Month: November 2018

An Interview With FATALLY HAUNTED Anthology Author Micheal Kelly

Micheal Kelly is one of the authors that will appear in Fatally Haunted, Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles’ upcoming 2019 anthology.
STORY TITLE: “Palimpsest”

When an antique dealer buys the estate of an art history professor, she draws the attention of a man obsessed with a lost treasure.

Q: What intrigued you about the theme of FATALLY HAUNTED that led to the story you wrote?

A: I interpreted the anthology’s theme as a laser focus on motive.  Specifically, some powerful emotion that compels a character to commit a terrible crime. I struggled to imagine a scenario that would make me feel obsessed enough to commit a crime.  Then I read something in the news that carried me away to fantasyland. I was off and running.

Q: Is your story a who-dunit, a how-dunit, or a why-dunit?  Why did you make this choice?

A: My story is a why-dunit. It’s a tale of covetousness. Why do people commit crimes over mere things? I was interested in creating a story built around the most desirable and mysterious object I could imagine. Something that would provoke my own covetousness.

Q: What is different about writing a short story?  What did you learn from this experience?

A: There are fewer characters, fewer complications, and fewer locations in my short story compared to my novel. There’s a slow reveal of character arc for the key characters in my novel, while there’s a slow reveal of the mysterious object in my short story.  The emphasis in my story is the palimpsest itself, while the mystery in my novel revolves around whether each new character is friend or foe.

What I learned from this experience is how much an editor can improve a story.

Q: How did your editor help you improve your story? What insights did you gain from working with her?

A: My writing goal was to craft a story that increased the tension with each new scene, and I thought I did a pretty good job – until I read Rachel Howzell Hall’s advice.  Her suggestions put the reader inside my character’s skin.  She also encouraged me to weave the multiple meanings of “palimpsest” throughout the story. I was surprised and intrigued by her suggestion, and I added that layer to the story.

Having a well-published author serve as the editor for our anthologies is a benefit of membership in Sisters in Crime / Los Angeles.  The value of such an editor is immense.

Q: What’s next for you?  What are you working on?

A: I’m working on a historical thriller set in 19th century America. My new year’s resolution is to finish the first draft.

Q: What does your writing space look like?

A: It’s an enclosed porch that gets pretty warm in the summer and pretty cold in the winter. But it’s the only space that’s off limits to my pets. On two sides are windows looking towards the yard, where a pomegranate is currently dropping gold leaves. On the other two sides are French doors which look into the house. When I’m in there working, my two dogs and three cats camp outside the door. I have two bookcases and a desk in this space, which are covered with my collection of minerals and the treasures I find on the ground while walking my dogs.

An Interview With FATALLY HAUNTED Anthology Author Jennifer Younger

Jennifer Younger is one of the authors that will appear in Fatally Haunted, Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles’ upcoming 2019 anthology.
STORY TITLE: “Resurrection”
In 1948 Los Angeles, a woman is forced to confront her past when the man who left her for dead years earlier unexpectedly reappears in her life.


Q: What intrigued you about the theme of FATALLY HAUNTED that led to the story you wrote?

A: For me it was one of the quotes that accompanied the invitation to submit: It was haunted; but real hauntings have nothing to do with ghosts finally; they have to do with the menace of memory.’ Anne Rice.  I thought about the memories that keep us stuck in a certain place and time. The voice that keeps speaking to you until you take action to put it to rest.


Q: Is your story a who-dunit, a why-dunit, or a how-dunit?  Why did you make this choice?

A: Resurrection is none of these finally. It is a story of revenge and redemption of self.  It is a little bit of a how-dunit at the end.  This was Hessie and Jimmy Pritchard’s story to tell. And as I listened to each of them and wrote the story from their very different perspectives, I discovered what a truly manipulative SOB Jimmy really is!


Q: What is different about writing a short story?  What did you learn from this experience?

A: Short story writing is the lesson of “economy of words”.  In a short story every character clamoring for your attention doesn’t get to have their story told.  The action in Resurrection moves fairly quickly so I really had to cut out words, phrases and sentences that didn’t serve the story. I also had to give action to my dialogue. That was a great piece of advice from a writing mentor, Sue Ann Jaffarian.


Q: How did your editor help you improve your story? What insights did you gain from  working with her?

A: I had the good fortune of having a terrific editor in Laurie Stevens.  She gave me advice about getting rid of the extraneous characters that I had floating around that weren’t really useful to the story.  She also made plot suggestions that were just that . . . suggestions.  If I had a different take, she let me know if it worked or didn’t and challenged me to find my own “story” within her suggestions. She also challenged me to see Jimmy Pritchard for exactly who he is.


 Q: What’s next for you?  What are you working on? 

A: I am working on a noir manuscript set in post WWII Virginia. My goal is to finish the draft by the end to the year. Write every day!


Q: What does your writing space look like?

A: I write long hand, so my writing space is where ever I make it.  Usually that means on the couch in the living room or on my bed.  Once I am ready to transfer to the computer, I have a space set up in my dining room.  Nothing fancy . . . table, chair, computer, listening to the blues, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald or Dinah Washington.



An Interview With FATALLY HAUNTED Anthology Editor Rachel Howzell Hall

Rachel Howzell Hall is one of the three editors of Fatally Haunted, SinC/LA’s 2019 anthology.  Avril Adams, member of Sisters in Crime, Los Angeles, had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Howzell Hall, author of the Lou Norton LAPD detective series. Her latest published novel is City of Saviors. Her upcoming standalone, They All Fall Down, is based on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.


AA: You always knew you wanted to be a writer. When did you decide to become a crime writer? What attracts you to the genre, especially the police procedural? Have you ever attempted to write in another crime genre?

RHH:  Back when I was starting my very first novel, A Quiet Storm, I didn’t know really that there were these things called ‘genre.’ I just knew that I had this story I wanted to tell about two sisters, one battling mental illness, and how bad things happen when you ignore sickness. Whether it was literary fiction, suspense, whatever, I didn’t really think about that. And my attempts to write stories after that first one was hard because of that – I had stories to tell that flailed from one genre to the next. That’s when I discovered crime – all stories fit into crime. Big violent stories. Quiet insidious stories. My writing fell into the middle of these and here I stay. And I love it.

Police procedural was the easiest entry for a new, outright crime writer because it had structure. I like structure. And there’s an obvious heroine with a mission. But I was initially terrified to write a police procedural because I wasn’t a cop, and the whole ‘write what you know’ thing had kept me in my lane. Fear. But then, I survived being pregnant with cancer and through that, I met true fear. Thinking about my mortality and deciding to do those things that mattered to me before leaving this earth resulted in the creation of LAPD Homicide Detective Lou Norton. And now, years later, I’m still in crime but my standalone isn’t a procedural. I’m expanding my world.

AA: Most female crime writers have not tackled the police procedural as opposed to, say, amateur sleuths. Is that because the police department environment is-or has been-almost exclusively male and the ranking personnel generally male?

RHH: I’d say it’s a difficult world to break into because it is all male. And there’s this notion that all cops are male. Or if the cop is female, she’s just like her male counterparts but with nice hair, boobs and ovaries. There are gatekeepers in the police department, and many of them only take male crime writers serious. Especially the LAPD – I’m still waiting for them to return my calls. Ha. So it’s easier to say, ‘Screw it, I’ll write me an amateur sleuth and not deal with the bull.’ I’ve been lucky to have a few police officers from other city’s departments to answer my questions.

AA: Does your publisher represent more than one African-American crime writer? 

RHH: Oof. Umm… Forge is my publisher, and I can’t say with 100 percent certainty, but I may just be the one. If there’s another, I hope she/he lets me know! I can say that they publish a lot of female crime.

AA: Your wonderful detective, Elouise Norton, has been promoted from detective to detective sergeant in your most recent novel, City of Saviors. She supervises a racially and sexually diverse group of homicide detectives in Los Angeles’s Southwest Division. However, there are no other female detectives, much less black female detectives. How does Elouise survive in an atmosphere of racial hostility that ebbs and flows with the times, from Rodney King, to O.J. Simpson to Barack Obama and Donald Trump?

RHH: How does she exist? The same way Black women have existed since being brought over here. Or showing up to class and being the only one. Or showing up to work and being the only one. Like us, she makes note of it, and gets going, committed to do her job and make a difference in the lives of those who are depending on her. Like us, Lou can’t stop, won’t stop because stopping isn’t even an option. Audre Lorde said, “When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” Lou would probably whisper that in between sips of a good Cabernet Sauvignon.

AA: In City of Saviors, Sergeant Norton feels challenged by the low expectations and lack of respect some of her colleagues feel toward her because of her race and gender. Isn’t the urban police department a hotbed of these attitudes? Do you feel women and especially black women have made progress in being accepted in police departments?

RHH: I believe some cities have made progress – Los Angeles is far from that department known for its shenanigans that led to the Riots and the OJ Simpson thing. Community policing is a ‘thing’ now in LA – but buildings had to burn down, people had to be beaten, racists and bigots had to be kicked out of their places of power before attitudes changed. We’re not perfect – I don’t think that’s possible. We’re just at Base Camp 1 of Mount Everest, trying to catch our breath.

AA: Policing agencies and fire departments were some of the last institutions to be integrated throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90’s. They were the consummate “white boys clubs” and the subjects of ongoing lawsuits for discrimination, racial and sexual harassment. Is there now enough of a critical mass of females and racial minorities to change that equation? Would it be possible to write a book, say like one of those by Joseph Wambaugh devoid of the racial component? Would it be difficult to be published if the police department is presented in a more negative light? Would there be an audience for such a book?

RHH: I don’t think you can separate race out of any conversation to be had in America. Our country’s very founding, the wars fought on our land. All of it has been fueled by race and white boys’ clubs. Books that won’t acknowledge that, in my opinion, would be intellectually dishonest and cowardly. That would be like… discussing haute couture without acknowledging the LGBT community’s role in fashion. Or… or… discussing World War II and discussing land grabs while skipping over the Holocaust.

AA: Detective squads, particularly homicide squads, are an elite and coveted assignment requiring passing written exams and oral interviews. These squads seem to be very cohesive. There is plenty of jealousy and rivalry among ambitious officers to make that rank. I feel Elouise is more cognizant of this situation in City of Saviors.

RHH: I agree – she’s bright, ambitious and deserves her badge and her success. Some of her fellow officers are resentful and jealous because they know she has something that they’ll never have. Our skin color and our femaleness allows us to connect with people in ways others can’t. At the same time, she’s very much aware of how she’s perceived and that they’re just waiting for her to slip up. She’s very aware of the Black Tax and acknowledges that the behavior some of her co-workers exhibit would never be tolerated if she acted that way. And in City of Saviors, this plays out even more since Lou’s been on medical leave, since Lou isn’t feeling well and isn’t at her best. I’ve always aimed to write her as real and vulnerable and strong, all at the same time, but in City of Saviors, I think I did it best.

AA: City of Saviors is a perfect balance between pathos and humor. Elouise Horton seems to get along with her all-male squad by sharing wise-cracks and gallows humor. Eloise is a champion at this kind of ribbing. She brings to mind Sue Grafton and Walter Moseley at their best. That’s quite an achievement. Has Eloise tapped into this vast reservoir of irony and humor by getting in touch with her inner African-American? She seems somehow freer in this book. She’s a really fun character. Can or will you sustain the humorous aspects of your characters?

RHH: I love Lou – she is fun. Down for ribs and wine, martial arts, Fallout 4 on her Xbox… She is free in some ways – of loving Greg, for example, and proving her worth to the LAPD. But she’s still burdened – by being a good daughter to her mother, a good cop for the sake of her neighborhood. Again, like many black women, we’re free but yet… not. We still hold our breaths whenever a horrible story comes on the news – we’re hoping that the perpetrator is not black. We still go above and beyond at work – to prove how fabulous and gifted we are, yes, but to make sure our bosses and colleagues know that we’re not mercy hires. We can be Oprah Winfrey and still told we can’t buy a scarf from Hermes. And while that is frustrating, I find humor in that. A very ‘shaking my damned head, ain’t that a bitch’ humor in that. That’s how I sustain the humor – there’s so much in this world, in this country right now, to laugh at, to chuckle and sigh. I think crime allows this more than any other genre. I remember being rejected by one editor, when I was still trying to find my voice. She noted that she didn’t like that I found humor in the subject matter I was writing about. But it’s called ‘gallows humor’ or ‘black humor’ and there’s a place for it and I live in that place. If I didn’t laugh, I’d weep and pee my pants. All the time. A big wet mess. Laughing and seeing irony and writing it all down kept me sane through biopsies, ultrasounds, lumpectomies and mammograms.

AA: There’s a significant thread of feminism present in City of Saviors. Without giving away plot points, the topic of witches and uncontrollable women exists in the text and the subtext. Why did you choose to include this theme in your plot?

RHH: Glad you saw that! Lou is seen by her male peers as an uncontrollable woman. Her dead sister was seen as an uncontrollable woman. When I was writing this story, we were going through the primaries. Someone was probably saying something rude and racist about Michelle Obama. Women who use their voice, who don’t back down, who are magic and make things happen? Witches. Uncontrollable women. The church, which City of Saviors focuses on, has a history of wanting to control women – our bodies, who we love, our souls. All of it just came together in this book, and I’m thrilled that you picked up on that. No one’s mentioned that before.

AA: You show an in-depth knowledge of police procedure. How did you become so intimately acquainted with the highly detailed aspects of a police investigation? 

RHH: I ask a lot of questions of other writers who happened to be police officers. I attended Writer’s Police Academy. I read a lot of Miles Corwin and essays by David Simon. Read, read, read. When I watch shows like The First.

AA: I understand your new project is based upon Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None. Why did you choose to base your book loosely on Christie’s? Is Christie one of your models? Why?

RHH: I wanted to take something very English and make it American – and from the perspective of a black American. Less about class and more about morality and shades of gray. As you probably know, Agatha Christie had to rename this story — it was Ten Little Niggers. So that history, of course, made me cock an eyebrow. Really, she wasn’t the most… racially sensitive writer. And throw in the allure of taking characters to a remote island and being confronted with their past crimes…



Thank you, Rachel for this comprehensive and delightful interview. We look forward to reading your new book.

Learn more about Rachel Howzell Hall at her website.


MEMBER ARTICLE – Sisters in Crime/LA Workshops

Character Arcs Workshop

By Jennifer Younger

On Saturday, October 13th, Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles held the final workshop of the year. And boy was it a good one!  The fabulous Jerrilyn Farmer gave a lecture and interactive workshop on Character Arcs.

She started by answering the essential questions:  What are character arcs?  When and how many does one use?   Jerrilyn noted that there are several different types of character arcs depending on the genre. One that mystery employs is the growth arc.  The workshop concentrated on growth arcs.

“Growth character arcs are progressions that your main character makes and that transforms them in some fundamental way,” Jerrilyn began. “You should start with the premise that your protagonist is not okay and there is a reason for them to change or grow.

Jerrilyn also suggested that not all mysteries have or should have character arcs (think Sherlock Holmes).   She noted the difference between character plot points or character actions and a character arc and how to use both in your manuscript.

Also, Jerrilyn instructed us to be judicious in using arcs and with which characters.  You may use one, two or three for your protagonist, depending on if you are doing a series or a stand-alone, but you are not going to have time to give as many details to all of your characters.  You can round out your minor characters with action and dialogue.  Your job is to keep the story moving and not get bogged down with every character having something to “grow” from.

Attendees came prepared and shared their character and plot issues. We ended with an interactive worksheet questionnaire and proceeded to answer questions about the main character’s family, past and how you the writer can show how she changes and grows from her challenges.

A few notes from Jerrilyn:

·  Give your character something BIG to grow from.  Think about the big things in their life.

·  Give your main character depth.  It is important that your main character doesn’t realize that they are flawed.

·  Best way to end a book is with a bittersweet ending: what did your character have to do to get what they want or what was needed?

Many thanks to Jerrilyn Farmer for a fantastic and informative workshop.  She gave everyone a lot to think about and helped everyone make all their characters multiple dimensions.

Attending a Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles workshop allows you network with others who write in your sub-genre and learn from writers outside your genre. See you next year!

Jerrilyn Farmer is the author of the bestselling Madeline Bean mysteries (HarperCollins) and Murder at the Academy Awards with Joan Rivers, and has been teaching mystery writing at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program for almost twenty years.  She also coaches private novel writing workshops, where she has helped many gifted writers to refine, revise and finish their manuscripts, and go on to find agents, land multiple book contracts, and win many awards.


SISTERS IN CRIME/LA October 2018 Meeting Recap

Paula Bernstein was the featured reader.


Paula Bernstein is a physician, a scientist and the author of the Hannah Kline Mystery Series: Murder in the FamilyLethal InjectionPrivate SchoolThe Goldilocks PlanetIn Vitro and Honeymoon. Like her main character Hannah Kline, Paula has spent her professional career as a practicing obstetrician gynecologist. In addition to her medical mystery series, her short story, “On Call for Murder,” was published in LAst Resort, the 2017 Sisters in Crime Anthology. Learn more at


Valerie C. Woods – “Screenwriting Dialogue Tips Novelists Can Steal”


By Shannon Muir Broden



Screenwriter, publisher, author and educator Valerie C. Woods wrote the middle grade mystery book KATRIN’S CHRONICLES: THE CANON OF JACQUELÉNE DYANNE, VOL. 1, founded the independent publisher BooksEndependent, has written for television shows such as Touched by an Angel, and has adapted novels for the screen. She spoke to Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and shared ways to think about dialogue that are usually associated with screenwriting but can also be applied when thinking about how characters sound when “speaking” on the printed page.

Growing up, Valerie read Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes, and overall a lot of her choices were influenced by her older sister, whom she looked up to. “Whatever my older sister read, I had to read,” Valerie told the audience. One year, she couldn’t figure out a gift to get her sister, so she wrote her a story about them as kids, which she then followed with several other adventures. This became the basis for her mystery book.

Regarding dialogue and the struggle to make people sound different on the page, Valerie draws from the teachings of her late, good friend Syd Field. A key point she stressed from Field’s teachings is that “[d]ialogue is a function of character” (Field, SCREENPLAY, p. 173). She also emphasized that “you should be able to read a script or story without names and know who is talking.”  To use an example from mystery fiction, Woods encouraged examining Holmes and Watson and pointed out that just reading their dialogue makes it immediately clear who is speaking, due to their history and life experiences. Other elements to use can include nuances of speech (such as a lisp or a French accent being indicated through word spelling), different cadence in how dialogue reads, or the use (or non-use) of contractions.

Syd Field calls out several purposes for dialogue in his book SCREENPLAY (p. 173), which Valerie expanded upon. Dialogue:

– moves the story forward;
– communicates facts and information to the reader;
– reveals character;
– establishes character relationships;
– makes your characters real, natural, and spontaneous;
– reveals the conflicts of your story and characters;
– reveals the emotional states of your characters; and
– comments on the action.

Valerie reminded the audience that if dialogue doesn’t move the story forward in any of the above ways, it needs to be cut. She encouraged people to overwrite to find their character’s voice, then cut back as needed to ultimately serve one or more of the purposes above, as “the story is still revealing itself to you.” As to when dialogue is appropriate, sometimes it’s important not to have people speaking, as Valerie suggested silence can “reveal what people say and what they didn’t say.” Ultimately, “it all goes back to knowing who your people are and what they’ve experienced to make them the way they are” as “what we say defines us.”

In terms of adapting book dialogue to movie dialogue, she suggested comparing books and movies to see what was kept and what was removed, citing THE GODFATHER as a good example, but pointing out that even if you throw away what’s in the book, writers should “be true to the book” when doing adaptations.

Additional advice Valerie offered included encouraging people to take acting classes to help get a feel for how other people act and speak, or taking improv.

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