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Monday, October 31, 2011

Author Interview: Sarah Zettel

Sarah Zettel is an award-winning science fiction and fantasy author.  She has written eighteen novels and multiple short stories over the past seventeen years.  She has begun a new paranormal cozy mystery series called the Vampire Chef Mysteries - my review of "A Taste of the Nightlife" is here (click here).  We are offering a copy of her new book in the Spooktacular Blog Hop giveaway (posted last Monday). I am ecstatic to interview her.  Please give a warm welcome to this accomplished author (the crowd goes wild, whistles and howls reverberate.)

- Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

Generally, I start with a scene.  It can be anywhere in the plot; an opening, something from the middle, or even the very end.  Then I'll fill in around it, asking myself; how did these people get here?  Where are they going next? 

- Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc) before sitting down and writing?

I am not one of those tidy writers, even when it comes to mysteries.  When I embark on a new project, I do have an outline, in part because my editor usually asks for one, and also because it does help me solidify a starting point and a kind of flight plan for the book.  By about page 100, though, that outline is generally completely gone, except for the broadest details and I'm making things up as I go.  Along the way, I'll sketch new outlines, taking into account the new turns I've given the plot.  These are more to help me to keep track of what I'm doing and ask myself questions than anything else. 

- What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?

I've never been able to use the worksheet method.  I know people who do it, and it works very well for them,  But because my books change so much while I'm writing them (see above), I have to give the characters the freedom to evolve with it.   If I tried to work them up before hand, those sheets would most likely end up out the window with the outline.

-  There have been chefs, ghosts, even pets as sleuths, but as far as I know this is the first Vampire chef as a sleuth.  What drew you to such an unusual combination? 

I so wish I could take credit for the idea, but it wasn't mine.  What happened was one day the late, great editor and publisher Marty Greenburg walked into his office and said "Vampire Chef, why has nobody done this?"  And everybody in the office looked at each other, and said "Why has nobody done this?!"  And started looking around for an author who was willing to try to take the idea and run with it.  I hurry to point out this is NOT the way these things usually happen.  They first offered the project to humorist/fantasy/YA author Esther Friesner, but she had a deadline at the time, and referred them to me. 

-  Were you a big vampire fan all along (fan of Brom Stoker and devoured The Historian) and what research did you do?

I have always been sort of lukewarm on vampires.  I was a teenager when Anne Rice hit, but never liked them, and so I sort of sat out the many, many romantic vampires that followed.  When Buffy the Vampire Slayer came out, however, I was a huge fan of the series, and I've never lost my sentimental fondness for the original Bela Legosi "Dracula."  So, I found it a little odd to be immersed in the middle of a vampire series, but I'm having a lot of fun with my vampires out of the coffin in NYC.

-  Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?

I can write just about anywhere, and I've been known to do it, too.  This is part habit, part luck.  Most days, however, find me at a "co-working" space in Ann Arbor.  Co-working is a concept where a group of freelancers go in together on office space, internet, etc. so they have  a dedicated work and meeting place, instead of having to work out of the isolation of the home, or the chaos of the coffee shop.  I go in each morning, grab a desk, set up my table and lap top, grab the day's hot caffeinated beverage, and get down to work. 

- What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?

I keep office hours, more or less.  For someone whose creative process is fairly chaotic, I like to have a defined schedule where my main focus is getting the heavy lifting of the writing work done.

- What in your background prepared you to write mystery novels?

Well, I was always a reader, and more than a bit of a nerd.  That meant I got to Sherlock Holmes and Poe, et. al. early.  From there, my grandmother introduced me to Agatha Christie.  My father was a huge science fiction fan, and I read mountains of the genre growing up.  There is a very strong mystery component to a lot of science fiction and a lot of cross-over between the two genres. 

-  Who is your favorite Mystery character?  Who is your favorite paranormal character?

Wow.  That's a tough one because there is such a range of possible answers.  I love Tony Hillerman's Jim Chee, I love Smila in Smila's Sense of Snow.  I love Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Whimsey, Sherlock Holmes, Nick and Nora Charles, and Richard Castle.  As for "paranormal"  I'd almost have to go with Buffy Summers, at least in the first 3 seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

-  Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?

Oh, boy.  There are a lot of answers to that.  Ray Bradbury tops the list most days.  Ursula K. LeGuin, Georgette Heyer, Terry Prachett, Tony Hillerman,  Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck, Charlotte Bronte... how much more room have you got?

- How did you get your first break to getting published?  Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter?

I decided I was going to be a writer fairly young, and once I made the decision I didn't seriously consider doing anything else.  I got very lucky in high school, where I was able to take a class called "Writing for Publication," where I learned how to research markets, format a manuscript, keep a submission record for the stories, etc.  I got my first rejection in that class.  After that, however, it became a matter of slogging through; write a piece, finish it, send it out, start the next piece, rinse and repeat.  Eventually, I started selling to small magazines (and I do mean _really_ small), and worked my way up the chain. 

- What are you currently reading?

Lemme check the pile.  The Art of the Heist, by Myles J. Connor; Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, by Daniel Okrent; The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, by Chris Ewan, Chicago, a Biography by Dominic A Pacyga.  I think that's all, currently.

- What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

My most interesting quirk is that I'm pretty non-quirky.  Like I said, I deliberately set out to be a writer, and as I worked the problem at some point decided that quirks were going to hold me back from being able to make a serious living at it.  So, I practiced writing steadily, daily, finishing what i start, and cultivating new ideas on a regular basis.  I've got the usual run of problems; imposter syndrome, self-confidence, etc., but nothing truly special, unless you count never seriously wanting to be anything but a fiction writer as a quirk.

-  If your Vampire Chef Mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your character's roles?

That's always a tough one to answer, because I don't know that there are a lot of actors out there who actually look like Charlotte, at least famous ones.  She's short, she's solid and she's curvy, the kind of build that hasn't been in fashion in Hollywood since Mae West. [I thought of Kate Winslet potentially here] I'd almost have to use time travel to really do it; Anatole would be a young Robert Redford, Brendan a young Christopher Reeves, or possibly Pierce Brosnan, Chet, a young, skinny Leo DeCaprio, and Charlotte...a young Janeane Garafalo, if she would die her hair.  

-  Do you have anything you would like to share about your next book in the series? 

In Vampire Chef #2; LET THEM EAT STAKE, Charlotte is brought in as an emergency pinch hitter to cater a problematic high-society wedding -- as her friend the wedding planner puts it "witches. vs. vampires to the tune of five hundred thousand dollars."  What she doesn't know is the witches are the Maddox family, the vampires are a set of undead con artists, and the original celebrity-chef caterer is about to turn up dead.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
THANK You Ms. Zettel for that great interview!  It is always great to meet other Buffy fans :-)  The Mae West image was great and I just had to throw in a picture.  Whoever came up with the idea for the series, I like what you have done with it. Perhaps because you have not been enmeshed in the Vampire genre you were able to bring a fresh take on the idea.  I am fascinated by the co-working space concept too.  

It wouldn't be Halloween without The Monster Mash!  Have a safe one.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review - A Taste of the Nightlife

If you are looking for the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop, you are in the correct place and thank you for stopping by.  Please scroll down to the post before this one for the giveaway.  

Today we continue with our paranormal mystery book reviews with a paranormal cozy featuring vampires.  I know, cozy and vampire just doesn't seem to go together.  But check out the review, it might surprise you.

Author: Sarah Zettel

Copyright:  July 2011 (Signet) 320 pgs

Series:  1st in  Vampire Chef Mysteries

Sensuality:  Romantic tension

Mystery Sub-genre:  paranormal cozy

Main Character:  Charlotte Caine, Chef to Vampires and other "paranormals"

Setting:  Modern Day, New York

Obtained Through:  from publisher for an honest review

Chef Charlotte is co-owner of Nightlife Restaurant with her vampire brother Chet.  When a drunk customer who made a scene (in the presence of influential restaurant critic Anatole) is found dead the next morning, Charlotte's brother Chet comes under suspicion.  The victim was a member of a powerful Maddox Witch family known for their Vampire hunting. Brenden Maddox, brother to the victim comes to the restaurant to ask questions at the same time as Anatole the critic (and a vampire) is there seeking answers too.

Charlotte starts working with both men to find out what is happening and why a man was killed in her place.  The more she digs into the case, the more her brother looks suspicious.  Both Anatole and Brenden seem personally interested in Charlotte which fuels their rivalry inspite of the fragile truce to work together.

There are several things about this book that are a pleasant surprise. Firstly it is definitely a cozy mystery in-spite of the vampires or romantic tension.  The world building is simple with the least amount of fuss.  The paranormal is out in the open now and the night life crowd enjoys a good meal (no human blood - that's illegal.)  Charlotte is a bona-fide Chef and big sister, always taking care of her younger vampire brother Chet who the rest of the family has disowned. 

Charlotte herself is a great character.  The old saying never trust a skinny cook is employed here with Charlotte who has some curves and meat on her bones, which I always like rather than the same-old perfectly thin heroine.  She is a bit feisty without being bull headed.  She also doesn't get much sleep but a few short hours here and there.  I really wanted to make her get some sleep after a while! 

Brenden is the reasonable member of the Maddox witch family and is willing, up to a point, to investigate his brother's murder with Charlotte and Anatole rather than solo.  Anatole is an old vampire who enjoys having a secure life and really doesn't want to live in the closet (or is that the coffin?) any more so solving the murder is critical to him.  Charlotte just wants to clear Chet and maybe even herself from the police's list. Both Brenden and Anatole are classic dangerous charmers.  Brenden is dark and human, Anatole is blond with old-world romantic ideas and fangs.  This sets up a competition between the two for her which could be interesting in future books.  I found it interesting that usually I clearly like one "potential love interest" more than the other in these setups, but I thought both had their good points in this case.  If you have read the book, perhaps you could chime in with your thoughts on that.

There is occasional humor without feeling forced.  I like humor in my books, but only when it sounds natural and this did to me. The plot has enough developments to keep the reader interested without moving into the urban fantasy dark mode.  It was paced well without any dragging middle.  It is a solid cozy mystery, just with vampires and witches.  The climatic confrontation with the killer is satisfactory and I had developed my ideas of the whodunit and why as the story progressed.  The wrap up leaves enough open for the next book to have both Brenden and Anatole as recurring characters which I liked both of the characters so that worked.

As far as I am aware this is a unique book.  It has the standard vampires, werewolves and the usual cast of creatures but in true cozy format - not the dark "gritty" or "sexy" urban fantasy world.  The heroine does not wield a sword or have any abilities past the kitchen.  It has all the ingredients for a successful cozy: a murder mystery, a likable heroine, interesting supporting characters, pinches of magic and danger mixed with sprinkles of romantic tension served up with a paranormal world that is integrated smoothly. I wonder why nobody has thought to do this vampire lite before.  Likely because not just any author could pull this off as well as Ms. Zettel has.  I will certainly be anxiously awaiting the next book to be released.

For you viewing pleasure, here are some videos for carving pumpkins that provide tips and inspiration. Some of these are amazing.

In this next video you learn how to pick a design and transfer it to a pumpkin then carve it out.  Part one explained to look for a pumpkin that is 1) big and 2) has a flatter side for the design. 


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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Author Interview: Justin Gustainis & Blog Hop

If you are looking for the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop, you are in the correct place and thank you for stopping by.  We are #29 on blog hop list.  We celebrate everything mystery and suspense here - no doubt you can find something of interest!  This month we have been spotlighting paranormal mysteries and authors.  We have three individual books available to win, all of them are paranormal mystery/crime fiction.

Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis - his interview is below.  The review for the book is here (click here.) Warning: R rating on this one.  Note in comments if you don't want this.

A Taste of the Nightlife by Sarah Zettel, the review coming later this week and her interview next Monday.

A Hard Day's Fright by Casey Daniels.  Read the review I did (click here) or the author interview (click here.)

Entry for giveaway lasts until October 31 6:00 p.m. (MST).

I will be shipping the books to the winners except for Hard Spell which the author shall ship.  U.S. residents only please.

How to enter:

*** First, you must be a member (follower) of this blog.***

All entries are to be in the comments for this post.

I will accept entries for this giveaway Monday October 24 beginning at midnight (MST) through to 6:00 p.m (MST) on Monday October 31.    
I shall notify the winner via the email address you provide to get your mailing address and have the prize sent directly to you.

IF you are a member of this blog, you only need to leave a comment with your correct email.

BECOME a member of this blog if you aren't already and enjoy the celebration of all things mystery and suspense.

At the end of this post you will find the blog hop listing to go to the next blog on the list. 

Now to the interview with Hard Spell author, Justin Gustainis!

- Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

Since the next book is the second in a series, I started with the plot: someone is making and distributing supernatural "snuff films," and the most recent one suggests a link to Scranton (where the series is set).  The first book in the series started with a premise (the supernatural exists, and everyone knows it) and a character (Detective Sgt. Stan markowski of the Occult Crimes Unit).

- Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc) before sitting down and writing?

I usually start with a premise, then decide how I want the tale to end.  After that, it's just a matter of getting from Point A to Point B in a way that makes sense and that, I hope, the reader will find entertaining.

- What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?

I listen for the character's voice in my head.  Either he/she is talking to me, or to another character.  That's how I "find out" what the character is like, and what he/she wants.

-  Were you always interested in vampires, werewolves, and witches (an old Kolchak perhaps?) The Joe Friday/Dragnet style is unique in paranormal books, did that voice come naturally to you or did you have to work on it?

I loved that stuff as a kid, and when I was twelve, I found a copy of Dracula at my local library.  At my last estimate, I owe $3,441.75 in fines on that book.  Although I liked Kolchak (the two made-for-TV movies, not the series, which even Darren McGavin hated), what really turned me on to the "occult detective" genre was another made-for-TV movie, Spectre, starring Robert Culp.  It was a pilot written by Gene Roddenberry after Star Trek finished its run; the series, alas, was never picked up.
Stan Markowski's voice is an amalgam of Joe Friday, Mike Hammer, and Robert B. Parker's Spenser.  Oh, and two guys I knew growing up.

-  Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?

I do most of my writing in my office at home, which is decorated with a lot of occult detective memorabilia.  I have posters from movies (Hellboy, Constantine) and TV shows (The X-Files, Supernatural, Blood Ties), action figures (Mulder, Scully, Buffy, Frank Black), mugs, keychains, magnets, you name it.

I don't always listen to music when I write, but when I do it's something like Mark Snow's soundtracks for The X-Files and Millennium.

- What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?

I have a day job committing higher education, so most of my writing is done in the evening.  It takes me about a year to complete a book, but I should mention that about half of that is spent procrastinating.  So the actual writing probably takes six months.

- What in your background prepared you to write mystery novels and particularly paranormal mysteries?

Only the fact that I've read a gazillion of them.  I've got a Masters in English, but you'd be surprised how little those courses on Victorian Poetry and Samuel Johnson help in describing a werewolf's death throes.  I attended the wonderful Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2008, but I'd already published two novels by that time.

-  Who is your favorite mystery character?  Who is your favorite paranormal character?

Oddly (perhaps) enough, my favorite mystery character is a woman: Jane Whitefield, from the series by Thomas Perry.  My favorite paranormal character would have to be Harry Dresden (from Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files" novels). [read my review of the first in the Dresden Files here.]

-  Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?

 I don't know if this qualifies as "influenced or inspired," but Jim Butcher (mentioned above) was very kind to me when I was starting out.  Even though he didn't know me, he agreed to look at the manuscript of my first novel, The Hades Project.  He gave me some very encouraging feedback, and even wrote a nice blurb for the cover when I found a publisher.  Jim is a guy whose immense talent as a writer is matched by his generosity of spirit.

- How did you get your first break to getting published?  Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter?

It was a contest.  A small independent publisher was holding a novel contest; first prize was publication.  I sent the manuscript for The Hades Project, along with the entry fee.  A month later, a got a letter refunding my entry fee, because the contest had not received enough entries to make it viable.  However, the publisher liked the book so much, they decided to publish it, anyway.

- What are you currently reading?

To Kill the Dead, by Richard Kadry.  It's the second book in his "Sandman Slim" series, and it totally rocks.

- What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I can't live, let alone write, without copious amounts of Cherry Diet Pepsi.

-  If your Occult Crimes Unit Investigations were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your character's roles?

Twenty years ago, either Roy Schneider or Peter Coyote would have been perfect for Stan.  These days, maybe Jeff Bridges would be good.  For Stan's partner Karl, Edward Norton.  For Stan's daughter, Christine, Ellen Page would be very good, I think.


-  Do you have anything you would like to share about your next book in the series?

Well, it's more than a month overdue.... and [someone is making and distributing supernatural "snuff films,"]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

THANK You Mr. Gustainis for that interview and for the giveaway copy of Hard Spell to a lucky winner.  Thanks for the tip on the Jane Whitefield series, I am getting the debut book from the library to learn more about it. I had not read any of that series before.

Below you will find the Blog Hop listing.  Thank you for stopping by!

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Review - Divine Circle of Ladies Painting the Town

I have reviewed the last few books in the series before this one,  Divine Circle of Ladies Playing with Fire (click here), Divine Circle of Ladies Rocking the Boat (click here), and the Divine Circle of Ladies Tipping the Scales (click here).  The author gave me an interview as well (click here).  I must provide a disclaimer right up front - this is my favorite paranormal mystery series.  I think of it as the genre trailblazer since series started long before a paranormal mystery was the "in" thing.

Author:  Dolores Stewart Riccio

Copyright:  August 2011 (CreateSpace) 299 pgs

Series:  8th in  Divine Circle Mysteries

Sensuality:  married romance, occasional adult references

Mystery Sub-genre:  Paranormal Amateur Sleuth

Main Character:  Cassandra Shipton, Herbalist and Clairvoyant

Setting:  modern day Plymouth, Massachusetts and Rome Italy

Obtained Through:  personal purchase

Let me introduce you to the five phenomenal women who are the Divine Circle:

Cassandra, the viewpoint character, is an herbalist and reluctant clairvoyant.

