Tuesday, August 31, 2021


As a writer, I often do research. The most valuable tool in my arsenal is the ability to look up stuff online. One day in 2015, that same tool also helped my daughter.

The Labor Day holiday is next weekend and people will take the opportunity for one last summer romp in the sunshine. It is a fair bet that some of them will sport brilliant sunburns. A small percentage of those will suffer a condition known as “Hell’s Itch.”

If you’ve never heard about it, you’re not alone. I only know because one Easter Sunday, when my daughter was in elementary school, we came home from a 5-day beach trip. By mid-afternoon, Kayla was crying and writhing on the floor on her back in agony. I knew she was sincere but couldn’t figure out what was going on. Mark suggested Benadryl and Tylenol, which gave her some relief, but by 5:30, the pain was intense. Kayla described it as a thousand knives stabbing deep into her back, causing great pain and a burning itch. Arriving at the urgent care center 30 minutes before they closed on Easter Sunday helped us get speedy service. However, I was annoyed at the physician because she didn’t take my daughter’s complaints seriously. I was persistent enough to force an antihistamine shot and a prescription for stronger antihistamines than Benadryl.

The shot helped, but it wore off by 10:00 p.m. so I tried to follow the doctor’s advice and put cortisone cream and Benadryl cream on her. As soon as I got it on her, I had to start wiping it off. The creams only made her hurt worse. By that time, Mark was also awake, so after we gave Kayla an oatmeal bath, the three of us sat up waiting for the prescription antihistamine to take effect. While we were sitting up, I googled “intense sunburn itch” and that’s when I first learned about Hell’s Itch.

In 2015, the medical community had not yet recognized the condition. But the descriptions and advice from the people who had suffered from it proved invaluable to us that evening. (The condition is slowly gaining recognition but I’m not sure how much.) 

Hell’s Itch only happens to someone who has acquired a strong sunburn to an area of the body. For reasons no one knows, about 48 hours later, a sufferer experiences an unbearable sensation that runs in waves over the sunburnt areas. Even if you are one of the 5 - 10% of people who ever experience this, it doesn’t happen every time you get sunburned. Some people experience it once and then don’t have it happen again for 20 years, even if they get sunburned in the meantime. In almost everyone, the symptoms subside on their own after 8 to 48 hours.

The stories I found on the internet described the same symptoms that Kayla was experiencing. One sufferer was a former marine who admitted that he was embarrassed that this—whatever—had brought him to his knees. Another was a former paratrooper who said the same thing. The adults who described it said that it felt like fire ants were crawling underneath your skin, constantly biting.

A very important point to remember if you encounter Hell’s Itch is that the normal sunburn remedies—aloe vera, cortisone and antihistamine creams—only make the itch worse.

There were only three things that seemed to help the people who experienced this, and two of them were the opposite of what you would do for a normal sunburn. The first remedy that gave most people relief was to take a scalding hot shower for at least 15 to 20 minutes. The second remedy was peppermint oil, not something I keep on hand. The third remedy that helped was a prescription antihistamine. (Not all sunburn specialists agree antihistamines work, but they did for Kayla). The brand name for the one that helped Kayla is Atarax, and the generic is something like hydroxyzine HCL. Basic pain relievers like Tylenol and Advil also helped, although without the antihistamines the most they did was take the edge off.

True to my research, Kayla was fine by the following Tuesday. But I hope I never see her in such agony ever again. And if you find someone who is experiencing similar symptoms, please don’t think they’re making things up. They are not making it up, and they are really hurting. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

MY TBR LIST by Nancy L. Eady

 I truly love being a member of Writers Who Kill and having my name associated with the other talented writers who blog here. One of the proudest days in my writing life was the day I was asked to join this group as a blogger.

But in the midst of the many positive benefits of being a Writers Who Kill blogger, there is one drawback—the length of my “to be read” (“TBR”) list keeps growing exponentially. For example, Elaine Douts did an interview with the author of the Haunting Danielle series, so I gave the first book in the series a try. Within the next three weeks, I had purchased and read the remaining 22 books in the series, and now I wait impatiently for each additional book in the series.

I don’t remember which blog post it was that encouraged me to try Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series, but I am grateful. It is the rare book that can present me with new vocabulary words, but Elizabeth George throws out at least two or three per book while keeping me enthralled with the pacing, suspense, and characters in the mystery. Since I just discovered this series, I have only reached book four, but the rest of the books are on my list.

I eagerly await each new release in Debra H. Goldstein’s Sarah Blair mystery series and Allison Brooks’ (aka Marilyn Levinson’s) Haunted Library series. And many of the books on my TBR list were written by my fellow bloggers here.

I am a little OCD with series, which does not help shorten my list. Each time a new book comes out in one of “my” series, I start with the beginning book and read through the newest book. For example, in one of the few series on my list that didn’t show up through Writers Who Kill, the Meg Langslow mystery series by Donna Andrews, the 30th book came out a couple of weeks ago. I am on Book 14 in my mandatory re-read, so it will take me through the middle of September before I get to book 30. If I’m lucky, I’ll take just long enough that I won’t need to re-read books 1-30 when the 31st book, a seasonal Christmas mystery, is released.

When I need to decide what I want to write about, when my turn for blogging rolls around, I flip back through the blogs we’ve posted in the last couple of weeks. In doing so for this blog, another nine books (from Alyssa Maxwell’s The Gilded Newport mystery series) popped onto my list. Doesn’t the idea of a mystery set in the world of Newport society during the Gilded Age sound fascinating? 

Whether you are visiting Writers Who Kill for the first time, or have been a regular visitor for years, please take a minute to click on each name in the yellow box towards the top of the page and look at each individual author’s writing repertoire. I guarantee you will find more than one book you need to add to your list.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Fictional Re-dos and Second Chances by E. B. Davis

I have a defective brain. It stores tragedy. I wish it would remember the best of times, those of joy and mirth, like a collection of confections that I can pull off the bakery shelf at three in the morning and consume. That is not the case.


There’s a left hand turn in Northern Virginia on busy Route 7 where a mother, like me, drove her children. One morning she took that turn and pulled into the path of a dump truck killing all of her children but sparing her.


A wife, mother, and business woman traveling on a jet sat by the window. She took off her seat belt. Who knew the window was defective? When it blew out, the air pressure propelled her out the window at thirty-five thousand feet. Everyone else was fine.


A nurse’s home was located near a dangerous road, the site of many crashes. She was at home when she heard a crash and ran down to the site to see if she could help. Her son died in her arms that day.


The wife and mother of a newborn found herself engulfed in flames as she held her baby. They were found by firemen in the same fashion as the couple in ancient Pompeii encircling their child from the explosion of Vesuvius. A private plane landing at the Frederick, MD airport had crashed into her house.


When a court ordered shared child visitation rights to a couple warring in divorce, their sixteen-year-old son drove his sister and himself between the ex’s residences. The young driver was momentarily distracted. Both kids were killed. 



I could go on and on, but there is another story that horrified the Hatteras Island community last year. A house blew up in the middle of the night killing two mothers and two young daughters. It was presumed to be a propane tank explosion—a tragic accident. The investigation results were not presented to the community, but those close to the investigation murmured the mothers might have had a sideline—making meth.


As you can surmise, the tragic stories are usually ones of innocent people caught in circumstances beyond their control or a split-second distraction enabling a worst-case scenario to be played out. Maybe I store these tragedies as examples of, “there but for the Grace of God go I” to force me to remember how lucky I am.


Our holiday stories presented after Thanksgiving to the New Year may be different from the normal mystery mayhem of the Writers Who Kill authors. My holiday short this year will give those Hatteras children a reality re-do. What should have happened but didn’t. Through the miracle of fiction, I get to change reality from tragedy into triumph, and bring peace in a world of chaos to others and also to me. It’s not reality—it’s better. Is my old lady showing?


Do you base your stories on real crime? Do you store awful stories in your brain? While cozy fiction doesn’t present miracles, is it consolation fiction? Is it the bubblegum of hard rock? Is that such a bad thing in the artistic world?

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Tall Tails – The Writer’s Cat by Kait Carson


Cats have a storied place at the side (or on the lap or keyboard) of writers. From Hemingway to Highsmith, Dickens to Twain, cats have served as muses to their humans. I have had two very different feline muses. Hutch a brown tiger with more human characteristics than I care to consider who reminded me to write daily.


This was his “why are you photographing me when you should be writing” face. Hutch went to play at the rainbow bridge in August of 2018, but he didn’t leave before he trained his successor.


Cub takes his job very seriously. He provides plot and editing advice, and when things get too tame for his liking, he takes over the keyboard and through the magic of kitty osmosis, transfers his ideas onto the page.


I write traditional bordering on thriller and cozy bordering on traditional novels.  They have one thing in common – besides what I hope is a good story – critters. Catherine Swope in the Miami is Murder series is the proud human of Bullet – a retired police K-9 - and Paddy Whack a rescued silver tabby. Hayden Kent in the Florida Key’s traditional series has a brown tabby named Tiger Cat. Hank Wittie in the Southernmost Secrets cozy series has a brown tiger cat named Pirate Cat.


My critters don’t speak, or help solve the mysteries, but they do provide solace and stress relief to my various heroines. If you’re looking for crime solving critters, I suggest you check out Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who series or Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series. Both series are fun, easy, reads. The Mrs. Murphy series deals with weightier issues than the Cat Who series which is pure fun.


I had the rare good fortune to meet Jack (Bumby) Hemingway in the early 1970s when I was visiting Key West. He was hard to miss. He looked just like his father. As a life-long cat lover, I asked him about the cats on the estate. He shared with me that although cats were always around the property and often in the house, the family didn’t have cats in Key West. That, John said, was in Cuba. He went on to explain that because the cats at the museum were so well-cared for, and because it was likely that they were descendants of a polydactyl cat that had been on the property during his father’s time, he supported the myth whole-heartedly. I have no way of knowing if Jack’s version is true, or if he was simply a Hemingway making up stories, but either way, it speaks to a writer’s love of felines.


Why do cats have such an honored place in a writer’s life? Anything I write here is pure speculation, but as a writer with cats, I do have some standing to speak. Cats are self-contained creatures. Win a cat’s heart and you have a friend for life. They will grace your lap with fur and warmth, and purr like a motorboat when stroked. A cat sits quietly, content to watch the cursor float over the page. They won’t demand to be walked just as you find the perfect solution to a plot problem thus interrupting the flow of creative juice. Petting a cat is also said to lower blood pressure. I find that mindless stroking induces a near meditative state. In that meditative state free association flows and creative ideas bloom. They are the perfect natural antidote to writer’s block.


Readers, do you enjoy stories with critters? Writers, do you have a feline helper?

Thursday, August 26, 2021

When the Words Sing (by Connie Berry)

Copyright Dave Coverly. Used With Permission

I adore Dave Coverly's humor, and this is one of my favorite cartoons. 

Every book in English is made up of words most of us know. But it's the way the words are arranged that makes the difference. We've all had the experience—reading along in a book when suddenly an exquisite sentence or passage zings in your brain and grabs you by the heart. Some passages are beautiful because of the images they conjure; others because of their lyricism. The best combine both qualities. Here's one of my favorites:

Miss Bellringer settled herself in the chair that Sergeant Troy drew forward and rearranged her draperies. She was a wondrous sight, festooned rather than dressed. All her clothes had a dim but vibrant sheen as if they had once, long ago, been richly embroidered. She wore several very beautiful rings, the gems dulled by dirt. Her nails were dirty too. Her eyes moved all the time, glittering in a brown seamed face. She looked like a tattered eagle.
—The Killings at Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham

Did you notice how Graham varies the pace and length of her sentences, ending on that wonderful six-word statement to deliver the final image? The rhythm and pace of language creates an atmosphere. Long, smooth sentences slow the mood down. Short, punchy sentences speed things up. Here's another example. Notice how the author uses rhythm, the ebb and flow of language, to create atmosphere.

When she opens the bedroom window, the noise of the airplanes becomes louder. Otherwise, the night is dreadfully silent: no engines, no voices, no clatter. No sirens. No footfalls on the cobbles. Not even gulls. Just a high tide, one block away and six stories
below, lapping at the base of the city walls.
            And something else.
            Something rattling softly, very close.
            —All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The rhythm of language is part of what writers call voice.
The English language has a natural rhythm. So does every language, which is partly why I love German with those long, drawn-out sentences that tail off, clackity-clackity, to the end. The most important part of writing dialect isn't getting the words right so much as getting the rhythm right. 

One of my professors in graduate school, an expert in seventeenth-century English poetry, claimed that the natural rhythm of English is iambic pentameter—the language of poetry, the language of song. Years ago I read that the most beautiful sentence ever written in English comes from the book of Isaiah: 

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple [Isaiah 6:1; NKJV]
The most beautiful anything (baby, flower, sunset, landscape) is obviously a matter of personal taste, but that sentence sings to me. 

I was fascinated to read an article on the rhythm of language in the latest issue of Writers Digest magazine ["Poetic Thinking: Writing in Rhythm" by Barbara Baig. September 2019)] It's a bit technical and definitely worth reading, but most of us—writers and readers—know lovely writing by ear. When the words sing to us.

Do you have a favorite sentence or passage that sings to you? How do you use rhythm in your writing?

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

An Interview with Alyssa Maxwell by E. B. Davis


Following the death of her uncle, Cornelius Vanderbilt, in September 1899, a somber Emma is in no mood for one of Newport’s extravagant parties. But to keep Vanderbilt’s reckless son Neily out of trouble, she agrees to accompany him to an Elizabethan fete on the lavish grounds of Wakehurst, the Ochre Point “cottage” modeled after an English palace, owned by Anglophile James Van Alen.
Held in Wakehurst’s English-style gardens, the festivities will include a swordplay demonstration, an archery competition, scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, and even a joust. As Emma wanders the grounds distracted by grief, she overhears a fierce argument between a man and a woman behind a tall hedge. As the joust begins, she’s drawn by the barking of Van Alen’s dogs and finds a man on the ground, an arrow through his chest.
The victim is one of the 400’s most influential members, Judge Clayton Schuyler. Could one of the countless criminals he’d imprisoned over the years have returned to seek revenge—or could one of his own family members have targeted him? With the help of her beau Derrick Andrews and Detective Jesse Whyte, Emma begins to learn the judge was not the straight arrow he appeared to be. As their investigation leads them in ever-widening circles, Emma will have to score a bull’s eye to stop the killer from taking another life . . .



The death of Cornelius Vanderbilt II changes the Vanderbilt family including main character Emmaline Cross, who was his niece. The aftermath of that death sets the stage for Murder at Wakehurst, the ninth book in the Gilded Newport Mystery series. It will be released on August 31st.


Please welcome Alyssa Maxwell back to WWK.                                                 E. B. Davis


Thank you, Elaine. I’m delighted to be back talking to you and your readers. Thanks so much for having me!


You use real characters in your fiction, but you have kept their stories true to life. Just as you portray in your books, Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his wife Alice almost disowned their son Neily when he married Grace Wilson, a woman he loved, who is the daughter of a banker. What was so bad about Grace? Wasn’t her family wealthy enough? Were families different at the turn of the 20th century—were parents total dictators?


The Wilson family originally hailed from the south, and stories have it that Grace’s father, Richard Wilson, made his fortune initially as a blockade runner bringing supplies into the South. In fact, I’ve read that Rhett Butler might have been modeled after Richard Wilson. This alone would have set the family in a less than favorable light in the eyes of the 400, who considered them of questionable origins and character. But once established financially in New York, the Wilson siblings began marrying up into society—brother Orme into the Astor family, sister May into the Goelets—and they became known as The Marrying Wilsons, meaning, essentially, they were climbers and fortune hunters. Cornelius and Alice Vanderbilt simply didn’t trust Grace’s motives for marrying their son, but I believe that as Neily dug in and resisted their wishes, it became more a war of wills than anything else. Do bear in mind that the Vanderbilts themselves were considered upstarts of vulgar origins until only a decade earlier, when Mrs. Astor had to bite the bullet and recognize Alva Vanderbilt socially so that her daughter, Carrie, could attend the Vanderbilts’ fancy dress ball. All of Carrie’s friends were invited and she very much wanted to go!


In answer to that last question, yes, parents and families were different at that time. A parent’s word was seen as law, and defiance came with steep consequences. Most parents believed they knew what was best for even their adult children and often planned their lives for them accordingly. For example, Consuelo Vanderbilt had no wish to marry the Duke of Marlborough, with whom she had nothing in common. Alva, determined to have a title of nobility for her daughter, made her life miserable until Consuelo agreed to the marriage, but it’s said she walked down the aisle with tears in her eyes—and not happy ones.


I’m a bit incensed on behalf of Neily (ridiculous, but true even if 100+ years after the fact). From what I’ve read of Neily’s life, his parents had plenty to be proud of. He was awarded a Master’s degree in Engineering from Yale, which he earned because of the family’s interest in the railroads, and was made Brigadier General in 1918 by the US Army and received a Distinguished Service Metal from Congress. Ironically, Neily and Grace disinherited their son, Cornelius Vanderbilt IV due to his career in journalism. Did Neily III ever get his due?


Yes, this is all true. Perhaps surprisingly, Neily was a man much like his father. He was studious, hardworking, dedicated, responsible, and inventive. Cornelius was all of those things. He had few vices, taught Sunday school, never put a sportsman’s pursuits ahead of running the family business (as so many other men of the 400 did), and was a dedicated family man. But father and son also possessed pride in spades, and this is where the problem lay. Neily inherited $500,000 in outright cash and the interest on a million-dollar trust account upon his father’s death. While to most of us this might seem an exorbitant sum, to a Vanderbilt it was a pittance, especially when you consider the lifestyles they were used to leading: multiple mansions, frequent and extravagant entertaining, yachts, trips back and forth to Europe every year, not to mention wives’ and adult daughters’ wardrobes, which ran upwards of tens of thousands each year. Neily’s inheritance was Cornelius’s way of having the last word, essentially saying, “Now you’ll have to live off your wife’s dowry.” Neily was, for all practical purposes, disinherited, while his younger brother, Alfred, inherited the bulk of the fortune and business interests. But Alfred did transfer $6 million to Neily soon after taking the reins as head of the family.


Sadly, Neily and Grace turned out to be of very different natures. Grace loved to entertain and often threw lavish parties; Neily preferred quiet time with his books. They grew apart fairly quickly. But yes, how ironic that they would inflict upon their son the very fate they’d had to contend with, merely because Corneil, as they called him, chose to follow his heart and enter the field of journalism as a profession.


What was/is Macassar oil?


Ah, yes, the Macassar oil. It was made from oil of the ylang-ylang tree and used as a hair dressing for men. Another type of dressing was called pomade (usually a fatty or lard like substance) and later, in the 20th century, Brylcreem, which I think I remember my brother using in the early sixties. All of these products tamed the hair and allowed it to be combed back into a slick style. Macassar oil was also reputed to promote healthy hair growth. Remember the term anti-macassar? Those were the squares of fabric people used to throw over the backs of their furniture to protect the fabric and came about precisely men’s oiled hair tended to stain anything it came in contact with.


I checked and you can actually still buy types of macassar oil, and it’s still marketed as a way to keep hair healthy.


Although Emma gets a few things like her buggy repaired, she ends up deciding to fund a scholarship with the funds she inherits. Admirable, but what about funding her old age, a new horse, a trip or gifts for her staff?


Emma is fine with making any necessary repairs to the house and seeing to it that Nanny and her maid, Katie, have all they need and then some. She will increase her donations to the St. Nicholas Orphanage in Providence, which she has been helping to support for years now. As for old age, she would have no reason to believe those railroad stocks wouldn’t continue to pay dividends long into the future. What she decides she cannot do is spend frivolously. She won’t redecorate the house or buy the types of things her relatives might have run out to buy, merely to show off her newfound wealth. Not only does she feel that she hasn’t earned this money, but, as much as she loved her Uncle Cornelius, she is also aware that some of his business practices were to the detriment of many of his common workers. She has always been grateful for what she has and doesn’t dwell on what she could have, which is a quality that stood out about my mother-in-law, who was also a Newporter born and raised, and who lived there all her life. I like to think I endowed Emma with some of her traits—a deep sense of social responsibility, a strong work ethic, and a depth of compassion.


Why did Emma step down from managing the Newport Messenger?


While the position of editor-in-chief is nothing to sneeze at, especially for a woman in 1899, it once again sidetracked Emma from her goal of being a hard news reporter. Being consigned to the society column at the Newport Observer chafed at her ambitions, and she relocated to New York for a year in hopes of realizing her dreams. Not only did writing for the New York Herald turn out to be a disappointment, she realized she missed her home in Newport too much to stay away. She took a chance in leaving the Herald and returning to Newport, and considered it quite a boon when Derrick asked her to head up his newly-purchased, fledgling newspaper. Unfortunately, they both came to realize Emma’s talents lay in investigating, in following trails of evidence, not managing others and tending to the daily desk work of running a newspaper. Sometimes greater prestige and even a high salary don’t equal happiness in one’s career.


What does nocking mean?


In archery, when you nock your arrow, it means positioning the shaft of the arrow on the bow’s rest (part of the handgrip), and engaging the arrow’s notched end with the bowstring. This ensures the arrow remains stable as you take aim, pull back the string, and release. My husband and I have bows – his is a lefthanded one – and enjoy taking our target to a park where there’s lots of space and we can’t inadvertently shoot anyone. We’re not particularly skilled archers (not nearly as skilled as Emma!), but it’s all in good fun and allows us to indulge in a historical-style sport. Important tip: if you take up archery, invest in a forearm guard and a finger tab. Your skin will thank you, because the bowstring can raise painful welts. We found that out the hard way!


Emma doesn’t like jousting because it can hurt the horses. Aren’t the horses covered in armor?


Armor wasn’t foolproof, neither for man nor beast, even in the Middle Ages when life depended on it.
Lances could still make their way between the plates, and not all parts of a horse could be covered and still allow freedom of movement. Then there were falls, which could result in any number of injuries. Emma simply sees this as an unnecessary risk to an innocent animal, for no better purpose than for the entertainment of people with too much money on their hands. Also, her uncle has recently died, and she’s really in no mood for festivities. The only reason she attended the fete at all was to appease her friend Grace and make sure her cousin Neily didn’t get into trouble. The joust is, for her, the last straw in an interminable evening, when all she truly wants to do is go home and grieve her uncle Cornelius properly.


The host’s mastiffs find the body of Judge Schuyler. Due to the keening sound of the dogs, Emma knows from her own dog, Patch, that they are troubled. She reports the murder. When the police come to investigate, Emma finds that her friend Jesse Whyte has been demoted from large crimes due to his association with Emma. Why?


During the course of the series, Emma and her lifelong friend, Jesse, have fallen into a comfortable pattern discussing cases and sharing in the investigation. Jesse has gone from ordering her not to interfere to admiring her analytical skills and seeking out her assistance. This is partly because when a crime involves members of the wealthy set, the police often find their hands tied in the interest of preserving reputations and making sure certain individuals aren’t inconvenienced. Men like Cornelius Vanderbilt invested in the careers of politicians and authorities whom they believed would support their business interests, just like corporations continue to do today. So there are many times when word reaches Jesse, from on high down to his police chief, to either leave matters alone or accept the easiest and quickest solution—even if the wrong person is charged. Rather than acquiesce, Jesse secretly continues the investigation with Emma, who isn’t constrained by the same rules he is within the police force. But word of her involvement has gotten around, and the higher ups don’t like it. After all, she’s a mere woman--how dare she interfere in affairs the of men! They penalize Jesse by taking him off the important cases and replacing him with a man who refuses to listen to anything Emma has to say. This does not, however, thwart her in any way!

What is a Boston marriage? Why is it called that?


A Boston Marriage was initially when two single women of means—perhaps aging, unmarried heiresses or widows—lived together to pool their resources and stave off loneliness. However, it also came to be whispered that some of these arrangements concealed what then would have been considered an illicit relationship between them, i.e., a lesbian romance. Apparently, the term came into being after Henry James’s novel, The Bostonians, was published. He didn’t use the term in the book, but it featured two women who shared a residence long-term. It was whispered in the 1890s that Gertrude Vanderbilt and Esther Hunt, daughter of famed architect Richard Morris Hunt, might have engaged in just such a relationship, although they never lived together. They were very close friends, and their correspondence suggests strong feelings of affection. Although such expression was not unusual for female friends at the time, Alice Vanderbilt responded by discouraging the friendship (she didn’t believe Esther’s social standing made her a good friend for her daughter, anyway) and urging Gertrude to find a husband. In 1896, Gertrude married Harry Payne Whitney, with whom she was very much in love at the time, silencing the rumors.


Mrs. Andrews, Emma’s beau Derrick’s mother, is hostile and tries to get Emma arrested. Mrs. Andrews calls Emma a “doxy.” That’s a real cut to her character, isn’t it? Is she another dictatorial parent? Why doesn’t she like Emma?


Although Emma is a Vanderbilt cousin, she is a poor relation and, like Cornelius and Alice Vanderbilt, Lavinia Andrews doesn’t trust Emma’s motives for marrying her son. She believes Derrick can do much better, in the form of an heiress who will bring her own money and prestige to the family. But it goes beyond that. Emma works for a living—something no well-bred young lady would ever consider, much less act on. Her behavior, in Mrs. Andrews’s eyes, is unladylike and scandalous, and such a wife will do nothing to further her son’s fortune and social standing. She does begin to warm to Emma at one point, until Emma once again sullies her reputation by not only going to a brothel to question a young prostitute, but she also brazenly knocks at the front door of the Newport Reading Room. This was Newport’s most exclusive gentleman’s club and women were strictly forbidden to enter. It was so much a man’s haven that women sometimes crossed the street to avoid walking too closely to the property, in fear of being taunted by the men sitting on the front porch or by open windows. 


Mrs. Andrews tries to dictate, but Derrick frustrates her every attempt to control his life. Even the threat of being disinherited doesn’t faze him, and his purchasing the Newport Messenger and growing it into a successful newspaper shows his willingness to work and depend on his own devices rather than live under his parents’ thumb.


When people were in mourning, life didn’t carry on as usual? No one got engaged, married, or celebrated in any way? How long did mourning last?


Mourning customs at the time were laid out according to some fairly strict rules, especially for women—in fact, women bore the brunt of it. A wife typically was in deep mourning for a year, during which she wore all black, usually dull fabrics that had no sheen such as crepe, veils that covered her face, and little or no jewelry. During this time, she would not take part in any society events or receive visitors other than close family or friends. Emma would not want to announce her engagement during this time as it would seem like flaunting her happiness in the face of her aunt Alice, who could not take part in the celebration while she was in deep mourning, and could be seen as insensitive by the rest of the family. Cornelius was no ordinary patriarch, after all. As Emma says, the world changed because of his death.


After a year a widow entered second mourning, when she might begin to wear silks and taffetas again, with a bit more jewelry, although this usually consisted of jet beads and “mourning jewelry” which often incorporated woven bits of the loved one’s hair. This went on for a few months or another year. Finally, a widow entered half mourning, where she could begin wearing subdued colors such as grays or purples and venture out among people again. 


Bear in mind, though, that these rules applied mostly to the wealthy, who could afford a whole new wardrobe and could alter their lifestyle for the time dictated. The poor, on the other hand, could neither afford new clothing nor leave their employment, (and many poor women did work, in some way or another). Even Emma wouldn’t have been expected to incur the expense of wearing mourning for Cornelius, not only because of her modest means but because she was not an immediate family member. But she commemorates his death by wearing a black armband.


What’s next for Emma?


I’m finishing up another of Emma’s adventures right now. In Murder at Beacon Rock, members of the New York Yacht Club, Derrick included, gather to begin strategizing for the America’s Cup Challenge that will take place the following year. In the midst of their planning at the Acropolis-like Beacon Rock, a young woman is found drowned in the cove below the house. While evidence found on her person leads the police to conclude it was suicide due to a broken heart, that same evidence convinces Emma, Derrick, and Jesse that there is much more to the tragedy, and leads directly back to those at Beacon Rock. Meanwhile, Emma is sorting out her feelings about marriage. That she’s in love with Derrick never comes into question, but the disparity in their backgrounds and her fears about losing her independence continue to plague her.



Alyssa Maxwell, author of The Gilded Newport Mysteries and A Lady and Lady's Maid Mysteries, knew from an early age that she wanted to be a writer. Growing up in New England and traveling to Great Britain fueled a passion for history, while a love of puzzles of all kinds drew her to the mystery genre. She and her husband reside in Florida, where they love to, ride their bikes, and shop at farmer’s markets and go antiquing. Alyssa also loves to watch BBC productions, sip tea in the afternoons, and delve into the past. She is a member of her local chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Florida Romance Writers. You can learn more about Alyssa and her books at www.alyssamaxwell.com, and connect with her at:












Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Let Us Eat Cake by Martha Reed

Looking back on my blog posts from eighteen months ago, I’m amazed to see how much our writerly world was and continues to be impacted by the COVID-19 virus. I’ve heard that creative expression has dried up for some folks, and I get that, I do. My entire sympathy goes out to any writers who suddenly found themselves sharing their at-home office workspace elbow-to-elbow with a spouse and even more so to those parents who needed to homeschool their kids.

Stephen King recommended that writers have a room with a door that they’re willing to shut and keep closed until they’ve reached their daily writing goal. Sound advice, but I can’t begin to imagine how I could coherently string words together if I had kids pounding on the other side of the door wanting me to fix their lunch.

If you were one of those writers, I salute you. I honestly don’t know how you did it.

Another thought-provoking change was that 2019 online conferences and podcasts were fresh and innovative opportunities. I’ve been wanting to attend Bloody Scotland and the St. Hilda’s Crime Fiction Weekend in Oxford, Great Britain for years. How marvelous it was to suddenly sign up in 2020 and attend these international conferences online. So easy! So exciting! So fun! Now, however, I’m suffering from Zoom burnout. I’m toast. I can’t sit through one more online panel, regardless of the stellar author lineup, or the intriguing topic, or the tempting exotic location. My brain is fried. I wake up struggling from nightmares because I think I’ve forgotten the Zoom meeting ID.

I want to see and talk to real live people, preferably in a convention hotel bar.

After being so patient and following CDC protocols, it’s frustrating that our crime fiction conference attendance is still so iffy. Bouchercon 2021 NOLA got cancelled because of a COVID-19 spike. Once again, my heartfelt sympathy goes out to those conference Co-Chairs, organizers, sponsors, volunteers, panelists, and moderators who put in years of effort only to learn that the conference plug got pulled three weeks before the launch date. 

Ice that with the cancelled award ceremonies and it gets even worse. I feel for those steady, hard-working authors who deserved to get peer recognition for their creative crime fiction only to see that small bit of annual glory snatched away. Sure, they’ll get the honor and the awards, and they can update their biographies and their websites, but they’ll be getting their medals, certificates, and teapots in the mail. It’s heartbreaking.

And yes, these New Days have been grueling. It’s hard staying positive as we move forward, but there are bright spots on the horizon.

Print, eBook, and Audiobook sales were up significantly in the first half of 2021. Apparently, people have rediscovered the joy of reading. Personally, to hammer my earlier point, I think that everyone is sick of staring at monitors and screens. (The irony being, of course, that’s what you’re doing reading this blog.)

And we’re starting to tentatively see in-person conventions reopen. Killer Nashville was held this past weekend using recommended safety protocols. Approximately 300 authors attended, and I was one of them. It was joyous to meet and to talk shop face-to-face again and to listen to such insightful panel presentations and guest speakers. Kudos to the Killer Nashville family and team who made it happen under such trying circumstances. Best of all, I brought home the 2021 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award for Best Attending Author with "Love Power," my new Crescent City NOLA Mystery featuring Gigi Pascoe, my transgender sleuth. I am deeply honored by the recognition.

Hopefully, we’ll see other crime fiction conferences and venues reopen soon. This is our brave new world and COVID will mutate. How are we going to manage living with it?

And what does this mean to me, the writer? How have I coped so far?

I’ve been using a cake analogy to get me through this creatively challenging time, and to keep me productive and sane. (My friends would say it’s no real surprise that I’m using food as my focus.) Here it is: Cake is the writerly work we do to create our stories. Cake can be any flavor, and it’s the base of our effort. It’s the hours of deep research to make sure we get the details exactly right. It’s the time and effort we take to find and use the perfect word or polished descriptive phrase. Cake captures the illuminating idea with a startling new image that thrills our reader’s imagination.

Frosting is the conferences and award ceremonies, the fabulous peer and reader reviews and recognition, the marvelous in-person time spent discussing our writing craft with other authors. It’s tasty, it’s sweet, and the first bite of cake with frosting is fabulous, but you can’t eat a whole lot of frosting without the base cake. At first it's cloying, and then it becomes false.

How do I use this analogy? Whenever I feel disheartened by our current world situation, I settle in and focus on writing the very best story I can because writing stories is the best thing I do. Yes, I can dress the story up with fancy buttercream flowers, but that doesn’t alter the need for a solid and substantial cake base. And in the end, as long as I can re-read my stories with an open honest mind and say, “Damn, that’s pretty good,” I can enjoy my writing life, have my cake and eat it, too.

Monday, August 23, 2021


 I live in the Deep South, the only area of the country where it is possible to convert a one-syllable word such as “bell” to the three-syllable “Be-uh-lll.” This lengthening of words is one reason the Southern American accent is also called the Southern drawl. Because the spoken word is the basis of most dialogue, I thought I’d share some of my observations.

Southern American English is spoken generally by natives in parts of Virginia, all of West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, the northern part of Florida, including the panhandle (the panhandle is also known here as “L.A.”, standing for “lower Alabama,” although I haven’t heard the phrase for a while), Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and probably Oklahoma. I say “probably Oklahoma” because I haven’t had the chance to spend any time in the state. As a general rule, neither Maryland nor Delaware natives speak with a Southern accent, even though they are below the Mason-Dixon line. Neither do people from the Virginia area surrounding Washington D.C. nor people from south Florida.

There are many regional variations, but I lack the phonetics background to describe them. However, the Louisiana Cajun accent is one of the most distinctive Southern dialects. The Cajun accent comes from people native to areas where the French Canadians settled in Louisiana after England took over Canada.

All Southern English dialects are spoken slowly. We don’t care to rush our words, partly because we believe that what we say is worth listening to and partly because, in the summer, at 98 degrees outside with 100% humidity, it’s just too hot to do anything quickly.

Another characteristic of Southern American English is the pronunciation of words like “you”—phonetically, down here, it rhymes with “chew.” I think God uses this as a tool to teach church music ministers in this area of the country humility—rare is the church concert indeed where at least one “yew” doesn’t slip through the cracks into the singing somewhere. We also use the word “y’all.”  “Y’all” is a contraction of the words “you all.” Before those of you in other areas of the country start laughing at the use of “y’all,” stop and reflect upon whether “y’all” doesn’t sound a bit better than other variations from other regions, such as “you’se guys.” Besides, it avoids our having to use “yew” too very often in normal conversation.

Southern American English also uses colorful colloquialisms. One region-wide expression worth sharing is “even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then.” This expression is used to describe the surprising success of an individual in a field of endeavor that he or she has little experience in (or is just plain rotten at.)

Regional colloquialisms abound as well. In the areas of North Carolina where my husband and I lived when we were first married, children “trimmed” their pencils instead of sharpening them (we still sharpen them here in Alabama) and if they missed the bus, they had been “bus left.” In Alabama, if we are getting ready to go somewhere or do something, we are “fixin’ to” do it, as in “I am fixin’ to have some ice cream. Would y’all like some too?” Some of us “carry” people places, rather than drive them there. I use “fixin’ to” and “y’all” frequently but haven’t picked up “carry” for driving yet.

Native Southern American English speakers can spot a non-native speaker a mile away. This creates a great deal of frustration in the South when actors try to manufacture a Southern accent without doing their homework.   I have cringed through movies where an actor butchers the Southern accent.  It is a genuine pleasure to listen to the accent when an actor gets it right. One of the best Southern accents in a movie was Kevin Spacey’s accent in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

I am not a native Southern American English speaker, although I have been learning it for over 40 years now. Anyone from any other region of the country would peg me as Southern, but as recently as two months ago, someone asked me, “You’re not from around here, are you?” (Note: To be “from around” a place means you were born and bred at that place.) It was the first time in years someone had said that to me, but he was correct.

One pleasant feature of Southern English is the phrase “bless her [or his] heart.” You can get away with saying anything about anyone else if you say it in a gentle, compassionate voice with a smile, and include the statement “bless his heart” somewhere in the sentence. For example, the statement, “Bless his heart, John Smith is crazy as a loon,” is perfectly acceptable and taken as concern rather than derogation. 

And we are the only region I know of that has invented a new verb tense. “You” is the second person singular, as in “Why don’t you call me?” “Y’all” is the second person plural, as in “Why don’t y’all come over to dinner?" However, “all y’all" is second person plural heightened tense, to be used when you are inviting large groups of people to do something instead of groups of five or less, as in asking the Waltons, “Why don’t all y’all come over to dinner?”

So, bless all y’all’s hearts, I’ll talk to you next Monday!

Sunday, August 22, 2021

I’m Just a Gal Who Cain’t Say No by Annette Dashofy

Early in my publishing career, I had one basic plan for getting my name and my books in front of the reading public: Say yes to every opportunity that presented itself. 

It wasn’t a bad plan at first. I probably traveled too far and spent too much on lodging and gas for a speaking and signing gig that produced minimal income. But I figured the more exposure the better. The Marketing Rule of Seven states a buyer needs to hear about a product seven times before they purchase. Each appearance checked one of those boxes. Only six more to go!

At some point though, I seemed to become a hot (or at least lukewarm) commodity. Finding time to write the next book became challenging. Plus, my accountant kept pointing out that the number of books sold still wasn’t justifying my travel expenses.

I confess I didn’t listen to him. I enjoyed seeing places I’d never been before and talking to readers.

But that next book still wasn’t writing itself. So I learned to say “no.”



I confess, I relate a little bit to Ado Annie. Okay, I don’t have problems saying no to boys the way she does, but I do have a hard time turning down requests from readers and writing groups!

And then March 2020 happened. I had a full slate of appearances scheduled. We all know what came next.

For the last eighteen months, I haven’t had the luxury of saying no. There’s been darned little to say YES to. Thankfully, things are loosening up around here. I’m still not traveling great distances (darn it, Martha. I was looking forward to coming to visit in Florida!) and about half of my upcoming events are still on Zoom. However, last weekend, my husband asked when we could take some time off to A.) get some work done around the house before winter and B.) slip away for a mini vacation. That’s when I realized my schedule has gotten really full! I could only pin down one possible week.

So I’m announcing it here for all the world (and especially my Ado Annie self), I’m not taking on any more events for the rest of 2021.

(Note: since originally drafting this post, I’ve already added another library panel. Oh, well. Cue the music.)

Am I the only one having problems drawing boundaries and using the NO word?



Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Wide, Wide World of Mystery by Nancy Nau Sullivan

It’s still something of a mystery to me how I ended up writing mysteries, but it’s fun to look back down that long twisty road of reading and writing and see the markers. I read the Nancy Drew books, every one of them. I loved her and her roadster. She’s a keeper, the early YA equivalent of Agatha Christie, entertaining us with her craft and poise.  

We didn’t have YA—the Young Adult genre didn’t come into its own until the early 70’s, thanks to S.E. Hinton, Cormier, Lowry, and a cast of talented authors. I read the classics and every one of those biographies—Molly Pitcher, Betsy Ross, Amelia Earhart, all the pioneers. The books were worn and orange. They told stories about courage and faith in building the country, mostly.

In lit class, we continued with the classics. (I sometimes wondered if they were trying to kill our love of reading.) We had to write those dreaded essays and hope we were on the same page with the teacher. I was a terrible essay writer, so intimidated by grades. But after a while, the reading caught and superseded the grading business; it was all about getting something out of the book. It became a sort of interactive sport. Trying to figure out the puzzle, the tension, the mystery of it. And the motives. When I was 13, my father found me reading Forever Amber about a woman with many lovers in 17th century England. Amber had motives. My dad hid the book, but he wasn’t very good at hiding stuff. The story was a page-turner to the end, and, of course, it fed my curiosity. 

In high school and college, we talked, in depth, about the books we read and the authors, dissecting them in light of the “elements of literature.” I determined, finally, to give those first 20 to 50 pages a chance. I can still see my high school English teacher, a little old nun, pacing back and forth in front of the room, getting all excited about the drama of Anna Karenina. If Anna could get Sister Celia Marie so worked up, there had to be something there. I had to find out what. I probably wouldn’t have gotten ahold of Russian writers early on had it not been for Sister Celia, and for that I am grateful. What a layered, intricate—mysterious—world it is.

I guess reading, curiosity, and life, have led me to write in an assortment of genre: a memoir, The Last Cadillac, a novel, The Boys of Alpha Block—about a woman who teaches in a boys’ prison and gets caught up in their escape plan—and now mysteries. I’ve settled there lately. I like the puzzle, figuring what’s next? How does the character do that? How do I write this? What’s the motive here? What’s the trick to keep the tension going until the end?

It’s a challenge, but it’s satisfying. Writing a mystery is a way to right wrongs. After finishing the memoir, which is set on an island I’ve loved for decades, I looked around and saw overdevelopment and environmental disaster, and so, I set out to fix things. Only on the page. I killed off a bad guy, a drug dealer, and restored some semblance of order. The first in the series, Saving Tuna Street (2020, Light Messages), was born. The setting gave rise to it, but my emotion brought it to life. Mysteries need a huge infusion of emotion. Without it, life, and death, are pretty flat, and, so, any story.

From the island setting, my main character, Blanche Murninghan, moved to Mexico City for Trouble Down Mexico Way (2021). Her third adventure takes her to Vietnam in Mission Improbable: Vietnam (2022), and after that, Ireland.

Writing mysteries has given me a broad brush to put experience and imagination to work. My main character can be impetuous. She’s a long way, and many pages away, from Nancy Drew. Blanche has flaws; she drinks too much and gets angry. She falls down, a lot, and gets up. She’s not going to set things right out of chaos sitting on the couch. I have to bug her, make her run down the bad guys, rescue and celebrate the good guys. In reality, that often doesn’t happen. Why not make it happen in the book? This fiction is meant to entertain, but it also holds out hope that things just might work out with effort and endurance, and there’s no mystery in that.     


A former newspaper journalist, Nancy Nau Sullivan taught English in Argentina, in the Peace Corps in Mexico, and at a boys’ prison in Florida. Her novel, The Boys of Alpha Block (April 2021, TouchPoint Press) is based on teaching in the prison. Her memoir, The Last Cadillac, won two Eric Hoffer awards, and Saving Tuna Street was a nominee for best mystery 2020 at Foreword Reviews. Trouble Down Mexico Way is the second in the Blanche Murninghan mystery series (June 2021, Light Messages). Nancy lives in Northwest Indiana and, often, anywhere near water. Find Nancy at www.nancynausullivan.com, Facebook, BookBub, LinkedIn, and @NauSullivan on Twitter.