July 2014 Member Spotlight: Rita Marko

Letting the ‘monster’ out 

DS Rita Marko grad class crop




Rita Marko

by Laurie Fagen

A writer for more than 10 years – while working in corporate positions along the way – Rita Marko of Phoenix began penning her first manuscript while she was a planner for the Skokomish Indian Tribe near Shelton, WA.

“It started as a therapeutic response to frustration at working for an Indian community that was simply imploding: chronic poverty, multi-generational substance abuse, self-destructive internal politics and more,” she explains. “That first manuscript is the ‘monster in the box,’ borrowing a phrase from Spalding Gray. The second manuscript actually got lots of positive responses from agents, all of whom were ultimately put off by the subject matter [of] assisted suicide. The manuscript I’m working on now did not seem to start out as a mystery, but there’s a dead body and the characters are trying to figure out ‘who dunnit.’”

Marko describes her current project: “Guilt drives Maggie Boros to search for the killer of a Mexican woman she saw dragged off a Phoenix street, while fate leads her to Ofelia, a 12-year-old who’s come to El Norte in search of a mother she can barely remember.”
Marko won first prize for short fiction about 10 years ago from the Arizona Authors Association. And her favorite mystery writers?
“That’s a tough one. There are so many very fine writers, including members of Desert Sleuths. The ones I seem to return to again and again include Laurie King, Louise Penny and Julia Spencer-Fleming,” she says.

Corporate life
About a month ago, Marko became a management assistant in the City of Phoenix City Manager’s Office. But that was after spending seven years as Community Relations Manager for the Phoenix Public Library, where, among other duties, she developed websites and content for the library and Read On Phoenix. Another library position was as Phoenix Public Library Foundation Director, and fundraising has also been a major part of her career, having spent time as a grant writer for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

A member of Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths for about three years, she and other WriteNow! 2014 committee members researched, visited and proposed a new location for this year’s annual conference.

“I have enjoyed working with the committee on this year’s WriteNow! What a fabulous group of women! I am very much looking forward to the conference. It’s a great line up of authors – I anticipate learning much.”

She leaves this writing tip for members: “There is no substitute for simply applying your butt to the chair!”
Laurie Fagen, 2014 president of Desert Sleuths/SinC, is working on a crime fiction manuscript with a young radio reporter protagonist. She has short stories published in the past two Desert Sleuths’ anthologies, and is an Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine honorable mention winner. A former community newspaper publisher, Fagen is also an artist, art promoter and jazz singer. She just launched her new writing website: www.ReadLaurieFagen.com

June 2014 Member Spotlight: Cathy Ann Rogers

Cropped 35 PixlrUsing right, left brain alike

By Laurie Fagen



To find a number cruncher who is also a creative writer is an unusual combination, but Cathy Rogers of Phoenix, who writes under the name Cathy Ann Rogers, seemingly uses both the left and right sides of her brain equally.

She’s been an independent bookkeeping, tax and accounting professional in the Phoenix metropolitan area with her own company since 1993, having previously held positions at local companies since the ‘80s, and has been the SinC Desert Sleuths treasurer for three years.

But she debuted her first mystery book, Here Lies Buried, through her publishing company, Aquitaine, Ltd. this year, and is already working on the next in that series.

“I have been flattered to have fans of my book tell me they are excited for the sequel and I don’t want to disappoint them,” Rogers says.

While she says it took 15 years of delays and other procrastinations, Here Lies Buried is a contemporary murder mystery, reaching back to the perilous times of the early 20th century that changed the world’s political landscape. Rogers’ protagonist, Pilar Sagasta, steps into a world of mystery and intrigue when she journeys to Arizona to connect with distant relatives. Inspired by actual unsolved crimes in the Arizona Territory of the late 19th century, the story travels back and forth between the familiar, modern world and an early Arizona brought to life by the words in a forgotten diary. She recently finalized a deal to produce the audio version of Here Lies Buried this summer.

In addition, Rogers has an upcoming anthology of short stories titled “Heavy Mascara,” due out this summer. Another novel manuscript, “Deliberate Fools,” is also in the editing stage and set to be completed this summer. A future project, “Sick in Shadows,” is scheduled for fall 2014.

She has also published short stories in the Wizard of Words anthology, The Path Magazine, two Desert Sleuths anthologies, and in Mysterical-e and Twist of Noir, two online mystery magazines.

Rogers began reading mysteries in grade school, and enjoyed watching Sherlock Holmes on television.

“Looking back, I can see that I have studied the rhythms and patterns of the mystery novel from a young age, so it has not been a great leap to taking a story from my imagination to paper.”

Starting with Nancy Drew, she progressed to her favorite mystery writers including Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, then later to PD James, Carolyn Hart, Sue Grafton, Anne Perry, Elizabeth Peters, Martha Grimes, and Tony Hillerman.

Her writing tip for Desert Sleuths members comes from her early days of watching TV.

“I believe a child-like imagination and wonder are both essential to creating the inner world of a story,” she explains. “Keep the ability to create mental pictures and don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t achieve your dreams.”

She got involved in Desert Sleuths because she feels it is a “professional organization for professional writers and for those who aspire to be,” and knows how important it is “to be supportive of one another.”

Hers was not an easy path to publication, but she urges writers “to not be afraid to stumble and make mistakes … and not to be discouraged by the naysayers.”

Upcoming events for Rogers include sharing a writing workshop for adults at the Red Mountain Branch Library with Dana King-Esquer from 1-4 p.m. Thu., July 12; and she will be participating in the Anthology 2013 reception and will speak about her book from 2-4 p.m. Sat., June 28 at the Vision Gallery in downtown Chandler. She has a tentative signing at Bookman’s at 19th Avenue and Northern with other anthology authors. For details on these and other events, visit www.cathyannrogers.com.


Laurie Fagen, 2014 president of Desert Sleuths/SinC, is working on a crime fiction manuscript with a young radio reporter protagonist. She has short stories published in the past two Desert Sleuths’ anthologies, and is an Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine honorable mention winner. A former community newspaper publisher, Fagen is also an artist, art promoter and jazz singer.

May 2014 Member Spotlight: Timothy Moore

Police detective brings street creds to DS

By Laurie Fagen

DS Tim Moore

“You’re under arrest.”

That’s how Phoenix Police Department Detective Timothy Moore started a Desert Sleuths meeting recently when he was the guest speaker, talking about apprehension procedures. It’s a phrase he knows well from his 28 years with Phoenix P.D., and previous four as a Maricopa County deputy sheriff.

He took his first creative writing class from Nancy McCurry at a local community college, and she invited him to attend a Desert Sleuths conference.

“I was so impressed I had to join,” he adds.

Moore says his daily life will make great content for his crime novels.

“Over the years, I worked a wide range of detective assignments with some really great detectives with good supervisors,” he recalls. “I have had the opportunity to investigate a myriad of crimes and I thought someone might want to read some true crime stories. I can write police reports all day, but they’re not a good read for normal book readers.”

He’s been writing true crime stories for the Phoenix Police Museum’s “Historian” newsletter, and is currently working on a story about a landmark case that involves another familiar phrase: “You have the right to remain silent.”

The working title is “Miranda and the Phoenix Police Department,” about the Arizona arrest 50 years ago that saw Ernesto Miranda’s confession thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court because his rights weren’t protected.

“I’ve interviewed the arresting officer, Carroll Cooley, Miranda’s family members, and my research should reveal a snapshot of the Phoenix Police Department in 1963.”

His favorite writers include James Ellroy and James Patterson, “because he (Patterson) has some really good women authors writing his series of books.”

He’s also a fan of the local Desert Sleuths anthologies, and adds individual Desert Sleuths member authors to his preferred list, including Deborah J Ledford and her three-book series and audio book; Kris Neri, Pascal Marco, Art Kerns, Clark Lohr, Cathy Rogers and the writing team of Sally Smith and Jean Steffens.

Now coming up on his fourth year as an active member of Desert Sleuths, he’s helped with a variety of projects, including Tucson Festival of Books, the Nuts & Bolts workshop and more.

“I have found that volunteering on committees, speaking on police topics and consulting writers on police issues is pretty fulfilling.”


Laurie Fagen, 2014 president of Desert Sleuths/SinC, is working on a crime fiction manuscript with a young radio reporter protagonist. She has short stories published in the past two Desert Sleuths’ anthologies, and is an Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine honorable mention winner. A former community newspaper publisher, Fagen is also an artist, art promoter and jazz singer.

April 2014 Member Spotlight: Jacinda Power

Arizona’s ‘Bones’ 

By Laurie Fagen

ds Jacinda Powers

International traveler Jacinda Power of Chandler, who has lived abroad for a number of years, says being “obsessed” with mystery novels as a child in Kansas makes writing mysteries an integral part of who she is. 

“I frequently ran around the back yard with a magnifying glass pretending to be Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew or Encyclopedia Brown,” she quips.

Her interest in law enforcement also began very early.  At 16, she was selected to participate in the Kansas Highway Patrol Cadet Academy and later won a Fraternal Order of Police college scholarship.

By high school graduation, she had decided the forensic sciences would be an excellent career path, despite no degrees offered in the field at that time. A Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent advised her to “get the most unconventional and broad experience you can to distinguish yourself from the rest of the applicants.”

While attending Wichita State University, working on a BS in Biology/minor in Chemistry, she was employed with their Administration of Justice Department, where she met well-known law enforcement professionals, assisted her criminalistics/firearm professor in trajectory re-enactments and had enough credits for a second minor in Administration of Justice.  She learned the basics of forensic anthropology from Dr. Peer Moore-Jansen and Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, both of whom instilled her passion for the subject.

She holds a Master’s of Science degree from the University of Sheffield (UK) in Biomolecular Archaeology, which is the scientific analysis of biological materials from ancient source material.

That was the start of her interest in bones, and after getting married, she and her husband moved to Ireland where she analyzed skeletal remains in sites that were anticipating construction.

“I would clean and reconstruct the skeletons, and assess sex, age, height and any health issue that might have left its signature in the bones or teeth of the individual.”

A return to the U.S. took her to Virginia Commonwealth University to be part of a team that sequenced bacterial genomes, and later, research regarding cancer “suicide” pathways.  Her research has been published in several medical/scientific journals and one in a European archaeological journal.

Fast forward nearly eight years and three children later, Power has been working on a manuscript that includes a postdoc anthropologist protagonist, also trained in biomolecular archaeology, who will get involved in archaeological and current investigations.

Favorite mystery authors include Matthew Cox, Matthew Pearl, Thomas Harris, Michael Gruber, Deborah J Ledford, Alan Bradley and Jasper Fforde.

She calls meeting Desert Sleuths “serendipity,” and has jumped in to help co-chair the Nuts & Bolts writing conference in April.

“I hope to make lifelong friendships here, as well as look forward to learning the craft from all of you.”


Laurie Fagen, 2014 president of Desert Sleuths/SinC, is working on a crime fiction manuscript with a young radio reporter protagonist. She has short stories published in the past two Desert Sleuths’ anthologies, and is an Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine honorable mention winner. A former community newspaper publisher, Fagen is also an artist, art promoter and jazz singer.


March 2014 Member Spotlight: Eileen Brady

Write what you know

By Laurie Fagen

ds eileen bradyWriters often have varied backgrounds, and Eileen Brady of Scottsdale is no exception. From acting in New York City and singing jingles for radio and television, to working for an architect; from writing for the Scottsdale Tribune to helping with PR for Paradise Valley Community College, it was a her job as a veterinary assistant that “profoundly” influenced her life.

“My coworkers encouraged me to go to veterinary school, traveling all the way to Bologna, Italy to earn my degree,” she says.

With her veterinarian husband, they practiced in Staten Island, upstate New York and now in Scottsdale at the Scaredy Cat Hospital.

That profession also steered her to write the first in a series of mysteries. Originally titled “Dog Shows are Murder,” Muzzled, a Kate Turner, D.V.M. Mystery, is the 2013 winner of the Discovery Mystery Contest and is being published by the Poisoned Pen Press for release May 6. It’s the story of Turner, “who stumbles upon a murder during a house call. When the investigation stalls, Turner tries to find the killer, as her eccentric clients supply her with humorous, helpful and not so helpful clues. The plot may be fiction but the veterinary medicine is real.”

She gives kudos to her editor.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be edited by Barbara Peters, whose edits not only made sense but tightened up the manuscript in all the right places,” she notes.

She’s currently finishing the second in the series, called “Unleashed.” The tagline: “This time it’s personal, as one of her veterinary technicians is accused of murder.”

The urge to write started with a picture book she thought would “amuse” her daughters, but this Agatha Christie enthusiast quickly got an idea for a mystery and jumped into Rob Hall’s novel writing class at Scottsdale Community College. There she met other writers, including Desert Sleuths member Betty Webb, and joined her critique group.

“The support of this group was instrumental in strengthening my writing skills,” she adds. “I also attended plenty of writers’ conferences and always came away with something useful.”

She describes her reading as “pretty eclectic,” especially since she is now a book reviewer for Mystery Scene Magazine.

“I love Lee Child, Val McDermid, James Rollins and closer to home, Donis Casey, James Sallis, Brent Ghelfi, Dana Stabenow and the list goes on.”

Her advice for Desert Sleuths members? “Write something every day. Even if what you write is awful. That’s what rewrites are for!”

For more, visit her website at www.eileenbradymysteries.com and on Facebook at Eileen Brady, Author.


Laurie Fagen, 2014 president of Desert Sleuths/SinC, is working on a crime fiction manuscript with a young radio reporter protagonist. She has short stories published in the past two Desert Sleuths’ anthologies, and is an Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine honorable mention winner. A former community newspaper publisher, Fagen is also an artist, art promoter and jazz singer.

February 2014 Member Spotlight: Karen Randau

From non-fiction to fiction

By Laurie Fagen

DS Karen Randau

As a long-time non-fiction writer, Karen Randau of Payson has been a wordsmith for a variety of nonprofits, high-tech firms, hospitals, food banks and more. With a degree in journalism, she’s spent most of her career developing marketing copy, and was marketing director for Charter Hospital and Hope Community hospitals in Phoenix, and marketing communications manager for Texas Instruments in Austin, and Intel in both Austin and Phoenix. Randau has been affiliated with the international nonprofit Food for the Hungry in Phoenix since 1990 in a variety of positions, including newsletter editor; founder of the Communications Department; manager of content and marketing for the website; senior director of church and volunteer ministries; and now as communications director. But there wasn’t a lot of time for reading fiction.

“Family and work consumed most of my time, so pleasure reading held a distant spot in my priorities,” she recalls. “I’d wait until my son and husband were on a Boy Scout trip and spend the weekend lost in a great book or three.”

Mysteries with “lots of action and a little romance” were her first choices. Chances are they were written by Janet Evanovich or Nevada Barr, featuring a woman named “Anna Pigeon,” who she says “leads the kind of life my characters do.” She adds she’s “consumed all of the books by Kris Neri, Deb Ledford and Hank Phillippi Ryan.”

Now, with her son grown and her career well established, she’s been wondering “What’s next for me?” It appears mystery writing might be the answer.

“My son came home from a camping trip one day and told me about a creature he and his friends saw on the abandoned ranch where they spent the night,” she recalls. “By the next day, I had a concept for a mystery novel all worked out in my head, featuring that creature. I wrote the first draft in the next few months and had it edited twice. Then I decided I should probably learn how to write novels, so I took a class and rewrote my manuscript again. A year later, my fifth ‘final’ draft is in review. Here’s a blog post I wrote about my journey: karenrandau.com/journey/.”

The manuscript is called “Hushed,” about an Arizona forest ranger and his county sheriff father “who must stop a ruthless murderer before the killer annihilates them and their family.” She says it has a forest creature in it.

Meanwhile, Randau has non-fiction books in print, including Life Doesn’t Have to Hurt, 1991, Thomas Nelson Publishing: a mother and daughter tell their story of abuse and betrayal and offer insights on how to recognize and deal with child sexual abuse; Conquering Fear, 1992, Word/Rapha: advice on overcoming crippling fear, used in the Rapha recovery program; and Panic Attacks, 1992, Word/Rapha: advice on overcoming panic attacks, used in the Rapha recovery program.

Meanwhile, she’s also writing her blog, where she interviews published mystery authors.

She says she learned that “novel writing is different than any other kind of writing,” and gives this tip to Desert Sleuths members:

“Even if you’re an accomplished writer, start your novel by learning about mystery structure, plot and character development and point of view. It will save you a lot of time. Once you do the proper up-front planning, you can focus on what you love most: writing a top-notch mystery.”

For more on Randau, visit her website at karenrandau.com.


Laurie Fagen, 2014 president of Desert Sleuths/SinC, is working on a crime fiction manuscript with a young radio reporter protagonist. She has short stories published in the past two Desert Sleuths’ anthologies, and isan Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine honorable mention winner. A former community newspaper publisher, Fagen is also an artist, art promoter and jazz singer.

January 2014 Member Spotlight: Kris Tualla

Writer bridges mystery, romance genres

By Laurie Fagen

DS Kris TuallaWriters typically strive to develop unusual, interesting heroes for their stories, and Kris Tualla has landed on a very original character for her mystery series, A Discreet Gentleman. Initially wanting to create a historical deaf hero, she made him a private investigator in early 1700s Norway who lost his hearing at age seven. So, in addition to creating believable dialogue, she also includes some sign language descriptions.

Her five-book series with Desert Breeze Publishing includes A Discreet Gentleman of Discovery, about a serial killer; A Discreet Gentleman of Matrimony, detailing a murder behind locked doors, which also received Coffee Time Romance’s highest award; A Discreet Gentleman of Consequence that includes a Ponzi-type scheme; A Discreet Gentleman of Intrique about international politics; A Discreet Gentleman of Mystery complete with a Hansen Manor Floorplan, Royal Family Tree of Characters and Stefan’s Journey Map on her website. It includes a blurb for A Woman of Choice from Scottsdale’s Diana Gabaldon, best-selling author of the highly acclaimed Outlander series.

This Jill of many trades ­– former high school special education teacher, fast-food server and travel agent among them – grew up on the Nancy Drew series, saying “she transported me to another world.”

Also a romance writer and active member of Romance Writers of America, she created Arizona’s first romance-reader event called “Arizona Dreamin’” which is slated for May 30 to June 1 at Chandler’s The Windmill Inn & Suites.

Tualla has also written two Kindle books for writers: A Primer for Beginning Authors and Becoming an Authorpreneur, both available through her website or on Amazon.com. Often heard exclaiming her tagline “Norway is the new Scotland!” Tualla is an enthusiastic speaker and teacher who talks to groups about book promotion, branding, book trailers, adding humor and more.

She’s currently working on a new Renaissance trilogy, but says crimes might “pop up” in them as well, and turn them into mysteries.

She shares a writing tip with Desert Sleuths’ members about encouraging beta or first readers for your manuscripts.

“Have several people read your work and give you honest feedback before you submit or publish. Too many aspiring authors are skipping that important step, and self-publishing bad manuscripts,” she explains.

This busy author and mother of four can be found at a number of book-signing events this spring: She’ll be at the Chocolate Affaire in Glendale from Feb. 7-9, with info at www.eventcrazy.com/Glendale-AZ/events/details/51260-Glendale-Chocolate-Affaire; Tucson Festival of Books March 15-16, www.tucsonfestivalofbooks.org and Desert Dreams book signing at Tempe Mission Palms in Tempe from 7 to 8:30 p.m. April 5,  www.desertroserwa.org/conferences/Phoenix-Romance-Writers-Book-Signing.php.

Above all, she leaves us with this advice: “Write what you read, write what you love, and write what you can be proud of.”

Laurie Fagen, 2014 president of Desert Sleuths/SinC, has her second short story published in SoWest: Crime Time, and is working on a crime fiction manuscript with a young radio reporter protagonist. An Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine honorable mention winner and former community newspaper publisher, Fagen is also an artist, art promoter and jazz singer.

