Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Fictional Elements by Sharon L. Dean

I’m a “Jeopardy” fan even though I’m abysmal at answering questions in any category that involves television, movies, contemporary music, or sports. Although I’m clueless about pop culture, I can occasionally run a category about classic literature or about lines in poetry. I got a little thrill a few months ago when there was a question about “The Wicked Bible” because I had used that Bible and its typo about committing adultery as the title for my novel, The Wicked Bible.


A category called Fictional Elements recently appeared on “Jeopardy.” Plot, character, setting, theme, tone, point of view. I was golden until the elements appeared in answers like The Man in the Iron Mask and The Silver Chair. But the category got me thinking about the elements of fiction I became so familiar with when I began teaching. Somehow, I managed to make it through a Ph.D. in English without breaking literature into those elements. In the college where I taught, they were a bit like the Biblical commandments. They work, but if I thought about them while I’m writing fiction, I’d fall back into the analytical voice of my academic days.


Still, the elements are a scaffold that holds a piece of fiction together, some central supporting poles, others carrying less weight. Tone would matter more to my work if I wrote comic or melancholic or satirical pieces. Theme seems more philosophical than literary, though I suppose I could attach something like the search for justice or the search for home to my novels.


A more obvious decision for a writer involves point of view. The omniscient of early nineteenth-century novels, limited omniscient, first person, even nowadays second person. All have their challenges and their advantages. And all require a commitment at the start of a piece. I’ve alternated between limited omniscient and first person. I’ve used first person, present tense in a couple of short stories, but I feel a little like that’s cheating because it too easily places a character in the moment.


Character gets caught up in point of view. Will the story be told through multiple points of view or one character? Will the character be reliable or unreliable? I’ve tried neither, but like many writers, I’ve found that a character leads me somewhere I haven’t anticipated. In two of my novels, I’ve come to the end and changed the murderer. In two others, an elderly woman emerges half-way through the book. Patience with the elderly is not one of my strong points, but I’ve become so interested in what’s called “geezer lit” that my forthcoming novella is called Six Old Women.


Whether they plan ahead or let the story unfold, writers think about plot, but even as a trained academic, I don’t start out deciding if the conflict will involve man against man, man against nature, man against himself, or man against fate. The gendered way of expressing conflict grates, and I wonder if literature anthologies have changed the terminology.


The last of the elements “Jeopardy” ignored is setting. Before I put pen to paper (I still draft long-hand), I know where I want to set a novel: Mississippi’s Natchez Trace, New England’s Isles of Shoals, a cemetery, a small-town library or a university library in New Hampshire, a cove in Maine. Setting may be my way of indulging my nostalgia for places I’ve loved, but it’s also what drives my ideas. It’s the golden element in the fiction I write.


You might put on your analytical hat for a moment and ask which of these elements of fiction seems the most important to you when you read or write.


Sharon L. Dean grew up in Massachusetts where she was immersed in the literature of New England. She earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of New Hampshire, a state she lived and taught in before moving to Oregon. Although she has given up writing scholarly books that require footnotes, she incorporates much of her academic research as background in her mysteries. She is the author of three Susan Warner mysteries and of a literary novel titled Leaving Freedom. Her Deborah Strong mysteries include The Barn, The Wicked Bible, and Calderwood Cove. Dean continues to write about New England while she is discovering the beauty of the West.


Monday, May 30, 2022

One Writer, Many Stories

One Writer, Many 
Stories by Leslie Budewitz

 The universe is made of stories, not atoms.

— Muriel Rukeyser

A writer’s heart holds many stories. Some are drawn to a particular type of story, mining the vein a little deeper each time, digging up more gold with each effort. Other writers find that the stories they want to tell are best described by a variety of labels.

Readers can be described much the same way, with some reading deeply in one or two genres and others reading more broadly.

Turns out that as reader and writer, I’m a little of each.

My first published novels were culinary cozies, the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries set in a small town in NW Montana, followed by the Spice Shop mysteries, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. I love to read cozies and to write them. They are, in many ways, the perfect prescription for difficult times.

The cozy gets a bad rap now and then, as fluffy and frivolous. That’s unfair. At heart, it’s the story of one woman’s effort to restore the social order of a community damaged by an unexpected crime. There may be food, and cats, and festivals, but ultimately, a good cozy shows the powerful impact one

person can have, healing the wounds inflicted on the people and places that matter to her.

But while I was writing those cozies—six in Village series and five Spice Shop mysteries, with the sixth coming in July and the seventh spread out on my desk—I was also writing short crime fiction. One story, maybe two, a year. Traditional, noir, police-based, and yes, cozies. Short stories are perfect for experimentation. They don’t take as long—well, okay, one did take sixteen years, but hey, it won a Derringer Award, so time well spent. They let us play with points of view, era, and location, as well as genre or subgenre.

Along the way, I realized that much as I love the cozy, I like a darker, moodier story, too. One best called suspense.

That led me to start a stand-alone with four point-of-view characters and two intersecting timelines, a contemporary cold case investigation interspersed with a story that unfolds over thirty-five years. It’s not an unfamiliar structure, but it’s very different from the first-person cozy mystery wrapped up in two or three weeks. I immersed myself in reading that kind of narrative, working on the manuscript between other projects. At one point, my office closet doors were covered in sticky notes in multiple colors, present action on one bi-fold door, past on the other half, newspaper clippings on the next panel.

It took four years. In Blind Faith (written as Alicia Beckman, October 2022), two women whose paths crossed decades ago as teenagers in Montana discover they share the keys to a deadly secret that exposes a killer—and changes everything they thought they knew about themselves.

During that time, I kept writing cozies. I proposed a traditional mystery series, and my editor thought the first would make good standalone suspense. That led to Alicia’s first novel, Bitterroot Lake (2021). While it’s a straightforward narrative told by one POV character, the shift in subgenre was a challenge because it varied so much from my original conception. In a mystery—and I’m oversimplifying here—a crime occurs, and our sleuth, whether amateur or professional, solves it. More crimes may happen along the way, but the path is clear.

In suspense, our protagonist is unexpectedly confronted by danger from a source she can’t identify. Nothing like this has ever happened to her, and it takes her time to realize she’s got the skills and resources to fight back—even if no one believes she’s in trouble.

My challenge in writing suspense wasn’t shifting from cozy to moody. Jokes, word play, recipes—they never entered my mind. They simply weren’t part of the story. Like you don’t reach for the garlic when you’re making chocolate cake. It’s just not on the menu. In Bitterroot Lake, Sarah’s goal wasn’t to figure out who killed Lucas Erickson. It was to figure out who was sending threatening letters and how to stop her recurrent nightmares. Naturally, killing and letters end up being connected, but what drives the protagonist differs in mystery and suspense.

Of course, every mystery has elements of suspense and every suspense novel has its mysteries. I’m talking subgenre, not the details.) 

So what unites my cozies and suspense? I discovered the answer when a friend who read Blind Faith said “I could hear your voice throughout.” Another friend had said of Death al Dente, my first Food Lovers’ Village mystery, “it sounds just like you talk.” And I’d heard similar comments about Pepper in my Spice Shop mysteries.

Turns out it’s not so much the rhythm of my main characters’ sentences, or how they swear or talk to themselves, though there is some of that. What unites my stories is what the characters care about. How they think of the world.

My characters are concerned about community. About their relationship to their physical surroundings, whether it’s their home, the land, or the historic building they work in. If an issue arises in my life, it might show up in theirs, because I want to explore it.  My main characters are interested in the world around them, even though they don’t all read or watch movies or garden. They do all love food and art! They’re interested in friendships, especially between women. In starting over. In healing the wounds injustice causes.

They sound like me because there’s a little bit of me in each of them. And that’s a good thing, because no matter what the genre and tone of the story, that’s how we make our characters come alive.


Leslie Budewitz blends her passion for food, great mysteries, and the Northwest in two cozy mystery series, the Spice Shop mysteries set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries, set in NW Montana. Watch for Peppermint Barked, the 6th Spice Shop mystery, in July 2022. As Alicia Beckman, she writes moody suspense, beginning with Bitterroot Lake in April 2021 and continuing with Blind Faith in October 2022. A three-time Agatha-Award winner (2011, Best Nonfiction; 2013, Best First Novel; 2018, Best Short Story), she is a current board member of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime. She lives in northwest Montana.






Sunday, May 29, 2022

Writing on the Road

Writing on the Road by Cheryl Hollon  

Do you write while you’re on vacation or during business travel? What about at the beach or on your ski holiday? You can bet I do! There’s a good reason.

In 2013, I received my first three-book contract at about this time of year. I was about to realize my dream of becoming a published author. Looking back to my early writing days, I can see that one specific action put me on the path to publication. I put my writing first.

It was a new thing for me, but I started writing every day. Sometimes, it wasn’t very many words, but I kept my head in the story by opening my work in progress the first thing in the morning. Not easy when you’re working, going to school, raising a family, or whatever your busy day looks like. The fact that writing was my top priority rewired my brain to acknowledge how important it was to me.

I have discovered that when I get close to an important deadline, I actually need to get out of our tiny apartment. My favorite writing space is in one of the many co-working spaces here in downtown St. Petersburg. It would be easier if I could write in coffee shops, but I’m too easily distracted. Here’s my workspace from last year. I’ll probably sign up again for the final push on my current book.


After nine years, I feel hollow unless I’ve written something every single day. So, if I know I won’t have internet access on vacation, I’ll bring along a printed copy of the manuscript section I’m working on, do some revision, and press on.

When I’m traveling by road, my routine is rigid. I set up my writing area as soon as I enter the room. I fire up my laptop and make sure I can access the internet with reasonable bandwidth. It doesn’t have to be great, but it needs to let me access Office and Dropbox. You have no idea how many times I’ve had to change rooms due to poor connectivity. It’s easier if you haven’t unpacked your clothes. I do this even when traveling with a group.

 On airplanes, I use a small Moleskin notebook and write in that. I feel too cramped to use a laptop, and that feeling makes writing harder. The notebook lets me keep the story in my head without worrying about someone pushing back their seat. Before I got published, I wrote most of my first book on long-haul flights from Tampa, FL, to Sydney, Australia. Even with a fair tailwind, that’s a fourteen-hour flight. Another favorite place for me is those little kiosks in the airport. I fire up my laptop there with no seatback worries.

My favorite travel writing is on trains. My husband and I frequently reserve one of the sleeper roomettes for traveling up to Savannah, GA, or further to Washington, DC. He watches movies on his tablet, and I get a ton of words on the page. The view out the window is soothing in a way that I can’t really duplicate anywhere else. It could also be the slight movement of the train car rolling down the tracks that keeps my fingers flying.

These actions keep my story moving. How do you manage writing at home or when traveling?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My Paint & Shine Mysteries are set in the Daniel Boone National Forest. My parents were born, raised, and now rest in peace in the Adams Family Cemetary in Wolfe County, Kentucky. The characters spend a lot of time preparing traditional southern meals and creating moonshine cocktails. Please consider buying local. Our independent bookstores need your help during this challenging time. Sometimes, purchasing a single additional book per day can save a small bookstore.



Cheryl Hollon writes full-time after leaving an engineering career designing and building military flight simulators in amazing countries such as England, Wales, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, and India. She combines a love of writing with a passion for oil painting and creating glass art in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida.

Cheryl is a Past President of the Florida Gulf Coast Sisters in Crime, a board member of Florida Mystery Writers of America, and a member of International Thriller Writers. She regularly attends SleuthFest in Florida, Malice Domestic in DC, ThrillerFest in NYC, and Killer Nashville in Tennessee. You will also find her at Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon, wherever they are held.


Saturday, May 28, 2022

Whatever Works by Kait Carson

Writing is hard. The longer I do it, the more I understand the Ernest Hemingway quote that describes it as sitting in front of a typewriter and bleeding. Ernest, if I may call him by his first name, is correct. Although he may have been speaking of the creative aspects of the craft, it’s the mechanical ones that have me flummoxed.


Authors often speak of their “process.” Some plot, some pants, some vomit out a first draft, some agonize over each word. For every process advocate, there’s an equal, and usually expensive, course. You can learn to write a book in sixty days, or write 10,000 words an hour (I can’t type gibberish that fast, but if you can, my hat is off), or write a book or six in a year. I’ve taken most of these courses, and yes, there is something to learn from each of them. The golden nugget of information that makes the task easier. Each course concludes in the same way: Your experience may vary. Do what works.


I’m saving you a lot of money here. You can thank me by subscribing to my newsletter.


The secret to writing is to do what works for you as an author. I began life as a pantser, and it was fun, but writing a coherent book took years. Then I plotted and that was great, too. But I got bored midway through and shelved the project. Then I wrote a vomit draft in four weeks and needed to go back to both fill in the blanks and edit extensively. There go another six months. Then I outlined the overall story, just the facts, ma’am, and bullet point plotted each chapter as I arrived. Then I took the systems I’d slaved over and decided one size does not fit all. There’s a thousand ways to tell a story, and an equal number of ways to get those words on paper.


As my writing confidence grew, so did my sense of how I worked best. I do not have a long attention span. It’s a fact, and I can give references. Covering the same ground multiple times spells failure in my world. I’ll get bored and move on. It’s happened before, my hard drive is full of half-finished books. I sometimes mine those nuggets looking for diamonds in the rough, so (eventually) I waste nothing. Always a good thing.


What did work for me? A hybrid system. When I sit down to write, I spend a week outlining. Not in painstaking detail, but I prepare an overall story outline, determine the approximate number of chapters, and prepare a few bullet points describing each chapter’s action. I use a program called Plottr to do this. Plottr interfaces with Scrivener, my chosen writing software. After that, it’s off to the races with chapter 1 which I write and edit before I move to chapter 2. The goal is not words on the page, it’s a semi-polished chapter that makes me (and hopefully future readers) want to turn the page.


I generally write and edit a chapter a day. There are questions, lots of them, and I use Scrivener’s inline annotation button to insert them. When I transfer the draft to Word, the annotations show up as comments so I can address each one as necessary. I also use the annotation function to keep track of clues, red herrings, and red herring resolutions. At the end of the first draft, I have a reasonable work product that I can further refine in a few days rather than weeks. Once I’m satisfied, off the book goes to my beta readers and then to my editor. It works for me.


Writers, what’s your process? Readers, do you like behind the scenes looks at process or do you wish we would simply get on with the next book?


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Thursday, May 26, 2022

And the Winning Amateur Sleuth Is.... by Connie Berry

 Last month, in anticipation of the launch of my new Kate Hamilton mystery, The Shadow of Memory, I constructed a puzzle and challenged the amateur sleuths among us to solve it.

The good news is we have two winners!

But first, here is the case: A cruise ship that sails along the South American coast pulls into port in south Florida. It’s time to disembark. But when the steward tries to alert the male passenger in stateroom 210, 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 the man spoke with a Spanish accent, and the shipping company produced a passport in the name of Juan Cabrera, whose native country was 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 was 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 dead man’s luggage revealed that 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 Picchu. 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 admitted to seeing the man alive.

9. Authorities in the UK confirmed that the passport issued in London was genuine. Martyn Whyte was 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 revealed 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.

Those were the clues! Who killed Juan Cabrera and why?

Winner #1 is Sue Stover!

Congratulations, Sue! You are one heck of an amateur sleuth. If you send your mailing address to connieberry903 at gmail dot com, a signed copy of The Shadow of Memory will be on its way to you. Thanks so much for taking the challenge.

Winner #2 is our own K. M. Rockwood!

Not only did Kathleen come up with a solution, she actually wrote a short story about it, which she published on this blog and you can read it here. I was impressed! While her solution was different than mine, I loved her version so much. Kathleen, an ARC of The Shadow of Memory is yours.

What was my solution?

I’m glad you asked:

1. Martyn Whyte, a London investment banker with a gambling problem, was hired by a South American drug cartel to act as a go-between. All he had to do was take periodic cruises to South America, where he would pick up packets of fentanyl and convey them to a contact on the ship. Since Whyte’s mother had been Peruvian, he could speak fluent Spanish. The drug dealers provided him with a fake passport and a new identity—Juan Cabrera—to use while onshore in South America.

2. Whyte agreed, although he secretly planned to do one deal, take the drug money, and disappear with his girlfriend, who occupied cabin 208, next to his. The only problem was her husband. How could they make sure he was out of the way?

3. Whyte’s contact on the ship was his steward, who laced the husband’s food with syrup of ipecac to make him feel seasick. With the husband ill, Whyte and his girlfriend could live it up on shore excursions, which they did (hence the photos). To distance himself from the drug deals, Martyn Whyte swiped the sick husband’s cruise ID card every time he left the ship.

4. Overhearing their plan, the steward first drugged Whyte (who had a penchant for hot chocolate) and then stabbed him. You don’t fool with drug dealers.

Have you ever solved a mystery in real life? We want to know! 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

An Interview With Rosalie Spielman

by Grace Topping

Authors are frequently advised to write what they know, but that doesn’t always work and they are left having to conduct research about unfamiliar subjects. In Rosalie Spielman’s case, she was able to draw on her experience as an Army officer for her character and story. The first book in her Hometown Mysteries series, Welcome Home to Murder, provides rich details that make her story believable and hard to put down. 


Welcome Home to Murder

Tessa Treslow never wanted a small town life. As soon as she graduated high school, she happily escaped her tiny town to join the U.S. Army, leaving New Oslo, Idaho, population 852, firmly behind her. Twenty years later, the hometown hero is finally ready to come back—even if she has just a visit with loved ones in mind while her family is hoping to convince her to stay for good. 

With her fawn boxer dog, Vince, in tow, Tessa falls into the unsettlingly familiar small-town life, helping out in her family's general store and her feisty Aunt Edna's auto body shop. But her peaceful homecoming is suddenly shattered when the dead body of a crooked con man turns up in her aunt's shop, and the police have some serious questions for the family. To make matters worse, the sheriff in charge just happens to be Tessa's ex-boyfriend... and things did not end well between them all those years ago. When it comes out that the con man was trying to get his hands on the family business, Tessa knows they're in trouble. 

With her family in danger of being dragged away in handcuffs, Tessa becomes a woman on a mission to find the con man's killer. Between a slew of suspects, a meandering moose, and a handsome newcomer with his eye on Tessa, she has her work cut out for her. But when the killer changes tactics—putting everything her family holds dear in jeopardy—Tessa begins to realize what home really means to her. Can she be the hero for her hometown once again... before it's too late?




Welcome, Rosalie. 


Following a career in the U. S. Army, Tessa Treslow returns home to visit her parents and her Aunt Edna, a Vietnam-era veteran. She plans to stay only for a short visit while she decides where she wants to settle. Why does Tessa opt to stay with her aunt and not her parents?

Tessa has a deep bond with her aunt through their mutual love of all things mechanical. At her parents' house, her childhood room has remained the same, while at Aunt Edna's, there is a guest room, which is what Tessa wants to be—a temporary guest.


After twenty years in the Army, Tessa doesn’t feel she is ready to become a civilian. Most civilians don’t realize that being in the military is more than just a job. What will Tessa’s biggest adjustment be?


The hardest thing for me was the lack of identity. I felt like I went from being "someone" to being no one. Tessa does touch on this in the book. She isn't sure what is in store for her next. Most retirees go on to second careers and do another twenty years in a different field, or in a civilian equivalent of their military job, and she does want to do auto repair and restoration, but hasn't figured out how or where to do that yet.


Once home, Tessa meets Nick Hunt, a disabled Army veteran. She initially resists his overtures of friendship. Why?


Tessa hesitates to be friendly with Nick for two main reasons. One, she doesn't want to get involved with anyone, especially a military man, as she lost her fiancé when he was killed in combat. The other reason is that she doesn't want anything to keep her in New Oslo. 


Nick suffered the loss of his leg while on active duty and wears a prosthesis. Apparently, there are prostheses for various activities. Can you please tell us more about that?

I've learned a little from my friend with a prosthetic leg. Since her (and Nick's) amputation is above the knee, the artificial leg needs to have ankle and knee joints that can both lock in certain positions. Just pay attention to your joints while doing different activities and you'll understand the need for this. According to my friend, a locking ankle was initially developed for women to wear heels! My friend uses that locking ankle to fly small aircraft. She also has knees for biking and skiing, as well as usual walking. I'm not sure how each is different. You have probably seen the "blade" that some people run with, which would be inappropriate for causal walking around. Therefore, they also need a regular prosthetic leg.


Nick is working in a program called Troops to Teachers. Is that an actual program?


Yes, it is. This program allows enlisted soldiers to complete their degree and be employed as teachers. Typically, these teachers are sent to inner-city schools, where it is harder to get teachers. After they have completed a term of service and their degree/certification, they can move on to a different school, like Nick did. 


You have firsthand knowledge about serving in the Army and separating from active duty. Please tell us about that.


I became an Army Officer via ROTC. My sister and brother were/are also officers, but in the Air Force. My sister attended the Air Force Academy, and my brother went through Officer Training School, OTS. My father, a retired Colonel, read the oath of office for each of us. We liked to joke in my family that my brother should have gone Navy to round out the services.


As for separating, for me, it was a little different than others' experiences because I had married another officer. When you marry a military member, you become a "dependent" of your "sponsor," meaning you are now afforded a dependent military ID and all that comes with that – the health care, access to posts and the stores on them, etc. So when I separated, I lost my active duty ID and instead gained a dependent ID. My frustration when I first separated was that we were headed overseas, where you can't do anything without your sponsor. It was very frustrating to go from someone who was making decisions and in charge of things to someone who needed my husband to do things for me.


Tessa gained experience working on vehicles before she entered the Army, and while on leave, worked with her aunt to restore a 1948 Chevy 3100 pickup truck. You write knowledgeably about vehicle repairs. Did you have knowledge of vehicles before you entered the Army or worked in that area while on active duty?


No, I don't have a background in mechanics, but I wish I did! I share Tessa's enthusiasm for classic cars as well but have no real knowledge of them. 

My first active duty career field was as a PATRIOT Missile Officer, but my position was Maintenance Platoon Leader, in charge of the soldiers who were mechanics. I loved it! I would get down under those big trucks so the mechanics could teach me about things like leaks. My job was basically as their administrator, but I would have loved to stay in that field and change my career field to Ordnance. Tessa was an Ordnance Officer, who are the leaders in the mechanical units.


You highlight the issue of veterans suffering from PTSD and the high numbers of veteran suicides. Are these issues particularly important to you? Are there organizations that help veterans once they separate from military service?


This is a very important issue to me. We lose way too many service members to suicide—the current estimate is twenty-two a day. The attitudes around mental health in the military are slowly changing, but not fast enough for those suffering. We call the mental health issues “the unseen wounds of war,” as if a soldier is hurt in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast. He or she may not lose a limb, but their brains could be damaged from traumatic brain injury (TBI). In past eras, PTSD was called "shell shock" or "battle fatigue," and it has existed as long as war has. It was treated as a weakness of character, and that attitude still remains, to a point. 


And yes, there are a number of organizations that help soldiers after separation. I highlight a few of them as a postscript in my book. One of them is the Disabled American Veterans organization, to which my publisher is donating part of their proceeds for the presales and first week of sales.


A very large and potentially ferocious moose plays a role in your book. You could almost add him to your list of characters. In that part of the country, do moose often walk through the center of town? Do they present a frequent danger to the citizens of New Oslo?


Absolutely they are walking around town. I got the inspiration from seeing a Facebook video posted by the coffee shop in the town New Oslo is based on, which showed a moose cow and her calf walking down Main Street. 

Just this spring, there was a young moose hanging out on the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, peering in the window of the bookstore and laying on the lawns. There are a lot of pictures of moose walking around town in both Moscow and the town New Oslo is based on. I would say they don't present a danger because residents know to steer clear of the huge animals and keep their dogs away from them. The moose don't seem to pay humans any mind, but can be especially dangerous in the fall when the males are rutting, and in the spring when the females have their babies. Like any mother, a moose will protect her offspring if she feels it is being threatened. 


Tessa and her family attend a Cowboy Poetry event in town. What exactly is that?


Cowboy Poetry events celebrate the tradition of storytelling and folks singing—as the cowboys would have around the campfire at night to entertain themselves. My recounting in the book is of the experience I had at my first one. It was truly an amazing to hear these poets recite extensive poems and stories from memory. It's a fascinating piece of folk history that deserves to be remembered and celebrated.


The Hometown Mystery Series is your second series. Please tell us about your Aloha Lagoon Mystery, Death Under the Sea? Will we be seeing more books in that series?


The Aloha Lagoon series is a multi-author series from Gemma Halliday Publishing. I tried out for and was offered a contract, which resulted in Death Under the Sea. In this 16th book of the series, we meet Kiki, a young recovering socialite, as she stops in Aloha Lagoon to scuba dive. She, of course, finds herself in hot water. I received a second contract, for book 18, Death on a Cliff, which will be released on 9 August and continues the story of Kiki's adventures. I recently signed a contract for two more books, which will be released next year, one of them Christmas-themed! 


I'd like to add that this series does not need to be read in order; each author creates their own main and side characters who have their own character arcs. There are a few characters that "belong" to all the authors, and readers enjoy having one author's characters do cameos in a different author's book.


What should we be on the lookout from you next?


Besides the three Aloha Lagoon books, I have two more Hometown Series books coming. The second will be released later this year or early 2023, and the third in 2023. I also have the lead story in the Chesapeake Crimes: Magic is Murder!anthology, titled "What's a Little Murder Between Mammals?" which is set for release at the end of this coming August.



Thank you, Rosalie.



You can learn more about Rosalie Spielman and her books at www.Rosalie-Spielman-author.com



Originally from a tiny town in the Palouse region of Idaho, as a military brat, veteran, and military spouse (retired), Rosalie Spielman has moved more times than she has fingers to count on. Somewhere along the way, Rosalie discovered that she could make other people laugh with her writing. She enjoys reading to escape from the real world and hopes to give you the same with her stories. 


Welcome Home to Murder will be released on 7 June 2022, and the next Aloha Lagoon story, Death On a Cliff, arrives 8 August 2022.




Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Creating Your Sacred Writing Space by Martha Reed

I’m in the middle of renovating a new-to-me condo and adding the small touches that will make it my new home. I think most normal people would first set up their bed and then maybe their TV or game station. Oh, no. Not me. My primary concern and focus is setting up my sacred writing space, AKA organizing my desk.

Stephen King, in his book, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” suggests: “Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

Profound as Mr. King’s statement is, the reason I like to follow his advice is because strategically setting my desk in a corner (or against a blank wall) removes any opportunity for distraction.

When I lived in downtown Pittsburgh, my desk was tucked in next to a big window. I got a ton of natural northern facing light (my moth orchids loved it) but the window itself looked out onto the blank brick façade of the opposite warehouse building. It was perfect. I wrote “No Rest for the Wicked” at that location using words that flew from my fingertips to the page like I was channeling a Vin Diesel fast-action movie. I believe the reason I was so successful with that space was because while the space felt open and bright, I couldn’t see any passing foot traffic which eliminated my favorite distraction game called “Let’s Invent Back Stories for the People I See.”

While this is a super fun game to play at busy airports while you’re waiting for your flight, it will absolutely torpedo your daily word count.

Since I’m waiting for my desk to get out of storage (with the rest of my furniture) I’ve been working at my kitchen counter. There should be no difficulty with me doing this. My laptop works perfectly well plugged into a wall socket at my kitchen counter. It’s probably even healthier for me to write standing up. That said, my word count has dropped sharply. It’s like the petulant child that is my creative self has folded its arms and gone on strike until I get my desk back.

Can I say this makes no sense? I have everything I need to be creative. I have my messy stacks of noted index cards, and my erratic plot outlines mapped out on posterboard. But there’s something about having that defined and sacred writing space that I need to lift my inspiration airborne. It’s perverse, and I can’t explain why it is this way. I only know that when I go to writer’s conferences, and I hear other writers talk about using advanced writing and plotting software, I smile, and nod sagely, knowing that my secrets are safe in the cheap notebooks I’ve got stashed in my desk drawer back home.

What are your tricks for organizing your sacred writing space? Anything you’d like to share?

Sunday, May 22, 2022

An Interview with Annette Dashofy by E. B. Davis

As Monongahela County’s new coroner Zoe Chambers-Adams gears up for a third day searching for a missing woman, she receives the news she’s been dreading: a body has been found. What she discovers at the scene leaves no doubt—the missing woman was violently murdered. Worse, the manner of death mirrors the Monongahela Strangler case that terrorized the county when Zoe was in high school. Those murders stopped, but the case was never satisfactorily solved. And with people arriving in town for Zoe’s twentieth high school reunion, the memories of those scary days return with a vengeance.

But Zoe’s new husband, Vance Township Police Chief Pete Adams, sees the murder differently. His investigation reveals two feuding families and a forbidden relationship between their children. The homicide appears to be a crime of passion until Pete’s relentless digging unearths a link between his prime suspect and Zoe’s serial killer. Suddenly, with the predator threatening to strike someone near and dear to both Zoe and Pete, they must race to uncover the truth and catch a madman before another innocent victim is brutally murdered.



Fatal Reunion is the eleventh book in Annette Dashofy’s Zoe Chambers mystery series. It’s been almost two years since the last release, Book 10, Til Death, due to a change in publishers. For those of you who are fans of this series, Annette published an interim collection of new Zoe stories in Crime In The Country. Unfortunately, Fatal Reunion is not listed as the eleventh book in the series on Amazon, which could be confusing to readers.


In a recent blog for WWK, Annette revealed that with the new publisher, the Zoe Chambers series tone could be darker. When I read, I didn’t notice the change in tone. For those of you who are old Zoe fans, no need to fear. There is still the underlying humor even in the face of death and broken relationships.                                                                                        E. B. Davis


One theme that surfaces time and again throughout the book is that people blame the victims. Why do people judge children harshly when it’s the parent who is at fault? The child is a victim of the parent, too!


I’m not a psychologist or a parent, so I may not be the person to answer, despite having written the story. In this case, the parent in question truly wants a better life for his son but has a really horrible way of showing it. He believes he’s right and is the only one who knows what’s best. Basically, it’s his way or the highway. In the father’s mind, if the child wants a different path or rebels, then the child is misguided or being manipulated.


What’s a Quarter horse gelding?


A Quarter Horse is a breed named because it can run a quarter mile faster than a Thoroughbred. A gelding is a castrated male horse. They’re more docile than a stallion (an uncastrated male) and less “moody” than a mare. Having said that, Zoe’s gelding, Windstar, is named after a horse I once raised from a foal. Except Zoe’s Windstar is the horse I wished mine had been. My Windstar bucked me off more times than I can count and broke a few of my bones.


Why doesn’t Zoe want to go to her twentieth high school reunion?


Zoe was a “wild child” back then and isn’t proud of it. She really doesn’t want to face that part of her past regardless of how much she has changed. She figures she has stayed in touch with the people she liked back then and has no desire to hang out with the others. That last part is what kept me away from most of my own reunions too! (I was NOT a wild child though. Quite the opposite.)


I was surprised that a teacher came to Zoe’s reunion. I don’t think teachers were invited to mine. Is this a common practice in other places in Pennsylvania?


Ha! Probably not! This is where I drag out the disclaimer about writing fiction. In my fictional Phillipsburg High School, the reunion planning committee decided to invite a few of the more popular teachers to the reunion. In reality, I’ve only attended one of my reunions and there were no teachers there. I wish there had been! There are several I’d really like to see again.


Although men are often described as aging better than women, it seems from 18-38, even with pregnancies, the women are far more recognizable than the men. Any thoughts on that?


This is simply my own observation of classmates I ran into within that age range. I never had any problem recognizing the women. The men were another story. I’ve had several guys from my class come up to me—guys I SHOULD know—and I had no clue. I decided to give Zoe the same problem, which puts her in direct conflict with her pal Rose, who insists she recognizes one man in particular…a man neither of them wants to ever see again.


Abby, one of Pete’s officers, seems like a careful and in-depth researcher/investigator. And yet, Pete admonishes her use of a Taser on one suspect and encourages her to use it on another. What does Pete perceive that Abby doesn’t?


That scene is the result of what I learned from a real police detective who has been around for a number of years. I pretty much put his words directly into Pete’s mouth with regards to younger cops relying on new technology. Pete has been around a while as well, has worked as a Field Training Officer in the past, and is a mentor to Abby in addition to being her boss. She’s a good cop, but she hasn’t seen as much or experienced as much as he has, especially since Pete spent the first half of his career in the city of Pittsburgh. Abby has always been a small-town peace officer.


As far as his suggestion she use the taser on the other guy, that was more in jest. He wanted the man in question to think twice before messing with Abby.


The new victim of rape and strangulation death reminds everyone of a serial killer who killed and raped three women during Zoe’s senior year. Rose, who has returned with her family for the reunion thinks the police targeted the wrong suspect twenty years ago. She thinks it was the class perv, who she claims to have seen at the reunion picnic. Someone else backs up her claim. But Zoe is skeptical, which ticks off Rose. Zoe disproves Roses claim, but then realizes she is wrong. Is Zoe’s lack of belief crucial in their relationship? Can Rose see that Zoe is a professional, and she is not?


I don’t believe Rose is thinking about Zoe’s profession in this case. Rose is being driven by her heart and her fears. Plus she believes what she has seen with her own eyes and doesn’t appreciate Zoe doubting her. To be honest, Rose and Zoe’s friendship has been on increasingly rocky ground since the first book in the series when Rose’s husband was killed. Although the loss had nothing to do with Zoe, it deeply changed Rose. Even now that she’s happily remarried, Rose is easily shaken and is constantly afraid of losing those she loves.


Vince Quinn, whose new tractor was stolen and taken for a joy ride, is described as a “surly son of a bitch.” Is there a reason for his manner?


He’s another case of losing a loved one (his son) having changed him. Even twenty years later, Vince still grieves, and his grief manifests in anger at everyone and everything. He’s mad at the world. He’s already lost the most important person in his life and doesn’t care who else gets hurt.


Refresh our memories of Lauren. She’s a journalist but also a horse owner.


Lauren first showed up in Uneasy Prey as a thorn in Pete’s side and a possible rival in Zoe’s eyes. Since then, her love of horses helped her bond with Zoe, and she’s possibly the only journalist Pete doesn’t mind having around. When Zoe’s cousin, Patsy, moved to Florida, she left her horse in Lauren’s hands. Now that the move appears permanent, Lauren’s been given the opportunity to buy the horse outright. And since she boards at Zoe’s farm, Lauren’s always around.


What happened to Zoe in high school that gives her such empathy for the murder/rape victims? Who was Jerry?


To learn about Zoe’s history with Jerry (McBirney), you need to read Circle of Influence. For me to answer in any detail would be a major spoiler for that book! Suffice it to say, Zoe was the victim of an attempted rape, thanks to Jerry.

Zoe sometimes makes incorrect assumptions. Is that due to lack of investigative training or her newness in her job?


A bit of both. Zoe went from being a part-time deputy coroner to full-time deputy coroner and was then thrust into the job of county coroner in relatively short order. She knows there are gaps in her training, but she’s really trying!


Abby’s research shows that sometimes a serial killer/rapist can go dormant for years, but usually not forever. Is that true?


Yes. I did a lot of reading on the subject (not a pleasant topic) and learned there are a few, very rare cases, when a sexual predator has stopped. Emphasis on very rare. But not unheard of.


Often, it’s the easy suspect, not the correct suspect that the police hound. What does Marcus see in Gabe that few others (except maybe Pete) see?


Marcus is another character who first showed up in Uneasy Prey, and he has always been the protector of the underdog and the bullied, although Gabe definitely doesn’t appear to fit that category at all. Marcus is desperate to give him the benefit of the doubt, whether Gabe deserves it or not. As for Pete, he’s always trying to straighten kids out and is known for his “come to Jesus” talks with troublemakers. 


Does Zoe really need Davis so much that she’s willing to put up with his arrogance and unprofessional behavior when she’s the boss?


Going back to Zoe’s gaps in training and experience, she believes she “needs” him. He’s managed to keep her convinced of it for a while now, but he’s really starting to wear on her last nerve. To him, Zoe is a steppingstone. He wants that position and believes he’s more qualified. In many ways, Zoe believes he’s more qualified too, but she also knows she has more empathy for the victims than Davis will ever have.


(Behind the scenes tidbit: The Davis/Zoe relationship is going to eventually explode big time.)


Like Zoe’s cousin Patsy, you seem to be retiring some secondary characters for new ones. Why? Are you taking the series in a new direction?


I don’t know if I’m “retiring” secondary characters. Just like real life, people come in and out of Zoe and Pete’s lives. Or maybe they just don’t have a major role in the current story. Unless a character has been killed off, there’s always a possibility they’ll show up again.


Why does Zoe question that she may not be the best person to serve as coroner?


If Franklin Marshall was still alive, Zoe would happily still be working under him as deputy coroner. His death threw her into the job of heading up that office. Also, she worked as a paramedic, saving lives, for a lot of years. She misses the outcome of having her patient survive a trauma. It’s a different mindset, one that she’s still trying to reconcile. Until she comes to terms with what she really wants, she’s always going to doubt herself.


What’s next for Zoe and Pete?


I’m working on book #12, tentatively titled Helpless. In it, a friend has been shot and left for dead. His wife’s been murdered. His daughter’s been kidnapped. He knows he’s probably not going to survive, and his dying wish is that his little girl be rescued from the monster he saw but can’t identify. And as if that isn’t enough to keep Zoe and Pete busy, a major hurricane is bearing down on Vance Township. Will they be able to capture the killer and rescue the missing child before both disappear forever?