Welcome to my official website, dedicated primarily to my career as a writer of crime fiction. Here you will find descriptions of my series and books plus links to where you can buy them. Because I write part-time and juggle so many other different roles in my life (including being a mom and political activist), it is very difficult for me to answer e-mails and stay in touch with readers one-on-one. I hope you will use this blog as a vehicle for contacting me, sending me comments and asking questions about my books. I very much appreciate reader feedback and take all of your comments and support to heart. I would also love to use some of your questions as the basis for posts here, so feel free to ask away. You can subscribe to this blog via e-mail at right, bookmark it or sign up for RSS feeds. Thanks and enjoy!
I am very pleased to announce that there’s a new book in my Casey Jones mystery series. Fire and Rain is available now in paperback and will be available in ebook format starting August 15, 2019. Order your paperback version now or pre-order your ebook copy today and enjoy delivery of it on August 15.
If you’ve been a fan….
As an author, you never really know what your characters will want to do once you get started writing a book. As I was writing this particular book, I realized that Casey had grown and matured a bit since Bad Moon on the Rise and that Fire and Rain was going to be a very personal journey for Casey. Out of the blue, I found old boyfriends of Casey knocking on the door and demanding to be let into the story. Bill Butler asked me for a reprieve and, in some ways, you learn more about him in Fire and Rain than in any of my earlier books. Burly is back as well. At the same time, two favorites — Bobby D. and Marcus Dupree — asked if they could step up and prove just how committed to Casey they were. Amidst all of this, Casey made it very plain to me that she is 1) not unaware that she is getting a little bit old to be continuously shopping for a new man in her life, but 2) not yet ready to moderate her behavior beyond self-awareness. God knows, she remains as stubborn as ever. So I hope that you will enjoy the plot, the tenuous friendships she makes with her female clients, and the usual “I can’t believe she went there” humor as much as you enjoy the deeper look at some of your favorite characters. If not, please do not blame me. I’m just the pair of hands that transcribes what the world of Casey is up to.
One final word: it’s easy to stereotype characters, especially when they’re as recognizable as little people, strippers, and bikers. But I try not to stereotype people in my books just as I try not to in real life. We’re all just walking each other home and I hope that I honored the unique humanness of every person you meet in Fire and Rain.
As always, thank you for giving me the honor of reading my books.
For new readers….
Welcome to the world of Casey Jones and her motley crew of assorted friends and enemies. They don’t come much tougher than Casey, a smart-mouthed unlicensed private investigator whose dirt poor Florida upbringing and hard scrabble life has left her few illusions about other people. But she has a new life in North Carolina that’s going strong, thank you very much, and her latest assignment is to protect two unique sisters starring in a sensational rootin’ and tootin’ topless dancing act. Unfortunately, not everyone’s a fan.
When vicious death threats to the sisters are followed by a murder and kidnapping, it’s up to Casey to navigate the sleazy world of strip clubs, biker gangs, and decades-long family secrets. To complicate things, every time she turns around, Casey seems to find an ex-boyfriend in the way, trying to tell her how to run her investigation and her life. To make matters, the tall, dark, and handsome biker who gets her motor running at top speed may very well be a head-on collision course waiting to happen. What’s a stubborn, grieving, and angry girl to do?
Calling on her friends for help, including her larger-than-life boss Bobby D. and computer whiz Marcus Dupree, Casey embarks on a journey that will take her from the eastern flatlands of the Tar Heel State all the way to its most exclusive mountain enclaves in a quest to seek vengeance for one of her oldest friends. I hope you enjoy the ride.
If you are a reader who has discovered me only recently, you may be wondering why the hell you have never heard of me before. The answer is pretty simple: there are many of us mid-list writers out there who do not get the kind of large-scale, national marketing campaigns that are needed to help an author and their books break out from all the many books in the marketplace today. We get buried in a mountain of new print releases, not to mention the avalanche of ebooks that come out virtually every single day. Many of us, like me, have been writing book since well before the advent of electronic platforms and we write as well, if not better, than the authors you see on the bestseller lists. In fact, our books can often be more original and surprising than those on the bestseller lists.
How can that be true? Continue reading
When I was growing up, my parents would throw legendary parties in the Cameron Park neighborhood of Raleigh, inviting a combination of journalists, artists, writers, professors, and what was rather euphemistically called “free spirits.” I learned a lot lurking in the corners of those parties. But the only time they ever had to send out an actual invitation to their iconic New Year’s Eve party was when they had to cancel it after 25 years because they had grown too old to keep up the shenanigans. That year, they sent out an invitation saying that the party would not take place and thanking their guests for years of debauchery.
Each year at the end of April, my parents would also throw a Walpurgisnacht party, which was a low rent version of a black-and-white ball. People would arrive dressed in black and white clothing, packing into our sprawling Victorian house on Park Drive, drinking punch that steamed with the smoke of evaporating dry ice, shouting above the loud music, sweating, dancing, and engaging in a whole lot of conversations and other activities that I’ve spent years in therapy trying to forget.
I often think about those Walpurgisnacht parties when I look around the world we live in today. It’s like a black-and-white ball, only without the fun. Everyone is forced to take a position on either one side or the other of any issue, with no room to live in between. Everyone is shouting to be heard against the background noise, drunk on either power or self-righteousness. There seems to be very little room for nuance or thoughtful original opinion. Meanwhile, smoke and mirrors abound and we’re all trying very hard to convince ourselves that we are having fun.
I’m not having fun. Are you? Continue reading
This past week, socked under by a killer virus that would not abate, I sought refuge in reading true crime in front of the fire. I do not read just any true crime book that hits the racks, mind you, and you should not either. A large percentage of them consist of breathless prose highlighting the more lurid aspects of a crime, much like the detective magazines of (not-so-) old. But I do read good true crime because of the amazing psychological insights into human behavior that thoughtful reporting on a case can provide. This means I primarily read (or re-read) Ann Rule, who, until her death last year, stood head and shoulders above all other true crime writers. I know of no one else who has even come close to Rule’s ability to illuminate the cause and effects of aberrant behavior, in part because times have changed. The need to rush a manuscript to market—and be the first to offer a book on a major crime already well-publicized by other media outlets—means that few publishers are willing to wait until the case has wound its way through the courts. Tracking a non-fiction story over years is also exhausting and life-consuming, which may have been why Rule switched to short-form crime reporting toward the end of her life. But at her best, Ann Rule had an amazing capacity to let the psychological themes of a case emerge as she examined a real life tragedy, traced its inception by backtracking to motive, then detailed what happened during the trial. She always made sure to report what happened to the victim’s families, gave investigators and prosecutors their due, and followed up in the years after the verdict to see whether the punishment imposed had changed the perpetrator (answer: rarely, if ever). Each of her in-depth books on a case represented a microcosm of human behavior, invariably showcasing the best and the worst in people.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table….
These opening lines from T.S. Eliot’s iconic poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, have sparked many a debate among literary fans: is it a beautiful metaphor for twilight’s stupor… or could it be a metaphor for life itself?
As it turns out, it could very well be a metaphor for how T.S. Eliot felt when presented with a literary novel over one from his beloved detective genre. Yes, the undisputed arbitrator of literary genius was a huge detective fiction fan, a fact that the bastion of high brow writing, the New Yorker,revealed in this recent illuminating article. And not only was T.S. Eliot a devoted reader of the genre, he also wrote a number of anonymous reviews of detective novels and stories, defending the conventions of the genre with passion and advocating for some of its most notable authors in the time between the two great world wars.
Where was T.S. Eliot when I needed him? I have spent much of my career defending my decision to go into crime fiction as an author and remain as surprised as anyone that I have chosen to dwell there for decades and counting. But now that I know a man of unimpeachable authority in matters of literary judgment shares my passion, I have decided to stop mincing words when it comes to why I choose to write crime fiction over what some in the world might describe as more worthy novels. If J. Alfred Prufock can dare to eat a peach, then I can surely dare to point out the obvious in this endless debate: Continue reading
Don’t miss the novel by members of the Thalia Press Authors Co-op called Beat Slay Love. It’s a fun read because it combines the world of celebrity cooking with sex — and what could possibly be better than that? Order the book online now.
There are so many cooking metaphors I could use to talk about the process of writing this novel, a journey that involved five separate authors, all with their own long list of previously published books: me, Thalia co-founder Lise McClendon, Taffy Cannon, Kate Flora, and Gary Phillips. Instead, though, I see the creation of this novel as a metaphor for the overall authors co-op we have forged here at Thalia. When we first got together to write the book — a process that began and then lived in the virtual world since we are scattered across America — we were not quite sure what we wanted to do. It was much the same way with our co-op. We knew that we wanted to share ideas, support each other, and cheer each other on. But beyond that: we just had to dive in. We were creating something new and who knew where it would lead?
Where the idea of a group novel led to ultimately was an experience that proved more fun than I ever thought possible and, eventually, a damn good book. I am proud of what we have written and very proud to be associated with so many fine writers. Continue reading
I went through a reading crisis this year. Every time I sat down to lose myself in a book, I found my attention wandering after just a few pages. I would check my iPhone for messages, stop by Facebook, and then force myself to sit back down and try again. It drove me nuts. Losing myself in a good book has always been my way of taking a needed break from the world. I attributed my problem to a shrinking attention span brought about by cursed social media. I decided anything more than four paragraphs was beyond my interest, thanks to new media, and bemoaned the loss of my ability to enter the pages of other worlds. Needless to say, this did not enhance my participation in my book club or endear me to friends with new books coming out. “Yes, I bought it and can’t wait to read it.” [“God, please don’t ask me how I liked it three months from now.”]
Thus I sealed my fate and kissed reading a full-length book good-bye. And then I picked up “Death Comes to Pemberley” by PD James. I had no choice, really, as it was my book club’s December selection and I had pretty much disgraced myself with my inability to get into any of the books we’d chosen thus far in 2014. Now, since the Grand Master herself died the day I finished her book, perhaps I feel more comfortable saying what anyone who reads this book realizes by the end: this is a terrible mystery. The plot is tepid at best and the true killer revealed in groanable fashion. And yet, I loved every word of it and could not put the book down. Why? Because PD James did a stellar job of bringing Jane Austen’s characters back to life and giving us a peek at what happened to them after their tales had been told. PD James was impeccably loyal to their essential character, as envisioned by their original creator. Lizzie, Mr. Darcy, Jane, Bingley, even, alas, Lydia and Wickham, never uttered a word out of character or took an action that Austen herself might not have decreed. And while James built her tale around Pemberley and its grounds, she also brought in characters from many of Austen’s other books in peripheral ways. It was pure joy to discover that Walter Elliott and his snobbish eldest daughter were behaving, as ever, in utterly supercilious ways. It rang true that Emma was still telling poor Harriet Smith what to do. The characters were as real to me as ever. Even my outrage at how James handled the character of Colonel Fitzwilliams was assuaged at the end of “Death Comes to Pemberley,” when the motive for his somewhat out-of-character behavior was revealed.
In other words, it took characters created over 200 years ago for me to lose myself in a book again. Continue reading
If you are a reader or author interested in exploring the future of writing and/or celebrating local authors, please join me for a special event on Saturday, April 23:
AUTHORS IN YOUR BACKYARD: A CELEBRATION OF LOCAL WRITERS
Join 2016 Piedmont Laureate Katy Munger as she welcomes local authors in a celebration of writing talent. Katy will give a keynote talk on writing followed by author readings and a networking reception. If you’re a local author and would like to attend, email email@example.com
I have been named the 2016 Piedmont Laureate and one of the responsibilities of that position is to conduct workshops for other writers in North Carolina. I’ll be doing just that in the months ahead as there are few things I love better than working with other writers and talking about writing. But with the world of writing in flux, and career trajectories no longer predictable, much less known, it’s time to look at exactly what these workshops should entail. I’d like your help with that.
With that in mind, if you are a writer of any kind – fiction, non-fiction, short form or long – what kind of workshops centered around writing would you be most likely to attend? What would be most useful to you either personally or professionally? Is there a specific aspect about the craft of writing you would find most useful, or are you more interested in exploring outlets for your writing? While I do not conduct workshops on how to get published – that question is unanswerable at the present – any other aspect of writing is a possibility. Please use the Comments section below to share your thoughts.
In addition to your ideas, I have several themes in mind for potential workshops, but I am reluctant to propose any that would not find an audience. If you are a writer reading this, or even someone thinking of dipping their toe into writing, can you do me a favor and give me your thoughts or your thoughts on whether any of the following themes appeal to you? Any feedback would be much appreciated:
The Role of Writing in Your Life Continue reading
One clear advantage to getting older is that you care less and less about what other people think. That’s why a blog post like this would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. But these days, I am perfectly happy to officially announce that decades of reading has led me to believe that all writers can be divided into three categories: empaths, voyeurs and parrots. Knowing which type you are can help you better balance your books as a writer, and knowing which one you prefer can help you better choose your books as a reader.
Let’s start with empaths. Being an empathy can be downright painful in real life — you are often buffeted about by other people’s emotions and motivations. But it is a powerful advantage when you are a writer. The ability to instinctually feel what other people are going through, coupled with the inability to contain your sympathetic emotions, add richness to a writer’s characterizations and give their scenes a level of genuineness that can distinguish a good book from a bad one. When you are reading a book by an empath, the author’s understanding of how others act and feel can be both humbling and moving. Every character comes to life. Every moment counts.
Voyeurs, on the other hand, can be both wickedly entertaining and devastatingly cruel. Their ability to see every move you make and then use it to their own story’s advantage is opportunism at its finest. We all know people who specialize in sitting in the corner at parties, watching everyone else, having a grand old time keeping karmic score. They don’t miss a beat and they have the memories of elephants. They can be a real pain in the ass because it’s so hard to hide anything from them and even harder to illicit a genuinely personal reaction from them. They risk nothing but see everything. I can only imagine what life with a writer voyeur would be like. No privacy. Nothing sacred. No real emotional involvement by the writer, just a constant watchfulness – and a willingness to turn your life into words on their page.
To me, though, the very best writers are a combination of both empath and voyeur. To feel for others alone is to lack perspective. To observe without feeling is to lack warmth. But give me a writer who can not only convey what it is like to be someone else, but also fill in the details and put that life in perspective — and you can sometimes achieve greatness. I will give you two wildly different examples of books that fit this bill: A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin and Floaters by the inimitable Joseph Wambaugh. Their characters breathe with life and, as authors, they respect the worth of even the most minor of their characters. Yet they also offer observations about what it is to be human that ring with a wisdom transcending a single lifetime. They are a joy to read.
Then, of course, we have the parrots — and that’s the best word I can think of for writers who emulate other writers or follow a formula they think will bring them success. It is not enough to describe what is happening in your story, as if you were providing people with a television show on paper. It is not enough to pile plot twist upon plot twist unless there is some meaning behind all those machinations. But still people do it, book after book, and many succeed, through luck and a willingness on the part of publishers to clone bestsellers. That doesn’t make them good writers. It makes them lucky writers who wind up in the hands of readers (readers who, upon hearing that a book is on a bestseller list, make the mistake of thinking it must be better than all the others). But reading a book written by a parrot is like eating Lean Cuisine for dinner. The satisfaction is short-lived and you are soon left hungry and wondering, “You mean that’s all there is to it?”
All of which leads me to an irrefutable fact that most writers would like to avoid: to be a good writer, you must first know yourself and you must be willing to dive deeper than simply putting words on paper. You have to be willing to embrace the joys and sorrows of others. You have to be willing to pay attention to the lives of others. And you have to be driven to put it all together in a story that offers readers a glimpse into life as you — and only you — both see and feel it.
Cross posted to Thalia Press Author’s Co-op Blog