Pauline Baird Jones Explains How a Duet Came to Be

Pauline Baird Jones has an unusual offer for us today: science fiction romance. Hers is one of two stories published as a duet with her friend Genie Davis. If you’ve ever wondered how an author comes up with ideas, well, this is an interesting twist on the process. You can find out more about Pauline here.

Like many of my ideas, Open With Care began with Genie, the other author in our duet, and I at lunch, talking.

“Why haven’t we written something together?” One of us asked. I don’t remember which one. It was a question because we’d been friends (online first and after some years, some face-to– face meetings) for a long time. So then and there, we decided to write “something” together.

Soon.

By the end of the year.

We did some kicking around of idea via Facebook Messenger and decided our “duet” would have these elements:
1. Wyoming
2. In the science fiction romance genre.
3. Holiday (Christmas)
4. Be triggered by an unusual gift.

So separately, we took these elements and started writing. Because you have to write holiday stories ahead of the holidays, I found myself working
on my story, “Up on the Rooftop,” in August. Luckily, I was also in Wyoming, but that didn’t help as much as you’d think it would. Because it was August.

My story idea was further refined by a couple of personal triggers:
1. That spring I was at the Romantic Times Convention in Las Vegas and involved in the Intergalactic Bar & Grille party. We decorated with blow up, green aliens.
2. My real life experience with aging parents.

How I brought all of these elements together into a single short story, well, frankly, it puzzles me, too. Apparently, I poured them into my brain, turned on the brain blender, and out came a quirky tale of aliens on the rooftop, Men in Black in the yard, and a long shot chance to rekindle an old romance.

Genie’s story is quintessentially hers, too. It is evocative, a little dark, but ultimately a hopeful story about love and the power of Christmas. Hers has aliens, too, but not the little green men variety.

The Stories:

Gini knew Christmas in Wyoming would be challenging as she headed
over the frozen crick and through the woods to the family cabin. The lights
are going out in her mom’s attic, the guy who broke her heart is on the
porch…and there are aliens on the roof.
According to her mom, it’s going to be the best Christmas ever.
And then dive into a mesmerizing tale of interstellar time travel and
romance!

Jane MacKenzie, visiting her grandfather’s abandoned ranch,
discovers something in the snow. When she opens the ribbon-wrapped
box, it mysteriously returns Sam Harrington, who “disappeared” in an  1885
blizzard.
There’s nothing alien in this enduring tale of holiday homecomings and
the hope of a love that lasts a lifetime.

You can buy Open With Care at BarnesandNoble, Google Play, Kobo, Amazon, and iTunes, or just go to the link for Open With Care.

Lois Winston on the Mystery of Crafts

Lois Winston

My guest post today, Lois Wilson, writes one of the funniest series out there, featuring amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack, a craft editor at a major magazine. If you’ve ever thought that a mystery with crafts or recipes had to be tooth-achingly twee, come meet Anastasia. Trust me, it takes real talent to mix mop dolls and scrapbooking with gangsters, communists, and spies – and those are the good guys! 

I started my career as a romance author, but in my day job I’m a designer. For several decades (more than I’m willing to admit at this stage in my life!), I’ve designed needlework for kit manufacturers, magazines, book publishers, and the world’s leading producer of embroidery floss. One day about twelve years ago an editor told my agent she was looking for crafting mysteries. My agent immediately thought of me and asked if I’d be interested in trying my hand at writing one. I jumped at the challenge, and the rest is history.

First, I did a bit of research to see what types of crafting mysteries were being published. I discovered all of them featured one particular craft and most took place in craft shops or a crafter’s studio. With just about every craft already covered and many crafts represented in multiple series (yarn and knitting mysteries galore!), I decided to break from the pack. I came up with Anastasia Pollack, the crafts editor at a women’s magazine. That way, rather than my mystery centering round a single type of craft, I could feature different crafts in each book. No other crafting mystery author had done that.

When you write a crafting mystery series, readers expect you to include craft projects, just as authors who write culinary mysteries are expected to include recipes. Recipes are easier. They don’t require charts or diagrams or step-by-step how-to photos the way many crafts do.

Right off the bat I was presented with a dilemma. Knowing the chances of a publisher agreeing to include photos in the books were slim to none, I had to come up with crafts that could be made with only written directions. This is easy if the craft is knitting or crochet. It’s far more difficult for other crafts.

For Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, I chose to feature general crafts. Anastasia is working on two different magazine features in this book, one for June weddings and one for Fourth of July celebrations. I included directions for appliqué embellished bridal tennis shoes and birdseed roses for the wedding crafts. For the Fourth of July crafts I featured recycled jeans placemats, clay pot candles, and a decoupaged flag tray.

After the first book, I settled on one type of craft for each book. Death by Killer Mop Doll includes directions for making mop dolls and string doll ornaments. Revenge of the Crafty Corpse features projects made with fabric yo-yos, and Decoupage Can Be Deadly includes (what else?) decoupage crafts. In A Stitch to Die For I went with knit and crocheted baby blankets. Scrapbook of Murder is the newest book in the series. For this book, rather than include a specific craft project, I’ve featured a series of scrapbooking tips.

Now I have to start thinking about a plot and a craft for the next book in the series. Any suggestions?

You can find out more about Lois Winston at her website, www.loiswinston.com or read Anastasia’s blog. You can find Scrapbook For Murder at Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Amazon.

Nancy Cole Silverman on Writing Herself – Or Not Herself

Nancy Cole Silverman impersonating Carol Childs (or is it the other way around)?

As somebody who otherwise leads a pretty boring life, it’s always amazed me when I run into novels written by folks who bear an uncanny resemblance to their characters. So when Nancy Cole Silverman, who has more than a little in common with her character Carol Childs, agreed to do a guest post for me, I had to ask about how and where she draws the line. And she did!

Anne Bannon believes my protagonist has been impersonating me.  Or maybe it’s the other way around, since on more than one occasion, Anne, and a number of friends, have referred to me as Carol Childs.

Allow me to set the record straight.  My name is Nancy Cole Silverman, and I created Carol Childs, she was a figment of my imagination.  A strong, take no prisoners type of now-gal, who believes, no matter what the situation, “Brains Beat Brawn, and a Mic is more Powerful than a Forty-five.” In short, as an investigative reporter for a Los Angeles talk radio station, Carol doesn’t carry a gun, she carries a microphone.

Idealistic?

You bet. But then I spent twenty-five year in news and talk radio, and saw first hand where the power of the mic got the last word on more than one bad varmint in this town. OJ Simpson and Robert Blake may have not been found guilty of murder, but by the time their trial ended, the court of public opinion–the chatter on the airwaves–had cast a very different light on both the man and the crime.

The truth is, Carol Childs is my alter ego. And why not? I’ve taken my experiences, both those from inside some of Los Angeles’ busiest newsrooms, and those from my life as a single mom and bled them onto the page, in an attempt to make Carol feel real to the reader.

Similarities aside, however, Carol Childs is not me. Creating a character, particularly a powerful and believable protagonist requires a little distance and few rules; Writing What You Know, Research, and Romance or Writing From the Heart. I call them the three R’s.

Write what you know.  Everybody has experience in something and pulling from that can be an invaluable resource when writing.  Nora Ephron said, “Everything is copy.”  For me, that experience was working in a newsroom.  It helps when I sit down to write a scene to remember the world I came from; the non-stop deadlines, the constant chatter from the news desk to reporters and that adrenalin rush a reporter feels when uncovering a breaking news story. Along with all the facts and stats of the newsroom, I also pull from my own experiences as a single, working mom. Like I was then, Carol Childs is a single mom, struggling to establish herself in a tough competitive field and the clock is always ticking.

Research. I certainly haven’t had any first-hand experience with any of the crimes involved in my books.  Like most mystery writers I may write about murder, but poisons, sex trafficking, international jewelry theft or vigilante killings, like those I have exposed Carol to in my books, I’ve no first-hand knowledge.  Instead, I did a lot of research. Admittedly, research can lead a writer down a lot of rabbit holes, but in the end, when well-researched information is blended with real-life scenarios we get a ripped-from-the-headlines type of feel to the story.  I love when readers ask me if I really encountered such things while working in radio.  It’s my gotcha moment, my reward for a job well done.

