Friday, December 19, 2014

A Real Murderer and a Dog Hero

by Linda Rodriguez
I write murder mysteries for a living. My Skeet Bannion mystery series (Every Last Secret, Every Broken Trust, and Every Hidden Fear) is set in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area. For these books, I make up crimes and murderers entirely out of my imagination, but I have had real experience with a murderer in my life.

When I was a young mother pregnant with my second child while my first baby was about eight months old, we lived in a small rental house and behind us stood an old two-story apartment building while next door the land sloped away to a small woods before ending below us in a busy urban street. One weekend before I was pregnant with that second baby, my husband and I arrived home from a weekend visit with relatives to discover a dog in terrible condition that had been apparently dumped at the woods edge of our yard.

A pale yellow mix of probably golden Labrador and some kind of hound, this dog had all four of his legs pulled up to his head and was trussed with a flea collar that had been fastened around all four legs and his neck before he was thrown out of a car. We assumed they were aiming for the woods, but the dog was heavier than the unknown villains thought and landed short of the woods in our yard. The poor dog had obviously struggled, and the flea collar with its poisons had cut through the flesh of his neck and two of his legs. The poisons of the collar were entering the bloodstream there, turning the bloody flesh a greenish tinge. It didn’t seem he would have much chance of survival.

We were desperately poor and had no car and no money for a vet, even if we’d had some way to carry a large dog to one. But I couldn’t let the poor dog die without at least trying to help him. My husband was sure the dog would bite me, but I had lots of experience at doctoring animals and believed after looking into his eyes that this dog knew I was going to help him. I sent my husband for scissors, hydrogen peroxide, and clean cloths from my rag pile. Then, talking to the dog the whole time to keep him calm, I cut through the flea collar and freed him from it. He lay there, limp as if he’d given up, but gave me a look of gratitude and licked my hand when I put it near his head. Next, I had to clean out his wounds with the peroxide, and that was painful. The poor guy just whined and whimpered but never offered me any hostility as I had to hurt him. Once I had him cleaned up, I had my husband, who was still afraid of him, carry him up to the house where I made the injured dog a bed. And over the next several weeks, I cared for him as he healed, always carrying scars from his ordeal.

We called the unprepossessing fellow Plain, short for Just Plain Dog. Plain became a cheerful, loving member of our family. This was in the days when all people let their dogs roam free, but Plain stayed near home most of the time. The only exception was when the mailman came on his rounds. He would park at our house to start his route and had asked if Plain could accompany him. Plain kept all the other dogs at bay while the postman did his job, and at the end of the route, when they arrived back at our house, the mailman gave him a treat and told me what a good dog he was. I knew that, of course.

Then I was pregnant again, and it was summer. Most days after I finished my housework, I’d set up the playpen out in the yard, put my baby in it and sit beside her with a book, Plain curled at my feet. Often, we saw a young man passing on his way to meet his girlfriend in the apartment house behind us. I’d met her a few times, and we’d talked about books and men. I liked her, and he seemed nice, always nodding or waving as he passed. The last time I talked with her, she mentioned they’d had an argument and she’d broken up with him. She also said he always talked her into taking him back, but she wouldn’t fall for that this time. So when I saw him heading her way again a few days later, I hid a smile. Obviously, he’d once again talked her out of the breakup.

After almost an hour, he returned, this time rushing through our yard, looking distraught and angry. When I saw him, my first thought was that they’d had another fight. He stopped inside my yard, staring at me in a strange way, as if he hadn’t expected to see us there. Suddenly, Plain began to growl and rose to stand in front of me as the young guy came toward the baby and me. Plain never barked but obviously set himself to spring on the young man, growling ferociously the whole time. I had never seen this side of my sweet dog. The guy apparently thought twice about approaching us and headed back toward the apartment house, returning shortly in his girlfriend’s green MG, roaring down the street past us with Plain now barking loudly, as well as growling. I calmed him down once the car disappeared around a corner, and he once again became my sweet Plain.

Imagine my surprise when the homicide detectives came around later that day. My neighbor had been raped and murdered by her ex-boyfriend just before he tried to cross my yard in his getaway. The detectives thought he probably would have killed me so I couldn’t tell anyone I’d seen him there that day if Plain hadn’t been there to drive him off. They had a huge manhunt for him, and he was eventually found in another state and arrested. He killed himself in jail before he could come to trial.

Perhaps the seeds of my mysteries were laid that day with the everyday mundane suddenly turning ominous and violent. But one thing I know is that my dear Just Plain Dog had most likely saved my life and my unborn son’s and maybe my little daughter’s, as well. Plain had a long, happy life with us ahead of him, and when his time to leave us finally came, he was surrounded by my husband, the two children he’d saved, and me, all weeping inconsolably at losing our loyal friend.

Every dog I’ve ever had since then has always been a rescue, usually one on death row at the pound. There is no loyalty and companionship I’ve found like that a rescue dog will give to you. That’s why I gave my protagonist Skeet Bannion a rescue collie named Lady and a rescue cat named Wilma Mankiller.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

In 2015 I want to...

In 2015, I Want To...
By Laura Bradford

By the time I'm next here, we'll be into the middle of January (wow) and the whole "new year" concept will be getting a bit stale. So let's chat about that now, shall we?

For the last few years, my friend (fellow Stiletto Gang member, Lynn Cahoon) and I have been exchanging yearly professional goals. In those goals we talk about projects we want to start/finish, conferences we want to attend, the financial aspect we think/want to reach, etc. The following year, we have an accountability phone call where we go through those goals--point by point--and see how we did.

To say I've come to really enjoy this goal session each year would be a bit of an understatement. I guess, in many ways, it's like a giant to-do list (which I adore)...with an accompanying phone call (with my buddy, no less) to talk about all those fun little checkmarks that have ended up in the "done" column by the end of the year.

Some years, I've come really close to checking everything off (remember, there are a lot of "want-to-do" items on there). Some years, a particular item just didn't even come close to happening. But this year? Every item is getting a big check next to it!

That's right, I accomplished every one of the goals I set for myself, although one of the things got subbed out by something equally wonderful yet totally unseen when I first wrote my goals at this time last year.

Now, my mind is in the early stages of planning my 2015--what I want/need to do, where I want/need to go, etc. Knowing I hit everything this year is giving me a little bit of a daring streak, although whether that will remain when it comes time to actually write them and file them with Lynn remains to be seen.

So tell me, do you write professional goals each year? Do you share them with anyone?


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

KK Exposed—Author Interview

By Kay Kendall

Here is a revealing interview I did some months back with Kings River Life, the California-based online weekly magazine. See if you can spot the secret I divulge!

How long have you been writing?    
I began with my own version of “The Night Before Christmas” at age seven. Later I wrote essays,lots of English major/then history grad student papers, then news releases and annual reports during my long career as a public relations executive. In 1998 I began writing fiction. Gloria Steinem said it best: “Writing is the only thing I do that I don’t feel like I should be doing something else.”

When did your first novel come out and what was it about? My first novel is DESOLATION ROW—AN AUSTIN STARR MYSTERY, published in March 2013 by Stairway Press of Seattle. After Austin marries her college boyfriend, they move from their native Texas to a foreign country. She has trouble coping with so much change—and then her husband is jailed for murder. Alone, far from home, Austin must find the real killer. When she also becomes a captive, things go from bad to worse. Danger stalks two young lives and a new marriage. This fraught love story rages through social upheaval and anti-war protests. Canada in 1968—surprisingly hazardous.

Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?  My first completed fiction manuscript was a literary novel. It did not sell. I put it away and gave up writing fiction, but only temporarily. I still felt called to write so I took up genre writing. I devoured nothing but mysteries for two whole years and then began to write my own.

Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work? I’m an anomaly in this modern world. I love learning about the past. It helps me understand how we got from back there to here. If I can tell an entertaining story that has some accurate historical detail to it, then I figure it’s an easy way to help people swallow some history that I think they should be aware of.

Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can? Pretty much I write whenever I can. That said, I do have a pattern, based on sharing a house with a husband who is now retired and, although respectful of my writing life, deserves attention. Generally I write from noon until six in the evening.  

Do you outline or just wing it? I work from a basic outline. It’s like a road map. I know the basic route but add colorful detail—and red herrings—as I travel down that road.

 If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write? I work routinely from noon to about six p.m. However, in an ideal world I’d continue into late night. When I’m revising for publication under an editor’s hand—a stage I adore—then I can write for forty-eight hours straight—with brief timeouts for an occasional nap.  

Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Oh heck yes! Almost everyone does!

Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?  A well-respected publishing house for mysteries almost took my book, DESOLATION ROW. Three editors liked it, the fourth—the head honcho—did not. When she and I talked on the phone, she voiced two quibbles. First, she didn’t like that it was set in Canada, since “Americans don’t want to read about Canada.” (I bit my tongue to keep from saying—“You’ve heard of Louise Penny, haven’t you?”) Then she said that my writing about draft resisters during the Vietnam War did not tally with her memories. She concluded by saying that she usually didn’t revisit a manuscript, but if I made some changes, she would review mine again. I thanked her and hung up. She and I would not have been a marriage made in publishing heaven. Two weeks later I had a contract from Ken Coffman, publisher of Stairway Books in Seattle. He and his crew are ideal to work with. 

What are your future writing goals?  I’ve embarked on my Austin Starr mystery series. My next will be out in June 2015, RAINY DAY WOMEN. I plan at a minimum four books and hope for even more. God willing and the creeks don’t rise…as the saying goes in Texas.

What kind of research do you do?  Because I write about an era that I lived through, I do little research. I write from memory, and then when I throw in specific place details or real historical figures, I do a bit of online research to ensure accuracy. For DESOLATION ROW, I had a justice of the Ontario Supreme Court read it to ensure accurate representation of the criminal justice system in Toronto in 1968.

What do you read?  Historical fiction, the occasional literary novel, and masses of mysteries and spy stories. Also well-written thrillers, but I’m picky about those. Most of them are just slam-bang things so they don’t interest me much. However, my favorite novels of all time are JANE EYRE and ANNA KARENINA. 

What is something people would be surprised to know about you?  I married a Canadian and lived in Canada for two decades, an American in an unexpectedly different land. I also was offered work with the CIA, but decided to study history in graduate school instead. The spy world has always fascinated me, still does, but now I’m glad I didn’t end up there. But I sure do love it in fiction.  

Kay Kendall set DESOLATION ROW--AN AUSTIN STARR MYSTERY in 1968. The sequel is Rainy Day Women, will be out in 2015. Her amateur sleuth Austin Starr must prove her best friend didn't murder women’s liberation activists in Seattle and Vancouver. A fan of historical mysteries, Kay wants to do for the 1960s what novelist Jacqueline Winspear accomplishes for England in the 930s–write atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit of the age. Kay's an award-winning international PR executive living in Texas with husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Allergic to bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she’s a Bob Dylan buff too. 


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Neighborhood Bookstore

As promised I'm giving my report on how my day at The Neighborhood Bookstore turned out.

This was not a real bookstore but a home with 8 authors setting up displays in different rooms of the house: in the open small office, the living room, a den, and another living room--that's where I was with two others.

The kitchen saw the most action because that's where the coffee, wine and various delicious snacks were available.

Every author promoted in her own way--and I know announcement were left at the local small theater, several libraries, given out at book clubs and writing groups, and of course announcements on Facebook and Twitter.

A sign that just said Book Store with an arrow was put on the corner of the main street and the one where the house was. Another at the other end, and one in front of the house.

Several people came because they saw the signs, a couple who were on a Christmas home tour and just decided to add the bookstore as an extra stop.

I shared a table with another author, and having my display rack worked out great.

A steady flow of people came in the open front door and flowed through the house from 12 to 5.

I was delighted to see old friends and met a lot of people.

And I'm sure you want to know how sales went--far better than many venues--I sold 25 books, maybe more because I wasn't very good at keeping track.

We did have someone who took credit cards, so if folks didn't want to pay in cash--most did--we could accept credit card sales.

One man--a fan of both series--came with a list of my books he and his wife already had, and he bought those they didn't.

Another young man came in specifically looking for me because he loves my books and had seen that I would be at this event in a newspaper article. He bought two books he didn't have anymore.

A woman I hadn't seen for years came specifically to see me--and she bought two of my latest books.

People I didn't know who loved mysteries bought a copy or two of my books.

Toward the end of the day, our hostess made a pot of soup, so between the wonderful snacks and the soup, we were well nourished.

It was a great day, and our hostess plans to do this again in the spring.

And that's my report on the Neighborhood Bookstore.