About Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written 30 mysteries in four series, including 15 Dead-End Job mysteries. BRAIN STORM, her first Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, is published as a trade paperback, e-book, and audio book. www.elaineviets.com

The Nearly Impossible Triple Jump

Most writers hope we’ll have long-running series: John Sandford has written 32 Prey thrillers, featuring Lucas Davenport. Sue Grafton’s alphabet series has 25 mysteries, and with her untimely death, the alphabet ended at the letter Y. And Marcia Talley has written 19 Hannah Ives mysteries since 1999. She’s managed to take her series to three publishers, a nearly impossible feat.
Booklist magazine said this about her latest mystery, Disco Dead, which debuted in November, “Some long-running series have their ups and downs, but the Ives series has been remarkably consistent.”
We’ve asked Marcia about her long-lasting series, and how she’s kept up the quality.
– Elaine Viets

Elaine: Who is Hannah Ives, and why did you create her?

Marcia: I don’t have to tell you that the real world is a messy, violent, frequently unjust place. Mysteries can be a respite – in my fictional world I call the shots. Justice is served and the villain suitably punished. I love the puzzle aspect of the mystery, planting clues and dropping red herrings. As for me personally, there have been a lot of people in my life who needed to die. In a mystery, I can bump them off with a stroke of my pen, and it’s cheaper than a therapist. I’ve bumped off former bosses, an ex-brother-in-law, a real estate agent, a crooked developer (the list goes on!) and even my husband a couple of times.

Elaine: How much of you is in Hannah?

Marcia: Is she my alter ego? Yes and no. She reminds me a bit of what Nancy Drew would be like at 55 or so. Like me, Hannah is a breast cancer survivor who enjoys sailing and is married to a professor at the Naval Academy. She’s funnier than I am, though, and braver—I would never break into a doctor’s office and riffle through his medical records, but Hannah would. Hannah’s younger and prettier, too, although just as curious and fiercely independent.

Her name was always Hannah, by the way, but I didn’t realize until my first editor emailed to inquire about it that my heroine didn’t have a last name. In a semi-panic, I called a friend who suggested the name Ives. I found out later that my friend’s phone was mounted on a kitchen wall next to a Currier & Ives illustrated calendar, so Hannah might well have been named Hannah Currier.

Elaine: How was your first Hannah mystery received?

Marcia: It still amazes me! Sing It to Her Bones won the Malice Domestic Grant for unpublished mysteries, then, after it was published by Bantam Dell, was nominated for an Agatha Award for best first novel. At the Malice Domestic conference that year, I appeared on a panel with the other nominees that was moderated by Margaret Maron (I was such a fan girl!). Hannah lost out to Donna Andrews and her wrought-iron flamingos, but the boost the award gave me spurred sales. Reviews were uniformly positive – “a shining new talent” OMG! – and I was thrilled to get cover blurbs from mystery authors I admired tremendously like Margaret, Laura Lippman, Sujata Massey and Deborah Crombie.

Elaine: Cancer is a grim topic. How do you keep Hannah entertaining?

Marcia: With humor and pragmatism. The opening lines of Sing It to Her Bones are:

“When I got cancer, I decided I wasn’t going to put up with crap from anybody anymore.”

And over the course of the next nineteen novels, she certainly doesn’t.

Take this example in a scene from the first chapter of Sing It to Her Bones. Here, Hannah is receiving the devastating news that she’s being laid off from the prestigious D.C. accounting firm she’s worked at for years:

While Coop oozed on about severance pay and maintenance of health benefits, I stared at Fran, who sat straight-backed and immobile, like an ice sculpture. I willed her to look at me, but she focused on his reflection in the tabletop. If Jones of New York had issued shotguns along with its suits, I thought, Old Cooper’s shirtfront would have been a sodden mass of red and we would have been picking bits of lung and rib out of the oriental carpet. I concentrated on the way his yellowish hair sprouted from his upper forehead in spiky clumps and how his earlobes wobbled when he talked. Frankly, when he laid the news on me, I didn’t know whether to run out and hire a lawyer to sue his ass or fall down and kiss his feet.

Elaine: Who was your first publisher and why were you dropped?

Marcia: My first contract was a three-book, mass-market paperback deal with Bantam Dell, a division of Random House. At some point between Unbreathed Memories and Occasion of Revenge, Random House was bought out by the German publishing giant, Bertelsman and their whole mass-market paperback mystery line was axed. Up until that time, B/D had been publishing two paperback mysteries a month; twenty-four authors were instantly orphaned. I remember (barely!) commiserating with a bunch of homeless B/D authors around the bar at Bouchercon Denver in September of 2000.

Elaine: Were you expecting your series to be canceled? What did you do when you got the news?

Marcia: I was completely blind-sided. My then editor had already told my agent that they would be wanting a fourth book in the series. I got the bad news on my cell phone, directly from my editor while sitting in a parking lot outside a Shaw’s supermarket near my sister’s home in Gorham, Maine. After sulking for a while, I marched into the store and bought a pint of Haagen Dasz rum raisin ice cream and ate it all by myself.

Elaine: Conventional wisdom says when publishers drop writers, these authors have two choices: indie publish their series, or start a new series. Did you consider either alternative?

Marcia: Back in 2001, indie publishing was about as respectable as printing your manuscript out at Kinko’s and selling it out of the trunk of your car, so it was never a consideration for me. Conventional wisdom at the time was to Keep Your Name Out There. So, I began to write short stories, the first of which, “With Love, Marjorie Ann” was short-listed for an Agatha award. Fans of my Hannah Ives mysteries will be surprised to learn that I am also a serial novelist. I wrote novels with other women. And not just one woman either. TWELVE other women.

