Monday, September 27, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Author and author coach Jerry Hooten

THIS WEEK I am very pleased to interview my good friend and former Inspection Service Security Specialist Jerry Hooten. Jerry has worked as a weapons and law-enforcement consultant with a number of big (and by that I mean really BIG) name mystery authors. I first met Jerry several years ago when he gave me some invaluable advice on my first book, Murder Most Holy. Jerry operates two websites, one is a mystery writer’s resource, and the other is devoted to security and investigative matters. Both have great links and should be bookmarked by any crime or mystery writer. In addition to his consulting work, he has authored several books on his own and moderates a writers group at a local bookstore here in Des Moines.

Mike: Jerry, nice to have you with us today. I think I first like to know how you got started doing research for writers?

Jerry: I’d been a mystery fan all my life. I was working for the Postal Inspection Service when I read Mike Connelly’s book, The Poet. We were the lead agency for child pornography at the time and Mike’s book struck a chord with me. I found his email address and we started exchanging information via email. We arranged to meet at the “Once upon a Crime” bookstore in Minneapolis. At that meeting, I started doing research for Michael for a lot of his books. I started attending conferences, and was introduced to other writers by Michael, which led to doing research for several other authors of mysteries.

M: I’ve noticed that once in a while he drops your name in one of his books a character. Offhand, how many times has he done that, and typically, what does the Jerry Hooten character do?

J: He’s done that several times. Sometimes he uses my name, and other times, he has had me as a character in his book, but told me that I was who he had in mind when he created the character. It’s always a big boost to my ego when he does that. Michael and another L.A. Times reporter, Josh Meyer, did a TV series for Paramount called Level 9. In that series, I was a character in the series, Jerry Hooten, Postal Inspector from Chicago, played by Romany Malco. Romany Malco is a star of TV in Weeds, played in several movies, The Love Guru, Baby Mama, 40 Year Old Virgin and others. I exchanged emails with Romany several times. We were supposed to meet on the set, but things didn’t work out. I still think of that series every time I see him on TV, or in a movie. I’d still like to meet up with him sometime.

M: Who are some of the big names you’ve worked with?

J: Michael Connelly was the first. I’ve also done some research for James Swain, the author of the series about casino cheats. I assisted him with Mr. Lucky. I had several opportunities to work with the late Barbara Seranella. Barb wrote a series about a character named “Munch Mancini”. ABC Television was having talks about making a series based on her books when she passed away. Great lady, I miss her. I’ve done a few things for Julie Smith, and lately I’ve been working with M.J. Rose, the author of the reincarnationist series. The TV show, Past Life is based on M.J.’s books.

M: Wow! Any other famous authors you’ve met?

J: I’ve been attending the Bouchercon Conferences. Those are the mystery writers conferences where the Anthony Awards are presented. I attended conferences in Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas, Las Vegas, Madison, Wisconsin, and last year at Indianapolis, Indiana. I’ve met Lee Childs, Sue Grafton, Jonathon King, Dennis LeHane, J.A. Konrath and of course, Mike Manno.

M: Of course, Mike Manno, but I digress. Let’s go back to the postal service. What were your duties with the Postal Inspectors, and what is your background in law-enforcement?

J: I was working at the post office and a part-time reserve police officer in Ft. Madison, Iowa when I was approached by a postal inspector and asked to take the examination for the postal police. I passed the exam and attended the academy in Bethesda, Maryland and became a postal police officer. Primary duties of a postal police officer are to provide security and other protective services. My duties as a postal police officer included facility security at the Bulk Mail Plant in Des Moines and we also were responsible for security at the Federal Court House in Sioux City, Iowa. Later, I was promoted to the position of Security Specialist for the Postal Inspectors. I was responsible for the physical security of post offices in a multi-state area and doing criminal investigations for the postal inspectors and other law-enforcement agencies involving electronic surveillance. This involved covert video installations, installing pen registers, (recorders to obtain probable cause for wire taps), computer forensics, and recording and participating in the execution of search warrants. At the time, I belonged to the National Association of Technical Investigators and we exchanged information on surveillance equipment and covert procedures.

M: What type of crime do postal inspectors deal with?

J: The Postal Inspection Service is usually misunderstood by the public. They are called the “Silent Service” as they don’t get the headlines the F.B.I. and other agencies do. They get involved in more types of crime as the statutes dealing with mail crime are more severe than a lot of other crimes, and a good many types of crime involve mail fraud in some form or another. There are more than 200 federal statutes that involve the mail. It is the oldest federal law enforcement agency in the country, founded by Benjamin Franklin. Through their functions, the postal inspectors are empowered by Congress to carry firearms, make arrests and serve federal search warrants and subpoenas. They have a forensic crime laboratory that is staffed with forensic scientists and technical specialists. The inspectors also provide assistance to other agencies, federal, state and local, with investigations and operations.

M: One of the things I’ve noticed about your writer’s resource sites is your emphasis on weaponry. Where did you get your knowledge of firearms?

J: My father taught me firearm safety and how to shoot various weapons starting at the age of 7. Later, when I was working with the reserve police, I was a firearms instructor and held firearms qualification tests for police officers. I practiced with all types of firearms and had my own collection which I practiced with and used for competition in combat and target shooting. I reloaded my own ammunition and did my own firearm modifications.

M: How did you get started writing your own books?

J: While working with Michael Connelly, I was fascinated with the writing process. He is a master! I had always enjoyed writing for my own enjoyment, and when I saw how “real” writers composed their works, I thought I’d like to try it too. I wrote my first book, Don’t Talk to Strangers in a week. I got the idea of an identity thief meeting up with another identity thief with both of them having the same agenda; stealing the other’s identity. I started the story while I was on the way to Oregon to stay with my granddaughters. I would get up early and write until the girls were awake, then continue writing late after they retired for the evening. The first draft was done that week.

M: Was that the finished product?

J: No, afraid not! I sent the first draft to Mike and he gave me some good advice on what to do to clean up the work. I tried to incorporate his suggestions, then went through a good number of re-writes and edits. The first attempt was published by Bob Modersohn, the ‘Books by Mode’ publisher. Bob also did the cover photo for me. After his publishing went by the wayside, I did another edit and re-write and published again with That is the current work that is available on the market.

M: Was it Bob who suggested that you use your own photo as the cover for Don’t Talk to Strangers?

J: Yes. Bob is a very talented photographer. He has been nominated for several Pulitzer prizes. He gave me some great suggestions for the covers for two of my books, The Don’t Talk to Strangers cover and the cover for Dead End.

M: What have you done since?

J: I wrote a sequel, Dead End that started where Don’t Talk to Strangers left off: In a parking lot in Sturgis, South Dakota. Since then, I’ve written a couple of other works.

M: Have you published any others?

J: Yes, I took one of the books I wrote in the NaNoWriMo contest and published it through CreateSpace. It is titled Friends And Others.

M: First, could you expand on “NaNoWriMo”? What is that?

J: NaNoWriMo is an annual event where you challenge yourself to write 50,000 words in the month of November. It’s the National November Write Month. It’s a good way for writers to get in the habit of writing and trying to meet a deadline. I’ve completed two in the last three years. It’s tough! But a great experience.

M: Is Friends and Others a mystery?

J: Yes, in a fantasy sort of way. I got the idea from my Granddaughter. She had an imaginary friend she called “Tody”. I changed “Tody” to “Theo” and used my imagination to expand on a “What if?” idea. It was pretty easy to write, I just let my imagination take me from one step to another. Before I knew it, I had my 50,000 words.

M: What’s next?

J: NaNo is coming up again real soon. I’d like to write about some of the work I did while I was with the Postal Inpsectors. Like they say, “Write what you know.” I got involved with all sorts of law-enforcement agencies and all kinds of cases. I need to use those experiences to make a story. Some were amusing, some, downright frightening, and all were interesting, as were the people I worked with and some of those we arrested.

M: Do you have a website?

J: Actually, I have two. is the site for my “Mystery Writers Resource”. I have links there for other resources for mystery writers and I plug my books there also. The second site is, . That site is devoted to security and investigative information and links.

M: You also have an e-mail newsletter. Can you tell me a little about it? Does it cost anything? And who might it help?

J: My newsletter has been in limbo the past few months. I plan on getting back on track this fall, with maybe a summer issue as a catch-up issue. All you have to do is sign up for it. It’s geared for mystery writers, but there are suggestions and stories for writers of all genres. I also have a recipe of the month that I add as a Recipe to Die For. I have copies of the recipes in a book with the same title.

M: Where can we buy your books?

J: Locally, at Beaverdale Books, The Book Store, and also Barnes and Noble and Borders by order. Online they are available at, and . Digital editions are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and

M: Tell me about your writers group?

J: Alice Meyer, the owner of Beaverdale Books, gives a group of us space to meet the first Tuesday of each month. Our meetings start at 7 p.m. and we cover topics such as marketing, distribution, publishers, agents, and of course, writing. I try to keep the group up to date on what’s happening in the writing world.

M: Jerry, I want to thank you for taking your time with us today. Folks, Jerry’s sit is full of interesting information and I know he would be willing to put you on his mailing list and answer any question or comment you might want to post.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Fantasy Author Anthony Wedgeworth

LAST WEEK I attended the Great Iowa Book Fair in Des Moines where I met Anthony G. Wedgeworth, fantasy author. Anthony’s fantasy adventures are for audiences from pre-teen to young adult – and beyond. His web page, Altered Creatures, says, “There are those who use the natural powers, those who control the natural powers, and those who are at one with the natural powers. And then there are those who that have no special powers, yet they believe they can save the world from those who do. These are the tales of one such individual, whose very faith challenges the vast domination of the naturally powerful.” Okay, so I wanted to find out a little more about his books and what this means so I asked him to join us to explain.

Mike: Welcome, Anthony. Alright, I have these titles from you: Altered Creatures Epic Adventures, Thorik Dain Series, and Essence of Gluic. What is this all this about? How do all these titles fit together?

Anthony: I know, I know. It sounds like a lot, but let me break it down for you. The overall saga is Altered Creatures. It is then broken out into a few series, and then within each series is a set of 6 books.

M: Okay, this sounds like quite an undertaking. How many series do you have going right now?

A: Two. The middle grade series, the Nums of Shoreview, is for ages 9 to 15 pending their reading level. These are fast paced short books filled with action, large printed fonts, and wonderful illustrations. The second series is the Thorik Dain series for YA and older. These are fantasy adventures for the entire family.

M: Fantasy Adventure typically isn’t for the entire family. How is yours different?

A: First of all they are written in a very visual style, so it seems like you have just watched the movie by the time you finish reading it. Also, there is something in the novels for everyone. There is excitement and fast pacing for the younger crowd and dangerous mystery for the more mature readers. And even though there is magic and battles, the real story is about relationships and how people struggle to get along during challenging times. This is probably why the two largest groups of my readers are women between 30 and 50 and men between 15 and 30.

M: What exactly is the setting for these novels?

A: Think of the backdrop and landscapes of Lord of the Rings or Narnia. Dragons, Giants, and whole new group of species have evolved to provide the reader with an entirely new experience. But it is the story and the characters that take center stage. You’ll feel like you’re part of the traveling party by the time you are done.

M: And the quote from your web page: “There are those who use the natural powers, those who control the natural powers, and those who are at one with the natural powers. …” What how does that bear on your stories?

A: The protagonist, Thorik Dain, is a young man struggling with his own demons as he relentlessly attempts to stop a pending war by leaders of great armies and mysterious powers. Thorik refuses to accept his place as another pawn in the game of war around him, and instead pulls a handful of family and friends together to help him stop those in power. The rift between those who have the various type of control over the natural powers has gone for thousands of years, so the idea of someone without these special powers, such a Thorik, seems very unlikely. But Thorik has something the rest has lost, his belief that anyone, no matter how small, can make big changes in the world.

M: Okay, if I understand it, you have two series and are releasing the third novel in the Thorik Dain series, Essence of Gluic, correct?

A: Correct. Each novel is a standalone story which moves a larger plot along which ties all 6 novels together. Within each novel are hidden “Easter eggs”, or at least that’s what I call them. Hidden secrets are laced into dialog along the way without taking you away from the main story at hand. The fun comes in when you read them a second and third time as you realize these Easter eggs, making the series even more fun than the first time you read it.

M: This sounds complicated.

A: Not at all. Growing up with Dyslexia, I made sure that this series is extremely easy to follow. I spent thirty years making notes on these stores and several years designing them so that they would be just right. Years of editing and test copy readings has resulted in a set of stories that have characters that you’ll fall in love with and cheer for.

M: Okay, you said you spend thirty years making notes…these stories then appear to be a long time in coming. Tell me, how and why did you start writing the stories and did you always intend to do so?

A: When I was younger I was in theater, sports, and played many role-playing games. Even before that, I used to create stories and put on neighborhood plays. I simply couldn’t get enough of creating and directing new stories. Then I started playing around with a new concept for a larger story and began making notes. The goal has always been for it to be a movie, but I needed to get it all out on paper first. Once my kids moved onto college, it was time for me to pull years of notes together and focus on this endeavor. All that said, no matter how good a story you have, if the readers don’t care about the characters, then it flops. So, I focused several years just on them, and in a weird way they have become so real to me that I think of them as friends.

M: What kind of writing background did you have when you started?

A: Growing up with a reading disability, I avoided writing whenever possible. However, I realized that I needed to learn to do so, so I pushed myself into positions that forced me to write and read. I’ve created business & marketing plans, quality & engineering specifications, held positions of company newsletter editor, and I’ve done some freelance writing. I did all of this with the intent to learn how to write better so I could eventually write this series of stories.

M: Tell me a little about your dyslexia. How has that influenced you?

A: It was difficult growing up with a reading disability. Back then, they didn’t even know what the problem was. I was told that either I wasn’t trying hard enough or I was stupid. I knew I was trying hard, but I couldn’t give in to the latter option. It played on my psyche for many years as I struggled, never being able to read as well as the other kids. I promised myself I would overcome my challenge to a point that I would write books that even people with reading challenges could enjoy without becoming books for “those kind of people.” I’m one of “those kind of people” and I’m proud of it. I’m in good company of Albert Einstein, Alexander Bell, Cher, Bill Gates, Thomas Edison, and so on.

M: Did this affect your career?

A: To a degree. I became an Industrial Engineer, which uses a lot of the gifts that dyslexia gives me. I’ve also worked my way up to VP and Director of many companies. Nevertheless, my focus is now on writing and marketing my books.

M: How did your dyslexia “gifts” help you become an industrial engineer?

A: The way dyslexia works is that we are just wired differently so we see things in a different way. There are many types of dyslexia, but mine caused me to have a wonderful ability to visualize things that others can’t. I can easily understand 3D concepts within 2D drawings, as well as quickly visualize how various objects and gears can fit together interact long before any drawings are created. Industrial Engineering was a playground of puzzles for me to figure out how to streamline manufacturing processes.

M: Does your struggles with dyslexia affect how you market your books?

A: Yes. Whenever possible, I love to get into schools and libraries to talk to people with learning disabilities about overcoming and utilizing these challenges as opportunities. I hope that I can help others understand the gifts that they have and how they can use them.

M: What is the reaction by students, teachers, and parents to your message?

A: So far it has been great. I get so excited when I see the eye contact by those who can relate to my stories of growing up with the challenges. Heck, who didn’t grow up with some type of challenge? They almost always stay afterward and talk to me about their own experiences. We typically end up exchanging e-mail addresses and become good friends. This process has been a much more fulfilling and enriching journey than I had planned.

M: You have been very productive with your writing…can you give us an idea about your writing habits?

A: Well, I used to write full time, but then I accepted a contract position with a company that takes care of people with mental and physical challenges. Before I knew it, it became a 50+ hour a week job. But it’s worth it. So, that said, I do most of my writing while driving, at lunch, and in the shower. This is when I feel creative, so I make notes. Then on the weekends I sit down and type up all my thoughts from the prior week.

M: And what about your family, wife, children?

A: My kids are now out of the house, so it’s only my wife and our three small dogs right now. Of course that number keeps changing. We’re foster parents for a local dog rescue group and it’s so hard not to fall in love with them during their 1 to 3 month stay with us until we find them new parents. Aside from dogs, my wife and I love to travel and visit our first grandchild whenever possible. When we are lucky, the kids come home for a weekend. But on free weekends, I go Ghost Hunting with a local paranormal investigation group.

M: Have you found any ghosts yet?

A: LOL. Actual our group is pretty diverse. Some investigate to prove ghost exists, while others, like myself, try to debunk everything. I'm super skeptical. That said, I've experienced some weird stuff, like when I felt my arm grabbed when no one else was around. I haven't debunked that one yet.

M: How can people find out more about your book series and how to purchase your books?

A: They can check out my website at or e-mail me at to find out more. Books can be purchased from the website or on,, as well as a dozen other internet book stores. I also have the first two novels, Fate of Thorik and Sacrifice of Ericc, on Kindle. The third novel, Essence of Gluic, will be available on most internet book stores by the end of October. Until then, it’s only available on the series website.

M: Anthony, thank you, it has been a pleasure and I hope to be seeing you again at upcoming book fairs.

A: Thank you.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Montezuma Conference & New Book Reviews

THIS SATURDAY I will be in Montezuma for the All-Iowa Writers Conference. The conference is open to all with a very low $25 price. More information can be found here.

In addition, there are a few new reviews of my book, End of the Line, that were just brought to my attention:

“[T]he characters are as much of the story as the plot is. As Manno introduces readers to the characters and their flaws, he gives them more depth than the characters typically found in a mystery… Manno also manages to include a host of interesting side characters, which add fun to the read without confusing the plot or weighing it down. End of the Line is an entertaining thriller with fast-paced action and quirky characters that will have you turning pages in anticipation of the next event. I like these guys—and I hope to see more of Stan, Parker, and even Buffy in the future.”

“Manno’s clean writing style sets a fast pace. Dry details such as annulment procedures are spiced up in the delivery by interesting characters like Fr. Thomas “Rock” Dodge, a former police officer. The ending brings a surprise, but the clues are all in the book if you’re sharp enough to catch them.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Children’s author Ransom Noble

THIS WEEK I’M making a complete change of pace and turning to children’s writing. My good friend Ransom Noble is a local (Des Moines area) author whose first novel, The Art of Science, deals with the struggles of a seventh grader who is trying to find the balance between her academic classes, her love of art, and friends and classmates who will not get along. Or, as Ransom puts it: a G-rated seventh grade soap opera.

Mike: Welcome, Ransom. Can you tell me what first got you started writing?

Ransom: I've been making up stories since before I could write. Once I did learn to write, I've been sharing them with friends and family as much as I can. I love connecting with people that way - to let them enjoy things I've created.

M: Was your writing always geared to children?

R: No, I often just write what comes to me. Sometimes it's for kids but not always. The Art of Science started as a project for a children's writing course.

M: What age group are you aiming for?

R: The book is best for ages 9 to 13, and it's more toward girls than boys. This is because the protagonist, Janie Hunter, is female. It's interesting that girls will read books about boys, but boys are less likely to read books about girls.

M: The Art of Science has a message for the reader. What is it and how do you get it across to your reader without being preachy?

R: The message in The Art of Science is about learning to be yourself. Junior high is about the age where kids make decisions that aren't always in agreement with their parents. In the book, Janie and her mother see things differently. I didn't set out to write that, and I think that's why my readers like the book. I just told Janie's story.

M: Are there any special rules for children's writing?

R: One thing they tell you is that your protagonist should not be younger than your intended audience. Kids love to read about someone their age or a little older. They're not huge on the adult perspective, either. Younger ages tend to deal with lighter topics than older children, too. Young Adult books can deal with pretty much anything, but a picture book intended for babies or kindergarten age won't often reference sex, drugs, or death.

M: There seems to be a line of demarcation between a picture book and a Young Adult book. Yours, I take is a picture book. Can you elaborate about the difference?

R: It's not even as simple as that. There are board books for babies or toddlers, picture books for babies, toddlers, and school-aged children, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult. The Art of Science is a middle-grade novel for the age range.

M: Do children’s writers do both, or do most stick with one or the other?

R: I think many children's writers write for one age range, but some write for many different levels, including adult. With pseudonyms and different ways to write a single name, I'm not sure that's really known.

M: Most aspiring writers are interested in knowing how authors got their first book published. What is the story behind getting The Art of Science published?

R: I wrote the rough draft as part of a class. Then I was sure it was terrible, so I "stuck it in a drawer" meaning I didn't open the file where I kept it for five years. Then I knew a publisher online who was running a contest for children's books, and I just commented in a group setting that I'd written a children's book once. She encouraged me to send it in, and after a lot of coaxing I had a friend help me decide to edit it. I was so amazed when I won. There were two parts to the contest: one was with editors and the other was with readers in the target audience. Both of them preferred mine to the other books. One thing I've learned from that is I really enjoy sharing my books, especially with people I wouldn't otherwise meet.

M: Who did the illustrations for your book and what is your relationship with the illustrator?

R: I didn't get to choose my illustrator. He was picked by my publisher. The novel cover was an idea from my publisher communicated to him - I only got to see it in the semi-final state before the fonts had been finalized. I was really excited about it as soon as I saw it. He also did a few interior illustrations, and I chose what those were and where they would appear. It was harder than I thought to put that together. Either I wanted to show something too complicated or it seemed like all the illustrations were in a row. It worked out nicely in the end. Stephen's a good illustrator.

M: What's "on deck"? Do you have any pending projects?

R: I'm working on a young adult novel titled Don't Tell Your Mother. The rough draft is completed, and I'm slowly editing it. My main character is named Ethan Porter, and he lives on a farm. His trouble starts with some kids his age moving into his neighborhood (a term used loosely to mean within 10 to 15 miles in farm country) that Ethan's father says to stay away from, for no good reason.

M: I have a bit of an idea about the promotion for an adult mystery, but it seems that children’s book promotion is much different. What is promotion of a children's book like?

R: I think a lot of it is like other books - you have to be determined to get your words out there. Sometimes it's finding a special librarian who needs to read your book to get it into the library. Other times it's difficult to get the word out to the target audience to get them in to the bookstore, with cash-toting guardians in tow. Schools are another avenue to pursue, but it isn't easy to know how to get in there. They want authors to come in, but the program also has to be related to the book and to school.

M: When I meet an author who writes for children and young adults, I automatically assume a teaching or education background, perhaps in elementary education. What is your background?

R: I have an engineering degree, but I prefer to think of myself as retired or recovering. What's a recovering engineer do? Stops going to meetings! Since then, I've become a stay-at-home mother. My daughter is the same age as my book.

M: Besides your full-time work as a mom, do you do any work with kids, or teach any classes?

R: I tutor kids in math and science, and I also teach an adult education writing class "Basics of Writing Speculative Fiction" with Des Moines Area Community Education and a college drafting class.

M: I know you’d like to do classroom or library presentations; how would someone get in touch with you to make arrangements?

R: is the easiest.

M: What's the best way to buy The Art of Science?

R:  Amazon on line and Barnes & Noble on line.

M: And do you have a Facebook site for “friends”?

R: I do!

M: Finally, I have to ask: are you related in any way to my protagonist Parker Noble? Second cousins or something like that?

R: I haven't been accused of that yet, but you never know.

M: Thanks a lot, Ransom. Perhaps some of our readers might have a comment or question.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Coming Events for Writers and Mystery Fans

I HAVE JUST been invited by the All-Iowa Writers’ Conference in Montezuma, Iowa to take part in the conference Saturday September 18 at the Montezuma Community School, Montezuma, Iowa.  Cost for attendees is only $25 and you can find out more information here.  Also, I want to remind you of the Two Rivers Romance and Iowa Author Book Sale and signing this coming weekend at Merle Hay Mall, Des Moines. If you get a chance to attend either event, please stop by and say hello.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Kali VanBaale & the Modern Dickens Project

MY INTERVIEW THIS week is with my friend Kali VanBaale. Kali’s first novel, The Space Between, was a 2007 American Book Award winner and was published by River City Publishing in 2006. It deals with a subject we too often read about, school violence. The book follows the mother of a high school student who has killed several of his friends and then himself. It is an interesting look at a painful situation and it is done with class and an empathic touch and should be recommended to anyone involved in any way with school violence and bulling. Kali is also involved with the Modern Dickens Project, a kind of All Iowa Murder Mystery, which we want to talk about, too.

Mike: Welcome, Kali. Before we get to the Dickens Project, tell us a little about The Space Between. It involves a topic that you were never directly exposed to, so how did it come about and what was the reaction to the book?

Kali: My first seed idea for this story came to me two years after the Columbine tragedy. I was six months pregnant when the shootings occurred so it was a very scary, confusing time to be bringing a child into the world. On the second anniversary, I was watching the news and old footage of that April day and my thoughts kept coming back to the mothers of the shooters, how they would ever begin to put their lives back together. I kept wondering if they rushed to the school like all the other parents—worried, terrified and trying to find their children, oblivious to what had really happened. The image of a woman then came to me, standing in front of a row of buses as they unloaded, searching for her son in the crowd like so many other mothers, only to discover in the same second that not only was he dead, but he was the gunman. My driving force from that point on was uncovering what would happen to this woman and her family.

M: Have you heard from anyone who was actually involved with a school shooter?

K: Only once. Several years ago I spoke at a book club and met two sisters who were present during a Des Moines-area school shooting back in the late‘80’s. They still spoke of it as if it had just happened that morning.

M: Is The Space Between still available? If so, where can it be purchased?

K: Yep! You can still get it on and Barnes&

M: Besides the Dickens Project, what else are you working on?

K: I’m two chapters away from finishing the first draft of my third book. Can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel! I also periodically work on revisions on my second book with my agent, who has been tirelessly working to find it a publisher.

M: Okay, The Modern Dickens Project. What the heck is it?

K: Good question. The Modern Dickens Project is a serial novel designed to feature untold Iowa stories by undiscovered Iowa authors. The novel itself is being written by a series of one-chapter contests held for 12 consecutive months.

M: Why "Modern Dickens"?

K: Another excellent question! Imagined by Van Meter native and Des Moines businessman Chris Draper, the project is named after Victorian author Charles Dickens (you may have heard of him!), whose classic novels OLIVER TWIST and A TALE OF TWO CITIES were first published in installments and incorporated the social issues of the time in entertaining, fiction form.

M: How does a "serial novel contest" work?

K: At midnight on September. 1, 2010, an opening chapter, written by our guest Iowa author John Domini, will be posted on The Modern Dickens Project website. Any writer who is an Iowa resident or has a strong connection to or interest in Iowa, is then challenged to continue the current story. Participants have until midnight of Oct. 21 to write and submit a chapter draft that builds on the previous chapter. (The Editorial Board is allowing extra time for the first contest.)

A winner will be selected and notified on November 1st, and they will receive a $100 honorarium and an author spotlight on the MDP website. A lightly edited version of their winning chapter will be posted to the website on midnight of the same day and the contest will open again for Chapter 3, (with the standard 21 days to write and submit for the remainder of the contest) and so on and so forth, chapter by chapter, month by month, for twelve months, resulting in a collective thirteen chapter novel.

There is no entry fee. I repeat, NO ENTRY FEE. We wanted this contest to be open to anyone with a vested interest in our state, without financial limitations or constraints.

After the yearlong project concludes, the Modern Dickens editors will work with the winner of each chapter to polish the pieces, with a release date for the completed novel December 2011. The team is currently working with several interested local publishers and also plans to release it first as an e-book.

M: How did The Modern Dickens Project come about?

K: It's an interesting story, actually. As I mentioned earlier, the MDP is the true brainchild of creator Chris Draper. A writer friend and I, who were conducting a publishing seminar together, were contacted by Chris after he saw our flier in a local coffee shop. He was still in the early stages of the MDP at that point, and had the basic website, some donated funds, etc., but as a businessman and engineer, was looking to bring in area authors for more ideas and connections to the writing community. We met several times to hammer out the basics of the project at first, then started developing more specifics. I brought in two members of our editorial panel and Chris later added a third. I obtained an Iowa Arts Council mini-grant to help fund the remainder of the website construction, while Chris worked to get the MDP a nonprofit status and other financial resources. With the editorial board in place, we immediately focused on finding a "guest author," an established writer with a great reputation who would pen the all-important opening chapter, the chapter that would set the tone, style, location and characters. Years ago I was profiled in a Des Moines Art Scene publication with another Des Moines author named John Domini, as our books were published in the same month and carried similar themes. On a long shot, I emailed him an outline of our wacky idea, told him what we were looking for, and held my breath. Lo and behold, he said yes! Turns out John isn't afraid to take a chance and embrace the wacky.

Chris's real end goal of this project, though, is to eliminate the need for anyone to ask the question, "Why Iowa?" He believes that our product is our community's ability to pull together, and his hope is for us to be one of those projects that embraces a re-looking at how we think of things. And I speak from experience here, the man's enthusiasm and vision is contagious.

M: Who makes up the "Editorial Board"?

K: Our board is comprised of a very lovely and brilliant group of ladies who bring a wide-range of experiences and taste to the judging table. (And they work for free! But that's not why I called them lovely). First, we have Rachel Vogel, a recent Drake University grad from the journalism/magazines program. She is our Managing Editor and handles our day-to-day correspondences, questions, fires, etc. Tracey Kelley and Murl Pace round out our board, both of whom bring extensive editing and fiction writing backgrounds to the table when selecting a winning submission each month. Chris will also read submissions and give input throughout the process, and the five of us have worked collectively on our aggressive project timeline, marketing, promotion and other odds and ends. I serve as Editorial Advisor and do most of my work leading up to the open of the contest.

M: So what's the opening chapter like?

K: It's all-Iowa flavored whodunit with a mix of current social issues tailored to our state. The story opens in the Iowa State Capitol where a young female Iraq war veteran receives a death threat via text message. She's in town for a controversial gay wedding of an acquaintance, and carries more than her share of baggage from her past. Right on the heels of the threat, she's pulled into a murder in the East Village area. Where it goes from there is up to you undiscovered writers out there!

As John Domini so perfectly said: "This is a mystery, but it's not just a mystery. One hopes it's somehow funny and a discovery on a level other than whodunit. The good mysteries all have that."

John's opening chapter and complete submission guidelines can be found at Or email Rachel Vogel, Managing Editor, at

M: Can somebody from out of state join the fun?

K: Absolutely! We only ask that writers have a genuine interest in writing about our great state of Iowa.

M: If somebody wants more information on you or your writing, how can they contact you?

K: Shoot me an email! or go to my website:

M:Thank you, Kali.

K: And thank you, dear friend!