Solving Crimes with Detective Jackson

Rules of Crime, Detective Jackson’s 7th novel, released this week. For those who haven’t met him yet, here’s a post in Jackson’s perspective.

Actor Hugh Jackman

“Detective Jackson, Eugene Police Department.” That’s how I introduce myself to witnesses and suspects, so that’s why this series is called the Detective Jackson series and not the Wade Jackson series. No one calls me Wade, except my girlfriend Kera, and she doesn’t do it often.

I wake up most mornings at 5:30, even on weekends if I’m working the first few days of a homicide, which often go round-the-clock. Most days, I’m home long enough to have breakfast with my daughter, Katie, then drive her to high school. I was a single parent even before I divorced, because my ex-wife is an alcoholic and not someone Katie can depend on.

And I’m a workaholic, so my daughter is rather self-sufficient. That’s my greatest struggle every day: How do I be a good father to the person I love most in the world and keep my hometown of Eugene, Oregon safe from violent offenders?

At the department, I check my emails and phone messages like any other public servant, but that after that my day gets interesting. My boss, a big gruff woman named Sergeant Lammers, often assigns me a new case or wants an update on the case I’m working. Those are the easy ones. More typically, I get called out to homicide scenes during a date with Kera or on a weekend spent building a trike with my daughter. Murder has no boundaries or patterns, but I seem to catch the toughest cases at the strangest times.

Whenever I get the call, I drop what I’m doing and get out to the crime scene. I like to arrive before the medical examiner does so I have chance to look at the body and the scene up close. On television, the detective often takes a long look around and announces something like “The intruder came in through the window, grabbed the trophy from the fireplace and conked the victim on the head.”

It’s never like that for me. I get cases where a young girl is found dead in a dumpster without a mark on her—and no leads or witnesses. Or a whole family has been assaulted and killed and the evidence is too messy to make sense of. In my last homicide case, a young veteran was found dead in his car with his throat slit.

Solving murders is often tedious work. Hours spent looking at phone or bank records and days spent tracking down family members, boyfriends, and co-workers to interview. The case often breaks because the killer, in desperation, commits another crime or makes a fatal mistake.

Actor Viggo Mortensen

Or often, it’s one of my task force members who sees the connections that lead us to the guilty party. Or a crime lab technician who discovers a key piece of forensic evidence. We’re all part of a team, and we’ve worked together for years. My detective partners are also my best friends, because they’re the only people I really trust. Chasing criminals will do that to you.

The case I’m working now (Rules of Crime) is personal—my ex-wife has been kidnapped, and the FBI is leading the task force. My partner, Detective Lara Evans, is investigating the assault of a young woman who was beaten and dumped at the hospital. Any minute now, we’ll compare notes and discover how these crimes are connected. I hope you’ll be there for the revelation.

And what do you think? Should Hugh Jackman play my part when I make it to the big screen? Or maybe Viggo Mortensen?


No Longer Indie

Transition day is here. Before it’s over, I’ll take down all my self-published books, so Amazon can launch its new versions tomorrow. Clicking those “unpublish” buttons will be scary and difficult. For two-plus years, this is how I’ve lived my life. Writing like mad, getting the books ready for publication, uploading them to KDP, and watching over them 24/7 as they compete in a crowded ruthless market.

Thomas & MercerI’ll still be writing like mad and watching my books on the market, but I’ve already stopped doing the production aspect. The other major thing that will change is that I’ll lose control of the pricing and promotion. I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, it’s a relief. Watching the rankings—which equal visibility—and constantly adjusting pricing and promotional time & money is a lot pressure.

Not to mention exhausting.

But knowing me, I’ll still be monitoring the ranking/visibility/sales, but I’ll be powerless to do anything. Except email my team at Thomas & Mercer and offer suggestions (or pleas). Which they are very responsive to. But they’ll also be marketing my books and gauging the results, and I trust them to do a great job.

My hope is that I’ll be so pleased with my growing readership that I’ll be able to let go of the daily worry about marketing/sales and focus more on writing. And living. There’s so much I want to do this year. Like take hand-drumming lessons and dance classes. And go on a real vacation.

Most important though is that my books will reach new readers. Amazon can, and will, contact readers who’ve never heard of me. And because I’ll have the credibility of a respectable publisher, many more readers will try my work. I’m excited about the possibilities. I’m also happy to report that Amazon is keeping the prices low.

I’m thrilled with the new covers too. It was a long process, but T&M included me in every step, and I’m happy with the new branded look for both the Jackson stories and the standalone thrillers. I think the branded aspect adds professionalism that readers will be drawn to.

You can see the new covers on my website already, and starting tomorrow, the new T&M versions will be selling on Amazon, B&N (print), and other retailers. It’s another major transition in my eventful writing career, and hopefully, one that will bring me respectability and peace of mind.

What do you think? Do you like the covers? Will Amazon help my books perform better? Readers, are you still on board?

To Serial… or Not?

My eighth Jackson novel is completed, except for the Thomas & Mercer editing process. When I submitted it in early December, I expected it to be released in the fall of this year (2013). But the T&M schedule is full, and Jackson #8 isn’t slotted until next February (2014)—a full year after Jackson #7 releases next month.

Waiting makes me (and most of my readers) crazy, so this schedule isn’t good for me. My editor offered me an alternative: release the book as as a Kindle Serial this spring and summer, which means it will be on the market, in full, by this fall.

But the serial aspect makes me nervous. Even though serial books are clearly labeled—so readers should realize they’re only getting chunks of the story at a time—the books often get bad reviews. Many readers hate waiting for the next “episode” and give the novels one-star ratings. They also use much of their review space to criticize the format.

My editor thinks it’s an opportunity to take advantage of advertising avenues that aren’t offered to traditional books. He thinks it could expand my readership. I like both of those ideas. And I love my editor. He’s been right about many things. But I’m worried about my current readership. They like to read my books in a couple of big gulps. And I like them to rave about “not being able to put it down.”

Of course, readers don’t have to buy it as a serial. They can wait until all the episodes are released and buy the whole book in the fall. But that means waiting three months to buy the book, knowing that some, or most, of it is already available. If you buy it as a serial, it’s only $1.99. I think you pay full price ($4.99) if you wait.

But my biggest concern is that many readers will not understand the serial process. Because I’ve never released a Jackson book that way, they might just see the new story and buy it—without reading all the disclaimers. Lovely, loyal people that they are. But two or three chapters in, the book will stop, and they’ll have to wait a week or so for more.

I don’t like to read that way, and I suspect my Jackson fans don’t either. So I’m leaning toward saying no. What do you think, readers? Does the serial idea appeal to you, especially if you’ll get the story sooner? Or would you rather wait and get the book all at once early next year?

Positive Mindset

In the wake of last week’s violence, I’m trying—even more than usual—to stay positive. This is surprisingly challenging for me. Despite my cheerful public persona, I struggle with anxiety. I worry about things I can’t control, and I never feel like I’ve accomplished enough. Not in the moment, the day, the month, or the year. In addition—or more likely because of—I’ve had two recurring bad dreams for most of my adult life.

bad dreamsIn one dream, I’m back at the university and it’s typically my last term in school. I’m always behind on assignments and often find myself sitting in a class that I’ve failed to attend before that moment. The overriding theme/fear is that I won’t graduate. My last term in college was rather crazy, so there’s a real basis for the dream, but that was thirty years ago. Why is this still in my brain?

The other dream, which I have more often, is about waitressing, which I did for a decade. Those dreams are always bad too—I’m overwhelmed, customers are kept waiting, they keep seating me with more people, and I can’t ever get caught up. I never stop trying though, and I wake up feeling like I’ve worked all night. Waitressing is often like that, so there’s a basis for that dream as well. But that part of my life was over more than fifteen years ago.

Clearly, these dreams are about failure, and they’ve persisted even through a decade-long successful magazine-editor career, and into my early years of success as a novelist. Sometimes I’ll go six months without either dream, then suddenly they’re back.

I’m tired of them.

So my goal is to change the way I think when I’m awake. I’m trying to let go of all fear—particular the fear of failure—and to accept that my life is a success, if for no other reason than I enjoy it. Because I do! I love my family and friends, I love what I do for a living, and I love where I live. I’m deeply grateful for all of it, and I know that I’m blessed. I accept that it’s okay to feel grief sometimes, because plenty of lives have been lost, but I won’t dwell on it. I’m now wearing a rubberband on my wrist, and every time a worry or negative thought comes into my head, I snap myself. Then I say something positive out loud. It’s weird, but it’s working.

I’m retraining my brain, and hopefully, my dreams will respond accordingly.

PS: If you’re a fan of my Detective Jackson novels, you can request an advanced review e-book of Rules of Crime at Net Galley.

ARC Giveaway & New Excerpt

I now have two Jackson stories completed—both with rave reviews from my beta readers—and waiting for them to be released is killing me. My readers often contact me to express their frustration as well. I’m sorry for the delay, but I believe that signing with Thomas & Mercer was the best thing I could do for my career and the long-term viability of the Jackson series.

The good news is that I have advanced review copies for Rules of Crime, so it’s starting to feel real, and many of you will get a chance to read it soon. I believe advanced e-books already went out, and it would be nice to hear from someone who got an e-file.

I’m also giving away print ARCs. They haven’t been through a final proofread so there may be typos, and the cover isn’t included, but still, it’s the new Jackson story you’ve been waiting for. If you’re a Jackson fan, leave a comment or email me. And after you’ve read the story, if  you like it, please post a review on Amazon (after it’s available Feb. 26) and/or Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, or Facebook (anytime). These reviews help the story gain traction with new readers, and I greatly appreciate them.

If you live in Eugene, come see me at Holiday Market at the Lane County Fairgrounds on Saturday, December 8 (10-6) and I’ll give you a copy.


Meanwhile, here’s an unedited excerpt from the Jackson story I just finished.

Tuesday, March 12, 8:22 p.m.

Jerry came too quickly, but before he could mumble an apology, he heard a thump downstairs in the factory. He pushed himself off his scowling mistress, lept from the couch, and grabbed his pants.

“What’s your hurry?” Cindy complained. “Jesus, Jerry. I don’t know why I bother with you.”

“I heard a noise. Someone’s in the building.” He yanked up his pants, not bothering with his shorts, which he couldn’t locate. Jerry regretted getting naked from the waist down. They usually just went at it on the desk, him with his pants around his ankles and her with her skirt pushed up.

Shuffling sounds, like someone moving quickly and quietly, raised the hair on the back of his neck. They weren’t the heavy footsteps of the plant foreman coming back to check the day’s production. Someone sneaky was in the building. “Get your clothes on and get out of here,” he snapped at Cindy, who’d sat up on the couch and now looked concerned.

“You think it’s Ricardo?” She was married to the foreman and had reason to worry.

“I don’t know. Just go.”

Jerry dropped to the couch and pulled on his shoes. His socks never came off, unless he was in the shower. Listening hard, he tried to determine where the intruder was. In the break room? Maybe hoping to steal iPods or drugs from the employee lockers? It didn’t sound like that corner of the building, but what else made sense? The factory filled plastic bottles with local spring water, using standard production equipment. Why would someone come in here?

A protester, Jerry realized. That was why the owner had recently asked him to work an overnight watch shift. Mr. Rockman was worried about the environmentalists, even though they hadn’t been out front recently. Something had happened to make the owner nervous.

Jerry crossed the small upstairs office and peered through the glass at the factory floor below. With the overhead halides off, the production area was illuminated only by small wall lights that cast weird shadows on the machinery. He scanned the floor but didn’t see anything.

When he turned back, Cindy had her skirt and heels on and was reaching for her pink leather jacket. “How do I get past Ricardo if he’s coming up here?”

Jerry had to think. “Stay under the stairs until it’s clear.” Would she be safe? Would their affair get him fired? “I don’t think it’s Ricardo. Stay under there until you hear from me.”

Jerry grabbed his giant flashlight—heavy enough to kill someone if he knocked ‘em upside the head—and followed Cindy out of the office and down the stairs. As a watchman, Jerry wished he could carry a gun, but the owner wouldn’t allow it. Rockman had added a weekend drive-by security detail after protesters picketed the place last year, but all had been quiet. Then recently something had spooked the owner, and he’d added a night and weekend on-premise watch. Jerry hadn’t had any trouble in the two weeks he’d been in the new job. Not wanting to go back to working the line, he was almost grateful for an opportunity to prove he was needed on the watch shift.

