Vietnam Veteran (1966-67, 69 – Army Helicopter Pilot)
Member of the Public Safety Writers Association
Member of the Wednesday Warrior Writers
Author of “Beyond Recognition”
Vietnam Veteran (1966-67, 69 – Army Helicopter Pilot)
Member of the Public Safety Writers Association
Member of the Wednesday Warrior Writers
Author of “Beyond Recognition”
The Ghost in Roomette Four, the third book in the series, features strange shimmering lights, an unearthly chill and tapping sounds that may mean someone—or something—is trying to communicate with my protagonist, Jill McLeod.
Jill is a Zephyrette, a train hostess, the only female member of the onboard crew for the streamliner known as the California Zephyr. The train was often called the CZ or the Silver Lady, because of its silvery stainless steel cars. It ran from 1949 until 1970, jointly operated by three railroad companies—the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, the Denver & Rio Grande Western, and the Western Pacific.
The first book in the California Zephyr series is called Death Rides the Zephyr. It takes place in December 1952, while the second, Death Deals a Hand, happens a few months later, in April 1953. By the time The Ghost in Roomette Four leaves the station, summer has rolled around and it’s July 1953.
The series features a specific historic train linked with a female protagonist who is a train crew member rather than a passenger—at time when working for the railroad was primarily a man’s job and a man’s world. That’s what first attracted me. When I found out about Zephyrettes, I knew I had to write a book with a Zephyrette sleuthing on the train and solving crimes.
I am having fun with the early 1950s setting, researching fashions, hair styles, figuring out what movies were showing at the local picture palace, the music my characters enjoyed, and what books and magazines they would read. I’m also looking at the cars my characters would drive and what was in the newspapers of the time, whether news of international and national importance, or something local.
It’s a time when memories of the Korean War, World War II and the Great Depression are still fresh in people’s memories. It’s the era of postwar prosperity in the United States, yet a time when casual racism directed at the mostly African American porters was common. In the 1950s, women married young and it was unusual for young women like Jill to have careers. In fact, in the third book, Jill is feeling the subtle pressure to get married—and she finds she doesn’t like it. She enjoys riding the rails and she’s not yet ready to settle down.
For the mystery reader who enjoys transportation linked with murder, there are lots of train books out there. Certainly we think of Agatha Christie, Jill’s favorite mystery writer. Murder on the Orient Express and The Mystery of the Blue Train both feature Hercule Poirot. And 4:50 from Paddington involves Miss Marple in a murder aboard a train. There’s also Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, the movie version released in 1951.
Here’s a link to a blog post about mysteries set on trains, though it’s several years out of date.
It lists a great many train books. Since the list provided on this blog is several years old, I’m sure readers could add more. My latest discovery is Barbara Nickless, whose series, set in contemporary Denver, features a railroad special agent, Sydney Rose Parnell and a K9 partner named Clyde. The books are Blood on the Tracks and Dead Stop. Her website is at http://www.barbaranickless.com/
Here’s hoping you’ll buy a ticket on the California Zephyr, my fictional version, and enjoy the adventures of my sleuthing Zephyrette.
Marilyn Monroe singing Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend, from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which opened in July 195. Jill and her boyfriend are planning to see this movie.
Percy Faith Orchestra playing Where is Your Heart, the popular song from the 1952 move Moulin Rouge. This is the song playing at the restaurant where Jill has lunch with her friend Tidsy.
Fifties fashions and hairdos:
The poodle cut, called the style that defined the 1950s:
Some illustrations of the popular full skirt and pencil skirt:
Good clothing photos here:
Some of the clothes that Jill might have worn:
profile of Zephyrette Nellie O’Grady from the Saturday Evening Post in 1955 has some good photos of a working Zephyrette:
This is part of the website called the Virtual California Zephyr Museum, which has lots of photos and advertising brochures.
Before I was published, I learned a successful author has to have a brand. The term is a little difficult to pin down to A or B or A+B, but basically it’s something that stops a reader’s eye as she wades through the thousands of new books offered every month. A brand connects synapses, whether it’s the author’s name, the series name, the topic, the title, or even cover art. “Oh!” the book shopper thinks joyfully. “Here’s something I’ll like.”
Branding means a second or twelfth or thirty-first book is noticed, even awaited, by fans. Readers need a reason to pay money for a book, to sign up for a newsletter, to pre-order (and boost Amazon ratings), and to tell their friends they should give an author’s work a try.
How does one get a brand? Start with the questions of information: Who? What? Where? When? and Why? The Who? makes some brands easy. When the author is well-known, her brand is already established. We’ve all seen movie stars and politicians try their hand at publishing, and it often works. I’ve been literally pushed aside at Barnes & Noble so someone could get to the title with a famous name/face on the cover. (If I only had a nickel for every reader who ignored my table of attractively-displayed books and asked if Nathan Fillion “really” wrote the Castle books!) However talented celebrities-turned-writers might be, I want to shout, “I spent thirty years of my life studying the language and its greatest writers. Then I worked for a year alone in my garret (okay, it’s an office, but it’s upstairs) to produce this new release. Isn’t that better than some comedian who paid a ghost writer to do the hard stuff?
You’ve probably figured out by now that I had no qualifications as a Who? Telling an agent or editor I’d taught high school English for decades was no doubt yawn-inducing. I wasn’t as interesting as the guy who climbed Mt. Everest one stormy year and was one of only a few who lived to tell about it. Now that’s a brand, though I can’t say I’d go that far to get one. I don’t have an interesting accent, I never worked for the CIA, I’m way past being pin-up cute, and I refuse to wear costumes that relate to my work. (Okay, I did that a few times, but it was always in the best of taste.) So Who? Was a difficult question for me—and often still is.
What? Often this one is answered by what came before. An author who writes a book that’s well-received writes another in the same vein (your agent will tell you to get busy on it as before the ink is dry on the contract). Cover art is likely to be similar and connected to the theme, whether it’s a coffee shop mystery or another installment in the saga of a strange world. Series titles might co-ordinate, like Dean Koontz’ Odd series or my historicals, which make reference to Elizabeth Tudor’s official titles over her lifetime. That builds the brand, which readers need, since they tend to forget they read and liked an author’s work until those synapses connect. So What? is an ongoing question, answered as an author builds a repertoire and readers grow to expect certain things from her.
Where? can be helpful, since readers like certain locations. My home area, though beautiful, is of little help. I live in northern Michigan, in a community so rural I point to a spot on the palm of my hand to show where it is. Besides making travel to hubs of publishing poshness difficult, it doesn’t make a gritty setting, like L.A. or Chicago, nor a trendy one like Taos or Seattle, nor is it exotic like Bangkok or Sao Paulo.
I began my writing career with no unique background, no track record, no intriguing locale. No Who? No What? No Where?
With When? I got a little lucky. I began with Tudor era mysteries that have lots of period detail, which appeals to a large chunk of readers. The Simon & Elizabeth Mysteries sold well, and reviewers took note. Then my publisher, after a bankruptcy and a lot of upheaval, decided to eliminate the mystery genre from its lists.
I sort of had a brand. For a while.
To be honest, these days my biggest branding problem is me. I write what I find interesting, and I can’t simply keep repeating my successes. After four historicals I became fascinated with the idea of a homeless detective and invented Loser (Killing Silence), but after three books, her story was told. Despite my (new) publisher’s suggesting it continue, I went on to a fun, mildly paranormal series (The Dead Detective Agency). Again, the arc came to a satisfying conclusion in four books and I saw no need for further exploration. My most popular series of late is written under a pseudonym (The Sleuth Sisters-Maggie Pill). So far it’s been a hoot, but a new idea took over in 2017, pushing the sisters aside for a gang of oddball vigilantes (KIDNAP.org). It’s hard to have a brand when your series are so different, so varied, and so short-lived.
That brings me to the last question: Why? Why would a person want to read what I write? That’s best answered by the motto I devised to pull my widely scattered titles together: Strong Women, Great Stories. My goal is to tell tales that are fun, interesting, and filled with characters who triumph over whatever bad things happen to them. That’s my brand, and while it isn’t unique, I think many readers want that very thing. I can guarantee the next story won’t take place in N.Y.C. or Shanghai–but I have been to Chicago a few times.
Peg Herring is the author of the critically acclaimed Simon & Elizabeth Mysteries, the award-winning Dead Detective Mysteries, the intriguing Loser Mysteries, and several stand-alone novels. Maggie Pill, who writes the cozy Sleuth Sisters mysteries, is Peg’s alter ego, younger and much cooler.
First, let me tell you where you can find a real-life example of the list I’m about to share. My selection of books is wide-ranging. I read The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas when I was in high school. I read every one of the books in The Mushroom Planet series when I was in the sixth-grade. Robin Hood books were my favorite when I was even younger.
However, the book that has affected me and my writing the most is one I finished recently. Stephen King’s 11/22/63 tells the story of a man trying to change the past by stopping the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It’s pure science fiction (flavored only the way King can do it) and it adds a new twist to the canon of time-travel stories. (I think I’ve read every time travel story available; trust me on this.)
That’s only part of what makes this book great. Things that King shows are elements that each scene of a successful story must have. A lot of these items are obvious, yet I’ve read books by high-powered authors who don’t include some, making for confusion.
(1) Source of light. Every scene must explain the time of day and, if the scene takes place inside, show the reader where the light comes from. Are we outside in the middle of the night? Full moon? New moon? Starlight? Clouds?
(2) Participants. Every scene must also tell the reader who is there and where “there” is. One novel I read recently started a new chapter that ran for over a page before I knew the who and the where. This is frustrating and irritating to readers (who are, after all, your main audience).
(3) Senses. Every scene should deliver the six senses. Six? That’s right. Not only smell, sight, hearing, touch, and taste, but the emotional state of the character needs to be explored. Briefly and surreptitiously, of course, unless you want to have a list at the beginning of every scene. (Not advisable.)
(4) Resolution. In every scene, somebody must want something, somebody must oppose that want, and there’s a clear winner and loser. Otherwise, what you’ve written is a lecture on morality. A good exercise is to write a scene about what Jack and Jill do with that pail of water. Each needs it and there can be no compromise.
The best book I’ve found on how to set up scenes is Naked Playwriting:
There are tons of lists. One is by Kurt Vonnegut, which can be found at this site:
And, to paraphrase Vonnegut, if you’re a great writer, you can ignore any list!
Bill Hopkins is retired after beginning his legal career in 1971 and serving as a private attorney, prosecuting attorney, an administrative law judge, and a trial court judge, all in Missouri. His poems, short stories, and non-fiction have appeared in many different publications. He’s had several short plays produced.
Bill and his wife, Sharon Woods Hopkins (a mystery writer!), live in Marble Hill, Missouri.
COURTING MURDER was his first novel and his second novel RIVER MOURN won first place in the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-Me Best Book Awards in 2014. All of his novels can be viewed on his Amazon Author Page:
Visit Bill and Sharon on Facebook:
That’s one of the most common question writers hear. The simple answer is ideas are everywhere–in overheard snatches of conversation, in dreams, in what you read, in the sight of a woman standing on a pier.
What those asking the question fail to understand is an idea is not a novel or even a short story. An idea is merely a starting point. It must be nurtured like a seed to achieve maturity and become something more. It’s like turning up the heat under a pot of water.
Some ideas fizzle out before making that transition to something else. The best, the ones that reach maturity, are nourished by imagination, experience and lengthy periods of consideration. Sometimes ideas are rejected when we realize all we’ve done is mimic something that already exists; unless you can put a stamp of originality on it, it may not be worth pursuing. They shine when you realize you have something unique.
The best ideas take time to evolve. John Fowles recorded how the genesis of his French Lieutenant’s Woman began with nightmares and images of a haunted woman which persisted until he had to know her story.
Seldom do such stories arrive complete in a single flash of inspiration.
An idea of mine led to The Tithing Herd, a new Western, released July 25 by Sundown Press. Here’s the blurb:
When an ex-lawman Lute Donnelly sets out on the trail of the ruthless gang of outlaws who murdered his brother, revenge is his only desire. But when he stumbles upon Tom Baskin, a youngster who has been duped into helping the outlaws and then left behind, Lute reluctantly takes the boy under his wing–and begins to find his humanity again.
United in a common cause, the pair travel a dangerous trail in search of revenge and redemption. But when Serene McCullough, the widow Donnelly loves, begs him to help her son move the cattle herd gathered by cash-strapped Mormons as their church tithe, he can’t refuse her.
When the cutthroat gang kidnaps Serene to bargain for The Tithing Herd, Lute and Tom find themselves pitted against insurmountable odds–with unexpected help coming from an old friend.
Lute’s desire for vengeance is trumped by his desperation to save the woman he loves at all costs–if he can live long enough to do it…
Bio: A retired newspaper editor, J. R. Lindermuth is the author of 15 novels and a non-fiction regional history. Since retiring, he has served as librarian of his county historical society where he assists patrons with genealogy and research. He lives and writes in a house built by a man who rode with Buffalo Bill Cody. His short stories have appeared in a variety of magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society, where he served a term as vice president. You are invited to visit his website at: http://www.jrlindermuth.net.
Let’s cut to the chase. I’m the antagonist in your suspense and thriller books. That’s the bad guy or she-devil in the novel you’re reading. I’m the sum of them all. I’m the evil mist that seeps through your doubts and fears with a relentless intensity. You won’t easily shake off my wickedness.
While Shakespeare’s Jacobean tragedies seem to validate the theory of the seven deadly sins, sometimes there seems to be an eighth. Killing for the thrill. No rhyme or reason.
My tool chest is as vast as the author’s imagination can take you. The guns and knives are a given. The snapping the neck is quick and often not a premeditated murder resulting from the buildup of a sudden rage. The poisons are as the delicious as the classic movie, Arsenic and Old Lace. The devices of strangulation, suffocation, and chemical asphyxia include the rope, plastic bags, carbon dioxide drowning. That crazy thing called petechiae when the lack of oxygen causes your skin to muddle with your blood is something a savvy detective would look for, unfortunately. I’ve also learned the perfect way to dissolve a human body. Not one thing left. Not even a gold tooth.
My author can write gore, which is surprising because she passes out at the sight of blood. I was particularly fond of my starring role when the blood spurted out of my throat, due to an ice pick jammed into my jugular and with good reason. I watched as the red liquid swirled and commingled like a watercolor with the glass of scotch I had poured for me.
Is it possible good writing, with excellent research, can take an author out of their field of knowledge and even out of their comfort zone? Absolutely. And that’s part of the fun because an author might take you out of you out of your safe haven, if only for a while. Corriere wrote about transgenderism long before the world said goodbye to Bruce Jenner and we met Caitlyn. She has written about false prophets. And then, there’s that blood thing.
Since early childhood, Lala has been passionate about all the arts. She is a painter and a former stage performer. Early work careers blended high-end real estate sales while becoming president of an interior design firm.
Her fifth grade teacher, Miss Macy, was the first mentor to suggest she consider a career in writing. That extension of the arts, the written word, turned into a full-time passion in 2001.
Readers and reviewers applaud her hallmark original plots, her in-depth character portrayals, rich scene settings, and authentic dialogue, all delivered with a fresh new voice. Oh, and her TWISTS!
Lala is a desert rat. She nestles there with her husband of over 28 years along with Finnegan & Phoebe— Teacup Yorkies weighing in at nine pounds….. total.