Sunday, September 25, 2016

2016 Bouchercon writeup Part One

Hello all- though I've been back for a week, am just getting caught up on all that was put on hold by leaving for Bouchercon, the worldwide mystery conference in New Orleans.

It was my second Bouchercon, and my third time in New Orleans, and it's tough to say which I liked more- the conference, or the city itself. New Orleans appears to have bounced back since Katrina and then the massive oil spill that blew out their fishing industry and devastated the Louisiana coastline, among others.

I'll do a second post with a food report and pictures from all the sightseeing, but for now I'll talk about the cool people I met.

Got to meet the superstar mystery writer, Sara Paretsky, author of the V.I. Warshawski series. She also helped to start the Sisters in Crime organization, whose mission is to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers. Yes, I'm a member, and got to thank her for the supportive organization and for her work in the mystery field.

The organization had a huge meeting and breakfast, and I met some of the hard-working women who make things run- Leslie Budewitz, the outgoing President, and officers Molly Weston and Diane Vallere.

Saw lots of familiar faces as well, most happily the Wicked Cozys, with whom we had a delightful luncheon. Most of the gang were there (sadly minus Jessie Crockett): Barbara Ross, Edith Maxwell, Liz Mugavero, Sherry Novinger Harris, and Julie Hennrikus. Barbara Ross will be appearing on this blog with an interview soon, so stay tuned for that.

And happily met the new slate of editors at Level Best Books, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Verena Rose, Harriette Sackler, and Kimberly Gray. This foursome now publish the yearly anthology of the Best Crime and Mystery Stories in New England. My story will be appearing in the Windward collection this year (the third year in a row I've been selected for this prestigious anthology).

And I got to chat with a fearsome foursome of writers I met at the 2013 Bouchercon. Had a nice talk with Josh Stallings and Neliza Drew, and got to sit with Tom Pluck and Holly West for a bit longer.
For an interview with Tom Pluck, see here. Tom and I both have stories in the Nightfalls anthology.

Tom and Holly are also two of the writers at the cool mystery-writer blog Do Some Damage. Then I met another member of that crew, Scott Dennis Parker, and got his book All Chickens Must Die. Awesome title, and a good mystery homage to the pulp PI stories of the forties.

Here's a group of Maineiacs that just happened to be attending the same panel- all Maine mystery writers. L to R is Paul Doiron, Bruce Robert Coffin, moi, Richard Cass, and Barbara Ross.

Bruce, a retired Portland police officer, has just released his debut novel, Among the Shadows.
I'm almost done reading it, and it's a fantastic first novel- get it now.
To find out more about Bruce, read the recent interview.

Met up with another top writer from my previous Bouchercon, Dana King. Yup, he had an interview here as well. Yeah, I meet the most interesting people.

As proof, ran into Sheila Connolly, who has three popular series out- and she's another Sister in Crime.

Another three-series writer and SinC member, Leigh Perry/Toni Kelner, was met in passing.
(Her interview here)

And I marched in the fun parade with Cheryl Hollon, another SinC member. (Her interview here)

As is Ray Daniel, another great writer from our area.
(His interview here)

In cool news, saw another Maine writer, Chris Holm, pick up an Anthony Award for Best Novel, for his latest work, The Killing Kind.

Met many more writers as well: Walter Gragg, Sarah Smith, Sarah Chen, Marty Wingate, Ann Kellett, Rochelle Staab, Janet Finsilver, Sheyna Galyan, Kwei Quartey, Cindy Brown, Angie Gleason, Lisa Brackmann, C.L. Shore.

And others: Andrew Case, an attorney, Heather Malone, a fun Real Estate seller, and David Cook, a Forensic Research specialist who lives in New Orleans.

These are only a fraction of the attendees, of course. Sadly missing were two people I really wanted to talk to: Debbi Mack and Todd Robinson. Todd is editor of the recently-deceased ThugLit magazine, and my story "Forever Amber" is the last story accepted for that great publication.

Debbi Mack writes the Sam McRae mystery series, and also has put together a boxed set of mystery fiction, with my first Zack Taylor novel, A Memory of Grief, included. There's a cool trailer if you scroll down on this site.

And of course the wonderful Hank Phillipi Ryan was at the conference, and again at the airport. She introduced me to Joseph Finder, another best-selling writer. And then Dave Zeltserman sits down near us, and I meet him, and we chat about how well the Patriots and the Red Sox are doing, as well as Dave himself. His book Small Crimes (next on my TBR pile) is being made into a movie, with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister for you Game of Thrones fans) playing a major role. Awesome stuff. He's read the screenplay, and it looks to be a good telling of his book, according to the author himself.

And almost got away with not talking to author Pete Morin. Caught him at Logan airport, after trying to see him all conference. 

So many memories crowded into a few days. Bouchercon is a great place for panels on crime writing, and talking to the writers themselves, and for doing business with all the ins and outs of writing and publishing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Interview With Debut Author Bruce Robert Coffin

Hello All- I'm still recovering from my trip to Bouchercon, the world mystery convention for mystery crime writers and fans, held this year in New Orleans. (Hint: it was AWESOME!!!)
When I get the pics sorted out, I'll have the writeup- look for that in a few days. Maybe I'll be caught up by then.

While you wait for that, here's a treat. Today marks the print release of author Bruce Robert Coffin's debut novel, Among the Shadows.

Bruce was a police officer in Portland, Maine (setting for my Zack Taylor novels) for 27 years. He's had a fascinating life, and is now turning his experiences into fiction, and this is his launch. I've got my copy, so be sure to get yours.
Let's find out more about him and his work...

Q. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A. My first attempt at writing a novel was a several-year process. I wrote 20,000 words in first person before deciding I didn’t like the caged in feeling of that point of view. I started again in third person making it to about 40,000 but then realized I was no longer in love with my plot. I never imagined I was so fickle. Finally I came up with a story idea that I really liked. The finished 72,000 word manuscript was called Death Watch. I thought it was pretty good, at least for a first novel. Then I attended a three day writer’s conference where I listened to editors and agents describe all of the things one shouldn’t do when writing a novel. Realizing I had done most of them, I was pretty discouraged. But as the conference went on, I was bombarded with ideas that would make the entire novel better. My muse was singing. On the drive home I recorded two hours of my thoughts on the brand-new novel. There were so many changes, I basically threw Death Watch away and started again. It took five months to write the rough first draft and another seven rewriting and editing. The 96,000 word result of my decision is Among the Shadows.

Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A. I think it’s a classic tale of good verses evil with a twist. It’s a tale of right verses wrong, and perception verses reality. It is the story of a man trying to right a wrong in spite of overwhelming odds. One man trying to break free from his father’s shadow while another hides in it.

Q. Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

A. I think the lessons are important. Ethics and integrity are always under siege, maybe more so today. It’s kind of the cross we bear as flawed beings. John Byron is a good man and a diligent investigator, but he struggles like all of us. He carries demons around with him. Some of those demons are a result of twenty years on the job, and some are his own creation. But he fights hard to try and right the wrongs of others and to take care of his people.

Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?

A. Ha! Great question. Ask a thousand writers and you’ll likely get a thousand different responses. I think the plot is important, as is the pacing, especially in the mystery/thriller genre. But the most important aspect for me is the characters. Do we care about them? Do we want them to succeed? I think pitting an unrelenting protagonist against an unrelenting antagonist is the struggle that will always make for great reading. It’s timeless in its simplicity, yet people never seem to get enough.

Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. Similar themes? Probably. There are many good mystery writers out there. What I hope I’ve brought to the page is good storytelling. Good storytelling combined with the voice of someone who knows what it’s like to be a cop. How we think. How we act. How we feel. What we struggle with. How we cope. What motivates us to keep going. I want the reader to feel those things, too.

As for my influences? People ask me that all the time now. It's funny, up until the last couple of years I never had time to read much of anything except Stephen King novels. Believe me I’m making up for it now, but the 24/7 nature of my previous work didn’t allow for endless hours of reading. People expect me to give them the name of a writer whose style I’ve fashioned my writing after and are disappointed when I don't. The truth is other than the occasional stray book by Bill Bryson or David Sedaris, most of my reading was King. I’ve read all of his books but I don’t think I write anything like him, and certainly not in his genre. But he’s definitely had the biggest influence on me as a reader. And let’s be honest, what writer doesn’t aspire to be as well known as Mr. King?

Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A. At its heart I think it’s entertainment. But I also think good storytelling should make us think, make us feel something. Stories are always about people first. Human beings are capable of so much, both good and bad. I think great fiction allows all of us the chance to experience the best and the worst that life has to offer, without leaving the safety of our chairs.

Q. Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A. Keep on trucking. That’s my goal. Write another book. Write a better book. I love the art of writing, of storytelling. I want what most writers want, to bring great stories to the masses. I’ve had success in both in my professional and my personal life. I hope, with a little luck, and a lot of hard work, to be able to carry that success into my writing life.

Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A. I tend to write fairly quick, at least when it’s going well. I usually begin a writing session by editing what I wrote previously, unless the muse is screaming in my ear. I don’t know about other writers but my editing never stops. Seems like every time I read a section I make changes. Fellow crime writer Kate Flora once told me that the time to stop editing is when you find yourself changing things back to the way they were. I’ve found that to be pretty good advice. As far as tiring of the book goes, no. If I’m happy with the story I’ve written, I won’t tire of it. I may well be tired of making changes to it, but not the book itself.

Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

A. Nick Amphlett, my editor at HarperCollins, is very good. Patrice Silverstein, my copyeditor, was ridiculously good. Also, my agent, Paula Munier, is a very accomplished editor as well. Every editor has their strong points. They make suggestions on how to make a scene stronger or to clarify voice in the story. They will usually pick up on things the writer missed. When I read my own work I may only see what I meant to say, but that’s not always what’s on the page. A fresh set of eyes will always catch things I missed.

Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?
A. That’s a tough question. I guess it depends on the writer’s skill level and motivation. Most writers are looking for publication, and she can be one elusive creature. There are far better writers than I who’ve yet to find a home for their books. If you really want to be published, my advice is simple. Never. Give. Up. Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep improving your work. Be as stubborn as I am. I remember being told that it would be next to impossible to land a book deal, especially with a major publisher. “You might want to consider self-publishing,” someone else said. I don’t know about you, but when I hear things like that, when someone tells me something can’t be done, I move the shift lever into high gear. Lee Childs once said if you like what you’ve written, odds are that there are literally hundreds of people who will also like it. The trick is writing something that thousands of people will like, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands. That’s what publishers like.

Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?
A. I can definitely see it as an audio book. Part of my editing process was to play parts of it back on a PDF reader (although, the computerized voice was a little off-putting). Film would be awesome! Getting to see the characters who have resided for so long inside my head actually come to life on the screen would be fabulous. Although, transitioning from one medium to another is always tricky. The one thing missing from novels that go to film is the inner thought. The conflict, worry, and fears, inhabiting the characters in the book, don’t translate well to film, unless spoke in dialogue. Often movie makers will add a narrative voice between scenes as a way of getting those inner thoughts across to us. The television adaptation of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser does this quite well by using Robert Urich’s voice to take us in and out of scenes and to let us know what Spenser is thinking.

Q. What's the next step in your writing world?

A. Hmm. That’s a tough one. I guess time and readers will ultimately decide that for me. My goal is to keep writing good fiction, even beyond the three books that I’ve signed on for. I have so much more in store for John Byron. And I have many other ideas for novels and short stories, just waiting to be written. I’m constantly writing ideas down, whenever and wherever they come to me. I’ve written notes on napkins, in notebooks, on my phone, even on my hand (a habit left over from my time as a police officer). Hopefully, I’ll keep writing until I’ve drawn my last breath, or until I no longer have anything to say.

Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A. In addition to writing, I’m also a professional artist. Back in 2008, I was commissioned by the New England Chapter of the FBI National Academy to paint a portrait to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the FBI. Working alongside a FBI historian, to get the history right, I began work on a portrait of Special Agent Edwin C. Shanahan. Shanahan, the first agent ever killed in the line of duty, died in 1925 when he was shot while attempting to apprehend a car thief in Chicago. The painting took me a year to complete. I presented it to Boston’s Special Agent in Charge (SAC) during the 2008 FBINA New England Christmas Party. The large oil portrait is still displayed in a conference room within the Boston Field Office.

Q. Where can folks purchase your novel?

A. Among the Shadows is published by HarperCollins under their mystery imprint, Witness Impulse. It is available in both digital and trade paperback versions through the Witness Impulse site, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sherman’s books, etc.

Web page:
Twitter: @coffin_bruce
Facebook: Bruce Robert Coffin Author

Monday, September 12, 2016

Interview With Author Jeff Deck

Hey, campers, today's treat is a new author, Jeff Deck one of the gang in the New England Horror Writers.

His supernatural thriller book: The Psuedo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley, just came out in paperback (and is also available as an ebook).

Here's from the description. Gotta say, that's a definite grabber, certainly makes you want to read it:

My name is Mark Huntley. All I really wanted to do was drink cheap beer and blog about my dead-end life. Then I stumbled across a secret war between two sinister alien forces. If I try to stop the war, I may get my friends and loved ones killed. If I don't try, the human race is toast. Oh yeah, and a demonic weapon inside me is probably driving me insane.
If I'm already dead when you find this, you need to carry on the fight. 

So here is more about Jeff, as he answers some questions on his work and life.

Q. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A. I was feeling bruised in the late summer of 2004. Earlier that year, I'd poured a lot of energy into supporting the progressive presidential candidacy of Howard Dean, only to see it evaporate seemingly overnight for the stupidest reason (the candidate making a weird sound into a microphone). Then I fell in love, or at least lust, with a woman who was married -- newly married, practically. We crossed boundaries we shouldn't have. Then, after helping to wreck her marriage, I broke things off with her because, oh, you know, the relationship just felt wrong.

In short, I was 24 and didn't know what the fuck I was doing. But I sure had a lot of Feelings that needed to come out. As fall approached, I wanted to channel those feelings into a writing project. Blogs were still a fairly novel concept at that point, so I decided to use a blog to tell a story -- a raw, first-person story, one that started out as barely fictionalized. The main character, Mark Huntley, had a low-level job like me. He'd had a relationship with a married woman, like I did. His eyes were giving him persistent trouble, too, just like mine were at the time (I had a real fear that mine were deteriorating rapidly, for some reason). Only as the story went on did I slowly introduce a supernatural element, as the blog diverged further into dramatic fiction.

I kept the blog going for about three months, with only a few friends following it. Then I put the story aside, and didn't revisit it for ten years.

Q. Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

A. As I recall, I had little idea where the story was ultimately going -- just that it would end up having a strong supernatural/horror element to the plot. (Much like many of my favorite books did; I think this might have been right after I first read House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, in fact.) I started by building a tense, somewhat paranoid atmosphere through Mark's narration and then followed the most likely story that seemed to be unfurling.

Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A. I didn't have a theme in mind when I was first writing it. I'll probably leave it to the English teachers to decide what the theme of Mark Huntley is "supposed" to be. But looking back, the story focuses a lot on the effort to reclaim even a little bit of agency in the face of overwhelmingly powerful forces. That's a theme that should still be relevant this election year, as it was in 2004.

Q. Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

A. There's dignity in trying to do the right thing. Even if the odds are that you 1) won't make a damn difference and/or 2) will meet a bloody, savage end with your body subsequently stuffed into a Dumpster.

Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?

A. Memorable characters, a compelling storytelling style, fast and rising action -- as long as you can hit two out of the three, you should be good.

Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. Stephen King looms the largest over this story. Though now that I think about it, House of Leaves was probably a big influence as well, in terms of having a kind of meta-textual approach to the story. I've felt the pull of horror for a long time now; I was reading books like It in junior high.

I think for me, supernatural and horror stories offer the greatest dramatic potential. Despite all the gradations that may be introduced along the way, the genre comes down to a story of light vs darkness. The light is a tiny, wavering candle -- and the darkness is vast and frightening.

Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A. For me, at least, entertainment is the main goal of storytelling. I've tried writing "message" stories in the past, and it just didn't work. Nobody likes a preachy main character. The protagonist in my other novel, Player Choice, skates a lot closer to that line, and I think as a result he is less likable.

Q. Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A. My immediate goal is to help The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley kick ass and gain a lot of new readers. After all I've put into it, I'd like to see the book succeed in a big way. The next goal is to get a supernatural mystery novel series off the ground, that will be called The Shadow Over Portsmouth (more on that below).

Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A. The publisher is me. And I only give the story a rubber stamp after I've edited it to my satisfaction -- usually this takes a while. I fantasize about becoming a truly prolific writer -- releasing a (smaller) novel every few months -- but I'm not sure I can let go enough for that to happen. I'm not sure I could let the stories get out the door without a thorough edit, and that takes . . . a while.

Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

A. I got burned by an editor for Player Choice -- a lot of money for little return -- so after that, I opted to rely on trusted beta readers for feedback for Mark Huntley. I might give a professional editor another shot with the Shadow Over Portsmouth series. Then again, I've been an editor myself in several different jobs, so I might just hire myself again and call it satisfactory (a fool for my client). I certainly don't give myself an easy time.

Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A. Usually when this happens, I try to identify what the writer's goal is: improving their craft? Landing a big-name publisher? Getting their work out there, period? Often a beginning writer needs to reflect a little on what they actually want. If it's exposure, plain and simple, then get your writing out there on whatever platform you can find -- it's never too early to start building an audience. If it's landing a Big Five publisher, then that's a different mountain to climb (one whose peak you might never reach). But it does share the theme of audience-building.

Sometimes we as writers neglect to give as much thought to our actual path to success as we do our fictional worlds. Which is fine if you're happy with obscurity . . . but if you're burning to have a bunch of people read your work, as most of us are, then you need to start achieving small platform-building goals now that will snowball into a genuine audience later on.

Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

A. I would love to get an audiobook version of The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley made -- and will probably do so through ACX once I have some more time. Since the book is composed of first-person blog entries, it would be the perfect fit for an audiobook narrator. (Though it may not end up conforming to the voice for Mark that I hear in my head.) One thing I love about being an indie author is that if I decide I need an audiobook version, I can just go ahead and do that -- I don't need Random House's approval or anyone else's.

Q. What have you learned on your writing journey so far?

A. Every journey begins with a single step?

Q. What's the next step in your writing world?

A. My next book will be the first in a supernatural mystery series that I'm calling (for now) The Shadow Over Portsmouth. Starring a gay Indian-American ex-cop trying to figure out who killed her girlfriend. Like Mark Huntley, the story will be grounded in a real place. In this case, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Where a number of doors to other worlds and dimensions seem to be opening, with mostly terrifying results . . .

Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A. Keith Olbermann defamed me on live television.

Q. Any other information you'd like to impart?

A. Drop me a line at if you'd like to discuss supernatural thrillers, horror, 2004 politics, and/or where these topics intersect.


Web page:

Where to buy on Amazon

Saturday, September 10, 2016

New Cover Look of A Sharp Medicine

A number of readers have been asking when the next Zack Taylor book will be out.
Number 5 in the series.
I keep saying I finish writing and publishing the books quicker than George R.R. Martin...  :-)

A Sharp Medicine will be out this Fall- no exact date, because it's still in production.
But it'll be good, and good takes time.

The title and theme are taken from the amazing Sir Walter Ralegh (yes, that's the proper spelling- no i in the name). His life ran from (1552-1618).
He was an English courtier in the Court of Elizabeth I, and one of her favorites. He tried to colonize Virginia, and introduced potatoes and tobacco to England. Both crops had an immense historical impact.

This quote is supposed to be what he said as his last words before his beheading.
Tis a sharp medicine, but it will cure all that ails you. 

Ouch. To be able to remark like that, with insight and wit, at your execution.

Here's a peek at the cover. Pow.

So here's an offer- when it's ready, I'll send you an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) if you'll consider posting a review. A free read, before it hits the worldwide market.

And if you like that, and would like more Zack Taylor, here's a link.
And the first in the series, A Memory of Grief, is only 99 cents for the ebook!