Thursday, March 31, 2016

Interview with author Hawk MacKinney

Today’s special guest is author Hawk MacKinney. He’s chatting with me about his new mystery/suspense novel, Hidden Chamber of Death.

During his virtual book tour, Hawk will be awarding a $20 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift card to a lucky randomly drawn winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit his other tour stops and enter there, too!

Internationally acclaimed author and public speaker, Hawk MacKinney began writing mysteries for his school newspapers. Following graduation, he served in the US Navy for over 20 years. While serving as a Navy Commander, he also had a career as a full-time faculty member at several major state medical facilities. He earned two postgraduate degrees with studies in languages and history. He has taught postgraduate courses in both the United States and Jerusalem, Israel.

In addition to professional articles and texts on fetal and adult anatomy, Hawk has authored several novels that have received national and international recognition. Moccasin Trace, a historical novel, was nominated for the prestigious Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction and the Writers Notes Book Award. This was followed by the Craige Ingram Mystery Series. In a change of direction, October of 2012 saw the release of Hawk’s first science fiction novel, The Bleikovat Event, in The Cairns of Sainctuarie series. Volume II in The Cairns of Sainctuarie series, The Missing Planets, was released in 2014 with Volume III in the works.

Hawk’s latest project focuses on The Moccasin Hollow Mystery Series. Book 1 in the series, Hidden Chamber of Death, was just released, and Book 2 in the series, Westobou Gold, will be released in the fall.

What comes first: the plot or the characters?
Depends on how/when an idea strikes me. Title-plot-setting-character(s)…I carry a notepad with me night or day. Never know when resolution to a plot or an idea will hit.

What genre do you write and why?
The Moccasin Hollow Mystery Series
The Cairns of Sainctuarie Series - sci-fi
Historical romance

A reader identifies with the tale and the characters…sci-fi, thrillers, and the special lure of romance, which motivates the whole churn of it. Genre doesn’t exist. It’s a gimmick established in ancient Greek literature…so ancient it’s modern and meaningless. Genres are for bookstores & websites. In reality, each book combines all of these elements.

Please tell us a little bit about Hidden Chamber of Death.
Hidden Chamber of Death is a compelling tale of intrigue, murder, deception and suspense that leads retired Navy SEAL/part-time private investigator Craige Ingram in search of the connection between seemingly random murders and a banking conspiracy. Working with the local homicide investigator, who just happens to be a former Navy buddy, Craige Ingram's attempts to protect a lonely widow and solve the case before another person dies are only thwarted by a psychotic killer whose motivation is based on pure depraved pleasure. In this first book of the MOCCASIN HOLLOW MYSTERY SERIES, the instincts and skills Ingram and his buddy acquired as Navy SEALS are tested to their limits.

Excerpt from Hidden Chamber of Death:
The battered, green side door with its peeling, leprosy paint framed one small window with smudged shattered wire-glass. The door cracked just enough for a pair of bright blue eyes to peek out at him.

A voice said, “That you, Mister Craige?” The grey head was hardly visible.

“Yes,” Craige said. “Sallie Mae, that you?” Got no answer, and she didn’t come out.

The door left ajar; rusty hinges squeaked as Craige pushed against it and stepped into a vacuous, black void, the air heavy with a peculiar, stale warmth. He was more than queasy. It had the makings of a perfect ambush layout. Talk about the perfect setup. If Zeb hadn’t OKed the time and place, he would’ve been out of there. Except for jumbled, grimy clutter and vague outlines in a trashed yawning interior, he could make out no details. As his eyes adjusted, Craige found himself facing two frail figures who’d been standing there the whole time.

“Sallie Mae?”

With a fragile movement Sallie Mae said, “Right here. A’gatha Ruth here’s not too pleased about Zeb tellin’ you where to find us.”

“Don’t like this a darn tootin’,” Agatha said. “Nobody’s bizness.” She was testy. “Plenty robbin ‘n ‘killin’ to be took care of ‘stead of cops pokin’ in folk’s private matters. Botherin’ folks what druthers be left alone.”

“I don’t work for the police,” Craige said.

Agatha continued, “Fiddle-de-dee, who you think you’re foolin’? Tain’t a mite of difference twixt you and MacGerald ‘cept he calls it what it be—cop.” She had wizened, bottomless eyes. “Claimin’ we make corn squeezin’s.” Her ire rose. “Don’t try puttin’ no lyin’ to me. I know what the likes of you is after. Them bunch of scallywags wants you to help take away Sallie Mae’s croup potions.” Wiped her mouth with her hand. “That’s what, you’re after Sallie’s makin’s.” She didn’t care for him one bit.

“We been run out from lots’a places,” Sallie Mae said. “Lord knows, these old bones don’t take up much room, and these empty buildings ain’t no use fer nothin’ much.”

Craige interrupted, “Zeb told me you saw the killing in the bank’s garage.”

“Both of us seen it,” Agatha said. “What you want to know for anyhow? We ain’t talkin’ to no cops. Might as well git that out on the table right now. They throw us in jail, say we the ones what did it till we tell where our still wuz.”

“You see who did it?” Craige asked.

“‘Course we seen the man who done it,” Sallie Mae said. “Didn’t see no face, saw his big black car, the kind what rich folks drive.” She shook her head. “Lordy mercy, that poor woman didn’t have no chance.”

Agatha nodded, “Skeer a body plumb to death. Gives me chill blains jus’ thinkin’ on it. Like some animal, like he wadn’t mad. Jes took o’nry mean pleasure beating her.”

Craige asked, “You know it was a man?”

“Jesus my all!” Agatha Ruth spit snuff juice into a paper stuffed big peach can. “You ain’t much good at detecting if you cain’t tell whether a body be man or woman. Maybe you need readin’ glasses. Gettin’ a mite blurry myself, but I don’t have to see a body close-up to tell it was a man, and sure didn’t want that one close-up no how. Tell by the way he hit. He was hefty enough he didn’t have to put much swing to it. Kept whackin’n’whackin’, blood everywhere. Even after she mostly quit moving, he kept hittin’n’hittin’, her legs just’a jerkin’.”

Craige made a mental note to check with Fred if any clothing, gloves, anything showed DNA different from any of the victims.

“Awful!” Sallie Mae shivered. “We hunkered down so he wouldn’t see us.” The filtered light framed Sallie Mae’s dignified, wrinkled face, ancient beyond years with a proud reserve.

Agatha said, “Even after the police got there, we never told them what we seen.”

When did you start writing?
As a kid sitting on the back stoops with Grannie, counting lightnin’ bugs, lis’nin’ to her create bogdacious (bodacious) tales of haints and stars and worlds…it was endless.

Do you listen to music when you write and if so, what kind of music?
The great classics, Chopin, Beethoven, Sibelius, Smetana’s Má vlast, the great Russian composers, from the romantic period/The Beach Boys/ABBA. If it distracts…my man-cave is silenced.

What is your next project?
The Cairnes of Sainctuarie Series sci-fi…Vol 3
The Moccasin Hollow Mystery Series…Book 3

What helps overcome writer’s block?
Give the manuscript a rest. Give your brain/fantasy/imagination a rest. Put the working draft away. Work on something else AND let the ‘bother’ sit on the shelf WITH a notepad forever handy. Stuff your mind/imagination/characters & plot with another work you’re puzzling together…let the bother become dust-ware. You’ll go back with a fresh view of it.

Your books are set in many places. Have you ever been there?
Set in South Carolina and Georgia, Colorado, other states of the lower 48, Scotland, England, Israel…vacationed/lived in most all. Most of the settings still exist…& most of those living thereabouts know nothing of the secrets lurking so close.


Thanks for being here today, Hawk!

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Special expert for contemporary romance The Dating Tutor: Sasha's Story by Melissa Frost

Today I'm featuring a special excerpt from the contemporary romance, The Dating Tutor: Sasha's Story by Melissa Frost.

You can read an interview I had with Melissa in January, too.

Melissa Frost grew up loving young adult novels and continues to immerse herself in the current authors on the market. In the fifth grade, she won a writing competition to work with children’s author Colleen O'Shaughnessy Mckenna, and it inspired her to write stories of her own. She never looked back.

A little bit about Sasha's Story:
Sasha is perfectly content with her single status. That is until Matt Wendell walks into her life. He’s the best friend of her cousin, Alec, and the last guy she should get involved with. She’s learned that hearts are too easily broken, and Matt is known for his lack of commitment.

Alec introduces the two under the strict instructions that Matt is to learn how to become friends with a woman. This task proves difficult, as Matt turns out to be charming, interesting, and everything Sasha could ever want in a boyfriend. Alec’s instructions get harder with each passing day, yet Sasha isn’t blind to Matt’s past.

Is she willing to give her heart over to a self-proclaimed player? Can this non-committal hockey stud change his ways? Or will he end up breaking her heart?

Buy Links:    Evernight Teen    ARe     Amazon    Bookstrand
14+ for sexuality and adult situations

Excerpt from The Dating Tutor: Sasha's Story:
Football. The imbecile didn’t even realize it was the soccer field. The football team practiced halfway across campus. “Something like that,” she said with amusement, longing to see his reaction to her plans. Stepping back from the trunk, she turned to fully face him. Her eyes roved over his face for a moment before she closed the small distance between them. She slipped her arms around his waist and leaned in against his chest. She amped up her flirting to the next level, wanting him to let his guard down completely. “Before we get started … kiss me. I want to know what your lips feel like against mine. I want to know what you taste like.”

Without any hesitation, he lowered his lips over hers.

And that was when Sasha pulled back with a snort. “Alec was right. You have absolutely no idea what it’s like being friends with a girl. You went into this with the instruction of ‘friends only’. Yet you’re trying to kiss me ten minutes in.” Shaking her head, she grabbed the edges of her sundress and pulled it up over her head. 
Underneath, she wore a sports bra and a pair of bike shorts. From the trunk, she produced a pair of knee-high socks and cleats.

Matt took a step back, looking thoroughly stunned.

She turned her back on him, reaching into her trunk for her soccer ball as she hid her smile. It really was a shame: Matt was a charismatic guy, and he was so darn good-looking. He was into sports, same as her, and they shared a close confidant in Alec. If she could just get him to break down his walls and drop his act, there was a possibility they truly could be friends. His adaption to the change in plans now would tell her just how likely that outcome could be.

She roughly tossed the ball in his direction, and he barely managed to catch it. 

Apparently, he was still working through confusion and surprise at her abrupt change of attitude. She would just need to help him along to a more modern way of thinking. 

“You know, the majority of us don’t discuss lip gloss,” Sasha said with a snicker, referring to a tidbit Alec had shared of Matt’s skewed views on women. “If you’d ever bothered to hold a real conversation with a girl, you’d know that.” She bent at the waist and threw her hair down toward the ground. Gathering it in one hand, she bundled it all together in a high ponytail atop her head.

Flipping back up to face him, she placed her hands on her hips. “Game on, Matty. Time to learn what it’s like to actually hang out with a girl.” Ticking items off on her fingers, she made a list of all the things they wouldn’t be doing. “No candlelight dinners. No kissing. No eyelash batting. No flirting. I’m going to kick your ass out on that field, and make you question everything you know about women.”

*   *   *   *   *

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Interview with mystery author Libby Fischer Hellmann

Today’s special guest is Libby Fischer Hellmann and we’re chatting about her new mystery/thriller novel, Jump Cut.

During her virtual book tour, Libby will be awarding a $50 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift card to a lucky randomly drawn winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit her other tour stops and enter there, too!

Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Twelve novels and twenty short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first. She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few.

With the addition of Jump Cut in 2016, her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24;” the hard-boiled 4-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and three stand-alone historical thrillers that Libby calls her “Revolution Trilogy.” Her latest release, The Incidental Spy, is a historical novella set during the early years of the Manhattan Project at the U of Chicago. Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection.

Welcome, Libby. Please tell us a little bit about Jump Cut.
Chicago video producer Ellie Foreman has been “on vacation” for almost a decade, while I wrote other novels, including a four-volume PI series and three stand-alone historical thrillers. I brought her back for Jump Cut, but she’s soon entangled in a web of espionage, murder, and suspicion that threatens to destroy what she holds most dear. Hired to produce a candy-floss profile of Chicago-based aviation giant Delcroft, Ellie is dismayed when company VP Charlotte Hollander trashes the production and cancels the project. Ellie believes Hollander was spooked by shots of a specific man in the video footage. But when Ellie arranges to meet the man to find out why, he is killed by a subway train before they can talk. In the confusion, she finds a seemingly abandoned pack of cigarettes with a flash drive inside that belonged to the now-dead man. Ellie gets the drive s contents decrypted, but before long discovers she s under surveillance. Suspecting Delcroft and the ambitious Hollander are behind it, she s unconvinced when Hollander tells her the dead man was a Chinese spy. Ellie and her boyfriend, Luke, try to find answers, but they don t realize how far they have ventured into the dangerous echelons of hidden power where more lives are on the line including their own.

What inspired you to write this book?
As I mentioned above, I wrote four Ellie Foreman novels – Ellie being a Chicago video producer who gets involved in murder investigations, but I set the series aside to write a number of other novels. Last summer I dipped my toe into World War Two and spy literature with The Incidental Spy (which, btw, is free at the moment.) I did a lot of research for it, and it turned out well. So I decided to try a modern day espionage thriller set after the NSA revelations and Edward Snowden’s actions. What brought me back to Ellie, aside from fan requests, was the story itself. As soon as I knew I was going to write a “post-Snowden” espionage thriller, it was clear Ellie would be the character to anchor it. The fact that she could produce a video for a giant aviation company in Chicago that also manufactures military attack drones and had close ties to the US Defense community sealed the deal.

Excerpt from Jump Cut:
The sun winked off the frozen surface of Lake Michigan the next morning as I drove south to McCormick Place. During one of the most brutal Chicago winters in decades, the smudge of purple clouds tinged with pink and gold hinted that the fury of winter might—just might—have peaked. I parked in the overpriced lot, bought half a dozen cups of overpriced coffee, and carried them into the massive exhibit hall.

The crew was setting up lights and shades, and Mac was behind the camera framing shots. MacArthur J. Kendall III owns a production studio in Northbrook. He started out shooting sweet sixteens, bar mitzvahs, and weddings, but parlayed that into corporate videos. We’ve worked together for nearly twenty years, from the days of two-inch video, to one-inch, three-quarter, and now digital.

Mac’s name, salt-and-pepper hair, button-down shirts, and penny loafers scream WASP, but the nasty scar running down his left cheek saves him from total Episcopalian infamy. He tells people he was attacked by a Mexican drug lord and made me swear never to reveal it was from a car accident.

I went up to him. “What do you need me to do?”

“You have the shot list?”

I nodded and pulled it out of the canvas bag that doubles as my purse. We went over it. He gestured to the main area of the Delcroft booth, which featured a large projection screen with the company logo on both sides, and about twenty chairs arranged theater-style.

“What time’s the first presentation?”

Teresa Basso Gold, our client contact, had told us to be prepared for a series of short remarks by Delcroft executives touting the company’s latest innovations.

I checked my watch. Barely six thirty. “The doors don’t open until nine, and Teresa said not to expect anyone until ten. But you can get some establishing shots, if you want.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Mac said and strolled over to confer with the crew.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m in the middle of another World War Two novella at the moment. It’s about German POWs who were imprisoned in the United States in 1943-1944, and an American farm girl who falls in love with one of them. That, hopefully, will be out in the fall. In fact, I’ll probably package it with Incidental Spy and title both of them with something like “Homefront” in the title. After that, I plan to write a (hopefully funny) caper novel with two women who are being chased all over the world by the mafia.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’m in a writers’ group – have been for twenty years (They’ll take me out of there feet first). When I first started, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. In fact, I knew very little. For example, before I was published, I wrote three novels. None have seen the light of day, and they never will-- they weren’t ready. I had to learn the craft of fiction. To wit, in one of those novels, two male police officers were the protagonists. One of them walked into a house to question a witness, and the first thing he noticed were the curtains in the window. “Um... no,” said my writing group. A solid, beefy cop would NOT notice curtains when he walked into a house. "You need to learn the difference between a man and a woman's point of view”, they said. Looking back, it seems obvious now. But at the time it felt like a revelation.

Two years after that, I finally discovered Ellie Foreman and brought in the first chapter of what would become An Eye for Murder. I read it out loud. Afterwards there was absolute silence. I was sure I'd done something wrong. This was it, I was thinking. They're going to kick me out. Instead, as I looked around, the woman who'd been hardest on me, said, "That was amazing. You found your voice." Her comment is still the most flattering thing anyone has ever said to me about my writing, and I knew at that point, I was a writer.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I used to be very disciplined. When my kids were still at home I’d get them up, take them to school, work out, then come home and write. Now, though, I seem to have lost that discipline. I write at all hours, and I do so much promotion that I’m actually not sure how I finished my last three novels. Besides writing and promoting and exercise, I volunteer at a Chicago high school to help kids write, I listen to Blues, go to movies… (although more and more I don’t have to “go out” – I can get them on Demand right at home). I used to free lance writing video scripts and teaching executives how to be better communicators, but I let that go to write full time.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Probably the fact that I HAVE to write “chronologically,” that is from beginning to end. I know writers who write whatever scene or chapter they want and just fit them in afterwards, but I can’t do that. I don’t outline, so I have to go in a very linear fashion so I understand the story, and make sure my characters are behaving authentically.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Hmm… I started out wanting to be a famous journalist based in Paris. That segued to broadcast news producer, and then film-maker a la Lina Wertmuller (who used to work with Fellini but then directed several great films on her own including “Swept Away.” Curiously, I NEVER had any plans to become a writer. It wasn’t even Plan B. Funny how life interferes with your plans.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Yes… I thought it might be helpful to give you a little background on Ellie, for readers who are new to her. Ellie is a Chicago video producer and single mother. She lives on the North Shore about 20 miles from the Loop. Born and raised in Chicago, she married, had a daughter, then got divorced. Her mother passed when Ellie was in her twenties, but her father is still around, and plays a vital role in all the books. Ellie is outgoing and has a self-deprecating sense of humor as well as a strong sense of fairness and justice, so when she sees situations that aren’t, she is apt to get involved. Those situations usually (but not always) arise from the corporate or industrial videos she produces. She used to be rather impulsive, but as she’s matured, she’s more thoughtful. Still, she tends to end up in trouble and needs to get herself out of it. She’s had two serious relationships since her divorce – and now has settled in rather comfortably with Luke Sutton, who lives most of the week in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Unlike Georgia Davis, who is a loner, Ellie has a support system of friends and family around her. I like to describe the Ellie books as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24,” but Jump Cut is much more “24’ (and raises serious issues) than the others.


Thank you for being a guest on my blog today, Libby!

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Early reviews for "Jump Cut":

"Exceptional... As Hellman’s convincing, conflicted characters face impossible choices, the tension is real and memorable."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Hellmann's writing sparkles...plenty of suspense in this richly detailed thriller, but Hellmann’s characteristic wit and warmth are evident, too."

"From spies to drones and hackers, Jump Cut is a heart-stopping tale of corporate espionage that will have you snapping on your seatbelt. The tangled web of international intrigue is riveting. Hellmann is a renowned master of suspense, and her great talent shows in the story’s many rich characters, the beautifully honed paragraphs, and the sweep of her provocative story. A keeper!"
Gayle Lynds, New York Times best-selling author of The Assassins

"With spooks, spies, sudden death and double-crosses, Jump Cut hits all the right notes for a top-notch action thriller. Once again Ellie Foreman is a thoroughly likeable real-world heroine, fiercely protective of those she loves, thrown in at the deep end and swimming for her life. Don’t miss it!"
Zoë Sharp, author of the Charlie Fox series and The Blood Whisperer

"Welcome back Ellie Foreman! Jump Cut rockets to a stunning but thrilling climax… Another winner from the standout Chicago novelist Libby Hellmann."
Paul Levine, author of Bum Rap

"After a long hiatus, Hellmann returns to her Chicago-based sleuth with a chilling tale that may be all too close to the truth."
Kirkus Reviews