Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Guest today, Pepper O'Neal!

Pepper O'Neal is here today to take us along on some of her research adventures. AND, she had a new book out last month (be sure and check the links below). Here's a bit about her.

Award-winning author, Pepper O’Neal is a researcher, a writer, and an adrenalin junkie. She has a doctorate in education and spent several years in Mexico and the Caribbean working as researcher for an educational resource firm based out of Mexico City. During that time, she met and befriended many adventurers like herself, including former CIA officers and members of organized crime. Her fiction is heavily influenced by the stories they shared with her, as well her own experiences abroad.

O’Neal attributes both her love of adventure and her compulsion to write fiction to her Irish and Cherokee ancestors. When she’s not at her computer, O’Neal spends her time taking long walks in the forests near her home or playing with her three cats. And of course, planning the next adventure.

And now, let's hear from her.

What Do You Mean You Haven’t Been There?

A lot of writers today set their fiction in places they have never been, and do it very convincingly. While this wasn’t possible as little as twenty years ago, today it’s as easy as sitting down at a computer and logging onto the Internet—well, at least if you know what to look for.

While I have traveled extensively in Mexico and the Caribbean—and I have set a novel there—I’ve also set novels in places where I’ve never been, like England and the Middle East. I currently have two series out, one about vampires and shifters (Blood Fest) set in England for the most part, and the other about the mafia and the CIA (Black Ops Chronicles) set in the US, Mexico, and the Middle East. But apparently I do it well enough that I’ve had more than one author contact me and ask me questions about places I’ve used in my novels that they want to use as well. They’re certain I’ve been there and should be able to answer their questions. I’ve also read novels written by an author friend whom I’ve known for years—long enough to know that she has never been to the places she writes about—and would never guessed, had I not known her, that she hasn’t actually been there.

So how do we do it? The answer to that is complicated. First you have to do hours of research, on the internet, or contact organizations in the target country that deal with tourism, or—if you’re lucky enough to have them—ask friends who have been there. And secondly, you have to know what questions to ask or the research you do won’t give your novel that authentic ring of truth.

Think about it. When you travel to a foreign place, what memories to you bring back with you that last the longest? And what is it about foreign places that a person who’s been there knows that someone just doing research doesn’t? The answer is one that has become a cliché of sorts. It’s the “little things,” the ordinary, everyday inconveniences and differences that have had people scraping and saving, sometimes their entire lives, just to experience these places.

For example, did you know that in a lot of places in Mexico, Central America, and South America the sanitation systems are so inferior that they can’t handle toilet paper and you have to put that in a trashcan by the toilet? Or that in most of the smaller markets you have to bring your own bags as the merchants don’t provide them? Or that many towns and villages have only dirt sidewalks and streets and that, when you walk on them, you kick up little wakes of dust behind you that can hang in the air for hours if there’s no breeze? Or that in a lot of less-than-five-star hotels and motels you’re likely to have company in the shower in the form of the largest cockroaches you’ve ever seen? Or that if there is something you routinely use, such as emery boards or certain cosmetics, and you find it at a local store, you need to buy several if you can, because the next time you need it, you might not be able to find it? Or that it’s very hard to find dark hair dye anywhere in those countries except in the largest cities? (Blonde or red, no problem, but as dark hair is the norm in those countries, stores rarely stock dark hair dye.) Or that, unlike in the US, the rules often don’t apply?

For example, one of my fondest memories from living and working in Mexico and the Caribbean comes from the time I had to take a bus trip. I worked for an educational resource firm based in Mexico City. We collected information for documentaries, many of them for The Discovery Channel, as well as for schools and universities, and for organizations preparing educational programs. This one time, my team was asked to gather some information on a particular area in rural Mexico. We usually drove wherever we needed to go, but this particular time several vehicles were dead-lined for repairs, so we were handed bus tickets. The trip was a fairly long one, so the bus stopped for a meal break at a small village restaurant. However, this busload was fuller than usual, thanks to my team, and the little restaurant was overwhelmed. And as the bus had a schedule to keep, we didn’t have a lot of time to wait for our food. So the other female on the team and I went back to the kitchen to see if we could help. Now picture this: the two women in the kitchen spoke no English and, at that time, neither my teammate nor I spoke much Spanish. So we learned to make tortillas and salsa with instructions consisting of grunts, gibberish (to us anyway), and hand gestures. Our misinterpretation of many of those instructions had the entire group in stitches. I’m not sure how much we helped, as we were probably more of a hindrance, but everyone had a blast. If the food was perhaps a little less tasty than it normally would have been, it was still the one of the meals I enjoyed and remembered the most. And the flour and tomato sauce we were covered with when we got back on the bus was an indication of how much fun we’d had—an experience we’d never have gotten anywhere in the US, as least nowhere I’ve ever been.

In my latest novel, the second in the Black Ops Chronicles series, Black Ops Chronicles: Dead Men Don’t, which came out on June 28, 2014, my female lead, Andi, is kidnapped and taken to the Middle East and my black-ops-expert hero, Levi, has to rescue her. Now while I have never been to the Middle East, Levi has, or at least his real-life counterpart has. He really did work for the British SAS as well as the CIA. So in addition to the internet research I did, I got a lot of my information from Levi. For example, there’s a sandstorm in my novel and, obviously, I’ve never experienced one of those. But luckily—or unluckily depending on your point of view—Levi has. So he was able to tell me about how strong the wind was (I guess it would have to be to blow that much sand around) and how that sand burrowed under your clothes and stung every inch of skin it could reach. It wasn’t an experienced he relished. And while he hadn’t enjoyed the experience or the memories, they were invaluable to me. Luckily, he has a great sense of humor and didn’t get too offended by my enthusiastic delight at what he suffered. I tried to be sympathetic—honest, I did—but it was hard when I was getting so much valuable information. He told the story with that dry humor the British are so famous for and, when he was finished, I felt like I’d been there. Would I have had Andi taken to the Middle East if Levi hadn’t been there? Maybe, maybe not. There are plenty of other places I could have used that I’ve either been to or have friends who have. But the Middle East worked with my plot line and, as Levi had been there and had a wealth of information I could use, how could I resist?

A strange man has come to save her...but is he friend or foe?

Anderson Merritt’s been kidnapped, but when a stranger comes to rescue her, she isn’t sure he is who he says he is. He claims to work her father’s boss. But someone close to Andi set her up, and now she doesn’t know who to trust. Every man she’s ever known has seen her only as a tool to get to her father or his money, so why should this one be any different? As the sparks between them ignite, and the danger escalates, Andi has to choose—go off on her own, or trust that some men really are what they seem.

He doesn’t want to hurt her…but he may have to if she doesn’t come willingly.

Ex-CIA black ops specialist Levi Komakov doesn’t believe in hurting women, but when the place is set to blow and Andi won’t cooperate, he has no choice to but toss her over his shoulder and carry her out of danger, determined to keep her safe in spite of herself. But the beautiful little spitfire doesn’t make it easy for him. With her abductors seemingly always one step ahead of him, Levi suspects there’s a rat in the woodpile, but who? Could it be someone close to Andi’s father, someone in the FBI, or someone in the family Levi works for? When a new threat appears, and even the CIA can’t help him keep Andi safe, Levi puts everything on the line—but will it be enough?

Pepper O’Neal—Come for the Adventure, Stay for the Romance

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Music and the Mystery

I’m a writer, but I’m also a musician. I’ve painted pictures, but don’t consider myself good enough at that to take on the title.

But, consider those first two: writer and musician. I know a lot of people are both. And every songwriter is both, of course.  I’m finding it hard to separate the two, the further I get into mystery writing. I can’t write a novel without some reference to music. I’ve started one serieswith a musician sleuth, and another—that emerges in September—with a music-loving sleuth.

Besides those blendings, I know a lot of writers who have music playing while they work. They set their mood, get inspiration, put themselves into a certain time period, and probably use music for more things I can think of.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s in spite of the fact that I’m a musician—or because of it—that I can’t write when music is playing. My mind wanders over to the notes and I end up concentrating on them instead of my words.

If you are a writer, how do you use music? If you’re a musician, what’s your connection with words and music? Do you read to music? Drive to music? Dance?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

ARC giveaway!

Please see Janet Cantrell's blog for a chance to win an ARC of FAT CAT AT LARGE!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Summertime and Blues

There’s so much to love about summertime. The lazy, hazy, crazy days.

The sunshine, the easy livin’. (Sorry about the ad on this link. I love this version)
This, by the way, is one of my favorite songs in the world. I even sang it once on a very small stage. I’m partial to blues. Something about summer and blues, isn’t there?

I can’t mention summertime and blues without this one
Sorry about the bad sound, but the visuals are essential.
If you don’t know this one, here are the lyrics.

Are your feet tappin’? Are the blues lifting? No, click on the links, man.

I hope you have as much fun listening to these as I’ve had, putting this post together.

Hint: a couple three glasses of wine make it even better.

All the photos are from

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Are you reading this or listening to it?

If you’re tuned in with software that reads the screen to you, it’s probably because you have a hearing problem, right?

I would love for everyone to be able to enjoy my books, so I’m making them available as audio books as much as I can.

My first Imogene Duckworthy mystery, CHOKE, has been professionally produced by Audible and is available now at I’m very pleased to announce that the next two in the series are being read by the same artist, Veronica Newton, and will become available later this year. We hope to have SMOKE ready in September and BROKE in November.

My Cressa Carraway mystery, EINE KLEINE MURDER, is a downloadable mp3 file at

Keziah Isaacs read the short story DRIVING OUT OF DUMAS and it’s free from my webpage at
If you listen to any of these and enjoy them, I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Some facts on EINE KLEINE MURDER setting

This novel is mostly set in the area around Alpha, a real town in rural Illinois, straight south of the Quad-Cities, where I grew up. My grandmother and one of my many aunts lived in Alpha and we visited often. It was a thirty to forty minute drive on Highway 150, a two-lane road with ample shoulders, except when you were crossing the Edwards River bridge. I believe it’s widened now, but it used to feel like you needed to tuck in your elbows when you drove across it.

Alpha was laid out on June 1, 1872, by Anson Calkins. It was a railroad town that replaced Oxford, which was located about three miles west of current day Alpha. Calkins called the village was named Alpha (the first letter of the Greek alphabet), because he believed it to be the beginning of a great city.

Interesting irrelevant facts:  1) In the early 1980s, director Barry Levinson looked at Alpha's railroad car diner as a possible location for filming scenes for his movie Diner. 2) Alpha's zip code (61413) is Pi in reverse (3.1416).

The diner was still there when I was a child. I ate in it several times. The diner is gone, but the bowling alley and attached restaurant are still there. So is the pretty Lutheran church on the corner. The village contains many no-nonsense, but old, houses built at the turn of the century or before. The Alwood pharmacy also still stands. It’s named for Alpha and the nearby town of Woodhull, as is the local school district.

My grandfather owned a gas station on the main road, the hard top. It was a feed store once and the owner was eager to show me the small part of it that had been the gas station office. I’m not sure if the feed store is still there or not.

My mother had a membership at Crecent Lake Club as an adult and we spent many happy summer days swimming and fishing there. In fact, the cabin that Cressa Carraway’s Gram owns is very closely modeled after my mother’s.

I hope you had fun visiting this tiny village. I had fun setting my novel there. If you haven't read it and would like to, please visit either the publisher's site, Barking Rain Press or any of the other book sellers listed on my web page.

some information from,_Illinois

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Travels of Edith Maxwell

This woman has traveled! She's been to places all over the map. Here's Edith--read on:

Thanks so much to Kaye for hosting me here again.

I've been thinking about how traveling is like writing, how living in another country is like writing a novel. In my adult life, I have lived overseas for various periods of time: from half a year to two years in almost a half-dozen countries. Brazil for a year as young seventeen-year-old exchange student.
Just home in 1971 from a year in Brazil
 Japan for almost two years, teaching English and living with an American beau who was in the US Navy.
With friend Tomoko in Japan, 1977
 France for half a year with my husband and infant first-born. Mali for a year with same husband, same first-born, and the second-born, when they were five and two. Burkina Faso for a year when the boys were twelve and nine.
With a diviner and her grandson in Burkina Faso, 1999

Before I packed my bags and headed for a new home, I'd mostly never been to that country before, with brief exceptions for France and Mali. I'd certainly never lived in any of those places and didn't really know what to expect. The language, people, and culture revealed themselves to me as time went on. When I came home, I was done with that life. I haven't returned to live in any of those places, and only to Brazil did I go back for a brief visit. I’ve made plenty of repeat visits to places in the US and Canada, but I haven’t returned to live on other continents.

Writing a book is like that, too. When I start, I might have an idea of where I'm going, but I don't really know the story. I've never written it before. I create a cast of new characters to go along with the core series characters, and these new people gradually reveal themselves to me: the way they talk, their problems, their joys. And after I turn in the book, I'll never write it again. I’ll refer back to it when I write the sequel, talk about it at a library event or on a panel, or write a blog post about it, but basically I'm done with that story and moving on to the next. 
Where Edith writes

Since the books I write are all set in northeastern Massachusetts (so far), my research keeps me at home. I haven't lived overseas since I started writing novels in earnest in 2009, although I have visited Costa Rica and Puerto Rico, and am planning a trip to Italy in a couple of years. I guess I'm doing my traveling in my head and on the pages these days. And I love it.

Readers: do you repeat visits to far-off places? What would be the one place you’d like to go back to again and again? And do you reread books?

Here's Edith's biography and contact information: Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing), the Speaking of Mystery series under the pseudonym Tace Baker, featuring Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau (Barking Rain Press), and the historical Carriagetown Mysteries, as well as award-winning short crime fiction.

A mother, world traveler, and former technical writer, Edith lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats. She blogs every weekday with the Wicked Cozy Authors. You can find her here: