Friday, March 16, 2018

Interview with M. Louisa Locke

What is the title of your newest book? How many books have you published?
 My newest book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series is a novella entitled Kathleen Catches a Killer. I have published five full-length novels, two novellas, and four short stories in this series, and I also have recently published four books in the Paradisi Chronicles science fiction series, including a novella I co-authored with my daughter.

How did you become interested in writing?
Like many future novelists, I was a voracious reader growing up, and as a freshman in high school, I wrote a paper about what I hoped would be my future career, writing historical fiction. Recently, I discovered and re-read this paper and was amused to see that the common theme of the three writers I interviewed was that I should not expect to support myself as a writer but should prepare to have a different career…in short--a day job. I suspect that is why, when I went off to college, I chose to major in history, not literature, with the intention of becoming a college history professor, which I did.

However, I never gave up my dream of writing historical fiction, so thirty years ago between teaching jobs, I wrote the first draft of what would become Maids of Misfortune, the first book in my Victorian San Francisco mystery series. My intention from the start was to take the research I had done for my history doctorate about late 19th century working women in the far west and turn it into a series of mysteries that would entertain while enlightening readers about these wonderful women. I worked on that first novel off and on during my career as a community college professor, and I finally published it when I hit the age of 60 and had cut back on my teaching load. Within two years, I was making enough money selling that book and Uneasy Spirits, the sequel, to retire completely and write full-time.

What is a day in the life of an author like? Do you write a certain number of words, do you write in the morning or evening, etc?
This varies considerably day by day, as well as depending on what stage I am at in the writing and publishing process. While I find that I tend to work seven days a week, fifty-two weeks of the year, because I am theoretically retired, I try to be very flexible with the number of hours of “work” I do each day. This is particularly true when I am in the research and plotting phase of a book (where I am now), or when I have just published a book and I am more involved with the marketing activities that go with launching that book. During the 4 months or so when I am writing the first draft of a book, I tend to be more focused on keeping my schedule free.

For example, this morning I will spend about three hours catching up on my emails with other authors, reading articles about the publishing industry, and doing marketing related-tasks like answering these questions. I also will take the time later in the day to create a book page on the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative website that I help maintain.

I will devote most of the rest of this day to writing activities. The past few weeks I have been doing intensive research on the University of California Berkeley campus of 1881 (the setting for my next book), but today I will start creating mini-biographies for the new characters that will be introduced in this book, including both victims, villains, and red herrings.

Once I start the writing phase, I will try to put in at least four to six hours of writing—usually with the goal of writing at least 1000-1500 words. As the book progresses, I will put in more hours, with higher word count goals. I will stop at five for dinner, then put in an hour or so more of either marketing activities or writing, before I stop for good and watch tv with my husband.

However, many days the hours I have to devote to writing get interrupted. There are the inevitable chores and acupuncture appointments that seem necessary to keep an aging house and aging body in working order, and then several times a week I have a lunch or a telephone chat scheduled with friends and family. I even will play hooky from writing to go to an occasional movie matinee with my husband. All of this helps me keep a balanced life, so that I can continue to enjoy my second career for as long as possible.

Do you plot the entire book first, then write or plot as you go?
I am an outliner. It helps keep me from having to do too much rewriting. During the research phase, I will have sketched out the main elements of a mystery: What crimes are going to be committed, and who is responsible? Who are the other suspects? How are my main series characters going to be involved in solving these crimes (and what are their relationships to the victims, villains, and suspects?) And how is their involvement with solving the crimes going to change them? Then, I tend to outline the  book in chunks. I see my stories as having three acts, so I will do a scene-by-scene outline for the first act, then write up those chapters, then pause and do some editing of that first chunk, and then repeat the process with the second and third acts. I used to outline the whole book at the start, but I have learned that new twists and turns (and sometimes even new characters) will pop up in the actual writing, so I try to leave flexibility to insert these elements when outlining the next section.

Do you use real people and places as models for your books?
Absolutely. As a professional historian, I am reluctant to make a real historical person be a main actor in any of my stories, having them say or do things that I know they never said or did. However, I have given real life historical figures (like the pioneer California female lawyer, Clara Foltz) walk on parts in a couple of books. I do use real places all the time in my books (like the Cliff House Inn and Woodward’s Gardens) and the San Francisco department store that is featured in my book, Pilfered Promises, was based on the detailed description I found of Macy’s in the 1870s.

All my characters are modeled on the real men and women I discover doing my research. For example, I made Annie, my series protagonist, a part-time clairvoyant because this was the way that a number of real women (who advertised in the San Francisco Chronicle) made their living. And the murder victim in Deadly Proof, my book featuring women in the San Francisco printing trades, was modeled on a man who ran a printing house and was cited by the California state labor commission for his ill-treatment of his female employees.

In the book I am working on right now, my fictional characters will mingle with real professors and students I have learned about in my research, and the events, like the debates held by the student literary societies, the places, like the newly built gymnasium, and the problems they faced (what happens if you get “cinched” or in other words, fail a class) come right from the what I learned about U.C. Berkeley in the spring of 1881.

Who is your favorite author?
My favorite contemporary author is C. J. Cherryh, who does a lovely job of world building and character development. The two authors who inspired me to become a writer were Geogette Heyer, for her clean and thoroughly entertaining romances, and Dorothy Sayers’ Harriet Vane-Peter Whimsy mysteries, for showing me that mysteries could feature strong female protagonists, light romance, and tackle important issues like how to balance career and marriage.

How do you promote your books?
The easiest and most successful promotion tool I use is having the first book in my series be permanently free. I have found that a good proportion of those readers who are wiling to give Maids of Misfortune a chance as a free book are then willing to go on and buy the rest of the books in the series. I see this as very analogous to the way in which I used go to the library to find new authors, and then when I found ones I liked, would start to buy the other books they wrote as they were published. I also encourage people to signup for a newsletter that I put out when I have a new book or sale on my other books, and I try to keep people who have liked my author facebook page engaged by posting interesting historical tidbits and updates on how my writing progress is going.

If you want to learn more about both my historical mysteries and my science fiction series, do check me out at

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Hanged Man's Noose

Investigative freelance writer Emily Garland is thrilled to be given a regular assignment to edit a new magazine called Inside the Landing. It requires her to move to a place called Lount's Landing a small town outside of Toronto. In Hanged Man's Noose by Judy Penz Sheluk, Emily's sweet deal includes a renovated Victorian home and a real paycheck. The one caveat is she has to dig into what mega-developer Garrett Stonehaven is up to in the town.

It's a great plan because she has long hated Garrett Stonehaven and believed he was responsible for her mother's untimely death. Off she goes to Lount's Landing and lands in the middle of some long-dead secrets and lies.

Why would the residents of Lount's Landing name their town after an alleged traitor? This story parallels the Hanged Man's Noose plot in that it is complicated and not what it seems. An apt metaphor.

Her first assignment is to meet Johnny Porter, owner of It's a Colorful Life and chair of the Main Street Merchants Association. She meets him and begins to learn about the other busines owners in town. At a town meeting, Stonehaven presents his plan to renovate an old school building and seems to have community support when he suddenly announces the addition of a Superstore to the plans. This throws everyone into a tailspin. Teaming up with Arabella, the owner of The Glass Dolphin antiques shop, Emily learns many interesting things about her new hometown and the residents. When someone is found murdered, they decide to investigate. 

An intriguing game of cross and double cross takes place and Emily weaves her way through the intrigue. The Hanged Man's Noose is an interesting first book in the series and I look forward to more adventures of Emily and Arabella. 

The next book A Hole in One is available now.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Follow, Follow, Follow

As every writer and blogger knows, followers are vital to the growth of a blog or book.  That's why I am asking my readers to click "Follow" in the right column of MapYourMystery blog. I appreciate your continued support.

MapYourMystery will be reviewing a number of books in the coming weeks. Some include Death by Dumpling  Vivien Chen, Lost Books & Old Bones by Paige Shelton, As the Christmas Cookie Crumbles by Leslie Budewitz, The Trophy Wife Exchange by Connie Shelton and many more.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Organized for S'More Death

The McKenzie and Berman families are loading up the vehicles and their children for a weekend in a national forest in the lovely Green Mountains of Vermont. Kate and Meg are looking forward to getting away for a while, but in Organized for S'Mores Death by Ritter Ames, their peaceful weekend is disrupted.

Before they head out Meg has a run in with her husband reporter friend Pulitzer prize winner Paul Gaines. It seems Paul is working on a mob expose and he uses the Berman's house phone to call a mob enforcer. Meg is freaked that this might mean their family might be mistaken victims of Paul's ambition. He claims to have some kind of electronic decide on his phone that prevents anyone from knowing his location. Ok, thinks Meg. We'll see.

Hoping this blow-up will not ruin their trip, the cars are loaded up and they head out for a weekend of fun.

Of course Paul manages to disrupt things as the families pull into the local grocery store near the
cabin. He rams his car into another car leaving the parking lot. Meg can't wait to get rid of Paul, but not in the way it actually happens.

After a pleasant hike, they return to find open bags of food strewn around the cabin and a half-eaten sandwich on the counter. When Meg discovers Paul's phone, that triggers her explosive reaction. She and Kate drive to Paul's caravan to have it out with him. Unfortunately someone beat them to the punch. They find Paul dead. Meg and Kate are on the case.

My favorite parts of the "Organized" series are the tidbits of information at the beginning of each chapter. Many of the ones in this book are related to outdoor camping, which is something I would never do. Camping to me means staying in a Holiday Inn, but two tips stuck out in my mind: the B-complex remedy for biting insects and the Pine-Sol mix for spraying outdoor tables and chairs to keep flies away. I'm planning to try both this summer.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Playing with Bonbon Fire

Inheriting a chocolate shop when you have limited experience can be daunting. Charity Penn leaves her comfortable home in Wisconsin to take over the shop on the beachfront in Camellia Beach, South Carolina. In Playing with Bonbon Fire by Dorothy St. James, Penn is learning chocolate making first hand from her able partner Bertie Bays and still trying to fit in with her estranged family.

Besides learning how to make chocolates, Penn has been roped into planning the town's beach music festival with beach music idol Bixby Lewis as the star. No sooner has Bixby shown up in her shop when a fist-sized rock is hurled through the front window. Bixby claims he has a stalker who must have followed him to South Carolina.

Compounding her issues with broken glass and chocolate, two local beach music singers engage in some name calling and fisticuffs near the main stage. Bubba Crowley, president of the Camellia Beach business association and former lead singer of The Embers Stan Frasier decide to
renew old rivalries. Both were in the same local band in the sixties and seventies when Stan suddenly quit and formed his own group. Neither group became famous and Stan left the area. No one really knows why he left town or why he is back now.

When Penn discovers a body in a bonfire on the beach, she thinks she recognizes it as Bixby. The next day when Bixby walks into her shop, she is shocked and relieved. But who was murdered?

Old rivalries, driving ambition and a lost song lead Penn on a journey to discover who she really is.

A plot that keeps you guessing all the time and a very enjoyable read.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

When we meet Eleanor Oliphant, she is by no means completely fine, but moving through life quietly. She works in an office and lives by herself. In Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Eleanor is reclusive, has no friends and is a creature of habit. One connection she does have is her weekly telephone calls from "Mummy."

Those phone calls always leave Eleanor depressed and feeling worthless. One day her office computer freezes and she seeks out the IT department for assistance.What she finds is Raymond, dressed in ill-fitting denim pants, a T-shirt with a cartoon character on it and green sneakers, not the sort that would interest the fastidious Eleanor.

Once her computer is repaired, she gets back to her internet search for her "new love", singer Johnnie Lomond, someone she has only seen in a photo and has fallen instantly in love with. Such is
Eleanor's life.

But when Raymond invites her to lunch, suddenly a crack appears in her regimented life. As they are returning from lunch, they witness an older man falling unconscious to the ground. Leaping into action Raymond calls for help and Eleanor keeps talking to the man. Before long Eleanor and Raymond are visiting Sammy in the hospital, meeting his family and spending lunch time together.

Eleanor's life has been so regimented, it is amazing to see her transformation. This book is a fascinating journey through a person's lonely life and how it can evolve with a little nudge from an unexpected source.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Deadly Solution

When Ollie Olafson wakes up from his drunken stupor, he finds himself arrested for the murder of his homeless friend Joe.  Recovering alcoholic and once disgraced attorney Maeve Malloy is assigned to his defense. In Deadly Solution by Keenan Powell, there's more to Joe's death than meets the eye.

After Maeve's fall from grace over a trial gone bad, her investigator Tom Sinclair rescues her from the depths of alcohol, gets her into rehab and negotiates a leave of absence from her job as public defenders office. Now out of rehab and back to work with a huge chip on her shoulder and something to prove, Maeve is determined to clear Ollie.

The only problem is the case comes to trial in three weeks, hardly time to investigate and prepare. Another problem is the defendant - he doesn't remember anything about the night, but he is sure he did not kill Joe. Ollie knows he and Joe were drinking heavily and Joe was using marijuana.

But Tom discovers the tox screen performed on Joe was negative and no autopsy was performed.
Maeve decides to order a private independent autopsy and when she receives the results, it shows that Joe had a high content of several drugs in his system.

As she continues to investigate, she finds many homeless people have died in Anchorage in the past few months and that no autopsies were performed. Is there a serial killer on the loose?

An interesting mystery featuring the "throw-away" people in many towns and the lack of sympathy towards their deaths.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Interview with Judy Penz Shulak

What is the title of your newest book? How many books have you published?

A Hole in One, which is the second book in my Glass Dolphin Mystery Series. The first was The Hanged Man's Noose. I also have one book out in my Marketville Mystery Series, Skeletons in the Attic. (For a review of Skeletons in the Attic, click here.) The sequel to that should be out later this year. And I’ve got 2 collections of three short stories, as well as some stories in anthologies.

How did you become interested in writing?
I’ve been writing stories in my head since I was a young kid walking to school, though I only started to write them down in the early 2000s, when I took a Creative Writing course. But the stories were always inside of me.

What is a day in the life of an author like? Do you write a certain number of words, do you write in the morning or evening, etc?
The life of an author? I can only tell you what the day in my life is like — and it depends. I don’t do well trying to work with a structured word count, but when I’m working on a book, I’ll aim for a chapter a day and write every day, including weekends. But it doesn’t always work out that way. My best time to write is morning, but I’ve written late into the night as well. I edit as I go along, so my first draft is usually pretty clean. But the self-editing can also mean that I backtrack a lot.

Do you plot the entire book first, then write or plot as you go?
I never know what’s going to happen until I’m well into the final third of the book. I’m a complete pantser. I come up with a premise and then just build on it from there. For example, with The Hanged Man's Noose, the premise is greedy developer comes to town with plans to build a megabox store, thereby threatening the livelihoods of the indie shops on historic Main Street. I simply took that premise and asked, “What if someone was willing to kill to stop him?”

Do you use real people and places as models for your books?
My primary locations are loosely based on places I’ve lived. Lount’s Landing is based on Holland Landing, Ontario, and Marketville is based on Newmarket, Ontario. But I’ve taken great liberties with the setting. The people are completely fictionalized, though they may have the odd character trait of mine, or someone I’ve observed. For example, Callie Barnstable (Skeletons) is addicted to cocoa butter lip balm. Guilty!

Who is your favorite author?
I have so many, it’s hard to narrow it down. I loved Sue Grafton and read every one of her books. Her passing has left a deep void in the mystery community. For pacing, you cannot beat John Sandford’s Prey or Flowers series. I’m also a huge fan of Fiona Barton, who came on the scene in 2016 to well deserved acclaim. I could go on and on — I’m an avid reader. Reading in the best teacher.

How do you promote your books?
My website. Blogs like this one are huge for getting the word out. Facebook is very strong, and to a lesser extent Twitter. Pinterest is fun, but not a great marketing tool. I also do a few events in the spring and summer, bookstores and fairs, and I usually attend one writing conference, like Bouchercon or Malice Domestic, each year. This year is an exception — I’m not doing a conference because I’m hoping to do 2-3 next year.

You can find out more about me and my books at Here’s a link to my Amazon page:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover

It's 1934 and the country is still in the midst of the Depression. In The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover by Susan Wittig Albert, the people of Darling, Alabama, are doing the best they can with what little they have.

Everyone has a vegetable garden so fresh veggies are always available and what is not used at home is donated to the Darling Blessing Box. No one has an extra money except a few people like the Whitworths, but Whit is not spending any money even on the businesses in which he is a partner. This includes the Darling Telephone Exchange which has outgrown its old switchboard causing phone problems throughout Darling.

It's time for the annual Dixie Championship for Barbershop Quartets and the Lucky Clovers are planning to compete. Unfortunately two of their members encounter bad luck - Martin Ewing has pimples on his throat and he cannot sing and Whit Whitworth winds up dead in a car accident.

The Dahlias rush in the console the widow, but discover she was planning to divorce Whit over
money problems. There are other suspects as well because Whit was a limited partner in many businesses, but was unwilling to invest in them, making the other partners angry. Liz Lacy who works for attorney Mr. Moseley is privy to confidential client information and knows Mrs.Whitworth was planning to divorce him.

Lots of suspects as usual but the real charm of these books is the account of life in 1934. The little glimpses into the life of everyday people during the Depression, how they coped with very little and how they looked forward to the New Deal is a study in history. I'm always stunned by the prices of food - tuna fish 10 cents a can (too expensive to buy for cats), a slice of pie 15 cents and a cup of coffee 5 cents. A new car costs $1,500, but the average income was $30 a week.

I love these books and the characters seem so authentic.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Six Feet Under

When the Culinary Channel's show Southern Home Cookin' makes plans to visit Cottonwood, Kentucky, Vivian Lowry is sure this is her chance to become a baking star. In Six Feet Under by Tonya Kappes, Sheriff Kenni Lowry has her hands full with her mother's budding stardom and the animosity generated by the TV star Frank Von Lee.

Vivian is going all out to win the approval of Frank, as she calls him, with her well known chicken pot pie. She even has resorted to botox injections, which worries Kenni, especially as the results are not positive.

When Frank turns up dead in hotel room with remnants of chicken pot pie surrounding him, all eyes focus on Vivian. Because of this Kenni is removed from the investigation and her detective Finn Vincent takes over. That doesn't stop Kenni from looking into the case, from another angle.

Kenni decides to follow the Botox party leads to see where this illegal is operating and how she can
close it down. While she investigates, she nearly finds herself injected with the illegal botox and stumbles across the fraudulent pink handicapped parking signs.

Once again Tonya Kappes gives us a glimpse of life in a small town in the south. Vivian is a "nation" unto herself and would drive any sane person crazy. It's a good thing Kenni has her ghost Poppa to help her.