Monday, October 31, 2022

What Scares Us?

 by Thomas Kies

Happy Halloween readers!!  Since today is the day when, according to the ancient Celtic tradition of Samhain, we should be lighting bonfires and donning costumes to ward off ghosts…but instead, we’re putting on costumes and eating ourselves into a sugar frenzy—let’s talk about what scares us.

Full disclosure, I like scary stuff.  I like novels by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and the late Peter Straub.  I enjoy the occasional horror movie like Rosemary’s Baby, The Thing, The Shining, and yes, Halloween.  I like going on ghost walks and ghost hunts.

Regarding ghost hunts—I wrote about one in my first book Random Road. That’s loosely based on a real ghost hunt I was lucky enough to join.  I was the president of the Norwalk Seaport Association at the time and one night we ferried a crew of experienced ghost hunters out to Sheffield Island.  The island is on Long Island Sound and boasts a wildlife refuge and a nineteenth century lighthouse and lighthouse keeper’s cottage.  

The island has no running water and no electricity and when you’re out there, it’s dark and deathly quiet.  While I sat quietly drinking a glass of wine at midnight at a picnic table, the hunters snapped photos, took electrical and temperature readings, ran audio recordings, and prowled around the lighthouse and the island. They brought back photos of “orbs” and one picture of a little girl’s face in a second-floor window as she was gazing out at us.  One of the hunters was a psychic or “intuitive” who told us there were three ghosts living out on that island.

The only spirits I saw that night were in my glass.

I sometimes write about things that scare me.  In my third book Graveyard Bay I wrote about White Supremacist crime gangs, the Russian Mafia, dungeons, and S&M…oh my! My neighbor read it and when I asked him how he liked it, he replied with a deadpan expression, “Gave me nightmares.” 

As a writer, that’s when ya’ know you nailed it, baby.

My wife, Cindy, and I are in the middle of watching the Netflix anthology Cabinet of Curiosities originated and hosted by Guillermo del Toro.  I’ve always enjoyed his work, especially his movie Nightmare Alley.  The ending was not only scary as hell but dripping with delicious irony. 

According to Mr. del Toro, this is what frightens him.  “The moment Lon Chaney is revealed as the Phantom of the Opera was one of those seminal moments in my mind. It scared me not because of how scary it looked, but because of how remote and majestic Lon Cheney played it. That gesture, so unique and so commanding and so full of power and rage and despair. It was truly a powerful moment.”

What scares the master of horror Stephen King?  In many of his novels, characters go mad or lose their minds due to dementia, fear, or isolation like the Jack Torrance character in The Shining. When that happens, even well-intentioned people can do horrible things. In an NPR interview he did a number of years ago, King said, “That’s the boogeyman in the closet now. I’m afraid of losing my mind.”

Why are “haunted houses” and horror novels and movies so popular?  My own theory is that we know that, in the end, we’ll be putting that book down and all will be well.  When the lights come on at the end of the movie, we know we’ve had a good scare, but it wasn’t real, was it? 

It’s like being on a rollercoaster.  It feels like we’re facing death by moving at an eyepopping speed and dropping down the tracks over a cliff while your stomach is trying to figure out where it’s supposed to be. But at the end, we know we’ll be stepping out of the ride, legs weak, heart pounding, but safe.

So, it’s Halloween…what scary movie shall we watch tonight?  What will you be doing?

Friday, October 28, 2022



By Johnny D. Boggs

The telephone rang last week, and I pushed away from the keyboard and answered. The news stunned me.

Karl Cordova died after cardiac arrest the day before. He was 52.

Karl worked for, and loved, the National Park Service, serving as superintendent at Casa Grande (Arizona) Ruins National Monument and Pecos (New Mexico) National Historical Park. I met him after he moved to New Mexico to take the Pecos job. His two sons and my son were in the same Boy Scout troop -- Karl eventually became Scoutmaster, and I was one of several assistants -- and all three boys played baseball. I coached baseball with Karl, sometimes against him, and umpired a few ballgames in which the boys played.

                                                        Karl Cordova at a naturalization 
                                                        ceremony at Pecos National His-
                                                        torical Park in 2016.

I have never met anyone as calm and collected as Karl. He never lost his cool -- hard to do when you're wrangling pre-teen and teenage boys.

The sad news also had me thinking that as a writer, you often never know if you touch readers, and it's a blessing when you have. It's a bigger blessing when you realize how a reader can touch you.

The last time I say Karl was in March. He invited me to bring the family to a dinner in Pecos with Friends of Pecos National Historical Park on the eve of the park's annual Civil War Encampment (the 1862 battle of Glorieta Pass, in which Union forces turned back a Confederate invasion, was partially fought on what's now park property). I'd talk a bit about writing historical novels and answer any questions.

Over the years, I had given Karl some of my novels, and he had bought others. His father, he said, was a big fan of my books and loved Westerns. When you write in this genre, you hear that fairly often: My father reads ... My grandfather reads ... my great-grandpa reads. ... Well, Karl said he liked my books, too, though I'm pretty sure his sons had no interest in reading Westerns.

But that night, Karl told another story.

He was visiting his father in the hospital. His dad was reading Hard Winter, if my memory's right. I said, "I kinda like that one myself." They talked about my my writing style, how they liked the way I told different kinds of Westerns, how I did my research, how I made my characters realistic, believable, human. I was wondering if my hat would fit when I had to leave.

And then Karl said:

"My father passed away that night. So I'll always remember that the last conversation we had was about your books." 

Readers have written letters or emails or even telephoned to say how much they like something I've written, or why they didn't like what I'd written. But I'd never heard anything like what Karl said that night. I signed a copy of the book in memory of Karl's dad.

This morning, I'll be at Karl's funeral. This afternoon, I'll be back in the office, writing a novel with a deadline fast approaching. But I've already rewritten part of that book. A few days ago, I called up the Word doc and went to the dedication. Deleted what I had written, then replaced it with:

In memory of Karl Cordova (1970-2022),
fellow baseball coach, Scout leader, and friend;
and his father, Bill (1936-2020),
who liked my novels.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

The Eighth First Draft

I have just begun the preliminary research and planning stages for my next novel (number 14), and soon I'll be in that apply-glue-to-rear-end-and-sit-down-in-front-of-computer-whether-you-like-it-or-not stage. Wringing out the first draft.

Or trying to. I find my mind wandering at the most inconvenient times, and considering that I have a tendency to give in to random thought as it is, I'm not having any luck completing the tasks I should.

For instance, rather than work on the manuscript I've just spent the last fifteen minutes naming my rock band. I was listening to Death Cab for Cutie when it occurred to me that they must have come up with their name by throwing darts at a dictionary. "Donis," I say to myself, "if you close your eyes and stab your pencil point at random spots on the newspaper, surely you could come up with your own effective band moniker." I've done this several times and have a whole pile of likely band names in case anyone is looking. Here are the latest, my four, three, two, and one word band names, in just the order random chance dictated.

Those Filet-Mignon Panini

Makes an Error

Secret History


I discovered several books ago that if I’m going to be able to power through the pain of a first draft, I have to set myself a rigid writing schedule. This is difficult for me, since I’m not by nature a disciplined person. I don’t enjoy forcing myself to put words on the page, whether I’m feeling inspired at that moment or not. I’m always anxious and unhappy for much of a first draft. Why, I ask myself, isn’t this better? It seemed like such a good idea when it was still in my head.

Why do I put myself through it? I’m never sure I can pull it off, no matter how many times I’ve pulled it off before. But then there are those days, even while you’re struggling with the first draft, when you do hit the perfect note, or compose a passage so beautiful and true that it brings tears to your eyes. Ray Bradbury spoke truth when he said that real success comes when you begin to write from the inside, and not from the outside.

Besides, once the first draft is finished and you’re on to the second and third and however many more, world without end, it all starts to come together and you realize with a start that you’ve got something. Maybe that old mojo is working after all!

p.s.  Years ago I heard Jerrilyn Farmer say that an editor told her once you have had seven books published you've pretty much made it. Until she had seven books published, then that same editor said, "Once you have ten books published... "

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Lizzie Noel

 by Charlotte Hinger

My short story, "Lizzie Noel," was published in the Nov/Dec issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I'm absolutely thrilled to have a story in this publication, which includes such notable writers as Joyce Carol Oates. I've submitted several stories over the years. Only "The Family Rose" was accepted. Ironically, that story was later published in two anthologies, Murder on the Verandah, and Murder to Music. 

The editor, Janet Hutchings, kindly provided an excerpt of my story on the Ellery Queen website. Here it is:

Lizzie Noel
by Charlotte Hinger

The glittery little floozy burst through the door of the Overhours Cafe like she was fleeing the gates of hell. Or her pimp, more likely.

Teresa Wainright had every reason to recognize her kind immediately. But she didn’t want trouble. No telling who might come looking for this one.

She gave a final polish to a stainless-steel napkin holder and scornfully studied the little whore as she swiveled onto the nearest stool. A small woman. Eyes ringed with straying mascara. She wore hot pants and scuffy mid-thigh leather boots and a stained lacy see-through blouse that needed a few extra buttons. Brittle white-blond hair piled on top of her head. Chipped dried-blood-black nails. READ MORE

Obviously, to "READ MORE" you'll have to buy a copy of the magazine. 

Monday, October 24, 2022

It'll be alright on the edit

 It's cold and wet here in Scotland, which is nothing unusual but still seeps into the bones like dampness into old walls.

It's the kind of day that makes me yearn for blue skies and golden beaches. For sitting at a table in warm sunlight, sipping a coffee, or a cold beer, and watching the world pass. No need to rush. No hassle. No pressures. Busy doing nothing and working the whole day through.

I'd settle for logs snapping in an open grate and an old movie on the TV. A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou beside me singing in the wilderness...

Hang on there, Omar Khayyam, before you recite the entire Rubaiyat - you've got an edit to do.

Ah yes.

It is an uncomfortable fact of writing life that we seldom, if ever, get it right the first time. Sometimes even the second time. We might think we have, but we really haven't. As our editors are quick to point out.

Editing is a vital part of publishing. As I tell creative writing students, this authoring game is a collaborative process.

Sure, we sit down in our garret and pound out the deathless prose, because if we didn't then everyone who follows on wouldn't have anything to work with.

But then we can find out that said prose isn't quite as deathless as we think. Sometimes it needs a little elixir of life, courtesy of a good editor.

They can spot plot holes. They can fix grammar. They can even suggest a new chapter that will make sense of something that previously didn't make much sense, even though you thought it did make sense when you sent the manuscript off with a sigh of relief and a deep draught from that jug of wine (see above). 

I'm sure a decent editor would have something to say about that last sentence.

I am currently in editing mode, for the second in my Jonas Flynt historical series. (I am contractually obliged to mention that the first, 'An Honourable Thief', is out now in hardback in-store and on-line and ebook on-line. That ends the word from our sponsor and we now return you to our programme).

Let me make something quite clear - for me, writing is hell. It's not something I particularly enjoy, generally speaking. As Dorothy Parker once said, I don't like writing, I like having written. I have no idea what she thought about the editing process.

Personally, I don't mind it. I do frown a little when Kit, my editor, highlights a sentence or passage and comments that it doesn't sense. I read it myself and, sure enough, it generally doesn't make sense. I try to remember what I was thinking when I wrote it but I often find myself incapable of remembering what I was thinking just a few minutes ago and....

I have no idea where I was taking that sentence.

That is why good editors are vital. We can write something we believe hangs together and they will tell us that it doesn't and the really good ones can tell you why. Kit has done that with me, by the way. They will do it not because they have an axe to grind or because they want to show off or because they want a co-writing credit. They do it because it's their job and everyone - author, editor, publisher - want to produce the best book possible, even if it's a silk purse/sow's ear situation. (For the record, I don't mean that about my book, because it's marvellous. 

(Or will be. 

(At least until the readers see it. 

(It's like Schroedinger's Cat for authors).

So grateful that Kit's eagle eye has highlighted some sections that need work, I must now bend to the task with a smile on my lips and a song in my heart.

Or something.

I have fresh material to write.

Did I mention I hate writing...?

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Vaya con Dios, BookBar

I originally wrote this for October and set it to autopost, which didn't happen. 

