Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Celebrating with the Agatha Nominees

By Paula Gail Benson

Each year, I look forward to interviewing Agatha nominees prior to the Malice Domestic Conference. Unfortunately, my work schedule did not allow me to ask questions this year, but it has not stopped me from enjoying the diversity, uniqueness, talent, and skill of the nominees’ work.

In this message, I wanted to showcase the best contemporary novel and best short story nominees. They all are people I respect greatly and many of them have become dear and cherished friends.

The best contemporary novels show the amazing scope and range mystery novels can explore.

Malice Domestic’s Agatha nominated Contemporary Novels:

§  Wined and Died in New Orleans by Ellen Byron

§  Helpless by Annette Dashofy

§  The Weekend Retreat by Tara Laskowski

§  A Case of the Bleus by Korina Moss

§  The Raven Thief by Gigi Pandian

Particularly, I must give a shout out to two of our Writers Who Kill partners, Annette Dashofy and Korina Moss.

Annette and I began our association in an online writing class taught by Susan McBride. After seeing the movie Ambulance Girl, I understand how Annette could work and write so convincingly about EMTs. With multiple series and stand-alone novels, she is a seven-times Agatha nominee. Here’s a link to her website: HOME | annettedashofy

Korina’s Cheddar off Dead won an Agatha for Best First Novel. Her recipes are as delightful as her quirky, small-town characters. Her novels allow readers to take virtual trips to the Sonoma Valley. She now has five books in her series. Here’s a link to her website: Korina Moss | Cozy Mystery Author (korinamossauthor.com)

Agatha and Lefty award winner Ellen Byron writes multiple series, under her name and as Maria DiRico. Before venturing into writing novels, she had a career as a playwright and screenwriter. Her humor, her knowledge of the TV world, her depictions of New Orleans, and her lovely devotion to good food makes her books wonderful excursions. Here’s a link to her website: Cozy Mysteries | Ellen Byron | Author

I met Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity award winner Tara Laskowski through her very talented husband Art Taylor. She gave me an opportunity to serve as a guest editor for the online journal SmokeLong Quarterly. Now, I’m a fan of her suspenseful novels and “What Scares You” blog posts (appropriate for someone born on Halloween), and a great admirer of her son Dash, who is a fantastic artist. Here’s a link to her website: Tara Laskowski - Tara Laskowski

Each step of Gigi Pandian’s writing journey has brought me new concepts to appreciate. Whether she’s writing intricate locked room stories, Jaya Jones adventure novels, or the exploits of a living gargoyle, her work is magical. Oh, and she writes about a magician, too! She’s an Agatha, Anthony, Derringer, and Lefty award winner. Here’s a link to her website: Gigi Pandian: USA Today Bestselling Author

The short story nominations show the great number of opportunities for publication: respected periodicals, convention anthologies, and a collection based on a group’s music. [Note: clicking on the story title links will allow you to read the nominated short stories.]

Malice Domestic’s Agatha nominated Short Stories:

§  Shelley Costa, “The Knife Sharpener” in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Jul/Aug 2023

§  Tina deBellegarde. “A Good Judge of Character” in Malice Domestic: Mystery Most Traditional

§  Barb Goffman. “Real Courage” in Black Cat Mystery Magazine issue 14

§  Dru Ann Love and Kristopher Zgorski. “Ticket to Ride” in Happiness Is a Warm Gun: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of the Beatles

§  Richie Narvaez. “Shamu, World’s Greatest Detective” in Killin’ Time in San Diego: Bouchercon 2023

Shelley Costa’s work has been nominated for both the Edgar and Agatha Awards, and has received a Special Mention for The Pushcart Prize. Shelley explains after initially being captivated by the only female civilian casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg, how it took five years of mulling over the idea for it to culminate into “The Knife Sharpener,” which she wrote in a week. Here’s the link to her process: Sharpening Knives Takes a Very Long Time (by Shelley Costa) | Trace Evidence (trace-evidence.net) Here is a link to her website: Shelley Costa Mysteries | Women Sleuths

A former middle school teacher, paralegal, and exporter, Tina deBellegarde now writes full time when she is not (1) helping her husband tend bees, harvest shitake mushrooms, or create jewelry designs, or (2) visiting her son in Japan. She writes the Batavia-on-Hudson novels for Level Best Books in addition to short and flash fiction. Her nominated story shows how a feline’s change in habit can provide clues to a murder. Here is a link to her website: Home | tdb writes (tinadebellegarde.com)

Barb Goffman is a well-known and respected mystery short-story writer and editor, having won three Agatha Awards, two Macavity Awards, and the Anthony, Silver Falchion, and Ellery Queen Readers Award. She has been a finalist for national crime-writing awards forty-one times. Her collection DON’T GET MAD, GET EVEN won the Silver Falchion in 2013. Her nominated story shows her adeptness at using different points of view in a single story. Here is a link to her website: Home - Barb Goffman Mystery Writer

I am incredibly grateful to Dru Ann Love and Kristopher Zgorski, both Raven award winners, for their excellent reading recommendations as well as their devotion to and promotion of mystery fiction. Their collaboration on this gentle and powerful story of how an action from years before can continue to have ramifications is a terrific way for them to enter the field themselves. I hope the collaboration will continue. Here’s a link to Dru’s website: http://drusbookmusing.com.

Here’s a link to Kristopher’s website: BOLO BOOKS | Be On the Look Out for These Books

Born and raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Richie Narvaez has worked as a writer for most of his career, in all kinds of publishing, in print and online. He’s the recipient of the Spinetingler Award for Best Collection and an Agatha and Anthony for Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco.

Here is how he describes his unique protagonist: “In my story, “Shamu: World’s Greatest Detective,” the killer whale has been outfitted with a device that lets AI translate and transcribe her thoughts. With the aid of land-based assistant, Angie Gomez, Shamu investigates crimes professionally in order to save up enough money to buy her freedom from SeaWorld. In this story, a San Diego Padre has been murdered, and it’s up to the world’s greatest detective to uncover the culprit.”

Here’s a link to Richie’s website: About | Richie Narvaez

If you haven’t already, why not include some of these authors on your to be read list?

Monday, April 15, 2024

Life Cycle Experiences with Writing and Family by Debra H. Goldstein

Life Cycle Experiences with Writing and Family by Debra H. Goldstein

Like many of you, I am a blog lurker. Besides the ones I write for, I read several other author blogs on a regular basis. Consequently, I’ve become familiar with tidbits of the various authors’ lives. I’ve rejoiced with them during life cycle events like births, Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, or a child becoming their co-writer, and I have been saddened when there are mentions of illness or loss of loved ones. 

Two things I look forward to are the announcements of new publications and new grandchildren. The fun from these is the anticipation of how this new being will grow, be accepted, and mature in today’s world. Some will turn out successful, some duds (okay, no family member should be called a dud, but maybe a book or story here or there), some empathetic, some hilarious. During the past few years, I’ve found myself in the same duo state of anticipation.

In the past five years, Kensington has published five Sarah Blair books, and my children have produced 3.7 grandchildren. The week Five Belles Too Many was published, I was thrilled. It is one of my favorites in the series. I loved the idea of writing a behind-the-scenes account of a television show filming five finalists, including Sarah’s sixty-plus-year-old mother, trying to win the perfect Southern wedding. The time researching and prepping the book was fun, as I was put Sarah in the middle of everything by making Sarah her mother’s chaperone. As you can imagine, Sarah, who always finds being in the kitchen more frightening than murder, isn’t any better suited to being a chaperone. 

My trepidation was whether the world of readers would see the humor in this situation the same way I did. Would they like the book? I could only hope (pray) the nuances of the different couples would engage readers and they would feel I stuck the whodunit. Similarly, I hoped readers would be satisfied by the arc growths of characters with whom they were already familiar. Most importantly, would readers buy Five Belles Too Many? I didn’t know. 

While I was agonizing over the birth and development of Five Belles Too Many, the stork delivered a baby to my daughter and son-in-law (because I write cozy mysteries, I can’t go into the details). From his fingers to his toes to his full head of dark hair, this eight-pound thirteen-ounce boy won my heart. I immediately began anticipating how he would get along with his sister, whether his face would be one of smiles or frowns, whether he would be a geek or an athlete, whether he would be tall or short, and what kind of man he would eventually become. 

There isn’t much difference in how I feel about the birth of Baby Bear (his sister’s name for him) or Five Belles Too Many. Both share the miracle of coming to life, the anguish, anticipation, and the sense of joy they are giving me. OK, maybe I am a little prejudiced in Baby Bear’s favor for the long term, but in the short run, Five Belles Too Many was important, too. 

How do you view what you read or write in terms of your life? Does a book or story provide escape or joy? How does that differ from the life cycle events you experience?


Sunday, April 14, 2024


 By Korina Moss

As I begin to prep for my trip to Malice Domestic in less than two weeks, I’ve been thinking about all the dreams that I’ve realized there. Malice Domestic is a three-day fan convention/ conference in Bethesda, MD, attended by hundreds of authors and fans alike. It celebrates the traditional mystery, books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie. (Hence, the name for the Agatha Awards voted on by Malice attendees and handed out at the awards banquet.)

This will be my third year attending, and boy, I never imagined what amazing experiences this conference would bring me, or how many of my dreams would be realized. If you’re a mystery writer – published or not yet published—who might be hesitant to attend, let me tell you what can happen if you go:

You can meet your favorite authors.

You can connect with other writers and readers.

You can finally meet your online friends in person.

You can meet booktubers and book bloggers. 

You can make new friends.

You can learn interesting craft tips from author panels.

You can discover more about your favorite authors. 

You can find new authors whose books you’re dying to read.

You can discover publishing tips and inside scoop.

You can buy too many books and get them signed.

You can get free swag.

You can be on an author panel (sometimes with authors you used to read when you only dreamed of getting published).

You can introduce readers to your books.

You can meet readers who love your books.

You can find out you have fans!

You can dine with your editor. 

You can be nominated for an Agatha Award!

You can win an Agatha Award!

You can discover how incredibly nice and supportive the mystery writing community is.

You can get inspiration you need to keep going.

You can feel you belong.

Writers Who Kill at Malice Domestic, 2022

Agatha Award Nominees, Best Contemporary Novel

This year’s Malice Domestic marks it’s 36th year and takes place on April 26-28th. I was honored to win the Agatha Award last year for Best First Novel for Cheddar Off Dead. I’m honored to be nominated again this year for Best Contemporary Novel for Case of the Bleus, alongside my fellow nominees Ellen Byron, Annette Dashofy, Tara Laskowski, and Gigi Pandian. 

For more on me and my fellow nominees, go to Leslie Budewitz’s blog post, “And The Nominees Are…

For more on Malice Domestic, go to MaliceDomestic.net. For more information on my Cheese Shop Mystery series, go to korinamossauthor.com.

Readers: Have you ever been to a writers' convention or conference? How was your experience?

Saturday, April 13, 2024

YEARNING FOR THE STARS OF HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE, or How I Wish Grace Kelly Could Star in "Lest She Forget," The Movie

 By Lisa Malice

In the lead-up to the release of LEST SHE FORGET, my publisher (CamCat) peppered me with fun and thoughtful questions for use in marketing and promotion. This month’s Q & A has me yearning for a return to the Golden Age of Hollywood with movie stars that could really bring lead characters my psychological thriller to life.


If your book were to be made into a movie, which actors would you cast to play your characters?


What a fun question! I took to the Internet to cast Lest She Forget, scrutinizing photos and film histories of actors who could bring Kay, Nick, and Felix to life on the big screen. As a classic film buff (Turner Classic Movies is my go-to channel for a fix) unfamiliar with the current crop of young stars and their films, I decided to cast Lest She Forget as if I was a director during Hollywood's Golden Age.

Grace Kelly would win the role of my heroine, Kay, hands down. 

The 1950’s actress fits this troubled but determined young woman to a tee—beautiful, poised, intelligent, educated. Grace played a variety of dramatic roles, but won acclaim and awards, both in the U.S. and abroad, for her performances playing characters similar to Kay in two classic thrillers, Rear Window and Dial “M” for Murder.

Nick, the mysterious stranger who has come into Kay’s life, would be played by a ruggedly handsome actor who comes across as charming, caring, intelligent, as well as a man of decisive action when lives are at stake. William Holden fits that bill. 

He played a wide range of roles, including reluctant romantic leads in Sabrina and Born Yesterday, as well as intelligent but tough characters in action-packed dramas.

As for Felix Jager, the ruthless villain, think Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear

Strong, menacing in a cool and calculating way, using all his wits, wiles, and the evil inside him to kill his target. I can also see him petting a cat (as my villain does).

Pick your favorite book, perhaps if you are a fiction writer, one of your own. Who would you cast in your lead roles? Similarly, when you are writing or reading a book, do you envision the characters in your head as real-life people? If so, who do you see playing the main characters in the book you've chosen as your favorite?

Friday, April 12, 2024


Getting Your Writing back on Track

by Heather Weidner


What have you written lately? The day gig has been a little crazy. I’ve written performance reviews, several proposals, emergency announcements, and a couple of policies. There are days when my book marketing and writing projects don’t get as much attention as I’d like to give them, and sometimes, there are days that I just don’t feel like writing after work.

Stuff happens. Life and work often throw your writing off schedule. Here are some ideas to get your writing back on track.

1.      If you’re an early bird or a night owl, capitalize on that. Start your day earlier or stay up later to build in some extra writing time.

2.      Turn off the TV or electronic gadgets and use that time for writing.

3.      Use your lunch or mealtimes to build your word count. During the pandemic, I started writing during my normal commute times, and I was pleasantly surprised at the progress I made by adding two hours to my writing time. I still do that on my work-from-home days.

4.      Print out chapters and use waiting time to proofread or edit.

5.      Set a reasonable schedule or goals for the week and try to stick to it. You’ll be surprised how much your word count will grow when you write every day.

6.      Find a writing buddy or someone who’ll tell you if you stray. I have two friends on Facebook who remind their writer friends publicly that they should be writing. That’s always a good motivator.

7.      Don’t beat yourself up if you neglect your writing. Life happens. Get back to it as soon as you can.

What helps you stay on track?

Heather 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. You can also find out more about her at her website.


Thursday, April 11, 2024





By Margaret S. Hamilton


“Should he reach out to Amber? No. It was one thing to embrace his own redemption, another to open that Pandora’s box. He wished her well and he hoped, not just for his own sake, that she would be allowed to resume her life without the past rising up to haunt her. Staying away from her would be the greatest kindness Joe could confer. Thank god a gallery in that location was destined to tank.” (p.37-8)


In Laura Lippman’s psychological suspense novel, Prom Mom, three women are suspended in an orbit around handsome and narcissistic Joe Simpson: Joe’s plastic surgeon wife, Meredith; Joe’s current mistress, Jordan Altman; and Amber Glass, his high school classmate whom he impregnated during their senior year. The story is told from their alternating points of view, with dual timelines, 1997 and 2019-21, covering both the fateful prom and twenty-odd years later.


Amber’s baby dies shortly after her birth on prom night. After she serves time for murdering her infant, Amber heads south. Twenty-two years later, she inherits money and returns to the northern Baltimore suburbs on the cusp of the 2020 pandemic.


The three women crave Joe’s adulation. Meredith, who is childless by choice, only considers herself complete as Joe’s wife. Jordan is young, na├»ve, and ruthlessly determined to lure Joe away from his wife. Amber, who went to prison for her baby’s death, relentlessly stalks Joe. The three women are described as physically attractive, but they are otherwise unsavory characters. Tension arises when they collide or propose colluding with each other.


Despite the pandemic, all three women are professionally successful: with the self-absorption and insecurity provoked by constant Zoom meetings, patients flock to Meredith for facelifts and nose reshaping. Amber’s quirky selection of paintings and sculptures in her gallery is a hit. And Jordan sells new residential housing to Baltimore residents fleeing the city for a safer, COVID-free rural subdivision.


Lippman sets the stage using elements of our shared pandemic lives: an upscale grocery store, drive-through Starbucks, and on-line shopping. She employs New Orleans Mardi Gras king cake and red beans and rice to good effect. Exclusive brand names permeate the lives of the characters: Bulgari estate jewelry and vintage Elsa Peretti pieces; a fully loaded Range Rover and cherry-red Porsche; high-end stilettos contrasting with an iconic Muses Mardi Gras shoe. We’re spared the marble or quartz countertop dilemma, but learn about Peloton bikes.


For the first time in his life, Joe Simpson is a complete failure. Some of the women in his orbit will endure—smarter, more savvy, with stronger survival skills. For them, life will resume, changed, but eventually for the better without him.


Readers and writers, do you enjoy psychological suspense with problematic characters?

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Haunting License Review By E. B. Davis


It’s June in Haven, Florida, a “between seasons” time in the tourism business, and Maureen’s Haven House Inn is feeling the pinch. There are plenty of ghosts in residence, but Maureen needs living guests to pay the bills…

While walking on the beach with her golden retriever Finn, Maureen discovers a body. When Officer Frank Hubbard arrives, he recognizes local charter boat fisherman Eddie Manuel.
Now it’s up to Maureen and her spirited sleuths to sort through the red herrings and bait a hook for a killer before someone else ends up sleeping with the fishes . . .



Haunting License is the third book in Carol J. Perry’s the Haunted Haven mystery series. I interviewed her on the first two books and was delighted by the ghosts frequenting the old inn. But I wanted the ghosts to be part of the sleuthing process. In this book, one ghost overhears a conversation and relays it to main character, Maureen. The ghost provides a key clue in discovering the identity of the murderer. For me, this was the element making the book special.


Local detective Frank Hubbard continues to be passive aggressive, which adds tension. It’s a wonder Maureen doesn’t get in his face because he can be annoying. He acknowledges that Maureen has a talent for solving mysteries, but all he wants are clues from her. When she actually sleuths, he scolds her about amateur detectives and danger. However, in this case he is right, which doesn’t make Maureen back off. Perhaps because she has found a friend and partner in one of the inn’s guests.  


The looting and selling of artifacts from Native American Mounds is the crime involved, a violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. The mounds can be found throughout the country wherever there are/were Native lands. These formations can be found outside of the fictional town of Haven, FL ostensibly via the Seminoles. When Maureen and one of the inn’s guests, an archeologist and mound expert, witness a man confiscate stolen treasures from a mound, they are threatened and set themselves up as bait to trap the killer.


One subplot: Before inheriting the inn, Maureen was a buyer for a department store. In creating a gift store in the inn, Maureen gets to employ her old skills while practicing her new sleuthing skills. Another—reviving a fishing tournament to increase inn/town business during the slack season.


This book is an enjoyable read filled with nonthreatening ghosts, Finn, Maureen’s pet Golden Retriever, feral cats, delectable inn dining room menus, a bit of romance, and fun characters. Buy this one before heading out to the beach this summer.   

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Bending Some of the Rules by KM Rockwood

We’re all familiar with various “rules of writing,” from various sources.

The concept of “show, don’t tell” is often attributed to Russian writer Anton Chekov, who said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Painting a picture with words encourages readers to picture the scene in their minds, creates a bond with between reader and author, and serves to carry the story along vividly.

At the same time, I realize that some of my favorite authors do a lot of telling in their work, and it works well for me. I love Margaret Yorke’s psychological suspense, and when I started looking at her writing, as opposed to just reading it, I was surprised at how much telling she did. She has a real knack of swooping up volumes of information succinctly and spreading out an entire character or visual scene with just a few sentences or paragraphs. Action scenes and dialogue is interspersed seamlessly, and the tale proceeds merrily on its way.

Which brings us to the tenth of Elmore Leonard’s “Ten Rules of Writing.” He tells us to skip writing the boring parts.

One quick tell, “The next morning..,” can cut through an entire boring show of getting up, attending to daily hygiene, fixing coffee, etc. I know that when I get started trying to establish a scene like this with shows, I end up with a tedious recital of morning routine. And I should just skip the boring parts.

Even there, I’ve seen exceptions. Don Westlake’s Dortmunder series, the genial, uncomplicated getaway driver Stan Murch is given to mind-numbing descriptions of what routes he’s taking and why. It is pretty boring (and I do skim over it) but it’s such an appropriate way to show his character that it’s essential to the story.

Kurt Vonnegut has “8 Basics of Creative Writing.” He starts with “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted,” and proceeds to seven more. However, he concludes with an addendum: “The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.”

Henry Miller has one rule I know I should embrace, but haven’t. I always have myriad ideas and ventures floating around in my mind, often several active projects at various stages and a few on the back burner. One bit of advice he offers is “Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.” I’m sure adhering to that would greatly improve both project completion and my satisfaction in my writing.

Monday, April 8, 2024

The Vintage Bookshelf: Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

By Shari Randall


Welcome to another edition of The Vintage Bookshelf. Today we’re getting swept away by the remarkable Mary Stewart’s Madam, Will You Talk


“The whole affair began so very quietly.


When I asked my friend Louise if she would come with me on a car trip to Provence, I had no idea that I might be issuing an invitation to danger.”


Honestly, who could resist these opening lines?


British writer Mary Stewart is well-known as the author of 1970’s mega-selling Merlin trilogy that began with The Crystal Cave, but before that blockbuster she wrote novels that were a tasty gothic blend of mystery and romance. One of my favorites is Madam, Will You Talk (1955). I still find it difficult to believe that Madam was Stewart’s first book – her evocative opening lines, mastery of setting and characterization, gorgeous prose, and breathless plot are enough to make some writers (ahem) green with envy.


Let’s look at the book as writers, shall we?


Are there issues? A few teensy ones and one antiquated trope but …let’s start with the good stuff.


Her New York Times obituary quotes Melanie Reid of Glasgow’s Herald: “Mary Stewart sprinkled intelligence around like stardust,” and it’s true. The chapter headings in Madam, Will You Talk are from Chaucer. This fan felt smarter with every page turn of the book.


Stewart’s prose and descriptions of her setting are nonpareil. Yes, I’m throwing in some French terms. Reading Mary Stewart does that to you. (see above.) Her lavish prose does more than justice to her glamorous settings – it makes one long to visit. If there’s one word for her prose, it is seductive. You cannot resist. Don’t even try. Just sink in.


Here’s her description of Avignon (page 26):

The city is dominated from the north by the Roche des Doms, a steep mass of white rock, crowned by the cathedral of Notre Dame, and green with singing pines. Besides the cathedral, taking the light above the town, is the golden stone palace of the popes. The town itself is slashed into by one main street, the Republic, which leads from the main gate, straight up to the square. 


“Green with singing pines!” Magnifique!


Her characters and characterization are well done, and are definitely from the romance world. Here’s one character: 


His clothes, his air, no less than his voice, were unmistakably French, and he had that look of intense virility and yet sophistication – the sort of powerful, careless charm, which can be quite devastating.


Devastating indeed! Swipe right!


Madam’s main character, Charity Selborne, a young war widow, is bilingual and knowledgeable about architecture, art, literature, and fashion, plus she can handle a sports car, something her deceased war hero husband taught her. She manages all this without being “sympathetic,” “feisty” or irritatingly perfect. 


Is the plot irritatingly perfect?


One plot element, the enemies to lovers trope, had me tearing my hair out, but it is a staple of Vintage Bookshelf  romance novels. There were plenty of overheard conversations. Were there too many coincidences? Perhaps. All right, yes. However, the bold actions the heroine takes, which would make her TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) in lesser hands are the result of an admirable emotional motivation and clever plot.


No matter. The setting and characters are so finely drawn you won’t mind any bumps in the road to Avignon. Revel in the beauty of the prose. Resistance is futile. Few writers can cast a spell like Mary Stewart.


Have you read any books by Mary Stewart?

Shari Randall is the author of the Agatha Award-winning Lobster Shack Mystery series and, as Meri Allen, the Ice Cream Shop Mystery series. 






Sunday, April 7, 2024

Food & Felony for a Total Solar Eclipse by Molly MacRae

April 8, 2024, is the last time we’ll get to see a total solar eclipse in the contiguous United States until 2044. How exciting is that? For those of us who live close enough or can travel to see it, it’s
very exciting. My husband and I are hopping in the car tomorrow and driving almost due south on country roads to the line of totality as it crosses the Wabash River at the Illinois-Indiana border.

I like to cook, so as we made eclipse plans, my mind turned to eclipse food. Is there such a thing? I turned to the Internet and found scads of sites with fun recipes, including cocktails and galaxy cakes. Take a look for yourself. Some of the recipes look out of this world.

Because I write mysteries, my mind also turned to crime. What dastardly deeds can be done during a total solar eclipse? Large events are planned, in towns and cities along the line of totality, with people from far and wide expected to attend. Lots and lots of people. They’ll be outside, feeling convivial, drinking in the awesome experience (some of them also drinking too many eclipse cocktails). It’ll be dark or darkish for several minutes and people will be wearing special eclipse glasses. That sounds like a great venue for a pickpocket. Or a chance to shoot a poisoned dart at someone and then disappear into the gloaming.

Then my mind went a step further and put food and felony together. What culinary crime might someone commit during an eclipse? There’s a notion out there, believed by some, that an eclipse will poison any food prepared during the event. It’s a myth, of course, but when has that stopped anyone from believing everything they hear? “The Poisoned Eclipse Picnic” might be a fun story to write. Your sleuth should have the facts about eclipse-poisoned food, though, so she can prove a human being dunnit and not an innocent astronomical event. Here’s the scoop straight from NASA. “Related to the false idea of harmful solar rays is that during a total solar eclipse, some kind of radiation is produced that will harm your food. If that were the case, the same radiations would harm the food in your pantry, or crops in the field.”

The perfectly safe picnic we’re packing will include a fresh baguette, brie, hard boiled eggs, oranges, dates, and slices of total eclipse cake (seen above). We’ll also pack our eclipse glasses to protect our eyes. Here’s hoping we have clear skies. I’ll let you know if we run into any villainy among the other viewers.  

If you’d like to read a new anthology of eclipse-related mystery stories, you’re in luck. Dark of the Day; Eclipse Stories, edited by Kaye George, came out last week. Paula Gail Benson and Debra Goldstein, two of our Writers Who Kill bloggers, have stories in the book.

Readers and writers, even if you won’t be able to see the eclipse you can answer this question—What kind of food or crime would you plan for a total solar eclipse?

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Don't Fence Me In by Mary Dutta

When I think of writing critiques, I think of Butch.

Butch is the contractor who has done all the work on my house for the past few years. A while ago, I asked him to give me an estimate on replacing the aging fence around our backyard. He took a long look and asked: Do you need a fence?

And you know what? It turns out I don’t. I don’t have a dog. I don’t have young children. I don’t have anything to hide from the neighbors. So, I had Butch remove the fence and now my yard looks much better.

The point of this story, apart from the importance of an honest contractor, is the importance of considering someone else’s perspective. For writers, that can be especially true, particularly when a work is in progress. Authors can access those outside perspectives from a variety of sources, like critique groups, manuscript swaps, and beta readers.

The value of eliciting others’ perspectives was made clear to me in the first critique group I joined. A fellow writer was developing a character she meant as a love interest for her protagonist, but everyone else in the group thought he was creepy. That response gave her pause, and a chance to improve her manuscript. Other insights helped members strengthen unconvincing motivations and correct wonky timelines. My own writing has definitely improved when trusted readers have pointed out issues I was blind to as the author.

A critique relationship can last for years, or be a one-time thing. It can morph over time. I’ve been in and out of a few different groups. I still ask a friend from my very first writing class for feedback on my stories. That class was a long time ago now, but her insights are always fresh.

It’s not that writers should yield to every reader’s (sometimes conflicting) opinions. But we should remain open to examining our works from perspectives other than our own, and to working on perfecting the perspective we’re trying to share.

If we erect fences around our writing, treating it as something precious that needs to be protected from constructive criticism, it may never become the best version it could be. Better to throw open the gates to other viewpoints and embrace the opportunity to improve.

And if you’re ever looking to tear down a literal fence, I’ve got just the guy.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Making Books Easier, by Lori Roberts Herbst

As an indie published author, I do my own preparation for publication, so I’m constantly on the hunt for tools that will make the tasks flow more smoothly. (I almost wrote effortlessly instead of smoothly, but what a lie that would have been, as my gray hair can attest.)


This week, I completed the formatting of GRAVEN IMAGES, book 6 in the Callie Cassidy Mystery series, and it was by far the easiest of my books, thanks to the newest software in my arsenal.


The unbridled joy of stumbling across software that makes publication less complicated got me thinking about the tools I rely on to carry out the many tasks involved in writing and publishing books. Gone (for me, at least) are the days of dipping the nib of a fountain pen into an inkwell and scratching words on paper—then scratching those words out, redipping, and beginning again… Now, I type, delete, retype, and edit, all the while thanking my lucky stars for the resources literally at my fingertips.


Here's a list of what I use to facilitate the process:



  • My Mac. In my first year as a journ
    alism teacher, I purchased two small, box-shaped Macs for my classroom soon after they were introduced. I’ve been fangirling over Macs ever since. (An extra monitor helps so much—especially during editing.)
  • Remarkable 2 etablet. This is a more recent find, but I love it so much it almost hurts. My R2 has replaced the multitudes of legal pads I once toted around and shuffled through, searching for that one list, that one scene…it’s here somewhere.... I still handwrite my thoughts and can print them if I want a hard copy, but everything is stored in one slim tablet—and linked to my computer through the cloud. I even use it to edit pdf versions of books.


  • Scrivener. One of the top features is the corkboard, which I utilize to organize scenes and keep track of timelines. Also, Scrivener enables me to compile my manuscript into different formats, from epub to pdf. 
  • Microsoft Word. I can’t say I love it, but it’s so much part of electronic life that it’s a must-have.
  • ProWriting Aid. Each of my books is professionally edited, and I use beta readers to catch errors and plot holes. But PWA provides another level of proofreading. It’s a beating to go chapter by chapter, turning up grammar, diction, and style errors, but there’s no doubt in my mind my books are better for it.

  • Vellum. This is my newest find, the software that made me giddy with delight over the past few days. The software seamlessly formatted my manuscript into beautiful, professional ebook and paperback versions. In the past, I dreaded formatting into paperback more than almost any other aspect of self-publishing. It used to take me a full day to prepare a print book for uploading. With Vellum, it took an hour. (Note: Vellum is available only on Mac.)
  • Canva (and to a lesser degree Book Brush). These graphic design programs are helpful for marketing. I create my social media illustrations and Facebook ads on Canva. I haven’t explored Book Brush as much and mostly use it to transform my book covers into 3D formats for posts and ads, but exploring its further uses is high on my list of things to do.
  • FB/IG scheduler. I’m an author who enjoys social media interactions with readers, but I sometimes found it burdensome trying to engage daily. When I figured out how to schedule posts in advance, it put the fun back in social media.
  • Bookfunnel. This program offers an excellent path to get books into the hands of ARC readers. My next goal is figuring out how to use it to build my newsletter subscriber list.
  • Plottr. I bought this for a great price but haven’t started using it yet. My focus will be maintaining a series bible for the new series I’m planning.


Other programs I use that still have me tearing out my (gray) hair:

  • Mailerlite. Yes, I know, I need a newsletter. And honestly, until the whole email verification debacle, it was fine. But I can’t say I ever particularly enjoyed using it.
  • Squarespace. Another necessity for an author is a website, I’m told. Mine is woefully in need of an update. Since website design doesn’t come naturally to me, though, it falls low on my priority list.


What tech tools, writing or otherwise, have made your life easier?


GRAVEN IMAGES, book 6 in the Callie Cassidy Mystery series, releases April 23 and is available for preorder on Amazon.




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 www.lorirobertsherbst.com