Things in the Mirror are Closer than they Appear

Things in the Mirror are Closer than they Appear

It was a first and I’m still recovering.

I live in a fairly friendly town. So when there was a shoutout for women who work from home to meet for coffee, I went. About 20 gals showed up, none of whom I knew. As we were introducing ourselves, one of them said. “I’ve read your books. I had no idea you lived here.”

Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather, as the saying goes. Some time ago, she discovered the Detective Emilia Cruz books through a BookBub deal for a free book. Read the free book and bought two more.

It was a vote of much-needed confidence.

Far and near

I worried when we moved to the US heartland that I was far from my sources of inspiration. Would I lose touch with Mexico and the culture that so inspired me to write the Detective Emilia Cruz series and thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY? I had been immersed in the colors, food, the language, the religious traditions that formed the calendar of life in Mexico City. I’m far from Acapulco, palm trees, and cliff divers.

But on the other hand, there’s no escaping drug cartel crime. Mexico’s homicide rates are going up in lockstep (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/death-toll-put-at-20-for-mexico-cartel-attack-near-us-border/2019/12/01/edd68fd2-149c-11ea-80d6-d0ca7007273f_story.html) with the US death rate from drug use. (see https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates). In my own corner of the world, the opioid crisis is painfully in evidence.

Related: Welcome to the Opioid Crisis

The Mexican cartels are inside the US. The biggest jefe is known as El Mencho. He’s got a 10 million dollar price on his head. CBS news has a great video report on his organization’s presence: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/el-mencho-mexican-cartel-boss-behind-one-third-of-drugs-in-the-us-2019-09-26/, even mentioning that he was behind the shooting down of a Mexican government helicopter, which I referenced in 43 MISSING, Detective Emilia Cruz Book 6. (FYI: Free for Kindle Unlimited right now)

Rolling Stone warned us about El Mencho two years ago, calling him “Mexico’s next generation narco.” https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/the-brutal-rise-of-el-mencho-196980/

Mirror, mirror

Facebook keeps me in touch with friends in Mexico but there are surprising sources of inspiration here at home.

Bittersweet

This vine called bittersweet wraps around trees here. A strangling parasite or a plant that sustains and supports the tree? It seems to me to be the essential question as I write the relationship between Emilia Cruz and her mother, the ever child-like Sophia.

Virgin

My small Catholic church has a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe in a niche to the left of the main altar. When I saw that, my Mexico memories felt tangible again. Not as far away as they were a moment ago.

Validation via work boot

We don’t hear Spanish spoken here very often, but my husband fell into conversation with two native speakers while buying work boots. The men were surprised to hear a tall gringo speak fluent Spanish.

Both were from the Mexican state of Guerrero. Near Acapulco, one added, assuming my husband wouldn’t know where that was.

My husband said that he was very familiar with Mexico. In fact, his wife wrote books about a female police detective in Acapulco.

He got some hard stares. “There are no female police detectives in Acapulco,” the other man said.

Some things never change.

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CARMEN AMATO

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

 

Mystery author Lisa Preston: new series, dinner with Twain & tech advice

Mystery author Lisa Preston: new series, dinner with Twain & tech advice

Fellow mystery author and former cop Lisa Preston stopped by to talk about her new series and share a great protip.

1. Carmen Amato: Lisa, thanks so much for stopping by. We met at the Killer Nashville mystery writer’s conference and discovered that we have a few things in common, like our love of smart dogs!

You are a retired police officer, as well as an equine expert. Why did you add mystery author to the resume?

author Lisa Preston

Lisa Preston: The mystery form is so engaging, a great combination of both character-driven and plot-driven story; I’ve enjoyed reading it and I wanted to write it. When I did my book clubby, psychological thriller and suspense novels, readers wrote emailed asking what was next for those characters, and my agent said it was time for a series. I had this interesting idea of having a horseshoer as an amateur sleuth, and he sold it on a multi-book deal.

Related: 9 Mystery Authors Tell All

2. CA: Your upcoming release (November) is DEAD BLOW. Your main character is a female with a very unique occupation. What can you tell us about her and the book?

Dead Blow by Lisa Preston

LP: Seeds for the mystery in DEAD BLOW were planted in the series debut, THE CLINCHER, which came out a year ago. The main character is Rainy Dale, a young woman with a lot of room for growth. She traces her childhood horse to the fictional small town of Cowdry, Oregon, then stays to try earning a living as a newly minted horseshoer.

