Sunday, November 29, 2015


 "How do you do it?  I could never write a mystery."  I'm sure most mystery writers hear this question often.  I teach a mystery writing course at a women writers' retreat in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York -- a perfect setting for a murder, with mountains, a lake and an island a short canoe-ride from the old Lodge.  In fact I've written a short story called "Murder in the Boathouse" to be published soon in the Retreat Anthology.  I teach my writing students that it's not so intimidating a task if you just break it up into its natural sections.  Any mystery must have five ingredients.

  (1.) a Detective, with or without a sidekick.  The detective may or may not be a human.  Dogs and cats make popular detective series and I've used a pig named Priscilla in some of my stories -- pigs are really smart animals, particularly the old heritage breed of pig I use.  (Yes, I did my research on a heritage pig farm - this breed likes to take off on "walkabout" but they always return; I witnessed such an episode.)  I use two nosy Puritans as detectives because Puritans were supposed to be nosy to keep their neighbors on the straight and narrow, and nosy makes a good detective.  A sidekick is handy because he or she can be in other places while the detective is busy at the crime scene.

(2.) the Setting.  I emphasize the setting because it should be chosen with serious consideration.  It's a clue to the mystery and may BE the mystery, aka: Salem in 1692, a foggy London street or a canyon in the Southwest.  My setting is Boston in the 1690's and I'm really lucky in that you can still find 1690's Boston walking from the Common down the dark little side-streets to the Union Oyster House shucking oysters at the bar since the early 1700's, to the North End past Paul Revere's house, up Copp's Hill to the burial place of the Mathers, father and son,Puritan ministers who are featured in my books, often using Cotton Mather's own words which are unintentionally funny.  From this spot you can overlook the harbor and easily imagine the forest of wooden masts and furled sails the Mathers saw in their day.  (I have to note here that it was father Increase Mather who, returning from England, stopped the Salem Witch Trials cold.)  Not every American city has such an ambiance ripe for mystery writing, although Jane Haddam's Armenian community of Philadelphia is certainly a major part of the story.

(3.) a Victim, either of murder or theft.  The victim may be a nice person or a nasty one; I often transfer persons I know and don't like to the grave via my writing.  Change details, of course.  I've been told that they never recognize themselves anyway, but why take a chance on getting sued?

(4.) a Villain.  You can't make the villain too obvious or you spoil the fun of solving the mystery for the reader.  I mean, just one look at Darth Vader and you know he's the Bad Guy.  You can even write the story from the villain's viewpoint, if you're Agatha Christie or Dostoyevsky.  And make sure the villain has an element of humanity in him. No one is totally evil -- think of Tony Soprano or the Godfather movies.  Even Darth Vader had his redeeming moment.

(5.) Clues and Red Herrings.  The Greeks had a Deus ex Machina, a God who could drop down from the skies and solve the problem for everyone.  That doesn't work nowadays, although some well known writers have used this tactic.  When the murderer comes out of left field and has never been introduced into the plot, that's cheating. You have to plant clues within the body of the story so the reader can figure out the answer, at least when he/she looks back at it.  Remember the man out walking his dog in chapter three? He used the dog to meet women....   (Did the dog do it?  Only Steven King can make that work.)  Red Herrings are clues that mislead the reader in the wrong direction.  Maybe a bystander saw a flash of red cloth and Madame Nicholai has a red cloak in her closet....  Perhaps there's a paw print on the floor -- but the victim feeds the neighbors' animals.  Sprinkle red herrings as well as clues throughout the story -- it's fun!

If you divide the mystery into five parts it becomes a much easier task to tackle, doesn't it?  Good luck and good writing.

Death of a Cape Cod Cavalier Blurb:

"Relaxing on Cape Cod isn't easy when there's a body floating in the Bay. Hetty Henry, on the Cape for a shipment of oysters and friend Creasy Cotton, there to preach to the Natives, find that murder, sex and business are a strange mix." 


Bio:  M.E.Kemp is the author of five historical mystery with a sixth in the works; she also writes short stories and essays.  Kemp  lives in Saratoga Springs, NY with hubby Jack and two kitties, Boris and Natasha, who are her most severe critics - they often shred her stories to bits.      

Friday, November 27, 2015

I'VE GOT MAIL by Camille Minichino

I've been a fan of the US Postal Service since I was a kid. It could have been the uniforms that got my attention. In my working class neighborhood, uniforms were a rarity. The men, most of them laborers like my father, wore nondescript "work clothes," usually in olive drab or khaki; the women wore housedresses and aprons.

The mailman, however, wore a snazzy blue-grey outfit with an Eisenhower-style jacket—banded waist, two pleated-patch breast pockets, and buttoned cuffs. The round patch on the sleeve, of a pony express delivery, couldn't have been cooler. A matching safari-style hat topped it off. What was not to like?

My sixth-grade teacher also contributed to my interest when he assigned a special project: We were to write a "business letter" and ask for information through the mail. The who and the what were wide open, leaving us to our own imaginations. (Thanks for that, Mr. D.)

I'd certainly never been on an airplane, but for some reason I chose to send a request to an airline for information about becoming a stewardess. Pre-Google, who knows where I got the address of an airline? The important thing is that it was my first foray into research and it worked! I still remember the package that arrived a couple of weeks later—the requisite application forms, with my name and address on the large envelope! Colorful pamphlets toppled out also, all showing the glamorous life of a waitress at thirty-thousand feet. I took the package to school and impressed all my friends.

After that, I couldn't be stopped. I sent away for all kinds of things, just to receive letters or packages with my name on them. "Send for more information" was an invitation I never refused. As a result, I acquired such items as brochures from the army, kits for home improvement, pamphlets on family health, and brochures for colleges and universities all over the world. When the pen pal craze hit, I was there.

 Since that time, I've had many jobs, from research physicist to novelist, but one of my proudest tenures was with the USPS as a temporary sorter during my holiday vacations from college. My only regret was that I didn't get to wear the uniform.

My latest tribute to the men and women in whom we put our trust to take care of our communications is my new series: the Postmistress Mysteries.

Meet Cassie Miller, Postmistress in a small town in western Massachusetts. She wears the now red-white-and-blue uniform proudly. She has mail to deliver and crimes to solve.

The first in the series, DEATH TAKES PRIORITY, was released this month. In it, Cassie takes on the mysterious disappearance of two hundred phone books and the murder of an old high school beaux. The book is topped off by fun facts and stories about the USPS. Haven't you always wanted to know, for example, that the ZIP in ZIP codes stands for Zoning Improvement Plan and that there are nearly forty-two thousand zip codes in the country?

I hope you enjoy Cassie as she hoists the flag every morning over her own small USPO.

Camille Minichino (aka Margaret Grace, Ada Madison, and Jean Flowers) has written more than 20 cozy mystery novels as well as short stories and nonfiction. A retired physicist, she teaches science at Golden Gate U. in San Francisco, and writing in the SF Bay Area. Visit Camille at


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.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015


 For the mystery reader, it’s all about the suspense and the twist, and outguessing the author who’s doing their best to carefully design those words so that the reader doesn’t guess the secret until the author wants him to. Author versus reader.

Killer Nashville is a conference devoted to enabling and supporting those authors so that the readers receive the best game the genre can offer. For four days, this conference presents classes, panels, and hands-on crime-solving to authors, readily involving famous names and law enforcement experts.

This year represented a ten-year anniversary for Killer Nashville. Founder Clay Stafford applauded the life of the conference, and honored the genre, by creating Killer Nashville Noir: Cold-Blooded, an anthology he carefully filled with stories from greats like Jeffrey Deaver, Donald Bain, Robert Dugoni, Steven James, and Heywood Gould, then added stories from highly respected contemporary authors and Killer Nashville alumni like Catriona McPherson, Jonathan Stone, and Blake Fonteney. Sixteen twisting and turning mystery short stories representing the best of what Killer Nashville represents. I was very lucky to be included in the mix with my short story “Rich Talk.”

The conference opened with a short film by mystery great John Gilmore then an interview of the man by Clay Stafford, who weaves and winds his way throughout the conference so devoted to this cause, making himself reachable to all. Clay, no slouch in his own right, is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and filmmaker. He has sold over 1.5 million hardcover copies of his children’s adaptations and has seen his film work distributed in over 14 languages. Publishers Weekly named Stafford one of the Top Ten Nashville literary leaders playing “an essential role in defining which books become bestsellers.” His thrill is making literature happen, particularly in this genre. He’s given hand-up assistance to many an author, and his heart and soul manage this conference.

Of course there are classes and panels, consisting of not only bestselling authors, but also expert crime experts, from local to state to federal levels. My husband, a federal law enforcement criminal investigator, presented on non-traditional federal law enforcement and had a ball helping authors mold their scenes into something credible. Then there are the experts in other areas who answered questions to these writers about works in progress. Experts like these: a sex offender counselor, psychologists, publicists, a social media expert, a Microsoft senior programmer, and a filmmaker. I moderated a presentation by a mortician that I had to cut off because the questions would have gone on and on about how to deal with death and bodies in a story. Intriguing stuff!

And what mystery aficionado doesn’t want to try their hand at solving a murder? Tennessee Bureau of Investigations Assistant Director Dan Royse sets up a crime scene, giving attendees two days to analyze and turn in their answers as to what happened. The winner receives free attendance to next year’s conference. It’s amazing at the details and who has that keen eye.

But the conference also presents famous, well-established authors who not only present, but make themselves available. This year, we were graced with the presences of Robert K. Tannenbaum (NYT Bestselling Author of nonfiction and fiction, to include Echoes of Silence and Trapped), M. William Phelps (NYT Bestselling Author of 30 books and producer/writer/host of the television Investigation Discovery Series Dark Minds) and John Gilstrap (NYT Bestselling Author of All Enemies, End Game, High Treason, and many more, plus the creator of four Hollywood screenplays adapting the works of Nelson DeMille and Thomas Harris). Unlike other conferences where these guys appear and disappear, they availed themselves to attendees on a regular basis, open to help in the style that Clay Stafford promotes.

But the conference culminates in a grand banquet at the end, not only with great presentations from the guests of honor, but also announcements of award. Killer Nashville presents the Claymore Award to an unpublished mystery novel and the Silver Falchion Award to mystery releases of the past year. Winners consisted of Catriona McPherson, Terry Odell, Laura McHugh, Lori Rader-Day, Hank Phillip Ryan, and myself for my novel Palmetto Poison.

Add to this excitement the wine tasting, signings, agent and editor roundtables (no five-minute pitches here!), costume contest, samurai sword training, live band, and book con to the public, and you have more than you could ever ask for in a mystery environment. Next year promises to be bigger and better, which seems to happen every year. Why not give it a try?

BIO – C. Hope Clark is the author of award-winning Carolina Slade Mysteries and the most recent Edisto Island Mysteries. Her latest release is Edisto Jinx (October 2015). At Killer Nashville, she accepted a Silver Falchion Award for her Slade series title Palmetto Poison. Needless to say, she’ll be back next year to her fourth Killer Nashville conference and highly recommends it to all mystery, suspense and thriller lovers. 

When she’s not penning mysteries, she’s managing, an online resource of funding opportunities for serious writers, chosen by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 15 years. /

BLURB for Edisto Jinx - Is it a flesh and blood killer—or restless spirits? According to an island psychic, beautiful Edisto Beach becomes a hotbed of troublemaking spirits every August. But when a visitor dies mysteriously during a beachhouse party, former big-city detective Callie Morgan and Edisto Beach police chief Mike Seabrook hunt for motives and suspects among the living. With tourists filling the beaches and local business owners anxious to squelch rumors of a murderer on the loose, Callie will need all the help she can get—especially once the killer’s attention turns toward her.

Monday, November 9, 2015



As in the creation of mosaics, in writing it's details that help make up a fuller picture.

Consider the type of food characters are shown preparing, being served, or eating. Even casual references tell something about their culinary tastes and, with historical fiction in particular, their station in life.

But not always! For although our protagonist John, Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, is one of the richest men in Constantinople, his food preferences have remained simple. Thus he is occasionally seen eating boiled eggs or bread and cheese, although from time to time we permit him his two favourites: grilled swordfish, sometimes purchased from a street vendor and so eaten from a skewer outdoors, and the sweet honey cakes his elderly servant Peter makes for him.

We've also utilised food in more extended sequences to throw light on the nature of a given character or to provide a touch of pathos or humour to the narrative.

For example, in Seven For A Secret, Peter tells John the story of the miracle of the melons, in which Zachariah, who claims to have been born without the use of his legs, was sitting in his usual begging spot when the axle of a too heavily laden cart snapped, tipping the cart over. As a result, an avalanche of melons rushed directly at the unfortunate beggar.

John observes he does not think the incident would pose much danger, to which Peter points out the shock engendered by seeing them all rolling at you at once if you were unable to escape.
It was at that point the miracle occurred, for Zachariah leapt up and ran to safety. The less gullible but kindly John replies he would never have thought produce could be a convenient means of divine intervention.

The accident also provided a new occupation for the now mobile Zachariah: juggling fist-sized
melons with his feet. The produce involved is then offered for sale to passersby as supposedly having curative powers akin to those by which he was cured of his lifelong affliction, although naturally they cost more than ordinary melons.

Peter goes on to relate the tale of what he calls the glass manna. In brief, another beggar scavenging for food near the Great Palace discovers baskets of fish, bread, and fruit, all of them made of glass
-- the reader knows these faux comestibles were manufactured for an imperial banquet and how they came to be outside -- and was profoundly thankful to have done so.

Naturally, John asks why the beggar reacted thus given he could not eat what he found, Peter's answer being the various items were so unusual and so beautifully made the beggar was able to sell them individually to those who dealt in such wares. Thus the glass food fed the beggar far longer than the same amount of real food would have done.

In our presentation of Theodora we've given her a nasty sense of humour.

Take Theodora's outdoor banquet in Five For Silver. Poet Crinagoras has been invited to attend and recite his creations. In speaking to Anatolius, a friend of John's, about the culinary exotica he expects, he predicts at the very least it will include pigeons' wings fricassed in wine, honey-sauced lamb, exquisite sweetmeats, rich sauces, and wines so wonderful guests would think Bacchus himself was in charge of the imperial cellars.

As it turns out, he and other guests are horrified to say the least when served only bread and water by attendants displaying obvious signs of suffering from the plague then raging in Constantinople, and badly frightened by the arrival of a cart full of half dead victims, its driver the holy fool notorious for earlier dancing with the corpse of a woman.

However, as so often happens in novels of detection, things are not quite what they seem.

Another unusual banquet occurs in Four For A Boy, the prequel to the series. This event is hosted by an actual historical figure, City Prefect Theodotus, who was nicknamed The Gourd due to his badly misshapen head. His guests eat their meal readily enough, although complaining to each other about the suckling pigs having been boiled too long, the fish not smoked enough, and the fruit soaked in wine being overripe.

Suddenly their host announces he has a very special culinary treat for them. Imagine their surprise when, uncovering salvers set before them, his guests find they have been served with half a large baked gourd apiece. He reminds them it is commonly said of gourds they are inedible, bitter, and tough, and then orders the crowd to eat. As perforce they must, underlining their widespread fear of their host. Guest of honour and future empress Theodora naturally finds the situation highly amusing.

Well, I may not have been very amusing but I hope at least I've provided some food for thought!




Series info:

Tweet noms:    @marymaywrite  and for Eric @groggytales


The husband and wife team of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer published several short John, Lord Chamberlain, detections in mystery anthologies and in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine prior to 1999's One For Sorrow, the first full-length novel about their protagonist. The eleventh in the series, Murder in Megara, will be published in October 2015. The Guardian Stones, set in rural Shropshire during World War Two and written as by Eric Reed, will appear in January 2016. Both novels are from Poisoned Pen Press.

Blurb for Murder In Megara:

John, former Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, has been exiled from Constantinople to a rustic estate John has long-owned in Greece, not far from where he grew up. But exile proves no escape from mystery and mayhem. The residents of nearby Megara make it plain John and his family are unwelcome intruders. His overseer proves corrupt. What of the other staff—and his neighbors?

Before long, John finds himself accused of blasphemy and murder. Now a powerless outsider, he’s on his own, investigating and annoyingly hampered by the ruthless and antagonistic City Defender who serves Megara as both law enforcer and judge. Plus there’s that corrupt estate overseer, a shady pig farmer, a servant’s unwelcome suitor, a wealthy merchant who spends part of his time as a cave-dwelling hermit, and the criminals and cutthroats populating such a seedy port as Megara.

Complicating matters further are two childhood friends whose lives have taken very different paths, plus the stepfather John hated. John realizes that in Megara, the solution to murder does not lie in the dark alleys where previous investigations have taken him, but in a far more dangerous place—his own past. Can he find his way out of the labyrinth of lies and danger into which he has been thrust before disaster strikes and exile turns into execution?