Insert Pets to Add Interest and Insight

Adding pets to a novel is a way to generate interest and add depth to scenes. Interacting with a pet can also give readers a better view of a character’s personality, showing a softer side, or conversely, demonstrating cruelness. Even the breed of dog can tell readers something about the dog’s owner. Want to cast a character as strong, tough, or macho? Have him/her own a pit bull or Rottweiler. Someone who owns a bloodhound is likely to wear plaid flannel shirts and be at home in the outdoors. Those with primped Pomeranians under their arms can be painted as narcissistic, focused more on appearance than with pet ownership.

I have inserted dogs into each novel of the Mountain Mystery series. None of these canines are meant to play major roles, but rather complement the main characters. In “Fallen from Sight,” Patches is a springer spaniel owned by Sarah, a young woman who vanishes while out for a hike. Sarah’s boyfriend, Ryan, finds Patches alone the next day at Sarah’s home. In coming scenes, Patches is often at Ryan’s side during the frantic search for Sarah.

In “At the River’s Edge,” Rufus, a floppy-eared coonhound, is Emily Edwards’ companion. Emily is a strong-willed, independent mountain woman who lives alone in a cabin at the top of Sunset Mountain. Emily’s deceased grandfather is rumored to have buried moonshine money in the nearby foothills. With unwanted treasure hunters threatening Emily, Rufus makes several appearances as her protector.

In “Butcher Road,” the mayor of Stonefield, Fred Willis, has his bulldog, Rocky, constantly at his side—even in his city hall office. Fred Willis is a moonfaced, portly man, with a resemblance to his pet. The dog’s jowly mug is used as an effective prop, sitting beside the mayor in his political ads. Rocky makes several cameo appearances with the mayor.

I just started the fourth novel in the series and have yet to bring a canine into the mix…but I will. You can learn more about these novels by CLICKING HERE.

D.R. Shoultz

Another Mountain Mystery

I’m excited to announce Fallen from Sight, the third book in the Mountain Mystery Series, is coming January 1st to  The novel will be available in paperback and Kindle format, and like the others in the series, can be read independently.   You can pre-order and learn more by clicking HERE.

My goal in each mystery novel is to deliver fast-paced suspense, interweaving plots, and compelling characters you’ll remember long after flipping the final page.  The stories are set in fictional North Carolina towns, capitalizing on the vitality and beautiful backdrops of my home state.

Shadowy murders confront readers at the beginning of each mountain mystery.  In Fallen from Sight, the brutalized body of a young woman is discovered by park rangers near Jefferson Peak where Sarah Campbell, a local resident, went missing just days earlier.  The female victim is not Sarah, but who is she, and is her death connected to Sarah’s sudden disappearance?  

The mystery of the Jane Doe murder parallels the frantic search for Sarah Campbell by her boyfriend Ryan and twin sister Beth. There’s evidence of human trafficking playing a role in the young woman’s death, adding to Ryan’s and Beth’s anxiety as they search for Sarah.

It’s my hope Fallen from Sight gets readers hooked on the Mountain Mystery Series.     

I’ve Been Writing!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted to my blog.  I’ve been in the middle of writing a new novel, and along with marketing my recently released books, I’ve had little time for much else.  

There are many advantages to being a self-published author, but having more time is not one of them.  You must set priorities.  For me, (after family and friends) writing comes first, and by that, I mean writing novels and short stories.

When I get on a roll with a novel, I can’t wait to get back to it.  Before I finish writing each day, I feverishly jot down notes of what’s in my head, fearing I will lose these ideas before I return.  


It’s a long process to write a novel.  FALLEN FROM SIGHT, the next book in my Mountain Mystery Series, was started in July and it’s about half completed.  I plan to release it in early 2020.   Start to finish, it should be about 8 months.  Most of my novels take 8 to 10 months.  Readers of my series would like the process to be quicker, but my staff is very limited.  It’s me and my wife as editor, and it’s all the faster we can go.

I’ve also been spending more time marketing the prior two books in the Mountain Mystery Series.  AT THE RIVER’S EDGE has been out just over one year and has been my bestselling book to date. BUTCHER ROAD was released this summer. Initial reader reviews are very good, and sales are off to a good start.  These two novels have sold more copies than my five prior novels combined!  I attribute this to my writing improving over the past ten years. I’ve also found a genre that I and my readers enjoy. And my social media marketing has been more focused.

I hope you check out this series. I love reader reviews—all of them—short, long, good, or not so good.  If you’ve read these books, please post a review on Goodreads or Amazon and let other potential readers know what you think.

Now, it’s back to FALLEN FROM SIGHT.   Where’s Sarah Campbell?  Is she alive, or has she been murdered?  Clues point multiple directions.  It’s like she’s fallen from sight.   

A Book Launch Interrupted

Hello Readers & Friends,

A book launch is usually more than enough to keep me busy, but two weeks prior to the June 1st publication of BUTCHER ROAD, I spent five days in a hospital recovering from a serious bacterial infection.

This was my first overnight stay at a hospital, and I learned many things: I’m a terrible patient, I don’t ever want to go back, and I’m married to a saint.

Claudia drove me to the emergency entrance at 1:00 a.m., ushered me inside, and stayed by my side for three nights as my advocate until my condition was under control.

I’m now back to normal, and the book launch went fine, but the hospital stay occurred during our wedding anniversary.  Claudia’s still considering what I need to do to make it up to her.

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A Murder Mystery Formula: #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop

It’s time again for my contribution to this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of  writers share their thoughts and experiences.  Many thanks to Raimey Gallant for organizing.  I encourage you to check out the posts of other writers by clicking on the icon at the bottom.

My two recent novels are murder mysteries, both set in my home state of North Carolina.  In the ten years I’ve been writing, they’re my favorite creations.  The stories and characters develop naturally, with a good blend of mystery, suspense, and action.  AT THE RIVER’ S EDGE was published in August 2018 and BUTCHER ROAD will be released June 1st on Amazon.

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I’ve learned there’s a formula for writing mystery novels. The elements within this formula are essential to producing a quality mystery and allow flexibility in creating a level of intensity, ranging from cozy to full-blown murder mysteries.

Cozy mysteries may revolve around something other than a murder, and the sleuths are likely to be amateurs or even everyday people. Murder mysteries are more intense, with an unsolved killing at the center of the story. The life-threatening investigations are carried out by law enforcement professionals.

Cozy or intense, all mysteries have common elements. The following list is composed from what other mystery writers consider critical to producing a good murder mystery.  I think it’s a good formula to follow.

  • The mystery (murder) needs to occur early in the novel.
  • Clues are not hidden from readers and can be realized in retrospect.
  • A few, but not too many, suspects are provided.
  • Suspense and mystery build throughout the novel.
  • The solution to the mystery should feel like realization, not revelation.
  • Sleuths/investigators should always be compelling and usually likable.
  • Sex/language/violence need to be kept within the context of the story and not overused.
  • The solution occurs toward the end, making readers want to come back.

I kept this list in mind as I wrote my recent mystery novels, and then tested it again after the first drafts were completed.

Both mysteries start with an unsolved murder. Subtle clues build from the first chapter in both books and in plain view of the readers. Suspects are introduced early and not ruled out until the end.

The male and female sleuths in both stories are young, likable couples. In AT THE RIVER’S EDGE, they’re a hardware store merchant and the granddaughter of a moonshiner. In BUTCHER ROAD, they’re detectives. There is sexual tension but no sex in either novel. Profanity is kept to a low level and always within the context of the dialogue. In both novels, the mystery isn’t solved until the very end.

I’ll close with advice from Mickey Spillane, acclaimed crime novelist from the 1950s and 60s.  “Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it’s a letdown, they won’t buy another. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.”

I hope after reading AT THE RIVER’S EDGE the last page will direct you to BUTCHER ROAD.

Learn more about AT THE RIVER’S EDGE and BUTCHER ROAD by clicking HERE.

Thanks for stopping by my blog.  Please check out what other writers participating in this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop have to say by clicking HERE.

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Facts in Fiction: #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop

It’s time again for my contribution to this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of  writers share their thoughts and experiences.  I encourage you to check out their posts by clicking on the icon at the bottom.

When writing fiction, how accurate does the author need be when describing real places, events and things?  I frequently face this question when writing present-day novels set in recognizable locations.

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There are at least a couple of schools of thought in the amount of freedom allowed to writers of fiction. On one side are those who believe fiction is just that, fiction, and writers are not bound by facts. They should be allowed complete freedom in developing their stories. On the other side are those who think actual and historical elements within the stories should be presented as accurately as possible.

I avoid using real people, establishments, or businesses in my books for obvious reasons, but at times, I do incorporate actual places, events, and things. When I do, I believe they should be represented correctly. Failing to do so would alienate readers familiar with what is being described.

Here are a couple of examples:

CITIES: If you use a real city (say Charlotte) in your novel, landmarks should be accurately described. Knowledgeable readers expect Charlotte Douglas International Airport to be to the west of the city, I-485 to be the outer loop, Lake Norman to be to the north, NODA to be off North Davidson Street, and the business district to be called “Uptown Charlotte,” not “Downtown.” Screw up any of this, and you’ll lose credibility with Charlotte readers and many others who’ve been there.

PROFESSIONS & PROCEDURES: If your book involves specific professions (medical, legal, financial, etc.) it is important that titles, responsibilities, procedures, and even jargon be accurately depicted. One of my favorite authors is Michael Connelly. He writes crime novels set in L.A. with Detective Harry Bosch at the center of the action. It is Connelly’s prior experience as an L.A. Times crime beat reporter that brings accuracy and realism to his suspense novels. While I’m sure Mr. Connelly takes literary freedom on occasion in describing police procedures, it is difficult to tell when, or if, fact departs fiction.

This final observation is not mine, but I remember an author recommending that writers are best served when they write about what they know and are keenly aware of what their readers expect. I can’t think of any better advise to offer.

Thanks for stopping by my blog.  Please check out what other writers participating in this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop have to say by clicking HERE.

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If you have a minute, take a look around my website, and give me your thoughts on my upcoming novel, BUTCHER ROAD.  Click HERE to learn more.

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Developing Characters – Meet Jack Fowler: #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop

It’s time again for my contribution to this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of  writers share their thoughts and experiences.  I encourage you to check out their posts by clicking on the icon at the bottom.

Developing interesting and intriguing characters is one of the primary challenges for any writer of fiction.  Unlike non-fiction subjects, these characters exist only in the writer’s mind. It’s up to the author to bring them to life and make them believable.

All writers get asked how they go about selecting and creating characters. For me, each of my novels revolves around one or two protagonists.  The way these characters are developed and how the reader learns about them are as important as who they are and the roles they play in the story.

In real life, the way you learn about people is through observation. How an individual looks and acts, how he/she relates to others, and his/her interests and values are all things you primarily see and learn, and are not always told to you.  This should also be the case with fictional characters.

Let’s take a look at Jack Fowler, the lead character in the murder mystery I’m currently writing, BUTCHER ROAD.

Butcher Road - Jack Fowler

The novel opens with Jack out for an evening walk when his nose directs him to a decaying corpse in an abandoned house.  In that scene, the foul odor reminds Jack of his military experience, having returned from Afghanistan two years prior.  He has a brief flashback before shaking it off and reengaging in the present.  During the same scene, he interacts with police officer, Al Walker.  Their banter portrays Jack as a no-nonsense guy, unafraid to challenge authority and get involved.

In just a few pages, the reader is introduced to Jack Fowler.  Very little backstory is used during this introduction, and these pages establish a base for Jack’s character going forward.

One other trick that helps me be consistent with character development is to build a profile of my main characters.  I refer to this profile from time to time as these characters appear and evolve throughout the novel.  If this does nothing else, it prevents characters changing hair color from chapter to chapter.   Below is Jack Fowler’s profile:

  • Physical Description
    • Tall, athletic, dark hair, blue eyes, conservative/basic attire
  • Values & Interests
    • Family, career, relationships, community, outdoor activities
  • Personality:
    • No-nonsense, unafraid, patriotic, caring, dry humor, takes responsibility
  • Other traits
    • Successfully fighting PTSD symptoms

Every suspense novel interjects tension and conflict into the life of its protagonists. It is this tension and conflict that make the characters interesting and compelling. How they engage, resolve or fall victim to conflict should also be consistent and fit their profile.

The sources of Jack Fowler’s tension in BUTCHER ROAD are many.  He faces a struggle to overcome PTSD symptoms.  Fellow police officers are resentful of his fast rise in the department.  A new relationship with Angela Jones, a Charlotte detective, has him balancing his personal and professional life.  Most importantly, Jack becomes entangled in a serial murder case where he and Detective Jones become the targets of the killer.

So that’s Jack Fowler.  If you’d like to assess how I did introducing Jack, you can read the first chapter of BUTCHER ROAD by clicking HERE.  I’d appreciate your comments.

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Thanks for stopping by my blog.  Please check out what other writers participating in this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop have to say by clicking HERE.

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