Join us on Oct. 30, as we bring Agatha Award winning author Ellen Byron to BCW (virtually, of course!).
Before Ellen Byron became an award-winning mystery author, she spent years as a writer-producer on hit sitcoms. She’s channeled the lessons she learned working in the entertainment industry into both her writing and personal life, and shares them in this presentation, which includes a few tips on simple ways to add humor to your writing.
Ellen’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won the Agatha award for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty awards for Best Humorous Mystery. She writes the Catering Hall Mystery series, under the name Maria DiRico, and will debut the Vintage Cookbook Mysteries (as Ellen) in June 2022. Ellen is an award-winning playwright, and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly OddParents. She has written over two hundred articles for national magazines but considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart. She blogs with Chicks on the Case, is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, and will be the 2023 Left Coast Crime Toastmaster.
Byron has written over 200 national magazine articles, and her published plays include the award-winning Graceland. A native New Yorker who attended Tulane University, Ellen lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and rescue chi mix, Pogo. She still misses her hometown – and still drives like a New York cabbie.
UPDATE: If you missed this wonderful event, or just want to review it, the meeting can be viewed right here!
You’ve written a wonderful book and it’s about to be released into the world. Or it’s been released but isn’t getting the kind of traction you hoped. What should you do to improve the odds that your book is the one people talk about?
Back by popular demand, publicity expert Sandra Beckwith can help.
Join us via Zoom from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sept. 18 as author and national award-winning former publicist Sandra Beckwith teaches us the ins and outs of Public Relations. You might have seen Sandra on “The Montel Williams Show,” or “CBS This Morning,” or read about her in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or USA Today. Feedspot has ranked her Build Book Buzz website as #7 among thousands of book marketing blogs globally. It has also been honored as a top website for authors and writers six times.
This is your opportunity to listen and ask questions. To get your link to the Zoom presentation, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to see you (virtually) there!
Eileen Curley Hammond’s latest Merry March Mystery series launches on Sept. 2.
BCW: This is the sixth book in the Merry March series. Where do you get your ideas?
ECH: The short answer is anywhere and everywhere. I used to think that I didn’t listen very closely. Now I know that I do. And I use what I learn. Buckeye Crime Writers had planned a day-long session on opiates in Ohio, which unfortunately was canceled due to COVID. I was interested but didn’t think it would apply to my books because I write cozies. I was wrong. As I wrote Murder So Tempting, the idea of someone using drugs to kill other people gave me a new avenue to explore. Providentially, Buckeye Crime Writers scheduled Orman Hall (expert on the substance abuse crisis in the state of Ohio, and is a Glidden Foundation Visiting Professor at Ohio University. During his very informative session, I realized that the initial murder could not have happened the way it was written. I cursed a bit but was so thankful that I found out before the book was released.
BCW: How has writing been during the pandemic?
ECH: It’s an escape. But I had to guard against my book becoming too dark. When I sent the book out to beta readers, I asked them that specific question. They didn’t think it was, but I purposely dropped in a fun scene to try and interject a bit of lightness. It made me laugh, and I hope readers enjoy it as well.
BCW: How do you keep track of the places and people in your books?
ECH: As I mentioned in the panel discussion with Connie Berry and Andrew Welsh-Huggins, I have a master spreadsheet with all the characters, the books they appear in, and their relationship to the main character. In addition, all of the stores in town are listed in their own tab. It’s been quite helpful as I am not good at remembering names and refer to it quite a few times when writing.
BCW: How many more Merry March books will there be?
ECH: At least one. If I decide there’s more I want to explore with these characters, there may be an eighth!
BCW: Where can we find your books?
ECH: You can ask your favorite bookstore or library to order it for you, or you can purchase direct from Amazon. You can find links and the sign-up for my newsletter at my webpage, www.eileencurleyhammond.com.
BCW: Would you care to share an excerpt from your latest book?
ECH: Love to! This is from the first chapter of Murder So Tempting. Merry and her friends are returning from Phoenix, where Merry suffered a cracked rib, and have just arrived at their home airport.
“The woman let us off near baggage claim, and Patrick tipped her. I scanned the board. “We’re at number four.”
Patty pointed down the corridor. “Balloons. Maybe it’s somebody’s birthday.”
“How nice.” I paused. “You’d think they’d be blue or red. Strange that they’re silver and white. It’s near our carousel. Must be someone from our plane.” The painkillers had really kicked in, and I almost felt like I was floating. I giggled.
Patty studied me. “Feeling better?”
Jenny came up behind us. “Mom, are you okay?” She held out her arm. “You can lean on me.”
“I’m fine. Better than fine. Ooh. Look at that woman’s shirt. Lots of what’s that called? Swirlies? No, that’s not it, it’s paisley! My clothes are way too plain. I should ask her where she got it.”
I turned to follow the woman, and Patty hooked her arm through mine. “We’ll find out later. Let’s get our luggage first.” Patty nodded to Jenny. “Your mom had a pill. We better get her home.”
“Balloons! Someone’s going to be happy.” Cindy scooted ahead.
The crowd milled, waiting for the sweet sound of gears grinding that would signal the carousel beginning its serpentine journey. Patrick moved to the side, and it seemed like Rob magically appeared. He walked toward me with a smile on his face, flowers in one hand, balloons in the other.
Isn’t that sweet? Say what you will; that man has me pegged. I love getting flowers. Red roses, purple delphiniums, and green Irish bells. A beautiful bouquet. The balloons are odd. Why would he have brought balloons?
I tried to fight through the fog. He wasn’t going to—no—not here. Not now. Focus, Merry.
He handed the festive items to Patrick, knelt on one knee, and extended a small box. The glare from the fluorescent lights made everyone look sallow and otherworldly. The crowd hushed.
My breath caught, and my face flushed. I shook my head, trying to clear it. Not now. This can’t be happening now. I had waited so long and wanted to be able to savor this moment.
Rob reached for my hand. “I love you, Merry, and you would make me the happiest man on earth if you would marry me.”
I gasped. What if the paperwork for my annulment wasn’t really final? Could they rescind it if they found out I got engaged? My hands began to sweat, and I took two steps back, shaking my head. “No, I can’t. Not now.” I blurted. Rob’s face fell, and he jerked to his feet, placing the box back in his pocket.
Someone in the crowd asked, “What happened?”
A person replied, “She said no.”
And then a third opined, “What a shame.”
Patty and Patrick looked frozen, mouths agape, and Jenny’s eyes started to tear. The carousel clattered, and bags began to flow, mingling and shaking on their way to rejoin their owners.”
When a woman enters a competition to complete a famous author’s novel, she doesn’t expect to find herself hiding on a tropical island, fearing for her life.
—The Finalist by Joan Long will be published by Level Best books in March 2022.
I first met author Joan Long in Florida at the Sleuthfest Annual Conference for Writers and Fans of Mystery, Suspense, and Thriller Fiction. I knew immediately, not only that she was someone I wanted to know better, and after learning about her work also knew she was a writer to watch. Later we met up again at Malice Domestic and then Bouchercon in Dallas.
Joan earned her graduate degree in Journalism and Communications from The University of Florida and has been a finalist in several writing contests, including the Minotaur Books/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. Her short story “The Extra Ingredient” is published in the Anthony Award-winning anthology Malice Domestic: Mystery Most Edible. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, its Guppy Chapter, Mystery Writers of America, the Authors Guild, and International Thriller Writers. You can find out more about Joan at https://joanlongbooks.com.
I recently asked Joan a few questions about her writing journey, and she graciously agreed to share her story with the Buckeye Crime Writers.
Welcome, Joan, and congratulations! Like many authors (me included) the path to publication has been long and twisty.Tell us a little about your writing journey.
I’ve always wanted to write a mystery and attended college with that in mind. I majored in English/Creative Writing, then earned a graduate degree in Journalism and Communications. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a single class named “How to Write a Mystery,” and I knew nothing about how to structure one. I needed to learn.
I studied every book on novel writing I could find. I read books in the genre, joined critique groups, attended conferences, and wrote. But my first completed mystery barely reached 40,000 words. And it was boring!
Rather than revise it, I wrote two more manuscripts. The first became a finalist in the novel-in-progress category of the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. The other — a cozy mystery — became a finalist for both the Minotaur Books/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel, and MWA-Florida’s Freddie Award for Writing Excellence. The key word here is finalist. I didn’t win. But I didn’t stop writing either.
People often say to write what you know. I sat down and wrote a new novel — a traditional mystery about (you guessed it!) a finalist.
This time I created deeper characters, an island setting I loved, and a plot that intrigued me. I joined Sisters in Crime and its online Guppy Chapter, Mystery Writers of America, and the Authors Guild. I developed a website and a social media presence. Still, my manuscript did not sell.
With my ego bruised, I buried the manuscript in a drawer and began another project. But I liked the story too much to give up on it. Eventually, I pulled it from its grave and rewrote it. Twice. Soon, I received offers of representation from two agents, plus an offer directly from a publisher. After careful consideration, I chose to publish with Level Best Books and hired a literary attorney to negotiate my contract.
What “magic” happened in that rewriting that made a difference?
I did a manuscript exchange with two good friends. Both are published authors. Grace Topping writes the Laura Bishop Mystery series, which are cozies about home staging, while Tammy Euliano is the author of the thriller Fatal Intent. They both gave me excellent feedback, and I made changes. They didn’t always agree, but I paid very close attention when their comments were similar. One important change I made was cutting unnecessary description in the first few chapters to make the crime occur sooner in the book.
It took almost exactly five years from the day I came up with the idea for my book until the day I signed the publishing contract. I’m so glad I pulled the manuscript out of the drawer. The Finalist is scheduled to launch on March 15, 2022.
Why did you choose traditional publishing? Did you ever consider self-publishing?
I chose traditional publishing mainly because The Finalist is my debut novel. I wanted to have the expertise of an established publisher behind me.
How would you describe what you write?
I’m a third-generation Floridian who writes mysteries and suspense, usually set in Florida or in tropical locations. I am always fascinated when ordinary people are placed in impossible situations. How will they react? Can they thwart an evil antagonist and survive? Will justice be served? I want to know!
What have you learned that you can pass along to other writers on the same journey?
My advice is to never give up. Your dream might come true today, next week, or next month. But it will never happen if you quit.
What’s next for you?
Oh! My next project is a suspense novel set on the beautiful Gulf Coast of Florida. I hope to tell you more about it soon.
Thanks for stopping by, Joan. Best of luck with The Finalist and your new book.
Join panelists Connie Campbell Berry, Eileen Curley Hammond, and Andrew Welsh-Huggins, along with moderator Patrick Stuart as they talk about the ins-and-outs of writing a series. They’ll discuss:
Keeping track of those pesky characters
Knowing when to introduce new characters
Creating episodic stories that come to resolution with characters who grow/evolve across books
Making sure descriptions of place and people are consistent
Figuring out when to call it quits
If you are thinking of writing a series, or want to transition to one, you won’t want to miss this informative session.
Connie Berry is the author of the Kate Hamilton Mysteries, set in the UK and featuring an American antiques dealer with a gift for solving crimes. Like her protagonist, Connie was raised by antiques dealers who instilled in her a passion for history, fine art, and travel. During college she studied at the University of Freiburg in Germany and St. Clare’s College, Oxford, where she fell under the spell of the British Isles. Besides reading and writing mysteries, Connie loves history, foreign travel, cute animals, and all things British. She lives in Ohio with her husband and adorable Shih Tzu, Emmie.
Eileen Curley Hammond is the author of the Merry March Mystery series, which is set in the fictional town of Hopeful. Eileen retired from a successful marketing career in the insurance industry and leveraged that knowledge by making her protagonist an insurance agent. Eileen spends her spare time in cooking experimentation (pizza is her current quest), and she and her husband share the house with two demanding felines.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins is a reporter for the Associated Press and the author of seven books in the Andy Hayes private eye series, featuring a former Ohio State and Cleveland Browns quarterback turned investigator. Andrew is also the editor of the Columbus Noir anthology from Akashic Books. In addition, Andrew is the author of two non-fiction books and numerous short stories. When he’s not writing or reporting, Andrew enjoys running, reading, cooking, spending time with family, and trying to remember why having both cats and parakeets seemed like a good idea at the time.
Someone once said, “The path to true love never does run smooth.” Neither does the path to publication. Overworked agents seem to be looking for reasons to push the reject button. Publishers are under mounting pressure to make a profit. Publicity is increasingly up to the author, who often feels unprepared to take on that task. And behind the scenes, the process of taking a book from concept to bookshelf takes time – lots and lots of time.
The good news is that out of this quagmire, excellent writers emerge to make their mark. One of them is Carl Vonderau, author of the multi-award-winning debut novel Murderabilia. I met Carl (briefly) at the ill-fated Left Coast Crime convention in March of 2020, which ended literally before it began. Murderabilia was up for Best Debut, which it eventually won. Carl has graciously agreed to answer my questions.
Welcome, Carl. Tell us about your writing life and journey to publication.
My writer’s life started a long time ago. I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, went to college in California, and started work as a banker in Chicago. At some point while I was there, I took a writing class and started writing fiction. My family and I subsequently moved to Montreal and San Diego, where I continued to work in banking. A few years ago, I decided to devote full time to writing and wrote the novel that turned out to be Murderabilia. But that was not without a good deal of suffering and pain.
During that time, I was lucky enough to work with Jacquelyn Mitchard. Her novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, won the first Oprah award. I learned a great deal from her, as well as from a San Diego writer’s group I joined. I thought my future was about to take off when I landed a well-known agent in New York who liked the draft of my book but wanted changes. He and his team went through it three or four times for almost a year and then decided not to represent me. That was devastating, but the book did get better.
I then had to start over finding an agent. I thought maybe my problem was that I hadn’t pitched the book well. So I went to an Algonquin writer’s conference on how to pitch a novel. Then to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. At a cocktail event at the conference, I spoke to an agent who asked me to describe my book in one sentence. I had it! Michelle Richter became my agent.
Little did I know that I was just in the middle of getting published. When Michelle queried publishers, twelve were interested in the book. But only one made an offer — Midnight Ink. Then I learned something else about traditional publishing. Once someone has bought the book, it takes a year to get it into print. Time for another surprise. Three months after signing the contract, Midnight Ink’s owner, Llewellyn, decided to close the imprint. That was a jolt. But Llewellyn promised to promote the books they’d purchased so I continued with them.
Things looked up in 2020. Murderabilia was nominated for Best Debut Mystery at the Left Coast Crime conference. I was really excited. Until the conference was closed after one day because of Covid. But the news was still good. Voting for the award was online and Murderabilia won. It also won a San Diego Book award and a Kops-Fetherling award.
So I guess there’s one lesson here. Tenacity is more important than talent.
Fortunately, you have both tenacity and talent, Carl. You’ve described yourself in interviews as an analytical person. Does writing require a different mindset, and if so, how do you tap the creative side of your brain?
I think I use both types of thinking in my writing. Banking actually uses both, too. I always do my first drafts of scenes by hand. I will scribble as fast as I can to short-circuit my editing brain. This is the creative side that follows the voices and ideas that occur to me as I write. Often this first rendition is mostly dialogue with spaces to be filled in later. Parts of the writing don’t work at all, and new ideas may occur in the middle or at the end of the scene. When I’m confident that it kind of works, I’ll type a draft into my laptop. Throughout, as I do other things like exercise or dish washing or make the bed, ideas float into my mind. Even when I’m reading someone else’s work, ideas pop into my mind, and I write them down before I forget them. When I re-work scenes for my writer’s group, I usually get more ideas about what my characters are thinking or feeling.
Then the more analytical side kicks in. Do those characters’ actions and dialogue make sense? Have I repeated things? Often a description and the dialogue will convey the same thing so I can cut one or the other. Maybe I need more beats: reactions and thoughts and description between lines of dialogue. How are the characters changing? Is the description accurate? Do I need more evocative details? Do my scenes use all the senses? Have I lost a character’s voice?
How do you approach the writing process (plotter/pantser/other)? Would you call yourself a disciplined writer?
I don’t know what a disciplined writer is, other than writing every day — which I do. As for pantsing and outlining, I do both. I hate outlining but realize I need to do it to stop my mind from going off into directions that deaden the book.
Here’s my process — although it is changing all the time. First is the idea that I want to incorporate into the story. The premise. Then I like to outline or write the major few points of backstory that will inspire my protagonist. Much of this I will not use in the book, but some of it will be essential. What is my character’s secret or most enduring pain that he or she both fears and needs to overcome? This will inform the whole book. At the same time I’m trying to revise the outline of scenes and major twists. I usually have an idea for the ending that will last most of the way through the first draft before I think of something better. Then I start writing scene by scene. Throughout I will be reviewing scenes with my writing group, a process that both improves the writing and slows down finishing the book. That’s the upside and downside of writing groups. At least for me.
After the first draft of a book, I will outline character arcs, major plot points, twists, and reveals. I’ll look at the pace and rearrange scenes to make it better. Then it’s time to cut the fat. This is about a third of the book.
I relate to your process — and to your setting. Murderabilia is set in locations around the world. Is setting an important aspect of writing for you, and which comes first — plot, character, or setting?
I learned a lot writing Murderabilia with Jacquelyn Mitchard. The premise came first, then the characters, then the plot. Jackie told me I needed more backstory, and I decided to include some international locations where I had lived and worked. Those were Colombia and Algeria. The settings were like other characters that influenced my main character. In my present manuscript, I’ve limited the foreign setting to Tijuana.
I love setting. I published a short story in the Sisters in Crime anthology, Crossing Borders, based on my trip to Bogota in 1995. At that time, I wandered the streets and just wrote down what I saw. Ninety-five percent I didn’t use in the book I was writing (never published). Years later I used some of those vivid setting details in the short story.
Like many other crime writers, your career was impacted by the demise of your publisher, Midnight Ink. How have you handled that?
Midnight Ink’s closure was a real challenge. My agent offered to try to get the contract cancelled and find another publisher. But I didn’t want to go through more months of search and potentially not be published. At the time, Llewellyn promised to support the manuscripts they had purchased, but what business that is closing its doors can really do that? Still, I got excellent editorial advice from them. The publicity support was limited so I hired JKS. I probably didn’t get the promotional backing I would have from another publisher, and don’t think I would do it that way again. But how can I complain? The book made it to print and won some awards. Now I have the rights back. If we can sell the next book, my agent and I will try to sell Murderabilia to the new publisher as well.
What’s next for you?
The next book has taken longer than I expected. I had a premise and was well into the first draft and spoke to my agent about it. She persuaded me to broaden the book from one voice to more than one voice. It was a challenge. I was also in a new writing group with Matt Coyle and led by Carolyn Wheat, one of the mystery-writing gurus in San Diego. They and the other members of both my writing groups helped me immensely. The book ended up being in third person with three voices: a father, a mother, and their teenage son. It was hard making each of these voices different and sympathetic. But I think I did it, and my writing definitely improved.
So what’s it about? The one-sentence summary is: Two parents must launder money in order to save their delinquent teenage son.
My agent loved the book and feels that my writing had gotten stronger. I’ve made some revisions and we are just about ready to find a publisher. It is tentatively titled: Saving Evan. Wish me luck!
I do wish you the very best of luck, Carl. Thank you so much for spending time with Buckeye Crime Writers — and for your candid answers.
We can’t wait to read Saving Evan!
About Carl Vonderau
Carl Vonderau is the author of Murderabilia, which won The Left Coast Crime Award for Best Debut Mystery, the San Diego Book Award for Best Mystery/Suspense, and the Kops-Fetherling Gold Phoenix Award for Best New Voice: Fiction. Like the protagonist, he has been a private banker and was raised in a Christian Science family. On the other hand, his father was never a serial killer whose photos launched the “murderabilia” market. Carl has worked in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, and North Africa. He is now a full-time writer and revising another thriller that he and his agent are submitting for publication.
Carl is the president of Partners in Crime, San Diego, a chapter of Sisters in Crime. He is also a partner at San Diego Social Venture Partners, an organization that mentors other nonprofits to reach the next level. Carl lives with his wife in San Diego and they have two grown sons.
A short blurb from Murderabilia
A single phone call tears apart the anonymous family life William McNary has built. Everyone has heard of The Preying Hands and the photographs of his victims’ bodies. But no one knows that William is The Preying Hands’ son. Except the stranger on the phone. In an instant, the safe, banker’s life William has built for his young family is torn away. Then the killings begin.
“A story that will lay a cold finger of dread on the back of your neck. Vonderau is a terrific writer who has written a terrific book.”
Love short stories? Ever wanted to write one? You could do no better than to take advice from award-winning short-story artist Art Taylor. Art’s with us today to give us an inside look into his process and journey to publication. But first, a little background:
Art Taylor is the author of the story collection The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense and of the novel in stories On the Road with Del & Louise, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He won the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Short Story for “English 398: Fiction Workshop,” originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and he has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, four Macavity Awards, and four Derringer Awards for his short fiction. His work has also appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, and he edited Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection, and California Schemin’: Bouchercon Anthology 2020. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University
The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspensefeatures 16 stories that have collectively won an Edgar Award, an Anthony Awards, four Agatha Awards, three Macavity Awards, and three Derringer Awards. From his first story for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1995 to his latest for Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine — the title story, 25 years in the making — this collection charts the development of Art Taylor’s career so far, and turns the page toward more stories still ahead.
Connie Berry, BCW: Art, welcome to Buckeye Crime Writers! You’ve won just about every award there is for your short crime fiction. Who are the writers who inspire you, and what first attracted you to this particular genre?
Art Taylor: I’ve been extremely fortunate for all the generosity the mystery community has shown my work — and I’ve felt fortunate too for all the many writers throughout that tradition who’ve guided my own work. Whatever I might know about plotting and pacing, about surprise and suspense, it probably stretches back along some indirect line to my own early favorites: Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, The Three Investigators. (And I’ve enjoyed re-discovering that last series again now, reading them to our 9-year-old son, Dash). My teenage years were fed by Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming, John D. MacDonald, and a lot of issues of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and more recently I find myself coming back again and again to Stanley Ellin and Patricia Highsmith and, just lately, some of Ruth Rendell’s short fiction. And there’s a whole batch of literary authors too who’ve inspired; my wife and I recently watched the Hemingway documentary on PBS, and I was reminded how influential he was on my idea of how short fiction could work.
These are all older writers, I know, and there are others today too who both wow me as a reader and urge me onward from a writer’s perspective as well — year after year new discoveries and delights! — but I hesitate to name any for fear of leaving out too many great writers and great friends.
CB: How would you describe the differences between short fiction and full-length novels? Some people assume writing short fiction is easier than writing longer works. In your experience, is this true?
AT: Ha! Given that I’ve never successfully written a traditionally structured novel myself, it seems like I’d have to say short fiction is easier! But the truth is, I’m not sure that’s the case.
Because of my own reading and love of short stories, my mind just seems to have geared itself somehow toward thinking in the short form, and I do like the idea of being able to keep in my head the various parts of a story I’m working on — something I simply can’t do with a longer narrative. But I’ve heard the opposite too from well-known, prolific novelists who’ve told me they struggle to write short stories — it just doesn’t come naturally to them, not enough space to do what they want to do.
The novel seems to me a work that relies on accumulation — whether more characters or more depth into some characters or more plot lines and more subplots and more… words, obviously.
The short story, by comparison, relies on subtraction, trimming and condensing and compressing — or at least that’s the way I work, usually writing longer drafts and then deciding what really needs to be there for the story.
I recently wrote the essay “The Short Mystery” for the new Mystery Writers of America handbook How to Write a Mystery, and as I emphasized there, short fiction requires a little more concentrated focus, as well as attention to economy and efficiency. Instead of a full portrait of a setting, what’s the detail or two that will bring it alive? Instead of a long conversation, what bits of dialogue are necessary to develop character, push the plot forward, or — ideally — do both at the same time? I personally like all that folding and compressing and distilling.
CB: Has your writing changed over the years? If so, how?
AT: I’ve actually had the chance recently to reflect on this very question. The hardcover of my new collection, The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense, comes with an extra perk: a separate pamphlet with the earliest draft of the title story; that earliest draft, titled “Burying the Bone,” dates back to the 1994 — more than twenty-five years before the final version, “The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74,” was published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. (You can read the AHMM story for free at my website right now.) Looking at the two stories side by side, the other one looks thinner to me, and not just because the final version is three times longer than the original. I hope I’ve become a better writer when it comes to crafting characters who are more complex and plots that have more layers to them and folding in some thematic weight to the whole thing too. Plus there’s the whole question of endings — the hardest thing for me to write, always, but I do hope I’m better now at getting them tuned right, not just easy wrap-ups but some image or action or statement that resonates a bit more, carries the reader forward beyond the last line, giving them something more to think about.
I started to say I think I’m in general better at the whole economy, efficiency, focus thing too, but “The Boy Detective” is nearly 12,000 words long, and the draft of a story I’m revising right now — “The Adventure of the Castle Thief” — is more than 18,000 words, so what the heck do I know? I’m still learning — always!
CB: You recently collaborated with your wife, Tara Laskowski, on a short story entitled “Both Sides Now” for The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell (Untreed, 2020). Is that the first time you’ve written together? How did that work?
AT: Tara and I were really pleased with the end result, a series of letters between husband and wife — “both sides” of their story, to echo the song — with the husband in prison trying to encode messages about where his wife can find a stash of stolen money and the wife having some plans of her own. There’s a playfulness to the story, I hope — both in the codes and in the twistiness of the relationship — but the writing process was a little more grueling, I have to admit. Tara is a much quicker writer, while I spend too long staring at the page, trying to figure out what this character should want or do or say next. Tara would send me her section and then wait and wait and wait and… and when I sent finally sent my section back, she’d whip up her next one and shoot it back my way and… her wait would begin again.
Despite the differences in our process, we did write another story together, one that we really love, actually, but it’s a kind of fan fiction, using some well-known, well-loved characters, and we have no idea if we’ll ever get permission to have it published.
CB: As a teacher in the English department of the George Mason University, you meet young people aspiring to be writers. What is the best advice you can give them?
AT: It seems simple, but: Keep writing!
I’m consistently amazed by the imagination and the dedication of students in my classes — and their productivity too. In any given creative writing course, I regularly require students to write two stories a semester — a pace I could hardly keep myself — and yet they step up to the challenge time and again, with drafts that often still need a lot of polish but that nearly always show great creativity and energy and potential, something on the page that wasn’t there before, something they can work with. One of the great joys of my work is following students in our BFA program in creative writing from their first semesters at Mason through their last — watching their writing evolve and improve so much in such a short span of time. And I always hope that they’ll carry that momentum forward, keep writing, keep growing.
That’s good advice for all of us, of course: keep getting words on the page, keep trying to make the next story better than the last, don’t put down the pen, even if it seems the easier thing to do.
And I’ll add “keep reading” too, because that’s another way I learn — by seeing how other writers have done it and trying to make some of those same moves myself.
CB: What’s coming next for you?
AT: Needless to say, the past year has been difficult for nearly everybody, and in 2020, I wrote very, very little — despite my own advice above to “Keep Writing!” More recently, though, I’ve been gaining traction again. I’m revising one big story now — “The Castle Thief,” as I mentioned — and have a couple more already out on submission. Fingers crossed that I’ll have good news before long.
And I’ve got a few novels ideas lurking around… just trying to figure out how to regear my brain in that direction too.
CB: Art, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your story. I’m looking forward to “The Castle Thief!” Best of luck — and keep writing!
Andrew Welsh-Huggins releases the newest book in his Andy Hayes Private Investigator series, An Empty Grave, on June 30 at Gramercy Books in Bexley, in an event moderated by fellow Buckeye Crime Writer member Connie Berry. Eileen Curley Hammond interviewed him recently about his accomplishment.
ECH: Seven books in for this series. Do you delight in finding new Columbus places to feature in your books?
AWH: I always enjoy sneaking in references to Columbus, whether long-time landmarks like the Statehouse or real-life restaurants like Club 185 in German Village (though I’m careful not to put any bodies into actual establishments). The one downside of using real businesses is the risk they’ll close and no longer be current. Fingers crossed, all the restaurants that Andy visits in An Empty Grave are still operating — for the moment!
ECH: You have a full-time job as well as writing novels. How do you carve out time to write?
AWH: I’ve managed to settle into a system where I work for a couple of hours each morning before I start work as a reporter. I have a short commute in non-pandemic times, and for the moment no commute at all as I continue to work mostly from home, so I’m fortunate that way.
ECH: You edited (and contributed to) Columbus Noir. Was it more fun corralling other authors, or do you prefer the solitude of writing your own series?
AWH: I enjoy working on my own material, but I also really liked editing Columbus Noir because I got to work with such great writers. In that situation, it was also exciting to be creating something that showcased Columbus and its amazing crime writing community.
ECH: I love how you meld what’s happening in Andy’s personal life with the cases he is working on and how his journey to outlive his past continues. What can you share from the new book?
AWH: Andy’s younger son, Joe, undergoes a crisis involving life at home with his mom and stepdad, and Andy has to make some hard decisions about increasing his involvement in Joe’s life despite the erratic and sometimes dangerous life of a private eye (at least a fictional one). Andy also meets a woman who he thinks may finally be the one, but as usual, complications arise.
ECH: This book is number seven in this series. How many more Andy Hayes books will there be?
AWH: My standard response is, at least one more, although I have plenty of ideas that could propel the series for a while. I like hanging around Andy’s world so I’m hopeful to keep the series going.
ECH: Where can we find your book, and do you have any appearances scheduled?
AWH: My book will be available at local bookstores and at the Ohio University Press website (www.ohioswallow.com). If you order through June 18, you can enter promo code OHIOSUN on the website shopping cart to activate a 40% off discount.
ECH: Would you like to share an excerpt from An Empty Grave?
“WHAT ABOUT MURDER?”
Even in the crowded restaurant, conversation at high Saturday-night boil, the question turned heads at more than a few tables. I gestured for the stranger to sit, but he shook his head and repeated the query. Joe and Mike, despite how accustomed they were to such interruptions, stared in fascination at the ungainly man looming over us like that relative at Thanksgiving you’ll do anything to avoid but secretly can’t stop glancing at to see what happens next. I sighed, aware of the attention we were attracting and realizing there was no easy way around our predicament.
“Murder?” I said.
“You heard me. Do you investigate it?”
“I usually leave that to the police.”
“But what if they won’t?”
“What if the police won’t investigate a murder?”
“That’s not been my experience.”
“Then maybe you haven’t been paying attention to what’s really going on.”
“Listen, we’re running late, and I don’t have time to talk right at the moment.”
“So you’re just like all the rest? You won’t help me. Is that it?”
“I can’t help you because I don’t know what you’re talking about. I also can’t help the fact I’m running late. Now if you’ll excuse me—”
“Fine,” he said, squeezing himself into the booth beside Joe before I could object. “I’ll start from the beginning. My dad was a cop, and someone killed him. And I need help finding the bastard who did it.”
LET THE record show this whole sorry mess started because, as usual, I bit off more than I could chew.
I’d taken an early-afternoon surveillance gig to shore up my moribund bank account, even though I knew my schedule was tight. In my defense, the job should have been a cinch — trailing a furnace repairman who was claiming workers’ comp for a bad back through Home Depot while he loaded multiple four-by-four timbers onto a cart. Instead, as usual, things got complicated. It turned out he was also having an affair — the lumber was destined for the deck he was building for his girlfriend — which meant extra tracking time. As a result, I was late picking up my sons from the houses of my respective ex-wives, as usual, and my plans for dinner at home as part of my custody weekend went out the window.
Plan B was a couple of large pepperonis around the corner at Plank’s on South Parsons. We ate quickly because we had only thirty minutes before movie time — one of the Marvel films, the name of which I’d already forgotten. Something to do with avenging and justice. I was mapping out the fastest route to the theater in my head, Mike was complaining we were going to miss the previews, and Joe was fiddling with his phone when the man approached our table.
“You’re Woody Hayes.”
I looked up. Just what I needed. Another Ohio State football fan eager to berate me for ancient sins I’d spent half my life trying to atone for — not that I’m counting. He was heavy, balding, with thick black-framed glasses just short of factory-floor protective wear. Intensity glowing in his eyes. I thought about making a dash for it. But as often happens to me, there was no place to hide.
“Once upon a time. I go by Andy now. Was there something —”
“I’ve seen you on the news. You’re a private eye.”
“That’s right. An investigator, technically.”
I checked the time on my phone. Twenty-five minutes before showtime. At this point, maybe faster to forget surface streets and head straight for the highway. Cutting it close but still doable, especially if the previews started a minute or two late.
“What kinds of things do you investigate?”
Mike sighed loudly. Joe, despite the sullen mood he’d been in recently, looked on with interest.
“Missing persons, missing money, very rarely missing pets.” I dug for my wallet and retrieved a card. “Maybe you could give me a call?”
And that’s when he asked the question.
“What about murder?”
I GLANCED up the aisle and saw a woman at a far table staring at us. The man followed my gaze. “It’s just my sister. She’s not too thrilled I walked over here.”
That was an understatement. To judge by her expression she couldn’t have been more mortified had the man sauntered up to us in his birthday suit.
I nodded at her. “Your father. When did he die?”
A pause. “Last month.”
“Around here?” I hadn’t heard of any cops being killed recently.
“Yeah. But it took him forty years to die.”
That was just enough to pique my curiosity.
“Keep going,” I said, ignoring Mike’s groan. “But make it fast. We’re in a hurry, like I said.”
Without invitation, he picked up a piece of our pizza and started talking. He said his name was Preston Campbell. He lived nearby, in the house where he and his sister grew up. His father was Howard Campbell, but everyone called him Howie. A beat cop in the late seventies who worked a bunch of precincts but eventually settled for the University District north of Ohio State.
“Lot of guys didn’t like that rotation because of everything happening on campus in those days. The hippies and the music and the protests and everything. He didn’t mind it so much. Plus, back in those days the neighborhood was still intact. Lot of professors lived around there. But fall of ’79, cops started seeing a bunch of burglaries. Not random, either. Professional. They figured it was a team, knew what they were doing. Had a system for watching places, checking out people’s movements, striking when residents weren’t home. Some professors got cleaned out. University raised a stink and the city put on extra patrols. My dad was assigned a swing shift, 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., to keep an eye on things.”
“We don’t have much time here,” I said.
He continued as if he hadn’t heard me. “So, this one night, him and his partner were coming back from a dinner break. They’re making a pass, up by Indianola and Chittenden, when they see this van that hadn’t been there earlier. They drive by, going slow, my dad at the wheel. His partner notices a guy in the driver’s seat who slumps down real low when he sees the cruiser. They keep going, pull over half a block up, and get out. They start walking back toward the van when his partner — guy named Fitzy — spots someone in a yard with something in his arms. They both take off running after him. That’s when it happened.”
“Dad,” Mike said.
“My dad goes around back, to the left, OK? Fitzy cuts right. My dad’s checking out the rear door, which is partly open, when he hears Fitzy yelling. He runs around and sees Fitzy on the ground, unconscious, and some guy hightailing it. He starts chasing and the guy turns and shoots my dad, three times.” Jab, jab, jab, went the piece of pizza in his hand. “He goes down, but still manages to get two shots off.”
“He get the guy?”
“Oh yeah,” Campbell said. “Now they’re both down, both bleeding out. My dad calls out to Fitzy, he wakes up long enough to call it in, and that’s the beginning of the end.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean my dad survived, but his days as a cop were over.”
“What about Fitzy? And what about the guy who shot your dad?”
“Fitzy was fine — he was back at work the next day. The guy who shot my dad? That’s the problem. He disappeared.”
“Disappeared? Like, ran off? After being shot?”
Campbell shook his head. “After they arrested him. But before he could be prosecuted.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Dad. We’ve got like fifteen minutes.”
“Hang on,” I said.
“But this is the thing,” Campbell continued. “I just found out he’s still alive.”
“The guy who shot your dad?”
He said yes emphatically, pizza-flecked spittle flying from his mouth.
“After all these years?”
“You heard me.”
“That’s the problem. I don’t know.”
Our server appeared and inquired how everything was. I nodded blankly. Mike asked for the check.
I said, “You know he’s alive but you don’t know where?”
“That’s right. Which is why I need you to find him.” He retrieved a lumpy wallet and pulled out what looked like several twenties. “I’m not a charity case. I can pay.”
“Dad!” Mike said.
“Just hang on,” I said, eyeing the money. “We’ve got time.”
Except that we really didn’t. And sure enough, we missed the previews. As usual.
Connie Berry’s third book in the successful Kate Hamilton mystery series, The Art of Betrayal, launched on June 8, 2021. Eileen Curley Hammond caught up with her recently, while Connie was busy at work on book four.
ECH: It’s been an unsettling time for everyone over the past year, and things are finally beginning to open. I know you’ve spent a lot of time in Wisconsin; was that of benefit to your writing?
CB: Our cottage in Wisconsin has always been my favorite and most profitable place to write, mainly because there are fewer distractions and responsibilities. Maybe fewer ways to procrastinate? That was where my first book, A Dream of Death, was mainly written. And then there’s my desk — surrounded by windows looking out at the lake and the woods — a great way to focus and dream. One big benefit during the pandemic was the fact that where we are — Vilas County — the cases were always very low because the population is low. In the Northwoods, social distancing is a way of life!
ECH: In The Art of Betrayal, Kate Hamilton is an antiques dealer and has traveled to England to help run her friend Ivor Tweedy’s shop as he recovers from a hip operation and has the opportunity to attend the May Fair pageant. What attracted you to write about this particular fete?
CB: May Fairs are an ancient tradition in England, celebrating the arrival of spring since Roman times. When Oliver Cromwell ruled, dancing and festivities were prohibited. But in 1660 they were restored by King Charles II, including May poles and Morris dancing. Village May Fairs today include rides, games, contests, and of course lots to eat and drink.
Since one of the subplots in The Art of Betrayal involves a legendary “green maiden,” discovered under a hedge by a sheep farmer in the eleventh century, I thought it would be fun to have that pageant played out at the Long Barston May Fair. And what if a very modern body turned up in the middle of the eleventh century?
ECH: The book centers on a murder and the theft of a Chinese pottery jar. How do you choose the antiques in your books?
CB: Choosing the objects Kate will deal with is one of the pleasures of writing the series for me. I grew up in the high-end antiques trade, so very old and fine antiques and antiquities were part of my normal world as a child and teenager. In our house, objects would come and go — a life-size bust of Marie Antionette spent almost a year in our living room, for example. Later we had a two-foot-high carved ivory tankard from eighteenth-century Germany in a glass humidifier. I considered all this perfectly normal, of course. Later I found out my friends (and my future husband) thought we were a little odd.
Húnpíng jars are very interesting and extremely rare. We know they were connected with funerals, but archaeologists aren’t quite sure how. None found ever held human remains. Some are quite plain; others are incredibly detailed. Scholars believe they were personally commissioned as no two alike have ever been found. They were popular during the Han dynasty, which ruled China for four hundred years, from approximately 200 BC to 200 AD. After that, funeral customs changed and they went out of fashion.
ECH: Kate’s an American and the books take place (so far) in England and Scotland. Are there any plans to bring her home with Tom for a portion/all of a book?
CB: I had considered that — and if the series continues, Kate and Tom may visit Ohio sometime. But Kate loves the little corner of Suffolk I’ve created, and the people who inhabit the village of Long Barston have become very dear to her. These characters — Lady Barbara Finchley-fforde, Vivian Bunn, Ivor Tweedy, and others — are my main cast of characters, along with the pub owners and shop keepers on the High Street.
Since all four of my grandparents immigrated from Europe, Kate is returning the favor.
On a practical note, my publisher asked that the series be set in the UK. My books will attract readers who love that setting. The fourth book in the series, The Shadow of Memory, is set in Long Barston as well (to be released June 2022). The fifth, as yet unwritten, will take Kate to the lovely and mysterious county of Devon where Tom has business and where his Uncle Nigel occupies a country house known as Fouroaks.
ECH: Where can we find you as you promote your new book, and where can we buy it?
CB: You can find out more about me and my books at my website: www.connieberry.com. There you can sign up for my monthly newsletter, The Plot Thickens, where I share the latest news, my coming events, occasional short fiction, and sometimes recipes.
The Art of Betrayal is sold everywhere — the big booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, of course. But I always encourage readers to buy books from their local bookstore. In Columbus, we are blessed with The Book Loft in German Village; Gramercy Books in Bexley; Prologue in the Short North; and Cover To Cover in Upper Arlington.
ECH: Would you be willing to share an excerpt with us?
CB: I’d love to. Since you asked about the May Fair, here’s part of scene that take place on Long Barston’s village green. Kate and Tom are watching the pageant:
Some families had brought lawn chairs. Others spread blankets on the green, where sweaty, exhausted children could sleep off their sugar highs. Tom and I reclaimed our park bench and settled in. As the twilight deepened, a hand-bell choir from St. Æthelric’s entertained us with tunes from Camelot.
The Green Maiden pageant began at nine sharp. Several portable light stands illuminated the stage.
Tom put his arm around my shoulder. I leaned back against his chest.
“Look,” I said as the first actors took the stage. “There’s Vivian and Lady Barbara.”
They were dressed in rough, earth-colored woolen tunics. With her round face and stout figure, Vivian looked the part. Lady Barbara, even with a tattered shawl tied around her thin shoulders, couldn’t have looked less like a peasant if she’d been wearing a tiara. Vivian gave me a surreptitious wave as they milled with the other peasants in front of a painted canvas backdrop depicting a line of timbered houses and a stone bridge. A banner read Year of Our Lord1044. Three musicians in medieval clothing were playing Greensleeves.
In the first act, a young man wearing knee britches and a leather jerkin dashed onto the stage, waving his arms and looking generally gobsmacked. As the peasants gathered around to see what all the fuss was about, a second man in similar clothes appeared, leading a girl wearing a faux-leather shift by the arm. Her skin was the color of moss. Seeing the green maiden, the peasants fell to their knees and crossed themselves.
I leaned over. “Where’s the dialogue?”
“It’s pantomime,” Tom whispered.
A bit of flirting between the green maiden and a peasant youth ended in a wedding when the singularly miscast clergyman—Stephen Peacock from the Finchley Arms—made the sign of the cross over them.
In the next scene, a thatched canopy was carried onstage—a cottage, I supposed. The green maiden, dressed now in a long tunic and wimple, sat with her husband at a rough wooden table. His hand grasped an oversized tankard, but he appeared to have passed out. The green maiden, producing a vial from within her tunic, cackled at the audience and poured a measure of red liquid into the tankard. Waking up, her husband swilled his ale and belched. The crowd roared with laughter. The husband stood, clutched his stomach, and staggered off stage. Immediately, a mob of angry villagers carrying clubs and ropes surrounded the cottage. Inside, the green maiden cowered. Oh, dear. Four men unfurled a length of blue cloth and waved it gradually above their heads. Rising water? When the sheet dropped, the green maiden lay dead. Four men carried her offstage.
“Is that it?” I asked. “Is it over?”
“Not quite,” Tom said. “First we get a nice speech by the lord of the manor, then the curtain call.”
The medieval lord—Mr. Cox, the local butcher—swaggered on stage in green velvet doublet and breeches, far from historically accurate, but oh, well. He gave a nice speech about accepting those who are different from ourselves. Finally, the entire cast filed out.
The crowd applauded wildly. The cast members were taking their final bows when a disturbance arose, stage left. Someone appeared out of the shadows.
The audience screamed and sprang to their feet, partially blocking our view.
A woman staggered toward the players, clutching her belly. Parents grabbed their children and their blankets and ran for their cars.
“What it is, Tom? I can’t see.”
He took my arm, and we pushed our way toward the stage. People were shouting.
She’s been hurt. Somebody call for help.
Look at the blood.
Several cast members tried to help the injured woman, but she pushed them away. She appeared to be focused on the actress playing the green maiden. Reaching out with both hands, she took hold of the actress’s tunic, nearly pulling the young woman to the ground.
The crowd parted. The front of the woman’s white blouse was soaked with blood.
Eileen, thank you for asking about The Art of Betrayal. I loved talking with you!
Do illegal drugs fit into your next mystery? Are you curious about the latest trends in illicit drugs and how they get to Ohio? This session is your session.
Orman Hall is an expert on the substance abuse crisis in the state of Ohio, and is a Glidden Foundation Visiting Professor at Ohio University. Hall formerly served as director of the Ohio Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team and director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addition Services under Gov. John Kasich, and manager of specialized dockets for the Supreme Court of Ohio. Prior to that, Hall served as executive director of the Fairfield County Board of Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services for 21 years.
Hall is a public health analyst and consultant for the Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and as a consultant to the National Emerging Threats Initiative, a National HIDTA Program. The national program, part of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, provides assistance to federal, state and local law enforcement in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions in the U.S. The OHIO HIDTA’s mission is to reduce drug availability by creating intelligence-driven task forces aimed at eliminating or reducing drug trafficking and its harmful consequences through enhancing and helping to coordinate drug trafficking control efforts among Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
He is also the research lead for the Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health, a statewide collaboration organized to address pressing population health issues in Ohio.
Stay tuned for more information on this program, happening from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. June 12!