Friday, December 31, 2010

Sad little dog on New Year's Eve

Bo, resigned to his status

I’M SITTING HERE with a rather sad dog. He had a few lumps surgically removed the other day and now has to wear an old sweat shirt and a sock on his right rear leg to keep him from scratching and opening the stitches. The worst part for him is that he can’t climb stairs until Monday. His bed (okay, who’s kidding who, it’s really my bed, too) is up stairs and he wonders why the steps are blocked off to him.

But the poor little guy he seems to be taking it all with quiet resignation. Good boy, Bo! Just hang in for a few more days.

Happy New Year, everybody. Bow-wow.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas: Glory to God; Peace on Earth

I SAW A sign the other day.  It said “Merry Mas … see what happens when you leave CHRIST out of Christmas.  Nice thought to share this weekend.  Please have a very Merry Christmas and for those traveling, travel safely. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Lee McQueen and a renewable energy suspense novel

ONE OF THE nice things about being a member of a local writers’ group is that you get to meet a bunch of folks who write outside of your genre. Lee McQueen is a member of my Beaverdale Books group that is hosted by Jerry Hooten (see my interview with Jerry, September 27). Lee is an Iowa native whose writing roots stretch deep into the world of books including libraries, bookstores, and publishing houses. Writing influences include Octavia Butler, Stephen King, Alice Hoffman, H.G. Wells, C.S. Lewis, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allan Poe among many others. She has a masters’ degree in Library Science from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a degree in Spanish from Xavier University, Louisiana.

Mike: Welcome Lee, and thank you for taking time to be with us today. I’d like to ask first about your latest book, Celara Sun.

Lee: Celara Sun is a renewable energy suspense novel that details the hidden battle for control of solar and wind energy in North America. In 1999, I located websites that revealed the personal journeys of people who lived entirely off-the-grid and the steps they took—legal and extralegal—to get to that place. It made me wonder what would happen when more people became aware of the possibilities on an industrial scale.

That wonder led to a short story I wrote called “Children of the Golden Ra” (Imaginarium, McQueen Press, 2006). The short story led to a full-length novel—Celara Sun. I wanted to make solar and wind energy as sexy and exciting as oil, gas, and nuclear energy. Celara Sun reflects a point in time in North America—how we interact with our families, our workplaces, and with society. I wanted to recognize this time and explore it.

But I also wrote Celara Sun because I couldn’t not write it. When it comes to fiction, entire scenes, action sequences, and dialogue exchanges push until I commit them into a plot. A painter paints. A singer sings. A writer writes. I wrote.

Most of the action develops from conflict between two characters—Martina Butler, a researcher and Alexander King, the visionary who hires her. The characters in the book experience intense emotions. Some of the characters react to those situations in negative ways. Others find a way to rise above—eventually. But these are the people who occupy that world. The first chapter warns the reader of what to expect. There are no heroes or villains. There are only survivors.

M: Tell me about some of your other writings first, Imaginarium.

L:  Imaginarium is a short story collection.

M: Writer in the Library! is a collection of writers’ insights into the library's value to the writer. How did that come about?

L: Writer in the Library! is the most complex project I've completed to date. It took over a year to send the call for entries, do the research, plan the layout and graphics, and finish the editing, proofreading, and indexing while maintaining contact with the book's contributors.

However, it is also the most exciting work I've completed. I had the greatest experiences traveling to the East and West Coasts as well as Chicago to interview so many intelligent, well-read, and well-informed people. They are talented in so many ways and very forthcoming about how libraries have enhanced their writing abilities.

I learned so much from so many while writing this book. Likely writers and librarians at any stage of their careers will find many useful tips for ways to use libraries to enhance and elevate any writing project.

I'm very pleased that Writer in the Library! found its way into several public and  university library collections. For more follow this link.

M: Lee, how did you get started writing?

L: I started writing little doodles as a child. In college, my professors sensed that I had talent in that direction and encouraged me. So that was the point when I knew that writing would always be a major part of my life. But ten additional years passed before I considered myself a professional. I did work-for-hire, then I began to publish fiction.

M. Can you tell us a little about your writing habits? Do you write in the morning, evening, etc.

L: Lately, I write when I can. I have several projects that I handle at the same time. I have a weekly public affairs webcast called Blue.Green.Fusion  that focuses on blue collar jobs for a green economy. I interviewed Gunnar Olson of DART on public transportation. More recently, I interviewed Bill Stowe on public works and storm water management. Research for episodes like these keep me busy. I'm also editing the work of another writer. Plus, I'm working on the sequel to Celara Sun. I enjoy everything I do so I strive to find a workable balance.

M: What other upcoming projects are on the table?

L: I have three manuscripts lying dormant. I add to them from time to time when I take breaks from Celara Sun. I plan to wake up one of the manuscripts soon and incorporate the writing lessons I learned along the way. One of those manuscripts may become the sequel to Celara Sun. I enjoyed working with those characters, and I anticipate that the backdrop will switch from solar energy to wind energy.

M: Any other hobbes, interests, etc.?

L: Other than writing I enjoy reading. Other than that, I take opportunities to enjoy art, music, and film. Every creator needs an appreciator. I am a fan of the work of many people.

M: Where your books can be purchased.

L: Celara Sun, Writer in the Library!, Imaginarium, and Kenzi are all available at

M: Thanks, Lee. I’m posting links to where you can purchase your books:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Catholic author and musician Alex Basile

SINCE THIS IS the Christmas season, I did want to follow up with another Christian writer. Today we are visiting with Alex Basile a member of the faculty at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, New York, where he is the chairperson of its Religious Education Department and oversees a staff of 23 teachers. He is a graduate of St. John's University in Queens, New York (class of 1984), and received his Masters Degree from Fordham University in the Bronx, New York in 2001.

Alex has written four books: Finding Faith In A Godless World: A Catholic Path To God;, Lessons from The Master: Living Like Jesus; The Gentle Road To Jesus: Bringing Christ To Every Classroom and Home; and The Complete Christian: A Guide To Living (scheduled for later this year). He is a regular contributor to the website In addition to his writing he is a musician and has produced 18 CDs for Kellenberg. He is a member of the band, The Irish Mist. He lives in Lynbrook, New York with his wife Allison and their two children.

Mike: Welcome Alex. Let’s get right into the change of pace here. Many of the authors I’ve interviewed write mysteries, children’s books, science fiction, and the like. You write decidedly Christian (Catholic) books. How and why did you decide to write in this area?

Alex: I have come to realize that the Catholic faith has been the most influential thing in my life. The more I learn about other religions, I am assured that the Catholic faith is the one true faith. I want others to come to love our Church in the same way. The more our culture and the media attacks the Church, the more I want to defend it. Many people take the Eucharist for granted. I spend a lot of time focusing on this Blessed Sacrament. When we are open to this gift of Christ, I believe that we can experience heaven on earth. It can transform us.

M: Have you written any. . .for lack of a better term. . .secular books or articles?

A: I am working on a book about the New York Mets. Baseball has always been a passion of mine. Being a long, suffering Mets fan, I thought that an existential look at the Mets would be interesting. I am sure that I will sneak God into the book at some point.

M: Can you give me a brief one or two line synopsis of your titles?

A: Finding Faith In A Godless World – An examination into why God exists using the Catholic faith and the ordinary things around us. The Complete Christian – As Christians, we often forget about Christ in everyday living. Using Jesus as the pattern of living will make travel, parenting, career, and each day more fulfilling. The Gentle Road To Jesus – A straightforward guide to teaching young people about Jesus Christ. Lesson From the Master -- The  book discusses the traits of Jesus and how we can emulate the Master teacher and incorporate these characteristics into our lives.

M: This is the Christmas season and every year we are assaulted with secular messages, some actually contradict the messages of the newborn Savior. So taking from one of your titles, how do we find Faith in a Godless world?

A: By opening our hearts and minds, we can find God. I often tell my students that we, ourselves, are the main obstacle to God. Once we take our blinders off, we can discover His presence. It is difficult getting into the “faith game” by standing on the sidelines. As Blaise Pascal stated, the time to pray and go to church is when you least feel like doing those things.

M: Can you tell me a little about your writing style? Do you write in the evening, after the family is in bed, or early morning, etc.?

A: I usually write in the evening once I have had time to digest the happenings of the day. Being a teacher, I probably learn more from my students than they learn from me. My style is simple and straightforward. I leave the complex Theology to others. People feel as if I am sitting next to you and having a chat. If you have read my books then you have theoretically sat in my classroom.

M: Do you have any advice for writers seeking to get into the religious writing field? How difficult is it to “break into” the religious writing field?

A: Never give up. If you have a message that you believe in, keep pushing until someone publishes it. Many publishers only publish a dozen or so titles every year. Don’t take it personally when you receive a rejection letter. The competition is fierce. So many writers talk about how they had almost given up hope when the big break finally came. Write about elements of our faith that have inspired you. People are starving for spirituality. There is always something new to write about. Be an evangelist, and pray to the Holy Spirit for inspiration.

M: Do you know of any denomination-specific writing groups or organizations that someone wanting to write in the field of religion might want to examine?

A: Yes. An excellent group to belong to is the Catholic Writers Guild. I belong to this group and the local chapter of the Catholic Writers Guild of Long Island. Social and professional networking is so important. To have the endorsement and the friendship of others in the same field is vital. We can accomplish more as a group than in solitude.

M: In addition to writing, you do speaking. Tell me about your speaking engagements.

A: I speak to various groups. Since I lead many retreats at school every year, I also lead retreats for parents, catechists, and other students. I talk about faith, professional development, spiritual growth, music, sexuality, and other contemporary issues. I have spoken at conferences, conducted workshops, and given graduation addresses. I enjoy meeting others interested in learning about their faith. The “universal” element of Catholicism is evident everywhere.

M: Tell me a little about The Irish Mist.

A: I formed the group, The Irish Mist, in 1990. We have performed pop, rock, and Irish music in the New York area for more than 20 years. Our latest CD is called “Home To Ireland” and features many of the songs we love to play live. The band is composed of myself, on lead vocals and guitar, Ronnie D’Addario, on guitar, lead, and background vocals, and Michael Groarke, on piano, lead and background vocals. Ronnie and I also work together at Kellenberg Memorial High School and have produced 20 CDs together that are primarily contemporary Christian music.

M: Where can we purchase your books and CDs? How can one contact you?

A: People can purchase my books and CDs at (1-800-343-2522),, cdbaby, and itunes. People can contact me at I encourage people to ask questions or write to say hello.

M: Thank you, Alex, and have a very Merry Christmas.

A: Thanks for including me in your ministry. Have a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Interview with the governor-elect; a good time to buy my book!

Gov.-Elect Branstad
OVER THE WEEKEND I finished my monthly column for the Catholic Mirror, here in Des Moines. It is an interview with Governor-elect Terry Branstad. For those of you outside the state, Terry Branstad was governor for 16 years and left office 12 years ago. When he was first elected he was – at that time – the youngest governor in the United States. This year he sought and won an unprecedented fifth term as governor and will take office January 14. The interview is non-partisan and deals with his life, marriage, and faith. The December issue is scheduled for delivery December 17. If you do not receive the paper, you can follow the link and read the column on line.

BTW, it is not too late to order my mystery, End of the Line, for Christmas delivery. The book is set during the Christmas season, so it’s a perfect time to read it or give it as a gift. Follow the link to the right to check out the book and some of the reviews on the site.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Update for the Modern Dickens project

SEVERAL MONTHS AGO (September 6) I asked my friend Kali VanBaale to explain the Modern Dickens project, which was just kicking off. It is a collaborative project with the Iowa Arts Council and is a serial novel designed to feature undiscovered Iowa authors. Starting with an opening chapter written by the project organizers, each month writers are challenged to submit a proposed “next” chapter. The winning writer is paid a cash prize, his or her chapter is published on the project website and a new contest for the next chapter begins. The project continues for twelve months resulting in a thirteen chapter novel. The final product will be published and, of course, all the authors will receive a writing credit for their work in addition to their cash prize.

I asked Kali for an update, and here is her report:

Hi Mike,

Sure! I'd be happy to give an update!

Kali VanBaale
We're currently running our December cycle of the contest for Chapter 4, and the deadline for this one is December 21.

Janet Rowe Pillar won the October contest for Chapter 2, and John O'Donnell won in November for Chapter 3. Janet did a podcast interview for the Modern Dickens website and also a reading of her chapter at DiScala Café in Des Moines. Her author bio is on the site. We're planning the same for John O'Donnell as soon as we get some dates set up. Each winner received $100.

About the story:

John Domini opened the story with a former National Guard Iraq vet murdered with a military issued weapon on the eve of her marriage to another woman near the Iowa State Capital. Emily Dunstadt, the murder victim, is the daughter of a Des Moines insurance magnate, and friend of Stikka, a fellow Iraq vet suffering from PTSD. Stikka and her lawyer boyfriend, Saul, are quickly drawn into the murder mystery. Soon, a suspect emerges, a Bosnian immigrant who vehemently claims innocence.

Janet Pillar's Chapter 2, DOWN THAT LINE, delves further into the Iowa immigration angle, tackles hot Iowa political topics such as gay marriage and illegal immigration, and sends Stikka and Saul out into the Iowa countryside as they follow the trail of clues. But after a car explosion that nearly kills them both, they end up hiding out in a vacation house at Clear Lake, fearing for their lives.

Charles Dickens
John O'Donnell's Chapter 3, THEY KNOW WE ARE HERE, opens the morning after the car explosion. We learn a bit more about Dot, Emily's fiancée, who found Emily's body. Meanwhile, Stikka, Saul and the accused Bosnian refugee, learn that all traces of yesterday's car explosion are gone, as if it never happened. Saul also discovers evidence of tampering with his car while it was parked overnight at the lake. When the group arrives at Saul's friend's farm for help, they're horrified to discover the friend dead, hanging from a rope in the barn. The death toll, it seems, is mounting.

So far, it seems the judges are picking chapters that take the story in an interesting or surprising direction, but don't stray too far from the existing story at the same time. All 3 chapters can be downloaded and read for free on the website: We also accept donations through the site.

Thanks again, Mike!

Thanks, Kali! And now for anyone interested, check out the site and feel free to leave any comment here. And while you are at it, check out my book (at the right); I think you’ll find it is a great murder for Christmas.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Polk City Library Monday December 6

JUST A REMINDER for those of you in the central Iowa area:  This Monday (December 6) I will be at the Polk City Community Library,1500 W. Broadway, Polk City, Iowa for a presentation at 7 p.m.  This will be a chance to purchase my new mystery, End of the Line, as well as Murder Most Holy and get them autographed. They make great Christmas gifts, especially End of the Line which is set in the weeks before Christmas! Hope to see you there.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mondays With Mike: “Catholic thriller" author Brett Dougherty

NOW THAT THANKSGIVING is over and we are moving into the Christmas season, I thought I’d use the season to pepper the blog with some authors who write from a faith viewpoint. Brett Dougherty, who writes under the pen name Ian Brett, was introduced to me by some friends from church as someone who had just published a “Catholic-themed” thriller. Okay, I’ll bite – let’s meet Brett.

Mike: Welcome, Brett. Before we get into your thriller, can you give us a little background on you?

Brett: I was born and raised in Marshalltown, Iowa, and have resided in Melbourne, Iowa, for the last 18 years. I am a lifelong Catholic, though I truly embraced the faith as my own at the age of 25. I am married to Pamela and there are a total of seven children, most still at home, but one married and one in the U. S. Marines. I have worked in real estate investment and contract construction for 24 years.

M: Okay, tell me how you came to write a “Catholic” thriller.

B: I have read quite a lot of Dean Koontz, as well as Michael D. O'Brien and, several years ago, Bud McFarlane. I realized that there aren't a lot of Catholic-themed thrillers out there, but I have always enjoyed them when I chanced upon them. Koontz isn't usually blatantly Catholic, though he himself is. There are some subtle Catholic themes that make appearances here and there.

Seven years ago, on a whim, I decided to write a novel. The basic story had been bumbling around in my head for awhile. Originally, I got as far as three chapters. That was it. It was three years ago that I found the file and resumed the work. I wanted to write a story like the one story that I would be thrilled to discover and read! Into a Soul Enters the Cold contains a heavy dose of Catholicism, supernatural occurrences, a mystery, eccentric characters, a lurking darkness, and then, in the end, an epic contest between that which is holy and that which is not.

M: What is the story about?

B: At the beginning of the story, the reader is introduced to Anna Grayson. She is unique in that she survived a late term abortion. Yes: she was the fetus. She is an avid motorcycle rider and is friends with Red, an aging Harley rider. He has some sort of connection with Anna's mysterious and ominous childhood. To throw in a nice wrinkle, there is a young priest, Father Robert Worthington, Anna's pastor. Anna struggles between wishing Father Rob would lead his flock in a much more orthodox fashion, and having inappropriate feelings for him. When strange, mystical occurrences begin afflicting Anna, a journey of discovery for her and these unlikely comrades begins.

M: Since this is a Christian novel, is there is lesson or a moral to the story?

B: It might seem a little old-fashioned to say that the story has a moral, but I suppose that it does. I hesitate to say what I think that it is because that would, in a fashion, be a bit of a plot spoiler. Suffice it to say that readers who are seeking a cynical view of the Church or who are stridently pro-choice will become angry enough to put the book down and refuse to go on.

M: As with many authors there is a sequel to their first book. Is there a sequel with yours?

B: Yes, in a manner. Two Peoples, One Prophet is a story that takes place about ten years after Into a Soul. Some of the characters reappear. It isn't exactly a sequel; both stories stand completely on their own, but it does occur in the same fictional Iowa town, Greenveil. I've outlined this story and written the first chapter. It is a worst-case scenario look at America in the near future and how the conservative/progressive divide plays out. In the book the pope has died and a similar, though theological, struggle ensues in the Church. Referencing ancient prophecies, while placing the small-town characters into their own turmoil, a battle for the soul of America and of the Church is waged.

M: Can you tell us a little about your writing habits? I note you have a job and a large family, so I take it that you cannot write full-time. When do you write, and how much to you try to do in one sitting?

B: It comes and goes. I might not be inspired for several weeks in a row, and then suddenly... a late night inspiration rears its... uh... beautiful... head and I can't fall asleep unless I get up and act upon it. I think I'll be up for 30, or perhaps 60 minutes. Just long enough to write the part that had come to me. Often, in these cases, in the end, I might be up then until 4 a.m. Once the inspiration starts I don't shut it off. I'll regret it when the 6:30 alarm goes off, of course! Sometimes I write in a more sane manner and simply work for an hour or so after prayers and everybody has gone to bed.

M: How do you go about developing your plots? Since these novels are related to your religion, do you take your ideas from Scripture, the morning paper … or do you smoke something funny?

B: Certainly, some of the ideas derive from Scripture. I do find myself keeping the Bible and stories about the saints near at hand. I often discover or look for parallels. In these places lie some of the best stories ever told! It helps that they are reality – they say a lot about God and the human condition. The newspaper? There are current social, economic, and political events and trends that play into this novel to a certain extent. Those issues really play into the sequel. Am I smoking anything funny? I suppose that I've been accused of that. I'll have to plead innocent of the charge, though. The closest I come would be the scented candles and Ukrainian Orthodox music that I might have going while I write. That's pretty groovy, is it not?

M: Other than the novels, do you have any other writing credits?

B: Not anything significant, but I did have a "long" writing career that went from grade school on through high school in which I wrote a total of eight teen mystery stories. They were very similar to the Hardy Boys. The difference was that I and my friends were the "stars" of the stories. The grade school ones were pretty bad. The last couple that I wrote in high school actually made some sense. They are all good for a laugh if nothing else. Then, back in the late 80's, I was part of a group which had some small success publishing a few books that involved live medieval role-playing, a type of game.

M: Besides writing, what other interests do you have? Any hobbies, etc.?

B: I have been blessed to have had many different experiences and hobbies. As a youngster, I tended to be the neighborhood "leader", the pickup sports "leagues" commissioner, the nstigator of our downhill "go-kart" racing league (that was REAL safe, you know!). We built rafts with which to take river forays. I've always been a sucker for a good adventure, wilderness expedition, or a road trip! I raced stock cars for five years. Avid weekend motorcycle rider- and that interest certainly plays into my novel, Into a Soul Enters the Cold. I love music, to listen to and to play. I am particularly moved by Gregorian and Orthodox chant – it is the music of the soul. I have spent time at a Trappist monastery as a Monastic Associate. This was an incredible, moving, and edifying experience, albeit a physically challenging one. The 3 a.m. rising for the office of Vigils certainly comes to mind in that respect. My wife and I have traveled to varied locations: Ireland and Italy stand out. I loved climbing up into the monastery ruins in Ireland and exploring the incredible basilicas of Rome. On a simpler note, most nights end with a good book in hand, reading until falling asleep.

M: An auto racer! Great. As some of our readers know, I spent nine seasons racing SCCA formula vees. My worst experience was an accident in which I broke four bones. Naturally, I still love racing, but don’t do it any longer. So tell me about the stock cars you raced, and did you ever end up in the hospital like I did?

Brett (U2) in action
 B: I raced in the IMCA Hobby Stock series at the high bank dirt tracks of Marshalltown and Boone, Iowa. For five years I continued with this financial folly! It was fun, but expensive to maintain the race car. There were wrecks with the attendant broken and bent parts, and then the dreaded blown engines. Talk about a sinking feeling. There goes another $1000! But it was a thrill and I enjoyed my time in it. I ran two different cars, both very unusual to the division where nearly everyone else was running a Chevy Monte Carlo. My first was a 1975 Dodge Dart Coupe with the 360 Mopar engine. Not a lot of success with this car: the front suspension on a Dart is too weak for circle track racing. They don't like to turn! That's a bit of a problem. The second car was a 1981 Chrysler Imperial, same engine. We did a lot better with that car. My number was always "U2", clearly reflecting a certain taste in music. My career ended when the accelerator stuck, throttle wide open, going into turn 3. That's a problem! I flew over the embankment, nosedived into the ground, and spent the next three hours in a cervical collar, on a backboard, getting CAT scanned. Between my neck and a mangled car chassis, that was the end of that. The fourth child had just been born, and so, in the hospital, I made a deal with God: "If You will spare me vertebrae damage, I am promising to finish my career here. This is it." I was extremely sore for nearly 6 weeks, but was spared any serious injury.

M: We’re glad you weren’t hurt too bad, too. Brett, thanks for being with us today. I’m posting a link to your web page (here)  and where your book can be purchased.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Remember to give thanks

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Mystery Author Mary Welk

ONE OF THE nice things about attending writing conferences is you get to meet so many great people – all who share your love of writing. One of the first people I met at mystery conferences was Mary Welk, author of the Caroline Rhodes mysteries. Besides the Rhodes series, Mary’s writings and short stories have appeared in anthologies and mystery magazines. Mary is a nurse living in Chicago where she plans and promotes the annual Love Is Murder mystery conference.

Mike: Thank you for being with us today, Mary. Let’s start with a little background on you. I know you are a nurse, but can you tell us a little more about Mary?

Mary: I’m a native Chicagoan, born and raised here in the city. I’m married with six grown children: three boys and three girls who always hated being called the Brady Bunch by their friends, and 8 grandchildren. I’m an RN, recently retired from working in a suburban ER and now employed by a company that provides health care services for the employees and guests of the United Center (think Bulls and Blackhawks) and Cellular Field (think Chicago White Sox). I’m a rabid sports fan, dedicated gardener, and, of course, an avid reader.

MM: Your main character is Nurse Caroline Rhodes, can you give us a little background on her? How closely identified she is with you?

MW: Caroline Rhodes is a compilation of the many fine nurses I’ve worked with over the years. She’s intelligent, curious, compassionate, and very knowledgeable when it comes to her profession. Like me, she’s an ER nurse with years of experience under her belt. Unlike me, she married her high school sweetheart right after graduation, had three children in quick succession, and didn’t attend college until after her children were in school. Also unlike me, Caroline is a widow in her late forties who moved from Chicago to the small university town of Rhineburg, Illinois where her married son and daughter-in-law live. Her two daughters – both single – still live in the Chicago area.

MM: Professor Carl Atwater is another main character in your books. What is his relationship to Caroline and your story lines?

MW: Professor Carl Atwater is the chairman of the history department at Rhineburg’s Bruck University. Carl is in his early seventies and closely resembles Santa Claus in appearance – white hair and beard, almost as round as he is tall, and addicted to red flannel shirts, corduroy pants, and work boots. He is mentor to Caroline’s son Martin, a PhD candidate in history who hopes to teach at Bruck after graduation. Carl is also the town’s historian, and in that capacity, he can’t help snooping around when he stumbles on secrets from the past.

MM: I show four books in the Rhodes series: The Scarecrow Murders, A Deadly Little Christmas, Something Wicked in the Air, and To Kill a King. Am I missing any? I know some have been re-released, can you tell me something about that?

MW: I’ve written four books in the “Rhodes to Murder” series, starting with A Merry Little Murder (originally released as A Deadly Little Christmas). Next in line is The Rune Stone Murders (originally released as Something Wicked in the Air) followed by To Kill A King and The Scarecrow Murders. Playing on the series theme of “Rhodes to Murder”, publisher Karen Syed renamed the first two books when Echelon Press released them as revised second edition reprints in paperback and Ebook format. To Kill A King is currently out of print, but is scheduled for release by Echelon as an Ebook reprint in 2011 under the title The Heat Wave Murders.

MM: Can you tell me about some of your other writings and short stories?

MW: My short stories include: “The Case of the Fugitive Farmer”, Missing, Echelon Press; “Code Blue”, Chicago Blues, Bleak House Books; “A Family Affair”, Deadly Ink 2006, 2007 Lovey Award for Best Short Story; “Murder Most Politic”, Blondes in Trouble & Other Tangled Tales, Intrigue Press; Ebook format by Echelon Press; “Hickory, Dickory, Doc”, Mayhem in the Midlands, Hats Off Books; Ebook format by Echelon Press.

Some of my other writing credits include: “Emma “Emma Lathen”, Mystery Muses: 100 Classics That Inspire Today’s Mystery Writers, edited by Jim Huang; “To the Rescue”, issue 92, Mystery Scene Magazine; “Small But Mighty: Indy Presses”, issue 91, Mystery Scene Magazine; “Let's Hear It for the Independents!”, issue 86, Mystery Scene Magazine; “Small Press News and Reviews” continuing column, Mystery Scene Magazine; “D”Death Delivered” continuing review column, FMAM Magazine.

MM: You are involved in something called “the Mystery Mavens,” can you tell us a little about them?

MW: Luisa Buehler, Sandy Tooley, and I have been touring together as the Mystery Mavens for several years. We have five distinct programs that we present at libraries and to women’s and writers’ groups. Probably the most requested program is our “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover – Dead!” Luisa writes an amateur sleuth/cold case series while Sandy is the author of two mystery series that combine paranormal with Native American spirituality, plus she’s written a YA mystery. My novels are what I call intergenerational medical/academic mysteries: my characters range in age from their 20’s (Caroline’s children) to their 40’s (Caroline) and 70’s (Carl), and two of the books feature a hospital background while two are set in the halls of academia.

MM: How did you get your start writing?

MW: I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, mostly short stories, song lyrics, poetry, and stage plays. I began writing mysteries in earnest in 1992, and saw my first book published in 1998. Writing more or less ran in my family. My father and two of my sisters are published in non-fiction, and my mother wrote poetry. My parents encouraged all of us to read, and my love of books seemed to naturally lead to writing.

MM: How and when do you write?

Back when I was working a 3 to11:30 p.m. shift in the ER, I wrote almost every night after arriving home. I generally wrote until 2 or 3 a.m., then slept late in the morning. Now that I’ve left the ER and my husband is also retired and at home, I’m able to write during the day and early evening. I write using my computer – longhand using pen and paper is just too difficult for me because I always seem to be editing and refining sentences as I write. Too many crossed out words on paper. I need to have the plot completely formed in my mind before I start writing, although I find that as I write, details sometimes change and the plot can suddenly twist in a way that I hadn’t expected when planning the story.

MM: You work on what I think is the best mystery conference of the year, Love Is Murder, can you update us on the upcoming LIM?

MW: This 12th annual Love Is Murder conference looks to be the best one yet. We have over 60 national authors coming, as well as our featured authors Rhys Bowen, Joe Finder, Carolyn Haines, Joan Johnston, Jon Land, F. Paul Wilson, and local guest of honor Michael Dymmoch. Along with panel discussions and pitch opportunities, we’ll have presentations by experts on bloodstain patterns, forensic computer discovery, money laundering and racketeering, DNA, guns and other weapons, and a special presentation by Deputy Coroners Tammy Williams and Orlando Portillo of the Lake County Coroner’s Office. Add in fun events like DEATH Bingo, Stump the Stars, a mystery play by “Those Were the Days Radio Players”, a champagne art tour of the conference hotel, and a Saturday evening awards banquet and you have the makings of one great conference February 4-6, 2011. Folks can go to for more information and registration forms.

MM: Thank you, Mary.

Here are links to Mary’s books on Amazon and her website/blog:;

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Who is that guy hiding among the girls?

Nine Sisters and a Brother?  Yeah, that’s me hiding in the back.  The photo was taken at the November meeting of the Des Moines Sisters in Crime, an organization of crime writers that is open to “brothers” as well as “sisters.”  By the way, I was not the only guy there, my friend and fellow author, Steve Brayton, took the photo. Sisters in Crime meet the third Saturday of the month from 3 to 5 at Smokey Row Coffeehouse, 1910 Cottage Grove, Des Moines.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

MWA Names Sara Paretsky as 2011 Grand Master

JUST IN THIS morning from the Mystery Writers of America:

“Sara Paretsky has been named the 2011 Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America (MWA). MWA's Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality. Ms. Paretsky will be presented with her award at The Edgar Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on Thursday, April 28, 2011.”

You can find out more about Sara at her web site here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Hormonally Challenged author Paula Riseley-Duchin

I MET PAULA Riseley-Duchin several years ago at a local writers’ group through the West Des Moines library. Her first book , Hormonally Challenged "Meanie Pause", is a humorous look at mid life. Paula lives in West Des Moines with her husband, Steve, and son. She has three adult children and many grandchildren. Her loves are also her pets: Lacy, a Shih Tzu; Gidget, a Chihuahua; and Buddy, a three legged cat. She is an animal lover. According to Paula, “life is not defined by people, places or things", it is defined by talking to God and listening to what He has to say. A cancer survivor and granted another chance at life and she doesn't want to goof it up. It isn't about religion, it is spiritual, she feels there is a difference.

Mike: Thank you for joining me today, Paula. Tell me a little about your book, Hormonally Challenged "Meanie Pause," and how it came to be.

Paula: I searched diligently for a book that would help me go through my change in my life; I was young, and didn't fit the profile of menopause – I fit the profile of insanity. Yes I did keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. How was that working for me? Not too well. I found books that talked to old people – over 50 (I am there now and it doesn't feel that old), but when I was going through the anxious nutties I didn't know what to do. I think most mothers fill their daughters in on this but my mom died of bone and breast cancer and she wasn't there for me to rely on. So I thought about my [high school] teacher, Mr. Galvin, and what he said. I couldn't find the book to help me so I wanted to write a book to help others; I was not the only person going through this, I just knew it. I felt the pages with pain, and a lot more things, and I discovered that humor and hormones helped and I also discovered that I was not crazy, I was just out of balance.

M: How did you come to deal with these matters in such a humorous way?

P: Oh what other way is there? I had already cried so humor was all there was left. I did funny things and I wanted other people to know how they look to others going through this stuff. I grew long hairs on my chin and it was not supposed to be this way!

M: How do you view humor?

P: Humor is the medicine that heals our soul. All the health care in the world can't compare with the free prescription of a big dose of humor that God writes for us daily.

M: You've chosen to self-publish, is there a particular reason?

P: I am a controller and I like to do things myself, plus I like to collect the money and it is alllllll mine! Actually, I just thought I would try it, there are some draw backs: finding a printer that wants to print 1000 books at a time. Today, in this economy many places have gone out of business.

M: Does that give you any marketing advantages?

P: I am blessed, there seems to be physicians that want to stock my books, you know I am cheaper than some of the alternatives: anti depressants, beta blockers, etc.; nail salons also do very well with the books, as do bowling establishments, specialty shops and word of mouth.

M: How is your book marketed?

P: Everywhere I go I share my book. All men need to read it, it gives some great insight to what to do with their wives during those times and some men experience it all the time. The wives need the book to enjoy and to learn what comes next in life, life is not over it has just started. My other books soon to come out will balance things: Man Oh Meanie Pause was a lot more fun to write I don't know why.

M: Can you tell us about the process you use to write? Do you write at certain times of the day, or do you have a certain amount of words or pages you do at a sitting?

P: I am a heartfelt writer, I do it better at night than any other time, I like to have a confused, stressful mind to vomit out words sometimes; and other times I need a clear thought process. I like to keep my chapters short; I call my book really good bathroom material: you actually can read an entire chapter at one setting. I also love to watch people and I write about what I see, there is so many funny things that take place in a day if you stop and look and listen. It is often my journal, if you listen when you read it you can hear me giggle, or even cry sometimes. I live in the pages of my books.

M: How did you get started writing?

P: I watched Oprah, one day she said "if you think you can do something then do it", so I went to the computer and did it. I didn't know I was writing my first book but hey, I did it!

M: I understand you have a second book, can you tell me something about it?

P: Man oh' Meanie Pause, and the (second edition of Hormonally Challenged Meanie Pause), both will be out soon you need to follow my blog. Man oh' Meanie Pause is my baby, it is about boys to men, and I love it because it was not about me. Men go through that time of the month and lady's you may not agree but sometimes men go through it all month long.

M: When will it be ready for sale?

P: I have hope that it will be out 2011, maybe before, if my blog generates enough interest we could bring it out sooner.

M: You've published some other materials dealing with cancer. Can you tell us what they are and how they came to be?

P: I am a cancer survivor, double mastectomies, reconstruction, and implants, it has been a hoot. I just wrote about the experience, my disappointments of not looking like Pamela Anderson, after all was said and done, and yet I am very pleased with how I feel and it was all worth it. I do look great, I look like me with great big ... blessings.

M: If anyone wants to contact you, how do they do so?

P: My e-mail is:, my blog:, and a profile: I want to thank you so much for inviting me to your blog and I will look forward to your mentoring others on their journey through the writers world as I feel you have with me and many others in our group. You have been an inspiration to me.

M: Thank you, Paula.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Let’s salute our veterans … think of where we might be without them!

I MUST ADMIT my own military career was cut short … the Vietnam War was winding down and the Army had an abundance of junior officers so those with only reserve commissions were being eased out in favor of the regular Army types.  I like to tell people that we were fighting a war and wanted to win and the Army thought it had a better chance to do that without me.  For me, the worst part of being a vet is that over the years my uniform has shrunk!  I think it is because the closet it is stored in is not ventilated properly.  Ya think?  Anyway, today is the time to thank those who have served (longer than I); think of where we might be today without our heroes in uniform.  Thanks guys, and gals, and, of course, your families.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Author Robyn Gioia and the Thanksgiving Controversy

SEVERAL YEARS AGO when I was trying to sell my first book, I met another struggling author in an on-line mystery group, her name was Robyn Gioia. Her first book was a young adult mystery Rinny and The Trail of Clues, it did well and she has since gone on to create an eclectic body of writing, including a young person’s history guide that challenges the traditional notion that the Pilgrims created the first Thanksgiving in New England. Originally from Ohio, Robyn has Masters Degree in Educational Psychology with an emphasis in gifted education and has taught Junior College down to elementary school. She currently teaches a class of really bright fifth graders in Florida.

Mike: Thank you for being with us today, Robyn. I want to get right into your most controversial work, America’s REAL First Thanksgiving, St. Augustine, Florida, September 8, 1565. That is a pretty controversial title. When it was featured on the front page of the USA Today Life section, a lot of people accused you of trying to rewrite history. Why did you pick such a controversial subject to write about?

Robyn: Because this little known fact was unearthed fifty years ago and it’s still a well kept secret in our country today. As a teacher and author, I wanted to shed light on the subject, and if you teach the kids, they grow up knowing the facts. That’s why I wrote a middle-school, history picture book about the events surrounding the real first Thanksgiving, an event that took place between the Spanish and the Timucua in Florida 55 years before the Pilgrims.

M: Can you give us a short summary of the book?

R: 56 years before the Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving in New England, Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez arrived on the coast of Florida and founded the first North American city, St. Augustine. On September 8, 1565, the Spanish and the native Timucua celebrated with a feast of Thanksgiving. The book takes the reader on a comprehensive journey to the founding of America’s oldest city and the meal that marks the nation’s real first Thanksgiving. To quote Dr. Michael Gannon of the University of Florida, the historian who showed the world that St. Augustine was the real site of the first holiday, “In the year 1621 when the Pilgrims were having their first Thanksgiving, St. Augustine was up for urban renewal.”

The book has been vetted by the University of Florida, and Dr. John McGrath of Boston University, a History Channel commentator.

M: Did you have trouble finding a publisher?

R: Pineapple Press, a well-established, Florida publisher, with an excellent reputation, was very interested in the book. When I submitted the manuscript, I thought I was done. Then the publisher asked what I was going to do for pictures! That was something I hadn’t counted on. It took me over nine months to hunt down all the historical pictures. It was a real learning experience; one I wouldn’t trade for the world. The book is gorgeous, and I’m really proud of the finished product. I used it this year in social studies, and the kids were fascinated. I included a section on the Timucua Indians, a now extinct tribe, and the illustration of Chief Outina captures everyone’s imagination. Outina use to paint his skin red, and sharpen his fingernails to a point, so they resembled an animal’s.

M: What age group are we talking about?

R: The interest level ranges from ten to adult.

M: How did you become interested in writing? I know we’ve been cyber writing friends for over a decade, and we’ve seen many things come and go in the writing world.

R: I use to dabble with writing when I was a kid. I started my first novel when I was in fourth grade. Of course I didn’t finish it, but the bug was there. Then I became a teacher and my time was consumed with teaching. Then my husband’s job took us overseas to England. It was the first time that I wasn’t in the work force and was able to do other things. I had always loved writing and when the opportunity came up to join a novel writing group of eclectic writers, I took it. It was the best thing in the world for a writer. The English are very honest people and they push you to become better. They aren’t hung up on protecting your ego. Their philosophy is that honest feedback allows you to grow and become stronger and that you have to be mature enough and confident enough to handle it. If I have developed any skills at all, it’s because of their patience and support. The first time they critiqued me, I shut down writing for two months. Then I toughened up and stuck my toe in the water again. I haven’t looked back since.

Robyn with fans at a Barnes & Noble signing

M: Tell me about your other books.

R: My first novel, Rinny and The Trail of Clues (now out of print) won the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for Best New Children’s Voice and First Place in the Royal Palm Awards. A couple of years ago, I decided to have some fun with the storyline and turned it into a fantasy. It features two brainy sleuths, Bell, a sixth grade girl, and her best friend Temple Black, a boy that has come back from the dead as a ghost. The Ghost, the Rat and Me is about a girl, Bell, who wanted to be sixth-grade president, but got a dead rat, a clue, and a blast from the past instead.

When I rewrote the book this time, I was part of a Jacksonville critique group which we have affectionately named the MOJO group. They read every word and brought me to task as only passionate writers can. I have decided to join the modern world of publishing and have submitted it to a Canadian EBook publisher for consideration. I am currently waiting to hear from then. When it becomes available, (from whomever) I will be posting it on my website.

On another note, I am in the middle of turning a historical novel I wrote during the summer into a graphic novel. It’s about the 1702 siege of the Castillo San Marcos, the fort that defended St. Augustine against the English attack. Pineapple Press is interested in that novel once the artist (Carolyn Fleetwood) and I have finished. The historical facts surrounding that time in history reads like a Hollywood movie and was easy to write. Plus I have a science picture book on Photosynthesis that I am submitting too. As you can see, I am a very eclectic writer!

M: When do you find time to write?

R: One word. Summer! When most teachers are lying back, I am slaving away at my computer. Teaching consumes me during the school year, so I have to wait until I have a mental break. Then I enter the wonderful world of writing. I always have these lofty goals that I don’t reach because school starts again, but that’s okay. I keep plugging away.

M: Besides writing, do you have any other hobbies?

R: I hike when I get the chance. Three years ago I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I stumbled into the camp at the bottom of the canyon like one of those old men in the cartoons crawling on their hands and knees back to civilization, but I made it! I also love to travel and to learn. I am always taking courses.

M: Thank you for taking your time with us and good luck with your new projects.

R: Thank you very much for having me! I enjoyed sharing time with you and your audience.

You can contact Robyn through her website. Her books can be purchased here:

America's Real First Thanksgiving
Barnes & Noble

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mondays With Mike: YA Author Wendy Delsol

SEVERAL MONTHS AGO a group of published authors in the Des Moines area met over lunch to form a support group we call the Published Authors Liaison (PAL). The group has grown since and how has its own blog. One of the really neat people in the group is Wendy Delsol, whose YA novel STORK was just released. Wendy and her husband Bob live in Waukee, Iowa with their two teen aged sons.

Mike: Thank you for joining us today, Wendy, your latest book, STORK, was just released as a YA book. What is the story?

Wendy: Borrowing from Norse mythology, STORK is the story of Katla LeBlanc, a sixteen year old who—following her parents’ divorce—moves from L.A. to her mother’s small Minnesota hometown of Icelandic heritage. With the school year already off to a bad start, Kat’s world is further upended when she is mysteriously summoned to a meeting of the local Stork Society: white witches with the responsibility of matching the undecided of hovering souls with the right mother. Kat is their newest—and youngest ever—member. As if this discovery wasn’t burden enough, Kat soon meets Jack, an aloof classmate to whom she senses an inexplicable connection. Additionally, when Kat finds herself in more than one life-threatening situation, she suspects that someone or something wants her out of town.

M: Was your character Kat patterned after anyone?

W: No, not specifically. I imagine all characters are composites of our friends and family. Kat’s sense of humor, for example, I owe to my extended family (of British descent). Our holiday gatherings were loud and raucous with highest marks going to whomever supplied the punch line.

M: Is this for boys or girls? Have your two sons read the book?

W: My sons have read the book. To quote my fifteen year old, “It’s good for that kind of book.” A virtual Pulitzer coming from him. Nonetheless, with a female protagonist and a strong love-story subplot, I would classify STORK as “for girls.”

M: Do you have a follow-up to STORK?

W: When complete, STORK will be a trilogy. Its sequel, FROST, is finished and moving into the copy edit phase. It will be released, again with Candlewick Press, in September of 2011. The third as-yet-untitled book is still a very rough outline. Guess what I’ll be doing this winter?

M: You also write women’s fiction. What is in the works with it?

W: I began my foray into novel writing with women’s fiction. As a reader, I’ve always been drawn to the family saga genre. THE McCLOUD HOME FOR WAYWARD GIRLS was the book I wrote prior to STORK. It is the story of three generations of women who run an Iowa bed and breakfast and the shocking family secret that surfaces following the death of the town matriarch. It is in the editorial phase and scheduled for publication by Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin, in August of 2011.

M: Tell me a little about yourself and how you got into novel writing?

W: I was born in Canada to British ex-pats and grew up in Michigan. After graduating from Michigan State, I moved to Los Angeles where I lived for twenty years. I’m married with two teen sons. My husband’s job brought our family to Des Moines five years ago.

PAL Authors, Mike (L) Wendy (R) with Alice Meyer (4th from L) of Beaverdale Books

Following a medical scare just before my fortieth birthday, I vowed to chase a long-secret dream: writing novels. I began the quest with writing classes through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Once in Iowa, I attended the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival, joined a critique group, attended writers’ conferences, and wrote—and wrote—and wrote. STORK, my first book to sell, was my fourth completed novel.

M: Can you give me a little insight on your writing habits? Do you write in the morning, evening, after the husband and kids are in bed? How do you do it?

W: I generally write while my kids are at school. When in first-draft mode, I work with a word goal of 500 per day. If a deadline is looming, I up that to 1,000.

M: I understand you are an avid tennis player; is there anything about tennis that helps you with your writing?

W: Well, I do claim that there are days when it feels essential to take a good whack at something. Beyond that, it’s a fun and social way to stay fit.

M: How can people get in touch with you? Do you have a web page, e-mail?

W: Via my website, people can contact me through e-mail, Faceook, or Twitter.

M: What is the best way to purchase your book?

W: Locally here in Des Moines, the book is available at Beaverdale Books, Barnes and Noble and Borders. Nationwide, it seems that Borders is the most reliable outlet. Of course, it’s available online through Amazon. It is also the Midwest Booksellers Association October Pick for their Midwest Connections Program so many indie booksellers through out the Midwest are carrying it.

M. Wendy, thank you very much for taking time with us today.  I've posted the Amazon link for Wendy's book here: