Monday, May 31, 2021


Moving has me considering character—not character as in whether you would give me a good reference, but character as in the traits that form the people who populate my stories.

My family and I live in a new house in a new town. You would think this is a chance to completely reinvent ourselves. In theory, we should be able to act however we want and to be whoever we want. In practice, it’s not that simple. Even when you move, your history and character move with you.

For example, I could try to make strangers believe I’m fearless. But I’m still going to insist my husband perform roach-killer duty should I run across a live version of one of the loathsome things. (Odds are good I am going to call on him even if I run across a dead version.) 

On a more fundamental level, I am a compulsive rule follower. I feel like a wild rebel just ignoring the travel lanes in an empty parking lot. When the stores all had directional signs on aisles for COVID, I was the family member that refused to allow us to go up the down aisle, even if the item we needed was two steps away in the wrong direction. While it’s physically possible for me to ignore rules now that I am in a new town, mentally, it’s not. Nor can I change the parts of my personality that I unconsciously broadcast to the community at large. I exude an aura that leads people to consider me both safe and knowledgeable; in a crowded store or park, I’m the person people stop for directions. It happened yesterday, as a matter of fact. I was walking down the aisle in the Leeds Walmart when a woman asked me where something was located. I regretfully told her that it was my first time in the store and I couldn’t help. Had I then found the thing she was looking for, I would have been compelled to find her to tell her. In a new place free of expectations, I should have been free to go on with my day, but I wasn’t. My character constrained my actions.

The same is true with the characters we writers create. Readers may think we authors control our characters, but we know better. Our characters come with their own history and back story and traits. If we need them to do something that doesn’t line up with those, they resist us. Some argue vociferously against whatever we are trying to force them to do; some take a more passive-aggressive approach, giving us a vague feeling that something in the story is “not working,” and leaving it for us to discover what that is.

We can’t force our characters to be someone they’re not, but what we can do is change the environment they’re in or the challenges they face. So, while we don’t control their character, we can change their environment. Their reactions and responses to those challenges lead them to grow and change so that we (and our readers if we’re lucky) learn a little more about human nature in the process.

What characters in your writing have you found to be unmanageable?

Sunday, May 30, 2021


 Did you know that knitting and writing have a lot in common?  I like to knit, partly because it took me years to figure out how to do it, but mostly because there are two stitches in knitting—the knit stitch and the purl stitch. From those two stitches arise an infinite number of knitting patterns. In many ways, the two stitches that make up knitting patterns are similar to the 26 letters that make up the words in the English language. 

How many words are there in the English language?  According to the Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, now consisting of 20 volumes, there are 171,476 words in active use, 47,156 obsolete words and 9500 derivative words included as subentries. (If you are a word geek like me, for grins and giggles subscribe to the Oxford English Dictionary’s ‘word of the day’ email.)  

What can that roughly quarter of a million words accomplish?  The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with over 38.6 million catalogued books. Even though more than half of those books are not written in English, that still leaves over 15 million books made from those quarter-million words made from those 26 letters. Similarly, two stitches can make millions of different sweaters, afghans, scarves, mittens, gloves, rugs, bags and who knows what else. 

Another way knitting reminds me of writing is “the muddle in the middle.”  I am always excited to start a knitting project. Picking out the project, then the pattern, then the yarn and colors is fun and exciting. Ending a knitting project is extraordinarily satisfying. I hold in my hands a tangible product rewarding me for the hours of work I spent on the project. The middle is not always as much fun. There are days when my needles string the yarn onto and off of them with effortless ease, but there are also days when I have to pull out every other stitch because I am making mistakes. The worst part is when I discover I made a mistake five or six or ten rows ago that I can’t live with, because then I must tear out the rows until I reach the mistake. 

Writing a novel is similar. Coming up with settings, characters and plot is new and exciting, as is the moment when the revisions have been completed and the book is ready to send off into the cold, cruel world to find a new home. The journey between those two points can be rough. As with knitting, there are days when my fingers fly over the keyboards, words pouring out of me, and days when I have to drag every word out of quicksand before it arrives on my screen. There are days when I realize that a plot needs revision to the point where characters must be added or deleted, scenes changed, plot twists reexamined. And following the threads of the story through those changes to make a consistent whole is challenging. 

So why bother with either knitting or writing?  I have no choice. They’re part of who I am. Even when I’ve tried to stop, I can’t. Sooner or later, my fingers twitch for a set of needles to hold or a keyboard to pound. And I’ve learned that once I start, if I just keep pushing forward I will make it to the end. 

What kind of hobbies or avocations do you pursue that you can’t leave alone? 

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Keeping A Mystery Series Fresh by Dana King

Leaving the Scene (May 17 from Down & Out Books) is my sixth Penns River police procedural. The seventh book in the series is in final revisions, and I have notes for two more. Well into the series with no end in sight, I am acutely aware that a series this long can go stale if the author doesn’t work to prevent it.  

What’s a writer to do in this situation? I doubt anyone has a definitive solution (I know I don’t), but here are a few things I do in an effort to keep the stories fresh and the telling varied as the series progresses.


What I call Penns River is an amalgam of the three small Western Pennsylvania cities I grew up in. I haven’t lived there in years, but my ties to the area remain strong through Facebook, the web edition of the local newspaper, regional websites, and, until recently, several trips a year to visit my parents. The Beloved Spouse™ kids me about my accent (“warsh” slips into conversations more as I age), and my allegiance to Pittsburgh sports teams remains undiminished. I still think of myself as a Pennsylvanian even though I moved away when I joined the Army in 1980. Writing about the area is, for me, the ultimate example of “write what you know,” and there’s always something else to remember.


Because Penns River is based on real towns, the local news is a constant source of material. Among the events I pulled out of the newspaper for Leaving the Scene are:

o   Stolen heavy construction equipment.

o   A naked man (well, he did have one sock on) covered with cooking oil.

o   Random stolen flags.

o   A local business robbed by two men wearing Star Wars masks.

A previous book depicted a young man shot in the buttocks by his father to conclude an argument that began across town over who ate the last of the chocolate chip cookies.


I couldn’t make these things up. I need only find entertaining ways to describe them. So long as things continue to happen in the Alle-Kiski Valley, I’ll have fresh material.


Primary protagonist Ben “Doc” Dougherty isn’t going anywhere; everyone else is fair game. Leaving the Scene opens at the chief’s retirement party. In addition to his replacement, a new patrol officer comes to town, and one that’s been around for a while gets a promotion. I’m also not above killing a series regular. I’ve done it before, and I’m in the process of doing it again.


I look for different ways to tell the story. Leaving the Scene, for example, has no chapters as such. The point of the book is to show how day-to-day events can sidetrack even a homicide investigation, so I broke the book out by dates, and time of day, to keep the reader aware of the passage of time and the constant interruptions.


Changing the scope also helps. Some books reflect national concerns viewed through the lens of a small town. Some are straight-up mysteries. A few are bits of both. Pushing Water was primarily about an active shooter investigation, with a secondary story that involved a Mountie in pursuit of a Canadian fugitive. Leaving the Scene is all local. The work in progress focuses on what happens after a Black officer shoots and kills a white supremacist.


This is why I’ve spent more time on Penns River than Nick Forte PI stories lately, even though Forte has earned me a couple of Shamus Award nominations. There’s always something new in Penns River, and those new stories make me look for the best ways to tell them. Forte lives in a somewhat more stagnant pool from which to draw ideas. I have one I like on the back burner, though, so another appearance may be imminent. So long as it’s not too much like what’s come before.


Leaving the Scene is Dana King’s sixth Penns River novel. He also writes the Nick Forte private investigator novels, two of which earned Shamus Award nominations from the Private Eye Writers of America. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies, most recently The Eviction of Hope. You can get to know him better on his website, blog, Facebook page or Twitter (@DanaKingAuthor).


 Dana King’s Leaving the Scene delivers the goods—a procedural packed with smart dialogue, sharp plotting, and a vivid humanity that brings to mind the best of McBain, Wambaugh, and Connelly.

--James D. F. Hannah, Shamus Award-winning author of the Henry Malone series



Thursday, May 27, 2021

Coming Home from Margaritaville By E. B. Davis

After a series of rejections and a real-world physical move that kept me off-kilter, I’ve started writing again. I must have an on/off switch. Where it is located is a mystery. My head? My heart? My spirit? My imagination? Why the switch moves from on to off and back again is also a mystery. Some writers seem not to have a switch, and they keep writing like a Pony Express horse striding for delivery. Are the racehorse authors mostly successful or are they impervious to rejection?


“Without geography, you’re nowhere!”

                                                                        Jimmy Buffett


The impetus for my writing is an anthology where I want to place a story. I’ve had success with the editors before. What I like about anthologies is that often a theme is stated. Writing to themes provides a challenge for me. Many writers say they must write every day. I’ve found that unless I have an idea and a notion of where I’m going in a story, there is no point to writing daily. Mediocre writing occurs without a worthy character, the spark of theme, or the progression of plot. Unless I want to ponder my navel and spout adolescent angst—been there done that sort of writing when younger—writing without a goal isn’t worth the time. My journal type writing I’ve thrown out in fear that my children may read it after I’m dead and wonder if their mother was a closet airhead.


I got an idea for a story fitting the anthology’s theme. I wrote it and wondered if I hit the mark. When a beta reader also wasn’t so sure, I thought again. I wrote a second short. I knew I hit the mark, but then I also realized the idea had sprung from an example provided by the editors. Was that too unoriginal since I’d borrowed the premise from them? I wrote a third story. Like Goldilocks, the third hit the mark—just right. At least I think so—but so often hitting the mark is in the eye/mind of the judge. Writing isn’t an objective business. I get that. I do, really.


But what happened here was that I started writing and couldn’t stop until I thought I had it right. I probably wrote more in a week than I had continuously in three years. Doesn’t seem like much, but to me it made all the difference because it also sparked ideas for more short stories and longer works, perhaps a series. The experience also reassured me.


The problem with novel writing is not knowing when I get it right. I can read other authors’ books and know, but with my own—I don’t. While the goal of writing to theme provides incentive, one week of writing does not consume so much time that I feel overwhelmed by it. Novel writing takes months, and sometimes years. I lose track of the goal and get bogged down. In writing short stories, I know where I’m going—I have a theme and a goal. When I get the idea, there is a certainty of the beginning, middle, and end. With novels, I now know I’m not a pantser even if I’ve written two novels that way. I can’t anymore. The outline is at least a road map, a compass when I get lost and beleaguered.


Perhaps having success with short stories also compels me to write more. While I’ve met only rejection in novel writing, a certain fear makes me brake. To write, I must have a Rhett Butler attitude or I won’t do it. If I care, I give power to those who judge. It’s a defense mechanism for foisting off rejection and keeping the cojones in place. Don’t let them take that away from you. Or, stated in a much nicer way from a young and successful artist:


“If they don’t like you for being yourself, be yourself even more.”

                                                                                                Taylor Swift


How have you tamed your reaction to rejection?


Do you think success breeds success and failure breeds failure?


Do you write every day? Is it necessary?


Nominated for an Anthony Award in 2015

                               If I make the cut for the next anthology, I’ll post it on the WWK Marquee.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

An Interview with author Debra H. Goldstein By E. B. Davis


Sarah Blair gets an education in slicing and dicing when someone in culinary school serves up a main corpse in Wheaton, Alabama . . .
Between working as a law firm receptionist, reluctantly pitching in as co-owner of her twin sister’s restaurant, and caretaking for her regal Siamese RahRah and rescue dog Fluffy, Sarah has no time to enjoy life’s finer things. Divorced and sort-of dating, she’s considering going back to school. But as a somewhat competent sleuth, Sarah’s more suited for criminal justice than learning how many ways she can burn a meal.
Although she wouldn’t mind learning some knife skills from her sous chef, Grace Winston. An adjunct instructor who teaches cutlery expertise in cooking college, Grace is considering accepting an executive chef’s position offered by Jane Clark, Sarah’s business rival—and her late ex-husband’s lover. But Grace’s future lands in hot water when the school’s director is found dead with one of her knives in his back. To clear her friend’s name, Sarah must sharpen her own skills at uncovering an elusive killer . . .


As Debra H. Goldstein explains in the forward of Four Cuts Too Many, the plot starts with a jump-rope rhyme. Creepy! But very effective since the victim dies of a culinary knife wound—a specific type of knife wound. (To find out how those two tie together—read the book!) What I don’t know! Like there are methods to knife someone to insure a kill. More creep factor—but the truth is that even though the premise and method are creepy, the book is a fun cozy read—really cupcakes and Jell-O are featured.


Main character, Sarah Blair, investigates the murder of a college official and arrives at the scene minutes after the murder. Grace, an up and coming chef and instructor is the primary suspect. We’ve met Grace before as a secondary character in previous books. A black, gay woman, Grace has overcome a disadvantaged upbringing. She’s a worthy person to champion, and Sarah strives to prove her innocence.


If I miss any questions for Debra, please ask them for me in our comments area.                                                                                      E. B. Davis

The cover art of your book, Four Cuts Too Many, is wonderful, delicious, and colorful. Do you have input in choosing the artwork?


Kensington asks me for general thoughts about my covers. I always ask for RahRah to be on the cover (which I think would happen even if I didn’t ask) and I highlight something to do with the murder or tied to the book’s title, but they create something far better than I ever imagine.


Have you wondered why many nursery tales and rhymes are violent? Were they passed down through the generations without thought? Were they supposed to be warnings to children? I never really thought about it before. Have you?


There are two schools of thought about why nursery tales and rhymes are violent. The first notes that they originally were meant to be told by adults to less educated or illiterate adults in a serial type of format. The violent elements made them more interesting. The second theory, which I think piggybacks the first, is that the rhymes reflect the political and social thoughts of the times that couldn’t be directly expressed without the speaker being beheaded or arrested. By couching the protests or beliefs in humor or silly rhyme, the point was made to all who heard the tale or rhyme without the risk of bodily harm to the writer. As it is often said, “A lot of truth is said in jest.”


Sarah’s cat, RahRah, was actually her mother-in-law’s cat. According to her mother-in-law’s will, would Sarah be able to afford to give up her job and go to school full time?


Although her mother-in-law’s will created an animal trust that provides for RahRah to own the carriage house and a caregiver who receives a stipend and reimbursement for whatever expenses RahRah has, it isn’t enough for Sarah to give up working to go to school full time.

Why would Dr. Williams, the head of the college’s hotel-hospitality program accuse Grace of murdering Dr. Martin without any evidence? It made me think there was something wrong with him.


Dr. Williams knew there was an argument between Dr. Martin and Grace, so he jumped to a conclusion that made sure not to cast any possible doubt on himself.


Sarah knows Grace well enough to call Harlan, the attorney she works for, to caution and defend Grace during questioning by the police. What responses does she anticipate Grace will make?


From her knowledge of Grace’s background, she knows Grace stands up for herself and is honest. Consequently, she fears Grace will be defiant with the police or blurt out something negative about Dr. Martin that can be construed against her.


Wanda, a student who was in Grace’s class and a former stepdaughter of the victim, Dr. Douglas Martin, is very forthcoming about her dislike of him. That surprised me. Why was she so verbal especially after his murder? Why would she choose to go to a college where he was an interim official?


Because the culinary program was so strong, Wanda was a student at the junior college at least a year before Dr. Martin took his job there. She doesn’t say anything negative about him in the hallway after he is found dead, but Wanda is lulled into expressing her honest feelings because in a situation where she is being protective and worries about Dr. Martin’s mother, Kait, who has been a grandmother and somewhat of a mother to her. She also, perhaps subconsciously, realizes that Sarah is liked and trusted by Eloise, a dear lifetime friend of Kait, who has joined Wanda for dinner at the retirement center to break the news of Dr. Martin’s death to Kait. I think her anger, fear, and churning emotions at that moment are what loosen her normally more reserved tongue.


Are personal weaknesses the root of failure?


To understand the concept of root of failure in any situation, one must analyze the base data of the failure and determine if it is a failure, a human error, or of no consequence. Sarah Blair is more frightened of the kitchen than of murder. Her personal weaknesses in the kitchen, as well as her fears after her divorce, result in her having a lack of confidence (and the potential for oven failures), but that is not really a failure. She has the ability to grow. While Sarah can’t overcome every personal weakness, she learns to live with them and to be successful despite them.


How can a “no kill” shelter put down ten percent of its animals and still be considered a no-kill?


That was my first reaction, too, but as I researched it, I discovered that often it is the animals who are ill or have other severe behavioral problems that are in that ten percent. Most no kill shelters strive to be well under the ten percent, but that is the defined permissible percentage. This is a significant difference compared to shelters that don’t follow no-kill policies.


I was surprised Glenn, the veterinarian, asked Sarah for a date. Doesn’t he know about her relationship with Cliff, or is it because he does know about the relationship that he did?


The period of time that the Sarah Blair series covers isn’t that long. Consequently, most people in Wheaton wouldn’t recognize Cliff and Sarah as being in a relationship because their interaction has been on and off. Plus, Glenn hasn’t been back in Wheaton long and, during the time he has been there, he’s been busy getting his veterinarian practice going.


Grace lied by omission to the police. What did she lie about?

 Grace admits to having a run-in with Dr. Martin, but she doesn’t go into the details beyond what he did to one of her students. One of the subplots in Four Cuts Too Many is the existence of a relationship between Grace and Mandy. As an author, I treated them with respect, but Dr. Martin’s comments and actions reflect a different societal viewpoint. Grace doesn’t feel that rehashing his behavior should have a bearing on what happened, so because she considers the matter personal and doesn’t want to involve Mandy, she leaves out any mention of that part of their disagreement when she talks to the police.


What did Jane propose to the college and the city? Would it have cut into Southwind’s business? Is the college private or government-funded?


Jane’s Place, Jane Clark’s restaurant and bed and breakfast, took a hit in Three Treats Too Many from which it hasn’t recovered. She proposes as a win-win that because the college’s culinary and hospitality classrooms are outdated, the college should pay her a fee for students to run Jane’s Place. Jane argues the college can claim a win by advertising to high-level culinary and hospitality students that their program will expose them to a study/work environment where the kitchen equipment is top of the line and the hotel side is up to date. In her own mind, Jane wins because she would be drawing an income without paying the fees associated with her building. She wants the city to enter into the partnership to give her proposal and the program more credibility and to steer tourists and events to Jane’s Place. Because she will offer discounts to the city for using or recommending her facility and hopes the college faculty will support having all of its events at Jane’s Place, the indirect impact, if the proposal is accepted, would be a drastic cut into Southwind’s business.


What is the “ice pick” method of stabbing?


The “ice pick” method of stabbing uses an ice pick or a knife with a very sharp point. When it is thrust into the neck or a part of the body, the point of entry and the weight of the stab is focused on an exceedingly small area. Consequently, it is an effective means of piercing the skull or a particular organ or artery. In Four Cuts Too Many, this method of stabbing requires good knife skills.


Dr. Martin’s mother, Kait Martin, lives in the Sunshine Retirement Home, as does Sarah’s mother’s beau, Mr. Rogers. Kait suffers from early-onset dementia. How did she come to have so much money?


Kait married the love of her life and traveled all over the world with him as he worked himself up the corporate ladder. When he died, whether it was from salary or investments, she was left a rich widow. The money and the assets passed to her rather than to their son, Dr. Martin.


Have you known any real-life matchmakers?

Yes. When I moved to Birmingham, there was a woman in the community employed by one of the organizations to do newcomer work. She decided to add a personal mission to her work. If a newcomer were single, she would extend a “getting to know you” invitation for lunch. After each lunch, she’d figure out the good matches and then concoct ways to introduce the single men to the single women. Although she didn’t formally claim to be a matchmaker, she was responsible, during a twenty-year period, for many successful marriages.


When Sarah gets together with Cliff, she drinks a lot of wine. Afterward, she drinks hot chocolate with her twin sister, Emily. Is Sarah more a sweets eater than a meat and potato gal?


Sarah will always take pizza and junk food, which includes ice cream, cookies, and, of course, the wonderful desserts served at Southwind, over meat and potatoes.


Sarah says to Harlan, “…but even as kind as you are, people view you as an authority figure. I’m different. People identify with my lack of kitchen skills and not-so-perfect life.” Is that the secret to Sarah’s sleuthing?


Yes, Sarah’s ability to be the common person with troubles and tribulations in her past, as well as an ability to listen, makes her a perfect amateur sleuth. People aren’t intimidated by her as they might be by Harlan’s legal credentials.


Sarah notices that her mother and sister do everything for the right reasons. Is this an affirmation of values that attracts readers to cozy mysteries?


It is an affirmation of the values of good over evil or caring for others that often is found in a cozy mystery. In writing the Sarah Blair series, I strive to bring family values and relationships to the forefront.


At certain points in the investigation, Sarah doubts Grace and her partner Mandy’s innocence. Why?


Sarah feels, rightfully so, that Grace isn’t being forthcoming with Harlan or her. She also worries that as she follows the money or blood trails that the police chief advocates, Grace and Mandy, based on the information she has, won’t have completely clean hands.


Your ending surprised me—the sign of a great mystery. What’s next for Sarah?


Kensington released Four Cuts Too Many on May 25. On May 12, I turned in the fifth book in the series, Five Belles Too Many.  In that book, which will be published in 2022, Maybelle and George are one of five finalist couples vying to win “the perfect wedding” in a competition being filmed in Wheaton by a national television show. To Sarah’s dismay, because the rules of the show require each belle to have a live-in chaperone to make sure the belle doesn’t engage in hanky-panky during the show’s taping, Sarah is drafted by her mother to be Maybelle’s chaperone.  


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Righting the Wrongs by Copy Editing by Martha Reed

Whether writing short fiction or a novel length work, a new creative writing project can present a minefield of hurdles from initial blank page paranoia through chapter structuring terror until finally a satisfactory conclusion is reached and I type those ever-blessed words: The End (or ###.)

And then the real fun begins. Copy editing.

It’s never easy handing my brand-new baby over to a professional editor, even when I’d trust that editor with my soul. The new story is still so fresh, so delicate there’s a fear that if I jigger it too much, shift too many pieces, I may lose the vital essence that brought the story to vibrant life. I’m sure there are writers out there who are so knowledgeable about the craft of writing that they can grammatically dissect their stories into bits and then fit the tiny bits back together without a bobble, but I’m not one of them. When my story is as complete and polished as I can make it, I’m terrified that if I edit it too much it will end up looking like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, all patched up paragraphs with thick obvious sutures, a shaky house of cards that may come tumbling down with one harsh puff or worse: that I may change something vital that I can’t fix.

There’s a definite left brain/right brain thing going on with mystery writers, and I think it’s the difference between imagining whole new worlds and new characters (right-brain) versus developing plot points, twists, and logical conclusions (left-brain). This difference may explain why some writers are gifted “pantsers” (e.g., writing by the seat of your pants) versus gifted plotters (e.g., following a step-by-step story outline.)

I’ve decided that editors are neither one of these two types. They are an entirely separate and alien species. These folks take copy editing to another, higher level. They spot story flaws from outer space, from Mars. I also know that when an editor agrees to review my work that I need to throttle my fragile ego, calmly close my eyes, listen to their advice with an open ear and step off into the void, trusting that in the end all will be well and that they fundamentally do come in peace.

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with an amazing professional editor. She gave me exactly one hour via a Zoom call to review three hurdles she identified in my story while at the same time offering such excellent fixes that I was in complete agreement with her from the start of our over caffeinated conversation. One of her suggestions was even so good, so much better than what I had written that I felt a twinge of professional jealousy that I hadn’t come up with it on my own. My only real difficulty was in accepting that my “final version” was really and truly final and that I couldn’t make any additional last-minute tweaking edits after I sent the “final version” off, probably some form of separation anxiety.

To be fair, any emails that I send out that start with “But, wait…” should be ignored.

In podcasts and at conferences you repeatedly hear that working with a professional editor is about developing a long-term relationship, that it’s never about one single book, that editors are looking for publishing career partners. What has your editorial experience been like?

Monday, May 24, 2021


 At the end of March, I wrote about the unexpected turn taking us from our long-time home in Tallassee, Alabama toward the Birmingham, Alabama area. Writing this towards the end of May, I am both impressed by our accomplishments and overwhelmed by what remains.

First, an update. Since April 20, we sold our house (twice), had one sales contract fall through, bought our new house (twice—we had to withdraw the first offer because of the first sales contract) and learned that with a little prayer and great mortgage company, it is possible to apply for and receive a mortgage loan in 19 days. I gave away 14 boxes of books to the local library in Tallassee, which was traumatic. We packed our old house ourselves in less than 19 days and we moved out of it three days ago, and into our new house yesterday. We learned Saturday night that you can run a Sleep Number bed without internet, and I learned (Mark already knew) that Dish TV would work without internet. I’m still looking forward to the arrival of the internet man tomorrow morning, though. I’m using my telephone hotspot right now, and it drains the battery.

You’d think I’d be feeling a great sense of accomplishment given all that we’ve gotten done so far, right? I would, except for the following:

Those of you who have moved before probably don’t think that looks too bad, as far as unpacking goes, but, like Bluebeard’s Castle, we have a room with a hidden secret.

We had the movers store every box possible in the spare bedroom. Which was a wonderful idea until we discovered last night at nine that we couldn’t remember where the bedroom TV cord was packed. After about two hours of looking, we gave up. (We found it this morning—in one of our suitcases.)  

This is the first move for both dogs. They seem to be taking it well so far.

Darwin, who we think is 15 or 16, wondered why I was interrupting his nap for this picture.

Daisy, about 2, runs around on high alert, ready to sound the alarm should anything appear out of place. Obviously, the pillow and CPAP hose are highly suspicious objects, even though she saw the same things in the old house every day.

The good news is that it truly is downhill from here. Even though we have a lot of unpacking to do, we get to choose what and when we unpack. How will we know when we’re finished unpacking? When we reach the last box that gets moved from one place to another and never quite gets unpacked until the next move. We found the last box from our move into our Tallassee house (the move in 2006) in the coat closet while we were packing for this move. The box was still packed, but it had at least been opened.

And so it goes…

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Stranger Than Fiction by Annette Dashofy

I admit my choice of May 11 as a release date for Death by Equine was a deliberate move. First, for sentimental reasons. I had a pony who was foaled decades ago on May 11. She was such a sweetheart—more of a pet really—so the date has always stuck with me. Second, my next novel is set for release on May 10, 2022, with subsequent Zoe Chambers mysteries dropping that same week over the following years. It made sense to set up the second Tuesday in May as my launch date.

The main reason, however, was the timing of the Triple Crown. I figured releasing a book set in the world of Thoroughbred racing between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes would put me in the heart of the Triple Crown excitement. I could ride the wave of horseracing enthusiasm.

I never anticipated the real-life crime drama that came out of the Derby. 

If you haven’t heard the news, Medina Spirit, a moderate longshot trained by Bob Baffert, one of the winningest trainers on earth, battled off all challengers and crossed the finish line first. Instantly, racing fans’ hopes of a Triple Crown winner in 2021 were pinned on the horse. 

Those hopes came crashing down when it was announced days later that Medina Spirit had failed the drug test routinely run on the top placing horses. Those tests showed the presence of betamethasone, a banned corticosteroid. At first, Baffert denied ever having treated the horse with the medication. There were hints of sabotage. 

My husband and I immediately started spinning out plots for a mystery novel. How easy would it be for someone to slip the drug to the horse? In truth, easier than you might think. 

I could also imagine the trainer trying to get away with something that happens all the time. Especially since this wasn’t Baffert’s first offense. 

After another couple of days, his story changed. The horse had developed a skin condition and the ointment to treat it contained—you guessed it—betamethasone. A small amount that likely had no effect on the outcome of the race, but that’s not the point. The substance is banned. No amount is too small to count. 

The immediate problem was the Preakness was less than a week away at this point, and the investigation, which may result in Medina Spirit being disqualified as the Kentucky Derby winner, could take weeks or months to complete. After administering multiple drug tests showing the horse was clean, the Maryland Racing Commission cleared Medina Spirit to run in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

 My mystery-writer brain and horse-loving heart pondered the possibilities. What if he won the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes only to later be stripped of the Kentucky Derby win?

I needn’t have worried. Medina Spirit fought valiantly but lost to Rombauer and ended up third. 

Baffert, by the way, wasn’t present at Pimlico for the race. Instead, his assistant trainer saddled his two entries.

There will be no such controversy for the June 5 running of the Belmont. This past week, it was announced that the New York Racing Association had suspended Baffert and disqualified him from entering any horse in the race.

As a racing fan, I completely agree with the decision.

As a mystery writer with a new release set in that world, I’m eager to learn how this investigation plays out. I also find myself nodding my head and thinking, “See? All those greedy and corrupt characters in my book are entirely realistic.”

Writers, have you ever had a book come out about a subject that unexpectedly became a hot topic? Readers, have you ever read a book that just happened to reflect a major news event?  

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Do You Believe It By Kait Carson

Fiction writers in general and mystery writers in particular ask their readers to suspend disbelief and enter into the story world of their characters. Why mystery writers in particular? Well, unless you’re writing true crime, chances are those body drops are unlikely to happen in the real world. Craig Johnson, who writes the Longmire series, has confessed that he sets every other book away from fictional Absaroka County because, ‘what are the odds that in the least populated county in the least populated state’, the sheriff is tripping over enough bodies to populate a long-running series?[1]


Cozy and traditional mystery writers face the same dilemma. At least Longmire is a sheriff. His job is to trip over bodies. But what about your average pastry chef, restauranteur, or librarian? There’s not much chance realistically they will cross paths with the deceased on a regular basis, much less successfully pursue the killer without the help of the police. What’s a writer to do? Make a pact with the reader, of course. If the reader will suspend disbelief long enough to buy into the premise, the writer will deliver a fun and suspenseful story within the parameters of an altered reality. Everyone benefits.


This is a double-edged sword when the writer is successfully writing a long-term series. Authors solve it differently. Readers expect body drops in mysteries and kindly overlook the death toll in small towns. Although it’s uncertain if they would consider moving to say, Cabot Cove, ME, where newcomers have a better than even chance of ending up dead. Amateur sleuths give readers an opportunity to exercise their own powers of observation, deduction, and induction. What should be unbelievable, in the hands of a skilled writer who deftly plants clues, becomes logical and believable as the reader and the sleuth partner throughout the book.


Character lifespan is the second, sharp side of a long-running successful series. People age. Protagonist’s age. Sue Grafton handled this by having her character, Kinsey Millhone age by weeks rather than years. Over the course of 25 books, Kinsey aged very little. This required the author to dial back technology, but it worked because it was true to the story. Tie something in your character’s life to a date certain event, and, if you are lucky enough to find success, you may have created a problem.


P.D. James aged Adam Dalgleish realistically. He advanced in his profession and in his external wealth trappings on pace with the span of years the books cover. Other novelists, whom I will not name here were not so prescient. One introduced a character with memories that began in WWII during the blitz. Based on the storyline, he would be 85 now. A bit long in the tooth for his job. Likewise, another character is identified by service in Viet Nam. Those of us old enough to have been around during that war recognize by the battle dates that the character would be 77 in story years. What are the odds this character is continuing to believably put himself in the path of speeding bullets?

What’s the solution? Frankly, I hope I have the problem someday. As I currently don’t, perhaps I can hazard two suggestions as a reader. First and always, write well enough that readers want to participate in the story and suspend disbelief. Second, hedge your bets. Be nebulous. Don’t tie characters to a specific, easily datable, timeline. That way they can grow in story time and not require any suspension of disbelief.


Readers, do you mentally age characters based on events in the books?

Writers, how do you handle character aging?

[1] Conversation with Craig Johnson in Depth of Winter – statement paraphrased for brevity.