How Much Power Do You Think You Have?

Face it. We have little or no power over many things in our lives: the weather, taxes, death, our neighbors political yard signs. There are, however,  plenty of things of which we do have  power and control of: how much we exercise, what to eat, our career path, our behavior toward a partner or co-workers or family members. We can choose which movies or television shows we watch, books we read, where we live, how we treat others, etc. But there are areas of which some people believe they have power, and if one thinks through logically, are quite bizarre. For example, do you think if you wear a particular shirt, cap, underwear, etc. that your team will win? Do you believe if you watch, or don’t watch, a game on television the team will have a better chance? Sports seems to draw out the wackiness in us. I believe the spectators at a game can influence the game by the degree and kind of enthusiasm they display, but sitting in your living room watching, or not watching, in your lucky socks or underwear? Really?

You want to exert your power over something important? Go vote.

Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em Dead – May 2017

On a frigid night in December, Sonya Donovan is murdered—but her untimely death is staged to look like natural causes. Detective Cal Sheehan learns through the investigation that the sixty-four-year-old celebrity has created enemies not only in her personal life, but by hosting a popular and controversial radio show called Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em. Cal has to work around Sheriff Patrice Clinton, who’s personally involved with the family, to investigate those who have the most to gain from Mrs. Donovan’s death. The murder case soon becomes embroiled with a homicide in Hennepin County, and as Cal proceeds to untangle the bizarre set of circumstances, he uncovers a murder plot so roiled in deception and greed that lives and families are shattered forever.

The Night Of

My daughter recommended the HBO miniseries, The Night Of. So while visiting her, we watched several episodes. I was immediately hooked, so when I got home I bought the series and finished it the first night I was home. Now, I’m going to rewatch it with my husband. What makes this show so compelling? There were so many things done right: the story itself, the casting, the slow unraveling of the specifics of the case, the twists and turns. In a way the show reminded me of the real crime case of Adnan Syed on Serial, a podcast of The American Life. (If you haven’t listened to it, do.) The detectives made mistakes, the suspect, even more. I won’t tell you what they were because I don’t want to present spoilers. As a crime writer, I look for details in stories. I like accuracy and the only thing I’d say was missing from the investigation was the blood evidence on their suspect. If he’d killed the victim wearing clothing, there’d be blood all over his clothes, which they didn’t emphasize. If he wasn’t wearing clothing, he would be covered in blood and would have had to take a shower. The detectives would have checked the drains. Call me picky, but I like authenticity. However this is  minor compared to all that the director did right. I highly recommend this miniseries.

Crow Wing Dead, a Cal Sheehan mystery.


One Man’s Junk

The expression, One man’s junk is another’s treasure, came to my mind when I visited several antique stores in Alexandria, MN this past weekend. My husband and I were killing time before my signing at Cherry Street Books. (Delightful store, by the way. If you’re ever in Alex, shop there.) The biggest antique store had four levels. It was huge. Many items triggered a trip back in time: dishes similar to my mother’s, toys, hats, vinyl record albums, etc. There was so much to look at I felt overwhelmed, and two things became abundantly clear. First, items I’d been holding on to were worth a few dollars at most. Their value is therefore merely nostalgic. Oh well. Second, we humans are producing and purchasing objects, stuff, junk in huge amounts. Most of us have much more than we need and aren’t very good about recycling and using “old” things, stuff, objects, junk. We just buy and buy and buy. In one hundred years, will there be room for people?

Love those book clubs!

I LOVE going to book clubs, but this one was particularly interesting to me as a crime fiction writer because the members were  practicing attorneys and one judge. I believe I asked them as many questions as they asked me. It was an interesting and fun evening. Thanks to Debbie Russell for inviting me. IMG_2338.JPG

Cal’s Dog Bullet

Okay, his name is really “Tank” (He looks like one.) and he hangs out at Excelsior Bay Books and picks out a book of the week. He’s a wonderful dog and reminds me of our dear Otis whom we miss immensely. I think he likes the role of Bullet though.


The Launch of Crow Wing Dead

Please join me for the launch of Crow Wing Dead at Barnes and Noble, Maple Grove on Saturday, April 9 from 1:00 to 4:00.


How do I pick character names?

I’ve been asked many times where I get my characters’ names. Often, they just come to me. Sometimes I need to do a bit of research. For first names I often use a resource: A Treasury of Baby Names by Alan Benjamin, copywriter of 1983. (I originally purchased the book to help with a name project I used to do with my students; we would look up what their names meant.) I have used websites for popular names of decades or if I want need an ethnic name.

For surnames, I not only use common names in these parts (i.e.. Johnson, Nelson, Anderson), but names that strike me from television shows or movie credits, or even paper programs handed out at sporting events or performances.  I have been known to check out obituaries for surnames, as well. 

My main objective is to select a name which will fit the physical image I have of the character. I try to use names that have different beginning letters, so the characters names don’t all begin with K’s for example, so you’re being annoyed by Ken, Kerry, Kevin, Kirk, Kylie, Kathleen, Katie all appearing in the same novel. There have been occasions where I used same letter names purposefully, for example, Adam and Adriana in Silver’s Bones, so Cal can lament that his ex-girlfriend’s name begins with the same letter as her new husband’s.

The main character of my mystery series is Cal Sheehan. I wanted a first name which wasn’t common and one I liked because Cal is a likable character. When I grew up there was a family of Sheehans living in the next town, and I always like the sound of their last name. His name just came to me.

In my first novel, I purposefully neglected to use names of family and friends, mostly to protect their privacy. Except for Lake Emmaline. Emma is my granddaughter’s name. Then friends and family members alike started requesting I use their names. I warned them that my characters are often shady people who do evil things. Most said they didn’t care. Huh. So, although I can’t possibly fill all their requests, I’ve begun to allow myself to use names of people I know if their name fits a character I am imagining. I NEVER…I repeat…NEVER, EVER use real people I know in my books. If I have used a first name of someone I know, I never picture them as the character.  If I see a stranger in a public place that is interesting to me, I will use their look and make up a name to suit them. Malls are great places to discover such people. You see all kinds.

We humans are great fodder for the writer. We are full of flaws and shortcomings doing stupid mean things to each other, and yet at other times we are kind and generous. Our behavior is both predictable and unpredictable; our desires and goals can be honorable or dishonorable. If we were’t such an interesting species, we writers would have no material.

Author Spotlight