Chatting with Police Procedural Author Linda Berry

Chatting with Police Procedural Author Linda Berry

Linda Berry’s PRETTY CORPSE was one of the best police procedural novels I’d read in a long time and I read alot! She has a number of other books in the works and I was thrilled that she had the time to chat.

1  Carmen Amato: Linda, thanks so much for stopping by. As you know, I write a police series and am always interested in the genre. I was excited to read your new police procedural PRETTY CORPSE. It was excellent! Tell us how you came to write such an authentic yet imaginative novel.

Linda Berry: Thank you so much for reading PRETTY CORPSE, Carmen. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed it. Coming from a seasoned mystery writer, that’s a high compliment.

To write authentically, I do extensive research. That doesn’t mean I let my fingers do the walking. For PRETTY CORPSE, I did dozens of ride-alongs with various female patrol officers in San Francisco. I chose the night shift when the city was rife with criminal activity, and I got to see these courageous women in action. Several of my characters were inspired by the female cops I came to know. Many of the side stories in PRETTY CORPSE are based on actual events relayed to me by police officers.

I lived in the bay area at the time, and happened to meet Officer Nancy Guillory. She had just won the medal of valor, the highest decoration for bravery exhibited by an officer. I asked if I could interview her for a police thriller I was developing. She enthusiastically consented, and that began our journey—real life feeding fiction.

2  CA: How do you create multi-dimensional fictional characters, including your lead character Lauren Starkley? Her life is very complicated, with a powerful backstory. Yet she’s a character we can all identify with.

LB:  As a life long artist, I’ve learned to be a keen observer. I watch people—their nuances, expessions, body language. I spent a lot of time observing female officers, and I interviewed them extensively. I saw beyond the uniform, to women who LOVED their jobs, and had completely different personas in their personal lives, where they took on the roles of wives and mothers.

Creating multi-dimensional characters comes with years of writing experience. I was a copywriter/art director for 25 years. I now use words as my medium to paint a scene, to give breath to characters. I read great books, of every genre, and I study technique. I take what I learn and put it to practice.

3  CA: You chose San Francisco as your setting and described it so well throughout the book that I could feel the drizzle soaking into my shoes! Why is that city a good setting for a mystery? How do you use setting to create and build suspense?

LB: The story is set in San Francisco because Officer Nancy Guillory worked there, and that’s where I did my ride-alongs. Also, I knew the city well, after living in the Bay area most of my life. It is a very atmospheric city—with the ocean, rolling hills, the mist, rain, and fog, the city smells and activity, and the rich diversity of architecture and people. Wonderful elements for an author to draw from.

4  CA: Your knowledge of police procedures shone through in PRETTY CORPSE. The villain’s motivation was very inventive, too. How did you research the novel?

LB: The captain of the station gave generously of his time. We discussed many of the scenes up front and he laid down procedures, codes, and officer conduct. He also set me up with many people who accommodated my needs, from the medical examiner to homicide detectives. As far as the villain, I was in a great critique group at the time, really seasoned and talented writers. I thank them for pushing me beyond my comfort zone to make the villain more ominous. I kept plugging away until I had well developed characters, and twists and turns that were really surprising. The first draft took about a year to construct.

5  CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

LB: Good question. Do I only get one dinner? One author? So many influenced my work, I couldn’t pick just one. I would invite Ann Perry, Louse Penny, Kathy Reichs, Craig Johnson, and John Grisham to dinner. I would serve mystery food—dim sum—Chinese dumplings, because they are delicious and what’s in them is a mystery until you try them.

6  CA: What can we expect next from you? Another police procedural?

LB:  Part Two of HIDDEN comes out in September, a mystery with a contemporary western setting. QUIET SCREAM will be out soon too. The protagonist is a female detective who has a big city homicide background. Suffering from cop burnout, she takes a job as sheriff of a small town where the crime is nominal. And then a serial killer moves into her district.

7  CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

LB: Here is my all time favorite author quote:

“Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing.”

 ~Ray Bradbury

More about Linda Berry: The themes of Linda Berry’s novels are murder, suspense, and romance. Her latest, Pretty Corpse, follows a gutsy female police officer who hunts a rapist, only to find the tables turned, and she becomes the hunted. Layered into the story are complicated relationships with her daughter, her mother, her partner. For professional reasons, she struggles to resist her maddening attraction to her captain.  Visit to find out more.


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Author to Author with Susan Spann

Author to Author with Susan Spann

I’m thrilled to host Susan Spann, author of the Hiro Hattori mystery series. Even if you don’t like sushi, you’ll be riveted by this series featuring a ninja warrior in medieval Japan.

1  Carmen Amato: Susan, thanks so much for stopping by. I found your mystery series books via Twitter and was immediately struck by their uniqueness. Two terrific key characters: master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo investigate crime in 1560’s Japan. Tell us how you came to write the Hiro Hattori series.

Susan Spann: Thank you so much for inviting me, and I’m delighted that you enjoyed the books! I fell in love with Japanese history and culture after reading James Clavell’s Shogun back in the 1980s—enough to major in Asian Studies at Tufts University during my college years—but the idea for the Hiro Hattori novels didn’t come to me until many years later. While getting ready for work one morning in 2012, I had the random thought: “Most ninjas commit murders, but Hiro Hattori solves them,” and knew immediately that I had to tell that story.

2  CA: Hiro Hattori is a “master ninja” but certainly not a caricature. What was your inspiration and how did you craft him as a multi-dimensional character?

SS: Real ninjas—shinobi in Japanese—were masters of espionage as well as highly trained assassins. I’ve always felt the Hollywood portrayals (though entertaining) didn’t do them justice, and I wanted to make sure my ninja detective was closer to the real thing. I wanted Hiro to feel real—in his weaknesses as well as his strengths—and I did a lot of research to ensure I was portraying ninjas accurately while still creating a page-turning mystery adventure.

3  CA: Hiro Hattori’s sidekick is a Portuguese Jesuit priest. You have really departed from the norm here. Tell us how you came to match up these two unique characters.

SS: When creating the Hiro Hattori series, I needed a “cultural translator” to make the intriguing facets of Japanese culture and history more accessible to readers, most of whom wouldn’t know much about ninjas or samurai Japan. Since Jesuits came to Japan in the 16th century, which also happens to be the height of real ninja activity in Japan, pairing my ninja with a Jesuit priest seemed like a perfect solution.

Originally, I intended Father Mateo to serve as a “Watson” – more of a sidekick than a real partner in crime (solving). As it worked out, the characters felt differently, and I have to admit I’m glad. I love the dimension Hiro and Father Mateo’s relationship gives to the books.

4  CA: You weave together historical myth and true history. Please share a surprising detail about your research process.

SS: People are often surprised to learn that I’m allergic to fish—which means I’ve had to find alternative ways of researching and describing many of the popular foods that appear in the novels, including Hiro’s favorite dish: udon (noodles) topped with onions and grilled fish. Fortunately, the allergy doesn’t stop me from enjoying my research trips to Japan—people are also often surprised to learn that a lot of Japanese cuisine does not involve fish at all!

