So You Think You Know The ATF?

UPDATE: The March program has been cancelled.

All,

It probably comes as no surprise, but the Upper Arlington Public Library has cancelled all meeting room reservations and use of meeting rooms in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. We hope to reschedule our ATF agent/guest speaker for a future date. Stay tuned, stay safe, and stay well. And keep writing!

The original program information is below.

On Saturday, 3/21/20, 12:00 p.m., at the Upper Arlington Library (2800 Tremont Road), BCW is going to host (drum roll): Jon McPherson, Special Agent in Charge (SAC) with the Columbus Field Division of the ATF, a.k.a., the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. We at BCW (speaking in the first person plural here) tend to think of all of our events kind of like our kids, e.g., we love them all. But secretly, there’s always one that’s a little special. And this is that one. Because it’s the ATF! You know . . . that ATF!! Elliot Ness and Al Capone. The Atlanta Bombing. Waco. The Oklahoma City bombing. The people on the front line of some of the most serious shizzle going on, and they’ve agreed to talk! To! Us! So to prepare you, we’ve put together a little quiz to calibrate your knowledge of this federal agency:

  1. How many ATF field offices are there in the U.S.? A. 12, B. 18, C. 25, D. 30.
  2. A certain comic strip was based on the famous ATF agent Elliot Ness and his group (“The Untouchables”).  Which was it? A. Dick Tracy, B. Pogo, C. Superman, D. Dilbert.
  3. There are three levels of explosives defined by the ATF: high (e.g., dynamite), low (e.g., black powder, fuses), and blasting agents (e.g., ammonium nitrate-fuel oil). Can any of these legally be stored in a residence? Yes/No
  4. The ATF has a canine training center that trains dogs to sniff out explosives. What’s the name of the 80-lb. yellow Lab assigned to the Columbus field office? A. Kira, B. Andi, C. Martina, D. Opey.
  5. Elliot Ness began his career with the ATF at the tender age of 23. 10 years later, after cleaning up Chicago and putting away Al Capone, he resigned to become the Public Safety Director of which city? A. Cincinnati, B. Detroit, C. Cleveland, D. Milwaukee.
  6. Ohio ranked where out of all states in bomb threats (2016) and guns stolen from dealers (2018)? A. 1st, B. 3rd, C. 5th, D. 7th.
  7. The ATF is the sole federal agency allowed to trace guns used in crimes. True/False
  8. A typical ATF case is open (on average) for how many years? A. 2, B. 4, C. 5, D. 7.
  9. Basic training at the ATF National Academy requires 37 weeks of intense specialized training. Where is the Academy located? A. Quantico, Virginia, B. Oakland, California, C. Fargo, North Dakota, D. Glynco, Georgia.
  10. Although the ATF now investigates bombings, arson, acts of terrorism, trafficking of firearms, narcotics, gangs/criminal organizations, and provides criminal profiling and forensic laboratory services, its earliest roots are based on what? A. taxes, B. British spies, C. piracy in the Caribbean, D. cattle rustling.

Answers: 1) C, 2) A, 3) No, 4) D, 5) C, 6) B, 7) True, 8) B, 9) D, 10) A.                         

Score rating: 9 – 10 (Special Investigator), 7 – 8 (Agent), 5 – 6 (Rookie), 1 – 4 (Meter Maid)

See Sharon Short!

Saturday!  2/22/20!  Join us to welcome our next guest Sharon Short (pen name; Jess Montgomery), a Dayton author whose background includes being a newspaper columnist for the Dayton Daily News, writer-in-residence at Thurber House, former director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop, three-time recipient of an Ohio Arts Council grant, and published author of several mysteries, including The Kinship series (Minotaur Books) which she’ll be discussing at our upcoming meeting.  Where, you ask?  Upper Arlington Library (2800 Tremont Road, Upper Arlington), Meeting Room B, at 12:30 p.m..  And just to give you a taste of what we’ll be talking about, BCW asked Sharon some questions about writing, her most recent series, and her love of pie . . . be there to learn more, and join us for lunch afterwards.

BCW:  So you’ve got two books out now in The Kinship series (congrats, btw):  The Widows (2019) and The Hollows (2020).  Both take place in Appalachian Ohio during the 1920’s and center on Lily Ross, the female sheriff of a small town who got the position after the former sheriff (also her husband) was killed.  Note:  this is also based on an actual event from that time period.  What made you think of this as the story you wanted to write?

Sharon:  I happened upon the story of Ohio’s true first female sheriff when I was researching hiking areas for a visit to our daughter, who attended Ohio University. I was struck by the notion of a female sheriff in the mid-1920s in a rural area, and that inspired my version, loosely based on the true first female sheriff. Additionally, my family of origin is from Appalachia — one county in Eastern Kentucky — on both sides. I’m the first Ohioan! So, though I consider myself a child of Appalachia in how I was reared and my childhood experiences, I was not geographically born in Appalachia, so I somehow thought I couldn’t write an Appalachian setting. Finding this story gave me a sense of not just permission to do so, but “coming home.”

BCW:  You’re a fan of Daniel Woodrell (confession; same here).  His books take place in Ozark culture and involve dirty, gritty, dark scenarios, comparable to William Gay, Donald Ray Pollock, or Cormac McCarthy.  Also very “male.”  By contrast, Annie Proulx also writes in this style.  Would you compare yourself to any of these authors, or is it something different?

Sharon:  Oh my. These are such terrific authors. I would not compare myself, though I’m honored if others do. I’ve also been compared to Sharyn McCrumb and Louise Penny for evoking setting. I’ll definitely take those comparisons too!

BCW:  Do you plan on more novels in this time period?  What else would you like to explore?

Sharon:  I am contracted through books three and four in the Kinship series–hurrah! I’d love to write more beyond that as well, if I’m so blessed. My imagination tends toward mid-century U.S., but I can also envision exploring other eras and areas.

BCW:  Finally, your blog features a pie of the month.  Fess up:  which is your favorite?

Sharon:  To bake: French Coconut, Buttermilk, or Sugar Shaker. So easy, and always a pleasure. I enjoy eating any of those, but also like French apple and chocolate cream — those are more difficult but so tasty! (You didn’t think I’d stick to one variation, did you?)

Winning entry from the holiday party

As promised, we had our 200-word writing contest at the holiday party! To refresh your memory, the rules were posted here.

The winner of the contest was Trudy Brandenburg! Her story, “Reindeer Games,” beat a strong field for the top prize. Here is the story:

“Great shot, Loreen,” Elmer, the director of the local shooting gallery said. “You’re sure to get a nice turkey for the holiday.”

“I ain’t out to shoot no turkeys,” Loreen said, aiming the old electric-powered rifle at the cut-out target again.

“Oh? What then?”

“Deer. Great big uns. I seen ‘em twice now–early the past two Christmas mornings. They’re lined up and have a big sleigh behind ‘em. I told that old fat man with a white beard to get offin’ my property both times. He just laughed and waved and headed off with a big bag. I’ll give him somthin’ to laugh about. I’m tired ah them big ruts in my yard, them deer pawin’ and snortin’ at the ground.”

“When did you say you saw them critters and that fat man?” he asked excitedly.

“Early Chrismas mornins, round three. I seen ‘em when I got up to go to the outhouse the first year and the last year, too. One of ‘em’s got a bloody nose.” 

“Loreen, I don’t think you should shoot them deer,” Elmer said, wide-eyed.

She fired off a few more shots before she lowered the gun and looked at him quizzically. “Why not?”

Establishing a writing career

Happy New Year, everyone! Our next meeting is at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Old Worthington Library.

Your book is finally in print — hooray! It’s the end of the long, difficult process of writing and rewriting — then rewriting again. But are you really finished? What comes next?

Authors know that publishing a book is only the first step in establishing a writing career. Join us on Jan. 25 for a discussion with Connie Berry, author of the Kate Hamilton Mystery series (Crooked Lane Books) about publicity, marketing, networking with other authors, setting goals, and creating a productive writing life.



Author Interview and Spotlight: Alicia Anthony

BCW member Alicia Anthony is releasing her first book, Inherent Truth. Board member Kandy Williams posed a few questions in advance of the release.

  1. Tell us a little bit about your book and when it releases. 

Inherent Truth is the first book in the Blood Secrets Saga, which is best described as a romantic thriller with light supernatural elements. The story follows Liv Sullivan, a reluctant psychic, who returns to her hometown after the death of her grandmother. Beckoned by visions from beyond the grave that leave her with more questions than answers, she revisits her grandmother’s old farm, where she meets undercover agent Ridge McCaffrey. But a gruesome discovery lands them both tangled in a web of family secrets that threatens not only their budding relationship, but their lives.

It releases January 14, 2020 both in ebook and paperback and can be purchased online from all of your favorite retailers.

  • Take us on the journey. Can you share the tale of how this book (trilogy) came about?

It seems like ages ago now. I’ve been seeing all those ten-year reviews online, I should do one about this, really. But the inspiration for this series first sparked when the decline of my own grandmother to the grips of dementia collided with the death of my birth mother, a woman I’d learned about but never took the opportunity to meet. That perfect storm left me wondering what memories would never see the light of day. The idea of secrets taken to the grave and memories left unspoken sparked this series.

I just remember sitting in my family room in front of the wood-burning stove writing my way into this novel. At the beginning, it was called The Girl in the Yellow Dress. And a lot has changed since then. But writing Inherent Truth was a cathartic way to process both of those losses. Of course, the storyline took a left turn into thriller-land somewhere along the way. But the overarching idea of secrets kept, buried with lost loved ones, and the possibility that those truths might someday be unearthed still is the impetus behind the series.

  • You’re taking the plunge and going the Indie Author route. Why? 

Honestly, I was one of those authors who thought they’d never go indie. I was adamant that I needed the support of a publishing house in order to make this work. So for years that’s the path I traveled. I sent query after query, accumulated a mass of rejection letters, but yet I kept entering these contests and doing really well. Eventually I started to realize that the readers for my work were out there. They were reading my work and placing me well in these competitions. That started to get the wheels turning a bit. I did research. Took a class. Talked to author friends who had launched successful independent publishing careers and eventually I decided that waiting was no longer in my best interest. Waiting only stoked that fire of inadequacy that all authors keep burning somewhere down deep inside. I was tired of that. Waiting felt like giving up. And that’s not where I wanted to be. The decision felt right. I think I needed to go through some of the trials of that other path to help me realize the benefits of indie publishing, but I knew immediately. It was the right time to take control.

  • What challenges do you face, as an indie author, that traditionally published authors might not?

Ooh. This one’s tricky. I would say marketing, but unless you’re with a big publishing house you’ll be pretty much on your own with that anyway, so I’ll stick with a related topic and say analytics. There are a lot of moving parts to launching an independent publishing career. One of the elements that is hard for me to wrap my creative brain around is the analytical aspect. Knowing what marketing efforts are working and what isn’t and how best to find that information without tearing my hair out or losing a week’s worth of writing time gives me fits. But it’s so important to understand in order to maximize your return on investment. In spite of what others may say, publishing isn’t free, and you have to know how to get the most bang for your buck, so to speak.

  • Do you have any advice for Indie Authors on strategies to find and connect with readers?

I think having a core group of supporters around you, whether it’s a group of writers, your family, friends, even colleagues is a great start. There are a gazillion companies out there to help you reach readers, but it’s not just about finding readers, you also need to create relationships. For me, I started with my newsletter, trying to build it up to a decent size before launching Inherent Truth was important to me. Bookfunnel was a great tool to help build my newsletter list. I’m also a member of several Facebook groups consisting of writers and readers. I try to make meaningful connections with people within those groups and I enjoy listening and learning from them. I launched my own Facebook Reader Group, which has been a fun experience. I like getting to know the members and I try to ask fun questions and I hold giveaways and things to encourage readers to join the conversation. That’s really what it’s all about, forming those relationships. You can check it out at http://www.facebook.com/groups/AliciaAnthonyReaderGroup if you want to learn more.

  • What’s the fantasy? Lead us down your ideal career path for your writing. What does it look like right now and years from now? (Be as realistic or as imaginative as you want.) 

Wow. Sometimes I think it is a fantasy. But watching this first step come to fruition, releasing Inherent Truth, gives me hope that the dream is possible. Right now, I have a very emotionally demanding day job. Through the school year I get up at 3:30 A.M. most mornings in order to eke out some fresh words or dive into a marketing project. It can be truly exhausting. The long term dream is to retire early in order to write full-time. I’d love to see that happen in the next five years, but we’ll play it by ear as far as that’s concerned.

I have a backlog of projects from the years I spent lying in wait for the perfect publisher, which is why I have plans for four releases in 2020. After that, however, I’m looking at putting out two books per year. I think that’s a schedule I could settle into pretty comfortably as far as inspiration and time is concerned. It’s important to me that I don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. And I don’t see that changing for me. I’d love to build an engaged and responsive reader base and be able to travel for book signings and events. I think overall, my dream is to have the freedom and means to travel with my family and write the stories that intrigue and inspire me. Isn’t that all any author really wants? Oh, maybe a unicorn, too. A unicorn would be cool. 😉

For more information, please visit my website!

Book Review: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes/From Here To Eternity

By Patrick Stuart, BCW President

Have you ever wondered about death? I don’t mean in the existentialist, why are we here, is there really an h-e-double-toothpicks-type-stuff, but rather the more, shall we say, grittier side of things. Such as how do we decompose? If someone dies at a Burger King, who’s responsible for the body? And what happens during a cremation? Admit it, you’re curious. Yo también. But be curious no more, because mortician and author Caitlin Doughty recounts her experiences in cremation, embalming and other practices in the book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory.

“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” cover

In case you’re unfamiliar with Caitlin, she’s run a website for several years aiming to educate people in the death process (more on that later). But her growing popularity and success has led to books, travels around the world, a YouTube channel, TED talks and her own non-profit funeral home. In Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, she starts at the beginning as a college graduate with an esoteric liberal arts degree and zero job experience, which naturally leads to employment in a San Francisco mortuary. However, the first line of the book immediately sets up the author’s sense of humor and no-nonsense approach: ‘a girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.’ Be honest . . . as an opening, that’s killer (har, pun intended). But from that point on, she takes us on her journey as a body snatcher and crematory operator, discussing in frank detail all the fascinating bits involved with the processing of death. The ways bodies decompose, how to make corpses appear lifelike, what’s left after cremation, the details of embalming (and why she’s against it), and several other topics. Although the subject matter is dark, her approach is matter-of-fact, deliberately contrasting how death has become part voodoo/part taboo in our modern society. And as mystery writers who dole out death on a regular basis, let’s face it; we should know as much about the subject as possible.

A follow-up book by the same author is From Here to Eternity; Traveling the World to Find the Good Death. This time, Caitlin recounts her years between mortuary school and opening her own funeral home, traveling and observing various funerary rites and practices around the world. Her goal is similar; to educate and ‘normalize’ death by getting up close and personal to it, but this time from different cultural viewpoints. She visits a region of Indonesia known as Tana Toraja, where the local ethnic group mummifies their relatives and keeps them in their houses, sometimes even their beds, before moving them years later to their final resting place. There’s also Crestone, Colorado, one of the few places in the U.S. that allows natural, open-air cremations. Also skull worship in Bolivia. The mummies of Guanajuato, Mexico (which freaked out Ray Bradbury so much that he wrote a short story about them). And of course, the Western Carolina University ‘body farm’ of North Carolina. All with plenty of details to spur your writerly juices, and perhaps add a little oomph to the exposition in your next novel.

“From Here To Eternity” cover

Bonus: if you’re looking for even more information (or just want to kill some time), I highly suggest Caitlin’s YouTube channel Ask A Mortician. There’s several videos, ranging from roughly 5 – 15 minutes each, all covering a wide variety of topics from the Pearl Harbor Memorial (the author is originally from Hawaii) to necrophilia, shrunken heads, Victorian corpse photographs, what happens during a graveside exhumation, and many other subjects. As testament to their popularity, many of these videos have over one million views, being both informative and showcasing the author’s trademark droll sense of humor. And if you like, you can even make a quick, tiny contribution to her non-profit, which a) is how she pays for it all, and b) will cause you to feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Or maybe that’s the expired sushi you discovered earlier in your refrigerator . . . either way, check it out. Oh, and keep writing.

2019 BCW Holiday Event!

It’s that time of year again. No, not visiting with family, trading gifts, and reveling in the shared humanity and peaceful coexistence of friends, colleagues and neighbors. It’s time to gather with others (like you) who spend their free time imagining how to creatively murder complete strangers! Then writing about it! In the hopes that millions of people will read it! All while thinking, ‘Damn, this (gal/guy) is one twisted $#@%* . . . when does the next book come out?’

In other words, it’s time for the annual BCW Holiday Event! If you haven’t been, this is the one event of the year not to be missed. Where we all gather at a local restaurant to eat, drink and be merry, talking about our writing successes and failures, our hopes and dreams, and discussing the upcoming BCW 2020 year. In addition, we’ll be having our annual book exchange, with our own Carolyn Melvin reciting another variation of the Wright family travails to keep us thoroughly discombobulated.

Plus, there’ll also be the BCW Short Story Contest, where prizes of dubious value will be awarded and the winner will be published on the BCW website (see details below). So mark your calendar/Outlook for noon, Saturday, December 7, 2019, at the New Albany Rusty Bucket (180 Market Street, New Albany). Spouses, relatives, friends, significant others, and anyone just looking to hang with like-minded people on a Saturday afternoon are also encouraged to attend . . . just remember to bring a wrapped book from yourself and each member of your entourage (and be prepared to explain your choice when the wrapping comes off). See you there!

2019 BCW Short Story Contest!

As mentioned above, BCW is having a Short Story Contest for our last meeting of 2019. The concept: write a story of 200 words or less involving the photo included with this post. The only condition is that your story mentions the holidays/season. Otherwise, write whatever you want: be murderous, humorous, mysterious, use first/second/third person, an unreliable narrator, scatter red herrings like breadcrumbs . . . go nuts. Then turn it in by midnight, Thursday, December 5, to buckeyecrimewriters@gmail.com (just one submission per entrant, and don’t forget to include your name). Afterwards, show up at our holiday event Saturday (see above) for the awards and the basking of glory to be heaped upon all submitters. So why are you still reading this? Start writing . . . now!

Book signing!

BCW board member Connie Berry, along with Amanda Flower, are signing books this weekend (Nov. 23)! Check out the below for details.

NaNoWriMo 2019

An airplane mechanic works on a plane's propeller.
It’s time to crank it up!

Me (BCW President Patrick Stuart):  Wake up. It’s time for NaNoWriMo! 

You (you):  NaNowuuuhhhhhh? 

Me:  You heard me; NaNoWriMo. National. Novel. Writing. Month. That time of year where you burn incense to the writing gods, sacrifice a Stephen King novel or two, and start warming up the Keurig maker. Because you’re going to be rocking that caffeine to get a 50,000 word rough draft done by the end of November.

You:  Hahahahaha! (wiping tears from eyes). I thought you said ’50,000 words.’

Me:  I did.

You:  Holy (word redacted). You’re serious!

Me:  Damn straight. We do this every year. It’s a 30-day writing marathon that started in 1999 with 21 people in San Francisco.  Fifteen years later there were over 400,000 participants. 

You:  And how many met their goal? (skeptical face)

Me:  About one in ten.

You:  That’s not very many.

Me:  It’s the journey, not the destination, grasshopper.

You:  I hate it when you do that pseudo-Buddhist (word redacted).  Besides, I’ll bet those manuscripts sucked.

Me:  That’s not the point. The point is to end up with a rough draft, or at least a good start on one. Which can then be refined into something beautiful later.

You:  Like what?

Me:  Water for Elephants , by Sara Gruen. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. Or The Darwin Elevator series, by Jason Hough. All of those started as NaNoWriMo manuscripts.

You:  So you’re saying if I finish 50k words, I’ll soon be sitting on a six-figure publishing deal?

Me:  Hahahahaha! (wiping tears from eyes). That’s funny! 

You:  You’re a terrible president.

Me:  True dat. But NaNoWriMo is about starting, not finishing. Or as my grandpa used to say, when the ‘poop hits the propeller.’ So go to the Bexley Library, 2411 E. Main Street, Bexley, Ohio on Saturday, November 16, from noon to 4:00 p.m. BCW has the Technology Room reserved, so you can sit with your fellow writers and write your fingers to the bloody nubs. We’ll even have refreshments, and a cattle prod in case you fall asleep. Would you like a demonstration?

You:  Yeah, right (zzzzzzzzzzzz-snap). Sweet (several words redacted). That hurts!

Me:  Pain is just weakness leaving the body, grasshopper. See you there.

WhoDoURead&Y?

Gillian Flynn and Gone Girl.  Paula Hawkins and The Girl on the Train.  Lee Child, Patricia Cornwell, Jo Nesbø, Laura Lippman, Dennis Lehane, Sue Grafton, Stieg Larsson, or (insert your favorite author here).  But what makes them special?  Do the quirky British characters of Agatha Christie awaken your inner Anglophile?  Are the pages of a Carl Hiaasen book tinged with sultry weirdness, coconut oil and mosquito repellant?  Or does Janet Evanovich’s over-the-top bounty hunter protagonist make you secretly wish for big hair, hoop earrings and a Joisey accent?

(hint:  you know it does)

And more importantly, as writers how do we tap into this nebulous and diabolical vein of readership desire?  After all, we can string words together too.  But it’s concocting that #%$*& secret sauce.  That pinch of missing ingredient, to create the perfect combination of plot, dialogue, mood, character, setting . . . whatever.  Crafting the right proportions to make people feel.  Think about us on the subway ride to work.  Taking a shower.  Being trapped in a conversation with a boring neighbor.  Having that last, final conscious thought before drowsing off to sleep at night.  How do we occupy that space?

If you want to know, join us on Saturday, October 19, at the Hilliard Library (4500 Hickory Chase Way), from 12:30 – 2:30.  Together we will discuss our favorite authors, what we like about them, then list and compare those traits to (hopefully) create a roadmap for how to reach that same rarified level of Hamilton-like popularity.  Note:  whether you’re a reader, writer or both, novice or expert, this will be an interactive discussion so be prepared to participate.  Pinkie-finger-promise though, it will be an awesome, transformational and inspiring experience (or at the very least, a good way to kill a couple of hours).  And as usual, please feel free to join us for lunch afterwards, where we will discuss writing, the Buckeyes, home repair, Balinese shadow puppetry, or whatever else strikes our fancy.   But until then . . . keep writing.