Sunday, April 22, 2012

Interview with Linda Rodriguez

Cover image of Linda Rodriguez's Every Last Secret, winner of 2001 Malice Domestic First Best Traditional Mystery contest.  Linda's debut is April 24, and at the Malice Domestic Convention in Bethesda, April 27-29.  She moderates Saturday AM panel "Have Gun, Will Travel," and is a panelist on the Sunday AM panel, "Well-Schooled in Murder."


1.  When did you begin writing?  Why?

I had a childhood that made Mommie, Dearest look like a fairytale, and reading and writing helped me survive it. So I started writing when I was quite young—poetry and stories that I wanted to think of as novels—but I really began in earnest when I was a young, college-drop-out mother and wife.  At various times in my life, poetry has taken precedence over novels and vice versa, usually because of time constraints. Novels, I have found, require a longer chunk of writing each day and over a longer period of time. Poetry takes as much work—one poem may go through twenty or more revisions—but that work can be done in shorter bits of time with longer absences from the work in-between.

2.  When and why did you begin writing mysteries?

I began as a poet and writer of literary fiction, but I’ve always read mysteries (and science fiction/fantasy), along with the literary stuff. I’m an omnivore when it comes to reading. When I came up with this character, Skeet Bannion, she seemed to belong in a mystery.

I like the premise of the modern mystery, which is focused less on locked rooms and impossible methods of murder and more on relationships among the characters and emotional fallout from those relationships as motive. The great mystery is always “What goes on within the heart of this person to make him/her capable of killing another?”

3.  Explain your basic idea for your series.

Half-Cherokee Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion thought she was leaving her troubles behind when she fled the stress of being the highest ranking woman on the Kansas City Police Department, a jealous cop ex-husband who didn’t want to let go, and a disgraced alcoholic ex-cop father. Moving to a small town to be chief of the campus police force, she builds a life outside of police work. She might even begin a new relationship with the amiable Brewster police chief.

All of this is threatened when the student editor of the college newspaper is found murdered on campus. Skeet must track down the killer, following trails that lead to some of the most powerful people in the university. In the midst of her investigation, Skeet takes up responsibility for a vulnerable teenager as her ex-husband and seriously ailing father wind up back on her hands. Time is running out, and college administrators demand she conceal all college involvement in the murder, but Skeet will not stop until she's unraveled every last secret.

Every Last Secret is the first in a series with Skeet Bannion as the protagonist. Skeet, like most of us, has some internal issues she has to learn to deal with. Each book is a complete mystery novel in itself, but I see the entire series as a kind of meta-novel following Skeet’s growth as a person. I like Julia Spencer-Fleming’s categorization of “traditional mystery-thriller” as a description. Every Last Secret is, indeed, a traditional mystery set in a small town, but the small town is right outside a big, dangerous city, and there’s a darker edge to this character, this book, and the series as a whole.

4.  Tell us about your journey to publication with this book.

I had written Every Last Secret several years ago, set it aside to edit at some mythical future period when I had time, and continued to focus on poetry and literary fiction. I won a big award for my poetry, which included a free one-month stay at Ragdale, the famous writers and artists residency. I was to write a new book of poetry while there, but I took the novel manuscript with me, just in case. I wrote that new book of poetry and edited Every Last Secret, as well. At the later suggestion of a friend, I entered the manuscript in the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Competition. To my surprise, I won, and St. Martin’s offered me a publishing contract. I can’t say enough about the four first-novel contests that St. Martin’s offers to aspiring writers. I’m not aware of another publisher showing that kind of commitment to finding good, new novelists.

My editor also had me fill out a lengthy author questionnaire to be used in-house so the rest of the staff could get to know me and the book and promote the book effectively. They also asked for my suggestions on cover art and photographs of some of the towns and campuses that went into the creation of my fictional college town. I was surprised at how hard they worked to give me a cover I’d be happy with, and I do love my beautiful cover. Then, I had to cut the book by over 20,000 words because the longer hardcover book would have to be published at a higher price, and they felt that would rob a first-time author of readers. This necessitated going through the book several times as if it were a very long poem, tightening and compressing wherever possible. It was a pain, but I think the book is even stronger for it.

The next thing St. Martin’s wanted was blurbs from other authors for Every Last Secret. I had already lined up a couple of writer friends who knew my work, but the amazing thing is that some well-known authors I didn’t know previously offered blurbs. I think in particular of the great Julia Spencer-Fleming, who emailed me out of the blue after hearing I’d won the Malice Domestic Competition (as she had at the beginning of her career) and asked to read the manuscript, later writing a dream blurb for Every Last Secret. I have been repeatedly stunned at the kindness and generosity of established mystery writers. 

5.  Why did you choose to write about the topic, community, issues you chose?

I spent many years running a university women’s center, and that has translated directly for this series of books into background knowledge of the university setting and campus politics and procedures. It has translated also in a more general way throughout all my work into a concern for women’s issues and an option for and understanding of strong female characters.

I also spent a good deal of time in my childhood with my Cherokee grandmother and aunt, whose influence on me shows daily in how I live my life and in almost everything I write, especially in this series of novels. I have another series I hope to write someday that would be centered in Midwestern urban Chicano culture—and food. I once wrote a Mexican cookbook that remains a steady seller.

6.  How have you found it to be published?  Share that experience.

I have loved it, but I’m finding this time right before Every Last Secret launches to be quite hectic. There is so much to be done right in those months right before publication to make certain that the book is promoted properly and gets the right attention. I’m fortunate that St. Martin’s has given me a great publicist, but the big houses don’t do as much as they used to in that regard. (I suspect that they may never have done as much as we think they did for most first books.) Anyway, much of that promotion burden falls on the shoulders of the writer. When we write, we’re artists. When we publish, we have to become business people.

7.  Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?

“Fans of tough female detectives like V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone will be pleased.” – Publishers Weekly

“Fans of Nevada Barr and Sara Paretsky will relish Linda Rodriguez's stellar debut. Her sleuth, Skeet Bannion, is a keeper. Every Last Secret is a triple crown winner; superb writing, hell for leather plotting and terrific characters.” – Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times bestselling author of One Was a Soldier

“Every Last Secret offers that rare and startling thing in the universe of thrillers: a truly fresh voice. Rodriguez's tale spares nothing. Skeet is an all-too-human heroine, and we just want more, more, more.”— Jacquelyn Mitchard, #1 national bestselling author of The Deep End of the Ocean and Second Nature: A Love Story

“There's a new cop in town and she has smarts, courage, and a good heart. Mystery readers will find a new favorite in Chief Skeet Bannion.”— Nancy Pickard, author of The Scent of Rain and Lightning

“Linda Rodriguez has created a captivating female detective with a mind for justice and a heart for those who’ve been unfairly treated.  Skeet navigates university politics and a nest of deadly secrets to find the truth, even when it means investigating people she cares about.”— Carolyn Haines, author of Bones of a Feather 

“Murder on a college campus, plenty of bad people, and all kinds of puzzles to solve.  Linda Rodriguez has written a highly enjoyable procedural introducing a rough and tender heroine, Skeet Bannion.”— Kathleen George, author of The Odds and Hideout

"Rodriguez’s debut is an action-packed ride featuring an intriguing heroine you won’t quickly forget."—Sally Goldenbaum, bestselling author of The Wedding Shawl

8.  What other books have you published and where, when?

I’ve published two books of poetry, Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009), winner of the Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence, Midwest Voices and Visions Award, Elvira Cordero Cisnero Award, and finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, and Skin Hunger (Potpourri Publications, 1995; Scapegoat Press, 2007), and a cookbook, The “I Don’t Know How To Cook” Book: Mexican (Adams Media, 2008). I’ve also recently edited the poetry anthology, Woven Voices: Three Puertorriqueñas Look at Their Lives (Scapegoat Press, 2012).

