Great New Review!

Happy surprise to see this review of my book on Mark S. Bacon’s blog. Thanks, Mark!

Fast-paced Mystery Scares, Intrigues

As an amateur detective, Britt Johansson, a Pulitzer-prize winning press photographer, is brash, aggressive, occasionally reckless and has the patience of a toddler with ADD. “Following the rules…didn’t always work for me,” she says.

When she stumbles on a gruesome murder in her small hometown of Spirit Lake, Minn., she’s off and running in an absorbing tale that has both unsettling and heart-breaking elements. The first murder scene—not the only one—is so vivid and shocking it puts you on edge. The story then segues into a mystery investigation that could lead to hate crimes or systematic terror. And possibly bad news for Johansson. “I…heard the unmistakable crack of a pump action shotgun behind me.” Author Townsdin provides murderous details sufficient to shock, without bloody, slasher-style prose. A good balance.

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Her characters include some typical Scandinavians (this is Minnesota, after all) a batch of scary zealots and a mixed batch of writers encamped in Spirit Lake for a seminar. Johansson’s brother’s restaurant becomes her investigation headquarters and later, her fortress. “Every customer who entered the restaurant looked like a psychopath killer to me,” Johansson says.

Following Johansson as she searches for the killer, moves you not just at a swift pace, but in unusual and unexpected directions with unexpected consequences. The local sheriff takes appropriate precautions, but Britt Johansson wants to kick the investigation into high gear, and then some. In addition to being impulsive, she’s suspicious, a good trait for an investigator. As a journalist, she explains, “I generally looked at people with distrust. Most of them were in the news for a reason—bad behavior.”

As the second in the Spirit Lake series, this book expands on Johansson’s relationship with her sometimes boyfriend Ben, her brother, the local sheriff and other media and law enforcement folk. Johansson is almost as unpredictable as the killer or killers she’s stalking and the ending deals satisfyingly with the crimes but leaves Johansson’s personal and professional life in disarray–ready for the next installment.

Check out Mark’s blog and his mystery, Death in Nostalgia City. I loved it!

SinC-Up Blog Hop

I’m a member of the national mystery writers’ organization, Sisters in Crime (SinC), and was happily tagged by the delightful author and blogger Joyce Mason, to join the September Sisters in Crime SinC-Up for Bloggers. We’re invited to answer questions about ourselves as an author. Here are mine:

What books are on your nightstand right now?

  • Still Writing, The Perils and Pleasures of the Writing Life by Dani Shapiro. I’ve read it and reread it—always inspiring.
  • A Story Larger than My Own—women writers look back on their lives and careers, Edited by Janet Burroway. I’m enjoying reading these women writers as they look back at their long and successful careers. Their perspective is a contrast to my own life. I’m now fulfilling a dream, writing mysteries full time after decades of writing and editing for corporations and nonprofits. I’m excited to wake up every morning and dip into that fictional world I’ve created, and I’m learning more every day about publishing and promoting.
  • The Red Convertible, Selected and New Stories by Louise Erdrich. Many of the stories in this collection have appeared in the New Yorker and other publications. I’m a long-time fan and was thrilled when a dear friend gave this book to me.
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I recently read The Goldfinch, and loved the lyrical writing and wonderful characters, and now I want to read her other work.
  • The Passionate, Accurate Story by Carol Bly. Another old standby, I pick up this book to be reminded of my responsibility to the reader, the story, and to myself.
  • Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I often blog about how my journey through the writing, publishing and promoting process affects me as an introvert—my challenges, milestones and achievements. I watched Cain’s TED talk before picking up the book, and am enjoying delving deeper into her experiences and insights.

In my Kindle queue:

  • The Long Way Home by Louise Penny
  • The Crystal Ball by Joyce Mason
  • All Hallows at Eyre Hall by Luccia Gray
  • House of Dads by June Gillam
  • Too many books to name about writing, publishing and social media.

If someone said “Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men,” how would you respond?

I would reply, “Nothing against people whose favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men,” but you’re missing out on some of the best writing in the genre.

For me, it’s about the story and the storytelling, and what I’m in the mood to read at a specific time. That works out to be about equal female and male writers.

A good mystery—with psychological depth, interesting setting, flawed and unusual characters, wit and humor, gritty, and a little romance—could be written by a triple-gender space alien and I wouldn’t care as long as it was a well-written story with a few surprises.

If you were to mentor a new writer, what would you tell her about the writing business?

I wouldn’t talk to a new writer about the business of writing. I wouldn’t give advice on what, when, how to or how much to write, and I wouldn’t ever discourage a new writer, because life can get in the way of our best intentions.

I’d say, if you want to write, never let that fire burn out, no matter what it takes. If you’re a mother with a full-time job, elderly parents, sick kids, sick pets, a demanding husband, or you’re barely making ends meet, keep that ember alive, blow gentle breaths into it whenever you can, and when you’re ready it will be waiting for you.

Blog Recommendations 

Part of the SinC-Up blogfest is sharing other blogs readers might enjoy. Please check out these wonderful authors:

Susan Spann, author of the Shinobi mysteries, set in Japan.

June Gillam, author of the Hillary Broome mysteries, poetry and nonfiction.

Julie Williams, author of young adult novels and poetry; mixed media artist.

Meet Britt Johansson!

Luccia Gray, a wonderful blogger and author has invited me to participate in a Meet the Main Character blog hop. Check out her blog, Rereading Jane Eyre, and novel, All Hallows at Eyre Hall.

Thank you, Luccia! I’m thrilled to be part of this blog hop, and I love any opportunity to talk about my main character. Here are the answers to questions about my protagonist in my debut novel, Focused on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery.

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1.  What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or historical?

My main character is Britt Johansson. She’s a fictional 34-year-old former Pulitzer prize-winning LA Times photographer.

2. When and where is the story set?

My Spirit Lake mystery series is set in Northern Minnesota. I’m drawn to stories that take place in northern climates, with unpredictable weather and people. I wanted to pay homage to the Native American culture, lakes and small towns. It’s my way of keeping in touch with my roots.

3. What should we know about her?

Britt has a big heart, bad attitude and wicked sense of humor. In Focused on Murder, Britt’s reckless behavior has nearly ended her career. She’s been fired from the LA Times and returns to the small town where she grew up to put her life and career back together. She gets a chance to redeem herself when she’s hired at the Northern Bureau of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Britt stumbles upon a co-ed’s frozen body, sets off to follow the killer and ends up in the crosshairs of an international crime ring, where she becomes the prey.

4. What makes her interesting?

Britt has been away for a long time photographing environmental and war disasters around the globe, but friends and family provide the stability and balance she needs. Her brother and his partner run a café in Spirit Lake, and she’s in love with forest ranger, who often thinks she’s too much trouble. She’s usually at odds with the people who love her, and yet they continue to care about her. She doesn’t believe in mystic powers, but an Ojibwe elder guides her in the right direction in spite of herself.

5. What is the personal goal of the character?

Britt’s personal goals—to stay in Spirit Lake surrounded by her loved ones—conflict with her professional goals, or calling—to document the suffering of the vulnerable of the world, usually women and children, and that means traveling to places like Iraq, South Sudan or Ukraine and putting herself in life-threatening situations.

However, even her hometown of Spirit Lake turns out to be a perfect location for all kinds of dirty deeds: easy entry points along the vast wilderness of the US/Canadian border, an Indian reservation that’s off limits to most law enforcement, and a dangerously mistaken perception that nothing happens in small towns.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

See answer below.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

Focused on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery is now available for purchase at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ITunes and Kobo.

Close Up on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery, second in the series is due in 2015. After that, I’ll publish a Prequel that reveals the story of what initially brought Britt back to Spirit Lake—a murder, of course, but whose?

8. Tap several more authors to highlight their books.

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to the following bloggers and writers:

Julie Williams author of Drama Queens in the House

June Gillam author of House of Cuts and House of Dads

 Kevin Cooper author of The Wizard, the Girl and the Unicorn’s Horn

 I’m looking forward to reading about their main characters!

Keeping Art and Writing Fresh

Linda Townsdin

Linda Townsdin

Writing and making art have always played important roles in my creative life. Most recently, I’ve been concentrating on my mystery series—creating images with words instead of paint.

My dear friend, Julie Williams, a wonderful artist and writer, recently sent me a gift of watercolor art materials and told me about a technique she thought I’d enjoy. She was right. I always love trying something new.

Not long ago, encaustic painting captured my imagination and I created the piece above. For those unfamiliar with encaustic art, the medium is hot (or cold) wax and pigments. I did this piece using hot wax on glass.

For me, the back and forth between visual art and writing has been a way to refresh my spirit, and it always enhances my work. I know many writers who read this blog are also musicians, artists, photographers, etc. I’d love to hear how combining your creative activities keeps you inspired.

New Q & A on Kev’s Blog

Kevin Cooper at Kev’s Blog made my day last week by posting a Q & A with me about my book and how I came to write it. His questions made me think, and I appreciated the opportunity. The best part is connecting with new people who have lots of different interests and backgrounds—the reason I started blogging two years ago.

You’ll find interesting reading on Kev’s blog: music, book reviews, Q & A with new writers, and much more. I hope you’ll check out my Q & A and take a look at Kev’s blog!

Here are a few examples of the questions and answers:

Kevin: How long have you been writing for?
You could say I’ve been writing my entire adult life including working on my own personal projects and during my career as a writer, editor and communications specialist for corporate and non-profit organizations. Most recently, I was senior writer and editor for a criminal justice organization, and that background has been helpful in plotting my Spirit Lake mysteries. And now that my children and grown and I’m not commuting to a job every day, I’m finally living my dream of writing fiction full time.

Kevin: Why do you write?
I write for a lot of reasons. I’ve kept a journal for twenty years because that’s what balances and focuses me. Writing short poetic fiction with a small weekly group helps me tap into a deeper level of creativity. I read all kinds of books, but the mystery genre is satisfying to write. The stakes are high, it’s fun to figure out the clues and hide them from readers, and justice is always served in the end.

Kevin: So is mystery your main genre?
It’s hard to categorize, but Traditional Mystery comes closest. My mysteries have an edge, but lots of heart, and they’re also about family and community, which isn’t always pretty. I’ve chosen a small town setting because it’s a microcosm, but the same shameful secrets and selfless actions happen among humans everywhere. So even though my mysteries are about the horrible things people can do to each other, they’re also about the everyday heroes who tip the balance and enhance our lives. People who pay attention to us, who see us and our flaws and love us anyway.

Kevin: Who would you say are your favorite/most influential authors and why?
There are too many to name, so I’ll narrow it down to my favorite mystery authors who write about the parts of the country similar to mine—Minnesota, Michigan, Canada. Here are four: Steve Hamilton, John Sandford, William Kent Krueger and Louise Penny.

Okay, I’ll name a few others I love: Annie Proulx, Louise Erdrich, Kate Atkinson, Ian McEwen, Richard Russo, Michael Chabon, Elisabeth Strout, Jim Lynch, Larry McMurtry, Anita Shreve, Sherman Alexie, Wally Lamb.

Kevin: What is your latest (published) book called and what is it about?
Focused on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery, is the first in the series with Britt Johansson, a former Pulitzer prize-winning LA Times photographer whose reckless behavior nearly ended her career. She gets a chance to redeem herself when she’s working in Northern Minnesota and stumbles across an international crime ring that ultimately pits her and her brother against a psychopathic killer.

Her hometown of Spirit Lake is a perfect location for all kinds of dirty deeds: easy entry points along the vast wilderness of the US/Canadian border, an Indian reservation that’s off limits to most law enforcement, and a dangerously mistaken perception that nothing happens in small towns.

Kevin: Sounds very interesting. Who or what influenced you to write it?
My story ideas are based on a social issue that haunts me, and then I have a cast of characters that change and grow through the series, depending on what they’re dealing with.
I believe average women and men perform heroic acts every day, although maybe not always chasing down bad guys and saving people’s lives as they do in my mysteries. My female protagonist, photojournalist Britt Johansson, like many journalists, will stop at nothing to get the story, or in her case, the photo. She’s a crusader who champions the vulnerable of the world and wants to bring their stories to light.

Kevin: Is your book part of a series?
Focused on Murder is the first in the Spirit Lake Mystery series, and I’m close to finishing the second. After that, I’ll publish a Prequel that reveals the story of what initially brought Britt back to Spirit Lake—a murder, of course, but whose?

Kevin: Could you give us a little spoiler?
This is from my work in progress—a cryptic comment from Edgar, the Ojibwe Elder who often guides Britt, even though his obscure hints drive her crazy:

The creases in Edgar’s face folded in on themselves. “I’m troubled. The anger seems new, and yet old.”
His claw-like hand clamped over my wrist. “Be extra careful. Evil is seeking you from more than one direction.”

Kevin: Do you have any advice for other writers?
I had a completed draft of Focused and asked an editor to review the structure. People who read a lot of mysteries are sophisticated when it comes to the puzzle; not enough information, or revelations that come at the wrong time frustrate them. It does me too, but it’s much different writing one than reading one. The editor said I’d written the first half as a mystery, and the second half as a thriller and I needed to make up my mind what I was writing. I hadn’t seen that flaw until she pointed it out, and I agreed. I chose mystery and ended up rewriting much of the second half of the book.
My advice is not to worry about those kinds of things early on. Just write. Because the work I did wasn’t wasted, it helped to hone my story, develop my characters more deeply, and rewriting brought in some interesting new characters who wouldn’t have been there without the extra work.