Friday, April 29, 2016

Interview with Mystery Author Judge Debra H. Goldstein by Jacqueline Seewald

 Debra H. Goldstein writes mystery novels, short stories and non-fiction. She also serves on the national Sisters in Crime, Guppy Chapter and Alabama Writers Conclave boards and is a MWA member. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, Joel,“whose blood runs crimson”.

Question: What is the title and genre of your novel?

Answer: Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery is a traditional mystery with cozy elements.

Question:  What inspired this novel? How did it come about?

Answer: After my first novel, Maze in Blue, a mystery on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s, was published, I was a panelist at several conferences. Murder on the Menu in Wetumpka, Alabama absolutely charmed me. I not only fell in love with the town, but was excited when a bidding war to name a character in my next book occurred during a fundraising auction for the Friends of Wetumpka Library (FOWL. The winner was delightful.  As we talked, a sentence popped into my mind that I immediately knew could be the genesis of a story. Combining that sentence, characteristics of the auction winner, and the town of Wetumpka was my starting point. The final result, after much revision and thought, is Should Have Played Poker.

Question: Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?

Answer: Twenty-nine-year-old Carrie Martin juggles the demands of her corporate law job and the needs of her father, a former minister who, because of early dementia, resides at the Sunshine Village Retirement Home. When Carrie’s mother comes back into her life after an absence of twenty-six years, she leaves Carrie with a sealed envelope and the knowledge she once wanted to kill Carrie’s father. Before Carrie can discover what is in the envelope and why her mother returned, her mother is murdered. Compelled to find the killer, her efforts quickly put her at odds with her former lover – the detective assigned to her mother’s case.  Determined to unravel Wahoo, Alabama’s past secrets, Carrie joins forces with the pink-haired Sunshine Village Mah jongg players but quickly realizes that truth and integrity aren’t always what she was taught to believe.

Question:  Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?

Answer: My first novel, 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue is a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s. Harlequin Worldwide Mystery purchased its mass market rights and published it as a book of the month in May 2014. I also write short stories and non-fiction. Some of my favorites include Thanksgiving in Moderation, Who Dat? Dat the Indian Chief, and Violet Eyes which were published in The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fourth Meal of Mayhem, Mardi Gras Murder and Over My Dead Body!.

Question:  What are you working on now?

Answer: I’m revising a cozy food mystery with a new set of characters, One Taste Too Many. I also continue to write short stories. Lesson Learned was published as part of the “Terrible Tuesdays” series by Akashic Books on March 29. Another story will appear in Kings River Life Magazine in May or June 2016.

Question:  What made you start writing?

Answer: My parents instilled the love of the written word in me. My mother, a Holocaust survivor, had to learn English as a new language when she was ten. Understanding the importance of communicating, she made sure my sister and I were readers. To help me with a speech problem, my father spent hours having me read classical poetry aloud to him. During those sessions he not only taught me to pronounce words correctly, but to listen to their nuances and subtle meanings. Writing was the easy way for me to take what I learned and share it with others.

Question:  What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?

Answer: Write, revise, write, revise, revise, revise and enjoy the ride.

Question: Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?

Answer: Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery was released by Five Star/Cengage on April 20, 2016. It is available online from Amazon: or  Barnes and Noble and through local bookstores and libraries (ask for it).

Note: Questions and comments for Debra are welcome here!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Digging for art under Rome

What if the Monuments Men missed a trove of Nazi-looted art under the city of Rome? This is the premise of my newest Flora Garibaldi mystery, Catacomb (March 2016).

Thousands of art works were looted from museums, churches, and private homes all over Europe by Adolf Hitler and his minions. By the end of World War II, much of the art remained stashed in underground tunnels, uninhabited buildings, and salt mines. Recruited by the Allied Forces, a small army of art historians and museum personnel took on the arduous and dangerous task of locating missing art, moving it to safe locations, and beginning the long process of returning the art to original owners.

In Catacomb, Flora is recruited by her policeman boyfriend, Vittorio Bernini, to join the Carabinieri team of officers and art experts to locate the missing art. The only clue they have is that it is “somewhere in the catacombs,” which means searching hundreds of kilometers of tunnels. Flora joins the archivists, trying to pinpoint the names, neighborhoods, and preferred burial places of Jewish art owners living in Rome during the 1940s. Unfortunately, the scanty documentation they find is uncatalogued, un-digitized, and scattered in libraries and archives all over Rome. Vittorio’s team, including archaeologist and museum director Lisa Donahue and conservator Ellen Perkins (heroines of my previous archaeology series) discover that searching the catacombs is not enough: the art could be in other underground places such as ancient Roman quarries and aqueducts, or crumbling niches off modern subway tunnels.

The search turns dangerous when Flora is followed in the first catacomb she visits and then a colleague of Vittorio’s is murdered in a subway station. People outside the Carabinieri are looking for the same art trove, and they appear to have insider knowledge…

My research for this book took me on wonderful tangents, such as creating the diary of a Frenchwoman from a Jewish family of art owners who leaves Paris to marry an Italian. I also used true stories: the Italian diversion of Nazi trucks loaded with art intended for Hitler’s collection in Berlin, and the discovery of vast amounts of art in the apartment of art dealer Cornelius Gurlitt (I moved the apartment from Munich to Rome, and changed the name of the art dealer).

And writing this sequel to Burnt Siena gave me the perfect excuse to revisit Rome, virtually imbibing and eating my way through yet another amazing Italian city.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Writer's Block

Guess what? I've got writer's block. I can't think of a thing to write here, so that is what I'm writing about. Let's see what happens, shall we!

All of us experience "blank page syndrome" from time to time. You sit in front of the computer and stare, tap on the keys to  be sure they still work, grab a coffee, pop a mint, adjust your chair, flip over to Facebook, read your email, let the dog out, nap, answer the phone, let the dog in... but writing... You've got nothin'. 

Here's a bit from Wikipedia: Writer's block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. Throughout history, writer's block has been a documented problem.

There can be lots of different causes, here are a few that come to mind:
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • It might be caused by the work itself
  • The muse might be on vacation
  • Adverse circumstances at home or work
Lots of things can interrupt the creative flow and these are just a few.

How do we cope?
Chocolate is good, but freewriting is probably better. Taking a walk and letting nature infuse the muse. Reading a good book. Art. Music. Write anything - even if it is bad - just to prime the creative pump.  Sometimes I whip out my favorite pen and a sheet of paper and see what comes. It's much slower, but sometimes mixing up the routine can help stimulate the imagination.

Our friend Jacqueline Seewald turned me onto this article so I will share. It gave me some ideas I hadn't thought of before, so check it out.
A survey of 2,500 writers found that writer’s block was caused by high expectations, fear of failure, and unrealistic deadlines. Here are 21 ways to beat writer’s block.

Hopefully there are a few ideas here that I can use. I'll let you know how it goes!
Enjoy the journey.

Bonnie (BD) Tharp, author of women's fiction: Feisty Family Values and Patchwork Family. With a new Young Adult manuscript ready for an agent or publisher, whichever comes first.
For more information

Friday, April 8, 2016

Building a Brand: The Name Game by Jacqueline Seewald

Is branding a help or hindrance to writers? There’s been a lot of discussion among writers as to whether it benefits authors to be branded--by that I mean that writers want to market themselves by promoting their name, associating their name with a particular type, genre or style of writing. The premise? This is the best way to build a readership. For instance, when we see the name Nora Roberts we immediately think of romantic suspense. (“Nora Roberts” real name Eleanor Marie Robertson , also writes under “J.D. Robb” for her mystery series) The name Stephen King is immediately associated with horror, but he has chosen to write under other pseudonyms as well. Jayne Ann Krentz writes her contemporary romances under that name, her sci-fi/fantasy under Jayne Castle, and her historical romances under Amanda Quick. The advantage is that fans know what to expect. Familiarity encourages sales.

Many writers choose to use pen names. They write in a variety of genres and assume a different nom de plume for each. The theory is that it will confuse readers if writers use the same name for different types of work. There is also a tendency for publishers to try to place writers in neat categories. It’s more convenient to connect a name to a particular format.

But what if you resist branding? Are you destroying your chance to be taken seriously as a writer or build a readership? I don’t have the answer to this question. I can only admit that I don’t limit myself to one particular format in my writing. My books are not “in the box.”  I have written romantic mysteries, historical romances, YA mysteries and romances, as well as children’s books and stories. All of these appear under my own name.

My latest novel for Five Star/Cengage, THE KILLING LAND, an historical Western which I wrote under my own name, has elements of romance and mystery as well as being a suspense thriller.


However, when I write mystery short stories from a masculine viewpoint, I use my initials. So, for example, my recent novella for SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY MAGAZINE (Issue #19) entitled “Letter of the Law” is credited to “J.P. Seewald” rather than Jacqueline Seewald. A lot of female writers do this because men seem to prefer reading stories and novels ostensibly written by other men especially when presented from a masculine viewpoint.

Personally, I am very comfortable writing from a male viewpoint. I also enjoy reading books written by members of the opposite sex as well as other women. My husband and I had only sons to raise which made me accustomed to the male perspective. However, male readers may not find a female author writing from a male perspective acceptable or credible.

There are also a number of male authors who write women’s fiction/romances under female pseudonyms for the same reason.Still, successful, admired mystery writer and current two story Derringer winner, John Floyd, who also has a story appearing in the current issue of SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY MAGAZINE, wrote his short story from a female detective viewpoint.

What is your opinion.  Does branding by name recognition benefit writers or not? Is it important? Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Details, Details, Details, by Susan Oleksiw

The first Anita Ray story appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, in 2003. The first book in the series, Under the Eye of Kali, appeared in 2010 from Five Star/Gale Cengage. The fourth, When Krishna Calls, will be published in August 2016.

Few readers are aware of the range of work that goes into creating a mystery series. As a young reader in elementary school I was entranced by good stories. It wasn't until I was almost a teenager that I realized I knew someone who had actually published a book. It could have been a one-hundred page pamphlet on changing flat tires and I would have thought he was a genius. I hadn't yet thought about breaking the task down into manageable parts.

A successful series involves a lot of details that may not seem to be closely linked to the casual reader. But writers know better. If I begin with a certain type of character to be the sleuth, that choice will influence the period. Am I locating the story in the present or the past? And what about location? Is the story set anywhere in the United States, or in another country? Does the town or city have to be described in detail as part of the story?

And then I begin to zero in on the details of description. The first few efforts to define Anita Ray, or a young woman living in India and solving crimes, didn't work, in my opinion. I refined and added or deleted details. Creating a character with both Indian and American parents gave her greater freedom of movement as well as allowing her the opportunity to comment on the traditional culture she lives in.

My next concern was titles. As the two examples above indicate, I wanted to use the name of a Hindu deity in each title, one that would suggest to the reader some of the concerns in the story line. In the first book, Kali, a wrathful deity in one form and a loving beautiful young girl in another, is invoked in both forms, but in the end takes on an unexpected role. In the second book, The Wrath of Shiva, the Hindu deity is invoked in a form that is a warning to a group of smugglers. And in the third book, For the Love of Parvati, the theme is obvious in the title. In the fourth book, When Krishna Calls, the forms of love underlie the actions of the characters.

When it came time to reprint the books in trade paperback. I wanted to continue the consistency across covers, as a way of tying the individual titles together. As a result, I asked a designer to create a basic format that I could use for each book, making each one distinct by the specific cover photo used. This has worked well, and I now have three Anita Ray titles available in trade paperback, with all three tied together by cover design and titles.

 All are available from Amazon as trade pb and also as ebooks.