Issue 20: Risky Business

Back before Christmas, but after I’d made my 2018 recap, I had a chance to read Imogen’s Secret  and Imogen’s Journey. Absolutely could not put these novels down, so I reached out to the author to ask a few questions and B Fleetwood talks about how a novel became a trilogy and what’s next for Imogen.

Micah Dean Hicks picks the Playlist for Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones. And note: tonight Micah Dean Hicks has an event in Florida. Details at the end of the playlist.

Of Elections and Influences: How the 2016 Election Inspired Libby Fischer Hellmann’s HIGH CRIMES

Barbara Winkes chats about her new book, Killer Instinct, and talks about her writing spaces.

Almost forgot … my review of The 19th Bladesman. It should have run elsewhere, but the site wasn’t one I wanted to continue working with, so here it is.

Did You Miss It?

Brian wrote about his favorite TV Characters, posted another Eclectic Mayhem and shared his best reads of 2018.

Plus, Issue 19 went live a few weeks ago, with Isabella Maldonado, Dana King and Susanna Beard.

Risky Business: Stepping Out Side Our Comfort Zones



There will always be something to react to on social media, and the publishing world has given us plenty lately.

Yesterday, when I saw saw some of the responses to Jason Heller’s thread, the top tweet here was the one that had been retweeted. Now, if you go to the thread this is part of and start at the actual top, the response made more sense.

But as it was, what I saw that seemed to be the source of ire was these two tweets. And I have no issue with them at all. Heller is absolutely correct – each person makes a choice about how to approach their craft.

He’s also very right about something else that doesn’t have to do with money. He’s right about the fact that writers are often approaching their craft from a comfort zone and afraid to take risks. I’m not talking about with earning a living; I’m talking about taking chances to blend genres and push boundaries.

To even push ourselves.

There’s a real wisdom here that has been obscured by the tweets that came before. I get why some people are defensive about the money thing (Heller encouraged quitting the day job and writing) and unwilling to go there. Forget about that. I am not talking about that.

I am simply talking about the balls-free approach to writing that so many have settled for. In this past year I wrote a manuscript outside my genre. So far outside it scared the crap out of me. It ended up being a passion project that I fell in love with. It forced me to stretch as a writer.

I didn’t want to let it go. I was ready to be done writing police procedurals, to put crime writing behind me.

And then along came another character. Something I learned in the process of writing that passion project infused with this character and she didn’t just tap on my shoulder and suggest we spend some time together. Nope. She showed me the story.

I started writing January 9. Yesterday, I finished what I’m calling an unprocedural. It may be crime, and the character may be a cop, but it is far outside the lines of what I’ve done with any of my books to date. It’s personal and messy and – like that passion project I penned last year – it made me cry writing it.

Again, I have a manuscript I don’t want to let go of. For the second time in less than a year I’ve finished something I’m voluntarily re-reading. Since I re-read and revise as I go I’m usually sick of it by the time I’ve written the final words.

Not this time.

I credit how I feel about these two books to taking personal risks and infusing more of myself into the narrative. Not that the books are about me, but because I have found my emotions that connect to the character’s stories and channeled that into them.

Even at the end of this story, I wrote the last chapter and then the next day had to sit down and write it again, because there’s a second POV character in this book and I realized that I’d sidestepped the emotional depth of the scene by looking at it through the wrong eyes.

Will it matter to anyone else? Who knows. What I know is that I am most proud of these two manuscripts, and the short story I wrote last year, Crossing Jordan. That was very personal, because one of my parents is trans, but still very much in the closet day to day.

Frankly, the overwhelming majority of us aren’t making much money writing. Why should I worry about writing to formula, convention or expectations when there’s so little to gain from it?

Instead, I will take those risks, step outside my comfort zone, push myself to grow. I may not have royalty checks to cash, but I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that I didn’t play it safe.


Imogen’s Story: B Fleetwood talks about how a novel became a trilogy and what’s next for Imogen

Haven’t heard of B. Fleetwood? Let’s correct that right now. I had the opportunity to read both Imogen’s Secret and Imogen’s Journey not that long ago and they are already perched on top of my best 2019 entertainment list. I could not put these books down. Ya/Coming of Age Sci Fi with a bit of romance, some tremendous worldbuilding and a riveting plot that keeps you turning the pages all hours of the day and night. I finished both books in a matter of a few days and just had to catch up with the author to find out a little more about Imogen, the idea for the story, and where things will go in book 3.

Buy Imogen’s Secret

Buy Imogen’s Journey

51jg7gt99tlThere’s a lot of worldbuilding in the Chroma series books, and there’s also a very compelling cast of characters. What came first for you – the worldbuilding or Imogen? How did Holis affect Imogen’s character as she took shape?

Imogen came first. I had imagined a character with the ability to ‘see’ lies for many years, long before I put pen to paper.

