Friday, August 30, 2019

Eating Rattlesnake with Mystery Author Elizabeth Dearl

SRW: Today on Twisted Tales, I’m throwing the door wide-open for my Texas pal and mystery author, Elizabeth Dearl. I’ve read her first book, Diamondback, and if you like regional mysteries full of humor and colorful characters, this is the book for you.
Hey, there, Elizabeth. Thanks for joining me and I promise to go easy on you (fingers crossed behind back).

ED: Uh, huh.  Sure.  Why do I have the sinking feeling I'm about to take a college exam I forgot to study for?  (Or, if you want me to be proper: for which I forgot to study.) 
SRW: Let’s get something clear right now. I understand you used to be a cop. I suffer from capiophobia, the fear of being arrested for no particular reason (and, yes, I had to look up the term thanks to my research assistant, Ms. Google). Whenever I pass a cop on the highway, I sweat bullets. I’m nervous having you on here, for Gawd’s sake! If I get out of line, you won’t, like, perform a citizen’s arrest or anything, right?

ED: I won't arrest you, but only because I don't feel like driving across several states to find you.  If you're mean to me, though, you might want to avoid Texas.  I'll let you in on a little secret.  Even off-duty cops have a moment of panic when we see red, flashing lights in the rear-view mirror.  I think it's a perfectly human response.  By the way, when you sweat those bullets, would you save them for me?  Practice/target ammo is really expensive.  

SRW: Now that that’s out of the way, how would you say your experience as a cop has informed the more dastardly elements of your writing?

ED:  For one thing, it's probably broadened my sense of the ludicrous, yet real, aspects of life.  I mean, I learned that people tend to get just as upset about someone picking up a few stray pecans from under the tree in their front yard as they do about someone trying to pry open a window in their house.  As to the dastardly, cops never really get used to the horrible things people do to each other, but we do (we must) learn to take those things in stride and accomplish our work.  We often cry or rant later.  In private.  In case folks think we're unfeeling, they need to know that. But we only give in to that after the current crisis is over, because during the mess we have to maintain a sense of calm, even if it's a false calm. Seriously, cops have to grow an iron spine or we'd never get through some of the things we see.  I'm sure all that filters into my writing, even though I made Taylor a private citizen and not a cop.  I gave her just a touch of the iron spine when she needed it.

SRW: Okay, so Diamondback… Give readers a brief synopsis. And try doing it free rap style.

ED:  Are you freaking kidding me?  You, sir, are beyond mean -- bordering on cruel.  Okay, here goes (and it's going to stink): 

Taylor, now she's all alone.  Lost her mom and lost her home.  Found a letter, what's this?  Whoa! Got an aunt she doesn't know.  City's all she's ever had.  Small town turns out just as bad.  Finds her aunt, but something more.  Snakes and snakes and snakes galore!  Errrr.  Uhhh.  Yo!

You're gonna have to live with that.

SRW: Mic drop, yo! Heh…

Back on the topic of phobias (let’s see, lemme consult with Ms. Google here…), would you say you suffer from ophidiophobia (the fear of snakes)?

ED: No.  I grew up around rattlesnakes.  I wouldn't have made it through childhood if I suffered that particular phobia. Scared?  No.  Respectful?  You bet. 
Elizabeth putting her money where her snake is.
 SRW: Is the Rattler Festival featured in Diamondback based on a real event? 

ED:  Oh, yes.  I grew up in Sweetwater, home of the biggest annual Rattlesnake Roundup in the state of Texas.  We really did have a beauty contest, although the winner was Miss Rattlesnake Roundup (often the most recent Homecoming Queen), not Miss Snakeskin as she in my book.  Folks came from all over the United States for this event, although I'm not sure why.  And considering that at the time Sweetwater boasted only one, pretty small motel, citizens really did rent out rooms to tourists who did not bring their own RVs or tents.  There was always a carnival set up near what we grandly called the Coliseum, and inside (in addition to the vats of snakes) there were gun and knife shows, coin shows, and junk shows as well as rather odd attractions.  Such as: for one dollar, get three chances with a sledgehammer to bust up this old car!   I participated in a few snake hunts as a teenager -- sort of a rite of passage -- but never enjoyed it.  I'm way too soft-hearted when it comes to animals (and that includes reptiles).

SRW: Gotta ask… What does rattlesnake taste like? (Points off if you say “chicken.” You’re a writer, describe it!)

ED:  Yep, I'm a writer all right, but you can't describe rattlesnake meat without saying chicken.  The consistency is almost the same, although rattlesnake is a bit chewier, and there's an undertone of fish.  Look, go to Long John Silver's, order the fish and chicken dinner, then mush the chicken strip and the fish filet together and take a bite. 
SRW: It’s gotta be better than Rocky Mountain Oysters. Just sayin’. Okay! So, Taylor Madison is a fun character, a nosy mystery writer. How many books do you feature her in? Any new ones on the horizon?

ED:  She's in four, so far. Besides Diamondback, there's Twice Dead, Buyer's Remorse, and TripleThreat.  I certainly hope there will be more. Taylor is part of me.  To misquote Brokeback Mountain, "I can't quit her."  (And you're a brave soul if you've actually eaten Rocky Mountain Oysters.  Well, brave or stupid.  Don't know you well enough to say for sure.)

SRW: I haven’t actually eaten them, but I’d err on the side of stupid, nonetheless.

I’ve always thought that memorable thrillers/mysteries are sometimes made even better with dark secrets scratching at the underbelly of seemingly Rockwellian small towns. That’s certainly the case with Diamondback. I’m curious…did you start with the Major Revelations and write the book around them? Or did they come to you while throwing down words at a feverish pace?

ED: I'm someone who always looked at Rockwell prints and thought, first, "What an incredible small town scene.  He's really captured the flavor."  Then I'd look again and think:  "I wonder if that ice cream vendor has a dead body stored in his little cart?"  It was like that.  I would develop what seemed a nice enough (if a bit odd) character, and then think:  "How can I give him/her a dark secret, a little twist?"  Even the most seemingly likeable people have a tiny spot of blackness in the soul, or at least an eccentricity that leaks out.  Truly, have you ever met a completely "normal" person? 

SRW: No, indeed I have not! (And, yeah, I think Rockwell was hiding something… Hmm.)

I loved getting to know the various, colorful characters in Diamondback. Without getting a lawsuit tossed your way, are some of these people based on folks you know? (My wife warns everyone we meet to be careful what they say because they’ll probably end up in one of my books).

ED: When I grew up in Sweetwater, its population was under 10,000.  Trust me when I say that just about everyone knew everyone else.  No one considered it being nosy, they were just looking out for each other.  I hated that (of course) as a teenager, but I look back upon it with fondness.  I'd like to say, straight out, that I'm not making fun of these amazing, small Texas town people, but the lifestyle was . . . different.  I've never used a single person as a character, although I have used compilations of several people to make one character.  And I've used a few remembered quotes or sayings.  Okay, wait, I have to take some of that back.  I did use one woman, whole cloth, when I wrote about Dorothy.  She was close friends with my grandmother, and I loved her to bits.  She'd drive her ancient car down the middle of the road, straddling the stripe, traveling about 20 MPH, honking the horn every so often to let people know she was coming.  She kept a $100 bill in each shoe, and a third down her, um, d├ęcolletage for "emergencies."  She played the piano "by ear" enthusiastically and loudly and sometimes produced an actual tune.  I suspect she enjoyed a nip or two in the evening, although I can't imagine where she obtained it.  (Our entire county, then, was "dry.")

SRW: I have to confess that there’ve been a few times while writing mysteries, I’m not completely sold on who my killer will be until about half-way through or so. Being an ex-cop (*Gulp!*), I would imagine you’re a lot more regimented and know everything going in. Am I wrong?

ED:  You're wrong, in my case.  I was well past halfway through and it hit me -- gadzooks!  (yes, in polite company, I actually use the word "gadzooks")  I hadn't homed in on whodunnit.  I was just having fun.  I had to sit down and consider, then go back and do some editing so that it would make sense.  I hate having to sit down and consider, don't you?

SRW: Considering is not my forte, no ma’am!

What’s the deal with the ferret? From my experience, they stink and can be kinda mean. (Apologies to L.O.F.A.—“Lovers of Ferrets Association”)

ED:  We had a lovely ferret named Abby for almost 10 years.  We adored her.  The males do have pretty powerful stink glands (though nothing as bad as a skunk).  The females do, too, but if you bathe them, the odor is almost imperceptible.  They are delightful!  Into everything, crawling through the smallest spaces you can imagine.  They're like magpies, in that if a bright or interesting object catches their attention, they'll do their best to take off with it.  After Abby died (still breaks my heart) we found her little caches all over the house.  Lengths of string, rubber bands, pieces of my jewelry, bottle caps, etc.  The scene in Diamondback where a woman is up on the couch trying to get away from Hazel (because she "saw" a rat, not a ferret) comes from real life.  I won't name him, but a friend of my husband, a fellow deputy, dropped by to visit us one evening when Abby was loose.  We had honestly forgotten she was out and about until she came up through the couch cushion behind him.  Well . . . he never came back without calling ahead first.  

SRW: I have to admit that when I started the book, there were so many characters tossed my way, I felt the need to take notes. But, soon, I fell under the sway of your rhythm, the small-town Texas laid-back attitude and eccentric characters transporting me to a different place. Very fun. Not really a question, just a compliment. So take it and bask in it. Bask like the wind, Elizabeth!

ED:  Basking!  Nice.  Like the first summer tan.  I know there were a lot of folks thrown in all at once, but that's the way it is in small towns.  If one person has a piece of information (like a strange visitor whom no one knows), twenty minutes later two dozen people know it, and everyone is speculating.  What can I say?  It's a rural hobby.

SRW: Who would win in a fight, Miss Marple or Veronica Mars?

ED:  Marple.  Just remember those deadly knitting needles.  I'd be willing to bet she sharpened them every night.

SRW: Do you write anything outside of the mystery genre?

ED:  Sure.  I truly love horror fiction, although I'm not sure I'm as good at it as I'd like to be.  And fantasy.  Not Conan-type, more off the wall.  I'll write anything I find enjoyable.
SRW: What’s up next on your keyboard?

ED: I'm planning to release an anthology of short stories I've written over the years, throwing in a few new ones.  Referencing your question above, some are mystery (I love short mysteries with a twist ending),  some  horror, some fantasy.  I'd write short fiction for a living, if I could.  

SRW: There you have it, folks. All mystery fans have no reason not to rush out and snag a copy of Diamondback. It’s terrific and the place you want to start on Elizabeth’s entertaining Taylor Madison series. And if you’re not a mystery fan, there’s no better time than now to start. Go! I mean it. I see you there, not moving. Hop to it.
Thanks for being a good sport, Elizabeth. Let everyone know where they can find you. Um, not in an up close and personal stalky kinda way, but via social media.

ED:  And thank you!  Aside from the rap thing . . . Well, we'll talk about that in person some time.  Ahem.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Con is On!

Joe-Bob Briggs pretending to read one of my books!
The seal has finally been broken! I pedaled books at my very first convention, Scares That Care, in beautiful Williamsburg, Virginia, a couple of weekends ago. Huzzah! Play those celestial trumpets and end with a comedically sad wah-wah-wah-wahhhhhh trombone! I managed to sell a box of books and it only cost about $3,000 to get there!

Okay, it's a slight exaggeration. And it just so happens my wife had business to take care of on the East Coast as well, so we turned it into a "working vacation."

Why is this a big deal, you ask? Because everyone knows all writers are ridiculously introverted and given the choice, I'd much rather hunker down with Me, Myself and I. I've never been good at selling myself so it was a challenge. And now I'm ready for more.

Under the  tutelage of the maestro of the con, Russell James (read his books already! Great writer and I've supplied a handy-dandy link), I learned much.

What did I learn? Pay attention as class is about to begin...

A) People watching at conventions is awesome. Check out my photos.
What's a "Teatrix?" I dunno and was too afraid to ask!
B) I learned quickly how to spot readers from non-readers. When people shook their heads disparagingly and/or rolled their eyes when they spotted a table full of books, that was a huge, honkin' clue that my sales pitch would be wasted. Also, full families never--I repeat, NEVER--stopped to look at books.
Hey, it's Father Evil, truly terrifying in his malevolence.
C) Some people just wanna talk. It doesn't matter about what as long as it's not about my books.

D) Several Big-Name authors are very cool; others...not so much.
Me and my new BFFF Jonathan Maberry (one of the cool ones!).
E) When potential customers say "I'll probably be back," generally you never see them again. (I'd never worked so hard to make a sale as I did on the last day when a couple grabbed my book, stood there and read several pages, laughed appropriately, deliberated, hemmed and hawed, then vanished into a black hole. I put their photos on a milk carton. I still want that sale.)
He's havin' a yabba-dabba-doo time.
F) Now I know how it feels to be the last one asked to dance.

G) Standing for eight hours on end is tough, particularly after having been booted from the hospital two days prior. But at least I had an appropriately gruesome looking cut and multi-colored eye to sport at a horror convention.
Famed horror movie host Count Gore De Vol scaring up interest.
H) The "Celebrity Room" was kinda creepy and a little sad; there wasn't a whole lotta joy to be had as you navigated a sea of handlers. Just ask poor Wilford Brimley sitting at the back wall. I never did get a chance to chat with him about oatmeal. (And the awful, sickly green walls were...sorta oppressive and demoralizing.) Feeling sorry for awesome character actor Sid Haig (and more than a little afraid of him), I gave him a wave and knowing nod to which he returned.
The llama suit looks kinda comfy except for the massive head-gear (and I don't even wanna know about going to the bathroom).
I) After a while, I started playing with my sales patter. I had nothing to lose and didn't want to lug home one hundred pounds of books (yes, I was naively over-zealous). "Winnah, winnah, book winnah!" and "We got thrills, chills, and blood spills! Heads are chopped, dropped and swapped!" Anything to keep it entertaining for three days.

J) The last day? Yawwwwn. Everyone was broke and they let us know about it.

I'm sure I felt pretty similar to this tortured Hellraiser guy on Sunday.
There was much to be learned. And as Russell James had stated in his excellent three-part article on doing conventions, you're not there to get rich. Because you won't get rich unless you're Stevie King. Nope, you're there for the love of books, writing, and meeting the fans. I hope I made some new ones and I can't wait to do another con.

Speaking of cons, something's not quite right at Lerner, Incorporated, a huge billion dollar corporation dedicated to... well, what exactly is it dedicated to? Could it have something to do with...WEREWOLVES? Read Corporate Wolf and find out!

Friday, August 16, 2019

Hospital of Horrors!

Hey, it's a new week and what does that mean for me here at Tornado Alley? Why, another new medical crisis, of course!
Except for when it's not. As I kept explaining to all of the medical experts who wanted to study and dissect me, "Dammit, sometimes a fall is just a fall!"

I see a little background is needed. Couple Sundays ago, my full bladder woke me up at 5:30 A.M., business as usual. Except I got up too fast, became dizzy.

Calamity occurred. Lots of high-speed thuds, bangs, and cracks ensued as I renovated the bedroom in a hurry. As a last minute Hail Mary before I fell, I snatched onto a book-rack, pulled it down on top of me, and gashed my head open on the cedar chest at the end of the bed. Blood flowed. We're talking George Romero gushers. On the floor, I sat up, felt the blood pouring from above my eye. My wife rushed to the rescue.

Not one for drama (although my wife would beg to differ), I jumped up, showed her how okay-fine-and-dandy I was. 

Um, except not, I suppose. The next thing I know I'm waking up on the bathroom floor and my wife's on the phone calling 911.

I say, "Hey, that's not necessary. I'm fine."

She tells me to stay put and I fight her on it, stupid me. I tell her I need to go to the bathroom.

She says, "Yeah, no. You've already gone."

Consciousness swims back in. So does a gross liquid warmth in my boxers. "Oh," I say.

Along with the first responders, I find out exactly what happened. Apparently, I made it as far as the bathroom, passed out again, fell to the floor, and started "gurgling." Then I went dead silent for 90 seconds. My wife thought I had a seizure.

But I was intent on showing the cops, medics and my wife I was okay. Just a little wet, humiliated and bloody. When asked who our president was, I scoffed (perhaps a little too long as I don't even like mentioning the Orange Dorito's name), then gave the appropriate answer. Regardless, the medic wanted me to go to the ER.

My wife decided to drive me as a luxury cruise in an ambulance was beyond our budget.

Alright, I've never lied to you guys (exaggerate is a different beast), so it's truth time. Sunday night, I had beers. Too many. So it didn't take a brain surgeon to figure out what had happened.

But bring on the brain surgeons the hospital did! Along with every type of medical doctor, specialist, intern, psychologist, chaplain, and janitor they could find. I went through tests of all sorts. I was poked, prodded, probed, jabbed, jolted, shocked, studied, stared at, talked about, forgotten when it came to meal times, and bored outta my mind.

I kept explaining to everybody, "I drank too much, I'd just restarted the low-carb diet, my blood pressure medicine makes me dizzy, and I got up too fast! Let me outta here!"

No one would listen. My nurse--who I fondly look on now as a classic "frienemy"--was younger than a pesky hang-nail  and probably weighed about 60 pounds, half of that being her various piercings. We battled round and round and round. I had my jeans and shoes on from day one, ready to blow the joint. She kept telling me I wasn't going anywhere yet (even though I think she'd rather I had skedaddled). 

After a day-and-a-half of horrific boredom (I watched about every movie the hospital offered on TV, down to my very last pick, Crazy Rich Asians, a romantic comedy, for Gawd's sake!), the results finally came in. Everyone's fanciest guess was my "seizure" was delayed trauma from the blow to my head. Nurse Ratched, Jr. told me, "You know, I think you just fell."

Smartest person in the place.

Speaking of horror in the most mundane environment, check out my new thriller, Corporate Wolf. You'll believe werewolves WORK among us! I'm not kidding. Really. No lie. It's a friggin' true story.

Friday, August 9, 2019

That good ol' "Say Never Whenever" attitude...

My daughter was visiting us, so we went out for sushi (the only reasonable thing to do). She told us she wasn't going to quit searching for a new job until she landed the perfect one.

I said, "That's that good ol' never-say-never West attitude!" Silence fell over our table like a heavy-weight drop-cloth. I thought about what I'd said, then realized it was total crap.

"Wait, I don't really have that attitude, do I?" They both agreed I didn't.

In fact, my wife amended it by saying, "It's more like 'say-never-whenever!'"

After my family had a good laugh at my expense, I realized how true it was. I make Eeyore look like Lil' Suzie Sunshine. Grumpy Cat's got nothing on me. But I think that negativity is a West hereditary trait, one passed down from generation to generation.
My grandma had it. Every day she described her day as "long and boring." 

It's been passed on to my mother, natch. I need to quit asking her how she's doing. 

"I can't see beans, can't do nothin', and I'm good for nothin'," she delights in sharing with me. "I'm going bye-bye soon, I know I am."

What fun and pass the razor blades!

So, to an extent, I see that negativity impacting my life as well. But as long as I can see that behavior in my mother and grandmother, I can fight turning into them. Right? RIGHT? For the love of Pete, tell me I'm right!

I told my wife not to let me ever turn into that guy.

She said, "I already see it happening."

I said, "Really? But I'm not that bad, right? Don't let me ever get that bad!"

She shrugged, kinda agreed to it. But I could tell her heart wasn't in it. Ah well, guess I'll go all in on the self-fulfilling prophecy of it all. Grumble, grumble...

Speaking of cranky ol' men, there's a cranky ol' mean woman at the heart of "Halloweenie Roast," one of the many short stories in my collection, Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley. She's near and dear to my heart as she wages life and death war on a particularly nasty trio of trick 'r treaters. I lived through her vicariously and loved every misanthropic moment! So THERE.

Friday, August 2, 2019

True Tales of Corporate Wolfery

My new book (Hey, it's out today! What a remarkable coinky-dink!), Corporate Wolf, is a true story.

Okay, so there wasn't a serial killer running rampant at my last 24 year on-the-job corporate gig. But other than that, Corporate Wolf, is based on true tales that happened to me or people I know.

Alright, alright, fine! The lycanthropy stuff is all made up, too.

The rest of it, though, is all 100%, honest-to-goodness truth, though... 

Ah, who am I kidding. I'm a liar. A lot of it's made up malarkey. Then again, I'd say half of the book is true. Which half? I'm not sayin'. Read the book and make up your own mind.

I will say, though, that after 24 years at my hellish job, the company finally folded due to poor (or non) management. I suppose I should've been tipped off the end was coming when they quit paying the trash bills, rats were starting to scurry through the plant, and the air conditioning was turned off. Yes, it was a horrible situation at an even more horrific company, but hey, once I've set down roots somewhere, it's hard for me to budge.

It did, however, sour me forever on the corporate life. It's not for me, all of the backstabbing, games, and lies. Worse than high school. And for what? I never really could figure that out. I mean, I had enemies at this job who came and went, but I still (barely) kept my head off the chopping block. Quite an accomplishment, really (even though I have nothing to show for it now...well, except this book).

Now, I need to get another job to supplement my writing. But I'd rather sling burgers than ever go back to a soul-strangling corporate position.

But, hey back to the book! Here, let my publisher's blurb spill the dirt better than I can:

If you can't run with the big dogs…
…rip 'em to shreds.

It was supposed to be a corporate retreat and a series of morale-boosting exercises. It was a weekend Shawn Biltmore nearly didn't survive.

There was something else playing in the woods that night, something other than a bunch of corporate drones with paintball guns.

And it had chosen Shawn as its new chew toy.

The local authorities chalked it up to a bear attack.

So did the doctors.

Shawn knew the truth, however, as much as he wanted to deny it.

But when one of his coworkers is viciously killed, Shawn must face the truth…

He's a killer who needs to be put down.

Or is he?

SO. If you're looking for a bloody good time, a rip-snorting werewolf horror story, a biting satire on big business, a black comedy, a chilling mystery, scares, thrills, chills, and spills, Corporate Wolf, put out by Grinning Skull Press, is the book for you.

Be one of the cool kids and get your copy today!