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.”
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!
The latest in the Carter Archives (book three) just released, and I was interested to catch up with Dan Stout on his latest success.
ECH: Congratulations on your recent launch! “Cinnamon” in the first book, “Candies” in the second; what new concept are you introducing us to in your third book? No real spoilers, please; I just started reading it.
DS: In Titan Song we finally get an up-close look at the Barekusu, one of the eight intelligent species in the world of Titanshade. These bison-sized creatures are partially inspired by my experience with Scottish Highland cattle at the Columbus Scottish Fest. The Barekusu are alien and mysterious, and their arrival in town may have serious consequences for our protagonists, Carter and Ajax.
ECH: It’s been a tough year for us all. You launched book two a year ago when pretty much everything in Ohio was shut down. What were the things that worked well for you from a virtual standpoint with that launch? And with vaccines becoming available, are there additional avenues opening to promote your new book?
DS: The pandemic definitely threw the launch plans for book 2 into chaos! We canceled all kinds of in-person events, and while we did come up with replacements, it just wasn’t the same.
For book 3, we came in with a “virtual first” attitude. Partly this was a way to hedge against uncertainty, but it also allows me to take part in multiple events in a short window of time. It’s pretty amazing to talk to one group in Ohio and another in Arizona on the same day.
As the vaccine rolls out, I’m looking forward to getting back into stores and talking to readers one on one!
ECH: I love some of your character’s quirks. For instance, Carter can’t stand disco, while his partner is an aficionado, which creates tension. I know you are a plotter; do you decide nuances in advance, or is that something that happens organically?
DS: They happen organically. I’m a plotter largely because I enjoy giving myself boundaries to play inside. Having the plot worked out in advance lets me give my full attention to working on character details and dialogue.
Finding those nuances can take a lot of searching, and having an outline lets me limit the scope of the search. It’s like when I can’t find my car keys, but I know they’re definitely in the living room – it may take me a while and involving a lot of swearing, but sooner or later I’ll find them.
ECH: Your story bible must be getting larger. Any helpful hints you’d like to share on how you kept up with your characters as you wrote the third book in a series?
DS: I use a Scrivener document as a dedicated world bible. I update it as I go to make sure I’m staying on top of physical details, speech patterns, and motivations. I don’t consider anything canon unless it’s in print, so I can still change things on the fly.
One useful thing I fall back on a lot is a tip that Shirley Jackson used to give: to give secondary characters unique and interesting traits, associate them with an animal. I’ll note that in the Scrivener file on the character so that when I get back to them a year later, I’ll see that they’re a rhino or blue jay. Then I immediately know that they’ll be harrumphing and stomping their feet, or squawking and tilting their head suspiciously.
ECH: What’s next for you? Is there another Carter Archive in the works?
DS: I definitely have more stories to tell in this world! There’s more Carter coming, but I don’t have details I can share yet.
Right now, I’m working on something that’s tonally very different. As much as I love the Carter Archives, writing in only one voice can be a little like performing the same exercise over and over. So I’m stretching my creative muscles and having a lot of fun thinking through this new project.
ECH: Would you like to share an excerpt from the book with us?
DS: Absolutely! I think the best part to excerpt might be from the very beginning of Chapter 1, where we’re establishing the blend of fantasy and mystery elements, as well as the tone and voice you can expect in the rest of the book.
[excerpt at end]
ECH: Thanks for your time, Dan. How can we buy your book? And where can we find you?
DS: Thank you for having me — I’m always happy to talk about books and writing with my fellow BCW members.
My books are available at most online and physical stores. The Book Loft here in Columbus has signed copies, and links to online retailers and indie stores can be found on my site. https://www.danstout.com/buy-titan-song
Speaking of my website, the best way to find me is to head over to DanStout.com and see what I’m up to. It’s got info on all my stories, links to social media, and a form to join the Campfire, a regular email discussion about books, writing, and most of my other favorite things. Stop by and say hello!
Titan Song (Chapter 1 Excerpt)
Look, it’s not that I hate disco.
There are plenty of things that I do hate. Predators who lurk in shadows, targeting the weak and the weary; villains who find joy in snuffing out the tiny lights of individual kindness and stealing the warmth that makes life worth living. Those are the people I’ve dedicated my life to finding and dragging into the light of justice. Compared to them, why would I be bothered by a garish, repetitive squeal of synthesized sludge pawned off onto vapid club-dwellers too tweaked out to recognize a decent melody if it walked up and bit them in the ass?
So no, I don’t hate disco. But I sure as Hells don’t like it, either.
Despite that fact, I’d been listening to the radio blare overproduced bilge for the better part of an hour as I drove across the ice plains. The reason for that was the cop who shared my ride; he loved the stuff. Jax drummed his hands on the dashboard of the snow-runner, roughly matching what passed for a beat as I gripped the steering wheel tighter and hoped that the radio signal would hurry up and die. My partner’s biting jaws were slightly open, reverberating a hum past jagged tusks the size of my fingers, self-harmonizing with the whistle from his speaking mouth, a hole set low in his throat, just above his necktie. It would have been impressive, if he hadn’t been off-beat and out of tune.
“Can you not do that?” I raised my voice above the rumble of treads on densely packed snow. We were due north of the city, the profile of the Mount retreating in our sideview mirrors, and with it the warmth of the geo-vents that made Titanshade an oasis on the snow-swept ice plains. The vents’ continuous output of sulfur-scented heat was the only thing that allowed the city to exist and cloak itself in something akin to civilization.
“Do what?” Jax’s eyes were concealed behind wraparound shades, making it impossible to see if they were crinkled with amusement, and nothing so expressive as a smile would ever grace the rigid bones of his biting jaws. Southerners were often intimidated by Mollenkampi faces and the frozen mask of perpetual aggression they conveyed to human eyes. Some people thought they looked dangerous, but I held no such uncertainty—the fact that my left hand was two fingers short of the usual allotment proved that a Mollenkampi’s bite was far worse than their appearance.
I peered at the ice plains through my own sunglasses. Shades were obligatory on the ice plains in daylight. While the sun was out the vast, unbroken white expanse was as blinding as it was deadly.
The fuzzy radio signal brought us a track from Dinah McIntire, the pop queen whose heavily processed voice had dominated the city’s radio playlists since she’d announced she was bringing a music festival to our town. Big-name artists rarely toured in Titanshade. It was too far to travel, the climate too inhospitable. The rest of the world had always been content to forget about us, as long as we supplied them with oil. That was one more thing that had changed in recent months.
“It’s not my fault you can’t feel the music in your heart,” Jax said.
In fact, I felt it too deeply. The blend of static and song echoed the buzzing sounds and the overwhelming, aching hunger that came when I crossed the invisible spiderwebs of sorcery. Sensations that I needed to keep secret.
I snapped back to reality when Jax stretched a hand in front of me, pointing at a speck on the horizon I’d been eyeing for the last little while.
“Is that it?” he asked.
“Yeah, kid. That’s it.”
The Shelter in the Bend rig site grew larger with each second, and soon we were able to make out the outline of the temporary tents nestled in its shadow like the city’s buildings nestled against the Mount. The entire structure had been thrown up in the last two weeks, amidst much speculation and excitement. As much as I thought they were crazy, I had to admire the organizers’ audacity. If we rarely had big-names concerts in Titanshade, the thought of a dozen playing for more than a week outside the city was unheard of.
The Titanshade city leadership was thrilled about it. A festival located hours from the city would cause no traffic jams and require no police coordination. It was even far enough from the manna strike that the military encampment wasn’t concerned about accidental tourists. The festival made headlines for hiring furloughed rig workers for the structural work and security. The short-term salve for the unemployed made it an easy sell. It was a win for everyone.
It was a shame they needed a pair of Homicide detectives.
Alicia, Congratulations on the release of FRACTALS. It’s your fourth book but is a stand-alone. Can you tell us a bit about the story?
Of course, and thanks to Buckeye Crime Writers for having me. You’re an amazing group and I’m so happy to be a part of it. So, what can I say about Fractals? On the surface, this is the story of a teenager destroyed by life’s circumstances and sold to pay off her father’s debts, and her teacher, scarred by life in his own way, who tries to save her. But on a deeper level it’s a tale of good versus evil – a reflection on trauma, poverty, addiction, and abuse as experienced by these two main characters.
Readers may find that FRACTALS is a bit different from your Blood Secrets Saga. Since I snagged an ARC (thank you, btw!), I thought it was darker than your series and dealt with a timely yet difficult subject matter. How might you prepare readers for this deep-dive into the harrowing, complicated life of Carly Dalton?
Fractals centers around human trafficking, so readers should definitely expect to be uncomfortable. Although I never really shied away from the darker parts of life in my Blood Secrets series, Fractals is far grittier and more disturbing. I’d tell readers to be ready for raw and real characters so impacted by trauma that they don’t always make the “right” decisions.
The goal, for me, was to peel that scab back and shine a light on some dark subjects that most of us tend to ignore.
Both your main characters, Carly and Asher, have physical and emotional traumas to overcome. Do you think readers, who might identify with some of their situations, can find hope in your story? Was that a motivation for you while writing this book?
I definitely think there’s hope in Fractals. Carly and Asher are incredibly strong characters. They are put through a lot, but they are survivors and I think that comes through in the novel. As for motivation, it was certainly my goal to shine a light into the darkness that surrounds human trafficking and the failure of the system as a whole. The statistics are truly staggering, and I think many of us feel like trafficking is a problem that resides on the outskirts of our communities. But unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. I was motivated by the idea that the story of this young girl and her teacher could bring the horror of that trauma to life in a way that readers could empathize with, and I hope I’ve been able to accomplish that in Fractals.
FRACTALS explores perhaps a lesser-recognized form of sex trafficking. Do you think there are real solutions for ending this abuse?
I think the first step is acknowledgement. I don’t think the general public is aware of the industry that exists within our own communities. There are so many different forms of trafficking and Carly’s story is just a tiny slice of that activity. Strangers aren’t the only danger, and I wanted to shed some light on that fact and help people think about their own communities and ways they might be able to make situations better for those who are most at risk. Of course, there are organizations out there that do some great work in this area. The Polaris Project (http://www.polarisproject.org) is one I mention in the author’s note. I don’t know what the solution is to the problem of human trafficking. Frankly, as long as there’s a need, criminals will find a way to profit from it, but I think examining our own preconceived notions and supporting the organizations that help the victims of this abuse is a great way to start.
As a teacher, you’ve worked with students from various backgrounds. Do you often feel that you’re helping to equip them to make good life choices, and in general, do you feel that responsibility has grown over the years?
By day I’m an elementary school reading specialist, so my main duty is helping kids learn strategies to make them better readers, but that’s not really what it’s all about for me. I want my students feel seen and heard. And although I’m their teacher, I’d also like them to think of me as a friend, someone to bounce ideas off of and who would have their back if the going got tough. I teach reading, but more than that, I want them to know just how valuable they are, to take pride in themselves and understand that they are more than test scores and reading levels. I think if I can play some small part in that, then I’ve done my job. Better reading is just a byproduct of greater self-worth. And I absolutely think that responsibility has grown since I started teaching eighteen years ago. Our society is so much different today, but deep down the kids are the same. They still need love, understanding, and someone to cheer them on and point them in the right direction when things are rough. They still need to know we care.
Care to share about your writing process? Tell us how this story came to life for you and the journey to getting it published.
Fractals was an interesting journey. I read an article years ago about an artist who explored the nature of tears in some of her work. She found that different types of tears have different qualities dependent on the origin of the emotion. I know, crazy, right? Anyway, her work was published in a book called the Topography of Tears and that idea really stayed with me. I think somewhere deep in my psyche I was looking for a character that could help me explore that idea on my own, and I found her while watching a student sketch an eye one day after school. She did an amazing job and something about that sketch brought that abstract idea of different types of tears full circle, and Carly Dalton was born. Of course, the novel went through various stages. I submitted it to several agents and publishing houses early on, and it was recognized as a Claymore Award Finalist along the way. But in the end, I think I knew it was too dark to be picked up traditionally. Besides, after dipping my toes into the lake of indie publishing with my Blood Secrets series, I was more than game to do the same with Fractals.
What’s next for you?
The million dollar question! Fractals took a lot out of me, creatively and emotionally, so right now I’m taking a much-needed pause. I am prepping to teach a spring session for my alma mater, Spalding University’s Low-Residency MFA program, and I’m looking forward to that experience. Of course, my daughter graduates from high school this year, so that is eating up some …well, let’s face it, almost all of my mental and emotional energy. But once summer hits, I’ll be jumping back into the writing trenches with my next project, another twisty, but not nearly so dark, psychological thriller. In the meantime, I’m enjoying time spent with my daughter and all her senior year “lasts.”
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.
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.
“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?
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!
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:
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?
“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!
Saturday! 2/22/20! Join us to welcome our next guest Sharon Short (pen name; Jess Montgomery), a Dayton author whose background includes being a newspaper columnist for the Dayton Daily News, writer-in-residence at Thurber House, former director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop, three-time recipient of an Ohio Arts Council grant, and published author of several mysteries, including The Kinship series (Minotaur Books) which she’ll be discussing at our upcoming meeting. Where, you ask? Upper Arlington Library (2800 Tremont Road, Upper Arlington), Meeting Room B, at 12:30 p.m.. And just to give you a taste of what we’ll be talking about, BCW asked Sharon some questions about writing, her most recent series, and her love of pie . . . be there to learn more, and join us for lunch afterwards.
BCW: So you’ve got two books out now in The
Kinship series (congrats, btw): The Widows (2019) and The
Hollows (2020). Both take place in Appalachian Ohio during the 1920’s
and center on Lily Ross, the female sheriff of a small town who got the
position after the former sheriff (also her husband) was killed.
Note: this is also based on an actual event from that time period. What
made you think of this as the story you wanted to write?
Sharon: I happened upon the story of Ohio’s true first female sheriff when I was researching hiking areas for a visit to our daughter, who attended Ohio University. I was struck by the notion of a female sheriff in the mid-1920s in a rural area, and that inspired my version, loosely based on the true first female sheriff. Additionally, my family of origin is from Appalachia — one county in Eastern Kentucky — on both sides. I’m the first Ohioan! So, though I consider myself a child of Appalachia in how I was reared and my childhood experiences, I was not geographically born in Appalachia, so I somehow thought I couldn’t write an Appalachian setting. Finding this story gave me a sense of not just permission to do so, but “coming home.”
BCW: You’re a fan of Daniel Woodrell (confession; same here). His books take place in Ozark culture and involve dirty, gritty, dark scenarios, comparable to William Gay, Donald Ray Pollock, or Cormac McCarthy. Also very “male.” By contrast, Annie Proulx also writes in this style. Would you compare yourself to any of these authors, or is it something different?
Sharon: Oh my. These are such terrific authors. I
would not compare myself, though I’m honored if others do. I’ve also been
compared to Sharyn McCrumb and Louise Penny for evoking setting. I’ll
definitely take those comparisons too!
BCW: Do you plan on more novels in this time
period? What else would you like to explore?
Sharon: I am contracted through books three and four
in the Kinship series–hurrah! I’d love to write more beyond that as well, if
I’m so blessed. My imagination tends toward mid-century U.S., but I can also
envision exploring other eras and areas.
BCW: Finally, your blog features a pie of the
month. Fess up: which is your favorite?
Sharon: To bake: French Coconut, Buttermilk, or Sugar Shaker. So easy, and always a pleasure. I enjoy eating any of those, but also like French apple and chocolate cream — those are more difficult but so tasty! (You didn’t think I’d stick to one variation, did you?)