May 14

Mike Angley Interviews Author Carl Brookins

MA: Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Carl Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors.

He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave.

He writes the sailing adventure series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney. The third novel is Old Silver. His new private investigator series features Sean NMI Sean, a short P.I. The first is titled The Case of the Greedy Lawyers. Brookins received a liberal arts degree from the University of Minnesota and studied for a MA in Communications at Michigan State University.

Thanks, Carl, for being my guest today. You have had a varied career that I’d like you to describe for my readers. I know writing has featured in your professional life at several points. Tell us about that.

CB: I have had a number of –to me—interesting careers, or jobs, if you will. My interest in photography as a youngster led to work on high school annuals and several years of active and active duty in the US Navy as a photographer’s mate. Most of that work was in film and I was stationed in Washington D.C., when television first came onto the commercial scene. After college, I interned and then was hired as a TV producer-director and advanced to programming and management. After that, I found myself returning to an interest in adult education at a time when an experimental college for working adults was being established in St. Paul, Minnesota. I then worked as a counselor and faculty member for 25 years. During all that time I never lost my interest in photography and television which led to several opportunities along the way. As you can see, all of my working life I have held positions that required a strong writing component.

MA: How did you wind up writing novels?

CB: From the above it’s easy to see that words and literature of all kinds have been an important part of my life. Reading western and crime fiction novels as well as other kinds of literature have also been important. Consequently, writing crime novels seemed a natural progression as I neared retirement.  What cemented my choice happened when my wife said bluntly that if I was going to continue to complain about some of the books I was reading, I should take a course in how to write a mystery. So I did that.

MA: So have you written a mystery?

CB: The longer answer is: I wrote three series. The first is an adventure series based on my love of sailing. My wife and I have sailed all over the world and we love it, although age is catching up with us. So my first book, INNER PASSAGES, was conceived while we were sailing the Inside Passage between Vancouver Island and British Columbia. There are five novels in that series, the latest being an E-novel, RED SKY, set in the Caribbean.

My first-person detective series is about a short private eye named Sean NMI Sean. It’s set in Minneapolis. The series is meant to be an homage to the detective series I read as a randy teen. My detective doesn’t shoot people very often, bullets are too expensive. He’s very self-effacing, being only 5’2” on a good day. He has excellent relations with local police and he doesn’t sleep around. His lover is a wealthy massage therapist who stands 6’3” in her stocking feet. They are committed to each other, although she doesn’t like his weaponry. Attitude: when Sean learned Converse was stopping production of a certain tennis shoe, he ran out and bought 700 pairs of red Keds with white soles so he’d have enough pairs for the rest of his life.  He deals with some real nasty folks. There are three novels in that series, the first is “The case of the Greedy Lawyers.” The most recent is “The Case of the Great Train Robbery.”

Finally there is my three-book series based on my experiences at Metropolitan State University, the first is titled “Bloody Halls,” and the most recent, “Reunion.” Jack Marston is my protagonist, a mid-level administrator for student services at a college in Minneapolis.

A few of the more important characters in these series occasionally appear in my short stories, which are contained in anthologies and as separate e-books.

MA: It sounds like you have crafted some fiction based upon real people you have known.

CB: All my characters come from life. From my observations of the people I work and live with. For example, my mother was an accomplished musician and I lived for many years with three successful professional women, my wife and my two daughters. Their lives are in my books.

MA: I take it your heroes have a few fatal flaws?

CB: All my characters suffer from the same strengths and weaknesses as I and my friends and family do. Occasional depression, bewilderment at what some people will do to others for greed or opportunity, love of nature and other humans, and the willingness to put themselves on the line when necessary to do good. None of my protagonists are super-heroes, they are ordinary individuals who sometimes respond to a call above and beyond.  They are people with specific talents, inherent or learned. Although I will say that my detective Sean has been known to admit that he’s “damn good at his job.”

MA: What about an antagonist…is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?

CB: No. My books often reflect my anger or disgust at some current events, but there are no consistent messages. I am writing books for entertainment (hopefully) and my characters may and do express views on things but they are not necessarily my views. My antagonists, greedy, nasty, self-absorbed, murderers though they often are, do not have the extra burden of a political, religious, economic or other bias or “message.”

MA: Will you continue to feature the same protagonist in future stories? Will any other characters migrate over to future books?

CB: My principal characters may interact with each other in future stories, but I expect, as in the past that new characters will enter my writing world, often unexpectedly. An example. In my first sailing story, I needed a character to make a boat available to Michael Tanner. I thought it appropriate that it be a woman, and Mary Whitney came to life. I expected her to appear in two brief scenes and then disappear. But she wouldn’t leave and suggested many ways she could improve my novel. Now, several adventures later, she is the principal character in “Devils Island” and must fight for her very life, alone, without any help from her husband.

MA: Thank you, Carl, for taking some time to tell us about your stories and what appears to be a prolific writing career! My readers can learn more about Carl and his writing by visiting his website:

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May 09

‘An Advantage of Self-Publishing’ by Mary Deal

An Advantage of Self-Publishing


Mary Deal


As many know, I used to use a POD publisher. I was happy for a while, however, I found self-publishing to be to my advantage. It’s expensive to have your publisher re-publish your book when they and you do not catch all the errors.

If your publisher even begrudgingly re-publishes without charging you, jump for joy! Some POD publishers charge $300 and upwards just to pull the book, correct last errors and re-publish.

The beauty of self-publishing is that you perfect you book to the point you think you and your editor have caught all the errors. But once you publish, you find, perhaps, one glaring error overlooked after all. It’s not a missing comma or period, nothing that simple. It’s a big misspelling error that might make people shudder.

A case in point: In my latest thriller, The Howling Cliffs, A Sara Mason Mystery, I was sure we had caught all the typos. Once I pulled a copy to read on my Kindle, I found something that stuck out like a big red tomato in a lettuce patch.

The story takes place mostly on Kauai where I live. I included lots of local scenes and people. In the big car accident scene, HAZMAT was needed to clean the highway of the gas and diesel spills. However, as many times as I’ve seen that big red Fire Department truck around town, I never realized that in my story I spelled HAZMAT with an S instead of a Z. HAZMAT is short for hazardous materials. How could I have not put that together when writing the scene.

So an advantage of self-publishing is that I could go to Smashwords and Amazon and re-upload the corrected version. It’s a simple process. It’s free.

This is not to say we should publish first and then catch errors. As self-publishers, the total responsibility for perfecting our manuscripts falls on us. They should be perfect or as close to perfect as we can make them before we publish the first time.

I encourage all who self-publish to re-upload corrected versions of their manuscripts when errors are found. If you must re-upload, re-read your entire manuscript first and thoroughly for any other errors that might have been missed. Self-published books often contain more errors than others. The author should read the entire story again, after it’s published. When errors are found, they  have a free option to re-publish.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

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May 02

Part Three of a Three Part Series: ‘Elusive Endings’ by Mary Deal

Elusive Endings


Mary Deal

If you have not yet read part one of the series, Magnetic Beginnings, be sure to check it out. Part two, The End of Sagging Middles, is also archived for your enjoyment.

When you set off for a vacation, do you plan ahead and know where you’ll end up? Narrowing down this concept, when you go grocery shopping, do you know where you will shop?

In creating a story, if you know what you wish to take your characters through – the plot and reason for writing the story – there can only be one, possibly two good endings.

If you write romance, your two lovers can only end up together or separated somehow.

If you write thrillers, your killer has to get his comeuppance.

Even if you write about everyday lives of some people, they will have to end up changed in a certain way. It’s called the character arc. These are but a few examples. The endings are almost standard and dictated for you if you know the genre of your story and have written it thoroughly. It’s up to you to write the ending scene(s) as exciting as possible.

What you might do is write out a few thoughts beforehand. Say you have a thriller with a serial killer who must be caught. Of course he gets caught. But if your story prior to the ending makes him out to be gruesome and evil, then his getting caught and punishment must carry the same caliber of excitement.

A gruesome psychopath cannot simply be caught when the police creep into his bedroom and wake him with guns drawn. It’s too easy. You must raise the ante and make him almost escape before he is, perhaps, wounded. Still he runs and becomes more elusive. So you write the chase and his capture and you throw in as much opportunity for him to escape before the police dogs tear him apart.

If you know your story and have written it toward what you consider an elusive ending that you can’t seem to pin down, you may have too many loose ends not tied up within the plot. There can only be one or two really good endings to any story. Then it’s up to you to use your imagination and make it exciting enough to fit the rest of the action, or exciting enough to make the ending the best of the story. Remember, only one or two endings exist to choose from. It’s a matter of reasoning it out in your mind.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

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May 01

Marilyn Meredith Returns to Talk About ‘No Bells,’ Her Latest Rocky Bluff PD Mystery Novel

MA: I am honored to welcome back to my blog, Marilyn Meredith, arguably one of the most prolific mystery writers who has ever guested with me. Marilyn first appeared on my blog back in 2010 when I interviewed her about her then newly-released novel, Dispel the Mist, her eighth in the Tempe Crabtree mystery series. You can read that former post by going here: Marilyn Meredith Sleuths In For An Interview With Mike Angley.

F.M. Meredith aka Marilyn Meredith is the author of over 30 published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest being Bears With Us from Mundania Press.

Marilyn is a member of EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection), four chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Internet chapter, and Mystery Writers of America. She is also on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America.

Visit her at and her blog at

CONTEST: The person who comments on the most blogs on Marilyn’s tour will win three books in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series: No Sanctuary, An Axe to Grind, and Angel Lost. Be sure and leave your email too, so she can contact you!

Welcome back, Marilyn! I know you are anxious to tell us about your newest novel, No Bells. Is it a standalone story or one of your many series books?

MM: No Bells is number eight in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series.  Though this is that far along in the series, I write each book so that it can be read without going back and starting at the beginning. (Because I’ve had so many different publishers for this series—and that’s a whole other story—the first four in the series are only available as e-books.)

MA: Tell us about the series and about No Bells.

MM: In this series, there is a group of ongoing characters, the men and women of the Rocky Bluff Police Department and their families. In each book, though everyone does make an appearance and you find out what’s going on in each one’s life, one or two characters have what might be called the starring role. In this particular book, that person in Officer Gordon Butler.

MA: That’s an interesting approach, rotating through different protagonists in each book of the series. So tell us about Butler and his role as the protagonist in No Bells.

MM: Gordon Butler was never meant to be the hero of any book or at least I never expected him to be. He made his first appearance in Fringe Benefits when his training officer turned out to be a very bad cop. Gordon’s life was changed because of what happens in this tale—but not his personality. He made small appearances in subsequent books and I learned that he’d become a favorite of many of my readers.

MA: Tell us more about his personality; I’m interested in the fact that he’s an unlikely hero based upon his roles in prior Rocky Bluff PD books.

MM: Officer Gordon Butler loves being a cop, that’s all he ever wanted to be. He knows all the laws and he’s definitely a “by the book” police officer. He’s loyal to his friends and in No Bells stands up for his new love even though she becomes the major suspect in a murder case.

No matter what Gordon does, things never turn out quite like he hopes. At times he seems to be like the cartoon character with a dark cloud hovering above him. If something can go wrong for Gordon, it probably will. In No Bells his actions jeopardize his job.

The “bad guy” isn’t known until near the end of the book. No Bells is a murder mystery, a puzzle where the detectives are trying to figure out the identity of the murderer.

MA: When and where can my readers get a copy of No Bells?

MM: No Bells is available now as a trade paperback and e-book for all the usual places.

MA: Marilyn, it’s always a pleasure to have you as a guest on my blog, and I wish you well with No Bells. Is there anything else you’d like to add.

MM: Mike was kind enough to allow me to visit his blog today while I’m on my tour for No Bells. I’m a big fan of his thrillers. My book, though it is a police procedural, it borders on being a cozy. My police department, Rocky Bluff P.D., is small and most of the detecting is done the old-fashioned way. I always like to say the RBPD is my department and I can do it anyway I want.

Rocky Bluff is a beach community on the Southern California coast located between Ventura and Santa Barbara. There is no real town like Rocky Bluff.

My goal in this series is, and has been since the beginning, to show how what happens on the job affects the family, and how what is happening with the family affects the job.

MA: THANKS, Marilyn!

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Apr 25

Part Two of a Three Part Series: ‘The End of Sagging Middles’ by Mary Deal

The End of Sagging Middles


Mary Deal

If you missed the first part of this series, you can read it here: Magnetic Beginnings.

Many books I’ve read start off with great beginnings and even end with surprises. However, their middles left me wondering why I should keep reading. Truth is, the beginning had set up a situation I wanted to see to completion, so I read to the end. But getting through the middle was nearly an arduous task.

You’ve heard the term sagging middles, right? Many books begin and end in a spectacular manner but the middles offer little. In order to keep your story from developing a sagging middle, you must keep the action going.

In a crime investigation, have some clues show up, only to be disproved. Or have the perpetrator almost caught but gets away.

In science fiction, when the hero flies to a distant planet to rescue his love, have him meet with landing bays locked down tight with no other access to the dying star which will eventually explode. He further meets resistance from ships guarding the planet who want it to fail.

In a romance, have two people falling in love, only to have one person come in contact with the person with whom they were previously involved in a obsessive and addictive affair.

The prescription for sagging middles in all genres is to bolster the action by keeping it going. Anything new can happen in the middle of a story as long as it follows the rest of the action and is written in such a manner as to not look contrived to hold the beginning and ending together. Whatever happens must be natural to what was offered in the beginning.

What action is included should serve to keep the conflict and great tension building throughout. By building in intensity, you not only hold interest through your story middle but set up a more dramatic ending.

Next week: Elusive Endings…!

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

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Apr 18

Part One of a Three Part Series: ‘Magnetic Beginnings’ by Mary Deal

Magnetic Beginnings


Mary Deal

I use the word magnetic because your story beginning should pull a reader in much like a magnet to metal. Readers look at the start of the first chapter as more than just a glimmer of what’s to come. Your first words, first sentence and first paragraph should give your prospective buyer a feeling of sinking deep into the story and being a part of the plot.

You cannot create this reaction with dead words, lackluster writing and non-descriptive verbiage that says little about the promise of the story.

You can avoid the above pitfalls by jumping smack into the middle of your plot right there at the beginning. Don’t tell how the weather was warm and breezy and no rain was expected. Open your story at a crime scene. Have the characters talk right away. Have the main characters present and also part of the dialogue.

In my novel, Down to the Needle, the story starts with the reader plunged into the middle a raging arson scene. The main characters show up after a few brief bits of desperate dialogue by firemen and police. You know who the main characters are – and they’re not the firemen and police who speak first – because I go on to describe their clothing at the first and insert bits of back-story about their experiences with fires.

For your story beginning, make the open scenes as exciting as possible. Also, make them apropos to the plot. In Down to the Needle, several more unexpected fires happen throughout the story. A fire scene is a great beginning. A person’s senses go on high alert. Adrenaline rushes as if the reader is present at the scene. You want your reader to sense those emotions, and feel the fright and also to share in what all of the characters experience.

In a romance, perhaps, you want your readers to feel the loneliness and longing of someone for the person they love. Or the reader might be made to feel the rejection of someone experiencing a broken relationship. Whatever that romance has to offer, the opening scene must get into the readers’ hearts.

In all genres, not only must your written word be magnetic, beyond being simply appealing, the setting in which the action takes place must grab immediate interest. Write the setting well. Write it to suit the action as well as the dialogue of any characters in the scene.

Beginnings must offer what the potential reader of that genre searches for. Understanding the genre in which you choose to write is the only way to make your openings work.

Next week: The End of Sagging Middles…don’t miss it!

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

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Apr 11

Want to Use Better Words? Follow Mary Deal’s Advice

Better Words


Mary Deal

Here’s something to ponder upon: There is always a way to say it better. These are some examples:

Afterward, she went on her way.

Ask yourself: How did she go? Instead of went, describe her movements or gait:

Afterward, she sauntered away.

Afterward, she walked away

Danced across the floor

Did a two-step across the floor

Waltzed across the floor

She felt around the floor of the car, trying to find the cell phone.

She groped around the seat and the floor of the car…

She slid her hand between the seats

The thought of dying came to mind.

The thought of bleeding to death came to mind.

The thought of succumbing to a coma and dying came to mind.

The above has two words to watch. We could have used….

The thought of slipping into a coma… instead, succumbing is more dramatic than gently slipping into a coma. Slipping hints at letting herself slip away. Succumbing tells us she put up a gallant fight to stay alive until more powerful forces overtook her. It’s more dramatic.

The fireman holding up her head managed to get his upper body through the open windshield space.

The fireman supporting her head managed to squeeze his upper body through the open windshield space.

Your prose must sing and dance off the page. Anytime you describe what a character does, always check to see if a more descriptive word might apply. Any word to help the reader see the detailed actions that your characters perform is better to use.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

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Apr 04

‘Becoming Your Characters’ by Mary Deal

Becoming Your Characters


Mary Deal

Several authors have asked why their characters do things they (the author) didn’t understand.

What I find is that you may know your character well, intellectually, as you have outlined in a character sketch or other notes. However, in order to understand the moves your character makes, you must BECOME that character.

In dialogue especially, stand in front of a mirror and talk to yourself as if you are the character talking to you. Notice the facial expressions and physical gestures. Include those in your descriptions. When you feel you are that character, you will understand why they suddenly do something in the story that you hadn’t expected. When you are the character, you will cut loose from any restrictive thinking. This will help you to move the plot or writing through the narrative as well.

In other words, you as the character – what would you do in the situation you have set up? Being the character, what you would do if you wanted to cut loose and respond to a situation in a totally off the wall manner? See where this is going? When you are the character, you understand everything that character does. It frees your thinking to take your story in unexpected directions.

An added plus is that you can and should become any and all of your characters. Once you get in the habit of seeing your story this way, your writing is freed up.

You won’t see your characters as if in a state of unexpected flux.

You won’t see your characters as people other than yourself.

You will see and understand their motives and moves – and they will makes those moves – as totally normal to their personalities.

If you cannot, at least to a tiny degree, become your character, how can you know what they might do? You are the characters you create and you’ve only to respond in a manner apropos to each of the personalities you’ve built.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

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Mar 28

What Do You Think About Book Trailers? Ask Mary Deal!

A Little About Video Trailers


Mary Deal

A friend claimed video trailers don’t sell books. I tend to disagree, partially. That is…  When my video trailers go live, I see an upsurge in sales and personal website hits. What the friend claims is that the only purpose of videos is to attract attention. Yes, they do. That’s what you want. And they get a potential reader interested in the story – if it’s a good video.

Trailers must contain great content in order to convince people to buy the book.

Video trailers will sell books if they tell – in an interesting, exciting way – what the story is about. They must also show what the reader will gain from reading the book. Therein lies the key.

If the reader is looking for nonfiction to learn something, what they will learn must be made clear, even if how they will learn is only hinted at as an enticement. If the potential reader thinks it will solve their problem or answer questions, they will buy from seeing a video. They will, at least, seek out the book and read the covers and blurbs. They will also go to Amazon and other sites and read the reviews.

In fiction, if a reader is looking for a good thriller, the video must offer excitement and the hint of a stunning ending.

Everything presented in a video must appeal to the genre and the content of the book.

In my experience, when my friends say their videos did nothing for them, I first view the video. In most of those cases, I end up asking myself, What exactly are they saying here?  If the plot of the story is not covered well, and enticingly enough, of course, the video will leave any prospective buyer asking, Huh? Many videos are ho-hum. Many offer too much and are too long, yet say nothing. Many are too loud or too soft with the wrong music for the presentation. And on and on.

My opinion is that good videos rank up there with sample chapters, good reviews and word-of-mouth publicity. Videos are simply another means to grab attention. Like everything else, they must not let the reader down.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

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Mar 21

Some Great Advice from Mary Deal: Let It Sit

Let it Sit


Mary Deal

Authors are constantly reminded that once a story is finished to leave it sit. This can happen before or after the final polish. Many authors believe that once they’ve polished the story to the best of their ability, it’s ready to be published. However, these authors are missing one of the most valuable periods of time to make their manuscript the best that it can be. The length of time to let it sit is at the discretion of the author.

What happens during the rest period is that when you let go of the care of getting it written, your muse is free to think of plot points or scenes you could have made better. When this happens you are usually able to decipher which may be the weak points or other ho-hum sections in the story. When my muse tells me which areas could be made stronger, she has also planted in my mind the ways to make it better.

~ Sometimes I believe I’ve written an incredible scene, only to realize that changing this or that little detail or descriptive phrase would make it much more exciting.

~ Sometimes flawed areas that I’ve overlooked come to mind.

Another great example of waiting is when you submit a short story, or even a lengthy manuscript that gets rejected. If you haven’t received any comments from the editor – and you usually won’t –  you begin to wonder what could be flawed in the piece. You may try to correct certain areas, certain scenes, and then suddenly you get accepted. What happened here is that you were forced into a waiting period to further improve your manuscript.

~ Why not allow yourself the waiting period before getting those rejections?

Help like this can only come when you leave your manuscript sit a while. Once you get into the habit of doing this, you’ll know when the story is truly ready for your audience.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

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