Monday, March 31, 2014

My Friend Barbara M. Hodges – Author and Supporter of Authors

We spent the week ending March 23 at Left Coast Crime, a large conference for mystery authors and readers. Once again, we enjoyed seeing old friends and meeting new ones. We also had a chance to find some new authors whose books we hope to read soon.

One friend we spent quite a bit of time with was Barbara M. Hodges. We’ve known her for several years and have been blessed by her friendship. In addition to being an author in her own right, she is also one of the most supportive folks I know of other writers.

She interviews different authors every month on her radio program, “No Limits,” on Blog Talk Radio.

We were her guests in January of 2014. You can listen to the archive of the show here: (Fellow author Joseph Haggerty was her guest on the first half of the program. We were on during the second half.)

We had a great time with her. Barbara asked intelligent and interesting questions.

We very much appreciated the chance to talk about our books with someone

Barbara M. Hodges lives in Nipomo, California. She is the author or co/author of nine published works of fiction. The Blue Flame, The Emerald Dagger, and The Silver Angel are the first three books in her young adult fantasy series.
Aftermath contains three pieces of shorter fantasy fiction written for adults.

Barbara has also co-authored two suspense novels, Ice and One Last Sin, with Randolph Tower. A Spiral of Echoes, written with Maggie Pucillo, is a paranormal romance set in Baja, Mexico. Shadow Worlds, co-authored with Darrell Bain is pure science fiction. Barbara also has short stories in three other anthologies.

Barbara is a member of San Luis Obispo, California Nightwriters, Sisters in Crime and Public Service Writers Association. She also hosts a monthly program, “No Limits,” on Blog Talk Radio, where she talks with those involved in the field of writing.

All of her books are in print and electronic format and can be purchased all over the internet and other fine brick and mortar stores.
Visit Barbara at

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ilene Schneider, Rabbi and Author

How many women rabbis have you heard of? And how many of those are authors? We are pleased to know Ilene Schneider who is both! I’ve asked her to tell you (and us) a little about herself. Welcome, Ilene!
One question I am asked frequently is if I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I answer that I have always been a writer, beginning with parodies of nursery rhymes when I was about ten. My dream was to write for Mad Magazine.
At camp, I hated sports, so I volunteered to run the camp newspaper during the free period. I fell in love with journalism. I was twelve. My role model was comic strip icon “Brenda Starr, Reporter.” We had the same hair color.
My first nationally published work was a eulogy of JFK accepted by Ingénue Magazine when I was fifteen. I turned my attention to magazine writing.
I was a communication major in college, concentrating on journalism. I was an editor of my college paper, and a founding editor of a Jewish student paper in Boston. My new goal was to be the first woman editor of the New York Times.
Despite getting sidetracked, I still continued to write, taking over the editorship of a Jewish student paper in Philadelphia while I was in rabbinical school. After that, my writings were academic or curriculum design or reports or grant proposals, which can be a form of fiction.
About ten years ago, I found myself temporarily underemployed. (In case you’re wondering, that’s a euphemism for unemployed.) I’ve been a voracious reader since first grade—it would have been earlier if my mother hadn’t been afraid the teachers would be angry with her if she taught me to read before I started school. For quite some time, I had wondered how certain books had gotten published, let alone made the bestseller lists. But I also believed it was dishonest of me to criticize books if I hadn’t written one. So I did. It took a while. And it took longer to give up on finding an agent and concentrate instead on looking for a small publisher who did not require an agent and was willing to take a chance on an unpublished author. Eventually I did. But until I recently retired, I still hadn’t given up my day job.
There are certain things I dislike in others’ writings. One is implausibility. At no point is Rabbi Aviva Cohen, my protagonist, aboard an icebreaker in the North Atlantic, where she is tied up in a boiler room that is about to explode, and then on the next page is in Paris. Forget about how she escaped: I want to know how she traveled without money, credit cards, a passport, clothes, or time to go to the bathroom. Aviva eats meals and takes showers.
The other thing that bugs me is inaccuracies. I once read a book in which Shavuot, a two-day holiday seven weeks after Passover, was described as an eight-day holiday. I stopped reading the book.
For me, research was easy. After all, I had managed, eventually, to write a doctoral dissertation, and that was before the Internet. And, as inaccurate as it can sometimes be, the Internet is a boon to writers. There’s no excuse for not knowing whether it snowed on Dec. 4, 2002, in the South Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia. It did. I know. I looked it up when I needed icy roads as a plot device in Chanukah Guilt.
I had been at my new job as a hospice chaplain for only a few weeks when I got word that a small press wanted to publish Chanukah Guilt. Over the next few years, I managed to write two-and-a-half new books.
The next one was nonfiction, Talk Dirty Yiddish; as a non-Yiddish speaker, my research skills were needed again. Fortunately, I now had the Internet.
The next book was Unleavened Dead, the second in the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery Series.
The half was a new edition of Chanukah Guilt, the first book in the series. I rewrote sections so the clues could fit more than one solution, and then added an alternative solution.
Then I retired from my day job to devote full time to my first love: writing.
I no longer enjoy Mad Magazine, now that it’s printed on glossy paper and runs ads; there already is a woman editor of the New York Times; and Brenda Starr reported for the last time on January 2, 2011. (I Googled it.) But I have ideas for the next several books in the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery Series. Next up: Yom Killer. And anything else I feel like writing in the meantime.
As my friend since fourth grade said, “You’re living your dream.”
Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D., one of the first six women rabbis ordained in the U.S., has finally decided what she wants to be when she grows up. She has recently retired from her day job to devote full time to writing. She is the author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen mysteries: Chanukah Guilt, which was nominated for the Deadly Ink David Award for Best Mystery of 2007, was one of My Shelf’s 2007 Top Ten Reads, and was a Midwest Book Review Reviewers Choice Book; and Unleavened Dead, which won First Place from the Public Safety Writers Association, and was nominated for the Deadly Ink David Award for Best Mystery of 2012. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine called Unleavened Dead “… a solid, funny mystery that provides an insider’s look at Jewish life.” A resident of Marlton, NJ, near Philadelphia, she is working on the third book in the series, Yom Killer, and is also the author of Talk Dirty Yiddish.
Please visit her website/blog: or email her at

Monday, March 17, 2014

Meet Ellen Kirschman

Today my guest is Ellen Kirschman, author, police and public safety psychologist, and consultant to first responders. We met at the PSWA conference in July of 2013. She has a fascinating story to tell, so I asked her to share it with you. 

Lorna: Before you became a psychologist, did you envision working in public safety? How did you get involved? 

Ellen: I worked two years as a probation officer, both juvenile and adult, investigation and supervision. I liked the excitement and the opportunity to enter into people's lives, people I would never have met otherwise. What I didn't like—remember this was a very long time ago—was the lack of resources available to help kids and how the law was applied differently to boys and girls. For example, whenever a girl became pregnant and applied for welfare, she was automatically referred to probation. The boys just got hi-fives from their buddies. Every time a girl was arrested we were obliged to get her sexual history, even if the offense was shoplifting. That may have been relevant to her current circumstances, but we never asked boys for those same intimate details. I didn't like locking kids up when there weren't enough beds for them to sleep on and I didn't like locking up runaways when their best and wisest options seemed to be running away from an abusive or disordered family.

Some probation officers hate writing reports. I loved it. I've loved writing since I was a child. One of my senior supervisors told me that a report I had submitted was the best he had ever read. With one exception; he didn't think it had anything to do with the client. Forty years later I'm still turning my real work into fiction.

Learning to work more effectively with families is what motivated me to go back to school to get a Masters in Social Work. I then spent seven years working as a therapist in a psychiatric clinic. Several of my clients were married to police officers and experiencing serious marital problems. When I asked the officers to join us in counseling—once again this was a long time ago and most officers were males—no one ever did, and shortly thereafter the wives quit therapy. This piqued my interest and I began explore the ways being a cop affected family life. I put together a class called "I Love a Cop" at the local community college and the day the catalog came out the class was filled and there were forty women on the wait list. This told me I had found an unserved need. Once again I went back to school, this time for my doctorate in clinical psychology. My dissertation, "Wounded Heroes," focused on police stress. It was kind of a cross between Sigmund Freud and Mickey Spillane. 

Lorna: Having met you, I know you have a real heart for first responders with post-traumatic stress. Was this always a particular interest for you? 

Ellen: I have an enormous amount of respect for police officers and first responders in general. They do what the rest of us couldn't or wouldn't. Police, in particular, have enormously complex jobs. They are hybrid humans; part enforcer, counselor, priest, lawyer, protector, and judge. The many acts of kindness and courage they do every day is overlooked while the rare scandal or mistake or tragic accident makes headlines. Their jobs wear on them emotionally and physically. In my opinion, they deserve a lot more respect and support than they get, both from the public and their own organizations. One of the reasons I wrote Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know (with colleagues Mark Kamena and Joel Fay, both of whom are psychologists and retired cops) is that it's very hard for officers to ask for professional help. When they do, they deserve to see clinicians who understand the law enforcement culture; what they do, and why they do it.
Lorna: I know you are now teaching. Where and when to you do this? What kinds of things do you talk about? 

Ellen: My teaching has taken me to four countries and twenty-two states. I hold workshops for first responder couples, teach self-care to cops, train peer supporters, and educate counselors about the specific techniques and challenges working with the public safely population including cops, fire fighters, dispatchers, correctional officers , and animal service officers.
Lorna: What should the lay public understand about how to deal with family and friends suffering from post-traumatic stress? Any tips or advice? 

Ellen: It takes patience. Living with someone who has post-traumatic stress is an emotional roller coaster for the victim and his or her friends and family. Sometimes there isn't much you can do except listen with compassion, keep your expectations realistic, and read everything you can about post-traumatic stress injuries. My colleagues and I prefer the term injury to disorder, as disorder suggests the condition is permanent. Post-traumatic stress can be cured. Check out the You-Tube video "With help it gets better:" This was made by graduates of the West Coast Post Trauma Retreat ( I volunteer at four six-day retreats a year. We also sponsor three retreats for the spouses and significant others of first responders. More information can be found at

Lorna: Your first books were nonfiction dealing with policemen and firefighters: Counseling Cops: What the Family Needs to Know, I Love a Firefighter: What the Family Needs to Know, and I Love a Cop: What the Family Needs to Know. All of these relate directly to your work. Why did you decide to write a fictional mystery: Burying Ben? 

Ellen: I must have been crazy. I actually thought it would be easier to make things up. It isn't. It's way harder. Writing a mystery about police suicide is timely. Cops are twice to three times more likely to kill themselves than they are to be killed in the line of duty. This is a little known fact that is now being openly addressed by police professionals across the US. I've always wondered how I would react if a client committed suicide. Writing Burying Ben gave me a chance to think about it more deeply. It also gave me the opportunity for payback. I had a lot of fun taking pot shots at cops, psychologists, some ex-husbands, and myself.
Lorna: What do you do to relax and get away from an obviously stressful career? 

Ellen: While there have been many stressful moments in my career, I've had a lot of fun. First responders are a lively bunch who love to laugh. For the most part they are sturdy, healthy people with work-related problems. It is an honor to share their stories. At retreats, especially, I get way more than I give. But I do try to practice what I preach. I'm an inveterate traveler, I like to cook, I'm learning to play the ukulele, and these days I'm working out in water aerobics, wiggling around in the pool with the other aging bathing beauties. 

Lorna: Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? 

Ellen: A second Dot Meyerhoff Mystery is in the works. The awful first draft is awaiting revision. I chose the name Dot Meyerhoff because my mother's name is Dorothy but everyone called her Dot, and my maternal grand-mother's maiden name is Meyerhoff. My husband is a retired remodeling contractor turned photographer (—not a cop. I don't love a cop, never even had a date with one, although I love a fire fighter, my brother was a volunteer for many years.

I appreciate the opportunity to be on your blog. Mystery writing is a new universe for me. I'm finding mystery writers to be a warm, welcoming bunch.
About Ellen Kirschman:
I have been a police and public safety psychologist for thirty-plus years, before I had any gray hair. My work with first responders has taken me to four countries and twenty-two states.

I no longer have a private practice. Instead, I spend my time writing, teaching, and volunteering as a clinician at the West Coast Post Trauma Retreat for first responders. You can read about my books on my website:
I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know was my first book and, to date, it has sold more than 100,000 copies. I Love a Fire Fighter: What the Family Needs to Know came next, prompted by the tragic events of September 11th. Following that I wrote Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know, third in the "need to know" series, with two psychology colleagues, both of whom are retired cops. 

Burying Ben, my first-ever mystery, received first prize for the not-yet-in-print novel from the Public Safety Writers Association. Writing fiction is a new skill for me. I used to think that making things up would be easier than writing non-fiction. What a delusion! Creating a story that captures the reader's attention from page one is a tricky business.

On a more personal note, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area with my husband, who is a photographer (he took the photos for all my books) and retired remodeling contractor. In our spare time we hike, travel, and cook—not in that order.

I enjoy hearing from my readers and from mystery fans. And I love seeing your reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and Facebook. Follow me on Facebook:

Monday, March 3, 2014

How to Write Great Dialog

Lorna: My guest today is James Callan. I had the privilege of reading his latest book, How to Write Great Dialog, before it was published. I recommend it for all writers. Welcome, James.

First, let me thank Lorna for inviting me. She asked that I give a little summary of my latest book, How to Write Great Dialog (Oak Tree Press, 2014).

First I discuss what I call “natural” dialog, what we hear every day, on the street, in the post office or grocery store, at church, and at home. And then I talk about how this is different from “novel” dialog, what you put into a novel. Novel dialog must be better, tighter, more powerful than natural dialog.

As an example, ask yourself how many times you’ve thought of a great response to someone, but too late. For the novelist, it isn’t too late. The novelist can put it in tomorrow or next week. She can select the right word, even if she has to check her thesaurus. The novelist can make it better.

I discuss what dialog must do. It is generally agreed that dialog should either advance the plot or enhance the reader’s understanding of a character. Here and throughout the book, I give many examples to illustrate the ideas.

The three types of dialog are outlined: regular dialog, summation dialog, and internal dialog.

Regular dialog can do many other things, such as setting the scene, creating tension, providing foreshadowing, showing relationships, and other aspects of the novel. And it can do these and still meet the requirement of advancing the plot or our understanding of a character.

Summation dialog is just what its name says. It summaries what has happened. But I tell you what this type of dialog can and cannot or should not do.

I spend a good bit of time on internal dialog, what I call the Super Dialog. I give the three reasons why it is so important, and of course, include many examples.

You often hear you should have conflict on every page. I explain just how you can do that using dialog. Here are three examples from my suspense book A Ton of Gold (Oak Tree Press, 2013).
“No. He did not dump me.” (A minor conflict or disagreement).

“I shouldn’t have done that, Crissie.”
“My name is Crystal.” (This shows tension between two people.)

“I’ll go ask if she wants to see you.”
“Mr. O’Malley, I’ve known Crystal a lot longer than you have. I probably understand her and her feelings better, too. I’m going to offer my sympathy. And you can stay here.”
(Here, we’ve established real tension between these two men.)

All three of these put conflict on a page through dialog. This is a perfect example of showing not telling.

Attribution is often discussed at writer’s groups. I go into how and when to handle this. This is important as it shows ways to make the book read smoothly.

I talk about the importance of establishing a dialog signature for your major characters. This is an area often overlooked, yet very important.

Briefly I cover the need to consider the audience the speaker is addressing. It isn’t enough to consider the speaker. You must also take into consideration the hearer. There is a chapter on the use of dialects and accents, how to handle them and not slow the reader.

And last, I give the basic rules of the road. How do you correctly handle the punctuation in various situations? These seem simple, but today, many books are printed with gross mistakes in this area. For example, when does a question mark go inside the quotation mark and when does it go outside.

To help clarify many of the concepts, I have included over 80 examples. To cement the ideas, I’ve added in 40 exercises.

Thank you, Lorna, for having me on your blog. I hope your readers find this information helpful.

James R. Callan

After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing.  He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published several non-fiction books.  He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense, with his sixth book releasing in Spring, 2014.
Amazon Author page:
Twitter: @jamesrcallan

A Ton of Gold, (Oak Tree Press, 2013)
On Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions:

How to Write Great Dialog, (Oak Tree Press, 2014)
On Amazon in paperback: