Monday, September 30, 2013


Autumn officially begin just over a week ago, so it's a good time to share with you some new installments of beloved series that I'm eagerly looking forward to.

Duck the Halls (Meg Lanslow #16) by Donna Andrews (Minotaur hardcover, 22 October 2013).

A few nights before Christmas, Meg is awakened when volunteer fireman Michael is summoned to the New Life Baptist Church, where someone has rigged a cage full of skunks in the choir loft. The lengthy process of de-skunking the church requires its annual pre-Christmas concert to relocate to Trinity Episcopal, where Mother insists the show must go on, despite the budget-related protests of Mr. Vess, an elderly vestryman.  Meanwhile, when Meg helps her grandfather take the skunks to the zoo, they discover that his boa has been stolen - only to turn up later during the concert, slithering out from the ribbon-bedecked evergreens.  The next morning is Sunday, and the congregation of St.
Byblig's, the local Catholic church, arrive to find it completely filled with several hundred ducks.

It's clear that some serious holiday pranksters are on the loose, and Meg is determined to find them.  But before she can, a fire breaks out at Trinity, and Mr. Vess is discovered dead. Who would have murdered such a harmless - if slightly cranky - old man?  Who has the time during the busy holiday season to herd all of these animals into the town's churches?  And will Meg ever be able to finish all of her shopping, wrapping, cooking, caroling, and decorating in time for Christmas Eve?

Accused (A Rosato & Associates Novel) by Lisa Scottoline (St. Martin's hardcover, 29 October 2013).

Mary Dinunzio has just been promoted to partner and is about to take on her most unusual case yet, brought to the firm by a thirteen-year-old genius with a penchant for beekeeping.
Allegra Gardner’s sister Fiona was murdered six years ago, and it seemed like an open-and-shut case:
the accused, Lonnie Stall, was seen fleeing the scene; his blood was on Fiona and her blood was on him; most damningly, Lonnie Stall pleaded guilty.  But Allegra believes Lonnie is innocent and has been wrongly imprisoned.

The Gardner family is one of the most powerful in the country and Allegra’s parents don’t believe in reopening the case, so taking it on is risky.  But the Rosato & Associates firm can never resist an underdog.  Was justice really served all those years ago?  It will take a team of unstoppable female lawyers, plus one thirteen-year-old genius, to find out.  

Through the Evil Days (Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne #8) by Julia Spencer-Fleming (Minotaur hardcover , 5 November 2013).

On a frigid January night, Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne and Reverend Clare Fergusson are called to the scene of a raging fire. The extent of the tragedy isn't known until the next day, when the charred remains of a man and woman are recovered – along with evidence showing they were shot execution-style.

The last thing Russ needs are two potential homicides. He's struggling with the prospect of impending fatherhood, and his new wife is not at all happy with his proposal for their long-delayed honeymoon: a week ice-fishing at a remote Adirondack lake.

St. Alban's Church is still in turmoil over the Reverend Clare Fergusson's news that she's five and a half months pregnant--but only two and a half months married. Worried her post-deployment drinking and drug use may have damaged the baby, she awaits the outcome of the bishop's investigation into her "unpriestly" behavior: a scolding, censure, or permanent suspension.

Officer Hadley Knox is having a miserable January as well. Her on-again-off-again lover, Kevin Flynn, has seven days to weigh an offer from the Syracuse Police Department that might take him half a state away. And her ex-husband's in town—threatening to take custody of their kids unless Hadley pays him off with money she doesn't have.

When Hadley discovers the dead couple fostered an eight-year-old girl who was a recent liver donee, the search for the killer takes on a new and terrible urgency. With no access to immunosuppressant drugs, transplant rejection will kill the girl in a matter of days.

No Man's Nightingale  (Inspector Wexford #24) by Ruth Rendell (Scribner hardcover, 5 November 2013).

A female vicar named Sarah Hussain is discovered strangled in her Kingsmarkham vicarage. Maxine, the gossipy cleaning woman who finds the body, happens to also be in the employ of former Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford and his wife. When called on by his old deputy, Wexford, who has taken to reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as a retirement project, leaps at the chance to tag along with the investigators. Wexford is intrigued by the unusual circumstances of the murder, but he’s also desperate to escape the chatty Maxine.

A single mother to a teenage girl, Hussain was a woman working in a male-dominated profession. Of mixed race and an outspoken church reformer, she had turned some in her congregation against her, including the conservative vicar’s warden. Could one of her enemies in the church have gone so far as to kill her? Or could it have been the elderly next-door gardener with a muddled alibi?

 As Wexford searches the vicar’s house alongside the police, he sees a book, Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, lying on Hussain’s bedside table. Inside it is a letter serving as a bookmark. Without thinking much, Wexford puts it into his pocket. Wexford soon realizes he has made a grave error—he’s removed a piece of evidence from the crime scene. Yet what he finds inside begins to illuminate the murky past of Sarah Hussain. Is there more to her than meets the eye? 

A female vicar named Sarah Hussain is discovered strangled in her Kingsmarkham vicarage. Maxine, the gossipy cleaning woman who finds the body, happens to also be in the employ of former Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford and his wife. When called on by his old deputy, Wexford, who has taken to reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as a retirement project, leaps at the chance to tag along with the investigators. Wexford is intrigued by the unusual circumstances of the murder, but he’s also desperate to escape the chatty Maxine.

A single mother to a teenage girl, Hussain was a woman working in a male-dominated profession. Of mixed race and an outspoken church reformer, she had turned some in her congregation against her, including the conservative vicar’s warden. Could one of her enemies in the church have gone so far as to kill her? Or could it have been the elderly next-door gardener with a muddled alibi?

As Wexford searches the vicar’s house alongside the police, he sees a book, Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, lying on Hussain’s bedside table. Inside it is a letter serving as a bookmark. Without thinking much, Wexford puts it into his pocket. Wexford soon realizes he has made a grave error—he’s removed a piece of evidence from the crime scene. Yet what he finds inside begins to illuminate the murky past of Sarah Hussain. Is there more to her than meets the eye?
Book summaries and covers are from the publishers' websites.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

An Interview with J.H. Bográn, author of Firefall

We're pleased to welcome J.H. Bográn as a guest on Crime Fiction Collective. José, who is active in the International Thriller Writers organization, has just released his riveting new novel, Firefall, through Rebel E Publishers.

He’s offering a free e-copy to a lucky commenter, so be sure to leave a comment below to have your name entered in the draw.
CFC: Welcome to CFC, José. Can you tell us, in a nutshell, what your new novel, Firefall, is about?
JHB: Firefall is a harrowing tale of a grieving man seeking a reason to live while dealing with insurance fraud and an international ring of car thieves.
New York City firefighter, Sebastian Martin, seeks sanctuary in spiraling alcoholic oblivion following the loss of his wife and child in an air crash. Consumed by rage and resentment, mostly directed against his brother and uncle, he takes a last-ditch job in Dallas, Texas, investigating insurance fraud. Sebastian ends up strapped to a chair facing torture at the hands of Howard Gonzales, a former KGB trainee who enjoys playing with fire on his victims to get answers.
CFC: Tell us about the symbiosis between the protagonist and the antagonist in Firefall.
JHB: When Sebastian Martin is not looking into the car theft operation, he is searching for missing persons. His nemesis, Howard Gonzales, will stop at nothing to protect his auto-theft business.   

Their confrontation is just as inevitable as two freight trains racing toward each other on the same track.
And their clash is just as spectacular.
CFC: Can you share an excerpt to illustrate that point?
JHB: Of course! Here’s an excerpt from near the climax when they meet face-to-face for the first time.
A man wearing large reflective sunglasses stood beside him. In one hand, he held a cigarette butt, and a handkerchief on the other. The man’s skin was dark, a local. He wore khaki cargo pants and the black polo shirt seemed to blend with the poor light, giving the impression of a hovering head standing over him.
“I will make this easy for you, Gringo.” The heavy accent told no tales about his mother tongue. “Just tell me what I need to know.”
Sebastian looked up with a frown. He had no idea what he could possible know that would interest big sunglasses. As if in response, the man did something strange. Extending his arm, he squeezed the handkerchief until a drop of clear liquid fell on Sebastian’s arm. It itched on contact, but that wasn’t the end of it. The man put the lighted tip of the cigarette in the exact spot. A blue flame flared, burning the hair. The pain was sharp and intense.
Sebastian did his utmost not to scream. He looked at his right arm. An irregular circle formed; the skin raw. He recognized it as a first-degree burn, but he hadn’t known it would cause such pain. However, the sharpness passed as swiftly as it had begun, leaving a sting in its wake. He looked up to the man. Sebastian figured the rag must be soaked in gas or rubbing alcohol. Damn, it hurt!
“That should give me your full attention.” Big Glasses repeated the process and, if possible, it hurt more.
“What the hell do you want?” Sebastian spoke through clenched teeth.
“You know, Gringo. I used to do this for a living, trained by the best – your own CIA. Can you believe that?”
Sebastian remained quiet. He wondered if his own countrymen would teach somebody how to torture human beings. He was not naïve. He knew it must be true, but never expected to come this close to such techniques.
“Man, I miss the Cold War. Back in the eighties, we had no limitations. Your President Reagan spared no expense.” The man laughed a sinister laugh. “We had a limitless budget. And the training sessions? Everybody looked forward to the end of the course. There was booze, broads, the works.
“Our primary target was to keep the commie bastards at bay! We excelled at that. We captured, we tortured, we created panic in their ranks, until they had nowhere to go but back to Russia. Then, when the elections in Nicaragua finalized the return to democracy, the flow of money stopped and we had an army with no cause. So we each found our own line of business.”
Another drop, another ignition. This time on his left arm. He sniffed something akin to pork skin burning. Sebastian’s heart pumped hard against his chest. He did not know where this conversation was going. The man kept rambling about the good ole days against the Red aggression.
“You want answers? Then ask the damn questions!” he blurted out.
“No, not yet.”
The man put out the cigarette on his arm. It hurt like hell, but he remained quiet. Then the man exited the room without asking anything. What the hell was he playing at?
CFC: You’re from Honduras and also write in Spanish. How difficult it is to switch from writing in Spanish to writing in English or vice versa?
JHB: It takes a while to get in to the proper frame of mind to sit and write. I usually put some music in the opposite language to which I’m writing. Why? Heck if I know, really!
However, one important thing is, I think and construct the sentences in the language that I’m writing, rather than translating from one to the other. Of course, I’m far from infallible. Enter proofreaders ­– can’t live without them!
The fun part—and I’m using the word “fun” very loosely here—is getting the right grammar and syntax. For example, Spanish places the adjectives after the noun, while English is the other way around. Thus, the “carro rojo” becomes the “red car.”
CFC: Tell us about your job coordinating the weekly Roundtable for The Big Thrill.
JHB: It’s been wonderful. I’ve been running the Thriller Roundtable since its relaunch back in April of 2012. Since I had participated in them back in 2011, I approached them to find a new spot for the promotion of a recent release; instead I got offered the opportunity to run it.
Every month I contact ITW members with upcoming releases to offer the spots. Coming up with the questions is fun, and I get to meet some of my all-time writer stars, like David Morrell and Raymond Benson. I recall bragging to my wife, “Hey, I’m exchanging emails with the authors of Rambo and James Bond!”

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributing editor to their official e-zine The Big Thrill.
Find J.H. Bogran at his website, on Facebook, at Goodreads, or on Twitter: @JHBogran.
 “FIREFALL is smart and engrossing. It's an intelligent, multilayered riff on international crime and punishment that has atmosphere to burn. It's a damned fine book.”
~ Jake Needham, author of THE UMBRELLA MAN and five other international crime novels
“From the power plays of an international band of car thieves to the behind-the-scenes of insurance fraud cases, all topped with a riveting and suspenseful climax, FIREFALL is an action-packed thriller. The small-dosed chapters, amidst exotic locations, won’t let you put the book down until you reach the end of this hell of a ride!”
~ Joe Moore, international bestselling co-author of THE BLADE and THE PHOENIX APOSTLES.

Friday, September 27, 2013

True Crime Hits Close to Home

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

On April 14th, my uncle and his wife—both quite elderly—were brutally murdered in their bed. The killer, 15 at the time of the slaying, was finally caught months later. His first preliminary hearing was held last week, and the gruesome details emerged. My cousins were there to hear the young man confess to slaughtering their father and his wife.

A few of the heinous details: Each victim was tortured and stabbed more than 60 times. The killer cut them open and left objects—a drinking glass and a cell phone—inside their bodies. Three months after the assaults when they arrested him, the killer still had bits of the victims’ blood and tissue in his long hair. His parents sat in the courtroom and listened to him confess.

I wasn’t close to my uncle, but people I care about—my cousins and aunt—were devastated. My aunt had a heart attack after discovering the bodies. Fortunately, she recovered. The police suspected and questioned a family member (my second cousin) at great length, causing him (an innocent) and his parents unbearable distress. That whole family will never be the same.

Why am I telling you all this?

One of my cousins asked me to write about the crime, as a way of bringing some closure —a way of making sense of it. She meant in the form of fiction—and that’s what crime fiction does. It tries to make sense of, and find justice for, the violence around us. But I can’t make sense of this. There is no motive to explore, no complexities or connections to unravel. A young psychopath picked two random strangers and killed them for fun. He planned to kill more—with a baseball bat next—but the police arrested him just in time.

I wish I could help my cousins process their grief and pain by writing a novel that would do justice to their experience, but I can’t. So I had one of those moments today where I questioned what I do for a living. And whether I contribute anything meaningful or just add to the problem.

Our culture is so violent and murder so commonplace that this horrific crime wasn’t even prominent enough to make anything but the local news. But for the people affected, it was earth shattering.

To add to my fear and frustration, I read another news story about a Portland couple who were stabbed as they left a soccer game. A mentally ill man chose random strangers to stick a knife into, and the man died. His girlfriend is still in critical condition.

It’s a wonder that any of us can sleep at night. But we do. And we go out in public and live our lives. And many of us write crime fiction as entertainment. Someday soon, I will do more than that with my life. I will advocate for more mental health screening, more mental health funding. Wouldn't this country be a much safer place if yearly mental health screenings were mandatory for everyone between 10 and 40?

I'm determined to make a difference someday. And maybe lives will be spared.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A sensitive subject

By Gayle Carline
Author of Non-Intellectual Flotsam and Jetsam*

*(I recently received a 3-star review of my mystery FREEZER BURN that described it as a "story told in a non-intellectual style." I'm okay with that.)

Gentle Readers/Writers,

I've just returned from a weekend writer's conference where many ideas were cussed and discussed, from the actual work required of writing to the actual work required of being a published writer. One issue kept coming up in the craft-centric workshops. It is an issue that makes most agents and editors quake with fear, and most writers scratch their heads in confusion.

I'm talking about prologues.

Many writers think nothing of including a prologue, usually to expose a backstory or set up the plot or characters. To a person, every editor and agent blurted, "Don't do it." They would not be moved.

As a reader, I'm okay with a short prologue, and by short I mean no more than a page. I'll take a page and a half, but not two pages. A lot of prologues are in italics and too much italicized text makes me cranky. If you have to tell me that much history, perhaps you're writing the wrong book.

My first mystery (you know, the non-intellectual one?) began life with a prologue. It also had several one-page chapters because I thought if Stephen King could do it, so could I. Maybe when I've got Stephen King's reputation, I can do whatever I want, but my editor thought a debut novel should not be so pretentious. The prologue became the first chapter. The one-pagers were blended in with the longer chapters.

What do you think? To prologue or not to prologue, that IS the question. Do they bug you, or do you sometimes see a need for them?

BTW, here is the prologue/first chapter from FREEZER BURN. Told in a non-intellectual style... (sorry, but that review seems to tickle my sarcasm bone)

* * * * *

Such exquisite hands. What a pity to waste them.

Long, tapered fingers balanced the size of the palms perfectly. Half moons shone in the nails, which were strong and rounded, and extended the line of the hand. The porcelain skin blushed the slightest pink, although it seemed to be fading quickly.

The shadow knelt in the darkness, eyes glowing.

I'd better use the electric knife. No, the hacksaw.

Under the sliver of moonlight, deft hands opened the toolkit and went to work.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Across the table from a serial killer

By Jenny Hilborne
Author of mysteries and psychological thrillers

Authors are some of the most fascinating people. Almost every time I meet one, I come away with an intriguing new story. Often, it has to something to do with research they've conducted for a novel, as was the case last Saturday with one of thirteen authors who attended a public library book signing event in San Diego.

In researching one of my books, I spent hours inside a police station, experienced the arrest procedure, and found myself locked inside a cell. I wasn't expecting the lock up. The police sergeant treated me to that to give me a true flavor of what a prisoner goes through. The heavy slam of the thick metal prison door and the isolation in a cold concrete cell is something I'll always remember.

One thing I haven't done as part of my research is actually talk to an inmate. I'd love to do it and hear the words of those doing it the hard way. Apparently, it's not that easy to arrange.

One of the mystery authors at the Paradise Hills Library event told me about his interview at San Quentin State Prison with a serial killer. While the shivers ran up my back at the idea of sitting a few feet away from a shackled serial killer, I was engrossed...and a little envious.

Once the prisoner agreed to the interview, arranging it took months. Preparations included a full background check on the author, who told me he got the opportunity via personal connections. Without those connections, he may never have had the chance.

When the day arrived, the author was allowed to take a notepad and pen in with him. He was granted one hour to conduct his interview with the serial killer. An hour with a violent offender seemed like a long time to me. As described by the author, the prisoner was sufficiently shackled with his movements severely restricted. The inmate could bend his head forward to take a sip of his drink, and not much else.

After the interview, the author said he had to hand in his notes for inspection...or scrutinization before he could leave. Every page was carefully examined by the prison guards.

I asked the author his feelings...was he afraid, nervous? Was it difficult to think of questions to ask? What was it like to talk to a man convicted of serial murders? I imagined I'd have butterflies at the very least. (That's a polite way of saying I think I'd be crapping my pants). The author said he felt no fear. In fact, he felt perfectly safe. He said the prisoner was "reformed" and it didn't feel like he was talking to a serial killer at all.

I used the quotation marks around "reformed" as I had to take a step back at this point in our conversation and ask the author, "Can it be so? Do you truly believe anyone convicted of such atrocious crimes could ever be considered reformed?"

The answer surprised me.  

The author explained how the inmate killed during a "blackout."

"What does that mean?" I asked, my first thought being of electrical failure.

In this case, blackout meant under the influence of drugs and alcohol. The author said the prisoner battled with severe addictions and told that him he would "wake up" and find himself covered in blood, with no knowledge of what had happened. He knew he'd killed someone in a violent rage, but was not conscious of doing so at the time. Now that the inmate is no longer controlled by those substances, he no longer suffers from those faults. He is reformed.

Fascinating. Even if I wasn't sure I was convinced, it sounded plausible. The more I listened, the more willing I was to consider it possible. I love psychology. It makes the lines between good and evil that much more complex.

For the rest of the signing event, the question rumbled around inside my head: Can a violent offender, such as a serial killer, ever truly be considered reformed?

What are your thoughts?

Authors: have you had the opportunity to interview an inmate? What was your experience?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What Makes You Feel Alive

Tom Schreck, author of the Duffy Series

What Makes You Feel Alive?

I got in the ring Saturday for some sparring. I was feeling kind of ambivalent about going but I've learned to push myself to do stuff that feels better once I do it.

Me and a buddy did three rounds. Like all sparring sessions there's something inside of me that says "Why are you doing this?"

Let's be honest, I think that something is called fear.

The sparring starts and things happen in there so fast that there is no longer time for thinking and not much for feeling.

I did okay, tired faster than I wanted to, but that's all right.

Since Saturday I've felt a little more alive. Sore and tired, but somehow sharper and more positive.

I think it has something to do with taking some risk, feeling it and going ahead any way.

I just got done writing in my current work-in-progress novel. I'm getting to the end and writing the action scenes. I'm filled with so much uncertainty that I find myself trying to procrastinate. Yesterday I rationalized doing housework and shopping and didn't write till late in the day. Then I couldn't concentrate.

This morning I wrote first thing. The whole time I wanted to do something else. I pushed hard against it and got today's 1,000 words.

I feel sort of like I did on Saturday. Positive, a little more energy and a little more confident.

I've studied how I feel about doing certain things and I've learned that fighting and writing both make me feel alive. They both take losing myself in activity, they both mean pushing through insecurity and they both involve a risk of failure.

Funny thing is when I "fail", whatever that is, I rarely feel bad. Trying and getting lost in the activity seems to be what counts.

I'm curious how others feel.

What do you get similar feelings from?

What makes you feel alive?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Write fearlessly, then be humble

 by A.M. Khalifa, thriller author

[Note from Jodie Renner: I'm away on holiday so my client and friend A.M. Khalifa is entertaining you today with a great blog post and is also giving away two print copies and two e-copies of his new thriller, Terminal Rage. To enter for the giveaway, leave a comment at the end. Good luck!]

The story idea for my debut novel, Terminal Rage, came to me in the shower four years ago. I was living in Manhattan at the time working on a film project and still unsure of my writing ambitions. But the idea came to me fully-formed, with all the major plot lines, twists and turns, and main characters clearly defined, so I knew immediately this was the story I needed to tell. And I felt I was the most suitable person to chaperone it from a humble idea to a novel. 

Terminal Rage is an international political thriller about two seemingly different men, a former FBI agent and a hostage-taker, on course for a head-on collision. But as the intricate story unfolds, the differences between them become blurred, challenging many of the readers’ perceptions. Nothing is what it seems.

My friend, the talented science-fiction writer, J.L Forrest says, “Be fearless with your writing, then be humble.” Even before I wrote the first outline, my biggest concern was my lack of technical knowledge of the FBI, which features heavily in my story. It’s the lead investigating agency in the narrative, and most of my characters are connected to the Bureau. 

How does one write a convincing thriller about the FBI with only superficial knowledge of that entire universe? Like most people, what I know of the FBI is gleaned from what I read and what I see on screen. And since much of that is highly fictionalized to start, I didn’t want to write a book based on watered-down pop culture. 

My first instinct was to read as much as I could. I devoured whatever I laid my hands on. I started with all the publicly-available information the FBI puts out. They have a decent website with ample information. Then I moved to reference books, biographies, and some of the bigger case files. Gary Noesner’s Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator, helped me a great deal to formulate my main FBI character. I highly recommend it for anyone writing about critical incidents and the men and women who try to defuse them.  

Armed with what I thought was enough knowledge to weave with convincing authority a story featuring the FBI, I wrote “fearlessly.” It wasn’t until I completed the first draft that I realized once again I needed to go back to being “humble.” A million questions were still swimming in my mind about FBI procedures, career paths, jargon, subcultures, power struggles, and gender roles. To name but a few. I was hungry for the sort of nuanced details I appreciate as a reader. I felt I owed it whoever would read the book to construct an authentic world populated with believable characters. In my mind, I always imagined an FBI agent picking up a copy of Terminal Rage at an airport ahead of a long flight. And how disappointing it would be if they were turned off by any inaccuracies or flagrant stereotypes in my writing.

Fortunately, I happen to work in the film industry. One of my contacts was Ernest J. Porter, who for many years had served as the former Chief of the Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit of the FBI. I approached Ernie asking for his help, and he graciously accepted. Looking back, I know now that along with hiring an outstanding editor, Jodie Renner, working with Ernie as an FBI technical expert was one of the best publishing decisions I made.  

Like any other organization, let alone one that depends on secrecy to conduct its work, it’s almost impossible to gain critical insight of the FBI without getting into the mind of a person like Ernie who had dedicated his life working there. 

To start, Ernie did a first pass and we discovered that quite a few of the technical details I thought I had nailed were in fact still not exactly accurate. When that was fixed, Ernie provided a number of other suggestions I hadn’t even thought were required. For instance, we did a comprehensive name check with the FBI to ascertain that none of my characters’ names matched existing or former agents. Or indeed real criminals. 

And that was just the start. Through Ernie, I was able to dig deeper into the psyche of FBI agents and hostage rescue operators to better understand the characters I was creating and sending in harm’s way. What amazed me was how the tiniest or seemingly trivial facts or anecdotes can give your character more depth, more humanity, and even broaden your plot options as a writer. The more you know about your characters, the more compelling action and honest emotions you will be able to extract from them. Now that my book is published, I see how this is paying off. Many of my readers write to tell me how much they appreciate the little nuggets of insider information about the FBI and the people who work there.

I was fortunate to have direct contact with an FBI veteran. But does that mean I think all writers must go the extra mile and work with a technical expert on subject matters they know little about? The practical answer is, “it depends.”

There’s never been a better time to be a writer. The research tools and free information sources available to us would have been unfathomable only a few decades ago. With Google and Wikipedia, anyone can write somewhat intelligently about pretty much anything. I don’t believe the extra effort I exerted to better research the FBI will ultimately help me sell more books as far most readers are concerned.

But what it came down to for me was a question of pride of craft. As a reader, nothing ticks me off more than when I am able to see through an author’s infallibility by way of bad writing or ill-researched subjects that I happen to know a thing or two about. More importantly, I’m one of those old-fashioned authors who still believe that even the most exciting, the most thrilling, and the most adrenaline-laced stories should also serve to teach you something. To expose readers to new concepts, ways of life, or types of people they wouldn’t otherwise come across. It’s what makes reading such a magical experience.

Authors: Tell us about your experiences researching and writing about settings and subjects you were unfamiliar with. 

Readers: How do you feel when authors don’t get the details right?

BOOK GIVEAWAY: A.M. Khalifa is giving away two paperback and two eBook copies of his debut novel, Terminal Rage to readers of Crime Fiction Collective who leave comments here, to be chosen at random.
A.M. Khalifa, author of international political thrillers, writes exhilarating stories pulsating with life and unforgettable characters. Khalifa speaks three languages, and has lived, worked or studied in fifteen countries across five continents. Many of the larger-than-life characters and plots he writes about are inspired by people he's actually met or events he's been privy to.  He currently divides his time among the cities of Los Angeles, Rome, and Sydney. Terminal Rage is Khalifa's debut novel.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Do You Want to Give A Shout Out for a Favorite Author?

By Peg Brantley
Evocative Characters. Intriguing Crime. Compelling Stories.

Most of our readers simply enjoy our books, and really in the end that's quite good enough. But sometimes readers would love to know how they can support us and get the word out.

Here are a few ideas:

★ Write a review for Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, DorothyL, For Mystery Addicts, your local library’s website, or any other online review site. It doesn't have to be detailed. Just what you liked.

★ Talk about the book on social media sites. Twitter, Facebook… you know what I mean.

★ Blog about it.

★ Ask your local library to order a copy of the book.

★ Donate a book to your local dentist, doctor, or hairdresser to put in the waiting room.

★ If you’re part of a group, even a group that's not about reading, tell them about the book.

★ Suggest the book to your book club, if applicable. Most of us would be happy to attend a book club in person if possible, or Skype.

★ “Like” the book on Amazon.

★ Direct people to our website.

★ Write a review for your local newspaper.

★ Purchase copies to give away as Christmas and birthday gifts.

★ Pin the cover or other pictures to Pinterest.

★ Share your favorite quotes from the book online. If you purchase an e-book, highlight your favorite quotes. (Personally, I get a kick out of these even though I'm not sure they contribute to any sales.)

★ Suggest the book on reading forums, like those you can find on Goodreads.

★ Make a video about the book and upload it to YouTube or Vimeo.

Can you think of any other way a reader can help spread the word? (Thinking hard about this as my next book is about a month away from release. October 22nd, October 22nd, October 22nd…)

I'm currently in NYC enjoying a brief getaway. If I don't respond quickly to your comments, you'll know why—I'm either at MOMA or Ground Zero.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


There are many moments of exhilaration for authors as they work they’re way through the process of writing a novel. At least there is for me, and I think it is the same for most authors. I expect we vary a little on which points get us the most excited, but we all have them. 

The author starts out by sitting down at a computer (or whatever device they use) with a blank screen. She (or he) has probably at the very least had some story-lines going through her head. Or perhaps a great character or two. And then she starts to write. 

After many months or maybe even years, a first draft is finished...first moment of exhilaration! (My favorite part.) Some of us even break it down into smaller chunks, like completed the first chapter...Yay! Or, first third of the book, or half-way there. We do whatever we need to keep us motivated. 

Another moment is when we discover the perfect title. (Maybe that’s my favorite part.) That can come at any time during the process, before we start to write, halfway through, or sometimes the author is still struggling with it when it’s time to design a cover. It’s tough to have a cover without a title. 

Then the editing process. And even though I actually enjoy this part, I’m still thrilled when it is finally done. By then, I’m getting pretty sick of the story. (Yeah, I’m pretty sure this is my favorite.)

Sparks fly again when the new cover arrives all shiny and new and exciting. Yay! (Wait, this is it. The new cover. It must be my favorite.)

But the ultimate is release day when all the world has access to your new novel. This is often celebrated with a launch. My latest book, The Advocate’s Ex Parte, is almost there. It will be released and launched on Sunday, September 22, on Facebook at (This is absolutely my favorite part!)

And then the reviews and the emails start to come in saying how much they love the book and what a fabulous writer the author is. How could this not be your favorite part? This is definitely, unreservedly, positively, my favorite part of the process! 

As an author, what is your favorite part? 

I try to involve my readers along the way. This last book, my readers helped with the title, the cover, a few characters, and some of them with the editing process (my beta readers). And they certainly are involved in the reviews. As a reader, do you, or would you, like to get involved? If so, what is your favorite part? 

Teresa Burrell 
Author of The Advocate Series

Please join me on Sunday as I launch The Advocate’s Ex Parte!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

When Characters Hook Up...or Not

By Andrew E. Kaufman, Author of Psychological Thrillers

“I’m so glad the main characters didn’t fall in love.” 

This is one of the most persistent comments I see while reading reviews for my books. And while I’m always pleased by positive feedback from readers, I do find it interesting when they feel strongly enough to make note of this.

But to be honest, I’m not sure if I can tell you why my characters never hook up. I don’t think it’s ever been a conscious decision—in fact, most of what I write rarely is.  I’m an intuitive plotter, which means I don’t outline, plan, or imagine my stories before creating them. Generally speaking, all I start with is a basic premise (very basic, often no more than one sentence), and then allow my instincts and characters to lead the way. So maybe I opt out of those love connections because they just don’t feel right to me (or should that be, to them?).

Of course, I’m talking about thrillers here, and admittedly, I do find myself having the same reaction as some of my readers, especially when it seems the situation doesn’t require it or appears particularly unrealistic. And when you think about it, people don’t necessarily fall in love just because they’re thrown into a tense situation anyway; in fact, I think the more natural choice would actually be just the opposite.

Then there’s the predictability factor, something that (cringe) we as authors often see in our reviews. But if I'm going to be completely honest, as a reader I find myself being just as critical about this. I can't count the number of times my eyes have started rolling at the exact point in a novel where a male and female characters start falling in love. That’s not because I’m a love cynic, but rather because in many cases it almost feels too easy, and then it's just plain annoying.

I suppose it all boils down to intent. If it’s relevant and moves the plot rather than being disruptive, I don’t think readers mind so much—if not, then they probably will.

Oddly enough, after saying all this, love is in fact an element that drives the plot for my upcoming novel, Darkness & Shadows, but I don't think readers will find it to be anything near typical, but instead, dark and disturbing--just the way I like it.

 What do you think? Authors: do you allow your characters to share a love interest? If so, how and why? And readers: do you feel particularly strongly about this either way?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dealing with rejections

By Sheila Lowe, Forensic handwriting examiner and Mystery author

Have you ever read a book that you absolutely love, but your best friend says, “meh?” Of course you have. And there are doubtless many books that don’t resonate with you at all, but millions of others rave about them. For me, it was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Every one of us reads through our own personal lenses, which are an outgrowth of our personal life experiences over time. That is just as true of agents and editors as it is of you and me. So when you receive a rejection, remind yourself that publishing is a highly subjective business and that rejections do not necessarily reflect the quality of your work.

Having said that, if you are getting similar comments from several of your critique partners or other readers, it’s wise to step back and take a very good look at what they are saying. For me, doing so made the difference between getting published and staying on the outside looking in.

When I began sending out my first mystery, Poison Pen, I got a large number of responses that said it was a “good” story, had “good” characters, I was a “good” writer, wasn’t strong enough. Huh? What the heck did “not strong enough” mean?

Hopefully, you’re quicker on the uptake than I was. It took me seven years and numerous drafts to find the answer. It came from an independent editor I’d finally hired (a smart thing for any author to do). What I learned is that not strong enough” means there are too many adverbs (those pesky words that end in “ly”) sprinkled through the manuscript.

Adverbs highlight lazy writing. Rather than looking for stronger, more descriptive words, adverbs are the words that tell the reader what to think. For example, “What the hell is going on?” he cried angrily. Instead of using the adverb “angrily,” choosing stronger words could paint a more interesting image: His face reddened; his eyes bulged like a bullfrog. “What the hell is going on?” he cried. Okay, okay, it’s not a great example, but you get the picture. Cut out the adverbs.

The other lesson I learned from my first editor was that my character was also too weak. I hadn’t realized that she was constantly feeling guilty until someone else pointed it out to me. Readers want your character to be strong—not that there can’t be moments of weakness, of course—she’s not a robot. It’s just that guilt-ridden heroines are not popular heroines.

I seem to have digressed. Don't let rejections discourage you. Keep going, even when you feel like Sisyphus, forever damned to push a boulder up a hill. In an interview with James Rollins, he said that a major publisher scribbled on his first manuscript that it was unpublishable. That book went on to sell over a million copies. So see—it’s all subjective. Keep submitting until you find the agent or editor who loves your work. Every rejection takes you another step closer to success.

My latest book, What She Saw, is now available in paperback as well as on Kindle: You can read the first chapter of each of my books here:

Monday, September 16, 2013

You're NOT my mother!

The Wrong Girl (Jane Ryland #2) by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge hardcover, 10 September 2013).

Reviewed by Marlyn Beebe.

Jane's former colleague Tucker Cameron shows up on her doorstep one snowy afternoon, saying she has an incredible story.  Over a glass of wine, Tuck explains that, ten years earlier, upon learning she was adopted, she contacted the private agency who facilitated the process, and was told that the records were sealed unless the birth mother agreed to open them.  Tuck had left her name with them just in case the woman ever changed her mind.   

A few days earlier, Tuck received a call from the agency, telling her they'd found her mother.  But, Tuck tells Jane, upon meeting her she was certain that the woman wasn't her real mother at all, and that she had proof.

Meanwhile, Detective Jake Brogan and his partner Paul DeLuca are called to the scene of a murder at an apartment in Roslindale.  The victim was a young woman who'd been found with her head bashed in, thanks to an anonymous 911 call.  There were two toddlers, a boy and a girl, found in the home, and all they could communicate were their names, Phillip and Phoebe.

Hank Phillippi Ryan at The Book Carnival in Orange, CA.
The newspaper assigns Jane to this story, and and as she investigates, she receives anonymous calls and threatening notes, which lead her to the realization that there may be a connection between the two incidents.

This is a worthy  follow-up to Ryan's The Other Woman (which I reviewed here), published almost exactly a year ago.  Like its predecessor, The Wrong Girl is a gripping story with a plot that's just complex enough and well-developed characters. 

In my review of The Other Woman, I cautioned readers not to begin it near bedtime.  I'll reiterate that warning here.

FTC Full Disclosure:  Many thanks to Edelweiss and MacMillan/Forge for the e-galley.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Name Those Young Men (and win a free book!)

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

Contest update: Winners have been announced on my personal blog.

I’m going gangbusters on my new Jackson novel (#9), but I keep getting stuck trying to decide names. So I often throw something in—so I can keep writing—and tell myself I’ll think of the right name later.

Well, 20,000 words in, it’s time to settle on some names. And readers are always so helpful, I’m asking everyone to pitch in again. I’ll make it worth your while, of course, by giving away a print copy of Crimes of Memory, Jackson #8 to my favorite submission, or if you prefer, an ebook when it’s released on Oct. 15. I also have print and ebook ARCs of The Trigger, a standalone thriller coming out January 1 to other entries I like. Winners get to chose their prize.

In this new (nameless) story, Jackson investigates the death of a young woman who works as a caregiver but has a shadowy existence and no connections to anyone. I need a name for her and her three-year-old son, who becomes quite attached to Jackson.

My first thought for the boy was Cory, but I already have too many K sounds in Jackson’s personal world (Katie and Kera). So I switched his name to Milo, which I really like, but sadly, I decided the name is too much like Micah (Kera’s grandson). I try not to confuse readers. So I’m looking for something sweet—for the boy, that is. (I'm personally trying to give up sugar...again.)

In addition, one of the suspects is a fourteen-year-old who lives next door, a skater who claims to hate guns and violence, yet has a collection of knives He needs a more compelling name than Josh, the placeholder I’m using.

And being one of my complex mysteries, there’s a second victim, a star UO football player, a quarterback with emotional baggage that I really can’t reveal. So I need three young male names of varying ages.

Feel free to submit for all, or just one…if it seems perfect. You can leave a comment or email me with your submissions. Thanks for participating.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

I got an idea

I'm this-close to finishing the latest mystery and, as usual, instead of slamming to the finish line, I'm finding things to distract me. My latest shiny toy involves the idea for a new story. It all started with my favorite movie, The Big Sleep.

I wrote about it on my own blog and several people told me they'd never seen the movie. Please don't tell me you've never seen the movie. It is an essential member of the noir movie club, a movie that every mystery lover must see. Honestly, if you haven't seen this movie, I'm taking away your Mystery Lovers License. If there is such a thing.

First of all, look at this trailer.

I mean, they reference the book, AND the author, before they start mentioning the stars. Okay, so the movie veers a little from the book, but as an author, wouldn't you just die if Denzel Washington or (picture your favorite star) pulled your book off the shelves, showed it to the screen and told everyone in the theater what a fine author you were and how happy he was to star in the movie adaptation?

Yeah, I could point my boots skyward after that, too.

So, go watch the movie, then come back. It's probably on Netflix, or Amazon Prime to watch on your Fire. It's from 1946, so it's probably free. I'll wait...

*humming Jeopardy song*

Now that you're back, let's talk about the plot. It's so convoluted, I barely know where to begin. Phillip Marlowe, a P.I. who is never referred to by his first name by anyone, is hired by a wealthy old man to pay off someone who is blackmailing his youngest daughter, Carmen. Immediately, everyone around Marlowe, including Carmen's older sister Vivian, starts trying to find out if he's being paid to find Sean Regan. Sean is the old man's former bodyguard and has gone missing.

With me so far? Good, because the plot goes a million directions from there. By the time it's all over, there are five murders, six if you count Sean Regan, whose body is never found. Carmen's been sent to rehab and Marlowe ends up with Vivian.

I happen to love this movie, despite the plot holes, because the dialogue is insanely smart and I'm a sucker for Los Angeles in the rain. And, apart from the body count and Carmen's little stint at Betty Ford, it has a happy ending.

I got to thinking about Sean Regan. He was a bodyguard for General Sternwood and used to be a mercenary for the Irish Republican Army. He's already missing when the movie starts, and the implication is that the villain (Eddie Mars) had him murdered and dumped somewhere because he was messing around with Mrs. Mars. (BTW, I'd have loved for Mrs. Mars to have a first name like Venus, but alas, she's Mona. Mona Mars. Meh.)

What if... Sean wasn't dead? What if he was a smart mercenary/bodyguard who evaded Eddie Mars and had to re-invent himself to escape detection?

If I thought I would be the least bit good at historical mysteries, I'd write this story. It's set in the Forties, so I'd have to do actual research. I may bite the bullet and try it eventually. In the meantime, I'd love to open the door to your imagination.

Whatever happened to Sean Regan?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Don't make others pay

By Jenny Hilborne
Author: mysteries & thrillers

I'm in editing mode. This means numerous rounds of slashing and cutting from my manuscript and deleting offenders (never realized I had (oops) such a fondness for the use of had and was until now). I'm in fine company. A good friend of mine, and a good author, too, recently found and discarded 156 exclamation marks from his manuscript. The cleaning doesn't end with me. Once I'm done, it's off to the professional editor.

Hours upon hours in the editing cave makes me tired, hungry, and often irritable. The weekend cool down we were promised arrived, and it dropped from 100 degrees to about 99. My editing cave faces south, where it always feels like 115. Twelve or more hours spent sweating and poring over a manuscript for every offense I can find makes me feel like a school nurse ferreting for nits, and dragging them out kicking and screaming. It's a long process.

My relaxation after hard days like this is usually a book. Unfortunately, I can't switch my inner editor off, which tends to spoil my reading. Editing has turned me into a critical audience. A bad plot with good writing is one thing - irritating - but not a death sentence for the author...meaning, I'll give said author another go. However, I can't say the same for authors churning out a good plot with bad writing.

An aspiring author recently asked me what he/she could do if unable to afford a professional editor. Well, quite frankly, it depends on how serious you are about your writing. If you're serious, find the money and pay for a good editor, and don't go cheap. Find a good one, preferably a recommendation. An abundance of author forums can help with that. Jodie Renner, who doles out tons of free editing advice, is one editor I've recommended to more than one new author.

A few other ideas: join a critique group to get the work as tight as possible prior to editing, or try a kickstarter campaign, though without some kind of "fame" kickstarter might be a tough sell. If you have skills of your own, you could use the old barter system. Free cover design for a free edit. If not, then trusted beta readers can help, as long as you're not using friends who will tell you only what you want to hear. If you choose to self-edit, get a good book on how to do it properly. And read your work until you can't stand it.

If you're not sick of your own manuscript by the time you're done editing....then maybe you haven't read through it enough times. Whether you publish yourself or publish traditionally, don't skip over the importance of a good editor. If you bypass it, you're not the only one who has to pay.

Here are some links to articles that provide clear, concrete advice for revising, editing, and polishing your own novel, courtesy of Jodie Renner. Implementing these tips will also save you a lot of money on editing costs!

REVISE FOR SUCCESS - A Stress-Free, Concrete Plan of Action for Revising, Editing, and Polishing Your Novel

Revising, Editing, & Polishing Your Novel:

How to Save a Bundle on Editing Costs -

How to Slash Your Word Count by 20-40% …and tighten up your story without losing any of the good stuff!