Sunday, April 5, 2015

What's Up Next?

Prolific mystery author F. M. Meredith (aka Marilyn Meredith) is my guest today, and she's answering the title question. The floor is yours, my friend:

There are several answers to that question.

What’s up next as far as today—it’s promoting this blog everywhere I can.

What’s up next tomorrow is promoting tomorrow’s blog and so on.

I’ve also got two in-person promotions coming up this month, and in both cases, I need to  prepare what I’m going to say. One is going to be my official book launch for Violent Departures, so a bit of extra preparation will be going into that.

While I’m promoting one series, I’m always writing one in my other series—so next is getting a chapter done each week in time to read to my critique group.

And if the question is really what’s up next for the Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series? The answer is at this point I have no idea. I’ll probably continue with the personal life threads from Violent Departures. I’ve also been considering high-lighting the new Chief—Chandra Taylor in some way.  The time of year should be late fall, often the warmest weather on the coast.

I’ll be on the lookout for new and/or different crimes for the Rocky Bluff PD officers to contend with. And of course, there should be a murder of some sort.

Any of you out there have anything to suggest? Tell me in the comment section.
F. M. aka Marilyn Meredith

Blurb for Violent Departures:
College student, Veronica Randall, disappears from her car in her own driveway, everyone in the Rocky Bluff P.D. is looking for her. Detective Milligan and family move into a house that may be haunted. Officer Butler is assigned to train a new hire and faces several major challenges.
F.M. Meredith, also known as Marilyn Meredith, is the author of over thirty published novels. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Besides having family members in law enforcement, she lived in a town much like Rocky Bluff with many police families as neighbors.


Because it has been popular on my other blog tours, once again I’m offering the chance for the person who comments on the most blog posts during this tour to have a character named for him or her in the next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery.

Or if that doesn’t appeal, the person may choose one of the earlier books in the series—either a print book or Kindle copy.

Tomorrow I’ll be discussing The Importance of Place with

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Women of the Revolution

We have organizations honoring ancestors who fought or otherwise assisted in making the American Revolution a success. Yet, how often do we give thought to the sacrifices of women in that same historical period?

On March 12, 1776 newspapers in the city of Baltimore urged citizens to recognize the sacrifices and contributions of women to the cause of revolution.

How much of an impact that acknowledgement had isn’t known. But history shows the role of women was critical to the success of the movement. Don’t forget, not only didn’t women have the vote at the time, they also had little say in what men determined to do.

While men were boycotting products in opposition to British taxation, we too often fail to recognize those products were usually items important to women. As an example, tea was the drink favored by women while men more often consumed alcohol. There’s a scene in my novel “The Accidental Spy” where Dan and Nell use counterfeit money to purchase imported fabrics: With the blockade, which had cut off imports to the city, many considered it patriotic to dress in homespun. Whether they were truly patriots or simply didn’t want to pay the price for what remained, I don’t know.

The mere lack of items they valued is a minor point in enumerating the sacrifices of women in behalf of the cause of liberty. Women could do little to prevent their husbands and sons from going off to war, a situation which left them responsible for the maintenance of home and/or business and could result in destitution. Records show many women followed their spouses and children to the battlefront. History often erroneously paints these “camp followers” as prostitutes when, in actuality, a majority provided moral and physical support as nurses, cooks, seamstresses and even occasionally as spies or soldiers.

A number, among them Deborah Samson and Margaret Corbin, have been identified as women who donned men’s clothing and enlisted as soldiers. Many more (on both sides) performed duty as spies. In “The Accidental Spy,” I included two Loyalists—Nell Bates (fictional) and Ann Bates (actual).

Women were even more important in raising the funds necessary to continue the fight. Esther deBerdt Reed, wife of Joseph Reed, Pennsylvania’s governor, and Sarah Franklin Bache, Benjamin Franklin’s daughter, founded the Ladies Foundation in Philadelphia, which raised money to fund the war effort.

Nor was the sacrifice limited to the patriotic side. The wives and mothers of those who remained loyal to the Crown were equally active in efforts to support their husbands and sons. After the Pennsylvania Assembly passed the Act of Attainer in March 1778, the estate of Joseph Galloway, a Philadelphian who had sought to reconcile the colonists and Britain, was seized and sold at auction along with that of other loyalists. Galloway fled to safety in New York. His wife stayed behind and the auction left her impoverished.

So it’s fitting in this National Women’s History Month we recognize these women who equally sacrificed for what they held important.

Friday, March 6, 2015

First Ladies of Crime Fiction

Quick--who was the first woman to publish a mystery novel?

Despite her many achievement, no, it wasn’t Agatha Christie. Technically, the honor goes to Seeley Regester, the pseudonym used by Metta Victoria Fuller Victor, whose novel The Dead Letter was published in 1867. But, Anna Katherine Green (photo below), whose novel The Leavenworth Case became a runaway bestseller in 1878, is generally acknowledged as “the mother of the detective novel.”

I’ve chosen to pay tribute to both for their achievements, since March is National Women’s History Month.

Metta Victoria Fuller Victor, a native of Erie, Pennsylvania, was a pioneer in the dime novel tradition, penning more than 100 titles. After the family moved to Ohio, she and her sister Frances began publishing in local newspapers. Her first novel, Last Days of Tul, A Romance of the Lost Cities of Yucatan, was published in 1847 when she was only 15 years old.

After their marriage, she and her husband, Orville Victor, a newspaper editor, moved to New York City. Despite bearing nine children and having the responsibilities of a wife and mother, she continued to work, publishing in many genres as well as poetry, non-fiction and even a few cookbooks.

Her achievement as the writer of the first detective novel is marred by the fact a main character is clairvoyant.

Green’s novel, on the other hand, set the standard for mystery novels to follow. Her detective, Ebenezer Gryce, who serves with the New York Metropolitan Police Force, would continue to fight crime in a series of novels. Gryce is often assisted by Amelia Butterworth, a nosy spinster. Green also invented a ‘girl detective,’ Violet Strange, a debutante who leads a secret life as a sleuth.

Green’s father was a prominent attorney and it is believed some of his cases provided the basis for her plots. The Leavenworth Case sold more than a million copies and was lauded by Wilkie Collins, among other luminaries. The novel also sparked a debate in the Pennsylvania Senate over whether such a book could actually have been written by a woman.

Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie were among later authors who acknowledged her influence on their work. Not a bad legacy, even if her own work is not known as well as it should be these days.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Facts Enhance Fiction

(My guest today is JL Greger, whose science background adds credence to her thrillers. Welcome, Janet. I'll let you tell our readers how it's done)

Good fiction writers carefully research facts before they begin writing. Sounds strange, but think.

The plots of modern mysteries and crime fiction hinge on laboratory results and computer analyses. Historical fiction, e.g. Downton Abbey, loses its zing if costumes and customs aren’t described correctly. Even fantasy novels are enhanced by a few facts. The evacuation of children from London during the Nazi blitzkrieg is the basis of CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.

However, many authors are uncomfortable using scientific tidbits, historical facts, or accurate descriptions of locations in their writing. Maybe this advice will help.

Use facts to create realistic scenes, but not so many as to slow the plot.
Let’s start with the use of science in mysteries and thrillers. As a biologist, who regularly reads scientific journals, I’m intrigued by cancer immunotherapy. (Scientists are making vaccines that trigger the immune systems of cancer patients to more effectively fight their disease.) That’s the scientist in me talking. The novelist part of me says the plot and character development rule.

In my novel Malignancy, men disguised as police officers shoot at Sara Almquist twice in one day. Albuquerque police suspect a drug czar, who has tangled with Sara before, will order more hits on her. When colleagues in the State Department invite Sara to arrange scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, she jumps at the chance to get out of town. Soon, she realizes Cuba offers more surprises than Albuquerque.

That’s the plot. One of Sara’s surprises is Cuban researchers have patented a therapeutic vaccine for a certain type of lung cancer (actual fact). Other surprises involve her love interest and the drug czar. The scientific facts are essential for plot development, but so are other factors.

Now let’s look at historical fiction. John Lindermuth does a wonderful job of recreating 1898 with occasional references to Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders and a new motor car, without slowing the pace of Sheriff Tilghman’s investigation of a murder in Sooner than Gold. Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl wouldn’t have been a best seller if the book didn’t contain a few historical facts about Tudor England.

Pick relevant and exciting topics.
A great author can make any topic interesting but most of us aren’t great writers. Readers are more apt to be interested in facts that are relevant to real issues—global warming or curing cancer than in learning details about biochemical pathways. Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park) and Robin Cook (Coma) were particularly skillful at selecting scary high-tech issues for their thrillers. I hoped readers would find the development of a new treatment for cancer thought-provoking in Malignancy.

Realistic locations improve any novel. The Sun Also Rises would be pretty boring without the hypnotic descriptions of the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona. The decadence and beauty of Venice set the mood for Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.

Be accurate.
A writer of thrillers told me recently that readers accept a couple inaccuracies in a novel if you have stated most of the information correctly. I don’t know if that’s true. Certainly, Dan Brown has been criticized for inaccurate historical information in his best selling novel, The DaVinci Code, but he’s included enough facts to ignite readers’ interest.

I’m a cautious type and think accuracy is important. In Malignancy, I state the truth about the cancer vaccine Racotumomab developed by the Cubans. It slows the progression of a certain type of lung cancer. Many clinical trials, which require international cooperation of scientists and physicians, are needed to test its effectiveness. Thus, it is logical in Malignancy when the U.S. State Department sends my heroine, a scientist, to Cuba to set up exchanges between Cuban and American scientists.

Why not pick up copies of Malignancy and see if you like how I incorporated facts into my thriller?
Maybe you’ll decide to include more facts in your next piece of fiction (novel, short story, or blog).

Malignancy is available at Amazon and Oak Tree Press:

Bio: JL Greger is no longer a professor in biology at the University of Wisconsin, but she likes to include tidbits of science in her medical thrillers.
In the suspense novel, Coming Flu, learn whether the Philippine flu or a drug kingpin caught in the quarantine is more deadly.
In the medical mystery, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, discover whether an ambitious young “diet doctor” or old-timers with buried secrets is the killer.
In the thriller, Ignore the Pain, feel the fear as an epidemiologist learns too much about the coca trade while on a public health assignment in Bolivia.
In the thriller, Malignancy, know the tension as a woman scientist tries to escape the clutches of a drug lord and accepts a risky assignment in Cuba.

You can learn more at her website: and blog (JL Greger’s Bugs):

Keywords: JL Greger, Malignancy, Cuba, cancer immunotherapy, science in fiction, facts enhance fiction

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Who Wrote The First Black Mystery Story?

February is Black History Month and an appropriate time to call attention to some African-Americans who write mysteries as well as some who have been protagonists in the genre.

Most readers will be familiar with such stellar examples as Chester Himes and his characters Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, Walter Mosley and his Easy Rawlins series, or even Ishmael Reed and his Papa LaBas.

But how many can name the author of the first African-American mystery story?

I’ll confess, I didn’t know the answer either until I began my research for this blog. Pauline E. Hopkins holds that honor with her story Talma Gordon, published way back in 1900. Hopkins, born in 1859 in Portland, Maine, was a remarkable woman and deserves to be better known. Her mystery is a classic locked-room tale, and you can read it here:

Himes began writing and publishing while serving a hard-labor prison sentence in the 1930s and his stories appeared in such esteemed national publications as Esquire. By the 1940s he was publishing novels and critics were comparing him to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.

Mosley, who earned a degree in political science and later worked as a computer programmer, didn’t begin writing until he was in his mid-30s but has since penned some 40 books. His work includes mysteries, science fiction and non-fiction and he says he prefers to be identified simply as a novelist.

Reed, whose work is concentrated on African and African-American perspectives, is a renaissance man, widely recognized as a poet, novelist, songwriter, playwright, editor and publisher.

There are many well-known African-American detectives in the literature aside from those already mentioned. James Patterson’s Alex Cross quickly comes to mind, as does George Pelecanos’ Derek Strange, among more recent creations. Then there’s Reg Hill’s Joe Sixsmith. And who could forget John Dudley Ball’s Virgil Tibbs?

My personal favorite, though, would have to be Benjamin January, a free colored surgeon and musician. January is the creation of Barbara Hambly and the stories are set mainly in the 1830s in New Orleans.

If you haven’t sampled any of the writers mentioned, do yourself a favor and seek out their work. It will open a whole new realm of enjoyment and education.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Man's Fate

“History is about happiness and suffering.”

That’s a quote from Yuval Noah Harani, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

The quote illuminates what life has in store for all of us, and our greatest hope is to enjoy more of the former than the latter. It’s also one fitting very well with the theme of my novel, Something So Divine (coming soon from Sunbury Press). The setting is a rural Pennsylvania village in the autumn of 1897.

The quote is true of Ned Gebhardt, a simple-minded fellow, whose main solace in life has been the hope of a kind word or act from the young girl he’s accused of murdering. Ned has been under the yoke of a hard father and an uncaring stepmother and subject to bullying and abuse by neighbors all his life.

And equally true of the detective Simon Roth, abandoned and divorced by the spoiled daughter of a wealthy mine owner, who puts his job and reputation in jeopardy to try and save Ned from the hangman.

Roth’s actions are influenced by Ellen Kauffman, a widowed storekeeper, and Iris, Ned’s stepsister, the only two people in the village who seem to have sympathy for the young man and believe in his innocence.

There are other suspects and Roth does his best to investigate their possible motives and alibis.

Roth’s devotion is put to the test when he uncovers what appears to be damning evidence. Will he forsake his duty out of his growing love for Ellen or uphold his moral responsibility? That’s for you, the reader, to discover.

Future blogs on the subject of this novel will look into differing views on insanity in the 19th century, 19th century autopsies and the absence of women on juries in the period.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Some Favorite Reads of 2014

As usual, I’ve read a lot of books this year. Some good, some not so good, but all valuable in their own way. Emulating many others who post their favorite reads of the year, I’m going to give you here my own list of 10 you might want to add to your to-be-read shelf. They are, in no particular order:

Brass In Pocket by Stephen Puleston, the first in his Detective Inspector Drake series. Puleston has created a complex, yet very human character. Afflicted with Obsession-Compulsive Disorder, Drake is driven to find answers despite pressures of job and family. He solves Sodoku puzzles to help him focus and gain control. The recounting of his rituals may annoy some readers but it also illustrates the difficulty under which he functions.

Nothing Save The Bones Inside Her by Clayton Lindemuth. Set in western Pennsylvania in the 1950s, Emeline Margulies proves to be a brave woman, capable of enduring more than expected in this gritty novel with characters reminiscent of Faulkner. This is not a work for those offended by violence and harsh language. But if you’re willing to look beyond those obstacles you’ll find it an engrossing and memorable story.

In Search of Hemingway’s Meadow by Jeff Day. Okay, it’s about fishing. But it’s much more than that. Day discusses fishing and, particularly, the art of fly fishing. He also offers much more in this series of essays connected by his thoughts and adventures while following in Hemingway’s footsteps along the Fox River.

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. A Jesuit priest is caught up in the conflict between the Huron and the Iroquois in the 17th century. Highly recommended.

Voyage of Strangers by Liz Zelvin. An admirable work of historical fiction about a young Jew who accompanies Columbus on his voyage to the New World.

Trail Justice by Wayne D. Dundee. This is one of a number of Western novelettes Dundee produced this year—all of them worth your time. Elwood Blake, a former mountain man, and Basil St. Iron, a young scout, team up to protect pioneers on an Oregon-bound wagon train.

Desperate Deeds by Patricia Gligor. This is the third in Gligor’s Malone mystery series. While working one job and trying to start a decorating business, Ann Kern worries about her husband, an alcoholic who recently lost his job and his mother; frets about her children and is concerned about a depressed neighbor. Then things get worse as her six-year-old son goes missing.

Samuel The Pioneer by Douglas Quinn. This is the second in Quinn’s historical adventure series based on figures in his line of descent. While building his own life and seeking to learn the fate of his sister taken captive by the Indians years earlier, Samuel must also cope with the legacy of an embittered drunkard father.

Guns Of The Texas Ranger by Dac Crossley. Texas Ranger Ignacio “Nacho” Ybarra crosses the border into Mexico in search of a straying son-in-law and finds a heap of trouble.

The Clever Mill Horse by Jodi Lew-Smith. The first of a projected series about Ella Kenyon, a strong-willed young woman, struggling against harsh odds and devious men to fulfill a promise to her grandfather.