Saturday, April 8, 2017

Another Milestone Achieved, Another Magic Number Reached

Scott D. Parker

Sometimes it’s perfectly acceptable to tout an accomplishment, and today I am.

As of Wednesday, 5 April, I have written over 200,000 words of fiction. I’m not sure of your output, but for me, a writer with a day job, that’s a nice chunk of words. And 5 April is the 95th day of 2017 so I achieved 200,000 words in less than 100 days.

Math. It all adds up over time.

For my novels—specifically these westerns—I have two magic numbers. One is 10,000. It means I’ve commented that number of words to the new story and I should have a pretty good idea of how it’s going. The other is 50,000. Westerns are shorter and if I’ve reached that number or thereabouts, I should be fine.

One interesting note: I hit 100,000 words for 2017 on Day 50. I hit 200,000 forty-five days later. The second 100K consisted of the latter half of February’s book, all of March’s, and the first week of April’s. One could make the case that writing constantly and deliberately makes the writing more efficient. For the most part, I’d agree. If I hadn’t had some sub-1000-word days in March as I wrestled that book to the finish line, I’d have reached 200,000 sooner.

For some of y’all, 200,000 may seem like a huge number. It is! Please don’t think it isn’t a substantial number. You may not think you could ever get there. Well, you can’t over night. That much is sure. But you can get there in 95 days, or 200 days, or 400 days, or whatever. But you CAN get there.

All you have to do is commit to it. Once you do that and stick with it, the numbers add up and one day you’ll realize you’ve passed your magic number. Then you’ll type “The End,” and that’s one of the best feelings in the world.

What’s your magic number(s)?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Four for you

By Steve Weddle

I recently had the pleasure of moderating a panel with Randall Silvis, Robin Yocum, Diane Les Becquets, and John Hart. I enjoyed their novels quite a bit and thought I'd share with you.

Two Days Gone by Randal Silvis

Thomas Huston, a beloved professor and bestselling author, is something of a local hero in the small Pennsylvania college town where he lives and teaches. So when Huston's wife and children are found brutally murdered in their home, the community reacts with shock and anger. Huston has also mysteriously disappeared, and suddenly, the town celebrity is suspect number one.

Sergeant Ryan DeMarco has secrets of his own, but he can't believe that a man he admired, a man he had considered a friend, could be capable of such a crime. Hoping to glean clues about Huston's mind-set, DeMarco delves into the professor's notes on his novel-in-progress. Soon, DeMarco doesn't know who to trust—and the more he uncovers about Huston's secret life, the more treacherous his search becomes.


Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets

It is the last weekend of the season for Amy Raye Latour to get away. Driven to spend days alone in the wilderness, Amy Raye, mother of two, is compelled by the quiet and the rush of nature. But this time, her venture into a remote area presents a different set of dangers than Amy Raye has planned for and she finds herself on the verge of the precarious edge that she’s flirted with her entire life.
When Amy Raye doesn’t return to camp, ranger Pru Hathaway and her dog respond to the missing person’s call. After an unexpected snowfall and few leads, the operation turns into a search and recovery. Pru, though, is not resigned to that. The more she learns about the woman for whom she is searching, and about Amy Raye’s past, the more she suspects that Amy Raye might yet be alive. Pru’s own search becomes an obsession for a woman whose life is just as mysterious as the clues she has left behind.
As the novel follows Amy Raye and Pru in alternating threads, Breaking Wild assumes the white-knuckled pace of a thriller laying bare Amy Raye’s ultimate reckoning with the secrets of her life, and Pru’s dogged pursuit of the woman who, against all odds, she believes she can find.


A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum

Amanda Baron died in a boating accident on the Ohio River in 1953. Or, did she? While it was generally accepted that she had died when a coal barge rammed the pleasure boat she was sharing with her lover, her body was never found. 
Travis Baron was an infant when his mother disappeared. After the accident and the subsequent publicity, Travis’s father scoured the house of all evidence that Amanda Baron had ever lived, and her name was never to be uttered around him. Now in high school, Travis yearns to know more about his mother. With the help of his best friend, Mitch Malone, Travis begins a search for the truth about the mother he never knew. The two boys find an unlikely ally: an alcoholic former detective who served time for falsifying evidence. Although his reputation is in tatters, the information the detective provides about the death of Amanda Baron is indisputable—and dangerous.
Nearly two decades after her death, Travis and Mitch piece together a puzzle lost to the dark waters of the Ohio River. They know how Amanda Baron died, and why. Now what do they do with the information?


Redemption Road by John Hart

A boy with a gun waits for the man who killed his mother.

A troubled detective confronts her past in the aftermath of a brutal shooting.

After thirteen years in prison, a good cop walks free. But for how long?

And deep in the forest, on the altar of an abandoned church, the unthinkable has just happened…

This is a town on the brink. This is a road with no mercy.

After five years, John Hart returns with Redemption Road, his most powerful story yet.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Obit: A Perfect Narrative Arc

Guest Post by Jill Orr

The main character in my novel, THE GOOD BYLINE, is obsessed with obituaries. She reads the obits from eight different newspapers every day, culling through each one looking for the tiny details that illuminate a life well lived. For Riley, this is a way to live vicariously through other people because she isn’t exactly setting the world on fire herself. And for me as the writer, this works out well since every murder mystery needs a dead body and the obit section is a super convenient place to find them.

But the idea of writing a character preoccupied with obituaries came from real life— or rather the reasonable facsimile of real life known as social media. A Facebook friend shared a link to an obituary for a man named Harry Stamps with the comment, “This is the best obituary ever written.” The fact that I’d never heard of Harry Stamps didn’t stop me from clicking on the link, which took me to a website called, sort of a central hub for obituaries. Harry’s final goodbye did not disappoint –it was funny and touching and vivid and when I finished reading it, I felt like I’d known this man who lived hundreds of miles away in a state I’ve never even been to.

After I read Harry’s obit, I read another, and another, and eventually fell down a rabbit hole of amazing obits. But even more amazing than the obituaries themselves, were the comment sections. I started to recognize the same user names over and over– these weren’t friends or relatives of the deceased, they were fans! This was an entire community of people who read obituaries as a hobby. It was absolutely fascinating.

I was so intrigued by the idea that there are people who read obits for fun that I decided it would be a great quirk for an amateur sleuth. And I’ll admit that when I started writing, I thought she’d be a dark, brooding sort of character. I figured anyone who chooses to wake up and read about dead people over their morning coffee would have a touch of the macabre about them. But the more I looked into the real life people who do this, the more I realized their fascination isn’t with death, but with life. After all, in a thousand-word obituary, only a sentence or two focuses on the death. The rest is the person’s life story.

So I began reading books and interviews by obituary writers, joined a few obituary forums and chat rooms (yes, they exist!) and as I learned more about this subculture, I noticed my main character became more optimistic, a romantic even. She didn’t go to the obit page because of a preoccupation with death— she went seeking human connection.

I started to realize that for most people, reading obits is all about connecting with others through story. Okay, so it’s also a little bit about looking to see if anyone you know has died. . . but mostly it’s about story. We want to learn how other people lived, what they accomplished, who they loved, because we want to compare and contrast with our own experiences. A life story is perhaps the most universal thing in all of humankind. Everybody’s got one! Whether you’re an accountant living in Chicago or a goat farmer in India, you have a story and it will have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And when you get down to brass tacks, two out of those three elements are going to be the same for all of us.

In its barest form, an obit is a story told from cradle to grave. You won’t find a more perfect narrative arc anywhere in the newspaper. What happens in between those two points is variable- the fun stuff, the heartbreak, the wild, the important, the mundane, the stuff that makes each life unique. And the stuff that brings so many people back to the obit section again and again, like my main character, seeking to connect with others through the one universal and extraordinary shared experience, the story of our lives.


Jill Orr lives in Columbia, Missouri, with her husband and two kids. THE GOOD BYLINE is her first novel. Learn more at

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Many Crimes, Lots of Lies

How many series at a time do you watch?  The past several weeks I limited myself to two, commuting, as it were, between Naples, Italy and Monterey, California.  The Naples-set show I watched was Gomorrah, on Netflixand the Monterey one Big Little Lies, on HBO. 

The two served as ideal viewing contrasts.  While Gomorrah does have one important central woman character, it's essentially a male dominated show filled with killing and violence committed outside, in plain sight.  Big Little Lies, needless to say, is women-centered and the whole point of its violence was how it happens behind closed doors, by men to women, and in households and places where people least suspect.  I thoroughly enjoyed Gomorrah, which doesn't even attempt to present one conventionally likable or redeeming character, and look forward to all the nastiness coming in season 2.  

Still, the series that surprised me, I have to say, was Big Little Lies. I haven't read the Liane Moriarity novel it's based on, so I didn't know quite what to expect, but I watched it from its opening week on HBO because the promos for it looked fairly intriguing. I just liked the look of the shots in those previews, all that California coastline eye candy, and the hint of something dark in the story.  And the show has both, the landscape beauty and the darkness, but it's the overall tone that makes it work.  For a story like this to have any chance of succeeding, the sense of perspective has to be exactly right.  I mean, here we are dealing in a world of utter affluence and privilege (for the most part, white privilege); how can every problem these people have not be anything more than a "first world" problem, and who cares about these people anyway living in their expansive houses with magnificent views of the Pacific?  Big Little Lies draws you in with satire and a sense that a lot of what the characters are quibbling about is indeed ridiculous, and then slides into the areas that are no joke no matter what the characters' economic background.  The whodunnit aspect is there but negligible; it's a narrative hook to draw you along while the prime focus is on human behavior.  If you portray that behavior right, with the appropriate sense of distance considering the advantages these people have, you can get to something solid, even universal, and Big Little Lies does get there.  All while being entertaining and funny - not an easy thing to pull off.  It helps that the cast, everyone in it, is at the top of their game.  And that the therapy scenes, done soberly and with verisimilitude, are great.

I do hope, in this case, that they don't do a second season, because where they left off, with the mystery's questions answered and an idyllic image of solidarity among the main characters, is just about perfect. (And even here, the perspective vis a vis the characters' privilege is maintained. Open bottles of white wine for the women on the beach while they play with their kids?  You can't do that at the public beaches I've visited).  In any event, I really liked Big Little Lies, and I admire how it made its points with an easy clarity. Even my 11 year old son, with whom I watched the series, immediately got the point at the climatic moment, laughing at once when one person pushed another. He said to me, "That's so funny.  The white ladies are just standing there and she comes over and does that?"  

Yup.  It sort of comes out of left field but enough clues are provided for the act to make sense.  And it adds a final twist that serves to broadens the scope, just a bit, of this well-told tale.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Wash It All Away

"Wash it all away. She stands on the cold tiles drawing the hottest water old pipes allow. Like a breaking dam, the shame washes over her. Her shoulders curl over and she covers herself. Ease inside. The hot water startles her delicate, torn skin and she covers her mouth to stop a scream. Humidity sucks the breath from her lungs. Lightheaded, she sinks further in, closing her eyes, water covering her ears. The water turns cold, she shuts it off and takes her blue robe from the hook behind the door. She picks up her crumpled clothes from the floor, holds them under the light, turning them over. She shakes out her coat and hangs it on the hook. It smells like him, smoky and strange. Her white underclothes are now a dark, ugly red. She had been stupid and vain; smearing on her makeup, believing she was pretty, smiling at herself in the mirror. She hurries down the dark hallway and out the back door. She opens the nearest trashcan, pushes her clothes deep inside, pulls newspapers and cans over the pile, hides what she has done."

Excerpt from Route 12, Marietta Miles

If you are a survivor of sexual assault you must know it was not your fault. You deserve help. You deserve justice. You deserve hope.

Nearly one in five women in America has been a victim of rape or attempted rape.  Every eight minutes Child Protective Services substantiates a sexual crime against a child. Over half of sexual assault victims are under the age of eighteen. A rape occurs nearly every two minutes.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In conjunction with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, SAAM works to raise public awareness about sexual violence and educate communities on prevention. Sexual violence is a health and human rights tragedy.

On April 1st 2001, the United State nationally recognized Sexual Assault Awareness Month for the first time. In the years since, the organization has worked with employers to understand workplace culture’s role in preventing sexual violence, recognize the prevalence of sexual violence that occurs in the workplace and provide a safe process for those coming forward.

The organization has concentrated efforts on preventing sexual assault on university and college campuses. College campuses have seen an unprecedented increase in sexual assaults and harassment. In addition to serving the many survivors on campus with physical and mental support, the NSVRC has made strides in prevention with increased resources spent on campus safety.

In 2013, the SAAM drive focused on child sexual abuse prevention. Resources for adults, communities, schools and organizations helped with identifying risk factors, supporting healthy boundaries, and challenging negative messages.

It’s time for victims and survivors to emerge from the shadows, feel our support and experience a world where we are all free from the threat of violence.

“This month, we are once again reminded that we can change our culture for the better by standing together against the quiet tolerance of sexual assault and refusing to accept the unacceptable.”

Former President of the United States, Barrack Obama, 2015

For more information please visit for more information.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

"It's Not the House's Fault"

She looked like a little old lady. She acted like a little old lady, renting out rooms in her Sacramento Victorian to folks a little down on their luck, cooking for them and keeping an eye on things. 
Dorothea Puente
But as anyone who has ever read a newspaper or a murder mystery knows, appearances can be deceiving. Because Dorothea Puente liked her tenants’ government checks more than she liked them. And so she killed them. And kept cashing the checks, of course.
I got a tour of Dorothea’s former home yesterday as part of a Mystery Writers of America event about the case. The couple now owning the home just north of Sacramento’s downtown graciously opened it to a bunch of curious writers, who also got to listen to several of the investigators in the case discuss one of the nation’s most notorious female serial killers.
Retired Sacramento homicide detective John Cabrera stands in front of the room where Dorothea Puente would put tenants she drugged until they died. She then buried each victim in her yard.
Puente got away with her homicidal scheme from early 1986 until the autumn of 1988. That was when a social worker – who should be inducted into the Tenacious and Caring Public Servant Hall of Fame – got suspicious when one of her charges, a developmentally disabled man who lived in Puente’s boarding house, disappeared. She refused to believe the little old lady’s stories about Bert Montoya going to live elsewhere. She worried about suspicious digging in the yard and Puente’s ever-evolving excuses. She called police.
“She knew in her heart she was being lied to,” said John Cabrera, the lead Sacramento Police detective on the case.
An officer came to take a missing person report, and Dorothea’s other tenants said that Bert had gone to stay with relatives. Then one man called the officer over and whispered that Dorothea had ordered everyone to say that. He hadn’t seen Bert, or boarder Ben Fink, in months.
Cabrera was assigned the case. He, his partner and a parole officer showed up. They searched the house but found nothing. At that point the pill bottles full of the drug doxylamine and piles of paperwork meant nothing. But then they started digging. Cabrera thought he’d hit a tree root with his shovel and reached down. He pulled up a human femur.
When they started to move elsewhere in the yard, Dorothea knew her jig was up. She asked to go out for some air and get a cup of coffee because she was so rattled by the discovery. Because she’d voluntarily consented to the search of the yard and expressed shock at the body, investigators let her. Cabrera walked her down to a corner coffee shop and returned to almost immediately find a second body. He went after her, but she’d disappeared. She was found in Los Angeles several days later when an alert older man with Social Security income recognized her as the woman who had hit on him at a bar. He called authorities and Cabrera flew down to bring Dorothea back to the Capital. She was never a free woman again.
Within days of detectives first arriving at her house, authorities had gone over every inch of the small property and found seven bodies – six in the little backyard – and one in the front.
“It was scorched earth when we were done,” said Laura Santos, a former deputy coroner who helped excavate the crime scene.
One victim had been covered over with a shed. Another was under a cement patio. Bert Montoya was found with a plastic bag wrapped around his head.
Identification of the victims was difficult because of the bad condition of the bodies, said Santos, who led the effort to put names with the remains her office had pulled out of the ground. She finally was able to figure out who they were by using a list of Social Security recipients who’d had their checks sent to Puente’s address. She tracked down dozens of people, confirming that they were alive and living elsewhere or had died of natural causes. Those she couldn’t find became, after even more investigation, the confirmed victims of Dorothea Puente.
Panel moderator, author Robin Burcell, former homicide detective John Cabrera, former deputy district attorney and author William Wood (who's written a book on the case), and former deputy coroner Laura Santos.
But there was more. Puente had been convicted earlier in the 1980s of several counts of theft for drugging elderly men and then robbing them, said William Wood, a former deputy district attorney who prosecuted that case. Right before she was sent to prison for those crimes, she had a business partner named Ruth Munroe move in with her. Weeks later, Munroe – who had all the money in their partnership – was dead. The coroner’s office determined that her death was due to a drug overdose, but officials there were not convinced it was a suicide or accidental, Santos said. They officially ruled it “undetermined.” When the bodies started coming up in Puente’s yard in 1988, Munroe’s case was reopened, and her death was added to Puente’s grim tally.
In the meantime, Cabrera heard from a family who hadn’t seen their relative since he drove to California to pick up a woman when she got out of prison in late 1985. Dorothea Puente and Everson Gillmouth had been pen pals. They’d gotten phone call and written assurances in the ensuing years from Dorothea that the two were happy and engaged to be married – but they’d never actually spoken with Everson. Not once.
So Cabrera, who by now wouldn’t put anything past this little old lady, put out an alert for Gillmouth. Authorities in a county farther north in the Central Valley had found him stuffed in a box in the Sacramento River. He had remained unidentified until Gillmouth’s description was sent throughout the area.
Puente was ultimately charged with nine counts of murder. Prosecutors said at trial that they believed she served each victim a “nightcap” that was laced with a deadly dose of doxylamine. She had them lie down to “sleep it off” in the second bedroom of her upstairs apartment, where they never woke up. There they remained, in some cases for weeks, until she had the graves ready. Prosecutors pulled out the room’s putrefied carpet as evidence.
Puente was convicted of three counts of murder and the jury deadlocked on the other six. She was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. She died in prison in 2011. She was 82.
Yesterday, the only traces of Dorothea were in the newspaper clippings and photos out for display. Some of the floors have been redone and several walls added or changed, said owners Barbara Holmes and Tom Williams. The yard is hardscape, and has a lovely gazebo and numerous potted plants. 
More information on the Puente investigation and trial (and there is a lot more, believe me), can be found in these excellent books on the case. 
Disturbed Ground, By Carla Norton
The Bone Garden, by William P. Wood