Four Keys to writing better mysteries and thrillers

I have written a lot of fiction over the years. My greatest improvement came when I realized the power behind these fiction Truths when writing Mysteries and Thrillers. I want to pass them along to any would-be authors so they don’t make the same mistakes I made. As a college professor for twenty-five years, passing along information is now part of my genetic make-up.

Keep the Conflict Going.

At first glance, this may sound obvious. However, when understood at the deeper levels to which I refer, it becomes clearer to a writing craft-person. After all, writing is a craft. Mistakes and risks are part of this game, as in any real craft, whether it’s mental or physical.

As an author, I must picture the conflict in all that I build. Whether it’s the setting, the dialogue between my characters, or the actions of those characters (plotting), I must see how I can improve the conflict at every juncture. Why? Because I was a reader before I was a writer. As a writer, I must create what I enjoyed most while I read. Simple to state, but much more difficult to put into practice.

I must be honest with you at this point. Some writers learn this part of the craft early because they have an innate “talent.” If you are not a natural, then you must learn this skill by experimenting with many stories, and then with many novels. It requires a unique vision, and I can give an example from the contents of each of the four fiction elements mentioned above, but I can never give this overall “vision” to you. Only God can. If you don’t believe in a Higher Power, then only Fate can. If you don’t believe in Fate, then I can’t say anything. You must be a Nihilist.

Example 1: Setting.

Say your scene is set inside a jail cell. You are meeting the client. If there are no problems with this being a prison, you must create these problems. Believe it or not, simply having it take place inside a jail is not enough conflict. Why? Because readers have read about jails many times, and they want something extra added to spice it up beyond a stereotypical jailhouse setting.

So, I make my client a woman. She is not Caucasian, even though her married name is Fulbright. She is Chinese. It is 1887, in a jail outside San Francisco called Ingleside. She is a midwife and an abortionist who works in Chinatown. One of her clients died, and, since abortion is illegal in 1887, she has been arrested and charged with manslaughter.

To increase the conflict at the jail, I make the Superintendent a Mexican-American who is prejudiced against the Chinese, as a race, because, as a Catholic, he is against abortion and birth control. More conflict is added to the the scene when I place the prisoner in steel shackles when her attorney arrives. The cell is also stifling and hot. Insects buzz and rats scurry. So, you get the idea?

I recommend that you do not create detailed outlines. I don’t use any, but it may be best to have a general outline when you first begin crafting scenes. The reason I don’t use outlines (called “pantsing”) is because I want to be able to add stuff as I go to increase the conflict.

Example 2: Dialogue

Speech is one of the easiest ways to increase the conflict between your characters if you do it properly. Let’s take the jail cell scene. The lawyer, whose name is Laura de Force Gordon, is furious about her client being in shackles. Does she blow-up and shout down the guards? Does she ask to file a complaint? What she says at this point is especially important. My lawyer is very intelligent. She uses sarcasm and innuendo to increase the conflict and yet get her way.

I’ve made the Sergeant-at-Arms of the jail an extremely portly gentleman who is Mexican-American. His name is Sergeant Robles. Like his boss, the Superintendent, he is also prejudiced.

She says to the sergeant, “Tell me, Sergeant. Do they make these shackles in your size?”

The conflict is increased without using a more bombastic and cliched approach. He is criticized on a personal level, so he can see she is angry, but she can always increase the sarcasm until he is truly able to see what is wrong with the picture.

Always craft dialogue with argument in mind. If it’s not directly controversial, it still must be inferred, as in this scene.

Example 3: Characters

As you can see, I have already created characters who are in conflict because of who they are. Of course, with the main characters, you want their purpose in the mystery and/or thriller to be their motivation. In this case, the attorney, Laura Gordon, wants to protect her client and, eventually, argue her out of the criminal manslaughter charge. Therefore (very important point here), all the minor characters you create along the way must be there to conflict with your main character(s)’ main purpose. Now do you see why I’m a “pantser”? I must be free to slot-in any minor (or even major) character of my choosing to fit the scene!

Thus, I create a Mexican-American Superintendent who is Catholic and prejudiced, as is his Sergeant-at-Arms. Their purposes are counter-opposed to my attorney’s purpose. Even their inner belief systems are in conflict. You must do this with each and every scene you construct, or you won’t maintain the page-turning conflict that you need for your reader to stay with you.

Example 4: Plotting

In a mystery and/or a thriller, your action must be moving toward an end of some kind. In a literary-type novel, that conclusion must come full-circle, in that it seems to the reader that everything has been answered to his/her satisfaction–both on a surface (active) level and at an (inner) psychological level.

Since most mysteries and thrillers don’t aspire to “high art,” you can create plots that simply escalate the conflict until a grand climax or denouement is reached. In a mystery, that’s a bit trickier, in that the reader has been attempting to solve the logical puzzle (mystery) along with your main sleuthing characters. So, the eventual solutions must be explained in your concluding chapter, through dialogue and action.

In thrillers, the main plotting points are created to rescue whomever is in peril and go through many conflicting hazards in order to successfully achieve that rescue. A book like Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, is an excellent resource to study for superb plotting skills, which dynamically and slowly escalate the conflict, and twist the events, for even more conflict just as nicely.

So, when you remain a “pantser,” in my humble opinion, once you’ve achieved the overall “conflict author’s vision,” you can accomplish your tasks more easily. You can thus craft each of the four crucial items, with some amount of flair and gusto. And, you won’t get bored! Frankly, I can usually spot a novel that’s been too carefully plotted, characterized, and outlined, a mile away. Why? Because I usually lose interest by the second chapter! How about you?

The Real Life Characters in the Portia of the Pacific Historical Mystery Series

Historical Characters Brought to Life

Author James Musgrave uses several characters in his mysteries who existed in history, including the main female sleuth, Mrs. Clara Shortridge Foltz.  Please click on the photo of each character to be taken to more information about their background and accomplishments in real life.  Click here for a brief list of Clara’s family members.

           Clara Shortridge Foltz, Attorney, 1885

                        Isaiah W. Lees, Detective

                       Ah Toy, Chinatown Madam

                          Mary Hopkins, 1848

                   Laura de Force Gordon, Attorney

                     Trella Evelyn Foltz, 1887

                        Fung Jin Toy, “Little Pete”

                       Paschal Beverly Randolph

                      Washington Bartlett, 1886

                       Sarah Pardee Winchester

                            Elizabeth Ware Packard

Secret Access to the Asylum Five and New Contest for Fourth Mystery

November 26, 2018, San Diego, CA

Visitors to the new Facebook web site for the Portia of the Pacific Historical Mystery Series can go crazy right along with the patients within this innovative new mystery.  The Stockton Insane Asylum Murder, by James Musgrave, is the first mystery to feature its readers as characters and suspects right inside its plot.

In addition, readers and fans can participate in another very unique way.  In exchange for buying one or both of the first two mysteries in the series, they will be given exclusive and secret access to the group called Welcome to the Asylum.

This is where the five chosen readers, who are now insane asylum patients, speculate and plot their next moves.  Readers can ask them questions (remember, they are all crazy) and decide whether what they’re saying will give you clues as to what will happen in the upcoming mystery.  Red herrings, drama, and laugh-out-loud humor will, no doubt, ensue.

What Do I Need to Do?

In order to get exclusive entrance into the asylum, you must purchase a digital or paperback version of the following first two mysteries in the series:

  1.  Chinawoman’s Chance (digital, paper, or audio).

  1. The Spiritualist Murders (digital or paper).

The Spiritualist Murders

Or, you may pre-order the third mystery, The Stockton Insane Asylum Murder in digital only.

For each sales receipt you email to publisher@emrepublishing.com, you shall receive a free entry into Welcome to the Asylum’s closed group.  You can also send the moderator of the closed group a message, and she will accept your scanned receipt.  You will receive a free entry into becoming one of the five characters to be created in the fourth mystery, The Supreme Court Murder, in which a misogynistic nominee to the Supreme Court, in 1888, is murdered by an unknown assailant, and Clara Foltz, Esq. and her team must find this killer before he or she strikes again.  Finally, if you also leave a review of your purchased mystery, you will get still another entry into our contest.

We hope you can enjoy the creation of a new mystery as it happens and experience the thrills, chills, and excitement of being part of bold new experiment in fan fiction’s mysterious creation.  But, are you crazy enough?

Fans and Readers Become Characters and Suspects

As the first author to directly involve readers in his novels, in this case historical mysteries, James Musgrave, a self-published and independent entrepreneur and retired college professor, held a recent Rafflecopter raffle. Five of his readers were chosen to become suspects and/or red herrings in his third mystery. THE STOCKTON INSANE ASYLUM MURDER will feature his five readers, by name and by physical description. They will also have some of their admitted “strange idiosyncrasies” expanded upon in these portrayals. “We are all, after all, wearing our various masks each moment,” he said. “This is just one more mask I will give my reader to wear for the fun and excitement of being insane.”

These “extreme makeovers” of fans into characters will be crafted on his series Facebook page:


After completing the characterizations, Musgrave will then post the results to the main followers on the web.  Musgrave has taken on the misogynous and anti-immigrant policies of Nineteenth Century California in this new series, and his first two mysteries have been reviewed favorably by Kirkus and other media. If this experiment goes as well as it seems to be doing, he plans to do it again in his fourth mystery, which will be about a nominee to the Supreme Court who is murdered, and the team of investigators from San Francisco, led by Clara Shortridge Foltz, Esq., the first woman admitted to the California State Bar, will discover that this nominee was also a rapist and womanizer.

All visitors to the Portia of the Pacific Facebook fan page will be able to follow along with the author every step of the way in his innovative and creative journey. Musgrave hopes he gets many more followers and readers to pay homage to his wife, Ellen, and to mystery lovers everywhere. Proceeds will also be going to fight Alzheimer’s Disease.

Here’s what one of the five “patients” said about being turned into a fictional character:

I’ve enjoyed watching the author take aspects of the real me to craft a fictional character. It’s been especially interesting to see how he has gleaned information about my thoughts and personality from our personal, often unrelated conversations, my own Facebook posts, and my comments on posts and interwoven them into the character development and plot of the story.

It’s been fun to have my character be allowed to act out on thoughts and beliefs in ways that aren’t allowed in normal society as well. Would I actually stab someone for telling me how to eat my food or for chewing too loud? Probably not. Would I LIKE to? Absolutely!!

Side note: I haven’t shared this with Mr Musgrave, but I did once stab a boy through the hand with a pencil when I was 12 or 13! Not for the same reason my character stabbed her uncle, however! In this case, art unintentionally imitates life!

New to Online Book Marketing?

If your publisher is distributing your titles, then tell them you will handle the distribution.  That will give you sole ownership and control over who gets it.  If you only had editing, cover and formatting, then you don’t need to worry about ownership of the titles.  The marketing plan I’m recommending requires that you be a self-published author allowing Amazon to have exclusive distribution rights.  Without giving Amazon these rights, you can’t get into programs like Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Ads and promotions.

For $5,000.00 payable through Paypal only to:  jamesmusgrave2122@att.net.  I can provide the following services per book:

  1. Establish your Amazon publishing account with Author’s page and fully revised descriptions of your titles for best algorithmic keywords and associations to bestselling competition titles.
  2. Establish your YouTube account channel for use with Mailchimp campaigns, your author website, and direct mailings to your subscribers.
  3. Research competition for one book and obtain prospective reviewers for your book to increase your Amazon Bestseller Rating (ABSR).
  4. Create YouTube video to promote your book.
  5. Brainstorm with you and create an eMail campaign and Facebook ad promotion based on a giveaway and/or raffle.
  6. Create promotion blogs on your website for best search engine optimization and eMail author newsletter signups of new readers.  If you have no website, then I can get that for you for an extra fee.  This website will be able to host your authorial presence, YouTube Channel, as well as to implement a private mailing list software program (PhpList) as opposed to the MailChimp service.  With the private mailing software, you will have no subscriber limits, which MailChimp imposes after you reach a certain number.
  7. Run a three-month advertising campaign based on the best keywords analyzed by using KDPRocket software.  You must have an account established for this purpose at Amazon Marketing Services.

That’s about it.  This will give you an inroad to new readers and also a way to progressively market and monitor new sales and advertising efforts.

Get Your Readers Involved in Your Fiction

I have just begun a new historical mystery series called Portia of the Pacific, starring Clara Shortridge Foltz, Esq., and many members of her family.  My third mystery, The Stockton Insane Asylum Murder, is set inside the first-ever state asylum in 1887 northern California.  I did my due diligence and became immersed in the history of mental health in California, and especially as it concerns this specific state asylum in Stockton.  I had completed the first four chapters, when I realized the possibility of getting my readers involved in the actual writing process.  Why not have five “winners” of a raffle become five mental patients inside my asylum and inside my mystery?

If you want your readers to become enthused with your subject matter, and possibly increase your purchases, then here are the steps you can take to do this:

  1. Think of a way your reader can become a character in your book and then hold a raffle to do this.  See my current raffle using (free) Rafflecopter software.
  2. Promote your raffle on your author’s website as well as in Facebook ads.
  3. Let them read sample chapters from the novel in which they will be appearing.
  4. Be certain to also promote this inside your other books in the series.
  5. Post the “results” on your book series Facebook page so others can share in the excitement.
  6. Do a mailing to your reader’s mailing list.

That’s about it.  It takes some loneliness out of the writing process, and it just may increase your motivation to please your readers.  That’s not too horrible, now is it?

Birth of a Story

Mara Salvatrucha Gang Members, El Salvador

When I wrote my short story, “Incognito,” I attempted to shine a light on the realities about which most Norte Americanos have no clue. For example, many Trump supporters believe these people who come in caravans to the border from Central and South America are attempting to “smuggle” their illegal children across. In truth, there are very specific laws in the U. S. that allow people coming from war-torn or violent countries to be able to apply for asylum. This is what they are trying to do, for the most part, although one cannot assume for all.

In my story, I chose a Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) family, who is also half indigenous or mestizo. During the Inquisition in Spain, many Sephardi Jews came to South America to escape death. They never became Christian and were thus persecuted. The native tribal people have always been discriminated against. So, my fictional family from El Savador already has two strikes.

Then, I added another layer of problems. First, the Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13, has infiltrated their village, and a group has targeted young girls. My narrator’s sister, Guadalupe, is one of those targets. However, because my narrator is also called a “genius” by his mother for his intelligence at twelve years old, he also sees “visions.” His ability to talk to the gang’s leader, “Smiley,” saves his sister from prostitution, but his brothers are kept to cook meth as insurance for the family’s transport down south to the land of “freedom,” the United States.

The story incorporates a coming-of-age motif for the narrator, Felipe, as well as a unique way for me to explore what I believed about the symbolic connection between all peoples in the Jungian dreamscape of the Collective Unconscious. I am able to weave into Felipe’s visions a creation story based on the Brahma and Shiva myths, as well as the root of Justice in Judaic teachings.

At one point, the gang leader is reading the newspaper, as he is an educated gang leader (there are even educated criminals–what a concept!), and he sees that President Trump has called the MS-13 animals. He remarks that Trump allows his rich gangster friends from Russia to stay at his hotels and create “anchor babies,” but he won’t allow any South or Central Americans, who are poor, to be, in any way, associated with MS-13.

I also added some actual gang practices and rivalries (with Barrio-18) into the story, and contrasted them with the visions that my narrator is having. The reader is made well aware of the contradictions.

So, I tried to add a bit of irony to the story. At any rate, like most of my work, it will not be published in any mainstream press (most likely), but it does my heart good to be able to explore the reality that exists for many people seeking asylum and who are turned away by the greedy and arbitrary laws of this administration.

If you’ve read this far, then perhaps you might want to read the complete story, in case it doesn’t find publication space. Please message me, and I’ll give you a private Docs link.

Philip Roth Will Never Die

A tall figure in the “literary” pantheon has fallen, and he just so happens to be a Jew. As a white kid in the heart of anti-Semitic Orange County, California, I knew nothing about Jews or about their culture. In fact, when I attended a Catholic school, St. Anthony’s, in Long Beach, just over the line from Orange County, we were not “allowed” to read the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures, as my Jewish wife later explained was the proper title). Later, when I took a Bible as Literature class in college, I finally got to study it, and I knew why. It was filled with great stories about sex, violence, and revenge. Those Christian nuns were really not into that kind of stuff.

Philip Roth was, to me, as a writer, somebody who could use his imagination to break taboos. In one of his last interviews with the New York Times, he stated the fact that “writers are people who have great imaginations, which separate them from the rest of the population.” He was also asked if he had anything to say now that his writing career was over. “No, because everything I ever wanted to say was in my books.” How can you not love a guy like that? He’s so anti-tRump, without even mentioning politics.

As a twenty-three-year-old, just out of the service, when I read PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT, I was awakened to the possibilities of fiction. Alexander had this psychological malady that any male kid in America could relate to. When I heard that Roth was getting criticism from his own “people,” the Jews, about his portrayals of the characters in this wildly comedic and imaginative book, I instantly became a protector of Mr. Roth and his “message.” In my mind, he was speaking Truth to Power with his art.

I believe Mr. Roth will be forever read because he could create books that, as Kafka said, “become the axes to break the frozen seas within us.” Each one of Mr. Roth’s novels took chances with imagination and never attempted to become a “best seller” through the use of formula plotting or identifiable, lovable, and non-controversial characters.

Many publishers and even authors today attempt to heap Mr. Roth’s genius into a category: literary. To the commercial hawkers of books to the masses, this spells “boring,” “non-profitable,” and “high-brow.”

To me, and to other writers who have any kind of an imagination, Mr. Roth and his work were an inspiration to do the same and not a genre of fiction. If a writer studies what Roth does in just that single book PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT, he or she can learn about how to create a world so funny, so conflicting and so full of human pathos that it makes the so-called “real world” look pretty dimwitted and chaotic. This, my friends, is why we writers spend so much time in front of blank pages. We pray, nay, we gird our creative loins, hoping to have the inspiration to fantasize such memorable stories.

Mr. Roth, you will be missed by your friends and family, but you will not be missed by us writers. We have you in our midst, to read, to study and to bask in the warmth of your imagination. Until the next Hitler comes to burn your work, we will attempt to carry your bright torch of free thought into the future. Baruch Hashem.


Alvin Toffler, the famous futurist, ended his exploration into the technological realm of new developments with what he called the “Third Wave” of technology.  These new computerized systems, he said, would be transferred to the Asian powers, mainly China.

Now, in 2018, we have seen that transfer of technological power.  It has been so successful, in fact, that an American “outsider,” Donald Trump, was elected on the jingoistic isolationist slogan of “Make America Great Again!”  He promised to “bring those jobs home” from China and the other countries that had allegedly “stolen them.”

Most experts say that China will overtake the United States by 2029, and China, in fact, already leads the U.S. in purchasing power.  Whereas the U.S. has been investing in the Military Industrial Complex (with its military in over 140 different nations), China has been seeking expansion through the direct economic development of other nations.  This not only adds to China’s world-leading purchasing power (they make loans to these countries in exchange for using their natural resources and other industrial growth resources China needs), it also provides them with future allies.

Whereas the U. S. has been intervening in other countries militarily and making a “quick money killing through regime change,” China has not taken that road.  Instead, they have been joining with the industrialists in other countries to constructively improve their economies and assist them in a more progressive agenda of stabilization.

Examples?  Well, one merely has to look at the state of the Middle East, especially Iraq, to see how the United States has been wasting money and resources.  Certainly, some cherry-picked corporation, such as Haliburton, made out like literal bandits, but nothing in Iraq has been improved overall after the fall of Saddam Hussein.  The Iraqis are in the same predicament, economically speaking, as they were when Saddam ruled the country.  In fact, some would argue, they were better off under Hussein.

The Gallup Poll of 2011 showed that the citizens of Iraq have become increasingly pessimistic about their economy and job outlook.  Whereas the United States, under President Barack Obama, failed to investigate the trillions of dollars lost to the fraud of corrupt corporations in Iraq during the war (Obama said it was “water under the bridge”), which, in my opinion, was one of the worst failures of his two terms in office.

However, what is happening now, under the Republicans and Donald Trump, is far more dangerous than trying to close the barn after the corporate wartime profit horses have escaped.  We are now in the imminent path to fulfilling the unilateralist goals of the Neocon Movement in the United States.  This means an even faster movement toward reliance on the MIC for economic progress than has ever been seen in the history of the modern republic.  This “progress” will come in the form of (once again) regime changes.

The Trump Administration is, step-by-step, breaking down the safety net of systems established to protect its citizens from banking corruption, food pollution, and environmental devastation.  Over in China, on the other hand, there is an international economic expansion going on that defies everything going on over in the U.S.  In fact, the China Development Bank (CDB) recently overtook the World Bank in the number of loans to other countries in 2011.

In addition, instead of propping up losing corporations, the way the U.S. did after the economic crisis of 2018, China is now shutting down corrupt corporations and even imprisoning its executives for a long time.  This was the most recent case in the Anbang Insurance Company scandal.  It seems that if you’re corrupt in the U. S. you get a raise, and in China you get a jail cell.

Of course, China also spends quite a bit less on its military infrastructure compared to the United States.  In fact, the Trump Administration is expanding its nuclear arsenal and hardware in the coming years.  This graph shows how fantastically more reckless the United States has become in military spending.  The U.S. spends over 100 billion dollars more than all the major industrialized countries (including China) combined!

At this point, I want to bring in my hypothesis for these developments.  If both major players (China and U.S.) continue development in their current ways, it could erupt into a stand-off of devastating proportions.  I will first turn to the alliance between China and the theocratic nation of Iran.

Iran has been established as a military and economic “enabler” to many Israel and the United States foes in the Middle East, including Syria’s dictator Assad, the Hezbollah, the Palestinian Hamas, and many others.  In addition, Iran is mostly behind the rebel support in the current proxy war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.   Iran is supporting the rebels with both hardware and manpower against Saudi Arabia and the U.S. interests.

Will China play a direct part in this war in Yemen if it gets too bad?  Russia intervened on behalf of its economic partner, dictator Bashar al-Assad, and the rebels in Syria are certainly suffering for it.  Why can’t this happen in Yemen?  Perhaps it already is, indirectly.  However, it’s not playing out the way one would expect.  Beijing is already supporting the Saudi government by giving the Saudi-backed government in Yemen millions in economic aide.  How much of that aide will reach the people caught in the middle is, of course, another question.  But, because China has military aspirations of its own in the Middle East, it is willing to risk its alliance with Iran and pay both ends against the middle for the time being.

The Fourth Wave will be a confrontation between the world’s Military Industrial Complex and the world’s Progressive Industrial Complex.  As it stands right now, in 2018, I believe China is winning that confrontation.  Of course, as it did in World War Two, the United States may be willing to “risk it all” by playing its military might against world opinion.  But, whereas we had the world behind us after World War Two because of our lend-lease program in Germany and our direct assistance to Japan’s reconstruction, we no longer have that international “safety net” to allow the United States to have a “get out of jail free card” in the event of a world war.  Let’s face it.  If Trump uses nukes on Iran, North Korea, Russia or China, the game will be over.  Carl Sagan and his “Nuclear Winter” warning will have come to pass, and poor Carl will be spinning in his grave (and so will most of the world’s population).

Stop the Computers, I Want to Get Off

The Fourth Wave of Technology is the increasing reliance on computers in the form of artificial intelligence.  Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking had grave fears about AI and its inevitable power getting into the wrong hands.  Vladimir Putin, as that other hand, believes that the nation who controls AI can control the world, and he thinks that’s a good thing.

We have already seen AI’s perniciousness in the form of the Wall Street “flash crashes,”  near-miss nuclear missile assaults, and the encroaching development of robotic and technological speed for profit, over safety for quality assurance.  Unless these developments in artificial intelligence are controlled in order to protect human consumers, they will line the pockets of the owners, but they will endanger the lives of the population.

I propose that our world should have a meeting of scientists and not a meeting of politicians.  Give these world-renowned scientists some political power in order to discover the ways in which we can cooperate in a “non-nation” and “non-political” way, in order to improve the human condition instead of separating humans for profiteering interests.  Unless this occurs, almost immediately, we will be headed toward a military confrontation of historically mammoth and dangerous proportions.

The Dangers of Telling “Truth” to “Power”

Since I was a journalist before I became a creative writer, my heart has always been fixed on the purpose of “telling truth to power.” That means that no matter how seemingly offensive or politically incorrect some words are, I must use them if they are true.

I have been criticized by authors, mainstream publishers and readers because of my adherence to this philosophy. Let’s face it. We live in a unique point in history when both sides of the political spectrum have their “sacred cows.”

To some on the Left, the proper use of English grammar rules can be a “political weapon of discrimination against people of color and the LBGQT community.”  To some of the Right, anybody who doesn’t speak English in public, or who wears “ethnic clothing,” becomes a suspected terrorist.

I want to give three examples of my work that would never be published in today’s mainstream press because the contents would offend some audience out there and thus would reduce sales.  Who cares if it’s historically accurate and/or the truth?  It’s the almighty dollar that matters.

You Can’t Use That Title!  It’s Offensive!

Here’s an exchange I had with a fellow historical fiction author.  I had approached her in a friendly attempt to have my novel Chinawoman’s Chance reviewed by her on her website.  I thought it would be appropriate because she was living in China, and this would help me widen my audience.

Right away, she refused, simply because of the title I used, which, to her, was completely offensive to readers.  I had to give her a brief history lesson as to why I would never change my title, and how my entire purpose for writing the Portia of the Pacific series was to expose the racism, sexism and prejudice that existed in the 1800s of the United State of America:

Hello A:

Respectfully, the title “Chinawoman” was used in the 1800s quite regularly, as well as “Chinaman.” In point of fact, the expression “Chinaman’s chance,” came from the practice of the railroad owners, like Leland Stanford, who would send the coolies out with explosives to blow-up the mountains to make tunnels for the trains to use. Until dynamite was invented by Alfred Nobel, they were regularly killed doing this dangerous act. Ergo, the racist term, which was used down through the years until it became a common expression for “having little or no hope.”

If my readers don’t appreciate the “facts” of discrimination and racism that existed in the United States in that period (which is one of the main purposes that I wrote my series), then they should never read my fiction at all. I use the latest research (I was a college professor for over 25 years) which shows the terms and denigrating treatment of the Chinese in vivid ways.

The narrator for my audio book is also of Chinese decent and she lived in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and she did not find the title offensive in the least. I used other terms that were constantly being used at the time, including chink, coolie, Yellow Peril, pagan idolaters, and demons. Chinawoman is the least offensive of the lot.

At any rate, I bought your book, and I am enjoying it. I will write a positive review, no doubt, unless your mystery takes a plunge for the worse.

Take care, and thanks for your opinions.


My next example comes from a novel I wrote that received quite favorable reviews from readers and from fellow authors.  However, some people were “offended” because of two reasons:  1.  I was writing as a Black narrator and I was white.  2.  I was “making light” of people with disabilities.

Freak Story: 1967-1969Everybody’s a Freak?  How Dare You Say That!

With the recent death of “new journalism” author, Tom Wolfe, I don’t pretend to be carrying his prestigious mantle.  However, since my novel was compared to Tom’s work by another prestigious author, Dr. Jacob M. Appel, I must explain that my work is an exploration into the 1960s and its range of emotional experiments into revolutionary thoughts and actions.

My “theme,” if you will, is that we are all freaks under the skin, and we are also subject to the same pressures to conform.  My little exploration does not translate well in these times of “political correctness” and “fake news,” however, and I will live with that.

The readers who can see through the defense mechanisms of the present “new journalism” will understand why we must all realize our “freakishness” in order to survive.

My final example is a novel I wrote quite some time ago.  Like my hero, Thomas Harris, I dared to make a serial killer somebody who had an existentially “noble purpose.”  We all know serial killers must be all bad, all the time.

Russian Wolves

You Can’t Show Children Being Killed!  Serial Killers Can’t Be Noble!

I based my thriller upon a real-life serial killer of the 1980s, Andrei Romanovich Chikatilo.  Like me, he was a teacher.  Like me, he came from a dysfunctional background.  Unlike me, he had a psychotic breakdown after seeing his family eaten by fellow “comrades” during the Ukraine’s worst winter on record.

This novel breaks a lot of commercial fiction’s taboos.  However, since most of the murderous descriptions are based on fact, I stand my ground.  The book was never published in the mainstream, but it does have, if you’ll excuse the expression, “cult following” by readers who enjoy historical thrillers.  The same goes for another, even earlier novel, I wrote called Sins of Darkness, about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.

In fact, SOD was so realistic, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan’s lawyer called me on the phone to ask about “the evidence I had found concerning Sirhan’s being hypnoprogrammed to kill.”  Such are the dangers of writing truth to power.  I enjoy it one hell of a lot.  I hope you do to.