5  CA: Medieval Japan has been the setting for some great movies aka The Last Samurai but what makes it a good setting for a mystery series? How do you use setting to create and build suspense?

SS:  Medieval Japan—what people sometimes think of as the “samurai era”—was a time of many contrasts. Samurai warriors often studied painting, literature, and flower arranging as well as martial activities like archery and swordsmanship. The juxtaposition of beauty and danger, as well as the intricate social rules and severe penalties for disobedience or dishonor, make it a fascinating place in which to set a mystery novel, because the characters often have far more to worry about than *just* who wanted the victim dead.

6  CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

SS: The list of authors I’d like to meet and talk with is so long…if I could choose only one, I think I’d like to meet Agatha Christie, and talk with her about plotting, twists, and where she got her fantastic ideas for her classic traditional mysteries. As far as the menu, I’d love to introduce her to shojin ryori—traditional Buddhist temple cuisine. It’s one of my favorite styles of cooking, and I’d love to hear her thoughts on that as well!

7  CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

SS: One of my all-time favorite novels is Michael Crichton’s JURASSIC PARK. I loved the film, but I read the book first (and several times since), and it remains a go-to when I need a familiar adventure. His worldbuilding, pacing, and dialogue are fantastic, and he manages to weave real-world wisdom into a page-turning thriller, with lines like “In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.”

I hope that my novels never banish thought, and I aspire to someday write as well as he did.

Thank you so much for inviting me!

An attorney as well as a mystery author, Susan was the 2015 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year and is a former president of the Northern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Association. She is represented by Sandra Bond of Bond Literary Agency.

Find Susan online at her website (, on Facebook ( and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she loves to share photos and stories from Japan.



Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Author to Author with Brian Stoddart

Author to Author with Brian Stoddart

I’m thrilled to host mystery author Brian Stoddart, creator of the Superintendent Le Fanu historical series set in India in the 1920’s. Think Sherlock Holmes meets The Jewel in the Crown, with a bit of my favorite thriller, too.

Brian is a New Zealand-based but globally engaged writer whose historical crime fiction is based in Madras, India of the 1920s. He trained as an historian, and worked as an academic in Australia, Malaysia, Canada and the Caribbean before becoming a university executive and later an international consultant on World Bank, Asian Development Bank and European Union projects in Cambodia, Laos, Jordan, and Syria. Follow him at

1.Carmen Amato: Brian, thanks so much for stopping by. I love historical mysteries that teach me something and your Superintendent Le Fanu series set in 1920’s India reminds me of the BBC’s Jewel in the Crown, with a touch of Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts thrown in for verve. Tell us how you came to write such a complex and fascinating series.

Brian Stoddart: My PhD research was on modern nationalist politics in South India, and even as an academic I thought that those times and events had great dramatic qualities. That backdrop immediately allowed me to develop characters and events that were based in the historical record and, as we all know, truth is often more fascinating than fiction.

Some of the characters in the Le Fanu novels really did exist, and around them I can orbit fictional characters who also draw off people who were working at that time. The detailed historical knowledge allows me, then, to weave these stories in detail.

That said, I have had also to revisit Madras (now Chennai) as a writer rather than historian, because the city is as much a character as the people. Knowing the city well has allowed me to make the blend and set a place that is different, exotic but knowable. I am delighted that readers have felt that they learned something from the stories as well as being entertained by them.

2. CA: How do you create multi-dimensional fictional characters, including your lead character Christian Le Fanu? Where do you look for inspiration when creating characters?

BS: Those historical characters who lurk behind my fictional ones were all multi-dimensional and complex, often controversial, frequently combative and sometimes illogical. All those traits feed into Le Fanu and his colleagues as well as his opponents.

For example, I wrote a biography of an Anglo-Italian named Arthur Galletti who served in Madras and was the archetypal square peg in a round hole: anti-authority, hugely intelligent, socially awkward, pro-Indian and all the rest. Others were themselves writers who questioned the British regime. All of this feeds easily into creating characters who belong in the time. So that inspiration comes from the past and the historical record.

The other influence is from other writers and seeing how they create characters who live. Among my favourites are writers like Evelyn Waugh, Ian Rankin, Kate Atkinson, Parker Bilal, Fred Vargas – this is by no means exhaustive but will give you the idea. I also draw ideas and influence from television writers like Sally Wainwright, Anthony Horowitz, Neil Cross and others, because they create visuals that transfer well into print.

3. CA: Le Fanu has a personal relationship that was not allowed under British law in India at that time. How will this impact his decision-making as the series goes on?

BS: It was not so much “not allowed” to have a relationship between European and Anglo-Indian (mixed race) as severely damaging to a reputation and career, much the same if not even more so as a relationship between European and India. That is a trope for several novels, of course, perhaps beginning with E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India.

I use Le Fanu’s complicated relationship with Ro McPhedren almost as a lodestone to that complex matter of race relations in India at the time, and that shows up in how some other European characters relate (or do not relate) to Indians both professionally and personally.

By definition, the relationship will continue to bear on Le Fanu’s life as a whole, and be something of an allegory for the broader relationship patterns as independence nears for India. At the same time, the relationship allows me to explore the nuances of all this community-based activity in British India: Anglo-Indians who dominated the railway services, the missionaries who brought another corrective, the European business classes who had different outlooks again, and a range of others. India was all about relationships, in many respects, and Ro McPhedren helps focus that.

4. CA: What makes India a good setting for a mystery? How do you use setting to create and build suspense?

BS: As I say, Madras for me is really another character that influences the interactions between the characters. There are those Europeans who hate the place because they hate being in India and refuse to understand the locals. Le Fanu’s boss and bête noir Arthur Jepson is like that. As a result of WWI, Le Fanu now understands India and Indians better and is at home exploring it. That is why the Udipi food stand is in there – Le Fanu is the only European in the small eatery (which itself is drawn from reality and was the beginning of what has become a major restaurant chain). Habi, Le Fanu’s sidekick, provides the strongly necessary Muslim element in the story because Madras has always had a big Muslim presence.

In many ways, India is such a natural setting for these kinds of stories because of multiple cultural strands (the north differs from the south), cross-faith issues, caste, education, and all the rest. The historical context itself provides so many opportunities which is why the Le Fanu plots and storylines move across all these things and others like them – Madras in the 20s was replete with visitors blundering into systems and situations of which they were ignorant. That makes for great stories.

5. CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

BS: Oh wow! I will cheat and pick one dead, one alive. The latter first. Andrea Camilleri, the marvelous Sicilian creator of Commisario Montalbano. The books and the television series are captivating because they so “get” local nuance, story, history, relationships and networks. The menu would be all seafood drawing on the restaurant favourites and recipes that appear in the books. I am a huge fan – my wife and I have even been to Ragusa and that area of Sicily to immerse ourselves in the Montalbano story. The conversation would be about writing and storytelling based on local knowledge and insights, and how far fact can be stretched into fiction.

The writer from the past would be Robert Louis Stevenson who was one of the very first writers to impress me way back when, and who I talk about these days in my cruise lectures. When he went to Samoa he immersed himself in local politics and culture, and the stories from then reflect that. The food would be Polynesian, and the discussion would focus on the relationship between history and fiction. And the fact that he was a Scot is a bonus.

6. CA: How do you go about researching your books? How do you know when you have done enough to begin a project?

BS:  Really great question. The research for Le Fanu has, of course, been done over many years and is almost natural. I have a lot to draw on. Because of that, the idea of when is enough really does not arise. What I tend to research now are the details of places and historical figures.

I spend a lot of time on geography, for example, trying to get the streetscape right. That includes finding local tales and myths that might add to the plotline or the storyline. Those are things that historians sometimes overlook but are the things that writers rely on. When I am happy I have enough of that to pace the book, then I am happy to quit, until the next time.

7. CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

BS: I am really driven by the idea of what I call “crime and place”. That is, in all locations and settings the best storylines and plots are driven by local history, folklore, events, characters and conditions. So the concept of place in crime fictions is something I am always trailing after and I always get a great buzz and a sense of encouragement when I find examples that push the boundaries in the genre.

For that reason I find great encouragement in work by people like Barbara Nadel (Istanbul), Donna Leon (Venice, although I think she is having trouble aging Brunetti), Michael Connolly (a really complex character in Bosch set in the ultimate tangle of LA), Paul Thomas (Auckland, with a Maori cop), John Enright (Samoa) and others like that. The inspiration, then, is from the interplay between location, background and character. Hopefully, something of that emerges in the Le Fanu series.

Thank you!


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Chatting with Nordic Noir Author Torquil MacLeod

Chatting with Nordic Noir Author Torquil MacLeod

I’m thrilled to chat with Torquil MacLeod, author of the Malmö mystery series featuring Detective Anita Sundström. Full of shocking twists and Swedish authenticity, the series is a great addition to your Nordic noir library.

Carmen Amato: Torquil, thanks so much for stopping by. I found your books by accident a few years ago. Meet Me in Malmö popped up in a search on Amazon for books by Jo Nesbo. My first reaction was “Dang, wished my books came up on that search list,” and then, “This looks interesting.” Tell us how you came to write the Malmö series.

Torquil MacLeod: Hello, Carmen. Nice to team up with a fellow crime writer across the Atlantic. Well, to answer your question, it goes back to my first trip to southern Sweden which was just before Christmas in 2000. We were visiting our elder son who had just moved there.

Torquil MacLAt the time, I was trying to break into scriptwriting and I thought the stark winter landscapes of Sweden would be an interesting location for crime stories – this was well before the Scandi-crime invasion had hit the UK. On that first trip we stayed with a blonde female detective who has now become one of our greatest friends. I came up with a couple of ideas, one of which, unsurprisingly, featured a blonde female detective.

Needless to say, the screenwriting career disappeared up a blind alley, so I decided to turn one of the scripts, Meet me in Malmö, into a book. One thing my many years in advertising taught me was never waste an idea! If it doesn’t work the first time, you can always revisit it. I’m glad I did.

CA: How do you create multi-dimensional fictional characters, including your lead character Anita Sundström? Where do you look for inspiration when creating characters?

TM: When writing the first book, though much of the story is seen from a British character’s point of view, I found I became increasingly interested in Anita Sundström’s character and her situation – someone who had to work within a team and was not the senior detective like Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole or Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander. By being just an ordinary member of the squad it means that there is more scope for tension within the group. Over the years, she has developed into a more rounded character because she has faced ever-changing personal and professional situations. I think when you’re writing a series, like watching a TV box set, you linger longer with the main protagonists and have more time to let the characters grow. There’s less pressure than in a one-off story. And the more they grow, the more rounded they become both in the mind of the writer and, hopefully, the reader.

CA: Anita Sundström has not always had good judgement when it comes to her personal relationships. What criteria does she use to make decisions?

TM: To be fair, it’s not always Anita’s fault. Her philandering husband left her to bring up their son. Other choices have not been so good. Given her choices in the books, her main criterion seems to be a sense of humor. Having spent part of her childhood in Britain, she enjoys the self-deprecating humor. She’s attracted to men who don’t take themselves as seriously as some of her former Swedish boyfriends/lovers.

CA: Nordic noir is a very popular genre and Sweden has become a popular setting thanks to authors like Henning Mankell, Camilla Läckberg, and yourself. What makes Sweden a good setting for a mystery? How do you use setting to create and build suspense?

TM: The Sweden I know – the southern Skåne region – is a place of physical contrasts. In winter, the landscapes are harsh and barren; in the summer, incredibly lush and vibrant. Both give the writer scope to play with the conditions. In long winter nights people hide away. That in itself can play on people’s minds; be disturbing. But murder in a beautiful summer setting can be just as unsettling. It’s a season I often use to get away from the perception (certainly in Britain) that Sweden’s always bleak and snowbound. Another aspect of the country that helps the writer is that the Swedes generally keep themselves to themselves. That allows secrets to be buried deep.

CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

TM: I’d dig up Wilkie Collins. His 1868 Moonstone is considered the first full-length detective novel in the English language. I could ask him how he created Sergeant Cuff and many of the ground rules for detective fiction that virtually every detective writer has adhered to since. As he was also a good friend of Charles Dickens – coincidently, in 1857 they visited the Cumbrian village where I live– I could see if Wilkie could pass on any tips from the great writer. As for the food, my culinary skills are fairly limited, though I do a mean shepherd’s pie and a presentable chili (though, Carmen, I’m sure you would probably be horrified at my version of the latter). Poor old Wilkie would be left with a stark choice on the menu, so I’d try and distract him with a good bottle of something – though that might not work as he suffered from gout!

CA: How do you go about researching your books? How do you know when you have done enough to begin a project?

TM: I do two types of research. One is physically getting to know the locations I want to use. It’s fun to wander round the streets of Malmö and drive around Skäne. Swedish friends are also useful in suggesting places. I like to get the feel of a place, which makes it easier to describe. I can imagine the characters in the locations. It also means trips to places like Berlin and Malta as I like to get Anita out of Malmö from time to time. The other is that I try and find some interesting nugget of Swedish history that I can use in a book. This is where the internet comes in useful. However, as I’m not a great planner of my books – they tend to evolve as I go along – then some research takes place when the project is already under way.

CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

TM: In my case, the concept is a combination of a place and a person – Malmö and a real blonde female detective.

More about Torquil MacLeod: Torquil was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and brought up in the north east of England. After brief spells as a teacher and a failed life insurance salesman, he worked as a copywriter in advertising agencies around the UK for more years than he cares to remember. The Malmö Mysteries have been inspired by his frequent visits to southern Sweden, where his eldest son and family live. Visit to find out more.

Check out the latest from Torquil MacLeod!


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Torquil MacLeod interview

Author to Author with British Mystery Writer M.A. Comley

Author to Author with British Mystery Writer M.A. Comley

British author M.A. Comley is here to talk about her multiple mystery series. Her latest book IN PLAIN SIGHT, 3rd in the DI Hero Nelson series, came out last week and quickly shot to the top of Amazon’s Hot New Releases chart!

1. Carmen Amato: You are the master of the short swift mystery novel built mostly around a single plot thread, a format that has really resonated with readers. Tell us how you came to embrace this style and if you have a writing role model.

M.A. Comley: Hi Carmen, thank you for inviting me to take part in this Q&A with you. To be honest with you, I’m not one of those writers who try to fill their novels with worthless words just to achieve an 80K word count. My first two books were 88.000 and 80.000 respectfully but then I cut it down to writing 60.000 only because I had very impatient fans who wanted to see more and more books from me. My role model has to be James Patterson, the only difference between us, is the fact that I write my own books. Ha ha.

MA Comley

With her dog, Dex

2. CA: You write multiple series and maintain a fast publishing pace. Tell us about the different series and how you keep each fresh and unique.

MAC: I used to just write and publish the Justice series as the main character Lorne seemed to be the only character shouting, urging me on in my head. Then I started writing the DI Hero Nelson series, he’s the only male character I write. All of a sudden, all these other characters started screaming at me, demanding to be heard. Therefore, I went on to write a Private Investigator series, the Intention series. Finally, I began writing another police procedural series, the DI Sally Parker thriller. I intend to alternate the series over the coming years. Recently, I have co-authored two other series with Tara Lyons and Linda S Prather, although they were fun projects to write, I think I’ll be concentrating more on writing my own books going forward as I’m a bit of a control freak at heart. As for keeping the characters fresh and unique, they tend to do that themselves to be honest during the writing process, I suppose I’m lucky in that respect.

3. CA: Who is your target reader? What other authors do they read who are similar to you?

MAC: My target readers are anyone who appreciates a fast-paced thriller, sometimes they can be a little gory, but then you only have to look at a news bulletin every night to see that unfortunately, we live in a violent society, it would be totally unrealistic not to include at least some violence in my novels. Again, I have to mention James Patterson, Karen Rose, Lee Child, Karin Slaughter, Tess Gerritsen.

4. CA: Which of your characters are your favorites? No, wait. I’ll make this harder! Tell us about a favorite relationship in one of your books.

MAC: That’s a no-brainer, it has to be Lorne Simpkins/Warner, she is me. We both escaped a violent abusive marriage, the only difference really is that Lorne went on to find the love of her life in Tony, an ex-MI6 agent. I think I’ve given up hope of that ever happening to me. I’m too devoted to my career as a writer now to ever contemplate getting out there and finding a man who I can trust to have my best interest at heart.

5. CA: I hear one of your series is coming to the silver screen. Tell us all about it!

MAC: Crikey, not sure where you heard that, of course if Hollywood came knocking I’d bite their hands off. Until then, I’ll just have to dream about my characters playing out their roles on the silver screen.

6. CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

MAC: Sorry to sound repetitive, but again it has to be the master crime writer himself, James Patterson. I’d get my mum (she’s a qualified chef) to serve up a traditional roast beef dinner with all the trimmings, followed by a steamed syrup sponge and custard, lots of calories but sooooo good to eat. The conversation would be all about him and his books, his phenomenal writing ethic, and would end with me pleading with him to co-write a series with me, I live in hope of that happening, we always sit side by side each other in the charts so he must have noticed me, surely. 😊

7. CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

MAC: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou

Thank you!

More about M.A. Comley: I’m a hybrid author with a two-book deal with Bloodhound Books. I started self-publishing the Justice series in 2010 and now have over thirty full length novels and several novellas and short stories to my name. I intend to write and publish four more books in 2017, beginning with COLD CASE due out May 2017t.

Visit  M. A. Comley’s website and find her books: Amazon author page

KOBO author page

iTunes author page

Barnes and Noble author page

Google Play author page


Facebook author page


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Friends with Books: The Founder of

Friends with Books: The Founder of

This week I stumbled upon the great site, run by reader and chef Anu-Riikka. Half of the site is devoted to book reviews of romantic thriller and suspense novels and the other half has recipes from her kitchen, complete with photos. The books are rated by the spoonful and the recipes are straight comfort food. It’s fun, folksy, and well written.

I love combining books and food—all of the Detective Emilia Cruz novels include a recipe from something served in the book—and I know readers do, too.

Anu-Riikka was nice enough to chat with me this past week.

Carmen Amato: I love the premise of your website, Tell us how and why you started the site, which now has 14,000 weekly page views, and about your background as a chef.

Anu-Riikka: I found my passion for food, and baking especially, as I was working in a kitchen while in college to get my Bachelor’s degree. A couple of years after graduation I went back to school, and first got my degree in baking and pastry, and then in culinary technology. So I’m both pastry chef and a chef.

I have worked in variety of kitchens including as a baker in a country club, kitchen manager in a conference center, and a catering chef in a large sports arena environment. I’ve had the opportunity to cook and arrange events and private parties for royalty in Scandinavia  and managed hot dog stands in a World Cup sporting event. I have managed all the fresh food departments in gourmet grocery store, and catered private parties for all the life events one could have.

Due to some medical problems I have been partially handicapped, ‘mobility challenged’ as I like to call it, for about four years now. That changed my life drastically. After finding the balance with the new life and treatments, I needed something meaningful to do. So after planning and months of research, I started the website that is now Books & Spoons.

CA: You review many romantic suspense and thriller novels and always give a very well-rounded view of the book, including details about characters, pacing and writing style. I especially loved the way you described Cavanaugh in the Rough as having a “drizzle of clues.” What makes a book stand out for you as a reader? What don’t you like?

A-R: A great story for me has a balance, everything in moderation (yes, even those sexy scenes!) My first choice of genre is romantic suspense, and I love when both the romantic part and the action/suspense are well reasoned, the book has a good foundation that is built upon through the story, has feelings I can relate to, and solid characters I want to cheer for and wish them all the best. I like conflict when it comes outside of the couple, not something they cost themselves. I like angst, fear, danger, as long as it is balanced with sweetness and a little humor; I need both smiles and sighs. When it comes to the sex scenes I want them to be taking the plot and the couple forward. When it is obvious there’s a sex scene just because of it, I start to skip pages.

I don’t read stories with cheating issues, third party involvement, and a cliffhanger at the end is a deal breaker for me. I want the crimes solved, at least some of them if a series, and if there is something that is left open, please tell me the next book is out soon.

I have gotten a little feedback from readers that I use funny expressions sometimes. I know that, but I speak three languages daily, and it is possible that I take an expression from other language and make a translation that is ‘unique’. I would like to call that my trademark (hahaa)!

CA: Tell us about a favorite suspense novel? What snack you recommend to eat as we read it?

A-R: Oh wow. Nope, I can’t, too many to choose from. I can only give you some of my favorite authors.

The first romantic suspense book that I bought was Sandra Brown’s UNSPEAKABLE–and I was sold on the genre. Then there are Linda Howard’s MR. PERFECT and OPEN SEASON that I have reread countless times. But those are paperbacks before my first Kindle opened a new world to me, with countless stories just seconds away from my fingertips without waiting 3 to 12 weeks for the book order to arrive in Europe.