Romance or Writing From the Heart: I believe it’s important for a writer to take note of their emotions.  Psychologist have categorized six basic emotions; happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust, but writers know telling isn’t showing.  It’s important for a writer to note if a character is surprised to be able to recall their own physical and psychological reactions to such an emotion.  Equating that to the character’s feeling on the page in a way the reader can relate to helps to make the character real and memorable.

If readers recognize me on the page, I suppose I’ve nobody to blame but myself. Sometimes writers put more of themselves into their work then they know.  Hemmingway was accused of it in his Nick Adams short stories. Some literary critics suspect that Charlotte Bronte may have lived vicariously through her characterization of Jane Eyre, and I’ve often wondered if Janet Evanovich is more Stephanie Plum than she lets on.  Whatever the case, my name is Nancy Cole Silverman, I’m the voice behind The Carol Childs Mysteries, as for any similarities, I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Nancy’s latest book, Room for Doubt, is now available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. You can find out more about her and the other Carol Childs mysteries at her site, www.nancycolesilverman.com.

Author Shannon Muir on Writing in Multiple Genres

Shannon Muir (Guy Viau Photography)

Author and screenwriter Shannon Muir is best known for her pulp mystery suspense stories that appear in a variety of anthologies. However, she’s not one to stop there. She’s got a whole host of fantasy stories out, too. Here she is on why she doesn’t stick to one single genre (which sounds more than a little familiar to me).

In my youth, I grew up with a mother who watched soap operas, a father devoted to science fiction and fantasy, discovering a love of mysteries on my own, and in college getting an English degree emphasizing literary prose and poetry. Looking back, it doesn’t surprise me that I’ve tried writing a variety of genres trying to find my niche. Early effort strove to be of the soap-opera-in-book-form variety, but I’ve come to learn I’m my own worst enemy in that regard. One thing I really want to focus on is character psychology and why characters behave as they do. It took a while to learn that the traditional romance book, while not without complications, doesn’t really venture down these paths. This required me to take a step back and figure out what I really wanted to be writing.

I realized that what I wanted to be doing were stories that had discovery and mystery at the core, with a focus on character. Early opportunities opened up with niche genre publisher Pro Se Press, who – especially at that time – emphasized fiction written in a pulp style. For me, it became easier to write more of an action piece if I latched on to a character in a period tale; that is a big reason that my early short stories with Pro Se Press are set in 1950 or earlier. I didn’t see them as mystery or crime stories at first, but more pulp-style action stories.

Not long after that, I began to find out about a handful of female writers who wrote for Pro Se Press that also happened to be members of Sisters in Crime. That’s how I began to make the connection that I might fit into some bigger picture with the stories I told. I still remember the day not long after I started regularly networking with mystery and crime authors that I realized a short story I’d previously done, “Ghost of the Airwaves,” was a female amateur sleuth mystery as much as a suspense tale since the lead character actively works to find her husband’s killer. With more recent published stories like “Hidden History” in the anthology Explorer Pulp, and “Tropical Terror” in the anthology Crime Down Island, multiple genre influences are also a bit more apparent. With “Hidden History,” though the thrust of the anthology call was for action stories with explorers, I have a strong interest in how people think and motivation. Therefore, I developed that story with a character mystery first which ended up being a tale of suspense and crime. “Tropical Terror” really clearly shows the cross-genre as the former Marine that gets tied up in the local mystery also uncovers a soap-opera like plot in which his girlfriend is a central player.

So, at the heart, what I want to write is a good character story, that contains some mystery or discovery, that I’ve call “the mystery of character” and use it as part of my branding. Then, I seek out the genre that best fits the way to tell that character’s story. It might be hard action, it could be cozy and romantic; it could take place in the past or present, or maybe not even on Earth. I’ve actually started to discover some interesting and classic mysteries with investigators who utilize fantastical elements, such as the Lord Darcy series by Randall Garrett, the Garrett, P.I.  series by Glen Cook, and the more recent Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher (who counts Cook among his influences). While it will require a lot of research, bringing my personal genre passions together in this manner is something I hope to experiment with in the future.

