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

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…

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!

See Sharon Short!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Interview and Spotlight: Alicia Anthony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, please visit my website!

Book signing!

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

‘A Legacy of Murder:’ An interview with Connie Berry

Connie Berry’s follow-up novel to the riveting A Dream of Death is coming out this month! A Legacy of Murder hits the shelves Oct. 8. Connie took a break from writing about Kate Hamilton to discuss the latest launch with BCW’s Jim Sabin.

Connie Berry
Connie Berry

JS: Congratulations on the publication of your second novel, A Legacy of Murder. How does it feel to have your first two books published in the same year?

CB: It feels really fast—and probably will never happen again. When Crooked Lane acquired the Kate Hamilton Mystery series, I had the first book, A Dream of Death, ready to go and the second, A Legacy of Murder, well under way. I know plenty of authors who write multiple series, and I give them credit. Writing two books a year is one thing. Publicizing and promoting them is another—and way harder.

JS: You’ve taken Kate Hamilton from the Hebrides in Scotland to the east coast of England. What prompted you to choose settings so far from home?

CB: Writers are often encouraged to write what they know, and I do know Britain quite well, having gone to college in Oxford and now traveling there a couple of times a year. My paternal grandparents were Scottish, so I grew up with the Scots’ accent and food. Today the cuisine in Scotland is marvelous, but back then, Scottish food meant oats porridge for breakfast, peas porridge for lunch, and lots of well-done roasts and overcooked veg for dinner. But there’s another reason I chose the UK for my setting. When I was in graduate school, my thesis advisor encouraged me to choose a topic I really loved because I’d be spending a lot of time there. I’m a card-carrying, died-in-the-wool Anglophile. Setting books in the UK means I ‘m able to spend lots of mental time there. And then there’s in-country research, which is the best.

JS: Kate Hamilton, your main character, is rather inquisitive, as you might expect from an antiques dealer. How does that help her solve mysteries in the present day?

CB: Like me, Kate can’t abide a mystery. My kids used to call me “Sherlock Holmes” because when something didn’t make sense, I would track it down until I learned the truth. Several years ago I solved a real mystery—finding a long-lost Scottish relative (then deceased) and learning what happened to her after she vanished. Kate’s desire to solve mysteries and her ability to discern patterns and connections, helpful in the antiques trade, give her an advantage as an amateur sleuth. But amateur sleuths need more than curiosity. They need a believable motivation for sleuthing. In A Dream of Death, Kate’s motivation was to save her husband’s best childhood friend from wrongful prosecution. In A Legacy of Murder, her motivation is even more compelling.

JS: You devote a lot of time to the craft of writing, including doing outlines for your books. How does that help you when it comes time to actually sit down and write?

CB: I’m proof of the old adage: If you don’t know where you’re going, you probably won’t get there. I know many wonderful authors who call themselves “pantsers” (writing by the seat of their pants), but I write better when I know where I’m going. However, planning doesn’t rule out the unexpected. Sometimes my characters say and do things I’d never planned, and I have to adjust my outline. Usually for the better.

JS: Your first book, A Dream of Death, seems to have opened up some opportunities for you to join panels and other activities. What has changed for you since it came out?

CB: First I had to learn to be a writer. Now I’m learning how to be an author. Today, being an author is a business that includes promotion, advertising, developing an audience, travel, speaking, expenses, attending conferences. Right now I’m blogging with two online groups: Miss Demeanors and Writers Who Kill. This year I will attend four conferences—in Dallas, Boston, San Diego, and Bethesda, MD—so I’ll be flying coast-to-coast twice. At the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in early November, I’ll be participating in a panel discussion, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being Amateur.” In December, I’ll be speaking at libraries in Mayfield Village, Ohio, and Middleburg Heights, Ohio. Besides writing, what I love most is talking about the world of crime fiction.

JS: So, tell us a bit about A Legacy of Murder.

CB: What could be lovelier than Christmas in England? American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton arrives in the Suffolk village of Long Barston, dreaming of log fires, steaming wassail, and Tom Mallory, the detective inspector she met during a recent murder investigation in Scotland. Kate also looks forward to spending time with her daughter, Christine, an intern at Finchley Hall, famous for the unearthing in 1818 of a treasure trove known as The Finchley Hoard. When the body of a young woman, an intern planning an exhibition of the hoard, is found floating in Blackwater Lake, Kate is naturally concerned for her daughter’s safely. But when another murder and an attack on a second intern occur, Christine becomes the prime suspect. Determined to prove her daughter’s innocence, Kate launches her own investigation. What she finds are clues pointing backward four hundred years to a missing blood-red ruby ring and an infamous legacy of murder.

JS: And how can we get a copy?

CB: A Legacy of Murder, second in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series, is available in hardcover and e-book at all outlets: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-million, Indiebound, Kobo, Target, Walmart. And discerning bookshops, of course!

Thanks for the great questions, Jim. If anyone lives in central Ohio, I hope they can attend the launch party for A Legacy of Murder — Saturday, October 12, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Fortin Ironworks, 944 W. 5th Ave., Columbus, Ohio 43212. Parking in the small Fortin lot for handicapped only. Parking for others in the lot across the street, in The View on the corner of W. 5th and Holly, or on the street. Besides champagne and a real English tea, there will be book signing and a drawing for prizes. Books available through The Book Loft.

‘A Legacy of Murder’ cover

BCW member talks writing, and her newest book

Buckeye Crime Member Eileen Curley Hammond just released the fourth book in her Merry March Mystery series, Murder So Deadly. Board member Kandy Williams chatted with her recently.

KW: You’ve released four books in just over a year. How did you do it?

ECH: It’s not quite as fast as it seems. I worked on the first one for over a year, and then started on the second one. As it turned out, I was editing the first one when the second one was nearly done. Although I wouldn’t recommend doing it that way, the advantage was that I could still change something in the first book when it made the second one better. I released Murder So Sinful in August of 2018 and Murder So Festive in October last year. In hindsight, that was too close, and I hindered my ability to launch my debut book. Unfortunately, the second book takes place at Christmas, so to capture those sales I needed to publish by October.

KW: You’re an independent author. Why did you decide to pursue that path versus traditional publishing?

ECH: Everyone’s path is different. I’m slightly north of 60 and a cancer survivor. I decided I would rather spend my time writing, than going through the long process associated with traditional publishing. I’m also a bit of a control freak, so being independent suits me.

KW: Have you had any surprises along the way?

ECH: I learn something new every day. Joining Buckeye Crime Writers was one of the smarter things I’ve done. This group continues to be an important touchstone in many ways, especially for a new writer. First, the speakers at the monthly meetings are great. I’m using what I learned from Franklin County Chief Toxicologist Dan Baker in my latest book. Second, the connections you make at the meetings with other members are invaluable. I always walk away with new ideas.

One big surprise (which shouldn’t have been) is how much work an independent author does that isn’t related to writing. I had to find someone to do my covers, contract with an editor, and design the inside of the book. The good news was that Amazon has a relatively good add on to Word, which makes the inside design work more manageable. It’s not perfect and has some hiccups, but I think the result is quite professional.

Marketing is always a challenge, but traditionally published authors have some of the same issues.

KW: Are you a planner, or a pantser?

ECH: I’m a pantser. I look at planners’ outlines and plans with envy. I never have any idea what’s going to happen. I follow Stephen King’s advice. I write at least 1,000 words a day Monday through Friday. Sometimes it’s agony, other times it’s quick. Before I adopted this habit, I had trouble balancing my life. When I was writing, I felt guilty for not doing other things. If I did the wash, I felt guilty for not writing. Now I know if I complete my 1,000 words I’m done with writing for the day.

KW: Tell us a little about your book.

ECH: The main character is Meredith March. She owns a property and casualty insurance operation in the small town of Hopeful. Merry is divorced and has custody of her 17-year-old daughter. Her ex ran a financial scam that duped many of the people living in town. He was convicted and served four years in jail. Merry now has a serious boyfriend and is working on getting an annulment.

In my latest book, Merry and her friend Patty go on a stakeout. Here’s an excerpt from Murder So Deadly:

“I shouldn’t have had that extra glass of water at dinner,” Patty said. “How much longer are we going to be here?”

“Wimp. There’s a bathroom past the front desk. I’m sure if you ask nicely, they’ll let you use it.”

Patty eased open the door while I covered the car light with my purse.

I hissed, “Hurry back.”

She scurried to the door, pushed it open, and passed the two men we were supposed to be following. Patty disappeared into the motel. The two men walked to a large black Lincoln and slid in. The car purred as it passed me moving toward the exit. I stared daggers at the motel door. “C’mon Patty. Where the heck are you?”

She darted out the door, running full tilt toward the car. I pulled up next to her. “Get in.” Patty jumped into the car, and I floored it. “Didn’t you see them come out?”

“Of course. They held the door for me.”

“I’m happy they still have their manners…”

KW: You sound busy. Is there anything else going on?

ECH: I’ve become an active member of Twitter’s Writing Community. One of the fun things to do is VSS365 (Very Short Story). The moderator sends out a daily word prompt, and the challenge is to write a 280-character poem or story that includes that word. A curated book of the best writings was just released called VSS365 Anthology, and I’m proud to say that one of my stories was chosen. All proceeds from the sale of the book benefit a children’s literacy charity called The Book Bus.

KW: How do we get Murder So Deadly?

ECH: Thanks for asking. Just click on the link: https://www.amazon.com/Murder-So-Deadly-Mystery-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B07WHT5PN9/.

An interview with Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Andrew Welsh-Huggins just released the sixth book in his Andy Hayes detective series, Fatal Judgment. He kindly agreed to a quick interview with BCW’s Jim Sabin to talk about it and his next project.

Your sixth Andy Hayes book, and eighth overall, Fatal Judgment, came out in April. Does that feeling of holding your own new book in your hands ever get old?

If it does, it’s probably time to hang it up. It’s a moment of accomplishment that I treasure and would hope never to take for granted.

Andy has taken on everything from fracking to human trafficking to Islamophobia to politics. What’s the general theme in Fatal Judgment?

The plot of Fatal Judgment revolves around Andy’s search for a local judge—who happens to be his ex-lover—who sought out his help and then promptly disappeared. The ensuing mystery focuses on themes of environmental destruction and the growing prevalence of artificial intelligence and the server farms needed to power it.

Readers of your books can legitimately say they know Columbus better after reading them – I know this reader does. What inspired you to make Columbus the setting, and essentially a character, in this series?

I always wanted to base a mystery series in a real locale, but it took me a while to figure out where because my wife and I moved around a lot early in our marriage. Once we arrived in Columbus in 1998 and burned our moving boxes, and I learned to appreciate the city and all it had to offer, I knew this was the place. The opportunity to give Andy an Ohio State football background cinched the deal. And as I like to say, you can kill a lot more than time in Columbus.

Andy is a character who never quite stops paying for his past. Do you envision a day when his good deeds ultimately outweigh his past mistakes in the public eye? I think there will always be people who can’t forgive Andy for his (fictional) football-related misdeeds, just as there are people today who still can’t forgive the Buckeyes for their real-life loss to Michigan State in 1998, thus ruining their national championship dreams that year. But as Andy ages and matures, and has more adventures under his belt, I think people recognize there’s more to him than just his wayward youth.

The Andy series isn’t your only project at the moment. Can you tell us a little more about Columbus Noir? I’ve long been a fan of the Akashic Books series of noir titles—books of mystery stories set in cities across the U.S. and around the world. I was also puzzled that Ohio wasn’t represented in that collection. I successfully pitched Columbus Noir in 2017 to Akashic, and three years later, in March 2020, the resulting book will be out. It includes 14 dark but wonderfully written stories set across the city, with neighborhoods including Olde Towne East, the South End, Clintonville, German Village and the Hilltop.

Now for the details: Where/when is your next event? My next local event is June 8, when I’ll lead a nature walk at Scioto Audubon Metro Park just south of downtown. We’ll start at the Grange Audubon Center at 505 W. Whittier St. at 11 a.m. with a few stops along the way while I read from some of the environmentally themed portions of the book. We’ll follow that with a book signing back at the center. It’s the same day as the Columbus Arts Festival, so a good opportunity to come downtown and appreciate the city.