Allison Brennan on Writing & The Lucy Kincaid series

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Allison Brennan discusses writing and her new books in the Lucy Kincaid series, STORM WARNING and NOTHING TO HIDE.

 

 

How do you determine if your idea is viable enough for a complete novel?

Because I don’t plot, every book idea evolves as I’m writing. Usually, I have a spark of an idea — a premise, a set-up, a character conflict — something that interests me. If the idea isn’t working, I tweak it as I write. Sometimes, a story just flows and the idea was better than I thought. Other times, the initial idea isn’t strong enough to carry a novel — I’ve actually written a couple short stories/novellas on ideas that were good but not “big” enough for 100,000 words. But after three dozen books, I usually know based on the initial story concept whether the idea is viable.

 

 

 

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Do you approach writing every book the same or does it vary?

Yes. I start with an idea and a character and go from there. I don’t plot. I start at the beginning and write (mostly) linearly. At about the end of the first act (roughly page 100-150) I almost always get stuck and go back to the beginning. I add/cut/edit extensively. Then I finish the book. The first 150 pages usually takes me twice as long to write as the last 300 pages. And, ironically, it’s usually the first act that has more editorial notes than the last act. Go figure! But I can’t seem to do it any other way.

 

 

What are the bare essentials of your writing process? 

A computer and caffeine. LOL. Seriously, I write every day. I start in the morning and write until the kids come home from school—and often later. I wish I could say I write XXX number of words a day then shut it off, but no. I write anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 a day. Some days—especially in the last act as I’m nearing the end of the book and am really excited about what’s happening, I can write up to 10,000 words in a day. It’s rare, and they need a lot of editing! (For example, once I wrote an entire chapter with no dialogue tags because I was typing so fast!) 

 

 

 

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How would you say your writing process has changed over the years?

Mostly, no. But I have noticed one fundamental change. My first five or six books I wrote from beginning to end, a “sloppy copy” and when back to edit. I wrote fast, a lot of it was a mess, but I had the confidence that I could clean it up in edits. Now, I can’t seem to do that. I edit as I go. About book seven, I realized that if I think I’m writing something that isn’t working, I can’t continue. I have to go back and fix it. This isn’t about the word choices or grammar, it’s about story. If the story isn’t working quite right, I can’t continue without fixing it. The good news is that my first draft is usually really clean and tight. The bad news is that it takes me a lot longer to write that first draft. Now, and for about the last 10-15 books, at the beginning of the writing day, I re-read the last scene or chapter I wrote to get me back into the story (editing as necessary) then write the next scene or chapter. 

 

How do you break down your story into scenes?

Instinct. 

 

 

 

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Did you enjoy writing the next Lucy Kincaid books, Storm Warning and Nothing to Hide?

I always love writing. I’m doing what I love. Even when I’m struggling with a story or a scene, I love it. Storm Warning was particularly fun because I knew it was going to be a novella and I could focus on one linear story. The benefit is that I don’t worry about sub-plots, and the story itself tends to be more fast-paced. This has been true for all the novellas I’ve written, so they’re a lot of fun to write. Nothing to Hide started with a solid premise — I wanted to call the book Two Lies and a Truth because each of the widows lied to Lucy about something and Sean’s son Jesse lied to him about something. The book is really about the lies we tell to protect others, and the lies we tell to protect ourselves. 

Anyway, by the end of the book I loved the way it turned out, though I’ll admit at the beginning of the third act I had no idea how I was going to catch the killer (though by that point I knew who it was. And no, I didn’t know when I first started writing who was guilty!)

 

 

 

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How are these two stories related to one another?

They really aren’t, other than sharing the main characters. In fact, Storm Warning more directly relates to the upcoming Lucy Kincaid book Cut and Run. The novella was set against the backdrop of a storm and flooding outside San Antonio. In the beginning of Cut and Run which takes place two months later, Lucy’s team identifies four bodies that had been uncovered in a mass grave after the flood waters passed. Nothing to Hide takes place between those two stories.

 

 

 

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How does Lucy’s background in psychology help her solve cases?

Criminal psychology has always fascinated me, and I’ve read a lot of books about the subject, as well as true crime. Psychology is a tool that can be learned, but mostly it’s a tool that many cops use based solely on experience. So to me, Lucy has the best of both worlds—she’s been trained in criminal psychology, and she has a lot of experience both before and after she became an FBI agent. Now that she has nearly two years under her belt as an agent, she has more confidence in her abilities, but she still calls in those who have more experience to help—as any good investigator will do. 

 

 

 

Successful Investigation, File closed and Case Solved

 

 

 

What dilemma is she facing trying to solve the crimes in Nothing to Hide?

The biggest problem with this case is that there is no apparent motive. The victims are very loosely connected (all married men under forty, all driving home alone at night, all killed by the side of the road when they exited their vehicle for no known reason.) But the men didn’t know each other; no one in their circles knew each other. They were of different races and socio-economic status. They had different family structures. The attack itself was quick but not painless, and as Lucy and her partner quickly learn, each injury was specific. The lack of motive for these crimes is what is keeping Lucy from solving it quickly—plus, there is little forensic evidence. If the crimes are truly random, Lucy recognizes that they won’t be able to solve the murders until the killer slips up and there’s a witness or physical evidence left behind. And so far, nothing. 

As an aside, I wrote the killer so smart that even I had a hard time figuring out how to solve the crimes! I went back to a statement made by retired cop Lee Lofland in one of his blogs: every contact leaves a trace. That means that the killer had to have left something behind, even if they don’t know what it is. So they go back and look more carefully at each crime scene. And while the evidence they do find doesn’t give them enough to find the killer, it does give them a direction to pursue.

 

 

 

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New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Allison Brennan believes that life is too short to be bored, so she had five children and writes three books a year.

Allison has penned more than two dozen thrillers and many short stories. RT Book Reviews calls Allison “a master of suspense” and her books “haunting,” “mesmerizing,” “pulse-pounding” and “emotionally complex.” RT also said that “The Lucy Kincaid/Sean Rogan books are getting better and better!”

COLD SNAP, was a finalist for Best Thriller in the Thriller Awards (ITW) and FEAR NO EVIL (2007) and COMPULSION (2015) won the Daphne du Maurier award. Allison has been nominated multiple times for RWA’s Best Romantic Suspense award, and the Kiss of Death’s Daphne award.