Take 2. After too long of a delay, I finally had another book launch to get excited about. Unfortunately this news is bitter-sweet. The venue for the book launch party was BookBar, which sadly announced that after ten years, they will be closing on January 31, 2023. The reasons are many, explained best by them. After wrestling with the usual challenges of running a small business, aggravated by Covid lockdowns and its precautions, the final nail in the coffin was the City of Denver's mandated increase in minimum wage.

A decade ago, BookBar took over the location of another bookstore in the Tennyson Arts District, one that limped along and even sold ice cream to help pay the bills. BookBar expanded that hybrid model by offering coffee, food, and alcohol. Wine and readers, who would've guessed? Though the inventory was heavy in literary fiction and contemporary non-fiction, what endeared BookBar to the local community was their willingness to take a chance on local authors. BookBar became the go-to venue for book launches, poetry gatherings, and even hosted readings for the Colorado Book Awards. BookBar was a favorite location because of their friendly staff and attention to detail, like making sure consignments were paid, something other area bookstores found hard to do. In appreciation, people (me included) regularly ordered books from BookBar to avoid patronizing Amazon, who themselves are retreating from brick & mortar store fronts. BookBar was a spot to meet friends, out-of-towners especially were taken by the place, or to kick back with a good read, a coffee and pastry, or with a beer, glass of wine, or a cocktail.

During the quarantine, I sought to cope with the disturbing weirdness of it all by drawing a daily cartoon of cats dealing with the pandemic in ways that were both feline and human. Honestly, I thought that after two weeks to flatten the curve, plus another two weeks to let things settle down, that we'd be back to normal in a month. Two months, tops. Was I wrong. A few dozen cartoons became a hundred, then two hundred, three hundred, and more. When I was done, deciding that the fiasco in Afghanistan and the then looming war in Ukraine were fitting disasters to end cap the Covid disaster, I realized that I had chronicled the history of this pandemic--lockdowns, the masking, the hoarding, social distancing, Zoom calls, mostly peaceful protests, the vax/anti-vax wars. Hex Publishers offered to publish an edited collection of my work in Cats In Quarantine: A Cartoon Memoir of the COVID-19 Pandemic, which received a Starred Review from Kirkus Reviews.

As for my favorite cartoon? I have many but if there is one that I think best describes me and everyone else during the pandemic, it's this one:

Friday, October 21, 2022

Facts and Maybe Facts

 I'm in the midst of fact-checking for a nonfiction book that I'm doing for my academic publisher. The book is about gangster movies -- or, rather, nine gangster movies and The Sopranos.  The most fascinating task -- and the most grueling -- is trying to distinguish fact from fiction about multiple mobsters.

This week I've been looking at a dispute between two drug traffickers about who came up with a system for importing heroin from Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Ike Atkinson was getting out of prison after spending over three decades behind bars when he learned that Frank Lucas was taking credit for being the mastermind for a system that he claimed eliminated the Mafia middlemen. He had made that claim in his interview for an article, and the article had caught the attention of Hollywood, and now there was a movie  -- American Gangster -- starring Denzel Washington. Atkinson was not happy. He said he knew Lucas and had worked with him. But he was the guy -- the former U.S. Army master sergeant -- who had served in Southeast Asia and come up with the system for getting the heroin into the United States. He had controlled that system. He was not the minor character who had appeared in the movie as Lucas's cousin. 

The author of a book about Atkinson -- who did not believe Lucas -- makes a persuasive case that the media failed in their obligation to fact-check the assertions that Lucas made. The author of the article about Lucas pointed out that he had been writing about what Lucas "claimed" or "said" rather than what was necessarily true. But the article and the movie had revived the legend about Frank Lucas's "Cadaver Connection" -- a gruesome myth about heroin having been smuggled into the United States in the corpses of fallen soldiers. Even after both Lucas and Atkinson said it didn't happen, the question is who originally said it did. And if that wasn't true, then how had the heroin been smuggled in? Was it false bottoms in caskets or furniture with hollow interiors? However, it had been done, why would the media and everyone else who believed Lucas was a criminal mastermind has accepted the premise that a man who had never served in the military could have made a trek to Southeast Asia and established an elaborate system that would have required corruption at multiple levels to make it work. 

Any debate about historical truth is fascinating because of the "paper trail" that researchers attempt to follow. In this case, it involves DEA, FBI, lawyers. judges, reporters. social scientists, historians, and film critics. I have gone deeper than I needed to for my chapter on Anerican Gangster. But I can use this example next semester in my class on Crime and American Popular Culture.  

As it turns out, I can also use this research for my 1939 historical thriler. I think my protagonist is going to have an encounter with a gangster who can help him with his problem -- or, maybe, make it worse. 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Hectic schedules and tiny egos

It’s been a hectic fall with lots going on, so I’ve backed off on my Type M commitment, dropping down to one post per month for the time being.

I have a new day job. I’m leading the upper school at Detroit Country Day School now, having left boarding school for civilian life. Michigan, I’m learning, is a great place to live (and write). And aside from a fondness of bourbon, I now have one other thing in common with Ernest Hemingway: Michigan has given us both the freedom to write. While Hemingway went to Paris and wrote about Michigan; I moved to Michigan and am writing about boarding school life.

In late August, I finished a draft of what I’m hoping will be a new series featuring a husband and wife team at a New England boarding school, and I did something I haven’t done before: I brought in a hired gun to read it and offer a critique, hiring a longtime editor Marcia Markland (St. Martin’s and Avalon) to read the manuscript and offer her thoughts. Those thoughts were instrumental in me developing the draft.

I’ve long used a “home team” of readers –– close friends who are book lovers and who know me and the boarding school environment well. They offer excellent insights. But Marcia, who acquired and published crime and genre fiction, read the work as an acquisitions editor does. Her feedback allowed me to trust my instincts and have made the book much better.

It’s a question of ego, I think. I have published nine novels. Why pay for a reader? someone asked. My answer is simple: When trying to launch a new series, the goal is to go to houses with the best possible product, and I write only from 4 to 6 a.m. The rest of my day is spent with my head in another world, so I’m willing to pay Marcia for her time, excellent insights, and her ability to examine my book for plot unity.