She made a breakthrough in THE CLINCHER. In DEAD BLOW, she needs to keep learning to love herself and others, while she solves one of the town’s old mysteries.

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

LP: I live at the edge of a million-plus acre backcountry wilderness that offers endless trails, unreliable cell service, plus encounters with bears, cougars, and the occasional deranged person. The majority of the country lives in much higher population density, but is interested in visiting these vast western locales, and enjoys imagining the unique difficulties the setting presents.

Rainy Dale is similarly situated down in Oregon. Both THE CLINCHER and DEAD BLOW offer a setting as distinct and challenging as my own stomping grounds of steep scrawny trails and magnificent panoramas.

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?

LP: This week, I’ll say let’s spend the evening with Samuel Clemens. I’ve just gotten Twain’s unabridged works and was surprised to see he’d done a takedown of Fennimore Cooper. Then reading the details, I had to agree that a firearms scene is which the writer has the hero shooting a nail head located one hundred yards away is cringe-inducing. As a retired cop, poor law enforcement action or emergency medical procedure (I was a paramedic before I was a cop) makes me stop reading. Join us, Carmen, and we’ll eat a meaty stew and drink beer, while talking about everything.

Related: Best of the Book Savor Dinners

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

LP: I think many new writers do not revise enough. They think they have a finished, but it’s what you or I would call a draft.

When I teach revision, two things I have students do are deconstruct the written manuscript to make sure each scene is doing its job. I also tell folks to have their computers read the entire manuscript out loud. It’s amazing what you hear in the computer’s flat reading that you do not see.

Thank you, Lisa. That is great advice! Technology is (occasionally) our friend.

More about Lisa:

Lisa Preston started her fiction career with the bestselling psychological thriller ORCHIDS AND STONE, followed by the acclaimed psychological suspense THE MEASURE OF THE MOON. She now writes the Rainy Dale horseshoer series. Find all her books on Amazon.

Connect with her at www.lisapreston.com.

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CARMEN AMATO

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

 

Writing a mystery: 3 essential questions

Writing a mystery: 3 essential questions

RUSSIAN MOJITO, Detective Emilia Cruz Book 7, will be released on 6 June. It is undoubtedly the most complex mystery I’ve ever written.

Emilia’s whole future is on the line.

Mystery writing: the big start

Every Emilia Cruz novel has multiple plot lines. My sticky note outlines are color-coded by subplot and spread across the wall above my desk. It grows as the book evolves, like a weed watered with Miracle Gro. 

But before I can build that ever-evolving outline, I have to answer 3 essential questions:

  1. What personal aspect of Emilia’s life will be impacted?
  2. What uniquely Mexican cultural element will drive the crime?
  3. Where does Emilia end up emotionally?

Here’s how the 3 essential question exercise worked for RUSSIAN MOJITO:

1. What personal aspect of Emilia’s life will be impacted?

Detective Emilia Cruz

After the dramatic events in PACIFIC REAPER and 43 MISSING which basically destroyed Emilia’s personal relationships, in RUSSIAN MOJITO she needs to either rebuild or move on.

Emilia must decide what sort of relationship she wants with her mother, whom Emilia believes lied to her for years about the brother Emilia never knew. Emilia must also deal with the feeling that her life would have been much better if she’d been the child her mother gave away, instead of the brother who ruined all the advantages he was given.

And yes, Emilia must either salvage her affair with Kurt Rucker, the gringo manager of Acapulco’s most luxurious hotel, or finally let him go.

2. What uniquely Mexican cultural element will drive the crime?

Reuters Mexican fuel thieves

PIPELINE NO DIGGING: Warning sign at Pemex’s refinery in Salamanca, in Guanajuato state, Mexico, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

For some time, I’ve been tracking the phenomenon of fuel thieves in Mexico, called huachicoleros.

For most of us, living in tidy places were gas stations have credit card pumps and convenience marts, it is hard to imagine people driving through the night to the middle of nowhere to dig up a hidden gas pipeline, drill into the steel, insert a spigot, and fill cans with stolen gas to sell on the black market.

Think about the danger! Sparks from the tools used to drill through the steel. The dizzying fumes of gasoline drenching you as it gushes out of the tap. Wrangling heavy vats of gas and selling it by the gallon in some village square. The ever-present fear of fire and arrest.

It’s astounding that people are actually stealing gas out of underground pipelines but in Mexico, the problem has become big enough to close gas stations and have its own saint. Read Borderland Beat’s article about El Nino Huachicolero here. Read the Washington Post article on gas stations closing due to fuel theft here.

The danger is very real. For example, in January more than 80 people died when huachicoleros created a literal fountain of gas from a breached pipeline. Dozens of people rushed to fill containers. When the pipeline exploded, all those people were caught in a deadly fireball. Check out this stunning video from Euro News

3. Where does Emilia end up emotionally?

Again, after the cliffhanger endings of the previous two books, I wanted Emilia to get her life back on track.

RUSSIAN MOJITO has a  satisfying wrap, akin to HAT DANCE and DIABLO NIGHTS, yet also teases us with the next book in the series, NARCO NOIR.

Hey, what about the Russian angle?

Russian Mojito cover

What, there are Russians in this book? LOL Only kidding. 

Without giving away any spoilers, the Russians in RUSSIAN MOJITO insidiously find their way into every aspect of Emilia’s challenges. From her relationship with her mother, to what happens with Kurt, to multiple murders, to the huachicolero trade . . . well, you get the idea.

The cover hints at the type of cocktail the Russians bring to the party. Did I mention the cover is the 8th for the Emilia Cruz series by the talented Matt Chase?

Mark your calendars! 

23 May: Kindle pre-order

6 June: Kindle release

23 June: Paperback release

Need to catch up on Emilia’s adventures?

Get 43 MISSING on Amazon today!

 “A fast-paced procedural . . . a real page-turner [and] a very original plot.” — The Booklife Prize 

43 Missing by Carmen Amato

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CARMEN AMATO

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

 

10 Lessons from Killer Nashville

10 Lessons from Killer Nashville

The Killer Nashville International Writer’s Conference was the first of its kind I’ve ever attended.  I didn’t know quite what to expect but tried to put my best foot forward:

  • Served on 3 panels (Writing Spies and Espionage, Settings, Witness Reliability),
  • Was a conference sponsor, which put my name on the back of the awards dinner program and a copy of “The Beast” short story in every conference tote, and
  • Wore my lucky red dress on the first day.

At the 4-day event I connected with terrific authors I only knew from Facebook and email, including Mike Faricy (the Dev Haskell series), Jim Nesbitt (the Ed Earl Burch series), Kathryn Lane (the Nikki Garcia series), and Mike Pettit (the Jack Marsh series, the Max Simms series, etc.). I made new friends too, including Dale T. Phillips (the Zack Taylor series), Ross Carley (the Wolf Ruger series), and Margaret Mizushima (the Timber Creek K-9 mysteries).

Me and globetrotter Mike Faricy, author of the inimitable Dev Haskell series. Check out the lucky red dress.

Related: Straight Shooting with mystery author Mike Faricy

Sharing a laugh with Ed Earl Burch creator, Jim Nesbitt.

Related: Hard-core hard-boiled with Jim Nesbitt

The presentations given by experts on DNA, toxicology, and drug smuggling were outstanding. I now have a long list of terms to Google, like “volatiles” and “fracture match.” Guest speakers Jeffrey Deaver, Otto Penzler, J.A. Konrath, and Anne Perry all impressed with their experience and insights.

Major takeaways from Killer Nashville:

1. Consistent, high quality production is the name of the game. The best known authors in the mystery genre have 30 or more books to their name  . . . and a fierce work ethic.

2. Even the best need to be resilient and take the long view. Jeffrey Deaver gave a great talk at Killer Nashville in which the word “escape” figured large. Stories struggling to escape the imagination. Writers struggling to escape the ordinary. Or in Deaver’s case, he wrote to escape being a nerd. Deaver read us entries from journals in which he recorded his epic fails on the way to publishing success. From no one showing up for book signings to technical glitches that destroyed pages, he showed that no author is immune. His bottom line? Be resilient in the face of disasters and persistent when it comes to writing what you love.

3. The divide between traditional publishing and independent publishing was the ghost at the banquet. For many attendees, traditional publishing still represents “validation.” The opportunity to sit down with an agent was the main reason they were there. Yet all four of the agents on the dedicated panel agreed that it takes 3-5 years for an author to get signed and published. The tortoise-like speed of that route would seem to be a serious handicap on the road to a big backlist. See 1, above.

4. Every traditionally published author has a loss-of-control horror story. Publishers putting the wrong title on a printed book. Publishing contracts that buy book rights for the life of the author plus 70 years. Publishers that pay 6% royalty. Publishers running a marketing campaign that targets the wrong audience. Publishers closing down their mystery imprint in the middle of a contracted-for series, leaving the author unable to publish elsewhere. And so on.

5. Discoverability is the golden ticket. Best selling indie author Christopher Greyson spends $100k annually on Amazon advertising. J.A. Konrath has written dozens of short stories to build discoverabiity in addition to his horror thrillers and the Jack Daniels series. Ironically, when legendary mystery editor and publisher Otto Penzler was asked how to get included in one of his popular anthologies, he answered, “Get famous.”

6. An author’s “platform,” or online presence and ability to influence others, is today’s must-have accessory. For those yearning to go the traditional route, it is one of the first things an agent looks at. A platform (read good website)  is critical for an indie author to build an email list (with a newsletter like Mystery Ahead!)

Carmen Amato's Mystery Ahead

Should this be the new Mystery Ahead newsletter header? Wearing a red raincoat in this photo. Not to be confused with red dress.

7. Anne Perry gets it. The bestselling author of 85 books gave the keynote on the last day of the conference. According to Anne, the role of a writer is to show lives we will not live. This really resonated with me, especially in terms of writing about Mexico’s disappearances in 43 MISSING. Incidentally, her publishing contract stipulates 3 books per year, 2 of which are around 100,000 pages, and the other is a novella. See 1, above.

Related: The real story behind 43 MISSING

8. Literary reviews are only useful to an author for one reason—the promotional quote. According to Deaver, there are very few credible literary reviewers any more. Reviewers rarely put your work into context. They generally don’t compare it to works within a genre or even the author’s own body of work. So take reviews with a grain of salt and ignore the sour ones.

9. Physical book tours are not worth the time. According to Deaver, hardly anybody shows up and you are better off using the time to write another book. That being said, Greyson has ordered (and paid for) 8000 copies of his independently published bestseller to send to bookstores and I’ll bet some signings go along. Secondary lesson: What you are willing to do re discoverabiity directly relates to how “discovered” you are . . .

10. When a friend reads your work . . . From Linda Sands, author of the Cargo series: Men friends will look for themselves in the worst aspects of male characters, but women friends look for themselves in the best aspects of female characters.

One last thing . . . 43 MISSING, the 6th Detective Emilia Cruz novel, was a finalist in the Best Procedural category for the Silver Falchion award from Killer Nashville. It was a big thrill to hear my name and title read out at the awards banquet. The winner was FOREVER YOUNG by Henry Hack.

Heading to Killer Nashville

Heading to Killer Nashville

I’m heading to the Killer Nashville mystery writer’s conference, where 43 MISSING, the 6th Detective Emilia Cruz novel, is a finalist for the Silver Falchion award for Best Procedural. The award has multiple categories and many of the finalists are very well known authors so I’m amazed to be in such august company.

You can see all the finalists for all Silver Falchion categories here: https://killernashville.com/awards/silver-falchion-award/

BTW, 43 MISSING is based on a true crime in rural Mexico, which nearly 4 years later is still unsolved. Does the word “Ayotzinapa” ring a bell?

43 MIssing

Related: The true story behind 43 MISSING

43 MISSING is also in contention for the conference’s Reader’s Choice award for Best Procedural, as is PACIFIC REAPER, Detective Emilia Cruz #5. I’ve been asking friends on Facebook to vote for PACIFIC REAPER. https://killernashville.com/awards/killer-nashville-readers-choice-award/

I’m armed with new business cards, too!  This is the first time I’ve gone to a writer’s conference in my (so-far) 6-year-old writing career and I’m probably a bit too excited. No matter the outcome, I’m amazed and honored to have had both books recognized this way.

Maybe I’m on the right track after all . . .

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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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CARMEN AMATO

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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CARMEN AMATO

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

 

Straight Shooting with Mystery Author Mike Faricy

Straight Shooting with Mystery Author Mike Faricy

I just finished THE OFFICE, the 17th entry in Mike Faricy’s addictive Dev Haskell series and immediately scooped up his Dev Haskell boxed set. The books are like Pringle’s chips–you can’t read just one. In this chat, which originally appeared in my Mystery Ahead newsletter, Mike shares the secret of his writing success.

1  Carmen Amato: Mike, thanks so much for stopping by. Your wonderful Dev Haskell series is a briskly-paced PI series with a main character whose inner voice channels Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Tell us how Dev came to be and the type of cases he handles.

Mike Faricy: Thank you for having me, Carmen. It’s great to be here. Over the years I wrote maybe fifty or a hundred, no doubt award winning, first chapters. Then one day I had a unique thought, maybe finish one of these or stop wasting your time, so I wrote Russian Roulette, the first book in the Dev Haskell series.

I’m a voracious reader and when I land on an author I like, I inhale just about all of their work, Robert B. Parker, Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, Stuart MacBride, Ian Rankin along with a number of others. I had a ton of ideas bouncing around in my thick skull, and once I finished Russian Roulette I thought I can write another book with this character. Suddenly, I’ve had a series going and it just keeps coming.

One of the things that surprised me was I initially wrote Dev Haskell with a guy like me in mind as my reader. Almost immediately I started getting emails and messages from women telling me how much they enjoyed the books. One woman said she would love a wild, getaway weekend with Dev, but you wouldn’t tell your girlfriends about it for at least ten years, and then, when you did, one of them would say, “I did that, too.”

Dev ends up with all sorts of women who think; you know with a little work I could maybe fix this guy. Of course, by the end of the book they’re telling him to never, ever contact them again. I think there’s a couple of restraining orders out there on him. The most recent work in the Dev Haskell series is The Office.

The Office by Mike Faricy2  CA: Dev’s world is populated with a great cast of multi-dimensional secondary characters who both help and hinder Dev. Where do you look for inspiration when creating characters?

MF: I look no further than real life. In all actuality some of the crazier characters are based on people I know, things that they’ve done, good and bad. What’s the line? Truth is stranger than fiction. I’ve found that to be pretty accurate. In a lot of my reading, things get so unbelievable. Some special forces guy jumps out of a plane using his raincoat as a parachute and lands on the roof of the White House to save the president.

Dev is involved more or less in day to day sorts of situations. He’s not saving the world from terrorists or stopping an international banking scandal. All my books are based on the sorts of people we all know. Maybe that slightly different kid you knew in grade school, you haven’t see in thirty years and you wonder what ever happened to them. You also don’t want to get too close, but you’re still curious. Often there is a history of bad decisions, or they were just plain lucky, but believe they’re suddenly smarter than the rest of us.

Plus, no matter what’s going on in your world, you read Dev and well, you figure, you don’t look so bad after all.

3  CA: Dev seems to date a different woman in every book! If you were his wingman, how would you introduce him in a bar?

MF: Carefully. He would be the perfect gentleman, or try to be, but in the end things always go the wrong way. He’s basically a nice guy. He’d help with a project, maybe paint a room, be kind to a child, bring you flowers or chocolate, maybe take you out to dinner where some crazy thing would no doubt happen, but in the end, he’s Dev Haskell. It’s just not going to work.

He has a ‘friend with benefits’ relationship with Heidi Bauer, but she regularly can’t see him because she’s with another guy or she’s still mad at him for whatever stupid thing he recently did. After a while women seem to wisely decide that, you know, this just isn’t working for me and they move on.

I had a scene where Dev’s cooking breakfast for a woman who spent the night after a romantic dinner and the toaster suddenly starts smoking. Turns out a mouse had been in the toaster and at that point, she’s getting dressed and hurrying out to her car never to set foot in his place again. That pretty much sums it up. That also really happened to a pal of mine, the mouse in the toaster, but that’s another story.

4  CA: How do you use setting to create and build suspense?

MF: Setting is really important, but I’ve always taken the advice of Elmore Leonard which basically said, keep it short. A line or two, not paragraphs, and don’t dwell on the weather. If you describe a smell and a weeks worth of advertising circulars and past due bills on the coffee table that sets the scene. Or, if it’s a tense situation and the individual can hear their heart pounding, it’s late at night and the stair creaks, that conveys quite a bit. I use the KISS adage, Keep It Simple Stupid.

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?

Mike FaricyMF: Elmore Leonard is the guest and I’d probably be serving a crock pot meal with ciabatta bread and plenty of wine. Something like white chicken chili or a stew, only because I wouldn’t want to be distracted in the kitchen. We’d have hors d’oeuvres, beverages and a wine with dinner. And a dessert, I love desserts along with a small plate of nice chocolates.

We’d talk about plot, characters, general information and also our failures. A highly successful author once told me that we all have a work that we keep under the bed. Something we slaved over and at the end, it just didn’t work. It’s always inspiring to learn how much everyone stumbles, and falls. Then, the successful people get up, dust themselves off and keep moving forward.

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

MF: Here’s a quote that fits me perfectly. “Well, you give me too much credit for foresight and planning. I haven’t got a clue what the hell I’m doing.”  Robert B. Parker

Thank you so much for the opportunity, wishing you and everyone out there, all the very best.

Thank you!

More about Mike: Mike Faricy lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and Dublin, Ireland. He writes crime fiction, the Dev Haskell series and the Hotshots series are written under his name, the Corridor Man series under the pen name Nick James, and the Jack Dillon series under the pen name Patrick Emmett. His latest work of genius is the first in the Hotshots series, Reduced Ransom!.

Email: mikefaricyauthor@gmail.com  Website: http://www.mikefaricybooks.com

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CARMEN AMATO

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

 

Mystery author Sandra Nikolai: Poisons, pressure, and everyday heroes

Mystery author Sandra Nikolai: Poisons, pressure, and everyday heroes

Canadian mystery author Sandra Nikolai writes the excellent Megan Scott/Michael Elliott series featuring a ghostwriter and an investigative journalist. Sandra and I have watched each other’s series grow book-by-book, while indulging in a shared love of chocolate almonds.

1. Carmen Amato: Sandra, thanks so much for stopping by. Your series set in Canada drew me in from the start because it was different than the norm with two main characters—a ghostwriter and a reporter. Why did you go in this direction instead of a police procedural or private detective series?

Sandra NikolaiSandra Nikolai: Happy to be here, Carmen. There’s something intriguing about a hero that everyone admires, whether it’s a feisty female cop (winks) or a shrewd private detective. Because I liked the notion of everyday people helping to solve crime, I created my heroes based on the premise of ordinary characters facing terrifying situations. No one represents the everyday hero better than ghostwriter Megan Scott, a young woman with high ethical standards whose sheltered world is turned upside down when she is accused of murdering her husband and sets out to clear her name. Add investigative reporter Michael Elliott, a daring young risk-taker who pursues justice despite dangerous and unpredictable circumstances, and you have the creation of an interesting duo.

The difference between Megan and Michael is their approach to investigating a crime. Where Michael is cool and trusts his instincts, Megan is cautious and analytical. Her interest in his sleuthing activities and her aptitude to decipher the tiniest details convince him to take her along on some of his ventures. For Megan, a covert outing provides an exciting break from her “boring” job as ghostwriter of non-fiction material, but it fulfills another purpose. It enables her to pull Michael back from the brink of death when necessary. Megan’s curiosity occasionally lands her in trouble too, so it works both ways.

2. CA: How do you create multi-dimensional fictional characters, including your lead characters Megan Scott and Michael Elliott? Where do you look for inspiration when creating characters?

SN: For each of my lead characters, I create a chart that includes their family and work history, physical appearance, personality traits, and behaviors. To produce well-rounded characters, I also describe their fears and aspirations, likes and dislikes, and preferences for food, clothes, and music. I go through a similar routine—though not as elaborate—for secondary characters. I might add information to the charts as the main characters develop from book to book in the series.

Inspiration for my characters comes many sources—the news, movies, crime case studies. I do a lot of research to find tidbits of information that I can develop and weave into my stories to make the characters and their actions credible.

3. CA: Poison figures in more than one of your novels, in crafty ways. How much research do you do and how do you keep it organized?

SN: I can thank Shakespeare for inspiring the poison scenes! (laughs) Okay, on a more serious note, once I research the poison or drug I want to use in the story, I keep the relative website links, notes, and photos in a computer folder so I can easily refer to them. For my novel Broken Trust, a mystery that highlights the current fentanyl overdose crisis, I researched how the medical community and law enforcement dealt with people affected by the drug. I read personal stories about youths who unwittingly took fentanyl-laced street drugs and died, and about other users who lived but suffered devastating physical and mental consequences. The research process dug up a lot of disturbing information, but I wanted to accurately depict the growing dilemma that first responders face today as one of the elements in the story.

4. CA: Your characters are rooted in Montreal, but your novels travel beyond to other parts of Canada. Why is Canada a good setting for a mystery? How do you use setting to create and build suspense?

SN: Canada is a vast country with settings ranging from small towns to large cosmopolitan cities—much like the United States. The weather can vary immensely from coast to coast and temperatures can fluctuate widely, even within a twenty-four hour period. Having lived in Montreal for decades, I used that city as the setting for my first book, False Impressions. When I decided to continue the series, I varied the settings for subsequent stories. I also ensured each new story occurred in a consecutive season and used the weather to heighten suspense when possible. For example, False Impressions takes place in Montreal during a sizzling summer; Fatal Whispers in Portland, Maine in the cool fall; Icy Silence in a suburban college school during a winter ice storm, and so on. I don’t have a title for book #6 yet, but a rainy autumn is the season of choice.

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?

SN: I’d invite Louise Penny, Canadian author of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series set in the fictitious village of Three Pines, Quebec. Still Life, her first book in the series, won multiple awards including best first crime novel in Canada and the United States.

We’d enjoy French onion soup topped with cheese toasts, steak frites with a glass of red wine, and a slice of sugar pie for dessert—menu selections mentioned in her detective series. We’d chat about her insightful Inspector Gamache and the artsy, quirky, and sociable inhabitants of Three Pines. On a personal level, we’d compare notes on our experience living in La Belle Province of Quebec and discuss how it influenced our choice of characters, plots, and settings. It would be magnifique!

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

SN: “Writing is its own reward.” – Henry Miller

Thank you for inviting me, Carmen!

Sandra weaves ordinary characters into extraordinary, life-threatening situations, using the premise that evil often lurks in familiar places. Her popular, fast-paced mystery series featuring ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott has earned rave reviews internationally from fans who love the challenge of solving heart-pounding whodunits. Visit www.sandranikolai.com to find out more.

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CARMEN AMATO

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

 

5 Excellent Phrases to Sound Busy and Important

5 Excellent Phrases to Sound Busy and Important

Some time ago, I took a break from mysteries and read BRIDGET JONES: MAD ABOUT THE BOY by Helen Fielding. It was time for some mind candy and Bridget Jones–books or movies–always delivers.

The book was written in the same diary/inner dialogue familiar from the first two Bridget books, but with a bit more emotional heft. Bridget is now a widow with two small kids, trying to get her life back together and date again.

Fielding reuses some of her best lines from the first movie (she was one of the screenwriters) to reestablish Bridget’s voice and the tone of the characters’ interactions. For example, Daniel Cleaver’s first set of dialogue in the book is virtually lifted from the silver screen and Bridget is again wonderfully airy about looking “busy and important.” In fact, the phrase “busy and important” is repeated several times and is clearly a Bridget/Helen favorite. And it should be, because it helps to set and maintain the character’s voice throughout the book.

Phrases like that occasionally stay with me long after I’ve finished reading or heard someone utter the words. A clever phrase can evoke an image, establish a character in a way that resonates, or lets me form a mental picture.

Although I’m very busy and important today, here are 5 favorite phrases that sing:

Attractively damaged man

This phrase was included in a magazine article about 30 things you should do before you are 30, including coin a phrase. Regrettably, I have lost the magazine and the author’s name but it was a very funny article and the phrase seemed to perfectly describe far too many men I met in my 20’s.

Structural tension

This is a phrase I’ve heard bandied about in relation to government agencies that don’t perform well and businesses that go under. It seems to be a neat way to blame poor decisions on a wiring diagram.

And I meant it to sting

The books of British humorist P.G. Wodehouse are a treasure trove of wonderful expressions and this is a delicious riposte that works even when you’ve said something inane and the target has left the room. Attributed to Wodehouse’s iconic character Bertie Wooster.

A face like late Picasso

Can there be a better description of what someone looks like? This is from one of the Harry Hole mystery novels by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo on the occasion of Harry looking at himself in the mirror after one of his drinking/drugging binges.

And trouble ensued

There’s a musical folly called Spaghetti Western Swing on Brad Paisley’s Mud on the Tires album that combines dialogue and music into a story about cowboys and bad guys in the Old West. The voice actors are famed musicians from the Grand Ole Opry. The whole thing is pretty funny—there’s laughter in the background so you know they were having a good time taping this—and at one point before the guitar swings into high gear someone says this phrase, creating the perfect imagery.

Well, time to be off doing something busy and important.

And trouble ensued.

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CARMEN AMATO

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

 

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.

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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CARMEN AMATO

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

 

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 you 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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CARMEN AMATO

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

 

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