When I began to seriously consider why my main protagonist would have the ability to read Chroma, or auras (I did not want this to be a magical power), I decided there needed to be a genetic reason for her gift. Writing the first chapter, it came to me; Imogen had to be of another race, a race that had been genetically engineered. This would allow her to have all sorts of other differences, like her ability to absorb information, ‘read’ thoughts by touch and for her body to self-heal.

It became crucial to her character development for the truth to have been hidden from her; she could not know she was from the planet Holis. I wanted her and the reader to fathom it out together. As Holis developed as a tangible place, Imogen’s abilities crystallised on the page. As a new author, I am rather in awe of how her character evolved.


515lgq7ukalConsidering all the talk about global warming and damage to our planet, your series is both incredibly entertaining and captivating, and also timely. Every now and again we hear about other planets that have been discovered that might be capable of sustaining life. Do you think if we had the capability to reach such a planet that we’d learn from our mistakes or repeat them? Was this something that inspired you as you developed the series? (What did inspire you?) 

I studied Sociology at University, fascinated with what makes a society ‘tick’ and conversely, what makes societies break down.

I believe there must be planets out there that would support human life or alien lifeforms.

Would we make the same mistakes if we reached them? This intrigues me. I don’t have a clear answer. Do humans have a basic destructive nature they cannot escape or a capacity for nobler action? The optimist in me wants to believe humans are capable of rising above greed, self-interest and perpetuating differences. In Chroma, my superior Holans look at Earth with much disdain. And whilst it’s easy to despair of our race, I believe there is an integrity / spark within us all which, if encouraged, will allow the human race to advance to a point where we would learn from our mistakes.


You’ve billed this as a trilogy. Did you have a clear plan for all three books from the start? How much advance plotting did you do before you started writing? 

My decision to create Holis transformed Imogen’s Secret from a standalone novel into the first of a trilogy – I had not planned this in advance. It honestly just ‘came to me’ with an unshakeable conviction: it had to be more than one book. I knew if I was the reader, reading Imogen’s Secret, I would want to go to her home planet and see how it all worked. For a few weeks, during the writing of Imogen’s Journey, I considered finishing the tale in two books (I think I was feeling rather daunted by the task!) but as Holis became more than a vague imagining, I realised there would have to be a third book in order to do justice to the story.


Which character do you relate to the most in the books and why?

It would have to be Imogen. She finds out there is a whole new world out there and she cannot take things at face value if she wants to uncover the truth. She goes from being passive to active. This directly relates to the revelations I experienced at University – my coming of age –discovering the world was not all as my parents had painted it and the start of questioning everything!


There definitely seems to be a connection between Imogen’s people and sites on earth, such as the pyramids. Some people do believe the pyramids were built by aliens. What do you think? Or is this something you just wanted to play with in the story?

I have visited Egypt and been astounded at the building of the pyramids, temples and obelisks. The race was so advanced for the time. Do I believe aliens intervened? Not really, but I decided to play with this in the story. It makes a great link to how Holan folk ended up on Earth (more to be revealed in Book 3!).


There are five personality lines on Holis – Ra, Iris, Nut, Hathor and Amon Anon. If you could only choose one of those personality lines to be, which one would you pick and why?

The five lines have been lifted from general psychological theories (still used in management evaluations today). Whilst I don’t like putting people in boxes, I can see that personality traits are more dominant in some folk than others. If I had to pick just one, I guess it would be Iris (creative and imaginative – or over imaginative perhaps?) or maybe I’d be a Bi-Crypt with Hathor (compassionate and caring – I cry at the slightest thing!) as the other line? This is mainly because I don’t fit the other lines; I’m neither dominant or decisive, calm or disciplined!

BTW: the name, Iris, was originally Isis (the Egyptian Goddess) but I felt compelled to change the name to Iris after the militant terrorist group took Isis as their name. Grrr… An example of how politics influences writing!


If you were Imogen would it be Araz or Tarik?

Araz! The chemistry is compelling; however, he would need to lose his arrogance and grow Tarik’s sense of humour to be completely perfect!


Whether intended or not, there’s certainly some political commentary the books make in a subtle way. The people from Imogen’s home planet don’t even seem to question their leaders, which leads to abuse and manipulation from those in power. Was this intentional or is it just coincidence that it feels so timely given the current state of politics around the globe?

The lack of challenge by the Holan populace was intentional. With no conflicts, no disparity and no enemy, I decided to portray Holans as having become complacent in their ‘idyllic’ lives. I am also influenced by the political state of the world and the seemingly incomprehensible decisions made by supposedly intelligent beings. Just because a race is superior in intellect, it doesn’t necessarily mean they would not make the same mistakes.


Give us a teaser for book 3. What do we have to look forward to? What do we have to fear?

Imogen, separated from Holis and Araz, must unlock Kekara’s secret, stolen from her chambers. Could it have anything to do with the new direction being taken by the Holan regime? The reason the history of Holis has been re-written?

Imogen is unaware the regime has developed a hybrid version of the Repros. Will they follow her and can her family keep her safe?

Desperate to see Araz again and unsure if the Tractus link will be broken between their two planets, Imogen fears for Araz’s safety. She also cannot squash her unease knowing he is twenty light years away with Naomi – a penta-crypt just like her. Could this clone replace her in Araz’s affections? And is the prophecy true? Either Imogen or Naomi must die?

As the growing evil on Holis threatens to come to Earth, Imogen must fight to decide where her true destiny lies.

Killer Instinct: Barbara Winkes Writes About an Ex-Cop With Regrets and Shares Which of Her Characters She’d Take With Her to a Deserted Island


KICoverSR: Practice pitching: tell us what your new book is about in 50 words or less.

BW: It’s a vigilante thriller. An ex-cop killed a murderer and, after an investigation, served a sentence. She is trying to distance herself from her past, but then one of her former cases becomes active again, and she can’t stay away—even considering the risk that history could repeat itself.

SR: Where did your idea for this book come from?

BW: I wanted to work with a character that’s a little different from the usual “female cop hunting the serial killer” theme that I am drawn to as a reader and writer, because these women are by the book. Joanna threw out the book. She felt like the system failed, and took matters into her own hands, and she’s been paying for it. A new relationship and past connections create a tug of war between past and present.

SR:  Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen or Arya Stark? If your protagonist could be any fictional character for a day who would it be and why?

BW: I’m thinking Arya, because of the setting. Killer Instinct is one of my darkest books, so this would probably be a good fit.

SR: Was there a specific issue that really motivated you to write this particular story?

BW: Generally, the infuriating amount of misogyny that we can’t seem to get rid of on this planet. I don’t think that vigilantism is the solution, but as a writer I have the privilege to explore those ideas in fiction.

SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?

BW: I can easily dwell on old decisions, though in my case, there’s nothing this tragic, fortunately.

SR: If you were the right gender could you have a romantic relationship with your protagonist? Why or why not? Would it be a good relationship?

BW: If I wasn’t married…I might still find her a little intimidating. And I gave her a love interest!

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

BW: I’ve always been drawn to suspense, and serials, right from the start. I read a lot of books with characters like Nancy Drew as a child, then moved on to adult mystery and thriller series. That’s where I always wanted to go as a writer, to have a series that readers can discover and binge on. My next release after Killer Instinct will be Impressions, #8 in the Carpenter/Harding series.

SR: What was your journey to publication like? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome?

BW: I had to wait for Christmas! The book is set during the holidays, so I wanted it to come out before. The coziness of Christmas music and parties with friends present a backdrop and also a stark contrast to the isolation Joanna feels in the beginning.

SR: You have to flee the country. Where are you headed to and why that location?

BW: I hope I’ll never have to flee from Canada—it’s my home of choice! Iceland? Since we’re already used to the cold…

SR: It’s the zombie apocalypse. You have to pick a weapon from what’s currently within 10 feet of your present location. What will you defend yourself with?

BW: The lamp next to me? Otherwise I can only hope that the pen is truly mightier than the sword.

SR: How long will you survive in the zombie apocalypse? How long will your protagonist survive? Why?

BW: Me, not so long. I write action and thrillers, but I don’t think I’d be that savvy when it comes to real zombies…Joanna, she’d be okay for a while. The book is called Killer Instinct, after all.

SR: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

BW: Write a lot, read a lot. Develop a good marketing strategy before the first book is even out (this is something I wish I’d known more about six years ago). Get early feedback from people who trust to tell you the truth. There is a lot of advice out there from many. Examine it carefully, and find out what works for you.

SR: Now for fun, if you were stuck on a deserted island and found that magic lamp with a genie and the genie had the power to bring any character in any of your books to life to be your companion, who would you pick and why?

BW: Jordan Carpenter from the Carpenter/Harding series – she’s as capable as Joanna, but more by the book and less scary! Although she wouldn’t like being apart from Ellie, so she might try to intimidate me into sending her back.

SR: And if the genie would only bring characters from works by another author to life who would you pick to spend eternity on that deserted island with?

BW: James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club. I think they’d be fun to hang out with. Or Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles. Either way, we could all share a lot of stories to pass the time…




Barbara Winkes writes suspense and romance with lesbian characters at the center. She has always loved stories in which women persevere and lift each other up. Expect high drama and happy endings.

Discover a variety of genres, serial and standalone. Women loving women always take the lead.

Of Elections and Influences: How the 2016 Election Inspired Libby Fischer Hellmann’s HIGH CRIMES

High Crimes CoverSR: What’s HIGH CRIMES about? What inspired you to write it?

LFH: How do you solve a murder when there are 42,000 suspects? 
That’s the task facing Chicago PI Georgia Davis, hired to hunt down those behind the assassination of Resistance leader Dena Baldwin at a demonstration fourteen months after the 2016 election.

I took the 2016 hard. I felt paralyzed: I couldn’t write, and I couldn’t talk about anything except the state of our nation. I probably drove away many people who previously thought I was a nice person. For a year I let my rage control me. Then I realized I was giving him too much power over me. I had joined a Resistance Facebook group a few days after the election, and one night I had the eureka moment: What if the leader of a FB group is killed? Who would have done it and why? That was enough to get me going. High Crimes was the result.

SR: Practice pitching: tell us what your book is about in 30 words or less.

LFH: A Chicago PI investigates the assassination of a Resistance leader 14 months after the 2016 election.

SR: How do you think Georgia Davis would respond if aliens landed in the center of town on page 57?

LFH: She would tell you it wouldn’t happen on page 57. It would have happened on page 23.

SR:  Georgia has to flee the country. Where are they headed to and why that location?

LFH: Canada. She can deal with frigid weather.

SR:  What conspiracy theory is Georgia most likely to believe in? Roswell? JFK? Princess Diana? What about you? Any conspiracy theories that you think might have some truth to them?

LFH: Georgia is not a conspiracy theorist, except for the JFK conspiracy, which we know was indeed a  conspiracy. On the other hand, I do believe in JFK, RKF, Martin Luther King, jr, and Roswell. Diana? No. Flimsy at best.

SR:  Is Georgia more likely to go insane or end up in prison?

LFH: Neither is an option.

SR:  Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen or Arya Stark? If your protagonist could be any fictional character for a day who would it be and why?

LFH: Katniss. She’s a loner and has serious baggage.

SR: What’s Georgia’s greatest fear? Why?

LFH: She’s already faced it – being abandoned.

SR: Was there a specific issue that really motivated you to write this particular story?

LFH: The 2016 election.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

LFH: That our civilized, democratic way of life is fragile and can collapse quickly when corrupt people are leading it.

SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?

LFH: We are both introverts at heart.

SR: If you were in an arm wrestle with Georgia who would win? What is Georgia better at than you? What are you better than your protagonist at?

LFH: She would win at arm wrestling, working out, boxing, shooting a weapon, solving an intractable case. I’m a better reader and writer – she’s slightly dyslexic.

SR:  If hell was watching one movie over and over and over again, or listening to one song over and over again, what would the movie or song be for you? For Georgia?

LFH: Me: It’s a Small World After All (song)

Her: It’s a Small World After All (song)

SR: Carpool karaoke. What would be Georgia’s song? Yours?

LFH: Mine: Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat

Hers: Landslide by Fleetwood Mac

SR:  Cage match between you and Georgia. It’s a fight to the death. Which one of you will be left standing, and why.

LFH: She would. She boxes when she works out and she’s in great shape.

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

LFH: Gone With The Wind; I don’t think it had much effect. I never wanted to be a writer.

SR:  Did you try your hand at poetry as a teenager or use stick figures to illustrate your comic books? Tell us about your early writing efforts.

LFH: I wrote a play.

SR: What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?

LFH: Compassion – because a reader typically wants a winner and a loser, good vs evil, and compassion demands you see the humanity in everyone.

SR:  What’s the best thing about writing?

LFH: Having written

SR:  What’s the worst thing about writing?

LFH: Writing. But I love editing.

SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?

LFH: Narrative, which includes description, tone, sentence structure, and observational skill.

SR: Did you set yourself a specific writing challenge with this book? What was it, and what was the reason?

LFH: Not in HIGH CRIMES. This was personal. I had to write it to control my rage.

SR: What was your journey to publication like? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome?

LFH: I was a Cinderella 5 years in the making. The biggest obstacle came when my first agent fired me and told me to write something completely different. I followed his advice and was published two years later.

SR: Are you drawn to things that are really popular or wary of them? Do you find it helps you to market your work if you’re familiar with what’s currently selling or do you ignore all of that and focus on what you’re interested in?

LFH: I pretty much ignore the market. I write what interests me.

SR: Do you relate more to Sherlock Holmes or Professor Moriarty? Why?

LFH: Moriarty. Definitely. I’m drawn to the dark. And I don’t think Holmes plays fair with the reader.

SR: What’s your personal life motto?

LFH: Remember the dummy.

SR: Tell us something about you that isn’t common knowledge.

LFH: I once stuck a piece of chewing gum behind a door jam on a tour of the White House. When I returned on another tour a few years later, the gum was still there.


Libby Fischer Hellmann - Photo Credit Michael Candee, First Light Creative

Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago over 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Fifteen novels and twenty-five short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first. 

She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony and three times for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year. She has also been nominated for the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne, and has won the IPPY and the Readers Choice Award multiple times. Libby hosts both a TV interview show and conducts writing workshops at libraries and other venues. She was the national president of Sisters In Crime, a 3500-member organization dedicated to the advancement of female crime fiction authors. Her books have been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, and Chinese. All her books are available in print, e-book, and audiobook formats. More information can be found online at

Kicking Off The New Year

Better late than never? What a month. My mac is dying in long, slow stages. Our internet was out for weeks, limiting me to tethering for work and little extra time for indulgences.

Plus the list of household repairs got longer and longer …

But what better way to return than with some exciting news for readers.

Great News For Readers! Isabella Maldonado has a Special Announcement:

death blow cover, amzAs luck would have it, my publisher has arranged to have the first two books in my series discounted during the month before publication of the third book. Please let your readers know!

Discounted 1/26/19 through 3/1/19 across all ebook vendors (Kindle, Nook, iBook, Kobo):

  • Blood’s Echo (Veranda Cruz #1) (9780738751337), discounted to $0.99

o   Print book on Amazon discounted to $7.99

  • Phoenix Burning (Veranda Cruz #2) (9780738753935), discounted to $1.99

o   Print book on Amazon discounted to $7.99

March 8, 2019, Book 3 in the series, Death Blow, will go on sale at bookstores (nationwide and overseas) and on Amazon!


To celebrate, Isabella is sharing a look into her workspace!




Plus, we have Dana King chatting about

his new novel, Ten-Seven.



The Truth Waits Cover with quotes


And – lost in the holiday season shuffle –

Susanna Beard talks about what made her an author.

Plus, catch up with her TBR pile and author assistants!

Triple Threat: Three Things That Turned Susanna Beard into an Author

Formative events that made me a writer:

1. At school, my writing was often chosen by the English teacher to display at the end of term. So I always felt that I might want to write a novel. When I was about seventeen years old, I told my father this. His reaction was that I would find it far too difficult: you needed to do a tremendous amount of research to write a book. The inference was that I wasn’t clever or able enough, and although I remember thinking: ‘But I like researching’, I was certainly delayed by his response.

I’m sure he didn’t mean to be negative. My sister and I agree that he had huge respect for writers and said this because he couldn’t imagine anyone in his family achieving the dizzy heights of publishing a novel. Nonetheless I vowed that one day I would do it.

Perhaps it was his reaction that made me all the more determined.

2. In my teens, I adored my English teacher. She was perhaps the only teacher at my grammar school who earned my respect. She oozed enthusiasm for Dickens, Austen and the Brontes – and therefore so did I (to this day, Bleak House is one of my favourite Dickens novels). She loved Thomas Hardy (oh, the Mayor of Casterbridge!), and she read us Pooh Bear stories at the end of term. Just for this, she was my hero.

She would sit on a spare desk at the front of the class, fold her skirt under her demurely, and let us listen and rest. I still adore Pooh. What a woman! I know she would be proud of me now.

3. Many books have had a lasting impression on me, and it’s tempting to talk about the most recent one. But I think the one that affected me most when I first read it was Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits, published in 1982. I was stunned. It’s beautifully written, and through the skill of her writing the story has a magical, mystical feel.

I haven’t read it recently, although I promise myself all the time that I must, but I know her writing would inspire me again. It’s one of those stories that has deep, dark secrets which gradually reveal themselves through the characters and their reactions to events. The story details the life of the Trueba family, spanning four generations, following the post-colonial social and political upheavals of Chile (unnamed in the book). Allende deals with some very complex and dangerous subjects while bringing to life the fictional family.

It’s an extraordinary book, and even more so for being a debut!

251A1726Susanna is fascinated by human relationships. She can be found people-watching wherever she goes, finding material for her writing. Despite the writer’s life, she has an adventurous streak and has swum with whale sharks in Australia, fallen down a crevasse in the French Alps and walked through the sewers of Brighton – not in that order.

Her passions include animals — particularly her dogs — walking in the countryside and tennis, which clears her brain of pretty much everything.
Susanna’s debut novel, Dare to Remember, a psychological thriller, was published in February 2017; her second, The Truth Waits, was launched on 1 November 2018. She aims to keep writing, and never to get old

Police Politics and Acts of Violence Collide in Penns River: Dana King Talks about His New Novel

cover-king-ten-seven-6SR: What’s your new book about?

DK: A seemingly random act of violence mobilizes the entire Penns River Police Department at a difficult time. New officers were added to satisfy a consent decree and no one is quite sure how good they are; the deputy chief continues to finagle for the top job; the drug trade is picking up; the local mob boss is thinking of switching sides; and a random bridge jumper. All these things keep diverting the detectives from the case at hand.

SR: Was there a specific issue or incident that really motivated you to write this particular story? What was the prompt?

DK: The inciting incident comes from an actual murder in Colorado Springs about 30 years ago I saw described on the Investigation Discovery series Homicide Hunter. The “star” of the show, retired police Lieutenant Joe Kenda is, as fate would have is, a Western Pennsylvania native born and raised about 20 miles from the fictional town of Penns River.

SR:  What’s the best thing about writing?

DK: Refining the first draft into something people will want to read.

SR:  What’s the worst thing about writing?

DK: Writing the first draft.

SR: Do you relate more to Sherlock Holmes or Professor Moriarty? Why?

DK: Holmes, definitely. I like to figure things out.

SR: What’s your personal life motto?

DK: So far, so good.

SR:  Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen or Arya Stark? If you could be any fictional character for a day who would it be and why?

DK: Raylan Givens from Justified. He’s just so cool, and manages to be badass without actually doing anything sometimes. Like the time he talked the guy out of trying to quick draw on him. Or when the killer thought he had Raylan and Winona trapped in the motel room. Raylan was always a step ahead in those situations and he knew it. The confidence was badass in itself.

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

DK: The first one that comes to mind is No Kids Hungry. They get some money every year now, but they’d make out well if I ever struck it rich. I’m not religious but it’s a sin that children go hungry in a country where people will pay tens of thousands of dollars for an Andy Pafko baseball card. (No offense to Andy Pafko.)

SR: Do you have any special events coming up? Where can people catch up with you in person or on a podcast?

DK: I have a few podcasts coming up but the dates aren’t locked down yet. Check the Events page of my web site for regular updates. I plan to be at the Gaithersburg (MD) Book Festival May 18 and the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference September 13 – 15. And Bouchercon, of course, in Dallas at the end of October.

Check out our 2018 interview with Dana King about Bad Samaritan.

dana king author photoDana King has two Shamus Award nominations for his Nick Forte novels, for A Small Sacrifice and The Man in the Window. He also writes the Penns River novels, of which the fourth novel in the series, Ten-Seven, releases from Down & Out Books on January 21. His work has also appeared in the anthologies The Black Car Business, Unloaded 2, The Shamus Sampler 2, and Blood, Guts, and Whiskey.

How celebrating a birthday inspired Wendy Webb’s journey through time in Daughters of the Lake

Fun Fact:

I don’t sleep very well, so often I’ll find myself awake in the middle of the night. Many of my spookiest chapters have been written a quiet room in the dark while the rest of the world is asleep. – Wendy Webb

SR: What’s your new book/work in progress about?

Daughters of the LakeWW: Daughters of the Lake is the story of two women who reach out to each other across time. Kate begins to have recurring dreams about another woman’s life. She thinks little of it until that woman’s perfectly preserved body washes up on the beach in front of her home. Readers hear about both women’s lives; Kate’s in the present day as she tries to solve the mystery of the woman’s identity; and our drowned woman, Addie, who lived and died 100 years ago.

It is the most magical, romantic and dreamy book I’ve written.

SR: Was there a specific issue or incident that really motivated you to write this particular story? What was the prompt?

WW: I set the story in my fictional version of Bayfield, Wisconsin after I rented out one of the town’s most magnificent inns, Le Chateau Boutin, for my birthday. I started thinking about what kinds of otherworldly things could happen in a Victorian house like that, and I was off and running. The inn in the book, Harrison’s House, is based on Le Chateau.

SR: How do you think your protagonist would respond if aliens landed in the center of town on page 57?

WW: Kate would start researching their backstory and history. Nick, Kate’s love interest, would make sure the town is protected, and Simon, Kate’s cousin, would open up the inn he runs, and make them feel at home.

SR:  Your protagonist has to flee the country. Where are they headed to and why that location?

WW: Kate would be headed to the Canadian side of Lake Superior, where strange and otherworldly things began to happen to her family that echo into the present day. Since she’s fleeing, she may need protection and she’d know the lake would keep her safe.

SR:  What conspiracy theory is your protagonist most likely to believe in? Roswell? JFK? Princess Diana? What about you? Any conspiracy theories that you think might have some truth to them?

WW: Princess Diana. Kate was betrayed by the love of her life and has trouble trusting because of it.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

WW: One of the favorite characters I’ve written is Jess, the love interest, then husband, of Addie, the woman who ends up murdered. He is a complex, deeply flawed man with good intentions at his core and a profound love for Addie. I’d hope readers take away that nobody’s perfect, there are no absolutes and love can conquer anything.

SR: Carpool karaoke. What would be your protagonist’s song? Yours?

WW: Addie’s: My Heart Will Go On

Kate’s: I Will Survive

Mine: I Will Always Love You

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

WW: My grandma read Little Women to me when I was a child. Since Jo March was a dark-haired, creative girl who loved to play in the woods, and so was I, I figured the story was about me. Jo March was me somehow. Since she was a writer who later became an author, I just completely accepted the notion that that’s what I was, too.

