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.

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


Facebook: Ellen Byron, Catering Hall Mysteries


BCW interview with Bruce Robert Coffin

Feb. 2021

By Connie Berry

Bruce Robert Coffin

I met Bruce Coffin for the first time at Malice Domestic in 2016 after his first Detective John Byron crime novel, Among the Shadows, was released. To tell the truth, I was a bit awe-struck, especially with his background as a detective sergeant focusing on homicide and violent crime. He was (and still is) the real deal. Since then he’s gone on to publish three more books in the series to critical acclaim. The latest, Within Plain Sight, has been called “witty,” “exceptional,” with “flawless prose” and a plot that “will keep you guessing until the final bullet-riddled revelation.” Bruce was kind enough to answer a few questions about his journey from police officer to award-winning crime novelist.

Bruce, how did that happen, and how did you learn your craft?

Thank you so much, Connie! The truth is I was a novelist in waiting who spent nearly three decades as a police officer. Long story short, following a less than inspirational experience in a college writing class, I made the decision to follow in my uncle’s law enforcement footsteps. As the years passed, I honestly believed I would never return to writing. In 2012 my passion for writing returned in part because my wife gifted me with an iPad. I was like a kid with a new toy. The iPad was like a portable typewriter. Better still, I could type without need of correction tape or Whiteout. After that it didn’t take long before I was creating and spending time with my imaginary friends again.

How long did it take you to write that first novel? And since we share an agent, Paula Munier of Talcott Notch, how long did it take to sell the series?

Bestselling spy novelist Gayle Lynds once said to me, “One day they’ll call you an overnight success, but you and I will know how many years that really takes.” I spent two and a half years writing a drawer novel titled DEATH WATCH. Honestly, it was terrible. But I learned so much from writing that bad novel. And I used that knowledge to write another, THE REAPING. On the strength of that second novel, Paula Munier offered to represent me. I signed an agreement with Talcott Notch in November of 2015. By December we had interest from two major houses, and in February 2016 we agreed on a three-book deal with HarperCollins. THE REAPING became AMONG THE SHADOWS and was released in September 2016 as the first in the Detective Byron mystery series. In truth, my overnight success took more than four and a half years, two novel-length manuscripts, more rewrites than I can count, great advice from fellow authors, and a fabulous literary agent, to achieve.

I can identify! Except I refused to let that first terrible novel go and finally wrestled it into something I could sell. I’m interested in your police background. Most crime writers don’t have your experience.  How much of you and your experiences end up on the pages of your novels?

There is no question that my experiences greatly inform my writing. As a crime fiction author I couldn’t have picked a better prior career. And not just the procedural aspect. I draw heavily on all of my experiences. From human interactions, stressful situations, life, death, and everything in between. During my career I felt as though I had given up writing to do something else. I now realize that what I was actually doing was research. Some folks take the road less traveled. I opted for the long way home, and it has made all the difference.

What advice do you have for aspiring crime writers in today’s publishing world?

Publishing is a tough business. The landscape is forever changing. Nobody really knows what will be in demand next year, or even ten years from now. If your only reason for writing is publication, you’re in the wrong business. Publication can certainly be a goal, but it shouldn’t be the reason. I write is because I love doing it. Telling stories and playing make-believe inside my own head is such a cool concept. My stories provide me with an escape from real world troubles. Hopefully — if I’ve done my job well — they’ll provide that same escape for all who read them. Never give up or lose sight of your goal, but remember to enjoy the act of writing, and enjoy the journey.

That’s wonderful advice. Thank you so much, Bruce, and best of luck in all your future writing.

Bruce Robert Coffin is the award-winning author of the Detective Byron mysteries. A former detective sergeant, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine’s largest city. Following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, Bruce spent four years investigating counter-terrorism cases for the FBI, earning the Director’s Award, the highest award a non-agent can receive. His short fiction appears in a number of anthologies, including Best American Mystery Stories 2016. You can find him at www.brucerobertcoffin.com.

Within Plain Sight – Bruce Robert Coffin