Guest Chick: Pam Clark

The Chicks are very excited to welcome Pam Clark, author of Shoot if You Must, to the blog today! Pam has kindly offered a giveaway, too, so please read on to find out how to be entered.

Tell The Truth—But Tell It Slant

I love reading Chicks on the Case and am thrilled to be a guest blogger. I met three of the Chicks at the ill-fated Left Coast Crime last March. I shared my first pandemic “handshake” with Becky Clark and toasted the conference-that-might-have-been with Cynthia Kuhn, Kathy Valenti and others. The next morning, instead of being a panelist, I was flying back to the East Coast…on Friday the 13th!


But writers don’t let little things like global pandemics get them down, or at least not for long. We plop in front of our computers and write, trusting that the strategies which have worked before will do so again. My two best strategies involve being alert to my environment and mining personal experience.

I frequently go exploring with my dog, Kirby the Amazing. (I don’t know what that sticker is doing on his nose. Kirby is not for sale.) Those walks often prove very fruitful.

Typically, walking’s a prime time to let the mind wander, imagine connections, and gather details. For example, we came upon this abandoned water bottle.

Somebody probably just forgot it, but my writer’s mind disagreed. Had someone been kidnapped or bushwhacked? But Kirby, being a writer’s dog, took it a step further—alien abduction. When we watched Independence Day this 4th of July, he really liked Randy Quaid’s character, the whacked-out former fighter pilot who believed he’d been abducted. (The dog Boomer got a paws up, too.)

Kirby slept in the backseat of the car for this next one. I went to withdraw money from the ATM, and this receipt was hanging out of the slot. Again, writer’s mind brimmed with questions, including—who keeps an available balance of $158K? Mobsters? Money launderers? Bill Gates? And if so, what was he doing in WV?


My second go-to strategy for priming the writing pump involves reworking personal experiences. Currently I’m noodling away on a sequel to my first novel, Shoot If You Must, which debuted just before the new year. Like Cynthia, I am an English professor. And like her, my protagonist is also an English professor. Prior to the murder of her most promising student, Professor Meg Adams attends the local Citizen’s Police Academy and meets Lieutenant Ty Raleigh. Horrified and guilt ridden when the student is murdered while completing an assignment for Meg’s American Lit class, she butts into Ty’s investigation. Meg’s best friend notices sparks igniting between the two and encourages her friend to make play for Lt. Tall, Dark, and Handcuffs. Oh, and did I mention that the cop has a fifteen-year-old daughter who had been best friends with the victim? And found her body? If his spunky, snarky child has her way, that romance is a non-starter. Yeah, right. But romance aside, the novel is more of a police procedural than a cozy.

Why am I telling you how these characters met? Because it’s an example of mining one’s personal experiences. I was 57 before I ever got married. Since that fact piqued people’s interest, it seemed like an engaging plot point. In fact, I met my husband while we were both attending the local Citizen’s Police Academy. Sound familiar? Except Max is an engineer not a cop. And he’s single due to divorce while Ty is a widower. Plus, Meg and Ty are in their 30s. You’ll have to ask my best friend how much she “encouraged” me. Her name’s Joan, as is Meg’s bestie. I reprised this photograph in the novel, including it among the photos in Meg’s office. It made Ty chuckle.

Which brings me to my next strategy: Tell the truth, but tell it slant—an idea I stole from Emily Dickinson. Down home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore we have a similar saying: Don’t mess up a good story with the truth. Writers do use experiences from their lives, but we change them up, embellishing them or altering some details. I’ve taken to keeping a journal of memories that might be woven into a story one day. Here are some examples:

  • Walking with my nephews (ages 4 & 6), spotting some decomposing roadkill, and having one of them ask me, “Is that what’s happening to Grammy now?” My mom had died of cancer the week before
  • Spending the night in my grandmother’s house, being woken by sirens, and watching out the window at the top of the stairs as a nearby vacant hotel burned to the ground.

I could use either of those snippets for a character’s backstory or flesh it out into a scene.

How about you? What have you seen on your rambles that could be reworked to become the kernel of a mystery? What incident from your past would make an intriguing plot detail? Why not give it a try right here in your comments? I’ll give a signed copy of my book to the one that most piques my interest.

Pam Clark grew up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in a hometown of 300 people. She holds a Master of Arts in Writing from John Hopkins University. Also a poet, she attended juried workshops with Billy Collins and Sharon Olds. In 2016, she won the Book Doctors’ Pitchapalooza contest, billed as the American Idol for books, at UNM’s Summer Writers’ Conference. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. One of her short stories has been published in an anthology—Crossing Borders—published by the San Diego chapter of SinC, and another has been accepted in the Chesapeake Chapter’s anthology Magic is Murder, due out in 2022.

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51 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Pam Clark

  1. Sounds like you and Kirby have quite the imaginations, Pam! One of my neighbors once pointed out a DVD player in the bushes near our apartment building. She thought it was likely stolen but abandoned when the thieves had to get out of there suddenly. I figured a disgruntled cat tossed it out the window when he got tired of his owners watching TV instead of feeding him. And that $158K bank balance was obviously for a ransom payment they had to withdraw $500 at a time. Darn those ATM limits!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Marla, I like your thinking! It hadn’t dawned on me that withdrawals were limited to $500. The receipt I happened upon was probably for the last withdrawal. Also love that you have a cat in your version.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve used overheard dialogue (Root of All Evil) and a news story (Heaven Has No Rage) and historical fact (The Enemy We Don’t Know). My next historical will be from a family story – an uncle who fell into the Buffalo canals near the grain elevators while drunk and drowned. His was a simple accident, but of course it won’t be that way in the book (The Lessons We Learn, out February 2022).

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Wow, Liz. Can’t wait to read your newest, complete with the drunk who drowns in a canal next to the grain elevator. I sure haven’t read that before!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for your blog, Pam, which struck a few chords with me. My series, A Caulfield, Sheridan Mystery, features two college professors, one in history, the other in English. They solve a murder case in Love and Death in Venice and in the sequel, Shakespeare’s Secrets, [out in December] one of them falls in love with the local sheriff. In the third book, they will find a wine glass left on the beach, which leads them to another murder.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I hear those chords thrumming, Bonnie. Can almost hear the comments between the history and English professors when they find that wine glass on the beach. And I’ll keep an eye out for Shakespeare’s Secrets when it debuts in December!


  4. Welcome, Pam, and congratulations on your first novel!

    You have wonderfully rich material for bookish inspiration. I absolutely love your meet-cute story with your husband, and it sounds like you’ll hit the mother lode mining personal experiences for book two. (A vacant hotel is eerie enough, but add a fire–yikes!)

    The technology aspect of Protocol was inspired by a computer snafu in which the hard drive of my computer was swapped for someone else’s when I sent it to the manufacturer for repair. Now I’m toying with fictionalizing my strange experiences as a victim of a “brushing” scam, where items I didn’t order suddenly began showing up at the house. (The best was a suitcase. What better to hide something nefarious and send to a stranger?)

    Can’t wait to see what you write next!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The most interesting things happen to you, Kathy! It’s almost like you’re a real-life mystery book character. I don’t think I will ever forget that story you shared about the client who killed his wife and claimed she ran off on him.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, it’s crazy! (And I hope I’m remembering the term correctly.) Basically online sellers who want to garner loads of positive reviews will send random items to unsuspecting consumers then create fake reviews (that are likely about different items). The items sent show a verified purchase/delivery. It’s a little mystifying how it really helps the sellers’ bottom lines, but I guess it must!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Kathy, of all of the Chicks, I think the style of my novel is most similar to yours. Mine doesn’t have the breakneck humor of Becky’s or the layered complexity of Cynthia’s. So I take your congratulations to heart.

      And I love knowing the backstory for author’s plots. Weird things do happen that allow us to weave them into stories. Very economical! And I love the “brushing” scam example of the suitcase. Mysterious and nefarious. But I’ll have to wait and see, won’t I!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Love the personal experience examples. The vacant hotel with or without a fire certainly gets my imagination going! So does that bank receipt! Can’t wait for your next book!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Debbie. Don’t know that either of those experiences will fit into the plot of the sequel, but Meg & Ty are pitched as a series. I have ten or so thumbnail sketches of plots roiling around in my brain. Can’t wait to let them out!


  6. Pam, so sorry I didn’t get to hang out with you and the rest of the Chicks at LCC. Canceled my flight two hours before it was supposed to leave, b/c things in NYC were beginning to look dire. Absolutely adore this post! The bank balance killed me—just checked mine, and nope. Your book sounds fabulous and I’ll play: My only sister and I, who are 16 years apart, grew up in New England and both married guys from Vancouver WA. More than a coincidence?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lisa, I’m sorry you missed even the snippet of LCC we did have, but you were soooo right to stay put. NYC jumped quickly to put out that fire, and you heeded sound advice.

      Sorry about your bank balance. Mine is equally flaccid, relatively speaking!

      Most cops I know agree that outrageous events are seldom coincidental. I’m thinking a New Age amateur detective would have a field day with the Tale of the Twisted Sisters!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Well, you ALMOST met me, too, at Left Coast Crime, Pam–as there I am in that top picture in the back, right, having my tarot cards read by Angela Sanders. Which is definitely something, by the way, that could be worked into a mystery novel…

    So very happy you could visit the Chicks today, and YAY about your first book! I absolutely adore the cover, and it sounds fantastic. I just wish my Jack Russell mix were as good at sniffing out ideas as is Kirby. Now, if the book were to involve squirrels…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think I must have felt the pyschic connetion, Leslie. Otherwise you wouldn’t have made it into the photo at all. If I’d known about the readings I would have bellied up to that bar. With all of that weird energy in the air, it certainly was the occasion for looking into the future! And tarot readings are certainly plot-worthy. Did you ever see the film The Red Violin? It follows the ‘life’ of a violin from its creation in 1681 to present day, and the plot progresses at each turn of a tarot card. Chilling!

      And thanks for mentioning the cover of my book. It was created by a colleague of mine, Lisa Sheirer. She took an image from the first page of the novel and turned it into art. It’s good to have talented friends!

      Kirby is my husband’s semi-service dog. (He failed his final exam for being too friendly.) So he’s pretty intuitive. But he’d happily romp with your pup after a big, fat squirrel.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Pam, I really enjoyed hearing how your walks with Kirby, the wonder dog, inspired some of your plot for your book. I had not heard the Eastern Shore quote about not mixing up a good story with the truth. I love it! Looking forward to the sequel to your first book!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Ruth. Yeah, the Eastern Shore is full of rustic witticisms. That one came from the husband of my 1st grade teacher. He’s been dead for years, but he was quite a colorful character. He shared a birthday with my dad, and each year he’d bring Dad an epicurean delight, Eastern Shore style. It could be a muskrat pie or snapper stew, served in the shell of the snapping turtle from whence it came!


  9. I’ve read mysteries all my life. And I wondered what would happen if I noticed some signs of life in an obviously abandoned house in my neighborhood growing up. Of course, I was reading kid’s mysteries then, so I was leaning toward counterfeiters.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s the spirit, Mark! When I was a kid I loved the Hardy Boys, probably more than Nancy Drew. I didn’t care about her twin set sweaters and pearls, or her roadster. Give me down & dirty adventure every day. And counterfeiters are the perfect villains!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Pam, your book sounds great, as does your personal history! I LOVE this topic. That bank receipt is fascinating. My accountant once faxed me docs that accidentally included bank information on one of his other clients – Keanu Reeves! Needless to say, my guy was horrified. But to answer your question… what if a movie star’s personal finances accidentally wound up in an unsuspecting stranger’s hands – and provided a clue to his murder that now set up the stranger as a potential victim? *Runs off to start writing.* Don’t enter me in the contest! I’m a Chick.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Glad you are enjoying the topic, Ellen. And I love your three degress of separation (or is it only two?) from Keanu Reeves. And your extrapolation of that is certainly plot worthy. A one-off, perhaps?

      And don’t worry about not making it into the contest. The entire Western World knows you’re a Chick! We are all on tenterhooks waiting for the release of Murder in the Bayou Boneyard.


  11. Pam, you’ve rubbed elbows with some of my very fave authors! Thanks for hanging out with the Chicks — and congrats on the new book! Now, I’d like to hear more about Lieutenant Tall, Dark, and Handcuffs…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Vickie, even thoughtI haven’t rubbed rubbed elbows with you, I’m sure I would greatly enjoy the encounter. My hometown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore shares many similarities with your native Memphis. But we are more about wetlands than music.

      And I hear you about Ty. He is a toothsome morsel with a keen intellect. A guy who’d love to be invited to a Moonshine & Magnolias bash al la Death Crashes the Party. So would I, for that matter.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I love your story about meeting your husband at the local Citizen’s Police Academy!

    I’m sorry I missed seeing you at LCC. I was there for a few hours before everything shut down.

    One of my favorite inspirations for a story came from a definition of a word I saw during a bus ride. It didn’t result in a mystery book, but I still have that manuscript lying around…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jennifer, athough my initial meeting with my husband may have been improbable, it’s made for a successful marriage.

      I love the idea of the world just handing us ideas if we are open enough to let it happen. Duotidian things like bus rides and dog walks can be the most productive. And I have a good feeling about that “word definition” manuscript!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think any Hallmark movies have used a meet-cute at a citizens’ police academy yet, Pam. A little side project? Though the, ahem, handcuffs might have to go.)


  13. Pam, thank you so much for visiting us today! What a terrific post! Loved your book and am thrilled that you’re here. (And it was so GREAT to meet you at Left Coast Crime.) Yes, my writer brain churns out what-ifs constantly…some better than others, ha.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Cynthia, the thanks is reciprocal. You are the Chick who invited me, and it’s being way fun. It’s also the gift that keeps on giving, because now I know that I am archieved somewhere in FB land!

      Keep those what-ifs coming!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Don’t we look so happy doing our pandemic elbow bump? How little we understood what was just around the corner!

    So glad you visited us today, Pam. Sorry to be chiming in my congrats on your book so late today, but—drumroll please—I actually left my house for an outing today with my son!

    I love the receipt story and really would love to know if it was nefarious or not. I mean, I *know* it was nefarious because non-crooks don’t keep money like that in their bank account. But in what way did they accumulate those ill-gotten gains. Was it even theirs?

    “Tall, Dark, and Handcuffs” … you crack me up!


    1. I think that’s our deer in the headlights look. Just before that picture was snapped, I’d just heard that they’d canceled all Broadway plays. Had been hearing people moaning about sports, but it wasn’t real for me until they darkened the Great White Way. And in light of BLM, should we even use that term anymore?

      Yup, that receipt is a puzzle. It could go so many ways.

      Glad you enjoyed Ty’s moniker. It warms my heart (and feeds my ego) to know that I could bring a chuckle to the queen of one-liners!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I’m showing up late to the party, but I’ve read Pam’s debut novel, Shoot if you Must, and it is superb! It’s one of those can’t-put-it-down books. One of those books you think about long after the last page. So, Pam, take some of these marvelous ideas and share them with us in book two! I can’t wait!


    1. Oh, Lynn you are the best! You’ve been with me on the journey since the day I found out an agent wanted to sign me. Am undecided which of two plots I want to persue in the sequel. At this point I may just flip a coin!


  16. I don’t remember the names anymore, but do you remember the murder of the family who lived on Airey Hill Road? Their son-in-law (David something) was separated from their daughter, and one day just lost it. He killed her parents and her brother – and spent the night in the wooded gully across from my mother’s tenant house where I was living. We didn’t know that exactly until the next day, but I’ll tell you that was one weird night. I think he may have been a class behind us at CHS. He died at the Hagerstown Maximum Security prison a few years later.

    You have the best ideas for your books – this one just came to mind. And woohoo guest blogger!! Totally cool.


    1. I have a vague recollection of that…I think. There couldn’t have been that many murders in Kent County back in the day. Think I heard about it on the radio, which seemed quite surreal at the time.

      And I’ve toured the Hagerstown facility…twice…in the company of the criminal justice classes at FCC. Now THAT’s surreal.

      Thanks for dropping by!


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