Sneak peek: A new #LeiCrimeKW mystery — Dead Man Lying



That’s right: I’m about to launch a new book. Dead Man Lying is a new Lei Crime Kindle World novella.

I know many of you liked FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm from Torn Roots and Palm Trees & Snowflakes. You’ll be happy to know she returns in Dead Man Lying, along with the beginning of the whole Lei Crime Kindle World, Maui police detective “Lei Texeira herself.

It will launch along with a new crop of Lei Crime KW titles in June. For now, here’s a peak at Chapter 1.

DeadManLingCover-smallVanessa paused at the edge of the forest to try to rub some of the dirt off her shoes. “Steve Sangster. I can’t believe I’m investigating his death. Did you like his music, Detective Texeira?”

“Call me Lei. Yeah, I love all that folksy-rock stuff. I even had one of Steven Sangster’s albums as a girl. Did you?”

Vanessa could not repress a smile. “I was a big fan. I had all his old CDs — still do. I had such a crush on him when I was 16. He was so handsome.”

Lei smiled back. “The blue eyes and the square chin, huh?”

So this is the famous Lei Texeira, Vanessa thought, looking at the slender detective with her peripheral vision while appearing to study the heiau. She was small for a cop, but athletic, with beautiful big brown eyes and a sprinkle of freckles across her cheeks and nose. Her features spoke of a mixture of Hawaiian, Asian and European extraction. Her dark brown curls rippled to her shoulders, and Vanessa wondered briefly how much of the curling was due to the incredible humidity of Hana, on Maui’s rain coast.

“Is this where it happened?” said an unfamiliar voice. Vanessa and Lei turned and Vanessa’s shoe slipped again. Her knee buckled and she almost went down, but Lei’s small hand grabbed her arm, steadying her. Vanessa was impressed — Lei was stronger than she looked.

Steady again on the wet lava, she looked up to see a short, balding man letting the yellow police tape down behind him.

“Don’t the words ‘Do not cross’ mean anything to you?” Lei demanded, stepping toward the man.

“I’m Simon Sangster. He — the victim … I mean, he was my father,” the man stammered. He did not step back, but actually put a foot up on the lava rock.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Sangster, but you still cannot step past the yellow tape.”

The man scowled, straightened his back and puffed out his little chest, which did not protrude nearly as much as his belly. “Now that my father is … this is now my property.”

“Even so, this is a crime scene and you’ll have to step back past the yellow tape,” Lei retorted. She lifted the tape for him.

“It’s so that no one compromises the investigation,” Vanessa offered. “Please, step back.”

“In-investigation?” he said, seeming to deflate. “I thought it was an accident?”

“We’ll have to wait for the coroner’s final report to know that,” said Lei. She stepped off the heiau and took the younger Sangster by the arm.

Vanessa had one foot off the lava platform when a tree beside the path exploded and a boom rolled up the hill. Lei dove between the trees, pushing Sangster with her. Vanessa dropped and rolled, conscious of her jacket tearing on the rock, ending up half buried under bushes with long, pointed leaves. The top half of a young koa tree toppled. She waited, counting to five before lifting her head. Her face was wet from the bushes and covered with bits of shredded wood.

About the book

When a once-famous singer is found dead on his own estate on Maui, it’s all FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm can do to untangle the webs of lies spun by every member of the singer’s family. Dead Man Lying is a new addition to the Lei Crime Kindle World, based on characters and settings created by Toby Neal.

Dead Man Lying will launch in June 2016.

You can win a free e-copy by leaving a comment below.

No oysters for the Queen: A Victoria Day reflection



KneeBraceVictoriaDayIt’s Victoria Day in Canada, a national holiday. As comedy troupe The Irrelevant Show said, it’s “Canadians’ favourite holiday devoted to Victorian oppression and yard work.”

For those readers in warmer climes, the Victoria Day long weekend is traditionally the time to plant your garden. It’s the earliest time in the year in most of the country when we can be reasonably sure that frost won’t kill our new plants overnight.

But this year is different, at least for me, in a couple of respects.

First, we’re not really sure that we’re out of the frost season yet.

Second, I personally am not doing any yard work this spring. As readers of last week’s blog will remember, I completely tore my quadriceps tendon out of my knee last week. So I won’t be able to do any yard work. (I do not recommend this as a strategy for getting out of any work, yard or otherwise. It hurts, and with the painkillers I am on, I can’t drink any alcohol.) No digging in the soil. No spreading topsoil. No fussing over unreasonably demanding flowers. No shovelling manure.

Instead, I watched my two mighty sons, Evan the Blond Ravin’ and Super Nicolas do the work I normally do: shlepping bags of topsoil and manure, turning over soil, cutting back that bush with the purple flowers that spreads every season and transplanting parts of it to other areas in the yard, digging holes, planting annuals, etc, all under the wise supervision of my wife. I sat on a lawn chair, injured leg propped up, drinking water (remember, no booze) and watching, offering the occasional tip on best use of a spade or something highly technical like that. I’m good with that kind of specialized knowledge.

So, what do to do to mark this special Victoria Day Long Weekend? I thought it would be interesting to share something else royal with you.

A couple of years ago, when I was cleaning out my parents-in-laws’ old house, I found a clipping from the old Weekend magazine. Remember the Saturday supplement delivered with so many different newspapers across Canada? Most of the time it was pretty bland, but it did occasionally print some interesting and even controversial articles.

This isn’t controversial, but it is ironic and funny. And on a day special even for being named for a dead royal, Day, I thought you might enjoy an advice column from another time.

No Oysters For The Queen

Image by Jules Morgan, Montreal. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Weekend Magazine, February 10, 1973

After reading Robert McKeown’s article, I quietly gave thanks that I live a simple life.

Not hat I didn’t enjoy the article. I did. I love reading about the high and the mighty and how they complicate their lives with all kinds of rules and traditions.

And that is what the article is all about. Protocol. Who sits next to whom. Who gets first crack at the cold lobster and why the wife of a junior diplomat is not allowed to sit on the right hand side of a sofa.

I’m not kidding. Protocol, as played in the nations’ capitals, specifically states, “The right side of the sofa is considered the seat of honour and should not be occupied by a junior wife . . . unless specifically invited to do so.”

This handbook for the striped-pants set does have its aids, however. For instance, if you have ever considered inviting a man from a country where polygamy is practiced, but were hesitating because you aren’t sure you can put up a husband and a half-dozen wives, rest easy.

It is perfectly proper, or so says international protocol, to invite this man with the proviso that he bring only one wife.

Once he and his one wife arrive, however, I guess you are on your own. Nowhere can I find instructions as to how you are supposed to ask after the health and well-being of his other wives. I mean, does one just smile brightly and say, “So nice to see Lois again — but tell me, how are Joan and Anita and Susan and Valerie and Patricia?”

Another useful bit of information I would like to pass along is that Queen Elizabeth does not like shellfish. So the next time you are considering having the Queen in for an informal Saturday night dinner, just prior to watching Hockey Night in Canada, don’t listen to your husband.

Remember, no oysters.

All these things, and hundreds of others, have to be considered by our protocol experts in Ottawa [or Washington, Paris or any other capital–blogger] each time a formal party is tossed in swinging Bytown.

The going gets even more complicated when said party includes visiting heads of state. I mean, it wouldn’t do to get upset, or think you were being snubbed, if you were at such a party and your partner — a high ecclesiastical dignitary — did not offer you his arm when you went into dinner.

High ecclesiastical dignitaries, you understand, are not supposed to offer their arm to the lady they accompany.

I trust you feel better now that you know this.

Anyway, while I found the article fun to read, I did give fervent thanks that I was not mixed up in this kind of thing.

The protocol at my home may leave a lot to be desired — I mean, my wife still winces when I say to a guest, “You know where it is, go pour your own drink” — but life is much less complicated.

And any time a pretty girl, even if she is a junior, wants to sit on the right side of my sofa (that’s the side closest to my easy chair) she will be perfectly welcome.

After all, I do not believe in class distinction. Not at a time like that.

— Frank Lowe, Editor, Weekend Magazine (in 1973)

Independent book review: My Last Romance and Other Passions



A cliché-busting collection of romances by Kathleen Valentine

As an independent author, I find it important to write an independent book review from time to time — my own, unasked-for review of a book from a fellow indie. Here is my review of one such.

Kathleen Valentine is a literary leader. As a writer, she follows her own path and creates original, beautiful stories with characters readers can recognize because they’re taken from reality. 

I’m not normally a fan of romances. But I have to say that I was turned on, in many ways, by the collection of romantic short stories for grown-ups by Kathleen Valentine called My Last Romance and Other Passions.

Most “romance” novels I have encountered seem to be aimed at women who never emotionally got past high school. (To be fair, most action/adventure novels I have read seem written for men who never matured past Grade 8). They tend to follow one of two or three models:

  • the nice, middle class girl fixes the tortured billionaire—50 Shades of Crap was far from the first of this cliché
  • the two young lovers with damaged childhoods find safe havens in each other
  • the nice girl is drawn to the bad boy, and either
    • decides on the nice boy next door, or
    • fixes the bad boy.

There’s a lot of fixing in romance, and almost always by the female protagonist.

These are the tropes no matter the “hotness” level. There are these plots in sexy, steamy romances; in hot romances about Highlanders, cowboys, firemen and pirates; and in the “clean” romances — which means romances without sex.

The clean romance is the genre I hate the most. What are these writers saying — sex is dirty?

When Valentine breaks the rules

I guess it was inevitable that a writer named Valentine would write romantic stories. I’m just so glad she didn’t fall into the Hallmark Card type of romance trap. I found the stories in My Last Romance and Other Passions to be insightful, believable and entertaining — in other words, real literature.

Most romances, whether independent or commercially published, also feature characters with British, Celtic or otherwise very Western European names. Kathleen Valentine is one of the few writers in any genre I have read who’s willing to be inclusive and realistic in reflecting the diversity of Western culture today, and her characters have names like “Silvio” and “Asa.” And they’re not all middle-class suburbanites or billionaires or expatriate European nobility. They come from isolated towns in the Appalachians or fishing villages in Massachusetts or from poor farms in Texas. They’re people we know exist, but they rarely feature in literature or genre fiction.

Kathleen Valentine is breaking down the rules that have accreted over romance like so much mould, and revitalized it.

Grown ups do grown-up things

Another thing I really appreciate about these romances — the last and otherwise — is that they’re about adults, and they do adult things. Okay, I admit I have a bias at my age, identifying more with people who’ve lived longer and had more experiences.

But Valentine’s characters have businesses and hold down jobs, and it’s clear that the author understands everything this entails. They’re musicians who never sold a million albums but know how to rock the house down. They’re artists who capture beauty and truth but never get known beyond their home town. They have children and marriages, and occasionally — no, more than occasionally — they fail at their obligations, they stray and they cheat and they enjoy it.

The independent book review

9a285-kathleenvalentine1948_sx200_Kathleen Valentine is an accomplished, professional writer with a lot of successful titles on her Author page. This collection is an excellent introduction to her work, and should stand as a model for would-be romance authors.

5*

You can find My Last Romance and Other Passions either on Amazon, but I got my copy as an even better value, as part of the BestSelling Reads Valentine Bundle, featuring full length books from nine professional, independent authors. For more great values, don’t forget to check them out.

And of course, you should visit Kathleen’s own website and blog for thoughts and ideas from a real, talented designer and author.

Knee injuries and communication



KneeBrace smallerIf you follow my communication on Facebook, you’ll know that last week, I injured my knee pretty severely in a mundane household accident. (My older son, The Blond Ravin’, says that’s proof that no one should undertake home improvements, but that’s another post I’ll have to figure out how to connect with “communication.”)

I ended up spending two days in the hospital — not two solid days, but two interrupted days, requiring several trips back and forth. The experience provided me with several observations about communication in action. And as you probably figured, ample time in waiting rooms, which afforded opportunities to get some writing done.

What happened

I simply slipped on the stairs as I was taking down some dangling glass plates, about 9 x 22 cm, in preparation for replacing a chandelier. I have taken down those plates for cleaning many times without incident.

But last Tuesday evening, when I had about five of the plates in my hand, I thought that was enough to carry down in one load for fear of dropping them on the stairs. I was standing on about the ninth or tenth step at the time. I turned, my heel slipped over the edge of the stair, and as I started to fall, all I thought was “Don’t drop the glass!”

I don’t know whether I went down one step or two. But when my heel hit the lower step, my right knee bent the wrong way. I felt a pain in my kneecap that made my vision go completely white.

And I dropped the glass plates, hearing at least two shattering on the hardwood floor below.

(“See?” my younger son, Super Nicolas said later. “That’s the trouble with hardwood. It’s super slippery, and it’s hard.)

The whole family came to see what had happened and my sons helped me down the remaining stairs. I limped to a couch and sat, as the family cleaned the shattered glass.

That was the end of my home renovation work for the day. And as it was already getting late, I decided not to seek medical attention at the time, as that would require going to the hospital emergency room. And you know what that means: hours of waiting.

So, I took some Tylenol and iced my knee, and then went to bed.

swollenKneeThe next morning, I saw just how swollen my knee was. I found a pair of crutches we had bought for Super Nicolas after he injured his ankle in some kind of sport (I don’t remember whether it was cross-country bicycling, rock climbing, hiking or what) and managed to adjust them so they were short enough for me. Then I went to work in my home office, interrupted several times:

  • the arrival of the contractor who came to replace the chandelier
  • his dropping and breaking of at least on more of the glass plates that I had left dangling on the old chandelier after my mishap
  • the arrival of a repairman for the clothes dryer
  • calls to and from two different IT specialists to figure out why a client’s computer would not connect to my home WiFi network.

As you can understand, I didn’t make a lot of progress that day. But all the limping across the house on a crutch sure didn’t make my knee feel better.

By the end of the day, despite aspirin and icing to reduce swelling, my knee wasn’t smaller. Super Nicolas compared it to a large grapefruit.

(Actually, he said “Dad, you should go to the hospital for your knee.”

“Why?” responded.

“Well, it’s the size of an apple.” He went to the kitchen to fetch an apple. “Oh, knees are about the size of apples. Okay, it’s the size of a grapefruit.”)

He was right. I resolved that if the swelling did not go down after another night of aspirin and ice, I would seek medical attention.

The next morning, the knee was no better. I managed to get an appointment in the afternoon with my family doctor. (She’s great. Shout out to Dr. Anne Fraser at the Westend Family Care Clinic!)

In the late afternoon, my wife drove me to the clinic. Using Super Nicolas’s crutch I limped in.  Dr. Fraser described my knee as “spectacular. The red colour and the size — spectacular!” She also said that in her 30 years of practice, I was the first to walk in, even using a crutch, with that kind of injury. (I told you I was badass.)

She advised me to go for immediate x-rays. On the requisition chart, she wrote “In case of boney trauma, send patient to emerg. immediately.”

Well, I decided to go home for supper first. Roxanne then drove me to the hospital for x-rays. I told her not to wait — I had my iPad, and I discovered that the hospital near me has gotten over its irrational fear of cell phones and actually installed a free guest WiFi network!

The x-ray area had no waiting, and the technician called the radiology doctor, the one qualified to interpret the results, at home right away. Within 40 minutes, the radiology department receptionist told me to go to emergency.

“Do I have boney trauma?” I asked her.

“I’m sorry. I’m not allowed to pass on that kind of information to patients. But your form says to refer the patient to Emergency immediately if any bone damage is found.”

In other words, add two and two, idiot. I mean, patient.

The communications lesson

In Canada, at least, and probably in the U.S. and most of the world that has adopted the Western medical philosophy, medical professionals seem to have a policy of not sharing information with patients. Have you ever tried to look at your own chart? I did once and the nurse in the ward yelled at me for it. (Not this time — that was some years ago, in a different hospital and a different city.)

Creative Commons

Non-medical people cannot dispense medical information in a hospital. And doctors are notoriously hard to talk to, because they’re just so busy. So the person with the least information is the patient — about his or her own health!

The next step was to crutch-walk to the Emergency department, which offered more observable moments in communication. But I see that I’ve rambled on for quite long already, so I’ll tell you that whole story in my next post. I will say here, though, that I was very impressed by the courtesy and care I received at the Queensway Carleton Hospital in Ottawa.

But I will end by saying that I spent long periods over the next couple of days sitting or lying in a number of different rooms in the hospital. I finished the last chapter of my next book, Dead Man Lying: A Lei Crime Kindle World novella. So something came out of it.

Kathleen Valentine, a wonderful writer and good friend, tagged me in a Facebook “7-7-7 Challenge,” where I post seven lines from page 7 of my work in progress. You can read that here.

Happy Mother’s Day: A mother in wartime Ukraine



Creative Commons archive

Today’s post is a Mother’s Day tribute to a mother out of history: Tekla Kuritsa, the mother of my father-in-law, Maurice Bury. This is an excerpt for Army of Worn Soles, the story of Maurice’s conscription into the Red Army in 1941, his experience fighting the German invasion called Operation Barbarossa, his capture as a prisoner of war and his escape. At the end, he finds how his mother, a diminutive yet very strong woman, fights the war in her own way.

Out of uniform, out of the army, out of prison, Maurice was now under the command of his mother. Tekla Kuritsa did not allow her son to do anything but rest for a whole month. The harvest over, she paid young local boys to do what remained: manuring fields and fixing fences.

Day by day, Maurice regained weight and strength. At first, he sat in the kitchen, drinking tea and reading newspapers.

Nothing but German-approved propaganda. This paper actually says we Ukrainians are happy to be occupied by Germany.

Idleness quickly lost its allure. Maurice decided to make sure the farm was ready for winter. He started with chopping firewood. Just a half-hour a day, relishing in his ability to split logs with a single blow, chopping and sawing harder, and lasting longer each day.

One evening, Tekla took Maurice to the shed beside the barn for a chore he would find much more enjoyable.

“Is that a still?” he asked. “Mama, are you making vodka?”

“It’s not very good, but the German officers like it,” she said. She set him to work.

Maurice liked the opportunity to concentrate on a task, drawing a spoonful of clear liquor, carefully closing the valve then setting fire to the spoon. If the liquor burned with a blue flame, it was “proof,” good enough for sale.

One evening, Maurice filled six four-litre jugs and put them on a small wagon.

“Good boy,” Tekla said and buttoned her coat. “I’ll take this to the village.”

“Why?”

“To sell to anyone who wants it, of course. But mostly it goes to German officers.”

“It’s getting too late to go out, Mama,” Maurice said. “It’s almost curfew.”

“That’s the time men want to buy vodka,” she said, buttoning her coat.

“It’s too dangerous for a woman out in the evening. Let me go.”

She shook her head. “Maurice, you strong men don’t know how things work in wartime,” she said, patting his cheek. “An old lady out in the evening is much safer than a man. What would the patrols do if they caught you out after curfew?”

“Throw me in jail.”

“They would probably shoot you on the spot, sweetie. But they see an old lady struggling with a heavy wagon, they think of their own mothers.”

“Some of these bastards would just as soon shoot their own mothers.”

“That’s when I sell them some vodka.” She smiled and kissed him.

Maurice watched her pull the wagon to the road until she vanished into the evening gloom. He did not realize he was smiling as he shook his head.

Army of Worn Soles cover

Army of Worn Soles

My mother. After all I’ve been through, she’s going to sell cheap liquor to the Germans. She’s the bravest person I’ve ever seen.

About Army of Worn Soles

A Canadian is drafted into the Soviet Red Army during World War 2, just in time to be thrown against Nazi Germany’s invasion in Operation Barbarossa. Caught in the vise of the Nazi and Communist forces, Maurice Bury concentrates on keeping his men alive as they retreat across Ukraine from the German juggernaut. Now the question is: will they escape from the hell of the POW camp before they starve to death?

Available on Amazon.

How to use characters’ emotional frustration



A guest post by Scott Justin

ScottJustinAbout a month ago, a young writer named Scott Justin sent me an email, offering a guest essay for Written Words. Here is his observation on a tool that writers can use to bring audiences into their stories and bond with the characters.

What do you think? Leave a Comment for Scott.

Emotional frustration is a powerful tool for authors to create strong characters and move a plot along. Because it’s a link between the inner self and external circumstances, emotional frustration is a very common theme in novels and plays.

In general terms, frustration is a nervousness that derives from not being capable of doing what we wish to do. Obviously, most of the time, humans fall short of doing what they wish to do. The same thing is obvious in a fictional character. When writing a script, story or novel, portraying emotional frustration within characters is essential. Emotional frustration within characters brings originality and genuineness to your fictional work. But the main benefit of including emotion and frustration is that it can boost the writer’s imaginations, expression and creativity.

Why frustrate emotions?

Frustration arises when a person fails to get what he or she desires. Love, hate, rage and desire are most common emotions writers use to create emotional frustration in their characters. Love for a person or desire to accomplish an aim drives most plots in movies and novels. But in a good story, characters cannot attain their goals and love immediately, giving rise to emotional frustration.

Frustration makes a story work. William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet brought to life the emotion of frustrated characters. The lovers’ lives are sacrificed to end the dispute between two powerful families. The main characters fail in their plans and become one through their death. By portraying emotional frustration of two lovers, Shakespeare could ensure that Romeo and Juliet’s love grips a stimulating and deeply united notion of love.

Romeo & Juliet_Henri_Pierre_Picou

Wikimedia Commons

If Romeo and Juliet met, fell in love, got married and lived happily for years with no obstacles, there would be no story. Shakespeare used the lovers’ frustration to create a tragic love story that is compelling, moving and immortal. He used the themes of hostility, love, hate, family dispute, violence and friendship to show the characters’ emotional frustration. Romeo and Juliet reminds us the importance of building emotional frustration within characters in order to make a superior plot.

Frustration draws audiences

Building emotional frustration within characters is crucial for a writer because it draws the attention of audiences. The emotionally engaged moment in a novel or movie will also draw an audience into the experience. If you fail as a writer to show emotional frustration within characters, the audience will turn away from the story because it offers them no experience. Without emotional frustration within characters, the plot can feel be a dried up or empty.

Emotional frustration is is easy to perceive, because it bonds a reader to the story and its characters. The success of every writer lies in depicting character’s frustration to best advantage as, for an example, Emotional frustration within characters creates story and how your character manages frustration will decide main components of your plot.

Frustration as an expression

Death of Romeo & Juliet - Frederick Leighton

Wikimedia Commons

Writers can use emotional frustration as expression. In a play, frustration can present substantial energy and feel tangible to an actor. For that reason, emotional frustration within characters can make the plot more engaging.

All successful stories, regardless of what genre, use the two elements of emotion and frustration as powerful tools to create a bond between their characters and the audience, to better express themselves.

About the guest author:

I am Scott Justin. I have been working as a freelance writer for the last 15 years. I appreciate this calling since it helps me to draw out the best in me inevitably. I have written articles for journals, blogs, and many other online publications. I have a graduate degree from St. Joseph’s University. Educating is another calling expert that I cherish. I have been working with a professional cheap essay writing service for ten years. I find it rewarding to present the best thoughts appropriately in formal and scholarly structures in different fields.

 

Undrastormur: An independent book review



c114e-undrastormur2bcoverThe best children’s books are those that also appeal to adults, and they do that by presenting characters with elements that readers of all ages can recognize in themselves.

Undrastormur: A Viking Tale of Troublesome Trolls by Roger Eschbacher is one of those books. It continues the author’s oeuvre of middle-grade books based on ancient northern European mythology, started in Dragonfriend and Giant Killer.

The story

Undrastormur is the Storm of Wonder, unleashed by a special spell to the thunder god, Thor. The story begins when young Eirik wakes up before dawn one morning, feeling extra hungry, so he goes out into the forest to find mushrooms. Because he’s away from his Norse village, he avoids an attack by giant, horrible trolls who mysteriously are not deterred by sunlight. Terrified, he hides in a cave too small for trolls to get into. There, he finds part of his grandfather’s staff, a weapon that when whole can call down the Undrastormur, the storm that will destroy the trolls and save the village.

But there’s a problem, explained by the guardian spirit, Bruun: the staff is broken and will not work until its two halves are joined together again, and the other half is in Nilfheim, the Norse underworld, a cold, dark land of despair beneath the roots of Yggdrasil, the world tree.

Bruun explains that Eirik has inherited his grandfather’s magical properties, which is why he can communicate with a guardian spirit and survive the trip to Nilfheim. Taking his grandfather’s talisman so that he can return to his own world—after surviving an encounter with the trolls and escaping—Eirik goes to Nilfheim, where he meets a girl. It turns out that Astrid had also been sent to find Eirik’s grandfather’s staff, but had been stymied when the staff had been taken by a monster of Niflheim.

And here is the challenge: Eirik must learn to trust Astrid and work with her to defeat the monster, return to Earth, and then use the restored full staff to defeat the trolls.

Sure, it’s based on that trope of a young man, or teenager who inherits special properties that make him the only hope of his people—but hey, this is a fantasy, based on ancient mythology. It works.

Characters

One of Eschbacher’s main strengths as an author is his ability to show us interesting and believable characters. We can recognize in them people that we all know. Old Aesa, a tough old lady of the village, is my favourite. She reminds me of some of my relatives in her no-nonsense talking manner and her delight in shocking young people.

Eirik and Astrid are believable young people. Eirik is often terrified, but knowing that he’s the only hope for the village, embarks on his adventure anyway. Astrid is a strong, smart and able young woman who has learned how to survive. Even Bruun, the household spirit, is funny and interesting.

And the trolls are great: huge, ugly, disgusting, dim-witted and very funny.

Wonderful for adults & kids

Undrastormur is a lot of fun for the middle grade set: humour, grisly, messy deaths at the hands of hideous and amusingly stupid trolls, magic and resourceful young people finding the solution to problems that freeze grown-up hearts.

140d6-roger-portrait-small_dsc00275editAs an author, Eshcbacher, is a true professional. He’s written a number of children’s books and works in Hollywood as a writer for children’s programs. So of course, Undrastormur has obviously been professionally edited and produced, and has a professionally designed cover.

It’s a book that’s aimed at children, but with a solid story, fully developed characters, lots of humour and a surprising twist at the end, like the best of all art for children, it’s a book that adults can enjoy, too. I just wish it had been longer.

You can get it on Amazon.

5*

Characters, crime & roses—A chat with Toby Neal



toby-neal-profile-aboutHow can you get a copy of a Rough Road, a Sydney Rye Universe novella? Read this interview and find out. Toby Neal hit the best-seller lists five years ago with Blood Orchids, her first novel and the opening of the mystery fan favorite Lei Crime series. Now with over 20 titles on Amazon’s virtual shelves, Toby Neal is not just prolific—she’s a force of literature and a true professional. I asked Toby about her approach to writing and how she crafted all those terrific books.

Where did you first get the idea for a series about a cop named Lei Texeira? Did you envision it as a series from the beginning, or did each book emerge from your imagination individually?

I’ve shared before that Blood Orchids began as a short story on my anonymous blog, sparked by real life events: the tragic, apparently homicidal drowning of two young girls (14, 15) at the high school where I worked. My role as school counselor felt unfulfilling; I wanted to INVESTIGATE and bring the perp down!

Lei was born out of that frustration, and the story got longer and longer as I added chapters, and finally became a novel. The drownings were later ruled accidental, but I had realized by then that Lei actualized a part of me that wanted to be more active than mopping up the tears of victims, my role as a therapist.Blood Orchids

Having it become a series was evolutionary. I discovered I’m a series writer as I got more experienced. I seldom have only one tale in me with a set of characters!

The books have followed Lei Texeira from her early days as a Hilo uniformed officer, to detective, to FBI Special Agent and back to detective, on Maui. We’ve read about Lei being pregnant, about her raising another woman’s child, and in Bitter Feast, she’s pregnant again. This is the 12th book about Lei. How much farther are you going to explore her life? Or do you know?

There have been two major times I thought I was done with the Lei Crime Series: after book 5, Twisted Vine, and after book 9, Rip Tides. I also feel “done” now, as I finish Bitter Feast, and you will see a lot of dangling ends tied up in this upcoming book. But I find, when I’m away from Lei, Stevens and their ohana for long, I MISS them, like they are real friends of mine. So I won’t say its over—but I would need a whole new subplot to get going again.

The series IS at a pause point after Bitter Feast.

Wired In by Toby NealI plan to write the next two Wired books, with Sophie Ang, and see where they go! I hope that will be my next major series.

You’ve also published “spin off” books that are focused on secondary characters from the Lei Crime novels, such as Dr. Caprice Wilson, FBI Special Agent Sophie Ang and Special Agent Marcella Scott. Do you, or will you, ever bring characters or plot elements that began in those books back to a Lei Crime book?

Sure! I love having this interconnected World. I thought of that long before the Kindle World came along—I was doing my own Kindle World! The spinoff books never sell as much as the main series books, though. People love Lei and Stevens most!

Is the Lei Texeira character based on you or someone else you know?

Not specifically. Her appearance is, though. She’s a composite of a woman I worked with at a mental health agency, and another woman, mother of a client. Both were mixed race, athletic, with abundant, curly hair and unique features. I loved their multi-ethnic blended looks and it’s unique to Hawaii.

Lei has some elements of me in her: a certain relentless drive (she is about her cases as I am about my writing) athleticism, passion with her love, risk-taking—but I’m not neurotic and damaged as she is, thank the good Lord! I’m more like Dr. Wilson, personality-wise—but not an alcoholic.

Most of your readers know that you had a dog, Nalu who was much smaller than Keiki, but upon whom you modelled the Keiki character. Tell us more about her.

My grief over losing Nalu in November is still fresh. We had her for sixteen wonderful years. I wrote a blog post about her.

Here’s a quote from it: “loyal, loving, intelligent, modest, tirelessly protective and fierce in her duty, Nalu never knew she only weighed thirteen pounds and was a Chihuahua terrier—and we never told her.”

Where do your characters come from? Do you base them on specific people you know? Or are they created fresh in your mind?

My characters are often sparked by real life people I know or meet here on Maui. But seldom any one person. I do notice EVERYTHING about someone I’m thinking would make a good character. For instance, Michael Stevens is (physically) my husband, as he was in his early thirties (he’s sixty now.) Pono is based on a wonderful, kind, funny Hawaiian man I worked with at an agency. Captain CJ Omura is modeled on several Japanese women I’ve worked with over the years too. Minor characters are sparked by people I know less well. I usually change details so people aren’t too recognizable—but once my husband (not a reader) heard the audiobooks, he pinned me with those amazing blue eyes and said, “That guy sounds awfully familiar.”

“Pure fiction,” I replied. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

When did you first get involved with Kindle Worlds?

Amazon approached me about having a Lei Crime Kindle World two years ago. A huge honor! I knew about the program from being familiar with Hugh Howey’s Kindle World and the popular Silo series.

The Lei Crime Kindle World, based on your series, launched last year and now has more than 33 titles. But you started by inviting about 12 authors to contribute to the first batch of stories. How did you select them?

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 Warrior Dog by Emily Kimelman
I asked writers I knew, whose work was at a professional level that I respected. I knew anything they wrote would be good! Only eight were able to participate in the launch, but all the books have been high quality—in part, I think, because I give more input, feedback, editing and other support than many other KW main authors.

The different books span quite a range. Some incorporate elements of the paranormal and occult. How do you feel about that genre-crossing aspect and what it lends to the Lei stories?

Elysium Tombstones by R.S. GuthrieI LOVE all the variations and twists and turns that people have come up with. The stories are so wonderful, and so many things I’d never think of or have time to do. I couldn’t be happier with the quality and intrigue of the expanded World. Some things I was surprised by, like R.S. Guthrie has Lei fall for another guy—but I loved that too. The World is a place where anything goes and the imagination can take beloved characters and run wild with it. I can’t wait for a Lei Crime vampire romance!

Are there any characters, situations, settings or ideas from other authors’ Lei Crime stories that you would like to incorporate into a future Lei Crime novel?

That is already happening with Bitter Feast—but you’ll just have to read it to find out which ones!

Are there any stories or themes you would like a Kindle World contributor to write?

I’ve wanted to see a romance for Jared Stevens, Michael’s hot firefighter brother. Hopefully someone will do something with that, or I will have to! But they’ve been terrific, really, and the top ratings and reviews back up the good quality of the Lei Crime Kindle World. Truly proud of that.

You’ve also written for other authors’ Kindle Worlds, such as Russell Blake’s Jet. Most recently, you wrote for the new Sydney Rye Universe. One of the stated purposes of the Kindle World concept is to give more exposure to an author who is not as well-known, by presenting their work to an established author’s readership. You, obviously, do not need that with a consistent presence on the bestseller lists. Why did you decide to write for other Kindle Worlds?
In a nutshell, relationships. I am friends with Russell Blake, and he’s been an incredible inspiration to me with his relentless work ethic and span of talent. He asked me to write, so I did, and I was glad I did. My experience writing a spy novella, Nightbird, set in Paris and Israel, was just magical. I had so much fun with the genre, the locations, the characters… And then Emily, who is also a personal friend, asked me to write for her World, and of course I said yes, and Rough Road again surprised me with how fun and delightful a writing experience it was.I owed both of these writers in a personal way and wanted to support them in launching their Kindle Worlds.

Tell me about your decision to incorporate Lei into the world of Emily Kimelman’s Sydney Rye and Blue.

That was so much fun! As soon as I decided it would be a Blood Orchids prequel, and set early in Emily’s series, I saw these two reckless young women learning some life lessons together. I didn’t plot Rough Road, I “pantsed” it, and lo and behold! The prequel REALLY set the stage for who Lei is in Blood Orchids. I don’t feel done with exploring this theme, so I am thinking of doing a second one for Emily’s world with Lei and Sydney, tentatively called Cinder Road and set on the Big Island early in Lei’s police career.

Do you plan to write in other Kindle Worlds? What would attract you to a particular world?

I would enjoy doing a romance for one of the romance Worlds, or maybe something for another crime World. But I would want to be asked personally by someone I knew, and be supported in promoting the KindleWorld novella at the same level I support my authors…and I’m not sure either of those things will happen! I do more for my authors than most of the other main World authors.

Tell the readers two things about you that they don’t already know.

I have fifteen fussy rose bushes and enjoy taking writing breaks to go out and trim, weed, spray, and fiddle around with them in their pots. I also collect art, mostly Impressionistic Hawaii landscapes, but some modern and multi-media too. I love supporting fellow creatives and being surrounded by beauty!

Thank you very much, Toby!

Toby Neal’s official bio states:

Toby Neal grew up on the island of Kaua`i in Hawaii. After a few “stretches of exile” to pursue education, the islands have been home for the last fifteen years. Toby is a mental health therapist, a career that has informed the depth and complexity of the characters in her books. Outside of work and writing, Toby volunteers in a nonprofit for children and enjoys life in Hawaii through beach walking, body boarding, scuba diving, photography and hiking.

She has published 20 books so far, with 11 in the Lei Crime series, 2 more Lei Crime Companion novels that feature characters from the main series, the Somewhere series of contemporary romances, a Young Adult fantasy-adventure called Island Fire, entries in the Jet and Sydney Rye Kindle Worlds, and a non-fiction book, Building an Author Platform that can Launch Anything. She has also been featured in anthologies of mystery and independent authors.

And as this author can attest, Toby is a very supportive main author to contributors to her Kindle World, providing detailed character and plot summaries and lots of advice.

The 12th Lei Crime mystery, Bitter Feast, is due to be published on Amazon in May.

Win a free copy of Rough Road, Toby Neal’s Sydney Rye Kindle World novella.

Just make a comment below, explaining why you like mysteries. Toby will choose one commenter to win a free copy.

Dogs, travel and Kindle Worlds: An interview with author Emily Kimelman



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The newest Kindle World, the Sydney Rye Universe, launched with new titles from seven authors, including me. This week I thought it would be great to give readers more insight into it through the creator of Sydney Rye, Blue, Mulberry and Bobby Maxim: Emily Kimelman.

Emily Kimelman was born in Philadelphia, the daughter of a correspondent for the Philadelphia Enquirer. Her family moved to Texas within weeks of her birth, and then two years later to Moscow, from which come her earliest memories. She studied the history of forensic science at New York University. She published her first mystery novel featuring Sydney Rye and Blue, Unleashed in 2011. The seventh novel in the series is Shadow Harvest, and it came out in August 2015.

Late that year, Amazon contacted Emily about launching a Sydney Rye Kindle World, a project that allows writers to contribute works to established series. I was honoured when Emily asked me if I would be one of the first to write for the Sydney Rye Universe, and I jumped at the chance to write my second novella featuring Van Freeman and Earl LeBrun from Jet: Stealth. It’s called The Wife Line, and you can read a sample on this blog and another on Emily’s.

Emily corresponded to me for this interview from upstate New York, where she lives with her family and her dog, Kinsey.

When did you first get the idea for Sydney Rye and Blue? Why did you decide on a human-canine team of crime-fighters?

I was working as a dog walker on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and it was the weirdest job because I had access to all these people’s apartments but we’d never met. As a voracious mystery reader, I recognized this as a great set-up for an amateur detective. Since I love dogs (it’s hard to be a professional walker if you’re not super into them :)) I figured I needed a dog side kick for my detective. At the time I had a giant wolf-dog named Nova who had one brown eye and one blue. He became the model for Blue.

Is the Joy Humboldt character based on you or someone else you know?

Joy Humbolt is a lot like me when I was younger. She is braver and tougher but we are a lot alike. My mother leaves me messages when reading my books like: “Don’t you go down in that tunnel. What are you crazy!”

Do you have a dog? What kind?

I have a Spanish Water Dog named Kinsey, after Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone. She is adorable and bad to the bone as any good dog should be.

Where do your characters come from? Do you base them on specific people you know? Or are they created fresh in your mind?

It’s a mix. Sometimes characters pop into my mind fully formed and start running around messing stuff up. Other times I’ll meet someone who has a way about them that feels exciting or entertaining. My husband always warns people that they might end up in one of my books.

Some characters seem as if you created their personalities to fit critical roles to drive the plots forward, like Dan and Merle. Do you know any people like that?

Merl is based off a guy who was a regular at a bar I worked at in New York. The regular looks like Merl, talks like him, dresses like him and even had three Doberman Pinschers. However, their back stories are totally different. As far as I know, that guy wasn’t into vigilantism at all, never took heroin, nor spent time in the army. He just liked Dobermans and dressing like he was in training. When I started writing Death in the
Dark
 I didn’t have an outline and when Merl showed up, I was like, “Oh, that makes sense.”

I don’t know anyone like Dan. I don’t do outlines so I was just writing along when he showed up and from the first moment I met him I knew he was going to be very important. I liked him and he kind of felt like home to me, even though I didn’t base him off anyone. Writing is funny that way.

We know that Sydney hates Bobby Maxim, but as the books progress, he gets more and more complex. How do you feel about him?

I’m as surprised by the growth in their relationship as anyone. I didn’t see it coming. Bobby Maxim is slippery — I can’t ever seem to get a bead on him. I respect the hell out of him but I don’t trust him, not fully. However, I don’t think he’d do anything to hurt Sydney. I think he really loves her. I think she’s the only woman who has ever told him no. And he likes it.

You travel a lot, and so does Sydney. Do you enjoy writing about your own travels through Sydney’s eyes?

Yes, I love it. I love hearing her take on the places that we go.

When did you first get involved with Kindle Worlds?

When Toby Neal was offered a Kindle World for her Lei Crime Series, she asked me to be a launch author. I had heard of the KW program but never taken the time to look into it. I loved writing in her world … and not just because I took it as an excuse to fly to Maui, though that was a huge bonus. But writing in another author’s world is freeing somehow. I also loved how communal the process was. Working with a group of authors in the same world is really fun.

Your second Kindle World was, I believe, Russell Blake’s Jet. Tell me about your decision to incorporate Sydney Rye and Blue into Jet’s universe.

Toby told me she was writing for Jet and I was intrigued. Then Sean Fitzgerald, the acquisition editor for KW, called me up and asked me to write in it, explaining that I could use Sydney without loosing any rights. I had the seventh Sydney Rye novel coming out a week after the world launched, so I thought it would be a fun way to get my fans excited for Shadow Harvest.

Your own Kindle World, the Sydney Rye Universe, has just launched with seven titles from seven different authors. You invited specific authors to join. How did you select them?

I made a huge list of every author I knew and liked. Then I picked out the ones I most wanted in the launch. I based it on how professional I thought they were in terms of deadlines, if I’d read their work and liked it, and if I thought my fans would be into their other work. I wanted to keep the launch small enough that my readers could buy them all without becoming overwhelmed. I have lots more authors I want to invite to write in my world and I’m hoping by spacing out the launches it will give fans time to read them all!

The different books span quite a range. Most incorporate the authors’ previously-created characters. Mine, The Wife Line, includes Van and LeBrun from my Jet Kindle World novella. How do you feel about that? 

I wanted lots of different styles. That’s part of the fun for me as the world creator. I can never write a Sydney Rye story where she interacts with a ghost, or Van and LeBrun, or Lei (Toby’s character). It’s SO MUCH fun to read these other takes on my characters.SRKWbadge3

Will you write any more in other Kindle Worlds, such as Toby Neal’s Lei Crime world, or the Jet world?

I’m planning on another story for Toby’s world this year. I’m not sure if I’ll have time to do something with Jet, but I’m thinking about it.

When will the next Sydney Rye and Blue novel by Emily Kimelman come out?

I’m working on Sydney Rye #8 now. I’m hoping to have it out by early summer but am not making any promises at this moment. I have a six-month-old daughter who likes a lot of attention, and I like giving it to her :) So I’m enjoying her babyhood because I know it will be gone in the blink of an eye. Whereas Blue and Sydney will be with me forever.

Thank you so much, Emily.

Emily Kimelman is the author of seven Sydney Rye novels, six KISS stories, a Jet Kindle World novella and a Lei Crime Kindle World novella. She is also a member of BestSelling Reads.

Visit her:

And follow her on Twitter @ejkimelman.

Limited time offer: Army of Worn Soles is Free



You may notice something new on the top of the right-hand column. That’s right—for a limited time, you can get a free Kindle-format copy of Army of Worn Soles just for subscribing to my newsletter, Forewords.

Army of Worn Soles is Book 1 in the Walking Out of War series, and the predecessor to Under the Nazi Heel. It tells the true story of how my father-in-law, Maurice Bury, a Canadian citizen, found himself conscripted into the Soviet Red Army in 1941 — just in time to be thrown against the Nazi juggernaut in the greatest land invasion in history: Operation Barbarossa.

It’s currently on sale until the end of March for just 99 cents (US) on Amazon. But you can get it free right now by subscribing to Forewords, my email newsletter.

With Forewords, I’ll tell you about my latest writing project, sneak peeks at coming books and stories, cover reveal and more. And you’ll get to read it before anyone else.

And because I appreciate how you get enough email as it is, I promise not to publish more than four editions per year.

There are a lot of steps, but that’s to protect you from spam.

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Thanks, and Happy Easter!