Do Not Ask Debra H. Goldstein to Cook

Debra H. Goldstein

I met Debra H. Goldstein last fall at Bouchercon, where we had a lovely chat about not cooking. Lucky me, she was kind enough to write about not cooking for my blog.

Whether Anne Louise Bannon writes about cookbooks, properly cutting an onion, making wholesome and healthy food for her family, or simply spending time with her husband in the kitchen, her joy and love of cooking comes through in her words. I don’t feel that way. For me, as for my One Taste Too Many protagonist, Sarah Blair, the only thing worse than being in the kitchen or trying to make a dish from scratch is murder.

I’m not sure I know why the kitchen repulses me, especially because I like to eat, but I had an aversion to that room even when I was a child. Like Sarah, I came home from school, did my homework, and plopped on the couch in our den in front of our television at five. It was Perry Mason time. Fifteen minutes later, during the first commercial, I ran to our kitchen and emptied the dishwasher. At five-twenty-nine, when the long mid-way commercial came on, I set the table. During the third break, I greeted my father when he came in from work and as the credits rolled, I turned off the television and joined my family for dinner. While I was engrossed in Perry Mason, my younger sister shadowed my mother making dinner. Today, my sister is a gourmet chef and I am a cook of convenience.

As a cook of convenience, I prefer bringing take-out in or making something quickly from prepared ingredients. When I decided to write cozy mysteries, I realized I had a problem. Most cozy mysteries feature a main character who excels in the kitchen or at some craft. I can’t claim any proficiency, let alone expertise, in either of those areas. Bummed, I almost gave up the idea of writing a cozy, but it dawned on me there had to be a vast number of readers who were like me. Consequently, I created a character, Sarah Blair, who is anything but proficient in the kitchen.

In fact, Sarah was married at eighteen, divorced by twenty-eight. She knew starting over would be messy, but things fall apart completely when her ex drops dead, seemingly poisoned by her twin sister’s award-winning rhubarb crisp. Now, with RahRah wanted by the woman who broke up her marriage and her chef sister wanted by the police for murder, Sarah needs to figure out the right recipe to crack the case before time runs out. Unfortunately, for a gal whose idea of good china is floral paper plates, catching the real killer and living to tell about it could mean facing a fate worse than death—being in the kitchen!

Like Anne Louise, I collect cookbooks (but I didn’t steal my mother’s copy of Joy of Cooking). Besides enjoying their pretty pictures, I find them educational. For example, one I recently bought at The Biltmore House incorporates holiday recipes served at the Biltmore with pages of history about the house and its former occupants. Some of my favorite cookbooks are ones I share with Sarah. They include Peg Bracken’s The I Hate to Cook Cookbook and her Appendix to The I Hate to Cook Cookbook.

Thanks to my cookbooks, One Taste Too Many contains recipes that reflect being a cook of convenience like Jell-O in a Can and Spinach Pie made with Stouffers Spinach Souffle. I may not enjoy being in the kitchen in real life, but I’m certainly having fun sidestepping it in Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series.

Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of One Taste Too Many, the first of Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series. She also wrote Should Have Played Poker and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. Debra is president of Sisters in Crime’s Guppy Chapter, serves on SinC’s national board, and is president of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Find out more about Debra at .

You can buy her book A Taste Too Many at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Frankie Bailey Channels Dame Agatha

Right about the time that Frankie Bailey’s novel Death’s Favorite Child inched its way to the top of Mount To Be Read (aka that ever-growing pile of books that I’m trying to get to), a publicist offered me a guest post by Frankie in honor of the book’s re-release. Naturally, I jumped on the opportunity. Then I met Frankie at Bouchercon this past September and found that she is possibly one of the nicest human beings on the planet. Somewhere in these interactions, I actually read the book and really loved it. So, here’s Frankie Bailey on how she channeled Dame Agatha Christie to write Death’s Favorite Child.

Like many mystery writers, my introduction to the genre began with Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie. Agatha Christie has had more impact than I could have imagined on both my academic research and my mystery writing. A Christie novel inspired the title of my nonfiction book, Out of the Woodpile, not only because of the original title of her 1939 novel (now titled And Then There Were None), but because of a phrase used by two characters in the book. I used the story of the three titles of this Christie mystery to illustrate the take-for-granted racism in “Golden Age” crime fiction. And yet, the plot – ten people in an isolated setting being killed off one by one – was a tour de force.

When I began writing my first mystery novel, I was inspired by Christie because I was writing about an amateur sleuth. But my protagonist, Lizzie Stuart, is a criminal justice professor, a crime historian. She is also African American and a response to the stereotypes of Golden Age novels. Lizzie Stuart owes her existence to another crime writer, Richard Martin Stern. Although he was a white male, Stern wrote a series about Johnny Ortiz, a police lieutenant in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. In the first book in the series, Stern introduced Dr. Cassandra “Cassie” Enright, an anthropologist who became Ortiz’s love interest. Cassie Enright was the first black (in her case, biracial) professional female character I had ever encountered in a mystery novel. Teenager me wrote Stern a letter thanking him for Cassie. Years later, I interviewed him by mail when I was working on my nonfiction book about black characters. Stern was my inspiration when I peopled the first book and as the series evolved.

I had intended to set my first Lizzie Stuart novel in “Gallagher, Virginia,” a fictional city inspired by my hometown.  That book became the second in the series when I took Lizzie and the police detective in the book with me on a vacation to Cornwall, England. After years of writing and revising, I wanted to see if I could finish a book. Since I was going to be in England, an Agatha Christie-inspired mystery involving a murder among the guests staying at a private hotel (a bed and breakfast) seemed perfect.  During the week a friend, her six-year-old son, and I spent in a seaside town, I was busy scribbling. I had done much of my research about Cornwall before I arrived. One day I stopped a police officer to ask about the location of the police station. To my surprise, the officer had an American accent. He had retired to Cornwall with his Scottish wife. During high season, he was one of the special officers. And suddenly I had the reason John Quinn, the visiting American police detective in my book, was in Cornwall. He had come to see his former partner.

And I channeled Dame Agatha Christie as I was looking for a murder weapon. I needed a method of death that might have been employed by one of the guests at the private hotel or a couple of other suspects. I wanted something that didn’t require the killer to be present. As I was browsing through the shops on my first evening in Cornwall, the answer came to me.  Food in the form of what I decided to call “yummy balls” — delicious but lethal for someone with a severe peanut allergy. When my book, Death’s Favorite Child, was published, another friend concocted the recipe based on what the about-to-become-victim tells Lizzie: (

Death’s Favorite Child was followed by a revised and updated version of the book I had been working on for year (A Dead Man’s Honor). The series was published by a small, independent press. The five books are now being reissued by a new publisher in both ebook and print. Because “series time” has moved slowly, the books are now set in the recent past (2004). Lizzie has aged only two years. But much has happened since she left her hometown, Drucilla, Kentucky, on a vacation in Cornwall, and later moved to Gallagher, Virginia.

In the sixth book in the series, Lizzie will visit Richard Martin Stern country – Santa Fe, New Mexico. My tip of the hat to a writer who inspired me to think about not only the plot but the topics that crime fiction can explore.

You can find Death’s Favorite Child on or on







Mary Reed Does a Survey on Book Covers

Okay, total fan girl moment going on here. I have seriously loved the John, the Lord Chamberlain, series by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer for years. The only one I haven’t read is An Empire For Ravens, which just came out this month. I’ve even gotten the Beloved Spouse to read them and he doesn’t even like mysteries that much. He likes these, which are set in 6th Century Constantinople under Emperor Justinian. So when Mary Reed agreed to do a guest post on my humble blog, I squealed like an excited teenager. 

And there was more squealing to be done, as not only did Mary gather together the thoughts of several of her colleagues at Poisoned Pen Press, one of them just happens to be another of my total faves, Priscilla Royal (love the Medieval Mysteries). Not to mention some other really great authors. The theme is what makes a book cover pop, stand out, you know, make you want to buy it and the thoughts are fabulous. Alas, we don’t have the art for the covers (I didn’t have time to get all the permissions, sigh). And now, Mary Reed and friends.


Oscar Wilde claimed he could resist everything but temptation.

For authors, a constant conundrum is what makes a cover tempting enough to encourage a reader to pick the book up, glance over its back cover’s blurbs, maybe read a few pages, in short take those first golden steps leading to making the purchase?

There are numerous sources of advice of various kinds concerning covers online, but I took a different route. I polled several authors recently on covers they found particularly striking on the theory their responses would be useful to writers providing input on, or perhaps creating, their own covers. These are their replies and the reasons they liked the covers they nominated.


Title: Trust Me by Hank Phillipi Ryan, nominated by Mark de Castrique, author of Secret Undertaking (Buryin’ Barry series)

Description: Red bars on brown background, title and author in black, individual words printed in oblongs with torn edges.

Reason: An interesting cover. When the book is turned sideways the graphic design under the title is now legible as the word Liar.


Title: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, nominated by Michael Kahn, author of Played!

Description: Woman’s eyes and lips against dark blue sky above a carnival, title in yellow, author’s name in white.

Reason: One of my favorite books is The Great Gatsby—and though it has had as many covers as discarded pre-publication titles, my favorite cover is the original one.


Titles: Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers, nominated by Maggie Robinson, author of Nobody’s Sweetheart Now (Lady Adelaide Series)

Description: An invisible gentleman in evening wear with monocle in place on a red background, title and author in white.

Reason: The Lord Peter Wimsey series has recently gotten a makeover; each book cover features a monocle and a gentleman’s suit, which is very striking. Probably my favorite is The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, not only for the ironic title but the simplicity of the tuxedo, plus the bright red, which sets the stage beautifully. Long live classy menswear!


Title: Y Is For Yesterday by Sue Grafton, nominated by Annie Hogsett, author of Murder To The Metal (Somebody’s Bound to Wind Up Dead series)

Description: Prominent bright yellow Y on a greenish black background, author’s name in white.

Reason: It is the ultimate expression of an author’s brand. It’s the one shot that’s worth thousands and thousands of words. There are stadiums full of readers still reading away inside that cover. A promise that’s been fulfilled again and again. “This is Kinsey. This is Henry. This is peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. This is still Sue.”


Title: Devil’s Wolf by Paul Doherty, nominated by Priscilla Royal, author of Wild Justice (Medieval Mysteries series)

Description: A simple but stylised red drawing of a rampant wolf on a black background. Title in yellow and author’s name in white.

Reason: It’s hard to pick covers these days because designing has gone down hill dramatically, but I would throw this one in for a few reasons. It is simple (therefore more dramatic than the usual all-too-busy things), ominous so suggests mystery, and has just enough of a hint of the medieval, which it is.


Title: White Teeth by Zadie Smith, nominated by Wendall Thomas, authorof Lost Luggage (Cyd Redondo series)

Description: Title and author in white lettering in a vertical configuration on a red, yellow, and turquoise background.

Reason: I always loved the paperback cover of Zadie Smith’s first book, White Teeth. I love the white letters against the strong turquoise and red and the tiny details which make you look more closely. It sang to me from the shelf and it has pride of place on my desk for inspiration.


Title: Bound By Mystery (anthology) edited by Diane D. DiBiase, nominated by David Wagner, author of the Rick Montoya Italian Mystery series.

Description: Features cut-out portions. Grey background with figure composed of horizontal green strips, title in black in spaces between them, editor in black below figure’s feet.

Reason: There is something about holes in a cover that fascinates people, probably because it is a surprise, but also it reveals the “inside” of the book and encourages them to open it, at least to the first page. In this case we have what is probably a dead body, tied up and green, bound by the gray of the cover. It catches the eye, and whenever I’ve shown it to someone they are impressed and want to touch it. We don’t get much tactile sense in books, but this coverhas it.


Title: The Holiday Murders by Robert Gott, nominated by Sulari Gentill, author of Gentlemen Formerly Dressed (Rowland Sinclair series)

Description: Black title and author superimposed on a beige figure silhouetted against a red background.

Reason: I’m looking at Australian covers, which often differ at least slightly from the US version. One of the cleverest covers I’ve ever seen clads The Holiday Murders. The novel is set in Melbourne in the ’40s, and the map within the torso on the cover is a 1940s map of Melbourne with the sites of the murders marked with a red X. It’s brilliant in its simplicity, very eye-catching, and like no other cover I’ve seen.


Title: The Face of Battle by John Keegan, nominated by J. M. Hayes, author of The Spirit and the Skull

Description: Orange border on black background with gold title on upper two-thirds and gold author’s name at bottom. Between, a human skull wearing chain mail faces the spine.

Reason: The armored skull is appropriate because Keegan describes the history of warfare by examining battles as seen through the eyes of common soldiers. Keegan shares, often in their own words, experiences at Agincourt (1415), Waterloo (1815), and The Somme (1916), where combatants sought to avoid the fate of the warrior on the cover.


Mary, here. As for my thoughts on the matter? I quizzed myself and confess my choice for a striking cover is any in the British Classic Crime series issued by the British Library. Their colourful and somewhat stylised covers appeal to me a great deal because they remind me of vintage British Railway posters for various holiday destinations. Then too, as Balzac observed, simplicity never fails to charm, and their presentation of simply rendered settings link these novels together visually, another contributing factor to striking covers well worth studying at another time.

Thank you so much, Mary. Can’t wait to read An Empire for Ravens. You can find it here at or on Amazon.


Greta McKennan on the Merge Between Hobby and Books

mystery author

Greta McKennan, author and stitcher

One of the fun things about heading off to fan conventions such as Bouchercon is the chance to meet all sorts of interesting people. I don’t know a lot of people who get into clothing construction like I do, so when I stumbled across Greta McKennan, who was wearing a tape measure around her neck, I knew I’d met a kindred spirit. Not only that, she writes just the kind of mystery I like. Better yet, she was kind enough to write this up at the last minute.

Many thanks to Anne for inviting me to write this guest blog today! We met at Bouchercon—she recognized a fellow sewer by the tape measure around my neck, an unexpected sight at a mystery convention. I’m excited to have the chance to share some thoughts on her blog!

One of the best things about writing is getting to live vicariously through your characters. You know that thing you’ve always wanted to do but have never done? Your character can do it!

In my case, I write about a historical seamstress, Daria Dembrowski, in my Stitch in Time cozy mystery series. Daria is a lot like me, but she gets to do all the fun things that I might not do.

Daria lives in a big house in Pennsylvania with two roommates: her older brother Pete, and Aileen, the lead singer in a metal band, the Twisted Armpits. She sews for a living: the bread-and-butter custom wedding gowns, as well as her specialty, historical sewing. At one time in my life, I lived in a big house in Pennsylvania with four roommates and worked in a bridal shop sewing wedding gowns. My timing was perfect since I got engaged while working there. I learned a lot of tricks that came in handy when making my own wedding gown. If not for that job, my wedding dress would have had a zipper in the back. Instead, I learned how to make satin buttons with loops for a much more elegant look.

I grew up sewing period clothing for my dolls, which were often the March sisters or the Ingalls family in my games. In college, I majored in History and worked in the theater costume shop. Daria’s black Singer sewing machine with the gold tooling that only sews in one direction is directly based on my own sewing machine that once was my grandmother’s. I love that machine! I can change the belts and do my own maintenance without worrying about computer chips.

I’ve done a lot of sewing in my life, but Daria’s got me beat. She not only designs and sews wedding gowns, but she makes a Confederate uniform coat for a Civil War reenactor in Uniformly Dead, she sews authentic eighteenth-century dresses for two elderly women who are restoring their home to its original condition for a TV reality show in Historically Dead, and she tackles a Scottish kilt in my new release, Royally Dead. Personally, I have never made a kilt, although my husband has been known to wear one while playing the bagpipes. I did make a pleated skirt once, and I agree with Daria that pleats are very, very hard.

There is one aspect of Daria’s life that I hope I never experience. She is one of those unfortunate people who seem to stumble over dead bodies on a regular basis. Her innate nosiness and sense of justice lead her to try to solve the crimes that she encounters, with great success.

Daria and I have a lot in common, and I enjoy hanging out with her when I’m writing my mysteries. I hope my readers like to spend time with her as well!

Thanks, Greta! You certainly have more skill than I have, but what fun. Royally Dead is available at Barnes and Noble, and at Amazon.

Janet Lynn and Will Zeilinger and a ’50s Big Band Leader

If you like old-school noir, you’ll probably like the Skylar Drake series, by my friends Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger. More fun is that they love doing the research, and you can tell because they come up with fun bits like the below.

My husband, Will Zeilinger and I co-write the Skylar Drake Murder Mystery series, a hardboiled  series that takes the reader to 1950s Los Angeles and other areas of the west. Our new book, Slick Deal, begins News Year’s Eve 1956 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, The first murder and clues lead to Avalon, Catalina. During our research we find the most amazing historical pieces we try to use in our books.

Donnell Clyde (Spade) Cooley was an American Western swing musician, big band leader, actor, and television personality. He was also sentenced to life in prison.

Spade Cooley played fiddle with one of the groups that performed at the Venice Pier Ballroom in Venice, California, led by Jimmy Wakely. When Wakely got a movie contract at Universal, Cooley replaced him as bandleader.

Cooley’s 18-month engagement at Santa Monica’s Venice Pier Ballroom in the early half of the 1940s was record-breaking. His recording Shame, Shame on You, was recorded in December 1944, and was No. 1 on the country charts for two months. The song was the first in an unbroken string of six Top Ten singles including Detour and You Can’t Break My Heart.

Cooley appeared in 38 Western films, both in bit parts and as a stand-in for cowboy actor Roy Rogers.

June, 1948, Cooley began hosting a variety show on KTLA-TV in Los Angeles, broadcast from the Santa Monica Pier Ballroom and the show won local Emmy awards in 1952 and 1953. The Hoffman Hayride was so popular that an estimated 75 percent of all televisions in the L.A. area were tuned into the show each Saturday night. However, by 1956  Cooley’s ratings dropped and was eventually replaced with Lawrence Welk.

His career came to a halt when Cooley beat his second wife, Ella Mae Cooley, to death on April 3, 1961.

Cooley was indicted for the murder and convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Cooley had served nearly nine years of a life sentence, and was in poor health from heart trouble. When, on November 23, 1969, he received a 72-hour furlough to play a benefit concert for the Deputy Sheriffs Association of Alameda County. During the intermission, after a standing ovation he died of a heart attack.

For a trip down memory lane, listen to Shame, Shame on You by Spade Cooley on YouTube

You can find Slick Deal at and Enjoy!

Terri Gregg on Finding Time to Write (Or Not)

Terri Gregg

Please welcome author Terri Gregg, who’s working on finding the time to write. Who said retirement would make it easy?

During most of my adult life, I’ve had a strong desire to write fiction.  I spent 9 years as a science writer for an encyclopedia and wanted to try my hand at something more creative.  But as has been said before, life has a way of getting in the way of your best-laid plans.  Three children to raise (we had a child under the age of 8 for 21 straight years) and a series of demanding jobs left a shortage of time for creative writing. The six months I spent in Australia with my husband while he was there on an exchange teaching post did allow me to complete my first (but probably never to be published) novel.

Ah, I thought as the children launched into their own adult lives and retirement loomed, now I will have all the time I need to write book after book.

Silly me. The first years saw us traveling full time around the country in an RV. My husband is also a writer, so we sat with two laptops facing each other across the dining table in the RV trying to be creatively productive.  Not much of any value was accomplished.

After two years we settled down, bought a house in Sarasota, Florida, and prepared to get some serious writing done. But part of my platform for my first series is archeology. (I got my M. A. in Archeology at age 60 partially for background for the books and partially because it fascinates me.) That lead to travel—Stonehenge, Machu Picchu. Great Wall of China, Great Pyramid of Egypt and of course Cahokia, the great Mississippian Indian city in Illinois where the first book of the series, Bones Unearthed, is set. (Photos of some of the sites appear in the gallery on my website,

So here I am.  One book out. The second in the series moving slowly along. For those of you that are not familiar with Sarasota, Sarasotans are surrounded with a myriad of distractions—golf, tennis, concerts, theater, not to mention beautiful beaches and a huge number of restaurants.

So here I am.  I keep working, even though slowly.  Maybe someday, my life will settle down to the point where I can join the ranks of other mystery writes who manage to get one or two books out a year.

Hope springs eternal.

Terri Gregg’s books is available at Amazon, and you can find out more about her on her website,

Peggy Gaffney On Dog Shows and Mayhem

mystery writer, dog showsI’m kind of a dog person, so when Peggy Gaffney offered to feature her dog show mysteries, I had to say yes. Here’s her take on them and what you can look forward to in her books.

As a writer, I often draw on real life. I have been showing purebred Samoyed show dogs for fifty years so when I write my series of suspense novels with a protagonist who is a knitting designer, (a career I once had) who also shows Samoyeds, I come prepared with many story ideas. The only major researching I do goes into the crime and the criminals as well as the operations of police, FBI, and other branches which fight crime.

Kate Killoy, my protagonist, draws many of her dog showing skills from my background. She shares my enjoyment of the sport of dogs including conformation, and obedience.

National Security takes place at the Samoyed club’s National Specialty, a week-long competition where exhibitors bring Samoyeds from all over the US and other countries to compete for best. Though the competition is fierce, the friendships formed among these dedicated dog breeders often last a lifetime.

The shows in recent years have had over 600 entries giving them a huge party-like feel with a lot of shedding dog hair. My job as a suspense author is to take this normally cheerful event and introduce a threat which could completely destroy it. Weaving the threat into the events surrounding the normal interaction between longtime dog show friends builds tension to the story broken occasionally by the dog’s antics.

The cast of characters includes Kate’s fiancé, Harry Foyle, a former FBI math genius with his own cybersecurity company, her great-aunt Maeve who though retired still occasionally works for Britain’s MI-5, her breeder friends, her math-loving family her former super-model cousin who has serious skills of her own and her very talented Samoyed Dillon.

My background gives the stories reality; pulling the reader inside the world of showdogs. The first book in the series is Fashion Goes to the Dogs involves mistaken identity and international intrigue in NYC during the dog show and the second Puppy Pursuit starts out as a simple trip to get a puppy but has our heroes running for their lives.

So if you like a suspenseful story and have always wondered about the people you see showing dogs on television, get the Kate Killoy Mysteries. They’re best read in order.

You can find out more about Peggy and where to buy her books at her website, www,

F.M. Meredith on the Old Becoming New Again

I know F. M. Meredith, the author of the Rocky Bluff mystery series, as Marilyn Meredith, virtual friend. She’s re-releasing some of the earlier books in her series through a new publisher and she generously offered to share with us what that was like.

F.M. Meredith, Marylyn MeredithWhen the publisher of my Rocky Bluff P.D. series suffered a series of debilitating strokes, like many of her authors, I hoped and prayed for a complete recovery. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I waited for nearly two years, but knew it was time I moved on.

Aakenbaaken and Kent published the next in the series and contracted with me to publish the rest. Because it had been so long ago when I wrote the first book, Final Respects, a decision had to be made. Since much has changed both in policing and the world since the publishing of this first book, should it be updated? The publisher decided, no, but that each one of the mysteries should be re-edited.

Because there are so many in the series, this was a big task, but one I was ready to take it on. Yes, I found typos, some inconsistencies and errors which I fixed. But I was happy to find that the stories and overall writing held up.

To bring those who don’t know about the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, it is set in a small fictitious town on the California coast between VenturaMystery writing, mystery series, mystery fiction and Santa Barbara. There is an ongoing cast of characters, the members of the RBPD and their families. Though it is a series, each book stands on its own with the mystery solved by the end.

My interest in writing about a police department and those who work there was brought on by my son-in-law, a police officer, who shared what went on at the job. He also took me on a ride-along. I later went on other ride-alongs with officers in another small town police department.

I’ve had a lot of help along the way from my law enforcement friends in the Public Safety Writers Association.

My new publisher has decided to make a major change in the covers of the books so they reflect the fact that each one belongs to the series.

Needless to say, I am delighted about the resurrection of my Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series.

Marilyn Meredith who also writes as F. M. Meredith is the author of forty published novels, 13 in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series and the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest A Cold Death from Mundania Press. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra, a place quite similar to Tempe Crabtree’s patrol area. You can find out more about her on her webpage, or on her blog and you can follow her on Facebook.

Missye K. Clarke on Becoming a Writer

Misyye K. Clarke

It’s always interesting to me how many of we writers started in our teens. Missye K. Clarke is yet another one. Here’s how it happened.

My writing life began with my coming into the world a true smartass. That happens when you’re born and raised in old-school New York City. Flushing, Queens to be precise. Strong assessment? Sure. But it got your attention. And, hey, old-school Big Apple residents often use strong anything.

But first, a bit of backstory.

I remember, for as long as could remember—with family stories backing said recollections—I started writing when I was four, that word “Freedom” in a fat green crayon on orange construction paper. Between that moment and when my being that smartass got me suspended for a month from riding the bus one way and in school, I hated writing.

Okay . . . hate’s too strong a word, as my late Granny would say. More like detested and dreaded writing. Book reports, that is (Aha! I see heads nodding in agreement and hands shooting up in solidarity with me!). Don’t get me wrong—reading was my strongest suit, my vocabulary reflecting as such in those school percentile tests and when I read the Macmillan Children’s Dictionary during weekends at my Granny’s whenever I got in trouble or told her I was bored. I loved getting lost in stories of boys watching an independent mouse work his toy motorcycle, or a little shy black cat with a red scarf discovering she had a skating talent to be part of her neighborhood cat club—or a sweet little girl channeling a jealous dead girl similar in age because the girl’s ghost was restless, the connection, a glass globe on a stone pedestal. What I didn’t like was summarizing these stories in writing, jotting my thoughts of said stories in these essays.

It wasn’t so much the writing that bothered me; if that were the case, I’d hate drafting sentences to use my newly-learned vocabulary words in. It was the drafting book reports of someone else’s imagination that, as a teacher discovered, was what I argued hard what the point was to prove I’d read the book. She tried an experiment when I didn’t turn in said detestable assignment: she let me orally summarize the story I’d read, since I was more expressive in this vein than most. And in other aspects, I couldn’t shut up.

The first oral report worked. A dozen others followed. She graded me in her marking book, happy for one less thing to read from a class of twenty-something students, sending my book report writing days to the cartoon graveyard at the ripe old age of eleven.

“And this all has to do you’re being a smart-aleck lead to writing, how, exactly Missye?”

Patience, Grasshopper (**she says sarcastically through a wry smirk**). Every good storyteller has a decent setup before the payoff.

Fast forward five years. I’m sixteen, well ensconced in northern Arizona—another blog post for another day, perhaps—and my younger sister and I are on the bus on a typical school day, which quickly went atypical.

The driver, an angry lumberjack bull lesbian female (which she honestly was, but insensitive to say nowadays), was either tired of trying to antagonize me or fed up with not breaking me with her instigation, began to pick on my sister. Sister started crying, the other kids were laughing at her for the rain, and I got super-pissed from this (only I’m supposed to pick on her, nobody else is! I’m kidding, but you know what I mean). So while “Marie” was still driving, I popped such a hot remark to and about her of her girlfriend dumping her, I think I saw cartoony sparks fly from me that could’ve set her plaid shirt on fire.

“Marie” slammed the brakes, radioed dispatch she’s not moving that bus one more inch until this kid—me—is off her bus IMMEDIATELY! In crocodile tears, too, I’ll add, but hey, I was in the wrong for wising off to somebody in authority. But she’d antagonized me one time too many—and as an afterthought too late to head off, that was her way to antagonize me. Adding insult to injury: not even my sister came to my defense in my defending her. Such was the hell of high school life.

Ironically, my sister got to stay on the bus, but while one of my parents drove me into school that morning, the kids whooped and hollered over so what I’d said, it hit the gossip mill all day plus two more. I was an anti-celebrity of sorts—then tagged a smartass and since—until one of my favorite people in authority—Assistant Principal James MacLarney–really lowered the boom. The impact his truthful statements made while he yelled at me in the first place, and his intoned, truly-giving-a-damn words broke me. I always hated on myself when people I liked and respected a whole lot did that, and I sure did then.

Sigh. I faced a choice: in-house suspension of one of my favorite music classes for a month, since my parents had to work when school let out and they weren’t making an extra stop for my butt to get home—morning bus privileges and weekend babysitting privileges concurrently suspended, too—or hard labor for three hours a day after school for a month on someone’s nearby horse and cattle farm.

I opted for the in-house.

Homework completed the nights before, all the books I had were saved for home, forty-five minutes of the first two days dragged—until I began writing longhand on day three. Something clicked. Now again, don’t get me wrong, I liked writing—loved it, actually. Just not summarizing somebody else’s imaginative results; if that wanted to know about it, as I often wrote at the end of those silly reports, READ THE BOOK! And I wrote two pieces, two long-shorts when I was fourteen and fifteen based on writing prompts from an English teacher at the time (I was the lone one in class taking all three prompts, since they individually weren’t calling out to me).

But the study hall time opened my untapped strange new world in a wardrobe. First person, Le Pen in left hand to spiral-bound notebook, my MC was a guy named Alex “Ponyboy” McCormick, blond, grey-eyed, my age, and he and five other buddies—three dudes, two females, one of which he was interested in, but she was one of his wingdude’s boo—found themselves in a Josie & The Pussycats In Outer Space-type situation in then the Space Shuttle Challenger. Admittedly, I borrowed heavily from everything I’d read, absorbed from Saturday morning cartoons, dreams, and made this rough start of a novel into the gumbo of my imagination. But it was those “But what happens next, Missye?” moments every day and every night that pushed me to keep writing. It made the forty-five prison minutes of daily in-house speed by, my grades improved . . . and I kept writing over the weekends to divert my mind from losing out on extra babysitting cash (my parents relented occasionally when the family needing a sitter didn’t want my sister minding their kids due to her being twelve to my sixteen. She howled a pluperfect fit, but couldn’t do much more past that.).

Find the magic, however you can, if it’s gone wayward or long asleep. It’s inside you, but will surface with the right scent, or touched by the perfect angle of sunlight, or maybe free-writing by full moonlight or firelight to gently coax Mr. Sandman from its eyes. Or, as was my case writing during that in-house of hell, I did to stave off sheer boredom; they wouldn’t let us even sleep then, can you imagine? But even through all this, my mind, imagination, curiosity—alongside Alex, Zak, Little Joe, Allyson, Kris, and Mickey at the time–never quit asking what comes next. Even my present Casebook and Threesome of Magic mysteries, the same “what comes next” drumbeats come from Casper, Logan, Alex, Missye Maroon, and Jay Vincent today. And I don’t believe I, or they, ever will stop asking. They know where the magic truly lies. They and I all know even the snarky smart-alecks have that glow of story-magic, too.

Time to dust a new trail of imagination fairy dust and plumb more magical lands of possibilities.

Did I ever give “Marie” an apology? Sort of. I was wrong for wising off, I told her—and dropped it. Once school authorities realized the technicality I exploited—I never said I’m sorry for what I’d said, because I genuinely wasn’t—there was little they could do to remedy it.

Happy writing, everybody. 🙂

Missye K. Clarke’s novel JERSEY DOGS, the first of the McGuinness/Pedregon Casebooks, is set for release this spring in e-book and print editions.

Suzanne Adair and The American Revolution From the Other Side

Suzanne Adair

Ever since I read Suzanne Adair’s first book in her Michael Stoddard series, Deadly Occupation, set during the American Revolution, I’ve been wondering why she made the insanely interesting choice to have her hero be a Redcoat. Yeah, that’s right. The good guys in her books are the folks we’re used to thinking of as the bad guys. So I put that and a couple other questions to her, and we’ve got the answers below.

1) So why did you make Michael Stoddard a Redcoat rather than a rebel?

The rebel point of view has been explored so often in film, novels, and non-fiction that I’m not sure what more I could contribute to it. But step into the “enemy’s” boots, and your perspective shifts. You see the history from an angle that doesn’t involve tired clichés, and you gain new insights. You also realize that this character who wears the enemy’s colors is faced with the same dilemmas that you’ve faced and is making the same decisions (sometimes errors) that you make. Finally, you get around to asking yourself, “How different are we, really?” Which is the question I’d hoped you’d ask, since you’re curious about a redcoat protagonist.

2) How “religious” do people get about the American Revolution? I mean, it is our American myth and there are those who get fussy when folks mess with it.

Some people get very fussy over those myths about the American Revolution. The irony is that by the time the Centennial celebration in 1876 rolled around, the majority of our Great American Myth had been hammered out in the form of anecdotal “stories” that weren’t grounded historically. Across the generations, many teachers and scholars have accepted these anecdotes as fact, and that’s why most Americans believe that Paul Revere completed his midnight ride, and that just about everybody in America during the Revolution was Protestant, and that all British soldiers were “recruited” from prison.

People who have believed the wrong version of history for most of their lives don’t easily change their minds. They’re also more inclined to believe cinematic balderdash like that scene in “The Patriot” where the British barricaded civilians in a church and set fire to the church. Such a thing never happened. Don’t you think the soldiers and civilians who hated the Crown would have reported it if it had? However Nazis—yeah, burning civilians in a church was quite their style.

The Relevant History feature on my blog, created in 2011, is a place in cyberspace where writers of historical fiction and non-fiction can trot those myths out and discuss the real history behind them, and inquisitive readers can learn. Come on over and discover history that’s relevant to events in the 21st century.

3) Part of the fun of writing historical fiction is that you know when the stock market is going to crash or what’s going to happen in the future. How fun (or not) is it to play with the reality that Stoddard’s cause is going to lose?

It’s a lot of fun! And since my series follows the actual history of the British occupation in Wilmington in 1781, the path for the series background is laid out for me.

However, after researching the American Revolution for almost two decades, I’m not sure that “lose” is the correct term here. When the last of the British sailed for home in 1783, Britain was still the most powerful country on the earth. If that weren’t so, in the conflict with France in the following generation, Napoleon would have emerged the victor.

You see, Britain was fighting on multiple fronts, making our American Revolution one part of a world war. It wasn’t a popular war across the pond. American Revolution, historical fiction, historical mystery, historical mysteries Civilians griped noisily in pubs and coffeehouses about how politicians were wasting their money. (Sound familiar?) Several historians have told me that Britain’s most seasoned soldiers weren’t even in America; we got something like the third string. That Atlantic-wide supply line was an absolute beast to maintain and protect. So a lot of civilians in Britain weren’t exactly heartbroken when the powers-that-be decided to cut the hemorrhage of resources into America and either bring soldiers home or send them elsewhere, where they could be more productive. (That strategy might sound familiar, too.)

I haven’t given redcoat Michael Stoddard any special abilities to predict the future. However, almost a decade in the British Army has definitely stomped out his idealism. Astute and practical, he looks for ways to get as much experience as possible while the King is picking up some of the tab. He’s kept his eyes and ears open, so he knows that his commander (Major Craig) has advised his commander (Lord Cornwallis) to stay in the Carolinas and not go to Virginia. When Michael hears how it goes down at Yorktown, of course, he’ll be disappointed, but he won’t be terribly surprised. And when it’s all over, he’s grateful to have taken part in a campaign in North Carolina that was, for many months, a success—instead of being on that bloody battlefield in Virginia.

Suzanne Adair is a Florida native who lives in North Carolina. Killer Debt is the fourth in her series featuring Michael Stoddard. Here’s the fun part – it will be available for pre-order on March 1, through her Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign. And because this is going (has gone) live two days before the campaign starts, please click through to her website to find out more. You can also find her on Facebook at Suzanne.Adair.Author or on Twitter @Suzanne_Adair.

You can also find links to buy the rest of the Michael Stoddard series from your preferred retailer on her site: