Friday, May 31, 2024

In Which Microsoft Improves My Life Yet Again by Nancy L. Eady

Not so long ago, in a galaxy remarkably close by, there was a scientist named Pavlov who had some dogs.  Pavlov fed these dogs every day at a certain time.  Every time he fed the dogs, he would also ring a bell.  After a while, Pavlov found that the dogs would begin to salivate when he rang the bell, regardless of whether he was feeding them at the time.  This discovery was called a “conditioned” response.  

Almost ninety years later, which was still almost 40 years ago, a little company called Microsoft released “Windows 1.0.”  I began using a computer regularly in 1991, six years later, with a Windows operating system and continue to do so.  

Since my beginning with Windows, it has always required two clicks to open a file, or a program.  Yet a few months ago, I started to notice an annoying problem with my Microsoft Outlook email program – every time I opened the darn thing, it kept opening twice.  I ignored it for a while, just closing the second window whenever necessary, but it was an annoying little glitch.  

I’ve had a lot going on, and I can be slow about figuring out some things, but it finally dawned on me that Microsoft had upgraded its Office suite, including the Outlook program, so the user only has to click once to open a program, although the user must still click twice to open a file.  If you click the file once, the file thinks you want to rename it or something.  

Here's where Pavlov comes in.  After almost forty years of double-clicking program icons, I am having an amazingly tough time teaching myself to single click on anything.  Microsoft has classically conditioned me to the double click.  I hope it doesn’t take me another forty years to become conditioned to the single click.  I’m not sure I’ll live that long!  

Have you noticed any new, annoying little glitches in your Microsoft products?  (P.S.  No gloating from MAC users!) 

Thursday, May 30, 2024

We are thrilled to welcome Teresa Inge as a regular blogger to Writers Who Kill! Take it away Teresa. 

Where are you from?

I live in southeastern Virginia with my husband A.J. and dog Luke, a brown, mixed-lab shepherd. Living near Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks of North Carolina has advantages. Beach days, fresh seafood, and scenic views make it a beautiful place to live.

What writing organizations do you belong to?

I am a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime and president of the SinC Mystery by the Sea chapter. I belong to the Short Mystery Fiction Society, Hampton Roads Writers, and Virginia Writers Club.

What are your last publications?

"Maid of Murder" appears in First Comes Love, Then Comes Murder on June 4. The story features wine shop owner Lainey Gentry who discovers a dead body in her wine room and tries to clear her name after being accused of murdering a bridesmaid. Before that, my short story "What’s a Little Murder Between Friends" appeared in Malice, Matrimony, & Murder last year.

Do you have a writing process?

Since I work full-time, I often write in my car during lunch. Some weather conditions that I encounter while writing are snowfall, pouring rain, thunderstorms, and heat. But mostly, the climate is mild, and I find it to be the most peaceful part of my day to write. I also write after work and on weekends at home and at my OBX beach house.

What brings you to WWK?

I love reading the Writers Who Kill blog, so I’m thrilled to be part of it. Many of the bloggers are author friends who are great writers.

Tell us about yourself.

By day, I work for a global financial firm as an assistant, notary administrator, and reporter. When not working or writing I attend classic car shows with my 1955 Torch Red, Ford Thunderbird. I also have grown daughters and a granddaughter.

What do you write?

I write short crime fiction and cozy mysteries. My protagonists are female business owners and amateur sleuths who solve crime and murder. The stories appear in over a dozen anthologies that include Virginia is For Mysteries, Mutt Mysteries, and Costal Crimes.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

An Interview with Marilyn Levinson by E. B. Davis


“’Be careful. Don’t be too trusting of anyone.

Especially of anyone you think you know well.”’

Marilyn Levinson, Come Home To Death, Page 95


Erica Parker has barely been a bride nine months when two thugs show up at her apartment while her husband is away on one of his infamous business trips, claiming he owes their boss a large gambling debt. Frightened for her life, and without any other options, she heads for her childhood Long Island home she escaped three years ago. And swore never to return.

The aunts who raised her are as interfering and controlling as ever, but soon as the family attorney advances the rest of her trust from her parents’ life insurance, she can return to normalcy. Except he refuses, instead spouting nonsense about how, if she waits, she will soon inherit millions. On her twenty-fifth birthday.

Problem is, someone doesn’t want her to live that long.

Her aunts are harboring secrets, people are turning up dead, her husband is nowhere to be found, and someone’s trying to kill her. It appears you can go home again, but sometimes, you shouldn’t.


Come Home To Death, by Marilyn Levinson, is a suspenseful mystery. You know the what and the why, but you don’t know the who—so you know it’s coming—but for main character Erica Parker it could be anyone in her life. Talk about be kind to your enemies because your friends could be a bunch of lousy….


For parents, this is a cautionary tale of why sheltering your children too much is a bad thing. Kids have to walk on the wild side in their teen years to shave off naivete. Poor Erica is a total innocent. Cocooned and henpecked by well-meaning aunts who raise her after her parents are killed in a plane crash, Erica runs to the opposite end of the state after college to escape the cage she’s lived in.


She a very lucky young woman, but her parents’ trust fund becomes a target on her back.


Please welcome WWK’s Marilyn Levinson.                              E. B. Davis

Your setting for this story is where you live—on Long Island. Did you grow up there? Is there a particular place on the island that you based Manordale on?


My family moved to Long Island when I was fourteen and a half. Except for the four years I attended Syracuse University and nine years after that, I've always lived on Long Island. I didn't base Manordale on any particular town, though I set it on the south shore of Long Island rather than the north shore where I've lived.


Erica seems to have good instincts, and yet she doesn’t always make the right decisions. Why

the conflict?


Growing up, Erica had to put up with her aunts always telling her what to do, and so she didn't develop life skills as she should have. When she moved to upstate New York, she was completely on her own. Some of her decisions, like her choice of job, turned out well. Others, like marrying Terry after knowing him a short time, proved to be rash.

Before two goons show up looking for her husband, does Erica have any suspicions about her husband, Terry?


She does wonder about his frequent trips, but since he offers a reasonable explanation for them, she doesn't press for more information. Deep down, she'd rather not learn anything unpleasant.


Is Erica caught up in a self-perpetuating cycle? She’s so needy and naive, predators are attracted to her. But then again, older, overprotective women are also attracted, like they know she needs protection. Erica wants neither response.


I think we all give off vibes that enable other people to sense things about us, things we have no idea we're revealing.


When Erica arrives back in Manordale, her aunts treat her like she’s still a kid. How does Erica combat their behavior?


For one thing, she announces that she's married. This sets off a new wave of questions, questions that she doesn't want to answer. Erica has to remind herself that she is no longer a child. She is only staying in the house where she grew up until she gets enough money to pay off Terry's gambling debt.


Erica finds out that on her twenty-fifth birthday, just a week away, she will become very wealthy. But when she asks to borrow twenty thousand dollars to cover her Terry’s, her husband, gambling debts, Sherman Hartley, attorney and in charge of her trust fund, blocks her. What reason does he give her for denying her request?


Sherman is a stickler for the rules, and tells her she simply can't have any part of her inheritance until she turns twenty five in a few weeks.


I was surprised and dismayed when Erica told Terry about the fortune she is about to inherit. Why would she do that?


Why wouldn't she? Erica loves and trusts Terry. She considers everything she owns is to be shared with her husband.


Her best friend, Jason Hartley, the attorney’s son, is somewhat of an odd ball geek. Unfortunately, he’s big, but not athletic. He’s smart, but not ambitious or as talented as he wants to be. How did they relate as children?


They grew up knowing each other because their parents were good friends. They grew even closer after Erica's parents were killed in a plane crash, and Jason's mother died from an illness.


Erica seems to dominate the relationship with Jason. She’s able to stand up to him. Why can she do this with him but not with others?


Erica is stronger and more resilient that Jason, who was close to his mother and never got along with his father. She is used to his moods and having to bolster him up. It's a close relationship she never had with anyone else.


After Terry’s funeral, Doug Remsen contacts Erica. He had claimed to be Terry’s friend. Why does she believe him and contact him?


Erica is drawn to Doug's calm and kind demeanor. She's happy to know someone who was a friend of Terry's.


I thought distance made the heart fonder—and yet—it isn’t until after Terry’s funeral that Erica realizes her idyllic marriage wasn’t and their marriage would have ultimately failed. Why then?


Erica has had many rude shocks regarding Terry, shocks she is forced to examine. Not only is he a gambler, he left school at sixteen and though he never was caught, he committed crimes in order to survive. He lied about his background, which is so different from her own. Erica realizes she fell for a handsome enigmatic stranger who wanted to marry her.


Even after Doug confesses to looking after investments for mob boss Mr. B, Erica still wants to see Doug? She knows it’s stupid.


She does because she feels he is the only person who understands what she's going through. He's the only person she can trust. And it means a lot to her that Terry trusted Doug too.


Of all the people Erica can’t trust, I thought Aunt Constance was better. But even she mixes sedatives into Erica’s drinks. Why does she do that?


Aunt Constance loves Erica and truly wishes the best for her. She gives her sedatives because she thinks that Erica's senses need to be dulled after losing Terry.


Erica learns she isn’t the only woman in the family to suffer bad judgment when it comes to men. Why isn’t Aunt Betty (her mom’s sister) a good role model?


Aunt Betty is in love with a married man.


Is Come Home To Death a standalone novel or will you make this the first book of a series?


It is a standalone.


Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The Covert Rules of Feline Behavior by Martha Reed

I’ll admit right out of the gate that I’m a dog person. My two dogs, Forbes and Murray, were the perfect companions. Warm, loving, personable, friendly, always concerned for my well-being, fearless, and not too needy. We shared a great fifteen years.

Then last August, during another of my national perigrinations, my super generous sister invited me to stay with her until my new apartment was available. She has a lovely home right on the Allegheny River with a spare bedroom and a front porch made for river mist, entrancing bird song, and early morning coffee enjoyment. A writerly ideal of perfection.

And two cats.

Now that I’m six months in, I can look back and realize that Moe and Bailey implemented a cunning let’s-train-the-human plan from Day One. Shy and hesitant at the beginning, they gave it a week of getting to know me before they came up from the basement or out from under the bed and allowed me to give them a quick pat to let me know I had earned their trust. Bailey was easier to please. With Moe, it was (and is) two quick pats before I earn (still) a scary warning (that’s sufficient) hiss.

My sister went out of town for Week Two. That’s when I learned that both cats needed to be fed breakfast precisely at 6:15 a.m. or all hell broke loose. This was not negotiable. At 6:16 a.m., Bailey yowled to the world that he was being held prisoner, abused and dying of hunger while Moe woke the neighborhood with the news that Biblical famine had been loosed in our house.

Both cats upped their tactics when I shut my bedroom door. First, I got the subtle paw under the door (i.e. What Are You Doing Are You Dead Don’t You Hear ME?) maneuver. Moe would start strumming the flexible doorstop (BOING, BOING). Bailey learned to pull on the hallway’s closet door (DOINK, DOINK). I would’ve laughed this off, but I remind you this was at 6:16 a.m.

That’s when I made my fatal mistake. Instead of declaring war, I capitulated.

Stumbling downstairs at 6:17 a.m., bleary-eyed, I held my nose and dished out a can of smoothie cat food. Peace was restored on Day One, but it was a false truce. On Day Two, both cats turned up their noses at my offering and loudly reinstated their verbal protest. Checking the label, I realized that this can contained “Cheddar Chunks.” Desperately gambling on the last can of cat food currently in the house, I opened “Savory Turkey Feast.” Thankfully, the little feline monsters approved this alternative and settled in. My fallback option until I got to the grocery store later in the day was thawing out a ribeye and cooking them a breakfast steak.

They were softening me up. I began to suffer from sleep deprivation and PTSD.

By Week Three, I was thoroughly conditioned by Stockholm syndrome. I knew that Bailey wanted to play Bird on a Stick/Pillow Monster for exactly thirty-two minutes each morning at 10:15 a.m. in the downstairs back bedroom. Moe deigned to eat his six pieces of Temptations Tasty Chicken Cat Snacks at 3:20 p.m. in the kitchen by the tall white table, please. (Moe never said please. That’s me, being all human and polite.)

So what has this cat rule behavior got to do with my writer’s life? This month I moved into my new cat-less digs. It’s the perfect writerly set-up – yet I find I miss the feline distractions. At various times during my previous sacred writing time (i.e. whenever Moe and Bailey let me have it) the cats would settle into a cozy spot in my room (usually on the wooly blanket on the foot of the bed in a shaft of warm sunlight) and nap while I chased the great invisible words, the human/writerly equivalent of Bird on a Stick. I imagined they wondered who I was talking to whenever I verbally tested my draft narrative conversations, but in reality, being cats they probably didn’t care.

And now, honestly, as I looked up from typing that last sentence, there’s a cat, a new cat, a neighborhood cat with a strikingly suspicious look in his golden eyes and sunburnt black fur staring at me from the perimeter of my new patio. And suddenly, just like that, snap, I’m home.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Remembering by Nancy L. Eady

 I hope all of you are having a pleasant Memorial Day.  For years, Mark and I were not able to celebrate the day together.  When he was working for his dad, both before we got married and then again in the 1990’s, the family business was a moving company in Montgomery, Alabama.  At that time, Montgomery was the home to the Air War College, Squadron Officers’ School, Air Command and Staff College and possibly some other military schools.  All the military schools got out towards the end of May, and Memorial Day always fell at the height of the military moving season in town.  Ergo, moving companies in Montgomery did not take Memorial Day off, my dad-in-law’s company included.  Nor did one take vacation either.  So now, when we celebrate Memorial Day off together, I appreciate it.  

In Alabama, Memorial Day is also the unofficial start to summer.  Most of our schools have ended for the year as indicated by the way the traffic is getting lighter and lighter on the way to work.  While schools farther north and possibly west have another month left before they get out, our schools will be back in session by the second week in August or before.  Most businesses around lakes in this region open full-time this weekend, if they haven’t before, and my husband and I noticed the plethora of pleasure boats making tracks across Lake Logan Martin when we crossed it earlier today running errands.  These same pleasure boats were notably absent on previous weekends.  

In years past, before Covid, Memorial Day weekend was also a big movie weekend.  It may still be, but Mark and I didn’t see anything playing at our local cinema that rang our chimes.  Nor have we taken a trip out of town this weekend like we do some years.  To be honest, my workload heated up right after my return from surgery a few weeks ago, so most of this weekend has been spent working on a brief for my law firm.  

But regardless of what I am doing each year on this day, traveling out of town, relaxing at home, or working at home, I take a few minutes to remember those who died while fighting for my freedom and the freedom of my fellow citizens.  Those brave, fallen soldiers include my second cousin, Spc. Charles Robert Lamb, who died in Iraq on September 5, 2004.  I honor them and their families for their service, and their sacrifice.  Which, after all, is the true reason for Memorial Day.  

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Cats: An Amateur Sleuth’s Best Friends! by Ruth J. Hartman

I’d like to thank Annette Dashofy for generously allowing me to do a guest post and borrow her spot today on Writers Who Kill.

My newest release is Purrfectly Framed, Book 2 in the Mobile Cat Groomers Mysteries. Here’s the blurb:

When mobile cat groomer, Molly Stewart, asks her friend Evan to photograph her new feline clients, they both get more than they bargained for when the body of Evan’s old art teacher is found bludgeoned to death in his photography studio darkroom. After one of Evan’s photos catches suspicious activity in the background, Molly is ready to call the authorities with the newest piece of information. However, an anonymous phone call which threatens not only her, but Evan and their pets, convinces Molly to clam up and find the murderer herself. Will the tenuous situation end up being picture perfect or a photo bomb?

Purrfectly Framed is available here

As you can probably tell, I love cats. In fact, all of my books have at least one feline in them! This series has several, and the main character, Molly, uses her mobile grooming van to visit the quirky cats (and their equally quirky humans!) to make sure the kitties of Whitewater Valley, Indiana, are their most gorgeous, fluffy selves. Molly’s traveling grooming station also makes it convenient to check out clues all over town whenever a pesky murder happens.

You can check out my other cozy mysteries here

And my website:

Ruth J. Hartman loves a good mystery. That’s probably why she happily gave up a life of cleaning other people’s teeth to write books. With several cozy mysteries under her belt, her main problem is keeping the characters straight – sometimes they have a tendency to hop on over to a different series, just for laughs.

Over forty books later, consisting of romances, a children’s book, women’s fiction, and now cozy mysteries, Ruth still enjoys the thrill of taking the thoughts and images of her characters from her imagination to her computer screen.

She lives in rural Indiana with her husband, Garry, and their family of spoiled cats. Because of Ruth’s love for felines, every one of her books has at least one cat in it. Her cats, who’ve deemed themselves her editors, act like they’re supervising her writing, even though they’re often loafing off or napping.












Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Long and Winding Road by Kait Carson

 Last month I shared my thoughts on the blessings and curses of being a full-time writer. When I stop to think about it, I realize that no matter what, I’m living my dream. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. The good, the bad, the ugly, it’s exactly what I want to do with my life.

 Editing. That’s a different story. Don’t get me wrong. I love editing. It’s where the dog’s breakfast of the first draft becomes a cordon bleu meal. It’s fun, it’s entertaining, it’s surprising, and if it’s a new book that is intended to be first in a series, it takes forever! Or maybe forty forevers. I’m still working through that.

 The immediate world (and certainly my blog family) all know that the woman who used the email name DiverMiss since the inception of email services is now writing a thriller set in the north Maine woods. Yes, it was a transition capable of giving DiverMiss a bad case of the bends. Be that as it may, I’m a Mainer now. I wanted to pay homage to my adopted state. Since I’m also what tropical divers call a warm water wimp, there was no way that homage would include underwater activities. Instead, I turned to my second love – the woods.

My great-grandparents had a farm in upstate New York, and I’m lucky enough to have memories of that special place. Anyone familiar with upstate New York knows that it is (or was) heavily wooded. My male cousins took advantage of that to drive my mother crazy. Mom wanted me to be a girly girl. That didn’t work out. First, there were my cousins who had me in the woods before I was out of high-top leather shoes. They taught me to fish, track, build fires, camp, and survive in any weather. Trust me, my cousins made Outward Bound feel like a relaxing vacation. Then there was my home neighborhood. I was the only girl. If I wanted to play, it wasn’t going to be with dolls.

 Rural Maine felt like home, and I knew I wanted to set my next book in the woods. My house is surrounded by them. In fact, if you walk a straight line from my back door, you won’t see paved road until you swim the St. Lawrence and power-walk your way to Quebec. There are some camps (Mainers’ name for rural cabins) and maybe some abandoned logging camps, but that’s all. It’s a magical place. And the perfect setting for a murder mystery. I grabbed it, sat down and wrote a novel.

 I won’t lie. With the Florida mysteries, I’m mostly a two-draft writer. I know my setting and the ins and outs of my story. Things are different when you change settings, characters, and I won’t even mention the law enforcement aspects. Writing the first draft took a year. The book came in at 60,000 words. Not unusual for one of my first drafts. Then came the editing. That was where things changed. When I performed my first read-through I ended up with more questions than resolutions. That meant more research. Oh, and there were several plot holes large enough to drive a loaded logging truck through. That meant isolating and drafting a synopsis for each plot point. Several went the way of the circular file. The rest were vamped or revamped until the loose ends were all tied up. That meant more words.

 At this point, I’ve been working on this novel—tentatively titled No Return—for a year and nine months. The bad news—I’m still editing. The good news—I’m almost ready to type the two most glorious words in the English language, THE END. How will I know when I’m done? Easy. I’m ten chapters away from my next (last) read-through. The book is at 70,000 words and the plot holes have been filled. Barring a catastrophe, all that remains is a final pacing check and finding those pesky typos that multiply while I sleep. It has been a long road. Almost as long as the road from the Florida Keys to Fort Kent, Maine.

 Writers, do you find writing is slower when you change settings and characters? Readers, are you willing to follow authors into a new series?

Kait Carson writes the Hayden Kent Mysteries set in the beautiful Florida Keys. She lives in the north Maine woods with her husband, four cats, a flock of conures and a cavapoo puppy. All rescues.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Connection by Nancy L. Eady

 My daughter first came to live with us when she was three years and one month old. We went from childless couple to parents with one month’s notice. Since the first month after she was with us was December, the transition was even more hectic. It’s not every new father who rushes down to Toys R’ Us because the last shipload of swing sets pre-Christmas arrived at the store at midnight unexpectedly. The swing set was one of only three things she said she wanted for Christmas, and the hardest.  

In the midst of all of that, I can still remember how we would drive places with her in her child seat in the back and she would suddenly sing out, “I saw something!” The standard reply was “What did you see?” The answer was usually something undifferentiated like “A tree!” Or maybe it only sounded like that because, y’all, speaking three-year-old is NOT easy. She must have thought we were the dumbest people on earth the first month she lived with us because every time she spoke we’d stare at her blankly and then ask her to say whatever it was again. Looking back, though, I realize the “I-saw-something” game was one way she was trying to connect with us. 

As authors, our goal is to connect with our readers. One way to do this is to use short descriptions of the small items we (or our characters) collect around us. If your character doesn’t have a small collection of detritus that surrounds their personal space, then that says something about them too. My personal assumption would be “neat freak,” but since I am chronically unorganized, that is judgmental on my part. 

For example, my chest of drawers in the bedroom has a few objects on it. If I was writing about a character and tossed out something about her “moving the miniature enameled vases she bought at the antique store on her and her husband’s last visit with her in-laws before they died” while dusting, haven’t I given my reader something to connect to? Or perhaps she could be about to move, coping with keeping a house show-ready, cooking dinner and thinking about how empty the kitchen counters look since the realtor forced her to pack away her glass collection of red, blue and yellow roosters. Again, I hope, connection. What about a man who opens the spare room closet to find something for his wife, discovering one of the collars for a dog he loved that died years earlier? He fingers the faded red collar, then gently lays it aside on a sewing table to start pulling out boxes. I think I like him most of all three. 

Now, my reactions to the above descriptions are generally positive because I have positive connections with the subject matter. I loved my in-laws, am fond of my rooster collection and recently found an old collar one of my dogs who died used. They could equally spark negative feelings for a person who has negative connections with the subject matter, such as having a toxic relationship with their in-laws, being virulently anti-clutter and anti-collections, or loathing dogs. The descriptions could also create confusion if the emotion involved and the character’s actions are diametrically opposed, such as a description involving a positive emotion being applied to a serial killer. The point of the description, though, is still met because the reader’s connection to it elicits a reaction which is what I, as the writer, am hoping to achieve. 

What are the techniques you use in your writing to connect with your readers? 

Thursday, May 23, 2024

FAULTS, FLAWS, FEARS & FAILINGS: Why We Love Troubled Characters by Connie Berry

Readers love complex, flawed characters. We may not always admire them, but we’re drawn to them. We remember them. Think Macbeth’s vaulting ambition or Gatsby’s tragic illusions. Think Miss Havisham or Sherlock Holmes or Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo.

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

1. We identify with imperfection.

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

2. Old wounds deepen the backstory.

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

3. Inner fears and faults ramp up the conflict.

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

4. Flaws create opportunities for change and growth.

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

5. Flaws create interest.

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

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

How might you add depth to your characters by giving them flaws, fears, failings, and foibles? Can a character be too flawed?

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Standing Out in a Crowded Genre

We are delighted to welcome Lois Winston as our guest on Writers Who Kill.


Standing Out in a Crowded Genre

by Lois Winston


Life is often about pivots. No matter how we think our life goes, it rarely goes as planned. Sometimes we need to pivot, and sometimes that pivot becomes life-altering. My career as a cozy mystery author was a major, life-altering pivot, thanks to a conversation my agent had with an editor. The editor was looking for a humorous crafts-themed amateur sleuth mystery series. Based on my day job as a crafts designer and Talk Gertie to Me, my award-winning humorous first novel, my agent suggested I try writing such a series.


Before I began what was to become my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, now at thirteen books and three novellas, I embarked on extensive research. I read dozens of crafting cozies to get a feel for the genre. I discovered most centered around a craft shop in a small town. The amateur sleuth was either the shop owner, an employee, a customer, or a close friend or relative of the owner. 

For years I had heard an author should never follow trends. If you want your book to stand out in a crowded genre, you need to put a unique spin on the conventions of that genre. So I began to brainstorm as to what I could do differently but still produce a series which readers of crafting mysteries might embrace. 


I decided to take my protagonist out of the shop and stick her in a different crafting profession. I made Anastasia the crafts editor at a women’s magazine. To my knowledge, no other author had ever featured a crafts editor as an amateur sleuth.


Then, I went a step further. Another observation I made in studying amateur sleuth and cozy mysteries, was that most of the protagonists were busybody snoops who channeled Nancy Drew or Jessica Fletcher, often believing they knew more than the professional investigators assigned to the crime. 


In real life this would never happen, but fiction—especially genre fiction—is all about the suspension of disbelief. Readers of amateur sleuth and cozy mysteries are happy to suspend disbelief for a good whodunit. However, once again, I wondered what I could do differently to make my series stand out, while still giving readers the satisfying read they expected.


What if I made Anastasia a reluctant amateur sleuth? 


My amateur sleuth would like nothing better than to turn back the clock to a time not so long ago when she led a typical middle-class life with a devoted husband, two great kids, and a job she loved. But that’s not going to happen. For one thing, I’m not writing time-travel mysteries. Also, writing an ongoing series means the protagonist needs a reason to keep sleuthing. In all books, no matter the genre, the main character needs goals, motivation, and conflict. What better conflict for an amateur sleuth than having her conflicted about sleuthing?


A successful book needs a story arc with a protagonist who is not the same person at the end of the book as she was at the beginning of the book. This is called character growth. But in an ongoing series, you can’t resolve all the protagonist’s goals, motivations, and conflicts at the end of the book. Doing so will end the series. You want to keep the reader coming back for more of your character’s adventures. But at the same time, you need your character to learn from her experiences, moving closer toward her goal with each book.


In Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in my series, I set the stage for what will be Anastasia’s ongoing goals, motivations, and conflicts. The series opens with her discovering that her recently deceased husband led a double life, more devoted to Lady Luck than his family. When he drops dead at a roulette table in Las Vegas, Anastasia discovers he’s gambled away all their savings and left her with huge debt and a loan shark demanding she pay off her husband’s gambling debts—or else. In each book she tries to find new ways to earn extra money to whittle down that debt. But since this is an amateur sleuth mystery series, she also winds up dealing with unsavory characters on the wrong side of the law, not to mention constantly tripping over dead bodies.

However, no amateur sleuth operates in a vacuum. She needs friends and family in her life. Creating conflict within a protagonist’s personal life adds another layer of depth to a series. Not only does the amateur sleuth need to figure out whodunit in each book, but she also needs to deal with life’s normal problems. Adding fully developed secondary characters that readers will enjoy will keep them coming back for more. 


In my series, Anastasia deals with a nasty Communist mother-in-law. Lucille is the character readers love to hate. I receive the most fan mail about her. Some readers wish I’d kill her off. Others (many of whom have difficult mothers-in-law of their own!) hope I never do because she’s so much fun to hate. However, since I’m writing a humorous series, I went further. In addition to a Communist mother-in-law, Anastasia’s mother is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and both mother and mother-in-law are often forced to share a room in Anastasia’s home. Conflict. Conflict. Conflict. You can never have too much.


Whether you’re writing a crafting mystery series or any ongoing series in any genre, the same advice applies if you want your books to stand out:


1. Give a unique spin to your protagonist, her profession, and/or the setting of your series.


2. Set up an overall situation that will allow the protagonist to make progress toward reaching her goals and resolving her conflicts as the series progresses from book to book.


3. Develop secondary characters that add depth to your series and create additional problems for your protagonist. 

Sorry, Knot Sorry
, the latest book in my Anastasia Pollack Mystery series, is currently on preorder. In it, Anastasia continues to be motivated toward reaching her goals and resolving her conflicts, but the dead bodies keep coming.

What is it about a series that keeps you reading? Post a comment for a chance to win a promo code for a free audiobook of one of the first nine Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries.


Sorry, Knot Sorry

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 13


Magazine crafts editor Anastasia Pollack may finally be able to pay off the remaining debt she found herself saddled with when her duplicitous first husband dropped dead in a Las Vegas casino. But as Anastasia has discovered, nothing in her life is ever straightforward. Strings are always attached. Thanks to the success of an unauthorized true crime podcast, a television production company wants to option her life—warts and all—as a reluctant amateur sleuth. 


Is such exposure worth a clean financial slate? Anastasia isn’t sure, but at the same time, rumors are flying about layoffs at the office. Whether she wants national exposure or not, Anastasia may be forced to sign on the dotted line to keep from standing in the unemployment line. But the dead bodies keep coming, and they’re not in the script. Craft tips included.


Buy Links (preorder ebook now. Available June 4th, along with paperback and hardcover editions)




Apple Books



USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website where can also sign up for her newsletter and find links to her other social media:

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Who Pulled Off That Job?

by Paula Gail Benson

Shortly after I saw Ocean’s 8 in a movie theater, I wrote a message about it here, (June 19, 2018—"Older Female Protagonists”) considering the ages of the movie’s female characters and wondering if more heist stories/plays/movies might feature older women.

Each spring, as the time comes for the Met Gala (first Monday in May), I like to watch Ocean’s 8 again. Similar to the televised annual running of the Kentucky Derby, the movie provides a glimpse of what might happen at one of the most sought-after party invitations of the year. In addition, it gives viewers the chance to root for a gang of women operating with precision and control to pull off an elaborate and valuable caper.

A Screen Rant article by Ben Protheroe, published October 26, 2023, Ranking 15 Best Heist Movies of All Time laments that, “The heist genre is disproportionately skewed in favor of male stories,” and compliments Viola Davis in Widows, hopeful that film would set a new trend for gender equalization.

Beezy Marsh
While there are plenty of male heist stories that I admire (one of my favorites being 1992’s Sneakers with Robert Redford, Sidney Portier, Ben Kingsley, Dan Aykroyd, River Phoenix, David Strathaim, and Mary McDonnell), I wouldn’t at all mind seeing or reading more stories with primarily female characters.

I began searching for books that might offer such plots and found two series that I’ve added to my “to-be-read” list.

The first is by Beezy Marsh, British international bestselling author and former award-winning investigative journalist, whose Queen of Thieves and Queen of Clubs take place in London in the 1950s and deal with the rivalries between female gangs.

Ally Carter
The second is American best-selling author Ally Carter’s young adult novels, Heist Society, Uncommon Criminals, and Perfect Scoundrels, whose protagonist, Kat Bishop, comes from a long line of criminal masterminds. I’ve already ordered Carter’s Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book? that has been described as the teen-aged version of Stephen King’s On Writing.

What are your favorite heist stories/plays/movies? Do any feature women organizing the job?


Monday, May 20, 2024

The Pace is Changing - Maybe

The Pace is Changing – Maybe – by Debra H. Goldstein

Recently, I received a birthday card which pictured three people sitting at a fancy dinner party. Above the picture, the caption read: “When we were young, we’d sneak out of our house to go to parties…” Below the picture were the words: “Now we sneak out of parties to go home.” Admitting to myself the truth of this card, I chuckled.

As I write this, I’m still recovering from back surgery that precluded my attendance at many of the conferences I usually attend. I told myself not going was okay because I didn’t have a new book to promote; and, although several of my short stories are slated for publication, they won’t be out until after the current conferences. I consoled myself that I could follow the events respecting the conferences I missed through the posts and pictures friends put on Facebook.

Although I enjoyed the posts, seeing everyone’s fun secondhand was bittersweet. Then, I came upon a post that made me think for a moment. It was put up by a writer I know well and very much admire. The point it made was that the author played hooky from many of the panels and honoree interviews to duck out to explore the host city, have long lunches and dinners with friends, or simply chill with a glass of wine in her room. She noted she still had a great time, but she didn’t feel the need to spend every moment at the high pitch of energy she had done when she was a new author. 

Her comments made me think about some of the behaviors of more established writers that I’d observed at conferences. Many would not be seen for long stretches during the day, or I’d observe them returning late from what had obviously been a dinner with their contemporaries. My past observations and her post made me think about how the birthday card’s message applied to authors. Was it a matter of age? Tied to their having built a following, albeit maybe not a giant one? Being comfortable in one’s own skin? 

It made me contemplate my friends and the goals we’ve recently been sharing with each other. What is it we now want from our careers? 

As I’ve posed the question to people, their joking response is often “money and a New York Times bestseller,” but after laughing, many indicate they are happy where their careers are. They have books they can hold in their hands, they sign autographs, and while they want to write the next breakout novel, most are happy to follow the same trajectory they already are on. A few are beginning to question whether they want to continue writing. They’ve enjoyed the party atmosphere of becoming an author but after assessing the up and down elements of the publishing business, they wonder if sneaking out and going home might sound good. They fear that their writing is predictable, their ideas stale or non-existent, and their desire to be tied to their computers minimal.

Are these passing thoughts or the natural evolution of a writing career? As writers, what do you think? As readers, can you see this dilemma somewhat reflected as you peruse new books and stories by authors you admire?


Sunday, May 19, 2024

Indie Central: Overcoming Your Fears by Sarah E. Burr

For nearly a year, I’ve been working toward releasing Flying Off the Candle, book three in the Glenmyre Whim Mysteries. As one of my indie-published series, this is the longest time I’ve gone between launching a book. Too Much to Candle came out in 2022, so my readers are long overdue for Hazel and Poppy’s next mystery adventure. 

One of the reasons for the delay is that I arrived at a crossroads last fall: to continue publishing my books solely through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform or pursue bringing my books to more readers through wide distribution. Wide distribution would allow this series to be in eBook and print across all book retailers, not just Amazon. I’ve used KDP successfully for years and really have no complaints. I’ve always been a big fan of their Kindle Unlimited program, which allows readers to “rent” books for a membership fee. Full disclosure: most of my monthly income came from Kindle Unlimited page reads at the time. For so long, that membership fee was $9.99, but several months ago, I received an email that prices were increasing. I shouldn’t have been surprised; it seems to happen every year for all the digital services I subscribe to, but for some reason, this price increase triggered me into action. It made me consider pulling my books from KDP’s exclusive platform.

So, I took to Facebook to ask my readers about their Kindle Unlimited usage. Did everyone use it as much as I thought they did? The answer very much surprised me: no. Most of my readers told me they buy their eBooks, get them from libraries, or prefer to read them on other platforms. Some even told me that they hadn’t actually read my books yet because they were only on Amazon. This fact-finding mission sealed the deal; it was time to consider my options for going wide.

I’ll admit I dragged my feet about this for a long time because the task just seemed so daunting. It wasn’t until I was having a conversation with a friend that I realized I was using the very excuse that is one of my biggest pet peeves: I was afraid to take the time to learn something new. Luckily, during this same timeframe, I came across Draft2Digital in my research. Draft2Digital is a book publishing platform similar to Amazon KDP, yet it distributes your work across all book retailers. Draft2Digital guides authors through a straightforward publishing process, whether through eBook, paperback, or audiobook. I couldn’t believe how simple they made it. I used to think KDP was as easy as they come, but D2D makes it even more streamlined. In the course of ten minutes, I uploaded my book file and was ready to publish. Ten minutes. If there’s anyone out there considering self-publishing but may think it’s too hard, read that line again: ten minutes. Self-publishing is more accessible than ever in today’s landscape!

I won’t lie; I was nervous that taking my books off Kindle Unlimited would mean sacrificing a significant chunk of my income. For this reason, I decided to “pilot” going wide with my newest series, the Book Blogger Mysteries. Let me tell you, I was stunned by the results. Instead of being paid ~.01 cents for each page read of my book, readers were kind enough to pick up copies at Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, etc., and I was paid 70% of the cover cost! The difference was staggering. I couldn’t believe I had waited this long to make the jump. Not only did it help my bottom line, but my readers benefited from the change so, so much. With my indie books now showing up in library catalogs, I met a whole new community of readers, and it’s been absolutely fantastic. And to circle back to Flying Off the Candle, I’ve since been working to move the Glenmyre Whim Mysteries off Kindle Unlimited so that the entire series can be available to readers. Hence, the time delay. I’m sorry it took me so long to see the light!

Fear held me back for so long. If you’re in the indie space and thinking about “going wide,” I’m here to reassure you that the time you take to learn the ropes will be worth it.

Flying Off the Candle is available for eBook preorder at your favorite bookish retailer. Paperbacks will be available on June 11, 2024.