Monday, August 18, 2014

Interview and Giveaway with Catherine Leggitt

Please join me in welcoming Catherine Leggitt. 



Catherine, can you tell us where you're from?

This is actually a complicated question for me, except to say I am a fifth generation Californian. I was born in Oakland, and adopted at two weeks of age. My new parents took me to San Luis Rey in southern California. I spent my childhood on a wonderful farm where my father raised oranges. From a very stable childhood, I have moved all over California during my adulthood (be careful what you wish for). In the twenty-six years I’ve been married to Bob we’ve moved nine times. I truly believe he’s part gypsy.

Nine times! That does sound gypsyish. What inspired you to begin writing?

Although I always said I wanted to write and wrote a few stories in college mostly for my children, I didn’t get serious about writing until Bob retired early and moved me to his dream house in Grass Valley, CA. We lived in a lodge-like log house on fourteen wooded acres with a Grandma-Moses view. BUT, I was a day’s drive from my children and grandchildren, and I had to leave my friends, too. My allergies went insane, AND then menopause hit. Talk about a crazy sad time. I desperately needed a diversion and found it at the keyboard. Down the hill from us was a gray house. Although we’d lived there three years at that time, we’d never seen the occupants. I made up a story about why those people never came out of their house. Seven years and ten rewrites later I published that story as PAYNE & MISERY, the first Christine Sterling Mystery.

I'm so glad to know about your inspiration for PAYNE & MISERY. Now I have to wonder if Christine is inspired by someone real, too. Do you have a mentor?

In the early days of my writing journey, I attended the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference where I met the amazing author Susanne Lakin, who writes under the name CS Lakin. I credit her with keeping my enthusiasm for writing going during the days I knew I didn’t know enough to write, but the desire wouldn’t go away. Many times, I’d be teetering at the quitting place ready to jump when I’d sit down at the computer and find an encouraging email from Susanne. We met for lunch at times and brainstormed plot ideas. She’s truly been a godsend. I thank God that she shared her tenacity, expertise, and friendship at a time I needed it so much.

She sounds like a wonderful friend. Sometimes we just need that extra encouragement. What are your current writing goals?

With three published books and two more finished, my immediate goal is to find a publisher for the last two. I have come so far on this writing journey. IMHO these last books could be good sellers, maybe best sellers. I have another book plotted, but I don’t feel the pressing urge to complete it. At this point, I’m praying and waiting on God for direction. Another short-term goal is to attend the ACFW conference in September of this year. Perhaps I will hook up with an agent or generate interest in my books there.

Congrats on getting to attend the ACFW conference this year. I can't wait to find out you've contracted with a new publisher after you attend. How do you juggle the promotional aspect of writing with the actual task of writing?

BLEAH! Not my cup of tea, the promotional aspect. I do it gritting my teeth, the same way I take yucky medicine—because I know it’s good for me. Occasionally I am called to do inspirational speaking, which is extremely outside my comfort zone, but always turns out to be fun and special once it’s over. I’ve sold a lot of books doing that. I keep the local Christian bookstore supplied with my books and participate in all the local author stuff I hear about. I spend way too many hours on social media most every day—primarily Facebook, although I’m also on Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads. And I try to go to a writer’s conference and sell my books there at least once a year. This all conflicts with writing time, of course. If I am in the midst of an inspiration, like just happened in finishing my latest book, then writing is mostly all I get accomplished. My husband insists I have a life outside writing.

Funny how husbands think we need lives aside from writing! I must say I love marketing as much as you do. How has your life changed since you wrote your first book?

I have to say I’ve never worked so hard at anything in my life as I have on my books and the payoff has been increased skill at writing. It’s a good feeling to write a book. Even better when people appreciate your work or when God uses it to speak to a heart. Maybe no one but me understands how that has changed the way I feel about myself. Exploring themes as I write has also given me a greater understanding of who I am and who God is. Many years ago, I prayed for creativity. God continues to answer that prayer and for that I am very grateful.

I love how God uses the tools He gives us to change us. Who is your most memorable character and from what novel?

Probably Stryker from the book I just finished, THE ROAD TO TERMINUS. She is an eleven-year-old bald homeless child in St. Louis in 1955 when the story opens. Cars are her special passion and she can name make, year, and model just by seeing the front or back and sometimes just from the outline. But she cannot read. Her favorite possession is a stuffed monkey her mother told her she must always keep with her because it is valuable.

As one of Catherine's critique partners, I can vouch for the endearing nature of Stryker. I love this character. 



Catherine will be giving away a signed copy of Payne & Misery. To enter the contest, you MUST leave your email address. You may spell it out if you'd like: someone (at) something (dot) com. 


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Interview with Adam Blumer

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview author Adam Blumer.

Adam Blumer


You write meaningful suspense. Can you expound on that?

First, thanks for having me. I chose the tagline “Meaningful Suspense” to express the irrepressible redemptive nature of Christian fiction. What I mean by that is this: if an author is truly Christian, then God’s message of redemption will or should somehow show up in what he or she writes, even if it’s only allegorical. I believe the Bible supports this view. While we Christian authors can simply write a fun, clean story on occasion, I believe the redemptive message we find in Christ should somehow be part of—and generally characterize—what we write. Then our books will have eternal value beyond thrills and chills. That’s why I write meaningful suspense. This doesn’t mean Christian novels need to be preachy, but I believe some message of redemption should be there.

How many books have you written? 

There’s a difference between how many books I’ve written and how many I’ve actually published. I’ve written a total of eight novels, and I’m almost finished with my ninth. God has so far opened the door for me to to publish two novels. A third book, a memoir I cowrote, has a publisher slated, and the other author and I will hopefully be working through revisions soon.

Many of those early books were experiments, if you will, for developing my craft, finding my voice, and simply learning how to connect the dots of plot formation. I tried several genres. By writing these novels, I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, usually by trial and error. I don’t intend for most of them to ever see the light of day, though a couple may be publishable down the road.
  
Who are your favorite authors?

Goodness, there are so many, but here are a few: Richard Adams, Jeff Shaara, Terry Brooks, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Katherine Anne Porter, Leif Enger, Madeleine L’Engle, Charles Dickens, Frank Peretti, Willa Cather, Erik Larson, and Stephen Ambrose. As you can tell, I read a wide variety.

Did you always want to write suspense, or did you start out writing in another genre?

From the earliest childhood stories, suspense has always dominated my writing, though genres have varied. My first novel, written during high school, was an Agatha Christie copycat. So I started with a traditional mystery. I’ve also written suspense as a young-adult fantasy novel and a young-adult historical novel. It was when I submitted a young-adult novel for publication that an editor recommended I try something for adults. It was her challenge that compelled me to write my first published novel, Fatal Illusions, with Kregel.

You work full time from home as a freelance writer and editor. Does working from home make it easier or harder to write your fiction stories? Do you ever get tired of working on a computer and/or prefer to write your stories out by hand?

Being at home makes it easier and harder, if that makes sense. Because I’m home, it’s easier for me to carve out a few minutes here and there if I want to, though a few minutes are hardly enough to make headway on a novel. It’s harder in that I’m editing so many books for other people each day that the life feels sucked out of words sometimes. And yes, sometimes I stare at a computer screen way too much and just have to get out of my chair and go for a walk.  

But that’s the nature of life for me: both my paycheck and my novel writing depend on a lot of screen time. There’s no escaping it. Sometimes I wonder if I should switch vocations and be a welder or work some other trade; then I could channel my energy for words into my own books. So far God hasn’t led me on that path.

I never write my stories by hand; my hand can’t keep up with my brain. I can type about ninety words a minute, so that’s about right. 

I appreciated your series, In Defense of Clean Speech in Christian Fiction, which is featured on your Web site: http://www.adamblumerbooks.com/ How else can fans find out more about you and your writing?

Thanks, I’m glad you appreciated the series. I’m rather passionate about Christian fiction being clean. Fans can learn more about me at my website (listed above) and at Twitter and Facebook:


I also have a website for my freelance editing: http://blumereditorial.com. God has enabled me to edit a good number of published novels.

Adam is giving away a free e-book copy of his latest novel, The Tenth PlagueTo enter, leave a comment, along with a valid e-mail address, and let Adam know what you think about meaning in Christian fiction (i.e, Does Christian fiction need to say something?) or list what you are currently reading and enjoying. The giveaway ends on August 23rd. 


Monday, July 28, 2014

Interview and Book Giveaway With Donna Fletcher Crow



by Jeff Reynolds


I'm excited to have Donna Fletcher Crow back with Sleuths and Suspects. We'll be giving away a copy of her latest Monastery Murder (e-book) -- check to see what the rules are below.

This is the third time Donna has been here. Heidi Glick interviewed her about three years ago when the first Monastery Murder, A Very Private Grave, was released. Last year, I interviewed her about the third book, An Unholy Communion. If you want to recall those interviews, here are the links:

http://sleuthsandsuspects.blogspot.com/2011/08/interview-with-author-donna-fletcher

http://sleuthsandsuspects.blogspot.com/2013/04/interview-with-donna-fletcher-crow

Jeff Reynolds:  Welcome back to Sleuths and Suspects, Donna. Let me start by asking you what's new with you both in the literary world and in the literal one (other than the most recent Monastery Murder) since you last visited us in April, 2013?

Donna Crow: 
Thank you, Jeff. I’m delighted to be back. I always love visiting with readers. Top of the list in the “What’s new?” category has to be two new grandchildren. Our daughter Elizabeth in Calgary had Lucy Alexandra last September and our daughter-in-law Mindy here in Boise gave birth to Asher Hudson in March. That brings the grand total to 13 grandchildren.

In my writing life my 44th book, A Jane Austen Encounter, Book 3 in my Elizabeth and Richard literary suspense series came out last autumn.


JR:  The Monastery Murders are towards the top of my list of my all-time favorite series, and Father Anthony is my favorite fictitious character (I could make a joke that he took over from fellow Brit James Bond, but Bond was displaced when I was still in High School -- by Hercule Poirot as well as others). Would you like to tell us about the latest addition to the series?

DC: What wonderful company for Father Antony! And I’m sure he’s very honoured. But I’m afraid Antony needs all the support you can give him this time because he really has his hands full in A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary. Felicity is off to do a spot of translating for a community of nuns in Oxford and in spite of Antony’s warning her not to get into trouble we all know her proclivity for running headlong into danger. Then he learns that he must rush to the bedside of his Uncle Edward who raised Antony and his sister. All that just a few days before he is to lead a seminar of students in Oxford. Then he finds out that Felicity has forged an uneasy friendship with his estranged sister Gwena and expects him to make peace in the family. Then one of his students is killed in a ghastly accident. Or was it an accident?

JR:  In your previous interview you referred to this book as A Muffled Tolling. What led to the renaming of the book?

DC:
  That’s right, Jeff. A Muffled Tolling was my working title for this book because English change-ringing and the tradition of muffling, or more specifically half-muffling, bells for funerals and commemorations of the dead—something that has always fascinated me—is such an important part of this story. This seemed particularly appropriate because the book is set at the time of All Souls’ and my daughter had told me about her experience of muffling bells at Oxford for the commemoration.

My editor, however, didn’t feel it sounded sufficiently mysterious. We worked very hard on this title, e-mailing long lists of possibilities (some of them quite dreadful) back and forth until the word “crimsoned”  jumped out at me from an Easter hymn. Reliquaries are an important part of the plot as well, so bells were abandoned for the title. “Newly” was my editor’s contribution. This was all quite a process, but I’m pleased with the results in the end.


JR:  Hope you don't mind if I regress to your previous installment, An Unholy Communion. That story had a very strong spiritual warfare theme. What inspired that focus, and how does that focus relate to us in the U.S. in 2014?
 

DC:  One of the reasons I write murder mysteries is because they so clearly illustrate the clash between good and evil in our world and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Certainly that struggle is presented more concretely in An Unholy Communion because my characters are faced with actual satanic worship. This was a very hard book to write because I had to research the occult and learned things I’d really rather not know about. I chose the theme, though, because I wanted to show the reality of evil in our world. None of the demonic manifestations in my plot are made up. They are all based on experiences recorded by priests working in Deliverance ministry.

JR:  An interesting thing about spiritual warfare is that it often manifests in the physical realm, and A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary gives some illustrations of it, dealing with persecution believers endure both from unbelievers and from those who claim the name of Christ. Do you see persecution of Christians as a threat in our society? If so, how can we prepare for it?

DC: 
When I was a child demonic practices like those in An Unholy Communion were something missionaries told about when they returned from foreign fields. Certainly nothing that would happen here. And the persecution of Christians happened in Roman times and behind the Iron Curtain. I am constantly amazed at how close to home all of that has come just in my lifetime. I think the only possible defense is a strong prayer life and a supportive community of believers.

JR:  The highlight in this novel (I could say the highlight in the series, though the youth pilgrimage in An Unholy Communion rivals that) is the debate between an atheist and Father Anthony. So let me ask my usual multi-part question: First, should apologetics be a part of our lives as a believer? Second, is telling stories more effective than dealing with, for example, the classic arguments of God's existence which Father Anthony considered using?

DC:
You never do ask easy questions do you, Jeff? That debate was nothing I had ever planned to write. I usually try to make my arguments less combatively, but debating is such a hallowed Oxford tradition (my model for the evening was actually the Oxford Union, but I didn’t call it that) that the scene just fell into place.

I certainly believe we need to know what we believe and why we believe it. I believe theology is very important. The question is how to present it best to a world that really doesn’t want to listen. For that, look to the Scriptures: Jesus told parables. The Bible itself is a narrative—the story of God’s redemptive acts among His people. 

JR:  What's next, both in the Monastery Mysteries and in your other fictious endeavors?

DC:
Last week I sent The Flame Ignites, an Elizabeth and Richard prequel to my publisher. This goes back to 1984 and tells how Elizabeth and Richard first met. All the books in that series have literary figures in the background and for this book it’s the beloved American novelist Elswyth Thane and Rudyard Kipling.

Later today I will start the next Monastery Murder, which I’m calling An All-Consuming Fire. Antony has been asked to narrate a BBC documentary on the English Mystics Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing. Felicity is determined to stay quietly behind in the Community of the Transfiguration because her mother (remember the prickly Cynthia from A Darkly Hidden Truth?) is coming over to spend Christmas with her and help her prepare for their Epiphany wedding. I am wondering just how well that will work out.

JR:  Thank you for your time, Donna. To refresh everybody's memory, how can they keep up with your latest activities?

DC:
  Thank you, Jeff. It’s always a delight to visit with you and I love the opportunity to get acquainted with your readers.

To read more about all of my books and see pictures from my garden and research trips, including my bell-ringing lesson with the Oxford University Society of Change Ringers, go to: http://www.donnafletchercrow.com/  and I would love to have you follow me on Facebook at: http://ning.it/OHi0MY

Jeff to reader:  At this point, it's time for a giveaway of an e-book version of A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary. Here are the rules:
  1. Leave a comment. That easy enough?
  2. Include your e-mail address so we can notify you. You can write it out if you wish, like AuntDotKahm(at)Ant(dot)com.
  3. Finally, what do you think is the best way to prepare for persecution/spiritual warfare/defending the faith? Or do you think these issues are better left to theologians and ministers?

Monday, July 21, 2014

FBI Houston Citizens Academy

Guest Blogger: DiAnn Mills

Posted by K. L. Bridgewater



When I received the invitation from the FBI Houston Community Outreach Coordinator to participate in their Citizens Academy, all I could think about was the research at my fingertips and the potential of taking a future suspense novel to the next notch of credibility. Actually, my aspirations were selfish. During the seven week course, I grew as a citizen who cared more deeply about stopping and preventing crime in my city.
 Displaying FBI logo.png            The Citizens Academy is offered yearly to thirty of Houstons citizens: professionals from all walks of life, religious leaders, and others who are actively involved in the community. I was the only writer and considered the invitation an honor. The nominations are made by FBI personnel and Citizens Academy alumni. I was recommended by Houston FBIs media coordinator. Wed become good friends, and she knew my concern about providing accuracy in my novels where the FBI is depicted.
            The goal of the academy is to give those taking the class a glimpse of the FBI and how its special agents serve within their investigations. This method of outreach is popular in cities all over our country.
            The mission of the FBI is to protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal, and international agencies and partners. It performs these responsibilities in a way that is responsive to the needs of the public and faithful to the Constitution of the United States.
 Displaying DiAnn Target Practice.jpg           The class met eight times, once a week from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the FBI Houston office, and they provided dinner. An appetizing perk! The first night we arrived early for fingerprinting and a drivers license check. Handguns were not permitted, even for those who had a concealed handgun license (CHL), and cell phones remained in the FBI reception area until the exited the building. Those persons who needed to contact us were given a special number. Laptops stayed at home, but we were presented with notebooks that contained a detailed outline about each session.
            The presentations through lecture, guests, and powerpoint revealed the raw and gritty crimes that snake through our city. My heart went out to young girls and boys caught up in prostitution. The prevalence of human trafficking in the bad and elite neighborhoods opened my eyes. Hate crimes yanked anger I didnt realize was there. Terrorism here and abroad, espionage, scams, intelligence, and evidence response teams gave me valuable information to share with others.
            The final meeting took place on a Saturday morning at their firearms facility, and we could bring a guest. I brought my husband, and he outshot me. But I got over it. The firearms were heavy, and accuracy would take practice. We witnessed a thrilling SWAT demo, FBI simulation training, and firearm instructions. Wow! Maybe Id missed my calling.
          We learned about the various investigations from the special agents who were in charge of those areas or who had worked a specific crime. Listening to the special agents discuss their fields of expertise filled me with knowledge that I continue to share. We also learned the process of how particular crimes and cold cases had been solved. Forensics fascinated me, and we were present to demonstration and experiments to show critical evidence.
The following is a list of what the FBI investigates:
     Terrorism
     Counterintelligence
     Cyber Crime
     Public Corruption
     Civil Rights
     Organized Crime
     White-Collar Crime
     Violent Crimes & Major Thefts         

            Since graduating from the academy
    Ill never look at a tattoo the same way again. Some gang markings are embedded in my brain.
    Ill never look at a massage parlor with indifference again.
    Ill never look at a low-life bar again without questioning a possible crime in the making.
    My cell phone is no longer used while Im walking through a public area. Victims use phones and are oblivious to a possible crime against them.
    I took additional steps to learn how to defend myself against a potential crime.
    I scrutinize my surroundings before exiting my car in public places, and I do the same before returning to my vehicle.
    I tell others about crime awareness.   
    I know how to contact the FBI with possible crime information. And Ive done this.
    My story ideas have grown deeper with the understanding of the skills needed and sacrifices made by FBI special agents to insure our safety.    
            Most of the above are common sense items, but all of us get sidetracked in the business of life.     For those interested in additional information about the FBI, its mission, and investigations, check out www.fbi.gov
 Displaying firearminstructor.jpg           Many story ideas developed during the academy, including the new series FBI: Houston. Research for Firewall began during this thrilling and informative academy.
            Im proud of our FBI and their accomplishments. I look forward to more active participation in the Citizens Academy Alumni Programlots of exciting events have taken place. Ive met more courageous people to bless my life and provide a solid foundation for my work as a concerned citizen of Houston. A trip to Washington will give me more information and hand-on experience for the future. Im now in the process of training to be a speaker in an effort to stop and prevent the growth of gangs.
            Who knows what Ill be writing next?
www.diannmills.com

 This is my personal review of DiAnn Mills's Firewall, which is located on Amazon:

            Diann Mill’s latest book, Firewall, lived up to its title. It was fast -paced from the beginning chapter when a bomb erupted in an airport, separating newly married Tayne Young from her new husband, Step.  The story throws in a couple of different twists as the story progresses along. The character of Tayne Young as an introvert was talked about, but not truly believable. Even though, I did enjoy the thrill of the hunt for the missing little girl, Zoey, and the mastermind behind the explosion and the hunt for Tayne’s head, Through the quick moving plot for the first three hundred pages, the budding relationship between Tayne and Grayson kept me wondering how their emotions would play out in the end. Struggling through the hurt from Step and the troubles from Grayson’s childhood, Tayne and Grayson lean on the feelings developing inside.

           But the one down side I discovered was the ending of the story dragged a little. It appeared Mills didn’t know what to do with Tayne or the intertwining of the bad guys, so she kept having Tayne captured by the bad guys, rescued by Grayson, and captured again before Grayson  freed her. The ending took too long to explain. I skipped a couple of pages by the time I read to page 290 because I figured she would be caught again and allow Grayson to come to her rescue minutes before anything horrible would happen. To Mill’s credit, the surprising identity of the person behind all the killings and bombings was someone I did not see coming. She did a good job at keeping this bad guy’s identity a total secret. Being a huge fan of DiAnn Mills books, I would still recommend every one of her book.

If you love fast-paced, detective stories, you will truly enjoy this book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest reviews. All of my opinions are my own.