Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Reading Room Interview with Author J.D. Allen



J.D. Allen.  There is so much to say about this multi-talented, amazing woman, but I'm going to let her tell you about herself and her writing in the answers to my questions below.  I first met J.D. at the St. Pete Bouchercon, and before I loved her writing, I coveted her beautiful red hair.  She is, as you will see, an incredibly interesting person. 


Reading Room:  J.D., as you well know, there are crucial elements that have to work to together to result in a successfully written novel.  On your web site, it mentions that you teach “the basics of crime scene investigations, pacing, voice, and POV.”  In my review of Body Zoo, your third Jim Bean book, my last sentence reads, “Reading this book was an opportunity to see how an artist deftly combines elements to create a successful work and how there’s nothing better than a story well told.”  I have a couple of questions about those elements, for which I think you must be an excellent teacher.


Reading Room:  How do you chose when to use different POV’s?

J.D.:  It’s one of my favorite subjects, so I should do a panel/class on that. I cross over the thriller/mystery line between books because of this too.

In 19 Souls, I wanted the reader to be in the head of the female serial killer. They always say there are no women who are serials. I say they just aren’t as flamboyant and sexual about it and don’t get caught! But there are plenty of them. I wanted to show the depth of Sophie’s obsessions and the lengths she went to get what she wanted. It was a lifelong journey of anger and justification. I feel like the reader would have felt left out of all that if I had written that one as a traditional hardboiled mystery.

Skin Game, the primary conflict is with Jim and a person from his past that did him significant harm. So that was the most interesting thing for the reader to get to follow for the story. A traditional one POV mystery story structure made sense.

Body Zoo, we’re back to having a situation where the 2 POV scenario is really going to be a bang for the reader. I have, and probably will again, start a book and change it after about a 75 to 100 pages so to avoid depriving readers of the juicy bits of a character in my head.

Flat Black Ford is a revenge and escape story for the antagonist, Stella DeSoto. This one is definitely a dual POV. I got to live out some personal revenge fantasies with Stella.

Reading Room:  Pacing – Can you give readers and other writers a sentence or two about pacing?

J.D.:  Pacing is not one of my strong suits and I pay particular attention to work the middle of the book to keep the pages turning. It’s often something you giggle at the end if you’re not a front end plotter.

Reading Room:  Voice – I know it when I read it, and when I worked with fourth graders and teenagers on writing, it was the one element that I thought might be unteachable.  Some naturally had it.  Is voice teachable?

J.D.:  Maybe teachable is not the right term. You can practice paying attention to the voice of authors and stories you love. Reading aloud will help with that. You’re picking up on subtle things like sentence structure, word usage, even the arrangement of paragraphs and chapters. Then the author has to figure how that fits into their stories and process.

I think you can mimic a voice until you can twist it into your own, yes.


Reading Room:  I’m sure you get this question quite often, but I think it’s something major about you that readers are interested in if they know your background or will be interested in if they are just learning it.  So, writing romance novels.  Why the switch to crime/mystery?  What initiated this change?  And, what helped you and/or hindered you the most from your romance writing to your smashing success as a crime writer?  And, how did you have to change how you wrote, or did you?

J.D.:  Well, I fell into writing romance. And that’s a long story. So I’ll start with the change over. I was getting paid to write! Who turns that down? But I wanted to write crime fiction. (I have a few King type books in my head and under the bed, but that’s for a different conversation) And changing genres was super difficult. Who knew?

I had to find a new agent, new publishers, new everything. It was like starting all over. Since my romances ran on the steamy side, I wasn’t taken seriously by many of my mystery/thriller peers, especially men when I was trying to get Jim’s books out there. I did exactly what I tell all new authors struggling to get published. Just keep writing. Go to conferences, and network. Work on your craft. It took me ten years to be a so called overnight success.


Reading Room:  I know that writers sometimes tire of being asked whether they write with an outline or some sort of plan, or if they write by the seat of their pants.  I have a specific area to ask about in this quagmire of planning/not planning.  Do you write knowing, even if it’s just a general sense, how the story will end? 

J.D.:  I used to be a big plotter. I had all the scenes and outlines plastered on the wall. As time passed (I’m starting my 15th novel) I find I do better when I have good idea about the story and let it roll. I did a 7-page synp for my editor. I can tighten it up on the second pass. #Sorry to those who have taken plotting classes from me in the past. But we evolve.


Reading Room:  What was the first story you remember writing, whether it was as a kid or an adult?

J.D.:  I wrote my mom a book at about 9. I still have it. There were cats and a vampire. I admit it needs some editing.


Reading Room:  When did you know for sure that you wanted to be a writer, and how did that journey then begin?

J.D.:  I always wanted to be a storyteller. I also always had a horrible time in school. It seemed an impossible dream to be a writer when I couldn’t pass a simple spelling test. I got good marks for creativity and admonished for bad grammar. I thought I was stupid. Was told that a few times. My father made sure I worked really hard to just pass and supported me.

It wasn’t until I was attending classes at Ohio State University that someone suggested I be tested for dyslexia. That changed my life. I was able to get some tools and understand my issues. Reading got easier and it rekindled my love of story. I started writing again. But it was when my late husband was ill, that I got the fire in my belly to write with the intention of earning.


Reading Room:  I’m always impressed how supportive mystery/crime writers are to each other.  Are you or have you been in a writers’ group with other authors who read and critique each other’s work.  And do you have any authors who have played an especially pivotal role in your becoming a published author in the mystery/crime genre?

J.D.:  I have met the best people from going to readers' conventions and writers' conferences and networking. There have been so many great people in my corner, from way back in my romance days. We’d be here all day, but I have to mention my friend and conference buddy, Cheryl Hollon and my agent Jill Marr for keeping me sane these last few years. And Jeff Deaver for supporting me and helping with my first mystery/thriller release. Our tribe is amazing.

J.D.:  I’m in my first crit group now. I’ve been hesitant about joining one. Going back to the dyslexia, I usually don’t let anyone read first drafts. But this group seems to be working.  We had all planned to be at Bouchercon. So, when that fell apart, we all met at up at a lake house and had an intensive writing weekend. This year was so isolating, it was great being around my peeps!


Reading Room:  Let’s talk some now about Jim Bean in your Sin City crime series.  I’m quite taken with him, but I have to say that I’m quite taken with his whole crew.  In fact, it’s hard to imagine him without them.  How did you come up with Bean?  Is he modeled on anyone in real life?  And did you dream up the whole crew at one time, or did you keep adding as you wrote?

J.D.:  He’s based on several people really. A friend who was falsely accused of rape and his life was all but destroyed. My teenage heartthrob PI, Brett Maverick. And there’s a little bit of my late husband, Allen. Different situations bring differing attributes of each of those guys.

The team came about as they were needed. Most PI’s have to interact with an assortment of law enforcement, attorneys, and such to get the job done. Ely, was the only one that is based on a real person. Gary was a friend who helped with the PI stuff. He not the crazy tech guru, but he was a walking character himself. Most of Ely’s background came from him. Sadly, we lost him to cancer this year. It was heartbreaking. FBF is dedicated to him.


Reading Room:  I know you’ve answered this question in other interviews and pieces, but for a complete interview here, I have to ask, why Las Vegas for Jim Bean’s stories?

J.D.:  In the first book we get some of Jim’s background. He had an entirely different life planned for himself. The life threw him a hand grenade. He left his home in Ohio and needed to run and hide and change his name. Vegas seemed the perfect place to do that. And I love going to Vegas. So much to get into there. If I need something strange to happen in a book, I’m able to find a way to make that happen just by searching around the city and the area.


Reading Room:  It's no secret that you have some dastardly characters in Body Zoo.  How much do you like writing the “bad uns”?

J.D.:  That’s my favorite. I always start a book thinking I need to pull back on that. And somehow, the bad uns get badder as the book comes together.

Reading Room:  Another character comment and question.  I love how even your characters who are on the side of “good” have their obvious flaws.  Any comment on those flaws? 

J.D.:  I’m not telling you mine, but don’t we all! The best people, like all the best characters, are forged in fire.


Reading Room:  With the Jim Bean books, how have you kept track of the details from book to book?  Do you use a spreadsheet or a notebook or any such tool to keep it all straight as you’ve progressed with the series?  
J.D.:  I started with notebook that I managed to misplace. Then I turned to a spread sheet as a digital series bible, and now I use the Plottr program.  It can have pictures for visual reference for characters. It took a bit to set as I keep all character names, what part they played in each book and their status. Dead or Alive.


Reading Room:  What sort of research do you do for the Jim Bean books?  What kind of resources?

J.D.:  I go to Vegas, Baby! I was there in the between times when the virus numbers were lower, and we thought things were getting back to normal. Boy was I wrong!?! But, in general, I use all kinds of things for research. The internet, Google Earth is such a great tool when you can’t leave the house.  I call people, do police ride-a-longs, read books and blogs.  Attend for-writer-cons like Writer’s Police Academy. You know I spent some time with a taxidermist for Body Zoo!


Reading Room:  Flat Black Ford, Jim Bean #4, is just out, and I see it’s getting great reviews (I'll have a review coming out in a few days).  One thought is that this book isn’t as dark as the first three.  Could you comment on that? 

J.D.: Not sure I intended it that way. But again, the crimes and those who commit them, determine the creep level. There is some grit. But I think I needed a little lighter while seeing so many people dying on the news all of last year.


Reading Room:  What’s up next for your readers, J.D.?  Will there be any more Jim Bean books?  (Please say yes.)

J.D.:  I’m starting the fifth right now. The title was just approved – Brick and Bones! This time we’ll learn a little more about Ely and delve into some Vegas mob history. I’ll try to get the gritty/bloody/ dark back for the fans of that.


Reading Room:  What sort of books do you most enjoy reading, and what’s on deck for you now?

J.D.:  I still read slower than most. And usually that means I read mostly in my genre, and I read my friend’s books. I just started to get hooked on memoirs, too. Right now, I’m about to crack the spine of the latest Jess Lowery.

I enjoy a variety of crime fiction so it’s hard to nail down just a few names because I know I’m leaving a large number of people out. But I got hooked on Reacher, and you’ll see a lot of my voice mimics that. I love Tami Hoag, Lisa Jackson, Laura Lippman, and Matt Coyle. New finds are James D.F. Hannah and LynDee Walker.


Reading Room:  One last question, J.D.  Do you have any hobbies or talents or interests that might surprise your readers, or something that is a passion apart from writing?  It could also be a little known fact about you, like you were an astronaut or a belly dancer. 

J.D.:  Little known fact. I’m a bit competitive. In my younger days, I was a speed skater. On wheels! I raced all the way to the national championships. Lost. Hurt my knee in the second heat. That seems like a million years ago.

I was also a member of the national championship equestrian team from Ohio State. Got to travel with them for a couple years while finishing my degree. Made the college experience so good for me given I was about a decade older than most the students. My best buddy, Jill Smith, was the best. She won all the classes and the all-around champ. We’re still friends and she was part of the reason I moved to Florida.



Sin City Series


Monday, August 30, 2021

Shot Caller (NYPD Negotiators #2) by Jen Danna: Reading Room Review


Jen Danna has been an author whose plots have intrigued me for the last decade, beginning with her co-authoring series, the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries and, more recently, the FBI K-9 Mysteries. Last year she began her solo series the NYPD Negotiators, and Shot Caller is the second book in this exciting new line of stories. Again, this series carries on the excellent plotting of her past writing. The stories begin with an engaging premise that focuses on resolution, no wandering loose canons but a clear path of action and intent. 

When talking about police procedural stories, readers generally are referring to following an investigation from the criminal act or discovery of a body to gathering evidence and finding the perpetrator(s) of the crime. With the NYPD Negotiator series, we start with a guilty party and watch as the police negotiators try to defuse a dangerous situation to prevent more damage or more loss of life. The negotiator police procedural could be called a sub-genre of a sub-genre. Whatever it’s called, it is as fascinating as any investigation is. The tension and suspense are constant, as lives hang in the balance of a negotiator being able to reason with the unreasonable. 

The situation Gemma Capella faces in Shot Caller is a prison riot at Rikers, the prison that sits on Rikers’ Island in the NYPD jurisdiction. Rikers is a hotbed of rival gang members and the dregs of society, sprinkled with unfortunate others who find themselves incarcerated with the hard-core criminals. The conditions are nightmarish. One area of the prison is named the Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit, created to improve on the solitary confinement situations. In the ESH inmates spend a minimum of seven hours outside their cells and have access to mental health and social programs, much different than the former 23 hours in the cell and one hour out of previous solitary confinement conditions. However, the units had not been as successful as the DOC, Department of Corrections, had hoped. It is this unit where a prisoner is able to get loose from his shackles, instigate a fight, and lead the prisoners in overcoming the guards and taking over the cell block. 

More usually a negotiation involves one person with whom the negotiating team must establish contact and try to convince the hostage taker or perp into a give and take relationship, with the goal being the person ultimately giving himself up and any hostages freed. This time Gemma and her team are faced with a cell unit full of 42 prisoners and eight prison guard hostages. Whereas there might be hope of one negotiating team handling and resolving a situation in a day’s time in a normal stand-off, there’s little hope a prison situation will resolve itself in a day or even two. Gemma’s boss, Lieutenant Garcia forms two teams, with Gemma as the lead negotiator on one, the one operating from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. 

Not all negotiations are successful, and so there is an Apprehension Tactical Team, the A Team, always ready to go in with force and end the situation. They are highly skilled and competent at their job, but too often there is loss of life when they must go in. The negotiators want to avoid the A Team solution, and work hard to do so, but it is the tactical team’s leader that has the final say in when their actions are necessary. Gemma has a good working relationship with the tactical team, and she expects to be given every chance possible to pull the conflict out of the fire.

With the initial take-over of the cell block, there is, of course, violence. It’s not known initially if any of the prison guards or prisoners are dead or injured badly. There’s plenty of bad blood in the mix. Different gangs who hate each other and, most dangerous, all the prisoners hating the guards. A powder keg waiting to ignite is not an exaggeration. The first order of business for the negotiators, after getting set up, is to contact someone inside, but even that has to wait for a cooling down period this time. When Gemma starts trying to open communications, it takes a while, and she fears that there is only chaos and no one in charge.

The prisoner who finally answers Gemma’s call is Rivas, a member of the Filero Kings gang. Kill Switch, his gang name, gains control of the unit, and focuses on Gemma as the negotiator with whom he’ll communicate. Thus, Rivas becomes the “shot caller,” and just like it sounds, he will be the one to either work with Gemma or call off negotiations. It takes all the years of experience Gemma has accumulated to handle the volatile scene, where a misstep on her part can mean someone dies. At first there are some steps forward, and Gemma gets Rivas to submit a list of demands, always an important step in negotiations. But, unpredictability is always just around the corner, and in a negotiation with rival gang members in the mix, the chances for disaster are high. At a moment of crisis, will cooler heads prevail, or will force be the only viable answer? Readers will find it hard to predict the outcome. 

Besides plot and pacing, Jen Danna has a deft hand at character development. Each book is revealing more about the Capella family, a strong, closely knit group who have each other’s backs. Of course, it helps that they are all deeply entrenched in the NYPD, with Gemma’s father being the current Chief of Special Operations for the NYPD, her brother Alex being in Internal Affairs, and brother Joe being a captain with the NYPD Gang Unit. Joe is able to give some insight into the gang members holed up in the cell unit. Readers will be drawn to this family who has suffered a tragedy early in Gemma’s life and who followed in the father’s footsteps of service. I look forward to getting to know them more and more. 

Jen Danna is what I call a solid writer, one who has control over her story and gives readers a tightly woven plot where characters do their jobs without hysterics or psychological stumbling blocks. I’m not saying that there aren’t some background issues hanging around, and I’m not precluding the possibility for surprises; I’m just saying the focus of the story is maintained, which is the negotiation. Danna’s storylines are fresh and immediately pique my interest as soon as I start the book. With #2 now read, I can assure readers that the NYPD Negotiators is a sharp new series that will engage your attention with complete captivation.

I was fortunate to receive an advanced reader’s copy of Shot Caller from the author and from NetGalley. The above is my honest review.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Fall Reading

Fall Reading


Oh, glorious fall.  My favorite season of the year with its leaves of many colors, pumpkin pie (pumpkin everything), cooler weather, Halloween, and, of course, lots of new books.  It seems like I was just posting my summer list of books to look forward to, and although I'm still finishing up that list, I can say that it was a summer of love, for reading that is. This fall the upcoming books will once again assure that reading will be my primary activity.  And, remember that these books listed are the ones I hope to get to.  There are always more, and no doubt I will be slipping in what I can.  In fact, although I included one reissue of a classic, I'll probably be doing a separate post on those out this fall.  I hope readers can find some books from my list to add to their fall reading, and I always want to hear about ones I didn't post that you're looking forward to.                






September 2021

These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall (Sept. 1st)

The Heron’s Cry by Ann Cleeves (Sept. 7th  UK and US)

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell (Sept. 7th, U.S.)

The Stolen Hours by Allen Eskens (Sept. 7th)

Her Perfect Life (Sept. 14th) by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Sept. 14th)

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman (Sept. 16th UK)


The Killing Kind by Jane Casey (Sept. 21st)

Murder at the House on the Hill (The Dedley End Mysteries #1) by Victoria Walters (Sept. 23rd)   

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward (Sept. 28th) 

When Things Get Dark: Stories Inspired by Shirley Jackson, Edited by Ellen Datlow (Sept. 28th)

Drumsticks (Reissue Noir, Nanette Hayes #3 of 3) by Charlotte Carter (Sept. 28th)

The Midnight Hour by Elly Griffiths (UK) (Sept. 30th)




October 2021

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (Oct. 5th)

The Taking of Jemima Boone by Matthew Pearl (Oct. 5th)

1979 (Allie Burns #1) by Val McDermid (Oct. 5th)

Bad Apples by Will Dean (Oct. 7th)

Murder Most Festive (debut novel) by Ada Moncrieff (Oct. 12th) 

State of Terror by Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton (Oct. 12th)

Death at Greenway by Lori Rader-Day (Oct. 12th)

A Line to Kill (A Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery Book 3) by Anthony Horowitz (Oct. 19th

Murder at Mallowan Hall by Colleen Cambridge (Oct. 26th)

Down the Hatch (Agatha Raisin #32) by M.C. Beaton and R.W. Green (Oct. 26th) 



November 2021

Fogged Off (Cyd Redondo #3) by Wendall Thomas (Nove. 2nd) 

The Cry of the Hangman by Susanna Caulkins (Nov. 2nd)

The Pledge by Kathleen Kent (Nov. 2nd)

The Cottage by Lisa Stone (Nov. 9th)

Nowhere to Hide (Faith McClellan #4) by LynDee Walker (Nov. 9th) 

Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon (Outlander #9)  (Nov. 23rd)

The Mirror Dance (Dandy Gilver #14, Hardcover) by Catriona McPherson (Nov. 23rd)  

Under Pressure (FBI K-9 Novel #6) by Sara Driscoll (Nov. 30th)

Killer Words by V.M. Burns (Nov. 30th) 

You’ll Be the Death of Me by Karen McManus (Nov. 30th)