I’m hoping to have the updated manuscript on my agent’s desk by Thanksgiving.


In an unexpected plot twist in the story of my writing life, an agent at CAA reached out to my agent, Julia Lord, last summer with unexpected news: two screenwriters wanted to option my Peyton Cote US Border Patrol agent/single mother series and pitch it as a TV series. In late September, we sold the option, and I’m thrilled that Bruce Norris and Caroline Wood will try to develop it with me as “consulting producer.” Caroline, who will take the lead, gets my vision for the series, which is set in the unique and isolated region of Maine known as Aroostook County.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Reality TV Show, Anyone?


by Sybil Johnson 

Recently, I’ve been hearing about a new reality TV show that’s in the pilot stage – America’s Next Great Author hosted by Newberry Medal winner Kwame Alexander. Co-Creators Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry will serve as mentors. Jason Reynolds, Angie Goff and Marga Gomez will serve as judges. It’s billed as an effort to “give more authors a seat at the publishing table.”

You can read more about them and the official details here: 

Apparently, the way it works is as follows. The first phase is tryouts that are being held around the country. Contestants will have one minute to pitch their book ideas. This will eventually be pared down to six contestants who will live in a house together and have one month to finish the first draft of their novels. At the end a winner will be announced.

Applications were accepted through September 15. The 100 semifinalists were to have been notified by October 1. They’ll attend the pilot taping on October 30. During that taping, 20 semifinalists will be accepted to live pitch their ideas. The winner of the pilot will receive $2,500. The pilot is taping in New Jersey and contestants have to arrange for their own travel.

Honestly, I’m not sure what I think about this other than I don't want to participate in anything like this. I haven’t seen any details about what the winner of the entire show, not just the pilot, will receive. Money? A guaranteed publishing contract? All I’ve seen so far is info on the pilot. And, just because they’re taping a pilot, doesn’t mean that the show will go forward. It still has to be picked up. Something tells me that there’s not much chance of that. But, you never know.

I can’t believe that people will be all that interested in watching writers work. And, I’m sure the producers of the show, if it continues to the house stage, will try to amp up any conflicts between contestants to make it more “interesting”.

According to Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware, this isn’t the first time such a show has been attempted. I was actually surprised by that. At the end of her post she has a list of similar reality shows that have been attempted and failed. 

Her post:

I suspect this will be one of those things that gets some press in the initial phase, then just fades away.

What do you all think about this idea? Has anybody ever competed in anything like this? Would you do it?


Tuesday, October 18, 2022

The Library Case

 by Charlotte Hinger

Last weekend my daughter Michele painted my office. It was a major ordeal because we had a lot of heavy furniture to move out. Talk about sore muscles! 

My favorite piece of furniture is an old fashioned library card case. When the Hoxie Public Library moved to a new building, it auctioned off its old furnishings. I loved all the little drawers and the solid construction of this birch cabinet. 

I decided to bid a maximum of $100.00 dollars for this gem. Then I reasoned that if someone else really wanted it, that's probably what they would bid, and I had better be $1.00  over that. Then I decided that was the way the competitor would think, so it would be smart to top $101.00 dollars. Would someone else use my same devious reasoning? Really now, it had to end somewhere. I stopped at $102.00

Amazing! I won. The next lowest bid was for $101.00. Someone else had reasoned just like me. It was a silent auction so there was no danger of getting into a heated floor battle. 

That was a long time ago. Through the years, I've made good use of all the little drawers. They hold miscellaneous equipment, cassettes, interview tapes, pictures, cables and connectors, business cards, drives, bookplates, and postcards. Just to name a few. 

It high time to go through all the drawers individually and throw out anything that is obsolete. For instance, there are speakers that will never work with anything anymore. In fact, as I recall, they never worked with anything in the first place. 

The sad part of accumulating stuff is that it's often meaningless to our children and we carry on like we are bestowing them with treasures.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Stories All Around Us.

 by Thomas Kies

I was coming up blank for this week’s Type M for Murder blog, so I did what I usually do when I’m mentally blocked, I went for a walk.  We live on an island here on the coast of North Carolina and no matter which direction I take, it’s beautiful.

Fate took me in the direction of the marina, just a few minutes away where there are picnic tables and benches that overlook the boats in their berths, the canal, and the entrance to Bogue Banks Sound.  But before I got there, I was hailed by one of our neighbors who was sitting outside her house enjoying the perfect weather.

We chatted, as neighbors will do, and she told me about her role in creating a “History Trail” throughout our little municipality.  One of the stories she told me was about a place up the beach that used to be the location of the Iron Steamer Pier. “Do you know that story?” she asked, with a twinkle in her eye.

I did not.

The Iron Steamer Pier was named for the SS Pevensey, an iron hulled, sidewheel steamer with a single deck and two masts and was schooner rigged.  It was built for speed and was used as a blockade runner for the Confederates during the Civil War.  The Pevensey had successfully run through the Union blockade near Wilmington and Cape Fear four times before their fateful last journey.

On June 9, 1864, they were carrying cargo for the Confederate army that consisted of arms, blankets, shoes, cloth, clothing, lead, and bacon. As before, they had left Bermuda with their cargo and were headed for Fort Caswell that guarded the port of Wilmington.  However, on this voyage, they found themselves too far north, off course and, unbeknownst to them, heading into Union waters.  

They stumbled across the path of the Union supply ship, the New Berne that began firing cannon shots at the Pevensey.  Still thinking they were close to Wilmington and Confederate territory; they aimed their bow directly for land…our little island. They ran aground about a hundred yards offshore, and immediately took to their lifeboats, leaving one sailor aboard their ship.

While his shipmates rowed for shore, and what they thought was safety, the last man aboard was given the task to blow up the ship and its cargo to keep it out of Union hands.  He rigged the boiler to explode, and it rendered the ship unrepairable.  He managed to survive and was placed under arrest by the Union sailors. 

The thirty-five-member crew who had escaped landed on Bogue Banks Island and thought they were safe. The crew was approached by a group on horseback who asked them why they’d blown up their ship.  “To keep it away from the damned Yankees!” they replied.  “How far are we from Fort Caswell?”

“Well, we ARE the damned Yankees.” And then they were promptly arrested and taken to the Union outpost at Fort Macon.

Is the dialogue accurate? I kind of made it up, but I write fiction, so sue me.

The Iron Steamer Pier, which was known for its fishing, was swept away by a hurricane some time ago and the wreckage of the Pevensey is still out there, still about a hundred yards offshore.  Sometimes, at low tide, you can still see some of what’s left of the paddlewheels.  

This part of the East Coast where we live has been called the Graveyard of the Atlantic.  The waters here are treacherous, the currents are strong, and sandbars seem to move at will rendering charts useless.  And of course, we’re a hurricane speedbump here so the weather adds another bit of spice.  Throw in pirates, scoundrels, and warfare and you have enough for a whole slew of historical novels  

My advice as a writer--keep your eyes and ears at the ready.  There are stories all around us. 

Friday, October 14, 2022


Writers' Conference Joy

 by Johnny D. Boggs

Today should find me at the Best Western Inn of the Ozarks for the annual Ozark Creative Writers conference in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Don’t ask why they keep inviting me back, but I know the reason I make that roughly 1,600-mile round trip every October.

You never stop learning the business, and there are worse places to be than the Ozark Mountains in the fall. 

OCW has been holding an annual conference for 55 years. I forget the year – it wasn’t 55 years ago – but the first time I went was as a keynote speaker. After which, board members asked me to join the board of directors. Pretty sneaky, but I accepted.

After two days of panels and presentations, I was also asked to hand out prizes to the winners of writing contests. Each year, the conference offers dozens of contests, paying prizes from $10 to $300, or certificates for honorable mentions. It would be a treat for the winners, I was informed, to get an award from me.

So there I stood with a certificate in my hand when the emcee announced that first finalist.

For 24 years, I’ve been writing professionally – full time, no real day job, no retirement, no inheritance. I haven’t written anything on spec for years. An editor, publisher or my agent reaches out to me, a deal is worked out, I deliver the manuscript, and deposit the check.

But around this time every year, when I had out money or a certificate and I smile and say, “Congratulations,” I remember.

The first professional byline I got came for a sports article in the Sumter (South Carolina) Daily Item the summer after I graduated from high school. That byline was my payment. Drove 65 miles roundtrip to buy some papers at a 7-Eleven, and when Daddy came home, I showed him the sports cover, pointed at the article. He sat down, read my first journalistic effort, and said, “Well, that’s interesting.”

Mama said: “Read who wrote it.”

“Oh.” Daddy saw my name. “I didn’t even look to see who wrote it.”

Wasn’t the last time something like that happened.

All that evening at my first OCW, and at every banquet night since, I recall sending short stories or short nonfiction articles on spec to magazine editors … trashing rejection letters … collecting my payment of two contributor’s copies … maybe depositing a check for five bucks. I remember the time a magazine offered me a hundred bucks for a short story, then folded before the story ever got published – or I got paid … signing that first book contract … and when I told my dad that I had given notice, was quitting the newspaper game, and moving to New Mexico to write full time. He said, “Well, I reckon you know what the hell you’re doing.”

I didn’t. Still don’t. 

But I love to see those faces on dads and grandmothers and lawyers and schoolteachers, retirees and even young kids who have that same dream, and are excited that someone liked his or her writing.

That’s why you’ll find me in Eureka Springs this weekend.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

My Favorite Research Story Ever

 I write two historical mystery series, one set in Oklahoma in the 1910s and one set in Hollywood, CA in the late 1929's.  I find myself doing quite a bit of research about what was going on in Oklahoma or California at the time, which isn’t that easy when I don't currently live in either place.  Local historical research is easy enough if you live in the locale, and have easy access to library newspaper archives, historical societies, and museums.  

I’m able to find out a lot on the internet, but it’s surprising how difficult it sometimes is to find simple facts that would be readily available if I was on the scene.  So, I often end up on the phone, explaining what I need to a librarian or historian in whatever area of Oklahoma or California I am interested in.

The very best fun thing about doing research, if I may coin a phrase, is that even if you’re looking for the most mundane piece of information, you often discover amazing stories and connections that you could not possibly have made up on your own.  

Before I continue, you should know a couple facts, Dear Reader.  The first book of the Oklahoma series was set in 1912, and each subsequent book moves forward a year or so in time. First, the Tucker family of my series is partially based on a branch of my own family by the name of Morgan, of whom there are gazillions in Muskogee County, OK.  My great-grandmother was named Alafair Morgan.  Second, for the past 25 years, I have lived in Tempe, AZ.

Here’s the tale. For my fifth Alafair Tucker mystery, Crying Blood, I wanted to know the name of the sheriff of Muskogee County in 1917, but was unable to find the that seemingly easy piece of information online.  So I called the library in the city of Muskogee, and asked the local history librarian to look it up for me and e-mail the answer to me.  Later that afternoon, she sent me a wonderful campaign photograph of Sheriff J.S. Barger.  

Now that I knew his name, I was able to find his obituary online.  From this I discovered that it is indeed a small world, and time does not dim our connections to one another.

For after John Barger lost his reelection bid in 1918, he became a county “Speed Officer”, whose job was to curb the then-growing automobile menace, and was given a county patrol car to cruise country roads and highways.  In 1924, the county’s “speed patrol” car was stolen from the garage by the Lawrence brothers, “Babe” and Bill, young Muskogee desperadoes who were wanted for auto theft in several towns around OK.  After several unsuccessful attempts to catch them in OK, the sheriff was notified that the pair had been caught at El Paso, and he sent Deputy Barger and his partner, one Joe Morgan, who happens to have been a cousin of my grandmother’s, to pick them up and bring them back to Muskogee. After taking charge of the prisoners, Barger and Cousin Joe started back with them in the county car.  Barger was driving and Morgan was in the rear seat with the Lawrence boys.

Barger heard a shot, looked around and found himself peering down the barrel of a gun in Babe Lawrence’s hand. Cousin Joe was on the floor, shot through the head with his own pistol. The car, going at a rate of at least 20 miles an hour, crashed into a fence, righted itself and mowed down fence posts for 40 yards before stopping. The boys forced Barger to walk off the road into the woods and handcuffed him to a tree, before escaping again in the county car. Barger shouted until he attracted the attention of a ranch hand, who refused the help him.  He was handcuffed to the tree for 3 hours, until officers arrived and rescued him.  He then went back to Ft. Worth, where he organized a posse and went after the Lawrence boys.

