Author Archives: Vinnie Hansen

Six-Degrees to Success

by Vinnie Hansen

Misterio Press authors Kassandra Lamb and Shannon Esposito both live in Florida and are dealing with Hurricane Irma. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Since I’m safely located in California, I’m filling in today for Kassandra with an updated repost. 

Authors, even well known ones, can find themselves at events where few people attend. I once did a book talk and signing with the famous Laurie R. King at a local bookstore. The audience was fewer than a dozen people.

Laurie King and Vinnie

Laurie R. King and me

It’s comforting at such moments to remember the six-degrees-of-separation theory–that everyone is connected, by six or fewer steps, with everyone else. A friend of a friend of a friend knows your friend… At some events, we might not sell a single book, but who knows where the connections might lead.

Last year, I was invited to join in Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries, a boxed set of 10 full-length books featuring murder and assorted mayhem by 10 authors. The collection offers 3,000 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuths, capers, and cozy mysteries, with a combined total of over 1700 reviews on Amazon, averaging 4 stars!

I am not nearly as well known as the other authors in this collection. I can only speculate how my name was thrown into the hat for this great, good fortune.

I could have been chosen for my scintillating personality. However, I suspect the invitation arose from my participation in some past event.

Sleuthing Women boxed set cover

There’s my Murder, Honey, all the way to the right

The initial contact about the boxed set came from Camille Minichino, a fellow member of the Northern California Chapter of Sisters in Crime. We first did an event together back in 2005, a book-signing fundraiser for a high school library! So maybe this current opportunity was set in motion on that long ago, and long April afternoon.

While Camille informed me of the project, if I were to lay a bet on how I came to be accepted in Sleuthing Women, it would be that I guest-blogged—twice—on Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, the site of Lois Winston, organizer of the boxed set. I wrote decent pieces, met my deadlines, and persuaded others to visit the posts.

Guest blogging can seem like a dead-end with no obvious sales bump. On the other hand, in this case my participation may have pushed the first domino that led to my inclusion in Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries.

To go back to that sparsely attended high-school fundraiser, I shared a table that afternoon with Cara Black. Cara later became a very well known mystery writer, who supplied me with a blurb that I use on everything.

I could list for pages, the lackluster events that manifested valuable friendships and worthwhile connections. So even on those rainy evening book talks with five people in the audience, I give my all. You just never know which of those people might know someone who knows someone….

And now my participation in Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries has led to Sleuthing Women II: 10 Mystery Novellas. One thing leads to another.

What about you–have you ever had some seemingly mundane connection lead to something bigger? Do you believe in the six-degrees-of-separation theory?

Available now for just $.99 on  AMAZON    APPLE    KOBO    BARNES & NOBLE

Sleuthing Women II: 10 Mystery Novellas is a collection of ten mysteries featuring murder and assorted mayhem by ten critically acclaimed, award-winning, and bestselling authors. Each novella is a tie-in to an established multi-book series—a total of over 800 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuth, caper, cozy, and female P.I. mysteries.

Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her cozy noir mystery series, the Carol Sabala mysteries, is set in Santa Cruz, California.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

An Unusual Occurrence at Usal Beach by Stuart Thornton

We have a special guest today–travel writer Stuart Thornton–as well as a an amazing giveaway with mysteries, cookies, travel books, and bookstore credit!

Now here’s Stuart to tell you the tale of one of his many adventures:

An Unusual Occurrence at Usal Beach

While researching my Moon Coastal California guidebook, I had an evening that played out more like a scene in a mystery novel than a night of notetaking. It all occurred at Usal Beach, which is located on a remote stretch of California coastline within Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.
The expanse of dark sand and the rustic campground behind it was everything a Northern California beach should be: wild, powerful, and mysterious.

My friend Shane and I pitched a tent away from a herd of Roosevelt elk with antlers as large as chandeliers. We watched the sunset fall into the ocean like a giant ember and then cooked up a fine campfire meal while listening to a North Coast pirate radio station on my small camp radio. After a couple of beers, we each retired to our own tent for the evening.
Fzzzow. Fzzzooooow. Ffffzzooooooowwwww. I woke up to the sound of gunshots near our campsite. Outside the full moon seemed to shine down on my tent like a spotlight.

I reached for my cell phone. “3:03 A.M.,” it glared at me ominously.

In the distance, I could hear Shane snoring in his tent. Then ffffzzzzzzoooooooowwww. I grew up around hunting and guns, but this shot sounded cold, metallic, evil. It also sounded like the shooter was coming closer. I sat up in my tent, and I felt as alone as I’d ever felt in my life.

Fffffffffzzzzzzooooooowwwww. Shane suddenly stopped snoring. “Did you hear that?” I whispered to him.

“Yeah, I heard that,” he said. “It’s not good.”

We both lay still in our tents. I began thinking about why someone would be firing a gun this late. It could be drunken locals, but there was no boisterous shouts or loud music. Maybe the shooter was trying to scare off a bear or an elk?  But only a shot or two would probably be needed to do that. My next thought: What if it’s a murderer?

Ffffzzzoooooowww. Another shot. I started thinking of survival. In the tent, I felt as helpless as a fish caught in a net. Someone could just walk up and blast the tent with bullets and that would be it.

“Want to meet outside?” Shane called out.

“Yes,” I said softly.

I scrambled outside my tent and soon Shane and I were standing out in the moonlight. Though we were in the open, it felt good to have someone around.

“What if it is someone walking around popping campers?” Shane said, echoing what I was thinking.

I shivered uncontrollably. It was not because of the cold outside.

“I did bring this for bears,” Shane said and slid the handle of a pistol out of the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. It was somewhat reassuring, but it didn’t vanquish all of my fear.

We got into his car. Shane sat in the driver’s seat with his hand fingering the butt of the gun like it was a lucky coin. I sat in the passenger seat and tried to look outside the rapidly fogging windows.

Around 50 feet away in the woods, a light appeared. Ffffzzzoooooowww. The light was gone right as the shot rang out. It was like it had been blasted out of existence. Farther away, a car alarm went off.

“We need to get out of here,” he said.

Shane and I made it out, up and over the steep, mountainous road to the highway. We scanned the local newspapers the next morning expecting to read about a multiple homicide at Usal Beach, but there was nothing. I later talked to a park ranger about the incident, but he just called the park “The Wild West.”

While travelers may, understandably, not be comfortable with the sound of gunshots while sleeping, Usal Beach did make it into Moon Coastal California as one of the best beaches for wildlife in the state. I warn about the firearms for other prospective campers, but whatever happened in the hours after midnight at that remote California beach is still a mystery to me.

Stuart Thornton Bio

Stuart Thornton fell in love with the California coast while working at the Big Sur Ranger Station after college. At work, he provided visitors with all sorts of information about the region, from the best places to camp to the best meal in the area. On his days off, he took his own advice and regularly sought out the best spots for hiking, backpacking, surfing, and snorkeling along that striking coastal region.

Stuart later moved to nearby Monterey to become a staff writer for the Monterey County Weekly, which he still contributes to. He is the proud author of Moon Coastal California, Moon Santa Barbara & The Central Coast, Moon Monterey & Carmel, and Moon California Road Trip. In addition, Stuart has contributed to National Geographic Education, Relix Magazine, and Ed Grant’s Piers of the California Coast, a coffee table book highlighting the Golden State’s piers and wharves.

He spends his time off searching for the next secluded beach, uncrowded wave, or mountain top vista. Learn more about his adventures and projects by visiting www.stuartthornton.com.

And now for that amazing giveaway I promised! Check it out–travel books, a full-set of my mysteries,  Santa Cruz Cookie Company cookies, and a $200 gift certificate at Bookshop Santa Cruz (or a bookstore of your choice). 

Enter here.

Now, what is your spookiest travel adventure?

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. ? )

Re-story-a-tion: Reviving An Old Creation

by Vinnie Hansen

If February 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper died in an airplane crash, is The Day the Music Died, then 2016 is The Year The Music Died. Consider this partial list: David Bowie, Glen Frey, Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Sharon Jones, and George Michael.

The deaths hit music lovers of a certain age hard. And, for me, 2016 went out with a bang—four deaths in my broader circle of friends, all people in their sixties and seventies.

My novel Lostart Street rose from these ashes.

The deaths prompted my husband and me to make a living trust. During the grueling process, I reviewed my old will in which I’d left money and directions for the publication of my file-cabinet novel Love on Lostart Street.

Over the years, a couple of publishers had nibbled at the novel, so I knew it contained tempting morsels. But what a task to leave to someone! I was the one best equipped to bring the novel to fruition, especially if the ladies at misterio press gave the project a nod.

One of the best parts of working with a small, collaborative press is the flexibility and freedom in what we can try. The ladies agreed to the publication although the title quickly changed to Lostart Street, because, as Kassandra Lamb pointed out, we don’t want readers to think the book is a romance.

But Lostart Street is not our usual mystery fare, either. It’s a cross-genre mash-up that I call “a novel of mystery, murder, and moonbeams. “

Even though the novel was already written and I had seven mysteries and numerous short stories under my belt, preparing Lostart Street for publication proved to be the toughest writing task I’ve faced.

First, the novel is personal. The protagonist is a twenty-eight-year-old would-be writer who abandons her life in San Francisco to accept a teaching position in a small California coast town.  This is my background, and the struggles of a first-year teacher certainly figure in the book.

A cartoon drawn for me by one of my first-year students. Bless his heart.

So I  worried myself into sleepless nights that readers would think the main character is me.

I reminded myself that when I created Carol Sabala, the protagonist in my mystery series, I went out of my way to make her different than I am. She’s half-Mexican American and a baker who becomes a P.I. She’s younger, taller, and more athletic with long wavy auburn hair. She grew up in California, came from a small family . . . .

It didn’t matter. Readers told me that they imagined Carol Sabala as me! Me—investigating murders, breaking and entering, propelling from rooftops? We can’t control what goes on in the minds of our readers, so why worry about it.

Nonetheless, in the front of Lostart Street I added to the usual disclaimer “not a single occurrence actually happened, or if it did, not at the time or in the context or with the people or in the manner depicted.”

But I faced another, much tougher issue. Lostart Street is set in 1982. I didn’t write it in 1982, but I started it much closer to 1982 than I am now. So when I pulled the book out of the file cabinet to rework it, I realized I’d become a better writer than I was then. The problem became how to apply my developed skills to this older work without erasing what made it unique and charming in the first place.

Twenty-eight-year-old self.

My sixty-year-old self.

Back in 1987, I was lucky enough to see the Sistine Chapel while the restoration of its ceiling was in progress. This project was, and remains, controversial. People had grown accustomed to the look of the art covered with hundreds of years of grime. Some art critics even argued that the change over the years was the natural evolution of the frescoes and cleaning them was a travesty.

Now, not to compare myself to Michelangelo, but the process of restoration, or re-story-a-tion, of Lostart Street, created a similar dilemma. How did I apply the cleaner—scrubbing at adverbs and metaphors and multiple points of view—without losing the book’s original appeal? How did I apply my 63-year-old wisdom to the 28-year-old voice? Yes, the story brightened and sharpened, but what was being lost?

The process was painstaking! But now I present the new and improved Lostart Street, available at Amazon. The launch party will be June 8th, 7 p.m. at Bookshop Santa Cruz.  For those of you farther away, I will be interviewed about Lostart Street tonight (June 6) at 7 p.m. on Universal Grapevine, KZSC 88.1 fm. Please tune in.

Have you ever tried to rework an older piece of writing or art? What challenges did you encounter?

Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Like Lostart Street, her Carol Sabala mystery series is set in Santa Cruz, California, where Vinnie lives with her husband and requisite cat.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

12 Crime Lab Tidbits

by Vinnie Hansen

In March, I visited the Santa Clara Crime Lab because hey, that’s the kind of thing crime writers do on a lovely spring day.

My husband, Danny, went along. He enjoys police info, too. I guess you better if you’re married to a mystery author.

We were disappointed to learn that we would not be able to traipse about the lab. Even though the event was advertised as a “virtual” tour, when Danny and I visited the FBI Crime Lab in San Francisco, our guide led us right up to the line of weapons waiting for rifling tests. But that was many years ago and our group consisted of just Danny, Cara Black and me.

Criminalist Cordelia Willis

Criminalist Cordelia Willis

The Santa Clara Crime Lab presentation drew over 20 sisters and misters from NorCal Sisters in Crime as well as a whole class from a local college. I was glad that criminalist Cordelia Willis did not try to herd such an unwieldy flock.

But even if there were only a few of us, we could not have entered the lab. Our very breath could contaminate DNA evidence!

Instead, we congregated in the training room for slides and an informative talk.

Here are a dozen fun facts from our two-hour stint:

  • The bane of criminalists: lawyers, lawyers, lawyers, and EMTs who trample evidence.
  • CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) has two parts, the usual one we think of which contains info only from criminals, and another part for unidentified persons, used to match bodies to missing people. The criminal and victim parts do not mix.
  • Red Bull is the drink of choice for burglars (and a nifty way to collect DNA).
  • Thirty is the magic number when a murderer stabs his victim.
  • A slice on the perpetrator’s hand is common in stabbings because the knife handle gets slippery. (Think O.J.)
  • Cordelia worked on a cold case where DNA evidence was taken from 22- year-old semen.
  • If a body is inside a structure, the police have to get a search warrant to call in the lab.
  • Digital/multimedia evidence is most backlogged. One case might yield 15 cellphones!IMG_1418
  • Bullet rifling is unique to each individual gun, but (sigh) many bullets get smooshed and can’t be tested.
  • BUT, cartridges can be compared via the firing pin impression.IMG_1420
  • Gun shot residue disappears quickly — no sense testing after 8 hours.
  • It’s blood spatter, not blood splatter.

Have you ever wondered how much of CSI is true? What’s a question you would like answered by a crime lab? 

 

Posted by Vinnie Hansen.

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Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her Carol Sabala mystery series is set in Santa Cruz, California.

Her forthcoming book, Lostart Street, is a stand-alone novel of mystery, manslaughter and moonbeams.

Here’s a sneak peak at the cover. If you saw the cover in the last post, you’ll notice the new iteration is slightly different. What do you think?

LostartStreet

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Honolulu Havoc: The Pros and Cons of a Conference in Paradise

Left Coast Crime 2017 convened in Hawaii. The allure is almost too obvious to mention. There’s—well—the setting, the elaborate Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki. Warm weather, sunsets on the beach, Diamond Head in the distance.

Beach in front of hotel.

Beach in front of hotel.

For many attendees the conference was a great excuse to escape a March roaring in like a lion. Almost every participant I talked to had extended his/her stay. Sisters in Crime Guppy President, Jim Jackson, and his wife, Jan Rubens, planned a month in Hawaii! Even Danny and I, who hale from temperate Santa Cruz, stayed a week. A conference in a vacation destination clearly entices writers to take a break.

The Hawaiian flavor permeated the conference from the POG (pineapple, orange, guava) juice served in the hospitality suite to the braided leis given to each award nominee at the reception—held outside on the Great Lawn. Toastmaster Laurie King literally let her hair down, releasing her famous bun into a cascade of silver. As we strolled around in our muumuus and shorts, Ghost of Honor, Earl Derr Biggers, and his creation Charlie Chan, haunted the setting. The first panel I attended, Real-Life Experience: Authors Tell All opened with free mimosas. Now there’s a ploy to get people to talk.

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As usual, the conference gave me an opportunity to see writing buddies from other parts of the country and to meet and read authors new to me, like Maia Chance who participated on the Eye to Eye With the P.I. panel with me. I am thoroughly enjoying the first book in her series, Come Hell or Highball. Our panel was moderated by my crime writing idol, Allen Eskens! As moderator, he read a book from each panelist. He liked  Black Beans & Venom enough to give me this blurb, “It is the mark of true talent for a writer to be able to deliver her readers completely and believably to another world, and in Black Beans and Venom Vinnie Hansen has done just that. Set in the vibrant and gritty back streets of Cuba, this cat-and-mouse hunt for a missing woman is full of intrigue, suspense and authenticity.I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable read.” That alone was worth the price of admission.

Me with Allen Eskens. Check out his thrillers. The first is The Life We Bury.

Me with Allen Eskens. Check out his thrillers. The first is The Life We Bury.

So what could possibly be wrong?

It’s difficult to organize a conference in a place where one poached egg costs $4.25! Compare the room-rate of $209-$249 a night to that for next year’s LCC in Reno–$82. And the room-rate in Honolulu didn’t even include room Wi-Fi or parking, both part of the package in Reno.

The time and expense of getting to Hawaii and staying in Hawaii clearly lowered attendance. Quite a few authors appeared on three different panels, good for them perhaps, but not as stimulating for the audience. And maybe its just my guilty conscience speaking, but I feel tourist distractions pulled attendees away from conference events. Usually the Liar’s Panel, a perennial favorite, packs the room. Not so this year, in spite of a stellar line-up–Rhys Bowen, Donna Andrews, Lee Goldberg, Parnell Hall, Catriona McPherson.

Finally, Honolulu isn’t my idea of paradise. It’s a bustling city, thick with tourists. Danny and I took a morning off to follow the ant trail of people up Diamond Head. I’m glad we did it, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.

View from Diamond Head through edge of pillbox.

View from Diamond Head through edge of pillbox.

The Sunset Pillbox Trail on the North Shore, where we spent our first few days on the island, was much more satisfying. On that hike, we encountered only a few locals, the vistas were just as spectacular, and the brightly graffitied pillboxes were more interesting than the structures atop Diamond Head.

Pillbox on North Shore.

Pillbox on North Shore.

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I have no regrets about attending Left Coast Crime 2017, but look forward to the more economical Left Coast Crime 2018. If I win enough at blackjack, it may not cost me a thing. 🙂

 

 

What’s the best or worst conference you’ve attended conferences? What made the conference that way? 

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Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her Carol Sabala mystery series is set in Santa Cruz, California.

Her forthcoming book, Lostart Street, is a stand-alone novel of mystery, manslaughter and moonbeams.

Here’s a sneak peak at the cover:

LostartStreet3

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

 

 

 

First Impressions & Second Chances

by Vinnie Hansen

You never have a second chance to make a first impression.

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This advertising slogan for dandruff shampoo wormed its way into our consciousness. Because it’s a catchy way to state a truth. In life there are no do-overs.

My good friend Christine recalls when she first met me. She was a teacher visiting my classroom to see if she wanted to make the shift to a high-school setting. She thought I was unfriendly.

This sounds awful, but I completely understand her first impression. I’m an introvert, so I don’t project the bubbly exterior many might dub friendly. I also grew up in the Midwest, so I tend to be private, which many might interpret as aloof, or unfriendly. Finally, she was visiting my class before lunch and I had to be brusque in order to meet other colleagues for our lunchtime walk.

Me, Christine and our colleague Georgene, dressed as flappers (many moons ago)

Me, Christine and our colleague Georgene, dressed as flappers for Halloween (many moons ago)

Over time, Christine learned that I may not be overtly friendly, but I’m an excellent friend—loyal, thoughtful, and encouraging. She once said I was the kindest person she knew. And when she became my lunchtime walking partner, she learned firsthand that one could not dally and still fit a walk into the lunch period.

The problem with the well-known aphorism above is that it supports the tyranny of the first impression. And first impressions are sometimes wrong. Or maybe not wrong so much as superficial. The aphorism reinforces the notion that nothing will ever be different. If we blow it, the damage is done! You show up with dandruff–game over.

Fortunately, like other tyrants, first impressions can be toppled. Second chances are possible.

My friend came to appreciate not my friendliness, but my friendship. And knowing that she found me unfriendly, improved my self-awareness. I practiced the painful art of extending myself to strangers, creating a new first impression for future acquaintances. The truth is, every moment, really, we offer a new self for impressions. And anyone stuck on a first impression is making a mistake.

Which brings me to my books. When I started writing the Carol Sabala mystery series, I was working full-time as an English teacher. I did not have a lot of free time to pursue my long-abiding love of creative writing. Nonetheless, my first mystery, Murder, Honey, caught the interest of an agent. Only in retrospect do I appreciate what a milestone that was, even though the agent did not successfully market the book.

At the time, I did not know that the next step should have been to write the second book for the series. I later learned that many series writers don’t sell their first, or even their second book, but may sell their third, creating the opportunity then to publish the first and second.

deathwdessert-old-cover

One of my original covers

But back then in my naiveté, I decided to self-publish. Digital print, companies such as iUniverse, were in their infancy. With little guidance, (I wasn’t even a member of Sisters in Crime yet!), I still did many things right. The book had passed through a writing group and other readers. As an English teacher, I proofread the book until my eyeballs were hanging out.

I employed a professional photographer to create cover art. Still I had no idea how much more really needed to be done to create a polished product.

Over time, I improved. By my third book, I was working with a small, local publisher who expertly formatted the mysteries and steered me to reputable printers. The problem was, to make this viable, I had to order hundreds of copies of my books—and I didn’t know much about marketing.

The new version!

The new version!

It wasn’t until I both retired from teaching and found a home at misterio press that I really learned what it takes to produce a first-rate product. The last book in my series was published directly from misterio, but I’ve also had the good fortune to go back and re-release the first six books under the misterio imprint.

I can’t change the fact that some readers encountered Murder, Honey in its first edition. Fortunately, some people liked it warts and all.

No matter what others’ first impressions of my writing are or have been, it does not change the fact that I am evolving, becoming a better writer. Having the expertise of the ladies at misterio press, using a professional cover designer, and gaining a better sense of the market, I now have the chance to make new first impressions with new readers.

Have you ever been given an important second chance? Have you ever made a bad first impression that haunted you?

And here is the last one to be re-released under the misterio press imprint, Book #3 in the series — Rotten Dates.

RottenDatesNewly divorced and vulnerable, baker/sleuth Carol Sabala resists her friend’s pressure to use a personal ad to enter the dating scene.

Two weeks later a woman’s body is found strangled on a riverbank in Santa Cruz. Did the killer use the ads to lure his victim?

Hired to investigate by the deceased’s cousin, Carol sees the amateur photographer who discovered the body as a likely suspect. He’s handsome, charming, and definitely on the prowl. Is it for a date with Carol or for his next victim?

As she digs deeper into the case, she uncovers one dangerous-but-appealing man after another. Longing for companionship and adventure in her own life, Carol learns the hard way that combining the two can be a risky business.

Now available on:    AMAZON    SMASHWORDS

The paperback version should be ready by the end of the week!

Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her cozy noir mystery series, the Carol Sabala mysteries, is set in Santa Cruz, California.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

10 Nuggets from the Writers’ Police Academy

Vinnie Hansen and I attended a rather unusual conference last week. It’s called the Writers’ Police Academy. Law enforcement and EMS faculty (among others) taught us how to get it right when we have cops, courtrooms and/or blood in our novels.

Which happens a lot when one writes murder mysteries.

I’ll be sharing some of my best moments from the conference next week but today Vinnie’s here to tell us about her experience.

The Friday morning “announcement” at WPA was a staged car crash. They brought in a friggin’ helicopter!

The Friday morning “announcement” at WPA was a staged car crash. They brought in a friggin’ helicopter!

10 Nuggets from the Writers’ Police Academy

by Vinnie Hansen

Attending the Writers’ Police Academy gave me a wealth of cop and EMS info. I offer these 10 nuggets:

  • A person will bleed out in three to five minutes.
  • If you’re bleeding out, I can improvise a tourniquet with a two-inch wide band of material and something to twist it up good.
  • In hand-to-hand combat, the rule is flesh to bone and bone to flesh

Read more…

Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her cozy noir mystery series, the Carol Sabala mysteries, is set in Santa Cruz, California.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Where the Research Takes Me–the Desert and a Mexican Jail!

by Vinnie Hansen

Whether I consult my reference book Deadly Doses or tour San Quentin, all of my mysteries involve research. Death with Dessert, the newly re-released fifth book in the Carol Sabala series, required the most difficult research of the seven books.

Death with Dessert contains an immigration sub-theme. Illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States is a complex topic. In my long career as a teacher I worked with immigrant families and heard many of their stories. But I still spent many hours reading about the Operation Wetback program of the 1950s, watching documentaries, and talking to workers from Humane Borders and the Mexican Consulate in Tuscon.

3 Points restaurant

3 Points restaurant

However, there’s no substitute for personal experience. I needed to see my immigrants’ path in a more earthy way.

So I flew to Tuscon, rented a car, and drove Highway 286 from Three Points down to the tiny border town of Sasabe. I stopped along the way to smell the desert, to note the plants and landscape, and to listen to the sounds (mostly border patrol vehicles driving up and down this corridor, ATVs jouncing in the backs of their trucks).

I noted the arroyos under clumps of mesquite, great for hiding from aerial surveillance, but deadly in a flash flood. I imagined walking this beautiful, desolate countryside, the scorpions and rattlesnakes and lack of water.

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Downtown Sasabe, just over the border.

I returned from my trip more confident that I could create the illegal immigrants’ experience in a convincing way. As the adage says, “Write what you know, or know what you write.”

At the start of Death with Dessert, my private investigator Carol Sabala launches on a mission to track down her missing father in Mexico. I set Carol’s destination as Zihuatenejo, because my husband and I had spent many winter vacations there. But once I decided the town would be featured in my book, instead of photographing the sunsets, I turned my camera toward policemen and street scenes.

20060104_0087My side trips in Zihuatenejo also took a turn. Because Carol Sabala spends time in a Mexican jail, I had to visit one. My husband, ever the game one, accompanied me to the El Centro de Readaptación Social.

20060105_0107The barren lot outside the facility teemed with police officers, many armed with sub machine guns.

I’d heard about the police in the state of Guerrero—that they worked 24-hour shifts and were paid horribly, that they were corrupt and hated, that they had disappeared people during the Guerra Sucia, the Dirty War.

Nonetheless, I approached the “office,” a cubicle open to the air in the stucco building. It contained a battered desk, a manual typewriter, and not much else. In my limited Spanish, I explained to the officer that I was a mystery writer and asked if I could tour the jail. I have done several jail tours in the United States, so this did not seem like an outrageous request to me.

The officers thought differently and regarded me with immediate suspicion, asking if I was a Human Rights Watch activist, and wanting to see my passport.

Fortunately I had left my passport in our hotel, otherwise they might have confiscated it. As it was, officers frog-marched us to the curb where a taxi mysteriously appeared to transport us back to where we belonged.

I didn’t get inside the jail. If I had, my view probably would have been from behind bars! The police department’s worry about Human Rights Watch hinted at the conditions inside. My imagination rounded out the picture.

Please check out Death with Dessert, and I have a giveaway going on over at Goodreads. Today’s the last day so hop on over there and sign up. Hope you win a copy!

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Death with Dessert, A Carol Sabala Mystery (#5)

A dead mother. A missing father. A mysterious man.

They all spell trouble for private investigator Carol Sabala. When Carol’s mother dies unexpectedly, Carol is left with no family—only money, grief, and an envelope. Her mother has charged her with a mission: deliver the envelope to her long-lost father.

Enroute to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, to track down her father, Carol encounters the alluring Mark Escalante, who snares her in a deadly pursuit of his own.

AVAILABLE NOW on AMAZON and through SMASHWORDS

Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her cozy noir mystery series, the Carol Sabala mysteries, is set in Santa Cruz, California.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Golden Donut Award

by Vinnie Hansen

In August I received the “coveted” Golden Donut.

Vinnie golden donut award DSCN0524Sounds like something invented by a cop, right? It is. The Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) awards the Golden Donut.

I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews of the WPA, held this year in Appleton, Wisconsin at the new Fox Valley Technical College Public Safety Training Center.

The WPA is a small conference (300 attendees this year) at which law enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMTs work hands on with writers who are eager to get their facts straight. Writers learn to handcuff, lift prints, and shoot. They examine blood splatter, practice takedowns, and visit a jail and a morgue. All kinds of fun stuff.

Although attending WPA ranks high on my bucket list, this year I was not able to attend.

However, I did enter the WPA’s writing contest, which is open to non-attendees. The contest starts with a photo prompt. Here is this year’s image:

Vinnie story prompt2012-06-09_14-02-08_578The scene in the image must play a vital part in the storyline. Stories must also be exactly 200 words—not 199 or 201. If a submission doesn’t follow the rules, well . . . this is a contest run by law enforcement!

However, the final judge this year was Sara Gruen *swoon*. I’m doubly honored that she is the one who chose my story “Bad Connection” as the winner of the coveted Golden Donut. For those who don’t know, Sara Gruen is the author of Water for Elephants.

So, without further ado, here is my 200-word story inspired by the two gravestones in the photo.

Bad Connection

Adam and Bette talked via identical tin cans. The connective wire snaked out Adam’s bedroom, across the bare side yards, and in through Bette’s window. In the cookie-cutter houses, their bedrooms matched like shoes.

When they were seven, Adam announced: “We’re going to get married.”

The words vibrated over to Bette’s heart.

“And be together forever!”

Their childhood conversations grew into teenaged angst on house phones, and years into their marriage, continued on mobile phones. Then their voices became texts:

On way home Bette thumbed.
R U txtng & drvng?
Tht’s life.
Me 2 Adam wrote.
Txtng & drvng?
Idiot. 🙂 On way home.
Turnng off Rdrx. She wrote.
Ha! Turnng Frtge Rd
Race? Bette stomped the pedal, knowing Adam’s response as though linked still by a tremolo of wire.

Rotten egg? He barreled down the street.
U R on.

Adam and Bette startled at the other’s mass of metal rocketing toward them, as though God had yanked the string on a pair of nunchuks. They collided head-on, the cars smashed like recycled soup cans.

Now they lie side by side in matched containers, calling to each other across a narrow passage of dirt.

You can check out some of the runner-up stories over at the WPA site.

Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her cozy noir mystery series, the Carol Sabala mysteries, is set in Santa Cruz, California.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

“Survivor”–Sisters in Crime version

Vinnie Hansen is starting off our August blog schedule with a bang today, with her own version of a reality show. And she’s got some really BIG news to share!

Shh, not until the end of the post though. But it’s definitely something she can BRAG about.

“Survivor”

by Vinnie Hansen DSCN0415What would happen if a villain dropped one of our protagonists into the wilderness? How would our heroine survive?

That question and a love for camaraderie propelled 13 brave members of my Sisters in Crime chapter to attend a Wilderness Survival Camp.

Dan, our fearless leader

Dan, our fearless leader

We met our fearless leader Dan, a consultant to various reality television shows, in the redwood forest of a private vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The first rule for survival is: Don’t Panic.

Air is our most essential element. We can live for only a few minutes without it. Adrenaline sucks up oxygen.

Lack of oxygen can make our limbs go numb and our brain lose perspective. Perfectly outfitted hikers have been found dead in the wilderness because they became disoriented, forgetting where they set their pack or the direction back to their shelter.

After some deep breathing, the sacred order for survival is:

1. shelter
2. water
3. fire
4. food

Before our training, I thought water was the most important concern, but a person can go for days without water. Exposure, not dehydration, is the leading cause of death in the wilderness. Shelter allows one to thermo regulate, which conserves water, and protects against heat or cold.

Dan divided us into three teams, and after a brief lesson set us off to build shelters given the materials at hand. Some simple rules: create plenty of insulation under and around the body, and create a small area of dead air space for one’s body heat to warm. In other words, the shelter should be a snug fit.

DSCN0420 shelterHere’s what my team built. Dan tested the shelter by standing on top of it. All three teams built “tents” that withstood his test

Next we tackled finding water, easy in our spot with a river flowing below us. But even in the desert water exists. Look for the lowest point, signs of vegetation, and animal tracks. Animals have to drink! Even butterflies and bees need water. You can collect water by running your shirt through dew points.

If you have a choice, choose running water over still water, and water that supports algae and tadpoles over water that appears devoid of life.

Boil if possible. We learned how to rock boil water even without a pot.

That brings us to fire.

Dan showing our Sister in Crime Jenny Carless how to make a friction fire.

Dan showing our Sister in Crime Jenny Carless how to make a friction fire.

Making friction fire is an arduous task, involving many steps. Nonetheless, a couple of my sisters did create fire before our camp ended, lifting them to goddess status.

Most of us left vowing to carry matches–everywhere.

Jenny, aka the SiN Fire Goddess

Jenny, aka the SinC Fire Goddess

 

 

 

One participant already reported back that the TSA allows one book of matches.

This was a rewarding experience even if not a single detail finds its way into one of my mysteries. I came home exhausted, but in the way one does after a day outdoors in the sun with a lot of good friends.

Have you ever taken any survival training? How well do you think you’d do out in the wilderness on your own?

BLACK-BEANS-&-VENOM w BRAG medallion

And now the news… Drumroll please. Black Beans and Venom, the most recent book in my Carol Sabala mystery series has won a B.R.A.G. medallion.

This honor is bestowed on top quality indie books by the Book Readers Appreciation Group, and I’m thrilled to have received it. Check out the gold medallion that now adorns the book cover. 😀

 

Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her cozy noir mystery series, the Carol Sabala mysteries, is set in Santa Cruz, California.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )