Writer and freelance editor Mary V. Welk has drawn on her medical background to knock off nearly two dozen characters in her “Rhodes to Murder” amateur sleuth mystery series, winner of a Love Is Murder Readers’ Choice Award for Best Series. Set in the rural university town of Rhineburg, Illinois, the 5 book series features ER nurse Caroline Rhodes and history professor Carl Atwater.
Mary’s short stories have been published in several print anthologies, including CHICAGO BLUES, BLONDES IN TROUBLE & OTHER TANGLED TALES, DARK THINGS II: CAT CRIMES, and HOT CRIMES, COOL CHICKS. A member of Sisters in Crime, Mary previously was a columnist and book reviewer for Mystery Scene Magazine and Futures Magazine. She also reviewed travel books for Library Journal. I am pleased that Mary is with us today and you will find my review of To Kill A King below. Welcome Mary.
As a real estate broker, when I was recruiting new agents, I always grabbed up nurses. A lot of other brokers looked for salespeople but I realized it was all about hard work, not selling, and nurses may have burned out at nursing but they had such a tremendous work ethic. Do you think that work ethic has made you a better writer? Are you more disciplined than a lot of us at getting butt into chair and just sitting there writing X number of hours every day?
I was much more disciplined with my writing time back when I was working in the ER! I worked a 3 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. shift, and because I was still running on adrenaline when I got home, I could never just jump into bed and fall asleep. That’s when I’d sit down and write, generally until three in the morning. Now that I’m retired from nursing and living a calmer lifestyle, I usually write–or edit other people’s writing–for three to four hours each afternoon, five days a week. No more late night pounding on the keyboard for me!
I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals with a handicapped child and I have seen some pretty odd things through the years. Have any of your mysteries had a starting point with something odd you actually saw in the hospital? Maybe it had nothing to do with a murder but once you added imagination into the picture?
Several of the incidents in To Kill A King are based on true events that I witnessed as a nurse. Remember the cab driver with the dead passenger, the litter of puppies, and the container of half frozen fish? Well, that actually happened in one ER where I worked. And yes, just like in the book, I once removed a body from an over crowded ER by placing an oxygen mask on the corpse and speaking to the dead man as if he were alive while wheeling him past patients and their family members. Unlike what happened to my heroine in the book, no one I passed on my long trek to the morgue ever guessed the truth.
Code Blue, the rather dark short story I wrote for the Chicago Blues anthology, was also based on a real incident I witnessed in the ER, this one involving a man accused of a heinous crime against an elderly woman. In real life, my coworkers hid their disgust and did their jobs. In my short story, though, I was able to portray what all of us had wanted to do to the man. Writing that story satisfied a deep need in me for justice.
Do you know “whodunit” before you start your book, or does that sort of evolve and get clearer as you write?
I plot out the entire story in my mind before I start writing. I have to know “whodunit” and how and why the crime was committed, plus how and why my protagonist became involved, in order to lay down clues and red herrings for the reader. But I often change certain things, add or subtract events or characters, as I write. Sometimes a new idea will strike me, or sometimes a scene doesn’t fit where I put it. I’ll rewrite entire chapters before finishing the book, and then I’ll rewrite again when I’m in the revision stage. But the basic plot, including the name of the villain, is in my head when I first start typing the story.
I love the quote on your blog: “Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” ~ Cicero. Does it feel that way in recent years, thanks to KDP and CreateSpace, that everyone is writing a book? With all the books on the market, how have you had to change how you do things since you were first published in 1998?
The entire publishing world has changed since 1998, and I’ve changed right along with it. In 1998, any bookstore or library could order my first book from Ingram, the huge wholesale distributor, or Baker & Taylor, Ingram’s closest rival, and I signed books at both chain and independent bookstores. Partnering with two other writers, I traveled a lot in a five state area, doing programs at libraries and for reading groups in small towns and rural areas. The three of us also attended mystery cons and book fairs together. It wasn’t difficult to hand sell our books in those days. But then bookstores started closing all across the country. I’d joined several mystery readers’ groups on Yahoo in 1999, and when signing opportunities slowly dried up at bookstores, I turned to other forms of social media to promote my books, first joining MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, then starting a weekly blog on my website. I stopped going to the major mystery cons when Mystery Writers of America began removing most independent small presses from their list of acceptable publishers. At the same time, MWA cautioned mystery con organizers against placing authors from those companies on convention panels. Since I had contracts with two small press publishers removed from the list, it seemed pointless to attend the conventions. (The only con I now attend is the annual Love Is Murder con in Chicago because it welcomes writers regardless of how they’re published.) Fortunately, the e-book revolution began. Amazon launched the Kindle in 2007, and some far-sighted mystery writers realized the potential of publishing in e-book format. When Amazon started CreateSpace in 2009 to compete with Ingram’s Lightning Source, writers saw it as a validation of the growing trend to self-publish both in print and e-book format. I watched people like Joe Konrad thumb their noses at MWA as they made a hefty profit publishing their own work. It took me a great deal of time and effort to regain the rights to my fourth book, but eventually I did, and I self-published both the third book, To Kill a King, and the fourth book, The Scarecrow Murders, in late 2012. (The first two books are still with an independent small press.) I think it’s great that serious writers can now find a home for their work through self-publishing.
If you could invite any writer, living or dead, over for a cup of tea and a chat, who would it be? And why?
It would have to be Agatha Christie. I enjoy mysteries that present a puzzle to be solved, and Christie was a master at creating puzzling situations that could only be understood by carefully looking at all the clues. I loved her major protagonists, but she also created side characters who were true to their times. I learned a lot about writing amateur sleuth stories by reading her books.
What is the best book you’ve read recently? Why?
That has to be The Last Hero: A Discworld Fable by Terry Pratchett. This is not a mystery in the usual sense of the word, but then all of life is a mystery, and if there’s anyone who can poke sly fun at life as we know it, it’s Terry Pratchett. His Discworld novels rank #1 when it comes to tongue-in-cheek fantasy writing that’s actually quite thought provoking.
Now three things that have nothing to do with writing that I ask everybody:
- What is your favorite food? Lambs chops with mint jelly
- What is your favorite TV show? Castle
- What is your favorite music? Oldies from the ‘60s and early ‘70s
Thank you so much for being here today Mary, good luck with To Kill A KIng.
Thanks for interviewing me and reviewing my book. I appreciate it!
When Caroline Rhodes agrees to return to Ascension Medical Center for the summer, she has no idea she’ll be walking into an Emergency Room marked for murder. But two days after her arrival, a female employee is found dead, smothered with a lavender silk pillow.
Caroline’s persistent questions concerning the murder earn her a warning from ER doc Chan Daley. “As me sainted mother used to say,” quips the doctor, “man who stands beneath tail of elephant must prepare for much dung to drop on head.”
But Caroline is willing to risk the fallout when a second death results in the arrest of the ER’s nurse manager. Determined to clear her best friend of a charge of murder, Caroline forms a strange three-way pact with an aging Mafia boss and the administrator of Ascension Medical Center.
As if murder isn’t enough, Caroline must investigate charges of sexual harassment against a doctor, while also coping with a heat wave that sends residents of suburban Niles, Illinois flocking to the hospital for relief. The last thing Caroline and the ER needs is the arrival of an irate cab driver with a dead passenger, a litter of hungry puppies, and a plastic shopping bag full of dead fish. Add to that a medical resident who can’t stay on his feet and you’re looking at the kind of problems that send most people scurrying for cover.
But not Caroline Rhodes. Aided by her friends from the little town of Rhineburg, Illinois, the veteran ER nurse proves once again that attention to detail is the key to solving any crime.
Years ago I was into all things medical, tv shows and mysteries. I probably OD on them so it was great after all these years away to tuck into a good medical murder mystery. The book started with a prologue. As regular readers know, I dislike prologues and I berated an author recently because the prologue gave away whodunit. This time I will not be adding my usual “don’t read the prologue”. Read the prologue, this is a skilled writer who knows how to use it. Caroline Rhodes is a nurse who left the big city hospital she worked in and moved to a small town following the death of her husband and her subsequent breakdown. But when life long friend Molly asks Caroline to return temporarily, she does. Caroline finds the ER in a mess due to construction of a new one, but the bigger mess is all the politics and back stabbing under the reign of the new Medical Director, Roger MacGuffy and the new Director of Nursing, Angela Horowitz. Angela is soon dead followed by Roger and given their personalities, there is no shortage of suspects. When Molly is arrested, Caroline and her new friends from Rhineburg set out to find the killer. This is a very fast paced book and you will have a very hard time putting it down. The characters are well drawn and the writing and mystery is smart. I had only one tiny complaint. After initial introduction of the characters and their job titles, a character might occasionally be referred to as “the DON”or “the ADON” – which is authentic to the hospital culture but tough on my aging brain. I had to stop and think… DON… DON… oh yeah, Director of Nursing, now which one was that… But that was such a minor and brief annoyance it didn’t lose the book any hearts. To Kill A King gets the full ♥♥♥♥♥