Before They Were Authors: Christina Hoag

Before I was a novelist, I was a journalist, specifically a newspaper reporter. The two are obviously linked as they both involve writing, albeit from very different angles: fact-based versus imagination-based. But frankly, I cannot think of a better foundation for writing novels than writing news stories, at least for the type of fictional stories I want to tell. That’s probably the way journalism has most influenced my fiction, my short stories as well as novels.

I’m drawn to writing stories set in the real world, as opposed to, say, science fiction or fantasy. My novels also gravitate toward exploring social issues, which I consider one of the primary missions of journalism, and which I wrote about a lot as a reporter.

Much as I did as a journalist, as a novelist I want to make a point by exposing readers to experiences they may not have lived, or cultures and places that they have not been exposed to. For me, this is vital role of fiction and one of the key reasons I’ve been a voracious reader my entire life. You can learn, as well as be entertained, through novels by vicariously experiencing other worlds–and character’s bad choices!–without having to live them.

My YA novel “Girl on the Brink” is about dating violence in a middle class New Jersey suburb, while “Skin of Tattoos” is about gang violence in a gritty immigrant neighbourhood of Los Angeles. For both I relied on firsthand experience, research through memoirs and other nonfiction books, and interviews, all skills that are an integral part of a reporter’s job, as well as the essential tool of a novelist: empathic imagination.

News events and feature stories I wrote as a journalist are also a source of things to write about as a novelist. The novel I’m currently working on is also rooted in real-life circumstance. “The Revolutionaries” is a political thriller set in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2002 during the coup attempt against then-President Hugo Chavez. I was living there at the time and reported on the coup for various media outlets.

Having interviewed people from all walks of life also helps me with developing characters. Reporters interview scores of people over the course of their careers, but there’s always a couple interviews that stay with you.

“Skin of Tattoos” grew out of interviews I did for a magazine story about former L.A. gang members who were deported to El Salvador. Several years later, I still vividly remembered being out of the streets of San Salvador with those guys. I sat down and banged out a ten-page outline for a novel about gang members, although the actual novel turned out quite differently than that early outline.

Coverage of specific news events and stories and covering beats like cops, courts and business gave me a wealth of knowledge about how the world works, whether it’s the legal system, police procedure, or corporate regulations. That always comes in handy in different ways, though I often have to complement the generalist’s thin layer of knowledge with research to acquire the level of detail required by a novel.

So while I certainly admire writers of fantasy and science fiction, you won’t likely catch me writing those genres. My focus in fiction was honed by my three decades as a journalist and at this point is pretty engrained in me, but that’s what makes fiction so valuable, everybody contributes their own life experiences.

 About Christina: Christina Hoag’s YA thriller Girl on the Brink (Melange, 2016) was named to Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2016 list, while Kirkus Reviews praised her as a “talented writer” with “a well crafted debut” in Skin of Tattoos (Martin Brown, 2016), a gangland thriller. A former journalist for the Miami Herald and Associated Press, she reported from Latin America for Time, Business Week, Financial Times and the New York Times. She lives in Los Angeles and on the web at


Summer Daze eBook Sale!


From June 21 through July 4, all e-book versions of The Hanged Man’s Noose will be on sale for $1.99. Find it in Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, GooglePlay, Nook, and on the Barking Rain Press website (which also includes buy links for all of the above).

If you have read Noose already, why not check out one of the many other great books available on the Barking Rain Press website?  The eBook sale extends to all titles.


A Hole in One: A Glass Dolphin Mystery #2, is scheduled for release in March 2018. ARCs will be available in print, PDF and ebook format at the end of October. If you’re a professional reviewer, please contact me.




New Release Mondays: Parent Teacher Association by Jennifer Soosar

Author Name: Jennifer Soosar

Book Title: Parent Teacher Association

Book Genre: Psychological suspense

Release Date:  June 24, 2017

Synopsis: Fresh out of a mental hospital, Lizanne Demeter is thrilled when she’s hired as a schoolteacher in a backwater town.

But hopes for a peaceful life are ruined when ‘helicopter mom’ Naomi pushes Lizanne to the brink.

As Lizanne unravels the secret behind Naomi’s agenda, deadly clues emerge.

With her life teetering on chaos, Lizanne risks everything to expose the truth. But first, she must prove herself a more dedicated teacher than anyone dared imagine—the kind who makes ALL the difference.

Excerpt: There hadn’t been a letter back from Clint in a while. The window of time between previous back-and-forth letters had passed. And then some.

Lizanne knew she needed patience with the prison system, and the speed at which mail travelled within it, but she couldn’t help feel more and more anxious each day nothing arrived from him. There should have been something by now. It wasn’t unreasonable to expect something, in this long time.

All she wanted was a fresh letter from Clint to luxuriate in. Confirmation that her romance was growing—expanding—and that he still needed and loved her. Lizanne Demeter needed it now desperately.

What if he didn’t like the tattoo?

Had she gone too far with that? Had it scared him off?

Yes, it was a bit crazy, a bit impulsive. But it was romantic, too. Plus, he had wanted a gesture, had asked for one and left the door open to interpretation. No, the Clint’s Girl tattoo couldn’t be the reason he hadn’t written back yet.

What if some other woman is writing to him? What if he’s busy with her? Falling in love with her?

Then Lizanne logged onto Clint’s profile on Mother of pearl, it was still up! Even though they were a couple, he hadn’t bothered to take his listing down. Anybody could still write to him—any woman out there in the whole world!

Maybe he has no control of it. Just ask him nicely to take it down next time he gets computer privileges. He’ll understand. He will.

But would he? The relationship was still young. What if he got offended at being told what to do? Men didn’t like that. But the profile needed to be removed. It wasn’t an unreasonable request. They were boyfriend/girlfriend—they were in love.

It was of utmost importance to Lizanne that she maintain her position of control here. Clint Hubert was a gorgeous, intelligent, decent man—a prize catch—and any dumb skank trolling the LockUpLink website would recognize that for herself.

No, no, no, no, no. This needed to be rectified immediately.

About the author: Jennifer Soosar watched too much America’s Most Wanted’ growing up and has been writing about shady characters ever since. She was born and raised in Toronto and has a degree in anthropology. Her short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. She is a member of Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime. To find out more about Jennifer and her writing projects visit her website

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Crime Writers of Canada

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I’ve recently been voted into the Board of Directors at Crime Writers of Canada (CWC), representing Toronto and Southern Ontario for the 2017-18 term (June-June). It’s quite an honor, and an even bigger responsibility, one that I won’t take lightly.

For those who don’t know, CWC is a national non-profit organization for Canadian mystery and crime writers, associated professionals, and others with a serious interest in Canadian crime writing. Their mission is to promote Canadian crime writing and to raise the profile of Canadian crime writers with readers, reviewers, librarians, booksellers, and media.

I first joined CWC as an Associate Member in 2012. At the time I was just starting to work on my first project, and the book that would evolve into The Hanged Man’s Noose. In 2015, with the publication of Noose, I was changed my membership to that of Professional Author Member (PAM). I can remember being so excited—especially since my name follows Canadian mystery legend, Louise Penny, on the PAM roster list. I felt a bit like fairy dust was being sprinkled on me.

If you’re a Canadian with an interest in crime fiction or non-fiction, I encourage you to check out everything CWC  has to offer. If you’re in the Toronto/Southern Ontario area, please feel free to contact me with your questions. We’d love to have you on board.













New Release Mondays: Fight or Die by James Hilton

Author Name:  James Hilton

Book Title: Fight Or Die

Book Genre: Thriller

Release Date:  June 14, 2017

Synopsis: When the Gunn brothers Danny and Clay answer a call to help old friends, they are plunged into a deadly situation. Larry and Pamela Duke own one of the most popular nightclubs in the Spanish resort town of Ultima, but a local gang known as the Locos are determined to take it. Danny and Clay are hired to protect the club, but new adversaries enter the game. Against such odds there are only two choices: fight or die…

Excerpt: Pamela was a strong-willed woman. A lot of army wives get that way. They have as much upheaval in their lives as the soldiers they are married to, they just need to deal with it in a different way. A single tear blossomed at the corner of her eye. Not wanting to give the intruders the satisfaction of seeing her wipe it away; she pushed her hair back into a ponytail, shedding it of the last splinters of broken glass, and wrapped it with a small elastic hair-band. The tear blended onto her sleeve as she raised her arms.

“Tell your boss to make a serious offer and maybe we’ll think about it.”

“Too late for that now Chica. That boat has sailed. Now you get only…what you get.” The sneer accompanying Ortega’s message could have curdled milk.

“All of our life savings are in this place!”

“Call it…market…ah, fluctuation.” Ortega’s smoker’s voice was sandpaper to her ears. “We’ll be back at six. Then you and the peg-leg will sign over the deeds. If you’re not here, we will burn this place down and start over with a new place of our own.”

A new, deeper voice carried from the doorway of the bar, the American accent thick and unmistakable. “Jeez, Daisy, I’d sack your contractor; he’s made a real pig’s ear of the refurb!”

The three Loco’s turned to see a large silhouette blocking doorway. Not one to waste words, Ortega spat a warning. “Get lost. The bar is closed.”

The large shadow took a step inside. “But I thought the Woo Hoo was always open for a good time. Woo Hoo!” The new arrival did that ‘jazz hands’ thing in the air.

Ortega nodded towards the stranger and the flag-ripper stalked forwards, blade at the ready.

About the author: James lives in the rugged but beautiful North of England with his wife Wendy. He is the author of the Gunn Brothers Thrillers by Titan Books. Not to be confused with the beloved author of Goodbye Mr Chips.
James trained in the martial arts since the age of 11. He is currently ranked as a 4th dan Blackbelt.
His other passions include visiting Florida and the Caribbean, reading horror, suspense and action thrillers.
He is currently working on the next book in the ‘Gunn Brothers Thriller’ series and also researching material for the first book in a new YA series. Find him at

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Before They Were Authors: Melissa Yuan-Innes (Melissa Yi)

I had the pleasure to meet Melissa Yuan-Innes in Toronto at the Ontario Library Superconference this past February. I was immediately struck by her inner kindness and boundless energy. I downloaded her first book in her Hope Sze medical mystery series, CODE BLUES (written under Melissa Yi) as soon as I returned home.  

Judy: What’s the funniest thing that happened to you at work?

Melissa: Ha! I can answer three questions in one. Medicine is the best, worst, and funniest job rolled into one. For example, I got sprayed with pus the other day. I’m talking my face, hair, and clothes. I felt contaminated for the rest of the shift, even though I washed myself as best I could at the sink.

Later, some doctors started talking about the stench of retained foreign bodies (forgotten tampons, usually), which made me thankful I’ve never had to deal with that. And now, if I do, I will fill a bottle with water to quench the foreign body. They say it really kills the smell.

Judy: Have you quit your day job?

Melissa: Not yet. As long as I have enough energy, medicine is fun and keeps me out of the poor house. Even when the work itself is draining (and let me tell you, my last two shifts had me driving home with gritted teeth), I work with people that I consider friends. There is nothing like throwing yourself into saving someone’s life, or fighting for the best care for your patient, and trading war stories afterward.

That said, doctors often call emergency medicine a young person’s game. The nights and weekends weigh you down after a while. I limit my number of shifts so that I can continue to write and enjoy my children instead of yelling, “Mommy needs a nap! Be quiet!”

Judy: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Melissa: Sure! Work hard and enjoy it.

That would apply to most things in life. But I think that the Internet, books, and Aunt Minerva are overflowing with so much advice, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So in the end, you just have to jump in. You want to write? Write. Start there.

Also, when I interviewed author and editor Sarah Cortez, her parents told her, “Follow your dreams, but pay the freight.”

I paid the freight by becoming my own patron of the arts, using medicine to support my writing during years of learning the craft and selling zero short stories. Even if my writing never makes significant money, I want to write for the joy of it.

Other writers have take different paths, including teaching, crowdfunding, having supportive spouses/families, choosing dead end jobs so they can focus on writing, or just leaping into the abyss. All of these can work. Whatever you do, do it hard, and with your whole heart. And make some friends while you’re at it, because otherwise, writing is a lonely road.

About Melissa: Melissa Yi is an emergency physician and award-winning writer. In her newest crime novel, HUMAN REMAINS, one doctor battles bioterrorism. Previous Hope Sze volumes were selected by CBC Radio as a best crime novel of the season and called “entertaining and insightful” by Publishers Weekly. Find her at

New Release Mondays: Lostar Street by Vinnie Hansen

Author: Vinnie Hansen

Book Title: Lostart Street, a novel of mystery, murder and moonbeams

Release Date: May 31. 2017

Synopsis: Cecile Knutsen abandons her old life in San Francisco to accept her first teaching position in a small California coast town. She rents an apartment in a newly integrated development for old and handicapped people, across from a woman she never sees. Mysterious thefts and a budding romance tug the lonely Cecile into this community of strange inhabitants. Blinded by the busyness of her new career, Cecile doesn’t see impending danger.

The Barracks

Not a soul stirred except the two of us. The mustard-colored apartment units could have been empty.

“It’s quiet,” I murmured.

“Yes, very quiet.” The manager, Bobbi Headland, was a tiny woman with tinted red hair and spiky eyelashes. Humans are already anatomical wonders, slender stalks balancing twenty-pound heads. Bobbi Headland added to this miracle with twiggy legs and large, Barbie-doll breasts. As we walked up the asphalt drive, all logic argued she should tip over, which perhaps accounted for her charged up, nervous air.

The alluring quiet of the place contrasted sharply with my life of MUNI buses rumbling past the flat I rented with my friend Imogene. Behind the three rows of apartments, birds fluttered in the ice plant covering a hill. A song sparrow on the tip of a stunted juniper threw open his beak and shattered the silent heat.

A humongous cat on the step of unit four, next to the vacant one, lazily lifted its head to acknowledge us.

“Hi ya, Buddha Belly,” Bobbi Headland chirped. “That’s Mrs. Bean’s cat and folks here call it Buddha Belly. Not in front of Mrs. Bean, of course. She’s very sensitive about her cat.”

The vacant apartment and Mrs. Bean’s stood alone, like individual houses. A nice feature.

Bobbi threw open the door. I weighed the plusses and minuses of the place: clean with new carpet and knotty pine in a minuscule kitchen. The rent was unreasonable, but affordable given my new salary. And with my first day as a high-school teacher looming in two days, I had no time to shop. I still faced the move from San Francisco.

As I peeked about, Bobbi scrutinized the place as though trying to fathom what a single, twenty‑eight-year-old would want in such a dead place. Why not choose hip downtown Santa Cruz instead of this little village? She chattered away, giving me the history of the apartments and telling me about the woman who lived across the asphalt drive in unit six. “She doesn’t come out much in the day. You might not ever see her.”

I should have paid more attention to this information, but it winged by.

Bobbi ducked into what I’d already decided was my bathroom. She stayed for a long time, but emerged seeming calmer. I should have paid more attention to that, too.

About the author: Vinnie Hansen fled the winds of the South Dakota prairie and headed for the California coast the day after high school graduation.

As a child, she read books while huddled on top the dryer. Vinnie grew up to write numerous short stories and the Carol Sabala mysteries. MURDER, HONEY is available in the bestselling e-collection: SLEUTHING WOMEN: 10 FIRST-IN-SERIES MYSTERIES.

Her story, MISCALCULATION, is forthcoming in SANTA CRUZ NOIR (Akashic Books).

Still sane after 27 years of teaching high-school English, Vinnie has retired and lives in Santa Cruz, California, with her husband and the requisite cat. Find her at

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Authors Talk: Second Series Syndrome by Lois Winston

I was first introduced to USA Today bestselling author Lois Winston when she put out a call for authors interested in being part of her first cookbook, Bake, Love, Write. I’m not much of a baker, but I did manage to submit a recipe! The following year, she invited me back for We’d Rather Be Writing. Today, Lois guests on my blog to talk about “Second Series Syndrome.” Since I have two series (with a third one percolating in my head), I had to hear what she had to say. Without further ado, here’s Lois!

In the early 1960s after years of trailing behind frontrunner Hertz, the Avis car rental car company launched their “We Try Harder” campaign. It was an instant success. As any second child knows, you have to try harder to get noticed. The first-born claims the spotlight by virtue of being first born. It’s called second child syndrome.

The same seems true for mystery series. My first series, the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, debuted in 2011 and received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews called it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” There are now five full-length novels, with another on the way, and three mini-mysteries. I have no plans to stop writing about Anastasia.

However, a few years ago, I got the idea for the Empty Nest Mysteries, a modern day twist of the 1930’s Thin Man movies, with the wife as the sleuth. In 2014 I published Definitely Dead, followed by Literally Dead last year.

Even though I’ve promoted my Empty Nest series through my newsletter and on guest blogs and social media, few readers (including many of my diehard Anastasia fans) know it exists. Gracie Elliott, my sleuth, is definitely overshadowed by her “older sister” Anastasia.

So in order to shine a light on Gracie—a woman who is one part Goldie Hawn, one part Jessica Fletcher—I’ve embarked on an ad campaign that hopefully will be as successful as that old Avis campaign. For the month of June Definitely Dead, the first book in the series, is available on Amazon for .99 cents and will be featured in several discount book sites and daily newsletters.

A parent should never show favoritism to one child over another. Like my real-life sons, my “girls” are unique individuals but equally loved by me. However, Gracie needs a chance to show readers who she is. My fingers are crossed.

Definitely Dead

When her career is outsourced to Asia, fledgling romance author and empty-nester Gracie Elliott wants a job that will allow her time to write. So she opens Relatively Speaking, becoming a wing woman to the senior set. Since her clients need several hours each morning to find their teeth, lube their creaky joints, and deal with lower GI necessities, and they always turn in after the early bird specials, she has plenty of time to pen her future bestsellers.

Gracie deliberately avoids mentioning her new business venture to husband Blake until after she signs her first client. Blake joins the company as a not-so-silent partner, tagging along to make sure Gracie doesn’t cause a septuagenarian uprising. When Client #13 is found murdered in the parking lot behind the Moose Lodge, Gracie knows, no matter how much Blake protests otherwise, she can’t wait around for the police to find the killer if she wants to save her livelihood.

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Literally Dead

After her last disastrous episode as an amateur sleuth, Gracie Elliott is back. The budding romance writer has spent the past year crafting her first novel. Her hard work and determination pay off when her manuscript wins the Cream of the Crop award, a contest for unpublished writers, sponsored by the Society of American Romance Authors. First place entitles her to attend the organization’s annual conference, normally open only to published authors.

With husband Blake in tow, a starry-eyed Gracie experiences the ultimate fan-girl moment upon entering the hotel. Her favorite authors are everywhere. However, within minutes she learns Lovinia Darling, the Queen of Romance, is hardly the embodiment of the sweet heroines she creates. Gracie realizes she’s stepped into a romance vipers’ den of backstabbing, deceit, and plagiarism, but she finds a friend and mentor in bestselling author Paisley Prentiss.

Hours later, when Gracie discovers Lovinia’s body in the hotel stairwell, a victim of an apparent fall, Gracie is not convinced her death was an accident. Too many other authors had reason to want Lovinia dead. Ignoring Blake’s advice to “let the police handle it,” Gracie, aided by Paisley, begins her own investigation into the death. Romance has never been so deadly.

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About the Author: USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name.

Find Lois at and

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