They were later apprehended in Tempe, AZ.  Bill was later hanged in Arizona, and Babe served a life term in Texas. Barger died in 1938 at the age of 77.

How could I possibly make up anything better than that?

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Remembering Peter Robinson

 I first discovered Peter back in the mists of time, a quarter century ago, when the Ladies Killing Circle was in its infancy and looking for a professional writer to critique a chapter of the debut novels we were all struggling to write. A group of us invited him up for a day workshop. He was informal, insightful, at times funny, and often blunt in his assessments, teaching us the first rule of writing; develop a thick skin and take the punches. 

He was, however, very encouraging about the first chapter of my first Inspector Green novel, and once I sold it to a publisher a couple of years later, I met him again at the inaugural Bloody Words Mystery Conference in Toronto, where I waylaid him in the bar (having a drink with Ian Rankin) and he agreed to write a cover blurb. By that time I had become a fan of his Inspector Banks series and have read almost all of them. He is the kind of writer I aspire to be, tackling human stories with intensity, compassion, and hope, creating intelligent, nuanced characters and making insightful commentaries on the human condition using one of the most powerful media I know - the crime novel.

Over the years, I met him frequently at Bloody Words conferences, Arthur Ellis banquets (now called Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence), and at various festivals and book signings that often ended up in a pub. That's a favourite writer pastime - the post-party in the pub to share insider war stories. Peter, like his protagonist, loved a good Scotch but also knew his way around beers. 

He was always friendly, talkative, funny, with a sardonic wit. I also knew he gave tirelessly to the Canadian and international crime writing community, supporting the efforts of writers both experienced and rookie, teaching creative writing at the University of Toronto, and giving workshops. He was a tremendous voice for the Canadian crime writing community, and indeed for the crime genre in general. In between he wrote an astonishing number of books while still managing to keep the Inspector Banks series fresh and intriguing, and over the years has garnered too many awards to mention here. I will just say that his Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence, won for both short stories and novels, probably fill not just a bookshelf but a whole book case. In 2020 CWC awarded him the Grand Master Award, given "to recognize a Canadian crime writer with a substantial body of work who has garnered national and international recognition."

Through all of this I've always known him to be humble, and maybe like most of us writers, to view his gift with a touch of disbelieving awe. One of my favourite memories of him was at a interview some years ago when he was asked how he plotted his books. Like myself, he was a "pantser" who made things up as he went along, and at a certain point in every novel, he'd say to himself "What am I doing? This is crap, I'm not a writer, what makes me think I can be a writer?" And his wife would say "Oh, you're on Page 280, aren't you?" Thus capturing the sentiment of every pantser I know.

His twenty-seventh Banks book, STANDING IN THE SHADOWS, will be published in March 2023. Peter Robinson died on October 4, 2022 at the age of 72. Far too soon. We've lost a great talent and a great friend to the writing community. But his soul lives on in his wonderful work.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022


 by Charlotte Hinger

It's that time of year again. All of my programs and activities have kicked into high gear. I'm already struggling to balance commitments and control anything that will conflict with my writing. 

Finding time to write has never been a problem. I simply do it the first thing in the morning and don't schedule appointments or meetings during this time. It's the business of writing such as marketing and promotion and writing organizations that take an extraordinary amount of time. I appreciate the friendships and the connections. Networking is important. I learn so much from other writers.

My Sister In Crime group meets once a month on Wednesday morning. If I'm beginning a first draft of a novel, I will skip the meeting, but I really hate to do this. It's a great group. 

I'm on the board of an organization that meets once a month in Denver: The Denver Woman's Press Club. This organization was founded in 1898. The date was not a typo. It began as a Suffrage Movement by a group of high society civic minded matrons who were influential in Denver. Everyone who is currently a member writes, or is a retired writer. The ladies' literary specialties are varied. The organization actively supports young author and is well known for the quality of its scholarship programs. I'm the assistant treasurer. That's how I ended on the board. The obligation comes with the territory. Who knew? I didn't, when I agreed to the position. Driving to Denver on I-25 is quite an undertaking. 

My Westerners International group has supported my writing by kindly sending my articles and my academic book to be judged for their awards. My article on Abram T. Hall won first place, and another on the Harlem Renaissance in the West, took third place. My academic book about Nicodemus won second place. I'm very grateful to this group and go to the monthly meeting whenever I can. 

Describing church related activities and other groups would involve another post.

And as for the young beauty whose picture heads this post--Francesca Michele Bell is my first great grandchild. 

Talk about a distraction!

Monday, October 10, 2022

Back in the saddle on the streets

First - this was supposed to be posted two weeks ago. I wrote it but then forgot to press PUBLISH. 

Yeah, my brain (as we say here in Glasgow) is mince. That's ground beef for you guys across the pond.


 I've been revisiting some old TV favourites recently, both shows that as a boy I loved and others of more recent vintage.

Don't worry, I'm not going to say that telly was better back then because it really wasn't. It was of its day and when you watch these shows you have to try to rekindle the spirit of the times, when things were simpler and everything was in black and white.

The majority are westerns, series that I lapped up avidly in the early 1960s. Yes, I am that old. They've not been seen on British telly for many years but they are getting an airing thanks to the Talking Pictures channel, which is a must have for movie buffs. Where else will you get classic series nestling alongside Brit flicks from the 40s to the 70s, Hammer movies in their Eastmancolour gorey and seldom seen US movies from the 60s and 70s?

It was shows like 'Cheyenne', 'Maverick' and 'Sugarfoot' that instilled in me my love of westerns and all three are being screened.

Yes, the storytelling is stodgy compared to today but there was a conciseness to it that is lacking in an age when we're urged to watch three episodes of a show before it gets into full swing. How many times have we been told 'Stick with it, it gets better'? Who can be bothered?

And there's the star power. James Garner had the charisma wattage to counteract the energy crisis while Clint Walker may have been wooden enough to provide a home for squirrels and I'd forgotten how boyish Will Hutchins was in 'Sugarfoot' (whatever happened to him, I wonder?). But both he and big Clint were both watchable. At least for me.

