The Quiet Villain

Villains come in many packages.  They range from greedy megalomaniacs, mad scientists, princes of darkness, angry misanthropes, cat-torturing perverts, or…that quiet neighbor next door who’s never gotten a speeding ticket.

Some years ago at a writers conference, Ann Rule–the queen of true crime–explained why she liked to write about villains like the boy-next-door typeTed Bundy instead of [insert name of whatever sensational, crazed psychopath pops up in the daily news].

What I understood her to say was that villains are more interesting when they don’t look like villains.

She was talking about her own projects within true crime, but my brain got stuck on this for story potential, especially for mystery and suspense fiction.

I think it’s true, too, for fictional villains.  They are more complex characters when their  evil is hidden.  And it makes it more fun for the reader, either trying to guess whodunnit in a mystery or understanding the whydunnit side in a suspense novel.

Interesting villains are those who outwardly look like your average joe or jane.  Inside, they harbor the depths of darkness.  Outside, they blend in with a crowd.  They act normal in public, and they do their villainy under wraps.  What makes them tick?

Make no mistake:  villains certainly act villainous, but “the quiet villain” is way too crafty and clever to make his or her villainy obvious.  They aren’t easy to spot in a crowd.  They know how to behave in a socially acceptable manner in public so that they blend in and slip through the dragnet, making it all that much harder for our hero.

Villains are so wily that they test the metal of smart sleuth.  The villain is the only character capable of possibly winning a match against the protagonist sleuth.  Will this be the book where the villain wins this time?  It keeps us reading the next book in order to find out!


Dazzled, Late at Night

We just returned from a fabulous European river cruise, and I am so dazzled, I have no words.  But I do have a photo or two (or maybe a thousand?)


Oh, the lights we saw!

Castles and palaces, monuments and churches filled us with wonder along the way.  At night, they lit the river banks, and by day they rose through magical spirals of mist.

We started in Budapest, and with the tunes of Strauss, we sailed the Danube.  Then we turned on to the canal, which connects the River Main, and we carried on through charming Bavaria.  By this time, three stories that want to be written were calling to me, desperately trying to catch my attention.

But I pushed them aside as we finally sailed on to the mighty Rhine.  One of the purposes of this trip was to recreate the journey my German great-grandmother made when she immigrated to America in the 1880’s.

Yes, research.

Hers is another story I want to write, and there is much to learn.  She was only a teenager when she started her journey all alone, sailing the Rhine after leaving her family behind forever.  What must she have been thinking?  What did she see and feel along the way?  What was it like to live in her world at that time?

I’m pretty sure I’ve inherited some of her adventuring spirit, but I’m not sure I could’ve made the decision she made to uproot herself so completely and face the vast unknowns that lay ahead of her.

Could you?

Inspiration, “Late that Night”

Melanie and I were best friends during that year our fathers’ tours overlapped in the same city.  We were twelve years old, and there were no other girls our age in our community.  Being twelve, we were not allowed a very long reign, as we were living in a new place.  We stayed close to home, and we were schooled through correspondence study.  We didn’t get out much.

So we relied on each other, as best friends do.

Once per week we were allowed slumber parties at each other’s houses.  There was no TV, so our entertainment came mostly from books.  We were both fans of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and my personal favorite, Kay Tracy.  Melanie and I swapped books and chatted endlessly about them.  But our supply was limited.  We read everything our little community library had, and there was no more.

So we made up our own stories.

Nighttime is always the best time for making up stories.  Nighttime invites mysteries.  Melanie and I spied on the “late at night” goings-on of the people in our neighborhoods.  To us, theirs was furtive activity.  What on earth could anyone be doing outside late at night?  They must be up to no good!  Imagining, we made up the stories.

Mysteries, of course.

Our fathers went on to different posts, and Melanie and I ended up losing touch with each other, as it was so easy to do in those pre-internet days.  I only know pieces of her family’s story, and I’ve always wondered what became of my friend.  I wonder if she became a mystery writer, as I did?  Thanks to those “late at night” stories, I was inspired to keep on making up more stories.

Vindication Is…

…running to the dictionary, because you don’t know exactly what it is.  And once you think you get it, you realize it’s moments like these:

After months or even years of hard work,

  • you write “The End” to your book
  • you sign your first contract for a published piece of fiction
  • you surprise your neighbors with your announcement of a booksigning, when all along they thought you were just that person in the neighborhood who stayed home to collect their packages
  • a reader (who’s not your mother) likes your book and asks about the next one
  • a reviewer praises your book
  • your painting is accepted into a juried exhibit, yet you can’t draw a straight line
  • your kids grow up to be amazing human beings
  • after a lifetime of being a wannabe amateur astronomer, you finally get to see your first solar eclipse!  (And it’s even better than you ever expected!)


Whatever your list is like, there’s one thing all of these examples have in common:  months or years of hard work, dedication, and patience.  Nothing vindicated is ever earned without a price.

Dancing for the General

I’m very pleased to announce my latest release, Dancing for the General.

Dancing for the General-Web

It’s the story of an American woman in Ankara, Turkey in 1957.  The mystery of her missing fiancé pulls her into a murder investigation and a plot for revolution to unseat the government.  She doesn’t know whom to trust–her American colleagues, who struggle to do their jobs during the Cold War; the Turkish detective, who’s caught between his duty to uphold the law and his loyalty to Ataturk’s ideals; or the general who lives next door and will end the chaos one way or another.

The story behind the story:   This book has been fermenting at the back of my mind for many years while I’ve written other projects.  I’ve crashed at least 2 computers with drafts of this book, and research materials for this single project occupy almost half of my entire office.  Goodness knows how many trees I’ve personally destroyed with my reams of notes.  To see the mess on my desk finally transform into the real shape of a book feels like a vindication (shout out to this month’s theme!)  This is my tenth book, and it never gets any easier or any less sweet.

It’s available now from your favorite bookseller as either a trade paperback or an e-book, and soon it will become available as an audio book as well.

Meet My Narrowboat

Tempest is 30 feet long and 6 feet wide.  At full speed, she putters 2 miles per hour, racing swans, ducks, and coots.  We cruise 45 minutes to the grocery store, where we tie up while we shop.


Inside, she has all the comforts of home:  2 bench-style beds, a kitchen, with pull-out table, a snug wood-burning fireplace, and even a wet room.  What more do we need?


Narrowboats used to be working boats, delivering supplies and products to and from factories along the English canal system.  Families lived in tinier quarters than ours at the back of the boat, giving over the rest of the boat to their payload.  Workhorses towed the boats and plodded along miles of towpath along the canals, connecting most of England.

Highways and trains changed all that.  Engines power the narrowboats now.  The canal system is being restored for recreational use.  Boats have been converted into homes, and they come with a lot of tradition from their gypsy-like history.  Castles and roses traditionally decorate these boats, including Tempest:


I might have to write a book set here.  Should I?

Carry On & All That

I never expected to become an Anglophile.  And now I’ve got the tee-shirt: 20170708_083743

So, how did this happen?  After all, we Americans are the ones who threw tea into the harbor.

Reading.  The love for England creeps up on us.  It starts with books and stories.  Some of my childhood favorites–like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows–showed lovely England as the jumping-off place for extraordinary adventures.  Then, as a young adult, I moved on to King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie, which led to lots, lots more.  England is our literary culture, and books are delightfully insidious.

Tourists.  And then, if we’re lucky, we get to visit.  We see the sights that our bookish heroes experienced, scenes that resonate back to those stories that first inflamed our imagination.  It’s as if we become children again.  On an early trip, Hubby and I visited 221B Baker Street and played at Sherlock (embarrassing the heck out of our then-teenaged daughter!)


But lucky for me, it didn’t stop there.  We carried on, privileged to become tuition payers at University College London, which gave us more opportunities for trips (checking up on the daughter, you see).

There have been some memorable moments.

One time in a pub, one of our friends used various pint glasses and utensils from the table as props to try to explain to me the difference between Great Britain and the UK.  I’m still not sure I get it, but that’s okay.

Our daughter eventually settled there after school with her new husband, and now the in-laws chuckle about how American our grandchildren sound.  To me, they sound so British!

We love going to visit, so it’s no surprise that we took the next step.  When the opportunity arose to buy a place of our own–our own little canal boat–we thought about it for approximately ten minutes and then sprang for it.

Extravagant?  You bet!  But worth every penny–that is, pence.  And maybe there will be a book in all this one day.

And to think that it all started with the power of books.

What favorite places has your book reading taken you?