Review: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

Weight of BloodThe Weight of Blood 

Laura McHugh


Spiegel & Graua_McHugh_Author_Photo_-_credit_Taisia_Gordon

Kindle Edition,  320 pgs

Release date 03/11/14, $10.99

Reviewed by: Gina R. Metz

The Weight of Blood is set in Henbane, Missouri deep in the heart of the Ozarks.  The story begins with Lucy Dane a seventeen year old born and raised in Henbane.  Her friend from down the road, Cheri Stoddard, has been missing for a year and her body has just been found in pieces jammed into an old hollow tree.  Lucy feels guilty that she was not a better friend to Cheri and that she did not try harder to find her or help her when she went missing.  The papers labeled her as “deficient” or “developmentally disabled”.  Kids at school had called her a lot worse things.  Lucy had outgrown her and hadn’t spent much time with her in later years.

Lucy’s Mother, Lila Dane, had come to Henbane not quite a year before Lucy was born.   Lila Dane was from a small town in Iowa and orphaned at twelve.  After struggling through foster care, at eighteen she signs a contract to work for two years in Henbane to try to save money to continue her education.  Henbane does not welcome or accept outsiders easily.  Lila is a beautiful woman and soon rumors are going around the town that she is a witch.  Things do not work out as Lila planned and she disappears when Lucy is only a year old.  It is believed that she committed suicide since all she took with her when she left was a gun but her body is never recovered.

The story shifts between Lucy, Lila and her friends and family as Lucy tries to discover what happened to Cheri and her Mother.  The Weight of Blood is a fast paced read that reveals the seedier side of life in a small town in a beautiful area.  Nothing is as it appears on the surface.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to other books by Laura McHugh.

An interview with Mike Witzgall

407I’m delighted to introduce you to Mike Witzgall (if you don’t know him yet) or to share this news with those of you who’ve known him for a while. Many first met him when he and his wife Shelly handled the mock crime scenes for us at our Criminal Pursuits conferences. You know that he’s full of information and probably a few other things, and that’s he’s loads of fun. But you might not have known what a great writer he is! A very pleasant surprise. Enjoy!

PJ: How long have you been writing?

MW: Starting in 1992 I started writing technical articles about law enforcement training – specifically, SWAT and Special Operations. Since then, I have written 15 published articles and 8 SWAT training manuals. I started writing fiction about 5 years ago.

I got interested in writing fiction over a period of several years – during those years; I was a guest speaker at several mystery writer’s conferences. I spoke on everything from police shoot outs to knife and bullet wounds. I loved it! What I learned at those conferences was (a) everyone has a story to tell including me and; (b) if you are not writing your story, someone else is!  

PJ: What types of things have you written?

MW: To this point, mostly technical articles. Sentinel’s Choice is my first shot at fiction.

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

MW: I’ll have to let you know one this one!

PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

MW: It is and it isn’t! I love the time I spend writing and creating a story. But I was surprised at how long and in depth the editing would be.

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?SC front cover

MW: Most writers ‘write’ because it’s a passion they have. Very few actually make a living at it. Since I am new to all this, I haven’t made much – but there is always tomorrow!

PJ: How did your work as a police officer prepare you or enable you to write mystery? Give an example if possible.

MW: One thing we teach rookies in the academies is that every crime committed is actually a mystery waiting to be solved. Sometimes there is an element of a thriller to it and sometimes not. Look at the Beltway Sniper incident (circa 2002). I was not remotely involved in the investigation, but as a citizen and a cop, I followed the story/investigation closely. Looking back on it, it had all the elements of murder mystery/thriller. It had the murders of innocent people, it had (in this case media induced) false leads, it had the confusion that almost all investigations have, etc. The end (the motive) was nothing like any of us thought it would be. It was about insurance!

My honest belief is that darn near every cop in America could be a mystery/thriller writer if they just took the time to do so.

PJ: Are you able to use real situations as inspiration? Can you share any with us?

MW: Almost everything that happened in the book (with the exception of the actual story line) to the protagonist happened to me or officers that I worked with at some point in my career.  Real life situational inspiration is easy to find in a law enforcement career. My best story (that I used) was when Ren and Tex are clearing a house alone. As they make entry they realize that the house is incredibly hot inside – every heating unit that can be on is turned up full blast (including the fire place, oven and space heaters). This greatly accelerated the decomposition of the murdered victim.

PJ: You and Shelly were huge assets to us when we were hosting Criminal Pursuits conferences for writers. How do you think the examination of the mock crime scenes most helped crime writers?

MW: Our hope was that we taught the writers some things about murder investigations and how difficult it is to investigate one.

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

MW: Actually very poorly, but I am learning! I actually have had to write out a daily itinerary that I follow.

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

MW: Getting the work finally published and out on the market!

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

MW: That things took so long. Nobody’s fault – it just took longer than I had expected.

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

MW: Well, it hasn’t happened yet… but I have a book signing on February 1st that I am really pumped about. Even if only one person shows up, I’ll be jazzed.

PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

MW: Accuracy of location and police and investigative procedures. More than anything else, it’s a good story.

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

MW: Keep going! Don’t give up.

PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?

MW: Having a good editor, publicist and friends that will review your work and keep you on track.

PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

MW: Since I am still learning… I’ll have to let ya know on this.

If you haven’t already done so, pick up a copy of Sentinel’s Choice – you’ll want to be in on Mike’s new career from the beginning! And do stop in Barnes & Noble in Cedar Hill TX on Saturday Feb. 1 at 2pm – there’ll be a party going on!

Review: Cemetery Whites by Connie Knight

Cemetery Whites CoverCemetery Whites
A Caroline Hargrove Hamilton Mystery
Connie Knight
Maple Creek Media, April 2013
ISBN No.: 9780985967895

Henrietta Hargrove Harrell had driven the dirt roads of DeWitt County for her entire eighty-five years.  Professor Thomas Harrison of San Antonio had been told about Henrietta and on his trip to Yorktown he knocked on Henrietta’s door and introduced himself.  The Professor asked Henrietta to drive him to the Hargrove Family Cemetery.  He told her that seeing the graveyard would fit into some historical research of his.  Henrietta, known as Great Aunt Hettie to the Hargrove clan agreed.  But just in case some problem might crop up, Henrietta brought along Dolnny Harrell, her thirty-three year old grandson, as well as a Colt 45 in her purse.

None of the three in Henrietta’s vehicle noticed the little grey car following along behind.  When Henrietta pulled up at the cemetery the grey car parked in some brush to hide.   The Professor stated that he wanted to see some of the graves in the older section of the cemetery, specifically Thomas Watson Hargrove and his wife, Elizabeth Dennison, early settlers to the area.

Henrietta pointed out the grave where a large patch of white Irises known as Cemetery Whites grew.    The trip to the cemetery didn’t end well for the professor or Henrietta or her grandson.

Caroline Hargrove Hamilton has just relocated from Houston, Texas after the death of her husband.  Caroline has moved back to DeWitt County.  She determines while in Yorktown she will study the history of her family and perhaps be able to publish some articles of historical value.

Caroline’s cousin Janet volunteers to chauffer Caroline around and one of the first stops is the cemetery.  Henrietta is nowhere to be seen but the Professor is lying amount the Cemetery Whites.  It appears that the Professor has been shot.

So begins Caroline and Janet’s investigation into the murder as well as learning much about the family history.  The two dug up a lot of the past and learned about new connections to the family that no one had discovered previously.

This was an interesting book and I look forward to Caroline’s future adventures if the series is carried on.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, December 2013.

Website URL:
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An interview with Lillian Melendez

Lillian R. Melendez was born in New York, and grew up in South Orange, New Jersey. Writing since childhood, she began to publish her work when she was very young. She received a Bachelors degree in English with a minor in Psychology from Trinity University in Washington, D.C. Aside from writing novels, she also continues to write and publish short stories and poetry. Lillian is a member of Mystery Writers of America.


PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

LM: I felt I reached success when readers told me their opinion on a novel they read. This meant that they actually read my books and were using their critical thinking skills to discuss the story. I love this!

PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?

LM: It took me three months to get published after I signed on with a publisher. Though, this time frame seems short, it took me five months for my manuscript to be finally accepted by a publisher from the over sixty query submissions I sent.

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

LM: I create a schedule. I rarely do several different agendas in one day unless there is an important deadline that I have to meet. Promoting my book would be the focus on one day, submitting work when it’s finished is a focus on another day, and Sunday is the day when I do nothing and rest. The only thing I cannot do is schedule writing. This is the tricky part, because thoughts enters my mind when I least expect it. I have a notebook at home and use my iPhone’s note apps to write my thoughts down when I’m traveling. Then, when it’s time to write, I create the story from my notes as well as what is on my mind at that moment. I schedule my time to fit my regular 9 to 5 job, spending time with friends and family, and relaxing. I do believe that there is a time and day to do something rather than cramming different agendas all together. Life functions a lot smoother when I have a schedule and I try my best to follow it.

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

LM: My second book, Auditory Viewpoint, was chosen to be entered into a book festival that had an auction event to benefit charity so I sent a signed copy. I was delighted to be a part of this.

PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

LM: It’s really up to readers to decide if my work sets apart from the rest. I am the writer; the creator of the story. I try to stay true to myself and my work and not care so much on what the publishing market is looking for. Readers have the final say of what they think of it through word of mouth.

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

LM: When you get frustrated, take a step back and breathe. Never stop writing and consider asking other writers for advice. It’s important to get back to your creative work, because you have a talent and it would be nice to share it with the world. Enjoy the sometimes smooth and sometimes bumpy ride along the way. You cannot learn anything without trial and error. Your strengths and weaknesses are tested, but you will improve in your craft. Putting a manuscript in your draw for months shouldn’t be an option, unless you’re developing more ideas and doing revisions to submit it on a later date.

PJ:  What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?

LM: Communication through one on one with a reader or in a group setting is my most effective tool. In my opinion, you can pay hundreds and thousands of dollars to promote your book with ads and book trailers, but if you don’t focus on engaging with readers about your novels, then it still feels private, like a journal, even after you publish it. You risk only having a handful of readers know about your book.

Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:

Dismantling Vindictiveness was my first book (2011)

Auditory Viewpoint is my second book (2013)

PJ: Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:Auditory_Viewpoint

The only hope for survival is an experiment in perception. Auditory Viewpoint.

PJ: Where can we buy it?

LM: Readers can purchase Auditory Viewpoint on Barnes and Noble and Independent bookstores as well as major online stores such as Amazon, Books a Million, and Barnes and Auditory Viewpoint and Dismantling Vindictiveness are also available internationally.

PJ: Thank you for taking part in the interview! Can you please leave the readers with one thing that might surprise them about you?

Many believe writers today write solely on computers. I simply cannot do this. I have to write on paper first, and not only that, I cannot write on paper with lines on it. It simply distracts my thoughts. I always buy a sketch book from art stores to write my stories on.

What’s your plan to increase sales this year? PJ Nunn

PJIt’s a New Year, after all. And the voices we listen to in the publishing world are once again speaking of change. The ebook world has plateaued but where do we go from here? Bob Mayer offers 10 predictions, but also mentions that he likes to be spontaneous, while one of his partners at Cool Gus Publishing likes to carefully plan things out with spreadsheets and calculations. My deduction? Not the same things work for everyone. We all have to be willing to pull away from the crowd and ferret out what works for us. We also need to learn to delegate – staff our weaknesses.

Unfortunately for some, from my seat as a publicist, that is still an issue. Far too many authors, whether original Indies or those who’ve transferred over from traditional publishers, just don’t know for sure what works for them. They’ve either followed the crowd without question, or they’re in some sort of time lock, quoting things that worked when they were first published by Penguin back in the 80s. Guess what?

Out of curiosity, I purchased a couple of ebooks last year with titles along the lines of How to Make $50,000 a month with Kindle (I hope that’s not a true title – I changed the names to avoid annoying anyone in particular). how-can-i-make-a-millionWhat I found was interesting. First, the two books were not much alike as far as the “how” although both spouted many, many numbers that ultimately didn’t make much sense to me. Second, they both seemed to be sincerely trying to convey helpful information. The bottom line, though, was I didn’t take away anything from either that felt like adequate advice that I could apply to my own plan to increase sales for my books. My conclusion? My “cynical self” deduced that the way they increased their ebook sales to magnanimous proportions was to write a book with that title and promote the heck out of it! How could you not buy it if it held that kind of secret??

My more “realistic self” suspects that the authors really started out to share useful information, but somehow stopped short in the area of theory before reaching practical application. I’m sure there are more authors who opt for Bob Mayer’s “spontaneous” approach, not necessarily because it’s best or even works for them, but because it’s all they know to do. I’m deeply wedged in the plotting and planning group. My background in psychology and the horrors of the statistics classes I had to pass to get my degree have the words “cause” and “effect” firmly carved in my brain. If it works, or if it doesn’t, I want to know why.

So here’s my suggestion as you start out this fresh New Year:

  • Record – Spend the next couple of weeks journaling all of your promotional activities without trying to determine cause and effect. If you post tweets, record it. If you note an upswing (or otherwise) in sales, record it. Time for drawing conclusions later.
  • Research – Also spend some time doing research. Read blogs and articles from people who know. Never take anything on the internet at face value – know something about the person writing it. There are a lot of knowledgeable professionals sharing info out there, but there are also a lot of author who talk like they know but don’t have the numbers or the experience to back it up.
  • Renew – Set aside some time to review the information you’ve gathered. Once you’ve gone over it, it’s time to make a plan for this year.

Ask yourself:

What is my ultimate goal? This should be something about the number of books you’d like to sell, not what show you’d like to be on.

What activities will best help me reach that goal? There should be several, and a variety of types. This can be a rather extensive list including reviews, website, blog, speaking engagements, print and broadcast media, convention attendance and more.

When and where should these activities take place? This will involve a calendar.

Who should I enlist to help with some of the activities? This is where you staff your weakness. Be creative, but don’t try to do too much yourself. You must have time to write! How do you decide who does what? Some authors have friends and family they can enlist. I don’t recommend pairing up with other authors for this – they’re as busy as you are (although pairing up for events can be a good idea). When it comes to sending out review copies, designing print materials or web graphics, and scheduling speaking engagements or media, it’s probably best to stick with professionals, but there are many out there with varying degrees of experience and a wide range of fees. Take time to check around and see who’s the best fit for the job at hand!

And remember, once you have a plan that feels comfortable to you, don’t micromanage! Effective book promotion is a process. Slow and steady wins the race. Too many authors go from blitz to burnout to nothing, then start over at blitz again. It’s not effective. Stick with your plan without worrying about results or checking your numbers every day. Review your sales at about the 3 month mark, then again at 6 months. In truth, the promotion you do in those early months can still be working for you a year later. I know you’ve heard it from me before, but it’s still true. Whether you build a little snowman or a huge snowman, you still build it a handful of snow at a time and it’s really hard to tell which handful made the biggest difference.

Do any of you newer authors have questions to pose here?

Or do any of you with a few books under your belt have suggestions to help us all with our planning? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Review: Graven Images by Eleanor Sullivan


Graven Images, the second installment in Eleanor Sullivan’s A Singular Village Mystery series, is a tightly woven tale of historical as well as mystery value. Sullivan’s ability to engulf readers in her characters and their environment is seemingly fluid and easily accomplished. Written in third-person, the tale quickly imbeds images in readers’ minds and builds the intended world around them. While Graven Images is solidly the second book in a series and does, at moments, refer back to the Cover Her Body, the first book in the series, readers will find that each work is just as sufficient as a standalone presence.

The characters are complex and real. Each, especially Adelaide, the hero of Sullivan’s tale, holds all the emotional levels and questioning nature of the everyday person. She is committed to learning, helping others, and her belief system, which is strengthened by her commitment. She is strong, focused, and caring. Sullivan creates a community that is founded in strict beliefs, yet the author does not allow the environment of her characters to staunch the storyline in the least. If anything, the setting enhances the story’s premise.

The plot is multifaceted and forthright, yet simple; though thoroughly instilled with the spark of humanity and all its faults, expectations, and imaginings. This keeps one closely glued to the pages of the work. Readers are enveloped by the surroundings and happenings of the Separatist community Sullivan portrays. So much so, that when the twist in the tale comes, one is fully invested and enthralled by the multi-layered tale.

Sullivan’s talent for drawling readers in and holding their attention throughout the work can be a double-edged sword for readers. On one hand, there is a feeling of elation that readers share when the hero meets her goal and rights the wrong; and on the other hand, readers find themselves wanting to continue being the proverbial fly on the wall so as not to miss a moment of life in the world the author has created.

Reviewed by Charlene Truxler for The Literary Review