Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

This is a photo of my father getting ready to carve the turkey, many Thanksgivings ago. That is the kitchen of our home in Los Angeles. My father built all the cabinets. It wasn't a big kitchen, but it was an easy one to work in.

So, a list of my thanks:

I"m thankful:

--that I grew up with a wonderful family, a mother and dad that loved  my sister and me so much. We enjoyed every holiday surrounded by family members. They took us to Sunday School and church, nearly every Sunday, and through example, showed us how important loving and worshipping God is.

--that even though I grew up during WWII everyone was patriotic and did all the things we were were asked to do, from blackouts, to food and gas rationing, And despite what was going on in the world, it was as a simpler time.

--that they taught us the basics in school as well as having wonderful electives in the arts and music.

--that I survived early adulthood, married a good man who served our country for 20 years and who loves me, raised five of my own children and had a hand in raising many other kids including some of my grandkids.

--that I had several fulfilling jobs that I enjoyed: telephone operator, teaching pre-school for kids with developmental disabilities, teaching in day care with disadvantaged kids, teaching pre-school to non-English speaking kids (they all spoke English when they left my class), owning, operating and living in a licensed facility for women with developmental disabilities, organizing and teaching classes to other administrators and a lot more.

--that I wrote and published books for the majority of my life, something I've truly enjoyed.

--that I have wonderful children, grandchildren and great-grands.

--that I still have my health and can enjoy life.

Thank you, God!


Monday, November 23, 2015


Marilyn, Thank you for having me on your blog today!

Root Diggers

the very first Shandra Higheagle book I wrote I knew there would come a point when I would need to know more about reservation life and especially life on the Colville Indian Reservation. Shandra’s paternal side of her family are Nez Perce Indians who live on the Colville Reservation.
It was fortuitous for me that I’d have several book signings in Clarkston, Washington with a woman who was married to an Arrows Lake descendent and who lived on the Colville Reservation. She is a wonderful, open and giving woman who not only answers my questions and sends me photos, but she also took me on a tour of the reservation so I could see the different agency buildings, where people lived, and get a feel for the atmosphere.

While touring and seeing the reservation was great, the most valuable asset to having this woman who lives on the reservation give me a tour was learning the dynamics of the twelve tribes who live on the reservation. There was a time when many of them were enemies.  It is over a hundred years later and there are still rivalries and animosities that lie under the surface of the different tribal members.

This animosity will come out in a later book, though some of it did come out in Murderous Secrets, book four in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series.  I used the rivalry as a red herring when Shandra travels to the Reservation to discover if her father’s death thirty years was a rodeo accident or murder.

Murderous Secrets: A Shandra Higheagle Mystery Blurb

Book four in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery Series


The accident that took her father’s life has always haunted Shandra Higheagle. When her dreams become too real, she knows it’s time to discover the truth. It doesn’t take long to suspect her father had been murdered and that someone is unhappy with her probing.

Detective Ryan Greer knows Shandra well enough to insist he be kept informed of her investigation into the decades old death of her father. When signs implicate her mother, he can’t withhold the information, even though he realizes it could complicate their relationship.


Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. On her road to publication she wrote freelance articles for two local newspapers and enjoyed her job with the County Extension service as a 4-H Program Assistant. Raising hay and cattle, riding horses, and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.
All Paty’s work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her penchant for research takes her on side trips that eventually turn into yet another story. She recently returned to the genre of her heart- Mystery.

You can learn more about Paty at

her website; 
Newsletter: Paty’s Prattle:


Saturday, November 21, 2015

ON A DESERT SHORE, by S.K. Rizzolo

I never know where a novel will take me. My mystery series, set in Regency England, requires copious research that has a way of sending me off on byways and detours. One hard lesson learned has been that I have to trust the process. Sooner or later the logic and, more importantly, the heart of a story emerge. Often this happens later rather than sooner. Basically, there’s a lot of floundering involved. Sometimes I stumble on magical tidbits that seem to shout, “Pick me! I’ve been lying here in this dusty book for centuries” (or nowadays hiding in Google Books).  And that’s really fun.

Context is especially crucial in a historical mystery. Historical novelists ask readers to believe that our characters inhabit a world that is long gone yet still echoes down the years into the present. It’s tricky. If a writer tells everything she knows, the book sags under the weight of the research. I try to write from within that early 19th-century mindset without ever forgetting that the characters and the mystery are the main event.

My most recent book, On a Desert Shore, presented a special challenge in that it explores race and attitudes toward slavery—the great moral issue of the Georgian era. Many of the characters in this book are from Jamaica, an astoundingly savage society that was coming under increasing scrutiny in the “mother country” for its cruelty toward the slave population. Though England liked to think of itself as civilized and enlightened, my research revealed that many English men and women were well aware of the gap between national mythology and brutal reality in Britain’s far-flung empire.

On a Desert Shore is about what happens in England when rigid boundaries between different races and cultures dissolve. One of the suspects in Bow Street Runner John Chase’s murder investigation is a mixed-race teenager named Marina Garrod, born to a wealthy Jamaican plantation owner and his slave-housekeeper. This young woman becomes a pampered heiress in London society, discovering that she can’t leave her past behind. It took me a while to get to know Marina in order to pursue my goal of telling her story with empathy and respect, but once I finally figured out that she is the heart of the story, everything fell into place. There were a number of these mixed-race children whose fathers sent them “home” to England, where they might hope to encounter less open prejudice and live in a free society. On the whole these children were the lucky ones. While Britain had halted its participation in the slave trade in 1807, slavery itself endured for several decades more in the colonies. And, shockingly, the government provided thousands of ordinary English people with financial compensation when they were forced to free their slaves.

So I never know where a book will take me. But I can be sure that the journey will bring some wrong turns in my quest to get the history and the story right.

Protecting an heiress should be an easy job for Bow Street Runner John Chase. But the heiress—daughter of rich London merchant Hugo Garrod and a slave-housekeeper on his Jamaican property—is no conventional society miss. Educated to take a place among Regency England’s upper crust and marry well, she has failed at London’s social scene and lives isolated among the Garrod family in Clapham. And someone is playing her malicious tricks, some of which recall her island heritage of Obeah.
Blurb: John Chase needs to determine whether Marina is indeed a victim—or is herself a delusional and malicious trickster. If the trickster is real, is it her rejected suitor and cousin Ned Honeycutt? His demure sister? Their devoted aunt who acts as the Garrod housekeeper? A clergyman friend? Everyone around Hugo Garrod has a stake in how he disposes of his immense wealth.
Meanwhile Mrs. Penelope Wolfe, an abandoned wife, flouts convention by earning her living with her pen. She’s in love with barrister Edward Buckler and hesitant to further scandalize society by breaking any more rules. Hugo Garrod invites her to join his household and put her pen to work. Her assignment takes her into an exotic world where menace lurks at every turn of the garden path and the fa├žade of propriety masks danger.

To solve the case, Chase must grasp the enigma of Marina, an expert in self-concealment, who challenges his assumptions and confronts him with difficult truths. And, with the aid of Penelope and Edward Buckler, reveal a clever killer.  

On a Desert Shore stretches from the brutal colony of Jamaica to the prosperity and apparent peace of suburban London. Here a father’s ambition to transplant a child of mixed blood and create an English dynasty will lead to terrible deeds.

S.K. Rizzolo has a lifelong fascination with Regency England. In college she majored in English with no clue as to how she meant to support herself, eventually earning an M.A. and becoming an English teacher. The Rose in the Wheel, Blood for Blood, and Die I Will Not are the first three novels in her series about a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister. The adventures will continue in March 2016 with the release of On a Desert Shore.



Thursday, November 19, 2015

LET'S EAT by David P. Wagner

Thanksgiving is next week, so why don't I write about food?  It will get us ready for the stuffing, and you can interpret that word any way you wish, since on Turkey Day we are first the stuffers and then the stuffees.  But my entry here will not be about the traditional dishes of that day, as much as we love them.  My culinary theme here will be more international, and specifically Italian. 

I write mysteries that take place in Italy, a country where I spent nine wonderful years.  And you can't set your characters down in Italy without writing about food.  It just can't be done.  In crime fiction both sleuths and suspects have to occasionally stop for a meal or a snack.  They're people, after all, and that's what people do.  (Have you noticed in British mysteries they're always stopping to drink tea, but nobody ever has to use the loo?  Do the Brits have large bladders?  But I digress.)  So there is always the occasional lunch or dinner in regular mysteries, with the protagonist usually agonizing over suspects and clues, not what to order.  Often the setting is a fast food joint and it's unnecessary for the author to go into great detail about a hamburger, burrito, or bangers and mash.  In the books I've read recently, everyone seems to be heating up stuff in the microwave.  The less written about that food, the better. 

Ah, but my characters are in Italy.  Italians can get into great arguments over food, and conflict is always good in a book.  (“You think your tortelli di zucca in Ferrara are good?  We in Mantova throw rocks at Ferraresi tortelli di zucca!”)  Food is culture everywhere, but in Italy it is also history, regionalism, and art.  Back when I was living in Italy I was forced by my job to lunch often with Italians, a major sacrifice, as you might imagine.  Before getting down to business there was an obligatory discussion of food, starting with the menu.  If I happened to be in the hinterlands, I was always told of regional specialties, how they were prepared, and how much better they were than that slop they cook in the next town over.  Civic pride manifests itself big time in local cooking.  So in order to be realistic, the descriptions of restaurant meals in my book include some talk about what's for lunch, just as I remember.

My protagonist Rick Montoya, who works as a translator when he's not sleuthing, is bilingual and dual-national, thanks to a New Mexican father and Roman mother.  So he observes what goes on in Italy with an American eye, and vice versa.  The cultural differences between regions, which Italians often take for granted, he finds interesting, and it includes those differences related to food.  Why does the bread in this town always taste the same?  Because its ingredients were set in the municipal statutes in the 18th century.  How come they don't put salt in their bread in this other town?  It goes back to a protest against the papal salt tax.  Why is the breakfast roll known in Rome as a cornetto (for it's shape) called a  brioche in Milan?  I'll have to look that one up.  All this stuff fascinates Rick.

But these books are not travelogues or cookbooks.  (But Donna Leon published a Commissario Brunetti cookbook with her protagonist's favorite Venetian dishes, so why not a Rick Montoya cookbook?)  The idea is to have a good story with interesting characters.  So your humble author is always trying to balance the cultural details, including the food, with plotting and character development.  Feedback (pun completely unintentional, I swear) from readers about descriptions of Rick's meals has been mostly positive.  They tell me they want to go to Italy after reading my books, and that's good. 

Alright, enough about Italian food, back to planning that Thanksgiving dinner.  But with the leftovers this year you may want to consider Turkey Tetrazzini, even though the dish was invented in the States, since it was named for an Italian opera singer.   

About Murder Most Unfortunate:

Winding up an interpreter job in Bassano del Grappa at a conference on artist Jacopo da Bassano, a famous native son, Rick Montoya looks forward to exploring the town.  And it would be fun to look into the history of two long-missing paintings by Jacopo, a topic that caused the only dust-up among the normally staid group of international scholars attending the seminar. 

Bassano has much to offer to Rick the tourist, starting with its famous covered bridge, an ancient castle, and several picturesque walled towns within striking distance.  He also plans to savor a local cuisine that combines the best of Venice with dishes from the Po Valley and the surrounding mountains. 

These plans come to a sudden halt when one of the seminar's professors turns up dead.  Rick is once again drawn into a murder investigation, this time with a pair of local cops who personify the best and the worst of the Italian police force. 

At the same time he's willingly pulled into a relationship with Betta Innocenti, the daughter of a local gallery owner, who is equally intrigued by the lost paintings.  They quickly realize that the very people who might know the story are also the main suspects in the murder – and that someone not above resorting to violence is watching their every move. 

David P. Wagner, a retired foreign service officer, is also the author of Cold Tuscan Stone and Death in the Dolomites, both Rick Montoya Italian Mysteries.  While in the diplomatic service he spent nine years in Italy where he learned to love all things Italian, many of which appear in his writing.  He and his wife live in Colorado.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Miko Johnston is my guest today and she has some great ideas for authors.

Two years ago, my husband fulfilled a decades long dream – we left California for his home state, Washington, and settled on Whidbey Island. Thanks to a local writers group, I found a community here and made a new circle of friends. During that time I too fulfilled a decades long dream – signing a two-book contract with a publisher. My first novel was published last year and the sequel was just released. Happily ever after? No way.

Nowadays publishers, including Amazon, expect the author to handle publicity and sales. Like many writers, I struggle with how to promote my books and find venues to sell them. If you’re with a small publisher like I am, bookstores treat your work as if it was self-published; they’ll only carry it on consignment, taking a substantial percentage for themselves, often charging an additional ‘shelving’ fee. Who can afford that?

Time to get creative. Other writers in my group had similar experiences, so we banded together and found other options, where there’d be enough potential customers, low overhead, and not too much competition. Here’s what worked for us:

FARMER’S MARKET – Our town holds a Farmer’s market Saturday mornings from late spring through early fall. We rented a space and began selling our books. Meeting with the public and being there to talk about our work generated many sales, on average ten books each week. Our success was largely due to the variety of genres we carried, from mystery to memoir to historical fiction, but tourists snapped up our short story anthologies, which focus on the island. And unlike produce, our books didn’t rot if they were left in the car.

CRAFT SHOWS – Last year we sponsored a book night at a local pub. This year we’ll participate in at least two holiday craft shows. Books make great gifts, and having them signed by the author makes them special. They’re easy to wrap and thanks to media rates, inexpensive to ship. Next year, look for our booth at the Coupeville Arts Festival in August, a two-day event that brings out thousands of shoppers looking for unique items.

“LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION” – Author Avis Rector focused her book on Whidbey Island history. Go to any local Chamber of Commerce, or stay at one of our inns, and you’ll find her novel. Her earlier children’s book about visiting a farm is still available at farm stores throughout the country. Another author, Rowena Williamson, always features a Scottish deerhound in her novels, which she promotes on deerhound websites. My own unpublished mystery takes place in a library, inspired by my experience in library administration. It would be a great addition to a library gift store when it’s published. If your book ties in to a locality, profession, or activity, see if you can connect it to a related venue.

No guarantees that any of these ideas will make you a best-selling author, but I promise they will expand your readership by introducing you to a wider audience and connecting with readers with whom you share an interest with your character’s world. Good luck.

Miko Johnston is the author of A Petal In The Wind and its first sequel, A Petal In The Wind II: Lala Hafstein. Her short stories appear in the Sisters in Crime Anthology LAst Exit To Murder and Write Around Whidbey. Her buy link on Amazon is

Miko first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no 'help wanted' ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. She is a founding member of Writers in Residence: 

Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at


Sunday, November 15, 2015


My good friend--well we haven't actually met, at least I don't think so--Jackie Houchin has decided to share her "Field Trips for Writers". Jackie is a book reviewer and retired journalist. She is also a member of the Writers in Residence critique group and blog. We've been friends on Facebook and exchanged emails and I've been a guest on the blog and I certainly consider her a real friend.

This is what she had to share with us:

"WinR" authors take research seriously. We read voraciously. We consult experts. And we occasionally get hands-on experience by going on "field trips."

One time five of us met at a nearby indoor shooting range for basic instruction in handgun use and safety. Our instructor took us to a small classroom where several open-chamber revolvers and semi-automatics lay on a table.  During the two-hour class we covered safety rules and procedures, and were personally introduced to each of the weapons on the table. After handling them (loading, breaking down, etc.) we were issued safety glasses, hearing protectors, a firearm and a bag of bullets (all included in the price of the class).

We assembled in stalls inside the shooting range, and followed instructions to load, aim, and fire. BAM! Hands jerked, hearts leapt, and even with headphones, our ears rung.

After those virgin shots, using both revolvers and automatic pistols, we quickly burned through all the bullets and several targets. The flame-bursts from the muzzle and the hot, sometimes gritty blowback on our faces were hard to get used to.  The idea that we held death in our hands was even harder.

Were we now prepared to defend our lives and loved ones? Probably not, but we sure could write more realistic crime fiction!

Another field trip took us to the infamous GreystoneManor in Beverly Hills for a reenactment of the political scandal and alleged murder-suicide that plagued the family for years.  We began in the living room of the enormous mansion to meet the characters and hear the plot line. Then we were taken into various rooms for live action scenes. I was sitting at the foot of a magnificent staircase when gunshots rang out and a bloody body tumbled down to land inches from my feet (closest I've ever been to a real "live" corpse)!

Another field trip took the "WinRs" to TheRoseTreeCottage  in Pasadena for English Tea to celebrate the completion of our own ex-pat British member's historical novel. While we ate dainty morsels and sipped creamy tea we learned new English terms, how to make clotted cream and the fun of a Wellington Toss.

A field trip that your group might find fascinating in the Los Angeles area is the HollywoodForeverCemetery  next to Paramount studio. You can find gravestones with epitaphs for many celebs, including Rudolph Valentino, Tyrone Power, and Jayne Mansfield.

Another is the Angels Flight narrow gauge funicular in Bunker Hill, downtown LA, where author Michael Connelly set a Harry Bosch mystery of the same name. You can ride either of the two cars (Sinai or Olivet) for a mere 50 cents. 

Research "haunted" homes in your area (great for mystery or paranormal writers). Experience a Native American casino (James Bond pastiche, anyone?), a Presidential Library (political thriller?), the Getty Museum or Villa (historical or puzzle mystery?) or the Winchester Mystery House.

Take a tour of a crime lab or a newspaper or other businesses that strike your fancy. Ride a subway, Metrolink, or Amtrak train ("The Girl on the Train," "What She Saw," "Murder on the Orient Express").  Colleges offer many excursions that would be great for research, such as an ethnic food tour in Los Angeles, a visit to a TV studio, or to the Space Shuttle.

Please share any ideas for field trips in your area or places that have inspired you to write.

And visit the gals of our eclectic group at  

 And there they all are. I've actually met two of them in person--and yes, I count them as friends.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Dogs in Stories and Life, by Kathleen Delaney

It’s been a year since Maggie came to live with me. She is an Italian Greyhound and when she came, weighed less than 10 pounds. IG’s are shown in the toy group and are small, but 10 pounds is grossly underweight even for them. She was turned into a rapid kill shelter by the people who had her because, the lady said, she snapped at her five year old child.

I sympathize with the woman. The dog was wrong for their family and placing her somewhere more appropriate was called for. Setting her up for almost certain death, wasn’t.

Maggie the mop also lives with me. She is a small black bundle of hair with endless energy who was suffering from heart worm and chronic hunger when she arrived . The heart worm is gone and she is no longer underweight. She was, however, when she was thrown out of a car behind Tractor Supply in a small South Carolina town. Luckily for her, someone saw what happened and called rescue. Not a kill shelter. A close friend, who rescues dogs, sent me an email with a picture telling me about her, as she did with Maggie. The rest is history. Both of them are playing on the office floor as I type this, watched closely by Lefty the three legged wonder dog, who was never claimed after an almost fatal confrontation with a car. He, however, claimed us along with my sofa. It is supposed to be forbidden territory because of his size, a rule rarely observed. The only one not joining in the fun is the cat, who sits on my lap watching it all with great disdain.

These dogs came because I had suddenly found myself dogless, a condition I don’t seem to be able to tolerate. My beloved shepherd, Shea, passed away a couple of years ago, and that left just Laney, also an IG, and me. And the cat. I told myself that suited me just fine. I didn’t need to have a house full of animals any more. Or kids. Or books. I had too many of all those things. At my age, I needed peace, quiet, no responsibilities.

So I left South Carolina and moved to Georgia to be nearer to two of my grandchildren, who are here almost every day. I also moved I don’t know how many books. They filled the bookcases in the living room and in my small office. Boxes of them remained unpacked in a closet, and more boxes, mostly ones I have written, were stacked on the floor. But I was down to two animals.

Then Laney died. I knew she was in a bad way and I think she was glad to go. We did everything we could, but in the end, old age was more powerful than any drugs available. She is at peace. However, I’m not. My house once more overflows with grandchildren, books, and dogs. How did this happen, I wonder, and why do I do it?

I’m not alone. Especially about the dogs. I recently heard a report on what Americans spend each year on pet supplies and was amazed. I’ll bet they spend that much, and maybe more, in England and France and possibly other European countries. Dogs are everywhere you look in Europe, even on buses and trains and in restaurants. No, I’m not alone.

Dogs populate books as well. Especially cozies. I don’t think Sam Spade had a dog, and come to think of it, neither did Miss Marple. They are, however, in plenty of other books, often with starring roles, as are cats. I’m sure you can think of many, some who solve crimes, some who help solve crimes, some who narrate the story. We do love our animals.

I am among those who include animals in their books.  Mine don’t narrate nor do they solve the murder, but they help out in various ways. In Murder by Syllabub, the IG, Petal, one of the dogs that reside in the eighteenth century plantation house, digs up a vital clue. Jake, a yellow tom cat, saves Ellen’s life in the first of the Ellen McKenzie real estate mysteries, Dying for a Change. Jake actually didn’t mean to save her life and wasn’t one bit happy about how it happened, but I’m quite sure he was glad she didn’t die. She’s the one who supplies the cat food.

The second book in the series, Give First Place to Murder, deals a lot with horses but if you have horses you also have dogs and cats. They go together. Not sure why, but they do.
And Murder for Dessert features a standard poodle and Jake reappears in Murder Half-Baked.

Then I decided to write a new series. I wanted to use an older woman as a protagonist, one who still had all her wits about her, who, like so many women before her, used her experience, her intelligence, and her knowledge of her community to help solve a crime. I had no intention of adding my grandchildren nor did I intend to include a dog. Or so many dogs. But Ronaldo finds a puppy beside the dead man in the manger (I have no idea how that happened) and Mary McGill adopts Millie, a black cocker spaniel, who is orphaned when her owner is a murder victim, and Purebred Dead came into being. I guess it came out all right because Library Journal, Publishers Weeky and Book List have all praised it. In any case, Mary has kept Millie, who helped solve the murders in Purebred Dead, and she plays an important role in their next adventure, Curtains for Miss Plym. Mary can no longer remember life before Millie and has no intention of doing without her.
We’ve set things up over the years so that the animals we’ve made pets or have domesticated in some way can no longer live without us. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, but it’s a true one. However, they’ve turned the tables on us. We’d be hard pressed to live without them either. At least, evidently I would.

How about you?


     “Where is he?”

Dalia pointed to a rough-built lean-to, open to the street. Inside, where the manger was set up and the animals were housed w as in shadow. Spotlights were ready, sitting at both the inside and outside corners, for the arrival of the Virgin Mary. The place would radiate light, the North Star would shine from the oak tree and angels would appear. But for now, everything was in shadow. Mary could just make out the outline of what looked like a goat. It bleated as she came up. A couple of other animals hung their heads over small pens, staring at the figure overflowing from the manger in the middle of the display, waiting for Mary and Joseph to appear.

“Cliff Mathews, you promised.” Mary let go of Dalia’s hand and marched up to the manger. “Get up right this minute. How you could…”

She stopped abruptly. Cliff wasn’t going to get up, now or ever again. He lay in the middle of the manger, eyes staring up at nothing, the shadows failing to hide the front of his gray hoodie, stained bright red.

Bio: Kathleen Delaney is a retired real estate broker. She lived and worked on California’s central coast, where she wrote her first three novels and, during her day job, specialized in horse ranches, estate properties, wineries and vineyards. The mother of five grown children, grandmother of nine, she also bred and showed national winning Arabian and Half Arabian horses. She left California for South Carolina, where she completed the final two books in the Ellen McKenzie real estate mysteries, then moved to Georgia, where she continues to write and visit with two of her grandchildren.
Purebred Dead is the first in her new Mary McGill and Millie canine mystery series and, as you might have guessed, is centered around dogs, both pure bred and mixed breed. It is published by Severn House, has been released in the UK to excellent reviews, has been praised by Publishers Weekly and is scheduled for release in the US August 1.

The second book in the series, Curtains for Miss Plym, will be released in the UK in December and in the US in April of 2016.