At the bottom of the stairs, Cindy turned and slipped into the built-in closet underneath. Jerry moved down the short hallway to the door leading to the factory. Should he call the police now or wait to see what he was dealing with? He didn’t want to risk him and Cindy both getting into hot water with their spouses over some supervisor coming back in for something he’d forgotten.

Jerry stepped into the factory and flipped on a row of overhead lights. “Who’s here?”

The cavernous room was quiet except for the hum of the halides. Jerry moved toward the break room. If it was an intruder, how did he get in? Had Cindy failed to close the door properly when she came through?

Jerry strode past the bottling line and toward the short hall leading to the break room and employee lockers. A squatting figure jumped up and bolted out of the dark. The man in the ski mask shoved past him, brushing his shoulder. Jerry swung his flashlight and missed. The intruder ran for the side door. Jerry reached in his pants pocket for his cell phone and dialed 911.

“What is your emergency?” The woman’s voice was calm, almost bored.

“This is Jerry Bromwell, night watchman at the Rock Spring bottling plant. We have an intruder.”

“Are you in danger?” He had her attention now.

“No, just get some cops out here to catch him. He’s wearing a ski mask and dark clothes.” Jerry stepped into the hall where the man had been kneeling, but realized he’d passed the light switch, which was just outside the opening.

“What’s your location?”

“Rock Spring Drive, just off Laurel Hill.” He flipped on his flashlight and squatted.

“Any other description of the intruder?”

Jerry couldn’t process what she was saying. The thing on the floor had his full attention. His heart skipped a beat as he realized what he was seeing. “I think it’s a pipebomb.”

“Get out of the building and get clear,” the dispatcher commanded. “I’ll send the bomb squad.”

Jerry was already speed walking toward the side exit. The overhead doors were closer, but they took too long to unlock and open. He wanted to run but was afraid. Afraid of what? That his pounding footsteps would set it off?

He wasn’t ready to die. He had a lot of hunting, and screwing, and Duck football left in his life. Oh shit! Cindy was still in the closet. Jerry stopped. Was it safe to go back for her? How much time had the bomber given himself? Just enough or maybe a good five minutes?

Fuck! Jerry spun and ran past the hallway and down the bottling line.

“Cindy! Come out. We gotta get out of here!” He yelled at the top of his voice. He needed her to respond to his panic.

As he approached the stairs, the closet door opened and she stepped out. “What’s going on?”

“There’s a bomb!”

“No shit?” She trotted toward him.

Jerry grabbed her arm and ran toward the exit, pulling her along. He hated passing the hallway, but it was the fastest way out. Like most factories, this one had no windows. And the damn overhead doors in front took too long to open.

Jerry’s adrenaline pumped so hard he could have made it to the red Exit sign in five seconds flat. But Cindy wore heels and a skirt and didn’t know how to run. She dragged him down, and he wanted to let go of her.

But he couldn’t. Her whimpering brought out his protective side.

Something snapped and Cindy went down, making him stumble and let go of her. She let out a cry as she landed on her knees on the concrete floor.

“My heel broke.” She sobbed and pushed to her feet.

Gritting his teeth, Jerry grabbed her hand and started to run again. With a broken heel, Cindy shuffled even slower. Jerry fought the urge to curse at her.

Finally, they reached the door and he grabbed the wide metal handle. He pushed open with one hand and pulled Cindy through with the other.

Behind them the pipebomb exploded. It carried little force, but the sudden noise made Cindy trip and fall again. She landed on her hands and knees on the asphalt this time.

Jerry helped her up and saw blood dripping down her shins. “Are you all right?”

“Yes. But shit! How will I explain this?” She gestured at her scraped knees.

“You fell. It happens. Now get out of here before the cops come.”

She gave him a look.

“Get in your car and go. If anyone learns you were here, it could ruin both our marriages.”

Jerry pulled her toward her car. Once she was inside, he noticed the dirt smudge on her face and reached to wipe it off. She slapped at his hand. “I can’t go home like this.”

“Go get cleaned up. Buy a pair of pants before you go home. Just go. We can’t get caught.” Jerry couldn’t bear the thought of his wife leaving him and taking his little girl.

Once his mistress was on the road, he breathed a sigh of relief. Now he just had to get his story straight. He’d saved Cindy’s life by going back for her, but he couldn’t ever tell anyone she had been there. His one chance to be a hero. Disappointed, he glanced back at the factory. Still standing. Damn. He wouldn’t even get some time off out of this.



Coming Author Events

“We’re Dying Out Here”
That was the subject line of a recent email sent from a reader who’s dying for my next Jackson mystery and was speaking for everyone who’s been waiting all year. It made me feel warm and fuzzy to be wanted, but I also feel guilty about the long wait. This is a one-time delay because my new publisher is producing all new versions and the covers take time.

But Rules of Crime is scheduled for release on Feb. 26, and I believe you can pre-order it from Amazon now. Advance review copies are going out soon, including ebooks to lots of faithful early readers (who write reviews ☺).

In other news: I’ll be telling a funny Holiday story at Planned Parenthood Fundraiser, Friday, Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. at Cozmic Pizza, downtown. The event is $15, and other funny ladies and writers will tell stories as well. In addition, I’m selling print copies of The Sex Club (featuring a PP nurse) for $5 each and all proceeds go to the fundraiser.

Local readers can also see me at the Holiday Market again this year. It’s held Saturday, December 8th, from 10 a.m. to 6 pm. in the atrium at the Fairgrounds in Eugene. If you haven’t seen me since the last holiday market, I’ll have copies of Liars, Cheaters, & Thieves, which came out after the event last year. I may have a few advance copies of Rules of Crime, but I’m not holding my breath. If I get them for sure, I’ll let you know. Lots of other authors and artists will be there too, so come on it and do some holiday shopping.

The next day, December 9th, I’m driving to Portland with Carola Dunn to attend a holiday party at Murder by the Book in Portland (3210 SE Hawthorne Blvd.) I’ll bring whatever books I have left from the market with me. We’ll be in the bookstore from 12:30 to 3, so if you’re in the Portland area and would like to meet me, please stop in and say hello.

Beyond that, I’m signed up for Left Coast Crime in March in Colorado Springs, so put it on your calendar too. It’s a great convention. And I’m working up the nerve to attend Crimefest in Bristol next year!

B-Con 2012, Part Two

Bouchercon was terrific for me this year. I finally felt like a real author with a wide reader base and respect from other authors, even though the conference programmer didn’t offer me a panel until I politely pointed out that I met all the criteria. But in the long run, it didn’t matter.

My highlight this year was having dinner with the Thomas & Mercer team and getting to know Andrew Bartlett, the acquisitions editor. At that dinner, I also met Blake Crouch, Sean Chercover, and Dana Cameron, and walked back in the rain with with Tom Shreck, whom I’ve known since we were both with the same small press. (Blake and Tom are in next photo.)

But let me back up. I started Friday with a Sisters in Crime breakfast, complete with singing a chorus of “You show me your gun, I’ll show you mine.” Then I attended panel called Old Friends, New Friends, nicely moderated by Jen Forbus, followed by Eve of Destruction, with authors Sophie Littlefield, Deborah Coonts, Tracy Kiely, and Rochelle Staab. I spent a lot of time with Rochelle, who I’d Skyped with earlier in the year for a Big Thrill feature. She’s just as dynamic in person. (Bottom photo in gorgeous red leather.)

A little latter I met up with longtime online friend Debbi Mack for the first time—lovely woman—and had lunch with her and fellow panelist, Conda Douglas, and new author friend, Molly Cox Bryan.Blake Crouch and Tom Shreck

Friday afternoon, I attended Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, a terrific panel where they talked about writing from the opposite gender’s perspective. The room was pack to see Elizabeth George, Val McDemid, Alan Jacobson, Tom Shreck, and another friend, Alexandra Sokoloff. The moderator, Daniel Palmer did a great job of keeping it lively.

Saturday was a day of conversations. I chatted with readers and authors all day—including Zoe Sharp, Julie Hyzy, Claudia Whitsitt, and Annette Dashofy —and had lunch with my terrific roommate and author Terry Shames (next photo), along with Keith Raffel, Boyd Morison and his wife, Randi, Tracy Kiely, and another delightful author whose name escapes me. By that point, I’d met and chatted with so many people, it was hard to mentally keep everyone straight. We talked shop, but also veered off into other stimulating subjects.

Still, that evening at the awards ceremony, I met more authors for the first time. Edgar nominee Darrell James was charming, and so was Kathy Wiley and new author Anne Cleeland. I went to dinner with Darrell James and a female author named Darrell who writes under Avery Aames, as well as Rochelle, Dana Cameron, Roberta Isleb, and another woman I should remember. I also chatted with numerous authors in the bar that evening, staying up late to connect with as many people as possible.L.J. Sellers and Terry Shames

That’s the problem with blogs like this. I can’t possibly mention everyone I talked even if I could remember all their names. So if I left you out, please don’t be offended, and feel free to comment and remind me! And I have to mention that I chatted with Stan and Lucinda Surber who talked me into being a chair for Left Coast Crime 2015 in Portland. It’ll be fantastic, so put it on your calendar.

The best panel I attended was on Sunday morning and called Red Herrings. Moderator Keith Raffel (a great guy!) was sharp and funny, despite a late night in the lounge, and the panelists—Beth Groundwater, Pennie Ross, D.M. Pirrone, and Melodie Campbell—all kept up with him.

Afterward while waiting to leave, I chatted with agent Janet Reid, who did her best to convince me that personal one-to-one emails are worthwhile, even with a thousand-name email list, and I know in my heart she’s right, even though the task would be overwhelming. And I shared a cab to the airport with Gigi Pandian, an delightful author I shared a shuttle with at B-con 2010. We both seem to fly home to the west coast at the same time

L.J. Sellers and Rochelle StaabI also talked with people on all of my flights coming and going, two of whom have already emailed me, hoping to stay in touch. I wish I had total recall for all the wonderful people I’ve met.

If you attended B-con, please share one of your moments.

Bouchercon 2012

I’m happy to be in Cleveland at Bouchercon with so many people who love crime fiction as much as I do. I had a lovely dinner last night with Neil Plakcy, Tim Hallinan, Barbara Fister, Katherine Clark, and Les Blatt. We talked about the genre, of course, and what defines cozy and what “dark” really means in connection with crime fiction. Neither Tim or I see our work as dark, but many readers do. Tim told us all about his next book, and Neil talked about how he ended up writing stories with dogs. It was fun to get the inside track.

This afternoon I was on a panel called The Ebook Revolution, but I’m happy to report we didn’t talk about self-publishing. We talked about where readers can find quality crime fiction online is a sea of new authors and books. Neil Plakcy moderated, and book blogger Erin Mitchell talked about her process for finding what she wants to review. Author Conda Douglas was on the panel too, and talked a bit about Goodreads.

I gave a list of the sites I’ve been reviewed on: OverMyDeadBody: Fresh Fiction, RT Reviews, Readers Favorite Awards, Buried Under Books. and BookTrib.

I mentioned the print magazines that have run reviews of my books.: Mystery Scene, Crimespree, Suspense, and Spinetingler. As well as the newsletter I subscribe to: All Mystery.

I also talked about the collective sites where you can find great mysteries and thrillers by authors you know are bestsellers or award winners: KillerThrillers, Top Suspense, and Readers Rule.

We also talked about where we network with readers, and I mentioned Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, Dorothy L, and 4 Mystery Addicts. All great places to meet readers with like-minded preferences for crime fiction. After the panel I gave away 15 print copies of The Sex Club.

This evening, I attended the opening ceremonies at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an event sponsored by Thomas & Mercer, my new publisher. Great fun! (And bought a t-shirt for the husband of course.)




Should Charity Be Profitable?

Amercian Broadcasting CompanyA news story this week asked “Is ABC Going to Far in Covering Robin Roberts Illness?” The journalist was speculating about whether the network’s “concern” had crossed the line into exploitation in an attempt to boost ratings.

It’s a very fine line and a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately because it applies to authors, charity, and book sales. Many authors have donated the profit, or part of the profit, of a new book to charity, typically a charity or medical cause that corresponds with a theme in the story. And in doing so, they boost their sales and visibility.

On the surface, this seems noble, and we did it on the Crime Fiction Collective blog when the tornado tore apart Joplin Missouri. We all donated all of our profits during a certain time period to a Joplin family, who was very grateful for the help. I even think it was my idea.

But the more I ponder this trend, the more I believe that for myself, charity needs to be separate from commerce. Any donation I make should be done out of compassion and goodwill alone—without profiting from it directly through increased sales.

But why not accomplish both things at once, when it seems so expedient? I’m not sure I can articulate why I’ve come to feel this way. Except that rooting for your book to sell is a completely different emotion and experience than sending money to help others in need—perhaps even a contradictory one.

I understand why authors do this. Their hearts are in the right place. And the readers who buy those books are even more commendable. They’re figure they’re going to spend money on books anyway, so why not make a donation to charity at the same time?

Many businesses also run these campaigns. A pizza parlor down the street often donates part of its one-day profits to a charity, school, or foundation. Everybody wins.

And I understand what ABC is trying to accomplish: educate viewers, raise money for medical research, and boost its ratings. But has it gone too far? Probably. Charities are by definition nonprofit, and raising money for, or donating to, a cause without directly profiting from the effort seems more noble. Yet goodwill results naturally from generosity, so indirect benefits are inevitable, but they’re not the same as direct profit.

I’m not saying it’s wrong for authors to connect their books to a charity. It’s just not something I’m comfortable doing myself. But I’m probably in the minority here. What do you think?

Winners & Rules of Crime Excerpt

Thanks again for all who participated in the contest. It’s so fun seeing the creative names everyone comes up with, and I look forward to finding a spot for most of them in this new story.

Here are some of my favorites that I’ll use (but didn’t win for complex reasons): Adam Greene for the eco-terrorist. But the book has more than one such bad guy, so I’ll definitely work him in. And I loved Thistle Caruthers, but my FBI agent is a woman, so he’ll have to be a witness or suspect. Charlotte Fitzroy is a great name, and so is Preston Walker, but I’ve used that first and last name in recent stories.

And Fiona Beatrix Ingram for the FBI agent? Awesome! Thanks, Dani. My character will probably use it as her alias. We’ll see what my editor thinks and how the story progresses.

For now, I’ve picked Russell Crowder for the main eco-terrorist (aggressive tone!), and Jamie Barnes (easy for readers) for the young female FBI agent. But I used Jamie in Secrets to Die For so my editor might veto it. I’ll try to contact everyone individually, but if you don’t hear from me, please contact me and let me know which ebook you want in in which format.

And because I can’t wait, I’m posting an excerpt of the first chapter of Rules of Crime, which will be released in late February.


Saturday, January 7, 4:35 p.m.

Renee Jackson slipped out of the AA meeting a little early. She felt queasy and didn’t want to talk to anyone after it adjourned. She shouldn’t have come. The secret drinking had been going on for weeks and the meetings weren’t helping. It was time to check herself into rehab, but she couldn’t bear the thought of her daughter knowing she’d relapsed again.

Renee zipped her jacket against the cold, shuddering at the gray sky that seemed to swoop down and smother her. Christ, it was getting dark already.

Could she get away with one more shot of vodka without Ivan or anyone noticing? Probably. She kept a thermos in her car, along with a bottle of mouthwash. Her ex-husband Wade, the detective, would know as soon as she spent five minutes with him. So far she’d managed to avoid him.

She waited for the traffic to pass, then trotted across the street to her car, pumps clicking on the asphalt. She’d parked in the alley next to the vegan restaurant, not wanting anyone to see her Acura RDX near the Jesco building. Not that anyone she knew would be in the Whitaker neighborhood. If Eugene, Oregon had a slum, this would be it.

As she entered the alley, two men stepped out from behind a large dumpster. Renee took in the details in a quick painful breath. Baggy jeans, heavy jackets, and tattooed necks. Gang members.

Her heart skipped a beat. Could she make it to her car, get in, and lock the door? Or should she turn and run? She froze, paralyzed with fear. Too late to dash to her car. Renee spun and started back toward the Jesco building. She wanted to run but was afraid to, feeling like she had a predatory animal behind her that would only be excited by the chase.

Then she saw Dave, the meeting leader, hurrying across the street toward her. Thank god. A car barreled past just as he stepped onto the sidewalk.

“Renee, I wanted to talk.” He smiled but his tone was serious as he reached for her arm.

She glanced over her shoulder. The gang members turned and headed back down the alley. Had they ever been a threat? Was the alcohol making her paranoid already? It usually took years.

“I’m sorry, Dave, but I don’t have time. That’s why I left early.”

“I know you’re drinking, Renee. Can I do anything to help?”

It took every ounce of self-control she had not to burst into tears. God, she hated herself. “I’ve got it under control. Thanks, though.”

She spun and trotted to her car, unlocking it with her clicker. Guilt made the sick feeling in her gut worse. Dave was a good guy, but she wasn’t ready to talk about her drinking. Her fiancé, Ivan, was a casual drinker and she knew she had to make an impossible choice. Renee started the car and backed toward the street. In the growing darkness, she heard the rumble of an engine. Was it the thugs’ car? She peered down the alley, framed by thick shrubs on one side and the backside of the restaurant on the other. Headlights came on.

Renee glanced back at Blair Boulevard, saw no traffic, and gunned her car into the street. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Dave head into the Jesco building. He glanced back at the revved sound of her car and Renee looked away. She raced to the first stoplight and grabbed the thermos of Vodka from under her car seat. After a quick sip, she shoved the metal container back. Her chest warmed and her panic subsided.

An engine rumbled behind her. Definitely not a new-model car. The same sound she’d heard in the alley. She glanced in her rearview mirror. A red low-rider, idled behind her. The driver wore a heavy dark jacket and had a shaved head. Why were they following her?

Renee jumped on the green light and sped through the intersection. To go home, she needed to turn right, cross downtown, and head south. She’d moved in with Ivan a month ago, giving up her apartment by the park to live in his plush, oversized home in the foothills. She wasn’t ready to face him, but had no idea where she was headed. Was she ready to quit drinking? Damn! How had she let herself get into this mode again? Would the cycle ever stop?

Instinctively, she drove toward the university area.

A quick glance in the rearview mirror told her the low-rider was still back there, but not directly behind her anymore. She gave a little sigh of relief. They were just going in the same direction. It happened all the time.

She kept driving, not knowing where, not making conscious decisions. Ten minutes later, she parked a half block from Serenity Lane, an in-patient rehab center for drugs and alcohol that was tucked into a quiet residential area near the campus. The site of the building made her cringe. Renee reached for the thermos and took a long slow belt of vodka. She’d never make it through the door this sober. Grabbing her phone from the seat, she started to text Katie, but couldn’t do it. Not yet. She’d call her daughter later, after she checked in.

Renee clutched her purse and stepped from the car. Would three times be the charm? Would this be her last in-patient stay? Fortunately, she ran her own publicity business now and didn’t have to explain to her boss why she needed a month off. One foot in front of the other, she forced herself to start down the sidewalk, toward the building with the glass door she knew so well.

The low-rider was suddenly there, only five feet away on the street. In the twilight, she felt, as much as saw, two guys burst from the car. Renee screamed and started to run. Her heel snapped and she stumbled. From behind, a thick hand slammed over her mouth and yanked sideways. Another pair of arms wrapped around her torso and dragged her into the back of the car.

In six seconds, she’d disappeared off the sidewalk. Had anyone witnessed it? A student bicycling to class?

The car raced forward, away from the rehab building and student housing. Renee struggled but the alcohol made her weak and the man shoved her to the floor. Strong, thick fingers dug into her flesh and quickly bound her hands and mouth with duct tape. She kicked wildly, panic driving her. She connected with a shin, and the man backhanded her across the face, a stinging blow. She choked on her cry and hot tears filled her eyes.

A knife was suddenly in his hand and her heart missed a beat. She screamed into the duct tape but only made a gurgling sound. The man cut her purse strap from her shoulder, then rummaged through her pockets until he found her cell phone. He shoved her last little hope into his jacket pocket and taped her ankles together. Oh god, what did they want with her? Panic exploded in painful shards in her lungs and she couldn’t think straight.

A few minutes later, the car star stopped in an alley between two buildings. The sun had nearly set and Renee had no idea where she was. The men dragged her from the floor of the back seat and shoved her into the trunk. They slammed down the lid and left her alone in the small dark space, trussed like an animal on its way to slaughter.

Heart pounding, all she could think was: I wish I’d finished the thermos.