"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, May 31, 2010

Cuz he's a thrillerrrr

I met CJ West at the 2009 Bouchercon in Indianapolis last October. The weekend was a networking blur, talking about my book, listening to other people talk about their books, and trying figure out what was important. But each time CJ, my friend LJ Sellers, and I sat down at the bar, we managed to just talk like people, which was a wonderful change.

In the mere months since we first met, CJ has been a busy guy. In March, he released Gretchen Green, the third book in his Randy Black series. In addition, the first book, Sin & Vengeance, was optioned for a feature film, and he's currently gearing up for the release of The End of Marking Time. This stand-alone thriller about a criminal whose entire world is turned upside down looks to give his readers an exciting ride.

The End of Marking Time will be officially launched on June 10th with an online Facebook party. Links at the end of the post will point you toward your RSVP.

What else could I do, when I learned of his imminent fame and fortune, except ask him a bunch of bothersome questions and promise to put the answers on my blog? He was very gracious, so I hope my millions -oops- tens of readers appreciate him.

1. Your recurring character, Randy Black, seems to swing wildly from scoundrel to saint, taking everyone near him along for the ride. What drew you to this character initially?

I wouldn’t say he swings wildly. It is an uphill battle to convince most people that Randy is worth following after his antics in Sin & Vengeance, but Randy was a fascinating character from the beginning. The freedom to do anything or say anything is very liberating. Combine that with Randy’s skills driving, shooting, and with women, and you have the formula for a great time. He’s a great guy to live vicariously through and I enjoy writing his character more than any other I have conjured up.

Randy has also drawn the strongest reactions of any character I’ve written. Readers wanted him killed after Sin & Vengeance. The Randy Black series began as a way to show readers that Randy wasn’t all bad. I wrote A Demon Awaits mainly from his perspective and my readers were stunned to see a book about Randy struggling for Redemption. Gretchen Greene was the first of many damsels in distress that Randy will try to save thereby redeeming himself. I have the concept for book 4 in the series and I’m excited to begin writing it soon.

2. How much of your books are research and how much are "writing what you know"?

I research something for every book and that is a part of the writing process that I truly enjoy. I focus on things that capture my interest and I hope they capture the interest of readers as well. On the other hand, there is an incredible amount of “what you know” that is included in every book. My experience populates the pages so reading my books is a good way to get to know what I’ve done and learned. Many people ask me how long I’ve been a wine expert. The truth is that I knew nothing about winemaking before writing Sin & Vengeance. When writing The End of Marking Time, I toured the prison system and courts here in Massachusetts and learned some very disturbing things about the state of our criminal justice system.

3. Do you belong to a writing group?

I don’t. I have never belonged to a writing group. I have beta readers who read for me and a professional editor who helps get my work ready for press. I strongly recommend writing groups for new writers, but I haven’t found a group that is a good fit for me.

4. What was your favorite book as a child? Any particular reason?

I was in a bookstore recently and greeted two boys in their early teens. When I asked them if they enjoyed reading they said they were “sports kids.” I didn’t have a chance to tell them, but at that age I would have given the exact same answer. I was reading Golf Digest and studying the mechanics of the reverse-C golf swing. I cut out every instructional article and had a thick notebook with some fantastic information. I wonder where it is now.

5. How about your favorite book as an adult?

This is a harder question. I read lots of authors for my Blog Talk Radio show and the book I usually recommend is the last one I loved from the show. Two come to mind. The Dirty Secrets Club by Meg Gardiner and Trust No One by Gregg Hurwitz.

6. Your bio lists two children – are they old enough to read your books? If not, how old will they have to be before you grant permission?

When I release a new book, I sign two copies and put them in a box in my office. They could read The End of Marking Time soon, but I won’t give them the box until they turn 21. Some of my material is really intense and I’m careful not to recommend books like Sin & Vengeance to anyone who is not ready for the intensity and some of the situations.

7. What's the hardest part about writing for you?

English. It is a tricky master. I consider myself a storyteller and I identify more with my heroes (and villains) than a nerdy guy who gets excited about the technical aspects of English grammar. The nearer a book gets to completion, the harder the process gets. I don’t enjoy hunting for typographical or grammatical errors and would much rather move on to another story.

8. What's the most fun part about writing?

The story. I vigorously enjoy the process of research, character development, plotting, and drafting stories. If this is all I did, I would sleep about three hours a day. I always find it strange when another writer tells me they hate writing the first draft. I want to ask them what is going on and help them write it. That’s how much I enjoy new stories.

9. Who are some of your inspirations?

Sommerset Maugham inspired me to write unusual characters after I read a book of short stories about his travels around Europe and Asia. Recently Michael Connelly has inspired me to write smoothly flowing prose. He is also the kind of person I hope to emulate if I become successful.

10. As an homage to James Lipton: if there is a God, what would you like him to say to you when you get to Heaven? (Unless, of course, you think the Devil would have a few words for you instead…)

Nice job, CJ. Go have a seat next to Grandma West.

I'm not God, or the Devil (seriously, just ignore the horns), but I would second the motion. Nice job, CJ.

Here are some links you might enjoy, from ordering The End of Marking Time on Amazon, to attending CJ's launch party on June 10th. In any case, check out his website to see what all the hubbub is about.

Find The End Of Marking Time on Amazon.

Find out about the Launch Party on June 10th.

Go straight to your RSVP on the launch party event page.

Make your choice on the Facebook Group I pressed the Red/Green button.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


I'm here, except that I'm not.

Check back tomorrow, when I have a snappy little interview with CJ West, relentlessly busy author of thrillers.

In the meantime, my own little mystery, FREEZER BURN, is featured in the BookTrib blog today. And if you don't have your own copy yet, enter their contest to get one for free!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The mind of a mystery writer.

Hi, Peeps -

I just wanted to write a quick post to tell you what happened last night. My hubby and I are involved with Grad Night festivities at my son's high school (Valencia in Placentia), so we went to the gym to help decorate. At this stage, decorating consists of painting and glueing and otherwise preparing things to be hung up once we get control of the building.

We're working in the old gym, which has separate, raised alcoves for bleachers on one side and lockers on the other side, divided from the gym floor with metal rails. All the painting, etc. is done on the locker-side, which is unused, and we lock it up each time so no one can come in and mess with our stuff.

So Dale and I walk in, look up to the work area and see three women on their knees, scrubbing the floor. It turns out, Mary had picked up the can of orange paint and given it a shake to mix it. Too bad the top wasn't firmly attached. Paint flew in all directions - she got some good range on it.

Here's the fun part: when I saw them scrubbing my first thought was, I wonder what they did with the body.

I know. Sick, yes?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

In remembrance of a beautiful lady.

I know this blog is about writing and fun and frivolous things. I also know that I owe you a report on the Placentia Library evening, which was great. But before I do that, I must take a moment for a memory, and I ask your indulgence.

The lady in the picture is my husband's cousin, Amanda Knox. This photo was taken at my brother-in-law's wedding. Next to Amanda is my husband, Dale, her husband, Charles, and my husband's Uncle Ronnie.

Amanda passed away last Friday. According to Dale, she hadn't been feeling well so she went to the doctor. The diagnosis was severe: cancer ran rampant through her body. She died soon after.

It's the kind of diagnosis that used to happen. Nowadays, you go to the doctor and they find the little cancer immediately and treat it and maybe the treatment nearly kills you but you live through it and live on, possibly for a long time. Not for Amanda.

I don't know anything about her life. Her childhood, her years of study and work, are a mystery to me. I don't even know her maiden name. The facts I know are that she was married to Charles, they have two sons and seven grandchildren, and they lived in Hemet, California. As far as age, I believe she was somewhere in her 70's.

More importantly, I know she was a lady I loved to see at family gatherings, someone I wanted to spend more time with but couldn't. Hemet and Placentia are a good hour apart. We have busy lives. The only time our interests truly converge is when we are thrown together at a family event.

Amanda was a regal presence, confident and gracious. The picture doesn't capture her as I truly remember her: a striking, lithe woman, dressed in a silk shirt and pleated slacks, a la Lauren Bacall, usually wearing a brimmed hat over her silver hair. Her voice was smooth and low, although she could erupt in a full, throaty laugh. She could be stern about the running of her household, but her heart was soft when it came to her grandchildren or her animals.

As is the case with most family functions, you don't often get to sit down and have an intense discussion with anyone, but I ended up one 4th of July alone with her while we went on a search for something around her farm in Hemet. Briefly, in between pointing out a patch of flowers or one of Charles' sculptures, she told me of the prejudice she endured as a young woman trying to find work in Los Angeles.

"We don't have anything for a colored girl to do here." Her voice turned hard and flat as she repeated what they had said.

I look back at the woman I met 18 years ago, who was so poised and self-assured, and marvel at the way she took those experiences and used them to her advantage, instead of letting them defeat her.

I wonder how many family gatherings it will take me to stop looking for her face among the crowd. I'll miss just knowing she's walking the planet with me. Good-bye, Amanda. Please know how much I admired and adored you.

Thank you for letting me take this moment.

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