Sunday, September 30, 2018

Cartoon of the Day: Escape Key

The Inspiration Trap: Guest Post by Dennis Palumbo

Dennis Palumbo:
The Inspiration Trap 

The novelist Peter DeVries once said, “I only write when I’m inspired, so I see to it that I’m inspired every morning at nine o’clock.”

On the other hand, playwright Mary Chase, when asked how she got the idea for her famous play, Harvey, replied: “I looked up from the breakfast table one morning and there he was.”

This latter comment is the kind that can give new (and not so new) writers a heart attack. It reinforces the belief that a great idea just “comes to you,” that the lucky few are visited by the spirit of creativity and originality. Even Shakespeare, in his prologue to Henry V, implores the gods to inspire him: “O for a Muse of Fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention---”

Most of us, when having breakfast, rarely encounter an invisible six-foot rabbit. Or, for that matter, a Muse of Fire. Instead, we encounter the blank page, the empty computer screen. The damned cursor blinking impatiently. Waiting.

And that’s when we fall prey to what I call “The Inspiration Trap.” In my view, the idea of “inspiration” does a great deal of damage to a writer. For one thing, it devalues craft, which I think is the most crucial aspect of writing. It also affirms the notion that the writer him- or herself is somehow not enough. That some special talent or knowledge or divine gift---something outside of the writer---is necessary to create a compelling story.

Not that this belief is difficult to understand. Writing is a strangely contradictory process, in that it’s both fragile and back-breaking, elusive and demanding. Moreover, it’s work. It takes time. And it’s hard.

Thus the understandable yearning behind the myth of inspiration. It just shows up, as if by magic. Does the creative heavy lifting. Shines a light down a thorny narrative’s winding, dark path.

But think about it: By its very nature---hell, by definition---inspiration can not be grasped or looked for, and certainly not commanded to reveal itself.

Which means that whenever a writer hits upon an exciting concept, an intriguing character, or an unexpected plot twist, it’s tempting---but wrong---to chalk it up to divine intervention. Instead, I think these surprising ideas or plot turns arise from the efforts the hard-working writer’s already expended. That, unbidden, they emerge from the deepening levels of craft a writer develops after long years of writing.

(Or, as Hemingway once advised aspiring authors, “Write a million words.” Today we’re more inclined to refer to Malcolm Gladwell’s “Ten thousand hours.” Same thing.)

Here’s how I conceptualize inspiration. Learn the writer’s craft, write regularly, grow to love the practice of stringing words together for its own sake---and inspiration will either come on a particular day or it won’t. But, regardless, you’ll have done the most important thing: you’ll have prepared the way for it.

I think author Albert Morovia said it best: “I pray for inspiration…but I work at the keyboard four hours a day.”

Given the shifting winds of fortune that accompany any writer’s life, the smart money is on craft, practice, the doing of the thing.

If inspiration shows up, so much the better.


Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), Dennis Palumbo is a licensed psychotherapist and author. His mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand and elsewhere, and is collected in From Crime to Crime (Tallfellow Press). His series of mystery thrillers (Mirror Image, Fever Dream, Night Terrors, Phantom Limb, and the latest, Head Wounds, all from Poisoned Pen Press), feature Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist and trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police. For more info, visit

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Cartoon of the Day: Stress Level

It's been a stressful few days (weeks? years?) here in the U.S (World?). Here's something for your stress level.

Setting The Scene for BAR NONE: Guest Post by Cathi Stoler

Cathi Stoler:
Setting The Scene for BAR NONE

When I sat down to write, BAR NONE: A MURDER ON THE ROCKS MYSTERY, I already had a cast of characters swirling around in my head. I saw then as real, flesh-and-blood people, and how I planned to portray them was very visual. I wanted my readers not only to get to know them through the storyline, but also to see their faces, bodies, personalities and quirks, as well. Wow, I thought. This book would make a great movie—at least in my mind.

I know, I’m not the only author who feels this way; the lure of film seems to beckon us to try and create memorable characters that will jump right off the page and onto HD screens everywhere. And really, what better setting than a New York City bar and restaurant on the Lower East Side to make this happen? It’s a neighborhood with a rich film history. The Gangs of New York, When Harry Met Sally and Moonstruck are just a few of the movies set there. Could BAR NONE be next? I could only hope!

With that in mind, I decided to make it easy for any producer or director to just pick up the book and go with it, so I did my own, pre-casting for the main characters.

Jessica Biel as Jude Dillane, co-owner of The Corner Lounge, working the bar that is her pride and joy. Tall, willowy thin with spikey black hair and gray eyes. A character more goth than glam, thirty-something Jude has had some trouble in her past. The Lounge has been her salvation, at least up to now, until she gets involved in murder and fraud, thanks to her pal, Thomas “Sully” Sullivan, who recruits her for an undercover assignment.

Alec Baldwin as Thomas “Sully” Sullivan, a former Lieutenant Commander in the Marine Corp. Sully has brush cut gray hair, blue eyes and is in good shape for a man in his fifties. Sully is Jude’s landlord and friend. He usually keeps her company at the bar, knocking back a glass of Jameson, then turning the empty glass over and rapping his knuckles on the bar to signal he’s done. If Alec Baldwin isn’t available—although I can’t imagine he’d turn down such a great role—there’s always Bruce Willis or Kevin Costner.

Scott Eastwood as George Ramirez, the hot guy at Big City Food Bank, who Jude meets when she goes undercover there to ferret out a murderer. George is dark and handsome with heavy-lidded, sexy brown eyes and full, sensual lips. Is romance on the horizon? You’ll have to read the book to find out. If Scott Eastwood is otherwise engaged, Chris Pratt would fit the bill, as well.

—Tom Hiddleston as Dean Mason, the tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed bartender at The Lounge who women can’t seem to resist. He’s Jude’s main man at the bar and a would-be actor using this gig to prepare for stardom. As you might imagine, Cocktail, is his favorite movie. This was a hard call. James Norton also would be perfect. Maybe I’ll let the director decide this one.

