Friday, December 30, 2011

Some Favorite Reads Of 2011

Let the trumpet blare and the drums resound—Some favorite reads of 2011 (in no particular order).

Not all were written in 2011. That’s when I read them. For more information on the titles see my reviews at or

Small press/Indy
1.Hard Trail to Socorro—Wayne Dundee
2.Dangerous Enchantment—Margaret Blake
3.Kansas Dreamer—Kae Cheatham
4.Camp Follower—Susan Adair
5.Sugar And Spice—Saffina Desforges
6.Mediterranean Grave—William Doonan
7.In The Blood—Steve Robinson
8.Snakeskin—C J Lyons
9.Bestseller Bound Anthology No. 1
10.The Righteous—Michael Wallace

Trade mystery/thrillers
1.Feast Day of Fools—James Lee Burke
2.Nightwoods—Charles Frazier
3.The Most Dangerous Thing—Laura Lippman
4.Long Gone—Alafair Burke
5.Bad Intentions—Karin Fossum
6.Thirteen Hours—Deon Meyer
7.A Question Of Blood—Ian Rankin
8.The Snowman—Jo Nesbo
9.Medicus—Ruth Downie
10.The Way Home—George Pelecanos

Trade fiction
1.The Second Son—Jonathan Rabb
2.The Orphan Master’s Son—Adam Johnson
3.Death Of Kings—Bernard Cornwell

1.Kingdom Under Glass—Jay Kirk
2.Winged Obsession—Jessica Speart
3.Finding Everett Ruess—David Roberts
4.The Unconquered—Scott Wallace
5.Bull Canyon—Lin Pardey
6.Floor Of Heaven—Howard Blum

Happy New Year and good reading.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sans GPS

Do you outline your stories?

While considered essential for most non-fiction projects, writers of imaginary works are divided on the necessity of an outline for fiction.

Some sketch out a plot so thoroughly it might almost be considered a book in itself. Others belong to the school now jokingly referred to as Pantsers (i.e., they fly the seat of their pants), those who devise as they go along.

Some create a detailed tome describing every step before they even consider starting the actual book. P. D. James, for instance, spends up to a year planning a book before writing a single page.

Others plunge right in with a mere image in mind and no idea where it will lead them. William Faulkner, for instance, claimed to put his characters on a road and walk beside them, listening to what they had to say. Despite this claim, Faulkner did outline (though he may have called it something else), as evidenced by the scribblings for “A Fable” on the wall of his study at Rowan Oaks.

John Fowles said The French Lieutenant’s Woman began with a mental image of a woman standing alone at the end of a causeway. James Lee Burke has said he usually doesn’t know what’s going to happen beyond a scene or two.

Michael Connelly says he generally knows “whodunit,” but “wings it” from there. The late Tony Hillerman insisted he didn’t want to know too much in advance, less he become bored with the story and unable to proceed.

Personally, I’m on the side of these pantsers. My idea of an outline is generally so scant—the mere jotting of a few words, comments or descriptions I don’t want to lose in the midst of the project. To someone else I’m sure it would have no more meaning than hieroglyphs in a language they don’t understand.

In fact, though they may vehemently deny it, most writers do outline—though they may not consciously realize it.

How is that possible, you ask.

Larry Brooks (see, a strong proponent of outlining, points out that stories have an architectural structure and the purpose of outlining is to insure the writer includes all the necessary elements. There’s no denying this is true. Miss one or more of those elements and you have a failed story.

Though pantsers do not incorporate all those elements into a written sort of GPS format it does not necessarily follow that they ignore them. Rather pantsers choose to integrate the elements internally, or perhaps I should say, intuitively—a kind of magic rhythm.

The story is present in the mind, sometimes for years, being mulled, considered from every angle and, eventually, our characters provide direction after conscious thought is more systematically organized in the subconscious.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Fact In Fiction

Recently someone criticized one of my favorite historical fiction writers for not sticking with the facts in a novel.

Obviously the critic didn’t understand the primary function of a novel is to entertain.

In a historical novel, the writer has an obligation to make the reader accept his setting and characters as appropriate to the period. That doesn’t prevent a writer from twisting facts to suit a creative purpose.

As Alistair MacLean so aptly put it, “The key to the willing suspension of disbelief on the part of readers is a good mixture of real things and things fictional.” The formula seemed to work well for him in 28 novels, many of which were made into films.

There is a vast difference between fiction and fact. Webster defines the former as “the act of feigning or inventing; a literary production of the imagination.” And fact is clearly designated as “reality; event; truth.”

Naturally the two definitions are often confused.

Shakespeare’s dramas, for instance, are fiction. Yet generations of readers and playgoers have mistakenly accepted them as factual portrayals of persons and events. Clearly the evidence shows Shakespeare mined historical accounts for plots but doctored them with his imagination and personal impressions. That’s what we call creativity.

If it’s history you seek, then read a historian.

Then again, as Thackeray reminds us, “Fiction carries a greater amount of truth in solution than the volume which purports to be all true.” I’ll wager more people who were bored by the subject in their school days have been brought to love history through fiction than by any other means.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Carpe Diem

What time is it?

Daylight Saving Time ended and we returned to standard time Sunday morning. With the change, some of us complain how these changes play havoc with our system while others accept it with a resigned shrug of the shoulders.

This business of toying with time was first proposed by Pennsylvania’s remarkable philosopher-inventor Benjamin Franklin. It wasn’t instituted until 1916 by the Germans, those connoisseurs of precision, and then by the British as a wartime measure intended to save fuel and energy.

Daylight Saving Time wasn’t adopted in the U.S. until 1918, where Congress repealed it a year later. It was an on again, off again feature in various states until Congress made it a permanent feature of our lives in 1967. Even then, the law left instituting it to the discretion of individual states.

The practice always had its advocates, but there’s a certain fallacy to the theory it actually saves energy—if darkness comes an hour later at one end of the spectrum, then artificial light is necessary at the other.

Man is the only animal obsessed by this thing called time.

As Thomas Mann put it: “Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunderstorm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.”

So, what time is it?

Even St. Augustine couldn’t answer that. “If no one asks me, I know what it (time) is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks me, I do not know.”

Dr. David Park, former president of the International Society for the Study of Time, confesses he has similar problems. Park theorizes there are actually two times: Time One, the invention of man, which is measured by clocks and moves constantly from past to future, and Time Two, which considers that the Eternal Now contains both the past and future. I like this latter concept, which eliminates the possibility of ever being late.

Man in his arrogance thought he had the idea of time figured out until the theorists of quantum physics illustrated the fallibility of a perception of the world based on direct experience.

What we have in the end is an invented “time” made accurate by universal agreement. It would appear the best advice of all is carpe diem (seize the moment).

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Ghost of Halloween

A night of innocent fun for children, or an observance with evil origins?

However you view it, our Halloween is a long way from its beginning and—like so many other intrinsically religious observances—has been so diluted and commercialized it would hardly be recognized by its founders.

It began as the Celtic observance of October 31 as the eve of the new year. Sir James Frazer says the most important aspect of the observance was the rekindling of fires throughout the land from village bonfires, accompanied by prayers and divination to assure good fortune in the coming year.

This was the one night of the year when the “door to the otherworld” was opened.

Lacking a Christian concept of heaven, the people believed the spirits of departed relatives looked in to see how the family was doing. These benevolent spirits were welcomed with offerings of food and flowers.

At the same time, it was thought more harmful spirits were also unleashed for the night and they had to be propitiated with spells and gifts. The wearing of masks and costumes began as a means of confusing these evil spirits to help prevent their causing harm to helpless mortals.

With the introduction of Christianity, the church sought to subjugate the pagan aspects of the observance by making it a night to honor saints and martyrs (All Hallows Eve). This failed to obliterate the belief in ghosts and they remain a central feature of our Halloween.

All societies have in common this belief in ghosts. Modern cultures may deem themselves less susceptible to what is term superstition, but there is hardly an area that escapes the tradition of haunted places.

Are there such things as ghosts then?

One might turn to the Bible for guidance and—particularly in this case—find it ambiguous. “Man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?” (Job 14:10)

Lyall Watson (who is open to many kinds of psychic phenomena, but does not take ghosts seriously) points out we are aware of only a small portion of reality. And, as Philip Slater aptly argues, our conception of “reality” is not what actually exists but merely what we require to master our physical environment.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Should This House Be Saved?

Edgar Allan Poe is an iconic figure in American literature. He invented the genre we know as detective fiction and he played an important role in development of the genre of science fiction.

Though Charles Brockden Brown is considered the “father of the American novel,” Poe is believed to be the first American who endeavored to live from his writing alone. Despite a decidedly difficult financial life, his literary output continues to influence culture around the world.

Now those of us who love his work have a challenge before us.

During his short life, Poe endured a bohemian and transitory existence, moving up and down the eastern seaboard. Four residences have been preserved and survive as shrines to his memory for scholars and students as well as ordinary tourists.

In fact, Poe never lived in the best known of these—the Old Stone House in Richmond, Va. I say this not to defame the site, which I have visited. The house does preserve his dorm room from the University of Virginia in addition to many other items and rare printings of his work. Upkeep of this facility is in the capable hands of students and staff known as the Raven Society.

The home where Poe resided with his wife, Virginia, and his aunt/mother-in-law, Maria Clemm, in Philadelphia is preserved as a National Historic Site in affiliation with the Independence National Historical Park.

His last home, a cottage in the Bronx, N.Y., is also part of a Historic House Trust administered by the Bronx County Historical Society.

But a fourth residence in Baltimore is endangered.

This small structure at 203 Amity Street operates as a museum and is home to the Edgar Allen Poe Society of Baltimore. It is also a National Historic Landmark. For some years its upkeep was subsidized by the City of Baltimore. Now, for the second year, city leaders decided they could not continue this financial assistance.

Their plight is understandable. Charm City officials are as burdened as any other community with difficult financial demands. I’m sure they see better use for scarce dollars than preserving a structure well off the tourist beaten track and not located in the most affluent of neighborhoods. I’ve been there, too.

As a working historian I realize not every structure can be preserved—or even deserves to be preserved. We have three other Poe shrines. What’s the harm in letting one go by the wayside?

I might be persuaded to that viewpoint were it not for two things. First, this is the place where Poe enjoyed his first literary success, winning a short story contest and attracting the attention of the public and editors who recognized his talent.

Second, if the public really values the legacy of Poe, there is no reason why they and not a government entity can’t subsidize the museum. I’m not going to mention names, but there are some big literary guns in Baltimore who could help support the project. I’m not saying they should contribute money, but they could certainly aid in the way of publicity.

That might attract a generous millionaire or two who doesn’t need another yacht or jet. Who knows, ordinary citizens might even be inclined to chip in a few bucks here and there if given the right example to follow.

And what about all the Poe societies out there? There’s more than one: Join me in asking them to clamor for some public attention.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Interview With Douglas Quinn

My guest today is mystery, suspense and historical fiction writer Douglas Quinn. Welcome, Doug. Let’s start right in with some questions: JRL: Have you always wanted to write, or was there some transforming incident led you to it?

DQ: Actually, when I was a growing up I was more interested in art. But the one other thing I liked to do, which gave me background knowledge and ultimately the interest in writing, was reading. As a kid, I got hooked on Edgar Rice Burroughs, especially his Tarzan novels. In fact, I ended up collecting all of his books, including many first editions.
Early on, my interests gravitated toward science fiction. It wasn’t until much later in life, when I began to read Edgar Allan Poe, Rudyard Kipling and Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle (my personal favorite classic authors), that my interest began to shift toward mystery and suspense.

JRL: What was your path to publication?

DQ: I didn’t begin writing until 1994, when I was already 52 years old (do the math and you can calculate how old I am now–the secret is out), which was when I began working on my first novel, The Catalan Gambit. I finished the rough draft in 1997, then sent out queries to agents and to those publishers who accepted submissions without agents.
After three years of frustrating results, I laid the novel aside and didn’t write anything more until 2003, when I dragged the manuscript back out and gave it about six hard edits. Being over age 60, I wasn’t interested in subjecting myself to further disappointments. I had faith in the book. I figured if I could just get it out there someone would read it, they would like it. That’s exactly what I did. I signed up with iUniverse, a print-on-demand publisher whose primary stockholder was Barnes and Nobel. Long story short, the book received great reviews and encouraging comments from readers. So I began working on my next novel, the first book of the Webb Sawyer Mystery Series, Blue Heron Marsh. Since then, I have published seven more books, including two children’s chapter books.
In 2009 I turned to Amazon/CreateSpace, publishing under the White Heron Press imprint, for the first Adventures of Quinn Higgins: Boy Detective children’s chapter book. Since then, I have published two more books with them. I’ve been pleased with the distribution and sales results and hope to continue that relationship. I currently have three more books completed (two of them children’s chapter books, the other one being the third Webb Sawyer Mystery) and in the editing process, with publication dates on the calendar.

JRL: What was your first job, and did it have any impact on your future writing?
DQ: My first job was a four year hitch in the Air Force. After that I went into banking. Then, for almost two decades, I ran my own personnel recruiting company. Just like anything else a person has experienced during his or her life, when writing, all of it is drawn upon. I follow the old writer’s adage, “Write what you know.”
JRL: Writers are often driven by curiosity. Is there any particular subject that especially arouses your curiosity?

DQ: Human nature. While the plot and setting are important to story-telling, my novels are all character-driven. The characters are essential to my writing. I believe that if the character is unable to bring some emotional impact to the reader, the book fails. My time as a “headhunter” probably gave me the most insight into how people think and act under different situations.
JRL: We’ve both written mysteries and historical fiction. You’ve also been doing some writing for children. How difficult do you find the transition from writing for adults to doing it for youngsters?

DQ: Oddly enough, I don’t find it difficult at all. The reason being, I’ve spent a lot of time at my grandsons’ elementary schools, either volunteer reading to their classes or having lunch with my grandsons in the school cafeteria. The cafeteria is where I get most of my material. Outside of the school environment, my grandson Quinn is a very inquisitive kid and we’ve had lots of interesting conversations about every imaginable topic. Simply talking and listening to my target audience is the key.

JRL: Are you an outliner or a pantser? How do you actually go about writing a story or book?

DQ: By “pantser,” I presume you mean, do I write by the seat of my pants? I’m not a true outliner, but not necessarily a total pantser, either. When an idea for a novel or a children’s chapter book hits me, I start thinking about it. I begin playing out the scenes and the dialogue in my mind. I start thinking about the characters and what makes them tick, how they might interact with the other characters in the story. I also like to think about what plot twists I might be able to bring to the story line. By the time I sit down to write, I’ve already “seen and heard” much of what I translate to the document. Then, of course, I refine it as I go along, many times letting the characters and circumstances take me where they will. I suppose you could say I’m a mental outliner who writes by the seat of my pants.

JRL: What do you love most about being a writer?

DQ: I love the process. I love creating something out of nothing; of coming up with an idea, thinking about it, visualizing it, getting it down on paper (via the computer printer, of course), then going through the editing process. I don’t do a lot of rewriting. I pretty much know what I want when I begin. What I do is tweak what I’ve written. Only once have I actually begun a story, then started over when I wasn’t happy how it was going. That one is/was the story for the Four of a Kind anthology, which I am a contributing editor, and for which (of course) you and two others are contributing a story.

JRL: Going to the opposite extreme, what do you hate most about being a writer?

DQ: Hard question. I don’t really “hate” anything about it. What does annoy me is when someone requests a review copy, then doesn’t bother reading the book or writing a review. I mean, if they actually read it and hated it, I’d rather they just tell me. I can take it. We now use delivery confirmation receipts to track time and place of delivery, then follow up after 90 days, then every subsequent 30 days. It’s a pain in the you-know-what but, unfortunately, has to be done.

JRL: Have you experienced an “I’ve made it” moment, or are you still waiting for it?

DQ: I made it the moment I actually finished the rough draft of my first book. People don’t realize how hard it is, and how much of a commitment a writer has to make, to accomplish even that first step toward publishing. It’s hard work, and I love it.
JRL: What was the last book you read?

DQ: I don’t have as much time to read as I used to before my writing became a personal illness. During slack times in my writing and publishing schedules (meaning I only have a couple of projects going), I tend to read other authors who are either self-published or published through small independent presses. I do this because there are a lot of great authors out there who don’t get the wide name recognition that they deserve. I like to both read and post reviews of their work. My most recent read was FireSong by Aaron Paul Lazar. I like his work and I like him as a person. Prior to that it was Fallen From Grace by J. R. Lindermuth (I think you may know him).

JRL: Do you have a favorite among the books you’ve written?

DQ: Yes. It is Cornelius The Orphan. Cornelius, which is historical fiction/adventure, is a departure from my usual mystery and suspense fare, although the book does hold elements of suspense. His character is more rich and more complicated than any I have created so far.

JRL: What is the next project for you?

DQ: I’m currently working on the next book in the series that follows Cornelius The Orphan. This one is called Samuel The Pioneer, and follows the life of Cornelius’ son, who was profoundly (in a negative way) impacted by his father’s life. I’m also currently writing the 4th book of The Adventures of Quinn Higgins: Boy Detective. This one is titled The Case of Blackbeard’s Treasure and takes place in Ocracoke Village on Ocracoke Island. The third book in this series, The Case of the Haunted House, will be released this October.

I’m also working on my memoirs. This will be for publication, but not for general sale. I’m writing it for the benefit of my grandchildren and future generations, so they will know and understand who I was and what I was all about. This is something I think everyone should do.

In addition, I am currently mind-planning the 5th Quinn Higgins book, a second book in the Charles of Colshire series, a fantasy children’s chapter book series. The first book in the series, Charles of Colshire Castle: The Purple Dragon, will be released this November. In addition, I’m in the editing process for the third book of the Webb Sawyer Mystery Series entitled Swan’s Landing, which has a background in the 9/11 tragedy. It will be released in the Spring of 2012. By the time this interview appears, there will probably be something else on the list.

JRL: Who are some of your favorite writers and have they influenced your style?

DQ: As I said before, I grew up on Edgar Rice Burroughs, then moved to Poe, Kipling and Conan-Doyle. At one point in my life, I was reading 125 books a year. When I was into science fiction, I liked Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Frederick Pohl and the like. When I moved to reading mystery and suspense, I grooved on (and still do, when I can find the time) James Lee Burke, John Sandford, Robert Kellerman, Kathy Reichs, Alex Kava, Walter Mosley and others. Everything I’ve read has influenced my writing, one way or another. Even so, I’m not very poetic. I still can’t turn a phrase the likes of James Lee Burke. Hopefully, readers appreciate the way I lay out a scene and develop my characters.

JRL: What are some of the things you enjoy doing when not writing?

DQ: For relaxation, I play golf and swim. I don’t have time for much else. I walk the dogs twice a day and I really like to cook. I’m really not all that interesting. Kind of a minimalist in my lifestyle.

JRL: Is there something about you that might surprise your readers to learn?

DQ: Probably, but I’m not going to let that one out of the bag.

JRL: People seem to enjoy learning what kind of pets hold a special place in a writer’s life. Do you have (or have had) any special animal friends you’d like to tell us about?

DQ: Ah, pets. I prefer to refer to them as four-legged family members. I’ve had critters around all my life, including an baby alligator, a flying squirrel, a raccoon, a pigeon and rabbits. I didn’t have my first dog until I was 13. Smokey used to follow me around on my paper route. What a sweet guy he was. My favorite cat was Basil. Unfortunately, a fox got him. He had more personality than some people I’ve known. I honor his memory by making him a character in the Webb Sawyer Mystery books. He’s Webb’s best bud; once, he even saved Webb’s life.

Currently, I have two dogs and five and a half cats. Snookie, a mixed sheltie, was a SPCA rescue special and Gracie is a tri-colored beagle who lives for her biscuit treats. The cats are Moustaki II (that’s Moustache in Greek) who, as a kitten, was rescued from the middle of the road; Swee’ Pea, a calico who was dropped on my doorstep with a mangled tail and in a family way; Funny Face, a tortoise-shell female, who came in from the swamp; Panther, a black male (who I also call Brutus Beefcake) who also came in from the swamp; Tommy Gray, who decided he liked my house better than my neighbor’s down the street, and the half-cat is a golden tomcat I call Theo, who hangs around the periphery because he likes Funny Face. It’s never dull around the Douglas Quinn ranch.

JRL: Where can people find more info about you and your projects?

DQ: You know, I’m kind of a lazy so-and-so when it comes to marketing and on-line sites. I hate taking the time away from writing. My publicist is on my case all the time about it. I had a web site for a while. It was designed by a fan. It was okay, but it never really seemed to work for me. Also, I wasn’t much for keeping it up to date. I have a Google blog site, where I don’t post much. I’m working on a new web site at Webs, Inc, which reminds me, I need to get back to that. Darn!

So, I guess the answer to your question is go to (Douglas Quinn/obxwriter), where I post reviews, interviews, announcements and excerpts from my books, or Facebook (Douglas Quinn), where I make daily entries and post links about my activities, or, better yet, go to, read the reviews of my books, get excited, and buy copies. I’ll announce on Facebook and Gather when my new website is up and running–maybe by 2015.

List of Books by Douglas Quinn:

The Catalan Gambit 2004
The Spanish Game 2006
Blue Heron Marsh 2007
Pelican Point 2009
The Adventures of Quinn Higgins: Boy Detective
–The Case of the Missing Homework 2009
Cornelius The Orphan 2010
The Capablanca Variation: The End Game 2010
The Adventures of Quinn Higgins: Boy Detective
–The Case of Bigfoot on the Loose 2010
The Adventures of Quinn Higgins: Boy Detective
–The Case of the Haunted House (October 2011)
Charles of Colshire Castle: The Purple Dragon (November 2011)
Swan’s Landing (Spring 2012)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Tribute To Frank Bender

Frank Bender was a resurrectionist.

Through the magic of his fingers, he brought the dead back to life.

Bender, who died this week at his home in Philadelphia, was a self-taught forensic artist whose work helped identify murder victims and aided in the apprehension of numerous fugitives.

While working as a police reporter, I met the man when he came to my county to help in a cold case. Along with others who witnessed the process, I marveled as Frank’s skill put a face to a long-dead body fished from the river. Unfortunately, this case remains unsolved and we may never know if the young man was the victim of an accident, suicide or murder.

In his career, Frank Bender had many successes. Among them was the case of 18-year-old Rosella Atkinson, whose then-unidentified remains were found behind a city ball field in 1988. Police asked for Bender's help, and his bust led Atkinson's aunt to put a name to the face. Atkinson's killer confessed in 2005.

Bender got his start in 1976 while taking classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. A friend gave him access to the city morgue to study anatomy and, as Bender looked over a badly decomposed body, he said he knew what she looked like. A coroner overheard the conversation and challenged Bender to prove it.

Bender's sculpture of the woman helped identify her as Anna Duval, a 62-year-old from Phoenix whose body had been found near the Philadelphia airport. Years later, a man was convicted of killing Duval after stealing her profits from a house sale.

Bender also made busts envisioning how fugitives might age.

His sculpture of John List, accused of killing five family members in New Jersey in 1971, was featured on "America's Most Wanted" in 1989. The artwork led to List's arrest 11 days later in Virginia, where he had been living under an alias. List was later convicted and died in prison.

The artist sacrificed a career in commercial photography to work with law enforcement agencies around the world, a choice that often put him in danger, jeopardized his marriage and, at times, brought him near bankruptcy.

Bender didn’t originate the art, but he perfected facial reconstruction techniques of the American system pioneered by Wilton Krogman and the European system of Mikail Gerasimov.

Another intriguing aspect of his career is that Bender, along with William Fleischer, a customs agent and polygraph expert, and Richard Walter, a criminal profiler, founded the Vidocq Society, Named for the founder of the French Surete, the organization of amateurs and professionals focuses on unsolved deaths and disappearances.

For more information on Bender and his art I highly recommend Ted Botha’s The Girl With The Crooked Nose, published by Random House in 2008.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Getting The Word Out

Most people have an emotional reaction when confronted with the news of the latest disaster. We feel compassion for the victims. Some might be moved to contribute a dollar or two to help in the recovery. A few even rush to the scene to provide hands-on assistance.

Too often that altruistic reaction fades in a day or two as the event is superseded by other demands on our attention.

Thriller writer Tim Hallinan came up with a means for people who like to read to help victims in northeastern Japan recover from one of the most devastating tragedies in modern times.

Hallinan, author of the Poke Rafferty novels and other thrillers, wrote a Japan-themed story and got 19 of his friends to do the same. The stories have been assembled into an anthology, “Shaken: Stories for Japan,” now available as an e-book on Amazon for $3.99.

In addition to Tim’s, the book includes stories by Brett Battles, Cara Black, Vicki Doudera, Dianne Emley, Dale Furutani, Stefan Hammond, Rosemary Harris, Naomi Hirahara, Wendy Hornsby, Ken Kuhlken, Debbi Mack, Adrian McKinty, I.J. Parker, Gary Phillips, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Jeffrey Siger, Kelli Stanley, C.J. West, Jeri Westerson.

Everyone involved in the project donated their time and talent. All proceeds from sales of the book will go directly to the 2011 Japan Relief Fund. Amazon also announced it will donate its share, too.

Want to help? Here’s your chance:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How to Feed a Hungry Detective

Sylvester Tilghman likes to eat.

That becomes apparent early into my novel Fallen From Grace. Tilghman, sheriff of the small Pennsylvania town of Arahpot, is a bachelor who is never shy about accepting an invitation for a meal as he goes about investigating a couple murders that have shaken the normal tranquility of his town in the autumn of 1897.

His usual targets are his girlfriend, Lydia, and neighbors, the Mariners. But he isn’t inclined to turn down an offer of food or drink from most any of the citizens he encounters on his rounds.

Despite our difference in body structure and time period, I share Syl’s predilection for good eats. Investigating the type of food and menus most likely available in the time period and place was an enjoyable aspect of my research for the novel.

A primary resource was “The Latest And Best Cook Book,” published in 1888 by Hubbard Brothers of Philadelphia. The volume containing more than 800 “valuable” recipes had no single author but was compiled by a “skilled corps of practical experts,” according to the foreword.

The sub-title sums up the content of the volume: “A comprehensive treatment of the subject of cookery; ancient and modern cooking utensils, etc.; with abundant instructions in every branch of the art; soups, fish, poultry, meats, vegetables, salads, bread, cakes, jellies, fruits, pickles, sauces, beverages, candies, sick-room diet, canning, carving, serving meals, marketing, etc., etc.”

Hey, the Food Channel had nothing on Hubbard Brothers.

I guarantee you, it takes a good novel to match the entertainment value of a book like this one. For example:

“Dishes should suit the days of the week also. What can be furnished by one fire or wash-day or ironing-day is not the same as can be furnished conveniently on other days. The man who proposed dumplings for wash-day dessert because they could be boiled in the same kettle with the clothes was on the true line of progress, though his application was not a happy one. The idea is that harmony shall exist.”

The amount of food these people consumed at a single setting is enough to give the average diet-conscious modern person apoplexy. Consider this breakfast suggestion for summer—coarse hominy boiled; strawberries and cream; bread (fresh-baked, of course), butter, coffee and other beverages; broiled chicken, stewed potatoes, dried beef dressed with cream, radishes and muffins.

Or you might substitute oatmeal and milk, fresh currants and sugar, buttered toast, bread, coffee, broiled blue or white fish, stewed potatoes, minced mutton served on toast and shirred eggs.
Considering the lack of conveniences to which we’ve become accustomed, I can feel nothing but pity for the woman required to turn out these meals on a daily basis.

I am confident, though, if Sylvester turns up for another book (as a few readers are already urging) I’ll easily be able to come up with more dining suggestions for Lydia and others to tempt his appetite.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Interview With Thriller Writer J. H. Bogran

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist; he ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José is the author of “Treasure Hunt,” the first in the series of a professional thief who goes by the handle of The Falcon. Other works include short stories, “The Outpost” and “Love Me Two Times,” published by Red Rose Publishing. He is also the author of “Heredero Del Mal,” a thriller published by Editorial Letra Negra.
He’s a contributor editor to The Big Thrill magazine; co-screenwriter for two TV serials and writes movie reviews for the Honduran newspaper La Prensa.
He’s a member of the International Thriller Writers.
JRL: Good morning, Jose. Let’s start with the question what was your biggest challenge in finishing this novel? What was your path to publication?
JHB: You mean besides writing it in a language other than my native one? :- ) I wrote the first draft back in 1998 and after the events of 9/11, I feared that a book with a hijacked plane in the opening chapter would never see the light. Eventually, it did, thanks to Whiskey Creek Press who believed the story should be told. I guess that pretty much covers the path I took, but here is the simple form for any beginner writer: query, receive rejection, study and rewrite, repeat N times. Then in 2005 a new ebook publisher took me in, only to close its doors a year or so later. Spent a few years in the limbo of orphan books but got back to the original program. I received the offer from WCP in January 2010 and last January the book went live after a through editing process.
JRL: Hmph, I know how frustrating it can be to have a publisher accept a book and then go bust. I had a similar experience early on. Getting back to your book, have you ever had the urge to do any treasure hunting yourself?

JHB: Yes, every time I see an Indiana Jones movie! I was a Boy Scout, so camping was a part of my teenage life. Treasure hunting is fun.
JRL: In addition to this novel, you’ve also published a thriller in Spanish, Heredero Del Mal. Any plans for an English version?
JHB: Although I’d love to see “Heredero” in English, I just can’t spend the time translating a book I already published. I rather direct my efforts towards a new book. However, the door is not closed either. Letra Negra, my publisher in Guatemala, has the final version and anybody can approach them about it.
JRL: Curiosity is an important factor in a writer’s makeup. What is it that sparks your curiosity or makes you wonder about a subject?

JHB: Hmmm, so authors are curious by nature…I may use this to justify the fact that I’m a “trivia freak.” I find little-known facts really interesting as they add to the greater picture. The first idea from my stories more often than not comes from a “what if…” question and they are usually prompted by trivia bits.
JRL: What do you find most rewarding about being a published writer?

JHB: The email from the unknown reader. It has happened quite a few times now, but it is still exciting.
JRL: What’s your process in writing? Do you use an outline, or are you a pantser?

JHB: This one I have to do response in a twofold: For novels I use an outline. Once I tried not to do it and ended up in a dead street that forced me to either introduce a new character or delete five previous chapters.
On short stories yes, I can work from the head to the keyboard without the outline.
JRL: What was the last book you read?
JHB: “Boiling Point” by K. L. Dionne. An exciting eco-thriller. The fact that I know the author added a new flavor to the reading of it.
JRL: Do you have any favorite books on the craft of writing?

JHB: Not in any particular orders, but these are the ones that I always keep at hand:
“Dynamic Characters” by Nancy Kress
“On Writing” by Stephen King
“The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White
“Grammatically Correct” by Anne Stilman.
JRL: A good selection. What’s next on your agenda?

JHB: I have one manuscript doing the rounds with agents and at the same time I’m writing another thriller. Definitely promoting Treasure Hunt is also on the priority list. GWE created a wonderful video trailer, you can watch it here:
JRL: What are some of the things you like to do aside from writing? Anything in particular you’d like to tell readers?
JHB: I have the blessing of having a day-job that I also like. I work in the garment manufacturing industry. I think it is the biggest employer in my little corner of the world and I’m happy to be a part of it.
JRL: Anything in particular you’d like to tell readers?
JHB: I truly wish they can enjoy my stories and please, by all means, fell free to drop me a line when you finish reading it. Also, I have a short story giveaway, it is titled “Absolution Withheld” and it’s kind of a prequel to Treasure Hunt. To get it just email me at I can send mobi, pdf and even text only formats, so just let me know.
JRL: Thanks for spending the time with us today, Jose. More information about this writer and his work is available at:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Danger of Living

If a man had a bit of luck it was best not to flaunt it before his neighbors in the Patch. Jake Yeager thought his father should have remembered. And it was because he apparently had not that Jake felt like a trespasser as they cut through Winchester No. 1 Patch.

The Patch was two long rows of ramshackle sun-bleached shacks on a hard-scrabble flat without a tree to shade it from the merciless sun, bisected by the state highway, a dirt track up to the mine and the dolly line that crossed one corner. The shaft passed under the village and sometimes in the still of the day or at night when the charges were fired crockery rattled in the cupboards or a window shook as a reminder to the men and their families that they and every building, including the store and the church and every other blessed thing in the place was the property of the Ragers and their mine. There was a Winchester No. 2 Patch farther up the line but the only affinity between the two was the same kind of people lived in both and all of them were the property of W. K. Rager and Sons, Inc.

It was mid-morning now and the men were either at work or sleeping after their shift. But there were women and children they knew out in front of the houses. Jake lowered his eyes and pretended not to notice them. His father, though, he loudly called out greetings and waved, calling attention on their passage. It was four months since his father had quit the mine and they’d left the Patch. Memories were long here and his father should have remembered. Yet, here he was, acting as though nothing had changed, oblivious to any thought these people might be envious and resent his coming through to remind them of his stroke of luck.

Jake wanted to berate his father, but he was only a boy of twelve and so he kept his mouth shut, held his eyes to the ground, churned with embarrassment and focused his anger on Uncle Dan who was the cause of it.

Usually they took another route to the hole. It was a mile shorter going through the Patch, and they came this way in deference to Uncle Dan who was frail from ill health and a sedentary lifestyle.

Uncle Dan was Jake’s grandfather’s brother. Born in the region, he’d escaped early in his teens to the Army without ever having worked a day in the mines. He’d come back since only on rare visits. It was hard to believe of a man born in the region, but here was one who’d never heard of a coal-hole. And that was the purpose of their jaunt this morning. Jake’s father had promised last night to show his uncle how he earned his living.

Uncle Dan shuffled along beside them, stoop-shouldered, snuffling from exertion, the summer heat and the dust raised by their boots, his eyes skittering back and forth like water-bugs on a pond. “Great God,” he said, finally, “here it is 1949 in the grandest country in the world and this looks like feudal Europe. How can they live like this?”
Jake’s father snorted. “Haint that they want to. Going to work in the dark, coming back in the dark, living like this. You think they like it?”
“You forget, boy, I was born in one of those shacks. I know all about it. I didn’t want no part of it. I got out. Why don’t they?”

“You was lucky.”

“How about you?”

“I was lucky. I got out, and I’m gonna stay out. But it haint easy. Rager keeps a tight squeeze on things. He hires a lot of immigrants who barely speak the language and don’t know the law. The rest are just plain poor and uneducated. He keeps them in debt and he makes sure everybody knows they can’t walk away from here unless their debts are paid first.”

“So, how’d you manage it?”



“Yep. Poker gave me a stake. We play every Friday night down at the firehall. I had a run of luck and I put my winnings aside and scrimped and scraped until I had my debts pared down.”

“But you must have had some idea what you were going to do when you left the mine.”

“Sure did. Purely by accident, Ed Dobson and me found out Rager didn’t have a hold on Turkey Ridge. Pretending we was hunting, we went up every day for a week between shifts and sunk a shaft. We didn’t go too deep before we struck coal. So we grabbed a lease on it and got a couple businessmen in Shannon to stake us to equipment.”

“So what you call ‘working a coal-hole’ is just a matter of digging the coal out of the ground on your own?”

Jake’s father laughed. “Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. But you got the basic idea. It’s a darn good hole, producing about six tons a day of good hard anthracite. It’s a hard one to work, though. The shaft is almost perpendicular. We work it by sending two men down the pit to grub out the coal and load it in burlap sacks, which the third man hauls up to the top with a winch. The top man loads the coal in a wheelbarrow and takes it down the hill to where our pickup is parked.”

“What do you do with the coal? Sell it to Rager?”

“Nah, he won’t buy from us and the other breakers don’t want to offend him. We sell some to folks in Shannon. Most of it we truck down-river to other towns and sell door-to-door. No trouble getting rid of it. We’re not getting rich. But we make a living and we’re independent. That means something after all those years with Rager on our backs.”
They sauntered along, crossing the stone bridge over the acid-wracked creek circling the Patch and started up the trail to Turkey Ridge. There were trees here—scrub oaks, poplar and elders mostly—and the air smelled cleaner now that they were above the Patch and Jake felt better. He picked up his pace, going ahead of the two men, stopping now and again to skip a stone into the trees as grouse took flight or a squirrel chattered a warning. Catbirds mewed along the track and a pair of hawks coasted across blue sky overhead.

Winded, Jake sat down on a conglomerate boulder to wait for his father and Uncle Dan. The anger had left him. He felt good up here. He wasn’t entirely certain what his father meant by independent but he sensed it must be something similar to what he felt up here, clean and free, above the muck that lay below.

They were only a stone’s throw from the hole when Jake’s father suddenly stopped and stood, listening. “What’s the matter?” Uncle Dan asked. “Shh,’ Jake’s father said, still listening. Then he took off at a run for the hole. Jake and Uncle Dan followed, the old man still demanding, “What’s the matter?”

Jake was puzzled at first, too. Then he realized what was missing. Instead of the normal, steady chug-chug of the pump there was only silence. Jake knew, but he was afraid to put it in words.

As they reached the top and broke through the scrub oak they saw Jake’s father talking to Sam Troutman, one of his partners, and a couple of shovel operators who worked for the D&Z Company that was stripping on the other side of the bluff.

“Sam called me over ‘soons it happened,” Jim Dietz, one of the operators, was saying as they came up. “We was just figgerin’ what to do.”

“What’s happened?” Uncle Dan asked again.

“Cave-in. Bill and Ed are down there.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”

Jake’s head spun and he stumbled against Uncle Dan. Men were always getting caught in cave-ins, but it wasn’t supposed to happen to people you knew. It wasn’t supposed to, but it did. Only the year before one of their neighbors had been trapped. Jake remembered what Cally Ryan looked like when they dug him out. It was something the boy would never forget. Cally’s eyes had been open and full of coal dirt. His mouth had been open, too, as though he died screaming for help. The face was black from the coal, except for two white stripes down Cally’s cheeks where tears from his hurt eyes had washed him clean. Jake didn’t want to see his brother Bill like that. “Can we get them out?” he asked in a tremulous voice.

“We’re gonna try, sure as hell,” his father said, putting an arm around the boy’s trembling shoulders.

“How’d it happen?” Uncle Dan asked.

“We was just gonna quit for lunch,” Sam said. “I’d come up on top to check the winch. Ed said he wanted to place one more charge before they came up. Bill stayed with him. I heard the blast and didn’t pay it no mind till I noticed the pump had stopped. When I climbed down I saw the whole side of the slope had fallen. I don’t know whether the charge was too heavy or if it just went off too quick. It must have knocked out half the timbers on that side.”

Jake’s father was trembling now, too. He paced around the hole, trying to hide his agitation. But they could see it in his blanched face and the sweat glistening on his brow. Then, recovering his composure, he came back to them and took charge. He’d been around mines and mining for thirty of his forty-two years, starting as a slate-picker at the D&Z Colliery. He knew what had to be done.

“We’ve only opened one slope off the gangway,” he said. “If Bill and Ed got far enough back in that slope when the blast went off, they’ll be all right. If they didn’t, there’s no need to hurry. We’ll have to dig them out the same way we mine the coal. Jim, I’d appreciate if you’d go down with Sam and start the digging. I’ll see if I can get the pump to working.”

Jake knew how important it was to get the pump restarted. There’s always seepage in a coal hole. If the pump stopped for even an hour, a foot of water could collect in the bottom of the shaft. That wasn’t much, but if a man were pinned down under a rock or a timber he could drown in less water than that.

“You’d best go down and tell your Mom and Bill and Ed’s wives and see if more help can be rounded up,” Jake’s father told him.

“Let me do it,” put in Uncle Dan. “I think I can break the news better than the kid.”

Jake was grateful. He wanted to stay and help. He ran for tools and helped the other shovel operator dump bags from the winch so they could be sent back down for more dirt.

After a while, his father got the pump started. Then he found the hose was burst. The pump was useless. Jake struggled to hold back his tears. If water was coming in… but no; he couldn’t think of that. He had to focus on the work, fight to drive away the image of Cally’s face that danced before his eyes.

Time passed and Uncle Dan came back with the women. Like gas in a mine, word of the accident had drifted from Shannon to the patch. Concerned neighbors and friends, women and miners between shifts, some who were just curious, came up the hill. The miners pitched into the work. The women and men who weren’t miners stood around in nervous little groups, murmuring, white-faced, wanting to help, not knowing how.
Jake’s father sent him to join his mother and the spectators. His father said he knew Jake wanted to help but he could do it best by comforting his mother. Jake was hurt and ashamed. His father saw he was too distressed to be of help and was right in sending him to the sidelines. The boy stood by his mother, shivering, seeing Cally’s dead face.

Dark clouds scudded across the sun. A cold wind rippled like water through the leaves of the oak, which chattered as though in anguish.
The digging and the hauling and the hoping went on for hours. It was dark now. Some of the curious drifted away and were replaced by others. The minister and a priest who had been called for Ed came. The two men of God conferred, set aside their differences, then took charge of the little flock of spectators, offering words of faith and urging prayer. Someone started a hymn and others joined in, the words echoing over the mountains.

A rain began, a hard pelting rain that made the ground slippery under foot. Instead of Cally, now Jake saw his brother lying on his face with a prop holding him down and the water rising up around his nostrils. Jake cried and started praying, making wild promises to God.

Then.. what was that? What did that guy say?

“We’ve got ‘em. We’ve got ‘em out!”

Jake looked up just in time to see one dark form lifted from the shaft before the crowd rushed in around the hole and blocked his view. “Thank God. Oh, thank God,” his mother cried beside him.

“If you won’t do it for yourself, then do it for your family,” Uncle Dan was saying the next morning when Jake came down for breakfast.

Jake’s father stared into his coffee cup, took a sip, sat down the cup and spoke. “Doc Whalen says they’ll be fine. Shock and a few scratches, but with a little rest they’re gonna be all right.” His father looked tired, but not any more than after a normal work day.

“Pure luck,” Uncle Dan said. “I’ve been away too long. I’d forgotten how dangerous mining is. You’ve gotta get out of it.”

“Sure it’s dangerous, but it’s a job and somebody has to do it,” Jake’s father told him. “Me, I count myself lucky to have got away from Rager and into my own hole. I been at it too long to quit—even if I wanted to. Bill, he’s a good miner. He’ll be back in the hole in a couple days. As for that one,” he continued, pointing a finger at Jake, “he won’t be mining. He’s a bright one and he’ll be off to school and then into some other kind of work. But, wherever he goes, whatever he does, he’ll find there’s danger of one sort or another.”
“Yeah, but not like in mining,” Uncle Dan said. “For God’s sake, Joe, get your boys out of this coal country. You almost lost a son yesterday. If I can’t convince you, that should.”

“It only convinces me there’s danger in living. Danger’s a part of life. We saw one kind yesterday. You saw another last spring when you found out you had TB. Your safe job in the auto plant didn’t keep you from getting sick, did it?”

“That’s not the same thing and you know it. Don’t make excuses that won’t hold water. Get your boys out of here.”

Jake’s father took his empty cup to the sink. Then he went out the screen door onto the porch. He was done talking.

(This story originally appeared in the January 2004 edition of a little mag called Cold Glass)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Counterfeiters and Spys in the American Revolution

War is expensive.

This put the fledgling American colonies at a distinct disadvantage during the Revolutionary War. With little hard currency (gold or silver) to back it up, the Americans issued steadily increasing amounts of paper money to finance the rebellion. This printed money depreciated quickly.

By the 1780s it took an estimated 600 Continental dollars to buy supplies worth the equivalent of one Spanish dollar, the silver coin on which the colonies had relied for decades.

This dollar squeeze became an important strategy to the British. As early as 1776, they began counterfeiting the Colonial paper with the aim of undermining confidence in the money and the credit of the enemy.

This strategy and the spies who carried out the work play an important role in my Kindle novel, “The Accidental Spy.”

Desiring no part in the war, Dan McCracken is a young rogue wandering around Pennsylvania and living by his wits. Wounded in a run in with the law, he flees to Philadelphia where he’s rescued and nursed back to health by the lovely ward of Benedict Arnold’s procurement officer.

Dan finds himself attracted to his nurse. But when her husband returns from the front, he flees and falls in with a band of British spies.

He switches sides when he discovers his conscience through love. Ultimately, his actions will make him a hero.

Combining mystery, adventure and romance, I think you’ll find Spy an entertaining read. Best of all, it’s only $2.99. If you’ve already read it, I’d appreciate a review, tags and/or a ‘like.’ If not, you’ll find it at

Monday, April 18, 2011

Those Vital Elements

What is it that makes a story memorable?

Most of us can rattle off a string of elements we consider important and—if you’ve been around the writing game for any length of time—a number of them will probably be correct.

There are a few which are classic. These would include:

A. A character (or characters) we care about.
B. Conflict and challenge for the character(s).
C. Honest dialogue appropriate to the situation.
D. Image-provoking words.
E. A satisfactory conclusion.

I thought about this the other night after watching a delightful film called “The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill And Came Down A Mountain.” It’s a quiet, feel-good film with subtle humor, good acting, excellent cinematography and a pleasant score.

Those, of course, are all good qualities. But to me what makes it truly memorable is the characters and how well they fit the above-mentioned classic elements.

As I said, it’s a simple story. Two British cartographers visit a Welsh coal-mining village in 1917. Their purpose is to measure what is considered “the first mountain inside Wales.” Their calculations determine the mountain is merely a hill. But the villagers have had so much taken away from them by the continuing war they are stunned by this insult to their pride of place.

Hugh Grant is probably the major “star” of the film. But his role is simply overpowered by that of the supporting characters, particularly the arch-rivals Reverend Jones (Kenneth Griffin) and Morgan the Goat (Colm Meaney) who are brought together by Johnny, a shell-shocked soldier (Ian Hart), and inspire the entire village to work together to increase the height of the hill and bring it back to its former glory.

Inspired by a story he heard from his grandfather, the screenplay was written and directed by Christopher Monger. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend checking it out. Monger comes from a family of writers and painters and obviously knows a thing or two about writing. Among his other work is the script for the outstanding HBO bio-pic, “Temple Grandin.”

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Romantic Suspense Author Margaret Blake

My guest today is my friend, multi-published author Margaret Blake. Greetings Margaret. I believe you recently signed another contract with Whiskey Creek Press. What genre is this and any idea on when it will be available?

MB: Hi John. I’ve actually signed two new contracts with Whiskey Creek Press. The first is for “A Sprig of Broom,” which was first published in hardback in 1978 and was my first novel. It is a historical romantic suspense and is set in the 1470s and seeks, as did my previous historicals, to tell the truth about King Richard. My second signing is also for a romantic suspense novel, “The Longest Pleasure.”

JL: That’s great news for your readers—two novels to look forward to. I know your late husband, John, inspired you to begin writing. How difficult was it to find a publisher for your work? What was your path to publication?

MB: I sent a novel to Robert Hale Limited in London and they did not want to take it, but said they would be interested in seeing more of my work. I decided to try my hands at historicals and “A Sprig of Broom” was born. I have always written but never believed I could be published. It was John who encouraged me to seek publication. It was the most thrilling moment of my life when I received an acceptance letter. John and I drank champagne and just floated around on a cloud of pure joy all day.

JL: How do you plot your novels? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

MB: I don’t outline. I get an idea and I go with it. I never ‘write’ a plot; I just go with what the characters want to do. They really do take me over.

JL: Obviously you like romantic-suspense. Who are some of your favorite writers in the genre? Have any influenced your style?

MB: I read Mary Higgins Clark originally (and still do), but I am not sure if she is a suspense more than a romantic suspense author. Otherwise I read either romance novels or thrillers.

JL: So you do enjoy other genres.

MB: Yes, especially thrillers. I love a good thriller. I love Michael Connelly and Harlan Coben as well as Kathy Reichs. I actually saw Michael Connelly in The Cheesecake Factory in Tampa once, but was too shy to say hello. I do regret not doing that now. I think he is super—although I am disappointed with who is playing “The Lincoln Lawyer” in the film.

JL: Any chance of a future book in some other genre?

MB: I don’t think so. I am writing in three genres—romance, historical and suspense. I guess that’s enough for anyone. Do you think I should saddle up and try a Western as you’re doing, John?

JL: I wouldn’t see any harm in it. Seriously, you’ve done a lot of books. What about short stories?

MB: I have tried short stories, but it never worked for me. I don’t know when to stop. I don’t have the discipline required. I so admire people who can write short stories and keep their plots tight. You are good at it, John. I wish I could do that, but I just can’t.

JL: What do you do in the way of promotion for your writing?

MB: I use the Internet to promote. Also, I contact local newspapers. I belong to many groups where writers can promote themselves. Recently I’ve also been doing talks on writing and these can be good for selling books.

JL: What’s your take on the future of the electronic novel versus print?

MB: When we started there was not a lot going on in e-books. Now it has really exploded. With the advent of Kindle and other gizmos it is really taking off. I don’t own a Kindle but will probably be buying one. It would be so handy if you’re traveling and you can download books without looking for a bookstore. I am always running out of things to read, so it would be splendid. However, being an old-fashioned girl, I love the feel and smell of an actual book. There is something special about that. I think they will both live on side by side.

JL: What do you like doing aside from writing? Hobbies, interests, etc.?

MB: I love to go out with my walking groups. I am fortunate in that I live close by some of the most beautiful countryside England has to offer. So I love to walk there. I like TV and the cinema and, of course, love to read. I also follow my football (soccer) team—MANU. I love to go eat out with friends, too, whenever I get the chance.

JL: I think we agree, writing is learned by doing, rather than through college or other courses of training. How do you equate life experience in contrast to educational opportunities in the development of a writer?

MB: You can’t beat ‘real life.” I left school and went to work at 15. I had a variety of jobs and was always writing and reading. Eventually I did get to college but that was after I had already published about 11 novels. Life experience and people are grist to the mill for the writer; that and imagination. Think about the Bronte sisters who lived in that parsonage in a small village. The work they produced was fabulous. Although Charlotte did travel and go to work in Belgium I don’t believe Emily ever went very far from home.

JL: Yes. A singularly talented family. We share an admiration for them. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

MB: Don’t give up. You will receive rejections. But, if you are inspired, keep trying.
JL: Do you attend writers’ conferences? And, if so, any particular favorites?

MB: Not many. The ones in the USA are too far for me to attend, though I do come to the states to spend time with my family. I did attend one conference (I think it was the first for the Romantic Novelists Association) and found it useful and enjoyable. I am hoping to get to another, but probably not this year. I will do it again. I know I must. It might be worth mentioning that first conference was at Stonyhurst College in the Ribble Valley. Stonyhurst was founded in 1593. Tolkien was once there and it’s been said the Ribble Valley was an inspiration for his “Lord of the Rings.” I believe he wrote parts of his famous book there. There are Tolkien walks. It’s a beautiful area. The college is very old and inspirational. I loved it there.

JL: Thanks for being here today, Margaret. It’s been a pleasure. You can read more about Margaret and her books here:

Monday, March 28, 2011

In Spirit, If Not Place

Can a story set in Pennsylvania be considered a Western?

Probably not, if you want to get technical. But my publisher Billie Johnson thought Fallen From Grace met the test in spirit if not place and decided to make it the first entry in Wild Oaks, the new Western imprint of Oak Tree Press.

I couldn’t be happier, because I love the genre. I grew up (and now live again) in a house reputed to have been built by a man who rode with Buffalo Bill. My mother said she devoured pulp Westerns while carrying me and I cut my reading teeth on the likes of Zane Grey (who, incidentally, began his writing career in Pennsylvania), Emerson Hough, Jack London and others from my dad’s well-stocked library.

All of this contributed to a lifelong interest in the history of the West and desire to trod in the footsteps of those legendary characters, both actual and literary, discovered in my reading.

As I’ve said before, Fallen was inspired by a character. I had written two short stories featuring a country sheriff named Sylvester Tilghman who asserted himself and demanded a book. Characters can be like that. They pop up, sometimes seemingly out of no where, in a writer’s imagination, develop personalities and go on to lead us into stories. Tilghman’s grandfather was in my first novel, Schlussel’s Woman, and his father has a bit role in Watch The Hour. Maybe he thought it was a family prerogative to be one of my characters.

Fallen From Grace is set in the 1890s. Tilghman is the third in his family to serve as sheriff in the small town of Arahpot, a generally peaceful place. Usually, his biggest problems are lack of a deputy and the refusal of Lydia, his girlfriend, to marry him despite many proposals. But that all changes when Conrad Runkle, a stranger in town, is fatally stabbed. Tilghman questions Valentine Deibert, an obese man with a wife half his age. Runkle's widow arrives in Arahpot and informs Tilghman her husband was in pursuit of a man who had scammed him, bankrupting his business. Suspecting a connection, Sylvester pays another visit to Deibert only to discover him dead of arsenic poisoning. Sylvester is plunged into a flurry of unusual activity and danger. And Lydia is pushing her obnoxious cousin on him as a candidate for deputy. Things go from bad to worse until Sylvester finally unravels the mystery.

Fallen From Grace is available from the publisher,, from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other major booksellers.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering will I ever write a traditional Western, Oak Tree has the manuscript for another book, The Tithing Herd, set in the 19th century in New Mexico and featuring cowboys, bandits, Mormons and even an Indian or two.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Meet J. M. Dattilo

My guests today are Joe and Mary Clark Dattilo, co-authors (as J. M. Dattilo) of Time’s Edge, a sci-fi/fantasy novel.

JL: Let’s start things off by your telling us a little about the book.

JMD Time’s Edge is the first place winner of the Tassy Walden Award, a literary prize given by the Shoreline Arts Alliance of Connecticut. It's a sci-fi/fantasy tale with dollops of adventure, romance and humor. The narration from the book trailer is our favorite description of the story: Imagine being a Commander in the Galactic Armed Forces and on a mission so secret that you can’t be told what it is. Imagine being thrown into another time and place with no explanation. Imagine being stuck with a smart-mouthed computer, an ultra-correct android, and a seven-foot tall monster who knows both Santa Claus and Shakespeare. Imagine being lost in time with a woman who may either be falling in love with you or trying to kill you. Imagine being in a place that sits between worlds, dimensions, and times. Imagine Time’s Edge.

JL: What was the inspiration for this particular book?

JMD Time's Edge began as an idea Joe had while in college (nearly 30 years ago!). A science class got him to thinking about time travel and he wondered how a man from the distant future would view our present-day Earth.

JL: You write as a team. How did that come about, and how difficult/easy is it?

JMD We knew each other in college. While at a party, we began discussing plot ideas for Joe's time travel story and the next thing we knew, we were writing the book together. Is it difficult? Not really. We work very well together. Our basic method is for one to write a chapter and the other to edit the chapter. Often we each write the same chapter and then piece the best bits together!

JL: What’s your process in writing? Do you outline, or are you pantsers?

JMD We work with a very basic outline. We know where the story starts, where we want it to end up and some major points along the way. For everything else we trust to inspiration. This gives us a lot of creative freedom. We discovered early on that sticking to a detailed outline resulted in a too-rigid story. It's much more fun to place the characters in a situation and then see what they will do.

JL: How difficult was it to find a publisher for your work or, what was your path to publication?

JMD We had some publishing offers but we didn't like the predictable formulas which we would have been required to adhere to. (And if we hear the words "make it edgy" one more time...! Not every piece of fiction needs to be edgy!) So we opened our own publishing company, Cilcourt Books, and published Time's Edge via Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And we'd like to take a moment to brag that our sales are consistently in the top 1 to 2 percent with Time's Edge selling well world-wide.

JL: I understand you’re working on a sequel to Time’s Edge. When will it be available?

JMD Time's Secret is the next book in the series. It will be available in the Fall of 2011.

JL: Obviously you both like sci-fi and fantasy. Who are some of your favorite writers in the genre? Have any influenced your style?

JMD We really love Douglas Adams of "Hitchhiker" fame. Many others, too many to list, but a few are: Mary Stewart, Orson Scott Card, Isaac Asimov, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury... As far as influence??? There isn't really one author that we could say overly influenced how we write. Our style is a melding of two authors, both avid readers, so we bring a wide-range of reading experience to our work.

JL: What other genres do you read?

JMD: Everything! We're pretty eclectic when it comes to reading. Mary likes mysteries, historicals, romances, fantasy. Joe reads adventure, historical, sci-fi and a ton of non-fiction.

JL: Any chance of a future book in some other genre?

JMD Never say never! We don't have anything planned right now. However, Mary writes plays. Her first play, "Francine's Will", won a first place award in the Nutmeg Players New Works Festival and is published by Playscripts. She is currently working on a play titled "Strange Capers".

JL: What do you do in the way of promotion for your writing?

JMD We have an author page on Amazon, a Facebook page, a blog and a Goodreads page (where we just wound up a book giveaway that drew over 1,000 entries). We also created a book trailer, which is available on all our sites plus Youtube. We speak at schools, libraries and bookstores and just about anywhere else we get invited.

JL: What’s your take on the future of the electronic novel versus print?

JMD: Ebooks are going to be BIG. The ebook version of Time's Edge outsells the paperback version 3-to-1. This is going to be a rapidly growing and changing format with ebooks becoming more interactive. We think extras like sound and animation will be standard features in e-novels in the near future. Personally, we still love books and we do not prefer to read books in electronic formats. Books are not going to disappear. They're just going to become less popular, especially with younger readers.

JL: What do you like doing aside from writing? Hobbies, interests, etc.

JMD: Hobbies! Where do we begin? Joe: Historical simulation gaming, photography, short-wave radio, and repairing the house (No, wait. That's a part-time job.) Mary: gardening, landscaping, drawing, acting. Both: hiking, travel, canoeing and getting into predicaments that often serve as the basis for some of the scenes in our books.

Thanks for joining me here today, guys. For more information on the Dattilos and their work, here are some links:
Amazon kindle:
Amazon paperback:
Barnes & Noble:

Monday, February 7, 2011

My Debt to Thorne Smith

I recently spent some enjoyable time watching a film based on a memorable character created by humorist Thorne Smith.

The film is “Topper,” produced by Hal Roach in 1937, directed by Norman Z. McLeod, and starring Cary Grant, Constance Bennett, Roland Young and Billie Burke. In addition to a superb cast and lots of laughs the film, nominated for two Oscars, features some wonderful music by Hoagy Carmichael. Topper is a staid and hen-pecked banker whose life is turned topsy-turvy by a fun-loving ghost couple, George and Marion Kerby.

The film reminded me of the debt I owe Smith, though his books and this film were produced before I was born. In fact, the film reminded me how many writers have been influenced by him—some probably even unaware of that influence.

Though most younger readers won’t even recognize the name, Thorne Smith influenced several generations of writers, particularly in the fields of science fiction and fantasy, and his ideas have been liberally lifted and reused in books as well as radio, television and film scripts.

I was introduced to Smith with the advent of the television series which had its debut in 1953 on CBS and starring Leo G. Carroll in the starring role. This led me to his books, which I discovered to have more depth and color than permissible on 1950s TV. Enamored of the theme, I was inspired to write a novella (my first long work) with a character I called Herkimer. Of course it was derivative and terrible. But it inspired me to keep trying and do better.

Would that have happened without Smith? Probably. But I still think I owe him a word of thanks for providing some incentive.

A native of Annapolis, Md., James Thorne Smith Jr. began his literary career as a poet, wrote a serious novel which failed, penned a mystery (“Did She Fall?) which was praised by Dashiell Hammett, and finally found his niche in humor. “Topper,” his best-selling work, inspired a film series, two sequels and a television series. Despite this success, high-living and poor money managing skills forced Smith to work in advertising to support his family. For a more complete biography and information on his career I direct you to the excellent tribute site,

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Interview With Wayne D. Dundee

I’m pleased to have as my guest today Wayne D. Dundee. Wayne is the author of the Joe Hannibal private eye series and the founder of Hardboiled Magazine, which over the years has featured the work of many of today’s crime writers. I think you’ll find his comments interesting and informative.
JL: Wayne, You’ve signed a contract with Oak Tree Books for your first Western novel, Dismal River, due out this year. What’s the premise of the novel?
WD: DISMAL RIVER is the tale of an 1887 expedition, funded by an English lord, venturing into Nebraska's vast, untamed Sandhills. They are guided, reluctantly, by former Indian scout Lone McGantry. The purpose of the expedition is partly pure adventure, for the English lord, and partly scientific exploration for the scientists who accompany him. Of course things do not go as planned---due to natural elements, strife and ulterior motives from within the group, and a gang of ruthless marauders in pursuit of their own agenda.

The premise was partly inspired by an actual event---an 1870 expedition of Yale paleontologists who traveled to the Sandhills in search of evidence of past inhabitants. Locally, the outing came to be called "The Bone Hunt". In fact, the Yale expedition determined that the whole Sandhills region (for much of the 1800s considered by white men to be a worthless inland desert) had once been a massive lake; and they also unearthed some marvelous fossil finds from the age of dinosaurs---bones from giant rhino-like creatures, giant tortoises, mastodon remains, etc. Another inspiration was a coinciding legend from the Pawnee Indians that tells of a race of giant men created by the Great Spirit who once lived in the region. But they were so large and powerful that they defied the Spirit so he had to wipe them out with a great flood (sound familiar?) and start over with a race of smaller, more manageable beings. Giving credence to this---and a reference I include in my novel---was a story told by none other than Buffalo Bill Cody (who wasn't above embellishing things more than a little bit). Cody claimed that once on a scouting expedition for the Army he'd been brought some giant bones by the Pawnee braves accompanying him and that these bones were identified by an Army medic also in the group as being human in nature. But at the time Cody's outfit didn't have the means to transport the bones and they were never found again.

JL: For years we’ve been hearing the Western is dead. What’s your take on that?

WD: Pretty much the same way I feel when I hear that PI fiction---the other genre I write in---is dead. I stubbornly refuse (more with my heart than my head perhaps) to believe it.

As far as Westerns, I fear there were a couple of generations---those currently in their teens and twenties---who were "tuned out" from them, possibly simply due to lack of exposure. Now, however, with the recent box office success of the TRUE GRIT remake and hits like 3:10 TO YUMA and the DEADWOOD TV series, maybe that window is opening again. Hell, there's even a video game called RED DEAD REDEMPTION that is hugely popular and next they're coming out with a big budget movie called COWBOYS VS. ALIENS.

Maybe that's a little too much cross-pollination or bastardization or whatever you want to call it, but if it sparks renewed interest in more traditional Westerns then I'll take it. Hard to believe that the sweep and grandeur of the Old West and the world-renowned image of the iconic American Cowboy won't always have an appeal to some portion of the reading/movie-going public.

JL: What was it drew you to write a Western? Could part of the inspiration have been your move from the Midwest to the wilder terrain of Nebraska?

WD: I've long had a "hankering" to do some Westerns. Back in the early ‘90s I wrote a short story and a novel (not DISMAL RIVER) that were never published. But moving out here to west central Nebraska certainly re-vitalized my interest in the genre. The cowboy spirit is still very much alive out here, and the whole area is rich in the history of the Old West. The Platte River valley, where I live, was the natural highway followed by mountain men, wagon trains, the Pony Express, the Union Pacific railroad, and on and on. I can practically step out my back door and stand in wagon ruts left over from the Oregon Trail ... Oh yeah, this area is inspiring indeed. When we first decided to move out here (relocating with the company I worked for nearly four decades) both my late wife and I knew that a big reason I was keen to make the move was because the little kid in me would be coming to "cowboy country".

JL: I know you’ve written a number of short stories featuring him recently, but is there another Joe Hannibal novel awaiting publication?

WD: Yeah, the seventh Hannibal novel, GOSHEN HOLE, has been completed for some time. (And the eighth, BLADE OF THE TIGER, is already underway.) I thought I had a publication deal for GOSHEN early on, but that fell through and so far I haven't found a new home for it. I'm giving some serious thought to publishing GOSHEN HOLE as an e-book original, in conjunction with the re-release of earlier titles in the series. We'll see how that goes. In the meantime, I'm continuing to keep Joe in shape by putting him through his paces in a series of short stories.

JL: How do you plot your novels? Are you an outliner or a pantser? Would you give us some insight into your writing routine?

WD: Wow, I have a number of writing quirks that I wouldn't necessarily recommend for anybody else to follow. I start with the bare bones of a premise (or plot, if you will) and a title---I can't write very far without knowing my title (quirk #1). The title, I feel, sets the tone for the story and provides a thrust and a flow that everything streams toward.
I don't outline per se`. What I *do* do (quirk #2) is write out my "cast of characters" and add a blurb telling a little about each and/or how they will fit into the story. It goes like this: Joe Hannibal - tough private eye; Abby Bridger - Joe's lady friend; Widow Hardluck - the lonely, unsuspecting old woman whose property hides a rich treasure; Snidley Sleazeball - the lowdown skunk who's out to bilk the widow out of her treasure; etc. Unless demanded by the publisher, that's as close to an outline as I come.

As far as my writing "routine" I'm afraid it's not very disciplined either. If I'm really "cooking" on a story I write almost every spare minute. Otherwise, I do correspondence, check news, etc. in the early morning; write through mid-day to early evening; write a little more after supper. Some of this "writing", when I'm not focused on a particular story, maybe in the form of blogging or book reviews.

JL: You’ve mentioned Edgar Rice Burroughs and Mickey Spillane as early writing influences. What other writers inspire you?

WD: Inspire? John D. MacDonald; Donald Hamilton; Robert E. Howard; Gordon D. Shireffs; T.V. Olson; Louis L'Amour; Jack London; Mark Twain.

There are many fine current writers whose work I admire and find inspirational in the sense that it pushes me to work harder and try to be better at the craft. But I don't want to get into a list of contemporaries due to the risk of inadvertently leaving somebody out

JL: I think we agree, writing is learned by experience; that is, doing, rather than through college or other courses of training. How do you equate life experience in contrast to educational opportunities in the development of a writer?

WD: Writing "courses" can teach you mechanics like spelling, punctuation, formatting, and so forth---but other than that I'll take life experiences, hands down. And "writing experience", by which I mean time actually spent *writing*, pounding out words, finding your voice for narration, description, dialogue, and all the rest.

If you strive to be a writer, you should automatically be a watcher and listener of the people and events around you. This accumulation of observations will eventually (sometimes subconsciously) leech into your writing and begin to give it a distinction and flavor that no course can teach you.

JL: Do you attend writers’ conferences? And, if so, any particular favorites?

WD: I attended several Bouchercons early on but then, over the past several years, had pretty much gotten away from conferences. I attended Mayhem in the Midwest last year in Omaha, however, and enjoyed it a lot. I'm sure I'll go back to that one this year, and I'm scouting for some others that, budget-wise and distance-wise (I hate flying), are feasible for me to attend.

Writing is a somewhat isolated gig (somebody once said that the word "lonely" is for other people, the word "solitude" is for writers) so it is good to get out and mingle with your peers from time to time.

JL: What advice would you give the aspiring writer?

WD: Write, write, write ... and read, read, read. Write to develop your own skills, read to study where it is you want to get to and how it is being done by others already there. Study the market, chose the right place for your work, and start submitting. Rejection slips (which you are bound to get) are learning tools and building blocks. The vast array of internet sites for fiction in all genres --- augmenting traditional publications --- amounts to a market for writers to hone their craft almost as wide open as it was in the "golden age" of pulp magazines. Dive in and swim hard to find a place for your byline!

JL: What’s your opinion on the growth of the e-novel? The state of publishing in general?

WD: I think e-books are here to stay...this coming from somebody who has always loved the physical act of holding and reading a traditional paper book. I even love riffling the pages and savoring the smell of fresh ink in a new book.
I think traditional paper publishing will continue to exist at some level.

When I first heard about e-reading devices I didn't find the concept very appealing (and probably didn't fully understand how it even worked). But, having gotten a Kindle reader for Christmas, I am now aboard as a big fan. At my age and with my tired old eyes, the advantages of holding the ultra light device in a single comfortable position, with the print set to an eye-pleasing size, and then flipping pages with a simple thumb, the pages fly by.

And the concept of having about a jillion books all contained in that slim device--- as opposed to all the books in all the shelves surrounding me as I write this (not to mention more piles of books stacked on every flat surface available)---yeah, the attractions of e-books are many.

As far as publishing in general? Hell, who can say. I think the big outfits will continue to struggle and the small press houses will come on stronger as long as they maintain a more personal link with their readers and treat/nurture their writers respectfully. Other than that, I don't know ... and I don't think anybody else does, either.

JL: Wayne, thanks for spending some time with us today. Readers and writers, you can learn more about Wayne and his work (including links to those new Joe Hannibal short stories mentioned above) at his website,, and his blog,

Monday, January 10, 2011

Every Book Offers a Lesson

I probably have more books than many small town libraries. I haven’t read them all, but that doesn’t stop me from gathering more. There isn’t a room in my house without its assortment of books. I received a Kindle for Christmas and that provides a new and fascinating means of accumulating (and reading) books.

Admittedly, I’m the exception to the modern American, based on recent dismal statistics on the decline of reading. I like reading. I share Somerset Maugham’s opinion (The Book Bag) “I would sooner read the catalogue of the Army and Navy stores or Bradshaw’s Guide than nothing at all.”

I don’t believe one can be a writer and not be a reader.

Stephen King has said he likes to read. Now I’m not comparing myself to King—just the simple fact we both enjoy reading. But we do share the belief every book has its lesson for the writer. King has also remarked in “On Writing” that often bad books have more to teach than good ones. John Fowles made the same observation.

Fowles was a voracious reader who was guided more by his own curiosity than any authority. He read and absorbed everything—from classics to trash, from psychology to mathematics. And he found value in all he read. In his diary, he noted: “A bad novel of 1857 tells one much more about 1857 than a good one.”

Mark Twain was another constant reader. In his excellent “Mark Twain, A Life,” Ron Powers says “…he read all the time, his choices as eclectic and humanistic as his narratives would prove to be.”

Some (such as Capote) dismiss Jack Kerouac as a “typist” rather than a writer. But examine his journals and you’ll see how serious Kerouac was about reading and writing. On Oct. 17, 1949, he mentions reading Thomas Merton’s confession, the Telemachus chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses in which Stephen Dadalus expounds his theory on Hamlet’s heredity, reading Hamlet “line by line” (and also considering how he would act it), Donne’s Holy Sonnets, and “…the magnificent speeches of Ahab in Moby Dick.”

Madeleine L’Engle recalls her early school years as a “dismal experience” in which she had poor teachers and learned nothing. For solace, she turned to reading and thinking alone. Though she admits having a better educational experience in high school and college, L’Engle believes she wouldn’t have written her books had she been happy in those formative years.

Francis Bacon summed it up succinctly, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”