Author Archives: Vinnie Hansen

Who Are The Guppies? (plus New Releases)

by Vinnie Hansen

If you are a long-term reader of mysteries, you’ve probably heard of Sisters In Crime, but have you ever heard of a special chapter of SinC, called The Guppies?

So who are the Guppies? …Organizations for crime writers abound. Sisters in Crime (SinC) is one of the most well-known, with chapters across the United States. I belong to the Northern California Chapter. In spite of wide-spread chapters, writers can still face obstacles to active participation. Many chapters draw from a vast membership area. The Northern California chapter of SinC spans 150 miles north to south. I’m located near the southern tip of the area with a dangerous mountain road separating me from most of the monthly events.

Other areas of the country are too sparsely populated to support a chapter at all. And for some, even if a chapter is nearby, health issues prevent them from attending.

Because of such obstacles, the on-line Sisters in Crime Guppy chapter proves invaluable. Several unpublished members of SinC started The Guppies in 1995 as a place to support one another with advice and encouragement. The Great Unpublished (Guppies) became a nationally recognized chapter within a few years and quickly grew into SinC’s largest chapter.

Over the years, many Guppies have gone on to be published authors. Among our ranks we count five-time Agatha winner Hank Phillippi Ryan! The Guppy experience is so rewarding that members don’t leave just because they become published, or even famous.

So Who Are The Guppies Specifically and Why Become a Guppy?

The Guppies currently have over 750 paid members from across the country! I asked some of these members, “What is your favorite thing about the Guppies or being a Guppy?”

The Guppies’ table at CCWC.

The Guppies are “a supportive, welcoming group, regardless of a writer’s level of expertise and experience. … When I can get to a conference or writers’ gathering, I look for those little Guppy pins—I know I’ve found a friend,” said Kathleen Rockwood.

Indeed, I was just at the California Crime Writers Conference. At breakfast and lunch, I looked for the Guppies table where I knew I’d feel at home.

In addition to the warmth of the Guppy pond, Kathleen also pointed out that Guppies have the opportunity to submit short stories for the Fishy Anthologies. In conjunction with Wildside Press, the Guppies publish an anthology every other year.

Lida Bushloper and I at our CCWC signing table.

Many of the Guppies mentioned in this article have stories in the newly released FISHY BUSINESS. At CCWC, Lida Bushloper and I, both Guppies, were given a signing table.

Guppy Susan Bickford says, “I would never have been published without the Guppies. It’s hard to count the ways, let alone settle on just one: fabulous courses, including Necessary Parts; critique groups; lots of advice on a whole range of topics, including just good moral support.”

I was in the Guppy on-line critique group with Susan. She, Andrew MacRae, Connie Berry, and I all went on to have our critique-group novels published. It was a strong collection of writers and the best critique group experience I’ve ever had. I also second Susan’s recommendation of Ramona DeFelice Long’s class, Necessary Parts, which helps writers whip their synopses and query letters into shape.

In addition to classes and critique groups, our outgoing president, Debra H. Goldstein, benefited from the Agent Quest program and the Emerald Short Story subgroup.  These were “instrumental in me landing an agent, selling/publishing five books, and having forty short stories published—including ‘The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,’ which not only was my first submission and acceptance by Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, but went on to be a 2018 Agatha and Anthony nominee.”

(Sound effects obtained from https://www.zapsplat.com)

Who are the Guppies? Lida Bushloper summed it all up, “I’m lucky to be a member.”

To become a Guppy, one has only to join the national Sisters in Crime. Then just sign up and pay your dues. I recommend the group to all writers of crime fiction.

And check out Fishy Business for an introduction to some great authors.

Plus, Kass Lamb has a new release coming up, now available for preorder!

The Sound and The Furry, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, #7

The Sound and The Furry book cover A tropical paradise turns deadly.

Service dog trainer Marcia Banks had thought it was the perfect arrangement—stay on her client’s private Gulf-coast island and get the human phase of the training done more quickly, while enjoying a much-needed break from the chaos of house renovations back home.

