BCW Member Book Release: Andrew-Welsh Huggins’ An Empty Grave

Andrew Welsh-Huggins

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?

AWH:

An Empty Grave/Andrew Welsh-Huggins

“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?”

“Won’t what?”

“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.”

“What?”

“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.”

“Where?”

“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.

“An Empty Grave” by Andrew Welsh-Huggins ©2021. This material is reprinted by permission of Ohio University Press, www.ohioswallow.com.

BCW Board Member Connie Berry’s Book Release: The Art of Betrayal

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?

Connie Berry
Connie Berry

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:

The Art of Betrayal/Connie Berry

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 Lord 1044. 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.

Everyone clapped.

“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!

Coming in June: Orman Hall

Do illegal drugs fit into your next mystery? Are you curious about the latest trends in illicit drugs and how they get to Ohio? This session is your session.

Orman Hall is an expert on the substance abuse crisis in the state of Ohio, and is a Glidden Foundation Visiting Professor at Ohio University. Hall formerly served as director of the Ohio Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team and director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addition Services under Gov. John Kasich, and manager of specialized dockets for the Supreme Court of Ohio. Prior to that, Hall served as executive director of the Fairfield County Board of Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services for 21 years. 
 
Hall is a public health analyst and consultant for the Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and as a consultant to the National Emerging Threats Initiative, a National HIDTA Program. The national program, part of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, provides assistance to federal, state and local law enforcement in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions in the U.S. The OHIO HIDTA’s mission is to reduce drug availability by creating intelligence-driven task forces aimed at eliminating or reducing drug trafficking and its harmful consequences through enhancing and helping to coordinate drug trafficking control efforts among Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

He is also the research lead for the Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health, a statewide collaboration organized to address pressing population health issues in Ohio.

Stay tuned for more information on this program, happening from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. June 12!

Buckeye Crime Writers interview with Grace Topping

By Connie Berry

Recently I was asked in an interview to give my best advice to new writers. Part of my answer went like this: “Attend conferences if you can afford it. Make connections with other writers, both published and unpublished. They will become your advocates and encouragers.” This is certainly true for Grace Topping, the USA Today best-selling and Agatha-nominated author of the Laura Bishop Home Staging Mysteries. We met through Carolyn Melvin, another Buckeye Crime Writer, at Malice Domestic in 2014. We were both unpublished at the time and almost instantly became great friends. Our first books came out around the same time. We regularly read and comment on each other’s work. Grace is someone I can count on for sound advice and encouragement. Her latest, Upstaged by Murder was released in April.

Upstaged by Murder/Grace Topping

When professional home stager Laura Bishop enters a competition to become the next TV home staging star, she figures it will be murder — but she doesn’t expect it to include a body. As tensions rise and rivalries rage, a coded notebook flips the script and Laura’s on the case.

But she’s not alone. Her closest confidantes pitch in by sleuthing, eavesdropping, and even staging a sting to protect those near and dear. Yet she’s still corralling a runaway teen, sparring with a handsome detective, and handling the shock of her life with a blast from her past. All while creating a cozy cabin retreat fit for first place.

Amidst constant cameras and glaring lights, Laura tries to style the stage and pull back the curtain on a killer before her career — and her life — get cut.

Welcome to Buckeye Crime Writers, Grace! Since our journeys to publication have taken similar paths, I’m especially interested to ask you about your experiences.

CONNIE: First, I know you were a technical writer for years. How did you make the switch to writing fiction — and mysteries in particular?

GRACE: As a technical writer, I wrote all kinds of deathly boring things like policy, procedures, speeches, and instructions on how to operate complex computer systems. It didn’t get more exciting than that. I realized one day that although I had written about a wealth of things, most of it was now occupying a landfill somewhere. That was rather disheartening. I wanted something I had worked on to have a longer life than that. Then a friend invited me to go with her to Malice Domestic, a conference for fans and writers of traditional mysteries. I had long been a mystery reader, but I’d never heard of Malice. When I read the names of the authors who would be there, I couldn’t sign up fast enough. Hearing them speak, I discovered they were everyday people who set out to write something they hoped people would read. It made me wonder if I could do the same. I had always loved mysteries, so I decided to write one. The seeds to my becoming a mystery writer were planted at Malice.

CONNIE: It seems to me that technical writing and fiction writing must require different skills. What was the most difficult part of making that switch, and what is the one skill you really had to work at?

GRACE: I had been accustomed to writing very lean — to get to the heart of the matter and give people only the information they needed. Nothing else. So after taking a course at my local community college on writing mysteries, I wrote a complete mystery, with a sum total of 45,000 words. Less than half of what I would need to get it published. I quickly learned that I needed to include a lot more. Over the years, the plot and structure of that mystery stayed the same, but I learned to add description, emotion, and impressions — the things that flesh out a book. To make it less plot driven and more character driven.

CONNIE: Since you’ve now finished three books in the Laura Bishop home staging series, I’m interested to learn how you keep track of all the little details of character, setting, and plot? Do you have what some writers call a “bible” to check?

GRACE: I keep a list of details from each book, but it is so easy to start writing and not refer to it. You think you are going to remember all the details, but you don’t. In my first book, my main character sold her Volvo to help finance her new home staging business. In the second book I referred to the car as a Mercedes. Later, that didn’t sound right, and sure enough, when I checked my book “bible,” I saw it had been a Volvo. Fortunately, I caught it before publication.

Sometimes things get past me and even past my editor. In the first book, I called a local shop Antiques and Other Stuff. In the following book, I mistakenly called it Antiques and Other Things. Fortunately, I liked the new name better. It does make me wonder if any reader has noticed. So, rule number one: keep a book bible. Rule number two: refer to it. Don’t rely on your memory.

CONNIE: You have a busy life outside of writing with your husband, two daughters, a grandchild, a large circle of friends. What is your secret to a balanced life? Do you have a writing routine that you stick to?

GRACE: If someone has found the best way to balance writing and everything else, I wish they would tell me. It’s a hard balance. First, I take care of the things for my family and friends, which has absorbed a lot of my time over the past two years. For my most recent two books, that left me facing the crunch of meeting contract deadlines with little time to write them. So although I have a year between books, I’ve ended up writing them very quickly in four or five months. Having a contract deadline is a great motivator to write every day. So my routine during that time included sitting in front of my computer late into the evening instead of reading or watching television. With things somewhat more settled in my life now, I’m hoping to do better with my next book. We’ll see.

CONNIE: How would you advise writers today who are hoping to get published? What is the most important thing you did for your career as a prepublished writer?

GRACE: I took me ten years of writing off and on to finally get published, so there are many things I learned along the way I could advise writers about. Things like learning your craft, joining writers groups, don’t give up, etc. But the most important thing I learned was to take time to make sure my manuscript was really ready for submission — not to submit it to agents or publishers before it received feedback from other writers and was thoroughly edited. I learned this the hard way by submitting an early manuscript to my dream agents and receiving rejections pretty quickly. Most agents, once they have rejected your work, won’t look at it again, no matter how much more you’ve worked on it. Looking back, I’m so thankful none of them published it. After receiving those rejections, I realized I had a lot to learn. Each time I learned something new, I revised and renumbered my manuscript. I was up to 38 versions (minor and major) by the time my first book was published.

If I could add one more thing — find what works for you. I spent years writing in third person. It was only when I switched to first person that my writing came alive. I wish I had discovered that a lot sooner.

CONNIE: I know you’ve just launched your newest book, Upstaged by Murder. Is it too soon to ask you about your plans for the future?

GRACE: Upstaged by Murder came out in April, and it fulfilled a three-book contract with my publisher. Since the publisher’s future is somewhat in question, I don’t know if I will be writing any more books for them. So I have to decide whether to find a publisher who will take on my existing series, independently publish a new book in that series, or interest a publisher in a new series. Until I make a decision, I’m focusing on promoting my current books and may try my hand at writing short stories, which is harder than it sounds.  

CONNIE: Best of luck with your writing, Grace. Thanks so much for stopping by Buckeye Crime Writers!

Grace Topping

Grace Topping is an Agatha Award finalist and the USA Today bestselling author of the Laura Bishop home staging cozy mystery series. She’s a recovering technical writer and IT project manager accustomed to writing lean, boring documents. Let loose to write fiction, she’s now killing off characters who remind her of people she dealt with during her career. She is the former VP of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, the Membership Guppy of the SINC Guppy Chapter, and a member of Mystery Writers of America.

Coming in May: Author Steve Goble

Steve Goble

For our May 15 meeting, be sure to join us as we chat with Ohio author Steve Goble!

Update: To view the session, click this link and use the passcode 4S9Y%kMq. Please note, this will only be available for about a week.

Steve Goble is a mystery writer based in Ashland, Ohio. His first series, the Spider John mystery series, focuses on a reluctant pirate trying to solve murders in the cutthroat world of piracy. The first three novels, “The Bloody Black Flag,” “The Devil’s Wind” and “A Bottle of Rum,” are all still available, and the latest, “Pieces of Eight,” released in March.

Steve’s second series is a very different one, focusing on small-town detective Ed Runyon. This modern-day, hardboiled series features a detective in rural Ohio. The first novel, “City Problems,” releases in July. Best-selling author William Kent Krueger called it “an authentic, compelling story of a rural cop with a haunted past,” adding “the stunning, profane prose should be savored.”

City Problems/Steve Goble

Steve doesn’t confine his writing to mysteries, however. Other topics he writes about include beer, Godzilla, politics, James Bond, comic books, movies, music, zen, science, pop culture and just plain weird stuff.

He is a former journalist who now works for a digital investigations and cybersecurity firm.

For more information, follow Steve on Twitter @Steve_Goble or visit his website at https://stevegoblefiction.wordpress.com/.

Our meeting will be held via Zoom from 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. May 15.

Pieces of Eight/Steve Goble

BCW Member Dan Stout’s New Book Release, Titan Song

Interview by Eileen Curley Hammond

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.

Dan Stout

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/Dan Stout

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.

BCW interview with Edith Maxwell

April 2021/By Connie Berry

Edith Maxwell

When I want to impress a fellow mystery writer, I tell them Edith Maxwell and I are cousins. It’s perfectly true, although in the interest of full disclosure, the connection on my side runs through my husband’s brother’s wife’s family and on Edith’s side, through some distant Maxwell relatives. I’m not sure we could map it out on paper if we tried.

Nevertheless, I’ve loved getting to know this talented and prolific writer. Edith is the author of five series (I’m impressed!). In 2020, Charity’s Burden, fourth in her Quaker Midwife series, won the Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel. She’s a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

Recently I had an opportunity to ask Edith a few questions about her journey to publication and her writing process.

CONNIE: Welcome to Buckeye Crime Writers, Edith. Thanks for taking the time to chat. The first thing I’d like to know is how long you’ve been writing. When was your first book published, and has your writing changed over the years?

A Changing Light/Edith Maxwell

EDITH: First, thank you, Connie, for inviting me to be the Buckeye Crime Writers’ guest today!

The long answer is that I’ve been writing since I was a child churning out short stories. I even won a two-dollar prize for “The Viking Girl” from the Pasadena Star News when I was nine. I kept writing as an adult, but not fiction. I didn’t start writing mysteries until 1994 when my younger son went off to kindergarten and for the first time in a long time I had every morning to myself.

My first mystery was published in 2012, two months before my sixtieth birthday. Since then I hope (and believe) my writing has improved. I have a better sense of pacing, of writing more eloquently, of being more sensitive to my characters’ secrets and paths. My novels tend to be fairly upbeat, but I like to go darker in short stories with stories of murderous revenge and villainous narrators.

I’m a bit stunned that I just sent in my twenty-eighth mystery (Batter Off Dead, written as Maddie Day) and that my twenty-fourth, the historical A Changing Light, releases this month. What a wonderful ride I’m on.

CONNIE: Twenty-eight books is quite an achievement. I’m interested in your process. Do you plot out your books in advance? If you do, is there a particular method you use?

EDITH: By nature I write into the headlights, but my Kensington editor wants a synopsis before I start the next book. I never send him as much as he wants, but it can be helpful if I ever lose my way as I’m writing. That’s rare, but it does happen. I write in Scrivener, and the most plotting I do is setting up the next two or three scenes.

CONNIE: Have you ever self-published a book? Do you have advice for writers who would like to go in that direction?

EDITH: I self-reissued a few short stories that had been published in juried anthologies and to which I had the rights back. Then my first four Quaker Midwife mysteries were orphaned by Midnight Ink, with the rights reverting to me in September. I realized this winter the ebooks had also gone poof. I found a good but affordable cover artist and self-published them. I haven’t yet done the print editions and am not sure I will.

Self-publishing involves mechanics, distribution, and getting the news out. I went through Smashwords, but authors can go directly to KDP or elsewhere. It’s important to have a cleanly formatted manuscript.

For my books, I already had an audience. At this point in my career, I wouldn’t consider self-publishing a new series. My first and third books came out from a micro-press, and it was very hard to get those books in front of readers’ eyes. Bigger publishers help with publicity, their pre-press catalogs are widely seen, and they ship the books to every bookstore in the country on or before release day. This can make or break a book.

CONNIE: How did you get the idea for your Quaker Midwife series? I know you and your protagonist, Rose Carroll, both live in Amesbury, Massachusetts (although 130+ years apart). How much of you is in Rose?

EDITH: I love my town’s rich history, and I have a background in teaching independent childbirth classes and doing labor support. It made sense to put all that together. Rose gets her Quaker practice and beliefs from me. Otherwise, she’s taller, younger, and way calmer than I am. And I was a never a midwife, by choice.

CONNIE: What is the one thing you wish you’d known starting out?

EDITH: I wish someone had told me not to settle. If you’re having trouble finding an agent or a publisher for a book, the book probably isn’t ready. It might be time to start writing a new book rather than trying to sell (or self-publish) one that no one wants.

CONNIE: What advice would you give to emerging writers?

EDITH: Just write. You can’t fix what you haven’t written. Write your best book and make it better. To do that, find your tribe – like Sisters in Crime. Learn from them (especially the Guppies), take classes, revise, polish, and revise some more. And never stop writing, fitting it into your life where and when you can.

CONNIE: Excellent advice, Edith. I agree. Learning craft is key. Today, especially in the Age of Zoom, we have so many free or near-free opportunities to learn and grow as a writer. Best of luck with the April launch of A Changing Light. I hope we can catch up some day in person—maybe at New England Crime Bake or Malice Domestic. Thanks so much for visiting Buckeye Crime Writers.

ABOUT EDITH MAXWELL: Agatha Award-winning author Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, the Local Foods Mysteries, and short crime fiction. As Maddie Day she pens the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Maxwell is a member of Mystery Writers of America and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. She lives with her beau and energizer kitten north of Boston, where she writes, gardens, cooks, and wastes time on Facebook, and hopes you’ll find her at Edith M. Maxwell and Maddie Day. Please find me (and Maddie) at EdithMaxwell.com, wickedauthors.com, Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, and on social media.

April meeting: Book Brush demo

Ever heard of Book Brush?

Book Brush is the easiest way to create professional ads and social media images for your books. 

EDIT: The recording of this meeting can be found here.

Join Kathleen Sweeney from Book Brush on Saturday, April 17 for a fun live walk-through of the Book Brush tools. Get ready to embrace the marketing side of writing and see why authors say Book Brush saves them both time and money! Learn how easy it is to use Book Brush to create your own eye-catching marketing images, design book covers and all things social media. Plus explore video effects, box set images, animation and more! Kathleen will share handy tips & tricks along the way and have time for Q & A, too.

Here’s a sample of what Book Brush (and you) can do: 

Many Easy to Use Options

Everything you need takes just a few clicks.

Kathleen is the manager of marketing and customer service at Book Brush. She has over 19 years of client service and business assurance experience. She thoroughly enjoys working with authors and helping them create eye-catching images. She lives in central Illinois with her husband and three busy boys. Her hobbies include reading and turning socks right side out.

Member book release: Alicia Anthony’s Fractals

Interview by Kandy Williams

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.”

Interview with Ellen Byron

by Connie Berry (March 2021)

Will we ever attend writers’ and fans’ conferences again? I sure hope so. Conferences and workshops are a wonderful way to meet fellow writers, make friends, and learn about the craft of writing and the mysterious world of publishing.

Ellen Byron

I met Ellen Byron in the spring of 2016 when we shared a car from Reagan International Airport to our hotel in Bethesda, MD, for Malice Domestic, the annual conference of mystery writers and fans. I was an unpublished author at the time. Ellen’s first novel in the Cajun Country series, Plantation Shudders, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. To say I was impressed would be like saying Elizabeth Bennet didn’t hate Pemberley. Since then, Ellen has given me great advice, and I’ve loved watching her success. She’s funny, smart, kind, energetic, talented, and completely genuine. My favorite memory is sitting at her table at the Malice banquet when the third book in her series, Marti Gras Murder, won the Agatha for Best Contemporary Mystery. She was ecstatic — and completely shocked.

Since Ellen has been something of a mentor to me, I thought others might like hearing her story.

CONNIE: Ellen, thank so much for agreeing to let us in on the secret of your success. TALENT, of course. But you come from a successful career as a TV writer. Can you tell us a little about that and why you decided to transition to novel-writing?

ELLEN: It wasn’t a conscious choice. I had a big lull between TV projects. A friend started a writers’ group for four of us, and I decided to challenge myself to write what I loved to read — mysteries. I wrote my first book during that lull (otherwise known as unemployment!), and it won a William F. Deeck Malice Domestic Grant for unpublished writers. It never sold, but it landed me a book agent. After a nine-month search, and while it was on submission, I wrote Plantation Shudders, which became the first book in my Cajun Country Mystery series. Which leads to a piece of advice: if you’re lucky enough to have a book out on sub to publishers, spend the time you’re waiting to hear from them writing another book.

CONNIE: Great advice, Ellen, because when you’re under contract, the book and the necessary marketing/publicity become a black hole of time. I was a non-fiction writer first and found the transition to fiction challenging. How did your background in television help you or hinder you in writing cozy mysteries?

ELLEN: I think it helped me. I’m a plotter. I need to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. I think this is a holdover from TV, where you cannot move to script until layers of execs and showrunners sign off on your outline. In commercial IV, you have to end a scene before a commercial break with a beat that will guarantee viewers don’t change the channel. Because I’m trained to do this, it’s instinctual for me to do it with my chapter breaks. Also, I learned all about ways to add humor to a manuscript.

CONNIE: You’ve been an advocate for the “cozy mystery.” Could you give us a brief description and tell us why you choose that sub-genre? Have you ever thought about writing suspense or another genre?

ELLEN: I actually have a mystery/suspense I’m in the final stages of writing. As for cozies, the most common description is: mysteries with an amateur sleuth where there’s little bad language, sex, and no graphic violence. And justice is served. In addition to the usual Agatha Christie diet, I read a lot of historical and traditional mysteries. I didn’t know what a cozy was until after I’d written one! I think I gravitate in general to the “justice is served” angle. Reading is an escape for me. I don’t want to be haunted and upset by what I read. It’s comfort food. I made the mistake of reading a suspense book/thriller where teen girls were brutally tortured and murdered. I was trying to broaden my mystery reading to other genres. Big mistake. I still can’t get those images out of my head. Life can be dark and stressful enough. I don’t need that in my reading material.

CONNIE: I agree. I remember reading a series one summer about a female medical examiner/forensic pathologist until I got to one (forgot the title) that was so horrific it literally freaked me out. My husband was out of town at the time, so I locked all the doors and windows, even my bedroom door, and lay awake for hours in the stifling heat. Nope — not going to put myself through that again. Let’s turn to a happier topic! You’ve won multiple awards for your humor. Can humor be learned, or do you have to be naturally funny to pull it off?

ELLEN: I’ve learned watching actors without comic timing kill my scripts, so I’d say people either have a comic instinct or they don’t. BUT people started asking me if I could do a workshop where I teach comedy techniques. My first thought was you can’t teach people how to be funny. Then I started thinking about it in more depth, and I realized you can teach people simple ways to find and mine humor — quick hack; end a sentence on a funny word (don’t bury it in the middle) — and look for opportunities to add humor to their work.

CONNIE: Based on your own journey to publication, what advice would you give to pre-published crime writers?

ELLEN: Become part of the mystery community, which everyone here is already doing by joining your local SinC chapter. Find a couple of people you respect and trust them to be your beta readers. Learn how to apply feedback in the best way for your work, which may mean not taking a direct note but addressing the heart of it. Be patient. Keep learning. Keep writing.

CONNIE: Thanks again, Ellen, for sharing your experiences. Best of luck in the future!

BIO: Ellen’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won the Agatha award for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty awards for Best Humorous Mystery. She writes the Catering Hall Mystery series, which are inspired by her real life, under the name Maria DiRico. Ellen is an award-winning playwright, and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly Odd Parents. She has written over two hundred articles for national magazines but considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart.

Long Island Iced Tina

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