Friday, February 27, 2015

Author musing about Hope

Two years ago I posted a blog entitled Flower Sparks Hope. There was a picture of an orchid which had bloomed repeatedly for the several years I cared for it. This year that same orchid  is blooming from more than one branch and it has many more blooms than ever before, so I borrow from an old cliche, "Hope Springs Eternal" and so does my orchid.
Someone  who viewed it said the way the branches developed makes it look very artistic and I agree, but I can't take credit for that. I am happy just to look at it.
Two years ago, I was hoping that a book I had just finished would be snapped up by the  publisher of my four previous books in print, but that didn't happen. The publisher went to publishing only one genre, mystery, and my romantic suspense novel didn't work for them. I was very disappointed to say the least, but I wasn't about to give up. It sat for a while before  I attempted to submit it elsewhere. I won't name the publisher, but the next one  sat on it for six months before telling me the line I designated was not right for it , but I could try another of their imprints.  No thankyou, I said, and submitted it to a different publisher right away.  You know the game, wait and see, but I made a decision that if it was rejected I would epub it myself.  I am now trying to convince myself to go ahead with that plan.

I dug in my heels, edited and polished and knew that my book was the best it could be. In fact the publisher who rejected it said "this doesn't work for us, but you are a fine writer and I invite you to submit to us again." It gave me hope once more.

 I quote Barbara Tuchman, pulitzer prize winning author of The Guns of August  : "Books are carriers of a civilization. They are companions, teachers, magical bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print." considering that magnanimous quote  also gives  hope, so perhaps you will see SAFE HARBOR in some form soon.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Scientist Jen J. Danna Authors New Forensic Mystery

Jen J. Danna is our guest blogger. As a scientist specializing in infectious diseases, Jen works as part of a dynamic research group at a cutting-edge Canadian university. Her true passion, however, is indulging her love of the mysterious through her writing. Together with her partner Ann Vanderlaan, she crafts suspenseful crime fiction with a realistic scientific edge for Five Star/Cengage. Jen lives near Toronto, Ontario with her husband and two daughters, and is a member of the Crime Writers of Canada.

The Killer Days of Prohibition

My writing partner Ann and I love to find an interesting theme around which to base each of our Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries. Be it fire, witchcraft or photography, we use the theme as an overarching concept in our storytelling. From our point of view, it makes writing the novel more interesting. But, clearly, readers enjoy it also since that is one of the most noted aspects of our writing in reviews. In TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER, the overarching theme is the history of Prohibition that backs the entire case that Matt, Leigh and the team are investigating.
Prohibition was an interesting time in American history, and to this day the Eighteenth Amendment remains the only amendment to the Constitution of the United States to be repealed. Amendment XVIII, ratified in January 1920, was an attempt to shape social change: because alcohol was seen as the ‘devil’s brew’ and people were considered too weak to escape its clutches, temperance was federally legislated. An interesting aspect of that legislation was that it was only illegal to produce, transport, store, or sell alcohol. Once in a person’s possession, it was completely legal for individuals to possess and drink it. Amendment XXI repealed Amendment XVIII more than a decade later.
Prohibition was doomed from the start for several reasons. First and foremost, it proved to be impossible to enforce. Not only were the country’s legislators and enforcers—politicians and law enforcement at multiple levels—breaking the law themselves by continuing to imbibe, but the overwhelming majority of people themselves were unhappy with the law, and went to extreme lengths to circumvent it, sometimes at risk to their own lives.
But one of the biggest reasons Prohibition failed was the rise of both the Mob and the black market to fill the hole left by the removal of legal alcohol sales. When demand for the product went underground, so did the supply. Alcohol was brought by boat into ports like Boston and New York, or was carried overland from border countries Canada and Mexico. Speakeasies—illegal establishments for the express purpose of selling alcohol—flourished, most run by the Mob. Some speakeasies were world-class entertainments in major cities like New York or Chicago, boasting expensive drinks and elaborate floor shows. Jazz was the music of the day and many musicians got their start playing in speakeasies. But behind the glitz and glamour, a war waged between rival mobs and between those same mobs and law enforcement. Violence skyrocketed as individual mobs fought to corner local markets, often at the expense of mob and civilian bystanders; gang shootings in the streets and massacres were not uncommon during the time. Mob bosses rose to superstardom when they used their amassed riches to open soup kitchens for the poor during the Depression, further complicating law enforcement’s attempts to shut them down because they were so well loved by the common man.
This is the fascinating backdrop of TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER—the world of clandestine speakeasies, the mob and dirty politicians:

Prohibition was a time of clandestine excess—short skirts, drinking, dancing . . . and death. But a murder committed so many years ago still has the power to reverberate decades later with deadly consequences.
It’s a double surprise for Trooper Leigh Abbott as she investigates a cold case and discovers two murder victims in a historic nineteenth-century building. Together with forensic anthropologist Matt Lowell and medical examiner Dr. Edward Rowe, she uncovers the secrets of a long-forgotten, Prohibition-era speakeasy in the same building. But when the two victims are discovered to be relatives—their deaths separated by over eighty years—the case deepens, and suddenly the speakeasy is revealed as ground zero for a cascade of crimes through the decades. When a murder committed nearly forty years ago comes under fresh scrutiny, the team realizes that an innocent man was wrongly imprisoned and the real murderer is still at large. Now they must solve three murders spanning over eighty years if they hope to set a wronged man free.
TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER is out this week and can be found at your favorite booksellers:,,, and Barnes and Noble.

Note: Your thoughts and comments are most welcome here.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Great Love Stories

I mentioned Monday on my personal blog that my older son and his wife were married on Valentine’s Day. It was a joyful wedding, loving and romantic. No big fancy affair, just the bride and groom, my husband and myself, the bride’s best friend, and a judge happy to officiate, followed by a wedding breakfast at a local hotel. Afterwards the bride and groom had to take a long drive so that my son could represent in court a couple accused of white collar crime. This love story is one of many worldwide.

Love stories have always been an important part of history and literature. Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. Cleopatra and Julius Caesar (Cleopatra did get around). As Shakespeare said, “she was a woman of infinite variety.” Then there is the story of Napoleon and Josephine, another passionate love affair. In the Bible, we also find some of the world’s greatest and unforgettable love stories. What can be more romantic than the story of Ruth or Solomon and the Queen of Sheba? And there is the story of Esther which is celebrated on Purim.

A lot of the world’s most famous, classical love stories, of course, did not end happily: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Helen of Troy and Paris, Lancelot, Arthur and Guinevere (a triangle). These are tragedies.

Some of the literary characters I consider unforgettable are those of the Bronte sisters: Healthcliff and Catherine, the tormented lovers in Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester of Charlotte’s famous novel. Both romances are in the gothic tradition.

Thomas Hardy wrote a number of tragic love stories as well. For something lighter, I prefer Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth and Darcy are memorable. I’ve read and reread that novel numerous times. My own romances have happy endings as well since I prefer them.

Love quite literally makes the world go round. My favorite Valentine’s Day gift  would be a new romance novel. Candy makes me fat. Flowers wilt and die too soon. But a great romance can be read and reread and enjoyed.

 If you’re of a mind to read some sensual historical fiction, I suggest a look at my contest-winning Georgian romance THE CHEVALIER, set in the Scottish Highlands and available in all e-book formats.

Then there’s TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS, a Regency romance recommended by Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick, also now published in all e-book formats:

If you enjoy romantic short stories, consider my collection BEYOND THE BO TREE, a book that combines romance, mystery, fantasy and the paranormal:

For teenage girls and their mothers to share, THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER is a clean read romance also available in all e-book formats.


If you’re a fan of romantic suspense, take a look at DEATH LEGACY available in all e-book formats. To read a free partial of that novel, go to:

Can you think of any romances you would recommend to readers? What sort of romance fiction do you particularly enjoy reading?

Friday, February 6, 2015

What I'm learning from Harper Lee

In the last few days I have read more than a dozen stories on the stunning news that Harper Lee at age 88 is about to publish her second book, which is in fact the first one she wrote. According to news reports the story in Go Set a Watchman covers the life of Scout as a young woman and relates the events in To Kill a Mockingbird in flashbacks. The setting is the 1930s and 1960s, during the Civil Rights Movement. Readers are eager to see what kind of person Scout grew up to be, and how contemporary life looked to Harper Lee. But there's a downside to this.

The flip side to the story is the history of the manuscript, which supposedly disappeared for fifty years. Lee set aside one novel and wrote another, her only book. Lee's sister managed her affairs until her recent death, and neither woman seemed interested in publishing Lee's first mss during all those years. But now something has changed. Lee's sister is dead and Lee is living in an assisted living center, after a stroke, and it's an open question of whether or not she understands what is happening.

While half the people I know are itching to get their fingers on the new book, I and other writers I know are wondering what this means for Harper Lee and her desire to determine her own literary reputation. If she wanted the book published, would she have done so earlier? Did she destroy all but one copy, a copy left with an editor and forgotten?

The question, put simply, is this: What do you do with your old, unsold mss when you realize someone else may one day take control of them?

Every writer has a number of mss stacked in a drawer or sitting in a box on a closet shelf. We may now have additional copies on disks, floating in a Cloud somewhere, or stored in a bank safe-deposit box. We may have tried to sell a particular mss and failed, or perhaps we decided we didn't like the story in the first place, or we knew it just wasn't good enough to go out into the world. Do we really want to see these mss published after we're gone? Or do we want to see them in print even while we're still around, only to see them land on a reviewer's desk with a thud?

Sometimes I start a story and find that it just doesn't go anywhere. I close out the file and turn to something else. Or I finish the story, fail to sell it, and forget about it until months, even years later, when I take another look. That's when I think, "Yes, it's a bad story and I'm glad no one bought it. I'm a better writer now." But I don't delete it from my computer.

This was the case with the first Anita Ray mystery, Under the Eye of Kali. I made several false starts in an effort to define the character and nature of the story. I rejected those stories, but I didn't delete them from my computer. I cannibalized another unfinished story for the second Anita Ray mystery, The Wrath of Shiva, but I didn't delete it from my computer.

Right now I'm working on an Anita Ray mystery novel whose title I stole from an earlier story. I'm not taking anything else from it for this novel, and I don't even want to reread the earlier work, just in case there's something there I can use. But I don't delete it from my computer.

I want to read the new Harper Lee novel, and I want to love, to admire it as much as Mockingbird. But I also don't want to be disappointed, or to think that someone has taken advantage of a declining writer and published something she felt didn't deserve the attention.

As writers we have a right to control our own reputations and output, to choose what we publish and ask others to read. Watching the story of Harper Lee's second novel, which was really her first, has convinced me that as difficult as it is, I'm going to delete old mss that I don't think are good enough to publish, or as good as what I'm writing now. Writers often hear the advice, Kill your darlings. The reference is usually to passages we are especially fond of. But I think now is the time to kill those other darlings, the old mss cluttering up our computers or gathering dust in the closet.