This certainly wasn’t the tranquil getaway she’d envisioned, however. Two resident ghosts, a sour-puss housekeeper and bearing witness to her client’s shaky marriage are bad enough. But within days, she’s discovered even deeper and darker layers of dysfunction.

Via emails and static-filled phone calls, fiancé Will Haines convinces her to get herself and her dog Buddy out of there, but before Marcia can accomplish this, a late-season hurricane abruptly changes course and strands them on the island… with a murderer.

AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ KOBO ~ NOOK

Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie fled the howling winds of South Dakota and headed for the California coast the day after high school graduation. Still sane(ish) after 27 years of teaching English, Vinnie is retired. In addition to writing, she plays keyboards with ukulele bands in Santa Cruz, California, where she lives with her husband and the requisite cat.

She’s the author of the Carol Sabala Mystery series, and LOSTART STREET, a cross-genre novel of mystery, murder, and moonbeams, plus her short fiction has appeared in a variety of publications and anthologies.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

Highlight Reel from Left Coast Crime 2019

by Vinnie Hansen

When my husband contemplated coming with me to Left Coast Crime 2019 in Vancouver, I said, “It’ll be rainy and cold. It won’t be much fun taking in the sights in March.”

Burrard Station, near the Hyatt

 

I was wrong. So wrong.

Vancouver was the first highlight of the conference—sunny, abloom, and full of wonder.      

Seaplanes in Coal Harbor, a few blocks from the conference hotel.

A steam-powered clock in the Gastown part of Vancouver–perfect detail for steampunk fans.

The icebreaker at Left Coast Crime 2019

A generous and clever ice-breaker.

WEDNESDAY HIGHLIGHT:

On Wednesday evening, I participated in Hijinx and Hot Chocolate, pitched by Becky Clark and  Libby Klein as a way to start the convention with 10 new friends.

Becky and Libby guided participants to a nearby chocolate shop and treated us to hot chocolate, before we settled back at the hotel for word games.

Chocolate and word games—my idea of heaven.

THURSDAY HIGHLIGHTS:

I enjoy contributing to LCC by volunteering at the registration desk. That’s where I spent Thursday morning, meeting even more new people. Because, hey, this convention is all about networking.

Fault Lines cover

This gorgeous new anthology contains my story “The Last Word.”

Thursday evening at Left Coast Crime 2019, I could have ended up drunk as a skunk! The NorCal Chapter of Sisters in Crime launched its new anthology, Fault Lines, with a party—and a free drink for authors and participants.

Then Mystery Writers of America had a gathering, also offering a free drink to members, and finally, I wanted to check out Noir at the Bar (to see how it was organized, mind you).

FRIDAY HIGHLIGHTS:

The Lefty Best Novel Nominees panel. I’d read, and loved, all the authors on the panel except Matt Coyle. As it turned out, I was seated at his table for the Saturday banquet. Now I’m reading and enjoying his book Night Tremors.

The other nominees included Terry Shames, Lori Rader-Day, James W. Ziskin, and my absolute favorite, Lou Berney (who went on to win the award).

The Sex Panel at Left Coast Crime 2019

Holly West and Rhys Bowen watch Lou Berney squirm and blush as he reads aloud an R-rated sex scene.

The Sex Panel. This is always a favorite, featuring some truly horrendous and hilarious sex scenes (not for the modest).

SATURDAY HIGHLIGHTS:

While the Liars Panel was fun, the tribute to Sue Grafton was more meaningful and moving.

Sue Grafton had been asked a couple of years ago to receive her Lifetime Achievement Award at this conference. As you may know, she sadly didn’t make it. Her daughter was in attendance to accept the award.

Sue Grafton was my role model as I embarked upon writing mysteries. I’d been reading in the genre from a young age, but when, as an adult, I came across an American female writer writing about a tough (and tender) female P.I., I thought I’d stumbled upon nirvana.

I particularly loved this frame from the slide show. It reminds us all to persevere and not to place too much stock in reviews.

