Friday, June 18, 2021


 A Grand Illusion 

By Lawrence Martin
Published in Florida Writers Association Collection Series, “Create An Illusion, Vol. 12, 2020.
Entering the Las Vegas Pinnacle Hotel, Bonnie could not avoid the large electronic signs advertising that night’s main event: “The Grand Illusionist, 9 pm, Starlight Theater.” Her husband’s picture loomed large in the advertisement, with his trademark cape and magician’s hat.
I’d like to throw a brick at his mug. Fourteen years with him and I’m only now wising up. She took the elevator to their 22nd floor suite, and used her room card to enter.
What will I find now? Another honey?                          
Howard looked up from the couch, where he had been reading a newspaper. “Bonnie, what brings you back so soon? Thought you weren’t returning until later?”
“After my gym workout, I decided to skip the movie. I have a headache and want to lie down. Is the bed free?”
“What kind of question is that?”
“What kind of husband would sleep with his mistress while his wife is working out at the gym?”
“We’ve gone over this. I was wrong, and I admitted it.”
“You admitted it once because I caught you. How about all the other times?”
“She is not my mistress.”
“No, just your stage assistant. Easily available. And you, the so-called Grand Illusionist. When I walked in on you last week, why didn’t you make her disappear, like you do on the stage?”
“Bonnie, give me a break. My show starts in just two hours. Let’s not argue now, please?”
“They pay you fifty grand a night here at the Pinnacle. Not bad for two hours.”
“Why the hell are you bringing that up?”
“Where’s the money?”
“I don’t understand your question.”
“Let’s see, a four-week stint in Vegas twice a year, six shows a week, that’s three hundred thousand times eight, or two point four million, if my math is correct. Not to mention your other shows in New York and Atlantic City. Where’s all the money?”
“What the hell are you talking about? Does your credit card bounce when you go shopping?”
“No, but the money is nowhere to be found. It’s not in our joint account.”
“I’ve told you before, my agent handles it. It’s in his account, under my name.”
“Is your agent in the Cayman Islands?”
“You heard me. Georgetown, Grand Cayman. I know all about it. If we get divorced, which you know damn well is coming, there won’t be any estate to split. It’s hidden. Off shore. And worse, dear, when the money is ultimately found, the IRS will get it all, for past taxes. And your ass will be in jail.”
“I’ve paid all my taxes. Where do you come up with these crazy accusations?”
“Sorry, Howard, won’t wash. You have lived up to your billing. The Grand Illusionist, indeed. You’ve made the money disappear. But if your wife can’t get her share in court, I’m sure the IRS will. Your tricks might fool the Starlight Theater crowd, but not me. At least not the ones in real life.”
“This is utter nonsense. You have no evidence.”
“Oh, yes I do. I’m not always in the gym, or out shopping. I’ve been investigating. Or paying someone who knows how to find information.”
“Like what?”
“Like, what about Melissa Jane Singleton?”
Oh, his pained expression! He’s guilty as hell. Gotcha!
“Sorry, Howard. I didn’t hear your answer. Well, let me answer for you. A few months ago, you paid her a cool fifty thousand to keep quiet about your affair. She threatened to ruin your show. All documented.”
“That’s a lie!”
“Deny what you will. It’ll all come out in court.”
“It’s not fair to bring all this up just now. Be fair, Bonnie, and stop with these crazy accusations. I have a show to do tonight.”
He doesn’t want to go on stage feeling my anger. That’s good.
“You probably can do the show in your sleep, so no need to worry. I need some fresh air. If you want to discuss this further, get up off the couch. I’ll be out on the balcony.”
She opened the sliding doors and entered the suite’s narrow balcony. The sun had set, making the nighttime view spectacular, with brightly-lit casinos up and down Las Vegas Boulevard. She found the cool air refreshing. She leaned against the four-foot high wall of the balcony to get the best view and called out, “It’s a great view tonight, Howard. I can see all the way to downtown Vegas.”
He came out to the balcony, stood a few feet to her right and stared into the night. “Bonnie, I don’t want you to be angry with me. Let me get through my show tonight and we can discuss all this later. I promise I can explain everything.”
The man lies, then lies some more.
“I’m worried, Howard. After all, you are The Grand Illusionist. You can make anything disappear. Maybe even including me.”
“What the hell are you talking about? Now you’re getting really crazy. I would never harm you.”
“Okay, maybe I’m being a bit unfair. But you can see why I get so upset. A man who cheats on his wife can do anything.”
“I said I’m sorry. Can’t we let it go?”
“All right, fair enough. For now. Please hold me. It’s a little chilly.”
He walked over and put his arms around her. “So, can we be friends again? Maybe lovers tonight, after the show?”
He has barely touched me in bed the last two weeks. What a phony!
“Yes, that would be good. I’ll be in bed, waiting for you.”
He relaxed his grip and kissed her on the lips. She returned the kiss.
Now he’s happy. Off guard. She let go of an object from one hand. “I dropped the barrette from my hair. Let me get it.”
She bent down to the balcony floor to find the barrette. Near the floor she inserted her head and shoulders between his thighs and the balcony wall, grabbed his ankles with both hands and lifted him with surprising ease, angling him toward the wall.
Not as heavy as I thought.
“What are you doing?” he cried as she stood, raising his body higher and higher. His arms flailed in the air but could not reach her. She angled his legs up so his torso now extended over the wall – and let go.
Well, Mr. Illusionist, you had one too many illusions: that you could get away with your deceits. My gym time was well spent. Amazing what 125 pounds can do with someone 50 pounds heavier.
She quickly re-entered the suite, closed the door to the balcony and walked toward the desk phone.
Now to call the front desk, report his suicide. There is no note, but he had plenty of reasons to leap over the balcony. A divorce he did not want. Soon-to-be-discovered tax fraud. Probably other mistresses seeking to extort. Justice at last!
She reached for the receiver, ready to press the button and tell her story. Just then, in the dim light, her eye caught a slight movement from across the room. No!
“Did you have fun out there, Bonnie?” The voice was unmistakable. And he was still sitting on the couch. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Highlight Book of the Week

