9 Mystery and Thriller Authors Tell All

9 Mystery and Thriller Authors Tell All

These 9 friends are all at the top of their game when it comes to fast-paced mystery and thrillers that veer toward the dark side.

Check out their original interview link, and what they’ve been up to since appearing on this blog and/or in the Mystery Ahead newsletter. Listed in alphabetical order

DV Berkom

mystery and thrillerStartling revelations from first #friends interview

2019 has been a whirlwind of activity for this author who juggles two thriller series. In January her octogenarian parents moved into the apartment in her backyard, lending an interesting (and happy) dynamic to the life she shares with partner Mark.

She also released Absolution, the 8th book in the Leine Basso thriller series. Readers had been waiting patiently (and some not so patiently) since the novel Dark Return to find out what happened between Leine and her arch-enemy, the French-born terrorist, Salome. Absolution is the page-turning wrap-up to the trilogy-within-the-series that started with The Last Deception. (The Leine Basso series is now exclusive to Amazon, allowing for members of Kindle Unlimited to access the books for free.) The 9th book in the series, titled Dakota Burn, will be shortly.

As for the Kate Jones series, due to reader demand she’s considering writing another installment in the series over the next year or so and is really looking forward to revisiting Kate and the other characters again!


DV Berkom books on Amazon

David Bruns

mystery and thriller #friends interview & writing about terrorism

Since being featured here in May 2016, David’s writing life has been bursting with activity. In 2017, he was selected for the prestigious Clarion West Writers Workshop, a six-week “summer camp” for professional short fiction writers. He’s also half of The Two Navy Guys thriller writing team of David + retired naval intelligence officer J.R. Olson.

Following the success of Weapons of Mass Deception and Jihadi Apprentice, their third national security thriller, Rules of Engagement, was published by St. Martin’s Press in June 2019. This novel of North Korean cyberwarfare was called an “utterly authentic portrayal of modern day combat that compares with the best of the timeless classics by Tom Clancy, Dale Brown, and Stephen Coonts,” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Marc Greaney.


David Bruns books on Amazon

Lynda L. Lock

mystery and thrillerMexico and mayhem from her #friends interview

Lynda lives on Mexico’s idyllic Isla Mujeres, where her mystery series is set. Between her books and her hugely popular blog, she is probably the best “author brand” around. It’s been a very productive year for Lynda with the publication of two new Isla Mujeres Mystery novels: Temptation Isla, Book #4, and Terror Isla, Book #5.

Her real-life beach mutt, Sparky, is one of the main characters in the novels. He typically manages to drag his imaginary human pal Jessica Sanderson through a jumble of murder, romance, revenge, and drug cartel drama. When Sparky isn’t busy tracking down the bad guys, he is usually pestering Lynda for a ride in her island golf cart.


Lynda Lock books on Amazon

Margaret Mizushima

mystery and thriller

Margaret’s interview was exclusive to the Mystery Ahead newsletter. Subscribe here.

Margaret’s 4th Timber Creek K-9 Mystery, Burning Ridge, won a Colorado Author’s League award for e-book fiction, Gold medal in the Next Generation Indies for action adventure, Silver in the Benjamin Franklins for mystery, and Bronze in the Foreword Indies for mystery. WOW! It was also listed as a Best Book of 2018 by King’s River Life and was named a finalist in the Colorado Book Awards, the Silver Falchion Awards, and the Women Writing the West 2019 Willa Awards for contemporary fiction.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Margaret was surprised and overwhelmed with gratitude when the membership of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers elected her 2019 Writer of the Year. Despite all this hoopla, the 5th Timber Creek K-9 mystery, Tracking Game, releases November 12, 2019, with a 6th book slated for next year.


Margaret Mizushima books on Amazon

Jim Nesbitt

Startling revelations from first #friends interview

mystery and thrillerI recently caught up with Jim at the Killer Nashville conference, where he was fresh off the success of his 3rd Ed Earl Burch novel, The Best Lousy Choice. My own review said “Raw, lusty, rough-edged — and yet, tremendously literary. Descriptions paint vibrant word pictures.” Burch, a cashiered Dallas vice and homicide detective, is an emotional wreck in this story, hosing down nightmares from his last case with self-prescribed doses of Percodan and bourbon.

Eking out a living as a PI, he’s broke and forced to take on the type of job he loathes — divorce work, tracking down the wayward husband of a rich West Texas woman who sheds spouses like a rattlesnake sheds skin. When a prominent rancher dies in a suspicious barn fire, the man’s outlaw cousin asks Burch to investigate.

Jim had a lot of fun writing this one and is already plotting Book #4 in the Ed Earl Burch series. He says readers seem to like the boy — he’s a classic American anti-hero. Ornery, tough, lusty, profane and reckless. Agreed.


Jim Nesbitt books on Amazon

Sandra Nikolai

A favorite #friends interview

mystery and thrillerIt’s been a hectic year! Sandra published Cold Revenge, Book 6 in the Megan Scott/Michael Elliott Mystery series. As a psychological thriller, it marked her sleuths’ most thrilling challenge yet—and her own! To add to the daily ritual of keeping in touch on social media, she opened a new Instagram account. As part of a local authors group, Sandra visited libraries for Q & A sessions, held book-signing events in the Ottawa area last fall, including a 3-day tour.

Next on the agenda? Plotting more devious dilemmas for ghostwriter Megan Scott and crime reporter Michael Elliott in Book 7. Sandra’s blog posts offer lots of tidbits about those daring sleuths and their exploits. New subscribers can sign up for Inside My Writing World newsletter on Sandra’s website to receive her latest book news—PLUS free chapters and a short story!


Sandra Nikolai books on Amazon

Nicolas Obregon

mystery and thrillerMy take on Blue Light Yokohama

Set in modern Japan, Blue Light Yokohama, the first in the Inspector Iwata series, came out in 2017 and was published in 8 countries. The Book Nook (NPR Radio) said “Once in a great while, I’ll stumble upon a debut novel that is so freaking brilliant I just want to scream. Blue Light Yokohama is stunning.” The sequel, Sins As Scarlet, was released in 2018. Jeffery Deaver called it “a masterpiece” while AJ Finn said, “I’m awestruck” and the Associated Press labelled it “stunning.”

Nic can’t release too many details at this stage, but Sins As Scarlet has been optioned by a major Hollywood producer for TV adaptation. (!!) Meanwhile, the third (and final) Iwata book is slated for release on 28 Nov 2019. Nic’s next book will be a standalone novel published by Penguin Random House.


Nicolas Obregon books on Amazon

Dan Petrosini

 mystery and thriller Hard working advice from his #friends interview

Dan is one of the hardest working authors I know. In the last year he’s released five books in the Luca Mystery Series including A Cold Hard Case, Cop or Killer?, Silencing Salter, and A Killer Missteps. Four of the new books reached Amazon best seller status in their categories. In addition to a Luca Mystery Series boxed set, he’s wrapping up book 9, out in October.

As if all that activity wasn’t enough, Dan had new covers designed for two unrelated novels and an audio version of another produced.

He claims that while this much activity may seem “machine-like,” it’s the hours put in and learning from mistakes which make it possible.


Dan Petrosini books on Amazon

Khaled Talib

mystery and thrillerKhaled’s “Book Savor” interview

For nearly 2 years, the Singapore based thriller author of Smokescreen, Incognito, and Gun Kiss was the most popular #friend interview on this blog. The secret is in his answer to the interview question “You can invite any author living or dead to dinner. Who is your guest and what will you be serving?” Read the answer and your dinner party will never be the same.

Also the author of short stories and collections of wise sayings, Khaled recently completed a new crime novel set in South Australia. The story is different from previous thrillers as he wanted to invoke the Australian state’s social and cultural milieu. Khaled handled South Australia’s external public relations account for a decade, so is very familiar with the region. At the same time, he is writing the sequel to Gun Kiss and enjoying the flow of the story.


Khaled Talib books on Amazon

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


Dan Petrosini and the Detective Frank Luca series

Dan Petrosini and the Detective Frank Luca series

Dan Petrosini, mystery author and wine afficionado, was featured last month in the Mystery Ahead newsletter. His latest is THE SERENITY MURDER–just the name gives me the shivers. If you like police procedurals as much as I do, here’s a replay of our chat.

1  Carmen Amato: Dan, thanks so much for stopping by. Your police procedural series features Detective Frank Luca, (AM I THE KILLER, VANISHED, THE SERENITY MURDER) with action that travels between Florida and New Jersey. You describe them as “noir-heavy” detective stories. Tell us about the type of crime featured in the series.

Dan Petrosini: It’s great to be here. Luca, a homicide detective, pursues killers. Usually, he investigates one puzzling murder per story. However, Book 4, which is to be released in a couple of weeks, revolves around a serial killing.

2  CA: Luca has had a troubled life. How does that impact the plotlines of your books?

Dan Petrosini: Like all of us, Luca has personal issues; sickness, divorce, self-doubt, etc. At times they impact how he approaches a case and other times it’s a sub-plot. I’m a fan of realistic fiction. There are no super heroes or special powers in the real world and Luca lives in the real world.

Dan Petrosini3  CA: How did your writing style develop and what books and/or authors inspire you?

Dan Petrosini: When I began writing novels my writing at times was too dense.  I have worked hard at creating quick paced stories with realistic dialogue and the feedback is positive. I’ve accomplished that.

4  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?

Dan Petrosini: Whoa, just one? This is tough. Can’t we have a dinner party? My pick would surprise most people – Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  His portrayals and recounting of harsh Soviet means to silence dissent resonated with me.  Not one for goulash, we’d chat over fish and pasta washed it down with a river of wine.

5  CA: What is your best protip? Tell us about a writing habit, technique, or philosophy that keeps your writing sharp.

Dan Petrosini: I believe the most important component to writing successfully, is to do it regularly.  I write each and every day. My word count has grown and it has become easier. Not easy, but easier.

I realize many cannot find the time each day, which is fine. Find a time, one hour a week, one day a week, etc and stick to it. You will be surprised at how being disciplined will improve your craft and the words will pile up.

(Additionally, read like a mad man!)

More about Dan: Born in NYC, Dan Petrosini lives in SW Florida. Married with two adult daughters and a needy Maltese, Dan has written eight novels. Passionate about motivating others to pursue their dreams and creative sides, he plays saxophone in several bands and drinks too much wine.

Website www.danpetrosini.com

Amazon Author Page – https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B004LYEJ9E/

FB – https://www.facebook.com/DanPetrosiniAuthor/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/JAZZYWINE

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


Dan Petrosini

On Edisto Island with mystery author C. Hope Clark

On Edisto Island with mystery author C. Hope Clark

C. Hope Clark authors the Edisto Island mystery series as well as FundsforWriters.com, an award-winning resource for career writers. She lives on a lake where she spins mysteries with her ex-federal agent husband. Edisto Stranger is her latest tale, the fourth in the Edisto Island Mysteries, about an ex-Boston detective fighting loss and gin in paradise while solving the death of a retired FBI agent on a cold case hunt. See more at  www.chopeclark.com

1 Carmen Amato: Hope, thanks so much for stopping by. Many of my fellow authors probably know you from your essential Funds for Writers newsletter, but you’re also a mystery author! I especially want to talk about your series set on South Carolina’s Edisto Island, southwest of Charleston. Tell us how you came to write the absorbing Edisto series.

Hope Clark: Thanks for having me! Yes, Funds for Writers usually opens the door of writing conferences and such, but I am extremely proud and in love with my mysteries. Weird enough, the Edisto series was actually force-fed to me. After publishing three books in my original Carolina Slade mystery series, my publisher asked me to diversify.

Hope Clark

I’d planned on being the Sue Grafton of South Carolina mysteries, spending my career in one series. But my publisher pushed on and gave me three parameters: a woman in law enforcement, good old Southern family angst, and a South Carolina setting that could last through a series. The family angst was easy enough. I would walk and talk that one! LOL A woman in law enforcement was manageable since I was married to a federal agent.

But the setting took me a while. One single place that could prove romantic, striking, and luring. Then it hit me . . . Edisto Beach. It’s my favorite SC beach and where I escape to clear my head. From there the story came together, and I’m so thankful my publisher pushed so hard. I grew up in this state, have worked it from border to border in my previous federal job, and I understood its soul. Edisto was a different flavor from the Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head areas most outsiders know. And I wanted to capitalize on its mystique. God, I love that place.

2 CA: Your lead character Callie Jean Morgan is a widowed single mom in law enforcement, with a love-hate relationship with gin. She often has a personal connection to the mystery. Tell us about creating Callie and how she has evolved over the course of the series.

CHC:  Faced with a new series and the creation of a fresh character, I had to come up someone totally unlike my other protagonist in the other series, Carolina Slade. Callie Jean Morgan is more serious, more professional, but also more damaged and flawed. I wanted to write a character who made me angry, and made me cry. I’ve done it all though her while writing in the wee hours of the morning. I gave her pneumonia when I had bronchitis, so I could feel the suffocation. I’ve even written her after I’ve had a few drinks, to sense her frustration with gin.

When my publisher asked for family angst and issues, I gave it to them in spades via Callie. Her demons are many from the loss of a husband to the loss of her career, with her constantly fighting to maintain self-respect and the respect of those around her. She rides that line when it comes to alcoholism.

C Hope Clark

I didn’t want this series to be a cozy, and I wanted the reader to feel her pain. She slowly evolved in the series from being completely broken to gradually finding her footing, not that I don’t knock her feet out from under her every few chapters. She is growing; you can feel it. Inch by inch she is rebuilding who she is, and it isn’t what she was when she was at the height of her detective career with the perfect US Marshal husband back in Boston.

She’s constantly humbled, but while she doesn’t admit it, she’s garnered a support system on Edisto Beach and a developed a different internal compass. We see her coming back into law enforcement, back into the real world, back into a little romance, as she decides she can’t stay down forever. But she’ll never be like she was, and that unsteadiness knocks her off her game a lot.

3 CA: Why Edisto Island? How do you use setting to create and build suspense?

CHC: No other beach in South Carolina is like Edisto Beach, on Edisto Island. The township fights like hell to keep it family-oriented and non-commercial. No franchises, no neon, no motels. Lights out at dusk between May and October in order to protect the loggerhead turtles. You rent houses, and on this small, thin beach, every house is a very short walk to the surf.

The saying is that you leave your troubles and “other” life on the other side of the big McKinley Washington bridge that you cross to reach the island, and it’s so true. So many year-round natives there (around 600) have assumed lives completely different from the ones they had before relocating to Edisto.

I used that feel to the place to create and build Callie. She indeed is leaving a lot on the other side of the bridge, and yet once she decides to reenter law enforcement, she realizes it’s her responsibility to allow these people to help maintain that feeling for everyone. But with that responsibility comes the realization that she weathers those troubles for them, and it takes a toll.

But I cherish books that utilize setting as character, and these books infuse the island atmosphere throughout. I use real businesses, restaurants, streets, and landmarks. Edisto loves it. The mayor is a big fan, and the chief of police lets me poke fun at his department. The residents rush to the lone bookstore on the island each time a book is released, and the fact that it’s a tourist retreat means that each week new faces appear in the bookstore wanting anything Edisto.

But Edisto is special to me. I retreat there to renourish myself. I own a lot there, bought on a whim and a wish to build a second home and absorb more the area that Callie lives in. Haven’t pulled the trigger yet on that one, but just the fact I own a piece of dirt on Edisto fuels me.

But as far as building suspense, weather changes involving humidity, heat, brine, surf, the ecology and dangers of the sea all play into mystery so well. When I need an obstacle, there’s always the setting, from someone drowning in a marsh to a protagonist drawing the heroine out into some dank, dark, moss-laden jungle. The setting is just too rich not to use when deepening plot or antagonizing the protagonist.

4 CA: What is your best protip? Tell us about a writing habit, technique, or philosophy that keeps your writing sharp.

CHC:  I fight to write daily, even if only 500 words. And I don’t believe you can over-edit. I read my genre religiously, and I am not a fan of reading all genres across the board. I want to concentrate on my mystery talents, not dilute them, so I focus on reading quality mysteries. My favorite, of course, is Raymond Chandler.

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?

CHC: Harper Lee. She’s so Southern, and her writing so vibrant and wise. I hadn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird in decades, forgotten how good she was until Go Set a Watchman came out. I ignored all the brouhaha and bought the book for its Southern characters. I was blown away by the story and how she unwound such a controversial subject. Just loved it!

As a Southern girl myself, I would want to pick her brain, listen to her tell how she fleshed out characters, how she feels about storytelling in general, and of course, what suggestions she’d have for my South Carolina stories.

What would we eat? Since I’d be picking her brain about my characters, in my setting, I’d probably choose shrimp and grits with maybe she-crab soup . . . with a simple vanilla pound cake since the entrée is so rich. Sweet tea, of course, but right after we’d darn sure have to pull out the bourbon, and like her, I occasionally like half a cigar on the porch with my drink, while overlooking the lake where I live. Yeah, that visit would be lovely.

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

CHC: “In writing a novel, when in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns.” ― Raymond Chandler

While we can’t all write about guys with guns, the point sticks in my head. Remember action and always keep the story moving forward. Which also goes along with this one:

“The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.” ― Raymond Chandler

Forget craft . . . write the darn story.

Thank you, Hope! Find her Edisto Island series on Amazon.

Note: carmenamato.net uses Amazon affiliate links.

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


Hope Clark

Hard-core hard-boiled with mystery author Jim Nesbitt

Hard-core hard-boiled with mystery author Jim Nesbitt

A warm welcome to Jim Nesbitt, author of the hard-core hard-boiled Ed Earl Burch private investigator series. Ed Earl Burch is a not-quite washed up Texas cop turned PI with a notch collection on his bedpost and bad knees. Ed’s world is crude and rude and he punches through it with a pack of Lucky Strikes and a glass of Kentucky bourbon. A brisk pace, sliding points of view, shades of gray crooks, and dialogue spit out of the corners of everybody’s mouth make this series a real gem for hardboiled genre fiction fans.

mystery author jim NesbittJim books are collecting awards. THE SECOND LAST CHANCE was a finalist for the IPPY, Forewords INDIE and Killer Nashville Silver Falchion awards last year. It was also a Top Pick and finalist for Novel of The Year for Underground Book Reviews (UBR) and won a best hard-boiled mystery award from the Independent Crime Master Authors group. THE RIGHT WRONG NUMBER is a UBR Top Pick this year and is in the running for Novel of the Year for 2018.

1.Carmen Amato: Jim thanks so much for stopping by. Your Ed Earl Burch mysteries caught my eye because of the great tagline: “Nobody’s hero. Nobody’s fool.” Tell us about Ed Earl’s backstory and what makes him tick.

Jim Nesbitt: I think Ed Earl is a bit of an Everyman with whom folks can readily identify. He’s been smacked around by life and carries the guilt of a dead partner he couldn’t keep from getting killed, a couple of ex-wives and the loss of his gold shield, largely because of his own actions. Getting booted from the force in Dallas denies him the source of pride and recognition for the one thing he does best in life, tracking down bad guys and making them pay.

Burch is deeply flawed. Besides being angst-ridden, he drinks too much, he’s fatally attracted to women who leave him an emotional train wreck, and he’s a terminal smartass who never knows when to shut up. He’s also a guy with a code he sometimes forgets until the chips are down. He’s not super-smart like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe and he sure isn’t super-cool like Steve McQueen in Bullitt. He’s got bad knees, a beard and balding pate, a belly and an empty bank account. He also comes across like he might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. He’s Columbo without the caricature and people have a bad habit of underestimating him. He makes them pay for that — either with handcuffs or a bullet. Doesn’t matter to him — however they want to deal the play.

At his core, he’s smart, tough, profane and reckless and has been described as a classic American anti-hero. I’ll buy that.

2. CA: Where do you find inspiration for your often damaged and dangerous characters?

JN: My hillbilly cousins and all the journalists I helled around with for four decades. We’re a rude and intemperate lot. I also ran across a lot of colorful characters chasing politicians, crooks, cops, cowboys, loggers, miners and just plain folks while roving the country as a national correspondent out of Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

I’ve always had a good ear for dialogue and an eye for detail that lets me create a keen sense of place. The people I met along the way as a journalist gave me a helluva head start on creating the rogue’s gallery of characters you meet in my novels. So did those hillbilly cousins.

3. CA: How do yJim Nesbittou use setting to create and build suspense? Tell us about a favorite location that you used in a book.

JN:  I think it’s essential for a writer to create a keen sense of place and too many fail to do what you do so well in your Emilia Cruz series. I come from a long line of hillbilly storytellers who instilled in me the strong tie between family and the land we come from — both were steeped in the stories they told about my ancestors, my uncles and aunts, my cousins and my mom and dad when they were young and growing up in the North Carolina mountains. I tried to capture that as a journalist and it was natural that this would carry over to my novels.

I knew I was going to write very stark and violent tales of revenge and redemption. And none of the characters in my novels are nice people, not even Burch — they’re all fairly nasty and violent folk. I wasn’t born in Texas, but I lived there for a while and I spent a lot of time wandering the border between Texas and Mexico and flat fell in love with the harsh beauty of the desert mountains of the Big Bend Country that rise out of Mexico. The mountains there clash and collide in a way that makes it seems like the very bones of the earth are there for you to touch.

What better setting for the tales I was trying to tell? But I was gunning for more than just a backdrop — I think the interplay between people and the land where they live is endlessly fascinating. And I wanted to capture how a place shapes a people and how the land becomes a character unto itself in their story, inseparable from who they are. Texas — particularly the harsh and brooding beauty of West Texas — is more than a backdrop or framework for my novels. It’s a character that adds its own relentless element of foreboding and impending violence and is a big influence on the people in my novels and what they do.

4. 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?

JN: The late, great and vastly underappreciated James Crumley whose novels Dancing Bear and The Last Good Kiss taught me it was okay to let it rip with frank descriptions of sex and violence instead of euphemisms that I think insult the reader. And it was okay to drop f-bombs and other profane and earthy phrases. Both of his main characters, Milo Milodragovitch and C.W. ‘Sonny’ Sughrue, are deeply flawed PIs who drink and drug too much and chase the bad girls. Neither one toes the line or gives much of a damn about the law, but both have a code they might stray from but always return to in the end. His books also have raucously funny passages where the joke is often on the main character.

All that impressed me because those guys are vastly different from Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, two guys who might bend the rules, but kept to their code and used brains rather than brawn and a gun. And the joke was never on Sam or Phil. Crumley gave me license to NOT lace Ed Earl up in the strait jacket of the hard-boiled detective template.

So, what’s for dinner? Deep whiskeys before and after the main course, which will probably be thick ribeyes served with mashed potatoes swimming in butter. Or maybe something more primal — backstrap venison or elk steaks. Since we’re both good ole’ boys, I imagine we’ll sit at the kitchen table with the bottle between us, smoking cigarettes and talking about family, the places that stole our hearts and the women who left us flattened like three-day-old roadkill.

I’d ask him about that interplay between people and the land, the sense of family and place we carry even in a rootless and highly mobile society like the one we live in. Did he deliberately set out to make the sense of place so strong in his novels that it became a character unto itself or did that naturally spill out because he was raised on the same type of stories I heard from my family? My bet is, he’ll say something like: “Hell, bud, I just rared back and let it rip.”

5. CA: What is your best protip? Tell us about a writing habit, technique, or philosophy that keeps your writing sharp.

JN: Well, you and I both know there’s no silver bullet to writing — you just keep your butt in the chair, open a vein and bleed into your computer. Yeah, I poached a Hemingway line there and tarted it up — so, sue me, Papa. What I can tell you is something I learned a long time ago as a cub reporter — facts are your friends and the more facts you have, the firmer the foundation you can build for your writing and the surer and more authoritative and authentic your story will be.

It seems counter-intuitive since we’re writing fiction, but the firm foundation of facts frees up your writing and really allows it to fly. The horrible cliché told to young writers is to write what you know. What you know is only the starting point — and a poor one at that.

Do some research — if your books are set in the late 1980s and early 1990s like mine are, you better gather up all the facts you can about that time. Were laptops and cellphone in use back then? Who was president or governor? What were the political scandals of the day? Was that building you put in Chapter 12 even there back then? You’re not writing sepia-toned history, but you want to get these facts right to give your story authenticity. If your characters carry guns, you better get that right. You’re not going to use all these facts in your story, but they’ll be there underneath your writing.

If you get those details wrong, you run the risk of undermining your story because believe me, somebody will catch it or Google it and call you out. Or just drop your book, walk away and never think of you again. Best of all, if you have the time and the money, go walk the ground of where your story takes place. Most of the scenes in my two novels are set in places I went to as a journalist and that proved invaluable to creating a strong sense of place.

Thank you!

More about Jim Nesbitt:

Jim Nesbitt writes hard-boiled crime thrillers set in Texas and northern Mexico that featured a defrocked Dallas vice and homicide detective named Ed Earl Burch. Nesbitt is a former roving correspondent whose assignments included stories on both sides of the border and his novels — The Last Second Chance and The Right Wrong Number — are laced with the sights, sounds and people he encountered while wandering that rugged country. To learn more about Jim’s work, visit his website at https://jimnesbittbooks.com.

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


Jim Nesbitt

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.

Susan Spann

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 (http://www.susanspann.com), on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/SusanSpannBooks) and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she loves to share photos and stories from Japan.


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Susan Spann


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


Susan Spann

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.

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Jinx Schwartz


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


Jinx Schwartz

Author to Author with Penn Wallace

Author to Author with Penn Wallace

Penn Wallace

On real life

Tell us a bit about your family.  I have a rather unconventional family. My father is of Scottish heritage; my mother’s parents came from Mexico. I grew up with a foot in both worlds.

When I was little, we interacted mainly with my mother’s family. I remember my first day of kindergarten. There were all these kids with yellow worms growing from their heads. I had never seen a blond before.

But somehow, I’m not a Latino. My Spanish is poor, but I can make myself understood. I stand out as a gringo in Mexico and fit into American culture.

I married up. Connie was one of the most wonderful people I ever met. We adopted two girls from Korea and had a lovely family. Then she got ovarian cancer.

She spent ten years in a valiant struggle against the horrible disease. I watched her waste away before my eyes. It is the hardest thing I ever did.

After I lost her, I decided to totally change my life. The lesson I learned from the experience is that you have to live for today. You never know what tomorrow will bring, of if you’ll be there.

For fifty years I dreamed about buying a big old sailboat and sailing down the coast to Mexico. So, after Connie was gone, I did.

As the author of the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Mexico, I’m been honored to be a member of the highly engaged Mexico Writers Facebook group. I’ve been chatting with various members on the blog. Each conversation has a few surprises about Mexican #culture and #protips about the writing process.

Today’s chat is with Penn Wallace, best known for the Ted Higuera mystery series. Penn is a sea-faring author, with a lifestyle most of us can only dream about.

Penn Wallace
Penn Wallace

 How do you work through self-doubts and fear?  This is a really tough question because I rarely have self-doubts or fear. If you read my first book Blue Water & Me, Tall Tales of Adventures With My Father, you will see that Papa exorcised fear and self-doubt from me at an early age.

I’m kind of like the bumble bee. Scientist have proven mathematically that a bumble bee can’t fly. Someone just forgot to tell the bumble bee. I don’t know what I can’t do, so I just go ahead and do it.

What’s your most embarrassing moment of your life?  You’re going to have to sit down and get yourself a drink for this story. It may take a while.

When I was in grad school, our final project was to write a business plan for a new business. We worked in groups and wrote a masterpiece.

This was during the dot com boom. The school invited a group of venture capitalist to attend our presentations. They said that if any of our business plans looked good to them, they would fund them.

My group nominated me to make our presentation. I had just started taking a medication that made my mouth dry.

I got up and started talking. My mouth got drier and drier. Finally, my tongue swelled up and I had a hard time articulating. Then my tongue stuck to the top of my mouth and I couldn’t speak.

I had to dash from the room to find a water fountain. Then I returned and finished the presentation.

In case you’re wondering, our group did not get funded.

What scares you the most?  Dogs. I can honestly say that the only thing in the world that I have ever been afraid of is dogs. When I was three years old I was attacked by two German Shepherds. To this day, the sight of a German Shepherd makes my blood run cold.

This is particularly important since Dawn, my significant other, had two Great Danes when I met her. Like everything else in my life, I swallowed my fear and just plunged ahead.

What makes you happiest?  Wow! There are so many things that make me happy it’s really hard to choose. Sailing on a downwind reach off the coast of Baja California with just Dawn on my boat was one of the best experiences of my life.

How could you ask for more? The temperatures were in the eighties, we had about a fifteen knot wind on our quarter, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Pods of dolphin and whale played with us for days. We were off shore far enough that we couldn’t see land. We had the world to ourselves.

What’s your greatest character strength?  Honesty. I value honesty and loyalty above all other traits. When I meet a person, I assume that they are honest. I give them the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise. Once a person has been dishonest with me, I can never trust them again.

I have been told by employers that my honesty is a flaw. They said that I was too honest for my own good. They wanted me to lie for them and I wouldn’t. I also did not spend many more years at that job.

What’s your weakest character trait?  Self-control. I know I have a problem with food. I’ve been fighting my weight most of my life. For me, food is like a drug. I’m hooked. Even though I know I shouldn’t be eating that greasy bacon for breakfast, if it is there, I take it.

What are you most proud of in your personal life? My daughters. They have grown into fine young women. They are strong, brave and independent, just like their mother.

What other jobs have you had in your life? I have been a restaurateur. That includes everything from mopping floors and washing dishes to owning two of my own restaurants.

Then I took a major career detour and became a software engineer. I have also been a project manager and a business analyst.

If you could have a dinner party and invite anyone dead or alive, who would you ask? Sofia Vargara, Selma Hyak and maybe Catherine Zeta Jones.  To make sure you realize I’m an equal opportunity letch, I’d invite Rebecca Romijn too. To heck with the dinner, let’s go straight to the drinks.

When you are not writing, how do you like to relax?  Sailing is my passion. We sailed down the West Coast from Seattle to Mexico and back to San Diego. I expect to head south again soon.

Other than that, I love to cook and read. I am a world-class Mexican chef. You want to be invited to my boat for dinner.

On reading and writing

What books did you love growing up? Edgar Rice Burroughs. The Mars series, Tarzan of the Apes. Much of my writing today is influenced by his style. I also loved Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

Who is your favorite author?  Larry McMurtry. He is fantastic. I think Gus McRae is the greatest single character in American Literature. I envy Larry’s ability and only wish I could write like him.

What book genre of books do you adore?  My favorites are thrillers. However, I love good historical fiction as well. The Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brien and the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell are my favorites.

Related post: See Bernard Cornwell’s comments in 25 Authors on the Future of Bookstores

What book should everybody read at least once?  Lonesome Dove. It’s my absolute favorite. Everyone should have the opportunity to meet Gus McRae.

Is there any book you really don’t enjoy?  I hate to be a wet blanket and I don’t want to disparage any other authors, but I really didn’t enjoy Fifty Shades of Grey. The story just didn’t interest me. I couldn’t understand why she would willingly submit herself to such abuse.

How did you develop your writing?  By making every mistake in the book. I knew instinctively that I was a literary genius. I sat down and started writing. When I finished my masterpiece, I hired a good editor, just on the off-chance that I missed something.

She tore me to pieces. Actually, she tore my book to pieces. After I nursed my wounds and got over the sting, I cut more than a hundred pages from my manuscript and started over. Her second pass through the manuscript was a much more pleasant process.

I also joined a writers group. It took me several tries to find the right group, but eventually I ended up with a group of writers who were better than me. By working with them every other week, I gradually improved my writing.

Why do you write?  Because I have to. My mind is overflowing with stories. I just have to get them down on paper (or on a hard drive).

I write a beat sheet, character sketches and a fifteen to twenty page outline before I begin writing the book. Then I sit down to write. By this time, my sub-conscious knows the story and the characters and the words just flow from my fingers. I almost never think about what I’m writing.

I’m as enraptured as any reader as I see the story unfold in front of me. Sometimes it surprises me.

In The Inside Passage, I thought that Meagan was a certain kind of person, but as the story unfolded in front of me, she refused to be pigeon holed. She evolved and changed into a whole different person by the end of the book.

How has your upbringing influenced your writing? How could it not? My father was a communist who taught us to question everything. He never went to college, but was the most educated person I ever met.

He was a stickler for English grammar. It kills me when I hear someone say “where’s it at?” or “Me and Sally.” If you see bad grammar in my books, it is because the character talks that way, not because I don’t know better.

I think I look at the world a little differently than your common garden variety author. I am very liberal and open minded. I’m willing to accept things in people that others might question. This allows me to see and write about these people without being judgmental.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?  My father was a frustrated writer. He wrote a book about the tuna fishing industry that he tried to get published for fifty years. I grew up in a writer’s house. It just seemed natural.

When and why did you begin writing?  I had surgery and was out of work and going out of my mind. I had been thinking about writing my father’s story for twenty-five years. One day, while I was laying in bed recovering, I asked my wife to bring me my laptop and the rest is history.

Have you always enjoyed writing?  Yes. When I was in the sixth grade the teacher gave us an assignment to write “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” I wrote 30 pages.

What motivates you to write?  Ego. I have all of these stories that need to be told and I have enough ego to think that somebody might like to read them.

What writing are you most proud of?  I think that I am growing and improving as a writer with everything I write. I think that The Mexican Connection is my best work yet, but I’m the most proud of Blue Water & Me, Tall Tales of Adventures With My Father.

Blue Water is a tribute to my father and it may not be as polished as my later works, but it will probably always be my favorite.

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?  Finding an audience. After you’ve written your masterpiece, the cards are stacked against you for ever getting it published.

I am more and more feeling that finding a publisher is mostly a matter of luck. I have seen some really good manuscripts get rejected time after time and I’ve read some really bad books that get published.

But once you have made the hurdle and have your book in print, you have to find a way to let the world know it exists. You could find the cure for cancer, but if no one knows about it, it will do no good.

I know that there is an audience out there who would enjoy my books. I just need to find a way to let them know I exist.

My first thriller, The Inside Passage, was a compelling story, but it started out too slowly. I had several agents tell me that I needed to just jump into the story, then go back and fill the reader in on what they needed to know. They even questioned whether the reader needed to know that stuff.

It took some serious re-writing to get The Inside Passage ready for publication.

I didn’t make that mistake in Hacker for Hire.  I decided to start with the action and let the reader stay in the dark for a while, trying to figure out who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. I hope that when the reader gets to the end of the book, they will reconsider who is who one more time.

Where do you get your inspiration from?  The headlines. Read the newspaper. I could never make up stories as bizarre as I see in the news every day.

What is hardest – getting published, writing or marketing?  Marketing. I suffered through the writing process. I endured the fight to get published. Now I am struggling with marketing my works. If no one knows about your book, you could write Gone With the Wind, and no one will read it.

I work daily to find my market. I’ve tried everything I can think of and have made very little progress. I hear that it’s about a five year process to get your books out there and known.

What marketing works for you?  BookBub is by far the most effective tool that I’ve found. I pay about $275 for an ad and usually make that back by noon. The problem is that they’re very picky about what books they feature. I’ve submitted to them six times and only have been selected three times.

As with everything in life, there are no short cuts. I believe that you have to put in the work every day, day in and day out, if you want to succeed at anything. I think that writing is the same. If you want to sell your books, it is not enough to write a masterpiece. You must spend effort every day marketing it.

Do you find it hard to share your work?  Not at all. I put my work out there all the time. I know that some people won’t like it, but I hope to find an audience that will. I also am very receptive to criticism.

That doesn’t mean that I’m going to change something just because it has been criticized. It means I will listen and consider the suggestion.

I just got a review by a woman who said that my writing was too obsessed by breasts and legs. My characters are two men in their early twenties. Of course they are obsessed with breasts and legs. If she does not realize or like that, then I guess she is not in my target audience. I seriously considered her criticism, but in the end, I am not going to change my characters’ points of view. That’s who they are.

Is your family supportive? Do your friends support you?  Yes. Dawn, my significant other, listens to everything I write and gives me her criticisms. Sometimes she likes what I’ve done, other times she has creative suggestions.

My best friend, Susie, has edited everything I’ve written since grad school. My other friends are very supportive. Some actually read my work, but they’re all positive.

Do you plan to publish more books?  Does a bear . . . no, seriously though, of course. I have written four of the Ted Higuera novels and am in the editing process for the fifth. I have the plots for two more books in that series. Catrina Flaherty has spun off a series of her own. The next book on my list is about Catrina tackling a serial rapist.

I would also like to write some historical fiction. I have a civil war story just begging to be told.

But here’s my biggie: I discovered that people love dogs. If you want to write a best-seller, put a dog in it. So . . . in Bikini Baristas and the new The Cartel Strikes Back, Maria has a Great Dane for protection.

Tell us about your new book? What’s it about and why did you write it?  The latest Ted Higuera thriller is The Cartel Strikes Back.

In the Mexican Connection, Ted, Cat and friends were responsible for the death of one drug lord and the capture and imprisonment of another, El Pozolero.

In The Cartel Strikes Back, El Pozolero escapes from prison and causes all sorts of trouble for Ted. Ted has no choice but to go to Mexico and when things get too hot for him to handle, he calls Catrina, Chris and Hope to come to his aid.

SPOILER ALERT: I will tell you that Ted proposed to Maria in this book, I just won’t tell you her answer. I hope that you will be blown away by the ending.

Have you developed a specific writing style?  I hope so. I like to have short, action filled scenes, parallel plot lines and cliff hanging scene endings. Hopefully, that will make the reader want to turn the page to see what happens next.

Of course, it all depends on the story. You have to have “good bones” to hang your meat on.

What is your greatest strength as a writer?  I can accept criticism. I take my work to writers groups, I ask beta readers for their opinions. In the Ted Higuera series, Ted originally talked about himself in third person (“Ted really likes that.” As opposed to “I really like that.”). I got so much negative feedback that I changed it, even though I loved that part of his quirky character.

Every writer has their own idea of what a successful career in writing is, what does success in writing look like to you?   The adulation of millions. Not being able to go anywhere without the paparazzi following me around. No, seriously though, I would like to be able to sell enough books to subsidize my travels and live comfortably on my retirement income.

I’m not thirsting for a million-seller. I would like to be able to tell my stories and have people read and appreciate them. But if I wrote a million seller, I wouldn’t object.

Do you have an organized process or tips for writing well? Do you have a schedule? Everyone writes differently. Before I start writing, I do my research. This could take a month or more to learn everything I need to know about my story. Once I’m comfortable with the story,

I write a beat sheet.

The beat sheet is a three to five page document that outlines the plot, the characters and the story line. When that is done, I know who the characters are, so I write character sketches for the major players in my book. As new characters develop, I go back and write character sketches for them. I want to know who they are and how they will react in situations before I start writing.

Then I write the outline for the book. It is usually fifteen to twenty pages long and describes most of the scenes in the book.

After I’ve done my homework, I start writing. By this time I know the characters and story so well that I don’t really think about what I’m writing. The words just flow from my finger tips.

At this point, I’m always discovering new scenes that I hadn’t planned on or new twists to my characters personalities. It’s a journey of discovery. The neatest thing about my process is that when I’m writing, I’m like a reader. I get the same thrills and pleasure the reader will get as the story unfolds.

I try to write every morning. That is my most creative time. I like to get up and write before the house (or boat in my case) is awake. That way I don’t have any distractions.

Sometimes it’s so hard to keep at it – What keeps you going?  I’m just stubborn. When I start a project, I plunge head long into it and keep going until it’s finished. I don’t allow distractions to tear me away. I am determined to finish.

Have you met any people in the industry who have really helped you?  Jinx Schwartz comes to mind. I met Jinx in La Paz, Mexico, and she was kind enough to spend a couple of hours with me discussing her marketing process. It was a great help and I took what worked for me in her process and continue to build on it.

What do you hope people will take away from your writing? I just want to entertain people. I’m not trying to change their lives or provide some great hidden truth. I want them to relax and forget the world for a few minutes and just enjoy the story.

Is there anyone you’d like to acknowledge and thank for their support?  Without a doubt, my mother. She hated the first draft of Blue Water & Me because she was in it and she is a very private person. After not talking to me for about three weeks, she finally gave me her permission to use the material she objected to.

Since then she has been 100% in my corner. I am most grateful for her support.

How did you come up with a title?  I usually brainstorm the title. I make a list of possible candidates, nothing is too stupid to add to the list. Then I share it with my friends and ask for their ideas and input.

Once I have twenty or thirty possibilities, something usually suggests itself.

There was a comic book when I was a kid called Hero for Hire.  Somehow, when I started writing Hacker for Hire that memory resurfaced in my mind.

Ted is a computer security analyst. Corporations hire him to try to hack into their systems to find vulnerabilities before the real hackers find them. To me, this was a Hacker for Hire.

Can you tell us about your main character?  Ted Higuera is the son of Mexican immigrants. He grew up in the barrios of East LA and has a little of that hermano still in him.

He was fortunate enough to be physically gifted. He set scoring, touchdown and yardage records at Garfield High School in LA and won a football scholarship to the University of Washington where he met Chris Hardwick.

Chris is the kid born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His dad is the head of one of Seattle’s most prestigious law firms. Chris grew up in a million dollar estate overlooking Puget Sound.

Everything comes easy for Chris. He has an eidetic memory and finished first in his class. Ted has to scrape and claw for everything he’s earned in his life. The two come together to make a great crime fighting duo.

 How did you develop your plot and characters? I don’t have to make this stuff up. I just read the newspaper. Hacker for Hire is a real life situation that happened in one of the Fortune 100 companies in this country. I have moved the story to Seattle, changed the company name and thrown in a murder or two, but the basic plot was already there.

I should say something about Catrina Flaherty. is a kick-ass private investigator.

I modeled her on a PI that I did some consulting work for a few years ago. I remember the sales guy asking me what I thought about her and I said “I wouldn’t cross her. She can kick both of our asses.” I love her character and decided she would make a great stand alone protagonist.

The Catrina Flaherty Mysteries consist of a short story called Mirror Image and a novella called Murder Strikes Twice. In her upcoming novel, she is on a mission to find a serial rapist who preys on undocumented aliens.

Who designed the cover?  Brandi McCann has been designing my covers and I like them a lot. I am trying to keep a consistent look and feel to them. I just had her do a cover for a short story that I will publish shortly that is about one of the characters in the Ted Higuera series, but Ted and Chris aren’t in it. I wanted to keep the same feel without the trademark bullseye on the cover. She did a terrific job.

Who is your publisher?  My first book, Blue Water & Me, Tall Tales of Adventures With My Father, was published by Aberdeen Bay Press. I will be eternally grateful that they took a chance on an unknown author.

However, I felt that they overpriced my book and it has not sold well. They also don’t give their authors any marketing support. Once the book is published, you are on your own.

I decided to take the plunge and publish my second book, Christmas Inc., myself, using Create Space and Kindle Direct Publishing. It hasn’t sold well either.

I will continue to publish my own books. I have heard that you need to have at least five books out before you can build an audience. This makes sense.

If a reader finds your book and really likes it, they immediately want another one of your books. If you don’t have one available, they will move on to another author and forget about you.

I did this with a young author in the 1970’s. I read his first two books and loved them, but he didn’t have anything else out yet. I promptly forgot about him for thirty years, until I re-discovered Patrick O’Brien who had about twenty-five books available for me to chain-read by then.

I also understand that if our books are in a series, it will make the marketing easier. People will fall in love with your characters and want to know what they are doing next.

Why did you choose to write this particular book? I didn’t have a choice. The newspapers, TV and the Internet were screaming out the plot. I couldn’t resist. It is such a current topic, I hope readers will flock to The Cartel Strikes Back.

 What was the hardest part about writing this book? Finding a way to mix it in with a very full and complicated life. I started the book in January and finished the first draft by the end of February. I managed to get that writing shoe horned in around working on the boat, attending a writers conference and figuring out what the next step is in our lives.

I’m in the editing process now. I have to work that around getting ready to move and taking off on an adventure to Panama.

Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?  I wanted to write a book that sucked you right in. I started with a compelling character (is he a good guy or a bad guy?) and dropped the reader into a situation that they don’t know what is going on. I wanted to show the readers what the situation in Mexico was like so they could understand the tale I was about to weave. Then I went back and introduced our main characters and gave the reader a little bit of insight into their angst.

Hopefully this formula will work. I hope that people will start the book and be so intrigued that they have to keep reading to find out what the heck is going on.

Will you write others in this same genre?  Yes. I am already writing the fifth book in the series, The Cartel Strikes Back. I’ve already told you about that, but book the next Catrina Flaherty novel will be a kick to write.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?  I don’t believe in Hollywood endings. Life isn’t that way. In The Inside Passage one of the major characters is killed at the end of the book. In Hacker for Hire the ending will surprise and chill you. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say that, in the end, justice prevails, despite our messed up court system. In The Mexican Connection one of the team gets killed in the big finale. I defy you to guess the ending to The Cartel Strikes Back.

But what I really want the readers to realize is how greedy these people are. They already have everything and are willing to go to extreme lengths to get more. How much do they need?

How much of the book is realistic?  It’s happening right now. Pick up a newspaper. I won’t tell you who the characters are based on, but it shouldn’t be hard to figure out. I really didn’t need to make up anything to move the story along, it’s too bizarre to believe. Of course, I did imagine an ending for the story that had not yet played itself out.

Have you included a lot of your life experiences, even friends, in the plot?  You betcha. I lived in La Paz for two years, so the geography is realistic. Some of the characters are people I met there. As I’ve already said, Cat is based on a real-life woman. Ted and Chris are also based on real people. Ted’s family is totally made up, but it’s not too far different from the family in which I grew up.

Maria and family are based on some very dear friends we met in Mexico. I hope they are not offended by the story I made up for them.

How important do you think villains are in a story?  Villains are the story. Can you imagine The Silence of the Lambs without Hannibal Lecter? What about the Wizard of Oz without the Wicked Witch of the West?

In order for your hero to stand out, he/she must face a villain of at least equal ability. That’s why Doyle had to create Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, to give Holmes an adversary that was worthy of him.

To build tension in your story, the villain must be able to manipulate and mislead your protagonist. He/she must appear to have the upper hand so that your hero can overcome the odds and everyone can live happily ever after.

By the way, I hate happily ever after. I despise Hollywood endings. I try to have my stories end on a more realistic note. The readers might not like it, but I feel it’s true to the world.

What contributes to making a writer successful?  You have to be able to get your thoughts down on paper in a coherent way. You need to comply with the current reading habits of American readers. You have to have a story to tell, but most importantly, you need to be persistent.

I know many writers who want to write in their own style. That’s well and good, but they are severely limiting their audience. A few years ago, I would have said that it’s the kiss of death, because no agent would pick up an author who doesn’t write for current tastes. However, with electronic publishing, anyone can publish a book. Now you just need to find an audience that enjoys that style of writing.

I read my father’s work and it reminds me of 19th century writing. Charles Dickens comes to mind. It is a great story, but I don’t think a modern reader is going to slog through all of the purple prose.

The most important part of writing success is just showing up. Being there everyday. Writing. Working on publishing. Spending hours each day marketing your work.

I always ask people why they write. If they write because they love it, that’s fine. They may have a story that they just have to tell, that’s good too. To many of my friends, it’s a hobby. They have no intention of ever publishing their work.

I have other friends who are so caught up in the writing that they never look beyond that to what happens when their manuscript is complete.

Writing for a living is hard work. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The book is about 50% of the job. Getting it published is another 50%. Then selling the finished work is the final 50%/

Wait a minute, that doesn’t add up. You can’t have more than 100%. That’s right. Writing is one of those jobs whose parts exceed the total of the sum.

If you could leave  readers with one bit of wisdom, what would it be? In those immortal words of Winston Churchill, “Never give up.”

Thanks, Penn Wallace! You have given us a new series to investigate.

Find Penn’s books on Amazon. Start with THE INSIDE PASSAGE.

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Penn Wallace


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


Author to Author with Penn Wallace

Author to Author: Robert Joe Stout and Carmen Amato

Robert Joe Stout

I recently had the chance to have a series of conversations with members of the Mexico Writers Facebook group. Robert Joe Stout, a prolific author, acknowledged baseball aficionado and the father of five children, currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico. His essays, commentaries, short fiction and poetry regularly appear in literary and commercial magazines and journals.

Robert Joe Stout on real life

Tell us a bit about your family.  I grew up with two families—the post Great Depression one of a sugar factory worker father and housewife mother and the pre-Great Depression family of a booking agent for actors and musicians and a musician/actress mother. They were the same people but in the small Wyoming town in which we lived I physically shared a daily existence of fishing for carp and chubs in the summer and sledding in the winter but emotionally shared my parents pre-Great Depression adventures through their scrapbooks and photo albums and the wonderful stories they told about Australian aborigines and applauding audiences in Great Falls and being smuggled across the Rhine beneath gunny sacks in a leaky boat.


How do you work through self-doubts and fear? Basically journalisticly: What’s causing this, what prompts the feeling, what are the choices, the consequences of each choice, what’s the worst that can happen, what resources do I have to emerge from this. The answers sometimes are unpleasant but getting them out in the open enables me to deal with the doubts or the apprehensions.

What scares you the most? I have no lingering fears. Circumstances occur: a guy waving a gun, shrieking brakes, a snarling dog.

What makes you happiest? Americans seem to thrive on “most this, best that…” Actors, sports teams, candy. I don’t categorize in that way. A lot of things make me happy: being alive, fresh strawberries, visits from my kids, writing, piano sonatas.

What are you most proud of in your personal life? Being a father—I think a pretty good one, if somewhat unconventional. All five of my kids are healthy, positive, creative persons and I get very positive playback from them.

What’s your greatest character strength? Again, something I’ve never categorized. I’m not much of a selfie and don’t think much about what I’m like. I’m very independent, not much influenced by what others think or say, that’s a primary part of who I am.

On writing and reading

What motivates you to write? It’s my profession. I’ve been a professional journalist since I was in college. I like the exploration, the process, the stimulation. The more I write the more I’m motivated to write. It’s a life work, it’s who I am.

What writing are you most proud of? No single thing. My first novel, Miss Sally. Quite a few of the short stories, including several published in the ‘70s. Quite a few individual poems. The creative nonfiction book The Blood of the Serpent.

What books did you love growing up? Oh, Richard Halliburton’s descriptions of his adventures. Osa Johnson’s adventures in Africa. I remember really liking Ivanhoe, and Ernie Pyle’s firsthand accounts as a war correspondent during World War II. James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohigans.

Who is your favorite author? Don’t have one but among those I prize having read are Wallace Stegner, Dostoevskii, Erich Maria Remarque, Simone de Beauvoir, Richard Wright, Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, Hannah Arendt.

What book should everybody read at least once? None. Different strokes for different folks.  But at least some poetry.

Thank you! Check out Robert Joe Stout’s books on Amazon.

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 the headline-inspired plots of the Detective Emilia Cruz series and the steamy relationship between Acapulco cop Emilia Cruz and American 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. Thanks to these great friends with books and conversations about Mexico, writing, and real life. 

Robert Joe Stout
Robert Joe Stout

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Robert Joe Stout


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


Author to Author with Penn Wallace

Friends with Books: Leigh Thelmadatter of Creative Hands of Mexico

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 steamy 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.

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. Enjoy!

Today’s conversation is with Leigh Thelmadatter, non-fiction writer and blogger at Creative Hands of Mexico. Her blog specializes in long-form posts about amazing artisans across central Mexico.

On Writing

Why do you write?  I want to document ideas, people, etc. which do not get the attention they should.

Is there any book you really don’t enjoy?  I’m not the biggest fan of fiction, which I know is a very strange thing to write. I prefer to stick to the real world … facts, figures …

Tell us about your new book? What’s it about and why did you write it?  Its my first book and it will be on Mexican cartonería… which is not your 2nd grade arts and crafts paper maché. It is used to make a number of items, traditionally in relation to various Mexican celebrations. The best known of these is the piñata. It interests me because it has been undergoing a major change since the mid 20th century, incorporating a lot of modern influences, which attracts young artists and artisans. There is a pretty good selection of books on Mexican handcrafts in general, but relatively few that go into more regional/local traditions in any depth.

Thelmadatter_toroloco_maclovio_3020504665What’s your next project?  After the cartonería book, I want to do one on the La Catrina phenomenon in Mexico.

How did you develop your writing?  Believe it or not, Wikipedia. It began as a hobby, writing articles about what I see in Mexico, in part to force me to read more Spanish but mostly to see beyond the superficial.  Otherwise all the towns look the same… church, main place and municipal hall…

Where do you get your inspiration?  Mexican culture. Before I arrived, all I knew was the Arizona-Sonora border area and images from the beaches. Central Mexico, which is the cultural and economic powerhouse of the country, is vastly different.

What is hardest – getting published, writing or marketing?  As far as Wikipedia and my blog, Creative Hands of Mexico, I don’t have to sell my work. I’m working on my first book on Mexican cartonería (a hard paper maché). The idea of convincing someone to publish it scares me. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

What else do you do to make money, other than write?  It is rare today for writers to be full time. I am a professor. My writing, including Wikipedia work with students, complements what I do in the classroom.

How do you write – lap top, pen, paper, in bed, at a desk?  Lap top at home desk or at work.

Life beyond writing

What other jobs have you had in your life?  Too many. Soldier, hotel receptionist, burger flipper, stay-at-home mom.

If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?  I would stay in Mexico. I hope to live on or near the beach someday.

Is there anyone you’d like to acknowledge and thank for their support? My husband, Alejandro Linares Garcia … his support has been unwavering and unconditional.

Tell us a bit about your family.   I was born in New York City but grew up in suburban New Jersey. My mother was a single mom in the 1970s, which was extremely hard for her, not only because of social stigma but familial issues. She died in 1983 at age 44. I changed my last name in 2001 to Thelmadatter (daughter of Thelma in Norwegian) in her honor.

If you could have a dinner party and invite anyone dead or alive, who would you ask? My mother.

How do you feel about self-publishing?  Personally, if it gets people reading my work, I’m all for it. In the digital age, especially in the next 10 years or so, the divide between self published and traditional publishing will blur, at the very least. Right now, as a professor, I still kind of need that publisher stamp of approval.

Last book you purchased?  A small, locally published book in Spanish on cartoneria.  There were bits and pieces of good information and research leads, but too short and too vague to be of help in really showing the craft’s cultural value.

Thelmadatter_Kennedy_CookbookWho do you admire?  Anthropologist and handcrafts researcher Marta Turok. I did her Wikipedia article. Second is food researcher Diana Kennedy.

What is your favorite quality about yourself?  Dedication

What is your least favorite quality about yourself?  That it took me 45 years to get dedicated to something. But I’ve always been a late bloomer.

Thank you, Leigh, for chatting and sharing the “toroloco” picture from Creative Hands of Mexico.

Need a little more Mexico? Get the first Detective Emilia Cruz mystery  CLIFF DIVER for just $0.99 for Kindle. Emilia is the first and only female police detective in Acapulco. She can make it in a man’s world. Unless one of them kills her first.

See what happens in CLIFF DIVER when Emilia is put in charge of the investigation into a dirty cop’s murder. When she dives in, will she hit the rocks? Or the water?

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friends with books


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


A Book Savor Chat with Canadian Author Sandra Nikolai

The Book Savor series grew out of my love for good friends, good books, and great conversations about what we are reading.

This week’s guest, Canadian mystery author Sandra Nikolai, shares the books she savors.

Anne frank cover1.Carmen Amato: What was the first book you read that marked the transition from reading kids’ books to grown-up fare?

Sandra Nikolai: When I was a young teen, I read The Diary of Anne Frank. The story touched me deeply because I imagined myself in her situation during the Nazi occupation. It brought home the realization that not every young person has a carefree youth and that some pretty bad things can happen in this world.

2. CA: You are shipwrecked with a crate labeled “Books.” What 3 books do you hope are in it?

SN: I’d hope to find a book on survival skills because I’m a city girl, and I’d need all the help I could get. If an escape plan didn’t work out, I’d dig out Somewhere Over the Rainbow to bolster my hopes of being rescued and returning home. I’d also hope for a huge joke book, because if I were going to die, I’d want to die laughing.

3. CA: What book would you give as a housewarming gift and why?

SN: A coffee table book with lots of photos and illustrations on a topic that ranged from art to cooking to travel, depending on the guest’s interests. Coffee table books attract attention and encourage conversation in a wide variety of topics.

4. 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?

SN: I’d invite forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, bestselling author of the Dr. Temperance Brennan series on which the program Bones is based. I’d serve lasagna with a tossed green salad and a bottle of Chianti. Nothing with bones! We’d chat about her books and Montreal—a city we both know well. I’d wait until we’d had coffee and tiramisu before asking her about the grisly details of her work in the lab.

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

SN: “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936

Tell us about yourself in 3 sentences or less.

SN: My parents encouraged my love of reading and I’ll be forever grateful to them. I couldn’t imagine my life without books. Even more so without writing.

Sandra NikolaiMore about this week’s guest: Sandra is the author of a mystery series featuring a ghost writer and a crime reporter; a real departure from the standard police or private detective cast of characters. Her first book, False Impressions, had a character so duplicitous I was glad he was the victim! Her second book, Fatal Whispers, has just been released and delivers more of the psychological twists that readers enjoyed in the first. The title is a fabulous twist on on the murder weapon, which you’ll never guess. Her links:

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Sandra Nikolai


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


A Book Savor Chat with Fabretto CFO Monica Drazba

The Book Savor series grew out of my love for good books, great friends, and interesting conversations about books.

This week Fabretto Foundation CFO Monica Drazba talks about the books she savors.

Shirley Jackson book cover1.Carmen Amato: What was the first book you read that marked the transition from reading kids’ books to grown-up fare?

Monica Drazba: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson.  I read this disturbing book when I was in sixth grade or so.  I spent hours trying to figure out what it all meant.  It still scares me to this day.

2. CA: You are shipwrecked with a crate labeled “Books.” What 3 books do you hope are in it?


  • Modern Times, by Paul Johnson
  • The Rise of the West, by William H. McNeill
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

(I’ve been meaning to re-read the first two, and the last is my favorite novel –one that I re-read every couple of years.)

(plus I hope there are lots of good murder mysteries, more histories, and of course, nerdy sci-fi and fantasy books!)

3. CA: What book would you give as a housewarming gift and why?

MD:  The Egg and I by Betty McDonald: her story of setting up a household in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest is fun and witty and makes everyone feel better about their own new household travails.

4. 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?

 MD: Well, aside from Carmen Amato and a variety of Mexican dishes, it would probably be David McCullough or maybe Robert Caro. I’d serve up something simple (grilled tenderloin, roasted vegetables, pilaf), so I could spend my time outside of the kitchen listening to their anecdotes and insights on modern history.

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

MD: “…., and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.” — the last line from To Kill a Mockingbird.  My mother died when I was very young, and we were raised by my dad— a troop of tomboys (all sisters until my father remarried and my half-brother came along).  The ending always resonated with me and still does — parenting, love, and being there for your children.

Tell us about yourself in 3 sentences or less.


MD:  I moved to Latin America from my home state of California in 1980 with my husband and 9 month old daughter.  After 33 years, four countries, and three more children born and raised between Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and Ecuador, books have been my most enduring friends.  I love entertaining my breathing friends in our home in Nicaragua, where we have lived for the last seventeen years and where I work for a non-profit promoting education and literacy among the rural poor.

More about this week’s guest: Monica is a force multiplier when it comes to her work with Fabretto, a foundation with a  mission “to empower underserved children and their families in Nicaragua to reach their full potential, improve their livelihoods, and take advantage of economic opportunity through education and nutrition.” Fabretto runs schools, vocational programs, craft cooperatives, and much more; all to raise living standards and give children a better future. You can read more about Fabretto at http://www.fabretto.org.

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