Monthly Archives: July 2020

The Story Blender Interview

I had a great time with Steven James on his excellent podcast The Story Blender talking about story and storytelling and getting the words down on the page.
Also a bit about RIGGED, Jake Longly #4, now available, and PRIOR BAD ACTS, Cain/Harper #2, coming in October.
It’s always fun chatting with Steven.

Listen in:





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Posted by on July 27, 2020 in Writing


Criminal Mischief: Episode #39: Do Series Characters Change?


Criminal Mischief: Episode #39: Do Series Characters Change?




Do Series Characters Change?

A better question might be: Should series characters change? Go through some upheaval that arcs their life into uncharted waters?

What is a character arc? Where does it come from? How do you create this in your fictional stories? More importantly, do you even need one?

The answer to the first three questions is fairly straight forward. A character arc simply means the change that the character goes through over the course of the story. Something happens in the character’s life that pushes it off balance. It might be a shark feeding off the shores of Amity Island or two robots showing up and babbling about some character named Obi-Wan Kenobi. It might be a group of armed criminals taking over a small hotel on Key Largo, along with an approaching hurricane just to make things worse. Regardless, something comes into the character’s life, pushes it off kilter, and the remainder of the story is that person trying to rebalance things. As this journey unfolds, the character changes, learns something about himself, reaches a different level of understanding or compassion or ability to act. As a writer, your job is to create these characters, put them through their pieces, and in the end move them to a different level. This is not always positive. There can be negative character arcs. An excellent example is Michael Corleone in the Godfather series. Michael transformed from an easy-going ex-soldier into a ruthless mafioso.

A solid character arc will satisfy readers because they see change come about in a character they have grown to care for.

But what about a series character? A character that must move through five, 10, 20 or more novels? Do the protagonists of such series undergo a character arc? Should they? And if they do, will the most loyal readers recognize them after the 20th installment? It’s something that’s argued in writing conferences year after year.

Did James Bond ever really change? Did Jack Reacher? The answer, of course, is very little if any. Bond is always Bond; Reacher is always Reacher. If in each story, these iconic characters were confronted with situations that caused a massive change in who they were on a deeply personal level, and these changes piled up story after story, they would become unrecognizable very quickly. And readers would revolt. We read these stories because we like the main character and we don’t want him to be someone else.

So, if a series character doesn’t change, what’s the story about? It’s about this character, who we know and love, facing very difficult circumstances and successfully solving the riddle. The character doesn’t have to change dramatically to do this, nor does he need to have some earthshaking revelation about himself or the world or even someone else. What he needs to do is use whatever skills he possesses to correct the situation and put the story world back in order. For James Bond, it’s often saving the world from Ernst Stavro Blofeld. For Jack Reacher, it’s taking on the troubles of the little guy and his fight against the big guy or the bad guy. Reacher is basically Shane. The quiet hero who comes into town and saves the day. And we like that. We don’t want him to change. Same for James Bond. When James Bond returns to London or Reacher sticks his thumb out and hitchhikes to the next town, they are the same person they were at the beginning of the story and indeed the story before and the one before that. They don’t change, they use their skills to solve problems. And we relish being along for the ride.

These are the same principles I employ in my Jake Longly series. These stories are more humorous than hard-boiled. Mainly because of Jake’s quirky take on the world around him, his complete contentment with his life as it is,  and that, despite his resolve to avoid real work, the circumstances he repeatedly finds himself in. Jake is an ex-professional baseball player who now owns a bar and restaurant on the Gulf Coast. His life goals are to run his bar, hang out with friends, and chase bikinis. He is who he is. This seemingly lack of ambition creates tension with his father Ray, who wants him to be more serious about life and to join him in his private investigation firm. Jake will have none of it. Jake does not change. He’s the same low-key, lovable character through each story. 

So what is the story about if not change? This series is basically about Jake and his girlfriend Nicole Jamison and best friend Tommy “Pancake” Jeffers, who actually works for Ray as a P.I. Actually, so does Nicole. Well, sort of.  Though Jake twists and turns and does all he can to avoid it, Ray, Pancake, and Nicole continually drag him into quirky situations that involve crime and corruption, even murder and mayhem. Jake is always a fish out of water and continually finds himself in deeper water. His abilities, or lack thereof, to handle these calamities plus his off-kilter view of the world, is where the humor lies in this series. 

So, does Jake change? No, and yes. His basic nature and his belief system remain unaltered, but his relationship with Nicole does trigger some evolution within Jake. Before meeting her, a long-term relationship for him was maybe three weeks, yet he and Nicole have been together for over a year. And they are content with each other. But in the big things, the earth-shaking things, Jake doesn’t change. And that’s the way it should be.

So, while character arcs work very well, and indeed are essential, for many stories, for a series character, they can spell disaster. I think the best advice for writers is that for your series characters you should pressure them, make them adapt, make them use their skills to solve the problem and save the day, but be wary of fundamental changes in who they are. Your readers will buy your next book because they like your protagonist. Don’t make him a stranger.

Originally posted on DIY/MFA

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Posted by on July 21, 2020 in Writing


Hole In The Woods by Jennifer Dornbush

My friend forensic specialist, novelist, and screenwriter Jennifer Dornbush has a new book coming August 4, 2020. It’s a wild ride.




July 1989, in a sleepy Michigan town, high school grad, Nina Laramie, heads out with friends and is never seen alive again. Months later, her skeleton is found near a remote party spot in the forest. The ME determines Nina has been brutally raped and bludgeoned to death. Fear and anger ripple through this tight-knit community when the case goes cold. Thirty years later, Riley St. James, a Detroit PD assigned to Nina’s case, is determined to get her first big cold case win despite having a similar past to the victim. Relying on her investigative prowess and gut instinct, Riley tracks down a witness, who saw Nina Laramie’s murder. But as the truth comes to light, Riley must face the killers who want their secret to stay in the Hole in the Woods. Based on the 1989 true-life murder case of Shannon Siders from Newaygo County, Michigan. After the case went dormant, a Michigan cold case team formed in 2011 and uncovered new evidence that enabled them to arrest, try, and convict the killers, who were sent to prison for Shannon’s murder in 2015.

Check out her other books:

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Posted by on July 18, 2020 in Writing



Thanks to Paula Lanier for pointing out that my first Q&A book MURDER AND MAYHEM was clearly visible on a desk in the HBO series I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which chronicles the tragically late Michelle McNamara’s investigation of the Golden State Killer—-a moniker she gave this serial predator. I hope it helped with her research. Check it out. Just after the opening credits of Episode 2.

The original was published by St. Martins Press but I later got the rights back and it was republished in 2013 with an all-new cover. The details, links to order it, and the Table of Contents are on my website at:

My other two Q&A books are also available and the details and Table of Contents for each are also on my website.



The hope with each of these books is to help educate crime writers on medical and forensic science issues that might come up in their stories——as well as, hopefully, inspire new story ideas and plot points.

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Posted by on July 10, 2020 in Writing


The First 3 Jake Longly Books Are Kindle Monthly Deals for July

The first 3 Jake Longly Books are Kindle Monthly Deals for July.
Only $1.99 each.

Order here:

BIG NEWS: The $1.99 has been extended through August on not only Amazon but virtually all eBook outlets. Drop by your favorite source and check it out.



Ex-professional baseball player Jake Longly adamantly refuses to work for his father, to enter Ray’s PI world. He prefers to hang out at his beach-front bar/restaurant and chase bikinis along the sugary beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama. But Ray could be persuasive so Jake finds himself staking-out the home of wealthy Barbara Plummer, suspected of adultery by her husband. Seems simple enough. Hang around, take a few pictures, sip a little bourbon. Except Barbara gets herself murdered right under Jake’s nose. Jake launches into an investigation of the homicide, aided by new girlfriend Nicole Jemison, actress, budding screenwriter, and the progeny of Hollywood A-list parents, and Tommy “Pancake” Jeffers, Ray’s redheaded, behemoth employee who has crazy computer skills. 

Jake quickly runs afoul of Ukrainian mobster Victor Borkov, his henchmen Joe Zuma and Frank Boyd, cartel hitman Carlos, and the hitmen wanna-be Wilbanks brothers. Was Borkov behind Barbara’s murder? If so, why? What could he possibly gain? As Jake and Nicole peel away the layers of the crime, more murders pile up, and the intrepid couple must somehow escape being deep-sixed from Borkov’s massive yacht.



Jake Longly and girlfriend Nicole Jamison are still recovering from their ordeal with Ukrainian underworld boss Victor Borkov and life on the Gulf Coast is returning to normal. Then Nicole’s producer uncle Charles Balfour calls asking them to head to New Orleans where his mega-star, A-list actor Kirk Ford, has awakened with the corpse of a college co-ed in his hotel bed. Ford, in the Big Easy for a location shoot, remembers little of the evening and nothing of the murder. As if things couldn’t get worse, the girl is the niece of local mafioso-type Tony Guidry who will do what is necessary to avenge his niece’s death.

As Jake and Nicole attempt to put the pieces together, they butt heads with Tony’s muscle, his near-do-well yet aggressive nephews (the dead girl’s brothers), as well as drug dealers Ju Ju and Ragman. Of course, Ray and Pancake arrive to help sort things out with the help of Ford’s  beautiful co-stars in the multi-billion dollar Space Quest franchise, Tegan and Tara James (aka The Twins), who vehemently support and defend Ford. 

But something isn’t right. The facts don’t fit. Who would want Kristi Guidry dead, or Kirk framed for murder? And why? Everyone has an opinion, including Kristi’s friends, her ex-boyfriend, homicide detective Troy Doucet, and even local fortuneteller Madam Theresa. It’s up to Jake and Nicole to decipher who’s lying, who’s telling the truth, and exactly who schemed to murder Kristi Guidry. 

Nothing is easy in the Big Easy.



In SUNSHINE STATE, Jake Longly and girlfriend Nicole Jamison are confronted with the most bizarre case yet. Serial killer Billy Wayne Baker now denies that two of the seven murders he confessed to doing are actually his work. An anonymous benefactor, who believes Billy Wayne’s denials, hires Longly Investigations to prove Billy Wayne right. Yet, Billy Wayne confessed. Not only did he have the motive, means, and opportunity, but also DNA connects him to each murder.

Jake, Nicole, Ray, and Pancake travel to the small Gulf coast town of Pine Key, where three of the murders occurred. The local police, the FBI, and the state prosecutor and crime lab each did their jobs, uncovered overwhelming evidence of Billy Wayne’s guilt, and even extracted a full confession. Is Billy Wayne simply trying to tweak the system, garnering another fifteen minutes of fame? Is it all a game to him? But, if he’s being truthful, is there a killer out there getting away with murder? Who? Why? Most importantly, how?

Nothing is as it seems in the Sunshine State.


 Also Available.

Details and Order:

First loves are never forgotten. Ever. Certainly not for Tommy “Pancake” Jeffers. His first-kiss, sixth-grade love Emily, who he has not seen since grammar school, is sliding toward divorce in the artsy Gulf Coast town of Fairhope. Alabama. Longly Investigations has been charged with looking into the finances involved. But, when Emily doesn’t appear for their nervously anticipated meeting, Pancake’s radar goes on high alert. When her body, along with that of Jason, one of two guys she has been dating, are found murdered, Pancake calls in Jake, Nicole, and Ray and the pursuit begins. Who would have done this? The soon-to-be ex, who has an ironclad alibi, the other guy Emily is seeing—jealousy being a motive for harm, or do the drugs found in Jason’s pocket indicate a drug-related hit? That world yields a host of suspects. As they peel back the layers of this idyllic community, dark secrets come to light and convoluted motives and methods of murder are revealed. 

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Posted by on July 6, 2020 in Writing

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