispered loudly to her companion. One of those loud whispers where you could hear her three tables away. We were three tables away. She was judging everyone who walked into the place … didn’t like the looks of one man because his blue jeans were faded and thin at the knees. Didn’t like another man because she thought his hair was too long. Really took issue with a young man who kept playing with his beard. “If that asshole lived in my house, he wouldn’t have that beard. I’d make him shave it, or he’d be gone,” she said. I’m thinking that he’d move out on his own. Anyway, she went on and on griping about people she didn’t know, including the waitresses, who were friendly and helpful. She bothered me.

And so I guess I was judgmental too. I guess I was judging her in the same breath I was telling myself I would never be so judging of a stranger.

Back to the concert.

I’m sitting in a chair to the side, Bruce next to me, and I’ve my notebook out jotting down people, dialog, and the like, and this fellow strolls past us. Thirties, wife on one arm, little girl (maybe age six or seven) holding his other hand. He wore pressed blue jeans, cowboy boots, had a lanyard around his neck showing that he’d paid $300 extra dollars for a meet-and-greet with Blake Shelton, and a black polo shirt. On the front pocket was a flower burst and the letters FO. On the other side of the shirt, in type that filled up the entire back, were two words: FUCK OFF.

He had a little girl with him.

He was in a place with thousands and thousands of people.

And he wore that shirt.

The Judgmental Judy in me raged. I deemed him a jerk, self-centered, rude, etc. etc. etc. Over dinner, watching the woman in the pink sweater, I’d told myself I would not judge strangers. But here I was. That FO man twisted my stomach and my sensibilities. I judged him a waste of space.

Later, during the concert (we had great seats), we spotted him down on the floor, not far from the stage. His VIP lanyard got him there. And in the lights, the words on his shirt glowed brightly. Pissed me off.

Soon I realized he was pissing off a lot of folks. All the people sitting next to us, below and above us, growled about him, thought he should have been made to change or should have been kicked out, VIP pass or no. One woman said it was as if he was cursing at everyone in the civic center; she was angry about it.

If he had enough money for the VIP pass, he certainly could have bought a Blake Shelton t-shirt and wore it instead, she suggested. Her companion–her mother–said the seller should have just given him a t-shirt and asked him to wear it.

A lot of us were Judgmental Judys at the concert regarding FO man. And the FO man will appear in one of my books. Something nasty is going to happen to the character … which will give me some measure of satisfaction.

Other than the FO man, it was a perfect time. My favorite performances: Blake Shelton singing “Austin,” “Ol Red,” and Trace Adkins teaming up with him on “Hillbilly Bone.”

I pronounce judgment: time well spent.

I am a Fish

Just try to catch me

I swim in a sea of short story submissions. I’m reading the slush pile for Galaxy’s Edge Magazine. It’s a wonderful publication edited by my friend Mike Resnick. I love reading slush. It provides a nice break from writing or editing and lets me explore new themes and discover new voices.

In this latest batch I found a few gems … some beautifully written tales, one of which I read twice. A story has to be good for me to read it all the way through.

I read the first page of every submission. But I won’t go deeper unless the writing is good, the plot looks interesting, and the author seems to have at least a rudimentary sense of how to string words together with the right types of punctuation.

As I said, in the latest batch I found a few gems. I’m only passing five up to the editor. The rest of the batch … nope, nada, not tasty enough to nibble on. Some of them I really wanted to like because of the topic. But this fishy was cruising for filet mignon … given the number of submissions I had to go through.

If you want this fish … any fish … to bite on your manuscript, you have to do a few things:

  • Make your first sentence a grabber. Get my attention, dazzle me with your brilliant collection of words. And don’t hint that you’re writing for a travel brochure. The landscape can come later. I won my first news-writing award based on my opening sentence: It crawled into the wall and died. The judges said it pulled them in and they had to keep reading. Maybe later I’ll tell you what the newspaper story was about. Pull me in with your opening sentence.
  • Make your first paragraph intriguing. Don’t bore me. Keep it tight, don’t let your prose turn purple.
  • Don’t throw in so many characters in those first few sentences that I need a scorecard to follow the action. It’s fine to have a good mix of characters … just don’t give them to me all in one dollop.
  • Don’t overuse words. Nodded … I see a lot of characters nodding in the pieces I’ve looked at. Tons of smiles, too. Let them do other things with their heads.

Since we’re talking short fiction: KISS it … Keep It Short, Sister. If a short story gets too draggy, it’s probably overlong. And if you’re really set on writing a lengthy short story, make sure it is friggin’ awesome. Fewer longer pieces are accepted.

When you’ve finished your tale, take a hard look at it. Are there places to trim? Short story. Yeah, I’m gonna have people argue with me … novellas, and the like. How short is short? Galaxy’s Edge takes fiction up to 5,000 words. Check the word count limit on the publication you’re submitting to.

When you’re trying to land a spot in a magazine, you’re competing with hundreds of other authors. Sometimes, in a race like this, it is the author with the shorter legs who wins. A magazine can print more 4,000 word stories than it can 8,000 word stories. Increase your chances by writing tight and KISS it.

And now that I’ve finished my rant blog, I think I’m gonna go look at markets for a mystery short story sitting in my computer. It tips the scale at about 3,000 words ’cause I KISSed it. We’ll see if I can get a nibble.

Summer, Football, and Dreams of a Day or Two Off

So a friend says, “Summer is winding down.”

I scowl at her, and she doesn’t understand. She prefers fall. I like to hold onto summer with both hands, digging my feet in and begging it not to leave. I adore the heat on my back as I sit on my porch, typing on my old, battered laptop. Some of the keys on it stopped working–e, l, n, r–important letters, and so I spent $9 on eBay for a wireless keyboard. I can still use my old, battered laptop, and the keyboard makes my operation much more flexible.

I scowl mightily. Summer is my back porch, three fans going when it warms up so me doggies don’t get too hot. And on those days when it is too hot, I usher them inside, and they sit at the door, watching me and licking the windows. Summer is tennis ball tossing sessions after every thousand words I write. There’s a big kiddie pool on the patio, and summer is for watching me doggies splash. (But not Wrinkles; he detests getting wet.) This is the previous pool … which got popped by Labrador teeth. The current pool is twice as big and a pain in the patoot to clean (but that’s okay because Fable and Missy love it).

Summer is AWESOME, and were I rich I think I’d chase summer. I met an elderly couple at the Champaign County Fair who sell trinkets out of a trailer. Nice to talk to, retired teachers, they travel the country hitting little fairs. “Chasing summer,” they said.

I still have some summer days left. And if the world is kind I’ll be able to write on my back porch into October.

I suppose I get a little less work done in the summer … all those tennis ball tossing sessions, you know. And a handful of breaks here and there to sit on my bench and ogle my butterfly bush. Counted about fifty butterflies dancing around it one late afternoon. But I try to compensate by working earlier and later … the bonus being more time on my back porch.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh summer.

My friend who likes fall doesn’t recognize the BEST things about fall. For her it is cooler temperatures. For me it is football and Honeycrisp apples. I am a football junkie, have four fantasy football teams (two won this past weekend), and a marvelous pick ’em league that is much fun even if I suck at it.

But, back to summer. I picked up some extra work this summer, which kept me from my intended project: finishing The Dead of Summer. I’ll get back to that at summer’s end. Seems appropriate, eh? And hopefully release it before the end of the year. I’m halfway through it. Have a cover … got the cover when I was having the ones redone for The Dead of Winter and The Dead of Night. It’s a nifty cover.

Before I dig into to that next Piper adventure, I’m gonna take a day or two off. Seriously. Two days, I think. Away from a computer or anything electronic. Disconnect from the world, go out on my back porch, play with me doggies, take myself to a movie, and read. I have a big stack of to-be-read books. And I can probably get through the Michael Connelly I’ve been saving to savor.

I hope he put some summer in the book.

 

It Blows Up Real Good

I’ve read all of Donald J. Bingle’s novels, and a great many of his short stories. He keeps getting better … and the explosions and threats get bigger.

Wet Work grabbed me from the first page. Contemporary, and exciting. And Dick Thornby intrigues me. I know a lot about Don, we’ve been friends for a couple of decades. But Dick? I’d like to get to know him a little better. So he obliged me and agreed to a Q&A.

You’re an Everyman, the good neighbor, the father, the husband with a sometimes-rocky marriage … the international spy. I’ve read about your exploits in Net Impact and Wet Work, and so I’ve some questions for you.
Of all the careers you could have chosen, why the spy-biz? What about it lured you? And what about it has caused you to stay with it rather than pursue a normal 9-5 that would give you more family time?
There are 9 to 5 jobs? Not that I can tell. Teachers bring tests home to grade, workers are on call around the clock, real estate brokers always have to answer the phone, everyone from salesmen to executives is constantly responding to  texts and emails. Let’s face it. All jobs suck, so you might as well do something you’re good at that makes a difference in the world. None of my jobs have been 9 to 5. Army, Chicago Police Department, Catalyst Crisis Consultant (spy for the Subsidiary). This last job is better than the first couple–more freedom to do what needs to be done and less politics.
Bombs. Pyrotechnics. You seem to be an expert, or at least a fan. What’s the appeal? What are your go-to explosive devices and why? What’s the biggest thing you’ve blown up? And what movie would you recommend that “blows up real good?” 
Are you trying to get me in trouble with my boss, Dee Tamany? She was pissed off about my use of explosives before my last couple of missions, so asking me questions about favorite explosives like I’m some kind of pyromaniacal firebug doesn’t do my career prospects any favors. Let’s just say it’s always good to have a few flares in the truck–good warning devices if you break down and they burn hot enough you can light anything that needs lighting in a hurry, even during a storm. Don’t watch many movies, but Mad Max: Fury Road was nifty on the big screen. That gal can drive and shoot.
The Subsidiary. Tell us a secret about it. Something not revealed in either of your novels. 
Not sure I really feel comfortable about this question. Talking about your employer is not something spies do. But Pyotr Nerevsky said to cooperate with this interview and he can be … irksome … when crossed, so here goes. The word is that, sure, the various countries behind the Subsidiary kick in funds to help finance it, but not the kind of money that lets it have the operational freedom and scope it does. There’s an individual behind it with more money than anybody should have. I’m not going to name names, not without some bamboo shoots under my fingernails, but you’d know the name and you’d agree he has money to burn. Glad to see he’s burning it for a good cause.
Globe-hopping—you do it a lot. Of all the places you’ve been, do you have a favorite? And why? 
Home sweet home. Traveling is a drag, especially undercover. The better part of being a spy is waiting around for something to happen. If you’ve seen one seedy warehouse district in one third-world country, you’ve seen ’em all.
Given the current political climate … regarding the world, the White House, and the intelligence community … how has the spy-game changed? 
The Subsidiary was created to keep politics and national rivalries from hindering the missions that need to occur for the good of mankind. When I start a mission, I do what needs to be done and I don’t stop until I accomplish my mission no matter what. 
Where are you going next? I heard that your next appearance will be in a novel called Flash Drive. Give us a hint where you’re going and what your adventure might entail … nothing to spoil the story, just something to pique our curiosity. 
You know that Australia has almost nothing in the center of the continent–everybody and everything is clustered around the coast. Well, a lot … a lot … can happen in the middle of a great big bunch of nothing. Stuff that would scare you to death, if the critters out back don’t get you first. Some danger is even stranger than the bizarre stuff you can find on the internet.
Thanks for chatting, Mr. Thornby. I wish you well in your future incendiary adventures.

HERE is the link to Wet Work.

HERE is the link to Net Impact, the first Dick Thornby tale.

HERE is the link to Donald J. Bingle’s Amazon page.

HERE is Donald J. Bingle’s website.

 

I Measure My Life in Dog Years

I really do … count my life in dog years. The number of years I share with dogs.

I only briefly did not have a dog, and that was when I graduated college and moved to Quincy, Illinois, and rented a wholly dumpy apartment (which I could barely afford) that said “no pets.” I paid my rent for a few months and then asked the landlord if I could get a dog. He said he’d mull it over, and I said I’d be looking for another place.

He said “yes” in the next sentence. I guess I was a good tenant. And I did not grow pot … like the two girls upstairs did, and who attracted the attention of the police.

Said dog, a mutt named Purple, lived to be two months shy of making the legal voting age. Purple was dealt a great hand of cards.

Wrinkles, my beloved pug … he’s not destined for such a lofty number of dog years.

He’s heading toward twelve, a good age for a pug … though I’ve seen pictures of pugs on Facebook purported to be sixteen and seventeen years old. And no matter how much I spend on dog food (buying Exclusive, a top brand, in Savoy) and supplements, I can’t stave off the maladies of the years. Dogs, like people, are dealt different cards regarding aging.

I’m writing this post about Wrinks because several friends have asked about him, and I thought I’d cover it just once, here.

He’s been “fecal incontinent” for the past eight months. I’m not gonna go into that. You can look it up. I carry paper towels and little bags in my pocket, and so I deal with it. He’s happy. I have laminate floors and an unlimited supply of patience. Life is good. He has breathing issues (about two years ago he had surgery to remove an inch and a quarter of his palate to help). And he has this big cyst (big for a little pug) dangling from the inside of his leg. My husband calls it Wrinks’ second penis. It’s ugly and sometimes oozes. As I said, I have paper towels, and my patience cannot be exhausted … with dogs.

Don’t think I haven’t been to the vet’s. Wrinks goes more often than he needs to because the vet is close here in my tiny town and I am a caring “dog mom.” The vet says his heart is good. (I know. He’s a very good dog, my Wrinks.) It’s just some other things that aren’t in as top-notch order. We’re watching the cyst–it isn’t cancer–and hoping we can avoid surgery. The vet drained it once, but it came back. Said vet doesn’t think surgery is the best option given Wrinks’ age and breathing issues. So … paper towels and we’re doing well.

I love dogs. I love Wrinkles endlessly. And I will baby him and pick him up so he can sit on the couch or lay at the foot of the bed. I sneak him green beans, chicken, and pieces of cheese when my husband isn’t looking. Well, maybe Bruce looks sometimes, but has the good sense not to say anything. I take him for very short walks, to the end of the driveway and back, as he has arthritis and huffs if we go farther. When I had a patio poured last summer, I had them make little steps … three and a half inches high … to accommodate my pug.

I had pugs when I was a kid. They are among my very best childhood recollections … and the worst memories when they left me. I wanted another pug when I was out on my own, but couldn’t afford one. Purple, the mutt I mentioned earlier, was a $30 dog. She’s what I could afford when I graduated NIU and got my first newspaper job–which didn’t pay much.

Bruce knew I loved pugs, and so when we moved to Wisconsin, we’d stop at the pet shop that often had them … just so I could look. Bruce was fond of going there because he liked to see me happy. But he said he would not allow a pug or any other “smooshy faced” dog in the house. (That was a mistake: don’t tell me what I can’t have or can’t do. That only makes me more determined.) He said he loved dogs with proper snouts. In fact, we had two dogs in Wisconsin, both with “proper snouts.” And I treasured them dearly. But I still wanted a pug, maybe to recapture something of my youth. More, I think, just because I adored the breed.

Anyway, enter Jean Rozinski. She was a marvelous dog groomer who lived in Kenosha and who happened to come across a missive on the internet about a woman needing to “re-home” her pug. She forwarded the message to me.

I acted on it IMMEDIATELY. I reached out to Juliana, an incredible woman who at the time was in the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. (I dedicated my mystery, The Dead of Winter to Juliana, because indeed she is incredible.)

I was keeping this all secret, of course, intending for Wrinkles to arrive during the week when Bruce was at work. My office was in our house, which would make this convenient–I’d be home and Bruce wouldn’t. Juliana and I connected, and she was going to bring Wrinks over for a meet-and-greet.

In the meantime, we went out for pizza with a gathering that included Jean Rozinski. She leaned down the table and asked me: “Are you going to get that pug?”

I swore Bruce’s eyes popped out of his head. It was the most horrified startled expression I’d seen.

“I hope so,” I answered. “She’s coming by this week.”

“What pug?” Bruce was still shell-shocked.

“We’ll talk about it later,” I said.

The discussion wasn’t pleasant in the car.

But I was determined. I was not going to back down.

Juliana arrived with Wrinks, and we all hit it off right away. I told her to consider it a foster, and that if she ever needed her little dog back, I would hand him over. And in all the eight years since I was worried she would take me up on that.

He is my shadow, stretched across my feet this very moment. He is my heart. He has to know where I am, and insists on joining me. He sleeps with his head on my foot, probably so that if I move he will wake and can follow me.

I don’t know how much time I have left with him. I hope a long while. He played yesterday. Played! And that is a marvelous sign.

Bruce says maybe he will reach sixteen or seventeen like one of those pugs on Facebook. It’d be glorious, eh? But I’ve a bad feeling that won’t be the case.

By the way … through the years I’ve caught Bruce on many occasions kissing the top of Wrinkles’ head and giving him a taste of ice cream. Bruce apparently decided eight summers ago that smooshy faced dogs were fine.

I put Wrinks in my Piper Blackwell mystery books. He’s in The Dead of Summer, which I’m working on now. In fact, I’m going to close this column and take my laptop on the back porch. It’s a glorious day, and Wrinks can lay at my feet in front of the fan. And when he hears a train … ’cause his hearing still works a little … he’ll jog outside to the back of the fence and bark quite sternly.

He’s been keeping the trains out of my backyard ever since we moved here.

Good dog, Wrinkles. Very good dog.

 

Fantastic Fantasy with an Urban Flair

Witchbane reads fast, the story moves, and the writing is smooth. A master of urban fantasy, Gail Z. Martin and her other-persona Morgan Brice stopped by on the Witchbane blog tour for a Q&A.

Here’s the quick recap for Witchbane: Seth Tanner and his brother Jesse’s fun evening debunking local urban legends ends with Jesse’s gruesome murder. Seth vows revenge on Jesse’s killer–too bad the murderer has been dead for a hundred years. Seth uncovers a cycle of ritual killings that feeds the power of a dark warlock’s immortal witch-disciples, and he’s hell bent on stopping Jackson Malone from becoming the next victim. He’s used to risking his neck. He never intended to risk his heart.

Real Real Estate

You use real-world places in your paranormal tale. Of all the spots in the book, what building or site was your favorite? Tell us why.

Hollywood Cemetery. It’s a beautiful, historic cemetery with a lot of cool statuary and monuments, and that’s like catnip to me! I LOVE gorgeous cemeteries!

Belly up to the bar

One of your main characters is a bartender. Tell us what drinks he most often makes for his customers.

In a bar like Treddy’s, Sonny mixes a lot of martinis. It’s that kind of place.

While I’m sure Sonny can mix up anything, I think he prefers it simple. Like a Black Russian straight up. Equal parts Kailua and good Vodka in a chilled martini glass. Good for what ails you!

Researching the setting

It’s obvious you really know the landscape your characters traipse across, did some research. But not all research finds its way into the fiction. What interesting tidbits did you learn about something or someplace in your book that didn’t end up in the story?

We lived in Richmond for two years, so that was a big advantage! There were so many really wonderful places I would have loved to include, but the story didn’t need them. Agecroft and Virginia House are two beautiful old mansions dating back several centuries. Maymont has an amazing garden and another, newer mansion. Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens is breathtaking and features such a wide range of plants and settings. The azaleas on Monument Avenue are huge and blindingly colorful. So many pretty things!

Give us a hint

Are there more books planned with your dashing duo? What locales are you considering … since they have a home on wheels? Can you give us the first few lines of the next novel?

Yes, at least six and maybe more. The next novel, Dark Rivers, takes place in Pittsburgh, chasing down another of Gremory’s witch-disciples and trying to save the intended victim. Seth and Evan are new in their relationship and they’re still finding their footing with each other and with hunting. They’re going to have to face down old betrayals and stick together, or they are certain to die separately!

Also, look for a novella, Burn, that takes place between Witchbane and Dark Rivers and provides some insight into Evan’s education as a hunter!

Of course, Badlands, the first book in another new urban fantasy MM paranormal romance, will be the next book out, set in Myrtle Beach. Release date: May.

Badlands is set in Myrtle Beach, on the glittering and tawdry Grand Strand. Simon Kincaide was a professor of folklore at USC until a board member got him fired for his ‘obsession’ with the occult. Now Simon has a shop on the boardwalk where he runs ghost tours, sells occult merchandise and does seances and private psychic readings. His talent as a medium and clairvoyant is real, and all he wants is to be left alone to rebuild his life. But when jaded cop Vic D’Amato asks for his help on a case that’s costing lives and souls, Simon can’t say no, even if it costs him his life and his heart.

Urban fantasy

You are entrenched in this supernatural genre. What intrigues you about this type of fiction?

I’ve always loved ghosts, magic, spooky stuff, haunted houses, creepy mysteries, supernatural creatures, from the time I was a little kid. That’s never changed. If I have a choice between reading a story set in the real world, and one with paranormal elements, I’ll pick the spooky one every time.

Book stack

What urban fantasy novels are in your to-be-read pile? Which genre authors do you like to read?

For non-romance urban fantasy, I love Jim Butcher, John Hartness, Simon R. Green, and Charlaine Harris, among many others.

For urban fantasy MM romance, my go-to authors are Jordan L. Hawk (love both her SPECTRE and Whyborne and Griffin series), KJ Charles, Jordan Castillo Price, Pandora Pine, LC Davis, CS Poe, Charlie Cochet (THIRDS series) and Rhys Ford.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Morgan Brice is the romance pen name of bestselling author Gail Z. Martin. Morgan writes urban fantasy male/male paranormal romance, with plenty of action, adventure and supernatural thrills to go with the happily ever after. Gail writes epic fantasy and urban fantasy, and together with co-author hubby Larry N. Martin, steampunk and comedic horror, all of which have less romance, more explosions.

On the rare occasions Morgan isn’t writing, she’s either reading, cooking, or spoiling two very pampered dogs.

Watch for additional new series from Morgan Brice, and more books in the Witchbane universe coming soon!

Amazon Kindle Link 

Amazon Book Link 

Blog site 

  • Print Length:244 pages
  • Publisher:Darkwind Press (February 19, 2018)
  • Publication Date:February 19, 2018
  • ISBN-10:1939704685
  • ISBN-13:978-1939704689

GIVEAWAY!

The tour giveaway is for a 25.00 gift certificate

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY HERE

 

Join the Worlds of Morgan Brice Facebook page here 

Gail’s webpage

Gail’s Facebook page

 

Sister Mary Can Handle Racy Books

I received a copy of the Dominican Sisters of Racine, WI, newsletter today. It made me think of Sister Mary…she’s probably the one who put me on the mailing list for it. She’s a 92-year-old Dominican nun who I met at funeral of a buddy’s father many years ago. Sister Mary handled part of the service. The departed gentleman, his daughter, myself … not Catholic, but Sister Mary is someone who transcends the labels of religious branches.

Sister Mary is COOL. My buddy had met her swimming and became quick friends.

Gene Wolfe with Sister Mary … two of my great friends.

Sister Mary and I hit it off right away at the funeral; she’s a retired English professor, and we chatted about books and writing. She wrote a book many years ago. We share a like of James Patterson novels. I pointed out to her once that some of his books are racy. Her reply: “I’m a nun, I’m not dead.” Sister Mary enjoys racy books.

Sister Mary is AWESOME.

She’s read quite a few of my novels, and wrote me a letter recently about falling in love with Piper Blackwell, the main character in my books The Dead of Winter and The Dead of Night. (Both of those books are on a deep sale now from Imajin Books.) She said the stories helped get her through a stay in the hospital and rehab in the nursing home … she’d fallen recently. Now she’s back with the Dominicans, but she’s in a wheelchair. Sister Mary stays close to her room anymore, rarely joins her fellow sisters in the big dining hall, and is self-conscious about her hearing loss. I feel sorry about her current state. But …

Sister Mary is STILL AWESOME.

I sent her a copy of The Bone Shroud, my novel that released March 30. I included a note that said I almost didn’t send her the book … because it has a nun character, and I worried that she might not approve of that character, and so would think poorly of me. But I realized after a moment that Sister Mary would indeed approve. She’s open-minded and young-at-heart, enjoys mysteries and doesn’t shy away from pyrotechnics and chase scenes. She relishes a fine glass of wine … as does my nun character.

My buddy and I used to buy a case of wine for Sister Mary at Christmas. We had to get her a case so she could share (and hence no doubt why I’m on the mailing list for the Dominican newsletter). Sister Mary has to share everything with her fellow sisters. I suspect I know no one as generous as her. This year for Christmas I sent her four long wintry scarves. One for her and three to share. In turn, she shares with me dog pictures and articles and calendars (she knows my passion is dogs); she shares her wisdom; and above that she shares her friendship.

I’m going to have a glass of wine tonight to toast the release of The Bone Shroud and to toast Sister Mary. I hope she likes my book … I suspect she’ll send me a glowing letter about it, regardless of whether she actually enjoys it.

Sister Mary is ALWAYS AWESOME.

I hope you all have such an amazing soul in your life.

 

 

My Guest Writes of Metatron!

I turn my blog over to Laurence St. John today. He has a nifty novel coming out the middle of the month, and you should hear about it.

Terror on the East Coast – Two Million Dead!

            TOLEDO, OHIO, March 15, 2018 – Yesterday, more than two million people were killed, including the President of the United States.

            The death toll is the worst in the history of America and the world.

            This tragic day will be known forevermore as “The Day of Annihilation.”

            The CIA has the sole person responsible for the killing of millions and millions of innocent people in custody.

            His name is Tyler Thompson –  a moral person turned evil. The question foremost on everyone’s mind is, why did he orchestrate this horrific act of terror and how did he pull it off?

This headline is fake news – or is it?

In his new release, METATRON: DAGGER OF MORTALITY, science fiction/fantasy author Laurence St. John creates an uplifting and inspiring fiction novel that “sustains constant action as 15-year-old Tyler struggles to stop the relentless animosity of a demonic figure and his accomplice! Sometimes you need to go backwards to move forward,” said   Piers Anthony, New York Times bestselling fantasy Author of the Xanth series.

St. John, who hails from just south of Toledo, Ohio, quickly grabs the reader’s attention then poses the ultimate question: Can superheroes really be killed?

Who is this Black Shadow character and who does he want to get revenge from?

Tyler must execute the most grueling choice of his life – save himself, save his beloved girlfriend Kendall or save millions of helpless people and hinder Kelltie’s plan.

In this, his highly anticipated third action-adventure, St. John keeps readers turning the pages up to the last adrenaline-filled moment when Tyler’s fate is determined.

The story is set in New York, Nevada, and Massachusetts, where the action-packed adventure opens your mind’s eye, conveying the sensation that you’re watching a movie.

            Metatron: Dagger of Mortality is a novel made for the silver screen ― action-packed, emotional and a gripping story that will leave you wanting more.

From the back cover:

Tyler believes a Superhero’s responsibility is to make the right decision then follow it through to the end. But, what if the outcome results in his death?

Fourteen-year-old Tyler Thompson has been in isolation for eight months so he could focus on completing his superhero training. Not even one day after his completion, Master Pat Tanaka urgently summoned Tyler. Pat desperately needs his help, but for what?

Kelltie is threatening Tyler’s destiny of being a superhero by framing him for what will be the largest mass killings in American history and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. She also teams up with Black Shadow, a ruthless demonic figure with his own agenda — to use the Dagger of Mortality and kill Metatron.

Tyler feeling vulnerable gets inspiration one last time from Master Tanaka’s instructor Master Dogmai. Nevertheless, with the Dagger of Mortality in hand, it’s time for Black Shadow to get his revenge. Tyler must render the most arduous choice of his life. He’ll save himself, save his beloved girlfriend Kendall or save millions of helpless people and hinder Kelltie’s plan.

Can superheroes really die? What choice does Tyler make?

Reviews:

“Metatron – Dagger of Mortality, by Laurence St. John sustains constant action as 15-year-old Tyler struggles to stop the relentless animosity of a demonic figure and his accomplice! Sometimes you need to go backwards to move forward…”

Piers Anthony – New York Times bestselling fantasy Author of the Xanth Series

“Laurence St. John turns up the heat with Metatron – Dagger of Mortality. This book continues the story of Tyler Thompson and his journey of discover as he masters his powers in preparation of a new evil threat. A can’t miss read for middle-grade readers and young adults!”

Braxton A. Cosby – Author of the award-winning Star-Crossed Saga Series

“Dagger of Mortality’ packs a wallop! St. John blends equal parts superhero and X-Files into a high energy yarn sure to inspire.”

Jason Born – Author of The Norseman Chronicles Series

“Teens and adults alike will identify with Tyler and his all too human angst as he executes superhero feats in a way only St. John’s hero can accomplish, with many twists and surprising turns of events in this young adult thriller.”

Kenna McKinnon – Author of Short Circuit: And Other Geek Stories, Blood Sister, and Den of Dark Angels

 

* * * *

 

Metatron: Dagger of Mortality was published by Ogopogo Book an Imprint of Imajin Books and is available in eBook edition at Amazon, Google Play and Kobo. Order your copy today.

It is also available in trade paperback edition at Amazon, Books-A-Million, and Barnes & Noble, as well as other retailers.

View the paperback and eBook links at the bottom of this page.

* * * *

Laurence St. John is currently working on book four and five in the Metatron Series.

Laurence is also available for interviews/guest appearances.

For book sign dates please see his Facebook page.

For more information please visit:

http://www.laurencestjohn.com or http://getbook.at/DaggerofMortality

Follow Laurence on Twitter: http://twitter.com/laurencestjohn

“Friend Request” Laurence on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/laurenceastjohn

Imajin Books: http://www.imajinbooks.com

Laurence is a 1983 graduate of Genoa High School, a 1988 Black Belt recipient in Tae Kwon Do and a 2004 graduate of Owens State Community College.

Amazon – http://getbook.at/DaggerofMortality

The Bone Shroud and a New Beanie Baby

I do the Snoopy Dance when I have a new book coming out. Always have. There’s something exciting about it, the culmination of a lot of effort. And it gives me the opportunity to put a new Beanie Baby on display in my office. Yeah, silly, I know. I have a dog Beanie Baby on a bookshelf representing each of my published books. I have a friend in Chicagoland that has a glass paperweight for each book she has published. Another author has a bottle of wine … she keeps the empty bottles. Trophies, maybe? I dunno. I like dog Beanie Babies and this gives me an excuse. I sent my buddy Steven Paul Leiva a red dog Beanie Baby for Christmas ’cause he had a new book — Made on the Moon. Here’s the link to that fine piece o’ fiction. I didn’t tell him the significance … book, Beanie. Anyway, I can’t put a link up yet for The Bone Shroud … it’ll come out the end of March.

I really like the cover.

So … what’s it about? It’s a suspense-mystery yarn set in and under Rome, with a side trip to another part of Italy. My protagonist is from Chicago, an archivist at the Field Museum. I like the Field Museum, been there a bunch o’ times. And I like the building; it has a good feel to it. Ah, but said museum doesn’t show up in this book. If people like The Bone Shroud, I think I’ll take my hero on an adventure in Chicago. A good character shouldn’t be limited to one book, ya know.

I hope my mystery is a little unsettling. It has food, wine, and death in it. The advance reviews are so good that I did another Snoopy Dance. I’ll share:

“Intrigue, romance and danger amid the relics of Rome’s storied past, with compelling characters and building tension that will keep you turning pages!”  Gail Z. Martin, author of Vendetta
“Strong characters, shady dealings, ruthless villains, a beautiful setting, an ancient mystery–The Bone Shroud has ’em all. Don’t miss it!”  Richard Baker, author of Valiant Dust

See, Snoopy Dance time.

 

Fighting the Tug

Writing is mental, and so when your mind is tugged between various concerns, working on that novel becomes difficult.

My 90-year-old father-in-law has a serious case of the flu … birthed, he claims, because he got cold when he rode the bus to Champaign to spend Christmas week with us. Never mind that he arrived in a windbreaker and refused to accept the loan of a winter jacket for the bus ride back. The flu’s a bad thing for a 90-year-old.

My friend badly broke her arm and had surgery today.

My old Dawn Patrol buddy, Al, died. Al was a very good guy. I liked playing at his table.

And so I think about all these things which make crafting fiction onerous. My fellow writers dwell on their own “tugs” and do battle at the keyboard too.

We all try to relegate our sad concerns to a corner of our mind so we can write. Can’t let the tugs win, you know.

It’s difficult. But you can’t ever let the tugs win. You can let them give you a headache, and for me I’ll take some aspirin and an extra tennis-ball tossing session this afternoon to fight them off.

I managed to set my tugs aside long enough to finish Chapter 5 in my next Piper Blackwell book. Just now. And I will finish Chapter 6 before I consider calling my W-I-P done for the day. Then the tugs can take over and I’ll sit in front of my fireplace with a bottle of ice water and maybe watch George Peppard in The Blue Max in honor of Al.

My greatest tug these past many weeks has been Jake, the bottomless gullet that filled up the hollow spot under my writing desk, crawled into my lap during football games, and ruined my new Birkenstock sandals. Well … to be fair, he only ruined the left one. He broke my favorite teapot in an effort to reach something edible on the counter. And he broke my heart when he died.

Right now I’m drinking tea out of a BIG ceramic mug that has a similar capacity to that teapot.

That’s how I’m besting the tug today. Tea. Started with Irish Breakfast, moved to PG Tips, and right now I’m having hot cinnamon spice. Fuels my fingers. Keeps the tug at bay. Tastes good.

I put a bottle of cherry wine in the refrigerator. I think I’ll have some of that tonight instead of ice water. A toast to absent friends.

Al.

Jake.

Then onto Chapter 7.

A Flame to Light Up the Bookshelf

I fell in love with Faith Hunter’s words when I discovered my first Jane Yellowrock. Then I bought the next one and the next …
I hadn’t considered myself a fan of urban fantasy. Ha! I’d written plenty of fantasy novels, and even penned an urban horror-fantasy, but in my to-be-read stack the real world and fantasy didn’t mix.

But there was Faith and Jane.

When I was invited to contribute to a Faith Hunter anthology I didn’t hesitate to say YES. Learning that it was not for a Jane Yellowrock, I was a tad worried. I wasn’t familiar with her Rogue Mage world, but I wasn’t gonna let that stopped me. I connected to Amazon and ordered Host, Bloodring, and Seraphs. And was wowed. Faith demonstrates how amazing it is to play with the real world, to twist it and shape it into something wonderful and frightening.

She has the “what ifs.” Andre Norton was a dear friend of mine, and when we’d chat on the phone the conversation invariably drifted to the “what ifs.” We’d talk about something going on in the world, often about archaeological discoveries, and she’d say “what if…” What if the bones unearthed weren’t wholly human, but only looked that way on initial inspection? What if the latest skirmish in Yemen wasn’t a grab for territory or in the name of religion, but was merely a distraction because something or someone from another time needed to go undiscovered? What if? And what if? And what if?

Faith has mastered the “what ifs” and created worlds around the concept.

It was easy to slip into her Rogue Mage world with my own tale because Faith left open enough windows and doors to expand her setting… let other writers take a brief walk without ruining anything she’d already set down.

I picked the Amazon basin because the area fascinates me. I have a thick book detailing the history of explorations along the river and tributaries, a perfect springboard for fiction. So I was able to meld the real with the unreal… Faith’s Rogue Mage world with the dark parts of the basin, throwing in a dash of archaeology and poetry. That story became part of the Rogue Mage e-book anthologies, Trials and Tribulations, and the trade paperback omnibus, Triumphant. So while I’m writing the Piper Blackwell mystery series now, my first love was fantasy.

 

About FLAME IN THE DARK:
Nell Ingram has always known she was different. Since she was a child, she’s been able to feel and channel ancient powers from deep within the earth. When she met Jane Yellowrock, her entire life changed, and she was recruited into PsyLED—the Homeland Security division that polices paranormals. But now her newly formed unit is about to take on its toughest case yet.

A powerful senator barely survives an assassination attempt that leaves many others dead—and the house he was visiting burns to the ground. Invisible to security cameras, the assassin literally disappears, and Nell’s team is called in. As they track a killer they know is more—or less—than human, they unravel a web of dark intrigue and malevolent motives that tests them to their limits and beyond.


FLAME IN THE DARK (Soulwood #3)
Author: Faith Hunter
Publisher: Ace/Roc
December 5, 2017
Mass Market Paperback $7.99
352 pages
ISBN: 978-0451473332

Excerpts FLAME IN THE DARK – Part Fifteen

One of the paramedics in the street got back in the EMS unit and it moved again, this time turning at a sharper angle to the Carhart Building. Yummy landed on all fours beside me, like a praying mantis. I squelched a squeal and Yummy laughed. She was enjoying this.

Without even thinking, I reached out, grabbed her shirt, and yanked her to me. Her face was two inches from mine. All vamped out. Fangs down, eyes blood red with huge black pupils. “That cop got injured,” I said.,“Protecting this city and your’n boss. How ’bout you’un get in there give her some blood instead of playing games?”

“Take your hand off me, little female.”

“No.”

Yummy’s eyes went even wider. Surprised. She tilted her head in one of those creepy inhuman moves they do and looked at the EMS unit. The driver was scrunched down in his seat, making a small target; the other two responders were loading the wounded officer into the back of the glorified ambulance. “JoJo,” I said, “tell EMS that a vampire is about to join,” —I stretched my own head to see the number stenciled on the van, —“unit two-fourteen, to offer her services as blood donor.”

“Copy that,” JoJo said.

“I’ll pick you up at UTMC,” I said to the vampire.

“I’ll be thirsty,” Yummy snarled.

“I think the appropriate response is ‘Cry me a river.’” I let go of Yummy’s shirt. “Move.”

FLAME IN THE DARK ON AMAZON

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

When The Dead of Night was getting ready to release, I wrote some guest blogs for various sites. One was a Q&A session, and it never ran. BUT, since I took the time to answer all the questions, I figured it should run somewhere, right? So here it is. Hope you enjoy and don’t find me too overly … odd.

Please tell us about growing up. Siblings? Locale?

I grew up in Ottawa, IL, a small river town with lots of parks. I was a tomboy. It was “back in the day” when it was okay to go outside alone and come back when it got dark. I had forts and treehouses, knew where the creeks in the fields were.

I was never shy, but I am a loner. My husband is a water chemist… FINALLY he’s starting to read my mystery novels. He likes historical fantasy. I have bunches of friends who read my mysteries. Many of them offer up names for characters and such. One of those buddies is a retired sheriff, and he helps keep my fictional sheriff on the right track; Piper would be a lesser character without him. I love role playing games, and my game master is a district attorney…I turn to him for legal questions. Another of my gaming buddies is a computer-genius, another is an archaeologist…I am sooooo fortunate to have friends I can rely on for great information.

I don’t have children, but I have four dogs and a parrot. Wrinkles, my favorite, is an elderly pug who is ALWAYS by my side. Missy is a rescue Boston Terrier who loves to howl at the bird and run circles around anything…except on NFL Sundays…then she’s on my lap. There are two YOUNG Labrador retrievers. They require lots of food, lots of brushing, and lots and lots and lots of tennis ball tossing sessions. Dogs are a great excuse to take writing breaks. In fact, when I’m done answering these questions, I’m going to take my pug for a little walk.

Who are your favorite authors and favorite genres?

I have lots of favorite authors and favorite genres that I love reading…but I’ll list some.
• Gene Wolfe, science fiction, his words are butter that melt off the page, a master stylist. He’s a good friend…how fortunate I am.
• Christine Verstraete, zombies. Chris writes awesome zombies, and throws in historical twists. She’s a good friend…how fortunate I am.
• Joe Haldeman, science fiction…geeze, he’s good.
• Donald J. Bingle, thrillers. He’s a good friend…how fortunate I am.
• Michael Connelly…mysteries…Harry Bosch…who does not love Harry Bosch? My fictional sheriff reads Harry Bosch.
• Elizabeth Vaughan, fantasy-romance…the smoochy stuff. She’s a good friend…how fortunate I am.
• Faith Hunter, urban fantasy…TOP NOTCH urban fantasy. How fortunate I am that we correspond.
• Margaret Weis, fantasy…dragons are her specialty. She’s a long-time friend from back in my TSR, Inc. days…how fortunate I am to know her.
• Robert Crais, mysteries…Elvis Cole and Joe Pike and Maggie.
• Steven Paul Leiva, contemporary. He, too, is one of those master stylists and an awesome friend…how fortunate I am.
• Preston & Child, mystery-thrillers.
I could keep going, but that’s a good list.

When you’re not writing, what’s your favorite way to relax and recharge? Hobbies?

I’m a workaholic. I try to write every day, even on NFL Sundays. But…I have hobbies. I love to fuse glass. I have a little kiln and I make fused glass necklaces. I also love to visit museums…I get lots of story ideas in museums. I love football. I play in five fantasy football leagues; my main team is the Pugnacious Pugilists, and they’re not having an awesome season. Sigh.

And I like to read. A lot. A lot. A lot. I have stacks of books everywhere…more books than I’ll be able to read in whatever time is left to me. And I’ll buy more books to add to the stacks. I spend my money on dog toys and books.

And I like to play with my dogs. My old pug doesn’t play much, but the other three make up for that. The biggest Lab is indefatigable.

How long have you been writing?

I started writing in the first grade. Really. I first got published when I was in sixth grade. Then I started entering writing contests and winning odds and ends, like a fancy desk lamp, BIG dictionary and thesaurus set.

I studied journalism at Northern Illinois University and ended up writing for: The Northern Star, The Rockford Register Star, The Quincy Herald-Whig, and then I ran a news bureau for The Evansville Press. THEN I finally had enough violence (I covered some really awful things…and plane crashes). I went to work for TSR, Inc. in Lake Geneva, WI. They made the Dungeons & Dragons game. I started writing game material, and then game tie-in novels. Fictional violence suited me better.

So…I started writing when I was six.

Where do you prefer to write? Do you need quiet, music, solitude? PC or laptop?

I will never have quiet. Not with a parrot and four dogs. Often I have music playing. Alexa is my friend. Instrumentals; I don’t want words to clog the words dancing in my head. I write on a PC in my office…where my parrot perches. I write on a laptop when the weather is sooooooo fine I can be on my back porch. My amazing, ugly, wonderful, perfect back porch. It has a dog door so me doggies can go in and out to the fenced backyard as they please.

I live in a tiny town surrounded by train tracks. And on a dead end street. Trains. Dogs. Parrot. Alexa. Not quiet.

But there is blessed solitude.

Are you a plotter or a pantzer?

A meticulous plotter. I’ve written two of my 38 novels without plotting each chapter. Took me three times as long to write. I won’t do another novel without plotting. BUT…sometimes I outline as I go along. Outline a half-dozen chapters, start writing. In the evenings in front of the TV, dogs at my feet, I’ll work on more outline.

Do you do your research before you begin a new project, or as you go along?

I like to do my research upfront, as that helps me plot. Sure, I have to stop now and then and do a little more research. But basically I knock that out first.

Tell us about your writing schedule. Do you set goals? Do you write daily?

I used to set goals, as in 2,500 words a day or 3,000 words a day, or a chapter a day. Now I just write and see where I end up at the end of a day. I don’t miss deadlines, even the self-imposed ones. I have never missed a deadline. I try to write every day…except when I go out of town for business or fun. I think a writer has to write every day.

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise readers.

Hmmmmmmmm. That’s a hard one ‘cause I’m a pretty open person. Hmmmmmmmmm. Okay, here’s a few:

1. I hold grudges. I shouldn’t, but I do. I hold them tightly.
2. I hate onions. Detest them. Avoid them. Fresh onions. Hate fresh onions. Dried onions, like in soup mixes are just ducky.
3. I dislike computer games, passionately dislike them. I’ve seen what happens when people become addicted to them.
4. I regret moving from Wisconsin. Sure, it was colder there, and I didn’t have a screened-in back porch, but I had the best buddies.

What do you hope your writing brings to readers?

A good time. That’s it. I just want people to enjoy the story and have a good time reading my books. There are so few jobs in the world where you can legally give people a good time, and where you can leave something behind … books on a shelf. I am so very lucky to have such a job. I work very hard to make my books good.

What advice would you give to unpublished authors?

To grow a rhino-thick skin and be persistent. More than one million books are published a year. You have to compete with that. You can’t compete unless you’re persistent as all get-out. Handle rejection, criticism, and never stop. Persist.

Tell us about your latest release.

The Dead of Night is set in Spencer County, IN. A small county, with a young female sheriff. This tale centers on a cold case, which let me research forensics and call coroners to discuss remains. I very much enjoyed writing it.

Here’s a long excerpt:

Dr. Ulysses Abernathy wore frameless oval glasses tinted blue-gray. Oren guessed he was five-eight or five-nine and was a little on the pudgy side. His ash brown hair was shaved on the sides and had a styled curly mound on top that likely had been doused with a liberal amount of hairspray or mousse; Oren swore he could smell it. His cheeks were dotted with freckles, standing out because his skin was so light. A dime-sized gold skull and crossbones hung from his pierced left ear, and his clothes were casual—jeans and an orange pocketless, oversized polo.

Young, Oren thought, and then corrected himself when he noticed the crinkles at the edges of Abernathy’s eyes and lips. Young-looking, but probably late thirties, maybe even a touch over the forty-year mark. A little more scrutiny, and he spotted some gray in the buzzed sides. That made Oren feel a little better.

“Dr. Neufeld,” Abernathy said with a nod. “Good to meet you.”

“And I’m happy to meet—”

Abernathy took a position by the table and plowed ahead, interrupting Annie’s pleasantries. “Interesting,” he said. “See the dent on the right side of the skull here? Forceps were used during delivery. The bone was deformed. As a person grows, the bones thicken. The skull is normal on the inside. But the dent on the outside. Forceps. No lower teeth and jaw available for inspection. Would make it a little more challenging for a facial reconstruction. But the upper teeth on cursory examination suggest that your remains are that of an eight- to ten-year-old. The teeth are not permanent, they are deciduous—milk teeth, some call them.” His voice was low-pitched and strong. Oren figured he would do well in front of a classroom.

“Because permanent teeth are in by age twelve,” Annie said.

Abernathy hummed. He pulled a pair of gloves from his pocket, put them on, and picked up pieces of vertebrae. “T1 and T2, broken. Yet to determine if post mortem, but not likely.” He looked up at Oren. “These are the first and second vertebra in the thoracic spine.”

Replacing them, he slid farther down the table and picked up the femur. “Note the diaphysis.” He pointed with his free hand. “And the epiphyses at each end? There is no fusion there, definitely a child. Look here.” Abernathy replaced the bone and indicated the arm. “Not joined, no fusion, under the age of twelve.” He made a clicking noise. “It’s the ribs. Fortunately we have the desirable third, fourth, and fifth ribs. You were lucky with these bones, Dr. Neufeld. Count your stars providential. But I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t know. I understand you were a pediatrician for many years. For the sheriff here—”

Oren did not correct him with chief deputy sheriff, though he noted Annie’s raised eyebrow.

“—the ends of these ribs are rounded, and they’d be smooth to the touch. As a man ages the ribs display pitting, and the edges here and here—they’d be sharper. I want an MRI done. X-rays are good, but not sufficient. An MRI will give us the calcium density, and that’s useful in a final determination of age. I suspect they’ll reveal that your boy was eight or nine years old. The ribs tell me that, not the ten I first mentioned as a possibility. I’m very good at this. Eight or nine. Probably nine. I’ll want to pull DNA, too, though it might not help because—” He looked to Annie.

“You mentioned these remains might be forty to sixty years old.”

“They found some coins.”

“Sixty,” Oren said. “I’m leaning toward sixty.”

“That old, might be hard to trace to relatives. But you never know. MRI, DNA. Might not need to bother with facial recognition if there are dental records to compare with missing children reports. We’ll see.” Abernathy shifted his weight. “No evidence of carnivore scavenging on these bones, no rat bite marks. But the lack of some bones might indicate animals removed pieces. They’ve been subjected to repeated freezing and thawing cycles, and those reduced some of your finger and toe bones to fragments. Some evidence here and here of plant abrasion—roots growing across the body, probably into the flesh before it dissolved. Can’t tell if these bones were moved. You didn’t call me to the scene. You packed them up and brought them here.” He paused and frowned. “Then you called me. You should have called me to the scene.”

Abernathy stood a little taller and Oren figured the forensic anthropologist was thoroughly “full of himself.” Nevertheless, Oren was impressed.

“Eight or nine, eh?” Oren said.

“Probably nine.” Abernathy made the clicking sound again. “I’m always right to within a year to a year and a half. Always. But like I said, I want the MRI before I write a report. I see some evidence of nutritional deficiencies, but a further analysis will confirm that.” He made a circle of the table, picked up the skull, turned it over in his hands and replaced it. Picked up a few vertebrae to study, and then put them back down. “This arm bone is thicker than the other. See? That was the boy’s dominant side. So he was right handed. The right femur would be thicker than the left, dominant side. But we don’t have a right femur. The radius of this arm bone, and the skull—it has a more distinct ridge here—say ‘boy.’ The pelvis is not, in my opinion, strong enough evidence given the young age. Still, it all suggests ‘boy.’ Caucasian. Right handed. Nine, eight on the outside. I think—”


How can readers learn more about you?

USA Today Bestselling author Jean Rabe has written 37 fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction novels. The Dead of Night, her 38th, is her second Piper Blackwell mystery. She has roughly 100 short stories in print, has edited a couple dozen anthologies, and has edited more magazines than she cares to tally. When she isn’t writing or editing, she tosses tennis balls to her cadre of dogs, visits museums, and tries to find gamers who will play Axis & Allies with her.

The Dead of Night
Preorder The Dead of Night on Amazon by clicking here

The Dead of Winter
Find The Dead of Winter on Amazon by clicking here

Facebook

And my Amazon author page

Nano Nano to You

NANO NANO

Yesterday a friend asked me why I participate in Nanowrimo.

“You don’t need it,” he said.

I have thirty-eight published novels, and I stopped counting the short stories when I hit one hundred.

“I need it,” I replied.

Because I want to have thirty-nine published novels.

Admittedly Nanowrimo won’t net me that published credit, but it gives me a push in the fall when I need it. The year winding down, writer fatigue ratcheting up, Nano arrives at a good time. I know a lot of published authors who participate in Nanowrimo. Sure, it might have started as a challenge to newbies… and I think it is awesome for new writers… but it is a relevant exercise for all authors at all levels.

The challenge is fun.

It instills a deadline.

There’s a support group. And there are marvelous advice columns that accompany it in your email in-box.

I’ve challenged a lot of friends through the year to join me. Some of them take me up on it. Others say they don’t have time; too much going on; etc.; etc.; etc.

This year it would be easy for me not to participate. My editing schedule is choked. I have family obligations. Honestly, I don’t know if I can hit even close to the 50,000 word mark.

But I’m gonna give it a helluva try.

I’m outlining the third Piper Blackwell novel. I’ve seven chapters sketched…out of likely forty. I’m following the Nano rules. Outline ahead of time. Start writing November 1. I won’t have the whole book outlined by then, but I hope to have a dozen chapters sketched.

Yeah, I’m gonna give it a helluva try.

Join me?

NANOWRIMO WEBSITE

Two Cents for New Writers

You can consider my two cents wheat pennies…it feels like I’ve been in the writing business that long.

I spent about twenty years giving writing seminars and programs in the summer…at conventions, schools, museums, on-line. Summer and into the fall seems a good time for writing classes.

My advice has changed since I started that. “Back in the day” there wasn’t the e-revolution, and your route to getting a novel in the bookstores was traditional publishers or self-publishing. The e-explosion changed that. More than a million books are published every year now, and a new writer has to compete with that.

On the proverbial one hand it is easier to get published. There are a lot of small press publishers, and there’s the do-it-yourself avenue. Sure, there are still the traditional big New York publishers, but they are far far far from your only option.

The whole publishing dynamic is different. Today, you can’t be “just a writer.” Remember…one million books a year. You have to be a social media guru, a marketer. You have to promote or your book will go nowhere. I recently read an article that said the average book sells 250 copies or less. If you don’t want to have an average book, you have to spend time putting you and your books out there.

I had an e-conversation with my current publisher the other night. She pointed out that for the past two years book sales have been down down down, that some small publishers are closing. They were also talking about this issue at a recent mystery writers’ convention I attended.

Maybe individual book sales are declining because the number of books published are increasing. Some think sales are dropping because people are reading less and spending more time with computer games of various stripes. Many people I know admit to reading less.

Not a good sign for either newcomers or veteran authors.

So…back to my two cents.

My advice is to write every day. Every. Day. It makes you better. You can’t finish a novel if you only write when you feel like it. Join a writer’s group…because often that improves your craft. Network with other writers and editors; they’ll point you to which publishers and agents are looking. Don’t quit your day job. Unless you become a sensation and get an amazing advance, writing isn’t terribly lucrative. Don’t rely on it as your only income.

I’m a full-time writer. But I supplement it with editing novels on the side, and mentoring college students. Writing alone won’t cut it. Plus, my husband works full-time and has insurance.

So…write every day and don’t give up. Don’t let rejection notices get to you. Don’t let “one million books published a year” get to you.

I saw a posting on Facebook, a youngish writer who announced to the world that he was giving up, throwing in the towel. So many people were commenting under his post that he should stick with it, persevere, soldier on. I nearly typed: good luck on your next endeavor. But I stopped myself and scrolled on. His voice is one less writer to compete with in the slush pile.

One cent: write every day.
Another cent: don’t give up.
…not if you really want to be a writer.

Hey, it is Nanowrimo time. Give it a shot.

Take A Look At My Office

My Cacophonous Mess

So they asked what my office looks like.

Depends which office.

Late spring through early fall my office is my screened-in back porch. I have a big table I found on sale at Wal-Mart, and a comfy desk chair (also on sale). For five hours everyday I take my laptop outside and write write write…or edit. It has a dog door so my dogs can go in and out to the fenced backyard as they please. It is the best office in the world, eh? It’s not pretty. The porch looks run-down, the indoor-outdoor carpet old; it was like this when we bought the house. I’ve put up nice window blinds, fans, and I know better than to try and replace the carpet. I have four dogs (don’t ask…that’s for another story). Oh, I work more than five hours a day, but I have to spend a couple hours in my indoor office to keep my parrot company.

My inside office, a dedicated room with file cabinets, beautiful walnut desk, and a desktop computer, is a cacophonous mess. Here’s the deal. I have a parrot, as I mentioned in the paragraph above, a miniature macaw that’s roughly 30 years old. The best place for her is the office, where she can’t bite friends who come over and where she isn’t too close to a wall to chew on it. I give her freedom, open her big cage, she can go in and out as she pleases and clamber around on top and play with toys. The walls in my office were never repainted when we moved in (don’t ask…that’s for another story), and so she can’t really hurt them. I spread newspapers out all around this big cage to protect the old carpet that wasn’t replaced when we moved in. My husband figured it was just an office, right? It didn’t need to look nice. Sigh.

I have four dogs. And sometimes they shred the newspaper under the bird cage, like they’re making confetti for a parade. Dogs gotta have something to do, right? And sometimes the dogs go nose-to-nose with the parrot and they have interesting conversations (really). The parrot talks, sings, scolds the dogs, and tells them “shut up” when they bark. The dogs squeak toys and play…always in my office, as they want to be with me. So my office is noisy. I’ve learned to tune it out. And it’s a mess…newspapers, errant bird seeds, dog toys everywhere.

A cacophonous mess. And it’s wonderful. It’s colorful. It’s lively. I am not lonely here. I am never lonely when I write.

Now…I do clean up my office; once a week. Wag fingers at me if you must. But I’m a writer and so I will write write write, edit, toss tennis balls, take my pug for a little walk, then write write write. Picking up my office happens once a week.

It’s wonderful, my cacophonous mess. Life is better with dogs. And I’d rather have the dogs than a tidy office.

My office is also filled with narrow bookcases containing interesting and eclectic reference books about medieval garb, food in the Middle Ages, knights, trees, fish, rocks, word origins, dictionaries, and a thesaurus. Oh, I almost forgot…Italian aviators in WWI, WWII slang, a dictionary of battles, and forensics.

My decor is finished with Beanie Babies. I started a tradition with my first novel, I bought a Beanie Baby pug dog to celebrate. I could hardly justify buying one otherwise. I have 38 dog Beanie Babies on shelves around my office and across the top of my desk.

Because I have 38 books published.

I’m currently shopping the 39th, and I’ve started on the 40th. I found some Beanie Babies on eBay…they’re in a little bag in my office…waiting to join the rest.


The Dead of Night
Order The Dead of Night on Amazon by clicking HERE

The Dead of Winter
Find The Dead of Winter on Amazon by clicking HERE

And my Amazon author page HERE

Bad Pottery and Good Friends

When I lived in Kenosha, Wisconsin, I took pottery classes from an amazing instructor who taught out of an equally amazing museum.

I made amazingly bad pottery there. Seriously. I crafted a “hand-built” teapot that was crooked and couldn’t pour. And some other ugly dishes. My buddy Vicki took the finished pieces home so her husband could shoot them at the gun range.

On one occasion, our pottery class made “hand-built” bowls that when glazed all prettily would be auctioned at a charity event called Bowls and Books (or something like that). I didn’t want to know what my bowls went for.

Anyway, the “books” part of the event intrigued me, and I discovered that I could lease a dealer’s table and hawk my novels. Fate waltzed in. Chris Verstraete, a local author, leased the table next to mine. We chatted. I invited her to the Kenosha writer’s group, and we became good friends.

Chris sent out a newsletter today…she has a GREAT newsletter. You can subscribe HERE in the middle of her webpage. She mentioned my new book in it, The Dead of Night, a Piper Blackwell mystery. She’s mentioned my books before and has hosted me for guest blogs. Chris is incredibly supportive to other writers.

So I wanted to thank her publicly for all her support. Writing is a tough business…SO MANY BOOKS, more than a million, are published each year. We writers try to claw our way up the stack to catch a reader’s attention. Chris is one of those fine folks who helps others with the clawing.

I know authors who get acidic when their fellows experience success, and who do nothing to promote another writer…perhaps out of fear it will lessen their own chances or take away a potential sale.

Then there’s Chris. Everyone should have a Chris Verstraete in their writing life. Chris pens zombie tales, sometimes mixing them with historical mysteries. She has a vivid and blessedly twisted imagination. HERE is a link to a lovely mystery-history-romance novella, her latest release, The Haunting of Dr. Bowen.

When I moved from Kenosha to the middle of a cornfield in Illinois, Chris came over and helped me pack. How wonderful that bad pottery led to a lasting friendship.

Many other authors have also helped me through the years. I can’t name them all in one blog post, but I will list a few here, as I am in a thankful mood today. I’ll get around to more fine folks later.

Steven Paul Leiva, smooth wordsmith from beautiful, enviable California, wrote an insightful article on Ray Bradbury for a magazine I edited. He’s reviewed some of my novels, including in The Huffington Post. I’ve read many of his books, not sure which one is my favorite, as they are all very different. I was charmed by IMP. HERE is the book that introduced me to him. And HERE is his Amazon author page so you can look at his offerings.

Beth Vaughan writes smoochy books filled with sword fights and magic. HERE is her Amazon page. Beth chats with me every weekend, about dogs, cats, fireballs, mimics, and writing. Always about writing. Her advice has helped more than one of my characters get out of trouble.

Donald J. Bingle co-authored The Love-Haight Case Files with me (which won three Silver Falchion Awards). Don, a retired attorney, provided invaluable insights into wills (for a novel I wrote), and airbags (for a different novel). HERE Is his Amazon author page.

Raymond Benson (yeah, NYT Bestselling author of James Bond books) was kind enough to read a manuscript for me, offer suggestions, and blurb it. Cool beans, eh? He has a new novel releasing on the 10th, The Secrets on Chickory Lane. I had the great fortune to read it in advance. WOW.

Jonathan Maberry thankfully blurbed my latest book. I pre-ordered this upcoming JOE LEDGER novel. I love Joe Ledger.

Faith Hunter blurbed the book and hosted a blog. And Faith graciously allowed me to be in her Rogue Mage anthology: Tribulations.

R.L. King provided an excellent blurb for my most recent mystery book, and so did Beth Terrell (Jaden Terrell)…I have two of her private detective books sitting on the shelf in my office. Her next will be set in Alaska…brrrrrrrr.

Writing is a lonely calling. But fellow authors can make the journey better, especially those souls who support each other…who celebrate and lift you up instead of put you down. Those authors who revel in the success of others…they are the ones I am fast to read. The works of those authors find their way to the top of my to-be-read stack. I should be getting that Joe Ledger at the end of the month…looking forward to the read.

Meet Mark the Shark

In a handful of days my next Piper Blackwell mystery comes out: The Dead of Night.

It opens with a character called Mark the Shark.
I met all three of him in Quincy, Illinois.

My father-in-law lives in a senior apartment complex in Quincy. On one of my visits I saw a fellow in the lobby reading a Stuart Woods book. I, too, read Stuart Woods books, so I stopped to chat. My husband had warned me not to, saying that the gentleman would latch on to anyone willing to pay attention to him. He said I wouldn’t be able to get rid of him.

Fortunately, I didn’t heed the warning.

“Nobody talks to me,” he said. “Name’s Marc by the way. Nobody.”

My husband was right…he latched on. Marc had as many lines on his face as old tree bark.

“I get lonely,” he said. Marc went on to tell me that he’d given his car to his grandson, and that said grandson would be picking him up in the morning to drive him to a funeral.

I learned he had two loves in his life. A wife who’d died many years ago, and a girlfriend he met at the retirement center and wished he would have married. She’d died several months back. He carried an eight by ten picture of her in a tote bag to show people. He missed them both, yet he counted himself lucky and blessed to have known and loved these two women. His grandson occasionally took him to the cemeteries so he could put roses on the women’s graves.

Marc worked as a welder with my father-in-law, traced their association back more than sixty years, recalled when my father-in-law took a swing at him ‘cause he was wearing a Kennedy for President button. He’s not a Democrat anymore. Not really a Republican, either.

He said he loved mystery books…and we adored many of the same authors: Tami Hoag, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, Lee Goldberg, Preston and Child, and on and on. We chatted about Harry Bosch and Elvis Cole and Aloysius Pendergast. He said he was particularly fond of authors that only hinted at bedroom scenes, leaving it to the imagination rather than blatantly describing sex acts; he said the better authors could tease you.

On the next visit to my father-in-law’s place, I gave Marc a copy of The Dead of Winter, my first Piper Blackwell book.

On another visit he pronounced the book “excellent,” and said I had made his favorite authors’ list.

He asked what kind of music I liked. I said classical and country. Marc serenaded me with a few moldy oldies I’d not heard before, then ended it with Good Ol Rocky Top. His voice wasn’t bad.

“Thanks for talking to me,” he said after every visit.

It wasn’t so much Marc needed someone to talk to. It’s that he needed someone to listen.

I told him I’d find a way to slip a piece of him into my next murder mystery—The Dead of Night, which releases September 15. I found just the spot for him in sleepy Spencer County, Indiana, someone for my sheriff to interact with. I put him in the opening scene.

But he’s not alone on that park bench. I created the Mark the Shark character based on my conversations with him and with two other men from the senior apartment complex, Navy veterans all. One of the men, Jim, is 102. The other man, Jerry, is my father-in-law; he recently turned 90. All three told me stories of their days in the Navy. I took lots of notes.

Though Mark the Shark is fiction, he was inspired by these three veterans, and some of the tales the Shark tells in The Dead of Night were things that happened overseas during these men’s deployment. I even used the real ships they were stationed on.

I’m fond of Mark the Shark. I hope you’ll like him too.

Here’s a piece of the opening scene with him:

He scooted over, making room for her. She guessed him to be in his early eighties. Twin canes were hooked over the top slat, and he wore a bulky jacket. The dispatcher had mentioned he was a geezer—“a whack-job paranoid geezer likely visited by aliens” were the exact words—and said that he claimed it was urgent and he would only speak to the sheriff…and only at this time and place.

“Evening, Mr. Thresher,” Piper said as she sat, keeping a good foot between them. He was redolent of old-man smells—warring liniments and too much aftershave. She swiveled to face him, took off her hat and rested it on her knees.

“Mark, Sheriff Blackwell.”

“Evening, Mark,” she said.

“Mark the Shark.”

“Interesting nickname,” Piper said.

“Had it a long time. Had it since the war.”

His voice was gritty like sheets of sandpaper rubbing together, a smoker’s voice, though she didn’t detect a hint of nicotine. She tipped her head and found the scent of the nearby river and the headiness of the sodden ground. More lightning speared the clouds, looking like metallic threads embroidered on a garment.

“You were in a war of sorts yourself,” Mark the Shark continued. “Read it in the newspaper last fall. That was a few weeks before the election. Read all about you.”

“Two tours in Iraq. Downrange assignments mostly.”

“That’s why I voted for you. I like folks with military experience, serving the country and all. Patriotic. Didn’t matter to me that you were what—”

“Twenty-three.” She still was. Her birthday was five months away.

“Yeah, didn’t matter that you were a pup. The article said you were Military Police. I figured that’d make you an excellent sheriff…just like your dad. Good man, Paul Blackwell. Good sheriff.” A pause. “Despite his politics.”

USA Today Bestselling author Jean Rabe has written 37 fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction novels. The Dead of Night, her 38th, is her second Piper Blackwell mystery. She has roughly 100 short stories in print, has edited a couple dozen anthologies, and has edited more magazines than she cares to tally. When she isn’t writing or editing, she tosses tennis balls to her cadre of dogs, visits museums, and tries to find gamers who will play Axis & Allies with her.

The Dead of Night
Order The Dead of Night on Amazon by clicking here

The Dead of Winter
Find The Dead of Winter on Amazon by clicking here

My Amazon author page is here

Mystery in Fall River with my buddy Christine

Christine (C.A.) Verstraete is the author of Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter. Her new novella, The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, A Mystery in Lizzie Borden’s Fall River, offers another view of the Borden murders by providing a glimpse into how the crime could have affected the Bordens’ neighbor and family physician, Dr. Seabury Bowen. Learn more at her website and blog.

Who is Dr. Bowen and why write about him?

Dr. Seabury Bowen was not only neighbor to Lizzie Borden and her family – his house was kitty-corner from theirs – but he was also their family physician. Following the murders of Andrew Borden and his wife Abby Durfee Borden on August 4th, 1892, the youngest daughter, Lizzie, sent the maid, Bridget Sullivan, out to find the doctor.

He was among the first officials at the murder scene.
As there are only newspaper reports and his trial testimony to go from, I started to wonder how the murders might have affected him. Yes, he was a medical professional, but this was a horrible crime – and he personally knew the victims. Beyond the ordinary motives, I thought there could possibly be a supernatural and paranormal influence. Why not?

Some facts about the Borden crime and Dr. Bowen:

* Bowen was the Bordens’ doctor for 12 years and practiced in Fall River for 26 years, according to his testimony for the defense on the fourth day of Lizzie Borden’s trial on June 8, 1893.

* He lived across from the Bordens for 21 years, with the Borden family living there “most” of the time.

* Only neighbor Mrs. Churchill and Lizzie were present when Dr. Bowen arrived at the Borden house. Lizzie’s first response to his question of what had happened is “Father has been killed” (or stabbed).

* He was the first to examine Mr. Borden, feeling no pulse and observed that nothing else was disturbed.

* He asked Lizzie where she’d been, to which she answered, “in the barn looking for some iron.” (fishing weights – for someone who never goes fishing?)

* Lizzie also told him that Mrs. Borden went out as she’d received a note, though Bowen said he wasn’t sure that was her exact words. He also later was described by a Fall River policeman as burning a written piece of paper. Coincidence?

* Newspaper reports described a relationship that seemed more than just distant neighbors…

* Did you know? He prescribed a small dose of morphine to Lizzie – up to the time of her arrest, the hearing and during her time at the station house. He admitted that double doses would produce hallucinations and loss of memory.

Yes, there’s more… but you’ll have to read the book to find out!

About The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, A Mystery in Lizzie Borden’s Fall River:

The short supernatural-flavored mystery (141 pages) is on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and coming in print. FIND IT HERE.

Author website is HERE.

Gruesome deaths haunt the industrial city of Fall River, Massachusetts.

Dr. Seabury Bowen—physician to the infamous Lizzie Borden—swears he’s being stalked by spirits, though his beloved wife thinks it’s merely his imagination. But the retired doctor insists that neither greed nor anger provoked the recent sensational axe murders in Fall River. Rather, he believes the city is poisoned by bad blood and a thirst for revenge dating back to the Indian and Colonial wars.

Now, two years after the Borden murders, Dr. Bowen is determined to uncover the mysteries stirring up the city’s ancient, bloodthirsty specters. Can he discover who, or what, is shattering the peace before Fall River runs red? Or will he be the next victim?

Part mystery, part love story, The Haunting of Dr. Bowen reveals the eerie side of Fall River as witnessed by the first doctor on the scene of the legendary Borden murders.

An excerpt of The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, A Mystery in Lizzie Borden’s Fall River:

Prologue

“Never did I say to anyone that she had died of fright. My first thought, when I was standing in the door, was that she had fainted.”

—Testimony of Dr. Seabury W. Bowen, Trial of Lizzie Borden, June 8, 1893

Why won’t anyone believe me? Why, Phoebe, why?”

Dr. Seabury Bowen shoved back the shock of white hair hanging over his forehead and wiped a wrinkled hand across his stubbled chin.
His appearance, like his surroundings, could stand a bit of major housekeeping, not that he cared a whit.

“Here, it’s here somewhere,” he mumbled.

The old man rummaged among the giant pile of documents, books, and what-not littering the large walnut desk in his study. Several minutes later, and after the search through dozens of loose papers, he saw the faded red book lying beneath a tottering pile. He pulled at it, sending the rest of the stack falling like so much unwanted garbage.

The good doctor, but a shadow of his once- robust self, flipped the pages. He stared at the offending journal entry before setting the book aside with a heartrending sob.

Chapter One

“I saw the form of Mr. Borden lying on the lounge at the left of the sitting-room door. His face was very badly cut, apparently with a sharp instrument; his face was covered with blood.”
—Testimony of Dr. Seabury W. Bowen, Trial of Lizzie Borden, June 8, 1893

The man reached toward him with long, lean fingers. Dr. Seabury Bowen blinked and tried to make out the features of the unknown figure standing in the corner. The unexpected visitor had a broad, dark face and what looked like a band across his forehead. Bowen stretched out his arm in turn and jumped when their fingers touched, the jolt surging through him like the electricity he knew would soon replace all the gas lights.

“Seabury, dear, are you all right?” His wife, Phoebe, sounded concerned. “What’s wrong?”

Bowen breathed hard. He bolted upright and held a hand on his chest, trying to catch his breath. Still stunned, he gazed about the room, disturbed at the odd shapes until he recognized familiar things… the bureau, the armoire, the paintings on his bedroom walls. He swallowed and nodded.

“Ye-yes. I-I’m fine. A bad dream, that’s all it was. Just a dream.”

“A bad dream? Dear, you’re breathing so hard, your heart must be pounding like a drum in Mr. Sousa’s band! Are you sure you’re fine?”

The doctor took his wife’s hand and kissed it, relieved to feel his heartbeat return to normal. He had to admit his reaction worried him for a minute, too. “I’m fine now, Phoebe. Really, it’s all right. Go back to sleep. I’m too wrought up to rest. I think I’ll go downstairs and read awhile.”

He gave her a loving smile before he rose and slipped on his robe, his thoughts in a whirl. To tell the truth, these dreams or hallucinations or whatever they were appeared to be getting stronger and more frequent. Not that he’d tell her, of course. It made Bowen wonder if he was losing touch with his faculties, something he’d never dare mention. Nor did he want to even entertain the thought, but he did. Am I going mad? Am I?

* Get the story HERE.

Wrinkles and my other four-legged muses

MUSE: a person or force providing inspiration for a creative artist

Synonyms: inspiration, creative influence, stimulus, DOG

I started out as a fantasy and science fiction writer. Well, actually I started out as a newspaper reporter covering courts, cops, and crime. But when I dove into the fiction well it was dragons and ogres and goblins and the like. That’s when I discovered that the dogs wrapped around my feet were my muses.

When I needed to write scenes from creatures’ perspectives, I didn’t want them to seem like humans in scaly suits. Those characters shouldn’t think like humans…or be motivated by all the same things.

So I looked at the world through my dogs’ eyes for inspiration. Dogs are pretty basic. Though each one has a very distinct personality; they all like to eat, play, sleep, and be in my company. They adore cheese, apples, strawberries, an assortment of things that are not meant to be edible; chasing tennis balls; ripping apart fluffy toys to find the squeaker; naps by the fireplace in the winter; walks down the block and peeing on every mailbox post along the way; chasing lightning bugs and butterflies; slaying rabbits that foolishly slip under the backyard fence; barking at the wind; and taking long dips in the kiddie pool in the summer. They live in the moment. They are amazing.

I wrote The Stonetellers Dragonlance trilogy for Wizards of the Coast, where the main goblins and hobgoblins were drawn from dogs who shared their years with me. My editor at the time told me he thought it was my best work. I never mentioned where the characters came from.

Now that I’ve switched genres, diving into the mystery well, I use my dogs another way…I slip them wholly into the stories.

My favorite dog…I think people with multiple dogs lie if they claim they love their dogs equally…is Wrinkles, an elderly pug gifted to me by a woman who was in the Air Force and who could no longer keep him. As I write this, Wrinkles is draped across my toes and softly snoring. He’s my constant shadow, and I sneak him cheese when the other dogs aren’t looking. My other canine companions include: Missy, a Boston terrier rescue; Fable, a Labrador my husband brought home from a farm; and Jake, a BIG Labrador, a foster who has made himself at home.

In my first mystery novel, The Dead of Winter, dogs and cats play an integral role in the plot. They’re carefully scattered in the background, but are key in my villain’s motivation. No fictional dogs or cats were harmed in the book. Wrinkles appears curled between the feet of a murder victim, and because he has some age to him, one of my characters takes him home rather than to the shelter. He also makes an appearance in The Dead of Night, my second mystery novel featuring Sheriff Piper Blackwell. Another dog and cat are added to the mix in that book. It comes out September 15. Maybe it’s a theme for the Piper books…adding pets to my characters’ lives. I think I’ll put a parrot in the third book. I have a miniature macaw named Trouble in my office.

One of my favorite mystery writers, Robert B. Parker of Spencer and Jesse Stone fame, put dogs in his books. His picture on the dust jacket showed him with a German Shorthair Pointer. Another favorite author, Robert Crais, introduced a canine character Maggie in his excellent novel Suspect, and continued her adventures in The Promise. My friend Margaret Weis, who writes fantasy, has four fine canine companions who join her in flyball. Donald J. Bingle, a writer pal who specializes in thrillers, has two rescue Shar-Peis. I know writers with cats…but this column is about dogs. Fantasy author R.A. Salvatore has three Japanese Chins. The awesome tale-spinner Brendan DuBois posts pictures of his companion Spencer the Wonder Dog. Alaskan SF author Craig Martelle talks about his walking buddy Phyllis the Arctic Dog. Jack Dann, most excellent author from Down Under, has a beagle. I’ll stop my list now.

Dogs and writers seem to go together, I think. They get us up from the keyboard for walks and to throw tennis balls. They lure us outside at night in the summer to marvel at the fireflies and to bark at the wind. They keep our feet warm, our hearts happy, our wallets thinner, our homes messier, and our writing lives better. And they are so kind as to let us look at the world through their eyes.

USA Today Bestselling author Jean Rabe has written 37 fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction novels. The Dead of Night, her 38th, is her second mystery. She has roughly 100 short stories in print, has edited a couple dozen anthologies, and has edited more magazines than she cares to tally. When she isn’t writing or editing, she tosses tennis balls to her cadre of dogs, visits museums, and tries to find gamers who will play Axis & Allies with her.

The Dead of Winter Find The Dead of Winter on Amazon by clicking here: https://www.amazon.com/Dead-Winter-Piper-Blackwell-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01LY5X4BB/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1475603013&sr=8-1&keywords=the+dead+of+winter+by+jean

And my Amazon author page at: https://www.amazon.com/Jean-Rabe/e/B00J1QR5U2/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1

I have a newsletter filled with tidbits about my dogs, upcoming books, reviews of things I’m reading, and writing advice. You can subscribe here: http://jeanrabe.us14.list-manage1.com/subscribe?u=89364515308e8b5e7ffdf6892&id=9404531a4b