Saturday, November 12, 2016

Thriller Writer Tim Hallinan Chats About His Christmas Mystery, FIELDS WHERE THEY LAY

      Timothy Hallinan is the author of the Simeon Grist, Poke Rafferty and Junior Bender thriller series. His new Junior Bender holiday mystery, Fields Where They Lay, is now on sale.

            Your title, at first glance, is merely a line from The First Noel for a novel set at Christmastime. However, by the end of the book the title resonates with a powerful double meaning that takes the story to higher and more philosophical plane.

Did the title evolve out of the story, or did the story generate from the title?

I had a handful of titles before I started writing, as opposed my usual method, which is to have a title before I get much of anything else. Titles, for some reason, come easily to me. (I wrote an entire book, King Maybe, to figure out why those words were stuck in my head.)

So this time around, I was entertaining half a dozen possibles, and in the very first paragraph, which was supposed to be nothing but a description of the lumpish, rundown shopping mall in which most of the book takes place, I found myself writing this: “The lump, a hulking, windowless, three-story ellipse with a flat roof and stains shaped like dirt icicles running down its outer walls, was in the center of a field where herds of sheep or cattle might once have grazed but which was now covered in flat black asphalt, marked in white diagonal parking lines to create an enormous herringbone pattern.” And it was evident to me, since 100 words in I was already writing about grazing animals, that the title was Fields Where They Lay, and from then on the book sort of adapted itself to that.

And, of course, what happens to the shepherds in the fields not only announces the birth of a new King but also brings into the manger the ordinary witnesses, the shepherds, whose eyes in painting after painting, are glazed with the wonder of what happens there. It's already mysticism of the highest kind, whether you're a Christian or not.

In a fun twist, Junior spends much of the novel prowling around a shopping mall. At one point he goes into a shop filled with cheap reproductions of famous works of art, but the only thing that gives him pause are some framed Calvin and Hobbes cartoons.  It was at this moment that I really began to warm up to Junior.  :)

Are you a Calvin and Hobbes fan? And do you envision Junior as having been a Calvin-like child?

Calvin and Hobbes was the final enthusiasm of my father's life. He discovered the strip during his last decade, and after years and years of reading (and complaining about) the same old comics mostly Peanuts and L'il Abner suddenly all he wanted to talk about was Calvin and Hobbes. He'd had a very Dickensian childhood after his father abandoned the family, and my guess is that it was way short on fantasy and adventure. 

Before he died I got him the first C&H books, and they meant a lot to him. And although I felt pretty much the same way about them as he did; my childhood was much more comfortable than his, but I essentially lived in books, so I understood instinctively the power of the fantasy world Hobbes opened up for Calvin. So I guess that reference in the art store was sort of a salute to my father, who was nothing at all like Junior's.

Dickens makes it into the book twice, once in a reference to Mr. Pickwick, and another with a reference to Scrooge. Does Christmas make you think of Dickens? Is he a favorite writer?

He is a favorite, although I like Trollope better because I think Trollope's women are much more convincing than Dickens'. But Dickens was probably the first great writer in English to celebrate Christmas in stories, and he's probably still the best. The Victorians pretty much assembled the modern Christmas (it had been banned under the Puritans and wasn't even a working person's day off until well into Victoria's reign) bringing back Father Christmas and replacing the traditional holly and ivy of pre-Christian celebrations with the Christmas tree, which Victoria's husband, Prince Albert brought with him from Germany. Dickens wrapped it all up in a ribbon of wonderful prose and sort of froze it in time for us. And I think you could even argue that he played a role in putting children at the center of the holiday.

 I am also curious about some of your existential influences. Junior develops a friendship with a Jewish mall Santa named Schlomo, who alludes to the crucifixion of Christ when he calls Bender “the good thief.” But given Junior’s highly existential outlook, I’m wondering if you were at least partly thinking of Waiting for Godot, and the famous exchange in which Vladimir wonders about the two thieves, and why, despite four different versions of the story, the world only focuses on one: the story of the thief who was saved?

I'm not much of an existentialist. What I love about the Good Thief is the thing Junior says in the book: that his do-not-pass-go route to paradise created an awkward exception to the Church's insistence that they had a monopoly on Heaven because there was no getting there without a priest. 

There was some scrambling in Rome during the 5th and 6th centuries to make it very clear that this was a unique one-off, an impulsive and not-to-be-repeated act of mercy on Jesus' part, rather than a possible short cut to eternity. I'm sure that some cardinal called for a scriptural rewrite at some point. (I would have loved to have been in those meetings.) There's a kind of awful comedy here that appeals to me enormously, rich, fat Italian men of high birth taking charge of the spiritual legacy of a half-starved Jewish pauper. But I've never been a big Becket fan, so “Godot” wasn't on my mind when I wrote that part.

Timothy Hallinan
(photo: Morgan Schmidt-Feng)
Junior is an expert about antique goods and old manuscripts, and in one scene Junior humiliates a snobbish mall vendor who is overcharging people for what Junior terms pretty junk. Here Junior reminded me very  much of Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy, who, like Bender, tends to be an underdog and an Other, but who is a “divvy” who can immediately sense a real antique from a fake one; the history of the piece sings to him, makes his skin vibrate with appreciation. Did you ever read a Lovejoy mystery?

Busted. I loved how Lovejoy's “gong” vibrated in his chest in the presence of the real thing. I can say shamelessly that whenhalfway through the first book, CrashedI realized that a good burglar needs to develop a good eye in order, as Junior says, to be able to tell the “stuff from the duff,” I instantly thought of Lovejoy. I haven't read those books in probably 25 years, but I thought of them in a hundredth of a second. I also admired Lovejoy's extremely equivocal moral code. So I didn't have him in mind originally, but in a scene in which Junior is looking at (I think) some art deco jewelry, all of a sudden there was old Lovejoy in the room with him, gonging away.
He's a great character. Junior meets a shop owner named Bonnie, who sums up Christmas by saying “Everything’s better at Christmas, but everything’s worse, too.” Why do you think Christmas has evolved into this binary opposition?

I think it's the enormous gulf between the event the holiday purports to celebrate―the birth, in a stable, of a desperately poor child who, for millions of people, heralded God's active interest in the world he was supposed to have createdand the way it's celebrated today, a mercantile orgy whose success is measured not in spirit but on spreadsheets. As I say in the book, the modern Christmas theme music is a duet for sleigh bells and cash register.

Jesus' parents, if they were alive today, would be in a kind of agony at their inability to afford to give their child the things the media would tell him he wants and needs. Christ's notion of of giving has been corrupted into gimme through a global campaign to dangle desirables in front of millions of children, and that can be hard on families at virtually all economic levels except the highest. The basic symbolism of Santa in a shopping mall (how convenient), where canned music stands in for the heavenly host, and tinsel and blinky lights stand in for the brilliance of heaven, sums up the problem with a kind of big-league, blunt-force impact.

So well said. These oppositions continue throughout the novel. On the one hand, Junior is depressed and not convinced about an overall meaning of life.  On the other, he is clearly open to small moments of joy or grace, as with the singing of a high school choir or the presence of little children. He says, “It’s impossible for me to be melancholy around small children. They deserve the effort it takes us to do better.”  Is this because Junior is a father, or because children are the best representatives of humanity?

Junior has had four rites of passage in his life: realizing that he wasn't what was wrong with his fatherthat it was his father's problem; meeting Herbie and being initiated into burglary; meeting and marrying Kathy; and the birth of Rina. He hadn't particularly liked himself as a child, and Rina sort of allows him to start over. He adores her, as he should, and like so many parents he realizes the extent to which children need, and deserve, the best that adults can do. If the world is ever going to be a better place, he thinks, it'll be because it's better to its children. He means literally the sentence you quoted.

Ultimately, being with Ronnie may prove to be a fifth rite of passage, but we don't know yet.

Junior extols the value of lists over emotion: “An emotion is a cloud, but a list is a stairway.”  Is this meant to demonstrate that Junior represses emotion, or that he prefers logos over pathos as a way of getting through life?

No, he's just a guy. Many guys react to cloudy circumstances, especially emotionally cloudy circumstances, by taking refuge in a list. There's something deeply reassuring about a) b) c). Just listing b) assumes you'll survive a).

That's a great point, although I am the list maker in my family, and my husband and sons avoid any sort of mental organizing.

Despite his sometimes grim worldview, Junior Bender is very funny. At one point he reveals that “Whole areas of my mind . . . distrust other areas.” Do you ever feel this way as a writer?

First, a comic view of the world that can't handle some pessimism and a few reversals won't outlast baby teeth. And second, I think that humor often arises from internal conflict; you catch yourself again and again doing something that part of you knows is wrong, unproductive, self-destructive, or just plain stupid. There's a narrow range of possible reactions: vowing to learn a lesson that you know from experience won't last; getting furious with yourself; thinking about suicide; or laughing. None of the first three reactions is likely to be productive, so you might as well laugh, even if it does, over the years, give you those annoying wrinkles at the corners of your eyes.

And there is an absolute iron curtain in my mind when it comes to writing, which is, after all, how I spend most of my time. I know that the entire story is somewhere in there, complete and perfect, before even I type the title. But it reveals itself to me in bits and pieces, many of them in the wrong order, as if after one part of me comes up with the whole thing, another part cuts it into jigsaw pieces so it can be fed to the part that sits there trying to get it down in the most confusing possible order. I almost never have the feeling I'm making up a story; I feel like I'm either uncovering something that's already there, like archaeology, or assembling it. like a puzzle.

What a well-written reflection on the mystery of the creative process!

Junior spends a couple of pages discussing keys as things of beauty. I had never thought about them this way, so this was fascinating, especially when he notes that people in the ancient world once wore keys as status symbols.

Did they do this because the keys were physically beautiful, or because of the idea that the keys could open things forbidden to all others?

I think it was partly the Louis Vuitton Syndrome. We all know that Vuitton stuff is actually ugly, but lots of people like to flash it around because of what it's supposed to say: I'm rich, worldly, and I have stuff you don't have.

Keys were the same, on one level. A key implies a lock, and a lock implies that the owner has something that's valuable enough to be locked away. In other words, I have stuff you don't have.
But in an age when metallurgy was a rough art, fine, graceful keys also had an aesthetic appeal. And finally, they were a badge of tank and trust: certain keys were entrusted only to specific members of the household.

Back to the existential for a moment: Christmastime is in many ways a perfect setting for a crisis of belief. Consider the words of Junior in these passages:

  --“I felt a pang for them, for everyone working here, selling their precious hours for small change, sealed away from daylight and moonlight, grubbing in a till, taking money from people who often couldn’t afford to spend it, and running mental addition and subtraction all day on their own bank balances, the strength or weakness of their family ties, the holes in their lives, now that the holidays were upon them. Tis the season.” 

 --“Christmas has always seemed to me to be an empty box, a broken promise . . . the last letdown before the theoretically Happy New Year.”

  --“The edge of sorrow is especially sharp in what is supposed to be a season of joy."

  --“It’s where we all lived  . . . . we’re out there in that darkness whether we’re alone or with someone.”

Despite all Junior’s moments of darkness, there is an implied waiting for the light, and Junior does experience the corresponding light in several ways.  Do you think that one needs to identify the darkness before they can see its opposite?

I'm kind of surprised that this particular book prompts these questions―when I wrote it, I was thinking mainly about the characters and trying to hold the reader's interest and, once in a while, make her laugh. But reading those passages sort of gets my attention. Yikes.

There's a lot of “Wasteland” and “Prufrock” sentiment in that, the mermaids not singing for us, and so forth, but at the center of it are, I think, two things. First is the reality that, for many people, both Christmas and New Year are emotionally complicated holidays. Second is the fact that we no longer live in the age of angels singing in the sky and kings following a star to divinity – and how much easier belief would be if we did. Toward the end of the book, Junior drives up into the hills and thinks about what he's been through.

“The breeze was quite cool—chilly, even—but the hood of my car was warm, and that was where I was reclining with my back propped up on the windshield, looking at the little points of fire in the broad cold expanse of the heavens."

“Must have been something to have been a shepherd, seeing that star. The angels, I remembered, were in Matthew and the star was in Luke. Dividing up the miracles, I supposed. I wondered how it felt to believe fully and unquestioningly in all that extravagant divinity.”

So there may be a little envy there, maybe a feeling that it's not fair to spill miracle after miracle across the earth in a short thirty-year period and then let us sit in the dark for 2100 years. This is, of course, a personal opinion, not an attempt at theology.

It's a starkly beautiful sentiment. Speaking of darkness and light, we just had a momentous election which, depending on how things go, could plunge the United States into a moral and spiritual darkness.  For whom would Junior Bender vote? Would he write in Calvin or Hobbes as a protest?

Junior gave good moneynot even stolen moneyto Bernie Sanders in the hope that our electoral process would be returned to us. In the absence of Bernie, he would have voted for Clinton. Without a second thought. And in this particular election, he would regard a write-in or a third-party vote as being the equivalent of memorizing the Constitution and the complete election laws of the state of California, then getting a ballot, researching the candidates and the propositions, meticulously filling it in, and then using it to polish his car.

      Would that Junior had some more influence on the voters. 

      There are many loved ones in Junior’s life, including his daughter, his ex-wife, and his girlfriend. However, he bemoans the fact that he really does not know his girlfriend at all. Can we fall in love with people we don’t know?

I'm the wrong person to ask, I fell in love with my wife in about ninety minutes. And--three decades later--so far, so good.

How wonderful and refreshing. Do you plan to write more books in the Junior Bender series?

God willing. There's a story to tell that begins in the last scene of Fields Where They Lay that I'd love to write. Also, I've figured out some extremely cool ways to steal stuff and I have several dozen really, ummmm, interesting crooks in mind.

Good to know!! Junior fans will be thrilled. Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

I almost never do anything to it, but my website is, and it's got a REALLY good section on how to finish the novel you begin.

Thank you again, Tim, for this well-written, funny and thought-provoking holiday mystery!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jovan Mosely and The Long Way Home

I was privileged today to hear a presentation by Jovan Mosely and Laura Caldwell about Jovan's horrifying experience of unjust incarceration. Laura Caldwell wrote a book about Jovan's experience, and about the two female attorneys who worked to have him exonerated.

Jovan spent 48 hours in an interrogation room with no chance for food or a bathroom break.

He was coerced into signing a document which alleged he committed a crime of which he was innocent.

He was not provided with legal representation for five months.

He spent six years in jail before he was finally given the trial that ultimately exonerated him.

He is sad, but not bitter, about this experience. He subsequently earned a degree from Loyola University and is getting ready to take his LSATs.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

A New Title

The second book in the Lilah Drake Undercover Mystery series is available on Tuesday. Lilah's story began in THE BIG CHILI (Berkley, 10-15) and continues in CHEDDAR OFF DEAD (Berkley 9-16), a Christmas-themed mystery in which Lilah witnesses the murder of a Santa Claus.

After this traumatic event, Lilah turns to her ex-boyfriend Jay Parker, a detective on the Pine Haven Police Department, who must determine who would want to kill this seemingly innocent Santa in a time of good will and celebration.

Lesa Holstine of Lesa's Book Critiques writes "Cheddar Off Dead is an enjoyable entry in a favorite new series . . . It has everything a reader wants: Christmas and murder (and recipes). "

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Blog Giveaway Winner

Thanks for your comments on Jess Lourey's interview! Jess has selected a winner from the list of commenters, and it is . . . SUSIE!  Susie, please e-mail me at to verify your mailing address.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Writer Jess Lourey on Using Stress, Crossing Genres, Creating Art and Loving Life

Jessica Lourey is the critically acclaimed author of over twenty novels, articles and short stories.

Jess, we have known each other since 2006, and in the ten years since you have accomplished many amazing things. Of which are you the most proud?

Has it been ten years? You have not aged a bit. I still have the lucky purple writing elephant you bought for me at the Madison farmer’s market when we first met, by the way. The book I am proudest of is The Catalain Book of Secrets, a magical realism novel that became nearly everything I wanted it to be. Everything but a bestseller, that is. As to my career in general, I’m proudest that I haven’t given up. Writing as a career is a long game, and you have to keep following the story you want to tell, no matter what the agents or the publishers or the market say.

I remember the purple elephant! And thank you. I guess we don't see aging in others so much as we do in ourselves.

You have THREE books coming out in the next year. Clearly you have an amazing work ethic, but can you share one secret (for lazier writers like me) that helps you stay focused?

Wife, mother of two, full-time teacher, and author? Doesn’t sound to me like you’re a lazy person. I think, like me, you must be a good organizer of time. I have a two-part, surefire way to stay focused when writing a book: 1) Make writing important to you. We all make time for what is important to us, and 2) Don’t confuse the struggle of creating art for anything else—not writer’s block, not a life-or-death need to organize your spice rack, not the sudden and complete loss of anything to resemble talent. Those are all the games your ego will play with you when you create. I face them every day, even ten years and 14 books into my career, and I put my head down and write through them.

You recently gave a TEDx talk. How does one go about doing this? When will yours air?

Aiyiyi, yes I did. Outside of my writing career, and my teaching, and my children, and my marriage, that TEDx is what I’m most proud of. It required me to face two crippling fears: public speaking on a major stage, and sharing personal details with strangers. Here’s the thing. I have always dabbled in writing, but I immersed myself in it in 2001 after my husband committed suicide. Writing a novel saved me from going dark, and as a bonus, channeling my fears and secrets into a novel made for stronger writing. The more writing workshops I taught, and the more unhappy people I met, the more I realized that I couldn’t keep my experience to myself, as much as I wanted to. So, I shared it on the stage, and I also wrote a book so others can learn to turn their experiences into healing, compelling fiction. The book is called Rewrite Your Life, and it comes out April 2017.

You write in several genres—in what genre do you most like to read for pleasure? What book is on your bedside table right now?

Right now, I have four books on my nightstand, all of them mystery novels written by people I will be moderating on a panel at Bouchercon. I most like to read YA for pleasure, honestly. The pace and pathos sweep me away and recharge me. It’s close, though, because I’ll read any good book and devour fantasy, mystery, thrillers, horror, magical realism, and lit fiction with equal relish.

I won’t ask political questions, since that type of thing always seems to cause division and outright warfare, but I will ask this: what’s the most essential quality you want in a leader?

I read “what’s the most essential quality you want in a reader” when I first read that sentence. J My answer to that one is “$15.” Ha! 

In a leader, though, I would love to see three qualities: intelligence, compassion, and diplomacy. I hear people talk about how they want their elected officials to be like they are, but I want the person in charge to be better at life than me.

Good point. As we discussed above, you have written a book about writing. Can you share one of the tips from this book?

My favorite writing nugget came to me from Elizabeth Gilbert, who I heard speaking at a meditation and yoga retreat a little over a year ago. She said that you should write everything with a single person in mind, whether it is an article or a novel. Having that sort of focus makes for resonant writing, and also precludes every writer’s nagging concern about what to include and what to leave out. Tell your story to one person, and everything falls into place.

You recently got married! Are you enjoying your newlywed status?

I am. It continues to be funny to me (more “laugh so I don’t cry” than “haha”) how much of my life I spent dating men who were not a good fit and telling myself that they’d change, or that a certain amount of conflict is a necessary part of every relationship. The truth is, I was mistaking familiarity for chemistry. Any relationship is work, but when you find the right person, the work feels like you’re building rather than burying something.

I’m realizing, as I list your many accomplishments, that many of them are on the top ten list of “most stressful experiences.”  How do you deal with stress?

This is horrible, but I function the best under stress. It might be where I get my super powers from. I keep envisioning a life where there is no stress and I relax and everything is butterflies and red wine, but I think it’d drive me crazy not to have problems to solve and situations to fix.

Chocolate: yes or no?

HELL YES. Preferably dark chocolate with nuts.

In Jasper FForde’s wonderful THE EYRE AFFAIR, characters can jump inside books and interact with famous literary creations. If we really had the machine available to Fforde’s Thursday Next, into what book would you want to jump and why?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because you’ve got me thinking about chocolate now.

You must have realized many of your writing goals. Do you have new goals on the horizon?

I do. I want to write a coming of age book about a 12-year-old girl struggling to make sense of life in the 70s. It’ll be literary fiction and challenging to write because it’ll require me to recycle my own experiences. The result will be ultimately healing, and hopefully create great fiction, but it is never comfortable to mine your past like that. I also want to be a full-time writer. Some day soon, I hope.

 For the romance readers among us, how did you meet your husband?

OK Cupid. His handle was TallDorkandHandsome, and mine was MysteryLovesCompany. I didn’t come up in his search because I was too short, but he came up in mine, and so I contacted him because he’s 6’6” and his pictures were hot as hell. We emailed for a few weeks and finally agreed to meet for coffee. I was going out with my niece for coffee at 8:00 that same morning, and then driving an hour and a half to Minneapolis to meet Tony afterward. I texted my niece at 7:45 am and told her I was early, and did she want me to get her anything to drink? Except I had actually texted Tony, who thought I was FATAL ATTRACTION crazy and waiting at the coffee shop three hours early. We worked it out.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

My perfect day is the first day of summer, when I am done with the school year and have all that time laid out before me like the most delicious buffet. It makes me delirious to think of all the writing and reading I can do, all the time I get to spend with my kids, mornings sleeping in with my husband, all the vegetables I get to grow and food I get to cook.

In Jess Lourey’s view, what’s the most beautiful place in the world?

I have visited so many magical places, and there’s so many left to see, but at the moment, the creek behind my new house is my favorite place. I’ve been riding down it in an inner tube a lot, a frosty hard cider in my tube’s cup holder. The water is cool and clear, and the sun filters through the oak trees lining the banks in such a way that it turns the air this beautiful sea green. It’s a lazy, perfect, fairy land.

That is just lovely. How can readers find out more about you, your books, and your upcoming projects?

My website just got an overhaul which includes fireflies! Please check it out at I’m also on Facebook and Twitter. All are welcome! Thanks so much for having me, Julia.

Thanks for talking with me, Jess! Good luck in all of your literary endeavors!

Note to readers: Jess will send a copy of Salem's Cipher to one lucky commenter! 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Writer Judy Penz Sheluk Weighs In on Publishing, Patriotism, Plot and Puppies

Judy Penz Sheluk's debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man's Noose, was published in July 2015 from Barking Rain Press. Skeletons in the Attic, Judy’s second novel, and the first in her Marketville Mystery series, will be published in August 2016 by Imajin Books. It is now available for pre-order on Amazon. 

Hi, Judy! Thanks for visiting my blog.

Thank you for hosting me.

Sure! When did you realize you wanted to write mysteries?

Mysteries have always been my go-to genre. I spent the better part of my teen years reading Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Dick Francis, and I’ve been an avid reader of mysteries ever since. When I decided to try writing a novel, mystery seemed the logical choice. After all, reading is the best teacher.

What came first for Skeletons in the Attic, the story or the title?

The story. I started writing it as Calamity Barnstable (not exactly a grabber for a title). Early on, Calamity (Callie) discovers a skeleton in the attic. As soon as she made the discovery, I knew I had my title.

       When you write, do you tend to focus on plot, character, or setting the most?

I try to give each have equal weight. Readers will have to tell me whether or not I’ve succeeded!

You also have a great deal of experience in antiques. Do you use this knowledge in your fiction?

In The Hanged Man’s Noose, definitely, as one of the main characters, Arabella Carpenter, owns the Glass Dolphin antiques shop. In Skeletons, not as much, although Arabella makes a brief appearance and there is a vintage locket that is important to the story (it’s even featured on the cover). I enjoy other authors’ series where there’s a crossover character (Michael Connelly does this brilliantly), so I thought it would be fun to do that with my Glass Dolphin and Marketville Mystery series. Arabella was my first pick, probably because of the antiques angle.

You live in Ontario with your husband. How did the two of you meet?

We met in our early twenties at Liberty Mutual Insurance Company in Toronto. He was a Loss Prevention Engineer and I was in the Credit Department. He was in charge of the NFL football pool. I had no interest in football, but I did have an interest in him, so I joined the pool. We dated for a while, had a huge argument one day, broke up, and went our separate ways. 

We both moved a handful of times, and ten years later, my mother ran into Mike at a shopping mall. He asked if I was married yet. She said no (much to her chagrin!) and he asked for my number. We met for dinner (each in our own car) and two months later we were buying a house together. We’ll be married 27 years, this October 13th (we got married on Friday 13th). 

Mike always said if I wasn’t so stubborn we’d have been married 35 years, but I say we’d have been divorced for 27 years. We both needed those years to figure out who we were and who we wanted to be.

That's actually a very romantic story! 

Canadians and Americans have much in common. What would you say is the biggest cultural difference?

I think Canadians tend to be less vocal about their patriotism, which in way I find sort of sad, but by nature, I think we tend to be a bit lower key than our friends to the south. That said, I quite admire the way Americans embrace their patriotism.

Something that always amuses me is this: When a Canadian visits the US, we will say, “I went to Chicago or New York, or Dallas…” An American will inevitably say, “I went to Canada.” Doesn’t matter if it was Toronto or Vancouver or Newfoundland!

That's so true!

 Do you have a favorite mystery author? A favorite book or series?

Oh, so many…my current favorites are Tana French, Sue Grafton, Louise Penny, John Sandford and Michael Connelly. They are all brilliant writers, and I’ve read every one of their books. I’ve also recently discovered Hamish Macbeth by M.C. Beaton – great fun. If I had to pick an all-time favorite, desert island series to take with me, it would be Agatha Christie.

Some great names there! I do love Christie, and I am also a huge Grafton fan. I still have to investigate the others! 

What other genres do you enjoy reading?

Canadian literature. Favorite books include Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden and The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald. Both books are very dark, but very compelling reads.

What book is on your nightstand right now?

Should’ve Played Poker by Debra H. Goldstein. I met Debra at Boucheron 2015 in Raleigh and really liked her, so when her book came out, I knew I had to read it. It’s a light mystery set in a nursing home, and so far it’s very enjoyable.

Do you have a rigid writing schedule? If not, when do you write?

Definitely not rigid. I gave up rigid when I left my day job in 2003. Since then, I’ve been a full time freelance writer/editor, and my hours are very fluid (I like to say my boss is very flexible). I don’t do much freelance magazine writing these days, but I am the Senior Editor of New England Antiques Journal and the Editor of Home BUILDER Magazine Canada, so a lot of hours are spent working on those publications. I do try to write at least six days a week, and when I’m working on a book, I aim for a chapter a day. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s the goal.

What are your favorite hobbies?

I’m a passionate, if not particularly good, golfer and belong to two ladies 9-hole leagues. I don’t really enjoy 18 holes – takes too much time – but I really enjoy playing nine.  I’m also a runner and have done some marathons and half marathons, though these days I’m happy to run 5k (3 miles) three or four times a week. And I walk my dog, Gibbs, a Golden Retriever, 3 or 4 times a day (two decent walks and a couple of short ones). He’s only nine months old, so he needs the exercise. If you’re into counting steps, most days I get between 20-25,000


How can readers find out about you and your books?

My website is, where I write about the writing life and interview other authors. My Amazon page is

Thanks, Judy! Good luck with the new book.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Gothic-Inspired Reads

In honor of Ann Bradstreet's birthday, Playbuzz and Berkley have compiled a list of Gothic-inspired novels, and I am thrilled to be on it!

Friday, May 06, 2016

Female Mystery Writers Create Box Set

Guest Blog by Judy Alter

Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries, the box set, is the creation of Lois Winston, USA Today bestselling author, creator of the Anastasia Pollock Crafting Mysteries and an award-winning author of mystery, romance, romantic suspense, humorous women's fiction, children's chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and as Emma Carlyle. Lois is no stranger to anthology projects—she edited Love, Bake, Write, featuring Brenda Novak and over a hundred other authors, and was a contributor to the anthology Happy Homicides and the box sets Romance Super Bundle I, Romance Bundle II: Second Chances, and Romance Bundle III: Always & Forever.

Sleuthing Women is her most ambitious anthology to date—it brings together the first book of series by nine authors. Lois decided that if she could sell a collection of first books cheaply enough to entice readers, she could get readers hooked on the series and persuaded to read more in each series. Her only stipulation to authors was that a series had to have at least three titles.

My contribution is Skeleton in a Dead Space, the first of six Kelly O’Connell Mysteries. I was inspired, if that’s the word, by a dead space in my own kitchen—a narrow spice cabinet between a deep pantry and a deep oven and storage above and below. I now am pretty sure there’s an old brick chimney behind my dead space—it may be holding the roof up for all I know.

With that idea rattling round in my brain, I noticed a house being remodeled in the nearby Fairmount National Historic District. Suddenly I thought, “There’s a skeleton in a dead space in that house,” and I had my idea for a novel—my first published mystery. The Fairmount Neighborhood in Fort Worth, Texas, is very real, as are several places mentioned—The Old Neighborhood Grill, Nonna Tata, Lili’s Bistro, and others. That’s been fun for local readers, but the actions of this novel never happened, to the best of my knowledge, and the characters are also fictional. This is a work of the imagination, as are all the other books in Sleuthing Women. Hope you enjoy!

Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries is a collection of full-length mysteries featuring murder and assorted mayhem by ten critically acclaimed, award-winning, and bestselling authors. Each novel in the set is the first book in an established multi-book series—a total of over 3,000 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuth, caper, and cozy mysteries, with a combined total of over 1700 reviews on Amazon, averaging 4 stars. Titles include:

 Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, an Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery by Lois Winston—Working mom Anastasia is clueless about her husband’s gambling addiction until he permanently cashes in his chips and her comfortable middle-class life craps out. He leaves her with staggering debt, his communist mother, and a loan shark demanding $50,000. Then she’s accused of murder… 

Murder Among Neighbors, a Kate Austen Suburban Mystery by Jonnie Jacobs — When Kate Austen’s socialite neighbor, Pepper Livingston, is murdered, Kate becomes involved in a sea of steamy secrets that bring her face to face with shocking truths—and handsome detective Michael Stone.

Skeleton in a Dead Space, a Kelly O’Connell Mystery by Judy Alter—Real estate isn’t a dangerous profession until Kelly O’Connell stumbles over a skeleton and runs into serial killers and cold-blooded murderers in a home being renovated in Fort Worth. Kelly barges through life trying to keep from angering her policeman boyfriend Mike and protect her two young daughters.

In for a Penny, a Cleopatra Jones Mystery by Maggie Toussaint—Accountant Cleo faces an unwanted hazard when her golf ball lands on a dead banker. The cops think her BFF shot him, so Cleo sets out to prove them wrong. She ventures into the dating world, wrangles her teens, adopts the victim’s dog, and tries to rein in her mom…until the killer puts a target on Cleo’s back.

The Hydrogen Murder, a Periodic Table Mystery by Camille Minichino—A retired physicist returns to her hometown of Revere, Massachusetts and moves into an apartment above her friends' funeral home. When she signs on to help the Police Department with a science-related homicide, she doesn't realize she may have hundreds of cases ahead of her. Retirement Can Be Murder,

A Baby Boomer Mystery by Susan Santangelo—Carol Andrews dreads her husband Jim’s upcoming retirement more than a root canal without Novocain. She can’t imagine anything worse than having an at-home husband with time on his hands and nothing to fill it—until Jim is suspected of murdering his retirement coach.

 Dead Air, A Talk Radio Mystery by Mary Kennedy—Psychologist Maggie Walsh moves from NY to Florida to become the host of WYME's On the Couch with Maggie Walsh. When her guest, New Age prophet Guru Sanjay Gingii, turns up dead, her new roommate Lark becomes the prime suspect. Maggie must prove Lark innocent while dealing with a killer who needs more than just therapy.

 A Dead Red Cadillac, A Dead Red Mystery by RP Dahlke—When her vintage Cadillac is found tail-fins up in a nearby lake, the police ask aero-ag pilot Lalla Bains why an elderly widowed piano teacher is found strapped in the driver’s seat. Lalla confronts suspects, informants, cross-dressers, drug-running crop dusters, and a crazy Chihuahua on her quest to find the killer.

 Murder is a Family Business, an Alvarez Family Murder Mystery by Heather Haven—Just because a man cheats on his wife and makes Danny DeVito look tall, dark and handsome, is that any reason to kill him? The reluctant and quirky PI, Lee Alvarez, has her work cut out for her when the man is murdered on her watch. Of all the nerve. 

Murder, Honey, a Carol Sabala Mystery by Vinnie Hansen—When the head chef collapses into baker Carol Sabala’s cookie dough, she is thrust into her first murder investigation. Suspects abound at Archibald’s, the swanky Santa Cruz restaurant where Carol works. The head chef cut a swath of people who wanted him dead from ex-lovers to bitter rivals to greedy relatives.

Interested? Here are the Buy Links:

Judy Alter is an award-winning novelist and the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, Danger Comes Home, Deception in Strange Places, and Desperate for Death. She also writes the Blue Plate Café Mysteries—Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Murder at the Tremont House and the current Murder at Peacock Mansion.

Finally, with the 2014 The Perfect Coed, she introduced the Oak Grove Mysteries. She is also the author of several fictional biographies of women of the American West, including Libby Custer, Jessie Frémont, Wild West Show roper Lucille Mulhall, pioneer physician Georgia Arbuckle Fix (in Mattie), and Etta Place of the Hole in the Wall Gang. Her latest book, just released, is The Gilded Cage, set in late nineteenth-century Chicago.

 Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and the WWA Hall of Fame. Judy is retired as director of TCU Press, the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven. She and her dog, Sophie, live in Fort Worth, Texas.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Remembrance of Libraries Past

by Julia Buckley

When I was a kid we had a small town library in a house that was purchased by the library board. Every week or so we would walk a few blocks to this little domicile and browse the shelves for big hardback books (sometimes covered in that lovely library plastic) in our favorite genres. Even then I favored mysteries and romantic suspense novels (Oh, how many Victoria Holts they had on those shelves!), but I loved everything--fiction, young adult, humor, fantasy, romance.

Our book limit per person was ridiculously large, and sometimes we'd walk home with ten or more books apiece. Sometimes we didn't get through them all (we might have started one or two and lost interest, the way we now might do with the Amazon "look inside" feature), but in summer we plowed through a plethora of books. And it was bliss.

I remember the joys, too, of the old-time card catalogs. The way the stiff cards felt when you flipped through them, hunting for treasure. The way the cards smelled--sort of like old books and ink--and the smooth skimming sound the drawers made when you opened or closed them.

See that lovely beauty in the photo? I'm inheriting it from our school library, which is doing away with its old card catalogs. I can name few pieces of furniture that I think are more beautiful than that multi-drawered, wooden wonder that holds all the nostalgia of my library days.

I'm not even sure where I'll put it in my tiny little house, but I will find a spot, because this old card holder and I--we were meant to be together.

What's your favorite memory of your childhood visits to the library?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Visiting with Pat Balester

I recently had a chance to chat about THE BIG CHILI with Patrick Balester. It's always fun to chat with another author!

Interview with Pat Balester