My then agent called shortly after the aforementioned rug had been pulled out from under me, to say he’d heard that some publisher had paid Big Bucks for a serial novel about golf. He suggested I write a novel set in an exclusive health spa, with, say, a greedy owner, a star-struck daughter, a drunken senator, an aged rock star … and Naked Came the Phoenix was born. Naked was followed by I’d Kill for That, my second expedition into collaborative serial novel territory. For the uninitiated, let me explain that the novel, like its predecessor, was written in round-robin style: one author writes the first chapter then passes it to the second who picks up the story where the first author left off, then passes it on to the third, and so on.

For me, coming up with the scenario – murder in an exclusive gated community — and creating a smorgasbord of fascinating characters for the others to play with was just the beginning. The fun really started when I turned it all over to my fellow authors, sat back and waited to see where my dream team would run with it, and they didn’t disappoint.

Under the talented pen of Gayle Lynds, the “greedy real estate developer” suggested in my proposal leapt to life “with a clash of cymbals and a drum roll” as Vanessa Smart Drysdale, a petite, chestnut-haired beauty in black leather slacks who possesses all the compassion of Cruella de Vil. Little did I know what Lisa Gardner had in store for poor, tormented Roman Gervase, and Julie Smith’s take on Sunday services at St. Francis of Assisi Interfaith Chapel had me chuckling for weeks. Other equally delightful chapters were penned by Rita Mae Brown, Linda Fairstein, Kay Hooper, Kathy Reichs (lending her customary forensic expertise, of course), Heather Graham, Jennifer Crusie, Tina Wainscott, Anne Perry, Katherine Neville and, ahem, me.

The authors seemed to enjoy the game, too. The rules were simple. Each chapter was to be written in the third person, with a definite solution in view, even thought we were well aware that subsequent authors might take – indeed were expected to take – the plot in divergent directions. Speaking of her chapter in Naked Came the Phoenix, which was set in a luxury health spa in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Nancy Pickard said, “It was dangerously liberating to know I didn’t personally have to deal with the consequences of whatever I put in my chapter.” Good thing, too, as she left our heroine struggling to extract the body of the spa owner from a mud bath.

Although writers were cautioned to avoid cliff-hanger endings that would require Houdini-like efforts on the part of the next author, the “real fun” comes, according to Laurie R. King who wrote the final chapter of Naked Came the Phoenix, “in seeing thirteen sweet-tempered lady crime writers stab each other thoughtfully in the back.” Judy Jance gleefully ended her chapter in that novel with Phyllis, the spa’s resident psychic, floating face down in a lake. Fortunately, however, someone in Faye Kellerman’s chapter knew CPR and revived Phyllis long enough for her to deliver a critical clue before lapsing into a coma.

As you might guess, my job as editor/contributor resembled a cross between tour guide and traffic cop as I assembled the team and worked out the intricacies of scheduling – each author had just a month to complete her chapter – and made sure, for example, that each author received packets of background information and copies of the chapters that preceded hers. Timing was critical. We met at conferences, spoke on the telephone and exchanged emails at a furious rate. As we raced to the finish line, Anne, Katherine and I kept the trans-Atlantic telephone lines hot as we brainstormed and worked out plot details – Anne Perry pointed out that the novel needed a love story, and she was right – so we put one in. And Val McDermid vowed she would not participate unless she could use the word “incarnadine,” a request I happily granted. Often we found ourselves revisiting an earlier chapter to plant a clue or clear up a discrepancy, and it fell to the amazing Katherine Neville – who volunteered for the job, I should point out – to tie up all the loose ends as our novel sprinted to its stunning conclusion.

Elaine: How many books did you do with your second publisher, and why did you jump to a third?

Marcia: My second publisher was Morrow/Avon. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the very night I won the Agatha Award for my short story, “Too Many Cooks” in 2002, I was approached at the awards banquet by Caroline Marino, a senior editor at M/A who was well aware of the bloodbath that had taken place over at B/D and said, “I have someone I’d like you to meet.” Caroline was already familiar with the Hannah series and introduced me to editor Sarah Durand. Within a week, my agent received an offer of a 3-book deal. In Death’s Shadow, This Enemy Town and Through the Darkness were all published by Morrow/Avon until they met the same fate as my first three books: the victim of a corporate takeover, this time by Harper Collins, and a decision to ax the mass market mystery line in favor of trade paper format. I was already well along with Dead Man Dancing, set in the world of competitive ballroom, which was immensely popular at the time with TV shows like “Strictly Come Dancing” in the UK and “Dancing with the Stars” in the US, so that may have been one reason the series was picked up by Severn House. I’ve been with them ever since.

Elaine: How has Hannah changed since your first book?

Marcia: If I had known when I was writing Sing It to Her Bones that I was writing a series, I would have made Hannah much younger. At the end of the first book, we learn she’s about to become a grandmother. My novels are roughly contemporaneous—Occasion of Revenge, for example, climaxes during New Year’s Eve celebrations in 1999, the eve of the New Millenium – so Hannah must be at least twenty-two years older than she was back then, but, uh, let’s not mention it.

Elaine: What do you do to keep your series fresh?

Marcia: Every time I finish a book, I think, “I’ll never get an idea for another one.” But all one needs to do these days is pick up a newspaper or watch television to find something that gets the creative juices flowing. The first thing I ask is how do I get Hannah believably involved in this? Writers of mystery series call it avoiding the Cabot Cove Syndrome. After twelve seasons of “Murder She Wrote” and years in syndication, there can’t be anyone left alive in Cabot Cove, Maine, and would you risk having tea with Jessica Fletcher? Once I figure out how to involve Hannah – and her network of cancer survivors is a big help there – I hop on the Internet and begin researching the issue. In Mile High Murder, for example, Hannah is invited to go on a fact-finding trip to Denver, Colorado by a Maryland state senator in their cancer support group who is looking into legalizing recreational marijuana in Maryland. In Tangled Roots, I explored what happens when Hannah’s Ancestry.com DNA test comes up with totally unexpected results. The expertise she gained with forensic genealogical research in that novel and the subsequent one, leads her to being invited to join a small group of quirky “citizen detectives” dedicated to solving cold cases in my latest novel, Disco Dead.

