Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Introducing: Marja McGraw

This week's featured author is Marja McGraw. Marja is the author of the "Sandi Webster Mysteries" and the "Bogey Man Mysteries," two humorous mystery series. Keep reading to find out more about Marja and her books. 

"Marja McGraw is originally from Southern California, where she worked in both criminal and civil law enforcement for several years.

Relocating to Northern Nevada, she worked for the Nevada Department of Transportation.  Marja also did a stint in Oregon where she worked for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and owned her own business, a Tea Room/Antique store. After a brief stop in Wasilla, Alaska, she returned to Nevada. She’s also worked for a library and for a city building department.

Marja wrote a weekly column for a small newspaper in No. Nevada and she was the editor for the Sisters in Crime Internet Newsletter for a year and a half. She’s appeared on television in Nevada, and she’s also been a guest on various radio and Internet radio shows.

She writes the Sandi Webster Mysteries and the Bogey Man Mysteries, and says that each of her mysteries contains “a little humor, a little romance and A Little Murder!”

She currently resides in Arizona with her husband, where life is good."

You can connect with Marja on her blog. Stay up to date on her writing by visiting her at Marja McGraw ~ Mystery Writer

Bogey Nights is available now from Amazon in Paperback and EbookBarnes and NobleFictionwise, and Books-A-Million

Monday, July 30, 2012

New Book: Bogey Nights

This week, we're heading back in time to the not so distant past. Marja MrGraw's Bogey Nights is set in present day, but the mystery dates back to the 1940s. Completing the trip back in time is a 40's themed restaurant, old-time celebrity lookalike waitresses, and a main character that has everyone staring at his Humphrey Bogart looks and mannerisms. 

"Chris and Pamela Cross own a restaurant, which burns to the ground. They buy a 1920s vintage brick house with a large front porch to renovate and turn into the new restaurant, called Bogey Nights.  While renovations are ongoing, their two yellow Labs (Sherlock and Watson, male and female respectively) become too interested in something in the basement. Turns out there’s a body buried there, dating back to 1942.

Homicide Detective Janet Riley handles the case and in the process she becomes friends of Chris and Pamela. She doesn’t want them interfering, and yet she can use their help. The economy has taken its toll, and staffing is down.

At the request of family members of the deceased, Chris and Pamela begin to investigate the man’s death. When he lived in the house, it was a boarding house. Some of the boarders are found, some have died, and the owner, Chance Murphy, is still around. Alice Frye (a boarder) turns into an enigma and a suspect, but they can’t find her. The men who lived in the house look pretty good as suspects, too.

From a nosey young reporter to a seven-year-old son who wants in on the action, and elderly suspects, Chris and Pamela have their hands full while they search for a killer. Remember, seniors can be just as deadly as anyone else.

Bogey Nights is available now from Amazon in Paperback and Ebook, Barnes and Noble, Fictionwise, and Books-A-Million

Friday, July 27, 2012

Review of: Devil's Kitchen

Manny is not thrilled when the call comes in that a head-just a head-has been found at the local dump. At first look, this case seems destined for the cold case files. Something about the circumstances surrounding the appearance of the head sticks with Manny, prods him to keep looking for answers. Three gun fights later, Manny is fired from his job as a detective for the sheriff's department, but the desire to solve the case has only become more consuming. He is pulled toward Devil's Kitchen, but the hope of surviving this case dwindles with every step he takes. 

It's not often you find a procedural crime drama that also has some elements of the supernatural. Some may think the two would not work together. When the idea is first introduced in this book, I wasn't sure how it would go. Surprisingly, it was one of my favorite aspects of this book. Lohr did a great job of giving a good background and reason for the inclusion of the supernatural elements with Manny's Yaqui grandmother and Reina's spiritual beliefs, that it felt rather natural to discuss walls changing colors and the appearance of his dead grandmother. It probably helped, for me at least, that I've grown up in the Southwest where the mystical is a part of every day life for many, but I think even those unfamiliar with the idea will be able to connect with this story. 

The details of the criminal investigation was another fascinating part of this book. After Manny's first gun battle, I turned the page thinking he was perfectly justified in shooting through the door after being shot at from the street. Lohr was quick to correct me, with Manny's superior pointing out that if done "by the book" Manny should have acted differently. I appreciated the realism Lohr's research into criminal procedure gave to this book. It was a nice balance to the supernatural. 

The mystery itself was also interesting. There were no holes that I found, and I stayed interested throughout. Having said that, while Lohr was able to trick me in a few areas-Rico especially-I felt that other aspects of the mystery and clues given were not as subtle as they could have been. I correctly guessed who the inside man was the first time I met the character. The way Manny survives the rattlesnake bites was no surprise to me because the "fix" was introduced too blatantly earlier in the book. So, for me it was a balance of good twists and not-so-subtle clues, but I did still enjoy following Manny through the investigation. 

The last aspect of this book I want to comment on relates to the writing. In general, the writing was strong. There was good dialog between the characters, and was generally error free in grammar and punctuation. What I had a problem with was the constant switching between points of view. In all the writing classes I have ever taken, switching POV without a scene break is a big no-no. Lohr did this constantly. I know this has become more acceptable in historical fiction lately, and in general strict rules like this are falling by the wayside in writing, but it can't detract from the story. I felt like the constant POV switching was very distracting. I was jumping between character's head by the paragraph in some areas of the book and I would have to stop and reread to realize Lohr has switched characters. I found it extremely distracting and annoying. I think the story would have flowed much more smoothly if Lohr had stuck to Manny's POV only. 

Overall, this was an interesting mystery. For the most part I enjoyed the characters. Reina wasn't my favorite because she seemed rather opinionated and pushy at times, but Manny and Johnny, and even the sleazy lawyer were strong characters. The blend of crime drama and supernatural was a nice change from only having one or the other. Lohr created a story that pulled in a lot of real life situations that helped bring it to life. 

Would I recommend this book? I would recommend this as an enjoyable casual mystery, but it's not going to be for everyone. Personally, I liked the mixed genre, but not everyone will. 

Who would I recommend this book to? There's a strong element of procedural crime drama, so it will definitely draw in fans of that genre. The paranormal aspect may or may not detract from the crime. I think it just depends on how hard-core of a crime reader a person is. Readers interested in the Southwest will get a heavy dose of Southwest culture and politics in this book. Those looking for a crime/romance novel will probably be disappointed. This book was advertised "crime and romance in the Sonoran Desert" but I didn't think the romance angle was very strong. Manny is in a relationship when the book starts, and not much changes during the book. They have a few small tiffs about Manny not believing in the supernatural, but otherwise their relationship stayed pretty static. 

Devil's Kitchen is available now from Amazon in Paperback or ebook and from Oak Tree Press.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Favorites from: Devil's Kitchen

One aspect of Devil's Kitchen that I enjoyed was the blending of procedural crime drama and supernatural elements. Lohr integrated the two very well, developing a strong logical case where the gaps were filled in with insight and help from outside the realm of what many may call "normal." 

Keep reading to get a taste of Devil's Kitchen in this excerpt from the novel. Thanks to Clark for sharing this with us today. 

The Day of Dead chapter
from: Devil’s Kitchen by Clark Lohr
Oak Tree Press, First Edition, June 2011.
Chapter Twenty-four
Gustavo Ortiz's mother moved him up Calle Reforma at a steady pace, even though he was in no hurry.  There was too much to see. The motorcycle police had the street blocked off so the traffic could only go one way—toward the graveyard.  Every fourth vehicle was a truck with a gaggle of kids about Gustavo's age sitting in the back.  He would stare at them and they would stare back.  Nothing better to do, the traffic was hardly moving anyway.
            It was after ten in the morning.  Gustavo's mother felt ashamed, getting out this late to visit her husband—to visit his grave, anyway.  Her husband, less than forty years old, and dead from cancer. His parents would already be there.
              The Americans located manufacturing plants just south of the border, to avoid the inconvenience of obeying US pollution statutes. The Mexicans themselves had no real regulations about pollutants. Pockets of cancer were popping up all over Nogales, on both sides of the border.
            There was no sidewalk along Calle Reforma, so they picked their way along until they got to the open air market, located on both sides of the street, just in front of the graveyard, which ran up the raw desert hills on either side of the street.
            Gustavo could see a little ahead and he felt the excitement, knowing they'd be in the middle of the market soon, but he was not tall and he kept his attention close to him. 
            He noticed right away when an alert, lean man with narrow tiger's eyes turned a purple flower sideways and it became something else, something powerful and sleek. The blossoms were furry purple clumps. Beneath them was an expanse of brown that widened up to the blossoms.  The shape of a mountain lion's paw.
            “What is it?” he asked the man.
            “Manopanteras,” the man said.  Panther paws.
            Gustavo glanced at the vendor's other flowers, the yellow ones.  Then his mother pulled him away, into the crowd.
            People sold coronas, wreaths of cloth and wire, for the graves.  The outside edges were triangular spikes of bright satin ribbon, folded back across itself from two sides, forming a point.  The coronas had mounds of paper roses in the middle, often in white or in pastels.  The spiked edges of the wreaths, in reds and yellows, spoke to Gustavo of the sun, of a burning that never burned out.  The paper roses looked as if they were exploding out of a spiked sun. 
            He felt the shiver on his neck again.  He had felt it only once before, at his father's burial.  Something picking him up by the hairs on his neck.
            At his father’s burial it had been as if his father was showing him a picture and saying: One piece of advice: Don't look here.  Feel the sky pull you up by the back of your neck and look out there, over those hills, at that horizon.  The earth is soft but it is not enough.  Part of you is sky. Stand up.  You can have your death when you die, not before.  Until then, stand up and stay in places where you can see for some distance.       
The graveyard climbed the brown hills on either side of Calle Reforma.  In front of its two parts was the open-air market with its maze of stalls, tents and signs:  Taqueria California. Flotes. Huaraches.
            They went by a sidewalk restaurant under a ramada covered with blue plastic.  Red-orange tables and chairs sat underneath it.  The words Coca Cola were stamped in white on the backs of the chairs.
            The boy's mother led him into the graveyard from the north side of the street, just behind a man who carried a huge load of cotton candy on one long pole.  The servings of cotton candy hung together, somehow, like the top of a bushy pink tree.
            Gustavo kept looking at the people thronged in the graveyard, in the bright sunlight.  Younger people in T-shirts, baseball caps and jeans.  And men dressed in snap button cowboy shirts, white straw hats, boots and jeans. 
            Gustavo saw the Tohono O’odham symbol of a figure standing at the entrance to a circular maze.  It was burned into the flat leather face of a man's belt buckle.  When the man turned his back, Gustavo saw that the name John Bravo tooled into the leather of the belt itself.
            They arrived at the grave.  Gustavo's grandparents were there and they had put down their flowers and waited, drinking sodas.  They gave Gustavo a broom and he began to sweep shriveled flowers from the cement slab.  When he had done that, his mother held a trash bag and he dumped the old flowers into it with his hands.  Then they all began to wash the slab with water, and to wash the cement cross above it that bore the name of Gustavo's father.
            “No!” a woman said sharply and Gustavo turned to see her putting out her hand to stop a photographer, an Anglo, from photographing her and the grave she attended.  The photographer kept walking, up the hill toward where the wealthier people were buried.  Some of their graves looked like plaster and marble houses to Gustavo.  You could go inside and walk back and forth.  He could see a few flowers there, and he could see the names and the image of Jesus Christ on the walls.  But the odd thing was, no one attended those graves, it seemed, even on this day, November second, The Day of the Dead.
            He got permission to wander when they were done washing the grave and laying their yellow flowers on it.  There was little danger of being left behind.  This was also a wake.  People would stay here.  Women sat now, by graves, holding umbrellas against the sun.  People were everywhere. He was standing half way up the hill and he could look across at the opposite hill and see the same images he saw here.
            He decided he would go down through the graves to the market.  Perhaps he would go, also, to the other side.  He passed a man holding a fine-tipped paintbrush out in front of him.  The man was skillful. He was touching up the white letters of a name on a thin black cross. 
Gustavo had no money to buy a soda from the men who kept them in tubs of melting ice.  He was thirsty and he stopped and drank at the spigot at the bottom of the hill, where people filled gallon plastic jugs to carry back to the graves.  A pile of refuse lay nearby.  They had given him the bag of old flowers.  He left it on the pile.
            Turning toward the sound of mariachis, he saw them a little way up the hill, playing at a gravesite.  A woman with a bushy head of graying hair sat on the narrow cement wall by the grave.  She was alone.  She smoked a cigarette, blowing the smoke out tensely, sometimes shaking her head as if she were someplace else.  Yet she was very self-conscious and looked around sharply from time to time.
            Gustavo could see into people but he could not decide on what he saw.  He felt these things and wished he could think about them so that they would make sense.  She was there and wanted to draw attention to herself.  That might have been important to her.  Perhaps she thought about the little deaths in her own life, as well as the death of the person she had paid the band to serenade.  He looked to the opposite hill and saw mariachis there too, playing for other people beside another grave.          
            The boy went down to the market.  A pile of grasshopper-green corn sat on a plastic tarp the color of red wine.  A man stood and sliced sugar cane. The chunks spat from the blade, one after the other, two or three in the air at the same time.  Gustavo watched with pleasure.  Behind the worker, looking like thick stalks of bamboo, tall as a man, the green poles of uncut cane leaned against the chain link fence around the graveyard and waited for the knife.  The sections would be cut again, this time in half.  People bought them and sucked out the sweet pulp.
            Gustavo was on the south side of Calle Reforma now, looking at more wares for sale.  He saw a tall Anglo and his two sons in their jeans and baseball caps buying shovels from a vendor who had the tools stacked on the ground.  It was clear from the way they moved that they were intent on their own purposes and wanted nothing to do with the Day of the Dead.  They kept their heads down and walked off, carrying their new shovels, looking a little like grave diggers.
            He stopped when he saw a fresh mound of rich, dark earth, piled high.  Red and yellow flowers lay on top.  Someone had poured water over the whole mound and the water had run down it in rivulets that narrowed and came to points on the flat, dry ground.  Gustavo saw this as a wet starburst, and this wetness passed through the areola of colored stones around the base.  White Styrofoam cups lay in the dust.  A woman hoisted a purple umbrella.  Another painter loaded his brush and touched a cross with it.   A faded name began its way back to life.
            Wreaths in reds, whites, pinks, bright blues and lavenders hung on crosses and grave markers at different heights.  Gustavo liked the picture: coronas so bright they made the background disappear, seeming to suspend themselves in midair like pinwheels.
            Gustavo turned, standing where he was in the bottom of the south section of the graveyard, and saw a man covered with balloons.  There was the yellow Smiley Face.  Mickey and Minnie.  Tigger in orange.
            He looked down on the rectangular grave of a child, edged by a border of cobalt blue cement.  On the cover of this grave, in its center, someone had placed an infant who stared at him from a shaded white carrier.
            The sun was bright and warm, but somehow not harsh and white.  He saw the Anglo with the camera. This time, he had it up to his eye and was weaving up and down, fighting with it, trying to get a shot in the direction of the sun without the colored sprites of halation entering the lens. Halation, the noisy, unwanted signature of pure light.
            Gustavo could see the photographer was trying for the cotton candy vendor, who was still carrying his tree of pink bundles, each one partly sheathed in plastic, like bouquets.  And the light was so full and near as the sun slipped west that it concentrated on the top of the candy tree, fell upwards, danced whitely, and slipped off into pure blue sky while long, rich shadows of people and crosses threw themselves over the ground, violent as lovers in full embrace.  This was the sun's work, in November, in Mexico.
            Staring as he wandered into the street, he almost walked into the white truck.  It was big, a two and a half-ton Chevrolet.  Square headlights stared out from behind its elaborate wrought iron grill. Somebody had painted the grill chalk white.
            The truck was parked facing the sun and Gustavo felt as if the truck was bearing down on him, driven by no one.  A velour curtain, of a certain color of scarlet, hung, rich folds intact, behind the windshield.  It was drawn all the way around the inside of the cab. 
            The scarlet curtain could have been a blouse for a black haired woman.  Could have been a matador’s cape.  Could have hung in a puppet theatre, or lined a casket.  The truck had high sides around the bed, the front frame of which came up in the center in three points, like a kite.  The triangular top had a gray tarp pulled down over it so that the truck looked a little like a Spanish sailing ship, unstoppable. 
            On the front bumper was a white license plate with very green numbers.  Under them, the letters MEX MEX.   Did it mean the truck came from Mexicali? Gustavo wondered.  But, anyway, he thought, it means Mexico. Mexico, for sure.
            It was time to turn back.  He was a little tired now.  He waited for his chance, because there was still plenty of traffic past the graveyard, and crossed to the north side.  He went straight up to his father's grave, felt the pain of memory, kept his head up, and found his mother and his grandparents still sitting and talking about the most ordinary things, hardly noticing, as if he had not been gone at all. 
            They had saved a soda for him. He sat down with them and drank it.  Then he decided to go up to that high place where there were no people.  He liked the black iron fences around many plots, which he saw as he walked.  The tops of the vertical bars formed individual crosses, small ones.  Wrought iron in the shape of black hearts decorated the verticals between cross sections of metal.
            In the clutter of the larger graves, the ones so big you could walk inside, he picked out a particular roofed monument and stepped into its deep shadows.
Looking down, he saw a man lying there.  Gustavo ran.
Thanks again to Clark Lohr for sharing this excerpt. If you're interested to see how this chapter fits into Manny's search, get your copy today. Devil's Kitchen is available now from Amazon in Paperback or ebook and from Oak Tree Press.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Interview with: Clark Lohr

Yesterday you got the chance to get to know a little more about Clark Lohr's background. Today, let's find out more about his writing and inspiration for Devil's Kitchen.

1. What is Devil’s Kitchen about? What’s the premise?

Devil’s Kitchen is about a Mexican American homicide detective named Manny Aguilar and his crazy Yaqui grandmother who gives him advice— even though she’s dead—and his brainy pagan girlfriend, Reina, who keeps telling him to listen to his dead grandmother.  When he gets fired for being in too many gunfights and goes to work as a private investigator for a smartass, pony-tailed criminal defense attorney named Jeff Goldman—and when a teenage female disappears—Manny Aguilar hooks up with another PI, Johnny Oaks, who specializes in finding runaways. These four underdogs—Manny, Oaks, Goldman and Reina, go up against the two most powerful forces in Arizona:  land developers and Mexican drug lords.

2.  What’s Manuel Aguilar’s “character arc”? How does he change in the course of the novel?

Manuel Aguilar begins his life in Devil’s Kitchen as an honorable, well-adjusted man. He’s not an independent thinker and experiences which are considered “paranormal” do not matter to him.  His mindset works well in his law enforcement career and up to a point—a breaking point—in his life.  When he begins to obsess on a particular murder case and begins to suffer what he discounts as stress-induced hallucinations, he must learn a new way of being.

3. What kind of person is Reina, Manny’s love interest?

Manny’s girlfriend, Reina, is a tall, beautiful whip smart redhead who has made her mistakes and won out over her demons. She’s loving, intelligent, slightly manic, loyal, and she’s very comfortable with the paranormal, which surrounds her, particularly in her home.  Only Reina can guide and love Manny as he’s thrown into confrontations with his unconscious power and the disowned parts of himself.

4. What does Devil’s Kitchen say about contemporary Arizona society?

Devil’s Kitchen sets up certain viewpoints about contemporary Arizona society. Ethnically, Tucson and its environs is a tripartite society made up of Latinos, Anglos and Indigenous peoples.
Arizona in general is an unsophisticated sunbelt state, suffering from overdevelopment and overuse of its natural resources. Political leaders are frequently opportunists who are often carpetbaggers in league with ruthless land developers. The so-called Drug War is a constant in southern Arizona.

5. What is unique about the southwest borderlands between the US and Mexico and how does this environment contribute to the story?

The borderlands between the US and Mexico consist of desert, all of it hostile, some of it remarkably so. These deserts are fragile ecosystems, containing a great variety of unique plants and animals. Drug and human smuggling is a multibillion dollar a year industry and this border is its area of operations. The rise of violent Mexican drug cartels have put American border dwellers at risk and made Phoenix, Arizona, which is located 180 miles north of the border, the kidnapping capital of the United States.

Many Americans will try to shout me down but the facts are that American businesses, large and small, profit from cheap Latino labor and that millions of American drug users need or want drugs which the American government refuses to decriminalize. There is no way to win the Drug War except to take the money out of it and no way to deal with illegal immigration except through great effort at reform.

  Typically, the border has been and still is largely a place of peaceful mingling between Mexicans and Americans—but always with a dark side that can’t be denied.  My detective hero, Manuel Aguilar, is a Tucson native, bilingual in Spanish and English, very much an American in his outlook and background, but also a product of a tricultural environment.  He is part Yaqui Indian and has a Mexican Yaqui grandmother.

6. Can you describe the type and amount of research you did for "Devil's Kitchen?"

I started my research for Devil’s Kitchen by attending lectures sponsored by the Arizona Mystery Writers club, a local Tucson organization. I did a ride-along with a Pima County Sheriff’s Officer and visited the Pima County Forensic Science Center, which is our Medical Examiner’s office.  Arizona, known as a racist, backward state, is ahead of the game in this regard because we have Medical Examiners who are specially qualified medical doctors. We do not have coroners. Coroners may be very competent, but they are elected officials and may not be required to possess any special forensic knowledge.

I made many calls to law enforcement, listened to a lot of talks by same, read, and generally learned enough to write convincingly in both the procedural and PI subgenres of crime fiction. I have military and security services experience as well.

A friend who is a teacher and editor looked at an early draft of Devil’s Kitchen and urged me to amplify the environmental aspects of the novel.  I then began to read about water and water politics in Arizona, as well as reading about the history of development in Arizona. I learned more about desert botany and geology.  I studied some Native American history, too. The Tohono O’odham Nation, near Tucson, is the third-largest Indian reservation in the United States. All of this made for a deeper novel, relevant to present day Arizona life.

7. How do the differences between P.I work and detective work affect the way Manny solves cases?

Private Investigators are easier to fictionalize than sworn enforcement officers. A crime writer can get a PI to do just about anything. In reality, PI’s are licensed and the legal establishment at least attempts to hold them to a standard. But PI’s can’t serve warrants, they don’t have powers of arrest, and they depend on deception to a greater degree than sworn law enforcement officers. In order to write “procedurals,” where we build our plots and characters around “real cops,” we crime writers must know enough about law enforcement methods to convince our readers that they’re experiencing something close to the real thing.

8. There is an element of supernatural in "Devil's Kitchen." How does this belief affect the story and characters?

Manny Aguilar, the hardnosed detective hero of Devil’s Kitchen must learn to accept, even integrate, so-called paranormal phenomena into his life.  It begins, for Manny, with his love for Reina, who manifests some kind of energy that may be viewed as supernatural.  She herself assures Manny that the things he sees and feels aren’t “magic,” they’re just images and sensations rising up from his subconscious mind.  Reina, for all her mysterious trappings and neo-pagan rituals, simply believes that there is more to our own minds than we know and that we sometimes tap into it.

9. Who are your favorite authors?

My favorite author is Cormac McCarthy, who writes literary fiction in a mythic style and to mythic scale. He closely observes and poetically describes nature. He writes “Westerns,” following his characters across hellish landscapes in Arizona and Mexico.  Anybody who says he’s excessively violent hasn’t been keeping up with current events on the US-Mexico borderlands.
Another favorite author is Charles Bowden, known as the guru of border writers, author of a massive body of environmental writing and border reporting.
The crime fiction writers who inspired me and made me realize that I could put both my soul and my message into this often disrespected genre are Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, and a number of other classic crime writers.

10. Can you tell us about any other books or future projects?

I’m currently working on a second Manny and Reina novel, hoping to successfully engage readers as I take my heroes and my heroine to the western Arizona deserts and to Arizona’s Highway 85.


Thanks so much to Clark for taking the time to answer these questions and give us a little more background on Devil's Kitchen. You can stay up to date on Clark's writing through Facebook

Devil's Kitchen is available now from Amazon in Paperback or ebook and from Oak Tree Press.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Introducing: Clark Lohr

Our featured author this week is Clark Lohr, author of Devil's Kitchen, a Southwest noir crime novel. Keep reading to find out more about Clark and how his background has impacted his writing.

"Clark Lohr comes from a Montana farm and ranch background. He attended a one-room school through
the eighth grade. Most of his friends were old men who told good stories. He is proud to have graduated from Arcadia High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is a Vietnam vet and a member of Veterans for Peace.

Lohr has drifted considerably in his life, working a variety of dead end jobs. He has traveled in Asia, Europe and Central America. He graduated from the University of Arizona with a BA in Writing and Literature. He is trained as a photographer. He has one daughter, Diana, and a grandchild, Maya."

You can stay up to date on Clark's writing on Facebook.
Devil's Kitchen is available now from Amazon in Paperback or ebook and from Oak Tree Press

Monday, July 23, 2012

New Book: Devil's Kitchen

We're venturing into an area familiar to me this week, the American Southwest. Clark Lohr's crime novel, Devil's Kitchen, is set in the Arizonan desert. One severed head found in the local dump will lead Detective Manny Aguilar from Tuscon to Mexico, and into the Devil's Kitchen. The question is...will he make it back? 

"Devil's Kitchen…Southwest noir – crime and romance in the Sonoran Desert… where the sacred feminine traditions conflict with the masculine logic of profit and environmental exploitation. When a severed head shows up at a Tucson landfill, Pima County Sheriff’s Detective Manny Aguilar gets the case. 

He handily tracks down the dead man’s heroin-addicted friends, and Manny thinks he’s identified the killers—until someone starts killing them. Suddenly Manny finds himself in the middle of a hellish conspiracy between a Mexican drug lord and an Arizona land developer. Aguilar’s redheaded, butt-kicking girlfriend, Reina, along with his Yaqui grandmother help solve the mystery, but it’s Johnny Oaks, a Cherokee PI, who rides with Manny to the showdown in Arizona's remote Skeleton Canyon." 

Devil's Kitchen is available now from Amazon in Paperback or ebook and from Oak Tree Press

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Giveaway Winner Announced!!!

Congratulations to John Brantingham! John is the winner of this week's giveaway. He has won a signed copy of The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper

John, please send me an email at theediblebookshelf@gmail.com with your mailing address so Sally can send you your prize. 

I would like to thank Sally for allowing me to host this giveaway and for generously offering up a signed copy of her book. Thanks to everyone who entered. Keep checking back for more giveaways!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review of: The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper

Sandy Fairfax, aging teen idol, has been given an ultimatum by his ex-wife. Ditch the booze and get a job, or his visitations with his kids will become nonexistent. Even though Sandy is an alcoholic, and hasn't done any serious work in years, he loves his kids and wants to be a part of their life. Between the two, Sandy thought giving up alcohol would be the hardest, but it turns out the easy gig in a little Indiana town-speak at a Beatles convention-turns out to be the task that just might kill him. 

The Baffled Beatlemanic Caper is a mystery novel focused around an aging teen idol and his middle-aged biggest fan. The characters in this book are one of the best parts of this story. Sandy's character is very in depth. Carpenter did a lot of research and built a completely believable backstory for a teen idol. There were times when I was tempted to look up Sandy Fairfax on the internet just to make sure he wasn't real. I loved that Carpenter even detailed out past episodes of Sandy's TV show, as well as lyrics to songs he sung back when he was an idol. Her hard work really lent credibility to the story. 

Bunny was another great character. She is a middle-aged super fan, and is at first so starry-eyed over meeting Sandy it's hard not to picture her as a sixteen year old crushing ont he latest pop star. She has this ideal of what Sandy should be like, and when he falls short her disappointment is palpable. Carpenter really got inside the head of a super fan who has to face reality. I enjoyed the development of Bunny's character through the book. 

For the most part the characters were all well crafted. The only characters I didn't particularly care for were the hotel manager and the detective. For me, both men were a bit too Scooby Doo-ish. Both immediately pegged Sandy as a troublemaker because of his looks and Hoolywood status, and both tried to pin every mishap on him. Even some of their dialog and mannerisms reminded me of seventies era cartoon bad guys. I kept waiting for one of them to say "meddling kids." Now, these characters did add some humor to the book, because I think they were meant to come off like this, but I thought it could have been toned down. It was hard to take either one very serious or see them as a real threat. 

The mystery itself was very good. I stayed entertained throughout the search for the real killer. There was enough suspicion to throw around that it was hard to dump it all on one character. I mentioned yesterday how much I enjoyed the Beatles elements that helped build the mystery and the eventual answer. I did wonder if serious Beatles fans would have figured the mystery out sooner, but for me I was guessing right up until the end. 

The only other complaint I had for this book was that the editing could have been better. I review a lot of small press and self-published books on my blog, and while I tend to be more lenient with editing on indie books, small press books should be pretty near flawless in their editing. This book was not, and it was a little disappointing that there were so many errors, but it wasn't enough to detract from the story as a whole. 

Would I recommend this book? Yes. It was a fun, slightly goofy, entertaining read. A great book for summer. It was funny, interesting, and had some really good characters. I look forward to the second book. 

Who would I commend this book to? Teen readers and adults will both enjoy this book. The language was fairly clean, and there were no sexual scenes. There is a murder, but it isn't gruesome. Obviously, mystery readers will enjoy this book, but it isn't a police crime drama. There isn't a strong romance, but there's the possibility for one in later books. Beatles fans will definitely enjoy all the Beatles references, talk of death clues, and the incorporation of Beatles elements into the solution. If you're looking for a light, fun mystery, this book is for you. 

You can get your copy of The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper now from Amazon in Paperback or KindleOak Tree Press, and Nook.

You can also enter to win a copy of The Baffled Meatlemaniac Caper by leaving a comment below!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Favorites from: The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper

The four of us gathered in the front of the stage. "Are you all right, Sandy?"  Grant asked. "You look like you walked in from a haunted house." 

Braxton had that effect on people - five minutes with him and you're scared senseless. "The detective's trying to pin Dana's death on me." 

"Why does he think you did it?" Scott asked. 

"He doesn't have a lead and he's fishing for a scapegoat. Just because I was the last guy to see Dana alive, he thinks...I don't know what he thinks." 

Scott's eyes burned into me. "Did you kill Dana?" 

"No, I did not." I met his gaze with equal fury. "Did you?" 

One of my favorite aspects of The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper was the mystery. I really loved not only how Carpenter kept me guessing about who the killer was, but I also enjoyed how she was able to pull so much Beatles trivia into the story. I have seen the documentary about the "Paul is Dead" hoax, but I don't know a lot about the Beatles. Carpenter was able to bring in things like Blue Meanies and Apple Bonkers in a way that even those unfamiliar with the Beatles could understand and enjoy. 

You can get your copy of The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper today from Amazon in Paperback or KindleOak Tree Press, and Nook.

Don't forget to leave a comment below to enter for a chance to win a signed copy of The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Interview with: Sally Carpenter

Sally Carpenter mentioned in her bio yesterday that she  has been involved in many aspects of the entertainment business. Did any of her past experiences contribute to the exciting, and just a little bit zany, antics in The Baffled Beatlemanic Caper? Read on to find out more about Sally and her writing. 

1. What inspired you to write about an aging teen idol mixed with a Beatles convention? 

As they say, “write what you know.” I’m a big fan of The Beatles and The Monkees and the teen idols of the 60s-70s. In a college playwrighting class I wrote a one-act play about an aging teen idol that meets a middle-aged fan. The play was a finalist in a playwrighting contest and one of the judges said he “could see a bigger story here.” 

I tried using the teen idol character in a longer play and another novel but nothing worked. Then I went to library panel discussion sponsored by Sisters in Crime. As the authors talked about their books I thought, aha! I could use my character in a novel! Nobody had ever written a mystery about an aging teen idol, so I was free to craft my book however I wanted.

The convention setting was inspired by Sharyn McCrumb’s book Bimbos of the Death Sun, a mystery set at a science fiction convention, which I enjoyed reading. Then in 2002 I attended a Beatles convention with Micky Dolenz as one of the guest speakers. So I figured having my character go to a Beatles convention was possible. Most teen idol fans also love The Beatles.

2. Can you tell us about how you created Sandy's/Ernest's background? (I was quite impressed with how complete his history was.)

The secret to good writing is research. The more you know about the material, the more you have to draw on. In creating Sandy, I went to the source—I read the autobiographies of real-life teen idols: Bobby Sherman, David Cassidy, Donny Osmond, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones. Some years ago I had taped TV specials that talked about teen idols and I reviewed those shows.

The autobiographies gave me great background information about a teen idol’s life and career, feelings, thoughts and family life. I took bits and pieces from what I read and added fictional elements to create Sandy.

I had started writing the book in third person. After reading the autobios, I decided to make the book into a memoir of Sandy not only talking about the mystery but also reminiscing about his life. Once I started writing in first person, Sandy’s personality jumped right off the page.

I had also been active in fandom myself. Years ago I’d gone to concerts, read fanzines, hung out with fans and purchased collectibles. At the time I did it for fun but when I started writing I had a wealth of material to draw from regarding how fans react around their idols and other fans.

3. The two main characters, Bunny and Sandy, are an aging teen idol and a fanatic (and I mean that it the best way). How did you balance too such extreme characters? 

In drama, “opposites attract.” A good story needs conflict and people who are different—opposite desires, goals, likes and temperaments, cause that. The Odd Couple play/movie is the classic example. A hypochondriac neatnick moves in with a slob. They clash with each other and create a great story.

Sandy and Bunny are opposites not just as star/fan but their lifestyles, upbringing, home life, career and socio-economic status. Their goals for the weekend are different: he wants to do his job and go home and she wants a perfect holiday full of fun and romance. She’s expecting a perfect superstar and he’s a flawed human being.

But deep down they like and respect each other. As the book goes along, Sandy sees Bunny more as a friend and confidant and she reins in some of her craziness for him. They bounce off each other nicely.
4. Sandy has to deal with trying to make a come back and finding his fan base severely decreased. Can you tell us how you got inside his head in regard to his struggle with being less famous? 

Again, some of that came from reading the autobiographies. Teen idols follow the same career path: a few years of overnight and intense stardom, then a number of years in the shadows—their career shoots straight up and then crashes straight down. After years out of the public eye, they make a midlife comeback when their original fans become nostalgic and their fans’ children discover them. 

An idol’s “shadow” period is especially painful. A teen idol’s life is incredibly busy and ego-fulfilling and then to suddenly find oneself with no work and no obligations and few friends is quite a shock, especially since these guys are in their early 20s when most people are starting their careers, not ending them. They’re young and haven’t developed skills for coping with disappointment. During this time most of them go through a divorce. They’re also dealing with fatherhood. Some of them don’t manage their money well and lose their wealth. Some of them turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Because of their fame, they can’t easily ask for help or find trusted people to help them. I used all of this information in creating Sandy.

I also drew on my acting training (I have a theater degree) with Stanislavki’s “what if?” In approaching a character, I ask, “what if I was a teen idol? How would I feel and what would I do in this situation?” I imagine myself in the role or picture Sandy doing it, like a movie in my mind. Writing fiction is nothing more than acting on paper instead of a stage—you’re creating a person that the audience/reader accepts as real.

5. Bunny is faced with meeting her idol and finding out he isn't perfect. Was writing her emotions and reactions any easier than writing Sandy? 

About the same. The characters have distinct voices so it’s easy to switch from one to the other. I picture them in my head talking and that works.

I mentioned the book was inspired by a play I wrote. Bunny’s monologue about a school dance came straight from the play. I liked the monologue so much I made sure I put it in the book. It’s based on an experience of a dance I went to where nobody danced with me.

6. You mentioned having attended Beatles conventions. Which of the Beatles convention fans in the book would you say most closely resembles the types of fan you are? 

Ha ha, funny question. Years ago I was Bunny. Nowadays I’m more like Red, the sensible one who can admire stars without going nuts.

7. The mystery, and the solution, revolves around the Beatles. Without giving too much away, how difficult was it to construct a mystery like this? 

Easier than I had expected. I already knew much about the fabs—I’ve been a lifelong Beatles fan. I played all of my Beatles records (which I hadn’t done in a while), watched their movies and reviewed the biographies in my home library. I easily found the various clues and plot points.

I also knew about the “Paul is dead” hoax in which various Beatles songs and album covers had “clues” that “proved” Paul was dead. Of course I had to work in the “death clues” somehow.

8. Who are your favorite authors? 

Nowadays I mostly read authors I’ve met online or at conventions or fellow members of Sisters in Crime. I don’t read what’s on the New York Times bestseller list. I’d rather support my friends who don’t sell millions of books. I also do blurbs and reviews for other books put out by my publishing house (Oak Tree Press).

I love Sherlock Holmes and some of the modern books and short stories that continue the character. I love anything by William Link. I’ve enjoyed the Holmes on the Range series.

9. Do you have any interesting rituals or habits when you write? 

When writing fiction, the first draft is in longhand. I can’t compose a long work on a computer. I learned touch-typing in which the typist looks at a manuscript and not the paper/screen, so looking at the screen while I compose slows me down. I also want to stop and make corrections. I also hate staring at a blank screen.

I bought a special refillable pen and a colorful clipboard (to hold the paper) that I use for writing. I sit on the sofa and scribble away as ideas come. I type up the written draft into the computer and revise through several drafts. I usually have a  diet drink nearby as I type.

I don’t have any “get in the mood” rituals. I work a day job and my writing time is limited, so I have to sit down and get going quickly. But I’m usually thinking about the character and the story all day, so when I start writing the words come easily.     

10. Can you tell us about any other books or projects? 

I’m working on the second book in the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series, The Sinister Sitcom Caper. Sandy’s back at his old stomping grounds where he filmed his TV show. Now he’s a guest star on the lowest-rated TV show of the season. When an actor drops dead at his feet, he starts nosing around with the help of a dwarf and an animal actor. Bunny’s in the book, too. We also start meeting members of Sandy’s family—and could romance be in the air?


Thank you so much to Sally for answering my questions! 

You can get your copy of The Baffled Beatlemanic Caper today from Amazon in Paperback or KindleOak Tree Press, and Nook.

Don't forget to leave a comment below to enter for a chance to win a signed copy of The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper!