Montana Crime from a Crime Writer/Lawyer’s POV – by P.A. Moore


Since I write legal thrillers, based on factual scenarios from our law practice here in Montana, I never miss the Crime Roundup in our local paper. Here in Flathead County, population 90,000-ish, we get some interesting characters calling the police for a variety of reasons.

In the last few days, a caller reported that her neighbor was saying “not nice things” about her. Is this a police matter, I wonder? Another reported three kids ringing the doorbell, asking for water. Is it possible they were just thirsty in this above average heat? Someone else phoned in to report that either wolves or dogs were eating a deer carcass. Query what the responding officer should do when he arrived?

But my personal favorite this week is the woman who reported that her computer contracted a virus after she watched a porn movie that Kim Kardashian made with Ray J. A virus, as in a sexually transmitted disease? And is it contagious? If I’d been the officer who received that call, I’d think twice about responding in person.

Here in western Montana lots of people drink. We have nearly as many bars as churches in Whitefish, so someone on Central Avenue screaming the Lord’s name could be a preacher trying to convert the drunks, or a drunk after he tripped and fell on our seriously cracked sidewalks. Certainly inebriated people comprise the majority of those arrested in our community. Alcohol involved fights, drunk drivers, and guys urinating in public, usually in the alley behind a bar, fill the Crime Roundup daily.

Many of those arrested end up as clients of our mom-and-pop law firm. Practicing law in a small Montana town never provokes boredom … too much information about our friends and neighbors, yes. But dull? There hasn’t been a humdrum day yet in the 16 years since we opened our doors. 

Of course, we also get our share of tragedies. Our local front page story today focuses on a 22-year-old bride who pushed her husband of eight days off a cliff in Glacier National Park, then lied to the young man’s family, friends, and to the authorities. She’s in federal custody in Missoula hoping to get released on bail. I know there’s more to the tale than the Daily Inter Lake reports, but I can’t help feeling sad for all involved.

So, yes, local crimes inspire me to write. In Courthouse Cowboys, I described the behind-the-scenes drama of a local murder case I tried, and Dateline, NBC covered gavel to gavel. They did a good job but missed the real story, so I fictionalized the names of the characters and locations and published the story as fiction.

My next book, due out in two weeks, isn’t quite as Montana-focused, but involves many of the same characters. And yes, indeed, many who live in our beautiful Rocky Mountain community appear, in whole or in part, as players in the drama.




A show of hands for all the people-watchers. Me, too.

Don’t ask me the score of the football game, but quiz me on the fans seated in our section. Clothing, who’s bored, who’s having a fight with their partner, which couples don’t fit together, parenting styles, and on and on. The writer in me makes up stories about what led them to this game, this moment, and what will happen when they go home.

Lucky for me, my avocation became my profession.

It wasn’t until I taught Head Start in the early 1970’s in a tiny East Texas town that I knew what I would do with the rest of my life. What a privilege to teach/observe 36 impoverished 4- and 5-year-olds in their first school experience. (The fact that I had majored in French and German and was nonetheless hired for this job is another story.) The force of the children’s personalities stunned me. The show-off. The leader. The caregiver. The outcast at 5! The friend to all. The 4-year-old worrier. Their friendships and earnest beliefs. They captivated me.

I became a Developmental Psychologist. We study how people behave, think, and feel across the course of a lifetime and in varying contexts. We pose specific questions and then design studies to reveal what people are likely to do. Always, the answers uncover more questions. My basic research question over the decades has been: How do childhood relationships affect a child’s social and emotional development? Even young children have a variety of relationships with parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, classmates, teachers, caregivers, or pets. What is the effect of bullying on development? The effect of having lots of friends or just one good friend? Is it different for girls and boys? Do the effects change with the child’s age? How about when the child’s sibling is disabled, or the family lives in rural poverty? What are the likely effects on the child, if any? The questions are endless.

What does this have to do with writing novels or reading them? Everything. I write about rich layered relationships, and I like to read about them, too. Action, sex, and internal machinations outside the context of a relationship don’t interest me. I want to witness the character interact with and change others, and in that relationship be changed.

Do you delve into characters’ relationships when you read? Do you imagine what might happen next when you people-watch? Check out my personal blog for future posts about relationships—observed anecdotes and research findings—and how they lead to good questions and interesting stories.

PS: My novel, Burden of Breath, explores a troubled mother-daughter relationship. It’s a free download today and tomorrow on Amazon.

Ann Minnett MWW photo

Ann MInnett

Authors that Inspire

brenda uleland

Read What You Write or Aspire to Write

Writing well requires reading, right? I find authors in many genres inspire my interests but there are two at the top of my list. Brenda Ueland who died 28 years ago, wrote If You Want to Write, copyright 1938. This book of encouragement about art, independence and spirit is the perfect gift for someone starting or even just thinking about writing.

Ueland’s book rests on my bookshelf beside Stephen King’s On Writing with 13 lessons from this prolific author. If you haven’t read it, the lessons are as follows: just start it, follow your passion, do it for joy, stick to it, don’t be afraid of rejection, find your own writing space, make it unique, make your writing reader-friendly, edit yourself, you cannot please everyone, teach yourself, write a lot and read a lot.

Because I find myself writing in many genres, I have favorites in diverse areas. Jon Krakauer carried me to new heights in Into Thin Air. He even generated the addiction-to-the-ascent feeling in me, even though my mountain climbing days are over. But depending upon my current manuscript research, you will also find me reading A History of Torture by Scott or Stiff by Mary Roach or Memories and Reflections of a Forensic Entomologist — Maggots, Murder, and Men by Erzinclioglu. All are favorites of mine that stimulate my medical murder mystery plots.

On the lighter note of romance, I had no interest in the genre until discovering Montana Sky by Nora Roberts was a wonderful read. After meeting Barb Heinlein as B.J. Daniels at our conference two years ago, I’m hooked on her romantic suspense series set in Montana.

You might say I have a rather schizophrenic approach to reading and writing, but I certainly enjoy the process when these voices talk to me.

Betty Kuffel
Currently working on a bio-thriller

Transitions & Bad Memories of 7th Grade

By Kathy Dunnehoff
first days of schoolIt’s fall. Back to school for my daughters. Back to teaching a class for me. Back to a novel revision that languished during the gorgeous summer.

I’d like to say I do well with transitions. But I don’t.

I don’t even do well with daily transitions. Starting writing is a challenge, because it’s hard to pull myself away from my cozy bed. But once I start writing, guess what? Yep, it’s hard to stop.

I try to remind myself that bumpy transitions are just my way. I get through them and then find my flow again when I get to the next thing. But for months now, I’ve been in the kind of in-between stage that reminds me of 7th grade. (Okay, it’s not that bad. Is anything that bad?!)

I’m an indie author, but I want to bring out a title with a traditional publisher. Sounds reasonable to me, and yet I find myself wondering, questioning, doubting, and generally feeling all elbows and awkward.

I find myself, at this moment in my career, in transition. I’d like to say I do well with that.

But I don’t.

What’s your best advice for weathering the “in-between” moments in life?

author photo twitter

Writers Who Inspire… A shout out! By Kathy Dunnehoff

Nora Roberts novel

With a theme like inspiration, I think of the authors who have inspired me professionally. Sometimes it’s their work that gave me a sense of possibility, but often it was the person who led me to say, “I want to be you when I grow up!”

So, I will say a big “Thank you!” to…

Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who I stalk on FB, read and re-read, and generally find to be a warm and wonderful writer who tells a woman’s story with heart and wit.

Nora Roberts, even though she makes me feel bad about my output (dear god, the woman’s published more than 200?!! novels.)

Jennifer Crusie. A Ph.D and a romance novelist. Take that.

And the amazing writers I’ve met through the Authors of the Flathead, Montana Women Writers, and in my classes at Flathead Valley Community College. I’ve yet to have a conversation with a working writer that didn’t lead to my learning something… thank you!

Kathy author photo twitter