Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Killer Questions - What If We Don't Get Caffeine in the Morning?

 Killer Questions – What If We Don’t Get Caffeine in the Morning?

We promised we’d let you know each of us personally, so let’s start with something basic to us – What are we like if we don’t get caffeine in the morning?

James M. Jackson - I'm perfectly fine. Just don't ask me. It might be the last thing you ask anyone.

Connie Berry - You never want to find out.

Lori Roberts Herbst - No big deal. I love the taste and smell of coffee, but caffeine doesn't seem to affect me much—doesn't even keep me up at night!

Molly MacRae - I’m fine.

Debra H. Goldstein – I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but for years I was hooked on Coca Cola to give me my morning caffeine rush. Now, having broken the habit, I simply drag in the morning.

Sarah Burr - I get a headache…which means I’m not as productive as I’d like to be.

Grace Topping - Fortunately, I don’t need a caffeine fix in the mornings. I’m a tea drinker. Tea wakes you up and says “Good morning, time to get up.” Coffee hits you on the back of the head and says, “Get moving!”

Annette Dashofy - Sleepy, semi-conscious, unable to create words. If the lack of caffeine goes on long enough, I get a headache and become really cranky.

Heather Weidner - I am an early bird who’s had plenty of caffeine by 7:00 each morning. I’m a tad groggy if I happen to skip a morning dose. Caffeine and sugar are must haves for early morning writing sessions before my day gig.

Margaret S. Hamilton - A grizzly bear awakening from hibernation.

Marilyn Levinson - More sluggish than usual.

Mary Dutta - Very cranky, and that's even before the caffeine-withdrawal headache kicks in.

Susan Van Kirk - Actually, I know. After I had covid, my blood pressure blew up, and I had to give up caffeine. Now, I must drink decaffeinated coffee, and it isn’t the same, but you can learn to live with it, especially if it means you keep living.

Martha Reed - Let’s hope we never find out. 

Lisa Malice - I rise early and start my workday without caffeine, so it’s not a big deal. I’m at the gym by 7 a.m., working out with a low-cal protein drink with caffeine to get me ready for my workout.

Kait Carson - A brief story. I was in the hospital many years ago and an obvious newbie came around to take my blood pressure at oh my god o’clock. The woman turned dead white and said I had no blood pressure. I told her I never did before I had my coffee.

Nancy Eady - Not at all pleasant to be around.  When the forecast says snow here in the Birmingham area, other families dash out to the grocery store to buy milk and bread.  My family rushes to the store and stands in line with Diet Coke because my husband says he's not fixing to be snowed in with me without caffeine, and I don't drink coffee. 

Shari Randall/Meri Allen - Seriously, I am not fully conscious until 10 AM - and that's with caffeine.

K.M. Rockwood - I must have a caffeine dependency, since if I go two days without, I get a headache, but I don’t notice a difference if I don’t get any until lunch time, usually in the form of iced tea. I can drink coffee up until bedtime, too, without having any problems falling asleep.

E.B. Davis - Sluggish, sloth-like, snarly, sour and then very sad!

Korina Moss - I’m not a morning coffee drinker. My first caffeinated beverage of the day is Coke Zero and that’s not until late morning or early afternoon. It makes me feel a little more “can do.”  


Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Al Capone and a Valentine’s Day Noir at the Bar

 by Paula Gail Benson

Photo courtesy of Raegan Teller
Phil Lenski, Carla Damron, Warren Moore, Me,
John Starino, Raegan Teller, Bonnie Stanard, Charles Isreal, Jr.

Noir at the Bar events have caught on in our community. I’m delighted that two organizers, Chris Errol Maw and author Raegan Teller (aka Wanda Craig) have continued to arrange the venues and programs for us to hear new stories. I thank them both for including me as one of the readers.

Lately, we’ve been gathering at the British Bulldog Pub, which has a private room and terrific atmosphere. Along with me on this Valentine's Day program were: Carla Damron (award winning author of The Stone Necklace, The Orchid Tattoo, and the Caleb Knowles mystery series); Charles Isreal, Jr. (an Assistant Professor who teaches creative writing at Queens University in Charlotte, N.C.); Phil Lenski (administrative law judge and author of horror and dark mystery short stories); Warren Moore (administrator and Professor of English at Newberry College, author of the novel Broken Glass Waltzes and short fiction that has appeared in many anthologies); Bonnie Stanard (writer of historical fiction, short stories, and poetry); John Starino (performance poet and author); and Raegan Teller (writer of short stories and the Enid Blackwell mystery series).

Al Capone
Source: NPR; Hulton Archive; 2004 Getty Images

Since we were reading on Valentine’s Day, Raegan asked that we include both a crime and love in our work. I asked Phil Lenski what he planned, and he told me he was writing about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. That intrigued me. After some research, I decided I could write a follow up story that dealt with the aftermath of the shootings.

I found out that two landladies had lost tenants who died as victims in the Chicago garage. I knew the killings had been blamed on Al Capone but did not know he claimed innocence and was in Florida when they occurred. Shortly after, Capone was incarcerated in Philadelphia. During that time, he began to say he was haunted by the ghost of one of the victims, Jimmy Clark, the brother-in-law of Bugs Moran, who did not go to the garage, but probably was the intended target of the shootings.

Both landladies made identifications of the killers to the police, then later recanted. One of the landladies was named Mrs. Doody. That gave me the title I needed: “A Duty to Mrs. Doody.”

My next questions were: what was she owed or what did she want? Was it merely compensation for the lost rent or could it be something else?

A little more research introduced me to Frank Rio, one of Capone’s bodyguards who spent time in the Philadelphia prison with him, and Hymie Cornish, Capone’s valet who claimed he also had seen the ghost of Jimmy Clark. Frank and Hymie became characters in my story.

Then, I learned a bit more about Al Capone. His favorite meal was spaghetti with walnut sauce. He had a regular booth at the Green Mill jazz club and liked to dine at the Exchequer, both of which had underground tunnels convenient for escape. Capone also was a good cook. His sister Maffie was rumored to have made money selling one of his tomato-based sauces to Ragu.

In order to create my story, I pieced all these fragments of information together with the fact that one of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre victims was an optician who liked to hang out with gangsters. While the characters are based on real people, what happens in the story comes from my imagination. Figuring it out was great fun.

Do you like to read and write stories based on historical fact?

Courtesy Chris Errol Maw and Raegan Teller

Monday, February 19, 2024

Keeping the Brand Alive by Debra H. Goldstein


1) What does an author do before any words are ever published? 

2) When a writer’s book debuts, what is one of the most important things to work at while the book is launching?

3) If an author is between works, what should the writer concentrate on (besides writing something new)?

Answers: 1), 2), and 3) = Branding

There are millions of books being published in all different types of genres, so a writer must distinguish his work or her name from all the others. At any stage of the author’s career, branding is crucial. By definition, branding fixates the type of book, the writer’s name, or the genre the author writes in the public/reader’s brain. 

Some say that people need to see or hear something at least seven times for a brand to resonate in one’s braincells. Does that mean to post or advertise everywhere with a picture of the current book? Most books fade into backlists after six months. So, what means can authors use to advertise themselves – to keep their name in someone’s mind?

At one point, blogs were hot. Giveaways helped. Cute pictures or posts of animals or flowers on Facebook or then, Twitter (X), always reach an audience, but do you remember the cat, dog, flower, or the name of the posting author? Reels, as part of one’s story on Instagram, Facebook, and Tik Tok, are hot now, but do they work better for certain genres? Newsletters are considered successful if 50% of readers open them, but what happens if it is constantly the same loyal readers? 

I blog here, at Writers Who Kill, as well as on The Stiletto Gang, Booklovers Bench (where readers are winners), and my own It’s Not Always a Mystery (which usually features well known or upcoming authors). Do you follow any of them besides this one? 

I also have a monthly newsletter that is easy to sign up for. Go to my website (another means of branding) and you’ll find a way to sign up for the newsletter and/or blog, as well as my BookBub site on every page. But, if you scroll down on the right of my website’s Homepage, there’s a bonus for signing up for the newsletter. You can download a free copy of Simple Recipes for the Sometimes Sleuth, a cookbook that Kensington put together of the recipes featured in the Sarah Blair mystery series. Who wouldn’t want a cookbook that includes Jell-O in a Can?

These are all ways that I try to keep my brand alive. Whether you are an author or a reader, what do you think works best?

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Best of Friends? Amateur Sleuth/Detective Relationships by Sarah E. Burr

It’s been a week, dear readers! My twenty-second book, DM Me for Murder, was published this week by Level Best Books. Yes, even I had to do a double-take at that number. I’ve somehow managed to write and publish twenty-two books since 2017. I *think* I’ve found my calling. I’ve always loved writing, but I was rarely ever able to finish a project until I started writing mysteries. I’m especially attached to writing cozy mysteries that feature amateur sleuths. There are so many fun tropes I play into as a cozy mystery author, but there are also some tricky rules I get to bend. I’ve really leaned into creating a working relationship between my amateur sleuth and law enforcement rather than a cantankerous one. Why did I decide to break away from convention? Well, there are a few reasons.

First and foremost, I hate conflict. That might sound strange coming from someone who thrives on writing murder mysteries, but the murder-y part of my stories is about all I can handle. If I have to write a scene about someone who’s lost their life and
then have my protagonist go at it with law enforcement, it makes for a heavy state of mind. It’s a bit selfish on my part, but I’m also thinking about my character’s happiness. Coco Cline, the crime-solving influencer who leads my Trending Topic Mysteries, has a lot of negativity coming her way from the Internet, so I try to give her a bit of a reprieve in her personal life. That includes the Central Shores Police Department, with whom she has a pretty phenomenal working relationship.

I also enjoy the contrast between the amateur sleuth and the professional detective. Coco has a different approach to solving a mystery, relying on intuition, creativity, and luck. The Central Shores PD, on the other hand, must follow the rules and procedures of law enforcement. Sometimes, Coco and her PD friends clash, but other times, they complement and learn from each other. Coco has definitely taught Lieutenant McInnis a thing or two about the pitfalls of social media.

Finally, I adore adding humor to the mix. Coco and Lieutenant McInnis’s team often have witty banter that lightens up the story. It’s like one big dance, with everyone trying to ignore the fact that Coco has (once again) inserted herself into their investigation. And when she uncovers a big clue or new suspect for them, readers get to witness the amusing complications that arise. I find that Coco’s humor and camaraderie with the Central Shores PD make the mystery more enjoyable and less dark.

And it’s not just Coco who gets along with her local law enforcement. Winnie Lark from the Book Blogger Mysteries has a budding friendship with Detective Rosemary Fox, and Hazel Wickbury is related to the lead investigator on her cases. Of course, Duchess Jacqueline is the law in the Court of Mystery series, so that’s a bit of a given.

To give you a taste of these reasons in action, I’ve included a short excerpt from chapter four of DM Me for Murder, where Coco takes a phone call from Lieutenant Gavin McInnis mere hours after she’s found the dead body of mega-influencer, LaTàge. Enjoy!


The buzzing notifications were suddenly drowned out by the staccato rhythm of my muted ringtone. Gavin’s name filled the screen.

“I’m gonna take this outside.” I showed Jasper and Charlotte the incoming call.

They nodded their understanding, and I hurried away from our table, trying not to draw too much attention to myself from the other diners.

Fresh ocean air washed over me as I scurried out into the parking lot, but it did little to soothe my nerves. “Hey, Gav—”

A slew of expletives greeted me on the other end. Not only from Gavin, but it sounded like Deacon, Adrian, and others were airing their grievances as well. “Oh, hey, Coco. I suppose I owe you an apology,” Gavin said, finally uttering a coherent sentence. “For all those times you kept a murder investigation under wraps. I didn’t realize how impossible a task it was.”

I smiled uneasily at his evident sarcasm. “What happened?”

“We reached out to Ruby Daniels to try and track down more information about LaTàge.” Frustration riddled Gavin’s words. “She ended up coming by the house and saw all the activity. I guess someone from the county lab let slip it was a homicide, and now, the whole world knows about LaTàge before we even know who our vic actually is.”

My eyebrows inched up my forehead. “You mean, Ruby wouldn’t tell you LaTàge’s real name?”

“She says she never knew LaTàge by any other name,” Gavin explained. “Apparently, when they met, LaTàge introduced herself as LaTàge Luxe. It wasn’t long before she was just going by LaTàge. Adrian did some preliminary records digging, and activity under the name ‘LaTàge Luxe’ popped up around eight years ago. Whoever she was before then, we have no idea. We can’t find anything about her legally changing her name. California has a pretty transparent name-change process, and there’s nothing.”

“Wow.” I whistled. I’d always assumed LaTàge was a stage name and that the influencer used her real moniker around her friends. “But Ruby wasn’t just her best friend. She was LaTàge’s assistant. Ruby must have booked travel or used a credit card or something.”

“Ruby said she either used a business Amex or LaTàge made her use her own card for reimbursement. She never handled LaTàge’s personal accounts, either. It was something LaTàge insisted she do herself ‘to stay grounded.’” I could almost hear Gavin making sarcastic air quotes.

Odd. From their videos and online interactions, the two seemed so close. But Ruby didn’t even know her bestie’s given name? Moreover, why had LaTàge gone out of her way to keep Ruby at arm’s length?

I heard muttering in the background, and I debated a moment before blurting out, “Well, is there anything I can do to help?” I already knew the answer. Gavin would snap and tell me to mind my own business, just like he had earlier this morning.


“Huh?” I nearly dropped my phone on the gravel. “R-really?”



How will Coco help the Central Shores police? Find out in DM Me for Murder, available on eBook, paperback, and audio.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

On Fireflies and Jackhammers, by Lori Roberts Herbst

I’m sitting cross-legged in a field filled with wildflowers. The sun has set, and stars glitter in the night sky. Fireflies teem around me, their tiny bodies pulsing with light. The swarm appears as infinite as the stars above, yet it doesn’t suffocate or frighten me. On the contrary, I find it exhilarating.


After a moment, it occurs to me that each individual firefly contains a story idea. One small creature alights on my outstretched hand, as
if willingly offering me the contents of its creative reservoir. 


I cup the little bug in my hand. Then I leap to my feet in sudden awareness that each firefly wants me to explore its story. I am surrounded by the illumination of limitless creativity.


Then I wake up.


I’m not sure which part of this fantasy is more implausible — my easy access to a multitude of ideas, or my ability to fluidly arise from a cross-legged position (I haven’t been able to do that since childhood…)


But here’s what I’m getting at: perhaps there are authors out there for whom the firefly scenario is reality. If so, I’m envious of them. For me, ideas seem to rest beneath layers of concrete. Retrieving them requires weeks, months, or even years of persistent jackhammering. I keep expecting ideas to emerge fully formed from my subconscious, like Athena springing from Zeus’ skull. Alas, it hasn’t happened that way. In my world, the mining of ideas is sweat-generating, teeth-gnashing, nail-biting work.


Stephen King said the novel Misery came to him in a dream. Lucky stiff. My nighttime escapades tend toward the more mundane, like moving laundry from the washer to the dryer. Hmm…what if I discovered a valuable gemstone nestled among the soggy clothes? What if I opened the dryer and found a portal to another dimension? Perhaps it’s time to get out my jackhammer. 


 “You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” — Neil Gaiman


What’s the best idea you’ve ever had, and how did it come to 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 

Friday, February 16, 2024

Bibliophilic Friday: Life: An Intimate History of the First Four Billion Years by Richard Fortey, Review by Nancy L. Eady

Today on Bibliophilic Friday, we are going to detour from mysteries to science.  One of my  favorite non-fiction books on science is Life:  An Intimate History of the First Four Billion Years by Richard Fortey.  Nor am I alone in my admiration of this book; it was selected, along with another book by Richard Fortey, by the Folio Society.  The Folio Society publishes high-end editions of carefully selected books, and to have a book included as one of their offerings is an honor. 

The Folio Society Cover for Fortey's Book

I love to read about science, all aspects of it.  Richard Fortey is one of my favorite science writers because of the engaging way he discusses his topics and the trick he has of making complicated concepts comprehensible to non-scientists.  In Life, he covers the evolution of life from the first single-celled organisms through the present – and does so in a way that keeps you reading.

As you read Life, you pick up on Fortey's enthusiasm for his subject and learn about fascinating creatures - and not all of them are dinosaurs.  With Dr. Fortey’s words, even the simple algal mats that once populated the earth in enough abundance to transform our atmosphere from primarily carbon dioxide to primarily oxygen are interesting.  Remarkably, there are a few areas of the world where such algal mats still flourish.

A Trilobite - Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Fortey's academic specialty is the study of trilobites, animals that swarmed the oceans for over 270 million years but which became extinct about 250 million years ago.  Trilobites were arthropods, which means they are distantly related to insects, arachnids and crustaceans.  Their closest living relatives today appear to be the horseshoe crabs, which are often considered to be "living fossils".  The horseshoe crabs are arthropods, too. Dr. Fortey admits in one of his books that he has a secret wish/hope that maybe just a few trilobites are still swimming around in the ocean, may in some deep-sea canyon, that have yet to be discovered.  I think that would be spectacular.

Horseshoe Crabs from Wikimedia Commons

Sorry - I digressed. The point is that if you are looking for an informative, entertaining read that sets out a comprehensive history of life as currently understood by science, this is the book for you.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Starting a New Series by Marilyn Levinson

Recently, I started writing the first book in a new cozy series. However, there was much I had to work out before I could write the first word of the first chapter. For one thing, my new series takes place on an island that you will never find on any map. Dickens Island is my creation. It's situated smack in the middle of the Long Island Sound and belongs to New York. Creating an island requires all sorts of planning—its size; its shape; how many people live on the island year round; how many come during the summer months; what ferries link the island to the mainland; what the school system is like; its local government; its history.

I researched the islands off Long Island to learn how they deal with many of these issues, and came up with many methods of my own. Setting, as any cozy author will tell you, is a very important element. It is the world where our characters live, work, interrelate, and commit murders. 

My main characters came to me early on. I knew I wanted my sleuth to be a savvy woman around forty—divorced for many years and the mother of a fifteen-year-old son. And so Delia, short for Cordelia, was born. Twelve years earlier, she divorced her abusive husband and left three-year-old Connor on Dickens Island to be raised by her parents, while she lived and worked in Manhattan. When she moves back to Dickens Island to resume her maternal duties, is it any wonder that Connor resents her? That he's distant and difficult, and bound to get into more-than-typical teenage trouble?

Graham Dickens, Delia's father, is the patriarch of the family, and feels it's his responsibility to keep the island running smoothly. Not that he holds any position in the island's government. Those positions are held by his brother, Brad, the president of the town council, and Reenie, Brad's wife, who is the island's manager. Unfortunately, Brad and Reenie are fiercely at odds over most issues. Their open discord has begun to affect their marriage and to divide the island into two hostile camps. 

 What fun it is to create new characters that will live on in future books. Helena, Delia's grandmother, has left Delia a large Victorian house when she died the previous year. When Delia discovers her grandmother's hidden room filled with sailors' logs and journals, Helena appears in ghostly form. She fills Delia in on events that occurred many years ago that shed light on the  recent homicide.

 A shaggy dog starts to follow Connor about, often spending the night at the house with Delia and her son. Delia has no success in finding his owner. She's surprised when she sees the spitting image of the dog in an early photo with her grandmother.

 And so I've begun writing the first book in my new series. I've had to stop a few times to understand my characters' relationship with one another. I'm glad I did because that enriched the texture of the story. Now all I have to do it write about the murder, why it came about, and how it gets resolved. And a few other things, of course. That should keep me busy for the next several months. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

An Interview with Sarah E. Burr

by Grace Topping

Some authors are happy to produce a new mystery once or twice a year. But then you have authors like Sarah E. Burr who not only produces multiple books a year but also juggles four different mystery series, produces her own podcasts, and runs her own graphic design business. Sarah is a member of our Writers Who Kill crew and writes for WWK. Her latest book, DM Me for Murder, was just released. Sarah joins me today to tell us more about her career. 



DM Me for Murder

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?                                                                                             


Welcome, Sarah.


The latest book in your Trending Topic Mysteries, DM Me for Murder, features Coco Cline, a social media consultant and an influencer, and a well-known one in her field. What is an influencer, and how did Coco Cline become one?


One of Coco’s teasing comments about herself is that as an influencer, she “has a duty to influence.” Basically, she serves as a guide or role model that people on social media can look to for product recommendations, lifestyle choices, and trends. There are many types of influencers in the world (travel, fitness, and books, just to name a few), and Coco has carved out a space for herself by sharing décor tips, beauty guides, and entertainment recommendations. As for how she became one, Coco evolved into an influencer as her blog, Trending Topic, became more and more popular. The blog was originally part of an app Coco and her college gal pals created, and when it sold for big money, Coco continued her blogging journey.

Another character, LaTàge, is a major influencer. She became a celebrity, lived quite a glamorous life, and made a comfortable living from it. Can influencers do that, and how?


Most certainly! With the oversaturated market of people trying to become influencers, it takes hard work to make appealing content and a LOT of luck. You need to research trends and what captures a viewer’s attention, but you also have to be different enough to stand out. Kind of like how there are so many cozy mysteries out in the world; you need to find your hook and run with it.


In referring to your character Katz, you use the pronouns they rather than he or she. Was this because the character would be one who would prefer the neutral pronoun, or was it to avoid identifying the gender of the character throughout the book?


Katz is a non-binary person who uses the preferred pronouns they/them. Representation is really important to me in my work. I want all my readers to feel seen and celebrated when visiting with my characters.


You have a number of twists in DM Me for Murder, which leads me to the question: Do you plot your mysteries or just figure them out as you go?


usually plot my mysteries; it’s the only thing I feel one hundred percent certain about when I begin writing a book. However (and this has been happening to me a lot lately), the killer in DM Me for Murder is actually not who I originally intended them to be. I began liking the person who I’d plotted to be the initial villain, and as the story continued to develop, I realized I didn’t want them to be on the hook for the crime. Somehow, the real killer presented themselves to me in the concluding pages, and so I went back and worked them into the story.

Your Trending Topic Mysteries have introduced me to a world I’m only slightly familiar with. I learned a lot about social media, influencers, and the young people involved with them. Was it a challenge using a younger “voice” than you’ve used in your other series? 


Definitely, but perhaps not in the way most people would think. Out of all the series I write, Coco and her friends most closely emulate how I speak with my besties in the real world. I abbreviate words all the time within an inch of their life, and so, when I’m writing my other books, I really have to work at sounding more formal and putting together coherent sentences. Coco gives me a little more freedom to be myself with her speech, and even then, I have to dial it back. I always have to laugh at book reviews that say, “No one talks like this,” and I’m over here, raising my hand, saying, “Um, I do.”


In addition to your Trending Topic Mysteries, you write the Glenmyre Whim Mysteries, the Book Blogger Mysteries, and the Court of Mystery series. This might be like asking a parent to identify their favorite child, but do you have a favorite series among them? Or do you feel drawn to work on one more than the others? 

Oh, please, don’t ask me to choose, Grace! I definitely feel drawn to my characters when I’ve been away from them for too long. Right now, I’m in my “Court of Mystery era,” working on the final Duchess Jacqueline adventure. I haven’t visited her world in a long time, and I’ve really missed her. It feels so good to be back with her. But I’m already itching to write the next Book Blogger Mystery, too.

Do you write books in more than one series at a time?


I’ve attempted to, but it doesn’t go well. I’ve—thankfully—realized that I need to focus all my energy on one manuscript at a time. Otherwise, things get messy.


Is writing a full-time job for you?


Is there something more than a full-time job? Because that would honestly be it. My life is consumed by writing and everything that goes with it. But somehow, I also manage to run my BookstaBundles service, which creates tailor-made digital book promotion graphics for authors.


When you started writing fiction, you wrote fantasy with your Court of Mystery series. What prompted you to turn to cozy mysteries?


Denise Swanson’s Dime Store Mysteries. I fell head over heels for that series, and I wanted to create something for readers that made them feel the way Denise’s books made me feel. Cozies also allow me to live out my deep-seated dreams of being Nancy Drew.


You’ve said that you are writing the last book in your Court of Mystery series. What is prompting that move?


Currently, the Court of Mystery series consists of thirteen books, and over the course of those stories, there’s been a major arc guiding Duchess Jacqueline forward. I finally feel as though I’ve reached a point where this arc can successfully conclude and that Jax can have a bit of a reprieve from finding dead bodies all over her realm. I’m definitely leaving the door open for more adventures to take place in the Realm of Virtues, but Jax has earned herself a happily ever after…for now.

You, along with J.C. Kenney, have been promoting other authors by interviewing them on The Bookish Hour and A Bookish Moment. Recently you have been chatting with fans live on Facebook in Lunchtime LIVE with Me, Sarah E. Burr. Do you find it a fine balancing act writing, promoting your own books, and helping other authors?


I won’t lie, it’s a lot. There are few days when I truly do the balancing act well. We are expected to be everywhere, doing everything all at once, and when others reach out for help, it’s impossible for me to say no. But chatting with J.C. and with my readers helps keep my spirits up when things begin to feel overwhelming, and I treasure those interactions.


What is next for Coco Cline or for your other series?


Gosh, let me think. Coco will be back with at least one more mystery in 2025. Flying Off the Candle, Glenmyre Whim Mystery Book Three, will release in May/June of this year. I’m working on edits from my beta reader right now, and once those are done, the manuscript will be off to my editor. The final book in the Court of Mystery series will be out by the end of 2024, and, if all goes accordingly, I will have the next Book Blogger Mystery out by late 2024 or early 2025. Doesn’t sound like a daunting to-do list at all, right? LOL!

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


The importance of outlining my plot. I’ve written so many chapter ones and twos over the years, but I didn’t start getting beyond that until I began outlining. Having a dedicated roadmap laying out where I need to go has been the best thing to happen to my writing. I’ve been able to finish every book I've ever outlined, so it’s been a winning tool for me.


Thank you, Sarah.


Look for Sarah’s blogs here at Writers Who Kill on the third Sunday of each month. You can also learn more about Sarah and her books at


Grace Topping is the Agatha Award finalist and USA bestselling author of the Laura Bishop Mystery Series. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Venturing into New Territory by KM Rockwood

Did you ever write one of those stories that burst on the scene fully formed in your mind? The kind where you feel like a stenographer, not an author, scribbling (or, these days, keyboarding) a complete tale that hammers incessantly in your head, demanding to be told.

In my experience, these stories can be more than a bit exotic. They aren’t very long—they go from idea to page in one frenzied session, although of course they need the same amount of critiquing and editing that any story does. They can certainly push the borders of what I usually write.

One of my stories that falls into that category is “Wheelie.”

The main character, which is the narrator, is a sentient wheelchair with the rather unimaginative nickname of “Wheelie.”

This doesn’t fit my usual crime story plots, the gritty factories and back alleys which many of my characters inhabit, or the flawed characters who strive to overcome the obstacles they face.

It is speculative fiction, and perhaps the best word to describe the story is “gruesome,” although in the end Wheelie is hopeful for an ultimate positive outcome.

My stories often don’t fit neatly into the cozy category, but they do tend to be traditional crime tales, sometimes with a psychological suspense category.

“Wheelie” is different.

I’m pleased to say the “Wheelie” found a home at Yellow Mama, a popular webzine that features extreme noir and horror stories. I think it fits right in.

Link to “Wheelie:”

Yellow Mama takes its name from the electric chair used in Alabama executions from 1927 to 2002. Since it needed to be painted, and the highway department nearby had plenty of bright yellow paint for street markings, it was painted with that paint. It’s an appropriate name for an webzine that features stories like "Wheelie."

Source: "Yellow Mama," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia (accessed 2/12 2024).

Art by Bernice Holtzman copyright 2024

Monday, February 12, 2024

Keeping Track of Time

by Shari Randall

Writers have to keep so many elements in mind when crafting a story – plot, characterization, dialogue, and setting. We think about pace, clarity, and the sneakiest spots for those red herrings.

 Over the course of writing several books, I’ve learned that, for me, there’s another element that needs to be watched carefully - the timeline.


I’m a pantser. I write scenes and pray that they come together coherently when I finish my manuscript. This is why I think about plot and timeline differently. The plot is what happens and the timeline is when it happens. Nothing can pull me out of a story faster than ripples in an author’s timeline.


I recently took an online class where the talented author and writing instructor Jane Cleland interviewed Jonathan Santlofer about his new art thriller, The Lost Van Gogh. Jane asked him about his writing process. Jonathan mentioned that he keeps a detailed timeline – brief notes on each chapter -  on a legal pad, taping the pages together into one long sheet. Some students commented that this was quirky, but it’s a quirk that I have embraced because if the timeline doesn’t work, the story doesn’t work.


The start of a new project.

There’s one aspect of the timeline that’s especially important to someone juggling a (hopefully) clever plot with several twists, turns, and surprises. That aspect is this: Who knew what when? When your sleuth questions suspects to gather clues to discover who done it, who-did-what-when is important. So is who-knew-what-when. I also note these details on my timeline.


So Mr. Santlofer and I will be making our 6 foot long timelines. How do you keep track of your timeline?

Shari Randall is the author of the Agatha Award-winning Lobster Shack Mystery series. As Meri Allen, she pens the Ice Cream Shop Mystery series. Her latest book, FATAL FUDGE SWIRL, had one very complicated timeline.


Sunday, February 11, 2024


 by Korina Moss

Connection. That’s what good books are about, aren’t they? You connect with a fictional protagonist and their circumstances. They become someone real to you, often times long after you’ve read the last page. How many times have you stayed up late, racing toward the end of a book, only to dread it when you finally get there, because that’ll mean the book is finished? This is why cozy mystery series are so popular. What could be better than the opportunity to be back with “old friends” you loved from a prior book in the series as they maneuver through a whole new and exciting set of circumstances? 

As important as the plot is to a cozy mystery, the connection readers feel with the characters doesn’t come from the mystery solved. It’s the human connection—our protagonist’s plight, their quirks, and their vulnerabilities—the stuff our readers can relate to. The traits our characters possess that we hope to have in our real-life friendships is what makes them likable and worth returning to read about book after book. 

As an author, a connection is also what I try to achieve off the page. I’m a cozy mystery writer, but I’ve been a cozy mystery reader for over thirty years, long before my own series was published. So although the marketing aspect of my profession is time-consuming, it’s also a lot of fun, because I get to interact with other people who love reading cozies too. Although our foundation is our love of mysteries, we connect on other levels beyond books. Same with my connection to others in the writing community. I thrive on authentic relationships. My mindset is never one of selling to readers or networking with authors. It’s about having an authentic connection. 

When I was honored last year with the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for Cheddar Off Dead, it was the validation I needed that I’d begun to make that connection I’d been striving for in my books and within the mystery community. And this year, being fortunate enough to be nominated again for an Agatha Award, this time for Best Contemporary Novel for Case of the Bleus, makes me believe that connection is holding strong. I’m so looking forward to the Malice Domestic fan convention in April where the awards banquet will be held. After all, what’s better than being back with old friends? 

Reader: What makes you return to a series or an author? 

KORINA MOSS is the author of the Cheese Shop Mystery series (St. Martin’s Press) set in the Sonoma Valley, including the Agatha Award winner for Best First Novel, CHEDDAR OFF DEAD and the current nominee for Best Contemporary Novel, CASE OF THE BLEUS. Her books have been featured in PARADE Magazine, Woman’s World, AARP, and Fresh Fiction. For more information about Korina and her books, and to subscribe to her free monthly newsletter, visit her website You can also connect with her on Facebook and Instagram. 

Saturday, February 10, 2024

UNFORGETTABLE TALES OF AMNESIA (Part 4): The Appeal of Memory Loss in Our Stories (And Lives)

By Lisa Malice, Ph.D.

Everyone loves a good amnesia story. Authors love to cook them up, readers love to devour them. Don’t believe me? Plug “amnesia” into BookBub’s search engine and you’ll get a list of 3,058 books across a variety of genres that interweave memory loss as a plot point, among them dozens of bestsellers. The Movie Database ( lists 298 feature films with amnesia as a key element, starting with Across the Atlantic, a 1928 romantic suspense about two lovers separated by war and a forgotten memory. The list includes numerous books-to-film blockbusters, such as Girl on the Train, Before I Go to Sleep, and five movies in the Jason Bourne series.

Why do we, as readers and viewers, find amnesia stories so appealing? That depends on who you talk to. A mystery and thriller writer—such as myself—would draw from the examples above and press the point that we enjoy casting our lot with the memory-challenged protagonists, racing along, just as desperate as the heroes and heroines, to uncover the clues to their buried pasts before any harm can come to them. Along the way, we encounter—often delightfully so—surprises, twists, and revelations that challenge our assumptions and expectations until, the tale ends with a satisfying triumph over evil, with justice prevailing over corruption, envy, and greed.  

Psychologists (again, me) would suggest that amnesia stories allow us to explore the nature of memory and identity. How much of who we are depends on what we remember? What happens when we lose our memories or gain new ones? How would we cope with the uncertainty and confusion of not knowing ourselves or our past?

The 2001 film Regarding Henry explores these questions with Harrison Ford playing the role of as a man who miraculously survives a bullet to the brain during a convenience store robbery—though the memory of his life does not. Henry, a high-powered, philandering attorney and head of an unhappy, dysfunctional family, never recovers from his amnesia, leaving his old, flawed self behind to start life anew. The path Henry takes, the choices he makes—vastly different from those he made in his forgotten past—yield more satisfying outcomes for Henry, who becomes the loving, attentive soul his wife and child so desperately missed and needed in their lives. The psychologist in me also would point out that the happy ending Henry and his family achieve reflects a desire many of us experience once in a while when life gets us down—the desire to escape from reality, start over, and re-invent oneself. 

One film that exemplifies these three desires and pulls them together so perfectly is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Jim Carey and Kate Winslet play a couple in such a troubled relationship that they each undergo a procedure to have their memories of each other—every recollection from the moment they met—erased from their minds (escape). But Fate plays its hand. The two lovers find each other once again (start over), only to have their newfound love threatened by the discovery of recordings revealing the distressing problems the couple grappled with in their forgotten lives. In the end, they give in to what Fate seems to have in store for them and stay together, committed to learning from their mistakes and finding happiness the second time around (re-invent).

Similarly, my debut psychological thriller, Lest She Forget, offers a tale of memory repression. As in Beloved, the story follows a young woman struggling with the aftermath of a soul-searing psychological trauma. Her psychogenic memory loss goes much deeper, however, leaving her without a name, nor a past to claim as her own. Her psychiatrist is convinced that her amnesia is connected to the horrific flashbacks and nightmares that haunt her.

As the woman digs for clues to her past, she uncovers a shady character following her every inquiry. Who is he? And what does he want from her? As her probe deepens, she realizes that everyone around her has deadly secrets to hide―even her. Emerging memories, guilty suspicions, and headline-screaming murders push her to come out of the shadows and choose: will she perpetuate a horrendous lie or risk her life to uncover the truth?  

A sociologist (not me, this time) might offer that amnesia stories are popular when they are used as a metaphor for social and cultural issues, such as the effects of trauma, oppression, or erasure on individuals and groups. Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved (1987) is a prime example. The American gothic psychological horror story was inspired by the 1856 criminal trial of Margaret Garner, a runaway slave from Kentucky who, after being hunted down by a posse, took desperate measures to keep her children from suffering a horrific life of bondage—she killed her infant daughter, then attempted the same on her remaining brood.

Beloved is a haunting indictment of the Atlantic slave trade, dedicated to the “sixty million and more” who lived and died in bondage, and told through the eyes of freed slaves in the post-Civil War years. It fictionalizes the collective horrors inflicted on Black slaves, their struggle with the loss of identity and self-fragmentation, and the unconscious desire to dissociate from the past and its horrific memories. The tale of collective human tragedy brilliantly illuminates an oppressive chapter of US history, the sharing of which can be helpful in healing the deep wounds left behind and creating a more just and unifying society for all.

What are your favorite stories of memory loss? Why do you find them so appealing? If you could wipe your mind of one memory in your life, what would you choose and why?






Friday, February 9, 2024


Do You Invest in Your Writing Career?

By Heather Weidner

You as an author are your brand, and you need to treat your writing as a business. Here are some ideas of ways you can invest in your personal development and hone your skills.

  • Do you have a professional membership in a writing organization? Many organizations like Sisters in Crime have local chapters. These groups can help you with training, programs, ideas, and writing opportunities. My memberships are invaluable. I cherish the friends and the networking opportunities they afford. My first traditionally published work was a short story in a Sisters in Crime anthology.
  • Do you have a professional headshot? Selfies and candids are fun, but you need a professional photo for print media and the web. Selfies don’t have enough resolution, and if you try to enlarge it, it looks fuzzy. Invest in a professional photo. It’s one of the first things I spent money on.
  • Do you invest in your training or learning? Professional organizations often have programs or learning opportunities. Check out online programs, YouTube videos, your local library, and your local colleges. Many offer low-cost or even free courses on a variety of topics that can help you on your writing journey. Don’t forget blogs and online magazines. There are tons of articles out there with good advice.
  • Is your computer secure? Your writing is valuable. There is nothing that will make a writer cry faster than losing part or all of a manuscript. Make sure you back up your files.
    • You need to make sure you upload patches and updates when they come out. These fix vulnerabilities in your applications or operating system. The longer you wait, the longer you’re vulnerable.
    • Make sure you have anti-virus software on your computer and make sure it’s up to date.
  • Do you have a brand?
    • A logo for you and your books are nice. You can use it on your website and your socials to demonstrate your brand.
    • Your platform (website and social media sites) should have the same look and feel (e.g., colors, fonts, etc.). My first work was published in an anthology with a red and black cover, so I did all my graphics in those colors. A publicist told me later that it really didn’t reflect my writing style. She told me to use pastels since I write cozy and funny mysteries.
    • Make sure that your readers can identify your sites. A professional photo and a logo create a unified look. If your photo is a flower, readers often don’t realize it’s your author page.
    • Update your site, your biographies, and book lists regularly. People don’t visit outdated or inactive sites.
    • This sounds like Captain Obvious, but it’s often true. Make sure visitors to your website and socials know you are an author. Your banners, posts, graphics should all promote your books.

 Investing in you and your writing career are important. There are so many low cost/no cost courses, workshops, and opportunities out there to help you with writing and marketing.

What else would you add to my list?

Through the years, Heather Weidner has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. She writes the Pearly Girls Mysteries, the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries, The Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries, and The Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.