Bullet Books are speed reads for the busy traveler, commuter, and beach-goer. All are new original crime fiction stories that can be read in two to three hours. Gripping cinematic mysteries and thrillers by your favorite authors!
Manning Wolfe, attorney and author of the Merit Bridges legal thrillers, this week introduced the first set of Bullet Books. She’s co-written them with other twelve crime fiction authors, and they’re ready for readers.
I am officially chuffed because I’m one of the twelve. The book is
And on the back cover:
English professor Blair Cassidy arrives home late one rainy night to find the body of her boss-from-hell, Justin Capaldi, lying stabbed to death on her front porch. Her bloody clothes and plausible motive make her the number one suspect. When attorney and ex-husband Hart Montgomery vows he’ll keep her out of prison, she wants to believe him…
But, Blair suspects hers is one murder case Hart would love to lose.
And the book trailer!
I’ll add that Blair has something Hart reeeally wants. And then there’s the argument over a concrete slab.
Bullet Books are short and snappy. Open one on take-off, finish on touch-down, and in between, escape into a world of fiction designed to keep you turning pages.
I could say more about Bullet Books—such as, profiling the other eleven authors and mentioning the titles of their books—but I’ll save it for another time.
On second thought, it’s a little tacky of me to showcase STABBED and ignore everyone else. And this post sounds suspiciously like an advertisement. That’s a little tacky, too.
But I think I can live with it.
I will say, most sincerely, that I’m honored to have had the opportunity to write with Manning Wolfe and to be in the company of some fine authors. I hope you’ll read and enjoy STABBED and all the other Bullet Books.
By the way, air travel is not required. While Bullet Books are suitable for all modes of transportation, they’re just as entertaining in recliners, rocking chairs, and porch swings. The choice is yours.
A friend told me something about her family history. Her grandmother, who was born in 1910, had 12 children. By the time the last child came along, her oldest daughter was in her twenties, childless, and wishing she could have a baby. So that youngest child was given to her sister and grew up believing that her sister was her mother and her mother was her grandmother.
The way my friend told it, the situation played out without great trauma—the little girl learned that she was adopted in the usual sort of way. But to me, the possibilities for very deep emotional upheaval were striking, just depending on the circumstances. For my main character, Regina, being given to her sister was a disaster, and the feelings of betrayal, rejection, and abandonment are intense.
Why the mid-century setting?
Another friend, who read a very early draft of this story, said, “It’s great but the setting in time falls between contemporary and historical. Can’t you tell the same story set in present day?”
The answer is no. For two reasons. One: too many things that happen in the story could not happen now. Advances in forensic science, victim services, and child protection would be expected to change the outcome at nearly every stage. And yet I think that many of the old attitudes and assumptions—especially about female victims, racial prejudice, and the sovereignty of the family—are stubbornly alive today.
Two: There is a shape to that era—the twenties, the Crash, the Depression, World War II, emerging modernism—that is unique and still shapes our world experience. And I don’t think anyone disputes that the Old South continues to haunt us.
This book is very different from your first!
It is! LAY DEATH AT HER DOORwas a much riskier project, having a protagonist who was in so many ways also an antagonist. And it was contemporary. And although the crimes reached back decades, the truth about them was entirely accessible in the end.
In Blue Lake, the violence reaches back so far in the past, and in a time when the truth about an isolated incident could so much more easily slip out of reach forever, that it felt to me as though Regina would never be able penetrate the mystery. It was a challenge to lead her to the answers she so desperately needed.
Always murder! Why do you write about murder?
To me it is the ultimate drama, when human emotions result in one person killing another. I try to treat murder with respect, for the extreme and shocking act that it is for real. I love a good cozy mystery as much as the next person, but I cannot write one. Murder is a deadly serious topic—could not be more so.
I also read mysteries and thrillers that feature serial killers, though these are not my favorites at all. These murders are committed by people who fall well outside the realm of normal human emotional response. I am more interested in a murder that is understandable, so to speak.
I would not go so far as to say that we are all capable of killing another human being. I have no idea whether that is true—probably not? But I think we all recognize and experience emotions which, if we were tested to a limit and beyond, could make us really want to kill another person.
Laws are quite clear about issues such as self-defense and justifiable homicide, but our individual perceptions of these concepts, in extreme and highly emotional circumstances, can be quite elastic. And it may well be that anyone who murders has a deeply flawed character. But character flaws are universally human, too.
Elizabeth Buhmann is originally from Virginia, where both of her novels are set. Growing up as the daughter of an Army officer, she lived in France, Germany, New York, Japan, and Saint Louis. She graduated magna cum laude from Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, and has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh. For twenty years she worked for the Texas Attorney General as a researcher and writer on criminal justice and crime victim issues. Her first murder mystery, Lay Death at Her Door, earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and twice reached the Amazon Top 100 (paid Kindle). Elizabeth lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and dog. She is an avid gardener, loves murder mysteries, and is a long-time student of Tai Chi.
Isabel did read Italian; if she had any difficulty with La Repubblica, it was with understanding the complexities of Italian politics. But that, she suspected, was the case with everybody’s politics. And it was not just a linguistic difference; she could never understand how American politics worked. It appeared that the Americans went to the polls every four years to elect a President who had wide powers. But then, once he was in office, he might find himself unable to do any of the things he had promised to do because he was blocked by other politicians who could veto his legislation. What was the point, then, of having an election in the first place? Did people not resent the fact that they spoke on a subject and then nothing could be done about it? But politics had always seemed an impenetrable mystery to her in her youth. She remembered what her mother had once said to her about some American politician to whom they were distantly related. “I don’t greatly care for him,” she said. “Pork barrel.”
Isabel had thought, as a child, that this was a bit unkind. Presumably he could not help looking like a pork barrel. But then, much later, she had come to realise that this was how politics worked. The problem was, though, that politics might work, but government did not.
I hate that. I hate the author. I continue to like the book, but the author I despise.
This time it’s Anne Tyler. I love her novels. The Accidental Tourist. Breathing Lessons. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. My favorites, if I have favorites, are Back When We Were Grownups and Saint Maybe.
Tyler’s plots are rather loose. Instead of going directly from here to there, they detour, turn corners you didn’t see coming, abandon the now for backstory that might take you a generation or two into the past before returning to the main narrative. “[C]haracter is everything,” Tyler said in an interview. “I never did see why I have to throw in a plot, too.”
She writes about families: ordinary, quirky, dysfunctional families–dysfunctional as ordinary families tend to be. They’re humble people, living in ordinary houses, working at ordinary jobs; their furniture is often mismatched and their carpet runners often worn from someone’s pacing. Her families stick together; children and grandchildren don’t stray far, come home often, and sometimes don’t leave at all.
Even their extraordinary problems are ordinary, the kinds of problems real people experience.
Her characters’ days are filled with matters of little importance. “As for huge events vs. small events,” says Tyler, “I believe they all count. They all reveal character, which is the factor that most concerns me….It does fascinate me, though, that small details can be so meaningful.”
She loves to “think about chance–about how one little overheard word, one pebble in a shoe, can change the universe…The real heroes to me in my books are first the ones who manage to endure.”
If her plots meander, it’s because they reflect the common, insignificant, everyday events that are so important, because, taken together, they form the essence of life.
Tyler cares about her characters. “My people wander around my study until the novel is done,” she said in another interview. “It’s one reason I’m very careful not to write about people I don’t like. If I find somebody creeping in that I’m not really fond of, I usually take him out.”
And therein lies my problem, and the reason that Anne Tyler is, for the moment, on my bad list.
She isn’t alone in liking her characters. I like them, too. Some of them, I love. And when one dies–or, as I see it, when she kills one–I take it personally. The character’s family stand around in the kitchen saying all the plain, simple, often awkward, frequently funny things that real people say when someone they love has died. They crowd together in pews to hear a sermon by a minister who didn’t know the loved one and might not know how to pronounce his name. They return home to refrigerators stuffed with casseroles and play host to friends and neighbors until they’re so tired they’re about to drop. Left alone, they get on one another’s nerves and offend with, or take offense at, the most innocent remarks. Then they pick themselves up and go on with their lives.
But I don’t. Because even though I stand outside the novel, reading about people who don’t exist, never have, never will, I know them. I’ve been where they are, said what they say, done what they do. And when I have to go through it one more time, with them–that seriously messes up my day.
Tyler always manages to redeem herself, though. One of her characters says or does something so remarkable, so absolutely right. And the world of the novel shifts. And so does mine.
In the book I’m reading now–I won’t mention the title so as not to spoil it for you–Tyler gives that role to the “disconcertingly young” minister who conducts the funeral. After a friend and a sister-in-law and a fourteen-year-old granddaughter wearing “patent leather heels and a shiny, froufrou dress so short she could have been a cocktail waitress,” have paid tribute to the deceased, he approaches the lectern and does what the deceased wanted–to “say something brief and–if it wasn’t asking too much–‘not too heavy on religion.'”
He starts by saying he didn’t know their loved one and so doesn’t have memories like they have.
But it has occurred to me, on occasion, that our memories of our loved ones might not be the point. Maybe the point is their memories–all that they take away with them. What if heaven is just a vast consciousness that the dead return to? And their assignment is to report on the experiences they collected during their time on earth. The hardware store their father owned with the cat asleep on the grass seed, and the friend they used to laugh with till the tears streamed down their cheeks… The spring mornings they woke up to a million birds singing their hearts out, and the summer afternoons with the swim towels hung over the porch rail… and the warm yellow windows of home when they came in on a snowy night. “That’s what my experience has been,” they say, and it gets folded in with the others–one more report on what living felt like. What it was to be alive.
And so Anne Tyler performs her magic. Once more I start bawling. I reconsider. My hostility passes into nothingness. I forgive her. We’re friends again.
I leave the church and go home with the family to a refrigerator stuffed with casseroles, and visit with their friends, and watch them give and take offense but then quickly, or perhaps slowly, repair their relationships, and pick themselves up and go on with life.
Now I have to read the second half of the book. That’s a lot of pages to cover without the character I love. But, like the others, I pick myself up and get on with it.
If I can’t have the character, I can still love Anne Tyler. And I will. And I do.
In yesterday's post I wrote about Lynna Williams' story "Personal Testimony." Here are the first three paragraphs of the story.
“The last night of church camp, 1963, and I am sitting on the front row of the junior mixed-voice choir looking out on the crowd in the big sanctuary tent. The tent glows, green and white and unexpected, in the Oklahoma night; our choir director, Dr. Bledsoe, has schooled us in the sudden crescendos needed to compete with the sounds cars make when their drivers cut the corner after a night at the bars on Highway 10 and see the tent rising out of the plain for the first time. The tent is new to Faith Camp this year, a gift to God and the Southern Baptist Convention from the owner of a small circus who repented, and then retired, in nearby Oklahoma City. It is widely rumored among the campers that Mr. Talliferro came to Jesus late in life, after having what my mother would call Life Experiences. Now he walks through camp with the unfailing good humor of a man who, after years of begging hardscrabble farmers to forsake their fields for an afternoon of elephants and acrobats, has finally found a real draw: His weekly talks to the senior boys on “Sin and the Circus?” incorporate a standing-room-only question-and-answer period, and no one ever leaves early.
“Although I will never be allowed to hear one of Mr. Talliferro’s talks—I will not be twelve forever, but I will always be a girl—I am encouraged by his late arrival into our Fellowship of Believers. I will take my time, too, I think: first I will go to high school, to college, to bed with a boy, to New York. (I think of those last two items as one since, as little as I know about sex, I do know it is not something I will ever be able to do in the same time zone as my mother.) Then when I’m fifty-two or so and have had, like Mr. Talliferro, sufficient Life Experiences, I’ll move back to west Texas and repent.
“Normally, thoughts of that touching—and distant—scene of repentance are how I entertain myself during evening worship service. But tonight I am unable to work up any enthusiasm for the vision of myself sweeping into my hometown to be forgiven. For once my thoughts are entirely on the worship service ahead.”
Yesterday I wrote that the narrator of “Personal Testimony” is eleven years old. When I discovered the excerpt, I was reminded she’s really twelve. I’ll correct my error. My narrator in “Personal Experience,” however, continues to be eleven.
The members of Austin Mystery Writers were clustered at their literary haunt in the BookPeople café on Thursday morning, eagerly awaiting the arrival of famed author and Grand Poobah emerita Kaye George.
“Gosh,” I said to the group. “I hope she remembers the little people.”
I need not have worried. With all her usual charm and warmth, Kaye George appeared wearing a big fedora, carrying a giant magnifying glass, and blinding us with her dazzling smile.
We had missed Kaye George. Once a guiding beacon in AMW in Austin, she had moved to Waco, then Knoxville, Tennessee, too far away to attend the weekly critique group meetings.
However, that didn’t stop Kaye from being an active participant in AMW. She’s still a major player in the group, we’re glad to say.
Kaye George has been an inspiration to fellow writers. She fought hard to become a published author
The day Eddy Cranny got himself murdered started bad and went downhill from there . . . especially for Eddy. ~ Janice Hamrick, Death Rides Again
When I reached the second floor of BookPeople for the June 19th launch of Death Rides Again, Janice Hamrick’s latest mystery novel, my day turned around and started uphill at a gallop.
Janice, who lives in Austin, made news in the writing–and reading–communities when the manuscript of her first book, Death on Tour, won the 2010 Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition. Published in 2011, the novel was nominated for the 2012 Mary Higgins Clark Award and the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award.
In 2012, Janice followed Death on Tour with Death Makes the Cut. Now she presentsthe third in the Jocelyn Shore series, Death Rides Again.
Critics have been complimentary. So have readers. From her tour of Egypt, to the high school where she teaches, to a family reunion at her Uncle Kel’s ranch, main character Jocelyn Shore has a talent for solving murders and gathering fans as she goes.
At the book launch, Scott Montgomery, Crime Fiction Coordinator of MysteryPeople, BookPeople’s store-within-a-store, interviewed Janice before an audience of mystery lovers. This was the second time I’ve seen the two together: at last fall’s Texas Book Festival, Janice appeared on a panel Scott moderated. The subject was using humor in mysteries, something Janice does well. (See quotation from book, above.)
I took copious notes, as I always do on such occasions. The conversation ranged far and wide, however, and my notes comprise two pages of scrawl, on the diagonal, a series of jottings devoid of connective tissue. Turning them into paragraphs would take several hours and considerable energy (for reason, see “Why I Am Not a Journalist”), so I’ll share a few bullets:
Janice got the idea for Death on Tour from a trip she made to Egypt (during which no one was murdered). The idea for Death Rides Again came from a setting–her family’s ranch near Brady.
Some reviewers class the Jocelyn Shore novels as cozy mysteries; others don’t. Janice is glad the books aren’t easily categorized. She describes them as funny but hopes they have more depth than the typical cozy.
Asked what she learned while writing the series, she said that between Death on Tour and Death Makes the Cut, she learned, “I can do it.”
She’s working on another book–not a Jocelyn Shore–but she doesn’t talk about that one yet.
Janice rises about 5:00 a.m. and writes before going to work. She sets out to write 1500 words a week: 300 words a day, five days a week. On a bad day, she says, she can produce 300 words and feel okay. On a good day, she can “blast right through” her goal.
Now this is where things get personal. I began this post by saying my day went uphill because I attended the book launch.
Goals have never been my friends. Most people find them energizing. To me, setting goals is stimulus for digging in my heels, heading off at a 45-degree angle from the rest of the group. When my CP, who likes goals and thinks I should like them too, makes me set some for the coming week, I growl, scribble in my notebook–almost, but not quite, singing Nyah nyah nyah to myself–and then ignore them.
But Janice’s description of her 300-word goal–low enough to attain and feel good about, low enough to sometimes blast right through–spoke to me. Her system is so logical, so sensible, so humane. Sitting there in that folding chair, I heard the little light bulb above my head click on, and I said to myself, Well, d’oh.
So, on that basis, I’ve decided to jump into Round 3 of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life, with the following goal:
I will write 1500 words a week: 300 words a day, five days a week;
and this stipulation:
I will not rise at 5:00 a.m. to get the job done.
Now back to the book launch:
The question on the mind of nearly everyone in the audience was, What happens next?
When you’ve spent quality time with a character like Jocelyn, gotten to know her and her family, watched her fall in–and maybe out–of love, deal with matters of life and death, turn shaky post-divorce self-esteem to strong self-confidence–you don’t want the relationship to end. Three books, the number Janice contracted to write, aren’t enough.
So what might influence Janice’s publisher to ask for a fourth Jocelyn Shore novel?
The Jocelyn Store mysteries are available from booksellers listed on Janice’s website.
On Saturday, July 20, Janice and Hopeton Haye, host of KAZI Book Review, will appear at the Pflugerville Library for an interactive discussion about the Jocelyn Shore series, mysteries, and writing. On Saturday, August 31, she will sign copies of her books at the Round Rock Barnes & Noble.
For more information about A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80) click here.
To read what other ROW80 participants are writing, click here.
“I think the biggest myth that writers might have about themselves is that we’re somehow more important than we really are. I always cringe a little when I hear a writer say it’s our duty to make social commentary, expose social injustice, etc. I don’t think it’s my duty at all. My duty as a writer is to tell a good story, and to tell it well. If I’m faithful to my characters first and foremost, then it often happens that some sort of social commentary occurs. But honestly, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It’s not my job to be lofty, or to somehow ‘have my finger on the pulse of the nation.’ I’m just a writer, a modern-day storyteller. If I thought I was anything more, I’d get frightened and completely shut down.”
~ Nancy Peacock, A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning & Life
Sunday’s Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter presented a New Authors panel: Robin Allen (If You Can’t Stand the Heat: Stick a Fork in It), Kaye George (Choke; Smoke), and Janice Hamrick (Death on Tour; Death Makes the Cut). Hopeton Hay, host of KAZI Book Review, served as moderator.
Here, listed in no particular order and attributed to no particular panelist, are the tips I gleaned from the discussion:
If you don’t love a character, get him out of your manuscript.
Characters don’t always behave.
Publishing the first book makes writing the second easier.
There is no one correct way to write a book.
Characters come to life during the writing, not during the outlining.
Write characters worthy of subplots; they will carry the book.
Writing is torture.
Writing is necessary for good mental health.
Sexual tension between characters is hard to sustain over time, but marriage ends things.
Publishers encourage authors to have a social media presence.
Publishers discourage authors from having a social media presence.
Publishers don’t market books.
Authors must actively market in order to sell books.
Without limitations on time, it’s easy to screw around all day.
Agents don’t know everything.
Plot in advance but be willing to change the plan.
Writers who pants successfully have a lot of the plot in their heads.
Not everyone needs to write daily.
Sometimes a character disappears without telling the writer where he’s gone.
Writing a novel requires large blocks of time.
Writing a novel can be done in twenty-minute segments.
Experience makes a difference.
Establish a writing calendar.
An excellent manuscript doesn’t ensure publication.