Category Archives: Before They Were Authors

Before They Were Authors: P.A. De Voe

P.A. (Pam) De Voe is an anthropologist and Asian specialist who writes historical mysteries/crime stories immersed in the life and times of Ancient China. Her short stories, From Judge Lu’s Ming Dynasty Case Files, have been published in various anthologies and an ezine. In her historical, Chinese YA trilogy, Warned received a 2016 Silver Falchion award in the Best International category; Trapped is a 2017 Agatha Award nominee. 

Judy: What was the best job (besides being a writer) that you ever had, and how has it influenced your writing?

Pam: Hands-down the best job I’ve ever had was when I worked for the International Institute of Metropolitan St. Louis, which I believe is the largest refugee resettlement organization in the Midwest. As an applied anthropologist, my job was to work with the leaders and influentials of the various refugee communities. I developed a series of workshops to help them create and maintain their own ethnic organizations. I also co-developed a multi-ethic and intra-ethnic mediation training programs for not only the influentials, but also refugees coming from Somalia. From all of these survivors of war and chaos, who had so little economically, I learned the power of resilience and generosity, and the willingness to trust and be committed to a larger community. I try to bring some of that redemptive and positive energy to the characters in my stories—whether I’m writing contemporary mysteries or historical adventures and mysteries set in historical China.

Judy: What was the funniest thing that ever happened to you at work?

Pam: When I was an undergraduate, I worked on an archaeological dig in Illinois (Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site). One afternoon, I was kneeling at the bottom of a trench, painstakingly troweling dirt away in order to expose a dark stain in the soil. The temperature hovered around 100 wet, humid, degrees (Fahrenheit) and I had started to blend in with the surrounding dirt walls. As I scooped up layers of the fine dirt, I heard a woman call down, asking if anyone knew where a Pam De Voe was. I looked up from my ditch and saw my mother standing a few feet away. She’d come for a surprise visit, and I was so covered in dirt that she hadn’t recognize me.

Judy: Do you have any writing advice for aspiring authors?

Pam.: If you like to write: write. Write poetry, essays, short stories, plays, novellas, novels, anything and everything. Everything you write feeds into your journey as an author. Don’t get discouraged if agents, publishers, and readers aren’t flocking to your door. Keep working. Develop your own voice. Know your craft and be independent.



To get a free Judge Lu short story go to


Before They Were Authors: Diners, Shoe Sales & Desk Jobs by Catherine Dilts

Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, set in the Colorado mountains, while her short stories appear in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Catherine’s day job deals with environmental regulatory issues, and for fun she fishes, hikes, and runs. In her starry-eyed youth, she lived in the delusion that writers could earn a living and was spectacularly uninterested in pursuing a career, knowing that she would soon be rich and famous. She took the type of jobs Elaine Viets uses as a backdrop in her Dead End Job mystery series. Only sometimes not as glamorous!

Here’s Catherine’s story:

My attempt to wait tables in a deli had been an abysmal failure. I lacked the people skills and attention to detail required in the service industry. I received the telltale penny tip more than once.

So far, my stint in the shoe department of a retail store was heading for the same disaster. The manager chided me more than once for the horrifying rate of “shrinkage” during my shift. Perhaps I didn’t take the customer theft of cheaply made shoes seriously enough.

I would check on a customer, turn my back, and when I returned, there would be a ratty pair of shoes in the slot where a new pair of shoes had recently resided. Darn it, they got me again! Sadly, many times the abandoned shoes were child sized. What were these people teaching their kids?

I had a conversation with store security one evening. The rent-a-cop told me about a shoplifter he’d caught. The woman was on parole for, you guessed it, shoplifting. The paltry items included in the $18 haul that would send her to jail included flip flops. Seriously? She ruined her life for flip flops? The security guy assured me that shoplifters weren’t in it for the goods. They craved the thrill of their thievery.

My disgust with the human race had reached a new low. I was determined to help bust one of these miscreants. As this was a chain department store in a poor neighborhood, I soon had my chance.

The man was homeless. That was the obvious explanation for his ratty clothes and unwashed condition. I could smell him two aisles away. I crept near. He didn’t notice me. Probably not due to my policing skills, but rather to his inebriated state.

It was winter in Colorado. The smelly criminal selected a pair of work boots. I had to admire his choice. As if he had a job to wear them to. He loosened the laces, then slipped off his own decrepit excuse for footwear.

The man’s feet were disgusting. Filthy, covered with sores, and in bad need of a podiatrist’s attention to his scary toenails. He glanced about, then pulled the boots on. He hastily tied the laces and headed out of the shoe department, inexplicably taking his disintegrating shoes with him.

I debated calling security. Dropping the proverbial dime on the thief. Then I thought of him facing the cold winter day in his rotting shoes. He had selected work boots. Maybe he planned to sober up and get in line for day labor shoveling snow.

I turned away, knowing he would escape with the boots scot free. I would like to say I made a quasi-moral decision, but the reality was, if they caught him, I would have to handle the boots those icky feet had occupied.

My career in shoe sales ended after that episode. I decided to return to college after a long absence. The degree eventually led to my current career – a desk job in EHS – Environment, Health, and Safety. I monitor product compliance to a plethora of environmental regulations.

Both jobs have influenced my writing. My stint in dead end jobs gave me a keen awareness of the struggles of the minimum wage worker. Environmental compliance opened a world of ideas for stories involving hazardous materials. A recently finished and as yet unpublished story combines both, as a homeless man inadvertently reveals the location of a hidden chemical dump.

Now that I am published, in novel and short story forms, I am keenly aware of the income level of authors who don’t hit the NYT bestsellers list. I’m still hopeful, but I’m not quitting the day job until my writing income equals my salary. Or until I retire. Whichever comes first.

Gotta go. Time to save the planet for another eight hours.

You can learn more about Catherine and her books at

Catherine’s latest mystery, Stone Cold Blooded – A Rock Shop Mystery, published by Encircle Publications LLC, is available in paperback, and in e-book for Kindle and Nook

Before They Were Authors: Geoffrey Wells on Writing & The Analysis of Change

A South African farm left Geoffrey Wells with a writer’s imagination. Piano and drum kits and Mozambique led to his first thriller. Advertising art direction led to the American Film Institute, and Information Technology to vice president for two US broadcasting networks. Wells has written an award-winning animated film, visited elephant reserves, and climbed Kilimanjaro. He swims the open water and runs a video and design company on Long Island.

Here’s Geoffrey’s story:

The job I had before publishing my first thriller was Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO)—though I had no intension of going down the IT (information technology) road. I was aiming to work in the movie business, after a career as Art Director in Advertising, which tempted me with filmmaking. After graduating from The American Film Institute (while working the graveyard shift at a Beverly Hills hotel, where I provided room service for famous and infamous actors and rock stars), I did work in Hollywood: I shoveled shit under freeways, plastered ceilings, scouted locations, produced small movies, and worked as a director’s assistant as a “reader” evaluating screenplays submitted by his agent. Not what I thought it would be.

A temp research job at Disney in television syndication had some promise. However, they hired me for admin and technical duties—making sure executives got their show ratings, 9 a.m. Monday to Friday. The blossoming job was making sure that the disparate data sources used in the systems were “normalized” for data integrity. It was a problem, and I set about solving it. To make my case I studied structured system analysis—an approach to identifying only the “true” and essential activities required for a system. The literary equivalent is developmental editing, but I didn’t know that then. This attention to integrity endures in my writing.

This knowledge landed me a permanent position and catapulted me to manager, then director in charge of application development and then Vice President of IT. The years slid by. The pattern that emerged was that my steadily-improving methodology led to disruptive projects. I felt justified in modeling a system’s essence. I still do, in the stories I write. I found obsolete remnants that had been in place for years. In some cases decades. Management got on board seeing the value over the long-term and started calling me “the velvet fist.”

Stakeholders did not. They called me other names, like the anti-Christ. Yes, that happened! It hurt, and my white South African liberal skin grew thicker still—but the job paid well. After all, it wasn’t a popularity contest. End users of systems fought me, which is why I can kill my literary babies, torture my characters and edit ruthlessly. I don’t mind when readers say they don’t like a protagonist’s choices. For me the truth of the story must always prevail.

The hardest part of change wasn’t technology, it was the people who operated it. My success in persuading them to accept change lay in asking them to imagine a way of working that not only befitted them, but also the business. I under-promised and over-delivered hope to everyone from the end-user to the CEO. You’ll find that value proposition of hope in my writing. My projects grew in budget and in ambition. I had become a Chief Information Officer (CIO) for a major broadcasting company.

And then, new technologies started to change too quickly for me to implement them. By the time a system was replaced, there was a better technology waiting to be implemented. What Thomas Friedman calls, “the age of accelerations” in his book, Thank You for Being Late, had begun. Suddenly I knew what I did, could not keep up.

I wanted to be back in control. I started to write—mornings at 4 a.m. A short story turned into a novel. By habit, I applied systems analysis to my story and it became tight, acquired pace and turned into a thriller.

The writing (pun intended) was on the wall. Corporate IT departments, and broadcasting itself was—and still is—being swallowed by Internet services in the Cloud. It was time for me to make a change. I published that first novel independently because I did not want to trade one hamster wheel for another. A year later I left the corporate world.

My wife and I, two dogs and cat moved to the North Fork of Long Island where I write, and we run a video and graphics studio. And the change management disciplines I learned get applied to time management, careful plotting and the elimination of the non-essential remnants—of a different story.


Find out more about Geoffrey and his books on his website.



Before They Were Authors: Jennifer Alderson

Jennifer S. Alderson

Jennifer S. Alderson worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After years of traveling the world, she now calls Amsterdam home. She’s the author of two novels, a travel fiction thriller set in Nepal and Thailand, Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking, and a suspenseful whodunit set in Amsterdam, The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery. Here’s more about Jennifer, in her own words:

I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge and I love learning new things. As a result, my career path has taken many twists and turns along the way. Before my novels were published, I worked as a journalist and editor for regional newspapers, then as a multimedia developer for large corporations, before finally transitioning into my latest role as collection researcher and project assistant for museums. All of the jobs and experiences I’ve had have influenced my writing by inspiring and informing storylines, plot twists, and characters.

The University Library (UBA) is the largest library at the University of Amsterdam.

When burnout forced me to rethink my career in the ICT sector, I moved from Seattle, Washington to the Netherlands to study European art history at the University of Amsterdam for a year. At the time, art history seemed like the perfect antithesis to sitting behind a desk pushing pixels all day long. I’d minored in the subject while majoring in journalism and figured doing something completely different would help me find my path in life again.

Those first few months of classes were a revelation. I loved the subject matter, lectures, and numerous field trips so much that I ended up staying longer and earning a Master’s degree in Museum Studies. Unfortunately the world-wide economy crashed in 2008 – the year I graduated – and my dream of becoming a senior curator at the Van Gogh Museum was never realized. However, I was lucky enough to work for several museums in Amsterdam before subsidy cuts for cultural institutions translated into massive layoffs.

Museum Willet-Holthuysen on the Herengracht canal in Amsterdam

One of my favorite assignments was creating an exhibition plan for Museum Willet-Holthuysen in Amsterdam, a well-maintained canal house bequeathed to the city in 1895 by its’ last occupants on the condition it become a museum bearing their names. It’s still filled with the former owners’ impressive furnishings and extensive collection of sculptures, paintings and decorative arts. Technically my title was collection researcher and my goal was to find connections between the many tomes on ceramic in Abraham Willet’s extensive library and his collection of European ceramic objects. To what extent did he follow the advice and trends mentioned or discussed in his books, the majority of which he purchased himself; exhibition catalogues, contemporary art theory and other guides containing the latest trends and tips for collectors. My research into his collections, as well as my observations of the dynamics inherent to a museum’s exhibition project team, inspired several of the characters and scenes in my second book, The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery

My work as a collection researcher for an exhibition of Bispoles at Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum directly inspired my current work-in-progress, the third book in the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series. During my search through photographs and film fragments of Asmat tribes, missionaries and anthropologists working in Papua New Guinea during the 1950s and 1960s, I discovered that a well-known Dutch missionary – Reverend Gerald Zegwaard – was one of the last people to see Michael Rockefeller alive. During their meeting they’d made an appointment to meet up after Rockefeller returned from an acquisition trip upriver. The young American disappeared days later, resulting in one of the most famous unsolved mysteries of our time. That little detail about his un-kept appointment with Reverend Zegwaard stuck with me and eventually inspired me to write my next art mystery, about missionaries, anthropologists and Bispoles. If all goes well, it will be released in the summer of 2017.

Find out more about Jennifer and her books at





Before They Were Authors: Dawn Barclay

I was introduced to Dawn Barclay through  Mystery Thriller Week, an initiative to support authors by promoting their books.

Dawn’s debut novel, written under the pseudonym of D.M. Barr, is Expired Listings. Before we find out what Dawn did before becoming an author, here’s a bit about her book:

Someone is ‘deactivating’ the Realtors in Rock Canyon and almost no one seems to care. Not the surviving brokers, who consider the serial killings a competitive boon. Not the town’s residents, who see the murders as a public service. In fact, the only person who’s even somewhat alarmed is Dana Black, a kinky, sharp-witted yet emotionally skittish Realtor who has no alibi for the crimes because during each, she was using her empty listings for games like Bondage Bingo with her sadistic lover, Dare. And yet, mysteriously, all clues are pointing her way.

Judy: What was the best job (besides being a writer) that you ever had, and how has it influenced your writing?

Dawn: All of my previous jobs involved communications and sales & marketing which is probably why I enjoy promoting my book as much as writing it. I loved working as a reporter and editor at Travel Agent Magazine because I was around erudite people, but since that involved writing, I’ll skip that. I loved working in Sales, Marketing and Public Relations for Barclay International Group (short-term apartments and villas around the world) because I grew the company from nothing to a major player during its time, and I also got to host press trips with amazing people who went on to write articles about the company in Vogue, Good Housekeeping, Diversion, etc.

Judy: What was the funniest thing that ever happened to you at work?

Dawn: The one time I let down my hair on a press trip (I was working as a travel writer), I stayed out late and drank and had a great time. When the reporter from a major NY paper filed *his* story, I discovered he had alluded to my entire night of semi-debauchery for all the world to read.

Judy: What made you decide to become a writer?

Dawn: I LOVE being read. It’s probably why I spent years writing for magazines at minimum wage. I remember back in the fifth grade, I had read Harriet the Spy (one of my favorite books!) and everyone was writing slam books where we wrote down what we really felt about other people. Someone stole mine and I grabbed it back and ripped it up…and then helped them piece it back together so they could read what I had written!

Judy: Tell us a bit about yourself and where we can find out more about you.

Dawn: My background includes stints in corporate communications, marketing, travel journalism, meeting planning, public relations and real estate. I was, for a long and happy time, an award-winning magazine writer and editor. Then kids happened. Now they’re off doing whatever it is they do (who knows, they won’t friend me on Facebook) and I can spend my spare time weaving tales of debauchery and whatever else tickles my fancy. My first novel, Expired Listings, can be found at

Before They Were Authors: Tracy L. Ward

Portrait of young beautiful medieval woman in red dress

I first met Tracy L. Ward at Bloody Words Toronto in 2012. At the time, we were both aspiring authors. Fast forward to Bloody Words Toronto 2014, and Tracy had not only followed her dream,  her Peter Ainsley historical mystery series was selling, and selling well. Here’s a bit more about Tracy before she became an author (and I had no idea that Tracy had such an interesting history):


Shortly after my husband and I got married he enlisted in the Canadian Air Force. Within a year of his swearing in we were on the road, destined for military life and the frequent moves that accompanied it. As a recently graduated journalist this did not bode well for me. So much of the reporter’s job meant getting to know the community and the people in it. My employment prospects looked bleak. To my surprise I landed a position at small museum in an old, converted train station in the beautiful town of Collingwood, once a hub of activity where trains and laker ships met to transport goods to all the ports of the Great Lakes and beyond.

As a historical research assistant, I was charged with the wonderful task of creating a new archive, so the town and museum could centralize information regarding the new Historic District. It was my job to scour the archives at the museum, the local library, the county archives and even some provincial ones in Toronto, to find any information available regarding the over 150 properties within the designated district. I interviewed home owners, some who had lived in their homes for decades. I took pictures of historical aspects of buildings that remained such as coal shoots and root cellar doors. I walked every inch of the district over the course of that summer and relished every single second of it.

small-prayers-coverArchive retrieval can be monotonous. I would often spend days in front of the microfiche and only find a handful of helpful articles or pictures. The work is solitary, sedentary and quiet, but oh the little historical gems you will find!

I couldn’t help but smile every time I walked through the museum doors. When I donned the white gloves required to sort through old photographs and other artifacts I felt like my heart would explode. Lunch was often eaten sitting on the decommissioned train platform with my legs dangling over the edge to the tracks below. I never realized how much I loved history until I took that job. While working there I wrote a number of short stories, my first historicals, which were often inspired by photographs I had seen during my day job.

It was this job at the museum that inspired me to visit each and every historical museum and pioneer village within a few hours driving radius of my house. I was still a few years away from attempting my first historical novel but this job placed a spark in me that I didn’t realize was there. While trying my hand at contemporary novels, a few romances and some mysteries, I read non-fiction books about the early days of Canada, the wives of Henry Tudor and the lives of Victorian servants. I never imagined siting down to write a historical novel, not until an idea sparked inside me about a doctor called in to help solve a suspected poisoning.

The position was only available for the summer. By the time September rolled around I was switching gears and settling into a new position as a volunteer coordinator at a small charity. The commute was shorter, the pay better and there was never a shortage of people to converse with. Even though I only worked at the museum for four months I see it as the one job that inspired my writing the most. I don’t think I would have had the courage to write a historical if it weren’t for the summer I spent sorting through piles of old photographs and bent over dusty storage room boxes.

author-headshotAbout the author: A former journalist and graduate from Humber College’s School for Writers, Tracy L. Ward has been hard at work developing her favourite protagonist, Peter Ainsley, and chronicling his adventures as a morgue surgeon in Victorian England. The most recent book in the series, PRAYERS FOR THE DYING, was published in May 2016. She is currently working on the sixth book in the Marshall House Mystery series. To find out more about Tracy’s books follow her on Facebook or visit her website







Before They Were Authors: Laurel S. Peterson

shadow-notes-cover-compressedIt’s my pleasure to introduce Laurel S. Peterson to Before They Were Authors. A fellow Barking Rain Press author, Laurel’s debut mystery novel, Shadow Notes, was released in May 2016. In addition to being a mystery author, Laurel is also an English professor at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. Her poetry has been published in many literary journals and she has two poetry chapbooks. She is currently serving as the town of Norwalk, Connecticut’s poet laureate. Let’s find out a bit more about her, shall we?

Judy: What was the best job (besides being a writer) that you ever had, and how has it influenced your writing?

Laurel: The best job I’ve had is being a college professor. I love seeing students master a concept or skill. I like seeing them complete a course they didn’t think they’d make it through. I love classroom debate and laughter, and watching minds probe, toy with, wrestle with ideas. I like reading student papers when the student has invested him/herself in the process or has something fresh or unusual to say.

As far as influencing my writing, the job’s biggest gift is time. I have summers off, a month at Christmas, and a week in the spring. I can also get a fair amount of writing done at the beginning of the semesters as I don’t have a lot of grading yet. It also puts me in an environment with others who love language and ideas. However, there was one draft of a novel way back when that killed off a college president, although not the president at the college where I teach now (and no, it’s true, not just politic!). There are a few people I wouldn’t mind killing off. I imagine I’m on some of their kill lists, too, which is only fair.

Judy: Have you quit your day job?

Laurel: I wish. (Surprising after all that praise above, but I grade an average of 600 papers/1400 pages each semester.) And given that I’m supposed to be promoting a book and acting as my town’s poet laureate and writing a new book in addition to teaching, giving up any one of them would be a step in the right direction. It’s just that they are a) fun to do or b) paying for my groceries.

Judy: What made you decide to become a writer?

Laurel: I wouldn’t say there was much deciding involved. When I was in junior high school, I started keeping a journal. I was being bullied by the kids, while the teachers treated me as an advanced student. The journal allowed me to process that dichotomy. It was just mine, safe from judgment. One day, the bus trip home was particularly harrowing. I wrote a story that afternoon in which something violently awful happened to the bully. I don’t remember what, but it was very satisfying to write! By mistake, I left the journal on the breakfast room table, where my parents read it. Instead of asking about the bullying, they told me they were dismayed I was thinking this way, and that I should never write anything like that again. I don’t respond well to ultimatums.

Judy: Do you have any writing advice for aspiring authors?

Laurel: Don’t let anyone tell you what you should do. Write what you’re curious about. Find someone who knows what they are doing, and get that person to help you write even better than you do now. Pay attention to every word. Allow the reader to revel in your sensory dream.

Judy: Thank you, Laurel, for sharing your story.

Find Laurel on her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

cr7c3tdw8aizgdo-jpg-largeFind Shadow Notes at all the usual suspects. Even better, for the month of September, Barking Rain Press is having a 50% off anniversary sale! Click on the postcard to find out more.


Before They Were Authors: Sara Jayne Townsend

Suffer The Children 200X300I’m excited  to introduce a new series, “Before They Were Authors.” My first guest is Sara Jayne Townsend, a UK-based writer of crime and horror fiction, and author of the Shara Summers amateur sleuth series (DEATH SCENE and DEAD COOL available now; book 3 will be released in 2017). Her latest release is the supernatural horror novel SUFFER THE CHILDREN, from MuseItUp PublishingDeath Scene 200x300







Judy: What was the worst job you ever had, and how has it influenced your writing?

Sara: I once spent three years working as Office Manager for a very small company owned by a man who was a complete bully. He was also the youngest child in a rather large family and I think was too used to getting his own way. He used to yell at people all the time, including me, if things didn’t go the way he wanted them to. I used to yell back and then go storming back to my desk, which in retrospect wasn’t the best way to handle things – especially since most of the time it was just the two of us in the office. I stayed in that job far longer than I should have done, because I didn’t want to leave until I had another job lined up, but my confidence took such a beating working there it took me a while to find something else. After I left the company I got my revenge, though. I turned that bullying boss into a character in the next novel, and I made a point of killing him off. It was most cathartic.

 Judy: What made you decide to become a writer?

Sara: I didn’t so much decide, it was decided for me. I was writing stories from being quite young – pretty much from the time I learned how to write, and it was the only thing, from childhood, that I was any good at. I was hopeless at sports, I struggled with maths, but writing stories – that I seemed to be able to do, with ease. I was ten years old when I decided that the only thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a published novelist. To me it seemed like destiny, rather than a conscious choice. It took me thirty years to achieve it, mind.

Judy: Do you have any writing advice for aspiring authors?

As per the above, don’t give up. The path to success is paved with a hell of a lot of rejections. And keep on writing. No one is born a best-selling novelist. Like any craft, the only way to get better at writing is to keep on doing it.

I would also add to this, don’t be in a hurry to give up the day job if you want to be able to afford to eat. Contrary to popular myth, most writers are not raking in the money, and quite a lot of us find it necessary to work around the day job if we want to be able to pay the mortgage.

sara-113-Web (2)Find Sara and her other books on Amazon (US) and UK. Find her website at and her blog at