Marcia and her husband Barry are sailors, and spend winters in the Bahamas. Here’s Marcia (with a broken finger, no less) writing her novel on their boat, Iolanthe.

Elaine: Thank you, Marcia for an informative interview. TKZers, you can buy Sing It to Her Bones here: https://www.amazon.com/Sing-Bones-Hannah-Ives-Mystery/dp/0440235170?ie=UTF8&qid=1464306300&ref_=tmm_mmp_swatch_0&sr=1-1
And this is the link for Disco Dead: https://www.amazon.com/Disco-Dead-Hannah-Ives-Mystery/dp/1448307953/ref=sr_1_1?crid=AUSQ28331C5Y&keywords=disco+dead+marcia+talley&qid=1670508658&sprefix=disco+dead%2Caps%2C1810&sr=8-1

Killer Deadlines

By Elaine Viets

Throughout my writing career, I’ve lived by deadlines. I started as a newspaper reporter and then became a columnist, where I often had four deadlines a week – with no time off. When the holidays rolled around, I had to write my columns ahead of time. That meant six or even eight deadlines a week.
As a mystery writer, I still have deadlines, but the pace seemed easier. Newspapers moved swiftly, like a cold through a kindergarten. Publishing seemed slower than a Manhattan traffic jam.
At first, I wrote two novels a year. Now I’ve cut back to one a year.

No problem with deadlines, right?
Wrong. No matter how much time I have to write a novel, the last week is always jammed up.
This August 31, I turned in my new Angela Richman, death investigator mystery to my London publisher, Severn House. This time, I spent that final stretch writing twelve-hour days, trying to finish. As I read through the book, a straggling subplot had to be cut. Its crabgrass-like tendrils were deep in the book. I dug them out.
Errors popped up – difficult characters deliberately changed their hair color and didn’t tell me. One nasty customer gave himself two different names. Typos appeared out of nowhere.
As I struggled to finish on deadline, I wrestled with my recalcitrant manuscript. I could feel it squirming. It refused to settle neatly in place.
I read and reread it until my eyes were blurry. Finally, I pressed the button and emailed it off to London, hoping all was well. I couldn’t read the book one more time.
Exhausted, I slept for two days.
Then I waited and worried, my head buzzing with questions:
Would my editor like the new book? Would she want a rewrite? What if she rejected it?
Finally, I got a brief note two weeks later – that’s lightning speed for publishing. My editor was reading the manuscript and “enjoying it hugely.”
Whew. I felt so much better. What was I going to do while I waited?
I could write a short story. Clean off my desk. Answer my emails. Plot my next book.
I could do that, but I didn’t. I couldn’t get up the energy.
My editor didn’t like the working title, so I came up with a new one – “The Dead of Night.”
I didn’t do much else. I just need to lie fallow, I told myself. I was so fallow I was turning into a puddle of goo. I moped around my home. I’ll get my energy back soon, I thought.
I got it back this Tuesday. My editor emailed me the copyedited manuscript. It needs some tweaking and a small rewrite. And I have one week to finish. It’s due next Tuesday.
Suddenly I was awake. Galvanized. Ready to work. I quit moping. I had a purpose.
Better yet, I had a deadline.

What about you, writers? Do you need deadlines?

PS: I’m also working under another deadline. Hurricane Nicole is heading this way, and I’m going to drag in the plants on the balcony. Wish us luck.

I’m celebrating! My short story, “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About,” in the anthology, “The Great Filling Station Holdup: crime fiction inspired by the songs of Jimmy Buffet,” edited by Josh Pachter, won Silver at the Royal Palm Literary Award.
Buy the anthology here: https://tinyurl.com/4nr7a9pm

Rejection Slips

By Elaine Viets

Feeling discouraged, writers? Tired of papering your walls with rejection slips?
When I feel down, I turn to the good book. Not THE good book, but a good book by Elaine Borish called “Unpublishable! Rejected writers from Jane Austen to Zane Grey.”

If you’ve been rebuffed by a publisher, you’re in good company. So was Agatha Christie. Borish says it took Dame Agatha four years to find a publisher for her first novel, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” – and then it sat on a desk for another eighteen months. The publisher suggested some changes to the ending, and Agatha made them. Belgian detective Hercule Poirot finally made his debut in 1920.
Agatha Christie wrote more than ninety titles, and “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” is still in print.
Beatrix Potter, the creator of Peter Rabbit and Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, was a hybrid author. Her “Peter Rabbit” was rejected by six publishers. She used black-and-white sketches, since she was worried that color pictures would make the book too expensive for children. Beatrix finally self-published “Peter Rabbit.” It went through two printings.
In 1901, Beatrix submitted Peter Rabbit again, and the traditional publisher politely rejected it: “As it is too late to produce a book for this season, we think it best to decline your kind offer at any rate for this year.”
The next time Beatrix submitted the book, she had color illustrations. The first edition sold out before the 1902 publication. By 1903, sales were multiplying like, well . . . rabbits. She’d sold 50,000 copies, and lived hoppily ever after.

Dorothy L. Sayers’ books were definitely not for children. “Whose Body?,” the first mystery by the rebellious Oxford scholar, was rejected by several UK publishers for “coarseness” in 1920. Today, the risque parts wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. The novel opened this way:
“Oh, damn!” said Lord Peter Wimsey.
Besides that four-letter word, Dorothy L.’s first book is about the disappearance of a Jewish financier, Sir Reuben Levy. Borish tells us, “When a naked corpse turns up in a bath, Inspector Sugg is eager to identify him as Levy.” Lord Peter says it can’t be “by the evidence of my own eyes.”
And the evidence? The body was (gasp) uncircumcised.
Dorothy L., desperate for money, revised her story, making sure the body could not be mistaken for a rich man. The deceased had “callused hands, blistered feet, decayed teeth” and more. An American publisher bought “Whose Body?” It was published in New York in 1923, and Dorothy was on the way to fame and fortune. Borish writes, rather gleefully, “consider the last words spoken by Lord Peter in the last novel: ‘Oh damn!’”

George Orwell had his masterpiece, “Animal Farm,” turned down by no less than T. S. Eliot, a big deal at UK publishers Faber and Faber. Like many in the upper echelons of publishing, Eliot missed the point when he rejected Orwell: “Your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm . . . What was needed (someone might argue) was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”
Another publisher, Fredric Warburg, took the book and paid Orwell a hundred pounds. Orwell had the last laugh – Borish says the book sold 25,000 hardcovers in the first five years.
Anthony “A Clockwork Orange” Burgess had a novel about his grammar school experience – “The Worm and the Ring” – rejected because it was “too Catholic and too guilt-ridden.”

Publishers outdid themselves with boneheaded reasons to reject bestsellers. Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel, “A Study in Scarlet,” was turned down by the prestigious Cornhill magazine because it was too much like the other “shilling shockers” already on the market. The editor said it was too long “and would require an entire issue” – but it was “too short for a single story.” Another publisher sent the manuscript back unread. A third bought the rights for a measly twenty-five pounds, and let it sit around for year. It was published in 1887, and then brought out as a book, but Conan Doyle didn’t get any money from that because he’d sold the rights. Worse, the book was pirated in the U.S. Doyle wrote a couple of historical fiction works. Then an American editor, looking for UK talent, had dinner with Doyle and Oscar Wilde and signed them both up. Wilde wrote “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and Doyle did “The Sign of the Four.”
These writers endured humiliation, insults, swindles – and in many cases, poverty – and still went on to write books that are read today.
Orwell talked about an embittered Russian who said, “Writing is bosh. There is only one way to make money at writing, and that is to marry the publisher’s daughter.”
Obviously, we writers have to pay attention to rejections sometimes. My agent gave me a good rule of thumb: “If you get the same reason for rejection repeatedly – your plot isn’t twisty enough, or you have too many secondary characters – it’s time to pay attention.”
How many times have you ignored rejections?

Kings River Life says “Late for His Own Funeral” is “a fascinating exploration of sex workers, high society, and the ways in which they feed off of one another.” Buy my new Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery here.  https://tinyurl.com/4dn2ydfd

On the Other Side of the Microphone

By Elaine Viets

I’ll admit it. Being interviewed terrifies me. I was a reporter for more than twenty-five years. When I have to sit on the other side of the notebook, or the microphone, my palms sweat, my throat is dryer than Death Valley and my knees go weak.
Recently, I had a TV interview in St. Louis that was painless. The reporter did her research, and she read my books – most interviewers don’t do that.
We talked about books, writing, research and more and it became a conversation. I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as I did.

Today, I’m traveling to the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Minneapolis. If you’re going to Bcon, please stop by my panel on 4:15 Saturday, September 10. It’s called “House of Cards: Power and Privilege: Power is everything . . . or is it? Like a house of cards, one false move causes everything to come crumbling down.”
You’ll see many of your favorite authors, including moderator Jason Allen, Joseph Finder, Vera Kurian, Rick Mofina, Hannah Morrissey. Oh, yeah, and me.

First-Page Critique: A Mind Trap

By Elaine Viets

Another Brave Author has given us what looks like a spy thriller. First, let’s read the first page. Then I’ll offer my comments, and you can add yours.

A Mind Trap
Everything in the dimly lit warehouse of the aerospace company appeared
to be as it should. And for Edward Malver, crouching in the deeper shadows of
some packing crates, everything was as it should be. His digital wristwatch showed it
was midnight and every employee except one security guard had gone home many
hours earlier.
Widely spaced overhead lighting cast pools of weak light in a murky realm of lighter
and darker shades of black. Metal shipping containers and wooden packing crates of
all sizes were stacked in rows like giant tombstones in a netherworld. Malver stood up
and hurried toward the exit downstairs.
He didn’t want to remain any longer than was absolutely necessary. The risk of
discovery increased with every passing minute, and the dark made him uneasy. Malver
shuddered. If he stayed in it too long, he knew the terrible memories would resurface to
savage him.
Malver was relieved to see how well his black pullover sweater and slacks blended in
with the surrounding darkness, camouflaging his tall slender frame and rendering him
almost a part of the darkness. He checked his blue nitrile examination gloves to be sure
they were not torn, then pulled a dark beanie further down over his gray-peppered black
hair. Walking with the silence of a shadow, he glanced around while listening for any
out-of-place sounds. All was as quiet as the grave.
Malver’s lock picks, both manual and electronic, rested in his nylon shoulder pouch next to the photographs he’d just taken of the secret Raptor missile. The Raptor was a surface-to-air missile with a “smart” computer guidance system making it virtually
impossible to fool or escape from. Really bad news for any fighter or bomber pilot it
was fired at. The Raptor had taken dozens of scientists seventeen years to develop
and perfect. Malver could have targeted the minds of some of the key scientists but it
was so much easier to just steal what he needed; truly a rare opportunity too good to
pass up, he thought.
He’d be selling the photos of the technical specifications and schematic diagrams
three days from tonight. The photos would earn him good money. But in this instance,
the money was secondary. Malver was pleased at how smoothly this operation was
going, on schedule and with no glitches.
Then he saw the security guard approach the catwalk

Elaine’s Comments:
Our Brave Author gets this novel off to a creepy start, but we need someone to root for – or against. Is Malver a good guy or a bad one? Is he an operative for the United States, or an enemy spy? Why does he need these plans and who will he give them to?
It’s important that we know.
For the sake of this critique, let’s say he’s a villain. Then this  thriller can have a dramatic race to keep the Raptor plans from falling into enemy hands.
Also, the opening needs to ratchet up the tension. In the first paragraph, I’ve made some small cuts to move the pace along. I also had Malvern checking his wrist watch, getting rid of the passive voice “his wrist watch showed it was . . .” I left the second paragraph untouched.
In Paragraphs 3 and 4, I’ve done more tightening, getting rid of unnecessary words such as “in,” “just” and “so” I changed “darkness” to “gloom” to avoid repeating the word. Nitrile “examination” gloves is unnecessary. Your readers know what nitrile gloves are. I cut “as the grave.” It’s cliched.
The phrase that puts manual and electronic lock picks in apposition has been recast, so the sentence moves smoothly. Also, I cleaned up some other phrases. The last paragraph is fine, except it needs a period at the end.

PARAGRAPH 1 Everything in the dimly lit warehouse of the aerospace company appeared to be as it should. AndfFor Russian agent Edward Malver, crouching in the deeper shadows of some the packing crates, everything was as it should. be. His wristwatch showed it was He checked his digital wristwatch. Midnight. ed it was midnight and Every employee except one security guard had gone home. The lazy Americans didn’t stay late. The new Cold War had started when President Vladimir Putin offered to support the Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine. The clueless West called his actions an invasion, but what did they know? History was on Mother Russia’s side. manyhours earlier.
PARAGRAPH 2 Widely spaced overhead lighting cast pools of weak light in the murky blackness. Metal shipping containers and wooden packing crates were stacked in rows like giant tombstones. Malver stood up and hurried toward the downstairs exit.
PARAGRAPH 3 Malver’s black pullover sweater and slacks blended in with the darkness, camouflaging his tall slender frame, and rendering him almost a part of the gloom. darkness. He checked his blue nitrile examination gloves to be sure they were not torn, then pulled a dark beanie further down over his gray-peppered black hair. Walking silent ly as a shadow, he glanced around, while listening for anything out of place sounds. All was as quiet. as the grave.
PARAGRAPH 4 Malver’s lock picks, both manual and electronic lock picks rested in his nylon shoulder pouch next to the photographs he’d just taken of the secret Raptor missile. Developed by the US, the Raptor was a surface-to-air missile with a “smart” computer guidance system making it virtually impossible to fool or escape. from. Really Bad news for any fighter or bomber pilot in its path. it was fired at. The Raptor had taken dozens of scientists seventeen years to develop and perfect. Malver could have targeted the minds of some of the key scientists’s minds, but it was so much easier to just steal what he needed. This ; truly a rare opportunity was too good to pass up, he thought.
PARAGRAPH 5 He’d be selling the photos of the technical specifications and schematic diagrams three days from tonight. The photos would earn him good money. But in this instance,
the money was secondary. Malver was pleased at how smoothly this operation was
going, on schedule and with no glitches.
PARAGRAPH 6 Then he saw the security guard approach the catwalk.

Here’s a clean version:
Everything in the dimly lit warehouse of the aerospace company appeared as it should. For Edward Malver, crouching in the deeper shadows of the packing crates, everything was as it should. He checked his digital wristwatch. Midnight. Every employee except one security guard had gone home. The lazy Americans didn’t stay late. The new Cold War had started when President Vladimir Putin offered to support the Russian-speaking separatists in Eastern Ukraine. The clueless West called Putin’s actions an invasion, but what did they know? History was on Mother Russia’s side.

Widely spaced overhead lighting cast pools of weak light in the murky blackness. Metal shipping containers and wooden packing crates were stacked in rows like giant tombstones. Malver stood up and hurried toward the downstairs exit.

Malver’s black pullover sweater and slacks blended with the darkness, camouflaging his tall slender frame, rendering him almost part of the gloom. He checked his blue nitrile gloves to be sure they were not torn, then pulled a dark beanie further down over his gray-peppered black hair. Walking silent as a shadow, he glanced around, listening for anything out of place. All was quiet.
Malver’s manual and electronic lock picks rested in his nylon shoulder pouch next to the photographs he’d taken of the secret Raptor missile. Developed by the United States, the Raptor was a surface-to-air missile with a “smart” computer guidance system making it virtually impossible to fool or escape. Bad news for any fighter or bomber pilot in its path. The Raptor had taken scientists seventeen years to develop and perfect. Malver could have targeted some of the key scientists’s minds, but it was much easier to steal what he needed. This rare opportunity was too good to pass up, he thought.
He’d be selling the photos of the technical specifications and schematic diagrams three days from tonight. The photos would earn him good money. But in this instance, the money was secondary. Malver was pleased at how smoothly this operation was going, on schedule and with no glitches.
Then he saw the security guard approach the catwalk.

TWO MORE NOTES: Some of your manuscript was in purple ink, and some in black. Please be consistent when you show it to an editor.
And finally, I like the name of your villain.
Keep writing, Brave Author.

LATE FOR HIS OWN FUNERAL is “a fascinating exploration of sex workers, high society, and the ways in which they feed off of one another.” Enter to win a copy here:  https://kingsriverlife.com/08/06/late-for-his-own-funeral-by-elaine-viets/


You Never Forget Your First

By Elaine Viets

My first mystery was “Backstab,” which featured Francesca Vierling, a six-foot-tall newspaper columnist for the St. Louis City Gazette. Francesca wasn’t much of a creative stretch, since I used to be a newspaper columnist and yes, I’m six feet tall.
In my first series, I wrote about a newspaper world that is long gone. In “Backstab,” two of Francesca’s favorite local characters are murdered. One is the bartender at a landmark saloon, and the other is a rehabber – the local term for someone who remodels homes. Francesca is convinced their deaths are linked. Driven by grief and anger, she sets out to find out why the men were murdered. Francesca uncovers a secret someone has already killed to keep. And that if she keeps digging, the killer will have to murder Francesca, too.
When “Backstab” came out twenty-five years ago, I was so proud of it my Aunt Betty made me a miniature baby carrier for it. I loved going into bookstores to see if it was on the shelves – until I went into a bookstore in DC’s Union Station and asked for “Backstab” by name.
“Oh, yeah,” the clerk said. “We have it. That’s the one with the weird cover.”

Okay, even in my biased opinion, the “bleeding newspaper and beer glass” cover didn’t work. I like my new cover much better.
“Backstab” has all the passion you find in first novels, but some parts went on too long, so I trimmed them. Others needed to be revised to keep up with the times, including Francesca’s visits to transvestite nightclubs.

But “Backstab” includes some funny stories from my time as a newspaper columnist in St. Louis. One favorite was a true story of a parking spot. St. Louis is a city where the parking spot is sacred — and never more so than on a snowy day. Those of you who have survived snowy winters know this.
There was a terrible snow storm. My friend Janet Smith shoveled out a parking space for her husband Kevin to use when he came home from work. Forget Romeo and Juliet, when a woman shovels a parking spot for her man, that’s true love. It took Janet two hours. When she finished, her yuppie neighbor pulled into the spot like she owned it. She refused to move her car.
Janet told her, “You are going to move.”
The yuppie said, “I’ll try.”
Janet said, “My husband gets home at five and you will be out of there.”
The yuppie said, “I’ll try.” Janet told her that she had two hours to move. The yuppie didn’t. So Janet called the police. Janet wanted her neighbor arrested for stealing.
The officer explained that the police couldn’t do anything. “There is no law protecting your spot,” he said. Then the officer said, “There is also no law that says you can’t water your lawn in February. If her car happens to be in the way, that’s too bad. You’d be surprised what that water does. It freezes doors and locks. It freezes wipers to the windshield and tires to the ground.”
Janet said, “But won’t the police arrest me?”
The officer said, “For what?”
Janet took his name, just to be on the safe side, and then she brought out the garden hose and watered her lawn. Too bad that yuppie didn’t move her car. The water froze the locks. Froze the windows. Froze the tires to the ground. She had an inch of ice on that car. It took the yuppie two hours to chip off all the ice.
So there was justice after all.

See what you think of my first novel. Backstab is now on sale for $1.99. Buy it here: tinyurl.com/2p83usfm  

First Page Critique: At Forbidden Lake

By Elaine Viets

Another Brave Author has submitted a first page for critique, a moody murder scene by a lake. Let’s read it, then I’ll comment and you can add your suggestions.

Smoke from the forest fires had turned the sun into a red dot. In the lake, a faded yellow kayak bobbed gently next to a rotting dock, its occupant slumped over as if in deep sleep.
Detective Kenneth Tingle watched from the shore as paramedics maneuvered a small motorboat toward the kayak. There was no urgency in their movements as they untied it from the dilapidated dock. Even from his vantage point, at least thirty feet away, the gash on the woman’s neck and the blood on the kayak were indication enough: she was dead dead.
Directly behind Detective Tingle, a vacant lot stretched up toward the two-street village of Forbidden Lake. To his left, the Forbidden Lake Resort sprawled along the shore. To his right stood a run-down house that the lake was reclaiming as its own—the roof had more moss than shingles, the paint had peeled beyond recognition. A slight movement in one of the windows was the only indication that the house was occupied. Otherwise, Tingle would have assumed it was condemned.
He tried to scan the faces of the dozen or so people milling around, looking for a guilty expression, an averted gaze, or a perverted smile. But the smoke stung his eyes, so all of the faces were blurred into a mass of homogenous voyeurism. Despite the blur, he liked to think he could tell the difference between the locals and the visitors—the visitors had better posture, their movements more confident. The locals, or at least the ones he assumed were locals—a woman in long, flowing skirts; another woman in a crisp polo shirt and white visor; a few rough-looking men; a teenage girl with her arms tight across her chest—their body language screamed anxious defeat, as if a dead body in a kayak was something they’d come to expect.
Constable Artois appeared at his side, breathless.
“How was the drive?” Tingle asked.
“Slow. Visibility wasn’t great.” Artois’ forehead glistened with sweat. “How was the chopper ride?”
“Visibility wasn’t great either.” Tingle wasn’t a fan of helicopter rides in the best of conditions. He and the paramedics had flown from Campbell River through a dense screen of smoke. His stomach had been in knots, and he’d hated how the paramedics had expressed concern in the chopper—asking him if he was okay, if he needed a vomit bag.

Well done, Brave Author. This is a tightly written, intriguing opening page. Even the title has an air of foreboding, though I might change it to something like “Murder at Forbidden Lake.” Consider finding some way to get rid of that “at” in the beginning. Articles such as “at” are not used in cataloguing a book on many sites, and may lead to confusion.
The page’s details give us the feeling of sadness and decay, such as the “dilapidated dock,” and “the rundown house the lake was reclaiming as its own – the roof had more moss than shingles, the paint had peeled beyond recognition.” And then there’s the mysterious movement in a window.
Also, when Detective Tingle is scanning the faces in the crowd, I love that phrase he uses: “perverted smile.” I can actually see it.
I do have a few suggestions and questions.
(1) First, where in the world are we?
Is this story set in the US, Canada, or another country? What state or region are we in? You could introduce this in a variety of ways, including giving your protagonist a title, such as “Detective Kenneth Tingle of the Minnesota State Police.”
(2) Forest fires are a timely topic, but you might want to give your readers some sense of this fire’s duration. In your opening sentence you could say something like: “Smoke from the forest fires had turned the sun into a red dot. The fires had been burning for three days and were rapidly approaching the lake.”
(3) What time of year is it? Is it summer, and the height of the tourist season? Or November, when there are only a few tourists? Are people evacuating the area because of the fire? Visibility is becoming limited. The “smoke stung” the detective’s eyes. Why are these people staying? A well-placed sentence or phrase could answer these questions.
(4) What is “homogenous voyeurism”? And “anxious defeat”?
(5) The detective says the “woman in a crisp polo shirt and white visor” was a local. Really? She sounds more like a tourist to me.
(6) Finally, “Constable Artois appeared at his side, breathless.”
Who is Constable Artois? Is he local? Why was he called? Let us know. And give him a first name, please. Maybe a sentence like: “Martin County Constable Luc Artois appeared at his side, breathless. Artois knew the area better than anyone.” And why is he breathless? Is it because of the smoke? Did he run to the scene from his car?
These are small points, Brave Author, and only suggestions. You may choose to ignore them and keep your tightly written style and add the specifics later. Either way, I’m looking forward to reading your story.
Congratulations on a well-written submission that grabbed my attention.
What do you think, TKZ readers?

Late For His Own Funeral

By Elaine Viets

I can’t wait to tell you about my new mystery. “Late for His Own Funeral,” my latest Angela Richman, Death Investigator.
The idea came from a Los Angeles Times story that’s stuck in my mind for almost twenty-five years. Back in 1998, an LA coroner’s official told a woman that her husband was dead. I’ve changed the couple’s names to Harriet and Michael Brown.
The news of her husband’s death dropped poor Harriet into a nightmare. Michael Brown was Princeton-educated and a high-ranking political advisor. Yet the coroner said he’d died in police custody from an abscess caused by dirty needles. Harriet demanded to see her husband’s body. The official said no – the body was being autopsied. The wife refused to believe that Michael was shooting heroin. The police confirmed the dead man’s fingerprints as her husband’s. The dead man was also carrying Michael’s driver’s license.
Harriet said her husband’s driver’s license had been reported lost. The coroner’s investigator fed her a hunk of baloney. He “suggested that she was feeling anger and denial,” and that was normal.
Besides, the Browns had been going through a tough time, and Harriet knew her husband was depressed. Michael had moved out of the family home, and was staying with a relative. Michael had walked out of the relative’s home, crying, and the family hadn’t seen him for a few days. Harriet caved and planned Michael’s funeral.
The morning of the funeral, Michael was walking to his sister’s house when she drove by. Her car swerved to a stop and she screamed, “You’re supposed to be dead.”
The funeral was canceled. The real dead man was a drug addict who’d been carrying Michael’s missing driver’s license.
Turns out the police used Michael’s missing driver’s license as a basis to identify the dead man. There were many other snafus, but the first rule of body identification is: never, ever identify a body by a driver’s license.
That story sparked my new death investigator mystery, “Late for His Own Funeral.”
Here’s the story: Sterling Chaney is a rich and respected resident of Chouteau Forest, Missouri, home of the one percent. When his flashy sports car crashes at high speed, there isn’t enough of the driver left “to spread on a cracker,” in the inelegant words of the medical examiner.
Angela is at the funeral with the new widow, Camilla. The casket Sterling wanted causes quite a shock. Angela said:

Camilla, his widow, had given her husband what’s called the “Golden Send-Off” – she’d buried him like a rock star in a stunning Promethan casket. Sterling’s remains rested on plush velvet. The casket’s exterior was actually solid bronze, hand-polished to a mirror finish. It shone like gold.
Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin all went to their reward in a Promethan casket. And now, Sterling Chaney. His casket, covered in roses like a Derby winner, looked incredibly gaudy in the austere Episcopalian church in Chouteau Forest, the largest town in Chouteau County.
I could hear the shocked murmurs and appalled whispers as the funeral home attendants rolled the garish casket up the aisle. The churchgoers would be even more shocked if they knew it cost thirty thousand dollars. In the pew behind us, a sturdy black-clad matron gasped, “Good heavens!”

But the service would soon have a bigger shock.
The funeral was interrupted by an unexpected guest – Sterling Chaney. Yep, he’s back, alive and well and drunk as a skunk, trying to take selfies with his coffin in the church.
Angela works for the county medical examiner’s office. She’s in charge of the body at the scene of murders, suicides, and unexplained deaths. Sloppy work by the medical examiner and the police created this mix-up. Angela is relieved the mess wasn’t her case.
After his dramatic entrance, Sterling Chaney, the man who was late for his own funeral, is all over the news. Sterling loves the spotlight, until a smart reporter reveals he earned his fortune by exploiting women who worked for him in a shady business. Sterling is disgraced and shunned by Chouteau society.
Then there’s another fatal crash.
This time, Death Investigator Angela Richman has to confirm that Sterling is really dead, then find out who killed him and why. Did the man who was late for his own funeral die twice?

Writers, do you use news stories for inspiration?

“Late for His Own Funeral” will be published by Severn House July 5. Pre-order your copy now from your favorite bookstore. The hardcover and ebook are available from Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/4xvthy2e
and Barnes and Noble: https://tinyurl.com/5f2ytdt6
Check the ebook price. It may be cheaper at one retailer.


Interview with a Vampire Mother: Charlaine Harris

By Elaine Viets

Charlaine Harris gave birth to vampires, werewolves, fairies, and other supernatural creatures in her Southern Vampire series. Charlaine breathed new life into musty old vampires, building a vibrant, complicated world in the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, centered around Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress who hears what people are thinking. And that was just the start. Because a big-deal TV writer and producer was early for a dentist’s appointment, “True Blood,” the HBO series based on the Sookie books was born.
Charlaine seems like the nicest possible southern lady, but she has a delightfully twisted mind (and I say that with admiration). Full disclosure: I’ve known Charlaine for many years and we have the same agent.
Enjoy this conversation with Charlaine Harris.

Grand Master Charlaine Harris and her husband, Hal Schulz, at the Mystery Writers of America Edgar awards

EV: Congratulations on being named the 2021 Mystery Writers of America Grand Master – or is it Grand Mistress? How did you feel?
I was beyond excited when Greg Herren, MWA’s executive vice president, called me. He left a message on my phone, telling me not to worry, it was good news. I hoped that it was the same good news he gave me when we finally connected. Looking at the names of the other Grand Masters, I am humbled. Being on this list is amazing.
EV: Charlaine has been added to the roster of Grand Masters that includes Jeffery Deaver, Barbara Neely, Peter Lovesey, Walter Mosley, Robert Crais, Ken Follett, Martha Grimes, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie.

EV: Where did you get the idea for the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire series?
The idea for Sookie’s world first occurred to me quite some time before I began to write the series. It gradually began to form in my brain, and then when I had it mostly settled, I was able to write the books. I still made a lot of spur-of-the-moment decisions. (I always do.)

EV: Was Sookie a hard series to sell?
My poor agent, Joshua Bilmes, tried for two years to sell DEAD UNTIL DARK before John Morgan at Penguin took the book. (It was published in 2001.) That was the hardest sell I’ve ever had.

EV: Why did you end the popular series?
I decided to end the series because I had said everything I had to say about Sookie and her world. I’d reached my goal. It was a controversial decision, but I couldn’t face trying to write another book with my former zest.

EV: Was the ending of the series, when Sookie chooses the man she’ll marry, controversial with your fans? Is it true you needed a bodyguard for a while?
The ending was controversial, for sure, because some key elements got leaked before the book was even out. The book didn’t get a fair chance, and a lot of readers were very angry. I started to hire a bodyguard, but instead I just stayed home. That was a smart decision.

EV: What did you write after Sookie ended?
I wrote the Midnight, Texas books after I finished Sookie, and then I felt ready to write something completely new and different.
EV: The Midnight, Texas trilogy became another TV series on NBC for two seasons.

EV: Tell us about your latest series, featuring Gunnie Rose. It’s one of my favorites.
The world of the Gunnie Rose series is complex, and I have to be aware of a lot of history when I’m changing it to suit my narrative. America is split into parts following the assassination of Roosevelt, the Spanish Flu, and the collapse of Wall Street. Lizbeth Rose, a gunslinger by trade, lives in Texoma, the poorest of the new countries.

EV: AN EASY DEATH is the title of a Gunnie Rose novel. What does that mean?
“An Easy Death” is what gunnies wish each other. It’s a traditional farewell for gunnies going out on a job. It means, “I hope you don’t get gutshot. I hope you pass quickly.”

EV: Your vivid novels have been successful on TV. Alan Ball made the Sookie series into “True Blood” on HBO. How did Alan discover Sookie?
Alan told me he was early for a dentist appointment and went into a Barnes and Noble to get something to read. He loved the cover of DEAD UNTIL DARK and began reading. He loved it.

EV: You’ve also had several Hallmark movies based on your Aurora Teagarden mysteries. Is there another one coming up?
There are eighteen Hallmark movies in the Aurora Teagarden series on Hallmark. Since Candace Cameron Bure is leaving Hallmark, there may not be any more. But again . . . well, it’s up in the air.

EV: What’s the best part of your mega-success?
Not having to worry. And making friends with other writers. And buying a book if I want it.

EV: What’s next for you?
The fourth Gunnie Rose, THE SERPENT IN HEAVEN, will be out in November, I’m working on the fifth, and I don’t have a title for the one I’m writing at the moment. It’ll come to me, I hope.

Treat yourself to Charlaine Harris books at your favorite bookstore, online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or the Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/author/Charlaine-Harris/

The Writer’s Voice

By Elaine Viets

We talk a lot about the writer’s voice, and how we develop our own.
But some readers want more than the writer’s voice on the page. They want to hear the writer’s actual voice.
They want to know what this author sounds like. Is their voice high and reedy, low and sexy, gruff, educated, or sweetened with a soft Southern accent?
When writers read their own work for audio, we readers hear their voice in our head every time we pick up their book. It changes the book: now the writers are speaking directly to us.
Their writing becomes more personal, more intimate.
We expect entertainers to be good at reading their own books for audio, and most are. Listen to Tina Fey read her book, “Bossypants.” Trevor Noah is terrific reading his “Born a Crime.”
And hearing Maya Angelou read her poem, “Still I Rise” brought tears to my eyes.

But what about ordinary writers? Should we read our own work?
Some years ago, I read my first four Francesca Vierling mysteries for audio. It was hard work. I was exhausted when I finished each day. I read my mysteries in the studio for six to eight hours a day.
Want to know what it’s like to read an audio book?
Okay, read this blog out loud, down to this line – without a single stumble, pause or mispronunciation. Go ahead. I’ll wait for you.
Start reading now. In three. Two. One.

Difficult, isn’t it? Every time you make a mistake, the producer has to stop the recording, back up, and have you start again.
I decided to read my first four mysteries because I’d had speech lessons in New York. To get ready for the studio, I went into training. I printed out the books in manuscript form and read from them several hours a day, to be familiar with the words. I outlined each character’s part with a special colored pencil, so I could change my voice at the right time.
I wrote notes at the top of the pages to remind myself. Mostly, SLOW DOWN!!!!
Finally, I thought I was ready. I flew to Santa Fe, New Mexico to begin reading in the studio. Santa Fe is a much drier climate than I’m used to, and my throat quickly turned scratchy. Now I sympathized with singers who babied their throats.
I had a patient producer and the reading went fairly smoothly. I followed the advice of some pros and drank warm water with lemon. No sugar, no tea, just warm water and lemon. I swilled gallons of the stuff. After a while, my mouth puckered when I even saw a lemon.

When I finished, I needed to put my tongue in a sling. My sore, scratchy throat took weeks to recover.
I was lucky to get kind reviews for my work, but when it came time to read my other mysteries, I left that to the pros. Tanya Eby and Amanda Stribling read many of my books now. Why did I stop reading my work?
Because I was good, but not quite good enough. And I wanted the best for my work.
So what about you? Have you read your own work for audio? Do you have a favorite audio reader?

Listen to my audio books free during your 30 trial with audible.com. Listen to my Dead-End Job mysteries, Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper mysteries, and the Angela Richman Death Investigator mysteries. https://www.audible.com/author/Elaine-Viets/B001HD2WX2