Interview: Diane A.S. Stuckart

Please welcome Diane A.S. Stuckart, author of Fool’s Moon. Read on to learn all about Diane.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

Fools MoonLike most authors, I read voraciously from a young age. Since we were poor, I spent a lot of time at the public library each weekend borrowing all the books I wanted to for free. (Though, sadly, that stack I checked out on Saturday never lasted all the way through the following week.) My favorites in grade school were the Bobbsey Twins, Encyclopedia Brown, as well as the works of Edgar Eager and Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Basically, anything with a mystery and featuring magic or cats (preferably both!) As a teen, I graduated to Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and Barbara Michaels. So you can see that mystery and magic both made an impression on me from the start.

Do you listen to music when you write?

I’m one of the few authors who can’t listen to music while writing. I don’t mind some TV noise drifting through my office door because I can tune it out…though when I’m on a really stressful deadline, I have a mini white noise machine on my desk that I use to block out everything else. On the other hand, when I’m driving and need to do a bit of mental plotting, classical or New Age music helps jumpstart my brain. 

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

Chocolate-covered cherries! Chocolate for my two black cat sleuths, Brandon Bobtail and Ophelia; the sweet white syrup center for the cats’ white pit bull sidekick, Zuki (short for Azu’car which is Spanish for “sugar”); and the cherry for my human protagonist, Ruby. Besides, I like chocolate-covered cherries…my paternal grandpa used to share a box with me and my siblings when we kids went to visit.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

Since my previous cat-centric cozy mystery series had been cancelled, much to the dismay of my readers and me, I thought it important to do another feline series. I was also eager to set a story in quirky South Florida, where I’ve lived for more than a dozen years now. And I’d been wanting to add a bit of magic to my next books, so I settled on Tarot, which has been an interest of mine since I was in high school. All these elements came together in the perfect cozy mystery storm that is the Tarot Cats Mysteries!

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

Friendship and family tend to be core themes in all my books, along with the notion of being (or learning to be) true to one’s self. My protagonists usually are separated from their birth families by distance. In the course of establishing their new (or simply better) self, they also recreate their absent family unit with friends and even pets. My fond hope is that this gives my readers who are on their own encouragement to do the same for themselves in real life.

*****

About the book:

Two magical tarot cats and their tenderhearted human outwit a cruel criminal in South Florida.

Most days, Ruby Sparks feels like the sign that says Tarot Card Reader Extraordinaire should say Tarot Card Reader Fairly Competent. But as challenging as it is to take care of her half-sister’s new age shop — and her growing menagerie of mystically inclined pets  Ruby never worries that she’s bitten off more than she can chew… until a customer wants her to divine the truth about murder.

When her own life is threatened with a double dose of danger, Ruby begins to wonder if she’s being played for a fool. Luckily, she has Ophelia and Brandon — sibling black cats with a talent for tarot — and a feisty pit bull friend who all lend a paw in collaring the culprit before Ruby finds herself taking her final cat nap.

“Lighthearted and quirky, this will enchant cozy readers and animal lovers.” – Publisher’s Weekly

“…she writes throughout with charm and warmth. Anyone with a pet will enjoy.” – Kirkus

*****

dianestuckartheadshotblackblue3Diane A.S. Stuckart is the New York Times bestselling author of the Black Cat Bookshop
series for Berkley Prime Crime (writing as Ali Brandon). She’s also the author of the
award-winning Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series. Fool’s Moon (Nov. 8,
Midnight Ink) is her first installment in the Tarot Cats Mystery Series.

Stuckart has written several mystery and fantasy short stories published in various
anthologies from DAW Books and five critically acclaimed historical romances
published by Zebra and Pinnacle Books.

The Texas native has a degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma, and while a westerner at heart, she migrated to South Florida over a decade ago and now calls herself a Floridian. She is a member of Mystery Writer’s of America, a past board member for the MWA Florida Chapter, and belongs to the Cat Writers Association. Stuckart is married and is a proud caretaker to four dogs and four cats (all but one of them rescues).

For more information on the author, please visit DianeStuckart.com.

CONNECT WITH DIANE A.S. STUCKART
Facebook: /BlackCatMysteries
Twitter: @dianestuckart
Goodreads: https://tinyurl.com/DianeAsStuckart

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Death Comes in Through the Kitchen

Today on Mysteristas, I’m excited to interview Teresa Dovelpage, author of Death Comes in Through the Kitchen.

I loved this mystery with its colorful characters, twisty plot, and mouth-watering recipes.

Matt, a San Diego journalist, arrives in Havana to marry his girlfriend, Yarmila, a 24-year-old Cuban woman whom he first met through her food blog. But Yarmi isn’t there to meet him at the airport, and when he hitches a ride to her apartment, he finds her lying dead in the bathtub. The police and secret service have him down as their main suspect, and in an effort to clear his name, he must embark on his own investigation into what really happened. The more Matt learns about his erstwhile fiancée, though, the more he realizes he had no idea who she was at all—but did anyone?9781616958848

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana, Cuba. She earned her BA in English literature and an MA in Spanish literature at the University of Havana, and her PhD in Latin American literature at the University of New Mexico. Teresa is the author of twelve other works of fiction and three plays, and is the winner of the Rincón de la Victoria Award and a finalist for the Herralde Award. She lives in New Mexico.

Teresa_Dovalpage

KO: Teresa, welcome to Mysteristas. What was your inspiration for Death Comes in Through the Kitchen?

TD: The initial spark was lit when my mom, who still lives in Cuba, started pestering me about preserving my grandmother’s recipes. My grandma had a culinary repertoire that included many typical Cuban dishes like arroz con pollo (rice and chicken cooked together), picadillo (ground beef with raisins) caldosa, etc., but she always gave a personal twist to them, like adding a bit of honey to the aforementioned rice and chicken dish. I knew that nobody would buy a cookbook written by me (I am not even a good cook, you can ask my husband!) so I added the recipes to a mystery I was writing at that time. In it, I intended to portray a different Cuba, one that didn’t revolve around life in tenements and jineteras, which are the main themes of many Cuban “dirty realism” novels. Here readers see another face of the island: college graduates who speak several languages, enterprising restaurateurs, B&B owners…

KO: What inspired to you to turn to writing crime fiction?

TD: Once I started writing some themes surfaced like challenging people’s preconceived ideas about Cuba—Yarmi doesn’t look like the classic curvaceous Cuban beauty, Havana isn’t at all like Matt imagined it—and exploring the role of women in mysteries and life. Strong female characters like Isabel, Lieutenant Martinez and even Yarmi are mujeres fuertes, fully fleshed and, in my opinion, representative of real Cuban women. I was happy to feature them in my first mystery.

KO: With Yarmi Cooks Cuban and the recipes, the book has familiar cozy elements, but it also deals with some issues that are not so cozy. How did you balance the cozier elements with the difficult issues?

TD: I tried to have un poquito de todo a little bit of everything. In a way, the novel could be used as a travelogue for people who want to visit Cuba but don’t know much about it. I tried to create a realistic setting and believable characters… and I did my research. Among my “sources” was a former Havana police officer now settled in Miami—she was my inspiration for Lieutenant Martinez. She agreed to help me on the condition that I would disguise her in the novel so nobody could recognize her. “And while you are at it, give me a big fondillo like the one I would have liked to have in real life,” she said. I did. I also wanted a gripping plot with the promise of suspense and surprise so I balanced all these elements the best I could.

KO: What is your favorite recipe from Yarmi Cooks Cuban? Can you reproduce the recipe for us?

TD: Of course! This is one of my favorites, la caldosa.

Here is the passage from the book:

It’s about time I devote a post to this nutritive and delicious dish. In case you don’t remember, La Caldosa is also the name of a dear friend’s restaurant, home of the amazing rice and chicken a la Isabel.

Caldosa is a mix of meats and vegetables, boiled together until all the flavors are brought out. Quite simple, though it takes a few hours to “gel.” Therefore, the first step is making sure that you have the whole morning, or afternoon, to spend in the kitchen.

Fill a caldero (the biggest pot you have at home) with water. Boil and add four pounds of pork. Any cut will do, but bones and heads provide a nice consistency. After half an hour, add the chicken: wings, breasts, thighs, and giblets. It doesn’t matter. Again, bones are good.

Simmer for thirty more minutes and add the vegetables: potato, pumpkin, yucca, taro, plantains, cassava, sweet potato, corn… Whatever you have—caldosa is very accepting. Keep boiling. All the tubers are expected to become soft.

Make sure to add water when it gets too low.

In the meantime, take out the pan and fry (in lard, of course, unless you want to be health conscious and use oil) two onions, one chopped garlic, and three bell peppers. Add cumin, oregano, and tomato paste. Let it simmer for a few minutes and pour the mixture into the caldero. Boil for another forty minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste.

A common question: when do you know it is ready?

Answer: when the meat and vegetables are so tender that you don’t need a knife to cut them.

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Caldosa is one of the few Cuban dishes that have its very own song, composed by Rogelio Díaz Castillo and made popular by El Jilguero de Cienfuegos. I have danced to the caldosa rhythm many times!

KO: I loved the effect of hearing Yarmi’s voice from beyond death. The cooking blogs were a great device. Can you tell us about how you developed the character of Yarmi and what is was like trying to write her after she was dead? I must say, I’m sorry we won’t see Yarmi again….or will we?

TD: Yarmi was a key character but since she is dead at the beginning of the book I had to come up with a way to bring her back. Otherwise, why would readers care about her? Then it occurred to me that she should have a food blog—that would explain why she and Matt met online too. (I got the idea one evening when I was baking merenguitos.) I wanted readers to hear her voice and the blog first-person format was perfect for it. And it was important not to make her a total victim…Even in death, Yarmi still has power over Matt and others. I have thought of a prequel, something shorter, maybe a short story. The one who has come back, though, is Lieutenant Martinez. She is the main character in my novella Death by Smartphone, published in serialized form in English and Spanish in The Taos News.

KO: What are you working on now? Are you writing more mysteries? 

TD: I just finished another novel that features Padrino and Lieutenant Martinez. The title is Queen of Bones, a reference to an orisha, an Afro-Cuban deity named Oyá, the guardian of the cemeteries. I am also writing another novel in Spanish with a crime element in it, though not totally a mystery. I am afraid that if I don’t use my language I will end up saying “Voy a lunchear” or “Tengo que comprar groserías.” ¡Qué horror!

Thank you so much for interviewing me!

Thank you, Teresa.

imageforDeathComesinDovalpage

Praise for Death Comes in through the Kitchen

“Dovalpage’s first crime novel is a well-cooked stew of culture and cuisine . . . [A] stunningly unexpected conclusion.”
The Taos News

“[A] dazzling culinary mystery . . . Those expecting a traditional food cozy will be happily surprised.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“The parade of colorful characters helps Dovalpage paint a vivid portrait of late Castro-era Cuba.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Don’t let the title and included Cuban recipes mislead you into thinking this is a cozy—this novel shows the gritty side of Cuba.”
—Library Journal

“[Dovalpage] creates a mélange of clashing cultures, multilayered deception, even traditional Cuban recipes, that are both entertainment and a revealing exposé of how a strangled society bypasses laws to survive, and dare to enjoy, daily life.”
—Booklist

“From tantalizing recipes to irresistible scenes of seduction, Death Comes in through the Kitchen provides a sumptuous feast for readers, who will fly through the pages to uncover not only the culprit, but also to discover the true identity of the victim. In her debut crime novel, Teresa Dovalpage delivers her signature sass and bawdy wit, while rendering a bittersweet portrayal of Cuba in the last years of Castro’s reign.”
—Lorraine M. López, author of Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories and The Darling

“You’ve never read a mystery like this one! In Dovalpage’s Cuba, love, murder, food and politics form a deliciously dark and funny stew.”
—Chantel Acevedo, author of The Distant Marvels and The Living Infinite

 

Photo Credit: Chris Turner

 

The Genesis

As you read this, I am winding down a ridiculously long and what-were-we-thinking month-long vacation in Eastern Europe. Assuming all went according to plan (and just typing that gives me sweaty palms), we will have spent time in Transylvania, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands.

Transylvania and the Netherlands were tacked on to the beginning and end of a Danube River cruise.

I’ll tell you all about it later, but for now, I want to tell you how it began, the genesis of this trip.

In 2016, when my agent and I were strategizing my career path for the next five or so years, she told me she wanted me to have two books released every year, which sounded good to me.

I already had a contract for three books from Midnight Ink in my Mystery Writer’s series — FICTION CAN BE MURDER, April 2018; FOUL PLAY ON WORDS, April 2019; and METAPHOR FOR MURDER, April 2020.

 

 

We wanted to slip in a cozy series that came out October-ish in between the Mystery Writer’s Mysteries. So I started brainstorming and sketching out ideas. We agreed on one idea that we both liked, so I got busy with a series outline.

Unfortunately, before that got too far, I was diagnosed with a tumor in my spinal column. It was benign and all is (mostly) back to normal, but the surgery and recovery really screwed up my plans, as you can imagine.

But, in the course of this new cozy series arc, I sent the main character’s parents off on a Danube cruise. As I googled and read and pored over maps, I had an epiphany.

 

liz

 

So, when I was moving better and everything seemed back to normal for me physically, or at least as back to normal as it was going to get, we met with our travel agent.

Now, there WILL be a story set on a Danube cruise, but maybe not the story I envisioned originally. I’m not completely sure that my agent was all in when I described this particular story as a “cozy thriller.”

That’s not really a thing, apparently.

So, we’ll see.

My plan as we’re gliding past the sights, sounds, and smells of autumn on the Danube, is to finish fleshing out this series as well as beginning to flesh out a standalone darker mystery that’s been gnawing at me for years. Again, we’ll see what really happens.

Regardless, I’ve gotta start writing something new as soon as we get home. Both of these ideas have lived too long in my head.

I don’t plan on doing much reading on this trip (except in airports and on planes), however. As my husband said, “You read fiction to get transported to another place and time. We will have already done that.”

I’ll check in here as soon as I get some sleep, have more coffee, reacquaint myself with Nala, get some sleep, have some coffee, and mourn the loss of having every single one of my whims catered to. Maybe not quite in that order.

In the meantime, where would you like to transport yourself to read a book? Do you like all kinds of settings to read about? What about writing, authors … do you have someplace you’ve always dreamed about using as a setting in a story? Do you have an itch to write somewhere waaay out of your routine?

Also, do you know about Christine Gentes’ Map Your Mystery blog and Facebook page? It’s a very cool list of where cozy mysteries are set. And I see one set in Bulgaria! Gotta read that one for sure!

Soooo …. all DID NOT go according to plan! I decided to leave this post intact instead of trying to scramble to rewrite it. But four days before we were supposed to leave on our cruise, they cancelled it because there wasn’t enough water in the Danube River! I had accepted that we might need to portage around low spots here and there, but not the entire river. It was a shocking email to get, after planning this trip for so long. We were actually very fortunate though. What if they’d cancelled it after we were already on our way? What if they took the option of turning it into a bus tour? As it is, by cancelling, we got choices of several remedies. We decided to rebook for a similar Danube cruise in May. They covered the cancellation fees we incurred AND gave us $1,000 worth of travel vouchers good for the rebooking. We weren’t out any money and now we feel like our May trip surely must be pre-disastered! So don’t cry for me, Argentina.

Since we had dog and house sitters, and we’d arranged to be away from work, we decided it would be too sad not to go somewhere, so we quick made plans to go to Oregon. We stayed a few days in Portland with our daughter and son-in-law, then went to the southern coast and stayed in a lighthouse bed-and-breakfast where they specialize in a seven-course breakfast. After a few days of indulging in that, we headed to the northern coast and stayed at a resort steps from the beach where we had a huge jacuzzi in our room. We were able to leave our balcony door open and hear the crashing surf all night long. So. Much. Decadence. (And they comped us one night! AND the gal who booked our reservation asked about my BeckyClarkBooks website. When I told her I wrote cozy mysteries, she told me how much she liked cozies. About 30 minutes later, she sent me an email through my site telling me how excited she was to read my books. So I brought her a signed copy. That was fun.)

It wasn’t what I’d planned to do, but I got some brainstorming in on a standalone I’m noodling over, I got some new experiences into my bucket, I ate all the clam chowder, and, of course, I got some much-needed R&R. I just got back a couple of days ago and feel energized and ready to tackle all my new projects.

But the question still stands, readers … where would you like to transport yourself to read a book? Do you like all kinds of settings to read about? What about writing, authors … do you have someplace you’ve always dreamed about using as a setting in a story? Do you have an itch to write somewhere waaay out of your routine?

A Writer’s Age

A writer’s life is full of surprises. Sometimes, when a reader meets a writer, the surprise is on the reader! I was in Barnes & Noble last week when my favorite sales person introduced me to a mystery reader, and as it turned out, a fan.

It goes without saying I was thrilled. The fan and I happily chatted about Hayden Kent, the Florida Keys, what was next. And then the surprise happened. The fan thought she was talking to Kait Carson’s mother. I paused. Thoughts pushed furiously through my brain, each shoving the other aside while I wondered if I was about to taste the sole of one or both of my retired running shoes. The salesperson saved the day. She said, “I didn’t know your daughter wrote, too.”

My fan, thank God, let loose a belly laugh. “You’re Kait Carson. The Kait Carson. But you’re not…” She blushed crimson, and she glanced at her shoes. Heels I noted and wondered if the three-inch spikes would be painful. “In your thirties,” she finally finished.

As her blush subsided, I assured her I took the comment as a compliment, and thanked her. I didn’t tell her I subscribe to and read Seventeen, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan Magazines from cover to cover to keep up. Nor did I share that the woman who lives in my head is in her thirties!

That got me to thinking how old are my favorite writers, and how old are their characters? It turns out most of my favorite writers are writing characters a good ten to twenty, or more, years younger than they are. I’m not naming names here—that’s not my place 😊—and you can do your own research. The key is, the characters are believable, and when I e-chat with these writers, or meet them on social media, it’s clear that the writer is comfortable in their character’s age group.

What does that observation mean? I’m not sure. But it seems as if as writers we become so immersed in the research and behavior of protagonists we absorb them. Their age and characteristics become second nature to us until the people who live in our heads might just surprise you, and us, with their dreams of the future.

Tomorrow is another day—being a writer is the only profession I’m aware of that lets you do it over AND retain the lessons of the past!

Readers and writers—how old is the person in your head? Your real age? Older? Younger? And is it a good year?

NaNoWriMo: An Update

Recently, Mysterista Mia Manansala wrote about this crazy event known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s an online, community-driven event where participants attempt to write a complete novel (or at least 50,000 words) in one month. It’s a wonderful way to push a writer out of his/her comfort zone, write fast and dirty, and build a routine of putting butt in chair, fingers on keys. This is not the time to overthink, edit, or revise as you go – the goal is words, lots of words, down on the screen.

I’ve never won.

November is a terrible month for this.

And yet, here I am, giving it another shot. We’re four days in and I’m actually proud to say I got +1400 words yesterday. Of course, the goal is roughly 1600+ per day, so I’m a wee bit behind, but – I GOT WORDS DOWN! One of the things I love most about NaNoWriMo is that there’s a ton of enthusiasm. Volunteers do a fantastic job of communicating with participants, encouraging local write-ins or online conversations to help motivate and inspire. It’s a month of cheerleading and support for what is usually a fairly solitary endeavor. NaNoWriMo is a great reminder that there’s a whole community of lovely, supportive, encouraging people out there who are enduring the same challenges.

The program has expanded beyond the November event, too. There’s Camp NaNoWriMo in the Spring (April and July), with a less rigorous expectation for word count – you set your own word count goal, but you don’t have to hit 50,000. It’s a great way to stay in touch with your writers’ community and keep that routine going, with a degree of flexibility. The aspect of Camp NaNoWriMo I really enjoy is the cabins. For regular NaNoWriMo you can have a buddy community, similar to the concept of an FB friend. For Camp NaNoWriMo, you can become part of a cabin community, either of your own choosing or you can ask the organization to assign you to a cabin. Either way, it’s another fun option for coming together with a group of people sharing similar goals.

My cabin group has branched out and created an FB group, as well, so we continue to communicate even after Camp is over. I love the on-going opportunity to gather my community around me, sharing successes and challenges, and using the group energy for motivation. This is where social media and technology really add value to life, for me.

I’d love to hear about other virtual opportunities to create writing communities – any suggestions?

 

Interview: Nancy Cole Silverman

A big welcome to Nancy Cole Silverman, author of the Carol Childs Mysteries series. Nancy is celebrating the release of her latest book, Reason for Doubt. She was kind enough to provide an ARC for review, then to answer some questions for us.

ReasonToDoubt frontLM: How did you come up with the idea for this story?

NCS: Back in 1996, I was working at a news/talk radio station in Los Angeles when a young model’s body was found in the desert. Investigators soon connected her murder to that of a freelance photographer with whom she had set up a meeting for a photo shoot. But prior to closing in on the suspect, the police began questioning a number of local photographers who knew and had worked with the young model. Coincidentally, my brother-in-law, a fashion photographer, was one of the photogs questioned. Of course, police soon zeroed in on the real killer, and he was arrested and is currently serving a life sentence in prison. However, the story, like most of the stories I’ve used in the Carol Childs mysteries, stayed with me. What if someone close to Carol was involved with a photographer accused of murdering his models. With a lot of creative thinking on my part, I took the premise from that story and developed it into the story you find in Reason To Doubt. The idea that Carol’s young daughter returns from college with a boyfriend/photographer in tow and he is later accused of a murdering three young models was just too good to pass up.

LM: Protecting the source is a big deal in this book, and I remember my journalism friends being schooled in this when I was the sports reporter for my college paper (importance of protecting anonymous sources was not such a big deal for me). What is the California law you reference? Carol is willing to go to jail; does it often come to that point?

NCS: There are no national shield laws to protect reporters and their sources. States are really on their own to design what they feel either works or doesn’t work for them. Consequently, there are thirteen states that have no such protection for news people, and of the remaining thirty-seven states, only twelve offer absolute protection to the reporter. The California Shield Law offers protection from prosecution for “qualified reporters and news sources,” but there is a “balancing test” the court is allowed to administer to determine the qualification of such immunity.

In such cases, it is up to the judge to determine if the information the reporter is holding is available through any other means. If it is not, and the information is deemed important, the judge can insist the reporter reveal any sources or information pertinent to the case, and if the reporter refuses, he or she can be sent to jail until such time as the reporter agrees to give over the requested information or the judge sets them free. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen too often. And as Tyler informs Carol, the decision, since she’s the one who would go to jail, is entirely up to her. However, Tyler reminds her, if she chooses to reveal her sources, her future as an investigative reporter is finished.

LM: There’s a lot of angst between Carol and her daughter. Catie makes what Carol thinks are some poor choices…why? And does Carol really value her job above her daughter as Catie accuses her?

NCS: Cate’s relationship with her daughter was a subplot I wanted to address as Carol’s relationship with Cate changes. What mother hasn’t faced challenged with a growing teenage daughter? Particularly one that brings a boyfriend home from college unannounced?

When Cate’s boyfriend is arrested as a possible murder suspect, Cate lashes out at her mother, accusing Carol of choosing her job over her daughter. What Cate doesn’t know, and what Carol can’t share with her daughter, is that Carol is protecting an anonymous source. Someone who can identify the killer and whose identity must remain a secret. While Carol can’t reveal what she knows, she does know that if she doesn’t follow the story through to the end, Cate’s boyfriend may go down for a crime he may not have committed. The only thing Carol knows for certain is that Cate is determined to stand behind a man the police think may be responsible for the murder of three young women. The situation has Carol’s mind in overdrive. Fighting for her daughter’s love, her job, and perhaps the life of the young man her daughter believes has been falsely accused of murder.

Ultimately, Carol learns she needs to trust that she’s raised her daughter to be a bright woman and that Cate will make the right decision.

In the end, it’s a story of trust and love and giving each other the space we need to find it.

LM: What’s next for Carol?

I’m currently working on a new series with Misty Dawn. Misty is a former Hollywood psychic to the stars, who first appeared on the pages of the Carol Childs mysteries in Shadow of Doubt. When I finished writing Reason To Doubt, I realized I needed to find a home for Misty. She was too dynamic to leave on the pages as a supportive character, and I decided to start a series with her as well. The first draft is currently with my publisher for review, and – fingers crossed – hopefully, you’ll be reading about her very soon.

Until then, stay tuned.

*****

Nancy author photo red shirtNancy Cole Silverman credits the fact both she and Edgar Allen Poe share the same birthday, along with her twenty-five years in talk radio, for helping her to develop an ear for storytelling. After writing everything from commercial copy to news Silverman retired from radio in 2001 to write fiction. Today, Silverman has written numerous short stories and novelettes some of which have been produced as audio books. Silverman’s new series, the Carol Childs Mysteries (Henery Press) takes place inside a busy Los Angles Radio station. Silverman lives in Los Angeles with her husband, four adult children, and thoroughly pampered standard poodle.

Guest Post: Mike Rubin

One thing I’ve never done – and wonder if I could ever do – is co-author. Sure, there are successful teams: Charles Todd, Renee Patrick, Sparkle Abbey. But could I shelve enough of my authorial ego to do it? Today’s guest, Mike Rubin, explores that very topic.

Co-Authoring:  A Honeymoon Collaboration or War of the Roses?

By Mike and Ayan Rubin

RubinCOTTONCREST COVER_jktfront(HR)A number of popular thrillers have been jointly written by two people. For example, James Patterson has more than a dozen co-authors. Clive Cussler writes with co-authors as well, including both his son, Dirk, and Boyd Morrison. Five of Janet Evanovich’s thrillers were co-written with Lee Goldberg, who scripted the Monk television series.

My wife, Ayan, and I are among a small group of American husband-and-wife writing teams, although there are other couples who write together, like British author Nicci French (the pseudonym of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French), and Swedish authors Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall.

Whenever Ayan and I make presentations about our thrillers, we always get asked several questions. One is how we can write together and stay married, and the other is how come only I am identified as the author.

Ayan and I power walk together early each morning, and when I say “early,” I mean 4:30 a.m. During the course of our walks, which began many years ago, we talk about potential characters, plot lines, and the remarkably exotic state of Louisiana in which we live. Such discussion help us stay alert as we exercise. When we feel we have enough material for a novel, we start writing. Our debut book, the multi-generational historical thriller The Cottoncrest Curse, was the first to grow out of these early morning musings.

Before we begin writing, Ayan and I talk extensively about the key characters and their motivations, about the beginning, middle, and end of the story we are conjuring up, and even about the first sentence. We don’t commit any of this to a formal outline however. We find that the process of connecting the dots, filling in the subplots and developing the “minor” characters is the most fun. In fact, during the course of writing, we often discover that a character whom we initially conceived of as incidental to the plot morphs into a major player. For example, in The Cottoncrest Curse, Sheriff Raifer Jackson suspects that what appears to be a murder-suicide at the eponymous Cottoncrest Plantation in 1893 may, in fact, be a double homicide. We had originally considered his naïve deputy, Bucky Starner, to be a tertiary character, and had thought that aged Civil War surgeon, Dr. François Cailleteau, would appear in merely one scene. But as we fleshed out the story, both Starner and Cailleteau became integral to the plot.

CashedOut (1)Although Ayan and I don’t outline our books in advance, we do “outline in reverse,” meaning that as we complete a chapter, we prepare a short synopsis of what we just wrote. This allows us to maintain continuity as we work without tying us down to a preconceived roadmap.

Outlining in reverse is also useful as our plot evolves, since we do not write full-time. Because writing is our avocation and not our vocation, the first draft of manuscript can take us over a year to complete.

In our second novel, Cashed Out, we kept control of the intricate twists and turns in the plot by reviewing the “reverse outline” of our previous chapters before we drafted the next. For us, this proved to be a much faster way to keep track of the action.

Because we agree on the main aspects of storyline as well as the key characters and their motivations before we ever start writing, we don’t have disagreements about the plot. Nor do we argue about whether a character would say or do something one way rather than another. Because we have discussed our key characters extensively, we know how they think and speak before we put a single word on a page. That is not to say that there is nothing left for us to exchange views about, however.

I usually write the first draft, including every idea we ever had. Ayan then reviews my first draft, fully explains anything that might be unclear, winnows out anything that slows down the plot, and rewrites the manuscript as she sees fit.

The two of us then work together on the third draft. Each of us has to defend to the other why we included or deleted certain passages, changed a plot point, or altered scenes. We decide together if we need more or less dialogue or shorter or longer descriptive passages.

We intentionally write thrillers with short chapters. The purpose of for this is to make sure that our finished novel is a compelling “page turner.” We want readers to say, at the end of each chapter, “Well, I’ll just read a few more pages to find out what happened next.”

Once we complete the third draft, we review the manuscript to assure that it is ready for publication. Ayan does all of the fine-tuning.

Though we’re honored that both of our novels are award-winners, what really gratifies us is when we give multimedia presentations and audience members either ask about or speculate on what happens to one or more of our characters after the novel ends. That’s what all novelists hope for—to create characters so realistic that they linger in the reader’s mind.

As to the second question—how come only my name is on our first two novels—it has to do with marketing. We were told by the publisher of our first book that getting people to buy a “debut novel” by an unknown author is tough enough, and that having two names on the cover of a work of fiction may be off-putting. Because we write legal thrillers, and because I’m an attorney who routinely gives presentations around the country, we decided together that it made sense to list me as the author, although on the acknowledgment page in each of the novels I expressly indicate that Ayan is a major contributor. I always make it clear at all book events that the novels attributed to me are in reality a joint effort. Our intent is to get our stories into the hands of readers, not to worry about whose name is on the cover.

Our third novel, Enflamed, is now with our agent in New York. We’re just finishing up our fourth, The Crescent City Killer, and have already started on our fifth. Ayan and still walk at 4:30 a.m., and we’ve many ideas still to develop.

*****

MikeRubin Cottoncrest PR PhotoMike and Ayan Rubin jointly write novels under the name “Michael H. Rubin.” Their debut novel, The Cottoncrest Curse, a multi-generational historical thriller, was published by the LSU Press, was named the IndieFab Book of the Year Gold Award Winner and was lauded as the Best Thriller and Suspense Novel published by a university or independent press in 2014. Suhrkamp has released a German language edition. The Cottoncrest Curse is available in hardback, eBook, and as an audiobook.

Their second novel, Cashed Out, won the Jack Eadon Award for Best Contemporary Novel of 2018, which honors the book of the year “whose characters are vividly portrayed as those individuals who can exist side-by-side with someone living in this world now, and deals with issues of today in dramatic fashion in a setting that must be excruciatingly real.” Cashed Out was also short-listed for both the Silver Falchion Award as the Best Mystery of the Year and the IndieFab Gold Book of the Year as the Best Thriller/Suspense Novel of the Year. It is available as a paperback and eBook.