Thursday, August 31, 2023

Truth is Stranger than Fiction by Writers Who Kill

Readers always want to know what inspires our crime fiction. Turns out there are lots of things that happen IRL (in real life) that would be perfect book fodder, but no one would believe them without a lot of deep massage. A few examples follow.

Molly MacRae: For me, the best and most irritating instances of “stranger than fiction” come from human interest stories and obituaries in the local paper. They’re the best because they’re delightful and preposterous and perfect. They’re irritating because I can’t use them. What am I talking about? The names. It’s the names! Sometimes they’re too delightful, preposterous, and perfect. They’re names so unlikely that I can’t possibly give them, exactly as they are, to my characters. If I do, readers will think I’m trying too hard to be entertaining or outrĂ©. It’s maddening. I can’t give you examples, either, because these are real people who are living (or did up until recently) in my area. Not that any of them will read this post, but it wouldn’t be right. But I keep a list of the names. One of my brothers sends me names, too. And sometimes I help myself to a first or last name for a character.

And now you can, too! Here’s a fun chart with some of the real first and last names from my lists. They’re mixed up to protect the innocent (and some of the new combinations are inadvertently delightful, preposterous, and perfect). If you’re brave enough, go ahead and pick and choose from among them to give your own characters a bit of panache.


Heather Weidner: My first publishing credit was a short story in a Sisters in Crime Anthology (the Virginia is for Mysteries series). I had a lady contact me and tell me she loved the story, and that her husband had the same name as one of the villains. She brought him to one of the book signings, so we could meet each other. This was the one and only time that I met someone who shared the same name as one of my characters.  

 My first cozy mystery series has an amateur sleuth named Jules Keene who lives at a campground in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She refurbishes vintage trailers for the “glamping” (glamorous camping) experience. She drives around the valley in her silver and black Jeep Wrangler with her sidekick Bijou, the Jack Russell Terrier.

 One day, I was sitting in evening traffic on the toll-road in Richmond, Virginia, and I looked up at the silver and black Wrangler in front of me. The personalized plates read, “Julz Jeep.” I wish I had taken a picture of it.

 Lisa Malice: I’m living a legal thriller with my family’s property which involves a crooked developer and his machinations to pave the main road to our lake cabins. The local town council is either corrupt, too, or being deceived by the township lawyer and these developers into violating assessment laws and open meeting laws. No murders so far. I’d use the situation in a book, but no one would believe the real-life insanity without a significant rewrite.

 Kait Carson: Coincidences happen. My route home from work included one of those ridiculous lights that allows three cars through on each green. Most folks knew the drill and waited. Except for this one man. He confidently zipped up the center turn lane of the road and cut into line completely without regard for what he had to do to get where he wanted to go. The standard accident waiting to happen. The road before the light has a low railed bridge over a canal. The day he cut me off, he almost drove me into the bridge rail. I stopped to let him in, and yes, honked my horn. He didn’t like that, so he backed up into me, then immediately got out of his car screaming that I had hit him from the rear. The next thing we heard was the sound of sirens. A State Trooper in an unmarked car had been stopped at the oncoming light and witnessed the entire event. The look on the driver’s face was priceless. I hope the ticket was expensive.

 I’d love to use the episode in a story, but coincidences like this don’t fly in fiction!

Readers, tell us about your truth is stranger than fiction experience.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Paula Gail Benson's "Crossfire in the Crosshairs"

Assassins who are paid well, blackmailed, or are repaying debts as they hunt face more challenges than anticipated. The worst crime is growing attached to their target or sympathizing with their cause. Each assassin’s journey is entirely unique in these eleven dark tales.

Featuring stories from Victoria Azzi, L.N. Hunter, Charles Kyffhausen, Barend Nieuwstraten III, Fulvio Gatti, Edgar Mahaffey, Gray Stanback, Jennifer Strassel, Douglas Allen Gohl, Paula Gail Benson, and Frank Sawielijew.

WWK’s Paula Gail Benson’s short story “Crossfire in the Crosshairs” is featured in Dragon Soul Press’s new anthology A Death in the Night, which releases today. It’s a noir compilation of eleven tales.

Paula’s main character answers to the name of Mommie, can be labeled a killer (Hessian bloodlines), and thinks her assignment smells funny. Her boss asks more personal questions about her ex and her daughter than she’d like. The mark’s death will line his nearest and dearest pockets, but that’s not a deterrent. Set during the pandemic, she uses her mask as part of her disguise. She’s been warned she’s isn’t the only assassin on the job. Surprises are anathema in her profession. Too bad she receives so many.

A Death in the Night can be ordered on Amazon. The Kindle version is $1.99, paperback $19.99.

Congratulations Paula!


Tuesday, August 29, 2023

What We're Reading by Writers Who Kill

 "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."--Stephen King

As we wrap up August and move from summer to fall, we thought it would be fun to share what we’re reading.

Debra H. Goldstein:
Mysteries to Die For: Things That Go Jack in the Night which is the book that
goes with the podcast, Mysteries to Die For. The fun thing is that the first story (and of course season podcast), “A Package of Pepper Jack Cheese,” was written by our own KM Rockwood.

KM Rockwood
: A Man with One of Those Faces, a Bunny McGarry mystery by Caimh McDonnell, set in Dublin. I like to read novels with a strong sense of place and the people who inhabit it. Bunny himself is a garda detective, but despite his frequent close brushes with disciplinary action for his disregard of norms and regulations, his heart remains in the right place. There's a strong streak of the humorous and the ridiculous running through the stories, and the conclusion, while never a "happily ever after" ending, tends to be satisfying and hopeful.

Korina Moss:
I just finished reading an ARC of a debut cozy mystery by Callie Carpenter titled DEATH BY DEMO, A Home Renovation Mystery, releasing December 5th. I enjoyed it very much. Next up is an ARC of Daphne Silver’s first Rare Books cozy mystery titled CRIME AND PARCHMENT, which I'm excited to read. It releases this November. 

E.B. Davis
: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson. Sisterhood and racism are the
themes of The Almost Sisters. It is a story of an Alabama town’s founding family a few progenies past the originators. In the newest adult generation living in Norfolk, VA, main character Leia Birch Brigg’s is a single pregnant thirty-eight-year-old cartoonist, who has done financially very well for herself. Rachel, Leia’s younger half-sister, has led a conventional life with a perfect husband and daughter and has a delusion of superiority. Unfortunately, Rachel is insensitive to the fact that her husband was Leia’s bestie and first love in high school. Rachel is quite upset when she learns her husband has had an affair and her marriage breaks up. Leia isn’t surprised.

Meanwhile, in a small Alabama town, Leia’s grandmother Birchie is losing touch with reality due to dementia. She still has her clarity at times. Leia is comforted knowing that Birchie’s best friend from childhood, a former minister’s wife, Hattie, lives in Birchie’s founder’s house with her. Although Hattie is black, it was her mother who was in service to the Brigg’s family. But since Hattie now tends to her friend, the townspeople think of Hattie as Birchie’s servant.

When Leia comes to visit Birchie and Hattie, Rachel and her niece trail her while trying to get over the trauma of their family’s breakup. When attending a church service, Birchie, in her reduced mental state, outs two church members who are having an affair, all hell breaks loose. Some of the congregation stand behind Birchie and support her. Others, who have come to resent Birchie’s oligarchic manner, act with hostility to the family. When Hattie and Birchie then try and smuggle out an old body that’s been hidden in the founding house attic for over sixty years, they are caught. Leia fears that Birchie will be arrested for murdering her father, as the bones prove to be his.

This is an intricate story with more twists and turns than you can anticipate. But keep in mind that sisters, whether biological or not, can still be sisters of the heart.  

Grace Topping
: Covert in Cairo by Kelly Oliver. It’s a historical mystery set in Egypt during the first half of the 20th century. It’s full of  intrigue and intelligence operatives. Although I’m enjoying it, I’ve discovered it is from the middle of Kelly’s series and reveals outcomes from the previous books. So I’m putting it aside so I can read her earlier books first. I can’t wait to get back to it. 

Mary Dutta
: I'm listening to the audiobook of Everyone in My Family Has Killed
by Benjamin Stevenson, which is a terribly clever meta-mystery. I'm also rereading Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress, the first in his Easy Rawlins series and a sort of foundational text of diverse crime fiction. I teach on it every year and it never fails to impress.

Heather Weidner:
This summer, I went back and caught up on all the Michael Connelly novels that I’ve missed. I’m reading The Night Fire, and then I’ll be caught up on the Bosch, Haller, and Ballard (for now).

I’m also reading A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie. This is an amazing resource and a great study of Dame Christie’s mysteries.

Sarah E. Burr:
Mayhem in Circulation By Leah Dobrinska. After loving my first visit to Larkspur, Wisconsin, and getting to know amateur sleuth Greta Plank in Death Checked Out, I snagged an advance review copy of Leah Dobrinska's latest cozy mystery as soon as it hit NetGalley.

Description: Librarian Greta Plank is hard at work planning and preparing for Larkspur’s Fall Festival and regional tourism showcase which, if successful, will be a boon to the local economy. But disaster strikes and chances of a positive review look slimmer than a periodical’s spine when a series of pranks escalates and one of Larkspur’s own is found dead the same day the reporter is set to arrive.

Desperate to defend her town’s character and get to the bottom of the circulating mayhem, Greta begins indexing suspects. Could the crimes be an outside job, undertaken by someone intent on harming the town’s reputation? Or is someone closer to home trying to ruin Larkspur from the inside?

With destruction of property, sabotage, and strange animal mishaps piling up on top of murder, Greta wouldn’t recommend this ‘choose your own (disastrous) adventure’ to anyone. In the end, she must decide who she can trust so she can close the book on these crimes before the shadowy vandal authors another kill. 

Susan Van Kirk
: I just finished reading In the Hands of Women by Jane Loeb Rubin. It's historical fiction and follows the life of Hannah Isaacson, an obstetrician-in-training in 1900s Baltimore and New York City hospitals. She devotes her life to making pregnant women safer during their pregnancies and delivery. When she's called to the scene of a dying woman who had a botched abortion at the hands of a midwife, she is accused of murder and sent to Blackwell's Prison to await trial. I loved this story, and it had so many thoughtful moments that could cause readers to ask questions about what's going on in our world today.

Lori Roberts Herbst
: Murder in Second Position by Lori Robbins. My current audiobook is Death in a Strange Land by Donna Leon. In anticipation of the upcoming movie, I just finished reading The Color Purple by Alice Walker (surprised I hadn't read it before). My favorite August read: Olive Again, by Elizabeth Strout.

Annette Dashofy
: I stayed up way too late last night finishing What Happened to the Bennetts by Lisa Scottoline. This book could be a master class in pacing, suspense, and emotion. It's going to stick with me for quite a while. 

Margaret S. Hamilton
: I read Jacqueline Winspear's A Sunlit Weapon, set in rural Kent during World War 2, and then her childhood and coming of age memoir, This time Next Year We’ll be Laughing. Only the author of the Maisie Dobbs series could have written the memoir, which includes exquisite sensory details of her rural life in Kent--picking hops and fruit, and her father's nature walks. People she knew popped up in several of her books, including the 1947 White Lady in her standalone novel of the same name encompassing two world wars.

Readers, what are you reading?

Monday, August 28, 2023

We've Come a Long Way by Nancy L. Eady

      It has been many moons since I had a real summer vacation, the kind that starts when school gets out in May and ends when school starts again in August. (In other states, I realize those dates work as June through September, but in Alabama it's May and August.) I still remember the summer before my senior year as one of the best. I spent six weeks that long ago summer in the 1980s at an electric typewriter from 8 until 5 Monday through Friday, banging out the draft of what evolved into a weird, fractured fairy tale about three bears named Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. I know it was weird because my mother’s only comment  after reading it was, “That was different.”

          Do I still have the manuscript? Of course. I haven’t read it since that summer, but I have many forgettable manuscripts tucked away in a secret corner of my closet (in that last moving box that never quite gets unpacked when you move) because even though they’re pretty much garbage, I just don’t have the heart to part with them. The collection also includes poetry from my junior and senior high school years that I wrote during the “I walk alone” stage many teens suffer through.

          Thinking about that hidden collection reminds me how much the world around me has changed since then. That long ago summer, when I was banging away at the electric typewriter, computers were things that those of us in advanced classes learned how to program using simple DOS commands [DOS was one of the earliest programming languages] with a connection to a main frame computer at a local college. If you could write a program that would alphabetize a simple list of first names, you accomplished something!

          The idea of using a computer as an extremely intelligent typewriter was nothing more than a gleam in the eyes of a few visionaries out west and in the high-tech departments of a few universities. Electronic books such as Kindles or Nooks existed only in science fiction.  My owning a library of hundreds of books one day was unthinkable unless I intended to be a neurosurgeon, to marry extremely well or to stumble into an unexpected source of wealth. Even had I access to wealth (which I didn’t), spending such wealth was only possible if I had cash or a check from a bank account. ATMs didn’t exist, either.

          It was also a good thing my writing that summer required no research. Because the internet had yet to be imagined, let alone implemented, research meant you had to stop writing to travel to the library and hope that it had the information you sought. That is a far cry from today’s world, where I get highly irate if I can’t find the answer to almost any question I can conceive of through Google.

          Telephones remained firmly attached to walls by cords, and lucky indeed was the teenager who either had her own telephone line in her own room or a cord long enough to pull the kitchen phone into another room for a little privacy.  Except for a very privileged few individuals who had access to cable, television was limited to what was playing on the three major networks: ABC, CBS and NBC, and the public television station, PBS. Larger cities would have one or two independent stations also, but not Montgomery, Alabama.

          As people get older, they tend to wax nostalgic about “the good old days.” I miss some things from those days (i.e., the long summer vacation), but as far as my writing and research tools are concerned, I am grateful for progress.

          What is your favorite “modern” writing tool? What is your least favorite? Is there any tool you regard as a necessary evil?

Sunday, August 27, 2023

To Laptop or Not to Laptop? By Annette Dashofy

Later this week, I’ll be flying from my home in Pennsylvania to San Diego for Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. I’ve been to six of these over the years, but I’ve never been to San Diego. Bouchercon is huge with some of the biggest name authors on the planet. My panel this year includes C.J. Box! I expect a crowd. And they won’t be there for me! 

Anyway, I’ll also participate in a signing session and plan to do a lot of networking with other authors and readers. And one of my publishers. It’s a business trip, to be sure. 

But it’s San Diego!

I confess. With Bouchercon being as big as it is, I’m a very small fish in a very large ocean. I’m not complaining. It makes me feel less guilty for playing hooky. Frankly, with the expenses involved, I only attend this one when it’s located in a city I want to visit. 

Examples: Long Beach:

My first time at the Pacific Ocean

New Orleans: 

Travel buddy Martha Reed getting her bourbon fix

St. Pete:

The veranda at the Vinoy



Boot shopping

 San Diego. (Pictures yet to be taken) 

I plan to slip out and explore a bit of southern California (or what’s left of it after last weekend’s Hurriquake). 

Which brings me to my conundrum. Do I lug my laptop with me and sneak in some writing time? Or do I unplug? Partly. I will have my phone. 

I usually do bring my laptop with me to conferences. I have no expectations of massive wordcounts. But I like to keep my mind in the story so I don’t have as much catching up to do when I get home. 

I’ve been to conferences, big and small, where I’m in awe of authors who set up shop in the bar and work on their next book. Or who slip away, not to take in the sights, but to write. 

I don’t intend to retreat from the activities to write. I figure these events are part of my job as a writer, but a different part. Spending time with my readers. Chatting with bloggers and podcasters. However, I usually get some words on the page in the morning. After a cup of hotel-room coffee, but before breakfast. 

On the other hand… Do I want to lug my laptop through multiple airports while racing to make connecting flights? 

Lately, I’ve become more focused on comfort. Cute flats instead of heels at the convention. Stretchy pants with pockets for things like ID, credit cards, and cash for flights. Even super-casual slip-on shoes for TSA screenings. 

Ah, yes. The TSA screening. My biggest reason for leaving the laptop at home. I’m trying to minimize the stuff I have to drag out of my carry-on bag and stick in those bins for x-rays and then pack back into the bag afterwards. 

So my question to you, my fellow writers: Do you bring your laptops with you when you travel to fan or writing conventions? Or do you leave them home and focus on the convention experience? And readers, do you merge work with down time when you vacation? 

I’m still undecided, so I await your input! 

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Things Writing Taught Me by Kait Carson


Writing is more than a profession. It’s an adventure. If the National Security Agency ever comes looking at my Google history, I’m in deep trouble. Most writers will say the same. Recent searches: Insulin overdose speed and effects; non-user Fentanyl toxicity vectors; how to make a noose; how to hang a person; pipe bomb construction; how to distill and disguise oleander poison. You get my drift—it’s not stuff you’d want your mother to see. In fact, lately, I open an incognito page to search for ways for my characters to commit fictional mayhem. It seems safer, but I think it might be a fool’s paradise.

What happens to all of that hard won knowledge? Some of it ends up in my books. Mostly it makes me good at Jeopardy and other trivia games. Twice in the past months, it made me a lifesaver. Not a bad return for those hours down the rabbit hole, and if the NSA shows up, I can point to my successes.

Those who follow this blog know I’m a cat mom. I have four: two live upstairs and two downstairs in my office. One of the downstairs cats has serious allergies and often requires eye drops. He also has a lousy personality, but that’s another blog. The eyedrops sit on my desk out of the way behind a lamp. They’ve been in this location since we moved into the house. Last month, I reported to work and found a small puddle oozing from the neck of the eyedrops bottle. The little buggers had gotten the cap off and used the bottle as a chew toy.

Eyedrops are poisonous. I dove into triage mode and called my vet, who had no idea that eyedrops were toxic. Fortunately, I had a file of information on my computer ready to send—I’d used eyedrops in one of my books. We were on the way when my vet called to tell us she’d cleared the decks for an emergency admission. The cat survived after aggressive treatment that did nothing for his personality. Ingrate. Research made a difference.

Last weekend, I was cleaning the kitchen when I heard a pop. At first, I thought we’d had a power outage, but the electronics all shone bright. I shrugged it off. We live in a rural area, and birds occasionally hit the windows, squirrels drop nuts, and then there are those four cats making odd noises. A few hours later, my husband came in and asked me if I had taken the gauge from the propane tank that powers our gas stove. Trust me on this, folks. I love gas cooking. Dealing with the propane tank is outside of my wheelhouse. I asked him when he last saw his mind, since clearly, he’d lost it. Then I remembered the pop.

When I attended the Writer’s Police Academy, I’d signed on for the bullet trajectory class. Professional trajectory calculations use implements like surveyor’s tools. My problem was simpler. I knew my starting point. I needed to figure out where the gauge landed. Sure enough, using basic geometry and enough trajectory knowledge to be dangerous, I deduced the gauge landed beneath our deck. I crawled under, discovered the gauge, and retrieved it. We’d been concerned that the tank would leak without the device. Turns out we were in no danger. The dial is magnetic—who knew? Now to research my way into discovering why the thing blew off and flew for eight feet.

Readers and writers, have you used research, or something you’ve read in a novel, to solve real-life problems? How did it turn out?

Friday, August 25, 2023

Grocery Store Syndrome by Nancy L. Eady

The writing I do as an attorney creates problems for my fiction writing. The main difficulty, over-explaining things, is compounded by my years as a mathematics teacher at an underprivileged high school. If I wanted my 15- and 16-year-old general math students to hear my instructions, let alone follow them, I had to repeat them.  Many times.  

The combination of attorney and former mathematics teacher is deadly in fiction. I explain inferences most readers understand implicitly. I have to edit out “grocery store” syndrome. And I over-use dialog tags.

          “Hello,” Daphne said.

          “Hello,” John answered, “How are you today?”

          Daphne said, “I’m fine. How are you?”

          “I can’t complain,” John said.

(I’ll stop here to relieve those of you already gritting your teeth in frustration.)

What is “grocery store” syndrome? 

Sometimes, all the reader needs to know is that Jane bought bread on the way home. In my earliest drafts, however, Jane gets in the car, drives to the store, leaves the car, enters the store, goes down aisle one and up aisle two, reaches up to shelf five to select Wonder Bread (Jane not being on a health kick or gluten-free diet), goes to the cashier line, puts the bread on the conveyor belt, pays the cashier, watches the cashier put the bread in the bag, describes the cashier (whom the reader never sees again) in detail, picks up the bag, returns to the car, drives home, enters the house and then either puts the bread away or uses it to make a sandwich. By the time we do that, I’m exhausted, Jane’s exhausted, and those readers persistent enough to stick with me until the end are exhausted.

Have you found any pitfalls in your creative writing stemming from prior experiences?  How do you deal with them?

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Guess Who's A Pantser (And It's Not Me) by Connie Berry


Last Tuesday I read an interview with the wonderful British crime writer Ann Cleeves. The Raging Storm, the latest in her Two Rivers series featuring detective Matthew Venn, will be published on September 5th (Deborah Crombie, Jungle Red Writers, August 22). I’ve read every one of Ann’s Shetland and Vera series, and I’ve watched every episode of the wonderful television shows. To say I’m excited about this new book would be an understatement. I read the books, not only for the amazing plots, fascinating settings, and fully realized characters but also for her craft. That’s why I was so surprised to learn that Ann Cleeves is a pantser. If you don’t know what that is, see below. Here’s a part of that interview by Deborah Crombie:

            Debs: This book has such a twisty-turny complicated plot.  I wondered how 

                      much you plan ahead.

            Ann: Not at all! I don’t know anything about the book, except the setting, when

                   I start. Very quickly I decided that this would be more of an adventure story 

                  than anything else I’ve written….But I still didn’t know the plot details!

Really? Now that caught my attention. And raised questions. But first, what are plotters and pantsers? Plotters plot in advance, sometimes in great detail. Pantsers let the story evolve naturally. They “fly by the seat of their pants.” I always think of the two approaches to writing in terms of travel.

A TRUE PLOTTER would plan out every day’s route in detail and make hotel reservations in advance. They might even locate gas stations and restaurants along the way. All this would be programmed into their GPS, of course, for mile-by-mile guidance, complete with speed traps and traffic congestion.

A TRUE PANTSER would just get in the car and head west. The trip might take a few days longer. Some roads might turn out to be dead-ends, and there would probably be a lot of necessary course corrections. But think of the surprising adventures the pantser might have along the way! In our real travels, some of the most memorable experiences have happened when we ended up someplace we hadn’t planned.

Why am I so interested in Ann Cleeve’s writing process? It’s because the more books I write, the more of a pantser I’ve become. The manuscript I just turned in, A Collection of Lies, Book 5 in the Kate Hamilton Mysteries (coming June 2024) was written with less plotting and more pantsing than I’ve ever done. The result was both exciting and terrifying. And required a lot more revision.

Could I ever really cut myself off from all pre-planning and just go with the flow? I honestly don’t know. I think I’d need more than a year for that book, but I may be wrong.

So here are my questions—and I really am curious:

If you’re a pantser, do you really, really not plan ahead at all? Do you just put down ideas as they occur to you? What if those ideas turn out to be dead ends?

For you plotters, what would it take to persuade you to write a book with no planning ahead whatsoever?

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

An Interview with Barbara Ross By E. B. Davis


Serving up mouthwatering shellfish, the Snowden Family Clambake has become a beloved institution in Busman’s Harbor, Maine. But when new clues rise to the surface five years after the disappearance of Julia Snowden’ s mother’s friend, the family business shifts to sleuthing . . .
Julia and her mother, Jacqueline, have come to the exclusive summer colony of Chipmunk Island to attend a memorial service for Jacqueline’s old friend Ginny, who’s been officially declared dead half a decade after she went out for her daily swim in the harbor and was never seen again. But something seems fishy at the service—especially with the ladies of the Wednesday Club. As Julia and Jacqueline begin looking into Ginny’s cold case, a present-day murder stirs the pot, and mother and daughter must dive into the deep end to get to the bottom of both mysteries . . .


Hidden Beneath is the eleventh book in the Maine Clambake mystery series. Barbara keeps adding to the storyline and shelling more plots with each book. This addition solidifies much of the backstory that Barbara has established, but it ties up loose ends nicely and begins a new endeavor for main character, Julia. I felt sorry for Julia’s mother, Jacqueline, who has too many important things to do and decisions to make, but the truth she seeks lies hidden beneath.


Please welcome Barbara Ross back to WWK.         E. B. Davis

Julia and Jacqueline use their Boston Whaler to get around the islands. I have this image of a huge whaling ship. I mean whales are big, right? Just how big is a Boston Whaler?


Hi and thanks so much for having me. Boston Whalers come in many lengths from 13 feet to 35 feet. Given the amount of people and stuff the Snowdens have to haul back and forth to Morrow Island, I’ve always pictured theirs as being around 22 feet.


Julia and Jacqueline go to Chipmunk Island to attend a memorial service for Jacqueline’s old friend, Ginny Merrill, who has been declared dead after she disappeared five years before. It is a private island with a homeowner’s association, no cars, and vacation homes, which have been passed down from generation to generation. Are there islands or communities like this in Maine?


There are 3000-4000 islands in Maine, most along the coast but a few in large lakes, like Sebago. Forty-one islands are inhabited year-round, fifteen of those are unbridged (i.e. the only way to get there is by boat, helicopter, or small plane-and then only for the very largest of them.) Six hundred are privately owned. I couldn’t get a count on unbridged islands, seasonally-occupied by multiple households, like Chipmunk in the book, but at least several dozen.


Jacqueline and Ginny were old friends at boarding school, but they haven’t been close for decades. Ginny grew up during the summers with those girls her age residing on Chipmunk Island, who are all this generation’s Wednesday Club members. What is the Wednesday Club?


From the book—


“What exactly is the Wednesday Club?” I asked.

April smiled. She had pleasantly round cheeks and a dimple near her mouth. “The Wednesday Club is nothing more and nothing less than a group of women who pick a topic, say Pompeii, or Elizabethan England, or the Bloomsbury group. Then each member chooses an aspect of that topic and writes a research paper about it.”

“A research paper?” Of all the things I imagined April was going to tell me the club did, writing research papers wasn’t one of them. “Writing a research paper for summer fun?”

April chuckled. “With footnotes and everything. The writing takes place over the winter, when they have access to libraries and such. The papers get presented in the summer, one every Wednesday. The paper’s author hosts the meeting in her home. They have the same little sandwiches, cookies, and fruit squares for every single meeting.”

“But why do they do it?” I asked.

April laughed again. “The group was founded by my great-grandmother and her friends on the island. They were all college-educated women, desperate to keep their minds active and with limited opportunities to do so.”

“Your great-grandmother would be pleased the group is still going,” I said to April.

She rolled her eyes. “My great-grandmother would be more pleased to know it isn’t necessary for women who want to use their educations to have a group like that anymore.”

Does the fact that Ginny emailed Jacqueline wanting her advice and then named her as executor of her estate give Julia any ideas about how or why Ginny disappeared?


It tips Julia that either Ginny had a falling out with her best friends on the island or, she didn’t trust any of them to carry out her final wishes. Figuring out why that would be propels Julia forward in the investigation.


Julia discovers the club members are tearing the house apart to find Ginny’s will. Jacqueline takes offense because they have no authority to be there. Why would it have been such a horrible thing if the house went to the state?


Ginny’s house is one of the few on the island that has direct access to the water. (Most are high on bluffs.) The state could choose to make the land available to the public, for example to kayakers for picnicking. This would bring strangers to the island, something the club members do not want.


The current generation of women want to keep Chipmunk Island the same. Some want Ginny’s house for their own offspring, and yet, after talking with their children, Julia finds none of them have the time, money, or inclination to have a house there. Is this a case of the older generation being in denial or just not recognizing reality?


It varies for each character, but I think, in general, it’s a case of wanting the same happy summers for their grandchildren that the club members had and that their children had. It’s a case of holding onto a past that is becoming obsolete.


Julia finds her old love, Chris, on the island. He took the job of Chipmunk Island superintendent, which required him to stay on the island when it was deserted during the winter. Why did he do that?


Chris comes to the conclusion that he took the job to isolate himself. He and Julia have broken up. He’s estranged from his family. By his own admission, he’s pushed away his friends. He’s punishing himself for something, but what?


I was surprised that the summer would be Lupine Design’s slow season. Isn’t there a lot of tourists in Busman’s Harbor then?


Yes, but the retail aspect is the smaller part of Lupine’s business. Their larger business is selling their ceramics through other retailers and distributors. Most of the work of making the goods has to be done by spring, so they have inventory for wedding season and the summer retail business.

What does “cash on the barrelhead” mean? Where did the phrase originate?

It means immediate and total cash payment required, no credit extended. (This is the only way Julia’s friend, restauranteur Gus Farnham, operates.) There is speculation the expression goes back to the days when both seats and tables in bars were made from barrels, but barrels were used for so many things related to commerce, I’m a little skeptical of the specificity of that explanation.


Ginny strangely painted pictures on the walls that told stories of her growing up. Why would anyone do that? Were they colorful murals?


They were colorful murals, primitives. Ginny is telling a story with her murals, a story from her past with the other members of the Wednesday club. But I can think of many reasons you might do this—for decoration or out of an artistic impulse. Here’s the story of one set of murals that inspired me.


Few cats get clam and lobster to eat. Is Le Roi spoiled?


Le Roi is an expert at conning the guests who come to the Snowden Family Clambake into feeding him treats under their tables.


I was surprised that Ginny’s Portland condo association had Ginny declared dead. Why them?


Ginny has no obvious heirs and appears not to have left a will or instructions when she disappears. Her condo fees are paid automatically by a standing transfer from her bank account, but the fees have risen while she been gone and she’s in arrears. Legally she’s in limbo, not officially dead but assumed to be so. The condo association is advised it is better to pursue having her declared dead than to try to evict her. The other group that might have pursued having her situation resolved legally, her friends on Chipmunk Island, have no interest in having her declared dead unless a will is found.


Although five million dollars is a lot of money, I was surprised that Jacqueline considered the offer on Morrow Island, which included the renovated Windsholme. After spending the time and money renovating the place, with their own plans to hold events there, why would she consider the offer?


Five million dollars is a life-changing amount of money, not just for Jacqueline but for her entire family. I think offers like this are something all small business owners have to consider when their businesses or the real estate they rest on become highly valuable. The Clambake is on sound financial footing now, but it’s not that long ago the Snowden family almost lost it all. Life being what it is, those hard times will probably come around again. Jacqueline is being prudent, taking her time to think it all through.


When one of the Wednesday Club members is killed, the state police are called in to investigate. Julia is working on solving the disappearance, perhaps murder, of Ginny. I was surprised that the police didn’t want to look at the evidence that Julia compiled even though they were working on the new case. Didn’t they think the cases were related?


Ginny has been declared legally dead, presumed drowned. There’s no case for the state police to investigate. But they do, eventually, come to understand the connections and appreciate Julia’s insights.


Julia really shows herself when she reads Ginny’s latest journal and Ginny’s rational for what she bequeaths people in her will. Julia decides to let those people know Ginny’s reasoning. That says something about Julia, doesn’t it?


Julia never knew Ginny in life, but she really gets to know her through her journals. Julia’s impulse is to honor Ginny’s intentions by letting the recipients know why Ginny chose what she did for them. My parents were left an antique card table by a childless couple who were friends of my father’s parents. My parents treasured the table, but I think they always wondered, why it? Why them? Now I have it and I’m no clearer on the story. I think I was supplying a resolution for myself.


What’s next for Julia, and perhaps, Tom?


Thanks so much for asking! Julia and Tom appear in “Hopped Along,” the story that is my contribution, along with novellas by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis, to the collection, Easter Basket Murder, coming January 24. Julia and Tom also appear in the next Maine Clambake Mystery novel, Torn Asunder, coming April 23.


Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Fixing It in the Mix by Martha Reed

I love talking with other writers and learning how their creative process works. Whenever I meet a newbie writer, the first thing I get asked is: How did you write your book(s)? Beginners wish for that magic pill or that benevolent muse who will do the writing for them while they’re busy doing other things and living their lives. I break it to them gently. They’ll need to prioritize their possibly lengthy commitment to finishing the story, and they’ll need to do the work.

How they’ll do the writing is up to them. Some writers are plotters using extensive outlines. Some are “pantsers,” trusting to a wing and a prayer as they draft their way forward and see the story manifest before their eyes. I’m a hybrid – a plotser? A panter? I use whatever tool I need since each book I write seems to require a different supporting narrative framework.

Three of my mysteries are straightforward narratives. One has a complex three-family multi-generational genealogy that supports the story like an internal DNA strand. My latest NOLA Mystery has a concrete religious calendar time constraint. 

Instead of being hurdles, each of these challenges are what made devoting the year it took to write the story worthwhile. Overcoming the challenges kept the act of constructing the story interesting and that kept my brain engaged.

What I tell newbies is: There are thousands of ways to write a book. The trigger is making the commitment to do it, taking that first step (Chapter One) and getting started.

It doesn’t even really matter where you begin because chances are it will all change in the editing phase. This is why I encourage writers to break new ground. Swing for the fences. Jump in with both feet because we have a built-in safety net, an editing phase where we can remove any warts and polish the story to perfection.

I keep a desktop folder filled with half-baked stories, interesting snippets, and curious ideas. Whenever I have down time, I’ll pull out one of these stories and take another stab at it. I may reconsider the setting and add or remove details. Refine the characters or mull over the plot. Somehow, occasionally stirring the pot keeps the story on the back burner in my subconscious, quietly bubbling away. And then, the next time I examine the draft, I’ll have fresh ideas and suggestions to try out. It’s a form of creative play.

When it comes down to getting serious and starting the editing phase, I go deep. I turn on an instrumental jazz channel, put on my headphones, and tune in.

  • I’ll read the story at 10,000 feet to make sure the plotting structure is correct.
  • Next, I’ll use Microsoft Word’s Review>Read Aloud function to listen for any clunky word choices, phrases, or overly fat sentences.

When it comes to editing, I’m a ruthless character identifying name tag culler. I’ll admit that as I near the 85,000 word mark, I’m usually running out of steam, but I push on and make the extra effort to finish strong by continuing to eliminate the ‘he said, she said” tags. If you don’t need ‘em, delete ‘em.

For example, in “Up Jumped the Devil,” my Crescent City NOLA Mystery releasing in October, here’s how I used character names to identify who is speaking while simultaneously supporting the action during a chaotic and crowded crime scene:

Alma looked at Jane. “She on anything we should know about?”
“No. This is natural.”
Cleo gripped the edge of the gurney. “Can I go with her to the hospital?”
“You family?”
“No.” She slowly let go. “Not really.”
“Only family in the ambulance. Ready to lift, Ronny? On three.”
“Cleo, give me a hand up.” Jane wobbled to her feet. “We’ll take The Boat. Detective Trahan? Are we under arrest?”
“Not currently. I might change my mind later.”

What’s your favorite part of the creative writing process? Do you have any editing tricks to share?


Monday, August 21, 2023

Why Did the Chicken or Writer Cross the Road?

Why Did the Chicken or Writer Cross the Road? by Debra H. Goldstein

Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get to the other side.

Why must an author write?

To express and share the thoughts and ideas whirling in his/her head --- and to avoid becoming limited to crossing the road merely to get to the other side.

The spark of creativity isn’t linear. It goes in all directions as a writer tries to reach the eventual end goal. Sometimes, while the chicken makes it across the road, the author fails to reach the other side. Distractions, random thoughts, or simply fear stymie the writer’s progress. How many writers have been one-book wonders because of a perceived inability to meet the level of success of the first book?

Some might compare this kind of behavior to an ostrich burying its head in the sand; however, the reality is that ostriches don’t bury their heads. Unable to fly or build nests in trees, they bend and create a place in the ground for their eggs. What people don’t realize is the speed with which an ostrich can move. Strong legs allow them to propel themselves quickly across great distances. Ostriches may be the butt of numerous jokes; but they have the potential to get to the other side.

The question is simple – are you an ostrich, a chicken, or ???? in terms of writing or trying new things in life?


Sunday, August 20, 2023

When True Crime Hits Too Close to Home by Sarah E. Burr

I recently discovered Dateline in podcast format, which means every spare, quiet moment I have, I am listening to a twisted real-life mystery. The more I think about it, the more I realize this habit is probably not great for my mental health. Once you reach the end of this article, you'll understand why.

A 2022 episode called "Murder in Kitchen One" really stuck with me, so much so that I must puzzle it out with you here.

The broadcast features the death of an Oregon chef and professor, Dan Brophy. His wife, Nancy Brophy, was ultimately charged and convicted of his murder. Typically, when I listen to these shows, I reach the end of the episode and think, "Oh good, they got the bad guy." Yet, when this particular podcast wrapped, I had a nagging question: Did they?

In all honesty, I believe they did. The police had security cam footage placing Nancy driving her distinctive minivan near her husband's work minutes before he was shot. The minivan is not captured going anywhere on camera during the very short time Dan Brophy was killed. Add the fact he was shot by the same type of gun owned by the Brophys, which Nancy had purchased on the Internet, and case closed.

However, the defense painted a very different picture of the circumstances, a picture that left me a bit terrified.

You see, Nancy Brophy was a crime writer. According to her defense lawyers, every single one of her "incriminating" actions could be explained away by her creative process. For someone who isn't a crime writer, this stance might sound like some desperate attempt to generate doubt in jurors' minds. However, to me, these explanations made complete and utter sense. It truly frightened me.

Take, for instance, Nancy's search history. Months before her husband's murder, Nancy's computer activity revealed that she'd been researching "ghost guns." Ghost guns are nearly untraceable because they come as kits that the buyer assembles. The prosecution took this to mean that Nancy was trying to find sneaky, undetectable ways to kill her husband. The defense's response? Nancy was working on a domestic suspense manuscript and trying to determine if the main character, an abused wife, could easily access a weapon if the need arose. Hence, her online activity.

As Dateline reporters explained this, I could not believe what I was hearing. This woman was on trial for murder, and one of the biggest pieces of circumstantial evidence was her search history, the search history of a mystery writer.

Goodness, we all joke in this community about being on government watch lists because of what we're looking up online, yet Nancy Brophy's search history was considered blockbuster evidence in her trial.

But it wasn't just her search history that proved Nancy's guilt to jurors beyond a reasonable doubt. No, it was the video of her driving her minivan around town after she informed detectives that she didn't go anywhere the morning her husband died. While the prosecution said this was the smoking gun—the only one they had because they never found the murder weapon—Nancy's lawyers also had an explanation for this suspicious drive. Nancy claimed she went to grab coffee at Starbucks and just got lost in thought, driving around, thinking about the plot for her book. She testified she often "spaces out" while puzzling through a storyline and may have gone near her husband's work without consciously realizing where she was.

Now, to a non-writer, this might sound like someone is grasping at straws, and even as a writer, I find it all a bit too convenient. Yet, I can't help but think of all the times I've been lost in the plot of a mystery, whether it be on a walk with the dog or wandering around the grocery store, only to "wake up" from my musings feeling disoriented as to where I am or how I got there. Suddenly, Nancy's testimony doesn't seem so outlandish.

Yet, with these items, she was convicted of her husband's murder. There were no forensics putting her at the crime. The gun ballistics didn't match, but because Nancy had Googled "tracing ballistics" in her search history, the prosecution pointed out she knew how to adjust a gun barrel so the bullets wouldn't match.

Her search history and routine coffee run were enough. As a crime writer, this rattled me to my core. And definitely has reminded me to switch to Incognito mode for all my research-themed searches.