Farewell to a friend

Here at Buckeye Crime Writers, we recently received news that our beloved friend and supporter of many years, Karen Harper, has passed away. For us, Karen will always be that OSU football fanatic, tireless in her love and care of her family, and a pillar in our local writing community. In addition to her writing and appearances, Karen was a co-founder of COFW (a local romance chapter, established in the 1980s) and held a chair on the advisory committee for the OSU library for ten years. Though she usually wintered in Naples, Florida, in recent years she’d moved back to Ohio on a full-time basis and became a more active BCW member. She was our first-ever speaker for our Holiday Luncheon, and spoke to our group anytime we invited her. Her work ethic and ability to professionally survive in the ever-changing landscape of publishing inspired us. Prolific in several genres –contemporary romantic suspense, Amish mysteries – her love for all-things-British was undeniable. Over her thirty-eight years of writing, her work, an impressive list of over seventy books, hit both the NYT and USA Today Bestsellers Lists. Always friendly, full of writerly wisdom, and energetic, her presence will be greatly missed across the Columbus writing community. We hope to honor her by continuing to read and promote her books (she has a new release: DEEP IN THE ALASKAN WOODS, and an upcoming, highly-anticipated release in May: THE QUEEN’S SECRET). What an enduring legacy. What a lady. Rest well, Karen. 

An interview with Amanda Flower

Amanda Flower is a USA Today Bestselling and Agatha Award winning author who has written eight different series and one stand-alone under her own name, and one series under her pseudonym, Isabella Alan. In addition to her writing, Amanda is an avid gardener and cat aficionada. Amanda and BCW Board Member Eileen Curley Hammond chatted about Amanda’s latest book recently.

Amanda Flower portrait
Amanda Flower

ECH: The sixth book in your Amish Candy Shop Mystery series, “Marshmallow Malice,” launched in late May. What new or amped-up tactics are you employing for launch in a COVID-19 world?

AF: It was an interesting experience to launch a book at such a strange time. I did more online and many of my in-person events were moved to next year or done over Zoom.

ECH: What made you decide to develop a cozy series set in a candy shop?

AF: I try not to eat them, but I love sweets. It’s been fun learning about and describing candies without the extra calories.

ECH: I loved the characters in “Marshmallow Malice:” Bailey (the Main Character) along with her New Yorker best friend, the “hot” cop, and her Maami (her grandmother). Bailey’s relationships seem to center her. Since the book is based in Ohio’s Amish country, what made you decide to have a New York connection?

AF: Before the Amish Candy Shop Mysteries, I wrote two Amish cozy series. In this one, I really wanted the main character to be a fish out of water when she moved to Amish Country. To me, New York could not be more different from Holmes County.

ECH: Pets play an important role in this book as well, especially Jethro (a teacup pig). Do animals feature in many of your works?

AF: All of them. I’m a huge animal lover. I can’t imagine writing a book without an animal in it.

ECH: I was surprised by the idea that alcohol can be consumed by some Amish. How did you get your in-depth knowledge of that world?

AF: I lived in Knox County for three years. Knox County is right next to Holmes County and has a sizeable Amish community too. I learned a lot about the Amish living there and from people who lived in the community who were Amish or former Amish.

ECH: Would you like to share an excerpt from “Marshmallow Malice?”

AF: Sure! Here’s the first page.

Chapter One

“This is supposed to be the best day of my life!” Juliet Brody wailed in the small library inside the large white church in Harvest, Ohio. She wore a pink and white, polka-dotted silk robe and hugged her comfort animal, black and white, polka-dotted pig Jethro to her chest. Jethro, who was about the size of a toaster, stuck out his tongue, and his eyes rolled in their sockets as his mistress gave him another mighty squeeze.

Carefully, I reached for Juliet’s arms and loosened her grip. The pig let out a gasp. I didn’t tell her that she’d almost squeezed Jethro to death. If I did, it would send her into another bout of hysterics, and that wasn’t something we needed when she was going to be walking down the aisle in an hour to marry Reverend Simon Brook, who was the pastor of the church we were in.

She looked at me with watery eyes. “Oh, Bailey, you are so kind to me, but what am I going to do looking like this?”

“This” was a huge chunk of hair missing where her bangs should have been. The young hairstylist responsible, Dylan Caster, stood a few feet away hold a curling iron in her hand with a hank of Juliet’s blond hair hanging from it. The strands wrapped around the iron appeared to be a little crispy. The scent of burnt hair filled the room.

“Dylan,” I said, “can you unplug the curling iron?”

“Oh, right.” She yanked the cord out of the wall. “I’m so sorry,” Dylan said for the fourteenth time. “I didn’t expect Jethro to be there.”

Dylan was in her late teens and a beauty school student who went to Reverend Brook’s church. To keep the congregation involved in the wedding, he and Juliet had decided to hire as many church members as they could to handle all the various jobs that a wedding requires. I was willing to bet Juliet now wished they’d picked someone other than Dylan to style her hair.

Not that I completely blamed Dylan for what had happened. Jethro was equally at fault. Unbeknownst to the beauty school student, Jethro had been hiding under the end of Juliet’s robe, and when Dylan came around the front to curl Juliet’s bangs, she stepped on his hoof. The pig squealed bloody murder and took off. In the process, he scared Dylan, who had Juliet’s bangs wrapped around her curling iron. Dylan screamed and jumped back, taking a big chuck of Juliet’s hair with her.

Juliet sniffled. “It’s not your fault, Dylan. These things happen.”

I smiled at Juliet. It was just like her to try to make the other person feel better even when she was so distraught. It was a gift she had bestowed on her son, Sheriff Deputy Aiden Brody, as well.

I was the maid of honor in Juliet’s wedding. I had only known her for a year when she’d asked me to fill that role in her wedding, so I had been more than a little surprised at the request. However, when she said it was due to the close connection between our two families, I couldn’t refuse. I was the best candidate because everyone else I was related to in Holmes County was Amish, and an Amish person would not be allowed to be the maid of honor in an English wedding.

Aiden was the best man. What made it even more interesting was that he also happened to be my boyfriend. As quirky and silly as his mother could be, I had to thank her for raising such a wonderful son. I also suspected that Juliet hoped to nudge Aiden and me toward the altar by making us stand side by side at the wedding. I’d like to think she wasn’t that calculating, but I also knew how much she wanted us to marry. It wasn’t as if she had been secretive about her hope.

ECH: What’s next for Bailey, and how many more books do you think you will have in this series?

AF: Bailey will make an appearance in the Amish Matchmaker Mystery, Courting Can Be Killer. This series is set in the same world, but a different character takes the lead. She will also appear in Candy Cane Crime, a novella in the Amish Candy Shop Series. Her next full-length book is Lemon Drop Dead, and will release next spring. Beyond that, she has at least two more books!

ECH: What else are you working on?

AF: I’m also writing the Magic Garden Mysteries and Magical Bookshop Mysteries for Crooked Lane, the Piper and Porter Mysteries for Hallmark, and the Farm to Table Mysteries for Sourcebooks.

ECH: If you had one piece of advice for writers who are just beginning their journey, what would it be?

AF: Don’t give up. It took my nine years to sell my first book.

ECH: Where can people purchase your book, and would you like to share a link to your website?

AF: They are available everywhere books are sold. There are some direction links through my website, http://www.amandaflower.com/. I’m very active on Facebook, so please follow me there too! https://www.facebook.com/authoramandaflower/.

Cover of Marshmallow Malice
Cover of Marshmallow Malice

Well, here we are

The below is a letter from BCW president Patrick Stuart.

I’ve noticed some differences over the last few months walking our dog, Felix. Things that didn’t exist before. The traffic, for instance. In the middle of the day, it got to where I could cross 35-mph streets with impunity. I almost didn’t even need to look. My previous fear of meeting instantaneous death at the radiator grille of a primer-gray, 2005 Hyundai Accent, sporting a massive spoiler and driven by a sketchy Domino’s driver, bordered on hubris. The empty streets reminded me of the first scene of virtually every apocalypse movie (for me, I’ll pick the British “28 Days Later”). Or in another capacity, the days after 9/11. When you live on the flight path for John Glenn International, you notice when passenger jets suddenly disappear from the sky.

Other things. It was eerily quiet. Which highlighted the fact that everyone seemed to be getting their roofs replaced, or yards landscaped. The sounds of nail guns and lawnmowers was everywhere. Or maybe the lack of ambient noise just made it appear that way. There were also more people around. Not in cars, but out walking. Dog-walking. Jogging. Some wearing masks, some not, but everybody making a conscious attempt to cross the street and respect the six-foot rule when anyone approached. In my neighborhood, most people tend to take such matters seriously, and multiply it by three. “I’m supposed to give you six feet, but just to be safe, let’s make it eighteen.”

Then, just as everything slowly started to look like normalcy was on the far, far horizon, something else happened. The sounds of police helicopters appeared. We live a mile north of OSU, and just a couple miles north of outer downtown Columbus. Just when you thought a global pandemic couldn’t get any worse… fate finds a way.

Like you, everything over the last few months has affected BCW. We’ve had to cancel meetings since February, and the upcoming summer looks no different. Libraries are cautiously reopening, but we don’t know when they will allow for public events. Furthermore, we don’t know when members will feel safe gathering in groups. As a result, BCW has decided to take the summer off, rather than keeping everyone guessing if there’ll be an upcoming meeting each month.

Let’s face it – you all deserve it. Tentatively we’re now considering September as a restart for our monthly Saturday presentations. In addition, the BCW board has been active behind the scenes, looking at alternative ways to move forward. We’ve discussed the possibility of local Zoom meetings, and have announced other Zoom meetings with Sisters In Crime chapters around the country. We continue to provide links to resources, and started a short story exercise on the website for interested members. We’ve also been doing author interviews, and are providing fresh updates via email, Facebook and Twitter. We’re actively preparing for the future by keeping in touch with canceled speakers, and planning new speakers for the coming months. And we’ve sent out personal emails to each member, asking how they’re managing during these rough times. If you ever have any thoughts, ideas or comments, please feel free to contact us, anytime.

A Twitter comment I’d read recently said we’re now “living through a social studies chapter.” Indeed, these are historic times. But in order for them to become historic, we first need to get through them. I sincerely hope all of you are managing as best as possible, and your families are safe. I hope your writing continues, your skills improve and your perspectives widen. And because I can’t resist a good cliché, I thought I’d end this with another quote: a line from Margaret Atwood, the apocalyptic Canadian author of The Handmaid’s Tale, who came up with perhaps the best ten words to sum up recent events:

‘A word after a word after a word is power.’

Peace, and keep writing.

Patrick.

Bad Habits

By Eileen Curley Hammond

I shoulda knowed it was a bad idea. At night when Frank was workin’, and the moon was new, I’d slip out in my house dress, sit on top of the portico where it was cool, and have a smoke with my Gin Rickey. I found out all kinds of interestin’ stuff that way. Who knew the baker and the seamstress were steppin’ out—me. And, what was that thing with the Fitzgeralds last year? Wooee. That was some donnybrook. I was the first on the block with that scoop. No one noticed me sittin’ there with my back against the brick or the warm glow of my cigarette.

Anyhow, the baby was howlin’ this morning,’ and Frank wanted his eggs sunny-side up. I cursed because it was hard to get them outta the pan in one piece. A yoke broke, and he laid into me somethin’ fierce. I tossed my apron on the chair, grabbed my hat, and slammed the door. A soft breeze wafted through the open hall window. I hadn’t ever climbed through in the daylight. I looked right and then left. “Just a quick cig, no one will notice.”

Well, it sure didn’t work out that way. Some nosy parker musta called the police. Next thing I know, sirens were blarin’, nets strung, and all other kinds of other folderol. Then this dolt tried to grab me, yelling, “Don’t jump, lady.” Like I was gonna. All I wanted was a moment of peace and quiet; just one single second to myself. Besides, what would Frank and the tyke do without me? They’d never make it, not even a week.

I beat the guy back with my favorite hat, straightened my dress, and pushed another copper to the side so I could climb back in the window. The crowd cheered, and I took a little bow—it sure wasn’t my usual Monday.

And the award goes to…

Buckeye Crime Writers would like to extend congratulations to one of our own. We can now introduce her as award-winning author Connie Berry, for her debut novel, “A Dream of Death,” took the gold medal – gold! – in the mystery category in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards!

Ah, we can say we knew her when…

April showers…

A letter from BCW president Patrick Stuart:

…bring May flowers (or so the saying goes). Unfortunately, it has also brought more cancellations in our 2020 meetings. For May we were planning to help out with the Cincinnati Writing Workshop on Saturday, 5/16, the national “how to get published” workshop hosted by some of the former folks at Writer’s Digest. The workshop is, thankfully, still on, but instead of being in downtown Cincinnati it’s now online due to COVID-19. As a result, the BCW board will be sheltering in place in Columbus. However, if anybody’s still interested you can check out the details here: https://cincinnatiwritingworkshop.com/.

And as far as our events for June and beyond, we’re busily working on those. But be prepared for anything. Since our fortunes are tied to the Columbus Metropolitan Library and the Central Ohio Park System (where we rented a lodge for the day-long 6/20 meeting), we’re riding the waves along with everybody else, and we will keep you updated as we learn more. But in the meantime, as promised, we’re launching (drumroll): the BCW Writer’s Challenge! We changed it a little bit from the original concept, but that’s ok – change is good. In short, we provide the photo, you provide the story. That’s it. In 300–400 words, come up with something. Anything. Just a snippet of your imagination to keep those creative juices going. We’ll put your submission on the blog, along with the photo, then contact another volunteer at random. Note: we’re still accepting additional volunteers so if you’re interested please feel free to contact us. Otherwise, here’s the first installment to get things going: Rat Patrol.

Rat Patrol

By Patrick Stuart

The metal BB pinged off a locker down the hall. “Holy smokes. Those rats are fast.”

“Just remember to exhale before you pull the trigger,” Linda whispered. “It’ll help your aim.”

Delores lined the air rifle on a chubby dun-colored female spinning in circles next to the water fountain. Damn budget cuts. School lunches had been reduced to watered down milk and day-old bread, with a smear of spaghetti sauce and parmesan, laughably termed “pizza Napolitana.” Teachers were then instructed to hand out caffeinated gummies to keep the kids awake in the afternoon. Which led to an illicit black market of the brightly colored gelatin bears. The more entrepreneurial students hid them under their tongues and spit them out when the home room teacher wasn’t looking, then sold them for a buck apiece to the others. And kids bought them, despite the fact that those same bears had been recently hibernating in the mouths of the sellers. The school nurse said it would’ve been more hygienic to lick a public restroom doorknob. Soon, Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows Academy was filled with children swapping germs and bouncing off their bedroom walls at night. The parents were, understandably, furious.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, rats had broken into the storeroom and eaten half the gummy supply. Wired right down to their little pink feet, they had become utterly fearless. So at the end of the day teachers were “encouraged” to take two-hour, two-person shifts, one to spot and one to shoot. All volunteer, of course. We have to tighten our belts in these hard times, Principle Sister Hester Lacrosse had thundered in her gray flannel habit and matching wimple. The unspoken message: Those of you without tenure…. welcome to rat patrol.

Delores exhaled and imagined Lacrosse in her sights, then pulled the trigger. The rifle jumped in her hands, and the chubby female squeaked once, then dropped to the terrazzo floor.

Buckeye Crime Writers interview: ‘Inherent Lies’ by Alicia Anthony

Even though you’re an indie published author, you’ve also released your titles on Audible. Do you have any advice or easy how-tos for others that might be interested in doing the same? Walk us through what an author needs.

The decision to make my books available on audio was probably one of the best I’ve made. I did a lot of research between Findaway Voices and ACX, which is Amazon’s platform. Financially they were both very similar, but the process at ACX turned out to be a better experience for me, so that’s the route I chose. Although ACX has changed some promotional benefits recently, so we’ll have to see how that plays out. But all in all, I’m very happy with them.

Frankly, I really enjoy the process of turning the print version of my books into audio. As a listener, I’m pretty sensitive to the voices used in audio books so the most important aspect to me was finding the right voice artist to represent the characters. I think I narrowed it down to three from the samples available to me through ACX and requested an audition from those three. It was clear when I started working with Rebecca Gallagher that she was the right person to breathe life into the Blood Secrets series.

As far as what you need going into it, I’d say the first thing is a little bit of cash. Good voice artists aren’t cheap, and you do get what you pay for in many cases. However, both platforms offer a royalty split option, which is a great way to get into audio without too much upfront investment. The second thing you’ll need is a firm understanding of your characters and how you want them to come across to the audience. Be ready to answer questions about who they are on the inside. Think of it as an actor creating a character for the stage or screen and be ready to help your actor dig deep to create the most believable characters possible.

Finally, don’t be afraid to make suggestions and ask for changes – it is your story after all – so don’t be afraid to speak up if something doesn’t hit you quite right. But after venturing into audio with Blood Secrets I can tell you this, I’m absolutely a fan and there’s definitely a market for it. If you can do it – do it.

Since you’re now a pro with TWO books out in the wild, what have you found to be ‘sweet spots’ for marketing your works and building your fan base?

Pro? (Scans the room wondering who you’re referring to.) Ha! Marketing is the bane of my existence. When Inherent Truth was released I did a virtual book tour and that actually turned out quite well. However, I switched companies for Inherent Lies and that was a flop, so my suggestion would be to make sure you choose a tour company wisely.

Social media is still king, and I use Facebook and Instagram pretty regularly, so I had a group of people who might be interested there. I used the month leading up to launch to get my name out there and try to pique interest with teasers and fun engagement posts. I think it helps to give readers a taste of what to expect and I get good results with teasers. They’re fun to create whether leading up to a launch or just for the sake of sharing.

As far as ads go, I’ll leave that up to other authors to chat about. I’ve had a bit of luck with Facebook ads, but I tend to lose money with Amazon ads, so I have a lot to learn in that department.

My favorite way to connect with readers is through my newsletter. I feel a little more free to explore content there. In general, I share fun author news and day in the life kind of stuff. It’s also a place for me to recommend books, share promotions and host giveaways for readers. I’m still trying to find my sea legs in terms of content, but I’m always open to suggestions and I’ve been working hard to find a balance that my subscribers enjoy.

Blood Secrets is the name of your series. So far, you have three books planned. When it comes to crafting a series, what will determine for you how far / how long the series will last, audience love and interest or your own love for sticking with and writing the series? 

This is a great question and one I’ve pondered myself. I used to think it would all depend on how well the series was received by readers. But more recently I’ve realized that as an author I need to have a vested interest. All my books start with character, so unless that character is whispering in my ear, begging me to tell their story, I think I’d have a hard time churning out a 90,000 word novel. And yes, Inherent Fate is the culmination of Liv and Ridge’s story arc, but I’ve been hearing some whispers from some other Blood Secrets characters, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Writing Romantic Suspense is a crazy-delicate balance of two characters wanting to be together, yet as the author, you’re constantly keeping them apart (well, mostly). Can you offer any insights for writers on how you do this so well? What makes it work, lets the reader believe, and keeps the plot moving forward?

I think it’s a combination of things really, but in a word, it all comes down to pacing. The push and pull arises from a character’s motivation which drives action that results in reaction. And the whole cycle starts again. It’s an ebb and flow. But to keep the fire there, I think it’s important that the relationship be intrinsically tied to one of those three elements – motivation, action, or reaction – at every point in the story. The reader needs to be invested in what the characters are fighting for. I think characterization plays a big role in this as well. We want a couple worth rooting for, right? So give us a combination of motivation and reaction that endears them to us in some way. As a reader I don’t have to agree with every decision they make; personally, I don’t want to. I like surprises. But I do have to believe the couple would fulfill each other in some way, not just physically, but emotionally as well. And although Ridge and Liv make some questionable decisions over the course of the series, they really are perfect for each other in spite of those flaws.

Releasing a book during the throes of a global pandemic had to be interesting. Can you share your experience? Surprises you encountered? Changes in expectations? 

Oh, wow. It’s been an experience, that’s for sure. Let’s just say I’m glad it wasn’t my debut that released during this time. Authors are a generous lot. And many big names have discounted books, created freebies, and run massive giveaways all to help alleviate some of the strain of a stay-at-home order. But it certainly does have an impact on authors, like me, who are still working on building a fan base. I discounted Inherent Truth for a few weeks, but that was really all I could afford to do. It’s a tightrope balance for smaller authors, just like it is for small businesses right now. I’d love to be able to give my books away like some authors have done, but it’s just not something I can manage right now.

On the flip side, of course, I think people may be downloading a lot of free books, but I’m not sure they’re actually reading them, so there’s always that caveat. I’m terribly guilty of this myself. I’ll get to them eventually once I work my way through my TBR pile, but I’m pretty sure they won’t get read during this quarantine time. So, I think it’s a toss-up in terms of whether it’s a worthwhile risk. None of us have experienced anything quite like this, so I don’t think there is any right or wrong way to approach releasing a book right now. But I do think the key is to be in it for the long haul and not focus too much on immediate gratification in the form of sales or rank.

What’s next, as far as upcoming releases and the next installment of the series? Will a teaser of Book 3 be available soon? Any other titles we can expect?

I’m so glad you asked! Originally, Inherent Fate, book 3 of the Blood Secrets series was supposed to launch the last week of June, however, with the emotional strain our current situation is taking on all of us, that looks unlikely. It’s with my editor now, but she’s running interference with her kids who are, of course, working on schoolwork from home, which has put her behind schedule, which forces me to slide my plan back, too. It all turns into a big collapsing line of dominoes.

I am hopeful I’ll be able to release Inherent Fate sometime in July, but until I get my editor’s notes I’m not ready to put a date on it. I know I left my readers with a bit of a cliffhanger, so just know, I’m working as hard as I can to make sure the third installment is everything it needs to be.

Beyond Blood Secrets, I’m planning to release my first standalone psychological thriller in October. It’s currently titled Fractals and explores some of the repercussions of the Midwest opioid epidemic on a high school student and her teacher. It’s a project that’s near and dear to me and I can’t wait to share it.

In the meantime, I love connecting with people through my Facebook group and my newsletter. I’ll be sharing snippets of my work and life in general in both places, so I hope to see some of you there.

For more information about Alicia and the Blood Secrets series, visit the following websites:

Newsletter  https://www.aliciaanthonybooks.com/newsletter/ 

Website https://www.aliciaanthonybooks.com/
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AliciaAnthonyBooks 

Facebook Reader Group  https://www.facebook.com/groups/AliciaAnthonyReaderGroup 

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/aliciaanthonybooks/
Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19532930.Alicia_Anthony 

BookBub https://www.bookbub.com/authors/alicia-anthony
Amazon https://amzn.to/2S2DzN1 

An interview with BCW member Dan Stout

Dan will release Titan’s Day, the second book in his noir mystery/fantasy world (The Carter Series) on Tuesday, April 7. Dan and BCW board member Eileen Curley Hammond used appropriate social distancing while discussing the follow-up to his enthralling debut, Titanshade.

ECH: Congratulations on the pending launch of your second book. Obviously, the world has changed greatly since your first book was introduced last year. What new strategies are you going to employ to launch your book in a COVID-19 world?

DS: Thank you so much! And yes, things have changed so much, so fast, that it’s been a really crazy time to be releasing something into the world. With all in-person events canceled, we’ve shifted to increase the number of podcast and blog appearances, and I’ve been working with book stores to get them additional free books, signed copies, whatever will make their job a little easier.

One bright spot has been the number of people who’ve reached out to help myself and other authors. It’s a reminder that we’re all in this together as we move through this radically different landscape.

ECH: Leaving aside the launch, what was easier – writing your first book or your second, and why?

DS: You know, my first impulse is to say that writing the first book was easier. But it’s probably more accurate to say that writing the second book was much harder than I expected. I thought that with the second book I could just apply the techniques I learned in writing Titanshade, but that wasn’t the case! A sequel has requires a separate set of skills, and all of those I was learning from scratch.

In addition, the mystery and fantasy genres have their own set of traditions for sequels. Mysteries are often less tightly linked than fantasy sequels, and telling a story that would work for both new and returning readers took a couple of tries. I’m very proud of the final result, but it wasn’t easy!

Interestingly, writing the third book has gone much smoother because of everything I learned in the course of writing Titan’s Day.

ECH: What aspects of a noir mystery/fantasy mashup drew you to writing in this genre?

DS: My heart is definitely in the mystery genre, and everything I write tends to have a puzzle box structure, usually with a heavy dose of noir imagery. I also love fantasy, and as a kid I’d always wondered what would happen as technology improved and things like the internal combustion engine came to Tolkien’s Middle Earth. I was just really fascinated with the way that a fantasy world would develop over time.

One benefit of blending them is that the structure and familiar touchstones of a noir mystery make it easier for readers to slide into the foreign and fantastical setting of Titanshade. I frequently hear from mystery readers who didn’t expect to enjoy a novel with fantasy elements, and it always makes me happy to get that feedback!

If I do my job right, these books will stand as both a mystery story and a fantasy story. It’s a tricky balancing act, but it’s really rewarding when it comes together.

ECH: How do you manage continuity as your series evolves?

DS: I do my best to keep track of the worldbuilding and character details in a separate story bible, and the copy editing process at DAW is pretty fantastic for catching any slipups.

But for me, the most important thing to maintain is honesty in the characters’ behavior. I don’t mean that they are literally honest, but that they act in the way that’s natural for them, even if they (like the rest of us) can be confusing and contradictory at times.

For me, that goes for both how they view the world around them and their relationships with other people. That has to feel natural, and I prioritize honest characterization and character decisions above everything else.

ECH: Plotter? Or Pantser?

DS: Plantser!! I outline extensively, but I don’t hesitate to throw it out the window if it doesn’t seem organic in the moment. If a character wouldn’t do what I have sketched out, I simply can’t make them do it, without violating that prime tenet of honesty I talked about earlier. When that happens, I have to roll with it, and see where it leads me.

I tend to think of it as a jazz performance, where there is an agreed-upon structure in place beforehand, but the give and take of the actual performance is spontaneous and alive. 

ECH: You participated in a civilian police academy. What was the most important thing you learned and have you incorporated any part of your experience in your writing?

DS: It was massively useful! I attended the academy while finalizing the edits for Titan’s Day, so while some of what I learned showed up in the book, it didn’t affect the big picture.

For me, the most useful things are the tiny details that lend verisimilitude. Those little things I wouldn’t think of on my own, like the weight of a service belt. Many officers have back issues because they carry so much weight on their hip, and the habit of resting their hands on their belt isn’t an attempt to appear intimidating, but an unconscious move to relieve back pain.

ECH: How many books will be in the Carter Series?

DS: Right now I’m working on the third book, and it’s on schedule to release next year. I’d love to keep that pace up, and we’ll have to see how readers embrace it!

The series is intentionally structured to be ongoing, but I want to avoid the trap of having a book that doesn’t come to a satisfying conclusion. I know that as a reader I’m annoyed when series just trail off into nothing, and I never want to deliver that kind of experience as an author.

ECH: Can you share an excerpt from the book?

DS: Sure!

“Detective Carter?” My name was underscored by the pop and sizzle of a flashbulb.

I shoved aside my doubts and turned my attention to the pair of crime scene techs circling the alley. Both human, both looking tired and unhappy to be there. One held a clipboard, making notes on carbon-paper forms, the first of many that would document the life of the investigation. Her partner swapped out a new flashbulb and hefted his camera to eye height.

“We’re moving to the body,” said the notetaker. “You can touch the surrounding items.” She was doing her job well, even if she stole glances at Jax and me when she thought we wouldn’t notice. We’d become accustomed to that mixture of interest and suspicion in the six weeks we’d been off the streets. I hoped the stares would fade when some new distraction claimed the city’s attention.

That attention was why this case, this victim, had been selected for us. Training wheels for a pair of detectives with instructions to stay out of the limelight. In Titanshade, a dead candy in an alley was low profile: not flashy enough to garner press attention, and common enough that if we didn’t clear the case, it wouldn’t be considered an issue. It had fallen to us to find justice for this girl who was so disposable.

Sprawled on one side, the victim’s arms and legs were askew, and the right side of her face was exposed, the wound in her temple on gruesome display. Her natural golden complexion was fading, growing paler by the hour. Her T-shirt had been pulled up, revealing more red and black coloration tracing her hip bones, before disappearing behind low-cut denim shorts. Her bra had been disturbed, but not the shorts. The medical examiner would confirm it, but I doubted she’d been sexually assaulted.

“Looks like a candy,” I said. “Got herself killed and had her emergency cash plucked from her cleavage.” The women and men who worked the streets often had a roll of bills discretely tucked away, payment for pimps and something to hand out in case of a mugging or shakedown.

Ajax grunted a low note of assent, the deep nasal tones of his biting mouth harmonizing with the higher pitched tinkling of the speaking mouth in his throat, directly above the crisp knot of his tie. “Looks like,” he said. “But looks lie, don’t they?”

I smiled. He was right, of course. Fashion sense doesn’t always indicate a vocation. Hells, I’m a cop and I wear a suit.

My partner stooped to press the sensitive skin of his wrist against the victim’s exposed belly, below her crumpled T-shirt. Enough of the design was visible to make out that it read Disco Sucks. I liked her immediately.

ECH: Where can we buy the book? And, can you provide a link to your website?

DS: You can get Titan’s Day wherever you buy or borrow books. That said, right now there’s an incredible strain on the independent bookstores that are so vital to the industry. If you’d like to pick up a copy of Titan’s Day (or any book!) I encourage you to consider buying from a local shop, or from a service like Indiebound.org or BookShop.org, where part of your purchase will support indie retailers.

My website is www.DanStout.com, and it has links to my social media, free short stories, and my mailing list sign-up. If you like noir mysteries, fantasy, or just nerding out about good stories, stop by and say Hello!

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)