Monday, August 31, 2020

The Voices in My Head by Nancy L. Eady

             For an author to say she hears voices in her head may not be startling, but the voices I’m discussing are not the voices of my characters as I work on my novel. The voices I’m describing show up when I’m writing or working on submitting a manuscript to an agent or publisher or reviewing something I’ve already written.

            I’ve gotten so familiar with some of these voices that I’ve given them personalities. The one I encounter the most is the one I call “IC”, for the Inner Critic. I picture her sitting in an armchair, wearing a circa 1980s suit complete with a shoulder pad jacket and a white blouse with a fluffy full bow and spectacles small enough that the lifting of her brows is obvious. She watches me write and makes continuous comments such as, “This is the worst thing you’ve ever written,” “Why would anyone ever read this?” or “That’s terrible.”  The other voices and I continuously work on squelching her. Occasionally, Creativity, Hope, and even The Voice of Reason tackle her for me and lock her in the closet until it is time to edit. When we release her from the closet to help with editing, IC behaves herself more, and offers helpful suggestions instead of critical comments.

            Hope expresses herself in gentle whispers (unless she is irate with IC). She has a hard time sitting still, so she wanders around the study in my mind, touching this, moving that, then scooting over to my side to whisper things in my ear like, “This query is the one that will get you an agent,” or “Just wait until this gets published!”  She likes to wear bright colored sundresses and sandals and doesn’t need glasses. I like her much better than IC, unless she gets carried away and tries to inflate my expectations unrealistically. Being a gentle soul, however, she accepts corrections from the Voice of Reason. IC’s the only person who knows how to get under her skin.

            Creativity communicates in ways beyond words, most of the time. (She yells at IC and I’m not entirely sure she is aware that the Voice of Reason is giving specific directions as opposed to general guidelines.)  She wears jeans and colorful tie-dyed shirts and needs glasses, but doesn’t wear them. Usually, she is too busy to be bothered with them. When she does get a pair, she loses them. Her favorite expressions, when she does talk while we’re writing, begin with “What if?” 

            You remember the college professor or high school teacher who left an indelible impression on your life?  The one that convinced you  physics, or law, or history, or whatever else you ended up following as a vocation was worth exploring, but who also was not afraid to tell you when you were straying in the wrong direction?  That’s my Voice of Reason. She and I get along very well, unless she gets an urgent message from Conscience (Conscience is not a member of the study where we write; she’s in a different department) to remind me that something important needs to be done before I write any more. I get grumpy with VOR then. But I do so appreciate the way she keeps the other three, especially IC, in check and the way she gets Creativity and Hope to work together with her without squelching either. She dresses professionally and gave up glasses for contacts a long time ago. I envy her; the idea of sticking something in my eye terrifies me. And now that I’m close to turning the corner from my mid-50’s to my mid-50’s plus one, I doubt I’ll lose that terror soon.

            So those are the voices in my head. As long as I don’t start seeing them out in the real world, I’m not going to worry about hearing them too much—except for IC. She’s due for another timeout in the closet soon.  

Note:  No psychiatrists were harmed or consulted in the course of writing this message!  😊

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Keeping an Ongoing Series Fresh By Lois Winston

"Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent." If you’re old enough, you may remember those words from the intro to Dragnet. Like most series from television’s infancy, the same could be said for the plots. They followed a standard script with only minor tweaks each week.

Older traditional mysteries often did the same, but today’s readers don’t want to come away from a book feeling the author has simply recycled a previous plot by making a few minor changes to how the victim died, where the body was discovered, or which friend/relative of the sleuth is being wrongly accused of the crime.

Readers want the familiarity of the voice and style of a favorite author and her sleuth, but they also demand fresh content with each book. This is fairly easy in a limited series. For a longstanding series, it becomes a more daunting challenge. However, there are ways authors can continue creating fresh content with each subsequent book. I’ve employed all of them in the nine books (to date) and three novellas in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series.

When I began writing the series, I’ll admit, I didn’t give longevity much thought. I had only previously published a chick lit novel and a romantic suspense when my agent asked me to try writing a cozy crafting mystery because she knew an editor looking for one. With my background as a crafts designer and editor, my agent thought I’d be the perfect person to write such a series. Here’s how I’ve kept readers coming back for more:

Tip 1: Create a Versatile Protagonist
I knew immediately that I didn’t want to limit myself by writing a series about a potter, a jewelry maker, a craft shop owner, or a group of knitters, quilters, or scrapbookers. I turned to my own professional history and made Anastasia a crafts editor at a women’s magazine. Such a character enables me to tap into a wider range of plot ideas. Not only does each Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery take place in a different venue, I’m also able to highlight new crafts in each book.

Tip 2: Create an Interesting Backstory that Runs Through the Series
In Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, Anastasia learns her recently deceased husband had hidden a longstanding affair with Lady Luck. He’d wiped out their savings and plunged them into debt greater than the GNP of many Third World nations. Anastasia not only inherits that debt, she finds herself saddled with her cantankerous communist mother-in-law and her husband’s loan shark.

To stave off the bill collectors, she rents out the apartment above her garage, formerly her home office, and takes on various moonlighting gigs. Between her day job and the moonlighting, along with plots that take place in her community, I’ve been able to set books in such varied locations as a TV studio, a convention center, a nursing and rehabilitation home, a Christmas bazaar, and with A Sew Deadly Cruise, my latest book and the ninth in the series, a cruise ship.

Tip 3: Introduce Additional Secondary Characters as the Series Progresses
Many traditional cozies are structured around a small town with a handful of citizens with whom the sleuth interacts. That’s fine for a limited series, but if you’re hoping for an extended run, it’s a good idea to introduce new ongoing characters occasionally. Given the popularity of romantic cozies, I gave Anastasia a love interest but not the more traditional law enforcement boyfriend. Or have I? Anastasia’s renter is photojournalist Zachary Barnes. But is Zack’s day job really cover for a more clandestine profession? Or is Anastasia’s imagination running amok? For now, I’m keeping her and readers guessing.

I’ve also introduced some other characters over the course of the series. Anastasia’s half-brother-in-law and his kids show up in Revenge of the Crafty Corpse. In Decoupage Can Be Deadly readers meet Tino Martinelli, ex-Special Forces, who’ll do anything for “Mrs. P.” In Drop Dead Ornaments I introduce Anastasia’s son’s girlfriend Sophie Lambert and her father Shane. Not to be outdone, there’s Anastasia’s mother and her serial husbands.

Tip 4: Be Inspired by Current Events and Human-Interest Stories
Using real events can date a book. However, they’re great for inspiring plot ideas. I’m a news junkie and have used stories I’ve read about or seen on the evening news to create plots by wondering “what if?” I keep a file of articles and often read through them for ideas whenever I need something to move my story to the next level.

Being a Jersey girl and writing about a Jersey girl, I had to incorporate organized crime into some of my stories. Not only did I go to school with Mafia princes and princesses, my grandfather was instrumental in putting many of their grandfathers behind bars. How could I not tap into that heritage?

I’ve also used actual murders as springboards for my own plots, as was the case in Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide, and I’ve incorporated such disparate subjects as Munchhausen by Proxy and Vajazzling into two books. The thing to remember is that everything is fodder for story ideas when your goal is to keep readers clamoring for more of your sleuth.

Bio: USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” Learn more about Lois and her books at

Saturday, August 29, 2020

What We’re Reading Now by WWK Authors

 Chronicles of St. Mary’s by Jodi Taylor
I’ve always adored audio books, and now, with Covid, I find myself listening to them more frequently. I’m home a lot these days, and there’s nothing better than turning on a great story while doing boring tasks like getting dressed in the morning, doing mountains of laundry, and cooking three meals a day (I didn’t sign on for that!). To add even more enjoyment, my car audio system picks up automatically right where I left off, so I can get a chapter or two in during my thrilling excursions to the grocery store. Currently I’m listening to short stories in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor, featuring a bunch of disaster-prone historians who work for the St. Mary’s Institute for Historical Research, deep in the English countryside. They investigate major historical events “in contemporary time”—call it time travel at your own risk. Taylor is a brilliant writer, really funny, and I’m waiting eagerly for the latest novel in the series, Plan For The Worst, out now in the U.S. and available on Audible on August 16th. If you’ve never read this series, you have a treat in store—the perfect getaway!                                                                          
—Connie Berry

Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman 
When World War Two ends, Parisienne Charlotte Foret comes to live in New York with her daughter Vivi. Though she now has a good job and a good home, she is beset by guilt for the things she had to do to survive as a young widow with an eighteen-month-old child in a city overrun by Nazis. In this beautifully-written, memorable novel, Charlotte confronts her past transgressions and emotions in order to live fully in the present.
—Marilyn Levinson

The Phantom of Fifth Avenue by Meryl Gordon
To kick off my retirement as a probate paralegal with a trusts and estates litigation practice, I decided The Phantom of Fifth Avenue by Meryl Gordon. The book is the biography of Hugette Clark, daughter of copper baron William Andrews Clark. Hugette inherited an estimated $50 Million at age 21 and died in 2011 at age 104 with an estimated net worth of $300 Million and no lineal descendants. My firm was not involved in the litigation, but the story was closely followed by T&E legal professionals at the time. Everyone had an opinion; few had the facts.
to read

The book, which ends with the ultimate details of the testamentary litigation settlement, is well-researched and it is clear that Gordon had the cooperation of the Clark estate and parties on both sides of the litigation in the writing. There were few enemies in this story and fewer villains. The story itself begins with details of how the vast fortune was amassed, and the human cost of the acquisition. It flows through Hugette’s extremely privileged, if sad, life through to her final twenty years which were spent in a hospital room surrounded by twenty-four-hour care private nurses. The main character was eccentric, but not incompetent. Nor was she ill.

The book provides a wonderful study of how the choices made during life provided legal fodder for the ultimate distribution of vast wealth. Somehow by the end of the book I had the feeling that Huguette was having the last laugh. She was done with her money and had done with it as she wished during her lifetime. Now others could squabble over it if they chose. I recommend this book both as a legal cautionary tale and for a glimpse into a highly privileged lifestyle no longer possible in the twenty-first century.                                                                       
—Kait Carson

The Eighth Sister by Robert Dugoni
My mystery reading preferences tend toward the suspense/thriller side of the spectrum, with a good police procedural thrown in for spice. Having enjoyed many of Robert Dugoni's novels, when I saw he had a new series, I had to give it a try. The Eighth Sister [Thomas & Mercer 2019] features Charles Jenkins, a former CIA case officer who agrees to return after years of retirement because he needs the money. It's an international thriller that dances across continents. Naturally nothing is what it first seems, and the risks were understated. Of the fifty books I have read so far this year, only ten rated five-stars. This was one of them. [Full disclosure, I've met Bob several times and have taken a class from him.]
—Jim Jackson

The Shooting at Chateau Rock by Martin Walker
The most recent book in Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police series, features an aging rock singer, a Russian oligarch, and their young adult children, plus a coterie of nefarious insurance agents and a crooked notaire*. The Maidan Square massacre in 2014 Kiev plays a role, as does the sale of Maltese and Cypriot passports to Russians and Ukrainians.

The natural death of a local sheep farmer becomes questionable when his children learn their father has sold the family farm—their inheritance—to an insurance company in exchange for a room in a five-star retirement home. Bruno suspects foul play. He pursues his investigation, who is Putin’s private banker in western Europe.

Bruno saves the day, cooks several gourmet meals for his friends, and takes his basset hound, Balzac, to mate with a ravishing basset, Diane De Poitiers. It’s a busy and productive summer for the chief of police, replete with descriptions of the memorable food and wine of the Dordogne region in southwest France.

*A notaire is a public officer representing the State who is also a qualified lawyer.
—Margaret S. Hamilton
The Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella
I just finished Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella. Featuring beautiful, lyrical prose, lush description, and heartbreaking emotion, this book keeps the reader guessing as Cady Archer struggles to deal with her freshman year at the very university where her older brother recently leaped to his death in a losing battle with mental illness. Was his death really suicide? Were the voices she now heard an indication that she was following him down the same path? Or was she being haunted?
—Annette Dashofy

Master of Illusion by Nupur Tustin
I became familiar with books by Nupur Tustin through her Joseph Haydn Mystery Series, featuring composer Joseph Haydn. Recently, in a real departure from her historical series, Nupur published the first in a contemporary series, Master of Illusion: A Celine Skye Psychic Mystery. It is a stunning mystery and one that readers will enjoy even if they aren’t into characters with psychic abilities.   

I’ve been reading Master of Illusion and enjoying it immensely. It is the first book I’ve read in a long time that I can’t wait to get back to. I wish now I had the audio version so I could listen to it while doing other things. Nupur puts her twist on the real life 1990 robbery of the Gardner Museum in Boston. The pacing and twists in Master of Illusion will keep your reading throughout the night to find out what happened in Nupur’s version of the famous and unsolved museum robbery.
—Grace Topping

The Things That Last Forever by Peter W. J. Hayes
After a house fire forces him onto medical leave, Pittsburgh police detective Vic Lenoski starts a desperate search for the one person who knows what happened to his missing teenage daughter in The Things That Last Forever by Peter W.J. Hayes. Book 2 in this stellar police procedural series, The Things That Are Different was a 2020 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Finalist. This series is not to be missed.
—Martha Reed

Outsider by Linda Castillo
This is the twelfth novel in Castillo’s series about Kate Burkholder, Chief of Police in Painter’s Mill. In her earlier life, Kate was Amish, but broke away from that religious group to pursue a career in police work. In Outsider, Adam Lengacher, an Amish farmer and widower with a young family, finds a car in the middle of a snowstorm with an unconscious woman covered in blood. He contacts Burkholder and takes the woman back to his farmhouse to give her first aid. When Kate arrives, she knows the woman—Gina Colorosa—a police officer from another town and a former colleague and friend. As it turns out, Gina is on the run from other cops. She asks Kate for help, but Kate remembers their past and doesn’t know if she can trust Colorosa. She calls John Tomasetti, her domestic partner and state agent, and together they try to discover the truth. But whoever is after Colorosa is relentless in their pursuit. Will they find and kill her before Kate and John can discover the truth? Castillo uses massive snowstorms in this suspense-filled mystery to make the reader feel claustrophobic and the characters trapped.
—Susan Van Kirk

A is For Arsenic by Agatha Christie
I’ve read every single one of Agatha Christie’s books and she reveled in the use of poison to kill off the victims in her books, with the poison itself often being a central part of the novel. Her choice of deadly substances was far from random—the characteristics of each often provide vital clues to the discovery of the murderer. In A is for Arsenic, Kathryn Harkup investigates the poisons used by the murderer in fourteen classic Agatha Christie mysteries. It looks at why certain chemicals kill, how they interact with the body, the cases that may have inspired Christie, and the feasibility of obtaining, administering and detecting these poisons, both at the time the novel was written and today. Scientific enough to be used as a textbook, it’s also a perfect reference guide for anyone writing murder mysteries.
—Judy Penz Sheluk

Friday, August 28, 2020

Books Recommended by Barack Obama by Warren Bull

Books recommended by Barack Obama  2

by Warren Bull

Former President Barack Obama recommended many books during his two-term presidency.  Business Insider culled through his top picks and found 21 titles that deal directly with race relations.  Thanks to Margarite Ward who wrote the article.  This adds more books to my I-need-to-read list.



“Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson


From Amazon:

In this young adult read comprised of seven poems, Woodson shares her story of what it was like growing up African American in an era where Jim Crow’s effects could still be felt and the Civil Rights movement was growing. 

“American Prison” by Shane Bauer

From Amazon:

In 2014, journalist Shane Bauer took a job as a prison guard at a private prison in Louisiana for an undercover article that would spark a national conversation on for-profit prisons. In “American Prison,” Bauer digs deeper, explaining private prisons and their role in a post-slavery US. 


“Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B. Du Bois


From Target:

“The Souls of Black Folk” by Du Bois, a historian, a civil rights activist, and sociologist, is a crucial work of African American literary history and sociology.  



“Finding My Voice” by Valerie Jarrett


From Amazon:

In this memoir, the former Obama senior adviser, documents her decades-long relationship with Michelle and Barack Obama, from interviewing a young Michelle for a job in Chicago to becoming the couple’s trusted political go-to and confidante. 



“In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History” by Mitch Landrieu

From Amazon

The mayor of New Orleans , who removed multiple Confederate statues from the city, talks about racism in the US and argues for white Americans to confront the country’s past. 



I certainly don’t compare myself to the former President in terms of understanding but I would like to add three books to this list that have contributed to my education:


"Waking up White and finding myself in the story of race" by Debby Irving


by Warren Bull

Debby’s honest and unflinching story of how her best efforts to understand the gulf between the races reminded me of my own stumbling attempts and my unknown assumptions that interfered with my understanding. I cringed and laughed, recognizing my errors and my formerly unacknowledged privileges as a white male.



“The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander



By Warren Bull

Michelle Alexander’s scholarly and searing work describes how the caste system of race still exists in the US criminal justice system. Her information about differences in how drugs are viewed by lawmakers when 0ne is primarily abused by whites and another is mostly associated with black is just one example of the way a permanent underclass is brought into existence within our allegedly “colorblind” society.




“Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance


By Warren Bull

J.D. Vance wrote the story of his family that gives a picture of the white working class without condescension or idolization. He talked about strengths and weaknesses of an often-invisible section of the nation. When I read it, I thought to myself of people I have known who live in the situations he described and who behaved in a manner that made no sense to me. I am grateful for his honesty and courage.


Thursday, August 27, 2020

How The Light Gets In by Connie Berry

We are all broken. That's how the light gets in.

The famous quote by Ernest Hemingway is all over the internet. The problem is he never said it.

Leonard Cohen sang it in the song "Anthem": 

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Misquoting isn't difficult to do. An inaccurate quote is posted online and then reposted and retweeted thousands of times with no one the wiser. And it's not only social media. The U.S. Postal Service misquoted Maya Angelou on a stamp. The quote attributed to Angelou was actually penned by Joan Walsh Anglund:

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.

Not surprisingly, the Post Office decided not to reprint the stamp.

Okay—got that off my chest.

My real interest in the quote involves the way authors portray light in their writing—literally how the light gets in. Most writers know they should provide sensory details like sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. But how about light?

I learned so much the summer I took an informal master's class from the late Ohio author Nancy Pinard. I've written about it, here and elsewhere. What I've never mentioned is a comment she made about light. "In every scene," she said, "establish the source of the light  as quickly as you can." That source could be the sun overhead on a bright day or the silvery light from a full moon; it could be light streaming through an open window; it could be soft lamplight or the clinical white light of an operating theater or the warm glow of a log fire. As Pinard was quick to point out, the concept wasn't original to her. I wish I'd paid more attention to her attribution.

Regardless of the source, I took her admonition to heart. Here's an excerpt from an early scene in my debut mystery, A Dream of Death: 

                I turned up the collar of my jacket and dashed toward the hotel. The temperature had dropped, and the rain had turned to icy pellets bouncing off the gravel path. Another storm was on the way.
               As I neared the house, pathway lighting gave way to flickering gas lamps that washed the façade with liquid gold. Candle flames danced in the windows. Plug-ins, I supposed, but they looked authentic. With a little imagination, it could be 1810.            
 Here's an interior scene from my forthcoming mystery, The Art of Betrayal:

             I found Lady Barbara and Vivian in the private sitting room with its white marble fireplace and faded wallpaper in a vintage design of urns and flowers. Morning sunlight streamed through the deep-set windows, picking out the frayed cushion on the arm chair and the missing fringe on the carpet.

"Providing the light source," Pinard said, "helps the reader form a mental picture." But that's not all it does. Like other physical details, establishing the source and direction of the light can reflect, advance, and reveal setting, character, and plot.

In the scene from A Dream of Death, for example, the flickering gas lamps and candle flames help establish the rich Scottish history that figures prominently in the setting and plotline.
In the scene from The Art of Betrayal, the daylight streaming into Lady Barbara's sitting room shows the reader that her Elizabethan mansion, Finchley Hall, is crumbling around her—another major plot point—and revealing Lady Barbara's passion to uphold her family honor, even under dire financial circumstances.

But how does a writer get things right? If you've already established that a certain room faces east, you can't have light streaming in at three or four p.m., can you? And if a scene is set at nighttime in winter, you should probably mention your character flipping on the lights when he enters a room.

In one of the later scenes in A Dream of Death, the protagonist, Kate, explores a deep ravine, searching for a missing person. I needed the light to be rapidly diminishing, with deep shadows obscuring the landscape. Great, but when does that happen in the Highlands of Scotland in early November? How could I find out?

If the internet gets lots of things wrong, it also gets some things right. One of the most helpful websites, especially for a writer who sets a novel in a foreign latitude and time zone, is Not only does this fact-filled website provide calendars, time zones, a world clock, weather information, and phases of the moon, it also gives the times of sunrise and sunset for any location in the world. By plugging in my location in the Inner Hebrides and setting the date for November 1, 2020, I learned that the sun would rise at 7:20 a.m. that day and set at 4:31 p.m.

Okay, that's helpful, but what does sunset really mean? Would the light have diminished enough by 4:31 p.m. to serve my purpose? Fortunately the information was right there for me, giving not only the time of sunset that day but also the times of civil twilight, nautical twilight, and astronomical twilight.

For those unfamiliar with those terms (like me):

Civil Twilight means that period of time after sunset when everything is still clearly visible but you might put on your car headlights to make sure other drivers see you.

Nautical Twilight is when the sky is too dark to see objects in the distance, but we can make out the horizon and trees due to the remaining brightness in the night sky. We begin to see stars in the night sky. 

Astronomical Twilight is the darkest phase of twilight and (unless the moon is full) the best time to see the stars.

For the purposes of my novel, I needed the time to be precisely at the outset of nautical twilight—about 6:00 p.m. on the first of November, I learned. That required a change in my timeline, which I was able to accomplish. Whew!

In your writing, how does the light get in?

What helps you form a mental picture as you read?

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

An Interview with Debra Goldstein by E. B. Davis

When a romantic rival opens a competing restaurant in small-town Wheaton, Alabama, Sarah Blair discovers murder is the specialty of the house.

For someone whose greatest culinary skill is ordering takeout, Sarah never expected to be co-owner of a restaurant. Even her Siamese cat, RahRah, seems to be looking at her differently. But while Sarah and her twin sister, Chef Emily, are tangled up in red tape waiting for the building inspector to get around to them, an attention-stealing new establishment—run by none other than Sarah’s late ex-husband’s mistress, Jane—is having its grand opening across the street.

Jane’s new sous chef, Riley Miller, is the talk of Wheaton with her delicious vegan specialties. When Riley is found dead outside the restaurant with Sarah’s friend, Jacob, kneeling over her, the former line cook—whose infatuation with Riley was no secret—becomes the prime suspect. Now Sarah must turn up the heat on the real culprit, who has no reservations about committing cold-blooded murder . . .

Debra Goldstein furthers the character development of protagonist Sarah Blair in Three Treats Too Many. Far from the naïve character in One Taste Too Many, Sarah is once again drawn into a case of murder. But it doesn’t have anything to do with her family or her ex. This time she’s defending a friend from a murder charge with the help of her cat, RahRah, and new puppy, Fluffy. Observing their behavior provides insight to human relationships.

Secondary characters from the first two books make appearances and enhance the cast of characters. Eloise, the older woman whose boss was killed at the bank in the last book, is now a strong councilwoman contending with the aggressive Anne Hightower, now a mayoral candidate. Sarah’s mother, Maybelle, contrasts to Eloise. Jane, Sarah’s ex’s bimbo (her words not mine) finally gets a comeuppance, and yet, she’ll probably survive to be a pain for another day.

The Sarah Blair mystery series is a continuing pleasure to read. My interviews with Debra about her first two books can be found here and here. Stop by our comments page to leave Debra a message or ask a question.                                                                                                      E. B. Davis

In an effort to get commerce in from nearby Birmingham, AL, the Wheaton council rejected an Entertainment district in favor of mixed-use zoning. Jane’s Place restaurant is next to a veterinary clinic. Has the council traded one set of problems for another?

No question about that. In the earlier books in the Sarah Blair series, I promoted the concept of an Entertainment District to introduce the pros and cons of economic development and what might be the driving force behind different opinions on the subject. In Three Treats Too Many, by having the mixed-use zoning concept adopted, I was able to explore some of the problems that may occur when competing interests are involved.

When Jane’s Place opens before Southwind Restaurant, Sarah’s twin Emily and her partner Marcus’s establishment, everyone in the neighborhood goes to the opening. Sarah’s associates are checking out the competition. Have you known those in the restaurant business? Is there friendly competition between them? I’ve heard that it can be a cut-throat business due to low profit margins. So, I wonder if friendly is saying too much.

Birmingham, Alabama, where I live, has become known as a foodie city. Although there is some rivalry and dislike between some restaurant owners, that would probably be the case if these individuals owned similar businesses in another field.  Many of our chefs, at some point, trained under our James Beard winners and then went out on their own. My observation of those individuals, and their subsequent disciples, is that they respect and support each other. In Three Treats Too Many, the days of Sarah and Jane being friends is long gone, but it isn’t only because of the restaurant competition between Jane, Emily, Marcus, and now Sarah.

Because the veterinarians are also in a motorcycle club and they have a parking lot, many members of the club park their bikes there. Wouldn’t they have to get permission to do so from the council to do so?

I don’t think so. Although it appears that a lot of the town belongs to this social motorcycle club,
there are only a limited number of bikes being parked on a pad on the side of the veterinary practice’s building. The riders aren’t congregating, demonstrating, holding meetings or rallies, or doing anything else that would require a permit. They aren’t even taking up space in the actual parking lot. Besides, Wheaton is a small town where the way it is sometimes takes precedence over the way it should be.

Is Birmingham a big biker area?

To my knowledge, Birmingham has its share of bikers, but no more than other urban areas. What it does have, according to Guinness World Records, is the world’s largest motorcycle collection housed at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. Visits to the museum, a friend who also is a motorcycle collector, two teachers I met, who did not meet my stereotyped image of a biker, and a local group that does charity rides sparked me to write the motorcycle club into Three Treats Too Many.

Botts and the first murder victim, Riley Miller, a young chef, have a romantic relationship that seems to be floundering. Sarah sees similarities between them and her puppy, Fluffy, and her cat, RahRah’s relationship. What is it that Sarah sees?

RahRah, like Botts, demonstrates alpha male characteristics. They are both in control, not always kind, and put their own pleasure/desires ahead of the feelings of others. Riley and Fluffy are quite capable, but they become subservient in the hopes of pleasing Botts and RahRah. It is this behavior pattern that Sarah observes. Although she thinks it is amusing watching Fluffy be dominated by RahRah, she finds the same pattern in Riley and Botts disconcerting.

What Sarah sees contradicts what people have told her about Riley, who was a flirt and used men for her own gain. Is Botts more of a user than Riley?

They are users in different ways. Botts is showier and maybe even a little shady, but both are direct in going after what they want.

Sarah is no fan of Acting Chief Dwayne Gerard. She is surprised that her boss, Harlan Endicott, a lawyer, and Gerard act like friends. Is Harland “keeping his friends close and his enemies closer?” Or has Harlan developed a respect and friendship with Gerard?

Sometimes, people who don’t see eye to eye on things still find it is more politic to interact with each other. Harlan is a straight arrow who uses the law to help others. He also, except maybe with Jacob, is a good judge of character. Knowing that Chief Gerard can be a bit lazy or jump to conclusions before all the facts are in, he has learned that he can temper things by using honey rather than coming at Gerard in an attack mode. Harlan also is good at indirectly suggesting ideas that the chief carries out as if they are his own.

The vegan dishes that Riley makes take top honors at Jane’s Place and draws in customers. Is the vegan diet that popular?

Just as there are many people who follow the Keto diet or eat gluten free, a good segment of the population embraces the vegan diet. In this case, Riley’s dishes are a novelty on the menu, but once people sample them, they want more.

Because her friend Jacob is the top suspect in Riley’s murder, Sarah agrees to investigate. Why?

Throughout the Sarah Blair mystery series, the overarching theme is loyalty and caring for family and friends. Jacob is her friend and even though she isn’t sure, especially as different facts come to light, that he is innocent, she won’t allow him to be railroaded if Chief Gerard’s focus is only on Jacob. The other reason she agrees to investigate is because Anne and Eloise ask her to. Sarah feels a loyalty to Eloise and although she doesn’t trust Anne not to manipulate her, she respects Anne’s desire to protect her brother.

Does Sarah always count objects to divert her attention from something ghastly?

If she does, it isn’t a conscious thing. All she knows when she confronts something ghastly is that she must let her mind wander, or the situation will be too much for her to emotionally handle.

What is Rolling Thunder? Do motorcycle clubs still participate or has it been disbanded?

Rolling Thunder is an advocacy organization. It seeks full accountability for prisoners of war and individuals missing in action. The organization has chapters which carry out the group’s mission and do charitable events. In 1988, as a First Amendment protest, the Rolling Thunder event was created. Through 2019, at least two hundred thousand motorcyclists gathered each Memorial Day weekend to ride a designated path from the Pentagon parking lot around the D.C. Mall area. Problems with extra security needs and limitations imposed near the Pentagon led to the ride’s official demise; however, with a different sponsor, the event, or one similar, is planned for 2020.

Do military dogs often end up with PTSD? Is there treatment for them?

A 2011 New York Time article quoted Dr. Walter F. Burghardt Jr., chief of behavioral medicine at the Daniel E. Holland Military Working Dog Hospital at Lackland Air Force Base, as saying:
"By some estimates, more than 5 percent of the approximately 650 military dogs deployed by American combat forces are developing canine PTSD. Of those, about half are likely to be retired from service.” As canine post traumatic syndrome has become more recognized, treatment therapies used include vigorous play, love, downtime, and desensitization counterconditioning. If a dog cannot be rehabilitated at its home base within three months, the dog is assigned to other duties or discharged from the service.
Jacob’s sister Anne is on the Wheaton town council and is running for mayor. Sarah and Anne have never gotten on well. How does Anne manipulate Sarah? How will Sarah defend herself?

Anne manipulates by words and playing on Sarah’s emotions. Highly intelligent, Anne can whip out an idea that Sarah agrees with in principle and before Sarah knows it, Sarah is the one doing the behind the scenes work while Anne gets the glory. When readers meet Sarah in One Taste Too Many, she lacks confidence in herself. She was married at eighteen, divorced by twenty-eight, and the only thing she got out of the marriage was RahRah, her Siamese cat. Although never physically abused, Sarah’s ex-husband mentally abused her to a point that after the divorce Sarah questions the correctness of everything she does. Anne, demonstrating some of the same riding roughshod traits as Sarah’s ex-husband, is able to take advantage of Sarah’s instinctive docile reaction to box Sarah into doing things Sarah really doesn’t want to do, but as Sarah regains her sense of self-worth in Two Bites Too Many and Three Treats Too Many, she finds it in herself to  stand up to Anne or at least to mentally be ready for Anne – up to a point.

Sarah is going out with Cliff. She questions his relationship with Riley. He explains, but he makes a point of saying that he would only justify his actions in this one instance. Does that mean they aren’t in an exclusive relationship? Not sure if this is a good sign for Sarah.

Cliff has issues in his background that make acting in a trustworthy and honest manner important to him. Sarah, because of her treatment by her ex-husband, has problems trusting. Consequently, when she questions his relationship with Riley, her questions come from her inner fear that neither Cliff nor anyone is what they seem, while Cliff reacts as he does because he believes a relationship implies trust. Although both may want an exclusive relationship, their emotions may preclude it from being with each other.

After Riley’s death, Jane asks Grace, Emily’s younger chef, to become a chef at her restaurant. Grace refuses Jane’s offer. Why does Sarah think it could be Grace’s motive for murder?

Sarah tries to find a motive for everyone, other than Jacob, to have killed Riley. Sarah thinks Grace may be too guilty to take the job or have done it, but wants to demonstrate a loyalty to Emily and Marcus so that when she finally takes the job, no one will suspect her hands are dirty.

When Sarah and Harlan walk dogs at the shelter, Sarah finds out the Jacob lied to him. But Sarah lies to Harlan, too. She claims not to have known that Jacob and Riley dated in the past, but Mandy and Grace just told her that they did. Why did Sarah lie to Harlan?

That lie may have been an author mistake or that Sarah believes her conversation with Mandy and Grace had an element of confidentiality to it. She also may believe she can learn more, for her amateur sleuthing, by leaving the door open for Harlan to talk.

Most defense attorneys know that some of their clients are guilty. Why is Harlan so distraught about Jacob being possibly guilty?

Harlan is a small-town lawyer with a big firm brain. No matter what kind of case he is handling, he does the best job he can for his client. But, as I previously mentioned, he is a straight-shooter and he expects that when he deals with other people. It’s not Jacob’s innocence or guilt that upsets Harlan, but the fact that Jacob lied to him.

Is Sarah interested in Dr. Glenn? She seems relieved that Carole turns out to be his sister.

Yes. But Sarah is disturbed by her interest in him because of her relationship with Cliff. She can’t understand how she can be in a relationship with one person but feel excitement about another. 

Is it the other’s smell that repels cats and dogs? I didn’t know that.

In doing research about the relationship between cats and dogs for Two Bites Too Many, I came upon that tidbit and it stuck in my head until it founds its way into Three Treats Too Many. Its true accuracy hasn’t been proven, but it is recommended that a dog and cat be introduced to each other very slowly to give them time to establish a relationship built on smell.

Why does Harlan second guess Sarah? Will she ever tell him off? Will he ever tell her he loves her?

Harlan doesn’t really second guess Sarah, he simply doesn’t want Sarah to get hurt. Consequently, he believes she should leave any investigating to the proper authorities – Chief Gerard or him. Harlan gave her an opportunity to work, recognizing her lack of skills and confidence. In his own way, he helped nurture her personal growth between books 1 and 3, but he doesn’t want to rush her or take advantage of their relationship – again, trust comes into play. When he tries to make the slightest move, she is torn, but her decision not to jeopardize her job overrides any interest in having a relationship while she works for him.

What’s next for Sarah, RahRah, and Fluffy?

I’m excited about Three Treats Too Many and the many opportunities for character growth that it leaves open. I enjoy introducing new scenes and new characters. Book 4 in the series, Four Cuts Too Many, has already been turned in and will be out in June 2021. Still set in Wheaton, it will take a wider look at the Carleton Junior College campus. There will be another book in the series out in 2022.