Saturday, April 30, 2022

Elements of a Cozy Mystery by Nancy J. Cohen

Elements of a Cozy Mystery by Nancy J. Cohen

A cozy mystery is a subgenre of the traditional mystery. It’s a whodunit featuring an amateur sleuth, a unique setting, a limited number of suspects most of whom know each other, and a murder mystery to solve. These stories are “clean” in that they do not contain any explicit sex, violence, or bad language.

 So how is a cozy different from a traditional mystery? It’s all about reader expectations. Fans of this genre expect a lighthearted story with distinctive covers, punny titles, and interesting locales. Elements include, but are not limited to, characters, crime, clues, cooking, crafts, canines, cats, cultural quirks, and chuckles.

Characters involved in these stories include the amateur sleuth, suspects, and a recurrent cast. Readers adore series and they want the secondary characters to feel like friends. Meanwhile, the sleuth should have an interesting occupation that offers a chance for readers to learn something new. She needs to have an inquisitive and determined nature, so she will pursue the truth. It helps if she’s a good conversationalist to get people to talk and is clever at ferreting out relationships among the suspects. These characters should each have a secret that relates to other suspects.

The sleuth’s occupation may involve cooking or crafts, both very popular tropes among cozy fans, but this isn’t a necessity, and a fresh approach is always welcome. Pets also serve as cherished characters. Whatever animal you choose, never hurt the pet. That’s taboo for cozies. Children and animals are not to be harmed. Make sure the sleuth has a friend or family member that can act as a sounding board. You’ll want someone she can confide in because you want her to do a periodic review of suspects in the story.

Settings are another important element. Your cozy can be set in a small town, seaside resort, or other setting enriched with regional foods and unique cultural practices. Your reader will want to feel they are there through your use of the five senses, popular slang terms, and other details that give your setting its own flavor. This is the overall series setting.

Narrow this further to include the sleuth’s occupation, work environment, and colleagues. Then pick a locale for the murder to take place. This is what I call “the setting within a setting.”

As an example, my Bad Hair Day series takes place in southeast Florida. Marla Vail, my sleuth, own a hair salon and day spa. When she’s behind the chair as a stylist, she has the perfect opportunity to listen to gossip or question potential suspects. Meanwhile, each title centers on a different locale with a particular focus. “Shear Murder” involves a wedding party at fictional Orchid Isle. “Perish by Pedicure” has a murder at a beauty trade show.  “Killer Knots” is my cruise ship mystery. “Styled for Murder” involves a home renovation crew. You see how the setting within the setting varies for each story.

Regarding the murder, the reader wants a puzzle to solve. You have to play fair and offer clues leading to the killer. Then you misdirect the reader with false leads and red herrings. Just remember to keep the tone light. Cozy fans expect a fun story with characters they care about and a happy ending where justice is served.



Nancy J. Cohen writes the Bad Hair Day Mysteries featuring South Florida hairstylist Marla Vail. These books have won numerous awards along with her nonfiction titles, Writing the Cozy Mystery and A Bad Hair Day Cookbook. Nancy is a past president of Florida Chapter of MWA. When not busy writing, she enjoys reading, fine dining, cruising and visiting Disney World. Visit her at







Friday, April 29, 2022

When Lin-Manuel Miranda Speaks by Warren Bull


Image from Wikimedia Commons

I am a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda, like many in the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking world. I pulled together some of his thoughts from a variety of interviews so I could present my idea of what some of his rules for writers might be. Granted, he writes songs in various genre and two languages rather than mysteries, but so what? Writing is writing. So, in no particular order, I think he would say:

“The first song in a mix tape is everything.” Actually, Miranda did say exactly that. When he was a student, he introduced himself to girls and made tapes of various songs for friends with the intention of indicating who he was. For writers, if you don’t hook a reader with the opening, you’ve lost the reader. Offer some reason to keep reading. Offer it quickly. There are a lot of other books out there.

“Nobody’s gonna write your dream for you.” If you don’t write what you think should be written, it won’t get written. Lots of people will tell you it has been done already. And it was already done better than what you propose. Or they will say, “Uh, nah. Try something else.” It’s not their dream so it costs them nothing to give it up. It’s your dream.

The composer expresses the idea that when you fall in love with an idea, follow through despite comments from others, the press of such things as making a living, falling ill or other life events. This includes saying “no” to family and friends when the idea demands your time and attention. Dedication to your muse will not make you popular, and it’s not likely to make you rich. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Are You An Amateur Sleuth? Contest & Giveaway by Connie Berry

 If you had all the clues, could you solve a crime? When my boys were growing up, they were sure I had supernatural powers. My nickname was “Sherlock Holmes.”

Finding out what my teenage sons were up to wasn’t difficult. My younger son left a trail of clues behind him wherever he went. My older son was more careful, but I had the benefit of my own Baker Street Irregulars—like the time a friend saw his bright yellow VW bug speeding down the highway at 90 mph, or the time my next-door neighbor called me in the middle of the night to tell me someone was stealing his car. She was up at 3 a.m. feeding her newborn when she noticed someone stealthily pushing said VW bug down the street. It was Dave himself, of course, who figured if he didn’t start the engine, we’d never know he’d left the house.

Both my sons have become fine, upstanding citizens. But the point is, do you have what it takes to be an amateur detective?

In today’s blog, I’m laying out a case and giving you the clues. The person who guesses the solution, OR comes the closest, OR solves the crime in a really entertaining way (judged by members of my local SinC chapter), will win a signed ARC of The Shadow of Memory, the latest Kate Hamilton mystery, which will be released on May 10. Entries may be posted here until May 10, at which time a winner will be chosen.

So here’s the case: A cruise ship that sailed along the coast of South America pulls into port in south Florida. When the steward tries to alert the male passenger in stateroom 210 that it’s time to disembark, he finds the man lying across the bed with a knife in his heart. Who killed him and why? Here are the clues, which include two red herrings (true but irrelevant).

1. The victim, in his thirties, was wearing shorts, a tropical-patterned shirt, and flip-flops. There appeared to be no struggle.

2. Other passengers, including the couple in stateroom 208 next door, say that the man spoke with a Spanish accent, and the shipping company produced a passport in the name of Juan Cabrera, whose native country is listed as Peru.

3. None of señor Cabrera’s fellow passengers saw him at the lavish onboard buffets, although the couple next door admit they might have overlooked him as they were struggling with seasickness for much of the trip and ate in their cabin.

4. Also, none of his fellow passengers saw señor Cabrera on any of the shore excursions. To leave the ship, Cabrera would have had to produce a cruise ID card. There is no record of it, although one of the crew members swears he saw the dead man leave the ship several times.

5. A search of the man’s luggage reveals that all his clothes had South American labels.

6. The search also produced a second, hidden passport, issued by the UK, with a photo of the dead man and the name Martyn Whyte.

7. Authorities also found an unregistered cell phone with a number of photographs of the historic center of Lima, Peru, as well as Machu Piccho. One of the photos was of the dead man himself, which means someone else took it.

8. The steward who found the body testified that he saw señor Cabrera (or Martyn Whyte) the previous night, when the man rang his bell and asked for hot chocolate. That was the last time anyone admits to seeing the man alive.

9. Authorities in the UK confirm that the passport issued in London is genuine. Martyn Whyte is wanted for bank fraud and failure to pay his taxes. He was last seen in the company of a woman whose identity remains unknown.

10. Further investigation reveals that Mr. Whyte was an investment banker in the City. He was recently fired from his job after irregularities in his accounts were discovered and he admitted to racking up enormous gambling debts.

There are the clues! Who killed Juan Cabrera and why?

Good luck!

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

An Interview with Carol J. Perry by E. B. Davis


The staff at Salem, Massachusetts’s local station, WICH-TV, is looking forward to the wedding of their program director, Lee Barrett. But when Lee heads off on her Maine honeymoon, she’ll be haunted by the ghosts of her own past . . .
Lee and Detective Sergeant Pete Mondello are finally tying the knot—and Lee is tying up loose ends before the big day. It’ll be an adjustment moving out of Aunt Ibby’s house, but the couple will stay nearby—after all, they have to share custody of O’Ryan, their clairvoyant cat. And Aunt Ibby will be renting out Lee’s old apartment . . . though she’s getting some bad vibes from her current prospective tenant.
After the celebration, complete with a cake made by the station magician, there should be time to relax—but the Maine island happens to be near the site of the crash that long ago killed Lee’s parents, a mystery she’s never been able to solve. Soon she’ll be putting wedding gifts aside and turning to her psychic gifts instead, to wrap up crimes both past and present . . .


‘Til Death is Carol J. Perry’s twelfth book in the Witch City Mystery series, and it’s a grabber. The eleventh in the series, See Something is now on Kindle Unlimited—check it out!

One of Carol’s writing talents is setting up complications in her books. Sometimes the complications are resolved within the book, but others are setups to be completed in future books. In ‘Til Death there are several complications that she saves for future resolution, but the entire book is a huge resolution that main character Lee hasn’t even known about her entire life, as well as Lee’s finally marrying her Detective Sergeant beau, Pete. It’s a great read.


If you haven’t read my interview with Carol about the first in her new series, Be My Ghost, here’s the link. Please welcome Carol J. Perry back to WWK.            E. B. Davis

Wanda the weather girl has a master’s degree in meteorology, another in climate science, and served as a weather chaser in Texas. Why does she allow the station to dress her as a floozy? Because she is trying to get on a reality cooking show, cooking being her hobby. She’s trying to change her image and wears business suits on her weather show. Why didn’t she insist on being businesslike from the start? Why is the station helping to get her into the cooking show? Won’t that take her from the station?

Wanda was hired by Mr. Doan to dress in her flirty fashion, and the show is highly rated in Salem, so she doesn’t mind. Anyway, the station pays for the outfits. The national show, Home Town Cooks, is a competition among many TV cooks around the country. It won’t take her away from the station. They’ll air her segment, and TV watchers will vote for the best Home Town Cook in the country. Meanwhile Wanda is alternating between her businesslike outfits and her skimpy ones, and people are actually placing bets before the weather forecast as to which Wanda they’ll see.


Scott Palmer took Lee’s place when she took the job as station programmer and presents what I think is yellow journalism. He focuses on Michael Martell, who was recently paroled after serving twenty years in jail for the manslaughter of his wife. Scott asks the students at the school where Martell is teaching if it bothers them that a convicted killer is their teacher. Scott refers to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, alluding to Michael Martell as having possible similarities without evidence of such. Why does the station allow this? 

Scott feels that as a reporter, and Martell’s record is well known in the city, he can dig into how people feel about having an ex-con as a teacher. Since Martell has served his sentence, Scott feels it’s fair game to ask the questions and to make the comparison to Dr J. and Mr. H. It’s mean, but not illegal and it builds audience. Mr. Doan likes that.


The head of the school where Michael Martell teaches is a friend of Lee’s Aunt Ibby. Since Lee will be moving to her own house after the wedding, Aunt Ibby has converted Lee’s old apartment within her house into a short-term stay B & B. Does Aunt Ibby need the money? Why isn’t she more concerned about her own welfare? Even Pete is keeping Michael Martell on his radar just in case.

