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.
What 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
It’s a new year. A year when some of us have books coming out (see countdown widgets in the sidebar), which always means deadlines. Some of us are just…writing. Question is, what? Mysteristas, tell us in the comments!
And that’s a wrap! The Mysteristas will be on holiday break from December 24 through January 4, 2019. But be sure to come back on Monday, January 7 to help us kick off a new year of fabulous authors and writing adventures.
In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
On the last day of 2018 we have a two-fer of great writers! Please welcome Debra Goldstein, author of the Sarah Blair Mystery series, and Barabara Ross, author of the Maine Clambake Mystery series, as they send us into our annual holiday break!
An Unexpected Meeting by Debra H. Goldstein and Barbara Ross
Debra H. Goldstein and Barbara Ross both recently released mystery novels. Debra’s One Taste Too Many, the debut of her Sarah Blair Mystery series, is set in Wheaton, Alabama. Barbara Ross’s Steamed Open, the seventh in her Maine Clambake Mystery series, takes place in Busman’s Harbor, Maine. Debra and Barbara wondered what might happen if their characters bumped into each other shortly before their new books began.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Sarah Blair examined the Atlanta Merchandise Mart map figuring out where she could get a cup of coffee. She had an hour until she met her twin, who was browsing the restaurant wares displays. Deciding the coffee shop was behind her, Sarah turned and collided with another woman, knocking a package from her hand. Both tried to retrieve it, bumping heads.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you.”
“No problem.” The other woman stepped around Sarah.
“Wait, aren’t you Julia Snowden, from that venture capital firm in New York?” Without giving Julia a chance to respond, Sarah continued. “I’m Sarah Blair. We met when you came to Wheaton, Alabama to look at investing in my husband’s business.”
“That was a long time ago. I was on the road forty weeks a year, I remember, though, I went to dinner with you and your husband, Bill. How is he?”
“That’s right. It was a long time ago, though. We’re divorced and other than happy with his new bimbo, I can’t tell you how he is.”
Julia smiled, happy to connect with a familiar face in the crowd. “And instead of New York and the financial world, I live in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, and manage my family’s business, the Snowden Family Clambake.” She held her package up. “I’m here looking for new supplies. And you? Are you in the food business, too?”
“Oh, no. The only time I’m in the kitchen is when I bring my take-out in or make a recipe of convenience. I work as a law firm receptionist, but my sister, Emily, is a gourmet chef. She recently came back to Wheaton to work with Chef Marcus at Southwind, a fine dining restaurant, so Emily is here getting a few ideas for that. Because she was driving from Alabama and already had the room, she insisted I come play with her in Atlanta for the weekend. You know how hardly anything exciting happens in small towns. She thought I needed a break from waking up, going to work, and coming home to my cat, RahRah. I can’t imagine what a change moving from New York to Busman’s Harbor was for you.”
Julia laughed. “Tell your sister moving back to your hometown will turn out okay in the end. At least it did for me. I fell in love with my middle-school crush, for one. And it’s great being so close to my mother and my sister and her family. You’d think small town life would be dull, but…” Julia’s voice trailed off. She looked around to make sure they weren’t being overheard in the noisy convention center. “The most peculiar thing has happened. My very first opening day, there was a body hanging from the staircase in the abandoned mansion on the island where we run our clambakes. The police shut us down and I thought we’d lose the business for sure.” Julia shrugged. “But the weird thing is, it wasn’t a suicide, it was a murder, and I helped identified the killer. Since then, I’ve helped the state police solve half a dozen murders.”
Sarah’s mouth fell open. “You’re kidding. That is weird. Maybe you should go back to New York. Things sound a bit too exciting in Busman’s Harbor. At least RahRah and I will never have to worry about murder in Wheaton.”
Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of One Taste Too Many, the first of Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series. She also wrote Should Have Played Poker and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. Find out more about Debra at www.DebraHGoldstein.com
Barbara Ross is the author of seven Maine Clambake Mysteries. The latest, Steamed Open, was released December 18, 2018. Barbara’s novellas featuring Julia Snowden are included along with stories by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis in Eggnog Murder and Yule Log Murder. Barbara and her husband live in Portland, Maine. Visit her website at http://www.maineclambakemysteries.com
One Taste Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein
Sarah knew starting over would be messy. But things fall apart completely when her ex drops dead, seemingly poisoned by her twin’s award-winning rhubarb crisp. Now, with RahRah wanted by the woman who broke up her marriage and Emily wanted by the police for murder, Sarah needs to figure out the right recipe to crack the case before time runs out. Unfortunately, for a gal whose idea of good china is floral paper plates, catching the real killer and living to tell about it could mean facing a fate worse than death—being in the kitchen!
It’s summertime in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, and the clamming is easy—or it was until a mysterious new neighbor blocks access to the beach, cutting off the Snowden Family Clambake’s supply. Julia Snowden is just one of many townspeople angered by Bartholomew Frick’s decision. But which one of them was angry enough to kill?
It’s the end of 2018. Whether the year was rough or good, there are always things to be grateful for. On this Monday before our holiday break, the Mysteristas look back at 2018.
Peg Brantley: I’m choosing two, one personal and one professional.
Professionally, I was surprised to win a second award for Trafficked. I sort of thought they’d spread the wealth and give another deserving author the Colorado Humanities Book of the Year award. While the girl scout in me was prepared for a reading, I didn’t expect to have to give one.
Personally, it was the trip my husband and I took to celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary. He makes every day special and we both know how lucky we are.
Kait Carson: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Oh, that’s another book, and definitely not mine, sorry, Charlie. I admit, peeps, I struggled with this, and it may be too late to make the post, which is fine. It’s been that kind of year, but it’s ending on a high note. I’ve finally decided who I want to be when I grow up. I hope you’ll join me on this voyage of adventure. Here’s a hint. Details will follow during the year. Interested? Visit my webpage and sign up for my newsletter so you don’t miss any clues.
This was truly an awful year and although it is looking up, I’ll be pleased to put it in the memory book and move on without a backward glance. Whew – and I am usually such a Pollyanna that it earns me eyerolls. Onward to 2019!
Becky Clark: For me 2018 was kind of a weird year. For one thing, there was great joy in launching Fiction Can Be Murder in April. But then in October, it was announced my publisher would no longer be putting out new books past summer 2019. So my Foul Play on Words will be out in April 2019, but the third book they contracted won’t. But my agent is shopping it around and we’ll see what happens.
Then at almost the same time I heard about my publisher, we got word that the 26-day Danube cruise my husband and I had been planning on for-freakin-ever had been cancelled due to the lack of water in the Danube. Four days before we were set to leave! When the shock wore off, we scrambled to substitute a smaller trip to the gorgeous Oregon coast instead. The cruise is rescheduled for May 2019. Fingers crossed!
I’ve been really diligent about my schedule these last few months, so I make sure to get time to do everything I love to do and not just what I’m required to do. Last week I was able to get back into my workshop for the first time since my surgery, almost two years ago! I rescue books and give them a second life as purses. I think in 2019 I’ll give them away to fans and subscribers to my newsletter. (If you want in on that … here’s the subscriber link. I’ll also be giving away ARCs of my new book, copies of FICTION CAN BE MURDER and all the associated hoopla that goes with a book launch.)
Here’s a picture of the purse I was working on yesterday, along with some of the tools of my trade.
So that’s my upsy-downsy year in review. I hope you can look back on yours and find the good in everything that happened and look forward to all the new adventures 2019 holds.
Barb Howe (3 no 7): Every year I take Ethan (now 10) to Ohio to visit great-grandpa Russell on the farm (and he gets to see other relatives as well.) Farm life that was so normal to me growing up is so exciting to him, having spent most of his life in Vegas. He loves riding the lawnmower, shoveling gravel and walking down to the tracks to watch the train go by. Who would have thought it?!
We spend a week there (school spring break). It is a wonderful time for just us, without other adults, orkids, AND great grandpa does not have internet (although the local library does, so we walk there as well.) In 2019 the school year calendar will have some changes and ending earlier. The two of us will be heading to Ohio in June for great grandpa’s birthday, and that will be very exciting as well.
Mia Manansala: My most memorable (happy) moments from 2018 are signing with my literary agent, Janet Reid of New Leaf Literary, and also winning the Eleanor Taylor Bland Award, which I accepted at the Sisters in Crime breakfast at Bouchercon.
Liz Milliron: Without a doubt, the publication of Root of All Evil had to be a high point, as a writer, for 2018.
I’d dreamt of seeing my book in Mystery Lovers Bookshop for ages, ever since I joined our local Sisters in Crime Chapter and got serious about being published. When 2017 ended with the news that I was finally going to really see the book in print, of course I immediately started thinking about the launch party.
Cue the nightmares where my critique buddies were standing on the sidewalk pretty much strong-arming people into the store.
I shouldn’t have worried. The party was everything I hoped it would be and more. My oldest college friend, Mike (who doesn’t even read much) drove down from Bradford and the place was packed.
Another high point? Bouchercon 2019 in St. Petersburg, where I got to attend as a published author and participate in Author Speed Dating with my “running buddy” Annette Dashofy. Our tag line? “Depopulating southwestern Pennsylvania…one book at a time.”
Personally? I hit the 22-year mark with The Hubby, The Girl graduated high school (magna cum laude, thank-you-very-much), I sent her off to college at the University of Pittsburgh (where she continues to kill it in the classroom), and just as I was despairing of her brother, he comes home to tell me that for the second time in a row he has the highest test score of all of his teacher’s physics classes. Could he finally be getting serious about life after high school? Tune in and find out!
Here’s wishing you all the best in 2019!
Pamela Oberg: 2018 flew by so quickly that I’m struggling to write a summary of the year! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that time moves more quickly, but this year set a new speed record. 2018 was filled with the usual highs and lows, memory-making activities, and those occasional moments that fall into the “let’s just forget that happened, shall we?” category. Since I can’t influence what has already happened, I’ve decided to do a bit of planning for the future, instead.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, my company is closing. Our family is planning to use this time to visit family, but also to set some goals for the year. We’re going to break some of our device habits, creating a space in the kitchen where the devices go when we arrive at home. Instead of keeping electronics near at hand, we’re going to set them aside and focus on being really present with one another. We’re going to do some meal planning, and create some new/old healthy eating habits. Nothing crazy, but we’ve gotten a bit lazy with our meal planning and have lapsed into a dependence on take-out that doesn’t work for our budget or health. (I’d rather save for vacation than order take-out!) We will be doing a bit of construction, as we make our shared home office more functional for working from home, homework, mail sorting, and filing. Perhaps most important, all of these changes will support my renewed focus on my writing!
My plan is to submit at least three short-stories for publication and to finish one manuscript. I’ve got plenty of projects in progress, and it’s time to finish a few things! There may be a writing conference or two that I’ll try to attend, but my focus will be on keeping my writing at the top of the priority list.
Happy Holidays – wishing you a New Year filled with wonderful stories and a sky-high to-be-read list!
Kelly Oliver: Well, 2018 was a year of big ups and downs. I lost one of the loves of my life, my beautiful kitty Yuki (photo attached), and my first novel, WOLF A Jessica James Mystery, just became a #1 Amazon Bestseller.
I also got a new kitten, Lord Peter Mischief Wimsey. Let’s just say, he puts the FUN in fungus!
Keenan Powell: My most memorable moment from 2018 is the 7.0 earthquake that struck Anchorage on November 30, 2018. When I came home, I found my shower door had shattered. Did you know that a shower door has almost 200 pounds of glass in it? Good thing I wasn’t in it! I’m thinking shower curtain next time. Honestly, I got off cheap. Two days after, at the recently-reopened neighborhood café, I met a lady whose house fell off its foundations.
Most of the roads were patched back together in a few days. The state employees went back to work on Wednesday after inspections of their office buildings. Kids will go back to school on Monday, December 10. (We’re all looking forward to that.) And, finally, I should be able to get into the Costco parking lot which was just chock-a-block full of not-working Alaskans most of the week afterwards.
Sue Star: When the pet shipper delivered our granddog, Lilah, after her journey from South Africa. She bounded across our threshold with a happy grin and raced through our house as if she were a puppy instead of the 14-year-old, arthritic and large dog that she is. It gave me such joy not only that she had survived her 2-day trip but also that she remembered our house from 3 years before when she’d last been here. And best of all, it meant that her family would soon follow!
Kathy Valenti: Alas, poor 2018. I knew it, Horatio. But I didn’t like it all that much.
2018 was a year of upheaval and less-than-goodness. I expanded my freelance business, increasing my work load exponentially. I wrote the hardest book EVER. Trusses in our roof collapsed, necessitating a temporary move out of the house. My husband was hospitalized multiple times. (It’s a looooooong story, but he’s fine now and, God willing, will continue to be fine.)
In spite of all of this turmoil, I’m grateful for this tough year. After all, trials and tribulations make life’s dazzling moments shine that much brighter.
Case in point: our 25th wedding anniversary.
To commemorate this landmark year, my husband and I took a Mediterranean cruise. We’re not big travelers. Our idea of a getaway usually involves the children, a camp trailer, and hiking boots. So this adventure was a pretty big deal for us. It not only meant international travel. It meant leaving our kiddos with my husband’s mom for more than two weeks. Right after they started in new schools.
How did we feel about it? Nervous but excited. How did the kids feel about it? Let’s just say there was a LOT of conversation about why they should come along.
In the end, my awesome mother-in-law insisted we take the trip solo and took amazing care of our kiddos. We were able to let go of the stress of work and health and life, and remember what it was like to be two people in love.
There are too many highlights to hit, but I think our two days in Venice may top the list. We did All of the Things, including being serenaded by a gondolier, no matter how touristy it seemed.
It was definitely one of the most memorable moments of 2018 and will serve as emotional food for the journey to next year and beyond.
I hope 2018 was good to you and, if not, will make a (hopefully) wonderful 2019 even sweeter. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and much light and love.