Meet Kari and Luke from “A TOWN DIVIDED”

Supported by an eclectic cast, Kari Watkins and Luke Maxwell are the primary protagonists in A Town Divided, the latest novel in the Mountain Mystery Series, scheduled for a July 15th publication.

KARI WATKINS is a feisty, green-eyed, 38-year-old brunette who prefers comfort over glamor. A competent and no-nonsense paralegal, she’s been employed by Perkins & Maxwell Law Group more than 15 years. Her strong opinions and short fuse lead to verbal and, on occasion, physical confrontations.

Kari has lived in the mountain community of Ridgeview, North Carolina her entire life. Childless and recently divorced, Kari resides in a single-story home at the edge of town. She’s comfortable with her current status, but there’s a subtle attraction between her and Luke Maxwell, a young partner at the firm. She attended high school with Luke, but ran in different circles, and they never got to know each other until years later.

Kari and Luke work side by side to find the killer of Glen Perkins, their longtime friend and partner at the law firm.

LUKE MAXWELL is all business.  With steel blue eyes, short sandy hair, and a convincing stare, the former high school linebacker has maintained his six-foot athletic frame and competitive demeanor.   

A Duke law degree and State Supreme Court clerkship contribute to an impressive résumé. He is well on his way to fulfilling his professional aspirations at a firm in Raleigh when his father suffers a fatal heart attack.  Glen Perkins, his father’s law partner, convinces Luke to return to his hometown of Ridgeview to take his father’s place at the two-attorney firm.  

Luke didn’t expect the small-town firm to engage in high-profile cases. But when his senior partner is gunned down in the office parking lot, Luke finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation with statewide focus.  Perkins had been representing Ridgeview County landowners in an eminent domain battle against the NC Department of Transportation.  The DOT is condemning land in preparation for a highway expansion.  Powerful men with a lot to gain are backing the project.

While investigating his partner’s murder with the help of Kari, Luke confronts those behind the highway project. The tenacious couple become entangled in controversy, and eventually, run face-to-face into an evil no one saw coming.  

Click HERE to check out other Mountain Mysteries on Amazon.com.

Talking Dialogue Tags

Much has been written about dialogue tags, those he said, she said descriptors placed before, after, or in the middle of dialogue.

 There are writers who profess the only two valid dialogue tags are said and asked, and if you want to go crazy, replied is acceptable to them.  They take this position for a good reason. Dialogue tags shouldn’t distract from the dialogue itself. Also, using overly descriptive tags can duplicate what is better described in dialogue.  

That said (pardon the pun), you will find very successful writers who ignore the said/asked rule, using a variety of well-placed dialogue tags. Having learned from these authors, my recommendations are as follows:

  1. Use just enough tags to make it clear who is speaking. With two people in dialogue, look for places to skip tags. When multiple people are engaged in a discussion, it may be necessary to use more dialogue tags, but mix it up by using names.
  2. Don’t overuse any specific tag.  A series of quotes ending in he said, she said is very distracting.  It’s equally irritating to a reader if you overuse he shouted every time a character raises his voice.
  3. Mix up the positioning of tags by placing them before, after, and in the middle of dialogue.  When a character makes a long speech, position the tag in the middle to break it up.
  4. If you add action or description with the tag, make sure it contributes to the dialogue. Example–“Get out of here!” she growled, extending her arm toward the door. 

During the final editing of all my books, my wife and I will read the entire manuscript aloud. Hearing the dialogue helps identify unnatural flow and where the above rules need to be better applied.

I continue to focus on improving dialogue in my novels. Overuse and misuse of dialogue tags can detract from the reality of a novel, while good dialogue brings a book to life.  

Seniors, Establish a Routine

I’m glad experts are working on a plan to gradually get Americans back to work.  There’s no perfect plan, and there are definitely no easy answers.

Even as America gradually opens for business, physical distancing and isolation will continue for me and other seniors. I’m over 65 with a compromised immune system.  I’m as healthy and active as a 40-year-old, but given my condition, I must avoid any and all infections.

My wife Claudia and I are fortunate. We live in the spacious Blue Ridge Mountains.  We’ve worked hard, planned well for retirement, and are prepared to get to the other side of this pandemic.  Most importantly, Claudia and I get along, even spending weeks together with little outside human contact.  Although, I must admit we both are talking to our dog, Milo, more lately.

We have a routine that provides variety, keeps us busy, and helps us fight isolation, boredom and depression.  This routine includes:

  • Reading (We’ve doubled our number of novels.)
  • Writing (I’m well ahead of schedule for my next book.)
  • Hiking mountain trails near our home (2+ miles/day)
  • Calling friends and family regularly
  • Listening to music (Mainly 60s and 70s)
  • Home projects (Organizing the garage, yard work, etc.)
  • Avoiding the drone of cable TV news (It repeats every 30 min.)
  • Watching Amazon Prime/Netflix movies
  • Daily internet searches for toilet paper and flour.  

There’s light ahead. From our daily hike with Milo.

We miss restaurants, movie theaters, sports, social events, shopping, and traveling to be with friends and family, but these are manageable sacrifices. Everyone is sacrificing.  Many are hurting.

Seniors, even as America gradually goes back to work, please stay safe, be vigilant, and find a routine that helps you welcome the next day. 

Social Distancing – Week 3

What does a weekly blog on social distancing have to do with writing?  The answer is not so much, but writing is what I do.  It keeps me busy and somewhat productive.  And that’s what most of us are trying to do these days.

Social distancing is our defense against COVID-19. It affects everyone—writers, teachers, students, accountants, pilots, taxi drivers, postal employees, carpenters, waitresses, doctors, and first responders.  Some of these jobs can be performed while social distancing or by working from home, some not so easily.

My thoughts are with medical professionals and to our first responders.  They are not able to stay home or stand six feet back.  They fight this virus head-on–protecting, bringing comfort, and hopefully enabling recovery to those who are infected.

The courage of first responders isn’t something my wife and I witness from afar.  Her son–my stepson–is a firefighter in a large city.  He’s young, strong, and well-trained, but is as susceptible to this virus as anyone. We are so proud of him, but we worry. We worry about all family members. I’m sure you do , too.

During tough times, most people rise to the occasion. Examples are everywhere. Businesses, big and small, are retooling to provide much needed medical supplies.  Everyday people are changing their routines and giving their time to care for seniors and others needing a hand.  But it’s the first responders and medical professionals who most deserve our thanks and gratitude. They provide hope, care, and inspiration to us all.    

Thank you.

For adult readers of mystery who are looking to briefly escape reality and fill their social distancing hours, please check out my Mountain Mystery Series.

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE.

Social Distancing – Week 2

Social distancing is suddenly becoming less voluntary and more and more directed by state and local authorities.

Preventative actions to slow the spread of COVID-19 are ramping up across the U.S. These actions affect nearly everyone–from parents now home caring for out-of-school children, to waiters and waitresses no longer working, to cruise ships and crews sitting idle, and even to my 91-year-old parents.

My mom and dad, who thankfully are in good health, have been planning their 70th wedding anniversary celebration for months. Rightfully so, it’s a big deal.  Their party is scheduled for early April, with invitations sent out to dozens of family and friends.  Postponing this event is not an easy decision, but in this case, it’s the only prudent one.  While they would like nothing more than to spend the day with their grand and great-grandchildren, it’s too big a risk to them and others.  It would be better scheduled when hugs could be shared with all.  Now is not that time.

Claudia and I continue to hunker down in the mountains with our dog, Milo.  We read, write, hike the mountain trails, do jigsaw puzzles, binge-watch Amazon Prime movies, and fret over our shrinking IRAs.

We made our weekly grocery run yesterday, using the Walmart pickup service, only to find many items out of stock.  Everything from coffee to toilet paper was backordered. Still, we purchased what we needed for another week, and then headed back up the mountain to our peaceful solitude.  We wonder when, or if, our spring-time neighbors will return this year.  The next few months are uncertain, but for now, we’re grateful to be healthy.  

We encourage everyone to please be safe, and stay vigilant.   

To help adult mystery readers escape reality during this difficult period, I will be offering my NEW Mountain Mystery, “Fallen from Sight,” FREE on Amazon.com for a limited time.

March 23rd thru 27th, Download “FALLEN from SIGHT” for FREE! Click HERE!

Social Distancing

If there’s a profession that’s well-suited for “social distancing,” it’s writing.  As I sit at my desk at 3,000 feet elevation in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I find myself in the perfect spot to ride out the viral pandemic that’s spreading across the globe.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a recluse, nor do I want to be.  But this COVID-19 outbreak makes me appreciate the solitude of the mountains. I can write up here for weeks at a time with very little human contact.  The nearest stoplight is 15 miles away. 

With the virus hovering over us like a lethal boogeyman, Claudia and I think twice before getting in the car, let alone an airplane.  Book club meetings, presentations, and any public gathering are evaluated case by case. We are seniors by any definition, but far from elderly. (I despise that description.) We’re both healthy, get plenty of exercise, and eat well.   I do have a compromised immune system, and as such, I’m vulnerable to any virus or infection.  So far, I’ve fought off all encounters.  

We made a trip down the mountain to Walmart yesterday to stock up for a few weeks.  We order groceries and other supplies online and use the pickup service. It saves time and avoids human interaction. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend you do.  We noticed other shoppers at the pickup stocking up on massive quantities of bottled water and toilet paper.  I don’t know what it is about snowstorms and pandemics that make people fear reaching for an empty roll of toilet paper.  The same folks tend to buy bread and eggs in bulk.  Seems like a circular dilemma to me.

After signing for the groceries with my fingertip, I lathered up with hand sanitizer, and we headed back up the mountain into secluded safety.

I hope this virus runs its course and passes quickly. In the meantime, I’ll follow the advice of our state and federal medical professionals.  If you’re also “social distancing,” try reading one of my books to pass the time.  But don’t start writing novels.  There’s already too much competition.    

Check out the Mountain Mystery Series by clicking HERE.

Creating Compelling Characters – The Successful Authors Know How

I’m occasionally asked who are my favorite writers.  I’ll read just about anything and anyone, but I always migrate back to murder mysteries, legal thrillers, and crime novels.  I have several favorite authors who write in these genres.  In no particular order, they include: John Hart, John Grisham, Michael Connelly, Vince Flynn, James Patterson, Sue Grafton, David Baldacci, and Meg Gardiner. 

I’ve read many novels written by Connelly, Grisham and Hart, and fewer of the others.  I’ve recently discovered Meg Gardiner and David Baldacci, and I look forward to reading more of their work.  They bring fascinating characters into suspenseful plots.

Every author on my list is hugely successful, selling millions of books across the world. If the measure of a writer’s talent is book sales, then few are more skilled than those on my list—at least among contemporary writers.  I believe one of many common threads contributing to the success of these authors is their ability to create characters with staying power.  Their protagonists compel you to read the next in the series. In many cases, their main characters become as famous as the writers themselves.

Mickie Haller and Harry Bosch have made Michael Connelly famous, or was it vice versa.  Haller is a lawyer, Bosch a detective.  They both challenge authority and ignore boundaries.  They are cunning, smart, and fearless. You want them as friends and fear them as enemies.

Amos Decker is a former detective turned investigator.  He possesses an injury-induced eidetic memory and social quirks that make Sheldon Cooper on “Big Bang Theory” appear normal.  Decker provides the foundation for several books in David Baldacci’s Memory Man series.  You won’t find a more unique character.

Kinsey Millhone, the likable non-conformist, casual dressing loner, policewoman turned problem-solving investigator, is the cornerstone of Sue Grafton’s alphabet crime investigation series. I dare you to read just one book in this series.  Millhone won’t let you stop at one.

Being an aspiring writer, I read these authors as much to learn from their writing as I do to enjoy their novels.  I only hope if you read “At the River’s Edge,” you will find Emily Edwards as memorable as Mickie, Harry, Amos, and Kinsey.