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.

pixabay heart-care-1040250_1280Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay

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.

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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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Sex, Violence & Profanity in Novels

A recent review of my latest novel, At the River’s Edge, caught my attention. The reviewer appreciated reading a murder mystery that wasn’t laced with profanity and sexual content. Similar comments have been made by other readers.

To be clear, I wrote this book for adults, and it does contain earthy language and moderate violence. After all, it is a murder mystery, but it doesn’t contain explicit sex scenes, and the violence is within the context of the story.

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I believe you can build tension and suspense in a mystery without gory violence or profane language. I only need to reference Rod Serling and his TV series, The Twilight Zone, to make my point. For younger readers, Google him or take a look at a YouTube clip of one of the episodes from the 1950s and 1960s.

I’ve never overused violence or profane language in any of my novels. Early on, however, I mistakenly believed those who told me sex sells, and I attempted a couple of lust-filled scenes in my first two books, Corrupt Connection and Better Late Than Ever.

A romance novelist who reviewed the second book said the sex scenes read like the author was not committed to what he was describing. She was right. I couldn’t force myself to write the oft-used, salacious words describing what the lovemaking partners were doing to each other.  While readers expect this content in romance novels, I don’t think it flows naturally in a murder mystery or crime novel.

You will not find a focus on lust in John Grisham’s suspense-filled novels. In fact, he once mentioned his early attempts at integrating sex scenes into his thrillers made his wife laugh.  To this date, he avoids politics and lust.  I can’t think of a better role model or advice for writers of suspense.

My current novels contain elements of romance, including At the River’s Edge, but now the door closes and reopens a few pages later. What happens in between is up to your imagination.

Learn more about At the River’s Edge by Clicking Here.

Places to Go – Books to Write: AuthorToolBoxBlogHop

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

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Writing books is my aspiration and an avocation that continues to move in the right direction. After working three decades in corporate America, I retired in my mid-50s and released my first self-published novel shortly thereafter.  I’ve since published five additional novels and two short story collections.  My recent release, At the River’s Edge, has been my best-selling book to date.

I’ve been asked, At your age, why start a writing career? 

My answer is simple. Writing is ageless.  It requires inspiration, imagination, and hard work, none of which are limited by age.  Like learning, writing is a life long process. As long as you can learn, you can write, and in many ways, being older is an advantage.  With age, come experience, wisdom, and perspective, things that can’t be taught, and all are valuable assets for a writer.  Writing has also introduced me to interesting readers and writers of all ages, people I would not have met otherwise.

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I make no claim to ever achieving the success of the following writers, but there are numerous examples of authors who spent most of their lives at different professions, turning to writing later in life.1, 2

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder lived her life as a farmer and a teacher, publishing her first book, Little House on the Prairie, at 64. She wrote her final book at 77.
  • Wallace Stevens, winner of the 1955 Pulitzer Prize, spent a long career as an insurance executive, publishing his first book of poetry at 44, with the majority of his poems written after the age of 50.
  • Raymond Chandler was an oil executive before he started writing detective stories. At the age of 51, he wrote The Big Sleep with character Phillip Marlowe making his first appearance. He went on to write seven more novels.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien published The Hobbit at 45 years old, and didn’t publish Lord of the Rings until he was 63.

Granted, many of these late-in-life writers became authors in the early to mid-1900s. Today’s writers face broader and more diverse competition, fast-evolving marketing and advertising media, as well as rapid growth in self-publishing. It’s a complex world for new authors.

At times, I feel technology is a barrier for older writers. I didn’t grow up with iPhones, tablets and social media. I was nearly 40 when I purchased my first cell phone, and it was the size of a brick! What’s second nature to younger writers requires more effort for me.  Still, I’ve slogged through setting up a website.  I formatted and self-published my e-books and paperback novels on Kindle Direct Publishing. I’ve learned how to market my books on Facebook and Amazon.  And here I am, posting on an authors’ blog hop–something I didn’t know existed a few years ago.

If you’re looking to write your first novel later in life, I offer the following advice:

  • Don’t hesitate. You can do it.
  • Learn from other writers. Join writing workshops, writers’ groups, and author blogs.
  • Focus on writing. Websites, social media, and marketing can come later.
  • Dedicate sufficient time, and be proud of what you produce.
  • Engage an experienced editor and beta readers before publishing.

I didn’t need to look far for my motivation to take up writing at my age. Now 89, my father, a former building contractor, was an accomplished wood carver into his early 80’s, demanding high prices for his productions. My mother, at age 86, had her knee replaced. She could have easily avoided the surgery and watched the world pass from a chair on her sun room, but she had things to do and places she wanted to go.  Mom is still going places… and I still have books I want to write.

  1. https://www.vivafifty.com/famous-authors-published-after-fifty-694/
  2. https://writingcooperative.com/15-famous-authors-who-were-published-after-40-1b87e009305e

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To enjoy other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click HERE.

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Check out my latest novel, At the River’s Edge, on Amazon.com.  Learn what Emily and James discover on the bank of the New River that propels them into the path of a killer.

Click HERE to learn more.

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A New Year

Readers & Friends,

I hope your new year is off to a great start!

Claudia, Milo (our dog), and I are heading home to Roaring Gap, North Carolina on the final leg of our annual Midwestern holiday tour. After visiting family and friends in Kentucky, Illinois, and Wisconsin and traveling over 2,000 miles, I’m ready to take down decorations, get back to my desk, and reflect on the year ahead.

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With regard to 2019 writing goals, I’m excited to be halfway through BUTCHER ROAD, another murder mystery set in North Carolina. I’ve set an objective to publish this novel by June 21st (the first day of summer), and it’s currently ahead of schedule.  When the time comes, pre-publication discounts will be available for early orders.  Click HERE to learn more about my progress.

Other goals I’ve set for 2019 include participating in more book signings and book club meetings.   I enjoy meeting and learning from readers.   If you’re interested, here’s my ongoing OFFER for book clubs in the North Carolina/Virginia area.

Thanks for helping make AT THE RIVER’S EDGE my bestselling novel to date and for subscribing to my monthly newsletter. Please “like” my Facebook page when you get a chance.

I look forward to hearing from you in the coming year.

— D.R. Shoultz