That’s my story and the option is still available. Just let me know if you’re interested.

Cathi Stoler was an award-winning advertising copywriter until she turned to writing mysteries and stories. She’s received The Derringer for Best Short Story for “The Kaluki Kings of Queens. Her latest novel, BAR NONE A MURDER ON THE ROCKS MYSTERY is available on Amazon at Find out more about Cathi at

Thursday, September 27, 2018

BURNING RIDGE: Guest post by Margaret Mizushima

Margaret Mizushima: 
Burning Ridge 

Burning Ridge is the fourth book in my Timber Creek K-9 mystery series that features Deputy Mattie Cobb, her patrol dog Robo, and veterinarian Cole Walker. Years ago, before I began the research for this series, I knew I wanted to write a mystery that included two things—a Colorado mountain setting and a veterinarian who ran a mixed practice (one that serves both large and small animals). As I started to flesh out the myriad details that make up a book, I realized I needed to make decisions about things that I knew, and things that I didn’t know.

Things I Know 
I’ve been married to a veterinarian for over thirty-six years, so I know that life. I’ve also assisted my husband countless times during after-hour emergencies, so I’ve observed his work. When we made stable calls, I noticed that everyone wanted to watch him take care of the animal, and I hoped that readers would feel the same way. So I pulled from my experience to create veterinarian Cole Walker, and I fashioned some of his traits after the vet I live with: his workaholic nature, his love for dogs and other animals, the way he runs his rural practice.

But then I hit a wall. I wanted to write a police procedural, not an amateur sleuth mystery, so this book could not exist with a vet alone. I needed another protagonist, one involved with law enforcement. My husband and I had trained dogs for Search and Rescue, so again I knew how to do that work. But K-9 handling and training? Not within my realm of experience. Lucky me, my husband connected me with one of his clients who trained patrol and protection dogs, and that helped me discover what I didn’t know.

Things I Didn’t Know 
My husband’s client allowed me to shadow him while he worked with K-9 handlers and their dogs. I observed training a dog to bite and hold a fugitive who wore a bite sleeve on his arm, training to track and find a person hidden within a structure, and training a dog to release a bite or abort an attack. This last skill is not exactly a dog’s favorite, and it appeared hard to train. When a dog is charged up to bite, that’s what he wants to do.

I attended police dog trails to watch dogs compete in obedience and agility performance. A friend who is a retired K-9 officer/trainer used to compete in trials like these, and she allowed me to shadow her while she trained her German shepherd in two other skills—evidence detection and following a scent trail. She also shared tales of one dog’s prowess, her late partner named Robo who was nothing short of a wonder dog. She had cross-trained him to do almost everything in the book, and I gained her permission to use his name in my series.

Finally, in order to write accurate law enforcement procedure and not stray too far off track, I connected with a retired deputy sheriff who once worked in a mountain setting similar to my fictional Timber Creek, and he reads my manuscripts before I submit them for final edit. It’s amazing the things my characters do wrong during first drafts—thank goodness he keeps them on the straight and narrow!

My experience is nothing new. Authors typically combine what they know and what they don’t to create characters and plot. A novel is a perfect beaker in which to mix fact with imagination, stir, and then see what erupts.

Margaret Mizushima lives in Colorado where she assists her husband with theirveterinary practice and Angus cattle herd. Margaret Mizushima is also the author of Killing Trail, Stalking Ground, and Hunting Hour.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018


Join Mystery Writers of America NorCal & Lit Quake for NOIR AT THE BAR 
October 20:  San Francisco

This great event is part of MWANorCal's Mystery Week! More info to come!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Cartoon of the Day: Mummy Problems

Nurturing a Farm and Its Farmer: Guest Post by Susan Oleksiw

Susan Oleksiw: 
Nurturing a Farm and Its Farmer

When my family purchased a farm in central Massachusetts forty years ago, I knew almost nothing about the area. My mother described her first view of the property as "dreamy," and listed the reasons she and Dad were drawn to. The first time I visited the area, I knew the real reason they'd chosen it.

The Franklin County landscape looked a lot like southwestern Connecticut where they'd had their first farm, in the 1930s and 1940s, and where my brothers and I were born. In their retirement years they were going back to their roots, or at least some of them. For me, the attraction was different.

The Berkshires have the mountains and pretty tourist resorts, the coastal areas have the ocean and access to Boston, but the central part of the state has a sense of time past, of small farming communities straddling the age of the decline of light industry and growth of bedroom communities. Life eddies along the border with New Hampshire and Vermont, and Boston is no longer The Hub. These towns have a sense of rooted authenticity, now fading.

This is the kind of setting that seems perfect, in my view, for stories that explore different ways of life and contemporary issues. Farmers are certainly at the forefront of environmental concerns, with questions of pesticide use, fluctuating markets, and political winds swirling. And yet, despite being remote from urban centers, such areas struggle with some of the same problems, such as a diversifying population seeking work, an influx of well-educated workers looking for cheaper housing, and an aging population worried about the next generation of workers. At present, the average age of farm owners in this state is in the mid-fifties.

The idea of a woman who had the gift of healing came to me when I realized I knew someone who was a healer in a Spiritualist church in the area. Feeling very ignorant and uninformed about all this I began my research, beginning with reading about the cunning folk of Ireland, practitioners of magic and considered wise men and women who counterbalanced black magic and aided in solving crimes. Active up to the nineteenth century, the cunning folk gradually faded along with fears about witchcraft. A history of the occult in America, including the rise of spiritualism, was fascinating, and very informative, and I was slowly inching my way toward a clearer identity for Felicity O'Brien, my protagonist.

Though I had listened to my parents and older brothers for years talk about the Connecticut farm, I didn't know a lot about farming. I turned to memoirs by farmers, and decided not to take up beekeeping or open a small mill. I also discarded the idea of apple orchards, pigs, and horses. I quite liked the idea of goats and chickens--for a while.

Even though I grew up doing a lot of handwork, I discarded the idea of making my sleuth a quilter, knitter, or other craftsperson. I preferred having her outdoors, and often in the woods. With an unexplained gift of healing inherited from her mother's line, Felicity would be a regular farmer coping with the stresses besetting a traditional way of life in a modern world.

I located my fictional town of West Woodbury in Franklin County, considered the most rural county in Massachusetts as well as the poorest. Home to 71,000 people, 26 municipalities, and over 700 farms, the County is one of three defining The Pioneer Valley, running along the Connecticut River. Both towns and farms are small; the average farm is about one hundred acres, and only four municipalities have more than five thousand residents. Felicity's property, Tall Tree Farm, is on the large side, at 500 acres, and my fictional town, West Woodbury, is closer to four thousand people.

The cliche of dozens of murders occurring in tiny fictional towns has never bothered me. If I try to justify it at all I think of all those murders as a literary manifestation of the normal conflicts that arise between people when they're fighting for what they care about. Farm communities and small towns may seem quiet, but plenty of dark feelings seethe beneath green corn stalks and baskets of shiny red apples.


Susan Oleksiw is the author of the Mellingham mystery series and the Anita Ray mystery series. Beyond the Treeline, her first installment in A Pioneer Valley Mystery series, debuted on September 8 from Midnight Ink. 

Born and raised in New England, Susan Oleksiw has long been fascinated by the traditional New Englander and the way of life found there. She is the co-founder of Level Best Books, which publishes an annual anthology of the best New England crime fiction. Her writing has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and she has served as coeditor for The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing

Before she entered into a life of crime, Susan studied at the University of Pennsylvania, where she received a PhD in Asian studies. The author has also spent time living in India, and her fondness for the country lives on through her passion for photography. You can see more on all of her mystery series, as well as featured snapshots of her travels to India at

Monday, September 24, 2018

Cartoon of the Day: Books

HT: Ali Karim

THE URGE TO KILL: Guest post by Joseph Mark Glazner


Have you ever felt like killing someone? Maybe the idea flashed through your mind so quickly you convinced yourself you imagined it.

Maybe you thought about it for only a minute. Or a day. Or a few days—because someone terrified you. Or angered you. Or harmed you, or humiliated you. Perhaps they were threatening or hurting someone you love.

Killing someone crossed your mind.

It must have.

You’re a fan of crime fiction and maybe also a writer of it. Something inside you finds novelty, thrills, or something compelling that leads you to look at death in the way only crime fiction addicts look at it.

You like the puzzle of a good mystery, you say?

You like heroes?

You read for excitement, thrills, or to learn something new?

But it has to have a murder or a wicked enough crime.

If killing someone in real life ever did cross your mind, what held you back? Fear of getting caught? Your better self?

Full disclosure. I have thought about killing more than one person. The closest I came was after a devastatingly humiliating beating I took in seventh grade in rural New Jersey from three kids who were part of my circle of close friends since kindergarten. They had turned bad that year as they entered the first stages of puberty.

After my beating, after I made it home safely, after the great wrenching sobs of humiliation subsided, I went to the town dump in the woods and shot at cans and bottles with my pump action Remington .22 rifle. I had done this a few times with two of the kids. I told myself if either of them showed up and tried anything I would shoot to wound or kill. Neither showed up, and I probably wouldn’t have shot anyone anyway, but I had the motivation and the means.

The last time I held a gun in anger or fear was seven years later after I escaped from the battle zone in Los Angeles during the Watts Riots in the summer of ‘65. I took refuge in the home of a friend in the Hollywood Hills. I stayed awake all night, listening to sirens wailing, gunfire crackling, and watching the fires burning on the blacked out streets below. High on whatever you can imagine from those wild and crazy days, I cradled in my arms an old surplus rifle from World War I, loaded with a clip of five shells. I thought about the war going on in the city below as the death toll rose. I thought about what it would be like to go to Vietnam.

Two years later, I dropped out of grad school, gave up a cozy student deferment, and became one of the first Vietnam War protesters to go to Canada. Ironically, I was wanted by the FBI for a few years because I didn’t want to kill anyone or be part of the killing machine in Southeast Asia.

That didn’t stop me from occasionally thinking about killing someone or at least wishing they would die suddenly when I or someone close to me was swindled, threatened, hurt, or otherwise put in harm’s way.

What stopped me?

All of the usual suspects. My better self. Fear of getting caught. Humor, irony, perspective, curiosity, a sense of the awe, and a sense of the absurd. Sometimes the person I wanted to momentarily kill, or at least punch in the face, was bigger than me or in a vehicle when I was on foot.

Of course, the most wonderful inhibitor of all became and remains my truest friend. Catharsis. As a reader and writer of crime fiction, I can witness or orchestrate the end for the worst monsters. I can puff up my chest and proclaim my commitment to good triumphing over evil.

And if I so dare, I can put myself into dark places. I can change into a different person to overcome fear, anger, and other disconcerting emotions.

We, as crime readers and writers, can imagine our revenge and feel more powerful.

We can weep over violence and death.

Or we can laugh in the face of it.

Aren’t we lucky?

Because you like mysteries, I’ll tell you a secret. Remember those three boys who beat me up when I was thirteen? While I didn’t use any of them in my latest book, MurderLand, A Crime Novel, I did use one of their mothers—the mother of the ringleader of the three. She is the model for Carlene, one of the key characters in MurderLand. Even as a child, I knew what was wrong with my friend. I knew why he was a bully. I had spent time in his house. His mother was tall, slim, beautiful, snobbishly religious, and elegant. She always dressed like a model or movie star and acted like one with her money—before and after her husband died. Even when I was a child, I could see that she hated her son, the bully, and openly favored his older sister. Later, I learned from other parents in the township that she was a pathological liar and a thief. After the sister’s death, she looted the family business behind her son’s back, including the pension fund for the employees, and left the workers without retirement incomes and her son near penniless and near friendless as he succumbed to middle-age cancer. I had no hand in her end, but I was happy to see her go.


MurderLand is Joseph Mark Glazner’s eighth crime novel and his first in thirty years. His novel Madelaine (writing as Joseph Louis, Bantam Books, NY, 1987) was nominated in the US for a Shamus for best original paperback and in Canada for the Crime Writers of Canada best novel award. His memoir, Life After America, recounts his first two years in Canada (1967-1969) as an FBI fugitive, war resister, immigrant, tabloid writer, and friend of John Lennon. Glazner and his long-time partner in crime, Joanie Shirriff, live peacefully in Toronto.

Friday, September 21, 2018

LIAM MCILVANNEY wins Scottish Crime Book of the Year

From the BBC:

Writer Liam McIlvanney has won the 2018 McIlvanney Prize for the crime book of the year at the Bloody Scotland festival in Stirling. 

His book, The Quaker, was described by judges as the standout winner of this year's competition. The prize was renamed two years ago in memory of Liam's father and author, William McIlvanney. Last year's winner was Denise Mina for her book, The Long Drop. 

Among the judges for this year's competition was comedian and television presenter Susan Calman. She said: "The Quaker is one of those novels that, as soon as I finished it, I looked forward to reading it again. "Not only did I love the evocative recreation of Glasgow, but the characters created were refreshing and surprising. It was such a pleasure to read." 

Previous recipients of the prize have included Chris Brookmyre with Black Widow in 2016, Craig Russell with The Ghosts of Altona in 2015 and Peter May with Entry Island in 2014.


I enjoyed meeting Abir Mukherjee at Bouchercon and love his books, and here's a piece of exciting news! Congratulations, Abir.

From the Bookseller:

Abir Mukherjee has won the 2018 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize (£15,000) with his second novel, A Necessary Evil (Vintage). The historical crime tale, set in India in 1920, sees Captain Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee of the Calcutta Police Force investigate the assassination of a Maharajah's son.

Niso Smith, founder of The Wilbur & Niso Smith Foundation, which makes the awards, described the book as "an exciting example of how adventure writing can transport you to a different time and place, teach you something new, and truly allow you to lose yourself in a story."

Mukherjee said of his win: “I’m thrilled to have been awarded the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize. It’s an honour for me to have had my work selected from a shortlist of such wonderful and talented authors. The Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation do so much to support young writers and further the promotion of literacy around the world, and I hope to work closely with the Foundation to help further these goals and advance adventure writing as a genre.”

HT: Erin Mitchell

Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore for Sale

Terry Gilman and Maryelizabeth Yturralde, longtime owners of Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego, Calif., have put the 25-year-old store up for sale.

In an e-mail to customers announcing their decision, they emphasized that "there is no threat of store closure. Indeed, we anticipate just the opposite: new growth, new business, and new opportunities within our industry."

Gilman, who is managing partner, and Yturralde, who is bookseller/publicity manager/event coordinator, said that they are ready to "pass the torch to a new owner, someone who can write the next chapter of Mysterious Galaxy's story." They noted that the "key ingredients that will contribute to the success of a new owner are all in place," including loyal customers, a knowledgeable and well-trained staff, and a "beautiful environment that appeals to customers of all ages." The pair also said they would stay on-hand to help the new owner or owners through the transition.

Both Gilman and Yturralde plan to focus on their other main venture, Creating Conversations, an events business and bookstore in Redondo Beach that brings books and authors to community and corporate venues. Gilman and Yturralde have been very involved in the industry and served various organizations, including the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association: Gilman is a past president; Yturralde is the current president.

The two are looking for "someone who is passionate about Mysterious Galaxy, who genuinely loves our community, and who understands what it takes to operate a retail business." Inquiries can be sent to Terry Gilman at

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Cartoon of the Day: The Audit

My Kind of Case: Guest Post by Jeanne Winer

My Kind of Case 

Lee Isaacs, Esq., the central character in my latest mystery, Her Kind of Case, isn’t unlike myself. She, like me, is a strong, feminist who’s a criminal defense attorney—a field heavily dominated by men—in Boulder, Colorado. In the book, she and I tackle the twin issues of homophobia and religious intolerance, as well as the inevitable onslaught of aging, while handling the heaviest of responsibilities—the lifetime fate of a troubled young man who’s confessed to a particularly nasty murder. During my own 35-year career as a criminal defense attorney, I represented thousands of clients, including those accused of kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, drug offenses, and murder. When I was much younger than Lee, I also represented a teenage boy accused of helping a group of skinheads kick a man to death. I didn’t end up trying the case like Lee, but I did my best for him and kept him out of adult prison, which was a great result. I think I saved his life.

My political activism from a young age led me to become a criminal defense attorney. When I was sixteen, I attended a ban the bomb rally in downtown Boston. After that, I became active in the anti-war movement, the women’s liberation movement, and the LGBTQ movement. I came out as a lesbian in my early twenties. I loved defending people, saving them in any way I could. I was honored to be one of the two lead trial attorneys in Romer v. Evans, a landmark civil rights case that paved the way for the Obergefell decision in 2015, which legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States.

When I started writing Her Kind of Case, I wanted to describe the feeling of taking on a high-profile murder case where the evidence seemed initially insurmountable, but then persevering until reaching the best possible result. I wanted to tell a story where the reader would see how much work, and how much strategic thinking, are required. Most books about lawyers don’t describe the emotional toll it takes to defend someone whose life is in your hands. And the books aren’t funny, even though criminal defense attorneys have an extremely well-developed, black sense of humor. Without it, they’d burn out in a few years.

I also wanted the book to be realistic and borrowed liberally from my own experiences. For instance, the scene in which Lee accidentally spills water all over her colleague’s legal research during a critical motions hearing actually happened to me. A criminal defense lawyer grows a thick skin after a thousand or so of these mortifying incidents.

Much like Lee, I’m also a martial artist with a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do; it was the great love of my life. I practiced nearly every day except for when I was injured, which was a regular occurrence because I loved to spar and didn’t care if my opponents were ten inches taller, sixty pounds heavier, or twenty years younger. Nowadays, my body is inclined to the gentler art of Tai Chi, but when I was practicing karate and still lawyering I felt the two were complementary—each taught me how to be better at the other. The speed, skill, experience, courage, and creativity that Lee possesses as a martial artist are, in my opinion, what also make her an exceptional attorney.

By design, Her Kind of Case depicts a woman’s experience in the criminal defense profession. Women are just as savvy as men when it comes to lawyering, and we might have a leg up when it comes to connecting with our clients and getting them to trust us. In every criminal case I took, I always tried to find something about my client that I could relate to, something we might have in common. The goal was always to get my client to trust me enough to take my advice, even if it meant agreeing to go to prison for a very long time.

Throughout Her Kind of Case, Lee is also concerned about turning 60. Toward the end of my career, I often felt like her. I had a lot of pride in my work and couldn’t stand the idea of not being as good as I was at my peak. I often wondered about the optimal time to quit. Luckily, as soon as I noticed that the party was winding down, I didn’t linger; I grabbed my coat, thanked my hosts, and left.

No good criminal defense attorney can do it by herself, though. I had a number of wonderful colleagues who kept me going: mentors who taught me, lawyers who inspired me, coworkers and investigators who helped me cope with an active caseload of more than a hundred felonies. For the last twenty years of private practice, I had a fabulous law partner, Curtis Ramsay, who shared my worldview and had a great dark sense of humor, which made practicing law less lonely. I also had, at different times, two longtime investigators, Eli Klein and Patti Mazal, who worked with me on my most serious cases.

As for my writing process, plotting a novel involves prolonged walks on the mesa outside my casita in Taos, New Mexico, and along the hiking trails of my longtime residence in Boulder, Colorado, where I tell myself a new story every day and think it’s the one I want to write. I usually end up scrapping it the next day, and then continue to walk for weeks until one morning I wake up and think, “Yes! That’s the story!” Once I start writing, of course, the story changes, but I have to think I have the whole story before I start because otherwise I’m too scared. When the writing gods are looking favorably upon me, I write five days a week for about five or six hours, editing constantly instead of just writing a first draft. It’s a long tedious process, but I’m unwilling to consider a different way. And I think it pays off in the end.
Jeanne Winer was a Colorado-based criminal defense attorney who quit lawyering for writing after 35 years. Her first novel, The Furthest City Light, won the Golden Crown Literary award for best debut fiction, and Her Kind of Case, her second novel, has earned starred reviews from Kirkus, Library Journal, and Booklist. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Cartoon of the Day: Cats

This is definitely Barclay!

Mystery Readers Make Tough Jurors--for prosecutors: Guest Post by Tom Siegel

Tom Siegel:
Mystery Readers Make Tough Jurors--for prosecutors

Before writing my debut novel, The Astronaut’s Son (Woodhall Press), I was a litigator for twenty years, spending eight of them as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, New York. No surprise, then, that my book involves a son, Jonathan Stein, conducting what amounts to a cold-case investigation of his father’s mysterious death. He chases leads, reviews documents and interviews (and cross-examines) witnesses—all in pursuit of truth and justice. Exactly what I did when investigating mafia murders. If I’ve gotten the book right, you’ll be kept guessing until the very end. This, of course, is the last thing I wanted as a prosecutor. I wanted my opening statement to leave jurors convinced that there was only one possible outcome, that the evidence would only reinforce what I had promised and that their deliberations would be easy. No prosecutor ever wants suspense or surprise. She wants anti-climax from day one.

Whenever called upon to conduct voir dire, the process of jury selection, I kept careful watch for both the lovers of TV crime dramas, like CSI or Law & Order, and for you, dear readers, the consumers of Marple, Holmes, Warshawski, Poirot and so many other fictional sleuths. Those addicted to the pretzel twists and hairpin turns of knotty plots present a unique challenge to the side with the burden of proof. It’s not because you might sharply scrutinize the quality of evidence, studying documents and listening acutely to witnesses. And it’s not because you would hold the government to its burden of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” It’s because most trials, from your point of view, would be an impossible let-down. It’s because you’ve been conditioned by years spent rifling through riveting pages during sleepless nights, rainy Sundays and cross-country flights to expect titillation and obfuscation, to expect the shock of a drawing-room denouement or the gasps of a courtroom confession. Until that moment of high drama, the story must be equivocal, the truth occult. It could be Colonel Mustard, or Professor Plum, or some anonymous scullery maid or vagabond farm hand. The case can’t possibly be solved on page one, or even page two hundred. All must rest in doubt until the final chapter. That word—doubt—still sends shivers down my lawyerly spine. You can begin to understand why I was afraid of you. I feared that you would, albeit unconsciously, impose the template of your passion on what looks like a familiar enough literary setting, the courtroom. I could imagine your reactions to the typical criminal trial. “There’s got to be more to it.” “It can’t be that easy.” “There has to be some puzzle to solve.”

Whenever I had one (or more) of your ilk in the jury box, I went to great lengths to distinguish the fictive universe from the mean streets of New York City. “There’s no mystery here,” was a line oft-repeated in my closing arguments. “Follow the judge’s legal instructions, of course, but remember that trials you’ve seen on TV or read about in books have to hold audiences in suspense to please advertisers and publishers (and readers).” It was all part of my theme of inevitability—everything seen and heard leads to only one conclusion. No doubt. Defense lawyers, on the other hand, love the mystery, embracing (and sometimes creating) contradiction, fog and speculation. They love it so much, in fact, that they don’t ever want it to be resolved. Who done it? Who knows? My plea, on the other hand, was to resist all flights of fancy. I stumped for boring, feet-on-the-ground rationality. You might love drama—who doesn’t—but don’t look for it in deliberations. Just the facts, as Joe Friday would say. Just like I promised.

I hope, however, that as a novelist, I’ve been a very, very bad prosecutor.

Tom Seigel has served as both Deputy Chief and Chief of the Justice Department’s Brooklyn Organized Crime Strike Force, prosecuting members and associates of La Cosa Nostra. After twenty years as a litigator, Tom earned an MFA in fiction writing. THE ASTRONAUT’S SON is his debut novel.

Cartoon of the Day: The Judge

Monday, September 17, 2018

Mystery Readers Journal Call for Articles: Murder in the Far East

CALL FOR ARTICLES: Murder in the Far East

The next issue of Mystery Readers Journal (Volume 34:3) will focus on mysteries that take place in the Far East.

We're looking for Reviews, Articles, and Author! Author! essays.

Reviews: 50-250 words
Articles: 250-1000 words
Author! Author! essays: 500-1500 words. Author essays are first person, about yourself, your books, and the 'Far East' connection. Think of it as chatting with friends and other writers in the bar or cafe about your work and your Asian/Far East connection. Add title and 2-3 sentence bio/tagline.

Deadline: October 10.
Send to: Janet Rudolph, Editor. janet @ mysteryreaders . org

Please forward this request to anyone you think should be included.

2018: Gardening Mysteries; Murder in the Far East; Spies & Special Agents; Crime Fiction in the American South )
Many Back Issues of Mystery Readers Journal are available as single copies in Hardcopy or PDF. 

Call for Articles for 2018 (Volume 34):
Murder in the Far East; Crime Fiction in the American South;
2019: Murder Down Under.

Have titles, articles or suggestions for these upcoming issues? Want to write an Author! Author! essay? email Janet Rudolph  ( janet @ mysteryreaders . org )



Forensic Art: Join Mystery Writers of America, NorCal chapter, for a lunch event on Saturday, September 22, in Sacramento with Robin Burcell.

NYT bestselling author Robin Burcell spent nearly thirty years in law enforcement before retiring to write fiction full time. She is an FBI Academy-trained forensic artist whose drawings have been used to solve a number of crimes, including homicides, bank robberies and hate crimes. Her skills have helped multiple Central Valley law enforcement entities, including the FBI. She has worked with live witnesses, and with the dead, sometimes having to set up shop in a morgue to draw the corpses for identification purposes after they have been found in a state beyond recognition (hence the term forensic artist). Robin will speak about what it takes to do this unique and specialized job and talk about some of the real cases in which forensic art has played a role.
Pay at the door—$25 non-members, $15 NorCal members.

Location: Echo & Rig Steak & Butcher Shop, Sacramento



Join Mystery Readers NorCal in Berkeley for an evening with award winning mystery authors Lisa Brackmann & David Corbett

When: Wednesday, September 26, 7 p.m.
Where: RSVP for venue address (Berkeley, CA)
This is a free evening, but YOU MUST RSVP to attend. Address sent with acceptance.
RSVP: janet @

Lisa Brackmann has worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, an issues researcher in a presidential campaign, and was the singer/songwriter/bassist in an LA rock band. Her debut novel, Rock Paper Tiger, set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several "Best of 2010" lists, including Amazon's Top 100 Novels and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers, and was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel, Getaway, won the Los Angeles Book Festival Grand Prize and was nominated for the T. Jefferson Parker SCIBA award. Hour of the Rat, #2 in the Ellie McEnroe series, was short-listed for Left Coast's World Mystery award, as was Ellie #3, Dragon Day (and was a Seattle Times Top 10 Mystery Pic). Lisa lives in San Diego with a couple of cats, far too many books, and a bass ukulele.  

Black Swan Rising
Sarah Price who wants a career in politics. But she has a secret past that won’t stay past, threatening her job on a San Diego congressman’s reelection campaign. Casey Cheng wants a story. An ambitious local television reporter, Casey needs to get her career back on track after being seriously injured in a mass shooting. When she investigates the man who nearly killed her, she finds a connection to a group of online harassers called #TrueMen–and realizes her shooter may not be the only killer they have inspired. Casey’s investigation and Sarah’s secret put them both in the crosshairs of a hate group that targets anyone they’ve deemed to be against their cause, including Sarah’s boss, the congressman. Now Sarah and Casey have a choice to make–do they hide? Or do they fight back?

David Corbett worked for the San Francisco private investigation firm of Palladino & Sutherland, and played a significant part in a number of high-profile criminal and civil litigations, Ballantine purchased David's first novel, The Devil's Redhead. Widely praised, it was nominated for both the Anthony and Barry Awards for Best First Novel of 2002. His follow-up, Done for a Dime, was named a New York Times Notable Book, and was nominated for the Macavity Award for Best Novel of 2003. He followed up with 2007's Blood of Paradise and was selected one of the Top Ten Mysteries and Thrillers of 2007 by The Washington Post. His fourth novel, Do They Know I'm Running?, arrived in bookstores on March 1, 2010. He's also penned numerous articles and stories—one of which, "It Can Happen," from San Francisco Noir, was nominated for the Macavity Award for Best Short Story of 2005, and another, "Pretty Little Parasite" from Phoenix Noir, was included in Best American Mystery Stories 2009. He also contributed chapters to The Chopin Manuscript and The Copper Bracelet, serial audio thrillers that now have been combined in a single hard cover version titled Watchlist. He continues to reside in Northern California.

The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday 
The most notorious love letters in American history—supposedly destroyed a century ago—mysteriously reappear, and become the coveted prize in a fierce battle for possession that brings back to life the lawless world evoked in the letters themselves. Lisa Balamaro is an ambitious arts lawyer with a secret crush on her most intriguing client: former rodeo rider and reformed art forger, Tuck Mercer. In his newfound role as expert in Old West artifacts, Tuck gains possession of the supposedly destroyed correspondence between Doc Holliday and his cousin and childhood sweetheart, Mattie—who would become Sister Mary Melanie of the Sisters of Mercy.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Happy Birthday, Agatha Christie!

Happy Birthday, Agatha Christie!

Over the years, I've read just about every novel and story, play, and reference book on the Grande Dame of Crime Fiction. I've taught classes on Agatha Christie at UCB, Santa Cruz, St. Mary's College, as well as focused on Agatha Christie in my mystery book group. 

Agatha Christie visited the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden and was particularly taken by the Peruvian Lily. Poisonous? Yes. In honor of that long-ago visit, I organized a poison tour of the UC Botanical Garden with a very knowledgeable guide for my book group.

For Agatha Christie's Centennial, I attended the CWA (Crime Writers UK) conference in Torquay which included an Agatha Christie Centennial Celebration Banquet. Everyone was there, and by that, I mean all my favorite British crime writers and several of the actors who portrayed Christie's characters over the years. David Suchet sat at the next table. I saw Joan Hickson in the Ladies Room. During that same trip, I went with CWA to visit Greenway. This was long before it opened to the public. The family was in residence at the time, and either they forgot that a group of mystery writers was stopping by or they didn’t care, as the house was in a bit of disarray after what must have been Sunday lunch. It was a very lovely (and intimate) tour of the house.

When I returned to the States that year, I was on the organizing committee of the U.S. Agatha Christie Centennial. There were reading challenges, library talks, courses, and lectures, and I even wrote an 'Agatha-Christie inspired' interactive mystery event. It was great fun!

And here's a real treat: A Video of a 1955 interview with Agatha Christie from the BBC Archives in which Agatha Christie talks about her lack of formal education and how boredom during childhood led her to write The Mysterious Affair at Styles. She outlines her working methods, Miss Marple, Herculte Poirot, and discusses why it is much easier to write plays than novels. 

Raise a glass today to the Queen of Crime!

Cartoon of the Day: Cats

Happy Caturday!

MYSTERY BYTES: News and Views around the Internet

I often post individual news items when I see them, but thought I might do a round-up every now and again. Here are several news items and articles that peeked my fancy.

Readers love dead girls. I mean you, specifically, dear reader, may have no particular preference about the gender or age of any said human remains. But when it comes to murder mysteries and heroic motivations, people love a good dead girl.

10 Campus Crime Novels, Mysteries, and Thrillers

The mystery writer is the world’s best-selling novelist and most translated author – so what are non-Brits learning about English people and culture through her stories?

REVENGE NOVELS: BEST READ COLD by Jo Jakeman on CrimeReads
10 Crime Novels Featuring Satisfying Comeuppance, Bloody Vengeance, and Ice-Cold Revenge

DASHIELL HAMMETT'S STRANGE CAREER by Anne Diebel in The Paris Review.
In a 1929 interview with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dashiell Hammett described his first attempts at “breadwinning.”

Whenever I recommend a favorite mystery series to another reader, I always advise starting at the beginning. While all good authors improve over time, that initial offering can be so pivotal to a full understanding and appreciation of the development of character and sense of place in later works.

Gertrude Stein's Unlikely Obsession with Detective Fiction

A Hollywood Insider Rounds up 6 Films Ready for a Re-Watch

And, in case you missed this news item:

Novelist who wrote about ‘How to Murder Your Husband’ charged with murdering her husband.
Nancy Crampton Brophy seemed to have a knack for writing about the murder of spouses. The Portland, Ore.-based romance novelist wrote books about relationships that were “wrong” but “never felt so right,” often featuring bare-chested men on the cover. In “The Wrong Cop,” she wrote about a woman who “spent every day of her marriage fantasizing about killing” her husband.

Friday, September 14, 2018


Meant to post this last week, but in the Whirl that was Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, I forgot to click on my post. Congrats to all!

Shamus Award Winners: Private Eye Writers of America
For works published in 2017.
Winners were announced at the PWA Banquet at Bouchercon.

Best Private Eye Novel 
The Room of White Fire by T. Jefferson Parker

Also Nominated:
Dark Water by Parker Bilal
Blood Truth by Matt Coyle
Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton
Monument Road by Michael Wiley

Best First Private Eye Novel 
The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka

Also Nominated:
Under Water by Casey Barrett
A Negro and an Ofay by Danny Gardner
Gone to Dust by Matt Goldman
August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones

Best Original Private Eye Paperback
Lights Out Summer by Rich Zahradnik

Also nominated:

Play a Cold Hand by Terence Faherty
The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan
Dames Fight Harder by M. Ruth Myers
The Painted Gun by Bradley Spinelli

Best P.I. Short Story
“Rosalie Marx is Missing,” by Robert S. Levinson, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, May/June

Also Nominated:
Eric Beetner, “Out of Business,” in Down & Out, The Magazine Vol 1/ Issue 1, edited by Rick Ollerman
Reed Farrel Coleman, “Breakage,” in Down & Out, The Magazine Vol 1/ Issue 1, edited by Rick Ollerman
Brendan Dubois, “Random,” in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Jan/Feb
Paul D. Marks, “Windward,” in Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, edited by Andrew McAleer and Paul D. Marks

Cartoon of the Day: Cats

Thursday, September 13, 2018

MYSTERY WRITING INTENSIVE: Sisters in Crime Workshop

Join Sisters in Crime NorCal for a MYSTERY WRITING INTENSIVE
October 6: 9-5   Daly City, CA

Members of SistersinCrime NorCal and MWANorCAl: $75; Non-Members: $95

Learn More Here

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Cartoon of the Day: Book Club


P.J. Tracy (Traci Lambrecht):

Crime fiction is firmly entrenched in our culture and in our hearts. We can’t get enough of the nail-biting and heart palpitations, the challenge of the hunt for a killer, the thrill of late nights trying to work out the solution before the cops do. Pleasure doesn’t demand analysis, but being inquisitive often results in needless deliberation, so I couldn’t help but ask myself why. What is it about a good mystery we love so much?

At first, the answer seemed obvious: who doesn’t want to decipher a puzzle? Whether you’re reading a mystery novel, doing the Sunday crossword puzzle, or trying to figure out why your dog or cat is eating grass, you are responding to a biological imperative to solve problems. It’s a genetically hard-wired skill that has kept our species successful and thriving for a couple hundred thousand years. The Pleistocene forests and plains were filled with intrepid investigators who deduced that spears and knives would come in handy for hunting, and they solved the mystery of Uncle Urg’s sudden death after eating a pretty mushroom he’d foraged.

But thinking further on the question, I looked at the genre more closely as it relates to human nature and realized there is another important component responsible for the enduring popularity of mysteries: secrets. Large or small, everybody has them, and our inherent voyeurism yearns to read about somebody else’s. As a writer, I think it’s intuitive to incorporate them into your work.

This explained to me why secrets have always been a set piece in the Monkeewrench series, not just within the plot, but within the characters themselves. The eponymous crew of computer geniuses have very dark pasts, an abundance of secrets, and with each book, another one or two is revealed, providing a depth of opportunity to explore not just a plot, but the human psyche and its evolution.

This is a big part of how the Monkeewrench gang became who they are – at the point of their conception, the only prerequisite was developing a set of characters you’d want to meet at a cocktail party. And who do you want to meet at a party? The people who pique your curiosity because you can’t quite figure them out; people who are a mystery you want to solve because you can’t help it.

The Guilty Dead, the ninth and latest installment in the series, is absolutely laden with secrets. When I began writing the novel, the foundation was a powerful family dynasty plagued with recent tragedy – the suicide of the patriarch on the one-year anniversary of his son’s overdose. Pretty straightforward, until you learn the father didn’t commit suicide after all, he’d been murdered. Why? Because of secrets, of course. Deep, dark, shocking family ones you’ll have to delve into their pasts to discover. And they’re much more compelling than unfortunate Uncle Urg’s food poisoning.

Did all my silly mental gymnastics result in any significant conclusion? Not really, but I am now more certain than ever that mysteries won’t be going out of style any time soon.


This article was written by Traci Lambrecht. PJ Tracy was the pseudonym of mother-daughter writing duo P.J. and Traci Lambrecht, winners of the Anthony, Barry, Gumshoe, and Minnesota Book Awards. Their eight novels, MONKEEWRENCH, LIVE BAIT, DEAD RUN, SNOW BLIND, SHOOT TO THRILL, OFF THE GRID,  THE SIXTH IDEA, and NOTHING STAYS BURIED have become national and international bestsellers. THE GUILTY DEAD, the ninth installment of the Monkeewrench series, has just released in the US and the UK.

Traci Lambrecht spent most of her childhood riding and showing horses. She graduated with a Russian Studies major from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, where she also studied voice. Her aspirations of becoming a spy were dashed when the Cold War ended, so she began writing to finance her annoying habits of travel and singing in rock bands. Much to her mother’s relief, she finally realized that the written word was her true calling. Together, they had a long, prolific career writing together in many genres until PJ’s passing in December 2016.   Traci continues to write like a maniac, with PJ’s spirit sitting on her shoulder, cracking wise.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

BBC adapting Nicholas Blake's The Beast Must Die

Adapted from Deadline:

The BBC is adapting the Nigel Strangeways novel The Beast Must Die written by Nicholas Blake, the nom de plume of poet Cecil Day-Lewis, that was first published in 1938.

The BBC adaptation is being written by Gaby Chiappe, who wrote the  Gemma Arterton feature film Their Finest and has written on a number of British crime dramas including ITV’s The Level and Vera as well as BBC’s Shetland. It is being set up as a series, likely to be five or six episodes, and is set to be exec produced by Nathaniel Parker, the actor known the lead role in The Inspector Lynley Mysteries.

The series could turn into a long-running franchise for the BBC as Blake/Day Lewis wrote 16 books featuring the detective.

The Beast Must Die has been adapted for the big screen a number of times over the years including in 1969 as an Italian thriller directed by Claude Chabrol and in 1952 as an Argentine thriller directed by Roman Vinoly Barreto.

HT: BV Lawson's In Reference to Murder & J. Kingston Pierce's The RapSheet

Crime Fiction during the Days of Awe: Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur

Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the Jewish New Year, began Sunday night. The Days of Awe are the days between the beginning of the New Year and Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. That a murder would take place on Yom Kippur (or during the Days of Awe) runs counter to Jewish belief. Let's hope murders only take place in fiction!

Here's a short list of Mysteries that take place on Rosh Hashana, the Days of Awe, and/or Yom Kippur. As always, I welcome any additions to this list.

Mysteries set during the Days of Awe

Three Weeks in October by Yael Dayan
The Day of Atonement by Breck England
Days of Atonement by Michael Gregorio
The Yom Kippur Murder by Lee Harris
A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn
Day of Atonement by Faye Kellerman
Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry by Harry Kemelman
The Day of Atonement by David Liss
A Possibility of Violence by D.A. Mishani
Nights of Awe by Harri Nykanen
Devil Among Us by Jack Winnick

Short Stories:  

Murder is no Mitzvah: Short Mysteries about Jewish Occasions
Mystery Midrash: An Anthology of Jewish Mystery & Detective Fiction, edited by Lawrence W. Raphael
Jewish Noir, edited by Kenneth Wishia
"The Lord is my Shamus" by Barb Goffman

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year!