Admittedly, not sticking to one genre makes any form of marketing a challenge, as I can’t be easily “typecast” or “pigeon-holed” into a set of expectations. Fortunately, while sales are a nice thing to have, that wasn’t what motivated me to want to write; that motivation comes from a strong desire to be a storyteller. In the end, I’m telling the stories I want to tell, and willing to take those risks. That’s better than not even taking the chance and finding out what you can do as a writer.

You can find out more about Shannon Muir and her work at her website, www.shannon-muir.com

Ilene Schneider on What Mysteries Can Do

Rabbi Ilene Scheidler

Rabbi Ilene Schneider, EdD, was one of the first women to be ordained in the United States. So after a lifetime of working in Jewish education administration, then as a hospice chaplain and coordinating a Jewish hospice program, she wrote a short series of mysteries featuring Rabbi Aviva Cohen, who in between leading a congregation, offering advice and dealing with synagogue politics, stumbles into murders and solves them. You can find out more about Rabbi Scheidler on her website RabbiAuthor.com, or check out her Facebook page, Rabbi Author.

When I asked my gracious blog host Anne Louise Bannon about suggestions for my post, she mentioned, “How about the use of the murder mystery to share our values, maybe as a mitzvah? Not necessarily as a way of beating people over the head to agree with us, but as a way to present another way of thinking about something?” Her question got me thinking (as all good questions should) about how much of an author’s views are reflected in the fictional characters. And, conversely, how hard is it to incorporate opinions the opposite of the author’s into a book?

I know that an author does not have to be a murderer or a rapist or a sadist or a crook to write convincing villains. I admire authors who can write convincing thrillers, yet I wonder how some are able to squelch their own distaste or squeamishness to compose actions I have trouble reading. I find it very hard to write scenes that depict graphic violence, which is why I write cozies. Everything is off the page. I find it is easier to describe a character’s reactions to an event than to write the event.

(As an aside, I write a first person narrative, and my protagonist, Rabbi Aviva Cohen, looks a lot like me. In fact, she looks like me. I’ve commented on panels that as good an imagination as I may have, I do have difficulty writing from the first person point of view of someone who is tall and svelte and athletic, has straight, silky hair, and complains she can’t find a bathing suit that fits because the tops are too roomy.)

One advantage of writing fiction is being able to put unpopular or racist or other objectionable opinions into the mouths of characters the readers aren’t supposed to like. It’s a great form of therapy to ascribe such views to the bad guys, particularly if they’re based on real people I dislike. But it does not mean I ascribe to those views. But I also find it cathartic to explore what may consider esoteric or philosophic or theoretical ideas. The trick, as Anne alluded to, is to find a balance between lecturing and discussing, to teach without indoctrinating. And to do it without diverting from the plot or boring the reader.

In my latest book, Yom Killer, I have a scene in which Aviva and a colleague, who works as a chaplain, have a discussion about how to be a spiritual counselor when one has questions about the validity of the theology patients and their families want or need to hear. I used the scene to explore issues that have bothered me as a rabbi and rationalist, particularly when I worked as a hospice chaplain. Aviva voiced the hesitations I had, while her friend supplied the answers I also espouse.

Now it was my turn to shake my head. “Wow. I wish I could have your faith, but I feel like such a fraud sometimes.” 

“Don’t. Just remember that you have to be where your patients are, even if you believe what you’re saying is no more than a banality. You’re helping them, and that’s all that matters. If they think they’ll see their parents in the afterlife, don’t lecture them about how there’s no such thing. If they start talking to their dead husband, don’t tell them it’s a hallucination caused by reduced blood flow to the brain.” 

I quickly backtracked. “Oh, I never would. I always agree with whatever they believe. It’s just that I feel like such a hypocrite, betraying my own belief system.” 

“I’m repeating myself here, Aviva, but it’s not a betrayal to soothe others.”

So, yes, Anne, I do add elements to my books “as a way to present another way of thinking about something.” Is it a mitzvah? Only my readers can answer whether they benefit from these ramblings. I like to think I am giving them a new insight.

As for Anne’s other possible topics for my guest blog, perhaps next time I will take her suggestion to “riff on the glory of the Krispy Kreme.”

Schneider’s latest book is Yom Killer, which you can buy in paperback at Barnes and Noble or in ebook and paper at Amazon.

