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
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The Dead of Winter
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