Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Food as a Maker of Memories in the Stories of Our Lives

 Survival Food by Thomas Pecore Weso

A review by Ben Furnish

Writers and readers of mysteries, and not just culinary mysteries, often enjoy using food as an element to move the plot forward in some way. Thomas Pecore Weso’s new book Survival Food: North Woods Stories from a Menominee Cook, gives brilliant insights into food, revealing motivations of character, powerfully evoking a sense of geographical and cultural place, and capturing the spirit of the times it depicts. Some readers may experience nostalgia on hearing about certain foods mentioned (those wax-paper-wrapped tamales in cans or jars, anyone?), while others might experience new historical understanding of bygone days.  

The word survival in the book’s title takes on several meanings—cultural, family, and individual survival. Weso calls this book “a backward food memoir…the stories appear first, with the characters, and then the food memories and recipes.” This memoir’s 21 stories document the adventures of Weso and his family through the changes that swept the Menominee Indian Reservation and the United States overall in the last several decades. Each story’s strong narrative captures a different scene of Weso’s coming of age, skillfully blending moments of danger (a snapping turtle that bites and won’t let go; a car sinking into the spring mud miles from anywhere), humor (skinny-dipping boys find they are not alone), and wonder (the ghosts that inhabit his grandfather’s house, which was once a tribal jail.)   

As Weso writes, “I cannot separate foods from the moments in my life when I first tasted them. Each meal triggers memories. Some create new memories.”  But in Weso’s hands, these memories about food and life create a vivid world for the reader—that of the Menominee and of rural Wisconsin and the changes that unfold in Weso’s youth and adulthood. Even though this book continues to describe some traditional Menominee dishes (bear stew, roast porcupine), for me some of Weso’s most evocative subjects appear when he describes such everyday items as boxed potatoes or Chef Boyardee SpaghettiOs, as these foods begin to take precedence over such traditional Menominee dishes as turtle, squirrel, and fry bread. For Weso, these common foods create memories also. Yet Weso shows us how all his food subjects are survival food in one form or another.  

Weso writes powerfully and unsentimentally about his family. His relationship with his mother was sometimes strained—at one point as adults, they went thirteen years without seeing each other. In his childhood, she spent long days commuting to finish her education. Yet by remembering the choices she made in foods she prepared and ate, we readers come to understand her much more: “It was the wrapper’s tagline, ‘Building strong bodies 8 ways,’ that hooked my mother, who considered it the healthy alternative. For her, buying Wonder Bread at the supermarket was visual proof to the outside, White world that she loved her family, despite her absences.” Tom’s mother had gone away to Indian boarding school in her own youth, an experience that changed her tastes and preferences. Back on the reservation, she came to equate the new, mass-produced commercial foods with sophistication. She eventually decided to pursue an advanced degree and a career, two things that limit her time and energy to cook and incline her further to choosing such as Wonder bread. 

The traditional Menominee recipes and foods described in the book emerge directly from the Menominee/Wisconsin landscape going back countless generations. In the 20th century, the federal government started the commodities program (“commots” as the Menominee call them). As with many tribes, the Menominee made fry bread out of flour they were provided through the federal commodities program. Fry bread became a recent traditional food, even though it was derived from a program the government used to try to displace traditional tribal foods. Yet his mother usually refused to make it, although other relatives did.

Weso also fondly recalls some of the German and Swedish food traditions of Wisconsin that he also grew up with, including exquisite sausages and cheeses. Part of survival means taking advantage of the opportunities in front of you. Just as the traditional Menominee foods yield space to the new mass-produced commercial foods, so too do the old ethnic European cuisines.

Although most of these stories are not outwardly mysteries, they do--like a fun culinary mystery—come complete with vivid recipes at the end of each story. They include traditional, contemporary, and syncretistic delights, the last including such delights as grasshopper tacos (yes, with actual grasshoppers) and macaroni and cheese with tuna and milkweed buds.  

Sadly, Weso passed away just before the publication of this book, so we are all the more fortunate that his voice lives on in it and in his previous Menominee food memoir, Good Seeds. Weso can remind each of us how food can play a part in how we tell our own stories.

Ben Furnish is a teacher and editor in Lawrence, Kansas.    

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

New Releases by Writers Who Kill

I’m thrilled to introduce you to some great new books by authors you already know and love! 

Lisa Malice's book released on December 12th and immediately hit Amazon's domestic thriller new release best seller list. The audiobook received Audiofile Magazine's Earphones Award. What a fabulous debut. It's a book you don't want to miss.

Lest She Forget, by Lisa Malice

After surviving a car crash, Kay Smith wakes from a coma with amnesia, a battered face, and no one to vouch for her identity. Her psychiatrist is convinced that her memory loss is connected to the horrific flashbacks and nightmares haunting her. As she digs for clues to her past, Kay uncovers a shady character following her every inquiry. Who is he? And what does he want from her?

 As Kay's probes deepen, she realizes that everyone around her has deadly secrets to hide—even her. Emerging memories, guilty suspicions, and headline-screaming murders push Kay to come out of the shadows and choose: will she perpetuate a horrendous lie or risk her life to uncover the truth? 

 Heather Weidner’s latest released on January 16th. It's the second in the stunning Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries. You probably already know Heather from her Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries and her Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries. Now is the perfect time to catch up with the doings at Mermaid Bay.

 TwinkleTwinkle au Revoir, by Heather Weidner

Love is in the air when Hollywood arrives in Mermaid Bay, and the town may never be the same. Fans will do almost anything to get a glimpse of the actors or a chance to be an extra in the Love Channel’s “My Coastal Valentine.” Crowds flock to the cozy beach town from all over and business is booming for Christmas shop owner, Jade Hicks until the body of a testy reporter is found in one of the actors rooms. And if murder isn’t bad enough, someone tries to kill the show’s star, hunky Raphael Allard. The cozy little beach town feels cursed, as the Love Channel threatens to pull out of the project. Jade and the gang, Lorelei, Peppermint Patti, Bernie, Chloe, and Neville the Devil Cat, have to solve the crimes before it ruins the town’s reputation and breaks the hearts of fans across the country. 

 Marilyn Levinson's latest young adult book released on January 23rd. You may know her better as Allison Brook, writer of the Haunted Library series. Whether you know her as Marilyn or Allison, this versatile author writes first class mysteries, romantic suspense, and novels for young readers.


The Devil’s Pawn, by Marilyn Levinson


The Devil's Pawn,
by Marilyn Levinson

After fifteen-year-old Simon Porte's family is killed in an automobile crash, his father's brother, whom he's never met, brings Simon to live with him and his wife in upstate New York. Simon doesn't trust Uncle Raymond, and for good reason. Raymond is dying and using his diabolical powers to take over Simon's body. Simon must develop his own supernatural defenses to survive. With his dotty great-aunt, his young sister, and a pair of odd twins, he wages war against the evil Raymond and his cronies.

The third in Sarah E. Burr's Trending Topics series is hot off the presses and available for preorder. DM Me for Murder releases on Tuesday, February 13th. In addition to the Trending Topics Mysteries, Sarah writes The Ducal Detective Mysteries, The Glenmyer Whim Mysteries, and the Book Blogger Mysteries. 

 DM Me for Murder, by Sarah E. Burr

 A social media collab turns deadly for influencer Coco Cline.

Cordelia “Coco” Cline is over the moon when she learns mega-influencer LaTàge wants Center of Attention Consulting to handle her rebranding campaign. But things come crashing down when Coco arrives for a brainstorming meeting only to find LaTàge dead on the floor of her rented mansion. While the Central Shores police don't suspect Coco of the disturbing crime, the Internet has other ideas. Coco is horrified to see the hashtag #CocoClineistheProblem trending everywhere on socials, with anonymous accounts accusing her of having a hand in LaTàge's tragic death.

 Armed with her phone and her fabulous friends (dubbed the Sleuth Squad), Coco dives into LaTàge's glamorous, over-the-top world of influencer-turned-celebrity. Who in Central Shores would want the LA native dead? What skeletons had LaTàge been hiding?

Join crime-solving influencer Coco Cline for her most outrageous case yet as she and her friends uncover long-buried scandals trending just below the surface.


Monday, January 29, 2024

Routines by Nancy L. Eady

 I am not a morning person. I’m married to someone who wakes up immediately, ready to start his day. That we are still happily married after 36 years is not because of compatible morning temperaments. It could be a testament to my husband’s ability to be quiet when he gets up before me.

Saturday morning, as I nursed my Diet Coke while huddling over my bagel and peanut butter, the importance of routine struck me. Weekday morning routines differ from weekend routines. At home, I find one breakfast and stick with it for years.  A bagel with peanut butter on it has been my at-home breakfast for decades now. When I was in my teens, the go-to breakfast was Wheaties with sugar on them.

During the week, I stick with a food until my fast-food restaurant of choice takes my breakfast off the menu. When Burger King sold Cini-Mini’s, I was a regular Monday through Friday customer.  Ms. Debra at the drive-thru window and I would exchange pleasantries about each other’s children, and she knew what I was having as soon as she heard my voice. The same was true at Hardees when Hardee’s still sold its cinnamon raisin biscuits after Burger King stopped its Cini-Minis. While the McDonald’s people were more reserved when they were selling blueberry muffins and apple fritters, they’re warming up to me now under the new two-biscuits-with-four-packets-of-strawberry-jelly regime. The blueberry muffins and apple fritters probably created too much stress for them; it was never a given whether the store would have one or both of them available any given morning. (I never said my morning routine was healthy, just consistent.)

And heaven help the fast-food breakfast place that runs out of Diet Coke during the week. I don’t know which irritates me more—the fact that they ran out of it, that they usually can’t tell me when they’ll get some more, or that they ring the meal up BEFORE they tell me the Diet Coke is gone. My normally polite disposition sours quickly when deprived of Diet Coke. I am a caffeine addict and hate coffee.

The routine I need to establish, though, is the one I need help from you for. I need a writing routine. There is a lot to be said for the “fanny in chair, hands on keys” school of writing. That works best if, just like my car knows to turn into McDonald’s on a weekday morning, my body automatically walks me to my computer so I can start typing. No matter how bad what I initially write will be, I can always improve it on editing. If it’s not written, though, there’s nothing to edit. Just don’t tell me I have to get up early to start it. Please.

What writing routines do you follow? How did you establish them? For those of you who work full time in other professions, in what ways do you carve out time for your writing

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Keeping a Weather Eye Out

By Annette Dashofy 

As I write this, I’m sitting at my desk, looking out my window at the drab, pale gray sky, the stark leafless trees, and the rain dripping off the gutters on my garage. It’s late January, so the only color is the green steel roof of said garage. 

On the other hand, the book I’m writing is set in July, so my characters are dealing with heat and humidity. 

All of these thoughts about weather have me pondering a question, which occasionally comes up in conversations with other writers. How important, if at all, is the weather in your books? I was stunned the first time I was told that I shouldn’t include mentions of it. 


I grew up on a farm, and keeping a weather eye out, listening to each day’s forecast, was vital to success. You’ve heard the saying, “Make hay when the sun shines.” When a farmer cuts hay, it needs to have a couple of days to dry. After the first day, the farmer uses a “rake” pulled by his tractor to turn the cut grass and let the other side dry. Only then can it be safely baled. Damp baled hay molds. Even worse, the moisture ferments, causes heat, and can combust. Barns have burned to the ground as a result. Hence, we had to wait for a string of dry days to get out into the fields and mow. 

One of my series is set in farm country. In the other, both main characters spent their youth on farms. It only makes sense that they are observant about the weather.

Beyond that, weather creates some amazing obstacles for our characters. Icy roads hinder pursuits. Snowstorms blanket crime scenes. Rainstorms wash away evidence. I pulled out all the weather stops for last year’s twelfth Zoe Chambers Mystery, Helpless, when I set a downgraded hurricane loose on Monongahela County at the same time a killer came to town. Flooded roads hindered the police and the killer. Torrential rainfall and high winds played havoc at every stage of the story.

I admit, I wouldn’t want to write that kind of tale every time. But the storm definitely raised the stakes for my characters. 

I also enjoy reading books in which the weather plays a big role. I’ve always said two of my favorite authors are Julia Spencer Fleming and Craig Johnson. Both of their series frequently find our heroes dealing with blizzards and other inclement weather. 

Is it just me? Fellow writers, do you include the climate in your stories? Or do you think the weather detracts from the tale? Readers, how about you? Would you rather not hear about the rain pelting Zoe’s ball cap or temperatures so cold that her eyelashes freeze? Or are you like me and enjoy shivering right along with the protagonist? 

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Where Everyone Knows Your Name by Kait Carson

My husband often asks me why I blog. Does it sell books? Do your blogmates share your posts? Do they participate in your social media? What’s the deal? He’s not being rude. He really doesn’t understand why I take the time to write a few hundred words on a monthly basis and then spend time throughout the day responding to comments. We are talking about a genuine rocket scientist here—he doesn’t have a Facebook or Instagram account and knows more about Space X than X.

 I confess, my knee jerk response was along the lines of, “That’s what writers do. It’s not about sales, it’s about catching interest and learning.” And yes, that’s partially true. Like most things, the first response is seldom the complete story. Blogging is time-consuming. The brainstorming, writing, and responding all take away from the next book. So, what’s the real payoff? Sure, there is some exposure. My newsletter program lets me track the numbers of clicks on links I provide. Every month, a handful of folks click on the link to my two blog posts. That’s nice, and while they rarely comment on the blog, they do often send me emails. So, there’s that.

 Humans are social critters. Blog groups help fill that need. My group is very supportive of my writing. They share my posts and often help promote my books. That’s the commercial side. On a personal level…did you ever belong to a club, or build a clubhouse with friends when you were a kid? My blog group serves as my club. It’s the place I go to share my personal life (off the page, of course), the people I turn to for guidance, my cheering squad and problem solvers. They share my joys, my celebrations, my hopes, and my plans. We are in this together. And we support each other.

 In my much younger days, I lived in New Yok City, where my friends and I met often at McAnn's Bar. It wasn't about the drinks. New York City bar prices have always outstripped the finances of the working stiffs. It was about the friends and the camaraderie. A meeting place for first dates safe under the ever-watchful eye of Pete the bartender. Blogmates are like that. They always have your back. We may never meet in real life, but the ties that bind are firm. My first readers, editors, and early reviewers are my blogmates. I trust them implicitly to give me honest feedback, and I return the favor. It’s safe to say I couldn’t do this job without them.

Photo Melissa Askew
on Unsplash

 Why do I blog? It’s my family. I believe the warmth and friendship shows in our posts, and readers and commenters respond to that.

 Happy 2024—may it bring you all you desire.

Kait Carson writes the Hayden Kent Mysteries set in the Fabulous Florida Keys. You can connect with Kait at

Friday, January 26, 2024

Four Seasons in One Week by Nancy L. Eady

 We live in Alabama. This time last week, the high was in the low thirties, the sky was clear, and the low the night before was obscene, down around nine. Today, it’s been raining on and off. At least the low last night was forty-five and the high today was seventy. Last night was the first night in over a week where we didn’t leave our pipes dripping to keep them from freezing. I dread the water bill, but I dread the repair bill from frozen pipes more. This has been a two-season week.

One week in March a couple decades ago, which I remember specifically because Mark had gone out of town that week to a seminar, we had a four-season week. The first day was cool but sunny. (Spring). By Wednesday night, it was so warm I suggested to him we take the boat out when he got back. (Summer). On Thursday, the temperatures were back in the fifties (Fall), and the weather people started warning us of a weather event beginning Friday night, which included winter storm warnings with accumulated snow of about eight inches in central Alabama. The stores sold out of bread and milk in an hour. (For some reason, those are the essential items in any weather event. The newer generation doesn’t always understand the concept; Mark stood behind one young man in a weather grocery store line stocking up on frozen TV dinners so he’d have something to eat if the power went out. He didn’t feel he could correct the young man without explaining why he was the only person in the line with Diet Coke. As Mark told my daughter once, he wasn’t fixing to be* snowed in with me without Diet Coke handy.) I told Mark about the snow warning on the phone that night, but we thought there was no way the weather could cool off enough to dump that much snow. During the day Friday, it continued to get colder bit by bit. I kept an anxious eye on the door hoping Mark made it back from South Carolina before whatever was going to happen hit (no cell phones in those days).  But it still didn’t seem ithe temperature could fall enough to dump eight inches of snow on us. The ground surely was warm enough to melt any snow that landed.

Never underestimate Mother Nature. Mark made it home about four that afternoon. When we went to bed that night, the temperature had plummeted into the twenties and for the first time in our lives we saw thundersnow, where it was snowing and thundering and lightning the whole night. Not only did we get eight inches of snow, but it was the first time in the recorded history of the state that the entire state of Alabama received some snow accumulation. (Winter). Even Orange Beach and Mobile, which sit on the Gulf Coast, got at least two inches. I can remember watching the news footage of the waves from the Gulf washing onto the snow-covered sea shore and thinking how strange it looked. Saturday stayed bitter cold, then by Sunday we were back into early spring.

We rarely have a four-season day but it is common in the spring and fall to have days when we run the heater at night and the air conditioner in the day. My family first moved to Alabama when I was sixteen. My mother, raised in Boston, decreed that the air conditioner could not be turned on until June 1. The realities of Alabama weather took a few years to sink in. As they did, the June 1 decree crept back earlier and earlier until, like the rest of us, now there are times when Mom runs the heater and air conditioner in one day. I won’t even begin to tackle hurricane and tornado seasons; they require chapters, not posts.  

But, and I’ve always wanted to start a novel with this, there is an eternal quality to the sunshine and blue sky in an Alabama spring that makes you believe they will stay with you forever, even though you know they won’t.

What kind of freakish weather do you encounter in your neck of the woods? How have you used them in your writing?


* “Fixing to” is a Southern colloquialism that means “about to” but with more emphasis. It is not a mere statement of intent but a statement of a mission to complete.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

The Enchanting Footsteps, or Some Things Never Change by Connie Berry


Although I’m not sure who said it (maybe me), I love the quote “You’re not a writer because you write; you write because you’re a writer.” Writers will write—even if it’s only grocery lists. Writers must write. Knitters must knit. Painters must paint. Cooks must cook. Creativity comes in so many forms, and our basic, core inclinations usually manifest themselves in early childhood.

That’s why I was excited to recently rediscover some of my childhood stories. My mother was a saver (just on the normal side of hoarder), so they still exist in a box in my storage closet.

Today, just for fun, I’m going to share one of my favorites, “The Enchanting Footsteps,” written, according to my mother, when I was eight. I warn you—it’s pretty racy.

The Enchanting Footsteps

by Connie Ruth Campbell

            Once there was a little princess who had tried for years to find a prince. Now I don’t mean she wasn’t ever asked. The trouble was that every prince that asked her was either too fat, too thin, too greedy or had a beard or was just a young pipskeak or was too old or something. Every day the princess grew sader and sader. Every day more and more princes got disappointed.

One day an old begger came to the door sand said, “Please let me in and you won’t be sorry.” They let him in and he went to the princess and said, “Will you not let me sleep in your bed? You will not be sorry I promise you!”

            So he slept in the princesses bed. At midnight, he got out of bed and walked up to the tower. As he walked the princess lead him. She did not know that he was under a spell and if she followed him he would turn into a handsome prince. He knew this however so he wanted her to follow him. He found an old flute and he started to play. He walked as he played. His footsteps were so enchanting that she followed him. When they got to the top the begger turned into a handsome prince. They got married and lived on forever as the new king and queen. 

                                                                    The End

And it could have ended so badly…

Obviously, I had some inspiration. But reading the long-ago stories that fired my childish imagination, I can see that most of them involve some sort of mystery (no bodies, thankfully). I still like to solve mysteries, and I still like stories that end happily or at least with some sort of resolution. That hasn’t changed either. Here’s my introduction to one of my stories.

For the record, I have no idea why I signed as “The Other.” Probably because it added to the mystery. I’ve always loved mysteries. Now I write them.

What have you been interested in since childhood?

What must you do because it’s woven into your unique personality? We’d love to hear!


Connie Berry is the author of the Kate Hamilton Mysteries published by Crooked Lane Books. The latest in the series, A Collection of Lies, will be available on June 18, 2024.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Revisiting My Favorite Series By E. B. Davis

If you are reading this blog, you must be a reader. I’m stepping out of the closet to admit, not only am I a reader, but I’m a reading addict. So far, I have suffered no ill effects. When I read, other members of the family watch TV so it’s not as if I ignore relationships any more than they do by tuning into their shows. My addiction goes a bit deeper—I fall asleep reading. I read if I wake up at night. Because Kindle has a clock, it’s also convenient. I fear a day may come when my eyesight fails—I’ll probably go into withdrawal and insanity.


I’m on my fifth Kindle, and I now trade back and forth between my phone and Kindle to read. While I’m on one, the other is charging. If we have storms that threaten the Internet, I download a bunch of books so that I have plenty to read. (We have a partial-house generator.) In my Kindle library, I have almost 1600 books and another 925 books in my documents. The library was started in 2012 when I got my first Kindle. This doesn’t include those books I read on Kindle Unlimited, which is as annoying as when I used to check books out of the library. I never took the time to write the authors/titles down. I still don’t. So, I often end up starting books only to realize I’ve already read them. I also read my all-time favorite short story in an anthology from the library, and I don’t know the author or the title. I thought it was P. G. Wodehouse and titled “The Slingshot,” but I must have been mistaken. I thought it was first published in The Strand magazine. I wrote to them. They have no record of such a story. That is the price of not buying books.


When other people wax poetic about the allure of real pages, I think about the dust and how many books I had to give away when we moved. At the rate I read, every square inch of my house would be filled with nothing but books. I’d never want my kids to have to deal with my book horde when I ascend to the larger heavenly library. I like ebooks not only because of the space/dust problem presented by physical books, but ebooks allow me to highlight passages and define words I don’t know.


Recently, I took the time to go through my Kindle library, earmarking those series that I’ve liked and look forward to reading the next in series. I have aim with this exercise. I’m planning on re-reading some of my favorite series, which I’ve never before done, to pinpoint what it is about my favorites that attracts me. I want to include those elements in my own writing. To start—here is my list, which is in no particular order. No, it doesn’t include the classics, just contemporary series. It also doesn’t include series written by WWK authors, and there are some that are my favorites, but that’s my secret. I know I’ve missed most of those authors on the bestseller lists—they just aren’t my cuppa. But otherwise, please let me know if I’ve missed some wonderful series.


My Favorites

·      Julie Mulhern—Country Club

·      Jana DeLeon—Miss Fortune/Mudbug—Ghost-in-Law

·      Janet Evanovich—Stephanie Plum/Diesel

·      Bobbi Holmes—Haunting Daniel

·      Spencer Quinn—Chet and Bernie

·      Mary Daheim—Bed and Breakfast/Alpine Emma Lord

·      Susan M. Boyer—Liz Talbot

·      Sue Ann Jaffarian—Odelia Grey/Granny Apples

·      Kelsey Browning/Nancy Naigle—Seasoned Southern Sleuths

·      MC Beaton—Agatha Raisin/Hamish Macbeth

·      Maggie Pill—Sleuth Sisters

·      Jess Lourey—Murder by the Month

·      T E Kinsey—Lady Hardcastle

·      Martha Grimes—Richard Jury-Melrose Plant

·      Charlotte MacLeod—Peter Shandy

·      Nancy Martin—Blackbird Sisters

·      Donna Ball—Dogleg Island/Raine Stockton Dog

·      Alan Bradley—Flavia de Luce

·      Simon Brett—Mrs. Pargeter

·      Rhys Bowen—Royal Spyness

·      Jacqueline Winspear—Maisie Dobbs

·      Krista Davis—Domestic Diva

·      E. J. Copperman—Haunted Guesthouse

·      Shirley Rousseau Murphy—Joe Grey

·      Margaret Maron—Deborah Knott

·      Connie Shelton—Samantha Sweet

·      Karen MacInerney—Gray Whale Inn

·      Alyssa Maxwell—Gilded Newport

·      Sue Grafton—Kinsey Millhone

·      Deborah Crombie—Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James

·      Susan Rogers Cooper—Milt Kovak

·      Barbara Ross—Maine Clambake Series

·      Robert B. Parker—Spenser and Hawk

·      Karen Baugh Menuhin—Heathcliff Lennox

·      Libby Klein—Poppy McAllister

·      Ellen Byron—Cajun Country

·      G. A. McKevett—Savannah Reid

·      Carolyn Hart—Death on Demand bookstore

·      Michael Malone—Justin & Cuddy

·      Dorothy Cannell—Ellie Haskell

·      Jean Dams—Dorothy Martin

·      Peter Robinson—Alan Banks

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

New Year, New Novel: Charging Ahead by Martha Reed

“The only thing harder than finishing your new novel is starting the next one” – Martha Reed

Wintry gale force winds are whipping the Allegheny River into meringue peaks as I write this blog. Both cats (Bailey and Moe) are curled up like commas in their fleecy beds, dreaming fierce jungle cat dreams as they snooze by the gas log fire. I bundled into four layers with boots and trudged out to get the mail, but that’s my outdoor adventuring for today. I’ve balanced my checkbook and scheduled February’s bill payments. In other words, I’ve cleared the deck and it’s time to face with mingled anticipation and gut-wrenching dread The Moment When I Must Start Writing My Next Book.

Every writer has a different way of getting started. Do you imagine yourself bodily leaping off a cliff yelling “Look out below!” Or is it a calm, unrippled initiative where you simply open a blank Word document and type Chapter One. I imagine Jane Austen wrote this way. I’d love to hear how you get started in the Comments.

When I think back to my first Nantucket Mystery, I recall that I spent months writing the first chapter. That was before I learned that chances are I’ll either edit the first chapter beyond all recognition or delete it altogether. I know now it’s not important where I start. The vital thing is to commit to the project and get started. It’s best to just get on with the job.

I started a new series with Love Power, my fourth book. That first blank page felt as open and vast as the Grand Canyon. What story could I tell that would fill that immense space? As I considered that question, the answer came to me: for Love Power I needed to narrow my storytelling focus down to a close-knit NOLA neighborhood, catty-corner houses on a single street. Characters who had known each other for decades. Who thought they knew everything there was to know about each other. (Spoiler alert: Surprise!) Once I mapped that boundary and hard-coded the limited cast of characters, I simply filled in the blanks.

With Up Jumped the Devil, NOLA Book Two, I felt comfortable expanding the story into other NOLA neighborhoods. I knew the main characters. I had city maps. I felt free to explore, to see where the story takes me (and where it goes).

This leads me to wonder about writers who write stand-alone novels. How do you decide where the boundaries are? Do you create imaginary neighborhoods, whole imaginary towns? When you start a new novel, do you world-build the location and the cast of characters from the ground up?

Word of the Day: Interregnum – An interval or pause between two periods of office or other things.

I’m also curious about when stories get written, the timing of things:

·        When do you start your new novel? As soon as you type “The End” or “###” on the last one?

·        Are you a linear writer who needs to complete one story before beginning another?

·        Are you juggling more than one story at a time, and if so, any advice on doing that?

·        Are you drafting a new story while editing another one or more? How does that work?

What's your process? Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, January 22, 2024

In Which I Tackle Technological Challenges by Nancy L. Eady

 I am convinced that most technological items, like remotes, have a gender bias that allows them to work perfectly for males but mess up when females follow the same steps the males did. For example, we have a very scary universal remote. I couldn’t find it while writing this blog, but the Sony remote from our TV (which fortunately we never use) is just as scary-looking.

Using this, my husband can turn on our devices effortlessly. I can follow the same steps, but it won’t work for me. Ergo, it has a built-in gender bias. My husband laughs at me, but I remain convinced.

In an ironic twist of fate, I manage the IT equipment, computers, networks, internet phones, and monitors at my office. I won this honor for two reasons. First, I learned early that 95% of the technological problems that occur with a computer are fixed if you unplug it, wait a little while, then restart it. For the other five percent of problems, I work diligently to be sure we have very good vendors we can call for problems. Second, when IT vendors throw out acronyms or terms I don’t understand, I stop them to ask what the acronyms or terms mean. I’m not trying to make their life difficult, but how can I decide if I don’t understand what they said? Sometimes, it’s funny to see the look on their face as they try to explain a term that no one has ever asked them to define. One word they often use that makes me cringe is “leverage.” “We will leverage such-and-such to accomplish so and so.” Just substitute the word “use” for leverage and you’ve got the meaning down.

But I digress, as often happens. In spite of my technological handicap, besides blogging for Writers Who Kill, I have in the past written two blogs of my own, and I accidentally let the domain registration for The Football Novice lapse, and it has been several years since I published more than sporadically in Working Mom Adventures. I want to write more for Working Mom, but when I tried to do a lengthy post last year, I realized that the user-friendly platform I started out with in 2010 has morphed into something I have trouble using. And because I didn’t renew my domain name for the Football Novice in time, I lost every single one of my football posts. I cannot tell you how much it irritates me to write something I know I have written before but lost. It never comes out the way the first one did, and to me, it’s never as good. I’d like to revive that blog as well, but figured it was hopeless because of the lost posts.

And then, through a law clerk last summer, I discovered “the Wayback Machine.” Located at, the “Wayback Machine” is “a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.” They started in 1996. Curious, I looked up my old football blog and was thrilled to discover all my posts were there! So I have purchased my domain names back and am working on relaunching the blog, which explains the basic rules of football for new watchers, puts out TV football schedules for the week in the NFL and the SEC at a minimum, and talks about the history of the game. Because I am no match for the WordPress of today, I bought a WordPress manual to start the football blog from scratch (except for the posts, which I will reuse). I am about a third of the way through the manual, which discusses a topic, then leaves you with a checklist to complete from the topics discussed in the chapter.

And therein lies the challenge. In the first chapter, I learned that was not the way to go, but rather The book thinks it's cheaper. I spent an evening trying to load WordPress onto my computer. I’m still not sure I actually did so, but I finally was able to proceed to the exercises in Chapter 2 and complete them successfully. The book has yet to reach the editing/writing part of WordPress, something called “Gutenberg,” but I have hope we’ll get there eventually because I keep running across sentences like “This is where you’ll find X for Gutenberg, but don’t worry about that yet.”

What does this have to do with writing mysteries? Quite a lot, actually. Yesterday, Sunday, January 21, Sarah Burr published an excellent post, In it, she offers advice on preparing a press kit for speaking engagements or interviews, which includes adding links in your press materials to your websites. A writer needs a “platform” website for their works to help promote their writing. While neither Working Mom nor The Football Novice will count as “platform” websites, working with them will help me create and publish my platform website when it is time, and give me a wealth of back material.

I’ll let you know once I’m able to write fresh posts for Working Mom. I’m not sure when I’ll make The Football Novice public: either right before the NFL Hall of Fame game in August, or right before the new spring league, the United Football League (created by the merger of the XFL and USFL), starts in March.

What adventures have you experienced in working on your on-line sites? Is there a “one size fits all” manual not restricted to a specific platform? I’d love to hear from some of you who have tackled this challenge successfully to know there’s light at the end of my tunnel.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Prepping for Press in the New Year by Sarah E. Burr

Happy New Year, Writers Who Kill! I hope you found time over the holidays to rest and recharge. After a chaotic sprint to return edits to my publisher and get a book published, I was fortunate enough to unplug from the world and enjoy a two-week hiatus from work life. By the end of my vacation, though, I was itching to get back to writing, and that’s the best sign for the new year that I could ask for.

January is all about goal setting and outlining where I want to go, what I want to achieve as an author, and being prepared for all that is to come. And part of being prepared is to have a media kit at hand. My media kit has been a huge timesaver over the years, so I’m always looking for ways to enhance it and make it better. And as a host of a web series, I often wonder if authors realize just how helpful this tool can be. Instead of having to dig around for information and copy/paste items into an email (or, heaven forbid, not send them at all), a media kit allows you to deliver everything to your host, blogger, interviewer, etc., in one handy-dandy reference guide. Otherwise, the person who is graciously giving you a platform is tasked with tracking down this info themselves, and depending on where they go, the details can be wildly out-of-date.

For example, I hosted an individual who didn’t provide me with a biography to put in our show notes. This forced me to create the blurb myself. I started with their website…or at least, what I thought was their website. Turns out, it had been defunct for years and the information was nothing remotely close to what the individual wanted to promote. So, while this scenario is a bit extreme, think about the last time you went in and updated your Goodreads bio or your Amazon Author Page bio. You may be keeping your website up to date, but perhaps that’s not where your host goes to source their information (note to self: check my Goodreads and Amazon Page bios). Sending a media kit upfront is a great way to make sure you are providing the most relevant details that you want shared.

So, when I say media kit, what exactly am I including in it? This is what I find most useful, time and time again:

A short bio – No more than 100 words. This covers the bare-bones basics. It is a good place to share the names of the books/series you write and any notable writing groups you are a part of. I also recommend ending on a more personal “hobby” note. Don’t forget to include a link to your website or newsletter signup in the bio (I find this drives more signups than just having it listed somewhere separately).

A full bio – This is where you can go all out on your achievements. List the awards you’ve won. Share a bit about your writing journey, as well as your background prior to writing. Mention any writing-related blogs, podcasts, web series, etc., you are involved in. However, don't write a novel. I recommend two paragraphs at most. Having different bio choices allows your host/interviewer to pick which word count is right for them.

A presenter bio – This is a recent addition to my media kit. As I’ve become more immersed in the author community, there have been instances when I’ve been asked to present to writing groups about topics like social media and (surprise, surprise) building a media kit. In my presenter bio, while I do mention my writing, I highlight my qualifications in social media and publicity. I recommend doing the same for whatever topic you present.

A high-resolution, professional-looking author photo – I’ve definitely blogged about this item before. As a blogger, nothing is more painful than to receive a blurry or unprofessional headshot from my featured guest author. Not only does it present my guest in a negative light, but it also makes my blog look less professional. So, please be considerate of your hosts when you select a picture. This is a reflection on them, too. With the quality of cell phone cameras these days, you do not need to spend money to have a professional-looking photo. Just be mindful of your background! And please, ask someone (a spouse, friend, child, neighbor) to take the picture for you. No selfies!!

High-resolution photos of your book covers – I will admit, this is a hard one for me because I have a large backlist of books to promote. Most of the time, my interviewer will tell me what book I should focus on (usually the most recent), so I keep the most recent book from each of my series in my media kit.

Links – This can also be a tricky section to manage because there are so many links that we can provide. Over the years, I’ve narrowed down my list to the following:

  • My website
  • My newsletter
  • My social media “hub” – I have built a page into my website that provides links to all my active social media profiles. A one-stop shop for users.
  • My book series’ pages on Amazon
  • A writing “extracurricular” I’d like to promote – For me, this is the It’s Bookish Time TV YouTube channel.    

That’s still quite a list of links. If you use sites like LinkTree or Bitly, you can create “link-in-bio” pages where you can house all your important links on one landing page. This allows you to provide your interviewer with one link, from which all your other links are listed.

So, now that I’ve outlined what my media kit entails, you might be wondering where I keep this. In two places, actually. I have a “Media Kit” folder on my computer, which contains a Word document with all my bios and links, along with the high-res photos (I do not embed them into my Word doc, as it decreases the resolution value). When I’m getting ready to send an email to my interviewer or moderator, I attach my Word doc along with the necessary photos. I also keep a Media Kit on my website (see here). This way, if I’m traveling or unable to send my Word doc items, I can share this URL containing the same information. Managing two sources is a bit more work, so beginning with the folder-based media kit is a great place to start.

Lastly, set aside some time each month to review the details in your kit. Make sure to keep it current with new releases and achievements!

As an author, putting together the right publicity tools is crucial for success, and a media kit can help you check a lot of boxes. By harnessing this information in an easy-to-access document, you can elevate your presence and reach in an increasingly competitive literary landscape.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Writing Villains in 3D, by Lori Roberts Herbst

 My husband and I recently took two of the grandkids to see the movie Migration in 3D. We settled in with popcorn and Icees and donned our paper-and-plastic glasses, immersing ourselves in the world of animated ducks.


 Just as I’m certain every little kid in the theater did at one point, I lifted my glasses to get a glimpse of the movie sans plastic adjusters. Without vision correction, the ducks morphed into blurry blobs, recognizable only because of context. Only when I replaced the glasses did I regain the sharp definition and clarity of colors.


The experience got me thinking about the books I read—as well as the ones I write—and the importance of creating a three-dimensional experience. Obviously, authors can’t employ fancy physical gadgets such as 3D glasses, but we have other tools at our disposal. We can crackle dead leaves beneath soft suede moccasins. We can send the scent of pine drifting on an icy breeze. Appealing to the senses draws readers into our fictional settings.


But equally important—for me, even more important—is the way authors construct their characters. How does a writer make characters come alive? Make them leap from the pages to become three-dimensional humans that readers feel they know and like — or fear — or sympathize with — or all of the above?


As a reader and moviegoer, what I want most from a story is depth of character, and not just regarding the protagonist or supporting cast. The stories I find most satisfying are the ones with layered, human villains.


Two-dimensional, cardboard bad guys and gals may still cause me to jump in my seat or chew my nails, but they rarely leave a lasting impression. It’s the tragic villains that live on in my imagination—the characters with a backstory, a vivid and psychologically understandable motivation. 


Some of these malefactors express benevolent — albeit misguided — reasons for their evil acts. Think Thanos from the Avengers movies, a man who only wants to save the universe (through annihilation of half the population). Or Erik Killmonger of Black Panther notoriety, whose overarching goal of assisting the disenfranchised has merit (though his manner of implementation leaves something to be desired).


Then there are the offenders who aren’t even truly villainous in their hearts. They perpetrate their misdeeds as a result of their own loss, grief, or prior mistreatment. Think Phantom of the Opera, Norman Bates, Severus Snape.


Sociologists also posit that some people are “born bad” — that psychopathy and sociopathy are hard-wired into their brains from birth. This served as the premise of the TV series Dexter — genetic sociopathy later channeled by someone else’s moral compass. What a concept.


Of course, none of these “reasons” for the perpetration of atrocious acts excuse the villains’ behavior. After all, most people possess free will, along with a capacity for insight and the ability to change. The point is, the richer the antihero’s backstory, the more believable that person becomes, and the more engrossed we become in the story. When readers and moviegoers grasp motives such as vengeance, grief, and ambition, we might even discover a smidgen of empathy, along with a bit of self-reflection and sometimes even discomfort. In similar circumstances, could I succumb to those baser instincts?


“There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.


Which bad guys/gals have left a lasting impression on you?


Lori Roberts Herbst writes the Callie Cassidy Mysteries, a cozy mystery series set in Rock Creek Village, Colorado. To find out more and to sign up for her newsletter, go to