SR:  What’s the best thing about writing?

WW: The magic of discovering the plot at the keyboard. I don’t outline my books. I start with a location and a general idea and just go from there.

SR:  What’s the worst thing about writing?

WW: No down side. It is the way I express myself to the world.

SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?

WW: Dialogue and description are very easy and natural for me. Locations start the whole story rolling so that’s the first step. But character names? Man, I agonize over those. For The Vanishing, I was grappling with names of one of the characters, and a friend of mine sent me a link to: Demonic Baby Names. I died laughing, thinking: wow that says a lot about my novels. But then I looked at it and found the perfect name? Amaris.

SR: Do you relate more to Sherlock Holmes or Professor Moriarty? Why?

WW: Oh, Sherlock Holmes for sure. But I do love me a good evil genius.

SR: What’s your personal life motto?

WW: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.

SR:  Is there something you’ve experienced that’s affected your view of life? Tell us about it and how it changed you.

WW: My mother died almost three years ago after a long illness I helped her through. Losing the person who loved you first, and loved you more than anyone else will ever love you, the person you want to call first with good or bad news, the person whose advice you always seek first, the person who can always make you laugh under even the worst of circumstances, watching that person literally disappear and you are powerless to stop it, changes you in profound ways you can never predict.

SR: What movie or TV world do you wish you could live in? Why?

WW: The new Sabrina or Harry Potter. Anything magical intrigues me.

SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?

WW: I love the New York Times Crossword puzzle, reading, walking in the woods, and anything on the water. Kayaking, boating, puttering around in a pontoon on a lazy summer day, or just sitting on the shores of Lake Superior. I love travel, too, especially going around the country meeting my readers.

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

WW: Anything that helps animals, research into diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer, and public education.

SR: What factors influence you when you’re choosing a book to read?

WW: Yup, I’ll say it: The cover draws me in first. Then it’s the book jacket copy and the author.

SR: Do you have any special events coming up? Where can people catch up with you in person or on a podcast?

WW: I have a ton of events coming up. My website is getting updated right now so please check back for the latest and greatest.





Wendy Webb is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of five novels of gothic suspense: Daughters of the Lake, The End of Temperance Dare, The Vanishing, The Fate of Mercy Alban and The Tale of Halcyon Crane. She lives in Minneapolis.

CJ Lyons explores our ability to deny reality in The Color of Lies

SR: Practice pitching: tell us what your new book is about in 50 words or less.

ColorofLiesCJ: Ella has always trusted in her unique ability to see people’s true emotions via their auras to help her navigate life. But the new boy in town makes her question everything she’s always believed to be true: her ability, her identity, her life… and the real reason behind her parents’ deaths.

SR: Where did your idea for this book come from?

CJ: For The Color of Lies, my first inspiration was the idea of a girl who saw everyone else’s truth… but was blind to her own.

I loved that conflict, the paradox of what we see and believe versus what is real. And how we deny reality, sacrifice it to our dreams by what we choose to believe… It happens every day in the real world. Just look at the epidemic of fake news posing as reality.

What if someone’s entire life was colored by what they wanted to believe instead of what was real? Answering that question led to The Color of Lies.

SR: Was there a specific issue that really motivated you to write this particular story?

CJ: As a physician, I’ve long been fascinated by unique medical oddities such as synesthesia. It’s not a disease, but rather the way the brain processes information is mistranslated into other senses. You may see letters as colors or smell words you read.

People with synesthesia experience the world differently, which is not only fascinating, it makes for an intriguing character—especially since we all base our idea of reality on what we see, hear, feel. For people with synesthesia, their reality is already very different than people who don’t have synesthesia, so if we upset that reliance on what is seen, felt, or heard, how do we know what’s real and what isn’t?

Start playing with people’s perception of reality, of their basic, essential truth, and you open up a world of possibilities for a story.

SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?

CJ: I myself have what may be a mild form of synesthesia (or maybe it’s just a symptom of my overactive imagination!). I can taste recipes for food I’ve never eaten before just by reading them.

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

CJ: Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. I love the poetry of his language and the relationships between his characters—it was the first book that showed me there was more to story telling than just plot and action. I still re-read it almost every year around Halloween.

SR: What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?

CJ: Passion. It’s pretty easy to evoke fear, panic, anger, even lust/love. But true passion, not romance but rather a deep caring about another person’s well being and world view, that takes a deep, gut-wrenching, heart-pounding connection between the reader and the story’s characters.

SR: What was your journey to publication like? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome?

CJ: My story took an interesting twist before I actually had my first book published. I had two contracts from a major NYC publisher, had already quit my job as a physician and moved a thousand miles away from home, when I get a message on my answering machine on a Friday night from my editor: the publisher has cancelled my debut thriller.

It was cancelled by the publisher because of cover art, something I had no control over, no input on. I had been telling them for months that the cover art didn’t work, and it wasn’t until the vendors, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million, Walmart saw the actual cover art which wasn’t revealed to them until right before the book was due to be released, and they canceled their preorders. And their preorders were significant for a debut author because they had an advanced reader’s copy of the actual book, which they loved.

They told my publisher, ‘Change this cover or we’re gonna pull our orders.’ And my publisher said, ‘Well, we have an award-winning art department, we stand by them.’ And, of course, the lowly, debut novelist that has absolutely no power in the traditional publishing system gets caught in the middle. So my career should have ended before it started.

But I didn’t give up. While I was fighting for my rights back to those first two books, a publisher at Penguin called me up and asked me to create a medical thriller series specifically for Penguin. And that became my actual first traditionally published books, the Angel of Mercy series.

And here’s the funny thing that shows you that karma is a bitch. The book I wrote during that awful time before I got the contract with Penguin was Blind Faith.

And that book went on to debut at number two on the New York Times bestseller list, it stayed on the New York Times list for six or seven weeks, and won the Thriller Award, won an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award. It went on to just do really wonderful things despite the fact that it was self-published.

So, what seemed like the end of my career with that first publisher cancelling my doomed-debut, actually turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.

SR:  Is there something you’ve experienced that’s affected your view of life? Tell us about it and how it changed you.

CJ: Everything changed for me when I was a pediatric intern at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. As interns we worked and lived a life out of sync with the “normal” world. We were just kids but entrusted with life and death decisions–decisions that impacted children and their families, that had the power to change their worlds.

But then one of us was killed. Murdered in a horrific fashion.

The stuff of nightmares. But this wasn’t fiction. It was real.

As always, I turned to writing to help me fight through my shock and grief. I put aside the science fiction and fantasy novels I’d written in college and med school and wrote my first piece of crime fiction, which eventually was published as Borrowed Time.

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

CJ: I actually have already established a charitable foundation, my Buy a Book, Make a Difference charity. Together my readers and I have raised over $80,000 for charities along with 82 forensic science scholarships for police departments.

I give a grant to a charity with each new book. For The Color of Lies, the grant will be awarded to the American Heart Association. Previous recipients have included Doctors Without Borders, St. Judes, Reach Out And Read, Feeding America, and Reading is Fundamental, among others.

You can learn more at:

Plus, check out what’s on CJ’s TBR pile!


CJheadshotsquarelores copyNew York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over forty novels, former pediatric ER doctor CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart.  

CJ has been called a “master within the genre” (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as “breathtakingly fast-paced” and “riveting” (Publishers Weekly) with “characters with beating hearts and three dimensions” (Newsday).

Her novels have twice won the International Thriller Writers’ prestigious Thriller Award, the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Readers’ Choice Award, the RT Seal of Excellence, and the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense.

Learn more about CJ’s Thrillers with Heart at 

Online Issue 18: Happy Thanksgiving

TSP OI18 cover

It isn’t the turkey or the stuffing or the pumpkin pie that will make your Thanksgiving truly great. It’s the books you can buy on Black Friday, and we’ve got you covered with tons of recommendations! First, Jenn Stroud Rossmann talks about what engineers read, then Susanna Beard shares what she has lined up and Rusty Barnes talks about what’s overloading his Kindle. Barbara Winkes also drops in to talk about the books she’s reading and ones she hopes to get to soon (such as Vox, which sounds fascinating). Who’s reading Gary Philips? Who has Max Ellendale’s latest on their nightstand? Who is anxious for Nicole Chung’s memoir? Check out those TBR piles to find out.

In my latest review I look at Jenn Stroud Rossmann’s The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh. Lots of great insights about family, life and identity here, with appeal for teens and adults alike.

Need to escape all the family togetherness? Rusty Barnes talks about his latest novel, The Last Danger, and cross-border crime. (What could be a better gift for the wall supporter on your shopping list?)

And in case your family Thanksgiving is nothing but political squabbles and family drama, Susanna Beard has cuteness on tap with her two trusty author assistants, Cookie and Tipsy. Pictures here.


Miss our latest issues? Issue 17 contents  – featuring Tom Leins, Paul Brazill, Kelli Owen, JL Abrama, JJ Hensley, Terrence McCauley, Barbara Winkes and more – can be found here.


We’ll be back next week with CJ Lyons, Ovidia Yu, Wendy Webb and more.

Plus, December 1 I’ll kick off my Advent Calendar, covering a book, movie, TV series or something else I enjoyed from this past year and recommend.

(Not a ‘best of’ list, because I haven’t consumed everything so I couldn’t possibly say what’s best. And not a ‘best of stuff by my friends’ list either. Most or all come from people I have never met.)