They haven't unearthed episodes of 'Bronco' with Ty Hardin but I'm keeping my fingers, and my shooting irons, crossed.

Then there's 'The Saint', with former Maverick star Roger Moore  getting togged up in some cool suits, driving an even cooler Volvo and cocking an eyebrow like a pro. Again, the storytelling is tight, not a wasted scene. It was get in, get the job done, get out again.

And the fight scenes, although not realistic, were pretty good. I watched one recently which featured some unusual moves which were decidedly not Marquis of Queensberry approved. Simon Templar held a bad guy upside down and bounced his head on the floor!

Rog was another one with charisma to spare. He could act, although he seldom was given the chance, but my goodness he did what he did with tremendous style.

A more recent series I've caught up withy is 'NYPD Blue', and frankly it has never been bettered. Big things were predicted for David Caruso on the back of this series, which he left in season two. Despite a few movie roles, those big things never did really materialise, which is a shame because he had the knack of getting to the heart of a scene. Eventually, he did hit the big time with CSI: Miami. Frankly, nobody took off, and then put back on, a pair of sunglasses like him.

Dennis Franz was the breakout star of a show, playing a drunken, racist and quite possibly corrupt cop who changed into a tough but tender detective over the course of the seasons. The show itself broke new ground on network TV for its language and its flashes of nudity. It all seems tame now, thanks to the likes of HBO, but in its day it would make Roger Moore raise both eyebrows.

I'm loving this welcome opportunity to watch from the very beginning.

But what has all this to do with a writing blog?

I'm glad you asked that.

I learned my craft not simply by reading books but also by watching these and many other shows and each, in turn, has influenced my writing. 

The western series, movies and books I read gave me the idea of the lone protagonist, righting wrongs. When these characters move into another town at the beginning of each episode, they found normality being upended and that taught me at an early age that it doesn't matter how civilised the world becomes, there will always be someone wishing to subvert it, either through self-interest or just plain evil. 

Of course, as I grew older, I found that there were politicians the world over who make it their mission to  do the same.

'NYPD Blue' showed me that you could stylise your dialogue, and get away with it. The backdrop and plotlines could be realistic, but the way the characters speak to each other can carry a level of artifice and still sound genuine.

But also, watching these series from the early black and white days of TV to one from the 80s, exemplified how storytelling changes. In the older shows the main characters are static. They do not grow, they do not transform. From episode one to episode 200, they remain the same.

But by the time 'NYPD Blue' came along, that was being tossed out of the window. The masterful 'Hill Street Blues' paved the way, to be honest stealing the idea from soap opera, but 'NYPD Blue' perfected it and led to the shows we have today.

That some of them are so intent in being depressing is another matter.

Friday, October 07, 2022

Along the Continuum

 This week, I was reminded of two things about myself that also seem relevant to the characters in my historical thriller. First, I don't like change.This morning, I was into my office on campus and learned that one of our long-time staff members is leaving to accept a position in an administrative office on campus. Although I''m happy for her, I'm distressed knowing how much we all rely on her. Aside from that, I'll miss her warmth and laughter. Don't get me wrong, the other staff are terrific -- but she has been there so long that she is our bedrock. 

I should clarify when I say that I don't like change, I have no problem at all when something that is bad gets better. But with the world and daily life so uncertain, change in areas that offer stability and comfort are depressing and disconcerting.

The other thing I remembered last weekend when I attended a literary awards event at the public library and watched a really impressive high school ensemble and their director perform -- already knew, but was reminded -- is that I value precision. I'm not sure that's the exact word (i.e., quality) that I'm trying to describe. But it's my delight in Cam Anthony's performance in the finale of The Voice, when he turned on a dime on the platform surrounded by finger-snapping dancers. Or that flawless scat he did a couple of weeks earlier.

It's my favorite part of the movie Taps when the cadets in the hallway do their present arms for their cadet leader. Or the soldiers marching in the rites for Queen Elizabeth. I mention the military because I was in the Army and had no ability to march. Nada. None at all. So, I admire the precision rituals. (Fortunately, I was a food inspector).

I admire the precision of those who can do something flawlessly and make it look easy. And that brings me to my character. The protagonist and his antagonist. My protagonist, the sleeping car porter, prides himself on how he does each of his tasks. He has memorized the detailed Pullman manual -- from greeting passengers to mixing drinks to shining shoes. He wants to be a lawyer, and he is working as a porter to earn money for law school. But he takes pride in doing what he must do well. He is the type of man who approaches whatever he does as an exercise in precision -- logical, orderly, well thought-out. 

On the other hand, his antagonist -- the "villain" -- prides himself on his charm. He is "the gentle gentleman from Georgia" to quote a song of the era.  He has inherited his grandfather's plantation and aspires to be as dashing as he was. He is a businessman but careless -- and that is one of the reasons he is deep in debt.

What has occurred to me is that I should go deeper with their contrasting characteristics. There are situations in which being precise serves my protagonist well, but at moments when he must innovate and react quickly to a situation, his opponent may have the advantage. After giving this some thought, I'm looking at how they may differ (or be the same) in other ways.

I'll let you know how that goes. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

It's Been How Long?


by Sybil Johnson

I was catching up on old SinC and MWA newsletters this week when I noticed, in one of them, that a fellow author was celebrating 10 years since their first story was published. I couldn’t remember when my first story came out. I didn’t know if I should be celebrating something. All I knew was that it was before 2014 when my first book, Fatal Brushstroke, was published. So I consulted my trusty list of all the stories I’ve ever written. I keep track of when I finished the story, where I’ve submitted it, who has rejected it and who has accepted it.

To my surprise my short story, “Family Business”, came out in the premiere issue of Crimson Dagger magazine, a very short-lived ezine, in 2005. I hadn’t realized it has been 17 years! This was not the first short story I’d written, just the first one accepted for publication. My first story was “The Power of Prayer”, which got an Honorable Mention in a Writer’s Digest Writing Competition in the Genre Short Story category. That one was published in the premiere issue of another ezine, Silver Moon Magazine, which was also very short-lived. At that point, I remember wondering if I was a bit of a jinx.

“Family Business” introduced the main character in my Aurora Anderson mystery series. I had been working on Fatal Brushstroke for a while when I decided to write this one. I used it as a way to practice plotting and work on my main character. It took about a year and lots of submissions to various markets for it to find its home.

I’ve had a few more short stories published since then. I only got paid for one of them, which seems to be fairly common. I received $50 from Spinetingler Magazine to publish my story, “Meet Market”. That was pretty darn exciting.

Things have changed since 2005. Writers no longer have to physically send in copies of their stories or novels with an SASE. Everything seems to be done via email or online submission these days. That’s quite a time saver plus we get to save a few trees.

A lot of online magazines have come and gone. Spinetingler closed a while back. Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock are still around, thank goodness, though now you submit things online. I’ve yet to crack that market. Hoping to some day.

I have a couple short stories out for consideration to anthologies right now and I just finished book 6 in my series, which I will be self-publishing. Lots of other ideas going through my head for stories. All I have to do is sit down in my chair and write them. Easier said than done, but well worth the effort.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

The Perfect Title

 by Charlotte Hinger

I wasted a lot of time this morning searching for the perfect title for my new mystery. It didn't work. I'm going to have to reply on my stumble-across method. I liked my previous title, Brutal Bonds, but it's no longer the right fit. 

The title of the first book in the Lottie Albright series was originally Bound by Blood. I had planned for subsequent books to be Bound by Murder, Bound by Death. . . .You get the drift. 

My editor told me that clerks at bookstores don't have the time to read all the books they shelve. Bound by Blood could easily end up in the vampire section. Egads. We couldn't have that! So I began each book with two alliterative words: Deadly Descent, Lethal Lineage, Hidden Heritage, Fractured Families. These combinations are hard to think up. 

I'll bet something comes to me out of the blue beginning with a C, E, or B. My mental processes seem to work that way. 

I've heard one should never judge a book by it's cover, but does anyone doubt the power of a title? It absolutely transforms business books. Examples are Swimming With The Sharks, Atomic Habits, Thinking, Fast and Slow, The Millionaire Next Door. The ones that promise instant wealth grab my attention in a heartbeat. 

All the non-fiction historical books sell better with a catchy title. Fiction sells better too. The problem is coming up with one in this competitive business. 

The funniest story about titles I've heard was told by a veteran novelist at a writer's convention. He turned in his book and the editor said he didn't like the book, but he really liked the title. The writer said, "well, why don't I just jack up that title and run a new book under it. The editor agreed. By the time he turned in the second book, the editor had moved on to another house. The new editor just loved the book, but asked if he minded changing the title. He really disliked it. 

I was not enchanted by the one word titles. Suddenly there were too many books with the same title. Example are Gone, Never, Drift, Lost, Driven. When I recommended one of these books to fellow readers, I had to remember the author's name, too. 

Frankly, when I go into Barnes and Noble or my local book store, Firehouse Books, all of the titles appeal to me. Every single one. The titles overcome my fiscal judgement. 

Monday, October 03, 2022

Yes, the Author Was Dead, But the Characters Lived to Tell the Story.

By Cindy Schersching

Full disclosure…Cindy is my wife and she’s written a glowing review of the dinner theater we did a couple of weeks ago.  It was my first attempt at writing for the theater and Cindy’s effusive compliments make me blush.  That being said, here it is, a shameless bit of self-promotion.

The launch of Thomas Kies’ Whisper Room, his fifth book in the Geneva Chase series, was as masterfully orchestrated as his novel.    Kies took the unique approach of dramatizing the book launch as a play within a play – which he also wrote. Talented community theatre actors brought the books’ characters to life.

The play, Death of an Author, was performed in a dinner theatre format to sold-out audiences of more than 100 guests on each of two evenings.   The performance took place at the newly built culinary school at the county’s community college under the leadership of Shana Olmstead, also the co-owner of Morehead City Floyd’s 1921 premiere restaurant. The 3-course dinner was prepared by the students of the culinary school under the supervision of 2 local Escoffier chefs.   The funds raised from the evenings’ performances went directly to supporting students of the culinary school and to the community theatre’s capital campaign to rebuild the theatre heavily damaged by Hurricane Florence in 2018

The emcee for the evening, Pamela Long, oriented the audience to the Geneva Chase mystery series, while the performers mingled among guests and brought the action tableside.

Each actor was given the freedom to develop their book characters as they adopted them, infusing humor and several surprise interactions.   Robin Hamm, the director, molded the diversity of characters into the murder mystery storyline characteristic of Kies’ novels.

Those familiar with the series also recognized dominatrix Shana Neese (realistically portrayed by Karen Lutz), Frank Mancini and his wife, Evelyn (Ray Tillery and Mylissa Maynard), and Gregor Tolbonov (Eduardo Alen).   Caroline Bell (Mara Jennings ), Geneva Chase’s ward, rounded out the cast.  

Minutes into the performance, it was clear that the author, played by Matt Brooks, had unknowingly ingested cyanide laced wine.   He ‘dies’ on the dining room floor.   Geneva Chase (the well-known protagonist of the Kies crime series played by Kim Murdoch) and Matt Dillon assistant Chief of Police (played by theatre veteran Ken Hamm) unsuccessfully attempted to revive him.  His limp body was slid out on a tarp by Dillon and Private Investigator John Stillwater (David Griffith) while servers with entrée platters swerved out of the way.  Publicist Mandy Chahall (Rhonda Osterhoudt) quickly calmed fears by assuring everyone that even though the author was dead his books would still be for sale -  even though it may be difficult to get them signed.    

Geneva confirms that all in the room are suspect.  It was the responsibility of each to determine ‘who killed the author.’

Kies created a mind-boggling matrix as the characters realized their lives continued even though their creator was dead.   This awareness grows as does the realization their freedom to follow their own dreams.   With motives and motivations for the murder revealed and with fingers pointing in all directions, the audience was challenged to identify the murderer.  Prizes were given to those who first correctly figured out the mystery and for the best sleuth costume.

It was a fun filled evening that benefitted all participants.   Each audience called for a repeat experience at the end of the evening.  Books sales were strong and the real author, Kies, signed each.