4.23.15 - 7 Minutes With... Andrew Culver

By JT Ellison

This week, I give you another writing member of the Culver clan – Andrew Culver, son of last week’s guest, Carol. Lest you think I know everyone in the free world – I don’t, trust me – I’ve not met Andrew, nor read him, so this interview is his introduction to me, as well as to you.

I hope, as this series grows, to share all sorts of creatives with you – from readers to writers to artists and musicians. Some are friends, some are people I admire, some are strangers I’d like to get to know better. Some I will have consumed their art, some I will plan to do so, and encourage you to do the same. Regardless, I hope you’re enjoying the glimpse behind the scenes of your favorites, and those new to you, as well.

Take it away, Andrew! It’s nice to meet you!


Set your music to shuffle and hit play. What’s the first song that comes up?

I actually just did this, and it’s “Love Dance” by Martin Denny, who released a lot of great exotica records in the fifties. It’s pure kitsch and I love it. When you listen to Martin Denny you feel like you’re in a bar in Honolulu in 1953 having a mai tai and you’re surrounded by parrots and waterfalls.

Now that we’ve set the mood, what are you working on today?

Brainstorming the next book in my series of cocktail mysteries. It’s going to take place in a Mexican cantina. There will be a lot of margaritas, really good tequila, and probably murder.

What’s your latest book about?

My latest book, MAI TAIS AND MURDER, is about a guy who moves to a small town on the California coast and lives in a houseboat. He starts going to a tiki bar on the beach and he falls in love with the bar, and he gets wrapped up in a murder that could threaten everything that he cares about. He has to keep going to the bar in order to get clues to solve this murder.

Where do you write, and what tools do you use?

I write in my house, in my writing room, with the stereo blasting and a strong cup of coffee next to me. The music has to fit the mood of the book I’m writing and it can’t have lyrics for obvious reasons. Writing my last book I listened to a lot of tiki music, including the Tikiyaki Orchestra, a modern group who makes great retro exotica music.

What was your favorite book as a child?

I read all of the Hardy Boys books. They were great because the brothers were always 17 years old and I wanted their lives. They never had to work or go to school, and they just solved mysteries all the time.

What book are you reading now?

I just got an old translation of DON QUIXOTE by Charles Jarvis. It was published in 1742 and I just started it. I’m a little crazy about translations. I have three or four translations of Don Quixote and that many of Virgil and Homer. If it’s in another language, I can’t just trust one translation. Don Quixote is the greatest novel ever written because it has something the other great canonical novels don’t have (except for TRISTRAM SHANDY): it’s really, really funny. It’s also very warm and human and it’s about friendship, and on some level I would like to live in the fantasy world that Quixote lives in.

What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?

Charles Bukowski said something like “it should come roaring out of you.” I think it has to be burning inside of you first, otherwise the book won’t have any urgency. Even if you’re writing a cozy mystery, or a story that takes place on Mars, it has to mean something to you personally. I like to wait until I’m bursting, until the story has been percolating in me for a while and I have the major substance of it figured out before I sit down to write. I’ll go for a long time talking to people about stories, characters, and locations, or making notes, or making day trips to different places in Southern California to scout locations. I will talk to my wife during the whole process and see if ideas make sense. She was a film student and she watches all the new shows on Netflix and she has a good eye for story and character, and she helps soften and round out my ideas. I will even think about the story so much that I start having dreams about it – that’s when a lot of the good stuff comes out. If you’re dreaming about the world of your novel, you’re on the right track. I love the story that Coleridge dreamed his poem “Kubla Khan” and woke up and wrote half of it. Then a friend came over and called him away on some business, and when he returned he had forgotten the rest of the poem, so he just published it like that.

What do you do if the words aren’t flowing?

Go for long walks. Exercise is the key for me to get ideas. I say just step away from the computer if it’s not happening. I’m not going to sit there for two hours writing something that’s terrible if I don’t have any ideas. I like to go on a walk, plan the whole scene, and what needs to be communicated plot-wise, and what the atmosphere and setting are, and then come back and write it down.

What would you like to be remembered for?

I want to be remembered for writing books that were important to me, for following my muse wherever it took me. I always like the writers or musicians who let their muse call the shots.


Andrew Culver

Andrew Culver lives in Los Angeles with his wife. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California and has a Master’s Degree in English. His memoir, YELLOW DAYS, and other novels are available for download on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Here’s a little more about Andrew’s latest novel, MAI TAIS AND MURDER:

Law school dropout Aristotle McCreadie has just inherited a bunch of money from his dad, a lawyer to the stars. Now that he can do whatever he wants, he moves to the California beach town Playa Santiago. He is determined to spend his days in a houseboat lying in the sun and drinking mai tais at the legendary tiki bar, Pirate’s Cove.

But something weird is happening in this idyllic town. A wealthy old real estate mogul, and patron saint of Pirate’s Cove, has just been murdered in his sprawling mansion. And whoever did it knew exactly how to dismantle the alarm system, where his cash was hidden, and where his most expensive antiques were. Now everyone in town seems to think it’s no big deal and no one wants to answer Aristotle’s questions about it.

Aristotle can’t enjoy his mai tais when an unsolved murder is killing his buzz. Now weird things are happening at the victim’s house at night, and to complicate things, a sexy local girl wants to show him all around town. Which would be great if she didn’t have a boyfriend in grad school in Portland.

Why are the police so eager to pass off this crime as an isolated robbery? And why are people whispering about big real estate plans for Playa Santiago? Suddenly Aristotle gets the suspicion that this perfect little town is about to get very tacky and very crowded. Now the future of Pirate’s Cove is in jeopardy, and this will mean the end of the best tiki bar, arguably, in the world. Which means that dozens of drinks with secret family recipes may be lost forever. The Pooka Pooka Bowl. The Mexican Mai Tai. The Naked Surfer Girl. All lost. And Aristotle can’t let that happen.

The good thing about tiki bars is when the liquor flows, people talk. So, in the interest of justice, Aristotle must go to Pirate’s Cove to get information out of these weird and colorful locals. With each mai tai he will get closer to the truth, and he may just save this town.

Via: JT Ellison


Books and Food: What Could Be Better? Prizes!

By Alafair Burke


I am absolutely delighted to report that I am now a professional chef! Okay, that’s not true, but I am officially a published recipe author.

To benefit Mystery Writers of America, more than 100 mystery authors contributed recipes to The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Deserts to Die For. I’m so happy with the finished book that I’m giving away copies, with my recipe signed, to FIVE lucky readers on my Facebook page. To enter, all you have to do is go to the contest post on my Facebook page, “like” the page itself, and then submit a comment in response to this question: “What food or drink would you like to enjoy with which literary character?”

On May 1, I’ll pick five lucky readers to win!

More about this terrific cookbook, edited by Kate White: The very first recipe is mine: “Ellie Hatcher’s Rum-Soaked Nutella French Toast.” Doesn’t it look delicious?

The final one is Lee Child’s “Coffee, Pot of One.” And in between, you’ll find things like Mary Higgins Clark’s Game Night Chili, Harlan Coben’s Crab Meat Dip, Scott Turow’s Innocent Frittata, Laura Lippman’s Aunt Effie’s Salmon Ball, and Kathy Reich’s Shrimp Scampi. It’s a terrific collection!

Remember: head on over to Facebook to enter!

Via: Alafair Burke


The Silence of the Lambs: why no one has done it better

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

I’ve decided that for our next full movie breakdown I’m going to do The Silence of the Lambs.

Because oddly, I’ve never actually done it, here or in one of the workbooks. I reference it so often you would think I had, and I’ve actually taught the movie in my film classes – but that’s not the same as powering down and doing a full on-paper story breakdown.

And I’m in the mood to do it because I just started and almost instantly abandoned another one of thoseserial killer novels. I don’t usually read serial killer novels, even though I am sort of writing a serial killer series. But really the Huntress series is more like an anti-serial killer series.

However, The Silence of the Lambs is one of my all-time favorite books and movies.. It and Red Dragon are the platinum standard of serial killer novels and probably the reason that I ever pick up any other serial killer novel to begin with. And those books are also the reason that I almost always abandon any serial killer novel almost as soon as I start it – often in disgust and horror.

So over the next month or so (we’ll see how long it actually takes!) I’m going to explore what makes this particular story so great. And I’ll start today with some background.

It was Thomas Harris who mythologized the serial killer to classic monster status, although Stevenson’s Jekyll/Hyde, Stoker’s Dracula (supposedly based on the real-life Vlad the Impaler), and various depictions of Jack the Ripper were strong precursors. We are fascinated by the idea of pure evil in a human being. And because of Harris, the serial killer has become an iconic modern monster, like a vampire or werewolf or zombie (maybe replacing the pretty much defunct mummy!).

Because with Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, Harris did a completely brilliant thing. In the 1970′s Special Agents Robert Ressler and John Douglas of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (now called the Behavioral Analysis Unit) began a series of interviews with incarcerated serial killers to see what made these men tick and hopefully develop strategies for catching them. The agents, along with Professor Ann W. Burgess, compiled their findings into a textbook and started to train agents as profilers. This new department got a lot of press and media attention and a large number of authors jumped all over that research. But judging by the books that resulted, very, very few of those authors seem to have actually readthose interviews.

Thomas Harris, though, took the same research that was available to everyone, and used a combination of absolutely precise fact and police procedure and a haunting mythological symbolism to create those first two books, Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs (and then Hannibal sort of went off the rails, if you ask me…). The result was two of the best horror/police procedural blend novels ever written. The killers Jame Gumb (Buffalo Bill) and Francis Dolarhyde were both more and less than human. And Lecter, of course, is a mythic archetype of the evil genius.

And then everyone jumped on the bandwagon and there are now hundreds of Lecters-lite, if you will.

I love Harris’s first two books for their mythic resonance. But I have a real problem with the way most authors portray serial killers because it’s so incredibly dishonest. They romanticize and poeticize serial killers – portraying them as evil geniuses that play elaborate cat and mouse games with detectives and law enforcement agencies. Yeah, right. These men are not geniuses. They don’t leave poems at crime scenes or arrange their victim’s bodies in tableaux corresponding to scenes of great art or literature. They are vicious rapists who brutalize their victims because the agony of those victims gets the killer off, and a large number of them continue to have sex with the corpses of their victims because they are that addicted to absolute control and possession.

That’s evil. But the serial killer subgenre as a whole has perpetrated a very unrealistic view of what these monsters really are. Most authors who write about serial killers don’t show the sexual correlation. They skirt around the issue of rape.

The very worst ones write torture porn – sexualizing the violence, fetishizing women’s bodies, sexualizing the torture of women (conveniently ignoring the fact that many of these killers rape and torture and kill men and children as well) and basically avoid portraying the pure horror of what these men actually do.

I’m sure some authors (not the last group) have an honest desire to create an exploration of mythic evil to rival Harris’s books. I get that. But the fact is, most authors (and screenwriters and filmmakers) who write about serial killers are dishonestly romanticizing them and leaving out the unmitigated, repellent malevolence of these men.

Thomas Harris managed to do everything those other authors/books do not: he portrayed mythic evil without sexualizing violence, and mythologized his killers without leaving out their malevolence. Let’s dig in to how he managed it.

As I talked about here, I will not be posting full story breakdowns on the blog anymore – I’m asking that you join my free Story Structure Extras list to get the story breakdowns.

If you haven’t joined the list, you can do it here, and get a full breakdown of The Wizard of Oz. Then I’ll mail the Silence breakdown in segments as I work through it.

– Alex

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff


4.16.15 - 7 Minutes With... Carol Culver

By JT Ellison

I have the distinct honor of hosting Carol Culver today. Carol is good friends with Catherine Coulter, and I met her at an author’s lunch at Catherine place a couple of years ago. She’s a fascinating woman, travels all over the world teaching writing, on cruises, mostly. I am not a cruiser – that whole can’t-swim-to-shore thing freaks me out – but I might be willing to make an exception for my friend. Enjoy your introduction to her wonderful world!


Set your music to shuffle and hit play. What’s the first song that comes up?

There’s no music in the room where I work. It’s hard enough to concentrate on those elusive characters and their problems without distraction. So here are the rules: no noise, no talking, no email, and no music.

Now that we’ve set the mood, what are you working on today?

A new series about a family of five sisters, which coincidentally resembles my daughter-in-law’s family. She’s delighted, but she hasn’t read it yet.

What’s your latest book about?

The newest book I’m writing is about a woman who gets sucked into being a bridesmaid for the 7th time. This time the wedding takes place on a cruise ship. Sound romantic? Not if you get seasick. But what if the ship’s physician – Dr. McDreamy – prescribes dancing under the stars, plenty of fresh air, and some TLC?

Where do you write, and what tools do you use?

I have a spacious office in my house in a redwood forest. From my window I have an ocean view which inspires me, especially when I see a cruise ship sailing out into the Pacific. Did I mention I love being at sea? I often teach writing classes aboard cruise ships. I’ll be sailing in April to Tahiti and other palm-fringed islands.

What was your favorite book as a child?

I loved the Heidi books, the ones where she lives in the Alps milking cows and eating cheese. It sounded like a wonderful life, once she won over her cold and frightening grandfather. Lots of conflict and a strong and plucky little heroine. Just like I wanted to be.

What book are you reading now?

I plan to read every book by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, the queen of romance novels. Great characters, wonderful settings and to-die-for heroes. I’m currently in the middle of WHAT I DID FOR LOVE.

What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?

Keep writing whether you feel like it or not. What’s that Nora Roberts says? “Put your butt in the chair and some words on the page.” And that means every day. Day after day. Got it?

What do you do if the words aren’t flowing?

What, words flow? You mean like water or wine? Not in my life. I just keep pounding them out.

What would you like to be remembered for?

For making readers smile and even laugh out loud sometimes. It would be great if someone said, “Yes, I get it. That’s just what it feels like.” But I’ll be happy just to finish a new book and publish every few months. It’s the world’s best job. I know because I’ve tried everything else – receptionist, ESL teacher, PR on a hospital ship, French translator and librarian.


Carol Grace is the author of over 40 romance novels for Harlequin, a mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime, a YA series for Berkley Jam, a mystery series for Midnight Ink, and two romances for Pocket Books. She lives in California on a mountain overlooking the ocean and she travels the world for work and fun. Next month she’s off to French Polynesia.

And here’s a little more about the latest book Carol just released on April 1, THE BILLIONAIRE’S BRIDE:

Abbie Porter caught her French fiancé cheating on her, then she flunked out of cooking school in Paris. Feeling like a failure Abbie leaves for Bella Vista, her home in California, determined to get a new job but never ever to get married.

When she arrives at her family’s woodsy property she’s met by Jake Crenshaw, the new neighbor and Silicon Valley entrepreneur. It’s love at first sight for the dot-com billionaire who is not only rich, he’s gorgeous, friendly and sexy too.

But Abbie keeps her cool around Jake. She knows better than to fall for the first man she meets after her disastrous affair in Paris. Though Jake invests in her new food truck business, helps drum up business and buys her a puppy, she tells him they can be friends, nothing more. After a few weeks of working together making French crepes in the food truck, and after Jake has repaired the flat tire on her truck and fixed the faulty griddle and eaten every test crepe she creates, she finally falls madly in love. But Jake has to take a business trip which leaves Abbie to run the truck by herself. To her surprise she’s inundated by hungry customers and her food truck is a big success.

Turns out Jake has secretly supported her venture by underwriting the cost of the lunches and sending customers her way. When she finds out she’s furious and determined to make it on her own . . .

Get your own copy of THE BILLIONAIRE’S BRIDE to see how it all turns out!

Via: JT Ellison


Huntress Moon and Blood Moon $1.99 - today only!

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

HUNTRESS MOON and BLOOD MOON are Kindle Daily Deals, $1.99 today only on Amazon US!

Both books are still just £1 each on Amazon UK for the entire month of April, leading up to the release of Book 3, COLD MOON. Fantastic deals – please share!

Pre-order on Amazon UK

Pre-order on Amazon US

The Huntress/FBI Thrillers

Special Agent Matthew Roarke thought he knew what evil was. He was wrong.

FBI Special Agent Roarke is closing in on a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who was present at each scene of a years-long string of “accidents” and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers… a female serial.

His hunt for her will take him across three states, and force him to question everything he knows about evil and justice.


Book 1 of Thriller Award-winning author Alexandra Sokoloff’s Huntress/FBI Thrillers, Huntress Moon, became a #1 Amazon mystery/thriller bestseller and was nominated for a Thriller Award for Best E Book Original Novel. The series has now been picked up by Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint. The highly anticipated Book 3, Cold Moon, will release on May 5.

Told in continuous, serial format like True Detective and The Killing, and utilizing the intricate psychological/forensic procedure of Criminal Minds, the Huntress series sets a cast of complex FBI investigators in pursuit of an unforgettable female suspect who has been called “a female Dexter.” The story combines nail-biting suspense and a twisting mystery plot with deadly erotic tension, and has garnered hundreds of rave reviews from readers who find themselves sympathizing with its haunted male lead and unexpectedly empathizing with its highly unusual killer.

For thousands of years women have been the victims. Isn’t it time someone turned the tables?

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff