Fall has, um, fallen (at least where some of us are). That means color changing leaves, pumpkin spice everything, and of course new books. Tell us, Mysteristas, what are you reading? (And whose TBR pile did I steal a pic of?)
Fall has, um, fallen (at least where some of us are). That means color changing leaves, pumpkin spice everything, and of course new books. Tell us, Mysteristas, what are you reading? (And whose TBR pile did I steal a pic of?)
Please welcome back guest JT Bishop, author of Spark! She’s talking about something every author gets asked: where do your stories come from?
What do you want to write about?
I get asked a lot about how I come up with my ideas. Where do I get my inspirations?
For me, and I’m sure for most authors, it’s about what piques my interest. I personally love the unknown. I’m curious about the mysteries it can hold. Ghosts, aliens, Atlantis, and Big Foot are just a few of the things that I would love to know more about. Are these things real? I don’t know, but what if they are? That’s where I get excited. There’s a whole world of fascinating ideas to ponder and a million stories that can spring from those ideas. And the more I learn about them, the more interested I become.
When I heard a theory back in 2012 that the earth was a hub of alien activity thousands of years ago and that extraterrestrials would meet here to exchange ideas and information, I was hooked. I started wondering, what if they were still here? A story, although only a small one, began to form. I started writing and couldn’t stop. As I wrote, it got bigger and before I knew it, I had a trilogy. From those three initial books, four more were spawned into a sister series. To say that it inspired me is an understatement. But once you find that one thing that inspires you, then the writing comes easily. At least it did for me.
I think ideas are everywhere, whether you like the unknown, or prefer the facts. Pay attention to the world around you, jot down anything that pops into your mind no matter how strange it may seem, and you will easily find at least five ideas per day. You do that every day, and one of those ideas is going to bear some fruit.
I think that’s what we all want as writers. To find the one thing that gets everything flowing. Once you find it, sit down and put pen to paper. You will see how quickly a story will show up for you.
It surprised me, and it will surprise you, too.
So, what inspires you? What are your interests? What are the stories you read or the tv shows you watch? Are you jotting down your ideas? Pay attention. You’d be surprised at where it may lead.
Take a second and let me know in the comments what intrigues you and what ideas you’ve got churning. The crazier the better. If you’re lucky, you might just have your story.
Born and raised in Dallas, TX, J. T. Bishop began writing in 2012. Inspired by a video that theorized the meaning of the end of the Mayan calendar, J. T. began the Red-Line trilogy. The video surmised that the earth was the central hub of activity for extraterrestrials thousands of years ago. J.T. didn’t know whether that was true or not, but it did spawn an idea. What if those extraterrestrials were still here? Two years and a lot of work later, the first three Red-Line books were complete, but she’s not done. The Red-Line saga develops as she continues to write new books.
I am so happy to introduce friend, critique buddy, and frequent travel companion Annette Dashofy to Mysteristas. Annette is celebrating the launch of her seventh book in the three-time Agatha-nominated Zoe Chambers Mysteries sers, Cry Wolf. She’s gotten used to dealing with crowds by now, but she’s also discovered the joys, and potential pitfalls, of a certain type of crowd.
The Joys of a Hometown Crowd
With my seventh book now out (how did THAT happen???), I’ve become fairly accustomed to standing in front of a crowd and talking about anything book related. Sometimes the “crowd” consists of two people. Sometimes it’s a hundred or more.
The size of the audience doesn’t bother me. Much. I thought I’d overcome all my public speaking jitters. Then last week, a local restaurant and I hosted a Dinner With the Author event. By “local,” I mean four miles from home in the town where I’ve lived my entire life.
I was petrified.
Maybe “petrified” is too strong a term, but I definitely had a stream of potential disasters playing on a loop inside my head.
Let’s play Stump the Author.
I’ve done local events before and it never fails that someone from my high school days shows up, all smiles (or smirks…it depends), and expects me to know who they are. I’m really sorry, but I rarely do. We all change over the decades. Facebook has helped with photos, but I still have trouble pulling a name out of my brain when faced with someone I know I should recognize.
And let’s be honest. They have an unfair advantage because my face is on the promotional material!
The worst of these old friends is the one who flat-out refused to tell me who he was and instead offered clues. (If you’re reading this, John, I’m pointing at you.)
It’s not just old high school friends, though. When you’ve lived in the same area for your entire life, you meet a lot of people along the way. I’ve worked on the ambulance, been involved with horses, worked retail, been a professional photographer, and taught yoga. Plus a few other jobs and careers along the way. At this particular Dinner With The Author, I encountered folks who knew me from my EMT days, a woman who had hired me to take monthly photographs of her daughter from birth to one year—a daughter who is now in her thirties, farming neighbors from over the hill who used to lease property from my grandfather, as well as an old friend from high school.
