Friday, September 25, 2009

Shannon Wallace Is At It Again

I was looking through some old files at the station tonight when I came across the Shannon Wallace case. She's the friend of a friend who was accused of killing her ex a few months ago. The problem was, he was her boss and her lover before he dumped and fired her all in one day.

Can't blame her for getting drunk, but when he was found dead, she became the prime suspect.
She called me when she started feeling the heat. But what I supposed to do? We're five states apart--I couldn't help her if I wanted to. I suggest she turn herself in.
Haven't heard from her in a while so I figured she'd taken my advice. Then I found this--looks like she's still on the run.

Check it out then go here and give her a vote. Only two days left before the case goes to the jury. What do you say? Maybe with enough support from her friends, she'll get off on good behavior.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Turn My Back For A Minute ...

Just heard the news. Damn place won't be the same without you.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

"The Devil Can Wait" selected 2009 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) bronze medal finalist in the mystery/suspense/thriller category.
Available from Amazon, B&N, BAM, and numeroud other online bookstores.
ISBN: 978-1-905202-86-7
316 Pages
Autographed copies available through Stephens's website.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"The Devil Can Wait" IPPY Award Semifinalist

The Devil Can Wait, has been shortlisted in the highly competitive mystery/suspense/thriller genre for the 2009 IPPY awards.

The winners will be announce on May 29th on the first evening of the BookExpo America convention in NYC. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Joe Bright: The Black Garden

The suspect: Joe Bright

ISNB: 978-1905202980

The call came in five days ago about the incident at THE BLACK GARDEN. Word on the street was that a guy by the name of Joe Bright, had all the answers. I finally caught up with the suspect after spotting him entering The Smoke House on Lakeside drive. Too bad he couldn’t finish that prime rib, but getting the straight facts about this case was more pressing.

I shoved open the door to interrogation room three. Bright feigned a smile, but the eyes couldn’t mask the million questions that were running through his head—like he didn’t know I’d come after him. His feet were flat on the floor, palms down in front of him on top of the small metal table in the center of the otherwise barren room.

I took a seat across from Bright and studied him a second or two before asking:

“So, what gives, Joe? What’s your story?”

“My life has always revolved around the arts. When I was young, I used to draw constantly. I went to college on a fine arts scholarship and spent a few years on a dance team touring Canada and Europe. I also won a music showdown, playing the guitar and singing songs I’d written. Yet my biggest passion has always been writing. I wrote short stories while in high school and college, but never embarked on the daunting task of writing a novel until I’d graduated and moved to Hawaii.

I’ve been writing for fifteen years now and have written five novels. THE BLACK GARDEN is the first one to get picked up by a traditional publisher. Three of the others were published on audio cassette, but have since been discontinued. I also self-published two of them on my own, but have now discontinued those as well, since I’m rewriting them and plan to submit them to publishers once they’re finished.

Most of my stories fall within the gothic suspense category. THE BLACK GARDEN, however, is more of a drama/mystery. With its rural setting and dark theme, it still fits in the American Gothic genre, but without the supernatural elements that are often associated with the genre.”

“I see what you mean about the supernatural," I said, thinking about my own brush with the Devil. "But why this book? What drove you to do it?”

“One of the inspirations for THE BLACK GARDEN was a murder that took place in my hometown in Wyoming, when I was nineteen. I learned the details of the murder from my older brother’s best friend. He said the girl had been raped and strangled. She was eight-years-old.

A murder makes a large impact on a small town, mainly because it rarely happens there and because it tends to affect almost everyone. We know the victim. We know the killer. We know their families. When you come from a family of eight children, as I do, it increases the chances of there being a connection. In this case, the killer turned out to be my older brother’s best friend, the same one who had told us about the murder.

With the first suspect, I was willing to see the man hanged, even without seeing any of the evidence. When it turned out to be a friend of the family, I felt sick. I felt sorry for his family and for my brother. If he hadn’t confessed, I would have sworn they had the wrong guy. Why? Because I knew him and we often choose sides based on association rather than on the facts of the situation.

This murder is a very small part of THE BLACK GARDEN; however, the theme of judgment runs throughout the story. Who’s right, the Hatfields or McCoys? Depends if you’re a Hatfield or a McCoy.”

I knew exactly where he was coming from—that sick feeling when you find out those you care about most are not who you think they are. “That’s tough, but you can’t play it both ways. I mean, what did you think the people of this town would get out of your work?”

"I hope the novel gives readers a different perspective on events, and entertains them at the same time.”

I skimmed through my note, ran a finger down the page until I found what I needed. “What do you know about Mitchell Sanders?”

“Mitchell is the outsider. He moves to the small town of Winter Haven for a summer job. He doesn’t care about his employers or the community. He’s a coward who has run away from his problems in Boston and then finds himself entrenched in even bigger problems. He’s not comfortable speaking his mind while in the company of people he knows will disagree with him. Yet as the conflict mounts, he’s forced to take a stand and to grow as a person.”

“What aren’t you telling me? I have all your notes, something’s missing,” I said, leaning forward and waving a set of loose pages in his face. “Found them on your website,, certainly caught my attention. How about you give it to me straight? The whole story; the plot, the characters, the setting, everything!”

“Mitchell Sanders takes a summer job in Winter Haven, helping the O’Briens fix up their house. He moves into the studio at the back of the black garden, a bizarre assortment of items now overrun with weeds. Soon, Mitchell realizes there is something very peculiar about his employers and discovers that not all of their skeletons are in the closet where they belong.

The story revolves around three characters: Mitchell, George, and Candice. Mitchell Sanders, the main protagonist, starts out na├»ve and detached but gradually grows more and more intrigued by his quirky employers, mainly George. All of us know someone like George O’Brien, a crotchety old man who has nothing good to say about anything. Yet, within his orneriness, you can’t help but be entertained by him and ultimately care about him. George’s granddaughter, Candice has led a sheltered life. Mitchell’s arrival provides her first real glimpse into the outer world. I chose Vermont for the setting mainly because when I visited there I was taken by its beauty and felt it would make a great backdrop for the story. The town of Winter Haven is fictitious; however, I drew a lot on my hometown of Evanston, Wyoming, when describing the layout.”

“Where’d you dig up your facts?”

“Since THE BLACK GARDEN takes place in 1958, I had to do a lot of research about the era to make the setting authentic. I wanted to make sure the dialog didn’t contain slang or technical terms that didn’t exist at the time. I also needed to know how the police investigated a crime prior to the advent of DNA testing. Fortunately, one of my older brothers works in law enforcement, and I was able to pick his brain on procedures and protocol.”

“A cop, huh?” I was thinking maybe Bright wasn’t so bad after all. Still, I needed to satisfy that nagging voice that wouldn't stop tapping inside my head. “This case you stumbled onto. Any road blocks along the way?”

“The hardest part about writing is the blank page. I often say that writing is a lot like creating a sculpture out of clay. In the first draft, you are creating the clay. That’s the hard part. Molding it is the fun part. To help me through this process, I first write an outline, plotting out the story. Through this, I come up with my characters, establishing their backgrounds, their likes and dislikes, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Once I know my characters, it’s much easier to know how they will react in a given situation. Often I’ll just write anything that comes to mind, just to get the writing going and to fill up that daunting blank page. I also tend to keep other novels around so I can pick one up and read a little to get me in the right frame of mind.”

“So how does a guy who works full time find time write?"

“I’m a graphic designer during the day and a writer in the evenings. Thus, I’m at the computer all day long. The tragic part of that is that I have very little social life. I can be quite obsessive and have to force myself to take a break and go do something fun. In other words, I’m still trying to find that balance.”

“Who are you trying to kid?” Everyone does the juggling act. I thought to myself. I leaned back and waited to see if he flinched—he didn’t—damn it. “All right, Bright, what I want to know is how did burning the midnight oil affect you? Everyone has their breaking point. What’s yours? How did working on THE BLACK GARDEN impact you?"

“It’s such a great feeling of accomplishment to finish a novel. I also write songs, and I remember how proud I was when I wrote my first song, which took a few days. A novel, on the other hand, takes months or years. Thus, the feeling of pride is that much greater. The most rewarding part of it is having other people read and enjoy it. It’s a nice boost of confidence and encourages me to continue fine tuning my writing skills and to work on the next novel.”

“Something tells me you weren't working alone. Who talked you into it?”

“My parents and brothers and sisters have always encouraged me. It’s nice to have someone believe in you, even when you’re having trouble getting agents and publishers to read your work. I’m very fortunate to have such a supporting family.”

“This is premeditation plain and simple. So how’d you do it? Did you have a plan? Did you outline the chapters? Did you plan out the plot? What steps did you take before you wrote the first sentence?”

“The first novel I ever wrote, I took the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach. That is, I just delved in without really knowing where the story would take me. Many writers work that way and do a splendid job with it. Not me. I ended up doing a lot of editing that I could have avoided if I’d have thought things out better. Now I always outline. First, I write a brief synopsis of the story. Second, I figure out who my characters are. This often takes a month or more, because I really need to know who these people are so I can work with them. Third, I write an outline. My outlines include most of the dialogue and brief sketches of the action. Thus, they tend to be around a hundred pages long. Fourth, I start writing the novel. The novel never follows the outline completely, since I discover new things while writing and often encounter flaws that I’d overlooked before.”

No matter how hard I pushed, I couldn’t break this guy’s spirit. Worse, I couldn’t hold him another minute without cause. But my gut was sending me signals. This wasn’t the last I’d see of Joe Bright and you can bet I’m going to keep an eye on him. He wiped the sweat from his brow and asked if he was free to go. I said sure—for now, but couldn’t leave it alone. I just had to ask him that burning question: “What’s next?"

“I’m doing a rewrite of my first novel, The Reflection. It’s a gothic suspense about a man who inherits an estate in England from someone he doesn’t know, and then discovers that he looks like the man who killed his benefactor. This is one of the novels that I self-published earlier. I’ve learned a lot since then and feel this new version is vastly superior to the last. I still have a few more months’ worth of work to go on it.”

I wasn’t entirely sorry I asked. Silenced followed us as I walked him down the main hall. When he started out the front doors of city hall it hit me again and I yelled: “Hey Joe, any words of wisdom for the fledgling writer?”

He turned and shot me a Hollywood smiled. “Never stop learning. There’s always more to learn about the art of writing that can help you perfect your novel. Besides reading novels and analyzing the authors’ techniques, it’s good to read books about writing, even if just to refresh your memory. I highly recommend Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain, and The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. If I’d read these books years ago, I probably would have gotten published sooner.”

About the author:

Joe Bright was raised in Wyoming and received his BA in English from Utah State University. Bright began his career as a technical writer for Thiokol, the manufacturer of space shuttle rocket boosters. He later taught English in Honolulu, Hawaii and Berkeley, California. He currently lives in Studio City , California , and works as a graphic designer. Bright is published by BeWrite Books (UK).

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Silenced Cry

Review by Mayra Calvani in Book Reviews, Reviews

If you like mystery novels with rich plots that dig into the past, then you’ll enjoy Silenced Cry by Marta Stephens.

During a routine pick-up for questioning, Detective Sam Harper loses his partner and friend, Gillies. Harper is confused and distraught by the event, which happens under suspicious circumstances. Soon afterwards he’s called to solve a murder case like none he’s been involved before: the homicide of an infant. In a rundown building that’s about to be demolished, trapped behind a wall, they find the skeletal remains of an newborn baby. To make matters worse, the murder seems to have taken place not recently but over a decade ago, making the investigation a lot harder.

As Detective Harper begins to investigate, a line of suspects slowly emerges. The detective must moved back in time in order to uncover the terrible events which let to the infant’s demise. Soon he’s pulled into a vortex of drugs, corruption, rape and murder as other members of the police force become suspects. At the same time, someone wants the case close and the building demolished as soon as possible, someone who doesn’t want Harper opening the door to the past.

Who murdered the infant? Is the murder only a small part of a much larger set of crimes which have been kept secret all these years? Is Harper ready to face the truth and come to terms with the results of his own investigation?

Silenced Cry is deftly crafted and an impressive first novel. The pace moves steadily without being too quick nor too slow, allowing the reader to savor each stage of the investigation. The dialogue is sharp and natural and the prose focuses on the action without letting unnecessary details and description get in the way. The police procedurals read realistically, giving the impression that the author either knows well about the subject or did a fair amount of research. For me, this was not a thriller that read at a fast pace, but a ‘gourmet’ mystery that I enjoyed at every stage of the story. Sam Harper is a likable character, but I would say that this is a plot-driven novel more than a character-driven one. Our detective protagonist is sympathetic, but there were times when, for me, he got lost in the midst of the plot. I feel he would have stood out more given stronger, more sharply defined characteristics or quirks. This is an observation more than a criticism, as it didn’t lessen by desire to keep on reading. The secondary characters are quite realistic as well, especially some of the suspects–though I don’t dare say more for fear of giving away spoilers.

Marta Stephens is a mystery author to watch out for. I will be soon reviewing the second book in the series, The Devil Can Wait, and I have to say I’m very much looking forward to it. If you enjoy an intelligently crafted detective story, I recommend you give this one a try.

Monday, March 16, 2009

An Unlikely Alliance - Part II

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved
Read Part I

Part II

The instructions on Oliver Kurtz’s note underscored his demand for punctuality. I was to arrive at ten a.m. on the dot at his home in the twelve hundred block of east South Street. How could a man who knew every sordid detail of my life not be aware that I’d never bow down to an edict? I arrived promptly at twelve after the hour noting how disgustingly out of place my scratched ten-year-old Chevy looked parked in front of the house at 1215 South.

The marker displayed at the intersection four blocks back indicated I had entered a history neighborhood. Both sides of the road were flanked with large stately homes and well-manicured lawns. I expected to see a lavish home and an expensive car in Kurtz’s driveway to match the others along this street. Instead, his one-story ranch stood out like a brick in field of diamonds.

A second after ringing the bell, a man in his thirties sporting a golden tan and even features answered the door. I envisioned him waiting for me—one hand on the knob, an eye peering through the peephole. The image was as clear as seeing him rummage through my house. With a grunt and wave of the hand he motioned for me to enter. His black polo shirt did little to hide the bulge of muscles on his arms and upper chest, yet the emptiness in his gaze gave me a chill. I’d seen his type before, an animal who’d mindlessly comply with orders.

I followed him down the main hallway and into the den. There he instructed me to take a seat in one of two leather chairs in front of a less than impressive desk. I couldn’t help but notice the display of plaques and certificates adorning the wall to my immediate right. The room was more telling of the man I was about to meet than a twelve-page report. This man was neat and precise. He’d already displayed a keen wit, with knowledge comes power and the place oozed with it. He would expect perfection. I sensed as much. So the burning question on the tip of my tongue was, why me?

There wasn’t time to think of an answer before the tanned guy opened the door again. I assumed the man behind him was Oliver Kurtz. His appearance deceived the image I had conjured up in my mind. No, he wouldn’t have made me glance twice in a crowed room. Yet it was clear he had been there—in those crowded rooms, studying my style, memorizing my schedule, making me wonder now how long he’d been at it.

“Ms. Stone, you’re late,” he said, extending his hand. “Oliver Kurtz.”

“That much I figured.”

“Care for something to drink? Coffee, water?”

“No thanks.” I couldn’t help wonder why the muscleman had taken a seat in the overstuffed chair near the door. Clearly he was more than a pretty-faced butler. That assumption made me curious to know why Kurtz needed protecting. More to the point, from what or who?

Kurtz had thinning dark hair and seemed to be in relatively good shape for a man who looked to be nudging his mid-sixties. He had yet to smile or express any pleasure to meet me, but his eyes drew me in all the same; dark and intense, searching, questioning, yet non-threatening. At least that was my first assessment.

“You’re a former FBI,” I said, nodding at the plaque hanging on the wall behind his desk.



“Does it matter?”

“Not really.” I glanced back at the other man in the room unable to shake the image of him walking through my house. The thought of him slithering his meaty fingers through my panty drawer made me ill. And he had the insolence to place Kurtz’s package on my bed, the creep. I grinned in spite of the anger churning inside me. “The rose was a nice touch.”

The man’s granite-like expression made it clear he was unaffected by the intentional jab so I let it drop.

“I assume you’ve read through the case file?” Kurtz said.

“Yes, but it’s full of holes.”

“How so?”

“What’s your interest in Laura Wells?”


“For her?” I asked.

“Not hardly.” Kurtz lowered and raised his glance. “People have the misconception the FBI never misses their targets. Some cases will never be solved, others we simply couldn’t touch.”

“Why not?”

“Various reasons, sometimes politics, at other times ... well, let’s just say that exposing the guilty would cause more damage than the crime itself.”

“Which is it with Wells, politics or damage control?”

“The obstacle keeping us from investigating Laura Wells is no longer an issue.”

“An issue?”

“It’s not important.”

“It is if you expect me to take this case. I don’t play games, Mr. Kurtz—not with my work—not with my life. So what exactly do I need to know about her?”

Kurtz leaned back in his chair and drew in a breath. He paused for a moment then said:
“Her uncle, Paul H. Jutte, was a high-power criminal defense attorney in a community just north of Boston from the 1950s through the ’90s. On December 26, 1959, he was a brash 34 year-old full of spit and vinegar when he defended a small time hoodlum by the name of Robert O’Malley who had been charged with robbing $800 from a local bank. O’Malley served five of his ten-year sentence and was granted early parole for good behavior. Six months after his release, an armored car was hijacked. The driver was killed, but not before plugging one of the thieves with bullets from his service revolver.”


“No. Another man, Bill Fife. What’s important is that Fife and O’Malley met in prison, were released around the same time, and ...”

“Let me guess, both were represented by Jutte.”

“Smart girl,” he said. “We knew Fife impersonated a security guard by the phony company ID we found on his body. The driver was legit, but we have no idea if he was in on the heist or not.”

“Except for the fact he killed Fife.”

“Yes, but for all we know, it was a stray bullet. No way to know if he intended to kill Fife or not,” he said. “At any rate, the dispatch logs indicated the truck pulled out of the garage at nine in the morning and arrived at the First National Bank at ten-twenty-three. We have witness statements that confirm Fife and the driver went into the bank vault and removed bags containing $4 million in cash and more than $1 million in checks before leaving. When the truck didn’t return to the garage, the company reported it and the guards missing. The local police found the bodies of the two men and the empty truck on a side road three miles off highway 128.”

“What about the bullet taken from the driver’s body? Did it match Fife’s gun?”

“No,” he said.

“So there was a third person involved in the heist.”

“At least. Unfortunately, ballistics never found a match to the bullet and we never found the gun.”

“Then why finger Jutte and O’Malley?”

“Gut instinct,” he said. “Fife didn’t have the smarts to pull off something that big on his own. He was a loner, no family to speak of and the only two calls he ever made to the outside were to Jutte and O’Malley. Every ounce of evidence against the two was purely circumstantial. We lost the case, of course, but my instincts still tell me those two were neck-high involved in it.”

“And the five million?”

“Never recovered. The case is still on the books, but without witnesses or evidence, the case might as well be closed. No one at the agency has worked it for years.”

“So where’s Jutte now?”

“Dead--two years ago of natural causes.”

“Fascinating.” My thoughts of reward money, a front page spread, and a spot on Oprah were fading fast. “From the picture you placed in the file, Wells can’t be over 30.”

“Thirty-six. What’s your point?” he asked.

“She wasn’t alive when that robbery took place. So she’s related to Jutte, what’s she have to do with any of this?”

“After her uncle’s death, she took over his law firm in Chandler and with it she inherited his clientele.”

“Including Robert O’Malley.”

“Right again, Ms. Stone.”

“And you think she’ll talk? Wells is bound by client/attorney privileges.” I couldn’t believe he needed reminding.

“I doubt Wells is terribly concerned with ethics. She has a somewhat sorted past of her own. My interest at the moment, however, is to find out what she knows about robbery. Even though Jutte defended O’Malley at the trial, Jutte wouldn’t have placed any pertinent information about the robbery in O’Malley’s file. But trust me, his ego wouldn’t have allowed him to not keep some type of memento of his victory.”

“A souvenir.”

Kurtz didn’t respond. Instead, he frisked me with a piercing glance.

“I get it. Get close and see what she knows. Is that it?” I didn’t wait for an answer. “Wouldn’t it be more direct to shake down O’Malley?”

“No. He thinks he’s been out of the spotlight for years. If he knows we’re on to him, we might lose him for good. Besides, he’s old and my sources tell me he’s not in the best of health.” Kurtz reached for a notepad and pen and scribbled on it. “Here’s someone you may want to contact.”

“Sam Harper? Who’s he?”

“City homicide.”

“I work alone.”

“I know,” he said.

“Then what makes you think I need a cop?”

“Wells is defending one of his arrests right now. I understand there’s no love lost between them. Could work in our favor.”

“Maybe.” Never met a cop who like working with a PI. The feeling was entirely mutual so I couldn’t see getting close to this one. Kurtz had a point though. “Think he knows about Laura Wells’s past?”

“It’s hard to say. Get close enough and he might just confide in you. Surely you can be persuasive without tackling the man to the ground.”

“Very funny.”

“Go home. Pack a few bags. I expect you in Chandler by the end of the week.”

It was all I could do to keep the smirk off my lips. I opened the door then stopped and glanced over my shoulder. He looked too smug for words and I couldn’t resist getting the final word. “I travel light. Should be there by seven this evening. And just so you know, I don’t need any calls from you or visits from Mr. Goon over there to keep me focused.”

The End
Kind of ... look for more of this character and this scene in the next Sam Harper Crime Mystery novel.