9.  Do you have a work in progress now?  Is it part of a series?

I’ve just turned in the second Skeet Bannion mystery novel, Every Broken Trust, and am currently beginning work on the third in the Skeet Bannion series.

10.  If you belong to Sisters in Crime, and/or the Guppies, has that been helpful?  How?

Yes, I do belong to Sisters in Crime. I was a founding member of the very active Border Crimes group in Kansas City and am slated to become its president next year. I’ve found SinC at the national level and our local group to be fantastically helpful.  Border Crimes had for three years a monthly book dissection group, led by NYT bestseller Nancy Pickard, in which we took apart successful published mysteries, focusing on various elements of craft. Nancy has finally had to bow out, but I hope to find a way of reinstituting this group later this year when my book tour is over. I felt it was like taking a graduate-level workshop in mystery writing, and I’d like to keep offering that great benefit to our members.

11.  What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic?

The only mystery conference I’ve attended so far has been Malice Domestic, which I loved and found terrifically useful. When I arrived at Malice Domestic last year, I knew no one. My editor and two writer friends weren’t arriving until the next afternoon. Still, several writers and fans took me under their wings and introduced me to other people and told me about must-see panels (Luci Zahray the Poison Lady!). One of my book blurbs came from a lovely NYT-bestselling writer I met at Malice. And the panels I attended were full of helpful information for my writing and the business-promotion side of my career

I hope to attend Thrillerfest and Bouchercon. I have heard lots of great recommendations for them, as well. I heard a professional publicist say that she recommended for writers just starting in the field to use their promotion budget to attend as many big mystery conferences as they could afford to make contacts in the field and build a public profile.

12.  What else would you like to say about your books, the next one in your series?

Every Last Secret is currently available for pre-order and will launch on April 24, 2012. If you’d like to know more about Skeet Bannion and Every Last Secret, please visit 


Linda Rodriguez has published one novel, Every Last Secret (Minotaur Books), winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, two books of poetry, Heart’s Migration (Thorpe Menn Award; finalist, Eric Hoffer Book Award) and Skin Hunger, and a cookbook, The “I Don’t Know How To Cook” Book: Mexican. She received the Midwest Voices & Visions Award, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, KCArtsFund Inspiration Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Rodriguez is a member of Latino Writers Collective, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, Kansas City Cherokee Community, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Interview with Debra H. Goldstein

Cover image of Debra Goldstein's Maze in Blue.


Debra H. Goldstein

1) When did you begin writing?  Why?

I first began writing stories, skits, and poems when I was a child.  I had no idea that everyone didn’t write because it was just something I had to do.  My first acclaimed poem was written for a first grade Thanksgiving play.   I was given the role of the announcer, but I wanted more lines so I wrote a poem and convinced the teacher to let me recite it between Act I and Act II.  The result was that I wrote myself into the biggest part in the play.

2) When and why did you begin writing mysteries?

Although Maze in Blue is a mystery, my writing, like my blog, can be characterized as “It’s Not Always a Mystery.”  For years, I only wrote party skits and legal articles.  My legal writings were published in journals including The Alabama Lawyer, The Journal of Higher Education, and The Addendum.  I didn’t pursue non-legal writing until a few years ago when the husband of a friend took me aside after hearing a run through of a skit I had written for a leadership group graduation.  He commented at how well I had caught the personalities and voices of the members of our graduating class and encouraged me to do some more informal writing.  His unsolicited compliment and the fact that the activities of my four children no longer took up most of my non-working time made me realize that I wanted to write more seriously. 

I started by writing short pieces.  My non-fiction essay, “Maybe I Should Hug You” received a 2009 Alabama Writer’s Conclave Award.  A retooled version of that piece was published as “More Hugs Less Fear” online by MORE Magazine in April 2010.  As I evolved into writing more humorous fiction, my legal background started finding its way into my stories.  In September 2010, “Malicious Mischief,” won second place in the Chattahoochee Valley Writers Conference Short Story contest.  “Legal Magic” won a 2011 Alabama Conclave Writers Humor Award.  Maze in Blue is my first full length novel.

For me, fun and escape comes from reading a mystery.  Whether a thriller, cozy or suspense novel, I love the challenge of trying to figure out whodunit.  Consequently, when I decided to write a book, there was no question that it would be a mystery.

3) Are you writing a series or a stand-alone?  Explain your basic idea for your series.

Maze in Blue is the first book in the Denney Silber series.  In Maze in Blue, headlines scream “University of Michigan co-ed murdered” and the intrigue begins.  All senior Denney Silber wants is to enjoy football games, sorority parties, and concerts – plans that go awry when her friend is murdered in the office of the faculty member Denney most despises.  Compelled to find her friend’s killer, Denney soon learns she can’t trust friends, teachers or even the cute guy in Poetry 331.  What she is sure of is that friends don’t kill friends.

The basic idea for my series comes from talking with my characters.  As they quickly explained to me, they couldn’t be part of stories about lawyering or judging until they experienced life as undergraduates.  My goal in the series is to see life through their eyes as they finish college and move on grad school and work while experiencing the life cycle events we all are familiar with.

4) Tell us about your journey to publication with this book.

The background story of Maze in Blue being published is I periodically worked on it for several years, but it wasn’t ready for submission when I began writing short stories and non-fiction pieces for competition in 2008.  “Maybe I Should Hug You” won a 2009 Alabama Writer’s Conclave Non-Fiction Award and was published online in 2010 as “More Hugs Less Fear” by MORE Magazine.  Two short stories, “Malicious Mischief” and “Legal Magic” won other competitive awards.  In 2010, as president of The Women’s Network, I moderated a panel of women who each had published a book through different types of publishers.

Although I prefer to be a neutral moderator, when I asked for audience questions, the first one was directed to me:  “Tell us what you’ve been writing?”  Embarrassed, I told them about the “Maybe I Should Hug You” award and its subsequent publication.  I tried to guide the next question back to the panel, but I was commanded to “Tell us what you’re working on now.”  I responded I had a mystery finally ready to be submitted.

I thought nothing of my offhand remark, but two hours later my blackberry had a message indicating a person in the audience had called her best friend, the co-owner of a small publishing house, and told her “There’s a judge with a mystery and I’ve seen her writing.  You might want to look at the book.”  The publisher offered to read my manuscript.  I jumped at the opportunity.  One week after receiving the manuscript, she sent me an e-mail saying “My partner, Joy, and I have read Maze in Blue and would like to offer you a contract.”  Without an agent, I signed a two book contract.  I performed their requested rewrites and Chalet published the book.

5) Why did you choose to write about the topic, community, issues you chose?

I chose to set Maze in Blue on the University of Michigan’s campus because I fell in love with the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan when I was a student there in the 1970s.  Places like the Diag, Markley, Angell Hall, and the Michigan Law School quadrangle each hold special memories for me that I want to share with others.  When I realized my characters needed to experience life as undergraduates before they could attend law school or go to work, there was no better place to send them to college than the University of Michigan (although my husband, whose blood runs Crimson, and a few of your readers might dispute this).  

Maze in Blue’s main purpose is to be fun for the reader.  It is meant for a reader who wants to enjoy a fast paced book at the beach, on a place, or before bed.  Although Maze addresses behind the scenes issues found in academia, domestic violence and friendship, it does so while the reader is enjoying concerts, sorority life, and the University of Michigan of the 1970s with Denney Silber and her friends. 

6) How have you found it to be published?  Share that experience.

Since the publication of Maze in Blue, I have been on a magical ride.  I have met so many wonderful and kind people either in person or online that I never would have had the opportunity to become friends with.  Although it is sometimes difficult to juggle being a full time sitting judge and family obligations with the marketing required for a new book, it has been a joyous balancing act.

7) Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?

I’m a little shy on this one…….go to my Reviews Page on my website, and pick and choose what you want to quote.

8) What other books have you published and where, when?

Maze in Blue, a murder mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s, is my debut novel.

9) Do you have a work in progress now?  Is it part of a series?

I am working on the next book in the Denney Silber series, another mystery series based two characters from short stories I have written, and a women’s fiction piece that is a cross between Gaffney’s The Saving Graces and Ephron’s I Hate My Neck.

10) If you belong of Sisters in Crime, and /or the Guppies, has that been helpful?  How?

I am a member of Sisters in Crime and a Guppy.  Both have been helpful to me because of the support and encouragement I have received and because of the wonderful information that members generously share through the websites, e-mails, message boards, books, and In Sinc [Sisters in Crime quarterly newsletter].

11) What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic?

The experience of interacting with writers and readers and to be a participant in class sessions has been invaluable.  Writers tend to be isolated, but conferences demand being involved to get the most out of them.

12) What else would you like to say about your books, the next one in your series?

My goal is to provide a reader with a fun experience.  Whether it is the next book in this series or any piece I write, I want the reader to enjoy, even while digesting an important theme.  Hopefully, readers will look forward to having my books on their bookshelves or downloading them to their e-readers.


Debra Goldstein is a judge, award-winning author, litigator, civic volunteer, Yankee,and Southern woman writer.  Maze in Blue (2011), which takes place at the University of Michigan in 1971, is her debut mystery.  A second mystery in her series is in the works.  For many years her writings were legal articles, but now she enjoys writing fiction and non-fiction.  Like her sleuth, Denny Silber, she doesn't like to be pigeon-holed. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review: Sara J. Henry's Learning to Swim

Cover Image of Sara J. Henry's Learning to Swim


Review:  Learning to Swim.  Sara J. Henry.  Crown Publishers, New York.  2011.  Hardback, $24.  978-0-307-71838-9.

“If I’d blinked, I would have missed it.”  From a Lake Champlain ferry Troy sees “a small wide-eyed human face, in one tiny frozen moment as it plummeted toward the water.”  She doesn’t think, doesn’t hesitate.  She jumps in to rescue this boy.  She lives in Lake Placid, New York, was on her way to see her boyfriend, Thomas, in Burlington, Vermont.  She finds the boy, swims back to the surface, having held her breath longer than she thought possible.  Then she blows her breath into him.  “The boy coughed, spewed forth a gush of water, then opened his eyes.  ‘Yes,’ I whispered. ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ and I think I shook him a little.  I might have cried if I hadn’t learned a long time ago you can’t cry and swim at the same time...
“I staggered as we came out of the water, him clinging to my side like a baby orangutan, and sat down on the first big rock I came to. .. ‘Merci,’ he whispered...
“I felt a rush of emotion so strong it jolted me.”
Afraid to take him to the police for fear they’d “hand him off to a stranger,” she takes him home to her rental house, which she shares with several young men.  Her dog, Tiger, a golden retriever-German shepherd mix, adopts Paul, who speaks only French and doesn’t tell her much at first about what he has been through.  She calls her friend Baker who has three small sons and can help with clothes and advice.  She begins to think of him as hers: “I’d found him. I’d saved him.”
Learning to Swim is one of the few books I’ve read that I simply couldn’t stop reading.  I had no choice.  I had to know what happened to this sudden, passionate, impromptu mother of a small six-year-old boy, whom someone had tried to drown.  It hit me below the belt.  The feelings were like that tug when you are a mother and your child is threatened.  Pure instinct.  Your desire to read is like what Troy did, diving before she knew she would, to save a boy thrown from a passing ferry.
For me good mysteries assemble believable characters with depth, real human passions, and conflict; a plot that pulls me along, curious, puzzled; a time and place that is revealed in ways I couldn’t get if I went there and looked on.  I’m taken inside a fictional world and put at my ease.  I forget I’m not part of it.  I care about the sleuth or point of view character.  I want to know what happens.  All these things are true of this book, but few books of any kind have the magnetic pull this one does, at least for me.  I had to read it.  I had to know.  I was, as we say, hooked, from the opening paragraph.
The story of the aftermath is compelling, too, well-told.  We follow each step of Troy’s search for the boy’s parents, meet people who help her, worry that she’ll encounter the criminals who throw children off ferries.  There is suspense, a clever plot, a carefully delineated emotional journey Troy takes which changes her rather casual, carefree life as a freelance journalist forever, but these things, admirable and well-done, weren’t what made me marvel and want to read whatever else Sara Henry wrote.  She has a new one in this series coming out in the fall.  You can find out more at  She deserves the First Best Novel Agatha, and is nominated.  I doubt that people who have read the book will feel they have a choice.  I don’t.


Sara J. Henry's novel Learning to Swim, which Lisa Unger describes as "a terrific debut," is the first in a series based in the Adirondacks in upstate New York, where Sara lived as a freelance writer in a big house with a lot of roommates, just like her main character.  Sara studied journalism at the University of Florida in Gainesville and Carleton University in Ottawa, worked as a newspaper and book editor, did stints at several magazines, and used to be a health and fitness writer (she has also been a website designer, bicycle mechanic, and soil scientist).  Sara is from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and lives on a dirt road in southern Vermont with at least one too many dogs.  Learning to Swim was an Emerging Author pick at Target, and is a finalist for the Agatha First Best Traditional Mystery Novel Award, Barry Award, and Mary Higgins Clark Award.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Interview with Camille Minichino aka Ada Madison

Cover image of The Square Root of Murder by Ada Madison


1.  When did you begin writing?  Why?

Postmenopausal. Because it was time.

2.  When and why did you begin writing mysteries?

When I realized they were more fun and interesting than other genres. Also, the periodic table (theme of my first series) lent itself to murder and mayhem, with each element a mystery of its own.

3.  Are you writing a series or a stand-alone?  Explain your basic idea for your series.

I write 3 series. The latest is an "academic" mystery with a college campus in New England. My protagonist teaches math, as I did. Soon every phase of my life will be a mystery series.

4.  Tell us about your journey to publication with this book.

They asked. I wrote.

5.  Why did you choose to write about the topic, community, issues you chose?

I like to stay with what I know intimately. I love doing research for secondary characters and for plot threads, but for the protagonists' voices, it helps that I've been there.

6.  How have you found it to be published?  Share that experience.

Love it when the limo drives up and my handler takes me around the world to booksellers . . . wait. You mean really? Not like that.

7.  Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?

My first reviewer liked that my first protagonist had both "brains and hips."

8.  What other books have you published and where, when?

Besides 16 mysteries, a book on nuclear waste management. Not a big seller.

9.  Do you have a work in progress now?  Is it part of a series?

I'm working on the next one in each of the 3 series, plus a short story for a dollhouse magazine.

10.  If you belong to Sisters in Crime, and/or the Guppies, has that been helpful?  How?
I'm past-president and current board member of Sisters in Crime NorCal. It was tremendously   helpful as I got started, with workshops, advice, and camaraderie. I've met amazing people and have had the opportunity through the organization to pay it forward.

11.  What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic?

Meeting fans, other writers, booksellers is always useful and fun.

12.  What else would like to say about your books, the next one in your series?

The mystery community is the best! I'm happy to be part of it, and hope to add more series to my list. Anyone interested in a nun sleuth in 1965?


Camille Minichino, a retired physicist turned writer, is the author of the Periodic Table Mysteries.  As Margaret Grace, she writes the Miniature Mysteries with Gerry Porter and her eleven-year-old granddaughter; as Ada Madison,she writes an academic series featuring Professor Sophie Knowles, math teacher at a fictional college in Massachusetts.  Visit her website: and blog htt://