Sunday, April 24, 2016

ROCCO's Josh Pachter

My guest today is author  Josh Pachter!
About the Author:  Josh Pachter’s crime fiction appears regularly in magazines and anthologies. The Tree of Life, a collection of his Mahboob Chaudri stories, was published by Wildside Press last summer, and Styx, a zombie cop novel on which he collaborated with a Belgian colleague, was published by Simon & Schuster in November. He is the assistant dean for communication studies and theater at Northern Virginia Community College's Loudoun Campus, and lives not far from Washington DC with his wife Laurie and their dog Tessa.

  • Welcome Josh! Tell us a little about your background
Thanks ROCCO!  I’m a native New Yorker, and I got my undergrad and graduate degrees in communication studies from the University of Michigan. (Go Blue!)  In 1976, I went to Holland and bought a motorcycle, planning to spend six months tooling around Italy and Greece.  I wound up staying for 15 years, and spent most of that time teaching for the University of Maryland University College on American Army, Navy and Air Force bases in a dozen countries in Europe and the Middle East.  In 1991, just a few months after German Unification, I returned to the US.  After 15 years in Cleveland, I came back to the East Coast and ultimately settled in northern Virginia.  My wife Laurie is a writer/editor for a government agency in DC, my daughter Becca is a county prosecutor in Arizona, and I am the assistant dean for communication studies and theater at Northern Virginia Community College’s Loudoun Campus.
  • Tell us a bit about your Mahboob Chaudri stories. Where did the idea come from?
I’ve been writing for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine since 1968, when — at the age of 16 — I sold a short story to their “Department of First Stories.”  In ’82, UMUC sent me to Bahrain to teach at the US Navy base there.  I was supposed to be in the emirate for four months but stuck around for almost a year.  Bahrain is — or at least was at that time — such a fascinating place that I decided to set a story there.  Because of the tension between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, most of the police force in the country was imported from Pakistan, and I decided to make my main character a Pakistani cop on Bahrain’s Public Security Force.  When I finished the story (“The Dilmun Exchange”), EQMM editor Eleanor Sullivan bought it and asked me to turn the protagonist — Mahboob Chaudri — into a series character.  I continued writing about Mahboob for a few years after moving from Bahrain to what was then West Germany, and Eleanor bought five more stories about him.  There was another one she liked, but it was too long for EQMM and ultimately wound up in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.  In addition to those seven, I wrote three more that were published in other magazines.  So there were a total of 10 stories, all written between 1982 and 1991. Author/critic Bill Pronzini called Mahboob “one of crime fiction’s most delightful new detectives,” and several of the stories were reprinted in Ed Hoch’s annual Year’s Best Mystery and Suspense Stories.  Fast forward a quarter of a century to last year, when publisher John Betancourt of Wildside Press asked me if I’d be willing for him to collect the whole series into a single volume, and I jumped at the chance to share Mahboob with a generation of readers who probably hadn’t previously met him.  I wrote an introduction, and afterwords for each of the 10 stories, and Wildside published the collection in paperback as The Tree of Life and as an e-book titled The Mahboob Chaudri Mystery MEGAPACK.
  • How do you “get to know” your characters
When I first decided to write a story about a Pakistani policeman in Bahrain, I was living right next door to the police barracks in Juffair, where about a hundred Pakistani cops were housed.  I strolled over to the barracks and asked a group of the officers if I could talk with them.  We sat in a circle on the ground, and I started firing hypotheticals at them:  “If I was going to write a story about a Pakistani policeman in Bahrain, what would his name be?  Where would he originally have come from in Pakistan?  Would he be married?  What would his wife’s name be?  Would he have children?”  Their responses came so quickly it seemed like they weren’t even pausing to think about them, and I finally realized that they were answering my hypothetical questions with true statements about their own names and histories and families and lives.  So I took the first name of one of them and the last name of another, the wife’s name of a third and the home town of a fourth and so on, and cobbled together the character who became Mahboob Chaudri.  Of the 100 or so stories I’ve written over the years, he is definitely the character I most feel like I “know.”  Otherwise, I pretty much just make the people in my fiction up….
  • How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
Ah, yes, the “plotter or pantser?” question.  I guess I’m really more of a “titler.”  Almost always — and unlike anyone else I know — I usually begin with a title.  I hear a phrase and think, Hmm, that’s a title for a story.  And then I start thinking about what story could have that title, and I go from there.  For example, for Christmas of 2014 my in-laws gave me a lovely little book called Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World, by Ella Frances Sanders (Ten Speed Press).  As I was leafing through it, I found the phrase “pisan zapra,” which Sanders identifies as a noun in the Malay language, meaning “the amount of time it takes to eat a banana.”  I saw that and a little bell in my head went ding, there’s a title! It seemed obvious that the story had to be set in Malaysia, and it had to begin with a character taking the first bite of a banana and end with the same character taking the last bite of the same banana — and in between first bit and last bite, something criminal had to happen.  The something criminal turned out to be a murder, and the story will be in AHMM later this year.
  • Which do you consider more important, plot or character?
That really depends on the story.  More often than not, though, I think the three key elements for me are location, location, location. I’ve done a lot of traveling, lived outside the US for 15 years, and I often tend to make the settings of my stories every bit as important as their plot and characters.
  • What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
Oscar Wilde once said that he wrote novels when he didn’t have enough time to write short stories.  That was very witty — and it may even have been true for him.  For me, though, the idea of writing a novel is absolutely terrifying.  I’m a community-college teacher and administrator, a husband, a dad, a dog owner, an inveterate traveler, a voracious reader, a translator of fiction and nonfiction from Dutch into English, and all of those things are more important to me by far than writing.  So I don’t really think of myself as a writer.  I’m just a guy who sometimes writes stuff, and who has been fortunate enough to sell most of what he’s written.  In fact, I’ve “retired” from writing twice now, first in the mid-‘70s and then again in 1986 when my daughter was born.  What pulled me out of retirement the first time was being dumped down in Bahrain, where, as interesting as the place was, there really wasn’t an awful lot for me to do.  Then, the second time, my daughter said to me one day, “Boy, Dad, I bet it must have been fun to be able to write professionally.  Too bad you can’t do that any more.”  Of course, after that I had to prove to her that I still can, and for about 10 years after she thus double-dog-dared me, I wrote maybe one new story every other year.  But then last year The Tree of Life came out, and I also got invited to collaborate on Styx, a zombie cop novel, with Belgian writer Bavo Dhooge, and those two things happening pretty much simultaneously seems to have gotten me fired up again: so far this year, I have two of my own stories and three translations coming out in EQMM, “Pisan Zapra” in AHMM, and another new story in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.  
  • What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
I’ve got two new stories in the works right now.  One of them came out of an email exchange I had recently with my old friend Bill Pronzini, and the other one is a story I hope will appear in the December 2018 issue of EQMM, exactly 50 years after my first appearance there.  In that one, which I’m calling “50,” the main character from my first story returns, half a century older, to solve a murder he failed to solve exactly 50 years previously.  I’m also putting together a second story collection for Wildside Press.  Right around the same time I was writing the Chaudri stories, I had an idea for an anthology I wanted to call Partners in Crime.  The concept was that the book would include 15-20 stories, each written by two people working together — and in each case one of the two “partners” would be me.  I was living in Germany at the time, and this was pre anybody other than the Defense Department having access to the internet, so all of the work had to be done via transatlantic snail mail.  I wound up writing about 15 collaborative stories — with Ed Hoch, John Lutz, Dan Marlowe, Patricia McGerr, Stanley Cohen, Jon Breen, Mike Nevins, Michael Avallone, several other people — and most of them were published individually in various magazines and collections, but the Partners in Crime book never happened.  Twenty years later, my daughter Becca and I wrote a story together, which Janet Hutchings published in EQMM’s “Department of First Stories” — making me the only person ever to appear in that section of the magazine twice, first in 1968 and again 41 years later! — and last year Laurie and I wrote a story that was published in The Saturday Evening Post and recently reprinted online in a California e-magazine called Kings River Life.  So now I’m working on a couple more new collaborations — with Dutch author René Appel, with my northern Virginia neighbors and friends Art Taylor and Kathryn O’Sullivan — and I hope to at long last have Partners in Crime ready to appear in print sometime late this year or early in 2017.  I’m also eager to work again with Bavo Dhooge, and with several other Belgian novelist friends, including Bob Van Laerhoven and Dirk Vanderlinden.
  • What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
I don’t have such a thing as a “typical” writing workday or a set number of hours per day or week that I write.  Sometimes a month goes by and I haven’t written a word of fiction.  When an idea strikes, though, I’ll pound the keys six hours a day for a week until I get the thing drafted.
  • If you could take only three books with your for a year-long writing retreat in a gorgeous setting with no library, which three would you take?
Do they have to be books that actually exist?  I’d take the collected works of Ellery Queen (including the four Drury Lane novels), the collected works of P.G. Wodehouse, and a one-volume edition of E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books.  And then I’d probably spend most of the year enjoying the gorgeous setting and wouldn’t do much reading or writing at all….
  • What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
Click here.
  • What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
That’s not a question I’m willing to answer electronically.  You’ll have to buy me three beers and sit with me while I drink them.  About halfway through the third one, I’ll tell you. (The cliché is “but then I’ll have to kill you.”  I’m prepared, however, to promise that I won’t kill you — but, once I tell you, you may want to kill me.  You’ve been warned.)
  • What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I generally mention Laurie’s and my dog Tessa at some point during interviews, so I suppose readers would be surprised to find out that I am deathly, take-me-to-the-emergency-room-and-hook-me-up-to-a-nebulizer allergic to dogs.  If this piques your curiosity, click here. Woof!
  • What question do you wish interviewers would ask? (And what’s the answer?)
“Would you mind, Josh, if I gave you this extra million dollars I happen to have lying around?” (And the answer is — cue Jeopardy theme music — “Why, no, not at all!”)
  •  Where can we learn more about you and your work?
The best way to learn about any writer’s work, IMHO, is by reading it.  And I’m firmly convinced that you’ll learn more if you buy it than if you check it out of the library or download it illegally.  You can buy The Tree of Life here and Styx here.  To learn more about me, explore my website or look me up and buy me those beers….
Just for Fun:
Night or Day?  You are the one.  Only you beneath the moon or under the sun.
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully)  Dog.  My dog.  Her name is Tessa.  I am allergic to every single other dog on the planet — and all cats.  I can’t even look at cat videos on the internet without breaking out in hives.
Beach or Pool?   That’s so situational.  Where exactly are we talking about?  What time of year is it?  Is it a sandy beach or a rocky beach? How clean is the water adjoining the beach?  How warm?  Are there sharks?  How much chlorine is in the pool? All things being to my liking, I’ll take the beach.  But if the water’s polluted and freezing cold and the sharks are equipped with flatware and have napkins tied around their necks, let’s go with the pool.
Steak or salad?    Can I have a steak salad? Or a steak and a side salad? Or a steak and then, for dessert, a fruit salad?
Favorite Drink?  Goombay smash.  That’s coconut rum with equal parts pineapple juice and fresh orange juice.  Preferably on the beach.  In the Bahamas.  With no sharks.
Favorite Book?  That’s a silly question.  You really think I can pick one book?
Favorite TV Series?  Easier, but still.  How can I choose between Seinfeld and M*A*S*H and The Twilight Zone and Sky King and The Soupy Sales Show and The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and Northern Exposure and The Newsroom and Warehouse 13 and Ally McBeal and LA Law and Andy’s Gang?  Please don’t put me in that position.
Favorite Movie?  I teach film appreciation, so now you’re really being annoying.  Can I just say that it isn’t Eraserhead? Or Zulu?
Favorite Actor:  Donald Trump.
Favorite Actress:  Sarah Palin.
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada?  Piña colada.  With a tilde.  But no sharks.
Hawaii or Alaska?  Both.
Finish this sentence:  If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be a really cool superpower to have.  Are you able to confer this ability upon me?
If I had just one wish, it would be tempting to wish for more wishes, but that way lies madness.
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be an offer I could easily refuse.  I like my place, thanks.

Thanks for a great interview, Josh!
Here are all the places you can find him:
Walking my dog Tessa in Herndon, Virginia.
In my office at NOVA-Loudoun.
On the beach, trying to decide between a goombay smash and a piña colada while looking out for sharks.

Josh’s giveaway:
Wildside Press will give the e-book version of The Mahboob Chaudri Mystery Megapack to the first three people who email me with the name on the POW/MIA bracelet worn by Seaman First Class “Bear” Jensen in the Mahboob Chaudri story “The Ivory Beast.”  (Hint:  You can find the answer on my website, as well as an email link.)
Don’t forget to check out Josh’s website for the giveaway!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Guest Post by Dawn Eastman

Welcome our guest poster - DAWN EASTMAN!

Let's give a warm welcome to our guest weekend poster, Dawn Eastman. Dawn is the author of the "Family Fortune" series for Berkley Prime Crime.

Here's Dawn!

Inspired by Fun

Have you heard the “write what you know” advice to writers? I used to wonder how to make the things I know, which seem pretty boring to me, interesting enough for readers. But now I take it to mean that in order to make a fictional world real for the reader, it should be real for the writer. And for me, I also have to be entertained while I’m writing or I just can’t make myself sit in the chair. I started writing the Family Fortune Mysteries five or six years ago. They weren’t called that at the time. I think I referred to the first book as “that reluctant-psychic book.” Clytemnestra (Clyde) Fortune, her mother Rose, and her aunt, Violet appeared one day when I was busy avoiding another book. I had just finished my first full novel – a mystery that was okay, but not great. I felt like taking a break from editing (or completely re-writing) that “practice book.”

Then I heard voices – even though I was alone in the house. I assure you, this is not normal for me. Two older women were discussing what was to be done with a younger family member who was refusing to take their sage advice and join the family business. The young woman piped up saying she had a perfectly excellent career, thank-you-very-much. When I realized that the “family business” was psychic fortune-telling, I was hooked.

Pall in the Family introduces the quirky Fortune family as Clyde returns home to Crystal Haven, Michigan for a “brief” break from her law enforcement career. One thing leads to another, as they do in cozy mysteries, and she stumbles on a murder. That first book was fun to write because I was getting to know the characters – all of whom were weird and eccentric in their own way. I was able to spend time in a fun little town, populated by psychics, wiccans, palm readers, and a few “normal” people. I threw in a couple of dogs, because I can’t imagine life without a dog.

The rest of the series has continued the theme – whatever entertains me, goes in the book. Halloween is my favorite holiday, so Be Careful What You Witch For takes place in late October and begins at a fall festival that could only happen in Crystal Haven. The third book, A Fright to the Death is set in a “haunted” castle during a knitting retreat. Knitting is one of my favorite things, and who doesn’t love a haunted castle? I also enjoyed playing with the idea of a “locked room” mystery.

The most recent book, An Unhappy Medium, features a zombie run, pirates, and family secrets – plus stolen diamonds. I’m not a runner, but the idea of a zombie themed 5K (these things actually exist) was too entertaining to pass up. Clyde is on a running team, but aunt Vi and Rose dress up as zombies and lurk in the woods to complicate things for the runners. Clyde’s sister, Grace, returns to Crystal Haven and family drama ensues. I tossed in a town meeting, a strange parade, and an annoying palm reader. The dogs, as usual, have important roles.

So, rather than “write what you know” I write what I would like to know, or what I would like to read. Hopefully, other people are entertained by some of the same things. If you haven’t read one of the Family Fortune mysteries, I hope you’ll come visit some time. And if you have, then on behalf of Crystal Haven, we’d like to say “welcome back.”

Friday, April 15, 2016

ROCCO welcomes author Katherine Hall Page to the blog!

Photographer: Jean Fogelbe

Katherine Hall Page was born and grew up in New Jersey, graduating from Livingston High School. Her father was the Executive Director of The Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and her mother was an artist. Page has an older brother and a younger sister. Early on the family developed a love of the Maine coast, spending summer vacations on Deer Isle. She received her BA from Wellesley College, majoring in English and went on to a Masters in Secondary Education from Tufts and a Doctorate in Administration, Public Planning, and Social Policy from Harvard. College had brought her to Massachusetts and she continues to reside there. Before her career as a full-time writer, Ms. Page taught at the high school level for many years. She developed a program for adolescents with special emotional needs, a school within a school model, that dealt with issues of truancy, substance abuse, and family relationships. Those five years in particular were rich ones for her. This interest in individuals and human behavior later informed her writing.
Married for forty years to Professor Alan Hein, an experimental psychologist at MIT, the couple have a thirty-two-year-old son. It was during her husband's sabbatical year in France after the birth of their son that Ms. Page wrote her first mystery, The Body in the Belfry, 1991 Agatha Award winner for Best First Mystery Novel. The fifteenth in the series, The Body in the Snowdrift , won the 2006 Agatha Award for Best Mystery Novel. Ms. Page was also awarded the 2001 Agatha for Best Short Story for "The Would-Be Widower" in the Malice Domestic X collection (Avon Books). She was an Edgar nominee for her juvenile mystery, Christie & Company Down East. The Body in the Bonfire was an Agatha nominee in 2003. Page's short story, "The Two Mary's" was an Agatha nominee in 2004. The Body in the Lighthouse (2003) was one of three nominees for The Mary Higgins Clark Award. The Body in the Boudoir was a finalist in the 2013 Maine Literary Awards. Her series cookbook, Have Faith in Your Kitchen, was nominated for an Agatha in the non-fiction category, making her the only author to be nominated or win in all four Agatha categories. The Body in the Birches is out now from William Morrow in hardcover, paperback, large print, E-book, and audio editions.

and now we welcome...Katherine Hall Page!

  • Welcome Katherine! Tell us a little about your background
Thanks ROCCO. I was born and grew up in northern New Jersey (and yes, do not pump gas—it’s against the law in Jersey!). My father was the founding director of the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and my mother was a professional artist. I have an older brother and a younger sister, which I always thought made me a middle child; but recently someone told me that the term is more accurately “oldest daughter”! I came to New England for college and have never left. My husband and I have been married for 40 years and we have a son. Writing was a mid life career change after many years in education as a high school teacher and administrator. I feel blessed to have two such rewarding vocations.
  • Tell us a bit about your Faith Fairchild series and the latest entry? Where did the idea come from?
My husband, who is a professor, took a sabbatical and I wrote The Body in the Belfry on a manual Underwood friends loaned me the year we were living in France. I had always wanted time to write the kind of mystery I liked to read—a good puzzle, suspense, a little comic relief, and plenty of food. My ideas come purely from my own imagination.  Madeleine L’Engle’s description of writing as “taking dictation from one’s imagination.” sums it up for me. The Body in the Wardrobe  is the 23rd book in the Faith Fairchild mystery and Sophie Maxwell, a character I introduced in the last book, The Body in the Birches,  is back. Faith travels to Savannah where newly wed Sophie is living. Lots of mysterious happenings as befits that city, as well as terrific low country food.
  • How do  you feel about receiving Malice Domestic’s Life Achievement Award?
Stunned, thrilled, proud, amazed—repeat roughly a hundred times and it may come close to how I felt when I got the news and continue to feel.
  • How do you “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
One of the delights of writing a series, especially one as long as this, is that my main characters have been with me for the duration. They are truly embedded in my mind at this point. I should point out that it wasn’t until my editor asked my agent “When can we expect the next book in the series?” after she accepted Belfry that I had any idea I was off and running on a series. Had just thought it would be the one book.
  • How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
Never have been a “winging it” person so, yes, I do plan each book. I start by writing a synopsis, which changes as I write the book, but I know whodunit. I also start each workday by rewriting what I have written the day before. A kind of jump-start. My editor doesn’t see the manuscript until it’s done, but we talk about the synopsis at the start-where the book will take place, what perils Faith will have to endure yet again.
  • Which do you consider more important, plot or character?
This is like having to choose a favorite child! Both!
  • What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
The greatest challenge is to keep the series fresh and at the start I alternated the books  so an “Aleford”—the fictitious town west of Boston where Faith lives—is followed by a “someplace else” book. These locales have ranged from places in Europe to the coast of Maine, Vermont, and now Savannah. Writing is hard work, as Mary Roberts Rinehart titled a book on her craft, but it’s something I have always loved to do. No better motivation than that. It’s also how I earn my living too, of course.
  • Do you have an “How I got my agent” story you want to share?
I was fortunate to see a notice in a publication I receive that an agency was looking for manuscripts when I returned from that year in France. I sent the manuscript and she both liked it and sold it immediately. Serendipitous especially as her first name is “Faith”!
  • What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
I am doing research for the next book, out in 2017, The Body in the Casket. It features a Broadway producer, so I am having fun reading biographies, autobiographies, and accounts of how shows make it to the Great White Way.
  • What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
Since I started when my son was small, my workday was governed by when the big yellow school bus picked him up and brought him home. It’s still my routine with glamorous breaks to do wash etc. plus I always take a walk, even a short one, to clear my head. I try not to work weekends.
If you could take only three books with your for a year-long writing retreat in a gorgeous setting with no library, which three would you take?
Yipes! Only three! Jane Eyre, The letters of Virginia Woolf, and Proust because I have been meaning to get around to reading him and this would definitely provide the opportunity.
  • What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
Write every day. Even if it is only a few sentences in a journal.  And then read as much as possible across as many genres as possible. I don’t know any writers who are not passionate readers as well.
  • What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Got married (thank goodness)
  • What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I’m very good at basketball .
  • What question do you wish interviewers would ask? (And what’s the answer?)
It’s a question I’ve heard asked of various chefs: What would your perfect meal be? (We don’t have to say it’s the last!)
Answer: To start, an assortment of small plates covering a wide range of cuisines: gravlax with mustard/dill sauce, hush puppies, deviled eggs, Chinese steamed soup dumplings, caviar on brioche toast points. More, but have to save room for butter poached Maine lobster with steamed fresh asparagus and thickly sliced Jersey tomatoes with fresh basil leaves. A cheese course: runny St. Marcellin, Sunset Acres fresh chevre, and Brebis (sheep) from Spain with 2 kinds of bread-a basic baguette, then a whole wheat with walnuts. For dessert an assortment of fruits in season and if I can possibly eat another bite: Faith Fairchild’s chocolate bread pudding. And only a very cold, dry champagne to drink
  •  Where can we learn more about you and your books?
I have a terrific website: thanks to my IT son  and I am on Facebook. I miss getting snail mail letters from readers, but happily people get in touch on FB and the site, which has a contact page where you can send as long a note as you wish!

Just for Fun:
Night or Day?   Day
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully)  Do not need the warning. I say Samantha, my 7-year-old Tabby is the daughter I never had. Always cats since Pinky, my first when I was three. But Samantha, well she makes me sound like a crazy cat lady. I really do expect her to speak.
Beach or Pool?   Neither. Ocean
Steak or salad?  A big salad. Maybe with steak in it.
Favorite Drink?  Prosecco (Cosmos too)
Favorite Book?  Jane Eyre
Favorite TV Series?  BBC’s To The Manor Born
Favorite Movie?  North By Northwest
Favorite Actor: Benedict Cumberbatch
Favorite Actress: Maggie Smith
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Dirty Martini
Hawaii or Alaska? Alaska
Finish this sentence:  If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be _Queen Elizabeth II
If I had just one wish, it would be__that not a single child or adult go to bed hungry —and have a bed
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be no one

Giveaway time!
Katherine will give away a signed first edition of The Body in the Wardrobe to one lucky commenter!
To enter, leave a comment on this blog post with your name and email address (entries without email will be disqualified). For extra entries, you can do any or all of the below:
* Follow my blog (+ 1 point)
* Follow me on Twitter (+ 1 point) (Link:
* Tweet about the contest (+ 1 point)
* Friend me on Facebook (+ 1 point) (Link:!/
* Mention the contest on Facebook (+ 1 point)
* Mention the contest on your blog (+ 1 point)

Winner will be chosen at random using  Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. Good luck! Contest open to US residents only, closes midnight, April 17!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Give a shout out to author Elizabeth J. Duncan!

Meow! My guest today is author Elizabeth J. Duncan!

  • Tell us a little about your background
I worked as a journalist in Canada and the UK for several years, then a newspaper editor, switched to public relations and wrapped up that part of my career as a college professor. I retired in 2013 to devote myself to full-time writing.

  • Tell us a bit about your Penny Brannigan Series. How did that come about?
A newspaper story about a group of teenagers who did a bad thing triggered an idea for a novel. I’d been in Wales a few months earlier and decided to set the story there. This story became The Cold Light of Mourning, the first book in the Penny Brannigan series. It was my first attempt at writing fiction and won two awards and was nominated for two more.
  • Tell us about your latest release, Murder on the Hour
An antiques appraisal show comes to town and a clock and a quilt provide clues to a murder.
  • You also write another series. Tell us about Shakespeare in the Catskills. Are you a fan of the Bard?
I am! I majored in English at university in a previous century so it’s been great fun rediscovering Shakespeare through online course work and reading. This series features costume designer and amateur sleuth Charlotte Fairfax, formerly with the Royal Shakespeare Company, now with a small company based in upstate New York.
  • How do you “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
I listen to them and when they show me who they are, I believe them. They reveal new and interesting things about themselves in every book.
  • How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
I have a general idea, a one-page outline of the plot before I start to write, but the finished manuscript is often quite different from that. I go where the story leads me, rather like a reader.
  • Which do you consider more important, plot or character?
Character. Readers keep reading because they want to find out what happens to the characters, not just what happens.
  • What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
Sometimes I’m not sure where the story has to go next and the work stalls. Here are three ways I’ve discovered to get and stay motivated and inspired. 1. Tell or describe the story to someone. Talking about it brings it to life. 2. Revisit the place where the story is set. 3. Hang out with a group of other writers – go to a conference, join a local library group, or organize a little writerly get together yourself. Put yourself in the right environment, with the right people, and some of the magic will rub off on you.
  • Do you have an “How I got my agent” story you want to share?
I met New York agent Dominick Abel at a conference. It was late, he was tired, and I told him I’d won a publishing contract with St. Martin’s Press. I was over the moon when he agreed to represent me.

What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
I write around everything else that’s happening. I don’t count writing hours; I count words written and aim for 1,000 a day. Although I’m not as disciplined as I should be, a looming deadline concentrates my mind wonderfully.
  • What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Went down a mine three times as part of the research for Slated for Death.
  • What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I’m on level 1,520 of Candy Crush. With no boosters!
  • What question do you wish interviewers would ask? (And what’s the answer?)
Q. What took you so long to start writing fiction? A. I don’t know.
  •  Where can we learn more about you and your books? and like my facebook page for daily posts on where I am and what I’m doing. Or just stuff I hope you’ll find interesting. Follow me on Twitter @elizabethduncan

·        Just for Fun:
·        Night or Day?  Day
·        Dog or Cat? (answer carefully)  Dog. Sorry.
·        Beach or Pool?   Pool
·        Steak or salad?  Salad
·        Favorite Drink?  Water.
·        Favorite Book?  Whatever I’m reading now.
·        Favorite TV Series?  Endeavour
·        Favorite Movie?  Casablanca
·        Favorite Actor: Shaun Evans
·        Favorite Actress: Ingrid Bergman
·        Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Pina Colada, non alcoholic
·        Hawaii or Alaska? Hawaii

·        Finish this sentence:  If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be William Shakespeare.

·        If I had just one wish, it would be that our beloved pets could live longer.

·        If I could trade places with anyone in the world, I wouldn’t.

To win a copy of Murder on the Hour (ARC or finished copy to be determined) leave a comment here and like elizabeth’s facebook page.
 U.S. and Canada only. Contest closes midnight Eastern Time Zone, April 17!  

Monday, April 11, 2016

Edith Maxwell on the blog!

Welcome ROCCO’s guest poster…Edith  Maxwell!

Domestic Cats in 1888

I’m delighted to be here visiting with Rocco again. I got to wondering about cats as domestic pets in the late 1800s, when my Quaker Midwife Mysteries are set. I found one article that said they became popular because Queen Victoria loved animals. She owned two Blue Persian cats she was fond of, and legislated against vivisection, experiments performed on live animals. The first Cat Show was held in the Crystal Palace in London in 1871. For the first time cats were given particular standards and classes, which are still used today.

Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, loved cats on this side of the pond. He would walk around with a cat named Lazy draped around his neck, and was photographed with a number of his favorite felines. I found this quote from him: “I simply can’t resist a cat, particularly a purring one. They are the cleanest, cunningest, and most intelligent things I know, outside of the girl you love, of course.” The pictures of Clemens with his cats were published in the Pictorial Review, according to a web post I found.
A book called Pets in America: A History talks about the other names Clemens gave his cats, including Famine, Buffalo  Bill, and Sour Mash. This picture shows him with a kitten on his pool table. I’ve visited that room in his Hartford, Connecticut house – he would spread his papers out on the pool table as he worked. Ralph Waldo Emeron’s wife was also a cat lover, apparently, as was Charles Dickens.
Of course farms have always had barn cats to keep mice and rat populations under control. In my second Quaker Midwife Mystery, Called to Justice (2017), midwife Rose Carroll and her niece Faith adopt a kitten after they find mice in their kitchen. They name her Christabel after a Coleridge poem – which is the name of our girl cat, who now gets her own starring role in one of my series!

Readers: What historic cat-loving personage do you know of? Who are your favorite contemporary kitties?

Book blurb:
In Delivering the Truth, Quaker midwife Rose Carroll becomes a suspect when a difficult carriage factory manager is killed after the factory itself is hit by an arsonist. Struggling with being less than a perfect Friend, Rose delivers the baby of the factory owner’s mistress even while the owner’s wife is also seven months pregnant. After another murder, Rose calls on her strengths as a counselor and problem solver to help bring the killers to justice before they destroy the town’s carriage industry and the people who run it.

Agatha-nominated and Amazon best-selling author Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries, the Country Store Mysteries (as Maddie Day), and the Lauren Rousseau Mysteries (as Tace Baker), as well as award-winning short crime fiction. Her story, “A Questionable Death,” which features the same 1888 setting and characters as Delivering the Truth, is nominated for a 2016 Agatha Award for Best Short Story.

Edith is Vice-President of Sisters in Crime New England and Clerk of Amesbury Friends Meeting. She lives north of Boston with her beau and three cats – Christabel, Preston, and Birdy - and blogs with the other Wicked Cozy Authors. You can find her on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, and at her web site,