Stranger than Fiction

by Sandra Olson

The newest  book in the James Ford Mystery series is now available as ebook, paperback and hardback. STRANGER THAN FICTION  is the 10th book in this series, like all the others, can be read as a stand-alone story.

Detective James Ford retired as a police officer after being seriously wounded. Now as a PI he continues to solve cases that no one else will handle. As he and his wife, Lacey work together they help friends as well as strangers. In this novel, James finds himself and his partner, Mack Sawyer embroiled in a missing person case as well as drug and sex trafficking cases. And when someone targets helpless patients in a local hospital, James is called in to solve that case, too.

Check it out at

Friday, June 11, 2021

 Fact-Based Fiction By Jed O'Dea

As a reader/listener of fiction, I enjoy novels by authors who master the ability to merge facts into their plots and storylines such that it is difficult to separate what is fact and what is fiction. As a youngster, I enjoyed books by Jules Verne, Agatha Christie, and James Michener whose craft excelled at introducing facts into their stories.  In the historical fiction Hawaii for example, Michener’s factual description of how the island of Hawaii was geologically formed was exhaustive.  As an adult I gravitated to Tom Clancy, Dan Brown, and Clive Cussler, each of whom cleverly mix facts into their thrillers.

To accomplish the art of fact-based fiction, authors may apply the following tactics:

Location in scenes should be real: Use locations with which the author is familiar including town, city, county, province, township, or commonwealth names; use real turnpike, street, highway, freeway, bridges, tunnels, or road names; and use actual restaurant, museum, military base, racetrack, play, building, or aircraft carrier names. Some readers/listeners will identify with the locations and relate to the author’s story.

Embed the names of famous people: As an example, an author whose subplot includes a narrative about Russia may choose to include the names of Putin, Stalin, Lenin, Gorbachev, or others to add an element of reality to the story.

Detail weather conditions: All readers/listeners can relate to weather conditions.  Authors who imbibe realistic seasonal weather conditions into their scenes add an element of reality to their scenario. An author who describes the winds in Chicago, the dryness in Tucson, the humidity in Mobile or hurricanes in the Virgin Islands draws the reader/listener into the story.

Real timelines: Authors who embed actual events into their story in the timeline the event occurred bring the reader/listener closer to believing the story is real.

