Ten Deadly Southern Charmers

Deadly Southern Charm
I invited the eighteen contributors to Deadly Southern Charm to answer a couple of questions for me. Here, in their own words, are the answers ten of them provided.

What are three things about you that your readers probably don’t know?

Heather Weidner authorHeather: (1) I had the best childhood. I grew up in Virginia Beach, and my dad was a cop. One of my first jobs was to pick up spent shell casings for him after he practiced at the range. When he was in charge of the SWAT team in the early 70s (way before paintball), we melted down my old crayons and made wax bullets for simulations. (2) I am an 80s girl, and music from the Decade of Excess is always my favorite. (3) I can’t carry a tune, but I love to sing loudly in the car. And when “Bohemian Rhapsody” comes on, I sing all the parts.

Lynn Cahoon authorLynn: I want to do EVERYTHING. When I was in high school, I was president of the Future Homemakers of America, held office and won district in accounting in Office Education Association, played clarinet in the band, and co-captained our school’s first flag corp. I’ve worked for a non-profit, state social agency, a large corporation, and owned my own businesses. I see it all as experiences for life and writing.

 

 

Samantha McGraw authorSamantha: (1) I worked as a wedding and event planner for 16 years and got my start in the D.C. political world where I planned events for then President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. I also had the pleasure of planning a holiday party for Adrian Cronauer, (the man Good Morning Vietnam was based on.) (2) I once talked my way backstage to meet Robert Plant with my husband who had met him once before, that was my “in.” (3) In addition to writing mysteries, I also write greeting cards and work as a freelance ghostwriter.

Libby Hall author

Libby:  I married a Bermudian and lived there for five years, where we had our two girls.  I refuse to eat blue M&M’s – it’s just not right.  I’m the only person I know who HATES those wire things that “massage” your scalp.

 

 

 

frances aylor authorFrances: 1) I love to travel and have visited over 30 countries. 2) I worked in the investment industry and am passionate about promoting financial literacy. My financial thriller Money Grab has a few investment tips worked into the plot. I’ve done presentations for college groups on how to manage your money. 3) I’m married to my high school sweetheart.

 

maggie king authorMaggie: 1) I wrote very bad poetry in high school as an outlet for my considerable adolescent angst. 2) I lived in Los Angeles for many years, and what I miss the most is the Hollywood Bowl with its classical and jazz concerts. I met my husband at a singles classical concert given in an elegant home in the Hollywood Hills. Our wedding reception was hosted by the woman who managed the singles’ concerts. 3) I relocated from Los Angeles to Charlottesville, Virginia without benefit of a preliminary visit! I lived there for six years before moving down the road to Richmond (which I did visit first).

Kristin: 1) In my twenties, I bought a one-way ticket to Prague and ended up living there for three years. 2) Every year for the past decade, I’ve tap danced as a *Rockette* for our local theater’s live-Christmas holiday spectacular every December. 3) I love to travel, and at one point my passport was so full of stamps, I had to go to the U.S. Embassy to get pages added so I could keep using it.

Genilee Swope Parente authorGenilee: 1) I’m a small-town girl originally from Ohio, which is why I chose a small town for my story and for the book I’m writing using some of the same characters. I love the people and feel of a small town. 2) I set the story and my book in New Iberia, Louisiana because I lived near there (Lafayette, Louisiana) for several years and fell I love with the culture of that area. 3) I’m about to become a small-town gal again. After living in the D.C. area forty years, I’m moving to Granbury, Texas in June.

J.A.: I’ve visited the Chichen Itza ruins in Mexico. In the mid 90’s I competed in an international martial arts tournament in Atlanta. I placed second in weapons with a nunchucks form. Bugs Bunny was, and still is, my hero.

Stacie: 1) I got in a fight with Kazakhstani bus conductor in 2017 over whether I should be speaking Kazakh or Russian on his bus.  2) I fulfilled all qualifications for Red Cross Senior Lifesaver – including swimming a mile – when I was 10, too young to actually get the award.  But I did get an article in the newspaper!  3) I’ve lived in 10 states and one defunct foreign country (USSR).

 

If you could be any other writer, living or dead, who would you be and why?

Heather:  This is a tough one. I’m not sure I’d know how to write any other way than I do. If I could, I’d love to do some time travel and meet Emily Dickinson, Jack London, Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Lynn: I’m like Heather, I love the writer I am. But, there are some I’d love to be in their shoes for maybe a day. Mostly to understand their thought process. Stephen King when he was writing The Stand, Deborah Harkness writing the All Souls Trilogy. Robyn Carr writing the Thunder Point series. And Richard Bach writing Illusions.

Samantha: First, I have to second Lynn’s comment on Richard Bach. Illusions will always be one of my favorite books. I don’t know that I’d want to be another writer, but there are a few I would have liked to have known and learned from including Agatha Christie and Sue Grafton.

Libby:  I would have loved to be able to write characters the way Marion Zimmer Bradley did in The Mists of Avalon. I would also love to see how Charles de Lint gets his ideas, and how JK Rowling managed her time and tight plot threads while writing the Harry Potter series.

Frances: Two writers I admire are Daphne du Maurier and Tana French. Both write suspense-filled novels, bristling with tension, with memorable characters struggling to find their place in the world. Their descriptions are poetic and evocative.

Maggie: I’ve loved Anne Tyler and W. Somerset Maugham since first “meeting” them in high school. An author who can write a story that appeals to a silly high school girl is indeed gifted. I have studied the works of mystery writers Gillian Roberts and Joan Smith extensively and consider them mentors. And Agatha Christie and Sue Grafton—how did they come up with those compelling plots and great characters?

Kristin: I would be Jodi Picoult.  I respect how she can take a timely, edgy current event or issue and create a suspense novel, which explores every angle and makes the reader reassess their views on said topic. I’m not sure I’m as brave and bold as she is, but I’d love to give it a go!

Genilee: I’d love to have the ability to layer a plot like Mary Higgins Clark, who has always been skilled at throwing the reader off in believable ways. Like Maggie, I’d love to be able to immerse the reader completely in the story and characters the way Anne Tyler can.

J.A.: I’d love to have a chair and a tape recorder for one day at the Alqonquin Round Table.

Stacie: I would really like to sit down and talk with Colin Cotterill, from London but also with Australian citizenship who writes the humorous and insightful Dr. Siri Paiboun series about the National Coroner of Laos.  What fun to experience so many different cultures and places, and be able to write about them in a way that speaks to people from all over the world!


Authors

Frances Aylor, CFA combines her investing experience and love of travel in her financial thrillers. MONEY GRAB is the first in the series.  www.francesaylor.com

Mollie Cox Bryan is the author of cookbooks, articles, essays, poetry, and fiction.  An Agatha Award nominee, she lives in Central Virginia.  www.molliecoxbryan.com

Lynn Cahoon is the NYT and USA Today author of the best-selling Tourist Trap, Cat Latimer and Farm-to-Fork mystery series. www.lynncahoon.com

A. Chalkley is a native Virginian. She is a writer, retired public safety communications officer, and a member of Sisters in Crime.

Stacie Giles, after a career as a political scientist, linguist, and CIA analyst, is now writing historical cozies with a twist.  Her first short story is in honor of her grandfather who was a policeman in Memphis in the 1920s.

Barb Goffman has won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her short stories, and is a twenty-three-time finalist for US crime-writing awards.www.Barbgoffman.com

Libby Hall is a communication analyst with a consulting firm in Richmond, Virginia.  She is also a blogger, freelance writer, wife, and mother of two.

Bradley Harper is a retired Army pathologist.  Library Journal named his debut novel, A KNIFE IN THE FOG, Debut of the Month for October 2018, and is a finalist for the 2019 Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American author. www.bharperauthor.com

Sherry Harris is the Agatha Award-nominated author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mystery series and is the president of Sisters in Crime.www.sherryharrisauthor.com

Maggie King penned the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries. Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries and 50 Shades of Cabernet anthologies. www.maggieking.com

Kristin Kisska is a member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime, and programs chair of the Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia chapter. www.kristinkisska.com

Samantha McGraw has a love of mysteries and afternoon tea. She lives in Richmond with her husband and blogs at Tea Cottage Mysteries.www.samanthamcgraw.com

K.L. Murphy is a freelance writer and the author of the Detective Cancini Mysteries.  She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, four children, and two dogs.www.Kellielarsenmurphy.com

Genilee Swope Parente has written the romantic mystery The Fate Series with her mother F. Sharon Swope. The two also have several collections of short stories. www.swopeparente.com

Deb Rolfe primarily writes mystery novels. This is her first published short story. She and her husband enjoy life in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Ronald Sterling is the author of six books and draws upon his colorful and varied life experience as a U.S. Airman, saloonkeeper, private detective, realtor, and New Jersey mayor.

S.E. Warwick, in the last century earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies. Ever since, she has been trying to decipher the American enigma.

Heather Weidner is the author of the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries.  She has short stories in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 SHADES OF CABERNET and TO FETCH A THIEF.  She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and Jack Russell terriers.  www.heatherweidner.com

 

Editors

Mary Burton is a New York Times, USA Today and Kindle best-selling author.  She is currently working on her latest suspense. www.maryburton.com

Mary Miley is a historian and writer with 14 nonfiction books and 5 mystery novels to her credit. www.marymileytheobald.com

 

Social Media Links

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LethalLadiesWrite/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LethalLadiesCVA?lang=en

Website: https://www.sistersincrimecentralvirginia.com/anthologies

Book Links

Wildside: http://wildsidepress.com/deadly-southern-charm-a-lethal-ladies-mystery-anthology-edited-by-mary-burton-and-mary-miley-paperback/

Wildside eBook: http://wildsidepress.com/deadly-southern-charm-a-lethal-ladies-mystery-anthology-edited-by-mary-burton-and-mary-miley-epub-kindle-pdf/?ctk=92a212b3-7ff7-473d-a5dd-78ab99163c27

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Deadly-Southern-Charm-Mystery-Anthology/dp/1479448397

 

Praise for the Anthology

Deadly Southern Charm is a keep-you-up-at-night collection loaded with well-crafted characters and perfect plotting by some of today’s best mystery writers. Brava!

USA Today and NYT Best-selling author, Ellery Adams 

Deliciously devious and absolutely delightful, these marvelous stories will keep you captivated! Sweeter than sweet tea on the surface, but with smartly sinister secrets only a true southern writer can provide.  What a joy to read!

Hank Phillippi Ryan best-selling Agatha and Mary Higgins Clark Awards winner

This collection of short crime fiction charms even as the stories immerse you in murder, revenge, and deadly deeds. Set all over the south, from Virginia to North and South Carolina, in Atlanta, Memphis, and New Orleans, the stories by eighteen authors engage and entertain with rich imagery and dialog from the region – and nefarious plots, too. Pour a glass of sweet tea and settle in on the porch swing for a fabulous read.

Edith Maxwell, Agatha and Macavity Awards nominee

This can’t-put-it-down collection of mystery short stories is flavored with the oft-eerie ambiance of the South, where the most genteel manners may hide a dark and murderous intent. Enjoy Deadly Southern Charm with a Mint Julep in hand – a strong one.

Ellen Byron, USA Today best-selling author, Agatha and Daphne Awards nominee and Lefty winner

Focus on Fiona Quinn

fiona quinn

Fiona Quinn is an incredibly productive and wide-ranging writer, and I was eager to know more—so I asked!

VL: Since 2014, you have published 3 shorter works in anthologies and collections, 17 novels, and 7 coauthored books, been on the USA Today Bestseller’s List 4 times. How do you do all that?

FQ: Writing is my full-time job. My work day involves research, training, writing, and business/marketing. Though, I have found that being an author is a lifestyle more than a job. I enjoy it immensely, even when things become frustrating. There are lots of puzzles to be solved with each of my tasks. I crave the experience of growing and learning.

fiona quinn books

VL: Clearly, all that you are doing works for you! I’ve now read all of your books except Ours—which is on my list, of course, and found the variations fascinating. How would you characterize each of your series? And why did you go in each of these very different directions?

FQ: Because of the way that I like to read, I developed my books to be read in various ways. All of the books written in my Iniquus World can be read as a standalone, part of the series, or as part of a world. The Iniquus World is a place of tactical suspense.

My only series where it’s best to read books 1-4 (Book 5 out in May, 2019) is the Lynx Series. This is a series that has to do with the growth arc of my character Lexi Sobado and her psychic abilities. These abilities are both helpful and devastating as they put a bullseye on her back.

Strike Force – is the name of the team that Lexi works on. In this series, each book focuses on one of the ex-special forces operators and their love interest. These books are tactical military romantic suspense, heavy on the suspense. The women are strong, resourceful, and intelligent. Their capabilities are part of the solutions.

Uncommon Enemies are the books I wrote to focus on science. These books are tactical military romantic suspense. The women are PhDs in their fields. Their brilliant minds get them into trouble. Luckily, in each book they meet the man who is their compliment, intelligent, valorous, and capable, arriving on the scene with his own sets of expertise.

Kate Hamilton Mysteries are straight-up mystery novellas. Kate is a CSI high school teacher and very good at what she does. She is married to Reaper Hamilton and is having issues at home along with the mysteries she is solving. Mine is available on Amazon. Yours is available in a charity boxed set called Summer Snoops. Money earned through this set goes to support no-kill shelters. Ours will be available in the summer. But as this is part of the Iniquus World, characters from Iniquus are involved and soon her husband, an ex-SEAL, will be working with Iniquus, too. (That’s for a series that starts this fall.)

The FBI Joint Task Force – In this series, we see the other side of the Iniquus contract. What is going on behind the scenes at the FBI and why they are hiring Iniquus special operatives to intervene. These are also tactical military romantic suspense novels.

fiona quinn kay

Aside from my World of Iniquus I write If You See Kay (Badge Bunny Booze Mystery Collection) along with my dear friend Tina Glasneck. It started out as a joke, but we have learned a lot by writing these short books. They are serious mysteries hidden behind some bad puns and jokes. It’s an interesting puzzle to write something that will make someone snort their drink laughing and at the same time have a good mystery running. Tina and I have our seventh book all mapped out and ready for writing as soon as I’m done with Gulf Lynx. It’s great to break away from my individual writing to collaborate and get different sounds and voices in my head. I think this exercise helps me to keep all of my writing fresh and interesting.

The Elemental Witch Series – This series was a writing challenge I took on to help grow my skills. A friend invited me to write a dystopian urban fantasy as part of a project she was developing. My characters focus on the strengths of women and have a similar vibe to my Iniquus World but set in a future dystopia and using witchcraft for survival.

resistance elemental witch series

VL: Do you have a favorite series? Why is that your favorite? If you don’t have a favorite, why not?

FQ: The books I’ve written are the books I’d like to read. I love all my books like they’re my children. I think my favorite series to write has been Uncommon Enemies. All my books are fact based. These books allowed me to research scientific information and politics and marry the two in interesting ways. Though, that’s true for each of my books… Hmm, well… Actually, I think my favorite book is the one I’ve just finished writing.

VL: I can identify with that! Different, but love them every one. Many of your plots involve pretty esoteric knowledge or skills—which I love! How do you come up with those ideas? And how do you research them?

FQ: The spark for my novels comes from different places. It could be an article I just read, a person I just met, or in the instances of my FBI novel COLD RED, a swamp that I just fell into.

My first choice in getting the writing right is to try something—or as close of a something as I can. I write about my research and training on my blog ThrillWriting. My second choice is to find someone who has performed that action as part of their job. For example, I’ve just made friends with a CIA analyst who worked in the USSR, and then the Middle East. We eat lunch together, and he talks about his experiences. I get to ask lots of questions. My third way to learn is to read autobiographies and lots of non-fiction. I gather all of the data, I knead it together, and out comes my plot.

VL: In my opinion, your work as a whole carries several meta-messages—things the reader take away from the story without it being explicitly stated. For example, your major women characters are all smart and capable, even the ones who are rescued by Iniquus, and active in meeting the plot challenges/solving the mystery. Virtually all of your primary characters are physically attractive and fit. All the hero(in)es are loyal, honorable, dependable, helpful, and as non-violent as the situation allows. Did you do that on purpose? Are there message you try to convey?

FQ: Yes, actually. I wanted to write about men and women that I would respect, and those traits that you’ve listed are the traits I look for in those I surround myself with, and the traits I tried to engender in my children.

Physically fit to get the job done, build health, and develop dedication/discipline. Morally strong. Generous and kind with one’s talents. Multi-dimensional with a breadth of knowledge as well as a depth of specialized knowledge. Grace in the challenges presented. I think people who have these traits are inherently attractive.

My characters all have to use their capabilities to survive. If someone says, “you do it,” then the task cannot be accomplished. All characters have something important to contribute and without their specific contributions, the solution would never be found.

I’d add to your list an ability to work with a team, setting ego aside.

VL: Hmmm, yes, good addition. Your plots are pretty convoluted and at the end, I say to myself, “Yeah, I can see that!” Do you know the ending when you start writing? Would you say you are a plotter or a pantser?

FQ: I call myself a planter, a combination of plotter and pantser. I know my story. I know how it ends. The journey often takes me in directions I hadn’t conceived. As the characters reveal themselves, as the tasks they are undertaking get thwarted, I enjoy the discovery. But there is a strong skeleton that I am fleshing out when I sit down to write.

VL: And what skeleton are you going to be fleshing out next?

FQ: I am finishing up book 5 of the Lynx series, Gulf Lynx. This year I plan to finish the Kate Hamilton trilogy and her husband is joining Iniquus, so I will get to know a new Iniquus team with the first book of a new series. I have another FBI book that wants to be written. Tina and I have some Badge Bunny books we want to get done. It’s a busy writing year! I give each book the time and space it needs, so we’ll see how far I get with my list.

VL: What about your personal life? From your FB posts, I know you have a “hubby” and more than one child. But do you have pets, hobbies, outside activities?

FQ: I have a husband, four children, one grandchild. I have a dog, Little Bear, who was on the team that developed the protocol for training diabetes alert dogs. He’s a very special dog, who has kept Kid #4 seizure-free for over ten years.

fiona quinn author

I am active in my community by volunteering with the Search and Rescue team, Community Emergency Response Team, and Medical Reserve Corps. Right now, I am training to take the HAM radio certification test. I’m about to take off for four days to learn about tactical K-9 field medical care. I read and do art. I enjoy my friendships. I travel and try new things. I just got back from Florida where I did indoor skydiving since I am too chicken to jump out of a plane.  So, I stay busy.

VL: I’d call that the perfect example of understatement! But then, you’ve always struck me as a very energetic person. When I think of you at writing-related events, the image that comes to mind is bright red dress and lipstick, a flamboyant delivery. Is that the real you? How would you describe your personality?

FQ: I am multifaceted. I really enjoy putting on a red dress and my bright red lipstick and telling stories that engage people. I feel wonderful when I can make people laugh, or gasp. I also enjoy dressing in yoga pants and curling up on a friend’s couch for a quiet talk with a cup of tea. I’m also a nerdy introvert who likes to hide in my office thinking, thinking, thinking. And I find I’m my best when I mix up the three. My default, though, is the nerdy introvert. It’s a choice to get out there and extrovert (as a verb).

VL: Last but far from least, how can people get in touch with you and follow your writing life?

FQ: The easiest place to find everything you need—from a sign up for my newsletter, to my social media, to my news—is all on my website www.fionaquinnbooks.com. I hope you’ll visit!

fiona quinn author

VL: You are a fascinating and appealing writer. Thank you for sharing with my readers!

What Changed Bradley Harper’s Life: The Old Woman and the Monk

author bradley harper

In my print interview with Bradley Harper, he mentioned an event that changed his life but was too long to go into just there. Well, here he goes into it!

 

Ribadiso, Spain
Ribadiso, Spain [Source]

For three years I volunteered at a small pilgrim hostel in Galicia, Spain, caring for pilgrims walking the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. The hamlet where the hostel lies is named Ribadiso, 41 kilometers from the end. Some pilgrims started in Sarria, 60 kilometers away, some back as far as the border with France, or even farther. Some walked three days, others six weeks or more. I spent a fair amount of time treating the blisters of the “Sarristas,” but the long distance hikers were well past that.

The reason for the pilgrimage varied by age group. Mature pilgrims like myself often did so as an act of atonement, or to keep a promise. Younger pilgrims were often seeking “something.” Ribadiso is two days from the end, and these young pilgrims were often in a panic. They hadn’t had their burning bush moment; no Divine Tweet as to what this particular journey meant, and they were nearly done. They feared returning home no wiser than before.

To these pilgrims I gave a different kind of treatment. I have the white beard, so find playing the role of wise old man a good fit—though don’t tell my wife! I told them a parable from the Tao tradition, which often has helped me in stressful times.

Two monks, an older one and his apprentice, are on a pilgrimage when they come to a shallow but wide river. An old woman approaches the elder and demands he carry her across. He bends over, she climbs on, and once they reach the other side she hops off without a word of thanks.

That night as the two monks prepare to sleep, the apprentice confesses that he is still very angry over how the old woman treated his master. “You must be very tired, my friend,” answers his teacher. “I put her down when I crossed the river. It seems you have been carrying her ever since.” I then pointed to the pilgrim’s rucksack. “Everything in there weighs something. You carefully considered the burden it represented, versus the value it would provide you on your journey.

“Perhaps the purpose for your pilgrimage was not for you to gain something, but to guide you to what you should put down. Consider that, and when you arrive at the cathedral in Santiago, decide what you want to lay at the feet of the saint.”

santiago de compostela cathedral
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral [Source]
I carry that parable with me to this day. I used to stress out over traffic. When someone
cut me off or tailgated, my blood pressure would rise, and I might be angry for some
time afterwards. Now I think of the old woman, and let it go. My path lies ahead. My
pilgrimage continues. No need to add to the burden.

Buen Camino.

Brad

bradley harper author

Bradley Harper bio: Dr. Harper served over 37 years in the Army, first as an Airborne Infantry Platoon Leader, and culminating as the Deputy Assistant Surgeon General for the US Army in the Pentagon.

While serving as the Command Surgeon for US Army South he spent time in Colombia overseeing a joint training course with the Colombian Army, and had a $1.5 million bounty on his head (alive) for anyone who could deliver him to the FARC alive (offer no longer valid).

Fluent in Spanish, he speaks four languages other than English and for the five years after retirement he volunteered in Galicia, Spain, to assist pilgrims making their way to Santiago de Compostela. He had the unique experience of serving as the acting commander of the US Army Hospital in Heidelberg, Germany, on the fiftieth anniversary of GEN Patton’s death there, and presided over the commemoration ceremony involving both US military and German local dignitaries.

Board Certified in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology, he has conducted over two-hundred autopsies, several of them forensic in nature, and uses his clinical experiences to inform his writing. He has worked as a professional Santa Claus for the past five years at a local theme park. A soft touch, he only threatens those on the Naughty List with burnt cookies.

His writing credits include a short story sold to The Strand and The Sherlock Holmes Magazine of Mystery, as well as his award-winning debut novel, A Knife in the Fog, featuring a young Arthur Conan Doyle, Professor Joseph Bell, Doyle’s inspiration for Holmes, and Margaret Harkness. Miss Harkness was an author and Suffragette who lived in the East End of London for a while to do research on her novels featuring the working poor. Together these Three Musketeers assist the London Metropolitan Police in the hunt for the man who became known as Jack the Ripper, until he begins hunting them!

Mystery Author Collaboration: Theresa Inge

theresa inge

VL: Today’s guest blog is by Teresa Inge, whose novella “Hounding the Pavement” is the opening work in the recently released To Fetch a Thief. Teresa has contributed to several anthologies both as author and as organizer. Today she will share her perspective on collaboration.


Just as writing is a lonely experience, collaboration is a group effort. As a short story author, I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with many authors on several writing projects.

These projects have included the coordination of joint mystery anthologies. Some years ago, I came up with the idea to create the Virginia is for Mysteries series, a collection of sixteen short stories set in and around Virginia. I first discussed the series with the Sisters in Crime Mysteries by the Sea chapter members and the Central Virginia chapter members. Once members were on board to move forward, I organized an anthology committee. This began the wonderful partnership of writers joining together to create great mysteries. Along the way, we teamed up to generate timelines, book titles, number of contributors, submissions guidelines, promotion, and securing a publisher.

VL: As a contributor, I can say Teresa did a great job! 

author theresa inge

We also learned that working with multiple authors can be challenging with schedules, editing, and finding time to promote the books.

VL: What Teresa may be too polite to say is that it was sometimes a real pain in the neck—or somewhere! For example, people missing deadlines, arguing over suggested edits, and/or never being available for talks or signings.

Next, I created 50 Shades of Cabernet, a mysterious wine anthology with authors I knew from Malice Domestic, a fan-based mystery writer’s conference. But I took a different approach and solicited authors who were established, had a following, and created well-crafted mysteries. I knew from experience that these authors would put in the time needed to make the book successful.

mystery author collaboration

More recently, I collaborated with three authors on To Fetch a Thief, the first Mutt Mysteries collection, featuring four novellas that have “gone to the dogs.” In this howling good read, canine companions help their owners solve crimes and right wrongs.  Since I’ve been in several books with this particular group, we now have the knowledge and experience to create well developed mysteries and a strategic marketing plan.

Collaborating with multiple authors combines efforts to develop great mysteries and create a strong network, since there is strength in numbers.

theresa inge author

VL: Teresa, thank you for sharing your insights. From your closing remarks, it sounds as though collaboration—like so many other things—gets easier with practice. No doubt many authors would benefit from working with and learning from you! 


Teresa Inge grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today, she doesn’t carry a rod like her idol, but she hotrods. She is president of Sister’s in Crime Mystery by the Sea Chapter and author of short mysteries in Virginia is for Mysteries and 50 Shades of Cabernet.

Going Long

by Rosemary Shomaker

Rosemary Shomaker author

VL: Thanks to Rosemary Shomaker, we have a chance to vicariously experience the struggle of a writer stretching into a new challenge. Although Rosemary doesn’t get into her story in To Fetch a Thief directly, “This is Not a Dog Park” is great. She should definitely go long again/more in the future. And as an added bonus, check out her dog!

 going long


I’ve commented to friends (and to anyone asking about my writing) that completing a novella was difficult for me, a short-story writer. As I reflect on this, the words to “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway musical Rent keep floating through my brain. Let me plant the ear-worm for you:

 

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.

Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear.

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.

How do you measure,

Measure a year?

 

In daylights?

In sunsets?

In midnights?

In cups of coffee?

In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?

In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.

How do you measure a year in a life?

 

Now, let me connect the dots. Short stories have a word count of 4,000 to 8,000 words; those are the targets many publishers suggest when soliciting short story submissions. How long is that? At 250 words to a double-spaced manuscript page, you’ll find short stories weighing in at sixteen to thirty-two manuscript pages. What does that mean in a book? For a 5.5” x 8.5” book size, that translates to ten to twenty pages.

In writing a short story, you typically write twice the length and then cut, edit, and rewrite to produce a tight short story—eliminating half of what you initially wrote. I chose short story projects for several reasons. Primarily, I liked the compressed focus—of both the length and the writing period. I could assess my time and plan accordingly. Violà! I’d finish and see results within weeks or months.

For the first in the planned Mutt Mysteries series we aimed to produce a book including four novellas. “What are those?” you ask. Simplistically, a novella is a short novel or a long short story. To check what I tell you, I Googled “novella,” and found one explanation that a “novelette” runs 7,500 to 17,499 words, and a “novella” is 17,500 to 39,999 words. How precise! You guessed it—40,000 words and more is a novel. The varied fiction genres, however, have specific expectations. A mystery novel runs 80,000 to 90,000 words, for instance. The To Fetch a Thief novellas run about fifty pages each.

I wrote my first draft of “This is Not a Dog Park.” My word count was 8,300 words—and that was only the first draft! Remember my comment about expecting to cut half of a first draft? I was sunk. Clearly, this novella task was a different animal than a short story. Yes, but I didn’t realize the different animal was a beast! I floundered for several weeks, trying to “gin up” my plot and visualize the long mile to 17,500 words. (“Gin up”? Who says that? I looked up the idiom—see  * below for the very interesting origin—I love words—but I digress!)

My first attempts at adding volume to the story were horrible. I found myself cranking up meaningless descriptions. I added useless comments. Each time I did this, my short story writing training rebelled at the waste and at the imprecision of the prose.

It took me adjusting to a completely different mindset to make any useful progress. The place to start for me was the plot. In a novella, I could have more happening than I could in a short story, and I explored that. In addition, my characters could interact more and build their relationships over several scenes. I gave myself permission to relax the compactness of short story boundaries. Still, my product was unfocused. It’s only when I deleted some useless scenes and repurposed others that I felt progress.

Back to the song. Here’s how the words translated to my novella ordeal:

 

Seventeen thousand—then add five hundred words.

Up to thirty-nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine.

More than seventeen thousand five hundred words.

How do you measure,

Measure a plot?

 

In action?

In hours?

In scenes or in lines?

In pages, in edits, in words by the ton?

Seventeen thousand—then add five hundred words.

How do you measure when your novella is done?

 

The beauty of this novella-writing exercise for me was that finally the “organicness” (that’s a dodgy word—“organicity” is worse—that layers on medical meanings) of writing emerged, finally, and I received the gift of having a glimpse of the work of a true novelist. Yikes, that’s some hard work! My regard for any novelist has increased, and my awe of good novelists compounds exponentially.

In my learning experience writing this novella, I did, as “Seasons of Love” reminds us, “You got to, you got to remember the love.” I do love writing!

* “Gin up” – one Googled source yielded the explanation below. You bet I checked the definition of “feague”! That definition used the euphemism “fundament” . . . I love words!

“Gin up” means enliven, excite or enthuse. Its probable derivation is from the 1800s British slang term “ginger up,” which referred to the practice of putting ginger up a horse’s butt to make him spirited and prance with a high tail, for purposes of show or sale. The other term for this practice is the verb “feague.” This is confirmed both by the online Phrase Finder from the UK and the OED.  (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Gin%20up)

Rosemary Shomaker

VL: Thank you Rosemary! I appreciate your candidness and rich language. In addition, I think you are an inspiration to other writers striving to expand their writing lives. I do hope we collaborate again sometime. And to close out, just one more great photo.

going long


Rosemary Shomaker has called Virginia home for decades. After a state government career writing inspired nonfiction, she now writes fiction. You can find a few of her short stories in anthologies such as Virginia is for Mysteries – Volumes I and II50 Shades of Cabernet, and several of the Shaker of Margaritas anthologies. Her “This is Not a Dog Park” novella is included in the Mutt Mysteries collection To Fetch a Thief. You may recognize her if you shop at thrift stores, attend estate sales, visit historic sites, or poke around abandoned buildings—she cannot resist the lure (and lore) of the past.

Story Nuggets: Where Does a Writer Find Them?

by Jayne Ormerod

Jane Ormerod author

VL: When I invited the four authors who have stories in To Fetch a Thief to contribute something to my blog page—interview, blog, rant, whatever—I was hoping for diversity. And they are coming through!


I’m a writer. I write cozy mysteries. When I’m not huddled in my writing hut, I’m out and about, either physically or cyber-ly, mingling with readers. The number one question I am asked is “Where do you get your ideas?” My answer: I collect “story nuggets” everywhere I go and in everything I do and all the crazy stuff I see in the news. All it takes is a teeny tiny event  and my imagination is off and running. It’s no secret I am particularly influenced by things in my life and events that occur in my coastal community.

For my most recent publication, I was challenged to write a novella (about 15,000 words) that involved a dog, a theft, and a murder. Two years later, a book was born. To Fetch a Thief is a collection of four novellas. My story is titled “It’s a Dog Gone Shame!”

Fortunately, I had a cache of “story nuggets” at the ready.

Jane Ormerod

The “dog” part of the story was easy. Although dog-less at the time, we’d been lucky enough to have been adopted by four wonderful rescues over the years. I knew how to write “dog.”

The “theft” part of the story was a snap. We have a wonderful place in our neighborhood to honor dogs that have crossed the rainbow bridge. It’s called The Dog Gone Garden. A local artist paints a colorful rock to represent each dog as it passes. The rocks are huddled under the shade of a Crepe Myrtle tree. Our own Norwegian Elkhound, Jamaica, has a rock there. One summer’s day all of the rocks disappeared! Just gone! Nobody knows where or why or how. (There were a lot of them so it was a heavy load!) Aha! my mystery-writer self said. A theft! I tucked that into my carton of story nuggets. (Although I solve this little mystery in my story, the real rock theft remains on the loose.)

dog gone garden

The murder part? We live on the Chesapeake Bay. It is a semi-annual occurrence for a body to wash ashore. Mostly they are traced back to a drug gang further up the bay. Sometimes it’s a result of too much drink and too little sense when a person climbs aboard their trawler to sleep it off. One misstep and they splash in the bay and end up sleeping with the fishes. The beauty of being a cozy writer is the amateur sleuth only has to discover a dead body. We don’t have to know how to kill. Interviewing neighbors who’ve discovered the “floaters” has given me enough “nuggets” for a dozen mysteries.

To answer the perennial question, “Where do you get your ideas?”; I get them from life. Once the “story nugget” is planted, I turn it over to my imagination. I then stand back and watch the words fly! (Most end up on the cutting room floor, but that’s another story for another day.)

VL: Big thank you to Jayne Ormerod! No doubt readers have enjoyed this peek into your writing process—and some may decide to emulate you! To read more about the stories in To Fetch a Thief and the writers who wrote them, check out www.MuttMysteries.com 


About Jayne Ormerod:  Jayne Ormerod grew up in a small Ohio town then went on to a small-town Ohio college. Upon earning her degree in accountancy, she became a CIA (that’s not a sexy spy thing, but a Certified Internal Auditor.) She married a naval officer and off they sailed to see the world. After nineteen moves, they, along with their two rescue dogs Tiller and Scout, have settled into a cozy cottage by the sea. Jayne has penned over a dozen novels/novellas/short mysteries.

Website: www.JayneOrmerod.com

Blog: www.JayneOrmerod.blogspot.com

Inside Heather Weidner’s Writing Life

heather weidner author

VL: I’m delighted that Heather Weidner agreed to an interview. Her most recent publication, “Digging Up Dirt,” appears in To Fetch a ThiefIn addition, Heather has published two mystery novels and numerous short stories—and dogs show up frequently!


VL: Is the dog in your story in To Fetch a Thief based at all on your dog?

HW: It is. It’s based on my little female JRT Disney. She’s a bundle of energy, a great companion, and she always likes to explore outside. Thankfully, she’s not dug up anything strange.

heather weidner dog
Heather’s dog, Disney

VL: Disney is definitely cute! I can understand why you would want to put her in a story. But how did you come up with the actual plot for “Digging Up Dirt”?

HW: My husband is a realtor, and people are always leaving things in houses when they move out. That gave me the idea for the random things (that might not be so random) in the story.

 

VL: No need for a spoiler alert, but I will say I admired the variety of things left behind and how you tied them together. But back to your passion—I don’t think passion is too strong a word—for dogs. Do any of your other stories (or future stories) involve a canine companion?

HW: They do. In my Delanie Fitzgerald Mystery series, my sassy private investigator has a partner, Duncan Reynolds, and Duncan’s best pal is Margaret, the English bulldog. She’s a brown and white log with legs. She has two speeds, slow and napping. But she likes treats, and she’s a great companion.

I’m also working on another cozy mystery, and there is another Jack Russell Terrier in it. Her name is Bijou.

dogs murder perfect holiday season
Heather’s dog, Riley

VL: While you are producing stories involving dogs, what do you do with your actual dogs?

HW: There are two dog beds in my office on either side of my desk. If they aren’t roughhousing, then they’re napping.

heather weidner dogs

VL: Most writers are voracious readers. What types of books do you read?

HW: I love all kinds of mysteries, thrillers, history, and biography.

 

VL: What are you reading now?

HW: I just finished John Grisham’s The Reckoning, and now I’m reading Lee Child’s Past Tense.

 

VL: What’s your favorite book or movie that has an animal as a central character? Why?

HW: My early favorites were Charlotte’s Web and Where the Red Fern Grows. I have always loved animal stories, and even today, I tend to read mysteries that have pet sidekicks. My favorite mystery authors who include pets are Bethany Blake, Janet Evanovich, Krista Davis, and Libby Klein.

 

VL: What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now?

HW: I have three TBR piles right now. One’s on my night stand. I have one on a bookcase, and there’s another downstairs in the den. There are always more books than I have time to read. Most of the books in all three piles are mysteries and thrillers. There are a few biographies in the pile.

 

VL: Based on the locations of your TBR piles, I could probably guess at the answer to this next question, but I’ll ask anyway. Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why?

HW: I can read just about anywhere. At home, I like reading on my deck in the early mornings. At night, I like reading in bed with two snuggly Jack Russell Terriers.

As for the writing part of your question, I tend to be a binge writer. At home, I write in my office or on the deck. But I tend to write or proofread whenever I get a free moment, so it could be at lunch at work or in the dentist’s waiting room.

 

VL: What’s next for you?

HW: I am working on the third novel in the Delanie Fitzgerald series. It’s called Glitter, Glam, and Contraband. I am also working on a new cozy mystery set in Charlottesville, Virginia. I had a nonfiction piece accepted in the Sisters in Crime book marketing anthology, Promophobia, and that will be out next year, along with a short story, “Art Attack,” in the Deadly Southern Charm: A Lethal Ladies Mystery Anthology.

VL: You clearly have a lot going on! Thank you for taking time for this interview.

 

VL: Thank you, Heather! Congratulations on all you have done so far. No doubt we will see more of your writing in the future, especially Delaney Fitzgerald. Learn more about Heather Weidner below.


Heather Weidner’s short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. Secret Lives and Private Eyes and The Tulip Shirt Murders are her novels in the Delanie Fitzgerald series. Her novella “Diggin’ up Dirt” appears in To Fetch a Thief.

She is a member of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Guppies, and James River Writers.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.

Heather earned her BA in English from Virginia Wesleyan University and her MA in American literature from the University of Richmond. Through the years, she has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. She blogs regularly with the Pens, Paws, and Claws authors.

Connect with Heather online:

Bradley Harper: The Man Behind the Writer

knife fog bradley harper

VL: I’ve often said that I’ve never met a boring writer. Here to prove that point is my interview with Bradley Harper, mystery writer and so much more!


VL: Let’s start with your debut novel, A Knife in the Fog. I loved it!  I have been a fan of Sherlock Holmes mysteries since my college days, and when I read your book I found you had the tone spot-on. You evoked the time and the place in a way that took me there—which is no small feat. What drew you to writing a murder mystery in the first place?

BH: Doctors love mysteries in general, as the diagnostic process is much like solving a mystery. You collect data points and, after testing various hypotheses, arrive at a plausible diagnosis. A Pathologist does practically nothing else. Also, I fell in love with the Holmes stories the summer I discovered them at age 13. If you’re going to spend hundreds or thousands of hours writing a novel, it should be in a genre you know and love.

 

VL: So that’s why you are drawn to mysteries, and why this sort of mystery, but how did you come up with this particular plot?

BH: I discovered the four-year gap between the first and second Holmes stories, and that the Ripper murders occurred in the middle of that period. I became excited at the idea of a novel involving Doyle in the hunt for the killer, and explaining why he returned to Holmes after being soured on crime fiction due to his meager payment (twenty-five pounds), for the first one.

 

VL: I admire the way you combined real people—i.e., Doyle, his real-life influence Joseph Bell, and Margaret Harkness, a real woman of the time—and wove this wonderful fiction around them.

bradley harper author
Reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes himself!

 BH: I’m glad I found Miss Harkness. She was an author and Suffragette who lived in the East End of London for a while to do research for her novels featuring the working poor.

 

VL: I like her character a lot. I hope to see more of her! But let’s change gears here, and look at your work before you retired and started writing fiction. Where did you attend med school?

BH: Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, 1979-83.

 

VL: Well, that answers my next question about whether your medical training preceded joining the Army.

BH: I started as an Airborne Qualified Infantry Officer and at one time was a platoon leader in a Mechanized Infantry Battalion. Due to the draw down after Viet Nam, I was transferred to the Transportation Corps and ran a motor pool in Izmir, Turkey, as part of a NATO Headquarters there. One of the four walls of my motor pool was the remnant of a Roman aqueduct. Thirty-seven years later, I retired as the Deputy Assistant Surgeon General for the US Army in the Pentagon.

bradley harper man behind writer
In Padua, Italy

BH: During my Army years, I enjoyed many extraordinary experiences. This picture was taken shortly after receiving an award from the Knights of Malta for my assistance to the Italian Army in their preparation for deployment to Afghanistan as part of a NATO mission. The advanced first aid course I helped found has since become mandatory training for all Italian land forces prior to deployment, and was recently taught to the Italian Presidential security detail.

I also had the unique experience of serving as the acting commander of the US Army Hospital in Heidelberg, Germany, on the fiftieth anniversary of General Patton’s death there. I presided over the commemoration ceremony involving both US military and local German dignitaries.

 

VL: Wow. Quite a progression! Congratulations. But hold on. If you didn’t join the Army to go to medical school, why did you join? 

 BH: My draft number was 84, so I knew as soon as I graduated from college I was going into the military. I decided to take an ROTC scholarship for my last two years. (My original goal was to be a high school Spanish and History teacher). One day relatively early in my service I went on sick call for an injured ankle, and the doctor who saw me was such an unpleasant person I decided that I and my soldiers deserved better care. So I went to med school with the goal of seeing to it that soldiers and their families got the care they deserved.

 

VL: What made you stick with it?

BH: I discovered I liked being part of something larger than myself, and found living abroad an amazing experience.

 

VL: What were the best and worse things about your time in the military?  

BH: I enjoyed being reassigned every two to three years into a new job. That allowed me to take on various roles and to develop a wide skill set. Frequent moves did limit my social circle, however, and I didn’t have what I would consider a close friend as an adult until after I retired. Fortunately, I had the love and support of Chere, my wife of 45 years.

what santa taught me

BH: In the five years since I retired, she has joined me in my Santa gigs as well. She’s wonderful.

bradley harper sisters crime

VL: When you addressed the Central Virginia Chapter of Sisters in Crime—an excellent presentation, by the way—you mentioned having a $1.5 million bounty on your head at one time. Tell me about that.

 BH: While serving as the Command Surgeon for U.S. Army South, I spent time in Colombia overseeing a joint training course with the Colombian Army. That’s when the bounty was offered.

 

VL: I never expected to meet anyone wanted-dead-or-alive!

 BH: You still haven’t! The bounty was for anyone who could deliver me to the FARC alive. As the highest ranking U.S. officer in the area, I was considered very valuable as a live hostage to ransom. (Offer no longer valid, by the way.)

 

VL: Hmmm. If there’s no longer a profit in kidnapping you, I might as well get on with the interview. You are Board Certified in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology, and you said you’ve conducted over two-hundred autopsies. What sorts of forensic autopsies did you perform that subsequently informed your writing?

BH: All military pathologists undergo forensic training. We are often sent to remote locations, and are the only game in town. I am not Board Certified in Forensics, however, so any cases which might go to trial would be sent to the nearest military forensic specialist. The cases I did were crib deaths, training accidents, motor vehicle accidents, suicides, or people who died on the job unexpectedly. Two suicides by standing in front of a train and one accident involved being run over by light rail informed my writing in one of the final scenes in A Knife in the Fog. I was involved in one case while in Germany which had mixed jurisdiction between the German civil authorities and the US, so I attended the autopsy performed by my German colleague, and my notes were used to prosecute the US serviceman involved.

 

VL: You’ve told us quite a bit about your work as Santa. But I’m curious about something you mentioned in the SinC-CV presentation. What prompted you to volunteer in Galicia? Apparently it wasn’t a one-off. Do you do this annually? How long does that take? Are you actually walking the pilgrims’ route?

way st james

BH: After I retired from the Army I walked the Camino to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. It is an ancient pilgrimage route begun in the ninth century, and millions have walked The Way to the bones of St. James as an act of atonement or contrition. I did it to give me some time to ponder what direction my life would take after thirty-seven years in the military. After a transformative experience I have written about and shared on a local radio program—which is too long to go into here—I wanted to give back, and to help others realize their dreams. I speak five languages other than English, and being functional in so many tongues allowed me to assist pilgrims from most of Europe and, of course, the English-speaking world. I got back as much as I gave. This is the first year I have not volunteered after five consecutive summers. These were fifteen-day stints—with my wife—first in the pilgrim office, and later as a hospitalero, or host, in a pilgrim hostel.

 

VL: Surely you realize that mentioning a transformative experience more or less in passing means I’m likely to come back to you for more about that! But forging ahead for now, what about your personal life? Do you have hobbies or pets?

 BH: I read incessantly, and swim for fitness when my shoulder allows. No other hobbies to speak of, and no pets. I travel a lot, still. Perhaps when I go from the “go-go” phase of life to the “go-slow” or the “no-go,” I’ll add a pet to my life.

author bradley harper
Still traveling

VL: I’d like to end with info on your future project(s). What are you working on now?

 BH: I am fortunate to have a two-book contract with Seventh Street Books, and am involving my heroine from book one, Margaret Harkness, in trying to stop an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria during her Diamond Jubilee ceremony. It will be titled Queen’s Gambit.

 

VL: When might fans hope to have Queen’s Gambit in hand?

BH: It’s scheduled for release in October of 2019, on the one-year anniversary of the debut of my first book.

 

VL: What, if anything, would you like to share with other writers about how you balance family life, Santa duty, volunteer activities, and your writing life?

BH: I don’t multi-task. I don’t believe anyone can accomplish their best work unless they are entirely focused on the task in front of them. So when I write, I go all-in. I do ponder plot points and issues when I’m not writing, but when I am playing Santa, for example, I am totally focused on the people who have come to see Santa. These encounters are brief, but if I can communicate to them that I genuinely wish them well, they will remember that for a long time after.

The best advice I got in med school was: when the body is tired, work the mind. When the mind is tired, work the body. Eat well, walk, laugh, engage with those around you, be grateful for every day, and life will sort itself out.

bradley harper author

VL: Let’s end with those words of wisdom! Thank you, Brad, for sharing so generously of your time, your experiences, and your thoughts. I look forward to wrangling another blog sometime down the road!

Follow Bradley Harper online at bharperauthor.com. You will find pictures and notifications of appearances, as well as bits of off-beat information about Victorian England, forensics, and whatever strikes his fancy! You can even get info about Harper’s compilation of four short stories.

 gallery death bradley harper