Amazing Crime Fiction: Brushing My Teeth

In the Mind of a Crime Author

The evidence was clear to this crime fiction author, taking a break instead of working to write another amazing piece. I had finally sat at my laptop after a day of constant interruptions and decided, before I finally started in on my piece, that I should check the toothpaste.

Crest Toothpaste Tube and Toothbrushes
Who squeezed the tube to death?

What I noticed shook me to my core. The tube was squeezed in the middle and not neatly rolled up from the end. Damn. Who could have done this? I stared at it, searching my memory bank for who could have walked into the bathroom and then–

“Aren’t you supposed to be writing?”

The wife. Dang. Always the wife. Or the dogs barking at the mailman. Or the kids yelling at each other or plumbers working on the neighbors line to the water supply next door or the coyotes howling in the middle of the night.

“Yeah.”

“What are you doing?” She sauntered in, grabbed the tube and–squeezed from the bottom.

“Thinking.”

“I see.” She brushed her teeth and left.

So I decided that now was the time to return to the laptop and upload an excerpt from our latest crime thriller novel Tom Stone: Day of the Dead on Amazon. Read below the cover image.

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EXCERPT CHAPTER FIVE

Sara brushed a hand through her hair. “It’s getting scary out there. The soccer store. The bowling alley. It’s all over the news. Who’s next?”

The question sent chills through Angel. Where he and Sara lived was no secret. “Maybe you should stay with your uncle Robert and Leonna for a while.”

“And put them in danger? No way. If Amman wanted me dead, I’d be dead already.”

“Quiet down.” Angel carefully glanced from one side to the other, making sure they had at least minimal privacy. “Kiss me, all right? Act like you love me.” He ran a hand along her back.

Sara kissed him on the lips. “It’s not an act. Of course, I love you. You know I got to take word back to Amman, right?”

“You’re a good little messenger, aren’t you?”

“Angel, I’m scared, but I’m just doing what I have to do. Trying to protect you.”

He pulled away from her and strolled toward the doorway.

Sara rolled her eyes. “Damn it, Angel, I don’t want to be caught up in this mess. Stop playing games.”

“You telling me not to play games? They strong-arm me into working with them. Try to rip me apart and ruin my life. What I know is none of Amman’s business or whoever the hell his boss is. Mister Goldchains.”

“Angel, you ripped them off. It’s all on you so just give it back. I’m sick of this. Tell him—

“Who the hell’s side are you on? Why don’t you believe in me?”

“I do believe in you, but just tell them where the coke is,” pleaded Sara. “Then he leaves you alone and we’re free.”

“Free to do what? They won’t give me a cent. And even if I do get out, they’ll never leave me alone. No matter where I go, they’ll hunt me down. It’s me or them.”

“Don’t say that.”

Angel grabbed her hands and looked her in the eye. “I don’t want you talking to Amman.”

“Really? Like I got a choice?”

“I’ll make a deal with him, but only on my terms.”

“Good. When?”

He motioned for her to be quiet. They stepped inside the commissary, surrounded by bags of snacks and sodas. “You want a root beer or 7-Up?”

“Dr. Pepper. You know that.”

A bag of chips and a packet of muffins rounded out the purchase. He wanted to take her, right there, pulling her into his arms and forgetting about the prison fights and lockdowns. But they could only step outside and find an empty bench to sit on.

“How are your classes going?”

“Good. I’m going to be a LVN real soon, like I told you. And then a RN.”

“That’s good, Sara.” He opened his soda, and Sara opened hers.

“Guess what?” She smiled.

“What?”

“I was driving up Figueroa Avenue the other day and I just got this urge to turn left. The street went up a hill and there was a little house for sale.”

Angel sipped his soda and looked across the prison yard. “How little?”

“Two bedrooms. One bath. Had cute front and back yards. It got me thinking again, Babe.”

“About kids?” Angel sounded less than enthusiastic.

“Yeah.”

“And I’m sure the place was a real bargain for just under six-hundred thousand.”

“Just under five-hundred.”

“Only a half-million? In LA? Must have some real problems.” He munched on a snack.

“Come on, Angel. I want to dream with you.”

“Look around you, Babe. I’m living a nightmare and don’t really have time for your kind of dreams right now.”

Sara closed her eyes to block out the frustration. She just wanted him to play along, and maybe things would get better.

“You got to have goals. You’ve told me that so many times. You’re not stuck here forever.”

“Yeah and I don’t know if that’s good or bad.”

“It’s all good. I want a family. I want us to have a baby.”

“But you’ll be too busy working as a nurse,” Angel sneered and opened a bag of potato chips.

“We can make it happen.” Sara refused to give up. She looked around to see if anyone was near, took a sip of her Dr. Pepper, and ate a few chips. “This is about as alone as we’re going to get. Let’s talk.”

“You want me to talk as much as Amman does.”

“Because I want you home.” She snuggled against him, wrapping her arms around his. “Let him have his coke and his money. Let him get caught and go to jail. We can have a better life. I know we can, but first, we have to get out of here.”

Angel was quiet and scanned his surroundings. “Okay, you want me to talk? I’ll talk. But before we get into that, I want to let you know that I do like your dreams of being together, and raising a family.”

“Angel, that really means a lot.”

He pulled her close for a kiss and then looked in her eyes. “Now, listen up.”

***

See our Crime Books page for all 3 stories.

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Author Interview: Meghan Holloway, Romantic Suspense

We welcome author Meghan Holloway to our author interviews on the Tom Stone Detective Stories blog. 
Follow Meghan online and learn more about her exciting projects.

Relationships themselves are quite a mystery and worth exploring in-depth. Read how Meghan achieves that discovery in her work with her answers that follow, written in a wonderfully engaging style.

Links at the end of the interview give you the chance to learn more about her and stay in touch.
How do you define romantic suspense and what draws you to write in the genre?
I have always thought of romantic suspense as the perfect literary cocktail. The romance genre is full of heart and an exploration of what I think is our most basic human need—connection.
The development of relationships can be such a fantastic launchpad for exploring the human psyche in a way that is uplifting and beautiful, but I’ve always been fascinated by chiaroscuro, an art term that refers to the strong contrast between light and shade.
I think that if storytelling is going to be authentic, it has to examine the darker side of humanity with as even a hand as it does the lighter side. The suspense element allows me to interweave these more haunting, gritty threads into the story and bring the tale full circle. Romantic suspense gives me the avenue to write a tale that ultimately ends in hope and the promise of happiness and companionship while still having a driving plot that winds through the labyrinth of the grimmer side of humanity.
For me, romantic suspense is the ideal medium for telling a story that is a balance of light and dark.
What compelled you to write fiction? 
Compelled is the appropriate word here. Writing, telling stories, has always been a compulsion for me. My love of stories began, of course, with reading and with sitting on my grandfather’s knee begging for tales from his boyhood. As soon as my hands learned to fashion letters into words, I’ve written. I don’t know if there was ever a conscious choice to write fiction. Storytelling is simply part of what it has meant to be me. If I had to pinpoint a source, I would say it’s the Celtic blood in me, and I inherited the tendency from my grandfather, who spins tales with as much talent and care as a master weaver.
What contributed to your ability to create characters “that feel more like old friends” in A Thin, Dark Line?
I think Cormac and Eloise appealed to readers because both are wounded but neither is willing to be a victim. There’s a fierceness about each of them, and a solitary aspect as well. But mainly I think it was the fact that I tried to create authentic characters, with weaknesses and fallacies and nuanced personalities. Neither of my main characters are good, and they’re all the more real and approachable for it.
What techniques did you use to craft your novels — outline? Simply forging ahead? Feedback from friends?
I know many writers fall into two classes, the “pantsers” and the “plotters.” I fall somewhere in between. I have a general outline of the overarching narrative and a list of key plot points I know I need to hit to move the story in the right direction. But I find if I outline too much, I feel stymied. I set guidelines and trail markers, but my creativity needs a bit of free rein at the points in between.
Were you pleasantly surprised with how your stories turned out? 
I was. It is such a surreal feeling to reach ‘The End.’ That feeling of creation, of bringing something into being that has not existed in this exact shape before, is awing and indescribable. I recently finished my third novel, and I must say that the feeling does not diminish. It’s not a level of astonishment over how the story unfolds and ends so much as it is that sense of fashioning something from nothing, from a simple germ of an idea that blossomed into a story.
Why do I think that you’re Scottish? Lol! Tell me. I read that you live in the Appalachian foothills? 
I am, and I do. My family came to the states when I was young, and though I’ve made a bit of a circuit around a portion of the US—Mississippi, Maine, New York City, Colorado, Boston—I’ve come back to the hill country where we settled to help take care of my grandparents in their twilight years.
Do you prefer writing in the country versus the city? 
I have never cared much for excessive noise or not being able to see the natural light of the night sky. I live—and write—on the quiet edge of a city, close enough to be able to venture in when desired but far enough out to enjoy the stars over the lake on which I live.
What are your current projects if any?
I recently finished a historical thriller set in the wake of Paris’s liberation in WWII, and I have been working these last months on querying agents and submitting it to publishing houses. I am currently writing a trilogy of romantic thrillers set in the contemporary American West.
Thank you for inviting me to interview. It was an absolute pleasure.
Social media links:

Crime Thriller Novelist Lurks Among Police– and Drinks Coffee

My meeting place was clear – the Burbank Police Dept blue canopy outside Café Olla on Victyory Boulevard was the destination for me, a crime and thriller novelist, to get info.

Okay, enough with the dramatics – but, hey, that’s what I do in the Tom Stone Detective Stories with Lon Casler Bixby, isn’t it?

The Burbank police held a meet and greet to get close up with the community. Each officer was easy to chat with—down to earth and pleasant in a very tough job. I was impressed that Chief Scott LaChasse had already spent 32 years (if I remember, correctly) with the LAPD and 8 years with Burbank. Forty years plus in law enforcement.

The department also has an active police foundation that’s volunteer-led.

I’d like to find out how many departments in Southern California have occasional get-togethers. I’m sure it varies a lot. Conversations are helpful to have as we’ve portrayed Tom Stone and Jake Sharpe as quite down-to-earth. In fact, in Tom Stone: Day of the Dead, Jake plans a Halloween party with his church.

It’s important to get away from behind the computer screen and chat, get to know people, and appreciate who they are in order to get past the cliché. Police are appreciated and yet feared and sometimes loathed because they have to enforce the law. Not an easy thing to do.

Now enjoy this excerpt:

EXCERPT Tom Stone Day of the Dead Chapter One

Jake came back to the bodies and noticed a bloody stub where each man had his little finger cut off. He fought a wave of repulsion as he pictured them not just being shot, but deliberately disfigured.

“I see somebody has a sense of humor.”

The abrupt comment shook Jake from his thoughts. His partner Tom Stone arrived on the scene and pointed to a large poster hanging on the wall that read Ghoooulll! showing a Day of the Dead skeleton dressed as a soccer player scoring a goal.

“Maybe the attacker didn’t like the pun,” said Jake. “Glad to see that you finally made it. I’m on the verge of solving this and was getting ready to take all the credit.”

“I wouldn’t mind if you had it wrapped up.” Stone surveyed the area around the corpses.

“Where you been?”

“Kids. The girls were at my place last night instead of their Mom’s. Of course, Meagan forgot her phone so I had to run it over to her. College freshmen forget everything these days. Traffic seems like it’s getting worse everywhere. Burbank to Studio City used to be a quick run.”

Jake didn’t sound sympathetic. “It could have waited until after school.”

“She needed it. Had to call her mom to arrange a ride or else I’d be playing chauffer this afternoon.”

“You’re becoming soft, Stone.” Jake spoke in a low voice as he knelt alongside the dead men. “Or should I say, domesticated? Speaking of which, how’s Alisha?”

Stone changed the subject. “Maybe we should just talk about this.” He motioned to the corpses. “What happened? And to answer your question, Alisha’s fine. I just wish we could find more time to see each other. Getting more than a quick date with her has been almost impossible.”

“I’ll be glad to offer advice. Being a black man and married, I think I’m an expert on women of color.”

“No man is an expert when it comes to women, regardless of their color. But if I need your advice, I’ll ask.” Stone looked closely at the dead bodies. “Do we know who these guys are?”

“They owned the store. Father and son.”

“Any ideas who didn’t like them?”

Jake wrinkled a brow. “Haven’t gotten that far. The money’s not been touched so the assailant, or assailants, didn’t want cash. And the credit card receipts are neatly tucked away.”

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In Crime Fiction, it’s not what you say …

… well, it is what you say … and how you say it … and who says it. Words matter but to what extent? Okay, we got one fan listening.

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On this post, Lon and I show how he’ll put some words under a microscope to carefully arrange them for maximum impact. This post can also be titled “A Letter from Lon.” Sound sweet? Read on.

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Don holding Tom Stone nitty Gritty XMASDon,

Echoes and use of profanity in our latest chapter.

We have an echo. One line reads “Where the hell is Arturo?” A few lines down we have a very similar line “Arturo, where the hell are you?” Both lines are thoughts from Angel, but when he thinks the second thought he is much more panicked and desperate. So I suggest that we change the second “hell” to “f*ck”. This way he thinks “Arturo, where the f*ck are you?”

Writing and Editing Manual Typewriter

So it works. We keep the first “hell” as “hell” and change the second “hell” to “f*ck”. The only problem is that now it snowballs into another echo of having too many “f*cks, because a few lines after the new “f*ck” that we just put it, we already have an old “f*ck” where Angel says “What the f*ck are you thinking?”

I suggest that we change the second “f*ck” to “hell” so that line will now read “What the hell are you thinking?”

So instead of having an echo with “hell” “hell” “f*ck” we replace the second “hell” with “f*ck” – fixing that echo. That will give us “hell” “f*ck” “f*ck”. But, that’s too much profanity, too close together.

So again, we get rid of the second echo of “f*ck” f*ck” by replacing the second “f*ck” with “hell” and that will finally give us “hell” “f*ck” “hell”.

If we make these changes, it will solve our echo issues and also keep the use of profanity down to a minimal in this chapter.

What the f*ck do you think?

Lon

Lon Casler Bixby

If you dare to read more about me and Lon, you can find an author interview with Lon here and an interview of me chatting up our three books here.

And sign up for our newsletter — you get access to discounts, release previews and more.

Crime fiction author interview–Don Simkovich

Today, read part of the backstory to the crime story Book 3 Tom Stone Day of the Dead.

Lon Casler Bixby asks questions of his co-author Don Simkovich about his views on the Tom Stone stories. (Click here to read Lon’s interview).

More author interview links are at the end of this post.

Don Echo Mountain
Don imagining crime story possibilities at Echo Mountain above Pasadena.

When did you decide to become a writer and how did you know that’s what you wanted to do?

Being a crime fiction author never occurred to me. Writing about action did and in grade school, watching news reports on the Vietnam War caught my attention and I’d tune in every night before watching the game show Truth or Consequences. I wanted to be involved in significant events and that planted the desire to be a journalist and report on the events happening around me. I scribbled a few pages of notes about the Watergate trial and called it my own newspaper. But that did it. I wanted to write, interview people and make sense of the world.

My parents wrote short pieces, exploring what they could. My father, a metallurgical engineer, wrote a very good essay on surviving on a bridge (a trestle) as a freight train passed and nearly struck him and his brother.

My mother wrote various short pieces and one was published in a Sunday supplement of the Pittsburgh Press. She also wrote a very good biographical novel on the woman who founded the Daughters of the American Revolution that took her 8 years to research and write. It was her only novel.

Writing may seem to have come naturally to me but it’s been a lifetime of improving. As Hemingway says, The best writing comes from rewriting.

 

What prompted you to write the Tom Stone series – which is based on an original screenplay – Stone Cold?

I had written a few romance stories through a small press and decided I’d take on the challenge of writing a detective story. For the readers, you and I had produced a stage version of a 30-minute comedy script, Apartment Zero. Maybe we should write short story versions of it. And adapting Stone Cold was a chance to work together.

I felt it would let me develop as a writer in a new area.

I want readers to see there is hope—that good can come from the challenges we face and the pain we endure.

What intrigued you about the screenplay?

Don holding Tom Stone nitty Gritty XMAS

The Tom Stone — Anthony Angelino conflict took 3 years to finish.

It was a full-length screenplay that read fast. I liked how the characters took shape and I began seeing their traits and mannerisms. I saw the potential for exploring them in depth, especially the relationship and inherent conflict between Tom Stone and Alisha Davidson.

Were you worried about taking another writer’s vision (or story – whichever sounds better) and turning it into a novel with your own ideas and vision?

My first area of concern was that the script and character seemed “cold” to me or impersonal. I wanted to warm them up. So the challenge was staying true to the original intent of the screenplay and making it so I was personally involved.

I got 13 chapters in to the first draft and I stopped. It was September 2015 and I told Lon—that’s you—that we need a Christmas story, a quick one. You came up with a number of ideas that turned it from my thoughts of a 7,000 word story into a novella.

My need for “warmth” and personal connection shaped Chapter One of Nitty Gritty Christmas. Police give toys to kids at Christmas and I’m a dad who’s adopted his kids from the foster care system. An idea struck.

Jake pulls Tom along to hand out gifts to boys in a group home and Tom sees one boy who’s unruly and doesn’t fit in. That boy, Andrew, gets Tom’s attention. Now I’m personally invested in the story.

Fortunately, Lon, you went along with it.

What have you learned in writing the Tom Stone series?

Handling multiple points of view and sub-stories has been rewarding. We did this in Book 2, Tom Stone Sweltering Summer Nights, and more in Book 3 Tom Stone Day of the Dead. The Tom Stone stories was my first complete trilogy I’ve written—and I—and you—see at least one or two more books in this particular story line.

The other technique I’m improving is the cause and effect that leaves the reader hopefully wanting more. It’s how you lead up to a point in a chapter and end it with the answer to be revealed later.

What is your favorite genre of book to read? To write?

I can read multiple genres if they have strong characters that are “warm” to me—sorry to sound so artistic. I like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character and I like romance, too. I want to find and experience the tension. Anita Shreve’s The Pilot’s Wife is a very simple story but with tension going throughout. This was what kept me turning the pages in John Grisham’s The Firm more than in his later novels. He did an incredible job creating tension with the details of a law office in Memphis.

Among my favorite stories remains James Herriot’s books from the late ‘60s and early 70s—a veterinarian from Yorkshire who wrote terrific memoirs and his experiences delivering cattle and horses and treating dogs and cats. He caught the significance of the moment and how each event impacted the people.

Real life, in other words. Oh, and I’m so sorry. I’ve just never gotten into Sci-Fi. Although, in junior high I read a story about a colony on Mars and really liked it. I think it was because the boy in the story got to skate for miles on the canals.

What are 1 or 2 things you’d like the readers to know about the Tom Stone stories?

They are real life, like you mentioned. I want them to sense the subtle humor in each one and get a feel for the characters. I hope that at the end of Book 3 Day of the Dead, the readers feel torn about Anthony Angelino and who he is as a person and what could have been for him.

I want readers to see there is hope—that good can come from the challenges we face and the pain we endure.

Want more author interviews?

Please read S.N. Bronstein with crime fiction set in Miami and wellness writer Colleen M. Story.

 

Crime fiction author interview: Lon Casler Bixby

Hi! Don here. Here’s a crime fiction author interview with my co-author of the Tom Stone stories, Lon Casler Bixby.

The trilogy got its start based on a screenplay that Lon had written; he’s a photographer with a film production background. Of course, the books changed and I never asked Lon his thoughts on moving from screen to publishing. So I grilled him hard!

Lon Sungalsses and Hat

What prompted you to write the screenplay Stone Cold?

I was writing a lot of different screenplays in different genres. Comedy, horror, sci-fi. One night while sleeping I had an idea for a Detective Story. I woke up, sat in front of the computer and Stone Cold appeared–so to speak.

Are detective stories — crime stories something you particularly like or are drawn to?

Yes and no. I wouldn’t just go to the bookstore and buy a book. I do like the mystery and the thriller. Not detective per se. I like the ones that have a twist like a series about a Vampire detective, but, they have to be realistic and have personality and not be stereotypical.

What made you decide to turn the screenplay into a novel?

I had written many different and optioned a couple, so instead of them gathering dust in an agent’s office, I turned them into novels. I figured that was a much easier way to get them seen by an audience. The novel gets the story in front of people. That’s the point. Give people something to read.

Lon Casler Bixby

Were you afraid of losing control in the process?

Not at all. Partnering with you, Don, is easy — you’re somebody I trust. Instincts, judgement, not like giving it some movie studio where they’ll take it and change it. I gained so much more. I’ve let go of some of the story because you have a lot of great ideas that became the story. A lot of gaining instead of loss.

How do you feel about the trilogy being so different than the original screenplay?

I don’t know if it is so different. We took the screenplay and made it so much better. The screenplay was good, but flat and one dimensional, maybe even stereotypical. But we built on that foundation and gave it life.

What are 1 or 2 things you’d like the readers to know about the Tom Stone stories?

I’d like the readers to know it’s not just a typical detective story. We brought life to the characters by making them realistic, and relatable to the reader.

We deal with a lot of subjects including family values, child abuse, spousal abuse, organized crime, and the use of medical marijuana. We bring a lot of reality into the story along with humor — some of it might be subtle but we bring it out.

It’s not the typical straightforward detective story – it’s much fuller.

Try out a free preview Chapter 1 of Tom Stone Day of the Dead– it’s easy.

Email dsimkovich@gmail.com with Ch 1 in the subject line or click this link to sign up for our e-newsletter.

Editor’s note (that’s Don): The 2 stories available are:

Book 1 Tom Stone Nitty Gritty Christmas on Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Barnes and Noble — get started for the discounted price of only 99 cents on Kindle.

Book 2 Tom Stone Sweltering Summer Nights on Amazon.

Tom Stone 3 Pack

We’ll interview authors on a regular basis including these two previous interviews with S.N. Bronstein whose stories are set in Miami and wellness writer and author Colleen Story.

Stay up-to-date with discounts and bonuses for email subscribers–we want our e-newsletters to be as entertaining as our stories!

FOR NOW– email me, Don Simkovich, at dsimkovich@gmail.com to receive a .pdf version of Chapter 1.

Updating Progress on Our Crime Story: Tom Stone Day of the Dead

We’re ready to send our crime story-thriller Tom Stone: Day of the Dead to Beta readers. Yea!!!tbIq2nD

If you like bargain books, skim below to see how you can snag a Kindle deal on our police procedural-thriller Book 1 — Tom Stone: Nitty Gritty Christmas.

Our last Work-in-Progress was May 3 when I wrote that we were making final edits on our crime story/thriller Tom Stone: Day of the Dead. I can’t believe it was a month ago. But we have edited it thoroughly and keeping the story full intact. Soon, it will be a complete book on our Crime Fiction Books page of this blog.

So where are we now in the editing and publishing process?

We finished combing through the completed manuscript after reading it together and making updates. Then, Lon went through and read it again and made brief comments. Those edits are now in so now the work is to format it for Beta readers and prepare to launch.

There are a number of scenes that we like — not just because we wrote the story but because we feel the material is well-written.

Of course, part of what’s left is writing up the synopsis / book blurb, too.

Stay tuned for the cover reveal along with contests to show appreciation to our readers.

We’ve put a lot of care into our work and take pride in what we write.

If you’re new to the Tom Stone series then we want you to know that you can get started for only 99 cents with Book 1 Tom Stone: Nitty Gritty Christmas on Kindle

So, yeah, we like bargain books, too.

Tom Stone Nitty Gritty Cover
A crime story that involves little-known neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

Of course, if you download Book 1 then we’d deeply appreciate a review. We’ve got several good ones and thank those who have taken time to leave their thoughts and input on the story.

But now we have a complete crime trilogy taking place in and around the many colorful neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

We hope that you’re as entertained as we are by the story and the chase!