John M. Wills

Books and blog



Science Makes a Great Mystery

Today I visit with J.L. Greger a fellow novelist and member of the Public Safety Writers Association. I’m sure you’ll find her new novel intriguing. Enjoy!reduced flu

Do you realize how many mystery and thriller writers have science backgrounds? Consider Arthur Conan Doyle (physician), Agatha Christie (apothecaries’ assistant during World War I) Michael Crichton (physician by training), Kathy Reichs (forensic anthropologist), and Robin Cook ( physician). Thus, it’s not surprising as a retired biology professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I write mystery/suspense novels with tidbits of science.

Scientists, especially physicians, write mysteries and thrillers for several reasons: 1. Science is a way to add intriguing bits of reality to fiction. 2. Nothing is scarier than a disease which resists known medical treatments. 3. Finding a cure for a new disease or making a vaccine against a new virus is an example of problem solving. That’s pretty similar to solving a fictional mystery but with higher consequences. 4. The stress of medical emergencies bring out the best and worst in real or fictional characters.

Let me tell you how science is integral to the plot of my new thriller: In The Flu Is Coming, a new type of flu — the Philippine flu — kills nearly half of the residents in an upscale, gated community in less than a week. Those who survive become virtual prisoners in their homes when a quarantine is imposed. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recruits Sara Almquist, a resident of the community and a scientist, to apply her skills as an epidemiologist to find ways to limit the spread of the epidemic. As she pries into her neighbors’ lives, she finds promising scientific clues. Unfortunately, she also learns too much about several of them and violence ensues when they try to escape the quarantine.

The flu I describe in my thriller could happen.

CDC and the World Health Organization are constantly watching for emerging flu viruses, fearing one will emerge with the virulence of the virus that caused the flu pandemic of 1918. Did you know: One-third of the world’s population was infected with that virus and 50 million died worldwide?

All it would take for another flu pandemic are small mutations in avian or swine flu viruses (not previously occurring in humans) that allowed them to be transmitted among humans. In The Flu Is Coming, those mutations occurred in the Philippines. While scientist like, my heroine Sara Almquist, struggle to find clues that will allow the development of effective vaccines and antivirals, the flu spreads rapidly. Scary but real?

Of course, Sara gets involved in a lot more than science in The Flu Is Coming when she learns too much about the criminal activities of a couple of her neighbors. So, fans of police procedurals won’t be disappointed. They’ll get a snap shot of the problems faced by law enforcement agents during a quarantine.
Why don’t you read The Flu Is Coming and learn a little thrilling science?

Thumbnail of the new novel: In The Flu Is Coming, epidemiologist Sara Almquist is trying to stop two killers: the Philippine flu, which is rapidly wiping out everyone in a walled community in New Mexico, and a drug kingpin determined to break out of the quarantined enclave.

The paperback version of The Flu Is Coming is available at: The Kindle version at:

Bio: J.L. Greger is a scientist and research administrator turned novelist. She likes to include tidbits of science in her award-winning thriller/mystery novels: Murder: A Way to Lose, Riddled with Clues, and others. To learn more, visit

New and exciting novel: River Spirits, available now!



Avoiding the Jessica Fletcher Syndrome

In both my series, murder does happen in small towns. And yes, I’ve thought about the Jessica Fletcher syndrome.

In the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, the small town is near larger towns and the murders that happen seem possible —plus it’s a Southern California beach town.Me at SJ Sisters in Crime (1)

Bear Creek, the small town in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, is more of a village than a town. However, the area Tempe patrols is large, taking in the mountains, campgrounds, and she’s often called to the nearby Bear Creek Indian Reservation.

In an earlier book, Calling the Dead, Tempe traveled to other towns in California to learn more about a suspect. In Kindred Spirits, she visited Crescent City to learn more about a victim, and Santa Barbara to find out about a suspect.

Because Tempe is a Tulare County deputy, once she was asked to help out with a murder that happened in a nearby city because the victim had ties to the reservation.

To be perfectly honest, Bear Creek is based on the area where I live, and the entire time I’ve lived here there have only been two murders. The nearby Indian reservation has had a few more.

In the latest, River Spirits, outsiders cause all the problems.

I have no idea what will happen in the next book, but it’s possible she may go elsewhere and help with a crime. It will depend upon what ideas pop into my head.

Since Jessica Fletcher was a writer who solved crimes and my heroine is in law enforcement, I don’t think I’ll have to worry about anyone thinking they may be in jeopardy if they know Tempe.


About the new novel, River Spirits:

While filming a movie on the Bear Creek Indian Reservation, the film crew trespasses on sacred ground, threats are made against the female stars, a the Hairy Man finds a missing woman, an actor is murdered, and Deputy Tempe Crabtree has no idea who is guilty. Once again, the elusive and legendary Hairy Man plays an important role in this newest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

River Spirits (1)

About Marilyn:

Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty-five published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest River Spirits from Mundania Press. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at and her blog at

Contest: The winner will be the person who comments on the most blog posts during the tour.

He or she can either have a character in my next book named after them, or choose an earlier book in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series—either a paper book or e-book.

I’m heading over to P. J. Nunn’s to talk about promotion.


Meet Author Kurt Kamm

Today I’m hosting author Kurt Kamm.

First responders and the hazards they face and deter are at the heart of the fact-based mystery novels of Malibu, California author, Kurt Kamm. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Law School, Kurt had a successful career as a financial executive and CEO before immersing himself in the world of the first responders who feature so prominently in his books.  After attending the El Camino Fire Academy and training in wildland firefighting, arson investigation, and hazardous materials response, Kurt also became a graduate of the ATF Citizen’s Academy and has ridden along with the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s famed Urban Search & Rescue Task Force.  Along with this, Kurt has has used his 2 kurt kamm headshotcontacts with CalFire, Los Angeles and Ventura County Fire Departments, and the ATF to enhance the research which vests his novels with a realism that puts his readers on the ground with his characters.

Kurt, when did you realize you wanted to be a writer, and when did you actually begin to write?

I have always enjoyed writing and won a short story prize in high school. When I was at Brown, I took a career guidance test and was advised to become a writer. Even in those young, naive days, I knew I couldn’t earn enough money as a writer and decided to go to law school and on to Wall Street. I look at writing as a final reward for working hard at other things for most of my life

What in your background prepared you to be a writer?

Every lawyer has to learn how to write, if not in the most interesting way. Right brain-left brain. I was never very good at math, but I was a terrific reader and had a good imagination. My business partner couldn’t write two sentences but was brilliant at numbers. We made a great pair.

It is said the key to becoming a writer is to sit in a chair and write. What made you finally sit down and write?

I retired, was recently divorced, and moved out to Malibu. One day I woke up and had NOTHING to do. A friend from the LA Times convinced me to start writing classes. We were encouraged to keep a journal, and write something, anything, every day. That’s how I got started. I really enjoyed it and thought, this is something I can do.

You write faction – fiction based on fact. How much research goes into your novels?

A lot of research. I just read about an author who wrote an entire series of novels about India without ever having even been there. That’s inconceivable to me. I have to be out in the field, smelling, touching, checking out the colors and textures and, most important, listening to the people around me. I have spent hundreds of hours with the men from LA County Fire Department in training situations and at actual incidents. I’ve never had so much fun in my life and have opened a window into a part of life that was unknown to me when I worked in the financial world. I use those experiences as the backgrounds for my novels. I could never dream that stuff up.

Do you do your research yourself, or do you have an assistant do it?

I do all the research myself. I’m not sharing the fun with anyone!

With the attention you give to detail, you know a tremendous amount about your topics. Why faction? Why not non-fiction?

Non-fiction is boring. I want to create factual backgrounds and then insert unique characters: identical twins who are terrorists, albinos obsessed with tattoos and rare blood, and weather broadcasters fixated on fires.

In Tunnel Visions you bring attention to the realities we are facing with water in California? What made this topic of interest to you?1 Tunnel Visions Cover

The idea for Tunnel Visions came from an actual event, a disastrous gas explosion in a water tunnel which killed 17 men. Once I adopted that as the background for the novel, the whole issue of California’s water shortage became part of the story.

Is this reversible? How?

It’s hard to reverse a water shortage unless you are God. Conservation will help. The rain/drought cycles may be decades long. The western United States had a 50 year wet cycle up to end of the 20th Century, so everyone adjusted their expectations and water usage upward. Now we’re in a drought cycle and it’s hard to know how long it will last.

For you, what drives a novel – plot or character?

Character drives the novel.  I love to imagine people who are slightly, or significantly, off center. Isn’t everyone a little weird?  The personality issues create the plot.

You are, shall we say, seasoned. Yet you capture the voice and pathos of a young protagonist easily.  How easy or difficult is this for you?

I refuse to admit my age. Who wants to read something written by an old guy about an old character who’s been there and done that? I like to write about young characters who are intrepid and enthusiastic but don’t have enough life-experience to avoid making mistakes. Actually, it’s easy to create these young characters, and I love ‘em all! Now excuse me, I have to take my mid-morning nap.

Your female character in Tunnel Vision is particularly strong. Did you make her this way on purpose? Did you model her on anyone in particular?

I do know a woman who is a special agent for the ATF, and she gave me some insight into her life in law enforcement. She is attractive, feminine, and tough as nails. I almost fell off my chair when she told me that she worked undercover for two years in an outlaw motorcycle gang in Wichita. (“Winter on a bike sucks.”)  I like including strong female characters – I guess it brings out my feminine side.

What do you hope readers take away from your books?

First, I hope they simply enjoy the experience of reading my novels and find my characters interesting, lovable, or reprehensible. I would also hope they get some insight into the skill and dedication of the first responders who make everyone else’s life safer and easier.

What is the best advice you ever received as a writer?

How about the worst advice? The worst advice was, “Write what you know.” If you do that, you might not ever write anything interesting. Get away from your computer. Get yourself into something you know nothing about, and learn something new. Then go back and write about that.

What is your best advice for aspiring authors?

When I was a master’s bicycle racer, I spent hours, training by myself and trashing my body. Then, on race days, I got up at 4 AM, drove two hours to a 7 AM race start, busted my gut for 2 hours, and sometimes ended up on the podium. And guess what? Almost no one was around and almost no one cared. Sometimes I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” The answer was, because I loved it. The same applies to writing. You may spend hours working hard to create something no one notices or cares about, so you had better enjoy the process, because that may be all the reward you get. There are no guarantees. That said, if you do love what you are doing, don’t ever give up.

Kurt Kamm is an award-winning novelist of fact-based fiction.  His latest thriller, Tunnel Visions, is on shelves now.  You can read more from Kurt on Huffington Post or Facebook.  To read interviews conducted by Kurt with some of your favorite best-selling authors, visit




Organizing Your Novel

resume-writer-editAre you an architect or a gardener?

I’ve had several conversations with authors regarding how they organize their writing process. It’s interesting to discover that no two writers are alike regarding how they navigate the various stages of planning, writing, re-writing, and editing. The spectrum is broad, and ranges from those who are structured, i.e., outlines, full character descriptions, etc., to those like myself who kind of fly by the seat of their pants.

That’s not to say I have no structure. Indeed, I have a good idea about who my main character(s) is/are, and what the story is about, and if one is needed, a sub plot is created. But one thing I never completely determine ahead of time is the ending. As I write the novel, different endings pop into my head. I quickly jot them down and by the time the manuscript is ready for the ending I usually have a couple to choose from.

I think not being tethered to an ending is preferable to needing to write to a pre-determined ending. In my case, I’m able to take the story down different avenues, and even include characters I may not have initially thought about. The only problem occurs when an author has more than one ending that would fit perfectly. Then how does one choose between the two?

Structure is good, though sometimes it can restrain creativity. I rather like being a free-spirited author, one who prefers non-traditional methods. I think author George R.R. Martin said it best. “I think there are two types of writers, the architects, and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”


A visit with author John Ouellet

Today my guest is John Ouellet, a former FBI colleague in the Detroit Division. John, I know you recently retired and just had your first novel published. That’s exciting news I’ll want my readers to learn about. Thanks for agreeing to be a guest on my blog.

Please introduce yourself and tell the readers a little bit about yourself:  when you began writing, your background, where you live, etc.

My name is John Ouellet. I grew up north of Boston and graduated from Northeastern University with a criminal justice degree. As an ROTC grad, I received a commission in the Army, first as an MP, then an Infantry Officer. I spent nine years there before a 23-year career as a special agent with the FBI, the entire career in Detroit. So I guess that would lead you to believe crime/mystery would be my genre.  Or maybe military history. Actually, my first novel was a love story, A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE. That was in the early 1990’s. It’s unpublished but I think it has some of my best writingjohn ouellet

Has your law enforcement background influenced your writing?

Yes, very much so. Besides knowing how to do a decent procedural, it gave me a character foundation whereby I could feel the motivations, hear the speech pattern, and put together some credible dialogue in scenes that don’t seem contrived. (In my love story I had to reach some. I mean, I love my wife but we would make a pitiful novel). In crime writing, a cop/investigator comes up with scenes, characters, dialogue, and motives effortlessly. I guess the trick for us as writers is to get out of our own skin and completely into our characters.

 I have several completed crime novels in my thumb drive waiting to breathe air. I particularly love writing the Caper which Lawrence Block (I believe it was Block) called the “How catch ‘em” as opposed to the “who dunnit.” The sub-genre is best done by the late Elmore Leonard. Here the character runs the show. What he or she does is secondary to how they do it. 

What inspired you to begin writing, and do you write every day?

I’ve always loved to write, and I think I know why. As a kid I played cowboy and Army. I didn’t just play; I acted out my own screenplays. I had others act them out with me. If I were alone, heck, I’d take on all the parts. Very (melo) dramatic. I was the only six-year old in the neighborhood to have a love scene played out just before the hero bought it. 

I was voted my high school class writer but it was a fluke. I wrote a horror short story that was published in the school journal my senior year. Other than the perv who scratched and scribbled in the boy’s bathroom, I was the only guy anyone could think of, and I didn’t beat the perv by much.

I’d love to write everyday but it doesn’t happen. But, John, you know how that works – when you’re a writer, you’re always writing, wherever you are, even in your sleep.

I know you have a new novel that just came out. Please tell my readers about it.Captive Dove

Yes, the plug. Thanks, John. THE CAPTIVE DOVE, published in November 2013 by All Things That Matter Press. It came to me from a FBI colleague who had read the short stories I had published in St Anthony Messenger (I mention this in the acknowledgments). 

Joe, his brother-in-law is of Palestinian descent. In 1964 when he’s six and his sister is 14, they accompany their grandfather to the village Dayr Ghasana in the West Bank from their home in South Chicago. His sister and grandfather soon leave, but Joe stays on until June 8, 1967, and is rescued by Israeli soldiers after being caught in Ramallah at the start of the Six-Day War. Joe is with his mentally handicapped cousin who is killed on the second day. It takes Joe three days to find his way back to the village where an Israeli captain takes him through hostile fire and bombings to get him to the Tel Aviv airport. True story. I added fictional characters and accounts to create a more compelling one. 

What intrigued me most about Joe’s story was the theme of war from children’s eyes where Joe witnesses heroes and villains on all sides. It is in first person point of view, and though it’s a flashback (where Joe can reflect as an adult), the perspectives of this new world all come from young Joe.

Tell us about your publishing experience.

I take it you’re referring to the act of getting published. As I mentioned, I have about ten complete and three incomplete novels. I send them out and get some feedback, but mostly boilerplate rejections. And by the way, I don’t count the rejections so that someday, someone will say, “Hey, you know that guy was rejected 74 times before he was published.” That’s like Miguel Cabrera counting the number of times he didn’t hit a home run. I count only the acceptances. One.

Back in the early 90’s, I was mailing out the query, synopsis, and three chapters via US Postal and FedEx. That cost bucks. Even though email submissions are cheaper, you still can’t shotgun them out. 

For THE CAPTIVE DOVE, I knew without a track record I wasn’t going to cut it with a major literary agent or Press. Been there, done that, and frankly, John, I wasn’t about to waste my time and efforts. So I went to the small, independent Presses. When I got a name, I ran them through the Predators and Editors website. Then I just Googled them for any good/bad reviews. All Things That Matter Press came off looking promising so I took the plunge. 

As you know, small presses have no budget for marketing so I’m still a babe in this area (glad you didn’t ask about my marketing experience ‘cause this would have been a very short block). 

Also, you won’t find a copy editor to dot your “i’s” so don’t rush through the galley as I did the first time around. It came out on Amazon, I bought 15 copies, advertised it on Facebook, then slunk back to tell folks to hold off on buying the “Oops” copy until I got it close enough for government work.

What is your most rewarding writing experience?

Getting published (somebody believes in it).

Do you belong to any writing groups, or critique groups?

I just joined the Public Safety Writer’s Association. Another plug, I started a group on GoodReads in the Mystery and Thriller section “Crimewriter how to.”  It’s advertised for crime writer’s (or novelists who are creating such scenes) who don’t want to rely on LAW and ORDER for their procedural and tactical law enforcement info.  I invite readers of this blog to join as expert advisors, as well those writers who could use this as a resource.

Are you working on a new project?

Always, John.  I do have a mystery series concept with the first book half done.

Is there anything you would like to share with our readers?

Thanks for reading this and THE CAPTIVE DOVE. John, I’m not proud. I’m not going to say writing is its own reward. The reward is the reader. Without them, we’re on the range shooting blanks

Please provide the readers with a link to your website, and a link to your book.

Oh, well, ah … I got no website. 

The novel can be found at:


Thanks for sharing your story with all of us, John. I wish you much success in your journey as a writer. I look forward to seeing you in July at the Public Safety Writers Association conference in Las Vegas.

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