Four Guests: Lies and Truths

Edith/Maddie here, shivering from the cold, but hey, it’s winter. I’m so happy to welcome a talented group of authors, all with February releases, all published by Level Best Books.

Liz Milliron: Thanks so much for hosting us here at Wicked Authors!

When our group got together and realized we all had February releases, we started thinking about what our books had in common. We write historical, contemporary, traditional mystery, thriller, suspense…the genres cover the spectrum. But the one thing we had in common was the thing that all crime fiction has in common – truth and lies.

Not only do our characters lie – they have to, because otherwise there isn’t much of a story – we lie a little bit, too. All of our books come from a bit of truth. It’s a beautiful thing about being an author. The ability to take a real event and twist it to make a good story. Today the four of us dish on our lies – and our truths.

Mally Becker: My mystery, The Turncoat’s Widow, tells the fictional story of General Washington’s most reluctant spy, a young widow who races time and traitors to uncover a plot that threatens the new nation.

The book was born, so to speak, at the Morristown National Historical Park, where Washington and his men spent two miserable winters. I was volunteering there when I found a dry-as-dust old document, a Revolutionary War-era indictment for the crime of traveling to New York City “without permission or passport.”

A crime to head into Manhattan? I’ve lived in or near New York City for most of my life, and that document stopped me in my tracks. I brought it to one of the Park historians for an explanation.

The population wasn’t entirely sold on independence, he told me. Less than 50% of people south of New England supported independence, historians believe. And there was so much spying and smuggling between New York City and nearby New Jersey, that the government criminalized travel into the City without permission. I’d forgotten that England controlled NYC for most of the War.

A divided nation. Spying and smuggling. All of a sudden, the 18th century seemed very present. My plot started to take shape.

Facts alone don’t make a story, of course. I needed a heroine, and I found one I hope you like as much as I do. Becca Parcell is too busy struggling to survive in Morristown to give a fig – at least at first ­– who wins the War for Independence. But when the town wrongly accuses her of supporting England and causing her patriotic husband’s death, General Washington offers her a deal she can’t refuse.

The Turncoat’s Widow can be preordered now and will be published on February 16.

Liz Milliron: The main character in my Homefront Mysteries, Betty Ahern, is inspired by my grandmother, who did work at Bell Airplane during WWII. Grandma was not Irish and I think she was a little older…and she definitely didn’t solve mysteries. For this book, I learned that the Polish Government in Exile (the Polish leaders who considered themselves the true government of Poland, as opposed to the puppets installed by the Nazis), visited Buffalo in December 1942. I didn’t learn much about why, but most likely it was to raise awareness and money. Buffalo did, and still does, have a vibrant Polish culture. That’s the truth.

Of course, that’s interesting…but boring, right?

What’s the lie? Well, there probably wasn’t a junior undersecretary named Josef Pyrut. He wasn’t possibly related to the old woman in the story, Pelagia Brewka. And he didn’t die. There are a few other lies, but you have to read the book to find out what they are.

Kerry Peresta: When people ask what The Deadening is about, I give them the short version— that my book is about the deadening and resurrection of a woman’s soul. The first impression is usually “Ooooohh,” or something similar. This was also my reaction when I met the catalyst for this story.

At a signing event for my first book, The Hunting, ten authors sat at rectangular folding tables arranged in a “U” at a local library. The event had been highly publicized, and potential book buyers bustled in and out of the room. Energy was high. Sales were so-so. But at one author table, energy bounced off the ceiling, drawing customers like flies to honey. I couldn’t stand it. I had to find out what was so appealing about this author.

I scooted across the room and presented myself to a curly-haired woman in her thirties who, in between selling books, wrote longhand in a notebook. With a pencil, no less. Her smile was blinding. I pointed to the notebook just to have something to say. “You still use longhand, huh?”

The smile increased. “Can’t help it.” She fluttered the hand that held the pencil and laughed. “I write all the time, in spite of whatever I’m doing.”

I glanced at the flock around the table studying her books while other authors struggled to get one person to read back cover copy. “I don’t mean to be…um, too personal, but you’re the most magnetic person in the room. What’s your secret?”

With a twinkle in her dark, almost black, eyes, she focused on my face. “I was in a car wreck that almost killed me. Took six months for me to wake up from a coma.”

I wiggled my hands in protest. “You don’t have to talk about this if—”

She laughed. “No, no, I love to talk about it! Because, when I woke up…” she made a raking motion up and down her body with the pencil hand, “…I was like this! Totally different! I can’t quit talking!” She shrugged.

“You mean…your personality changed?”

“Totally. Cool, right? I was never this way before.” She flashed that smile again. A customer nudged his way in front of me, and I took that as my cue to leave.

The Deadening was born right then and there.

C.L. Tolbert: The Redemption, is set in New Orleans in 1994, which was a tough year for the city. The murder rate was greater per capita than any other U.S. city, and police corruption had reached an all-time high. The story begins with a double murder. A young man, who is only sixteen years of age, is accused of the crime.

The inspiration for the book was a similar crime ˗ the murder of a 38 year old man by a fifteen year old in New Orleans. In the actual case, I filed a motion preventing the juvenile’s transfer to the adult prison system. I won, presumably keeping him out of harm’s way since the death penalty was a possibility for juveniles tried as adults at that time. The young man was subsequently tried before a juvenile judge, without a jury. Even though we were able to prove there were several shooters by the angle of the entry wounds, and that none of the shooters could have been the defendant, the fifteen year old was sentenced to serve time in the juvenile system until age twenty one. It was clear that after his release, he’d be treated as a hero within his community for “taking the rap” for the murder, further entrenching him into the gang environment.

The judge believed the young man should serve time rather than return to his criminal family. Convinced that the young man’s future was set, the judge was trying to prolong his “inevitable” foray into crime by having him receive training and education through juvenile services. There would be no redemption for this young man.

In the book, the facts are changed. The young man/protagonist charged with the double murders isn’t in juvenile court, but instead, quickly finds himself transferred to the adult system, indicted, slated to be tried as an adult, and thus subject, (since it was prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in 2005,) to the death penalty. But with this set of facts, some soul searching on the part of the young man, and a good deal of confrontation by his attorney, Emma Thornton, redemption is realized.

Readers: Has an episode in real-life ever inspired fiction for you (story, poem, song)?

Mally Becker became fascinated with the American Revolution when she peeked into the past as a volunteer at the Morristown National Historical Park, where George Washington and the Continental army spent two winters. A former attorney, advocate for foster children, and freelance writer, Becker and her husband live in Warren, NJ, where they raised their son. The Turncoat’s Widow, featuring Becca Parcell, is her first novel.

Liz Milliron is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries series, set in the scenic Laurel Highlands of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and The Homefront Mysteries, set in Buffalo, NY during the early years of World War II. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Pennwriters, and International Thriller Writers. A recent empty-nester, Liz lives outside Pittsburgh with her husband and a retired-racer greyhound. http://lizmilliron.com

Kerry Peresta’s publishing credits include a popular newspaper and e-zine humor column, “The Lighter Side,” (2009—2011); The Hunting, women’s fiction/suspense, Pen-L Publishing, 2013; and The Deadening, Book One in the Olivia Callahan Suspense Series. Recently, she worked as editor and contributor for Island Communications, a local publishing house. Her magazine articles have been published in Local Life Magazine, The Bluffton Breeze, Lady Lowcountry, and Island Events Magazine. Before starting to write full time, she spent twenty-five years in advertising as an account manager, creative director, and copywriter. She is past chapter president of the Maryland Writers’ Association and a current member and presenter of Hilton Head Island Writers’ Network, and the Sisters in Crime organization. Kerry is the mother of four adult children. She and her husband moved to Hilton Head Island, SC in 2015.

In 2010 Cynthia Tolbert won the Georgia Bar Journal’s fiction contest for the short story version of Out From Silence.  Cynthia developed that story into the first full-length novel of the Thornton Mystery Series, which was published by Level Best Books in December of 2019. Her second book in this same series, entitled The Redemption, which is set in New Orleans, will be released in February of 2021.

44 Thoughts

  1. Welcome to the blog, ladies! I’ve had several real-life episodes trigger short stories and book plots. I love these stories of what inspired your current books.

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    1. Thanks for hosting us Edith! I carried several real-life stories around with me for years before turning them into a work of fiction. Sometimes truth is even stranger than fiction!

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  2. I’m going to need a second nightstand! Yes, my books and many of my short stories are inspired by a kernel of real life. It’s fascinating learning what events inspired stories.

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      1. It is absolutely amazing how many ideas are out there if we are listening! It’s also lovely to talk to new friends and dig a little to find out their backstory. Almost always a jaw-dropping experience in there somewhere that can birth a story. Or maybe a scene in a current story.

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  3. Current events can be a powerful source of inspiration, and the arts can often provide healing. On September 11-12, 2001 I was glued to the TV news watching the devastation repeated over and over, wondering how to help my students deal with the tragedy surrounding them. These students were in a creative writing program in a NYC high school and we used poetry to express what we were feeling, acrostic poems and found poems based on newspaper articles. Now retired, I wrote poems at the beginning of the pandemic to help come to terms with my feelings.

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    1. Judith I see so many programs in so many cities that involve using the arts to help young people cope with whatever is in their lives. Truly a powerful activity.

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    2. We meet ourselves on the page, don’t we? I’ve been wondering what types of stories, poems and art will come out of the pandemic.

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  4. Real-life combined with the question “what if…” drives almost ALL of my fiction! Best wishes on your releases! They all sound amazing!

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    1. I love old newspapers, too. I still recall a short newspaper article about a man who drowned in a vat of chocolate. (No, I’m not kidding.) I know it’s sad. But I’ve always thought that’s the way I’d want to go!

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  5. I’m not an author, but I do imagine fictional events spawned by real ones. It’s a harmless fantasy. Thank you for insight into these authors’ inner thoughts. Makes reading the books all the more interesting.

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    1. Thanks Ginny! I love to know about the author after I read a really good book. It does make the story more interesting!

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