December 2013 Member Spotlight: Susan Cummins Miller

DS Susan Cummins MillerHeroine Takes on Writer’s Unique Career

by Laurie Fagen 

Many writers tap into their professional backgrounds ­– as police officers, television reporters, FBI agents ­– to create characters and settings. So does Susan Cummins Miller of Tucson, but her credentials and interest in geology, oceanography, paleontology and archeology, to name a few, make for a distinctive protagonist in her “Frankie MacFarlane, Geologist” mystery series. She now has five books published, one due out in 2014 and another one she’s currently working on.

Following a decade as a field geologist with the US Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management and Minerals Management Service in Menlo Park, CA, Cummins Miller was “reorganized out of a job.” Her first son had just been born, so she began teaching geology and oceanography in the San Francisco area, and says she planned to return to field geology and pursue a Ph.D. when her boys were in school full time.

“But a move to Washington, D.C. confirmed that my eldest son was a special-needs child,” she explains. “Although no one could put a name to his particular suite of problems – much later identified as Asperger’s Syndrome – I recognized that he required a structured environment and intense parenting.”

Four years later, the family moved to Tucson, and Cummins Miller looked for a way to work from home that would allow her to keep her hand in geoscience, ecology, literature and history – through writing crime fiction.

Her first in this series, Death Assemblage, published in 2002 by Texas Tech University Press, sees Frankie MacFarlane studying Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary rocks in the mountains west of Pair-a-Dice, Nevada. But the discovery of two bodies disrupts her research, and “embroils her in a web of ancient and recent murders, a manhunt, kidnappings and blackmail.”

Detachment Fault, 2004, finds her heroine investigating three deaths, the antiquities trade and international money-laundering, and the book was a finalist in the Adult Fiction category of the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Book Award, and received honorable mention in ForeWord Magazine’s 2004 Books of the Year.

In 2006, Quarry was published, set in the arroyos and volcanic mesas of the Cady Mountains in the Mojave Desert. It won the Turquoise Award in mystery for the 2007 New Mexico Book of the Year competition; was a finalist in Contemporary Fiction in the 2007 WILLA Award; was a Gold Award mystery winner for ForeWord Magazine’s 2006 Books of the Year; and was named Notable Book by the 2006 Southwest Books of the Year.

Hoodoo, 2008, revolves around the death of an environmental lawyer in the volcanic hoodoos of Chiricahua National Monument. It was a finalist for contemporary fiction in the 2009 WILLA Award; got a Bronze Award in mystery from ForeWord Magazine’s 2008 Books of the Year; and was the Panelists’ Pick (Notable Book), for 2008 Southwest Books of the Year.

Then Fracture, 2011, takes MacFarlane from Tucson to the San Francisco Peninsula to find clues about a valuable coin collection and a mysterious chess set. It was a 2012 WILLA Award finalist for Contemporary Fiction; 2012 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award Finalist in fiction’s mystery/suspense category; was a finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s 2011 Book-of-the-Year Award; and was a Notable Book in the 2011 Southwest Books of the Year.

The sixth in the series, CHASM, slated for publication in 2014, finds MacFarlane riding the rapids down the Colorado River.

Her current mystery writing project is Rift, where Frankie MacFarlane uncovers clues to the murder of her Lipan Apache great-great-grandmother, set in Rio Grande Rift in New Mexico.

Currently a research affiliate for the Southwest Institute for Research on Women (SIROW) at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Cummins Miller took a “detour” to publish an anthology: A Sweet, Separate Intimacy: Women Writers of the American Frontier, 1800-1922.

Short Stories, Writer Favorites

As a short story writer, the Southern Arizona resident notes her “Owlshead Stew” was published by The Story Teller through the Society of Southwestern Authors. It’s the story of a young woman living on an isolated West Texas ranch at the turn of the 20th century who brings her sister’s rapists to justice. In “The Diorama,” published in A Way with Murder: an Anthology by Arizona Mystery Writers in Tucson, a young boy describes discovering his mother’s body and the clue to the killer’s identity.

Cummins Miller says she loves the “classical” crime writers: Poe, Conan Doyle, Chandler, Hammett, Faulkner, Ross MacDonald, Christie, Flannery O’Connor and Graham Green. She says her “bookshelves are full” of John D. MacDonald, Tony Hillerman, P.D. James, Ellis Peters, Ruth Rendell, Joyce Carol Oates, T. Jefferson Parker, Sue Grafton, Laurie R. King, Elizabeth Gunn, J.M. Hayes and “too many others to list.”

Booksignings, Writing Tips

Cummins Miller will be at the Tucson Festival of the Book (TFOB) Sat. and Sun., March 15-16, 2014 on the campus of the University of Arizona, where she will take part in panel discussions and book signings. For her schedule, visit www. tucsonfestivalofbooks.org. She recently spoke at Clues Unlimited Mystery Bookstore in Tucson, at an event sponsored by the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America; and was on a panel at TFOB earlier this month.

She shares this writing tip with members: “Books and stories come to fruition during the revision process. But, as a wise writing teacher once told me, ‘You can’t rewrite what isn’t written.’”

She adds that she’s never met an “overnight success” writer, though many “new” authors are touted as such.

“A successful career means tying yourself to your chair, putting words on the computer screen, finishing, revising, polishing, sending out, networking at conferences and workshops – and repeating that sequence ad infinitum.”

For details, visit www.susancumminsmiller.com.

Laurie Fagen, member and incoming president of Desert Sleuths/SinC, has her second short story published in SoWest: Crime Time, and is working on a crime fiction manuscript with a young radio reporter protagonist. An Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine honorable mention winner and former community newspaper publisher, Fagen is also an artist, art promoter and jazz singer.

November 2013 Member Spotlight: Shannon Baker

Shannon Baker - DS newsletter 11.13Moving to Full-Time Writing
by Laurie Fagen

It was a simple fill-in-the-blank question, but mystery writer Shannon Baker laughed when she answered where she lives.

“City, that’s funny,” she emails. “Tucson sometimes. Recently from Flagstaff, then up to Colorado. Yesterday we sold our house in Boulder and we’ll be living in McCook, Nebraska for 610 days. Then back to Tucson full time.”

The former accountant – “My day job quit me in April” – Baker and her family are moving from her “favorite place” in the Rockies back to the Midwest, where she lived for 20 years, and are reconfiguring their lives so she can be a full-time writer.

And it’s a good thing, considering she has two books being released in the next couple of years, and is chomping at the bit to start yet another one.

Yes, It’s A Series
Baker thought her first book would be considered a thriller. She sold it to Midnight Ink and her editor said, “Oh no, this is a medium boil mystery.” Then she asked if it was a stand-alone or a series.

“I didn’t hesitate and said, ‘Series.’ Then I had to figure out how to write a series,” she quips.

Now with three books in the Nora Abbott mystery series, her first, Tainted Mountain, was released this past March 2013 by Midnight Ink. It’s set in Flagstaff and involves man-made snow, uranium mining in the Grand Canyon, Hopi spirituality and murder. It’s a finalist in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards.

She says Broken Trust, the second in the Nora Abbott series, will release in March 2014. It takes place in Boulder, CO and involves Tesla towers, Hopi kachinas, a corrupt environmental nonprofit and a threat to one of the world’s greatest natural assets.

Her third, with a working title of Tattered Legacy, will release in March 2015. With a setting of Moab, UT, it has a clash of Hopi and Mormon traditions, as well as Canyonlands National Park and, “of course, more murder.”

Writing Groups Essential
Baker says she’s “been honored” to have had mystery stories published in the Desert Sleuths anthologies, Desert Justice and Crime Time, and credits “great writing organizations” such as Desert Sleuths as being very important to her.

“The support, information and real help is essential,” she explains. “Thanks, Sisters In Crime and Desert Sleuths, for all you do. I’m also a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, which is an amazing group. And Mystery Writers of America. Writers are the best people on earth!”

To other writers, her “first and best tip is to write.”

“Touch the ball every day, as basketball players would say,” she notes. “The other thing I’d add is to trust the process. For most of us, even detailed plotters, it’s messy and difficult and in every book there is a pit of despair. You swear the book is rubbish and can’t be repaired. Just keep working. You’ll get it.”

Reading, Signing
As a reader, she says she’s “playing catch-up” in the crime genre, and didn’t read mysteries until she started writing them. She says she’s now sampling many, and is particularly “loving” the Longmire series by Craig Johnson and has enjoyed the Murder by the Month series by Jess Lourey.

Meanwhile, she has a few scheduled appearances down the road for the release of Broken Trust, but prior to that, she’s slated to appear at the Barnes and Noble in Denver with fellow Midnight Ink writers on Nov. 30, along with another Desert Sleuths member, Meagan Beaumont. Baker says it will be cold in Denver by then, but welcomes any Arizonans to make the trek. Then in March she’ll be at Left Coast Crime in Monterey.

When she’s not moving back and forth across the country, she enjoys backpacking, skiing, kayaking and cycling. For more details, visit www.Shannon-Baker.com.

Laurie Fagen, member and incoming president of Desert Sleuths/SinC, has her second short story published in SoWest: Crime Time, and is working on a mystery manuscript with a young radio reporter protagonist. An Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine honorable mention winner and former community newspaper publisher, Fagen is also an artist, art promoter and jazz singer.

October 2013 Member Spotlight: Margaret Morse

DS Margaret morseLawyer Moves From Courtroom to Mystery Page
by Laurie Fagen

As an attorney for more than 25 years, Margaret Morse handled cases ranging from “shoplifting mascara to first degree murder” for the Maricopa County Public Defender’s Office. So, in addition to being “a tremendous fan of mysteries,” it’s little wonder when she retired, Morse pursued her lifelong dream of becoming a crime fiction writer. She took courses at PhoenixCollege from James Sallis and Stella Pope Duarte, “two brilliant writers,” she says, and joined Desert Sleuths.

“The organization provided me with ongoing education about writing crime fiction, as well as surrounding me with supportive friends,” she adds.
Her favorite writers include those from the “Golden Age” such as Agatha Christie and Rex Stout, and Morse always reads the newest works by Louise Penny, Deborah Crombie, Rhys Bowen and Donna Andrews.

Attorney Sleuths Solves Crimes
Morse’s professional background finds its way into her short story writing, including in “First Contact,” where a novice attorney “fumbles then recovers and successfully handles her first day as a public defender;” and in “Tiger Lady,’ where “an irascible older attorney learns to work with her laid-back funky new assistant.” Both were published in “Arizona Attorney” magazine, a monthly publication of the State Bar of Arizona.

Morse has also had four short stories accepted for Desert Sleuths’ anthologies: “She’s Making You Crazy,” in How to Survive a Vacation, 2010, about a woman having to defend herself from a crazed stalker while on vacation in Santa Fe; and “Not My Brother’s Keeper,” So West, So Wild, 2011, where a man goes rogue to defeat a step brother who frames him for attempted murder. In “Someone Won’t Leave Alive,” So West: Desert Justice, 2012, a man leads a haunted house tour, then finds a dead body and an unlikely killer; and in “Make the Final Cut,” So West: Crime Time, 2013: to protect her father, a woman tries to hush up a scandal that explodes into violence.

When she’s not taking care of her nine “mutt” rescue dogs, Morse is currently polishing “Rule Change,” a paranormal mystery about an attorney, Petra Rakowitz, who turns out to be the prime suspect in a murder. Rakowitz has to conquer her inner demons and discover a murderer who uses magic to kill.

Morse Offers Writing Tips
Morse, who lives in the South Mountain area of Phoenix with her husband, Duane, shares writing tips with members.
“Write every day,” she advises. “The more you write, the better you write.”
In addition, she suggests, “Write from your heart,” and “Keep the reader in mind: if I were the reader, what scene would I like to see next?”
Laurie Fagen, a Desert Sleuths/SinC member, has her second short story published in SoWest: Crime Time, and is an Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine honorable mention winner. She is also the former publisher of a community newspaper, and is an artist, art promoter and jazz singer.