Gone By Midnight by Joyce and Jim Lavene

header for Gone by MidnightToday, I welcome Joyce and Jim Lavene to talk about their collection of mystery short stories, Gone by Midnight. Take it away, Jim!
Author photo for Gone by MidnightWhy do you write fiction?
I wrote for a local newspaper, that was a format that was “Just the facts.” I’m an avid reader of fiction of many genres. The idea of just writing non-fiction was kind of boring. I wanted to write something like my favorite authors: Carole Nelson Douglas and others like her.

Please tell us about your book. What ideas or images inspired this book?
This book is a collection of short stories that my wife Joyce and I wrote over the years. Most of them are in the fantasy genre. I guess the inspiration would be some of the fantasy books we read by various authors.

Do you have an ideal reader in mind when you write? If so, please describe that reader.
I think every author has an image of an ideal reader. It would be someone who loves to read all genres like we write and can’t wait to read the next one.

Please describe your writing routine.
First thing I do when I get up is review what I’ve written the day before, adding to it to stay focused for the day. Then I take the grandkids to school. I come back and make a latte then start writing again until lunch. After lunch I edit and do promo work. That pretty much sums it up.

What advice do you give new writers just starting out?
Write what you really care about and don’t let anyone tell you that it can’t be written like you want to do it. The next thing is persistence. Keep after your goal.

More about Gone by Midnight:

Fans of Joyce and Jim Lavene will thrill at this collection of thirteen short stories. Many are set in the worlds of their national bestselling mystery series, including the Missing Pieces Mysteries, the Renaissance Faire Mysteries, the Retired Witches Mysteries, and an upcoming mystery novel!
Cover art for Gone by MidnightThese stories contain the elements of mystery and fantasy the Lavenes are famous for, as well as some new things their readers have never seen. Several stories feature characters interacting with ghosts, magic, and the supernatural—the healing woman in “Courtship;” the Civil War widow in “One with the Darkness;” the city girl who summons a wizard from the past in “The Magician and the Sorceress/Accountant;” and the young introvert in “Aunt Edna” who finds her calling with help from a ghostly visitor.
Poignant, charming, and captivating, Joyce and Jim Lavene bring their characteristic wit and heart to these stories and introduce each one with a passage about its origin or how it ties into the universe they’ve created. Gone by Midnight is a treasury of tales that will delight the mind and touch the heart from one of the most prolific writing duos of our time.

Joyce and Jim Lavene write award-winning, bestselling mystery fiction as themselves, J.J. Cook, and Ellie Grant. They have written and published more than 70 novels for Harlequin, Berkley, Amazon, and Gallery Books along with hundreds of non-fiction articles for national and regional publications. They live in rural North Carolina with their family.

How to contact them:



Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/Gone-Midnight-Joyce-Lavene-ebook/dp/B019AJC1XU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1452110667&sr=8-1&keywords=GONE+BY+MIDNIGHT

What’s my legacy?

Last week, as I was leaving my day job after a particularly difficult shift, I shared an elevator with a fellow nurse. She asked me how my day went, and I told her it had been a rough one. I queried her in return, and she told me hers had been challenging too: one of her favorite patients died at the age of 48. I’ll be 48 on my next birthday.

Her simple words quickly reminded me of how lucky I am to have my health, a good-paying job and a clean, safe home where my small family waits for me.

I thought a lot about that elevator conversation, and it spurred me to think more about my legacy as a writer. Recently, I stumbled upon a website about Victoria Holt, a romance writer who died in 1993 and wrote more than 200 books. Her fans built the website as a tribute to her after her death. Can there be any higher praise?

As a writer, I spend a lot of time – dare I say waste? – looking for validation by either selling lots of books or collecting five-star reviews. But, really, is that what matters?

I write because I have stories I want to tell. I have characters whose voices I hear loud and clear, and if I don’t share their stories, then those characters wane and fade away. And I believe each of my books has one reader it’s meant for – either to entertain or to reassure that they are not alone in their struggle. I don’t write about popular girls; I never was one. I don’t write about wealth; I’ve never known it. I write about working-class heroines who struggle to make ends meet and build a home for themselves and those they love. Not a lot of glamour in that.

There are certain things I can control on this journey. I control the quality of my storytelling. As an indie author, I choose my cover art and hire an editor and proofreader. I choose the actors who record my audiobooks, and I schedule the date my books publish.

But there are certain things I cannot control. I’ve queried numerous agents and editors and received many no-thank-yous. I’ve submitted my books time and time again to the biggest promotion site available, and I hear no. I refuse to pay for reviews, so my books will never be featured in Publishers Weekly or RT Magazine. None of that matters.

What matters to me is this: I want to be known as a writer who helps other writers. I want to be known not for the bucket loads of books I sell but for the encouragement and boost-up I give to my fellow wordsmiths.

So, with that goal in mind, I signed up to host other writers on Great Escapes Book Tours. On Friday, I share a post by Janice Peacock, who writes A Glass Bead Mystery series. She talks about romance and her newest book, A Bead in the Hand. On Sunday, I host Joyce and Jim Lavene, a husband-and-wife team who wrote Gone by Midnight, a collection of short mystery stories. If my meager efforts help these authors sell a few books, that’s great. If those sales encourage them to keep writing, that’s even better.

I can’t think of a better legacy.

Hands and arms inside the cart: Welcome, Janice Peacock.


Welcome to Ogallala!

Picture for 10 15 15 blog post

This photo was taken in May of 1988 when I graduated from Northeast Missouri State University, now known as Truman State University. My first professional job out of college was as news editor for the Pleasant Hill Times. This year-long stint provided much of the inspiration for “Death Goes to the County Fair.”

Today, I join the ranks of mystery writers. My novel, “Death Goes to the County Fair” premiers.
When I put this book together, I had to include a disclaimer. Mine looks like this:
“This book is a work of fiction. All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation to anyone bearing the same name or names. Any resemblance to individuals known or unknown to the author are purely coincidental. The town of Ogallala, Missouri does not exist. It is a fictional location.”
Most of that is true; there is no Ogallala, Missouri. Ogallala is a town in Nebraska that my husband and I drove through in May of 2014. I just loved the name of the town.
The main character, Joni Harte, is a recent college graduate who accepts the job of photographer and reporter at the Ogallala Gazette. She is a figment of my imagination. Well, sort of.
Almost 30 years ago, I worked as a journalist. My first job out of college was for a weekly newspaper in Pleasant Hill, a small Missouri town south of Kansas City. I did all of the things Joni does – I covered city-council and schoolboard meetings. I took photos of toddler beauty-contest winners. I had two amazing co-workers – one named Nancy and the other Ed. And like Joni, I was late for a parade and threatened with the loss of my job. I struggled to learn the intricacies of small-town life.
As in my novel, many of the town residents reached out and welcomed me. The small convenience store next door started stocking my favorite beer: Lowenbrau. Do they even still sell Lowenbrau? A couple I wrote a feature article about invited me to be a judge at their BBQ contest. And like Joni, I lived next door to my landlords: Barry and Ann, who fed me dinner on more than one occasion. Barry used to call me a “greenhorn.”
Any murders happen while I was the news editor for the Pleasant Hill Times? Nope. Not a one. House fires? Yes. Two. Including one house fire in which the old woman who lived there did not escape. I still remember standing by the remains of the house, sick with the sadness of it. That’s likely what inspired the book’s prologue.
What about Sheriff Cletus Butane? He is, I admit, my favorite character in the book. I don’t remember the Pleasant Hill police chief’s name in 1988, but I do remember he was gracious and patient with me. I know. I know. We’re not supposed to like our police, but I do. I like to think Sheriff Butane is a mix of Andy Griffith and Marshall Matt Dillon.
There was a small restaurant across the street from the Times office. It wasn’t named the Wagon Wheel though. That’s actually the name of a small restaurant that my aunt owned in Linneus, Missouri. And yes, her pies were amazing. My fictional protagonist, Joni, loves the banana cream, but I loved my great aunt’s chocolate cream pie.
Like Joni, I made a few mistakes, including writing a feature article about a disabled woman and not getting her guardian’s permission to publish it until the day we went to press. I also misspelled a name or two. This is very frowned upon in the journalism world.
No, sadly enough I did not drive an AMC Gremlin. I drove a 1970-something Pontiac Grand Am until the day a man rear-ended me and totaled it. Then, I bought a very old and beat-up Chevrolet Impala from my landlord. Like Joni, I longed for a car made in the decade in which I lived.
This book is the first in a mystery series. I have lots of ideas for sequels, including titles like “Death Goes Spelunking,” “Death Goes Antiquing,” and “Death Goes to College.” Lots of ideas. Now to turn those ideas into books. Therein is the challenge.
What’s next for me? Completing the two sequels to Celebration House. The trilogy will publish in 2016.
Meanwhile, I wait to hear what readers think about Joni Hart and Sheriff Cletus Butane. It’s my strongest hope they will love these two characters and the others who live in my fictional town of Ogallala, Missouri.
Hands and arms inside the cart: Next, learning how to manage Celebration House.

The mystery of writing a good mystery

For the past few months, I’ve been toiling away on my first cozy mystery, Death Goes to the Ogallala County Fair.

mysterywritingI read the most popular cozy mysteries. I spent way more time than I should perusing websites, like http://www.cozy-mystery.com/. I took an online course in how to write a mystery novel with Steve Alcorn. I’ve been busy, sometimes so much that more often than not, I failed to make my daily quota of 1,000 words. And here it is, one week from the deadline when I’m supposed to send the completed manuscript to my editor, Les Dunseith, and the book is maybe 50 percent finished. This is not good.

So, what’s the problem? Well, I thought it was because I don’t enjoy killing off people, specifically my characters. But to be honest with you, all three men (and yes, they are all men) who die in my book aren’t nice people. The world is perhaps better off now that they are gone.

I thought maybe it’s because my main character, Joni Harte, isn’t as talkative as other characters I’ve written about. If you’ve read my novella, A Beautiful Day in Alaska, then you know Charlie Land. Well, Charlie is a chatterbox. He talked to me (and still does) a lot. Or if you read Bone Girl, then you know Josey Miller. I’m closer to Josey than my own children. That’s how often she and I converse.

The main character in my mystery, Joni, has a lot of insecurities (she’d hate me for telling you that) and a secret or two. Painful ones. At least to her. So, she’s been more reluctant to talk with me. But, we’re making progress. I know her deep, dark secret and discovered some important details about her, like that she drives a 1976 AMC Gremlin and has an older over-achiever sister named Monica who is super annoying.

I know what I don’t like in a mystery novel. I don’t like it when the author doesn’t give any clues, and then somehow, when the book is 85% done, oh, here’s the villain. It was him all along. Really? Wow. Okay. Who knew?

Or, also my least favorite, I don’t like it when at the end, the antagonist turns out to be crazy. He or she did all of these evil deeds because they were mentally ill. No other reason possible. I don’t like that. I feel like it’s a cheap way out. Like, the author says, “Oh, I’ve got to make my deadline, so the murderer is Professor Plum, in the library, with the candlestick, because he’s a paranoid schizophrenic.” Fail.

So that’s what I don’t like in a mystery. What do I like? I like it when the main character (and there should only be one) has fun, quirky friends. I like mysteries that take place in a small town. Maybe I should start there, working with the things I do like:

  • I want my book to take place in a small town where the reader would want to live.
  • I want my main character to have warm, funny, forgiving friends who I would want in my life.
  • The villain – and I know the identity of that person – is not crazy. She (oops!) has a specific purpose, and for her, the end always justifies the means.
  • I want to grab my reader. I want to hold onto them so tightly that putting my book down is an impossibility. I want to own my reader. (That kind of sounds weird, doesn’t it?)

Okay. Those are my goals. But there’s one other thing very different about writing a mystery than the other four books I’ve written: I have to keep secrets. And I stink at that. No, I do. I cannot keep a secret to save my life. I’m as obvious as the nose on your face. But if I give away my secrets, then I’ll lose my reader, right? Ugh! No wonder I’m not done yet.

Okay. Enough excuse making. I must write 1,000 words today. Now. And send an email to my editor, asking to push that deadline back two weeks.

Hands and arms inside the cart: Next: Baskethound Books proudly presents the first chapter of Death Goes to the Ogallala County Fair.