 Aunt Ibby surely doesn’t need money but likes the idea of meeting new people. Aunt Ibby and the “Angels” are fans of Martell’s successful mystery series and believe he has paid his debt to society and truly repented his crime. (That B&B also gives the author many more opportunities to introduce new and interesting characters.)


After Lee’s beloved Corvette is smashed up in a wreck, she buys a safety loaded Jeep Wrangler. I can’t help but think that the change in autos is a big reflection of changes Lee has undergone. Is it?

Lee has realized that the Corvette convertible was not a practical choice for Salem—especially in the winter. It’s also a two-seater, and impractical in that sense. She loved it because of her earlier fascination with Nancy Drew—a blue roadster! Now she’s older, more practical in many ways.


Lee is a scryer. She sees things reflected in mirrors and shiny objects—images or short sequences. How could she turn off this “gift” for so many years since she remembers having this ability as a child? When did she get the ability back?

She got it back when she replaced Ariel Constellation as a TV psychic on the Nightshades show. Ariel had a black obsidian ball, and Lee saw a vision in it. She told Aunt Ibby and her aunt took her up in the attic and showed her a pair of little black patent leather shoes in which she’d seen the plane crash that killed her parents. This had been suppressed all those years until the vision in the ball brought it back.


What was Pete’s reaction to her visions? How did she change his mind about her abilities?

It hasn’t been easy. She didn’t tell him right away, and little by little he’s come to accept that she has this “gift,” but he still doesn’t like to talk about it.


When the station’s owner asks Lee to make a documentary about Pirate’s Island off the coast of Maine, where she and Pete are going to honeymoon, I couldn’t believe his audacity and was glad that Lee finally decided to turn down the assignment. Are Camcorders still used? 

She used it in a couple of other books so I let her keep using it. Mr. Doan is kind of cheap, so if it still works, it’s good enough.


I was surprised to find out that Pirate’s Island was owned by Lee’s deceased father’s sister, Aunt Doris and her husband, Uncle Bill. Why hadn’t Lee had contact with her other aunt especially given the plane crash that killed both of her parents when Lee was five? You’d think family would circle round to care for the orphaned child.

They attended the funeral but other than birthday cards, graduation checks and such have had little contact with Lee. She doesn’t remember meeting them, but she was only five. It was best that Lee stay with Aunt Ibby whom she knew well and had other Salem friends. The father’s relatives didn’t live near Salem and moving the child wasn’t necessary.


I loved Lee’s cat O’Ryan. How did he get named?

Ariel Constellation had named him “Orion.” Lee misheard it as “O’Ryan.”


Two pirates operated around Pirate’s Island—Dixie Bull and Black Sam Bellamy. Were they real?

Absolutely real. Bad dudes, both of them!


Lee finds out that her parents’ plane crash was determined to be pilot error, but she finds it hard to believe. Why hadn’t Lee ever researched the crash before?

It was always assumed to be an accident and obviously wasn’t talked about because it was such a sad happening. There didn’t seem to be any need for her to investigate it.


Was there really a fake antique clock outside the Oval Office during the Clinton Administration?

How do you find out about such things?

Yes. There was. I love research and do a lot of it for these books. Sometimes that habit leads me down a rabbit hole and I find out all kinds of miscellaneous stuff!


What’s next for Lee and Pete?

Since I’m such a “pantser”—always writing “by the seat of my pants,” I don’t know exactly what’s next—but Kensington has offered a contract for three more Witch City stories so I’d better figure it out soon!







Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Writer's Conferences are back! by Martha Reed

When I first got wind of the seriousness of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020, it never occurred to me that we might still be feeling the ramifications of the pandemic two full years later. Yet here we are.

Even so, spring has sprung. I find fresh hope in seeing local businesses and restaurants and airports re-open (following sensible guidelines.) Most of all I’m ridiculously thrilled to be penciling in writer’s conferences on my calendar again.

By the time you read this I will (hopefully) have attended Malice Domestic (MD) in April 2022. Held in Bethesda, “Malice” has celebrated the traditional (and cozy) mystery genre for thirty years. MD is one of my favorite conferences because I get to catch up with my Pennsylvania and East Coast friends, find out what they’re doing (contracts, editors, new agents, etc.) and get the latest publishing marketplace scoop.

The first time I attended MD, my sister went with me for a getaway weekend. She says that when she opened the lobby door and peeked at the crowd she saw “300 Marthas walking around.” That’s true. I had found my people.

Let’s have some fun. True fact: one year, I won the “Best Hat” award at MD. If you see me at a writer’s conference this year and you mention this factoid to me, you’ll win a free signed copy of LOVE POWER, my latest NOLA mystery. (And in spite of the ongoing difficulties of 2021, LOVE POWER brought home a Killer Nashville Silver Falchion award, so as noted above, life goes on.)

Next up is SleuthFest, the annual conference for Mystery, Suspense, and Thriller Writers sponsored by the Florida MWA and held in Deerfield Beach, FL in July. Being a Florida resident, I’m a little leery about attending anything in Florida in July, but it is a writer’s conference, so I assume I’ll be spending most of my time talking to other authors in an air-conditioned bar sharing the space with shades of John D. MacDonald and Ernest Hemingway.

Mid-August takes me to the 16th annual Killer Nashville (KN) International Writer’s Conference. As a writer, I’ve found KN to be one of the most rewarding conferences because of its more intimate size. At KN you really get the chance to meet and talk with new people and make those oh-so-important community connections. The moonshine tasting and the mock crime scene investigation are also stand-out events. This year, Hank Phillippi Ryan is a KN Guest of Honor. I’m not missing that.

And then, in September, the big top circus rolls into town (Minneapolis, MN) with Bouchercon (BCON) and “The Land of 10,000 Crimes.” Bouchercon is the largest annual crime fiction conference, held in different cities every year. I’ve had great fun attending BCON in St. Louis, 2011; Cleveland, 2012; Albany, 2013; Long Beach, CA 2014; Raleigh, NC 2015; New Orleans 2016; Toronto 2017, and St. Petersburg FL 2018. The St. Pete convention actually changed my life because I fell in love with the city and moved there.

What conventions are you planning on attending in 2022? Which one(s) are you most looking forward to, and why?

Monday, April 25, 2022

The First Draft by Nancy L. Eady

Having to rewrite something you wrote once before but lost is quite annoying. You would think it would be otherwise; if you could write it once, you should be able to drag the gist of it back from your memory and do it again. But it never feels the same. And it goes hand in hand with another major annoyance—when you KNOW you’ve written something, but you just can’t find the most recent file. 

In my current work in progress, I encountered both phenomena in one scene. I am trying to work through the gala opening of a resort.  The resort is the brainchild of the local millionaire’s daughter who is now my protagonist’s best friend after a rocky start in book one.  I lost the first part of the scene. The first time, I took great pains to describe the setting.  Description is one of my weaknesses. I can write a wonderful description, but I have a hard time mixing the description with dialogue and action. I don’t think my readers will enjoy my bringing a full stop to everything else to listen to two pages describing a particular building and the people there. But this is a first draft, so I let myself go and wrote out as full a description as I could. But now I can’t find the file where I added that bit anywhere. So, I took another stab at things, this time focusing on the (probably less than memorable) dialogue between the main characters at the gala. I didn’t recreate the description, though. (Have I mentioned that I find it annoying to recreate writing I’ve already done?) 

I’m about 75% sure I’ve started this book in the wrong place, but like everything else in the first draft, the beginning is subject to change. Also, somewhere between the two versions, I’ve changed my mind about the murder. The best friend’s ex-husband was to be found dead in the kitchen the morning after, but I want more time to set up conflict and character. The only problem is I’m 41 pages into the book and usually the murder needs to happen quickly—although in this case, the life-changing incident that starts the whole train of events isn’t a murder, but a 16-year-old runaway heiress who is looking to stay with the best friend until she graduates high school. So maybe it is all right if it takes the murder (s) a little while longer to take place. 

With a first draft, I give myself permission to write badly. There are times when the words don’t flow and I am struggling to string sentences together, and my writing appears to be to be awful. With a first draft, I can always fix it later. I often find when I come back to it the writing was not nearly as bad as I remember. And that’s encouraging too.

Speculation and uncertainty are part of writing a first draft. Very little is set in stone.  I’m free to move events around, write words I know I will cut later and not worry about whether I use the word “that” too many times. New characters in this book may have their names change several times before I finally decide on the correct set. With a first draft, I am exploring new territory, and I like that. 

What do you like or dislike about writing a first draft? 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Secrets Revealed by Annette Dashofy

Last month I blogged about waiting. And waiting. And waiting. This month, I’m happy to be able to reveal some of what I was waiting for. 

First is my new cover for the eleventh Zoe Chambers Mystery. 

Fatal Reunion comes out May 10. I have a new publisher for this one, so the look is a little darker, a little grittier. So is the story. But it’s still Zoe, Pete, Wayne, Sylvia, and the gang, so the snarky humor is still firmly in place. Here’s a tease of the opening:

Ten years with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police hadn’t prepared Pete Adams for this. Even the additional ten years as police chief in rural Vance Township hadn’t done the trick. He’d certainly participated in a number of vehicle pursuits in his career.

But a high-speed tractor chase?

If thirty miles an hour could be considered “high speed.”

Trailing dust, the behemoth John Deere swerved to the left, and Pete feared the teenage driver might careen into the wall of summer-green trees lining the rutted back road. Tall, lanky, red-haired tractor thief Gabriel Zediker probably felt invincible atop the huge piece of farm equipment. But even the Deere was no match for the oaks and walnuts.

Beside Pete, Officer Abby Baronick exhaled an audible sigh of relief when the tractor righted its path and continued to roar down Miller Road. Pete shot a glance at his young daylight-shift officer, who braced one hand on the Explorer’s center console, the other on the dash.

“We’re not going that fast,” he said. The Deere might have been top of the line, but it wasn’t designed for road races. Still, on the pothole-riddled road, thirty felt like seventy-five.

        Abby made a point of bringing her hands back to her lap. “Fast enough.”

The other big secret I was keeping involves none other than James Patterson. No, I’m not co-writing a book with him. But I have been selected to join him onstage in June when he comes to southwestern Pennsylvania on tour for his new memoir, The Stories of My Life: James Patterson. I’ll be the event’s moderator as he and I discuss the book. As a reader, I’m a huge fan. As a writer, I deeply admire how giving and supportive he is toward other authors, especially those just getting their start. 

And let’s face it, sharing a stage with THE James Patterson is about the best exposure to new readers I can ever hope to get! 

One of the fun parts is getting to read an ARC of the memoir. His speaker’s bureau is sending me a copy. In return, I’m to come up with a list of questions, which I’m to submit for approval. I’m not worried about the approval part since I already sent them several “sample” questions during the initial moderator application. I’ll try to keep the fangirl quotient under control. But really. I want to know how much fun it was to co-write a book with DOLLY PARTON! 

I am, however, open to suggestions. What questions would you ask James Patterson if given the chance? 

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Building a Character from the Ground Up by Kait Carson

It’s been a long time since I started a new series. The last was Southernmost Secrets in 2018 and it took me three years to finish the first book. No, don’t look it up. It’s still out on spec. Such is a writer’s life. Slog, open your veins, write the best words you can, then…wait.


Hank Wittie, she’s the protagonist in the series, was a joy to write. She flowed from my pen in the odd moments I grabbed between full time job and sleeping. A Millennial daughter of the Florida Keys, she walked a familiar turf. A Southernmost cousin to Hayden Kent, the protagonist of the Marathon, Florida-based Hayden Kent series.


While Hank perked on the back burner of submissions, someone named Sassy Romano began tugging at the corners of my mind. She came with her own story. A forty-something woman recovering from a bad marriage. Older, and with baggage. Okay, I can handle that. I’m older with baggage, too. Then she shared with me that she lives in the mountains of New Jersey. Picture smoke rising from my dug in heels. A Jersey girl! Yipes.


Jersey girls are unique in the world. They will never pump gas – little known fact, New Jersey has a LAW against pumping your own gas. They are street smart and savvy, even if they never lived by their wits—I think it’s in the water—and they have ‘tude. Serious attitude. These are not cliches. I’m Jersey born and bred and my husband tells people threatening to get on my last nerve not to make me go all Jersey on them. The man has been trained.


So, now I had a character demanding (she’s from Jersey after all) attention and I had to figure out how to bring her to life. I started with my High School alumni association and Facebook. Archive photos from the late 1990s helped me create a visual. The music of the era wasn’t to my taste, but it would be to Sassy’s so I spent a lot of time on Google. I got to know Sassy’s world and how it shaped her. Little by little, Sassy shared personal stories, her hopes, dreams, fears, traumas, and nightmares. Sassy and I are still getting to know one and other. I have a feeling she’s holding something back. Time will tell.


I thought it would be fun for you to get to know a little about Sassy, too. I’m in the home stretch of completing the first—as yet untitled—book, but I thought I’d share a bit of Sassy’s introduction. This is from the first draft, and may change.


It’s not often you can date the day your life blew up. Usually, it’s a gradual slide into hell. Not this time. It happened on July 4, 2004. The night I let my guard down and allowed desire to overcome common sense. The night I, well, it didn’t matter. Nearly twenty years later, the time had come to pay the piper. His tune followed me on the road to my childhood home.


The crisp air of a mountain fall filled my lungs. In another month, the woods would be a riot of color, oak red, maple orange, birch yellow. The car crested a hill and a wondrous kaleidoscope spread out in all directions. Every shade of green I could name was represented. Some of the taller trees had begun to pivot into their autumn colors. Early this year, but it had been a cold summer and fall. My feet touched the brake of their own accord. My fingers itched for the camera. This scenery required more than a cell phone could capture. A quick glance in the rearview mirror revealed no cars behind me. What the heck. I pulled over onto the shoulder of the road. The door of my Subaru closed with a soft clunk. Pine needles crunched beneath my feet.


I rooted around through the bags in the rear of the car and came up with the camera. My finger pressed the ready button. The camera, a Hasselblad, made a whirling sound as it sprang to life, the lens snaking out. I removed the lens cap and pivoted to take in a three hundred and sixty degree view. Wanting more height to focus on the overall picture, I climbed on the back bumper and hoisted myself as far up on the roof as I could manage. The external cargo carrier left just enough room for me to kneel. Thrilled with the view, brought the camera to my eye and I snapped off a series of photos.


A sound caught my attention. I froze in place, my knees wobbling a bit with the strain. Across the road a doe peeked from behind a tall maple, her still spotted fawn at her side. I sucked in a breath and held it. My patience was rewarded when the deer arranged themselves in a perfect tableau. My hand rapidly adjusted the focus and clicked milliseconds before the deer shot across the road behind my parked car and disappeared into the woods. The perfect photo. I took it as a sign that all would be well with my new life. Cradling the camera, my foot sought the safety of the bumper, and I lowered myself to the ground.


I’d love to know what you think.


You can catch up with Kait at:

Sign up for my newsletter:

Instagram: kaitcarson2

Twitter: @kaitcarson


Facebook Author:





Friday, April 22, 2022

We Don't Talk About Encanto: A Review by Warren Bull

 Image from Wikimedia Commons

We Don’t Talk About Encanto by Warren Bull

So, let’s do it.  

The movie has been called Disney’s best movie ever. The soundtrack and the single We Don’t Talk about Bruno are at the top of the Billboard charts. Lynn Manuel Miranda’s score is remarkable. The movie-makers involved him in the development of the film from the very outset. As a general rule, if you can use the work of a genius in your project, do so!

But there is a lot more to Encanto than the wonderful music. The artwork is beautiful with themes expressed by colors. Characters’ personalities are shown by the clothes they wear. The movement of the cartoon characters comes from choreographed dances. Columbia, South America, furnished the inspiration for scenery. 

The film is inclusive. People not usually portrayed in movies can see themselves in the Afro-Latino characters with an array of skin tones. The character, Luisa, has a muscular, robust body unlike Disney Princesses in other movies. Her doll currently outsells the more usual princess-like Isabela doll. 

Lacking a villain, Encanto deals with internal struggles, doubts, and family dynamics in a sensitive way. Isabel feels trapped in her efforts to be perfect, which are bound to fail. Abuela demands impossible standards, trying to keep the family together. Luisa worries that she cannot live up to the pressure she puts herself under, feeling undervalued as a person. Bruno loves the family but has fled because his predictions make the others uncomfortable. Mirabel believes she must fill the cracks in the failing family system. Pepa constantly tries to experience only positive emotions. Dolores is resigned to lose the man she loves to her sister. As long as the rules remain unexpressed and unexamined the situation cannot change.

The movie is specific and true to the setting, Columbia, South America. This paradoxically means it is more universal because there is nothing generic about it. 

This is a movie you can watch and enjoy on many levels over and over again.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

A Few Writerly Observations by Marilyn Levinson

Becoming a proficient fiction author develops through hard work and constant writing. Over the course of my writing career, I've written twenty-four novels. I'd like to share with you a few observations I've made regarding changes in my writing process and some writerly issues that puzzle me.

Plotting: When I first started out, I found plotting to be the hardest part of novel writing. I moved ahead like gangbusters the first five chapters, then stopped not certain how to proceed. I needed a good deal of help from my mentor. Eventually, I managed to write out synopses and followed my outline. These past few years I've been writing the Haunted Library series as Allison Brook. I think in many ways it's easier to write a series than a standalone because many of the characters as well as the setting and the tone are set in the first book.

Since I worked from a detailed outline, I considered myself a plotter. I knew who would be murdered, the major plot points, the array of clues and red herrings. But I discovered my process changed when writing the last four books in the series. As always, I knew the book's major theme and the two seemingly unrelated elements that come together at the end. But I was no longer working from an outline. I had the option to veer off in various directions into the great unknown. 

To my amazement, this didn't frighten me. I'd changed into a pantser—sort of. Somehow writing so many books had given me the confidence to have faith in my plotting. To know I would move ahead and write the right scenes to bring each book to its logical conclusion. This didn't mean I no longer needed the assistance of my dear fellow Plothatchers occasionally, but sometimes simply by being on the verge of asking for their input I found the answer to what I was seeking. Which leads me to believe that we authors know more about the book we're writing than we think.

Changing the murderer:  While I've never changed my murder victims, I have changed the identity of a few murderers from those I originally had in mind. I think this can only be possible if a writer isn't following an outline set in stone. I like to supply my readers with many possible murder suspects because part of the fun of reading a mystery is figuring out who dun it. Also, as I write each book, I get to know my characters better—their personalities, their value systems and their secrets. Sometimes this results in my casting a different character as the killer. In fact, I recently changed the murderer in my Work In Progress for a variety of reasons. 

Grammar and words: Grammar rules evolve just as language evolves, and we'd better keep up with the times. For example, I once thought I was pretty good when it came to using commas. These days I defer to others. I used to put in a comma to separate compound sentences. Now I find my editors often remove them. They also remove commas before such adverbs as "too" and "finally," words I always comma'd. Now I question whether an adverbial phrase requires a comma when once I was certain that it did. 

Compound word, hyphenated words or two words: Here we have three possibilities and I often choose the wrong one. I thought "homecooked" was a word, but my editor changed it to "home-cooked." "Semi-circular" seemed right to me, but no, "semicircular" won out. There are more of these word/words than one would imagine. I'm grateful that at this point in my career, I have an editor and a copy editor to sort them out.

Has your writing method evolved? Do you have any word usage or grammar issue that puzzles you? Please share if you do.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

An Interview with Sarah E. Burr

by Grace Topping

Sarah E. Burr is the latest author to join us at Writers Who Kill. So, it was a pleasure getting to know more about her and her books. In the past few months, Sarah launched two books in two different series: #Follow Me for Murder, the first in her Trending Topic Mystery Series, and You Can’t Candle the Truth, first in the Glenmyre Whim Mystery Series. Since both sounded so intriguing, I decided to feature both in her interview. 


#Follow Me for Murder


After selling a tech startup to Facebook in a multi-million-dollar deal, blogger Coco Cline has returned to her hometown of Central Shores, Delaware to launch her own social media consulting firm. Her new clients, Sean and Olivia Chen, are ten days away from the grand opening of their specialty consignment shop when Coco stumbles across their assistant Stacy dead behind the register.

Worried that a cloud of suspicion will ruin their chances of a successful business launch, the Chens ask Coco to work alongside the inexperienced Central Shores police to speed up the investigation. Using her celebrity status and social media savviness, Coco realizes Stacy’s seemingly ordinary life was all an act. Following a trail of cryptic online posts, confusing timelines, and muddied gossip, Coco and her friends discover Stacy’s questionable relationships just might be the reason for her untimely demise.


You Can’t Candle the Truth


Welcome to Crucible, a small town with a storied history. Founded by five prestigious families, Crucible has been tucked away in upstate New York for centuries under the protection of a shield enchantment cast by Jedidiah Glenmyre, Hazel's revered ancestor. The enchanted barrier is meant to protect Crucible from anything bad ever happening to the town. No crime, no awful weather, no natural disasters…a haven from the greater world.

Until the heir to a billion-dollar company is found dead in his home. With the help of her uncanny power, known as a "whim," Hazel realizes foul play is involved. But more than being concerned about a murderer running loose and Jedidiah Glenmyre's protection shield deteriorating, Hazel and her aunt Poppy are worried the town's kindhearted art teacher will be charged with the sinister crime. Determined to prove her friend innocent, Hazel is ready to shine a light on the real killer…if they don't snuff her out first.



Welcome, Sarah. 


Thank you so much for having me, Grace! As a big fan of your Laura Bishop Mysteries, it’s a delight to talk about all things mystery with you.


In the first of your Trending Topic Mystery Series, #Follow Me for Murder, Coco Cline has just sold her tech startup to Facebook in a multi-million-dollar deal, an amazing feat for someone so young. Where does a young entrepreneur go from there? 


After her startup’s acquisition, Coco is amazed by all the media attention she gets, something she always dreamed about when she was younger. However, fame isn’t at all what Coco thought it would be, and she soon desperately misses her privacy. So, she makes a pretty big decision to uproot her life in the city and move back to the safety of her hometown, Central Shores, Delaware. Coco likes to keep busy, though, so she is definitely not going to take her money and ride off into the sunset. She is lucky enough to have the financial security to do what she wants, and what Coco wants to do is help people. Since her background is in communications and social media, Coco sets her sights on using those skills to help small businesses succeed. Shortly after returning to Central Shores, Coco launches a one-woman operation, Center of Attention Consulting, where she works with business owners to enhance their brand and increase customer growth through social media.

When readers are introduced to Coco at the beginning of #FollowMe for Murder, she is helping her latest clients with the grand opening of their specialty consignment shop. But, unfortunately, a dead body found in their store puts the brakes on that.


Social media consulting must be hitting the main stream if it has become a career for a cozy mystery main character. What is driving this?


Social media is no longer restricted by age or generation. For example, when Facebook first came about, you needed to be a student at Harvard. Now, anyone above the age of thirteen can be on Facebook. With so many different platforms out there, today’s technology is more accessible than ever, and it’s become an integral part of how we communicate, whether we like it or not. Its popularity also allows entrepreneurs and businesses to engage with a vast consumer base...if they are doing their outreach correctly.


Coco uses her social media savviness to build another business and help others. What motivates her to do this now that she is so wealthy? 


I think a couple of things are at play here. First, Coco genuinely enjoys helping people, and she believes she can help them by putting her PR skills and tech knowledge to use. She loves working alongside a team and feeling like she’s contributing to her community. There’s also the fact that Coco received a windfall of cash when she was just twenty-five and maybe didn’t make the most intelligent financial decisions. Coco went on quite the big spending spree: she bought a beautiful beach home, a new car, renovated her parents’ house, and set up a college tuition fund for her nieces and nephew. Because Coco opted to take the intellectual property rights to her blog, Trending Topic, over a bigger payout from Facebook, she still needs a steady source of income to maintain her current lifestyle.


In the Trending Topic series, will you continue to feature Coco Cline, or will you be addressing other trends?


Coco will be trending for at least two more books. She and her friends have more fun adventures ahead of them in Central Shores.

Like fiction imitating life, you are also a tech entrepreneur with your BookstaBundles online service. Is that where you got the idea for Coco? Please tell us about BookstaBundles.


It’s actually the other way around! I got the idea for BookstaBundles from Coco. A few writer friends asked who designed all my book promotion graphics. When I told them I made my own, they immediately inquired if I’d be willing to create graphics for their new book releases, much like Coco helps her clients curate their online content. Since graphic design is a soothing hobby got me, I was thrilled to have fun projects to do in my spare time. I love helping people however I can, a trait that Coco and I share. Once word began to spread throughout the author community about my designs, BookstaBundles was officially born.


It’s incredible to see how BookstaBundles has grown in just a year. I’m so grateful for all the referrals I’ve received and thrilled that authors and their books benefit from my work.


Based on your degrees in Political Science and Philosophy & Religious Studies, you frequently weave these themes into your writing—something that can be difficult without sounding preachy. Is it challenging to include these themes? Is that what drives you to write about the paranormal?


I lean into my academic roots most when writing my Court of Mystery series. The series takes place in the fictional Realm of Virtues and features a young woman who solves crimes. Beyond unmasking dastardly killers, my heroine, Duchess Jacqueline, is on a quest to make the realm a better place for all people, not just the elite nobles. This undertaking is where I really put my degrees to use, helping Duchess Jacqueline construct the “perfect society.” My background has also helped me establish the realm’s current political systems and socio-economic structure. The ideals Duchess Jacqueline promotes boil down to equality and opportunity, two themes that I believe are essential to living a good life.


In the first of your Glenmyre Whim Mystery Series, You Can’t Candle the Truth, Hazel Wickbury knows when someone is going to die, an ability she finds a burden. Please tell us about this inexplicable ability and her family mantra, “With our whims, do good.” 


Hazel descends from the mystical Glenmyre clan, one of the original founding families of Crucible, New York. While Hazel doesn’t like to use the term “witchcraft,” her ancestors definitely had powers that we would equate to magical beings. However, over time, the strength of their supernatural powers faded, leaving present-day Glenmyres with minor, limited abilities that they refer to as “whims.” Hazel’s whim allows her to see a glowing countdown above the heads of people around her, a “lifeclock” that reveals the amount of time the individual has left on this earth. Knowing when someone is going to die is quite a burden for Hazel to bear, and she can’t help but be a little bitter about the whim she’s been given. Her aunt, Poppy, sees colorful auras around people, indicating their moods and feelings. Hazel often laments how she wishes she had a more practical, helpful whim like Poppy’s. The Glenmyres have long believed that their whims were given to them for a reason: to help the people of Crucible. That belief is why both Hazel and Poppy feel such a deep sense of obligation to help their community when trouble arises.

Although Hazel feels bound to do good with her whim, what about her own happiness?


Thankfully, Hazel can suppress her whim’s morbid power by wearing special glasses made by her Great-Aunt Ruthie. When Ruthie was alive, she shared the same whim as Hazel, so Ruthie knew the toll it took on her own life to be surrounded by inevitable death. As a result, Ruthie spent most of her life keeping people at a distance. Luckily, she uncovered the secret to hiding the dreaded “lifeclock,” and now, Hazel reaps the benefits. As long as Hazel has her glasses on, the countdowns around her remain hidden, and she can enjoy a relatively normal life.


However, there are moments when Hazel chooses to use her whim to help other people make possibly life-changing decisions. Many decisions are made based on our fear of dying, so Hazel decides to serve as a guide in those instances. While the process is emotionally and physically jarring, Hazel is comforted by the fact she can help someone, which brings her happiness. I think achieving satisfaction through selfless acts is a special kind of joy.


Hazel lives in Crucible, a town that is one of the safest places to live in the U. S. Supposedly, nothing bad ever happens there—until a murder occurs. Please tell us about Crucible. 


Crucible, New York, is a beautiful little lake town near the Finger Lakes region. The main street, Rosewood Lane, is lined with local businesses and is home to Hazel’s candle shop, A Wick in Time. Other fun Crucible establishments are the bookstore, The Poignant Page, Bright Moon Café, and Cold Cauldron Brewery. You’ll notice a nod to the supernatural in some of the names; even though the Glenmyre whims have been kept a secret over the centuries, there are lingering rumors that Hazel’s ancestors were witches who escaped the Salem Witch Trials.

Crucible is one of the safest places to live due to an enchantment cast by Hazel’s ancestor, Jedidiah Glenmyre, to prevent evil from penetrating Crucible. For centuries, the protection shield has kept Crucible safe from natural disasters, bad weather, and crime. Not even traffic accidents can slip through. That is until Kevin Finchmore is murdered. While residents are understandably shocked by the crime, Hazel and her aunt Poppy are even more unsettled. Has something happened to Jedidiah Glenmyre’s protection enchantment? Are they able to fix the shield with their diminished powers?


Hazel creates her unique brand of candles that she sells in her shop. Are you into candle making? Did you have to make some for research?


My hobby is more buying than making candles, but I did have to do a deep dive into the candle-making process to showcase Hazel’s experience authentically. I did make candles, but not in the abundance that Hazel does. Her industrious process took a lot of research to understand. I learned that you don’t just wait for candles to harden to consider them ready. Candles need to “cure” for at least a week (sometimes less, depending on the wax used) to allow for the fragrance to permeate the entire candle. There are times when Hazel can’t afford to wait a week because demand is so high, so she uses paraffin wax, which can cure in less than seventy-two hours.


With several books in your epic fantasy Court of Mystery series, what drove your switch to contemporary cozy mysteries? Are you planning to write more books in the Court series?

I began writing #FollowMe for Murder about five years ago. I love the concept of the amateur sleuth, something that all my books share. I’ve loved amateur sleuths ever since I was a kid, reading Nancy Drew books. I rediscovered the cozy mystery genre after our big move to New York. I felt uncertain about the future, being in a new state, and I started reading cozies as a source of comfort. I was probably on my fiftieth read when I asked myself, “Hey, Sarah, you love reading these so much. Why don’t you try to write one of your own?” And that’s how Coco and Hazel came about. I fell in love with the genre as a reader and wanted to explore it as a writer.

Of course, my Court of Mystery series is never far from my mind. As my first published work, the series is near and dear to my heart. I am working on Book Nine as we speak!


How do you juggle three different series (and manage BookstaBundles)? Do you have a favorite among them?


I ask myself this question every day. How am I doing this? It all comes down to managing my time effectively. I view my characters as friends, so I visit them when the timing works out. I write both indie-published and traditionally published books, so I carve out these visits based on my publishing schedule. I dedicate each month to visiting a different world, and I try to stay there the whole time. It can be challenging because I sometimes wish I could visit Central Shores rather than the Realm of Virtues, Crucible, or vice versa, but I have such a deep love for all these characters that we work through our growing pains to keep moving forward.


I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but I feel like my favorite series changes daily. Right now, I am looking forward to returning to Crucible. In February, I finished the first draft of Too Much to Candle, so it has been “marinating” while I work on my next project. I’m planning to dive back into revisions come May, so I am looking forward to seeing Hazel and her friends again.

Now that you’ve written and published several books, what is the most valuable thing you’ve learned along the way?


I’ve learned so, so, so many lessons. Save frequently. Title your manuscripts clearly. Keep old drafts, just in case. Don’t delete large chunks of text without saving them somewhere for later consideration. Set expectations with yourself on your progress. But the most important thing I’ve learned is to give myself credit for all the hard work I am doing.


I write full-time. It’s my job. And just like other people take time off their jobs, I’m allowed to take time off writing. When I first began this venture, I thought I had to be writing or marketing myself twenty-four-seven. If I wasn’t writing or doing something related to my manuscript, I wasn’t working hard enough to further my career. That type of thinking is really, really dangerous for writers. It can lead to burnout or, worse, mental distress. So, I always encourage writers, new and veteran, to give themselves credit for their efforts. Even something that may seem small deserves recognition. A few weeks ago, I spent two hours on one sentence. I dedicated two hours of my life to what ended up being fourteen words. But those fourteen words eventually formed the closing line of my manuscript. It may not seem like significant progress, but any progress is noteworthy and should be celebrated in this business.


What should we be on the lookout from you next?


There’s always mystery and murder on the books for me. This fall, I am looking forward to releasing Hazel’s next mystery, Too Much to Candle. The next Trending Topic Mystery launches in February 2023, which will be here before we know it. And in other fun news, I have a new upcoming cozy mystery series with TouchPoint Press called The Book Blogger Mysteries. Yes, you read that right. Another series. What can I say? I love what I do. The Book Blogger Mysteries features bookworm Arwen Lark. Arwen sets out to prove her famous twin brother innocent of murder before the Hollywood paparazzi descend on her peaceful Massachusetts home and unveil her as the brains behind the internet’s favorite book blogger, The Wren.


I’ll also be attending Malice Domestic this year. It will be my first book conference, and I could not be more excited to meet readers and authors alike!


And last but certainly not least, author J.C. Kenney and I recently launched a web series called “The Bookish Hour.” We pull back the curtain and chat about books and writing with special guest authors twice a month. What’s fun is that we live-stream on YouTube and take questions from our audience during the broadcast. Check us out at


Thank you, Sarah. Wishing you much luck with all of your series.


Visit Sarah at to learn more about her books and BookstaBundles.