Oak Tree Authors Talk Writing Mysteries

Nov 24, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Oak Tree authors

This week three Oak Tree Press mystery authors share about their books and how they came to be! Also, at the end of this post are details on how you can win copies of all three books! Purchase the books from the included links as you get ready to do your Christmas shopping and you help support KRL!

No Evidence of a Crime & The Evidence is Clear
by S. Connell Vondrak

There are only three types of finger prints: loops, whorls and arches. Loops are the most common by far and almost every loop starts its loop coming from the direction of pinky then looping back to toward the pinky, giving latent print examiners an idea of which hand the print is from before they even start their comparisons.

There are a lot of interesting things we use in forensics that most people would know if they had time to study the world around them, but most of us do not have that kind of time. The mysteries I write dabble in those types of facts that are apparent if you know to look for them. Having worked as a forensic scientist for over 20 years, forensics facts come easily to me and they play a large role in my mysteries but they are not the main star. As with real life, forensics offers the clues to solve the crime but the detectives put all the pieces together.

S. Connell Vondrak

In my career, I have issued many forensic reports summarizing results of evidence I have tested which have been used in our courts to convict felons and prove victims innocent. But, what if the forensic reports were wrong? Not just wrong, but being manipulated to direct the investigation to a predetermined outcome? Would our criminal justice system be able to overcome such an obstacle? Could justice prevail? These questions were the inspiration for my first book, No Evidence of a Crime, where detectives have to determine which to trust; the precise scientific results of the crime lab or the very human traits of instinct and intuition. In my second book, The Evidence is Clear, a sequel to the first, the crime lab redeems itself but the evidence is anything but clear.

That is the storyline I chose but it is not the whole story. Before I wrote anything down, I gave a lot of thought to what I like in a mystery and what I love about books. I like the mystery of the story, the chase, the hunt, the clues. In both my mysteries, all the evidence is there to answer the questions of the case but the evidence is not initially what it appears to be. The evidence doesn’t make sense because the detectives are applying it without knowing what the real question is. As you read along, pieces to the puzzle start falling into place. As the story developments and the evidence starts telling you its real secrets, you follow along with the detectives and solve the mystery together. To me, that is a very satisfying mystery.

But I also asked myself: What do I love about books? A more vast and nebulous concept, but, I think we all know that we love becoming engaged with the characters, knowing them, feeling sad when they are sad and joyous with their successes. When I close a book I love, there is a little bit of sadness that I will no longer spend time with these people. That to me is an important aspect of a book so I tried very hard to make the characters in my mysteries, people you should know. They are not perfect, they have their struggles, they have some baggage, they try to make good choices and right decisions, and in the end, I hope they are people you would like to call your friends.

How We Got The Idea For The Plot of Who’s Got The Money?
by Morgan St. James

It seems like a new scandal involving government employees who have embezzled money hits the news every day. Some of the scams are clever, others stupid and ripe for exposure. Take a very clever scam and add three savvy women who launch their own undercover investigation when they don’t receive bonus money due to them and the other sales representatives. Despite a series of funny backfires, they uncover a multi-million dollar embezzlement plot, or as it’s called now, Who’s Got the Money?.

Morgan St. James

When I tell people our funny crime caper involves manufacturing by inmates within factories on Federal prison grounds, the typical comment is, “But prisons make license plates. There couldn’t be much worth stealing, could there?”

Wrong! Manufacturing in Federal prisons is big business to the tune of an average of $8,000,000 a year. There are close to 100 state-of-the-art factories on Federal prison grounds that manufacture everything from flak vests to furniture. However, office furniture, cubicles and dorm furniture account for about three-quarters of that revenue. When most people hear that answer, they say, “Wow, I’d never have pictured that.”

Well neither did Meredith and I until we both answered a blind ad for sales representatives several years ago. It basically said, “Make big money in a little-known industry selling furniture to the Government.”

I lived in the Los Angeles area and Meredith lived in the Seattle area. We both have interior design backgrounds and both had transitioned to office interior project sales and marketing as did many of the people who answered the intriguing ad.

I hadn’t heard anything for a few weeks and I actually forgot about answering it. Then about nine o’clock one evening I received an interesting phone call. A man gave me his name and said, “Morgan, I’m with the Federal prison system.” My heart started to beat like a tom-tom. What had I done to warrant such a call?”

I got past my shock when he chuckled and said, “This is about the ad you answered.” My mind was blank. Ad? What ad?

“Surprised? I get that a lot when I say Federal prison system. Remember the ad for selling furniture to the government? We’ve hired a firm to handle all of the national marketing for furniture manufactured in our prison factories and we’re very interested in you. Can you be in San Diego for an interview on Friday?” He went on to give me the salary range and some other particulars. It all sounded great, if a bit strange.

Anyway, Meredith and I were both hired as part of a national sales team and for four years dealt with the military and departments of the Federal government. They were not allowed to sell to private companies or individuals; just to the Federal government.

We racked up millions of dollars in sales and in the process were inside some of the prison factories and massive military supply depots and warehouses. Most of all we had some crazy escapades. Without this knowledge we couldn’t have written our book. Eventually the company we worked for was shut down for “misappropriation” of money advanced by the government and other shady dealings.

As Meredith and I stayed in touch, I pursued my writing career full time and she stayed in the furniture industry. I’d written three published books when she called me one day and said, “I think we should use our experiences to write a book. With what we know we could come up with a great fictional plot. ” And we did!


by Stephen L. Brayton

When I moved to Oskaloosa back in 1990, I joined the community theater group. About a year later, I saw an offer for two weeks’ free taekwondo lessons at the local club. Soon, I dropped theater to continue in martial arts. When the writing bug hit me I thought of using a character I’d created years ago to be my private investigator/martial artist. However, after attending tournaments and classes and seminars and seeing all the wonderful women in the sport, I knew my character needed to be female. Thus was born Mallory Petersen, 29, blonde, blue eyes, six feet tall, Fourth Degree Black Belt and private investigator in Des Moines, Iowa.

Stephen L. Brayton

I started writing Alpha back in the mid 90s but after reading the first few chapters to a critique group, I realized I needed to learn a bit more about the craft of writing. So, I settled for churning out short stories. In the meantime, the idea for Mallory’s second novel, Beta, came to the forefront, so I started developing that story.

When Beta was accepted for publication in 2009, I resurrected the old draft of Alpha, dusted it off, and took from it the basic plot, many of the existing characters, added a few more, and added a subplot.

On a typical day, Mallory deals with many oddball cases (such as trailing cheaters and even searching for two lost prize winning goats for a local farmer). Every now and then, she gets involved with a serious case, usually one that affects her personally and will play havoc with her emotions. Alpha deals with Mallory finding her boyfriend murdered outside her office one October morning. Despite the resistance of the homicide investigator, she starts digging into the case. Subsequent discoveries bring out the facts that the boyfriend had been married and was involved in illegal narcotics.

I’ve often been asked how much of myself is written into my main character. My answer has been that Mallory is me, except she’s a woman, better looking, a better instructor, and a much more skilled martial artist. However, she has similar qualities (dislikes coffee, drinks Dr Pepper, quirky sense of humor, blonde, blue eyes, tall, romantic). I’ve enjoyed exploring the Mallory character, finding new ways to take her down to the lowest levels spiritually, emotional, and physically, then bringing her back on top.

During my research for the plot, I’ve had some experiences that I enjoyed including some in the stories. Many of the characters are either people I’ve met or a composite of some. I try to use actual locations (fictionalizing them, of course), although the site of Mallory’s office was torn down years ago. I was a witness to the event at the Val Air Ballroom that Mallory interrupts. I have toured the Des Moines Police Department and, uh, unintentionally trespassed onto into the rail yard seen at the end of the book.

The Mallory Petersen stories have been enjoyed by mystery lovers, martial artists, and anybody who enjoys a strong female protagonist with a little bit of humor thrown into the mix.

Learn more about these authors and other Oak Tree authors on their website.

Want to know how to see your ad like this at the end of an article? Email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] for more info. 10% of all ad sales goes to animal rescue.

To enter to win a copy of all three Oak Tree mysteries, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Oak”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 8, 2012. U.S. residents only.


  1. All three are fascinating stories. Isn’t it amazing how much of our real life experiences we can put into a book? Thank you so much for sharing your stories.

  2. Very interesting stories here. I have the same feeling about ending a good book, a little sad when I read the last page because i want just a little bit more.

  3. We have a winner
    Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher

  4. Great stories, I agree with Marja completely…experiences wrote into a book is just amazing!

    Thanks a lot for the post 🙂


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