Sunday, February 28, 2021

Right Brain/Left Brain by Annette Dashofy

Decades ago, in a previous life, I was a professional portrait and wedding photographer. At one point, I attended a seminar at a local hotel about the business side of my profession. I remember little about it except for two things. First: the speaker had the most fabulous Cajun accent. And second: one of the lessons he shared. He talked about photography being a creative endeavor. Right-brained. But we also needed to be businessmen and women. Left-brained. He illustrated the point by saying he had a switch on the top of his head that he was always clicking back and forth, from right-brained to left-brained. He claimed he did this so much, he’d worn out a spot and the result was…he removed his hat and revealed he was bald. 

His “visual aid” produced a huge round of laughs, and it has stuck with me all these years later.

I’m still working in a creative endeavor, writing words instead of making photos. And I’m still required to flip that switch on the top of my head in order to handle marketing, promotion, bookkeeping, and—right now—tax preparation.

Thankfully, I still have all my hair. If I don’t, it’s from pulling it out over the bookkeeping and tax prep stuff. I’m proud to say that this year, I’ve been further ahead than usual. I did a much better job of recording expenses monthly rather than waiting until January to enter a full year’s worth. But this will be the second year where meeting face to face with my accountant is impossible. I never realized how much I depended on those sessions, sitting across his huge desk from him, asking questions and answering others. Instead, I have a legal pad where I jot down all my uncertainties. Instead of relying on him to remind me of the stuff I tend to forget, I’m taking extra time and effort to make sure I have all the information he needs.

 This week, I’ll cram it all in a large envelope, drive to his office, and deposit it in an exterior drop-box with a sigh of hope and a prayer.

Even then, I won’t be free to leave the switch set at right-brain. I’m indie publishing for the first time. After ten traditionally small press published novels, you’d think I’d have the marketing and promo thing down to a science. But there’s always something new to learn. The methods used to find books have changed, especially due to the pandemic. Podcasts have become a popular go-to venue. I’ve done a few but tracking down podcasts where I might be a good fit takes time. Left-brain time.

Not to mention the whole indie publishing process. Within the next few days, I’ll be discovering just how much I don’t know about it. I’ve been told it’s easier than it once was. But having never done this before, I have nothing to compare.

What I do have is fear of the unknown. My left brain is braced for a meltdown.

Meanwhile, my right brain is waiting patiently. I have another book halfway through the second draft. And another book after that one whose characters are awaiting the switch to click back to the creative side so they can tell me about themselves.

It truly is a wonder that I’m not bald like my Cajun photography business instructor.



Saturday, February 27, 2021

Embrace the Process by Kait Carson

At the start of the year my inbox was filled with newsletters. You know the kind, self-help, how-to, suggestions for resolutions (not), suggestions for goals—and how to accomplish them. I skimmed most of the copy. After all, someone took the time to craft the newsletters. They deserved at least a skim. There was only one that resonated. Gwen Hernandez’s e-mail, New Year, Old Process, not only spoke to me, it screamed at me.


This is my first year as a full-time writer. In years past, I’ve squeezed writing in during odd moments, late nights, and early mornings. My process was one of fits and starts. Long flowing hours where I thought I could actually do this thing called write followed by arid times where I was pretty sure I’d never taken an English class and had a less than passing acquaintance with grammar.


Now that I’m not working a day job, I’ve got the time to write. All I needed to do was figure out how and when. I hear about fellow writers who hit 10,000-word goals on a weekly basis. In their spare time they churn out short stories. These are disciplined people. I feel inadequate. My process is different. I write fast, edit as I go, but may be working on three projects at one time. My writing day consists of one from column A and two from column B, always driven by desire. Then add in a soup├žon of marketing.


It’s the kiss of death to tell myself that today I will write two chapters on the WIP. That guarantees that when I sit down, all I’m going to want to write is a short story and a blog post. If I force myself to write those two chapters, they inevitably need a serious re-write. Yes, there are times when I crank out 5,000 words in a sitting on my WIP, but those days are rare. More often than not, I’ll write a scene or two and then move on to something else. My process is messy. It’s geared toward my short attention span. I’m on track to write three books this year. In my very own way.


My engineer father used to say if it works, don’t fix it. My process works for me. It wasn’t until I read Gwen’s newsletter that I understood it didn’t need to be fixed. It’s my process and I need to embrace it and quit trying to take pages from the books of others. If I don’t do that, all I am accomplishing is fighting myself. That’s a losing battle.


What about you? Do you do the thing you think you should because it works for someone else, or do you follow your own drummer?

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Impossible or Improbable? by Connie Berry

In “The Sign of the Four” (1890), Sherlock Holmes famously remarked to Dr. Watson, “...when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

I had occasion to apply that principle last week at home with our new puppy, Emmie. Here’s the scenario:

1. I locked Emmie in her cage in my office/laundry while I went to take a shower.

2. Shower over, I went to let her out. Cage still locked. No Emmie.

3. I looked for her all over the house. No Emmie.

4. In desperation, I returned to my office/laundry and found her sitting on top of my washer.

5. How did she get out of the cage? How did she get up on the washer?


Okay, so your first thought is, someone put her there as a joke. No—she and I were the only ones home at the time. Second thought—I put her there myself and forgot about it. No—I distinctly remember locking her in the cage.


Eliminating the IMPOSSIBLE, I was forced to reject supernatural powers, levitation, and a home invader with a sense of humor. Whatever happened, Emmie did it herself without help.



1. Emmie must have gotten herself out of her cage, not through the door but through the top. Now  in order to do that, she would have had to stand on her hind legs, bump up the grid with her head, grab hold of the top of the cage with her front paws, and power herself out. Improbable but not impossible.

2. Once out, she had to find a way up on the counter. The only possible way would be to jump on my desk chair and from there to the countertop. I’ve never seen her attempt anything like that, yet...

3. From the countertop, she had to walk over or around all my papers and notebooks without disturbing them and then climb on the dryer.


THE VERDICT: Improbable but not impossible—therefore the truth.

Mystery writers use the same theory in their books—or they should. The Detection Club in England, founded by such luminaries as Agatha Christie, G. K. Chesterton, Cyril Hare, and Dorothy L. Sayers, required their members to sign a document stating they would play fair with their readers: 


1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be     anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow. [Christie broke this rule herself in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.]

2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course. To solve a detective problem by such means would be like winning a race on the river by the use of a concealed motor-engine. [Except in paranormal mysteries, of course—and even then there are ‘rules’—the way things work in that world.]

3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end. [Someone tell Louise Penny in A Fatal Grace.]

5. No...[suspicious stranger] must figure in the story as an easy scapegoat, obvious villain, or convenient plot device. [Note: The Fair Play Rules were written in the 1930s when racism was the norm. I’ve paraphrased the original rule to avoid perpetuating a racial slur.]


6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

7. The detective must not himself commit the crime. [Another rule Christie broke.]

8. The detective must not light on any clues that are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.

9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

Obviously there are exceptions to every rule. But while mystery writers today don’t sign documents, we still try to play fair with our readers. The solution to the mystery can’t rely on bad guys brought in at the last minute, untraceable poisons no one’s ever heard of, or impossible and unexplained circumstances. Even red herrings—false clues meant to send the reader in the wrong direction—should be explained. Barb Goffman, editor and award-winning short-story writer, recently said this about red herrings, “If you’re going to use them, make sure they’re explained by the end so they don’t seem contrived. Otherwise, you’re taking an easy way out and you’re not playing fair with the reader.” (SleuthSayers, February 16, 2021). 

Improbable, yes. Impossible, no. 

The trick is explaining how it happened—believably. Like Emmie’s Great Adventure. 

Readers, does it bother you when red herrings aren’t explained by the end of the book?

Can you think of an improbable but not impossible plot twist you loved?


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

An Interview with Barbara Ross by E. B. Davis


The Snowden Family Clambake Company has a beloved reputation in Busman’s Harbor, Maine. Almost as famous is the sleuthing ability of proprietor Julia Snowden, which is why an oyster farmer seeks her out when she’s in trouble.
When Andie Greatorex is robbed of two buckets of oyster seed worth $35,000, she wonders if somebody’s trying to mussel her out of business. Could it be a rival oyster farmer, a steamed former employee, or a snooty summer resident who objects to her unsightly oyster cages floating on the beautiful Damariscotta River? There’s also a lobsterman who’s worried the farm’s expanding lease will encroach on his territory and Andie’s ex-partner, who may come to regret their split. Before Julia can make much headway in the investigation, Andie turns up dead, stabbed by a shucking knife. Now it’s up to Julia to set a trap for a cold and clammy killer...


Shucked Apart is the ninth book in the Maine Clambake mystery series by Barbara Ross. It was released yesterday. One of my favorite things about this series is how much I learn by reading it. In this book, I learned about oyster farms in Maine. Now, I have an advantage many readers don’t. I live on Hatteras Island, NC, and we, too, have oyster farms. So, I asked someone I know about our oyster farms to double-check what I learned. The someone used to be a party (not with balloons, but most definitely with beer) boat captain turned oyster farmer, not unlike one of the characters Barbara has created, but without his financial problems. That in and of itself tells me Barb researched aqua farming and the changing times of the fishing industry.


There’s tension right from the beginning of Shucked Apart, but the source is surprising. Please welcome Barbara Ross back to WWK.                                    E. B. Davis

Julia isn’t the jealous type. She likes boyfriend Chris’s friend Andie right away. The problem is that Julia thought that Andie was Andy. Why didn’t he mention his poker playing friend was a female?


Chris keeps a lot of secrets. Julia had thought they were through the worst of his disclosures, and arguably they were. But in this book she’s surprised to find he’s been keeping quiet about things both large and small. The question is, why?


Do two buckets of oyster spat really cost thirty-five thousand dollars? Really?


Like agriculture, aquaculture requires investment. Two buckets of oyster spat, if properly cared for, have the potential to turn into hundreds of thousands of babies, so the potential to make money is there. Also, breeding those babies is highly specialized and not done in a lot of places, so there is demand.


Do oyster spat look like quinoa (or like Cream of Wheat right out of the box, small, white, round granules)?


Yes! That’s how everyone I talked to described them. I did get to see them for myself and I don’t have a better description.


Although oysters clean the bodies of water they live in because they filter it, they also give off a lot of scat—especially the spat or oyster seed (tiny baby oysters without diapers). Is the benefit greater than the detriment?


This is a controversial topic, especially in places where people are fighting about aquaculture. The farms in Maine are relatively small, owned by individuals and small groups, not giant corporations. The Damariscotta was too polluted to sustain sea creatures of any type until the 1980s. Since the oyster farms have been established, it has only gotten cleaner. In balance, I tend to believe the oysters make the river cleaner.


When someone knocks Andie down and runs with the expensive buckets of oyster seed, Andie wants Julia to investigate because Chris has bragged about Julia’s investigative skills. Why does Julia decide to investigate?


Julia likes Andie almost immediately. They are young, entrepreneurial women running challenging businesses in Maine. Also, it is a time of year when Julia can help out. Once the clambake season starts, she’ll be working sixteen hours a day every day.


I initially had problems with your setting. Andie’s company is named The Great River Oyster Company because the farm is in the Damariscotta River, which would be fresh water, but it isn’t really, is it? Seals can be seen on the river? The lobstermen also have buoys on the river, too? You didn’t make the river’s name up either, did you?


The real Damariscotta is a beautiful river in Maine. The source, Damariscotta Lake, is fresh water, but the river is very tidal, and the saltwater coming in on the tide makes the part of the river where the oyster farms are quite brackish. As you mention, seals, lobsters and other saltwater creatures live in that part of the river. I recommend the Damariscotta River Cruise to anyone who visits midcoast Maine in the summer.


You mention there are oyster hatcheries. Not to get too spicy, but how do oysters mate?


Oysters begin life as males and later become female. The young males release sperm and the females release eggs—millions of them. Some of the sperm finds the eggs and they become larvae, which later become the spat that opens our story in Shucked Apart. The release of the sperm is what gives us the expression that you shouldn’t eat oysters in months without an R in them. It gives the oysters a different taste and texture that some people love and some people dislike. Some farms purchase triploid oysters from the breeders, which don’t reproduce. This practice avoids the spawning season, enabling all months to be R-months’ taste and without the energy spawning requires of the oysters.


You mentioned that unlike clams, oysters can’t move. Do oysters just lie on the river bottom or do they sort of dig into the clay? Aren’t oysters a barnacle-type of critter, gluing themselves to things?


Oysters aren’t like barnacles in that they don’t attach to docks, boats, etc. They pretty much stay where you put them unless the current carries them along. An oyster’s happiest place is sitting on top of another oyster, but that doesn’t result in a pretty shell that farmers can sell to restaurants at a premium. Another happy place for oysters is on relatively hard bottom, which is why the clay on the bottom of so much of the Damariscotta is so appealing.


Andie is on the verge of expansion. A meeting is set in which her expanded farming territory will be approved or rejected. Why are a lot of people against her expansion?


People are often frightened of change, period. In addition there are competing interests on the river—oyster farmers and lobstermen who don’t want more river leased to others. Homeowners and pleasure boaters who don’t like the look of the floating oyster cages.


One of Julia’s aunts lives on the river with her lobsterman husband. She gets information about the attack on Andie from her uncle, but it also puts her in an uncomfortable position. How does she handle that?


Julia loves her aunt and uncle. Though she knows that fights among lobstermen can be absolutely vicious, she doesn’t believe her uncle could be guilty of murder. Though she investigates every clue that comes her way, Julia has to trust someone and decides it is her family.


Julia finds out that Andie used to be a romantic and business partner with Mack, who went into the restaurant business and is now married with children to someone else. Mack explains to Chris and Julia the similarities between wine’s terroir and oysters’ merroir. What’s all that? And are oysters a trendy menu item?


Just as wine grapes take on the unique taste of the soil, weather, elevation, etc. of the vineyard where they are grown (terroir), oysters take on the taste of the unique composition of the water they grow in—minerals, temperature, and so on (merroir). That’s why all the different oysters on the east coast can be the same breed but look and taste so different from the Canadian Maritimes to New England to the Chesapeake to the Carolinas, where you are, to Florida.


Oysters are having a moment. They were a major source of protein at the end of the nineteenth century. In the 1890s New Yorkers ate an average of six hundred oysters a year. Then the Hudson got too polluted to sustain the oysters and the techniques for shipping from other places and farming were not yet in place on the east coast. The oyster fell out of favor. Many chefs attribute the current oyster craze to the sushi craze because it got Americans into eating raw seafood again. Of course you don’t have to eat oysters raw. I include recipes for baked oysters and oyster stuffing in the book.


Andie’s next-door neighbor, Pinney Kirwin, doesn’t like oyster farming, especially close to her house and her river. During the 1800s and early 1900s, her family owned a shipbuilding business and owned the entire river front area. But Pinney’s family outvoted her and sold off land and a smaller house to Andie. Why does Julia see a comparison between Pinney’s family and her mother’s family?


Julia’s mother and Pinney are both descended from families that made fortunes in Maine when there were fortunes to be made there. Julia’s mother’s family was in the ice business and Pinney’s in shipbuilding. Both families left the state when those industries collapsed, and became summer residents only. Julia’s mother, however, now makes her life among the locals, while Pinney, who appears to live in Maine a lot of the year, moves exclusively in summer people circles.


What’s an abutter? Someone you share a property line with.


What is a chandlery? A place where ship provisions are stored and sold. It could include items specifically for ships, like sailcloth, rope, and so on, or also fresh food and water.


You include a recipe for lobster mash—but what is it? Lobster mashed potatoes—and they are delicious!


There are such a thing as soft-shelled lobsters? When do they do that?

Lobsters shed their shells as they grow. In Maine typically this takes place in early summer. During the period right after lobsters grow their new shell they are considered soft-shells. Some people think the soft-shells are the best, others prefer hard-shells. This is a frequent source of lobster-related arguments.


What are alewives?


They are a species of herring that lives in saltwater but spawns in freshwater. In Damariscotta, there is an Alewife Festival, which takes place when the fish come and climb the fish ladder in town to get to fresh water.


What kind of fresh tuna is used in the Sous Vide Spicy Tuna recipe?


The instructions say fresh tuna cut 1 ½ to 2 inches thick. You’re cooking it, so it doesn’t have to be sushi grade, but if you want sushi grade and are willing to pay for it, by all means go for it.


You say that having a house on the water is constant work. Do you have first-hand information about that? Do they really continually paint the Golden Gate Bridge? (And why is it orange? My six-year-old self was so disappointed.)


I’ve heard that analogy to painting the Golden Gate Bridge all my life. (As soon as you work from one end to the other, it’s time to start over again at the beginning.) I have no idea if it is true, but it makes a nice point.) My mother-in-law had one side of her house on the water painted every year. Once all four sides were completed, it was time to go around again.


So, Le Roi was right, huh. Should have known. What’s next for Julia?


In “Scared Off,” the Snowden Family Clambake novella in Halloween Party Murder, Julia gets a panic call from her niece, Page. High school kids have crashed the little Halloween sleepover party Page is attending at a friend’s house. They’re trashing the place and the friend’s parents are nowhere to be found. I’m currently working on the tenth Maine Clambake Mystery novel, as yet untitled. It takes place during Mud Season. (In Maine mid-March through April).

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Secondary Characters Stepping Up by Martha Reed

I recall seeing a movie once where a secondary supporting character said something so funny and witty that when she walked off camera it kicked me out of the movie narrative because I lost interest in following the movie’s plot any further. I wanted to follow her to see what she was going to do next.

Judy Dench has this kind of magnetic pull on me, as does David Tennant, Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth.

What are authors supposed to do when one of our secondary characters suddenly steps forward and demands more face time?

This has happened to me twice. At an active crime investigation in my Nantucket Mystery series, a CSI specialist made a remark that was so wry with dry humor that I had to rewrite the scene and dial it down because it literally stole the focus from the corpse. I never forgot the strength in her voice though, and when it came time to develop my new NOLA series, Jane stepped in, ready-made. It felt like a gift.

I also developed a young, vibrant UBER driver named Cleo for a short story. When the editing phase came, as it always does, I needed to trim the word count. Poor Cleo got axed. I remember apologizing to her as I hit the highlight and delete buttons. Being a frugal writer and knowing that aggressively vocal characters are a truly rare treasure, I pasted Cleo into a blank Word document and saved her for later, vowing to return. She has been very patiently waiting for me to do so, and as I worked on my current WIP I needed a strong new female antagonist and there she was. Another gift.

Readers and family members ask me if I hear my character’s voices when I write. I have to admit that eventually I do although I worry that my family’s going to notify the authorities and send for the men with the nets to come get me.

I remember the very first time this auditory surprise happened because as a newbie writer it scared me. I was drafting a scene with two characters enjoying a tea party when I “heard” the clink of a silver spoon against a fine china teacup. I was alone in the house. I stood up to see who it was, then sat back down as I realized that I’d heard the sound inside my head. Now that I’ve gotten used to the creative writing process I rejoice whenever I reach that level of creativity because then I know I’m solidly in the zone and for my money that’s the most joyous place to ever be.

So, writers, have you ever had a secondary character demand the spotlight? And do you hear voices in your head?

Monday, February 22, 2021

February by Nancy L. Eady

February is the longest month of the year, even though it’s also the shortest month in the year.  Maybe that’s why they stuck it into the middle of the winter, far enough away from Christmas that the Christmas glow has faded, but not near enough to the spring season holidays – spring break, Easter, Passover, etc. – that I can look forward to them.  It’s a difficult month in terms of budgets, weather, health and timing. 

There are only two major events that come to mind for February – St. Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras.  Valentine’s Day is my least favorite holiday/event.  During junior high school and high school, one school club or another would sell carnations as a fund raiser.  You bought a carnation to be delivered to another student of your choice.  I have too many memories of being carnation less year after year after year to take much joy in the holiday.  Those memories still sting, although you’d think after 40 years they’d start to lose their power.  Mardi Gras, alas, I have never celebrated. 

This year, I suspect that there are many people out in Texas who agree with me about this being the longest shortest month in the year.  I have watched the news and listened to stories from my friends that live there with immense pity and horror.  One friend out there told me that they were all laughing at the governor’s “boil water” order.  As she said, “How can we boil water when none of us have any power to heat it with?” 

But in the midst of my curmudgeonly grumping over February and my empathy for the people in the frozen tundra of Texas, my writer brain kicks in, and I start wondering what would happen if someone had to encounter, deal with and investigate a murder in the middle of such extreme weather.  And so in the back of my mind, a plot is spinning, and suddenly February isn’t such a long month after all.

What kind of situations provide grist for your story mill? 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Value of a Writing Tribe

by Tammy Euliano

In April of 2016, early in my encore career of writing, I attended a writing immersion by Margie Lawson at her home near Boulder, CO. Eight women attended, and one of our number started an email chain in advance through which we shared our writing. We were all enthusiastic beginners.

Margie runs a superb course, though it was probably too advanced for any of us. We were still dealing with plot and genre while she was teaching us about rhetorical devices. More important than what we learned were the friendships fostered by those few days together. Seven of the eight continued to talk by Skype or Zoom every month or so since.

Last week, we had our fourth annual reunion retreat at my lake house near Gainesville, Florida. Due to
Covid travel fears, it was smaller than in years past, but still writers came from Minnesota, Washington and Colorado; others joined by Zoom. We wrote during the day, with breaks for long walks with my dogs, or to talk about book marketing or plot problems, or to just go sit on the dock and enjoy the sun. At night we got on Zoom and workshopped each other’s books, set goals for the year, reviewed courses we’d taken, played games, ate too much, stayed up too late, and laughed a LOT.

So what has the group of total beginners accomplished in less than five years? Of the eight, five have published, several more than one book, and one has published NINE (9). The remaining three are hoping for publication by our next meeting.

We are different ages, from early 30s to 70s; with no children, young children, or adult children; married and unmarried; employed and retired, but none of us is a full-time writer. One is a phenomenal book coach and Story Grid editor though.

We each write in a different genre and with very different methods, tools and techniques. We aren’t a critique group and only rarely read each other’s novels, except isolated scenes or general plot discussions, but we work incredibly well as a group. What binds us is an interest in how to tell a good story, and once there, how to get it out for others to read. We celebrate each other’s successes and support each other during the inevitable low points. With the encouragement, support and genuine concern of my fellow Lake House Writers, I’ve achieved my goal of a (soon-to-be) published novel. My hope for readers of our blog is they find a like-minded tribe to share their writing journey, separate from editors and critique partners. Surprisingly, and maybe preferably, you need have little in common, except a love of writing…and my dogs…or wine, that would probably work just as well.


* * * * *

Tammy Euliano’s writing is inspired by her day job as a physician, researcher and educator at the University of Florida. Her short fiction has been recognized by Glimmer Train, Bards & Sages, Flash Fiction Magazine, and others. Her debut novel, a medical thriller entitled “Fatal Intent,” will be published by Oceanview March 2, 2021. You can sign up for her newsletter and find more information at

Saturday, February 20, 2021

When Research and Plot Align by E. B. Davis

I was writing a short story to the theme of holidays, specifically Homicidal Holidays, one of SinC Chesapeake Chapter’s anthologies. The plot was formulated in my mind. Perhaps there was a bit of nostalgia in setting the story during the historical time of my college days, in the late seventies, in Washington, D. C., where I went to school. But another part of that decision was due to my intimate knowledge of the place and time.


During college, I experienced a mystical morning. I’d awoken early in my dorm room. It was snowing, and for some reason, I wanted to drive to Georgetown. Inexplicable. But as I was from Pennsylvania and had snow tires on my car, the weather wasn’t a deterrent, especially at the age of nineteen when there are no barriers. As I made my way down Wisconsin Avenue at the top of Georgetown, I realized that no cars had traveled before me. The street was serenely quiet. I pulled over into a rare parking spot that on no other occasion would have been available. I got out. No footsteps, car tracks, or even bird tracks marred the snow’s surface. No one opened a door or popped their head out of a window. I may be one of the few in the world who have ever beheld Georgetown unpopulated without human interference. Georgetown was mine.


Perhaps because of that experience, I decided that I wanted snow in my short story, and could think of no better holiday to illustrate the Washingtonian experience than Presidents’ Day. So, I began to research. It didn’t have to be authentic. But I asked myself, had there been any snowstorms in the late seventies over Presidents’ Day weekend? I found there was one in 1978, which was actually a year after I graduated, but no matter. The year was set.


I had already determined the murder would take place on the C & O Canal running parallel to the Potomac River in Georgetown. It was a secluded area with few businesses along it—a perfect place for a snowy evening murder. (And yes, the motive was revenge, and yes, it was cold.) My characters were much like myself at that age. From Pennsylvania having a car with snow tires and few deterrents. But what would draw my characters there, at night in the middle of a snowstorm?


During the seventies, there was a bar/band venue called The Cellar Door, on “M” Street, which also parallels the C & O Canal and Potomac River, close by to where my murder would occur— how convenient—the scene prior to the murder would be held there. I wondered, on the off chance, if a band was booked for that weekend. I researched The Cellar Door’s schedule. Yes—George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers played there on the Saturday before Presidents’ Day in 1978. The performance review said George dragged a long cord from the amp to his guitar, went out into the middle of “M” Street during the snowstorm and played in the deserted street. Knowing of George, I didn’t doubt the review’s claim. Had I but known, I would have been there, too!


The research and my plot aligned. I began to write.


Needless to say, my short story made it into the anthology, which was published in 2014. There have been a few times when the research I’ve done aligned and enhanced a plot. When it does, my writing is stronger. I have confidence in my story. That’s wonderful, like a story that needed to be told.


As a writer, have you experienced the beautiful marriage of research and plot?

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Benefits of Being a Writer by Marilyn Levinson

Writing mysteries is wonderful for my health. Well, sure, I do a lot of sitting around, but I counter the bad effects of that by getting up periodically and walking downstairs for a glass of water. (I bet you thought I was going to say for a cookie.) The thing is writing books keeps me on my toes in more ways than one.

Being a mystery writer is good for my mind. I need to figure out a plot involving a murder or two and people my book with several suspects--all of whom have secrets, reasons to hate the victim(s) and have the opportunity to have done him or her in without being too obvious.

I get to contact bloggers, Facebook group administrators, and podcasters to ask them to fit me in their schedules where I can talk about my latest book. I'm learning how to podcast, Zoom with book clubs and readers, take part in a virtual conference--none of which I'd done a year ago.

I try to be up on the latest marketing tools and master them--or at least find someone who can help me set up appealing backgrounds for Instagram and Twitter posts.

I'm constantly doing research because every book requires different knowledge--from demolishing a building, knowing the latest food fads, to unique methods of committing murder.

Every day I hone my social skills via social media. I  communicate with readers and fellow writers and help my colleagues promote their latest books.

I write constantly in addition to writing my work in progress: hundreds of emails, my bi-monthly newsletter, Facebook posts, blogs and comments on blog posts. 

Constant work, yes, but aside from finishing a book, all of the activities necessary to my writing life help keep my mind active and me socialized. Health benefits in the Time of COVID. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

An Interview With Lida Sideris

by Grace Topping


Slightly Murderous Intent

A Southern California Mystery


There's a shooter on the loose who keeps missing his target. But that doesn't stop him from trying again…and again. It's up to Corrie Locke, rookie lawyer and spunky sleuth, to find the gunman before he hits his mark, Assistant Deputy D.A. James Zachary, Corrie's hunky and complicated frenemy.

When Corrie is stuck with more questions than answers, she enlists a team with various strengths, from weapons to cooking skills, to help her find the shooter. Her computer whiz boyfriend Michael is onboard. So is former security guard Veera. Toss in an over-the-hill informant and a couple of feuding celebrity chefs and Corrie's got her very own A-Team. Okay, maybe it's more like a B-Team.

Can Team Corrie hunt down the shooter before he scores a bulls-eye?



Launching and promoting a new book is a challenge for any author. For Lida Sideris, it was even more challenging trying to do it during a pandemic. It was a pleasure talking to Lida about her new book, Slightly Murderous Intent, and learning about the method she used to promote it.



Welcome back to Writers Who Kill, Lida.


Thank you, Grace. I’m so glad to be back. 


What is it about Southern California that makes it the perfect setting for your series?


I really enjoy inserting my heroine, Corrie Locke, into uneventful, but enjoyable places that I’ve personally visited or imagined visiting, and watch her turn those settings upside down. She goes to one of my favorite restaurants, and instead of being served her meal, she’s served crime a la mode. She’s a passenger aboard a small ferry chugging across a small bay, which I’ve done plenty of times with my family, but she’s nearly drowned and threatened. What is it about her? SoCal is where I grew up, and it’s a setting that offers me plenty of opportunities for criminal activity to pop up.


With each book, Corrie Locke’s activities become even more physical and she seems to be fearless—chasing down and tackling suspects. What accounts for Corrie’s spunk and physical bravery?


With every case she solves as a quasi-professional sleuth, she gains confidence; she becomes bolder and more daring and, since she’s a thrill seeker/risk-taker by nature, it’s not hard for her to push the envelope. If I did A before, then I can definitely tackle B – that’s the way she thinks. As the series progresses, she’s less reluctant, more willing to utilize skills she learned under the tutelage of her PI dad. For Corrie, there’s no satisfaction quite like bringing a criminal to justice.


Your books have also become more suspenseful. The last chapters especially had me sitting on the edge of my chair. At this point, how do you categorize your series?


I view the series as a mystery-adventure with a sprinkling of suspense and humor throughout. 


In the past, Corrie had been attracted to two men, who are entirely different from one another. In Slightly Murderous Intent, without giving anything away, she appears to be favoring one more than the other—at least for the time being. What accounted for her escaping the love triangle?


It’s no fun for me as a writer to have a static heroine. In the past, she’s been attracted to men like herself – risk-takers and danger seekers. But sometimes the very thing we need the most is right in front of us (or on our feet, as in the case of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz). How’s that for a vague explanation? Let’s just say, she’s beginning to figure out what’s missing in her life.


There are so many great characters in this book. I especially enjoy feisty Veera. Please tell us about her.


Thank you yet again. Before Veera, Corrie didn’t have any girlfriends. Good-natured, hard-working, loyal, and trustworthy, Veera offers common sense when needed and often gives Corrie a push in the right direction. Plus, Veera does what all real-life and fictional sidekicks do: she fills in gaps for Corrie. As a former security guard, Veera’s well connected, which comes in handy. The underlying theme in each book is friendship, which plays a big role in Corrie’s escapades.


One intriguing aspect of your series was the mysterious disappearance or passing of Corrie’s father. Will we be learning more about that in future books in the series? 


Yes, I see it progressing in that direction. I’m curious how Corrie would react to her father in real-time rather than via memory or hearing his voice in her head. I see him playing a bigger role in the future. Shhhh! That’s all I’m saying.


I’d also like to hear more about her mother and her wonderful wardrobe. Do you find it a challenge to write a new book in the series and include characters and situations from previous books?


The second book was most challenging because a series has a backstory that may be relevant in each succeeding book. How much to include? The sidekicks are welcome because I know them well and they’re each so eager and enthusiastic to assist; I like having them around. They just kind of weave in and out on their own. In my upcoming #5, Gambling with Murder, the sidekicks will shift around a bit with a different one in the mix, aka Mom.


Now that you’ve written four mysteries and a children’s book, what are the most valuable things you’ve learned along the way? Things you wished you’d known when you started out.


I beg myself each time to just pound out that first draft without editing, without looking back, without caring about the clunky fingers or the words that don’t fit right. Just get to The End and worry about fixing it later. Easier said than done because I really enjoy editing while writing. 


Book promotion during a pandemic has been harder than ever, especially for authors like you who launched a new book this past year. What are you doing to promote your series while staying at home?


It was challenging at first. I really enjoy meeting readers and writers in person, but I was so fortunate to connect with three mystery authors with my same publisher (Level Best Books). Our publisher has monthly Zoom meetings and after a meeting, I did a call-out for authors with release dates around mine. Three responded! The timing was perfect and we meshed so well to create the Sleuths & Sidekicks Virtual Tour. It enabled us to travel from coast to coast without leaving the comfort of our homes. It’s been a blast and a blessing to have found them in the midst of everything. Writers are very generous in supporting each other.


You’ve posted gorgeous photos of your farm or ranch with miles of countryside around you. Do you find living far from the madding crowd helpful to your writing? Or do you yearn for a coffee shop as a place to write?


Thank you. I live in a rural area with picturesque scenery. I relish my alone time when I write and a comfortable setting. That said, pre-pandemic, I’d visit the central public library near my day job during lunch breaks to write. With deadlines, you gotta grab time wherever you can.


With so many authors branching out into additional series, are there new things you are looking at? Any more children’s books in the works?


I’d love to do another children’s book, another series, and more short stories, but for now, I’ve got the next book in my Southern California Mysteries to complete. 


What’s next for Corrie, Michael, and James?


Corrie’s currently investigating the disappearance of a resident in a ritzy retirement community in the northern tip of Southern California, not far from my own home, in Santa Barbara. I’m just trying to stay out of her way. 


Thank you, Lida. It’s always a pleasure to have you here at WWK.



BIO - Lida Sideris' first stint after law school was a newbie lawyer's dream: working as an entertainment attorney for a movie studio...kind of like her heroine, Corrie Locke, except without the homicides. Lida was one of two national winners of the Helen McCloy Mystery Writers of America Scholarship Award for her first book. She lives in the northern tip of Southern California with her family, rescue dogs, and a flock of uppity chickens. To learn more, please visit her website: