Category Archives: Krista Hall
Whether it is genre or literary, excellent fiction is rooted in the real world. In order for you, the reader, to take that leap of faith from the concrete to the virtual worlds of our stories, we, the writers, must first earn your trust that our stories have a foundation in truth, even when they take place in alien or imaginary places. So how do we find those kernels of truth?
Research. Lots of research.
One of my favorite research methods is listening to podcasts—usually in my car, while running my daily errands. (Today that proved impossible when the forecast for snow exceeded expectations so Rosie and I had the day off.)
Here are a few of my favorite podcasts paired with book recommendations.
Get the inside skinny on many usual and unusual professions with these podcast episodes. Titles include: How Does a Forensic Anthropologist Work? How Does an Animal Behavior Specialist Work? How Does a Club Doorman Work? Sometimes the only way for a writer to get inside the head of a character working in an unfamiliar profession is to listen to real people talk about what they do for a living, why they do it, and how it is meaningful to them. After all, it’s not the profession that makes a character compelling, it’s the character’s passion for that profession.
Compelling romantic suspense is grounded it in real world events. As a chemistry major, I have to admit that I either forgot or missed a great deal of what I was taught in high school history class. Luckily for me, this podcast offers a range of interesting historical facts to enrich plots as well as intriguing tidbits such as Who Was the Real Professor Moriarty? I had no idea that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character was inspired by the real life criminal mastermind Adam Worth.
This podcast is too scary for me, but if you like your mystery/suspense wrapped in spooky/scary…
Writers are also avid readers. Listening to these podcast episodes gives me the opportunity to learn from writers I probably will never have the good fortune to meet, let alone engage in conversation. For instance, did you know… Iconic romance author Beverly Jenkins does not write during the NFL playoffs. She once binge-read Harlan Coben’s Bolitar series on her kindle. And she was featured in a 5-page spread in the 1995 Valentine’s Day edition of People magazine written by reporter Nancy Drew.
Do you have a favorite podcast? Add to my list…please!
Democrat, Republican, Independent, naturalized citizen, American-born, permanent resident, foreign visitor, adult, child. No matter who you are, it is always a thrill to cross the threshold into “The People’s House” aka The White House. But during the holidays, it is magical. This year you are greeted by giant penguins as you enter through the East Visitor entrance.
Portraits of First Ladies line the walls as you walk up the steps toward the East Colonnade–Nancy Reagan in her signature red and Bess Truman exuding Midwestern warmth. The first tree you see is the Gold Star Tree in honor of the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country. It is always surrounded by a crowd of people, writing messages of hope and gratitude and remembrance. You, too, can send a message to our troops and their families by visiting Honoring Our Troops on the White House website.
The East Colonnade is a winter wonderland this year (even though the temperature outside is well-above freezing). Hand-crafted snowflakes bearing the hopes and aspirations of D.C. public school students float in the air and a cheerful cadre of snowmen have invaded the East Garden.
Rounding the corner, you enter the East Garden Room. Tennis ball trees surround the First Family’s dogs Bo and Sunny.
Milk bones dangle from the branches of a Douglas fir while Abe Lincoln looks out from a corner, reminding us of where we are.
Pass through the long central hall way on the ground floor. Peek into the White House Library where six trees are trimmed with novels and manuscripts, the Vermeil Room with the ethereal portrait of Jackie Kennedy, and the China Room with the striking portrait of Grace Coolidge and her white collie Rob Roy. In addition to the holiday decorations, these rooms brim with antique furniture from the Federal period. Then up the stairs to the East Room where I stopped to pose for a photo.
If you look closely, you’ll see the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington—the one First Lady Dolley Madison saved when the British invaded Washington D.C. and ransacked the White House in 1814. Festive trees fill the Green Room, Blue Room, and Red Room, but my favorite eye-candy is the artwork hanging on practically every inch of wall space: Portraits of iconic statesmen like Benjamin Franklin, sweeping landscapes of America’s West, scenes from America’s past, and modern masterpieces like The Builders by Jacob Lawrence.
Onward to the State Dining Room where the eye-candy really is candy!
The forty-five minute holiday tour ends in the Cross Hall and Grand Foyer. Here images of our late-twentieth and twenty-first century presidents stand sentinel. The haunting, almost surreal portrait of John F. Kennedy across from the eternal optimist, Ronald Reagan, as you enter the Cross Hall. And George W. Bush and Bill Clinton on opposite walls in the Grand Foyer. Music spills into the air as a pianist seated at the 1938 Steinway plays holiday tunes.
One last look, then you exit out the front doors, down the steps of the North Portico, and head toward Pennsylvania Avenue.
Before I leave the White House grounds, I take a moment to savor the view of D.C. from inside the wrought iron fence that surrounds The People’s House.
Happy holidays! Wishing you and yours peace, love, and joy in the New Year!
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…
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.
As 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!
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.
What animal sleuth mysteries do you like to read?
The year is only two months old and already I found myself in Books-A-Million making an impulse purchase. London journalist Paula Hawkins’s 2015 debut blockbuster and New York Times #1 bestseller THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN grabbed me from the moment I stepped up to the display of current bestsellers vying for attention.
Maybe it was the arresting cover (designed by Gretchen Achilles) that had me pulling the book off the shelf to get a closer look even though I have nine books on my must-read-before-I-buy-anything-else list. Or the cover quote by Tess Gerritsen: “So thrilling and tense and wildly unpredictable.” Wow!
Or maybe it was the title. The Girl on the Train. For a whole year back in my mid-twenties, I was a girl on a train, commuting from my home in Connecticut to my job in New York City. Paula Hawkins stated in an NPR interview that the idea for the book came from her own experience commuting by train to London during her college years.
Or maybe it was the book description inside the jacket.
THERE SHE SITS, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. WHAT SHE SEES, GAZING OUT THE WINDOW, WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING.
Pretty intriguing, right? I’m sure you can understand why I had my wallet out in a flash to buy the book. I hurried home and immersed myself in the dark, twisty tale that unfolds in a series of mornings and evenings that coincide with the rhythm of the train commuter during that stretch of time when she is the outsider, the daytripper, the person watching the action like a theater-goer at a live performance.
The unreliable narrator of the novel is nobody’s Valentine. Alone, divorced, and unemployed, Rachel spends her days commuting to London to pass the time. On the train, she cracks open a can (or two) of gin and tonic and spins stories about a young couple who live in a house along the tracks. She imagines their perfect, golden life, a fairy tale of love and devotion that comforts her. Until she discovers that the young wife has disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
Did Rachel see something from the train that will help the police solve the case? Or is she an unreliable witness who will cause more harm than good? You won’t stop turning the pages until you find out.
Fun fact: The Girl on the Train is not the author’s only book. Paula Hawkins previously published three chick lit books under the pseudonym Amy Silver. So if you are looking for a happier read for Valentines Day, you might be able to get your hands on one of her paperback titles: Confessions of a Reluctant Recessionista, All I Want for Christmas, and One Minute to Midnight.
What was the last impulse buy you made at the bookstore?
Congratulations to the February 3rd winners! To claim your prizes, please go to Contact Us and complete the form.
The Kennedy Connection–Maureen
The Midnight Hour–Patti Straight
CONGRATULATIONS, QUANTUM and JDH2690! You’re each the winner of BROKEN PLACES!
To claim your prize contact us with your email address and preferred ebook format within 10 days.
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CONGRATULATIONS TO 2014 RITA & GOLDEN HEART FINALISTS!
This year the winners in the romantic suspense category are:
RITA winner Carolyn Crane for OFF THE EDGE
And GOLDEN HEART winner Denny S. Bryce for CHASING DAMN
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Tune in tomorrow when Manda gives a sneak peek into the final installment of her Wicked Widows trilogy, Perdita and Archer’s story, WHY LORDS LOSE THEIR HEARTS…
Sometimes in my dreams I’m back in Charleston, West Virginia, wandering the wooded ridgelines of Sherwood Forest where I lived for six years as a child. The hills and hollows, the switchback roads, the heavy humidity, and the acrid scent of chemicals when the wind blew in from the southwest. The wild beauty of the hills co-existed with hulking chemical plants along the banks of the Kanawha River and grinding poverty in the hollows. Contrasts with razor sharp edges that pierce your soul, even when you’re just a kid.
And that probably explains why I was drawn to Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and West Virginia native, Julia Keller’s Bell Elkins books—a fairly new mystery series set in fictional Acker’s Gap, “a shabby afterthought of a town tucked in the notch between two peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, like the last letter stuck in a mail slot after the post office has closed down for keeps.”
This mystery series begins with a dream too. County prosecutor Bell Elkins is haunted by her early years in a trailer on the banks of a West Virginia creek and the dark tragedy that changed the course of her life. “You could smell the creek, a damp rotting smell that was somehow also sweet, even before you could see it. The woods around it made a tight screen, as if the branches were gripping hands in a game of Red Rover. Daring you to break through.”
In A KILLING IN THE HILLS, Julia Keller’s debut book, three old men in a crowded restaurant are gunned down in broad daylight: “Pock Pock Pock.” Bell Elkins and the local sheriff Nick Fogelsong suspect that the horrific crime is tied to the illegal prescription drug trafficking that is “roaring across the state like a wildfire in a high wind,” but they are baffled by the shooter’s deliberate targeting of the three old friends. “One shot per head.” This is not a random act of violence. And even worse, Bell’s teenage daughter witnessed the murders.
What I like best about the series is Bell Elkins. She’s a fierce crusader with a shadowy past that both propels her and hinders her in her roles as prosecutor, mother, friend, sister, ex-wife, and child of Acker’s Gap. “To know and not to do is not to know,” is the driving force behind Bell Elkins’s return to the small mountain town from which she had once thought she’d made a clean break. She has an unshakable conviction that she must do what she can to beat back the poverty, hopelessness, and crime that is ravaging her homeland. In this way, she reminds me of the heroine of my own book, BROKEN PLACES, who also wrestles with the same question: What is our responsibility to act in the face of the suffering we witness?
Reading the Bell Elkins books reawakened a lot of memories for me (West Virginia luggage—a paper bag, riding my bike up and down the steep roads of my hilltop neighborhood, the scent of the woods in the summer), but you don’t need to have lived in West Virginia to thoroughly enjoy this excellent crime fiction series. Author Julia Keller explores universal themes of loss, redemption, forgiveness, and personal responsibility that resonate powerfully while her skillful crafting of engrossing mysteries will keep you guessing to the end. Good stuff, as my AP English teacher used to say!
What book have you read recently that struck a personal chord? I’m giving away BROKEN PLACES (ebook) to one randomly selected commenter! Be sure to return to K&T on Monday, July 28th, to see if you’re the winner. I’ll also be posting the names of the 2014 Romance Writers of America Rita® and Golden Heart® Romantic Suspense Winners!