If you're one of the many readers who've been waiting for MURDER 20/20, the anthology is now available on Amazon in both print and ebook. (I'll post the links below.) With seventeen Indiana authors, myself included, the book includes stories that connect to the "2020" theme. Within these stories, you'll find a variety of futuristic, past, and current-day sleuths who try to solve puzzling crimes of murders, revenge, and malice.
This is the seventh anthology from the Speed City Chapter of Sisters in Crime, a national organization of crime writers. It was founded in 1986 by NY Times bestselling author, Sara Peretsky, to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition, and professional development of women crime writers. I am currently a member of both the national organization and its Speed City Chapter of Indianapolis. All three editors and seventeen authors are also members.
My short story, "The 20/20 Club," is among this collection. As with my other short stories, it is written under the name Mary Ann Koontz. Follow Detective Wayne Nelson as he tries to solve a mysterious murder with an even more mysterious calling card. Here's a brief excerpt from my story:
"At first she thought he was a drunk who'd wandered into the cemetery and thought it a good place to sleep it off, undisturbed. But when her eyes traveled up his body, she knew otherwise."
I won't leave you hanging. That would be cruel. Instead, I'll provide you with the links for your choice of purchase.
Enjoy, and please leave a review when you've finished.
Readers are the ultimate necessity for authors who write to entertain them. As much as I enjoy writing, I can't imagine doing so without the readers who are willing to invest their time to cozy up to one of my stories. Because of this, I thought it would be fun to interview one of these readers and get some insight into their favorite past-time. Today, I'm chatting with Ann, who graciously volunteered for my first "reader's chat."
Me: Would you consider yourself an occasional reader or an avid reader?
Me: Do you have a favorite genre?
Ann: I love mysteries, with a little bit of love sprinkled in throughout the story line.
Me: I think you just answered my next question. When you read a mystery or thriller, what is your favorite subplot? For example, romance, personal struggles, family conflict, employment issues, etc.
Me: What time of day do you usually find time to read?
Ann: First thing in the morning, generally when the kids aren't up and asking for this or that!
Me: Since I know that you have a full time job, that's a definite commitment. Are you a fan of series or stand-alone novels?
Ann: Both, honestly. I enjoy series that are well written as such that they could be read as a stand alone novel as well.
Me: What do you crave most in a story?
Ann: Well developed characters and story lines.
Me: Do you prefer a great deal of description, action, or dialogue? Why or why not?
Ann: Description, because I feel like it allows me to imagine the scene better. I get very vested in my books, and try to picture the scene in my head.
Me: As someone who enjoys reading, what would you like to see less of in current books? More of?
Ann: Too many characters. Often a story can get lost when a writer incorporates too many characters in the story. Develop only the main characters to allow for a reader to connect at a deeper level.
Me: Do you think most readers are willing to review a book they've read? Why or why not?
Ann: Avid readers, yes. I feel like we use the reviews to help us decide if this book is one we would enjoy or not.
Me: One last question. If you were a character in my next novel, what type of character would you be, and what name would you give yourself?
Ann: I would likely be a crazy sister-in-law named Jade, haha!
Me: Love the name. Now I'm wondering if she could be the killer, or the character who gets killed? Hmmmm . . . I make no promises! Ha! Thank you, Ann, for your candid answers, and for taking precious moments out of your day to chat. Stay well, and keep reading.
Author of SHARDS OF TRUST and THE CRY BEYOND THE DOOR.
My heart goes out to the grieving family of George Floyd, following his senseless murder. The family has pushed for communication and change through peaceful methods, in hopes that there will be a solution this time. I share their hope that it can become a reality.
Unfortunately, the recent protests and unrest take me back to the seventies, and it saddens me to realize how much and how little civil rights have progressed. In my own little bubble, I've been able to convince myself from time to time that it had indeed progressed, but headlines and news insist otherwise. Past injustices of racism continue to rear its ugly head.
As a naive high school student, my first day began with riots. Inner city students had been bused to our new school with little to no say in the matter. Lock-downs were commonplace that first week of school. I had been bused the previous year and hated it, so I empathized. I knew that the long bus ride made extra-curricular activities difficult unless you had a car. But I hadn't realized that the rebellion went so much deeper.
Sitting in class one day, a fellow classmate gave a speech that I had difficulty wrapping my head around. She literally shook as she told about her uncle getting stopped for a crime he didn't commit. He was the same dark color as the assailant, and was in the vicinity of where the crime had taken place. When her uncle insisted he was innocent, he was beaten severely then held in custody without any legal counsel. He was only released when the assailant attacked again and was captured. There were no apologies or offers to cover her uncle's medical bills. Enraged family members tried to help him financially, but felt helpless going against the system that repeatedly abused its power. Even the best law enforcement were seen as threats, and back then, cameras did not exist on every street corner, place of business, or on the police officers themselves. When she finished her speech, you could hear a pin drop. That classmate is now a judge, making changes to that very system in her own way.
A year later, as I walked to class with a friend who shared the same schedule as me, we found ourselves cornered in a stairwell. I don't remember all of the insults thrown our way by a kid, who I didn't even know, but I'll never forget the words he spat at my friend, "You're nothing but an Uncle Tom." It felt as though I'd been punched in the gut, but the hit landed harder with my friend. The words had put an ugly spin on a friendship, and in a split second, had moved us from laughter to tears. We were so shocked, we couldn't speak, couldn't defend ourselves. It was as though the wind had been knocked out of us. When I later reflected on the incident, I tried to understand what had happened. I wondered if some members of the Black community were so immersed in years of anger from oppression, that they couldn't let it go , couldn't move toward change. Instead, they lashed out at those who tried.
Years later, when my children had grown, I was once again taught another lesson by my neighbor. She explained to me one day, when I'd been complaining about the difficulties of raising teenagers, that it's much more difficult for parents of black teenage boys. For example, she refused to let her son wear a hoodie for fear that he'd automatically be seen as a thug when walking down the street. She and her husband, as many black parents did, felt it necessary to drill their son on how to act if he was approached by a police officer. There was a whole list of behaviors he needed to learn from them, so they could keep him safe from those who were supposed to be protecting him. The injustice of a classmate"s uncle in the seventies still existed.
Don't get me wrong, there has been progress, but when another black man lies dead, I have to realize the progress hasn't been nearly enough. There have been many lessons this naive individual has learned about the Black community's struggle for civil rights, but I've learned those lessons only because someone was willing to teach me. It scares me, though, to know how much I still have to learn about social injustices. I can only hope that there will always be a brave individual who is willing to patiently talk with me so that I can understand.
- M.A. Koontz
To the doctors, nurses, other medical personnel, and first responders on the frontlines in the war against COVID-19:
Today I want you to know that I am praying for you. As you rush into work, not knowing what your shift or the next 24 hours will bring, know this -- today you are not alone; today I am praying for both your physical and mental well-being. Religious or not, my prayers are for you, for isn’t there a spirituality in the healing care you give to others?
As you become aware of the growing number of patients infected with the coronavirus that you’ve already encountered within that first hour on your job, please also be aware of me praying that you will not lose faith. Though you struggle to accept yet another loss of a life, I pray that you’ll feel the gratitude of others whose family member’s or friend’s lives you played some part in saving. And when you feel despair, I pray you’ll recall the fragile life of an individual who, because of your dedication, can now return home.
Today, as you go about your selfless work, I pray that your immune system will win its battle against the cough, the contaminated surface, or the feverish hand that reaches out to you. May it fight as hard against this infectious virus as you fight against each day’s growing challenges.
I also pray that the growing pain in your feet, back, hips, and legs will subside today as you stand for far too many hours caring for those who cannot stand or lift their heads. As paramount as it is for you to ease others’ pain, so it is with my prayers in asking for God to ease your pain.
And today, when your brow furrows as you start to worry how long your supplies of masks, gloves, or ventilators will last, I pray that those needs will be provided. You have enough to worry about. Let the power of God, through prayer, touch those who can fill those needs to do so expediently.
And finally, at the end of the day, when you’re feeling spent, I pray that you’ll allow the embrace of God’s strength, peace, and love to fortify you. Even if your experiences of the day leave you feeling alone with the overwhelming weight of the world on your shoulders, know that today you are not alone. You are in my prayers.
With my deepest appreciation and respect,
Anyone else out there among the #WritingCommunity ever been accused of being ADD when it comes to their writing? When the experts in publishing and writing are screaming (dramatic, I know) the importance of developing your own brand and focusing on one genre, I have found myself going against the suggested rule.
For marketing purposes, I understand it, really I do. When a writer is consistently writing in the same genre, it is easier to build a following. It makes sense, whether an author is self-published or traditionally published, the more you become known as an author of a specific genre, readers of that genre will seek out your books (hopefully). But I wonder how many of you suddenly find your creative mind veering off that set path, and then find yourself hesitating because of this suggested piece of advice: "Stay in your lane!"
Full disclosure, I am a rule follower — to a point. When an idea pops into my head, and lingers at the forefront of my thoughts, I feel compelled to write it. The excitement of delving into a new mode of writing can be exhilarating.
For example, I started writing children's stories for the children's page of a newspaper. This meant deadlines and limited word counts, but great feedback from readers. One woman even called every Koontz in the area to tell me how much she enjoyed reading the stories with her grandchildren. Maybe it was that sort of ego-boost that led me to try a new media — magazines.
One day, I noticed how much my Mom enjoyed reading the magazine Country. I thought how fun it would be to write a story with a familiar setting, her parents' barn. The motivation was the surprise on her face when she would see my story on one it's pages. With mixed emotions, however, the story was printed in another of the publisher's magazines, Country Extra. So of course, I was motivated to submit other articles and stories that were published in Country.
I'm really not clear how I decided to take the next leap toward writing a novel, but perhaps it was the desire to be challenged (or the ADD). Knowing this would be a huge learning curve, I enlisted the service of a developmental editor. Wise decision. Lauren Taylor Shute with #LTSeditorial guided me, and probably rolled her eyes at me on more than one occasion before #ShardsOfTrust was completed. Bolstered by this confidence, I flew solo on my next book, #TheCryBeyondTheDoor, which has been recently released.
But passing an old cemetery one day, once again I felt that tug of inspiration. I desperately wanted to use this to write a short story for the #SistersInCrime Indianapolis chapter's upcoming anthology. I recently learned it will be published sometime this year in a book titled Murder 20/20.
At least I stayed with suspense/mystery genre, right? Still, there was this story that my granddaughter and I had been tossing around, and who can pass up the excitement of a third grader? This time, learning site words was among the plethora of new items to tackle on yet another learning curve. And doing it all via long distance was not as difficult as I expected. It took extra time, but we developed a method for our cooperation, with ideas flowing back and forth. It was so much fun! So add a third grade chapter book to the varied list, as I begin the query letters.
Through it all, perhaps the best writing process, for me, is one that allows inspiration to lead the way. In the end, it's about writing what you love. What process works for you? I would love to hear about it. #ThursdayThoughts
— M.A. Koontz
Christmas is almost upon us, and I find myself wondering how that's possible. The last couple months at our house have been filled with ups and downs, which I'm sure many of you have experienced time and again. Although some might say, "c'est la vie," I prefer not to brush past those peaks and valleys so quickly, but rather, reflect on them. When I do, I find I'm grateful for both, because without the valleys, the peaks would be mere hills to stand on.
Life took a downhill turn near Thanksgiving, when my father-in-law passed away. He was a good man who'd led a full life, and I am grateful to have known him. Though he will be missed by his family and friends, at Thanksgiving we could all be thankful for the joy and lessons he shared by example.
At the same time, my new book, The Cry Beyond The Door, was to be released, but it was not meant to be. The timing was lousy, but some pleasant surprises have occurred this month in spite of the setbacks. Two book signings went well, and another local book store agreed to carry my books. They're also graciously planning to host a book signing for me in January. Then I was asked to speak at an event at Ft. Wayne's new Promenade Park Pavillion this summer as part of the Sundays on the Riverfront program. That could be a high and low all rolled into one!
So many people I've encountered recently have had no idea how their presence and smiles have set my course this Christmas on an upward path. From family, to friends, to complete strangers, each have given me the gift of joy. I don't know if they were experiencing peaks or valleys in their own lives, but I appreciate them for providing me with a push or tug along the way. If you were one of these people, I'd like to thank you. I sincerely hope to pass it on to others this Christmas and into the New Year.
Have a blessed Christmas, and remember to spread the gift of joy to others. It costs nothing, yet means so much, for we never know if the person we meet is in a valley, standing high on some summit, or somewhere in between.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of The Lucky One, compliments of Lori Rader-Day and HarperCollins Publishers. I couldn’t wait to read it, and immediately settled in for what I was certain would be a great read. I was not disappointed. Edgar Award nominated Rader-Day has done it again.
A delicious plot-twisting story with a surprise ending, The Lucky One is a suspenseful story told from the viewpoints of two characters, Alice and Merrily. Their confusion and disjointed lives are reflected in Rader-Day’s writing style, setting the mood for both characters and plot. If you enjoy roller coasters, strap yourself in for the ride she takes you on, complete with one of those thrilling loops that will leave you breathless. — M.A. Koontz
I really enjoyed the way Kate Flora steadily built suspense throughout this novel. It definitely kept me turning pages to see what was going to happen next — a great example of a book that is hard to put down.
I also appreciated Flora's female protagonist, especially how she created an imperfect character, one that could take charge without waiting for her knight in shining armor. Despite that, her character still had a vulnerability to her that softened her dynamic nature.
The main character, Thea Kozak, searches for her adopted sister's killer, and finds her life is turned upside down as each new secret is revealed. Clues that expose an ugly truth force her to look at her sister and her family in a new light. When she follows the same dangerous trail her sister had taken that got her killed, nothing is as she expected. She questions whether she'll ever be able to find her sister’s murderer, or if she’ll end up as another murder victim instead.
Review by M.A. Koontz
Ta-Nehisi Coates provides an intimate view of the slave culture in #TheWaterDancer at a time when the Underground Railroad was building in strength and numbers. Written in the first person perspective of Hiram Walker, his struggles to recall the events of his parents' disappearance unfold into the story of the "Tasked" and the "Quality."
His life begins as a slave at Lockless, a tobacco plantation in Elm County, Virginia, where he and others from "the Street" continually experience torture, humiliation, and anger at the hands of their masters. Enraged by the injustice, he discovers a gift within him – one that can lead many to freedom – if only he can learn to harness its powers.
I must admit, I struggled with the prose in parts of this story, as well as the meaning behind specific sections. This is exactly what makes this novel a great read for a book club. There is no shortage of material to discuss.
I would like to thank Carrie Vrabel with the #ACPL for the Advance Reader's Edition of this amazing novel.
I enjoyed the way Stokes built suspense throughout this novel, keeping me anxious to see what would happen next. His protagonist, Teri, is an unlikely main character, which I found refreshing. After she witnesses a murder, she's determined to find justice at her own risk, but didn't count on putting the lives of others at risk as well. Stokes does an excellent job of demonstrating Teri's impulsive nature, along with her increasing strength and resilience. A great read!