Writer's Notes

A Chat with Author George Cramer

By George Cramer

The Mona Lisa Sisters is a tender journey into the making of a family. The novel is full of careful historical detail and the pleasure of European trains and cities and plenty of mystery to keep the pages turning, but the greatest delight is Lura Grisham herself.

– Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty

An enrolled descendant of the Karuk Tribe of California, George Cramer, brings forty years’ investigative experience to crime and historical fiction. He holds an MFA-Creative Writing Program from the Institute of American Indian Arts.

George conducted and managed thousands of successful investigations throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia. He kept his investigative skills honed by volunteering as a Missing Person’s investigator at the San Leandro, California Police Department.

In addition to the Public Safety Writers Association, George is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the California Writers Club. He is a contributing author to several anthologies and the Veteran’s Writing Project. Other than writing, his love is long-distance motorcycle riding his 2001 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic.

George’s debut novel, The Mona Lisa Sisters, was published in 2020.

When and how did you begin your writing journey? Before my sixty-eighth birthday, I was laid off from a fantastic job when H-P bought out Palm, Inc., beginning a journey through the world of age discrimination. One day, I saw a note about a writing class at the Dublin Senior Center—whose doors I swore never to cross. I took the class and fell in love with writing. Overcoming forty-five years of report writing was difficult. One day, the instructor randomly passed out photos to the class. “Take fifteen minutes and describe the scene.” I did not do as instructed. The second I saw the image of two young girls staring up at the Mona Lisa, I knew I was going to write a novel. In fifteen minutes, I had a rough sketch of what began an eight-year ride to The Mona Lisa Sisters.

I knew I needed help and formal training. For help, I joined the Tri-Valley Branch of the California Writers Club, followed by the Public Safety Writers Association. I went to the local community college for formal training, Las Positas, and pursued an English degree. I followed by the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for an MFA.

Writing at sea

IAIA introduced me to a group of superlative authors and mentors. My cohort mentors were Ramona Ausubel, Ismet (Izzy) Prcic, and Marie-Helene Bertino. These fantastic people guided my writing throughout the program and remain in my life.

Thonie asked about projects and what book I’m reading. That’s tough. For pure enjoyment, I just reread Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley. Two book clubs selected The Mona Lisa Sisters, so I’m reading eleven of the other books selected for the year. I’m reading a half-dozen other novels for a project I’m excited about.

When I began work on Mona Lisa, I set aside a thriller/police procedural spread over forty years, 1930 to mid-1970. I hope to have it published by the end of 2021. I’m also working my way through a crime trilogy. I never knew retirement would be so hectic.

The Mona Lisa Sisters is available through Amazon and the IAIA Book Store. You can reach me at and visit my blog at If you stop by, please leave a comment and follow.

Mystery Readers Only

Great News!

FELONY MURDER RULE, Thonie’s latest offering in the Nick and Meredith Mysteries series has won first place in the Public Safety Writers Association 2020 Writing Competition for fiction book, unpublished. Look at the esteemed company I’m in!

Aakenbaaken & Kent will have this book out in the coming months. Check back here or subscribe to get the most current release information.

Writer's Notes

August Writer’s Notes: Mentors

WMA plus award
My certificate for With Malice Aforethought as the winner of the Public Safety Writers Association Writing Competition July 15, 2018 in Las Vegas.

By Thonie Hevron

I wonder how I would’ve ever gotten where I am today without mentors. This includes the mom down the street who took me under her wing when my mother struggled with her own demons. Early in my career, there was a motor officer who introduced me to the concept, “badge-heavy” and changed my adversarial attitude with the public while I issued tickets–I didn’t have to be a jerk. Later, Fred, a patrolman, was another crucial association. He invited me to testify to the county grand jury as part of an investigation of our police administration. Standing up for the integrity of the job was a beautiful burden. These people were life-mentors who taught me valuable lessons that extend through my life today.

But let’s talk about mentors for writers.

Pat Tyler
Pat Tyler

In most other industries, colleagues could look upon newbies as competition. While I’ve found that writing teachers aren’t necessarily mentors, I can say I have never seen professional acrimony toward another. My first true writing mentor, Pat Tyler, during her Jumpstart Writing class, encouraged me with provocative prompts. She provided a safe, non-judgmental place to read and hone my stories. Then, she pointed me toward Redwood Writers (a branch of California Writers Club), where I found much more to learn. The motto of the club is “writers helping writers.” It did!

Marilyn Meredith

My second mentor is Marilyn Meredith. She’s a board member of the Public Safety Writers Association who I met in 2014 at the club’s annual conference. Marilyn is an experienced author who helped me navigate small press publishing and writing ethics. She’s a prolific author of over 40 books who gets up in the middle of the night (4 AM) to accomplish her myriad goals. Even with huge family demands, she writes and promotes almost every day. A lady in the most refined sense, she’s also a model of Christianity—not the clichéd version—the true-blue follower of Christ. She’s unpretentious, accepts people the way they are and believes in sharing her gifts—as she has with me. I’ll bet she never even considered herself a mentor. But she is. She continually inspires me to be better.

Speaking of not considering yourself a mentor, I want to talk about being a mentor. Why?

  • It could change someone’s life—really. Think about words of encouragement you heard that motivated you. Be that person.
  • It will take you out of your own world—we create them in our heads, don’t we? Telling another person about your process attaches words to abstract thoughts. Sharing can enlarge thoughts, if you listen. For both of you.
  • You’ll be building a writers’ community based on the positive aspects we’re talking about here.
  • The life you change may be your own. Sometimes, verbalizing the process gives us a clearer picture. Sharing and giving aren’t unique to humans but we’ve refined it through evolution. Let’s keep working on it.

On August 10th, Deborah Shlian shares her thought on being both a mentor and mentee. Cathy Perkins appears on August 17th, Barbara Bent on the 24th and Edith Maxwell winds up the month with “Paying it Forward” on August 31st.

Be sure to join us on Writer’s Notes, Just the Facts, Ma’am every Friday. Sundays, read the exploits of the men and women behind the badge on the main blog.

Writer's Notes

Breaking My Own Rule

A review of Shot to Pieces: A Novel by Michael O’Keefe

Review by Thonie Hevron

Shot to Pieces coverBlurb: SHOT TO PIECES is the story of NYPD 1st Grade Detective Padraig Joseph Durr. Durr is tasked with solving a particularly grisly gang related homicide in Brooklyn. When Paddy catches the squeal, he is also on the verge of an emotional and psychological breakdown. Because of his penchant for self-destruction, fueled by a childhood of abuse and sexual exploitation, coupled with an ingrained sense of worthlessness and abandonment, Durr has brought his entire life to the brink of ruin. Can he hold it together long enough to solve this murder? Can he fix himself enough to be re-united with the one true love of his life and his family? Or will he implode, irrevocably destroying his career, his family and himself?
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by fellow Public Safety Writers Association author Michael O’Keefe. He asked me to read and review his debut novel, Shot to Pieces: A Novel. I told him that I would happily read it as it is a genre in which I write—police procedural, but I don’t do book reviews on my blog. I don’t have an MFA, nor any formal education in literature. I felt unqualified to make a comprehensive review. I am religious about leaving reviews on Amazon, however, and that is what I told him I’d do. We exchanged books the next day. He read mine and posted a very nice 5-star review on Amazon. Read it here.

I, however, was bogged down enough that I couldn’t finish his book until today. I began Shot to Pieces with the expectation of reading a depressing police procedural. Check out the blurb above to see why. But I’d committed to read the book, so I read on.
And boy, am I glad I did! This was one exciting, wild ride with a lot of heart. I’m a west coast law enforcement veteran, so some of the situations hero Paddy Durr gets himself into seem foreign to me. But here’s the deal: they are believable. I can see these things happening during an active career. As can be expected, NYPD differs from small town agencies I worked for. But the personalities of the other detectives, brass, and mutts are collages of many personalities I know!

And the hero, Paddy Durr, has many traits—both desirable and unfortunate—that make him a realistic and exciting protagonist. He’s prone to trouble—you already know that. But his observations on the job are stunning, particularly one in Chapter 27 where his fiancé asks why all the cops in the area come to see him while he’s being treated in the ER. I’ll start the paragraph for you, but you’ll have to read it for the full effect. “Active cops are a different breed. We’re the gunfighters, the alpha dogs of the police department. We’re not special, just different. … So, this pilgrimage is as much away to say I’m glad we’re not meeting at your funeral as it is to say thank you for reminding me to get my head out of my ass. An event like this forces everybody to get back on their A-game.”

M O Keefe
Author Michael O’Keefe


Every page is laced with an unusual combination of intelligence, testosterone, and heart. It’s gritty, it’s real, and moved me to tears a few times. Make no mistake: Paddy’s story is basically a love story—his love for the job and all it stands for as well as his love for his wife and family. However, if you’re a romance reader, take a pass on this book.


But if you enjoy police procedurals like Michael Connelly and Joseph Wambaugh, this is right up your alley. I may not have the ed creds to analyze Shot to Pieces (aside from a little head-hopping now and then) but I know what I like.

So, it’s my blog and I can break my own rules: I highly recommend Shot to Pieces: A Novell!

Writer's Notes

Writers’ Contests Count

By Thonie Hevron

PSWA-stickerEntering contests are a no-brainer for me. I can directly attribute my entry into the realm of traditional publishing (albeit a small press) to winning a contest. I’ll bet many authors could say the same.

In 2012, I entered my unpublished manuscript, working title Probable Cause, in the Public Safety Writers Contest (PSWA). I won third place in my category-unpublished novel. Now re-named, By Force or Fear, I soon self-published it on Smashwords as an eBook, in the hopes of getting enough money together to do a print version. Meanwhile, I worked on mapping out the second book of the Nick and Meredith Mysteries (I’m a compulsive plotter).

After months of writing, querying, submitting and all-around frustration, I entered my novel, in a contest at Oak Tree Publishing (OTP). Oak Tree had recently published an anthology for the PSWA, so I thought it would be worth a chance. I was stunned when I won. First prize was publication of the winning book. I’d entered my second Nick and Meredith Mystery, Intent to Hold. It had just won second place in unpublished novel category the PSWA’s 2014 Writers’ Contest. After a polishing up, my new publisher agreed to publish the first novel, now renamed By Force or Fear.

aklogo-web_origAs events progressed, both novels with Oak Tree Press went to press with the third, With Malice Aforethought, in contract. Sadly, Oak Tree’s production has fallen into limbo with the ongoing health issues of its publisher, Billie Johnson. Johnson offered many OTP authors their rights, so I took mine. The short version of this story is I now have another publisher, Aakenbaaken & Kent, with whom I’m very pleased. I’m currently working on another Nick and Meredith Mystery, working title, Felon with a Firearm. I’m hustling to get it finished for the next PSWA writing contest that opens in May.

East Texas Writers Guild Book Award 3rd place 2015I’m also looking into other places to submit my work for competition. In 2015, the East Texas Writers Guild awarded Malice third place in “Best First Chapter” category. There are many more contests in which to submit your work. Start with a Google search: I use “mystery contests.” It helps to search within your genre.

Contests count. They give the author credibility. Winning a contest means someone other than your mother likes your work. Agents and publishers look at winners differently. It’s a terrific marketing tactic to use, “Winner of the Agatha Award” on the book cover. But for me, it’s a wonderful confidence booster to win a writing contest. Winning motivates me to work harder for the next entry. It also helps me to set goals. Having a first draft by May 1st, the usual deadline for PSWA’s contest, is a typical goal. I’ll make Felon the fourth try to come in better than Malice’s second place in 2016.

This month, Romance author Donna Schlachter will weigh in on Do’s and Don’ts in Contests. J.L. Greger, author of several science-based mysteries asks, “Do You Feel Lucky?” February will end with thoughts from a prolific children’s author, Natasha Yim, the chair of the Redwood Writers Club (California Writers Club branch in Sonoma County) Contests. Posts are up every Friday at 6 A.M. on Just the Facts, Ma’am, Writer’s Notes.

Think about entering a contest. You can’t lose anything more than a few bucks–some are even free. A contest might jump-start flagging progress on your WIP, you could set and meet realistic goals, or even better yet, you could win!

Writer's Notes

What’s Going On?

By Thonie Hevron

PSWA Award singleI’ve just returned from the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) Conference in Las Vegas. It’s a member-driven conference focused on those who write in the field of public safety. Active and retired personnel from police, fire, EMS, and dispatch make up the bulk of the population. Civilians who write crime fiction and technical public safety articles/books are also a large component of this diverse group. City cops—from Chicago PD to rural sheriff’s departments, FBI, military enforcement from all branches, probation and parole, fire officers—paid and volunteer as well as emergency medical personnel are active members. The breadth of experience is remarkable.

We gather annually to share our information. This year’s event spanned four full days for those who wished to attend Thursday morning’s optional “improve your writing skills” workshop taught by three published authors. This included a critique of previously submitted manuscripts. During the conference, attendees participated in numerous panels and attended presentations on topics such as “Anatomy of a Murder,” “Investigating the 2001 Anthrax Attacks,” “Writing True Crime,” “How to Write for the Web” and craft topics like “Editing Your Work” and “An Examination of Point of View”. Several time slots were set aside for meet and greets with editors, other authors and three publishers.

Aside from the plane trip from hell (check out my Facebook page), arriving a day and half late—and missing my own panel on “Promotion,” I still had Saturday. The cut-rate airline new to our regional airport has a very limited schedule which necessitated leaving the conference early. Hence, I only had one day in Las Vegas. Sigh. Still, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I pitched my fourth novel to a publisher I’d never heard of before but was interested in my story. The networking alone is fabulous. Because of PSWA, I’ve had facetime with an FBI profiler, SWAT masters (both in city and FBI), homicide and vice detectives, several of whom had been undercover. I can’t pass up tapping these guys on the shoulder, asking them to read my work for authenticity—in exchange for Beta reading, critiques and blurbs (who’d a thunk anyone would want my name on their book?).

So when I got word that I placed second in the annual PSWA Writing Contest for unpublished novel, I was bowled over. Imagine these esteemed members choosing my book, With Malice Aforethought. Second! Whew!


News about With Malice Aforethought

My publisher, Billie Johnson of Oak Tree Press, is recovering from a serious health issue. She and another staffer are working on the back log of projects already in progress. Oak Tree isn’t accepting any new submissions until January. At this time, I have a signed contract but haven’t sent my manuscript in. I’ve decided to use the next month or two to polish some of the uneven parts of the story. My time frame to get it to Oak Tree is September 1. From there, I’ll keep you posted as I find out more.


Writer's Notes

Guest Post: A Crushing Death

The Setting for A Crushing Death

By Marilyn MeredithA Crushing Death Right (1)

I love the California coast and its beach communities, particularly the small ones. My affection comes from growing up in Los Angeles and as a teen being able to take public transportation with my friends and visit the beach often. My family made excursions to many nearby beaches whenever we had a free summer weekend.

When my own family was growing up, we lived in Oxnard, one mile from the beach and from April until fall we trekked to the beach and spent as much time there as possible. At that time Oxnard and Hueneme beaches weren’t like they are today. There was public access to all the good places to swim and sun.

The Rocky Bluff in my series is much like the beach community of the earlier times in Oxnard. Because it is fictional, I moved it north to a place between Santa Barbara and Ventura, but still in Ventura County. If you try to find it, you’ll be disappointed because it’s completely fictional, including the bluff that gave the town its name.

I’ve written about Rocky Bluff so much, I can see it in my mind as well as a memory of any place I’ve ever been. I know the broken-down condemned pier and have used it in many of the mysteries. The sand dunes are much like those that my family and I traipsed over and settled near for barbecues.

Things are changing in Rocky Bluff, just like they change in any town. The low-rent cottages along the beach will soon be nothing but a memory as developers come in to build condos along the ocean front. Of course the city council expects this to bring in more revenue. Hopefully some of this revenue will be used to hire more police officers and purchase more up-to-date equipment. But that’s all in the future.

For now, the Rocky Bluff P.D struggles with being understaffed, underpaid and having to rely on Ventura County’s labs and coroner.

I love writing about this beach community.

F.M. aka Marilyn Meredith

A Crushing Death Blurb:

A pile of rocks is found on a dead body beneath the condemned pier, a teacher is accused of molesting a student, the new police chief is threatened by someone she once arrested for attacking women, and Officer Milligan’s teenage daughter is has a big problem.


  1. M. Meredith who is also known as Marilyn Meredith is nearing the number of 40 published books. Besides being an author she is a wife, mother, grandma and great-grandmother. Though the Rocky Bluff she writes about is fictional, she lived for over twenty-years in a similar small beach town. Besides having many law enforcement officers in her family she is counts many as friends. She teaches writing, loves to give presentations to writing and other groups, and is a member of Mystery Writers of America, three chapters of Sisters in Crime and on the board of Public Safety Writers Association.



Buy: A Crushing Death

Facebook: Marilyn Meredith

Twitter: MarilynMeredith

Contest: Once again, the person who comments on the most blogs during this tour, can have a character named after them in the next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery. Tomorrow you can find me here:





Writer's Notes

Are You a Pantser or a Plotter?

By Marilyn Meredith, author of the Tempe Crabtree series and Rocky Bluff PD series

Marilyn Meredith aka FM Meredith
Marilyn Meredith aka FM Meredith

Recently I attended the Public Safety Writers Association’s annual conference and one of the panels was, “Are You a Pantser or a Plotter”. The attendees were a mixture of many law enforcement types, fire and emergency medical personnel, and of course, mystery writers.

Everyone who comes is a writer, or wants to be one. Some of the public safety authors are writing non-fiction, though many are writing mysteries.

The 2015 PSWA Conference-I'm the second blond head on the right. Actually, I was on this panel and loved talking about pantsing and plotting.
The 2015 PSWA Conference-I’m the second blond head on the right. Actually, I was on this panel and loved talking about pantsing and plotting.

When this panel was introduced, many in the audience had no idea what a “pantser” was. For anyone reading this post who also might not know, a pantser is someone who writers from the seat of their pants. In other words, they don’t do an outline of the plot before they start writing.

However, as the panel discussed the topic and who did what, it turned out that even the pantser did some planning ahead of time.

I’ve been writing novels, and mostly mysteries, for many years. When I wrote historical fiction, I did a lot of research and the research helped me with the plot of the book, though I didn’t actually do a chapter by chapter outline.

Now, with my mysteries, this is how I go about starting a new book.

First, because I write series, I know who my main characters are. I also know where I left off with their lives. What I need to plan is the crime(s) or mystery part which entails new characters:

Who will die?  At least most of the time this is necessary. (In my last Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery, Violent Departures, the main mystery was about a missing young woman, the only murder happened years before.)

Violent Departures

Who would like to see this person dead and why? Of course there must be more than one person who had the motive and opportunity.

With new characters, they must be named and described.

How is the person going to die? I try to come up with new ways to kill off my victims.

When and where will the first scene take place?

Once I’ve made these decisions—and I’ve written them down, I usually begin writing. I try to come up with a first sentence that will immediately intrigue a reader.

As I write, new ideas flood in. So I don’t forget something that may happen later one, I have a notebook beside my computer where I keep notes about everything pertaining to the book I’m writing.

So, though I don’t outline the complete plot before I begin writing, I do some initial planning, which I think means I’m a combination Pantser/Plotter.

For you other writers reading this, which are you?

Marilyn Meredith aka F. M. Meredith

Writer's Notes


By Thonie Hevron

I’ve formally passed the one-third point in this novel. After several false starts, do-overs and life events, I’ve finally gotten back on the roll that becomes my stories. In the fall of 2014, I’d gotten rolling, cranking out pages that satisfied me and my critique group.

Then, I found Mike Brown. A Sonoma County Sheriff’s Lieutenant, (now retired) Mike spent several years as a Violent Crimes Investigations (VCI) Sergeant. One of my lead characters in WITH MALICE AFORETHOUGHT is a newly promoted VCI sergeant. When Mike said, “Yes, I’ll help,” to my plea for technical assistance, I was thrilled. His level of expertise and how he articulated it got me really excited.

Until he read my outline. Thank God I asked him to look at it.

His comments could be summed up with a “that couldn’t happen.”

Sheesh. Back to the drawing board.

At some point in fiction, the author has to feasibly “suspend disbelief” in the reader’s mind. Think about it—you’re reading along in a really good book and a character does something you KNOW is inconsistent or not part of the real world. But, the words are strung together in such a way that you think, it could happen.

It could happen. The suspension of disbelief.

This is very different from procedural inconsistencies. A wrong move could compromise an investigation and or prosecution. An investigator is paid for his/her knowledge to ensure a thorough and proper investigation (leading to a successful prosecution, hopefully). There are enough law enforcement and judicial officers in the reading public that an author who doesn’t pay attention to details can irretrievably lose credibility. Those who know what is feasible and what is not see errors. An author, no matter how good a wordsmith, cannot stretch “not right”. As a reader, when I encounter this, the book is tossed, literally and figuratively because the author’s trustworthiness has been destroyed.

Thus, I tossed most of what I’d written and started over. I must admit, following Mike’s suggestions have made this story much better.


What this post is really about, though, is to admit that I won’t make my self-assigned deadline. May 8 this the last day to enter the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) Writing Contest. I’ve placed in two previous contests 2012, 2014) with PSWA and wanted my third Nick and Meredith Mystery to join the other two. Not gonna happen. With only five days left, I have just under half the story written.

While I’m dismayed about this, I won’t lose any sleep. I’ll just reassign a deadline, work to achieve it and find another contest.


Writer's Notes

A Cold Call

By Thonie Hevron

A cold call. In marketing it means calling/contacting someone without an introduction to sell them something. I don’t have a sales or marketing history. I have always believed that I could not approach someone for sales purposes if my life depended on it. I can answer a 911 call with a woman screaming in my ear and send the appropriate help, but marketing? Not so much.

It’s funny how these self-perceptions can be so skewed. They can also be changed.

When I got serious about my writing about fifteen years ago, I learned that the publishing industry was in the process of changing. Technology has moved the traditional method of publishing to the slow lane. E-books and social media are mainstream. Indie books and small press publishing houses abound as do websites for book reviews, author interviews, cover art and the gamut of the process. One of the necessary byproducts of this evolution is that publicity budgets have all but evaporated. Unless you’re an A-list author, PR departments don’t set up book tours. If you self-publish, you’re faced with the same problem: the burden of marketing one’s books fall upon the author. Readings, speeches and book signings all put an author on a stage. Yikes!

Okay, so the landscape is painted. Now for how I fit in.

I’ve talked behind a microphone off and on for thirty-five years. Except for the first week I was on the radio, I’ve been very comfortable. Speaking in front of a crowd was another matter. I got butterflies, even froze one time in front of the Lion’s Club Speech Contest when I was in the sixth grade. It got so bad that when my best friend got married, I couldn’t be in the wedding.

Cut to July 2014: Las Vegas, Nevada at the Public Safety Writers Conference. My book launch! Knowing I’d have to jump in and do it, I volunteered for a mock-game show (CSI Jeopardy), panel moderator, and panelist. Butterflies in the stomach be damned. I’d have to put myself out there to sell my books. How badly did I want sell my books? Bad enough.

That includes cold calling. Today, I did my first face-to-face contact.

My husband and I spent the day kayaking at Bodega Bay. We were loading our boats on our truck when the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department patrol boat docked. I counted three deputies. Hm, I had an idea. Soon enough, a tall deputy ambled down the dock toward the truck and trailer. As he walked by, I hailed him and introduced myself. I told him I was a law enforcement retiree and mystery writer. In fact, I said, my two books are about Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputies.

I handed him three sets of bookmarks for each book. “If you’re interested, here’s where you go to find the books.”

Whew! My minimal discomfort evaporated as the young man warmed to us. We had a great chat and the deputy said he’d be checking out my books.

That’s all I can ask.

A year ago, I couldn’t have done that.

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