 

 

 

Merrilee Robson on Housing-Inspired Murder

Merrilee Robson

Please welcome Canadian author Merrilee Robson, whose first book is based on her own experiences with a housing option we don’t have here in the states. Murder is Uncooperative is her first book, unless you count the one she wrote at age 11. I’m impressed about that first one. I asked Merrilee to explain what is cooperative housing.

During university, I moved every six months. From the apartment on a busy street we left when the mouse infestation became unbearable, to a cold and gloomy room in a shared house where someone else regularly ate the food I bought. There was the basement suite that flooded, leaving my roommate and I trying to salvage our belongings while wading knee deep in cold water. Then came the nice one-bedroom I had to leave when the rent was raised, and then finally the apartment that was charming but a firetrap.

It was while living in the last place that our fortunes changed. A government program allowed the tenants in the building to buy, renovate and run the building as a non-profit housing co-op. Young couples settled down and raised families. Refugees and other new immigrants found a stable community that welcomed them. Seniors were able to “age in place” in affordable rental homes where they knew their neighbours. We lived there for 10 years.

In my new mystery, Murder is Uncooperative, all Rebecca wants is a safe, affordable home for her family. That’s not an easy thing to find in an expensive rental market. At first she thinks she’s found the perfect home in a non-profit housing co-op. But then she finds a body.

The book focuses on how desperate people can get trying to find a home for their family. That experience will ring true for readers, whether they understand housing co-ops or not.

But Anne asked me to explain a bit about what a co-op is. In Canada, where Murder is Uncooperative is set, there are over 2,000 co-ops across the country housing a quarter of a million people. But there are housing co-ops in most countries around the world, including in the United States.

The main distinction between a housing cooperative and other forms of home ownership is that in a housing cooperative you don’t directly own real estate. People buy shares or a membership in a housing co-op, which is often a non-profit. In some cases there is government subsidy to help keep costs down for low-income residents. Co‑op housing also offers security. Co‑ops are controlled by their members, who have a vote in decisions about their housing. There is no outside landlord.

And how did housing co-op members react to their homes being portrayed as the scene of a murder. They were thrilled! While housing co-ops can be safe havens for many, there are inevitably tensions among groups of people trying to live together.

“I bet I know who dies and I bet I know why,” people kept telling me. Or they asked, “Is it based on my co-op?”

In any case, housing co-op members seem to like seeing their lives portrayed in the first housing co-op mystery.

You can find Murder is Uncooperative at Kobo.com, Barnes and Noble, Chapters Indigo Books, or Amazon.

Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger Explain ’50s Slang

Will Zeilinger and Janet Elizabeth Lynn

Co-authors Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger are friends of mine from our local Sisters in Crime chapter. (Sisters in Crime is a national organization supporting women who write mysteries, which means we also include misters). They’re a married couple who wrote separately, but now, together, they write the Skylar Drake mysteries, set in the 1950s. You can find out more about the books and Janet’s other books here. Janet has offered us a short glossary of slang from the 1950s.

My husband and I write The Skylark Drake Murder Mysteries, a hard boiled 1950s series. To make this as authentic as we can, we include the language used during that time period. Yeah, some people actually feel the 1950s is considered historical (Umm!)

It is fun looking up some of the slang that was used by the “younger generation” and for me, remembering some as well.

Burn Rubber-when a car accelerates quickly

Shocker-a liar or cheat

Knuckle sandwich- a punch in the face

Get on the horn-to use a phone

Dullsville-a boring or dull person

Wig out-get agitated

So to make our characters real, not only do we dress them in period clothes (i.e. gloves and hats) and include current events of the time we also include some of the slang.

Our third book in the series, Desert Ice was released in January and…yes we are still married!

Thanks, Janet. You can pick up copies of Desert Ice at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

 

 

Judy Alter Looks at Sparking Up an Established Series

Please welcome to the blog today author Judy Alter. She’s best known for her fictional biographies of Women of the American West, as well as the Kelly O’Connell mysteries. Today, however, she’s sharing with us how she set up the plot for her third Blue Plate Café mystery series. You can find out more about Ms. Alter on her website judyalter.com.

Judy Alter

When I sat down to write Murder at Peacock Mansion, third in the Blue Plate Mystery Series, the framework of the Blue Plate Mystery Series was already set firmly in place by two previous novels, Murder at the Blue Plate Café and Murder at Tremont House. Kate Chambers is settled back in her hometown of Wheeler, Texas, running her grandmother’s Blue Plate Café. Busy with local life—and scandals and murders—she no longer misses the high life in Dallas.

Her love/hate relationship with her sister is ever-present, as is Donna’s husband, Tom, in his role of good guy. The dog Huggles is firmly in place—and would become a player in Peacock. Also established was Kate’s penchant for getting involved in situations she shouldn’t. She solved the murder of her beloved Gram, and she untangled the twisted story behind a woman who came to Wheeler posing as a journalist but really motivated by her own anger and jealousy.

Each time Kate promised to ignore trouble . . . and then found she could not sit idly by when things in her town went awry. Murder at Peacock Mansion is not a romance. It’s a cozy mystery, per most definitions I know, with the requisite single female who is an amateur sleuth. But like many cozies, the series has a fairly strong element of romance. In Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Kate, who expected to be dateless in Wheeler, found herself courted by three men, each in his own way. By book three, Dave Millican, the nursery owner who always had dirt under his fingernails and on his clothes but who had a soft heart for Kate and Huggles both, has left the action. Similarly, Rick Samuels, the uptight ex-Dallas policemen who became Wheeler’s chief of police, has moved on, puzzled that for all their attraction to each he and Kate never quite clicked.

That leaves David Clinkcscales, Dallas lawyer and Kate’s former boss. He has moved to the Wheeler area to get away from the city and his recent divorce, and he and Kate find themselves enjoying each other’s company outside the office. They become a couple, quietly moving into Kate’s house, despite Donna’s frowns of disapproval, and cooperating on Kate’s capers with the law—or the lawless. So how could I make Murder at Peacock Mansion new? Plot and intrigue. The story comes straight out of my own neighborhood, where a huge, dark and shuttered house is known by local kids as “the murder house” because the reclusive woman who lives there was accused years earlier of killing her husband. Acquitted she was allowed to stay in the house as long as she lived; after her death, it would revert to the heirs. I took that kernel of a story and ran with it, moving the house to East Texas and creating a complicated and often greedy set of heirs. Things get more complicated when the recluse’s first husband turns up—dead, and Kate and her friends are confined to her own house for their safety. The peacocks? They just showed up one day.

You can buy Murder at Peacock Mansion at Barnes and Noble and at Amazon

Phyllis Smallman and a Different Kind of Sleuth

Phyllis Smallman

I have to say Phyllis Smallman beat me to an idea I had that I haven’t quite developed – a homeless person as a sleuth. It’s a terrific conceit, especially when you consider just how invisible homeless people are, sadly. Anyway, you can find out more about Phyllis and her character Singer Brown at her website www.phyllissmallman.com. Or you can read below.

Who is Singer Brown and whatever possessed me to write about this homeless woman? The two main reasons were Janis Joplin and Jack Reacher.

I saw her as a Jack Reacher character, moving from city to city and finding trouble wherever she went. And then there was Janis Joplin. I’ve always wondered if Janis would have found a place in the music scene that came after her? I don’t think so, and Singer didn’t either. She left home at sixteen to sing in a rock band and almost made it, almost a star, but bad choices, of lifestyle and men, took away her options. Now she lives in her old yellow van and sings on the street for coins. Her life consists of watching the lives of others unfold, and watching for danger, while constantly being told to move on. Life on the street turns women into prey, but Singer is no easy victim. And Singer has discovered, there are benefits to being one of the unseen people. When she wants the perfect disguise, she mutters to herself and has arguments with invisible adversaries, becoming that person everyone gives a wide berth.

Life on the street may have robbed her of her dignity and her sense of belonging, but it hasn’t taken away her humanity, her deep sense of right and wrong. In Saving Kali, while parked in an alley between derelict buildings, she sees a woman take a pre-school girl into an abandoned factory and come out alone. Singer tells herself not to get involved, rhymes off a list of reasons to ignore what she saw. And besides, there’s probably a good explanation for what just happened. The problem is she can’t think of one.

Singer hardly has time to pat herself on the back for her courage before unintended consequences put her at great risk. Does she save herself or does she do the right thing? And what is the right thing? For Singer, it seems to depend on the situation.  For instance, in Long Gone Man she goes to a small island of the coast of British Columbia to kill the man who destroyed her life.

Beach Kill is my latest book in this series. Singer is in love and is tempted into a normal existence. But life has a different plan for Singer. When a teenage girl is killed and mutilated, first by man and then by nature, Singer identifies her by the blue butterfly on her ankle.

Singer represents my worst fears. To be without a safe space to call my own, without people who love me, is a terrifying thought but one, in the deep recesses of my heart, that has always seemed possible. In writing Singer, I’m writing my fears. Strange therapy, isn’t it?

You can find Beach Kill at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com.

Christina Hoag on Moving From Non-Fiction to Fiction

Christina Hoag, author of Skin of Tattoos

My connection to Christina Hoag is one of those things that really makes you believe in those six degrees of separation. We both belong to the same mystery readers email list, which how we first connected. Turns out, we’d actually met face to face the week before at our local Sisters in Crime chapter meeting here in Los Angeles. Even better, she knows some friends of mine from the Miami Herald. She’s also got a really great novel out, Skin of Tattoos, which came from her work as a journalist. Here she writes about the difference between the two.

Many novelists have started their writing careers as journalists. Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Graham Greene to name a few. But writing nonfiction is a different skill than writing fiction. To be sure, there are many similarities, but there are also key differences – namely one is restricted to truth and the other enjoys the panoramic realm of imagination. There are others that are less obvious, as I was to find out when I started writing fiction in earnest, trying to fulfill my childhood dreams of writing novels.

I’ve been a print journalist for thirty years. I’d written fiction on and off since I was a child. In fact, I won a prize when I was six years old for “writing interesting stories.” So becoming a journalist was a natural step for me. It’s been a career that I’ve loved but ultimately I also felt restrained by. It was always about writing someone else’s story. Fiction is your own story, of your own choosing, and I was eager to undertake this challenge, but in order to develop my fiction I had to “undevelop” several journalistic habits.

The key hurdle in writing fiction for journalists is emotion. Journalists are trained to be neutral observers, impartial witnesses, to present a balanced picture of the facts. Emotion, in your average news story, does not factor in the equation, although it does to a greater degree in narrative fiction. Emotion, however, is the cornerstone of good fiction. Novelists need to portray the range of emotion their characters feel in order to evoke emotion in their readers. There’s no need for balance or impartiality. Indeed, the less of that stuff, the better.

Those elements stand in the way of portraying emotion, and why, in my opinion, many reporter/novelists gravitate toward writing plot-driven stories, such as detective mysteries, where there’s more of a “just the facts ma’am” feel to that type of fiction. Mysteries, for example, generally involve little emotion or emotional arc in the characters.

When I was writing the first draft of my first novel, I got about 170 pages in and I realized what I’d written read like a reportage. I chucked it and started again. It actually took many more drafts before I found myself loosening the reins and letting that emotion come through. And when it did, it gushed out.

Something that really helped me in this regard was acting classes. Acting is all about depicting emotion. Once I gave myself license to do that physically in either scene work or exercises designed to reach and draw out inner emotion, it became much easier to do that on the page with my characters. I also understood better how emotion works in dialogue and scenes, how to show it more than tell it.

I firmly believe, however, that journalism is great training for novelists. Reporters instinctively know what a good story is. They know how to research, how to interview. They know that details can make a story come alive and how to construct sentences that make sense, and structure and order a story. They are exposed to all types of people, issues, lifestyles, experiences. As I like to say, I’ve interviewed bums to billionaires, presidents to prostitutes. All that makes great grist for the novelist’s mill. Maybe, most importantly reporters are used to sitting down in a chair in front of a blank computer screen and filling it with words—on deadline.

I would never exchange my background as a journalist for, say, an MFA. Yes, it may take some work to switch from one to the other, but many have done it, including myself.

Thanks, Christina. You can find out more about Christina Hoag on her website www.christinahoag.com, or connect with her via social media at Facebook.com/ChristinaHoagAuthor, Twitter.com/ChristinaHoag, or Instagram.com/ChristinaHoagAuthor. Skin of Tattoos is available at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.