Thankfully, I had a chance to mingle and unscramble all my identity crises during dinner and before my talk.
Which leads me to my other big fear during local appearances.
Let’s play Embarrass the Author.
Also known as history hecklers. Those people who have known me for years or knew me way back when and love to pull out the mortifying little anecdotes. “Remember the time you…?”
These are the kinds of things that don’t happen in appearances farther from home. Thankfully, they don’t happen all that often close to home either. But I still live in fear of these “fun” games every time I step in front of a local crowd.
So, Mysterista friends, have you ever been placed in an embarrassing position in front of a hometown audience? Or have you ever been heckled, even if it’s all in good fun? Feel free to share! Or not.
Rural Pennsylvania’s Vance Township Police Chief Pete Adams is down an officer and has been dealing with extra shifts as well as a pair of bickering neighbors, one of whom owns a machete and isn’t afraid to use it. Golden Oaks Assisted Living is outside Pete’s jurisdiction, but a murder in the facility his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father calls home makes the case personal.
Paramedic and Deputy Coroner Zoe Chambers has been itching for an opportunity to take the lead in a death investigation. She gets her chance when her boss is hospitalized and not only assigns her to the Golden Oaks homicide but puts her in charge of the county coroner’s office. As if she doesn’t have enough to handle, a long-lost, over-protective, older half-brother walks into her life threatening to drive a wedge between her and the man she loves.
A second dead body leads them to realize the case may have dark ties to a distant past…and if Zoe doesn’t untangle the web of lies, Pete will be the one to pay the ultimate price.
USA Today bestselling author Annette Dashofy has spent her entire life in rural Pennsylvania surrounded by cattle and horses. When she wasn’t roaming the family’s farm or playing in the barn, she could be found reading or writing. After high school, she spent five years as an EMT on the local ambulance service, dealing with everything from drunks passing out on the sidewalk to mangled bodies in car accidents. These days, she, her husband, and their spoiled cat, Kensi, live on property that was once part of her grandfather’s dairy. Her Zoe Chambers mysteries have received three nominations for the prestigious Agatha Award. Cry Wolf (September 2018) is the seventh in the series.
I bet you’ve never read a science fiction novel about time travel on a train. Unless it’s one where time stops.
LoML and I recently celebrated our anniversary with a train trip from Denver to California and then up to Vancouver. We love a bit of misadventure on our trips because they always lead to something unexpected. We had it in Russia and we had it in Wyoming.
This trip allowed us to add California and Washington to the list.
Getting off our train in Sacramento, I learned from another passenger that our train to Seattle had been cancelled. The Redding Fire had engulfed the train tracks and Amtrak felt it prudent not to attempt to race their passenger train through the flames.
Our train from Sacramento to Seattle had been scheduled to leave at 11 p.m. When LoML planned our trip, he was aware that trains often travel to their own drumbeat and that “on time” was a rarity. So we had a few hours in Sacramento. That stretched to several hours when we learned that buses, driving a detoured route to Klamath Falls, would leave at 1 a.m.
After exploring Old Sacramento we went to a movie (Crazy, Rich Asians is very cute), then checked into a Holiday Inn for a normal shower (we had one in our sleeper… sorta) and a nap. I set the alarm for 11:45 so we could be back to the nearby train station shortly after midnight.
When we got to the station three buses were filled and there was no room at the inn for LoML and me. (Some of these travelers had been bused from Dallas!)
There were two women on one of the buses who had oversized luggage (the kind you check) and had placed them on seats. When asked by Amtrak officials to allow the driver to put their luggage with the other suitcases they refused, even after admonishment that they had not paid for those seats. I wonder, were those cases filled with drugs? Or cash? Or body parts?
Later, LoML and thanked those women (in our hearts) because we got to ride in the comparative luxury of a van with the two of us and young medical student and her two well-behaved kids rather than a sardine-packed bus.
Dawn brought a visual to the smell of wildfire we’d had all night. I wish I’d gotten a photo of the fire-fighter camp we passed, but I was sluggish and barely got a glimpse of it as we drove by.
Finally, we were in Klamath Falls and, after waiting an extended period of time for a crew to arrive, we were on our way to Seattle.
Our train was stopped in Everett (I think). The conductor told us we’d be there for an indeterminate amount of time because of police activity at King Street Station in Seattle.
Naturally, I wanted to know more. I googled. Got nothing.
Our train finally moved, but then stopped again in this rather eerie part of Seattle, waiting for the all clear. I was hoping we were in a secret and safe location. We had no idea what was happening.
The only point of this photo is to show you it was dark. We were tired. And then there was that strange blue light that almost acted like a black light in our sleeper. What was that all about?
We learned later the cause for the delay was someone shooting at incoming trains. I’m told by Barbara Nickless, who knows these things via her books beginning with the award-winning Blood on The Tracks, that more than likely both Amtrak and Seattle PDs were involved. (Read her books. You won’t be disappointed.)
Finally, we arrive in Seattle. Check into a beautiful suite at the Fairmont Olympic (Yes! Go there!) and had a wonderful day at the Pike Place Market where we picked up victuals to take back to the hotel and watch the Bronco/Seahawk game while we gnawed on smoked salmon and crab legs.
An alarm. Followed by, “There has been a declared emergency. Make your way calmly and quickly to the fire exits.” Then something about physically disabled guests.
We find our shoes, walk down nine flights. At the final exit, I push on the door as I was the leader of our little band calmly and quickly leaving the hotel. The door wouldn’t budge. LoML was my hero. He kicked the damn thing wide open!
We’re finally outside. While others milled around near the hotel (are you kidding me?), LoML and I went across the street behind some construction barriers. Sirens. Two firetrucks. Pretty lights.
Walking down nine flights you think that everything is probably okay, but then you wonder if some of those people walking down the fire exits on 9/11 were thinking the same thing.
Turns out a smoke alarm had gone off on the 10th floor. My guess is some jerk lit a cigarette. Still… it was exciting.
The rest of our trip went pretty much as planned (except for a train delay between Seattle and Vancouver… a silly Union Pacific freight train (who owns the tracks, btw) had stopped for some reason. The length of the train was blocking a bridge we needed to use.
I’m sort of thinking if you’re looking for material, you should take a train ride.
It’s all better with friends.
Today we welcome noted short story author Eleanor Cawood Jones. Take it away Eleanor!
I’m just back from Bouchercon 2018, the world mystery conference. This year it was held in St. Petersburg, Florida. Imagine 1,500 or so mystery readers and writers running around a historic Art Deco hotel by the waterfront, rushing off to panels to hear their favorite authors or discover new ones, dashing off to buy books and getting them signed, and nipping down the next hallway to hear mystery-guest-of-honor interviews.
Does just reading about all that sound exhausting? Well, it is! And it’s grand fun. You might run into the likes of Lee Child, Lisa Scottoline, or William Kent Krueger right around the next corner. Or you might find the likes of me, grinning like an idiot because she’s so excited to be one of the authors in this year’s Bouchercon Anthology, titled Florida Happens: Tales of Mystery, Mayhem and Suspense from the Sunshine State. It’s my 20th published short story and perhaps the one I’m most excited about.
But I say that every time a story comes out.
I’m pleased to be appearing alongside such authors as Reed Farrel Coleman, Brendan DuBois, and Lawrence Block. There’s even a John D. MacDonald story in it! My own tale is titled “All Accounted For at the Hooray for Hollywood Motel.” The book is edited by Greg Herren and presented by Three Rooms Press.
I was doubly blessed to appear on a conference short story panel called “Short But Deadly.” Which brings me in a roundabout way to my topic: The most popular questions short story authors get from readers and writers. I think this is a great way to talk about the mystery/crime fiction short fiction niche.
Perhaps the best known short fiction magazines are Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock, to which I subscribe, but the short story market is rich and robust. Many authors, such as myself, publish their own anthologies or participate in books with other writers. Your favorite novelist may have gotten started with short fiction or have a collection of their own out there. So here I go with the top three questions I’ve gotten over time.
#1: What inspires you?
I hear lots of answers to this. Current events is a popular one. For me, it’s purely and simply people. If you listen to people or accidentally/on purpose overhear a conversation, you hear the most astounding things. I once overheard the following: “Why did you want to meet at 7-11?” “Oh, it seemed like the most convenient place.” No kidding, right? And my mind is off and running about what exactly 7-11 could be a meeting spot for. (You can read about it in A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Tales of Murder and More if you’re curious. And it’s more fantasy suspense than mystery.)
Or the guy who wanders up to me at work the other day (I’m in customer service, which is 24/7 inspiration) and starts telling me about a kid he knew in kindergarten who had one lung and grew up to play the tuba in the high school marching band. (Don’t write that one. It’s mine. Don’t know where it’s going yet.) (Murder by Tuba?) (Death by Ooom-Pah-Pah?) Anyway, about people… Listen, watch, become inspired.
Stories come out of all kinds of things. Driving through backwoods Tennessee and wondering what was going on in the little white farmhouses. The small-town meeting where everyone shares doughnuts and votes straight party lines, no matter what the issue. And that tour guide who loves to share behind-the-scenes information which may or may not be true. (Ask me about my Easter Island tour guide, Rinko “Call me Rinko Starr,” who may or may not have inspired a little ditty I called “Keep Calm and Love Moai,” in Malice Domestic 13.)
#2: What are your favorite short stories?
Do kids still have to read short fiction in school? I hope so. What would the world be without the likes of “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl of Willy Wonka fame, O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” or that astounding classic, “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner? Each one is an exercise in surprise twists, superb writing, and proof that a singularly fascinating story can be told in a few thousand words. And you know what else they are? Pure fun.
#3: Are you writing a book?
Of course. I write books all the time. Then I go off on a tangent and poof, there’s a short story. I’ve written a full-length fantasy book which belongs in the drawer where I put it, I’ve tried to write romance novels but I keep accidentally killing the characters… I despair over finishing a book. But I think this may be my year. Thinking back on the conference, and hearing Krueger’s take on setting as character, and Scottoline talking about emotional truth in fiction—yep, this may be my year for that full-length tome. But first, that tuba story…
Whether you’re writing, reading, or both, I do hope your reading season includes some time for short fiction. There are some excellent stories out there. And I’m always taking title suggestions for new tales. (Hint, hint.)
Eleanor Cawood Jones began her writing career in elementary school, using a #2 pencil to craft short stories based on the imaginary lives of her stuffed animals. A former newspaper reporter and reformed marketing director, she spends her spare time traveling, writing, and telling people how to pronounce Cawood (Kay’-wood). She’s published two short story anthologies and appeared in several others. For a list of her books, visit https://amzn.to/2O6wW7U. Follow Eleanor Cawood Jones on Facebook and Twitter @eleanorauthor.
I’ve been MIA from this beloved blog lately – belated welcome to new members, appreciation to guest post authors and interviewees! – and I’ve missed you all, terribly. You see, IRL I work at a small not-for-profit, and we are currently merging with another small not-for-profit. It’s the right thing to do for both our companies, but as with most changes, there are challenges.
Many, many challenges.
There are two that are foremost in my mind right now. The first is managing the change, with all of the emotional peaks, valleys, twists, turns, frustrations, anticipations, and so on that come with change. Keeping my team focused on the operational work is tough during this time of anxiety and unknowns; tougher still when I don’t have the answers they crave. The second is the merging of two very distinct cultures. We’re a New England-based company. We’re merging with a southern company. Both are lovely, full of hard-working, dedicated employees who believe in the work that they do.
But, we do it very differently. We’re in different geographical regions, have compatible but different business models, and very different histories. It’s a fascinating, challenging, and sometimes (often) overwhelming process. Because we’re located in very different places, merging our cultures will take an extended period of time. We don’t have the opportunity to see each other much, exist in each other’s spaces, learn by observing and interacting. We have few departments that overlap, and while that’s good from a “I get to keep my job” stand-point, it also means we’re merging without merging. Relationships are growing more slowly than we might wish, and there’s a significant level of confusion while the executive team works out details in the background.
Which means that right now, I’m not doing a lot of anything that isn’t work-related. I work until I’m too tired to think, and then I read because I’m too wired to sleep, but also too tired to write. A few blog posts back, Kait talked about her challenging summer, and how she came to realize that it was okay to pause, to perhaps focus on reading instead of writing for a bit while she healed, physically and emotionally. My challenges are far more mundane and impersonal, but I realized that I too need to give myself permission to pause. It’s okay to just read for a while, and enjoy the many beautiful, amazing stories out there.
When it’s time, I know I’ll have a overwhelming basket of story ideas and characters and situations that will emerge from this crazy time at my company. Personal drama, potential intrigue (we have none, but I can see where it could exist), culture clashes – oh, a giant merger picnic, with everyone bringing regional dishes and then something goes wrong and. . .so many ideas! Suddenly, I’m envisioning a corporation-based mystery series, kind of Dilbert-meets-Key West Food Critic (that’s a compliment to the amazing Lucy Burdette, who writes the amazing Key West Food Critic series).
While I’m at this point of low creativity, I’m binge-reading. I’m behind on my Diane Vallere and Becky Clark books, and I’ve got a Kellye Garrett burning a hole in my TBR pile. Plus, the latest Hank Phillippi Ryan, the new Paula Munier, the. . .well, clearly I have choices. Suddenly, this time of pausing doesn’t seem so bad! I’m looking forward to having a more settled existence, but until then, I have plenty of reading to keep me grounded, entertained, and inspired. Aren’t I lucky?
Please give a warm welcome to David Corbett, author of The Long Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday.
Tell us about your main character.
This is something of a story, so take a moment to freshen your cup of coffee, settle into your chair, and pull the cat onto your lap.
I was about 100 pages into this book with the same protagonist as the last—Phelan Tierney, the hero of The Mercy of the Night—when I had a conversation with my agent about taking it to a new publisher. She quite reasonably informed me that she couldn’t take the second book in a series to a new house, and then added that editors were crowing for strong women protagonists. “Could you do that?”
Of course I could.
This obliged not just complete revision of what I’d written. It required creation of a whole new character from nothing more than “strong woman protagonist.”
Fortunately, I’m blessed with a number of formidable women friends to cannibalize—ahem, rely upon—for inspiration.
I knew the character was going to be a lawyer, given the story, and I happen to be very close to an impressive litigator named Allison Davis—brilliant, funny, tough, i.e., perfect.
I also wanted to give my character a bit of a wild streak and a complicated backstory. Fortunately for me (if not so much for her), I’m also friends with the poet Kim Addonizio. Seriously, read her work, especially Tell Me, which was nominated for the National Book Award, or her set of biographical essays, Bukowski in a Sundress. Kim gave me more than enough to work with, especially when I melded her incendiary spirit with a lawyer’s mind.
But the real, original inspiration for the character who would become Lisa Balamaro, my protagonist in The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday, was a friend of my wife’s whose identity I will keep secret. The moment that convinced me I needed somehow to use her as a character occurred at our wedding.
It was that moment when the DJ announces, “I want all the single ladies out on the dance floor.” The dreaded bouquet toss.
None of my women friends bothered to respond—no way they were going out there. Most were well beyond hoping for (another) husband. But one of my wife’s dearest friends—call her Belinda—bravely went out as requested. Alone. As in absolutely—except for the four-year old daughter of another friend.
It was one of those excruciating gaps in time when you almost close your eyes, hoping the seconds will tick on by and it will all be over soon.
But then suddenly a voice cried out, “Okay buddy, come on,” hands clapping, “chop chop, let’s go!” Another friend, a Philly Italian in a vivid red dress, came out on the floor, pushed up her sleeves, and dared the DJ to throw those damn flowers. It took all the attention off Belinda, and made an otherwise unbearably awkward scene into comedy. It was so selfless, so caring, so funny I knew I had to use it, use her. Here was my big fat Italian heart.
In the book, these three women meld together into one composite character, with some additional inventive touches of my own. The result is a young arts lawyer, the black sheep of a prominent east-coast family, with a generous heart, a savvy mind, and a bit of a chip on her shoulder. She’s been dismissed as a mediocrity if not an outright embarrassment by her famous father, her demanding mother, and her over-achieving siblings, but she’s about to show them and everyone else just what she’s really made of.
This entails dealing with the man on whom she has a secret crush: Tuck Mercer, one-time bull rider and sketch artist (“The Rodeo Rembrandt”), reformed art forger (“The Man Who Forged the West”), and real-time possessor of the most infamous romantic correspondence in American history: the letters Doc Holliday wrote to his cousin Mattie and she to him both before and after she entered the convent. Those letters become the cherished prized in a battle for possession that pits Lisa not only against a corrupt judge from the Tombstone area, but a quartet of highly motivated ex-marines.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Sometimes. Nothing with lyrics or too inviting a melodic line. If it becomes a distraction I switch it off.
But on occasion, especially when I’m too much in my head, I will turn on something largely for the sake of atmosphere. The stuff I listen to is pretty obscure, and depending on what mood I’m after it might be:
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
The struggle for truth, justice, authenticity, and decency in a world driven by greed, power, cruelty, and cynical deceit.
The need for honest love, while frequently getting driven off-course by our romantic or sexual obsessions.
Our hunger for kindness.
David Corbett is the award-winning author of six novels, including 2018’s The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday. Other works include the novella The Devil Prayed and Darkness Fell, the story collection Thirteen Confessions, and the writing guide The Art of Character (“A writer’s bible” – Elizabeth Brundage). George Pelecanos remarked, “Corbett, like Robert Stone and Graham Greene before him, is crafting important, immensely thrilling books.” His short fiction has been selected twice for Best American Mystery Stories, and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, Narrative, Bright Ideas, and Writer’s Digest, where he is a contributing editor. For more, visit: http://www.davidcorbett.com.
Author Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/David-Corbett-157804457579661/
Personal Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/roguedogcorbett