INTERACTION By Katherine Prairie

interactionWe get a lot of rain here on Canada’s West Coast during the winter, and with a window right next to my desk, I’m often staring out at the drizzle while I write. It struck me that the trail of rain that weaves its way down the glass is as intricate and complex as a well-plotted.

I start my stories with a single idea which becomes the foundation of my plot, but other ideas come into play as I write, and I soon find myself juggling several subplots! Like rain that runs down a window pane, those subplots hardly ever make a bee-line for the finish. Instead, they meander through the book, sometimes running parallel to the main plot, and other times intersecting with it. They may briefly cross other subplots too, creating an intricate pattern as they move through the story.

When you think about it, characters are like that too, or at least they should be. Although we each have a general direction in life, our plans change as events and people affect us. We might veer off in a different direction for awhile, only to return to our original course heading, or we may turn back and start again.

thirst-coverIn stories, characters are driven forward – they seldom reverse course and start again! But just like real life, they should be affected by the other characters and events. We’re all familiar with events that affect characters directly – murder, an argument or injury, for example. But there are other events that create an atmosphere that influences characters in a subtle way. For example, the recent U.S. election results have left some feeling confident and others uneasy, and that mood will affect the decisions and actions of many people in coming months.

In THIRST, a wind storm that begins on the first page, swirls through the first few chapters, impacting each character in turn. It’s a subtle introduction to the people in my story – how does something as simple as the storm affect them? Whether they embrace it, fear it or endure it, their reaction reveals a little of their personality.

We all know that a good storyline depends on its characters. But what’s less obvious is what happens when characters in different storylines or subplots meet up at some point. Do the characters mingle and linger when their stories cross? Does the plot swerve because of the interaction, or does it maintain its steady course, absorbing the character interaction as part of its own?

In THIRST, Alex is deeply affected by a single meeting with Dr. Eric Keenan, but she barely senses another character Olivia Taylor when their storylines intersect. If you watch the rain, you see this same action. At times two rain trails merge, only to separate again later, or they interfere with each other, forcing a completely different direction for one or both.

Since that rainy day, I’ve started thinking more about how my plots interact, how the characters affect each other, and how they’re affected by story setting and background events.  It’s given me a new perspective, one that I believe will make the next Alex Graham suspense thriller even more intriguing to my readers.

katherine-prairie-v2Katherine, a geologist and IT specialist, stepped away from the international petroleum industry to follow her passion for writing. An avid traveller with an insatiable curiosity, you never know where you’ll find her next! But most days, she’s in Vancouver, Canada quietly plotting murder and mayhem under the watchful eye of a cat. She is an award-winning presenter and the author of the thriller THIRST.

Buy links for Thirst:


Barnes & Noble:

Hearts to God, Hands to work – the Shakers by Eleanor Kuhns

Although the Shakers are not front and center in The Devil’s Cold Dish, they are devils-coldnonetheless very important to the plot.

Lydia, my primary female protagonist, was once a Shaker and is therefore suspect in Rees’s hometown because of it. And when Rees and his family must flee for their lives, it is to the Shakers that they run to for refuge.

Who are the Shakers?

Most people now connect the Shakers with furniture but this group is so much more than that. They were probably one of the most successful communes ever: there is still an active Shaker village in Sabbathday Lake, Maine. Four living Shakers remain.

An offshoot of the Quakers (the name Shaker is derived from Shaking Quaker from their physically active form of worship), their official name is The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing.  In a sense, the Shakers were the evangelical arm of the Quakers.

It was a woman, Mother Ann Lee, who provided most of the spiritual core of the faith and set the major tenets such a celibacy. She led a small band to the colonies in 1774 They made their way to upstate New York where they set up a colony called Niskyuna. Near Albany, many of what had been their fields now lie under the Albany Airport.