Tribute to Sue Grafton at Left Coast Crime 2019

Click on the photo to enlarge.

I’d be remiss not to mention the Left Coast Crime 2019 Banquet in my Saturday highlights. The food was good and my table hosts, authors Matt Coyle and Baron R. Birtcher, couldn’t have been more gracious! Matt Coyle will be the Toastmaster for LCC in San Diego, 2020.

SUNDAY HIGHLIGHT:

That would be my own panel, of course, Setting as Character.

Setting As Character Panel at Left Coast Crime 2019

As a stream of people roll their luggage toward the exit, it’s always a little worrying who is going to show up for a nine a.m. panel on a Sunday morning. To top off the anxiety, at the last minute, one of our panelists could not make it to the conference, because her passport was lost!

But Elena Hartwell, John Billheimer, and I drew in a full room of friendly faces and we had a lively discussion, led by moderator Bryan Robinson.

All of this, plus five cohorts from Santa Cruz Women of Mystery attended this year and last, definitely adding to the fun.

Santa Cruz participants at LLC 2019

Santa Cruz Women of Mystery (left to right): Leslie Karst (nominated for Best Humorous Mystery), Mary Feliz, Katherine Bolger Hyde, Peggy Townsend, and me, Vinnie Hansen.

At the end of Left Coast Crime 2019, I was completely drained. I had not been planning to attend LCC 2020 in San Diego, but now—knowing that Matt Coyle will be toastmaster and wanting to see all these great people again….

How about you? Have you ever had occasion to attend a conference? Do you enjoy them or just find them draining? Who’s your favorite mystery writer?

Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie fled the howling winds of South Dakota and headed for the California coast the day after high school graduation. Still sane(ish) after 27 years of teaching English, Vinnie is retired. In addition to writing, she plays keyboards with ukulele bands in Santa Cruz, California, where she lives with her husband and the requisite cat.

She’s the author of the Carol Sabala Mystery series, and LOSTART STREET, a cross-genre novel of mystery, murder, and moonbeams, plus her short fiction has appeared in a variety of publications and anthologies.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

Whale of a Crime in Vancouver, BC—An “Off” Week Teaser

by Vinnie Hansen

(Note: We’re doing two “off” weeks in a row, so Vinnie can catch her breath from her travels. She’ll have a longer post for us next week, but here’s  a teaser.)

Who knew that I needed to come to Left Coast Crime in Vancouver, BC to escape the California rain! Vancouver is sunny and abloom.

Only a few blocks from the conference hotel. Pedestrian and bike paths start here and continue for miles.

I’ve spent the last several days here at the LCC Convention, hobnobbing with famous mystery authors, including my current favorite–Lou Berney.

With Lou Berney–sorry we didn’t get November Road more into the frame.

Lou Berney took home the Lefty this year for Best Mystery Novel. If you haven’t read his book, November Road, I highly recommend it.

And, *drumroll please,* the editor of FAULT LINES brought a few copies of the anthology to the convention.

FAULT LINES, the first-ever anthology from the NorCal Chapter of Sisters in Crime, is so hot off the press, it won’t launch officially until April 6th at Books Inc. in Alameda, California.

We had a party and lured in readers with free drinks. The authors and others in attendance were able to get their first ganders at the product. It’s gorgeous and I’m thrilled to have my story “Last Word” in the collection.

This is just a teaser. Please tune in, same time, same station next week for a full report on Left Coast Crime 2019.

Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie fled the howling winds of South Dakota and headed for the California coast the day after high school graduation.

She’s now the author of the Carol Sabala Mystery series, and LOSTART STREET, a cross-genre novel of mystery, murder, and moonbeams. Her short fiction has appeared in Transfer, Alchemy, Porter Gulch Review, Lake Region Review, Crime & Suspense, Web Mystery Magazine, Santa Cruz Noir, Destination:Mystery!, Fish or Cut Bait, Santa Cruz Spectacle, phren-Z on-line literary magazine, and Mysterical-E. 

Still sane(ish) after 27 years of teaching high school English, Vinnie has retired. She plays keyboards with ukulele bands in Santa Cruz, California, where she lives with her husband and the requisite cat.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

Santa Cruz Weird

by Vinnie Hansen

Even though we’re not a large city, people across the country know of Santa Cruz, California. Huntington Beach may think it’s “Surf City,” but everyone here knows we claim the title.

After all, we’re the ones with a statue of a surfer who wears a pumpkin head on Halloween. And Jack O’Neill, inventor of the wetsuit, lived here until his death last year. Santa Cruz has  a lighthouse converted to a Surfing Museum and even a hanger for Lost Souls.

This pole is right beside Jack O’Neill’s home.

Others recognize Santa Cruz as a tourist destination featuring a beautiful coastline and The Boardwalk, with its historic, wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster. But there’s so much more here!

Santa Cruz overflows with artists and musicians. The Doobie Brothers and Neil Young  lived here. Santa Cruz produced James Durbin (who should have won American Idol). My own orchestra leader used to play with Eddie Money. For visual artists, we have a long-running Open Studios event, and we offer first-rate theater via Santa Cruz Shakespeare.

Here I am with The Great Morgani.

Music, visual art, and theater collide in local legend, The Great Morgani. The Great Morgani is a real musician with over 1,000 songs in his repertoire. His costumes (over 50) are all hand-crafted masterpieces that cover even his accordion. And he has his patter down—artist, musician, and thespian—rolled into one. And, just a little weird—a perfect representative for Santa Cruz.

Where else but Santa Cruz can you find Sons of the Beach—as many as 200 ukulele players congregating every Saturday morning to play music? And that’s separate from the Santa Cruz Ukulele Club, which boasts it’s the largest ukulele club in the world!

Not convinced yet that we’re any quirkier than, say, Austin, Texas?

In our Santa Cruz Mountains, we have a museum dedicated to Bigfoot and a physics defying Mystery Spot.

We’re literally fishy. Fish were vital to the native Ohlone. Commercial and sport fishing remain integral to our community.

Santa Cruz is a city where you go for a walk and encounter magic. It’s part of our everyday life. We expect nothing less.

And now to celebrate the wonder and weirdness of Santa Cruz, Nancy Lynn Jarvis has put together SANTA CRUZ WEIRD, an anthology where all the stories are set in this wacky place. The collection includes my story, “Critical Mass.” Order your copy now and let the fun begin. 

What is the strangest story associated with the place where you live?

Vinnie Hansen fled the howling winds of South Dakota and headed for the California coast the day after high school graduation.

She’s now the author of the Carol Sabala Mystery series, and LOSTART STREET, a cross-genre novel of mystery, murder, and moonbeams. Her short fiction has appeared in Transfer, Alchemy, Porter Gulch Review, Lake Region Review, Crime & Suspense, Web Mystery Magazine, Santa Cruz Noir, Destination:Mystery!, Fish or Cut Bait, Santa Cruz Spectacle, phren-Z on-line literary magazine, and Mysterical-E. 

Still sane(ish) after 27 years of teaching high school English, Vinnie has retired. She plays keyboards with ukulele bands in Santa Cruz, California, where she lives with her husband and the requisite cat.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

Going Short

by Vinnie Hansen

Circa 1979? Golden Gate Park.

Way back, when I was in the graduate writing program at San Francisco State, I had short stories published in the campus literary magazines every semester. This instilled confidence in my writing, but also inflated my ego. I launched into the world thinking I might set the literary world on fire. Instead, after a few years, I realized I needed to eat and went back to school for a teaching credential.

While I still aspired to write books, short stories buoyed me during my teaching career. I could squeeze these manageable bits into my holidays and summers. The manuscripts found homes, won contests, and kept my writing dream alive.

short story nail polish

Short stories even have their own OPI nail polish. This color is called Short Story. 🙂

But I didn’t stop longing to write books and eventually hit on my Carol Sabala mystery series.

This year, after writing seven books in the series, as well as a stand-alone novel, I find myself back, full circle, concentrating on shorter works. I enjoy being able to envision the whole arc of the story from the get-go, certainly not something that happens for me with a 300-page manuscript. I like the time to fuss at the sentence level, weighing each word.

Last August, I added a novella prequel to my Carol Sabala series, which became one of the works in SLEUTHING WOMEN II: 10 MYSTERY NOVELLAS. It may have been at this point that I began seriously to contemplate the other advantages of going short.

While short fiction may mean fewer readers, it means more cohorts. In SLEUTHING WOMEN II, I rubbed shoulders with 10 other authors (one of the authors being a team)—meaning ten others to help market the product. We pooled our resources to buy advertising and took turns posting on blog tours. We amplified one another’s voices. Our e-anthology sells for only $.99, but I’ve been making money, and remember, that’s splitting the profit with 10 others.

Working collaboratively also creates connections and friendships. This year I headed off to Left Coast Crime in Reno armed with the cell number of the Guest of Honor, Naomi Hirahara. This only came about because we are both in Akashic Books’ SANTA CRUZ NOIR.

Clowning with Peggy Townsend and Naomi Hirahara. We all have stories in SANTA CRUZ NOIR.

Because Akashic Books’ Noir Series is world famous, encompassing over 80 titles from BALTIMORE NOIR to ZAGREB NOIR, their $200 payment for my story “Miscalculation,” qualified me to become an active member of Mystery Writers of America as did the earnings on the Sleuthing Women e-anthologies. This is not a benchmark I’d reached with my individual book-length works. To consider the financial reward of short fiction, for one flash-fiction piece (200 words), I garnered the Golden Donut Award, which came with free registration to the Writers’ Police Academy. The registration is currently a $425 value. That’s over $2.00 a word remuneration. Think about that in terms of a full-length book of 60,000 to 80,000 words!

As part of a well-established brand, SANTA CRUZ NOIR

received reviews in Publishers’ Weekly and Kirkus. In Kirkus Review, I received my own little paragraph: Though many of these stories are more interested in evoking a voice or mood than pursuing a plot to its conclusion, Vinnie Hansen’s “Miscalculation” provides a textbook example of how many twists can fit into the simple tale of a bank teller’s adventures with the Guitar Case Bandit.

Short stories also seem like the most probable way for me to be considered for an award. Edgars, for example, are awarded for short stories. Stories in collections like SANTA CRUZ NOIR, or the upcoming Sisters in Crime Guppies’ anthology, FISHY BUSINESS, (to which I’ve had my story “Room and Board” accepted), can be put before the Edgar Committee. Once an author wins an Edgar, he/she does not have to qualify that the award was for short story. One’s info can simply say, “Edgar Award winning author.”

Finally, short works are a way to keep my name in front of readers. I’m an incredibly slow writer. It takes me a couple of years to turn out a book-length manuscript. But between books I can announce other publications. My last book, my novel LOSTART STREET, was published in May, 2017, and I don’t see another book release until summer 2019. However, in the meantime, my novella SMOKED MEAT came out in August, 2017, my story in SANTA CRUZ NOIR released in June, 2018. Another story will come out in a local anthology titled SANTA CRUZ WEIRD in August, 2018. FISHY BUSINESS will reach the copy-editing stage about October, 2018, and I just learned that my story “Last Word” will be in FAULT LINES, the NorCal Sisters in Crime anthology. These stories fill the breech until my next book-length work.

Going short assists my going long.

How do you feel, as a reader and/or writer, about short stories and novellas?

Vinnie Hansen fled the howling winds of South Dakota and headed for the California coast the day after high school graduation. She’s now the author of numerous short stories, the Carol Sabala mystery series, and LOSTART STREET, a cross-genre novel of mystery, murder, and moonbeams. Still sane(ish) after 27 years of teaching high school English, Vinnie has retired. She plays keyboards with ukulele bands in Santa Cruz, California, where she lives with her husband and the requisite cat.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

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. 🙂 )