Thursday, February 7, 2019

Excerpt From a Favorite Novel

All writers have favorites among their books. One of mine is Watch The Hour. It's a tale of conflict between miners and mine owners in the 1870s in Pennsylvania's anthracite coal region.
I'm offering here a short excerpt from the book. McHugh, Haley and Farrell, miners accused of ties to the Molly Maguires, have escaped from jail and jumped a train, hoping to elude pursuers:
The conductor approached and McHugh slunk deeper into the seat. He felt Haley stir beside him and Billy Farrell gave a little sigh.
"You're tickets, gents," the conductor said as he stood over them.
"We already gave 'em," Haley said.
"That's right," McHugh added. "We paid when we got on."
Up front, the engineer blasted on his whistle and the train swayed and rocked a bit as it rounded a curve somewhere along the line to Arahpot. McHugh felt the sweat beading on his forehead.  He'd told Haley it wouldn't work.
The conductor exhaled sharply as he stood braced on his big feet before them. "Gentlemen," he said, "I'm the conductor, and you have not paid me for your fare."
"Maybe it was the other one," Billy told him.
"There ain't no other one. There's just me, and you boys didn't pay me."
McHugh jumped up and seized the man by the collar. Billy stood up and took the man's arm on the other side. "Look," McHugh told him, "we don't want no trouble. We just need to catch a ride with you for a ways."
"Damned if I'll let you get away with that," the man shouted
That was when Haley grabbed the pistol out of McHugh's waistband and shoved it in the conductor's face. He snapped the trigger twice but the gun didn't go off. Frustrated, Haley smacked the man across the cheek with the revolver's barrel. The conductor's head bounced back, but he was a strong man and he struggled to free himself from McHugh and the boy.
A drummer across the aisle jumped up. When Haley turned and pointed the gun at him, the man ran out of the car, screaming for help.
"Oh, hell, we're in for it now, boys," Haley said.
The words were no sooner out of his mouth than two of the crew came into the car and strode toward them. Haley raised the gun and fired at them. This time it went off. Three times.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
The first shot passed through the coat of the brakeman. The second bullet narrowly missed the fireman and smashed a window behind him. The third tore off the man's earlobe and he stopped in his tracks, squealing with pain.
McHugh and Farrell released the conductor and made for the opposite end of the car, Freed, the conductor dove for Haley. Haley smashed him in the face with the butt of the revolver and the man fell in a heap at his feet.
"Come on, Humpty," McHugh yelled. "Let's get out of here." He and Billy went out the door and jumped off the train. Haley followed.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Fact And Fiction On The Flu

(My guest today is J. L. Greger, scientist/novelist, who shares some interesting information and an introduction to her latest book. The floor is yours, my friend:)

The flu epidemic of 1918-19 is the largest pandemic ever. One-third of the world population was infected and 20 to 50 million people died. Although it is sometimes called the Spanish Flu, it probably first developed in or near a military base in Kansas.

This epidemic inspired not only many scientists but also many authors of fiction.

First, the science. In 2005, scientists reconstructed this H1N1-type flu virus that caused the 1918 epidemic. They believe at least a portion of the human population has some residual immunity to this or similar viruses. That means the virus that caused the 1918 epidemic probably could not cause another epidemic. BUT new mutations of avian or swine flu viruses could create a new flu virus transmittable among humans. In that situation, humans might have no residual immunity to the virus and another pandemic could occur.

Now the fiction. Epidemics are the basis of many famous novels and movies. Consider: The Stand by S. King, The Plague by A. Camus, Arrowsmith by S. Lewis, World without End by K. Follett. Generally, the medical details are incorrect in these novels, and the epidemics resemble a mix of cholera, plague, and flu.

Authors have used the epidemics so frequently in fiction because epidemics are urgent situations which bring out the best and worst in their characters. Probably, the most interesting use of the 1918 flu epidemic was in Downton Abbey. It was a way to eliminate lady’s Mary’s rival for the attention of Matthew Crawley.

The most realistic view of an epidemic occurred in the 2011 movie Contagion. However, this movie didn’t allow viewers to develop much sympathy for victims. The Flu Is Coming realistically portrays what would happen if a new virulent flu virus struck but allows readers to have empathy not only with patients and medical personnel treating patients but also scientists and police trying to control the spread of the flu.

Prescription. Try it, ,you’ll like learning a bit of science on drug development while you’re frightened by the quarantine and what it unleashes among residents of a small community.

Blog: In The Flu Is Coming, a new type of flu — the Philippine flu — kills nearly half of the residents in an upscale, gated community in less than a week. A quarantine makes those who survive virtual prisoners in their homes. The Centers for Disease Control recruit Sara Almquist, a resident of the community, to apply her skills as an epidemiologist to find ways to limit the spread of the epidemic. As she pries into her neighbors’ lives, she finds promising scientific clues but unfortunately learns too much about several of them.

The paperback version of The Flu Is Coming is available at: The Kindle version at:

Bio: J.L. Greger is a scientist and research administrator turned novelist. She likes to include tidbits of science in her award-winning thriller/mystery novels: Murder: A Way to Lose, Riddled with Clues, and others. To learn more, visit

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Ten Recommended Reads

As is my custom, as the year winds down I like to assess the books I've read and make some recommendations.
Since I'm a voracious reader of both fiction and non-fiction (reads and re-reads nearing a hundred and the year isn't quite over), I'm limiting to just 10 books in the mystery genre this time around. Note, they weren't all published in 2017 either. Here they are, in no particular order:
A RECKONING IN THE BACK COUNTRY by Terry Shames. The vicious murder of a doctor from out of the area poses a perplexing mystery in this seventh in the Samuel Craddock series. I don't know why, but this was my first experience with this series. It won't be the last.
SEE ALSO PROOF by Larry D. Sweazy. This Marjorie Tremaine mystery takes the reader on a harrowing journey back to the 1960s--which weren't as wonderful as some would have you believe.
ROBICHEAUX by James Lee Burke. It's been far too long since the last visit with Dave and the gang. Burke has given us other novels in between, but Robicheaux remains my favorite of his creations.
THE LINE by Martin Limon. This page-turner with Army Criminal Investigation Division agents Sueno and Bascom takes the reader on a nail-biting jaunt to the DMZ where a South Korean soldier has been murdered and their investigation threatens to set off an international incident.
A KNIFE IN THE FOG by Bradley Harper. I'm not a fan of writers appropriating the character(s) of others for their own stories. But rather than "borrowing" Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Harper has employed Conan Doyle, his creator; Dr. Joseph Bell, Doyle's mentor, and Margaret Harkness, a remarkable woman, whom I'd never heard of before, for a brilliant and plausible joust with Jack the Ripper, whose bloody exploits continue to fascinate and remain as shrouded in mystery as the foggy streets of 19th century London.
THE WITCH ELM by Tana French. I've enjoyed her Dublin Murder Squad series but this stand-alone with an unreliable narrator may be my favorite of her works. Psychological suspense at its best.
FIVE DAYS, FIVE DEAD by Carole Crigger. I've been a fan of Crigger's China Bohannon since reading the first in the series. This fun romp in the Wild West is a good introduction if you haven't yet read any of the previous novels.
THE STRANGER HOUSE by Reginald Hill. This standalone by the late, lamented author of the superb Dalziel/Pascoe series isn't new (published in 2009) but it's erudite, witty and highly entertaining.
BODY AND SOUL by John Harvey. This is the final episode in Harvey's Frank Elder series and, based on his own comment, his last novel. As always, it's sharp and gripping. Personally, I hope there are more novels to be written by Harvey. If not, there are still a good many I haven't read.
SMOKE AND ASHES by Abir Mukherjee. This is the third outing for Captain Sam Wyndham and his sidekick Sergeant "Surrender-Not" Banerjee and I hope there are many more. Sam's addiction put his career in jeopardy as he tries to solve several ritualistic murders and Banerjee grapples with family and personal issues amidst the turmoil of Gandhi's Indian independence movement.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Writing Habits

(My guest today is Marilyn Meredith aka F. M. Meredith who is going to share with us some thoughts on writing and a bit about her latest mystery, Tangled Webs.)

It’s always interesting to learn how different writers write, if and how they schedule their writing time, where they like to write, music they like to listen to, what they drink while writing.

One of my favorite writers does the majority of his writing in a diner, others I know head to the local coffee shop, or the library. For me, having to go someplace to write would not work—plus, I know I’d be distracted in a public place. Watching people is too much fun.

Mainly I write at my desktop computer in my office in my home. No photo, it’s generally on the messy side. Because I have a big family, big and little people drop in unannounced. I have no problem at all getting back to work after they leave.

Some writers I know set aside a particular number of hours a day to write, much like working at a regular job. Others write at night after all is quiet. I prefer writing in the early morning hours while most in the house are still in bed—but I keep on going until I know I’m done for the day. However, there are times when the muse strikes me at odd hours and I’ll return to the computer.
And no, I don’t write every day—some days I’m busy with other business connected with writing, or just life.

I tried using music to set the mood for whatever I was writing, but gave it up. It was far too distracting. However, I always begin my day and the writing process with a cup of Chai latte.

One last little tidbit, I know some writers stay in their PJs all day. Not me, I get dressed first thing after I rise. Remember, I wrote that people drop in unannounced? I’ve had family arrive before 6 a.m. for one reason or another.

So, you other writers out there, what are your writing habits?

writes the Rocky Bluff PD series as F. M. Meredith

Blurb: Too many people are telling lies: The husband of the murder victim and his secretary, the victim’s boss and co-workers in the day care center, her stalker, and Detective Milligan’s daughter.

Bio: F. M. Meredith who is also known as Marilyn once lived in a beach town much like Rocky Bluff. She has many friends and relatives in law enforcement. She’s a member of MWA, 3 chapters of Sisters in Crime and serves on the PSWA Board.

Facebook: Marilyn Meredith
Twitter: @marilynmeredith

Tomorrow I’m heading to Thonie Hevron’s blog: https;//Thonie and letting everyone know what I’m thankful for as a writer.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Reader Survey, Part 2

Writers--unless they're like J. D. Salinger who in his latter days was only interested in the process--seek readers. Traditional wisdom says the best way to do that is to give readers what they want.
So, how do we discover what readers want?
In my opinion, the best way is to listen to what they say. One source of information is surveys such as one conducted by M. K. Tod, an author and blogger at She's been conducting these surveys since 2012 and they provide a wealth of insight into the minds of readers from around the globe.
Last  week I commented on the 2018 survey findings on issues of interest to readers. Naturally much of that should have been of interest to writers, too. We learned 75 percent of the participants still prefer print books over electronic format. They told us they mostly read fiction for entertainment and their most popular genres are mystery/thrillers, romance and historical fiction.
Granted, this was not a huge survey. But more than half the 2,418 respondents said they read more than 30 books a year. That's a significant number.
This week I'm focusing on matters of more concern to writers, specifically how to give readers what they want.
One topic I found most interesting was how readers determine what to read next. The most important factor, they related, is subject matter and genre. The least important--the publisher or imprint. Though we've been told time and again covers are an extremely important factor in sales, that wasn't borne out in this survey. Cover was somewhat a factor (slightly more important to women than to men), but not an overriding concern for most. Identity of the author varied with age groups. Fifty-four percent for those over 70 but only 29 percent for those under 30.
We've also had the importance of reviews drummed into us constantly. Yet (and I wasn't totally surprised) reviews weren't the top factor in this survey. These readers (and I believe most) rely predominately on the recommendation of friends. That's not to say reviews aren't important. Favorite review sites were second in preference, closely followed by sites such as Goodreads and simply browsing in a bookstore. Except for Amazon, advertising/promotion seldom rose above 20 percent for the respondents.
Another factor writers should keep in mind, women read more than men. Sixty percent of the women responding to this survey said they read more than 30 books a year. You're free to write whatever you like. But, if your books don't appeal to women, you're missing a large part of the market. And, they love fiction. Eighty-eight percent of the women expressed a preference for fiction in their book reading.
Some of the factors women cited as important in their reading were authenticity, characters who are both heroic and human, a fast-paced plot, and feeling immersed in the novel's world.
Giveaways have long been a big marketing ploy. Yet only 30 percent of the respondents (male and female) found those of interest. They were more interested in reading a magazine or newspaper article about a book (60 percent), following an author on Facebook or Twitter, reading an author's blog or newsletter, or meeting an author in person.
As to how they purchase or acquire their books, 70 percent of the respondents said they buy on line. Libraries also remain a strong source, particularly for women.
For a more in depth look at the survey, use the link above to M. K. Tod's site.

Monday, October 1, 2018

A Survey of Readers

This summer I was one of more than 2,000 persons who again participated in a survey of readers conducted by M. K. Tod, an author and blogger at She's been conducting these surveys since 2012.
The results provide a few surprises which may be of interest to other writers/readers.
First, I should note, participants came from around the globe, were of varying ages and more than half read more than 30 books in a year. Not surprisingly, a majority of the participants were female. Women do tend to read more than men.
It pleased me to learn 75 percent of the participants prefer print books, frequently or exclusively using that format. I have nothing against electronic formats. I do find them convenient, especially for travel, and do utilize my Kindle on a fairly regular basis. But, despite all the hype, I don't believe they are monopolizing the reading world. At least, not yet.
Entertainment was cited as the primary reason for reading fiction, and readers like to feel immersed in the story. Seventy-one percent of men vs. 88 percent of women read fiction more than 50 percent of the time. As to genre, the favored categories in order were: mystery/thrillers, romance, historical fiction, women's fiction, and literary. Yay, mysteries!
Again, not surprisingly, genre interest varies with age. For mystery, interest increases with age, while interest in fantasy, science fiction and horror seems to decrease with age. Here are two other factors I found fascinating: interest in the romance genre peaks between the ages of 30 and 50. Literary fiction is less popular in the U.S. than in other parts of the world.
Since some of my stories are classed as historical fiction, I was pleased to see the 19th century as the second most favored period.
As to non-fiction, the most popular genres were history, biography and memoirs.
The majority of those surveyed (78 percent) said they read whenever opportunity permits. Bedtime reading, followed by vacation-time, were other high percentages. More men than women read on the way to or from work. Most people read solo, though the more books a person reads in a year, the more likely they are to join a book club.
(I'll be doing a follow up on this blog, focusing more on topics of specific interest to writers).

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Not The Only Game In Town

Mention 19th century U.S. detective agencies, and Pinkerton is generally the first to be called to mind.
This isn't surprising since the agency established by Allan Pinkerton in 1850 is widely known because of its role in protecting President Lincoln during the Civil War, smashing the Molly Maguires in the Pennsylvania coal region, and tracking down western outlaws like Jesse James. By the 1890s, the Pinkerton Detective Agency had more operatives than the U.S. Army had soldiers.
But, Pinkerton wasn't the only detective agency operating in the wild west in the 1890s.
One of Pinkerton's major competitors was the Thiel Detective Service Agency. The firm was founded by George H. Thiel, a former Civil War spy and Pinkerton employee.
I decided to give my character Sam Blake a job with the firm after research turned up the firm's work in Colorado in the period of Blake's Rule. One of Thiel's first employees was John F. Farley, a former U.S. Cavalry trooper, who became manager of the Denver office. He hires Blake in the novel.
A major task of the Thiel agency was infiltrating labor organizations and breaking up strikes, work that had agents reviled by many as mercenaries and musclemen. This reputation causes an initial conflict between Blake and Sheriff Fremont before they become allies in Blake's Rule. Here's a blurb for the novel:
Blake’s rule has always been to do what’s right…not what’s easy.

Range detective Sam Blake is after cattle rustlers—but when a beautiful woman is accused of murdering her employer, he has to step in and see justice done. Miriam had her reasons for the brutal killing, and though she’s not talking, Blake understands there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.

When the local sheriff, James Fremont, asks Blake to spirit Miriam and her two children out of town before a lynch mob comes for her, he agrees. But Cyrus Diebler, the influential rancher who is intent on seeing her pay for her crime, is not about to be stopped. He will go to whatever lengths he must to see her dead, though it means putting his own family in harm’s way.

As Blake and Miriam stay one step ahead of the relentless Diebler and his deadly henchmen, a relationship begins to build between them. When Blake learns the real story behind the murder, and the dark secrets of Diebler’s motivation to see Miriam dead, he vows he will protect her and her children at all costs—even if it means his own life.

Blake's Rule is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other major booksellers.