Some Book Recommendations

by VP Chandler

VP Chandler

I’ve been reading this summer and wanted to share some great books with you!

The Blessing Way is book #1 of the famous Leaphorn and Chee series by Tony Hillerman. This series has been in my TBR (To Be Read) pile for years and I’m happy to say that I finally got around to it! I knew that it would be good because everyone I’ve talked to has loved these books. Even knowing that, I was pleasantly surprised. Leaphorn is interesting and has an inherent understand about people and what makes them tick. His internal dialogue also teaches the reader about his heritage and culture. I honestly found that aspect of the story to be entertaining and enlightening. It was also full of suspenseful action. There’s a seen where a character is stalked by something or someone in the night. That scene was the best in the book! It was chilling and creepy. I loved it. *happy chills*

I’m currently reading book #2, Dance Hall of The Dead and it’s just as creepy and suspenseful.

Good Reads description of The Blessing Way: Homicide is always an abomination, but there is something exceptionally disturbing about the victim discovered in a high lonely place, a corpse with a mouth full of sand, abandoned at a crime scene seemingly devoid of tracks or useful clues. Though it goes against his better judgment, Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn cannot help but suspect the hand of a supernatural killer. There is palpable evil in the air, and Leaphorn’s pursuit of a Wolf-Witch is leading him where even the bravest men fear, on a chilling trail that winds perilously between mysticism and murder.

The second book that I recommend is The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott. It’s also the first in a series, the Chris Cherry series. While it also has a landscape that’s remote, isolated, and vast, this book is quite different. The story is told in alternating chapters from different characters. It took me a bit to get the characters straight, but once I did that, it took off. Scott does an excellent job of capturing the feel of the west Texas landscape and its people, especially bullies in small towns. As most good books, there’s a showdown of sorts and my nerves were raw, waiting to see what happens. It’s not a small book but you’ll be turning pages.

Good Reads description: Seventeen-year-old Caleb Ross is adrift in the wake of the sudden disappearance of his mother more than a year ago, and is struggling to find his way out of the small Texas border town of Murfee. Chris Cherry is a newly minted sheriff’s deputy, a high school football hero who has reluctantly returned to his hometown. When skeletal remains are discovered in the surrounding badlands, the two are inexorably drawn together as their efforts to uncover Murfee’s darkest secrets lead them to the same terrifying suspect: Caleb’s father and Chris’s boss, the charismatic and feared Sheriff Standford “Judge” Ross. Dark, elegiac, and violent, The Far Empty is a modern Western, a story of loss and escape set along the sharp edge of the Texas border. Told by a longtime federal agent who knows the region, it’s a debut novel you won’t soon forget.

Recommendation #3 is South California Purples by Baron R. Birtcher. It’s set in 1973 and starts out with an easy feel of a typical traditional Western. Then rancher Ty Dawson gets conscripted into helping the county’s law enforcement, who seems to have no interest in dealing with the growing problem. When time after time Dawson doesn’t get help from the local cops, Dawson decides to handle matters as he sees fit. If you’re looking for a mix of hard-boiled with a Western, this book fits the bill. Biker gangs vs. cowboys. You know it’s full of action. *trigger warning- it does deal with rape*

From Good Reads: Cattle rancher Ty Dawson, a complex man tormented by elements of his own past, is involuntarily conscripted to assist local law enforcement when a herd of wild mustangs is rounded up and corralled in anticipation of a government auction, igniting the passions of political activist Teresa Pineu, who threatens to fan the flames of an uprising that grows rapidly out of control.

As the past collides with the present, and hostility escalates into brutality and bloodshed, Ty is drawn into a complex web of predatory alliances and corruption where he must choose to stand and fight, or watch as the last remnants of the American West are consumed in a lawless conflagration of avarice and cruelty.

I hope this helps you find some new books. And remember, whenever possible, please try to purchase your books from local, independent bookstores. Thank you!

If You Know Why…

By Helen Currie Foster

I don’t know where you are on this infernally cold day, but my husband and I have refugee’d to my sister’s place in Austin because her neighborhood has underground utilities. Yes, the underground power lines mean she’s thumbing her nose at all the ice hanging from every tree, shrub and bush.

In contrast, our sixty-year old abode in Dripping Springs is all electric. Rainwater system with a pump. Electric heat. Oh, sure, a fireplace and a charcoal grill. But the trees hang heavy with the ice…all along our dirt road the frozen cedars clutch the single power line.

So we flung bales of hay to the burros, dripped the faucets, fed the birds, hung a worklamp over the faucet to the washing machine, and left.We crept down Fitzhugh at fifteen miles an hour, flashers on. Hills that we ignore suddenly loomed large ahead of us. But we slithered up and down to my sister’s.

