Leslie Keller on Writing her Experiences

Today we have joining us Leslie Keller who writes the Jayne Stanford cozy series set in Cave Creek, Arizona. Jayne is a waitress and Leslie will explain how that part happened.

Photo of Leslie Keller, author of the Jayne Stanford series of cozy mysteries
Leslie Keller

I am often asked what motivates me to write. The answer to that is in part due to my best friend, Julie who I met when I worked in the restaurant business. It’s been twenty-three years but when I’m with her we never stop laughing about our adventures in serving. Even today, she continues to regale me with new restaurant stories. A few years ago, I knew I wanted to create a character partially based on her and partially out of my imagination. Thankfully, Julie has never been accused of nor involved in a murder in any way, but I occasionally still jot down some of the zanier things which happen to her in a typical night at the restaurant. In my writing I try to find a way to incorporate actual events into the story in order to make the characters relatable.

Writing a murder mystery requires a substantial amount of research. As an author, I need to determine if the method of murder is realistic, while at the same time as a cozy mystery writer, not making it too gruesome or graphic for my readers. While murder is serious topic, my goal is to take a lighter approach with a bit of humor.  In my books I intersperse Jayne’s personality with situations in which she must use all her skills to come out on top, then add a dash of romance and the help of her friends and you have a recipe for more than mystery.

Cover art for the second Jayne Stanford mystery, Cocktails at Sunset

In the upcoming book, No Reservations, Jayne gets the chance to go on a girlfriend getaway with her best friend, Bailey. Of course, there will be a dead body – maybe even two!  In this case, I again use personal experiences and try to weave them into fiction. The third book in the series diverges from the norm in that Jayne is out of her comfort zone physically as well as emotionally.  It’s important to me that Jayne doesn’t just solve mysteries but that she grows as a person despite the pandemonium in her life.

I hope my readers come to love Jayne as much as I do when I write her. Sometimes, she surprises me in what she does but I like to think that it’s her decision in which direction the story goes.

Thanks, Leslie, for sharing. Both Jayne Sanford Mysteries are available through Amazon: Menu for Murder and Cocktails at Sunset. You can find out more about Leslie on her website: LeslieKellerBooks.com.

Jodi Rath on Fur Babies and Writing a Novel

Author Jodi Rath on how raising kittens is like writing a novel
Author Jodi Rath

Author Jodi Rath argues that writing a novel is not unlike raising critters. The author of The Cast Iron Skillet Mystery Series has a point. We authors do refer to our novels as our children. Please welcome Jodi Rath

Artists typically talk about their work as their babies. I don’t have human kids, but I do have fur babies. My husband and I had eight cats inside for a good, long run of years. In the last two years, we’ve lost four of them. Since then, we adopted a one-year-old boy and on May 18th, 2019 we adopted THREE five-week-old girl kittens named Lily Rose Rath, Lulu Bean Rath, and Luna Belle Rath. The boy that is one year is Murray Kinz Rath. All of our cats have middle names and they are all spoiled.

When I wrote book one, Pineapple Upside Down Murder, I babied that book so much. I wrote, rewrote—tried different themes, revised, started over, went from third person POV to first, and had an extremely difficult labor.

Picture of kittens Lilly, Lulu and Luna, illustrating Writing a Novel
Lily, Lulu, and Luna Rath

Book two, like I’ve heard many of my human mom friends say, was not as difficult or as scary as the first. Same with the kittens we just got. When we got our first, I was terrified about how small they were and I wouldn’t let them out of a room forever for fear something bad would happen. That was only when I had one kitten and all adults. Now I have three five-week olds and they all got the run of the house on day two of moving in—they had to learn to fend for themselves. Kittens, like babies, are more resilient than we give them credit for.

The work of writing a novel

It’s the same with an artist’s work. Yes, we have to put the time in and go through the labor. Yet, I’ve learned to trust myself more in book two. Am I perfect yet? Um, no—nor will I ever be—but, I am better than I was when I wrote book one. I have more confidence and I know I will continually get better. Same I have learned to get better as a kitty mama too. Same for all you moms and dads out there—we live, we learn.

One of the most exciting things about writing Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread Murder was already having a setting and my characters set up. It was so much fun seeing how they’ve grown and what they are learning now and what more they need to do to grow and mature. Just like me as a writer and a kitty mom and a wife and a teacher, I am always learning and growing and maturing (even though I did turn 46 in May—Ah HEM!!! Cough cough).

cover of the Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread Murder by Jodi Rath

Still, I am excited to share my newest baby with the world, and I’m already working on book 2.5, a Holiday Book for Thanksgiving called Turkey Basted to Death, which will come out November 18, 2019. I can’t wait to see how much more growth both me and my characters have developed by then—not to mention, my baby kittens will be eight months old by then and pretty much full-grown! Time flies when your having fun!

Jodi’s two books featuring restaurant owner Jolie Tucker, are set in Leavenworth, Ohio. You can find out more about Jodi on her website, www.jodirath.com.

Elaine L. Orr on When Real Life Happens in Writing

Elaine L. Orr, who writes three cozy mystery series, is a member of one of my email groups. In fact, when I went looking for this post (which I assumed was somewhere in my email back log), I found several of her responses to my questions – and they were very helpful, too. Elaine is writing today about how real life inspired her three different cozy series.

Cozy mystery author Elaine L. Orr.
Elaine l. Orr

Authors usually inhabit a world beyond writing, and what we learn from daily living can influence our books. I’m not saying our protagonists’ careers mirror ours, or that our characters resemble neighbors or college roommates. They could, but closely aligning our fictional people with real ones can limit a character.

As an example, I love Atlantic coast beaches, so writing mysteries set at the Jersey Shore (the Jolie Gentil series) seemed natural. Now I live in the Midwest, so it’s been especially fun to make a couple of quick trips to a beach to refresh my perspective. Of course, no one talks about “the beach” in New Jersey. People go to the shore.

My River’s Edge series, set along the Des Moines River in Iowa, is probably most influenced by real places. For about six years I worked for two members of Congress (one Republican, one Democrat). Much of the job entailed regularly being in many small towns in six counties so constituents could bring their concerns to Congress or get help with a government program.

the flood that helped inspire cozy mystery author Elaine L. Orr.
Flooding in Bonaparte, Iowa

Then came 2008 and massive flood damage along the Iowa and Des Moines Rivers, and I spent weeks in Van Buren County, Iowa, a picturesque locale dotted with small (river) towns. You develop a lot of empathy as you help people apply for FEMA assistance, and the word resilience takes on new meaning. (The photo shows the river’s encroachment in Bonaparte, Iowa.)

Though the town of River’s Edge is fictional, it embodies features of several communities. The views in my head are real ones, and to root the locale I sometimes refer to the county seat. Sleepy towns come alive with Fall Festivals and harvest celebrations. And parades! If you’ve never attended a July 4th or Corn Festival Parade, find one.

However, to create tension, life has to be about more than daily goings on. For example, I don’t know of any bodies found on barn floors (Demise of a Devious Neighbor) and I doubt you’ll find many murders at Farm Bureau dinners (as in Demise of a Devious Suspect).

The cover for cozy mystery Demise of a Devious Neighbor by Elaine L. Orr

Someone once asked why I’d placed the town baseball diamond along the river, because it could get flooded. Yep. Watch for that in a future book.

For each series, I want the protagonist’s career to be flexible — also interesting enough for me to learn more about it. For example, I’ve bought and sold a number of houses, so Jolie is a real estate appraiser. In an early (stand-alone) book, the sleuth was a teacher. Poor choice. She had to break her arm to be away from the classroom long enough to solve the crime

This spring I’ve done some substitute teaching. Middle school kids haven’t changed much over the last few decades. I have to be careful not to laugh at their antics sometimes.

But wait – a substitute teacher is in many locales and picks her work schedule. Perfect for an amateur sleuth. Ideas continue to percolate. I’ll need to pick a locale I want to visit.

Thank you, Elaine, she said, not entirely complaining about having to add still more books to the pile To Be Read. You can find out more about Elaine and her fiction at her site, www.elaineorr.com.

Anthology Fun with Alison McMahan

This is kind of a fun post for me since my guest is one of the authors whose short story is in the new anthology, Fatally Haunted, from the Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles chapter. I happen to be the chapter president at the moment. Fatally Haunted was officially released just yesterday and we’re really excited about it. And a big thank you to Alison McMahan, who wrote the story King Hanuman, for sharing the experiences that led her to write her story.

Cover art for the mystery anthology Fatally Haunted, short stories of revenge and obsession in Los Angeles, put out by the Los Angeles Chapter of Sisters in Crime

In 2004 I made the first of several trips to Cambodia to produce a train-the-trainer film for an NGO. We filmed in a remote jungle village called Veal Thom, carved out of the jungle by landmine survivors. As Chhem Sip, a Khmer-American lawyer and social worker said to us, “they created this village with their bare hands and wooden limbs.”

Gradually we understood something even more special about Veal Thom: it was half made up of people connected to the former Lon Nol government, and half former Khmer Rouge. In other words, the two groups that had been killing each other for the previous several decades had set their enmities aside. Rather than fight each other, they work together to eradicate and survive the landmines (placed by every party involved in the war) that made them amputees.

In addition to the educational film we’d been hired to make, we made our own documentary that highlights their challenges and their struggles toward economic, emotional, and psychological recovery: Bare Hands and Wooden Limbs, narrated by Sam Waterston, now available on Amazon. https://barehandswoodenlimbs.com/

It took me years to complete the documentary, but finally Veal Thom’s example of how to heal and reconcile was out there for all the world to see.

I moved out of film production and wrote screenplays and fiction. I stayed friends with Chhem Sip, who had returned to the US to raise his family. Every time I visited him I learned a little more about the Khmer-American communities in Rhode Island, Florida, and Long Beach, CA.

I was born in Los Angeles. My maternal great-grandfather brought his family from Missouri in a covered wagon and settled in Long Beach in 1908. I’d toured the Queen Mary with my tenth grade class. Now I was learning about things that had happened in Long Beach after I’d moved away.

The Khmer-American community in Long Beach inspired me. Some built Buddhist temples and opened Cambodian restaurants and grocery stores. Some brought their guerilla savvy with them and formed gangs that competed with the already established gangs.

I wanted to write about someone who, like Chhem, who had experienced the war in Cambodia as a child, the forced labor and refugee camps as a teenager, then somehow made it to America. Someone, who, like Chhem, wants to give back but also has to work through her own war trauma. But unlike Chhem, my hero would have to do that emotional work in a Long Beach ripped apart by gang wars. A devout Buddhist who carries a gun.

That’s how Thavary Keo was born. The theme of FATALLY HAUNTED pushed me to clarify my thoughts, do more research, get a clearer picture of Thavary. My story, “King Hanuman,” is test, to see if I can pull it off, to see if readers want more before I commit to a series. I’m very grateful to the editors for the opportunity.

You can pick up your own copy of Fatally Haunted by going to our chapter’s website and clicking through to the Anthology page.

Linda O. Johnston on Being Flexible

Linda O. Johnston has been one of my Sisters in Crime buddies since I got active with the group a few years ago. Today, she’s writing about how being flexible has helped her career.

Image of author Linda O. Johnston, who is writing about being flexible as a writer
Linda O. Johnston

I’m a fiction writer.  I’ve been a fiction writer for a long time, and I’m almost entirely traditionally published, although that’s changing somewhat and may change even more. 

In fact, a lot about my writing is subject to change, depending on which publisher is interested in what.

 I’ve had fifty novels published so far, with more to come.  My genres are generally mystery or romantic suspense, and no matter what the main genre is, nearly all of them contain elements of romance and suspense or mystery.  That’s what I love to read.  That’s what I love to write.

 Oh, and I nearly always include dogs, too.

 But what I want to talk about here is flexibility in writing… mine, and yours. 

Of course there are writers who prefer choosing one genre or subgenre and sticking with it, using it as their entire writing career.  And for some writers, that works out fine, whether they’re traditionally published or self-published.  But that’s not me.  Is it you? 

I started out with mystery short stories (and won the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award for best first mystery short story of the year with the first one!), then added time travel romances, then moved into romantic suspense, mysteries and paranormal romance.  That has worked out well over time since my time travel romance publisher, Dorchester, went out of business long ago, one of my mystery publishers, Midnight Ink, is no longer going to be publishing mysteries after this year, and the publisher of my paranormal romances, Harlequin, stopped publishing the Nocturne paranormal romance line. 

Is that going to happen to every traditionally published writer?  Hopefully not, but one never knows.  And flexibility in what I write has allowed me to continue on. 

Does a writer have to be that flexible?  Nope.  If there’s a particular genre you love above all others and want to write only in it, go for it.  Especially these days.  There are a lot of publishers out there now, both large and small.  If you get something published by one of them, you’ll hopefully develop a relationship with them that will result in your publishing a lot of books in the same genre with them.   Or not.  But if you like that genre above all others, you can hopefully find a different publisher if that first one doesn’t continue to buy from you. 

Or you can write in multiple genres as I do, and therefore write for different publishers at the same time, if that’s what you choose.  

And then there’s self-publishing!  When I started out, editors and writers looked down their noses at self-published authors, as if they turned to that because they weren’t good enough for traditional publishing.  Not today!  Today, self-publishing is respected and revered, and it’s a different form of successful publishing.  Plus, those who are self-published can certainly earn a lot more per book than those who are traditionally published. 

Oh, and by the way.  I mentioned that my self-publishing is changing now, and that’s mostly because I got my rights back to my first two mystery series, the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries and its spinoff Pet Rescue Mysteries, and I’m currently working on having them published again as bundled e-books. 

Image of book cover For a Good Paws, but Linda O. Johnston

So–should you be flexible in your writing?  Only if you choose to.  But there are a lot of options out there for writing in one genre only, or in multiple genres–whatever works best for each author. 

Me?  At the moment romantic suspense and I are best friends… and in the future I hope to branch out yet again, particularly into mystery. But for right now–well, I’m celebrating the May release of my fifth and last Barkery & Biscuits Mystery for Midnight Ink:  For A Good Paws.  It’s obviously a mystery, and the whole series features dogs and baking.  And yes, romance is included, too–my protagonist Carrie Kennersly has been developing a romantic interest throughout the series.

So please check out my website: http://www.LindaOJohnston.com   and friend me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LindaOJohnston

I’m somewhat remiss in other social media, though I do blog elsewhere.  Maybe that will change one day, too.

Do check out Linda’s website. Frankly, I’m impressed. I thought I was prolific!

Margaret Mizushima and Why We Write

Margaret Mizushima

I met Margaret Mizushima last fall at Bouchercon and we had a delightful chat about how lovely it is to have supportive husbands (hers was helping her that day). Then we gently teased him as a member of the Long-Suffering Spouses Club, a term coined by my husband, who has trailed after me to any number of events. Margaret is the author of the Timber Creek K-9 Series and she offered to write about the why of it all.

I once heard a story at a writers’ conference that might provide an answer as to why we writers are compelled to write. Although I can’t recall who told the story, it has stayed with me for over a decade. Here it is:

Once upon a time, a writer died and met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. The good saint told the writer that he wanted to show her a view of heaven and of hell before he sent her on her way. The first stop was hell. She entered a room filled with row upon row of desks where writers were hunched over computers. Whips cracked overhead, mugs of steaming hot coffee spilled, splashing onto keyboards making them hiss and sizzle. Writers tore at their hair and stared at blank screens with tortured expressions on their faces.

The poor writer was appalled, thinking hell looked a lot like her own office. She shuddered and asked if she could get a glimpse of heaven.

St. Peter led her to the next room. There sat row upon row of desks where writers were hunched over computers. Whips cracked overhead, and mugs of steaming hot coffee spilled, splashing onto keyboards making them hiss and sizzle. Writers tore at their hair and stared at blanks screens, tortured expressions on their faces.

The writer gasped. “But this looks exactly like hell.”

St. Peter smiled. “Ah, but you see…these writers are published.”

So is getting published the answer to why we write? I thing the answer isn’t that simple, because many of us journal everyday, never expecting or wanting to share our words with anyone. Sometimes writing in a journal merely clears our heads; it’s therapeutic. Or we might write for a small group of family or close friends, such as when we want to share our memoirs or a cookbook of family recipes.

But overall, I would guess that most of us write because we have thoughts we want to share with others, including the public. For me, I write because I want to tell stories that entertain people, to give them a get-away from their daily routine or respite from the stresses of everyday living.

I write the Timber Creek K-9 mysteries, which feature Deputy Mattie Cobb, her K-9 partner Robo, and veterinarian Cole Walker. I like to weave a suspenseful mystery around themes that are important to me: family, the animal-human bond, relationships, and social issues. I love my characters and the story world they live in, and the messages included in each episode continue to motivate me, even when the writing gets hard.

Hemmingway once said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” It’s true—writing can be an arduous and lonely activity. Writers sit behind closed doors, alone at coffee shops, in office cubicles, or in other isolated places every day. Whether we’re driven to record our thoughts, inspired to share our ideas, or motivated to entertain others, it’s important to know the reason why we write. That reason can propel us through that tough first draft and keep us going through all the revisions that come afterward.

No matter what your reason…if you’re inspired to write, do it. Give yourself permission to write that awful first draft. Take writing classes or attend conferences. Seek out like-minded friends to form a critique group and to mingle with for encouragement.

Years ago, I pinned a quote on the wall beside my desk that has helped me through many rough times with my writing, and I hope it will help you as well. “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now!” ~Goethe

Margaret’s latest, Burning Ridge, is available at Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Amazon.

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 www.DebraHGoldstein.com .

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: (https://www.frankieybailey.com/amateur-sleuth/recipes/alices-yummy-balls).

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 BarnesandNoble.com or on Amazon.com.







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 BarnesandNoble.com 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.