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ME May, author

ME May, author

To my fellow writers: please don’t be the lone wolf in a tough world. I know that many of us are introverted artists, myself included. We would love nothing more than to have that cabin in the woods or solitary beach house where we could do nothing but write. Then, with no trouble at all, we simply send our wonderful prose to a publisher who is anxiously awaiting our newest submission. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the way it does in the movies.


One of the greatest discoveries I’ve made as an author is that I do not have to bear the rough road to publishing alone. I don’t have to take the hit of a rejection letter without the support of those who understand what I am going through. There are people who not only encourage me and share their experiences, but who provide the opportunity for me to learn how to be a better writer.


Who are these super heroes of prose you ask? They are your genres writers’ associations. That’s correct. There are organizations that support writers in your particular genre.


In my case, I am a mystery author. When I finally decided to write that first novel, I had no idea where to start. I didn’t know anyone in the publishing business. I didn’t know what was required in order to contact publishers. Did I need an agent? How would I get one of those?


One day, I decided to do an internet search and came across an organization called Sisters in Crime. This organization was the brainchild of Sara Paretsky whom you may know as the author of a popular series which features Private Investigator, V. I. Warshawski. Sara felt women mystery writers weren’t taken seriously, so she thought there should be an organization to support them. Of course, unlike the names implies, members are male as well as female.


When I joined this group in 2008, my first meeting for the local chapter in the Chicago area was their annual writers’ workshop. I learned so much in that one day that it inspired me to keep moving forward and to never give up. At regular chapter meetings, we have special guests and experts in the fields of publicity, law enforcement, private investigation, crime scene clean up, and more.


At this time, I have the honor of being Chicagoland’s Vice President and Program Chair. I am also a member of the Speed City Chapter in Indianapolis, which is my hometown and the site where my Circle City Mystery Series takes place. With the generosity of a grant for the National organization, the combined efforts of these two chapters, and assistance from the Iowa chapter, they were able to participate at the 2015 Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago. There they spread the word about the Sisters in Crime organization and introduce some of their Midwest authors to readers.


As an active member of the Mystery Writers of America, I have found another excellent organization of which to be a part. They too support members in their efforts to write the best novel possible through workshops, meetings with experts, and the occasional fun  and fabulous networking party. The Midwest Chapter was also a great presence at Printers Row Lit Fest this year providing speakers for Lit Fest panels as well as featuring authors in the Mystery Writers of America tent. They conducted fun contests with excellent Edgar Allan Poe prizes and held a flash fiction contest, which was won by a 16-year-old “future Edgar nominee.” The national organization also has writers’ workshops called MWA University, which takes place in various parts of the country. This is a great opportunity for writers—published or not—to hone their skills.


The camaraderie I have found in these two groups is inspiring and irreplaceable. That is the point of my blog today. It is so much easier to bear the disappointments when people who understand what you are going through surround you. It is also more joyous when you can share your successes with them.


I strongly suggest you find your “pack.” Don’t be the lone wolf, because often they “starve.” Being around writers from your genre is so stimulating that it is well worth being a part of it.


If you are a mystery writer, you can find out more about Sisters in Crime at and Mystery Writers of America at . If you write in another genre, you can find a list of organizations on a website called Writers Relief at .


You contact me with any questions regarding today’s blog, or find out more about my novels and me through my website at Thank you and Happy Writing!


Purged by ME May

Purged by ME May

Michele (M.E.) May attended Indiana University in Kokomo, Indiana, studying Social and Behavioral Sciences. Her interest in the psychology of humans sparked the curiosity to ask why they commit such heinous acts upon one another. Other interests in such areas as criminology and forensics have moved her to put her vast imagination to work writing crime fiction that is as accurate as possible. In doing so, she depicts societal struggles that pit those who understand humanity with those who are lost in a strange and dangerous world of their own making. 

In creating the Circle City Mystery Series, she brings to life fictional characters who work diligently to bring justice to victims of crime in the city of Indianapolis. Michele also hopes her readers will witness through her eyes, the wonderful city she calls her hometown. Learn more about Michele at

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Twitter:  @memayauthor


Reader walking“Wait! Wait! She did what?” I’m yelling out loud to the absent, well-known author of the book I’m reading. The farther I read in the book, the more annoyed I become. The protagonist’s choices are stupid, her personality annoys me and the plot seems totally far-fetched. So why am I continuing to read?

When I was younger, my rule was that if I began a book, I ought to finish it. As I got busier, and my time more valuable, I modified the rule: I had to read 100 pages before I gave up; then 50. Then I edged down to 35, 25, and 10. Now if a book doesn’t grab me in the first few pages, it’s toast.

Girls readingWhat can an author do to keep me reading? Easy.

-Give me great characters. Make me sympathize with their goals and worry about the obstacles they face. Think Laura Lippman or Michael Connelly.

-Compelling plot. It doesn’t have to be fast, or convoluted, but it should be fresh. Ruth Rendell,  Elmore Leonard and Robert Crais are all master plotters.

Man reading on bench-Seductive setting. Make me feel like I’m walking around in the setting. I don’t mean only geographical places, but situations that come alive. Take me somewhere I haven’t been, or show me an aspect of a familiar place that I don’t know. I’ve never been to Beijing, but Lisa Brachmann put me there in ROCK, PAPER, TIGER.

-Believable dialog. Dialogue that brings characters to life. Denise Mina’s dialogue is incomparable.

-Rich and evocative language. Maybe even a little philosophical musing thrown in. Think Craig Johnson or Meg Abbott

I may keep reading because a book was highly recommended by a trusted source, or the author is one I have read and enjoyed in the past, even if it doesn’t grab me right away.

But back to the question. Suppose all or most of what usually keeps me reading is missing? What is the writer’s ace in the hole?

Young reader-Surprise. In the book I described at the beginning, just as I would decide to put the book down, the author would grab me with an unexpected twist—something someone said, or saw, or did that made me wonder how the author was going to resolve it. She was a master of “the grabber,” slipping it into just the right places. Even after I knew, halfway through the book, exactly what was going on, I kept being lured in, wondering how it would come together in the end.

Terry ShamesWhether it’s a thriller, with a life-threatening event every few pages; or a cozy, with subtler hints that things aren’t what they seem; or a PI or police novel, with a protagonist who digs for startling fact, surprise keeps this reader turning pages when all else fails.

 Terry Shames lives in Berkeley, California with her husband, two terriers and a cat who barely tolerates the dogs and is on the board of NorCal Sisters in Crime. Her first book, A KILLING AT COTTON HILL (Seventh Street Books) comes out in July, 2013. It is set in small-town Texas and features former Police Chief Samuel Craddock. Visit Terry’s website

            In 1961 Twentieth Century-Fox bought a script for Marilyn Monroe’s next picture.  The project was called “Illicit,” and they paid the then magnificent sum of $150,000 for the rights. However, the studio suspended Monroe for unreliability, then the actress died of an overdose in 1962 before production had been planned, so “Illicit” was never made.  Its plot concerns a wife whose husband takes her so much for granted that he’s irritated when she seduces him away from his work.  When they go to Greece on business, he makes her pretend she’s his secretary and lends her as such to his client. The client character, who’s attractive and rich, calls the deal off when she reveals she’s married, but later he follows them home with a new deal – he wants her.  In fact, he treats her so much better than her husband does that she leaves with him.
            “Illicit” was written by Vera Caspary, and represented her most lucrative movie sale, though she had sold scenarios and scripts  since the 1930s.  Caspary had originally hoped the film would be bought for Doris Day, but in the event, “Illicit” exists only in the studio files and Vera’s archived papers, where I read it.
            Independence and its disastrous opposite were Caspary’s themes during the half-century she supported herself with novels, plays, and screen writing.  It would have been intriguing to see Monroe – or Day either – play a protagonist written by a successful woman writer whose characters often look out for themselves.
            Among Caspary’s produced screen credits are scripts for the musical comedy Les Girls (1957), starring Gene Kelly, Mitzi Gaynor, and Kay Kendall, and the still-available Letter to Three Wives (1949) whose cast of recognizable stars included Ann Sothern and Kirk Douglas.  In Les Girls, one of three friends writes a scandalous memoir about their showgirl days, then has to defend it against libel charges in court. Each witness relives their experiences, and all remember them differently.  In Three Wives, the local seductress tells each of three women that she’s had an affair with one of their husbands, but doesn’t say which one.
            Laura and Fritz Lang’s Blue Gardenia were adapted from Caspary’s work by others, and like Three Wives, are available on DVD.  Laura is the story of a skeptical cop who falls in love with the upper-class woman whose murder he’s investigating.  Blue Gardenia is about a lonely telephone operator who goes out with the wrong man, and becomes the prime suspect in his murder.  Raymond Burr plays one of his pre-Perry Mason villain roles in this film, and Nat King Cole sings the title song.
            Caspary died in 1987, and after her death received minimal critical attention.  She can be found in encyclopedias of mystery writing and women writers, but wrote her own life story, The Secrets of Grownups.  In the 21st century I’ve worked to bring attention back to her career and to bring some of her writing back into print.  Two of her forties mystery novels are in the Femme Fatale series from The Feminist Press.  These include her break-through novel, Laura, directed by Otto Preminger as one of the first classic films noir, and Bedelia, a very readable black widow novel.  A collection of her 1940s and 50s magazine stories were reprinted for the first time in 2009 by Crippen & Landru, a press specializing in stories by important writers.  This collection is called The Murder in the Stork Club (a real life racy New York nightclub where Caspary was paid to research the story on location).
            This year, my detailed study about Vera’s modernization of the “sensation” novels of Wilkie Collins came out.  Victorian-era Collins, of course, is considered to have launched in the mystery novel in English, and as I argue at length, he invented a method of having characters take turns narrating the story that made a fresh play on novels in letters and established a form for mystery writing that still is used today.  Vera applied his narrative approach for Laura, and in that book and two later ones she also adapted characters and scenes from Collins’s great casebook novels, The Woman in White and The Moonstone.  The dual study is called Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary, and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel (McFarland).
          by Barbara Emrys  Vera’s work has held up well, and her out of print novels and autobiography can still be found online.  Her play version of Laura still has occasional productions, and the three DVDs mentioned above are easy to find too.  (Vera also has a Facebook page.) It’s my hope in restoring her work to bring attention back to a successful crime writer well worth readers’ time.
A. B.(arbara) Emrys writes weird tales, some of them criminal, as well as writing about mystery.  She is the guest editor of an upcoming issue of Clues: a Journal of Detection on paranormal mysteries, and a member of Sisters in Crime.

1.    Tell us about your latest book and your current WIP. Picture

My latest book, The Wrong Side of Memphis, was the culmination of ten years of hopes, dreams, rewrites, workshops, writers’ conferences, agent pitches, query letters, rejections, and finally, that one big acceptance letter. In the end, that’s all it takes—one “yes.” Yet, it’s so elusive, and when it comes, it takes a few days to believe in the reality. It’s a dream come true.

My current WIP is actually three projects. As you know, I like to set my mysteries in St. Louis, my hometown. I am working on a mystery that is based on a diary found in the old St. Louis City Hospital, in which a terminally ill woman discovers her husband is having an affair. I don’t want to say anymore than that about the plot, but it is told from the viewpoint of her doctor, who is a medical student at the time. I am also working on a WW II historical fiction novel based on documents we found after my father-in-law’s death last year. As an American, he worked for French Underground under an assumed identity, and we received letters from people who had known him during that time period. I felt that this was a piece of history that shouldn’t be lost or forgotten. And of course, there is my Publicity work for the St. Louis Writers Guild, the St. Louis Sisters in Crime, Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, St. John’s Mercy Medical Center, and I am the Conference Chair for the 2010 Missouri Writers Guild Annual Conference, to be held in April, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri. I am also a contributing writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Book Blog. 

2.    The Wrong Side of Memphis, the first in the Nam Noir Series, deals with Vietnam War veterans. What motivated you to develop these characters and this series?

One evening in the fall of 1996, I listened to a WWII vet recount his war stories. There was another vet in the room who had received several military decorations for outstanding service in Vietnam. Yet, throughout the evening, he remained silent. Later, he told me how he could not talk about his tour in ‘Nam—not at all. He felt, he admitted, a deep sense of shame and remorse. Yet, he was convinced that, like the WWII veteran, he too had served his country and its citizens. At that moment, I realized I was unwittingly holding a key to a Pandora’s Box. The proverbial elephant lounged in the corner, waiting to be fed. He was not going to go away until somebody noticed him.

The characters in The Wrong Side of Memphis voice the challenges faced by Vietnam Vets, everywhere, even now. How they cope, how they relate, and how they build a new life together despite a devastating past–this is the meat of the plot. The Wrong Side of Memphis concerns the Journey after the Destination.  

wrongsideofmemphisfrontcover3.    As a writer, you wear many hats: freelance journalist, speechwriter, novelist, and writing competition judge. Which is your favorite and why?

Each role taps into a different aspect of a writer’s palette, so to speak. As a journalist and speechwriter, you grip reality and stare it in the face; a novelist does too, but through the eyes of the imagination. I would have to say that I prefer the role of the novelist, because I can create characters that deliver messages for me through their words and actions. The trick is to create a seamless world that doesn’t crack under scrutiny; or to quote an instructor I once had–”Do not interrupt the reader.”

As a judge, you get to see what others are creating, and that is very rewarding, and keeps you on your toes.

4. What do you perceive as your greatest strength as a writer as opposed to your weakest area?

My greatest strength, I’m told, is my quirky characters and ability to mimic dialogue. I believe this comes from extensive travel and the gift of having known a lot of different people in my life, so far. My weakness, most probably, is creating too many of these characters. I love them, and if I’m not careful, I have a crowd on my hands.

5.    What inspires you as a writer?

Someone who has a message that I think I could portray through a few well-drawn characters. Or an interesting “Dear Abby” letter, or an unfinished letter or some type of unfinished business, like a random diary entry or a single white glove tossed under a bed.  Something that makes me ask, what if?

6.    Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

Years ago, I wandered into a bookstore in Bermuda and picked up A Dark Adapted Eye by British crime and mystery author Barbara Vine aka Ruth Rendell. I was hooked. I began checking books by Ed McBain from the library five at a time because I loved the way his characters spoke. Nobody does dialect and dialogue like he did—his timing was impeccable.

7.    Do you have a specific writing ritual?

I have a writing quota—five pages a day. When I do them varies. Sometimes it’s very early, sometimes very late, but my head doesn’t hit the pillow without five pages on the stack.

8.    Are you a “pantser” or “outliner”?

I always start out with a map and a destination, but sometimes the trip takes a detour. The end is usually the same, however. So, I guess I’m a hybrid.

9.    What do you find works best for you in promoting?

Signings are always popular, but I like to bring my dog, Jack, who is a character in the book. I usually serve food—beer, wine, soda, water, lemonade, tea, whatever seems appropriate and offer a promotional item, such as a dog treat or wine glass with my logo and/or book title embossed on it. Neighborhood book clubs, professional organizations’ luncheons, and stores that carry items that my characters might like, (like pet stores), are good places to promote my book as well.

10. We love animals and I was pleased to note you feature an Aierdale Terrier in The Wrong Side of Memphis and, in fact, own two. Tell us about this breed and what you like best about Airedales.

My first Airedale Terrier was a rescue dog named Gracie.  At 13 months old, she weighed 59 pounds, had hypothyroidism, and was somewhat combative.  Hey, it’s okay.  Nobody’s perfect.  When she died of cancer, I went to a nationally known breeder to get an Airedale from a cancer-free line.  I purchased a puppy, and named her Savannah, Love Me Tender.  Like Gracie, Savannah also died young.  In my imagination and my writing, however, they both live on, and they always will.

Vanna, the Airedale featured in this book, is a composite of Airedales I have known and loved, especially Gracie and Savannah.  Historically, terriers are tenacious dogs that are not supposed to surrender to pain or threat of attack.  Faithful and courageous, protective, fun-loving and high-spirited, Airedales can occasionally become rowdy and stubborn.  Any disobedience is usually intended and willful.  Still, Gracie and Savannah wanted nothing more than to be a great companion—on their own terms.

The characters in this book react predictably to Vanna’s behavior. Like my hero, Elvin, I sometimes feel that Vanna and I have a whole lot in common, particularly when we chase what seems to be impossibly out of reach.  You know, like a dream I once had about publishing a book.

11. We are interested in learning about other areas of the country. Tell us about St. Louis, Missouri, where you reside.

St. Louis is a city where one can experience the change of all four seasons, sometimes on a daily basis. I’m kidding, but we have “weather”- sometimes snow in April and humidity in October! There’s definitely a Southern influence, and yet, a Northern flair that spices up the mix. Just about any race, religion or culture can be found; the same goes for food. We have great restaurants, especially Italian places on The Hill. The cost of living is lower than most places, too. With major universities and corporations, it’s a great place to raise a family.

12. What’s your favorite Southern expression?

“Dry as a bone.”

Book Jacket Paragraph—The Wrong Side of Memphis by Claire Applewhite

Elvin Suggs knows how to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Time spent in the Green Berets during The Siege of Khe Sanh taught him about the wrong side of 1968.  It was a good thing. On his return to Memphis, Elvin’s plans explode when his wife demands a divorce. His life in shambles, Elvin turns to Dimond Redding, his best friend’s widow and ‘Nam vet, now a tenant at the Jewel Arms in St. Louis, Missouri. A random murder outside her door has her ready to move before Elvin arrives. With a ruthless killer on the loose, she says, who will be next? A fresh corpse soon answers her question, but Elvin is on his way.  Brokenhearted and broke, Suggs is determined to salvage his pride and his dreams, with more questions than answers.

Elvin knows all about the wrong places and times. Only this time, he’s got nothing to lose. This time, he’s on the wrong side of Memphis.

For more information about Claire Applewhite:

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