Friday, October 20, 2017

Guest Interview with Marcie Rendon, author of MURDER ON THE RED RIVER

by Linda Rodriguez

My guest today is Marcie Rendon, whose debut mystery novel, Murder on the Red River, is receiving critical praise and was just translated into German. I'm particularly interested in Marcie's work because there are so few Native writers of mysteries, and I thought our readers would be, as well, so I asked Marcie to answer some questions that I thought you readers might be interested in. Please welcome Marcie Rendon to The Stiletto Gang.

Murder on the Red River by Marcie Rendon is available in paperback at  and in ebook at

Cash and Sheriff Wheaton make for a strange partnership. He pulled her from her mother's wrecked car when she was three. He's kept an eye out for her ever since. It's a tough place to live—northern Minnesota along the Red River. Cash navigated through foster homes, and at thirteen was working farms. She's tough as nails—Five feet two inches, blue jeans, blue jean jacket, smokes Marlboros, drinks Bud Longnecks. Makes her living driving truck. Playing pool on the side. Wheaton is big lawman type. Maybe Scandinavian stock, but darker skin than most. He wants her to take hold of her life. Get into Junior College. So there they are, staring at the dead Indian lying in the field. Soon Cash was dreaming the dead man's cheap house on the Red Lake Reservation, mother and kids waiting. She has that kind of power. That's the place to start looking. There's a long and dangerous way to go to find the men who killed him. Plus there's Jim, the married white guy. And Longbraids, the Indian guy headed for Minneapolis to join the American Indian Movement.
Marcie R. Rendon is an enrolled member of the White Earth Anishinabe Nation. She is a mother, grandmother, writer, and performance artist. A recipient of the Loft's Inroads Writers of Color Award for Native Americans, she studied under Anishinabe author Jim Northrup. Her first children's book is Pow Wow Summer (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2014). Murder on the Red River is her debut novel.

You've written award-winning children's books. What was the toughest part of switching genres to a mystery?

I love to write so I really didn’t have a problem switching genres. I haven’t quit writing for children. My children’s books are non-fiction. I find them harder to do because I want to accurately portray the families and their children and the story. With fiction I can just make stuff up.

How does writing for adults differ from writing for kids?

When writing for children there exists standardized word lists appropriate to each reading level. With adults I don’t have worry about that. I actually think that Native American children and other children of color have a greater understanding of some hard, real life situations and that the industry needs to not be so leery of addressing some issues. With adults you can write what you want. I consciously attempt to write all of my stories in a way where people can see their resilience over trauma, whether that is for children or adults.

What was the hardest part of writing this book for you?

It was a fun and enjoyable book to write. There wasn’t really a hard part to the writing of it. It did take a while to find a publisher and I didn’t get an agent before I found a publisher. Hopefully, that will be easier with this go-round of the next book.

Also, the book is set in a time before cell phones and DNA analysis so I didn’t have to worry about my lack of knowledge in those areas.

During the editing process I discovered that I had given every bartender in every bar the same name and had to go back in and re-name folks. Catching those kinds of errors required reading and re-reading and an outside eye. Thank goodness for a good editor.

What are some of your favorite fictional characters?

Lucas Davenport and Jack Reacher, Alex Delaware and his wife. Milo in the Coben books.

What has been your journey as a writer? Did you always want to be a writer?

I have always written since learning to write but you know, as a Native woman, I was never told that making a living as a writer was an option. During my early adult years we were all supposed to be doctors or teachers or lawyers and work for our people. So, I got a bit of a late start on the novel writing but I figure there is still time to crank a few out.

What has been your biggest surprise with this debut mystery?

I am surprised by people’s attachment to the characters in the story. Readers ‘want’ certain things for Cash and they let me know what they want for her. People are curious about the children in the story and want to know what happens to them. When I write, the characters are real to me – I was surprised that they are as real to so many of the readers also and that they are invested in their lives/their story.

What do you wish someone had told you before you ever started writing?

To sit my ass down and start cranking out books decades earlier.

I also wish that there were more affordable writing conferences that Native writers could attend. There is a business side to writing that I still am not that savvy about. How do I get someone to read my contracts? How do I know who a good agent is? Should I shell out money to have someone read and critique my manuscript? Who ‘should’ I know in the business? The whole publishing industry is not readily accessible to someone who is just writing. I think if you work in academia you have a few more doors at the ready to open, but I could be wrong about that also.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Ready to Double Down?

“Double Down” used to mean a calculated gamble – and maybe it still does. The technique certainly can increase the odds of winning. These days the term can mean anything from a bold decision to an increased resolve to stick to a position. Of course, it can also be a media euphemism with huge political overtones about certain statements, but that’s a different discussion.

What do the words have to do with books?

DOUBLE DOWN, a story set in the Holly Price mystery series world, is my newest release.

While this story was fun to write, I have a couple of confessions to make:  

People always ask authors where we get our story ideas. Confession #1 – The premise for this story was a given. A group of us challenged each other to write a story where luck changed the protagonist’s life.  Of course, for a mystery writer this means someone is likely to die. That isn't the life changing event. 


Characters are as important as the plot in my stories. My heroine, Maddie Larsson, leapt onto the page. The inspiration for Maddie came from a friend’s daughter—a single parent who works in a casino as a blackjack dealer. Maddie’s determination to forge a stable life for herself and her son draws the admiration of one of the casino’s gamblers, attention that changes her life for the better but also threatens to ruin—or end—it.

I wrestled a bit with the male lead character. So many readers wanted to see JC Dimitrak’s side of events (JC is the hero in So About the Money, book 1 in the series) I decided to put him in charge of the investigation. Maybe he was a little too charming since my beta readers …well, telling you would be a spoiler.

Confession #2 – I didn’t know anything about gambling. Honestly, I don’t understand the attraction but clearly it’s a popular pastime. Fortunately I had a willing “resource” (aka my friend’s daughter) to teach me the basics and give me insight into the dealers’ world.

Take all that and place your bets - DOUBLE DOWN releases October 23rd

Murder isn’t supposed to be in the cards for blackjack dealer Maddie Larsson. Busted takes on a new meaning when her favorite customer, a former Poker World Tour champion, is murdered. His family claims—loudly and often—Maddie is the gold-digging murderer. She better prove she’s on the level before the real killer cashes in her chips. 

If the victim’s body had been dumped five hundred yards up the road, Franklin County Sheriff’s Detective JC Dimitrak wouldn’t have been assigned to the Tom Tom Casino murder case. Instead, he’s hunting for suspects and evidence while dealing with a nemesis from the past and trying to preserve his own future. He better play his cards correctly and find the killer before an innocent woman takes the ultimate hit.

Special release week pricing! 
Amazon       B&N      Kobo      iBooks  

An award-winning author of financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories.  When not writing, she battles with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.

Find out more or sign up for her newsletter at 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Highlights from Bouchercon

Bouchercon 2017 was held in Toronto, Canada and I'm still enjoying a few extra days there, but here are two highlights from the week:
Here is our panel discussing crime novels set on the coasts. From the left are Ryan Aldred (mysteries set in Costa Rica), Baron Birtcher (Hawaii), David Burnsworth (Charleston SC), Michele Dorsey (US Virgin Islands), and Mike Martin (Newfoundland). They each had interesting observations about coastal settings, character, and crime. They made my moderating job easy.

Another highlight was Canadian bestselling author Louise Penny. I snapped this right after she won the Anthony Award for best mystery, for her book A GREAT RECK0NING.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Power of 'Me Too'

J.M. Phillippe

One of the most powerful feelings in the world is that moment when you realize that something you thought just happened to you, that only you understood or experienced (often with fear and/or shame), also happened to someone you know. Somehow sharing the experience changes how you feel about it. It shifts the burden from you to some universal truth -- this is a thing that happens to people, not just me.

It needs to not just be "me" in order to take away some of the shame. To that end I often self-disclose with my clients that I also suffer from depression. Me, too. So when I talk about how its the little things -- the laundry, recycling, dishes, and trash piling up; the constant need for distraction and inability to focus on anything; the sleeping binges and insomniac binges; the appetite that refuses to stay consistent -- they nod their heads. Oh yeah, that happens to me, too.

On social media, there is a trend happening right now of women saying "me too." It is a way for them to share that they have also experienced sexual harassment and/or assault, to show how common the problem is (and is a throwback to #yesallwomen, popularized in 2014 as a response to #NotAllMen). But for me at least, it is having a secondary effect of showing me just how not alone I have been in my own experiences. It is showing me that whatever I have gone through, someone else has gone through something similar, and that means I can feel a little less ashamed about my own experiences, a little less convinced I somehow did something wrong, inadvertently "asked for it" in some way, or had something specifically wrong with me that invited other people's bad behavior. Instead, I can see more directly how the culture at large is to blame, how systemic the issue is, how real rape culture (and the way it contributes to mass harassment) is.

For me, the power of "me too" in this instance is that it helps me continue to chip away at the shame I have had about my body since I was a little girl and was "made to feel funny" by adult men paying too much of the wrong kind of attention to me. My body was remarked on, my looks analyzed, my freedom curtailed because my very femaleness meant I would forever be a target. Pretty little girls don't get to go play outside by themselves. I was taught that a healthy amount of fear would keep me safe. It didn't. I was taught that a certain amount of modesty would keep me safe. It didn't. I was taught that not wrestling with the boys would keep me safe. Not only did that not help, eventually learning self defense by "wrestling with the boys" was the only thing that did help me feel safer as an adult.

Every "me too" I saw on my timeline made me feel a combination of sad -- and relieved. I wish the problem wasn't so prevalent. But at the same time, I feel reassured that this was never just about me but about all girls and women. This was never just my problem -- it was all of ours.

And I feel better still after reading wonderful messages of support from my male friends. A secondary trend of posting "yes I have" has popped up, with men sharing their own stories of giving in to rape culture and being complicit in the behavior of others, or participating in that behavior themselves. Their confessions and heartfelt apologies mean the world to me, because they come with a pledge to do better. It's another version of "me too" that carries the same kind of power -- we have all done things we are ashamed of. The first step is recognizing the problem. Together, we have a chance of changing things.


J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Finding Neverland: the Musical

by Paula Gail Benson

This summer, while I was in Boston for a business meeting, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the opening night performance for the national tour of Finding Neverland at the Boston Opera House. Based on a successful book and movie, this musical tells the story of how author J.M. Barrie developed the story of Peter Pan after meeting the sons of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. Although the fictionalized story does not strictly follow the facts found on Wikipedia or in Andrew Birkin’s J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: the Real Story Behind Peter Pan or Piers Dudgeon’s Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the DuMauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan (which has been reviewed as being a little too dark and not as factually reliable), the exploration of how an author found his character (and vice versa) is a fascinating view of the creative process.

Diane Paulus
Seeing this particular production had many advantages. The show already played Broadway and some of the company had been affiliated with that production. In particular, Diane Paulus, the Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theatre (ART) at Harvard University, had directed the musical from the time it was being developed at ART through its Broadway run. She also directed this national tour company, and had worked with the creators to incorporate suggestions for improving the plotline and making the story more immediate for the audience. The result was a really captivating performance that allowed the audience’s recollections of the boy who wouldn’t grow up to add another dimension to the story.

Billy Harrigan Tighe
As the musical begins, stoic Scotsman J.M. Barrie, a successful London playwright, is concerned that his plays are all the same and wondering what his next work should be. His American producer, Charles Frohman, urges him not to worry and finish the next show. His wife Mary, a former actress now enjoying life in society due to her relationship with Barrie, also encourages him to continue with the status quo. But, Barrie meets four boys and their widowed mother, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, in the park. After playing with the boys and relearning the joys of indulging his imagination, he faces triple crises of his wife leaving him for a nobleman, his producer demanding a new play, and Davies’ mother insisting that he cut off his relationship with her family.

Christine Dwyer
From the inner turmoil Barrie experiences, a villain emerges. His first name is James (after Barrie’s own first name and because, as the character informs Barrie, he is his alter ego) and his second name is Hook, for the appendage that takes place of a lost arm as well as the concept necessary to develop a story. As the first act concludes, Barrie’s imagination has taken the games from the park, added a dark presence consumed by the press of a ticking clock inside a crocodile that swallowed the missing arm, and created a pirate adventure that will become the story of Peter Pan. In the finale, Barrie becomes “Stronger” as his mind builds the images of the pirate ship (that the audience sees grow from a park bench) and has Barrie standing on the edge of the plank as the curtain falls.

Karen Murphy
In the second act, Barrie convinces his dubious producer and cast to put on his new work. Gradually, they warm to the project as Barrie discovers that Sylvia is ill. On opening night, Peter Davies is chosen to accompany Barrie to the theatre, but then the whole company returns to the nursery to give a private performance for the Davies family. In the end, Sylvia dies and Barrie with her mother collaborate to raise the boys.

John Davidson
Following the Boston performance, our audience enjoyed an onstage interview with the main actors and director Diane Paulus. Billy Harrigan Tighe, who had worked with Paulus in Pippin on Broadway played J.M. Barrie. Christine Dwyer, who had grown up near Boston, took on the role of Sylvia and was delighted to have so many people she knew coming to see the production. Veteran actress Karen Murphy played Mrs. DuMaurier, the strict matriarch who warms to Barrie’s charm, and well-known actor, singer, and TV personality John Davidson was featured as producer Frohman and alter ego Hook. In characterizing his work with the production, Davidson spoke eloquently about how each performance became a contract between the audience members and cast where all brought their impressions of Peter Pan into the mix.

The musical speaks to writers seeking to create as well as readers who remember a unique literary creation. Here’s the website where you can see if it is coming to a theatre near you: If it is, please go see it. You will thoroughly enjoy it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Debra's Gone Fishing - Canadian Style - at Bouchercon

Debra's Gone Fishing -- Canadian Style -- at Bouchercon 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Juliana Aragon Fatula's Writing as a Woman of Color

Autumn is here. 
My view from the River Walk in Canon City, CO

Arkansas River Walk in Autumn

This path along the river is one of my favorite spots to walk my dogs. 

Write what you know. If you don’t know about something read a book, research, ask experts about their field. If you don’t know how to write a murder mystery, and you want to write one, read a few hundred in the genre you like. I’ve read mysteries written by men, women, and to be more specific written by men and women of color since I am a Chicana.

I read books about the Ute Nation. I created fictional characters that were Ute. I read about Utah, specifically Salt Lake City. I visited the city and took photos, wrote notes, and interviewed residents.

I created a transgender character based on a couple of friends who are living in new bodies. I asked a friend to read the character outline I had written and she gave me great feedback. She said I was stereotyping the character. I thought the character was funny. She did not. She was insulted. The problem with the character was that I was not creating a backstory for her. She needed a past in order for me to understand her in the present. I gave her a better job. She became a transgender civil rights attorney. I stopped trying to make her funny and instead made her interesting.

The same thing occurred with one of my characters that was a possible murder suspect. I realized I hadn’t given her a storyline. I went back to the writing table, sat my ass down, and created one. I made her a soldier during the war in Viet Nam. But then I realized there weren’t many women soldiers in Nam. So, I made her a cook. I made her promiscuous and gave her soldiers to have affairs with. When she returned home she brought with her PTSD from the trauma of war. She used heroin. She changed. She aged. She became hard. I had to think like a murderer to create a great one. Why did she become a killer? Who loved her? Who hated her? What was her childhood like? What kind of evil had she survived to end up a killer?

I’m learning as I create these characters that they need a storyline to make them real, well-rounded, relevant. I write their backstory and study it until I start writing about their present based on what I know about them.

My murder victim, based on a xenophobic, misogynist, billionaire, had a very short part in the beginning of the story because he was murdered. However, he was the main subject of the investigation. He needed a past, too. I created a lifestyle for him that was unrealistic.  I had to make him believable. I had to give him characteristics that would make someone want to murder him. I began talking about him to friends and hashing out why he lived alone in a big mansion.

The protagonist is a character from my imagination, but she is part of me and parts of other women I know who are survivors, strong, successful. But she had to have a fault, a shame. So, I gave her scars and secrets.

Writing a murder mystery can be extremely satisfying. My goal is to tell a great story. My characters are crusaders for justice. They fight for the underserved and marginalized. I have faith that when I’m finished it will not be a good story, it will be a great murder mystery. I’m going to research, read, interview, and write until I’m convinced that the story deserves to be told.

Young women may read my book and decide to become a female investigator, or a civil rights attorney, or an internet technology expert, or a homicide detective. Or they may decide to open a shelter for homeless women and children and to teach them skills and send them out into the world as productive citizens, or a journalist that writes about atrocities that occurred to the Indigenous in this country. I want my characters to be realistic, gay, straight, transgender, Chicana, African-American, Native-American, Asian-American, disabled, mentally ill, cruel, kind, addicted, saviors, healers. Because in my world, those characters exist. I gave a couple of characters’ professional careers, but they grew up in Southern Colorado, so they speak Spanglish even though they are white. Some are sinners, some are saints, some are killers, some are funny, some are straight, but never narrow, no never narrow.