Allison lives in Northern California with her husband, five children, and assorted pets. Her current release is STORM WARNING: A Lucy Kincaid Novella, and NOTHING TO HIDE Lucy Kincaid #14 Available now.

 

www.allisonbrennan.com

 

 

 

 

Writing, Rewriting, and Craft by Elena Hartwell

 

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Writing, Rewriting, and Craft

By Elena Hartwell

 

As a novelist and playwright, I’m often asked where I get my ideas. Almost every writer I know gets this question, and I think we all feel the same. Ideas are never the problem. That’s the easy part. Ideas are a dime a dozen. The hard part, the magic part, is turning the idea into a polished, final manuscript.

The writing process varies wildly from author to author. Some write extensive, detailed outlines. Others sit down with an idea and write scenes on the fly. A number of writers fall somewhere in between, while they may not outline, neither do they sit down and write completely organically. They might write a synopsis or outline a chapter in advance.

The various combinations of these methods all work, depending on the writer and the project. There is no “wrong” way to write a novel. The “how” a writer works isn’t why their manuscript sells or doesn’t sell. The primary reason an author’s work has not yet sold is a lack of craft.

People who lack craft skills rarely sit down to write a novel. Or if they do, they can start, but never finish. Or if they do finish, they don’t rewrite. Or if they do rewrite, they quit after a single pass. Or, if they do continue to rewrite, they aren’t aware enough of craft to recognize the flaws in their own work. You get the picture. The problem is the writer stops too soon.

As a writing coach—I do one-on-one manuscript critiques as well as teaching workshops—there are some fundamental issues I see repeated in early drafts, over and over. These same issues show up in my own work, and probably on some level, in the early drafts of every writer out there. So the first thing aspiring writers can do to increase their chances of writing a successful manuscript, is learn how to identify these problems.

 

 

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The first is a lack of clear objectives, obstacles, and stakes. It’s not enough to have a dead body to write a mystery. Someone has to investigate the murder. The person investigating the murder has to need to solve the crime. If they don’t need to solve the crime (objective) there’s no tension about the investigation. If the solution doesn’t matter to the investigator, it won’t matter to the reader.

The sleuth also can’t solve the crime easily, that’s not dramatic. Various impediments (obstacles) have to appear, one after the other, to prevent the protagonist from catching the killer. The more the investigator has to overcome, the more satisfying to the reader when they do.

Lastly, it has to matter (stakes). For example, the protagonist with an internal struggle, coinciding with their investigation, is far more interesting than someone who simply goes through the motions of solving a crime.

The more important solving the case is to the protagonist, the more dangerous or difficult the journey, and the greater the importance to find the guilty party, the more invested a reader will be. That’s what keeps a reader turning pages.

Complex protagonists will also have personal objectives, obstacles, and stakes to go along with their investigation. For example, a crumbling marriage, a child in danger, or overcoming an addiction are common tropes within the genre. When we know an investigator has to choose between catching a killer and saving their marriage, the stakes are high and we breathlessly turn each page waiting to see what the character chooses.

 

 

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Another common error I find is a lack of structure. All stories have an underpinning structure. While there are variations to that structure, for the most part, especially in crime fiction, we start with the world as we know it, which is disrupted by a specific event, followed by rising action, where events pile one on top the other, each more important than the one that went before. This ends with a climactic scene, with the maximum danger to our hero or heroine, followed by a glimpse into the new world order for our characters.

If any of these parts are missing, the story can feel unfinished. For example, if we don’t have some sense of what the character’s life was before the intrusion, we don’t know what they are putting at risk. The “world before” can often be well hidden, it might not appear in the first chapter, but later in reflections the character makes as the story progresses, but usually a reader can identify it if they look for it.

The middle of a manuscript might falter if a lot of exciting things happen at the beginning, then nothing exciting follows. Rising action is important, because it builds dramatic tension, making it impossible to put the book down.

Lastly, an ending can feel unsatisfying if we have no sense of the outcome. Readers don’t need everything tied up in a bow, but they do want the primary threads to be resolved enough to know what the character’s lives will be like after they read “the end.”

 

 

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Dialogue can also be difficult to master. One of the most common problems I see is when authors have their characters say exactly what they feel and exactly what they mean. That doesn’t ring true. People lie all the time. We lie because it’s expedient, it benefits us in some way, it keeps us from hurting others, or we don’t want to get in trouble. We rarely say what we mean, we obfuscate, we dither, we agree out loud when disagreeing feels like a mistake. Dialogue works best when each character speaks distinctly from the others, through word choice, sentence length, grammatical accuracy, and the use of slang.

If a writer can identify just these specific problem areas in their own writing, their next draft will be a much tighter, more polished manuscript. It can feel overwhelming to try to identify and fix all the issues I’ve outlined at one time. My recommendation for writers is to choose one aspect and rewrite just for that. Heighten the stakes in one rewrite. Focus solely on dialogue for the next. Breaking down the process into smaller chunks can make each rewrite a more successful venture. This will help the writer get through a series of rewrites rather than attempting one and feeling like the mountain is too high to climb. My final piece of advice. Don’t give up. That’s the only difference between a published author and an unpublished one.

 

 

Giveaway Colorful Stripes

 

 

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 I’d be happy to do a giveaway! Copies of my Eddie Shoes Mystery Series will be available to the first 3 people that sign up for my newsletter win! Send me a PM with your email! More info on the series here:  www.elenahartwell.com

 

 

 

Elena Hartwell author photo with horse

 

 

Elena Hartwell started out her storytelling career in the theater. She worked for several years as a playwright, director, designer, technician, and educator before becoming a novelist.

Elena has more than twenty years of teaching experience and now works one-on-one with writers as a manuscript consultant and writing coach.

She lives in North Bend, Washington, with her husband, two cats, and the greatest dog in the world. When she’s not writing, teaching writing, or talking about writing, she can be found at a nearby stables, playing with her horses.

For more information about Elena, please visit www.elenahartwell.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s In Charge Here?  Getting Jurisdiction Correct in Your Writing

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Who’s In Charge Here?  Getting Jurisdiction Correct in Your Writing

By Micki Browning

 

I recently picked up a novel that featured an FBI agent as a first responder to a burglary investigation at a city residence. The author immediately lost her credibility with me and I put the novel aside. Why? The Feds are about four levels too high for the job. Can federal agents investigate a burglary? Absolutely. Are they the first responder in a city? No.

At some point, a story you’re writing will likely involve a law enforcement character. It may be on a traffic stop, in response to a crime, an encounter in a coffee shop, in another character’s school, or over the neighboring fence. Our nation has more than 750,000 law enforcement officers, so for art to mimic life, there are a couple of things you need to know.

 

 

What is Jurisdiction?

Jurisdiction is easiest to imagine as geographical boundaries, but is best thought of in terms of power. Jurisdiction defines the statutory authority of a government agency—in this case, law enforcement—to act and investigate based on the location of the incident, the type of crime, or the dollar amount at stake.

 

 

Who are you going to call?

Most people don’t worry about jurisdiction. If they need help, they dial 911 and then wait for help. As the master manipulator of your novel, however, you are the dispatcher and it’s up to you to decide who goes. Need a quick response? Local police almost always arrive first.

 

 

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The Locals

The backbone of law enforcement is the patrol force. New York City employs approximately 38,00 officers. A rural agency may only employ a single peace officer. Throw in a county agency and your first responder could be an officer, marshal, or deputy.

So how do you know the difference? If you are writing about an actual agency, it’s easy. Find a computer. Nearly all agencies have a wealth of information regarding size, jurisdiction, rank structure and community outreach on their websites. Photos will reveal the types of vehicles they drive, how they dress and the color of their uniform (which varies considerably).

Every county has a sheriff’s office. The sheriff is an elected official and is statutorily required to provide public safety for the county. Deputy sheriffs perform the patrol grunt work. They also carry out civil law responsibilities, such as serving subpoenas.

By comparison, cities often operate their own municipal police departments. An appointed Chief of Police runs the agency, and the first responders are referred to as officers. But police agencies are expensive to administer, and many cities contract for public safety services from the county sheriff. Likewise, most towns and villages contract from the county, although some operate their own office, and may be called marshals.

On very rare occasions, cities and counties combine agencies, for example the Miami-Dade Police Department and the agencies in San Francisco and Denver. Usually this occurs when the city and county share the same geographical boundaries.

 

 

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State Agencies

State agencies differ across the nation—and it gets murky fast. Many states have multiple public safety agencies that focus on either investigation or enforcement. Other states run one agency with different divisions.

California combines these functions under the umbrella of one massive agency. Remember the television show CHPs? Well, they do a lot more than ride motorcycles. In addition to patrolling the state’s highways, they also staff a Protective Services Division tasked with capitol, dignitary, judicial and governor protection. The agency oversees the State and Regional Threat Assessment Centers, Counterterrorism and Threat Awareness Section, and the Emergency Operations Center.

 

 

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Federal Agencies

Think state agencies are confusing? Wait until the Feds get involved. The Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and of course, the Federal Bureau of Investigations are familiar names. But don’t forget the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, United States Park Police, or everyone’s favorite, the Transportation Security Administration.

Involving federal agencies in a story typically requires more than casual research. Introducing a character as an officer from the FBI will mark you as a rube. While it is true that they are sworn peace officers, the FBI hierarchy is paved with agents, not officers. And just when you think you may have it all figured out, here’s a curveball. Law enforcement officers in the TSA are Federal Air Marshals. The U.S. Marshals Service, the oldest federal law enforcement agency, is the enforcement arm of the Federal Court System. Their enforcement officers are called U.S. marshals (as opposed to a town marshal). Confused yet?

 

 

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Who is the best?

That’s an easy one. It depends on what you need. Every agency thinks it’s the best. Law enforcement is remarkably similar to a family—complete with sibling rivalry, petty jealousies, and intense loyalty. Some departments welcome assistance; others not so much. The truth? The world is shrinking. People are far more mobile, crimes cross borders, and the Internet links continents. Law enforcement cannot be conducted in a vacuum. Departments rely on each other.

Federal task forces give smaller agencies the opportunity to tackle major issues in their communities. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency launched a task force to address Internet child exploitation. They also assist with cyber crimes, human trafficking and smuggling investigations. The Marshals Service routinely spearheads fugitive task forces. The Drug Enforcement Agency partners with local law enforcement on narcotic task forces.

 

 

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Truth is stranger than fiction

Jurisdiction can be tricky. Regardless of genre, the takeaway for authors is that with a little bit of background information, the truth can be manipulated to fit your story needs. The author at the beginning of the article could have legitimately had an FBI agent respond to a burglary investigation with a few easy tweaks. If the responding local officer noticed something in the home indicative of a federal issue—such as a tie to a bank robbery suspect, a terrorist threat, or if the investigation grew to include a kidnapping that crossed state lines—then the FBI would become involved. There’s even a way to legitimize a responding FBI agent. Set the crime on a Native American Indian Reservation. Some tribal nations have their own agency, but for those that don’t, the FBI holds jurisdiction.

In the end, the criminal justice system is a tangled network of agencies with overlapping jurisdictions and operational goals. But the people who make up those agencies are remarkably similar. Every officer swears to uphold the public trust, and they share a common goal. They tend to be strong-willed, opinionated and honorable. By virtue of law, they have enormous authority, and what they do with it can make great fiction.

This article has been updated. The original version appeared in The Florida Writer April 2015.

 

 

 

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An FBI National Academy graduate, Micki Browning worked in municipal law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a division commander. She is the author of the award-winning Mer Cavallo Mystery series set in the Florida Keys. Her debut novel, Adrift, was an Agatha Award finalist for Best First Novel. It won both the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence and the Royal Palm Literary Award prior to its publication. Her latest thriller, Beached, was released in January 2018. It won the Royal Palm Literary Award for both Best Mystery and the Book Book of the Year.

Micki also writes short stories and non-fiction. Her work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines and textbooks. She lives in South Florida with her partner in crime and a vast array of scuba equipment she uses for “research.”

 

www.mickibrowning.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Elements of a Bestselling Thriller: Top Tips for Authors

 

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The Elements of a Bestselling Thriller: Top Tips for Authors

by Adam Durnham

 

When it comes to conjuring ideas for a thriller or mystery, authors should create perspectives that are relevant to current readers with a special attention to market trends. What are the possible elements of a bestselling thriller? Read to know more.

After reading a gripping mystery or thriller, do you find yourself thinking about how interesting it was? If you’re an author, there are elements to bestselling thrillers that can help your readers stay on the edges of their seats.

In order to do this, authors may want to strike a balance between the foundational elements of their work and current trends in thrillers and mysteries. Here are some top tips for authors who are planning to create pieces in these special genres.

 

Pick the type of thriller or mystery genre that you want to create

Thriller or mystery novels are broad categories on their own. It is important to know who your target readers are. Knowing your target audiences will help you determine the literary subgenre that you will use. Some thriller subgenres include:

 

  • Psychological thrillers: These thrillers include themes relating to psychological or mental health conditions. The protagonist or the perpetrators in such stories might have mental health issues.
  • Mystery thrillers: These thrillers feature mysteries that revolve around a crime, accident, or another incident. The protagonists in these works find and analyze clues throughout the stories.
  • Science fiction thrillers: These popular thrillers incorporate science fiction topics. Authors may be particularly creative with this subgenre, which may include futuristic themes such as aliens, monsters, human cloning, and entirely new worlds.

 

Developing clear ideas about your subgenres gives you a laser-sharp focus on the elements that you want to place in your story. The focus helps readers feel that your characters, settings, plot twists, and other crucial parts of your work are thematic and fit together cohesively.

 

Choose relevant themes

Theme is quite different from your subgenre. It unifies your story and gives something for your readers to think about as they progress through your story. This is helpful if you want to create a thriller or mystery novel, since you want to provide puzzle pieces that the readers can think about as they approach the end.

 

Consider using thriller or mystery story themes that people find relatable. They can involve problems such as mental health, addiction rehab, crime, or social injustices. These themes can bring value to your readers, especially if your readers advocate for such topics. Your book has a better chance at reaching the best-seller lists if many of your readers have firsthand experience with or knowledge of your themes.

 

Successful writers pay attention to what is happening in the larger culture. When topics about mental health, addictions, crime, or social problems appear in the news, books and movies associated with these relevant themes also appear.

 

Plot your story before beginning to write

Before starting your first chapter, consider creating an outline of your thriller or mystery to develop your plot. Outlines are important for many types of work, but they are especially crucial for thrillers and mysteries because those genres include large amounts of action. Creating a well-plotted story can help you avoid unnecessary fluff and irrelevant elements in your writing.

 

Your plot should include a buildup of conflict, and your characters’ goals and motivations should be consistent with your themes. Thrillers or mysteries can start at the middle of the action to create a thrilling atmosphere that you can heighten for effect.

 

Experiment with multiple points of view

One sign of a great author is his or her flexibility in presenting the points of view of various characters. Some bestselling thrillers and novels shift between the viewpoints of the protagonists and the villains in the stories instead of presenting the story entirely in the third person perspective.

 

Shifting between multiple points of view depends on your theme and other elements of your story. But multiple viewpoints can greatly benefit mystery and psychological thrillers. They can showcase the depth of the story and portray the intrinsic motivations, thoughts, and actions of the characters.

 

Create interesting plot twists

To develop an interesting plot twist, you need to get inside the minds of readers. One element of bestselling thrillers or mystery novels is that many plot twists can appear quite predictable at the beginnings of stories yet profound and surprising at the ends of the same pieces.

You can create these puzzle pieces to appear one way at the beginning and middle of your stories while creating a sense of jeopardy and conflict. Such story construction encourages readers to exercise their common sense and typical thought processes as they proceed through the plot.

When they encounter your story’s plot twist, readers may be surprised and pleased when your writing reveals your actual story. This shift is what makes the story gripping and exciting for readers. Well-written plot twists are one of your greatest tools as an author of mysteries or thrillers.

 

Ready, set, write!

If you keep in mind these elements of writing a bestselling novel, you can stay on top of your game. Great authors create solid foundations for their stories, incorporate creativity, and understand trends that matter to readers.

 

 

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Managing the Ensemble Cast of Characters by Saralyn Richard

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Managing the Ensemble Cast of Characters

 

by Saralyn Richard

When I decided to write a mystery novel situated around a weekend birthday celebration at a country mansion (Murder in the One Percent ©2018 Black Opal Books), I wasn’t fully aware of how challenging it would be to populate the party with a slew of guests and keep the novel moving for readers. To start with, I wanted to have seven couples on the guest list, plus a single, for a total of fifteen characters. Some would be the hosts, one would be the murder victim, one or more would be the killer(s), and others would be the suspects. Fifteen seemed like a fine number until I started to write the first few chapters.

 

 

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For one thing, the party guests, like most in real life, were quite similar. Most of them had been to college together, and most of them had careers in the same field of endeavor. They were all members of the wealthy one percent, so they all wore expensive clothes and jewelry, enjoyed multiple residences, and indulged in luxurious hobbies. It was fun to pull back the curtain on their lives, but I soon realized a few things:

 

  • The characters were too much alike.
  • Readers would have a hard time remembering who was who.
  • Readers would have a hard time identifying with any of the characters.
  • There wasn’t enough contrast among the characters to make for interesting dialogue, narration, and description.

 

Once I understood the challenges of managing the ensemble cast of characters, I cut one couple from the book, taking the number at the party to thirteen. What a perfect number for a party that started on a Friday the 13th, a party where someone would be killed.

Next, I created a character bible for each partygoer. It wasn’t enough to document the physical traits of each one. I wanted to give everyone a particular way of talking, speaking, moving. So if a character flipped her hair behind her shoulder or rubbed the material of her pants between her thumb and forefinger when nervous, the reader would know exactly which character that was.

While all of the characters were among the ultra-rich, I gave them different experiences with money, and different attitudes toward it, as well. Some inherited it, some earned it, some had it and lost it, and some married into it. Some were haughty, while others were down-to-earth.

Each of the characters has had identifiable past experiences with the victim, some unpleasant enough to serve as a potential motive for killing him. As everyone comes together to a weekend retreat at a remote country mansion, the reader is presented with a “locked room mystery.” The killer has to be one of the party guests.

Once the murder occurs, the detective and other characters provide plenty of contrast, but by then, the readers have already formed impressions of the ensemble of one-percenters. All they have to do then is buckle up and enjoy the ride.

 

 

Galveston Author Saralyn Richard

 

Award-winning mystery and children’s book author, Saralyn Richard, is a writer, who teaches on the side. Her children’s picture book, Naughty Nana, has reached thousands of children worldwide. Murder in the One Percent, semi-finalist in the Chanticleer CLUE awards for best suspense/thriller, pulls back the curtain on the privileged and powerful rich. Set on a gentleman’s farm in Pennsylvania and in the tony areas of New York, the book shows what happens when someone comes to a party with murder in his heart and poison in his pocket. Look for the sequel, A Palette for Love and Murder, at the end of this year. Saralyn has published stories, articles, and poems in a variety of collections and magazines, and she edited the anthology, Burn Survivors’ Journey. A member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America, Saralyn teaches creative writing and a literature class. Her website is www.saralynrichard.com

 

 

 

 

The Motivating Factor By Daniella Bernett

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The Motivating Factor

By Daniella Bernett

 

What is crime?

It begins as a kernel of an idea that metamorphoses itself into a series of thoughts that lead to a transgression against the law and, sometimes, the taking of a human life. It upsets the balance in a safe and ordered world. But this turmoil and chaos are precisely what an author craves and desperately needs when guiding the reader down the dark twists and turns—and dare I say dead ends?—of a mystery or thriller. But before an author can permit his or her imagination to completely unravel the tale one tantalizing layer at a time, there must be a reason, a motive. Without a motive, there would be no story because there would be no crime.

Motive is just as critical as character. A reader must suspend belief for a time and think, “This could happen.” “This person could be real.” For a story to have an air of authenticity, it is essential that an author thoroughly understand the criminal’s, and the sleuth’s, mindset before sitting down to write.

 

 

 

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In life, each one of us is shaped by the myriad people with whom we come into contact; the situations in which we find ourselves; and the opportunities we’re given or let slip through our fingers. It is this confluence of factors, combined with our inherent nature and temperament, which make us unique. So too must it be in a mystery. One character’s motives are different from another’s because of his or her reactions to a particular situation, whether it be a perceived slight, a kind gesture or downright duplicity.

Among the juicy plethora of motives for murder tucked in an author’s arsenal are love (both romantic and unrequited); jealousy; greed; revenge; blackmail; and insanity. I must admit I find insanity (although terrifying) a boring motive. Rather than devising a knotty reason for the crime, an author is taking the easy road by suggesting the killer could not help himself or herself. I believe it is much more fun coming up with a complex motive, or even better a melding of motives, and then leading the reader on a merry chase for the clues. It’s wicked, but quite necessary, to coax the dear reader down a few blind alleys. A red herring or two simply adds a smidgen of spice to the story and keeps it hurtling forward to a dramatic (and one hopes satisfying) denouement. On the same token, a sleuth’s motive is to seek justice—whether for the victim or society as a whole—to ensure that someone pays for the crime.

 

 

 

Stop Crime

 

 

 

My series features journalist Emmeline Kirby as the sleuth. The core fabric of her being is finding the truth and seeing that justice is served. For her, it is anathema to allow a murderer or any other criminal to go free. Although noble and admirable, these motives at times have so consumed her that it has made her heedless of danger and plunged her into some harrowing predicaments. This impetuous streak is aided and abetted by Emmeline’s short temper. I mention this to highlight the human foibles to which all characters must succumb to make the story plausible. If readers can recognize and immediately relate to a character’s motives, the author has succeeded in making a connection.

My other protagonist is Gregory Longdon, a dashing jewel thief who is a gentleman at heart. Where to begin with Gregory? Is he a criminal or a sleuth? Well, the answer is a bit of both. His past is steeped in so many secrets and he’s trying to keep them from seeing the light of day. As opposed to Emmeline, he is not above stretching the truth upon occasion. Meanwhile wielding a rapier wit and charm, he takes tremendous pleasure in needling long-suffering Chief Inspector Oliver Burnell of Scotland Yard. Poor Burnell knows, without any doubt whatsoever, that Gregory has been responsible for a string of notorious jewel robberies in the U.K. and across Europe, but he has never been able to catch him red-handed. Burnell will never give up, though. His mission in life is to make sure that Gregory winds up as a guest of Her Majesty’s prison system. However while Gregory enjoys the thrill of the chase, one thing he could never condone is murder. Therefore, he is more than willing to offer his criminal—skills shall we say?—to help Emmeline and Burnell search for the culprit. After all, who better than a criminal to instantly understand the devious workings of another criminal’s mind.

What the author must remember is that humans are curious creatures. Readers must know why. You have to play on this thirst for answers to conjure up a nuanced motive that is at once intriguing but grounded in reason. A reason that at least your criminal rationalizes as justification for taking that fatal next step. If done with loving care and attention to detail, the reader will eagerly follow the story into the world of lawlessness, mayhem and murder that has risen like the phoenix from the smoldering ashes of your imagination.

 

 

 

Daniella Bernett Author Photo

 

 

Daniella Bernett is a member of the Mystery Writers of America New York Chapter. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University. Lead Me Into Danger, Deadly Legacy, From Beyond The Grave and A Checkered Past are the first four books in the Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon mystery series. She also is the author of two poetry collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections. In her professional life, she is the research manager for a nationally prominent engineering, architectural and construction management firm. Daniella is currently working on Emmeline and Gregory’s next adventure.

Visit www.daniellabernett.com or follow her on Facebook or on Goodreads.

 

 

Interview with Crime Fiction Author Rachel Amphlett

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Please welcome author Rachel Amphlett a brilliant crime fiction author who I’ve had the pleasure reading and interacting with. I’ve come to love her Detective Kay Hunter series, especially the audiobook versions narrated by Alison Campbell.

 

 

 

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About the Author: Rachel Amphlett

 

Before turning to writing, Rachel Amphlett played guitar in bands, worked as a TV and film extra, dabbled in radio as a presenter and freelance producer for the BBC, and worked in publishing as a sub-editor and editorial assistant.

She now wields a pen instead of a plectrum and writes crime fiction and spy novels, including the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the Detective Kay Hunter series.

Originally from the UK and currently based in Brisbane, Australia, Rachel cites her writing influences as Michael Connelly, Lee Child, and Robert Ludlum. She’s also a huge fan of Peter James, Val McDermid, Robert Crais, Stuart MacBride, and many more.

She’s a member of International Thriller Writers and the Crime Writers Association, with the Italian foreign rights for her debut novel, White Gold sold to Fanucci Editore’s TIMECrime imprint, and the first four books in the Dan Taylor espionage series contracted to Germany’s Luzifer Verlag.

 

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INTERVIEW

 

Do you outline your books or spontaneous?

I tend to do a bit of both these days. When I first get an idea, I’ll let it go around in my head for a bit, and then I’ll sketch out the opening scene.

From there, I’ll jot down any key scenes that have popped into my head and what Peter James refers to as the “gosh, wow!” moments dotted through the story that will hopefully keep you turning the pages but the rest is pretty spontaneous.

I figure with the detective stories that if I already know who the culprit is, then it spoils the fun for me and the reader trying to work out whodunnit.

 

 

 

Criminal

 

 

 

What’s your creative approach to writing scenes?

I’ve got a really tight process these days for writing. I’ll get an idea going around in my head, and then I’ll scribble that down in a new notebook and keep jotting down basic scenes as they crop up, and then I’ll take that and develop it into an outline of about 30 – 40 key scenes. For each scene, I’ll write a sentence or two about what has to happen in that scene, and then I’ll get stuck in and write. For example, Scared to Death took me nine weeks to complete the first draft using the above process. After that, there were weeks of editing, but I enjoy that as much as the writing because I keep discovering new things about the characters and story.

 

 

 

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When is your next book due?

 

The next Detective Kay Hunter book will be out towards the end of the year. I recommend readers sign up to my Readers Group on my website to be the first to find out the next book title and see the cover before anyone else!

 

 

This from a recent blog tour and book review of  Bridge to Burn, Detective Kay Hunter Book 7

 

 

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Blog Tour: Bridge To Burn by Rachel Amphlett

 

 

Bridge to Burn Cover AUDIO

 

 

 

 

 

 

When a mummified body is found in a renovated building, the gruesome discovery leads Detective Kay Hunter and her team into a complex murder investigation.

The subsequent police inquiry exposes corruption, lies, and organized crime within the tight-knit community – and Kay’s determination to seek justice for the young murder victim could ruin the reputations of men who will do anything to protect their business interests.

But as Kay closes in on the killer, tragedy strikes closer to home in an event that will send a shockwave through her personal life and make her question everything she values. Can Kay keep her private and professional life under control while she tries to unravel one of the strangest murder cases of her career?

Have you discovered the Kay Hunter British detective murder mysteries yet?

 

 

 

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It’s always great detective fiction in the Kay Hunter series. A body is found under bizarre circumstances leaving Hunter and her team scrambling to find answers. Lies, cover ups, deception, family drama–Detective Kay Hunter has her hands full attempting to solve a mind-boggling puzzle. This series is full of creative, entertaining plots that don’t disappoint.

 

 

Sibel Hodge Discusses Her Writing Process

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INTERVIEW

 

 

Is your creative approach to writing each novel the same or does it vary?

I often get asked whether I plan out my plot in advance before I start writing. Urgh, the dreaded P word, I think! I hate plotting. Absolutely hate it!

There are some authors who won’t type a single letter until they’ve got every inch of their plot structure finely tuned in advance. Some authors know their characters intimately before they begin writing, down to what they just had for breakfast. And I wish I could be like that, I really do. I think it could make my job a whole lot easier. But I’m definitely a fly by the seat of my knickers kind of girl! If I get too hung up spending a lot of time plotting in advance, I tend to lose my creativity. I start thinking about it too much and get nowhere. I think I must suffer from some kind of plot dyslexia, because as soon as I pull out a pad and pen and start trying to come up with vast plot notes, the words swim in front of my face in a blur and my brain turns to mush. Is there such a thing as plot-o-phobia?

But unfortunately, plotting is a necessary evil if you want to write a novel. Without a plot, it’s just words on the paper. Your plot should encompass all sorts of things: goals of the characters, conflict, crises, turning points, climax, resolution. And everything you write should advance the plot, although I personally think when writing comedy, you can get away with a few extras in there!

When I wrote my debut romantic comedy, Fourteen Days Later, I didn’t have a clue about any kind of plot, or characters, or structure. All I knew was that my heroine had to do a fourteen-day life-changing challenge, where she completed a new task every day. I knew my ending, but I didn’t have a clue what happened anywhere else. Hmm…slight problem, I hear you say! Well, yes, but as soon as I started tapping out the words on the keyboard it all developed naturally. My characters invented their own plot as they went along.

So far, so good, but what about the next novel? Surely this must’ve been some bizarre fluke, and I’d have to actually think of a plot in advance for the next one. Well, yes and no. My second novel was a comedy mystery. Because of the mystery element, I did need to know a few things before I started. Otherwise how would I weave in all the clues? So this time I did actually write an eency weency plot before I started. It was about three lines for each chapter of things I needed to happen. That was it, though, and I still didn’t have hardly any of my “clues” in there. But again, it all seemed to come together as I wrote it. Creative or crazy? I’m not sure which.

With my third novel, I was getting really stressed trying to plot. I read about different techniques like the Snowflake method and using index cards or graphs, even plotting software, but the plot-dyslexia was kicking in big time! Robert McKee’s Story is an excellent book, by the way, for plotting. (It’s for screenplays but works just as well for novels). But none of it helped me in writing a plot in advance. I wrote a few lines for the first two chapters and after that, nada! So once again, I just started to write and my characters invented their own story. The voices in my head just tell me to do things.

My fourth novel was also a mystery, so again I thought I’d need to at least write some lines of plot to allow for my clues. And this time I did it! Hurrah, I wrote out my plot in advance, doing a storyboard of a paragraph per chapter of things I needed to include. In a lot of ways it was easier to write in this way, but that was the only time I’ve ever managed it.

In my world (which is sometimes scary!) my plot advances on its own, with one scene logically following on from the next. I’m very much character driven. And what works for one author won’t work for another. Even what works for one novel won’t always work for another. However you choose to write a novel or story is very personal. Who knows whether I’ll finally get to write an advanced detailed plot for another novel. Watch this space and I’ll let you know!

 

 

 

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What do you normally begin with?

I usually have a single line idea. For example, with The Disappeared it was that Nicole’s husband died in a plane crash in Africa, but ten months later she receives a letter that could only have come from him. So what happened to him out there? Sometimes I can think of an idea and start on it the next week. Sometimes it has to fester for a year or so to be mixed with another idea.

 

Name some things that has helped your craft as a writer.

Reading. For me, it’s the number one thing that’s helped me understand the craft, to see what I think works or doesn’t work, to understand a writer’s voice that I’m a fan of, and to hone my skills. Then you have to write, write, write! Even if it’s a project that’s never going to be published, it’s all about practice and learning, like anything in life. Also passion is important. If you believe in something so strongly, it will shine through in what you do and motivate you to carry on.

 

 

What are the most challenging aspects of writing?

Every single word! Because one word leads to another and another, which eventually becomes a story (hopefully!). Because I’m not a plotter I can’t relax with my work in progress until I have a first draft and I know for sure I’ve got a story to work with.

 

 

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How do you incorporate pacing in your books?

Chapter length, sentence and paragraph structure, and using multiple points of view are all methods I use to increase or decrease pacing.

 

 

How would you define a Psychological thriller?

A story that messes with your head or emphasises the psychological and emotional states of the character(s). I love psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators, where their motivations or emotions are questionable or you don’t know who to trust.

 

 

What motivated you to write about them?

With The Disappeared it was a documentary I watched, but, unfortunately, I can’t tell you the name now as it will give away the whole story in advance! But I do mention it in my author note at the end of the novel.

When I’m writing I see the scenes playing out in my head, exactly like watching a film. Often they’re accompanied by actors who I think my characters are like or would portray them perfectly. One movie that was also a backdrop in my mind as I was writing this novel was Blood Diamond. And, yes, Leonardo DiCaprio also featured in there, too, who I admire, not just because he’s a hugely talented actor, but because of his work with The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation that does amazing things for both wildlife and the environment.

Most of my thrillers are inspired by real life events, and research for The Disappearedincluded reading hundreds of online articles from NGOs, government organisations, humanitarian groups, and investigative journalists. I also read many books on the subjects covered in the novel. When I’m writing, I have notes everywhere—snippets of dialogue, character traits and names, statistics, one sentence reminders of things I need to include, and much more. This book was no different, and I had about a hundred pieces of A4 paper filled with the stuff that I had to, somehow, turn into something readable. Fingers crossed readers will experience something that’s both thrilling and exciting, but also authentic and sympathetic to the subject matter.

 

 

In the Disappeared, how did get to know your characters?

I don’t know much about my characters at the beginning of the novel (unless I’m using repeat characters from other books). They always evolve as I’m writing the story.

 

 

 

Disappeared image Sibel Hodge

 

 

 

Who is Nicole Palmer and what motivates her?

She’s an ordinary woman who’s become unexpectedly widowed. A primary school teacher who believes her husband died in a plane crash in Africa ten months before. But she’s also stronger than she thinks, independent, brave, with a fierce motivation to find out what really did happen to her husband when she realises not everything is as it seems. And she’s about to be tested to the limit.

 

 

Sibel Hodge

 

Sibel Hodge image

 

 

 

Award Winning and International Bestselling Author

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Leave a comment below to enter for a chance to win a free e-book of The Disappeared by Sibel Hodge! 

 

 

 

 

Writing Crime Fiction with Gretta Mulrooney

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Interview with Gretta Mulrooney

 

*Why do you write crime fiction?

 

I write crime fiction because I’m fascinated by motive, secrets, guilt, revenge and betrayal. The genre allows me to cover all kinds of social and cultural issues.  Psychopaths and serial killers don’t interest me. I prefer domestic murders involving people driven to breaking point by rage and disappointment. After all, most people are killed by family members. I like the past breaking into the present and taking revenge – a dish much better eaten cold. A number of my novels have female protagonists and killers. I’m tired of reading about male crime towards women and the world is full enough of that in real life. I reckon that women can be more subtle and strategic in planning to kill and in playing the long game, so you’ll find that theme in some of my books. My crime novels to date have featured a male private detective because I like playing with that genre. I’m now writing a novel with a female police inspector. I love reader feedback and try to respond to everyone who gets in touch.

 

 

*What fascinates you about motive, secrets, guilt, revenge etc.?

I’ve studied psychology and I enjoy considering what propels emotions and actions when writing crime. Guilt and anger are often two sides of the same coin and I like dissecting how these combined emotions can lead to violence and murder. Also, I like to track how every action has a consequence, particularly when the past comes back to bite a character.

 

 

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*What’s your writing process like?

I’d call my writing process organic. I do very little planning. I have the kernel of a plot, create the characters and see where they lead. I often don’t decide on the perpetrator until I’m near the end. Sometimes I’ve changed my mind about who did it at the last minute.

 

 

*What can you tell us about what you’re currently working on?

I’m currently working on my seventh novel about private detective Tyrone Swift. I’m also working on an idea for a novel about a female police detective. I’m having fun with that because I’m creating a fictitious town.

 

 

 

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AUTHOR BIO

I was born and educated in London, of Irish parents. I studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Ulster, Magee college in Derry. I have worked in education and social care.

I started writing in my thirties and I published four books for children and teenagers with Poolbeg Press, Dublin; A Can of Worms, A Nest of Vipers, A Den of Thieves and I Love You-Te Quiero. These books are available on Amazon.

I have published five literary fiction novels.

Araby and Marble Heart were published by Harper Collins to critical acclaim. They have been translated into Dutch and Spanish.  These books are available on Amazon. They are being reissued in May 2016 by Fourth Estate as Kindle and paperbacks.

Fire and Ice, Out of The Blue and The Apple of Her Eye were published by Robert Hale. These books are available on Amazon.

Out of The Blue was published by Joffe Books as an e book and paperback in February 2016 and is available on Amazon.

Lost Child was published by Joffe Books as an e book and paperback in March 2016 and is available on Amazon. (This was previously published as Fire and Ice by Robert Hale.)

Coming of Age was published by Joffe Books as a e book and paperback in April 2016 and is available on Amazon. (This was previously published as The Apple of Her Eye by Robert Hale.)

I have always been an avid reader of crime fiction and psychological thrillers. I have started a series of crime novels featuring charismatic private detective Tyrone Swift.

The Lady Vanished was published as an e book and paperback by Joffe Books in December 2015 and is available on Amazon.

Blood Secrets, the second novel featuring private detective Tyrone Swift, was published as e book and paperback in spring 2016 and is available on Amazon.

Two Lovers, Six Deaths, the third Tyrone Swift novel, was published as an e book and paperback in December 2016 by Joffe Books and is available on Amazon.

Watching You, the fourth Tyrone Swift novel, was published as an e book and paperback in June 2017 by Joffe Books and is available on Amazon.

Low Lake, the fifth Tyrone Swift novel, was published as an e book and paperback in March 2018 by Joffe Books and is available on Amazon.

Bound By Lies is a boxset trilogy of the first three  novels in the Tyrone Swift series. It was published as an e book and paperback in June 2017 by Joffe Books and is available on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

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Writing Historical Mystery with Rhys Bowen

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Interview with Rhys Bowen

 

I had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing historical mystery author Rhys Bowen regarding her writing, and more specifically, the 12th book of the Royal Spyness series – Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding.

 

 

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In the days leading up to her wedding to Darcy O’Mara, Lady Georgiana Rannoch takes on the responsibilities of a grand estate, but proving she can run a household just may be the death of her in the new Royal Spyness Mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service.

If only Darcy and I had eloped! What I thought would be a simple wedding has been transformed into a grand affair, thanks to the attendance of the queen, who has offered up the princesses as bridesmaids. Silly me! I thought that withdrawing from the royal line of succession would simplify my life. But before Darcy and I tie the knot in front of queen and country, we have to find a place to live as man and wife…

House hunting turns out to be a pretty grim affair. Just as we start to lose hope, my globetrotting godfather offers us his fully staffed country estate. Mistress of Eynsleigh I shall be! With Darcy off in parts unknown, I head to Eynsleigh alone, only to have my hopes dashed. The grounds are in disarray and the small staff is suspiciously incompetent. Not to mention the gas tap leak in my bedroom, which I can only imagine was an attempt on my life. Something rotten is afoot—and bringing the place up to snuff may put me six feet under before I even get a chance to walk down the aisle…

 

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AUDIOBOOK REVIEW

 

Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding is book #12 in the Royal Spyness series set in 1930’s London. An absolute blast to read and very entertaining on many levels. Told in the point of view of Lady Victoria Georgiana Rannoch, the story unravels seamlessly until the very end. I was very captivated by the humorous tone and style of writing by Rhys Bowen. I listened to the audiobook version and laughed out loud several times! The ability to capture each character within the time period was very impressive. Lady Georgiana, affectionately “Georgy” is so adorable as she plans for her wedding, prepares a new home, and attempts to solve a mysterious murder. This review is based on the audiobook version with exceptional new series narrator Jasmine Blackborow.

 

 

INTERVIEW

 

What do you love most about writing history?

Rhys: I love writing about the 1930’s in the Royal Spyness series because it was such a fascinating time, poised between two world wars. A time of great contrasts, haves and have-nots, Fascism and Communism fighting for control of Europe and of course my delicious Royal scandals. My big stand alone novels take place in WWI and II, times of heightened emotion, of good vs evil and the comforting knowledge that good prevailed.

And for historical mysteries all those lovely motives: I love Another but I am not free etc!

 

 

“History will be kind to me; for I intend to write it.” – Winston Churchill

 

 

Do you have a certain method for researching a story?

Rhys: it all starts with a sense of place. I do my background reading of the true historical framework then I have to go to the place and experience it myself

 

 

 

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How important is setting for historical fiction writers?

Rhys: for me setting drives many of my stories. NAUGHTY IN NICE. TIME OF FOG AND FIRE. Etc etc

And it’s important to get every detail right. I read biographies, accounts of battles, diaries, study old maps

 

 

What’s the historical context behind Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding?

Rhys:  it was high time that my protagonist got married. It is summer 1935 and as she goes to Ascot with Queen Mary and King George she realizes the king does not look well. He will, of course, die that winter. And I’m looking forward to stories when the Prince of Wales becomes king.

 

 

 

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Who is Lady Georgiana Rannoch’s godfather and what role does he play in the story?

He is Sir Hubert Anstruther, a mountaineer and explorer. Her mother was once married to him and she has fond memories of the childhood days at his house. He was fond of her and wanted to adopt her. She was one of three heirs but the other two came to bad ends in the first book of the series,

 

 

What did inheriting a country estate detail back then?

Rhys: she hasn’t inherited it as he is still alive. This is lucky as if Sir Hubert had died she’d have to pay a fortune in death duties ( estate taxes)

I imagine this is an informal arrangement between them with the understanding that the estate will be legally hers when he dies.

 

 

 

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Describe the emotional state of Lady Georgiana and Darcy O’Mara as they prepare for marriage.

Goodness, they are British! They don’t have emotional states. They just get on with things!  Actually Georgie in naturally excited. Darcy seems to be taking it in his stride. Georgie can’t believe that everything is going right for once… This is before the various roadblocks appear.

 

 

What were weddings like in that time period?

Much simpler than now. An afternoon ceremony, then cake, champagne, a few speeches and the couple drives off on their honeymoon.

 

 

 

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What’s next for you?

I have just published another stand-alone, THE VICTORY GARDEN.

 

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IN August another Georgie novel, this time set in Kenya. It’s called LOVE AND DEATH AMONG THE CHEETAHS. Pre-order now and available August 6, 2019. 

AND I’m just finishing a book about Queen Victoria.

Not idle!

 

 

 

Rhys in LA 2006

 

 

“I’m a New York Times bestselling mystery author, winner of both Agatha and Anthony awards for my Molly Murphy mysteries, set in 1902 New York City.

I have recently published two internationally bestselling WWII novels, one of them a #1 Kindle bestseller, the other selling almost half a million copies to date.

I also write the Agatha-winning Royal Spyness series, about the British royal family in the 1930s. It’s lighter, sexier, funnier, wicked satire. It was voted by readers as best mystery series one year.

I am also known for my Constable Evans books, set in North Wales, and for my award-winning short stories. “

I was born and raised in England but currently divide my time between California and Arizona where I go to escape from the harsh California winters

When I am not writing I love to travel, sing, hike, play my Celtic harp.

 

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