How to Survive a Pandemic from Polar History’s “Wicked Mate”

How to Survive a Pandemic from Polar History’s “Wicked Mate”

I was recently asked if the coronavirus pandemic had changed what readers want from mystery authors.


Right now, I think readers appreciate a good tale of overcoming the odds.

That’s why polar history resonates with me right now. The early exploration of Antarctica and the North Pole regions is replete with true stories of resilience and fortitude when all hope seems lost. The exploits of Ernest Shackleton, Douglas Mawson, and Roald Amundsen are the stuff of legend.

One of the best known episodes from the so-called Heroic Age of exploration is the competition between Robert F. Scott and Roald Amundsen to be first to the South Pole. To recap, in 1912 Scott led a British team on a grueling march halfway across Antarctica to the South Pole, only to find that Norway’s Amundsen and his dogsledders had already come and gone.

Scott’s entire team died of illness and starvation on the return journey. Amundsen’s team dumped excess food as they sprinted back to their expedition’s hut.

There are a thousand lessons to be learned from the Scott-Amundsen race. But if you want to survive a pandemic, study the “Northern Party,” an all-but-forgotten sideshow to the Scott disaster.

It’s one of the most amazing survival stories you’ve never heard of.

Meet the “Wicked Mate”

Victor Campbell was a 34-year-old lieutenant in the Royal Navy when he accepted Scott’s invitation to join the British Antarctic Expedition. Campbell was named First Officer of the expedition ship Terra Nova and third in command overall (after Scott and Lieutenant Edward “Teddy” Evans.)

Victor Campbell

Victor Campbell in 1913


The rest of the British Antarctic Expedition were British Navy officers and sailors, civilian scientists, a Norwegian ski expert, and a Russian dog handler.

The expedition’s primary mission was to plant the Union Jack on the South Pole.  Scott’s Southern Party would march south from basecamp at Cape Evans.

The secondary mission was scientific discovery. Most of Antarctica was unmapped and untapped; a blank slate. A host of scientific programs was laid out that could be completed within range of Cape Evans.

The exception was the much smaller Northern Party, led by Campbell. This 6-man team would focus on geological discovery, mapping, and weather observations in the area south of New Zealand.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard, in his gripping account THE WORST JOURNEY IN THE WORLD, wrote “Lieutenant Evans . . . was in charge . . . to cement together the rough material into a nucleus which was capable of standing without any friction the strains of nearly three years of crowded, isolated and difficult life, ably seconded by Victor Campbell . . . in whose hands the routine and discipline of the ship was most efficiently maintained. I was very frightened of Campbell.”

Campbell’s nickname of “Wicked Mate” came from the “mixture of respect, awe, admiration, trust, and finally affection” of the men who served under him, according to H.G.R. King, the editor of his diary. The Wicked Mate had a reputation for shyness but it came with a sense of humor, along with imperturbability and discipline. He was comfortable with authority.

Those traits would save lives.

Forging a team

Besides Campbell, the Northern Party was comprised of geologist Raymond Priestly, Royal Navy surgeon Murray Levick, and Petty Officers G.P. Abbott, F.V. Browning, and H. Dickason. The group spent most of 1911 at Cape Adare where the 1899 expedition led by Carstens Borchegrevink was the first to spend a winter on the continent.

Priestly wrote in his book ANTARCTIC ADVENTURE, “We left [Cape Adare] in January 1912 a well-knit party, reasonably satisfied with the scientific record we had achieved, to which every one of the six had made notable and essential contributions.” Cape Adare’s near-constant blizzards hampered their scientific work yet forged a team spirit of ingenuity and inventions that ranged from a makeshift alarm clock dubbed a “Carusophone” to a face mask to prevent frostbite.

More importantly, the now tight-knit team was accustomed to Campbell’s habits of naval discipline.

The expedition ship Terra Nova left its winter berth in New Zealand (to avoid being caught in pack ice) and took them from Cape Adare to the aptly named Inexpressible Island. The plan was for the Northern Party to continue scientific discovery there for a few weeks. Terra Nova would return in February to ferry them to the Cape Evans basecamp 230 miles away.

Ice blocked the Terra Nova from returning. As February turned into March and winter descended with furious wind that tore their canvas tents, Campbell realized the Northern Party was stranded.

Remember, this was 1912. They were at the bottom of the world. No electricity. No communication.

No help.

How could six men survive the 9-month polar winter, with bone-cutting temperatures and days of 24-hour darkness, with nothing more than a couple weeks’ worth of dried food and rapidly disintegrating tents?

Priestly summed up the situation: “It was evident that three things were absolutely necessary, and perhaps only three. We must have light, shelter, and hot food.”

The Sooner the Better

“The outlook is not very cheerful.” Campbell’s diary, 16 March 1912

Campbell quickly recognized that circumstances had changed and made no attempt to sugarcoat the situation. He embraced the brutal truth fast and didn’t waste time on self-pity or wishful thinking.

As early as 26 February, he set aside the remaining rations, fuel, and clothing designed for polar sledging, worried they would be needed for the trek over uncharted territory to Cape Evans. For all Campbell knew, the Terra Nova had sunk or was trapped in ice somewhere in the Antarctic Circle and he had to get his team back to basecamp on his own.

The next day, with three off exploring the island on a scientific trip, Campbell and two others began hacking a cave out of solid ice to serve as winter shelter for all six men. The result was 9 x 12 feet, with a max height of 5’6”. The tunnel to access it was 2’6” x 1’6”.

Diagram of cave by Raymond Priestley

Diagram of cave by expedition geologist Raymond Priestley


Campbell also calculated how many penguins and seals they’d need to kill before the full onset of winter when the animals took shelter and it was too dark to hunt.

By 19 March, the ice cave was home and the perpetual hunt to stock the larder despite frostbite and blizzard was on. The cave gave them the light, shelter and hot food Priestley deemed essential but not much else. A diet of meat, seaweed, and saltwater began to take a heavy toll on digestive systems. Seal blubber was used as fuel, so the floor—and the men—quickly became coated in greasy soot.

As blizzards raged outside and freezing temperatures reigned inside, the men spent most of their time in sleeping bags. Following Navy tradition, Campbell bisected the tiny space into “decks” for officers and sailors. An unwritten law decreed that what was spoken in one deck was not “heard” in another. When Campbell and Levick were seriously worried about Browning’s health during the winter, however, they passed notes.

Lesson from Campbell: The sooner you recognize that the situation is changed and adapt, the greater your chances of getting ahead of negative consequences. Refuse to see that the situation you expected has been overtaken by events? You risk a cascade of secondary problems.

Critical routines

“We take it in turns to be cook and messman.” Campbell’s diary, 9 April 1912

By June the sun had completely disappeared. Tucked inside the dark cave, with only crude blubber lamps for light, Campbell used routine to hold insanity at bay and maintain a sense of passing time:

Duty roster: Three teams of two men took turns as the day’s cook and messman, or cook’s helper. When on duty, the team was responsible for preparing meals, cleaning up, gathering snow for water, etc. The workday began at 7:00 am with breakfast preparations. Dinner was at 5:00 pm.

Food: To augment the diet of seal and penguin, they doled out minute portions of sledging biscuit—like a heavy graham cracker. Cocoa five days of the week. On Sunday they had 12 lumps of sugar and tea, which was reboiled for Monday, and then dried to be used as pipe tobacco. The last day of the month was celebrated with raisins, as were birthdays. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, they each got 1 ounce of chocolate. Birthdays were celebrated with extra treats as well.

Events: Singing concerts (a “sing-song”) took place Saturday nights. Campbell held a church service on Sundays “which consisted of my reading a chapter of the Bible followed by hymns.” Levick read aloud after dinner each night. When the books ran out, he gave lectures on human anatomy.

Priestley wrote: “The celebration of all special occasions proved to be a godsend . . . such gala days were looked forward to for a week or more and remembered for as long; they seemed to break the monotony of winter.”

Lesson from Campbell: Locked down by the pandemic? Don’t let your days become one big long blur. Create order and routine. Celebrate milestones, even in a small way. This approach creates a sense of control and forward progress.

Continuous improvement

“Levick some days ago designed a new stove which we call ‘The Complex’ in opposition to our old one, ‘The Simplex.’ The reason the ‘Complex’ did not catch on with the rest of us he put down to professional jealousy, but today I came in to find the designer using the old ‘Simplex’ while a much battered ‘Complex’ lay outside on the drift where it remained the rest of the winter.” Campbell’s diary, 7 June 2012

Throughout the winter, the men sought to improve the situation, going above and beyond the ingenuity shown at Cape Adare.

They created:

  • An “outhouse” by the entrance.
  • A ventilation system made of biscuit tins, snow blocks, and a bamboo sledge pole to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation.
  • A variety of stoves using blubber for fuel that “reduced preparing and cooking the food to a fine art.”
  • Systems for cutting, storing, and transporting meat for the trek to Cape Evans.

Priestley wrote about their improvements saying, “As one difficulty after another disappeared we became more and more convinced that we were going to pull through, and this although we had at this time only enough seal to keep us going on half-rations until the end of July.”

Lesson from Campbell: You can always make your immediate environment better. No matter where you are, look around and make small improvements that support your goals. Each improvement is a force multiplier.

Get Ready for the Next Step

“We have been discussing our best route down, whether to go round the Drygalski [Glacier] on the sea ice or over the tongue. I, myself, don’t think the ice can be depended on round the Drygalski; it runs so far into the Ross Sea.” Campbell’s diary, 1 June 1912

At the end of September, the Northern Party left the ice cave on Inexpressible Island and struck out for Cape Evans. There was no way to know they would encounter sand-like snowdrifts, waist-high sastrugi ice waves, pancakes of sea ice, and the dangerous crevasses of the Drygalski Glacier.

Campbell had the fresh items he’d held in reserve for the journey. In every other way, the odds were against all six men surviving a 230-mile journey over uncharted territory.

But they prepared:

  • All the men were weak and suffered from swollen feet and ankles from months spent lying down. A stretching and isometric exercise regime prepped them for distance walking.
  • Browning was seriously ill with ptomaine poisoning. Levick experimented with his diet, which necessitated sacrifice for others but saved his life.
  • The sledges were damaged from wintering in snowdrifts outside the cave, but essential for hauling supplies. They brought them inside and repaired them using rudimentary tools.
  • Their sleeping bags had molted and were covered in grease. Tents had been shredded in March. Repairs were made to the extent possible.
Northern Party 1

Abbott, Campbell and Dickason leaving the ice cave, 30 Sept 1912


Northern Party 2

Priestley, Levick and Browning leaving the ice cave, 30 Sept 1912


Priestley’s account of the journey is harrowing. Roped like horses to pull the heavily burdened sledges, they burned more calories than they could take in. Starvation dogged them. At times, the surface was so difficult they resorted to relaying supplies. The unwieldy sledges sometimes dragged them over the ice or got stuck in crevasses.

Only the routine, discipline, and ingenuity they had established during the winter saved their sanity and pushed them on. “Our tempers had stood an almost unparalleled strain during the past winter,” Priestley wrote. “And stood it successfully; we knew each other more thoroughly than most men ever know their companions.”

After almost a month, they found food depots left by other members of Scott’s expedition. The fear of starvation was finally banished.

Lesson from Campbell: Work on your health and optimism. Uncertainty will always be with us. There is always going to be another hurdle. Time spent preparing is never wasted time.

And Afterwards

The Northern Party arrived at Cape Evans on 6 November, only to hear that Scott’s Southern Party had never returned. They would not know what happened until later that month when a search party stumbled in, having found Scott’s tent and the frozen bodies of Scott, Edward Wilson and Henry “Birdie” Bowers. The diaries of the dead men told of losing the race to the Pole and the tragic journey which ended 11 miles from a food depot.

The Terra Nova returned to Cape Evans on 11 February 1913 and brought the survivors back to civilization. The British Antarctic Expedition was over.

The Wicked Mate was honored for his polar service. Campbell commanded fleet vessels with distinction during World War I, including at the Battle of Jutland. He retired in 1922 with a chest full of medals, moved to Canada, and was largely forgotten by historians.

Let’s not make that mistake twice.

All photos from THE WICKED MATE: The Antarctic Diary of Victor Campbell, edited by H.G.R. King

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


Season of change, complete with koi pond

Season of change, complete with koi pond

It’s the season of change.

After years as professional nomads, we finally bought the Dream House. The move to a new state was a 60-day exercise in logistics and determination during which we sold Old House, bought Dream House, packed up, and drove caravan-style for 2 days.

The television and printer, as well as much of my pottery from Mexico and Nicaragua, were casualties of the moving company. Otherwise we survived the ordeal intact to find that Dream House came equipped with a koi pond.

koi pond

Nothing against koi, but I never wanted any. The  pond is a magnet for the dog and takes time and attention to maintain. Koi food costs $30 a bag.

My husband calls them “the freeloaders.”

BUT watching flickering flame-colored fish soothes nerves frazzled by the Great Task of Settling In. Now after 3 weeks, 90% of the boxes are unpacked and I know how to get to the grocery store.

As a result, the draft of RUSSIAN MOJITO: Detective Emilia Cruz Book 7 beckons. Big changes in my life will translate into big changes for the first female police detective in Acapulco, too.

But first . . .

Step 1

Find a dedicated writing space.

We decided to repurpose rooms. The family room off the kitchen has become the Banquet Hall. The dining room will be my new office. This means getting rid of the chandelier and the chair rail, not to mention the mud brown paint, to which the previous owners were much addicted. Brown is not a creative color, IMHO.

Step 2

Get organized.

While I want to devote 100% to Emilia and company, there are many demands on my time and getting this house together is a major one. Establishing a routine will help maximize my writing time, as will simple repeatable processes (for updating social media accounts, running Amazon ads, etc). This means gathering up all my old notes from webinars and articles about productivity and implementing advice that works for my schedule and situation.

It’s a game of increments, as a clever gentleman recently advised me. Small gains on multiple fronts are achieved by organization and perseverance and eventually add up to Big Things.

Now, now, now

Being Type A, naturally I want everything done yesterday. Wish me luck!

But as another wise person said, it’s all about the journey.

Time to feed the fish.

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


season of change

One Heart, Three Tragedies

One Heart, Three Tragedies

Three places I love are bleeding and all I can do is watch and pray.


As many readers know, my years in Mexico and Central America provided the impetus for my mystery and thriller novels and part of my heart will always be in Mexico. But the country has been rocked by the horrific story of the September 2014 disappearance of 43 students from the rural teacher training college in Ayotzinapa, “a college with a tradition of left-wing political activism,” according to BBC reporting.

flag printAuthorities in Mexico City say the students were rounded up by police “allegedly on the orders of the mayor of the nearby town of Iguala, “who wanted to prevent them from disrupting a speech his wife was giving at a public event that evening.” The students were then handed over to a gang known for violence. Gang members killed the students, burned the bodies, and discarded the remains in trash bags. One student has been identified from the remains. No closure for the other 42 families as of yet, despite more arrests.

Gang members, the mayor, his wife, and the police chief have all been arrested. Now there is a call for an investigation into the army. Meanwhile, the hashtag #YaMeCanse (I am tired) has become a rallying cry against Mexico’s drug violence and the mounting numbers of missing.

Related post: Entitlement, Mexico Style

If all this wasn’t enough, as federal investigators were combing the hillsides of the state of Guerrero (where the Emilia Cruz mystery series is set) they kept finding other mass graves. How much is too much!?

Surely there will be an end to the violence someday. In the meantime, I’m praying for answers.


I also have wonderful memories of living in Greece and regularly correspond with friends who are still there. In fact, Greece is where I wrote the first, 800-page (!) draft of The Hidden Light of Mexico City. We treated the crazy Greek bureaucracy, radical protests, and garbage strikes with humor. But in time we realized these events reflected systemic failure.

broken old potteryThis coming Sunday, Greeks will take to the polls in yet another drama related to the country’s ongoing financial crisis and overwrought political scene. Riding high is Alexis Tsipras, from the far radical left Syriza Party which would do away with the austerity measures Greece was forced to adopt in order to get billions in bailout money from the EU. The Wall Street Journal reported that the already beseiged Greek economy is in a tailspin over a potential Syriza win at the polls.

Should Tsipras win and make good on his promises to walk away from Greece’s promises to the EU, it would mean an epic financial crisis. But maybe he’s got support because austerity has simply exhausted the Greek spirit. The Economist reports that “Although the economy is now growing again, Greek voters remain understandably enraged that GDP should have shrunk by almost 20% since 2010 and that unemployment is still as high as 26%.” According to UK newspaper The Guardian, “Many Greeks will be inclined to vote for the insurgents as much out of hopelessness as helplessness.”

No matter what the outcome, I’m praying for restraint.


I went to college for a year in Paris, long before there were euros and the internet. My best friend and I lived in the 17th Arondissment–the high rent district. It was a year of important life experiences, set against the backdrop of the City of Lights.

Girl Meets Paris book coverBut the news coming out of Paris this month has been nothing like that. Terrorist rampages, manhunts, sleeper cells, mass shootings. Like so many others, I’ve been glued to the news, remembering locations and events that brought me so much joy, and shocked by what today’s  journalists are reporting.

I’ve been tinkering with a memoir, based on my letters, of my year in Paris. “Girl Meets Paris” captures all the joy and excitement of discovering Paris.

Maybe publishing could be part of the healing process, because I’m praying for recovery.


Bookstores of the Future: 5 Lessons About Survival of the Fittest

Bookstores of the Future: 5 Lessons About Survival of the Fittest

Will bookstores survive? Must they innovate in order to stay relevant and solvent in the era of ebooks and ecommerce?

Simply out of curiosity, I began posing this question to authors, book bloggers, publishers, and store owners.

This led to a series of articles on this blog, including 25 Influential Authors Weigh In, 12 Influential Bloggers Debate, and 13 Divergent Views from Publishing Insiders. The series included some memorable virtual encounters such as with veteran thriller writer Dale Brown, blogger and author extraordinaire C. M. Mayo, Lebanon-based publisher Carole Corm, and #LitChat host Carolyn Burns Bass.

The result is some personal conclusions, which likely run counter to traditional publishing’s preferences. I make no excuses; these conclusions are based only on my experience asking questions. I’m a mystery author and claim no expertise or management experience in the publishing field. Which might be a good thing. But I digress.

After 7 months and over 800 emails, here are my conclusions.


1. Bookstore owners can no longer stay in business simply because they love books

Surprisingly, bookstore owners were the least responsive out of all the groups I queried,  with whopping a 5% response rate. This compares to authors (60%) and book bloggers (72%). Those who did respond, however, had something smart to say:

Emily Stavrou, Schuler Books & Music,  Michigan, Schuler Books & Music, Michigan-based, large-format, independent bookstore (established in 1982), has credited its continued success with the ability to evolve quickly as the market changes.  Over the years, Schuler has diversified the bookstores’ inventory to include unique gift merchandise, games and puzzles, home accessories, and more.  Schuler Books has developed a strong Used Books & Media section in each of the stores that continues to be successful.   Over the years, Schuler has added and expanded each location to include a full-service gourmet cafe, and has integrated Chapbook Press,  a publishing arm of the company,  with their recent purchase of the innovative Espresso Book Machine for print-on-demand book publishing. These are just a few ways Schuler Books has continued to remain a vibrant part of an ever-changing market. 

Not to be overlooked, technology has become an ally in innovation for Schuler Books. Utilizing social media to connect and collaborate with community groups & non-profit organizations locally has proven to be a wonderful way to bring business to the bookstore.  Schuler offers a conference room space for hosting monthly meetings, and brings in authors for events pertaining to the organization’s focus.  They also offer fundraising opportunities through many community service efforts.  These partnerships have had a positive effect on business in many ways.  The cafes see additional business through catering revenue; marketing efforts get a broad audience through the benefiting organization’s supporters, and the bookstore is able connect with their community in a meaningful way. 

Karin van Eck, The American Book Center, Amsterdam, Netherlands,

ABC offers local authors a chance to print and publish and sell their book at ABC. The EBM, or like ABC’s owner Lynn Kaplanian Buller likes to call it: fab lab for books, is situated in both stores. ABC also offers local ( and self published) authors a chance to present their book at Meet My Book events or pitch their book (idea) to a professional publisher once a month. 

The Espresso Book Machine® (EBM), which Time Magazine named an “Invention of the Year,” provides a revolutionary direct-to-consumer distribution model for books. Put simply, the EBM is an automated book-making machine. The operator selects a title to print, and within a few minutes a book emerges: bound and trimmed with a full-color cover.

Pete Mulvihill, Green Apple Books, San Francisco, CA

Green Apple spearheaded the effort to create California Bookstore Day–a statewide celebration of books, authors, and indy bookstores. We took the lead, from convincing the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association to back the idea to getting publishers and authors on board, from launching an IndieGoGo campaign to get it off the ground to finding the perfect candidate to produce the event. Now, thirteen unique books and art pieces will be featured and sold at 93 indy bookstores in CA on one day only–May 3, 2014.

Ed Gillis, Ed’s Books & More, Sydney, Nova Scotia,

To stay competitive, I added more than books to the store. To succeed and remain relevant, I knew that I needed more than readers to enter the store; I needed to reach people who had other interests.

Besides a huge stock of books, we also carry DVDs, CDs, albums, jewelry, and collectables. Due to the variety, we have more opportunity to reach new customers; and once in the door, they discover a world of books.


2. The debate over print vs ebook is both emotional and distracting

Asking questions about how bookstores might look in the future, instead of leading to discussions about shared retail space, community partnerships, or clever promotions, in almost every case led to a debate about print vs ebooks. Although publishing insider Doris Heilmann of and author Jane Rosenthal had some actionable ideas, many respondents were less ready to talk about practical solutions than were willing to discuss the impact of ebooks. This view was brought home to me again during a recent #LitChat session on Twitter sponsored by Carolyn Burns Bass’s website. While the moderator’s questions were designed to spark a debate on bookstore innovation, most of the chat was another print vs ebook discussion, with firm views on both sides.


3. The elephant in the room is quite comfortable, thank you

Bookstores are being squeezed on two sides, in my view. The first is from the chokehold on distribution by the traditional publishing industry. Major publishers control the distribution funnel with a limited number of select books, store displays, and may even dictate book placement.

The second squeeze is from the growing number of independent author or small press titles that aren’t in the distribution funnel, yet are increasingly popular with readers who find them through book blogs, Amazon, and other online outlets. Authors and small presses bemoan the fact that they cannot get their print books into bookstores, with a few exceptions for local connections. There is no systematic small press or indie author distribution network to stores. Plus, there is no return policy as with traditionally published books, given that most small publishers and independent authors operate on a just-in-time inventory basis.

Author Bob Mayer, who also has his own Cool Gus publishing imprint, commented that “The bottom line is that authors will totally support bookstores when that support is extended the other way.”

The traditional publishers’ return policy is often mentioned as the stopper. After selling the store a chunky quota of books, publishers accept returns of the unsold. As long as enough large stores survive for this model to continue to work, there is little incentive for publishers to shift or take on distribution of books they don’t publish.

Can this dynamic last much longer? Either bookstores will be able to innovate enough to stay ahead of the dual squeeze, or enough will fail to significantly erode the traditional distribution model. But here’s the catch–publishers can make up the difference in print returns with ebooks, leaving bookstores that rely on print in the cold.


4. The power of the backlist

I was most surprised to receive comments from established–no, let’s be frank, they are famous– authors acknowledging the power of ebooks. Dale Brown and Bernard Cornwell were among them, with Brown saying “It’s so easy and convenient to get a book these days, and with the Internet you don’t need to browse through a bookstore’s shelves to find a new release from a favorite author–Facebook, Twitter, a Web site, or the blogosphere will inform you.” 

Brown, Cornwell, and Mayer are all prolific authors with extensive backlists. They typify the authors who have the most to gain from ebooks, which are always for sale and never out of print. In contrast, bookstores generally don’t have the space to carry all the print titles by very prolific authors. The more titles an author has, it would seem, the less incentive to align with the traditional publishing distribution model.


5. The reality of books as part of the highly competitive entertainment industry

Most people associated with books and publishing regard books as something separate from other entertainment options such as music, television, or (gasp) online gaming. But for much of the book world, especially for fiction, that isn’t true. Many entertainment options are available to take up the consumer’s time and books are one of those choices. My own teenagers have shown me that.

Countering the entertainment option, many respondents said the bookstores of the future should be quiet places to browse, with a coffee bar. Basically, a library with a Starbucks attached. That model won’t pay the bills.

What will pay the bills, however, is using bookstore space to create a broader retail experience. Whether it is linking books with food and drink, or a service or an activity like hotel accommodations, an approach that generates more income streams will let bookstores survive. Are there still music stores? Yes, but they sell more than just CD’s or LPs or are part of a larger retail concept. Ernest Tubbs’ in Nashville might be the exception, but heck, they don’t call it Music City for nothing.

I wrote about a few innovating bookstore examples early in the series. Stores in Europe, for example, with the grand new Foyle’s in London, are taking the broad view and building around it.


Parting words

Overall, this series was harder than I thought it would be. It was hard to justify the resolute business-as-usual attitude of traditional publishers–and reading sneery literary agent Donald Maass’s recent comments about “freight class” authors–didn’t help. Neither did the near-deafening silence from store owners, whose lack of participation was underscored by some truly terrible store websites.

Yet I’m optimistic. Many print books don’t translate well to current ebook technology and are best served up in print. There is a dedicated cadre of print devotees who will spend the extra dollar for a print book and drive the extra distance to find the store. Stores that find the sweet spot between service, community, and creating a retail experience will survive and thrive.

I’ve been asked what would my perfect bookstore look like. I’d call it The Book Bar. The walls would be lined with books to browse, specialty drinks would be named after memorable titles and authors (the Detective Emilia Cruz Hot Pepper Mojito, for example), and it would be an awesome venue for author chats, book clubs, speed dating, and singles nights. Not all at once, of course.

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



Writing for Water: We Shot for the Moon in April

Writing for Water: We Shot for the Moon in April

We made a big leap for mankind in April toward the goal of giving 25 people access to safe and clean water for life through donations to Led by a surge in sales of CLIFF DIVER, the first novel in my Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco, in April we donated nearly enough from our book sales sales to give 8 more people clean water!

This means that after only 4 months, the Writing for Water campaign has given 18 people clean water for life! 

April water graph

I’m amazed, in all honesty. I though that 25 would be a stretch and I’d be thrilled to even get close. But if things keep going as they are–and another few authors join me–maybe we can zoom right past 25 and break the sound barrier.

There is a sound barrier of sorts:

  • Noise surrounding books and authors: it’s hard to capture readers’ attention. Lots of books and lots of marketing going on. Just because $1 from the Kindle sale of my books goes to doesn’t make them any more discoverable or enticing to read if you don’t like mysteries. But having Writing for Water buddies promote each other helps.
  • Noise surrounding charitable organizations: I read somewhere that many of us have become inured to tragedy. We see too much on television and online. So we forget that our contributions, when spent wisely, really help individuals. I believe that spends my contributions wisely with the Water Credit program and working with local communities. Help enough individuals and it’s called global impact. 

Long before I even published my first book, I knew I wanted to use my books to make a difference. Now it is actually happening!

If you are an author and would like to help out any month in 2014, drop me a line at

Thanks to all our readers. You are the ones who are truly turning books into water. All the best, Carmen

P.S.  My partner in the Writing for Water team in April was Jerry Last, who has just come out with his latest Roger and Suzanne Bowman mystery, THE ORIGIN OF MURDER. The book takes place in Quito, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Mexico, and uses quotes from Charles Darwin’s the ORIGIN OF SPECIES to foreshadow the action in a very clever way. Think two parts travelogue to one part murder mystery, with a cast that includes a California private detective, a former Seal-turned-nanny, a Mossad spy, and an endangered animal species. Jerry is willing to offer a free review copies to Writing for Water fans in exchange for an Amazon review. If you’d like a copy, please fill out the form below:

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Writing for Water: March Update and Our Global Impact

Can a couple of indie authors make a global impact?

Yes,  and we are doing it.  In March 4 authors were part of the Writing for Water team: Jerry Last, Norm Hamilton and Sharon Lee Johnson joined me in pledging a portion of our book sales to, the charity co-founded by Matt Damon to bring clean and safe water and decent sanitation to communities worldwide.  The composition of the team changes monthly. If you are an author and want to pledge a month, please let me know:

This month’s progress

In 2014 the goal is to provide 25 people with clean and safe water for life. In March we added 5 for a total of 10 so far this year.

This means dozens of micro-loans through’s Water Credit program, rolling containers to transport large amounts of water, and toilet facilities instead of open sewers.  Here is the sort of change this means:

Global Impact

Our books and our readers are having a global impact! Still small, but as the March stats show, it is growing and I truly feel that our goal of 25 people is going to happen.

Writing for Water chart

Thanks to our readers

A big salute goes out to our readers, especially to those who bought Jerry Last’s THE DEADLY DOG SHOW, the best selling title for the team in March. Those who love dog shows and/or German Shorthaired Pointers, will find its behind-the-scenes peek into dog shows and dog training fascinating. Of course, it is a detective mystery so be prepared! Jerry will be part of the Writing for Water Team in April as well. Here’s the link to all the books for the March authors.

We need your help

If you are an author and would like to help, please consider joining the Writing for Water team. In exchange for your TAX FREE donation of at least $25, we’ll leverage our social media platforms (3k on Twitter, 2k on Facebook and that’s just me) to promote the heck out of your books for the entire pledge month. When was the last time you got a month’s worth of advertising for $25?? Check out more information here.

In other news

My next newsletter will have the complete first chapter of DIABLO NIGHTS, the next Emilia Cruz mystery. If you have not yet subscribed, you can do so here, and be the first to read a chapter with a VERY twisted end. I guarantee you will not see it coming.

Subscribers also get THE BEAST, the first Emilia Cruz story, plus THE 3 Minute Guide to Great Book Reviews, and my Top 10 Most Riveting International Mystery Series.

Happy reading! All the best, Carmen

Celebrate Water Day 2014 with 5 Great Reads

Celebrate Water Day 2014 with 5 Great Reads

It’s the holiday you and I have probably never experienced. Tomorrow is Water Day.

Celebrating a Life Event

Brought to us by, Water Day celebrates the day someone gets access to safe water. It’s the day the well or water pump starts working close enough to home that no one risks life and limb to get to it. Getting access to safe water is an event people never forget. honors those life-changing events by celebrating Water Day 2014.

Writing for Water

In 2014, I’m donating a dollar from every Kindle book sold to, because in this day and age, no one should have to live without access to clean water and decent sanitation. This month, authors Sharon Lee Johnson, Norm Hamilton, and Jerold last have joined the Writing for Water team with pledges to With their help, and other authors throughout the year, I hope to be able to provide 25 people with clean water for life this year.

If you’d like to celebrate Water Day and help us out at the same time, please buy one of the books listed here. You’ll be helping an author, plus helping support at the same time.

As an added incentive, many of our books are discounted this month. HAT DANCE, the second Emilia Cruz mystery is on sale this weekend. It’s a dance with the devil and Acapulco Detective Emilia Cruz can’t afford the music . . .

Reading about Water

Water is something most of us take for granted. Turn on the faucet, there it is. Go to the store and find shelves of bottles of designer water. But some folks are doing serious thinking about water and the future. Here are 5 books to put on your reading list:

1. SILENT SPRING by Rachel Carson

Originally published as a 3 part series in the New Yorker in 1962, the book was the first call to action for the environmental movement. A classic.

2. FROM THINE OWN WELL by Norm Hamilton

In this novel of a futuristic Canada, the country’s water supply has been destroyed by fracking–and greed. Scarily plausible.

3. MEET THE FRACKERS: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Energy Revolution by Gregory Zuckerman

An award-winning Wall Street Journal reporter tells the story of the tycoons who have made a fortune through fracking–hydraulic drilling through extremely dense shale made controversial because of the link to contaminated water.

4. WINE TO WATER: How One Man Saved Himself While Trying to Save the World by Doc Hendley

The true story of how Hendley, a twentysomething bartender, found himself in Darfur, Sudan, countering the tribal warfare that used contaminated water as a weapon of mass destruction by drilling wells.

5. THE BIG THIRST: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water by Charles Fishman

Fishman explains that we have more than enough water to avoid a water crisis but we have to change our approach to how we use–or save–our water. Inconvenient truths, but solutions, too.

Thanks for reading and taking a minute to think about the importance of access to safe and clean water. Happy Water Day.

All the best, Carmen

P.S. Come along on this writing journey with me and get a free short story. THE BEAST, the first Emilia Cruz story is free when you sign up for monthly updates including exclusive excerpts, book release news, and progress toward giving 25 people access to clean water for life. Your email will never be shared.

El Chapo, Soft Power, and Dirty Faces

El Chapo, Soft Power, and Dirty Faces

When I heard that Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, notorious head of the Sinaloa Cartel had been arrested, two things came to mind: Monocle, the British magazine about all things cultural, and a great old James Cagney movie.

Wait. This will make sense.

Soft Power Fiesta

Monocle2Monocle, which describes itself as “a briefing on global affairs, business, culture and design,” is a glorious monthly catalog of worldwide innovation. Every year the magazine publishes its ”Soft Power Survey.” It’s a ranking of the top 30 countries able to exert influence through attraction rather than coercion.

Mexico made it to the list for the first time in 2013 when Monocle gushed about the influence of Mexican food. Mexico rose higher in the rankings to number 24 this year (December 13/January 14 edition) but the entry carried this caveat: “But we all know the problem—Mexico will have won when there are more news stories about its culture and less about drug crime.”

As I read the reporting about extradition possibilities and and who will take over the Sinaloa Cartel, maybe this time El Chapo will fade from view for good. Without the specter of El Chapo, Mexico’s soft power should continue to rise. And it’s about time.

James Cagney as Role Model

It’s a little late in El Chapo’s career to be recommending role models, but at this juncture I’d suggest the late great Hollywood actor James Cagney.

Wait. This will make sense.

cagneyIn the 1938 gangster movie, “Angels With Dirty Faces,” James Cagney and Pat O’Brien are childhood friends who go separate ways. Cagney becomes a famous gangster who is looked up to by street kids. O’Brien becomes a priest who wants to set those kids on the right path. Crime doesn’t pay, Cagney is sentenced to the electric chair and the execution is to be broadcast on the radio. Knowing that the kids will be listening, O’Brien implores Cagney to “turn yellow” at the end so the kids will stop idolizing him. Cagney refuses, but at the very last puts on the act and goes out bawling like a baby. Of course, it has the desired effect on the kids clustered around the Philco and O’Brien knows Cagney did it for him.

Would it have an impact if El Chapo appeared to be a coward in captivity? Would it reduce his status as an idol for so many who seek the narco lifestyle?

Not that I think he’s going to do a Cagney any time soon. Cagney had class.

Grace Before Meals

So I’m taking a line through Pat O’Brien’s character (who played a priest in so many movies I thought he was one) and saying a little prayer that El Chapo fades from the scene and Mexican food propels the country upwards on the soft power charts.

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


El Chapo

Can Bookstores Survive? 25 Influential Authors Tell All

Can Bookstores Survive? 25 Influential Authors Tell All

Can bookstores survive in the era of ebooks and ecommerce?

Dramatic changes in the publishing industry have impacted the way authors, even influential authors, get their books to readers. Traditional book publishing and retail models have been battered by the rise of online retailers. The ebook revolution has given us more books to choose from, so much so that books are easily lost in the virtual churn.

Many brick-and-mortar bookstores, including the US-based Borders chain, have closed in recent years, unable to compete or adjust. Will we see more closings in the years to come, or will bookstores innovate in order to stay relevant and solvent?

I reached out to fellow authors and was amazed at the variety of responses. Read on for some surprising views on the future of the bookstore. (Note: comments arranged in alphabetical order by author last name, so yes, I got to go first.)


Carmen Amato, author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the EMILIA CRUZ mystery series

The ebook format, driven by Amazon’s Kindle platform and subscription services like Oyster, will become the industry standard for books that are mostly text. As a result, bookstores will no longer derive a significant percentage of revenue from fiction. Bookstores that survive will increasingly focus on non-fiction books that don’t lend themselves to ebook formats, such as manga/comics, design (art, photography, shelter) books, cookbooks, science and technology volumes, etc, as well as vintage books for collectors.

Bookstores will also have to rethink their spaces because they simply won’t be able to afford the square footage. Successful ones will partner imaginatively with other retailers, such as art galleries, clothing boutiques, kitchen stores, and even gaming stores to sell wares in shared spaces arranged to provide an optimal sensory experience that is unavailable online. The key will be to curate the books on offer to match the partners’ products and target the same customer. Other partnerships could be with hotels or museums. Bookstores will use their spaces to host events and be part of a local community.

To make this happen, however, traditional book distribution has to change and become more flexible. Store owners have a universe of books to choose from, but as long as they are tied to an inflexible distribution system, they’ll be unable to offer books which could help keep them afloat.  Article author.

G.G. Atcheson, author of THE LEGACY: FATE

Bookstores will become small kiosks like the ones that sell print pictures on demand. Users will go to those places to order a print of their favorite book(s) in the format and size of their choice. They will also bring people together to talk about those books over a hot cup of coffee. Via website comment form, 5 November 2013.

Susan M. Boyer, author of the Liz Talbot Mystery Series including LOWCOUNTRY BOIL and LOWCOUNTRY BOMBSHELL

Independent bookstores [will] leverage strong customer relationships and serve as social hubs for book lovers, offering meeting space for book clubs, luncheons with author speakers, and other opportunities for readers to connect and spend time with friends who share an interest in books. I also believe the staff of these stores will continue to provide personal service, an area in which they’ve traditionally excelled. Online sales of autographed books are another avenue some stores are already pursuing.  Via website comment form, 11 November 2013.

Dale Brown, author of 21 action-adventure “techno-thriller” novels including FLIGHT OF THE OLD DOG, SILVER TOWER, DAY OF THE CHEETAH, HAMMERHEADS, and the DREAMLAND series.

I haven’t been in a bookstore to buy a book since I discovered Amazon Books in 1996.

I don’t think book sales will be much affected by whatever happens to brick-and-mortar bookstores because it’s so easy and convenient to get a book these days, and with the Internet you don’t need to browse through a bookstore’s shelves to find a new release from a favorite author–Facebook, Twitter, a Web site, or the blogosphere will inform you.

My Mom and my in-laws would certainly have disagreed with me and continued going to bookstores or Wal-Mart every couple weeks to see what’s new…until they got their Kindles. Now their e-readers are constant companions, getting a book is as simple as pressing a button, and all they want for Christmas is an Amazon gift card so they can buy more books to download!

I know and recently met many people at the La Jolla Writer’s Conference who simply love books and bookstores, and little neighborhood independent booksellers who cater to their customers with comfortable chairs, plenty of light, booksignings, e-mails about new releases and events, and maybe some coffee will always be favorites. Of course big bookstores can have this too, but driving to a crowded mall and getting lost in a multi-story maze is not my idea of fun.

In an age of digital everything, ultra-realistic video games, and 3-D movies, I think folks will still want to read, so us authors won’t be out of a job just yet. Besides, someone has to write the scripts and advertising copy for all those games and movies, right?  Email to author, 8 November 2013.

Diane Capri, author of the HUNT FOR JACK REACHER series, including DON’T KNOW JACK and GET BACK JACK

As you can imagine, the topic is one of intense interest and importance to writers and readers alike. Bookstores are magical places and keeping them alive and healthy is good for all of us.

It is challenging to operate a bookstore, particularly if the owners need to make a profit. Many bookstores are started as a labor of love. Sometimes, the owners are not focused on making money as much as creating a pleasurable experience for themselves and others.

In my view, successful bookstores of the future must not focus on price and delivery. These two features are rarely, if ever, going to favor the brick and mortar store over the online store.

Where physical bookstores can excel is in customer service, unique experiences, and specialized inventory not easily or readily obtainable to customers. Author appearances, signed first editions, reader/customer centric offerings and more will create customer loyalty. After all, customer loyalty is what keeps us coming back to our favorite stores everywhere, isn’t it?  Email to author, 15 November 2013.

Bernard Cornwell, author of the RICHARD SHARPE adventure series, THE STARBUCK CHRONICLES series, THE GRAIL QUEST series, and other historical action novels

My fear is that bookshops will go the way of music shops, which would mean the end of the big chains and the ‘hold on by your fingertips’ survival of a few specialist dealers. Already much of the book trade has moved into supermarkets, and I suspect that trend will continue, which is sad because the big supermarkets will only stock a limited range of titles – a very limited range. But we are inexorably headed into digital books and the pace will quicken, and that also puts into question the role of publishers, god bless them. How do you publicize books in the digital age? I don’t know. I’m just glad I started writing 35 years ago when bookshops were the main route to a reader’s consciousness.  My guess is that ‘social media’ will be the primary means of drawing attention to books which exist only in electronic form – and people who want physical copies will use ‘print-on-demand’.  Email to author, 20 November 2013.


Start with the B&N motif: WiFi, food, drink, and the aroma of real books. Add: Online booths, private coves, and stuff it all in an English pub, which holds beer and wine tastings on weekends and book promotions. Add: Video cove/wall for E-book advertisements and promotions. Via website comment form, 5 November 2013.

Kristin Elise, author of THE VESUVIUS ISOTOPE and the KATRINA STONE novels

Even traditional publishers now expect authors to heavily self-promote, and this grass-roots marketing is fast becoming the new industry driver. We see more and more examples of books becoming best-sellers without any real backing by a big publishing house. So, as authors become more savvy at selling their own work, I think that readers will increasingly get into the habit of going to a bookstore to request a book that they heard a lot about, rather than going into the bookstore just to browse and then buy what they see. This, in turn, could change the content of bookstores: Instead of every bookstore worldwide containing basically the same selection, I would imagine that different bookstores could adopt a “regional” flavor, filling up with the works of authors who are popular in that geographic area – local authors, books set in that location, or who otherwise call attention to the region. Wouldn’t that be fun? Via website comment form, 12 November 2013.

A. W. Exley, author of NEFERTITI’S HEART

I think they will become smaller but service a niche, perhaps as far as specializing in only a few genres. Readers are still social and e-book buying does not fulfill our sensory needs. I can see bookstores with arm chairs, coffee service and nooks to discuss what you are reading in a small intimate atmosphere. Via website comment form, 5 November 2013.

Tim Grahl, author of YOUR FIRST 1000 COPIES: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book

Business:; Book:

Bookstores of the future will be what record stores are now. While there will still be people that like to buy and read print books, they will be a collectors item more than the main way books are consumed. While I have a nostalgic connection to print books, my kids (and especially their kids) won’t.  Email to author, 5 December 2013

Norm Hamilton, author of FROM THINE OWN WELL

Brick and Mortar locations cannot compete through attempting to provide the same, dollar-based offering that drives the online retailers.

The bookstore of the future will, by its very nature, become a focal point and destination for like-minded individuals to gather, share cherished moments, and revel in the company of great books.

Warm, comfortable settings, in smaller, intimate locals with inviting chairs and couches for sitting and reading, will entice and attract the readers of the future as they search for the coziness and sanctuary that is to be found only between the covers of a great book. Via website comment form, 7 November 2013.

Guy Kawasaki, author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book; ENCHANTMENT: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions; and 10 other non-fiction books

I really don’t know about the future of bookstores. The future of books, however, is going to be tablets and pads other than coffee-table books. It’s hard to imagine that people will go to stores to buy ebooks, but there’s more to a bookstore than just buying books—e.g., socializing, eating, and listening to authors. Email to author, 12 November 2013.

Joe Konrath, author of the JACK DANIELS series, the CODENAME: CHANDLER series, and other fast action thrillers

[I predict] the end of Barnes & Noble as we know it. In 2014, paper book sales will no longer be significant enough to sustain the nation’s largest bookstore chain. There may be bankruptcy and restructuring and the selling of assets (like the Nook), but ultimately it will result in many stores closing, and possibly the demise of the brand . . .

Indie bookstores will need to start selling self-pubbed books, or perish. Paper isn’t going away anytime soon. But there won’t be enough of a legacy supply that will keep the necessary number of diverse titles on shelves to make indie stores a worthwhile destination for shoppers. If indie bookstores deal directly with self-pubbed authors, and print their own copies to sell in their stores, they can build inventory and cut out the share normally taken by publishers.  “Konrath’s Publishing Predictions 2014,”, 28 December 2013.

Agustin D. Martinez, author of THE MARES OF LENIN PARK

While technology has advanced, there is always something special about the feel of paper between my fingers and the sound of the pages rubbing together as they flip. The smell of an old yellowed tome makes me sneeze, but the sensory memories that come with that aroma remind me so much of my childhood. What will spur memories of a great book for our children when they grow to be as old as we are now? Does an iPad have a smell? Will the speaker emit a whoosh as the page on the screen turns?

The brick-and-mortar bookstore is a place to spend a few hours, a destination when the mood struck one to read something interesting and entertaining. It is full of items you never knew you wanted to read until you turned down a random aisle and found it beckoning you to open its cover and get lost in its pages. Without these, where will authors sign a first edition? Will author visits be conducted over Skype or podcasts only? Will print editions of books even exist in a 10 years? I think some sort of brick-and-mortar venue must still exist no matter where technology takes us, whether that be a corner independent bookstore where authors still come to read excerpts of their work, or coffee shops with free wi-fi where readers can sit and enjoy a warm beverage. I would hate for these to ever go away!  Email to author, 12 November 2013.

Elizabeth A. Martina, author of THE RAGMAN MURDERS

Brick and mortar stores will have fewer paper books and more kiosks where books will be featured in ebook format. The books will be able to be downloaded to the customers ereaders or computers at the store.  Via website comment form, 5 November 2013

Bob Mayer, author of the SHADOW WARRIORS series, the GREEN BERETS series, the AREA 51 series and numerous other action-adventure titles

Bookstores?  Like publishers, agents and others in the business, most failed to have a strategic business plan. Did they watch what happened to music stores starting in 2001 when digital tsunamied that industry?  No.

For the future?  Embrace genre authors. Frankly, the snobbish attitude I’ve encountered over the years from many indie stores leaves me unconcerned about their future as they were unconcerned about mine.  Can they change that attitude in time?  Will they order and rack POD books via Createspace from authors like me and others who’ve embraced the future?  Or will they whine that Amazon is their deadly enemy and continue that futile, and stupid, battle?  As Jeff Bezos said:  “Complaining is not a strategy.” The bottom line is that authors will totally support bookstores when that support is extended the other way.  Email to author, 4 December 2013.

Emily McDaid, author of TETHERBIRD

The bookstore of the future will offer both an online and a bricks and mortar presence, combining the ease of Amazon with the carefully curated selection of an independent bookstore. It will be a haven to go and read, and to select good quality books, either in physical copy or digitally, however the customer prefers to read. It will mimic the immersion of the reading experience– what makes reading truly magical– and wrap that into the browsing experience. Via website comment form, 7 November 2013.

Brian Meeks, author of the HENRY WOOD DETECTIVE series, A TOUCH TO DIE FOR, and other mystery titles

I like the idea you mentioned of ebook Kiosks combined with coffee house feel. I love paper books, but reading them has become more hassle than it’s worth. Most of what I read now, I read on my Kindle app on my phone. It’s always with me and is easy.

Still, if bookstores were a place to hang out, then I’d gladly make my ebook purchases through them.

From an author’s standpoint, I’d rather people bought Kindle versions, but it would be nice if they bought them through a kiosk at a bookshop. Via website comment form, 11 November 2013.

Sandra Nikolai, author of the Megan Scott/Michael Elliott Mystery series including FALSE IMPRESSIONS and FATAL WHISPERS

The future bookstore will provide a well-lit space, comfortable chairs, a coffee bar, informed staff, and online shopping for e-books and physical books. Bookstores will partner with the community to promote local author events and other cultural events. Purchase incentives: individual and group discounts, periodic sales, and availability of other items like paper products and artwork.  Via website comment form, 11 November 2013.

 Ann Patchett, author of BEL CANTO, STATE OF WONDER, THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE, and other titles

 There’s this feeling that Amazon is killing the bookstore. And the eBook has gotten an enormous amount of press, to the point where people are saying, ‘So I guess it’s over.’ And it’s like, ‘No, it’s not.’ I’m standing up and saying no, the book is alive, the bookstore is alive.

I am speaking for bookstores all across the country. These people are my friends. These are the people who welcome me into their stores for readings, who take me home and cook me dinner and let me sleep in their guest rooms. These people have made me, made my career, made me what I am. So now I can say, ‘Go and support your local bookstore.’ What an enormous privilege that is for me.  Time Entertainment interview, 25 November 2011.


The future bookstore will offer digital and print options whereby people have a choice of buying a digital copy if a print copy is unavailable and vice-versa. Some may opt for both. Every author and publisher regardless of independents or major brand names have equal access to the same pool of readers/buyers.  Via website comment form, 5 November 2013. 

Jane Rosenthal, author of PALACE OF THE BLUE BUTTERFLY

Surveys show that only one third of people who purchase books from bookstores walk in with that intention. The bookstore of the future like art galleries and boutiques will have to provide products, services and experiences—readings, classes— that are unique, rare, and highly-curated, so that customers react with strong impulses to make purchases lest those objects, in this case books, be unavailable later.

Self-publishers could take advantage of this by offering the content of their novel cheaply on Amazon while offering signed, exquisitely produced books through niche bookstores.  Via website comment form, 11 November 2013.


 We have another chance to realize the dream of the Third Place with the bookstore of the future by placing the emphasis on building community around a love of books and other entertainment and information products. Until the industry abandons the returns cycle, the bookstore of the future can offset operating costs by taking advantage of just-in-time and on-demand technology like the Espresso Book Machine, as well as the buying and browsing habits of Generation Y (the largest book-buying demographic). Email to author, 6 November 2013.

Glenn Starkey, author of AMAZON MOON

Future bookstores will be a blend of traditional and indie published/ printed books with each having their own half of the store. I believe there will also be an e-book section as well with cover art and flap copy for readers to browse, and an ability to purchase the work in the store. Once book stores open themselves to signings by all authors, and develop a comfortable environment to relax in, readers will want to visit more.  Via website comment form, 11 November 2013.

Khaled Talib, author of the thrillers SMOKESCREEN and GUN KISS

It would be nice to retain the old time charm of a traditional bookstore in the digital world. After all, a bookstore isn’t just a place to sell reading materials. It is a swimming pool for the soul.  Via website comment form, 7 November 2013.

Find all the Bookstore of the Future series posts in the #noticed category

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


influential authors

MADE IN ACAPULCO story collection is free for all

MADE IN ACAPULCO story collection is free for all

Fact may be stranger than fiction but in some cases they are deliberately similar. I routinely comb the news for inspiration for the Emilia Cruz mystery series so that “action torn from today’s headlines” isn’t just a tagline.  Yes, readers will be entertained by fast-paced tales of intrigue and mystery. But they’ll also learn about the impact of Mexico’s drug war.

Made in Acapulco by Carmen Amato

MADE IN ACAPULCO: The Emilia Cruz Stories is a collection of 5 short stories, many of which were inspired by real events in Mexico. The stories take place before the action in the full-length Emilia Cruz novels, including CLIFF DIVER and HAT DANCE:

The Beast captures Emilia’s struggle to become the first female detective on the Acapulco police force. It previously appeared in The Huffington Post’s Huff/Post 50 Featured Fiction showcase.

Note for missing womanThe Disappeared sees Emilia track a friend who goes missing. This story launches the continuing theme of missing persons, especially women, that runs throughout the series. It was inspired by the numerous reports of missing women in Mexico, such as this 2012 New York Times article about missing and murdered women in Juarez.

Related Post: Finding Mexico’s Missing: New Effort or Whitewash?

The Artist was inspired by Mexican poet Javier Sicilia’s efforts to raise the awareness of the plight of families whose loved ones have gone missing amid Mexico’s drug violence as well as threats to schools in Acapulco in 2011 that caused 140 schools in that city to close. For more see The Huffington Post report on Sicilia’s 2012 “caravan” tour of the United States as well as this report in the Christian Science Monitor about the school closings.

The Date explores the downside of a job that pits Emilia against Mexico’s enduring culture of machismo. It draws on real events that occurred at a nightclub in Mexico in 2006, as reported by the BBC.

The Cliff is the original Emilia Cruz story and was previously published in the now out of print first edition of MADE IN ACAPULCO. Written for a literary critique group, the story was initially entitled So Far from God and introduced Kurt Rucker. CLIFF DIVER, the first full-length Emilia Cruz novel, was based on this story.

The stories in MADE IN ACAPULCO draw on the headlines coming out of Mexico today, but it also shows the warmth and resilience of the Mexican people. Mexico is a beautiful and vibrant country with a rich heritage and culture, and Emilia represents hope for the country’s future.

2018 update: MADE IN ACAPULCO: The Emilia Cruz Stories is permanatly free across all ebook platforms.





You are invited to spend some time in Acapulco with Emilia, Rico, Kurt and the infamous Lt. Inocente, among others.

Will this short story collection prove that fact is stranger than fiction? Probably not, although it may show just how much art imitates life.

P.S. If you enjoyed MADE IN ACAPULCO, please leave a review!

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


Finding the Missing in Mexico: New Effort or Whitewash?

flg printIn HAT DANCE, the latest Emilia Cruz novel due out later this summer, Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz is on the hunt of a missing local girl. The plot line is straight from the headlines coming out of Mexico. These headlines have reported—but struggled to actually document—the high numbers of the missing in Mexico as a result of the country’s drug war.

During the last years of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s administration most commentators were saying at least 60,000 were missing due to drug violence over the past six years. Most of the news about Mexico focused on drug violence.

Related post: Lost in Mexico Has Nothing to do With Translation

But the administration of new president Enrique Peña Nieto is trying to create a different narrative, it seems to me, one that highlights Mexico’s emerging economic power, focuses on the country’s rich cultural offerings, and emphasizes reform and stability rather than cartel arrests.

In an interview in the May edition of my favorite magazine, Monocle, President Peña Nieto—or EPN as pundits call him—discussed drug violence and Mexico’s disappeared by saying he was focusing on “the root causes [of violence which are] inequality, poverty and the absence of opportunities for the population.”

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve written before about how Mexico’s unequal social system keeps people from being able to move up in society and encourages youth to look to the drug cartel lifestyle as a way to obtain the goods and respect that they cannot get in Mexico’s formal economy. I think EPN and his team have been fairly successful so far in getting attention away from drug violence and on to economic and cultural issues. Heck, when Thomas L. Friedman writes glowingly about your economic prospects, you know the message is getting out.

But what about the missing and the continuing unacceptable levels of violence? In late May the new Interior Secretary reported that a new review suggested that there aren’t as many as everybody thought and that drug violence-related deaths have dropped significantly since December 2012 (when EPN was inaugurated). Non drug violence-related deaths are up, however, leading some to wonder if this is a convenient whitewash.

Not to worry. Shortly after announcing that there might not be as many disappeared as thought for years—and after families of the missing camped out in front of his office continued a hunger strike–EPN’s attorney general formed a federal missing persons unit. The unit will include 12 federal investigators and a unit of the federal police.

As things stand now, many families conduct their own investigations to find out what happened to missing family members. The cost to find missing family members is high, however, both in terms of danger and monetary costs. Local authorities are either fearful of cartel reprisals or simply too overworked to vigorously pursue cases. A notable exception is Nuevo León. It is “one of the only states where you see prosecutors actually doing the due diligence of conducting investigations, meeting with families, going to the crime scene, taking common-sense steps to advance the investigation,” according to Nik Steinberg, an investigator with Human Rights Watch.

As a mystery author one of the things I do best is to ask questions:

1. How successful can EPN’s new unit be? The federal police have been implicated in many disappearances, according to a report released in February by the Human Rights Watch. “President Peña Nieto has inherited one of the worst crises on disappearances that have occurred in Latin America throughout history,” said José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of the international watchdog organization. The report details numerous cases directly tied to Mexico’s military and law enforcement agencies.

As long as the unit stays clean, they’ve got a chance to restore faith in government institutions. But their numbers are a drop in the bucket when it comes to the manpower needed to tackle the problem.

2. If there aren’t as many disappeared as initially thought and drug related violent deaths are on the wane, is this unit just lip service? Given the continuing drumbeat of headlines such as: Cancun Drug Murders: 6 Strangled, 1 Decapitated In Mexico Resort Town and No Clues Yet in Case of Mexico City’s Missing 11, I’m wondering if the new statistics won’t be quietly revised upward at some point. Keep in mind that these are headlines from a US national level news outlet–how much more of Mexico’s news stays local?

It remains to be seen if this new unit will help local investigations that are closest to the locus of crimes and could be much more effective. Local authorities need to be both honest and protected so they can pursue investigations.

As long as this new unit honestly and vigorously pursues the cases of the disappeared I’ll keep the faith. Meanwhile, Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz will keep looking for the women she calls las perdidas.–the lost ones.

Related post: The Girl on the Cutting Room Floor

Finally, may all those who seek the missing in Mexico find what they seek. While they may not find their loved ones, I pray they find answers. And peace.

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


missing in Mexico

On The Occasion of My First Anniversary of Being a Published Author

On The Occasion of My First Anniversary of Being a Published Author

In addition to being a celebration of the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on 5 May 1862—which has morphed into a popular celebration of Mexican culture and food–Cinco de Mayo was my first anniversary of being a published author.

For some reason, Amazon lists the publication date as April but THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY was officially released 5 May 2012. Here’s the press release.

Was it only a year ago

The week that it was published I texted myself a wishlist of what I would consider to be success as a published author after 1 year.   Written on the trusty notepad feature of my antique Blackberry here is the complete text:

Success as a writer after a year:

  • Sold 100 copies of  HIDDEN LIGHT
  • 2 books listed on
  • 100 visitors to my blog
  • Got published on Huffpost
  • Got mentioned in a blog or other online venue I don’t own

Reality Isn’t so bad

So how does reality stack up?

  • Sold nearly 400 copies of  HIDDEN LIGHT (and received real checks!)
  • 2 books, HIDDEN LIGHT and CLIFF DIVER, are listed on Amazon. Thenext book, HAT DANCE, is scheduled for a late July release
  • This blog has received some 6000 visitors
  • I’ve done guest posts and interviews which are listed here
  • Every reviewer on amazon has given my books a 4 or 5 star rating and 61 percent of CLIFF DIVER reviewers said they wanted to read more in the series.

Sadly, I have not been published on Huffpost but I also didn’t submit anything except a short story last week for Rita Wilson’s project to see what women over 50 are writing. I assume my effort is lost in the slush pile but it was good incentive to write an Emilia Cruz story which I’ll soon make available from this website as a free download.

What I Learned Along The Way

So have I been a huge commercial success in my first year of being a published author? Of course not. This is a marathon, not a sprint. But here is what I did do:

  • Exceeded expectations that I thought a year ago were virtually unachievable
  • Recognized that my goals should be those that I can control and  reasonable for the resources available to me
  • Embraced the fact that I am engaged in a massive learning process to master new skills (blog design, marketing, etc) because there is more to this author business than just writing
  • Realized that I am providing readers with both a quality entertainment experience and a learning experience, just as I had always intended to do

Related post: Why Read a Book About Mexico

Related post: Be Angry and Pray Hard

Looking Ahead

So what will my second year as a published author bring? Here’s the next wishlist. We’ll check the progress on 5 May 1014. In the meantime, wish me luck!

  • 5 books listed on amazon (yes, 5)
  • Redesigned website with free download of Emilia Cruz mini-anthology
  • Re-release of HIDDEN LIGHT with new cover, lower price, and at least 1 promotion

Are you a goal-setter too? Let me know what your goals are and how you stick to them.

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


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