Monday, May 9, 2011

Poetry and Fiction Submissions Needed for Anthology

New publication invites submissions

Filtered through Time

an anthology of original fiction and poetry reflecting how Middle Tennessee traditions and reactions to the Civil War have come down through the generations for 150 years.

There are many excellent history books covering the war and the years before and after that conflict. In this new book, we are seeking examples of how the war plays out in the community’s memory and consciousness as expressed in imaginative writing.

Deadline for submissions is May 2012.

All work must have a Civil War theme but not necessarily a Civil War setting. A story or poem may well describe the long term effect of the war on a family or reflect the feelings of someone to whom the war seems irrelevant. We welcome a variety of points of view.

In so far as many war stories have come down thorough families, we suggest that following a story or poem, an author may add a historical note explaining the origin of its ideas. If you have a great family story, try telling it in verse or see how its theme might play out in fiction, either a full length story or as “flash-fiction.” However, if you want to write it simply as a good narrative in your family’s tradition, go ahead.

Maximum length for fiction is 5,000 words.

Maximum for poetry is 150 lines single spaced.

Submissions may be sent electronically to or hard copy mailed to S.R. Lee, 475 Beech Creek Rd, N Brentwood, TN 37027

This book is being promoted, edited, and financed by a small group of interested writers under the direction of S.R. Lee, author/editor, and Rick Warwick, Williamson County historian. with the assistance of an editorial committee. Authors may order and sell the books themselves. The editors also will find suitable venues for public sales.

Battle Field, 1937

One hot summer day a boy,

with little sister tagging at his heels,

climbs to a low crest where old trenches

sink in weedy waves of three long lines

bottomed in buck bush and prickly pears.

Enthralled the boy brings friends.

They play at war.

The little sister, sun suited, sandaled,

unprepared for cactus spines,

follows their violent charge through

real war’s land. The little sandaled feet

are filled with tiny spears.

Child weeps to home.

Mother with her shiny tweezers

seems a battle surgeon claiming pain

must follow wounds.

The child sobs

and in her baby way forever

knows real danger dwells in battlefields.

S.R. Lee

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Call for Submissions: New Killer Nashville E-Magazine

Dear Killer Nashville Authors, Presenters, and Friends,

Killer Nashville is pleased to announce the birth of a new publication—so new it doesn’t even have a name yet. As befits a newborn, its first appearance (on or near the first of May) will be in abbreviated form, but we expect it to grow quickly from a monthly newsletter to a full-fledged E-zine issued on the first of each month.

We’re excited about this project and would like to invite you to be a part of it. The e-magazine will be published by Killer Nashville with the following staff positions:

Publisher—Clay Stafford

Editors-in-chief—Jaden (Beth) Terrell and Paige Crutcher

Layout/production—Tracy Bunch

Editors and contributors—you!

The multifaceted purpose of the publication is:

• to educate others

• to create a sense of community

• to drive traffic to the conference site

• to find advertisers to help fund Killer Nashville

• to create exposure for Killer Nashville and for the E-zine contributors (there are almost 4,000 subscribers to the Killer Nashville mailing list)

Since our eventual hope is to compile selected articles into published books, contributors may even have an opportunity for a small income.

For each submission, we would need non-exclusive, non-ending print and electronic reprint rights, including the right to use the submission in newsletters, online, in print versions, or in other media. (This is not the same as one-time rights, since it’s hard to have one-time rights on, for example, a web post.) We would need to be able to use the article multiple times, either online or in print. We reserve the right to edit submissions for length, clarity, or content requirements.

However, we do not need first-time or exclusive rights to anything. The, article may have been previously published. The article may later be sold or published elsewhere by the writer (although any link to KN would be greatly appreciated). The writer retains ownership of the work. To optimize exposure, the writer’s email address and web link may be included with the article.

There is no advance payment, but for all Killer Nashville distributed materials that produce an income (e.g., if a compilation or anthology is created and sold in web, book or other format), Killer Nashville will pay a 10% collective royalty based upon gross receipts to be divided equally among all writers of that collection. In addition, authors will be collectively paid 1/2 the royalty given to Killer Nashville by any outside publisher. These numbers align well with the Authors Guild Model Contract and Guide and with the policies of the most generous of publishers or packagers.

There is no payment for free web or newsletter displays.

Submission indicates agreement to these terms.

Issues will be planned 3-12 months in advance and will eventually include the following monthly columns:

• Book Reviews of KN Authors

• Book Reviews of Nonfiction Books on Writing or Forensics

• “Fun Find” (fun or just-plain interesting mystery/suspense-related facts and activities)

• Forensic How-to

• Writing How-to

• Publishing How-to

• Computer How-to

• Getting Published How-To

• Research How-to

• Publicity/Promotion/Marketing How-to

• Genre How-to (Suspense)

• Genre How-to (Thriller)

• Genre How-to (Mystery)

• Featured Websites

• Killer Nashville Success Stories

• Monthly author, agent, and editor interviews conducted by Paige Crutcher

Each issue will have a loosely interpreted theme. The upcoming themes are as follows:

• June: Chaos (as it acts on plot or as a character – what elements besides the people act as characters in novels?)

• July: Writing Tools.

• August: Good vs. Evil

• September: Love & Loss

• October: The element of surprise – unraveling a story

• November: Coming of Age – evolution of a character in a novel

• December: Watching the Detective

• January: Secrets – skeletons in the closet

• February: The Art of the Perfect Murder – Killing Your Darlings & How to Commit the Perfect Murder.

• March: Romance in Any Genre

• April: Using Your Own Story in a Story

• May: Advising Aspiring Authors

If you’re interested in being a regular or occasional contributor, or if you would like to be interviewed for one of the issues, please contact me as soon as possible.


Jaden (Beth) Terrell

Executive Director, Killer Nashville

Monday, March 28, 2011

Fitting it All In: The 27-Hour Day

Yesterday, no one in our Plot Therapy group had plotting issues to be dealt with. Instead, the issues were goal-setting and motivation. In this 24-hour world of day jobs, family responsibilities, and book promotion, how do we manage to fit it all in and still pursue a writing career? "Put your writing first," the experts say, but when the baby (or the puppy) is throwing up and the job that pays the bills demands 14-hour shifts and 7-day work weeks, putting writing first is easier said than done.

Of course, some of the demands on our time aren't really demands at all; we meet our friends for dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant ("After all, I have to eat anyway."), and the meal and after-dinner conversation stretch for hours. We plan to work on our novels . . . just as soon as we finish watching season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix ("After all, I have to have a little time to decompress."). Sometimes it feels like we're trying to fit 27 hours into a 24-hour day.

Although we were at different stages in our writing careers--one is not yet published, one is moving from a micro-press to a larger press, and one is multiply published with a major house--all three had a common goal: to finish the current draft of our next books by the end of April. Two of us had gotten off to a good start during NaNoWriMo in November but had made halting progress in the interim. One was in the beginning stages of a new book. What we needed, we decided, was a NaNo-like system adapted to our individual needs. I share them here in case any of you are similarly stalled.

1. Have a specific goal and a specific timeline. "I will complete the first draft of my book by April 30."

2. Break the goal down into smaller, more manageable goals. If you don't make the goal today, you need to meet that goal plus the next day's goal tomorrow (extra motivation not to fall behind!). For me, that comes down to two days of research followed by two chapters a day for thirty days. Since I have the basic structure of the book laid down, and since it's approximately sixty chapters, the two-chapter-a-day goal makes the most sense for me. Another member of the group, a detail-oriented plotter, has based his goals on the remaining scenes, writing on a calendar which scenes he expects to fnish each day. Another, a dyed-in-the-wool pantser, will shoot for a specific word count. We each got a daily planner in which to record our goals and our actual output--goal in one color, actual results in another.

3. Have a support system and a system of accountability. We decided to use daily Facebook messages to share our progress and encouragement with each other.

4. Plan rewards along the way. Want to watch an episode of Criminal Minds? Only after you've reached your goal for the day. Love chocolate? Have a small piece after each scene.

5. Plan a larger reward for when you've reached your goal. "No money spent on books until we reach our goal," we said. Then we'd meet on May 1 at a local bookstore and go on a book-buying spree.

How about you? Fellow writers, how to motivate yourself to meet your writing goals? Fellow readers, I'm sure you have the same struggles to fit everything in. How do you do it?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Second Killer Nashville Guest of Honor

Killer Nashville is pleased to announce that in 2011, we will have two New York Times bestselling Guests of Honor. Mystery author Donald Bain (of Murder she Wrote fame), who was profiled a few weeks ago, will be joined by thriller writer Robert Dugoni. His website,, supplies the following biographical information:

Robert Dugoni was born in Pocatello, Idaho and raised in Burlingame, California. Growing up the middle child in a family of ten siblings, Dugoni jokes that he didn't get much of a chance to talk, so he wrote. By the seventh grade he knew he wanted to be a writer.

Dugoni wrote his way to Stanford University where he majored in communications/journalism and creative writing and worked as a reporter for the Stanford Daily. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and worked briefly as a reporter in the Metro and San Gabriel Valley Offices of the Los Angeles Times before deciding to attend the UCLA law school. Dugoni practiced law full-time in San Francisco as a partner at the law firm, Gordon and Rees and is currently of counsel for a law firm in Seattle.

While practicing law he satisfied his artistic thirst studying acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, appearing in equity and non-equity shows throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. His longing to return to writing never wavered, however, and in 1999 he made the decision to quit the full-time practice of law to write novels. On the 4-year anniversary of his wedding, he drove a u-haul trailer across the Oregon-Washington border and settled in Seattle to pursue his dream.

For the next three years, Dugoni worked in an 8 x 8 foot windowless office in Seattle s Pioneer Square to complete three novels, two of which won the 1999 and 2000 Pacific Northwest Writer's Association Literary Contests.

Dugoni's non-fiction expose, The Cyanide Canary, published in 2004, chronicled the investigation, prosecution, and aftermath surrounding an environmental crime in Soda Springs, Idaho. It became a Washington Post Best Book of the year, and the Idaho Book of the Year.

His debut novel, The Jury Master became a New York Times bestseller. Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine chose it as one of three "Best of the Best" debut novels of 2006. The Seattle Times and Library Journal have likened Dugoni to a young John Grisham, calling The Jury Master, "A riveting tale of murder, skullduggery and treachery at the highest level."

Dugoni's second novel, Damage Control, reached number 8 on several national independent bookseller's lists. Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal called Damage Control "a page turner" with "a fast moving plot and a few twists that will surprise even seasoned thriller readers."

Wrongful Death, Dugoni's recently released sequel to The Jury Master has also received critical acclaim. Mysterious Reviews touted Wrongful Death as "among the best books to be published this year." Kirkus called it, "An entertaining thriller about a hotshot lawyer with good guys to like, villains to hiss, and windmills to attack." And Booklist wrote, "Mixing the suspense of a Grisham legal thriller with the political angle of a Baldacci. Dugoni is knocking on the A-list thriller door."

Dugoni's fourth novel and third in the David Sloane series, Bodily Harm, will be released May 2010 and critics are calling it his best book yet.

Dugoni's books have been published in 18 foreign countries. In addition to writing novels Dugoni teaches the craft of writing and writing novels throughout the United States.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Interview with Chester D. Campbell

Chester Campbell is the author of two mystery series featuring private investigators. The Surest Poison, first book in the Sid Chance series dealing with a chemical pollution case, came out in 2009. He has written five Greg McKenzie novels featuring a retired Air Force investigator and his wife. Prior to turning to fiction writing, Campbell worked as a newspaper reporter, freelance writer, magazine editor, political speechwriter, advertising copywriter, public relations professional and association executive. An Air Force intelligence officer in the Korean War, he retired from the Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel. He lives in Madison, TN.

KN: You worked in journalism for many years. What was your path to publication as a mystery writer? And why PI novels?

CC: My path had more curves than the Cumberland River, which is known for its many bends as it wanders through Nashville. I wrote my first novel in 1948 while studying journalism at the University of Tennessee and working as a reporter for The Knoxville Journal. During my career in newspapers, magazines, advertising and public relations, I wrote another in the mid-sixties. Neither of those made it into publication. I retired in 1989 and turned to writing mysteries in earnest. After four agents and eight manuscripts, I finally made it into print in 2002.

As for why PI novels, I started out writing post-Cold War spy thrillers and books featuring ordinary guys caught up in life-threatening situations. When I came up with the idea for Secret of the Scroll, my first published novel, I needed an experienced investigator as a protagonist. I decided to make a series with Greg McKenzie and his wife, and the logical move was to make them private investigators.

KN: How have your years as a journalist influenced your writing?

CC: As a reporter and a magazine journalist, I perfected my methods for interviewing subjects and conducting research in other ways. I particularly enjoyed feature writing. I found it easy to shift into fiction using some of the same techniques. My somewhat terse writing style probably stems from experience as a journalist.

KN: What was the inspiration for your first Greg McKenzie novel, Secret of the Scroll?

CC: I went on a group tour of the Holy Land in November of 1998. We flew via Royal Jordanian Airlines, and on the way home I read an in-flight magazine article about caves found around Bethany in Jordan. They had been occupied by Christian monks in the first century. I thought what if someone found a cave that contained an ancient scroll with a secret worth millions? So I created one, though it hasn’t been quite that lucrative for me.

KN: Greg and his wife, Jill, have had a number of adventures together. Can you give any hints about what’s in their future?

CC: Their sixth adventure is still bubbling in the cauldron of my head. I’m sure the witches’ brew will stir up something to test their mettle.

KN: After several well-received Greg McKenzie books, you’ve introduced a new PI series featuring former park ranger and small-town police chief Sid Chance. What led you to create a second series?

CC: I enjoy writing about Greg and Jill, particularly playing them off against each other, but I wanted to do something with a little harder edge. Sid is more likely to step into the middle of a melee.

KN: How are Greg and Sid similar to and different from each other?

CC: Sid is several years younger, not quite sixty. Greg has been happily married for more than thirty years, while Sid is single. And Sid is a definite presence, at six-foot-six. They’re both ex-military, Greg a retired Air Force officer, Sid a Special Forces non-com in Vietnam.

KN: Do the series attract different audiences, or is your fan base the same for both?

CC: I think it’s a split-decision. Some readers appear to enjoy both series, while others prefer to stick with Greg and Jill.

KN: Both your protagonists are seniors. What do you think accounts for the current popularity of senior sleuths?

CC: As the population ages, the ranks of seniors make up more of the reading public. I think older characters bring a broader perspective to the story, and older readers like that. However, my seniors aren’t caricaturish “old.” I think age is largely a state of mind. I’m eighty-five and I don’t consider myself “old.”

KN: Does the fact that your detectives are seniors create any special challenges to you as a writer?

CC: They say write what you know best, and the senior ranks sure fit that. But I think the main challenge is to keep the characters within the limits of their physical capabilities. I disagree with a couple of reviewers who thought Greg was not realistic in some of his actions. I suspect the reviewers were much younger.

KN: What’s an ideal writing day for you?

CC: An ideal writing day for me is a day when I can find time to sit down and write. That doesn’t always happen. Life seems to get in the way. I’m doing better lately, but not good enough.

KN: What’s been the most surprising thing about being a full-time novelist?

CC: That the writing is the least difficult part of the job. Marketing and promoting your work is much more difficult and takes an inordinate amount of time. I keep hoping to win the lottery so I can hire a fulltime publicist to take care of those chores.

KN: Your books have won several awards, including the Silver Falchion Award bestowed by Killer Nashville. How does it feel to be able to put “Award-winning Writer” by your name?

CC: Not being the pushy type, I have trouble billing myself that way. I probably should do it more, but I don’t know how impressed readers are with that sort of thing. I hope they read me because they like good books.

KN: You’ve been called “the King of Promotion” by your local Sisters in Crime chapter. How did you come by that title?

CC: I don’t know that it was all that well deserved, but when I got my first book in print I tried to accomplish everything I had read about promotion. I did lots of signings, got stories in newspapers, articles in magazines, did TV interviews, lots of radio interviews, attended numerous conferences. The inimitable Del Tinsley crowned me with that title.

KN: What do you do to promote your books?

CC: I don’t do as much of the things previously mentioned now. I do more on the internet with a fairly sizeable website (, a personal blog and regular contributions to two others, Facebook, Goodreads, and way too many email lists. For signings, I’ve turned more to area festivals and book fairs.

KN: Your books are all available as e-books. Any thoughts on how the explosion of e-readers and e-books will affect the future of publishing and small-press authors in particular?

CC: It’s a great opportunity for writers, and particularly us small press types who don’t get all the brick and mortar exposure. The proliferation of smart phones and a variety of e-readers can only increase the popularity of e-books. I’m sure there will always be a demand for printed books, but the digital revolution is bound to go only one way—up. For writers, it’s an opportunity to earn higher royalties.

KN: What writing advice would you give to aspiring authors?

CC: Never give up! If I had decided to heck with it after failing to place seven novels, I would not now have six in print, with more on the way. But prepare yourself well. Read the kind of books you want to write, learn all you can about fiction writing, and glue your bottom to the chair.

KN: And what marketing and promotion advice would you give to published authors looking to sell more books?

CC: Everybody goes about it a bit differently. Try as many of the ways you’ve read about (see above) and use what works for you. Good luck.

KN: You’re the president of your local Sisters in Crime chapter and have served on the SEMWA (Southeastern Mystery Writers of America) board. How has your involvement in professional organizations helped your career?

CC: I have met dozens of great writers and made numerous contacts that have been helpful in pursuing my career as a mystery writer. I spent the last eighteen years of my working life in the association management business, and I’ve tried to follow my own advice—if an organization is worth belong to, it’s worth getting involved in. Volunteer and you’ll get the most out of your membership.

KN: Is there anything else you’d like to say that we haven’t discussed?

CC: We haven’t talked about our sponsor. I missed the first Killer Nashville because of an out-of-town signing, but I don’t intend to miss another. It’s the perfect size, the perfect program mix, and the perfect place. Y’all come!

KN: Thanks for that, Chester. Once again you prove that you are truly a class act. Okay, last question: what’s our topic of the week?

CC: Are we really going to have a Spring this year?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Interview with Michael Orenduff

Mike Orenduff grew up in El Paso Texas, in a house so close to the Rio Grande that he could frisbee a tortilla into Mexico. Before he turned to writing humorous murder mysteries, Mike taught at universities in seven states and three countries. He was also a college administrator, serving as President of The University of Maine at Farmington, The American University in Bulgaria, New Mexico State University, and Bermuda College. He served as Chancellor of the University of Maine System and a visiting faculty member at West Point. His first murder mystery, The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, won the New Mexico Book of the Year Award, and the Kindle version won the 2010 EPIC Award in the Mystery/Suspense Category. The second book in the series, The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy, was chosen as Best Fiction Book by the Public Safety Writers Association and is a finalist for this year’s EPIC Award. The third in the series, The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein, is a finalist for the Lefty Award for best humorous mystery of the year. Mike and his wife, the noted art historian Lai Orenduff, have two grown children. Jay is a dean at Columbia University in New York, and Claire teaches art history at Georgia College and – more importantly – is the mother of their grandson, Bram

KN: What’s your publishing story? How did the Pot Thief books come to be?

MO: I entered the Dark Oak Mystery Contest sponsored by Oak Tree Press and won. The prize was a contract to publish the book. This was perfect for me as I hate writing query letters. As I often say, a query letter is a good thing to read if you want to hire someone to write query letters. But author aren’t chosen to write queries; they are chosen to write stories. The publishing business would be a little less insane if agents and editors read a chapter instead of a query.

KN: Hubert Schuze is one of the most original characters I’ve read in a mystery. Can you tell us a little bit about him? How did you come up with him?

MO: I wanted to set the books in New Mexico because I love it, I know it, and it has a certain mystique about it that I thought would help attract readers. Then I wanted my protagonist to have some moral ambiguity. What better flaw for a character in New Mexico than to be a pot thief. It also allows me to work in the Native American angle so important to the locale.

KN: How is he similar to you, and how is he different?

MO: He is physically my opposite. He is short and has a full head of hair. I am tall and bald. One personality trait he shares with me is a tendency to overanalyze everything. His musings are a feature of the books and readers tell me they like that.

KN: Hubert has a distinctive voice and an exceptional and charming gift for rationalization. How hard was it to find his unique voice?

MO: It wasn’t difficult in the sense of requiring great skill or insight on my part. But it was time consuming. I simply started writing and kept at it. After I finished the first draft of the first book, The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, I put it aside for a month or so. Then I read it and saw that Hubie was not a consistent and coherent character. So I marked all the passages that didn’t seem to fit. I changed them and let the book age for another few weeks. Then I repeated the process. If I found Hubie saying or thinking something that didn’t seem right for him, I either changed it or, if I couldn’t make it work, threw it out. After several iterations of this process, I found myself very comfortable saying, “Hubie would never say that.” And once I reached that point, I knew I was on the right track. But I’m still working on it. I think his voice has improved with each book.

KN: There have been three Pot Thief novels so far. Do you have a specific number planned for the series?

MO: No. The 4th one, The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier, will be out next month. I have a first draft of the 5th one and am working on the sixth. I’ll keep going as until I get tired of it or run out of ideas and/or readers.

KN: Do you have any plans to give Hubert a romantic entanglement? Any chance of love blooming between Hubert and his friend Susannah?

MO: Hubert will lurch in his unsystematic way from one romance to another. The relationship between Hubert and Susannah is deliberately ambiguous, and I have to keep it that way for the books to work.

KN: How are your novels born? Do you begin a novel with a full-blown plot or the seed of an idea?

MO: The seed of an idea. Then a very short and rough outline, more a list of key plot points. I don’t have the patience to do a complete plot before starting to write.

KN: You seem to know a lot about ancient Native American pottery. Do you have a background in archaeology?

MO: I majored in anthropology/archaeology for a while before switching to philosophy.

KN: Do you research your books before you begin writing? If so, how extensively? If not, how do you work around any gaps in your knowledge (if any)?

MO: I do extensive research and still get things wrong.

KN: Pantser or plotter?

MO: Pantser. I have been known to decide halfway into a book to make someone a victim when the original plan was to make him the murderer.

KN: What is your writing schedule/writing process like?

MO: I need large blocks of time because once I start, I don’t like to stop. I do almost no editing while I write because I’m immersed in the story. So a writing session is strictly writing, and an editing session is strictly editing and re-writing. I typically edit and re-write a book somewhere between twelve and twenty times. I have no idea if that is typical.

KN: Your writing is very crisp and tight. How much editing do you do to get it that way? Do you have a special editing process or system?

MO: My first drafts are about 100,000 words. They eventually get edited down to 60,000 or so. I think that help keep them tight.

KN: What are your goals and hopes as a writer?

MO: I didn’t become a writer to make money. Good thing, right? I’m retired on an adequate income. I didn’t become a writer just to have something to do. There are other hobbies I enjoy. I became a writer because I wanted an audience. I like the idea that people read what I write. Perhaps after all those years as a professor, I still have the need to have an audience.

KN: What’s been the most surprising thing about being a professional writer?

MO: Discovering how bizarre the world of publishing is. I had no idea how publishing worked, how bookstores worked, etc. It feels like I ran away and joined the circus.

KN: Your Pot Thief books have received critical acclaim and have even won several awards. Does the recognition affect your writing (e.g., inspire you, give you more confidence to try new things, make you less likely to stray too far afield from what’s been successful for you)?

MO: I’ve never been asked this before, so I had to think about it. I’m pleased by the recognition because it means I do have that audience and it may get larger, but I don’t think it has affected my writing in any way.

KN: Humor plays a large role in your books. In fact, in last week’s discussion, you said something to the effect that the mysteries in your book are the platform for the humor. Has humor always come naturally to you?

MO: It has. I don’t have many other talents. I can’t play a musical instrument, juggle, or tap dance, but I can make people laugh.

KN: How about marketing? What do you do to promote your books?

MO: I know this sounds unimaginative in the Internet age, but I rely primarily on book signings at brick and mortar bookstores, and on reviews in newspapers and magazines.

KN: What can we look forward to from you next?

MO: I am writing a serious novel. Whether it will be completed and whether it will be worth completing remain to be seen. It is much harder work for me than writing humor, but I decided it would be an interesting challenge.

KN: Last question: What’s our discussion question for the week?

MO: Would it be a good thing if celebrities stopped “writing” books? After all, authors don’t run for the Senate, star in movies, or throw touchdown passes, so why should politicians, movie stars, and quarterbacks pretend to be writers?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Interview with Author Bill Fitzhugh

Bill Fitzhugh (third from the left) calls himself the much-derided author of the cozy-thrillers “Kitty, Kitty, Kitty,” “Death by Kittens,” and “Hey, Kitty, How Much for the Throbbing Love Muscle?” (which was short-listed for the Booker Prize, losing to Salman Rushdie in what was clearly a rigged contest). Confounding critics and readers alike, his series explores the dark underbelly of the world of testicle transplants, the international kitty porn industry, and pie-eating contests. Series protagonist, Angus McNaughty, is a loner; an alley cat, who travels only with a toothbrush and furball medicine. Fitzhugh lives in Los Angeles with very little hope of a decent future.

KN: Your writing career began in radio when you were in high school, and from there you progressed to writing for film and television. How does your background in radio and television influence your books?

BF: To the extent that any type of writing you do helps you become a better writer, writing for tv and radio had some unmeasurable influence.

KN: PEST CONTROL began as a screenplay. How did you get the idea for a story about a down-and-out exterminator who is mistaken for an assassin?

BF: It evolved from an idea about a guy desperate for money to pay his rent (they say write what you know and at the time I was broke). The original idea was this normal guy was going to seek out work as an assassin because he needed more than he figured he'd get robbing convenience stores. When I went to the library (this was a few years before most of us had heard of the Internet) I looked up assassin in the encyclopedia. That's where I learned about assassin bugs. Lightbulb went off and the story evolved to one about an exterminator working with assassin bugs who people come to mistakenly think he's an assassin who calls himself The Exterminator.

KN: Bob Dillon, the protagonist of PEST CONTROL has extensive knowledge of insects, and the book includes a lot of obscure scientific details about them. Did you have to learn all that for the book, or is entomology a hobby—or were you perhaps an entomologist in a past life?

BF: That was all research. By happenstance, while I was researching the bugs, I landed a gig writing a natural history program on insects so I got a lot of interesting BBC insect research given to me.

KN: Do you do extensive research for all your books?

BF: Yes, mostly. And far more than I really need to but I get very involved in the subjects and I think that ends up informing the character in positive ways. I did very little research for Radio Activity and Highway 61 Resurfaced, unless you count the years I worked in radio.

KN: Your books are smart, funny reads. Does humor come naturally to you, or do you have to work at it?

BF: Humor comes naturally to me but I have to work at getting it written correctly. There are so many ways to add humor to writing: funny characters, funny situations, puns and other word play, funny dialogue, etc. But it doesn't just land on the page, at least not for me. It takes a lot of work to make a funny paragraph that also advances character and or plot.

KN: Do you have any advice for writers who might like to incorporate more humor into their work?

BF: Think twice. Consider going to law school (this was the advice P.J. O'Rourke gave me years ago and I'm still kicking myself for not listening). Because while you can always write a book on the side while practicing law or you can quit and write a book; it's much harder to return to law school in your 50s and make a go of it after the writing career goes south.

KN: For your book, CROSS DRESSING, you employed a promotional strategy called product placement. Can you tell us a little bit about how and why you did it? How did you decide what products to place, and how did you draw attention to it?

BF: Since the book is a satire on religion and the advertising industry, I thought it would be funny and satirical and would help with marketing the book to make a product placement deal. Since I thought of this only after writing the book, I decided to use one of the products already in the book so I could claim commercial purity. The protagonist drinks scotch, so I went with Glenlivet.

KN: Some people missed the irony of your product placement strategy in a book that satirizes the business of advertising. Was there a lot of opposition to the idea? If so, how did you deal with it?

BF: I wouldn't say some people missed the irony; I'd say EVERYBODY missed it. There were a few literary purists who poo-poohed the idea but that was petty and pointless given that I'm not exactly writing literary fiction. The only way I 'dealt with it' was when The Guardian (UK newspaper) asked me to write an article explaining how everybody missed the joke. That didn't seem to help or hurt matters...

KN: Do your tailor your marketing strategy to each of your books?

BF: I always left that up to my publisher. And short of a million dollar ad campaign, marketing in the traditional sense is a spectacular waste of time, especially in the age of the Internet. We used to live in what you could call a "push media" environment. When there was very little media in the world (few tv networks that the majority watched, few radio stations that everyone listened to, a few magazines etc.) it was possible for publishers or movie studios or record companies to "PUSH" products into the public consciousness. We now live in what I'd call a "pull media" environment. Consumers have SO MANY choices of tv, radio, print publications, and MILLIONS of websites, that they can now "PULL" what they want from this vast pool and ignore what NBC or Warner Brothers Records wants them to watch or listen to or buy.

Leaving aside branded, best-selling authors whose books sell for no reason other than it has a FAMOUS NAME AUTHOR on the cover; the only way to sell a lot of books is by having word of mouth spread the name of your book virally. And there is no way to MAKE that happen or else we'd all be on the best seller list. Websites and Facebook and Twitter are an enormous waste of time and will not make you a best seller. You're probably well advised to have a website and a Facebook page, etc., simply so people can get information on you if by chance they hear about you. But the most effective way to market yourself is to write a book so good that complete strangers tell others that they have to buy your book.

KN: Hold on a minute. I want to write that last bit down...Okay, moving on. FENDER BENDERS is a humorous mystery with a Nashville setting. Are there any sites you visited when researching it that readers should be sure to check out?

BF: Well, Nashville's a nice enough place to visit. Lots of good places to hear great music. You definitely want to visit the Bluebird Cafe, especially if my friend J. Fred Knobloch is playing.

KN: Can you tell us a little bit about ORGAN GRINDERS? I admit to having a special interest in this book because it’s about a really interesting subject and also because it has monkeys in it.

BF: Baboons! Not monkeys.

KN: Of course. Sorry about that. But primates of any kind always make a book more interesting.

BF: It's a weird little book that got started when I saw the word 'xenograft' in a newspaper article about an AIDS patient who petitioned the CDC and the AMA and the DHHS to be allowed to have a baboon bone marrow transplant to see if it would strengthen his immune system. He was eventually allowed to do it and none of the things people feared would happen, happened. On the other hand, it didn't help the guy. But that got me started on research into the fascinating area of biotechnology called xenografting, which is any cross-species organ transplant (think Baby Fae and the baboon heart). Because there is much more demand for human organs than there is supply, biotech companies see there is a vast fortune to be made if they can find a way to transplant animal organs into people. Most of the research at the time I wrote the book was on pig organs, not primate. It's all very Frankenstein-y and driven by money and that struck me as plenty to base a book on.

KN: How did you come to write THE ADVENTURES OF SLIM AND HOWDY, which is based on a character by Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn. Did you collaborate with Brooks & Dunn? If so, what was it like to work with them?

BF: Weird series of circumstances led to that. I had just moved to a new literary agency and this agent had just been contacted by the Brooks and Dunn people about one of their writers. They wanted to have someone write a novel based on the characters Kix Brooks created in the liner notes of their CDs. The writer they were asking about was a sci-fi writer or something so my agent said that wouldn't work. BUT she said, she'd just signed a guy (me) who had written a comic novel set in Nashville (Fender Benders) and they should read the book. They did. They loved it. We met once and then talked on the phone and exchanged emails. They were great to work with; gave me some funny stories and then let me do my thing. They loved how it turned out too. Someone at Sony optioned the film rights but it fell apart the way things usually do in Hollywood.

KN: From your website, it sounds like a number of your books are collaborations, to some extent. Do you prefer to write alone or with a partner? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

BF: The Brooks and Dunn project was the closest I've come to collaborating on a book. A couple of my books however are based on screenplays that I co-wrote with a partner before I turned them into novels on my own. (Our screenplays weren't very good since the collaboration resulted in a compromised voice, at least in our instance and I think that claim is borne out by virtue of the fact that we couldn't sell the screenplays but I sold the film rights to two of the novels I wrote based on the screenplays. Unless you happen to find a partnership where the two parties both do 50% of the work and the work pays off specatularly, it's all disadvantages. Arguing about every line and paragraph and page and chapter will wear you out. Splitting the money hurts, especially if one writer does most of the work. It's a can of worms best left unopened if you ask me.

KN: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention your new radio show, Fitzhugh’s All Hand Mixed Vinyl. Can you explain a bit about that to us?

BF: It's a half-hour show of stuff from the 'classic rock' library, sometimes well know tracks, sometimes artists or songs you've never heard. Generally speaking I do two types of shows: In one, I'll take 6 or 7 songs that just sound good played in the order I play them. Great songs that FM rock radio stopped playing decades ago but that are too good not to play! The other type of show revolves around doing cool segues and mashups of artists. I might take a long Yes track and find places where I can segue over to a Gino Vannelli track and go back and forth between the two several times over 15-20 minutes. Sometimes I'll take two tracks and play them simultaneously (if it works): I've got a great one where I play part of Santana's Soul Sacrifice over a violin solo from McKendree Spring for a couple of minutes. It's breathtaking if I do say so myself. I've got a list of all the sets on my web site.

KN: Do you devote more of your time to one medium (radio, novels, TV) or do you try to keep a balance between them?

BF: In terms of writing? Depends. When I'm under contract for a book; I'm all about the book. For a while I was both writing books and writing / producing the radio show. Then I started a tv project and so I did that and the radio show.

KN: What’s your writing schedule like?

BF: When I'm working on a book, I start in the morning, work to early afternoon on actual writing. Later, over a scotch, I'll consider the bigger picture of the story but won't do any actual writing, just plotting and thinking of character stuff.

KN: What’s next on your agenda?

BF: This blasted TV project that I've been working on for over two years (on spec!). It's a pilot for an hour long cable drama, a la Dexter. Based on (but totally different from) The Organ Grinders. I figure if it doesn't work out, I'll actually turn the (expanded) script back into a novel (though with a different title since it will have nothing to do with the original)...

KN: Thanks for joining us, Bill. Before we wrap it up, what’s our discussion topic for the week?

BF: You're asking the wrong guy!

KN: In that case, the House gets to decide. In honor of Bill's gift for writing humor, here's our question for the week: What role does humor play in the mysteries you enjoy reading and/or writing?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Killer Nashville 2011 Mystery Guest of Honor

Killer Nashville is proud to present our 2011 Mystery Guest of Honor, Donald Bain.

Donald Bain is the author or ghost/author of more than 100 books in many different genres, many of them bestsellers. His autobiography, Murder HE Wrote: A Successful Writer's Life, published by Purdue University Press, is available everywhere.

He currently writes a series of 37 original novels (hard and softcover) based upon the television series, Murder, She Wrote. They're published by Obsidian, a new imprint from Penguin (NAL/Dutton), and are written “in collaboration" with TV's most famous mystery writer, Jessica Fletcher of "Murder, She Wrote," who exists only as a fictitious character. He has also written crime novels under the pseudonyms Nick Vasile (Sado Cop & A Member of the Family) & Mike Lundy (Raven & Baby Farm).

Earlier in his career, Donald was a writer/director and he created films for many clients and wrote and produced two daily radio series. He also wrote two nationally syndicated series, one of which he hosted. A public relations executive for McCann-Erickson and American Airlines, Donald also was a consultant to Pan Am for which two projects earned Silver Anvil awards from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). In 1985, with his wife, he co-founded Hyphenates, Ltd., which provides editorial services to a wide variety of companies.

Donald is a graduate of Purdue University and received its highest award for his work in educational radio and television. (He was designated a Purdue "Distinguished Alumni" in 2003.) He went on to work professionally in broadcasting in Texas and Indiana, and co-hosted more than 200 shows in New York.

Donald has worked for over 40 years as a professional jazz musician and has taught at the college level. He has written myriad magazine articles on many diverse subjects.

He is a member of Sigma Delta Chi, the Writer's Guild of America, the Authors Guild, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and the Mystery Writers of America. In 2006 he was designated "Grand Master" by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW).

Don Bain is married to Renée Paley-Bain, also a writer, and who collaborates with him on the Murder, She Wrote series. He has two grown daughters (Laurie, a fine writer and editor; and Pamela, the professor in the family) and four grandsons.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Claymore Award Now Open For Submissions

Dear Killer Nashville Friends,

It's time to take a brief break from our interviews and give a Killer Nashville News Update instead. We'll be back with a new interview and discussion question next Monday.

First, our new venue will be the beautiful Hutton Hotel in downtown Nashville. The Hutton Hotel staff is thrilled to be hosting Killer Nashville, and they're giving us a fantastic rate--only $111 dollars a night with all kinds of perks--including free wifi for all conference attendees who stay at the hotel.

Second, Killer Nashville is now open for Claymore Award submissions. In four easy steps, you could win Killer Nashville's prestigious Claymore Award and a possible publishing contract from Five Star Press.

This is the 3rd year for the Killer Nashville's Claymore Award and already several previous Claymore participants have received publishing contracts and other authors are in negotiations with Five Star and others as a result of Killer Nashville's ongoing all-volunteer efforts to help new authors.


The winner will receive consideration for publication by partnering publisher Five Star/Tekno Books. Please see the complete list of prizes below. At their discretion, Five Star may also consider any of the other entrants for publication.

KILLER NASHVILLE'S CLAYMORE AWARD WINNER - $500 worth of prizes, plus a possible publishing contract, plus a possible agent

• All Finalist prizes, plus the following:

• The coveted Killer Nashville Claymore Award

• $250 worth of downloads or tuition from Killer Nashville 2011 - your choice (a $250 value)

• The right to use the "Killer Nashville Claymore Winner" logo on your website, publicity materials, and published book (if applicable)

TOP 3 FINALISTS - $300 worth of prizes, plus a possible publishing contract, plus a possible agent

• All Top 10 Finalist prizes, plus the following:

• Free admission to Killer Nashville 2011 (a $170 value)

• Free admission to Killer Nashville 2011 Award Dinner (an $80 value)

TOP 10 FINALISTS - $50 worth of prizes, plus a possible publishing contract, plus a possible agent

• A possible publishing contract

• $50 worth of downloads or tuition from Killer Nashville 2011 - your choice (a $50 value)

• Introduction to Killer Nashville approved agents and editors

• The right to use the "Killer Nashville Claymore Finalist" logo on your website, publicity materials, and published book (if applicable)

*If a Claymore finalist has already purchased admission to Killer Nashville or to the Awards Dinner, cost of winning items will be reimbursed based on winning level, if desired.

Please remember that the conference is limited to 500 attendees in 2011.


An author does NOT have to meet publication guidelines of Five Star in order to win the Killer Nashville Claymore Award.


Judges will consider any subgenre of mystery or thriller, including political thriller, cozy, hard-boiled/private eye, police procedurals, suspense, romantic suspense, historical mystery, and paranormal mystery.


Although the Killer Nashville Claymore Award would be most helpful to unpublished writers, published authors who are “between publishers” and would like to create buzz about their new works would also benefit, as would published authors seeking award accolades. For authors who already have a publisher, you do not have to be published by Five Star if you win.


Judges are authors and qualified readers who have volunteered their time to Killer Nashville to help new, upcoming authors.


Not only does the winner receive Killer Nashville’s prestigious Claymore Award, but Five Star can offer publishing contracts to any Killer Nashville Claymore Award finalist. Not just the winner. Killer Nashville is the facilitator and not involved at all in the publishing or the offering of publishing contracts. If offered a contract by Five Star Teckno, the author is encouraged to procure their own agent or representative to broker the deal. If the author does not have an agent, Killer Nashville can give a list of recommendations. By winning, you also do NOT have to accept the publishing contract from Five Star, if offered, but you still win the award and can add the Killer Nashville Claymore to your other award credits. Publishers love it when manuscripts have won awards.


Five Star, an imprint of Gale, part of Cengage Learning, began the Five Star Mystery line in November of 1998. Since then, Five Star has earned many starred reviews, as well as Edgar Award and Anthony Award nominations. Many Five Star titles have been listed on regional bestseller lists.


Killer Nashville was founded in 2006 by writer/filmmaker Clay Stafford with the purpose of providing a networking and educational forum for those in the publishing industry and for helping writers and readers to connect. Numerous authors have found publication and a new fan base through the all-volunteer effort of the Killer Nashville organization. Over the years, grant money has been given to Killer Nashville from Clay Stafford and American Blackguard Entertainment principally, as well as Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and others, as well as numerous author sponsors.


Submissions must be received no later than May 20, 2011 to be considered for the 2011 competition and will be evaluated through a blind judging process to ensure fairness. Entry fees are charged to help defray the individual cost of copying and mailing each manuscript to the volunteer judges.

Please note that the judging process is highly subjective, dictated by the personal interests of each reader (which is why each manuscript is read by different readers and rated by several rather than relying on one reader) and the large number of quality entries vying for the top honors. Though we are unable to provide specific feedback on each individual manuscript, please do not hesitate to contact us with any general questions regarding the selection process.

The winner will be announced at Killer Nashville 2011, held on August 26-28 at the Hutton Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. The author need not be present to win and is under no obligation to accept a publishing contract should he/she be offered one by Five Star. Winner will be determined at the sole discretion of editors of Five Star from the top ten submissions as chosen by Killer Nashville judges in a blind submission process. All decisions are final.

Read all the rules here. (


We look forward to adding you to the Killer Nashville success stories!


Clay Stafford, Founder, Killer Nashville

Beth Terrell, Executive Director, Killer Nashville

Tracy Bunch, Office Manager, Killer Nashville


1. Prepare the manuscript of your unpublished thriller, suspense, or mystery manuscript

2. Fill out the registration form and a check for $35 to help defray copying and mailing costs of your manuscript to judges (judges are volunteers and are not compensated)

3. Mail payment and registration form with the first 50 pages of your manuscript to the Killer Nashville Claymore Award, and

4. You could win!


For more information regarding Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award:

For more information of Killer Nashville Awards:

To learn more about Killer Nashville:

To contact us with questions:

To register for Killer Nashville 2011:

Our Killer Nashville Blog:

Killer Nashville

P.O. Box 680686

Franklin, TN 37068-0686

United States


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Interview with Author Jim Daher

This week's Killer Nashville interview is with author Jim Daher, whose thrillers/mysteries RIGHTEOUS KILL and BLOOD MONEY feature FBI agent Sarah James. Sarah is a savvy, tough cookie who believes “the end justifies the means” when she’s tracking down a criminal--and Sarah always gets her man or woman.

A graduate of Southern Polytechnic Institute and the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Jim began writing after enjoying a successful career as a hospital administrator and multi-health care facility executive. He lives on St Simons Island, Georgia with his wife. You can learn more at his website:

KN: Hi, Jim. Welcome to A Killer Conversation. Let's start off with a quote. Do you have a favorite quote about writing or crime writing in particular?

JD: I can't remember who said it but "Do your research, make it real and entertain your reader!"

KN: Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to be a writer?

JD: My mother and father read to me and my brothers and sister when we were small so I have always enjoyed a good story. However, as I grew older and started a career in healthcare I stopped reading for pleasure and concentrated on business periodicals, health care regulations, etc. But, the last 10-15 years I was in healthcare I was responsible for groups of hospitals and traveled extensively, spending a lot of time on airplanes and in hotels. I began reading again and was attracted to mysteries & thrillers.

As time went by I told myself that if I ever had the time I would "try" to write. After semi-retiring I had the time but initially started playing golf-for the first time. It looked easy on television and I knew I'd pick it up quickly-HA, was I in for a surprise! Realizing I wasn't going on the PGA tour and most importantly, couldn't afford to continue losing golf balls, I decided to begin writing. I wasn't much better at it than golf but I all I was losing was time and I enjoyed attending conferences (Thriller Fest, Sleuth Fest, Killer Nashville, etc) to learn the INS & outs of writing and getting published.

KN: What drew you to the mystery/suspense genre?

JD: The element of surprise, the suspense and the pace of the stories are the main attractions.

KN: Any favorite authors in the genre?

JD: Robert Parker, Stuart Wood, Daniel Silva, Lisa Scottoline, James Patterson, Vince Flynn and Harlan Coben are among my favorites.

KN: We share some of the same favorites. Your first novel, RIGHTEOUS KILL, features FBI agent Sarah James (formerly Johnson). Can you tell us a bit about RIGHTEOUS KILL and how you came up with the idea for the novel?

JD: I read a news paper story about the victim of an attempted abduction and it reminded me of a couple of victims of rape that I was aware of. I went through some what if scenarios and came up with the idea for the story. I initially dropped the idea for fear of not being able to "get into the head" of a female. But one night I woke up and knew I had to tell the story. I spent the next 36 hours outlining the story, developing key characters and preparing my self for Sarah's journey.

KN: What made you decide on a female protagonist?

JD: The story I was developing demanded it.

KN: What were the challenges of writing a character of the opposite sex, and how did you overcome them? What steps did you take to ensure that Sarah comes across as authentically female?

JD: A portion of my health care career was in the Psychiatric industry and to better understand what hospital employees and physicians did, I attended group sessions, as an observer. Fortunately or unfortunately, there were some rape victims and rapists (unrelated cases/situations) in those sessions and I heard their stories first hand. This gave me insight into Sarah the individual dealing with what had happened to her. I want to clarify that Sarah and what happened to her in Righteous Kill is purely fictional and is not based on any specific case or situation from my health care days. Other aspects of the female psych I picked up by talking to young ladies at the gym/fitness center to gain insight into "today's female". I asked questions such as: What do you think when you see a good looking guy? Do you talk with your best friend about sex, dating, your husband, martial problems, etc...?

KN: Your second novel, a sequel to RIGHTEOUS KILL was recently released. What can you tell us about it?

JD: A killer targets Sarah's groom at their wedding. She wants justice and revenge and begins tracking the killer. Along the way she encounters ex-cons, the mafia, and other roadblocks until she corners the killer.

KN: Sounds like fans of the first book have some exciting time ahead! What are some of the challenges and rewards of writing a series?

JD: Challenges are making the time to write, creating a good, entertaining story, the editing process, the search for a publisher, setting up signings, making it all fit together on a timely basis. Rewards are the finished product, the signings and the sense of accomplishment.

KN: What kind of research do you do?

JD: A lot-I talk with FTA, Customs, ICE, FBI, local cops and other law enforcement officials to attempt to get their views on crime, the arrest process, the chain of command within their specific organizations and as I said I talk to people to get their reactions to significant issues within my story or plot. It's great having the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Brunswick (15-30 minutes away). I hang out at "Willy's Weiner Wagon" which has been in business for over forty years and is a local lunch hangout for individuals attending training at FLETC.

KN: Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

JD: I wake up early, walk my dog, go to the gym then come home clean up and begin writing. I try to put in 4-6 hours a day writing and editing.

KN: How do you market your books?

JD: I have an initial Launch Party and have been fortunate enough to get the local paper to attend and do a story on the party and the book itself. Then I travel to, set up and attend signings at book stores in Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and California.

KN: What's the most rewarding thing about being a writer?

JD: The thrill of writing-seeing the story and characters develop and holding the finished product in my hand is overwhelming.

KN: And the most difficult?

JD: The time consumption of the process to find a legitimate editor, agent and publisher combined with the humiliation of mass rejections.

KN: What's the best compliment you've ever received about your books?

JD: "I starting you book at 4:30 pm and could not put it down." "I stayed up all night reading it and finished at 5 am."

KN: What are your long-term writing goals? And what's next?

JD: As most writers, I want to be on the "best seller list".

KN: Any advice for unpublished writers?

JD: Put in the time, attend conferences, learn, learn, learn and be prepared for the rejections-develop a thick skin!

KN: What would you like people to take away from your books?

JD: A thirst or hunger for the next "Jim Daher novel".

KN: Anything else you'd like us to know about you or your writing?

JD: Im following my own advice. I put in the time. I've got a good editor and I continually learn new marketing techniques.

KN: Final question: what’s our discussion topic for the week?

JD: How do you build a believable character? How do you create an antagonist a reader can identify with & hate?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Interview with Author Margaret Fenton

Welcome to A Killer Conversation, the official Killer Nashville blog.

In 2011, we're planning a weekly interview with a Killer Nashville author or expert. At the end of each interview, the interviewee will give us a discussion topic to talk about throughout the week. We hope you'll join in the discussion and help us make this blog into a lively, active community.

This week's Killer Conversation interview is with Margaret Fenton.
Margaret is an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) who spent ten years as a child and family therapist before taking a break to focus on her writing. Hence, her mysteries tend to reflect her interest in social causes and mental health, especially where kids are concerned. Her first book is Little Lamb Lost, published in June 2009 by Oceanview Publishing. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, a software developer. She is the planning coordinator of Murder in the Magic City, a one-day, one-track annual mystery fan conference in Homewood, Alabama. She is President of the Birmingham Chapter of Sisters in Crime and a member of the Mystery Writers of America. Her website is

KN: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you come to be a writer?

MF: I started out as a social worker, and I’m still an LCSW, although I’m not working in the field right now. I did in-home family therapy for the child welfare department in Birmingham for a number of years. I was housed in the child welfare building, so that provided a lot of inspiration for Claire, and for the mystery series. As for how I started writing, well, I started very late. I was a mystery fan first. An enthusiastic one at that. Someone at a local bookstore told me about the local Sisters in Crime chapter and I joined. That’s how I met Anne George, and we got to be friends. One day, we were on our way to a meeting and I was babbling on about what mystery I’d been reading, and Anne said she didn’t understand why I didn’t try to write one, if I loved them so much? I didn’t have a good answer, so I decided to try. It took a long time, but Little Lamb Lost is finally here.

KN: Your first published book, Little Lamb Lost came out in 2009. How does it feel to be a published author?

MF: Amazing. Great. Terrifying. Weird. All at the same time. I’m very proud of Little Lamb Lost, and every time I see it on a shelf, I’m like, really? I wrote a book? It seems a little surreal. But wonderful. A dream come true, literally. I love to write and have found my true passion, but the business end of this career is a little scary. Like every author, I’m worried about sales and promotion.

KN: What can you tell us about the book? Is it a standalone or the first of a series?

MF: The Claire Conover books are a series, with the same characters. We’ll see how they grow, and how relationships develop. That, to me, is the best thing about a mystery series. In Little Lamb Lost we meet Claire, a child welfare social worker, and her worst nightmare happens when one of her small clients dies of a drug overdose. Claire was the person responsible for placing the child back in the home with his mother, who is accused of the murder. So everything for Claire, career-wise, is at risk.

KN: What characteristics do you and your protagonist share? In what ways are you very different?

MF: Claire and I both share a love for social work. Our value systems are very similar. We want people to be successful and happy. And children to be safe. But Claire works harder than I ever did, for sure! She has a little more passion for justice, too.

KN: What led you to the mystery genre? Why do you find it satisfying?

MF: When I was in early elementary school, my mother was a travel agent in the local mall. Her agency was directly across the corridor from a bookstore, and every week she would buy me a new mystery. Like Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belden (my favorite). I just loved them. Then as I got older, I would pick up my dad’s old Agatha Christie paperbacks off the shelf and read those. Then Dick Francis and Rex Stout, then Sue Grafton and on and on and on…I can’t remember not loving them. I love strong characters, and they feel like friends. I love the idea of solving a puzzle, and the sense of justice at the end of a good book, too.

KN: Was it a long road to publication? How did you get your first contract?

MF: Seven years, so yeah, a long road. Lots of rejections along the way. I got my contract at a wonderful conference for writers and fans called Killer Nashville. My friend Don Bruns introduced me to his editor, and I pitched the book to her. Two months later I had a contract. It was great.

KN: What is the most challenging part of being a new kid on the block in the current economy?

MF: Sometimes it seems like everybody and their mother has published a book! There’s a lot of competition out there. It’s hard to get noticed. I just promote the book every chance I get. At conferences, especially.

KN: Of all your marketing efforts, which have been the most successful?

MF: I think, today, you have to have a strong online presence. I have a website, and I guest blog whenever I can. So many people now get so much information from the web. I participate in a fabulous listserv, DorothyL, for mystery fans and writers. I go to every conference I can. Good reviews help, too. I have the most marvelous publicist in the world, and she’s been amazing at getting the book out there. That’s really a big key.

KN: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

MF: I want them to love Claire and care about what happens to her. I want them to come away with a better understanding of child welfare social work, and what challenges are facing our social workers and our nation’s children.

KN: What is the best thing about your publisher?

MF: I can’t gush enough about how wonderful Oceanview has been. They are the best. They bend over backwards and sideways and every other direction to make you feel welcome and to help you be successful. They are so supportive.

KN: You organize the Murder in the Magic City conference. Does your experience in organizing a conference affect your perceptions when you attend a conference, and if so, how?

MF: Murder in the Magic City is a fan-based conference. We’ve done it for nine years now. Our next one is February 5, 2011. It’s a lot of fun. Meeting mystery authors really helped me to learn a lot when I was trying to get published, just about the business in general. Mystery writers are the most amazing group. We really support each other. I’ve found very little competition or pettiness out there. Everybody is helpful and wants you to succeed. It’s a great reason to go to any mystery conference.

KN: Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?

MF: Hang in there. I know it’s hard. Join a critique group, a good one that will give you honest and real feedback. Make sure you have done all you can to write the best book you can, then hang in there. Don’t give up.

KN: How about for fans of the genre in general (and your book in particular)?

MF: I hope to meet a lot of people along this journey. I’m anxious to introduce them to Claire and hear their thoughts on her adventures. It’s going to be a lot of fun!

KN: If you could have one wish related to your writing career, what would it be?

MF: I hope people will love Claire and all the characters in her life. I think that’s the secret to a long, successful career.

KN: Anything else you’d like to add or address that we haven’t covered?

MF: I think that’s it.

KN: Thanks for joining us, Margaret. One last thing. What’s our discussion topic for the week?

MF: I just finished a book, and I don't want to mention any dragon tattoos or anything, but it had a TON of my pet peeves in it. Gratuitous violence is a big one. And characters who avoid the authorities to the point where it's just ridiculous and unrealistic. So here's the discussion question: What are your worst pet peeves in a book? Things that authors have done really wrong, in your opinion?

KN: Great question, Margaret. Okay, everyone. Time to discuss!