Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Interview with Donna Benson

by Jeff Reynolds

I'm in a small critique group. We had a point when we had lost a member and Donna Benson contacted us. She's the author of the Sanctuary Series.

Jeff Reynolds:  Welcome, Donna. Let's start with how you came to Christ.

Donna Benson: Hello. I can’t remember a time Jesus wasn’t there. He’s always been in my life from my earliest memories. I went forward at Easter when I was ten and was baptized. I have been learning and growing in faith and understanding since.

JR:  Am I correct that you're a truck driver? What's that like? How does it influence your writing? And any truck-driving stories you'd like to share?

DB: Yes, my husband and I are what the industry calls a team. We’ve been driving for over 15 years. It’s a job traveling around the country, picking up and delivery freight. At first I struggled being gone weeks at a time. I would much rather be home. But we make a good living and my husband likes it so here I am.

Everything we do influences our life. Traveling has given me a love for home, the people of this country, and knowledge we are more alike than different. I recently posted a story on my blog about an experience while on the road. Here's the link to it:

JR: What led you to get interested in writing in general and your Sanctuary Ranch Series in particular?

DB: I have enjoyed writing for years. I started with articles for my church blog. Six or seven years ago I had a dream. It was about a ranch in the mountains where Christians fled when violence against them began to spiral out of control. Our country was in turmoil everywhere. It was interesting…my husband also had a similar vision around the same time. We wanted a way to warm people of difficult times ahead. From there the fictional story was born. I finished the book five years ago and simply put it away because we felt it wasn’t time to do anything with it yet. Then last year we just knew it was time to publish.

JR: Could you tell us about Flee To The Mountain, and your thoughts as far as follow-up books in the series? 

DB: The story is about the Hamilton family, led by God to establish a small mountain community they call the sanctuary. They set out to prepare their hearts for hard times. Large numbers of supplies, food, and other necessary items are purchased knowing they will have to help others. When the world falls into chaos and persecution runs rampant, the Hamiltons open their community to displaced believers.

I have three other books in mind to follow Flee to the Mountain. The second is nearly completed. Rescue God’s Children deals with those who come under fierce persecution, detainment, or fall into the hands of evil people. God puts together a group of ex-military men to rescue some young people from places like a brothel and a school where the kids are forced to work in a community garden as slave labor. The entire series will deal with those people called by God to help others, traveling toward a refuge, or dealing with the evil around them.

My entire focus in this series is to get Christians to prepare for hard times ahead. It is my belief God is warning His people to prepare and band together in order to survive. That's not to say He won't help us, but we need to do our part. We must prepare spiritually to deal with the escalation of evil around the world and begin to stockpile supplies of all kinds.

JR: Your book is published by a self-publishing company which is linked with a major Christian publisher, one I had considered using. Could you tell us about how you selected them and the pluses and minuses of being self-published?

DB: Since Flee to the Mountains is a Christian book, I felt a Christian publisher would best fit my needs. To be honest, I don’t think I would use them again. They are very nice people, but I feel it’s all about money for them. They don’t really care about the books or the authors…at least that is my impression. I have found if you plan to self-publish, it’s best to find the least expensive with the best quality. I’m not sure there are any pluses to self-publishing. The minuses are promotion and marketing, though it’s my understanding regular publishers don’t do as much as they used to. Many bookstores will not carry self-published books. That’s a huge minus. You may have the best written book on the planet, but chances are slim most people will see it. In my case, my book is a ministry. So it’s never been about making money. I give them to people who I believe will benefit from them. But people can buy them online at Amazon or Barnes and Nobles.

JR: You're a member of the ACFW, and also a member of my small critique group. How has your involvement with the ACFW and the group helped you as a writer?

DB: Any time we open ourselves up to others we can least when those people have a heart for God and try to help you. It was hard for me at first to receive from them. My books are my babies and I tend to hover over them. But I believe the groups are helping me. My only hesitation is changing my writing to the point it is just like everyone else’s. God made us individuals and unique. The same is true for our writing styles. I want to incorporate some of the techniques I am learning from my critique partners, but I want to maintain my uniqueness as well.

JR: What influences have you had both as an author and otherwise which have shown up in your writing?

DB: I used to read in all my spare I write. I enjoy a great many authors. Dee Henderson, JD Robb come to mind first, but I have a huge library of both Christian and secular books. (I like to actually hold the book I read.) Funny thing is before I started writing I never paid much attention to how it was written. Now I notice things I never saw before.

To be honest, I'm not sure how much any one of them has influenced me though. I am a believer in Jesus to the foundation of my soul and I incorporate that into my writing. If my work does not challenge others to live a Godly life and share the message of the cross, I am a failure. On the flip side, if even one person reads my work and it helps them in their personal walk with the Lord…I am a success.

JR: What advice would you give a young Christian interested in writing?

DB: Start writing from your heart. Join a writing group, take some classes on writing and read, read, read different kinds of books. It will help you establish your own style and find your area of interest. And don’t give up. God give each of us gifts. If one of yours is writing, you must use it.

JR: Thank you for your time. Is there a webpage people can keep up with you on?

DB: Thank you

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Review of Infernal Gates by Michael Webb

Infernal Gates by Michael Webb

Infernal Gates, by Michael Webb, centers on Ethan Freeman, an ex-Special Forces Ranger, and the spiritual battle in which he, and six others, become involved, a fight to prevent a demon from unleashing an evil force from within an Abyss. The story contains a mixture of Biblical facts, mythology, history, science, archeology, and fiction.

What I liked about this book is that part of it reminded me of the TV show, Lost. The book contains a lot of mystery and conflict, which piqued my interest. Also, the book contains many interesting historical facts and mythological tidbits. For the most part, the author does a good job of organically weaving these into the story.

If I could have changed anything, I would have liked to have seen more use of third person, deep POV and perhaps fewer characters so I could identify better with those characters.

To be sensitive to readers, I want to make several cautions. The word hell is used several times, and there is at least one instance of “Oh, God.” Two characters kiss, and one of them is married, but her husband is on life support/brain dead. A pastor offers someone beer, and priests and others drink wine. Finally, the book contains dark elements such as demons.

I like this quote from author Michael Webb’s Amazon page. It best describes his unique brand of writing. “I have always been fascinated by the intersection of the supernatural, the historical, the scientific, and the Judeo-Christian worldviews…If you are intrigued by such things as traditional and forbidden history, the origins of demons and their influence on mankind throughout the ages, quantum physics, the nature and character of God, and the unseen war in the heavenlies between angelic forces and agents of darkness, you will enjoy reading all of my supernatural thrillers.”

This book might appeal to those who enjoy books that deal with spiritual warfare and TV shows like Stargate and Lost.

*Please note that I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The opinion expressed here is my own.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Interview and Giveaway with Law Enforcement Consultant Wesley Harris

Today, I have a special guest; law enforcement consultant Wesley Harris joins us on Sleuths and Suspects!

Biography: Wesley Harris has spent 36 years in law enforcement agencies in Louisiana, Georgia, and Texas as a patrol officer, detective, trainer, administrator and police chief.  He lives in Ruston, Louisiana with his wife of 32 years, a son, and a daughter.  A graduate of Louisiana Tech, he is the author of several books and many articles on police procedure and American history topics. Wes serves on the Criminal Justice Faculty of the University of Phoenix. 

law enforcement consultant Wesley Harris

Heidi: How many years have you served in law enforcement? Why made you decide to pursue a career in law enforcement?

Wes: My law enforcement career is in its 36th year.  I’ve served in virtually every police position—dispatcher, patrol officer, detective, chief. Television played a huge role in my career decision.  I grew up watching old reruns like The Lone Ranger and Highway Patrol and later, 70’s dramas like Adam-12, Hawaii Five-O, and Police Story. The heroes of these shows were principled men of integrity and what they did in serving had a profound impact on me.  I rarely have time for television today. Besides, very few shows portray any aspect of police work accurately.

Heidi: What sort of advice/tips can you provide writers?

Wes: I understand fiction is fiction but do your research! Readers expect and deserve credibility. If police or courtroom procedure is not portrayed realistically and accurately and readers recognize it, how does any other aspect of the story have credibility?  If a Christian suspense novel doesn’t get the technical details right, how does the reader know particulars about life and faith and eternity are correct?   Many resources are available to mystery and suspense writers and there’s no excuse not to take use them. 

Heidi: You’re an accomplished nonfiction writer, and you also have a consulting service for fiction writers. What sort of services do you provide for writers?

Wes: I’ve written on police procedures for those in the profession, but also on American history topics. I’ve always wanted to write a crime suspense novel with a Christian perspective. When I began studying fiction writing and getting to know other writers, I found many begging for help in writing with unfamiliar topics.  I started working with some authors by answering their questions about police procedures and decided to expand into a consulting service.  I can brainstorm with writers about story ideas, review manuscripts for accuracy in legal procedures and other details, assist in devising realistic cop and criminal dialogue.  I provide quick turnaround so writers aren’t on hold awaiting an answer. I’m happy to say I’ve helped novelists hurtle roadblocks and avoid some major technical flaws.

Heidi: I enjoy watching Castle, Bones, and The Mentalist, but I know that not everything I see on TV, with regard to law enforcement, is real. What aspect of law enforcement would surprise writers the most?

Wes: TV detectives are always on the go, chasing bad guys, getting into car chases and shootouts. Eighty percent of what a detective does is behind a desk, either on the phone or on the computer. The paperwork is horrendous.  Make a big arrest and you spend the next three days writing about it.

Heidi: What are your pet peeves with regard to law enforcement mistakes in fiction?

Wes: I mention a number of pet peeves on my website,  I devour Christian mystery and suspense now that I’m writing my own novel, so I often see mistakes about firearms and legal procedures for searches and arrests.  But what irks me the most is a tendency of many novelists to portray federal law enforcement agents as more competent and professional than the local police.  I dislike a story that disparages local officers by interjecting a federal agent or special state investigator supposedly more competent to handle the case. Ninety-five percent of America’s law enforcement officers work for local city and county agencies.  They handle nearly all the murders and serious violent crimes. They are our neighbors.  Their kids go to school with our kids.  I’d like to see more of them as protagonists. Federal agents rarely get involved in local crimes.  I’ve worked thousands of cases from burglary to fraud to murder in the past three decades and less than a dozen involved a federal agency. I love the police chief in Kathy Herman’s Sophie Trace series and Janice Cantore’s patrol officers in her Pacific Coast trilogy. They portray real officers serving in their local communities.

Heidi: How may writers connect with you/contact you?

Wes: Email is best:  I’m on Facebook in addition to the website. I’d love to hear from anyone with questions on crime or police and court procedures.

Wes has graciously agreed to offer a 2500-word critique to one writer, who will be chosen at random. To be entered in the drawing, please do the following:

(1)          Leave a comment for Wes.
(2)          Include your email address in the comment. It’s okay to spell it out to avoid spam For example, yourname(at)email(dot)com. A winner will be chosen on Sept. 24 and announced on Sept. 25.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Interview with Bethany Macmanus

I had the privilege of interviewing Bethany Macmanus. I met Bethany online through ACFW. She's a talented writer and a sweet person! 

bethany macmanus


The idea formed while I was reading the book “The Anatomy of Story,” by John Truby. His unique story-building format helps writers plot, not plod. Everything, even the theme/takeaway, was developed through his model.


Very little of your life is left to your control. At some point, you have to let go and trust God.

brunette woman is shown on cover


Yes, in fact, there's a trilogy planned. I'm at work on Twelve Tragedy Lane, which will be followed by Eighteen Illusion Court. Twelve Tragedy Lane features Croft Thames, the man who will one day marry Allie Reese, the woman victimized in Six. I would call it “suspense with romantic elements.”


My dream vacation spot is Ireland. But right now I just want to go to L.A., where my WIP is set.


Don't be afraid to reach out to other writers, and “normal” people, too. It's a lonely road we travel, butt in seat, hands traveling the keyboard. If we don't live in the “real” world some of the time, how will we research our characters? There is such a thing, however, as TOO connected. I think one of the most important things you will do for yourself as a writer is establish your social boundaries—for one thing, to know when to turn off your cell phone's notifications. (hee...the extrovert in me struggles with that one daily!)


Well, at one time I thought I wanted to write about the Masons. Especially after the movie National Treasure, I was interested in how nearly every president this country has ever elected was a Mason. It didn't take me much research to learn, this secretive cult was not something I wanted to delve into as a Christian, no matter how provocative their story might be.


Eek...well, right now it is summer, and my two children are hanging out with me. They are only this little once. :) So if I get any writing time, it's when my writing partner and I schedule a playdate for our kids. That, or during a Veggie Tales movie. Next week they both will start school, and I will start writing full-time. I plan to reward my solid word count days with one, maybe two Panera Bread writing days!

If you're wanting to know what having a writing partner is like, she and I write in different genres, and we met at our local ACFW chapter meeting. At first I wondered if it would work out because we both like to talk a lot. But once we have our lunchtime conversation out of the way, and actually start writing, we find it extremely helpful to bounce ideas off of each other, and can get a lot done!


I am blogging short, suspenseful stories (1500 words or less) at Come comment! I am active on my Facebook author page , but not as much on my Twitter (@bgmacmanus). I like to post novel bonus material on Pinterest ( ).

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Interview and Giveaway with Fay Lamb


I'd like to welcome Fay Lamb to Sleuths and Suspects. I believe this is her first time to visit and I hope it will be many more. I first met Fay at the Catch the Wave Writer's Conference in Atlanta, GA last year. She is an excellent teacher and she is one of the friendliest and helpful editors I've met. I'm looking forward to seeing her again this year. I'm thrilled for her success with her debut books. She is gracious to offer a copy of her book "Stalking Willow" for a giveaway. Just leave a comment and your email address and be a follower of Sleuths and Suspects to be entered in the giveaway. Believe me you don't want to miss this book! Now on to the interview.

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1.       Tell us a little about yourself.

I live in a small Florida town called Titusville. Most times when I mention the name of the city, I have to add that it is where Kennedy Space Center is located. My family, and my husband’s family have lived here for generations. Both of our grandmothers were born in Titusville. Besides writing, I am also an acquisition editor for Pelican Book Group—a job I love. I am a past-secretary for ACFW, and I moderated the ACFW Scribes’ Critique Group for four years.


2.       Tell us about your most recent book/or the book we are focusing on.

Stalking Willow is the first novel in my romantic suspense series entitled Amazing Grace. This story was released by Write Integrity Press in May.


Bitterness, a stalker, and a neighbor to die for. What's a girl to do? Trailed by a stalker in New York City, Willow Thomas, a young ad executive, scurries back to her small North Carolina hometown and the lake house where ten years earlier a scandal revealed her entire life had been a lie, and a seed of bitterness took root in her soul. The cocoon of safety Willow feels upon her arrival home soon unravels when she meets opposition from her and the stalker reveals he is close on her heels.

Can Willow learn to trust God to tear out her roots of resentment, reunite her family, ferret out a deadly stalker, and to rekindle the love she left behind?


3.       Why did you choose this particular genre?

I’m not sure that I choose the genre as much as it chose me. I’m usually the first one to put my hands over my eyes when something tense or suspenseful comes on the television. I also keep asking, “Tell me what happened? Did he kill her yet? How’d he do it?” However, when writing suspense, I know what’s going to happen, and I take a lot of joy in hopefully making the reader’s shoulders climb while they’re waiting to see if the hero or heroine will save the day, get out of the situation, and live to tell about it.

Stalking Willow FRONT Cover FINAL.jpg


4.       What was your journey to publication like?

I have a number of adjectives to describe that journey: long, arduous, surprising, fulfilling, and incredible. I have always been a writer. Before I could write, I was a storyteller. Words are magically to me. As a kid who sat in a car while her mother worked or remained home behind closed doors as a latchkey child, storytelling was my preservation. When I finally realized how God wanted me to use the talent He’s given me, I had to learn how to craft my storytelling. That took a few years. Well, it actually took more than a few, but who’s counting?


Currently, and for what I think will be a very long while, I’m working with a tremendous editor, and those times in the past when I would have used the unhappy sounding adjectives were well worth it because now, I’m enjoying myself tremendously.


5.       What is a couple of your favorite books and what are you reading now?

Bliss by Jeness Walker and Tracy Bowman is at the top of my list of all-time favorite reads. The story is laugh-out-loud funny from the start to the very last line. I hesitate to call it chick-lit or women’s fiction. Let’s call it humorous contemporary fiction.


Failstate by John Otte and A Fistful of God by Therese Travis are two of my favorite published young adult novels. I’m partial to Therese’s story because I acquired and edited it for Pelican, but both of these stories transcend their genre, and I highly recommend them.


Currently, I’m reading non-fiction. The book is The Prophecies Fulfilled in the Birth of Jesus Christ. An excellent read and study by Dianne E. Butts, a fellow writer at Pix-N-Pens.


6.       What are you working on now and can you give us a little peek inside it?

Right now, until September 1, I purposely took a writing hiatus because I had a packed August filled with workshops. However, I’m looking forward to delving into the writing of four books that are currently on deadline. I’m happy to give you a little peek inside Better than Revenge, the next book in my Amazing Grace series.


Issie pushed on the gas pedal. The Jeep shot from the bridge and onto the road, skidding against slick mud.

Using both hands, she battled for control of the vehicle, but gravity pulled against her body as the car spun in circles. With a cry, she let go of the wheel and grabbed Cole, pulling him close.

“Not the water, Lord. Don’t let us drown. Please, don’t let us drown,” she pleaded.

With a deafening crash and bone-jarring impact the vehicle came to a sudden stop. Issie held onto Cole, too afraid to move. After a long moment, he wiggled in her arms. She had pulled him to her despite his latched seatbelt. “Are you okay?” She inspected him from head to chest.

He nodded.

“Thank you, Lord.” Thunder boomed, drowning out her words of gratitude.

Looking out her open window through the pouring rain, Issie stared in amazement at the ruts gouged deep in the mire where they’d spun in circles. Their path had taken them away from the creek and across the road to slam up against one of the hundred year old elms. A miracle for sure. Her airbags hadn’t even deployed. Deep, shuddering breaths shook her body. She collapsed over the steering wheel again and sobbed.

Cole touched her. “Mommy, we’re safe. We can walk from here.”

So calm. Where did he get that part of his nature?

Yes, they were safe for the moment, but she’d feel even safer at home with Cole in his pajamas after a warm shower.

Issie groped around in the back of the Jeep, feeling for the blanket she always kept there. Rough wool grazed her fingertips. She pushed open the door, stepped out of the vehicle, and tugged the blanket over her head. Cole climbed across the seat and out to stand under the blanket she’d spread over her. The makeshift shelter did little to protect them against the driving rain.

Cole’s hand gripped her shirt. Water dripped from his bangs onto his straight little nose. His drenched clothing stuck to his body. His teeth chattered, and he let out a broken “Brrr” under his breath. She kept the woolen cover over them and started down the road toward home.

She looked down at him. “What do you say to a warm shower, a grilled cheese sandwich, some warm cookies, and a glass of milk?”

He smiled up at her. “Yeah.”

“Are you okay?” The voice emanated from outside their cloth protection.

Someone was on her property. She was alone and vulnerable. Issie screamed and pushed her son behind her.


7.       What advice would you give authors who are on their own journey to publication?

This is always one of my favorite questions because I love to encourage writers. Recently, I ran across an anonymous quote that said: “It may be true that the real writer writes, but most people believe that a real writers is one who is published.” My advice is to never let anyone tell you that if you are unpublished, you are not an author. Real writers write. Period. I wrote for years. Publication did not make me an author. The process of writing made me an author. And I was an author before I was published. So, I encourage writers to write. Write more than one book. While you’re seeking publication write more books. In that way, when the doors open, you have more to offer than one story. And publishers love to know that an author has more to offer.


8.       Do you have any books or websites that have helped you with your writing that you could share with us?


I recommend every book on crafting stories written by James Scott Bell: Plot and Structure, Revision and Self-Editing, and Conflict and Suspense. Mr. Bell has an easy style of teaching, and his examples are excellent. He doesn’t talk over our heads and provide strategies that would bore most writers. They are instructional and fun to read. For encouragement in your writer’s journey, I highly recommend his The Art of War for Writers.


9.       Is there anything you’d like to tell us we haven’t covered?

This has been a whirlwind summer for me. I’m so blessed and thankful to have three releases. Stalking Willow was released in May. Charisse, the first book in my contemporary romance series, The Ties that Bind, released in July, and Better than Revenge, the second novel in the Amazing Grace series releases and the story whose excerpt is shared in this interview will release in September.


10.   Please let us know where we can find you on the web.

My website is There I have a blog entitled Inner Source where guest authors are interviewed and share about the issues contained in their stories—those issues their charactesr overcome by God’s amazing grace or even issues that God might have brought to their attention during the writing of their work.


I also love meeting new friends on FB ( and Twitter ( Oh, and I’m also The Tactical Editor, providing editing and writer helps Monday through Friday at

Deborah Malone’s first novel Death in Dahlonega, finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Category Five writing contest! Deborah was also nominated for 2012 Georgia Author of the Year in First Novel category. She has worked as a freelance writer and photographer, for the historic magazine “Georgia Backroads.” She has had many articles and photographs published, and her writing is featured in “Tales of the Rails,” edited by Olin Jackson. She is a member of the Georgia Writer’s Association. As a current member of the American Christian Fiction Writer she has established a blog where she reviews Christian Fiction.