This year I have already read some excellent romantic suspense stories, one that stands out is AT CLOSE RANGE by Laura Griffin. The perfectly balanced story, in my mind.

When I write in a review that something is nail-biting intense or toe-curling scary, it means I actually did that while I read the book. So when I read suspense, to save my nails, I like to snack on something chewy. Salted licorice is often my first choice. My go-to snack is fresh berries and fruit, but the snack has to be something that doesn’t get books or my Kindle messy.

CA: On your site, which are more popular, the reviews or the recipes? (BTW I am trying the roasted cauliflower tonight). What is the most popular recipe on the site?

A-R:  I normally do one food post a week, and during a busy week, there can be up to 20 book posts. So BOOKS gets much more attention but SPOONS does very well when you count the overall number of viewers to the website.

The baking recipes get a lot of attention and the most popular recipe has been the Gingerbread Fudge.

There has been a lot of social media attention on the posts that are just a basic meal idea with a twist, for example, use rainbow carrots instead of regular ones to bring intensity to your plate.

CA: If you could invite any authors, living or dead, to dinner, who would you invite and what would you serve?

A-R: The menu part is easy; something seasonal, three courses. Right now it is the worst time of the year when it comes to local fresh produce. But since we are going towards the spring I would start with a gazpacho, a cold tomato soup. For the main course I would serve roasted pork loin with citrus avocado salad and couscous. For the dessert I would serve petit fours so we could taste as many different flavored cakes as possible.

As who I would invite, that’s a hard one. I’m sure I am in a minority when I say I prefer not to know too much about the authors whose books I read. Social media has twisted the concept of what we all share with the world, and what we know about total strangers. I don’t have the need to know every activity, meal, lipstick color and a cup of coffee for most people. That said, here are some authors I would like to have a conversation with:

Pat Conroy – Because of THE GREAT SANTINI and the growth experience reading it was for me

BT Urruela – A soldier turned into a cover model turned into an author must have great stories, and really, have you seen him?!

Jasinda and Jack Wilder – Because I admire their journey and their books were the first indie books I read.

Jill Mansell – Her books took me through some dark times when my disability was first diagnosed

Liliana Hart – I admire her business sense, the fresh look she has with the industry, and adore many of her early works

Sally Ann Phillips – An author I met on Twitter who has turned into a soul sister whom I haven’t had a chance to meet face to face.

Thank you, Anu-Riikka!

Readers, check out for all the reviews and recipes.


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Mystery and Thriller Trends for 2017

Mystery and Thriller Trends for 2017

I recently chatted with Mary Rosenblum from New Writers Interface about what we can expect when it comes to mystery and thriller trends in 2017, as well as what really hooks a reader and draws them into a story. She’s an author, editor, and marketer whose services replace much of what traditional publishing houses once did when it comes to prepping a book for publication and seeing that it gets to the right audience. So if anyone knows what is ahead for readers, Mary does.

Carmen Amato: As a publishing insider who helps bring quality books to readers, what mystery and thriller trends do you see ahead, when it comes to reading and publishing?

Mary Rosenblum: I’m seeing a growing shift to ebooks among the mystery readers in general. It was behind the fantasy, romance, and SF genres for awhile, but the ebook sales  have really strengthened.  It’s still a genre where you want to have the book available in print as well as ebook, however.

Readers are getting pickier now, dismissing books with weak descriptions or slow starts. Most people use ‘look inside the book’ before they buy. Series collections are increasingly popular in the ebook world, and for you authors, free book giveaways no longer translate into an increase in paid sales.  They’re good for boosting your Amazon ranking, though.

There is also a growing need to focus book promotion on increasing your visibility on as book purchases shift more and more to Amazon.  Amazon does not make all books visible equally, and good books can be quite invisible unless you know the author or title.  Don’t depend on Amazon only to find new books.  Use book discounters such as Fussy Librarian or BookBub, be on Goodreads, and follow reviewers in your genre for good leads.

CA: I’ve noticed that more and more mystery series are using title devices. For example, the title of each Hetta Coffey mystery by Jinx Schwartz starts with “Just,” while Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mysteries are numbered. What do you think of this trend?

MR: It started some time ago and has recently gained momentum.  Sue Grafton really brought attention to it with her alphabet series quite a few years ago.

This is all about branding and it’s a really good idea in our world of one second visual hooks!  Some authors use a title device, perhaps using a particular phrase, a color, flower, bakery item or what have you as part of the title.  My own cozy mystery series with Putnam included a flower name as part of the title;  Deadly Nightshade, Bleeding Heart, etc.    Other authors use cover imagery as a brand — the covers all share a similar look.  You want instant reader identification — “Oh, I like that series…”

CA: As both reader and editor, what “hooks” you when you read a book description or see a cover on Amazon? What makes you pass on a book? 

MR: Covers are the first thing I look at and I can tell with about 90% certainty whether they’re professionally done or done by the author.  A good cover reveals the genre, the ‘tone’ of the story, and offers some kind of visual hook.  Vague covers that don’t make the content clear are a turn-off, not just to me but to other readers, too.  It implies a book that isn’t up to professional standard.

I will even turn down free books if the description is poor! I want a description that hooks me right away, gives me a sense of the main character and the central conflict, and excites my curiosity.  If I want to go read more at the end of that description, I’m 2/3 of the way to clicking ‘buy’!  (A quick glance at the start of the book is the deciding third…)

CA: Book reviews, especially on Amazon, have become an essential part of the book industry for both readers and writers. My own experience has been 1 review for every 1500 downloads. Do you think book reviews will become more or less important as time goes on? Why do you think so few readers leave reviews?

MR: Right now, reviews are becoming more and more important to Amazon visibility as are Goodreads reviews and reads.  These things change, but right now, authors need to actively solicit reviews.  But you must do it within Amazon’s best practices rules or risk getting kicked off Amazon.  You cannot offer a reward for a review and it is very dangerous to hire a company to ‘get you positive reviews’.  If that company is on Amazon’s black list, your book gets banned!  NOT good!

The best way to get reviews or Goodreads action is to cultivate a personal connection with  your readers.  Acquire their emails and their goodwill through giveaways of free short content, free book giveaways, contests, invitations to contribute something to an ongoing draft, and the like.  Then ask for reviews the way you’d ask them for a Facebook like.  If your fans feel that they’re your friends, they’re more willing to do you favors.

CA: Can you tell us a bit more about yourself? You have a unique place in today’s  publishing world but I think more agents and editors are going to follow your lead.

MR: I raised my kids as a mid-list author with Random House, Penguin, and Torr Books, writing SF and mystery (as Mary Freeman) as well as teaching writing. (And I won some nice literary awards while I was doing that, too).  As the publishing world changed and opened up to self publishing, I saw too many of my students getting scammed by fake ‘publishers’ or publishing books only to see no buyers.  I saw this new world of self publishing as a huge benefit to writers and readers both. The NY marketers were no longer the gatekeepers of published fiction!

But you have to do it right in order to succeed.  You must have a book that satisfies the readers in your genre and is well edited.  You must publish it in a professional manner.  You must promote it.

I have worked very hard to bring those three elements together for writers as New Writers Interface where I edit and help them publish and promote.  The promotion part has become more important lately, and I spend a lot of time keeping track of what is working for authors today to connect their books to the right readers.  It’s a lot of fun and keeps me busy tracking trends! And I love it when my clients’ books sell well!

CA: Can you leave us with two recommendations: A classic every mystery lover should read, and a book you’d give as a gift.

MR: Ah, I’m usually terrible at these recommendations, but in this case I can manage!  Whew!

The only classic that I’d recommend to every mystery lover is Sherlock Holmes.   No matter what sub genre of mystery you read or write, Holmes works.   The books really don’t fit into any modern genre, but for mystery authors there’s a lot to be learned from that distant, knows-everything character.  The books don’t sell just because they get assigned in high school and college English classes, they still engage readers in spite of the antiquated writing style.  A few authors since then have done very well with the Holmes archetype.  Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series, begun in the 30s, was very successful and was quite popular for at least four decades.

A gift I actually gave this Christmas was an assortment of Raymond Chandler mysteries — another classic by the way.  The recipient is a younger mystery reader who likes noir detective fiction and hadn’t heard of Raymond Chandler and Phillip Marlowe.  He was very pleased with the books, and there’s another author whose stories have survived in spite of ‘antiquated’ prose!

CA: Mary, thanks so much for stopping by. This was great information for both readers and writers.

MR: Carmen, thank you so much for inviting me!  I just finished Hat Dance and am moving on to King Peso–I really like Emilia Cruz and her investigations.  And believe me, getting three books into a series is rare for me!  As soon as I start editing, I am done with a book!  That I do for pay, not for pleasure.  Excellent writing, characterization, and plotting.  I’m looking forward to more Emilia Cruz mysteries for sure!

You can find out more about Mary and her magic at


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Author to Author with Estelle Ryan

Author to Author with Estelle Ryan

I’ve been reading Estelle Ryan’s Dr. Genevieve Lenard mystery series, starting with THE GAUGUIN CONNECTION. The series is a fresh take on the usual whodunit, both in terms of style and characters. I’m delighted to host Estelle today for a short chat.

Carmen Amato: Estelle, your absolutely compelling mystery series featuring Dr. Genevieve Lenard now spans 9 novels. Dr. Lenard is a self-described “non-neurotypical” personality with touches of Asperger’s Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in her makeup, all of which both help and hinder her efforts to solve crimes that incorporate an art element. Between the complexity of the character and the mysteries solved, how do you maintain continuity across the series while also keeping things fresh?

Estelle Ryan booksEstelle Ryan: Firstly, thank you so much for having me and also for your kind words. When I developed the series, I spent a lot of time getting to know my characters before I even wrote the first book. I wrote out comprehensive personality and professional profiles on each of them. No matter what crazy crime challenge gets thrown their way or how much each of them grow throughout the series, at their core they’re still true to their personalities. Plot points are easy and hard to find. Technology evolves at such an alarming rate, it’s not difficult to find new things to include in the mysteries. The difficult part comes in avoiding the very strong temptation of repeating the progression of a mystery in one of the previous books. But that challenge is fun to take on.

CA: Accompanied by her observations of body language, discussions between a group of characters in Genevieve’s apartment or her work place drive much of the storyline in your books. What are the pros and cons of so much dialogue?

ER: The pros of dialogue-heavy story telling are numerous, one of which is that it is more dynamic. It gives the reader the opportunity to get to know the characters through their speech and not through lengthy descriptions. It is a great way to reveal conflict between characters as well as giving each character a very distinct voice. The cons would be the lack of detailed description. We are venturing into a very subjective topic. Some readers love detailed descriptions of places, emotions, actions, as well as lengthy internal dialogue, where others find that boring and skip over those parts. Both have their place and finding a balance is another challenge for every writer. 

CA: One of the reasons I love your books is that our writing styles are very similar. We both feature strong yet flawed female characters and write from their deep point of view. What is the most difficult thing you have faced writing the character of Dr. Genevieve Lenard?

ER: I wanted the readers to experience the challenges people on the spectrum face every day. I wanted to make Genevieve difficult, but I didn’t want to make her impossible to relate to or unlikable. Striking that balance has been and still is something I pay close attention to. People who don’t know someone on the spectrum might find a character like Genevieve unbelievable and it’s my job to draw them into her world, into her mind in a way they can relate to her – even if it’s only in a small way.

CA: I found Genevieve to be very relatable! Part of what makes her endearing is that she struggles with all the changes in her life, but never loses that well-crafted and unique persona.

Transition is a huge part of a mystery or thriller novel. Change amps up tension and forces characters to adapt in order to keep moving forward. Can you share a significant transition that you experienced or that you wrote for a character?

gauguinER: The catalyst for Genevieve’s most significant growth/transition was when Colin and the other friends entered her life in the first book. She was forced out of her comfort zone of isolation and had to learn to trust and share. Adding the presence of Nikki, the student who elicits very strong protective tendencies in Genevieve also shook her to her core. I think all of us have experienced such events that took us to uncharted emotional territories and forced us to grow and often face our own fears.

CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

ER: Everything about ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ touched me. This quote is something I hold dear: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Estelle, thank you for stopping by!

If you haven’t read the terrific Dr. Genevieve Lenard series yet, check out Estelle’s website and find the Dr. Genevieve Lenard books on Amazon


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Anne R. Allen’s Essential Tips for New Authors

Anne R. Allen’s Essential Tips for New Authors

Lately, several emerging authors have asked me what to focus on as they start their careers. For a pro opinion, I turned to Anne R. Allen, author of How To Be A Writer In the E-Age. Anne writes the essential blog for today’s writers at When I asked her for a few tips, she shared this great advice:

1) Concentrate on writing short work (both fiction and personal essays).

Yes, you’ve got that novel or memoir you’re pounding away at, but spend at least half your time on short pieces. Short stories and essays will help you hone your craft and get you published in journals and anthologies. They might even make you some money. Some short story contests have big prizes.

And yes, you can write some of those short personal essays on a blog—either your own or as a guest—which will do amazing things for getting your name out there.

When you finish a short work, it gives you a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, and you can send those out to contests and journals and anthologies. There’s nothing more empowering than getting something in print and putting “published author” after your name.

2) Don’t write in a vacuum.

Take a class, join a critique group, find beta readers or a critique partner. You want to do this fairly early on. Writing in a vacuum can lead to bad habits and unrealistic expectations. Learning to write well is a long, steep learning curve. Don’t stay stuck at the bottom longer than you need to.

3) Read contemporary books in your genre.

If you only read the young adult books from your own youth or you read the regencies or mysteries you loved 20 years ago, you won’t be able to compete in today’s market. What was hot then will be clichéd now.

4) Network with other writers.

There are lots of great online social media groups and forums. (Some are fantastic and others not so much, so run if you see any trollish behavior!)

Blogging is a great way to network with other writers, and there are great blog networks for new writers like the Insecure Writers Support Group.

Simply commenting on well-known writing blogs gets your name into search engines and raises your profile. Get to know people and get known!

Genre groups that welcome both amateurs and professionals can be especially helpful, like RWA, SCBWI, and Sisters in Crime. They usually have online and in-person meetings.

You may be lucky enough to live in a community that has in-person writers clubs that meet at local libraries or bookstores. Network anyplace you find kindred spirits.  But you want to be online too. That’s where you’re going to make your sales and establish your career.

Online networking is a great way hear about agents who are looking for work like yours and to learn from people who are self-publishing and decide if it will work for you. This is where you’re going to find out about the business and learn the latest scams to stay away from (there are always scammers looking to pounce on newbie writers.)

5) Write everything down.

Don’t “talk out” your novel or story. Jot down your ideas—in notebooks, on Evernote, or whatever program works for you to save those thoughts, names, settings, weird stories that you can work into plots. Take it with you everywhere. They will be a goldmine later.

Thank you, Anne!

To learn more about Anne R. Allen and mine her trove of great advice, check out and her book How To Be A Writer In the E-Age.


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Author to Author: DV Berkom and Carmen Amato

Author to Author: DV Berkom and Carmen Amato

I love swapping ideas and stories with other mystery authors and this week I had the opportunity to chat with DV Berkom. Her Leine Basso and Kate Jones thrillers have been topping Amazon’s mystery and thriller genre charts of late, possibly because the author is as interesting as her books.

author DV Berkom

Carmen Amato: DV, thanks so much for stopping by. I confess to discovering you as an author when Amazon’s ticker said that people who bought my books also bought yours! As a result, I find myself in very good company.

DV Berkom: I’d have to say the same thing. Your character, Detective Emilia Cruz, is fantastic. Good company, indeed.

CA: You write both the Leine Basso crime thriller series and the Kate Jones adventure thriller series. Juggling two series at once is impressive. How do you maintain continuity? Do you have a process for each series?

DVB: Continuity can be tricky. Unfortunately, I don’t compile story bibles. That would take too much planning. I’ve been writing each character for so long now that I remember most if not all of what I need. It’s like accessing each character’s memories, if that makes sense. If I get stuck, I’ll re-read sections of previous books just to make sure I’m not mis-remembering. A Killing Truth was the trickiest, by far. As a prequel, I had to make sure to adhere to what I’d written before about Leine’s early life, which made things tricky. Especially the ending. I re-read Serial Date and Bad Traffick and then did a search for certain character’s names to refresh my memory about what I’d written. From reader comments and emails, it seems to have worked, thank goodness.

Related: Meet David Bruns, thriller author of JIHADI APPRENTICE and WEAPONS OF MASS DECEPTION

CA: Your main characters are strong, multi-dimensional women. But they aren’t perfect. Where did you look for inspiration when creating these women?

DVB: Perfect characters are {yawn} so boring. I don’t want to invest my precious time reading about someone who can’t do any wrong. How is that compelling? Strong, flawed women are all around us—you just have to look. And let’s face it—nobody’s actually “perfect.” A bit closer to home, my mother is one of the most fearless women I know, as is my sister. I believe that we’ve all got that strength inside us, and I love to tap into the character’s reserves to find out what she’ll fight for and what she won’t. It’s a deep well.

CA: Setting can drive the tone and tempo of a mystery. Tell us about a favorite setting you have used in a novel and why did you choose it.

DVB: Mexico is one of my favorite settings. I’m sure you can relate  Even though I lived there for a time and traveled there extensively, it’s still mysterious and I keep going back. Take your pick: jungles, deserts, ruins, cosmopolitan and rural areas, resorts, etc. The country is so diverse, I doubt I’d ever exhaust the possibilities. Of course, the same could be said for the US, and I’ve set books in California, Arizona, Hawaii, Alaska, and Washington State. I’ve lived in most of the places I write about, or at least have visited them, and enjoy writing about the ones that made an impression.

Related: The Insider’s Guide to the Best of Mexico

CA: Transition is a huge part of a mystery or thriller novel. Change amps up tension and forces characters to adapt in order to keep moving forward. Can you share a significant transition that you experienced or that you wrote for a character?

DVB: Life is change. If you lack that basic element in your novel (especially in thrillers or mysteries) you will lose 99.9% of your readers. My own life transitions have taught me so much. For instance, my family moved a lot when I was young, forcing me to adapt to change: new location, new school, new friends, new cultures. At the time it sucked, but now I’m grateful. Having to adapt to new situations taught me the art of observation. When you’re the new kid on the block, you avoid a lot of unpleasantness if you first observe how others react. As a result of moving so much as a kid, for several years after I graduated college I changed addresses every 6 months or so. I loved being on the move. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I settled down (more or less). Needless to say, during that time I had a lot of adventures—great fodder for novels.

CA: What is the first grown-up mystery you remember reading? Was it the one that inspired you to write that genre yourself or did another?

DVB: I’d read other spy novels before him, but Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle had the greatest impact. What a master. It was the first novel I’d read with a strong, realistic female character who fought back without making excuses. I also was inspired by Carl Hiaasen. His books showed me that you could write about social issues and still be highly entertaining.

CA: What can we expect next from Leine Basso and Kate Jones?

DVB: I’m currently in the middle of the first draft of the next Kate Jones thriller. I’m taking her in a slightly different direction, and it’s been a lot of fun. I don’t have the title yet, but I assume it will appear when it’s ready. Then, on to the next Leine Basso. I can’t get enough of either of them. If that does happen, or a high percentage of readers tell me I should kill one or the other of them off, I’ll know it’s time to start something new.

CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

DVB: “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” ― Jack Kerouac

Thanks for allowing me to be part of your world today, Carmen. I appreciate it.

Want to know more about fellow mystery author DV Berkom? Here’s her official bio:

DV Berkom is the award-winning author of two action-packed thriller series featuring strong female leads (Leine Basso and Kate Jones). Her love of creating resilient, kick-ass women characters stems from a lifelong addiction to reading spy novels, mysteries, and thrillers, and longing to find the female equivalent within those pages. She makes her home in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Mark, and several imaginary characters who like to tell her what to do.

Find her across your digital devices!








Amazon Author Page: USUK

A Killing Truth by DV Berkom


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

“Relevance and immediacy:” A chat with thriller author David Bruns

The #friends section of this website is all about walking and talking with awesome mystery and thriller authors. This week I was lucky enough to catch up with David Bruns, half of a dynamic writing duo (with JR Olson) that gave us the contemporary thriller Weapons of Mass Deception. David talked about the delicate business of writing terror-based fiction, his favorite author, and what it takes to collaborate with a co-author. A new role for me in there? Read on!

Carmen Amato interview with David Bruns

1. Carmen Amato: David, thanks so much for stopping by. I was really impressed with your thriller Weapons of Mass Deception and am looking forward to your new book, Jihadi Apprentice. Both are about terrorism from two points of view: those defending US national security and terrorists bent on destroying Western civilization. What are the pros and cons of using terrorism as the basis for fiction?

David Bruns: Writing about a politically charged topic like terrorism is an artistic tightrope. On the plus side, we extrapolate from current events so the story has a sense of relevance and immediacy that grabs a reader’s attention. The downside is that exploring these topics can be scary. There’s a saying that the FBI agents use in Jihadi Apprentice: “The bad guys only need to be successful once. We need to be right every single day.” Unfortunately, I think it’s true.

My writing partner was a naval intelligence officer for 21 years and he’s witnessed scary events that never made the news–most of which he can’t talk about, even with me. One of the points we make in our books is that the world has become a gigantic game of Whack-A-Mole for the people trying to protect us. It’s scary, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s also real and makes for compelling fiction.

JihadiApprentice_CVR_LRG2. CA: How do you create multi-dimensional fictional characters, including the terrorists? Where do you look for inspiration when creating characters?

DB: In Jihadi Apprentice, we took on a difficult artistic challenge: how do we write a sympathetic terrorist? The inspiration for Ayana, a Somali-American teenager who is recruited by a terrorist group, was the newspaper articles about young Somalis being recruited to fight for ISIS. These are US citizens–born in America but with one foot in the traditional culture of their immigrant parents–who are persuaded to leave the US to fight overseas.

After consulting with contacts in law enforcement, academia and in the Somali community, our approach was to show the process of the young person being recruited, groomed, and manipulated into betraying their country, then realize what they’ve done.

Related post: A chat with Khaled Talib, author of Smokescreen

3. CA: You and J.R. Olson are co-authors and bill yourselves as the Two Navy Guys writing team. If you and I were to write a thriller together, what expectations would you have and what would you want to know about my writing habits and style?

DB: First off, I would love to collaborate with you! Co-writing has been a wonderful experience for us. Having someone to share the endless duties of plotting, writing, editing, and marketing is a godsend. I think the most important part of any collaboration is to understand where each person’s strengths lie and plan your project accordingly. In our case, we come up with the story idea and overall arc together, but JR does most of the plotting and research. I do the actual writing of the first drafts. We revise and edit together and share the marketing duties.

4. CA: Transition is a huge part of a mystery or thriller novel. Change amps up tension and forces characters to adapt in order to keep moving forward. Can you share a significant transition that you experienced or that you wrote for a character?

DB: I’ll use an example from Weapons of Mass Deception so I don’t want to give away any of the plot points in the new book. In WMD, Rafiq Roshed is a Hezbollah agent, and a very bad dude. About midway through the book, Rafiq gets sent to South America to develop a sleeper cell. While there, Rafiq falls in love with a wealthy heiress. He marries her, becomes a father, and inherits a massive fortune. Then he’s called on to fulfill his mission for his Iraqi handlers. The transition from despised terrorist to loving family man back to terrorist made Rafiq one of our most interesting characters.

Related: Book Review: Weapons of Mass Deception

5. CA: Now for some fun. You are shipwrecked with a crate labeled “Books.” What 3 books do you hope are in it?

DB: Only three? Wow, that’s tough. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy is the book that enticed me to become a submarine officer. DUNE by Frank Herbert is my all-time favorite sci-fi novel and The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay is the absolute best coming-of-age story ever.

6. CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

DB: Charles Dickens and there wouldn’t be any food–just beer, lots of beer. To me, Dickens is the full package, the guy who recognized at an astonishingly early time that writing is a business. He was writing great stories, but also constantly reinventing how those works would be delivered to his reading public.

7. CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

DB: Louis L’Amour, one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century, had a great saying that I keep posted next to my computer: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

So many people talk about writing, but never actually get around to doing it. I think Louis has the right idea.

Thank you!

Want to know more about David Bruns and his books?

David author pic - cropped-minDavid’s bio: 

David is a recovering corporate executive who writes science fiction under his own name and thrillers with co-author, JR Olson. Weapons of Mass Deception, a novel of modern day nuclear terrorism, was their first co-authored book. Their latest novel, Jihadi Apprentice, about homegrown radicalism in the American Heartland, comes out in June 2016. Visit to find out more.


Book_Review_leadmagnet copyChatting with mystery and thriller writers is almost as much fun as reading their books. If you love mysteries and thrillers as much as I do, you know how important book reviews are. But no time to write a review? Get my 5 Sentence Formila Cheatsheet now to start writing reviews that matter!


Writing a mystery: 3 essential questions

Writing a mystery: 3 essential questions

RUSSIAN MOJITO, Detective Emilia Cruz Book 7, will be released on 6 June. It is undoubtedly the most complex mystery I've ever written. Emilia's whole future is on the line. Mystery writing: the big start Every Emilia Cruz novel has multiple plot lines. My...

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Author to Author: Jinx Schwartz and Carmen Amato

Author to Author: Jinx Schwartz and Carmen Amato

As a mystery author of books set in Mexico, I have been lucky enough to build a great network of friends with books. Mystery readers love following along with the Detective Emilia Cruz series and the troubled relationship between Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz and hotel manager Kurt Rucker.

Other readers are drawn by Mexico’s mystique.  I’m in good company when it comes to writing about Mexico. We hang out at the Mexico Writers Facebook group which includes novelists, non-fiction writers, and bloggers. Mexico is our common theme.

Friends With Books is a series of conversations with members of the Mexico Writers group. Each conversation has a few surprises about Mexican #culture and #protips about the writing process. Today’s conversation is with Jinx Schwartz, author of the Hetta Coffey mystery series as well as TROUBLED SEA, an adventure tale set in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. If you love yachts, humor, and Texas, chances are you have read one of Jinx’s popular books.

JinxOn real life

Tell us a bit about your family.  Texans. What else do I need to say?

How do you work through self-doubts and fear?  If I fear it, I kill it off in a book. Works every time. Except for the dentist; they are the undead.

What scares you the most?  Anything medical.

What makes you happiest?  Being with my husband.

What are you most proud of in your personal life? Landing my husband. I was 45 and single. He fought the good fight, but we’ve had a great life together.

What’s your greatest character strength? Hmmmm. My husband says I am generous to a fault, so that must be it.

What’s your weakest character trait?  Why do you think I have one? Have you been spying on me? And no, I am NOT paranoid.

On writing and reading

Just Different DevilsWhy do you write?  I like to tell tales. Some say I have a loose hold on the truth, so why not use it?

Have you always enjoyed writing?  Nope, but always loved reading.

What writing are you most proud of?  I guess the Hetta Coffey series, because I get feedback that the books actually make people laugh when they need a good laugh.

What books did you love growing up?  I grew up in places like Haiti and Thailand, so I read anything I could get my hands on, age appropriate or not.

Who is your favorite author?  Well, me, of course:-)

What book genre of books do you adore?  Action/adventure, mystery.

What book should everybody read at least once?   The Bible. Lots of good stories there.

 What do you hope your obituary will say about you?  Not sure about the obit, but tombstone: “That’s all she wrote.”

Thanks, Jinx!

Jinx is a #friends with books on Amazon.


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

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