Hemlock Needle

Hemlock-Front-Cover-DraftSeveral years ago, when I was working on a fishing rights case, I visited the western Alaska village, Kwethluk, with other members of the law firm. Kwethluk is a spot far away from the tourist industry. To get there, we flew an hour and a half on a jet to Bethel and then traveled fifteen miles by riverboat.

The village, a collection of small houses, is built on stilts, allowing for freeze, thaw, and flooding of the river. During this visit, my group was taken to a nearby fishcamp where the locals live during fishing season and where they harvest and dry king and red salmon on outdoor racks, tossing scraps to the puppies hanging around the racks.

This is how the Yup’iks have lived for centuries, traveling the river, fishing, hunting. It is their heritage and their legacy, and it was quite an honor to visit their home. The fishcamp scene became the prologue of my second Maeve Malloy novel.

HEMLOCK NEEDLE is about a young Yup’ik chief financial officer and single mother, Esther Fancyboy, who walks out of party and into a blizzard. She is never seen again, leaving behind a seven-year-old son, Evan.

The local cops say she’ll come home when she’s done partying, but family friend Maeve Malloy doesn’t think it’s that simple. She goes looking for Esther just as she’s getting bad news of her own, a career-ending accusation.

When Esther’s body turns up in a snow berm and a witness is shot to death in front of Maeve, she suspects Evan is in danger. Maeve must race against time to save the boy – along with her career, and maybe her life.

HEMLOCK NEEDLE is being released today by Level Best Books. Available in paperback and e-book: Buy here!


Interview: Dana King

Let’s get to know Dana King, author of the Penn’s River mystery series.

Do you listen to music when you write?

I used to listen to classical music when I wrote first drafts but now I need silence. There are a couple of reasons for this. I used to be a professional musician so the music can itself become a diversion. More to the point is I need to hear the dialog in my head to get its rhythms and inflections right and music gets in the way. I’d sometimes rather use the “wrong” word that sounds better than the “right” word that disrupts the flow or sound I’m going for, especially in dialog.

cover-king-ten-seven-6What made you interested in writing this particular story?

I got the idea for the underlying crime from an episode of “Homicide Hunter” on Investigation Discovery. Liked it so much I watched it again and took notes. It struck me as a story that fit in well with the things I like to write about in my Penns River series, people making a go of it in a small town where the economy has passed them by years ago.

Tell us about your main character.

Ben Dougherty—everyone except his family calls him “Doc”—grew up in Penns River before sending nine years in the Army as an MP. He had several offers from civilian security companies but always wanted to go home, mainly so he could work with his Dutch uncle, Stan “Stush” Napierkowski. Doc has a connection to Penns River only a native can have, but he’s also seen enough of the world to understand its flaws and love it anyway. He’s a clever cop who knows how to take best advantage of the limited tools a small and economically strapped town can provide.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Every time I see a question like this I think of a pocket notebook my daughter bought me a few years ago. The cover reads: If I could have sex with any famous person, living or dead, I’d probably choose living.

As for this little soiree, I’d have to say Dashiell Hammett, Dennis Lehane, Elmore Leonard, Ed McBain, George Pelecanos, and Joseph Wambaugh. Leonard, McBain, and Wambaugh have been the most overtly influential to my writing; Hammett because he laid the groundwork and would provide historical perspective to the conversation; and Lehane and Pelecanos because every time either one of them open his mouth something worth hearing comes out.

Tell us a bit about your new book.

A man is shot as he and his friends leave the local low-roller casino. There’s no obvious motive and suspects keep not panning out. The case is tough enough but the police still have to deal with all the things that go on in this small town that only has four detectives total; three new cops forced on the town by a consent decree and no one knows how good they are; a deputy chief wrangling for the top job; a growing drug problem; the local mob boss who may be switching sides; and a bridge jumper.


Dana King has two Shamus Award nominations for his Nick Forte novels, for A Small Sacrifice and The Man in the Window. He also writes the Penns River novels, of which the fourth novel in the series, Ten-Seven, releases from Down & Out Books on January 21. His work has also appeared in the anthologies The Black Car Business, Unloaded 2, The Shamus Sampler 2, and Blood, Guts, and Whiskey.

Web site: www.danakingauthor.com
Blog: One Bite at a Time
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/DanaKingBooks/
Author e-mail: danakingcrime@gmail.com

Guest Post: Dana Cameron

We’re so excited to have guest Dana Cameron on the blog today. Her Emma Fielding Mysteries have been made into movies by the Hallmark Channel and she recently was able to get a peak behind the scenes.

Scenes from a movie set: “Emma fielding Mysteries: More Bitter Than Death”

I had the great privilege of visiting the set of “Emma Fielding Mysteries: More Bitter Than Death” [ ] last August. The third movie in the series on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries is based on my fifth novel of the same name, starring Courtney Thorne-Smith as Emma Fielding and James Tupper as FBI Special Agent Connor.  The premiere is scheduled for February 10, 2019 at 9pm Eastern—just a few weeks away!

Courtney Thorne-Smith & James Tupper

Visiting a set is one of those things that feels surreal when it happens: Like seeing the pyramids or the Eiffel Tower or some other famous landmark in person, you may recognize a lot from popular culture, but there’s so much more.

Set in the city

Shooting a scene in a busy downtown area of Victoria, B.C. is complicated. Everything from noisy buses at rush hour and inopportune seagull cacophony to the wrangling of people who work and live in the area has to be considered. On the other hand, there are benefits…like finding some of the best sushi I’ve ever had in a nearby restaurant.

Video Village

It is unbelievably interesting to observe what happens from video village, where the director, the director of photography, producers, and occasionally, a giddy novelist sit. This is where everything has to happen in concert, the lights, the sound, the acting. Work may stop to adjust a set piece that is distracting, or a reflection that is revealing the work behind the scenes. There might be discussion about whether a line works, or if it can be cut, or made to suit the character better. One of the most impressive things is watching the actors do a line over and over, bringing energy to the emotions they’re acting out, even late into the night.

During one lunch break, which usually came very late afternoon/early evening (dinner is much later!), the director suggested that this must all be very alien to me. And yet, it wasn’t. For one thing, being on the set reminded me a little of high school drama productions. Each crew member kept the tools of their trade near at hand, and I learned to identify the electricians, costumers, and assistant directors by what they carried on their utility belts.  While everyone is intent on getting their specific task done, they are always delighted to explain what it is they do during breaks (you bet I made the most of that opportunity). Life on the set also reminded me of work on a dig: The cooperation and the communication is similar, everyone’s specialization has to be coordinated to fit the schedule/budget/weather. 

Victoria waterfron

In fact, my visit it was an almost perfect outing for an anthropologist or archaeologist. I had my copy of the sides (the shooting schedule and script for the day)—a new language to decipher from an unfamiliar text. I’d spent the day observing a group of people speaking that language, with a new-to-me set of social structures, artifacts to identify, and rituals (such as the round of applause after a take when an actor has completed—or wrapped—their time on set). It was like doing fieldwork without having to write a report or get dirty—paradise!

Juggling Act

Last week, Becky’s post made me think about how we writers have to juggle.  Sometimes we drop a ball or two, because there are so many of them to keep in the air.  Not only do we have different writing projects but also related tasks, such as research, editing, clerical, service, marketing, promotion, and…  What else am I forgetting?  

At the start of each new year, I like to assess how many balls have dropped, so that I can see where I need to focus more.  Last year I wrote about my goals as being more of a road map toward where I wanted to go, and that approach worked well for me.  Somehow, despite the unanticipated disruptions, and despite lots of dropped balls, I made it to the neighborhood of where I wanted to be.  Yay!  

So this year I’m designing another road map, tailored to my needs.  2019 will be the year of cleaning-unfinished-projects-off-my-desk.  

That means lots of juggling.  

How to keep all those balls in the air?  And then, keep them all straight?  Some folks use excel sheets, but I’m a hard-copy type.  I like to use paper calendars and ledgers.  I divide up my tasks on the calendar, working around other obligations already in place.  This way, I can visualize the bite-sized pieces that will take me in the right direction on my road map, and then I mark them off each day in the proper column of the ledger.  When I look at my columns, I see at a glance when I’m spending too much time on a certain project and neglecting something else.  

As for when I tend to those various tasks, I save the mindless ones for that time of the day when my mind slumps, and I need a cuppa tea.  I also like to alternate my physical position in my office for the type of task I’m doing.  If it’s creative, then I’m at my antique roll-top desk.  If it’s research, I’m in my comfy armchair.  If it’s editing, I’m on the laptop, anywhere there’s a quiet corner of the house.  If it requires technology, I’m at the worktable with my desktop.  

But still, it’s so easy to drop those balls, isn’t it?  

Do you have other tips for keeping on task with your different projects?  

Guest Post: Matt Ferraz

Please welcome guest Matt Ferraz!

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

I’ve been wanting to write a book with classic characters for a while. Alan Moore’s and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was always a great influence for me, and I wanted to do something like that, but on a smaller scale. So I decided to put together two series of books that apparently have nothing in common: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Eleanor H. Porter’s Pollyanna. It was a lot of fun to see how they worked with each other, Pollyanna being such an emotional character next to Holmes’ rationality.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

My murder mysteries books always have unusual characters. Jerry from Killing Dr. Watson was a complete loser. Grandma Bertha is a quirky old lady who investigates crimes for fun. And Pollyanna is a special case, because she never did any detective work in the original EHP books. When I told my family and friends about what kind of book I was writing, they thought it was a joke. Nobody could see how this would work out. After reading it, they agreed I did a good job.

Tell us about your main character.

Pollyanna Whittier/Bloom is a young American girl who’s in London to treat a spinal injury she suffered in her youth. She follows the philosophy of the Glad Game: always look at the bright side of life, no matter what. I can’t tell more about how she hooks up with Holmes without spoiling the mystery. I did every effort for her to sound and feel like she did in the original novels she appeared in. This is not a deconstruction of the character, but a faithful sequel to the two original books.

What do you think makes a good story?

Good characters are the cornerstone of a good book. They have to feel like real human beings, even if they’re not actually human. When I think of my favorite books, I always remember the characters and how they relate to their conflicts.

How do you incorporate that into your books?

I always think of what’s the most interesting thing that can be revealed about that character in a particular situation. I don’t agree that an author should always know what a character would do in every situation. People aren’t computers, and sometimes we act in a surprising way. There’s a scene in my book where Pollyanna decides to help Holmes by running after a escaping criminal. She does that because she wants Holmes’ approval, not realizing that she’s putting her own life in danger.

About the marketing thing—love it, hate it?

I wouldn’t go as far as saying I love it, but it can be an enjoyable process. And the more you do it, the easier it gets. I’ve worked with people who said that they didn’t want to do promotion, they just wanted to sell books. Which’s the same as saying you don’t want to eat anything, you just food in your belly. People like that don’t go far in this business.

May You Hit the Jackpot in 2019!

January 2nd would have been mom’s eighty-first birthday. For years I visited my parents in Nevada for New Years and mom’s birthday. This year I couldn’t face the smoky casino without her… It was hard enough with her.

Last year, I lost my mother to kidney cancer. She was one tough cookie, feisty up to the bitter end. And I was blessed to be there with her.

Every winter, my parents went south to Nevada from Idaho, to escape the snow…and because mom loved to gamble. On my last visit, I arrived in the afternoon, and mom was sick and not eating. By evening, she said, “I don’t feel crappy for a change. Let’s go to the casino for dinner.” After dinner, she wanted to play a video poker machine. About ten o’clock—way past my bedtime—my parents finally went home, and I went up to my room, exhausted from the long trip from Nashville.

At 6:00 the next morning, I got a call from dad. “If you come over and the car’s not in the driveway, we’re here.” Then he went on to explain why.

At midnight mom poked his arm and asked, “Don’t you want to go to the casino and play a machine?”

He said, “Not really. I want to sleep.”

A few minutes later, she poked him again. “Are you sure you don’t want to go play? I’ve got a terrible urge to play a machine.”

“Okay. If you really want to…” He got up, dressed her, lifted her into the wheelchair, then into the car, and off they went, back over to the casino.

At 3:00 AM when they finally decided to call it a night, they went to the parking lot and their car wouldn’t start. They waited half hour for a taxi—probably the only one in the tiny town of Mesquite. Mom was getting tired of waiting, and it was a pleasant night, so dad decided to push her in the wheelchair two miles back to their condo. Mom had a blast.

Even though she hadn’t slept all night, mom was like the energizer bunny and wanted to meet for breakfast. Usually, dad ordered whatever mom wanted, and they shared. But this morning, when he asked, “What do you want?” She said, “It’s a secret.” Dad and I exchanged worried glances. She grinned. “Get whatever you want. You deserve it.”

By the next morning, mom was in the hospital with excruciating pain in her side. Up until then, she’d resisted hospice or morphine, now she moaned for something to “make it go away.” The morphine kicked in within minutes and her whole body relaxed in relief.

I’ll never forget mom’s last words.

The next morning, the nurse came into mom’s hospital room, and asked, “How do you feel, Virginia?”

 “You really want to know?”

The nurse gave us a quizzical look. “Of course.”

“I’m pissed off,” mom growled.

“Why are you pissed off, Virginia?” The nurse winked at me.

“Because you won’t let me sleep.”

“Okay. Fair enough. Do you have any pain this morning, Virginia?”

“Yes, I have pain.”

“Where?” The nurse was concerned.

“In my ass,” mom snarled. “And it’s you.” Classic mom.

I grimaced, but the nurse just laughed.

Those were mom’s last words. She died that night. 

But mom died the way she lived… Giving ‘em hell.

Jackal, book four in the Jessica James Mystery series is set in Las Vegas in honor of my mom.

Here’s hoping you hit the happiness jackpot in 2019!!

runts playing with sharkey


toast party ball cheers
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