Phillipa, a cookbook author and poet who reads the Tarot a little too accurately.

Heather, an heiress and animal lover.  She makes magical candles and runs the local pet rescue.

Deidre, young widow who crafts dolls and magical amulets for sale in her boutique besides being a mother of four young children, she now communicates with the dead.

Fiona, the eccentric librarian who dowses with a crystal and is a fount of information - the wise woman of the group with a hippie side.  Don't let her "mature" age fool you!

The story  begins with Cass trying to help a disturbed ex-model, Ada, to control her pyro-kenitic ability mingled with her desire for revenge against her "Don Juan" husband who is a cut-throat divorce lawyer.  Ada's husband is conniving and dirty handed, planning to commit her to a mental institution to get some property in her name.

But before Cass can see Ada and her situation through, Deidre is on a romantic holiday in Rome when her National Geographic photographer boyfriend is kidnapped by the Calabrian Mafia.  The rest of the circle arrive in Rome and Fiona contacts her Italian penpal of the Strega witch heritage. They travel into the rural area to work powerful magic for the return of Deidre's boyfriend with the Strega and then join Deidre again. Even Joe manages to join Cass after his last Greenpeace job. The adventure in Italy takes them to Venice and Pompeii as well with plenty of exciting escapades.

With everyone finally safe and sound, they return home.  Cass finds that while they were away Ada has been accused of murdering her conniving husband.  The ladies focus on finding the true killer and clearing Ada's name.  This brings them close to danger yet again.

As usual the five women are the showcase of the story.  Cass has always been reluctant to have her psychic visions, but she is learning to induce them and somewhat embrace her ability.  Although this series illustrates how the gifts are not always perfect and spells may not work the way you expect.  

While in Rome it is more a thriller but in Plymouth it is more a mystery, so you get a little of both in this book.  The parts in Italy really did transport me for a whirlwind tour of Rome, Venice and Pompeii that I really want to duplicate for real.  The descriptions were effective in providing a feel of another country's vibe, sights, foods, and sounds. The sense of danger lurking was infused throughout.  I have missed Freddie though who is now Cass's daughter-in-law but initially came to Cass to learn to control her own gifts.  The last few books there has not been much with Freddie.

The mystery surrounding Ada and who killed her husband, with fire no less, had a good solid mystery to it.  The entire book has thrilling moments so the confrontation with the killer of Ada's husband is no different.  This series has developed and this book is a great addition giving adventure, excitement, a few good spells, some twists, and a murder to solve.  This may be the eighth book in the series but it shows no signs of wavering and consistently delivers a quality paranormal mystery with phenomenal characters.  Thank you again Ms. Riccio.

For your Halloween enjoyment, here is a classic music video with a monster twist from Huey Lewis and the News!  Enjoy :-)

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Author Interview: Sharon Pape

This week we interview the author of the portrait of crime mysteries that mixes a former police sketch artist with a wild west Marshal's ghost.  I reviewed the first book in the series, Sketch Me If You Can (click here) and the second To Sketch a Thief (click here.)  

Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

For me, the plot idea generally comes first. I guess somewhere in my subconscious little gremlins are busy thinking up mayhem 24/7.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that before sitting down to write?

I don't like outlining too much. I prefer being able to stretch out in any direction that feels right as the story moves along. Having said that though, I always know how I want the story to end before I begin. I also create a detailed bio of both the victim and the murderer. And although I think I know the  protagonist inside out, she still often manages to surprise me. No doubt the work of those gremlins again.

What is your process for developing a character?

It depends on which character we're talking about. For the main character, after I decide what kind of person I need for the book or series, I develop a detailed back story for her that explains how she came to be who she is at the point in her life where the reader meets her. I find that the more minor characters seem to pop to life in great detail when they enter a scene and I can focus specifically on them.

Were you always interested in ghosts, the old west and sketch artists? What sort of research do you do with these differing aspects?

That's a huge question -- let me break it down a bit. 

Ghosts:  I've always been fascinated by subjects that don't have definitive answers, so I'm immediately drawn to anything paranormal.  

Old West: I've traveled throughout Arizona and love all the different and distinctive landscapes to be found there, as well as the amazing ruins left by the ancient Anasazi, Hohokum and Sinagua. 

Sketch Artists: I'm not much of an artist myself, but I love art and admire people capable of creating it in any medium.  

Research: The internet is a fabulous tool for researching just about anything you can imagine, but there's nothing better than actually visiting a place you're writing about. I've lived on Long Island nearly all my life and have spent a great deal of time in Arizona over the past twenty years. The museums and historical societies in both places are a great help in researching the past.

Do you have anything special you do before writing that helps you get in the zone and write?

The best thing I can do to get the creative juices flowing is to reread the last pages I wrote. I always write in my study where the computer resides. It's a very book-oriented room with a floor to ceiling bookcase that my husband built when we first moved into the house. We're both avid readers with a ridiculous number of books we can't seem to part with. I know some writers like to have music playing while they write, but peace and quiet work better for me. Of course those are two commodities that aren't always easy to come by, so I've learned to tune out a certain amount of commotion.

What is your schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?

Unfortunately my work schedule is dictated by the frequent migraines I get. I generally work for a few hours in the morning, then take a break to rest my eyes while I run errands, go to the gym, etc. I write again in the afternoon for as long as my head allows and for a while after dinner. Since I'm also pretty compulsive about polishing each chapter before I move on, it generally takes me close to nine months to finish a book.

What in your background prepared you to write mystery novels and particularly paranormal mysteries?

Reading is the best preparation anyone can have for writing. I doubt there's a writer out there who isn't also an avid reader. In other words, to be a writer you have to start with loving books. 

Since I'm drawn to all things mysterious and supernatural, I've always read a lot of books in those genres. It would probably have helped if I'd lived with a ghost, been abducted by aliens, or had an affair with a vampire, but I've had to rely solely on my overactive imagination.

Who is your favorite mystery character? Paranormal character?


When I was a kid, the teenage sisters in "The Dana Girls" were my favorite mystery characters.

As an adult, I'd have to say that Joanna Brady in Jance's series edges out a pack of contenders, possibly because of the Arizona connection. When it comes to paranormal characters, my absolute favorite is Einstein, the golden retriever. He's one of the subjects of an experiment gone wrong in the fabulous book Watchers by the master of the paranormal, Dean Koontz. To be honest, I have to admit that Vampire Bill from the Sookie books is also up there on my list of favorite paranormal characters, but for entirely different reasons. 

Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?

Dean Koontz and Stephen King are right at the top of the list, not only because of the paranormal subject matter, but also because of their masterful use of the English language. But since I enjoy nearly every type of book ever written, a complete list of authors who have influenced me would be endless. 

How did you get your first break to getting published?

Another unpublished writer I knew went to a writing conference where she met a new literary agent from an established agency. Since my friend wasn't yet finished working on her book, she gave me the agent's number. I sent the agent my manuscript, she signed me to a contract and went on to sell the book to PocketBooks.  

What are you currently reading?

I'm reading the Plains of Passage, the fourth book in Jean Auel's series that began with Clan of the Cave Bear. I had read the first three books many years ago when they first came out, but after attending an interview she did recently, my interest in the series was reignited. As soon as I finish it, I'll be running out to get the latest Sookie Stackhouse book by Charlaine Harris. Then maybe the new one by Anita Shreve or the fifth Frankenstein book by Dean Koontz many books, so little time. 

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I think writing itself is a quirk. Writers sit by themselves all day writing down what the characters in their heads are saying and thinking. In some cultures that might well qualify as the definition of "crazy." More specifically, I think my quirk is how I cure writer's block or resolve difficult plot  points -- I  go to the gym. Working my body energizes my mind. For me it's like a hefty shot of adrenalin straight into the creative process.

If your "A Portrait of Crime Mystery" series were made into a movie, whom would you cast in your characters' roles?


Marshal Zeke Drummond would be a young Sam Elliot type. Since Elliot's too old for the part, maybe Josh Holloway. I think Alexis Bledel from Gilmore Girls would be a great Rory McCain. 

Is there anything you'd like to share about the next book in your series?

Rory's free-spirited and slightly whacky aunt Helene plays a larger role in the third book, Sketch a Falling Star(to be released March 2012), since the murder victim is a member of her amateur acting group. Rory and Zeke discover how hard it is to single out a killer when everyone who knew the victim had a different reason for hating him, but the same opportunity to kill  him. Rory will also be meeting her strange, new neighbor who seems to know all about Zeke.

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THANK You Ms Pape for that interview.  I had long forgotten the name of the Dana Girls mysteries.  I read everything of theirs I could get a hold of as a girl.  I liked those better than Nancy Drew even.  So glad to have the name of the series again.  Since I am a fan of Sam Elliot that gives me quite a visual for when I read the next book.

Readers, what do you think?

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review - Dead Bolt

Our second entry for the paranormal mystery books features a badly haunted house!  I reviewed the first in this new series, "If Walls Could Talk" (click here) and I couldn't wait for the next book to be released. Ms Blackwell was also one of the first authors to give me an interview (see that here.)

Author: Juliet Blackwell

Copyright: Dec 2011 (Signet) 336 pgs

Series: 2nd in Haunted Home Renovation Mysteries

Sensuality:  mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Paranormal Cozy

Main Character:  Melanie Turner, owner/operator of Construction Company

Setting: Modern day, San Francisco California

Obtained Through: Publisher -ARC-for an honest review

Melanie is renovating a historic Queen Anne Victorian in San Francisco but she has some resident ghosts sabotaging the work and a cranky neighbor complaining about the noise.  The couple who owns the house insists on living there in the midst of the massive refurbishing. The wife is from Russia and is petrified of the ghosts, she thinks perhaps stopping work would let the ghosts rest. 

Melanie tries to research the past of the house but the records at city hall are missing.  Something went on in that house and from what she has seen, it was not pretty.  Then the cranky neighbor, Emile Blunt, is murdered.  Melanie thinks his death is connected to the home she is renovating.  Then just to throw some more on her plate, an old flame is consulting on how to make the home more environmentally friendly, his new green gig since he left code enforcement.

Melanie shines in this addition to the series and I like her more and more. She has a lot of compassion and seems to have a lot of responsibility even though she keeps dreaming of hiding away in Paris.  I like that she isn't a super thin perfectly dressed woman.  Rather, she has a few extra pounds and wears outlandish clothes all with her construction steel-toed-boots (except when she slips her coveralls on to get serious on the job site.)   The romantic interest is looking better in this book as well.  I was non-commital about him in the first, but in this book he is shaping up to have some potential. 

I really like Melanie's dad and disabled friend who are a "hoot."  I want to see them developed more and perhaps even get involved in investigating.  I could see them become investigative junkies easily.  

This is a great ghost book. The mystery is interesting, for it seems there was no clear reason to kill the neighbor, except he has a connection to the house and its previous owner.  Melanie is even threatened by a very live person to butt-out so her theory that the ghosts were somehow responsible is likely wrong.  Equally a mystery is the ghosts in the house, why women especially infuriate the ghosts, and why the attic is particularly bad.  This book provides some good spooky ghostly shapes and strange occurances with danger around every corner.  The family history of the ghosts is revealed eventually and the confrontation with the killer works well. 

The wrap up provides some clues to the next book and I already can't wait.  This is a strong second entry that is developing the characters and laying a solid foundation for a strong series.  If you enjoy some spooky with your cozy this will delight you and have you anxious for more.  

Here is a special report on high-tech Halloween Haunted Houses to help get you into the spirit of the season.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Author Interview: Casey Daniels

This week we have the author of the popular Pepper Martin series joining us for an interview.  I have reviewed the two most recent books in the series, Tomb with a View (click here) and A Hard Day's Fright (click here).  A Hard Day's Fright will be up for give away at the end of the month during the Blog Hop Giveaway.  

Casey Daniels learned to love mysteries early thanks to her dad, a Cleveland Police detective who enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes stories. Later, she read her way through every mystery story she could get her hands on.  Now on to the interview!

- Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

For me, every book starts in a different place.  For "A Hard Day's Fright," it started because I was wondering how those left behind deal and feel when someone close to them goes missing.  For book #8 in Pepper Martin mystery series, "Wild, Wild Death" (it will be out on January 3), the story came about because I was visiting New Mexico.  I never know where a story idea will come from.  That's one of the reasons it's great to be a writer, it's fun to look for story ideas lurking all about!

- Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc) before sitting down and writing?

Yes, I am an outliner and I sometimes take weeks to do it.  I start with basic ideas (i.e., this needs to happen, then this, then this), then I go back over it, fill in more info, then over it again and again, adding anything I can think of.  Eventually, I start breaking down that list into chapters.  By the end of the process, I know what's going to happen in a chapter, but not always how it's going to happen.  So that still leaves room for a lot of creativity.  The outlining process itself, of course, is all about brainstorming and flights of fancy.  It's one of my favorite parts of writing.

- What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?

I don't use pictures or a worksheet, but I do spend plenty of time thinking about a character.  Of course with something like a mystery series, I've got lots and lots of words to play with, so plenty of time to develop a character.  The book that's coming out in January ("Wild, Wild Death") is the 8th in the Pepper Martin series.  Times roughly 80,000 words a book, that means I've had about 640,000 words to play with and develop character.  That's one advantage a series writer has over an author who is writing a single-title, free standing book.  Lots of room to work with, and lots of possibilities!

-  Were you always interested in ghosts?  If not what drew you to a ghost communicator for an amateur sleuth?  What sort of research do you do?

I think the whole world of ghosts and the paranormal is incredibly interesting and I suppose that's what initially drew me to the idea of a cemetery worker who can communicate with the dead.  Do I believe in ghosts?  Absolutely.  I think there's too much evidence to ignore.  As for research, I've done lots, including participating in paranormal investigations.  One was at a cemetery the night after Halloween.  Got some great photos of mists that were there in one picture, gone in the next.  Also heard some knocking from a plexiglass box that held a statue--the knocking was coming from inside the box!

In addition to all that, having Pepper communicate with the dead is just plain fun, and great for plotting.  It opens up all sorts of possibilities.  So from a purely writing standpoint, it's a real plus.

-  Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?

No music while I write, I find it too distracting.  I do have a home office and I do all my writing in here.

- What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?

Theoretically, I write all day, 5 days a week.  Of course, there are many times life gets in the way and I can't keep to that schedule.  But for me, writing is a full time job.  I have this little trick:  I set a clock for 45 minutes and in that time, all I'm allowed to do is write (no checking email, no playing Spider Solitaire!).  At the end of the 45 minutes, I get 15 minutes to do whatever I want.  Since I've started keeping this schedule, I write many more pages than I used to.

As for how long it takes me to write a book, about 3-4 months.  Depends on how many deadlines I have breathing down my neck!

- What in your background prepared you to write mystery novels and particularly paranormal mysteries?

Well, I majored in English in college and before I wrote mysteries, I wrote romance, both historical and contemporary.  I wrote those under the names Constance Laux and Connie Lane.  I've also written YA horror and even a children's book.  All writing prepares you for what you'll write later, so I think all that was great experience.  Also, my dad was a Cleveland Police detective.  When I was a kid, he'd put me in the car and on his days off, we'd go look for stolen cars.  So that was my first experience with solving mysteries!  As for the paranormal elements, my interesting in paranormal fuels that.  And of course, as with all writing, reading, reading, reading.  I love the old classic mysteries.  I love the intricacy of mysteries, the plotting and the twisting and the turning and being clever so that readers are always surprised.

-  Who is your favorite mystery character?  Who is your favorite paranormal character?

In my mysteries?  Or others?  In others, absolutely my favorite mystery character is Sherlock Holmes, bar none.  In paranormal characters, I can't say I have a favorite.  Of my own characters, I love Pepper.  She's got attitude!

-  Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?

So many of my writing friends inspire me every day with their talent and their determination.  The classic writers, too, Conan Doyle, Christie, and I love the mysteries of Elizabeth Peters.  She was the first who showed me that mysteries could be intricate, interesting, and fun, too!

- How did you get your first break to getting published?  Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter?

My first sale was a historical romance called "Twilight Secrets" and it came after I queried an agent.  She represented the book for that first sale.  That was back in '92 and since then, I've published 40 books.

- What are you currently reading?

Truth be told, nothing!  I generally don't read fiction while I'm in the middle of writing it, though I will sometimes read nonfiction.  I save my fiction reading for the time between books.

 - What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

Sorry to say, I don't think I have one.  Writing to me is a business and I handle it in a very straightforward fashion.  It's not like I have to use a pink pen, or that I can only write on Wednesdays after three!  My background is in journalism and if there's one thing you learn there, it's that you need to learn to write on demand.  That's still how I approach my work.

-  If your Pepper Martin Mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your character's roles?

It's a fabulous thought.  Unfortunately, I'm not all that familiar with the crop of new actors out there, so I have no idea who might be cast.  It sure would be fun, though.  If anyone out there knows any producers, send them my way!

<<< May I suggest Rose McGowan as a possibility?>>>

-  Do you have anything you would like to share about your next book in the series?

I'm currently working on book #9 in the Pepper Martin mystery series.  After a trip to New Mexico, Pepper's back in Cleveland where she meets a ghost who needs her help in order to keep someone else from dying.  Trouble is, the ghost was bound and gagged before he was drowned--so he can't talk to tell her who she needs to protect.  No official pub date on that book yet, but I think it's going to be fall of 2012.

In addition, I have a new mystery series out that I've written as Kylie Logan.  The first book is "Button Holed," part of the Button Box mystery series.  No paranormal elements, just a woman named Josie who is one of the country's leading experts in antique and historical buttons.  Great fun to write.  Talk about research!

Thanks for having me visit, Ariel.  I enjoyed chatting with your readers.

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Thank You Casey!  Great interview and how interesting your quality time with your dad was ;-)  Wow, taking part in paranormal investigations must have been fascinating.  I enjoyed thinking of actresses to play Pepper.  Readers, do you have any thoughts of who could portray Pepper if it ever got to the big or small screen?

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