Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Today, I am excited to feature guest blogger J. L. Greger, who tells us how she came to write COMING FLU, an extraordinary medical thriller recently published by Oak Tree Press.


By Guest Blogger J. L. Greger

My novel Coming Flu is fiction, but it could happen. That’s what makes it scary, especially with flu season just around the corner. In this medical thriller the rights of individuals are pitted against the common good when an unstoppable flu hits a small community on the Rio Grande. Residents, who are fortunate enough to avoid the killer flu, become virtual prisoners in the homes after the quarantine is imposed.

Several readers have asked how I turned what they considered dry scientific facts into a fast paced novel. After thanking them for the compliments, I tried to answer their specific questions, which are summarized below.

Why did you write about the flu and not some exotic disease? As a biologist, who still regularly reads scientific journals, I am amazed how easily a few mutations can change a flu virus from fairly harmless to virulent. A few years ago scientists isolated the virus causing the flu epidemic in 1918-19 from bodies buried in the permafrost of Alaska. They found the virus was a strain of the common H1N1 flu virus. Between 1918-1920, this virus killed three percent of the world’s population. The Philippine Flu in Coming Flu is another example of how a few mutations could make a common flu virus deadly.
Why the Philippine flu? I did a short consultation for USAID (US Agency for International Development) to Visayas State University in Baybay on the island of Leyte in the Philippines in 1980. I saw poor families, living in close proximity to their livestock in rural areas – the perfect environment for mutations to occur that allowed the transfer of viruses from livestock to humans. Ergo the name – Philippine flu.

Isn’t rationing of medications a little extreme? Preparation of effective flu vaccines is tedious and expensive. Often vaccine manufacturers cannot keep up with the mutations in viruses. That’s what occurs in Coming Flu and rationing is necessary. Although scientists have developed antivirals for treatment of HIV and herpes infections, they have not tested antivirals successfully with flu patients, as tried in Coming Flu. Again these drugs are in limited supply.

Quarantine is no big deal. Is it? I think most Americans don’t understand how quarantine (the enforcement of the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act and associated legislation) could affect their lives. At least not in personal terms – like standing in line for food, not being able to go to work or to shop, and being afraid to come in contact with anyone lest they have the flu.

One of my friends Judy Leavitt wrote the biography of Mary Mallon, better know as Typhoid Mary (Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public’s Health). Mary Mallon was a cook, who harbored the bacteria that caused typhoid fever in her gall bladder without getting sick herself. She refused to stop working as a cook because she knew no other trade. Accordingly, the New York City Health Department quarantined her on an island in New York harbor from 1915-1938. This is, of course, the extreme case, but quarantines can be nasty.

So that’s how science became Coming Flu.

Find out more about J.L. Greger and her work at

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Guest Blogger Marilyn Meredith

Why I Love Mystery Conventions and Writers Conferences

The reason I chose this topic is because I met Holli at a Public Safety Writers Association Conference. I truly value Holli’s friendship and I would have never met her any other way. I love hearing about her and her family. Her life is quite different from mine, and partially because she’s young and still doing all the things that come with raising your children.

Holli lives in New Orleans. I live clear across the country in a foothill community of the Southern Sierra in California. We might have come across one another online because we are on some of the same lists, but there’s nothing like meeting someone in person. I admire Holli, her expertise and intelligence—and her sparkling personality.

Over the years I’ve attended lots of mystery conventions: Bouchercons and Left Coast Crimes. I’ve made many friends at both. There are other smaller cons I’ve gone to, Malice Domestic, Killer Nashville, Love is Murder and Mayhem in the Midlands which is no longer in existence.

Though through the years I’ve attended and presented at many writers conferences, but my favorite of all is PSWA. The majority of attendees are people who are or were in various types of public safety fields like FBI, Police, FBI, Military Law Enforcement, CSI, Scientific Fields, Fire who are interested in writing, and mystery writers who are interested in what the experts are willing to share. It’s a smaller conference and there is opportunity to network and find out answers to questions right while you’re there.

Spouse's Panel at previous Mayhem in the Midlands
For the last few years I’ve had the privilege of being the program chairperson and I’ve had a great time balancing the presentations between writing topics and what the experts have to say about crime, criminals and how to catch them. Holli has been a presenter a couple of times.

What about selling books at a convention or conference? Unless you are a well-known author, you probably won’t sell many books at a convention. This is where you meet people who read books and visiting with them. Of course you’ll meet other authors too.

Your chances of selling your book at a conference really depends upon what you are doing at the conference. If you are a speaker or on a panel you may intrigue some attendees enough that they’ll buy your book.

The best part of either one is the joy of meeting like-minded people—those who love to read.

If you are one of those who love to read, I hope you’ll try the latest book in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, Raging Water.

Raging Water Blurb: Deputy Tempe Crabtree’s  investigation of the murder of two close friends is complicated when relentless rain turns Bear Creek into a raging river. Homes are inundated and a mud slide blocks the only road out of Bear Creek stranding many—including the murderer.

Contest: The person who leaves comments on the most blogs will have his/her name used for a character in my next book—can choose if you want it in a Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery or a Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel.

Bio: Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Raging Water from Mundania Press. Writing as F. M. Meredith, her latest Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel us No Bells, the fourth from Oak Tree Press. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at and follow her blog at
Marilyn borrows a lot from where she lives in the Southern Sierra for the town of Bear Creek and the surrounding area.

I know there are some people who like to read a series in order, but let me reassure you that every book is complete. Though the characters grow through each book, the crime is always solved. Here is the order of the books for anyone who wants to know: Deadly Trail, Deadly Omen, Unequally Yoked, Intervention, Wing Beat, Calling the Dead, Judgment Fire, Kindred Spirits, Dispel the Mist, Invisible Path, Bears With Us, Raging Water.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Murder Close to Home

My  husband's friend was murdered during Hurricane Isaac.

Noah worked and lived at a funeral home. He was a personable guy, interesting, and an unlikely compadre for my husband. Julio is a big guy, brutish looking. Six foot, 300 lbs, bald, with a goatee, he is a somewhat striking Spanish macho man.

Noah was among a group of locals who frequented a nearby bar and took to our bar as soon as it opened. Julio became friends with many of the new customers, but Noah was one of a few who he spoke to outside of the bar as well.

Noah was gay, but a blender. He fit in with the crowd, easily forgettable until you actually spoke to him.  Noah was also depressed a lot, although I don't know the reason why. I guess working and living at a funeral home does not inspire one to be giddily happy, but I think he may have had other issues. I know he had no significant other, but he did occasionally bring men home with him, which ultimately be his downfall.

When our bar closed, Noah was even more down. He missed having a place to hang out that felt like home, although he did hang out at other bars. Julio would occasionally meet Noah at the bar after it closed to hang out, because he was worried about his friend.

Right before Isaac, Noah left one of his regular bars with a man he had just met.  Sometime that night, the stranger tied Noah to the bed, stabbed him to death, stole his cell phone, and took off in his car.

We had evacuated for the hurricane and Julio called Noah several times to see how he was making out. He received no answer.

About a week later, Noah's body was discovered.  The killer had driven Noah's car to Algiers, on the Westbank of New Orleans and near the funeral home, and set it on fire. He was still using Noah's cell phone, texting people back, acting like he was Noah.  The police were able to find his location, in an attic in a nearby neighborhood, by tracking the cell phone.

The guy confessed.  He will be charged with 2nd degree murder, an automatic life sentence in Louisiana.

Noah was buried this past Monday. It is so odd, because I wasn't really close with him, but had met him and liked him well enough. He was a good guy. He had bought several copies of my books and had me sign them, one set for his sister.  He was at my book launch party, and spoke at length with my sister, who had gone to funeral school before deciding to become a teacher.

Noah didn't have much family. He was 51 years old, his parents were dead, and he had only a sister and a brother.  But the chapel was packed, with friends, people who worked at other funeral homes around town, and people whom he had helped through their own personal tragedies as an employee of Schoen's Funeral Home.

I have known death. All of my grandparents and my father have died in my life time.  As many homicide cases as I have handled as a prosecutor and then as an appellate public defender, some of them horrific and violent, I have only known one other person who was brutally murdered, and that was a girl who was a senior in high school when I was a freshman, and she was murdered by some kind of serial killer in another state years after we graduated. I was barely on a saying hi to her basis  because she was so much ahead of me in school, although I had greatly admired her back then.

When someone dies, I always think about how they now know what lies beyond this earth, and if there is nothing, they are just gone, and nowhere. So while I can't help but think of how much Noah suffered, and what must have been going through his mind when this animal decided to take his life, I also wonder about where he is now, and that he knows what happens when we leave this world.

I often take from real life when I'm writing. True crime especially makes for a good story. This one, though, I think I'm going to leave right where it is, in my mind. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Waiting for Isaac while remembering Katrina

Waiting for Isaac While Remembering Katrina

Once again those of us in New Orleans are watching a hurricane, waiting to see if Isaac is going to show up at our doorstep or pass us by.  We've been here before, watching and waiting.

In 2005, we did the same for Katrina. Only then we really didn't think it was going to hit. While we evacuated, we brought only enough clothes (and diapers, because I had two little ones) for a long weekend. We left on a Saturday, before a mandatory evacuation had been called.  We planned on returning home Monday or Tuesday, believing deep in our hearts that a hurricane would never hit us.

My mother, my two daughters, and I stayed at the Embassy Suites in Houston. Houston was THE place for New Orleans people to evacuate. Most of us vacationed there frequently, a sort of home away from home.  Our hotel had swans in the lobby, which tickled my children, a clown who made balloon animals, which terrified me, and was something like 40 steps away from the Galleria shopping mall, which thrilled all of us.

By the end of it, we were there for two weeks. Two weeks in a nice hotels sounds like fun, but it really isn't. Especially when you've made your husband join you at the 11th hour and he's brought along his younger brother, which infuriated your mother (who is a little odd to begin with), and you have no idea if your house is still standing or not.

The hurricane made landfall on Monday. Everything seemed fine until the levees broke. We watched CNN and the Weather Channel in horror as the city filled with water.  My husband went home on Tuesday. As a deputy constable allowed to go back into the city before the general public.  He soon texted us-- there was no other viable form of communication at the time--that our house was fine, some roof damage, a few books and toys wet, but otherwise okay.  Same with the rest of the neighborhood.

We went back two weeks later, when the electricity was back up and a few stores had reopened. Two weeks after that my daughter's school reopened.  A few months later our neighbors started coming back with their families. For months it was mainly only men working on their houses and law enforcement.

Law enforcement was everywhere. Local police, police from other parishes, police from other states, even the National Guard.  It was hard to feel unsafe with so many police personnel everywhere.  You literally could not drive a block without seeing some type of police officer.

While the police weren't able to protect us from the giant flies that took over for several months, and couldn't prevent the maggots in our refrigerators when we got home, at least we didn't have to worry about copper being stolen from our homes when we were inside them, nor of someone breaking into our homes and doing God knows what to us, as had happened to many unfortunate women during the actual hurricane.

So now, seven years later, we are in the position once again to decide should we stay or should we go. Today is Sunday. The storm will hit Tuesday in the middle of the night or early Wednesday morning.  Wednesday will be the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.  Scary.

So my thinking, with a now 10-year-old and 13-year-old, and now having an evacuation house, I will probably leave.  The big difference this time is that I'm not dreading leaving, because I've faced the most uncertainty a person can face having dealt with Katrina and its aftermath.

I'm looking forward to visiting my vacation house in the hills, and while I will worry about what is happening back home, I will also use the time, and more importantly, the emotion, to write more of my third novel.

Chocolate City Justice takes place during Hurricane Katrina, bringing my protagonist, Ryan Murphy, into the present days. So everything I learn about that happens, especially if the hurricane hits, will be more fodder for my novel and jog my novel about what happened back then.  As I am planning what I will pack, Katrina is not seven years ago for me, but right now, while I am loading my car with the things I want to save should a worst case scenario occur.  And I will use it as much as I can, extracting as much good as I can from a potentially bad situation.  

NOTE:  I scheduled this to post a week after I wrote it, hoping by the time it is posted I will know how this has turned out, one way or another.