Subterranean Terror And Adventure

From “The Subterranean World” by George Hartwig, 1872. From the MIT Library website.

I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for a story or novel set somewhere beneath the earth’s surface. I suppose I can lay this odd predilection of mine squarely on Jules Verne’s doorstep.

After all, what kid, especially a young boy, hasn’t read A Journey To The Center Of The Earth? My first exposure was a comic book version. Then I read the novel, and afterwards saw a movie version. I was hooked.

When writing my first novel, Festival Of Death, I discovered there are caves beneath Minneapolis! That was all it took. I just had to set part of Tina’s and Harry’s case in the labyrinths beneath the city.

There’s something about subterranean worlds and settings that captures our imagination in a way no other setting does. Perhaps it’s the idea of the hidden and mysterious right beneath our feet. There’s also the notion that below ground is associated with death, and by extension evil.

I suppose it all started with Hades — the land of the dead in Greek mythology. A mysterious realm prohibited to the living with but rare exceptions.

Of course we can’t forget Dante’s Inferno. Another portrayal of the realm of the dead. And equally as forbidding as the pictures portrayed in the Greek myths.

It was in the 18th-century that subterranean fiction really got its start as something separate from portrayals of the land of the dead.

There’s Ludvig Holberg’s Nicolai Klimii inter subterraneum, published in 1741. Nicolai Klim spends several years exploring an earth inside our earth.

In 1788, Giacomo Casanova (yes, that Casanova) published the 5-volume Icosaméran. The “book” is an 1,800-page story of a brother and sister who discover a subterranean utopia.

The 19th century saw a proliferation of novels and stories with subterranean settings.

  • The 1820 sci-fi novel Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery
  • Poe’s 1838 novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
  • The above-mentioned novel by Verne, published in 1864
  • Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, published in 1871
  • In 1881 there appeared Mary Lane’s hollow earth novel, Mizora, complete with feminist themes!
  • William R Bradshaw’s 1892 sci-fi novel The Goddess of Atvatabar (Avatar?)

The above are just a few of the many novels making their appearance before the reading public during the 1800s.

In the 20th century, subterranean fiction continued full-steam ahead. Burrough’s Pellucidar series. Rex Stout’s Under the Andes. Charles R Tanner’s Tumithak of the Corridors. Sean O’Larkin’s Morgo the Mighty; Otis Adelbert Kline’s Tam, Son of the Tiger; and Stanton A Coblentz’s Hidden World. To name just a few.

JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis have subterranean worlds, as does L Frank Baum. There was even a Choose Your Own Adventure hollow earth book: The Underground Kingdom (1983).

And the above are only a few of the 20th century’s offerings. The outpouring of novels set in subterranean worlds hasn’t abated. It’s a setting that continues to inspire.

HP Lovecraft made use of the theme in at least 4 of his stories:

  • The Beast in the Cave
  • The Transition of Juan Romero
  • The Festival
  • The Mound

And I make use of a subterranean world in my forthcoming Pierce Mostyn adventure: Stairway to Hell.

Life below ground was never so good. If you have a favorite subterranean novel, let me know in the comments. Until next time, happy reading!

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Let’s Sample a Murder!

Next week I’ll publish The Conspiracy Game, the 4th book in the Justinia Wright, PI series.

Back in 1982, when I read Raleigh Bond’s story “Meet Athalia Goode”, the editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine made the complaint there weren’t enough female detectives. Which, at the time, was very true. Other than Miss Marple and a Sharon McCone mystery, the only other female sleuths were out of print Victorians.

However, 1982 was a seminal year. For it saw the appearance of the second Sharon McCone mystery and the introduction of Kinsey Milhone and V. I. Warshawski. Since then, there has been an explosion of female sleuths to the point where they now seem to dominate the field.

Justinia Wright was born in 1982, in the hopes she’d be my claim to fame. Unfortunately another seven years would pass before her first adventure, Festival of Death, was committed to paper. And in so doing came the realization my fiction writing skills were not yet up to the task.

Another twenty-five years would pass before I’d re-write and much improve Festival of Death. Now there are three novels, three novellas, and five short stories chronicling her adventures.

I hope the two initial chapters from The Conspiracy Game wet your appetite to read more of the stories of my favorite characters: Justinia and Harry Wright. Enjoy the sample!

The Conspiracy Game

The Conspiracy Game1 online-copy

She’s Not Here

Friday Night into Saturday Morning
September 19th to 20th

Cut a flatworm in half and you get two flatworms. Unfortunately, private investigation agencies aren’t flatworms. Take the best detective out of the agency and you’re left with an agency that doesn’t have its best detective.

Which helps explain why Bea, my wife and assistant, was at home in the office holding down the fort, while Ed Hafner and I were sitting in my car waiting for a man by the name of Darren Clay to emerge from the bar we’d tracked him to. I was getting paid all of $475 to find the guy and serve him the summons. And because Ed was sitting next to me, I wouldn’t get to keep all of it.

Ed is one of the three freelancers Tina hired when she needed extra hands, feet, ears, and eyes. Only Tina didn’t hire him. I did. Harry Wright, the guy now running Wright Investigations.

“Any idea when she’s coming back?” Ed took a bite out of his burger. The “she” he was referring to was Tina, my sister, and the Justinia Wright behind Wright Investigations.

“No. I don’t even know where the hell she is, Ed.”

“I don’t mean to pry, but that must’ve been one helluva big fight she and Lieutenant Swenson had.”

“It was big. In fact, it was gargantuan.”

Tina and Cal Swenson have been on and off lovers since before I came to live and work with her, some half-dozen years ago. Through it all, they remained friends. However, this time was different. Not only did Cal read her the riot act for withholding evidence and obstructing justice, he threatened to yank her license, and told her he was sleeping with his partner and wouldn’t be coming back to live with her. Couple the threat and the revelation with the fact Tina pulled a gun on him and, yeah, it was very much one helluva big fight.

Four days later, Tina packed a suitcase and left. Not one word as to where she was going or what she’d be doing. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Just said, “goodbye”, and that she’d be in touch. And keep in touch she did, up until six weeks ago. A weekly text message saying she was fine and then, “I’ll be out of touch for awhile. Always remember, I love you, Harry. Bea, too.” And that was it. Now nothing and I’m worried sick about her.

Bea and I have done what we can to keep the home fires burning. We’ve fed her cats. We’ve kept the agency open taking whatever work comes our way. It’s not a lot, though. Without Tina, Wright Investigations is just one among many. The work, such as it is, does keep Bea and me in practice. We’ve also learned shorthand. Just in case. One can’t always use a digital recorder and being able to take down a conversation in shorthand seemed to me to have its advantages.

Ed was shaking his big head. “Yeah, that’s too bad. Me and the missus, we have us a doozy every now and then. But we always work it out. Got the kids, ya know?”

“Kids make a difference.”

“They sure do. Makes ya think about something other than yourself.”

Our quarry emerged from the bar. “Okay, Ed, here we go.”

We got out of the car and made for the intended recipient of the summons I had in my hand. He was preoccupied with the hotty on his arm. Ed and I moved in. He got behind the couple and I positioned myself in front.

“Darren Clay?” I asked.

“Who wants to know?”

“I do. I have something for you, if you’re Darren Clay.”

“Get the hell outta my face.”

He took a swing at me and I got out of the way just in time.

Ed grabbed him and the hotty started screaming. I turned to her and she took off running back to the bar. A crowd was beginning to gather. Ed had Clay in a half-nelson. I shoved the papers into Clay’s jacket pocket, told him he was served, and headed for my car. Ed let him go and the clown ran up behind me, pushed me down, and smacked my left cheek with his fist when I started to get up. That was before Ed caught up and koshed him a good one. Clay dropped to the pavement like a sack of groceries.

A guy from the crowd charged Ed and got backhanded by Ed’s sap. He too lay crumpled on the ground.

A siren was blaring and a cop car pulled into the bar’s parking lot, screeching to a halt. The crowd vanished at the same time an amplified voice told everyone to freeze.

“Aw, hell,” Ed muttered.

We froze and two officers got out, guns drawn. They got within ten feet of us when one of them said, “Harry Wright, is that you?”

I recognized the voice and face. “Hi, Josh. Yeah, it’s me.”

“What the hell’s going on?” Josh motioned to his partner and they holstered their weapons.

“Just serving a summons to this fellow.” I pointed to Clay. “He didn’t want to be served. Took a swing at me, I served him, then he pushed me down and punched me. Ed, here, incapacitated him.”

“And that guy?” Josh point to the other fellow, who was now picking himself up off the pavement.

“He attacked Ed and Ed defended himself.”

“Ed work for you?” Josh asked.


Josh turned to his partner. “They’re okay, Seth. I know Harry. Helped stop my daughter from being kidnapped four years ago.”

Clay was getting up. “I want to press charges. They attacked me.”

Josh turned to Clay. “Were you served a summons?”

“It’s in his coat pocket,” I volunteered.

“What’s the summons for?” Josh asked.

“Domestic violence,” I answered.

“Shit.” Josh’s tone of voice and the look on his face were not at all friendly. “Get the hell outta here before I beat the crap out of you myself.”

Clay spat. “Cops. Mofo bastards.”

“Get the hell outta here and get out fast.” Josh’s voice was quiet, but there was plenty of emotion in it and not the kind indicating he wanted to be best friends.

Clay and the other fellow left.

Josh turned to me. “Nothing to worry about, Harry. Go home and get some ice on that shiner.”

“Thanks, Josh.”

We shook hands.

Ed and I got into my Focus. I started it up, put it in drive, and began the trip to Ed’s place to drop him off.

“So you rescued his daughter?” Ed asked.

“Stinky, actually. I was there, but Stinky’s the one who talked the guy into letting her go.”

“Yeah, that’ll earn ya some points. Sure miss Stinky. Wasn’t much to look at. Sure did get results, though.”

“That he did. Our lucky night Josh answered the call.”

“Yeah. Should buy a lottery ticket.”

“Maybe two.”

“Yeah. Maybe two.”


The time was twelve after two when I walked through the back door. The lights were on, which meant Bea was waiting for me. Buddy, her Affenpinscher, greeted me, tail wagging. I scratched behind his ears and walked on in to the living room, where I found my honey lying on the couch with Isis, Tina’s Sphinx cat, cuddled next to her, both sound asleep. I leaned down and kissed her.

“Hi, Hon, I’m home. Let’s go to bed.”

Her eyes fluttered open. “Hi, Harry.” She reached up to touch my face. “Oh, my God! Harry, you’re hurt! Let me get ice.” She got off the couch. “Lie down.”


“Lie down. I’m taking care of my man.”

I couldn’t help but smile. “Okay, Buttercup.”

Into the kitchen she went and Isis was relegated to the floor where she was joined by Prudy, Tina’s Maine Coon, Manley, Tina’s Manx, and Buddy. The critters sat in a row looking at me to see what all the fuss was about. In a minute Bea came back with an ice bag and towel. She put the ice on my face and I held it there.

“Get the Arnica from the medicine cabinet, would you please? It’ll take care of the bruising or at least lessen it.”

“Okay.” And off she went. Soon my little Bea was back with the medicine and a spoon. She sat next to me on the couch. At five-three and not even a hundred pounds, she doesn’t take up much room. I put a couple tablets into my mouth and let them dissolve under my tongue.

“Speaking of ‘Buttercup’,” Bea said, “Cal stopped by earlier.”

“He did? What did he want?”

“He wanted to see Tina. I told him she wasn’t home and I didn’t know when she’d be back. He seemed at a loss for words, so I invited him in. He then asked if she’d be available tomorrow.

“I said, ‘I don’t think so, Cal. She’s not here.’

“He said, ‘Look, Bea, I know you’re—’

“And I said, ‘Honest, Cal, she’s not here. Hasn’t been for months.’

“When I said that he mouthed the word ‘months’ and sat on the deacon’s bench. I said, ‘Yeah. She’s been gone for like six months, I think.’

“He was like in shock and just sat there for awhile. I sat next to him. I held his hand. I think he needed it.”


“Then he asked if she was seeing someone and I told him I didn’t know because we haven’t heard from her in like six weeks. He turned his head and looked at me and said, ‘Really?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ He looked down at his hands and put the hand I wasn’t holding over mine.

“He was quiet for quite awhile, finally he said, ‘I’ve really messed this up. Nikki and I aren’t seeing each other anymore. She’s even gone back to Vice and uh, I… Aw, shit, Bea. I love Tina and I really screwed things up royal.’

“I said, ‘You were pretty shitty to her, Cal, and hurt her really bad.’

“His voice was very soft. I almost didn’t catch it. He said, ‘I know.’

“Then he got kind of official and said, ‘You haven’t heard from her in six weeks? Have you notified anyone?’

“I said, ‘Cal, who can we notify? We don’t have any idea where she is.’

“He stood and said, ‘I’ll see what I can find out. I’ll let you know.’

“We said goodbye to each other and he left.”

“Interesting, hon. It might be a case of too little too late. Tina isn’t going to forget what he did and to be honest I can’t blame her.”

“I know, Harry. That’s what’s so sad. I thought I messed up relationships. Those two… They take the cake. They’re crazy in love with each other and constantly blow it up.”

“Yes, they do. It’s pretty bizarre if you ask me.”

“It is. Let me see your face.”

I took away the ice and she leaned down and kissed the bruise.

“That’s to make the owie go away.”

She moved to my lips and kissed them. I put my arms around her and kissed her back. The kiss deepened and when our lips parted, she murmured, “I love you, Harry.”

I whispered back, “I love you, Beatrice.”

She giggled. “That’s a mouthful.”

“It is.”

“Here. Let me fill your mouth with something else.” She kissed me, filling my mouth with her probing tongue. She started to withdraw and I sucked it in, held it, then let go.

She sat up and took off her shirt and I lightly ran my fingers across her bare flat chest. Her little nipples were erect and hard. I raised my head and kissed each one.

“Take me to bed, Harry.” She stood.

I got off the couch, scooped her up in my arms, and climbed the stairs to our room, kissing her all the way. Then, in our bed, we loved each other for a long, long time.


Bea is the most passionate person I know. In our lovemaking it is no holds barred with her. And to think she was so insecure when I first met her. All she needed was someone to accept her and love her for who she is. When I did, she burst into bloom. She’s become a confident woman and doesn’t take much crap from anyone.

Before she came into my life, things were okay. Now? Without her, life would be a great big black hole.

Tina and Cal are the same really. They love each other and are good together. However, each one is afraid of something and, whatever it is, it tears apart two people who should be together and too often aren’t.

Liquid Night

Early Sunday Morning
September 21st

The alarm went off at six. Early for a Sunday morning, I know, but Bea and I were working on a case. We needed to be at Summer Tollefson’s townhouse to photograph dew on Dale Arneson’s car, as well as the “V” I’d marked with permanent marker on the rear passenger-side tire. All this to prove Dale was violating his separation agreement with his soon to be ex-wife, Judith. She was of the opinion Dale’s girlfriend, Summer, was a bad influence on little Jimmy Arneson. Therefore, when Dale had weekend visitation, there was no Summer. At least that was the agreement.

In actuality, in Dale’s world there was nothing but Summer. And this was the second weekend we’d caught Dale, Summer, and little Jimmy spending, hopefully, for their sake, quality time together. Two more weekends of photographing the separation agreement violation and we’ll have earned our three grand and Judith will have gotten her proof to ball-bust the man who once was the love of her life.

I parked the car on the street. The wind was gusty and the temp was in the mid-fifties with an overcast sky. Probably no dew to photograph. A few people were out and about. Joggers, walkers, a cyclist. A walker waved and said, “Good morning”. I waved back.

With camera in hand, I walked up the drive which separated the two sets of quad homes. Dale Arneson’s car was in the same spot where it was last night when I’d taken a picture of it with the house number. A look at the “V” indicated the vehicle hadn’t moved. I took pictures of the “V”, of the car and house number, and that’s when I realized someone was in the car.

“Great, Harry,” I said to myself. “You’re slipping up in your old age.”

How long had the person been there? Why hadn’t he or she started the car? And why hadn’t I noticed. Too doggone eager to take the pictures and skedaddle on back home. I took a closer look. The person was a man sitting behind the wheel. And the man was Dale Arneson. He wasn’t moving. He didn’t see me, even though his eyes were wide open. My guess as to why he was’t moving and didn’t see me was that it had something to do with the fact the front of his shirt was very wet with what looked like blood.


Lieutenant Cal Swenson of Minneapolis Homicide, the same Cal Swenson who broke my sister’s heart, had finished taking Bea’s and my statements, told us he was working on trying to locate Tina, and said we were free to go. And go we did.

On the way back to home, sweet home, I decided to let the police break the news to our client that her husband was dead and her son, along with her husband’s girlfriend, was missing. The information wasn’t something I wanted to give Judith Arneson at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning. Besides, I was just a wee bit pissed someone had stiffed us out of fifteen hundred bucks and felt my tax dollars needed to do some work. So let the Minneapolis police department tell Judith her kid’s missing.

When we arrived at the little mansion on West Franklin, which we call home, there was a strange car parked at the curb and end of the walk to the front door. Bea stopped and I got out of her little Fiat. While she parked in the garage, I walked all around the machine that was a chunk of solidified liquid night. Bea joined me.

“What is it, Harry?”

“At first guess, I’d say it’s a car.”

She hit my arm. “Of course it’s a car, silly. What kind of car?”

“An expensive one, is my guess.”

“Like the Maserati I gave you, which you never drive?”

“Yeah. Kind of. Only I have a feeling this machine would make the price tag on the Maserati look like chump change.”

I looked at the symbol but it didn’t conjure up any automakers I was familiar with. My car’s a Ford. Yes, Bea gave me the late Alicia Harris’ Maserati. The late Alicia being Bea’s former hife, which is a Tina-ism for the spouse in a same sex marriage. And Bea is right. I never drive the thing. Rarely drive it is probably more accurate. Mostly because where I’m often required to go it’s risky to drive a junker, let alone a car costing an eighth of a million bucks. Besides, I’m a Ford guy and I like my Focus wagon. I do have to say one thing, though: in looking at the vehicle before me, no one at Ford could even dream of something like this. The machine parked at the curb was a creation of true exotic beauty.

The piece of sculpted midnight was unoccupied. I shrugged, took a look up and down the street, and concluded the car probably belonged to someone visiting one of our neighbors and the person was just rude enough to park the thing in front of our walk.

“Come on, Babe, let’s go in and get some breakfast.”

Holding hands, Bea and I walked up the walk to the house. She had her key ready, unlocked the front door, and I pushed it open. Our noses took in the smell of bacon. Bea and I looked at each other and ran to the kitchen. There was Tina, cooking eggs and bacon. Buddy was sitting at her feet hoping for a handout, along with all three of her cats.

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Just the Facts, Ma’am

“Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

Those of us old enough to remember the original Dragnet TV police procedural show from the ‘50s will remember Sgt Joe Friday’s “All we know are the facts, ma’am.”

Facts, of course, are important to the plot of any good mystery. Factual integrity is also essential to any good story. As a reader, nothing yanks me out of a story faster than the author not knowing his or her facts. And in this day and age of easy research on the internet, there is no excuse on the part of the author for him or her to be guilty of gross factual errors.

Recently, a friend was telling me of a book she read that had 13 5-star reviews on Amazon. Aside from the fact the author broke most of the rules of good writing, the author (who shall remain nameless, as also the title of the book, to protect, in this case, the guilty) failed to do adequate research.

Now one would think 13 5-star reviews would indicate the book was going to be a fabulous read. Unfortunately, not so. Which goes to show how flawed the review system is on Amazon (and probably other vendors, as well). In spite of Amazon’s efforts, writers can still scam the system. Unless, of course, those 13 reviewers have such a low quality threshold they wouldn’t know what a well-written story was even if it jumped up and kissed them.

So what did the writer do, aside from the mediocre writing, that got my friend up in arms? Lousy research on Tylenol poisoning and hospital procedures regarding a person who’s attempted suicide. My friend, by the way, happens to be a therapist and knows something of procedures regarding attempted suicide.

A mere half-hour research, the old 5-click Google, gave me more information than I could possibly use, including case studies, on severe Tylenol poisoning. The result? Given the amount of Tylenol our ignominious author had the main character take, that character most likely would have died in a few days and not left the hospital the next day, all fine and dandy, as the author wrote.

But that’s where the second error comes in. A person suspected of attempted suicide, once in the hospital, would not be released the next day, but would be put on a 72-hour hold for observation and talks with mental health staff to prevent a repeat attempt. The main character in the book would not have been released the next day, even if okay, because the hospital wouldn’t want to be sued should the person make another attempt and succeed.

As a reader, such egregious errors on the part of an author make me stop reading and toss the book in the trash can. And I would not read another book by the author. There are, after all, a plethora of good books available to read and time is short.

In this day and age, conducting research has never been easier. The internet provides everyone with a surfeit of information on a wide variety of topics. Back in the late ‘80s when I wrote the initial version of Festival of Death, the first book in my Justinia Wright mystery series, any research I needed to do I had to go to my local library. If they didn’t have what I needed, the material had to be gotten through interlibrary loan. A very time consuming process and some of the information, such as that on the caves under Minneapolis, wasn’t even available.

When I rewrote the book two years ago, I never left the house. More information than I could possibly use on the Aztecs was found on the internet. Pictures, dozens of them, of the caves under Minneapolis and St Paul have been posted on the internet. The cave scenes, which previously had to largely be imagined, I was able to base on reality and thus minimize the use of creative license.

There is no reason for a writer not to get the facts straight. No reason other than laziness, that is.

My impression is today’s writer, this is especially true of indie writers, is in such a hurry to get his or her book published, and thereby get rich quick, he or she isn’t taking the time to edit, proof, and properly research the book. Such a practice is inexcusable. We readers deserve better treatment.

For myself, as a reader, because I’ve been burned once too often by shoddy editing and proofing and even worse by the often poor writing, I no longer buy indie books sight unseen. I at least read the “look inside” sample on Amazon or download a free sample. If the book passes muster on the sample read, then I will plunk down my hard earned cash. (As an aside, I no longer buy new traditionally published books because the cost is prohibitive. I only buy them used. And they too have too many errors for the cost. Gone are the days of the line editor, it seems.)

As a reader, I plead with writers to be quality conscience. Know how to tell a good story. If you need help, get it. If you can’t afford an editor, find a few good friends or relatives who know English grammar to read through your text. Read aloud a sample of one of your favorite authors and then read your text aloud. Does your text flow as smoothly as your favorite author’s does? Reading aloud is the quickest way to find clunky sentences and those which make no sense.

Writers, be proud of your work. Take the time to write well and accurately. Impress your readers and you’ll have a loyal following for life and maybe, just maybe, for the lives of your children and grandchildren. A legacy that lives long after you do.

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Agatha Christie came to loathe Poirot and finally killed him off. Doyle grew to hate Sherlock Holmes, killed him off, brought him back to life, and finally retired him.

Personally, I find it difficult to hate my children. Perhaps, though, they haven’t been with me long enough. I haven’t chronicled adventure after adventure to the point where I’m sick of the chronicling. To the point where I feel them to be too intrusive or where they’ve moved in and taken over. Hopefully, though, that day of loathing will never come.

However, even though parents aren’t supposed to have favorites amongst their children, I admit that I do. And the two who are my favorites have lived in my imagination the longest. They are Justinia and Harry Wright. That intrepid sister and brother team of private investigators doing their best to make sure the most exciting thing in Minneapolis and St. Paul is vanilla ice cream.

Why are Tina and Harry my favorites? I’m not sure I can say exactly. For I am certainly very fond of Lady Dru Drummond. My spunky, very modern journalist, who knows what she wants and does her best to get it. I very much like her 1950s alternative history world, with all those retro-futuristic gadgets and, of course, airships.

And what about Bill Arthur? My anti-hero turned superhero (well, almost) of The Rocheport Saga, who, after the apocalypse, does his best to stop at least a portion of humankind from descending into a new dark ages. Bill is very likable. He’s unassuming, makes mistakes and owns up to them, is devoted to his adopted and natural family. He is human, all too human. An ordinary guy in very unordinary circumstances. I like Bill and his world very much.

One of my newest children is Rand Hart. Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch was an enjoyable tale for me to write and I enjoyed reading it as well. Who can’t love this slightly roguish professional gambler with the touch of ennui searching for the antidote to his loneliness? And there be airships here, too.

Or George? Poor George, in Do One Thing For Me, slowly realizing he’s descending into old age dementia, beset by the unending grief over the death of his wife and taunted by the promise Beth offers him. Or is Beth just a figure of his dementia?

I love all my children. I just love Tina and Harry more. Is it because I enjoy most writing up their adventures? Recording the sibling banter between them? Dreaming of what it would be like to live their somewhat dreamy lifestyle or to enjoy one of Harry’s fabulous meals? Perhaps.

Tina grew out Raleigh Bond’s Athalia Goode, with a dollop of my sister, and pinches of Modesty Blaise, Lara Croft, Nero Wolfe, and a sprinkle of myself to round out her creation. Harry is the faithful Watson and wise-cracking Archie Goodwin all rolled into one, with perhaps too much of myself included for good or bad measure.

Perhaps that’s it. I’m personally invested in these characters. There’s something of me in them that isn’t in my other children. Maybe that’s the reason that drives me on to write about their lives and their campaign to fight crime.

Book 3 in the Justinia Wright series, But Jesus Never Wept, should be out in time for your Christmas shopping pleasure. And if the Muse is kind I may also have a freebie story available for Christmas.

I’m 15,000 words into Book 4 and have 645 words written to start Book 5, which follows Book 4 immediately in the Justinia Wright timeline. Both should make their appearance in 2016.

Now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag, I’m hoping Bill, Dru, and Rand don’t get too sulky about it. After all, I do love them. They, too, are my children. Tina and Harry, though, are my firstborn. Hm. I’m a firstborn…

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Harry Wright’s Mac and Cheese to Die For

I confess right here and right now — I love to eat. The aromas and flavors of meat, cheese, vegetables, fruit, grains, spices, herbs, cakes, pies, bread are as delightful as a walk through a scented flower garden. But not only do I love to eat, I also love to cook. Consequently, food appears in some shape or form in all of my novels and many times in my stories.

Undoubtedly, one telltale sign I’m a foodie is my cookbook collection — hardbacks, paperbacks, and ebooks. I also have bookmarks on a wide variety of internet recipe sites. Another indicator is the near ecstasy that is evident when I venture into a grocery store or a cooking supply store. When I write, a cookbook is always nearby.

Harry Wright is private detective Justinia Wright’s brother. He is also her majordomo, chef, and assistant. With the alacrity of a juggler, Harry turns out fabulous gourmet dishes on a daily basis. Dishes such as Porcini Parmesan, roasted veggie with goat cheese sandwiches, caramelized onion tartlets, ratatolha niça, and Cock-a-Leekie.

At times, though, Harry will take a walk down the comfort food aisle and then we see dishes like NuNus and Hot Dogs and Mac and Cheese. Sometimes Harry leaves the dish simple and sometimes he fancies it up.

Today I thought I’d give you his Mac and Cheese to Die For recipe, which appears in the forthcoming Justinia Wright, PI novel But Jesus Never Wept. He doesn’t call it that. For him it’s simply Mac and Swiss Cheese with Bacon Crumbles.

The recipe below is a composite, he tells me, of several recipes out there on the World Wide Web. Let me know if you think it is to die for. Enjoy!

Mac and Swiss Cheese with Bacon Crumbles


Macaroni – 1 pound (Harry uses elbows)

Butter – 5 tablespoons

Flour – 1/4 cup

Milk – 3 cups (Harry uses whole milk)

Salt – (Harry uses about a 1/2 teaspoon)

Black Pepper – (Harry uses fresh ground and about 3/4 teaspoon)

Mustard – 1/4 teaspoon dry (Harry prefers a good English mustard, such as Coleman’s)

Swiss Cheese – 3/4 pound shredded

Monterey Jack – 3/4 pound shredded

Bacon – 6 slices, cooked crisp and crumbled (Harry’s been known to add a couple more slices)

Parsley – for garnish

Basil – for garnish

Rosemary sprig – for garnish


  1. Cook pasta according to package directions and your liking. (Harry only cooks his pasta al dente.)
  2. Warm milk on stove or in microwave.
  3. Melt butter over medium high heat and whisk in the flour. Continue to whisk to make sure there are no lumps and to cook flour, about 2 or 3 minutes.
  4. Add the warm milk and whisk the mixture until smooth. Reduce heat and gently simmer for four minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. When the sauce has slightly thickened, add salt, pepper, and mustard.
  6. Add cheese and stir until sauce is smooth.
  7. When pasta is cooked, drain, and reserve a 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
  8. Add sauce to pasta. If sauce is too thick, add a little of the water to thin.
  9. Top with the bacon crumbles and parsley, basil, and rosemary sprig.

Good eating!

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Justinia Wright, PI

I don’t know how it is for other writers. I can only speak for myself. However, I’d like to think other writers would feel the same. When I create a character the process is very human: a baby is born and he or she slowly matures to adulthood. In other instances, he or she springs forth from my head — as did Athena from the forehead of Zeus. In either case, one thing is clear: I love my children.

The child I have lived with the longest and who I confess I love dearly is Justinia Wright, private eye extraordinaire. Her origins go back to 1982 and Raleigh Bond’s short story “Meet Athalia Goode”. You can read about all that in my post “Out of Thin Air”.

Tina runs Wright Investigations in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her older brother, Harry, is her “Watson” and majordomo. I first chronicled their exploits in 1989 in the novel Festival of Death. Being my first novel, I garnered a couple of rejections, realized it wasn’t very good, and put it back in the drawer where it quietly lay for some 25 years.

Last year I looked at the novel after completing The Rocheport Saga. A lot had changed in 25 years. Technology, society, and me. The novel was hopelessly out of date. Chapter 1 was about all I could salvage intact. So I set the book aside and wrote three novellas to get my head back into Tina and Harry’s world. Those stories form Book 2 in the series, Trio in Death-Sharp Minor. With the novellas completed, I re-wrote Festival of Death. The re-write is far and away better than the original. I published Festival last November and Trio last December.

Sad to say, sales have been poor. Then again readers have a gazillion mysteries to choose from and I’ve done very little marketing. That will come, however.

This month I’m publishing two short stories which chronologically predate Festival of Death. The first I offer free starting today for a week or so: “Minneapolis’s Finest”. Tina solves a mysterious break in for an old friend.

The second story will appear around Thanksgiving. “Sauerkraut Days” has Tina helping the local sheriff with the murder while attempting to set a world record in the sauerkraut eating contest.

Come December, writing time for Christmas, But Jesus Never Wept, number three in the series, will be published. I have the book back from my Beta reader and the cover art is ready to go. All it needs is a couple more read throughs to catch those nasty typos.

I had great fun writing But Jesus Never Wept. Tina is forced to face the demons lingering from her life before she became a private detective. We learn more, too, of Tina’s and Harry’s childhood. Philosophical, ethical, and theological questions abound. And on top of it all, true love takes a left jab and a body punch and is down for the count.

Early next year, the fourth of in the series should make its debut. And just in time for the political season. Campaign espionage and blackmail, with a dash of murder, have Tina and Harry scratching their heads.

I love the private eye novels. I suppose I have Conan Doyle to blame for that. My modest collection of Sherlockiana, Victorian sleuths, and Holmesian pastiches looks over my shoulder as I write this. Perhaps it’s what I want to hear, but I hear those sleuths saying, “Forget the sales. You love her. Tell her story.” And I suppose I shall.

Checkout where you can get the Justinia Wright books on my Novels page!

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Interview with Justinia Wright, PI

Today it is my privilege to interview the famous Minneapolis private investigator, Justinia Wright. I’m sitting in the equally famous oxblood oversize wingback in her office, where many have sat before me in much less happy circumstances.

cwh: Miss Wright, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

JW: You are very welcome.

cwh: To begin, how long have you been a private investigator?

JW: Eight years.

cwh: And before that you worked for the CIA, is that correct?

JW: Yes. I worked seven years for The Company.

cwh: What made you leave and decide to become a PI?

JW: I can’t give you specifics. Let’s just say I didn’t see eye to eye with my boss and what he was asking me to do. As for becoming a PI, I didn’t do that right away. I opened an art gallery and sold art with a partner for two years.

cwh: Where was that?

JW: In San Francisco. When that didn’t work out, I moved to Minneapolis and got my private investigator’s license.

cwh: Why Minneapolis?

JW: The Twin Cities aren’t an overly large metro area, yet are large enough. There is a wonderful mix of cultures and the area offers many opportunities for musical and artistic expression.

cwh: So why become a PI?

JW: From my time in the CIA, I knew how to get information and perform surveillance. In a sense, it was going back to what I knew without all the bureaucracy.

cwh: How is being a spy similar to being a private investigator?

JW: As I mentioned, gathering intelligence and conducting surveillance. Where it differs, is that I have to do my own analysis.

cwh: To date, what has been your most difficult case?

JW: [She rests her chin on steepled fingers for a few moments before answering.] I’d be inclined to say the case Harry has called Festival of Death.

cwh: Harry’s your brother and assistant, right?

JW: Yes, that is correct. He and Bea, his wife, keep the office and household running efficiently. [She pauses.] Although the case he is currently writing up, about the poor murdered minister, was quite puzzling. So either of those.

cwh: Do you investigate yourself or do you have a support team?

JW: A team. The best team. I don’t know where I’d be without David Nagasawa, Gwen Poisson, and Ed Hafner. Or Harry. I do a little field work. Mostly, though, I work as a handler, so to speak, and analyze the information I receive.

cwh: Do you find being a woman to help or hinder you?

JW: I don’t find being a woman to help or hinder. There are many more women in the business now than ever before. What matters is if you get results. And I get results.

cwh: Do you work often with law enforcement?

JW: Yes, I do.

cwh: How would you describe your experience?

JW: Overall, I’d say positive. I’m frequently called in to assist on difficult homicide cases, something I like very much. They especially like getting results and I, of course, get results.

cwh: Do you have a liaison?

JW: Yes, Lieutenant Cal Swenson of Homicide.

cwh: Now, Harry has given us a certain picture of your relationship with Cal. Is that picture accurate?

JW: Cal and I are friends and I think I’ll leave it at that.

cwh: What motivates you as an investigator?

JW: My sense of justice and fairness.

cwh: I understand you can be difficult to work with sometimes. Do you care to comment on that?

JW: [A big smile appears on her face.] Depends on how you define “difficult”. Do I expect competency? Yes. If that is being difficult… [She shrugs.]

cwh: Competency, yes. But what about your interactions with your clients and Lieutenant Swenson? As your brother portrays those interactions, well, it just seems—

JW: That I’m difficult? Well, that’s Harry. He does tend to get a bit melodramatic in my opinion. Sometimes, clients don’t know what they know or what they think they know can impede an investigation. My job is to cut through the crap, so to speak, so I can help them.

cwh: And Cal?

JW: The police are a bureaucracy. Sometimes Cal is a bureaucrat against my better judgement. All in all, I don’t think I’m any more difficult to work with than anyone else.

cwh: You’re an amateur painter and pianist. Any thoughts about going professional?

JW: No. Not really. But I do like painting and performing, so who knows?

cwh: I see our time is up. Thank you very much, Miss Wright for giving us this opportunity to give your fans a bit more information about you.

JW: My pleasure.

You can see Justinia Wright in action in Festival of Death and Trio in Death-Sharp Minor, available on Amazon and soon in other fine online retail establishments.

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Out of Thin Air

It’s probably an occupational hazard. Every now and again I’m asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” I usually reply, “From life” or “Out of thin air”. Truth be told, I don’t know where my ideas come from really. Like manna, they fall out of the sky and I just pick them up.

In 1982, I read a story in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine introducing a female cozy sleuth. The editor complained about the lack of female sleuths. There just weren’t enough of them. The story was “Meet Athalia Goode” by Raleigh Bond. The editor hoped we’d see more of Ms Goode. Unfortunately, I don’t think Mr Bond chronicled any further adventures. At least a Google search produced none.

What immediately popped into my mind was the name Athalia came from the Greek meaning “truth”. My mind drifted to Latin and in a flash Justinia Wright was born. Truth and Goodness. Justice and Right. One Greek. One Latin. For seven years I did nothing with Justinia Wright. Then one day I learned there were caves under Minneapolis. In a flash, that manna falling from heaven, I picked up a mystery involving my job at the welfare office, caves under Minneapolis, and my interest in Aztecs. I wrote the mystery and set it aside. Twenty-five years later, I rewrote the novel and published it last year as Festival of Death. Unlike Mr Bond, I wrote three more novellas featuring Miss Wright (Trio in Death-Sharp Minor) and have a second novel in progress.

The Rocheport Saga, my post-apocalyptic, libertarian, retro-futuristic quasi-steampunk series (Book Three coming out soon), began with a single sentence and eventually ended up over 2200 manuscript pages in length. That sentence? “Today I killed a man and a woman.” Where the heck that came from I don’t know. Out of thin air most likely.

Lady Drusilla Drummond Hurley-Drummond was inspired by the very real Lady Grace Hay Drummond-Hay, who wrote for the Hearst papers in the ‘20s and 30s. Why feminists haven’t written a biography of Lady Grace is beyond me. She was a truly remarkable and very modern woman.

Information is rather scarce about Lady Grace and I don’t  pretend Lady Dru is anything like her inspiration. Lady Dru is more a superheroine figure, set in a dieselpunk alternative 1950s.

The Moscow Affair, her initial adventure, began life as a simple what if. Out of thin air I thought, what if World War 2 had never happened, and the Czarists tried to retake Russia upon Stalin’s death? And a novel was born.

All of these ideas just appeared. What’s more, they appear to everyone. Some of us just happen to see them as story ideas. Each of us has a talent. Some of us, can tell stories. Some of us can fix things. Others of us can sell, or do complex mathematics, or figure out problems. We need handymen, plumbers, electricians, mathematicians, engineers, and the like. The world would be a boring place with just storytellers. The handyman who fixed my broken chair looked at it and figured out how to fix it. Did the solution come to him out of thin air? Maybe. Sure seemed like it to me.

Each of us is unique and in our own ways, weave magic out of thin air. I’m glad we’re not all storytellers.

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Gestation Period

I’m a late bloomer.  Have been my entire life.  I’m not complaining, just stating a fact.

Festival of Death was my first novel.  I wrote the manuscript over the course of a year.  1989, to be precise.  When finished, I sent off a couple query letters and got my obligatory rejection letters.

Taking a second look at the manuscript, I realized it needed revision.  I was working full time and raising a family.  I put the manuscript in the drawer and turned to poetry.  Less concentrated time investment and more immediate results.

In February of this year I finished a 2200+ page manuscript which is being serialized as The Rocheport Saga.  Book 1, The Morning Star is out and Book 2 will be released shortly.  While researching indie publishing, I cast about for what to write next and decided to pull Festival of Death out of the drawer.

A lot of time had passed between 1989 and 2014.  The story was woefully dated.  Cell phones turned to smart phones were now on the scene.  The Kindle and iPad and iPod were no longer dreams, but ubiquitous realities.  WYSIWYG blogs and websites and indie authors making big bucks were also a reality.  A lot can happen in 25 years — and did!

Most importantly, I’d changed.  I’d matured.  As a person and a writer.  I was an apple ready to pick.

To get back into my PI’s and her assistant’s heads, I wrote 3 novellas.  They’ll be released soon as Trio in Death-Sharp Minor.  Then I went back and completely re-wrote Festival of Death.  The storyline remained the same.  Pretty much everything else changed.

Good things come to those who wait.  A combination of persistence and perseverance is needed to achieve dreams.

Have you dusted off an old manuscript, re-worked it, and sent it forth?  If so, tell us your story.

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Introducing Gwen Poisson

One of the joys of writing is being able to create people you’d love to meet or who espouse causes near and dear to your heart. Such a character is Gwen Poisson.  She’s a minor character in Festival of Death, the first novel in the Justinia Wright, P.I. series.

Harry Wright, the narrator in Festival of Death, says of her:

Gwen is forty.  She stands five-four, with an average frame, and wears her dark chocolate hair in a pixie cut.  She worked ten years out in Silicon Valley, another three as a professional hacker, before becoming a PI.

He could have added, she is warm, friendly, and faithful, Tina Wright feels a special kinship with her, she’s a vegan, and her favorite drink is cucumber-infused water.

Gwen does wage a quiet and continual campaign to convince Tina and Harry of the efficacy of veganism.  She states the issue quite clearly in this comment to Tina  over a pizza supper.

“We have to stop eating our fellow creatures,” Gwen said. “We are wiping out wild stocks; we are engaging in massive pollution of groundwater due to animal waste from feed lots; and excreted hormones, drugs, and antibiotics are wreaking havoc on wild animals — both on land and in the sea.”

Harry is quite sympathetic to Gwen’s position.  In the forthcoming novella, “Love Out of Death”, we learn that Harry is cooking up quite a bit of a vegetarian storm because it’s best if one doesn’t eat something that has the 3 Bs:  breath, blood, and brains.  Tina, as with most of us, isn’t convinced.

While I must confess I’m still an ovo-lacto-carno vegetarian, Gwen espouses a dietary and lifestyle choice I admire and would like to make my own.  I’ll admit meat can be pretty tasty.  But vegetables and grains, fruits and nuts are pretty doggone tasty, as well.

But there is more to the issue than taste.  There are the issues of pollution, extinction, cruelty, and negative energy.

As in the quote above from Gwen, the production of meat is the cause of mass pollution.  Waste (i.e., excrement) pollutes our land and our water.  Corporate farms and massive feedlots generate more waste than a farmer can use.  It is pumped into holding tanks and often enough, the tanks leak.  Not good for us or the environment.

Over fishing is destroying sea creatures in such alarming numbers it is quite possible our seas may be mostly barren in a few short years.  Just as hunting wiped out the passenger pigeon, the dodo, and nearly wiped out the bison, over fishing is wiping out wild stocks of the ocean’s inhabitants.  Fish farming is a possible solution, but it has it’s own issues and negative effects on wild inhabitants of the sea.

Living in a feedlot can’t be a pleasant experience.  I’d hate to try it for even an hour.  Yet we force animals against their nature to spend their lives in such caustic environments.

And this leads to my last issue, which is negative energy.  When treated harshly, the animal holds within itself negative energy.  Animals are not “dumb beasts”.  They are surprisingly intelligent creatures.  Pigs are smarter than dogs.  Cows have a language of vocal sounds and body movements.  Animals feel pain.  They can get angry.  They know who likes them and who doesn’t.  They also know fear.  Especially the fear of death, they smell at the slaughter house.  Honestly, do you or I want to eat the hormones generated from the fear and anger of mistreated animals?  Do I want that negative energy inside me?

Please don’t take this as a diatribe against farmers.  Because that is not what I intend.  Having lived amongst farmers, I know they struggle to make ends meet.  They struggle to make a living.  Often having to hold down another job in order to make the farm profitable.  So, no, I’m not criticizing farmers. If anything, I’m blaming an economic system which doesn’t give the farmer a fair shake.

I think people are ultimately to blame.  As Gwen points out in “Love out of Death”, there are simply too many people.  Too many people on the planet means we can no longer humanely raise animals for meat to feed the burgeoning population.  Our only alternative to effective feed the planet is to go vegetarian or vegan.

In addition, we in the West live in luxury.  Even our poor are better off than most of the other inhabitants on this planet.  I think the day has come where we need to start viewing meat as a luxury we can no longer afford.

Through Gwen Poisson, I have the opportunity to quietly present a position I think is beneficial to all humanity.  We all want to eat.  The amount of grain given to cows to fatten them up will feed a whole lot more people than that cow will.

Vegetarianism takes a bit to get used to simply because it is different, but it’s not impossible to do so.  Hindus don’t eat meat and Indian cuisine is quite delectable.  So it can be done.  And done in style.

One of these days, I’m going to drop that carno.  Stop eating things with the 3 Bs.

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