Which is where we wound up watching David Byrne’s American Utopia, filmed by Spike Lee. Okay, the Talking Heads got no attention from me––they seemed too urban and inward back in the day when I was living on tunes from Emmylou, Guy Clark, The Byrds, Joni Mitchell, Gram Parsons. Tender harmonies, accessible. Relatable. Now there’s a word. Maybe. When did it pop up everywhere? As a positive term, too. Cozy. Approachable. I identified with the characters in those songs. Not so much with David Byrne…he’s not “relatable” but he’s riveting.

Watching David Byrne, singing his disorienting lyrics while moving as one with his variegated carefully chosen ensemble, with their precisely rehearsed exact choreography, reminded me that genius also resides in those we don’t “get.” Those who insist on providing their ownlarge vision of their creation. Those who challenge us (like David Byrne does when he stares at his puzzled and entranced audience). Who make us look at their unique and unfamiliar vision and…buy into it.

Maybe now you’re also recalling how Amanda Gorman created her own new vision at Biden’s inauguration: her smile, her high and formal hair, her slender hands waving in the air, almost forming the words as she spoke her poem. A new way to say a poem, be her own poem, draw us forward into her poem.

So after watching American Utopia I’m thinking of artists who refuse to get stuck in their genre but keep moving ahead of us down the road, hoping we’ll “get it” sooner or later, while remaining––regardless––determined to achieve their vision.

Two from the last century come to mind. First, Picasso. He refusedto get stuck in a rose period, a blue period. Just as we’d learned to love his line drawings of figures from myth or commedia dell’arte, we found ourselves facing guitar collages and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, large Cretan eyes in all the wrong places. If he’d lived forever he’d still be shocking us.

Second, Virginia Woolf. She never wrote the same novel twice. She focused on that unique human trait, individual consciousness, and the mystery of our occasional interconnection. Her compulsive drive in her novels to capture life––moments of revelation––emerged in differentstructures. Orlando. The Waves. The “Time Passes” scene in my lifetimefavorite, To the Lighthouse; also, the incredibly satisfying moment whenLily Briscoe, the spinster amateur artist, cautiously applies a final brushstroke to her painting and senses its rightness. Lily has “had her vision.” In Woolf’s last effort, Between The Acts, she overlays the battle of the sexes, the gulf (occasionally bridged) between a husband and wife, on the annual village pageant unfolding at the ancient barn at their country house where all the villagers participate in a precis of English history.

Woolf was severely criticized, and deeply wounded, by a then-dominant critic, Desmond McCarthy. He sneered, “Of the drama of the will in action out of which stories are made …she knows nothing. What an extraordinary, what a fatal limitation…in a novelist!”

But hey, does anyone read Desmond McCarthy anymore? Take comfort, Virginia. You still challenge, you still astound us.

What does this have to do with mystery writers? Do such lofty goals––never becoming too formulaic or overly predictable––apply to mystery writers? Well, a mystery must have––mystery! Which means a writer can’t get stuck doing the same things over and over. Hence mystery writers do somersaults to stay fresh. Point of view? Proseoptions? Choice of detective(s)?

Consider point of view. Think of Reginald Hill’s police inspectors Dalziel and Pascoe: sometimes one handles the case, sometimes the other. But in Arms and the Woman, Hill gave the point of view to Pascoe’s acerbic wife Ellie. Dorothy Sayers shifted point of view from detective Peter Wimsey’s manservant Bunter, to his love interest Harriet,to his Scotland Yard brother-in-law, Charles. Tony Hillerman uses a mixin his Leaphorn and Chee novels. The Dark Wind begins with omniscience: in chapter one we, along with “the Flute Clan boy,” and fellow Hopi kiva members, are the first to see the body of a Navajo, lying in the middle of the path where the kiva members are transporting sacred spruce branches for a desperately needed rain dance. In chapter two point of view shifts to the pilot of a night flight in the desert. Only inchapter three are we finally in the head of Navajo policeman Jim Chee. But the first two chapters set up the murder and create the powerful desert setting in which Chee operates.

Mystery writers also play with prose. Letters back and forth? Diary excerpts? Dorothy Sayers used both in Busman’s Honeymoon where she advances the plot and setting through the letters and diaries of the detective’s mother and manservant, as well as those of catty London socialites. (As you were about to mention, using such sources reveals the diarist’s/correspondent’s point of view too.) Emails? Reginald Hill used those as Dalziel’s source of information, when Dalziel’s confined to his hospital bed in A Cure for All Diseases. He even copied arial typeface for the emails (which actually I found quite irritating).

As mystery readers we settle comfortably into our favorite chairs fully expecting a murder. Yet sometimes the author teases the reader, providing comedy, but no murder, or granting us a body, but denying us a murderer. Georges Simenon occasionally had the indefatigable Inspector Maigret conclude that in fact there’d been death but no crime, as in The Late Monsieur Gallet. And what about the famous novelist’s death upstairs in the movie Knives Out?

For a real treat, take yourself back to 1913, and E. C. Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case. No spoilers, but the oh-so-clever, so artistic, so fluent, so utterly charming detective…screws up his solution. I won’t tell you how many times, I just recommend it as another mystery twist.

Sometimes the author puts the reader to work, possibly too hard. Inher Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Luminaries Eleanor Catton uses many narrators, some unreliable, leaving the reader to make leaps of logic as to which death(s) were murder, and if so, who the murderer might be. Which, admittedly, is a great deal like life itself: we’re always trying to explain events without having enough information.


In my Ghost Next Door a murder occurs and is solved. But characters also debate a long-ago death: was it, or was it not, a murder?I’m now finishing the last chapters in my seventh Alice MacDonald Greer murder mystery. Again the point of view belongs to Alice; the bigquestion she faces is finding the motive. Alice operates on the premise that “If you know why, you know who.” We’re at the point where she hasn’t figured out why.

I’ll keep you posted.

Interview With Author Nick Russell

VP Chandler

Written by V.P. Chandler

I’ve been following Nick Russell for a few years and have found him to be funny and fascinating. So I wanted to introduce him to all of you!

VP Chandler- Nick Russell, welcome to the AMW blog and thanks for agreeing to this interview. I’ve followed you and your work for a few years now and I have to say, you’re a very interesting person! It’s like you’ve lived different lives within your lifetime. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Author Nick Russell


Nick Russell – I have had some adventures and a lot of fun in my life, no question about that. My dad was a Border Patrolman back in the days when they rode horses as much as trucks or Jeeps, and I spent much of my early years living on the Southwest border. I joined the Army right out of high school and spent fourteen months as an Infantry squad leader with the 1st Cavalry in Vietnam, and when I came home, I was a firearms instructor at the US Military Academy at West Point. When I left the Army, I spent a few years working as a criminal investigator for the Arizona Attorney General’s office. But from the time I was a kid, my first love has always been writing, and I started and ran several small town newspapers on the Pacific Northwest coast and in Arizona. In 1999 my wife Terry and I sold everything, bought a motorhome, and spent the next 18+ years living and traveling on the road full-time, publishing the Gypsy Journal RV travel newspaper. In later 1999 we hung up the keys and bought a home on the central Florida Atlantic coast.


VP Chandler- Wow! I knew that you had done a lot of things but I hadn’t realized just how many. When did you know that you wanted to write mysteries and how is it different from writing the news?


Nick Russell– I had written and self-published ten nonfiction RV/travel books but never had any faith in my ability to write fiction. I actually wrote my first mystery, Big Lake, before we hit the road full-time, then I sat on it for 14 years until my wife finally nagged me into publishing it as an ebook on Amazon in May of 2011. That December, it made the New York Times bestseller list, and I guess the rest is history. I usually put out four books a year, but last year I managed to do six, including two books in my new Tinder Street historical saga. I will be releasing my 44th book late this month or in early February. As for the difference between writing mysteries and the news, mysteries are much more fun. When writing a newspaper story, you are telling the facts of who, what, where, when, why, and sometimes how. And sometimes a news story leaves you feeling unsettled because there isn’t always an immediate resolution, if ever. In writing fiction, I can use my imagination, and the bad guys don’t go free on a technicality. However, I can tell you this, if I tried to use some of the stories I covered in my newspaper days in one of my books, readers would say that was way too wild to believe!


VP Chandler– I didn’t realize that you had been a NY Times best seller! Good for you! Can you tell us how your life experiences have influenced your stories?


Nick Russell – In many ways, I think. I believe I have seen and done things that most authors never will, and I try to incorporate some of that into my books. I know what it feels like to have bullets fired at me and to see my friends killed or wounded. I know what it’s like to be the man pulling the trigger and its long-term effects on a person. I have seen the agony of the families of crime victims and those killed and maimed by drunk drivers. My newspapers were all in small towns, and my mysteries are set in small towns because I know how people in those kinds of communities think, how they act, their hidden prejudices, the oddball characters that every small town has, and the challenges their citizens sometimes have in trying to make a living with limited opportunities. I try to incorporate all of that into my books.

VP Chandler– Do you use any special computer programs to help you write?


Nick Russell– I use Grammarly, though I sometimes feel it is more trouble than it is worth, especially in writing regional dialect.  I also use Dragon Professional dictation software since I am a very slow two-finger typist at best. However, it comes with its own challenges and is not nearly as accurate as their television commercials would have you believe.


VP Chandler– You’re also well known for your blog and I’ve noticed that you write for it every day. Is that a habit left over from your newspaper days?

Nick Russell– I started the blog as a marketing tool and income source back around 2007 when we were publishing the Gypsy Journal, and at one time, it was getting over 700,000 hits a year. That number has dropped by at least half now, but I still do a 500 to 1,000 word blog every day. It is a good way to keep in touch with my readers, and it’s still a great marketing tool. It is not uncommon for me to announce a new book in the blog and see a thousand sales in the next 24 to 48 hours.


VP Chandler– Holy cow! That’s certainly something that many writers can learn from. You mentioned earlier that you’re now trying your hand at historical fiction. How’s that going?


Nick-  I have always wanted to write a family saga, and last year my wife had a dream about a family who lived through hard times but stuck together, and the strong women in the family who were well known for always being there for their neighbors in need that the locals called the street they lived on Tender Street instead of its official name of Tinder Street. I knew that was the story I had to write. The first two books in the series have been well received, and I will start on the third book in the series sometime in March. They have become my personal favorites of all of my books.


VP Chandler– That’s great! Anything else that you’d like to tell our readers?

Nick Russell– From the time I was a kid, I loved books and reading. They took me on adventures that no movie or television show ever could, and my dream was to someday write stories that would take others on their
own adventures. Doing so is the most fun I have ever had. It’s been said that if you love what you’re
doing, you’ll never work a day in your life. I know that’s true, because I never have.

VP Chandler– Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope that many readers discover your writing and enjoy as much as I have.

You can find all of Nick’s books at his author page on Amazon. Nick Russell on Amazon

His most recent book is Big Lake Hoarder and he will be releasing his 9th John Lee Quarrels book the end of the month, Fresh Out Of Mojo. So keep an eye out for that one.
You can follow his blog at the link, Nick’s blog.

Introducing The Dark Beat Podcast

VP Chandler

by V.P. Chandler

Like most crime fiction authors, I’m interested in true crimes. And if you recall a few posts ago, I listed my current favorite podcasts. True Crime Podcasts Worthy of Binge Listening

In addition, about a year ago my friend and suspense author, Alexandra Burt, mentioned that she was writing about a crime that had happened in her hometown in Fulda, German, in 1983. An anthology was asking for short stories, so she submitted it and it was accepted into the publication.

(As mentioned in the interview by Laura Oles- An Interview with Crime Writer Alexandra Burt)

Working on that story got her to thinking about things back in Germany and she did some poking around and well, there were some revelations and things got crazy. So, what did I do? I said, “This is fascinating. We should start a podcast!”

And if you know me, I’m always eager to try my hand at something new. (Hello, cello and bass guitar that I bought a few years ago, even though I’m 50+ years old.)

So, … we started a podcast! Not only will we be discussing the crime in Germany, we will be interviewing authors and even law enforcement professionals. We’ll be talking about crimes, solved and unsolved, that happened long ago and in the recent past. And because we are who we are, we’ll also be poking around to get to the truth. We plan on being meddling “kids”.

I think we have a Scooby Doo.
Will we need a Fred or a Shaggy?

(I’ve always thought of myself as a Velma. I think Alexandra is more like Daphne, the newer version who knows martial arts.)

We are both excited about our new endeavor. But don’t worry, we’ll still be writing scary stories.

So please follow us as we investigate crimes! All of the information and links can be found on our Anchor page.

And you can get updates and additional content on our Facebook page

“Check. Check. Is this mic on?”

You can learn more about V.P. Chandler and her adventures at vpchandler.com

Characters Inspired By Real-Life People: Eldon Chandler

VP Chandler

by V.P. Chandler

There are a wide variety of fiction writers. Some are “pantsers”, who don’t write an outline and just write whatever pops into their heads. And others are “plotters”, who write outlines and make sure that the story follows a three-act structure or whatever structure they think is best. (I’m in between. I do a little of both but try to stay on track.) But I think that we all have something in common. I think that we use real life people as inspiration for our characters.

While writing my first novel, Gilt Ridden, I needed a character that was wise, experienced, and knew how to make bullets. Did I know anyone like that? There was no question. I based the character on my husband’s father’s cousin, Eldon Chandler, and named him accordingly. The Eldon in my story is a throwback to the era of cattle drives and skirmishes with native tribes. And like men of his day, he made his own bullets. The real Eldon was not much different. He grew up in West Texas when it wasn’t much different than the cattle drive days.

Eldon “Slim” Chandler was a living example of integrity and grit. He was born in 1926 just outside of Lubbock, and like most kids of that era, he was tough and resourceful. He grew up to be a big bear of a guy, with a barrel chest, and had a deep voice to match. He was over six feet tall and extremely strong. He told us a lot of stories about his life and one that sticks in my mind was when he drove a beer truck. Instead of using a dolly to carry the kegs, he’d put one under each arm and carry them inside the bar. He liked the surprised looks on people’s faces when they realized these were full, not empty, kegs of beer. He always laughed when he told us the story.

He was an excellent marksman and an award-winning trap shooter. Once when I was fishing with his son, Victor, Victor told me that they did trick shooting as a family for a while. The kids would practice twirling wooden guns while they watched Bugs Bunny cartoons. I love that image. That’s such a “Chandler” thing to do.

So, I guess it’s also no surprise that back when I married into the Chandler family and was living on a farm/ranch in the middle of rattlesnake country, Eldon gave me my gun that I’ve used to kill hundreds of rattlesnakes. It’s a .410 shotgun called a “Snake Charmer”. I remember when he was visiting and gave it to me. I liked how it handled. It’s a small shotgun and perfect size for me. He said, “Keep it. It’s for you.” No, it’s too much. “I got it for you. You’ll need it.” And he was right! I think of him every time I take it hunting. And to go along with all of those talents, he also became a craftsman at making homemade knives. He could take an old oxidized butcher knife and turn it into a work of art.

You can see where he imprinted his name.

In 1945 Eldon had married Othella Owens, who was equally an incredible person. She was tall and artistic. I never saw a woman who wore so much turquoise. She’d wear large turquoise and silver rings, earrings, and necklaces, sometimes all at once. It would have looked ridiculous on someone else, but it was somehow flawless on her. She was amazing. She could paint anything or take a bunch of horseshoes and somehow turn them into art. They were a perfect pair.

And Eldon, like most Chandlers, took his family bond seriously. Like I said, Othella was an Owens. Well, back in 1927 her uncle, Jake Owens, had been a deputy sheriff. Sheriff Robert Smith and Deputy Owens had arrested two men for stealing a bale of cotton. They were decent lawmen and they took the suspects home to change clothes before transporting them to jail. But one of the suspects had gotten a gun and concealed it in his clothes. In route, he pulled out the gun and shot Sheriff Smith in the head, killing him. Deputy Owens jumped from the vehicle but was gunned down. The sheriff and Deputy Owens were buried side by side. The suspect was eventually sentenced to death and electrocuted at the Texas State Prison in Huntsville on October 17th, 1930. The second suspect was released 14 years later. Some time, I assume after Eldon married Othella in 1945, Eldon learned that the second suspect was working in a shop in Odessa. Eldon drove the long distance and paid him a visit at the shop. With his words and his presence, he told the guy that he needed to make himself scarce, he wasn’t welcome. The guy tried to act big. When he asked who Eldon thought he was to make such a proclamation, “My name is Eldon Chandler and I’m married to an Owens.” That was enough for the man. He never returned to the shop and hightailed it out of West Texas.

Thank you for letting me tell you about a wonderful man who leaves behind a legacy of faith, love, grit, humor, and art. My character only played a small part in my story, but since he was a larger than life person, I’m sure that I’ll use the real Eldon for inspiration in other stories. I also used his father, Price, briefly in my novel. I had forgotten at the time that Price was Eldon’s father. I just remember a lot of funny stories about him and wanted to use someone who was humorous yet wise.

I’ve had people ask me if I was ever bored in West Texas. No. And whenever I write a story, I try to capture the spirit of the place, both good and bad.

Link to more info about Deputy Jake Owens

Learn more about V.P. Chandler and her writing at www.vpchandler.com

Reverted to Type

 

 

by Kathy Waller

(Originally posted on Ink-Stained Wretches)

When I opened my personal blog, back in the Dark Ages, I titled it To Write Is to Write Is to Write. I intended to tell everything I know about writing.

Everything I knew filled roughly 2.5 posts.

Now I write about what I don’t know about writing and leave giving advice to those who know what they’re doing.

Reverting to my old librarian persona, I also write about blogs by writers who aren’t anywhere near running out of material. Here’s a short list.

Friday Fictioneers

Each Friday, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields invites readers to compose 100-word stories based on a photo prompt. Writers post stories on their own blogs and then link to an inLinkz list to share with other Fictioneers and with the public. It’s fun. Specific rules are found here.

Sammi Cox

Sammi Cox posts a weekend word prompt: The rules: “Write a piece of flash fiction, a poem, a chapter for your novel…anything you like.  Or take the challenge below – there are no prizes – it’s not a competition but rather a fun writing exercise.” Participants are free to link their efforts in the comments.

Chris the Story Reading Ape

TSRA introduces readers to authors, gives authors a platform, and provides information for writers aspiring to be published.

—from Uninspired Writers“Writer’s Block? Relax! Do Something Else”

—from Jami Gold: “Tips for Creating the Right Impression of Our Characters”

—from Lucy Mitchell: “Why Some Stories Are Like Bridges to Other Stories” 

—from Anne R. Allen’s Blog  . . . with Ruth Harris: “Freewrite: How to Write About Traumatic Events Without Adding More Trauma” by Marlene Cullen

TSRA also promotes—and thank goodness, considering how much writers need it—”FUN and an OASIS OF CALM and Font of useful Knowledge andTips for Indies (please do NOT feed my naughty chimps or they may follow you home) from the woes and stresses of the real world”—such as,

“LOLs Courtesy of BlueBird.”

Kate Shrewsday

Kate was on a bit of a hiatus for a while but is back now with “Social Distancing for Dogs.” She’s posted a lot of dog stories—my favorites are about the dear (and sometimes smelly) Macaulay, the dog with the Neville Chamberlain mustache, including

“The Miasmatron: Or Never Feed Steak to a Dog”

“The Terrier’s Apprentice”

“The Day the Dog Did What He Was Told” [with video]

Rummage through her blog. You’ll find many more gems on many more subjects.

Hugh’s News and Views

Hugh posts about “this, that, and everything else,” but my favorite posts are the Blogging Tips, such as,

“7 Things To Lookout For Before Following A Blog”

“How to Use Excerpts to Get More Visitors to Read Your Blog”

and one treasure for WordPress users:

“How to Backup Your WordPress Blog to Prevent Losing All Its Contents”

A Pondering Mind

A Pondering Mind posts words of wisdom,

Old wisdom:

“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.” ~ Rene Descartes

New wisdom:

“We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain.” ~ Stephen Hawking

And—again, thank goodness—amusing wisdom:

“Do you know how helpless you feel if you have a full cup of coffee in your hand and you start to sneeze?” ~ Jean Kerr

***

I could go on—my first draft is twice as long as this one—but the deadline loomed hours ago. I hope you’ll check out some of these blogs. And I hope you enjoy them and return for more.

And—do you have any blogs you’d like to share? Including your own. Record them in a comment.

***

Image  of New York City Public Library lion by Chinem McCollum from Pixabay

Image of apes and books by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

Image of cowboy reading by mosla99 from Pixabay

***

Kathy renamed her personal blog Telling the Truth, Mainly, and, in her posts, tells the truth, mainly. Her guests tell the truth, mainly, too.

The original title, To Write Is to Write Is to Write, is a fragment of a quotation from Gertrude Stein, who knew how to write and who told Ernest Hemingway how to write.

The current title comes from the first chapter of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain knew everything about writing. Ernest Hemingway said so.

The Bookseller by Mark Pryor

VP Chandler

by V.P. Chandler

 

As you may know from past blog posts, I’m often late to the game when it comes to reading a new book.  Although I have purchased several of the Hugo Marsten books, written by Mark Pryor, I finally got around to reading the first one, The Bookseller (2012)

(It was my turn to recommend a book for my book club so I was happy to recommend it. Two birds, once stone, and all of that. 😉 )

*WARNING, if you read this book, you will be craving French coffee and pastries!*

It starts with Hugo Marsten, head of security at the U.S. embassy, looking for a book at his favorite bouquiniste’s (bookseller’s) stall. These stalls are set up for tourists along the Seine. Pryor does a great job of explaining what these look like and describing the history of the bouquinistes without bogging the narrative down in details. As with many things in the book, I was interested in learning more. The bouquinistes have been in Paris for centuries. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bouquinistes

While Marsten is browsing and chatting with his friend, a nefarious-looking character approaches and Max, the bookseller, is kidnapped at gunpoint. The next day Marsten goes to the bookstall, hoping to see his friend, but a strange ferret-faced man is in his place. The man says he doesn’t know anything. Thus, starts the hunt to find Max. Marsten enlists the help of an old friend, semi-retired CIA agent, Tom Green and they uncover a myriad of dark secrets.

While searching for Max, they learn that Max was a survivor of the Holocaust and had been a Nazi hunter. Is his disappearance related to that? Soon other booksellers start to disappear and their bodies are found floating in the Seine. There is also a turf war in Paris among drug gangs who could be involved. And Marsten discovers that his new girlfriend has her own share of secrets. AND THEN, “…as he himself becomes a target, Hugo uncovers a conspiracy from Paris’s recent past that leads him deep into the enemy’s lair.” (description from markpryorbooks.com)
So there’s a lot going on in the novel, but Pryor is masterful at juggling all the pieces.

And I’m happy to report that my choice was a hit among my friends. We were all impressed that this was Pryor’s first novel! There are a few of us in the bunch who are fans of Sherlock Holmes and we liked the Holmesian touches that were peppered into the story. By the time we met, via Zoom, some had already read the second in the series. So two thumbs up for The Bookseller!

You can find more about the series on Mark Pryor’s website.

www.markpryorbooks.com/hugo-marston-series

And there he has an update on the series!

  • The Hugo Marston series has now been optioned for television / film by Ivan Schwarz at Like Entertainment, Inc.!
  • The ninth Hugo Marston novel, which is titled, THE FRENCH WIDOW, will be released on September 15, 2020.

Congratulations to Mark Pryor!

*I’d also like to add a reminder to please consider buying books from independent booksellers. The Bookseller, and other books, are available at  IndieBound, a great resource for finding independent bookstores.

 

 

 

 

Review of Boar Island by Nevada Barr

 

VP Chandler

Written by V.P. Chandler

 

The first Anna Pigeon book that I read by Nevada Barr was Blind Descent, book 6 of the series, back in 1998. And I’ve read most of her books since then. I’m hooked!

Since the main character in the books is a park ranger, each story is set in a national park. I’ve learned so much about nature, each park, and its landscape and history.  I particularly liked the history in Flashback, book 11. It was set in Dry Tortugas National Park. I didn’t know that that is where those who had been accused of Lincoln’s assassination were imprisoned back in 1865!

Here is the complete list of her books and where they are set.

As you’d expect, Anna has to solve mysteries and face all sorts of dangers in each book like mountain lions, bears, natural disasters, forest fires, and of course the most dangerous of all, people.

Boar Island starts away from the park with a case of cyber-bullying. You know what? Here’s the description from Barr’s website:

Anna Pigeon, in her career as a National Park Service Ranger, has had to deal with all manner of crimes and misdemeanors, but cyber-bullying and stalking is a new one. The target is Elizabeth, the adopted teenage daughter of her friend Heath Jarrod. Elizabeth is driven to despair by the disgusting rumors spreading online and bullying texts. Until, one day, Heath finds her daughter Elizabeth in the midst of an unsuccessful suicide attempt. She calls in the cavalry—her aunt Gwen and her friend Anna Pigeon.

While they try to deal with the fragile state of affairs—and find the person behind the harassment—the three adults decide the best thing to do is to remove Elizabeth from the situation. Since Anna is about to start her new post as Acting Chief Ranger at Acadia National Park in Maine, the three will join her and stay at a house on the cliff of a small island near the park, Boar Island.

But the move east doesn’t solve the problem. The stalker has followed them east. And Heath (a paraplegic) and Elizabeth aren’t alone on the otherwise deserted island. At the same time, Anna has barely arrived at Acadia when a brutal murder is committed.

While this does describe the setup, it doesn’t come close to describing the action and complex story that weaves together. Poor Anna! By the end I think she could totally commiserate with John McClane of Die Hard. She’s a physically fit character, but the injuries that she’s had in past stories still plague her at times. As they should! And the choices that she’s made, good and bad, also haunt her. She’s a life-like character that you can relate to.

Boar Island is a good book that will keep you turning pages. I sped right through it. Cyber-bullying, obsession, murder, feuds, high tech, and a harsh environment in a remote location, it’s got it all!

You can learn more about Nevada Barr at: http://www.nevadabarr.com/homepage

 

Interview with Bonnar Spring

by. V.P. Chandler

For today’s blog post I’m interviewing writer Bonnar Spring. Her debut book, Toward The Light, has just been released and it’s already receiving great reviews!

VPC– Hello, Bonnar! First things first. Congratulations of your debut novel! And secondly, I’ve heard that you were raised in Texas. Where are you from? (As a Texan I’m obligated to ask that question. LOL)

Bonnar: I grew up in Beaumont, Texas, where my dad’s family has lived forever. He was a chemical engineer and so was his father. Until I was a teenager, I though all dads were engineers who worked at the refineries!

VPC– That’s so cute. It’s funny how our world views are formed when we’re young. So tell me about the book. It sounds exciting!

Bonnar– Luz Concepcion returns to Guatemala to murder Martin Benavides, the man who destroyed her family. Benavides rose from guerrilla leader to president, and now runs a major drug network. Assisted by the CIA, who has its own reasons for eliminating him, Luz gets a job as nanny to Benavides’ grandson, Cesar. Her plans unravel when she gets caught up in the world of drug traffickers and revolutionaries and falls in love with an expat who keeps as many secrets as she does—and with Cesar, a lonely boy whose world will be ripped apart if Luz succeeds in her mission.

VPC- Everyone asks authors this question, how did you get the idea for the story?

Bonnar: Yeah  🙂 . . . well, in my case, it’s sorta convoluted. Here’s the short version to give the idea and then, I hope, conclude before your readers’ eyes glaze over: Imagine a cocktail party years ago when the Middle East was in turmoil. (Okay, when is it not!) But this happened when a certain dictator was pushing all our buttons, and the conversation turned to a question much on our minds at the time of when/if was it acceptable to kill someone evil, someone who was the leader of another country (Yeah, could’ve been ripped right from 2020 headlines!).

Questions swirled: If you could you do something like that, should you? It started to feel like a personal, moral compass moment: What would I do? And then—how would I make decisions if I was in a situation where all my choices going forward were bad choices?

I’ve worked for many years with refugees and immigrants. In that time, I’ve heard countless stories about hardship, war, fear, family, and escape. I began to think about framing the idea as a story.

I know nothing more than I read in the news about the Middle East, so I transposed the setting to Central America, where I’ve often traveled. It has a similarly tumultuous history of strongmen, violent political factions, corruption, and drugs. The settings in Toward the Light are fictionalized versions of real places in Guatemala.

VPC– I’ve read that you’ve received some nice reactions to the book. It was on the list of Apple Books “Winter’s Most Anticipated Reads” list! I was also impressed that Hank Phillippi Ryan and Hallie Ephron have given it their stamp of approval. Brava!

Bonnar– You know, people say all the time how generous the writing community is. Hank’s and Hallie’s willingness to read the ARC and write a blurb are good examples. I’d met them a few times at MWA events, but it’s not like we were buddies or anything. So I emailed and asked – and both said yes. In fact, I think I sent out about 12 emails in total asking for early readers to write blurbs. Of those, all but 2 or 3 wrote back. A couple of authors were busy with life/books and begged off. The others, including several authors whose books I’d read and enjoyed but never corresponding with, also agreed.

Apple’s “Winter’s Most Anticipated Reads” – now that was a complete delightful surprise!

VPC– So now that it’s been out for about a month and you’ve been at book events, what has it been like? Any surprises? Anything you’ve learned? Any advice for other writers when they go on tour?

Bonnar– Setting up book events is still a little scary, but once I get to a bookstore or library and start talking, signings have been more fun than I expected. I’m not a very outgoing human. I’ve taught at the college level for many years, though, and have a ‘teacher’ persona I can dredge up when necessary. I was initially worried that wouldn’t happen with book stuff, because these events are all about my story, my characters, and me in a much different way than standing in front of a class and talking about gerunds.

Questions that have surprised me so far: Have you ever been to Guatemala? (Seriously? The answer is yes—I don’t know how else I’d have the nerve to write about it.)

And: How much money do you make? (I dodge that one/ The answer is “probably not much,” but I say, “I won’t know anything for months!”)

VPC- So I’ve heard that you’ve been very busy with more writing. You’ve written two more novels?

Bonnar– Yes, I have two other completed mss. One is another international thriller and the other is a mystery. Because I revise endlessly, it will be a while before either is ready to send out into the world.

VPC– Any other advice for writers of thrillers and mysteries?

Bonnar– Being asked to give advice when I’m still so new at this makes me smile. I learned early on what works for one person doesn’t necessarily fit all sizes!

That said, careful editing was invaluable for me in landing an agent and then a book deal. As I said a minute ago, revision is crucial to polishing a ms. It’s not ‘done’ the first time you type The End. Keep at it (put it down for a few months if necessary to return with fresh eyes) until you’ve smoothed out all those not-quite-right spots that nag at you, until the sequence of scenes and transitions is clear, until you’ve eliminated your “filler” words. Btw, my biggest offenders are just, actually, also, and somehow.

VPC– I’m always forgetting about my filler words. Thanks for the reminder! And thank you for granting my request for an interview!

Bonnar– I’ve enjoyed our virtual meeting so much, Valerie!

            VPC– And I’d like to tell all of the people in the Austin area that if you’d like to meet Bonnar, she’ll be at Malvern Books on March 4, 7pm-9pm. Come on by and see her and buy her book!

The New Girl Will Scare You Stiff

By KP Gresham

Originally posted on Ink-Stained Wretches

I can’t put down THE NEW GIRL–Daniel Silva’s latest book, that is. I have long been a fan of Silva’s series featuring Gabriel Allon, art restorer and master spy. The New Girl(Harper Publishing, July 16, 2019) is the 19thbook featuring Allon, and, in my opinion, the best. It’s a fast-paced, fact-filled, emotional, beautifully written suspense thriller, that mirrors the times we are living in.

It begins with the kidnapping of the Saudi Crown Prince’s daughter. Allon, head of Israeli intelligence, is directed by his Prime Minister to help the prince find the girl. The two become unlikely allies in a race against time to stop a Russian move to take control of the Middle East.

The book weaves fiction into the baffling aspects of Middle East intrigue in a way that actually helps explain what the heck is going on “over there”. Usually when I read such a book I spend my time wondering, how much of this is fiction and how much of this is fact. Luckily, I accidentally did something that provided a clear vision of where that line is drawn.

I mostly listen to audiobooks during my dog’s three miles walk every morning. (I tag along as company.) By mistake I played the end of the book complete with Mr. Silva’s acknowledgments and comments. I’m glad I did. I recommend this “oopsie” to those who pick up Mr. Silva’s book. He clearly sets out what is fact and what is not. This makes the reading of this suspenseful page turner even more meaningful because I could trust the author. He wasn’t trying to pull the wool over my eyes. He was trying to tell a good story, yes, and he was making it even more realistic by using facts to back up his plot line.

Full disclosure, because I enjoy a good night’s sleep, I wish the book had included fewer facts.

I love Bob Woodward’s quote about Mr. Silva’s book. “At times a brilliant novel tells us as much about the times we live in–and the struggles of the world, the global deceptions and tragedies–as or better than journalism. Daniel Silva’s The New Girl is such a novel.”

Pick up this New York Times (and USA Today and Wall Street Journal) #1 Bestseller. You’ll be enlightened.

And scared stiff.

The New Girl by Daniel Silva Amazon Link

https://inkstainedwretches.home.blog/2019/12/09/the-new-girl-will-scare-you-stiff/