Scenes: Keep looking, and new things appear


When I write, I generally start by sketching the outlines of a scene. What’s happening? What are the goals of the characters? What goes wrong, or erupts, or turns the scene on its head? When I rewrite, I try to go deeper: to ramp up conflict, explore the characters’ emotions, heighten the tension, add surprises and twists.

Then I take a step back to see what I’ve got. Often, I need to let somebody else read my work to find out what I’ve missed, and what depths are hidden in the story.

That’s how I felt when I saw this painting.

I was walking down a city sidewalk when I passed an art gallery with this work in the window. I was struck by the painting — it captured the southwest I remember from childhood summer road trips. Route 66 gets me every time.

I wondered who the artist was. Then I looked beyond the frame of the painting, at the artist’s photo on the wall of the gallery to the right. And at his name on the back wall, partially visible behind the painting. And I re-calibrated everything I’d been seeing, and thinking, about the exhibit, and the painting, and the artist.

Bob Dylan.

The guy is busy. No wonder he had to skip the Nobel Prize ceremony.

My point? Whether walking down the street, or listening to your kids, or doing research, or writing fiction… or songs…

You’ve got to take a second look, and a third. Reevaluate. Look deeper. Pay attention. See the whole scene, and look at it with fresh eyes. Because you never know the true scope of what’s there until you step back and really see.

In the photo, my image is faintly visible in the glass. Every creative work reflects the artist.

My life: texting with writers

What happens when a thriller writer texts with a close friend about exercise and home repairs? If the thriller writer is me, and the friend is another writer whose home has a concrete basement with a drain in the center of the floor, this.



I love having buddies who speak my language.

And I presume that the relevant national security and law enforcement agencies are crawling through my friend’s neighborhood, searching for a basement window where Heisenberg is bouncing in and out of sight.

Murder & Mayhem in Milwaukee

I had a wonderful time committing Murder and Mayhem along the sunny banks of Lake Michigan. Milwaukee was welcoming and full of cheese. The conference was a blast. Mostly because I had the privilege of interviewing the incomparable Sara Paretsky. Enjoy these photos.

Today in my life: the robocall

(Phone rings)

ME: Hello?

CHIRPY VOICE: Hi! This is Ashley with consumer promotions!

ME: (Thinking… Ashley sounds suspiciously like a recording.)

ASHLEY: How are you today?

ME: I’m hanging upside down on a hook in a meat packing plant.

ASHLEY: Great! You’re eligible to win a Caribbean vacation!

ME: They’re coming for you next, Ashley.

ASHLEY: It’s exciting! Let’s get started!

And I went back to my coffee. Now people in Starbucks are giving me the side eye.

This Saturday: Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee


This Saturday, November 5, I’ll be taking part in Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee. Yes, murder and mayhem.

It’s a one-day conference on mystery, thriller, and suspense fiction, featuring author panels and interviews. Programming runs from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Doors open at 8:30 am.

Check out the terrific authors who are speaking, and the schedule:

9:00 – 10:00: FIRST BLOOD 

10:00– 11:00: MURDER AS A FINE ART 



2 – 3: CREEPERS 

3 – 4: BLOOD OATH: Sara Paretsky and Meg Gardiner in conversation


That’s right: I get the privilege of talking to Sara Paretsky for an hour. If you’re in the Milwaukee area, come listen in.

Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee will be held at the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center: 2133 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53233-1910.

UNSUB: My new book, out June 2017


Finally, y’all: Here’s the cover of my new novel, UNSUB.

And here’s the story…

A riveting psychological thriller inspired by the never-caught Zodiac Killer, about a young detective determined to apprehend the serial murderer who destroyed her family and terrorized a city twenty years earlier.
Caitlin Hendrix has been a Narcotics detective for six months when the killer at the heart of all her childhood nightmares reemerges: the Prophet. An UNSUB—what the FBI calls an unknown subject—the Prophet terrorized the Bay Area in the 1990s and nearly destroyed her father, the lead investigator on the case.

The Prophet’s cryptic messages and mind games drove Detective Mack Hendrix to the brink of madness, and Mack’s failure to solve the series of ritualized murders—eleven seemingly unconnected victims left with the ancient sign for Mercury etched into their flesh—was the final nail in the coffin for a once promising career.

Twenty years later, two bodies are found bearing the haunting signature of the Prophet. Caitlin Hendrix has never escaped the shadow of her father’s failure to protect their city. But now the ruthless madman is killing again and has set his sights on her, threatening to undermine the fragile barrier she rigidly maintains for her own protection, between relentless pursuit and dangerous obsession.

Determined to decipher his twisted messages and stop the carnage, Caitlin ignores her father’s warnings as she draws closer to the killer with each new gruesome murder. Is it a copycat, or can this really be the same Prophet who haunted her childhood? Will Caitlin avoid repeating her father’s mistakes and redeem her family name, or will chasing the Prophet drag her and everyone she loves into the depths of the abyss?

The novel will be published in June 2017. I am so excited.

And you can preorder it.

Thursday October 20: Writing to Make Readers Shiver


This week I’m taking part in “Third Thursday” at Book People in Austin. It’s a monthly panel discussion on writing organized by the Writers’ League of Texas, free and open to the public. Here’s the lowdown from the Writers’ League:

Chills and Thrills: Writing to Make Readers Shiver

Thursday, October 20, 2016
7 PM
BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd.
3rd Floor

Every month, Writers’ League members and friends gather at BookPeople in Austin for a panel discussion on topics related to the craft and business of writing. These events are the highlight of our month at WLT; we love meeting our members, connecting with fellow writers, and fostering positive conversation and growth in the Austin literary community and beyond. We also record these conversations for our podcast so that writers everywhere can join us, regardless of their location. At this month’s Third Thursday, we’re excited to explore the mechanics of tension and suspense in a discussion with four thrilling writers.

If you’re around, come on down.