Science and Engineering: The author who researches the scientific premise for inclusion in the story attracts a sophisticated reader.  Authors who describe forensic science findings, submarine propulsion systems, or ransomware attacks with accuracy improves the bond with the reader/listener.

Details: The ability to make an author’s novel seem real requires the reference of real items for vehicles, weapons, drugs, smells, personalities, physical descriptions, landscapes, health issues, and other facts.

As an author, I conscientiously weave facts into the storyline to achieve an overall sense of reality in an otherwise fictional narrative. If it is hard to separate fact from fiction, it is a better story.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021


Featured Book of the week – 

Russian Roulette

RUSSIAN ROULETTE is a complex mystery featuring the African American private eye Hannibal Jones. 

But, why don’t we let the author explain it to you? 

Click here:

Get your copy of Russian Roulette as a signed paperback -  

An ebook -

or an audio book -

Friday, June 4, 2021


How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America edited by Lee Child

A review by Austin S. Camacho

If you want to learn any art, it’s best to get the facts from the masters of that craft. So it’s a blessing indeed that the Mystery Writers of America gathered seventy of the most successful authors in the business into a chorus of encouraging voices in HOW TO WRITE A MYSTERY,

Assembled by Lee Child and Laurie R. King, this definitive collection of advice mixes practical instruction with companionable inspiration.

Neil Nyren says he got an email from King saying they wanted someone to start off the book with two things: a discussion of all the subgenres that make up crime and suspense fiction and the rules that govern them.

“I don’t know why they chose me specifically,” Nyren says, “but I leapt at the opportunity! I was delighted. It’s a great honor to be among all these wonderful writers. I’ve spent all my professional life with them and their colleagues, first as an editor and publisher, now as a writer on crime and suspense fiction for CrimeReads, The Big Thrill, The Third Degree, BookTrib, and other places, and to be picked to be amongst them was a pure pleasure.”
Other contributors echoed those feelings. Charlaine Harris says, “I felt flustered and inadequate. Every new book is an adventure to me, and I only wish I had a code to write by.”

And from Alex Segura: “It was an absolute honor. When I came into writing, I felt like I was always learning and absorbing from everyone I spoke to in our community. To think I've reached a point where I can give back - that's amazing. I hope the people reading this awesome collection feel like they've learned something.”

HOW TO WRITE A MYSTERY will help writers navigate the ever-changing publishing landscape. Not just pacing, plotting and dialog, but also the business side of publishing, to include the newest expectations of diversity and inclusivity.
Some of these authors are well-known specialists, like Tess Gerritsen who wrote the chapter on medical mysteries. 

“As a medical doctor and novelist, I know the challenges of writing about a fairly technical world and translating it into language that non-doctors can understand,” Gerritsen says. “I also know how difficult it is sometimes for those of us in the medical profession to leave that scientific mindset behind and focus on the storytelling, not the technology.”

And Gary D. Phillips who has some unique experience. “Along with artist Dale Berry, we were asked specifically to offer advice on how text and images work together in creating a graphic novel. Dale and I had previously done a graphic novel project.”

The book is a clever mix of useful information and inspiration. Chris Grabenstein came down on one side of that equation: “I think I was more on the useful information side of things.   Anyone picking up this handbook is probably already inspired.  They’re looking for tools.”

In contrast, Gayle Lynds tried to stress both. “When we writers are caught up in the manuscript on which we’re working, we have the best chance of riveting our readers. So my job was both to inspire my fellows to use and enjoy research, but to show how it can lead to better books, even enable them to be predictive. So I offer not only tools and tips, but also actual examples of how research helps bring novels to fire-breathing life.”

These essays, combined with shorter pieces of crowd-sourced wisdom from the MWA membership, cover the full spectrum of the writing experience. Pretty much everything aspiring writers need to do before, during and after writing is here, plus how to write forms other than novels and other considerations like character diversity and legal questions. And the valuable tips are almost bottomless!

“The rules and conventions give you a solid footing,” Nyren says. “After that, though, anything goes. Anything? Yes. Because they’re not holy writ. The beauty of being a writer, the pure joy of the creative act, comes when you take those conventions and smash them, reinvent them, twist them into brilliant pretzels”

Alex Segura says his favorite part of his essay was drilling down on what noir is - and isn't.”

“Too often, it's used as a catch-all, like "crime" or "mystery," and it's actually much more narrow. I wouldn't say it's a pet peeve, but it's certainly something I wish more people were aware of!”

Gary D. Phillips’ valuable words included a reminder to be flexible.

“It’s a collaborative effort to produce comics pages so you and your partner need to be in sync and open to changes suggested by the other one in creating the narrative.”
Chris Grabenstein, who writes for the youth audience, reminds writers to remember how they felt when they were eight or twelve. “That’s how you felt, not what everybody was wearing or the most fascinating and memorable thing you did when you were a fifth-grader. Kids today want stories about kids today. But how you felt when you were in third, fourth, fifth, or sixth grade is exactly how kids at that age feel today. The emotions have remained the same.”

What can a writer do when their energy is low and they start to wonder why they ever thought their book was any good? Gayle Lynds has a tip for that.

“Fall back on your research; it can rekindle your interest, give you new ideas, and remind you why you hungered to write the book in the first place.”

Mystery / thriller / horror writer Charlaine Harris adds, “If you're writing cross-genre, be familiar with and respect all the genres you're blending.”

All this input, from the most successful mystery writers alive, is an invaluable guide to crafting mysteries, from character development and plot to procedurals and thrillers. These experts offer practical, current, and surprisingly easily digestible advice. HOW TO WRITE A MYSTERY is a must-have for every aspiring mystery writer. 

Learn about Austin’s own mysteries and thrillers, and order autographed copies, at

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Highlight Book of the Week
The Chase of the Golden Plates written & narrated by Mark Bielecki.

Who's ready for a "Whodunit"?

Get Chapter 1 Free at the Dr. Whodunit website.

What's it about? 

The masquerade ball at Seven Oaks, the Stuyvesant estate is the highlight of the society scene in 1933. Everybody who’s anybody is there – in costume, including someone who’s costume is, shall we say, unconventional. A clever crime is committed. The evidence is clear – or so it seems. It will take all of the deductive abilities of Professor A.S.F.X. Van Dusen aka The Thinking Machine to solve this mystery.

It's a “whodunit” in the tradition of Ellery Queen – complete with a Challenge to the Armchair Detective. Can you spot the important clues and solve the mystery?

Friday, May 28, 2021


Forensic Psychology 

By Sandra Olson

What's the difference between a forensic and criminal psychologist?

While criminal psychology focuses on criminal behavior, forensic psychology includes criminal and civil law, work in prisons, at-risk youth counseling, and academic research. Forensic psychology requires the assessment of a wide array of people, including victims of crime, witnesses, attorneys, and law enforcement.

“Offender profiling, also known as criminal profiling, is a behavioral and investigative tool that is intended to help investigators to accurately predict and profile the characteristics of unknown criminal subjects or offenders." (Wiki)

Criminal forensic psychologists evaluate prisoners and their behavior. They may also help assess juries, deal with terrorist negotiations, advise law enforcement officials on likely behavioral responses from criminals, determine whether a suspect is fit to stand trial and may be called on to testify in court.

A forensic psychologist is an expert in the overlapping fields of psychology and the justice system often testifying in criminal trials as an expert witness. Due to their level of expertise, forensic psychologists are called to assess future risk of the accused, provide treatment recommendations to the court, and evaluate witness credibility. They work closely with the court and provide competency and sanity evaluations for the judge. The client base of the forensic psychologist is largely criminal, exposing them to a dark and abnormal population.

Forensic psychologists evaluate criminals to learn what their mindset and motives were at the time of an offense. They gauge what threat, if any, the offender will be to the public in the future. Their presence in courtrooms is often essential. Their evaluations, assessments and testimonies help inform the decisions of judges and juries.

Because forensic psychology is interlaced with the legal field, it requires an understanding of fundamental legal principles, such as those regarding standard legal practices and standards used by legal professionals, expert witness testimony, competence and insanity definitions and evaluations to be able to communicate effectively with judges, attorneys, and other legal professionals.

A criminal forensic psychologist can be a great character in fiction novels. Several authors have developed characters in this mode:

1.     Maggie O’Dell by Alex Kava

2.     Sadie Bonds by Trisha Wolfe

3.     Zoe Bentley by Mike Omer

4.     Lincoln Rhyme by Jeffery Deaver

5.     Pierce Quincy by Lisa Gardner

If you're looking for an intense reading experience, this is a great topic to investigate.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Critique Club

by Larry Martin 

From: What Just Landed in The Villages? and Other Short Fiction 


“Okay, Jordan,” says Samantha, our Critique Club leader, “it’s your turn to read.”

The seven other members of our Fiction Writers of Sunnyville club all have a copy of my story, previously emailed, and will follow along as I read. FWS is an accomplished group of retirees; all have published at least one novel and are working on another or, as in my case, on short stories. We meet every Friday morning in one of Sunnyville’s many club rooms, seated around two card tables.

I take a sip of coffee, then proceed with a brief introduction. “This is a rather long short story, over 7000 words. I’ll keep to our limit and just read the first 1500. It’s called ‘A Cold, Snowy Path’, about a lone hiker in the Yukon, late nineteenth century. In the dead of winter.”

I begin reading. I can tell there is interest in the story and wonder what critique the members will offer. The story is in the genre I am known for — outdoor sagas with an historical bent, about early mountain climbers, ocean sailors, river rafters, hikers in unfamiliar territory.

My protagonist, a newcomer to the Yukon, is beset by extreme cold as he tries to reach his buddies at a distant camp. There he will find warmth and shelter. He’s only a few hours away but the temperature is so cold, minus fifty degrees Fahrenheit, that he has to stop and make a fire along the way. Then the fire goes out. He has a dog with him.

I get to the last paragraph.

“The man held steadily on. He was not much given to thinking, and just then particularly he had nothing to think about save that he would eat lunch at the forks and that at six o’clock he would be in camp with the boys. There was nobody to talk to; and, had there been, speech would have been impossible because of the ice-muzzle on his mouth.”

“Okay, I’ll stop there. I’ll read another 1500 words next week.”

Samantha takes over. “Who wants to comment?” she asks.

Bill raises his hand and is called on.

“Jordan, it’s interesting, and I see you’re building the question of whether the man will make it to his camp, but there are some problems. One is your overuse of semicolons, which I’ve noted. However, the major problem I find is your excessive use of ‘was’. I checked it out on Word. You used ‘was’ 52 times, and frankly the repetition is tiring to the reader. Allow me to read three sentences in your first paragraph.”

Bill picks up his copy and starts reading, emphasizing each ‘was’.

“It was a steep bank, and he paused for breath at the top, excusing the act to himself by looking at his watch. It was nine o’clock. There was no sun nor hint of sun, though there was not a cloud in the sky.”

“Here’s a suggestion for rewriting just those sentences,” he says, and begins reading his rewrite. ‘The bank proved steep, and he paused for breath…Nine o’clock already, he thought. Sun’s not out, though the sky is cloudless.’ That’s just a suggestion, Jordan. I would try to change most of the ‘wases’ to some other verb form.”

“Thanks,” I reply. “I’ll consider that.”

Mike quickly raises his hand and begins speaking. “Interesting, your last comment, Jordan. You said, ‘I’ll consider that’. I counted thirty uses of ‘that’ in this excerpt. Let me just quote two sentences, beginning on line twenty-nine.”

“Fifty degrees below zero stood for a bite of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, ear-flaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks…That there should be anything more to it than that was a thought that never entered his head.”

“Excessive use of ‘that’ is generally a sign of weak writing,” adds Mike. “You’re a good writer, and I’m frankly surprised you used ‘that’ so often.”

“Perhaps you’re right, Mike,” I reply. “I’ll look into that.” My comment elicits some laughter. We’re really a friendly group, all seeking to improve our writing.

“Anyone else?” asks Samantha.

Alice offers a comment. “I pretty much agree with what’s been said so far. Just seems like a lot of overwriting to me. One other area where I think the writing could be sharpened is your repetition of the word ‘it.’ Just look at that first paragraph again. I won’t read the whole thing. All these uses of ‘it’ are in that one opening paragraph, beginning on line five.”

“It was a steep bank….”

“The very next sentence.”

“It was nine o’clock.”

“And the next sentence.”

“It was a clear day.”

“Then sentence six of the same paragraph.”

“It had been days since he had seen the sun.”

“Too many ‘its’,” Alice continues. “Also, you use the first three as a pronoun, and the fourth one as a preposition. All this, I think, draws attention to the grammar and away from your story. At least it does for me.”

“How would you change it?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” she replies, with an air suggesting genuine concern for the story’s problems. “It’s up to you. Bill offered one suggestion for fixing the ‘wases’. I would just pay attention to your use of ‘was,’ ‘that,’ and ‘it’. You can easily search for these words. Combine phrases so they’re hardly needed.”

“Any other comments, Alice?” asks our leader.

“Oh, one other. The man has no name. You just call him ‘The Man’? Why not give him a name, make it a little more personal. Okay, I’m done. That’s all.”

Samantha asks if anyone else has a comment. Two members have so far offered no critique, and remain silent. I get the feeling that, by now, they perhaps feel sorry for me and don’t want to pile on.

“No other comments? Okay,” says Samantha. “I do have a criticism no one’s mentioned. The piece starts out giving us the man’s point of view, and that is pretty much maintained throughout. The narrator tells us that the gloom of the day ‘does not worry the man’, that a noise in the forest ‘startled him’, and that at one point the man noted changes in his cheek from the cold. But then the narrator also gives us, in several places, the dog’s point of view.”

Her emphasis on the word “dog” translates into “Do you know what you’re doing?”, and elicits a few titters from the group.

Samantha has more to say. “In fact, Jordan, you go back and forth with point of view, between the man and the dog. I personally don’t mind the dog having a point of view, some stories are written that way, but a general rule is to keep only one point of view in a short story.

“Where,” I ask, “do I have the dog’s point of view?”

“Several places. Samantha glances down at her copy. Here, line sixty-two.”

“The animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for travelling. Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man’s judgment.”

“And again, on line sixty-eight.”

“But the brute had its instinct. It experienced a vague but menacing apprehension that subdued it and made it slink along at the man’s heels…The dog had learned fire, and it wanted fire, or else to burrow under the snow and cuddle its warmth away from the air.”

“So, you see, you go back and forth. I am not a stickler for point of view like some people, but do draw the line on interjecting an animal’s point of view along with a human’s, especially when they are presented by a narrator who is physically removed from the scene. It sounds artificial to me. That’s just my opinion.”

“Thanks,” I reply. “Anything else?”

Brian, heretofore silent, speaks up. “Jordan, you said you have another 5000 words to this story. It’s finished?”


“I suggest you go back and rewrite the thing before submitting more to our group. I don’t want to be too critical, but do think the points raised here are valid, and seriously weaken your story. You can’t hope to get it published in this style of writing.”

“Oh, I’m not worried about that, Brian. It’s already been published.”

“Really, where?”

“I have a confession to make. It’s not really my story. The actual title is “To Build a Fire,” and it was published in 1908 by Jack London. The only thing I changed is the title. It is still being read in high schools and is widely regarded as a classic man versus nature short story.” I pause for effect. “A classic.”

There are a few guffaws as people stare at their copy. I see Brian doing a fast web search on his smart phone. While he’s searching, I take another sip of coffee, and then Mike speaks up.

“You can probably do this with a lot of older literature,” says Mike. “Imagine reading Beowulf here. This critique group is really for what we ourselves write, not fiction written by others, no matter how famous they may be.” He looks to Samantha, as if hoping she will reinforce his disdain for my trickery, but she stays mum.

Brian puts down his smartphone. “Okay, I found ‘To Build a Fire’. It popped up in a website ‘Twenty Great American Short Stories’. So you fooled us, I admit. But I agree with Mike. The criticisms are still valid for modern writing. Styles change, and what’s considered good writing changes over time.”

“I suppose so,” I reply. “Just thought it would be interesting to see how we respond to what’s generally considered great literature, even today. As I said, the story’s read in schools across the country.”

“So is Beowulf,” says Mike, fairly dripping with sarcasm. Brian slowly shakes his head, and Alice pointedly does not make eye contact. Still, I have no regrets. I made my point, and offer no more rebuttal.

“Let’s move on,” Samantha says. “Who’s next to read?”

- END -

    A Grand Illusion   By Lawrence Martin Published in Florida Writers Association Collection Series, “Create An Il...