Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Why Private Passions Aren't Merely Writing Distractions!

By Vicki Weisfeld

The most frequent lament I hear from people who write (or want to) is “not enough time,” and I get that. A chronic time shortage has forced me into becoming a miner and a recycler. Whatever else I’m doing besides writing has to contribute in some way to my creative output. My interest in family history may seem too particular for this purpose, but it’s helped me in at least three ways.

Any topic you delve into deeply can improve your research skills. Perhaps you’re interested in botany or in the behavior of sharks. Whatever you know about them lurks somewhere in your brain, ready to be laid on the page when your fiction requires it. Meanwhile, the techniques of factual, photo, and geographic research, such as those I’ve developed working on my family history, have made the research I do for fiction both more creative and efficient.

The kind of family history I create is not merely a “tree of facts.” It tries to answer the question, What were their lives like? This is great practice for writing about fictional characters whose worlds I haven’t directly experienced. I’m a middle-class white broad. I won’t ever know exactly what it’s like to be a rural deputy sheriff, a small-town police detective, a big city architect. But my practice in imagining the lives of past family members has helped me isolate the conflicts and choices people in other situations face. These recreations can contribute to deeply imagined, authentic backgrounds for my characters if I absorb their power and make them mine.

Stories From My Family
What a lode of human stories I’ve uncovered! On my mother’s side of the family are ancestors who settled in Massachusetts when only a few hundred Europeans were there, some who stole Indian lands, brothers who served on different sides in the Civil War, a preacher who died on an Oklahoma Indian reservation. Smithville, Texas, is named for my great-great grandfather, who won the right to name the town in a coin toss.

My father’s family includes Hungarian immigrants who came to America in the early 20th century to settle in the industrial heartland, an uncle who “had a different father” from the other children, and rumors of the violence that resulted.

Mining Others’ Family Stories
But, you say, you don’t have the time or inclination to delve into your family’s past. The minutiae of family history may still help you.

What makes a set of old records useful to researchers? Digitization. Before the typewriter (1860), all records were written completely by hand. Nearly a hundred years later, the key information on many public records was still hand-written on printed forms.

To speed the massive task of digitizing these records, the free online resource FamilySearch encourages volunteers from around the world to help. Last year, in one weekend, some 116,475 people, including me, indexed more than 10 million records in multiple languages.

I entered data from hundreds of Kentucky marriage records from the 1930s and 1940s, as well as some from the 1880s—before clerks even used consistent forms. I also worked on English probate records for hundreds of people named Cox.

This work was a goldmine of plot ideas. Reading between the lines of the marriage records were some real heart-breakers. Many Ohio couples were married in the border counties of Kentucky, which had no waiting period from license to ceremony. Need for speed. Some were married by Justices of the Peace, and some in “police court.” Eyebrows raised. Notes on some records said “Please Do Not Publish.” Juicy conjecture.

On one day, a rural Ohio man divested himself of two daughters, ages 17 and 19, to U.S. Air Force men from California. You can’t help but wonder whether these fellows turned out to be as glamorous as their new wives probably believed. A few brides were only 16 and one was 15—the groom an Air Force man, age 24—with the ceremony witnessed by “John Smith (the bride’s father) and James Smith,” in my mind’s eye, holding the shotgun. In the 1880 records, many men signed their marriage licenses with an x (“his mark”); by 1950, I encountered only one record where the groom could not write his name.

The English probate records were equally tantalizing. One told how Arnold Cox, dentist, left his estate of £54 to Maude Cox, spinster (his sister?). To spend your life as a village dentist and die with only £54 to show for it seems more than a little sad. How’d that happen? I was intrigued by the number of Coxes from northern England who left bequests to Archie Cox, chemist. You’ll recall that in England a chemist is a pharmacist, and I wondered whether our Archie might have helped some of his ancient and ailing relatives along a bit.

So—research skills, empathy development, and story ideas—invaluable resources for fiction writing. Best of all, I need never feel guilty for the time I spend on family history.

Vicki Weisfeld is an award-winning short story writer with an active website (http://www.vweisfeld.com) that includes book, theater, and movie reviews, travel tips, and posts about both the creative and business side of writing. She’s also a reviewer for CrimeFictionLover.com, a UK website.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A World of Writing Inspiration by Maggie King

Where do I get my inspiration? That’s the top question I get from readers. The short answer: everywhere. Frequently ideas are a collage of memories and characters from my life (or someone else’s life) to which I add a hefty measure of my fertile imagination. If the resulting story was a painting, it would resemble a Picasso.
In my acknowledgments for Murder at the Book Group, #1 in my Hazel Rose Book Group series, I thank my interesting family and friends for gifting me with story ideas for years to come. And let me add my well-honed eavesdropping habit to this gratitude list while I’m at it. It doesn’t matter if I understand the context of what I hear—in fact, it’s better if I don’t.

Social media is a gold mine of inspiration, a modern day gathering around the water cooler. It seems like everyone has something to say (some way too much). And, as I’m a fiction writer, I don’t have to worry about “fake news.”

Advice columns give me wonderful ideas. Consider the letter from the woman whose boyfriend was spying on her social media accounts; and the distraught man whose wife had an “emotional” affair with his best friend.

What inspired Murder at the Book Group? Book groups, naturally. Book groups have a special dynamic and the members can be fascinating to observe. In this story, I explore the decisions we might make as we stand at a crossroads in our lives. I’m intrigued by choices and how so many of us don’t consider the full range of consequences that can follow our decisions and actions.

Last November, I shared my inspiration for Murder at the Moonshine Inn, #2 in my Hazel Rose Book Group series, on Marilyn’s blog. You may view it here: https://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/2016/11/what-inspired-me-to-write-murder-at.html

I’ve also penned short stories. My first published work is “A Not So Genteel Murder,” included in the Virginia is for Mysteries anthology. Virginia landmarks were the theme and I picked Richmond’s venerable Kent-Valentine House, headquarters for the Garden Club of Virginia. But the tale of betrayal, loss, and the power of family ties that I set there was solely based on my imagination.

“Reunion in Shockoe Slip” is a what-if story that I contributed to the Virginia is for Mysteries Vol. 2 anthology. Nancy and Roger were lovers thirty years before in sunny Southern California and meet again at a book signing in Richmond’s historic Shockoe Slip. Many of us have someone in our past who we’d just as soon leave in the past. But what if we see the person again after much time has gone by? Maybe we share pictures of our grandkids, pets, or milestone anniversary. Or, maybe things go very, very wrong.
I wrote “Wine, Women, and Wrong” for the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology. 

Ever since he devoured the Hardy Boys adventures as a child, Tommy Bradshaw has wanted to solve a mystery. When a wine merchant is stabbed at a fundraiser in Richmond, Virginia, Tommy gets his chance. He finds that detecting isn’t as easy as it is in books. Plus Tommy is besieged by women: the glamorous and sexy oenophile who’s hell-bent on seducing him; and the cop who would love to woo him away from his love interest.

The submission requirements for “Wine, Women, and Wrong” were few: mention the word cabernet at least once, keep the word count at 5000-7000 words, and strive for a light-hearted tone. I attend an annual wine tasting fundraiser and I drew on that experience (I never witnessed an attempted murder, though). Reflection on the romantic choices we make, for better or worse, provided additional inspiration.
I don’t expect that the ideas will stop anytime soon!


Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She has contributed stories to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies and to the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology.

Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor. Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive. She enjoys reading, walking, movies, traveling, theatre, and museums.

Website: http://www.maggieking.com

Buy links:
Murder at the Book Group: http://amzn.to/2txXsAD
Murder at the Moonshine Inn: http://amzn.to/2dtozWa
Virginia is for Mysteries: http://amzn.to/2vf0G9E
Virginia is for Mysteries, Vol. 2: http://amzn.to/2vyShgD
50 Shades of Cabernet: http://amzn.to/2nqFxEy

Friday, July 21, 2017


 I’m sitting in a coffee shop trying to figure out what to write about this month. All around me are people sipping java or tea, munching bagels, meeting friends, talking on phones—and it hits me.

I am looking in at the goldfish bowl.

For example, already today I eavesdropped on three friends who meet every two months to discuss a book, like a mini book club. While I couldn’t see the title of the one they are reading, it seemed to be full of witticisms, observations, and helpful insights. For example, one was about Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. He married 1,000 women, which were his downfall. So if a man doesn’t marry 1,000 women, he’ll already be smarter than the wisest man who ever lived.

Later there was a table of older women gathering tables from near and far, even settling for round tables, to get enough seating for their group of about 20 women. Along comes one woman with a little girl, maybe about 4 or so. And I got to wondering if this older woman was the grandmother—or the mother. And plot ideas sprang forth immediately.

A few days ago, at a table nearby, sat a Middle Eastern man and two women. Sometimes they spoke in English, sometimes in another language that sounded Arabic. Sometimes they mixed their sentences together, using English words in the middle of a sentence with this other language. For example, I heard the word ‘embassy’ and ‘must be careful’ in the midst of other words I couldn’t understand. Got me thinking about a suspense plot. Not just because they were from the Middle East, but because of the words themselves.

Every Monday when I am here, there is a woman sitting nearby who is a counselor of some kind. I’ve heard her talking to a client on the phone about an issue the client was going through. Not details, but I saw this counselor’s demeanor change from the way she looked when she was typing on her laptop—doing right-brain work—to the way her face softened and her posture relaxed as she talked to her client—left-brain work. She’d make a good character where I could show both sides of her at work.

Right now there is a couple sitting next to me who are speaking Chinese, perhaps. I don’t understand a word they are saying, but they’ve been very animated at times, voices raised, hand gestures, smiles. Are they planning a business move? To buy a house? Get a cat? Have another child in contravention of China’s one-child law? What if one of the couple wants to return to China, but the other doesn’t? Will that impact their decision?

Sitting in a coffee shop may sound like a waste of time. Usually I come here just to get away from the laundry or to meet fellow writers. But perhaps I need this unique stimulation to get the old grey cells, as Hercule Poirot would say, working.

Do you write in a setting other than your home or office? If so, where? How often? And why?

Author Bio:

Leeann Betts writes contemporary suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical suspense. She has released five titles in her cozy mystery series, By the Numbers, with Hidden Assets released the end of June. In addition, Leeann has written a devotional for accountants, bookkeepers, and financial folk, Counting the Days, and with her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, has published a book on writing, Nuggets of Writing Gold, a compilation of essays, articles, and exercises on the craft. She publishes a free quarterly newsletter that includes a book review and articles on writing and books of interest to readers and writers. You can subscribe at www.LeeannBetts.com or follow Leeann at www.AllBettsAreOff.wordpress.com All books are available on Amazon.com in digital and print, and at Smashwords.com in digital format.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Some Thoughts on Library Presentations by Marilyn Meredith

Our presentation in the Saroyan Gallery, I was pondering a question asked by an attendee.

This year I've done more library presentations than ever before. Have another coming up on July 22 at the Fowler Library, 306 So. 7th St.,  11 a.m., July 22.

I'm never quite sure what I'll tell whoever shows up--a lot depends upon who they are--strictly readers or those who want to write a book.

Usually though I begin telling a bit about myself--always being a writer and story teller (translate as a liar when I was a kid though it didn't feel like lying, just telling a great story.)

I might give some background on how long it took me to get published--I was a grandmother--and some of the things that have happened to me along the way.

My last presentation at the main library downtown Fresno had an interesting array of attendees: a husband and wife who both love mysteries, a woman who writes, a man who wants to write, and several homeless folks. (It was a hot day and the library offers a cool place to rest.)

Among the homeless were two rather disruptive folks, one young, very dirty man who enjoyed walking in front of me and the other speaker while we were talking, and a woman who decided to create a ruckus with the security officer.

My partner at the event, Lorie Lewis Ham, and I ignored all distractions and carried on.

We both shared some writing tips to the want-to-be-writers.

Oh, my daughter-in-law who drove us, granddaughter and her two little girls were also in the audience. The little ones behaved far better than the two I mentioned earlier.

We did sell some books too--always a nice surprise. And I had fun with the family members who came along with me.


Here I'm talking about my books.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Bronx Justice by Bob Martin

Since Bronx Justice was published, I’ve been asked many times how I made the transition from cop to writer. 

The book is based on a case I worked as a captain with the Bronx Homicide Squad in 1990. We had a group of white, wanna-be-wise guys, dubbed “The Cowboys” by our detectives, team up with a black drug gang, "The Crew." Rival drug dealers would be targeted. 

The Cowboys, impersonating plainclothes police officers, would “arrest,” read, kidnap the dealers. Ransom demands were made. If paid, the victim was cut loose. If not paid, a bullet in the head and another body dumped on a Bronx street.

The year 1990 saw a record 2,605 homicides in New York City, with the Bronx alone recording over 600 murders. This was the height of the “Crack Wars.” With some outstanding work by a team of dedicated detectives, the case was solved and all the perps were convicted in federal court. Years later, as I continued to share this story, people kept telling me, “That would make a great book.” I agreed, and after sixteen years of starts and stops I finally wrote the story

My writing journey began with a story I did about legendary Queens Homicide Lieutenant, Dan Kelly. He had been doing homicide work in Queens for over thirty years when I became his boss in 1989. I was pursuing my college degree at the time and taking a course called, NYPD History. I entered the squad one night as Dan was discussing a homicide he had worked in October, 1963. As I listened, I thought, "JFK was President, I was a high school freshman, Dan was working homicides!" 

I interviewed Dan for a term paper. My teacher, an ex cop thought the piece was good enough to get published, and in 1991 it appeared in The Badge magazine. I have had numerous articles published in various newspapers and magazines. 

In 1999 my “The Joint Terrorist Task Force-A Concept That Works,” appeared in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Most are personality pieces, law enforcement, terrorism or sports stories. My first writing paycheck came from a story I did for New York Newsday, “A Team and a Family,” published in 2008. Sticking to the concept of “write what you know,” it was a story about the NYPD football team. I was a charter member, played for a dozen years and founded the team’s alumni association, so I was on very familiar ground. 

Most recently I’ve had three law enforcement related Op-Eds published in the New York Post. I am currently working on my next writing project, a series of NYPD short stories, tentatively titled “NYPD-Tales From The Street." 

Bob Martin:

Served with the NYPD for 32 years in a wide variety of commands that included the fabled Tactical Patrol Force (TPF), the Street Crime Unit, Mounted Unit, the 72nd, 69th, 6th Precincts, Queens and Bronx Detectives, and finally as the CO of the Special Investigations Division. Martin was a charter member and played for a dozen years with the NYPD’s Finest Football Team. 

He served for twelve years on the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) “ Committee on Terrorism” and traveled extensively, in this country and abroad, speaking on the subject. He retired as a Deputy Inspector in 2000 and began writing. His stories have been published in numerous magazines and newspapers. Bronx Justice, based on an actual case, is his first novel. He plans to continue his writing career.

 “There are no crime stories quite as good as a New York crime story. With Bronx Justice, Bob Martin adds another good read to that list.”
    Bill Bratton,former NYPD Police Commissioner

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Signing Up for Things by Mar Preston

Of course I know what Amazon is. It’s where I sell all my mysteries and how to write a mystery EBooks.

But Amazon Advantage?  What’s that? It’s the vendor’s side of Amazon. When I got repeated emails from Amazon Advantage to do something about my orders I wondered what now. I’m not selling anything. 

After they’d been hounding me for about a week I waded into Amazon Advantage to straighten it out.

Don’t these kinds of problems just overwhelm you sometimes? I’m condensing about nine phone calls here. Stay with me. Yes, I did self-publish with createspace, an Amazon entity, but they have no relationship with Amazon Advantage and they had no phone number to communicate with them.  

Really? I’m told to call Amazon Advantage. The run around appeared before me.

However, I had one bit of leverage. An unhappy review with createspace. At 6 a.m. this morning a nice fellow from South Africa called to say these orders represented a good thing. They wanted to stock more of my book Rip-Off. It was 3 pm in South Africa. All’s well it seems.

I just now received a notice from Amazon saying my order is on its way.  What order? I shouldn’t have clicked on it without noting it wasn’t an official Amazon address. Now what’s going to happen?
I read these surveys about time spent in traffic or waiting in the lines at DMV. There’s a NYC company that hires people to wait in line.

Don’t you wonder if there’s not good money in setting up a company to make phone calls to deal with things you never signed up for? Who’s with me on this? Maybe it’s my million dollar idea.
If you find yourself on hold sometime and looking for a good read, maybe you’d like to check out Rip-Off set in Santa Monica and featuring a good-hearted SMPD homicide detective.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Room For Doubt, First Chapter--Nancy Silverman


“Excuse me, miss? Are you a model?”

     I was in the cereal aisle at the grocery store with a box of bran
flakes in my hand when I heard the voice behind me. It had been years
since I’d done any modeling, and I wasn’t feeling particularly
glamorous. My hair was in a ponytail, and I was wearing a pair of
sweatpants and a ratty old KCHC t-shirt with a cartoon of a dead
chicken on my chest. The words Radio Road Kill blasted beneath it.
Not exactly the type of thing one wears to make a good first

     “Not in years.” I laughed and turned expecting to find a friendly
face. Grocery stores these days topped bars for places to meet men.
Despite the fact the line was an obvious come on, I was, unfortunately,
once again in the market.

     Instead, the voice belonged to a nice-looking, well-built gym-rat
with a neatly cropped beard. He was about half my age, and worse yet,
he wasn’t talking to me. Not at all. He had cornered a young girl
directly behind me; a twenty-something darling dressed in a skin-tight
running outfit that looked like it had been painted onto her body.

     I smiled apologetically and turned to read the label on the cereal
box. Not that they noticed. Lately, I felt as though I’d become the
invisible woman.

     My name is Carol Childs, I’m a single mom, and I work as a
reporter for a talk radio station in Los Angeles. I was one of those
faceless voices on the airwaves people heard every day. Perhaps that,
and the fact I’d recently turned forty, explained why I was beginning to
feel I blended into the background like wallpaper paste. Few of my
listeners could identify me, and in LA, women over forty simply
weren’t on anyone’s radar. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched,
while I listened to their exchange.

     Gym-rat, with muscled arms like watermelons bulging from
beneath his t-shirt, pressed a business card into Running-girl’s hand.
“You ever want to get into the club, just call.”

     Gym-rat was making a big impression. Running-girl glanced at
the card, hugged it to her chest like she had just won the lottery, then
kissed Gym-rat on the cheek as she tucked the card into her sports bra.

     At that point, I tossed the cereal box into my cart and started up
the aisle. I didn’t give it another thought.

     Until the next day.

My bedroom was still dark when the phone rang. With my head barely
off the pillow, I squinted at the digital clock next to my bed: 5:55 a.m.
Dammit, Tyler, it’s not even five o’clock. New record. I fumbled for the
bedside phone—a requirement the station demanded of all its
reporters—and knocked it to the floor before grabbing the handle.
Nobody else, not even a phone solicitor, would dare to call before

     “Please, Tyler, tell me this isn’t becoming a habit with you.”

     “Sorry, Carol. I need you.”

     On the other end of the line was my boss, Tyler Hunt, a twentyone-
year-old whiz-kid who referred to me as the world’s oldest cub

    “No,” I begged. “Absolutely not. Please, Tyler, not today.”

      Tomorrow was my son’s birthday, and Tyler had promised me the
day off to prepare. On Saturday, Charlie, my youngest, would officially
be sixteen, and I had planned a big surprise party to celebrate. My
daughter, Cate, was coming up from San Diego State. My best friend,
Sheri, her son, Clint, and fourteen members of Charlie’s football team
would all be here. Plus, my ex, Robert, planned stop by with the wife
and Charlie’s new step-brother. No way was I about to get caught up in
anything that would distract me.

     “I need you to take this, Carol. There’s a body up on the
Hollywood Sign.”

     I sat up in bed and pushed the hair out of my face. He had to be
kidding. The Hollywood Sign? Recently a prankster had climbed to the
top of the sign and with tarps and tape lettered it to read Hollyweed. A
pro-cannabis statement for sure.

     “Tyler, if there’s a body on the Hollywood Sign, it’s got to be a
publicity stunt. Something one of the studios is doing for a movie

     “It’s not a stunt, Carol. The police are reporting a man’s naked
body hanging from the sign. It’s for real. I need you up there. Now.