Monday, April 21, 2014

Marilyn Levinson - Interesting Multi-genre Writer

My guest today is fellow mystery writer and Oak Tree Press author, Marilyn Levinson. Her varied published works and fascinating background provide some interesting insights into the writing life. Welcome, Marilyn.

1.    Why did you become a writer? Was it a lifelong dream or did the desire to write happen later in your life?
When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a writer or a ballerina. In high school, an English teacher managed to stifle my creativity, and I became a Spanish teacher instead. I found myself writing fiction when my sons were small. They’re now in their forties, and I’ve been writing ever since.

2.    What was the inspiration for your latest work?
Once I decided that my sleuth would lead a mystery book club, I knew that I wanted the book club to read and discuss various Agatha Christie novels. To me, Dame Agatha is the founder of the cozy mystery. Murder a la Christie is my tribute to her.
3.    Do you base your characters on real people, or are they totally from your imagination?
I don’t base my characters on real people—at least not consciously. My characters arise wholly from my imagination and take on a life of their own.

4.    What kinds of research do you do, and where do you go to do it?
I do whatever research is necessary as I write my book. I’m lucky to have friends who were in police departments. I seek their advice when I’m not sure about police procedural. As for other research, I first go to the internet and learn what I can online. Then I turn to people, many of whom are my fellow mystery writers.

5.    What was the most interesting research you’ve done?
Learning how a building is demolished. I needed this information for Murder in the Air because a body is discovered that was hidden 70 years earlier.

6.    Are you currently working on any new projects?
Right now I’m editing Murder the Tey Way, the sequel to Murder a la Christie. I’ve also begun work on a new mystery series about a Connecticut librarian in charge of Programs and Events.

7.    Do you have any writing advice for beginning writers? What about promotion?
Write, read, critique. Promotion is necessary for every author. Discover how you enjoy connecting with readers and your fellow writers, since they are readers too, and promote that way.

8.    What is your favorite book and why? Do you have a favorite author?
Among my favorite books are Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. I’ve no idea why these two books, of the thousands I’ve read, come immediately to mind. They are very different from each other, but alike in that they’re both beautifully written and have unforgettable stories.

I don’t have a favorite author, but many of my favorite mainstream authors are British. As for favorite mystery authors, I love Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Tana French, Katherine Hall Page—to name a few.

9.    What are you currently reading?
I read a few books at a time. One is a wonderful mystery entitled An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson. Interesting, that the sleuth in this book is Josephine Tey. I’m also reading Tessa Hadley’s Clever Girl.

10. Do you have a writing schedule? When do you find time to write?
I find I write best in the late afternoon. Promotion and internet activity often cut into my writing time.

11. What was your journey to publication? How did you find your publisher?
My first book, a children’s novel, came out in 1986. My agent sold And Don’t Bring Jeremy to Holt. It received a good deal of attention, and I assumed that everything I wrote from then on would be published. Hah! No such thing happened, though one children’s book remained in print for 18 or 19 years, and another was named a “Children’s Choice.”

Some years ago I started writing mysteries. My first few came out with e-presses. The first, A Murderer Among Us, my first Twin Lakes mystery, was awarded a Best Indie by Suspense Magazine. Murder a la Christie, a Malice finalist, came out this February with Oak Tree Press. I am delighted by the wonderful acclaim it has been receiving.
12. Do you have any writing idiosyncrasies? Any routines or rituals?
Oddly enough, I can’t settle down to my writing first thing in the day so I go through my email first.

13. Are your friends and family supportive of your writing?
One friend is especially supportive of me as a writer, and often tells me I don’t realize how much I’ve accomplished. My kids and my non-writing friends are proud of me, but that’s not the side of me uppermost in their minds. Frankly, I prefer it that way. I receive a great deal of mutual support from my writing friends.

14. What’s your most challenging aspect of writing?
Occasionally I’ll have a plot problem. A good thing I’m in a small group of mystery writers for this. We brainstorm plot problems, ways of murdering people, titles, etc.

A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and novels for kids.
Her latest mystery, Murder a la Christie, is out with Oak Tree Press. Untreed Reads has brought out a new e-edition of her first Twin Lakes mystery, A Murderer Among Us—a Suspense Magazine Best Indie—and will bring out a new e-edition of the sequel, Murder in the Air, in April. Her ghost mystery, Giving Up the Ghost, and her romantic suspense, Dangerous Relations, are out with Uncial Press. All of her mysteries take place on Long Island, where she lives.
Her books for young readers include No Boys Allowed; Rufus and Magic Run Amok, which was awarded a Children's Choice; Getting Back to Normal, and And Don't Bring Jeremy.
Marilyn loves traveling, reading, knitting, doing Sudoku, and visiting with her granddaughter, Olivia, on FaceTime. She is co-founder and past president of the Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Her books are available on her Amazon page: and her website:

Read her blog on Make Mine Mystery the first and third Mondays of each month:


Monday, April 14, 2014

Where Does F.M. (aka Marilyn) Meredith Get Her Ideas?


Today I am hosting good friend and wonderful mystery author Marilyn Meredith. Murder in the Worst Degree, the tenth book in her rocky Bluff P.D. series, has just been released, and It’s my very favorite yet. So I asked her where she gets all her ideas since she writes two books a year, one for each of her two mysteries series. This is her answer:


Ideas are everywhere.

For instance, just by being observant and letting your imagination go wild, you can come up with all sorts of ideas. Watch people and wonder. Why is she in such a hurry? Is someone following her? Is that man on his cellphone really watching that man who is going into his house?

Another way to get ideas is to watch the news—or read about something happening on the Internet. Then ask yourself, what if it happened this way instead?

I’ve collected news stories for years, ones that I thought I could change around and use as a partial plot and I’ve done it many times. Of course no one would recognize them because they’ve been changed so much as I’ve worked them into a story.

Sometimes I’ve asked a police officer friend to tell me some outlandish thing that’s happened to him, or his most scary arrest, one that could’ve gone wrong. Once I asked for a funny vice story and got a lulu and yes, I did use it in a book.

I love to listen to cop friends share stories and yes, I’ve used many of them. Of course they are never exactly how it was told because I need to work it into a plot that works for my Rocky Bluff P.D. guys.

One of the easiest ways to pick up ideas is listen to what people say on their cell phones. Everyone talks so loud on them you can’t help but eavesdrop. And speaking of eavesdropping, listening to conversations in restaurants can sometimes trigger ideas too.

A new way to pick up ideas for both characters and plot is on Facebook. It is amazing what people reveal about themselves in such an open forum.

So really, the best advice I can give anyone about accumulating ideas is to pay attention to everything that is going on around you. Jot things down in a way that works for you. When plotting a new book, sort through all these gems and see what occurs to you.

Writing is fascinating—and so is gathering your ideas.

Thanks for hosting me today, Lorna.
Murder in the Worst Degree:

The body that washes up on the beach leads Detectives Milligan and Zachary on a murder investigation that includes the victim’s family members, his housekeeper, three long-time friends, and a mystery woman.

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith is the author of over 35 published books. She enjoys writing about police officers and their families and how what happens on the job affects the family and vice versa. Having several members of her own family involved in law enforcement, as well as many friends, she’s witnessed some of this first-hand.


Once again I am offering the opportunity to have your name used for a character in a book if you comment on the most blogs during this tour for Murder in the Worst Degree.

Tomorrow you can find me visiting

Monday, April 7, 2014

Robert Richter - Author and Historian

My guest today is Robert Richer. His book on the Camino Real, The Search for the Camino Real, is of special interest because of its relevance to our new historical novel, The Memory Keeper. We share some similar interests. Robert is a fascinating guy, and I hope you will enjoy meeting him.

1.    Why did you become a writer? Was it a lifelong dream or did the desire to write happen later in your life?
I picked up a James Bond paperback in 1966 and decided I was going to write stories like that. I was in the first MA writing workshop at Colorado State University in 1973. I left the program in 1975 to farm and to write on my own.

2.    What was the inspiration for your latest work?

I like to write mystery/suspense novels, particularly cross-, or inter-cultural mysteries, setting questionable American attitudes and perspectives against those of lesser-known and more modest foreign cultures. The Huichol and Cora clans are two of Mexico's most ancient and unadulterated indigenous cultures in North America. Their world perspective is much different than ours, yet just as real. I am fascinated by the idea that different realities and histories can occupy the same time and space. Mexico has a unique way of conjuring that awareness.

3.    Do you base your characters on real people, or are they totally from your imagination?
Cotton Waters, the protagonist of my "Something" series of mysteries set in Mexico, is a young American expatriate hiding out on the Mexican west coast. An ex-student, ex-political activist with uncertain draft status and pending legal problems, he lives an incognito lifestyle along a tropical frontier of fishing villages and empty beaches, thriving on cantina life, beachcombing, jungle slumming, and playing second base for a local village baseball team. Known to his cantina buddies as “Algo”—Something in Spanish—and armed with a little Spanish and a passion for the Mexican coastal culture, he is a disillusioned dropout, waiting for the rest of the world to regain some sanity. I was something of a Cotton Waters in my college days, traipsing around Mexico and repudiating the American way of life during the Vietnam War. Waters is an exaggeration, of course. I was never tough or clever or cool and controlled like Cotton Waters.

Waters' Mexican sidekick, Cuate, a name that means "twin" in Spanish, is a combination of several old friends from those young cantina days. The nickname derives from a real person who was born with an extra big toe on both feet. His friends called him Twin. I kept that real name and characteristic for my character, but also made him into larger, more culturally representative attributes that serve the stories' needs.

4.    What kinds of research do you do, and where do you go to do it?

I'm a historian by nature and profession, so I've spent a lot of time in some of the great libraries of Argentina, Mexico, and the U.S.

5.    What was the most interesting research you’ve done?
I researched the development of the Camino Real in Mexico, the old colonial road that connected Spain's New World viceroys economically, politically, and socially. Then other historians in Mexico helped me explore the sierra jungles where the cobbled road ran, and we discovered parts of it still in existence three centuries and more after its creation. This was a book project both in libraries and in the field. The book about that experience and the history of an end of the Camino Real, The Search for the Camino Real, can be found on

6.    Are you currently working on any new projects?

I am currently finishing the third books in the Algo/Something series, called Something for Nothing and due out in January 2015.

7.    Do you have any writing advice for beginning writers? What about promotion?

I don’t like to give such advice. I say, don’t do it. For me, writing is some kind of a disease. I do it because I’m driven to do it. There are far easier ways of living with yourself.

8.    What is your favorite book and why? Do you have a favorite author?

My favorite book has always been The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemmingway. Most authors I enjoy are mostly dead now. Graham Greene should have won the Nobel Prize.

9.    What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Don Segundo Sombra, a classic Argentine novel, in the original. In English, I just finished The Mapmaker’s Wife, by Whitaker, historical nonfiction.

10. Do you have a writing schedule? When do you find time to write?

Generally, I work during the winter months when I am pretty shut in on the Nebraska prairie. Only in the last couple of years has writing become more a full time occupation. I work best in the morning.

11. What was your journey to publication?

I gave up a normal life at age 26 to be a writer. I became a dryland wheat farmer so I would have my winters to write. I published my first book in 1980, a book of poetry and black and white drawings about the place I live, southwestern Nebraska. Since then, I've published regional history and novels. My first "Something" book was Something in Vallarta, in 1991. Something Like a Dream is my second "Something" mystery and my eighth book.
12. Do you have any writing idiosyncrasies? Any routines or rituals?

I work best in the morning. I also need my private space. I have my farmstead, which serves most of the year, and I have a place in Mexico I go each winter to work for a month.

13. Are your friends and family supportive of your writing? If so, how?

Few writers, even published ones, make a living at writing books. My wife is/was a high school English teacher, who also sponsored this novelist's career. I couldn't have led the life I have without her support. Farming and writing certainly didn't provide enough to live on.

14. What’s your most challenging aspect of writing?

Coming up with a compelling, realistic plot is always a challenge to me. I tend to get involved in character and place, in a travelogue sort of way, and I'd rather deliver those things, and readers enjoy character and setting more, in an exciting story.


Something Like A Dream, Oak Tree Press, 2014
Cotton Waters is a gringo expat, scrounging up a lazy village living and a little beer money from of the Puerto Vallarta tourist trade as a private hustler of a Mexican Riviera lost-and-foundhelping some people get lost and finding othersif the price is right or the client’s cause worth the time and interest. When Corina Springfield asks him to find her husband, heir to the Springfield Foundation, ex-cultural guru of the Aquarian Age, and protégé of Timothy Leary, missing and presumed dead for over three years, Vallarta’s “Something” isn’t sure he can find her husband, but he knows he wants to try—for more reasons than he’s willing to admit. His manhunt for a mad shaman takes Waters into a blind obsession and into the sierra culture of the Huichol, one of Mexico’s most mysterious indigenous peoples. On this strange pilgrimage, Waters will find a whole new perspective on reality and dream, on deceit, self-deception, and human spirituality in a miraculous healing ceremony that will change his life forever or simply end it.

Search for the Camino Real: A History of San Blas and the Road to Get There, Outskirts Press, 2011
Both historical investigation and travelogue, this documented study of the end of the Camino Real and San Blas, Mexico, is woven into the author’s personal account of the search for remnants of Mexico’s colonial road in the lowlands and sierras of modern Nayarit, aided and accompanied in his excursions by various regional historians, local guides, and curious companions. And like the old road running through the contemporary landscape, the historical narrative merges into the story of the region’s modern character and development. To explore the Nayarit's wild and gorgeous geography, trying to site the ancient Camino Real, is to stumble over another road running toward the state's future economic development as part of the Mexican Riviera. Nearly five hundred years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the history of San Blas and the road to get there is still being written. This is a contemporary narrative portrait.

About Robert Richter:
I have a relationship with west coast Mexico that goes back forty years and lived in the Nayarit coastal village culture off and on for over two years, before that region was much known beyond the limits of Puerto Vallarta. I return frequently. However, I’ve lived on the remnants of a family homestead in southwestern Nebraska for thirty-five years. I farmed once, very small-time, dryland wheat to earn my place to live. Since giving up my own farming, I've done itinerant farm labor, substitute teaching, and I conducted escorted excursions in Latin America for small groups for ten years. During that time I was also publishing: a book of poetry in 1980; a regional high plains history in 1987. I’ve written for regional and national literary magazines and quarterlies, including Prairie Schooner, Bloomsbury Review, Sport Literate, Raven Chronicles, and others. In 1991 my first Algo novel, Something in Vallarta, was published. Homefield, a novel about farm life and returning Vietnam vets trying to start life over in their small town cultural landscape, was published in 2000. That same year, I also published a biography for young readers of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas of Mexico, and I was awarded the Distinguished Merit Award from the Nebraska Arts Council for my work in nonfiction. In 2007-2008, I was a Fulbright Research Fellow, writing and doing historical research in Buenos Aires for the year. Since then, writing has been my full time occupation, except when I’m nannying my five year old granddaughter.