Monday, July 28, 2014

     Thank you, Jim Denney, for inviting me to join this leap-frog blog of Monday writers. 
     If you're not familiar with Jim's work, you live in a bunker. The guy's written 198 books. Or maybe only 98. Fiction (the Time Benders series), non-fiction (many with Orlando Magic founder Pat Williams), and his latest books on craft--Writing in Overdrive is an absolute MUST for writers. 
     Jim's also got a couple of cool websites: The Truth Will Make You Mad and Unearthly Fiction. Check the dude out!

Now for the blog-hop questions:

1. What am I working on?

Raleigh Harmon. She's the nexus of my fiction universe. Fortunately I really love her company. Nothing like a forensic geologist who can't stay out of trouble.

I'm finishing up the second novel in her Young Adult adventures, the sequel to Stone and Spark. And since readers keep whipping me with chains, I'm working on the sequel to her adult life mysteries, after The Stars Shine Bright
    The YA will be out this winter. 
    The adult mystery will appear . . . no, wait. No promises. 
    When you write books, making promises will only get you in trouble.
    Or, more trouble. 
    But soon. 
    I promise . . . .
2. How does my work differ from other works in its genre?
     My hope is my work doesn't differ all that much: Great mysteries all carry the same elements of tight plot, ripping story, great characters and a setting that puts you right-there. 
    But Raleigh's a forensic geologist who believes in God. 
    And that's probably why readers like to tell me how this series differs from other mysteries:  

"The day I found your book The Rivers Run Dry, I thought 'Geology and mystery. . . together? What could be better?'

Ever since then I've enjoyed reading your books. Raleigh's charm and view of the world is refreshing." -- Ashley G.
"You are the kind of author who writes books that make people like me let everything else go because  we have to read til the end.  It's a sweet addiction . . . . The fact that Raleigh just can't leave things alone is totally in character with the rest of her persona.  All the information about the rocks is good too." -- Patricia H. 

"I am an avid mystery reader and have read just about everything from Dick Francis to Agatha Christie to David Balducci (and the list goes on, and on, and on)  So I have a pretty good feel for what is out there.
    "Your books are so refreshing. They are every bit as suspenseful without being graphic. You have a beautiful way with language and your stories are well crafted and lyrically written." -- Marianne G.

    So, there you have it. Must say, these letters are like wind in my sails; I can't thank readers enough. 
   But, world being what it is, there's always one person who feels obligated to dump the one-star review on Amazon just because Raleigh's a Christian. On the one hand, it cracks me up--somebody going to all that cantankerous trouble to rag about a fictional character who has a hopeful view of the world.
      On the other hand, I wish these cranks would just go back to reading the delusional Richard Dawkins and leave Raleigh alone.
     The girl's got enough problems.

3. Why do I write what I do?
     Mysteries: From the minute "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase" fell into my eight-year-old hands, I've loved mysteries. My dad later fed me a steady diet of Dash Hammett, Ross Thomas and James Crumley. 
      Nothing -- in my mind-- compares to reading a good mystery. Suspense, colorful characters (even those playing secondary roles), wrapped around one big fat Whodunnit.
     But mysteries are also among the most difficult books to write. Some genres allow for loose ends. Every element in a mystery must tie together, and only be revealed at the just-right moment. It's like walking a tight-rope, and the answers are all waiting on the other side.

4. How does my writing process work?
     I try not to look under the hood too often. In case I spook the machine.
    But the closest answer would be to compare it to how my Thanksgiving meal gets on the table.
    The planning stage consists of lists and shopping. Characters, settings, vague ideas that begin, "Wouldn't it be fun to write about . . . ?" 
      Then, sweat. 
      And sitting, which for me is the equivalent of water-boarded. Stand outside my office door, you'll hear me whining (and then some) about having to sit and write (yes, I tried the treadmill desk, thank you but I got nauseated. I also don't chew gun and walk at the same time). 
      So sitting and sitting until finally the story takes over and I completely forget that I'm sitting. Suddenly, nothing else exists but the story. 
      Carrying our Thanksgiving metaphor forward, this stage would be where I burn the turkey because I have completely forgotten it's even in the oven. 
      Crispy outcomes aside, few things compare with having a story sweep you into its telling. Those moment feel holy--and wholly undeserved by the likes of me.
     Which reminds me. Before she would begin her day's writing Flannery O'Connor used to pray to St. Raphael. The Catholic faith calls Raphael the "angel of happy meetings."
     I can't think of a better way to express the mysterious process of fiction: Happy meetings, both with the characters who come to bother Raleigh Harmon, and the readers who meet these people and love them just as I do. 

So What's Next?

I've invited the lovely and talented Christa Allen to make this blog tour's next literary lap. 
     A true southern girl, with a wicked sense of humor, Christa writes women's fiction. Her debut Walking on Broken Glass prompted Publisher's Weekly to dub her "one to watch." 
    So, watch! 
    Meet Christa here


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Nike Chillemi first showed up on my radar screen for her name--a name so cool I wanted to steal it for a character.
     Later, we became pen-pals, and she taught me about behavior patterns in abused kids. Her wisdom helped with the latest young-adult Raleigh Harmon mystery, "Stone and Spark."
   But these days, Nike is among my go-to mystery reads whenever I want something honest that still has a redemptive storyline.
     Nike's term for it is "askance romance."
     "I like the sound of askance romance," she says. "It rolls off the tongue."
      Her latest romantic mystery is Harmful Intent, featuring Brooklyn-bred PI Veronica "Ronnie" Ingals. After her cheating husband of one year is murdered, Ronnie heads to west Texas to track the crime. But she quickly locks horns with former Army Ranger Dawson Hughes, who pegs Ronnie as the number one suspect in the murder.
    I had a chance to talk to Nike about writing and life in general. Like her name, there's nothing ordinary about this woman. Be sure to check out her blog-- Crime Fictionista. (Man, I love that name, too).
      First: what do you mean by 'askance romance'?

     Nike: I needed a way to let readers know the romance between Ronnie and Dawson was sweet romance, but not tidy. Everything doesn't tie up neatly in a bow. Ronnie has severe issues as far as commitment goes. The fact that her recently murdered husband cheated on her doesn't help. But then she and that handsome deputy sheriff are going to have more than one book.
     Good. How did you start writing novels in the place? 
     I started writing seriously for publication seven years ago. When I joined American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) I also had more characters than a Leo Tolstoy novel and I thought they were all important. At that time Harlequin offered an online writing course. I conscientiously studied and did the homework for every single lesson. I'm not sure who said this, Stephen King, maybe, but I agree with it and practice it: I try to read the top writers in my genre…and you Sibella, are one I read. I read J. Mark Bertrand, Nancy Mehl, Robert Liparulo. James Scott Bell. I also read general market crime fiction writers such as Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Barbara Parker, and Lee Child.
      I'm humbled by that company. Thanks. On a personal note, you lead a very full life, including fostering teenagers. Tell me more about that, and how it informs your writing.
     My husband and I were foster parents. Then we took a break for a year and after that signed on with an adoption agency specializing in the adoption of children from the foster care system. We adopted three girls, ages 6, 7, and 9. They had been seriously abused. If fact, we cooperated with the district attorney and one abuser received ten years in prison. I've come to realize that abuse (physical, sexual, mental, and verbal) cripples children. It stunts them, shames them, and makes them feel unworthy.
     While they're deluged with feelings of inadequacy, they can't concentrate on school and fall behind. It also makes it difficult for them to form a relationship with God. They feel if their biological parents and grandparents didn't love and protect them, why should they believe their heavenly Father will? '
     It's taken me a while, but I'm now writing about the lifelong effects of this type of abuse. This new series, starting with "Harmful Intent," Veronica "Ronnie" Ingels and Dawson Hughes are the first of four "couples" in the series. At least one member of each couple, and sometimes both, will have been seriously damaged by parental abuse and/or neglect. It'll emerge as a subtheme and these issues will pop up at the worst of times to frustrate and confound the character while in pursuit of a killer. Each couple will have two or more novels.
      This is going to be a long series.
     Do you do a lot of research, aside from personal observations of damaged people?
     I'm a research nut. "Harmful Intent" started out as a writing prompt. The idea was to take a main character and place her in uncomfortable surroundings. I took Brooklyn-born and -bred Ronnie Ingels and put her in the hill country of Texas. That's disconcerting enough. But then I had her cheating husband murdered there, with Deputy Sheriff Dawson Hughes pegging Ronnie as the prime suspect. I thought I'd have a short story, but it morphed into a novel with plans for a series.
     I had to research details such as the procedure for flying with firearms from one state to another, what the Texas countryside looked like, types of trees, etc. I also listened to hours of Kenneth Copeland sermons to get comfortable with the jargon, lilt, and cadence of Texas speech patterns. He tosses in all kinds of information and stories about Texas, some of which I used in the novel.
    As an author, I don't always like getting this question, but here goes: Is there anything you want readers to take away from your novels? 
    First, I want readers to enjoy the novel. I want it to be an exciting murder mystery with likeable and engaging main characters and quirky secondary characters. I've thrown a lot of humor into the story. I'd like the story to thrill and chill, then turn on a dime and tickle the reader's funny bone.
    And in the midst of that, I'd like the reader to think about the awesome responsibility of parenting.
    I'd like the reader to ponder what the meaning and purpose of being here on earth is all about.
Follow Nike on Twitter, Facebook and her website:


Monday, April 7, 2014

Kurt Vonnegut cracked the mystery of creative people (particularly writers) when he said: "We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down."
   Life in general is sort of like that, but creative people there's an added element. They're building something that exists only in their hearts. And it requires one-part blind-faith, one-part steely resolve, and three-parts wondering if you should quit. 
     Recently writer Bill Kritlow and I discussed this creative life. The interview (which starts at the five-minute mark) is now online. In just 25 minutes we cover an amazing amount of ground:
  • Which of my newspaper stories was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize?
  • Why did I start the Raleigh Harmon series?
  • How can we balance the creative process with our families? With Christianity? 
  • Who helps us--and who hurts--on the creative journey.
  • And why I despise the term "Christian fiction."
 Bill's folksy manner disguises his keen mind. A published playwright, he manages to pull from me the private challenges faced while writing "Stone and Spark." I think this guy actually works for the NSA.
      But he also leads a writing group dedicated to nurturing creativity and faith. Our podcast opens with a radio serial written by Bill (don't you miss radio stories?). The second episode of the serial is on the website
     Hope you enjoy listening. Any audio "blips" are my fault. Rabbits are chewing my phone line. 

PS. Those of you in southern California, check out The Tehachapi Christian Arts Fellowship. They're doing good work, with joy. 
     And the door's open.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

One day.

You have one day to steal The Clouds Roll Away.

      Tomorrow, this popular mystery ratchets back up to ten bucks. So grab it for $2.99 while you can. 
     Along with this screaming deal, I've been posting my Top Ten Reasons for writing this third (of many) Raleigh Harmon mysteries. But this week, Life refused to cooperate with my plans (and why should it?). 
     So today--your last day to steal this book--I'm posting the remaining reasons, from Number Six to Number One. Ready?

  • Richmond, Virginia. I love this southern town so much that I dedicated The Clouds Roll Away to it. Go see America's unique historic gem.
  • Homesickness. In the previous book, The Rivers Run Day, Raleigh's transferred to Seattle, nicking her heart with longing. Now, returning to Richmond she gazes out at her hometown and realizes: "For all its troubled history and racial strife, this place was home. And few things ever feel as good as coming back to where you belong, and realizing the place waited for you."
  • Christmas. World's best holiday. Period. Gifts, food, joy, song--who hates Christmas, except stingy curmudgeons? And the holiday can even change them, as Dickens proved. While I enjoyed writing all Christmas scenes in The Clouds Roll Away, one gutted me: the scene where Raleigh watches the Charlie Brown television special surrounded by crack addicts. It wrecked me for days. "And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."
  • Romance. Yep, Raleigh's in love. Only she doesn't know it, and this predicament might be one reason why The Clouds Roll Away was named among Booklist's Top Ten Romances of that year. Reluctant romance, it makes great reading.

And all of those reasons bring me to Reason One for writing this mystery:


     Readers know Raleigh Harmon is strong. 
     Capable, smart, funny.
     And desperately in need of love.
     Of course, the whole world desperately needs love, and while writing this book, the words of Christina Rossetti were on my mind. In particular, her Christmas poem, "Love Came Down."I'm certain that poem informed many scenes of this book.
     So, while I've closed each of these Top Ten posts with a quote from The Clouds Roll Away, is there really any conceivable comparison between me and Rosetti?
    That's a rhetorical question.
    Here's the full poem. And frankly, I don't care if it's March right now. 
    Merry Christmas, everyone.

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,

Love for plea and gift and sign.

                                                           -- Christina Rossetti

Friday, March 21, 2014

Unreasonable Acts


Sometimes a story flows onto the page so smoothly a writer feels like they're receiving dictation, straight from heaven.
     The opposite also happens.
     The Hell of a writer's own making, this version begins with a lot of pounding on the keyboard, hitting Erase, pounding some more, and then, some eight hours later, walking away from the computer vowing to never-ever-ever write another word.
    The following day (because all working writers have self-inflicted amnesia), the process begins all over again. Only now it's even more horrible. Like some trip to the dentist where every tooth gets a root canal.
     I've had two novels give me serious trouble, beginning on Page One all the way to The End. It was as if the stories were simultaneously daring me and trying to assassinate me.
      Although written years apart, these two books bear some similarities.
     Most crucially, they're both adored by readers.
     The Clouds Roll Away, for instance, was named by Booklist a Top Ten read of the year. But writing that book made me realize why Hemingway put that bullet into his head. Not. Joking. When I finally turned in the manuscript, the editor sent back some suggestions. Five pages of "suggestions." Single-spaced. Here, let share with you one exact sentence: "I don't like anything about this book."
     She gave me three weeks to fix it.
    And I did.
    Because the story was begging me to tell it.
    My latest release, Stone and Spark, hit me with another gruesome writing experience. I nearly quit but for two things: a nurturing editor and, like Clouds, a story that pulled me to the computer.
     My second son "died"while being born. Twice, in fact. Thirteen years later, his neck still carries the red marks left by the umbilical cord that tried to strangle him. That kid fought his way to get here, and came out howling.
     Now he's got the spunk of ten warriors. If you tell him something can't done, it'll get done--his way.  I love that about him. I admire his spirit.
     We're human. We always hope things will go easily. But they rarely do. I'm even certain thing aren't supposed to be easy. Especially the most important things.
      If right now you feel like giving up--abandoning some project, a business, a book, a person, a new workout, a new idea--don't.
       Keep going.
      And yes, I do realize how unreasonable it all is.
      That's the point.
      "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world," wrote George Bernard Shaw."The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
      Which brings me Reason #6 for writing The Clouds Roll Away:
      It was totally and completely unreasonable.

For a very limited time, Amazon's offering The Book That Almost Killed Me--otherwise known as The Clouds Roll Away--for just $2.99. 
   It won't last long.
   So steal my book. Please.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

      Here's the deal. And I do mean deal.   
     Amazon is offering The Clouds Roll Away for $2.99. That's an 81% discount. 
     But it ends March 30. So steal my book. Now. 
      I'm also posting my Top Ten Reasons for writing this third Raleigh Harmon mystery that Booklist awarded a starred review.
       Reason #7:


    Despite preferring flip-flops to shoes, I still say winter's my favorite season, perhaps because a childhood in Alaska. 
     But the reason could run deeper. As painter Andrew Wyeth once said: "I prefer winter and Fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape--the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show."
     In The Clouds Roll Away, winter plays a starring role, and it was captured by the book's cover who illuminated the magic of the season and the mystery it brings to Raleigh Harmon.
     Here's an excerpt where our formidable forensic geologist reflects on the Virginia winter :
Winter rode into Richmond on the chattering breath of the Atlantic. Each year the season blew itself into existence. The ancient elms crystallized and frost crocheted the birches into lace doilies. On this particular December morning, with a bright sun overhead, I drove out New Market Road past fields that glistened like crushed diamonds. For this moment, my hometown looked cryogenically frozen, preserved for future generations to discover Richmond's wide river, verdant soils, and the plantation lifestyle forged through generations--gone tragically, humanly awry.

P.S.  The Stones Cry Out, the first Raleigh mystery, is just $3.99. And so is the NEW young-adult mystery, Stone and Spark, featuring teenage Raleigh Harmon. Don't miss it!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Forward Back

Readers, here it is! The new Raleigh Harmon mystery:

Stone and Spark. 

I'm thrilled about this book. Not only does Raleigh once again prove herself full of fire and spunk, Stone and Spark answers some questions bandied about by readers ever since the first Raleigh mystery, The Stones Cry Out, appeared more than five years ago.

Specifically: Raleigh's dad.

Readers want to know about David Harmon. What was he like? Will Raleigh ever solve his murder? (Man, I hope so!) And what was her life like when he was alive?

After I finished writing The Stars Shine Bright, those questions started percolating in my mind. I didn't push them away because as my favorite Englishman (Winston Churchill) once said: "The farther back you can look, the farther forward you can see."

And as so often happens with writing, my imagination knit itself to "real life"as a beautiful and brilliant 13-year-old girl came to live with us.

Now, I'm a Tomboy-mom with only sons. So having a teen girl around the house was quite the adventure, especially a girl who was so smart and so ready to tell me when I was full of . . . you know. (I love this girl. She's now family).

But the whole experience reminded me of how teen girls struggle to find their way, to forge an identity, to figure out where they fit in this great big world.

That's when Raleigh, age 15, appeared on the page. She began telling me about her growing up years--her dad's alive, her mom's still nuts, and Raleigh's just beginning to understand geology is the coolest thing in the entire universe.

Stone and Spark grew from that seed of wonder. And this new Raleigh mystery launches the parallel teen series that will run alongside the adult Raleigh series. We'll get to follow Raleigh through high school and into college, right up to the point where The Stones Cry Out begins. The second book in the teen series will come out this fall.

And yes, I'm working on the next adult book, the one that follows The Stars Shine Bright. Don't worry. (And yes, Jack will be returning for an encore performance--who could expect anything less from the Alpha Agent?)

I hope you enjoy Stone and Spark. Let me know your thoughts. Better yet, leave a review and let the whole world know: Raleigh's back!

Also for a limited time, Amazon is offering the third Raleigh mystery The Clouds Roll Away for $2.99. That's 81% off the regular retail price. So steal my book. Please. I don't know whether this deal will happen again because I don't set these prices--I just celebrate with readers when it happens.