They were almost immediately objects of suspicion. They were celibate, pacifists, and believed in equality of the races and the sexes. In a time when a woman could not inherit from her deceased husband unless he specifically indicated her in his will, the Shaker Sisters had an equal voice in the running of their community. During the War for Independence, both the British and the Americans persecuted the Shakers, believing them to be spies and supporters of the other side. In 1783, when Ann Lee and some of her supporters made a missionary trip from Mount Lebanon, New York to Boston, they were harried all the way. Ann Lee was arrested and charged with blasphemy and would probably have been hanged as a witch or devil worshipper in an earlier time. But, in New York – and one hundred years later than the Salem witch trials – she was released and continued her journey.

If they were celibate, how did they survive as a faith?

They accepted anyone who wished to sign the Covenant and join. This was a hard time with no safety net. Starvation was an ever-present threat. So many adults joined in the fall, knowing they would have food and a place to sleep all winter, and then left in the spring that the Shakers coined a special name for them: Winter Shakers.

The Shakers always attracted more women than men. There were few options available for a woman other than marriage at this time. If they did not or could not marry joining the Shakers gave them a place, a job, a family, and a purpose.

Also disease, accidents and infections killed scores of both adults and children. There was no place for the orphans without family.  (The first orphanage was not set up until 1793 in Charleston, South Carolina, and it was for white children only.) The Shakers accepted these orphans, as well as other children whose parents could not care for them, into their community. Although the children were not required to sign the Covenant, and ‘make a Shaker’, many did. And many of those children who married out of the Shaker communities remained in the surrounding area. The children who were raised by the Shakers greatly benefited. They learned everything they needed to know to survive. The boys learned farming and the girls learned all the domestic tasks.

The children were also taught to read and write, even the girls in a time when female illiteracy was rampant. The girls went to school in the summer, the boys in winter.

As a faith they were remarkably successful. At their peak, they numbered anywhere from 6000 to 20,000. What happened? Why have they declined to four elderly souls?

Well, they were essentially set up to function in an agrarian world and by the end of the 1800’s that world was changing. The United States was shifting away from farming to industry. People, especially women, had more options for supporting themselves. Instead of joining the Shakers they went into factories. The government, moreover, began taking over more of the responsibility for supporting the orphaned or indigent. When the government passed a law in 1966 forbidding the Shakers to adopt any more children, the avenue of attracting young Believers was closed. Unlike the Amish, who support their numbers with a healthy birthrate, the Shakers numbers, already dropping, declined precipitately.


Photo Credit: Rasa Faure

Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel. A lifelong librarian, she received her Masters from Columbia University and is currently the Assistant Director of the Goshen Public Library in Orange County New York.


Website URL:

Blog URL:

Facebook URL:

Twitter: #EleanorKuhns







Some of My Favorite Opening Lines in Mystery/Crime Novels


pulling out hair

Whether readers or writers, we all know the importance of that opening line. It should grab our attention and compel us to read on. Recently I was sitting at my desk struggling over the first line of a new short story I’m working on. I must’ve spent an hour writing and deleting, writing and changing, moving this phrase here, that word over there, ad nauseam. Finally I gave up, pushed my chair away from the desk. I felt like pulling out what hair I have left. It was then I noticed the five stacks of mystery/crime novels piled high to the left and right of my workspace. The lightbulb came on. I grabbed several books from a stack and began reading the first lines of each. After a couple of hours I got back to work and in a matter of minutes I had the opening line I’d struggled so hard to get. And thus was born this humble post of opening lines. Enjoy!




I never knew her in life.

–James Ellroy, The Black Dahlia


It was one hell of a night to throw away a baby.

–Julia Spencer-Fleming, In the Bleak Midwinter


Maybe it was the goddamned suit. Tailor-made Italian silk, as light and flimsy as shed snakeskin.

–James Crumley, Bordersnakes


When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.

–James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss


The bullets lay in a precise rank on the kitchen table, their brass casings dully reflecting sudden-death-finishthe light from the whaler’s lamp hanging in gimbals overhead: thirty-aught-six extra-velocity bullets, hand loaded and carefully crimped, deadly accurate over a range of more than a thousand yards.

–Tucker Halleran, Sudden Death Finish 


Even in the dim light of the bar, I could see the bruises.

–Jaden Terrell, Racing the Devil


I was in a deep sleep, alone aboard my houseboat, alone in the half-acre of my bed, alone in a sweaty dream of chase, fear, and monstrous predators.

–John D. MacDonald, The Dreadful Lemon Sky                                                       John D. MacDonald

We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.

–John D. MacDonald, Darker than Amber


The ambulance is still miles away when Dana awakens to the near dark of evening.

–Susan Crawford, The Pocket Wife


The headline made me sit down when I read it, that and the picture next to it and the article that spilled out over two columns underneath.

–Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost


Duke Pachinko lay propped against the wall, a dripping red sponge where his face used to be.

–L.A. Morse, The Old Dick                                                      


I slept rather badly the first few nights after Amanda’s murder.

–Richard Vine, Soho Sins


The guy was dead as hell. He lay on the floor in his pajamas with his brains scattered all over the rug and my gun in his hand.

–Mickey Spillane, Vengeance is Mine!


At fifteen minutes past two o’clock that afternoon, Mildred Crest’s world collapsed about her in a wreckage which left her so completely dazed that her mind became numb and her reasoning faculties simply failed to function.

–Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Footloose Doll


Winter came like an antichrist with a bomb.     mcbain-1

–Ed McBain, The Pusher


When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.

–Richard Stark, Firebreak


I was standing on my head in the middle of my office when the door opened and the best looking woman I’d seen in three weeks walked in.

–Robert Crais, Stalking the Angel                              


There you have it, a list of some of my favorite opening lines from mystery and crime novels. What are some of yours? We’d sure love to have you share, so share!  🙂


E. Michael Helms is the author of the Mac McClellan Mystery series, as well as other books ine-michael-helms-headshot other genres. He lives in the Upstate region of South Carolina in the shadows of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. He’s currently being harassed by Mac, Kate Bell, and other recurring characters who keep harping at him to finish his work-in-progress, Deadly Verse. Visit his website at:


Making It Realistic – What Do You Leave Out? By Rebecca Bradley

Before I start, can I thank everyone at Means, Motive and Opportunity for giving me this – rebecca-bradleyopportunity, to write a post for the blog, thank you. Though I must admit, I did find it difficult to come up with a topic after doing a blog tour last year, I wondered what I had left to say that might be remotely interesting. I took to Twitter to ask for help.

Let me first tell you a little about myself. I’m a crime writer, but before that I was a serving UK based police officer. I served for sixteen years before retiring on medical grounds. Eight of those years were in uniform and eight were as a detective in a specialist unit – sexual exploitation.

So, when I took to Twitter, I was asked the question(s), how much of the real information do I leave out, how much is made up and do I feel as though I have a sick mind? All this from one person!

The truth is I leave it all out. The real information that is. Because real people and real cases, the ones I’ve dealt with, in my eyes, are not there for me to make stories out of, to benefit from. If I’ve entered their life, then it wasn’t a good time in this person’s life. Be they the victim or offender. Yes, I could change the names to protect the innocent and change the incident slightly, but I’d know and I can’t do that. So, I make it up. Like any storyteller.

This isn’t to say that crime novels aren’t sometimes based on true events because they are. Crime writers get their inspiration from all different places and some of those places are news reports. They’ll hear or read a report and it will spark that creative juice, but it will still be a creative endeavour. It won’t be a copy of the event. That would simply be a retelling and not a story. Not fiction. And that’s what I’m writing, fiction. So, though I want my books to be realistic, I don’t want them to be a non-fiction narrative.

But, as readers, we want authenticity. We want the world to feel real, to be believable, to feel as though we are there. So, what is it about police procedurals that people pick up those books in their droves for? Because crime novels are the books that are borrowed the most from UK libraries. Is it just for the made-up world that the author has created that the reader keeps picking up time and again? In part, yes. But, I think there must be a level of authenticity in the book for our intrepid reader, for two reasons.

One – because otherwise, if it doesn’t feel realistic, if it feels wrong, it throws the reader out the world, out the book, and you as a writer don’t want that to happen. You want the reader to be immersed. To stay in the story as long as possible. To not put it down.

And two – I believe readers want to live that exciting life that they have no knowledge of, vicariously through the books. They’re not in the police (yes officers do read crime, I did, but most crime readers are not cops.) and it’s a world that fascinates them. So, reading a police procedural gives them a look, a feel, of that life. It takes them onto the streets, into the police stations and into the claustrophobic custody blocks. They want to feel what it’s really like out there.

And, that’s the real I put into my work. The procedure as well, the emotion that dealing with the difficult jobs can bring for you and the relationships between staff. Because one thing that I’ve noticed in some crime novels is that they have officers referring to each other by their titles, when in reality you call each other by name. For instance, as a DC I wouldn’t say to a colleague, ‘DC Jones could you pass me that pen?’ I’d say ‘Jo, pass that pen please?’ Even if they’re a rank higher, if it’s one rank, you’d call them by their first name or boss. Unless of course you’re in public or a meeting then you’d be respectful and use the rank. This of course depends on the level of rank, the higher you get the more you expect the people below you to call you Sir/Ma’am.

As for how sick is my mind? I think this part of the question relates to crime writers in general and the dark places we tend to go. To be honest, I find my mind a lighter place now I’m no longer policing. It was all very real back then, especially in the world of sexual exploitation, and people’s lives were affected. Now it’s all make believe and I am happy with that.


OK, anyone humming Simon and Garfunkel right now – you’re outed as being over ahem, a certain age. Not that I would know, mind you. Never heard of them myself – is that my nose that’s growing?

Really folks, the reference is to my bracketing this week. I saw it in, and by gum, I’m seeing it out. So there!

This is the time of the year when everyone has a “top books of 2016” list. Newspapers, webpages, magazines, all are full of the “top” books of the year. There’s one thing most (not all-hold the tar and feathers) of these lists have in common. The newbie writer need not apply. If you haven’t hit the NYT best seller list, haven’t got a high-powered agent, and/or have the imprint of one of the last remaining “big” publishing houses in your front matter, you ain’t making the list.

Well, guess what—there are way more books that deserve to be high end listed than those that make the big name top book lists. I thought I would share my list of the best five books I’ve read in 2016. As they say, in no particular order:white-sky

White Sky, Black Ice by Stan Jones.  Set in Chukchi, Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle, State Trooper Nathan Active an Inupiat by birth is assigned to his home town where it quickly becomes apparent that the suicides plaguing the village are something else more sinister. The story is compelling. Jones has a gift of scene and setting. I’ve never deadlybeen to Alaska, but I would recognize Chukchi in a heartbeat.

Deadly Dunes by E. Michael Helms. Mike and I met over his first Mac Book, Deadly Catch. I was hooked. Deadly Dunes is the third in the series and it’s quintessential Mac in a story that could happen only in Florida. Seriously, if Mac wasn’t so involved with Kate, I’d make a play. Helms’s characters and stories are that real. Helm’s has an easy, flowing writing style that captures the reader in the story and makes the books impossible to put down.readaholics

The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco by Laura DiSilverio. Amy-Faye Johnson lives in Heaven. Heaven, Colorado that is, and the Readaholics are her book club. When one of their own dies, the Readaholics are convinced that it’s not a simple case of suicide. As they chase the clues they discover parallels to the last book they read. DiSilverio is a master craftsman. Her stories are wonderful and intricate, but her writing made me read the rest of this series and all the rest of her books back to back.

evil-daysThrough the Evil Days by Julia Spencer-Fleming. I picked up this book because it had snow on the cover and we were in our sixth straight week of high ninety degree temperatures with ninety-five percent humidity. By the end of the first chapter I was wondering how I missed this writer and this series. I hesitate to say too much since the book I picked up is mid-series and I don’t want to give any spoilers. Rev. Clare Fergusson and Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne are married now with a wee one on the way. Their personal struggles mirror the greater torment going on around them during the ice storm of the century when they are trapped and stalked by a murderer at a deserted lake cabin on their honeymoon. The story is idyllicbreathtaking.

An Idyllic Place for a Murder by Liz Milliron. This small book (it’s only 26 pages) is a gem. The story is set in a vacation camp in Laurel Highlands, PA, not too far from Pittsburgh. The cleaning woman finds a soon to be divorced woman dead in a rental cabin. This book has two characters, the public defender Sally Castle and Trooper First Class Jim Duncan working from opposite sides of the system to solve the crime. There is not a word wasted in this book. Don’t miss it.

So, those are my top five. What are yours?


Excerpt from Deadly Spirits


Author’s note: Deadly Spirits: A Mac McClellan Mystery (#4) will be released by Coffeetown/Camel Press on January 15. The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1. Please pardon the ungainly formatting–it does not resemble the finished book.


deadly_spiritsI felt like a complete idiot following my girlfriend, Kate

Bell, up the narrow dusty stairs to the attic above the third

floor. I wiped another cobweb out of my face and beard as Kate

turned the antique glass knob. The door creaked open. She

shined the small flashlight around the room before stepping

inside. At five-eight in addition to her new jogging shoes, she

barely cleared the top of the doorway.


“Well, are you coming?” she asked as I hesitated by the open



“I don’t know. There might be a ghooost in there!”


She fought back a smile. “Very funny, Mac. Get your butt in

here, you big, bad, hunky Marine.”


What a man won’t do for love. To avoid a crack on the

forehead, I ducked and followed Kate inside the cluttered old

room. Dust rose and floorboards groaned with every step.

“We sure as hell aren’t going to sneak up on any spooks in this

place,” I said.


Kate huffed. “They are not spooks, they’re ghosts, or spirits.

How about showing a little respect for the dead?”


“Pardon me. My apologies to the dearly departed.”


For the last month Kate had been driving me nuts bugging

me to join the Palmetto Paranormal Society. To keep the peace,

I’d finally relented. The old Navarro Hotel on the northern

outskirts of Parkersville was my first paranormal investigation,

although I’ve been a licensed private investigator for about a

year now. I’d been living comfortably on my monthly military

retirement check until a long-dead boyfriend from Kate’s

past showed up alive. You could say I’d been “drafted” into

working for Hightower Investigations, a PI business owned

and operated by Frank Hightower. Headquarters is in Destin,

Florida, Kate’s hometown. Frank’s on the backside of sixty, and

a lifelong friend of the Bell family. He’s “Uncle Frank” to Kate.


When I retired from the Marine Corps two plus years ago

after a twenty-four year career, I put down roots in St. George,

a coastal village in the eastern Florida Panhandle. Meeting

Kate, who worked at Gillman’s Marina, played a big part in

my decision to stay. Her good looks, knockout figure, and

feistiness grabbed me from the beginning. I had no clue then

that I’d soon be working as a private eye. But that’s another



There was a light turnout for tonight’s investigation. Maybe

the rest of the members were out drinking margaritas in

celebration of Cinco de Mayo. That sure beat chasing after ghosts

in this ramshackle building. Kate and I were covering the third

floor and attic of the dilapidated hotel, which dated back to the

early twentieth century. Len and Marsha Cavanaugh, a retired

couple in their late sixties, were snooping around the second

floor. The first floor was the responsibility of Dr. Ernest Bagwell,

our fearless leader and professor of psychology at Parkersville

University. The prof was accompanied by his secretary and

current squeeze, Stella Crawford, a pixyish redhead with an

hourglass figure.


“Check the room for cold spots,” Kate said as she placed

some sort of ghost meter in the middle of the floor.


“Aye aye, ma’am.” I aimed the pistol-shaped infrared

thermometer around the room, watching the red dot dancing

on the walls.


“Well?” Kate said after a minute.


“Negative on the cold spots. Too bad, it’s hot as hell up here.”


Kate snorted and said, “All you’ve done is complain since we

got here.”


“Well, the Braves are playing the Nationals tonight. They’re

tied for first.”


Kate ignored my remark. “Let’s try an EVP session. You sit

on the chest over by that wall.” She pointed across the room

with her flashlight. “I’ll sit here. And make sure your recorder

is turned on.”


“Ma’am, yes ma’am.” I creaked across the attic floor to the old

chest and used my salty Braves cap to knock off layers of dust.

“What’s that mean, again?”


Kate sighed. “Electronic voice phenomena. I see you’ve

really been studying the book I gave you.”


“Oh yeah, this is where we get to talk to the spooks hanging

out up here.”


Kate shined the beam in my face. “Why don’t you just go

home and watch your stupid game?”


Oops. She was getting pissed. “I’m sorry. I know this stuff’s

important to you. I’ll behave.”


“Thank you. Now, is your recorder turned on?”


“Roger that.”


“Okay. Remember to talk as if you’re having a normal

conversation,” Kate said. “I’ll go first. Is there anybody with us



No answer.


“We mean you no harm. We’d just like to communicate with



I struggled to keep from laughing.


“Did you die in this hotel? Are you trapped here?”


Silence for a moment, and then Kate pressed a finger to her

lips. “Shh …. Did you hear that?”




“It sounded like a thump. Didn’t you hear it?”




Kate looked disappointed. “Why don’t you ask a question, Mac.

Maybe they’ll respond to a man’s voice.”


Some people never learn, but I couldn’t resist. I mustered up

the most serious voice I could manage. Whoooo’s winning the

Braves’ game?”


Kate bounced out of the old chair. “Dang it, Mac, can’t

you— ”


A blood-curdling scream from below cut her off.



Michael Helms grew up along the coast of the Florida panhandle, the setting for the Mac McClellan Mystery series. He now lives in the Upstate region of South Carolina in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains where he continues to take dictation from Mac, Kate, and other recurring characters who refuse to leave him alone. Visit his website for further info:


So Long

My brother’s first father-in-law was a writer and he had a syndicated newspaper column and radio show. He taught me to sign off each story with -30-, and never to say goodbye. “So long sounds like you’ll be back, and you always want to be back. Goodbye, sounds like the end.”


The -30- thing always confused me. I mean, couldn’t the editors and typesetters figure out that the story ended. No more papers, no more story. What was with that -30- thing. I was too young to know about the journalistic conventions of telegraphs and teletypes and calling in stories.  My world was typewriters and pads of yellow legal papers. I can only imagine how archaic this sounds to children of the computer generation. Someday cursive notes will be the secret code of people of a certain age. Which is an improvement over writing with mayonnaise. Believe me, I know.

The “so long” think made more sense. It did sound more open than goodbye, so I adopted it as my own. Truth be told, I adopted the -30- thing too until I got a call from the editor of a magazine that frequently published my stories. She asked me to stop using it as she had to take it out of the last three final magazine proofs. The person who set the stories and did the flatpan didn’t recognize the symbol and thought it was part of the story.

clock-faceThis is my first blog of 2017 for MMO. It’s time to say so long to the old year and howdy to the new. It’s been a fantastic year for the blog. We went from 0 readers in March to 2,400 as I write this on November 25th. We’ve been lucky enough to play host to some fantastic guests, and have developed a presence as a must-read blog filled with diverse content.

We’ve had some sad moments too. One of our founders, Max Everhart, asked to be removed from the regular blog rotation. Max is the father of a toddler, a Shamus award finalist, and an English professor. His plate was full. We miss him, but we understand. We’re eagerly waiting for a guest post, and hoping it’s an announcement of his newest book.  Hurry up and write the thing, Max.

What’s coming up for 2017? Ah, the future is always a mystery and there’s plenty of motive to give us the means to have a lot of fun. We’re looking for a regular contributor or two or three to blog with Mike and me. We’re also hoping for lots more guests. If you’re interested, e-mail me at

Join me in lifting a glass to the future!

champagneSo long, for now.

Author photos 009Kait Carson lives in an airpark in south central Florida with a pilot husband, eight tropical birds, and six rescue cats. By day, she’s a practicing probate and litigation paralegal, in the evening, legal pads give way to a keyboard, and she spins tales of murder and mayhem set in the tropical heat. Kait writes two series, the Catherine Swope series, set in Miami, and the Hayden Kent series set in the Fabulous Florida Keys.

Kait loves to hear from readers, check out her website at; follow her on Facebook at, on Twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at