Saturday, September 30, 2023

Small Publisher / Big Heart by Rosalie Spielman

I'm thrilled to welcome Rosalie Spielman back to Writers Who Kill. Take it away, Rosalie!

Thanks for letting me step in, Kait!

Hello readers!

As I shared with you last year when my first Hometown Mysteries came out, my small publisher, Gemma Halliday Publishing, made a donation to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). This came about when Gemma Halliday herself read the section I included at the end to share organizations that provide assistance to Veterans. After reading it, she made a note in the margin that she'd like to donate a portion of her proceeds to whichever organization of my choice.

I dried my happy tears and wrote back, choosing the DAV, which assists all Veterans, not just those disabled. When all was said and done, Gemma Halliday Publishing let me know the donation came out to around $300, which ain't too shabby.

Now with my third Hometown book, Murder Comes Home, she has offered to do the donation again. I again chose the DAV, because of their good work. Murder Comes Home is available for ebook preorder now, and will be available in paperback. The release date is 7 November – very close to Veterans Day itself. If you'd like to be a part of GHP's donation, please preorder or buy within the first week!

But, like the infomercial hosts say – but that's not all!

 I got an email a few days ago about a weekend sale – this weekend – of select Aloha Lagoon titles, including my Death Under the Sea. The big news is that Gemma Halliday is going to donate all of GHP's proceeds from this weekend's sale to disaster relief for those affected by the fires in Maui.  (September 28 to October 1: select titles on sale for $0.99).

See for more information!

So, if you're interested in my other release this fall, Hallo-waiian Murder Mystery (ebook available 3 October 2023; paperback available now), but want to get started with the first book with my characters, jump on this sale and grab Death Under the Sea!

 Hallo-waiian Murder Mystery:


I am honored to be published by a company that really cares!

Readers, what is your favorite charity?

Hometown Mysteries #3, Murder Comes Home

 Army retiree Tessa Treslow is as excited as the other residents of New Oslo, Idaho, when the cast and crew of the TV show Picks with Ricks comes to town! Tessa and her Aunt Edna put their car restoration business on hold to let the celebrity antique hunters pick through their old garage, hoping the trash contains a treasure that will help fund their new business. But it turns out that the pickers come with TV cameras, likeable stars, a stressed-out producer—and a murderer!

The show’s lead makes an insistent offer on one of Aunt Edna’s renovation projects and won’t take no for an answer. And when Tessa finds the show's cameraman dead in the restored 1965 Mustang, Tessa knows murder has come home yet again. And the mystery takes a very personal turn when the dead man is found with an antique inscribed pocket watch connected to the former owners of Aunt Edna's farmhouse. As Tessa digs into the history surrounding the pocket watch and the relationships of the TV crew, shocking details—both old and new—arise. Will Tessa be able to catch a killer...before they return for a repeat performance?

Rosalie Spielman is a mother, veteran, and retired military spouse. She was thrilled to discover that she could make other people laugh with her writing and finds joy in giving people a humorous escape from the real world. She writes cozy mysteries for the multi-author Aloha Lagoon mystery series and her own Hometown Mystery series, both with Gemma Halliday Publishing.

 She currently lives in Maryland with her husband in a rapidly emptying nest. For more information on her books or to subscribe to her newsletter, go to, follow her Facebook page (Rosalie Spielman author), or join her Facebook group, You know the Spiel! Rosalie strives to provide you a cozy page at a time.

Friday, September 29, 2023

A Picture is Not Always Worth A Thousand Words by Nancy L. Eady

 I spent decades of my education learning to read—first picture books, then chapter books, then young adult fiction, then regular fiction and non-fiction, then legal cases. I sometimes think maybe I should have stopped at fiction and non-fiction; there’s nothing worse than trying to read long legal opinions when you are having an afternoon slump. After page twenty, I’m not sure if I’m reading words, or counting sheep. By page fifty, I begin to nod off, which I don’t recommend as a savvy career move. 

But I digress. (I tend to do so.) With all the time and effort I have put into learning to read, nothing is so irritating as opening a box of equipment or furniture requiring assembly, and finding the instructions explained with pictures only. A picture of a screw with a twisty arrow on top of it may seem self-explanatory, but for someone who constantly argues with herself about the meaning of “righty tighty, lefty loosy,” such instructions are fraught with peril. I will always talk myself out of one meaning (the twisty arrow means I turn the screw clockwise) into the opposite (no, the twisty arrow means I turn the screw counterclockwise.) And no matter which meanings I flutter back and forth between, the one I finally choose will be wrong. Worse, the error will not become obvious until twelve steps later, when I get to exercise a part of my vocabulary that most people aren’t aware I possess. 

If the sentence is written out—insert screw 20 into hole 12 and screw it in counter-clockwise—I’ve got it. No need to debate or ponder, just instructions to follow. 

We bought a flat screen TV a few years ago. It came with a stand that had to be installed before you could set up the TV. The directions were pictorial only. I have a law degree and my husband a master’s in human resources, and the TV stand still almost defeated us. After two hours of effort, it was our tenth-grade daughter’s suggestion that provided the final piece necessary to get the TV mounted on the stand correctly. And while I tend to be inept with mechanical things, my husband and my daughter both are skilled with them. 

There is an increasing tendency to use pictures and icons in warning and clothing labels as well. Even I can figure out that a skull and crossbones means that whatever is in the bottle so labeled probably shouldn’t be part of my dinner, but other warning labels are more esoteric. The hardest warning labels to decipher involve a stick figure doing something with a red X over it. The red X I understand but figuring out whether the stick figure is walking up a ramp, punching someone else, tap-dancing on the forklift prongs or doing the hokey pokey can be difficult. 

And with clothes, deciding which symbol means wash in hot water, which means wash in warm water, and which means cold water only still defeats me. Let’s just say those symbols aren’t intuitively obvious to the casual observer. 

The only time I ever found a pictorial sign more helpful than a written sign was when our daughter first came to live with us. The social worker who came to inspect our house informed us that the next time she came to visit, we needed to have a fire escape plan posted. She came back to a sign in front of our daughter’s room showing flames and an arrow pointing toward the front door. She wanted to argue that the sign was inadequate, until my husband pointed out that our daughter was three, couldn’t read, and that sign was all she could understand. Our daughter helped us out, too; the social worker asked her what she should do if there was a fire. Kayla announced she should run outside, go next door, and call 911. The social worker was sufficiently impressed to move on to other matters. It’s a good thing she wasn’t around an hour later, when Kayla said thoughtfully, “The only thing is, where is next door?”  

As writers, we draw pictures with our words for the canvas of our reader’s minds. These word pictures evoke not only landscapes but emotions and memories as well. Because of our words, readers are transported from their current world to the world we create for them, and they go gladly. I don’t think the increase in pictorial instructions and warnings can threaten that, and I’m glad. There’s nothing better than being lost in a good book—and I defy any picture sign to lead me out again before I’m ready. 

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Faults, Flaws, Fears, and Failings: Why We Love Troubled Characters by Connie Berry

 With final edits completed on A Collection of Lies, the fifth book in my Kate Hamilton Mystery series, I can now turn my thoughts to the pleasurable task of creating new plots and new characters. I love this time in the writing process—a time when all paths are open, anything can happen, and my characters can be anyone I choose.

That’s why my ears perked up when I read a comment in one of the Facebook reading groups I follow—this one focusing on British crime fiction. One reader wrote (and I paraphrase): “While I read all the Charles Todd books, I prefer the Inspector Ian Rutledge series. Bess Crawford is just too perfect.” The comment stopped me in my tracks because I love the Charles Todd books, too. And even though I’d never consciously thought about it, I also prefer the Ian Rutledge series. Why is that?

For those who don’t know, the New York Times best-selling author Charles Todd is actually a mother and son writing team, Charles and Caroline Todd, who set their books mainly in England during and after the First World War. The Bess Crawford series features a nurse who saves lives in the field hospitals of France and often finds herself drawn into the personal lives of her patients. She is bright, resourceful, kind, and courageous. In contrast, the Inspector Ian Rutledge series stars a Scotland Yard detective who is recovering from physical and psychological wounds suffered in France. As commander, Rutledge was forced to execute a young Scottish soldier who refused to follow orders. Then an explosion buried Rutledge alive with Hamish’s corpse. He survived, but as he returns to his duties at the Yard, he is haunted by guilt and struggles with “shell-shock,” what we now call PTSD.

Why am I drawn to Ian Rutledge more than Bess Crawford? I think it’s because readers love flawed characters. We may not always admire them, but we’re drawn to them. We remember them. Think of Macbeth’s vaulting ambition or Gatsby’s tragic illusions. Think Miss Havisham or Sherlock Holmes or Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo.

Here are five reasons why I believe readers are drawn to flawed characters:

1. We identify with imperfection.

Every human being has faults and struggles. No matter how hard we try to get things right, we all make mistakes. We all screw up. This is what it means to be human, to be a real three-dimensional human being. Who can identify with a perfect character? No one. Creating realistic characters means giving them the full range of human traits, including fears and deficits. Otherwise they become robots—and even Star Trek’s Data wasn’t perfect.

2. Old wounds deepen the backstory.

All stories begin in medias res because every character has a personal history, and that personal history determines how that character will behave in the current crisis. What are her irrational fears, and how were they formed? What past traumas impact his outlook on life and therefore affect his behavior today? What secrets must she hide? What internal conflicts will hinder the protagonist and cause him to make mistakes? Take Arthur Conan Doyle’s eccentric and dysfunctional private detective, Sherlock Holmes. Will the new case relieve his depression and keep him from the opium pipe? A protagonist may be a terrible role model, but sympathizing with a character isn’t the same thing as liking them.

3. Inner fears and faults ramp up the conflict.

Conflict in a story can be external and plot-driven—will Frodo overcome the evil forces against him and get the Ring to Mordor? Conflict can also be internal and character-driven—as Frodo battles those evil forces, will he succumb to the Ring’s temptation? Conflict in a story raises the stakes. Internal conflict creates more ways things can go wrong.

4. Flaws create opportunities for change and growth.

We all cheer for the underdog. That’s what makes Forest Gump such a sympathetic character. Readers are attracted to characters who change and grow, who face their fears and move forward. This reminds us that the world isn’t black and white and that no one’s destiny is set in stone. That gives us hope for our own lives.

5. Flaws create interest.

Character flaws create an unpredictability that keeps us turning pages. Perfection is boring. In fiction, characters without flaws are sometimes called Mary-Sue’s or Gary-Stu’s. Perfect characters are physically beautiful, loved by everyone, humble, nice, caring, wise, and idealistic. They never change because why would they? They’re already perfect. They don’t drive the plot. They simply react—perfectly. Ho-hum. Do we really care? Without flaws, there’s no character arc. Without a character arc, there’s no emotion and therefore no attachment to the story.

Can flaws be taken too far? I finished Gone Girl, but by the end, I felt like throwing the book across the room.

Are you drawn to flawed characters? Can a character be too flawed?

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

An Interview With Korina Moss

by Grace Topping

In Case of the Bleus, the latest book in her Cheese Shop Mystery Series, Korina Moss delivers another exciting book filled with more adventures for Willa Bauer and descriptions of various cheeses that will prompt you to make a trip to your local cheese shop. As an added bonus, she includes recipes using those cheeses. It was a pleasure talking to Korina about her series and all things cheese.


Case of the Bleus


Cheesemongers from across the Northwest have come to the Sonoma Valley for the Northwest Cheese Invitational. As owner of the local cheese shop, Curds & Whey, Willa Bauer loves it. The event showcases custom cheese creations, and it’s the perfect time to gather with old colleagues to honor her former boss, the late and grate cheese legend, Max Dumas. He was famous for journeying into the wild bleu yonder to where he aged his award-winning custom Church Bleu. Only Max knew the recipe and location to his beloved cheese, and many are eager to have these revealed at his will reading.

But instead of naming someone to inherit his cheese and its secrets, Max stuns everyone with one cryptic clue. When a fellow cheesemonger dies under mysterious circumstances––the woman they all thought would get the secrets to Max's prized possession––everyone falls under suspicion. Willa adores Church Bleu as much as the next cheese connoisseur, but it’s not to die for. Is a killer trying to get away with murder...and the cheese?



A big welcome to Korina Moss, who is a member of our Writers Who Kill family.


In Case of the Bleus, cheesemonger Max Dumas dies without revealing the secret formulation of his award-winning Church Bleu cheese and where it’s aged. Do cheesemakers go to great lengths to keep their recipes a secret?

I don’t think they go to the lengths that Max did, but I do think they all have their ways of making their own custom cheeses special. There are so many factors in how a cheese gets its flavor and texture (from the type of grass the cows/goats/sheep graze on to the length, location, and temperature of where the cheese is aged, and everything in between), that I think it would be hard to replicate it exactly, anyway. 

Your book becomes a bit of a treasure hunt when it’s discovered that Max only left clues about his Church Bleu cheese. What is the biggest challenge you face developing the plot for your books? 


Making sure all the pieces fit together at the end so that the mystery is indeed a mystery for the reader for as long as possible. Writing a mystery is such a dance – each piece of information, whether it be a red herring or a clue you want the reader to overlook—has to be done at the right time in the right way. Otherwise, it’s either confusing or too obvious. But that mystery plot has to be woven around characters that readers are invested in, so I also have to make sure I grow my characters and their relationships while still moving the plot forward. It’s a difficult dance. 


With all of the cheeses you’ve tasted while doing research, do you have a favorite, or have you become rather tired of cheese? What about one that you absolutely didn’t like?


Tired of cheese? Never! There are so many different cheeses, I can’t imagine getting tired of it. It’s a new experience every time you try a different cheese, and then another new experience if you pair that cheese with an accompaniment. I have several favorites, but the list keeps growing every time I try new cheese. The three that come to mind are Brabander Gouda, Montbrú’s Curat de Búfala, and the inspiration for Case of the Bleus, Rogue River Blue. One that I didn’t care for was Alp Blossom, which is the cheese that opens book 3, Curds of Prey. It’s a showy, beautiful cheese covered in herbs and flowers (which is why my protagonist Willa chose it for a wedding shower cheese bar), but all those herbs give it a very grassy, earthy flavor that I wasn’t so fond of. I appreciated the complexity of it with each bite, but with all the cheeses out there, it’s not one I feel the need to revisit. 


With your first book, Cheddar Off Dead, winning an Agatha Award and receiving other recognition, do you find it a challenge to start another book, wondering if it will measure up to it?


Luckily, I’d already written several of the Cheese Shop Mysteries by the time I received the Agatha Award last April for Cheddar Off Dead, so I wasn’t intimidated by the wonderful award. Having said that, I do feel a lot of pressure to try to make each book better than the last. Many readers said Curds of Prey was their favorite thus far, which thrilled me, of course. But it also adds extra pressure for Case of the Bleus. My personal favorite is book 2, Gone For Gouda, so you never quite know how your work will be received. 

Your books are available in paperback, e-book, and in audio. How was it hearing your work performed by your narrator? Did you have any input to the audiobook production?


I love listening to Erin Moon perform my books. It’s the next best thing to having them on the screen (which I’m hoping will happen someday). I appreciate her interpretation of the characters and how she really understands them. If my dialogue is meant to be sarcastic, she always knows to play it that way. Her performance heightens the humorous scenes and the tension of the action. She hasn’t made a false move. I think even if readers have already read the paperback or e-book copies, they should also listen to the audio. It’s a new way to experience the stories. 


Meeting deadlines can be a challenge for many writers. I understand that you’ve gone on writing retreats to enable you to focus solely on writing. Care to tell us about some of them? Any upcoming retreats planned?


When I’m under a lot of pressure from a deadline, it can be debilitating to my writing. Sometimes I need a change of scenery to kickstart my process or as an excuse to ignore my daily tasks and concentrate solely on writing. I’ve taken myself to a tiny house in the Catskills, an Airbnb with a lake view, and last winter I went on a week-long solo cruise. On the cruise, I wasn’t under the pressure of a deadline, but I was feeling burnt out. Being by myself on a laid-back cruise on the open sea freed up my creativity. I outlined book 5, which I’m currently writing, and also did some freewriting for a book in a different genre that I’ve been toying with for a while. I could’ve used another few weeks on that ship, but the week I did have was wonderfully restorative. I’d love to do an annual writing retreat cruise and invite other writers along.

Now that you have four books in the series, how is it balancing writing more books and having to do book promotion? 


It’s a difficult balance. I find myself wanting to cross off the things on my list that are due first, but then I realize too much time has passed where I haven’t worked on my book – the very reason for all that marketing. Unlike some authors, I enjoy marketing very much. I love interacting with readers, whether it be in a Zoom book club, in a Facebook group, or in person. Most of my time is spent alone, writing. Hearing from readers reminds me why I care so much about what I’m putting onto the page.


I see that you are scheduled to attend the Cozy Mystery Fete in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania on October 14. That’s a new gathering for me. Can you tell us about the fete?


I’m very excited about this and am so happy to have been invited. There will be 15 cozy mystery authors attending this all-day fête. It’s more than just readers buying our books and getting them signed, although there will be that too. We’ll get the chance to interact with our readers, we’ll do Q&As and roundtable chats. There’ll be freebies and swag, like recipe cards from those of us who have culinary cozies. The fee is $5 if you register ahead of time, and $10 at the door. This gets you in all day with refreshments. If you’re a cozy mystery fan, it’s worth making a special trip to attend, even staying overnight. Here’s more information: Mechanicsburg Cozy Mystery Fete


Do you make a lot of author appearances? Or have a favorite mystery conference you attend?


You asked about balance before and because my books have been coming out every six months, I find I haven’t had as much time for in-person author appearances as I would like. I have been on panels and book signings at libraries, and I have another Murder Mystery and Cheese Pairing event with Spread Cheese Co. and Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore in Middletown, CT coming up. I do a lot of appearances online—podcasts and YouTube interviews—through Facebook Live or Zoom. If people follow my FB author page, my private Team Cheese FB group page, or subscribe to my monthly newsletter through my website, they’ll be notified when and where I’m appearing. Of course, I love going to Malice Domestic, which is a fan convention that takes place in April in Bethesda, MD. I highly recommend it for fans of mysteries and writers, alike. This November, I’ll be on a panel at Crime Bake, a three-day mystery writers conference that takes place near Boston, MA.   


In addition to your books, you’ve had short stories in the Crime Travel and Death by Cupcake anthologies. Which do you find more challenging to write, novels or short stories?


I find short stories extremely challenging. I’m in awe of short story writers like Barb Goffman and Art Taylor, who make it look easy with how prolific they are. I rarely write short stories, but I feel challenged and proud when I’m able to (sort of) pull one off. My story in Crime Travel, “On the Boardwalk,” was especially challenging because of the theme. 

What’s next for Willa and her crew?


Right now, I’m working on book 5, the title is still to be announced. It takes place at the Dairy Days festival in a nearby town to Yarrow Glen. When a murder occurs, Detective Heath isn’t on the case—it’s not in his jurisdiction. But when danger lurks, involving Willa and her crew, for the first time Detective Heath puts down his badge and teams up with Willa to solve the case together. 


What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned since you started writing?


It’s a bigger responsibility to be an author than I realized. Just recently, I received a message from a reader who binged my series while she was in the pediatric ICU as her daughter was recovering from surgery. She said my books gave her a sense of comfort during a time when life was kind of scary. I’ve received a handful of messages like this before—readers who were recovering from knee surgery or heart surgery or reading to their moms in the hospital. You can’t underestimate how your books may affect someone. I take that responsibility very seriously. 


Thank you, Korina



To learn more about Korina and her books, visit her at





Korina Moss is the author of the Cheese Shop cozy mystery series set in Sonoma Valley, including the Agatha Award winner of the Best First Novel, Cheddar Off Dead. Her books have been featured in Parade MagazineWoman’s World MagazineAARP Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She loves creating quirky characters who live in idyllic small towns. She grew up on a healthy dose of Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie novels, which developed her passion for solving mysteries and eventually writing her own. She lives in a small New England town with its own share of quirky characters. Korina is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. She blogs on Writers Who Kill.



Grace Topping is the author of the Laura Bishop Mystery Series.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Finding Inspiration on the Road Again by Martha Reed

At the end of August, I enjoyed a four-day road trip from St. Petersburg, FL to Pittsburgh, PA. The distance was just over 1,000 miles. I could’ve covered it in two long days, but I’m retired now. I’ve learned to slow down and enjoy the ride. That includes taking a little extra time for interesting stops and side trips.

I didn’t grow up traveling this way. My dad was one of those ‘blow and go’ drivers who mapped out the quickest route to get from Point A to Point B with no stopping in between. We’d get feverish and dehydrated lying in our sleeping bags in the back of our Country Squire station wagon, blowing past billboards advertising “Marvel Cave” or “Mysterious Gravity Hill” without giving a thought (or daring to make a suggestion) about pulling over to see the sights as the car slowly filled with the warming aroma of the tuna salad sandwiches Mom had packed for us in the leaky cooler.

As a child I thought this was the way road trips were done, but as an adult I’ve decided to unlearn this behavior. Before this road trip I realized that I had visited every state east of the Mississippi River except for Kentucky. That gave me a target destination and travel route, and a great excuse to noodle through Georgia and Tennessee back roads to get there.

It took me a couple of days to settle into the road experience, but Kentucky was when I finally relaxed and started to absorb the new landscape. In Louisville, I spent the night at The Seelbach Hotel. Rumor has it that F. Scott Fitzgerald started writing “The Great Gatsby” in their basement bar. Al Capone reportedly played poker in one of their private rooms. The Seelbach Hotel is riddled with hidden doors, secret passageways, and bootlegging tunnels. The criminal magic of it refilled my creative well with fresh story ideas.

The next day I visited Churchill Downs. Have you ever seen something so iconic that when you do finally see it in person it gives you chills? The racetrack at Churchill Downs did it for me. I imagined I heard the thunder of hoofbeats and the roar of the crowd. As I continued north/northeast GPS took me down a Lexington horse country back lane so exclusive the pastures looked like manicured lawns. I drove past a private farm gate that was so obviously meant to impress that I knew the security cameras were trained on me, so I waved.

Skipping the interstate, I took another back road through Maysville, KY, a cute little river town before crossing a bridge into Ohio. This was the strangest leg of my journey because I was travelling fifty-four years into my past.

In the fifth grade, when I was eleven, Mrs. Zingale was my social studies teacher. She recognized that I loved history, especially archaeology. She gave me an extra credit art project where I drew and colored the wall paintings from King Tut’s tomb. Then she hung my drawings over the chalkboard for everyone to admire during parent/teacher night. She was my 5th grade best friend.

In my autograph book at year-end, Mrs. Zingale wrote, “You’ll be hearing from me.” I had no idea what she meant until one day that summer she called my mother and offered to take me with her daughter and her daughter’s friend on a weekend canoe ride down the Mohican River. I’d never been away from home by myself before. I felt like I was all grown up and I’d won the lottery all rolled into one.

Mrs. Zingale said we’d see some old Indian mounds along the river. Being the little nerd that I was (and honestly still am) I pulled out a musty Encyclopedia and researched “Mound Builder Culture.” The reference article talked about the many ancient mounds dotting the Ohio River Valley, but the star of the show was the Great Serpent Mound near Peebles, Ohio.

The four of us never made it to The Great Serpent Mound in 1969. But in 2023, on my four-day road trip north, I did.

When you were a child, was there something you wanted to see or somewhere you wanted to visit, but you never did? Grab a friend and fix that dropped stitch. Seeing The Great Serpent Mound reminded me of my eleven-year-old self who held such unbelievable dreams of lifetime adventures and of becoming a writer. It’s never too late check that box. These adventures translate into experiences that can be shared with our readers via our words, like I just did with you.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Showing Not Telling by Nancy L. Eady

 As writers, we are constantly bombarded with the advice “Show don’t tell.” If you’re reading this post hoping for the magic secret that makes you automatically show instead of tell, I apologize for not having it. But I did notice something today that might help.

As we get ready for our house to sell, we are stumbling across various odds and ends. Each item we find, and our reaction to it, says something about the members of my family as individuals, as does the furniture we cherish versus the furniture we only use. If my family were characters in a novel, descriptions of the items we find and our reaction to them would be part of how the novelist could sketch out our character.

Meet Ruffy, who arrived at our house when my daughter was about 6 as part of a set of three Build-a-Bear animals she acquired over the course of a year. When we found Ruffy today, my daughter (now 21) couldn’t help giving her a hug. What would that say about a character in your novel? 

While admittedly she has seen better days, this Raggedy Ann doll has been well and truly loved. My aunt made Raggedy Ann for me when I was a small child, and I still have her. I tried to mend the neck and legs when I was in high school because she was in even worse shape than she is now. My sewing skills obviously were lacking. That doll caught many silent tears and comforted me for more years than I like to count. She now resides on my closet shelf. (I pulled her out specifically for this photograph.) And yes, she will be making the move to Huntsville with us.

What might this small vignette from our study/dining room show a reader if it was described in a novel? Letting a reader know that the grandfather clock belonged to my husband’s parents, while the pitcher and washbasin belonged to his grandmother, shows them something about us. So does the fact that the round table the washbasin is sitting on probably won't make the move.  (Underneath the tablecloth, it is falling apart.  We bought it about seven years ago.)  The shoe on the dining room table might mean we’re messy, careless, or easily distracted. In our case, what it really means is that my daughter left her shoes in the hallway to the garage, where one of them was discovered by our youngest dog Max, who is only one year old and loves to chew. We barely rescued it from his clutches in time; he had retreated to his carrier to begin a peaceful afternoon of chewing until we interrupted him. In a novel, a character’s noticing the presence of the shoe, or another character’s leaving the shoe in place for days, gives the reader a clearer picture of some facet of their personality. 

So, as I edit my work, I’m going to look for places where I might be able to use settings to help with characterization and see if it gets me closer to that ever-elusive goal of showing, not telling. 

What suggestions do you have that help with showing rather than telling? 

Sunday, September 24, 2023

An Interview with Liz Milliron by Annette Dashofy

Pennsylvania State Trooper Jim Duncan responds to a call regarding a missing autistic young man. When the

boy is quickly found, Jim thinks the case is closed…until the young man insists the police need to help a “sleeping blue lady” and leads them to a dead woman in an abandoned shack, clad in only her underwear.

Meanwhile, defense attorney Sally Castle is searching for a troubled young woman who wandered into her office wanting protection from an unnamed man…and disappeared before Sally could obtain any details. Sally is bothered by the incident and unnerved when she discovers that Jim’s dead body and her missing potential client are the same person.

Jim and Sally soon discover the young woman led a secret double life, with ties to the autistic boy who started it all. As Jim and Sally investigate, the case takes increasingly ominous turns, uncovering hidden money and a seamy underbelly of sex work, before turning into a desperate race to stop a killer. Can Jim and Sally solve the case in time to stop the murder of an innocent boy?



Thicker Than Water (September 19, 2023, Level Best Books) is the sixth in Liz Milliron’s Laurel Highland Mysteries featuring Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Jim Duncan and Defense Attorney Sally Castle. The entire series is tightly written yet lush in setting and character development, but Liz has upped her game with this one. Please welcome Liz back to Writers Who Kill.

Thicker Than Water opens with Sally Castle and her law partner, Tanelsa Parson, moving into a new office. When the series began five books ago, Sally worked in the Public Defenders Office. Catch us up a little. What brought Sally into the private sector of law practice?

Sally was frustrated with her job at the public defender. She loved the fact that she was helping people who needed it. But it’s actually hard to qualify for a court-appointed defender. The government’s idea of “unable to afford an attorney” is very different from a regular person’s. She felt too many people were turned away because they didn’t qualify, even though they might have been hard-pressed to pay a private attorney. Also, when you work for the government, you don’t get to pick your clients. You defend who you’re told to. Sally wanted to take the clients who needed her the most, at least the ones she believed did. So, she started her own firm and asked Tanelsa, who she worked with at the public defender’s office, to join her.

Pennsylvania State Trooper Jim Duncan has also moved into a new career path as an investigator. Is this move a promotion? Why is he still called a Trooper instead of a Detective?

No. Working for the Criminal Investigation Section, the Pennsylvania State Police’s investigators, is a job description, not a rank. This is a lateral move for him, just as if he’d moved to working with the K-9 division or Emergency Response. The PSP doesn’t have the title of “detective.” Even with CIS, ranks are trooper, corporal, etc.

Jim’s partner questions why they’re responding to a missing person’s case when it’s not a “crime scene.” Don’t police routinely investigate missing persons?

They do, but usually not under these kind of situations. Noah is nineteen and he’s only been “missing” for a couple of hours at most. Yes, he’s an at-risk individual because of his autism, but Trooper Cavendish’s position is that search and rescue is more suited for the circumstances. Now, if Noah had been missing for a longer time, had SAR not found anything, or if there was a witness who’d seen him get into a strange car, Cavendish would feel differently. To her, there just isn’t enough evidence for an investigation – yet.

Noah insists he has seen a “sleeping blue lady.” The obvious assumption is that he has seen a dead woman, but he’s clearly an unreliable witness. How do Jim and his partner deal with this young man?

Jim and Cavendish don’t want to completely dismiss him. They know that just because he is autistic doesn’t mean he has no awareness of his surroundings or can’t tell the truth. At the same time, they know they can’t launch a full-scale investigation on only his word. They try to compromise by having Cavendish stay to question Noah and his mother, while Jim and Aislyn McAllister take a look around the area where Noah had been earlier. Of course, they do find the “sleeping blue lady” and, well, she’s not sleeping.

Throughout this book there’s a recurring theme of “to have kids or not to have kids.” Why is Sally so reluctant to consider starting a family?

It isn’t just reluctance. Sally flat-out doesn’t want to have kids. Not that she doesn’t like kids, she has simply never wanted to be a parent. But deep down, Sally knows Jim does want a family, or at least that’s what he’s said in the past, so she’s a little afraid that if she says what she really feels, he’ll leave her.

Why is Sally so hesitant to have Thanksgiving dinner with Jim’s parents?

Sally’s mother, Louise, is very strident when it comes to the fact that Sally’s brother and sister have families and Sally doesn’t. Her mother never fails to remind her that she’s in her mid-thirties, her biological clock is ticking, that Louise would really like to see her youngest child married and a mother. It’s a very tiring conversation. Sally wants to meet Jim’s parents, but she doesn’t see how to avoid the same conversation with them. Basically, she’s tired of justifying her choices to people.

Maddie shows up at Sally’s office but runs away before Sally can find out why this young woman is so scared. Does she run away because of the secret life she’s leading?

Sort of. Maddie has worked very hard to keep what she’s doing secret, so yeah, the idea of telling a lawyer kind of freaks her out. But there is also the fact that although Maddie desperately wants help, she doesn’t believe anyone can really do that. That’s why she leaves before telling Sally her story.

Why does Jim allow Sally to tag along when he visits Maddie’s college?

Part of it is because Jim knows Sally has a little bit of guilt over Maddie leaving. She feels she could have done more to help the young woman. The other reason is Jim knows that if he doesn’t take Sally with him, she’ll go on her own. At least this way he can keep an eye on her.

Time is money, and with Sally and Tanelsa starting a fledgling law firm, Sally seems to be spending a lot of time working on a case with no paying client. Why? And how does Tanelsa feel about it?

As I said before, Sally feels guilty about not doing more for Maddie. She’s trying to make up for it. Tanelsa is sympathetic, but at the same time she knows they need paying clients to keep the lights on. She knows Sally, though, and she knows what she got into when she joined the firm. She’s willing to put up with it – for a while. After Tanelsa learns what was going on in Maddie’s life, she becomes more invested in finding out what happened.

There are a lot of story threads going on involving parents and children. Maddie’s parents are clueless, Noah’s is overprotective. Then there’s Sally’s mother and Jim’s parents. And the big debate between Tanelsa and Lisa and Sally and Jim about becoming parents. Is this an intentional theme as you started writing the book or did it develop later in the writing process?

Theme is usually “accidental” for me, something that develops as I write. But this time, it was very intentional. At the end of Lie Down with Dogs, Jim asks Sally to move in with him and she says “not yet.” Their relationship is moving to a deeper level. Part of a long-term relationship is exploring the idea of “family” and what it means to each person. I wanted to look at that concept from a variety of perspectives.

What’s next for Jim and Sally? And for you?

I’m currently working on the seventh Laurel Highlands Mystery and I’m toying with the title Saving the Guilty. In that one, Sally and Tanelsa are asked to work on an appeal for a man convicted of killing his wife. Simultaneously, Jim and Cavendish are working the murder of a man who is living under a fake identity. It’s a story with a lot of intersections and it all has to happen in five days, so wish me luck.

As for me, the fifth book in my Homefront Mysteries series, The Secrets We Keep, is scheduled for release in February 2024. Betty is hired by a soldier who is home on medical furlough to find his birth mother. But when the woman she thinks may be the one she’s looking for is murdered, she ends up working to clear her client of the crime. I also just signed a contract for one of my short stories, called “Mal de Ojo,” to be published in the Mystery Most International anthology, which will be out in 2024. And I have one other thing in the works, but I don’t think I’m supposed to make it public yet.

Thanks for the great questions and for hosting me!

Thank YOU, Liz.

For more on Liz and her books, check out her website and sign up for her newsletter.

Liz’s Bio:

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people’s stories, for as long as she can remember. She’s worked for twenty years in the corporate world, but finds making things up is far more satisfying than writing software manuals. A lifelong mystery fan, she is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries and The Home Front Mysteries, both from Level Best Books. Her short fiction has appeared at Uppagus and Mysterical-e. and been in Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales, the Anthony award-winning Blood on the Bayou (the 2016 Bouchercon anthology), Fish Out of Water, Malice Domestic 12 – Mystery Most Historical and The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos.

Liz lives near Pittsburgh with her husband and a very spoiled retired-racer greyhound named Koda. She is a past-president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime, and the current vice-president, and a member of Pennwriters. Find her on Facebook at, or follow her on Instagram (@LizMilliron).



Saturday, September 23, 2023

Write What You Love by Kait Carson

 When E.B. Davis helped me celebrate the release of Death Dive with an interview on Writers Who Kill, several of the questions were about dive gear. And that got me thinking. Things sure have changed!

My First Dive Book
I learned to dive in 1971. In fact, my certification dive was January 14th, 1971. In a sinkhole at Orange Springs, Florida, with manatees. My boyfriend was my dive instructor. I never got the certification card because, well, I was in college. The card cost $15. My monthly allowance was $15! That came back to bite me in later years. But I digress.

 Back in those early days, we used double hose regulators (think Mike Nelson), round masks, fins we called flippers, tanks—not much changed about those—and if we were wearing wet suits, they were rubber. Mine was robin’s egg blue with big yellow daisies. You’d never lose me underwater! That was it. Done. The coursework comprised lots of math. There were gas pressures to consider. Charles’s Law and Boyle’s Law loomed large (they have to do with gas/temperature and pressure). Recreational divers like me did not have pressure gauges, or depth gauges. You figured that out on your own. Nor did we have dive vests, a/k/a BDCs, or buoyancy compensation devices. We did have horse collars that could be inflated, but we laughed at people who dove with life preservers. Go figure. We were young and immortal.

Fast forward ten years. I stopped diving when I graduated from college, married someone other than my instructor, and moved north. When I returned to Florida, a friend and I were sitting over drinks and talking about recreation. The chat turned to diving. She was also a diver, and she asked me what kind of BDC I had. Since I had never heard of one, I didn’t own one. She also told me about dive computers, air integrated pressure gauges, dive skins and other various foreign to my ears and experience items. I wanted to dive again, but what were all these clothes about! To compensate, I took a scuba refresher course. Turned out, since I never got the certification card, I had to take a full dive course.

 It was an eyeopener. They deemed many of the skills we had to learn in 1971 too difficult and dangerous for students. Diving had become a credit card intensive sport. No more science. No more math. No more figuring your own dive tables. You had gadgets and gizmos for that. Yes, I bought them all, and learned to dive in a life preserver. By this time, they had become required gear, and they’d turned into vests. Whew. I nearly flunked the final. I never learned to breathe through a snorkel! It freaked me out. Still does. I carry a folding one in my BCD pocket.

I dove every weekend from the time I recertified (this time I got the card) to when I met my husband. He also dives, but he introduced me to aviation. We were flying around most weekends and flying and diving don’t mix. When we moved to Maine in 2005, my dive days were done. And I missed them.


While reading through my dive logs, they reminded me of a dive in Marathon on the Thunderbolt. A plastic bag wafted out of the wheelhouse of the wreck. Freaked me out. I thought it was a hand. All of that was in my dive log. So was the time I was on the sand at one hundred and twenty feet below the surface. My first stage blew, and my dive buddy was exploring the other side of the wreck. The first stage is the part of a regulator that attaches to the air tank. If it’s defective, the air simply flows out until you turn off the flow or run out of air. Fortunately, when I first learned to dive, one of the skills was called ‘breathing off the bottle.’ That’s what I did, all one hundred and twenty feet to the surface. Hayden Kent experiences both events in Death by Blue Water.

 I loved scuba diving, and especially wreck diving. It’s a beautiful world under the sea. When it came time to write. I wrote what I loved. I gave my protagonist mad dive skills and shared some of the old-time skills with her. Together we’ve made multiple dives in Marathon, Florida, Grand Cayman Islands, and Belize. I hope my readers learned to share my love of the undersea world, and maybe learned to dive because of Hayden and her friends.

 Writers, do you share any hobbies with your protagonists? Readers, have you ever taken up a hobby because of a book?