Mystery Author Michael Guillebeau Blends Sharp Writing with Quirky Characters and Offbeat Humor

I first met Michael Guillebeau at Killer Nashville, where the manuscript for his first novel, Josh Whoever, was a top ten finalist for the Claymore Awards. That book was published by Five Star Mysteries in 2013 and received a starred review from Library Journal, was named a Mystery Debut of the Month by them, and was a finalist for that year’s Silver Falchion Award.

Michael Guillebeau's author photo

I’m happy to say I saw it coming. Michael has a quirky wit and a fresh way with words. He’s not only a fine storyteller but a masterful wordsmith. His short story, “The Man in the Moon,” which you can read for free in our collection Eight Mystery Writers You Should be Reading Now, is so poignant and beautiful it gave me chills when I first read it in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. 

Book Cover for Eight Mystery Writers You Should Be Reading Now

Michael’s upcoming release, MAD Librarian, is about a librarian determined to fund her library by any means necessary–even if it means leaving a trail of thefts and bodies in her wake. In the process of writing it, he realized how little support our libraries get and decided to do something about it.  You can read about his writing and his new “Mad Librarian” project in this interview.

Jaden: Mike, you and I have been writing buddies for a long time. What’s the weirdest part of the writer experience for you?

Mike: (laughs) All of it. You get paid for drinking coffee, staring out the window and lying. When I did those things in the fifth grade, I got to stare at the corner a lot. Maybe that’s where I picked up the habit of living inside my head.

Seriously, I think the most overlooked part of being a writer is this: you can’t be a writer by doing writer things. I think most of us wanted to be writers so we could be famous and give interviews and maybe wear a beret.

And—except for the beret—that is a lot of what being a successful writer is about. Unless you want to write great stories and keep them in your desk drawer, you have to spend a lot of time marketing and publicizing and networking and…

But that has nothing to do with writing. Writing is sitting alone in a room with the characters in your head demanding to get out, and your doubts demanding that they stay in. Elmore Leonard and Ray Bradbury both said that they had to write a million words before they knew how to write. If you don’t kill the “writer,” at least sometimes, you’ll never get past the first hundred, much less a million.

Jaden: OK, so how do you get the writer and the writing to play nice?

Mike: Damned if I know. I am the poster child for failure in that department. I wrote my first four books over a two-year period, and sold three of them, all the while juggling writing things and writer things. I retired, knowing I would now write a lot faster. But my writer’s head had swelled to the point where it couldn’t get back into my writing room. Nothing worked until I was stopped short one day, reading a book on marketing from Tim Grahl, who is the guru of book marketing and a great friend. The first line of his book said, “None of this works unless you really believe that everyone should buy your book.”

I pushed back from my now-dusty writing desk and stared at my trophy rack of published books for a long time. There was a funny book about the meaning of heroism and honesty that Library Journal named a Mystery Debut of the Month. You should read it if you’re a point in your life where you feel like crawling into a closet and staying drunk (my POV starts there). Two other books that I can recommend for different people.

But nothing that I wanted to run out in the street and demand that people read.

Jaden: I can completely identify with that. But deciding on the front end that you’re trying to write a masterpiece is the surest way I know of to block your writing. What did you do?

Mike: You’re exactly right, Beth. My tagline on a couple of writing forums before that was “Writing crap every day” and I would really recommend that. Write crap, look at it later and be surprised.

But that’s not where I was. I wanted to do something better—much better. I was willing to do much worse if I failed, but I wasn’t willing to do the same old thing. It took me three hard years of getting up every day and struggling with two books that I wrote together. It was enormously inefficient—I had to write 180,000 words on MAD Librarian to get a 70,000 word book. But it’s done now, and I’m proud of it. MAD Librarian is a mostly-light-somewhat-noir book about a librarian who has to steal and kill to make her library great. It’s a fun, emotional read, but anyone who reads it will have a deeper understanding of what’s going on in our neglected libraries, and what libraries could do with more support. Because of what I learned, and the heroes I saw in libraries every day, half of all my income from this book are going to a small fund I’m starting at madlibrarian.org to get money to librarians.

Book Cover for MAD LIBRARIAN

Jaden: What a great idea. It sounds like this has been a real journey for you, too.

Mike: Yeah. Some readers think we control our characters. Writers know that your characters own you and haunt you until you get their story down on the page, and get it right. Throughout the last three years, every morning I’ve stared at a cover mockup with the single word MAD on it in big red letters. And every word I wrote, even the funny ones, is angry-mad. And, by the end, like my librarian, I think I was a little crazy-mad. And enthusiastic-mad for all of you to see this baby.

Jaden: I can’t wait. Your books are always a treat.

Readers, if you’d like to know more about Michael and his work, check out his website at http://michaelguillebeau.com.

 

 

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Q&A with Literary Thriller Author Philip Cioffari: The Bronx Kill

I heard Philip speak at Murder in the Magic City, a terrific little conference held every yearAuthor Philip Cioffari on Red Car in Birmingham, AL. He was articulate and personable, and you could tell that, not only did he have a passion for the act of writing, he had a passion for the craft of writing. This was a writer for whom writing a pretty good story was never going to be enough. He was going to take the time to deepen characters, explore ideas in depth, and polish the language until it shone.

I bought a copy of his first book, Catholic Boys,with great anticipation, and I wasn’t disappointed. I love character-driven fiction, and I love novels that make me think and feel deeply. Catholic Boys delivered on both counts. The characters are rich and layered, the themes well developed but never heavy-handed. His descriptions remind me of James Lee Burke’s–vivid and lyrical, poetic without being overdone.

His neCover of Jesusville by Philip cioffarixt books, Jesusville and Dark Road, Dead End, also became favorites. Set against the backdrop of a decaying Bible theme park called “The Holy Land,” Jesusville takes two lost souls on a journey toward redemption–if they can stay alive long enough. In Dark Road, Dead End, an undercover U.S. Customs agent ends up targeted by crime lords and even by someone in his own agency as he investigates a wildlife smuggling ring–boatloads of exotic species of birds and mammals ferried through the Everglades as part of a vast criminal enterprise that supplies rare and endangered species to pet stores, private hunt clubs, wildlife safari parks and even to highly respectable municipal zoos.

 

 

But his most recent novel, The Bronx Kill, may be his best yet.  Reminiscent of Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River, The Bronx Kill explores friendship, rivalry, and the destructive power of secrets when five men, friends since childhood, find themselves the targets of a detective  determined to administer his own brand of vigilante justice.

Philip was kind enough to agree to an interview here are Crimereaders.

Why don’t we start with a little bit about your writing journey and how you came to be a writer?

I’ve been writing since the age of nine, so writing has always been a part of my life. My first stories were either mystery, baseball or cowboy stories. I was heavily influenced by the Hardy Boys series, so I think that’s why mystery and suspense have always been so important to me as narrative devices. I was also influenced by the Black Stallion series with its, to me, exotic settings and its exciting adventures.

So all of that—mystery, suspense, adventures both major and minor—impels me in my writing. I’ve also always been fascinated by the most mysterious of all entities, the human being. So my narratives are largely character-driven. I started out publishing short stories in commercial and literary magazines. I did this for many years. I also published some poetry and had several plays produced. The novel, though, is the form I’ve always aspired to. So I moved from publishing a collection of stories to the four novels I’ve written thus far.

How would you describe your work, and what attracts you to that genre?

A lot of my work, and certainly this novel in particular, I would describe as character-driven suspense. Character development and tension go hand-in-hand in my work. I guess I’m attracted to that because it seems to me to be the underpinning, the subtext, of the lives we lead. Or the life I lead, at any rate.

Where did you get the inspiration for this book?Cover of The Bronx Kill by Philip Cioffari

The inspiration for this book came from two primary sources. The first is the place itself, the Bronx Kill, which is a channel of water that runs between the Harlem and East Rivers in the southernmost section of the Bronx. It is a weedy, overgrown and forsaken section of abandoned fields and rail yards, a lawless and unsupervised area cut off from the civilization around it. In there, man is on his own, to survive as best he can.

The second inspiration came from the three main characters and their relationship to one another. I wanted to show how men interact, their power struggles, how they jockey for position in the male pecking order. And, because this is a love story at heart, I wanted to show how the presence of a desirable woman changes that dynamic and brings the boys/men into conflict with one another, how it strains their relationship as friends. Growing up in the Bronx allowed me up-close contact with both of these sources of inspiration.

Your descriptive passages are so evocative. What’s your secret for creating such vivid word-pictures?

I wish I could tell you. I try to make each scene visual and vivid by using the details of place, character and mood. I try to capture the feel of the place, the feel of the characters in that place, which might include details of time of day, weather conditions, the interior life of the characters, what they are doing, thinking. I want to see this all in my mind clearly in hopes that the reader will see and feel it, as well.

You write beautifully complex characters. How do you manage it, and why is it so important?

By nature, as human beings, we are complex beings. We have contradictory thoughts and feelings. Our feelings range at any given moment from the sublime to the primal. It’s the old mind/body dichotomy. I try to include that entire range of thought and feeling. I pay a lot of attention to what a character wants at any given time, and the complexity of that wanting, and the multi-layered ways a character goes about getting what he/she wants. And, equally important, how a character reacts when he/she doesn’t get what is wanted.

What would you say the theme is, and how do you infuse it throughout the book? Is it a conscious process?

I don’t think about theme when I’m writing. In fact, I don’t know what the theme is when I’m writing. It’s in the process of writing the story that a theme or themes emerge. Basically, I concentrate on telling the most compelling story I can. Themes will take care of themselves.

 Which authors have influenced your writing, and in what way?

A lot of Southern writers have influenced me: Faulkner, Styron, Capote, Carson McCullers, Robert Penn Warren, William Humphrey, Flannery O’Connor. Their writing is so lush with description, with a sense of place. Their characters are inseparable from place. In their prose, these writers are able to weave a sense of beauty, mystery, often with an underlying sense of the sinister lurking right below the surface.

Want to know more of the story behind The Bronx Kill?

If you’d like to read more of the story behind the Bronx Kill, check out this interview at The Story Behind the Story.

Philip Cioffari Bio:

Philip Cioffari Head ShotPhilip Cioffari is the author of the novels: THE BRONX KILL; DARK ROAD, DEAD END; JESUSVILLE; CATHOLIC BOYS; and the short story collection, A HISTORY OF THINGS LOST OR BROKEN, which won the Tartt Fiction Prize, and the D. H. Lawrence award for fiction. His short stories have been published widely in commercial and literary magazines and anthologies, including North American Review, Playboy, Michigan Quarterly Review, Northwest Review, Florida Fiction, and Southern Humanities Review. He has written and directed for Off and Off-Off Broadway. His Indie feature film, which he wrote and directed, LOVE IN THE AGE OF DION, has won numerous awards, including Best Feature Film at the Long Island Int’l Film Expo, and Best Director at the NY Independent Film & Video Festival. He is Professor of English, a member of the MFA faculty, and director of the Performing and Literary Arts Honors Program, at William Paterson University. www.philipcioffari.com

 

 

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J.H. Bogran’s Poisoned Tears

Thriller Author J.H. BogranJ. H. Bográn was born and raised in Honduras. The son of a journalist, José prefers fiction–specifically, thrillers with a touch of romance. I met him online when I began writing interviews for The Big Thrill, the online magazine published by International Thriller Writers (ITW). Not only does he write for them, he’s the guy who coordinates the assignments, so once a month or so, we exchange emails.

Eventually, of course, I wanted to check out his work, which (so far) consists of three novels and contributions to three short story anthologies. I found his work to be punchy and fast-paced, with a dark grit that fans of noir crime novels should love.

And these covers…beautiful, no?

Banner with J. H. Bogran and book covers

 

His third book, Poisoned Tears, features a retired Dallas private investigator named Alan According to the cover blurb, “Knox dislikes New Orleans so much he won’t even drink Abita, the local beer.”

The grudge began during the Superdome game that ruined his knee and destroyed his promising pro football career. But then his estranged son calls from the Big Easy and asks for help finding a missing fiance. Knox,motivated in large part by guilt, leaves Texas to take the case, but he quickly finds himself embroiled in a hunt for a serial killer who uses exotic poisonous animals to dispatch his victims.

Poisoned Tears Cover

I loved the unusual weapon of choice and enjoyed the darkly complex characters. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Take a look at these reviews (and then check out his books here):

“J.H. Bográn’s masterful new novel, Poisoned Tears, is a first class roller-coaster ride, a well-crafted thriller that offers plenty of twists, turns, and surprises. The story draws you in and won’t let you go until the final shocking revelation. I highly recommend this book!”
–Douglas Preston, #1 bestselling co-author of the famed Pendergast series

Poisoned Tears is a splendid piece of crime noir. J. H. Brogan’s darkly original tale breathes fresh life into the moribund serial killer genre, going the likes of James Patterson and Thomas Harris one better by adding all manner of creepy, crawly creatures to the mix. Brilliantly conceived and wondrously realized, this is reading entertainment of the highest order.”
–Jon Land, USA Today bestselling author of Strong Light of Day

“J. H. Bogran’s Poisoned Tears takes PI Alan Knox on a ride through the Big Easy that is anything but easy. It’s slick, slippery, and deadly.”
–Barry Lancet, award-winning author of Japantown and Pacific Burn

“Like New Orleans, the city in which Poisoned Tears takes place, J. H. Bogran’s crime story delivers a slow burn. Stay with it, and you might end up with blisters.”
–Raymond Benson, author of “The Black Stiletto” series

“Great plot, colorful descriptions of NOLA and well-drawn characters. Poisoned Tears is full of so many twists and turns that it will make your head spin long before you get to the heart-thumping surprise ending.”
–Paul Kemprecos, author of The Minoan Cipher

 

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Q&A with Edgar Winner Steven Womack: The Return of Harry James Denton

Steven Womack's Author PhotoAlmost every time I go to a book signing or festival, at least one person says to me, “You know who I like? That guy who wrote about that Nashville PI, Harry James Denton.”

Steven Womack,” I say. “And I know what you mean. I like him too.”

In fact, Harry James Denton is the reason my own Nashville private detective is a former homicide detective and not a journalist. Because Harry was a journalist, and I thought Steve had done that about as well as it could be done. Every book in that series either won or was short-listed for a major award.

To say I was (and am) a huge fan of his work would be an understatement. Once, when my husband and I were at the local Barnes & Noble, I saw Steve sitting behind a pile of books. The store was slow, and there was no one at his table. “I’d love to meet him,” I told Mike, “but I already have all his books, and I can’t afford to buy another copy right now.”

“Go over and talk to him,” Mike said. “Tell him how much you like his books.”

I gave my hero a longing look. “He probably hears that all day long. I bet he’s tired of it.”

My husband was wiser than I was. I didn’t go, and of course, now I know Steve would have loved it if I had. A few years later, Steve and I were on a panel together, and I told that story. We laugh about it now.

Cover for Dead Folks' BluesOn March 31st, Steve reissued the first three books in the Harry James Denton series under his own imprint, Spearhead Press. I spoke with him recently, and as he explains, he’s been working on bringing Dead Folks’ Blues, Torch Town Boogie and Way Past Dead back to readers for a couple of years.

He agreed to answer a few questions for all of you Crimereaders out there.

Why did you decide to reissue these books under your own imprint? How did all this come about?

 It was a series of factors, and while I don’t mean to go into my college professor lecture mode here, a lot of it goes back almost fifteen years, to when the publishing business really began to change. In the late 90s forward, it became almost impossible to make a living as a midlist writer. Over a period of years, the mass-market paperback—which is how most of us genre midlist guys made a living—dwindled to a much smaller market share. The number of book distributors in this country dropped by about 95 percent and the mainstream New York traditional publishers began to gobble each other up. Now there only five majors left, six if you count Kensington. So the opportunities for writers who weren’t New York Times best-sellers (or promising new voices) to actually make a living became quite rare.

I was lucky because I have a teaching job to fall back on, but for about eight years I didn’t sell anything. Then I collaborated on a book that no one would take but a small, fourth-tier publisher. That book went nowhere. After that, I spent two years working on a proposal that I felt was the strongest commercial book I’d ever done and I couldn’t even get my agent interested in it. She begrudgingly sent it to a half-dozen editors, the last of whom sat on it for almost eight months before turning it down with a four-line email.

I admit it: I was pissed. More importantly, I finally saw the handwriting on the wall. The mainstream, commercial publishing business has always been about the numbers, which is something a lot of younger writers don’t get. I certainly didn’t early on. But now more than ever, if you don’t get the sales, then all the mystery awards, prize nominations, and reviews don’t mean shit in terms of making a living in this game. I’ve got an Edgar, a Shamus and a New York Times Notable Book and I couldn’t sell crack cocaine in a New York publishing house.

So you’ve given up on traditional publishing?

I sent my agent an email and told her I could fail this spectacularly without her help, thank you very much. I severed our professional relationship, turned my back and walked away. But you never say never. If an editor at a New York house came to me and wanted to work together, then of course I’d talk. But my days of jumping up and down while wagging my tail and barking like a rescue dog at a pet adoption fair, going pick me pick me, are over.

Cover for Torch Town BoogieI think a lot of us could identify with that image! So what is the future for you and other writers in the same boat?

The other huge change in the publishing business has been the digital revolution and the invention of EBooks. When Amazon created the Kindle early in the 21st century, that was the equivalent of Gutenberg inventing movable type in the middle of the 15th century. I don’t think people have even yet gotten their heads completely around it. It has literally turned the world of writing and publishing upside down. Now, literally anyone can be a publisher. It’s easier than ever to get books out to readers. As a result, there are more books being published than ever, which of course also means it’s harder than ever to get discovered, build a readership, and make any money.

It’s still a tough mother of a game…

Cover of Way Past DeadIt sounds a little daunting. Was it technically difficult to begin publishing digital books?

There’s a learning curve, but it’s doable. I had a leg up because I spent almost a decade early in my career working in publishing. I worked in the art department, not the editorial side. I was a typesetter and a paste-up artist and curiously enough, there are real similarities between traditional typesetting and book design and modern digital publishing. It also helped that I took a course in web design. I’m no designer; I wouldn’t know good design if it ran up behind me and bit me on the ass. But I can handle the formatting and the coding.

I actually started Spearhead Press almost four years ago. We published two books by my writer-wife, Shalynn Ford Womack. We published them as Kindle editions and as POD trade paperbacks. They were pretty nice books, if I do say so myself. They did okay and we learned a lot. Then I published a nonfiction chapbook/rant a year-and-a-half ago called Why Politics Sucks. It didn’t sell much, but again, it was another big chunk of the learning curve.

Then I got the rights back to the six Harry James Denton novels and my three Jack Lynch novels, which were set in New Orleans. They’re all in line to come out under the Spearhead Press imprint.

We’ve ramped everything up. I hired a fabulous cover designer and have a regular freelance copyeditor/proofreader. I’m going to publish my own out-of-print, rights-reverted stuff first and then assess how much more I can do. I’d love to publish other writers, but that’s a ways off.

Your first novel, Murphy’s Fault, was published over twenty-five years ago. Do you still have the passion for writing that you did then?

Okay, you got me. I’m an old guy. But I love the process of writing as much as I ever did and I still have goals, dreams, hopes and aspirations. I try to remember that the weird part of being a writer is that the writing tries to feed your soul while the business simultaneously tries to kill it.

Sometimes I feel like a failure because I haven’t achieved the level of success that I hoped for early in my career. Then I try and remember that I did publish a dozen books or so in five languages, won a couple of awards, all while having a family and a twenty-five year teaching career. And the game’s not over…

Not even close. I don’t think you realize what an inspiration you’ve been to other writers, or how much your readers love Harry. So, can you give us the scoop on what’s next for Harry James Denton?

I loved writing those books and the only reason I quit was because I tried to move the series to another publisher when the market was just beginning to tighten up. But people seem really happy to see him back—I sold a couple of copies in Australia the first weekend—and I hope he finds a whole new readership. I’m working on Chain of Fools right now, with Murder Manual and Dirty Money next in the queue.

After that, I’m going to bring Harry back and write a new Harry James Denton novel. I’m in the brainstorming phase now and while I don’t have it completely together, I will say that we’ll pick up Harry about fifteen years after we last saw him. He’s older, a little bit wiser, a whole lot more successful, but with the same quirky aspects that seemed to draw readers to him in the first place…

Until that’s done, though, you can find Harry’s early adventures at the Spearhead Press website www.SpearheadPress.com or on my website www.StevenWomack.com.

 

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Larissa Reinhart: An Intrepid World Traveler with Georgia on Her Mind

Larissa Reinhart photoSince there’s no way to top the bio on Larissa Reinhart‘s website, I’ll share a taste of it with you here. It starts like this:

Larissa considers herself lucky to have taught English in Japan, escaped a ferocious monkey in Thailand, studied archaeology in Egypt, and survived teaching high school history in the US. However, adopting her daughters from China has been her most rewarding experience. After moving around the Midwest, the South and Japan, she considers Peachtree City, Georgia, her home address.

Clearly, Larissa is an adventurer.  She’s also a fine writer. And did I mention she’s beautiful? Look at her there, smiling in her jeans and  denim jacket, looking like she should be on the cover of a magazine. It would be enough to make you hate her if she weren’t just so darn nice.

But nice she is, which means you just can’t help but be happy at her success.

She’s also a member of the Mysterious Eight, which means she’s a contributor to the sampler/anthology Eight Mystery Writers You Should Be Reading Now. Her section contains an interview and a sample chapter from Portrait of a Dead Guy, the first book in the Georgia-based Cherry Tucker series. The most recent in the series is A Composition in Murder.

Book Cover for Larissa Reinhart's A COMPOSITION IN MURDERCherry is an amateur sleuth, an artist by trade. When the series began, she was unemployed, but now teaches art in a local retirement residence. As someone who dabbles in art, I’m always interested in books about artists, and while I generally prefer darker fare, I do occasionally like a good cozy–and Larissa does know how to write a good cozy. Quirky characters, a likable heroine, a small-town setting, and a number of ongoing subplots make this series a charming addition to the cozy genre. The nursing home setting adds a lot of sweet (and sassy) moments too.

Larissa is about to launch a brand new humorous mystery series. Also set in Georgia, this one takes place in the mountain and lake resort town of Black Pine. However, as Larissa says, “This Georgia Peach’s imported from Hollywood. She’s brought her Gucci’s but is leaving her past behind for a detective do-over.”

Here’s a blurb. Doesn’t it sound like fun?

Child star and hilarious hot mess Maizie Albright trades Hollywood for the backwoods of Georgia and pure delight ensues. Maizie’s my new favorite escape from reality.” — Gretchen Archer, USA Today bestselling author of the Davis Way Crime Caper series

16 Millimeters, Maizie Albright Star Detective #2, launches June 20th. Look for the cover reveal on Dru’s book musing on May 7th.

Want to know more about Larissa? Check out this interview I did with her for The Big Thrill,the online magazine published by International Thriller Writers‘.

Or go to her website, http://larissareinhart.com/.

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Guest Author Jean Rabe: Do You Have O.C.W.?

jean-head-shot-sepiaI met Jean Rabe at Killer Nashville, where she and sometime writing partner Don Bingle racked up so many Silver Falchion awards in the paranormal category that I stopped keeping count. It was a lot. Or for those of you familiar with Watership Down, the number of awards they won was hrair.

Apparently, Jean doesn’t believe in doing anything halfway.

I say I met her at KN, but after we’d talked for a while I realized that, as a long-time role-player and reader of fantasy novels, I’d read some of her Dragonlance books. So I’ve been a fan for a long time, even though I didn’t know it, and I became a fan again when I picked up a copy of her debut mystery novel, The Dead of Winter.

I loved it. Her protagonist, Piper Blackwell is the new Sheriff in town, and less than hPageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00072]our on the job, she’s pitted against a serial killer who poses his victims to mimic Christmas Cards. her opponent in the election is now her Chief Deputy and he has no intention of making her job easy. I won’t spoil it for you, because you’re going to want to savor every page yourself.

Jean’s graciously agreed  to talk about an affliction common to many writers: O.C.W.

Take it away Jean:

O.C. W.

by Jean Rabe

Maybe there’s a pill for it, or some long-term therapy involved. Not that I’m looking for a cure. I suffer from O.C.W. Obsessive Compulsive Writing. I can’t stop myself. I write every day.

When my second grade teacher asked the class: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I told her a paperback writer. Back in those days paper books were the only ones you could buy and e-readers and tablets were the stuff of science fiction.

I’ve written stories as long as I can remember, and I started getting published when I was eleven. I entered contests, and won enough to keep me encouraged, wrote for the local newspaper, my college newspaper, and then for the Rockford Register Star, Quincy Herald-Whig, and the Evansville Press I even had a piece picked up by the Chicago Tribune. I garnered a few local and national awards…a local one for a news story the lead of which I still remember: It crawled into the wall and died. It was about students at Northern Illinois University who would smuggle pets into their dormitory, naturally against the rules. One incident had expensive repercussions because they had to tear out walls to get a dead critter out…the stench had been eye-watering. And a national prize for my coverage of an air disaster in Gander, Newfoundland. My journalism degree got put to good use for several years. On the side, I wrote short stories and gathered rejection slips.

News reporting was great for a time, but the dark stories got to me…the murders, kids killed in house fires, plane crashes. I was shot at once, and threatened by a psychopath (seriously, I’m not kidding). Eventually I got tired of the real world and escaped entirely to fiction. Because I could not escape writing.

love-haight-coverHonestly, I can’t stop myself. I just write. Novels, short stories, magazine articles, fiction, true-crime, game rules. If I’m away from my office, I’m scribbling in a notebook. When I attended Killer Nashville in August, and got to know Beth Terrell better, I filled a thick notebook with dialog, story threads, and snippets I picked up from seminars. Beth suffers from O.C.W. too and writes amazing books…go out and buy some.

Beth asked me to give her a blog post about how I got started and why I write. I think I write because I don’t know what else I’d do for a living. Once upon that proverbial time I’d entertained the notion of being a field geologist; I have a minor in geology. And I’d thought about being a veterinarian…I knew two veterinarians who were nudging me toward vet school and offered to help. It would have fit; I love dogs. There are four around my feet while I write this. And there’s a parrot hovering over my desk.

Either of those endeavors would have paid better. But instead I decided to write.

I am a storyteller. I have all these plots and notions swirling in my brain. I will never get them all written before I die; there are just too many of them. I write because I have to. Indeed it’s a compulsion. It’s not a 24/7 thing. It’s a five to eight-hours-a-day thing. I have dogs. I have to take time out for walks and tennis ball tossing sessions. And I have to go on the occasional vacation and to conventions so I can come up with more ideas. I always take a notebook with me and write in the slow times.

My first novel came out in 1991, and I’ve written thirty-six since…fantasy, science fiction, mystery. I even penned a true-crime book with F. Lee Bailey. I’m working on my thirty-seventh novel, tentatively titled The Dead of Night.

Let me backtrack. I shouldn’t say I write because I have to. I should say I write because I want to. How awesome is it to do what you want every day?

Thanks for letting me chat,

Jean Rabe

 

Find The Dead of Winter on Amazon by clicking here: https://www.amazon.com/Dead-Winter-Piper-Blackwell-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01LY5X4BB/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1475603013&sr=8-1&keywords=the+dead+of+winter+by+jean

My web page: www.jeanrabe.com

You can find my blog at: http://jeanerlenerabe.blogspot.com/

And my Amazon author page at: https://www.amazon.com/Jean-Rabe/e/B00J1QR5U2/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1

I have a newsletter filled with tidbits about my upcoming books, reviews of things I’m reading, and writing advice. You can subscribe here: http://jeanrabe.us14.list-manage1.com/subscribe?u=89364515308e8b5e7ffdf6892&id=9404531a4b

 

 

Posted in Mysteries/Thrillers, Profiles, Spotlight | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Dark and Complex: Lisa Alber’s Lyrical Irish Mysteries

Like Chris Knopf, Lisa Alber is one of the Mysterious Eight, a contributor to Eight Mystery Writers You Should Be Reading Now. She lives in Portland, Oregon, but  she sets her mysteries in Ireland, a country she’s come to love. Although Kilmoon, her debut novel and the first of her County Clare mystery series, was nominated for the Rosebud Award of Best First Novel, Alber insists she’s no overnight success.

Lisa Alber, Author of the County Clare Mysteries“I’m one of those writers who took years to get my first novel published,” she says, when asked about her writing journey. “I started writing my first novel in 1999, and got my debut novel published (which was actually my second written novel) in 2o14. That’s almost tragic–but perseverance paid off in the end.”

This extended timeline was partially due to hard knocks and setbacks, including the 2008 recession and a literary agent who quit the business to become a stay-at-home mom, and partly due to distraction (“Wait! What would it be like to write women’s fiction instead of crime fiction?”).

Her second novel, Whispers in the Mist, has been called “rich, dark, and complex,” “ingenious,” and “a first-rate crime novel,” while her writing in general has been described as lyrical and atmospheric. There’s a poetry to Alber’s language that enriches her story lines.
This extended timeline was partially due to hard knocks and setbacks, including the 2008 recession and a literary agent who quit the business to become a stay-at-home mom, and partly due to distraction (“Wait! What would it be like to write women’s fiction instead of crime fiction?”).Whispers in the Mist, Lisa Alber's County Clare Mystery #2

Her second novel, Whispers in the Mist, has been called “rich, dark, and complex,” “ingenious,” and “a first-rate crime novel,” while her writing in general has been described as lyrical and atmospheric. There’s a poetry to Alber’s language that enriches her story lines.

Asked how she achieves this effect, she says, “Aaaah…Good question. I don’t know. My brain works the way it  works, you know? I’m a moody kind of person and I’m pragmatic by nature, rather than the optimistic sort. In fact, I’m prone to depression. I suspect there’s something in my neurological wiring that tends toward the writing style that folks have described as lyrical and atmospheric. My first writing endeavors a zillion years ago were poetry–so that might say something too.”

It helps that Alber does plenty of on-site research, which leads to the occasional interesting encounter. Asked to share one such adventure, she says, “One of the main subplot characters in the series is a matchmaker named Liam. His daughter, Merrit, is the series star along with Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern. The matchmaking world that Merrit inhabits is always part of her story. Anyhow, so the idea to include a matchmaker came from a real matchmaker named Willie Daly. This past spring I traveled to Ireland for the fourth time for fiction research. One day, I was lucky enough to happen on a horse fair (you would have loved it, Jaden!) I stopped to pet a Connemara pony and got to talking to its owner. He introduced himself–Willie Daly! It was the craziest thing. I pulled out Kilmoon and showed it to him–See, see, your fictional counterpart lives in this book! He was surprised to say the least, and maybe a little wary. I assured him that my rendition of the matchmaker, matchmaking, and the annual matchmaking festival was 100% fictionalized. He was touched when I signed my copy and gave it to him. We ended up meeting for coffee the next week, after he’d read the book. (I’m not sure what he thought about it–he said that ‘at least’ I knew how to write. Hah!)”

Lisa Alber with Horse_5942We all have our writing bugaboos, though. For some, it’s character. For others, it’s description. For Alber, it’s plot. “I struggle with keeping my plots straight, especially through the muddled middle,” she says. “They tend to get complicated, and since I write in multiple third person point of view, AND I love my characters to all have their issues and problems…well, let’s say I sometimes lose track of things. Complicating that is the fact that I’m not an outliner either…”
As a “pantser,” someone who writes by seat of her pants, it’s easy to write herself into corners, but the beauty of writing is that by the time it goes to print, everything comes together, including complex, carefully crafted plots.

I left Lisa with a final question: What’s something few people know about you as a writer? Her answer?

“Few people know that sometimes I need red wine to write. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? But it’s not, not really at least. It goes like this: I prefer revision to first-draft writing, so there comes a point towards the end of the first draft (that has no doubt taken too long to write) when I’m desperate to get it done. But after months of being rigid with my schedule, by this point I’m also restless and itchy. The only remedy is taking myself out of the house to my friendly neighborhood bistro to write. Red wine helps in those moments–maybe because it mellows out the restlessness so I can focus. Now I’m finally in revisions for County Clare #3(title coming soon!), so I haven’t been to the bistro in about a month. :o)”

That novel is scheduled for release by Midnight Ink in August 2017. She tried to balance writing it with gardening, dog-walking, and goofing off. Because everyone needs a little goofing off time, right?

You can find Lisa at: website | Facebook | Twitter | blog.
And if you’d like to learn more and order your own copy of Whispers in the Mist, go here.

 

 

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Posted in Literary, Mysteries/Thrillers, Profiles, Spotlight | 1 Comment