Monday, August 30, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Murder in the Vatican?

SINCE MY FIRST book involved the murder of a nun, I could not resist interviewing the author of a book with the intriguing title of Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. Of course finding Ann Lewis wasn’t hard; she is the president of the Catholic Writers Guild, an international organization for Catholic Writers. Ann began her writing career writing tie-in children’s books and short stories for DC Comics. Most recently she published a second edition of her book, Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Alien Species, for Random House. In addition to her latest book Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, she is also co-writing a historical novel entitled Roman which tells the true story of a priest in 1840s southern Indiana who was accused of assaulting a woman in a confessional

A classically trained soprano, Ann has performed around the New York City area. She has many interests from music to art history, to theology and all forms of literature. After living in New York City for fifteen years, Ann moved to Indianapolis, Indiana with her husband Joseph and their son, Raymond. Together they enjoy their life in the heartland.

Mike: Okay, Ann, the first thing I want to know is about Murder in the Vatican. What is going on and how did Sherlock Holmes get involved with the pope?

Ann: Sherlock Holmes’ first encounter with the pope, which was mentioned in Hound of the Baskervilles, occurs when Queen Victoria dispatches him to locate a set of precious 1st Century cameos that the pope was sending as a gift to the British people (with political implications). When the courier arrived to present the gift to the Queen – the case was empty! Naturally Her Highness sends Sherlock to hunt them down because he has solved sensitive cases for her before, as well as many crowned heads of Europe. (All of this is told in the second story of the book, “The Vatican Cameos.”). All three of the stories in this book are based on cases that Watson mentions in the original stories but never tells us. These cases are called “the untold tales” in Sherlock Holmes fandom. I took three of the titles, all having to do with the Church, and told the stories for them.

M: This is an interesting concept, the pope and Holmes. How did it come about and is the style patterned after any other similar concept?

A: This type of “pastiche”—writing Holmes stories in imitation of Doyle’s style—has been done by many authors. I’m in such company as Nicholas Meyer, Isaac Asimov and even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own son Adrian. But as far as I know, none have tackled all three of the church mysteries mentioned in the original stories and collected them together.

M: While you are using a fictional character, Holmes, the pope presented, Leo XIII was a real person. How did you go about providing a “voice” for a real person in a fictional setting?

A: To capture Leo’s voice, I dove into his writing—encyclicals mainly—and I went crazy finding as many sources on him as I could. I went out of my way to find primary source material or period sources. I managed to find a great article from a magazine called The Century dated February of 1896. I found another terrific article online done by a contemporary journalist named James Creelman who personally met and interviewed Papa Leo—the first journalist ever to interview a pope. Both of these gave me great insights into his character. I also read a period biography (written by a priest mentioned in one of my stories, by the way). Using works from that time helped me get into the proper frame of mind for the character.

M: What was hardest about writing Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes?

A: Avoiding anachronism was certainly up there, but I think the hardest part was imitating Doyle’s voice. While I was more familiar with Doyle’s language over Pope Leo’s, his voice is more recognizable and I know I have folks who will pick it apart. Pope Leo, not so much. I was imitating Pope Leo’s voice as translated into English, so there was bound to be some leeway. With Doyle, even you have his music or you don’t, and the pastiche will sink or swim depending on how well you pull his voice off. That did intimidate me.

M: How did you feel about fictionalizing Pope Leo XIII?

A: Nervous. I wanted to be accurate and do him justice. I asked his intercession, actually, and said, “Holy Father, I’m trying to be flattering, do what you can to help me out.” And I think he did. I made him, perhaps, a little more active than he actually was (he was, after all, pretty old at the time the stories take place). But it’s not like he’s doing Jackie Chan moves or anything. Even so, I thought I should be wearing a veil as I worked so I could be respectful of him.

M: How did you learn to imitate Watson's "voice"?

A: By reading and re-reading the Doyle’s own stories – listening to the music of Doyle’s words in my head. I am a musician, so I hear music in words and I try to play it back. I realize that it isn’t going to be perfect, of course. I’m a Midwestern Mommie, not a Victorian British gentleman. I’m sure some native Brits will find errors in what I’ve written. But I hope they look at what I’ve done and hear the music even if the interpretation of the piece is a little different.

M: How did you learn about the era?

A: I started online, of course. It began with generic Google searches, which lead me to the library to dig out history books on various subjects. I also got involved on various online mailing lists and asked a lot of questions. They directed me to sources I never thought I’d find. I also learned that I can always go “right to the source.” For instance, I wrote to a hospital in Britain to ask them what was happening in their hospital during a certain time period, and they actually Xeroxed documents to send them to me with their compliments. It was very edifying to know that people like to be asked about topics they find interesting – and they will talk to you forever and dump all sorts of resources on you if you let them. Ask and you shall receive…

M: What your favorite story of the three stories in the book?

A: My favorite is “The Vatican Cameos.” I loved it because I did something very different with using the pope as narrator. It isn’t often that folks get to hear what goes on the head of a pope. I hope readers come to love him as I did. I also enjoyed the friendship that develops between Pope Leo and Holmes. They really do have a lot more in common than not, and I had fun with that. It also is one of those stories where the characters just took over and told the story for me. I loved writing that story and I was actually sad when I finished it.

M: Are you planning more Holmes stories?

A: I have written one more whole novel (working title: The Watson Chronicles) and I’ve planned for one more after that. Sadly The Watson Chronicles is way too long — I have to cut and revise. It is a story about Dr. Watson’s life, really, rather than a straight out mystery (though it has mysteries in it), so it may be a tough sell.

M: Are you a big Holmes fan, then?

A: Ya think? ;)

M: Do you think the setting, i.e. the Vatican and the pope, will limit the marketing of your book? And, considering the Catholic tie-in, are you doing anything special to promote it?

A: The secular world sees the Vatican as a mystery. It’s one of the reasons I think DaVinci Code was so popular. There’s something exotic about the Church that draws the secular, despite its best attempts to shun it. Is it any wonder that the best horror stories involve Church symbolism? For that reason, I think the book has cross-sell possibilities.

For that reason I am marketing to both the Catholic and secular markets. There is a dearth of fun Catholic fiction out there, and I think my book is getting noticed in Catholic circles because of it. I went out of my way to submit it for the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval so Catholic book stores can feel confident stocking it.

In the secular world—the publisher and I are promoting it among Sherlock Holmes fans, who have been quite positive about it because while some of them might sniff at a pastiche, these are folk who do like a good story. And so far, I’ve received nothing but positive feedback from Sherlockians on the story-telling. This tells me that the Catholic settings and characters are not turning them away. The goal, again, was to tell a good story, and I think everyone can appreciate that.

M: Do you feel that being Catholic helped you write Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes?

A: It certainly gave me some perspective and a body of knowledge other people wouldn’t have. I still had to do research on the church of the time, of course. I began attending a diocesan-approved Mass in the Extraordinary Form (i.e. the Traditional Latin Mass) so I could learn about the Mass that Pope Leo said. I began to realize how connected I am to the Church of history—that it was and is my family—then and now. I began to really understand the Holy Father Pope Leo. He is my father and my brother in Christ, and we both have Catholic minds. We truly do share that common heritage. And I was eager to share the church as it truly was and is as opposed to what Dan Brown would have you believe.

M: Do you make Holmes and Watson Catholic?

A: No, not at all. Though other authors have made Holmes everything from Jewish to Unitarian to Evangelical to Buddhist. To me, the most logical spiritual leaning for both main characters is “lapsed, questioning Anglican”—or perhaps in Watson’s case, “lapsed, questioning Scottish Calvinist.” I thought the interplay between a questioner and the leader of the Catholic faith was a good one—it gave the book a more neutral perspective that non-Catholics would find easier to read.

M: What is your favorite Holmes mystery from the original Holmes stories?

A: I love Hound of the Baskervilles – probably because it is the first one I read. And I also like the short stories “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Yellow Face”—perhaps because Holmes’ pride is taken down a peg in both of them. One thing Doyle did not do often is cause his characters to suffer or change. Those two stories are the closest he came to doing that.

M: What did you think of the Sherlock Holmes movie?

A: It wasn’t Sherlock Holmes as Doyle was originally intended, that’s for certain. It was popcorn action flick. I enjoyed it because I knew it wasn’t Holmes. I wanted to strangle Robert Downey Jr.’s costumer (RDJ was grungy to distraction!). But if it prompts kids to read the original books, I’d say it has served a good purpose by being made.

M: What else are you planning to write?

A: I hope to write some historical fiction soon. Right now I’m starting to rewrite, by request, a historical novel entitled Roman which tells the true story of a priest in 1840s southern Indiana who was accused of assaulting a woman in a confessional. He was convicted by a Protestant jury and sent away to prison for several years. I can hardly wait to dive into that.

M: Tell me about your Star Wars Book.

A: I wrote The Star Wars Essential Guide to Alien Species in 2001 for Del Rey Books (part of Random House) as well as its second edition, The New Essential Guide to Alien Species (2007). It was the first big book I ever published. It was a lucky break for me and it was a lot of fun to do. I was given the opportunity because I was familiar with the universe, but also because I had experience working with licensed properties. My second job out of college was working at DC Comics in their Licensed Publishing Department, so I had learned how characters that belong to someone else are treated at a corporate level. That was a must for Star Wars. Though with the second edition of the Essential Guide to Alien Species, I had to draft a friend of mine Helen Keier to co-write it with me because I’d given birth to my son in the interim and I’d not been able to keep up with what as was happening in the Star Wars universe. She was a huge, huge help. I believe both editions are still available on Amazon.

M: You are president of the Catholic Writers Guild. What is it all about?

A: The Catholic Writers Guild was formed as a means of supporting Catholic authors, to help them get published and compete in the world of ideas. Our goal is a rebirth of Catholic arts and letters. We encourage their writing through conferences, critique groups, online forums and chats, and (hopefully!) writers retreats. We have about 150 members. Folks can learn more at

M: Does the organization proselytize or is it just a group of like-minded authors? In that vein, do members all write religious books, or do you cover a variety of genres?

A: CWG is really a group of like-minded authors, publishers and such who want to help build a vibrant Catholic literary culture. Our members write every form of book you can think of, from children’s books, to SciFi/fantasy, to mystery, to religious devotionals and even comics. We also have journalists and illustrators. Our goal is to encourage our fellow faithful Catholic writers and artists to get out there and compete.

M: I know you sponsor a writers’ conference. Can you tell us something about it and how someone might attend?

A: We sponsor two conferences, one online and one live. Our live one happens usually every August in conjunction with the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show. Our online conference is free, and that occurs each spring. Our next online conference will take place March 21-27, 2010. We get a lot of great speakers online, useful information—all free. We even have opportunities to pitch publishers (both secular and Catholic). You can find out about all our conferences by visiting

M: Where can someone buy your book?

A: It’s going to take a bit of time for my book to show up on Amazon, so the best place is through the publisher’s web site:

M: How can readers contact you?

A: You can reach me by emailing me through my web site:

M: Thank you, Ann for taking time out of your day to be with us.

A: It was a joy. Thank you!

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BTW, Ann’s Star Wars books can be found here: first edition; second edition. As usual, comments are welcome.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Author Luisa Buehler

Today I’m honored to visit with my friend Luisa Buehler, author of the Grace Marsden Mysteries published by Echelon Press. I first met Luisa several years ago at a mystery conference in Muncie, Indiana. Since then she’s become the more successful of the two with seven books to my two. Hopefully I can learn something from her! Anyway, she is a delightful person and a great writer; feel free to leave your comments.

Mike: Let me start off by asking how you began your love of murder mysteries? And how did you make the transition from fan to author?

Luisa: I blame Nancy Drew for my love of mysteries! I began reading about Nancy and her chums when I was in junior high. I read Trixie Belden, The Hardy Boys, and Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. When I started high school I discovered Agatha Christie's classic murder mysteries and never looked back. I knew in high school that I wanted to write mysteries. Actually in junior high I thought I might pursue a career as a 'girl detective' but my dad was a strict old country Italian father who wouldn't approve. When I read, An Unsuitable Profession for a Woman, I felt her pain. LOL

I majored in English in college and started writing short stories during those years. The idea of a body hidden behind the fireplace wall, the premise for The Rosary Bride came to me while I was attending Rosary College. I knew someday I'd write about my liberal arts, all woman Catholic college---it was such a great place for a murder!

M: Your publisher, Echelon Press, is an emerging small press (or perhaps it’s not so small anymore) and you were one of its first authors. How did you “hook-up” with Echelon and how have you both grown since it signed you?

L: I met my publisher, Karen Syed, at a friend's book signing. He introduced us and assured her that my book was 'awesome' 'fabulous' etc. He'd never read a paragraph of the book because I write cozies and he writes gory thrillers. He has a copy of the book but he jokes and tells me he uses it for a doorstop. He's probably not joking.

I've had a wonderful relationship with Echelon. I've turned in my 7th Grace Marsden Mystery, The Reenactors: A Staged Death, due out Spring 2011. Karen has grown Echelon into a solid, respected press which is strong in not only print but e-book publications.

M: I have to ask about Grace Marsden, who is she and how much of Luisa can we find in Grace?

L: Grace is a compilation of the women I knew from Rosary. Her appearance and Irish/Italian heritage are direct copies of three friends. Her OCD I must say is partially mine but mostly embellished. I do know how to tie those knots (I was my son's Webelos scout leader). Grace is braver than I am. She has the horse I always wanted. The main cat in the series, Elmo, is my Martin Marmalade, short hair Orange Domestic. I'm a bit of an anglophile so I have paired off Grace with an English husband. My husband, who is more wonderful than hers, is a solid Chicago native.

M: Your first Grace Marsden mystery, The Rosary Bride, was set at your alma mater, Rosary College, now Dominican University. Did you get any feedback from the college for that?

L: Boy, did I! I called the college about six weeks before the book was due to print to ask about taking a picture of the Cloister Walk for promotional purposes. They politely explained that the Cloister Walk was a trademarked structure for their promotional material. At that point the PR person asked if I used the name of the college in the book. I assured her I wasn't calling it Dominican University but I was using the old name of Rosary College. That didn't sit well with them and they explained that Rosary College was also trademarked and they would prefer I not use the name (they said their legal department advised them) because the concern was that prospective attendees might not matriculate if they thought murder and mayhem lurked in the tunnels. It was my first book; my press was new and didn't have deep pockets; I didn't want to alienate a school I loved; so at the eleventh hour Echelon did a universal change from Rosary to Regina. I wrote in another paragraph putting a rosary in the ghost's hands (to explain the title) and we went to press. The universal change also changed my credentials in my bio in the first printing of the book. It said I graduated from Regina College!

M: I believe it was in The Lion Tamer that Grace became a docent at the zoo. I recall that you were once a docent at the Brookfield Zoo…so tell me, what exactly is a docent?

L: I still am a docent. I've been volunteering at Brookfield zoo since 1987. A docent is an educator that talks with visitors explaining the animals' behavior, diet, habitat, etc. We don't work with animals, just people. We also handle the important questions like, 'where's the nearest bathroom', 'when does the dolphin show start', and 'why do the baboons have red butts'!

M: You’ve had a ghost in a wedding dress, Satanic rituals, and skeletons in the basement: how do you come up with your plot ideas and how do you keep your writing fresh?

L: The ideas are everywhere. I was always a 'what if' kid. Couldn't care less about the 'why'. I was always adding, 'yeah, but what if...' I drove my family nuts.

It's difficult to keep an amateur sleuth written in first person fresh. I have to find different and plausible ways that Grace can uncover the clues. I try to make the reasons she becomes embroiled in these cold cases compelling and believable. I always yell at the television when the heroine decides to go down into the basement when she hears a noise. I would have to have Grace want to run first (what most sane people would do) but make the decision to investigate because she hears what sounds like a child crying or a faint shout for help and she can't turn away. I might have her carry fireplace poker or golf club with her.

I think I have run the course of my series arc with Grace and her pals and because my concern is that people will read number 9 or 10 and say, 'she should have stopped sooner.' So the book I just turned in, number 7, will be the last in the series.

M: Tell me about the Mystery Mavens. How have they helped you promote your books?

L: Sandy Tooley and Mary Welk and I travel around as the Mystery Mavens. Since we each have our own spheres of influence and contacts we have been able to triple our outreach to readers. We do library, school and club appearances. Our programs range from the always fun, "50 ways to leave your lover...Dead" to an informative "Write it Right" research program. The best part is the camaraderie – if no one else shows up at least we have each other to talk to.

M: It looks to me like your last book, The Inn Keeper, was released last year. You also have a couple of novellas available for download. Are you working on any new projects?

L: The Reenactors: A Staged Death will be out in 2011. I have written a Boy Scout adventure story for middle school boys. I am currently looking for an agent for that work.

M: How do you approach writing? Do you set aside a certain time of the day or week to write, or just make time when the urge strikes?

L: In the beginning, I tried to set aside chunks of time to write but weeks would go by without getting back to it. Once I had a contract with Echelon I knew I had to treat this like any other deadline. I try to stay on schedule. Between work and writing and family I am pretty structured to get it all in. Housekeeping goes by the wayside.

I write every morning from 5 to 7 before I get ready for work. I set a timer for the last 15 minutes and during that time I clean, dust, tidy, run a load of clothes, etc. This attempt at housekeeping assuages my guilt and actually gets something done. I call it my Swiffer Minutes (only 15 never more!) Saturdays I keep the same writing schedule but on Sundays I sleep in until six a.m. I write every day to keep the ideas churning during the rest of my day. I am a morning person so this is the best schedule for me.

M: Do you have any hobbies? Or maybe I should ask: do you have any spare time?

L: I love to garden. This year with all the rain and my deadline I have neglected the weeding. It seemed it rained every weekend (my only time to garden). I'm waiting for cooler weather and fewer mosquitoes to reclaim my garden.

I've played two rounds of golf so far this year on the two hottest days of the summer. I'd like to play more golf and play better.

M: Where can we find your books and how can readers contact you?

L: My books are available through Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, and independents like Centuries & Sleuths in Forest Park, The Nook in Lisle and Old Towne Books & Tea in Oswego. The Rosary Bride is out of print but I'm hoping Echelon will re-issue. Most of the titles are on kindle.

M: Thank you for your time, Luisa. One final question: how can readers and fans contact you?

L: I would be delighted to hear from readers through my website at or they can join me at

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By the way, the Mystery Mavens can be found at Let us know what you think.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Author Julie Hyzy

THIS WEEK WE are visiting with my good friend Julie Hyzy. I first met Julie several years ago at a mystery conference just after her first book had been published. Julie was on a panel for new authors and I was fortunate enough to serve as panel moderator. Since then she has gone on to become a prolific writer; she is the author of the new Manor House Mystery series, as well as the White House Chef Mystery series. Her latest novel, GRACE UNDER PRESSURE is the first in her Manor House Mystery series. Set in a mansion/museum/tourist attraction in the Carolinas, it just came out this June. Julie is hard at work on book #2 in that series and is about to start on the next White House Chef mystery featuring Olivia Paras, who feeds the First Family and saves the world in her spare time. Julie is an award winning writer, having won Anthony, Barry, Lovey, and Derringer Awards for her novels and short stories. She lives with her family in a suburb of Chicago.

Mike: Thank you for taking your time with us today. As I count you are now working on your third mystery series and have at least one stand alone. How did you ever find the time to become such a prolific writer? And if you can, would you share with us you daily writing schedule.

Julie: I am so lucky to be able to write all day if I need to. Although I have three daughters who still require Mom's time occasionally, they're all mostly self-sufficient at this point and they understand when I'm under deadline and need to lock myself in my "cave." I try to write every single weekday and on weekends when I'm tight under deadline. I'm currently producing two books per year, but once my youngest is off to college (this fall) I have no doubt I can up that number to three per year. I really don't mind being a hermit during the day and that helps a lot.

Most mornings I read the paper, check email, and then get started on whatever project(s) I have going by about 8:00 AM. I write for about 45 minutes, then take a break for breakfast or a snack, then about 45 more minutes, then snack... repeating all day as needed. Food is my reward, can you tell? See why I gain 10 pounds with every novel?

M: The first book of your new Manor of Murder Series, Grace under Pressure, is just out. Can you give us a little peek at the setting and tell us a little about Grace Wheaton and Jack Embers?

J: Thanks so much for asking, Mike! First of all, there's been a change. I had originally subtitled this series "Manor of Murder Mystery" but the publisher changed it to "Manor House Mystery" ... the only problem is that they forgot to tell me! I'd been trying to promote the new title before it came out and it wasn't until I received my author copies (a few days before the official release) that I discovered the subtitle change. I wrote a panicked email to my editor "THE BOOK COVER HAS A TYPO!!" and that's when I found out the series name had been changed. Yikes!

But all is well that ends well. It's a great series title and I think it makes the focus clearer too. Grace is the assistant curator at Marshfield Manor, a 150 room palatial estate in the Carolinas. It's a tourist attraction and museum, and it's also home to reclusive owner Bennett Marshfield. When Abe, Grace's boss, is murdered, it's up to Grace to step into his role, solve his murder, all the while keeping Bennett Marshfield safe. Along the way she discovers a few skeletons in her own family's closet and she meets handsome Jack Embers, the gardener with a few secrets of his own.

I'm having fun exploring some of the questions posed in Grace Under Pressure now as I write Book #2. I'm tentatively calling it MURDER MOST CIVIL (hey, Mike ... I wonder where I got the inspiration for that one? Murder Most Holy, perhaps? Love that title of yours!). No idea if the publisher will let me keep that one, but I have GRACE UNDER FIRE as an option too.

M: One of my favorite characters is Olivia (Ollie) Paras, the White House Chef. How was she developed and have you actually visited the White House kitchens?

J: I've visited the White House several times, but haven't yet made it into the kitchens myself. I have read every book I can get my hands on and I've watched every DVD and video on the subject. Did you know there's a site online that rates movies as to how accurate they depict the White House? The West Wing (TV show) was supposedly not terribly far off. Neither was The American President.

Anyway, we currently have our first-ever female executive chef in the White House, Cristeta Comerford. What a great situation to be in to overhear secrets, huh? We mystery writers are always trying to come up with unique protagonists who have a *reason* to get into trouble. What better place to overhear secrets and conspiracies than in the White House.

M: Did you run into any problems in researching the design of the White House for that series?

J: I thought I might, but I've been surprised by how open people are. There are so many people who worked (or still work) in the White House who were willing to share stories with me. Secret Service agents have been great... they've shared lots of information (none of it classified, of course) about what it would be like for a staffer to come and go... where the kitchens are... where the people congregate and commute from... it's been great.

I've learned a lot through books, DVDs, and online too. There's so much information. Sometimes I think all I need to do is read the headlines for a few days to get inspiration for the next book!

M: Is Ollie finished, or will we hear more from her?

J: Ollie's next adventure, Buffalo West Wing, comes out January 4, 2011. I'm currently contracted for a total of six White House Chef Mysteries, so there are at least two more left to write.

M: Dead Ringer was an interesting bit of writing. You wrote it by alternating chapters with your friend and co-writer Michael Black using your series character Alex St. James and his character Ron Shade. I’ve never read a mystery written in that format. How did that come about, and how difficult was it writing alternating chapters with a co-writer?

J: Mike and I had written a short story together as a lark and it was kinda fun so we thought... why not try writing a novel together? We tied our characters together by having them "meet" at the end of my second Alex novel (Deadly Interest) and his third Ron Shade (A Final Judgment) and decided at that point that it might be fun. We weren't quite sure what to expect. It was fun, but there were a few tense moments. Mike is a very straight-forward plotter. I kinda like to weave and change and invent new characters as I go. I'm sure I gave him fits. But I'm happy with how the story turned out. Although both Alex and Ron are written in first person, I think we managed to keep things from being confusing. And because the reader "hears" both Ron's and Alex's stories, the reader knows more than either protagonist does. That helped up the tension, too. At least that time it was tension for the reader, not tension between the writers LOL.

M: You’ve had several great characters, Ollie, Alex, Annie Callaghan, and now Grace Wheaton. Do you pattern you characters after real people? What was your inspiration for each?

J: Ollie, Alex, Annie, and Grace are all completely invented characters. They all share some traits with me, but they're all braver, smarter, prettier, and younger than I am, LOL.

But a number of other characters have been based on real people, or a combination of people. For instance, Frances in GRACE UNDER PRESSURE is a combination of people I've known in my life. And from the email I receive it seems *everyone* has a Frances in his or her life too! She's great. Annoying as all get out, but she is so much fun to write. I pictured Hurley from LOST in the opening scene of Grace Under Pressure (Percy) and there are a number of family issues in that book that I've faced myself.

M: Writing, of course, is only a small part of a writer’s job. How much time do you spend on marketing and promotion of your books?

J: A lot!! During my email check in the morning, I try to answer any reader letters that have come in, and then later, in the afternoon when my imagination starts to wane, I work on newsletters, stuff I need to snail mail, write blogs, contact bookstores, reviewers, and online sites, and basically try to determine what I'm *not* doing yet and figure out a way to get it done.

M: Finally, what’s next after the Manor House series?

J: I hope the Manor House series goes for a long time. I've been hearing that cozy mysteries are overtaking thrillers in popularity and this is a great time to be a cozy writer. I'm really enjoying learning about Grace and the gang at Marshfield. From what I hear from readers, they like Grace too and that's the best news of all.

Once I get myself settled (2011) and push myself to write three books a year, I hope to shake things up a bit by writing something a little bit more gritty. At that point, however, I'd use a pseudonym because I wouldn't want one of my cozy readers to pick it up and be disappointed because the style and content is so vastly different from what I've written before. Plus I'd like to get back to writing short stories more often. I really miss doing that.

M: Thank you so much, Julie, for taking this time with us today. I hope you’ll hear from a bunch of new readers!


Julie can be reached through her website: In addition, she writes a weekly column every Tuesday for the blog “Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen.” She does that in conjunction with five other mystery authors: Krista Davis (Domestic Diva Mysteries), Avery Aames (Cheese Shop Mysteries), Cleo Coyle (Coffee House Mysteries), Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery Mysteries), Elizabeth Spann Craig (Memphis Barbecue Mysteries), where they share recipes and stories about themselves and their books. You can check out that blog at

Let us know what you think and post a comment here.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Congratulations to book winners!

CONGRATULATIONS to Jeff from Somerset, Kentucky and Jill from Parkton, Maryland who were the winners of my first book, Murder Most Holy, on Lois Winston’s blog last week. Jeff and Jill, your books are on the way. If you missed my guest blog you can still check it out here (scroll down to the Friday August 6 column). Next Monday prolific mystery author Julie Hyzy will be my interview guest. Julie has just introduced a new mystery series that she will discuss, so make sure you check back next week. And don't forget to click on one of the links on the right to check out my new mystery, End of the Line.  Amazon has some pretty great reviews you should read.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Author Dennis Collins

TODAY WE’RE VISITING with my good friend, Dennis Collins. Dennis and I met several years ago when we were both aspiring mystery writers and by now we each have two published books to our credit.

Dennis was born into a show business family. After attending parochial schools including the University of Detroit, he moved on to the auto industry where his career in manufacturing engineering helped to finance a lifetime of adventurous interests. His avocations so far have included skydiving, motorcycle racing, flying, scuba diving, and over thirty years as a professionally licensed hydroplane racer. Dennis is the father of six children and an ever growing number of grandchildren. He lives on the shores of Lake Huron which provides him with just enough solitude to foster his newest career as a mystery writer.

Mike: Okay, I’ve known you for a number of years now, since before either one of us was published, but I never knew about the “show business family” stuff. What is that all about?

Dennis: Both of my parents were entertainers, they met while working on the same radio show. Mom was a singer and dad was a musician. After the kids came along my mother became a stay at home mom and my dad continued to tour with the big bands like Whiteman and the Dorseys. He was a guitar player but when he was with the Art Mooney Orchestra they needed a banjo for a recording date and my dad jumped in. The song was “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover” and it hit number one on the charts.

M: How did you make the transition from engineering to murder mystery writing?

D: I’ve always wanted to write and used to regularly be in the doghouse with the nuns in the fourth grade for writing “violent” things. It’s just something that evolved. And you don’t need special credentials to write fiction.

M: You write your mysteries in a police procedure style, how did you come to choose that style since you have no background in police work – or do you?

D: I’ve never personally been involved in police work but several of my high school buddies moved into that field. I’ve also counted many police officers among my friends. I like sitting in on their gab sessions and picking their brains.

M: You have some great characters in your books, especially the Detroit police officers Otis Springfield and Albert McCoy. How did you develop them and are they based (loosely or not) on real people?

D: Actually both of those characters were based on movie actors. McCoy is Brian Dennehey and Otis Springfield is based on Carl Weathers (Apollo Creed from the Rocky movies). At least those were the images in my head as I developed the characters.

M: Both your novels, The Unreal McCoy and Turn Left at September are based in and around Detroit. I’m interested in knowing how much research you need to do to keep all the “location details” correct?

D: Several of the locations that I’ve referenced no longer exist but they were all there at one time. I grew up in Detroit and worked a co-op job as a delivery boy in the downtown area while I was in high school so I knew my way around the center of Detroit pretty well. Some things have changed so I find myself constantly visiting so that I don’t stray too far from fact. I try not to get too specific.

M: Most readers are interested in the writing process, so can you explain yours? Do you outline? How much of the plot do you need to know before you start writing? And once you start, how long does it take to complete a manuscript?

D: I’d describe myself as unorthodox. I usually start with a tiny germ, sometimes just a sentence or a phrase and build from there. I’ve never been able to write an outline because I usually have no idea what the story line will be until I get into it. In The First Domino, I started with discovering that my uncle who was missing in action in World War ll had posthumously been awarded a medal for bravery and the family didn’t know it until 2006. That was my germ and I built a back story around it. Then I had to create a mystery story to support my back-story. It was a genuine adventure writing that book. I’m very proud of that manuscript.

M: What is next for Otis and McCoy? I know you have a new manuscript, The First Domino, making the rounds of agents; does that story follow the same characters? And do you have any word on a publication date?

D: My stories feature three main characters and I’ve tried to give each of them an opportunity to step forward in a featured role. The First Domino is Otis Springfield’s chance to shine. McCoy and Michael O’Conner are there as a supporting cast. At this time I am in discussions with a publisher who liked my query, requested more information, and eventually the full manuscript. The acquisitions desk likes the story and so we’re talking and that’s where things stand for now.

M: In addition to writing, I know you review books for Is there any advice you can give to newbie authors about getting their work reviewed? And approximately how many books do you review each year.

D: I also serve as a columnist at MyShelf and I’m expected to review one book per month. When I’m not busy writing I try to give the three or four reviews. It requires a lot of reading and I read every word of every book that I review. I’m guessing that I submit 15-20 reviews a year. I’m not sure what the procedure is for submitting a book for review at MyShelf but I know that networking helps. I’d recommend attending conferences and joining internet forums. Get your name in front of people and don’t be afraid to ask a reviewer to look at your work. I once asked a newspaper reviewer to review one of my books but he stood there with his hands in his pockets as I held the book out to him. I stuck the book under his arm and told him that it was a gift and he could read it or throw it away. A month later there was a starred review in the newspaper.

M: Is there any website or contact information you’d like to mention? How can readers get in touch with you and purchase either of your books?

D: My first book, The Unreal McCoy is currently out of print but I’m looking at options to resurrect it. Turn Left at September has had a decent run and the contract is approaching expiration. It continues to sell through most online outlets and can be ordered from any book dealer.

My website is: and there are links to both my blog and my Facebook page. There is also a contact link and I love hearing from people. I answer all of my email.

M: Thanks, Dennis. Good luck and I hope you hear from a lot of new fans.

You can also read Dennis’ columns and reviews at

Friday, August 6, 2010

Check out my guest blog on "Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers"

TODAY I AM the guest blogger at “Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, the blog of Anastasia Pollack, crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth.” The blog is in support of Lois Winston’s new Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. The series is scheduled to debut next January from Midnight Ink with the first book, Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun. The mysteries in the series all involve a crafting, as does the blog. You can check out my column and see how well I followed the craft theme, then come back and post a comment. Lois also has a contest for a couple of free books – that should give you another reason to check it out. Lois, by the way, in addition to being a successful author, is an award-winning designer of needlework and craft projects.

And, don’t forget to check back next week for my Mondays With Mike segment. My guest interview will be with my old friend Dennis Collins, author of two mysteries, The Unreal McCoy and Turn Left at September. His work in progress is a continuation of the series entitled The First Domino and features his usual suspects, Detroit cops Otis Springfield and Albert McCoy.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Author interview with Jerry Peterson

Today it is my pleasure to have fellow Five Star author Jerry Peterson, author of Early’s Fall. Jerry is a former journalist whose stories have appeared in numerous publications and have won several honors including the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave’s writing contest. The Wisconsin Regional Writer selected his short “Hard Day on the Road” as winner in its Spring 2005 flash fiction contest and published the story in its Fall 2005 issue. He is also a pilot: single- and multi-engine rated, and a member of the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association.

Mike: Thank you for joining us, Jerry. From some of the events in Early’s Fall, it appears to be set in 1949 (Berlin blockade ends, Dodgers win the pennant, etc.). Why did you choose that time frame for your book?

Jerry: I wrote two stories for a short story contest that the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave sponsored six years ago. The stories had to be set in and around Manhattan, Kansas. I had lived and worked there for eight years, so I knew the territory. I had seen pictures of the downtown during the great flood of 1952 – those pictures had always fascinated me – so I set the first story during the flood. A body is found floating in an alley. I used a county sheriff and a coroner as the sleuths. I set the second story a couple years later, when the Corps of Engineers was building a flood control project north of Manhattan. A man, with his throat cut, is found tied to sign that reads “Big Dam Foolishness”, a sign protesting the project. Same sleuth, only this time I gave James Early a deputy.

Both stories won slots in the Conclave’s anthology that was published the next year.

You’ve had it happen to you. A character tells you there’s more here, another story you have to write. That was the genesis for Early’s Fall. I backed it up to 1949, so it would be a handful of years after World War II. A war never lets go of the soldiers after they come home . . . and it doesn’t let go of Early who had been an infantryman in the war in Europe. I also wanted to bring Early and President Truman together, Early because he needed a problem solved and Truman was the man who could do it.

M: Since the book is set some 60 years ago, how difficult was the research and how much of it did you do to keep brand names, locations for the period, etc., historically accurate?

J: Darn little. I’m a silver-haired guy. I grew up in the 1940s and ’50s. I knew all the brand names, the vehicles, the newspapers, and the magazines. I had lived in Manhattan, so I knew all the buildings and the streets. The downtown and the courthouse had not changed significantly between 1949 and when I was there in the 1970s.

Abilene was different. While I was at the Conclave, I drove the old state highway from Junction City to Abilene – it would have been a gravel road at the time – because Early would drive that road. I wanted to see the towns and the farmland. And I wanted to see where the old courthouse was in Abilene, it had been replaced a couple decades ago. The woman at the visitors center remembered it vividly and described it for me. I also wanted to see again the house where Dwight Eisenhower had grown up because I intended to use it as a backdrop for one of the scenes.

Kansas City was a bit different, too. I had been there in the 1950s, so I remembered the Muehlebach Hotel, the Union Station, and the World War I monument, all of which I intended to use as scene locations, but I had never seen the friezes that cover the front wall of the monument, so I drove over, spent an afternoon walking around, taking pictures and collecting print information at the tour center.

Union Station is just down the hill from the monument. The interior of the structure has changed little since railroading days – days when Early would have ridden the train to Kansas City. I wanted to walk the halls and see where the big clock was. If you were meeting someone at the station, you always said meet me under the clock. I stopped at the information desk and one of the volunteers there was a railroad historian. So I asked if he knew the names of the passenger trains – and roughly the schedules – that ran east from Denver through Manhattan and on into Kansas City, and the trains that ran west. Did he ever. And I used what he told me.

M: Was your main character, Sheriff James Early, based on a real person, a composite of people you know, or just created out of the air?

J: Early is neither a real person nor a composite. He just slipped into being through my fingertips as I tapped out that first short story. I knew he would be just about average for his time, not a big man who could slap a villain silly. He would have a ragged mustache, and that would be his physical tag that sets him apart from all the other characters in the story and, later, the book. And I knew he wouldn’t carry a revolver, that he preferred talk over force . . . but he’s a cowboy and an ex-soldier, so he knows how to use guns and does when he has to.

In the second story, I discovered Early was kind of short. My mother and I had gone to a cowboy poetry event and bean feed one night in southwestern Wisconsin, and one of the cowboy poets was a tall guy – really tall, 6-foot-4, maybe 6-6 – and even taller in appearance because he wore a 10-gallon hat. He became the model for James Early’s deputy, Hutch Tolliver.

In book 2 – Early’s Winter – I give Early a new deputy who is a big bear of a man, a former military policeman.

M: What’s in store for James Early? Any plans for other Early adventures?

J: There is a sequel, Early’s Winter. It’s with the publisher, waiting for the executives to decide whether to pick it up. Early finds a young rancher and his family murdered in the northern part of the county. The rancher was a compulsive gambler and lost more money than his ranch was worth to card sharps in Kansas City. So, yes, it’s back to Kansas City again, this time for the wildest poker game you’ve ever read.

Early’s Fall, Early’s Winter, you’ve guessed it, the series follows the seasons. I have a fifth book outlined in which Early goes to Korea during that war, to rescue his deputy, Hutch Tolliver, who has been called back into the Army and is lost behind enemy lines – believed to have been captured by the North Koreans. I’ve always wanted to write a war novel. This is one of two that I’ve outlined.

M: I joined Early’s Posse on Facebook. I think that is an interesting marketing concept. Has that helped with your sales?

J: Probably not. Most who have joined The James Early Posse are fans, people who have bought Early’s Fall – or borrowed it from the library – and read it and enjoyed it. I use the posse to let people in on the status of the next book, and to let them know where the sheriff and I will be doing author talks and book signings. I also share new James Early short stories with the posse.

M: It appears that most of your writing is short stories. How did you make the transition from short stories to novel-length work?

J: Short stories are easy for me because I’m a fast writer. I can knock a short story out in a day, polish it the next day and be done with it; it’s ready for posting on my website or sending to an editor of an anthology or putting in a collection that I might one day publish as a Kindle book.

I didn’t transition to novels. I write both, but I did break into the publishing world first as a short story writer.

Novels just take more time because they cover more complex story lines. And I learned one thing when I wrote my first mystery. I had set the story in 1936 Tennessee, and, yes, I had used a sheriff for my detective. My agent – yes, I got an agent for it – said nothing ever happens to your main character. He doesn’t change. He’s the same at the end of the book as he is at the beginning. And she was right. So in the rewrite I created a crisis in the sheriff’s life. He’s got to give up sheriffing, because it’s dangerous, or his wife is going to walk out on him.

I learned then that modern mysteries are really stories of your detective’s life, of his/her changes, tragedies, and growth. The mystery – the puzzle to be solved – is a bonus for your readers.

M: Anything more you’d like to include, maybe something about mystery readers?

J: We crime writers write to be read, we write for you. And we like to meet you, so come to our events. And, of course, come to our websites and our fan pages. And join It’s free. This is a website that brings mystery readers together with mystery writers.

M: Thank you, Jerry, for taking time with us today.

For those interested, here is Jerry’s website: and he has a blog at: ; and for those wanting to join the posse, you can find it here: And here’s the link to Jerry’s page on CrimeSpace: