Tuesday, April 30, 2019


by Paula Gail Benson

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman (Kensington)
Little Comfort by Edwin Hill (Kensington)
What Doesn’t Kill You by Aimee Hix (Midnight Ink)
Deadly Solution by Keenan Powell (Level Best Books)
Curses, Boiled Again! by Shari Randall (St. Martin’s)

Malice Domestic is recognizing these phenomenal authors for their first mystery novels, but already each is accomplished in his or her craft. They have tackled fascinating concepts with the skill of seasoned pros. I’m delighted they could spend a little time with us here at WWK. Welcome, Dianne, Edwin, Aimee, Keenan, and our own Shari! Thanks for answering a few questions.

While you were writing your nominated story, tell us (a) something you learned from the writing, and (b) something unique that happened in your life.

Dianne Freemwn
I’ve been writing for over 20 years just for my own amusement. In writing this novel, then revising, and revising, then actually liking the finished product, I learned to consider myself a writer rather than just someone who has a strange hobby. 

When I had what I thought was a finished manuscript, I entered a contest called PitchWars--and got in! I worked with a mentor for six weeks, gained 125 new writer friends, who were fellow mentees, and ultimately found my agent. For someone who never had a critique partner or group, joining this writing community was an amazing experience.

Edwin Hill
For me, writing a first novel meant learning something new practically every day. In writing LITTLE COMFORT, I think the most important things I learned were about structure and pacing - about making sure that I was always (and I mean always) raising the stakes for my main character, Hester Thursby. When I sent around the first few drafts to beta readers, I always asked them to identify places when they started to feel bored or -- even better -- when they realized they hadn’t paid attention for a few pages. Those were the spots in the manuscript where I knew I needed to either add something to push the story, or cut way back because I was getting bogged down in something unnecessary. 

As for something that happened in my own life: my dog Edith Ann came to live with me. She is a yellow lab. She’s goofy and sweet and has absolutely changed my life in all the best ways. “Everyone says they have the best dog. And none of them are wrong.” It couldn’t be more right!

Aimee Hix
WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU was the first book I wrote and finished. I’d started several and got about five pages in before abandoning them because I had no idea what I was doing and thought I was supposed to know. With WDKY I had an online friend who turned into a writing mentor (the amazing Matthew V Clemens) and I learned that no one knows that they’re doing. “Writing the first draft of a book”, he told me, “you’re just telling yourself the story.” Julie Hyzy told him/people that and it’s true.

Nothing really unique happened in my life while writing it but something spooky happened. WDKY is set in the Fairfax County area and I have fictional places set where real places exist. There is a fire in WDKY and the day after I wrote it there was a fire at the actual business where my fake business is located. The same fake business that has a fire in the book. 

Keenan Powell
I was surprised when I learned from a social worker friend how large the homeless community is in Anchorage, where they live, and how they’ve developed this kind of Dystopian society all their own. Something unique that happened in my life as I was writing DEADLY SOLUTION, was discovering how writing satisfied a deep need for self-expression that is not met by other creative endeavors.

Shari Randall
Since my series is set in a lobster shack, I learned a lot about lobsters. Fun fact: in colonial times in New England, lobster was so plentiful that native people and colonists used the hundreds of lobsters that constantly washed up on the beach for fertilizer and bait  - it was considered a nuisance. Lobster was served to prisoners so often that a law was passed that prisons could only serve it twice a week. Clearly things have changed.
I also learned that writing with a beautiful, inspiring setting is not for me. My writing spot was a seat at the dining room table, which faced a gorgeous, instagram worthy view of the ocean. But it was so distracting! So I started writing in a carrel at the local public library. Facing a plain white wall is very good for word count.
Unique in my life? I started writing my debut three days after I moved into a new home in a new state. Thank goodness writing is a portable occupation.

Now, some short answers:

Favorite Mystery Movie:

DIANNE:       The Thin Man. I love Nick and Nora

EDWIN:        I like a lot of mystery movies, but I think I’ll go into the archives and pull out The Last of Sheila, a movie that came out in the early seventies and starred people like James Coburn and Rachel Welch. It has a fantastic atmosphere and a perfectly plotted mystery that was revealed, step-by-step, in finale. In the early days of VHS, my friends and I our hands on a copy and watched it over and over again looking for how the clues were revealed. 

AIMEE:          The Big Sleep

KEENAN:      My favorite mystery movie is Murder on the Orient Express (1974).

SHARI:           My favorite mystery movie? The Killers from 1946 -- (not the one made in the sixties). The film is based on a short story by Hemingway and dazzles with double crosses and triple crosses everywhere. It’s so noir! Plus it had stunning debut performances by Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner -- you can’t take your eyes off them.

Place You Would Love To Set A Mystery:

DIANNE:       I’d love to take my characters to Paris. Since my novels take place in 1899, I think it would be fascinating.

EDWIN:        The Hester Thursby mystery series is all set in Massachusetts where I live, which is by design. I have a very demanding day job, which doesn’t leave me a lot of time for research into setting, so it is easier to have the books set in a place where I live. I would love to set a book in a distant locale, though, one where I would have to go live for many, many months to do research, and I think would choose Ile de Re, which is an island in the Atlantic, off the coast of La Rochelle in France. I spent a semester in La Rochelle when I was in high school and it is a place I hold close to my heart. Ile de Re is an isolated summer resort, one with beautiful landscapes and fishing villages, and I think I could get used to researching over croissants and moules frites!

AIMEE:          Abandoned insane asylum - so much paranoid fear and comic potential

KEENAN:      I’d love to set a mystery in the back corridors of a courthouse.

SHARI:           On a cruise ship!

Animal You Would Like To See Included In A Cozy Mystery:

DIANNE:       Maybe a chicken. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a chicken in a cozy mystery.

EDWIN:       Hester Thursby’s long-time boyfriend Morgan Maguire is a veterinarian, so animals play a large role in all of the novels in the series, though the number one animal is their basset hound mix, Waffles. I really love the show Parks and Recreation,  and have always liked the episodes that feature Lil’ Sebastian, so maybe I’ll try to work a mini horse into one of the future novels. 

AIMEE:          Hmmmm, maybe an otter or a seal - again, the comic potential is off the charts for a silly funny animal

KEENAN:      How about a baby beluga? They are so darned cute.

SHARI:           I keep hearing about goat yoga. I’d love to write a scene about it.

I can’t wait to read your new novels, particularly the ones with the settings and animals mentioned above!

Following is a brief bio for each author.

Best wishes to you all!

Dianne Freeman is a life-long book lover who left the world of corporate finance to pursue her passion for writing. After co-authoring the non-fiction book, Haunted Highway, The Spirits of Route 66, she realized her true love was fiction, historical mystery in particular. She also realized she didn’t like winter very much so now she and her husband pursue the endless summer by splitting their time between Michigan and Arizona. Her debut novel, A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder has been nominated for an Agatha and a Lefty Award for best first novel as well as a Mary Higgins-Clark Award. 

Edwin Hill is the author of the critically-acclaimed Hester Thursby mystery series. His first novel, Little Comfort, was nominated for an Agatha Award for best debut. The second in the series, The Missing Ones, will be available in September. He lives in Roslindale, Massachusetts with his partner Michael and his favorite reviewer, their lab Edith Ann, who likes his first drafts enough to eat them.

Aimee Hix, after twenty years as a federal contractor, retired and turned to murder. Fictionally, of course. She began writing the Willa Pennington PI mystery series in 2014 and decided to set it in her “hometown” of Fairfax County because of the rich diversity and opportunities for a private investigator to become entangled in with interesting people. What Doesn’t Kill You, has been nominated for a Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel and an Agatha for Best First Novel. Aimee lives in Virginia with her family, three dogs, and all her killer thoughts.

Keenan Powell’s first publication was illustrations in Dungeons and Dragons drawn during high school. Art seemed an impractical pursuit – she wasn’t an heiress, didn’t have the disposition to marry well, and hated teaching – so she went to law school instead. The day after graduation, she moved to Alaska where she continues to practice. Her debut, Deadly Solution, A Maeve Malloy Mystery, was nominated for a Lefty and an Agatha for Best First. Its sequel, Hemlock Needle, was released in January 2019. The third in the series, Hell and High Water, is scheduled for release in January 2020.

Shari Randall is the author of the Lobster Shack Mystery series from St. Martin’s Press. A native New Englander and former librarian, she is a member of Sisters in Crime and the International Thriller Writers Association. When she’s not cooking up a devious plot twist, she enjoys dancing, cruising garage sales, and visiting her globe-trotting children. You can see what’s new with her on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sharirandallauthor

Monday, April 29, 2019


by Paula Gail Benson

“All God’s Sparrows” by Leslie Budewitz (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
“A Postcard for the Dead” by Susanna Calkins in Florida Happens (Three Rooms Press)
“Bug Appetit” by Barb Goffman (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
“The Case of the Vanishing Professor” by Tara Laskowski (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
“English 398: Fiction Workshop” by Art Taylor (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)

I’m always amazed by the quality and diversity of stories in the Agathas’ best short story category. This year is no different. All of the authors have proven themselves as consummate storytellers. What tales they have given us! Many thanks to Leslie, Susie, Barb, Tara, and Art for taking a little time to visit with us at WWK and answer a few questions.

While you were writing your nominated story, tell us (a) something you learned from the writing, and (b) something unique that happened in your life.

Leslie Budewitz
I’d long been aware of the Jesuit and Ursuline communities in Montana Territory in the 1880s and of Mary Fields, a former slave known as Black Mary and Stagecoach Mary who lived and worked at St. Peter’s Mission in northcentral Montana. While I was writing “All God’s Sparrows,” which features the real-life Mary in a fictional situation, I learned quite a bit about the post-Civil War westward migration of freed slaves. What particularly struck me was the observation by historian Ken Egan, Jr., in Montana 1889: Indians, Cowboys, and Miners in the Year of Statehood, that Montana was more diverse in the late 19th century than it is now, because national policies fostered white settlement while decimating the Indian and Chinese populations, and the black population remained largely isolated.

This was my first historical fiction, although years ago, I started a historical novel I wasn’t able to finish, and I’ve since written two more “Stagecoach Mary” stories. It developed in an unusual way, with the first and last scenes coming first, and the rest emerging almost backwards from the ending as I realized what would have had to happen to bring us to that point.

A year later, I finally got to visit the site of the former mission. It’s almost impossible to imagine the virtual city that existed then, later destroyed by fire and time, in a rolling cattle pasture now peopled only with a small cemetery and an even smaller chapel.

Susanna Calkins
I wrote my Agatha-nominated story, “A Postcard for the Dead,” fairly quickly. I had seen the call for the Bouchercon Anthology, FLORIDA HAPPENS, soliciting stories set in Florida or connected to the state in some way (because the anthology is always set in the state where the conference is held). I almost opted not to write the story because I’ve only been to the state a handful of times, and I only had one other published short story. I haven’t been comfortable with the genre. But then, as I was researching details for my new series, The Speakeasy Murders (which are set in 1920s Chicago), I came across an interesting story of some postal workers who’d been embezzling from a West Palm Beach post office. A completely different story emerged from that tale, and I wrote the story very quickly and submitted it within minutes of the deadline. I think what I learned is to just try, even if I’m not sure I can do it. In fact, for me the short story format has offered me a different means to experiment and innovate.

(I had to check my schedule to see if something unique was happening in my life at the time, and I would say that I was living in my usual state of chaos and overwhelm, with work, day job, teaching courses and writing—so it was nothing to add one more impossible thing to an already ridiculously impossible schedule.)

Barb Goffman
While writing “Bug Appétit” I learned all about the nutritional value of eating insects, as well as some of the potential drawbacks. I don’t want to say anything else or I might spoil things for anyone who hasn’t yet read the story.

I don’t recall anything unique happening in my life while writing this story. I guess I was too focused on my storytelling. Or maybe it means I need more of a life.

Tara Laskowski
So I first got the idea for “The Case of the Vanishing Professor” more than TWELVE YEARS AGO. Crazy! It was during Edgar week, actually--my first time going to it as the guest of my then-boyfriend Art Taylor (ah, we were so young!) I thought it would be fun to write a story about a person named Nancy Drew who hated being named after the famous detective, and put her in a situation where she’s forced to...detect.

It took me years to get it right, though, because it’s the first true mystery story I ever wrote. I realized just how hard it is to plant clues and plot a mystery story. It was a hard, long lesson, but worth it! 

Art Taylor
“English 398: Fiction Workshop” is structured in part around bits of writing advice, and it was an interesting exercise for me to try to follow that advice as I was crafting the story—exploring the anatomy of a short story in an explicit way, and in the process catching some clearer understanding for myself of story and structure, what a story needs to have and what you can leave out, those skips and jumps and omissions that the readers themselves fill in for you. Because the final section of the story draws a least a bit on contemporary slang, I had to research that too, so that was an education as well. I just hope I used it all correctly!

As for something unique that happened while I was writing the story…. I can’t think of anything during the writing itself, but the story’s acceptance stands out. I had a couple of stories in the submissions queue at Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and my editor, Janet Hutchings, was wavering over the one I’d submitted earlier—for understandable reasons, though she seemed reluctant to outright reject it. Janet’s email arrived just as my wife Tara and I were heading out with our son Dash to the airport—a cross-country trip to Portland, Oregon—so before we left the house, I replied to tell Janet it was fine if she didn’t want the first story because I had another option for it, and there was a second story in the pipeline too, one I hoped she’d like better. I hit “send” and we got in the car. Soon after we got through security at the airport, Janet emailed to say she’d read the second story—so quickly!—and would definitely take it. That second story was “English 398: Fiction Workshop,” and Janet’s email was the perfect start to our vacation.

Now, some short answers:

Favorite Mystery Movie:

LESLIE:         I’m going with a trio of classics: The Maltese Falcon, Twelve Angry Men, and Witness for the Prosecution.

SUSIE:            Presumed Innocent.

BARB:            It’s difficult to pick a single favorite. One movie I love that came quickly to mind is Gone Baby Gone. I love the mood of this film. It inspires me.

TARA:            One that’s fairly under-appreciated that I love is The Gift with Cate Blanchett. Also, The Usual Suspects. Because I can never just pick one.

ART:               So many to choose from!…but I’m going to pick Christopher Nolan’s Memento because of its unique structure, with one thread of the narrative working backwards scene by scene and still maintaining all the mystery and suspense of where it’s going to end up—or rather, where it began!

Place You Would Love To Set A Mystery:

LESLIE:         A village called Roussillon in France’s Louberon Valley. Think of the research.

SUSIE:            Your house (mwa ha ha ha! That’s not creepy is it?) [Not at all, Susie. I’d read that story. I wondered if Tara might think of a “creepy” setting, too!--PGB]

BARB:            The Galapagos Islands have always sounded interesting. They’re remote. Exotic. And such interesting animals.

TARA:            Salem, Massachusetts [The perfect answer for a writer born on Halloween!--PGB]

ART:               A grand luxury hotel. We love to travel and love hotels—and I actually have the draft of a story set in a very special hotel, just need to get back to it. (I would say trains, but my first mystery in EQMM was already set on one: “Murder on the Orient Express”!)

Animal You Would Like To See Included In A Cozy Mystery:

LESLIE:         I’m of the opinion that you can’t go wrong with a dog or cat. Somehow, the current household critter always seems to work his or her way into my writing!

SUSIE:            A Quakka. My son’s name is Quentin and I still call him Quentin Quakka. Quakkas are super cute. J

BARB:            I’ll go with the blue-footed booby bird because, hello, how cute! And it would fit perfectly in a mystery set on the Galapagos Islands.

TARA:            Sloth.

ART:               An owl. For Dash.

I’m really looking forward to reading your new stories in the fabulous settings with all these animals!

Following is a brief bio for each author.

Best wishes to you all!

Leslie Budewitz is the best-selling author of the Seattle Spice Shop and Food Lovers’ Village mysteries. The fourth Spice Shop mystery, Chai Another Day, will be published by Seventh St. Books in June, 2019. “All God’s Sparrows” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine), her first historical fiction, is nominated for the 2018 Agatha Award for Best Short Story, while “With My Eyes” (Suspense Magazine, Jan-Feb 2018), set in Seattle and Athens, is nominated for a Derringer Award. Her stories have appeared in Ellery Queen, Thuglit, and other journals and anthologies. Death al Dente, the first Food Lovers’ Village mystery, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel; her guide for writers, Books, Crooks & Counselors, won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. A past president of Sisters in Crime, Leslie currently serves on the Mystery Writers of America board. She lives in NW Montana.

Susanna Calkins writes the award-winning Lucy Campion historical mysteries set in 17th century London and the Speakeasy Murders set in 1920s Chicago (Minotaur/St. Martin’s). Her fiction has been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, the Agatha, the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery (Lefty) and the Anthony, and was awarded  a Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award (the Macavity). Born and raised in Philadelphia, she lives in the Chicago area now, with her husband and two sons. Check out her website at www.susannacalkins.com

Barb Goffman has won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her short stories, and she’s been a finalist for national crime-writing awards twenty-five times, including a dozen Agatha Award nominations (a category record). Her book, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even, won the Silver Falchion for the best short-story collection of 2013.  To support her short-story habit, Barb runs a freelance editing service, focusing on crime fiction. www.barbgoffman.com

Tara Laskowski is the award-winning author of two short story collections, Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons and Bystanders, which was named a Best Book of 2017 by The Guardian. Her debut novel One Night Gone will be published in October 2019 by Graydon House Books. She is the editor of the online flash fiction journal SmokeLong Quarterly and is a member of Sisters in Crime. A graduate of Susquehanna University and George Mason University, Tara grew up in Pennsylvania and lives in Virginia.

Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. His Agatha nominated story, “English 398: Fiction Workshop,” has just won the Edgar award. He has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, two Macavity Awards, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, in addition to being named a finalist for the Edgar Award. His work has also appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, and he edited Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

FBI Citizens Academy: Week #5

For our fifth session, we met on a Saturday morning at the firing range. 
Range Day for my FBI Citizens Academy Class
We started the day listening to a fascinating lecture on Use of Force, which raised lots of questions from my classmates—most of which were answered in the segments that followed. A few takeaways—law enforcement is trained to shoot to stop the threat. Not to kill. Not to injure. While it looks cool on TV, no one can shoot a gun from a subject’s hand or place a shot in the knee to stop them. They’re trained to shoot for center mass and to continue firing until the threat is stopped.

The fun started with a demonstration by the bomb techs. These guys really enjoy their work! They set off a number of explosions of all types, from homemade to military. The scary part is how easily items we all have in our medicine cabinets, basements, and garages can be combined into a bomb. Equally scary is the ease of finding directions online. The comforting part is most of these directions aren’t exactly accurate, and someone trying to use them is more likely to blow off their hand than to successfully create an explosive device.

My big takeaway was learning that the explosions we see in the movies and TV are nothing like the real thing. The film industry shows you lots of fire. At the end of their demonstration, the bomb techs triggered a “Hollywood Wall of Flames” and only then did we realize none of the other explosions had involved such an inferno. There was smoke—different shades of smoke mean different ingredients—and smells and booms. Sometimes the booms were softer. Some shook the earth. And some sent out an honest-to-goodness shockwave that we could feel in our chests.

My thinking is Hollywood does the Wall of Flame to show a visual impact because the sound and shockwaves can’t be duplicated. In reality, the sounds, smells, and sensations had a much bigger impact on us than anything we see on film.

(Side note: I wish I had photos or video to show you. We were told we could photograph stuff for our own personal use, but we were not permitted to share it online.)
Glock 22 40
After the bomb demo, we were split into groups to go through three different stations. My first one was live fire. We were armed with a Glock 22 40 and an H&K MP5 10mm assault rifle and took turns with an instructor. 
My target--Not too shabby!
The next station was a SWAT training simulation—Shoot/Don’t Shoot scenario. We were walked through a “house” and in each room, there were posters showing the people one might encounter. Some of the “subjects” were armed, some were merely pointing a finger or holding a can of Pepsi, some were cops. We were armed with pellet guns and had to make split-second decisions. My partner “killed” a guy with a can of pop. I’m pleased to say I aced it! I killed the bad guys and did not kill any civilians or other law enforcement.

Unfortunately, the program ran over and I had to leave before completing the third station, which was a FATS (Fire Arms Training Simulator). I’d already done these a few other times (and if you’ve read the opening scene of my With a Vengeance, you know that Zoe has too!) FATS is a computerized exercise with a large screen where a scenario plays out. The participant is armed with a Glock that doesn’t fire projectiles but is read by the computer so you can see afterward where—and who—your shots hit.

The entire day gave us a new appreciation of what the FBI and all law enforcement face every day out in the field. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

It’s All in the Family, by Kait Carson

People sometimes ask when I knew I wanted to be a writer. The honest answer was I couldn’t remember ever wanting to be anything else. It’s only recently that I’ve given that answer more than knee jerk thought and realize it’s not quite true. Becoming a writer was an adult embellishment of my childhood desire to be a storyteller. In my family, storytelling was a natural consequence of family and holiday dinners.

I’m a child of the 1950s. In those faraway days, families still lived close to each other and for those that didn’t, the Interstate Highway System a gift of the Eisenhower years made travel easier than the old over the river and through the woods access of song. Gas rationing was gone, the baby boom in full swing and in five easy hours the Upstate New York and the New Jersey components of our family could be sitting around a holiday table.

Our family often spilled out of the dining room into the living room and depending which family hosted, into the kitchen. Multiple tables pushed together to form a giant jigsaw puzzle with joints concealed by the best table cloths provided enough room to seat twenty or more adults. Children were scattered at nearby card tables. What did all those people do when they got together? Eat of course, and swap stories.

Children who wanted to be heard, and find me one who doesn’t, learned the mechanics of storytelling at family dinners. A strong hook to catch adult attention, an exciting middle to hold their focus, and finally, a satisfying ending that drew all the story strands together. Success was measured by positive comments. It was a short step from learning to tell a good story to writing one.

In the recent run-up to Easter, my cousin and I were revisiting some of our family stories. There were some doozies. It’s only now that the original tellers have left us that we are beginning to wonder how many of them are true. At the time of the telling, they were breathtaking glimpses into a life we never would know. My personal jury is still out on my cousin Junior’s race through the forest of upstate New York being chased by bigfoot. I’m thinking it’s much more likely it was a Forest Ranger. Still, stranger things have happened in the Adirondacks, and there are still mysteries to be answered.

How about you, readers and writers, where did you learn to tell your stories?