Monthly Archives: September 2015

Dog On KaT: Rosie Sniffs Out Her Favorite Animal Sleuth

Private Eye Rosie

Dogs are natural sleuths, especially scent dogs like my chocolate Lab Rosie. She is curious about everything. Her inner monologue on a walk: That bush smells different today. Hey there’s a silver wrapper in the grass, maybe it will taste good. Oh yum, a banana peel! Squirrel! What’s in that bag? Does that person getting out of his car want to pet me? Wait, I don’t want to go that way. Look, there’s a bug on the sidewalk. Where’s it going? Is it food? Hey, I’m not done eating that…Rosie vs Beetle

But you don’t have to know a dog like Rosie to enjoy the crime-solving antics of Rosie’s favorite dog sleuth Chet the Jet of the Chet and Bernie mystery series by Spencer Quinn (aka Edgar Award winning author Peter Abrahams). Chet is a K-9 school drop out and the faithful companion of down-and-out private investigator Bernie Little.

Cozy mysteries with animal sleuths are not uncommon. What sets this part-cozy-part-hard-boiled mystery series apart from others in those genres is that the P.I.’s cases unfold in the first person narrative of Chet the dog. Author Spencer Quinn does an excellent job imagining a canine inner monologue while leaving all the deductive reasoning to Chet’s human partner Bernie. If Rosie could read, I suspect she would find Chet to be a very relatable protagonist.

“What is it, Chet?”

I smelled all kinds of things, but that wasn’t the point. The point was those smells brought back a memory of this grate and what had fallen in: one of the sharpest memories I’d ever had, so sharp my side hurt.

“What are you barking about?” Bernie got down on his hands and knees and peered through the grate. “Can’t see a goddamn thing. Can you?”

Nope. But I didn’t have to: I knew what was down there. I pawed at the grate. Bernie gazed at me, then went to the car and came back with the flashlight. I loved the flashlight, how it poked holes in the dark, and always got a bit excited when we were using it.

“Stop charging around like that.”

I stopped, returned to the grate. Bernie was kneeling again, shining the light down through.

dog-on-it-cover-663x1024As you can see, the tone of the series is warm and humorous, but there is a brush of darkness that adds depth. Like any fictional detective, Chet encounters real danger and adversity. Chet must outsmart some truly evil villains while navigating a world of humans and machines that is often beyond his ability to understand. Even well-meaning humans can be a danger to a dog. In DOG ON IT (the first book in the series), Chet has a very close call with death when he is separated from Bernie and put in an animal shelter. No one wants to adopt him, and Bernie doesn’t know where he is.

A cold place, with lights that were much too bright shining on machines I didn’t understand. The lawn mower is one of the worst, and these, not much like lawn mowers, somehow looked as bad. I turned back toward the metal door: closed.

And Chet’s relationship with Bernie is rich with emotion while not straying too far from Chet’s doglike thinking.

I knew men could cry—had seen Bernie tear up that time Leda came and packed up Charlie’s stuff; did I mention that already? At that moment I came close to making— What would you call it? A connection, maybe, a connection between Bernie’s situation and—

But it didn’t happen. I spotted a Cheeto under the bed. Munch munch and it was gone.

If DOG ON IT sounds like your kind of read, you’ll enjoy the other Chet and Bernie Mysteries too. Even the titles are fun!

Chet & Bernie Book Covers

Thereby Hangs a Tail; To Catch A Thief; The Dog Who Knew Too Much; A Cat Was Involved (Prequel, short story); A Fistful of Collars; The Sound and the Furry; Paw and Order; and Scents and Sensibility.

You might also want to check out Chet’s blog and, of course, his FaceBook page.

What animal sleuth mysteries do you like to read?

KaT Books on Sale for a Limited Time

It came to our attention last week that Lena and I both have discounted books at the same time. This was especially surprising as we both have sales very rarely, and for both of us, the book on sale is a full-length, 2015 release. This discovery led me to play with some KaT memes, because I’m a sucker for cats, plus my heroine in INCRIMINATING EVIDENCE has a furry friend named Gandalf the Grey, and Gandalf loves a good bargain. (Okay, that might be a stretch. Gandalf loves Isabel, hunting rodents, and intimidating Alec.)

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Exit titleBy Lena Diaz

When Sabrina Hightower awakens to the sound of an intruder, she figures he’s there to rob her, murder her— or worse. She doesn’t expect to be carried off by a muscle-bound stud with male-model good looks…or that he came to rescue her.

Mason Hunt became an enforcer with EXIT Inc. to eliminate the bad guys—terrorists, militia groups, all those who would do America harm. But his latest target is innocent. If EXIT could lie about sultry, strong-willed Sabrina, what darker truths might they be concealing?

Going rogue in the rugged North Carolina mountains, Mason risks everything to keep Sabrina close, especially now that EXIT’s lethal assassins are chasing them down. The heat is on…but it’s nothing compared to the slow burn of seduction.

Kindle |iBooksKoboGoogle PlayNook

IE title onlyBy Rachel Grant

When archaeologist Isabel Dawson stumbles upon an unconscious man deep in the Alaskan wilderness, her survival skills are put to the test. She tends his wounds and drags him to shelter, only to discover she’s saved the life of Raptor CEO Alec Ravissant—the man who may have covered up her brother’s murder to save his senatorial campaign.

With no memory of the assault that landed him five miles deep in the forest, Alec doesn’t know what to believe when he wakes in the clutches of the beautiful redhead who blames him for her brother’s death, but he quickly realizes he needs her help to uncover the truth about his lost hours.

Isabel never imagined she’d find herself allied with Alec, and he’s the last man she ever expected to find attractive. But the former Army Ranger-turned-politician proves seductively charming, and he’s determined to win much more than her vote. When their quest for answers puts Isabel in the crosshairs, Alec must risk everything—his company, his campaign, and his life—to protect her.

Kindle | iBooks

Both sales end soon!

Are there other books on sale you’d like to recommend to our readers? Feel free to post romantic suspense bargains in the comments.

How Story Structure Saved the Princess, the Knight, and the Lamb

Years ago, I came up with this presentation for a local writing group and blog. Since then, I’ve had tons of requests to share it again. So I’m posting it here for all of my K&T friends.

I love writing, but I hate plotting. I’m much more comfortable having no idea what’s going to happen, writing out of order, then putting all the pieces together like a puzzle. Of course this means tons of revisions and time. So, to increase my productivity, I’ve read every craft book ever written and taken online plotting classes. And while I’d still rather wing the writing, one of my favorite devices is Anne Lamott’s story structure mnemonic.

From A to E, it’s short and easy to remember. For those of you who don’t know it, I’ll give a short re-cap.

Action (which includes the inciting incident), Background (backstory, which is now woven throughout the story), Conflict (goals, motivations, and hindrances), Development (protagonist’s journey) and End–parts 1 & 2 (crisis and resolution). Since I’m also a strong visual learner, I’ve come up with a visual representation of Ms. Lamott’s device, with an added prologue (because I love prologues, especially in stories where the heroine is a four-year old with a vivid imagination).

And this is how Ms. Lamott’s Story Structure saved the Princess, the Knight, and the Lamb.

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Once upon a time, there was a Princess who wanted to play “Save the Lamb from the Evil Witch.” Except she didn’t have anyone to play with. So, with a smile and a cookie, she asked her twin brother, the Knight, “Will you play with me?”

He responded with a mouth filled with chocolate chips, “Will there be fighting?”

“Yes,” she said. “With swords.”

He smiled. “I’m in!”

ACTION

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“We have to hurry,” the Princess said. “We must save the Lamb from the Evil Witch who lives on the other side of the dark mountain. But first we need to find the unicorn.”

“Do we kill the unicorn?” the Knight asked.

“No. We feed the unicorn some magic acorns. Then she will tell us how to defeat the witch.”

“Okay!” The Knight grabbed his sword. “Let’s go.”

CONFLICT

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Once the Princess and the Knight got to the magic forest, the Knight said, “It’s dark and scary. Let’s feed the unicorn and get out of here.”

“First we have to find the fairies who will give us the magic acorns.”

He raised his sword high. “Let’s do it.”

“We can’t just ask the fairies for the acorns.”

“Why not? And when do I use my sword?”

The Princess sighed. “The fairies will have three riddles for us to answer, then we have to attend the magical fairy feast where they will try to poison us. But we can get an antidote for the poison from a talking rabbit who will betray us, but then become our mentor and guide and be redeemed.”

DEVELOPMENT

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“I don’t understand,” the Knight said. “How come there’s so much talking? Where’s the action? When do I get to fight something?”

“After we get away from the fairies and the rabbit and find the unicorn, you’ll have to slay the dragon.”

“Whoa!” he said with a huge grin. “There’s a dragon?”

“Yes,” she said. “But don’t touch his gold. It’s enchanted.”

“Just as long as I can use my sword. Now let’s go find those fairies, slay the dragon, feed the unicorn, and save the lamb from the evil queen!”

END/CRISIS

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“I’m done.” The Knight leaned against the barn door. “There was no dragon, no fighting, and I have a headache from all this backstory.”

The Princess started to cry. “I thought you wanted to play with me?”

“I wanted to use my sword. Not talk for three hours.”

The Princess stomped her foot. “But you promised!”

“Whatever.” The Knight shrugged and walked away. “I’m leaving to find the Good Queen. Maybe she has more cookies.”

 END/RESOLUTION

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The Princess and the Knight just couldn’t agree on how to proceed. Should he go play with Legos and find more cookies? Could she fight the fairies, dragon, and evil witch on her own?

Seeing no end to the conflict, the Good Queen (mommy) showed up with homemade brownies and lemonade (deus ex machina) and said, “I slayed the dragon, sent the fairies out to the garden, fed the unicorn, put the lamb down for a nap, and the evil witch is doing laundry. So all is well!”

“Long live the Good Queen!” yelled the Princess and the Knight.

So the Princess and the Knight ate brownies, took baths, and read books. Then they went to bed and ended their day with a Happily Ever After.

Now I’d love to know–do you plan your stories or do the wait-and-see? And if you plot everything out first, do you have a favorite structure? Since I’m fascinated by writers who know where their stories are going, I’d love to hear how you do it!

All photos courtesy of Sharon Wray.

Cold War With Russia — Again?

Since moving to the D.C. area, I’ve become a wonk — yes that is an official term. While it can mean a studious or hardworking person — things I certainly hope I am, it mostly means a person who takes an excessive interest in minor details of political policy. It unofficially means the kind of person — often a female — who likes and remembers all the sticky details of a subject. Said female is often considered boring, overly studious, and generally not sexy in the least little bit.

In other words, a female wonk is the 21st century version of a bluestocking.

So when I was invited last week to Georgetown University to hear Ambassador Linton Brooks talk about the U.S. relationship with Russia, I immediately jumped at the chance.

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Being on the Georgetown campus is amazing. I love surrounding myself with all these intent young people who are firmly lodged in the realm of ideas. They are students who want to make a difference. To be in that world makes me feel young and optimistic and as if the world is a  more hopeful place.

Imagine my dismay to hear that our relations with Russia are getting worse daily. I might have my head in the clouds, but when the Wall came down, and the U.S. and Russia decided to decrease nuclear arms, I thought we were once again friends. I thought the biggest fracas before Ukraine was the style war between Raisa Gorbachev and Nancy Reagan.

Ambassador Brooks worked on both the START and START 2 treaties. He made it clear that all opinions were his own and not of any official U.S. agency.  As he went over the current situation, chills ran down my back.

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“Ten years ago no one cared about Russia as a threat. Even John McCain said, ‘Russia is a gas station’ … with atom bombs.”  But we are belatedly coming to realize Russia does matter. “Their interest is the same as ours in dealing with the issues of the Middle East. They are an important vote on the UN Security Council,” and they’re the only country that “could destroy Washington before the hour was up.”

Brooks then went on to say, “The Bush Administration said Russia is no longer a threat. Obama has tried to strengthen our relationship. But Clinton, Bush and Obama have all failed.”

Here are some of Brooks’ points in his words:

  • “The Ukraine annexation is the most important event in Russo-U.S. relations since the cold war.”
  • “It’s the first time since WWII that a country has been annexed.”
  • “It’s a violation of the Helsinki Act”
  • “But Ukraine is a symptom — the disease is much deeper.”
  • “Russians do not trust us.”
  • “Russians are misreading American character.”
  • Brooks does not believe that Putin is trying to recreate the Soviet Union.
  • “They believe we’re trying to destabilize them.”
  • “They believe we’re looking for first strike capability.” He goes on to say Putin especially believes this.

I don’t know about all of you, but this has me worried. I grew up in a world where the Cold War was real. It was the basis of a lot of great spy novels with thrilling plots and twists and turns. However, I’d give up every bit of the pleasure of reading those adventures for this not to be a repeated reality.

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While I don’t have answers, and neither for that matter does Brooks, it’s important we understand the issues, that we know what is going on beyond our boarders, and that our new President, whomever that might be, will be knowledgeable and able to make inroads toward peace.

Despite his major faults, Nixon, a man not known for his social skills, single-handedly was able to convey the spirit of friendship to Mao Tse Tung and the Chinese people who, to this day, revere him and remember him with incredible respect. Even in the Beijing Dirty Market (now known as the Antiquities Market since the Beijing Olympics) I have often seen statues, pictures and even watches with Nixon’s face on them right next to identical souvenirs featuring Mao, who until this day is greatly loved.

Hopefully one day there will be similar things in the Russian stalls honoring the U.S. President who understood peace can only begin with trust.

THE BEST BOOKS ARE “FAST-SLOW” READS

Young woman read book relaxing on sofa in lounge

I read voraciously- you probably do too, and it suddenly struck me this week (after thousands of books) that I have an instinctive 4-tiered rating system.

1) There’s the poorly written story I stop reading when it takes too much effort or I find I’m dreading picking up my Kindle. (Dread should never be associated with reading novels!)

2) There are the stories that entertain me all the way through, but it’s still easy enough to put the book down and perform critical human functions like eating and bathing.

3) Then there are the amazing authors who consistently capture me into their world. You know the kind: the writers who make writing look easy. My impulsive story-craft critic never rears it’s ugly head…not even once. These are the stories you burn your family’s dinner trying to read ‘just one more page.’

4) And finally- the handful of authors (and I mean one hand, folks!) who are SO talented that I only pick up their stories when I’ve ‘earned it.’ Perhaps I finished a manuscript. Or I’m finally on vacation with nothing but that story in front of me. I begin them thinking it’s the 3rd-tier I just described. I say goodbye to my husband, because nothing will pull me from the novel. But the plot is profound, the characters and setting are so real that reading the story becomes an experience. In this 4th tier, the further I read, the more I begin to SLOW DOWN. Weird huh?

CRIMINALLast night I finished CRIMINAL, by Karin Slaughter, one of the top police-procedural thriller writers of our time. If she were in my 3rd tier I’d have finished the book in a day-and-a-half. But her phenomenal skill at story weaving puts her in the 4th tier. CRIMINAL took me a week to finish. Let me explain, because it’s so counter intuitive:

When an author is that enthralling I don’t want to be without the story. Those characters enrich my life. I also know I won’t get another new work for a year or more (all 5 of my top-tier authors rarely publish more than once a year.) Therefore, the more the story progresses and the more my soul has completely drowned in the author’s world, the more I’ll only read a chapter or two in one sitting. Miserly nibbling away, because I’m already sorry I’m this far into it. And maybe during the epic final battle (what we writers call ‘the black moment’) I’ll put that book down for a whole day. It’s masochistic, I know.

Ironically, I don’t tend to enjoy thrillers and I hate scary movies! Let me be frank: the thriller part of Slaughter’s Will Trent series is beyond horrific. Her antagonists’ twisted evil defies my imagination- and probably yours too. It’s airplanes-crashing-into-buildings shocking. It simply never occurred to you that a person could think up something this horrific to harm others. And Slaughter is 8 books in, folks. Will Trent and his female partner, female boss and girlfriend make up the gist of the story, but that’s 8 villains so heinous, so much more evil than Hannibal Lecter, that I guarantee they’ll each blow your mind. Nerd alert: It’s the kind of horror that requires me to watch three Bewitched sitcoms before sleeping, so her villain won’t seep into my dreams. 🙂

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Karin Slaughter

Why on earth would I stick her in the 4th tier? Because her hero, Will Trent is so mind-bendingly flawed and so determined to move beyond his disabilities, his past and his faults. His boss has such incredible depth and secrets that in 9 books (I’m including COP TOWN) you aren’t even close to figuring her out- and you know it! His girlfriend is stoic and beautiful and has held up under massive human suffering. It’s the realism of these characters’ lives and their good-trumps-evil spirit that make me slow down and drag the book out.

Initially I did not read her series in order, but I recommend you do. The Will-Trent-experience is far more enriching when you know what happened and what character traits and secrets were revealed in the previous novel. Below is the sequence of the series. And in her brilliant creativity she’s begun weaving the boss, Amanda Wagner’s backstory within the series and as stand-alones, so I’m adding COP TOWN in as a must-read too.  Will Trent isn’t in it, but you need to know this part of Amanda to make CRIMINAL that much more of a 4th tier experience!

Name your top tier authors! One commenter will win a $10 Amazon gift card. (My way of paying for that author’s next book!)

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A pic found on Karin’s FB page. Why yes, I am a stalker-fan. SO?

 

Karin’s Amazon Author Page

WILL TRENT SERIES (links to each book on her website.)

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